Monday, January 29, 2007

One from my pocket

I wrote this as a sermon. Turns out I never used it. So here it is with some minor modifications.

Why Youth Ministry?
I must admit that I struggled more with that question than I ever expected to. For me personally there can be no such question as to the why of youth ministry. It was about 15 years ago that I heard my own personal call to work with young people and I've never looked back. It's where I fit, it's where I belong, it is where I have found great joy and inspiration over the years that I worked with my home congregation and with our diocesan programs and beyond. Yet as I sat staring at the blank computer monitor with that maddening little cursor blinking at me as if challenging me to fill those pages I thought "Well that's fine for you Jay but what about the larger question? Why youth ministry? Why youth ministry at our congregations and youth ministry in the Episcopal diocese of WNY?"

So I owe all of you here a debt of gratitude for pushing me to think deeper about these questions.

These are the answers that came to me as I thought: Why do youth ministry?

Because the faith of Jesus Christ as expressed in our Anglican tradition is not ours to keep. We are called upon to share it, to give it away, freely and to all peoples. And how can we say that it is for all the world but not for our own flesh and blood? In the gospels of Matthew Jesus asks the question if a child asks their parent for bread will they be given a stone ? If our children look to us for wisdom and knowledge and all the things they need to live and thrive in the world will we choose to keep this faith from them? What kind of parents would that make us?
And knowing the kind of world that is waiting for our children how can we not give them all the tools they need? In a world where Greed is good and sex is casual, and drugs are recreational the can only be one answer to the question of Why Youth Ministry. That answer is that if we do not minister to our children we will have failed.

Think on this as well, not only will we have failed our children but we will have failed our church. We come here, I hope, because we have found comfort here, strength here, courage here, solace here. This expression of Christian life and worship is something that works, that gives strength to the members. Surely this too is an inheritance we are expected to pass along. Surely we WANT this place to go on . And surely we want our flesh and blood to be part of that. What does it say about the life lived here if we invite the stranger in but are comfortable that our families are not here? Our inheritance is a great river that stretches from the past into the future. We do not create the river we merely stand in one part. A church without youth ministry is one that has decided to dam that river, and keep the waters for itself. Such a river will eventually drown everything in its path until the ground absorbs it and it is gone.

As I thought I came across yet another reason why youth ministry. Because God has seen fit to call and use young people over and over and over again. If it's good enough for God how can we say no? Look at the young people God has called. David, so young that when his elders gave him armor to go and fight Goliath it was so huge on him that he couldn't move in it. Mary, the mother of Jesus, a very young woman asked to do an amazing and impossible thing. Jeremiah who is quite up front with God. I am just a boy. Paul reminded Timothy that his youth was not a hindrance in God's work. Jesus sets up a child's faith as one of the models we should look to for ourselves. Surely it is our calling to bring the little ones to him.

In the end the answer to the question is that we MUST do youth ministry. There is no alternative. Our faith requires it and our God has modeled if for us. Let us never forget that our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and all the children of this community are our younger brothers and sisters in Christ. They need what we have, or are in the process of obtaining. There is more than enough to go around. This is a gift that multiplies the more it is divided.

So the next question becomes how best can we do this. Let me begin by telling you that I believe the most important answer to this question isn't about what program, or Sunday school curriculum you should be using. There are lots of good ones and many great ones. Program alone is generally not a successful formula. How do we bring the teachings of the first century in the middle east to the 21st Century in middle America? As I talk with youth ministers from around our denomination and in other denominations I think I see a pattern. A pattern of how to bring that message of faith to our younger brothers and sisters, how to make it something of importance and relevance in their lives.

I feel compelled to add a warning here. What I am about to say is not a magic formula, it is not a magic bullet or magic box. It does not come with a guarantee. Most importantly it's not a quick fix.

