Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Absurdity: An Advent Devotional

"We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ...We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day." (1 Corinthians 4:10,13)

What follows is my contribution to Westminster's annual Advent Devotional. Check out more by visiting www.westminsterpc.org:

One of my favorite childhood Christmas traditions, and one Amber and I have continued with our kids, is the sporting of new pajamas. Whether flannel or cotton, holiday patterned or complete with latest cartoon characters, each Christmas we make our way towards the tree dressed colorfully and comfortably. We may even look a little bit ridiculous.

This was especially true the year Amber surprised me with bright red, cotton footie pajamas covered in snowmen and snowflakes. They are awesome. They are hot. They make my kids laugh. They are border-line absurd. But I wear them every Christmas and at the occasional youth ministry pancake dinner, too.

When I read the Jesus story, it always strikes me as a bit ridiculous and absurd. God-in-flesh born to a teenager betrothed to a skeptic. Shepherds and magi as the unlikely first visitors along with the looming threat of genocide by a jealous ruler.

It gets worse.

When the precocious child reaches twelve-years-old, he befuddles his elders in the temple with strange and insightful teachings. Fast forward to Jesus' adult ministry, we encounter fantastic healings, impossible resurrections, subversive confrontations with the powers-that-be, taboo invitations extended to fishermen, women, tax collectors, children, and those with far more questions than answers. Still more, the teachings of this Messiah are riddles and parables that continue to boggle the minds of preachers, practitioners, professors, Sunday school teachers, and pew sitters. The last shall be first and the first shall be last? Blessed are the poor, hungry, peacemakers, persecuted, grieving, and those questing for justice?

I have not even mentioned Jesus' own death on the cross and resurrection from the cold and dark tomb.

It's ridiculous. It's obscure. It's also the the Way of Jesus. And this way, while we may never be able to fully comprehend or make total sense of it, leads to life. This Way also comes with the promise that all things will one day be new and right again.

So now, whenever I put on my Christmas pajamas, I am reminded of Jesus' invitation to join in the absurd movement called the kingdom of God.

And I confess, I kind of like absurdity.

"As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. " (Colossians 3:12-13)

Advent Prayer

God of absurdity, we give you thanks that your way is open to all people. We thank you that nothing and no one is too ridiculous or obscure for your love and promise of redemption. Fill us with your Spirit so we may foolishly follow Jesus even at the risk of reputation and riches. May we dare to hope and dream for the day to come when you will come again to make all things new and right. Amen.

Related Post:

Theology of Pajamas and Breakfast for Dinner #Jesusworefootes (youth ministry and doubt)


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Santa Wasn't White, Neither Was St. Nicholas or Jesus of Nazareth

Thanks, Fox News, for yet another reason not to tune in to your station and instead wait for your clips to pop up on my twitter feeds and in Facebook messages from friends. Thanks for yet another bit to use with youth and adults alike when discussing how our nation still wrestles with racism and deep-seeded bigotry.

Thanks for the clip that will certainly be used in a class I will facilitate this Sunday, "Santa's Real: The Man Behind the Myth."

But just in case nobody has yet to point out to you or your viewers:

1. Santa was not white. St. Nicholas was likeley Mediterranean and/or Middle Eastern. Nicholas of Myra looked nothing like me nor any of your homegenous panelists. So, for all you kids and Fox News show hosts, Santa just wasn't white. Coca-Cola's version may be, but the great Wonderworker of the fourth century- not likely. Just wanted to get that out there.

2. Jesus, also, was not white. Jesus was Palestinean Jew. In case you were wondering, that's not the same thing. I know we prefer to craft Jesus in our own image in efforts to leverage our agenda and privilege, but Jesus was born into an oppressed class of marginalized peasants. So maybe we should tilt our concern towards the same people groups as well.

3. Nicholas was not a Greek bishop. Nicholas was born in the latter portion of the third century C.E. in Patara, nearby Ephesus and situated within Asia Minor or modern day Turkey (see point 1). Also, St. Nick was a revolutionary, justice-seeking, philanthropical bishop of Myra. Again, not in Greece but Asia Minor during the peek of the Roman Empire.

4. Making Santa an inclusive holiday figure is not exactly a bad thing. The panelist you tried to squeeze out was actually on to something: the legend of St. Nicholas is elastic and our culture can handle diverse representations. In fact, this may be a great attempt to honor the late Bishop of Myra. If pain and isolation is caused to young kids because the cultural icon does not look like them, our greatest humanitarian and charitable deed may be to draw out St. Nick's alternative skin tone. Again, the Bishop probably had a darker complexion anyway.

5. The one thing you got right, Santa Claus is not a penguin because, as you eloquently stated, the birds can neither fly nor lug around all those gifts around the world. But your white Santa, now that's apparently another story.

Blessed Advent and May All Your Christmases be, well, welcoming to all God's people- especially the poor, oppresed, and any wrestling with deep and real pain.

Recommended Reads and Related Resources:

  • Article referred to by Aisha Harris, Santa Claus Should Not Be White Anymore. I do not subscribe to Harris' "Penguin Claus" proposition, but I wonder if this is more satire and tongue-in-cheek that Fox missed. Regardless, her points are fair and worth pondering over with greater felxibility and humility than what was offered by Fox.
  • Click Here for Handout for "Santa's Real: The Man Behind the Myth"
  • www.stnicholascenter.org
  • www.saintwhowouldbesanta.com
  • Previous Blogpost with more links, Celebrating Nelson Mandela on Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Above image is of the legend of St. Nicholas delivering three young women from being sold into prostituion due to their father's bankruptcy. The kneeling figure is the father expressing gratitude for Nicholas generous offerings that, legend has, were thrown through his window and landed in the daughters' stockings hung up to dry. See St. Nicholas Center website for other images.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Celebrating Nelson Mandela on the Feast of St. Nicholas

I was dreaming up a blogpost on the legends and myths of St. Nicholas when I heard the news of the death of Nelson Mandela. I was eager to write a few reflections titled, "Santa's Real: The Man Behind the Myth," when I learned of the South African freedom fighter's passing from this life into life eternal. Mandela's long walk to freedom had finally reached the end. Better said, Mandela entered God's great liberation that will one day behold us all.

