Sunday, May 27, 2012

Let Justice and Peace Rain in Honduras on Pentecost...and Everyday Thereafter..

In 2010, the Imago Dei Youth Ministry began to discern a call to partner with the youth and churches in Honduras. In 2011, we met these very youth and faith communities. They have become dear friends, beloved family members in the faith. Even more, the country of Honduras has forever gripped my heart and mind, aware that life in this Central American nation is both similar and very different than life lived in the suburbs of Philly.

Here is an excerpt from a recent letter I received form Association for a More Just Society:

"If you've been reading the news from Honduras lately, you've probably seen headlines like, 'Murder capital of the world' (Washington Post), 'Western hemisphere's new drug-trafficking hub' (Associated Press), 'Police accused of corruption' (NPR), etc.

"While the situation in Honduras today is challenging (The UN confirms that Honduras does have the highest murder rate in the world; there are serious problems with corrupt police working for organized crime rings and drug traffickers)- we're still hopeful. We celebrated Easter last month, and as we continue to reflect on Christ's resurrection, and it's fitting to remind ourselves that peace and justice can also be resurrected, even in Honduras, if we have the faith and courage to follow Him."

Today the church celebrates Pentecost, when God's Spirit filled God's people gathered and scattered around the known world. Tomorrow our nation observes Memorial Day, when we remember those who have died in service to this country.

Yet, Memorial Day is also cause to remember all victims of war and oppression. So today we join hands with our brothers and sisters in Honduras as they take part in the International Day of Prayer for Peace and Justice. Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Imago Dei Youth Ministry have developed significant partnerships with the people and churches throughout this beloved country that continues to be torn by violence and political corruption. As noted, while good work is being done to advocate on behalf of and pursue peace alongside those who call Honduras their home, much work is still to be done.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Hunger Games: Prophetic Satire in Pop-Culture Story

I am well aware that I am a late arrival to The Hunger Games party. Thanks to the constant nudging of my high school students, my finger tips were just barely able to grasp the bumper of the Suzanne Collins bandwagon. I am not a fan of trend. I am cynical about pop-culture. I never opened a page of the Twilight saga, although I did watch the first film. Not impressed. Instead, most pop-culture, while a sure testament to contemporary whims and fads, is border-line kitsch. This is not to suggest that I am the best judge of art and culture. I am not. It is just to say that when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller's List, I am more often than not left disappointed.

Then I read The Hunger Games.

The stories within the trilogy are not the best books I have ever read (actually, I still have to read the third book, Mockingjay). However, I believe they are the most prophetic "literary" contributions by pop-culture in quite some time. Suzanne Collins is able to elicit with brilliance and creativity a subversive satire on contemporary politics, social concerns, ideological propaganda, and the oppressive myths that dominate our modern world. And youth play a central role!

That being the case, The Hunger Games caused me to ponder, how can youth ministries and churches engage these prophetic narratives as platforms for theological discussions about Christian work and witness in the world? Even more, how can we uncover truths within The Hunger Games, truths that shed light on our contemporary world not so different than the one illustrated throughout the 12 Districts. In other words, The Hunger Games is more than pop-culture entertainment, that is, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

So, as a means to begin related conversations within the Imago Dei Youth Ministry and to wrap my brain around what I have initially encountered in The Hunger Games, I developed a few musings drawn from this prophetic satire:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Karl Barth and Doctrine of Reconciliation: Brief Excerpts

I have just completed a parousing through Volume IV.1 of Karl Barth's, Church Dogmatics.  A pilgrimage through this hefty, dense, and still more beautful witness to the reconciliation of God in Christ is not pursued by many.  I understand why- it's heavy.  While the Swiss theologian intended his work for the church, even for the sake of lay praxis, it is no easy task to read any portion of the Dogmatics. Still, I find Barth's work not only extremely relevant for the missional church in the emerging culture, but also deeply practical for those who long to live into the hope of the gospel. 

That said, I thought I would post a few nuggets of wisdom sifted from the pages of IV.1.  Most will never read the entirety of any one portion of a volume, let alone the totality of Barth's collection.  I am not sure I ever will...or even should. So, maybe a sort of Cliff's Notes will be advantageous for those interested, as well as for my own reflections post-reading IV.1...especially as I move on to IV.2.

Side note: I have recently discovered an incredible website developed by Barth's great-granddaughter and endorsed by the Karl Barth Foundation: This site provides endless resources, videos, bios, collections, etc.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Theology of Kickball: Run Home Jacks and Adult Kickball League

I thought it was a joke, at least spam, when I received an email invitation from a good friend to join the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA). I also thought, if this were a serious invitation, there was no way in the world I would be exempt from evening twin patrol to play the beloved elementary school recess activity, I mean, sport.

I was wrong on both accounts.

Not only was this a serious invitation to play competitive kickball, uniforms and all, but my wife also encouraged me to invest the money (my phrase, not hers) to relive my childhood once a week. After serious contract negotiations with the team manager, I signed [up on-line] with the Run Home Jacks for an eight-week season. In case you still don't believe me, this is a real league, with a real website, with a real founder, with real logo, and with a real iPhone app. There are real rules and the real possibility, if we win our league, to go to Vegas for the World Championships.

You wish you were playing kickball, right?!

We have only played one game thus far, but I have already begun to develop a theology of kickball, or at least life lessons and self-assesments, in light of the first few games and practices (yes, we have had a practice).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Creative Than Violence: Reflections on CYNKC Panel on Violence

Panel on Violence at CYNKC
"I think I can be more creative than violence." This was the closing remark delivered by a high school student as we drove home from worship and dinner at Broad Street Ministry a few months ago. As I sat in the front row of the sanctuary tonight and mulled over the words spoken by contributors on the panel on violence, I could not help but reminisce about the story that led to the above musing.

