Monday, December 17, 2012

What Can We Do In the Wake of Newtown? Advent-ing Cries for Change...

The horrific events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday are not the first, nor will they be the last, attestations to a world torn by violence. The real temptation is to grow weary and lose hope when every day we read stories about heinous crimes against humanity, abduction of child soldiers, manifestations of genocide, and the all-too-common shootings that are taking place in our public schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and even churches. We are especially aghast when the victims are young children and defenseless kindergartners who had a whole future ahead of them.

As I have previously mentioned, my initial reaction to any realization of suffering and injustice is to cry out, How long, O Lord? Even so, come Lord Jesus. My first response is to demand that God would act, that God would intervene, that God would also say enough. Much like the Psalmist whose tears drench his couch (Psalm 6:6-7), the widowed prophet Anna who fasts and prays in anticipation (Luke 2), and bereaved Rachel because of massacred children in Ramah, I also expect God to bring a new day (Matthew 2:18).

Advent is a liturgical reminder that we are a people in waiting for the world to be made new and right. Yet we wait not on our hands. Our Advent-ing is active. We have a living hope (1 Pt 1:3) that must be embodied, pursued, and lived into for the sake of our neighbors near and far. We inaugurate our future hopes in the present, the hear and now.

That said, my other response to suffering at the hands of the violent is to remember our call as the church. Advent awakens our memory to be peace-makers, hope-givers, dream-sharers, burden-carriers, and soul-tenders.

This begs the question- how? What can we do in the face of such atrocities as what took place on Friday? How can we live out our identity as Jesus' disciples within a world yet to be healed of senseless violence? How can we live into the peaceable kingdom of God in the midst of a society bent on aggression and assault?

Pray. We often undervalue and lose sight of the reality that our prayers do matter. I am not sure how. I am not sure why some prayers seem to be met with circumstantial and social change and others seem as though they have fallen on def ears, but I keep praying...I hope you will, too. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Look in the Mirror: We all need to consider how we perpetuate cycles and patterns of violence. Our language, sources of entertainment, video games, movies, music, and manners in which we deal with personal conflict also deeply matter. It can even be said that the purchases and investments we make sometimes sustain industries and promote cultural narratives that feed on violence and weapons wielded in war. So we must take a look and ponder our own contributions to a violent world and choose instead to speak life. We must take a look at our laws. We must be willing to change, "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change." (President Barack Obama, 12/17/12)

Listen and Learn: Ignorance is not bliss. Instead, learn about how violence is crippling individuals and communities locally and globally. Make space to listen to the stories of victims of violence. Celebrate the heroes and sheroes who have worked towards past and present change without resorting to violence. Allow yourself to develop a prophetic imagination that sees beyond the myths of redemptive violence that only breed more violence.

Speak Up and Advocate: Stand on the side of those victimized by violence and work towards social policies that help alleviate violence. Research gun control laws, anti-bullying campaigns, peacemaking organizations, and justice programs. Even more practically, befriend those often pushed to the margins of your school, place of work, neighborhood, and city. When you have a hunch that something is not right and the seeds of violence are being planted- speak up and work with those who can move towards possible prevention.

Create Opportunities to Partner: Rally together with others who share a passion for peacemaking and organize together for the purpose of educating others about and supporting victims of violence. Partner with organizations that share your convictions and work towards wholistic change.

Dare to Hope: One of the most subversive disciplines of Christian life is that we hope in a God whose promise is for the whole world to be made new and right. We have a hope and confidence that the Way of Jesus- a way of non-violence and peace, of justice and compassion, and the beginnings of a world where tears and sorrow are no more- will win out in the end. This is a hope that we live into just as much as we hold onto it, especially at Advent. This is a hope we proclaim, especially in the aftermath of gross tragedies.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.Where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seekto be consoled as to console;to be understood as to understand;to be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive;it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
---St. Francis of Assisi

[1] Silver Surfer comic above found in Walter Winks, Engaging the Powers (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, p. 230).

[2] I do not usually post videos of politicians. I tend to try to stay out of the public support/condemnation of partisan issues, but this video of Joe Scarborough (R) from Morning Joe bears witness to political and personal change needed for these tragedies to end. So while I may typically vote ____, I am grateful for his a-partisan voice here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Enough Advent Already: Prayers for Newtown


They say Advent is a season of waiting. They say Advent is a season of hoping. They say Advent is about expectation for Christ to come again and make all things new.

I say this. I believe this. I expect this.

Yet, how long, O Lord!?

Liturgical seasons serve to help the church and God's people live into and remember the sacred rhythm of our shared story of promise.

Still, as I continue to watch the newsfeeds and live streamings of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, which took the lives of 20 innocent children and 6 adults, I am not sure we need a liturgical calendar to remind us of our waiting, hoping, longing, and expecting for the world to be be be new. The stories of mass shootings in movie theaters and elementary schools, prank calls to hospitals that exploit helpful nurses, bombings in the Holy Land, bullying in public schools, and a whole host of other rhythmic tragedies seem to serve the same sort of purpose. This does not even include other personal stories and experiences of pain and suffering.

I have a whole host of thoughts running rampant through my mind, but the only one that seems pertinent today and every day, Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

On the cusp of this third week of Advent, which typically hinges on joy, we are reminded of the many who instead sit in sorrow and weep over victims of violence and injustice. We lift in prayer those who wait this advent not because of liturgy but due to tragic reality. We are reminded that Christ cannot come soon enough. So while we may hold a confidence and trust that God can and will make all things new and right with the second Advent, the time in between the two is often difficult to endure.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus! How long, O Lord!

I was reading this just before my wife texted me to turn on the news today:

"Let us not fail to see that the people of our times stand in anxiety and need before the closed wall of death, hardly aware in any way of the world that may be waiting behind it, and that in any case we do not do well to hurry on before them, building our speculative dreams, attending to our much business of evangelism or social service and asserting the immediacy of our religious experience. For the sake of the suffering of the millions, for the sake of the blood shed for many that cries against us all, for the sake of the fear of God, let us not be so sure! Such sureness is only a synonymn for smugness."

Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, 85

May the liturgy of Advent not turn into sacred smugness. Instead, may we grieve with those who grieve, mourn with those who mourn, and wait with those who wait.

May we also work towards whatever changes are necessary, both in legislation and personal transformation, to see that violence is lessened and children are no longer victimized.

Enough with guns! Enough with mediums and messages that promote aggression!

We can do better. We must do better.

Our children depend upon it. They can no longer wait.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

"As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right. This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws - and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait."

Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

A Few Resources:

Prayer of Confession by Marian Wright Edelman

PCUSA Resources in Response to Gun Violence

Let's About Talk Guns by Bruce Reyes-Chow

Questions of Faith in the Face of Fear Ministering with and for young people in the wake of tragedy (

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Are Your Hopes for Youth This Advent? Whispers of Encouragement Across Generational Lines

"However we may be justified in wagging our heads over modern youth's fantastic drive for freedom, it is certain that our final attitude cannot be surprise and opposition; the youth movement of the present time in all its phases is directed against authority for its own sake, and whoever desires to be an educator today must...stand in principle upon the side of our younger people" ---Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 292

We youth pastors and youth directors are all-too-familiar with the assumption that youth ministry is a temporary gig, a junior level position, and the first rung on the ladder to higher vocational aspirations. We are often asked if we consider ourselves to be "lifers" in youth ministry, which is really another way of saying, when are you leaving here to be a "real" pastor.

