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Friday, July 29, 2016

Quotes, Quests, Quandaries

This has been a very full week for me as I finish up my sixth summer of interns. What a lovely lot! I pinch myself at the thought of getting to do what I feel like I was built to do. What a creative, generous God we have!

In the midst of that, I also worked through some helpful resources... here are some highlights:

Quotes that Feed My Brain, Heart & Soul. One of my very, very small contributions in daily life is to post thoughtful, challenging, convicting, encouraging, uplifting, wise quotes on social media... rather than cat videos (though I love cats) or what I've accomplished in Pokemon Go.

Two came into my view yesterday, and they were strangely resonant, though from different sources:

It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. 
It severed an umbilical cord... 
In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God... 
Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. 
(Ingmar Bergman)

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only what you are expecting to give—which is everything. What you will receive in return varies, but really has no connection with what you give. You give because you love and cannot help giving. If you are very lucky, you may get loved back. That is delicious, but it does not necessarily happen. 
(Katharine Hepburn)

The interesting connection for me was in the sources -- both artists, but speaking deeply spiritual, even theological truths. I will confess mostly unfamiliarity with Bergman's work, but I am aware that he had a father who was a Lutheran pastor, and his films contain profound spiritual questions and themes.

Hepburn's words capture the stunning beauty and difficulty of truly unconditional love. Which I have found is only possible when God's Spirit inhabits my love. As an eternally recovering English major, I am grateful for these gentle reminders of the power of art and how it is a powerful (though often neglected) means of grace.

If you want to receive daily surprises for your devotional and thought life, these are what I turn to each morning (along with scripture):
  • Christian Quotation of the Day: never cheesy, sometimes a little dense, but often surprising. Drawn from Christian history.
  • Common Prayer: An excellent devotional guide that is thought-provoking, occasionally off-putting, always earnest.
  • Henri Nouwen Society: His writings have blessed my life for decades. I read things that I underlined years ago and they still capture me as if I'm reading them for the first time.
  • Inward/Outward: I like this one because it draws from a very wide range of sources. I don't always "get" them, but when I do, I am often rattled to the core.
  • Pray the Hours: I sometimes go to this when I want a guide to prayer during my day. This whole website is an excellent resource for contemplative practices.
New Podcast Addiction. As I have mentioned in an earlier post this month, I've started learning more about Enneagrams. Not only have I read Discovering the Enneagram by Richard Rohr, but I've also happened upon a new podcast that I am enjoying greatly: The Road Back to You. Hosted by two experienced folks who lead retreats and serve as spiritual directors, the first few episodes have been interviews of people who help to describe each one of the nine Enneagram types. Super engaging conversations! So far, I'm seeing that Enneagram could serve as a tremendous tool for those who want to press in further in their quest of ongoing intimacy with God and understanding of self and others.

Resources for Families. In my many years of working with youth and their families, something that came up often was the reality that whatever program or event I was running could never substitute for the deep foundations that needed to be provided at home. Yet when I would meet with parents about how to do that, we would often be boggled together! Not having grown up in a home with "family devotions" or a regular life in the church, I sure had no experience in this arena. Yet when I started digging for resources to recommend, I also found slim pickings. Most stuff was ridiculously cheesy and overly simplistic.

Yet this week I've come across two interesting possibilities:
  • Parents' Major Role in the Religious Lives of Young Adults. This first one is rooted in research, but I feel that it sets the context for the "why" of this conversation. This really made sense to me: "Yet the assumption that parents are irrelevant in the religious lives of teenagers – replaced instead by peers – is a myth, research shows. Several studies have shown that the religious behaviors and attitudes of parents are related to those of their children."
  • 10 Tips for Family Worship Time. I have not test-driven this, but it looks promising. Perhaps gather a few families to do it together for a few weeks and then discuss? 
Final thought. This flew by me at some point this week. I sort of like it!

I must be a Mermaid:
I have no fear of depths
and a great fear of 
shallow living. 

Get some rest this weekend, OK?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration!

Last article being re-posted today. Hope these have been encouraging and helpful. Scroll through this blog and find the other ones. I started re-posting them at the end of Sept 2015.

The original for this one was first posted here. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

As I write this I am preparing to head out to the birthday celebration of my favorite one year old in the world, Bryn, who is the daughter of dear friends of mine. She was born on 11/1/11, and we all giggle at that because she is definitely number one in our hearts.

