undercover atheist
Friday December 14th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: faith, blogs

leaving eden is the anonymous blog of an undercover athiest attending my alma matter, wheaton college. while i still have a lot of affection for wheaton, and value what i received there, i do know that these kinds of environments can feel terribly boundaried and oppressive to some people, depending on a variety of factors (their classes and professors, friends and other relationships, personality, where they are in their journey). i know that while i attended wheaton, i swung wildly from fan to hater, model student to frustrated subversive, there and back and there and back again. i had professors and classes and even chapel experiences that deeply and profoundly fed into who i am today (in positive ways), as well as experiences (one in particular) where i felt extremely mistreated by the system.

anyhow, it’s an interesting blog. and it’s thoughtful — it doesn’t seem to exist to “take down the school”. there’s also an interview with the author of leaving eden on another blog, here (part 1) and here (part 2) that are worth reading.

(ht to andy at think christian)


heart support
Tuesday December 11th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: faith, church

heart support is a cool new online support community for people struggling in various ways (particularly with addictions, depression and things like that). it’s a great resource for people in ministry, both to point to, and for personal help.


(ht to melinda van kirk, via email)

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youth specialties is closed today
Friday December 07th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: faith, youth specialties

once a year, we close our office for an all staff spiritual retreat. usually we do this in late summer, just before convention season hits. but this year we couldn’t seem to find a date that worked, and ended up postponing it until after the conventions were over. so today, we’ll be at mission san luis rey (one of the california missions started by father junipero serra back in the day - any california public school kid learns all about this). my wonderful wife, jeannie, and her co-author, larry warner, will be leading us. we’ll have some guided time in the morning, and, i expect, lots of freedom in the afternoon for sleep, reflection, prayer, day dreaming, or anything else that refreshes or rejuvenates.


thanksgiving note
Thursday November 22nd 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: faith, personal

here’s the thanksgiving note ys sent out from me (for my non-american friends, today is a national holiday in the states called thanksgiving):

Dear youth worker:

Last thanksgiving I was—I’ll admit—struggling to feel thankful. Maybe you’re in this space right now. Know what? God is not spooked by that, or disappointed in you, or frustrated that you don’t “get it”. Clearly, the 12 disciples struggled with this on a regular basis, and Jesus didn’t kick them out of the disciple club!

If you’re struggling to find thankfulness, please take care of your soul and find some space and time to be quiet this weekend. Sit with God; and allow God—without a big agenda on your part—to provide you with thankfulness. Let’s be honest—we can’t always muster it up on our own. God’s Spirit would love to cozy up to you in a place of quiet and reveal to you some reasons to be thankful.

This year, I have to say, I’m feeling way-thankful. I feel like my life is so wonderfully full of great stuff right now. My wife and children give me so much joy. My friends are so loving and caring. My spiritual community is so rich. My work is so fulfilling. And you youth workers continue to provide me with reason upon reason for joy and thankfulness. Your stories, your passion, your calling—they all fill me with a great hope. And, really, isn’t thankfulness intimately connected to hope?

I speak for all of us at Youth Specialties: we love you. We pray for you. We are committed to serving you and encouraging you (and occasionally providing a loving nudge). In that spirit of care and affection, we wish you a happy—no, that’s not it—a Hope-Filled Thanksgiving.



donate rice and improve your vocabulary at the same time!
Tuesday November 20th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, faith, youth work

as we head into a week of thanks and (let’s be honest) gluttony, here’s a great little game that’s been floating around the internet these past few weeks. really, to call it a came is not enough. it’s an extremely creative donation tool, getting people involved in giving rice to those in hunger. test your vocab knowledge. every correct answer donates 10 grains of rice. you can play as long as you’d like, and see the quantity of your rice donation adding up.

i knew many of the words, had to make educated guesses on many (based on parts of the word), and completely uneducated guesses on others. i think i have an ok vocabulary, but not a great one. my “score” seemed to hover around 38 and 39, whatever that means.

this would be great to pass along to the kids in a youth group, btw.

here’s the game: free rice


teenagers, the american dream, and where youth ministry needs to go
Thursday November 08th 2007, 12:53 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, faith, youth work, news

i’ve been noodling a bit on this since i read anastasia goodstein’s post on teenagers and the american dream, on her ypulse blog. so, here’s that to begin with:

I always thought of that the American Dream went something like this. Anyone in this country, regardless of who they are (race, class, gender, etc.), could achieve success (usually financial) in the United States if they worked hard enough. The collective knowledge of Wikipedia defines the American Dream as:

Generally refer[ing] to the idea that one’s prosperity depends upon one’s own abilities and hard work, not on a rigid class structure. For some, it is the opportunity to achieve more prosperity than they could in their countries of origin; for others, it is the opportunity for their children to grow up with an education and career opportunities; for still others, it is the opportunity to be an individual without the constraints imposed by class, caste, race, gender or ethnicity. It sometimes includes the idea of owning a home.

