Category Archives: faith

Curiosity is the Serum for Judgmentalism

my most recent epilogue column for Youthwork Magazine (UK) came out recently. here’s what i wrote!

serumI get insanely annoyed by the judgmentalism within the Christian church. I’m not just talking about judgmentalism within a single church, but that judgmentalism that dismisses or diminishes entire movements and tribes within the bride of Christ. That judgmentalism that shows up as ministry leaders who spend so much time and effort deciding (for God, it seems) who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out.” But, I can’t deny the beam in my own eye on this one.

That makes me think of a quote my wife shared with me sometime ago. It’s a quote about Gandhi (not by Gandhi), from the book “The Root of This Longing”:

Gandhi always brings you back to yourself–the beam in your own eye, the discrepancy between your own actions and the ideals you profess. He insists that you look beyond the headlines for the root causes of each new horror, and always the trail leads back to forces in consciousness, like envy and fear and the lust for power, and always you have to recognize those same forces in yourself.

Shoot. I would much prefer the point out others’ annoying judgmentalism than face my own.

Half a dozen years ago, the leadership team of ministry I was a part of was sitting in the living room of a beach house in beach town in California, on retreat. And we were getting worked. Our consultant was in the process of inverting all the dimensions of reality as we knew it. At one point, during discussion, I noticed a co-worker getting defensive. This particular co-worker was pretty transparent when about his defensiveness, so it’s not that I was being perceptive: his body tensed up and he fidgeted like crazy, his voice raised a half-octave, and his answers become a series of “uh-huh’s”.

In the spirit of the truthfulness we were trying to foster, I decided it should be called out — “for the good of the team.” I did, at least attempt to speak with gentleness, even though I was calling him out. I said, “Hey, can I interrupt? You’ve suddenly gotten really defensive.” And here’s where I completely blew it: in the insecurity of that moment (thinking I was doing a good thing), I turned to the rest of the room to back me up: “Am I alone in this? Do the rest of you see this?”

Before the defensive guy could respond, the consultant turned to me, and with uncharacteristic directness and push-back, completely unveiled what I had just done: that I had attempted to gang up on my coworker; that I had tried to manipulate everyone in the room to my opinion in order to corner my friend. Just as the tingly nature of being publicly exposed and realizing he right started to set in, the consultant re-directed again. He said something like: I’m calling this out for a very specific reason. If you five are going to be effective, you have to learn the skill of being curious.

He used the situation that had just been unveiled as a case-study: if I notice that my coworker seems to be getting defensive, and if I really want the best for him as a human being, as an image-of-God bearer, than I should be more interested in what his “positive intent” is (what’s driving the defensiveness, in this case), than in embarrassing him or making myself look like the hero of group dynamics and herald of truth.

This concept of “being curious” profoundly shaped that leadership team over the next couple years. We exercised it all the time with each other, and it — more than anything else, I think — changed the tone of our meetings.

I found the concept of being curious (particularly about someone’s “positive intent”) has spilled over into other areas of my life. And I think it might offer us some particular value in our overwhelming place of judgmentalism in the church.

If judgmentalism is the venom currently coursing it’s way through the veins of the church, I’m thinking the anti-venom, the serum, isn’t what we’ve thought it to be. It’s not more truth or more clearly defining what we mean or retreating.

Curiosity. Loving, “I want the best for you” curiosity. I think that’s the serum.

To the church or ministry leader who seems overly concerned with criticizing others, or with who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out,” I ask, gently: What are your fears? What are you feeling, and what’s driving those feelings?

And to myself, when I catch myself in the midst of judgmentalism, I ask, gently: Wait, Marko, what’s going on here? What’s driving this judgment or attitude? What’s the positive intent behind this — how are you hoping to benefit from this? What’s another way to think about this?

creating a youth ministry that’s safe for theological exploration (aka: doubts)

baby-peek-a-booone of my YMCPers led us in a great exploration, last week, of what’s necessary for a youth ministry to be truly safe for students to ask hard questions, explore their doubts, and pursue the verbalization research is telling us is so critical to faith formation. my very simple thoughts on this:

FIRST: state the safety of your group so often that students make fun of you.

you can’t just say, one time, “hey, we want this to be a safe place.” like most things you’ll say, that will connect with the ONE teenager who happens to be wondering if the group is safe (and he probably won’t believe you; but he’ll notice that you said it!). you have to state this intention over and over and over and over again, to the point of annoyance; but also to the point of the very statement being a part of your group’s culture.

