Wednesday, December 28, 2011

food, food, and more food.

Does anyone else ever feel like all you do at Christmas is eat? I had such great food, but between driving to get the food, preparing the food, driving to go out to eat, driving home and then ordering more food, that is really all I did over Christmas. I am most certainly not complaining. My brother-in-law is an amazing cook, so he gets stuck with making us Christmas dinner every year. He has the distinct honor of making the second and third best steakes I have ever had in my life. This year's menu included pork roast, mushroom risotto, and homemade mac n cheese. Awesome. Heavy. (Marty, is there a problem with gravity in the future? I knew it!)

So, this inspires me to think about healthy winter foods; things that are much, much better for me, but still comforting and hearty. Here are just some of the things I have found around the web. I have tried some of them and want to try others.

1. Salmon with lemon and capers. It is some kind of understatement to say that this was amazing. It was easy, fast, worry free, and best of all, it is cooked in foil, so there is little to no clean up. Do it.

2. Butternut Squash with Gnocchi and Kale. One pot. Many flavors. It is lighter than it sounds and kale is a super healthy veggie- quickly becoming one of my favorites. Unlike my co-worker Jordan who gained a distaste for it because he grew up eating kale chips, I discovered kale later in life and I am in love. Check out this rice recipe. Awesome.

3. Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes. I pulled this off a blog called, and she in-turn pulled it off of someone else's blog, I think. I have posted the link to the original bog here. In any case, I have been obsessed with foodgawker. Go there. Amazing and tasty things await you. This also only takes one pan, and I am anxious to try it.People are coming to my house for NYE weekend, and perchance I shall force them to try it.  I am sensing a theme here of one-pan meals. That was not my purpose, but now that it is here, I will just run with it. Doesn't that just make you so happy? One-pan meals? Handy.

4. Quinoa and Black Beans with Salsa. This was a suggestion from my friend, Annie; and it was a very good call. A great call. Almost the kind of right-on-the-money-game-winning-in-the-end-zone-by-an-inch call, except that Annie does not love football, she is really more of a basketball, baseball fan. The problem being that I don't know those sports well enough to use a really great analogy, so football is it, baby. This is not the point. Annie gave me a recipe very similar to this one. Here are the modifications on the recipe listed above:
start with 2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1tsp cumin). heat with oil for 2 min to bring out the flavor.
add in:
1 can black bean soup
1 c. salsa
1 can drained and rinsed black beans
2 Tbs (less or more to taste) of pickled jalapenos (yes, that is right, but they are super tasty and really needed in this recipe and easy to find in Hispanic foods section)
water and quinoa.
Cook everything else as directed.

5. Pan Roasted Salmon and Bread Salad. I have not tried this, but it looks amazing and easy. I am on a bit of a Salmon kick.

6. Mocha Peppermint Cookies. Okay, I am cheating a little bit, this is not healthy nor one pan, but it was darn tasty. Try them.

This is all. Happy cooking to us all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who has bewitched me?

I forgot that God is big. Of course, I have been giving lip service to this, who doesn't? But, really in my heart of hearts, I have been giving in to despair. Despair is cunning. Certainly God is not big enough to actually rescue people from depression, broken homes, abusive situations, heartbreak, or a bad relationship. People need to trust God to help them, for sure, and they can't do it without Him, I know I can't, but people need to put in the effort and pull themselves up, do some hard work and then God will help them. I can't believe that I forgot, I actually forgot.

This thought pattern worked its way into ministry. In times and places where I should have been giving a situation over the Spirit, I was fretting, worrying, and brainstorming about ways to equip students to do some of the hard work to get themselves where they need to be. These are good things to do, but not, in an of itself, Biblical ministry. Biblical ministry flows from a heart that is being transformed into the image of Christ. Equipping people for hard internal work is only ministry insofar as it comes from a heart responsive to the Spirit and in line with what He is already doing. Somewhere along the way I stopped believing that God could step in and change complicated human situations. Of course, I did not say that nor did I think that I believed that, but I did. Belief is born out by actions, so my lack of trust, lack of inviting God into the situation, lack of expecting Him to work is fruit of  my believing that God was not going to act.

This transition has been so gradual that I can't tell you when I pulled out of this, or even when I noticed it was there. But, I can see it now. I can see it because I am at the end of my ability in so many situations. I have brainstormed and thought and counseled my way right to the end of everything I can brainstorm and think and counsel, and I have no other choice but to pray. Not just to pray because that is what I am supposed to do in ministry, but pray because I have nowhere else to go. And how many times to we do just that? Use real prayer as a last resort. Come on, girl, you know better than this. Well, obviously I don't know better, because here I am, remembering after some desperate praying that God is big enough to change lives and hearts.

I found in my desperation that God is acting and that He, of course, never stopped. I feel like the Galatians. Paul says to them "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? let me ask you this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing through faith? Havin gbegun with the Spirit are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain- if it really was in vain?" Harsh words, but they are so applicable for me so very often. I am always needing to be reminded to act in faith and in step with the Spirit and not with my own power. What is most encouraging to me is that in my desperation I am internally stepping back and seeing if anything really is changing. And in that stepping back there is so much freedom. This is my place- waiting for God to work, and in the mean time loving others, seeking God and giving as solid advice as I know how. How encouraging to remember that God is big enough to really change our lives, our circumstances and ourselves. And how foolish of me to forget. I was only running myself ragged when I could have been investing in the Spirit's work in my life and the lives of others. I wonder if trusting in the Spirit is ministry. I know that it feel like ministry when others have done it for me. I have such a short memory, but God is good and gracious and knows my weakness. He know that I am foolish and He is crazy about me anyway.

It is so much more energizing to minister from here. Here, where I am not working from my own power, but where I am listening and waiting and expecting God to move because I need Him to move. I have much more energy to wait for a real Savior than to try to make a solution myself. I have much more energy to invest in the reality life through the Spirit than to try to push life out of myself and others. Certainly, God calls us to work. I think that as Christians we have a call to tend to our lives, our emotions, our relationships and our internal worlds in a way that does not allow for sin to go unchecked. People are messy and broken and sinful. And I firmly believe that the Spirit calls us to the mat to face this reality and work on it. I am an advocate for counseling, loving confrontation, and the hard work that is involved in self-awareness, and building and maintaining healthy relationships. But I think that I let the discouragement of not seeing results from these things in the time I think they should have been there take away the trust that God is capable of changing people. Failure is not the best way ever to be reminded that God is big, but I am happy to be here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

music for my academic, youth-loving soul

"First, realize (and celebrate) that this curriculum is a mixture of Scripture and social science data, of theology and research.  Theology based in Scripture beats at the heart of this curriculum, but good research conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute and other research centers also pulses throughout." Have I mentioned yet that I love, love, love well-done research? And that I love, love, love when it is applied to the daily practice of youth ministry? And here are some people that are doing it and doing it well! So exciting!

The Fuller Youth Institute has been conducting research for the past few years on the longevity and quality of youth-group attending students after their graduation from high school. This is the research behind the Sticky Faith curriculum and books. The quote above is an introduction to that curriculum designed as a tool to help foster lasting, meaningful, Christ-centered, transformative, community-oriented faith for high school seniors.

