Archive for the rant Category

.::Liturgy:Ritual as Adolescent Faith Formation

Posted in adolescence, church, Liturgy, Ministry, rant, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry on May 14, 2012 by Walter

I grew up Catholic and the ritual of liturgy sometimes bored me, but many times it fascinated me, it educated me and it comforted me. I remember being bored many times by the repetitive nature of liturgy . . . saying the same thing week after week. This is only natural for a middle school kid who was fidgeting in an uncomfortable pew and a more uncomfortable polyester three piece light blue suit struggle just to stay awake, much less pay attention.

However, there were times when I caught a glimpse of the Divine. Those moments when the liturgy pointed to the Mystery of Faith. It was during those seasons where I understood at a rudimentary level that there was something Holy happening. . . that this was not just another week where we were repeating the same thing over and over. It was as if someone had poked me in my side between the 5th and 6th ribs and whispered intently in my ear, “Pay attention, this is important.” And I listened like I had never listened before. I may not have fully comprehended it. I may not have understood all the language. But I undoubtedly knew God was there.

It is through ritual and liturgy that we encounter the Divine in the ordinary.

Many years later, one Christmas Eve, I was watching Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s on television when my wife noticed that I was reciting the liturgy alongside Pope John Paul II. Somewhere in my adolescence, the words of the Mass had somehow become part of me. I took extreme comfort in this. In that moment I recognized another dynamic of my participation in The Church.

What does this have to do with Youth Ministry?

I spend a great deal of time in our introductory ministry courses exposing our students to the wonder and mystery and need for liturgy in the life of our churches. I let them peek over the wall to the other side of the Christian Tradition in order to get a glimpse of formal liturgy. We discuss how we all have liturgy, some more formal than others. We have three songs and a prayer, others have The Book of Common Prayer. We have potlucks & friend days, others have Ash Wednesday & Advent. We sometimes speak in plain language that is accessible, humble and approachable. Others speak in carefully worded language borrowed from generations past and deeply rooted in scripture that is deep, holy and divine.

BOTH ARE NEEDED.

BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.

Ivy Beckwith defines ritual as, “something we do over and over again as a way to remember or reinforce the values the ritual represents.”1 In modern youth ministry, we have segmented our young people off from the larger church body to such a degree that I think they might be missing out on the rich heritage that exists in the ritual of our faith communities. We have worked so hard to be so innovative with our young people we have tossed aside the story of who we are with our teens and they have missed a significant part of the spiritual formation–their identity.

Might we have been so innovative, so fragmented, so segregated, that they have missed out on the metanarrative of who are are? Might this be one of the reasons that they wander off from the church when they graduate youth group? Maybe our students do not possess and understanding of WHO they are in the midst of the larger, broader Christian community because they have missed out on the ritual and liturgy that lives out the story of our identity.

What are the things our youth ministries and churches are doing over and over and over again?

What values are those reinforcing?

What Identities are they forming?

What stories are they telling?

We need to have our students participate in and with the larger church’s liturgy. We need to be available to answer their questions of, “What does this mean? What is going on here?” They need to hear and experience the stories that the liturgy lives out in the midst of community.

1 Beckwith, Ivy. Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010. 21

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.::A Lexus Rant

Posted in rant with tags , , , , on December 13, 2011 by Walter

This is the time of year where the luxury automobile manufacturers inundate us with those commercials where the dutiful spouse surprises their loved one with a $75,000 automobile.

In the words of Keyshawn Johnson, “C’Mon Man!”

Who really does this?!?!

Not only that, but it makes me feel emasculated for whatever gift I did get my wife.

Honda has started a counter campaign which has taken this idea EVEN LOWER (as if that was possible) Where they are encouraging you to buy a car for YOURSELF?!?!?!?  So instead of encouraging people to be grossly generous, Honda is calling us to be overwhelmingly SELFISH!

