Walt Mueller's Blog
I've been thinking... by Walt Mueller
Interesting encounters. . . .
Several years ago – sometime during the mid to late-90s if I remember correctly – I sat in on a seminar at the Youth Specialties National Youthworkers’ Convention in
I arrived in the packed-to-the-edges room a little late so I took a seat on the side. Driscoll and Seay appeared to be a couple of trendy-looking twenty-somethings as they sat side-by-side in the front of the room on stools. . . . . first time I had ever seen anyone sit to do a NYWC seminar. For an hour-and-a-half, the two took turns in what seemed to be a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that seemed largely unprepared. As I listened, I became extremely uncomfortable with some of what they were saying, along with the varied responses of the impressionable youthworkers – many of them young – who were sitting in the room.
I remember the two of them being angry – very angry – in their tone. Their anger was directed at the church. As I listened, I quickly realized that I shared quite a bit of their concerns. While I think the average attendee heard anger towards the conservative and evangelical church establishment, I began to sense that their anger – which at many spots was well-justified – was directed even more specifically at the culturally captive evangelical/conservative sub-movement that had become known as the boomer-oriented seeker-sensitive arm of the church. But the way they were presenting their case and the prescriptive corrections they proposed just didn’t sit well with me.
As I watched the responses of the people in the room, it seemed that Driscoll and Seay’s anger was polarizing. Some of the people in the room – mostly the younger folk – were finding in Driscoll and Seay a voice for their own dissatisfaction with the church. What worried me was that it appeared that these younger people were ready to jump right into bed with Driscoll and Seay, a move that I feared would be counterproductive as it would lead to a reaction against anything and everything in the church. . . . leading them to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Then there were the older people in the room, who were getting angry at Driscoll and Seay for their anger. . . including the fact that the two were peppering their conversation with some profanity. Throughout the course of the entire seminar, pockets of one or two people would intermittently get up and leave the room, sometimes muttering things under their breath or nodding in disapproval. By the end of the seminar, the room was only about half as full as it was in the beginning.
When it all ended, I sat there in my chair with my head, heart, and stomach swirling around with a variety of thoughts and feelings. I sensed that I had just sat in on something of significance, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I believed that I had just seen a line drawn in the sand. I remember fearing that what should have been and could have been constructive criticism of institutions and practices that fully deserved constructive criticism, had instead made a sharp turn and was heading down the road – in fact may have been pretty far along the road – towards a splintering of the church that would be reactionary. . . . and so much so that all the theological good that had come out of the modernist period would be thrown out with the bad simply because it was, well, modernist. In hindsight, I realize now that this was my first introduction to what would quickly become known as “The Emergent Church” . . . a very diverse movement, by the way, that has offered some much needed corrective critique.
I certainly didn’t have it all figured out at the time – nor do I now – but I was genuinely concerned by what I had just seen and heard, along with the response of the crowd to it. As I sat there searching inside for clarification and answers, it suddenly dawned on me that there was what I believed to be an answer out there. In fact, it was one that had been around for a long, long time.
I got up out of my chair and walked to the front of the room where people had gathered to chat with Driscoll and Seay. Driscoll was deeply engaged in conversation with someone so I stepped into an opening with Seay and introduced myself. I remember being a bit pensive, knowing full well that these guys were angry, they were already deeply invested in shaping solutions, and why – after all – would they want to hear something from somebody ten years older than them who had grown up as a part of the prior boomer generation? Here’s what I remember of that conversation with Seay: I introduced myself and quickly said something like, “I hear your anger. I think what you’re looking for is something I’ve found in Reformed theology. There are people out there who have been thinking and talking about these things for years, but they’ve gone largely unheard because, well, they are Reformed.” Seay looked at me like I was too old to have anything worthwhile to pass on, and that was the end of our conversation. It wasn’t a good feeling. I left to get dinner.
