Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Creative Project for Youth Ministry: Mandalas

    Try this creative mandala project as a way to help youth explore a variety of topics or as a contemplative prayer experience.

    Mandala is the Sanskrit word for "circle." In some faith traditions, the mandala represents the sacred, wholeness, and unity. The creation of a mandala is often used as a contemplative or prayerful practice with the focus on the process and not the end product. (I have seen video of Buddhist monks who spend hours creating elaborate mandala designs using colored sand, only to wipe them completely away as soon as they are completed).  

    In the activity pictured above, the mandalas were created using cardboard rounds. You can find these in craft stores or get them donated by your local pizza place. Participants were asked to contemplate the themes of brokenness and wholeness related to the practice of communion. In communion, we come to the table in our brokenness, knowing that God welcomes us as we are.  We literally break the bread. And then, we share the bread as one community, one body, and celebrate our wholeness and unity in God's love.  To explore this understanding, participants selected an image from a magazine that represented brokenness to them and glued those images to the center of their mandala. Group members chose images of war, hunger, natural devastation, and so on.  

    We then passed our mandalas to the person next to us and that person responded to our image of brokenness by finding a related image that they felt represented "wholeness" and gluing it to the outer edge of the mandala. We continued this process, passing the mandalas around the circle,  each person adding a wholeness image to everyone else's mandalas, until they came back around to the original creator. For a real challenge, do this entire process in prayerful silence.  Finish by inviting conversation about the original images of brokenness and how each person responded to those images.  Consider how we are called as Christians to both acknowledge our brokenness and work together to bring wholeness to a fragmented world. (Note: It was interesting in this experience to see how participants often had a different interpretation of the "brokenness" images and how this affected the image of wholeness they chose for each mandala. Reflecting on these different interpretations added to the richness of our closing discussion). 

    There are many ways to adapt this activity. Instead of using magazines, youth could draw or paint images or write words on their mandalas.  You could create mandalas that reflect prayer concerns of the group, things for which you are thankful, as a way to reflect on global needs, or as a response to a scriptural passage or story.  Another approach is to have each person complete their mandalas individually and then talk together about the process of praying through this visual and hands-on experience. 

    Guest Post: The God of the Mundane: Finding God in Caves, iPods and the Songs of Sparrows

    For this guest post, we welcome Stephen Ingram, author of the new text Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the GospelStephen is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL and is a lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects.
    “When we place precedent on certain times and places to interact, worship and be held accountable to God, we are compartmentalizing God yet again, and now we also compartmentalize God in our understandings of life and social issues, in both time and space.

    It is incredible how the church, unknowingly, has raised so many people with the understanding that God has a cot and a pillow just above the choir loft.”

    From Hollow Faith- Stephen Ingram

    One of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Bible is the story of Moses and the burning bush.  It is an incredible story of God’s impeccable style, power and limitless ability to step into our seemingly mundane existence.  Moses, a wandering shepherd, is doing what he usually does: walking, herding, and probably being bored out of his mind.  The narrative tells us that he was on the far side of the wilderness near Mount Horeb.  Then the most mundane of practices, on the most mundane of days turned into something extraordinary.   I love the phrasing of that moment in the story.  It says that he saw that there was a fire and the bush was not being consumed, and then he looked and a voice began to speak to him. 
    Did you get that? 
    He SAW the fire… then he Looked… and heard the voice of God.
    All around us, every day we see the world, but are we really looking?  In her groundbreaking research, Ellen Langer, an author and Harvard Psychologist, writes about the phenomenon of not truly seeing and living in the world around us.  She coins the answer to this living as “mindfulness” She writes:

    “I think that people need to wake up and realize that basically we're - we've been sealed in unlived lives”

    The idea is that we walk around in an existence where we do not really engage in the world but have turned on auto-pilot in order to get through our seemingly mundane existences.  You have probably seen the videos where people are walking down a busy street on their morning commute and in their everydayness they fail to see the clown riding the unicycle juggling lit torches.  We do the same thing everyday and we have taught our youth to unintentionally do this with God.  
    When we perpetuate the idea that the primary place where God is found is within the walls of the church, we teach students to turn off that “mindfulness” and turn on their spiritual auto-pilot.  It is in the intentional process of mindful looking that we are more able to first see and then, as Moses, really look into the ordinary fire and find our extra-ordinary God. 

