Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The first time a parent came to me as the youth group leader to ask for parenting advice was crazy. It was crazy for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason was that I was only 19 years old and the student in question was 14. I had nothing to say, mostly because I had nothing to offer - I was trying to figure out how to respond to the Elders' request that I take my lip ring out and stop dyeing my hair green.
The reason that Marko's new book "Understanding Your Young Teen" is so important is because it goes a long way towards closing the gap in the kinds of conversations that parents and people who work with young teens have to have, both with the teens themselves and with one another. The content of the book is a training for parents (the subtitle after all is "Practical Wisdom for Parents") but applies so wonderfully to my everyday world working with middle school students and their families that I must rave about it. Here goes:
Marko begins with a tongue-in-cheek rhetorical question: "Can Anything Good Come From This Age?" that smacks of the Biblical reference to Jesus's hometown but also underscores the attitude that so many people have towards middle schoolers in our culture. I can't begin to tell you how many people tell me on a regular basis, "That's great you work with THOSE kids, I certainly couldn't do it." Of course, knowing Marko's love for teens of this age I know that he is being snarky with the title. Marko uses this intro chapter to trace the development of adolescence as a cultural phenomenon and talks at length about misperceptions like the one I give above. "The gap between the perception many adults have of middle schoolers' potential and their actual potential is fairly wide. Most of this gap is rooted in complex cultural misunderstandings - even fear - of young teens." The basis of the book is that misunderstanding middle school aged teens is normal - maybe even OK - because it's an opportunity to learn the truth and biology behind the perceived stupidity.
Three important things are highlighted by Marko before launching full-tilt: 1) Most people come to faith in Jesus before the age of 13 or 14 (George Barna stats) 2) The two years following puberty (average age of 11, so 12-13 year olds) are a "tumultuous period of change. One of the most dramatic of these changes is the onset of abstract thinking, which is essential to owning one's faith" and 3) You (the parent) are still the number one influence in the life of your son or daughter!! (Christian Smith's research).
The middle school years are marked by change. We know this from a really base level - puberty happens, boys' voices squeak and bodies change - and girls seem to grow up overnight. But what Marko does so wonderfully in this book is give a teaching of all of the different kinds of teaching that really affect how we understand the process. There are certainly hormonal changes (Chapter 3), but we kind of get those because they happen so obviously. The bigger changes are the cognitive development and emotional development (chapters 4 and 5 respectively). Marko traces the way that the brain changes so dramatically in these years (for a full reading of these changes, I also finally just read "The Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch). We used to believe that the brian was fully formed and firing on all cylinders much earlier than it actually is. Teens are still forming their brains and won't stop until they are in their 20s - which means that what they say and do doesn't always make sense (shocking I know). But in all of this I think the most important thing maybe in the entire book is the understanding that teens learn to think during these years ... third-person perspective, self-awareness, nuance and gray areas, paradox, systems, speculation and inference ... these al come in to play in their earliest forms during these years.
Every week as I teach the 200 or so middle school students in Controlled Chaos I have to think about how to deliver the content to a student without the ability to abstractly handle them, as well as those that are starting to get what it looks like to speculate, reason, and disagree in new ways. The thing is, until I met Marko I didn't have this tool in the proverbial belt. So, for years I taught students abstract concepts to concrete brains. Now, I understand the value in bridging that gap, painting word pictures more vibrantly, experimenting with teaching in new ways. In this book, Marko gives us a better way to navigate and understand these years from this standpoint.
The chapters on relational change and independence have given me a new framework on dealing with those issues as well. For instance, the assertion in the relational change chapter that kids are given friendships early in life off of proximity but at this age start to re-work those friendships by affinity is huge. It makes it so much easier to understand why "lifelong" friends stop hanging out in 7th or 8th grade. It may not make it better or solve the heartache of it, but it certainly gives us an angle to approach it from.
Marko transitions by taking the implications of all of this information for spiritual development, leaning heavily on the Sticky Faith research of Kara Powell and Brad Griffin of the Fuller Youth Institute (who also contribute a bonus chapter at the end about the changing world of young teen girls that is amazing). This chapter (chapter 8: Operating System Upgrade) has obvious value to youth workers, and hopefully to a lot of the parents reading. It gives particular hope to the idea of parents and pastors partnering to make the faith and values systems of teens all that it can be. And again, with research and practicality mixed Marko lays out why teens are how they are at this age in this area.
The culmination of the book comes in chapter 9 - "White Hot Temporary: Early Adolescent Culture". Marko picks up the work that he did in "Youth Ministry 3.0" that talks about the roles of identity, autonomy, and affinity in the development of the teen brain. As the primary tasks of this time known as adolescence, they trade off importance in different decades like the long leg of a three-legged stool. Here, Marko dives deeper into how they play out in the current environment, encouraging parents to always be students of culture to a point where an exegesis of it can take place (interpreting how it pertains to your teen and situation).