I am excited about this particular curriculum for many good reasons.

1. It includes qualitative and quantitative data over a long enough period of time, from a large enough group to be reliable. What does that mean for someone who might use it? It means that it is dependable. The underlying assumptions are based on well-documented, real-life experiences of a large number of young people who have made the transition out of high school youth group to whatever lies beyond. It means that when they say things like "Approximately 40% of youth group seniors significantly struggle with their faith and with finding a church after graduation. Only about 16% of college freshmen felt well prepared by their youth ministries for what they encountered after graduation." You can trust that they know what they are talking about, and you can take their suggestions seriously.

2. The research translates into a practical, user-friendly form. What? That simply can't be. Oh, but my friends, it is. It is. The curriculum samples (which, by the way are FREE) include preparation points, a main idea, step by step instructions, a hand out, and great verbage for starting meaty discussion. As if that weren't enough there are lists of organizations to help students stay plugged in during college, tips on finding a church, and list of questions for students to ask during a search for a local church.

3. The writers of this curriculum love Jesus, love adolescents, and have the utmost respect for those practicing youth ministry. This makes all the difference in the world. Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Chap Clark are people who consistently demonstrate a commitment to the gospel, and will not be moved. They care that those who are in church are meeting Christ and being transformed by the Holy Spirit for the rest of their lives. That means that this curriculum is something of substance. They combine that passion with an understanding of the labors of those in youth ministry who want nothing more than to lead students to Christ and often find it very challenging to do so.

Isn't this so great? Do you know what this means? This means that there is someone out there who has put in the work for you to have reliable, usable tools to help foster gospel-centered faith in young people! Ah! If you have, for some reason, made it this far in the post and not followed a link, follow this one: sign up for the free resources from the Fuller Youth Institute.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alicia's Sweatpants

Confession #1: I am wearing sweatpants on a Friday night.
Confession #2: I have been wearing these particular sweatpants almost every day for the last few weeks.
Confession #3: They are not mine.

They belong, in fact, to my dear friend Alicia who ever so graciously loaned them to me when we were having a movie night- a revival of Hook, I might add. Although I cannot take credit for that, it was the brain child of my delightful office-mate, Ashley. I arrived totally ill-prepared for this movie night: in a pencil skirt and tights. Alicia was kind enough to loan me the best, most cumfy pair of sweatpants that have ever been on my body. "It is like I am not even wearing pants!" I have worn them almost every day since. They look at me from their resting place - usually my floor or the dirty laundry basket- and they taunt my conscience. "I am here, just here for you, the most comfortable pants you have ever worn. Sure, I may actually belong to someone else, but I am here with you now: here to comfort you, swaddle you in warmth and fuzziness, and to help you forget all your worries, fears, and insecurities. Certainly, I have done that for Alicia, and could be doing that for her now... but since I am here, it would be a waste of my glorious gifts not to wear me. It would be, in fact, an insult to the ontological nature of sweat pants."

Now, I KNOW that I should wash and return the sweatpants. They have, in fact, been washed several times. Once after I took them to the east coast on a recruiting trip, and once since in a spurt of good intentions to return them to their owner. Even as I write this I feel guilty. These are not my pants and I am not doing a great job of respecting Alicia or of honoring her generosity. BUT.... these. are. the. most. comfortable. pants. I. have. ever. worn. I can justify this pattern of behavior by saying that I know Alicia, and I know how deeply she cares for her friends and that she would want me to be comfortable- that she would want me to feel the loving embrace of an understanding friend after a long, angst-filled day.

Since my time with the object of my affections is limited I find perfectly legitimate reasons to keep them just one more day. I will give them back tomorrow, so I should be sure to wear them for one last time this evening. The next day they are not clean and I certainly can't give them  back to Alicia dirty. I don't have time to do laundry until the weekend and we all know that the weekend is the perfect time to wear sweatpants. Luckily, I work with Alicia and so I will see her on Monday in order to return the perfectly clean sweatpants. Sunday night is youth group and not the best time to do laundry, so the pants can wait until Tuesday to go back. But who wants to laundry Monday night? And so, almost a month later, I am in the sweatpants. Luckily it is Friday night and I can enjoy another weekend of sweet, stolen time with the adultress pants.

This is a glorious love affair.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Recovering from Travel Season

"Well, you pretty much have the pick of the place. Where do you want to sit?"
Jessalyn, excitedly cutting off the youngish waiter, "Well... Oh! Can we sit over there in the crevice!?"
"Only if you refer to it as a crevice for the rest of your life."

Ah! I have missed Jessalyn dearly, and this is just one of the many reasons why. The youngish waiter walked us over to the alcove of a random restuarant in Reading, PA, halfway between my hotel in King of Prussia, PA and her home in Harrisburg. The crevice is a converted elevator shaft with an elevator permantly suspended 10 feet above our heads. It was the perfect setting for a 3 hour conversation to draw me out of my travel funk. Listening to Jess talk about her life and all the changes and shifts therein was the perfect balm for my isolated soul. I think that the Lord gave us that time together, and one thing that it did for me was to open up the part of me that tends to shut down during travel season.

She is so honest about how she is doing- on many, many levels at the same time. And in a way that only Jessalyn could, she spoke in animated, colorful, joyful terms about her spiritual life, her romantic life, and her realtional life. The conversation ricochetted all over that crevice, and I felt like I was being bathed in frienship. Is this a little dramatic? Yes. But, Jess and I are a little dramtic and that level of expression and connection was exaclty what I needed. I was able to get a jump start on the reentry to a normal schedule and long-standing, intimate frienships.

So, now I am home. I have restocked my pantry, cleaned my bathroom, slept in my own bed, showered and not had to dry things off and pack them up for the next hotel room. I have seen my roommate, watched a move, adjusted my fantasy football roster from my home computer, and even started laundry. Happy Sigh. In my best Samwise Gamgee "Well, I am back."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

PA in the fall: thoughts on isolation

I sit in the dinning room of my friends Nate and Jill Roach, and I am not in the least alone. Nate is just in the other room, doing something on the computer, Jill is upstairs presumably taking a nap, and there is a small, crema-colored kitten wandering around. I am quite enjoying the shared quiet. I am here for a few days as part of a recruiting trip for TIU. This trip is the end of travel season, a time of college fairs, high school visits, crch visits, hand shaking, chit-chatting, and trips both in and out of state. Often I am surrounded by people, and yet this is the season in my year in which I feel the most lonely.

Dozens of surface level, transaction base connections each day string into weeks without many substantive conversations, and without really connecting with others. There is a guardedness to the communication of admissions counselors when they are on the road. No matter what else we do, we are representing our schools, and in that setting there is a level of reserve that can't be dropped. College fair circuits are the easiest places to make friends. Imagine a setting where there are dozens of highly friendly, socially capable people all around the same age. And now imagine that they are all in the same profession and that they see each other multiple times per day. See? Easy.

