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What Did We Learn?

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The crazy thing about New Year’s Eve parties is that one can tend to spend hours upon hours waiting for the teensy little moment when the clock strikes twelve—with all the wonder, hope, and anticipation that comes with this type of celebration—and yet hours later, when you wake up in the morning, refuse to be changed, refuse to be shaped and poked and prodded by the Spirit of God.

This year, I woke up on New Year’s Day with a different kind of attitude than usual. I was inspired towards change.

Monday night, as I sat my living room with 15 or so of my closest friends, someone asked a question that sparked a magnificent conversation: “So what did everyone learn over this past year?” What did we learn? Dude! Come on! It’s a party! Not some retreat in the wilderness!

And yet… that conversation led me to some new challenges and goals for 2013—things that I wouldn’t have thought twice about had I not had the opportunity to discern in community what I’d learned over the previous year. Among them, ironically, is a deeper commitment to listening to and learning from other people.

How often do we take the time to ask our communities of students, parents, siblings, and families… “what are you learning?” What do you know today about your life, faith, dreams, hopes, fears, and story that you didn’t know yesterday? Teenagers, as we all know, are sometimes not the most contemplative types. But they have deep, profound, inspiring burdens on their hearts and God is constantly teaching them new and wonderful things about their futures. Maybe we need to spend less time shoving “truth” down their throats and more time hearing what truths God is planting in their hearts and minds.

I asked a 16-year-old recently what he wanted to do after high school. A simple, out of the blue question that elicited a novel of a response. He started to share with me about his desire to study psychology, and to really get into the stuff of life with people, so that he can help them deal with their pain, move forward, and grow through the experience. Wow! A God-given vision for the future. This allowed me to celebrate with him, encourage him in that dream, and know how to pray for him moving forward over the next couple of years. Sure, his dream could change, but that five minutes of bright authenticity were an amazing time of exploring the story that God is writing in and through him.

Simple questions often have a way of inspiring great conversation. If we take the time to consistently ask the families we walk with in youth ministry what they’re learning, it is a catalyst for helping to shape their faith and lead them closer to Jesus. I see myself not primarily as a dispenser of great wisdom (heck no!) but as a coach, guide, inspirer and facilitator. Teens, parents…they’re smarter than we give them credit for sometimes. We can help them to vocalize what they’re learning, what God’s teaching them, and then come up with strategies and goals to pursue the things He’s placed on their hearts. What an exciting journey that is rooted simply in being in relationship with others.

How do you help students, families, and other to vocalize what they’re learning, and to press into what God has for them?

Photo by photos_mweber via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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bryan stevenson on identity and injustice

holy cow, what an amazing TED talk! tony jones mentioned this one on his blog, and it blew me away. sure, it’s got a bit of a humanistic edge to it; but there’s so much truth and beauty in the ideas that a civilization’s character will be their legacy, not their design or technology or other advances. i was so quickly thinking these things:

1. man, i wish i could present like that. so clear, focused, winsome, humble, engaged, and articulate.
2. wow, i hope every presenter at The Summit brings it like that.
3. our legacy in youth ministry will be the character of our ministries, not our flair (design) or programs (technology).

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Can Linsanity Save the NBA?

In case you hadn’t heard Jeremy Lin is the newest NBA superstar.

What does that have to do with youth ministry? Jeremy Lin is also unabashedly Christian. From his postgame interviews with the press to dropping a couple references to Christian artists in interviews, this Harvard graduate is lighting up the NBA.

If you want to catch-up with his story, read about him in this excellent New York Times piece, Lin’s Appeal: Faith, Pride and Points

That’s good news for the struggling league. With a lockout shortened season the NBA could use any help it can get to get back to relevance outside of its subculture.

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Love for Jaurez

Photo by Raymond Aguirre

Leave it to a youth worker to do the obvious. Juarez, Mexico is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. There are 5 or 6 murders per day. And yet Carlos Mayorga and his tiny church across the border, have decided to make it known that God loves Juarez, it’s people, and the murderers will not stand unpunished.

As I listened to this story on NPR this week tears streamed down my face. I can’t even imagine how this youth worker pulls this off (with parents, logistics, culture) but it so deeply resonates to hear these young men and women doing something so simple yet, so dangerous, and in many ways so faithful.

The van pulls up in front of a supermarket at a busy intersection.

The angels, well rehearsed, take their positions on street corners and medians. They stand on folding chairs in long white robes, so that they look like giants.

And then they freeze.

Mayorga says he got the idea from the “living statues” who earn tips from tourists.

An angel standing under an overpass holds a sign that reads, “Assassin repent, Christ loves you.” Another stands next to a lady selling red chili with a sign that says, “Corrupt police, seek God.” Yet another holds a sign that reads, “Enough kidnapper! Look for God.”

The signs reflect the sentiments of the residents of this violence-weary metropolis. A factory worker named Ramiro Mendez with a sack full of groceries watches from the sidewalk, transfixed.

“It’s good what they’re doing because of the violence there is,” he says. “I hope no one hurts them.”

It’s all about context, right? 

Read the rest of the story and listen to the audio here

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Dream Big

This project by artist Pete Fecteau is a great example of big vision and big dreams. According to his blog about the project, it took nearly a year to create, but the results were stunning.

What does that have to do with your dreams? As you’re chasing you big dream it’s easy for others to walk by and “not get it.” Usually you have to ignore those voices and keep working on it until its done for it to pay off.

ht to Likecool

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How do you parent a dying child?

Photo by Alexandra Huddleston of the New York Times

How would your parenting change if you knew your child only had 3 years to live? That’s Emily Rapp’s reality. Her son was born with Tay-Sachs, a terminal disorder. She wrote about that question recently in a New York Times opinion piece.

How do you parent without a net, without a future, knowing that you will lose your child, bit by torturous bit?

Depressing? Sure. But not without wisdom, not without a profound understanding of the human experience or without hard-won lessons, forged through grief and helplessness and deeply committed love about how to be not just a mother or a father but how to be human.

Read the rest

Without a future to shoot for all that matters in the present. I can’t imagine the emotions this couple must go through. On the one hand you want your child to get the most out of the human experience because you know he has little time. On the other hand, why rush around when you could just enjoy every available moment?

Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. 

There’s a lot to reflect on here. Thoughts?