2014travel

my 2014 travel year, by the numbers

IMG_4820

  • Trips (not including personal stuff): 31
  • Stops (some trips had more than one stop): 46
  • Airline mileage: 144,742
  • Flight segments: 141

IMG_4876

  • Train segments: 1
  • Nights in a hotel, camp, conference center or guest bed: 124
  • US States visited (not including layovers): 17 (CA, MI, GA, MA, CT, PA, NJ, SC, OH, WA, NC, AL, CO, TX, TN, VA, IN)
  • Foreign countries visited: 3 (England, Canada, Belize)
  • Car rentals (not including a couple in-town rentals): 34
  • Car rental Days: 86
  • Nights stuck in a layover city due to missed connections: 4

IMG_4905

my bucket list

my bucket list, end o’ 2014 edition

i am a person not short of longings and daydreams. and i collect experiences like others collect trinkets. so it should not be a surprise that i think ‘bucket lists’ are fun. in fact, at the first meeting of each new cohort of the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program, i have participants give us a little glimpse into who they are by sharing 3 bucket list items: one they have done in the last few years, one they’d like to do and probably will, and one they’d like to do but probably never will.

so, i’m gonna put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) to list some of my own. some of these were already in place; but others i’m making up on the spot.

in no particular order:

  1. continue to visit one new country, at least every other year. i’d love to visit one new country per year, but that’s not always reasonable. however, i have 2 (and maybe 3) on deck for 2015 already (Italy, Spain, and maybe Jamaica). i’m at about 41 or 43 countries visited so far, and i’d certainly like that to cross 50. 75 would be nice.
  2. visit the two remaining states i have not been to (Vermont and Idaho), merely to complete the 50.
  3. vacation with my wife in Italy for our 30th anniversary for 3 full weeks (this one is likely, for 2016).
  4. write a handful of books for the broader christian market (meaning: not youth ministry or teens or parents). i have my first–Hopecasting–releasing in march. how it does will greatly determine whether this is a one-and-done item, or a broader impact and new area of growth for me.
  5. grow The Youth Cartel to a sustainable place where i’m less necessary. i imagine about 5 or 7 staff, a fun office, ongoing creativity and impact, and the ability for me to play an active role without being so busy.
  6. bucket list

  7. be involved in raising up a couple UH-MAZE-ING next leaders for The Youth Cartel–people who are WAY more talented than me and WAY more likely to instigate a revolution in youth ministry.
  8. be an 80 year-old middle school ministry volunteer, if i make it that long (in life, that is, not in ministry).
  9. speaking of being less busy, i would love to scale back but still be meaningfully involved in youth ministry and Cartel-y things, post 60.
  10. move to a house with an ocean view.
  11. have a cabin in the mountains where i can retreat whenever the heck i feel like it.
  12. a harley. or a vespa. (yeah, i know those couldn’t be more different; but i’d love them both and realize that’s absurd.)
  13. get asked to speak in chapel at my alma mater.
  14. paint. (i loved this back in college, and would love to revive it when i reach that partial retirement mentioned above.)

and then, all the more noble things that don’t quite qualify as bucket list items, like launching two independent and passionate adults (who are currently teenage and young adult), loving my wife better, and stuff like that. but, yeah, those aren’t really bucket list items.

how about you? what’s the item on your list that you might actually do, one day?

my (youth) ministry language pet peeves

everyone has pet peeves, right? i know i do. by their nature and name, ‘pet’ peeves are subjective and personal. so i fully admit that while there are four terms/phrases i’m quite confident we should do away with in ministry circles, i realize these are my issue. in other words, you are more than welcome to disagree and be wrong!

Slide1students

several years ago now, i was hosting a group of 20 junior high pastors for a few days of interaction and thinking. and christian smith, the noted sociologist responsible for the National Study of Youth and Religion was our guest for a half day. at the end of our time with him, i asked, “if you could get all youth workers to stop doing one thing, what would it be?” i expected his response to have something to do with how we talk about or lead teenagers in faith formation. but he surprised me with, “I wish all youth workers would stop using the word ‘students’ when referring to teenagers.” (or he may have said ‘young people,’ or some other term.) he went on, “‘student’ is a role, not an identity.”