This sort of posture towards youth pastors and youth directors relegates the spiritual formation and discipleship of young people to second-rate ministry in the church. It also further widens the already-existing gap between generations, communicating that the "real" work of the church belongs to adults.

The opening citation by one of the church's greatest theologians suggests that anytime youth ministry and those called to labor alongside young people are denigrated and devalued, the Swiss pastor rolls in his grave. The church must always be on the side of "our younger people." We must learn from their longings for freedom and their thirsts for justice. We must encourage their creativity and innovation as they live out the gospel in ways we may never have dreamed possible.

We must also be sure they hear our words of hope, our whispers of encouragement, and our advocacy for their ability to do far more than we, and maybe they, ever dreamed possible. In a world that constantly streams negativity and anxiety-laden messages, our words of support and solidarity will be welcomed messages of relief and liberation.

As I prayed and contemplated about what text to speak about to youth on the second Sunday of Advent, I stumbled upon Luke 2:22-38. Luke's narration of the Messianic family's encounter with Simeon and Anna is an invitation to lean into the gospel that knows no limits to age or gender. That is, the voices of hope and deliverance are from the mouths of the older members of the faithful people of God. And they speak promise to the next generation. They know the message of this child will not be received by all. They know the road ahead my be difficult and filled with seasons of sorrow. Still, they invite the new parents, who hold the Christ child in their arms, to hold onto the same hope that sustained them into their old age. This hope that was now awakened in the Christ child, "God with us."

This story led me to invite a few of our seasoned members in our congregation to share some of their echoes of hope with the youth of our congregation. What are their dreams for the younger generations as they follow Jesus in this world? Where and how do they already witness young people as faithful disciples of Jesus the Messiah? Here are a few of their beautiful and hope-filled responses that may resonate with our spirits this Advent:

"I hope they don't get stuck, and if they do I hope they don't stay that way. I hope they never fight a new way of being. I hope that when their dreams change, they stay passionate. My dream for them is that they dream big, that they realize this is their time and they should do everything in their power to work and make the difference God put them on earth to make.

I pray they remember the people Jesus hung out with...I pray they remember they were sent into this world with the promise of peace and they are to share this promise with others. I pray they remember it is not about them; it is about Jesus, and they are to be the example. I pray they remember it is about forgiveness." ---Jeanne

"...take the actions we should have [for the planet]. Another concern is the prevailing feeling that today's youth can't hope to "live" as well as their parents. I would say that that's baloney. Don't define yourself by comparisons with the past; define yourself by your own dreams based on today's and tomorrow's realities and strive to achieve those dreams. One of my favorite sayings is "Today is the first day of the rest of your life..." [Youth's] strength and clarity of purpose always amazes me and affirms to me that they are on the path Jesus wanted in spite of all the roadblocks we "elders" have put in their path. I've seen many examples of how their experiences in youth group - retreats, mission trips, and the like - have changed them into disciples. I also see the strength that being a part of a group that follows Jesus brings, since I know that following Jesus isn't always seen as "cool" ---Burt

"My hopes for today's youth are that their lives would be lived around those enduring true narratives--God is good--all the time! God is trustworthy--even and especially in those crappy times when He seems far away. I would hope that they learn to look at their world, their lives, their blessings, the things that bring them joy, the past worries that have worked out, and see God's hand in all of it....Our hope would be that our youth would continue to find ways to do acts of goodness--their expression of loving God and loving their neighbors. It makes me think of learning to "be in the world but not of the world". This is an area where I believe youth already are often way ahead of us "elders". They question the values the world puts out there, and in doing so, can learn a better way. One that works for peace, justice, and brings the message of God's love through Jesus to the world." ---Jay & Judy

"I want youth to be the church that is the community of faith, community of hope, community of love and community of witness. I pray that youth find in their congregation [and] in our life together, such a witness. I see our youth witnessing to each other and to our community as they participate in worship, in mission trips, in interactions with our members, as they share statements of faith through Confirmation and as they live out those statements. I want to see youth challenge us to be the body we say we are or that we strive to be." ---Leah Johnson

There were others, too. Thanks to all who shared. My prayer is for youth in our congregations to be affirmed over and again of their missional call in and for the world. I pray they hear whispers of hope, not only at Advent, but throughout the year.

I pray we as adults and educators alike stand on the side of youth not only in principle, but also in action. May we listen to their unique contributions to theology, their innovative expressions of the church, and their deepest longoings to live into the gospel of justice and peace near and far.

May we do life together as a diverse and inter-generational community of faith, which hinges on amazement found in the person and work of this One they called Jesus.

Related Post: "Do Youth Trust Adults?"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Malls, Unicorns, and a Liturgical Season for Hipsters: Week 1 Advent Reflections

I know that I should not be surprised by this, but I was.

This past October, my wife and I took our kids to the new play yard at the local mall. We had been more or less trapped indoors due to the immense rainfall related to Superstorm Sandy and, to put it mildly, our kids needed to burn off energy. Actually, WE needed them to burn off the energy.

After we had carted our mini-circus into the last-place-on-earth I want to spend a Saturday afternoon, I immediately noticed the awkward array of seasonal decorations. Halloween and Christmas decor intermingled throughout this local temple of consumer America. Ads for costume sales right next to Kris Kringle. Festive lights nearby jack-o-lanterns and black cats. Cheery cliches buttressed with trick-or-treat necessities.

It was not even Halloween and the advertisers and marketing specialists were pushing Christmas into October. So what we were left with was a mix between joy to the world and Friday the 13th. Hope and fear were strung up together.

I love the recent tweet by @occupyadvent, which was accompanied by the photo above:








This tweet suggests, then, that celebrating Christmas in October is ludicrous.

We are a culture that does not like to wait, especially at Christmas. Yet that's precisely what the liturgical season of Advent calls for- waiting. We are invited to rest in anticipation and expectation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wait, Advent's Here Already? A Few Helpful Resources for the Liturgical Season

Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the waiting and anticipating. I look forward to each week's unique encounter with the Christmas narrative. Like Lent, I appreciate the sacred rhythm and unique liturgy that draws us into and sends us from the Jesus story.

Advent reminds us that, despite all evidence to the contrary, God is indeed among us, with us, for us, and before us. We can confess this because God came as one of us.

Karl Barth says it best,

"But is Christ in us? Is Christ even in present-day society? We hesitate to answer and we know why we hesitate....But if Christ is in us, then society, in spite of its being on the wrong course, is not forsaken of God. The 'image of the invisible God,' the 'firstborn of every creature' in us (Col. 1:15), indicates a goal and a future...So: we bid you hope" (The Word of God and The Word of Man 274-275).
The first Advent reminds us to hold on hope for the second Advent, when Christ will come again and make all things new. Our encounter with Advent awakens us to live into this future hope in our ever-day present.

