I'm at camp this week, working with a very unique population, and they inspired this thought:

God has a very special place in His heart for those of us with mental and physical challenges. I know this because He gave them the ability to truly believe. When you ask D, "Who let the dogs out?" and he answers "Jesus!" he knows in his own very unique way that Christ is the answer to every question.

All God's blessings on you this week; vacation posts will be sparse, since I am on vacation, (as I keep reminding S) but I'm praying for the ministries that are going on right now.


The most significant thought...

...I have had all day, on this the first full day of my vacation was as follows:

"I wonder if it's possible to make wild rice Krispies?"

And God laughs with me.


I'll get right on that...

Today, I read a Croatian proverb: "Man has trouble being born, and should spend the rest of his life relaxing."

I'm going on vacation, making some small dent in my relaxation quota, starting Thursday morning, and I'll be back to work in two weeks. I'll still be blogging-- look for irregular and sometimes-neglected features like "Spot the Church Van" in the next few days!

God bless and rest you too!


Call for Prayer

The US Episcopal Church elected a new presiding bishop last week, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She was the only woman on the ticket and one of the youngest candidates for the position.

Read the article here, and please join me in praying for Bishop Schori as she prepares for her time in office.

The Rookie Reviews:Cars

I woke up this past Saturday morning, mere hours before I was scheduled to take a dozen students to see "Cars," and immediately heard the guys on the morning show my radio lives on talking about how much their kids disliked it. "Can we go home now?" one host's daughter asked, twelve minutes into the picture. I debated sleeping all day and "forgetting" about my movie group.

Then the show started, and the picture redeemed itself. In the years that Pixar has been producing animated movies, they've consistently grown with their technology and talents. The technical side of the movie is amazing; not flawless, but impressive.

The story goes like this: Lightning McQueen, a rookie racecar with a big mouth and a bigger ego, has the chance to win the Piston Cup, if he wins one final tiebreaker race. On the way across the country to the race, he gets separated from his trailer and winds up in the tiny town of Radiator Springs. (There are, by the way, no people in this movie, only cars.) His arrival in town causes a lot of damage to the road, and Lightning is sentenced to repair it before he's allowed to leave town. Along the way he learns a secret about the town judge Doc's former career, makes some new friends (something he's not used to having, being a brash, abrasive type) and learns to appreciate the small town he lands in just as much as his fame and fortune.

Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman and Larry the Cable Guy anchor the movie. There are a few bit parts that could connect very well with an audience, but they aren't given enough screen time to make it happen. I was especially disappointed that Tom and Ray Magliozzi (the guys from Car Talk on NPR) who played Lightning's sponsors, aren't on more. (Also, that I was the only person who laughed when they did their practically patented "Don't drive like my brother!")

The Christian lens on this movie is about what a person's main goal in life is, and what happens when:
you get exactly that
you get that and then it's suddenly taken away
you nearly get it and then realize it's not what you wanted.

What do our goals and priorities do to our faith (in God, in people, in ourselves) and how does our faith form our priorities (or should form them)?

I had a mix of students from rising fifth graders through high school juniors, and I heard across the board that they enjoyed the movie. Some were even seeing it for a second time. As usual, there's humor for kids and humor for their parents in the picture, and the ending should (mildly) surprise you.

It's well worth the gas to go see "Cars" by yourself or with a youth group.


Made some changes...

You might notice the blog page has a bit of a new look; I'll be working over the next few days on making the RYW experience a little more... everything. If you've got ideas to share about what this page should have, as usual please leave them as comments here or use the link in my profile to send an email with your thoughts!

Behold, I tell you a mystery

I love that I work in a place where this is funny...

AJA, our rector at CSMSG, stood up to give his sermon today and began with this anecdote.

"Today before I give the sermon, we're going to learn a great lesson about how God is a mystery. This week, the General Convention passed a resolution that we are no longer going to use the Episcopal lectionary, but instead something called the Revised Common Lectionary, which most mainline churches have used for years. They're nearly the same, but a little different in some places...

Our esteemed lector today read the lesson appointed for next Sunday in the Episcopal lectionary, but for today in the Revised Common Lectionary.

The real mystery is that your rector prepared a sermon on that same lesson... God is a mystery."


Why I love my job

Today, this is why I love my job...

Two pair of moon shoes, no longer on a derailed train in Kansas (for real, they were "delayed due to a train derailment") now in my office as part of my continued plan to prove to my high school students that they are not too cool for anything.