Smith’s little statement had a big impact on my thinking, and i’ve come around to completely agree. when i’m speaking about teenagers these days, i usually use that word (teenagers); and when i’m speaking to them, i usually use something aspirational, like ‘young men’ and ‘young women,’ or something similar. i agree (i’m projecting that some of you are thinking this) that we don’t have a perfect term. but i try hard not to use ‘students’ unless i’m specifically talking about that role.

kids

along the same lines, i try very hard not to use the term ‘kids’ when referring to (or even more so when talking to) teenagers. really, i feel MUCH more strongly about this one than i do ‘students.’ i think it’s demeaning and diminishing. i know it’s easy, and a natural part of our language. but language communicates all sorts of meaning. language teaches.

ladies

this one isn’t so much a ‘youth ministry’ term; but i see and hear it used all the time in youth ministry circles when referring to female youth workers, female volunteers, and teenage girls. the term ‘lady’ refers to behavior. a woman is (in the true sense of the word) considered to be a lady if she is ‘behaving’ properly, meeting the imposed expectations of ladylike behavior. in the same sense that ‘students’ refers to role, not identity, ‘ladies’ refers to behavior, not identity. you might think i’m overstating this, but the use of this word does harm to women, implying that their value and worth is based on their behavior.

‘love on’

and finally, a phrase. youth workers seem to think it’s great to say that they want to ‘love on students’ or ‘love on teenagers.’ i understand (and very support) the sentiment behind this. but it is simply creepy language usage. find another way to explain your good and worthy intentions. ‘show love’ or simply ‘love’ are both much better.

so: what ministry language pet peeves do you have?

thanksgiving banner

Thanksgiving Myths

here’s a great list of thanksgiving myths, from uncle john’s bathroom reader

MYTH: The settlers at the first Thanksgiving were called Pilgrims.
THE TRUTH: They didn’t even refer to themselves as Pilgrims – they called themselves “Saints.” Early Americans applied the term “pilgrim” to all of the early colonists; it wasn’t until the 20th century that it was used exclusively to describe the folks who landed on Plymouth Rock.

MYTH: It was a solemn, religious occasion.
THE TRUTH: Hardly. It was a three-day harvest festival that included drinking, gambling, athletic games, and even target shooting with English muskets (which, by the way, was intended as a friendly warning to the Indians that the Pilgrims were prepared to defend themselves.)

MYTH: It took place in November.
THE TRUTH: It was some time between late September and the middle of October – after the harvest had been brought in. By November, said historian Richard Erhlich, “the villagers were working to prepare for winter, salting and drying meat and making their houses as wind resistant as possible.”

thanksgiving dogsMYTH: The Pilgrims wore large hats with buckles on them.
THE TRUTH: None of the participants were dressed anything like the way they’ve been portrayed in art: the Pilgrims didn’t dress in black, didn’t wear buckles on their hats or shoes, and didn’t wear tall hats. The 19th-century artists who painted them that way did so because they associated black clothing and buckles with being old-fashioned.

MYTH: They ate turkey …
THE TRUTH: The Pilgrims ate deer, not turkey. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow later wrote, “For three days we entertained and feasted, and [the Indian] went out and killd five deer, which they brought to the plantation.” Winslow does mention that four Pilgrims went “fowling” or bird hunting, but neither he nor anyone else recorded which kinds of birds they actually hunted – so even if they did eat turkey, it was just a side dish.

“The flashy part of the meal for the colonists was the venison, because it was new to them,” says Carolyn Travers, director of research at Plimoth Plantation, a Pilgrim museum in Massachusetts. “Back in England, deer were on estates and people would be arrested for poaching if they killed these deer … The colonists mentioned venison over and over again in their letters back home.”

Other foods that may have been on the menu: cod, bass, clams, oysters, Indian corn, native berries and plums, all washed down with water, beer made from corn, and another drink the Pilgrim affectionately called “strong water.”

A few things definitely weren’t on the menu, including pumpkin pie – in those days, the Pilgrims boiled their pumpkin and ate it plain. And since the Pilgrims didn’t yet have flour mills or cattle, there was no bread other than corn bread, and no beef, milk, or cheese. And the Pilgrims didn’t eat any New England lobsters, either. Reason: They mistook them for large insects.

MYTH: The Pilgrims held a similar feast every year.
THE TRUTH: There’s no evidence that the Pilgrims celebrated again in 1622. They probably weren’t in the mood – the harvest had been disappointing, and they were burdened with a new boatload of Pilgrims who had to be fed and housed through the winter.

hey, whatever myths you do or don’t embrace, i pray you have a wonderful and thanks-filled week!

success and failure

Fun with failure

i’m a firm believer in the opportunity brought on by failure. shoot, my journey is littered with much more failure than success. some real doozies! and there is NO question in my mind that i have learned 10 times more–no, probably 100 times more–from my failures than from my successes.

of course, there are vastly different kinds of failure. off the top of my head (i wonder if someone has written a book along these lines?), i’d divide them into:

  1. failure from stupid–even knowingly stupid–choices. an opportunity to learn.
  2. failure from lack of ability. an opportunity to learn (at least about oneself and one’s limitations).

  3. failure from lack of trying. this is the worst kind, in my opinion. still an opportunity to learn, of course.

