McCauley is very passionate about it. He spent most of the workshop laying out a case for addiction as a disease (a stress-induced disorder of the midbrain when the brain cannot properly interpret pleasure coming from normal sources and must seek it in stronger and stronger doses) but toward the end of the session he had a remarkable insight.
The midbrain is a primitive section of the brain dealing strictly with life-or-death decisions. It focuses on EAT IT, KILL IT, MATE WITH IT. The brain's reward/pleasure centers are in this part, and drugs stimulate those areas so much that the pleasure coming from the drug becomes the first priority, even over food, sleep and sex. One of the steps in helping a substance abuser, according to Dr. McCauley, is to identify the thing that is a higher priority (which he insists every patient has, although it will be different and probably hard to find) and put that thing/person/activity back in its proper place.
One audience member asked how parents of teens should approach them if they are in an addicted state and how they can help. McCauley answered-- both for prevention and helping-- that a large part of the answer is cultivating and supporting healthy experiences with strong meaning.
Well, duh! Study after study, doctor after doctor, is starting to realize that humans ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE MEANING in their lives; they must be connected with something larger than self, some experiences that powerfully affect them, some way to challenge the body and the mind.
So how are we doing? Are we building healthy rituals, rites of passage, traditions? With those tools, we can not only bond youth to Christ and to each other, we can raise their quality of life by growing healthier brains!
God's sitting up there saying, "I was wondering when they'd remember that part!"
"For all their growing notoriety, however, the best pit crew members know that their ultimate goal is not one of individual canonization but the success of the team in getting their car to the checkered flag."
This is what we're truly after as we train students to become disciples; that they will be the most skilled servants they possibly can be. We're making pit crews, not celebrity drivers, and this trend toward celebrating the techs who make the victories possible may help us defeat the attitude of me-ness we're seeing, even in all the echelons of ministry.
"Call it the Olympics for the wrench set. Since drivers about a decade ago started tuning pit crews as finely as their stock cars, pit row has become a central focus on the NASCAR circuit. Teams know that what happens in the few fiber-optic seconds a car pulls in can influence the outcome of a race nearly as much as the driver can."
2. Listen to MuteMath. They're a band with a strong faith message who've avoided the label "Christian" because of the implication that Christian music is somehow less valid than mainstream. (From the plethora of mediocre-to-unbearable Christian bands singing the same songs out there with their syrupy, utopian, everything-will-be-okay-when-God-gets-here-until-then-there's-nothing-I-can-do-but-sing ideas, I can see why a good band would want to avoid being lumped in with them. Grrr.) Their "Reset EP" CD is a gem. I especially like the track "Peculiar People."
3. Watch "Over the Hedge." I haven't seen a movie for a long time that so gently but effectively skewers Americans' excess in all things. I have to give away my favorite quote:
RJ: "That's called an SUV. Humans ride around in them because they are slowly losing the ability to walk."
Verne: "How many people fit in one of those?"
RJ: "Usually... one."
One of my favorite things to do is discover other thinking people and read what's on their minds. Double bonus when those thoughts are so clearly in the lens of faith.
Michael Blewett, ("Under God's Fingernails") is an associate rector here at CSMSG and I respect him as a teacher, father, and guide for this congregation and his family. He finds theology (thoughts about God) in a lot of things (like parenthood) that I hope I'll appreciate when I reach them. And you have to love a priest whose first blog post is about hot bacon dip (which, having had in person, I completely endorse!)
Joe Johnson, ("Joe Johnson's Observatory") filed a comment on my intellectual property entry and I've been stopping by his blog off and on ever since. He's had posts recently on "Purpose Driven" stuff, Sufjan Stevens (a musician who's been making my favorites list lately) and a group of students, reported here in the NY Times, who evangelized in their schools with posters saying "JES S: All that's missing is U."
Who do you read? I tend to find worthy blogs by accident; a little guidance from my astute readers would be great!
I call it "because I said so" evangelism. One parent there called it the "one-bite rule," which is easier to say.