At the same time, I know I will sit back at some point during the day and chuckle at how many adults are there, celebrating an event that Bryn will most certainly not remember! In some ways it is tempting to ask, “What is even the point of having a birthday party for a one year old?!”

I can tell you the answer: Because everyone loves a party! Personally, I can never have enough cupcakes. How about you? We are wired to celebrate with those we love, whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, and even a life well-lived as we grieve the loss of a loved one.

Even as I type the word “celebrate” I have many fun memories popping into my head: lighting fireworks with students during service trips to Guatemala; a surprise birthday for me put on by friends; hearty laughter, to the point of tears, when hearing a really funny story…These are foretastes of heaven, where we will be free of suffering because God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

In anticipation of such a blessed eternity, as believers we are called to practice for heaven now. The spiritual discipline for this practice is called celebration. Richard Foster, who has guided our discussion for these last twelve months, defines its crucial role:
Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving.
He goes on to say that celebration is an expression of the fruits of the Spirit, especially that of joy. But as we well know, joy is not the same as happiness. Joy comes from living a life of obedience, conforming to the call of God on our lives, seeking to be fulfilled by service to Him and selflessness to others.

What does this look like for us who serve in youth ministry? Sadly, I believe we have erred in thinking our primary job is to show our students that being a Christian can be fun, and proceed to fill our meetings with gross and wacky games and little else. While I have used my share of shaving cream over the years for a pie or two in the face, I know that silly games are going too far when that is what students are talking about at the end of the night, rather than whatever discussion was a part of the evening. I believe that is setting the bar far too low when it comes to serving the young people we know.

Instead, see the spiritual discipline of celebration as an opportunity for us as youthworkers to really make a difference in the lives of the young people we work with. As you already know, “partying” is highly valued by youth culture–they think they already know how to “celebrate.” Rather than letting them settle for shallow expressions of fun, I believe the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians give us an outline of how to do this:


I will be the first to admit that it is so tempting to trivialize the concerns of teens, whose drama every week can tend to focus on the ups and downs of friendships or who’s dating who. Nevertheless, these are the immediate concerns of our young people, and to dismiss them is to ignore what swirls around them. Instead, respect their young and limited perspective, coaching them into sharing their concerns, though seemingly trivial at times, with God. As it says in 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As young people sense they are known and heard, they feel loved.


Verses 4:8-9 are straightforward: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Time and again I have had students thank me for remembering their birthday, attending their performance, or noting one of their achievements in front of the entire group. I had a parent tell me the other day how her children noted the difference between two different youth leaders in the community: one of them only saw their daughter if she attended his activities; the other leader made it a point to go to as many of her games as possible. Not surprisingly, she felt most connected to the latter. Active attendance at students’ events becomes a real challenge as your group grows, but it becomes all the more crucial for us to equip our volunteers to understand how much this means to the teens we know.


We are being dishonest if we pretend that life is always puppies and rainbows with our students. I never fail to be stunned at the gravity of issues that I have experienced with young people over the years: suicide, cancer, deathly car accidents, addiction, eating disorders, abuse, pregnancy, gang violence, sexual affairs with adults…the list goes on and on. To teach our students to celebrate, we also have to show them how willing we are to be with them in the depths. Paul teaches me so much in these few verses (4:10-13): “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

As we walk through all of life with our students, we then “earn the right to be heard” and can teach them how to truly “rejoice in the Lord” (4:4), opening themselves up to true and eternal celebration. What a privilege!

This concludes the year-long series on spiritual disciplines. The goal from here is to seek after deeper intimacy with Christ on your own and in community, teaching the youth around you to do the same.

My challenge to you

Set aside some time soon to review all twelve of the classic spiritual disciplines. Even better, pick up a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and learn more for yourself. As you read, listen for the promptings of the Spirit as to which discipline(s) you need to grow in next.
Remember, for us as followers of Christ, the church year begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent, which is coming soon. What if a new goal included the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines? Take some time to pray over this question and make covenant with God.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tunes, Tragedy, Teaching

Part of me wants to run away and find a big hole to hide from all the agony around... Alton Sterling,
Philando Castile, 5 Dallas police officers, a coup in Turkey, utter devastation in Nice, and now 3 officers murdered in Baton Rouge. Reading Psalm 14 this morning captured much of my malaise:

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.
(Psalm 14:2-3)

Yet if I stay in this empty, hurting place, I am paralyzed. There is so much more to say here, but for now, these lyrics from a new Avett Brothers song wake me up and pull me back in:

I cannot go on with this evil inside me
I step out my front door and I feel it surround me
Just know the kingdom of God is within you
Even though the battle is bound to continue

So I move forward, one day at a time... Here are a few resources I've used in the past couple of weeks. May we prayerfully and persistently press on through these dark days. 

