vulnerability vs. authenticity

we talk a lot about the need for ministry leaders and speakers to be vulnerable and authentic these days. i’m all for that — 100%.

but some time ago i heard a speaker that caused me to reflect on this a bit, and particularly the fact that the two are not synonymous.

i was sitting in a congregation, listening to a guy preaching. he was a guest speaker, but is apparently someone who speaks once or twice a year at this church. and people seem to love, love, love him. the congregation was amped.

there’s no question the guy was vulnerable. he shared openly about struggles and wrestling. that approach itself can sometimes be a mess — more about the speaker experiencing catharsis (at best) or exhibitionism (at worst). but i didn’t sense this preacher was doing that.

but there was something that was really, deeply bugging me about the sermon (and it wasn’t the content, per se). the preacher occasionally slipped into a funny accent (at least he thought it was funny), used quite a few words pronounced in an strange, super-spritual manner, and utilized other speaking ‘tricks’ to–ultimately–manipulate the listeners to an intended feeling. he told self-revealing stories with an affected performance.

and i realized: i found this completely inauthentic.

i came to a sense that i could barely listen, as the speaker was vulnerable, but inauthentic.

authenticity trumps vulnerability in preaching, imho (and for leadership in general). i’d rather listen to an authentic speaker (or follow an authentic leader) without a ton of vulnerability than the other way around any day. both are great; but vulnerability only helps when it’s a subset of authenticity.

youth ministry as a NOTHING PREVENTS YOU reality

i was challenged by a sermon given this past weekend by a retired methodist bishop, based on the biblical story of the ethiopian eunuch. and it got me thinking about the message and the message our youth ministries should embrace and project.

you probably know the story: the ethiopian eunuch was rich, powerful and elite (traveling by chariot was the equivalent of today’s private-jet-and-limo set). he was, after all, in charge of the ethiopian queen’s treasury. clearly, a very smart man, also, as we first encounter him as he’s reading isaiah (not his native language!) in the back of a chariot.

philip, after hearing from an angel that he’s supposed to head down to gaza from jerusalem, camps out alongside a road. and there he encounters the eunuch who is heading home from jerusalem (the direction is important — and it’s fascinating that the angel didn’t direct philip to the eunuch when they were both in jerusalem).

deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” (the junior high boy in me likes the old KVJ version, though — “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”)

the eunuch went to jerusalem to worship; but would have been prevented from doing so.

after philip explains the prophetic passage the eunuch is reading, about jesus, the eunuch asks an important question: here’s some water — what would prevent me from being baptized?” of course, phil baptizes him, and we have one of the most important conversion stories of the new testament.

there are (and have been) a hundred ways this passage can be projected to our current day. but i’m a youth worker, and i got thinking about how PREVENTED teenagers are today–maybe more than at any time in human history.

  • Massive, culturally-endorsed isolation
  • Kept from the world of adults
  • Viewed as incapable and broken
  • Infantilized – treated as children

To those who are prevented, the gospel says, “NOTHING PREVENTS YOU.” You are welcome as an equal.

Our youth ministries should not exist as well-meaning holding tanks, waiting for maturity and adulthood.

Our youth ministries should not isolate teenagers from the world of adults.

Our youth ministries should not treat teenagers as children, incapable and broken.

Our ministries, instead, should be loudspeakers and labs of a Nothing Prevents You reality.

FRIDAY NUGGET: myths of belonging

Myths of belonging

  1. more time = more belonging
  2. more commitment = more belonging
  3. more purpose = more belonging
  4. more personality = more belonging
  5. more proximity = more belonging

“Belonging happens when you identify with another entity – a person or organization, or perhaps a species, culture, or ethnic group.”

 

(all from The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups, by Joseph Myers)

Seven Sins of Re-Inventing Your Youth Ministry

my latest column for Youthwork Magazine (in the UK) is in print.  some thoughts about ministry change…


I’m a big fan of change. In fact, one of the personal values I try to live out in every area of my life is:
Change is non-negotiable. Upheaval, starting new things, risk and failure are all necessary and good, both for the organization I’m a part of and for my own level of thriving.

Given the fact that we’re all doing youth work in a constantly changing culture, with teenagers whose needs are constantly changing, and with teenagers whose very lives are marked by constant change, we’d be idiots to just keep doing the same thing in the same way.

