There's something different about us...

Yesterday, walking downtown to pick up a friend of mine, who's in town for Urbana 06, I ended up behind a bunch of young adults from the same conference. I walked with them for a half-block or so and then one of the guys in front called back, "Hey, guy in orange!" (I was wearing orange, duh!) "Do we know you?"

"No," I said.

"Well, we do now." That started a pretty cool conversation; who we all were, where we worked, which ministries we wanted to be part of. And I thought how cool that was, that these people were willing to start talking. And I firmly believe that's one of the marks we need to be building up in our youth; a readiness to meet new people and become their friends, even in short doses like my walk between the parking place and the hotel.


Heaven is a place where batteries are included

Heaven is a place where batteries are included.

Slot A always matches tab B.

All the boltholes are completely threaded.

Heaven is a place where gas stations don't sell gifts, so you're never tempted to give less than your best.

Anyone else in the spirit tonight?


Christmas in Michigan

Happy Christmas, everyone! I'm in Michigan-- it was a big surprise for most of my family that I flew up, and I'm enjoying a few days seeing some friends while I'm here.

Hope God grants you safe travel, good gifts, and loving folks to surround you this season!


What do we think?

Is this guy taking seriously Jesus' command to go into all the world and make disciples, or is he risking his job and reputation unnecessarily?

Talk in Class turns to God, Setting off Public Debate on Rights (NYTimes)

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”


The Brand-Name Giving Plan

I've been having a running discussion with one of my students about what he should put on his Christmas list. He has all the basics covered-- the ipod, the video game chair with built-in speakers, a new belt, but mostly, he says, "I just want people to give me money."

By now he should have figured out that I'm not going to help in the way he thinks I should. I keep giving him alternative ideas. "Why do you have to have more than three things on the list?" I asked.

"Well, I have a lot of people to send it to," he told me.

"So tell them to surprise you."

"That wouldn't work out very well." (in my mind, I replaced this with "Then I'd never get what I really wanted.")

"So tell them to give the money they would have spent on your gift to give medical care to orphans in the Third World."

"I don't think that's a very good idea." (He'd debated against it at a tournament, he told me, and won.) "Besides, how much are you giving to the orphans?"

He had me there, actually. My Christmas list at that point did not include medical care for Third World orphans. But I wanted to see if there was a way to make that kind of a gift. For me, it would be simple enough to budget the roughly $20 it costs for that kind of care through World Vision, but I had another goal in mind. I wanted to develop a way to challenge my students to raise that support as well.

This is the basic outline. Make a list of all the things you buy every month that are brand-name or designer-made. Search diligently, with Magi-like intensity, for a generic brand of the same product you can live with, and figure out the difference between the two. Each time you make a purchase, substituting the non-brand item, put the money you save in an envelope and at the end of the month, or whenever it adds up to the right amount, send it in.

Can anyone see refinements that need making to this idea or similar plans that might catch students' attention?


Nine days, they tell me...

Here's what I was thinking about Christmas last year, back when the RYW blog was brand new (been going for a full year now): Did We Kill Him Because He Cried?

And something far less reverent, but still illustrating in some small way the hope this season brings: a video to "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, a song I just heard the other day, I think for the first time.


Here's why I'm gone...

I've been sick, is the reason, and away from the Internet connection at my office, so this blog has been slow. Here's a couple of things to check out: The first is a piece by Mark Shea, from his blog, about how belief is shifting toward Christmas being a Christian holiday first, and a pagan holiday second, in response to the Christian celebration! Tip of the hat goes to my dad for linking this over to me.

"For the fact is, our records of a tradition associating Jesus' birth with December 25 are decades older than any records concerning a pagan feast on that day.

[T]he definitive "Handbook of Biblical Chronology" by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the "Chronicle" written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus' birth "took place eight days before the kalends of January," that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there's evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus' death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival."

The second is a recipe for my mother's party punch and remarkable get-better beverage, of which I am drinking large quantities, partly for the bolus of vitamin C, partly for the sheer liquid joy that makes my throat feel nicer, but mostly because it's something I don't make very often.

A can of orange juice
A can of cranberry juice
A can of lemonade
A 2-liter bottle of ginger ale.

Pour a third of each juice concentrate, add three cans of water and a third of the bottle of ginger ale, into a pitcher. Shake it, stir it, whatever; drink it when it's as fresh as possible.


A Story from Bethlehem

We took our group out to St. Charles, to Harvester Christian Church, for their Journey to Bethlehem event, last night. I rode out with one of our church school teachers and his six-year-old daughter. One of the features of this event is that all the volunteers, even the parking lot attendants, are in character.

So we pulled up to the driveway to the church and spotted a shepherd at the entrance, waving people in. "Look who's standing there!" Bill said to his daughter.

She looked out at him from the backseat and said "God?"