THEN: ruthlessly prove it.

enforce a zero tolerance policy on your own reactions — making sure you never ever cut someone off who’s trying to share, never guilt or shame, never get passively-aggressive. don’t allow it from others, either — other teenagers or leaders. prove that your incessant promises of safety were genuine.

i’m starting to see that this is true (this is going to scare some of you):

for teenage faith formation, verbalization of belief is more important than the accuracy of the beliefs.

(yeah, that probably deserves more unpacking. maybe another day.)

a meditation for youth workers: COMMUNITY

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the seventh (final) one:

28COMMUNITY

when two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it,
my father in heaven goes into action.
and when two or three of you are together because of me,
you can be sure that I’ll be there.

Matthew 18:19

As much as we need to be alone, we need each other. As Bonhoeffer says,
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.”
“Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Hang out with people who are important to you today. Find the people who bring you life, the ones who remind you of the things you want to be reminded of.

Call one person who has meant something to you and catch up.

Look around you and notice the people in your life whom you are thankful for.
Think of something fun to do with other people.
Think about the community in your youth ministry.
Think about who brings you life there.
Think about ways you can connect with that person.

We need each other.

(photo by tash mcgill)

a meditation for youth workers: SOLITUDE

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the sixth one:

21S O L I T U D E

but so much the more the report went abroad concerning him;
and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities.
but he withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

luke 5:15-16

Solitude and silence allows our insides to become spacious.
Everything needs space.
· Our minds need empty space, times of no thought, or free, random thinking without attachment and without a need for us to do something right away with our thinking.
· Our hearts (emotions) need to be aired out, not ignored or held in the tiny spaces of our fear, or shoved to the side by our busyness and overwhelm.
· Our bodies need space. When we jam them into our schedules and force them into our expectations for too long, they get sick.

Solitude is not loneliness. Loneliness is being without. Solitude is being with God and yourself.

And as Henri Nouwen reminds us, It is in solitude that we remember we are the beloved. (It is In our busyness that we forget).

Take a long hike today. Look at God in all that’s around you and notice God looking back at you.
Or sit at your favorite park bench and talk with God, or just fall asleep in His presence.

Fight the temptation to mentally head back to work early. Trust God with your responsibilities and stay in the present moment. That’s where the Holy Spirit dwells!

(photo by jonny baker)

a meditation for youth workers: WORSHIP

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the fifth one:

dancingWORSHIP

david, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the lord with all his might…
michal, daughter of saul watched from a window. and when she saw king david leaping and dancing before the lord, she despised him in her heart…
michal came to meet him and said “how the king of israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
david said to michal,…”i will celebrate before the lord. i will become even more undignified than this, and i will be humiliated in my own eyes. but by these slave girls you spoke of, i will be held in honor.”

2 samuel 6:14-22

I define worship as anything that pulls me out of my narcissistic center and into the deeper reality of God.

Do something today that reminds you that you are not the center of the universe. We don’t have to be!
That’s what Sabbath helps us to remember.

Stopping and worshipping helps our bodies and minds remember that as Christians we are constantly trying to reorganize our lives around the larger reality of God.

We don’t do anything productive so that we can remember we’re not the ones making this place run. Whew!

So dance naked today!

a meditation for youth workers: JOY/LAUGHTER

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the fourth one:

Happy BabyJoy/Laughter

i sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings.
Psalms 63:7b

Today, talk to God about the pain and suffering you are carrying. See if you can’t let God hold it for awhile.

Rent a funny movie, hang out with goofy friends, go disco bowling, do something silly. If there are little kids around, watch them and learn. Sing loud and slightly off key and see if anyone notices. Build a tent fort. TP your pastor’s house (at our ages this IS funny).