Experimentation and noble failure are the spark plugs of great youth ministry (well, I suppose Jesus is the spark plug; but you get the picture). Coasting, gliding, and staying the same are resounding gongs on the death bell.

So with that in mind, I’d like to suggest Seven Sins of Ministry Re-Invention. They are all phrased as assumptions; because our assumptions provide mental maps that lead to action (good or misguided) or inaction. Some of these assumptions keep us from change; but I’m assuming that you’ll get the gist of those quickly. So I’m focusing more on assumptive sins that mask as progress. Here we go!

Assuming everything is fine as is. In a column on the importance of change, this one sort of goes without saying. But here’s the reason I list it (even first): most of us know we need to consider change when things aren’t going well; but most youth workers I work with have a working paradigm that says the goal is to reach stability.

Here’s the problem: stability means you’ve already begun the inclination toward decline (of heath, vibrancy, impact – and attendance, sometimes). Great leaders must be courageous and initiate change prior to arrival at stability. This is counter-intuitive, as it means instigating change when things are seemingly at the best they’ve ever been.

Assuming youth culture is what it always was. Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times, they are a-changing.” And—wow—have the times ever changed since ol’ Bob sang that! Youth work might focus on timeless and unchanging truths (like the consistency of God’s unswerving love); but ministry is always set in a context, and great ministry is responsive to that context.

Sure, some aspects of youth culture or the experience of teenagers isn’t all that different. But there is no denying that all sorts of variables, values, pressures and cultural norms have shifted. Being a teenager in 2016 is simultaneously the same as it ever was, and new every morning.

Assuming you have all the answers to what needs to change. If you’re a leader, you have a responsibility to instigate, promote, provoke, and explore change. But change you envision and activate completely on your own will never be as good as change you collaboratively discern with others. I’m sure you’re smart and super-spiritual; but you’re not that smart and super-spiritual. You need sounding boards and anchors and fire-starters and push-backers and people who say, “Yes, and…”.

Assuming change should be a democratic process. I’m a fan of democracy when it comes to government. But when leading change in a youth ministry, democracy can quickly lower the bar, achieving agreement over excellence. Dissent can be healthy. And while ideas birthed and decisions made in community will always be stronger than those without any input, choosing your change collaborators is essential. Choose wisely, grasshopper. Collaborate with creative and hopeful people who don’t have a personal agenda. But don’t pass around a ballot.

Assuming everyone will easily be on board with change. It’s tough not to have the wind taken out of your sails when you’re excited about some intentional and thoughtful change, only to be met with naysayers and criticism and whining. Remember: people tend to resist change. This is almost always due to fear that they’ll lose something they value—something the current reality or program is providing for them. Expect opposition, not so you can be armed to blow people away, but so that you can adopt a curious perspective about what people need to move past their fears.

Assuming more is better. Short and sweet: adding stuff on—more programs—is not the pathway to vibrancy in your ministry. If you’re going to add something, you have to be ready to cut something also.

Assuming teenagers really dig cool programs and nifty youth facilities. What teenagers really want is a safe and encouraging place to belong. They want to be wanted. You might assume that a super-cool youth room or mind-blowing entertainment will deliver, but these are not the droids you’re looking for.

Step into change, with courage (which comes from God). But do so with wisdom (which comes from the Holy Spirit).

2 sentence book reviews: Christian Nonfiction and Parenting

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, monday)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, today)

Christian Nonfiction

the wired soulThe Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age, by Tricia Rhodes)
4 stars
[note: this book releases July 1. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

Like so many others, I long for a more contemplative life. I know it’s in my best interest. Yet my desire and my experience, born out of my choices, don’t often seem to be on the friendliest of terms. Rhodes offers a practical (yes!), fascinating and insightful set of explanations, encouragement, and tools. This is a useful book, very much worth digesting.

broken hallelujahsBroken Hallelujahs: Learning to Grieve the Big and Small Losses of Life, by Beth Allen Slevcove
5 stars
[note: this book releases April 4. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

I don’t normally think of Grief and Beauty cozying up with one another. But that’s the indelible impression this gorgeous book imprinted on my heart and mind. Slevcove–with sometimes startling vulnerability and relentless authenticity–opens up her journey into and through grief, shining a light on something far, far better than simple platitudes or greeting card perk pills: this book reveals truth. And it’s the best kind of truth, messy and heart-wrenching and full of the potency of new life.