That afternoon has stayed with me for years as I’ve watched the movement that was represented on those stools grow rapidly. As I’ve watched it grow, I’ve continued to share some of their concerns about the church, but few of their prescriptions. I still think that Reformed theology, particularly the strain known as Dutch neo-Calvinism, is Biblically faithful and a foundation that informs matters of faith and life with consistency and integrity.
Fast forward ten years. Three weeks ago I’m heading west by myself on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I’m going to the Jubilee Conference in
So I’m driving. I decide that I’m in the mood for some laughs so I drop Disc #1 of Colbert into the CD player. Fifteen minutes into the CD it starts skipping. Stink. I pop it out. . . . knowing that Derek’s going to blame me for messing up his CD. By default, I pop in the Driscoll CD. I quickly learn that the recording was made last fall at a conference somewhere in
As I pulled back on the road I was thinking of three things. First, I was thanking God. Second, I was thinking of all the people I needed to give the CD to. And third, I simply said to God, “If you ever allow me to, I’d like to be able to personally tell Mark Driscoll the story of
So last weekend, a couple of weeks after my trip to Pittsburgh, I fly to Seattle to speak at a banquet for the Shoreline Christian School (by the way, this is another one of those Christian Schools that has embraced Reformed Theology and isn’t the least bit scared to teach kids how to engage the world Christianly!). As the banquet guests are arriving, I’m walking through the room past groups of chatting people. I pass one group and hear a very familiar voice. I turn around – surprised - and see Mark Driscoll. His kids go to the school. To make a long story short, God has answered my prayer. We talk.
Grace is an amazing thing, isn’t it?
Heroes. . . .
If you asked me to write down a list of my heroes I’d stumble a bit. I had heroes when I was a kid. Back then my list included people like Dick Allen, Johnny Callison, and a variety of mostly sports-type icons who I’d be imitating in my mind while catching a fly ball or swinging a bat in our almost-everyday neighborhood baseball games. I suppose that as an adult I don’t often use the word hero. Instead, I talk about people that I respect and admire.
Several days ago, during our trip to the National Youth Ministry Conference in
Second, there was my encounter with Andrew Smith, the young man at the conference who had been hand-picked to introduce Tony Dungy on the main stage. I had a few conversations with Andrew over the course of the day before his introduction. During that time he told me the story of being at an event where Dungy had spoken and approaching Dungy after the event to ask him to come visit a friend, Jonathan Judge, who was terminally ill with cancer. Dungy obliged and showed up at Jonathan’s house. Jonathan later died, but the legacy of Jonathan’s deep faith in Christ and Dungy’s eager embrace of the opportunity to spend time with Jonathan – and with Jonathan’s family even after Jonathan’s death – was compelling. Andrew did a great job introducing Tony Dungy. It was especially heartwarming to see Jonathan’s family in the audience. Later, Andrew and I talked about his friend Jonathan and the ministry he and Jonathan’s family are leading in a effort to share the faith Jonathan had in his Lord with others. At Andrew’s request, I watched a series of videos Jonathan made before his death, one of which can be viewed on YouTube - http://youtube.com/watch?v=qOBOKtkb9os – Needless to say, Jonathan is now someone I respect and admire.
Finally, in the midst of all this there was my time spent over the course of the weekend with a roomful of youth workers who were eager to learn how to be more effective in leading young people to understand and embrace the
Earlier today, during our staff meeting, we got talking about how people in youth ministry serve as heroes, not only to kids, but to their parents. Dungy talked about that from the main stage in his address to youth workers. If you would indulge me, I was thinking specifically about how we can be gatekeepers for resources hurting parents are largely oblivious to, even though they are so desperately needed. We might not be qualified to offer counsel, but we can point them in the right direction. Here at CPYU I am constantly trying to get youth workers to help parents of troubled teens and prodigal kids by passing on two of my favorite parenting books – John White’s Parents In Pain and Jack Miller’s Come Back, Barbara. I can’t tell you how much these books have meant to me and hundreds of other parents over the years. In Cincinnati, I had the opportunity to place Miller’s book in the hands of a couple who deeply love Jesus and kids, but who are struggling a bit with a struggling child on the home front. . . even as we heard from a Super Bowl winning coach who has experienced his own struggles on the home front. Life is hard, and we need all the help we can get. At the risk of sounding like I’m giving a “sales pitch,” I’d like to give a “ministry pitch.” It goes like this. . . . “please get these books in the hands of struggling parents. If you do, you will be a hero.” I believe so much in the value of these resources, that we’re cutting a break to anyone who orders them from our Resource Center.