"Advent is also a pilgrimage. A time of sacred travel. It is a way that we answer what Goethe called "the holy longing." During Advent we will leave the place of our birth to journey to the birthplace of another. It is an invitation to be born again." (Rose Marie Berg)
Advent is also a unique opportunity to engage in creative and comtemplative expressions of holy ritual. Whether it be lighting and Advent wreath on Sunday mornings and each night at dinner, reading a particular devotional each evening before bed, or listening to favorite seasonal music, the formative traditions of Advent must not be bypassed. They are playful yet sacred reminders of who we are as the pilgrim people of God.

That said, I thought I would share a few of my favorite Advent practices that guide me to December 25th.

Christmas Albums

Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens (any of the volumes or sing-along are good!)

Snow Angel by Over the Rhine (free on

Advent Songs by Sojourn

Christmas Songs by Jars of Clay

Devotionals/Spiritual Disciplines

Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent

Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen

Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle (section for Advent)

Daily Readings for Advent 2012 (Revised Common Lectionary & PCUSA Book of Common Worship)

Non-Traditional Advent Songs and Dinner-Table Reflection Discussion Starters

Alternative Giving

Ideas for Reclaiming Advent and Christmas (PCUSA Just Living)

Advent Conspiracy:

Other Interesting Seasonal Reads/Listens

It's Not Christmas Yet by Rob Bell (Relevant Magazine)

Advent TNT Extravaganza (Homebrewed Christianity Podcast)

Advent in a Crumbling Empire by Shelley Douglass (

The Habit of Advent by Rose Marie Berg (

Top 10 Resources for Advent 2012 (

St. Nicholas Wasn't White and Other Thoughts on the Bishop of Myra 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Do Youth Trust Adults? Response to a Recent Conversation with Ministry Colleagues

There's nothing like returning to the church office after Thanksgiving vacation and responding to a few emails that have sat dormant for a few days..uh...weeks.

One of those emails was sent by a friend and colleague in ministry who continues to reflect on the current generation of youth and their supposed (lack of) connection to and/or potential distrust of adults and the church. My friend wrote:

"Have [youth] made vows (either consciously or unconsciously) that they will not trust adults, adult systems/institutions, and perhaps God? [Are] these trauma-initiated vows keeping this generation away from church more than anything else we are talking about?"

I found this question to be incredibly provocative and pertinent. I also was in need of a fresh blog post. That said, below is an edited and expanded response to my pastor friend. I can think of no better way to recover from tryptophan and prepare for the fast-approaching Advent season than to contemplate the relationship between this generation of youth, adults, and related church systems and institutions. I would love to hear your reflections...

Happy Thanksgiving. Blessed Advent.

Pastor Friend and Youth Advocate,

There is clear probability for contemporary youth to be traumatized by the lack of advocacy and intervention by adults in regards to the increasingly violent and oppressive rhythms of contemporary society and media-driven, consumer culture. That's why I often recommend to adults in my suburban context, Death by Suburb, by David Goetz. He argues that, especially in the 'burbs, youth have tragically become collateral for adults, utilized to buy particular "immortality symbols," prestigious status, and much desired glory. Youth are crucified upon crosses of AP classes, endless travel sports teams, music lessons, college tours, etc. They face so much pressure to achieve not always for their benefit, but frequently for the benefit of the adults who are lauded when their sons and daughters "succeed."

I also believe most youth are too busy to be kids, too tired to play, and too overworked academically that they do not have the brain power left to contemplate other pertinent and formative conversations beyond the walls of their high schools. They come to church drained...if they come at all. Then you talk to their parents. They either throw their hands in the air because they don't know how to escape or they toss out lines to young parents like myself, "you will understand how tough it is one day." This is a fatalist mentality that has co-opted the conscience of adults. They have, sometimes unknowingly, exchanged their identity as disciples for myths of achievement within this rat race to nowhere. As a result, their kids are losing their minds. They have also begun to lose their primary advocates within the church, i.e. the adults who are called to form, shape, and send them as participants within the liberating kingdom of God.

So, to answer your question, do I think youth "distrust" adults? No.

I think they long for adults to step in as advocates of a different way of being in the world. They crave adult attention and intervention within a culture that victimizes them through mass media and technology. They are looking for good news of rest and acceptance, to be called beloved with no strings attached, in a world saturated with pressure, anxiety, and increasingly high demands. They want to be told they are not defined by numbers, letters, extra curricular activities, or class schedules. Hence our youth ministry's name: imago Dei.

That said, I actually think youth do trust adults. Which is why they continue to flounder in the very sea of anxiety that adults (and the church?) are telling them is either acceptable or unavoidable. They are listening, watching, and waiting for their message. Yet these same adults are also beginning to evaporate from a larger and more meaningful participation in church life, mission, and formative practices.

This is why it is imperative for youth ministry not to exist in isolation form the broader mission, vision, and activity of the larger congregation. While we may charge youth pastors to teach youth about the Bible, related ethics, faith, commitment to the church, etc., we often forget that we cannot cure cancer with tylenol. In other words, when larger tumors of passivity and idolatry are growing in the adult populous, we cannot expect to alleviate the reoccurring symptoms of adolescent fatigue, depression, and disinterest in matters of faith and discipleship within the church. We must look for a better and more effective treatment that works to shrink the root cause of these symptoms.

In essence, your question affirms my hypotheses that the church needs a broader narrative for Sunday morning liturgy, preaching, adult ed courses, fellowship events, missional partnerships, and discipleship programs. We need to reinvision our institutional language and paradigms. We need to see our investment in the spiritual formation of adults within our congregations, many who are parents of teenagers, as deeply connected to the vision and goals of youth (and children's) ministries. Better said, our youth depend upon the spiritual formation of the adult populous because they do trust them...

They trust them so much that when they stop being involved in the do they...

When adults stop innovating and creating fresh church do they...

When those they look up to and admire hesitate to consider radical opportunities to incarnate the gospel in their neighborhoods, communities, and places of do they...

These are all reasons why youth not only struggle to be the much needed missional players in the ecclesial present, but also grow weary in the quest to be those whom God calls and sends to form and shape our ecclesial future.

Again, do I think youth are leaving or will leave the church because they don't trust us as adults? No.

But they may leave because the adults they do trust never offered them anything unique, substantive, or imaginative.

I look forward to on-going conversations...


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Book of Ruth: Yahweh's Obscure Redemption through a Foreigner, Widow, and Wealthy Landowner

The story could not start off any worse. Famine in Judah has forced a small Hebrew family to flee their beloved homeland and find refuge in Moab. Yes, Moab. Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, are forced to shift residency and dwell among a foreign people.

It would be easy for us, as readers far removed from the foreign relations of ancient Israel, to skip over this detail and miss the intensity and offense that launches this biblical narrative into its subversive plot. But a Jewish reader or hearer living in antiquity would certainly not miss the punch that has been thrown.

The Moabites are enemies to Israel. They are dreaded dwellers in the region just opposite of Judah and across the Dead Sea. They are a people whose biblical ancestry stems from the incestual relations Lot had with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). The Moabites have not once demonstrated compassion or neighborly love towards God's covenanted people, actually their king sent Balaam to curse the numerous people who had "come out of Egypt" (Num. 22). They are ultimately remembered for leading Israelites into Baal worship through the seduction of a few of their women (Num. 25:1-3). They are then forever shunned and forbidden from the worshipping community and assembly of the pilgrimaging Israelites (Deut. 23:3-6; Nehemiah 13:1-3). That said, the writer of Deuteronomy incorporates among the miscelaneous laws for the nomadic Hebrews:

"You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live" (23:6).

