Friday, November 30, 2007

    The Blasphemy Challenge on NIGHTLINE

    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    Image of the Day: Advent, Advent

    Advent, Advent, originally uploaded by chipmonk.

    The Blasphemy Challenge

    Several days ago, I came across The Blasphemy Challenge. Basically, this is a group of atheists, led by a thirty-year-old (who, by the way, is unwilling to give his real name), that challenges individuals, specifically youth, to deny, on camera, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (they never say trinity). Usually, I try not to get too worked up by these claims. Often, I feel that responsive anger is exactly what these individuals seek. But, some of these claims are just ludicrous. The founder of the Blasphemy Challenge claims he created this organization so that people could embrace reason when attempting to understand religion. Ironically, I couldn’t agree more. I also believe reason and faith go together.

    As I thought about how I would respond, I remembered this quote from Ronald Osborn—a 20th Century Disciples theologian:

    What do we mean by the Disciples mind? It is a way of approaching the Scriptures with a reverent intelligence. This style of professing Christian faith has accepted the reproach of advocating a “head religion” hurled by those who profess a “heart religion.” Emphasizing faith with understanding, the Disciples mind puts the highest premium on rationality and faithfulness in action.
    How about you? How would your respond? Or, how will you respond when a youth asks you about the blasphemy challenge?



    “But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother.” (Ps. 131:2)
    With Advent beginning this Sunday, Jacob and I have been brainstorming on ways to encourage our youth to focus on this season of waiting. The challenge, I think, is to help youth experience Advent in a way that counters the secular- consumerist approach to this time of year so prevalent within our culture. In past years, we have offered ideas on this blog for creating an interactive worship experience to help youth explore Advent themes, and ideas for offering youth a more radical image of a counter-cultural Jesus through the use of art and music. You also might want to kick things off with this fun Christmas Quiz which highlights the gap between our knowledge of pop culture Christmas and the biblical story of Christmas.

    But when all was said and done, I think we both agreed that the simple approach might be the best approach. Perhaps what our youth really need is help in celebrating Advent as a season of quiet waiting and contemplation. So a great option for this week might be a mini-silent retreat. Here are some ideas you might find useful:
    • Play some quiet instrumental music and allow time for silent meditation and prayer.

    • Show a PowerPoint presentation of images of the nativity story from around the world and allow youth time to sit in silence and just soak it all in.

    • Set up areas for youth to draw or paint on themes related to Advent.

    • Show the NOOMA "Noise" DVD and help students reflect on the "noise" in their own lives and suggest practices that might help them hear God's voice above the din.

    • Designate your youth room or chapel as a "talk free zone." With quiet music or nature sounds playing in the background, invite youth to find someplace to sit where they will be comfortable. Give each participant an envelope. As the Spirit moves them, they are to take one card at a time from the envelope and follow its suggestion. Cards might say such things as "Meditate on the word 'silence'", "Go to the table and make a list of your hopes for the world," "Sit in a different place in the room for awhile," "Lay on the floor and rest," "Silently affirm others in the room with a touch on the shoulder," "Go to the easel and add your image of God's peace to those drawn by others," "Take a walk around the outside of the church in silence, listening for God's presence in the world around you."

    • Project or post Advent related scripture passages (or passages depicting Jesus praying in silence) in the retreat space and encourage youth to reflect on the passages through the use of clay or Play-do or finger paints.

    • As Advent is also a time of making a pathway for God into our lives, consider providing teens with a handout with an image of a road map or path. Invite them to make notes or images that depict the important moments, experiences, and people they have encountered along their journey of faith.

    Finish your time together by allowing youth to share about their experience of silent waiting. Brainstorm ways they might continue this practice on a daily basis throughout Advent.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Image of the Day: HAPPY THANKSGIVING

    Photo of my backyard (including fall leaves, haybale and pumpkin) taken with my lomo camera that captures 8 exposures per frame.


    Authenticity and Youth Ministry

    Earlier this week, Barack Obama was speaking to a group of high school students and shared that he had tried drugs and alcohol as a teenager:

    “I made some bad decisions that I’ve written about, there were times when I got into drinking and experimented with drugs.. there was a whole stretch of time when I didn’t really apply myself a lot.”
    Mitt Romney has since criticized Obama's admission to the youth, saying:
    It’s just not a good idea for people running for President of the United States who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘well I can do that too and become President of the United States,’” Romney told an Iowa audience today. “I think that was a huge error by Barack Obama…it is just the wrong way for people who want to be the leader of the free world.”
    I read that statement and imagined for a moment if what Romney had said instead was:

    It’s just not a good idea for someone leading a youth ministry who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘well I can do that too and become a Christian.’”