Why I want to be a children's minister

It's not only that younger kids believe the things you tell them (which is both an upside and a downside) it's also that they're so much more willing to say exactly what they mean.

At Advent Family Night on Sunday, I was talking with a few kids who were making Nativity scene felt boards, and said I thought it looked really easy. "Then why don't you make one?" said one little girl, who was having her dad cut out all the pieces.

I said I would, but I didn't really want to. So I kept talking, and hoped she'd forget. A few minutes later, the same little girl looked up at me and said "Well, hurry up and do your thing!"

So here it is. I'm not much for perfect inside-the-lines stuff, but I think it turned out all right.


Pros and Cons of tech in ministry

This morning I have a confession that will not surprise anyone. I want to announce that I am a tech-addicted youth minister. As we were working on next year's budget, I made a short list of things to pick up should mysterious money be left in any odd corners, and all of them, from an updated cell phone with a Bluetooth headset, to the new Nintendo wii (for the sixth graders, strictly for the students!) were tech items.

After this year's NYWC, I came home all fired up about MediaShout, which as a program truly is all it promises, and using videos in our youth events. Our little Canon digital camcorder comes to all the events, and the next day the youth minister spends some time splicing and editing to make quick highlight reels for the next Sunday, to show all the folks who weren't there what they missed. When other churches join us for events, they get copies of the videos too.

In a lot of ways, tech is a good tool. But it can also be a distraction. When I'm stuck on a video problem, or surfing through iTunes trying to find the perfect soundtrack to go with a clip, a lot of time goes by, and it's easy (for an often hyper-focused person) to push everything else on the list further down. So what are the pros and cons of tech in ministry?


Youth know tech. They've been surrounded by it their whole lives and are fascinated by it. Learning it myself gives me a connection to students and a way to offer them ownership of the ministry.

Tech (especially video) appeals to visual learners. It's an effective way to drive the message past filters the teenage mind uses to screen out things they can't interact with, and thus aren't relevant.

Tech can (believe it or not) save time. Just one website, Bible Gateway, lets me find the Bible verses I need for talks and studies when I just know a few words of the quote. Mapquest (Google Maps, whatever; not trying to be exclusive) gets me where I'm going without digging through the paper maps myself.

These, of course, are just a few.


Tech can be a crutch that I hide behind when I haven't really prepared properly. It's easy to throw up flashy, meaningless video, knowing it will catch kids' attention, when what I really want to do is pretend I spent more time working on the lesson than I actually did.

Tech can isolate me from my students. When I go to a place using better tech than I have, my first reaction (which I sometimes, to my chagrin, allow to be the only reaction) is to run home and spend however long it takes making my setup shine just as much. It's a keeping up with the Joneses thing, but it means I'm not out finding students and living truth into their lives; I'm in my office tinkering with my computer.

Tech can make the church seem just like any other place my students go. If I'm using tech and excluding silence, candlelight, the Eucharist, other things the church has that are unique, I'm ignoring the raw power of God's story to change lives, and relying on "relevance."

I'm not going to give up tech, but with anything so labor-intensive and two-edged, it pays to keep both sides in mind.


NASA plans permanent base on the moon

"While the Bush administration and NASA have spoken in general terms about plans for a return to the Moon, followed by human spaceflight to Mars, the lunar outpost plan is the first time officials have proposed a permanent presence.
”We’re going for a base on the Moon,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s a very, very big decision.” (Photo from NASA's Earth Observatory)

Let's dream big for a moment, fellow servants of the Word-- what's your biggest, brightest, most spectacularly out-of-this-world goal?

Personally, I would love to be the first youth minister on Mars.


Good Read: Workplace Chaplaincy

Talking to my mom the other day, she suggested that airports during the holidays would be excellent places to minister, providing care packages and other practical services to travelers who might be stuck, worried or otherwise in need.

With that in mind,
this article caught my eye this morning, in the New York Times. Workplace chaplains are apparently becoming more popular, turning out to be less expensive than traditional employee-assistance and counseling programs, and creating "faith-friendly" workplaces. Paralleling the military model, these chaplains are not expected to evangelize, but to serve employees of all faiths and help meet their needs.

"Companies tailor the chaplaincy program to their culture. Cardone Industries, a Philadelphia company that refurbishes auto parts for resale, draws its chaplains, almost all lay people, from its employees. Other corporations, like American LubeFast and Herr Foods, contract with an outside company like Marketplace Chaplains to provide chaplains. Some, like Tyson Foods, which started its program in 1999, have their own chaplains, 127 of them at about 250 of the company’s more than 300 plants in North America, said Allen Tyson, the company’s head chaplain, who is not related to the founders of the company."


Complaints Choir of Birmingham

I think this is a neat idea-- a complaints workshop that collects what's wrong with people's lives and makes them into a choral piece. All church councils should go through a process like this, to get them used to saying things out loud, for one, and for another to be able to laugh at the things that turn out not to be important later on.