The closing contain this sentiment from Marko: "We have both understanding and experiences (our own and what we've observed in others) that are valuable, necessary, and helpful. But we bring that understanding and perspective just as Christ brought his to us: We live incarnationally alongside our children - not merely as buddies or disciplinarians, but as relationally engaged and loving guides.:
This book isn't just a quick read and put on the shelf book. It is a field guide and handbook for anyone that has the best in mind for a young teen, or a group of young teens. My kids are little, but this book will come back into play for me in a whole new way in just a few years. If you are a parent of a young teen, or a soon to be young teen this will profoundly impact your parenting, your home - your entire life. If you teach this age or pastor this age of teen - you will learn more that you can imagine and have to underline and re-read to grasp it. Marko is a voice for a change in understanding and changing the way we do everything in ministry - and now in parenting - that none of us can afford to ignore or miss.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
It almost feels like a guilty pleasure to say that I like the work of a guy like Bill Hybels. You know, in that, big church-look up to big church pastors-what is missional and attractional- who has the best ideas- too many people steal from Hybels, Stanley, and Warren- get some original ideas kind of way. But he is awesome.
Sure, at times he makes me cringe. Specifically, a few years ago at the Leadership Summit he made a sexist joke, got called out on it, and then in "apology" made a worse one. I hated that day. I wasn't a fan of him for those few minutes because it's an awful way to do ministry and, really, life in general.
But then there's other times when that rawness is fresh to me ... like the talk I just listened to from Catalyst called "Courage."
In tracing his own story of finding Jesus as a teenager at camp, detailing the times in life that he has "flipped coins" over things that became a big part of who he is, how he does ministry, and how God has used him and his church, I was struck by the feeling of how true it is that one decision that stands at 50-50 determines the outcome of so much of what we do in life, in ministry, in general ...
I chose to leave a job I loved a little more than six months ago. In all honesty, I wake up a lot of mornings with a deep sadness of the relationships I left behind - a desire to know and be known like I was in that community. A selfish hunger to be recognized everywhere I go, have people hang on words, and my opinion valued greatly; a want for the times I was the best innovator and thinker in a room. But that's why I left: I wanted to be challenged to become better at the things I'm good at; to be the person being poured into and taught. I wanted mentors and people that are better at their job than I probably ever will be - and I found it here.
In missing the things that I had, I remember the things that got me to where I am. The decisions that were either made slowly over time as I reformed my theology and, eventually, my behaviors, or quickly as I decided who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go in life. God has always been where I walked, which is an obvious statement in some ways - but, to me anyway, also very profound. Because the streets I walked down in El Cajon or Santee or Littleton growing up where no thought of God was present - no desire to care that it might be real even - He was still there. He was. And I missed it, at least to the extent that I wasn't an active participant. I see now, years later, things he was up to in my life that are huge, but I missed them.
Hybels' talk brings me back to the places where I discovered God as an 18 year-old for the first time, through to today as I refine my character and theology and try to get things right as best I can. I remember a dank church basement in Greeley where I felt his presence for the first time, really, as I learned what youth ministry was.
I recall my dorm room that has since been razed, the place where I couldn't sleep and read the Gospel of John through tears and knew this stuff was real.
I think back to a random conference room at a crappy hotel in Silverthorne where God relayed to my 20 year-old heart, soul, and spirit that full-time ministry was the calling for my life and I knew something that day that I couldn't have comprehended before it. Or the club room at Crooked Creek when God called me out of hiding when I tried to leave that calling five years later.
I think back to an empty warehouse that got transformed into a 5,000 square foot skate park with 100 kids a night that were just like the 13 year-old me ...
And to the Country Inn and Suites in New Orleans that housed my life being wrecked, healed, repaired, and rebroken over and over again.
Each one was a coin-flip. I could have watched TV instead of reading John. I could have ignored God at Crooked Creek or in Silverthorne. When I felt the call and need to do something in New Orleans after Katrina, it would have been a lot easier to ignore it like I have with so many other altruistic ideas and yearnings. I could chalk all of it up to emotionalism or sentamentalism or mental illness.
But God did something that I can't explain in so many ways - but can go on and on about in so many other ways.
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world ..."
I was made alive, and although I choke for air sometimes, I am alive still. I was a dead man walking, walking those streets where a present God always called to me, and I finally listened. And that coin flip was a winner like none other for me.
Friday, August 26, 2011
I've had a tough time lately with some "Life's Not Fair" moments that I'm much too coy to share. Really, the truth is that they aren't important - because the lesson I've been focusing on is this:
It's true, life isn't fair. Bad things happen to good people. Jerks are rich and famous and have easy lives. People we dislike are treated better than we are against (what we think) is all logic and sense. And the list goes on an on.
But in my own wallowing self-pity I've had this thought occur a few times this week: I'm lucky it isn't fair in so many ways. Not to be overly church-y or didactic - but it's like this: I am a punk kid from a crappy neighborhood that acted out in every way possible growing up. I treated people like dirt, insulted them, picked on them - stole, lied, cheated (mostly in math class, true story), etc, etc. I am still prone to great fits of moodiness, judging, anger, jealousy, back-biting, scheming, coniving - well, you get the picture. I'm perfectly imperfect.
But I have an amazing life by so many standards. Without even getting too deep into it - I live in a place where I drink clean water right from a tap in my home. I eat (at least) three times a day without worry, and a lot of other things along those lines. But also - today I was watching my kids play on the playground and I realized how lucky I really am - how smiled-upon my life really is. I have a wife that no one could've predicted - why someone so kind, loving, and beautiful would find love with a guy trying his hardest to push the boundaries of decency in humor for a cheap laugh is beyond me. But it happened.
I have two ridiculous kids. Soooo cute and so fun.