People to respect and admire. . . . I think the common thread is integrity. And that integrity is marked by a humble reliance on God for all things. . . . including the everyday help we do desperately need as we live, move, and breath through lives on this fallen planet. My prayer is that like Dungy, Judge, and others, this is who each of us would be as we live lives in service to our King.
What do they see?
Last night I ran into my buddy Kevin in the high school parking lot. Kevin used to live on my street and I would see him just about every day. A few years ago Kevin and his wife built a house a block over in our neighborhood. Because we both come and go on our respective streets, I don’t see him nearly as much.
When Kevin walked over to my car I noticed that he looked a bit different. “Have you lost weight?” I asked. In true Kevin fashion he started laughing. He was remembering a similar conversation we had about four years ago. Kevin’s a big guy like me. A few years ago I ran into him at a store and he looked like he had lost a lot of weight. In true Kevin fashion he laughed heartily as he told me how he had lost 30 pounds in one month on what he called “The Survivor Diet.” Kevin’s self-invented diet consisted of pretending he was alone on an island for 30 days with nothing to eat but Tuna. Kevin didn’t wade into the water to wrestle and capture the tuna by hand. He walked into the local Giant grocery store and picked cans off the shelf. The diet worked. I think he may have also become best friends with a volleyball.
Last night Kevin informed me that he had lost 30 pounds again in one month. This time he was using a calorie counting website and recording everything he was putting into his mouth. I was a bit disappointed with this news, as Kevin is usually quite creative and good for a laugh. This was almost too normal.
As Kevin and I laughed I told him about how I was in the beginning stages of a diet as my weight has gone up steadily over the last couple of years. A recent visit to the doctor and a high number related to cholesterol - as well as not feeling like myself - have been two of many catalysts. I’m blogging about this partially because Kevin told me how sharing his weight-loss goal with friends at a sales meeting back in January had built in some accountability. Now I have that as well.
With my conversation with Kevin fresh on my mind, I came into the office this morning and opened my email, only to find a photo that was taken last Saturday night of me chatting at a reunion with an old ministry co-worker who I hadn’t seen for over 25 years. Crazy thing is that I remember the flash in my face as I was being animated and laughing with my old friend. I remember thinking, “That will be an interesting photo that I hope I never get to see.” Well see it I have. . . . this morning. Providential too. By the way, if you ever doubt the ability of our body to grow new parts, think again. Somewhere along the way I became like a lizard who can replace his own tail. The photo provides ample evidence that I’ve sprouted a couple of new chins. Okay, I already knew this. But the photo is now tacked up behind my computer screen to remind me. And so I embark on the quest to lose some weight and get back into some semblance of physical shape.
All this got me thinking about my motivation for such. There’s always that danger of vanity that exists in today’s appearance-obsessed culture. I realize that my motivation should not be to appear better in the eyes of others, but to be a good steward and caretaker of my body. . . . and by doing so, bringing honor and glory to the One who’s given it to me.
These recent encounters and my ongoing weight-loss quest have also served to remind me of another reality. I’ve always been concerned about the image we give as followers of Christ to the watching world. Do we really represent Christ well? Do we offer a compelling embodied apologetic for Christ and what it means to be His followers? A few weeks ago I blogged about reading a series of books that had combined to bring these questions and concerns more into the open for me as I think about myself and the state of contemporary evangelicalism. One of the books that was most helpful to me was David Kinnaman’s UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . . And Why It Matters. Simply stated, the book’s revelations offer convincing evidence that we’ve not represented Christ well. Most likely this is due in large part to a combination of our idolatry, coupled with the fact that we really don’t understand what it means to be a follower of Christ. UnChristian offers a great snapshot of who we are. . . . and it’s not pretty.
