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The Best Life

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

volunteer youth worker.pack

Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide Books

about three years ago, chris folmsbee of barefoot ministries asked me to develop some training for his organization, targeting volunteer youth workers. the idea was that i would speak at a small handful of saturday training days geared for volunteers (which sorta happened, at that time). and the original plan was that each attendee would get three short ebooks as a bonus. i wrote the three books; but there were some complications, and they weren’t ready for the training days.

so, now, all this time later, they’ve actually been published and are available! sorta fun, as i didn’t even think they were going to see the light of day! all three are short and practical — great for handing out to volunteer leaders on your team.

volunteer youth worker.small groupsA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Leading a Small Group

A lot of churches and youth ministries have given up on the idea of small groups, writing them off as too tedious, too difficult to manage, too hard to find volunteers for, too expensive to provide materials or curriculum for, or any other number of reasons. In A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Leading a Small Group, Mark Oestreicher argues a different perspective. Marko insists that small groups promote safe spaces to grow, consistency in teenagers’ emotionally tumultuous lives, and repetition that instills in them the importance of trust and tradition. The Guide to Leading a Small Group is perfect for anyone feeling disenchanted with the concept of small groups, and after Marko succeeds in changing your mind in the first few pages, he’ll use the rest of the book to help you restructure and rethink your small-group programming so you don’t get burned out again. Marko is leading the charge in reviving small groups, and you can join him today.

volunteer youth worker.understanding teensA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Understanding Today’s Teenagers

Many parents have taken a defeatist approach toward understanding their teens, and not without good reason; it does often seem hopeless, after all. But that’s where you, the volunteer youth worker, come in. Mark Oestreicher shows that Understanding Today’s Teenager is both possible and rewarding, if one has the right tools. Marko explores the dimensions of nature vs. nurture, brain activity, culture, biology, and emotional development, all of which lead teenagers to do the wacky things they do that adults don’t understand and often can’t remember having done themselves. Marko also reminds us that adolescent development doesn’t end at the age of 18 just because United States law says it does. A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Understanding Today’s Teenager uses a combination of science, logic, and compassion to help bring us back from the cliff edge and remember why we started working with teens in the first place. Use this book as a jumping-off point to re-ignite your passion for teens.

volunteer youth workers.parentsA Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Resourcing Parents

Every youth leader, volunteer, or pastor has failed at some point in their communication or interaction with their teenagers’ parents. It’s inevitable. We are human, most youth workers are still pretty young themselves, and most parents are guarded and protective of their kids. These factors combine to create a minefield, of sorts, for parents and youth workers to navigate. In fact, youth ministry mogul Mark Oestreicher starts off A Volunteer Youth Worker’s Guide to Resourcing Parents by admitting some of his own failures in his interactions with students’ parents. But then Marko uses the rest of the book to explore the importance and deep significance of being intentional with parent contact and interaction, and not letting family ministry slip through the cracks in favor of teenager-only ministry. If you’ve had some discouraging interactions with parents lately, this book might help provide a new perspective, allowing you to show some grace, both to yourself and the parents you’re trying to minister to. Let Marko guide you in seeking the best balance in your ministry efforts in order to maximize and equip one of your greatest youth ministry resources.

to be clear: i didn’t write those descriptions, and didn’t even see them until they’d been out for a few months. i’m cracking up that they called me a “youth ministry mogul.” apparently The Youth Cartel sounds bigger and more menacing than it is (two guys working out of their homes)!

knowing that lead youth workers might want to get these in bulk for their leaders, we’ve priced them in a way that makes that extremely possible:

  • 1-4 copies: $7.49 (Save $.50 off retail)
  • 5-9 copies: $6.79 (15% off retail)
  • 10-19 copies: $5.99 (25% off retail)
  • 20+: $5.19 (35% off retail)

or, you can get the pack of all three books for a nifty $19.99!

volunteer youth worker.pack

birthday cake

Open Letter to a 14 year-old girl

the just-about-to-turn-14 year-old daughter of a friend of mine was in the audience at a large youth retreat i spoke at recently. she and i met very briefly. and i was super encouraged when my friend told me that the weekend had a big impact on her and she spoke quite a bit about what i’d shared. but then he asked if i would write her a letter, as part of a collection of letters he was pulling together for her 14th birthday. i have to say that i haven’t written many letters to 14 year-old girls i don’t know; and that’s probably a practice i should continue! but, for what it’s worth, here’s what i wrote to her!

