Should have seen this one coming

Talking with a student (who's home sick from school) this morning, he sent me a link to this story, a CBS report on teenagers not getting enough sleep. It's pretty standard stuff; he was pulling the story for a debate project, and we started talking about how schools need to move their start times so their students' bodies can sleep and wake at their natural times, rather than forcing awakeness to get to school early.

I pointed him toward a couple of sources I knew about but then had to run to staff meeting. "One more thing before you go," he said. "I think church should start at noon... you know, so I can get enough sleep."

When there aren't any lines to read between

...people will create some...

DENVER, Nov. 28 — Peace is fighting back in Pagosa Springs.

"Last week, a couple were threatened with fines of $25 a day by their homeowners’ association unless they removed a four-foot wreath shaped like a peace symbol from the front of their house... Mr. Trimarco said he put up the wreath as a general symbol of peace on earth, not as a commentary on the Iraq war or another political statement."
Come on, folks, if peace on earth was good enough for the angels...


Sometimes we hear the Gospel...

...and sometimes we are the Gospel.

I walked into church yesterday and ran into two students who I see every week. One's first words to me were, "Can I borrow your car?"

"No," I said. "Why?" Students ask this all the time, for whatever reason. I've got my answer very well-rehearsed.

"So-and-so isn't here, and I want to go get him." She actually used his real name, but I won't.

"Great," I said, pulling out my car keys, "Let's go."

So we went. We got lost, and we played on a skateboard (while we waited for so-and-so) and we almost went to McDonald's for breakfast, and we got back just in time to get some Jesus and get to class.

So-and-so didn't hear the sermon, but what he knows is that people at church notice when he isn't there, and that makes us miss him, and that makes us do something about his absence. I didn't hear the sermon either, but four of my kids got to see that I will reach out for them even if reaching into their lives interrupts mine.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of the RYW blog! I hope you're all having a great and relaxing day.

I can hear you thinking "Relaxing? Is he serious?" Well, I'll share two things that should help. The first is the email I sent to the church school teachers this week with their lesson plan:

"I hope you'll get some rest. In fact, go to your to-do list right now, cross something off and replace it with "Rest and be with God." It's vital that we relax so that we're at our best when God needs our attention."

And the second is this recipe for pizza sauce, either for a turkey emergency or the aftermath of the world's biggest shopping day, tomorrow.

1 15-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, any brand
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon shredded or ground parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons pizza seasoning
I clove crushed garlic

Put all the ingredients in a blender and pick a button. When it's smooth, put it in a saucepan and simmer for 90 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving, blessed children of God!
(Photo is hard rolls for 35, my contribution to dinner tonight!)


Interesting parallel here

The day after I post about students' dress in (and out of) worship, this article in the New York Times, on doctors with the same basic problem and how it affects their performance, or at least how their performance is perceived by their supervisors and patients.

"Every day, it seems, I see a bit of midriff here, a plunging neckline there. Open-toed sandals, displaying brightly manicured toes, seem ubiquitous.
My observations may partly reflect the city in which I work, Miami, a subtropical place known for its racy clothes. But colleagues who practice elsewhere report that they, too, have seen medical students and young doctors show up for clinical work in less-than-professional attire.
'Poor choice is not regional — I’ve seen it everywhere,' said Dr. Pamela A. Rowland, a behavioral scientist and director of the office of professional development at Dartmouth Medical School, who has studied the impact of physician clothing on patient confidence. 'It always surprises me when there are dress codes for staff but not for physicians.'”

Someone whose name I can't remember said that the church is the only organization that exists specifically for people who don't yet belong to it. For their sake, let's suspend judgment of people's clothes until we've had the chance to look at their hearts, because when we find out what they really need from us as the body of Christ, chances are we'll lay aside all the external issues. If there's one thing Jesus' choice of disciples should teach us, it's that our performance has nothing to do with how we look.


Purpose-Driven Beard

I grew my goatee so my face wouldn't look embryonically young, but these guys have a cause-- men's health!

"Movember (the month formally known as November) is a charity event held during November each year.At the start of Movember guys register with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants known as Mo Bros then have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their moustache and along the way raise as much money and awareness about male health issues as possible. Movember culminates at the end of the month at the gala parties. "

Theology Tuesday: A theology of dress

On Sunday morning, as I was walking up to the altar for Communion, the usher looked at me as I went past and whispered, "See me after church!" Now, immediately after communion each week, I run down to the gym to get set up for the flood of kids who gather after the service for fellowship before class, and as soon as that was done I went up looking for the usher. And couldn't find him, of course. I went home, then, without knowing what he'd needed to see me about.

