Wednesday, January 30, 2008


This is exactly my kind of humor. (h/t to Marko)The missiles are balloons. Attach them to your car then drive like...well like you've got missiles on your butt! I can only imagine the looks you'd get.

Parking lot politics

As I walked back to my car outside the Wal of Marts the other day I saw this bumper sticker:

Do you want Politicians legislating morality?

And I thought "Hell no. I don't want ANYONE legislating morality"

The history of morality legislation stinks. The biggest example, and likewise the biggest failure, was the Volstead Act otherwise known as the National Prohibition Act of 1919. Prohibition was a complete flop as is virtually all morality legislation. You can make all the laws you want and man will still act immorally. In fact there's one school of thought that says banning something out right makes it more attractive.

Curiously, Jesus seems to have known this. But his church manages to forget it.

Which leads me to another thought that has wandered across my mind recently. I remember distinctly being taught that Emperor Constantine's conversion and adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Rome was a great thing. A pivotal, important moment in western history.

As the years have passed I've come to completely disagree with that teaching. The connection of the church with the state is important but in a completely negative way. It was and is a catastrophe for the church.

First of all because it gave the church pretensions. It made us believe that we are entitled to rule in this world, that it is right for the church to rule in this world. Clearly this is what many of Jesus' followers expected and what Jesus himself rejected. Again that amazing ability to not listen to what the Savior taught.

Second, it has weakened the church's belief that it can change the world on its own. Instead of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, fighting for justice and peace and living out a Christ-like life we try to make the law in our own image. Why do we need the law when we have Christ? Because we've stopped believing in the power of Christ in the world.

This is not to say that people of faith shouldn't be involved in politics. But we should be involved in politics to achieve the ends of faith, not power. We should live out our political lives doing everything we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and fighting for justice and peace.

THAT would result in a more moral world.
THAT would result in our Lord being held in honor and praise.
THAT would result in people seeing Christianity as wise and loving and respected.

Constantine screwed up.

But it's not too late to fix it.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This is just so wrong

I like Pepsi.
I like cucumbers.

But no.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A video for your consideration

I do not like chain letters.
I do not forward chain letters.
This includes ALL letters that say I don't love Jesus, or I'll die or whatever if I don't forward this to 5, 10, 15, 200 of my friends.

What follows is a chain letter video. The ONLY reason why I'm including it here is that prior to it's dopey chain letter ending I think it raises some very real and challenging questions.

So DON'T feel compelled to forward this to anyone. Just watch and think.


Friday, January 25, 2008

A theological moment on my way to lunch

I decided to walk down a couple blocks from my office to grab a sandwich for lunch. The walk makes me feel virtuous enough to get away eating a half sub for lunch, LOL.

On my way I was approached by two young men wearing identical dark winter jackets. They were well groomed, bright eyed and I knew they were Mormons before I saw their name tags reading Elder so and so.

I must admit I'm conflicted on the subject of Mormons. In my experience they are some of the nicest, politest, hardest working folk I've ever known. They seem to have a commitment to their faith that goes beyond what most Christians seem to have. By and large they are just likable folks. Back in the day when they were the hot pop stars I'll even admit to a small crush on Marie Osmond.

But I think their theology is rubbish. I feel bad saying that. There's enough trash talking and slagging on one another's theology in the Episcopal church over the last 5-10 years to make me never want to be around it again. But the fact remains. I know enough about LDS theology to know that it doesn't work for me at all. As a Christian I believe in a bunch of stuff that is just so obviously delusional to the secular world view that I avoid mocking other folks for believing in things that I just can't wrap my mind around. In the end I'm still left with my complete rejection of the basis of their faith.

No doubt some will point out that I should be "counter-evangelizing" them. To save them from this incorrect theological stance. Sorry can't go there. It would waste my time and theirs. That's my personal decision and I can live with it.

But it doesn't relieve me of the tension I feel between my personal like of them as people and my theological dislike of what they teach. And that's the tension of the moment standing on a cold, breezy corner in January, all of hunched against the cold.

So I do what I always do. Tell them I've spoken with LDS missionaries before (true), that I'm familiar with their beliefs (true), and that I own a copy of the Book of Mormon (true). I tell them that I'm a youth minister in the Episcopal church nearby and that I'm on my way somewhere (all true). Then I chat with them for a moment. Ask how long they've been in town, how they're bearing up with the weather (without going into details these guys were obviously from warmer parts of the country). I listened to a little bit of their pitch, made it clear I wasn't interested in a longer conversation on the subject, shook hands with them both and said good bye.

That's probably more time than most folks gave them this afternoon as they wandered through downtown. I hope it's at least as polite or more so than average. In that I think I responded in a Christ like manner.

