Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is the Majority World the Identified Patient?

Bono’s got me thinking this week.

He’s been at the World Economic Forum and is leading the charge on the “Red Label” campaign- a partnership with fashion designers that promotes raising money to fight AIDS in Africa.

The quote that grabbed me that I heard on NPR was this…

“Wanting to change the world is sexy.”

I couldn’t agree more.
I couldn’t worry more.

Call it sexy. Call it the right thing. Call it cool. Call it whatever you want. Wanting to change the world to be a better place is always a step in the right direction. There’s no use debating relief around the world when people are dying daily of deadly diseases like AIDS and from lack of simple essentials. Action is needed. Action must happen. There’s not much more to say. This is what Gospel is about and I believe the power of the Gospel (in its fullest sense) makes healing possible.

But I have one concern… everyone thinks that the majority world is the only problem- the identified patient.
Let’s go and fix the problems “over there.”
Let’s go over there and help “the poor people over there.”
Let’s travel far away and really make a difference.

Especially in youth ministry, I think we’re getting addicted to going “over there.” I sometimes wonder if a youth ministry is even considered legitimate by it’s peer community if the ministry doesn’t have an overseas trip anymore. And I wonder if this is the best use of our resources to help our world.

We raise thousands of dollars to give students a “vacation with a purpose” when that money could have been used by national leaders in much better ways. Maybe we should raise the money… then cancel the trip and send it over there instead. I think this is very sexy.

Further, I wonder if we can help our world by looking at our own dysfunctions- Our own consumption of resources; Our own use of time; Our own investment in our own community. These are the things that indirectly help our brothers and sisters in the majority world and, just as importantly, address the other part of the problem… us.

It’s sexy to want to change the world.
It’s sexy to admit that I’m part of the world that needs changing.

To quote Bono from U2’s song “Rejoice”

And what am I to do
Just tell me what am I supposed to say
I'll can't change the world
But I can change the world in me
If I rejoice

Let’s change the world. Let’s give ourselves to the world… and let’s not forget that we’re part of the world that needs changing.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Middle school retreat: boys. disney. sugar. worship. community.

Well, I’m writing this will sitting at the at the airport with a good cup of Starbucks joe. It seems like the appropriate time to write down my reflections on the weekend.

What I experienced was a range of middle school girls who were boy crazy and some who were still Disney crazy. It’s hard to believe that the range of age for this age bracket is only one or two years apart. The last night every student wanted to stay up late. Reports came back on how each gender used their time: The girls were either burning excess sugar off by running circles in the lodge or looking through a name book, talking about what they’d name their children. The boys proceeded to pile themselves up in-between a stack of mattresses. The middle school years are a hyper-extended time of development, no doubt.

Sugar was plentiful all week. Some day youth leaders will learn that when they hand out candy during the meetings, they will pay for in their cabins that evening!

Worship took various forms all weekend. I saw students singing to God; taking short, but important moments of silence; listening to stranger-speaker-guy; laughing; getting involved; reaching out to their friends with a kind word or gesture; playing hard. And I saw I saw leaders give and give and give.

We dialogued at our leaders meeting this morning about how we judge the success of a retreat and explored the idea that quite possibly, “success” is judged more by the giving than the receiving... the serving rather than the results… the gift rather than the payoff. Jesus says, “Blessed are you who serve the least of these in my name,” not “blessed are you if you see results.”

Youth ministry is about giving and about giving freely.

Z is a leader who’s been doing middle school for 14 years. I asked him what keeps him going. We got interrupted by a group of middle school boys who sat with us to talk about… well, not much and yet everything. After they left, Z said, “That’s why I do this. For conversations like that.” Right on, Z. Beautiful.

The group hung with me and I felt really honored to be included in the group. I heard reports that some students thought I spoke “teenager” and I was assured that this was a great compliment. I’ll take it that way, but I promise all of you I never used the word “dude” once.

We concluded our retreat reflecting that following Jesus in community is essential for following Jesus. The light of Jesus shines brighter as God’s people follow God… together.

Back home tonight, work tomorrow… and sleep sometime.

Peace, friends.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

internet yes… mobile phone no

I’ll let you decide if my prayers were answered, but I do have internet service which is kind of nice.