I have the job of my dreams (at least since I've known Jesus) and even the hardest parts are more than worth it. I get to talk about real life with teenager that can choose the path I couldn't find until much later. They don't always respond, but what an awesome specific redemption of the punk teenager I was!
I was raised by incredible, loving parents that equipped me well (and even bail me out now from time to time).
And a lot of other things that can fit in here are true, too.
It isn't fair that I should be set up so well. Even if there is a level of worldly "fair" that I am mad about missing out on, the real fair is right in front of me, and I'm missing it as I look past all of it to see what I could have in a hypothetical, never-going-to-be world. And that's the Jesus story in a practical way that I could probably never even work into a talk - he got me here by grace, not anything I earned or did.
The goal? Wake up tomorrow without reverting back to thinking the other way.
... and here's to hoping ...
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The old adage "there are only so many hours in a day" cannot be more true in my life right now. This weekend, I'm single parenting as Josie is away at a retreat. I love it, it's so fun - and I also can't stop thinking of what has to go from my schedule in order to parent well. I'm guessing this is the dance that Josie does every day, and I can't imagine what it's like for parents who truly are alone.
For instance, I couldn't go run yesterday or today because I can't leave the kids alone. I can't go the gym for the same reason. I have a pile of work things that I need to get to, but they will have to wait until Sunday night probably. These are small things, but things that I want and need to do respectively. But, as this is the example, something has to fall in order to do the greater thing better (which is being a good dad). Even writing this requires that I let my kids fall into a TV stupor for 15 minutes. Just as I typed that Emmy started crying and climbed in my lap.
OK, back for a few thoughts - none of it is inherently bad, but every person in our life, both close and casual has expectations of us and it is impossible to meet them all because finding any kind of balance in life means sacrificing something. We have family expectations, personal expectations, job expectations, spiritual expectations, physical expectations, we have the expectations that we put onto others (which is a whole different deal and thought process). In order to do all of these things well, they have to be thought through and processed, probably daily.
I suck at managing the different parts of my life. I think I'm capable of doing a few well at a time, but not all of them. Is that normal, is that your experience?
This morning I had a Nicaragua meeting in Monument (an hour and half to two hours away depending on traffic and weather) and would have to left the house by 8:30 to get there with the kids (who would run and scream the whole time). This is impossible for me. Literally. So I had to skip, and feel incredibly guilty. Letting people down isn't something I'm used to doing, and I'm not even sure there's a way to do it well.
Most often, the people that get let down are my family, particularly Josie. This is the battle front that I am most interested in tackling going forward. However, that is way easier said than done. I want to be a good husband and a good father, and very often I'm not really. Not because I don't care or I'm too lazy or my intentions are shady. It's actually the opposite of all of those things - but the result is the same, and that's all that matters when it comes down to it.
It really all makes me dwell more and more on Jesus talking about a light yoke. I could go for a kind burden, whatever that even really means. The Message version talks about "the unforced rhythms of grace" a phrase that I find to be one of the most beautiful I've ever read ... I want that rhythm in my life - a natural, smooth, flowing grace that empowers me to be who I am and to pursue God, family, and goals in an easy way. I'm just not sure really what that looks like - and that's not even a bummer statement, I find great opportunity in that fact. I find the chance to be chiseled and shaped instead of guilt-ridden and stressed beyond what I can handle.
So, to really make a difference, I have to be organized for sure - but I also have to be ready to choose the things that get me closer to these goals and not the things that take me further away. It means refining skill in being a husband, parent, youth pastor, friend, etc. And it means giving away the parts of those things that take me down the path of overwhelmed stress and disappointment in myself and others.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
A new name for the blog, fittingly tied to the name of the new youth group I'm working with, Controlled Chaos (how great is that?!)
Change in one big area of life always gets me thinking about how I want to be different in other ways and places, too. Life moves quickly, and I'm often struck by how seasons end but the problems and tweaks I want to make always remain. At a base level, I'm talking about things like diet, exercise, Bible reading and prayer. I had a realization this morning that these things aren't going to get better unless I pursue them intentionally ... and that's the hard part.
Check this quote I found in a college textbook on leadership: "Chaos is order without predictability." I love it, for a lot of reasons. First, it describes a ministry to middle school so well, I think. It may seem insane, but in the chaos comes an order that we all kind of get. Second, it's my life summed up. I don't keep regular hours, sleep very well, or even always remember what day it is ... but my life has an order to it that works, and that ultimately I "get".
The adjoining principle is that chaos is organized through creativity. Which we can all relate to as true, can't we. When we haven't slept because a kid is sick or a problem is weighing on us; when everything seems out of place and crazy ... we get creative and figure out how to turn those negatives into something that on the high side is of beauty and on the low side, just works.
Here's to the continued pursuit of that kind of creativity.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
2010 and into 2011 has been a big year for me in a lot of ways. The only reason that I am using a timeline of last April to this March is because of an incredible program I just finished called the Youth Ministry Coaching Program (YMCP). Teamed with the leadership class I took at the Air Force Academy on Dynamic Leadership, focusing on character development in leadership, and the weekly meetings with a mentor that shook my perspective, challenged my notions, and pushed my boundaries, I came out way ahead.