The pattern is simply this: Our ministry must be about relationship. Because if you look at the stories in the Gospels and the other books of the NT you'll see they are stories of relationship. You see some things have not changed since the first century. Love is about relationship. Relationship is real. In youth ministry especially we sometimes lose sight of that. We get caught up in trying to be cool, or flashy, we get caught in tradition and program instead of focusing on the real. Real is life, all of life. Not just Sunday school or youth group time but every time, all the time. Don't think you can condense the phrase "real is life" down to "real life" because that phrase means something very different "out there" in the world. Out there real life is about individuality, personal gain and survival of the fittest. It's a jersey poppin, just win baby cuz winning isn't everything it's the only thing. A life where Greed is good, sex is casual and drugs are recreational. That "real life" truly isn't real, because the only relationship there is one of domination and conquest. That's not the real we come to know in a community of faith.

But the question today is how do we teach that real? How do we give our younger brothers and sisters a different kind of real, a different way of approaching what is waiting for them out there? I have come to believe in one teaching method above all others. And when I look at those places that have shown the greatest positives in their ministry to one another you find this method over and over and over again. The great thing about it is that it can be used with any program, at any age, in any size congregation. And it can be employed, in fact is most effectively employed, by everyone. Not just the clergy or the designated teachers or ministers, but by everyone in every pew.

It is quite simply, story. Your story, and my story and the stories of the 3 year olds and the stories of the 83 year olds. There is no greater glue for a community than to share your stories, there is no greater teaching tool than to give one another the examples of our own lives. Personal stories aren't some abstract teaching concept, they are real examples of things that went right, things that went wrong, things that were changed. Stories make us real to one another because we can no longer look across the aisle and see just some kid or some old person. Now they are young William who has been struggling with algebra, or Mrs. Wilberforce who actually rafted down the Amazon river. Stories are sources of great wisdom and sometimes great reassurance. For many young people there is no greater comfort than knowing that other folks have been down those same paths before them, and it's normal to think and feel these things.

Stories will not, and in some cases should not, simply come pouring out. Our story is one of the most personal things we possess. It can be very uncomfortable for us to place that precious part of ourselves out there for others to see. Perhaps you already do this, either as an intentional process or just simply out of the normal development of your community. If so I encourage you to continue and to grow. Find new ways to share those stories and to tie them to the teachings of scripture. If it is not a part of your lives I recommend it strongly to you. We live in age of increasing alone-ness. We spend more time with ipods shutting out the sound of those around us and computer screens or TV screens standing between us and the face of our fellows. Story brings us together.

Out of story rises understanding, out of understanding rises trust, out of trust rises love. And that we are reminded is the greatest thing of all.
I would point out one other thing that I have seen in this pattern. That the sharing of story is not something only for the leaders of the ministry. Especially in youth ministry our young people need to hear the stories of other youth and adults and senior citizens. They need to hear the stories of our successes and our failures. They need to hear the stories of what happened and then what happened next. They need to hear all our stories.

Why do youth ministry? To pass along our inheritance, and to follow in the footsteps of God. How to do youth ministry? Share your story. Share how God has worked in your life, share the understanding that you have found. And along the way listen to their stories. Help them to grow their stories by inspiring them, challenging them, empowering them. That can be the only answer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More silliness

Don't ask me why, it was Eileen that pointed me at this.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Talk about bang on. Yes, I'm from Pittsburgh and thank you my voice worked out pretty well in radio for 19.5 years.


Going to the Core!

I have now officially registered for the Core Workshop put on by Youth Specialties. This year it'll be in Hamburg NY which is actually closer to my house than usual (only an hour instead of an hour and a half).


Plus, plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,plus,......