On the one hand, this is one of my favorite things about being an admissions counselor. It's like camp: there is a small number of admissions counselors sharing the same experience. And I love meeting new people and making connections at colleges all over the country. I have formed some very deep and real friendships on the road. I am so very grateful for those people. On the other hand, I spend hours alone in the car, in airports, at coffee shops, and hotels. Conversations in this setting tend to be surface level and task-focused. In the middle of this I find myself both lonely and fiercely independent. When you are traveling there is permission to disengage from the relationships in your life. I don't have to hang out with people or make it to regular commitments, I don't have to call or email or Facebook. I am gone. It is empowering to travel the country alone - to explore cities, regions, and states; to seek out new coffee shops and restaurants; to meet new people and make new connections; to bodly go where no TIU rep has gone before- alone.

Here is the really surprising thing: It is challening for me to settle back into intimate relationships when travels season is over. I crave intimacy when I am traveling, but shutting down accepting the reciprocal presence of another in my life is one of my first reactions when I return. Why is this, I wonder? Why, even now as I sit with Jill and Nate, do I struggle to access my own internal world? I am not sure what it will look like, but I anticipate some kind of reentry into the close relationships in my life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Letter To Parents

I am not a parent. I have no children, and so I can't even begin to say that I know what it is like to walk in your shoes. But I can say this: I know that you are the most important, most influential person in the spiritual life of your adolescent. It does not matter if they acknowledge it, it does not matter if you never talk with your child about about your spiritual life or their, it does not matter if you are not sure your children are even hearing you, no matter how they react, YOU are the most important person in the outcome, formation, and longevity of the spiritual lives of your teenager.

Over and over again the research points to parents being far and away the most consistent predictor of the faith of their children. As Kenda Creasy Dean puts it "we get what we are." Christian Smith and the National Study for Youth and Religion name parents, and in particular, the mother, as the most influential factor in the participation and internalization of the faith of their children. " On page 116 of Soul Searching he says, "Family socialization generally seems to work when it comes to teenagers’ religious faith and practice. Furthermore, the quality of the relationships that parents build with their teenagers, and their own choices about marriage relationships, education, and occupations—insofar as they have choices in these areas—also create family contexts that again form the outcome of their teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives."

Your kids ARE listening, or more accurately, they are absorbing. They are absorbing your beliefs, habits, and level of internalization. I want to take a minute and talk about the internalization piece (which is a word coined by Fuller Youth Institute). In a nut shell: internalization is the level at which one's faith affects one's daily life and character. It is about Christ changing who we are, not just what we do. An integrated faith changes thoughts, values, beliefs, priorities, budgets, relationships, and schedules. A person who is internalizing their faith in Christ is moving towards loving others and God on a daily basis. This is often messy and awkward. It involves mistakes, apologies, harming others, being harmed, sharing our tender spots, it often involves anger, confusion, hope, tears, affection, kindness, and grace - lots and lots of grace. If you are moving towards internalizing your faith, then the odds are high that your child is as well. In short, adolescents are absorbing and mimicking the level at which the faith of their parents is or is not internalized.

I ask myself this often as a youth worker: Am I being transparent about my mess? I am becoming more and more passionate about parents also asking that question. The influence of positive parental relationships during adolescence is both one of the most powerful influences on lasting faith, and one of the places that our culture has stereotypically expected disengagement on both the part of the adolescent and the parent. While teens naturally reproduce the spirituality of their parents, they also benefit greatly from an adult, and most particularly, a parent having an open dialogue about one another'sspiritual lives. In particular, if you are following Christ, then sharing about your daily spiritual life, how you became a Christian, and everything in between can equip your child to navigate the transition into adulthood with their faith in tact. It makes so much sense to me! You have lived more, and you know what it looks like to follow Christ in your stage of life, and quite simply, your kids do not. They have not lived it or walked it and cannot know what it looks like without the adults in their lives being honest about what it means to follow Christ in all of its messy glory.

How you live your spiritual life matters, how you share that with your teenager matters. I am praying for you all as you make this journey. Please pray for me as I learn to relate to you and your children. Let's keep walking this road together.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Can Barely Contain Myself

I love research! More specifically, I love research that is well-done AND that applies to daily life! It is a rarity, a jewel, not quite a pearl of great price, but really, really close. One such research project was recently finished and published by the Fuller Youth Institute. In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to the idea of adolescents persisting in their faith into emerging adulthood. has a section for youth workers and a section for parents. It is chocked full of podcasts, curriculum samples, blogs, discussions and just plain super useful things for those who invest in the spiritual lives of teenagers.

Check it out, DO IT. yes, now.

More to come, but for the moment, I am just so excited that I had to tell you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I have seen all of your wedding photos

I have never met you, I don't know you, but I guarantee that if you have posted your wedding photos on facebook, then I have looked at each and every one of them. Yes, my friends, the internet is public. Anyone can look at the photos you place there. Even with privacy settings, they might know someone who knows you. I know becasue I do this all the time - I love wedding photos, and you put them on the internet- party for me! But don't you see the problem this creates? All of the internet is public, not just your wedding photos. You may have noticed that this is the first thing I have posted in weeks.

I have been avoiding the blog these days because I keenly aware that it is public. Straight up public. And while, yes, that was the idea when I started a blog, I feel intimidated by the immensity of that reality. Who is out there? And who is reading all of my thoughts? Are they up to snuff? While I care about what others think of my writing, my ideas, and the heart behind them, I have been crippled by my own self-doubt. This is in no way connected soley to my blog.

I have also been feeling this way about ministry. I want to do everything so amazingly well that people want to hear how I did it, and then I can have the best platform ever to share my passion for youth ministry. I want to make 12 dozen phone calls a week to all small group leaders and all students. I want to be able to do everything so, so well that I can win the war against my own doubts once and for all. Those doubts are what really is at the heart of wanting to be the best youth worker that ever lived, EVER. This is the embarassing battle that has been going on in me. You see, if I was bloggin about those things, then they would be out there, like your wedding pictures. I love wedding pictures, and I look at the decorations, colors, dresses, suits, tuxes and I make a mental list of things I like and don't like. Don't you? And therein lies my problem with the blog - are people making lists about the things I am putting on the itnernet? I would be. Back to the gnawing self-doubts.

Not blogging and the driving desire to over perform in youth ministry are the same root for me: insecurity and the inability to hide myself in a loving God. I know that when I can accept my weaknesses that the Spirit will be there in them, and will show all His strength and that will be so much better. What I need to do is to bring this insecurity and need for affirmation and achievement to the Lord, He is always encouraging me, pointing out what I am really good at, and reminding me of where I am broken. He is the answer to the self-doubt that has kept me from writing and that is driving me to perform in ministry.

It is applying and injesting the knowledge that is the hard part. Knowing that God's tender, open, loving heart is the answer to my insecurity does not make it all that much easier to walk into that love. It helps, a little. What really seems to help for me is confession. This weekend, on a youth ministry leadership retreat, I brought these fears to light. And I was met with understanding, compassion, and prayer. I don't know what this struggle will look like going forward. I have no idea. I hope that I will be able to remember both that everything I do is flawed, just like those whom I respect the most. I hope to be able to let the compassion, understanding, and truth that I encountered this weekend to encourage me to continue to bring my insecurity and desire for fame into the light. It is there that I have found the most comfort and the most humility for my pride. Because I tasted the reality that we are all just broken people doing the best that we can to serve God and love teenagers. That is all we can be.