Yet this is precisely where this family from Judah now calls home. Their welfare is wrapped up in the welfare of Moab. But it gets worse, especially for Naomi.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sex, Sexuality, Youth Ministry, and The Church: Moving Beyond Accountability Groups

The high school youth ministry I grew up in was obsessed with conversations about sex and sexuality. Whenever we were polled by leadership on potential retreat topics, this one received a high percentage of votes. Whenever it lost, it was either to its companion, "relationships," or obsessions with the apocalypse.

What was also very popular was the "accountability group." I was a part of several. They never seemed to last for more than a few months, if that. Same-gender youth, often with an adult leader, would meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and share about life. We read Scripture, prayed, and encouraged one another. But mostly these groups evolved into conversations about sexual "temptations," how to avoid them, and what to do if we "stumbled." These gatherings got real interesting whenever someone was dating another member of the youth group.

I am grateful for the willingness of my peers to be so vulnerable and open about a delicate and awkward topic. However, what resulted was a hyper-sexualized theology that was all about fear, avoidance, and unending anxiety whenever in the presence of a member of the opposite sex. God, faith, Christianity, and the church became about codes of conduct for co-ed interactions, especially romantic ones.

Then, many years later, I became a Presbyterian youth pastor. While sexuality was an important and highly debated point of conversation at the denominational level, it was not one the youth ministry was as interested in having corporately. It certainly was not at the top of desired retreat topics. We definitely refrained from preaching about it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. As a youth pastor, I was somewhat relieved. Sex and sexuality are not exactly on my list of "Favorite Things to Preach About with Regularity."

This new reality was not because the youth or larger congregation did not have their opinions on the sensitive topic. It just seemed to be too delicate of a conversation to engage publicly, especially in a denomination where there is a beholder of every opinion and convictiction under the sun.

I venture to say that what prevented the topic from being discussed was/is fear.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Brief Word to Encourage Relief Efforts

Just over seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

I remember being glued to the television set, as I viewed endless footage of mind-boggling and surreal photos and videos.

I remember members of churches, to include my own, being eager and willing to rent and load trucks full of relief supplies. They even drove straight through the night to deliver the load and investigate opportunities to partner and serve.

I remember our youth ministry spending a week with an eager and hopeful pastor and the remnants of her congregation. She rallied together every last resource, volunteer, service organization, and prayer, confident that NOLA could and would rebuild.

There were phone-a-thons and benefit concerts. There were prayer services and food and water drives. Even George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton partnered for the sake of Katrina victims.

But that was seven years ago. That was a three-hour flight away.

Hurricane Sandy was this week. Hurricane Sandy was here on the Northeast Coast.

I was challenged this morning as I watched more footage of the Jersey Shore, Manhattan, and Staten Island devastated by this freakish storm. Places I have visited, streets I have walked, boardwalks I have perused, and beaches I have layed upon were under water and washed away.

I began to wonder: would the passion and energy invested in the development of partnerships and relief efforts to a region far away be matched by compassion and solidarity offered to neighbors a quick drive across the Ben Franklin Bridge?

My hope and prayer is that we would rally together as a people to support all our neighbors whenever they are drenched in despair. We are to offer endless compassion in the wake of overwhelming suffering near and far.

"What we call sympathy or in German Mitleid- literally, with-suffering. To feel compassion, deeply and sincerely, is to overcome the subject/object division; it is to suffer with the other...Etymologically, of course, the word compassion contains the same thrust as does the German Mitleid: com(with) + passio (suffering)." ---Douglass John Hall

That said, I encourage all to look for opportunities to donate time, talent, and resources to extend a "with-suffering" spirit to victims of Superstorm Sandy. Every little bit helps.

Here are a few ways you can be off aid:



[1] Taken from a great read, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why We (don't) Celebrate Halloween: Four Reasons We Hold the Day in Tension

I grew up a fanatic of Halloween. There was the scarecrow year, when my family learned I was allergic to hay. [1] There was the Ninja Turtle year, when we realized green paint takes a long time to wash away. There was the elderly man year, when I lost a portion of my eyebrow due to the adhesive used to glue on the gray. I have been a Care-bear, a baseball player, a Ghostbuster, and a teenager (that was the year I wanted the treats without the effort). Along the way, I have consumed a ridiculous amount of candy.

My wife grew up in a family where they were excused from school on Halloween. Instead of parading around as ghouls and goblins, they spent the day on family field trips. They went to fun places and celebrated life together, free from symbols of fear and death. These were sacred adventures, which Amber continues to hold dear to her heart. While they may not have participated in parades or trick-or-treating, they were not without experiences laughter and fun. They also ate a lot of candy.

So, who was right? Which one was more or less "Christian?"

What would we do as a family, play dress up and trick-or-treat or provide alternatives to celebrations of horror and mischief?

When we were married, without kids, and lived in road-side apartments sans trick-or-treaters, the question was easy. Now that we live in a vibrant community with not only a ton of kids, but also having two of our own, we decided to hold October 31st in tension.

Four Reasons We Hold the Day in Tension

Monday, October 22, 2012

Call to Worship, Prayers of Confession, and Awkward Applause: Youth Leading in Liturgy

While I consider myself much more comfortable within contemporary expressions and forms of worship, I continue to cling to the beauty of Christian liturgy and ordo. In that sense, I am a traditionalist. There is something about the sacred rhythm of worship services, sacramental praxis, and ecclesial seasons that allows individuals and communities alike to be reminded over and again of our identity and missional call in and for the world.

I love to write prayers. I am fond of carefully crafted calls to worship that draw us away from distraction and into the presence. Confession is something I depend upon each week, and each day, reassured that God can and will make me, and the world, right again. I anticipate the benediction, reminded that worship does not conclude with a period, rather extends like an ellipsis. We live out our discipleship in between sacred gatherings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Facebook Anxiety and Twitter Insecurity: A Caution to Youth Pastors

Facebook can make a youth pastor feel inadequate.

Twitter can cause youth workers to feel as though we are never doing enough.

Social media can help us connect with youth in ways that reinvent and open new avenues for pastoral care. But it also can sink us into deep inferiority complexes laced with anxiety and uncertainty about the quality, creativity, or popularity of our ministry programs and activities.

Many vocations caution their employees about spending too much company time on-line. Some block social networking sites from their employee's computers. My job actually requires me to spend significant time tweeting, friending, blogging, and texting in efforts to connect with youth, families, and other members of our church and local community. And while I am a huge fan of these sites, I also find them overwhelming.

Each day I scroll through my newsfeeds and am bombarded by a variety of posts and tweets accompanied with related photos, videos, links, invites, and comments made about past, present, and upcoming activities. As someone who works in the church, I often experience sensory overload in regards to what is going on in churches all over the country.