Today I made it to Manchester, NH with no problem. Seth was kind enough to pick me up and we had a nice hour drive north to the camp. Seth is a native Bostonian so I felt like I got an insider’s description of this great colonial landscape.

I learned that, in Boston, you “bang a u-turn,” not “make one" ("banging sounds much cooler).
I also learned that the city of Concord is not pronounced “Con-chord”… but “Conquered” as in the town getting conquered.

Seth is going to go to Gordon Conwell this next year. Currently he’s serving in the middle school ministry at Grace. He told me that he’s serving in the middle school because, if he didn’t he’d feel like he was “ripping the church off." I love it. Nothing about “church shopping” or “getting my needs met.” It was about giving to the church, not ripping her off. Right on.

Things went well tonight. Middle school ministry brings such beautiful chaos. I’m not surprised to see students singing to God, doing cartwheels, slamming Mountain Dew, and hitting each other all in the span of 10 minutes. There’s something about this raw energy that is truly beautiful. I continue to wonder, in youth ministry, how we help channel this energy rather than domesticate it.

Here are some pics of…

- Seth and me starting the retreat out right by picking up McD’s

- Brian and his retreat t-shirt.

- Me “roughing it” by drinking out of a Styrofoam cup. I hate these cups. Worse… it is environmentally irresponsible. I repent. No more of these.

- Worship… and a message we trust is louder than one talk by a guest speaker…

Thanks everyone. Jas, Tank… thanks for your kind words, too.

Peace, friends…

Friday, January 20, 2006

if i have wireless in my cabin… is it still considered camp?

One of the joys for me in working with our GR Cohort is getting the opportunity to do ministry together with some of our cohort members in their ministry context. This weekend I head to New Hampshire for a retreat with Brian Dietz’ Junior High Group at Grace Chapel (Lexington, MA).

Brian had a brush with “fame” this past year as he and his Middle School ministry were interviewed for Time’s
Being 13
feature article. Article or no article, Brian’s the real deal and I’ve seen how he loves his kids and leads them well. I’m glad to hang out with him and his group this weekend and I’ll be giving four messages.

He also tells me that my cabin may have wireless. This makes me happy, though I wonder if I can still call this going to camp? The food will probably will define it for me. I’m not taking any chances… I’m packing power bars.

One more thing. Their theme this weekend is “The Incredible(s),” so that’s why you see the picture of me with the action figure…

Before you click away from this post… I'd love for you to pray that this might be a signficant weekend for all of us on the journey.

Thanks. Peace.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy Birthday Lauren!

Today our youngest daughter, Lauren, turns 6 years old.

We love you, sweetie!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Intersect Grand Rapids Cohort This Week

This week our Inersect GR Cohort has been meeting as we've been working through our third module of material. We have been focusing on theological pictures of the church and these images shape our communal identity, hope, connection, and missional expression.

In addition, we went Calvin College today to see Paul Rusesabagina, the actual main character from the movie "Hotel Rwanda" who is credited in saving over 1200 lives from the genocide in 1994 in that country.

Mr. Rusesabagina told his story, but probabaly the most meaningful statements for me were at the end of his message. He described how national leaders proclaimed that this would "never happen again." He then commented that the words "never again" are "the two most abused words I've ever heard." He points to killings in Congo and Sudan and calls for us to be aware of the injustice that continues to plague our world.

He also asked, "When will we join words and actions?"

I think this is more than a question... It's a challenge.

God help me answer this with my life.

Monday, January 16, 2006

i am not free

Calvin College has a great lecture series this month called the January Series. Today, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Randal Jelks, associate professor of History and Director of the African and African Dispora Studies Minor at Calvin College, shared his thoughts from his newest book, “African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids".

His message was, for me, historically informative and personally inspiring. My simple notes here will not due justice to Mr. Jelks message and I will only comment on one thing that stood out to me.

Mr. Jelks mentioned that the spirit of influential African Americans who struggled for civil rights lived with the mentality that proclaimed:

I am not free if my sister is not free.
I am not free if my brother is not free.
I am not free if my neighbor is not free.

I am not free.
It's true.

This reminded me that, in the human struggle, there are not free and non free. We are all free or we are all not free.