Parenting

pass it onPass It On: Building a Legacy of Faith for Your Children through Practical and Memorable Experiences, by Jim Burns and Jeremy Lee
4 stars
[note: this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

I’ve always been a huge fan of intentional Rites of Passage (as opposed to the non-intentional cultural rites that most of our children and teens stumble through). This book, like none I’ve ever seen, provides practical and actionable Rites, along with amazing insight, for every year of elementary, middle school, and high school. It’s an absolute wealth, a treasure trove, of hope and spiritual parenting. I will be recommending this books to lots of parents!

your teenagers not crazyYour Teenager’s Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent, by Jerusha and Jeramy Clark
5 stars
[note: this book releases April 4. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

The depth of insight and reams of practical ideas in this book are the second best things about it. The best thing–what really sets this book apart from other parenting books–is this: the vast majority of parenting books use fear, guilt, and hyperbole to promote a “teenagers are broken, and a problem to be solved” perspective. I find this perspective theologically unsound, destructive, and unhelpful. But the Clarks offer us, instead, a book that embraces a “teenagers are a wonder to behold” viewpoint. And that makes all the difference in the world, and is–i would suggest–the most important perspective needed for effective parenting.

2 sentence book reviews: Ministry and Theology

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, monday)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, today)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

Ministry and Theology

saying is believingSaying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development, by Amanda Hontz Drury
5 stars
[note: this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

Amanda Drury’s book winsomely confronted me and conclusively helped me rediscover a critically important aspect of adolescent spiritual formation that I–along with thousands of my youth ministry peers–had gradually relegated to the youth ministry storage closet in the basement of the church. Time for a course correction; time for growth; time for testimony.

tornTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, by Justin Lee
5 stars
autobiography (with lots of biblical and theological digging) of a gay christian man sincerely seeking god’s will for his life and sexuality. whether a reader fully agrees with the author’s conclusions or not takes nothing away from the fact that this is an exceptional book, and should be required reading for all christians (particularly those in ministry) who want a more informed and nuanced understanding of LGB (not really T) people and the christian faith.

sticky faith service guideSticky Faith Service Guide: Moving Students from Mission Trips to Missional Living, and Sticky Faith Service Guide, Student Journal: How Serving Others Changes You, by Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin
4.5 stars
sticky faith service guide student[note: these books release February 2. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher:]

I find that missions are consistently the best and the worst programs we offer in youth ministry. The potential for transformation and Kingdom impact is palpably real; but the hidden curriculums of self-actualization, pity and judgment, and tourism too often turn what could be beautiful and good into a narcissistic mush. How wonderful to have a research-based guide to avoiding the worst of what short-term missions can be, and leaning into the best.

moving messagesMoving Messages: Ideas That Will Revolutionize the Sunday Experience, by Rick Bundschuh
5 stars
[note: this book releases January 11. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

Wait: a book about preaching that’s actually fun to read and thoroughly engaging, in addition to being chock-full of fantastic disruptive ideas? Bundschuh actually models, with his writing, what he’s proposing we consider. And if you care about connecting 21st century church people with the transformative truth of scripture, you will certainly want to consider this master class on creative preaching.

heaven promiseThe Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, by Scot McKnight
4.5 stars
an extremely accessible and readable exploration of what the bible actually teaches about heaven. this isn’t mcknight’s best book (he’s my favorite theological author, who has greatly shaped my thinking and ministry with favorite books like The Blue Parakeet, Embracing Grace, Junia Is Not Alone, and A Community Called Atonement), but it is absolutely helpful and worth reading.

us verses usUs versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community
5 stars
[note: this book releases June 1. this is my official endorsement provided to the publisher.]

Almost all discourse and writing about LGBTs and faith ebbs to theology and biblical interpretation. What’s been sorely missing are sociological insights–anchored to research rather than opinion–of the current landscape. Marin offers a profound gift to us (however you define “us”) that will, I’m confident, lead to more understanding, more inquiry, more grace, and more love.