    In either context, Romney's statement is ridiculous. God forbid our politicians should be honest with us, but God help you if you are trying to lead a youth ministry program and you can't be authentic with the young people you serve. Teens don't need perfect adults with perfect manners teaching them how to be perfect people. They need to know that we struggle with the same things they do. They need to know that have, do, and will make mistakes. They need to know that we on a occasion (or even more often) let an expletive slip our lips, curse bad drivers under our breath (or out the car window!), fail to tell the truth sometimes, and not to put to fine a point on it: sin!

    I'm not saying, as Romney seems to be implying, that we should revel in such behavior or dismiss it or encourage it in our youth. But I do think we need to be honest about it and acknowledge it. And I do think we need to stop acting like the point of youth ministry is to teach teens how to be nice, and polite, and to have good manners and how to be the "good kids." Because if youth ministry becomes the place where the "good kids" hang out, then when they do slip up (and they will) and do something they feel is wrong, or immoral, or unforgivable, the last place they will come for help is the Church! We are not a "nice people club." We are a community of people who trust that, in spite of our mistakes and our destructive decisions and behavior, we are loved beyond measure.

    Giving Thanks

    I believe that one of the defining aspects of Jesus' ministry was table fellowship. So, each Sunday night, our youth share a meal prepared by a member of our congregation. But last Sunday, we decided to do something a little different. Instead of sharing a meal that has already been prepared, we cooked our own Thanksgiving feast. Sharing cooking responsibilities with sixty youth can be quite an adventure. But, we had some awesome adult volunteers who did a wonderful job! The meal was delicious.

    The highlight of the evening, at least for me, was watching the interactions between our youth and guests. For our meal, we decided that it was important we share the table with others. So, this year, we invited guests from Woodhaven--a DOC based organization that provides care for individuals with developmental disabilities. When I look at this picture, I envision the kingdom of God. Last Sunday, we had individuals from all walks of life sharing a meal, giving thanks, and rejoicing in faith and fellowship. Surely, this is the true meaning of the gospel.


    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Matchbox 20 Update

    After posting the new song from Matchbox 20 below, I decided to use it as a focus for a discussion at youth group this past Sunday. Several of our youth had been having a conversation on FaceBook about the St. Louis-based (now national) story of the teen that committed suicide after being harassed on MySpace by a "boy" that turned out to be parents of her ex-friend. One response posted by a youth after hearing the story read "I have lost my faith in humanity."

    Teenagers, for many developmental reasons, are very sensitive to issues of injustice, and the fact that in this case it seems to be adults that are the culprits made the situation seem all the more intolerable to them. For some, it was just one more example of how messed up the world is. This, of course, is the theme of Matchbox 20's song "How Far We've Come." So, after listening to the song, we delved into some pretty deep questions about life, the universe and everything ("Do you think the world is headed for 'hell'?" "What is the meaning of life in a world torn apart by violence and injustice?" "Where do you turn to when your own world seems to be coming to an end?" "Where is hope?"

    We then looked at some scriptures that speak to the hope we find in God's promise to be with us in times of struggle (Psalm 46, Romans 8:38-39, Philippians 4:8,9, Matthew 6:25-26, 30b, 33b-34). We considered the gospel promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God and what that means for how we might live our lives. And we considered where we might experience God's presence in times of trouble (One student remarked that he regrettably doesn't go to God when he struggling. He goes to his friends. Another student responded "But maybe that is God, connecting with you through your friends." Others said they seek out comfort in their music.)

    Noticeably absent was any discussion of our hope being grounded in a better life after this one. What I challenged my youth to consider are the ways in which we can open ourselves to live in the "kindom" of God here-and-now through the ways we love ourselves and others. In the end, more questions were asked than answers given, but I put great faith in the brain to take those questions, to ponder them, and perhaps to begin to see the world with new eyes.


    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Matchbox Twenty - How Far We've come

    But I believe the world is burning to the ground
    oh well I guess we're gonna find out
    let's see how far we've come
    let's see how far we've come
    Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
    oh well, I guess, we're gonna pretend,
    let's see how far we've come
    let's see how far we've come

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Image of the Day: Trust Jesus

    IMG_9420.jpg, originally uploaded by ntisocl.

    I often tell the young people I serve to trust in the WAY of Jesus, but I always follow up that statement by asking "But just exactly what WAY is that?" Beyond all the identity statements we make for Jesus (messiah, son of God, savior), what is it about Jesus we are inviting young people to trust in? What do you understand the way of Jesus to be? What does it look like? How is it manifest in real life?

