Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How's Your Cape fit?

This is my column from the June issue of "ChurchActs" the newspaper of the Diocese of WNY

I came across a quote from Rick Lawrence who is the editor of Group magazine, one of the premier youth ministry magazines in the world. He said:

"When it comes to impacting teenagers for Christ, who’s the superhero and who’s the sidekick? Well, both Christian and secular researchers [show that youth workers are] Robin and kids’ parents are Batman. I mean that parents who are only doing a mediocre job of impacting their kids’ faith journey can still out-impact the best youth minister in the world. Parents—not the church or the culture or friends—hold the keys to their kids’ long-term faith trajectory."


As the parent of a teen myself I have to admit that sounds like a huge burden on my shoulders. Doesn't Rick know how hard it is to raise a kid in this culture? Doesn't he realize the existing stress of struggling with career issues, economic issues, over-scheduling issues (mine and the kid's), and the getting-older-and-watching-my-body-fall-apart issues while trying to be a parent? Let alone those of us who have to try and do this ALONE!

Actually I'm pretty sure he's aware of all of that. Just as I'm sure that he's not trying to add more stuff to our already over flowing plate. It's just that in a world that loves to make fun of parents, that tells us how hard it is, that wants us to be worried about all kinds of other stuff we need to make sure that we don't lose all hope. Very easily we can feel like we can't make a difference and quit. Just accept that if we get them out of high school in some reasonable semblance of good order then we've done our job.

Of course the other argument is that most of us don't feel like we're really ready, prepared or qualified to be teaching our kids about faith. Face it we struggle with it most days and not many of us consider ourselves Bible scholars. So how are we supposed to lead our children deeper in a journey of faith?

So now for some good news, you're better qualified than you think. And as the studies show you're actually better at it than you think. This is less about your ability to lead bible studies or do in depth explanations of theology than how you show your children about living a life in faith. It's about how you treat the people you love in your life and the people that you really don't like. Your children will learn about a life in faith by how you react when you're cut off in traffic. You'll have an impact on them what you do when you're faced with commitments made that you really don't want to fulfill. Their life in faith will be shaped not only by whether or not you go to church but what you do every other day of the week.
Sure it wouldn't hurt for them to see you open the Bible every once in a while and read it. Sincerely praying together as a family every once in a while would be a bonus too. Letting them see you pray personally is also a good idea. But it's not about slapping some new “church-y” behaviors in your life. It is about making your faith a real part of your life and doing the best you can to live it out. Be honest about the days when it's tough. As they get old enough tell them about when your faith has been tested and when it has given you strength. Share the story of your faith, even if you think you're a rotten story teller. You'll be amazed at the effect you have.

As for the bible studies and the theology? Don't worry, there are plenty of youth ministers and clergy persons around to pick up the other stuff. It's our job to fill in the spaces between the foundation pieces that you'll put in place. Remember, YOU are the super hero. We're just the sidekick.

So fire up the Batmobile and let's go.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Correcting an error

I'm afraid I have to admit to committing something of a blogger's social faux pas. I read and comment at other people's blogs and take inspiration from them. Yet I've never offered a link to those sites. The blogosphere is an intricately interlinked community and I've been cheating by not linking you with some of the great folks out there. So I've added three links today and I'll be looking at more links in the future.

A note on my process for choosing links. I go to some blogs and see huge long lists of links. And they overwhelm me. I have no idea how those blogs were chosen for their spot (heck I'm on some of those lists!). I'm going to link to blogs that have inspired me and given me cause to think. I hope my list grows long too. But that probably means that some of my friends who blog won't make the list. I visit their blogs to keep in touch with them or their ministry. That's a valid and important reason to blog and to read those blogs. What I want to offer here with my blog and the links are resources that take us beyond the everyday. That offer us the chance to make our lives a little different.

So it's no surprise that numero uno on my list is Real Live Preacher. He is the most amazing writer I've come across in the blog world bar none. As far as I'm concerned if you can only read one blog in your life read his and not mine. And I'm not alone in that assessment. His blogs are good enough that a publishing company put out a book of his stuff and he's been invited to write regularly for Christian Century. He's a Baptist preacher unlike any Baptist preacher I've ever known. He makes me laugh and cry and pray. Someday I hope to be half the writer he is.

Second (and this sounds like an utter suck up to RLP above) is Dylan's Lectionary Blog. I say it's a suckup because the Preacher just recommended her too. It was that blog that brought my social failing front and center to my attention. Because you see I already read Dylan's blog and enjoyed it. And I hadn't shared it. Sarah Dylan Breuer is a fellow Episcopalian (while not being a fellow at all), priest and doctoral candidate. She's also a heckuva writer. If you're looking for a reflection on the lectionary that offers both depth and readability I recommend hers. Good stuff.

Finally my third entry is for Reverend Ref. Another Episcopal priest who says the blog is about "Thoughts on ordained ministry in a small town, parish life, ECUSA and maybe even football". Again a wonderful writer, someone who makes me pause and think and laugh and pray. Beyond that his blog was the very first to offer a link back here to me. It was the best moments of my life as a blogger. But he really makes the list because his blog is so darn good.

You'll find lots of links on these folks pages and I encourage you to check some of them out. If you find one you really like drop me a line and I may add it to the list.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A little different

Ok I've been way too serious recently. So I checked out a poll. And was totally surprised by the result.

I am 24% loser. What about you? Click here to find out!


Culture Comment -The Runaway Bride

Periodically I see (oh hell let's be honest. It's with amazing regularity) a story in the news that reminds me of how far our culture is from a life guided by faith and an understanding of what God wants from us. Usually I just shake my head and think that something needs to be done.

Well I write a blog that's about living a life in faith. If I don't use this forum to comment then what use am I? So as the spirit moves me, make that as the Spirit moves me, I'm going to give you my view on the point where faith and life should come together.