How does this relate to weight-loss? First, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. On the exterior, it’s how we look to others. But second, and at the root, is the fact that we have not been good stewards of the trust of calling and salvation that we’ve been so graciously given. We don’t fully understand or embrace our faith. We’re not living out the faith we’ve been called to embrace. Consequently, we’re passing on a horrible inheritance to succeeding generations in the church, and offering nothing compelling in terms of being Christ’s ambassadors in the world. We need to correct course. But our motivation should not be to come off looking good to others. Rather, it should be as a result of being faithful to the One who has called us to “come and follow.” Then, the rest will take care of itself.
I was so impressed by David Kinnaman’s book that I met with him last weekend in
CPYU Cinema. . . .
Yesterday we emptied our board room here at
We viewed the new documentary film, Soul Searching, based on the book of the same name. The book and film flow out of research done by Christian Smith and the National Study of Youth and Religion. Our viewing experience has prompted me to encourage all of you – youthworkers, parents, and pastors – to carve out a 90-minute window of time to view the film (available from Amazon), and another hour or so to discuss the film’s content and insights with others. For me, the most fascinating component of the research is Smith’s resulting label for the faith of the emerging generation – “Moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” You’ve no doubt heard me mention this before. It’s so significant, that it cannot be ignored.
Before popping in the DVD, we asked folks to keep their eyes and ears peeled to discover 1) something encouraging, 2) something discouraging, and 3) strategies to remedy the cause of discouragement. An hour of lively discussion followed our viewing experience. I’m not sure that anything we discussed was new or earth-shattering. Instead, it all serves as a great reminder of things that we forget to understand or should be doing.
What did the film tell us about kids and their faith? The folks in the room said. . .
Kids want to belong.
Kids are longing for relationships with adults who are real, genuine, and who listen to them.
Adullts function best with kids and spiritual growth is fostered best when they allow kids to ask questions without fear of criticism or being shot down.
We need to ask kids the hard question about the faith. They can handle it. We need to get them to think through what the answers are. We need to get kids to face the questions. We haven’t taken kids deep enough in their faith. That pattern must end.
The Mormon faith is demanding on kids. Are we, as Christian parents, youthworkers, and pastors expecting/demanding enough?
As far as faith is concerned, kids become like their parents.
Grandparents are increasingly important and vital to the faith development of kids.
“Moralistic, therapeutic, deism” is not just a good label for the faith of our kids. It is the faith of the American church.
What did the film prompt us to think about in terms of a necessary response? The folks in the room said. . .
We must be diligent about providing surrogate “spiritual” parents to those kids who need them.
Youth ministry needs to do a thorough evaluation of what discipleship is. It’s not just the transmission of information, doctrine, etc. It’s not about getting kids into a program that leads them to jump through sequential hoops. It’s about teaching and living a faith that’s integrated into all of life.
We need to stop segregating families.
We need to stop segregating kids out from the larger body of Christ.
We need to rethink the way we look for youthworkers. Let’s start enlisting volunteers who are over the age of 30.
Youthworkers need to help parents see that they are the ones who are primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their children.
The church needs to be committed to the deep theological education of parents.
The state of kids is a reflection of the state of the American church. The church needs to go deep.
Have we sparked your interest? Here’s a link to a great interview with Christian Smith that will get you started on the journey to understand his research: http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2005/janfeb/4.10.html
Youth Culture Groans. . . .
The front cover “Snapshots” in Tuesday’s USA Today caught my eye. It was encouraging. The full-color little box complete with graphics and bar charts featured the heading “Youth’s Concerns.” Listed below were the five top answers American kids gave when asked if they could change one thing about the world.
