pushing my buttons
Wednesday November 07th 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth specialties, personal

i received this email today, from which i’ll remove the sender’s name:

I recently attended the conference in St Louis. I can’t help but think Yac must be rolling in his grave. Having attended the event in the past I was troubled about the path this event has taken to the extreme of being the fundemental evangelism at its worse. I was troubled with the
tenor of presentations that claimed as a standard guilting our youth into being members of the body. Disavowing their own worth because they are sinners destined to hell if they don’t mend their ways. And it was all topped off with a slamming of Lesbians in a general session. I suspect I will not be an attender in the future and will be hard pressed to recommend this to any of our denominational youth ministers.

i post it here because i’ve heard quite a few complaints about greg stier’s talk. this email, however, was the strongest, and really offended me. this was my response:

Thanks for writing with your concern.

That said, I need to start by saying what a cheap-shot it is to suggest that the founder of our organization, whom we all knew and loved so dearly, and who died four years ago last week, would be rolling in his grave. Ironic, that you were frustrated with what you saw as manipulation and guilt, yet you try the same thing with us, throwing on the addition of emotional abuse.

Clearly, you are referring to greg stier’s talk. A couple things:

1. we intentionally invite a wide variety of speakers to our convention. We hope our diversity both honors god, challenged homogeneity, and provides everyone present with the opportunity to have their feathers ruffled. There are plenty of other youth ministry events (conservative and liberal, protestant and catholic) that provide a uniform slate of speakers who would all agree with each other. That’s never going to be us.

2. I really like greg. He’s the real deal; honest and pure. His character is impeccable. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says. I did not like much of his talk.

3. I think you either misunderstood what he said in his illustration of the lesbians, or you are over-reacting. His example was of how he engaged a group of people with whom he had a theological difference in a conversation of respect. He mentioned how he sent away the other christian who was there to condemn them. He mentioned how he was a sinner also. The only “joke” was that he said he had something in common with them, as he lusts after women also. If THAT little comment is what caused such great offense for you, then you need to lighten up.

I believe yaconelli was jumping for joy over this convention, relishing in the diversity of the attendees and the speakers, as he always did (yac was the one who brought jerry falwell and ralph reed!).

I can confidently say you are completely wrong about your impressions of any “turn” the convention has taken. Nothing could be further from the truth.

then, this exchange softened things up a bit:

> Mark,
> Thanks so much for the prompt response. You are correct with your
> impression that it was a cheap shot and I beg your forgiveness. That
> certainly was not the intent.
forgiven, of course. thanks.

> I would like to address the points you
> proposed.
> 1) While the perception on your part is that you provide a variety of
> positions, theologies, ideologies, and agendas I found the presentations
> somewhat of the more evangelical bend. Maybe it is just me. I just found
> myself more uncomfortable at this conference than in the past. Perhaps
> this is just a spiritual crisis for me. I known worship is to comfort
> the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That being said I was
> comforted by Lynn’s talk (but a little long).
This is interesting to me, since lynn is so decidedly evangelical! Did you hear ralph winter (clearly not an evangelical), or me (an ex-evangelical)? Of the three cities this year, the other two are MORE diverse than STL was — but sometimes we get what we get (we ask two or three times as many people as we get!).
> 2) Regarding the ‘talk” by Greg it was much more than the little joke. I
> couldn’t help but sense in a convention of more than 3000 individuals
> that perhaps more than 150 might be going through issues related to
> homosexuality. Did his talk welcome them into the community or push them
> further away? By his own actions of claiming that they would not agree
> on the issue of sin and sexuality wasn’t he condemning them?
Well, that’s greg’s belief, that homosexual practice is a sin. But that wasn’t his point at all! His point was that — EVEN THOUGH he believes the practice is a sin, that’s what binds him to this group of lesbians (that other christians would dismiss), because he is a sinner just like them! Surely, you would not suggest that no speaker should ever express their beliefs, or that YS should filter them. For someone who would believe homosexual practice is a sin (which is a total given, of course, for an obvious conservative like greg), I thought his point was actually the exact OPPOSITE of what you are suggesting it was!
> I really don’t anticipate a response but would welcome one. Thanks again
> for your post, and I will attempt to lighten up, but perhaps that is
> something YS needs to do as well.
Truly — YS does need to lighten up! That message came to me this weekend loud and clear. We’ve been too tame of late.