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Rethinking Youth Poll Results

    We recently asked: How do you go about developing curriculum/activities for your youth ministry?

    Your response:

    • I use materials from Group/YS/Simply Youth Ministry. 13%

    • I use materials from Group/YS/SYM but I have to adapt them theologically to fit my group. 15%

    • I get ideas from youth ministry blogs/websites. 28%

    • I write my own curriculum materials. 34%

    I was not surprised that many of us get ideas from the web and write our own curriculum, but I now would be interested in knowing why you do this? For Jacob and I, it is often because we find much of the published curriculum out there does not fit our churches or youth theologically. After awhile, it gets tedious having to adapt everything and just easier to write our own materials. The challenge with this, of course, is that there is good curriculum writing and poor curriculum writing (more on this soon).
    On another note, I wonder what all of us are doing with this curriculum we are writing. Are we sharing it with others? Are we willing to make it available online like the folks do at DiscipleDocs?

    Lectio Divina 2.0

    I continue to try to introduce the spiritual practice of lectio divina to our youth in ways that might hook their attention. This past weekend, while on our mission trip to Nashville, we had a short time of worship and meditation on Saturday morning before heading out to work. I invited the youth to sit together around a table and gave each of them pen and paper. I told them I would read through the scripture passage, the story of Zacchaeus, several times. The first time they were just to listen to the text and absorb it. But during the next repeated readings, I invited them to use the paper to jot down or draw words, ideas, or images that jumped out to them from the text.
    Some chose to do nothing, but others sketched pictures, wrote reflections, or made lists of words. One youth created the image you see to the right (click to see larger image), a pseudo-example of "concrete poetry" in which the poem takes the shape of its theme (can you see Zacchaeus hanging out in his tree?). At the end of the process, we invited youth to share what they had written or drawn or thought about during the readings.

    This approach to lectio divina would be particularly useful with youth who are not audio learners and need visual or tactile stimuli.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007

    Urban Mission Trip Idea

    This weekend I'll be heading off to Nashville with our senior high youth and a few of our college students to participate in an inner-city mission experience. While in Nashville, our group will be hosted by the Center for Student Missions (CSM). Located in major inner city areas (including Chicago, LA, NY, Washington DC and Toronto), CSM offers everything you need to provide your youth with a meaningful urban mission experience.

    I've worked with CSM on about 10 mission trips and I've always appreciated their organization and attention to the needs of my group. While in the inner city, CSM provides you with housing, meals (including the chance to sample the local ethnic cuisine), and a college/grad school aged host that travels with you and helps you get to your work sites, acts as liaison, and functions as navigator through city traffic. Mission opportunities which they can provide range from work with homeless shelters and soup kitchens to programs that serve children and the elderly. They can set up weekend long trips like we'll be doing, or week-long trips. I'd particularly recommend CSM to youth groups with limited budgets for mission trips or who are run by volunteers with limited time to plan mission projects.
    The only hitch I've ever really run into with CSM is that they tend to be more conservative theologically/socially/politically than myself or most of the youth I serve. Fortunately, their goal is not to push an agenda other than the love of God through Christ for the needy folks of the inner-city and that is surely a foundation on which all Christians can stand.


    CSM Banner

    Mark Yaconelli: Growing Souls

    Last year I read Mark Yaconelli's text Contemplative Youth Ministry and breathed a sigh of relief. At last, a youth ministry tome that was giving us all permission to slow down, to introduce silence into our time with teenagers, and to focus on relationship over entertainment. I was impressed enough with that text to share many of its general themes with my adult youth ministry team and encourage them to join me in introducing more worship, more prayer, and more relaxation into our youth ministry gatherings.

    Now Mark has come along with, I think, an even more important text: Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry. This book is really a companion to the previous text. It is a practical theology growing out of the other book's theory. Mark shares the history of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (YMSP) and then provides a great deal of anecdotal information on how the project was put into practice in a variety of youth ministry settings. In some churches, the introduction of contemplative practices brought transformation. In others it brought frustration. What has really resonated with me most in my reading so far is that the YMSP is not first-and-foremost suggesting that we turn youth into junior monks, forcing them to sit around chanting and taking a vow of silence. Rather, the first step is to attend to the spiritual life of the adult leaders:

    [A] Contemplative approach to youth ministry does not entail teaching youth to become contemplatives. It entails a leadership team committed to a contemplative process of its own that enables its members to see ways of crafting programmatic action that authentically participates with God in nurturing life and faith in young

    This sort of thing gets the gears in my head going. Imagine a group of diverse adults from your church who gather periodically, not to plan scavenger hunts and ski trips, but to pray, study scripture, and discern together the movement of the Spirit within your particular youth ministry setting. I'm not suggesting here the typical "youth council" model which tends to be primarily a calendaring/programming body (as well as the group that gives a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"to the youth minister's wackier ideas). Rather, the idea here is to develop a team that will focus on the spiritual health of the youth, the youth ministry and the way in which that ministry fits into the spiritual life of the whole church. I'm anxious to see how this idea is developed in the rest of the book.

