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