Monday, January 29, 2007

    Rob Bell

    FYI: Stuart has a video clip of Rob Bell (see entry below) doing his thing here.

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Velvet Elvis

    What's with the crummy image above? I've been reading a short but interesting book entitled "Velvet Elvis:Repainting the Christian Faith." The text is written by Rob Bell, the young (well...younger than me) pastor of Mars Hill church in Grandville, Michigan (and perhaps best known for his cool NOOMA dvd series).

    For lack of a better term, I'd say that Bell is a progressive evangelical and some of his teachings do not sit well with his evangelical brethren -- particularly his embrace of doubt, an understanding of the Bible as a human response to God, and a focus on the love of Christ rather than the judgment of God. This past Sunday I shared some of Bell's writings with my college students and youth. In particular, I shared with them Bell's thoughts on imaging faith as either springs of a trampoline or a brick wall. On faith as a trampoline, Bell writes:

    When we jump, we begin to see the need for springs. The springs help make sense of these deeper realities that drive how we live every day. The springs aren't God. The springs aren't Jesus. The springs are the statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing in our jumping. I would call these the doctrines of the Christian faith. They aren't the point. They help us understand the point, but they are a means and not an end. We take them seriously, and at the same time we keep them in proper perspective.(p.22)

    Bell goes on to suggest that the concept of the trinity is an example of one of these springs. Followers of Jesus existed for thousands of years without this explicit concept. Even as this doctrine today help us to think about God, it is a symbol that is able to withstand probing, questioning, and rethinking. Like a spring, it is flexible.

    On faith as a brick wall, Bell raises this issue of the virgin birth. If you found out tomorrow their was no virgin birth, would your faith collapse? If so, then this doctrine for you is less like a spring, and more like a brick:

    This is because a brick is fixed in size. It can't flex or change size, because if it does, then it can't fit into the wall. What happens then is that the wall becomes the sum total of the beliefs, and God becomes as big as the wall. But God is bigger than any wall. God is bigger than any religion. God is bigger than any worldview. God is bigger than the Christian faith.(p.27)

    On Sunday, using the above graphic of the trampoline jumper and the bricklayer, I invited the young folk (prior to a discussion of Bell's writing) to talk about whether they saw their faith life as more like jumping on a trampoline or building a brick wall, or both. There were lots of interesting and thoughtful responses. Some students said their faith had a strong foundation like a brick wall. Others said their faith was more like jumping on the trampoline, with lots of ups and downs. Some argued that the Church is like the trampoline, the way each person jumping affects the other. More than one student said the Church is like a brick wall, always building barriers instead of welcoming others.

    I suggested the trampoline image worked best for me because jumping on one can be dangerous, particularly if you are jumping with other people (how many kids across America have broken their arms falling off those things?!). In the same way, our faith can be dangerous if we radically follow the way of Jesus. The best answer, however, came from a visiting student. Looking at the image above, he said his faith was like a girl jumping on a trampoline who is watching a guy building a brick wall as a barrier. The girl jumps high enough to fly over the wall, landing in the man's arms. They immediately fall madly in love and run off to get married!

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Tips of the Trade

    Here is a pretty useful list of 100 youth ministry tips, timesavers, and tricks.

    It's About Time...

    Here's a site that actually sells a dark-skinned Jesus figure. This is truly sign of the coming rapture! The only thing I can't figure out is, why go to the trouble of finally offering a dark-skinned Jesus, and yet still offer folks the opportunity to by a white Jesus, too?


    I stumbled upon this post by "UthPastor Todd" on the ups and downs of fundraising in youth ministry. I have to admit, I hate fundraising. In fact, as a junior high student years ago, I left my church's youth group primarily because it seemed like all we did was fundraise. Now, as I prepare to help our youth group raise the money needed for a Mexico mission trip, I find myself again having to face the challenge of balancing these sorts of activities with more important things like Bible study and worship. I reconcile myself to the fact that we are raising money for mission, but I still wonder if it would just make more sense to have the church budget for the full mission trip in advance, so that we could focus our time on more important things.

    Getting Away from it All...

    I had the tremendous opportunity the week after Christmas to finally take a much needed rest and go on vacation with a small group of family and friends. Our trip took us to a small island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida -- a tiny island with no commercial development--only a dozen or so private homes and one (very) rustic 8-room inn. We were ferried out to the island with all the groceries and supplies we would need for our week stay at the inn. For the whole week we were cut off from the mainland with no TV, no internet, no movie theaters, no malls. Just days of rest, reading, walking the beach, taking a hike through the pine woods, painting, and collecting sea shells in the surf.