The list goes as follows:
- Save environment and protect animals – 44%
- End wars and terrorism – 21%
- Cure disease, cancer, and AIDS – 14%
- Feed the hungry – 11%
- End racism and prejudice – 4%
I’m guessing that many of my Christian friends might look at this list with concern, asking things like “Are animals more important than people?” and jumping to conclusions about liberal agendas, tolerance, and moral relativism. I don’t see it that way.
Look again at the list from a perspective of Biblical realism. Think theologically about the list and how it fits into God’s story. Ponder the list and what it might tell us about the story that’s unfolding around us related to creation, the fall, redemption, and glorification. That’s what the Bible is about isn’t it? If so, then I think this list is good news. It gives us hope for kids. It should spur us on to offer Biblical insight into what’s happening in our world.
All human beings know what it is to live in the first two chapters of God’s story – creation and fall. This list reflects that reality. These concerns offer evidence of the groanings of a fallen creation (people, institutions, nature, etc.) that longs to be redeemed. These concerns also offer us a springboard for conversing about the brokenness in our world and the steps God has taken through Christ to undo what’s been done by our rebellion.
Think theologically, Christianly, and Biblically about everything in life. If you do, you will see the story. And, you will find ways to tell the rest of the story.
Great folks. . . . and thoughts on worship. . . .
Last week I embarked on one of those “killer” trips that includes lots of travel, lots of speaking, and lots of interaction (my favorite part!). Needless to say, I’m a bit tired today.
It all began on a snowy
The trip to the Calvin Symposium on worship has forced me to go deeper into refining some thinking about the cultural realities of kids and worship that I believe have long-term ramifications. The invitation to participate in the Symposium came as a result of speaking at the Christian Schools International Convention last summer. Calvin’s Kathy Smith was in attendance. A discussion with Kathy led to my participation in last week’s panel discussion on “Youth, Formation, and Intergenerational Worship.” My approach was markedly different from the other panelists as I was coming at it from the perspective of a culture-watcher who is immersed in the world of youth ministry. The other panelists included Dr. Fred Edie (
In preparation for the seminar, we were all asked to submit the top three questions churches should be asking regarding youth and worship, and our top three Proverbs that should ground the church’s work in this area (for some strange reason I submitted four). Attendees were then to work at tables to add to, subtract from, and refine our suggestions, the results of which will be posted at some point on the Symposium website.
I thought I’d pass on my questions and Proverbs. Perhaps they’ll spark some thought and discussion in your church. As you will see, most of them grow out of my concern for fostering a culturally captive understanding of the faith by segregating the full Body of Christ apart from one another in worship.
1. What must we do to facilitate intergenerational understanding that results in a willingness to gracefully participate together in corporate worship that is diverse (not catering exclusively to one generational demographic) and meaningful?
2. What must we do to enable the emerging generations to experience the wonder and awe of doing life together (both give and take) while integrated into the full Body of Christ, particularly in the context of corporate worship?
3. What must we do to enable meaningful intergenerational interaction and deep long-term mentoring relationships that are initiated by adults with youth in a manner that facilitates fully integrated (all of life) spiritual growth and formation?
1. Those who age-segregate worship, spoil the child.
2. To understand “worship” as merely singing or one hour of corporate gathering, is to not understand worship at all.
3. The one who acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly before God is a true worshipper, integrating faith into all of life.
4. God is the audience in worship. Not me.
Let’s get small. . . .
Back in 1978 comedian Steve Martin burst onto the pop culture scene thanks in part to his appearances on Saturday Night Live. He released a Grammy-winning comedy album that included a hilarious cut satirizing the growing drug culture of the day. In the bit, Martin used what was to become a very familiar and oft-repeated catchphrase – “Let’s get small.”
I don’t think the image of Martin uttering the line has crossed my mind for years. But something happened last week that caused it to surface in a new context that has absolutely nothing to do with trying to make people laugh.