    God's Gift of Sexuality Revisited

    Last weekend, I attended the Youth Specialities Conference. Hopefully, in the next couple of days, I’ll be able to provide a review of the event. But, I’m happy to say now, overall, that I really enjoyed the weekend. I thought the worship was good, the speakers were insightful, and there was a true sense of community.

    I spent one afternoon listening to the teachings of Chap Clark, a professor from Fuller University. I was impressed with Chap’s insights regarding junior high students. He claimed, and I agree, that the number one question junior high students want to know is: Do you like me? It’s almost as if our younger students have these little tentacles protruding from their head, sensing out whether or not they feel liked. And, unfortunately, these tentacles do not allow for cognitive responses or reasoning, only emotional responses.

    So, I wasn’t too surprised this morning when I came across
    this article. Research shows that abstinence programs are not working. Big surprise. Our youth are so intent, in my opinion, on being liked that they will do anything, including sex, to be accepted. We’ve mentioned before that sexuality is a gift from God that needs to be treated appropriately. But maybe we haven’t spent enough time reflecting on why youth are so sexually active. If there’s such a strong desire to be accepted, which there obviously is, how can we encourage our youth to find other ways to be liked? And, what is the role of parents and the church? I’m thinking of hosting a one hour session for parents on the realities of adolescence and sexuality. It’s an issue that cannot be ignored, but must be openly discussed, both in the church and at home.

    I was especially shocked this weekend when Chap showed a documentary from HBO entitled: Middle School Confessions. Has anyone seen this? I think I may show it to the parents of my youth. We have to understand that our youth are driven by affect. Their only concern is how they feel in the moment, there is no logical thinking. But, I’m convinced that cumulative messages, through youth ministers and parents, regarding the gift of sexuality, can help youth make wiser choices.


    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Self-Serve Youth Ministry Blog Dispenser

    Are You Saved? Youth Minister Jeremy takes at look at the "salvation" of youth from a post-modern and progressive point of view (and includes a hilarious clip from one of the funniest movies on the subject).

    It's All About Me! Our colleague at the Over-Educated Youth Pastor blog is looking at the issue of narcissism and youth ministers. And if you think he's not talking about you, you probably are the one who needs to read it!

    Don't Worry! Be happy! Youth pastor Stuart takes on the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen.

    Is God a Republican? HMB, a self-described "woman in ministry," offers up a a great suggestion for a political experiment: read and listen to the people who don't agree with you (exactly the reason I listen to conservative talk radio)!

    Rookie Recollections: Steve at the Youth Ministry Ideas blog has some good words of advice for those just starting in youth ministry (and for us old timers, too).

    But does she know The Lord's Prayer?! Darren at Planet Telex joins the debate over whether or not to use non-Christian adults/parents as leaders in your youth ministry.
    The Dark Side of Youth Ministry - A youth minister's honest post on the challenge of dealing pastorally with a death in a teen's family.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Another Photo Scavenger Hunt

    Reverse the old photo scavenger hunt approach of sending your group out to take pictures of themselves. Instead, this time YOU get to be the photographer. Prior to the event, go out and take a series of close-up photos (digital or Polaroid) in and around your church, in your neighborhood or community, or even in your city, depending on how widespread you want the scavenging to be.

    The images should be close-up enough that the youth have to really use their brains to figure out where you took them (e.g the foot of a famous local statue, the cornerstone of a well-known building, a piece of the image of the mascot on the outside of their school, a youth leader's nose, the steps going into the church baptistry, an unusual object that sits on your senior minister's desk). Provide copies of all the images to each team and challenge them to seek out and identify the location of each photo (check here for some ideas of what these photos might look like).

    A great follow-up to this activity might be a discussion or worship experience centered on being attentive to God's presence in the world all around us. Invite youth to spend a day noticing the little things they might miss in their regular flurry of activity that can draw their attention to God: the beauty of a fall leaf, the sound of children playing, the person in the school cafeteria who is eating alone, the taste of food, the gift of a moment of silence. Challenge them to take a moment each time they find themselves being attentive to God's presence to stop and offer a simple prayer of thanks.

    Here's a warm-up for you if you are planning this activity: Can you guess the identity of the extreme close-up image above?