2 sentence book reviews: General Nonfiction

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, monday)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, today)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

General Nonfiction

yes pleaseYes Please, by Amy Poehler
3 stars
mostly autobiography, with some rabbit trails into commentary. i wanted this book to be better than it was, and found the laughs–which are certainly in there–not nearly as frequent as other books in this genre.
[additional note: the choice to print this on dense, glossy paper made the book uncomfortable to hold while reading, and occasionally requiring awkward angles to decrease glare!]

modern romanceModern Romance, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
5 stars
hilariously written, research-driven exploration of shifts in dating and marriage. this book surpassed my expectations on every possible front.

jv superstarJV Superstar: A Christian College Odyssey, by Matthew Pierce
3.5 stars
a collection of autobiographical stories from the naive and quirky experiences of a conservative christian college kid. too short to be satisfying (and not as funny as the author’s first ebook, Homeschool Sex Machine), but still fun and worth the hour it takes to read, particularly if you can connect with the weirdness of a christian college experience.

transgender 101Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue, by Nicholas M Teich
4 stars
a non-emotive, non-story-based overview of the increasingly complex subject of transgender people. while not intended to shape your theology (it’s not a christian book), i found this quick and easy read very helpful in understanding both terminology and how trans* people want to be understood.

collapseCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition, by Jared Diamond
4 stars
a deep dive into dozens of societies that no longer exist and the reasons for their collapse. i deeply enjoyed gaining the insight in this book, but just… wanted… it… to… end (apparently, i simply do not have the attention span for a 600-page work of non-fiction).

mo meta bluesMo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman
5 stars
autobiography from The Roots’ drummer, with a history of hip-hop on the side. even though i’m not a big fan of hip-hop, i found this interesting and fun, both as an insight into the shaping of a genius, and the history of a movement/musical genre.

2 sentence book reviews: Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, monday)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, today)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels

secondsSeconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
4.5 stars
a young chef with a propensity for bad choices that undermine her long range goals gets the opportunity for do-overs, which lead to complex and unintended results (as well as growth and learning). this full-length (336 pages!) graphic novel offers the things i hope for in this literary form: engaging story and character, great drawing, with a dose of insight.

masterful marksMasterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World, by Monte Beauchamp
4.5 stars
short graphic biographies of influential cartoonists, drawn in their own style. i like graphic novels, but didn’t know much about influential cartoonists; so this creative and brilliantly executed approach to a history book was a blast to read.

what ifWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe
4 stars
just what the subtitle says it is: an application of math and science to offer reasoned answers to ridiculous question (example: What would happen if the earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?). from the creator of the popular web comic xkcd, this collection of weird questions and serious answers–with lots of fun illustrations–totally kept my attention for about 80% of my time with it.

gigantic beardThe Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, by Stephen Collins
5 stars
a man in an isolated, fear-based island kingdom suddenly grows a beard that won’t stop growing, creating pandemonium, absurd attempts at problem solving, and isolation. in addition to my beardy connection on this one, i loved the illustration style, and was pleasantly surprised by the level of implied social and political commentary about how we treat those considered other.

awkward moments 1Awkward Moments Children’s Bible, Vol. 1, and Awkward Moments (Not Found In Your Average) Children’s Bible – Vol. 2: Don’t blame us – it’s in the Bible!, by Horus Gilgamesh (Author) and Agnes Tickheathen (Illustrator)
2 stars
awkward moments 2illustrated plates of awkward bible scenes, with back-of-the-book commentary. i really, really wanted to love these books, but ultimately found them way too cynical, mean-spirited and dismissive.

wilsonWilson, by Daniel Clowes
3.5 stars
a narcissistic and lonely middle aged man seeks human connection. i love clowes’s illustrations (really, about as good as it gets), but found wilson so hopeless, in every sense, that i struggled to fully enjoy the story.

2 sentence book reviews: YA Fiction and Fiction

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, today)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

Young Adult Fiction

king dorkKing Dork and King Dork Approximately, by Frank Portman
4 stars each
king dork approximatelya high school outsider wrestles with identity, connecting with his dead father, weird parents, friendship, and girls, through his witty and skewed lens, fueled by literature and rock-and-roll. fantastic writing and character development, though seemingly embracing anarchy over hope.

