In what feels like forever since I have written, in reality has been a few months. I was unaware even in the midst of being sick how much it would take out of me. With a lot of time off, spring firmly in place, and months of thoughts brewing, I have several posts in the works. For today, it is simply this…a link to a post that any youth worker should read. It’s short, to the point, packed with current perspective, and useful. Enjoy!
I was chatting with a couple of friends the other day and between all of us, the holidays were not feeling so holiday-ish.
They were feeling overwhelming and stressful. This wasn’t the Advent Conspiracy kind of less is more, get the right kind of focus overwhelming. None of us were over spenders, none of us were getting caught up in the madness of dashing to the mall, or too many parties, or needing to find a way to keep Jesus at the center of the Holy-day. Advent was being celebrated at church and in each of our homes. The faith aspect was not lost on us nor our children. But still…there was the reality that we just wanted the holidays over.
This included New Years and Epiphany. It just felt like one drawn out time that was supposed to be coordinated like Olympic level synchronized swimming. Everything looks polished and happy, every gathering has just the right placement of people at each table and activities that are adequately interesting balanced with not bowing to consumerism or shallow glittery things.
As we talked through these things one friend said “It’s like all of these holidays were made for intact, functional families.” We all stopped. That was it! What we are sold by the world may be materialism but what we are sold by the church is too often about having that perfect, in tact family. There is no room for illness, death, divorce, hospital visits, separations, fights, siblings not longer there to help, and coordination of estranged members of family. What the holidays brought into sharp relief was not celebration, it was just how dysfunctional all of our lives seemed to be.
It wasn’t that any one thing was so egregious. It was that every event, every Christmas card, every children’t program, or holiday invitation seemed to be compounding the reality that things were just not as peaceful and joyous as they were supposed to be. We know what the holiday is really about. And still, it rings hollow when the very season makes everything seems more stressful and less peaceful. As we looked into one another’s faces, we were all weary.
So I got to thinking. What if we stop pretending? What if we are OK saying out loud that things are less than perfect. Not in celebration of dysfunction or resignation. Rather, in knowing that it it doesn’t define us.
So in a season where we remember God come down to be close to us, may we also draw near. For the New Year, I unabashadly choose Matthew 10:28-29.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
Weary or not, Christmas still happened. Weary or not, the new year is taking place. Weary or not, we can still have Epiphany where we slow down and see what is truly important.
My dear friend Nick P. has a great quote on his voicemail. It says “Be kind, for we are all fighting a hard battle”.
This has never seemed more true. So be kind, to yourself and others.
Extend grace to yourself if you tend to beat yourself up.
Extend grace to others if you are judgmental and harsh.
Extend grace to your children who make messes and are a mess.
Extend grace to strangers who have more going on than you know.
Extend grace to colleagues whose lives are never as put together as they seem.
I learned a great lesson this fall…when becoming really sick, something has to go and for this fall, it was just about anything that wasn’t immediately pressing each day. The up side, I have a great back log of ideas just waiting to be shared!!
I also greatly appreciate the words from my friend Bethany…she said she actually likes some of the blogs that don’t have posts every day because she knows when they do, they have something to say. Not sure she quite meant a two month hiatus but that’s what it became and I’m taking her words at face value.
So today I do have something to say. In the midst of consumerism and my typical leanings away from big business and corporate greed, I have to give props to Toys R Us for one very particular bright spot! Whether it is for Christmas, birthdays, or just because you want to give a gift, the choice can be stressful. This can be even more so if you are buying for a child with special needs. Toys R Us offers a toy buying guide for differently abled kids. It offers concrete tips on questions to ask, realistic expectations, and how to consider a variety of elements that can best communicate to a child and his or her family that you were thinking about them and not just grabbing anything.
Oh how I wish the church had this much intentionality. We are getting better but too often we assume a one size fits all ministry for anyone with a disability. We forget they have differing abilities, likes, wants, needs, and preferences. I know, the store is trying to make a profit and the cynic in me realizes this. BUT… at least they recognize there is a need. They have had the conversation and are trying to offer what they offer in the best way possible. BTW- they even say at times NOT to buy things if it is not a good fit.
