Thursday, May 30, 2013

Presbyterian Youth Talk Holy Spirit? Well, At Least in the Month of May...

I love the month of May. I love the month's weather. I love the month's tv season and series finales. I love the dawning of summer. I especially love baseball games in May (although baseball games in October are so much sweeter).

I mostly love the month of May for liturgical reasons. May is when Protestants, even Presbyterians, talk about the Holy Spirit. We shed off our resistance and anxiety, embracing Pentecost and all related biblical texts, theological content, and sacred decor that captures the Christian imagination. While the other eleven months our attention is fixed on the Father, Son, and whatever thematic element we deem relevant to our context, May is the Holy Spirit's month. And this year I have particularly longed for and enjoyed lingering in the Spirit's presence.

While the Holy Spirit cannot be fully explained or contained, it's mystery partially responsible for our anxiety, she must be confessed by Christians with the same fervor associated with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is the very presence, breath, wind, ruach, pneuma of God that is sent to dwell within God's people, sending disciples of Jesus near and far to be God's agents of love, grace, and mission in the world.

The Spirit gifts and equips us for the work of Jesus until he comes again and makes all things new and right.

12 1-3 What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable...4-11 God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful..."

1 Corinthians 12:1-11, The Message

The past few week's, in light of Penetecost, I have been encouraging youth to discover their "spiritual"* giftedness. Where and how has the Holy Spirit been breathed into their lives as an invitation to use their gifts, talents, and resources to live into God's dreams for the world? What does it mean to pray for the Holy Spirit to aid us as we take risks and seek to love and serve alongside our neighbors? How can we begin to see our abilities and passions not as means for self-leveraging, but for other-regarding opportunities of hospitality and generosity?

What do we believe to be our gifts, talents, and passions?

What do others see as evidence of the the Spirit at work in our lives?

I have consulted a few blogposts, reflected on the writings of others, and crafted simple resources for youth to dicover their giftedness as provoked by the Holy Spirit. Here are a few helpful links and musings from resources and writers I deeply value.

Discover Your Spiritual Gifts Worksheet for Youth (for use in small groups, Bible studies, or dinner table)

Discerning Ministry with Teens Part 1 by Jennifer Gamber

Discerning Ministry with Teens Part 2 by Jennifer Gamber

Youth Ministry as Lab for Vocational Discernment by Greg Klimovitz

"Listening God, you invite us to pray, to call on you and change our world. How bored you must be with our sometimes safe and harmless prayers. Saturate our lives with the Holy Spirit so that we know what to pray, who to pray for, and how best to pray. Holy Spirit, shake up the ways we pray, quickening our hearts and expanding our expectations so that we may live our faith more boldly. Amen."

Prayer Based on Westminster Larger Catechism 182 in Seeking God's Face

"A primary purpose of the Church is to help us discover and develop our gifts and, in the face of our fears, to hold us accountable for them so that we can enter into the joy of creating. The major obligation of the Church to children is to enjoy them and to listen to them so that each can grow according to the design which is written into the being of each and emerges only under the care and warmth of another."

Elizabeth O'Connor, Eighth Day of Creation, p.16

"Grace certainly does not live and move abstractly, nor transcendently; it comes to meet us in life, in the efforts, hopes, insights, concerns of those about me, in whose company I stand before God...Humility in abstracto can be the grossest pride."

Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians, p. 57


*I struggle with the phrase "spiritual gifts" because it makes it seem that the work of the Spirit is abstract. Yet in reality, the Spirit's work is deeply tangible, coming alive in real persons and real activities of the faithful. I prefer to say, "gifts or works of the Spirit." See the Barth quote above as evidence.

**Photo Above is from Pentecost 2013 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was also linked to Confirmation Sunday this year. I think this should be a new tradition :)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Assistant Assistant to the Regional Manager: Dwight Schrute, Ministry, and the Art of Delegation

I shed a few tears last Thursday, as The Office bid farewell and closed the book on one of the most prolific and innovative television shows of our generation. The Office had characters all of us could relate to and experiences many of us shared in a wide variety of work places.

We have worked with our fair share of Andys, Kevins, Angelas, and Stanleys.

We have shared professional environments with Creeds and Merediths, whose boundaries are undefined and interjections are awkward and inappropriate at best.

We have loved and envied the Jims and Pams of this world.

We have been amused, aggravated, agitated, and perplexed by the likes of Dwight Schrute.

We may even have worked for Michael Scott.

We probably are at least one of these characters. I dare you to ask your co-workers.

My wife and I have been loyal fans of The Office since its beginning. So when the show drew to close and Dwight Schrute was finally awarded the coveted title, "Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company," I thought it was the perfect ending.

That is, until the writers reminded us that every Regional Manager needs an Assistant (to the) Regional Manager.