I am no Mandela scholar. I am a novice when it comes to the history of South Africa and the struggles with apartheid. I was ten when he took office and vaguely remember watching his inaugural address on t.v. in history class. While his autobiography, A Long Road to Freedom, is at the top of my list of all time favorites, I would have to google quotes for this post.

But we don't need the writings of a saint, letters of a hero, or verbatims of revolutionaries in order to be moved and shaped by their legacy. Their lives and witness take on a spirit of their own, influencing generation after generation to live into the same ethics and virtues of these icons of faith, justice, and commitment to the common good.

So as I sit hear drinking my coffee on December 6th, a date marked for the Feast of St. Nicholas, I find it fitting to do so with a streaming of tributes to Mandela in the background. Afterall, the fourth-century bishop of Myra and our generation's greatest patron to justice and reconciliation hold much in common.

There are stories of St. Nick secretly liberating three young women from being sold into prostitution by their father, who was on the brink of poverty. Tossing bags of currency through down chimneys and windows, which landed in the middle of dinner tables and even a sock hung up to dry, St. Nick looked for secret and subtle means to set captives free. He was, in a way, one of the earliest advocates against human trafficking.

While Mandela was the oppressed fighting for liberation, St. Nick used his privilege to do the same. St. Nick, who came from a wealthy family, leveraged his status and protested corrupt empires, politicked against unjust taxation, interrupted the executions of the innocent, struck down oppressive idolatry, and advocated for children near and far. The saint who would be co-opted by Coca-Cola commercialization and mutated into Santa Claus, was more than jolly. Nicholas of Myra was a religious and social revolutionary who was fueled by far more than milk and cookies.

"More than public charity or personal purity, Nicholas devoted himself to justice, to righting wrongs and correcting inequities. These were the concerns that characterized his life. He was more than a public defender of course; he was a minister of God." (Adam Engish, The Saint Who Would Be Santa, p. 79)

And like Mandela, Nicholas spent time in prison. It seems most advocates of God's dreams for the world do.

I have to get me a record.

People have often asked if Amber and I are going to play Santa Claus with our kids.

The jury is still out.

We want our kids more versed in the legends and praxis of St. Nick than the over-commercialized icon of materialism.

We don't want the revolution to die.

And when I consider that my kids will never see Mandela live on t.v., I want to make sure they learn stories of this twentieth and twenty-first century saint, too.

So we are going to have to tell them all kinds of stories. We are going to have to embrace a variety of traditions and maybe craft a few of our own. If we want the revolution of love, justice, and peace to be embraced by our children, we must tell the tales and leverage the legacies of heroes and sheroes of the faith.

There are plenty of tales and legends to tell.

Happy St. Nicholas Day.

And by the way, Mandela Day is July 18th.


The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus by Adam C. English (www.saintwhowouldbesanta.com)

Blogpost with Adam English and link to an excellent podcast about hardcore St. Nick: http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2013/12/02/whips-and-sticks-and-good-music-st-nick-has-it-all/


The Saint behind Santa Claus: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/features/23886-the-saint-behind-santa-claus

Nelson Mandela: Dreamer of Big Dreams: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2013/12/5/nelson-mandela-dreamer-big-dreams/


Mandela quote above pulled from Kristen Howerton's Facebook page. Check out her blog: www.rageagainsttheminivan.com

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Lesson on Thanksgiving Learned in the Grocery Store (and a few thought-provoking videos)

Although I have my strengths, being a thankful and generous person have not always been my strong suits. I have to work hard at and be intentional about these ethics. Despite what I preach, I have a natural inclination to be a tight wad and anxious mess. Maybe I am not alone. (See older post: Year of Gratitude)

This was evident on Friday in our local grocery store as we prepared for some guests for the afternoon. I guess you can say I struck a nerve with Amber...and rightfully so. The kids were at the helm of the cart, beeping the horn in one of those huge, nearly impossible-to-navigate shopping vehicles with a car in the front (pretty certain you need a separate class of license to operate these things), when I uttered audible sighs.

“What’s wrong?” Amber asked.

“Nothing.” I whispered under my breath, clearly begging for her to ask again.

“What!” she rolled her eyes, knowing full well what was wrong.

“Every time you put something in the cart, I see dollar signs and get anxious. I see bills.”

“Stop it! You need to be more grateful. We have enough. We have never not had enough. Start living and stop worrying.”

I didn’t listen very well. As we purchased food, cake, balloons, and simple treats to celebrate with someone close to us who had a hellish few months, I sighed again. Instead of joining Amber in finding ways to extend generosity, hospitality, and encouragement, all I could think of was myself and our finances.

She called me out, “Stop it! Be grateful. Give out of gratitude.”

My lack of gratitude planted the seeds of anxiety and harvested a hardened heart no longer able to elicit a spirit of generosity to those desperately needing it.

It got me thinking, why gratitude? Why are Christians to be willing people who regularly offer thanksgiving? I came up with four possibilites, certain there are more:

  1. When we are unwilling to be grateful, we become self-absorbed.
  2. When we are unwilling to give thanks, we become captive to fear, paralyzed by anxiety, and surrender power to stuff never intended to control us.
  3. When we neglect gratitude, we hesitate to extend generosity and give gifts of ordinary and radical grace to others and particularly those in need.
  4. When we forget to be thankful, we also forget to whom we belong and God’s concern for each of us. We ultimately surrender our allegiance and hope in God who is in the process of making all things new and right.

Although Roosevelt legislated Thanksgiving as a national holiday on December 26, 1941,* gratitude and the discipline of giving thanks have been staples of the Christian Way since the very beginning.

That's why I prefer the word Eucharist when referring to communion and the Lord’s Supper. It's a more frequent gathering and more faithful reminder of who we are and who we are called to be. Eucharist is the the grand collision of the Greek words for grace and gratitude, i.e. to give thanks. In other words, the sacrament is the real thanksgiving table. It’s what Paul was referring to when he wrote, “And be thankful….And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3:17).

As disciples of Jesus, in everything we do we are to give thanks. We are Eucharistic people. We are thanksgiving people. We are people who gather around and are sent from the table of Jesus, where grace and gratitude dance.

"The only answer to χάρις (charis) is εύχαριστία (eucharistia)...χάρις always demands the answer of εύχαριστία. Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning" (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, p. 41).

When we are thankful, we surrender our propensity to be tight wads, crucify anxiety, and resurrect opportunities to freely give to and share with others.