A year ago I knew a few things about myself: I loved the students in my ministry (I still do), I was pretty good at being a youth pastor, I had a wonderful family (I still do, of course), ... and I was dissatisfied, frustrated, tired, and above all, just plain wanted to get better at being all of the things I am - husband, father, pastor, leader, friend, mentor, protege, etc.
The first step happened a while earlier when the father of one of my high school guys approached me on a mission trip and told me that he saw potential in me above where I was professionally and personally and that he could tell I wasn't being developed to my maximum (which was like having someone tell me I wasn't crazy and that the emperor truly had no clothes). I began meeting with him regularly, nearly every week in September 2009. It started hard ... I had to break some bad habits and look at things differently if I really wanted to get better. After a rough, honest meeting the very first time we had coffee, I sat and gave myself the space to ask if I truly wanted to have my heart wrung out and reanimated with stronger things. I did, and I grew immediately and quickly.
Next, I found out about the Youth Ministry Coaching Program run by Mark Oestreicher, whom I have read for years and admired as the former president of Youth Specialties and a thinker that I have always wanted to be more like. After reading about the launch of it, I knew I had to be involved. My church graciously paid the tuition and Josie and I made the sacrifice to pay for the travel expenses of going to San Diego every other month for a year. It definitely helped that I got to travel to the area I grew up in. Those who know me also know how deeply sentimental and borderline cheesy I am about all things, but especially San Diego. Of all the experiences of the last year outside the program, which I'll get to in a second, the capstone was taking a run on La Jolla shores along the ocean as the sun set my last night in town after the closing YMCP. There is a metaphor about endings and beginning in there, but simply put it was inspiring and one of the moments of my life as a movie that will replay for the rest of my days. Like all of the coaching cohort experience, it was just a spiritual moment.
The program itself changed me in rich and profound ways. Marko has an uncanny ability to state things that are complex in ways that are penetrating. Or, said another way, my soul was pierced by the application of simple truths both about God, but also about myself. And the marriage of those concepts is really where ministry comes from.
I found a new confidence, a new clarity, a refreshed inspiration. I rekindled my love affair with the craft of youth ministry, challenging thinking, and vigorous application. My students benefited, my family benefited, my career has flourished and is taking new directions that have given me life in places that were at least dying if not dead. In all honestly and without hyperbole, I don't know what kind of rut I would be in if I had not pursued this opportunity.
If you are a youth pastor, go. Do this ... now, not later. Sell your car or whatever, it's well, well worth it. Your life will change, I promise.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I love the Beatitudes as Eugene Peterson presents them in the Message. They are just real, and especially to middle school and high school students. I'm starting a series this week taking commercials and placing them against a Beatitude to offset the message the world wants us to get and the one Jesus does.
For instance, a food commercial, I'll use the Snickers ones with Betty White, Aretha Franklin, and Liza MInelli. The idea will be that marketers tell us that our emptiness needs to be filled with their product, like a candy bar in this case. But Jesus says in Matthew 5:6, "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."
I'm excited to start this up, as I think the implications for the application of the Beatitudes to a teenagers' life are huge. The themes will be consumerism, contentedness, and change. I'm even going to use the classic Wendy's "Hole" commercial that Mark Oestreicher uses in Youth Ministry 3.0 to illustrate the concept of turning around and doing things differently. And you can't go wrong with the commmercial posted above, it's scary funny.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I know that only a few people read this regularly, but I am going to post here anyway about what my wife, Josie, wants for her 30th birthday on Saturday (the 20th).
We listened to a Catalyst Leadership Conference talk by Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water on our way home from Tucson last week. I had heard it a month or so ago, and knew Josie would love it. And love it she did. The story of Harrison dropping out of the Church at 18 to pursue, "fame, sex, and fun" and his subsequent return when he woke up one day and realized he was the most "selfish, sycophantic" person he knew is awe-inspiring. For him, though, it led to inspiring a new focus: helping people. He went to Africa with Mercy Ships and saw how people were dying from dirty water (I don't drink much water to the detriment of my health, so it hits me even more how much I take this for granted). He started charity:water shortly thereafter and they are doing incredible things, 100 % of what is raised goes right into wells because of creative financing for staff, and they have delivered life to more than a million people as of this year.
Josie is "donating" her birthday in an effort to raise at least $1,000 for the charity. Would you link to this post or tell your friends about charity:water if you read this? Would you give? I am inspired by the selflessness of Josie not only in this, but in so many aspects of her life. SHe continues to make me better, our kids better, and through things like this, strangers better.
The link to give and share: http://www.mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=10300
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I had my annual eye appointment today. It was expensive, not having insurance is tough!
Every year, I feel a little bit closer to blind in the doctor's chair. As I waited for him, I held my iPod against my nose to play a game, and I couldn't read almost any of the chart. The crazy part is when he placed the machine against my face and I could see, but could also still see the blurry edges around the machine.
- I can only see in part. God clarifies the things in my life that need to be seen and sometimes the edges are uncertain and no matter how hard I strain to make them clear they won't be. Paul promises that one day I will see clearly, though.
- focus is only as good as the mechanisms I run my view through. If I am using the wrong point of view, nothing will ever be clear like it could be or should be. Even the smartest wrong thing is still wrong, if that makes sense.
- I am more dependent on my contacts than ever. The doctor laughed and said that as we get older we tend to want less dependence and told me about lasik options. I can't afford lasik, but the real underscore is that I can't afford to not be dependent. The cost of losing a contact is near blindness or wearing my glasses, which makes me realllllly tired. In the same light, trying to do things outside of God leaves me stumbling around blindly, and spiritually worn out.