So, I am putting this on the internet, out there, in public. I am hoping it will serve as a reminder for me that I am broken.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


We often concieve of hope as an empty glass we wish were full. But hope is not empty. Hope is an activity. It is more like hiking a mountian than a glass half-full. I am by no means an expert on hiking, but I have been on enough trails to get the general idea. At some point during a hike I inevitably get frustrated. This is hard, Why am I doing this again? I am so out of shape, my lungs are burning, my legs hurt and my poor, flatlander body cannot get enough air at a mile and a half above sea level. One of my greatest challenges (besides generally being out of shape) is to get to a point where I find a reason to fight through all of the pain and frustration. SOMETHING has to motivate me to get off the rock, back on the trail, and through the next set of obstacles. Ususally that something is the view.  There is nothing quite like the view from the top of a mountian, and usually the desire for that view that drives me through the uphill climb, and one more switchback. When I arrive, it is even more valuable and breathtaking because of the effort. In some way I have owned a part of the mountian through my toil; the view belongs to me and I to it.

Summiting the mountian is, of course, the best-case scenario. My Dad, who is a seasoned and accomplished hiker has rules for climing. "A day in the wilderness is never wasted."  "There is no view like the one from the top." My Dad knows that sometimes we don't make it. We may not experience the thing we are hoping for, but it is rewarding to go through the effort anyway. So, also, is Biblical hope. Hope fights through opposition and has its own rewards. When we hope in something, we are letting go of the present reality with one hand  and reaching towards the coming, hoped-for reality with the other. We pass up on somethng immediate for something not yet actual. We put our time, effort, energy and recources into that something that is not yet actual because we hope that it will be actual. This is hard to describe because most of this effort is interal and abstract, but it is real effort nonetheless. The Biblical idea of hope is not wishful thinking, it is an active investment in a reality that God has promised. I don't just sit and wait for the fulfillment of the promise, I am motivated enough to invest in it.

Hope fights through opposition and has its own rewards. Hope must acknowledge both dissapointment and possibility as real and valid. It must wrestle equally with both and be swayed ever just the tiniest bit more by possibility. (It must be so much easier for an optimist to hope) Those who hope lets themselves be motivated enough by the promise of God that they move towards that possibility.

I am greatly encouraged by this. And I have to fight for hope itself to have space in my heart because it takes energy, time, and investment. These days I have to move aside despair, self-pity, and pride to make room for hope. No, hope is not passive. Instead, the call of the Spirit is to get up, face the trail ahead of me, and keep walking because the view is worth the effort. And in so doing I am both getting closer to the summit and also reaping the rewards of a day in the wilderness. Hope, my friends, is active, and it is far from empty.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adolescents vs. Teenagers

I use these terms interchangeably, mostly out of convenience. But I have a fairly large inner battle about it every time. I feel that "teenager" is closer to slang and "adolescent" is closer to an academic term. I tend to use "adolescent" when I am writing for an academic setting, and "teenager" when I am trying to reach a wider audience. I am not sure that it matters.

I am always concerned with conveying respect for this age group in general and that is done in more relational ways like always recognizing their value, giving them equal weight in their opinions and ideas, and in never underestimating or assuming the worst about either the group or an individual student. It can also be done in writing. I think that all of these terms, like many terms, can convey either respect or disrespect depending on the context. Teenager is the term, I think, with the most potential for disrespect because it is the term most frequently used in pop culture and usually brings to mind the stereotype, and not an individual or even the age group. It makes sense, then, to steer away from using it. However, because of its popularity it often reaches the widest audience. Adolescent is the word that does bring to mind the age group, the developmental stage and a good deal of the research that is available. It is the term that is used the most frequently in academics, and, I think, the word that conveys the most respect for the population.

I also find myself using terms like student, young adult, emerging adult, and youth... the lines get blurry. But, in the end, it sometimes boils down to variety for my readers and myself. Because I am so passionate about this age group, this stage of life, I have to use more than one term just to stay sane. I tend to use adolescent in academic writings, and teenager in writings that interact with pop culture or stereotypes, and young adult or emerging adult when I am talking about someone who is of age to have graduated from high school. But these are just rules of thumb. In end I have to say something just to write, so bear with me as I figure it out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby Steps Toward Building a Small Group

To begin with, I HATE What About Bob. Seriously hate it. I spend the vast majority of the movie wishing he would actually suffer the consequences of all the ridiculous situations he gets in. It drives me insane, like Forest Gump meeting a comedy of errors. I also really hate Forest Gump, but that is another rant for another day. As much as I hate What About Bob, it does not negate the point that sometimes, (Is sometimes one word or two? any of my grammar friends out there know that one?) often times, things need to come in very, very small stages. Such is the case with our Fuse Group at church.

This particular group has been through so much transition in the last year. I feel for the students who need stability and have had very little. Let me give you a glimpse into their world. The major changes have been a new format for youth group, the loss of 2-3 adult leaders (that I know of) and the addition of a new location, and 2-3 new leaders. Attendance fluctuates not only with the calendar year and academic year, and in any given week we could have the same number of students, but an almost entirely different group of individuals. And those are only the major changes. Sheesh.

This is what we are up against as we are trying to build some kind of foundation for trust and relationship. Lately we have taken some encouraging steps in that direction. Fuse Groups are interesting in that they can be mixed gender or same gender, depending on the group itself. I suggested and moved forward with having a gender-specific group, and there were objections. This was a leadership error on my part. I should have brought it up and given the students a chance to decide if that is what they wanted before I moved forward with it. I am so glad that there was a facebook revolt of sorts. I find this so encouraging because there is a sense of ownership in voicing an objection. This shows that they in some way think the group is their own and they are invested enough to speak about how they don't want the group to be. Such objections might be complaint at more change, they might come from a genuine concern to be in an environment that feels comfortable or safe, and they might be just a chance to flex the will. No matter what the motive of each student, this was an opportunity to begin to build the trust that is needed in the small group. By opening the conversation, hearing what is behind the objections, and working out an action plan going forward, I think we took several steps toward building a small group. This discussion communicated that each member is valuable, that a small group is a safe place to voice concerns, that this is a place where we bring things out into the open, and that we are not to be undone by opposition. Those are some of the foundational pieces of building a small group.

I am happy we took those steps, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the distance we have to go. The students still need to get to a place where they feel comfortable regularly sharing their spiritual lives with one another, and that is something that requires many more laps. A thriving small group is characterized by (among other things) its members volunteering vulnerable information, listening well, committing to be present with someone else when they are walking through a hardship, and celebrating one another and the group itself. We have a marathon until we get to that point. It is hard not to be overwhelmed, and, as much as I hate to admit it, that is when I have to remind myself that some things do indeed come in baby steps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Youth Ministry: Parent Ministry?