So for this season, if you are shopping for someone with a disability, be intentional.
Perhaps we can take just a little hope and model in our churches the same kind of thoughtfulness offered here.
Usually a phrase reserved for teenagers and unplanned pregnancy but it seems to be the same attitude conveyed by some when they find out their female pastor is pregnant.
Recently, I received this text from a former student of mine who is now a youth pastor. In what should be one of the most exciting joyous times in life, this is on her mind:
“Do you have time to talk? I just talked with my pastor about taking my baby to camps and retreats and stuff and he said as far as he is concerned it is not an option because I won’t be able to do my job.”
As we talked she unfolded the backstory and full conversation. This is a church that officially professes to be open to women in leadership. In fact, they take pride in being progressive and welcoming. So far the church has been supportive of her and the other females on staff. But now with her baby in the picture, it seems the church has been caught off guard and is trying to figure out how to handle it.The following have been expressed particularly regarding camps and retreats:
- that the baby will be a distraction for both her and the youth;
- that she will not have time to be present with youth and children if the baby is anywhere on the camp property (even with a dedicated babysitter for the week);
- that she won’t be able to sleep in the cabins with the youth and children at camp (despite the fact she has never slept in the same room with the youth in past years at camp);
- that she should have considered her job before becoming pregnant;
- that breast pumps were made for weeks away from the baby during the summer;
- that her husband should stay home from the multi-church youth retreat to take care of the baby (even when the other male youth pastors will have their wives and children at the retreat);
- and that a baby would make it difficult for boys to relate to her and would turn them away from her leadership.
She was female when they hired her. In fact they celebrated that fact! She hasn’t hidden who she is. AND, if I may say so myself, she is remarkably gifted in pastoral and leadership roles. She has done, and is doing, her job well. She has a plan in place for extra support and is doing a great deal of work ahead of time to ensure no one is inconvenienced during her short maternal leave of absence.
This happens too often for women.
Anyone – and I do mean anyone – who has seen me speak, lecture, or been with me as I’ve led multiple mission trips overseas and camps stateside in the last six years has only seen me accompanied by an entourage of one or more.
I’m a mom. Not only am I a mom but I’m a mom of three children aged 5, 3, and 1!
I’m also a minister, preacher, teacher, and writer.
I always disclose the fact that I’ll need to bring at least one of my children. I say something to the effect of “I’ll have to bring a baby, we need each other and we just can’t be apart for more than a few hours at a time.” Most often, the quick response is that they would be delighted to have me and it’s a bonus to see a real live person modeling ministry and family together.
I know several male pastors and male youth pastors who have taken their babies and children to camp. It is often a highlight for their own family and for all involved. It is an up close and personal time for many youth and young adults to see an intact family seeking to honor God together. I have another former student experiencing exactly this. He is encouraged to bring his wife and new baby around because it is good for his family and for the church.
Yet, I know too many female ministers who have had conversations similar to the one seen in the text message above.
I am neither naive nor unaware of the challenges and difficulties of having a child and serving in ministry. Having a child changes the way you do ministry. I made those changes myself. Now, I am less often the one leading midnight karaoke or flying down the zip line. I may actually take a rest during free time in the afternoon when previously I would have worked on the evening’s program. I may actually have to ask for help and delegate more.
Mostly though, I stopped having to be in control of everything and learned to invite others more frequently into the ministry that I once thought was solely my responsibility, which, by the way, sets them free for greater ministry. I get to be present with my own children as my faith and skills are stretched. More opportunities are opened up for me to sit on a porch holding the baby while having a deep, Holy Spirit filled conversation when I would have been sorting t-shirts or setting up prayer stations. In short, having a baby present forced me to accept a pace that invited conversation and shared the load, helping me to see not only that delegation was possible but that it is closer to the model of being the body of Christ.
I am a better minister and do my job better with my children present than without.