Should I have done a little theological wrestling to try and turn them? I don't know but there wasn't a call in my heart to do so in that time and moment. They're so very serious and I don't feel the need to open up a new frontier of serious religious issues. I have enough of my own. Maybe being greeted cordially by a person of a different faith (yes, I think the LDS understanding of Christ is different enough to warrant calling it a different faith)on a cold wintry corner is what was needed at that moment. I don't know. In the moment I went with what felt right.

They were a nice couple of guys and I wish them well on their journey in faith. My prayer is that God will continue to work on their hearts and bring them to where it is He has planned for them.

And the sub was really good!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

And now some other stuff

Just some odds and ends lying around the place:

Haven't been watching a lot of movies lately. But here are the latest:

Happy Feet - This is a fun little movie that I really enjoyed. But I remember people making a really big deal out of it and I don't quite see that. Some funny stuff but not all that.

Robin Williams Live on Broadway 2002 Now THIS was funny! The world's most popular Episcopal comedian was just fall down funny. Great concert film.

North by Northwest- I'm a huge Hitchcock fan and this was one of the "big" movies I'd never seen. I didn't realize how funny it is as well. And the scenes when Grant gets buzzed by the plane? The special effects are incredible. I was amazed when I checked out the special features to see how much of that was done in studio. Eva Marie Saint was wonderful in a nastier role than she usually got and James Mason was his usual wonderful slick and sleazy character. You should definitely check it out.

Jerry Maguire_ Yes a lot of this movie is over the top. But I loved it! Yes, "You had me at hello". As much as I like Renee Zellwegger (and I do) this movie is all about Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. Their scenery chewing, outrageous characters make the movie worth watching. Besides how many movies get two catch phrases as deeply into popular culture (the one above and "SHOW ME THE MONEY!")

Space Cowboys - got this forgetting that I'd seen most of it on TV already. Is this a great classic film like the Hitchcock above? Nope. But back in theater school we learned Goethe's three rules of criticism -
What was the artist trying to do - make a fun, senior citizen "buddy" movie.
Did they succeed? Yep
Was it worth doing? Movies really are PRIMARILY about entertainment. This was a fun little piece of entertainment. Fun cast having some fun. Worth the time to watch it.

Other stuff:

I'm in love with a new computer application. Google Reader. I check a bunch of blogs, friends, ministry, faith based, sports. And it was a hassle trying to page through finding new updates. I'd tried a Firefox extension or whatever they're called and it was OK. But only OK. Google Reader is great. Simple, clear and only shows me the blogs that have updated. Love it.

Finally this is just cool. Love the song plus I had to learn to juggle a little back at theater school. So I'm in total awe of this guy - Chris Bliss (h/t to Marko) What he does here is hard and requires immense concentration. The video is about 4 minutes long but worth it I think.


Monday, January 14, 2008

On being passionate

For any of you who found the title titillating I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment. I'm talking about being passionate about faith and ministry.

My last post was a rant about folks who, if I'm being honest, I thought gored my ox. As it turned out it was mostly mis-communication with one of them(but not the other). A wise lady friend and former youth minister sent me a long but profound note about youth ministry. It got me thinking.

And here's what I thought:

I've known for years that I'm really only interested in things that I can dive fully into. That's when I'm fully engaged and I tend to throw myself into it. I was that way for a long time in my previous career in radio. It's how I am about youth ministry. One of my catch phrases is "Good enough isn't good enough". I have a perfectionist streak in me. When things aren't perfect I tend to get down about it. I could have done more, I could have done it better.

You can not imagine how many times my lady wife has watched me beat myself up this way. It's what I do.

But it's also what makes me good at what I do. I can get fully engaged because I BELIEVE in what I'm doing. And it bugs the heck out of me when I see people who aren't willing to go that far. I used to drive people crazy in my last career because I'd say "I only expect you to work as hard as I do. I accept that you may be better at some things than I am and that I'm better at somethings than you are. Final results are whatever they turn out to be. But I expect you to work as hard as I do. And I work very hard".

I expect that when a diocese or congregation tells me that youth ministry is important that they are going to WORK HARD at it. Too often youth programs are just that, programs designed to keep the kids busy and out of the adults hair. It's about the lecture hall vision of teaching and the "We have relationship with our youth for two hours every Sunday". It's "Oh that Bob and Mary's daughter" instead of learning the kid's name.

I have a confession (you're going to think I'm nuts). I hate what I'm about to do. It feels like cheating, like I can't do my own thinking and writing. It feels like I'm slacking.

I told you, I'm nuts. But it's how I feel.