Gah! (proceed with ripping hair out . . . oh yeah, I don’t have any)

How can a regular Joe like me EVER do something like that?

The point is, I probably never could, NOR would I.

If I could spend $75,000 on something for someone for Christmas, I would be to build another housing complex for Made In The Streets in Nairobi, Kenya or to build wells through Living Water for those without clean water all over the world, or to combat child prostitution and slavery by sponsoring dozens of kids through the International Justice Mission.

Now here is the GREAT thing.  I don’t have to have $75,000 to do something like this.  If you have $10 you can make a difference through any of these organizations or hundreds of other organizations that reach out to the needs of the poor, orphaned, enslaved, disenfranchised.

One of the best gifts I ever got was a gift given in my name by a good friend of mine.  This was a gift of the lesson of generosity that I so desperately needed to learn.

A gift given to someone else in my name.

A gift that says, “Walter you have plenty of stuff . . . share with others.”

A gift that still sticks with me to this very day.

A gift I will probably never forget.

Try to put a ginormous bow on something like that!

Compete with that Lexus, Mercedes and Honda. . .

“For unto us a Child is Born. . .”

.::What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?: No Cell Zone

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Life, rant, spiritual disciplines, Tech, Technology, Theology, What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?, what matters, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by Walter

Several years back I had a really interesting conversation with a mom in my youth group.  She came up to me and said, “I am so tired of my daughter getting woken up in the middle of the night with her friend’s texting her.”

I replied, “Why don’t you have her charge her phone downstairs in the kitchen?”

“But it’s her alarm clock.” She said.

I thought, “If only there was some magical device you could purchase that would make a noise at a predetermined time of day . . . ”

What does it do to the soul to have ourselves connected to our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year after year?

According to Time Magazine Online,  “35% of Android and iPhone owners in the U.S. fire up mobile apps before getting out of bed, according to a survey by Ericsson ConsumerLab.”  Maybe this points to the fact that we are overconnected?  Do you feel like you and your students are TOO connected?  Is there a time when you or your teens is not able to be reached by the outside world?  Didn’t Jesus have to get away from everyone just so he could listen to his Father?

We haven’t set up barriers that tell technology to keep out.  This is “Me” Time or “We” Time.  I remember only having a landline in our home and having dinner together as a family, whenever the phone rang during dinner, mom would proclaim, “Let it ring! This is family time.”  Which begs the question:  Do we even still have a time like this when we just let it ring?  Do we have family time?

What if your family had a no cell phone zone?  For your fmaily it might be the dinner table, or the living room when you are all watching TV together.  For some of you it might be the bedroom.  Have the entire family charge their phones far away from their bedrooms so they can sleep without being interrupted.  Might this become a solitary place like Jesus often needed in order to refocus.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Luke 5:16

Over and over we see time when Jesus gets away from the frenetic pace of life so He can just LISTEN.  Is it possible that our cell phones actually keep us from LISTENING?  Might the Verizon mantra, “Can you hear me now?” have been a prophetic voice warning us that these shiny little devices would actually KEEP us from listening to God’s voice?

What other places might be Cell Free Zones for you?  Church? Restaurants? Movie Theaters? Friends homes?

What I mean is that you might still have your phone on you at these places, but you might actually turn them OFF so that you aren’t unnecessarily interrupted when you are at these places.  Simply power it back up when you are leaving and resume your connection to the rest of the world.

So I challenge you to find ONE PLACE that will be a Cell Free Zone in your world this week.  

.::Performance-Based Youth Ministry

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, rant, Theology, youth ministry on September 21, 2011 by Walter

If I am completely honest, much of what I did in youth ministry focused on a students ability to perform well.  If a student showed up regularly, participated, behaved, and dressed right, then they fit in.  Parents were happy.  Elders left me alone.  Life was good. . . . or was it?

The number one question students are trying to answer (and many adults) when it comes to life is “Who Am I?”  This is a question that haunts us for much of our lives.