  4. failure from trying–from a risk that didn’t work out. this is the best and most noble kind of failure, i believe. in fact, i think of this as “noble failure.” most of our youth ministries (and churches) must get into a cycle of change and embrace the concept of noble failure if they’re going to survive in the years to come. The Youth Cartel tries to embrace this (though sometimes we fail!). we’ll say, “oh, yeah, that. it was a noble failure. we did our research, found a good partner, had good assumptions, but it didn’t work out. it was a great opportunity to learn.” of course, this is easier said than done.

this is really off the top of my head; but i’d love to develop this thinking further (shoot, maybe i should write a book or article called “noble failure.” or, maybe that’s someone else’s term and i’m totally ripping it off and just don’t remember!). are there categories of failure significantly outside of those four? would love your input.

record player

the #1 song the day you were born

here’s a very fun, simple site that allows you to enter your date of birth–or any day, for that matter–and find out the number 1 song on multiple charts.

on my day of birth, may 24, 1963, the #1 song was jimmy soul’s “if you wanna be happy,” which i didn’t recognize from the title. but when i played the video (yes, the site offers up videos!), i certainly knew it, and was quite pleased to have this as my birthday song!

comment with your birthday song!

tomlin

Chris Tomlin’s new album — who wants a copy?

loveranredtoday i’m listening to chris tomlin’s new album, Love Ran Red. (i just accidentally typed ‘love ran rad.’ and i suppose that’s true also, but wouldn’t have been as strong of an album name; so i applaud chris for not going with that.) clearly, the dude has a gift for writing singable songs, which results in chris’s songs being sung everywhere, probably more than just about any other modern worship artist. chris’s albums are lovely; but as a church worker, i think his greatest impact isn’t in how many people listen to his songs, but how many people sing his songs.

there are two versions of the new albums: 12 tracks on the standard version of the album, and 16 songs on the deluxe version.

and i have 3 copies of the deluxe edition (why does deluxe have an ‘e’ on the end of it, i ask you!?) to give away. here’s how we’re doing it this time (yup, i’m gonna milk this!): friday is the regular registration deadline for The Summit — the coolest youth ministry event ever, taking place in nashville in a week and a half. after friday night, the reg rates go into “late registration” mode, which adds something like thirty bucks or thereabouts. so, the next three people to register for The Summit win a delux(e) edition of chris’s new CD, mailed directly to you! i’ll post the winners here, so you’ll know if you get one or not (and i’ll contact the winners directly). let’s just call this a little nudge for those of you who are planning on attending The Summit, but hadn’t registered yet.

oh, and all of you should check out Love Ran Red (not ‘love ran rad’) here.

young teen and bible.2

young teens and bible reading

some time ago, i did a blog interview with josh griffin on the download youth ministry blog about young teens and bible reading. thought i’d share it here:

Research shows that a large percentage of churched teens rarely read the Bible outside of church. Why do you think that’s so?
A secondary reason is the busyness of the lives of teenagers these days; but the primary reason is that the Bible feels inaccessible to teens. They would say–if they’re being honest–that it’s “boring.” But what they really mean, if they had the words, would be, “I don’t know how to read it.”

Why do young teens have a hard time reading and relating to the Bible?
Of course, there’s a language issue. But I think the main hurdle for young teens is that reading the Bible feels more academic. They try it once or twice, but feel like failures when they don’t connect with what they’re reading.

young teen and bible.1How have changes in youth culture affected the ability of Christian teens to understand, relate to, and engage with Scripture?
One of the primary shifts in youth culture over the past couple decades is a major shift in how teenager understand truth. Mostly gone are the days when rational arguments trumped. Today’s teenagers and young adults have grown up in a world where their experience informs their understanding of what’s true. This shouldn’t unnerve us as Christ-followers; instead, we trust that the God who wants to reveal himself will meet teenagers in the living Word of God.

What are some of the spiritual challenges a young teen faces in today’s culture?
While I could answer this question in dozens of ways, I’ll go with this: today’s teenagers have an extremely heightened need for belonging. A desire for belonging is a good thing, and part of our being made in the image of God. But the challenge for today’s teenagers is that they usually learn their identity through their places of belonging. And, clearly, this can be problematic when their places of belonging tell them lies about themselves.

You’ve been involved in youth ministry for a few decades now. Is nurturing the faith of young teens more difficult today?
In many ways, yes (though not in every way). Certainly, our pluralistic culture has mostly eliminated the “base line” of basic assumptions we used to be able to make about teenagers’ knowledge of the Bible and basic beliefs. In many ways, the biggest issue I see is the extreme isolation of teenagers in our culture today: they spend all their waking hours in homogeneous groupings, and rarely spend time with adults. That brings all sorts of challenges with it that are difficult for youth workers who want to help teenagers grow into adults with a vibrant faith.