Last night, I went to a school play. There are no more enthusiastic actors than 6th graders. As I was leaving, I walked by this kid I'd never met before, and he looked me straight in the eye with the biggest grin and said, "Go to Maggiemoo's! You should go to Maggiemoo's!" (That's an ice cream place in Ladue.) Now the family I was with had actually just invited me there, so that was cool all by itself. So we get there, and as we're going out again to eat our ice cream, I spot the same kid in the crowd. And that grin of his gets even bigger and he says, "I told that guy to go to Maggiemoo's! You went to Maggiemoo's! High five!"
To grow a church, we need both kinds of evangelism. Parents and caring adults do need to push Christ and the church, even when it's just like medicine, because it's good for me. And I love it when students invite someone to anything with so much enthusiasm, and then celebrate so loudly when the invitee shows up.
Is it true? Thoughts? Discuss.
I realized this after opening the gift box for an item we gave our teachers and steering committee members on Monday and discovering yet another cross necklace made from nails. It's big, heavy, awkward (the perfect recipe for being left in a drawer in the first place) and its only use is to shout out "I'M A CHRISTIAN!" (A clarification; a while back I blogged about "outward signs" and how we need to use them, but I think those signs, like Christian jewelry, should be things I buy as a result of some encounter with God that calls me to use them, not just something handed out in church.)
At this point, the only gifts that are more useless than Christian gifts are golf gifts and those big plastic gag ties that have cup holders built into them. And uselessness is not what disciples of Christ are called to, ever.
'Tis the season for high school senior gifts, teacher gifts, volunteer gifts and confirmation gifts. I've looked over Interlinc's "conGRADulations" CD, and found it a basic set of run-of-the-mill Christian music that might be a good gift for a student who was already heavily into the CCM scene. Our confirmands, on the day we recognized them in church, had hideous orange t-shirts that I warned the planning team we would never see again, and neither would anyone else. Our seniors receive a book next week-- one of the many "Jesus promise books." That gift falls on the useless side of the line because it doesn't actally encourage Bible reading, only looking up of single verses.
On Confirmation day, the youth and adult confirmands did get a useful gift-- a personal Book of Common Prayer. If we've taught them properly, that will be something they reach for often.
Gifts for disciples should be things that they will use all the time, and use to help others and share the active, loving message of Jesus Christ. Our high school seniors are moving away to a new place-- give them one of those neat in-car navigators to keep them from getting lost. Or at least a set of maps for the town they're moving to. "My church doesn't want me to get lost," they will think. Score one for usefulness and spiritual metaphor!
When a student gets a driver's license, send him off to his car with a set of jumper cables or a toolkit, both to empower him to meet emergencies and to serve others who are in need. "My youth group leader told me to help people," the new driver will realize, "and gave me tools to help me do it. She must be really serious about this!"
At Confirmation, arm the students with a Leatherman. On Bible Sunday, when younger students receive the Scriptures for the first time, include highlighters to mark verses that catch their eyes. "You're giving me permission to mark in my Bible? I wonder what's in here that I'll want to remember."
When we decide on gifts to give in our ministries, we need to pay less attention to "spiritual meaning" (which often doesn't translate without a lot of work from giver to recipient) and spend more time answering the question "How useful is it?"
C.S. Lewis said, "We don't need more people writing Christian stories. We need more Christians writing good stories." This is the same thing-- we don't need to give more Christian gifts; we Christians need to give good gifts. What can we expect from our Father in Heaven if we forget how to do that?
Matthew 7:11-- "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
We had a dinner to celebrate the adults on our Youth Leadership and Church School teams, and my good friend and colleague Marty Chapman asked me to provide devotions at the end.
The lectionary yesterday morning gave me a gem to work with: Colossians 1:9-14.
"9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
I wanted to talk about being filled with the Spirit and imagining the fruit we can produce with that power inside us. So I read Mercer Mayer's "When I Grow Up," which is all about Little Critter's little sister dreaming about all the things she wants to be when she grows up. I shared the connection between the verse and the message of the story.