True Sadness by the Avett Brothers. Here is the full song on YouTube. I want to be the kind of friend described in this song. It's also got some deeply scriptural lyrics. Allow them to dig deep into your soul.

Spiritual by Jay-Z. So much of what we each need to do is to listen to the stories of people's lives. We must seek after understanding, and not build fences around our own experiences and demand that they are the "right" and "normal" way. The lines, "I am not poison / No I am not poison / Just a boy from the hood that / Got my hands in the air in despair / Don't shoot / I just wanna do good" are haunting, and grieve my spirit. 

5 Ways to Process Tragedy with Teenagers. In 2005, a student from our youth group took his own life. Despite having over 25 years of youth ministry experience at that point, I had NO idea what to do, and fumbled through that first week (monthly?) blindly. While one article cannot solve it all, this one is a good start.

Revisionist History ~ a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. A lifetime of working with students makes me continuously fascinated by all aspects of education: how are the best ways to teach and engage, what resources are available, what are others doing, etc. There is a current series on education in America in this podcast that is spell-binding. It starts with the episode titled, "Carlos Doesn't Remember." I nearly missed a turnoff on the freeway last week because I was so riveted by it. The entire series is excellent.

What I'm Reading I just started The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard. With all the bad news rolling out this summer, I needed something to help me take a step back to breathe and reflect. As an ever-recovering English major, good writing just slays me. You have to concentrate when reading Dillard -- she is incredibly precise in her language, and miniscule in her observations. But it is lyrical, amazing writing.

I will end with this simple thought from Dillard. In the midst of our huge struggles and pain, we need to pace ourselves for a long journey. We must keep Sabbath, and seek after refreshment from the Lord. Dillard instructs us with a simple reminder:

Opening up a summer cottage is like being born in this way: 
at the moment you enter, you have all the time you are ever going to have.

May we each get to "open up a summer cottage" and receive deep, restorative rest this summer. We desperately need it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Screens, Skills, Spaces - a resource guide

As usual, I let myself get buried in the day-to-day, and neglect this dear blog. All 21 of my fans are disappointed yet again!

I also took 5 days to see my nephew graduate from high school, so there's that! Finally, after 30+ years of attending graduation ceremonies, I get to be a proud relative and not just a loving fan! Like the rest of my family, he is much taller than I am. Sigh...

Meanwhile, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, I never stop gathering pertinent links and resources. Lucky you. Enjoy!

Screen Usage and Productivity. My mouth hangs agape... this is a thoughtful article from a productivity app (one of my favorites - Trello) on how to slow down and embrace mono-tasking. What?! Take a few moments to consider how to regulate your (OUR) addiction to checking your phone and notifications. This is a good one.

Our Schools Should Teach Basic Life Skills Again. OK, this captures my reality a bit too much. My work life is focused a lot on millennials, and this humorous video hits a little close to home. Have a good laugh. Or cry.

3 Ways to Stay Calm When Conversations Get Intense. I recently went off-site for a project where many of those with whom I worked wanted some help with addressing the elephant in the room. I include this article because it is both concise but also truly substantive. Whenever I see "6 best ways" or "7 successful tips" articles I usually flip right past them, but somehow this one caught my attention and I bookmarked it. Read it. Conflict is a normal part of LIFE (both at home and work) and most of us are conflict-averse. Let's bring safety and sustainability to wherever we are by offering honest conversation and a willingness to stay at the table and work things through.

We Reclaim Abandoned Spaces - an interview with Shane Claiborne. Only 10 minutes, this little gem still packs a lot of punch. Give yourself the time and attention to listen closely, and  you will be refreshed. And while you're at it, subscribe to the weekly episodes where it's contained -- "Becoming Wise" by Krista Tippett.

Current favorite read... Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey by Richard Rohr. I'm not entirely sure how I picked this book up, but it's been really interesting and thought-provoking. It was written in 1990, and some of his cultural references feel a bit outdated, but the spiritual formation insights are A+.

Wise Words....

I sent this quote by Frederick Buechner to a dear friend this past weekend for her birthday. Listen for the Spirit as these words pour over you. May your soul be fed!

Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.