According to a recent Harris Poll, here’s how teenagers described the American Dream:

“Simply being happy, no matter what I do” — 47 percent

“Having a house, cars and a good job” — 38 percent

“Being able to provide for my family” — 30 percent

“Having the career of my dreams” — 27 percent

“Being rich and/or famous” — 20 percent

“Owning my own business” — 7 percent

“Being ‘the Boss’ ” — 5 percent

Fifty-eight percent say a college education is a necessity in order to achieve the dream, with 20 percent of those saying a four-year university degree is mandatory. While only 3 percent believed they could achieve the American dream on a salary of $25,000 or less, one-quarter thought a $100,000 annual income was sufficient. In addition, a whopping 71 percent believed they personally can achieve the American dream. Notice how “me”-centric the teenage version of the American Dream is…

a handful of my very random thoughts:

first, i was surprised a bit to see “being happy, no matter what i do” rank so high as a definition of the american dream. while anastasia rightly says teens’ responses are me-centric, i was encouraged that the number one response was NOT about materialism, not about “stuff”. my impression/understanding of the american dream (similar to the wikipedia definition) has to do with typical american measurements of success: owning stuff, having access to a job, owning a home.

of course, we all know that the american dream is, for many, a falicy. or, at the very least, not equally accessible. but that’s not the point of my rumination here. “being happy no matter what i do” is COUNTER to consumerism. “being happy no matter what i do” has in its wording a counter-cultural defiance, implying that i can be happy even if i do not have stuff.

that said, most of my other responses were not as positive.

part of my frustration is that i think youth ministry willingly swallowed the baited hook of the american dream promise. in other words: so much of what’s been done in the name of “youth ministry” in the past 35 years has really been about trying to get teenagers to buy into a combo-platter of the american dream and a moralism wrongly called christianity. we’ve tried to shape kids into “good church goers” and “good citizens”. and, in this context, “good” means “active and compliant”. let’s embrace the values of non-activity and non-compliance!

i also thought: if we polled teenagers in most youth groups, we probably wouldn’t get findings that are quantifiably different.

and: can we just set the concept of “the american dream” in a nice glass-covered display case and consider it an interesting relic of our history? it’s built on such a deeply flawed set of values and assumptions. everyone does not have equal access to “success”. and, then, even for those who do have access, the “success” doesn’t bring happiness or contentment. and this is where i am most concerned: that we continue to perpetuate (even if we never use the term) the notion, in our youth groups, that…
- god will bless you with a comfy, stuff-filled life if you’re a good boy or girl
- the goal of discipleship is to have good answers
- other than a few supermen and superwomen who are “called” to pastoral or missionary work, the life the rest of us normal disciples are called to is one of a daily quiet time, church attendance a couple times a week, some role in serving the church, and giving to the church. all other time and resources (and values and relationships and decisions and, well, everything) fall out of the domain of anything god gives a flying rip about.

how ’bout we swear off ever using “the american dream” (either in word or concept), and, instead, start talking about “the dream of god”. that vision of god’s from before time and creation. that dream of god’s during creation — of what this world could be, of what we could be. let’s build our ministries around walking with our kids into living in the dream of god.

virtual prayer groups
Tuesday November 06th 2007, 8:27 am
Filed under: faith, news

interesting article on the proliferation of virtual prayer groups (on facebook and other online locations).

a snippet:

A Google search for “online prayer groups” returned more than 2.3 million hits. On MySpace, the most popular prayer group allows members to read daily Bible verses and has nearly 150,000 members.

The emergence of the Internet as a place for prayer is not surprising. A Pew Research Center study published last week said 89 percent of teens and 71 percent of their parents believe the Internet and technology like cell phones make their lives easier.

Religious Web sites in particular are gaining popularity. According to comScore Media Metrix, a company that measures Internet audiences, religious sites attracted an estimated 22 million visitors in September. Sites like GodTube.com, a Christian YouTube.com, saw a 973 percent increase in traffic between July and August, according to comScore.

(ht to ypulse)

st. louis NYWC, sunday morning
Sunday November 04th 2007, 10:08 am
Filed under: youth ministry, faith, youth specialties, family, youth work

another wonderful day yesterday, in every way.

didn’t have to get up too early, which was a great start. morning general session was good, with lynn hybels (she went a bit long, but had some really great stuff to say; and i loved her attitude). then a had a great lunch with 18 national leaders from the catholic youth ministry organization, lifeteen. we’ve been friends with lifeteen for about 6 or 7 years, and continue to love their hearts and friendship and how similar we are in our organizational values. we’ve talked about partnering for years and years, but have never really done anything. but this lunch might be a catalyst into some cool stuff.

after lunch, i had a fascinating mtg in my suite. our ys exec team pulled together a few trusted friends of ys (jim hancock, mark riddle, ginny olson, michael novelli, eric venable, scott burkes, and scott kail) to ask them to assess us a bit. i lead the discussion, asking them to share stories of ys past, then to put themselves IN the past, and talk about what ys was like, from their perspective, at that time. we moved forward and had them talk about ys now. i asked them to speak as ys present, addressing ys past, and cautioning ys past on some things to come. i asked them to complete this sentence: it’s a shame that ys has become ___________. then, we looked toward the future — not in a predictive way, but in a possible way. first, we walked down a road to a preferred future, and talked about that. then we backed up, and walked down a road to a negative potential. ouch. interesting stuff.