Bekah,

Yeah, it’s a little weird to get a letter from some old bearded dude in California who you don’t really know but only heard speak at a camp with 1000 other teenagers. Creepy, even. Except that, you know, the creepy old bearded camp speaker dude happens to be friends with your dad. So, hopefully, that lowers the creepiness factor.

3 words of advice/encouragement to you:

Risk. You were not made for a boring and safe and mundane, punch the clock and eat dinner in front of reality TV, find a vice and stick with it, become who others expect you to be life. Nope. You were made (really – God’s dream for you) for an adventurous life in the active and present Kingdom of God. But that requires a bit of risk on our parts. Try things. Get uncomfortable. Explore. All the while: listening to God and paying attention to his direction.

Exercise Curiosity. Healthy people are curious and constantly asking “Why”? The best leaders are always wondering and noodling and dreaming and probing and seeking. The best friends (and maybe the best enemies, really—those who are good for sharpening us) are those who are curious about the motive behind behaviors. I believe that developing curiosity will serve you in life more than just about any other skill set or practice; and I’m pretty sure we make God smile when we put curiosity into practice.

Breathe. Relax and slow down. Don’t give in to the pressure to live your life at 1,000 miles per hour, constantly rushing to the next thing. Don’t measure your value by how much you can get done, or by how many plates you can keep spinning. Don’t bow to the idol of productivity. Instead: rest in the knowledge of God’s perfect and unchangeable love for you and acceptance of you. Soak in the experience of a peace that can only come from healthy relationships with God, self, others, and all of creation.

May a big ol’ heapin’ helping of God’s blessings be on your head, Bekah!

Marko sig

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Zydeco Mass

my family attended an amazing, joy-filled Zydedo Mass eucharist service tuesday night with some friends, at st. paul’s episcopal church in san diego. it was an absolutely beautiful and unique worship experience. i captured some of it in short videos and photos. here’s a taste:

my family and a friend (not a video):
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the processional

reading of scripture:

reading of the gospel (not a video):
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“dance your offerings to the front”:

eucharist/communion:

the washboard player was one of the only people who didn’t seem amused; but he was awesome in his own curmudgeonly way (not a video):
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the recessional:

experiential, joy-filled worship, man. couldn’t all our churches use a bit more of that!?

ymcp.nashville.2

Youth Ministry Coaching Program: New Cohorts Forming Now

Adam sent this out in a nice email to our Cartel email subscribers. thought i’d post it here also!

New San Diego & Nashville Cohorts

YMCP is a year-long, whole-life coaching program for youth workers. It’s built on a cohort approach: Each cohort has 10 youth workers, which provides a shared learning environment, a variety of inputs, and a team of ministry friends who’ve got your back. Full cohorts meet for two days, every other month, over the course of the year. In between meetings, we interact on a secret facebook page, as well as coaching phone calls.

There are still two “open” cohorts (not denominationally-focused or funded) with a few spaces in them:

The 2014 Nashville cohort has five confirmed participants and five more spaces available.
The 2014 San Diego cohort has three spaces available.
Both of these cohorts will launch when we fill them up (and all participants get to vote on meeting dates). For more info, check out this page on our website, or email me and I’ll send you the program overview and other stuff.

EMAIL MARKO ABOUT YMCP

What Youth Workers are Saying about YMCP

Here’s the thing about YMCP. You sign up thinking you’re in for some good youth ministry insight and discussion (you are), and maybe the people will be cool (they will). But what you can’t know until you’re in the midst of it is how you’ll grow to look forward to each meeting as a time of sanctuary, how the room full of strangers will be friends by the end of the first day, how your heart will drop a bit at the end of each cohort because you know there are only a few left. My year in YMCP helped me grow as a youth worker, for sure. But what I am truly thankful for is the way it helped me define who I am – as a person, as a follower of Christ, and THEN as a youth worker. The insight and personal development that came out of YMCP for me go way beyond my professional life. I’m more confident in my decisions, my abilities, and my passion than ever before. And I have nine awesome, crazy, amazing friends in ministry and in life that I can call on at any time.