I long for all to be free. I long to be better at longing for all to be free.

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we celebrate what has been accomplished and long for what yet has to be. Today is bitter-sweet.

And as Randal Jelks reminded us, we must continue to seek justice in a world of injustice.

This is a tangible expression of what the gospel is all about.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dad, I'm 14

“This is what the teenage boy said as his dad took him to the skate park for lessons last Saturday morning. The dad was insisting that teenage skater boy wear knee pads. “Dad, I’m 14.”

If you were there, you would interpret this, not as a declaration of his age, but a proclamation of his person. I’m 14, I don’t need you to tell me what to wear, I don’t need you to protect me, I don’t need you to treat me like I’m half of 14 (At the same time, skater boy didn’t seem to mind that dad was paying for him to skate that day).

I watched this exchange with great interest. Maybe the fascination comes out of fear that I’ll soon be hearing these words from my own girls. But even more, it was to me a small picture of a broader concept I’ve been thinking through lately:

At what point do teachers/mentors/pastors/parents… let go? And I wonder if we overstay our welcome.

Let me give you two other snapshots…

The first happened at our Emergent West Michigan Gathering this past Wednesday. Isaac, who is from Kenya, shared with us what he’s trying to accomplish in his hometown through reaching the poor and the downtrodden. Isaac’s passion for this is nothing less than inspiring.

Isaac, graciously talked about how he and others are trying to rethink church in their context. The problem seems to be that the established church (to which Isaac showed great respect and appreciation) seems to have not only embraced the Gospel… but also has imported “the American way.” This “American way” brought the gospel, but now seems to have hindered the gospel. “The American Way” rang louder in my ears than this gracious Kenyan said it, but his statement stuck me. Am I aware of the contextual trappings that lace my communication of the Gospel? And is it helping or hurting?

I believe that we cannot get rid of our contextual dye in a Gospel message. Part of me doesn’t want to, because, as one friend reminded me, this is the fabric of incarnation… Jesus comes to us… in a context. Pure context-free gospel is really no gospel at all. And at the same time, can the dye be so dark in our Christian fabric that the gospel gets lost or discolored?

So maybe the issues isn’t getting rid of context (because we can’t) but rethinking our timeline of influence.

The second snapshot comes from a book recommended to me by a colleague and one we’re using for our Theology of Youth Ministry Course at GRTS. It’s called “Christianity Rediscovered” by Father Vincent J. Donovan. Donovan was a missionary to the Masai in Tanzania and describes his journey of having to deconstruct his cultural trappings as best he could to communicate the Gospel… and his realization that once that Gospel is communicated (and this is more than a simple 4 step message), that the community by the power of the Holy Spirit must wrestle with what the expression of this Gospel looks like. This book was originally published in 1978 but rings so relevant for us today.

Father Donovan states that missionaries should never stay in a community one day long than they ought. Why? Because we’re more tempted to make the Gospel in another culture… like our culture rather than allowing that culture to make it their own, expressing it in their way.

Dad, I’m 14– recognize my teenageness. Don’t discount it.
Exporting The American Way– recognize our east-africanness. Don’t try to change it.
Christianity Rediscovered.

I don’t believe that this means that the “gospel is up for grabs” or that “anything goes.” Rather, I think there’s a challenge to all “mature followers” to not be so quick to expect another’s path toward faith be the same as theirs’. I think it means that there are points in life when we “let go” and stop trying to control the situation. I think this forces us to faithfully communicate the Gospel, aware of our contextual dye, and careful to not overextend our stay.

I think this goes for parenting.
I think this goes for youth ministry.
I think this goes for politics.
I think this goes for teaching.
I think this goes for pastoring.
I think this goes for friendship.

Oh… and this is really hard. I’d like to say it’s hard because I love other people and don’t want them to “make mistakes.” But I think it’s also hard because it challenges my own perspective on the world and reminds me of my own distortions.

Incidentally, I saw skater teenage boy wearing knee pads an hour later. I think he discovered that they weren’t a bad idea after all. The cool thing, is that he chose to wear them on his own rather than because his dad made him.

Where in our own worlds have “overstayed our welcome?” Where have we also refused to go and need to… to be changed ourselves?