He just left my office, and now I know. Apparently, on Sunday, a few of my students were hanging out in the Great Hall, and their mere presence was affecting the dignity of the whole church. (The fact that the whole church couldn't see them, only folks who weren't in worship, which is an entirely different issue, isn't good for theology and won't be covered here except for this eyebrow-raise.)

What was affecting the dignity of the church was the way these kids were dressed. Apparently the boys' pants hang down too far, and the girls' shirts go up too high. And it's bad for the dignified image of the church. And it's my job as the youth minister to stop it.

That's the setup. Now for the theology. As usual, there is Scriptural support on both sides. When Samuel anointed David king of Israel, God's word was "Don't look at his outside, because that's not what I look at. I know what's in his heart." But in the NT, there's a story about guests at a wedding banquet. The host had gone out into the alleyways and dark corners looking for guests, because the original guest list all made excuses, but the one guy who showed up without a proper wedding suit was thrown out.

What's a poor youth minister to do? God wants people to come to worship because that's our highest act as humans, connecting with God who made us. Jesus seems to have told us many times that the dignity of the church wasn't the main thing; in fact, those who focused on dignity and appearances were keeping themselves away from God, because serving God means getting down and dirty with people who need help.

The deepest question in all of this is "Does my outer self show the condition of my inner life?" Will a close relationship with God convict me of the need to dress perfectly when I come to God's house, or does that friendship allow me to be comfortable walking in, grabbing a beer from God's fridge, and crashing on the couch to watch "CSI" with my Creator?

The answer that I've come to after wrestling with it every Sunday morning at the ironing board, is that a church in right relationship with God comes to worship ready to work. The clothes we wear should reflect our willingness to go out and serve God's people after being strengthened by His word.

Which to pick

No apologies for the hiatus I've been inadvertantly taking here at the Rookie Youth Worker, I'm getting ready to move to a new apartment, and the stress-o-meter between that and all the events we've been putting on at CSMSG stays high. Yesterday afternoon I went up to Starbucks on Hanley and Wydown to troll for students, since it's just up the street from one of the schools where a lot of our kids go, and I purposely brought no real work along, just the Leonard Sweet book "Out of the Question, Into the Mystery" which is about maintaining relationship with God, and I highly recommend. Today, therefore, I feel muchly relaxed and able to get once again into the meaty issues of faith with a new segment which I 'll call "Theology Tuesday."

In an effort to keep myself accountable to writing this blog, I'm working up a sort of programming schedule, so you'll know what to look for on certain days of the week, and be able to post irate comments (in the love of Christ) when I fall short.

Theology Tuesday works just like it sounds-- on Tuesdays I'll post about theology. Are you ready? Good.



Sunday our middle school youth group baked cookies and stuffed boxes for our college students' first care package. We've got it in our goals that eventually the college folks hear from us every month, and this year as a step toward that we needed to get these boxes out.

I'm all about giving kids hints about things to write, especially to people they don't know really well. When we did soldiers' Christmas cards last month, I started including examples of things to write on the screen. The tradition continued this time with a few example notes, funny ones that I intended to be a launchpad for these kids' imaginations.

"Dear ______," one began, "God loves you even if you get an F." This one I told them straight out was just there for fun, and they were good about not using it. But the next two were favorites, showing up on almost all the postcards.

"Dear ________, we hope you're having a great year. These cookies will make you smarter. Love, the youth group at CSMSG."

"Dear _______, these cookies are to help you get through your exams. They have all the answers on the bottom. Love, the youth group at CSMSG."


Good Read November 13th, 2006

Since I work in a parish with a school that shares our building, this story, in the Christian Science Monitor, caught my eye:

"In Britain, families to go church so kids can go to school"

One-third of the state-funded sector - 7,000 schools - are faith-based. Most are Christian (Roman Catholic or Church of England), many of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when churches provided the only free basic education available to poor children.