I am not always sure what to say when a student shares about their desire to join the military, to take up arms and live in the third dimension of the Call-of-Duty world. I hesitate to share my grief or unveil the gospel's call to make peace and turn swords into plowshares. I fear that I may irresponsibly shatter their dreams or drive a wedge into a relationship not only between me and that student, but also between that student and his/her family. Yet I cannot help but lament when I learn that students who have grown up in the church now possess dreams to serve as Army Rangers on special ops. I wonder if they even are fully aware of what this all means when they enlist.

So when this particular student traveled with me to Broad Street one Sunday night and shared these very dreams, I remained silent. I listened. I prayed. I trusted that the God who gifted this student with so much creativity and imagination could work within his heart and mind.

And God did.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Potter's House & CYNKC: Continuing Ed as Pilgrimage

This week I am in our nation's capital for the Children, Youth, and New Kind of Christianity conference, an opportunity to be entrenched in rich discourse, hopeful networking, and creative contemplation about being the church in the emerging culture. While I have fully embraced the dialogue about innovation, the kingdom of God, and youth ministry, my breakfast this morning on the 1600 block of Columbia Road was beyond nostalgic.

The Imago Dei Youth Ministry pilgrimaged alongside the faithful at The Potter's House in the summer of 2009, a small church community that is an extension of the life and witness of Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., to learn about their emphasis on vocation and call, commitment to church membership, incarnation of mission groups that have transformed the Adams Morgan section of D.C., their love for God, solidarity with their poorest neighbors, and interest in honest conversations about theology and culture over delicious home cooked meals. I am not a seasoned traveler; however, there are a few places I have ventured to that I now consider sacred. They are more or less monuments along my pilgrim road. After that summer's immersion experience, The Potter's House quickly became one such sacred place to be remembered with stories to be retold. That said, breakfast at this small church/bookstore/coffee house/worship space/extension of community to the homeless populous was the perfect way to set the tone for a day saturated in collaboration and critical reflection about the church, youth ministry, and God's dreams for the world. [Read more about The Potter's House and Church of the Saviour]

Hear the words of the late member and writer for Church of the Saviour, Elizabeth O'Connor:

"An average of thirty ministers visit us each month. many bring with them their lay leaders and young people's groups. Most come because they are grappling with the problem of the renewal of the Christian Church in our time. Some feel imprisoned in their million-dollar structures, smothered by organization, their energies sapped by committee meetings and building drives and membership campaigns. Others bring friends because the coffee house helps them communicate what cannot be said wholly in words. They know that the answer does not lie in a coffee house for every church, but they feel that there is something comparable for their church in its peculiar situation, and in the Potter's House they find the inspiration and encouragement to think aloud" (Call to Commitment, 120)

Speaking of thinking out loud, here are a few reflections from yesterday's and today's conversations , keynote speakers, and workshop leaders at CYNKC :

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Missional Vocation: Youth Workers and Their 9 to 5

"Consider your own call, brothers and sisters..." (1 Corinthians 1:26)

This charge to first-century readers gathered in Corinth is in the wake of one of the most pivotal moments in history, i.e. the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It would have been easy to cower in fear in light of the incarnation of this already-but-not-yet kingdom, only to ponder, "who am can I...what would happen if I actually lived into this Jesus story?"

This is a charge to each one of us in the twenty-first century, "consider your own calling, brothers and sister!"

I have written much about vocation and calling of late in preparation for a spiritual formation exercise with high school students, "College. Career. Calling." The hope has been to reclaim the sacred and sending imaginations of young people as they move beyond the walls of our youth room and into the next phase of their lives. Even more, the intent is to recapture vocation and calling as more than professional and ecclesial buzzwords and shed the limitations that have distorted both. Here is a modest attempt at a few working definitions:

Vocation: To love God and love neighbor as we follow Jesus in this world in anticipation of the new world yet to come. Vocation is a broad and communal term that can easily be paired with Jesus' invitation to discipleship. In other words, Christians locally and globally share this common vocation. Moreover, when pressed with the question, "what's your vocation?," the above paraphrase of Jesus' greatest command may be the most faithful response.

Calling: A community's or individual disciple's unique incarnation of their Christian vocation within a given context. Said differently, God calls each of us as individuals and communities to live into our vocation with creativity and risk for the sake of our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable. God may call you to love God and love neighbor in your concern for the local homeless, high school drop-outs, the uninsured, veterans and victims of war, bullied middle school students, or the elderly in need of a constant companion. Where a disciple chooses to exercise this call, as an outpouring of their Christian vocation, is limitless. When we tune our hearts and minds, through prayer and the reading of Scripture, to God's calling God may whisper to us where we may be sent to live into our vocation.

Career: What we do to earn a living so to afford a community or individual disciple's ability to live into their calling and Christian vocation. The placement of career as the third layer is intentional; it reminds us that our first obligation is not to our career, rather to our vocation. We are not what we do; our careers do not define us. Instead, our vocation identifies us as God's image bearers, filled with the Holy Spirit, who follow a crucified and resurrected Jesus in and for the whole world. Nonetheless, careers are important and jobs are essential. Yet they serve a greater goal than to pad bank accounts and sustain retirement funds. Careers serve our callings and vocations. Furthermore, Christians can practice their vocation and unique calling in and through their careers- many do!

Recently, I sat down with a couple friends of mine who serve alongside me in the Imago Dei Youth Ministry and discussed their vocation, calling, and career. I am grateful for their faithful dialogue and their witness to the gospel as practiced within their 9 to 5 places of work! Enjoy...and consider your own call, too!