Think about these three ways that many seek out in an attempt to answer that question:
  • “I am what I DO”
  • “I am what I CONTROL
  • “I am what OTHERS SAY ABOUT ME”
According to Henri Nouwen, each of these responses is inadequate, and even destructive for both us and the students in our ministry.  If I am honest I have called kids to be defined by those as well.  For example:
  • “I am what I do”=Do more youth group things to be a better Christian.  Sports are good, but youth group is better. I think of those students in my ministry that define themselves through the multitude of activities they participate in.
  • “I am what I control”=If you keep your head above water morally and emotionally than you are a better Christian. I think our churches send the message to students that as long as they got through youth group with passing grades, didn’t get pregnant or high (too often) then they are alright.  I also see student who go after extracurricular after extracurricular in order to define themselves through being able to control their identity this way.  I also think of the overachieving academic student who defines themselves this way through his or her grades and transcripts.  
  • “I am what others say about me”=If everyone likes me than I am a better Christian.  We see this in all areas of adolescence as kids seek approval from peers in a variety of ways, looks, compliments, relationships, number of Facebook friends, etc.
For Henri Nouwen, the answer to the single most important questions affecting all of humanity, “Who am I?” is the message of Jesus and the Bible.  Our students have been created, redeemed and called to live as God’s precious and beloved child.  I heard another author put it this way, “I can’t follow Jesus any other way than as me.”  
Beneath all of their gifts, talents and abilities, each and every child is more than the sum of their abilities and personality.  At their core, each is the beloved child of God.  But that would take some radical restructuring on our parts in our ministries and our families.
  • It would mean that it is alright for a student to miss youth group in order to go to a family event celebrating an Aunt’s birthday.
  • It would mean that my daughter doesn’t have to get good grades in order to get my FULL approval of her effort on her academic work.  (After all, don’t we feign total approval many times when a B or C or D  shows up?)
  • It would mean that we are proactively looking to see the DIFFERENT and UNIQUE ways that students express their faith and we begin to LEARN from THEM!  (Could I actually learn something from my daughters music choices instead of insisting that she love U2 as much as I do?)
  • It would mean creating space for students who don’t fit into our demographic molds at church to feel just as welcome and a sense of belonging as the next student.  It MIGHT even mean helping them feel MORE at home than the student who has always been a part of your ministry.  (Didn’t someone once talk about leaving the 99 to go find one sheep?)
  • It might mean that it is fine for a kid to have purple hair, countless piercings and body art for doesn’t God love that student too?  (If not, than that isn’t God at all)
  • It might mean trashing the gold starts we are so fond of using in children’s classes.  (I hear the whispers of “heretic,” but aren’t gold stars just a Sunday School version of Shamu’s sardines?)
  • Maybe it means we stop counting people who show up to church and stop publishing the attendance numbers or contribution?
  • Maybe we stop giving out trophies for Bible memorizations, memory verses, Bible Bowl, etc.
I get that I have gone off the deep end.  But what if we starting looking at each individual student as God does.  What else might we have to change?  Please comment away . . .

.::Divided on Divided

Posted in Ministry, movies, rant, Teaching, Theology on August 9, 2011 by Walter

I just finished watching the documentary “Divided” that details the idea that modern youth ministry is contrary to scripture and goes so far to suggest that is has pagan roots.  I agree with Marko in that I wanted ot like this movie, I really did.  However, the young filmaker, Philip Leclerc presents an unpolished, wandering argument that is less documentary and more heavy-handed propaganda for the organization that he represents (National Center for Family Integrated Churches).  I came away thinking that the Leclerc brothers who made this file come off more as a Christian version of Michael Moore in how biased they were in their presentation.  However, their main difference is that instead of wearing a baseball cap and crumpled wardrobe, Phillip’s standard attire was an dapper assortment of tight fitting vests and slim ties.  Here are my initial thoughts on the file:

  • First and foremost, the main thesis that the Leclrecs propose is an important and vital question that the church has to ask and address, “Does modern youth ministry steal the responsibility away from parents?”  This is a question I have been struggling with for that past ten years and am just now seeing this enter the popular area of youth ministry.  However, we are so entrenched in the way we have done youth ministry, we do not know how to successfully navigate in the waters of intergenerational youth ministry.
  • Second, Divided, also asks another important question about youth ministry that also needs to be discussed, “Has modern youth ministry watered down the biblical narrative to games, theatre, social clubs and activities leaving our students biblically illiterate?”  I do believe that the inclusion of XBox 306s, couches, donuts, lock-ins, laser tag trips, youth group videos, christian t-shirts and the like into youth ministries, while good in and of themselves, may have been distractions that many youth workers have used to keep away from the deep biblical truths of God.  Let’s face it, it is easier to take a group of kids to Six Flags and ride rollercoasters then wrestle with the deep truths of Romans.  I’d rather stand in line with a student and learn their story (which is a vital and important part of the ministry of presence) than dig into the Greek text and Fiztmeyer’s commentary in the loneliness of my office.
  • New Earth Creation and Other Rabbit Trails--Unfortunately, Leclerc tips his hand by presenting several different rabbit trails such as presenting New Earth Creation as a litmis test for orthodox churches and true Christians.  His argument would have been better served by truly presenting more moderate church leaders to present their takes on the need for intergenerational youth ministry.  A five second clip of Marko taken out of context (and without permission) and Walt Mueller and Jeanne Mayo is not a balanced apporeach to presenting your case.  This is a shame, but I do not believe that this takes away from the usefulness of a movie like this.  While Divided is far from perfect, it at least raises the bigger issues modern youth ministry and church leadership needs to address.
  • I would suggest screening this to parents and leaders in the midst of a series on adolescent development, the tightrope of adolescence, abandonment, and family-based youth ministry, intergeneration youth minsitry, Think Orange, etc. to start a vibrant and exciting discussion.  What I mean is that something this inflammatory and will work to create exciting and important dialogue (perhaps even more than something that is perfect could or would).  This can work to get parents and leaders riled up enough to vocalize what they don’t like about this file (and there is plenty of material for that) so that you can talk about the bigger issue of systematic abandonment of adolescents by modern youth ministry, children’s ministry and church structures.
  • I do think that the connection between our modern educational structures and youth ministry educational structures is a great point made poorly by Leclerc.  I won’t go so far as to say we are being pagans by structuring our educational programs after the public schools, but it does bear investigating and asking the question, “Is this the BEST way for us to educate our children in the faith?”  Survey after survey pointing to parents as the most influential person in a young person’s faith development (See Soul Searching by C. Smith for starters) begs the question, “Why have we constantly separated and segregated our students from the most important influence in their lives on a Sunday morning?”
  • I agree with Walt Mueller who says, “I believe that the film asks good questions about age-segregation in worship. It just shouldn’t happen. I’ve been trumpeting that for years and so have many others in the youth ministry community. But again, there are times when we can separate from each other to be nurtured in age-appropriate ways.”  I want to worship WITH my family on a Sunday and am frustrated with the battle that a youth group section in church causes on the drive to church Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

I do hope you give Divided the 54 minutes of your day soon and begin to think about some of the more salient issues that it brings up.  Overlook the young earth creation junk, Leclerc’s snappy vests and prepubescent looks, Ken Ham’s meaningless rants, the way that Leclerc sets up students at the Christian music festival (Carnival?) and youth ministers at Simply YM conference.  It is obvious that the Leclerc brothers are young, young, young filmmakers who need seasoning in order to present such arguments more fairly in the future.