Fiction

the fifth gospelThe Fifth Gospel: A Novel, by Ian Caldwell
5 stars
a vatican priest must unravel a complex threat to the church in order to save his own life (and maybe his faith). ten years after caldwell’s The Rule of Four, this brilliant thriller is part gripping (fictional) story, and part glimpse into life in the vatican.

beautiful youBeautiful You: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
2 stars
an average young woman gets caught up in a billionaire inventor’s pain-filled pursuit of world domination and revenge. as is always true of palahniuk books, this is filled with biting social commentary (this time about control and sexual obsession), but is so over-the-top that it dramatically decreased my engagement (i almost stopped reading it multiple times).

secondhand soulsSecondhand Souls: A Novel, by Christopher Moore
4.5 stars
in this sequel to moore’s A Dirty Job, a major shift seems to be underway in how souls are dealt with after death, and the unlikely team of san franciscans in on the transition must once again save the world. pure, weird fun: nothing more and nothing less.

bream gives me hiccupsBream Gives Me Hiccups: & Other Stories, by Jesse Eisenberg
5 stars
a wide variety of fictional short stories with deep wit (more than LOL humor). i was blown away by eisenberg’s writing and insight, and loved this book.

the 62 Worst and Weirdest Nativities (the 2015 revised list!)

coke can nativityYup, I’ve seen the Coke can nativity.

coke can camel nativityAnd I’ve seen the one with the pack of Camel cigs.

live dogs nativityAnd the live dogs posed as a nativity.

godzilla nativityAnd, yeah, the many glorious combinations of Barbies and Godzillas and just about everything else.

But they’re not on my list of the XX Worst and Weirdest Nativities. That’s because this list has a rule: I only include nativities that were made as nativities. (Otherwise this list would be three times longer!)

And before we get going with this year’s revised and updated list, I should acknowledge that I can’t really label all of these “worst” anymore. For starters, I’ve grown fond of some of them over time. Then, as the list has grown, I’ve stumbled on some that I think are absolutely brilliant in one way or another. There’s no question about it: some are horrible and tacky. Some are weird and freakish. Some are merely meh. And some, well, rock.

But you’ll have to be the judge, i suppose.

The Kitty Cat Nativity. Makes me want to cough up a hairball.

The Nativity Kitchen Timer (ding-ding! baby jesus is born!):

Yeah, the Cat Nativity is probably worse. But these Dogs ain’t much better…

Technically, not a nativity. But it’s a Christmas lawn ornament, showing (can you believe it?) the flogging of Jesus on the way to the cross. There’s some christmas cheer for your neighborhood!

Also not technically a nativity. Just a horribly cheesy Christian kitschmas decoration: the Jesus Tree Topper. Dude, that robe is not working for you. And stop using that flat-iron on your hair.

Back to actual nativity sets. This one is a craft kit, using marshmallows to make a S’mores Nativity. Yum.

This isn’t a whole nativity set, but there are other pieces available. This Mouse Drummer Boy is just about as confusing as a bit of kitschmas junk can get.

When searching for tasteless nativity sets online, it doesn’t take long for one to stumble onto multiple versions of bears…

This Rubber Duckie Nativity has to be right up there in the “worst” section of cheesy nativity sets…

Lotsa Santa nativity sets and pieces out there, but this one is a bit disorienting. Is the holy family IN Santa’s bag? Or does Santa have an nice appliqué of the holy family on his bag of gifts? And, what can the letters in Santa be re-arranged to spell?

If cats, dogs, and teddy bears weren’t enough, how ’bout penguins!?

Sure. Snowmen. Shouldn’t be a surprise.

Ah, the Veggie Nativity. I debated on this one, because my kids loved Veggie Tales back in the day. But the baby carrot pushed me over the edge into including it.

This nativity — well, i just don’t even know how to describe it. Clowns? modern art? The baby Jesus seriously looks like something out of a circus or a John Waters movie.

Oh, the animals. I suppose, while i think the Dog Nativity and Cat Nativity are somehow explainable as something people WAY too “into” those particular animals might display, this Chicken Nativity is just a bit beyond my comprehension as a purchasable — nay, displayable — holiday trinket.