In a season where I can just feel change coming to my life, some I yearn for, some I'm scared of, and some that area both, I am thankful that I keep seeing hints of what it looks like to allow the lenses of my life to be powered by God. I see in part, but one day I'll see in whole.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
But I've noticed lately how very few people I interact with allow for people to change. We pigeonhole people, expecting the same things out of them even when they have stated a supernatural occurrence has taken place. Of course, this isn't everyone or even most people, but it's something I hear a lot, sometimes even from myself.
I'm taking a leadership class at the Air Force Academy. It's me and like A dozen high ranking military officials. It's still intimidating more than half way through the semester, but I am being challenged like crazy. In the past few weeks we've talked about a concept called "already always listening" which basically states that we think we know what people are going to say before they Say it, so we don't really listen to them. I think we do this with behaviors, too. We think we know how someone "is" so we ignore the work they are putting in.
The counter to this concept is called "standing on nothing." Basically, the pursuit of the idea to not come at a leadership opportunity with a pre-existing idea of what is going to happen, or even what it means to lead or be led. Instead, consider that all things are possible, including the first idea you have, but not at the exclusion of other possibilities.
This is really messing with my head and my leading already. I have been challenged in my own application that as a follower of Christ I should always be practicing these things order to best allow myself to be an empathetic, caring, sold out leader. I don't just want to run people through programs, I want to make a lasting impact on their lives.
As I look back one this weird thing called a blog, which is really a diary for strangers and friends to see, I laugh at how knee jerk some of my posts were. E funniest being when I wrote about my frustrations after a few badly attended weeks at youth group. The last year and months has brought a richness to what I'm doing, and in equal measures I feel ready to tackle it forever and to give a new ch.allege a try. But I know for sure that the last months of giving my character and internal motivations a good vetting, I am a better leader, pastor, Christian man, and probably most importantly right now, father and husband.
I love my family and my youth group kids more today than ever, and I love that God continues to refine me to make me better, and offers hints of greater things even yet to come.
If I wasn't allowed to change as the Holy Spirit breaks me down and those around me just assumed they knew what they were getting, I have no idea where I would be, the ministry I'm involved would be, or my family would be. Thanks to all who exhibit the grace to me to allow me to change. And may I learn to really do the same for you.
Monday, July 5, 2010
After getting soundly beat down in yet another game of football today, I had a realization ... at some point I jumped the shark from it being "unfair" for me to play against 13 year-olds to nobody really wanting me on their team.
I started out in youth ministry as an 18 year-old kid, and really I could beat just about any kid at any game (except for you Jon Meyer, you always could beat me but you're 12 feet tall, it's not fair). But time has set in, as well as my unhealthy diet, and it's just not the same. And I'm okay with it if I look at it the right way.
Soon, I'll surpass the equilibrium point, where more years will have been spent in youth ministry than years not. For instance, I'm 32 this year, and have now been driving as many years as I didn't, 16-16. In a few years my ministry experience will pass this point, too.
With the bad of becoming less athletic, fatter, and having less hair, there are goo things, too. I'm better at a lot of things I struggled with when I was younger. Here's some lists:
What I'm BETTER at as a 32 year-old:
Vision and Initiative
self-awareness, including the humility to ask for help to change
letting things roll off my back
doing ministry with other youth pastors
laughing at myself
... maybe more?
What I'm WORSE at:
Fun ... I am less fun for sure, no doubt
Games, I have to make myself have them sometimes
Lecturing ... all of a sudden I want to give pep talks to kids, weird
Exercising and Eating well, only nominally ministry related, but still ...
assuming the best of other team members and giving slack. Almost as if I operate with a sense of urgency
giving myself slack and allowing myself to not do/be the best at everything, always
... probably more?
Some of this is related to my previous post, but I look at it differently. Not all of this is good, nor bad. The question to me is facing reality and embracing the opportunities in both sides. I know a lot of people older than me get offended when I talk about feeling "old", but let's face it: youth ministry is stereotyped as a young man's game. Not a lot us make it this many years or this age without either trying to move up, quitting, or being asked to move "up".
Are there others out there examining this?
Monday, June 14, 2010
I'm not perfect. Shocker, eh?
But in that room to be imperfect, I have been trying to come to grips with what exactly it looks like to change those imperfections. I have been obsessed with the concept of change lately. And I want to be able to change those things that I see and others have pointed out about me. We talk in the church a lot about change, but rarely allow people to do so with grace ... and I know at least for me, even more rarely do I actually take a hard look at myself. If you have the patience to listen to a sermon I gave on change, you can click here.
Recently, I've noticed weird moments of anger and borderline depression. I wasn't sure why or what they were until a chance meeting at Starbucks with a friend and a dad of some of my students. He's not the talk-y type, but he helped me in about 30 minutes realize a bunch of stuff. The chart I posted above is a result of that conversation (you can click on it to see it bigger and more readable).
I have a lot of work to do in order to figure out a natural flow of changing this in the everyday. The thing is, for my own sanity and the sanity of my family and loved ones, I need to make it happen. Even for my students, I suppose. In a weird way, I feel like this is the chance for me to really connect the changes I ask people to consider from the platform of my job to my own day-to-day.
