one of the many moving moments of our haiti trip was this one. we’d spent some time with pastor christian, a 74 year-old wise and humble pastor of 11 churches totaling 10,000 people. later in our trip, he hosted a pastors meeting for us attended by 260 pastors, representing about 1000 churches. this is the cross-denominational group adventures in missions is hoping to work with for hosting groups and developing church partnerships. but this moment, when we asked him to pray for us, and he started singing… well… i just started weeping. you won’t be able to understand the translation, but it’s hardly the point.
my reluctance and reasons-not-to-go are just barely shy of the sum total of factors that mush together into my compulsion to go.
some reasons not to go:
– i like comfort. i like my bed; and when i travel, i like staying in a hotel bed.
– as confident as i seem, and — to be honest — often am, i still have plenty of insecurity about many things. included in those are “what people will think of me.” in this case, i’m uncomfortable with the fact that going means some will comment here telling me i shouldn’t go (or, at least think so), that some will think i perceive myself as a little messiah. and i’m uncomfortable with the possibillty that i’ll be an inconvenience to the team i’m traveling with, either because i can be a whiner, or because i can snore like a mutha, or for a hundred other (not really legitimate but still oppressive) notions about what people will think.
– i cannot stand — really, deeply — hit-and-run missions, missions that’s really tourism, or missions that’s really about making the participants feel better about themselves for a short period of time. a big reason for my pickiness on this is that i’ve been taking teenagers on missions trips for a very long time, and i’ve made some of those mistakes (and i’ve seen even worse).
– i think that short term missions, done poorly, creates an even greater us/them divide that objectifies the “recipients” and has very little to do with the kingdom of god.
– my family has given money, and we will certainly give more — so, is it arrogance in me that causes me to think i should go, rather than just sending the money it will cost for me to go?
– oh, and one more, for now: i’m a rookie when it comes to really feeling things. i don’t think i deeply felt anything until yaconelli died. and that was only 6 years ago. i’m on this crazy love/hate journey with trying to honor god by being present to and honoring my emotions — but i suck at it, and i hold them back all the time. i know that if i go, i’ll wrestle with this in hyper-reality; and i’m not sure i want to.
– i was stunned, as we all were, by the news as it started to pour in. very early on, i had this sense that god was telling me i should go. but i didn’t have a means, and i completely dismissed it.
– i starting working with an organization i love and trust, an organization with an amazing track record of responding in ways i find both theologically true and culturally sensitive. i was working with them to put together a group of youth workers to travel to haiti — kind of a small “representative sample” of the youth worker community i love so dearly, to go on our collective behalf to both serve, as well as assess how other youth workers might be able to respond. and, somewhere in the midst of this — never thinking i would be part of the group — i realized i was actively ignoring that heart-tug from god.
– i talked it over with my family. it had big implications for them, because the trip ended up falling on a week when my kids have a week break from school, and we had tentatively planned to do some fun family stuff that week. but when max (12) looked me straight in the eyes and said, “dad, you have to go!”, i was a wreck. god spoke through my son.
– ultimately, i’m going for two reasons: i sense god is in this, and i think i can actually do more for the people of haiti and the kingdom of god by going than by not going. i hope and pray that my broken heart, my service, and my reporting to all of you, will have a greater impact than a check alone (i’m not skipping out on the giving part, btw).
so here i am — 2 weeks and 2 days out from my departure date, which is february 11. i’m terrified and energized, second-guessing myself and confident all at the same time. in the days and weeks to come, i’ll blog several more times about the team i’m going with, the organization we’re partnering with, the work we’ll do, and all kinds of other stuff. during the trip itself, i hope to post stories of pain and beauty, stories of the kingdom of god breaking through. i hope many of you will join me on this journey, by praying for me and praying through this journey for the people of haiti. and i hope i’ll be able to offer practical advice to those who might think about going, or taking a group, as so much help will be needed in the year(s) to come.
(btw: i was having internet probs when i first posted this, and the last 1/3 was cut off, and somehow comments were turned off. all fixed now.)
i had the very cool experience, the other day, of getting to see an early screening of the book of eli, the new film starring denzel washington, gary oldman, and mila kunis, and directed by the hughes brothers. and, to make the whole thing even more surreal, i had a chance to sit in with a small group of “religious press” (about 8 of us — how i qualified is still a bit beyond me) who met one-at-a-time with each of those three stars, and alan hughes.
short movie summary (you can read more on the website): denzel plays eli, a man living in a post-apocalyptic america, carrying a bible on a “mission from god” (ht: blues brothers) to a destination and result he doesn’t know. gary oldman plays carnagie, a despot with complexity (aren’t the best despots always 3-dimensional?) who lords over a small town and a compulsion to find a bible. mila kunis plays solara, carnagie’s innocent step-daughter, who has never known another world, but finds hope for something more. eli has learned, through his 30 year trek, to defend himself and survive an almost-impossible life alone in this world that does not have room for loners. he’s a one-man machine when it comes to defending his precious cargo, and refuses anything (including companionship, at first) that even offers a hint of distraction or failure in his pilgrimage.