You know those people who have those geese on their porch? Yeah, them. And they put a cute little goosey costume on their porch-goose to mark every season? Yeah, those people. This costume set is made for those people. Or, to clarify, for those who actually have TWO of those geese already. Sigh. I’m guessing the rubber ducky baby is “not supplied” (not to mention zoologically impossible).

What better expresses the spirit of the incarnation than owls? I found these in an online cavalcade of nativities, where the comment was: Whoooo is the Son of God? Whooooo?

Yes, I give you, the Naked Troll Doll nativity. Eesh. Feh.

The Irish Nativity, where the 3 Irish wise guys have clover, gold and Guinness:

The most viral nativity from a few years ago… the Meat Nativity (yes, bacon and sausage):

And, why not the Butter Nativity:

The Cupcake Topper Nativity. holy and yummy all at once!

The Pig Nativity. Oink-vey: certainly not kosher…

The Mary-and-Josesph-as-Kids Nativity. This one is mildly disturbing.

In keeping with our current cultural fascination with all things zombie, I give you the Etsy craftiness of: the Zombie Nativity. Full disclosure: after this collection blew up online a few years ago, my business partner, Adam McLane, bought me this one as a Christmas gift. It now sits proudly in my home. and my interactions with the creators were just lovely (they “get it”).

The Nativity Carved out of Spam! (Thanks, Adam!)

The Shotgun Shell Nativity. What a blast (get it!?). Perfect for your redneck Christmas, I suppose.

The Peg Doll Nativity. Other than collecting some larger figures and one smaller one, and telling me it’s a nativity, this one doesn’t exactly scream “manger”.

The Mice Nativity. Say goodbye to the cookies you left out for Santa.

Um, the official description is “Folk Nativity“. But i’m pretty sure that’s a small 7 eleven frozen burrito with a face on it, along with two new age tree fairies, or something (btw: I had interaction with the creators of this gem a few years ago, and they’re good people).

From a nice reader in the UK (thanks, Mary!) who bothered to email this pic…
The Soggy Jesus Nativity. I’m sure there are plenty of nativities in a snow globe, where all three (or more) characters are IN the globe. But this freakish thing just has Jesus in there, with Mary and Joe staring at their baby-in-a-fishbowl. Too weird and hilarious.

Honestly, this one — the Mexican Mermaid Family Nativity — is some pretty beautiful art work, even if it is fairly strange. Thanks to Karen on flickr for allowing me to post this one.

And what I can only call the ‘Minimalist Nativity’. Props to some kindergarten art class for this one, or some very lazy community college art student.

Yeah, this one probably crosses some line. Sent to me by the creators, I give you the Halloween/Christmas Mash-up Nativity.

More animals! This time, it’s Meerkats! Hakuna matata, Jesus.

Not to be left out of the animal kingdom nativities, the Frog Nativity:

Ok. If I had a line, I’ve probably crossed it by now. I hesitated on this one, but it was suggested SO many times in recent years, and it’s from a crafty little website called tamponcrafts.com (really). Yup: it’s the Tampon Nativity:

More animals! This time it’s Moose (meese? mooses?).

Robin, the creator of this Soap Nativity, sent it to me. I suppose the birth of Christ has something to do with getting us all squeaky clean.

I love this one: three wise-men cheers for the Color Nativity!

What’s more fun that a puzzle? I’ll tell you what: little puzzles made out of eraser stuff. And then–in case that wasn’t fun enough!–make ’em a Puzzle Eraser Nativity set! Obvious, right, since baby Jesus came to erase your sins!?
puzzle eraser nativity

Take, eat, this is the body of Christ MADE IN CHOCOLATE FOR YOU, nomnomnomnomnom.
chocolate nativity

A quick Google image search will turn up a wide variety of nativity-themed nesting dolls. But I got a little chuckle out of the idea of the sheep being inside baby J on this one (alert reader Alison pointed out that “maybe that’s the ‘Lamb of God’!”):
nesting dolls nativity

Really, how did this list of wild and weird and wonderful and horrible nativities get to this ripe old age and NOT have a Gingerbread Nativity?? Just like the nesting dolls, there are hundreds (homemade and not) in a quick google image search. Here’s one of ’em:
gingerbread nativity