What words of encouragement can we send to this youth pastor – and countless others – who are, have been, or will be in similar circumstances? What do we say to let her know that having a baby is NOT the end of their ministerial career? The initial opposition expressed by some at her church has led to much discussion and many committee meetings. Some are supportive, some not so much, some are in the middle wanting to hear both sides. Now they are trying to figure out what it will look like for her to be a minister and mom.
She has heard what I have to say. What do you say?
True confession…I started this post 2 weeks ago. Ironic given the topic. I need to follow my own advice!
Hey youth pastors…it’s fall. Everything seems to be kicking into high gear!! Gone are the lazy days of summer, in comes football, and kick offs, and new programming, and a whole new group of kids entering youth group. It’s exciting, busy, and the chill in the air makes everything seem just a little bit like something great is about to happen.
There is also a danger of falling into the trap missing the moment. Along with the excitement, comes everyone trying to out-program everyone else. Youth groups are no exception. Even if new activities aren’t being added, programming becomes busier, more intense, in many cases more desperate.
Here is what I mean. Youth ministers can spend so much time trying to make everything over the top, that they neglect their own spiritual life. We can only give out of our own faith history for so long. Even if you aren’t neglecting your own faith formation and spiritual growth, when the focus is on creating something huge, you don’t have time to be present for the countless small moments. You miss out on little conversations where big revelations occur.
So here is my invitation, instead of kicking into high gear to make things more chaotic, kick into high gear to slow down. I know, it sounds backwards. Being busy will just happen without any effort on your part. Being slow requires intentionality and priorities. It means taking an afternoon to pray, to think, to rest, and choosing what is most important for you, your family, your community, and the teens and families you serve. It might not look like work, but it frees you to do real work instead of looking like you are present when your mind is already on to the next thing.
There are a lot of slow activities you may choose. I was asked to write a fall post for Ministry Architects. Look for the link on the front page if you’d like to find some great slowing down options. Everything from a pick up game of softball to a technology fast, go for a moonlight walk or bust out with a little “Jesus in the Boat” nap-time for 15 minutes one night at youth group.
What’s your favorite way to slow down for your self?
What’s your favorite way to slow life down for your students?
Yesterday was the International Day of Peace. It’s been around since 1981 in case you missed it marked on your calendar. This is a day declared by the United Nations to be dedicated to world peace, in particular the absence of war and violence. International Justice Mission sent a petition around asking for signatures to urge the United Nations to protect those in poverty from violence. It’s as simple as this, those who are poor have less power and fewer resources and experience an inordinate rate of violence every day.
For Christians fighting poverty and violence should be a part of our every day existence. One way to do this is to move from proximity to embrace. I explain what I mean below in an excerpt from a paper I wrote for an upcoming conference. What it boils down to is this, we do violence to others when we think our not harming them personally is enough. We do violence to others when we refuse to listen or get to know anyone because we assume we already know their story. We do violence to others when we turn our heads and declare they don’t exist in our community because we don’t want to see them. We do violence when we settle for proximity instead of imitating Jesus and throwing our arms around others in embrace. It is difficult and it will change you. But isn’t that part of what Jesus has asked of us?
The conference is on Religion and Education in The Unmaking of Violence. While my paper focuses on disability, the principle is for everyone.
“Embodied theology must also be lived out, requiring actual, real time interactions with one another. It must be more than creedal statements or vague declarations. The church needs more than proximity to those with disabilities for violence to be prevented. Arne Vetlesen argues, “there is no necessary correlation between human proximity and moral conduct…Proximity interacts with a number of factors; it does not by itself bring about, does not by itself account for, moral conduct or lack of it.” We in the church must not only talk about including others, we must actually do so. Miroslav Volf discusses the inclusion of others at length in Exclusion and Embrace. As we seek to live an inclusive embodied theology we must understand “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.” Moving relationships from hypothetical declarations to proximity to embrace is a process but one necessary to unmake violence. Further, Volf assumes “that the struggle against deception, injustice, and violence is indispensable” as the will to embrace becomes a priority.