Unless his schedule changes or he wimps out or sumpin' I'll get a chance to meet Mark Ostreicher, know far and wide simply as Marko.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not some star struck kid youth minister. In fact I think I've got at least a decade on Marko. In my experience most "celebrities" are over rated so I stopped getting excited about them a long time ago. (Coolest celebrity moment - I interviewed Pat Benatar, on the phone sadly, and we chatted about our lives as parents. Very cool. My opinion of Pat went up even higher. Second best - meeting Slim Whitman. 'Nuf sed.)Actually the closest I've come to "star struck" was getting to greet and shake hands with Mike Yaconnelli. Exceedingly cool. But Pat Benatar is still hotter than Yac.

Marko has impressed me by his passion, his honesty and unique fashion sense. I just hope he doesn't freeze his southern California tootsies while he's here. April can still be pretty chilly. Needless to say I think I'll have to wear one of my trademark hawaiian shirts.

The Core workshops have always impressed me by the quality of what they bring. Good folks, good materials, the chance to meet with other YMs from various denominations and exchange ideas. I don't get any kickback from YS for this plug. I don't recommend what I don't believe in.

I'm looking forward to it. And meeting Marko.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Movie update

I mentioned before that I love movies and we do the Netflix thing. The latest two Netflix were:

"The Mask of Zorro" with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones. Is it a great movie? No. But it's an old fashioned swashbuckler with Catherine for me to enjoy and Antonio for my wife to enjoy, so why not just relax and enjoy. The movie is supposed to be fun and for the most part it is. What more can you ask? It would really have been better if it were about 30 minutes shorter however.

"The Green Mile" with Tom Hanks and a cast of dozens of great character actors. Wow! What a great movie and what a wonderful discussion starter. Does Hank's guard character commit an act for which he owes forgiveness? Who and what IS John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan)? And where the heck do you buy clothes if you're that big? LOL. It's also very long (188 minutes, almost an hour longer than Zorro but the time didn't drag as much for me.)

I'd recommend either of them. Green Mile is definitely NOT for little kids. The execution scenes (there are three) are quite disturbing, maybe even for adults. The second one especially will give some folks nightmares for weeks. You've been warned but keep it in mind. This is a powerful and uplifting movie with some very funny parts.

Saw A Night at The Museum in a theater last week. Gotta be honest, this was not my first choice. I'm NOT a Ben Stiller fan and I was afraid that the trailer had all the funny parts in it. Meaning the rest of the movie would suck.

I was wrong.

This is a funny, family movie that is extremely funny at times. The various big name comedy co-stars do a nice job, Stiller is just fine as the lead and I really had a good time. Dick Van Dyke as a very believable bad guy was something new too.

I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong. Looking for some easy fun time at the movies, think about A Night at the Museum.

Okay, three posts in one day. That's enough. Go do some other work.


New Shoes

I'm breaking in a new pair of shoes. Which is always a pain. The first couple days always feel like I have boards strapped to my feet, they rub, they don't fit like what I've been wearing, yadda yadda yadda.

Plus there's this whole shoe string issue. At what point did it become mandatory to have shoe laces that were two feet longer than needed? I end up with double and triple knots, which make me feel like some ill trained little boy (again, been there done that)and looks idiotic. Plus it seems like the new technology of laces means that they won't stay tied. Drives me crazy.

I'm trying a new shoe, a Starbury crossover. They're the brain child of NBA star Stephon Marbury, who wanted to create a good shoe at very low price. The price ($15) attracted me, and the early reports were that they were decently made. Yes, there's a certain element of you get what you pay for but these are supposed to be VERY GOOD cheap shoes. We'll see. Can't argue with the logic though. Good shoes for folks who can't (or in my case WON'T) drop $150 on shoes. So I hope the shoes workout. Marbury is apparently wearing them this season.

That might be important to me if I cared at all about basketball.

Which I don't.

The crossover model is the low-top. I haven't Worn a high top since my last pair of P.F. Flyers. Which I was astounded to discover still exists! The same shoes I wore as a kid (along with the occasional Chuck Taylor All Stars) for only $39. Still a deal compared to anything with the average superstar's name attached to it.

So I hope these darn things break in soon.

My feet are killing me.


My Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Just saw this over at RevRef. "The Scattered"? Oh yes. And of course it's "Lower" Hellswicke.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Most Noble Lord Jay the Scattered of Lower Hellswicke
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Nothing like a little silliness for a Monday


Friday, January 19, 2007

And the snow falls

There's no greater impetus to blog than having someone say "Where's your blog?". Zoom, time to hit another post.

Of course the problem is you want them to arrive to something profound, or humorous, or witty. And your brain begins to churn. And you realize that you'd settle for reasonably intelligent with correct spelling.

Last year I offered up the first of what I plan to be some simple, relatively short " Letter to the Younger Brothers and Sisters" That first one was called "It's not about you" and dealt with selfishness. As I head into the new year I was thinking about what else I'd like to touch on. Several "church" type issues come to mind


I must be out of my mind (as I look at those words above) to think that I can 1) do them in a relatively short piece, and 2)that I'll be able to offer anything particularly useful. But it just seems like too often we DON'T spend the time breaking things down. All too often, even among youth workers, I seem to hear folks assuming that we all know what that means, or that we all know what our special church terminology means. With all due respect to the big brains of theology, the high thinkers and the deep delvers our faith was explained to simple folk in simple terms two thousand years ago.

What the heck happened?

Simple. We decided we'd try to figure it out, to explain it and understand it and whip it into good shape. And the older I get the more I come to believe that all that work is a waste of time and the end result is largely, ahem, bovine by product.

So maybe I'll add these to the list:
Of Heaven and Hell
Of Perfection
On Understanding God

Maybe I'll get it wrong. But that'll just put me in the same boat with lots of other folks. Including a lot of high thinkers, deep delvers and theological heavyweights.

I'm willing to take the risk. Simple faith from a pretty simple guy.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Cleaning up around here

It feels like I haven't posted in weeks but I see it's only been days. Hmmmm, wonder if I'm suffering from blog withdrawl?

It's the time of year when I try to do some house cleaning both at home and at the office. Since we moved near the end of last year lots of things are still waiting to be sorted and find their place. I've seen lots of photos from my mis-led youth. Interesting to see my graduation photo where I'm all squinty eyed for some reason or my college ID photo where my look seems to say "Go ahead, tick me off and I'll tear your head off" I was angry that day about something. Or maybe hung over (yes, I have a fair bit of experience in that department)

Was scanning through some other blogs and found one that I don't think I've ever visited before yet there's a link to this here humble abode! Cool! So a quick shout out to Eileen, who's a very neat lady. She's also praying for her boss who is working her way through a bone marrow transplant. Check Eileen's blog for details and say a prayer.

The downside of cleaning is you discover what's missing. I bought a CD by Isaac Everett at GC and now I can't find it. And that's VERY bad. He's got music you can listen to and download at his web site. Buy his CDs!

I've mentioned other places so I suppose I should note here that I'm happy. Maybe that doesn't sound earth shattering to you but last year was centered on my mom's death, my wife's two (count 'em two) hip replacement operations, my only child headed off to college, moving to a new house PLUS all the usual day to day life kind of STUFF that happens as you march resolutely (but completely against your will) into middle age. Well about half way through November I began waking up with this growing, peculiar feeling. It finally dawned on me.

I was happy.

And I hadn't felt like that in a long time. I've had this feeling, of an emotional "light" slowly dawning once before that I remember. It was just a couple of years ago. My doctor felt it was an undiagnosed mild depression. Could be, I'm just glad when it's gone.

And it is.

And I'm happy.

Which makes me act silly. Which both amuses and annoys my lady wife. You'll have to ask her which one is in the ascendant.

Isaac is playing in the background. It's a bossa nova interpretation of a Tolkein poem "I Sit Beside the Fire and Think". He describes it thusly "Imagine Bilbo Baggins wearing a red-sequined vest, if you can".

Perfect music for me!