We may even extend invitations to others, especially those not frequently mentioned on guest lists, to sit at table with us on Thanksgiving or whenever we gather around the sacrament of bread and cup.

Happy Thanksgiving. Blessed Eucharist.


*One needs only to do a little reading to discover the "first thanksgiving" leaves much to be desired in regards to what the day stands for centuries later. It can be said that the original feast was yet another example of Western, white colonization and injustice. If you want to spark intense debate as you pass the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, bring up what really took place on the first Turkey Day. While you're at it, figure out who eats that red stuff anyway.

**The videos above are taken from an incredible resource for theology, liturgy, and all things thoughtful Christianity: www.workofthepeople.com

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blessed Toast to Wallflowers and a High School Youth's Poetry as Beatitude

I try to teach on the beattitudes every year with high school and middle school youth. Even if it is simply one night when we read and engage them in all their complexity and mystery, we at least ponder together as young and old(er) disciples.

I have been convicted of late that Jesus' sermon on the mount, particularly this first 12 verses of Matthew 5, are to be regular meditations for all those who profess to follow Jesus as their teacher and perfect practitioner of the kingdom of God. The beatitudes are the prologue to the Jesus story, a prelude to the Messianic anthem, and a bold roll call for all those invited to adventure along this absurd parade route whose final destination is a world made new and right again.

I have even written my own rendition of these subversive announcements made by Jesus of Nazareth, contextualized declarations whose intended hearers are beloved high school and middle school youth. See Beatitudes Remixed.

I guess you can say I am kind of obsessed with these upside-down invitations. So when I watched, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was drawn in to Patrick's toast to Charlie and could not help but here faint echoes of the ancient blessings.

Blessed are the wallflowers, for you see things and you understand.

That's right, if Jesus were to have delivered this epic sermon in 2013, I think it may have looked a lot like what took place in Patrick and Sam's basement. A toast delivered, with red and blue solo cups raised, to modern-day peacemakers, heart-broken mourners, irrational justice-seekers, timid skeptics, bullied outcasts, youth on school lunch meal plans, and all wallflowers who have wondered if anyone noticed they existed.

Yes, the beatitudes were first-century celebrations of all those trampled by systems bent towards the powerful, pretty, popular, and rich. Jesus was taking notice of those the rest of the world had dismissed and declaring them worthy of participation in what he was doing in and for the world.

Perfect. A clip worthy of a Sunday night youth talk. (go ahead, use it all you youth workers)

Then I was emailed this poem by the mother of one of my ninth grade girls (used with permission).

Day and Night by Brianna Emrich

Under the bright sunlight,

There never was a fight.

The little children laugh and play,

In the warm, sunny day.

They run and jump in all that is known,

In a light world they call their own.

You can see happiness all around,

It seems to be seeping from the ground.

Suddenly there is no one to be found,

Silence becomes a deafening sound.

Everyone has left for fear,

Of the darkness of night which has arrived here.

The darkness of the unknown,

Has them all rushing home.

Now is the time to be out and about,

For those who will always be cast out.

It seems like things may never change,

For those considered to be strange.

It always seems that from the first sight,

The lonely only belong in the night.

But when the light returns again,

The outcasts find a caring friend.

They prove the doubts are wrong,

And they find a place where they belong.

Out of silence comes a song,

Which had been playing all along.

A song of never-ending hope and love,

A song of dreams and the peace of the dove.

It rang throughout the bright daylight,

And continued into the darkness of night.

There is a light to every dark and a dark to every light,

And so continues this perpetual cycle of day and night.

That's even better! Thank you, Brianna, for this fresh beatitude for all those considered strange.

May the blessed poetry of this high school teen and the sacred lyrics of Jesus prove doubts wrong as we all here again, or for the first time, the good news: you belong!

May this never-ending song of hope and love strengthen you in your brightest days and darkest nights as we all draw closer to the day when God's dreams of peace and eternal welcome become our only known reality.

Blessed are the poets. Blessed are the wallflowers. Blessed are __________.

We all belong. That's something to meditate on day and night. That's worthy of a toast.


Helpful reads on the beatitudes:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Theology of Pajamas, Breakfast for Dinner, and #Jesusworefooties

Youth ministry requires a smorgasboard of creativity, intentionality, absurdity, and a unique ability to create safe and sacred space for honest conversations. So when we mapped out the fall series, "Will You ______?,"* I knew we needed to be fairly playful when it came to making room for sharing and honoring doubt as faith (see related post). Our youth ministry team needed to find a way to hold in tension vulnerability with security so youth would feel free to converse with one another and share raw reflections.** We needed, a la Jesus and the dreams of God, to turn things upside down and level the playing field.

And we couldn't think of a better way than to have the most important meal of the day at the end of the day with pajamas as the required attire.

As expected, the youth and adult leaders didn't disappoint.

Hobbit slippers, flannel bottoms, superhero capes, bathrobes, and a fair share of footies.

Including those sported by this guy. #JesusWoreFooties

A rather shocking surprise for other church members and our associate of pastoral care. I think she wants to schedule a conversation with me now.

On pajama night, over 50 of us sat together and enjoyed pancakes, fruit, and nature's candy- BACON. We even discovered these strips of deliciousness have their own patron saint, Anthony the Abbot. A rather fitting observation given our meal took place on All Saint's Sunday.

Then we headed into a youth-led worship service and contemplated doubt as faith. We affirmed the community of saints as safe grounds to share and honor questions, curiosities, and insecurities common to all who pilgrimage alongside Jesus.

After all, the faithful have always been doubtful. This includes Jesus who pondered his own ability to endure the cross.

It was a holy time. It was a sacred time. It was an awkward time. It was a blessed time.

And again, the youth did not disappoint with their fair share of doubts and questions honored and confessed. They sat together in pairs and filled in the blanks of these cards. Doubts about the existence of God, effectiveness of prayer, hopes for the world to ever be the way God intended, and whether they could trust they mattered to anyone echoed through the small chapel. And they prayed for each other as they sat in clothing usually confined to sleepovers.

So next time you are interested in fostering an environment where youth feel free to share reflections on a difficult topic, consider flipping the day upside down, eating some bacon, and putting on your pajamas. When youth are brave enough to look ridiculous on the outside, sharing vulnerabilities long silenced on the inside does not seem so bad.