Did I mention yet that I am a nerd? I spent a good portion of my Saturday sitting in Caribou doing research. I am currently reading A Faith of Their Own by Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I am reading it partially because I am more than a little interested in this type of research and its results, and partially because I want to try to synthesize some of this information into something useable for those in youth ministry.

A repeated theme in this research is the importance of parents. We get what we are. (This is a little unfair to say because I am not a parent, but the saying itself holds true) Parents are consistently the best predictors of the spiritual life of young people. In Soul Searching (116), Smith states it this way, “Family socialization generally seems to work when it comes to teenagers’ religious faith and practice. Furthermore, the quality of the relationships that parents build with their teenagers, and their own choices about marriage relationships, education, and occupations—insofar as they have choices in these areas—also create family contexts that again form the outcome of their teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives.” In A Faith of Their Own, this theme is reiterated about religious behavior and beliefs for students in all levels of religious engagement. In short, if parents attend church on a regular basis and integrate thier faith into their daily lives, children do. If parents don’t, neither do their children. And if parents are sporadic, nominal or culturally Christian, so are their children.

One thing is becoming more and more obvious to me: as youth workers we must minister to parents. I wonder how many of our ministries do this at all? How many do it well? What does it take to build this kind of ministry?

I think ministering to families is one of the largest challenges facing the youth worker today. Families are incredibly hard to minister to as a whole. One has to consider all ages, all maturity levels, and all education levels. Each family has a unique pattern of communication. Each family has a set of rules, assumptions, values, dysfunctions and functions. And each family is composed of individuals working as a whole. It is daunting to think of ministering to a family, and, specifically to parents. I love listening to parents about their children and vice versa, and while listening is incredibly valuable, it is not, in and of itself, the kind of ministry that is going to help build and equip families to grow in their faith in Christ.

The real question is, of course: what is?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Knocked Down: Transparency

This is part 4 of series about being spiritually knocked on my ass, and what a journey it has been thus far! A large part of what the Lord is showing me is that I am too closed, too judgemental, too self-protective. (is that even a word?) Some of the things that have been simultaneously the most challenging and the most rewarding have been the interactions from others based on what I have posted thus far. I guess that I knew it might start a dialogue- isn't that part of the point of a blog? But, what I did not expect was to still feel so exposed and vulnerable when this part of my journey is brought up in person.

Its funny that I did not see that coming- it makes sense that I would still feel the emotions about what I wrote when someone brings it up in person. Of course, I knew when I put all this on the internet that is was, well, on the internet, and that anyone could read it.(and all of my previous rants about facebook being public come back to haunt me) But I did not know what that meant, not really.  I am surprised that it is vulnerable for me to be present about my brokeness with the person in front of me. This is something that until now I have only done with a few people- people that have worked the hardest to understand me, people that I was certain would accept my mess.

Many of you have commented on my courage in posting about this particular spiritual journey, and I am very thankful for the feedback and encouragement. I think that I expected that only those whom I have previously shared this type of honesty would respond. Instead, I am walking through interactions and responses that feel risky to me. I am not certain how people are responding to what I have shared, or if my mess is safe with them, but there we are, having the conversation anyway. I am learning that I can trust more people than I thought. I am learning to trust that I am welcome with the Lord, and that He will take care of me. I think that this opening to a wider range of people is exactly what the Lord was after. I am enjoying the new conversations, new connections, and getting to hear, in turn, about the journey of others. I am enjoying this wider, fuller view of Church.  Please bear with me as I continue to toddle through this new thing the Lord is teaching me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why "Rowdy" Worship Is Apporpriate

Several years ago, I was at the wedding of one of my dearest friends and I was so happy that all I could do was grin from ear to ear and dance. I was so joyful that the only truly appropriate and satisfying outlet was dancing.

I am actually in both of these, can you find me?

Dani and Jon danced. Don't they just look so happy?

Frank and Betsy Broke it down, and they weren't the only ones.

In contrast, I stand at the back of youth group and wonder about the dancing and the fast-paced songs. What is the jumping really all about? Teenagers tend to do things in groups, so is it just because it is what everyone is doing? Are we really honoring God with jumping and yelling and clapping and laughing?  That voice is answered by another, I wish that I had the freedom to jump- somehow it seems right. I feel like dancing, but I can't seem to get my body to move that way. I really know and respect that young woman's spiritual life and there she is, jumping up and down and waiving her hands in the air- why should that be strange to me?

Why is it that I can dance at a wedding, but not at church? Yesterday I got a glimer of an answer to that question. I was listening to this song on the way to church, and it was such a great call to worship. Seriously, listen to it, I know that it is another 3 minutes of your time, but I promise it is worth it. The rythyms are intertwined with lyrics about Christ marrying the church, redeeming us as lovers (love- ED lovers, who respond to a perfect love, not those who love first) and then tied in again with the second coming, salvation, evangelism, and communion. I could not help but go into church ready to lift my voice, broken and sinful because I do have hope. How could I not have hope when there is such love in the world? How could I not dance? How could I not take the up and the bread and wine? How could I not participate, honor, and celebrate with other worshipers when this call rings with my Spirit? It has been a long time since I have felt the call to dance and celebrate in worship in such clear theological terms.

"So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see"

My skeptical, self-protective heart does not easily engage in worship in song, let alone dance. And here is a clear, compelling truth saying "lift your voice, Sarah, if there is any hope that may be a sign that everything was made to shine despite what we can see." Here is an acknowledgement that Love in its smallest form births hope, that even in the hardest of hearts, and in the smallest amounts, it is a reason to sing and dance. Such a God is well-met by drums, shouts, yawps, and intruments. Such a God is well-met by teenagers jumping, yelling, and dancing because they see something about God that I have missed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Knocked Down: A Response, Galations 3, And A Few Glimers of Redemption

This post is part 3 of a series about having the wind knocked out of me by the Lord.  Biggest. Understatement. Ever. For the beginning of the story click here, and for part 2, click here.

I am haunted by J.R.’s statement that most of the time it is best to lean into what God is doing in our lives right now and the opportunities that He has brought and trust that out of that He will bring what He will. God has a very ambitious and crazy goal- to save humanity and the path to that goal was self-sacrifice and, ultimately, death and that somehow that brought life. If our God walked such a path, how can we expect to walk a different one?

I need to lay down my pride, but that is the heart of the matter, is it not? The catch 22 in this situation is that I can’t lay down my pride and I can’t really wrestle with this truth because it is counter to my ambitious nature and my pride.

But I am not questioning my call, in the midst of all that, there is one thing that remains pure, and I am so encouraged by that. I am encouraged by the very clear call of the Spirit on my life to work with youth and academics. I am so encouraged by the core of the things that You have given me and that don’t change, even with my sin. And there is sin here. I think that is part of why I am so uncomfortable: I am uneasy having my sin exposed and my motives laid bare. I am uneasy knowing that I have sinned and that it is not in the least hidden- not from You eyes and not from the eyes of others. I am laid bare in my pride. My pride at doing what You have called my to do- Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched me, indeed?

