A chuch typo

We're putting together an updated songbook for our children's chapel service, and I walked into our clergy assistant's office today to find a sheet on her desk with one of my all-time favorite camp songs on it.

"I love this song!" I said, not noticing that she was pulling all those pages out.
"Read the whole thing," she told me.

The first verse was good: "I will call upon the Lord/who is worthy to be praised/ So shall I be/ saved from my enemies."

But the chorus had a kicker to it: "The Lord liveth!/ and blessed be the Lord/ and may the God of our salvation be exhausted!"

(It should read, "be exalted," by the way.)


A follow-up to the last post

An op-ed piece in the NYTimes today describes "the dark night of the soul," and what it means for a person's faith, and it's a good read.

There's a reason we call for "authenticity" in youth ministry today, and this story really throws light on how foolish it is to try and make the Christian life look easy to nonbelievers, new believers or anyone else. It's ridiculous to hide the hard times we have and the difficult seasons we have to go through (I'm in one... it's one of the reasons I haven't written much lately) because if we try and keep a face up in front of people, and then they somehow discover that we're not all content and perfect, our whole faith is going to look iffy to them.


Apparently even great saints have doubtful times

I found an article in my mailbox today, copied from the Post-Dispatch (I'll edit in a link later, in a hurry just now) about Mother Teresa's writings to her confessors and confidants about how she experienced a really long time (years and years) of feeling like God was not with her.

The mom who mentioned this story to me yesterday, before I saw the paper itself, seemed a little shaken by it, but I had a thought:

Even if Mother Teresa did feel lost, did wonder if Christ had really forsaken her, she still obeyed the command He'd given her, still served the people who needed her most. And thus, no matter what any writings say, she is still an example of true faith.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Only the obedient believe, and only believers obey."


Why I enjoy small group so much

At the beginning of small group, between dinner/check-in and actually getting started, I pull the questions out of the fishbowl on the table that kids have left there for me from the week before. (This is the way we keep ourselves on task during the group; if someone has a question that doesn't connect to the topic, we put it in the fishbowl for the next week.)

The question was "Why do we end prayers with 'Amen'?"

Smart Kid: "In Hebrew, it means 'Let it be done.'"
Really Smart Kid: "Then shouldn't we say, 'Amen, please?'"


Apparently it's logical

Humans today are apparently trapped in a virtual world, an environment created by advanced "posthumans," according to this story in the NY Times today.

"My gut feeling is that the odds are better than 20 percent, maybe better than even. I think it’s highly likely that civilization could endure to produce those supercomputers. And if owners of the computers were anything like the millions of people immersed in virtual worlds like Second Life, SimCity and World of Warcraft, they’d be running simulations just to get a chance to control history — or maybe give themselves virtual roles as Cleopatra or Napoleon.

It’s unsettling to think of the world being run by a futuristic computer geek, although we might at last dispose of that of classic theological question: How could God allow so much evil in the world? For the same reason there are plagues and earthquakes and battles in games like World of Warcraft. Peace is boring, Dude."


Reusing (clothes, anyway) catching on

A while ago I read an article about how while recycling had gotten trendy over the past few years, no one's ever paid much attention to the "reduce" and "reuse" parts of the original triangle.

I'm a proud Goodwill shopper and talk about donating clothes and buying used with my kids fairly often, as a form of stewardship, and some of the folks (guys especially) I talk to are really uncomfortable with it. Since every designer store in the world, it seems, has a location in St. Louis, this story caught my eye today:

"Back to school shoppers stock up at resale stores"

"While parents are increasingly shopping resale, another trend is on the horizon: Teenage shoppers, who once never would have set foot in such stores, also are on the rise."Being green is cool, and we are in the recycling business," Maurice said. "Definitely the attitude (among teens) has changed. Also the kids are happier because they are getting more."

A little moment that kept me laughing through Communion

I preached yesterday, in the "big church," at all three services. Today, I'm really tired from all that, but still laughing because of my students. I'd been given the idea to include some material in my sermon about the students at our church, since I have a perspective on them that the other preachers generally don't use. And so during the main service, I talked directly to the youth group in the congregation.

The youth group was busy while I was preaching. They were busy putting a whoopee cushion under my chair, and then re-inflating it a couple of times when I'd managed to sit on it while there was too much noise (hymns, etc) for it to be embarrassing.

Maybe they didn't get all of the challenge I set out for them in the sermon, but they're comfortable enough to hang around while I teach about God, which is a great start!


Is it Enough?

The other day I was watching "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV-- for anyone who's unfamiliar, this is a show that gives us all a good look at 16th birthday parties thrown by kids whose parents want to buy their love or can't fight their sense of entitlement.

The two girls featured on the show (they had the same birthday, so shared the party) asked all their guests to donate money to St. Jude Children's Hospital rather than bringing gifts, and over the course of the party raised $50,000 for the hospital.

Which is a good thing. $50,000 worth of research and care for kids with cancer-- who could fault them for that?

The trouble is, the party cost $421,000, eight times the value of the donation. Nearly half a million dollars spent on celebrating two children and making them feel like rockstars. Does the donation, set against that obscene self-aggrandizement, have any value left? If the two students had spent the half-million on the hospital, and the 50,000 on the party, wouldn't that have made more of a difference?

When Jesus said, "The measure with which you give is the measure which will be given to you," did he have this sort of thing in mind? I'm not sure quite what to think-- I want to give those two girls credit for their generosity, but when their party cost eight times what they gave away, and the money for the donation came from their guests and not themselves, how generous was it?


A bag-o-friendship to teach commitment

Last week, a friend from here at church dropped off a fragrant bag at my office. In it was about a cup of "starter" batter for a batch of Amish friendship bread. The bread, a tradition probably started by the Amish, is passed on in starter form from one friend to another; the recipient works the bag for 10 days, sometimes adding ingredients, mostly just mushing it up to keep it from being stagnant. At the end of the preparation, you make several gift starters to pass on to your own friends, add the last ingredients (including, oddly, a box of instant pudding) and bake the actual bread. What you end up with is a sweet, cinnamon-sugar-crusted loaf of Amish goodness.

When I told one of my students about it, she let me get about a sentence into the story and interrupted me to say, "Just to let you know, I don't want one!" According to her, it was far too much work.

So that made me start to think about how this weeklong bread might be a good activitiy for a small-group Bible study during a series about friendship and what it means to be a friend. You have to be committed to this bread or the starter will go bad. It takes some waiting; the bag leaks odd smells through the days when it sits on the counter; it's harder to make than most bread because there's a specific order to the steps. It's like a good friendship. (Which, of course, is why I suspect the Amish named it the way they did.)

"Of course it's hard. Anything that's worth doing is hard," I told a student one day. But to see that there's an investment required to build up good, Christian friendships, this kind of concrete, tasty project might be just what students need.

Here's the recipe:

Amish Friendship Bread Starter
Amish Friendship Bread (requires the starter)


A "Spiritual Interview" for youth and leaders

I was sitting in Starbucks the other day, reading “The New Faithful” by Colleen Carroll, and noticed a job interview happening at a table across the cafe from me. This made me think about the number of job interviews I'd seen happening there since I moved to St. Louis-- every time I walk into a Starbucks store, someone's trying to get a job, either at the store, or meeting an interviewer at this convenient place.

The purpose of a job interview is to find out how well the person applying will fit in and what he/she will contribute to the company. One tactic that interviewers use all the time is asking challenging or tricky questions, trying to find out how well people think on their feet or how much they know. After the interview, the applicant will have an idea of where he's a strong choice for the job, and a set of weaknesses she can work on before the next meeting.

It made me think about how useful it might be to hold spiritual interviews with students once in a while, to directly ask questions about faith that check what students know and give them some things to think about afterward. The idea wouldn't be to put pressure on students to come up with certain answers, but to see where they're at and help us figure out how to help them more precisely. Greg Stier's “Ministry Mutiny” has an idea like this; that's another spark source for me on this one.
These are some useful questions for a spiritual life interview:

When you go to worship, what part of the service do you most look forward to?
If God had a message to give you right now, what medium (music, people, words, etc.) would He use to deliver it?
When you need to make a big decision, what steps do you take to discern what God wants you to choose?
How do they make M&Ms? (That's an actual interview question, designed to check creativity. Throw it in just for fun.)
What spiritual practices give you strength when you're tempted?
Talk about the times this year when you've been the highest and lowest, spiritually. Where was God in both of those places?

Sometimes we can get these things to come up in conversation. But I also think there's a place for a planned check-in.