and, finally, this:

> One more thing. From your response. If I was to decide to return would I
> be welcomed?
First of all — anyone is welcome at our convention. That’s exactly my point!
Second — you even moreso, would be welcome, because you got bothered about something, expressed it poorly, apologized, and had a good discussion with me. Shoot — now we’re friends!

when the mocker becomes the mocked
Monday November 05th 2007, 11:08 pm
Filed under: youth specialties, personal, humor

so, there was this cheerleading competition going on all weekend at the st. louis convention center. and all of us at the national youth workers convention had to walk through their midst over and over again: swarms of tiny girls in little matching outfits, with horribly too much make-up and embodying pretty much the worst of america. i kept thinking my youth worker’s heart should be going out to them. instead, i was merely repulsed, and wanted to smack their mothers.

so we mocked.

tic and i — thanks to some convention volunteers who made the effort to “outfit” us and “do our hair” and such — felt compelled to mock, which resulted in this:

sorry. i hope i haven’t scarred you forever.

i should tell you, i almost knocked tic off the stage with that belly-bump.

st. louis NYWC, monday morning
Monday November 05th 2007, 11:40 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, personal, youth work

sitting in my room, slurping on my eggs bennie, avoiding my prep work for the closing general session.

yesterday: a mostly wonderful day, really. at one point in the evening, rich van pelt from compassion asked me how i was feeling, and the word that came to mind was “fulfilled.”

really fantastic general session yesterday morning. lots of great worship and fun and all, but what really nailed it for me was ralph winter’s talk about the power of story, the role of story in our lives, and the critical nature of darkness in good stories (which, he said, was why so much christian storytelling sucks). he read his talk, but it didn’t matter (interesting how that does matter sometimes, and doesn’t other times). he used clips from the tv show heros and the the movie x-men 3, and i think one or two others (oh, he actually started his talk with a mash-up movie trailer of “brokeback to the future” — a smash of scenes from back to the future with music and themes from brokeback mountain).

i had a nice break for a couple hours around lunch time, and actually sat in my room and did nothing. i channel-surfed on tv. it was great!

taught my seminar called “a new vision for middle school ministry” in the late afternoon and had a riot. i was low energy going in, and worried i wasn’t going to engage at all. but something kicked in, and i had a great time (i think the attendees did also — they seemed really engaged). then i had an interesting dinner: last year, i got an email (i think that’s what the contact was) from a catholic youth worker who attended one of the conventions and left in the middle feeling the event was anti-catholic. he was really frustrated — angry, even. we emailed back and forth quite a few times, as i tried to understand. i think the primary issue had been a mainstage speaker who made reference to his own story as, “i used to be catholic, before i became a christian” (or something like that). i had remembered cringing for my catholic brothers and sisters when that had been said. anyhow, i asked the guy to return this year as our guests and give it another shot, which he graciously accepted. he was having a good experience this year, which i was glad to hear. but i also enjoyed getting to know him and hearing his story. as a young 30-something retail store manager, with an offer of a promotion on the table, he heard his church was going to hire a youth pastor. he’d never been in a youth group as a teenager, never volunteered in one as an adult, had no youth ministry experience whatsoever; but sensed a nudge. after a wild confirmation from god, he applied for the job and got it. and the group had 2 kids. one girl — who was shy and wouldn’t talk — and one guy. for six months, those were the only two kids. that was five years ago. he senses now that youth ministry is a life-long calling (and the youth group has grown and is healthy).

at the evening general session, tic and i decided to further mock the cheerleading competition we’d all had to walk through saturday and sunday to get to our space in the convention center (hundreds of little girls in cheerleading outfits, with massive quantities of make-up, and freakish bow-things in their hair). some of the volunteers went out and bought outfits for us. tic had the traditional little cheerleading skirt and all. they couldn’t find a skirt they thought would fit me, so i was dressed more like a guy cheerleader, in running pants and shirt: but i pulled the waistline of the running pants up all the way over my (large) stomach, to create an absolutely horrifying visual. in a moment of gender-confusion, the volunteers put my hair in a single ponytail on top of my head (a fountain of youth, one might say). we pranced out to the stage and jumped around. i almost knocked tic to the ground when we “belly-bumped”. we did a short, irreverant cheer, and tossed to a comedian. lots of photos were taken, though i’ve yet to see one surface.