And yes, mom, I wore shorts and flip-flops to work. That's another reason I love my job.

I'm also reflecting, more seriously, that it's my students that make this ministry excellent, not their youth minister. Specifically, I'm thankful for two kids who brought in artwork for us-- a t-shirt design for the mission trip and a cover drawing for our fall youth directory-- and they're both amazing!

I continue to be absolutely convinced that it is vital in a ministry to discover what each student is good at, no matter how odd it might sound at first, and find a way to plug that skill and passion into the program. If through Christ God gives me ownership in the Kingdom, it seems the best way to model that ownership is to reflect it in the ministry we share. So rock on, Sean and Emily! And may you inspire all your friends to share with us too.


The N.Y. Times today carries a story about the election of a new president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"GREENSBORO, N.C., June 13 — The 16 million Southern Baptists in the United States have a new president, elected on Tuesday in a surprise victory that he called a turning point for a church that needs to engage more of its members."

The new guy's name is Frank S. Page, and of his plans for his denomination, he said: "Too long Baptists have been known for what we are against. Please let us tell you what we are for."

Please join me in praying in support of Mr. Page as he begins his time in office.

An Open Letter to the Governor of Florida

Dear Mr. Bush:

As a youth minister and advocate for youth, I read with great disappointment a report in U.S. News and World Report about your recent signing of Florida’s “A++ Plan.” In my mind, and consistent with brain research on adolescents, this is a misguided attempt at reform in the educational system that does not in the end address the basic problem it’s trying to solve.

The most offensive part of the story was a quote from Florida’s chancellor of public schools, who said “You’ve got kids who wander aimlessly for 13 years. It’s like an eternal childhood…”

No. It’s like a normal childhood. The brain in teenagers is growing at a rate that is only matched by the rate the brain grows in infants. The frontal cortex—the center which controls long-term planning and judgment—is still in a very fluid state, sometimes through the early 20s.

At this stage of their lives, youth do not need to be turned into specialists by choosing a “major” at the beginning of high school. A plan that tracks students down too-specific corridors like this one may let them focus on an interest for a little while, but in the end it will obscure other interests that might have come out were they given the chance to explore the whole slate of choices available to them. In the short span of this letter, I do not even consider that a wide range of new fields of study will open up in the short time these students are in high school.

Youth changing their minds is not a bad thing. Taking one interest for a while, then another, then yet another, is simply the way these students role-play and imagine their lives to find their strengths.

What will do more to fix the problems rampant in our educational system isn’t greater pressure on students, but higher standards and training for teachers. They need to be trained in interactive, media-rich classroom methods, using examples that connect with the world their students live in. Textbooks must be updated more regularly to include changing technologies. Assignments need overhauling so they rely less on rote knowledge (which is good for learning the ABCs, but not more complex concepts) and more on application into life.

Above all, teachers need to be trained to care about their students as young humans, and they must be passionate about the subjects they teach. Any student can learn any subject when he or she is taught by an adult who cares deeply for both student and knowledge.

Isaac Arten
Youth Minister, the Church of St. Michael and St. George—St. Louis, MO


Six Ways to Squeeze God In

Peggy S., our bookstore coordinator, just returned from a Christian booksellers' conference with gifts for the whole staff, and mine was a book by Keri Wyatt Kent called "Listen." The subtitle is "Finding God in the story of your life" and it's an incredible book. She admits in the last chapter that other books have the same points and ideas, but no one has the same story. And this book caught me and held me. It's a gentle read, and one of the things she takes on is the discipline of silence.

(Paraphrasing...) "Cell phone companies offer 1,000 minutes a month, which works out to about 16.5 hours, or 30 minutes a day. How many of us actually spend 30 minutes a day in God's presence? And what would it do for our faith if we did?"

With that in mind, here are six ways we can practice and teach for spending time in God's presence, and in silence, listening for Him, every day.

1. Keep the radio off in the car while commuting. (Tip of the hat to Fr. Wheeler here at CSMSG; this is his discipline.)
2. Have the first cup of coffee with an icon of a saint or of Christ.
3. Record five minutes of silence, save it as an MP3 and load it into your iPod.
4. When it's dark, light a candle and hold it in your hands. You'll be able to see the candle and hands, but nothing else. Reflect on physically carrying Christ in your life.
5. Have a silent meal and really focus on enjoying and being thankful for your food.
6. Wake up early-- really early-- now and then. Open a window and listen to God's world waking up.