Youth pastors post about retreats, community outreach, curriculum content, events, attendance figures, presence at Friday night football games, partnerships, coffehouse gatherings, clever video creations, and a whole lot more.

And I am one of these very youth pastors.

Yet each time I encounter a post or tweet from a colleague it becomes easy to get defensive, competitive, envious, or anxious about the quality and effectiveness of "my" ministry.

Should I be doing more? Should I try that? They are lying, there wasn't 80 youth there! Make sure I post a pic next time I am out with students so all the world knows I am a good, fun, and relational youth pastor.

I find that social media significantly enhances youth ministry and relationships with youth. Social media can also lead a youth pastor to serve trend and the increasing need for peer approval and facebook likes versus the One who called them into their particular youth ministry and ecclesial context.

Youth ministry then becomes a competive virus that saps the life out of youth pastors. When youth ministries become overly consumed with social media they can also cause youth pastors, youth leaders, and the youth in these witnesses to the kingdom to crumble under the weight of an insanely competitve and pressure-soaked culture. We must be cautious not to feed into a culture that thrives on quests to impress and myths of achievement. Instead, offer good news that God's love is for us regardless of the number of followers, friends, or retweets.

When I was in high school and middle school, I remember the intense awkwardness and constant awareness of my appearance, posture, rhetoric, and (in)ability to fit in with the "it" crowd. Insecurity was certainly at an all-time high. And that was before social media. I cannnot imagine what it would be like to live as an adolescent within this technological age.

Or can I?

While I will continue to use social media and other on-line mediums for ministry and community formation, I must remember that I serve not to impress anyone. Each of us have been called to our context, vision, program, and people by the One who made us in the imago Dei and invited us to follow as Jesus' disciples. There is no other identity that can trump.

It's about time I start hearing my own preaching. Especially as I scroll through my newsfeeds.


Related Articles

Is Facebook Killing Our Souls? by Shane Hipps

Facebook Envy by Brianna DeWitt

Why Social Media Is Good for Us by Caleb Gardner

Why Do We Even Talk Anymore (a post I made that was featured in Conspire Magazine on-line

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's About Time: Orioles Return to Postseason After 14 Losing Seasons

I was in utero when Ripken caught the final out on the turf of the Vet in 1983. The Baltimore Orioles were World Champions.

My voice had just started to crack the year another 12-year old, by the name of Jeffrey Maier, reached over the right-field wall at Yankee stadium and interfered with the Oriole's Tony Tarasco's ability to catch a mere fly ball in the eighth inning. Instead, it's ruled a homerun by right-field umpire, Ray Garcia. The Evil Empire goes on to take a 1-0 series lead and both Jeter and Maier are deemed NY heroes en route to their own World Championship in 1996. I still cannot speak the name Jeffrey Maier without twitching in angst.

Then there was 1997, a year we held first-place for the entire season. Wire-to-Wire. The Birds were destined, and favored, to win it all. Despite stellar pitching performances from their ace, Mike Mussina, '97 would result in the same disappointment.

and then there was 1998...

and 1999...

and 2000...

and 2001...

14 straight losing seasons.

Since then I have moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia, graduated college, married the love of my life, graduated seminary, had twins, bought a house, and held onto the faintest hope that maybe my children would see the day of meaningful October baseball. I have lived as an exile in Philadelphia, singing the songs of the Phillies, and participating in championship parades down Broad Street in the City of Brotherly Love. Yet my heart remains in Baltimore. My sports fanaticism is purely linked to Charm City.

My baseball blood is orange and black.

During my lifetime, I have had to rely on legends of the Oriole Way and Oriole Magic that resulted in the two-and-a-half decades of championship caliber baseball. These were the 60's, 70's, and early 80's.

But they were just tales, myths, and aging stories.

So as I sit here sipping coffee on the morning of the Orioles first playoff game in 15 years, there is new meaning to bird brain. I am jittery. I am anxious. I am excited. I am confident. I am nervous. I am hungry.

It's been a long wait. Baseball is back in Baltimore. We have a determined and reputable manager, peeking prospects, unabashed rookies, and a front office that is finally getting it right.

Buck Showalter continues to say the team is playing with "house money." No one expected them to be where they are. They were supposed to lose 90+ games.

They won 93.

And they have to win 94 if this magical run is to continue.

8:30 p.m. could not come soon enough. #BUCKleUP

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mumford & Sons as Lyric for Missional Partnerships

I have been waiting for quite some time for Mumford & Sons to release their sophomore album. I am still waiting for someone to write a Lenten-themed production of Sigh No More, which could be performed on Broadway...or at least in my church.

The British poets have a knack for overlapping prophetic overtones with innovative instrumentals and edgy vocals that run parallel to the sacred narrative of Scripture and real human experience. They take a risk in their music and their message. The result is fertile ground for fresh and faithful dialogue with those who find Sigh No More and Babel significant contributions to their iTunes library.

The lyrics of Sigh No More continues to capture my theological imagination. Lyrics from a variety of tracks have ventured into numerous prayers, sermons, and off-the-record conversations with youth and adults alike.

hold on hope...

you were made to meet your maker...

love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free..

Then as I drove home yesterday, newly-downloaded Babel blasting through my speakers, I heard these lyrics:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Flood Story: Why We Named Our Son Noah

The flood story in Genesis is one of my favorites. We named our son after this biblical narrative. I know, cliche for a youth pastor to name his kids after something or someone from Scripture.

Deal with it.

Yet the reasons we chose Noah may be different than you expect. The story of the flood, as one of my students remarked Sunday morning, has been taken for granted and thereby misunderstood. We often read into the narrative details that are not actually present, such as God being "angry" at "sinful" humanity and so bent on their destruction. [1] Compare that to, "the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:6). In the words of another student, God grieves?

Yes. And you only grieve for that which you love.

Still more, God saves through this story. God promises in this story. God makes all things new through this story, which is in need of being lifted out of its own waters of misunderstanding.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Just Want Some Rest: Ancient Longings in Babylon and the Bible

Tiamat v. Marduk
"Their ways have become very grievous to me, by day I cannot rest, by night I cannot sleep. I shall abolish their ways and disperse them! Let peace prevail, so that we can sleep." [1]

No, this is not the exclamation of a parent of twins when one child wakes the other and causes mad chaos at 3 a.m. This also is not a direct quote from a middle school youth pastor when on "retreat" with 30 confirmation students.

This is the voice of Apsu, a primordial god in the ancient Babylonian "Epic of Creation," also known as "Enuma Elish. [2]

One of the many plotlines within Enuma Elish regards Apsu's and Tiamat's desire to be liberated from the clamour caused by the lesser gods they created when they "mixed their waters together." [3] They cannot tolerate the noise and long to be set free from disturbance. The agitated Apsu plots against the lesser gods, only for his scheme to be intercepted by Ea, who then conspires and slays his begetter. The corpse of Apsu becomes the very dwelling place for Ea and his lover, Damkina, who conceive Marduk, the savior of all the lesser gods. It is said of Marduk, "The nurse who reared him filled him with awesomeness."

Almost as good as being created in the imago Dei, but not quite.