OK, gotta go weed out more stuff from the office and then go join my ladies and some friends for dinner.



Monday, January 08, 2007

Be Transformed

(This is my column for the January issue of "ChurchActs" our diocesan newspaper)

“Be Transformed” is our theme for Summer Camp 2007. To “transform” something is to make it different. Certainly a living out of our faith results in transformations both in the world around us and in ourselves. I've watched the transformation of many young people and felt the transformation in myself as well.
While “Be Transformed” is the theme for this summer I was fascinated as I thought about transformation at this time of year. The ChurchActs with this column in it will hit your mailbox while we are still in the church's Christmas season. Christmas marks the celebration of the beginning of a wonderful transformation as Jesus arrives in the world. From that event grows the community in faith that eventually becomes the Diocese of Western New York and its youth ministries. Our transformations are linked to that wondrous event.
Did it ever occur to you that our transformation owes a great deal to a teenager who was willing to be made into something different by and for God? Our experience owes a direct debt to the girl known today as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary the mother of God, even the “theotokos” (the God bearer). Back in the day she was a teenage girl (most likely) confronted with an offer that would change her life in many, many ways. She could be pretty sure that those changes were not all going to be easy. The offer from God seems to have made her a little nervous at first but in the end she accepted. She was willing to be changed, to become something that God wanted her to be. A simple girl who was willing to let herself be changed took the first step that leads to the transformations in our lives.
To the best of my knowledge God hasn't asked anyone to do anything quite as dramatic since that day. But each of us are asked to find the courage to walk in Mary's footsteps. It can be just as scary today, and all the changes will not be easy. Doing what God asks of us is in part saying “Who and what I am right now needs to change”. Let's be honest, most of us are pretty comfortable with who we are. We may not be perfect but we know what to expect. God's offer to us, like Mary, is to move out of that comfort zone into something that challenges us. The good news is that like Mary we can be given the chance to make a real difference in the world. All by ourselves we won't bring the kind of change into the world that Mary did, but think about the change that all of us together could make. Accept God's offer and be made into someone different. Someone different in every aspect of your life. Someone who approaches the world looking for how they help the world come closer to God.

Be Transformed!

(Oh, yeah. And come join us at camp this summer too!)


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

Feels kind of strange to be back in my office today. The diocesan offices were closed for the last week so I've been working very hard at NOT working!

The holidays were wonderful. Got a chance to see some of my aunts and uncles along with the in-laws. Some very cool toys for Christmas. In case you're wondering what makes DaYouthGuy happy under the tree my two fave presents were a new Foodsaver (one of those vacuum machines for saving food, I broke my last one) and a case for my ipod! Very exciting.

Between the holidays had a small bummer inserted. The mom of one of my best friends from high school died just before Christmas. I haven't seen Tina in about 10 years (I know, I'm a rotten friend!)so it was a lousy reason for a reunion but it was great to see her and her girls. Another member of the adult orphans society. I was glad I could be there at the funeral, plus got to see another of my best buds from HS days too. (Hi Steve!)

One post Christmas story to relate. We have two cats, and one of them was playing with something out in the dining room. I heard her chasing it in and out of one of those big shopping bags, the kind the plastic loop handles you get at big department stores. Suddenly I heard a loud rattle, then another one and then a rattling banging blur shot through the house and up the stairs. She had stuck her head through the handle, tried to shake free, that made the bag rattle right behind her, she tried to get away, then took off pursued by her own personal paper demon! I did try to help her but honesty requires that I note that I was laughing too hard to be much use. When I finally got upstairs I found the bag and no cat. She didn't show up for an hour, and was all flinchy for another couple hours after that.

New Year's Eve is always a non-starter in my house. I don't go out because I don't like the increase in idiots, plus I don't like noise, crowds and drunks. So a quiet night at home with my lady wife.

So now we're back to the routine. Gotta get ready for the senior high overnight this Friday.

Let's hope that 2007 is a great year.