Unless you've given up on the news you've probably seen the story about Jennifer Wilbanks, the bride who disappeared just days before her wedding leading to a huge manhunt. She turned up three days later with a story about being kidnapped which she almost immediately recanted (there's a link in the title of this entry, just click on it).

This isn't about her.

It's about how so many people and commentators have reacted to the story. So much of the commentary I've heard has been to make fun of this young woman and to insist that her fiancé would be a fool to marry her. That he should cut and run and never look back.

I just don't get that.

Well check that, yes I do. What passes for commentary these days is mostly smug "Aren't I clever" nonsense based on the idea that who ever can be the most obnoxious is the coolest and the smartest and the best. Color me unimpressed. Making up our minds based on minimal, usually superficial information is not what the smartest people do. It's what ill informed talking heads do. It's what school yard bullies do. If that's what makes you cool then I'm utterly content to be un-cool.

Here's what we do know:
They appear to have been in love. She appears to have gotten overwhelmed by something or a whole bunch of somethings leading up to her pretty enormous wedding. She split. Other than worrying the daylights out of everybody, making her community waste a fair bit of time and money, and making up a really stupid story I don't see where she's done anything that would cause her fiancé to want to walk away from her.

Unless you buy the cultural value that says "It's all about me". Our entire culture today has moved to a stance that makes this self-centered, selfish point of view not only common but legitimate. All the young man in question has to say is "You hurt me, I shouldn't be treated this way" then he has every excuse to walk away. All he has to do is discount any pain or concerns of the woman he supposedly loves and it's easy. Somewhere along the line we've forgotten that any relationship, let alone marriage, is supposed to be about us, not me.

There may come a time when he realizes, or the two of the them together realize, that their relationship doesn't work. But it should be the two of them caring for one another that makes the decision. I have no doubt that there are some hard times ahead for them as they try to hammer this relationship out.

What they don't need is a lot of empty headed commentary designed only to make the commentators look "smart". And the rest of us need to let the talking heads know they need to shut their yaps. In the meantime we could all offer up a prayer for this young couple. That would be actually useful.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Again and again and again...

I don't much like re-runs. While I'm willing to admit they have a value (sometimes I miss an episode the first time through, or it's one like the "Two Cathedrals" episode of the West Wing that really speak to me deeply)watching a re-run is way down on my list of things I'd rather do. This creates a little conflict with the lady in my life who loves watching re-runs of her favorite shows. I believe she has now committed to memory every episode of the entire run of M*A*S*H.

This next bit will sound like I'm backtracking but I'm not. I do watch my favorite movies more than once. I also read my favorite books again and again (I'm reading "Catch 22" for probably the 6th time right now) It's just that I like to have a little space between times that I view or read something. I want it to fade in my memory just a little bit so that when I see or read it next I can have at least a little bit of an "AH-HA!" moment again.

All of this is introduction to a phenomenon that I encounter with one particular book. Over the last couple years I keep getting surprised by those Ah-Ha moments when I'm reading a book that I've read or had read to me literally thousands of times in my life. It happens when I read the Bible.

For a lot of Episcopalians the concept of personal reading of the Bible isn't as deeply ingrained as it is with some other denominations. Part of this comes from the fact that we hear a lot more Scripture during worship than many others do. Show up at an Episcopal church on Sunday and you will likely get an OT reading AND a NT reading AND a psalm PLUS the Gospel. That's a good thing. The other reason why we don't is, IMO, that as a church we do a rotten job of helping folks approach the Bible. And that's a bad thing. Because as I said, it's amazing how often you can be surprised by what's in there.

For example, a couple years ago I was the leader of a bible study (astoundingly my leadership didn't seem to damage anyone's chances at immortal salvation). I felt pretty confident as we worked our way through the story of Noah. Till we hit the part that FOLLOWS the Sunday school section. Do you know the part about drunk, naked Noah? About him getting all unreasonable when his children try to help him while he's drunk, naked and passed out? Total surprise to me.

Plus there are the more useful surprises. Like a recent lectio divina session I did where we were discussing the story of the woman who breaks the jar of nard, expensive perfume, over Jesus's head. She gets criticized for it. Now at that time I was feeling overwhelmed. Too much to do, and no matter what I got done I felt guilty because it meant that I'd set something else aside. The image I use is it feels like a koosh ball (if you've never seen one imagine a ball made up of a thousand rubber bands with one end in the center and the other forming the outer "edge" of the ball) that has someone pulling on every single strand at the same time. There's lots of tension but very little movement. That's how I felt as we studied this familiar bible story. It was Jesus's response to the criticism that blew me away.

"She did what she could"

Those words, which I'd heard a dozen(?), a hundred(?) times before hit me like a lightning bolt. For me at that moment it was an astounding "new" discovery in the midst of a scriptural re-run. And it keeps on happening.

So if you don't already read your bible on a regular basis let me offer this suggestion for starting. Find a version that is comfortable for you. I use the Revised Standard Version. I like the flow of the language and mine has great footnotes. There are some great study bibles out there. Or try The Message which is in very real, everyday kind of English with no little verse numbers to mess with you. (You do know those are NOT original right? The chapter and verse thing was added much later. So why get hung up on it? Real books aren't written that way) Then just pick a place to start. I recommend starting with a Gospel, like Mark. Why Mark? 'Cause it's the shortest. 16 chapters in less than 26 pages in my Bible. (Don't get hung up on length. I mean The Third Letter of John is less than a page but may not be a great starting point.) Then just read it chunks. Pick a length (a page, a chapter, a story at a time)or read till you hit something that makes you want to stop and think a little. When you hit your limit stop and think about it.

You may be surprised at what you discover in that re-run.