Speaking of gingerbread… just in case you’re hoping to communicate “WE ARE SO CUTE YOU MUST LOVE US” to your neighbors, here’s a Gingerbread Yard Art Nativity (I’m sure the word “art” is used merely for reference in that description):
gingerbread yard art nativity

What can I say: the world thanks Etsy artist thepinkkoala for finally building a bridge of peace, ending the rancor brought on by the scopes monkey trial. Now Christians and Darwinists can hold hands whilst viewing this Monkey Nativity set:
monkey nativity

I’m salivating as I post this one, the Fondant Nativity, from Etsy wonder craft rosy. Jesus and dessert: Two of my favorite things!
fondant nativity

You saw the Snow Globe Nativity above with only baby Jesus in the globe, right? Well, a lovely and alert reader sent me a photo of this fantastic piece of awesomeness she saw at a thrift shop. Yup, this time the snow globe is only on mary’s head. It’s like a space helmet! HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
nativity - mary snowglobe

And here I have to confess: this nativity is amazing. I want. I already have one on the list called the “Minimalist Nativity,” so i’m going to be forced to call this the “Minimalist Balls Nativity.” Seriously, this bit-o-brilliance makes it pretty clear that the nativity is iconic (btw: here are step-by-step instructions for making this one):
nativity - minimalist balls

New to the list this year!

There are so many nativities that try to incorporate Santa in some way. But this Father Santa Nativity takes things to a whole ‘nother level.
Father Santa

Unvirtuous Abbey, on FB, was the source of this confused Frankenstein Nativity.
frankenstein nativity

This has to be one of the strangest and most disorienting nativities on the whole list. I call it the Frog Belly Nativity, and it leaves me with more questions than answers, to be sure. But, hey, if this connects with your soul, you can get your own at The Frog Store.
frog belly nativity

Holy cow, it’s a nativity. Confused? Me too. The Holy Cow Nativity is available as a Christmas ornament for your mediations on beef and spirituality.
holy cow nativity

Nativity Chess Set. Seems pretty obvi, right?
nativity chess set

Three truths about this Paper Mache Nativity:
1. I don’t remember where I got it (I think someone sent it to me; but I don’t have notes on it).
2. I’m not really sure what’s going on in it.
3. It scares me, just a little bit, in an Aliens-want-to-eat-your-soul sort of way.
paper machete

The Peanut Nativity reminds me of a lame craft from Christian summer camp. Sorry, peanuts. And sorry, good summer camps with your brilliant craftiness.
peanut nativity

Food-related nativities are fun, apparently. And the Radish Nativity has an interesting story. Sent to me by Christy, a missionary in southern Mexico, who writes: My husband and I work in Southern Mexico. Every December 23, people from all over flock to Oaxaca City, Mexico to the Noche de Rabanos (Radish Night) celebration. There are always some lovely nativities painstakingly carved out of giant red radishes. Sure. Radishes. Because they’re red, maybe?
radish nativity.4

My friend Josh snapped a pic of this Woodland Creatures Nativity at a Christmas store in NC. Oh, Deer! (Note: Santa in the background sorta ticked me off. Go away, Santa, back to your freaking chimney.)
woodland creatures nativity

How did I get all the way to 2015 without a Salt and Pepper Nativity in the list? Yup, it’s the reason for the seasoning.
salt and pepper

This is one of my new favorites: the Super Minimalist Nativity. Created by French artist Émilie Voirin, who says, “The holy scene that has been broadly reproduced is here recognizable by the names only, giving free rein to people’s imagination.”
super minimalist nativity

People have sent me dozens of nativity scenes cobbled together with independent superhero dolls. But this one was actually made as a nativity, with Baby J in a wee Superman costume! Finally, a real Superhero Nativity. (Haven’t found a source for this one yet.)
superhero-nativity

I don’t think the creators of this nativity intended to make something that looks like the Star Wars Jawa. So I’m calling this one the Unintentional Jawa Nativity.
unintentional jawa

check out bohemian rhapsody re-written as “bethlehemian rhapsody” (so totally fun!).

also check out this awesome take on the real christmas story, as if it played out on facebook, and this fantastic imagining of the nativity story played out on a a wide variety of social media.