    I mention this because I was watching a commercial today for one of these cell phones that is a camera and an MP3 player, and accesses the internet and flushes your toilet by remote control and picks up milk for you at the grocery store. I couldn't help but think how many of my youth would love to have one of those phones. We are all so convinced that every new development in personal technology will make our lives so much better. We just have to have every version of the IPod that comes out! We just have to have the latest, slickest, slimmest cell phones! We just have to have the newest version of the hottest video game system! How many youth ministries consider themselves cutting edge because they have the newest, coolest sound system or video projection gadget or flash video website? But in the end, just how much happiness do these things bring? Especially since we'll trade them all in months or a year from now for the latest models which promise true happiness.

    Now, I'm no luddite and I love my MP3 player, but I wonder that we wouldn't be better off without all this junk for awhile. If it were all taken away, maybe we'd find the time to sit quietly, read a book, take a meditative walk on the beach or down the block, admire the beauty of a tree, or stare up into the night sky and wonder at the galaxy spread out before us. I wonder that much of this technology that we love so well actually insulates us from the deeper experience of meeting God in the beauty of the natural world or in the face of those who pass us by each day, our ears plugged into our Ipods and our faces buried in our portable Playstations.

    How Are We Doing?

    Ever stop to ask "How are we doing?" in your youth ministry program? Check out this helpful article at the Fuller Theological Seminary Youth and Family Ministry site for some thoughtful ideas on evaluating your ministry with youth. It includes a free evaluation tool.

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Darth Vader Being A Jerk

    Sent to me by one of my students. I guess they do know my sense of humor.

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Sanctus Real - Face Of Love

    Thursday, January 18, 2007


    Hat tip to David for sharing so many great creative worship resources listed on his website AMOK. I was particularly impressed by one of his suggested links --a worship group called Red that looks to be doing some amazingly creative worship, involving art and community-building and experiential learning. Lots of ideas here that could be easily translated into great youth worship experiences. You gotta love this artistic adaptation of the game Twister!

    Youth Specialties...

    Well, I couldn't be more surprised that somehow this site ended up as the featured blog in the most recent Youth Specialites YM Update. I've long been a fan of the many resources available at the YS website, not the least of which is the archive of essays by the great youth ministry guru Mike Yaconelli.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

    -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Creative Challenge: Chalk Art Bottles

    I'm always looking for creative projects for my youth that will allow them to process a biblical concept or idea using their visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences (translation: a creative artsy craft project that lets them use their hands!). Here is a cool idea I came across at a great website called Lifehacker. Not sure how I would apply this yet, but it seems to have great possibilities for numerous applications. Take old wine bottles and remove the labels:

    Just spray them with chalkboard paint. After the paint dries, rub chalk all over the bottle and then erase it. This will "prime" the bottle and give it that old chalkboard look that you so love!

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    What Do You Think of the Church?

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    What do you Believe?

    Beliefnet is a great website and their quizzes are a great source of entertainment if you're bored and wondering about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything (...42). Perhaps the best one is the Belief-o-matic:

    Even if YOU don't know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic™ knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice...or ought to consider practicing.

    You just answer a round of questions and based on that they determine which faith tradition most closely fits your beliefs. You might be surprised at the results. (I won't tell you how I rated, but I doubt it would come as a shock to those who know me that the Quakers and I would get along just fine.)

    Pew Report on Youth

    Andrew Sullivan has posted the most recent findings by The Pew Research Center on attitudes of the young (age 18-25). The full report is here. Andrew's summary of the reports' picture of today's young people:

    They are markedly less religious than their elders - and previous generations. The percentage claiming they are agnostic or atheist has doubled in twenty years to one in five today; they regard heavy drinking as worse than smoking pot; they have become much less Republican than they once were. George W. Bush has persuaded most of the younger generation to vote Democratic, reversing Reagan's gains among the young. They are much more pro-immigrant than their elders and 74 percent favor some privatizing of social security (yay!); but they're dovish on the use of military force. They are divided equally on gay marriage (47 - 46 in favor, compared to 64 - 30 against among those over 25) but overwhelmingly support gay adoption.