The gist of this ancient epic consists in a vengeful Tiamat going to battle against awesome Marduk, who has been annointed by Ea and the rebel gods as their defender. Tiamat longs for rest. Marduk longs for deliverance. A violent war, according to Enuma Elish, is the only possible means to achieve either or both.

Marduk ultimately defeats Tiamat and creates the heavens and the earth from her body split in two. Creation is born out of violence. Deliverance from chaos achieved through the means of war. The hope for rest by this primordial goddess of the oceans is thwarted.

Then we turn to Genesis 1.

The writer declares that a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters" within a formless and void earth.

God stills the chaos and births creation:

light separated from darkness

sky separated from seas

seas separated from land

vegetation and fruit everywhere

day and night in right rhythm

living creatures and swimming fish

humanity made in the image of their Creator

a call to co-labor and bear fruit in the world God made

and rest.

"So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation" (2:3).


The stories could not be more different. Yet both stories traveled the oral tradition grapevine at the same time and in the same place- Babylon of sixth century B.C.- home to both oppressive empire and exiled Israel.

The Babylonian story intertwines a longing for rest within a story of violence, vengegance, chaos, and rage.

The story told by ancient Israel, probably on the shores of Babylon, illustrates rest as the culmination of God's brilliant and generous act of creation, a creation deemed as good.

No violence. No vengenace. No death. No chaos.


If we are honest, the voice of Apsu and the misison of Tiamat jives with our own longings. We want to slay clamoured schedules, eradicate ruckus pressures, and silence disruptive voices that make us feel as though we are never doing enough. We live in a hurried culture that makes the sacred rhythm of Genesis appear as fantasy and the sabbath rest a blockade to efficiency. We are exiled from harmonious habitation and wonder if we will ever return to the way the Lord of Creation intended.

As those situated in Babylon wondered if they would ever return home to Jerusalem, we also wonder if we may make it back to Eden. We long for the story of Genesis but live in the story of Babylon. We wonder if we can have at least one day a week for rest.

Because when rest is neglected we become quite irritable, potentially hostile, and even volitile in our words and deeds. This God knows. We were created to be fruitful and multiply. We were created to reflect the image of God in ourselves and others. We were created to care for the creation God made as good. We were also created for sacred rhythm and rest. [4]

May it be so.

Before we stir up more chaos.


[1] Taken from, Myths from Mesopotamia, by Stephanie Dalley (Oxford 2008). Tablet I.

[2] This past Sunday, I led a conversation with high school students on both the creation stories in Genesis and this well-known creation story from ancient Babylon. We would be naive to think the stories in our Old Testament are the first, or last, of their kind when it comes to the narration of how all came into existence. That said, I took a chance in exposing youth to an exercise in contextualization. In other words, we considered the subversive nature of the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 when situated in a foreign land, i.e. Babylon, whose culture had a creation story of their own. I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm. Next week: Atrahasis!

[3] Apsu is known as the primordial God of fresh water. Tiamat is the primordial goddess of salt water and oceans. Some refer to her as the goddess of chaos. This makes for another interesting biblical contrast. Walter Wink provides incredible insight on this in his book, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.

[4] Check out Abraham Heschel's, The Sabbath, as tool for youth retreat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Will Never Forget: Two Different Reasons to Remember

I will never forget September 11th...

...because on September 11, 2011 our kids were baptized. The second Sunday of every month is when our congregation celebrates baptism and receives new members into the life and witness of our faith community. The second Sunday in September of 2011: the eleventh. So, needless to say, Amber and I will never forget the day when our kids entered the sacred and sending waters.

And we shouldn't. Baptism should indeed be something disciples of Christ always remember.

We remember to whom we belong.

We remember God's promise.

We remember we are only able to be faithful to God because, in Christ, God has first been faithful to us.

We remember we are a sent people, called to bear witness to God's future reconciliation of the whole world that is breaking into the here and now.

We remember that, by the Spirit, we participate in the dreams of God alongside the gathered and scattered people of God called the Church.

Each September 11th, Amber and I now remember the promises we made, alongside those who were gathered at Westminster with us, to raise and form our beautiful children in the Way of Christ.

But we also remember September 11, 2001.

I was a senior in high school. As I cut through the library after second period, I saw the t.v. screens and the smoking towers, convinced it was some sort of fictitious film. It wasn't. I was a peer counselor, a program designed to help students support other students. We did a lot of that on this day.

My dad was in Chicago for business when the rumors began that the "windy city" may be next.

The phones in the school offices were ringing off the hook, concerned parents who wanted their kids sent home.

That's exactly what our school did. My dad also hopped on the first bus out of Chicago and made it safely home the next day.

But that was certainly not true of all fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and others whose lives were lost through horrific acts of terrorism.

September 11th is a day to remember.

We remember that no nation is impermeable or immortal.

We remember how quickly people can flock to churches, synagogues, and mosques when tragedy strikes.

We remember how fast we return to or develop new prejudices, discriminations, and stereotypes.

We remember how easy it is to wage and warrant war.

We remember the fragility of life.

We remember lives lost and families who still mourn.

We remember the world is not the way God intended.

We remember heroes and sheroes.

We rememeber that humanity possesses the tremendous ability to unify and rally around one another in the midst of suffering.

We remember that we have a lust for retaliation and vengeance that cannot be satisfied by dollars or deaths, even those of our own.

We remember that we will do crazy things when we live in fear.

Septemeber 11th is certainly a day to remember. On this day, our family has both reason to rejoice and reason to grieve. On this day, our family holds in tension the memory of baptisms and the memory of history.

But we certainly remember. We will never forget.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

That's Awkward: 4 Strange Stories in the Old Testament

"That's awkward." Chalk this up as yet another catch phrase frequently heard whenever surrounded by teenagers. The statement is immediately followed by the "awkward turtle" gesture of overlaid hands and wiggling thumbs. When something is said in the wrong context that may lead youth to feel uncomfortable, out of sorts, embarrassed, or unable to elicit an adequate explanation, words may even be boycotted. Instead, one solely encounters the turtle.

I am not sure where I first witnessed this contemporary gesture. I am also unsure when it became an acceptable social response to discomfort (or is it?). Yet when I read certain stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. Old Testament, my phalange friend tends to make an occasional appearance and declare, "that's awkward."

Ah, the results of nearly a decade of youth ministry...

The Bible is a very complex collection of story, poetry, wisdom, prophetic witness, and ancient depictions of history. While many have tried to level the Scriptures into flat collections of do's and don'ts to be accepted, obeyed, and proclaimed without question or challenge, the awkwardness of particular elements within the biblical witness cannot be overlooked.

They are there. They always have been and they always will be there.

These awkward narratives invite us into faithful dialogue versus blind obedience. They provoke us to ask difficult questions. They lead us to raw and honest discovery as we live into raw and honest discipleship.

This fall, the Imago Dei Youth Ministry will work through a series, "That's Awkward: Strange Stories of the Bible." Each week we will gather, with our turtles, and engage difficult stories that raise eyebrows and welcome curiosity. Our hope and prayer is that God will not only meet us in our faithful uncertainty, but also send us to live with humility and wonder as the people of God in and for the world.