    My challenge is this: Stop having students believe that our God is relegated to chancels, pews and choir lofts and help them understand that we serve a God who brings significance to the most mundane and unlikely of places.  Help our students walk with a mindfulness that finds God in the caves, on their iPods and in the songs of sparrows.  Help our students realize that their God is all around them and that God is calling them to not simply see but to look.   

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    What Story Do You Have to Tell?

    With many young people now claiming the identity "spiritual but not religious," how do we help them find themselves within the Christian story?
    Here is a small mystery for you to solve:
    Dunn, North Carolina is a small town south of Raleigh. It has  14,000 residents, mostly blue collar workers.  The town’s latest pride and joy is the fact that it recently got its first Wal-mart.  Just a typical small American town – with one exception.  Almost everyone in town reads the local paper, the Daily Record. To be more accurate, “more than everyone in Dunn reads the paper.”[1] The Daily Record boasts a circulation of 112% -- the highest per capita circulation in the whole country.  For this to be happen, one of two things has to be true: 1) People from outside the town are buying the paper or 2) People in the town are buying more than one copy per household. But what could be so great about this small town paper that people would actually purchase multiple copies?

    The story of Dunn, North Carolina’s “Daily Record” is recounted in the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath.  The sibling co-authors were inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, which analyzes what it takes for a simple idea to “tip” and become a social or cultural phenomena. (Think about what had to happen to make pet rocks a fad in the 70’s or fanny packs the rage in the 90’s or why vampires and zombies are suddenly now so popular in today’s fiction and movies and you’ll have some notion of those ideas that have “tipped” over into the mainstream.)
    One item that the Heath brothers particularly latched onto in The Tipping Point was Gladwell’s assertion that new innovations are most likely to “tip” if they are sticky – in other words: Unforgettable, compelling – the kind of ideas that latch onto you.  So what does it take to make an idea “sticky?”

    Well, let’s go back to our little town of Dunn, North Carolina and its newspaper “The Daily Record.”  Any thoughts on why this little paper is such a huge success? It’s really pretty simple. 

    Friday, November 09, 2012

    Can "The Hobbit" Lead Teens to The Kingdom?

    How did I miss this obvious opportunity all these years to lead teens to the Kingdom of God by way of Middle Earth?
    In my latest essay at, I review The Christian World of The Hobbit, a new text by Tolkien scholar Devin Brown.  His book explores the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien's Catholic faith on his writing of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings:

    Brown's text deftly explores how Tolkien, a devout Catholic, deliberately chose not to turn his writing into an overbearing Christian allegory. Unlike his friend and contemporary, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien was not interested in creating "Christian" fiction or in simply throwing a fantasy template over the top of otherwise obvious biblical stories. Instead, he sought to craft a tale that, in a sense, absorbed a Christian ethos. So there are no clear one-to-one correlations between the characters in Tolkien's Middle-earth and the Bible. Rather...Tolkien's Middle-earth stories are imbued with elements of grace, forgiveness, redemption, and faith because Tolkien himself lived a faith-saturated life.
    You can read the entire essay here.
    What do you think?  Could The Hobbit be useful in exploring Christian themes with youth?

    Monday, November 05, 2012

    Advent & Christmas Ebook for Youth Ministry

    Our ebook Creative Youth Ministry Ideas for Advent and Christmas (2011) is still available if you didn't have a chance to purchase it this time last year. In addition to offering some of the material scattered about this blog newly edited and neatly repackaged into one ebook, you'll also find  ideas never before published on the site.  This 66-page ebook includes Bible studies, games, discussion starters, art projects, song studies, and more.  All for the small price of $1.99. You can find out more information here. And keep checking back as new ideas for Advent and Christmas are on the way.