At the very beginning I'd lit a collage candle (a candle with photos of our youth group glued to the outside; really pretty when it's burning becuase the light from inside shines through the pictures) and I placed it in the center of the room and asked all the adults to share what fruit they felt called to produce in their lives this year. When each one shared, he/she picked up the candle and held it, so we knew who was speaking.
Then the adults paired up (and just like with kids, they either went for people they knew best or the person sitting in the next seat) and blessed each other. To write the blessing for them, I'd taken the action phrases straight from the Colossians passage, so what they read was this:
"Be filled-- with God.
Live worthy-- of God.
Bear fruit-- for God.
Be made strong-- by God.
Endure patiently-- in God.
Joyfully give thanks-- to God."
Simple, powerful visuals, participation and a challenge to make them think were the keys to this adult devotion.
This past weekend we took our mission trip crew out to Trout Lodge (YMCA of the Ozarks Camp, totally worth going to if you're close and in need of a camp!) for a team-building day, and at lunch I had the following conversation.
(Isaac puts short pointed French fries under his top lip for vampire fangs and youth group cracks up.)
Isaac: When I have kids, I am going to encourage them to play with their food! In fact, they'll be grounded if they don't...
A few minutes later, Brooke (8th grade boy) is telling me about his school orchestra.
Brooke: You know, in 10th grade our orchestra is going to Italy for two weeks.
(Isaac very carefully puts his napkin down and looks over.)
Isaac: Please tell your school I am available to chaperone.
Bart: (another leader, sitting next to Isaac) Please tell them I am available to chaperone, and I don't play with my food!
So I got trumped. But I love my job, and one of the things I love best is being in a group of people who are comfortable enough to tease each other and can absorb a few gentle jokes at their own expense.
"Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, (C) 2003 Harvest Books, ISBN 0156027321-- I picked up this book in the church library, intrigued by the idea in the cover blurb that the main character loved God and struggled to honor not only Christianity, which he discovered, but also Hinduism and Islam, which were in his heritage. I'm only slowly getting into it, though.
"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Henri Nouwen, (C) 1994 Image, ISBN 0385473079 -- Nouwen was recommended to me in a class I took here at the church over Lent, and has a way of getting inside one's head. He mananges to bridge the gap between very traditional theology and a modern audience that has been taught to doubt traditional explanations. He pulls both worlds together admirably. This book was inspired by Rembrandt's painting, and is a series of essays on discovering God's love through the many perspectives of the characters in the parable.
"12 Dynamic Bible Study Methods" by Richard Warren, (C) 1986 Victor Books, ISBN 0882078151-- a set of methods for studying the Bible-- imagine that! Each one focuses on a different aspect of Bible study and uses a different set of tools for achieving the one goal of the book-- taking Scripture from the Bible and applying it into the believer's life. (Out of print.)
What I'm Watching:
"Everybody Loves Raymond"
"The King of Queens"
(Note about both shows: honestly, there's a difference between showing adults as flawed people in need of grace from the people around them and characters going out of their way to flaunt their flaws. I'm reaching my saturation point with both programs.)
What I'm Hearing:
JoyFM in St. Louis, Internet stream
"Stories of a Stranger" album by O.A.R
"Greetings from Michigan" album by Sufjan Stevens
Where I'm Sending Articles/Proposals
The Journal of Student Ministries
This may sound extreme but we have a widespread problem of intellectual theft. Music, video and software are shared (aka stolen over and over again) over the Internet; assignments at all levels of school are plagiarized; stolen literary material is found in books before and after publication.
Very often, these materials, especially video, music and software products, turn up in ministries, but their use in Christ’s service does not make them legitimate. I offer the following three areas of our Christian life that using stolen property violates.
STEWARDSHIP: Being a steward means being trusted with a certain amount of property, to use both for the advancement of my work and (more importantly) the creator’s. Stewardship involves always crediting the owner; using what he produces in a way that honors him; and knowing that I don’t own it and there are restrictions on what I may do with it.
THEOLOGY: When we disrespect the love and work that goes into creation of any man-made thing, we show disrespect for the Creator and the love and work that He put into giving us our abilities. When we steal from our neighbor (and that’s everyone) no matter how small the theft, we fail to love that neighbor. The way we treat our fellow humans is telling on how we think about God.