*This series is rooted in the belief that a large part of what it means to follow Jesus is willingness to follow, fail, try, and respond to the good news of God's love for the whole world- especially our most vulnerable neighbors.

**Many thanks to Kathy Escobar, who served as a humble conversaiton partner of the blogosphere and email. Her book, Down We Go, has a beautiful and insightful chapter on sharing and honoring doubt. I highly reccomend the read and her related blogpost. This would serve as a great reflection for both youth and adults, pastors and pew sitters alike.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Doubt As Faith: What Dr. Dwight Peterson Can Teach Youth (and all of us)

When I was in high school I thought doubt was the lack of faith. Somehow I assumed very bad things were in store should I take my last breath before I was able to banish all questions about the existence of God, the Christian confession of Jesus as God in human form, and the resurrection as a real event that pointed to life beyond the grave.

I spent many sleepless nights afraid of my doubts. I feared not having enough faith. Questions about everything I had ever been taught about Christianity, the Bible, and what it meant to follow Jesus were linked to mistrust and even sin lurking at my door.

So I refused to share my doubts and instead adorned a personality and characterization as someone who had it all figured out.

I also lived in fear. Every time a doubt about ________ popped into my head, I dreaded laying my head down on the pillow that night. I feared falling asleep. I wondered if I would ever be able to sleep.

Then I met Thomas in John 20. He became my favorite disciple by far.

While this disciple is often characterized as a doubter, "Doubting Thomas," he really is the only disciple with enough audacity, courage, and faith to dig deeper into the rumors of Jesus' supposed resurrection.

Did it really happen? Seriously, I need to experience Jesus' renewed life firsthand.

And he did. Thomas would even go on to be one of the earliest and most effective missionaries of the first century and Christian history. Some suggest he brought the gospel to India. I am sure he never stopped doubting and asking the hard questions.

I also met this anonymous father in Mark 9.

The disciples, and surely the father, are frustrated by their inability to heal this man's possessed son. They had done everything Jesus had commanded and said all the right things in efforts to prevent this child from a premature death sparked by some sort of demonic, seizure-inducing possession. So when Jesus asked the father a few questions, he responds with a bit of jadedness, cynicism, and doubt, "but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us!"

Jesus retorts right back, "If you are able!- All things can be done for the one who believes."

I imagine the father pausing, thinking to himself, that's the problem. You don't understand. We have tried everything. I have lived all my days in fear that this would happen and there would be nothing left. I feared my doubts would win in the end. I believed only to be disappointed.

Yet I believe, Jesus, help my unbelief!

This is quite possibly the greatest prayer recorded in Scripture. It's one I pray quite regularly. And every now and again I am given a glimpse of resurrection, like the child in Mark's gospel who is lifted from a coma, and invited to hold on hope for another day.

Yet when I have recently pondered faith and doubt, I cannot think of a more faithful witness to the good news of God's grace than one of my most beloved college professors and mentors, Dr. Dwight Peterson. Thanks to Dr. Peterson, I will never read one of my favorite gospel stories the same again. I also will never fear doubt again, or at least when I do, I will look to those who know where to find faith.

I am not sure what exactly happened between the age of Thomas and 2014 (suggestion: the Enlightenment), but faith and doubt have assumed the role of opponents. They are like opposite sides of a coin, protagonist and antagonist of a great narrative. While we live in an age of cynicism, celebrate mystery, and shove aside anything wreaking of absolute certainty, the Christian church has managed to cling to the false dichotomy: faith v. doubt.

Those who follow Jesus, especially heroes of the faith and brilliant theologians like Dr. Peterson, never doubt, right? At least they shouldn't, correct?

Yet faith needs doubt. Doubt demands faith. They are far from opposites and, when you scan the pages of both history and Scripture, one of the most common traits of those called and used by God has been, not faith, rather doubt.

"doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.”

Paul Tillich

I wonder if that's because doubt pushes us towards one another, reminds us that we cannot do life alone, and moves us beyond the idol of certainty that none of us will ever be able to appease?

And we were never meant to...

This does not mean quest for more doubt, it simply means doubt is not our or the church's enemy.

So as I prepare a youth talk on sharing doubts and creating sacred space for questioning, here are a few truths I cling to as a pilgrim with more than enough faithful doubt:

  1. There is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from the love of God in Christ, neither death nor doubt...not even doubting this to be true.
  2. You are not alone in your doubts; the faithful have always been doubtful.
  3. Doubts are not to be pursued alone. Doubts are to be confessed and adventured through alongside others and within the community of faith. Gone are the days of burning heretics at the stake, so you are safe. Well, some may talk about you in a few books/blogs by certain authors and publishers, but they are not worth reading anyway. Yet God loves them, too.
  4. Doubt can often lead to stronger faith and a more honest and authentic witness. But not always.
  5. Intellectual and academic certainty has never been the goal of discipleship. Trust, obedience, and a concern for our most vulnerable neighbors are more telling fruits of those who claim to follow Jesus.
  6. Faith is not the absence of doubt. And doubt is certainly not the absence of faith. They push on one another and draw God's people closer to Jesus, who is the object of our faith, subject of our hope, and Lord of all things seen and unseen.
  7. Doubt becomes a demon when we become so steeped in cynicism that we no longer know how to love and live with joy. Faith becomes an idol when we no longer make space for our doubts and/or the doubts of others, falsely assuming we have figured everything out and have a cpyright on truth.
  8. Jesus doubted. If you question, just take a look at his prayers before the crucifixion. Maybe read Psalms, which N.T. Wright calls "Jesus' prayer book."

May the God who made and loves us all, draw us ever closer to the One who lived and died for us all, and fill us all with God's Spirit.

And may the perfect love of this God cast out all fear...especially when we doubt.


A few helpful links and resources, especially for parents and youth workers:

Sticky Faith: http://stickyfaith.org/articles/i-doubt-it

Simply Youth Ministry: http://blogs.nsb.org/students/files/2013/03/Week_1_-_Doubt_and_Fear.pdf

*A great chapter in, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, by Andrew Root and Kenda Dean: "Doubt and Confirmation."