it’s an r-rated, bleak world, with some pretty stunning fight scenes.
but the themes the movie teases out are rich. both eli and carnagie are passionate about the bible, but for very different reasons. carnagie sees it as a weapon, a tool with which to control others, while eli sees it as the only option for redemption in his brutal world. there are a handful of surprises and turns that make the story rich, including one that found me choked up with tears.
when we asked denzel about the change in his character, as he wrestled with whether or not to let solara play a role in his life and quest, he responded, “sometimes we get so focused, in god’s name, and” (i’m paraphrasing here) we need an innocent to stop us in our tracks and re-evaluate. man, that had a ring of youth ministry to me, or christian ministry in general. i know there have been many times in my life when a teenager has been used by god to bring me re-focus on my own pilgrimage.
i loved alan hughes’ response when he was asked why he chose the bible, and not just a non-descript sacred book. he simply said, “it had to be the bible! it’s the bible, man!” he went on to say, “the bible is in the movie, but it’s not a movie about the bible. it’s about one man’s faith, and one could use the bible to enslave, and another to set free.” gah. that’s some rich stuff for hollywood.
the thought i was left with the most, as jeannie and i talked about the movie for hours, was how all of us have the potential to “use” the bible to our own ends. we find what we want in scripture, to support our own desires — good and evil, conscious and subconscious. we all do this, even the best-intentioned. eli makes a comment, late in the film, about his own shift. i don’t have the exact wording; but it was something along the lines of how he’d been protecting the bible for so long that he’d lost sight of allowing it’s message to guide him. man, that’s a sermon worth preaching, and worth hearing.
last week, i posted “the new 10 commandments“, as re-written by a group of 100 european young adults as part of an mtv sticky study. (the mtv sticky report called youthtopia (a study of hopes and dreams). the study describes itself this way: “In the first-ever effort to understand the values, hopes and dreams of young people in Europe, MTV asked over 7,000 youths to imagine their ideal world and to consider brands as people and whether those ‘people’ would be welcome in their world –‘Youthtopia’.”) i thought these 10 commandments, while idealistic and likely not fully reflective of behavior (but, as i wrote in a comment, how reflective is our behavior of the biblical 10 commandments?) was both surprising, and encouraging. but not everyone in the comments agreed with that assessment.
another part of the study followed the same methodology, but focused on the seven deadly sins. in case you can’t remember the 7 original ones, they are:
a group of 100 european youth (young adults) were asked to collaboratively write a new list of the 7 deadly sins. realize, this was not a “christian” study, nor was the faith of the participants part of the selection process.
this list is interesting and telling. once again, i think this exercise would be very interesting to go through with a high school (or college-aged) youth group.
here’s the list the european youth came up with:
what’s your response to this one?
today, i am thankful that i was laid off.
it’s a choice, more than a feeling.
i cannot, no matter how much effort i apply to the task, think of a single challenging, painful, or hurtful experience in my life, whether by my own doing or done to me, that i would now wish away. i cannot think of one of those that god didn’t use for growth or benefit or shift or some other good purpose.
i cannot believe that this current situation would be an exception to that rule.
so, today, i choose to be thankful that i was laid off, in the belief and hope (the christian kind of hope that is, more equal to confidence than wishing) that this is all very, very good. in 5 years, i won’t be willing to trade this for the world.
(looking forward to a houseful of 20 thanksgiving dinner guests today, also!)
Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent
here’s another book that had been on my “to read” pile for a few years. tic long, my co-worker at ys, had told me so many times how much he enjoyed it, that i’d lost track of how i’d gotten it. i’d assumed i’d either ordered it through amazon, or that the publisher had sent it to me. so when i brought it along on a recent silent retreat, i was suprised to find a beautiful inscription in the front cover. someone — the signature is not legible! — who had clearly worked on the book (maybe an editor?) referenced a sermon i’d preached at my church, how much the person had enjoyed it, and how much they thought it connected with this book. the inscription was dated april, 2006!
anyhow, i read this book in one sitting. i could not put it down.
if you haven’t read it (i’m sure many of you have), it’s the true (autobiographical) story of two men. the first is a black share cropper from the old south who grew up in a way most of us wouldn’t realize still existed in our lifetimes (really, slavery), and subsequently lived as a homeless man in fort worth, texas. living as a homeless man was a much better life than what he’d previously experienced. the second man is a white man who grew up lower middle class, but rose to be a wealthy art dealer in fort worth. the second guy’s wife plays a key part in the story, as she develops a passion for the homeless that eventually brings the two men together.