Dance with wild, reckless abandon.
Or just meditate on all the things that give you life, the things you are grateful for. And tell God you remember that he delights in you and guards you under his wings.

a meditation for youth workers: REST

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the second one, which i encourage you to LIVE INTO one day in the next couple weeks:

restREST

are you tired? worn out? burned out on religion?
come to me.
get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
i’ll show you how to take a real rest.
walk with me and work with me-
watch how I do it.
learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
i won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

(matthew 11:28-30)

SLEEP.
SLEEP A LOT.
TAKE A NAP.
STAY IN YOUR PAJAMAS ALL DAY IF YOU CAN.

You might also find ways to spend time today in real rest.
Real Rest comes when we show up to God.
When our real self comes into contact with the real God.

When I get honest with God about my thoughts, feeling, and situations, I slowly become aware that God is holding me in the midst of all the chaos and beauty of my life this day. Real rest is what follows.

SLEEP SOME MORE.

a meditation for youth workers: DETOX

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the first one:

detoxDETOX

while they were on their way jesus came to a village where a woman named martha made him welcome in her home. she had a sister, mary, who seated herself at the lord’s feet and stayed there listening to his words.

now martha was distracted by serving, so she came to him and said, “lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to get on with the work by myself? tell her to come and help me.”

but the lord answered, “my dear martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! but only one thing is needed. mary has discovered it- and I will not take it away from her. (luke 10:38-42)

Read this a few times out loud.
Read it slow and listen if a word or phrase stands out to you. Notice if things bug you about this scripture or attract you and let those things become entry points to prayer.

Detox. If we take this week seriously, there are toxins that will come to the surface. Things we don’t notice in our full, busy lives. Things that drain our energy and rob us of life. What are they? What toxins have snuck in unaware? What are we choosing to go without this week? What are our distractions? Our worries and anxieties? And what is the One Thing Needed? The answers will be different for each of us.

This might be a good day to journal, or take a long walk alone and rant. Get your words out in conversation with God. Get in touch with how your body feels, how your mind feels, how your heart feels. Get your words out so you can make space inside yourself.

a blessing for youth workers in the new school year

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them (when you see them posted).

but let’s start with this. steve case, a veteran youth worker and author for both youth specialties and the youth cartel, wrote this beautiful prayer of blessing for our staff. but as i read it again, i would love you, youth worker, to receive this as a blessing on your head:

blessingCreator and Rejuvenating God

Your servants are tired.

They have walked across a desert for you and now they stand

weary

and

sweating

and

cracked

and

dust caked.

Take a balloon, God, one of those big ones with all the colors, and hook it up to some heavenly spicket. Let them stand together and rest. Let them know its okay to stop

running

lifting,

pulling,

tugging,

straining

hurting

twisting

forcing

Let them stand and wait as the balloon swells with your sweet water.

Let them take this moment and close their eyes and tilt their heads back and outstretch their arms.

When the water bursts let it pour down

not in a drizzle

not in a sprinkle

not in a sponge down

not even in a pouring

let it be a deluge

let it be a drenching of your love and presence

May they stand in the center of a waterfall obscured by pour God sized buckets of sweet renovating water.

let them stand firm and feel the washing away of the stress

let every speck of collected dust be wash away

Let this

Pouring

Torrential

Filling

Windstorm

Surging

Inundating

Floodgate

Leave them standing refreshed and ready for what is to come.

Let them shake water from their hair

And feel sweet relief

Amen

the glory of questions

question markI love questions! I mean, I like answers – they’re really nice and comforting. But questions – oh! – they do something to me. Questions make me think. Questions make me change. Questions make me ask more questions. In short: questions bring about spiritual growth in my life (and, I believe, in everyone’s lives) much more than answers ever can.

Sure, it’s nice to have confidence in some of our answers (like, knowing that the Bible is reliable, and that God is who He says He is). And that confidence it critical to my faith. But confidence doesn’t take me very far. Confidence, at least for me, can breed laziness and give birth to complacency. Questions, on the other hand, keep me on my toes and keep my faith a-buzz with newness and anticipation.

So here’s a question for you: is your youth ministry more focused on giving answers, or on teaching teenagers to wrestle honestly with questions?