Brandi Manes

The Youth Ministry Coaching Program is hands down the most important program I have participated in my 13 years of youth ministry. The holistic approach and balance of training, inward reflection and spiritual growth allowed me to be stretched not only into being a better youth leader, but also into being a better person. YMCP is of great benefit for the veteran or rookie youth worker.

Brian Mateer

YMCP with out a doubt saved me from leaving youth ministry. I was in a tough spot without any direction. This program helped facilitate a safe place to work out and through the situation. It was an absolute highlight of my life so far to be in such a dark place, and over the course of a year with the program be restored with grace through great coaching.

Christopher Dinnell

After transitioning from full-time ministry to a volunteer position, I couldn’t see how I would effectively live out my calling. YMCP helped me regain my passion and find direction to help me move forward in my ministry.

Bethany Butterfield

ymcp.nashville

commitment

what are your commitments to yourself?

i was looking over some old notes from leadership team retreats, and found some great stuff for personal and team development. i remember when our freakishly insightful consultant, mark dowds, led our team in these exercises, first making commitments to ourselves, then to each other. both are surprisingly difficult and vulnerable.

it was fun to read my 6 year-old response to the question, “what am i committed to for myself?” i’ve had SO much change in my life and faith and vision over the last four or five years; so it was interesting to me that these still ring pretty true.

commitment

i am committed to passionate living — i must have a significant portion of my involvements be things i can be passionate about.

i am committed to growth: in self-knowledge, in emotional intelligence, in knowledge about subjects that interest me, in leadership, in spiritual fruit, in new and refined skills.

i am committed to a life of joy.

i am committed to experiences — i want to experience more people, places, situations and involvements; and to experience more of god.

i am committed to a full life.

how about you? what are your commitments to yourself?

9780991005024-front-1000

Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus

9780991005024-front-1000since most youth workers haven’t heard of morgan schmidt, the author of our upcoming release, Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus, i thought it would be a good idea to add a few words in the front of the book about why we chose to publish this work. here’s what i wrote:

A Word from the Publisher

Publishing is tough these days. (I wanted to write, “It’s gettin’ hard out here for a pimp,” but I thought the music/movie reference might get lost, and some would be offended.) Most publishers just cannot afford to release a book by an author who doesn’t have a built-in platform to move thousands of copies on her own.

Morgan Schmidt does not have a platform to move thousands of copies of this book on her own.

But, call us visionary or passionate or stupid, we simply had to publish Morgan’s book. Morgan Schmidt is more than the ideas and words on these pages; we believe she’s an important emerging voice in youth ministry. And built into the DNA of The Youth Cartel is a commitment to find people like Morgan and help them shape all of us.

And the words on these pages—well, I am really not blowing smoke when I write that they are among the most important and reorienting and revolutionary and fresh words written about youth ministry in the last couple years. Plus, as a bonus, Morgan writes in a winsome way that leaves you no choice but to really like her, whether you agree with her proposals and perspectives and time-delayed explosives or not. As with most of the stuff we publish or host at our events, our goal at The Youth Cartel is not that you agree with us (or fall prey to our megalomaniacal plans to rule the world), but that you are invited to think, reflect, and hear the voice of God about youth ministry.

With that, I’m excited to introduce you to Woo: Awaking Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus and to the insightful Morgan Schmidt. (You can take it from here, Morgan…)

Mark Oestreicher
Partner | The Youth Cartel

oh, and for the record, here’s what some other people are saying about it:

Morgan Schmidt is a snappy and relatable writer. But above all, she is a prophet blessed with a winsome honesty that sneaks up on you as you’re planning your umpteenth mission trip and whispers: “Recalculate.” For Schmidt, being human boils down to desire; and youth ministry that’s honest is about desire too—the desires of youth for God, the desire of God for them. With Woo, Morgan Schmidt joins a new class of practical theologians taking aim at the false gods driving the youth ministry industry, and she restores our focus—and our hope—on young people’s God-given desire to become, belong to, and worship as the body of Christ. Woo completely won me over.
Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