Who better to fill that role than Dwight's paradoxical nemesis and friend, Jim Halpert.

Still there was more. In one final Halpert prank, the newly appointed Assistant (to the) Regional Manager hosts a competition to fill the only missing piece in Dwight's "hierarchy mobile"- Assistant Assistant to the Regional Manager or A.A.R.M.

But would any of the lowly office workers be able to pass the test?

In premeditated Halpert fashion, Dwight wins the competition and is ultimately anointed as Jim's A.A.R.M.

Dwight becomes his own assistant.

Which makes sense in the mind of Dwight, because only Dwight can be trusted. (Full episode here)

Delegation is hard. Most of us live by the mantra, if you want something done right, do it yourself. We have our own Schrute-like superiority complexes that fail to entrust both the mundane and the important to others in both our personal and professional lives. We feel the need to be both architect and worker, visionary and implementer, manager and assistant (to the manager).

Reality is- we cannot and should not do it all. We need to share the load and surround ourselves with those who can help craft, cast, and orchestrate our visions and dreams.

We need a web of support in order to live into sustainable possibilities.

This is especially true in ministry. We cannot do it all. We should not do it all.

I am glad The Office ended the way it did. Dwight Schrute as both Regional Manager and Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager is a failed business plan.

Dunder Mifflin would not have been able to sustain this sort of mobile of command. The show may not have been able to either.

But the most perplexing dilemma we all now face: what will we now watch on Thursday nights?

"Moses' father-in-law said to him, 'What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone...So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their homes in peace.'"

Exodus 18:17-18, 22-23 (see also the first ordination of deacons in Acts 6)

A few questions:

What are some of the best resources you have discovered for ministry leaders to implement webs of support?

What resources have been beneficial for empowering those you lead in ministry to effectively cast and carry out the shared visions and dreams?

What are some effective strategies and approaches to both recruiting and maintaing a broad web of support in ministry?

How can ministry leaders begin to communicate that ministry does not belong to a single person or department but is a shared responsibility and call of an entire congregation and community?

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Squirrel Friend and St. Francis: Franciscan I Am Not (or am I?)

I have always loved the legends and folklore that surround St. Francis of Assisi, who is not only synonomous with a concern for the poor, but also the patron saint of ecology. Who knew that one day I would become just like him? Thanks to a friend and colleague for pointing this out on Facebook.

This afternoon, while at the playground with my kids and neighbor, this little guy made his way towards us. I did what anyone else would do- I ran into my house, grabbed two oven mitts, and welcomed "Francis" on our neighborhood pilgrimage.

Then I realized it may be best to put him back in the tree. I certainly don't think it would have been good idea for me to put him in my son's tricycle trunk and bring him home.

But Francis may disagree.

Maybe I am not as Franciscan as I thought.

"As a friend of the poor who was loved by God's creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples."

---Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace 1990


*Greek icon of St. Francis above is on acrylic, by Kris Larsen.

**The mural is on the wall of St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, an urban minsitry I encountered in 2010. From website: "We are a Franciscan, Eucharistic community called to minister with the poor and homeless of Philadelphia. Formed in the spirit of the Gospel and inspired by the life and compassion of Francis and Clare of Assisi, we try to meet the immediate daily needs of the people we serve with food, clothing and hospitality."


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's a Good Devotional? Contemplative Resources for Youth Spiritual Formation

I am frequently asked by youth and parents, "what's a good devotional?" They are eager to engage in some sort of sacred rhythm of prayer, meditation, and readings of Scripture and so consult the person whose paid to collect and occasionally write resources for discipleship. What they don't often realize, or maybe they do, is that asking this question will often lead to an invitation to check out my personal library. I love to have these conversations and provide guides for personal formation and contemplation.

I have even created a few of my own.

Imago Dei Youth Ministry annually gifts to confirmation youth and graduating seniors some sort of resource to aid them in their spiritual formation and pilgrimage of faith. I am pretty picky and border-line snooty about the resources I hand out. There are a lot of really bad devotionals out there.

There are also a lot of really good ones.

Here are a few things I consider before giving or personally using a "devotional" or some sort of daily guide for spiritual formation. There are also links to several of my favorites that I regularly consult or have recommended to youth and adults alike.

What Makes a Good Devotional?

1. Inward-Outward Journey: The trend in pop-Christianity is to look for a devotional that is all about "Jesus and me" or personal life application. While it is pivotal to have the personal relationship with Christ and to grow as an individual disciple, a good devotional propels the individual to engage the communal. We are formed inwardly to love outwardly, embodying in the real world the ethos of the particular prayer, scripture, meditation, etc. A great devotional speaks into our lives so that our lives speak into the world.