I'm going to quote somebody else (see, see!!!! Nuts!). Martin Saunders is the Editor of Youthwork Magazine and Chair of Youthwork the Partnership, a huge youth ministry movement in the UK. I saw this interview at a great website run by the amazing Len Evans (Youth Ministry Interviews) and it just spoke to me. Len asked him "How would you like to see youth ministry change":

"I’d like to see every member of our churches start to take responsibility for young people – starting with the ‘adult’ leaders. The biggest problem for youth workers here is that many churches employ them to ‘take care of the problem’ of young people, instead of trying to understand and engage with them at every level. Unless young people get integrated into the hearts of our churches, then our churches are not long for this world. And of course, it’s the adult church leaders who hold the keys. So I’d love to see us move towards a model where the whole church takes some responsibility for young people – even if that just means praying for and mentoring them."

(Lazy. Slacker. You disgust me.)(I'm JOKING people!)

Martin got it exactly right. This is my hope for youth ministry as well. I don't care if we do great programs, or any program at all. I don't care if we do Youth Sundays or whatever.

We need to stop taking care of our youth and begin caring about our youth.

And now if you'll excuse me I have to get back to work.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Youth Ministry Rant

I'm so...(well I can't really use the word here that I'm thinking so fill in the blank yourself). Let's just say I'm not a happy camper.

I spend a bit of time conversing with other folks on various blogs. By and large I get along pretty well, even with the folks with whom I disagree. But every once in a while...

The discussion that has gotten me cranked was started by a post referring to "unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity" by David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons, founder of the Fermi Project. The book looks at the attitudes of 16-29 year olds toward the church, especially those who are outside the church. I don't think any youth minister would be surprised by the results. This led to a discussion on the comments thread about youth ministry, mostly the question of what are we doing wrong?

I believe we have been doing some things wrong. I also believe that a lot of us are working VERY hard to correct that. As always with youth ministry the fruits of our work may not be seen for a while.

But two responses astounded me. The first amounted to "Well youth ministry is probably a good idea but really it doesn't matter one way or the other. The kids either get it or they don't. We just need to leave it in God's hands". I don't know if this one makes me more angry or sad or frustrated. I do not deny the central role of the Divine in the process of growing in faith. I'm just here to try and water God's garden and provide some of the earthly things each plant needs to thrive. In real terms that's relationship, teaching and listening.

That brings me to the second poster. He sees teaching as a very limited tool, all the current models of youth ministry as completely failed and youth ministry simply as a tool of the institution to perpetuate itself. Sunday school, youth group, failures. Not worth discussing. The first poster mentioned her concern with "forcing Jesus down(the youth's) throat". I'm sure no one will be surprised that the second person has nothing positive to offer, just a dismissive attitude toward everything we try to do. Quite simply if we don't have something brand new to offer then it's just SSDD and therefore automatically bound to fail.

Needless to say my doctor would not approve of my blood pressure right now.

Don't get me wrong. I don't live in a fairy tale world. I'm well aware of the shortcomings of youth ministry. The spectre of ministries that rely on "magic box" programs, unimaginative teaching, lack of building relationships with the youth, lack of resources and/or dedication from the congregations make what we do almost impossible in some places. But more and more we are recognizing that and making changes. Sadly the most visible elements in the church too often make the rest of us look bad. Spending massive amounts of time and energy arguing the fine points of worship style or fine points of theology while the world is hungry and naked and in prison makes us all look like hypocrites.

But having to fight both the cynicism and defeatism embodied by these two folks just makes it so much harder.

Maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe I'm just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The only problem is that when we do it right I see a difference being made in the lives of young people. Not as many youth as I'd like at any given moment but then I'm not supposed to be playing the numbers game.

And the numbers are betraying us. People forget that statistics only measure the past. They can be used as an indicator for the future but the accuracy of that indication relies, nay REQUIRES, that all conditions remain the same as before. If what we're doing now is right we won't know for at least a decade. It the curse of youth ministry. That the harvest almost always comes after they're gone. We plant the seed and we often get to see it bloom. But the full harvest, the fully developed person of faith, is truly a rare thing for us to see. And that's probably as it should be since when they leave our care they're still in the final stages of growth.

The recurring challenge was don't tell me about how kids show up or continue to go to church. Prove to me that they are growing in their faith, that they "get" it. I just want to scream "You're the idiots who don't get it!!! What you want isn't measurable. By your carping and defeatism you make this even harder than it is."

I have managed to refrain from actually calling anyone an idiot.

This really comes at a tough time (or maybe a good one). I'm struggling with the ideas in Loren Mead's book "The Once and Future Church". I'm struggling to find the wheat among the chaff. What is good and useful for my youth from that which is just "we've always done it that way". I think I'm making progress too.

I read what these people say and I wonder why should I worry about it? If they're right then I'm spinning my wheels. If they're wrong they represent a real voice in the church (which I've heard in other forms before) and if the church doesn't care any more than that then what do I owe it?