Here are a few stories I find difficult, with brief, unrefined, and modest musings. Feel free to add some of your own. Stay tuned for more to come this fall...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pilgrimage to Daylesford Abbey: On Retreat with Barth, Ignatius, and Lochman

A view of the Abbey from the fields
It was not until I was a freshman in college that I started to appreciate the church fathers, mothers, mystics, and contemplatives who saturated the first fifteen-hundred years of the Christian tradition. My Christian experience, up until a pivotal course on "The Foundations of Christian Spirituality," assumed (falsely) all that was good, right, and true for Christian theology and praxis really began in 1517. [1] Despite my maternal family's rich Catholic heritage, I was a Protestant.

However, my studies and meditations, both in college and seminary, led me to reclaim the first fifteen-hundred years of Christian spirituality as critical witnesses within my own faith heritage and tradition. I began to covet spiritual conversations with my grandparents, whom knew more than I ever realized about the saints, patristics, and mystics, and I soon read selections from the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila. [2]

I was captivated.

This past week, my appreciation and gratitude for these witnesses took on a whole knew level. I spent two days on personal retreat at the Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA, "a community of priests, brothers, and lay associates of the Norbertine order." [3] The disciplines of solitude, meditation, contemplation, and personal retreat, which lay at the heart of the Norbertine order and communal life, are often the first casualties to the hurried rhythm of Protestant pastors and ministry directors. We become so inundated with ecclesial responsibilities, intellectual ascent, and homiletical preparation that we confuse doing the work of Christ with the person of Christ. [4]

This is, at least, true for me. After nearly a decade of church work, study, and ministry, this past Thursday and Friday was the first time I EVER spent extended time away...alone...for prayer and contemplation. The chapels and fields of Daylesford Abbey provided fertile grounds for sacred pilgrimage through the invocation, petitions, and doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Guided by adaptations of Ignatius of Loyola's, Spiritual Exercises, Karl Barth's, The Christian LIfe, and Jan Milič Lochman's, The Lord's Prayer, I was blessed with the opportunity to rest in, wrestle with, and give thanks for the very real presence of God as Father, whose Spirit invites us all to live into the Kingdom of the Son personally and vocationally.

Below are a few excerpts from my readings, alongside photos that do no justice to the beauty of the Abbey. My hope and prayer is for all Christians, myself included, to make regular space for pilgrimages to places like Daylesford. These spiritual excursions take us on intense inward journeys that enable us to be sent outward to be the people of God in and for the world. They remind us that while God's love and grace are certainly universal, they are also deeply personal.

This is a truth that I am tempted to forget. Thanks be to God, who through the space, landscape, brothers, and fellow pilgrims who ventured to Daylesford Abbey, I was reminded once again.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Barth on Baptism: Excerpts of Summer Reading Part 1

Amber and I went back and forth when it came to the decision to baptize Noah and Lily. We were both baptized as infants. Actually, I was also baptized as an adult. [1] So when our kids were at the age when most babies in our PCUSA congregation are sprinkled with the sacred and sending waters, we had more than a few conversations.

And I was unsure.

I have always understood baptism as one's profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and the union of the new believer with a particular community of the baptized. It is a human response to the good news of God's once and for all saving action in Christ.

I have also understood baptism as a sign and symbol of God's claim on the baptized. It is God's announcement that "this is my child whom I love and am well pleased."

But which comes first- the human response or God's claim? When is someone old enough to respond? Should we not celebrate the good news that God claims us in Christ before we can even speak a word? But how can someone be baptized into a faith that is not actually their own?

Should we just double-dip everyone?

Is that what confirmation is all about, i.e. when we claim our baptisms and respond to God's already announced claim on us?

So we pondered: should we baptize Noah and Lily as infants or wait until they are old enough to profess faith on their own? Our tradition leaves it up to the parents, recognizing all forms of baptism, i.e. infant or believer's; sprinkling or immersion.

We ultimately decided to have our kids baptized on September 11, 2011 at the ripe age of nearly five months. It was a beautiful and sacred moment when we were able to celebrate, with our church and extended family, God's covenant made with our children and the shared responsibility to raise them in the Way of Jesus until they can claim this faith and covenant as their own.

But I still ponder, have we watered down the significance of baptism when we choose to sprinkle infants? Has baptism as a rite replaced baptism as a calling for new believers? Why is it so infrequent to see adult's baptized within Presbyterian and other mainline congregations? Are we not welcoming new believers into our communities?

I recently read through Barth's, "The Foundation of Christian Life," an excursus on baptism and the final published portion of his Church Dogmatics (Vol. IV.4) before he died in December, 1968 [2]. In this, the Swiss doctor of the church reminds the people of God that in and through our baptisms we become a "bearer of a new name," i.e. the name of Christ (3). We enter into covenanted relationship with all other gathered and scattered baptized as we live into the mission of God in and for the whole world. We join our history with the history of Jesus Christ, who continues to move the faithful forward and into the future redemption of all of creation (13).

Noah and Lily have not quite understood all this yet, despite my occasional whispering Scripture and Dogmatics into their ear. My prayer is one day they will. I also do not regret for a second the decision to baptize our babies versus wait until they are "of age."

Nonetheless, here are some excerpts from what I read recently, with minor commentary on a few surprising statements by the greatest Reformed theologian.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Vacation with Twins: 8 Things We Learned

The past two years have been a whirlwind in the Klimovitz home. And nothing has been more draining and more rewarding than the arrival of our twins, now 16 months old. While we have been blessed beyond belief, sometimes a better way to describe our double-dose introduction to parenthood is survival.

Our journey has been adventurous, joyous, and filled with laughter for sure. But it has not been easy. It is controlled chaos. Every day is an encounter with, what Amber has coined, the "twin-ado." Just take one look at the toy and snack debris in our basement after one afternoon and you will understand.

We often say around here that there is nothing we would rather do than spend time with our kids, but there are a whole lot of things we wish we could do.

Like vacation.

But this year, after a two-year hiatus, we finally got to venture to the beach and spend time away. The four of us made long hauls to Norfolk, VA and Emerald Isle, North Carolina. Yes, the twin-ado made its descent upon Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean beaches.

And we learned many things on our first two summer vacations as a family.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Eat Less Chicken? Neighborly Love and the Number 1 Combo


Number 1. No Pickle. American Cheese. Waffle Fries. Lemonade.

Six-piece nugget on the side if I am really hungry.

This has become one of my favorite meals to consume when I am on the go, on the road, or in the mall and craving a chicken sammy with BBQ sauce.

But as the Chick-Fil-A hype continues to build (or weaken), I find myself in a pickle.

Eat Less Chicken?

While I am not sure what the most faithful response to Chick-Fil-A may be, here are a few related rants that I have mulled over with friends, to include youth and adults, gays and straights, liberals and conservatives.

1. Stop Throwing Stones...and Nuggets, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lord's Prayer Doxology: Why Have I Not Read Jan Milič Lochman Sooner?

Potentially the most crucial line in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is one that the Messiah probably never spoke: "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen."

Matthew incorporates this line, albeit with an asterisk as reminder to the reader that the earliest manuscripts did not contain these words.

Luke does not have the doxology at all.

So where did this liturgical addition come from?

1 Chronicles 29:10-13?

"Then David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly; David said: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, for ever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name."