2. Move Beyond the Intellect: Often devotionals become brief studies of passages, words, theological concepts, or historical contexts. While there may be a place for this in a devotional, it's place is rather small. Personal devotion is not for the purpose of intellectual ascent. Instead, we engage in the daily ritual of devotion to rest in the presence of God, contemplate the person and work of Jesus, listen for the whisper of the Spirit, and allow Scripture to read us as we are then sent from the text read or prayer prayed. In fact, the best devotionals frequently have no commentary whatsoever.

3. Consider Ancient Disciplines: We are a people used to independence and self-direction. Yet, the practices of early and ancient Christians, especially those who lived/live in monastic communities, can be significant spiritual directors in personal formation. They are tools for ordinary saints interested in being set free of distraction and centered on the divine presence and call. Centering Prayer. Lectio Divina. Examine. Imaginative Prayer. These are just a few that I use in my personal formation and youth ministry retreats.

4. Freedom and Flexibility: Personal devotion should not leave you feeling guilty or behind if you miss a day or two...or seven. While it is important to maintain a daily rhythm, spiritual formation should lead neither to a guilt complex or make-up work. If you neglect the day's discipline, you should feel free to simply pick up fresh the next time you do engage the particular resource or practice. Anything else can lead to burdensome idolatry. Remember, Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

5. Can Be Used Privately and Corporately: Recently one of our pastors gave the staff a daily devotional that many of us have been using quite regularly. What has been beautiful is you will occasionally hear colleagues pass each other in the hall and chat about what they prayed for that day in light of morning mediation. "Did you pray for Antarctica?" "I didn't like that Psalm." "That Scripture sentence really spoke to me this morning." It's also great when a particular devotional can be engaged at the same time and in the same place, moving through the contemplative disciplines together.

I have found that there is not one single devotional that works for everyone. It's also true that devotionals have lifespans; they tend to be seasonal. I often use one for a while, tire of it, then try something new, only to possibly return to an old favorite down the road. Nonetheless, I am quite convinced that some sort of resource is helpful.

Otherwise, you probably never will practice the presence, only get lost in your own thoughts.

And for me, that's an all too frequent practice.

Suggested Resources (send other favorites my way)

Seeking God's Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year (my personal favorite; gave out this year)

The Life with God Bible by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson

Devotional Classics by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Christians at the Cross by N.T. Wright (for Lent)

Eighth Day of Creation by Elizabeth O'Connor

Enjoy the Silence by Maggie and Duffy Robins

The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

Call on Me: A Prayer Book for Young People by Jenifer Gamber and Sharon Ely Pearson

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Prayer for Mother's Day: Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice; Weep with Those Who Weep

Creator God, we are reminded today that new life and everlasting hope are found in you, the one who birthed all of creation and continues to care for all within it. We give you thanks for your on-going invitation to be co-laborers with you in this world you made good and beautiful.

We are grateful on this day that as a mother cares for her children, so also have you extended compassion towards us and cared for us as your people. May your Spirit enable us to extend the same love and concern towards others in their seasons of joy and sorrow. Help us to laugh with those who laugh. Weep with those who weep. And rejoice with those who rejoice.

On this day, we especially lift up to you all those who are mothers. We pray for those who know the joy of new life coming into this world and faithfully love and care for their families as you love and care for us. We pray for mothers who have adopted or are in the process of adoption, extending their families to children in need of a place to call home. We are reminded that in the same way you claim us as your children and call us to make our home in you.

God of comfort, your Word reminds us that creation groans as though in the pains of labor, waiting for the world to be made right. We continue to await the day when all will be made right. Until then, we grieve this day for all those who long to be mothers but for whatever reasons, known and unknown, have yet to see that day come. We pray for those who have battled endlessly through infertility, miscarriage, and reproductive technology, knowing all too well that pregnancy is never to be taken for granted. We pray for those who have lost children to a world still muddled with chaos. We pray for the children throughout this world who long for someone to call mother. Make a way for them to enter into a family and a home, even through your church. We pray for those who also have lost mothers and grieve the passing of other loved ones. Make your compassion and concern known to all for whom Mother's Day is no longer a day to celebrate.

Jesus, you are the one we call brother and friend. We are grateful that in your life, death, and resurrection we discover new reasons to hope and the ability to trust God’s promises that are to us and for the whole world. Remind us over and again- we are your people and nothing and no one can separate us from the love you have for us. In that light, continue to form us as your children, so we may be your light into the world. Walk with us towards the day when you will make a home among us and all the families of the earth will be united forever. Amen.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Bangarang: The Return of Kickball, Run Home Jacks, and #NerdAlert Thelogical Reflections

It's early Thursday evening when I pull up to the parking lot at Oakbourne, lace up my golf spikes, do a few stretches, and walk towards my fellow competitors.

No- these are not tee-time rituals for a late-night round of nine. I am about to play kickball.