greg stier spoke last night. greg is a genuinely good guy. pure character. pure motives. pure passion. i don’t always agree with everything greg says (his passionate plea for us to preach christ and christ crucified alone was tough for me, and seems to minimize christ to only the work he did on the cross, not the work he did at creation, incarnation, living, resurrection, or other parts of the story). but i love greg’s passion, zeal and affection for teenagers and youth workers. i also got to affirm a very cool young couple in the general session last night. they have been jointly hired by the five churches in their small southwestern colorado town. get this: the churches are catholic, baptist, presbyterian, episcopalian and non-denominational. yes, you read that correctly. those five churches came together to hire one couple for youth ministry. not for 5 youth groups. but for one youth group. amazing.

ok. i have to prep for my talk.

blah, blah, blah
Sunday November 04th 2007, 4:58 pm
Filed under: personal

i’m at the point in the convention where i’m rather sick of hearing my own voice.


get the hug right
Saturday November 03rd 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: personal, humor

i’m a hugger. and, seeing so many friends at the national youth workers convention, i’m doing lots of hugging. which means there are lots of opportunity for failed hugs, a la:


(ht to sam harvey)


st. louis NYWC, friday night
Saturday November 03rd 2007, 5:00 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties, personal, youth work

we’re off and running. had a good day yesterday, with the first half the the critical concerns course i’m co-leading with scott rubin on middle school ministry. walked the exhibit hall last evening. then jet lag overwhelmed me. so, after tweaking some media for a seminar today, i climbed in bed very early for convention: 10pm. of course, jeannie and max arrived from san diego at 11, so i was up for 45 minutes again.

today was a full day: the 2nd half of the CCC, then the opening general session, followed by the seminar i’m co-leading with mark riddle called “the expectations that killed the youth worker” (which went substantially better here than it did in SD, after we re-organized the entire thing). dinner with some old friends, then the evening general session, which just ended. chris hill was bringing it tonite, and duffy robbins did a nice job of opening the convention earier today. crowder was brilliant as usual, and flatfoot 56 and jars of clay were wonderful today.

i had a major computer issue just before my afternoon seminar. my computer would not fire up. luckily, one of zondervan’s IT dudes happens to be here (for a store software thing), and he was able to come over and help me get it fixed JUST in time for my seminar to start. but now, i’m noticing, after all of that, that various system things (like, at the moment, the title of this webpage) are in arabic. seriously. i’m getting extremely tired of having font problems with my new mac. it’s massively tainting my mac experience.

tomorrow’s a slightly lighter day for me, but not by much. less presentations. but meetings filling in the blanks.

i got a fun gift today from blogger marty estes and his wife erin. i was in the midst of my computer crisis at the moment, and kind of gave marty a brush-off (sorry, marty! i was in a panic!). he brought me a cute (dorky, jesus-junky) gift bag full of dorky jesus junk, in honor of my semi-regular “jesus junk of the month awards” here on ysmarko.com. they included a nice encouraging note also.

i also got a bit freaked tonite just before i was going to walk up on stage to introduce jerod hall (the illusionist). i very nice looking middle-aged woman came up to me and touched the sides of my head and said, “i think this is the sexiest look you’ve ever had.” i laughed nervously and backed up two or three steps. i’m sure she meant nothing by it other than to compliment me on my fabio hair; but it totally unnerved me!

loved it when, after crowder talked about having a hoe-down, chris hill (an african american) took the stage and said, “a hoe-down in my neighborhood means something completely different.”


mike’s 4th
Wednesday October 31st 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: youth specialties, personal

the other day (the 30th) was yac’s 4th anniversary with jesus. miss ya, mike.