then, i was off to a short dinner reception for graduation seniors of youth ministry programs (who are attending the convention as part of the youth specialties academic support network). always enjoy being with that crowd: they’re energetic and optimistic. the evening session was fantastic. michelle tolentino, a compassion kid (now grown up) from the philippines shares again, and slayed everyone. i was on stage with her, and had to talk after she finished (she received a massive standing o), and i couldn’t. i started a word or two, and they stuck. weird thing to be standing in front of 3500 people and not be able to get any words out due to an emotionally-constricted throat. doug fields spoke, and brought it, big time, again. his talk was on ministry envy. during the talk, i was in a conversation back in the green room (backstage); and at one point, i noticed that max (my 9 year-old son) was sitting on a couch watching doug’s talk on the monitor we have back there. as this continued, i was surprised to see max sit throuh the entire 40 minute talk, watching and listening. i heard his phone ring at one point, and could tell it was jeannie checking on where he was. i heard him say, “yeah, i’m watching a guy talk. no, not dad. some other guy.”

after the session ended, max said to me, “i need to go ask that guy a question.” doug was out in the room, with a crowd of people around him. max went out and waited — about 15 minutes, i’d guess. i made my way out there eventually, and sat nearby waiting. max got doug’s attention at one point, but doug didn’t realize max had a question, and after saying hi to max, went on to the next person waiting to talk to him. max waited again. then, i saw doug fields bent over, having a full-on conversation with max (with about 30 more youth workers circled around, waiting to talk to doug). on the way back to our hotel, i asked max what he wanted to talk to doug about. he said, “well, he talked about how sometimes we hate people, even though they’re nice people. but hunter, in my class, i don’t like him, and he’s really mean. and i wanted to know what he thought i should do about that.” “oh,” i said (pulling him on his healies, as i walked), “did he have anything to say?” “yeah, he told me what to do. so i’m good now.” thanks, doug.


“minister of questions”
Wednesday October 17th 2007, 11:51 am
Filed under: faith, church, blogs, emerging church

just stumbled onto this wonderful post by j.t. about his desire to be a “minister of questions.” love it. great post.


everything must change
Thursday September 27th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: faith, church, books, emerging church, emergent

everything must change.jpg, by brian mclaren.

at this point in his publishing career, brian mclaren could publish the sentence, “water is good to drink,” and people would freak out. john mac and john pipes and the don and others would deconstruct his sentence (ironic, actually). christian radio shows would invite him on to talk about his drinking water sentence, but bait-and-switch into a discussion of relativism and hell. christianity today would be oddly silent, with only a passing sarcastic comment on the editors’ blog.

and, of course (to be fair), too many emergies would start drinking more water, without thinking, because “the brian” said it.

at first brush, i couldn’t find all that much controversial about brian’s new book, everything must change: jesus, global crisis, and a revolution of hope (which, btw, releases next week). but, i’m sure that’s the “i’m not a theologian” in me peeking above the firing line, and there will be plenty of helpful and unhelpful critique from others.

i will say this: brian knows how to stir a pot without letting it boil.

he’s a master of properly placed emotion. it’s not that the book is emotionless: far from it. brian just knows (or chooses?) to get fiesty on some matters, and graciously sashay up to, but not onto, other matters that would hurt the book. knowing brian, i’ll call this humility (which is genuine).

this wasn’t my most-favorite-all-time-bestest of mclaren’s books. but it was 110% thoroughly worth reading, and will have me thinking for a long time; and, likely, it will push me to change some things (maybe not everything, but some things). and, i expect, there are plenty of people (i can think of many) for whom this will definitely be their most-favorite-all-time-bestest brian mclaren book.

while his breakdown of the engines that create or power culture were tough for me in the sense that i don’t feel i have the faculty to think critically about what brian wrote (i’m not sure i would know if he’s correct or not), it did give me a whole new way to think about those componants. like, the “three interlocking systems” of prosperity, equity and security.

i think most helpful for me was the section on “framing stories”. as is often true of brian’s writing, this section put words to things i kinda understood (somewhat understood, partially understood), but didn’t have a good way of articulating, even to myself; and, then, he added to that thinking, or pushed my thinking further. brian makes an interesting case for how the framing stories in jesus’ time should shed light for us today on how to read his life and message, and how our own framing stories need to be acknowledged and partially (?) deconstructed.

it’s not a skimmer. you gotta read the whole thing. if you’re one of those who would rip on brian for the above fictional sentence about water, you’ll find plenty here, i’m sure, to fuel your fire. but for those of us who read with a desire to live openly, believing that god will reveal truth to us from both likely and unlikely sources, i fully expect god to stir your pot.

thanks, brian.