.::Conventionality

Posted in church, Ministry, rant, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , on June 9, 2010 by Walter

I came across the following quote on a blog from one of the best scholars of youth ministry to come along in the past 5-10 years, Andrew Root:

“. . .youth ministry can easily slide into the wing of the church that ushers kids into conventionality. In other words, youth ministry is doing a good job when kids act and look conventional (happily religious). It could be argued . . . that motivated parents to financially support a youth worker in their local congregation . . .they wanted someone with the expertise to make their kids conventionally religious kids (that showed this by being “good”). . . conventionality does NOT equal spiritual maturity, depth, or discipleship—that conventionality can itself be acidic. . . religious conventionality may be as much an enemy to young people encountering the act of God in Jesus Christ as R-rated movies and Jersey Shore.

It may then be that the challenge for youth ministry and the church as a whole is to pop the bubble of conventionality; this may be the best way to engage young people (and yes this is risky, but the problem with the church and youth ministry is that it lacks the risk of encountering our raw humanity).”

Andrew Root, YouthSpecialties.com

As I read this, there is a lot of Truth here.  As I survey the landscape of the local church and our theology, we have played it safe, far too safe.  Lock-Ins, trips to Six Flags, Pizza Parties and the such have our youth ministries looking more like the local YMCA instead of the Force of God in our local communities.  I believe that our ministries much be more Dangerous, Fearful, Awe-some, Mysterious and Holy (more on that in some future posts).

Maybe our ministries could be more committed to:

  • less Abercrombie and more Goodwill
  • less Pizza & Starbucks and more Fasting & Simplicity
  • less gossip and more proclamation
  • less hanging out with peers and more koinonia with the Body
  • less retreats and more missional living

Don’t hear me saying to do away with such things as hanging out, retreats, etc., but I think the church ought to be far less conventional. We have been doing far too good of a job of blending in than we have of standing out.  Our distinctive lifestyle has faded to a dull and boring beige that is unpalatable to those around us.

I recognize that this is easier for me as I have always been one who is somewhat “unconventional” for as long as I can remember.  Perhaps that is why I have always been an Apple fan;  however, it seems that Apple is soon becoming the establishment which means I might have to switch to Linux, but I digress.  But as I read about the Story of God, Yahweh has ALWAYS been unconventional in the way He did things.  For example:

  • speaking everything into being
  • building the wonderful creation of woman from a rib
  • saving humanity with a boat
  • picking the youngest of seven to be a king
  • using fishermen to fulfill his mission
  • calling a nudist prophet
  • coming as a baby
  • using a virgin girl as a revolutionary
  • saving humanity again with a Roman execution

This is but a few, but you get the idea.  Conventionality is boring.  When Jesus talks of abundant life, I don’t think it is a conventional lifestyle that he is calling us to.  It is a life of wonder, fear, danger, excitement, joy, heartbreak, anger, frustration and more.

What a great story to be a part of!

Now youth ministry has generally been on the cutting edge of UNconventionality, but recently it seems like we have found ourselves in the center of conventionality.

How then might we be less conventional in the way we do youth ministry?

.::Merry Christmas Rant

Posted in Life, rant, Theology with tags , , on January 21, 2010 by Walter

I know this rant is a bit late for the season, but it struck me that our common way of greeting people during the Christmas season seems completely inadequate.  Here is what I mean,  the “Merry” on “Merry Christmas” seems woefully underwhelming as an adjective.  When I hear “Merry Christmas” I hear, “Have a nice, little, safe, quiet Christmas.”

But Christmas is perhaps THE most powerful event in the course of human history.  Could we not use a better adjective to qualify our desire to celebrate the incarnation of God for the redemption of humanity?  Merry seems to small of a word to truly call us to celebrate God breaking in history through the birth of Jesus.

“Awesome”  doesn’t seem to work for me as it has been repurposed in our cultre to mean “way cool.”

“Extraordinary” doesn’t roll off the tongue.

“Amazing” begins to move in the right direction.

I am now taking applications for new appropriate qualifiers as I hope to begin a new movement away from “Merry” to something much more powerful.