I had traveled south to speak at a youthworkers training event. This is one that I do every year for some great friends who are passionate about reaching kids and equipping youthworkers for that high and wonderful calling. This year they decided to “travel” with their conference, holding it in a huge youth facility on the campus of a very, very large church. When I arrived on the campus, I was directed to the room where the youthworkers had gathered to spend the day in training. I was very excited as it was a small and intimate group of 15 people. . . . all the better for some deep conversation, discussion, and interaction. That’s something I love. Something hit me hard when I walked into the room.
The room was a large gymnasium. However, I didn’t see any basketball nets or athletic equipment. The walls and ceiling on one end of the room were painted black. Beneath and inside this envelope of black sat a multi-tiered stage that took up what looked to be a quarter of the entire room. On the stage sat some instruments, a killer sound system, and a video layout that surpassed what I’ve seen at some concerts. Three large screens were spread high across the back width of the stage. Hanging on standards set on the floor in front of the stage were some large screen HDTV plasma monitors. They were configured in an above and below formation, the top of one touching the bottom of the one above it. Whatever was run through the video system was projected on the three large screens, as well as on the large screen monitors. It was like standing in front of the TV wall at
Throughout the course of my couple of days at the conference, I learned a little more about the site, the room, and the ministry that was taking place there.
Part of what drives me. . . . and I can’t help it. . . . is the need to evaluate and ask questions. Things like “What are we doing? How are we doing it? Why are we doing it that way? What’s the end result of our doing it this way? And, do the answers to these questions reflect a commitment to glorifying God both now and in the results of our efforts?” Those questions often require a process of painful introspection when I ask them of myself and what we’re doing here at CPYU. . . . which is quite often.
Being in that room brought those questions to mind. Immediately following, something in my heart ached as I thought about how we’ve been socialized into doing youth ministry in the American church. I think it’s worth pondering. On the way home from the conference these questions about how we do youth ministry came to mind:
- Is bigger really better?
- What is the gauge of “successful” youth ministry? Is it numbers? Is it budget?
- Are the technological advances we’re using (amplified music, great lighting and sound, a stage show, etc.) tools that serve our ministry, or “gods” that we’re socializing our kids into serving?
- Are we “wowing” kids into the Gospel?
- If we’re wowing kids into the Gospel, is it the
- What happens to “wowed” kids when they become adults. Will they have to be continually “wowed” to stay continually “committed” to Christ?
- Are we catering to the emotions, or are we speaking the Kingdom into students holistically?
- What will happen to “wowed” kids if God calls them to relocate to a place where their Body of Christ and worship options are technologically “retarded” or insufficient?
- If the power grid goes down, will the church still be able to worship?
- Are we fostering or confronting spiritual narcissism?
- Are we creating a monster that will need to be fed in order to be bigger and better in order for youth ministry to survive and thrive . . . . however we might define “thrive?” What happens when we run out of the resources to feed the monster? Will we be able to look back at our youth ministries through the state and condition of the adult church with the ability to say, “Kids grew and we’re now seeing the fruit?”
- Are our youth ministries really about building the
While these questions were sparked by what I saw in one room last week, they aren’t about one church or the way one church is doing youth ministry. They’re questions about our entire youth ministry “system.”
Never stop self-evaluating how and why you’re doing things. . . . and evaluating not in light of the American evaluation tools of size and speed. Instead, our evaluations should be done in light of God’s word.
The longer I go on, the more I’ve been thinking about these things. If our duty is to take care of the depth of our ministries while allowing God to tend to the breadth, maybe Steve Martin’s words are wiser than we ever thought.
No words can describe. . . .