Depending on how vulnerable I feel, expect follow-ups.
And join me in embracing the concept that real change is possible, and that it starts with the courage to first name the alternate reality we'd like to live in, and second make the necessary adjustments to do so. With God's help, these things are going to look very different for me soon.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Those who know me well know that I'm a sappy sentimentalist. I say with little shame that I teared up when I drove by my old house and schools today. i even went to the 7-11 that my friends and I spent countless hours in, playing Street Fighter II and stealing candy. It's sacred space.
The funny thing is that as I pulled into the parking lot some middle school punk was walking up to my car, holding his arms up at me, and bobbing his head towards me like an angry chicken or something. I'm a guy, I know what he was going for: trash talk.
I got out of the car and he scootered up to me and started doing it again. now, if you know me well, you also know middle school boys don't intimidate me. i asked him in a joking way, "Why are you acting tough, what're you, like 12"? He cussed me out and was gone.
Now, there are a few reasons while this short exchange means something to me. One, he reminded me of me. It was like looking at myself as a 12 year old, talking trash to people that could kill me with a flick of a wrist, hanging out at 7-11 for no good reason. He had probably just got done stealing some candy.
Two, I had just driven through Santee where I went to three years of my four high school years at West Hills. When I entered Santee on Mission Gorge Road there was a huge sign that said "Welcome From the Churches of Santee" or something along those lines. I had never realized how many churches there were in Santee, because I never met a youth pastor from one in high school. I never saw a youth pastor from one at school. I never heard a kid talk about his youth pastor. And etc.
Now, I'm not writing an indictment of youth pastors in Santee. There might be now, and could have been then, great youth pastors doing great things and I missed it. But running across that kid at 7-11 and that sign in Santee reminded me why I love what I do - I'm looking for kids like me that aren't against Jesus or anti-God, they just have never had the chance to "get it".
It makes me think about what outreach to youth really looks like, both in general and in my ministry right now. I want to continue to be a campus presence, to have kids ask who I am, and to continuously introduce Jesus into lives in meaningful ways. The practice and execution, the specifics ... Those things might get tweaked and change, but that heart can't. We need multiple ways, new ideas, crazy thoughts, bold approaches. We need to not just ask a kid if he knows where he's going when he dies, but ask him if he really knows what it means to live.
A foul-mouthed time warp "me" taught me that tonight at 7-11 in El Cajon. I hope I remember.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I traded the beaches of San Diego for the mountains of Denver. 15 years! I can't believe it, but it's true. I can remember the feeling as a nearly 17 year-old moving to a place that may as well have been Siberia that the world was ending. In a lot of ways it did, in that my childlike naivety and innocence got lost and/or changed, everything I knew vanished, and I had to figure out who I was all over again.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
2/12/10 - Friday
We arrived about 9 pm in Managua ... a mariachi band greeted us as we went through luggage. It was a strange blast to the senses after arriving in a foreign country, bu tit was cool, too. We jumped on buses and rode until I think about 1 am to San Ramon. I couldn't see anything out the windows - extremely dark roadsides - but I could certainly smell the agriculture. I'm glad we get to ride back to Managua in daylight next week. That souns crazy, next week ... I miss my kids already, so it's going to be interesting to see how I hold up! The dorm here (the "Quinta" as they call it) is basically a mansion. I had no idea what kind of sleeping arrangements to expect, o this is a pleasant surprise. Off to a great start!
2/13/10 - Saturday
We woke up and had orientation - then we sorted all of the medicine and other items that came in the bins that we packed and carried on the plane, getting them ready to take to the clinics in the villages. A lot of work on the tedious side, but it will be worth it when we see how it's used I bet.
The rest of the day was supposed to be free time with the "Veterans" team going out to work in a village only. I managed to get myself assigned to help them though, which was a great move. We rode about 20 minutes up the road to a school straight up the mountain. The views looked like LOST, except for the shacks peppering the landscape. I rode in back of a truck with Stuart and another kid and was fairly scared, haha.
The school was a little two-room building with dirty floors and open-air windows. At one point something dropped on the ground and one the vets remarked that it was cleaner than the floors of the average home and picked it back up for use. I wasn't sure what that meant, but saw later when I walked around. Homes, with few exceptions, have dirt floors and cracks in the walls and roof that let in more dirt, water, etc.
The clinic was pretty cool. There were a couple of hundred people waiting there, most with little kids that looked sad and sick. People weren't very friendly there as opposed to Panama and Mexico. We'll see if that holds up, I hope it doesn't,
We sorted pills and packaged them, they were anti-worm pills that are given to virtually all of the little kids that come through the diagnosing station. Boring ... until one of the nurses came through and told us that each packet essentially saves a kid's life. Sobering - and suddenly it makes the work seem important instead of shackling.
Stu and I walked around a little bit, it was simple and poor. Dirty and kind of simply cool. I thought about the simplicity of life and it's kind of appealing in some ways, you know? Especially if I had never know the things I know as comforts now.
The kids are cute, but it's really sad to see how sick most looked. Maybe it's because we were at a medical clinic, and it's not every kid though? I hope so.
We rode on top of the bus coming back down the mountain. I t was pretty neat - temperature was nicer, but we had to duck low-hanging branches.