REPENTANCE: When we say our confessions and receive absolution, we are doing two things; we are giving up our sins and pledging to replace them with Godly practices. How can we be truly repentant, and receive the Sacrament in the right manner, if we hold onto stolen goods and don’t make restitution for them?
I call on my fellow youth workers, and on all my fellow believers, to commit to not collecting or using any stolen intellectual property in our life’s work. We cannot excuse ourselves by complaining that the authors and artists already have enough money; that’s not for us to judge. We can’t pretend it’s okay just because we think everyone else does it; what kind of example does that set our students?
I won’t pretend I’ve never used shared material, but today my hard drives at work and home are clear of other people’s property, and I renew my pledge to honor the creators’ rights in all the materials my ministry uses.
What's special about this foam coffee cup? It's inside out, and unbroken. A student in Escanaba showed me how to do this, and I brought it along to St. Louis when we needed to kill time before the Christmas pageant, and just the other day I joked that we're going to need a budget line for coffee cups because so many of our students try this every week.
Last week, a parent was standing with me and two of our students, watching them try and turn cups inside out, and asked how it was done. This is one of those little things that gets addictive fast. On Sunday, this adult walked up to me and handed me this cup with the best expression on his face.
It's little shared experiences like these that are the glue of relationships.
In good postmodern fashion, when an idea like the Book of Judas or the Da Vinci Codecomes along, the church bends and shapes itself like a large woman modeling a swimsuit in the mirror, looking for an explanation that appeals to the questioner.
What we need to be saying is, "It's interesting that you believe that. To Christians, that's a mystery that we're waiting to find out." What we teach, after all, is foolishness to those who are perishing(1 Corinthians 1:18)-- it's nonsense unless you know the secret, and even for Christians it only works if you're willing to let there be secrets! Christ promised revelation, but he promised it at the proper time, not whenever we decide we need it.
There are mysterious ways at work, after all, and depths we are not meant to plumb. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."(Hebrews 11:1) There are questions that, if overthought, will damage believers' faith or turn seekers away from it. There are debates that, if we show ourselves too eager to resolve, will degrade Christ's work. These things, since there is so much at stake, we must wait to know until we can receive God's guidance in person about them.
There's a thing going on called the "CSI Effect": courts are finding that people on juries expect more compelling evidence and more guarantees about the quality of said evidence than science can actually provide, since, according to US News, "on TV it's all slam dunk evidence and quick convictions." In reality, forensic science is much less exact. This is bleeding over into debates about church doctrine; people expect clear-cut answers to questions that are much more profound than they realize.
I'm not in favor of letting crime go unsolved, but it is time for the Church to take a step back into mystery. We can teach what we do know, and remind our members and seekers that the source for our knowledge is divinely credible. Beyond that, we need to revel in what we don't (and can't) know, because that's what a life of faith is and that's what we are called to.
That might make sense if we were only selling an earthly system of good life and rewards. From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense to suppress a woman apostle (because the largest market for a powerful church would have been men), to vilify Judas (so the story has a clear villain) to fill in the holes in Christ's story with words that make sense and advance our human agendas (no one likes loose ends, after all) and to invent a continuing human bloodline that connects us all to a majestic historical figure (because we humans are hard-wired to seek and value that kind of connection.) But we have a bigger prize at stake.
We're not marketing an inspirational system where good people get rewarded with fame and power, the way the Church's various councils and decisions have been portrayed. We're teaching a way of life that puts us last on the totem pole (counterintuitive and not fun), where women have been a vital part of the church from Eve and Rahab to Lois and Eunice, and worshipping a king who died! If we don't preach what Jesus actually said and did and is, we lose the whole point of our faith and wind up not spending any time with him in the Kingdom. Why would we want to make up a story that takes away our salvation and negates all the Godly goals we've been working toward for centuries?
At Confirmation last week, a parent came up and thanked me for talking with her children-- "you know, really talking to them-- about real ideas!" That's what our faith is made of-- real ideas, real stories, real promises-- that we preach and practice because they are the only way to get anywhere other than dead. The things that we read between the lines in Scripture and in Christian writings are fictions, nothing more. They engage the imagination, but have no hold on our souls.
So I won't condemn Dan Brown's work, since he has done what every fiction writer does-- hold up the question "what if?" and use it to fill in holes in what we know about our world. I don't own it, and won't see it in the theater, but I don't think it's evil. Instead, I encourage us all to focus on knowing the real ideas and the real Christ that are behind our lives. The recent furor has given us all a look at what we don't know about Christianity and with those things laid bare, there are no longer any excuses for the gaps in our knowledge.
Yesterday, as part of our festivities for the last day of regular Church School, we welcomed our fifth grade class, who will be moving up until the youth ministry program this fall.
I met a lot of neat kids and their parents , heard some interesting opinions about church school classes, and most importantly, we made and shared a 12-foot banana split with the whole youth group.
I'm a firm believer in food ministry. Jesus' first miracle, his biggest (numbers-wise) and his most important (the Eucharist) all had to do with food and wine, so who am I to doubt that system?
One difficulty I'm finding, as the brand-new youth minister, is that my high school class is always "too cool for this" and has a really hard time mixing (and believing me when I tell them they should mix) with the middle schoolers. This year and next that will continue to be a problem, but after that the middle school students we're growing will start to be high school students and will be used to the things I ask of them. They will also have the example of a carefully trained group of adult leaders (who are also learning not to hang back, but get in there with the kids) to model it for them. And, of course, 12 feet of ice cream to seal the deal!
...if you have celebrated Communion with pizza crusts and Pepsi.
...if you have ever used the phrase, "and King David was a serious hottie!" while leading a Bible study.
...if, while taking time off to rest after a retreat, you make a point of doing ALL the things you told your students not to do on the retreat.
...if you have tried to answer a serious theological question at 3:00am... more than once.
...if you've ever made a list of all the ways your daily life resembles being a stalker.
...if you've ever been given a picture drawn by a four-year-old and realized at that moment that you are the luckiest person in God's whole world.
In this PDF file, presented PowerPoint style with slides of sound bytes and facts found by the study, MTV talked to teens about why they help their communities, what got them involved and how these kids are building a lifetime of service.
When I ask these questions I get a lot of "from the book" answers, because kids know what I want to hear. There may be some of that at work here too, but overall this study reads well. It's supporting a lot of things we've known in ministry for a while, but that the larger community is now starting to be aware of, and it reminds us that we're in a trend where young people want to make a difference, to do something that matters in the long run, and we have the perfect opportunity for them to grow.
A couple of factoids from the study:
- Highly involved teens got their start volunteering before age 12. (pg. 24)
- 35% of respondents in the study said that lack of encouragement is a barrier to getting involved. (pg. 23)
- 25% who answered the study would write letters to politicians, business leaders or editors. (I found that interesting because those things are perceived as more "cranky old person" activities.)
And on page 26 of an MTV sponsored study, the quote:
"God. God commands you to help other people. I mean, that's what He says. All the gods, whatever god of your choosing, they all say you should help others." Weakly put, and truly postmodern, but still a start. The awareness that service to others is a command, not an option, makes me hopeful.
HT to Youth Specialties for the link. Let's go get activising.
I really value my time in the car with students. Always have. This is the buffer zone, between the comfort of home where students have to be careful what they say because someone might here and the stretch of an event where they have to be just as careful because they don't know the other people there very well. Travel time is some of the most comfortable time of all in youth groups.
I sometimes wonder if small groups would work better together if I found a way to bring a bunch of cars into the youth room and put each group in one. Even in my church building, where we're all working to build an environment that lets people leave all their defenses behind, I don't hear as many questions that matter, from kids I know have them, as I do on a trip.
One of the quickest ways to show disrespect for students is to discredit their experiences and remind them of all the ways they're going to change before they reach adulthood. Yes, that's going to happen. Years (often days or weeks) from now, those students will look back and laugh at the things they thought were important. But in that moment, each moment of what they're going through is life-changing.