The Didache?

This collection of early apostolic teachings prescribes disciples gathered and scattered thrice daily to recite this prayer, including the doxology.

There are probably as many suggestions as there are stars in the sky for the origin of the doxology that concludes the traditional rendition of Jesus' Prayer. Regardless of where the doxology comes from, the lyric is critical for liturgical, theological, and related missional purposes.

True. Jesus may not have said it when initially asked about how to pray. After all, he needed no reminders in regards to whom the kingdom, the power, and the glory belonged.

But I do.

The church does.

We all do.

Maybe that's why it was added later, lest we forget.

As I have worked through this late arrival to the Abba Prayer, [1] much of my reflections have been guided by Jan Milič Lochman. The Czech theologian delivered an address to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1982, "Thine Is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory," and his words continue to echo relevance throughout a world saturated in unjust kingdoms, graceless powers, and quests for glory no matter what the cost.

So I find it best, as I muse about the doxology, to simply throw out a few snippets from the address and add my own commentary 30 years after these words were initially spoken in Ottawa, Ontario.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Final Reflections from Honduras: Hope in the Hills and Call Me, Maybe...

Tuesday morning began with a heart-wrenching, impromptu story from a local Honduran. He shared how he grew up in so much poverty and with so little assistance from the church that he thought "God loved the rich and did not care about the poor." His prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears when a child, as day after day not a single bag of corn was delivered by any sort of divine messenger.

So he decided to work his way out of poverty was more effective than spending time in church.

And he slowly has done just that.

This story put poverty in perspective for all of us gathered in the kitchen. So often short-term missions romanticize the poor with statements like, "they have so little but seem so happy" and "they have such a strong faith despite their circumstances." When our students heard this story they quickly learned that there is a deep darkness that hovers over poverty. The presence of God and the hope for all things to be made new are not always easy to discover in the wake of so much suffering.

But as one of our adult team members remarked, "there was hope today in the hills."

A two-and-a-half hour ride through the mountains landed us at a farm with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and innovative and organic agricultural technology, e.g. stoves fueled by methane generated by pig manure. The family who lives on this farm is supported by the Raos Cooperative, a Fair Trade Certified organization whose primary harvest is coffee beans.

There is nothing like sipping a cup of joe on a Honduran hillside with a side of fried plantains.

After our visit to the plantation, we sat in on a presentation by the Director of Quality Control at the Raos office. He shared with us the ins and outs of the coffee industry and how they go to great lengths to assure justice in farmer's wages and responsiblity towards the environment. They do this while at the same time harvesting premium roast coffee that trumps anything our Seattle-based corporation produces.

Needless to say, Upon my return home I will be switching brands for my morning brew.

Our group was captivated by what goes on behind the scenes in regards to the food and coffee we purchase. We also were encouraged by organizations like Raos, and Heifer International as one of their partners, who have dramatically improved the lives of families represented by the one we met today.

This past week has been an emotional roller coaster. We have seen the depths of Rural and urban poverty and encountered brilliant witnesses to the kingdom of God alive and well through organizations like Association for a More Just Society and Heifer International. We have had conversations about partnership and contemplated what the word means for us as Honduran and American youth.

Yet for me the weekend could not have ended any better than it did. While one of our vans traveled to and from the plantation, accompanied by our friends from Peña de Horeb, I played D.J. One of the van members suggested we attempt to reproduce a youtube video gone viral. I was not sure if the choreography was possible or if our Honduran friends would be interested.

I could not have been wrong.

The result was potentially one of the better illustrations of our partnership. Over the course of four hours, we were able to create, to laugh, to sing, and to move in rhythm together. What seemed impossible in the beginning became more than possible in the end.

And it took a long time and a whole lot of patience.

I cannot be more excited for our Youth-to-Youth Missional Partnership in Honduras. While we have only just begun, we have certainly made great strides in new directions. Even more, we have started to share common understandings as they pertain to what partnership is really about.

"Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth" (3 John 8).

I am hopeful for the years to come. Our students are eager for the future.

And so our our friends in Honduras who left us a note that concludes my reflections for this week:

"Espero, en lo personal que esta bonita amistad perdure por muchos años y que nuestros hijos tambien puedan compartirla!"

(I hope, personally that this beautiful friendship will endure for many years and that our children can share it.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paying to See Jesus? More Reflections from Honduras

Youth Directors Reunited

I was able to reconnect with Edin Rodas of Peña de Horeb, one of the youth directors. I also met another youth and music director from a church in Guaimaca, Marlon. Their love for the young people of Honduras is so contagious and reminds me that the youth in Honduras can and will have a voice in their churches today and tomorrow.

We visited El Picacho again this year. This beautiful park that overlooks the city of Tegucigalpa and also tells the religious and philosophical history of Honduras. This includes Mayan replicas, busts of Plato and other philosophers, and statues of Confucius and Jesus. But unlike last year, now you have to pay 10 Lempiras, i.e. $.50, to approach the feet of the Messiah. I paid the debts of my team of 26 and led them to Jesus. So much easier than preaching and teaching.

Elementary School Visit

We were able to visit the elementary school in Guaimaica, about 2 hours from Teguc. The school was beautiful and the children were thrilled to see us as we toured their classrooms. Marlon, the youth and music director at the church across the street, teaches commuter classes alongside his wife.

I will never forget how we were greeted when we walked up the steps and opened the front door of this church. Twenty youth, whom we met from the weekend retreat, surprised us as they shouted, "Welcome!" I cannot think of a better attestation to the identity of the church than this, opening the floodgates of hospitality and embrace to strangers. In fact, that was our evening Scripture as selected by a high school youth, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have enetertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

On a side note, the youth from Guaimaca had a full afternoon planned for us. However, their plan was overturned by their pastor who wanted us to see a variety of church projects in need of on-going finacial support. While I was grateful to learn more about the rural regions and congregations, I was grieved by the vision of the youth being negated. As Gloria Wheeler reminded us, this was a real illustration of how the youth are often not given voice in their communities. Furthermore, when we visited one of the church buildings we were exposed to deep the financial dependency has become.

The Pastor shared with us that they had started construction with the materials they had purchased and through the labor of their community members. They finished half of the building when they were informed that a U.S. congregation wanted to come down and help build. So they stopped. They waited. They let them finish the building. The pastor said, "it was not their best work." This is precisely what we are trying and feel called to avoid. I pray our partnership moves beyond finances, elevates the voices of young people, and ultimately becomes our best work in partnership.

Honduras Gardens

We also visited a few homes in Guaimaca. One of the homes had a very large garden with every tropical fruit you can imagine, e.g. bananas, plantains, guava, mandarin oranges, lemons, mangos, etc., coffee beans (pictured), sugar cane, and more. All of this has motivated me to work harder to develop a more organic, locally harvested, and fresh produce diet.

This has been an incredible few days. We have been exposed to a variety of conversations, experiences, people, and communal dynamics that all need to be taken into consideration as we continue to explore how this partnership will move forward in years to come. I continue to be energized and blessed by the youth and adult leadership on our team, who have had their eyes and ears open to what God is up to in this place.

Continued prayers appreciated....


Read other reflections on to include fantastic post from a parent...