Multiple Choice, please

DSC_03561

Last week I was sharing a lunch table with Amos & Alma Yong discussing disability, parenting, food, education, committees, and a variety of other topics. We were at the Theology: Disability and Ministry conference held at Fuller Seminary SW. A small group of us having been meeting since Winter and it was an amazing time! Dr. Yong was the keynote and it would be an entirely different post to mention all of the other great people involved.

Among many thoughts still marinating for me is this…Dr. Yong came to discuss his thoughts and writings on disability. He is know for writing on Pentecostal perspectives. He is currently blogging on the Holy Spirit. He had an article come out last week regarding evangelicals and heresy. His interests are wide. He has taken the time in a variety of areas to research, reflect, live, think, and formulate thoughts as well as articulating them for the rest of us. I am struck by how human this is.

In the last several months I have read and been drawn into a few conversations with people who are singularly focused. I have even had conversations with publishers who ask/say things like “what is the ONE thing you are known for? That is the only area where you should be trying to write.” I am realizing that while there is something to say for having focus and knowing something well but, there is a danger too. It seems to be bringing out the worst in a host of people. There is an arrogance and a blind, mean spiritedness that is present. There is a further sense of who is in and who is out. There is a stifling of the beautiful complexity of humanity and simply being interested in more than one thing. There is a building up of walls around racism, sexism, ableism, violence, abuse, youth, ministry, music, and well…you name it.

I have long said that when it comes to identity, our identity in Christ, we must stop pathologizing particularities. We can celebrate diversity and name it as important and needed. It keeps us humble. It opens conversation. And quite frankly, it makes us much more interesting. My hope is that as we move forward, writers, teachers, pastors, bloggers, and all of us are afforded the space to be more holistic. To not feel the squeeze to be “that” person who has opinions on only one topic.

I’m grateful for that one lunch; For a quick introduction to someone whose writings on disability I already admired, but who as a person I appreciate more. I am encouraged that my discussion with the publisher was off… I don’t have to find my ONE thing. May we all learn that sooner than later. It’s how we can connect and learn instead of building camps that refuse to speak because your thing is not my thing. Maybe it’s because as a theologian, a mom, a teacher, a wife, a minister, and a writer I am always multitasking. Or maybe because I am finally settling into my own skin and understanding what it means to be human that I am rejecting the singular expectations from others.

Hook up apps

IMG_2767 (1)

I’ve spent the last week and a half in a class on crisis issues in youth ministry discussing abuse. We’ve talked about physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. We’ve talked about mandated reporting, impact on families and communities, and what is the role of a youth worker. I’ve been teaching this same class for nearly two decades and it never gets easier.

So what is the role of a youth worker? Dean Borgman in Hear My Story asks is this “Do we need to work together to stop the dangers young people experience — and to heal their hurts?” When asked this, my class offered a resounding YES! And then stared blankly, sitting silently. As they began to open up, they struggled to say how hard they thought this task would be. The finally said while they felt like we should do something, they felt helpless. Then came the conversation of perhaps not being as helpless now as they were a few weeks ago. The conversation that maybe they need to learn more so they may speak out more.

I tell my students that long after they graduate they need to continue reading. With that, check out this link on apps for hooking up. For many of us, we are settled in life and this is not even on our radar. The recent rise in STD’s and young people finding themselves in dangerous situations however says that we need to be aware of what is our of our typical worlds. Whether you agree with the conclusion of the article or not, it’s worth the read! As you read ask yourself, “Do we need to work together to stop the dangers young people experience?”

 

 

 

Grief and flowers

photo (2) Were I a better Christian, lent would evoke gratitude and a profound awareness of all that God has done for me, for us all. Easter actually is my favorite holiday. And while I feel like I need to say that my favor flows certainly from the hope intrinsic in the resurrection, the deeply seeded belief that new life indeed rises where all seems dead and hopeless…I think in reality, Easter is my favorite holiday because it openly faces that which is gruesome, and hard, and painful. For this season, we needn’t pretend things are better than they are. Vapid facebook posts may be ignored and being fully present is not only accepted, it is encouraged. Or should be. There is no resurrection Sunday without death. There is no joyous “Christos Anesti”  with the exuberant response of “Alethos Anesti” if darkness had not settled in seemingly to drown the world in sorrow.

And so sorrow is what I recall today. It is the anniversary of the day my brother was killed. It is the before and after defining moment of my life. And oh so many years ago now, it was Easter Sunday as the hospital called to ask for someone to come offer identification. The body they had turned out to be that of his friend. The body I identified and then prayed for his sister knowing how hard that would be to have a brother, killed just as adult life seemed to be beginning. It was only a few minutes later I didn’t have to imagine that pain, I was ushered into a club I never wanted to enter. It changed me, it changed my parents, it changed the very ground underneath my feet. Resurrection was not going to happen for me that day.

And here we are, it is spring, and Easter is my favorite holiday even today. Palm Sunday is just around the corner and preparation are being made. The picture attached is of my dining table. My sweet husband surprised me with flowers today. A small reminder that in the midst of a day filled with dark memories, is beauty. A small reminder that when I can’t go get hope myself, he is willing to bring it to me. I wasn’t trying to make a statement setting them on the table in front of the cross. The cross is always there and the table was free of clutter. It was a convenience. That convenience however reminds me that where death resides, something stronger comes…it just may take time. Resurrection may not have happened that day for me so many years ago, and there are still plenty of days where grief surprises me and smacks me up side the head out of nowhere. But now, there are also days where a vase of flowers appears and surprises me just as much. The difference is that one brings a  message of hope. Grieve… and know it is not the end of the story.

 

Social Media gift for youth workers

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!

Snapshot 3:17:15, 9:42 AM

https://medium.com/backchannel/a-teenagers-view-on-social-media-1df945c09ac6

Holidays: for in tact, functional families?

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.

 

Props to Toys R Us

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.

file0001171321562

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.

pardon me, your sexism is showing

shadow

Knocked up?

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?

Slow down this Fall

True confession…I started this post 2 weeks ago. Ironic given the topic. I need to follow my own advice!

file0001505331013

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?

Happy Fall!

Proximity and Violence

file5501291227350

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.[3]

The move from proximity to embrace establishes reciprocal relationships where those with disabilities aren’t just tolerated but truly integrated.”

[1] Arne Johan Vetlesen, Perception, Empathy, and Judgment: an inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance, (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 275.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 29.

[3] Volf, 29.

Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

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.