told in first person with mostly-alternating chapters by each author, the stories start with their childhoods, adolescence and young adulthood, and begins to weave together as they get to know each other. there’s an element of deep tragedy in the book i hadn’t expected, which brought me to tears (the kind with constricted throat and a bit of gasping for air) more than once. so it’s also a story of grief and healing.
it’s all beautiful. it would be a great book if it were fiction; but the fact that it’s all true makes it better by 100-fold. seriously, if you haven’t read this baby, you gotta. trust me on this one.
i try to re-post my blogroll about every six months, but it’s been more than that since the last time; so here we go!
here’s what i’ve got in my bloglines these days. i try to keep it paired down — i just don’t have time to read hundreds of blogs every day. but these are the ones i look at at least once a day. there are dozens of others – particularly youth ministry blogs – that i check in on from time to time, but aren’t listed here.
the categories are somewhat arbitrary – they’re just what work for me!
Youth ministry (this is a tough category for me, because there are SO many wonderful youth ministry blogs. i read dozens and dozens more than this on an occasional basis. but these are the handful i find the most thoughtful and challenging, or, frankly, are just friends of mine in youth ministry that i want to stay current with.)
fuller youth institute blog
fuller youth institute articles
ypulse (ypulse isn’t a youth ministry blog, actually. it’s the blog of anastasia goodstein, who has her finger on the pulse of youth culture and marketing like no other. i have this in my ‘youth ministry’ category because i always find things that make me think about youth ministry.)
junior high summit (these are the peeps i meet with once a year for the ‘jh pastors summit’ – they’re buddies of mine, and i welcome their thinking about young teen ministry to push and pull my own thoughts.)
Journey (my church)
brian berry (the high school pastor, and ys one day team member)
josh treece (the former middle school guy)
todd tolson (the discipleship guy, and long-ago middle school pastor)
ian and christina robertson (christina is our middle school pastor, ian is a co-worker of mine at ys)
riptide blog (the middle school ministry, of which i am a volunteer)
ed noble (teaching pastor, and friend of 20 years)
rod kaya (worship dude)
encounter blog (high school ministry blog, more important to me now that my daughter is in the group)
ys staff (current and former)
renee altson (former ys staffer — but still part of the ys staff family)
mindi godfrey (former ys staffer, but still a good friend)
12 films in 12 months (ian robertson’s short film experiment)
alex roller (alex hasn’t actually worked at ys for a while — but i still think of him as part of us.)
carrie clausen (carrie’s blog, pic this day, is a photo blog)
this morning in church, hearing the teaching pastor talk about the events of palm sunday, it struck me how this story is such a clear expression of god’s grace to us. here’s jesus, riding the colt into jerusalem, with everyone all pumped up about “the prophet” coming. they laid down palm branches and shouted hosanna and all that. the buzz about jesus had reached a fever pitch after word of lazarus being raised from the dead in the nearby town of bethany. clearly, this was the prophet moses had promised would come.
and, of course, the whole time, jesus knew what was coming his way in the next week.
this is where the grace part struck me: jesus accepted their praise.
jesus accepted their praise knowing fully that they would turn on him within days.
i think i’ve always thought of this story in terms of “them” — those people who would so quickly turn on jesus. today, i was struck by how it’s my story also.
jesus shows me the same grace every time i acknowledge him, every time i choose to follow him, every time i give him praise. he knows that, just like those palm-waving peeps that day, i’ll quickly turn away, betray him (and what he stands for), choose my own way, discredit him, praise myself, or ignore him.
and yet he accepts my praise.
mmm, this is grace.
here’s a little back story before i get to the actual book review: i’d known about this dave gibbons guy for a while, but mostly because i’m friends with the youth pastor at his church (april diaz). i spend enough time with enough youth pastors to have an internal divining rod for when there’s a rare, exceptional senior pastor (especially when it comes to believing in and supporting the youth worker). and from my interactions with april, dave gibbons is clearly one of those rare, exceptional senior pastors.
when i finished the rough draft of my book, youth ministry 3.0, i gave an unedited copy to april. she sent me the single most encouraging email i received from my early readers; and it was loaded with stuff about how the book put into words stuff their church was trying to do. she’d had others on the church leadership team read it, and she was the first to challenge me with the idea that there might need to be a “church 3.0” version of the book developed. then, dave gibbons spoke at our youth workers convention in toronto last fall, and i pre-arranged for he and i to spend some time together. i’m sure many have this feeling when they meet dave, but it was one of those meetings where i felt i was talking with someone on the same journey as me, in terms of thinking about the church (and, really, i felt like dave was a few steps in front of me, to say the least). in that meeting, i decided to mention the idea of dave co-authoring a church leader version of ym3.0 with me, and we’ve had a couple more discussions about it since. who knows if that will happen or not, but i came to dave’s new book with all of that in mind.