    Hey! That Was My Idea!

    The Most recent issue of Details magazine sports a tiny blurb which reads:

    $200,000 to $240,000

    Expected revenue this year from the three "giving
    kiosks" - ATMS that take donations instead of dispensing cash - at Stevens Creek
    Community Church, in Augusta, Georgia.

    It's no joke. Here's more. (Hey, these guys stole my idea, too!)

    Money and Ministry

    Peter at Emerging Christianity raises an interesting question about the way in which paid ministry may compromise our ability to speak truth to our congregations. I think this is an important question to consider, particularly for seminarians. I can only say that, from my own experience, once a congregation comes to trust you and your committment to ministry and the Church, they will pretty much let you say anything from the pulpit, if it is said with love. Even if they disagree with you, they will respect your right to proclaim the gospel as you understand it. Of course, one of the great advantages to ministry with youth, in my view, is the young tend to be much more open to hearing a challenging word from scripture or engaging points of view that do not agree with their own.

    Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Don't Give Up Your Day Job

    A short but interesting post at the BolgBlog suggests that the future for youth ministers may be bleak, at least in the emergent church movement where the emphasis is on integrating youth holistically into the full life of the Church rather than segregating them because of their age. With this approach, there is no longer a need for a particular person on the church staff to care for the youth. Rather, their care and nuture becomes a ministry of the whole church.

    There is much I admire about the emergent church movement (and much I don't) but on this point I see great merit (and I say that as one who has made a career of being a "youth minister"). For years I've thought we are doing great harm to the church by segregating youth off to their own space and their own programs and worship services...and with their own minister. We treat them as "Christians-to-be" rather than full participants in the life of the Church today. In my own denomination, the Disciples of Christ, we typically baptize and bring into membership children as young as 10 or 11. Yet, no one would even think of letting one of these children sit on the church board or help make important decisions in the church. So, we'll let a child make the most important (faith) decision of their life, but we don't think they are capable of helping the church spend its money or decide what color to paint the fellowship hall?

    In the "Fish Bowl"...

    We had a really great youth group meeting this past Sunday night. It was one of those nights when I wasn't expecting much to happen -- just a relaxing evening to help us ease back into our regular schedule after the holidays.
    We kicked our program time off by inviting each youth to write an "I am" poem. I gave them sheets of paper with the phrase "I am" written about ten times down the left side. The youth were encouraged to then finish that phrase over and over, creating a poem that would help reveal something of themselves to the group. To my surprise, no one balked or complained "This is like being in English class!" They worked quietly and intently and then many shared what they had written with the group. I've worked with some of these youth for years and even I learned new things as the poems were read. Some of the more interesting responses included: "I am the ink in your pen." "I am the bird who wakes you up in the morning." "I am song lyrics written on pairs of jeans." "I am guilty of thinking with my heart instead of my head." "I am depressed." "I am awkward." "I am curious--I could write a book on anything--even a water droplet." "I am one scale in a sea of fish." Some students were eager to share what they had written. Others shared only reluctantly and some not at all. However, I think it was a good activity for each of them as it tapped into their intrapersonal intelligence and into their verbal/linguistic intelligences. It is important, I would argue, to tap into as many of the intelligences and learning styles as possible when working with diverse groups of youth. In this way, we connect with different parts of their brains and help them to process their faith and their view of the world in different and stimulating ways.

    After this opening activity, we invited the group to sit in a circle and we played a version of the game called "Fishbowl." In this game, one person at a time draws a pre-written question from a hat, answers the question (or "passes") and then the question goes around the circle with each person responding. Only the person holding the question may speak, so there is no debate or commentary going on as people share. In this version of the game, the adults sat on the outside of the circle and were only allowed to add their observations at the end of the round. This approach helps to alleviate the problems of talkative adults who might want to monopolize the activity. Some of the questions were deceptively simple: "What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What is the biggest problem facing teens today?" Other questions challenged the youth to stretch their brains a little further. I was particularly interested in the responses we got to the question: "What is the role of the Church in your life?" Here are some of the responses:
    • The Church is a place I go for guidance.
    • A place I learn about my faith.
    • A place of paranormal experiences.
    • A place I get different perspectives on how the world works and why.
    • A place to come for forgiveness.
    • A place where I am accepted.
    • A place of comfort where I don't have to worry about anything else.
    • Where I go to learn how to be a better person.
    • A place to focus on things I worry about.
    • A place where I find support and guidance.
    Interestingly, no one said anything about the Church's role in salvation. No mention of heaven or hell, which is probably typical for most moderate/progressive mainline churches such as ours. Relatedly, consider some of the responses to this question: "If a person is not a Christian, what happens to them when they die?"
    • I think all people go to heaven.
    • I think what happens is a reflection of what you believe. If you believe in heaven, you go to heaven. If you don't, you go somewhere else.
    • It depends on whether you're good or evil.
    • Some people say they are Christian, but they aren't. It has more to do with how you live your life than what you claim to believe.
    • I think God loves everyone and everyone goes to heaven. I don't think hell comes after we die. I think we live in hell right now -- here on Earth.
    • I believe everybody goes to heaven and Jesus helps some people there learn how to be better.
    • I think you go wherever your particular religion tells you you go.