Related post on Confirmation: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2013/04/confirmation-questions-what-i-wonder.html

Older post by Kathy Escobar: http://kathyescobar.com/2009/09/22/doubt-amp-faith-thewild-beautiful-rid

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Derek Webb, Phantom Power, and Hope That's Not Wasted

I guess you can say Derek Webb's narrative as a musician and artist is somewhat of the story of many within my generation. When it comes to all things Christian and church, we have moved from faith to doubt, trust to disdain, love to fear, and hope to cynicism. Many have repeated this cycle more times than they care to recount. We want to follow, but have been wearied by half-truths and misplaced allegiances. We long to covenant with faith communities and call them our own, yet we have seen through the façade and wondered if it is really worth it. The addage goes, we love Jesus but struggle with the church.

And if we are honest, we struggle with the reality that we are no better than those we critique and cast judgment upon.

In the midst of it all, the lyrics to one of the songs on Webb's inaugural solo album echoes throughout time:

‘Cause I haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her

if you love me you will love the church

---"The Church," She Must and Shall Go Free

So we, as other rag tag poets have exclaimed,* hold on hope as we pilgrimage through seasons of faith, doubt, and utter confusion together. We cling to, maybe foolishly, the confession and promise that the day is coming when everything will change and nothing will be the same. We press on with the conviction that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection will lead us all to a better way and a better day.

This is what pushes us beyond our cynicism and moves us towards fresh expressions of love, grace, generosity, and forgiveness even when we don't feel like it.

That being said, I am conviced that Derek Webb's latest album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You, is quite possibly his best. It's a humble confession and an honest reach beyond jadded and jagged postures that have characterized many of us.

I met Derek Webb several years ago, collaborating together on the Jesus for President Tour and orchestrating a small show at our church. I was grateful for his humility, authenticity, creativity, and patience as we hunted for phantom power on the church sound board. We have utilized this feature many times since.

We also enjoyed some pretty incredible crab cakes that night.

Yet, over five years later, I am even more grateful for his recent folk hymn that, with raw simplicity, invites us to join the choral invocation:

"One day you'll wake and the curse will break
And even you won't be the same

Your hope is not wasted on the day when everything will change"

"Everything Will Change," I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You

I guess you could say this hope is everything but a phantom power. My prayer is that all of us, myself included, would follow Derek's lead and confess our propensity towards cynicism and move towards renewed love.


* Yep, Mumford & Sons

**Check Out Rachel Held Evans and her blog interview with Derek Webb: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-derek-webb-response

Relevant Magazine has several great pieces on Derek Webb: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/tags/derek-webb


Friday, October 11, 2013

Malala Yousafzai, John Stewart, and Reminders That the Kingdom of God Belongs to Children

As a Christian, I believe peace, nonviolent resitance, forgiveness, and enemy love are staples of the faith and essential teachings of Jesus Messiah.

So this weekend, as a part of our middle school youth retreat, I thought I would do my best to illustrate Walter Wink's classic interpretation of Jesus' call to go the extra mile and turn the other cheek.*

I had done this before, usually as a part of our confirmation curriculum, but I had never had a reaction quite like the one elicited by one of my sixth grade girls.

She played the role of a first-century Palestinian Jewish peasant.

I played the role of a first-century Roman soldier.

After explaining the Roman laws about forced labor and pack-carrying "etiquette," I piled up on this petite sixth grader my computer bag, a few books, and a stool. I then commanded her to follow me around the room. And when I told her the one-mile limit had been met, she demanded to go a second.

"You are free to go now," I said as I tried to take back my stuff.

"I am going a second mile," she timidly retorted as she pulled back.

"No, you are free to go." I grabbed at the stool.

"I want to go a second mile with you." She gripped the stool tighter.

"You can't." I reached for the bag on her shoulder.

"That doesn't matter." She readjusted and clamped on the bag's strap.

"Why are you doing this?"

"My teacher told me to go the second mile," she spoke with a quiver.

"Who is your teacher?"

"Jesus. Jesus told me to do this."

I froze. I was not expecting God to move me through this sixth grader and her unprompted and unrehearsed exchange.

The youth pastor followed the lead of this sixth grader, arms full of his stuff. I was drawn into how she played the part and knew the Way of her teacher. The roles reversed and the smaller sixth grader had shifted the balance of power without force or violence. Resistance through nonviolent rhetoric animated with authenticity and humility.

Thank you, Jenna. Indeed, the kingdom of God belongs to children like you!

I have occasionally been warned, and have even hesitated myself, about teaching Jesus' third way in Matthew 5:38-42. After all, it may not be in line with their parents' teachings. Youth may mis-hear the teaching and respond to violence in a way that places them at greater risk.

They may not fully understand what Jesus was actually saying.

Then I think of this particular sixth grader, and others like her, and reconsider.

I also think of sixteen-year old Malala Yousafzai, who was able to leave John Stewart speechless and in awe whe she spoke about what she would say if she met a member of the Taliban. Mind you, the Taliban attempted,and nearly succeeded, to kill her with a bullet to the head in 2012.****

I need to read Malala's book. We all need to hear her speech here.

May we never underestimate youthful animations of peacemaking and prophetic expressions of nonviolent resitance. May we never refuse them the keys of the kingdom and space to think about third-way conflict resolutions.

May we never forget that the peaceable kingdom of God belongs to children.

May we even follow their lead as they animate the Way of Jesus.



*Excerpt from Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resitance in a World of Domination by Walter Wink.

"Imagine, then, the soldier's surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume hispack, and the civilian says, "Oh, no, let me carry it another mile." Why would he want to do that? What is heup to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and willnot stop'. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire's strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability ofhis victim's response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished,he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus' hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.

Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious,or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize anonerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or underthe thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity" (182).

**Other great reads by Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millenium, and the abbreviated text of the work cited above, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.

***See a previous post, More Creative Than Violence.

****Interesting alternative perspectives:



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Not in My Backyard: Racism, Athletics, and the Community of Coatesville

[update: since I posted this yesterday there has been significant increase in both local and national media attention, likely due to last night's heated CASD board meeting. Nonetheless, there is so much work to do.]

Maybe it's because some people have already assumed and dismissed Coatesville as a hopeless city whose education system is beyond repair.

Maybe it's because many have grown accustomed to hearing about extortion and corruption through the deviant practicies of this school board's administrators, so we are numb to yet another report.