You’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because my brain is fried and words are few and far between today, I thought I would share this “at least a thousand words” picture that I snapped last week as I traveled across
Why I love
I can't remember exactly how long ago it was that I first ventured north of the border, but it was a great trip. A guy named Marv Penner had called and asked if I would be willing to come to Saskatchewan to train a group of several hundred youthworkers who were gathering with thousands of high school students on the campus of Briercrest College and Seminary for a weekend known as YouthQuake. I had never heard of Marv, Briercrest, or YouthQuake. . . . . which means absolutely nothing. . . . . but I had heard of
I arrived after dark on a Friday night at the airport in
When we finally arrived on campus in the tiny little town of Caronport (one gas station, one restaurant, no traffic lights), we unloaded and I walked into the lobby of a massive auditorium that appeared to be able to seat twice as many people as lived in the town itself. Thousands of kids from all across Canada and parts of the United States were already milling around with excitement as they looked forward to what I was soon to discover was a well-organized and incredible youth event. I immediately fell in love with
YouthQuake was where I met and became good friends with Marv. It was also where I met longtime friends like Paul Robertson, John Wilkinson, and John McCauley. I'll never forget their lesson in Canadian culture as we sat around the table at the Pilgrim Restaurant eating lunch. I proudly told them that I had seen their famous precision flight team, the Canadian Snowbirds, perform several times during my childhood. The Snowbirds were based in nearby
Since then, I've been to Canada numerous times, with at least half a dozen trips to Caronport to teach seminary and college students about today's youth culture. Here I am again, sitting in what looks like the middle of nowhere (flat, snowy, cold, treeless, windy, etc.), having a great time with a wonderful group of young men and women who are preparing for a lifetime of ministering to kids. I'm sitting here in the front of the room typing this out as they are scattered about in groups of four talking about teenage magazines and what they can learn about kids from reading them cover to cover. Before coming up here, Marv "warned" me that this was a pretty sharp bunch. He was right. I look out over the room and appreciate so much the privilege I've been given to do what I do. I appreciate our ministry partners who contribute in ways that allow me to do what I do. I'm grateful for my CPYU co-workers who do what I do along with me. And, I am excited for the army of kids that will receive the gift of being ministered to by the folks in this room.
Theology ala Biz and the ‘Burgh. . . .
A day I had hoped would never come showed up two weeks ago. I was happily driving from my house to
A few days later I had to go over to B&B Salvage – the final resting place for the van – to get the license plate and a few other odds and ends. I suppose it was rather appropriate that the day was gray, cold, and rainy. As I pulled into B&B salvage, I could see the tow truck operator dropping our van off the back end of the truck into a muddy field scattered with the rusting skeletal remains of other people’s vehicle memories. It was sad. . . . very sad. Sure it was only a piece of metal, but it was full of 13 years worth of memories. Once inside the salvage yard office, I began the process of settling up with Biz and Bucky (B&B). Just before leaving, I remembered that I had brought a camera, hoping to get a picture of the mileage on the odometer. After another trip back out into the field with the camera, I came back into the office to get all the paper work before leaving. I was sad . . . very sad. In the midst of my sadness I said to Biz, “I feel like I’m burying a friend.” Biz then stepped out of his salvage yard operator role and became a pretty-simple-minded and straightforward theologian. He looked at me and in a very comforting voice said, “Cars are a lot like us people. You take care of them and then all of sudden things start breaking down. Like us, they don’t last forever.” Okay. . . thanks Biz. . . I was already saddened about the van. Now you have to remind me that I’m in the process of breakdown and decay as well!
I walked out of the junkyard office realizing that I had just been treated to a nice little much-needed reminder of Biblical truth. . . . and it had come from the lips of an overall-clad theologian named Biz. The effects of humanity’s sin and rebellion are all around us in this post-Genesis 3:6 world. It effects our bodies, the earth, our vehicles. . . . and every single square inch of it all (human or not) cries out for restoration to what once was. Moth and rust take their toll. Nothing can escape it. And then there’s Christmas. What we’ve done has been undone. And for those of us for whom what’s been done has been undone (purely by the grace of God by the way), now we’re to be about that same business as well during every second of our time on earth.
