Thursday, August 30, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Almost four years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Southern India and spend a month visiting various churches, seminaries, villages, and cities. After recovering from my initial acute culture shock (it was the first time I had ever been out of the country and I really did not know what to expect), I fell in love with India. The people, the customs, the food, the smells, the colors—everything in India is so vibrant and alive. For a time, I seriously considered moving to India. I was so serious that in the winter of 2005 (days after the tsunami struck) my wife and I took another trip to India. India resides deep in my heart and writing about such a wonderful country makes me homesick for a place that I have never lived.
I have never been to Calcutta (the home of Mother Theresa), but I have been to several orphanages and deep in the slums of India. I’ve seen the effects of extreme poverty, sickness, and disease. And so, it is with great admiration, that I have looked, and continue to look, to Mother Theresa for inspiration and guidance.
So, I was a little surprised when I came across an article in this week’s Time Magazine that reviews a new book about Mother Theresa entitled: Mother Theresa: Come Be My Light. Basically, the book claims that Mother Theresa, while trying always to project a self-image of one who was continually filled by God’s love and presence, had doubts, serious doubts, regarding her faith and believe in God and Jesus Christ. In letters to her spiritual mentor (which she asked that be burned upon her death), one can sense the anguish that she must have felt as she worked with the sick and dying.
Some argue that such a book will incriminate or obstruct Mother Theresa from being made a saint in the Catholic Church. Others claim that this book will elevate her into a stardom on the same level as Augustine or Thomas Merton.
Personally, I am unsure of how this book will influence individual’s perception of Mother Theresa. What I do know is that I feel a sense of reassurance, and calmness, to learn that Mother Theresa experienced moments of extreme doubt and anxiety. I think we all, whether we admit it or not, experience moments of disbelief and heartache. Yet, I believe such experiences are not a sign of a lack of faith, but rather a sign that our faith is growing. I believe, and share with my youth, that doubt is the crest of faith. If we’re not asking questions, not thinking, not being challenged then we’re probably not growing.
I look forward to reading this book and learning more about the life of one who influenced so many. I’m also considering spending a few Sunday’s with my youth examining the lives of saints and the notion that we are all saints in today’s world.
Before church on Sunday morning, I like to read the paper and drink my cup of tea. Last Sunday, this article caught my attention: “Survey links happiness, religion among youths.” The first few lines of the article state, “Among America’s young people, godliness contributes to happiness. An extensive survey by the Associated Press and MTV found that people ages 13 to 24 who describe themselves as very spiritual or religious tend to be happier than those who don’t.”
The article also notes that “when it comes to spirituality, American young people also are remarkably tolerant—nearly seven in ten say that although they follow their own religious or spiritual beliefs, others might be true as well.”
I get the sense that the researchers were surprised by their findings. But, as an individual who constantly works with youth, I’m not really surprised at all. I think it’s true for adults, and youth, that if you have a sense of grounding, a sense of understanding, a spiritual sense that you were created by a God (not by a society consumed by material wealth and greed) then you are going to be a happier person.
I also am not surprised that youth are tolerant of other religions. It’s evident to youth at a young age that there are many religious and spiritual practices. A common question I get is: How should we understand other religions? This is my answer: I know God best through Jesus Christ. However, I have to believe that the God I know best, as disclosed through Jesus Christ, a God of love, would not limit himself or herself to only one group of individuals. I believe strongly in the ecumenical movement and the recognition that all faiths are called to work together to achieve God’s presence in this world.
How about you? What are your thoughts on this article?
Thursday, August 23, 2007
"Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the internet and all."
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Another great song and video from the alt/techo group Faithless. A powerful statement on war. Apparently MTV refused to show this video. Wonder why...
"We think we're heroes, we think we're kings
We plan all kinds of fabulous things
Oh look how great we have become
Key in the door, the moment I've been longing for
Before my bag hit the floor
My adorable children rush up screaming for a kiss
And a story they're a gift to this world
My only claim to glory
I surely never knew sweeter days
Blows my mind like munitions
So much heaven, so much hell
So much love, so much pain
So much more than I thought this world could ever contain
So much war, so much soul
One mans loss, another mans gold
So much more than I thought this world can ever hold
We're just children, we're just dust
We are small and we are lost
And we're nothing, nothing at all
One bomb, the whole block gone
Can't find me children and dust covers the sun
Everywhere is noise, panic and confusion
But to some another fun day in Babylon
I'm gonna bury my wife and dig up my gun
My life is done so now I got to kill someone. . . "
The games were a ton of fun. The music was loud. The food was delicious. But, perhaps most importantly, at the conclusion of the evening, when we gathered for worship in the sanctuary, the spirit of the living God was present and among us all. Every seat in the center of the sanctuary was filled from the front to the back. Youth from thirty-four different churches joined in prayer, songs, and fellowship. You could feel the energy and sense of community in the air. There was a true sense on Sunday evening that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Call others into the ministry. Rather than "recruiting volunteers," focus instead on the idea of "calling" individuals that you discern have gifts for ministry with teens. Invite these individuals to meet with you one-on-one and share with them the gifts and qualities you have observed that could help them be successful in nurturing the faith journey of youth. This "personal approach" is immensely preferable to putting out a public call for volunteers, which often results in people coming forward who have the best intentions but who are also totally unsuitable to serve with teens.