What are some of the challenges faced by parents, youth workers, and pastors?
As a parent of teenagers myself, I am constantly encouraged by our culture to treat my teenagers as if they are little children. This has a counter-intuitive negative impact on teenagers, extending adolescence (now understood to be a 20 year life stage!), and damaging their growth, including their spiritual development.

What are some ways that parents can help their teens understand the Bible?
This isn’t rocket science. A parent who wants to help their teens understand the Bible has to first model a life of being formed by God’s Word. Then, we have to be intentional about regular and ongoing spiritual conversations. Research has shown us the importance of teenagers verbalizing what they believe. Parents can have an amazing ministry with their teens by providing safe and supportive opportunities for that verbalization.

MSMC-Logo-Alt

campference rules

each year at the Middle School Ministry Campference we frame a “how to make the most of the weekend” bit in the opening session with Camp Rules (it is a CAMPference, after all). we try to have some fun with these rules, since the tone of the event is extremely low key and laid back. i don’t think i can show them all here (there’s a bit of a “what happens in vegas stays in vegas” vibe to the campference). but here’s most of them (with some parenthetical explanations):

Rules.001

Rules.002
(this isn’t like other events. this is our tribe. this is hang-out time. this is a place to be known.)

Rules.003
(you have complete freedom to make this weekend whatever you need it to be.)

Rules.004

Rules.005
(leave your work at home. disconnect. be present.)

Rules.007
(exercise healthy skepticism.)

Rules.008
(people on the stage are not ‘more important’ than people in the audience. and we invite you to ‘break the plane’ and speak up from the audience.)

Rules.010
(we don’t care what your voice sounds like. engage full-throat mode during worship.)

Rules.011
(people who have been here before know: the program is good, but the best part of campference is the hanging out parts.)

Rules.014
(you’re loved and accepted here. lean into that. trust that.)

cliffs of dover.banner

my new working metaphor for young teens and doubt

for years, as i’ve talked about the spiritual development of young teens and their brain development, i’ve said something along these lines:

abstract thinking is a beautiful gift from god that comes with the onset of puberty. abstract thinking is, in a nutshell, thinking about thinking. there are tons of implications, but the primary biggies are speculation (asking ‘what if’ and ‘why’ questions), and third person perspective (seeing myself from someone else’s point of view, or seeing someone else from someone else’s point of view, or even considering an idea from someone else’s point of view). these two results of abstract thinking are revolutionary to the spiritual development of teenagers (as well as for their emotional development, relational growth, and identity formation). preteens are some of the most concluded people on the planet. they have a completely worked out (albeit naive) worldview and systematic theology — concrete, but functional. then puberty comes along like a tsunami and obliterates all that conclusiveness, creating a space for questions and doubts and a move toward either rejecting childhood faith or growing into a more robust, complex, adult faith.

i think i’d picked up that ‘tsunami’ metaphorical language years and years ago from one of my own junior high ministry mentors. it’s dramatic, and sounds nice.

but it’s not accurate.

and i’ve replaced that metaphor recently in how i talk about this shift.

the reason it’s not accurate is that young teens don’t suddenly acquire fully-functioning abstract thinking. they get the capacity; but it’s like an underdeveloped super-wimpy muscle that has to be exercised for a number of years in order to gain strength. so, yes, young teens (post-puberty) have the capacity for abstract thinking; and it DOES have huge implications for all those developmental realities (including spiritual). but it doesn’t happen overnight. it’s not a light switch. and the ‘elimination’ of concrete childhood beliefs does NOT take place like the arrival of tsunami.

picture a giant cliff at the edge of a sea. but this cliff is made of something soft and easy to erode — like dirt, or sandstone, or chalk (think: cliffs of dover). when the capacity for abstract thinking kicks in, nothing changes immediately. those concluded faith bits still stand like a proud sea cliff as long as the sea below is calm.

but then something happens that creates a gap or tension between experience and belief. like: a 12 year-old who has always had a beautiful and confident belief that god answers my prayers, that if i really pray and it’s not selfish, i can throw a mountain into a sea. and that kid’s favorite grandpa gets inoperable cancer. the kid is confident (full of faith) that prayer will heal his grandpa; but grandpa dies. now, suddenly, there are stormy seas below the cliff. waves crash against that edifice, and erosion happens. the concrete beliefs of the preteen years can’t stand against the barrage of powerful storm waves.

btw: at this point, a young teen almost always needs an adult who can come alongside and help them move all this erosion/storm waves/doubts stuff out of the murky world of subconscious if they hope to do anything other than reject that previous faith bit (if they hope to consider alternatives and new, more abstract, ways of thinking and believing).

so there you have it: doubt comes to young teen faith not like a tsunami of change, but like a storm wave crashing into a sea cliff made of easily-erodible stuff.

let’s get in there, storm chasers.

cliffs of dover.erosion