also, dave is the “special guest” at an invitation-only gathering of seasoned middle school ministry pastors i bring together every year, when we meet a little over a week from now. so those of us attending that event all agreed to read this book.
it’s funny: april had written me, a year ago, saying that she found herself saying “yes!” through much of my book; and that’s exactly how i felt while reading dave’s. in fact, it was an almost surreal experience. as i wrote in a post the other day, there were so many moments, while reading it, that i felt like i was reading a parallel book to youth ministry 3.0. i had that sense (and i told dave this, in an email) that i was driving down a city street and, at the intersections, noticing another vehicle on a parallel streets traveling the same direction and speed.
the book is about church leadership in a global culture, on the surface. but, really, it’s about living christianly, in any cultural context, and in any time. because, at its core, the monkey and the fish is about the values of jesus, and how we can embody them (specifically as churches, and more broadly as “the church”). it’s a quick read, and very accessible. full of great stories from real-life attempts, successes and failures. it’s an honest book, revealing some of the author’s own failures and short-comings. parts of it are almost a spiritual memoir, as dave shares intimate struggles and personal context.
but what i liked most about the book is that the very form of the flow was reflective of the book’s points. in other words: it wasn’t linear and full of how-to’s. dave refers a few times to bruce lee’s suggestion that we become like water; and this book itself is fluid. this will likely frustrate some readers. it actually started to frustrate me, until i realized what was going on — then i sat back and enjoyed the ride!
i had a few minor gripes with the book:
– i think it’s a sexy but weak title, and the opening illustration it refers to doesn’t play a significant role in the book
– i wished dave would give us a clearer explanation of “third culture” from the start (and, while i think i “got it” as i read on, i wasn’t sure about the earliest definition)
– there were times when i wasn’t sure if dave was writing to church leaders (as the subtitle and “leadership network series” would imply) or a general christian audience.
but those were minor, as i said. and overall, i think this is a stellar book, by a brilliant outside-the-box pastor who is doing seriously innovative stuff around the world. i’m stoked about more interactions with him, and about whatever books he’ll write in the future.
i don’t know if i’d ever heard the word “liminal” until the last several years. if i had, i wasn’t familiar with it. in fact, when i noticed quite a few of my friends in the emerging church using the word, i had to look it up! since then, it’s become an important word and idea to me.
dictionary.com, and particularly the online etymology dictionary, showed me that “liminal” is latin for threshold.
i often hear “liminal” used in terms of “thin places.” and, particularly, those thin places where god’s presence seems more palpable.
now, in one sense, i believe that god is present at all times, and in all places. all that omni stuff. but, i certainly experience times and even places that seem more ripe with spiritual potential, or having the residue of the spirit’s regular presence, or something like that. for me, a few of those places have been:
– a quiet cabin in the desert i went to once (need to go back to that place)
– the monet waterlily rooms in the musee l’orangerie, in paris
– mission san luis rey, in north county san diego
– several cathedrals around the world (though they do not all have this liminal sense to the same extent)
some of this is more “time” than “place for me, like:
– a general session at the national youth workers convention when thousands of youth workers are singing to god
– the baptismal celebrations my church hosts at mission bay, in san diego, twice a year
– worship experiences that are foreign to me (like a couple experiences at world youth day in sydney last summer, or my occasional experiences worshiping in an african american church)
but here’s the funny thing. after a few years of enjoying the notion of liminal spaces, and even a seeking out of these places and times, i was recently struck by something. i was in a dcla content development meeting with my friend jim hancock, and i’d said something about liminal spaces. a few minutes later, jim said something in response, intentionally saying “sub… liminal” (he put a beat after “sub”). so, yeah, i’m a simple-minded dork at times, but i’d NEVER actually noticed that liminal is the second half of the word subliminal. certainly psychology peeps would all know this, since “limin” is latin for “the edge of consciousness” (connected to that idea that “liminal” is “threshold”). which means that “subliminal” means “below the threshold of consciousness”.
ok. makes sense. but this got me thinking about what spiritual significance could exist in the word sub-liminal, if the liminal part of that word is referring to those thin places where god is either tangibly present, or a spiritual sense exists that god has been here a lot, or might just pop by at any moment. what are “sub-thin-places”?
what’s the “below the threshold of consciousness” place where god’s presence is felt, or close?
i would love hear your thoughts on this. maybe i’m just playing a semantic game; but i feel like there’s something in this for me. i really need to get away on one of my silent retreats and meditate on this. i need to ask god to reveal something to me on this, and just wait for a half day in silence.