Maybe it's because Coatesville Area School District is made up of a large populous of low-income minorities whom many still dismiss despite years of "progress" in regards to Civil Rights and racial reconciliation. I wonder what the press would have been like if this happened in a more affluent district?

Maybe it's because many prefer to talk about Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Korea, and China because the injustices exercised in these parts of the world are a safe distance away and do not really affect people we actually know. After all, we can trivialize and politicize these "news stories" because they don't really have much of a personal impact on us.

At least not yet.

But when it comes to the numerous racist, bigoted, and misogynist texts exchanged by the superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District and high school athletic director, not much has been discussed beyond the local borders. When thousands of dollars intended for education are spent on pricey athletic equipment for a team school districts next door compete against [read: wealthier school districts], most are uninformed and naive at best. When students and their teachers of color are lumped together with a single word by these same "leaders" in our community, the same word that generated endless chatter in the media when elicited by a pro football player at a Chesney concert, facebook and twitter streams are not nearly as active.

And I am just as much at fault.

Maybe that's because backyard injustice and hometown hatred is harder to wrap our brains around. It demands more than tweets, blogs, and partisan facebook posts. Instead, when violent rhetoric, unethical spending, and racial slurs we thought were confined to a historical time and place are resurrected and affect our local neighbors, kids' teachers and peers, and the communities we call home, we are held responsible to do more than talk.

And that may come at a cost.

I am not sure what all that has transpired in my community over the past month means for my family and I and how God may be calling us to respond. Our kids are merely two-and-a-half and who knows how long we will live here. But I do know that my neighbor teaches in the public schools, the kids all around us study in the public schools, a few of my youth at the church attend the local high school and compete in related athletic programs, and we pay school taxes.

And racism, hatred, and unethical spending that exploits my neighbors and their kids cannot be tolerated.

We are our brother's and sister's keeper.

Coatesville Area School District deserves better. Residents of Coatesville and surrounding towns can be better. The Coatesville area is where we live and where God has called us to care for the community and all those who dwell within:

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

Jeremiah 29:7

What about your neighborhood? Where may God be calling you to seek the peace of your community and city?

Let's brainstorm together. Let's live into God's dreams together. May we never forget that the welfare of our neighbors and neighborhoods is directly connected to our own.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Are You Willing? Youth Encounters with a Leper and Ordinary Opportunities to Love Your Neighbor

I am not willing to share a beverage with someone other than my wife and kids. This may have started as a kid and the visions of shards of whatever falling from my father's mustache into the preferred liquid to be consumed. Some call me a spit-phob as a result.

I am not willing to eat pickles. Actually, I take offense to the consumptive assumption that Americans prefer pickles on their chicken sandwich or burgers. Restaurants nationwide refuse to consider what the vinegar residue, i.e. pickle pee, does to the roll, waffle fries, and whatever else is on the purchased platter. Hint: ruined forever.

I am not willing to jeopardize the health and safety of my wife and kids.

I am not willing to text and drive.

I am certainly not willing to root for the New York Yankees regardless of who they play or if they are on my fantasy team.

And when I was in Honduras this past summer, when I looked over my shoulder and saw a teenage leper propped up against the wall of the cathedral as our youth were in conversation with some folks from the Micah Project, I was not the first to be willing to offer food and drink.

The high school youth were more willing than I. Actually, they were willing because one of the homeless youth, despite his lingering high from yellow glue, was more than willing to offer compassion and empathy.

I will never read Luke 5:12-16 the same again.


The story goes like this. A leper, accustomed to exclusion and isolation from people, community, religious hubs, and sacred practices, gets word about this Jesus whose message hinges on the marginalized and social outcastes. This religious teacher many called Messiah, went from town to town, village to village, and city to city breaking every social norm and religious taboo.

Would he be willing to outstretch his hand towards even a leper who had not known human contact and connection since his diagnosis?

Would the love of God, the kingdom of God, the dreams of God's healing from disease, oppression, exclusion, and constant rejection be extended to him?

"Jesus, if you are willing..."

"I am willing..."

Are we willing?

A large part of what it means to be called a disciple of Jesus is rooted in willingness. Willingness to follow. Willingness to try the impossible. Willingness to use your gifts, talents, resources, passions, and time for a greater cause than yourself. Willingness to fail. Willingness to love those the world has rejected. Willingness to have your eyes and ears opened to others the world has closed itself off to? Willingness to surrender all that you are to the dreams of God that are not only for you, but also and especially for the whole world.

Willingness to embrace the leper in your midst, and those just like him, whom Jesus considered on the A-list of his divine banquet.

But not all of us will have the chance to meet a leper like the one in Luke's narrative or our friend in the Honduras cathedral. This can easily become another means to dismiss these stories as though though they have nothing to say to us. But we encounter lepers every day.

Each day youth who walk into a school, which is more a less a village of teenagers, they encounter large numbers of their peers. And not everybody fits in; not everybody is welcome; not everybody feels as though they belong or they are valued by another.

There are lepers who sit in isolation from those who do belong, at those folding tables in the cafeteria. They may walk the hallways with head down, doubtful anyone is aware of their existence until they are bumped into by someone headed the opposite direction.

There are those who live across the street from all of us or a few houses down who do not fit the accepted image of cleanliness, lack the ideal body type, practice a stereotyped religious tradition, or have a history of struggles with mental health.

There are those who sit beside us on the train as we commute from the 'burbs to the city, others with whom we share an office or cubicle, and those we pass by on the streets as we walk from the train to that very office complex.

Are we willing to stretch out our hands of compassion in a way reflective of Jesus the Willing One?

We don't have to strive to be heroes. We just have to be willing.

"God's love for you and God's love for the larger world in need cannot be separated. God's longing to see you liberated for life tgar really is life can't be neatly pulled apart from God's longing to see the poor liberated for life that really is life. The two are inextricable. God's concern for the stuff of our lives, and God's concern for the lives of those who live on the margins, can never be neatly parsed...Can you see what great news it is that this serendipitous double liberation isn't something extra we do? We don't have to add lots more overwhelming activity to what we've already got going. Rasther, the regular stuff of our lives- the commute to work and the potlucks and home improvement projects and errans and play dates- are the exact places in which we express and experience God's love for a world in need."

---Margot Starbuck, Small Thing with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor

Are you willing...

...to love your competitor on the local sports field?

...to serve a meal to the new parents down the street?