When did this sin creep in? And where did my heart grab onto it? And why does it hurt? But it does. It hurts to know that I have left the keeper of my heart and soul and walked somewhere that He has not intended me to, that I have taken His good gifts and used them for my own gain, and used them to get fame for myself and not the Famous One. Here is my sin, and here is my angst, and here is my failing. I have failed in this.

How do I lean into what You have given me when I have marred it? But there is Your grace again, burning bridges and welcoming me with every start, pulling out a chair and saying “sit and eat my meat.” I do have mixed motives, I want glory and fame, but here You are, with your Spirit, pointing out my motives and gently, firmly asking me to lay it down and walk that path in front of me with humility. Feed my lambs, Sarah. Do you love me? Then feed my lambs.

Here is your grace, purifying me. It sucks, and I am grateful.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Knocked Down: Ambition

In my last post I mentioned dinner with the Rozkos and Annie. During this dinner, J.R. asked a very Spirit-inspired question: Am I able to discern the difference between holy ambition and ambition for personal gain. No. I am not. I am not able to do that at all. I am not even sure that I intellectually know the difference. It is easier to see the difference when I am in a situation, but still fuzzy most of the time. 

The thing that I find the most challenging in this is that my motives are mixed all of the time. I would like to be in a situation, know that it is all holy ambition or ambition for personal gain and then be able to reject the unhealthy ambition, pull myself out of the situation, submit it to the Lord, or in some other way take appropriate action. But it is not that simple.I have so much pride in me. Even now as I type this, I am writing for you, my audience. I want to know what you will think. Do you find me witty? Entertaining? smart? helpful? an expert in my subject? And I can see that this is exactly what the Spirit was after in that comment, but I can’t let it go. I want this. I want it badly. I want it so badly that at times I feel blinded to all other things. It is a good and noble and worthwhile goal – to serve those in youth ministry and to help impact the way that people do youth ministry. But even that sounds prideful. That is prideful.

Each situation is so muddled. I want to do something both because it is my calling, because it is serving the Lord, because it glorifies Him to use my gifts, AND because it comes with the spotlight, because I have a goal that I want to pursue, and because it feeds the people-pleasing, fame-seeking part of me. I cannot just throw my motives out of the window or withdraw from the task at hand.

Instead I am left to sift through the internal mess. What is the difference between these ambitions? I do think there is such a thing as godly ambition. All kinds of things that come from God are gutsy- when was the last time God balked at say, reaching people from every tribe and nation, or saving the souls of humans, or at defeating Satan, or at creating a universe? How many men and women have been lead into incredibly ambitious tasks? It seems in line with asking us to cultivate our talents and spiritual gifts, and with participating in God's actions in the world. I think that I have godly ambitions, they are just intertwined with ungodly ones so that any given task or opportunity comes from both places in me. I have no idea how God is going to redeem this in me, but I know that He will. Oh, will He! About this, I have no doubts. This sin and mixing of motives was brought to the surface for one reason- to take care of it. It's the process that is a bear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Knocked Down

Two things have knocked me on my ass this week: a personal psalm by my friend Sam and dinner with the Rozkos. Sam is a long-time friend of mine who shared a modern psalm on Sunday. It was incredibly moving to watch him read what he had written and bring it before the Lord and our church. The psalm was vulnerable, honest, gritty, moving, and very much a suprise to me. I did not expect to be so moved by his story, his cry to the Lord. But I am, and I am having a hard time facing that internally. His vulerability before our church and before the Lord are quite a challenge- that is church, and he did it well. I feel unequal to the task. Sharing like he did means that I have to let people into my crap and there is a very real possibility that I will be rejected, and, it feels,  rightfully so. It means that I have to fully bring myself before others and risk their suprise at my inner world. That means also that I have to let go of my dreams of being a famous youth minsitry thinker.

That is where dinner with the Rozkos comes in. In order to better start out on the road to becomming a famous youth ministry thinker, I met with two people from Life on the Vine that are mutual friends with Annie. I am terrible at seeing the first few steps to any very long journey, especially if they are at all practical. I wanted help thinking through changes I can make in my life now that will set me up for success later. That was the conversation I expected to have over dinner. I came out with a very different set of steps to take: almost all of which were internal and corrective. Corrective is putting it midly. The Spirit was there at Noodles and Company, cutting into the crap that lives in my soul, exposing it in great detail. I am ambitious, and not in a way that honors the Lord or serves others. I am insecure. I am egotistical. The Rozkos did not say these things, Annie did not, and I did not, but the Spirit laid them bare in me.

I hate them. They drive me crazy because they are ugly and do not honor the Lord or love others. I would like to tell you that I am submitting to the Lord in this and letting Him work it out in me, but that is not the case. I am holding onto these ugly things in me with all my might. I feel entitled to my ambition. I feel capable of affecting the change I want to see. I feel stubborn. And I can see that feeling these things is not really okay and not really what I want in the long run. I can see that I am facing off with God, and that I am going to loose. And yet, here I am, at the line anyway. I wish that I could say I am happy about it, and I wish that I could say that I am learning and growing and how glorious that is. But I can't at the moment, I am just on my ass. I feel like this guy.

Don't Forget The Lime

I enjoy cooking. Lately I have stumbled across several recipes that work well, and one that was an epic fail. So, I thought that I would share them with you. Aren't you glad? Try them and let me know which one is your favorite.

Gwennth Paltrow's Healthy Fried Rice and Kale

1 lb kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
3 large spring onions, cut into 3mm diagonal slices
175g brown rice, cooked
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce

1. Cut the kale leaves in half lengthways, and then cut crossways into very thin ribbons (chiffonade). Steam the kale for seven minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for two minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and spring onions. Cook for two minutes and then add the rice and cook for another two minutes, stirring.
3. Add the soy sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

My delightful roommate loves all things Gwennth and recently bought her cookbook. It is very good and really easy to make. Did you know there are two types of Kale? I didn't. But I learned on this helpful you tube video about both types and about how to steam them. Handy. I made this with curly kale, but I hazard a guess Gwennth meant flat kale. If you use the curly kale, it needs to steam for more like 15 minutes. Try this, you will not be disappointed, it is super easy and really good for you. I ate it as a meal or 3, but she lists it as a side.

Fish Tacos

4-6 Fish fillets. I used tilapia, which is my go-to these days.
1 bell pepper
1 can corn
1 can black beans
1 jar mango salsa. I used Frontera Mango and Key Lime- I highly recommend it. I got it at Jewel.
1-2 limes

1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt 

1. Chop bell pepper and mix with salsa, corn, and black beans. set aside.
2. Coat the fish with the above seasoning. The recipe I found called for butter, but I think olive oil works just fine as well. I also found that I ran out of seasoning about 3/4 of the way through and had to make more.
3. In a very hot skillet saute coated fish 3-4 minutes on first side and 2-3 minutes on second side until fish flakes apart with a fork.
4. Remove fish from heat set aside to cool. 8 minutes (ish)
5. Assemble and enjoy. Seriously, don't forget the lime. That is the best part. Just squeeze it over everything before you eat. I also added a little shredded cheese, because this is one of my favorite foods.

Enjoy and happy eating!