Wednesday October 31st 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: personal

checking in at british midland (bmi) at the belfast city airport, tuesday morning…

me: i’m flying belfast to london, connecting to united to chicago, but skipping the leg to san diego and starting a new itinerary. so if you’d like to only tag my bag to chicago, that would be great.

counter girl: then we should off-load you from the last leg.

me: well, that’s not what united told me to do. they said i should just skip that last leg, so it doesn’t mess anything up, since i booked the new itinerary leaving chicago for grand rapids. but it doesn’t really matter if you leave me on whole thing, as i’ll have to get my luggage for customs in chicago anyhow, and i can just recheck it for my new flight at that point.

counter girl: i can’t do that.

me: what do you mean, i’m asking you to do nothing.

counter girl: i need to remove you from that last segment, or they’ll be looking for you.

me: yeah, so? i paid for it. so i don’t fill the seat. if there are stand-by’s waiting, they’ll get a seat.

counter girl: i can’t do that, it’s a security risk. i’ll have to remove you from your check-in on the entire united flights, and you can deal with this in london.

me: wait, so you’re telling me i’m going to have to pick up my luggage at baggage claim at heathrow and check in as if i’d just shown up, including going through security in heathrow?

counter girl: yes, because you’re not taking that last segment.

me: forget i ever said it! that IS, of course, exactly what united told me to do. but, you’re saying that my honesty about my flight plans is causing you to send me through security again — which is usually an hour-long, at best, process at heathrow — risking missing my flights?

counter girl: well, i’m sorry, but that’s what i have to do.

counter girl’s manager: sir, please don’t make this difficult. we’re trying to ensure our flights are safe.

me: safe from me? from someone like me who actually TOLD you my plans?

counter girl’s manager: yes, sir.

me: so, you’re not even going to give me the boarding pass i already had for the london to chicago flight?

counter girl: no, we’ll keep that.

me: omigosh! i can’t believe this! [ysmarko comment: i was getting a bit whiney at this point, out of sheer exasperation.] so that’s it? if i’d kept silent, i’d be fine; i’d be flying to heathow and avoiding baggage claim and re-checking and security and all that. then, in chicago, i’d get my luggage at customs and recheck it, telling them at that point that i’m not taking the final leg.

counter girl: have a nice day, sir.


our last day in ireland
Tuesday October 30th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: personal

my dad and i had an absolutely perfect last day in ireland. we woke up on the antrim coastline town of portrush, and had a great ulster fry (an amazing northern irish breakfast, similar to a full english breakfast, but with the addition of fried soda bread and fried potato bread, both of which are just so frickin’ good!). then we set off on our day of tourism on the antrim coast.

first we hit the bushmill’s factory tour. bushmill’s is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world (officially licensed since 1608, but operating a couple hundred years prior to that). and whether you like whiskey or not, it’s a great tour. my dad and i were the only two people there for a tour at that early hour, so we essentially got a private tour. our old-ish tour guide was great, and we had so much fun. i’ve been on the tour two previous times, but i learned SO much more today. i finally understand the difference between scotch whisky, irish whiskey, and american bourbon (actually, kentucky bourbon and tennesee whiskey). and, though my dad has never even come close to liking whiskey, the guide gently coached him through some taste tests with a bit of water to soften the taste, and my dad actually like it! sweet!

next was dunluce castle, one of my favorite ruins in ireland. beautiful place hanging on to the edge of a massive cliffside. then we were off to the giant’s causeway, a world heritage site, and one of the most amazing and strange natural rock formations i’ve ever seen. really. google it or wikipedia it and look at the pics. we absolutely froze our butts off there, though; so we didn’t stay long.

next stop was the carrick-a-rede rope bridge, a truly odd tourist stop. it’s a historic rope bridge 100 feet over a small water channel (from the mainland to a tiny island), originally placed for a salmon fishery. it’s windy and wobbly and super-freaky. cold and rainy on us, but a blast.

finally, we drove my favorite road in ireland — one of my favorite drives in the world: a little road around the very northeast corner of ireland. the road is barely wider than one lane, and is cut into the top of extremely high hillsides that plunge down to the sea (scotland is visible at the outermost point). the hills are shockingly green and filled with sheep that seem like they should be rolling side-over-side down to the water.

tonite we’re in belfast, and, after dinner, i’m meeting my buddy johnny parks (the worship leader) for a pint. tomorrow morning we fly to the states: my dad to detroit, and me to beautiful grand rapids.

goodbye, ireland - until next time. you’re still one of my favorite countries on earth. you and argentina, and maybe new zealand. and, i suppose, the u.s. sometimes.


links golf on the northern irish coast
Monday October 29th 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: personal

played a round of golf with me wee da yesterday at bushfoot, in the little coastal town of portballintrae. it was every single one of these: