Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shift and Chicago

Tuesday, Chad and I flew to Chicago to attend Shift, a youth ministry conference at Willow Creek Community Church. We've sat in some powerful sessions about how to reach teens in a messed-up culture. A major emphasis at this conference is the need to try new ways to minister to this generation instead of relying on what has always worked in the past. Teen culture is constantly changing, and those who minister to them have to be flexible in order to keep up.(Hence the name "Shift.") I think this is a great philosophy. I've witnessed ministry being carried out only because it worked in the past. With teens in an ever-evolving culture, that form of ministry simply does not work.

But here's something about youth ministry that does not change. This is what every youth ministry conference, book and seminary class could boil down to: Teens need adults in their lives who are not afraid of them. Some people think I'm trying to be funny when I say this, but youth ministry is basically mission work. The culture is different, the language is different, the clothes are different, the customs are different - even the food is different. Teens need adults who are not afraid to dive right into all the "weirdness" and embrace them for who they are and where they are at that time in their lives.

There are two other things teens need, and this didn't come from a book or a class -- this is what Chad and I have witnessed firsthand. Teens also need:

1) Fathers (or father figures)
2) Boundaries

Think about all the teens you know who are really hurting and they probably have an emotionally or physically absent father and/or virtually no rules. Kids with no rules like to brag about how great they've got it, but the truth is that boundaries give kids security. And about fathers -- there is no end to the damage the absence of a father can cause. We've seen this over and over in our youth groups, kids we've met at camps, etc.

Adolescence can be an awful time in someone's life. Freud even suggested adolescence is nothing more than a temporary mental illness. But teens are reachable, and they need adults who will not give up on them, but meet them where they are.

But we haven't JUST done conference stuff while we've been here. The last two nights, we've gone downtown to eat Chicago-style pizza and shop on Michigan Ave. Such fun. Other than Houston, I haven't been in a major city since my trip to NYC in 1986. (I feel like such a RUBE all of a sudden.) We've eaten pizza at Giordano's, ridden the train with a bunch of drunken Cubs fans and walked probably five miles up and down Michigan Ave. Oh, and did I mention our kids are not with us? They are back home under the care and supervision of my parents. Suckers!!

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spiritual Stories

Everyone has a spiritual story. Even the people who think they don’t believe in anything. We all have a spirit, and those spirits are constantly writing away on their own autobiographies.

I love hearing people’s stories. In Baytown, I got to hear and write people’s stories on a regular basis for the local newspaper. What a humbling responsibility it is to take something as precious and intimate as someone’s personal account and turn into a written work. So many times, I sat down to write a feature and prayed that I would be somewhat capable enough of a writer to honor these people who had shared something so special with me. I wrote about survivors of the 1947 Texas City Disaster. I wrote about families devastated by Alzheimer’s Disease. I wrote about people whose homes were washed away by Carla and Alicia, the area’s most notorious hurricanes. I wrote about a dear woman at our church who had come from Mexico at 16 with nothing and eventually became Baytown’s first Habitat for Humanity house recipient. I loved hearing and writing people’s stories of strength, courage and hope in the face of adversity.

Because of the kind of writing I mostly do now, I don’t get to hear people’s stories as much as I used to. But I still wonder. Sitting in the sanctuary at Christ Church during Compline earlier tonight, I wondered about the people around me. I know why I’m there, but what brings them there? Is it the intimate, distraction-free time in God’s presence? Is it the pure voices of the Compline choir? What is it about their circumstances that calls them to seek out their Creator amid candlelight and ancient words? Is it a desire for communion with God? Is it guilt? Is it because they understand the word “sanctuary” to mean more than just a room in a church?

I wish I could write their stories.

Some people might call that nosy. But I like to think of it as being intrigued by the human experience in general. Maybe that’s a more positive way to say “nosy.”

I recently read Anne Rice’s spiritual autobiography. What an incredible story. And she tells this intensely personal account with such honesty – an honesty that ranges from sweet and reminiscent to heart-wrenching and brutal. Best known for her series of vampire books featuring the vampire Lestat, Rice spent her early years growing up in New Orleans as a devout Catholic. In college, Rice walked away from both the church and God, a process she calls “a catastrophe of the mind and heart.” For nearly four decades, Rice lived without faith. Then a series of events brought her back to God and to the religion of her childhood. “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession” details Rice’s journey through the beauty and wonder of a developing faith, the excruciating loss of faith, and the joy – and pain – that accompanies a faith rediscovered and reborn.

Rice is remarkably candid in sharing this intimate process. More candid than I think I could be. My own spiritual auto-bio would stop abruptly with “TO BE CONTINUED” and a lot of blank pages to follow. And a fair amount of curse words thrown in, to be honest. Because, as Rice clearly illustrates, having a relationship with God has its seasons of hurt. Even for those of us who never lose our grip on our faith. Sometimes we are the foolishly enthusiastic Peter attempting to step out on the water, and sometimes we are the debilitated one having to be lowered through the roof to our Savior. Sometimes we reach out like the bleeding woman, hoping for a life-changing brush of his garment as he walks by. And sometimes we sit in a dimly-lit church with the choir’s reminder of “Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum” – “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation” – and wait for a heavenly hand to get on with it already and turn the page to the next chapter.

I miss writing other people’s stories. Maybe one day I’ll sit down to write my own.


Monday, April 06, 2009

More signs Jenna has been on the computer too much

Today at lunch, I had just prayed and ended it with "In Jesus' name, amen."

Jenna: What's Jesus' name?

Me: His name is Jesus.

Jenna: What's his password?

Me: I don't think he has a password.

Jenna: I think he does. I think it's "jelly."

Me: Jelly?

Jenna. Yes. Jesus Jelly.


Saturday, April 04, 2009


I've been looking at the newly-released photos of the MLK assassination over at Life magazine. This is the one that grips me every time I look at it. Here is this black man -- the brother of the owner of the Lorraine Motel -- whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have rights he never had. Because of this blood he's cleaning up. It's just chilling. I think I could stare at this photo for a month and still not get all the ramifications of it. I wonder if they can award Pulitzer Prizes this long after a photo has been taken.


Friday, April 03, 2009


There are things worth living for.

Then there are the things worth dying for.

He knew the difference.

January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

Go here to see previously unpublished photos of the aftermath of the MLK assassination. Some of them are the most moving photos I've seen in a long time.