The epic fail was chicken coated in corn flakes. It looked so crunchy and good, but, alas, it was awful. It does not stay crunchy, the corn flakes don't stick to the chicken after the first 20 minutes, and the marinade (buttermilk, garlic and thyme) was super overpowering. Just trust me, don't do it, my friends. Don't coat your chicken in corn flakes no matter how crunchy and satisfying it might look. You will be left with chicken that you don't want to eat, but can't waste. And THEN what are you going to do? Sigh. I am still not sure. Any ideas?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feeding My Inner Nerd

Today I caught myself walking across campus with a huge grin on my face, nose burried in a book. I have become one of those people who were so befuddling to me in undergrad - openly grinning from ear to ear while reading what might appear to be a dry, purely academic work. This particular book is academic, but that does not make it dry. Academics that are well-done do affect daily life. Yes, I love this book and I have not even started reading it yet. A Faith of Their Own, like Almost Christian, came out of the research done by a National Study for Youth and Religion. So, I know it is reliable, based on careful research, and that it will dig deeply into some of the newest insights on the religious lives of teenagers. I am excited to read it!

I have been trying for the last few months to get through several youth ministry books: The Godbearing Life and Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry. I am learning that even though I am no longer in school, that I need to keep up a steady diet of intellectual stimulation. Andrew Root's book was very challenging- he pushed my understanding of incarnational youth ministry to the breaking point. He uses diagrams (always a way to my heart) and draws on the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a theological foundation for relational youth ministry. The books itself is very dense. But even that was not enough. I find myself wanting to take on a project.

The National Study of Youth and Religion's recent research has proved fruitful for many, and is causing people in colleges and universities across the country to reexamine their thoughts on the best ways to practice youth minsitry in light of what we are learning about the religious lives of adolescents in America. I think that I am assigning myself a large-scale research project: sort through this research and attempt to condense it into something user-friendly for youth workers. I love a good homework assignment- break out the white board!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Things I Love About Working In A University

1. Academics are the norm, always
I have a very large internal nerd, and I love, love, love working in a place where it is normal to read, discuss, and debate the world of ideas. I love that i can ask a biology professor if it is possible for all ethnicities to have come from two sets of DNA. I love that it is normal to ask questions and care about the answers.
2. Speakers, forums, debates and other academics events. So far at TIU I have been to a debate on the nature of the relationships inside of the Trinity, listened to philosophers, pastors, authors and professors. I have heard lectures on the nature of sin, women in ministry, and international economics.
3. This one is not really all that different from #2, but I am going to embarce it anway, and you should, too. Time off for conferences, meetings and speakers, forums, debates and other academics events. Not only are these available to me, but I get to take some of my vacation time to attend. And I don't have to use a ton of vacation time to do it because I can walk to them, and return to my work day.
4. Regalia!
5. Titles. Prof. Dr., President, Provost, etc.
6. The academic schedule. No, I do not get the summers off, but things still move in semesters even for staff. Our days and weeks and years are ruled by the rhythm of mid terms, homecoming, and commencement. We all work and rest with learning and achievement.
7. It has to be said- my co-workers. They are the best part of my work day, and we just happen to work at a University.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I Am Second: Why I Fight With God

I am a fighter, and I am second, and I feel so loved. My friend Stefanie shared the video below in her blog. It is Pete Briscoe from the I am second series. I find a kindred spirit in his explaination of why he is second to Christ.  Bricoe says, “He went to the cross and died for me, and when I come to grips with his depth of love for me and His passion for me, it seems incongruent for anything else to be first.” One of the most frequent ways I engage with the Lord is to fight with Him. I often feel self-conscious about it because bringing anger, objection, and hurt are not socially acceptable ways of relating to God in the American Evangelical subculture. So, I do it alone or with my most trusted friends. But it must be done.

I fight with God, rail against Him, and bring all of my strength and inner world, all of my accusations and hurt out of trust the He can handle not only the content of my fight, and all the fight in me, but also me in the fight. It is a beautiful and satisfying intimacy. Nowhere else do I know this level of safety and acceptance. Nowhere else can I be held so thoroughly and deeply.

In the process of fighting with God I run into His strength and glory that is paired with so much tenderness and delight - in me! I am most welcome in all of my many forms. And so I throw myself at my God with all of who I am - which definitely includes a little spitfire. I can’t not do it. I can’t hold out on the Lord that way. Why would I keep from Him the one part of me that only He can see and know and respond to so fully and completely? Why would I hold back something that is just between us? I don’t want to miss out on the intimacy that lives in that exchange. In the wrestling I find an Other who is so gloriously first in all things. And I come back time and time again to this place because I am second, and I feel so loved.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Best Way to Celebrate Graduation

It is the season of graduations. I enjoy formal ceremonies like graduations, weddings, and even funerals. I think there is something to the structure, formality, and ritual of these occasions. Ever notice that they each have their own expected events and even clothing? Tux, white dress, black or grey, and cap and gown. You exchange rings, listen to a eulogy, walk across a stage, shake a hand, and get a diploma. At my graduation they commissioned us to go out into the world with the knowledge we have and endeavor to change and influence the world for Christ. I felt the weight of that call.

I think there is something in that, too. As churches we have a burden to help mark high school graduation as a right of passage. We are to help students understand their own spiritual journeys and to go forth into what is beyond high school- building on the foundation of their relationship with God. Yes, I thnk that we can help them celebrate their personal growth and achievements, but their families, high schools, friends, and our society already help them do that. As a church it is our calling to help them understand where they have been in their spiritual lives and, maybe more importantly, where they are going.

If youth are graduating from the church and never returning after they leave high school, then this occasion is a crucial time for youth workers to mark this as a passage into another leg of their spiritual marathon. We ought to help them identify the foundations of their spiritual lives. We ought to help them to see that their relationship with Christ affects their decisions as they move forward. We ought to help them make space to engage with him as they move on to the next thing in life. It is our role to call them to know god better in the next phase of life and to commit to walk with them as they learn what that means. Graduation celebrations ought to be unabashedly spiritual in nature.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Insulting 7th Grade Girls

I was at a public event this weekend, that may or may not have been a  high school graduation, and the speaker insulted all 7th grade girls. No, I am not kidding. I wish that I were. In the midst of making a point, he said something to the effect of "Do you actually enjoy conflict? Do you enjoy being at odds with or in the midst of an aurgument with another person? There is a word for that - dramatic pause - a seventh grade girl." My head shot up, the jaw of the person next to me dropped and suprise registered on her face, there was scattered laughter from the audience, and I noticed several dads and moms put their arms comfortingly around young women while speaking in their ears. My heart broke when I saw the face of a crestfallen young woman regsiter the statement.

It is 18 hours later and I am still offended and upset. It is not okay to insult your audience for the sake of entertainment. It very well may not have occured to him that there would be 7th grade girls in the room, and people that love 7th grade girls.  It is unfortunate, as he was in many other ways an expcetional speaker, but he lost my respect after that point. And I wonder why he was chosen to speak at an event honoring young men and women as they make their transition into adulthood.