Build on your own weaknesses. Do some real soul-searching and make a list of the things you are not gifted at but which would be a blessing in growing a healthy youth ministry. Not good at organization? Find someone who is! Not into sports? Find someone who is uniquely gifted to help teens in this area. Are you great at details but sometimes missing the big picture? Seek out those who can help your ministry dream and vision.
Think out of the box. Despite what most churches might think, you don't have to be a male in your early twenties with a goatee, slim waist, and proficiency in ten sports to be a great youth leader. Help your youth experience the diversity of your church when seeking adult leaders. Senior citizens can be great with youth! Married couples and single people each bring their own unique perspective. A college/grad student can add a whole new dimension to your team. With great care and thoughtful boundaries, occasionally even a parent of one of your teens could be a real benefit to the team. (One caveat: when inviting parents to serve as adult leaders, I always check with their teens first.)
Ask your youth. It never hurts to find out who your teens would like to see serving with the youth ministry. Even better, bring a teen along when you talk to a prospective helper. Adults are sometimes cautious about helping if they aren't sure whether or not the kids really want them there. Hearing the invitation directly from the mouth of one of the youth can go along way to helping an adult make the choice to become a regular part of your ministry.
What others would you add?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Theologically, the Bible is full of stories with individuals giving thanks to God before sharing a meal. This seems simple enough. But if we pray before meals, as a sign of thanksgiving, when else should we be praying? Should we pray before we eat ice cream? Should we pray when we are thankful for something that we have?
Perhaps these are really mundane questions. But, when working with youth, I occasionally wonder when I should be praying. On mission trips, we don’t pray at the fast food restaurants, but do pray when we stop at a rest station for a picnic lunch. At church camp, we pray before meals, but not before our evening snacks. On a recent backpacking trip to Colorado we prayed before we went to sleep at night, but not before we heated up our freeze dried meals (which, by the way, if you eat freeze dried meals and hike all day long for a week you will lose weight).
Maybe it’s not so much when you pray, but rather, the intentions of your prayer. This, in turn, causes me to wonder: What happens when you say the same prayer day in and day out? For example, my wife and I, at each meal, say the Lutheran Common Table Prayer. I like this prayer: Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to be us be blessed. But, I have to admit that sometimes, perhaps because the meal smells so good, I rush through the prayer, simply going through the motions. Other times, I feel that this prayer really feeds (no pun intended) my soul.
Does anyone else ever think these thoughts or am I just crazy?
Monday, August 13, 2007
But what would happen if the summer wasn’t so busy? What would happen if during the summer we did an intentional forty day prayer journey with our youth? What would happen if we just came together and sat in silence? What if we conveyed the message that summertime is to be a Sabbath: A time to reflect on God’s presence in our lives. What if we held a one week camp that focused on contemplative spirituality and spent the entire time in prayer, silence, and worship?
Friday, August 10, 2007
"The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes and other 'good' kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college." MySpace is still home for "kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school."It's also, she says, the preferred digital hangout for outsiders—burnouts, punks, emos, Goths and gangstas. In addition, she says, Hispanic and immigrant teens are more likely to choose MySpace.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Protestant churches are losing young adults in "sobering" numbers, a survey finds. Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research.
And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.
Just over half (51%) of Protestant young people surveyed (both the church dropouts and those who stayed on in church after age 22) saw church members as "caring" or had other positive descriptions, such as "welcoming" (48%) or "authentic" (42%).
Among dropouts, nearly all (97%) cited life changes, such as a move. Most (58%) were unhappy with the people or pastor at church. More
than half (52%) had religious, ethical or political reasons for quitting.
Dropouts were more than twice as likely than those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental (51% for
dropouts, 24% for those who stayed), hypocritical (44% vs. 20%) or insincere (41% vs. 19%).