Woo is, hands down, one of the most sensible and simultaneously exhilarating books about pastoring students that I have read in a long time. Morgan Schmidt wisely guides us to awaken desire rather than run from it, equipping us to form desire to follow in the way of Jesus. Woo invites leaders to see students as real people, with real longings that matter. Don’t let the warmth and wit of Morgan’s writing fool you—this changes everything you’ve known about youth ministry.
Dwight J. Friesen, Associate Professor of Practical Theology @ The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, coauthor of The New Parish

Woo is a book about desire, the desire of young people to be authentic and real. It is also about the desire for those who serve the Church to be the midwives who help them do just that. Knowing Morgan Schmidt, I can tell you this book is authentic and real. Here is offered one devoted person’s theology and praxis around the ministry to youth. I highly recommend it, and I thank God for this offering to the Church.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel, VIII, Bishop of Olympia

Both Augustine and Kierkegaard, in their own ways, asserted that we are what we desire. Consumerism has adopted in a counterfeit but powerful way this theology. When our desires go askew and latch onto consumer goods, political ideologies, or fear about our children, we create pantheons of idols to worship. Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Morgan Schmidt has called out youth ministry for its idol-making, asserting with flare and depth that youth ministry has been captured by desires other than encountering the living God. This is a book that will challenge you because it will ask you to expose your desires. But in so doing, you may find not the idol of successful youth ministry, but the living God who will draw you closer and closer to the humanity of young people this living God loves.
Dr. Andrew Root, Luther Seminary, author of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

I really like what Morgan Schmidt is saying to youth pastors in Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus. We should know by now that approaching the Christian formation of young people in our churches needs something more than doubling down on what we think worked in the past or even a “new” method or model—a full theological paradigmatic shift is necessary. Morgan carefully unveils a more spiritual posture toward the young people we want to do life with. It starts with a passion to approach them with a sense of awe in their personhood. It involves our curiosity and commitment to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work of unleashing a young person’s imagination in the pursuit of discovering his or her beautiful God-given humanity. Maybe if we spent more time nourishing our own lives with God and what it means for us to become more fully human, we might just find ourselves around young people who feel fully alive desiring life in Jesus Christ. If you are comfortably ensconced in a church that puts on programs for youth to consume, and measures its success based on immediate results—don’t read this book. It will either make you very uncomfortable or—if it captures you—it could get you fired. But, then again, it could also spark an awakening in your congregation.
Mike King, President/CEO of Youthfront, author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation

crowdlaughing

in need of a cheesy joke? let me help.

i must be in a weakened state of judgement, because these actually made me laugh…

A little silliness to get you through monday morning:

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: “A beer please, and one for the road.”

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?”

“Doc, I can’t stop singing ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home.’” “That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.” “Is it common?” “Well, It’s Not Unusual.”

crowdlaughingAn invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, “Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!” The doctor replied, “I know you can’t, I’ve cut off your arms!”

I went to a seafood disco last week…and pulled a mussel.

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?” they asked, as they moved off. “Because”, he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him…(Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)… A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

achilles heel

the achilles heel of your youth ministry

what is the achilles heel is of your youth ministry?
what is our collective achilles heel is in the youth ministry world? what’s holding us back?

when i asked this question to a group of youth workers some time ago, dr. dave rahn brought up was that, at it’s root, the problem of kids leaving the church after youth group boils down to a theology problem, based on our theology of church. he suggested each church has a self-image based on their theology of church, and that works itself out in all kinds of practical ways. if you take some of those assumptions down the road a few iterations and years, you end up with teenagers who aren’t connected with their churches beyond youth group. i’d love to see a book on this, frankly: how a variety of ecclesiologies result in certain approaches to youth ministry.

achilles heelmy observation, based on the youth ministries i observe, is that our collective achilles heel for decades was arrogance. and this is still present; but i think it’s moved into a second-place spot, behind fear. fear has become a motivator for way too much of what happens in youth ministry these days. all kinds of fear: fear of parents, fear of church boards, fear of our little kingdoms being threatened, fear of our salaries being threatened. but more than all of these, i’ve seen a fear of culture become a motivating force. often, this is a roundabout fear: parents and church leaders possess a fear of culture, and youth workers instinctively know that if they play into these fears, they will get resources and job security and whatever else we desire.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [and daughtership]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (romans 8:15)

fear is a cul-de-sac. it might bring short term results; it might get donors to open their wallets, secure our jobs, and get people in our churches to see ‘value’ in the youth ministry. but it starves our souls, and sets our teenagers up for a lifetime of wrong-headed interaction with culture and the world.

how we could see our ministries embrace hope instead of fear?