Peace Friends. Have a great weekend.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The T-Shirt Guy

Dan Kimball has a very interesting post about a guy he saw wearing this t-shirt at the airport. I say it's "interesting" because the post has been in my head all weekend and has forced me to think.

Jet over there and weigh in on the disucussion. Take Dan's question seriously... "What would you say to this person?" Post your comment before you read everyone elses'. You'll see my remarks there, too.

Nice post, Dan. Thanks for sharing and getting into my head.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Happy Deep Year!

Happy 2006 everyone! 2005 was a really encouraging year for us and we’re eager to embrace the new year. I’ve been pondering new year thoughts and one of the things that came of it was the following. I write regularly for
Group's Church Volunteer Central.
My column is directed at Youth Pastors/Leaders who lead a volunteer staff.

Here’s some excerpts from my January column:

Happy Deep Year

“Happy New Year!” is what we say this time of year. We certainly want the new year be happy. And what makes another year happy? A NEW one, of course. People are obsessed with “new.” Get an iPod this Christmas and watch us want the new one the next.

Similarly, youth ministry gets caught up in the same obsession. Check the mail that comes across your desk, go to a youth ministry conference, or surf the web and get buried with new and improved youth ministry programs, events, retreats, curriculums, fundraisers, books, magazines, wristbands, Bibles, videos… okay you get the point. I realize I’m preaching to the choir.

It’s easy to point the finger at the youth ministry machine that generates more new youth ministry stuff. But maybe it’s time to point in our direction at our own addiction. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the new and improved. The reality is that, ministry isn’t about new and improved. It’s more about going deeper.

When it comes to leading our volunteers, I’m convinced that we need to go deeper instead of newer.

If I can get personal for a second, my observation is that one reason we don’t take our leaders (or ministries) deeper, is because we’re not going deeper ourselves. The adage that you can only take someone where you’ve been applies here. As ministry leaders, we have a responsibility to be going deeper, embracing reading, pursuing formation, and stretching ourselves. Sooner or later we have to admit that we cannot lead or shepherd off the fumes of passion, raw talent, or social coolness. We must go deeper.

From another angle (and this might be equally as personal), I think we can be fearful to go deeper with our volunteers for fear that we’ll lose them. Keep the bar low and we keep the volunteer. Raise it too high and we’ll lose them. We have to see that, unless we take volunteers deeper, we’re losing them anyway. Volunteers will become lost in uninformed serving, underdeveloped gifts, or myopic vision. I think volunteers want more yet don’t always know what they want or are afraid to ask for anything beyond programming advice. We must remember that we are pastors to our volunteers as much as we are to our students.

So in this new year, we’re actually halfway through the school year. It’s time to go deeper… Happy Deep Year.

Admittedly, there’s no silver bullet for going deeper any more than there’s one for your program. Your context and your leadership team are unique and your leaders are at varying stages of development. The task of the youth pastor is an art form for leading the group deeper. We might start considering the following:

For myself, how am I growing personally?

What books am I reading lately?
For every current book I read, I try to read two “older” or “supporting” books. I also try to read different genres (biography, novel, theological, poetry, historical, etc.) as this helps me grow in my skill and appreciation of reading and understanding.

What am I writing lately?
One of the most helpful ways for me to grow is to write. Consider writing a regular newsletter that has less to do with logistics and more to do with your current thoughts and reflections. Keep a personal journal and commit to regularly write in it. Start a blog. These activities force us to regularly assimilate our reading, thoughts, experiences drawing conclusions and raising more questions for us to pursue. Writing makes us learners.

What blogs am I reading lately?
I ask this with a caution: Blog addiction can be time consuming. Pick 5 blogs and follow the conversation. Interact with the authors and learn in dialogue.

Who’s mentoring me?
This can feel more like a dagger than a question for many young pastors. Many have told me that they feel alone and un-mentored. Seek out someone who can lead you and push you in your own personal growth, spiritual disciplines, and formation.

If this all sounds self-absorbed, remember that your team is dependent on your own depth. Study and prayer are part of our jobs, not extra curricular.

So it’s a new year. We hope it will be happy. We need it to be deep. This is the essence of Christian sanctification. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3.18).

Happy deep year, friends. May it be more deep than new...