The Virtue of a Quiet Day

I've been in my office for a full hour today without any student knocking on my door, without the phone ringing, without even the little bell that rings for new email sounding in my ear. It is a quiet day.

I need quiet days. This month they've been rare enough; parents have called to share concerns about what's happening around their children, students have found me and asked me to share their playtime, and both my dear friend and colleague Marty Chapman have been called on to make decisions about our program.

But today I can listen. Today I can hear the still, small voice that guides me in ministry. Today's largest task is writing letters to our senior class, reminding them that the church cares about them long after they leave our doors. And because it is a quiet day, I can hear God's guidance for my words.

I am not afraid of quiet days. They do not mean I am doing any less work, and they are no less valuable than a day full of sound and laughter.

My students need to see me modeling an acceptance of and an eagerness for quiet. God needs to know of me that I can be grounded in silence and stillness, waiting. My own mind needs quiet to bleed into it.

Today is a quiet day.


The Rookie's Library June 8, 2006

What I'm Reading:

"A Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian McLaren, (C) 2004 Zondervan ISBN 0310257476-- Don't give me that look. Emergent isn't evil. And the man makes a lot of good points.

"The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales" by Oliver Sacks, (C) 1985 Summit Books ISBN 0671554719-- I ran across a reference to this book at Kevin McCauley's workshop on addiction and had to read it because of the title. Which is the idea in any well-titled book.

What I'm Hearing:

"The Best of the Toucans Steel Drum Band"

Gloria Estefan, "Amour Y Suerte" album

Norah Jones "What am I to You?" album

What I'm Proud of from last week:

Making it to the gym on the three days I've been promising myself I'd go all year.


Church Buildings: Two Perspectives

From Catapult Magazine, in an article titled "Church as Third Place as Church"

"Any secular third place displays its values—how do we do the same without being churchy? [Clue: expressing values is not the same as expressing religion.] If people come and go, what do they take with them apart from a coffee? Visitors to emerging church events often leave with mementos in their pockets, reminders of spiritual experience that also allow it to be recreated in another time and place. How do we extend this idea for everyday customers?"

And a professor from Valparaiso University weighs in on spending money on a church building. The two articles create a nice tension and suggest, taken together, that suggest a way to do both-- beautify our churches and serve the community by our use of them.

"It seems to be an obvious fact: In a world where people are starving for want of food and souls are dying for want of the Gospel, original art (ie: expensive art) in the church seems like worse than an unnecessary extravagence. It seems downright sinful.
Is this so? Is it always improper for the church to spend it’s resources on art and design? Is it contrary to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to seek out and provide things of beauty for the church?"

A tip of the hat to Karl for the links!


The best...

...moment in baseball was tonight at a middle school game when two fielders ran for the same falling fly ball and it managed to land on both of their gloves. Since it was already after 10pm, a mom watching the game hollered "Two outs! TWO OUTS!"

...invention since the Bible for youth ministry is Starbucks. On the way back from running errands with a student volunteer today, we stopped off for a latte and on the way across the street ran into my senior pastor's daughter and a friend, then once we'd been sitting and chatting for a bit, another 8th grade guy and his grandmother came in and we got to hang out with them for a while too.


get familiar with... Jonathan Rundman

I've mentioned this guy once or twice in the Rookie's Library, and Jonathan Rundman now has a music video out, of his song "You Don't Speak For Me" (Sound Theology album) on YouTube. Check it out!

Insight vs. Oversight

From the NY Times today, in a story titled "Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0":

"Some of the specifics of the decision process are downright bizarre. New York City's evaluation found that it had no "national monuments or icons." The department concedes that omitting the Statute [sic] of Liberty was an "oversight," but it still seems unaware that to many would-be terrorists, the biggest American icon of all is simply — New York."

And from the daily lectionary: Ephesians 5:1-4 and 15-17

" 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."

"15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."

The connection between the Times article and the lectionary reading today was striking, because both talk about protection-- the news story about protection for the nation and where our priorities should be in that, and the Bible lesson about the same protection and priority for our souls.

The lectionary consistently challenges me these days. I think there's more at stake than we've been willing to admit in this whole discipleship thing, and that we might need to preach a costlier grace.