Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    CULTURE WATCH: What's Up with "Pumped Up Kicks"?

    Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" is one of the most-played summer songs this year and offers a catchy, breezy tune paired with some pretty disturbing lyrics about a boy contemplating an act of violence.  Mark Foster, lead singer of the group Foster the People explains the lyrics:

    "Pumped Up Kicks' is about a kid that basically is losing his mind and is plotting revenge. He's an outcast. I feel like the youth in our culture are becoming more and more isolated. It's kind of an epidemic. Instead of writing about victims and some tragedy, I wanted to get into the killer's mind, like Truman Capote did in 'In Cold Blood.' I love to write about characters. That's my style. I really like to get inside the heads of other people and try to walk in their shoes."

    We recently offered a series of posts on the problem of teen bullying.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    CREATIVE WORSHIP IDEA: Growing with God

    Try this simple hands-on worship experience to encourage your youth to seek growth in their faith.

    Once a year in the summer our church joins several others in our inner city neighborhood for an outdoor worship experience just prior to the jazz concert in a local park that we co-sponsor.  The service is open to anyone who might be in the park early for the concert and we are often joined by neighbors and strangers alike.

    This year our theme was "Growing with God." We focused on the story of creation and how we are part of God's ever-expanding movement in the world. At one point in the service, we invited people to come forward and take a slip of paper and write a prayer for those things in their lives for which they would ask God for growth (e.g. patience, trust, compassion, understanding).  They then folded up these prayers and placed them in the bottom of a small paper pot (see photo), added a few spoonfuls of potting soil, a couple of flower seeds, and more soil.  These were topped off with a tiny bit of water for good measure.

    Next, participants used sharpies to write on the outside of the paper pots a prayer for those things they would wish to see growth for in the world (e.g. peace, economic justice, access to clean water and food for all, etc), and to contemplate how God might be inviting us to be a part of that growth.  Each pot was then placed with the communion elements and formed into the shape of a cross.  We then shared in communion and a communion feast of the various foods each person brought to share.  Neighbors who just happened to be in the park were invited to join the feast as well and to share their fellowship with us. 

    At the end of our time together, each person was invited to take home someone else's pot, plant it in the ground, tend it, and contemplate how we are called to serve together in community to bring about growth in each other and God's Kingdom.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Youth Ministry and The Google-fication of God

    What does the search giant Google have to do with youth ministry?

    In my latest essay at the interfaith website, I ponder this question and explore what it means to work with teens in progressive Christian congregations. In part one of the essay, I look at the parallel between the tendency to see our faith through the focused lens of our personal worldviews and the way in which Google, perhaps suprisingly, contributes to the limiting of that worldview:

    [E]ven though Google was expected to make our personal worlds larger by connecting us to a vast storehouse of diverse information, in truth it has only helped to make our worlds smaller and increasingly homogenous. The more you use Google, it seems, the more it "learns" you and begins returning a narrow selection of results reflecting back your own opinions, politics, interests, and prejudices.

    In part two, I argue for an approach to sharing the faith with teens that both values diverse thought but which also sees certain elements of Christainity as non-negotiable:

    Are there aspects of Christianity to which we would say to our youth: "Here I stand. We have much latitude in how we interpret the faith, but around these issues we should all come together as one"? . . . .[W]hat I offer here are those non-negotiables that invite teens to take seriously the long tradition and history of the Church, to be in dialogue with the forebears of their faith and to seek an understanding of Christianity that is centered in the discernment of the community rather than solitary personal preferences.

    You can check out these and other youth ministry essays at Patheos here.

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    GREAT YOUTH MINISTRY IDEAS: The Lord's Prayer Revisited

    A colleague of mine, Brian Brandsmeier, has crafted what he calls "The Mindfulness Version of the Lord's Prayer" and has graciously permitted us to share it.  For a prayer that many of us say at least once a week, sometimes the words can cease to have much meaning as we slip into rote recitation.  Often during Lent our church will use a different version of the Lord's Prayer each week just to tune our ears once again to its message.  We'll definitely be adding Brian's version to our list and I'd encourage you to see how this prayer might resonate with your youth:

    Holy Presence, your name is truly sacred. May your vision for the world be realized, and may your will be done in our lives as it is in heaven. Provide us with the goodness of food and remind us to enjoy it mindfully. Forgive us for the times that we have rushed through life, not noticing the small miracles around us. And please forgive those who haven’t had enough time to notice us. Lead us all into abundant life in the here-and-now of our lives, and lead us away from the busyness that makes us live too far in the past or future. For the here-and-now Kin-dom, here-and-now power, and here-and-now glory are yours this moment and forever. Amen!