Sadly, it is common practice for speakers to insult teenagers. I understand a little of why people do this. Teenagers are very visible in our culture, and shows like Glee do not cast them in the best light. Teenagers can be hard to understand and very initmidating, especially in large groups. Many adults view teenagers as foolish, fiivolous, and unfriendly. And people laugh at these jokes. So, in some ways it can be the perfect mix of ingredients for a laugh when one is one stage. Adolescents are incredibly insecure, and it is unkind to insult them at all, and unwise to do so when speaking in public. These are young men and women created in God's image, and because of their insecurities and vulnerabilities they deserve the extra mile when it comes to compassion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sabbath Sundays

So, we just finished a four week break from "regular" youth group, which means that I had four weeks off. Man, I am going to miss my Sundays. There is something about knowing that I have the whole day free that feels more refreshing. I don't usually do anything super exciting between five and ten on Sunday nights, but knowing that I could is the best thing ever. I am going to miss knowing that I can play football or volleyball after church as late as I want and still get in a shower, a movie, time with my roommate, or a beer on the roof.

the BSGE at Annie's 30th. woot.

There is something truly great about Sunday afternoons. They provide all kinds of mental and emotional rest for me and giving up that space is one of the hardest things for me about being a volunteer. My small group (aka the Best Small Group Ever. What? Yes, I know that it is a pretentious name. Yes, I know that is a bit of a problem, but seriously, these four women and I have been in a small group for seven years! SO, SO much change and love and growth and joy and moving of the Holy Spirit in all five lives!) has been doing a study on the sabbath. I think that I might be more consufed than when we started. There is so much to dive into Biblically, historically,  and traditionally. One of the things that I am walking away with is the idea of marking the beginning and end of the sabbath with ceremonies; this sets aside the time of the sabbath as sacred.

In order to maintain my sanity moving back into spending my Sunday nights at youth group I think I need to find some kind of ceremony to close out the sabbath at about 4pm on Sunday afternoons. What shall I do? Smell spcies? Have a beverage (non-alchoholic, I think) on the roof? Read a passage? Spend time in silence? Something must be done to help preserve not only my own time and emotional health, but also to honor the day itself. Sundays as sabbath should be rich times of praising God with people who are also committed to Him, diving into the Word and streching my mind, spending time with friends, and participating in the richness of the life that is given to me. Life both spiritual and physical. I think that marking the end of that time will encourage me to use it well by marking its end, thus setting it aside internally.

But, what shall I do? I am at a loss, and open to suggestions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Academic Crush

It feels a little vulnerable to put this out there in the world -- I have an academic crush. Yes, an academic crush. I get actual flitters in my stomach when I think about all the amazing work done by this woman. I find myself checking out all her books at the library, reading her blog, listening to her pod casts and thinking about doing a PhD at her institution- all just to learn from her and hear more of her thoughts. Sometimes I even get that big, silly grin on my face when I think about all the things I know and like about her. Who is she? Kenda Creasy Dean. She is courageous, wise, and very, very up to date, one sure-fire way to my academic heart,  she participated in some very large, very respectable research projects.

Listen to this woman's courage:
“Youth Ministry is as much about being the church as it is working with adolescents. If teenagers consider Christianity inconsequential- if American young people find the church worthy of “benign wateverism” and no more- them maybe the issue is simple that the emperor has no clothes, and young people are telling churches that that we are not who we say we are. If we fail to bear God’s life-altering, world-changing, fear-shattering good news (which is after all the reason the church exists in the first place) –if desire for God and devotion to our fellow human beings is replaces by a loveless shell of religiosity- then young people unable to find consequential Christianity in the church absolutely should default to something safer. In fact, that is exactly what they are doing."- Almost Christian, 24.

Dang. "a loveless shell of religiosity" That is something I often think, but she just laid it out there. Brave. And yet it is loving in and of itself, does not love speak the truth directly when it needs to be done? I think that she is delivering some very important messages about the state of the church in America. Are we listening?

Listen to her passion and tenderness of heart:
" During my years of parish youth ministry I learned that pastoring teenagers is not about 'youth ministry'; its about minsitry. period. Tending to the souls of the young taught me how to listen more deeply to the needs of people - all people- young and old alike. Ministry that addresses adolescents' most deep-seated, acted out passions touches something fundamental to being human, not just fundamental to being a teenager." - The Godbearing Life, 15.

She is theolgically grounded:

“What matters is not that young people belong to a peculiar story, but to a peculiar story about God. Christian identity is not determined by our oddity as a religion, but by Jesus Christ, who incarnation is evidence that God is not a distant, disinterested entity, but a living, invested, passionate Being who relentlessly loves us, forgives us, and drenches our lives in grace. Christian tradition maintains that the Word of God is not a text, but a person, the divine Logos, Jesus Christ.” Almost Christian, 66.

From her Amazon Page, I am not that much of a creeper.

And, in addition to all that, she just looks like she would be super-friendly! Doesn't she? I want to sit next to her on that plane and hear all about the conference she is going to or coming from. So, that is it. I have put it out there in the world: I really admire this woman.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Big Dreams: Towards a New Approach to Youth Ministry - Part 2

More about the new model at youth group.

The leadership team has 5 roles. A team leader, a large group leader, a worship coordinator, an outreach director, and a small group coordinator. These four people oversee the whole of what goes on in the youth ministry. This means that the salaried youth pastor delagates a large part of his responsibilites to others who carry out their area of the week in and week out tasks of implimenting the vision.

The Team Leader is responsible for the leadership, coordination, and vision for the youth group and the leadership team.
The Large Group Leader is responsible for the time at the church including the speakers, coordinating with the worship leader, overseeing any set up or take down for the facilies, mixers, etc.
The Worship Leader is responsible for leading worship, leading and developing a worship team, coordinating with the large group leader, and overseeing the audio visual team.
The Fuse Group/Small Group Leader is responsible for overseeing adult volunteers to lead and host the fuse groups, and for connecting incoming and current students with a fuse group in their area.
The Outreach Leader is responsible for overseeing all outreach events, and for connecting new students with the minsitry as a whole.

That is the leadership structure. There are a few adjustments in our group due to size, opportunities, and staffing. Nathan is serving  in two roles as the Team Leader and as the Large Group Leader. We are also connected with our local Youth For Christ in Mundelein High School, so most of our outreach events are in conjunction with the Mundelein YFC.

As the Small Group/Fuse Group Leader is is my passion to see the lives of godly, founded, transparent adults affect the lives of adolescents as those adults follow Christ. That is it. I am passionate about the minsitry of being. It is who we are that affects others more than anything else and it is who we are that needs the most work, the most time and the most effort. Who we are as Christians is about the imperfect, messy journey of becomming more like Christ. Growing into our identity as it ought to have been and will be when perfected, that journey is the one that we ought to be sharing with the adolescents in our lives. With that said, it is my passion to encourage and listen to and help equip those adult volunteers however possible. I think the majority of that comes through listening, praying, and encouraing them both in their minsitry and in their spiritual lives. It is a ministry of being, and of walking alongside of those who are being minsiters to the students in our youth group.