The move from proximity to embrace establishes reciprocal relationships where those with disabilities aren’t just tolerated but truly integrated.”
 Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: an inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance, (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 275.
 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 29.
 Volf, 29.
I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.
As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.
I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.
I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.
And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”
Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.
One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.
We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.
Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.
What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.
Having a baby is never supposed to just be about the parents. In fact, for many people the constant conversation becomes how they are going to do everything possible to bless their child in countless ways. But what happens when we make it more about the parents than the child or even the newly formed family?
Richard Dawkins tweeted that he would abort a down syndrome fetus. He then went on to clarify and expand on his position of aborting a Down’s syndrome fetus as not just an ethical choice, but the ethical choice. Sonoran Theological offers thoughtful insights reminding us all that our morality comes from a very different model. For more on this story, link below:
Some weeks seem to cut deeper than others. This past week has been a steady stream of one heartbreaking account after the other. From the continued struggles for both sides in Gaza, to the deep sorrow over the suicide of Robin Williams and the intense conversations taking place around depression and mental illness to the anguish over Michael Brown and the continued struggle in Ferguson, MO; it feels like a boiling point is occurring.
What seems rather insignificant in comparison, but highlights that Christians are not faring any better at waging peace in the world, came the announcement of Acts 29 removing Mark Driscoll and Seattle’s Mars Hill. This has been accompanied by a great deal of heated debate over the past 10 days or so. I’d love to say I am surprised but this feels like a larger version of the deep struggles that have taken place at countless churches, ministries and academic institutions where focus is lost and power distorts.
Add to this has been my own journey of Surviving Christians. Not only am I talking about what I have personally experienced but the countless stories I hear from amazing people who quietly share about their own personal horrors committed by other Christians. It is one thing when anger, hatred, and violence is taking place in the world outside of faith. We are taught as children that we cannot expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live by a standard of peace. Yet, what do we do when it is those who profess Christ who are the abusers? Even worse how do we survive when those Christians who abuse are also those who are in authority as parents, pastors, or professors?
(BTW- I am still very interested in hearing from others. How have YOU survived? Has it been with faith intact? Inside of the church? Walking away from church? Are you thriving? Still in process? Stories, even difficult stories of resilience need to be shared. There are many still thinking they are the only ones.)
With this in mind I share from my favorite prayer book. Even with it’s non-inclusive language (since it is a product of over 100 years ago), the words are so meaningful today. I both love this prayer and think My God, for how many generations do we, your people, annihilate one another? When do Christians actually follow what you modeled? Have mercy!
Prayers of the Social Awakening, by Walter Rauschenbusch (The Pilgrim Press, 1910).
On The Harm We Have Done
Our Father, we look back on the years that are gone and the shane and sorrow come upon us, for the harm we have done to others rises up in our memory to accuse us. Some we have seared with the fire of our lust, and some we have scorched by the heat of our anger. In some we helped to quench the glow of young ideals by our selfish pride and craft, and in some we have nipped the opening bloom of faith by the frost of our unbelief.
We might have followed thy blessed footsteps, O Christ, binding up the bruised hearts of our brothers and guiding the wayward passions of the young to firmer manhood. Instead, there are poor hearts now broken and darkened because they encountered us on the way, and some perhaps remember us only as the beginning of their misery or sin.
O God, we know that all our prayers can never bring back the past, and no tears can wash out the red marks with which we have scarred some life that stands before our memory with accusing eyes. Grant that at least a humble and pure life may grow out of our contrition, that in the brief days still left to us we may comfort and heal where we have scorned and crushed. Change us by the power of they saving grace from sources of evil into forces for good, that with all our strength we may fight the wrongs we have aided, and aid the right we have clogged. Grant us this boon, that for every harm we have done, we may do some brave act of salvation, and that for every soul that has stumbled or fallen through us, we may bring to thee some other weak or despairing one, whose strength has been renewed by our love, that so the face of they Christ may smile upon us and the light within us may shine undimmed.