So I propose that all youth ministers stop using the phrase "real world" when we talk about adult life. The distinction means nothing. The responsibilities our students have are just as real to them as bills, relationships, job stress and medical problems are to us.
Jim Hancock and Rich Van Pelt in their book "The Youth Worker's Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis" share the valuable insight that when crises first land in our laps, we have to remember that we are not allowed to define for any other person what qualifies as a crisis.
In the same way, we may not allow ourselves to define what is "real."
I'm on this track today because of Jim Burns' HomeWord program, titled "Real Life Begins After High School." It's a valuable program, and the guests' (Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz) book "Goodbye, High School: Hello, World" sounds like a great too, but both carry unfortunate titles that show a bit of bias against youths' experiences. Let's be more careful.
What reminded me of this site, besides its awesome coolness, was a coupon that drifted gentle as the new-fallen snow into my mailbox this morning. It offered "FREE INSTALLATION of your next playground equipment purchase over $10,000.00!"
I added it to the pile. Underneath that card there's a sports equipment catalog. I do have a gym in my building, so I read through that one day, and found an electronic scoreboard I could own for just 7 grand. Folded around the edge of that one, the trophy and award company flyer. It has "RELIGIOUS PRIZES" written across the front in big letters and a couple of pages of little medallions with Jesus fish and trophies with Crucifixes for recognizing students' self-sacrifice. (That's not really in there, but the ad all by itself is only slightly blasphemous so I had to push it over the line!) Six Flags thinks it's a huge deal to send me a free adult admission if I get fifteen kids to sign up at $45 apiece.
My all-time favorite was an email I got while I was working in Escanaba-- "MAKE HUGE MONEY WITH A FUNDRAISING CRUISE!"
I'm constantly amazed at how big these companies think my budget is. (On the other hand, most days lately I'm amazed at how big my budget really is...)
So in honor of all my fellow shoestring youth ministers, I thought of a book we all need-- a book of ads for companies boldly advertising stuff that sells for more than the gross national product of all youthworker-land. It will make us feel better, and might even offer some perspective when we go to submit our budgets.
There were two videotapes, of workshops led by our consultants several years ago, and a sheaf of loose papers. And nothing else.
We're claiming, as youth ministers, that we can help students make major decisions in their lives. We're pressuring parents to share the faith at home, and offering to provide the tools they need. We insist that we know useful ways to bring generations together to share faith with each other. But if someone were to wander into a church library looking for those things, what would they find?
One of the things I want to do is get knowledge about how youth ministry works out of my head and out into the public spaces where it will do some good. I don't need to be the superstar, the go-to guy, the expert. I need it to be easy for every parent, grandparent, priest and gym teacher to find what they need to impact students' lives.
A useful youth ministry library would, at minimum, contain the following:
- A set of catalogs from all the colleges where the church currently has students, and the schools we want to recommend to our students.
- Back issues of all the magazines the church subscribes to for the youth minister.
- Several translations of the Bible, including at least one paraphrase edition, a concordance, a Bible atlas and a one-volume commentary.
- Scrapbooks of youth ministry events and past youth groups.
- Books by the theologians the youth minister most frequently reads-- my choices include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brennan Manning and Mike Yaconelli.
- CDs including all the music the praise band plays at worship with the youth group, personal favorites of the group, bands the youth group has been to see live, and any secular music the youth minister uses in Bible studies-- all with index cards with important points noted on them for the songs.
- Several copies of the worship books the church's denomination uses, and any from other denominations you can track down.
- A collection of newspaper clippings mentioning youth group members, tracking issues the youth group works on, and recording where the group has seen God at work in the world.
- A folder of basic spiritual gifts inventories.
- All the classic storybooks-- Hans Christian Anderson, Grimms' Fairy Tales, Uncle Remus, etc.
If the library has nothing in it, it can't serve anyone. If the material in a library doesn't engage the real lives of the church members, it won't be any use beyond these walls. But if a the books in a library include the passions of the members and change as the group grows, it can be a powerful tool.