    Brian and his wife Sara describe themselves as "two mystics on a journey of faith and discovery" and regularly post thoughtful liturgy and original music on their blog. I encourage you to check it out.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Meeting Jesus Over a Cup of Cold Water

    Sometimes we are so focused on bearing the image of Christ to others that we forget that "the other" just might be sharing Christ with us!

    Is it possible to encounter Christ in the simple act of sharing a cold cup of water? Several weeks ago during our local mission trip, we spent an afternoon attempting to hand out bottled water to people in the city.

    Near the Arch, we spotted some people huddled under a highway overpass.  We decided to see if they might want some water and we began arguing over who would bring it to them. Let me be clear: we weren't arguing because everyone wanted to do it. In fact, no one wanted to do it.  It was a little scary, walking up to strangers who were hidden in the shadows of the overpass, not knowing what sort of reception we might find.  

    Finally, two youth and one adult stepped forward.  One teen asked, "What do we say to them?  Do we have to talk about Jesus?"  Our reply: "No.  You don't have to talk about Jesus. You will be Jesus."  And so off they went, with a cooler of bottled water. One of the youth reported that as they approached the people, one person appeared to be pointing something at them.  "A gun?" he wondered.  No, one of the persons was simply pointing out that our group was entering their "space."  The three homeless persons welcomed our three, graciously accepted the gift of water, and as our group turned to leave, one of the strangers said, "God bless you."

    Wow. Here we thought we were the ones coming to share God with them, but in fact God was already there!  And they were sharing God's blessing with us.  It was a reminder that even as we Christians engage in mission to help those in need, we'd better be prepared to encounter God in the most unlikely places and to receive Christ's hospitality in the guise of people we would least suspect. And sometimes this profound learning can happen over an act as simple as sharing a bottle of water.

    Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. - Matthew 10: 42

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    5 Reasons To Take Your Youth on a Local Mission Trip

    Unless you are an even bigger procrastinator than I am, you've already made all the plans for your summer youth mission trip.  But it's not too late to add a local mission "trip" to your schedule, too!  That's what our youth group did this summer as we decided to serve right in our own backyard.

    Each day of the week we gathered at the church and then went out to serve in food pantries, ministries reaching out to low-income families, a local charter school for inner-city kids, and an opportunity to pass out water to homeless persons. True - it wasn't as exotic as a trip to Mexico, but the ministry we did together was just as impactful.

    Now, let there be no doubt: I'm a fan of long-distance mission trips (and even heard my first call to ministry with children and youth during a mission trip when I was 18), but there are some great reasons to consider a local mission experience for your youth:

    Cost!   It's simple math: a local mission experience, organized thoughtfully, can be a model of responsible stewardship. You sleep on your own church floor instead of renting motel rooms. You save gas money with less driving.  You could even save money on food by inviting church members to help supply meals. 

    Time!  Since you aren't spending several days driving to and from your destination, you have more time to devote to the mission work itself.

    Context!  When travelling to a new place, it takes time to get your bearings and understand the needs of the setting. When you stay in your own backyard, you are already part of the context and can better understand the real needs of those in the community.

    Flexibility! Road trips require everything to be planned out in advance in detail. Failing to do so can end in disaster.  Local mission experiences are much more forgiving.  Leave something behind? Just run back to the church and get it.  Car trouble? Call the senior pastor to come to the rescue.  Teens' schedules too full to attend the whole mission experience? Why not let them just drop in and out of the work schedule as their time permits?

    Future!  On typical mission trips, you might work at a site once or perhaps several times but eventually you head home and leave that ministry behind. On a local mission experience, you have the chance not only to sample ministry sites in your own town but you can then commit as a group to continue to partner with that organization throughout the year, sharing your talents monthly or even weekly as missionaries to your own community. 

    What other advantages might there be to a local mission experience? 

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    What If Youth Ministry Came with a Warning Label?

    A colleague recently posted this image on Facebook of a sign he encountered while hiking.  Reading it caused me to wonder: What if our youth ministries were so challenging and potentially life-changing that they had to come with a warning label?

    What if, instead of promoting our youth ministries with words like "Fun!" "Exciting!" and "Wacky!" we had to tell teens: Caution! Joining this ministry may result in powerful, spiritual currents taking your life in a new direction. Stay back if you don't want to be changed or suddenly see the world in a new way! If you join us, you may die and be born anew to a life of compassion, justice, mercy, peace and love. You have been warned!