...to sit at that lunch table with those kids who eat alone?

...to engage in a friendly conversation with the person one seat over on the train?

....to invite the parent of the kids your kids are friends with to church on Sunday, or Wednesday, or any day?

...are you willing to go to Honduras, or Philly, or the borough down the road and learn about those who call the streets home and how you can be a part of their liberation?

Are we willing to see every day as an ordinary opportunity to outstretch our hands towards others and love our neighbor as ourself?

To follow Jesus is to be willing.

But this doesn't mean we have to eat pickles.

Thanks be to God.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Comparison as Joy's Thief and Parenting as My Christian Vocation

It's about 1:00 p.m. on Daddy Day (Fridays when my wife works and I do not) and here is what I have accomplished:

8:30 a.m. sat in the bathroom and attempted to coax my daughter to pee on potty

8:45 a.m. cleaned up puddle of pee on living room floor that never made it into potty

9:30 a.m. Watched The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything while cuddled on couch with the Twinado

9:45 a.m. Read several articles about justice and peacemaking efforts locally and globally by friends and colleagues after kids abandoned me on couch

10:30 a.m. Felt inadequate as changing two diapers in between articles seemingly paled in comparison to what I just read

11:00 a.m. Built an impressive Lego tower in basement (I let the kids help me)

11:15 a.m. Clipped my son's toenail that was falling off after dropping a rock on it a few weeks ago

11:30 a.m. Picked up where we left off on The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

12:00 p.m. Made kids lunch and then attempted to do the dishes from last night

12:15 p.m. Cleaned up the water dripping from dining room table after my daughter knocked over flowers as a declaration that she was done with lunch

12:30 p.m. A dramatic reading of Green Eggs and Ham prior to putting kids down for a nap

1:00 p.m. Sat down for a cold cup of coffee I made this morning

The day is only half over and it is easy to wonder, have I really done anything of significance?

I read the other day a reference to Teddy Roosevelt's quote, "comparison is the thief of joy."*


In a world where everybody's life is public and we can read about everything everybody is doing on our Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, comparison is the great idol and demon of our day.

Our life is never quite good enough.

We are never doing enough.

Somebody is always better.

Someone is always out-serving, out-living, out-advocating, out-innovating, out-achieving, out-earning, out-adventuring, and out-cooking the most organic and well-balanced meal worthy of Instagram.

So cleaning up pee on the floor or microwaving chicken nuggets can make this youth pastor, blogger, dreamer, and wannabe advocate of justice and reconciliation feel as though I am not living up to some mythical ideal of who and what I should be.

Then I hear the grounded words of my wife, nothing matters more to us than caring for our kids.

I hear echoes of Scripture, "whatever your task, put yourselves into it as for the Lord and not your masters" (Colossians 3:23). [While the context is complicated and it may be difficult to compare my children as masters to Paul's charge to first-century Roman slaves, you get the sentiment.]

Whatever your task on whatever day and season of life, do as though God has called you to it.

My task on Fridays, and everyday for that matter, is to love my kids, play with my kids, serve my kids, teach my kids, clean-up after my kids, and treasure my kids as the gift God gave to my wife and me.

This gift is never to be taken for granted and deserves no comparison to what anybody else is doing, lest either of us be robbed of the joy and calling of parenting.**

I am a firm believer, although it is a challenge to remember, that to be a faithful, attentive, compassionate, humble, playful, and thoughtful parent is just as worthy of a calling as anything "heroic" I read about in magazines, books, blogs, and newsfeeds. In fact, unless I am committed to my calling as a dad, and a calling is exactly what it is, nothing else matters.

"I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 4)

So I am learning to stop comparing. I am attempting to quit pondering what else I could be doing. God will open those doors in due time.

I am beginning to see parenting, in all its joys and frustrations, as my greatest expression of Christian vocation.

Nothing matters more to me in life right now than raising my kids alongside my wife.

And after many prayers whispered and shouted to become a parent, thank God for Daddy Days!

Actually, I can't wait until they wake up so we can build another tower.

Well, maybe wait until I take a shower...


*One of my favorite musical duos, Over the Rhine, mentions this quote in an interview with Relevant Magazine. Karin Bergquist, female vocalist, has a tattoo of this quote hovering above a hummingbird. Pretty awesome!

**I say this empathetic to all those who long to be parents and for whatever reason have yet to be able to have children or have lost children. My prayers are lifted for those struggling through infertility, pursuing adoption, or who have medical diagnoses that have made child-bearing a faint dream at best. God struggles and weeps right alongside you...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pastoral Prayer: Syria, Slavery, Improbable Plowshares, and a Whole Lot More..

A prayer written and spoken as a part of the worship liturgy yesterday at Westminster Presbyterian Church:

God of justice and peace, in the very beginning your spirit hovered over the waters of chaos and confusion and birthed a world you called good. Animals of every kind, trees and fruit of every kind, and humanity crafted in your image to steward over all you made and the sacred balance and rhythm you wove through it all.

All was peacefully made and all was to peacefully exist.

Yet your people quickly resorted to violence and vengeance, lusting for power and privilege.

Your world was steadily subjected to conflict and turmoil, victimized by misplaced allegiances.

The creation you made as good and right ripped away from your dreams and divine intentions.

And this is the world we still live in and long to be set free from...

We ache for your Spirit to hover over the waters yet again of this chaotic world where children cannot find their daily bread, women are bought and sold into slavery, even at the youngest of ages, minorities are treated as objectified props and sex is illustrated at cable award ceremonies as means for acquiring and wielding power, healthcare is a privilege reserved for the wealthy, and where many cannot find something as simple as clean water to quench their thirst. We plea, O Holy Spirit, birth fresh expressions of your justice and promise for all to be new and right again.

Jesus, the one who taught us, "blessed are the peacemakers," we confess we are unsure how to practice and pursue your peace when we read about the horrific events in Syria. We lament the reality that our hearts are first drawn to the sword, considering the plowshare foolish and improbable to bring about real and lasting change. We ask for you to invade our imaginations, and those of our religious and political leaders, unveiling a better way, a more peaceable way, a more just and humane way to solve conflict than weapons and war.

Yet we confess we are not sure how, especially in places like Syria.