I miss Josie and my babies a ton. Gonna be a hard week! It's almost dinnertime now, we'll see what tonight holds.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Introduction to the Introduction: I Believe
“And I believe that what I believe is what makes me who I am.”
I picked up the group of about seven from the corner of a street by the Claiborne Bridge in New Orleans after we searched and searched but couldn’t find a spare for the tire they had blown an hour earlier. I had been across town, but made it over as quickly as possible to make sure we could get the group to a work project and not waste their day.
They loaded into my mini-van and I led the guy from the missions agency up Claiborne since I knew the way to the 9th Ward from there. Traffic slowed down right before the bridge.
About half a block up we could see a semi-truck with its flashers on. Before I knew it, one of the students in the car said, “There’s an accident. It just happened.”
As I slowed into the flow of stopped traffic, all of the doors in the car flew open, almost scaring me into slamming down on the gas pedal out of a reflex. Before I could say anything, the van was empty, so a few seconds behind them, I pulled over and walked to the intersection where the semi we saw had slammed into a tiny, old Chevy car.
There was a crowd watching, including two police officers, as two women stumbled, bloody out of the car and toward the sidewalk, hysterical. One was holding a small girl. In a flash, almost as if they were the only ones moving our teens and a volunteer dove into the melee, taking the women to safety, holding the baby, and praying for healing from the dazed stupor they were in.
The victims wept as they were prayed for, and within moments had collected their cool. The residents who had been watching from the porch of the nearest house started helping. Our kids had redeemed an ugly situation through the Holy Spirit.
I watched from across the street as I walked up. I cried a little bit seeing it. Our group had just changed the world.
This is what I picture in Matthew when Jesus tells Peter and Andrew and James and John, “Come, follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” Essentially, he was telling them, Drop everything you know, leave home, forsake your family business and let’s change the world.
Do you hear him calling?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I finished up the book Youth Ministry 3.0 earlier this week. Marko from Youth Specialties laid most of this out in his talks at the National Youth Workers Convention(s) last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. It was a quick read (especially since I am a crazy skimmer), but there is a lot of good stuff in it.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Cancer took her earthly body, but it will never, ever steal her soul. She died smiling, even in the middle of unbelievable pain, worrying about her family more than herself. She is already missed.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I'm bored, so I'm blogging about my favorite episodes of Seinfeld. OK, I love this show a whole, whole lot. With the exception of only about 5 episodes (and pretty much all of season 1), I can watch any episode, any time. I started with a list of my favorite 40 episodes, and whittled it down to these five ... Enjoy!
Monday, October 13, 2008
I am winding down a quick weekend trip to NOLA, for my cousin's wedding and a few odds and ends to get ready for future trips. It's pretty weird being here by myself today (my mom left yesterday night and after watching the Chargers TROUNCE the Patriots, today is an alone day so far). I'm used to having the lobby at the Country Inn buzzing with activity, but right now I'm sitting in the breakfast area and there isn't even one other person around ... weird.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Do you have those days when the world closes in a little bit on you? When an event or a series of events makes you question everything? These can be good events or bad events, but for me they are usually negative.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Football is fantastic! I love everything about it, except for really bad refs making horrible calls that cost the best team in the league a game against an over-rated eventual 2nd place finisher. I'm speaking hypothetically, of course.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
My friend's brother is the bass player for Rage Against the Machine, a band I've been into since high school. We got to met them and then watch their show that was a protest against the Iraq war at the Democratic Convention. That was amazing! The show was really great.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I've definitely earned the ridicule of having everyone on the planet ask me about the Padres being in last place. I could attempt to analyze their destruction, but I know it sounds like making excuses, so I won't. Instead, I'll say it: they are awful. And embarrassing. And hard to watch very often, even when winning.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
OK, so I liked the movie. Heath Ledger was a great Joker, and it was entertaining. Maybe I'm old, but it was a bit long for me, though.
The thing that bugs me is that voice that Christian Bale uses as Batman. It's really lame.
It sounds like he just ran a marathon and he's trying to relay important information to someone in the aftermath. Or like he ate a really hot pepper and he's trying to recover. Or something.
I'm a big fan of the movie Memento that the Batman director made a few years back. I think it's one of the best movies ever, for real. I also like what Christopher Nolan has done with the first two new Batman films - they're raw, brutal movies that have the feel of both the natural and the supernatural. I feel like Batman and Bruce Wayne aren't that different - and that's the point of the voice, I guess. A separation. But all I get from it is breathlessness.
I like the idea of both Batman and the Joker being a millisecond from you and me. Like the potential that we all have is for both madness and heroism. Because I believe that's true. Whatever the real story is behind the Joker's scars, he was obviously running from the past and had become crazy because of the emotional scars that matched the incident. Batman is doing the same thing, as we saw in the Batman Begins movie. Two guys with similar reasons and excuses to do messed up stuff, but one chooses a good path and the other evil. It's classic stuff, but it is compelling nonetheless.
Maybe the two natures that Paul discussed in Romans is running here - we are all caught in a trap of wanting to do one thing with ourselves and then doing another. We are all drawn to darkness in our weak moments and compelled by the light in our best moments. The catch is when we swap the end result for the one that doesn't match in normality.
The story that the movie franchise is going forward with now - Batman kind of inexplicably chooses to take the blame for the bad stuff that went down, becoming a fugitive even though he's a hero - that mirrors another outlaw that was innocent. We'll see if the parallel holds up, but it's pretty interesting for now ...