Yeah, yeah, I already know the answer to that one. I owe the institutional church a return on what they've invested in me, I owe the spiritual church a return on my gifts, and I just owe God. Period. Oh yeah and I owe my kids for the love and trust they put in me.

So I guess I can't pout and have a pity party or throw a tantrum.

As I said on the thread - youth ministry is harder than it looks.

(Editorial Note: After I posted this the first poster mentioned above and I had the chance to exchange some e-mails. I understand where her point of view grows from and know that she was not attacking me or youth ministry per se. Rather the frustrations we all feel about how hard it is to make a difference in the lives of young people had just taken her someplace I'm not ready to go. I hope that we've made our peace personally now. And I'll keep fighting the good fight knowing that while she hopes I'm right she reserves the right to wonder if I'm wrong)


Monday, January 07, 2008

Are We Willing to Listen?

One of my favorite TV shows involves small companies that find themselves in terrible financial shape. If things don't change very soon they will have to close their doors. So they invite an internationally known expert in to help. He's run their kind of business successfully on two continents, has written books and starred on TV. The expert tells them what they need to do to survive and seems to really want them to succeed.
What amazes me week after week is how much resistance he gets from the people he's trying to help. Remember these are businesses that are on their last legs. If doing things their way had been a good idea they wouldn't have to call in this guy. But they stubbornly stick to what they “know” about how to run the businesses.
As I watched the show the other day I started to laugh because it struck me how much the situation is like our relationship with Christ. (I laughed because this is probably the ONLY time this expert will ever be compared to Christ. He's abrupt, he's insulting and he needs to be “bleeped” about every fourth word.) We may not be on our “last legs” spiritually (but maybe we are) but we aren't operating under ideal circumstances either. In church speak you hear the words sinful, fallen, broken, imperfect or even dysfunctional. Whatever term you choose it means we're not functioning at our best. We're not getting the maximum amount of joy out of our existence. (Quick note I believe there's a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness comes and goes with the winds of this world. Joy comes from much deeper and isn't as easily swayed by what goes on in the world. I believe that joy is what God wants for us.) Our outside expert is Jesus. He knows what it means to live this life, he understands what needs to be done and has some simple, straightforward answers on what needs to be done. Better yet he's willing to take the time to work it out, and he doesn't suffer from the potty mouth syndrome of the guy on TV!
Unfortunately all too often we act like the people on TV. Yes, we understand what we need to be doing. Yes, we understand that we'd be better off doing some parts of our lives differently. Yes, yes, yes. BUT. But I'm really more comfortable doing it this way. But it's not really hurting anyone. But no one else is doing THAT, everyone is doing THIS. As illogical as it seems from the outside once we start dealing with what goes on inside ourselves suddenly we find things that we just can't/won't/don't want to change. We will fight to cling to ideas and behaviors that will make us not only unhappy but that keep us from being joyful.
The funny thing is that Jesus managed to sum up everything pretty neatly. He points out (Matthew 22:36-40) that everything grows out of just two concepts. It's not a long shopping list of dozens of things to do, it's just two ideas long.
Love God completely, and love your neighbors the way you'd like to be loved. Simple. Not easy mind you but not all that complicated.
So let's make our goal to not live our lives like those people on TV. Let's listen to the expert and see what our lives could look like.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy 2008!

I know everyone else in the blogosphere is way ahead of me on this one but I really took the end of last year off from most of my usual activities. So let's get caught up.

Christmas was lovely. Best presents were the circular saw from the in laws and two tickets to a March Bruce Springsteen concert from my brothers. Have I mentioned recently what a wonderful pair of brothers God has blessed me with? Primo times two.

The weather has been fine. It snowed lightly on Christmas Eve so we had a white Christmas.

My football pool. I never really recovered from my bad start but did finish in the top 50% of the pool. So I wasn't utterly humiliated. The next to last week was very good. I finished #8 for the week and #2 in the points per pick category. The last week of the season was a disaster. Too many teams resting starters and playoff implications and just bad football. Bleah. Still thinking about whether to try the playoff pool too. I'm just very leery of my Steelers prospects.

Watched the "Winter Classic" hockey game. From the comfort of my living room, natch. Yes, it was every bit as cold and snowy as it looked. And yes I was perfectly happy that the Pens won. I would have been almost as happy if the Sabres had. Almost.

New Year's Day some idiot backed into my car
and drove away. That's about a two foot crack in the high tech plastic door panel on my Saturn. Which will cost a mere $900 to repair and paint to match.
I'm struggling with some very un-Christian thoughts about whoever did this.

Beyond that I'm looking forward to the New Year. It has the potential for some really good things this year I believe.

I'll try and get more caught up next week.