So we pray for all people who live there. We pray for victims of chemical weapons, political oppression, civil war, and crimes against humanity. We pray for political leaders worldwide, including our own president, who are faced to make tough decisions. We ask for your justice and peace to reign over Syria and for your church in the Middle East to be filled with your Spirit as they practice radical expressions of hospitality, compassion, and heroic and ordinary peacemaking efforts in their communities and countries.

God who is here, there, and everywhere in between, while our news feeds are dominated by foreign affairs, we also are reminded that there are many who also grieve right here in our own community. So while we lift up our neighbors across the globe, we also lift up to you those of this faith community in need of your love and care...

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we give you thanks for the glimpses all around us of your promised future breaking into our real present- even when those glimpses seem faint. We give you thanks for teachers who educate our youth and youth who befriend new students, especially those frightened by first days and new hallways. We give you thanks for your church and the many witnesses of love and generosity that flow in and out of this place. We give you thanks for children and parents, pastors and denominational leaders. We give you thanks for sacred space, like this sanctuary. And we also give you thanks for the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, an invitation to hold on hope for your new creation yet to come, a prayer we say together now….



A growing ist of helpful resources and PCUSA statements regarding Syria can be found at the bottom of this link here

Other Prayers and Links of Interest

Praying for Peace with Pope Francis

Pope Francis' Vigil for Peace Homily

Syria: The Stuff No One Wants to Talk About (Red Letter Christians)


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria and Cyrus: Quick Tips for Talking About Both

I clicked on my blog stats yesterday and noticed my post on Cyrus and Thicke had quickly, and easily, trumped any previous posts in my three-plus years of blogging. Thanks, Miley, I guess?

Then I was asked by a few others to explain what was taking place in Syria, the significant decisions the President had to make, and what my thoughts were on the current event taking place not in Brooklyn but in the Middle East.

I had little to offer.

Then I wondered, if I wrote a post on Syria not Cyrus, would my blog have lit up as it did yesterday and the day before?


But isn't Syria just as significant as Cyrus and Thicke and dancing teddy bears and the exploitation and degradation of black women used as props for white pleasure and entertainment? (click here: warning expletives)


Both stories play a pivotal role in the formation of human imagination, conscience, ethic, morality, and the ability to live into God's dreams for the world. This is especially true of young people.

The misnomer is that youth don't want to talk about both. One of the most popular electives when I was in high school was "Issues," which required students to bring a current event each week and talk about their thought, opinions, and affect on their social values. I think Miley and Robin are an "issue," but so are Syria, Honduras, Philly, Iran, etc.

Granted, we cannot talk about them all. But we must be careful not to assume the VMAs are more significant than foreign affairs in the formation of youthful imaginations. To be naive to global concerns that break the heart of God or to model socio-political ignorance as adults (myself included) is just as formative for young people as to provide quick commentary on twerking Disney stars.

So while I would love to offer my thoughts on Syria, I confess, I am a novice. I have been distracted by all the twerking. Instead, I offer these thoughts on how to engage these issues with young people along with a growing list of helpful resources, please add a few of your own:

Quick Tips for Talking About Syria and Cyrus

1. Talk About Them: Find places where youth and adults alike can engage in faithful and honest conversations. We cannot learn about what we are not talking about...

2. Welcome Questions and Assume You Don't Have All the Answers: Be willing to say, "I don't know." Be quick to listen and slow to react and speak. Invite others who know more than you to join the conversation.

3. Allow Diversity in Opinion: We don't all agree. Welcome dialogue and difference and discover how God's love and grace can lead us to faithful witness together. What binds us together is not an answer but a commitment to love like Jesus loved.

4. Provide Resources to Youth and Parents: talk with others about what they are watching and reading and then invite them to participate in conversations.

5. Engage Scripture: This is not a place for Bible thumping. Instead, open the Bible with wide-eyed curiosity an consider what the Spirit of God has to say to us. What does the Bible say about violence, sex, justice, peace, racism, classism, blurred lines, and hard commands? Let the Bible read you versus you flatly reading the Bible.

6. Speak into Their Lives: Allow the stories to be drawn into the question, "what does this mean for us, for me?" How does Syria and Cyrus relate to my self-worth and the self-worth of others? How am I called to act in light of all this? What does this mean for me and my interactions with ________?

7. Point Them Beyond Themselves: It's important to remember that, because our encounters with these stories typically occur via television and the internet, we may be tempted to trivialize and dehumanize what is actually taking place, these stories are about real places, real people, real families, and real consequences. Our concern is rooted in a broader concern for humanity, not only a concern for our ideas, opions, and taste in pop-culture or political affiliation.

8. Remember, Nobody and Nothing Is Beyond Redemption: Jesus' hardest words were about non-violence, enemy love, and how to deal with conflict and those who act in ways we disapprove. While Christians may initially react with disgust and condemnation, we must never lose sight that there is nothing or noone beyond God's ability to transform and renew. The good news of Jesus is all things hold together in his life, death, and resurrection. This means both Syria and Cyrus, political figures and pop-star misogynists can be delivered from oppressive and irresponsible behaviors. We must pray for this to be true.

9. Above All, Love and Pray: Consider what this means for us as a people of God here and there, near and far. How can we love our neighbors on stage in Brooklyn and on the streets in Syria? We must at least pray.

10. Rinse and Repeat: Always be sensitive to the issues bubbling up locally and globally. Listen to what youth and young adults consider relevant and important and talk about that. Pray God gives you the eyes to see and the ears to hear how the kingdom of God is breaking open all around you...and them...and all of us!

Growing List of Helpful Resources (links here does not suggest endorsement)

Dinner Table Discussion Guide and Scripture References

Prayer for Syria: World Communion of Reformed Churches

PCUSA Partners Call for No Military Action in Syria

Which Bad Syria Option Do You Prefer? (Via NPR)

9 Questions About Syria You Were Embarassed to Ask

Obama: Syrian Gov't Carried Out Chemical Attack via NPR

Intelligence on Chemical Weapons 'No Slam Dunk" via Huffington Post

Vimeo by Fareed Zamaria: "Stay Out of Syria"

Syria Crisis: UK Puts Forward UN Proposal via BBC

PCUSA Office of Public Wittness: Letter to President Obama

An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

What Miley Cyrus Did Was Disgusting- But Not for Reasons You Might Think via Huffington Post (warning: expletives)

How to Talk to Your Sons About Robin Thicke by Casey Thompson