    The youth offered some particularly thoughtful responses to the question: "If Jesus were here today, what would he think of our technology?"

    • He would think it was a waste of time. We don't NEED it. We just need him.
    • He would think: How come these people can be so smart and so stupid. They can invent an Ipod that holds thousands of songs, but they can't stop having wars.
    • He'd have his own homepage.
    • He'd be shocked at all the technology we've invented to help people and all the technology we've developed to kill each other.
    • He would like it but he'd think we spend too much time with it.
    • He'd be upset that we live over-materialistic lives and at all the money we spend on computers instead of people!

    The ultimate goal of the evening was to not to critique, analyze, or indoctrinate. Rather, it was to create a safe space (the "fish bowl") where the youth could feel free to explore their thoughts and listen to the thinking and experiences of others. In coming weeks, I will incorporate the responses to this activity into our Bible studies and discussions.

    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    Sanctus Real - I'm Not Alright

    Ok, so I found more Christian music I like.

    Thursday, January 04, 2007

    Cartoons By Chris Rice

    So, this is a song by one of the few Christian artists I actually like, and though I'm not a big fan of the term "saved," I have to admit this is a funny song. Might have to use this at church camp this summer...

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Lazer Tag!

    I just received this unsolicited message via email (with my name misspelled!):

    Happy new year! I just wanted to let you know we are still offering our winter special for youth groups. 3 games of laser tag, pizza and unlimited soda for $16.50 per person. Please feel free to call me at the following number if you have any questions.

    Oh, yes. This is what I got into youth ministry for: pizza, unlimited quantities of carbonated sugar water, and the chance to see a bunch of Christian youth running around in a dark room pretending to shoot each other with guns. If guns, pizza, and soda don't bring them to Christ, I'm not sure what will!


    Happy New Year. Thought I'd start things off with a somewhat unusual post, written by somebody else! Recently, a young person involved in my youth ministry posted a note on his Facebook page that received a lot of attention. After chatting with him about it, he agreed to let me share it with others, anonymously, as a sort of honest window into the mind of an adolescent. After some hesitation, I decided to go ahead and post it here, as I think it has something to offer those of us who work with and care for the youth of our churches. It also speaks to the way on-line "places" like Facebook seem to be offering opportunities for young people to speak their minds, try on different personas, and let the rawness of their thoughts have free reign, for better or ill. Here is what he wrote:

    What defines somebdoy as being a "loser?"

    a loser is somebody who. . . .
    doesnt drink on the weekends with friends
    doesnt have a matching shirt with their shoes
    stutters in front of girls when asking them on a date
    doesnt defend themselves when they're made fun of
    wears a jacket because of the person who gave it to you
    A Loser is somebody who. . . .
    doesnt have a girlfriend for more than 2 months.
    sits by the phone, hoping somebody will call
    thinks that girls are out of his league
    wishes for a personality other than his
    wishes he could have somebody to love
    A Loser is somebdoy who. . .
    has a stepfather and a father, neither that smile or hug
    interacts with his little sisters, instead of his weight training
    has never been told "you're intellegent, smart, and capable" by a guy
    joins the military to make his father proud
    finds out he still thinks your a fag
    A loser is somebody who. . . .
    doesnt lose his virginity by senior year
    hasnt tried smoking at least twice
    buzzes his own hair because he's so ashamed
    lies to his friends, so that they still embrace you as one
    find out theres more to friendship than being cool
    A loser is somebody who thinks his friends have left him, when they were there the entire time.. . . . I'm a loser