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God

this verse is–word-for-word–psalm 42:5, psalm 42:11, and psalm 43:5. now i know there are literary/poetic reasons this verse repeats three times in two chapters. but it also seems to indicate that it’s something we should really notice!

what would it look like for our ministries to be characterized as ministries of hope?

jean valjean

Jean Valjean and the sparking of hope

here’s a little snippet of the writing i’ve been doing in the desert this week. this is the intro to the 8th chapter of the book (which is about hope). this chapter is tentatively called “Jesus, the Hope-Giver.”

My favorite Broadway musical is Cats.

That’s a lie, actually, and a glimpse into my strange sense of humor. Seriously, the percentage of normal, well-adjusted guys who love Cats has to be terribly small, right? Sorry if I’ve offended you. Sort of.

My favorite Broadway musical is Les Misérables. But to be honest, I prefer the film versions, because I can focus on the storyline more, not being distracted by the theatrics and staging. I was more upbeat about the 2012 version with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway than many people I know. And I was two-thumbs-up about the 2000 version with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. But my favorite version of the story, by far, is the 1998 (non-musical) version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and a pre-Homeland Claire Danes.

I think the reason the 1998 version of “Les Mis” is my favorite is because it contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever. It’s a scene in all versions of Les Mis, but none capture it quite like the 1998 film version.

You can skip reading this paragraph if you’re a Les Mis groupie, but to make sure everyone is on the same page: Les Miserables is the story (written as a book, by Victor Hugo, in 1862, and widely considered one of the best novels of the 19th century) of Jean Valjean, a peasant who steals a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child and spends 19 years in prison for the crime. After his release, he breaks parole, and his hunted down by a law-obsessed police inspector named Javert. There’s much more to the story, of course. It’s an exploration of law and grace, loyalty, transformation, and redemption.

jean valjeanMy favorite scene occurs fairly early in the film, when Jean Valjean is first on the run for breaking parole. Turned away from multiple inns because his yellow passport marks him as a convict, Valjean is taken in by the town’s priest, Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the rectory’s silverware. But he is caught, and policemen return him to and the silverware to the rectory to refute Valjean’s claim that the silverware was given to him, enroute to what will clearly be a return to prison.

Here’s the breathtaking scene. When the police ask the Bishop if the silverware is his, he responds that it was the rectory’s, but that Valjean is correct in stating it was a gift. As the police release Valjean and turn to leave, the Bishop continues, saying that Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks. Valjean’s face reveals confusion, and the Bishop re-iterates that the valuable candlesticks were part of the gift.

Pulling Valjean aside, Bishop Myriel quietly says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”

The scene is powerful to me (and thousands of others) on multiple levels:
• I am Valjean (and so are you). I do not deserve mercy, but have been shown it countless times, by my God and by people in my life.
• The “measure” of mercy is over the top: not only forgiveness, but a double-portion gift.
• This is a clear picture of Jesus, particularly through the lens of the Bishop’s final comment.
• As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live like this, to be a dispenser of this style of mercy, which I find simultaneously life-giving and completely counter to my instincts.

And the scene is a powerful picture of hope’s arrival. Valjean heads into the rectory courtyard, held by the policemen, completely without hope. Full of fear and absolutely demoralized, days out of exile and about to be returned. He leaves with a kernel of possibility starting to crack open in his heart.

This is Jesus, who shows up in the midst of our confusion and pain and fear, and surprises us with hope. Other than the fact that Valjean would not be returning to prison, the immediate circumstances of Valjean’s life are still difficult. But his imagination is sparked, a dream of a new potential, hope and longing commencing the Tango.