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
My friends Jeff and Becca Neel (who happen to be absolutely incredible people) are venturing into the unknown of God's call on their lives. Jeff is a middle school pastor in Greeley that has heard from God that it's time to move on, and specifically to attempt to reach people to whom traditional methods of church and expressions of worship hold little or no appeal.
Monday, March 31, 2008
She’s Samaritan, which means that Jesus’ instinct should be to turn his back and scoff because of his own lineage. Jews would even cross through the River Jordan to avoid having to go there. Through it, not even around it. She is at the well at the sixth hour, and she is there alone, which shows us that her own people didn’t even want to be around her.
Jesus later reveals that the reason that she is an outcast is that her life is unusually chaotic. She has allowed herself to be discarded by men over and over again. I heard one pastor speculate recently that she was probably barren because that would diminish her cultural value and cause men to abandon her over and over again. She must feel worthless.
Here is Jesus dealing in an interpersonal way with someone that nobody else sees fit to talk to. She is astonished when he asks her to share a drink from the well with him. Maybe she’s afraid that’s she’s on some early version of a reality show – Jesus is setting her up to draw a drink so that he can refuse it to the delight of a hidden audience. Surely a Jewish man won’t risk becoming unclean to have a drink from Jacob’s Well.
Jesus has been walking all day. We know he’s thirsty, we know he’s hungry, as his disciples have been sent for food. But he’s not too tired or parched to tell the woman about the Living Water, the true life that God offers, and the way he describes it rules. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
To a woman who is beaten, broken, abandoned, hurting, dying right where she is … refreshing life that will not only cure all that ails her, but will spring out from within her to change the lives of those that are around her, too. A rejected woman, not only by the religious elite, but by her own people becomes a healing force for others. And it’s even better because she doesn’t get it. Jesus, it seems to me, would have gotten tired of people not getting it, but he doesn’t. He presses forward instead, seeking to bridge the misunderstanding.
Even after recounting her tough relationship past (and present), Jesus still invites her to realize God’s love. He tells her what worship will look like in the immediate future (“when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”), and he leaves her with a piece of information that he tells nobody else until his trial before his death. He declares himself as the Messiah – not to crowds of thousands or to important leaders that can wield influence, but to a lonely, beaten, outcast woman in the “wrong” people group.
Maybe it’s significant that they are sitting at the Well of Jacob, famous for being the one who overcame his past as a deceiver to grab a hold of God’s best for his life, and subsequently the generations to come. The Samaritan woman is afforded this same opportunity by Jesus’ willingness to sit down and talk to her even when the constructs of society said not to. He didn’t see a Samaritan, a woman, a shady past, a sexual sinner, a poor person, an outcast, a mission field, a charity case, a beaten down shell … he saw a child that God loved and wanted to redeem no matter what the story of her shortcoming may be.
And I’m challenged by that idea. The Christian movement of today is more interested in bickering over who’s version of the truth is the best, or whether having too many candles lit means you’re a Emergent. Or if being granted the gift of tongues makes you Pentecostal or weird or a fake or more holy. And we are famous for things that would absolutely repulse the man who sat on that well and drew a drink of water from a marginalized person.
More than eight of ten people see us as a people of hate – gay haters, liberal haters, movie haters, some kind of haters. And the age-old rhetoric about being a person who loves the sinner and hates the sin doesn’t fly for me. It’s an excuse. Maybe someone actually believes that motto and lives by it, but I doubt it. I haven’t seen it anyway.
Jesus is doing something fascinating here in my opinion, though. He has sent his friends off that probably need to see this interaction so that their won behavior can be redeemed. But Jesus isn’t preoccupied with a teaching moment, he’s intent on embracing a life and changing it in a meaningful and lasting way.
When his friends get back they offer him the food that they brought, and he says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” And I’m thinking, how mad would I be? Jesus sends me to get food after a full day of walking around and now he doesn’t want it? But the braintrust instead wonder what he ate. Maybe they even blamed the Samaritan woman in their minds for wasting their time.
But Jesus ends the suspense, explaining, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
He is fed spiritually by serving.
Not by a great sermon series, the best worship leader, or the most polished program. He is fed by serving those who are most in need of God’s touch. By discovering God’s will and seeking to fulfill it. He fed himself with action instead of waiting for a rabbi to fill him up with the latest series of teaching.
If we were more obsessed with getting out and serving people than with arguing over who’s version of the truth is best, we would change the world. If we spent a few extra hours talking to hurting people instead of trying to get them saved, we’d change the world. If we actually loved people that we defined as children of God instead of sinners, we’d change the world.
Since Jesus never saw a sinner, but instead saw God’s precious child, loving a sinner and hating a sin is not a task for a little Jesus (Christian) to undertake. It doesn’t make any sense. As Paul said, he himself is the chief sinner. I am the greatest sinner out here, and I certainly don’t want others to identify me that way. I want to be identified the way that Jesus identifies me – as his possession, bought and paid for with his blood. Imperfect, but perfecting. Broken but mending. Unlovable but loved. Hateful but loved anyway in the most powerful, mind-bending, limb-numbing way possible.
Many Samaritans believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world by his act of love and by words that spoke the same love to them over the next two days. Not a scathing assault on lives of sinners. Jesus loved the sinner and never even saw the sin. What will I do?