When the schools are oversubscribed, admission is often governed by regular church attendance and energetic parish involvement. Some schools even require parents to get a document from the local priest attesting to their attendance and commitment. For parents like Allen, a bit of time helping at the Christmas bazaar or hosting a coffee is infinitely preferable to consigning her daughter to a bad school.

"It's been a really great way of getting into the community and getting to know people," she says. "You'll find very few people who get their kids into the school and then disappear."

Apparently folks who don't go to church aren't all that happy about it, saying that the church schools' real mission is to convert people and grow church memberships, but on the bottom line this is very much Jesus-style evangelism-- a way to meet a real human need (good education) and expose each person to faith at the same time.

They don't always say what you want them to...

The middle school students were just starting to flow into the gym yesterday for our second round of their youth group when I saw one of them on the phone. Her dad had dropped her off five minutes before and I was mingling around and saying hi to everyone while a few of my favorite YouTube videos were going on the screen. Since I'd never seen anyone else's phone work in our gym, I took a step over to ask how good the service was, and overheard this:

"There are weird people here, will you come and get me?"


Because it matters when you do

In a previous parish, one of my students was trying to convince me to give blood, when her high school was sponsoring a blood drive.

"They don't need my blood," I said. "It's only one pint anyway."

"Do you vote?" Alexis asked.

"Of course."

"Why? It's just one vote." She had me.

In honor of election day, when we proudly celebrate (with stickers, even) how we can each be part of the political process, I offer this list of other things we should all do, because it matters if one person does.

Pray. Jesus promised God is listening, even to one prayer at a time.
Tithe. Preventing your stewardship chair from worrying is a ministry all its own.
Give blood. Yes, they need a lot. But you can always make more.
Recycle. It's easy. No excuses.
Vote. Or quit complaining.
Volunteer with the youth group. Shameless plug there.
Write a letter to the editor. Someone will read it. Something will change.
Ask "How are you?" and make time for the whole story.
Start an honest conversation with someone from another faith.
Open your eyes in the morning and say "Thank you, God." Do it first, before you get distracted.

Not even sure what to say about this...

Today, I was working on the DVD of CSMSG's parenting seminar from this past week, and needed new DVD discs, so went over and bought some. This is a photo of the box.

Notice the claim the company makes for this particular line of discs. They have "100% shatterproof cases." The speed of the disc isn't important anymore, or the quality of the material, just the shatter-proof-ness of the case.

The case is made of paper. Light cardboard, actually. So of course it won't shatter; cardboard doesn't do that.

I think this is on the same level as a church that evangelized by sending letters to all the neighbors saying "You are pre-approved for Heaven!" True, yet still somehow misleading.


A Quote

I had a conversation about everything with one of my students last night, and toward the end of it he said the following:

"I know God's perfect and all, but I think He could have done a better job about some things!"

I was so proud of him. Proud of his candor and the weight on his heart that led him to think about how the world might be made a better place.


What did this mom do right?

CSMSG hosted a parenting seminar last night with Mark DeVries of Youth Ministry Architects. The topic was "Stacking the Stands for our Kids." Essentially, surrounding students with adults who care about them so that even when parents aren't seeming to have any traction in a kid's life, that kid can't go far without running into another adult who has his eternal future in mind.

One of the points that came out of a discussion on the movie "The Horse Whisperer" was that when moms are in trouble, they call Robert Redford.

Actually, that was a joke Mark made while talking about the movie. The point was in a story one mom told. "This student I teach," she began, telling us about a 12-year-old boy, "never really let on what he was feeling until one day we were working outside. Then, as we worked, he started to talk about all these things that were going on in his life, and I thought, 'I never knew he felt all that.'"

"When we got in the car to go home," she went on, "I realized I was going to have to learn to shoot baskets."

This mom did two things right, and they're important ones. She let a conversation happen where the student was comfortable, for one. She realized that her adult way of working out problems (talking about them, when talking about them was the whole activity) wasn't going to reach this student, who needs some third object to focus on in order to open up the deeper side of his brain. And she decided to adapt herself so she could meet the need in his life for someone who would listen, not insist that the child adapt to her style or talk to her next time on her terms.

Parents, when you hear someone say something like this and it's new to you, give it a try. It works. Not always right away, but play some ball and squish some bugs and you're practically in. Youth ministers, find out where this lady lives and go recruit her for your congregation, because she's figured out what it takes to get kids to open up, and put it into practice in her own life.