I wear golf cleats because the grass is slick and I refuse to buy "equipment" to play the great playground pastime. Also, the league commissioner said I could not wear my metal baseball spikes from college. It had something to do with the possibility of popping the playground ball or Ty Cobbing my opponents.

We are still early into season two of Run Home Jack's quest to attain WAKA immortality, but we are 3-1 and at the top of the standings. It's quite intense- maybe too intense- but I believe we got a legit chance to dethrone the black team and start our own dynasty that would rival any third grade collection of gym class All-Stars.

And yes, our team's and the entire leagues nemesis dawns black uniforms. Cliché, I know. And yes, we have uniforms (t-shirts). We get 15% off our post-game bar tab when we wear them out (my friend to the far right made a rookie mistake and left his WAKA gear in the car).

This year the Jacks are Philly red. Last year we were kelly green. The newest team to join the league, because they signed up first, stole our colors. Our team captain, second from right above, is quite bitter. But we beat them last week. We should have played them for the right to wear kelly green.

I was at a meeting the other day with a few Presby friends of mine, all who are interested in fresh expressions of the church. They asked one of my colleagues and good friends what we do to foster community with the younger adult demographic. We acknowledged the difficulty posed by packaged church programs and intensive studies through books that do not resonate with our generation.

"We play kickball," said my friend, colleague, and (most importantly) teammate.

I think those gathered around the table thought we were kidding.

"Seriously, it's been the most effective means to foster community with younger congregants and members of the West Chester area. It's also awesome."

I am increasingly amazed at how a much more structured, competitive, and officiated rendition of recess can generate so many opportunities to learn the names of your local neighbors and laugh alongside those who are racing to the park just after their nine-to-five.

It's also provided quite the platform for some sacred...stop laughing...reflections I call, "Theology of Kickball."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Changnesia and the Need for Rest: How My Complex Migraine Was a Gift

About two weeks ago, I was having coffee with one of my youth leaders when the precursors to a migraine hit. If you suffer from these occasional severe headaches, you know what happens- loss of peripheral vision, seeing spots similar to when you stare at the flash as someone takes your picture (or when you took a selfie in the mirror), nausea, and the need to turn off all lights and close your eyes.

I had just knocked over my empty coffee cup when I knew it was time to wrap up and head home.

What I did not know was this would become a complex migraine with very strange side effects. As I laid on the couch while my wife bathed our kids, I lost control over my speech, was unable to form intelligible words, and experienced temporary memory loss. I could not even remember the names of my kids.

It was the most horrific experience of my life, aside from my son's seizure in January. I was completely "with it," but something was not right.

This went on for about 30 minutes. My wife was an absolute rock, with our twin toddlers as her little nurses. I later scheduled an appointment with the doctor and underwent a few tests and an MRI, only to discover that what happened was simply the collection of unique side effects associated with a complex migraine. I had experienced "transient global amnesia," nearly identical to what happened to Serene Branson, a West Coast News reporter during a live shot at the Grammys in 2011. Thank God it was nothing more serious.

The frequent cause of this complex, migraine-induced amnesia: over-work, anxiety, stress, and lack of rest. The doctors have assured me this was simply a funny way my body and mind were telling me to slow down, calm down, and remember I cannot do everything!

My wife also likes to add her own playful diagnosis as comfort: Changnesia. [See the clever sit-com, Community, for further explanation]

I asked the doctors and nurses, who phoned me with my test results, what I should do next? Nothing. It was unlikely to reoccur and there were no residual or long-term effects. Instead, they told me to slow down, take it easy, and adjust my life rhythm.

I was moving too fast.

The past two weeks I have made obeyed and made major adjustments to pace, perspective, priorities, and rhythm. My quick bout with Changnesia reminded me- the pace of suburbia is insanity. I had forgotten I am human with God-given limitations and hard-wired for not only work, but also play and rest.

This time of year my heart becomes increasingly heavy. Our attendance in youth ministry encounters some decline, but my interactions with youth does not. Instead, my conversations adjust from youth group commitments to "go home and get some rest." This past week alone I have talked with more youth than I can count who have shared with me how over-worked, anxious, exhausted, and stressed they are in light of AP tests, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, college commitments, church and youth ministry meetings, social pressures, family conflicts, and other things that zap them of their life' energy.

Youth are tired. We all are tired.

What will it take for all of us to slow down and be led by the quiet waters and made to rest (Psalm 23)?


In the days, weeks, and years ahead I pray I remember the sabbath, keep it holy, and reclaim a regular rhythm of rest. I pray we all remember that none of us can do it all. We are created for regular breaks- even from church and youth group commitments.

I need it.

You need it.

Our youth need to see us model it. This just may be the best attestation to the good news of Jesus they can encounter alongside frequently tired, over-worked adults...and youth pastors.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)


Two Great Songs for Meditation