I think there’s a way in which Biz is about that business of restoration too. You see, stuff doesn’t just sit there and rot in that field. Where there is vehicular brokenness, Biz and Bucky offer restoration by harvesting usable parts off the stuff in the field, so that other cars and vans can stay on the road. Could it be that Biz and Bucky are agents of redemption?
While reading our local Sunday paper a few days ago, I came across an interesting article that drove this truth about our God-given responsibility to be about the business of stewardship and restoration home even further. It had to do with a city I used to despise. . . .
The article is about
I love the title of our friend John Fischer’s book, Finding God Where You Least Expect Him. Last week I encountered Him in powerful ways in the middle of a muddy junkyard, and in a city I never really liked. Next week, I hope to encounter Him in new ways when for the 52nd time in my life, I celebrate his coming into the world. I hope it never becomes too familiar.
Bullet points. . . . .
For the past couple of years I’ve been unloading lots of bad news on people. It happens during our youth culture seminars at the point where I summarize some overarching trends that are – to be honest – quite troubling. Up until the end of July, it came in the form of three bullet points.
Bullet point #1 – “More pain and brokenness.” Those four words summarize how the collective lot of children and teens has declined over the years. Chap
Bullet point #2 – “Younger and younger.” Marketers refer to this as “age compression.” Simply stated, the stuff that people my age dealt with when they were 18 and 19 years old is now the stuff that kids as young as 8 and 9 are having to deal with. . . . long before they should ever have to. Fourth grade kids having sex? Third grade kids feeling the pressure to use drugs and alcohol? Kindergarten kids being dissatisfied with what they see in the mirror? Yep. . . that’s age compression.
Bullet point #3 – “Any kid, anywhere, anytime.” The negative cultural forces in today’s world are no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, where you go to church, where you go to school, what type of school you go to, etc. There’s not one kid who is immune.
At the end of July, something happened that caused me to add a fourth bullet point. I was speaking at the leadership convention of Christian Schools International (CSI). At the end of my presentation – which included the three aforementioned bullet points – a woman came up to me and told me that my list was incomplete. “I’m the headmaster at a Christian school outside of
Sounds a little pessimistic doesn’t it? Not really. I think it’s realistic. We are sinful and fallen people living in a sinful and fallen world. The soup of culture – for good and bad – will shape and influence every kid, every family, every church, every school, every community, etc. sooner or later. The key is to know the culture and then to be prepared to act, especially in times of crisis.
The highly publicized events of the last couple of weeks remind us of the need to be prepared to act on crisis. A kid shoots and kills a bunch of people in a
These realities (the four bullet points) have instilled in me a new passion to get youthworkers, pastors, and parents ready for crisis. Crisis is inevitable. That said, everyone of us should have the resources necessary to respond at our fingertips.
My friends Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock have done us all a good service by writing two wonderful new books that should sit on the shelves of anyone concerned about kids. The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis should be within arms’ reach. It’s a valuable tool that offers sound advice, steps, and strategies at a time when our thinking might not be clear. Rich and Jim have also written a similar but nuanced volume for parents, A Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis. When it’s your kid caught in the whirlwind, you’re in it with them. Sound Biblical advice is necessary. As we approach a new year, I want to encourage each of you to secure the appropriate book(s) that will serve you in your situation. Both of these books from these experienced crisis responders who have walked through difficult times with thousands of kids, youth workers, and parents are available in our CPYU resource center.
One last thing. While it’s necessary to be prepared for crisis, it’s also necessary to keep in mind the hope that we have in Christ. Never cease praying for the kids you know and love, that God would protect them from harm and provide for their well-being. And as you pray, remember those who are called to be “helpers,” that God would grant them wisdom, insight, and grace as they step in during our kids time of deep need.
Ah. . . the sages. . . .
There’s a saying I’ve often heard that can be taken in at least two ways based on the inflection in one’s voice. “He’s been around the block a few times” can either mean that someone’s looking tired, old and ready for the grave, or that their journey through life has led to a treasure chest full of accumulated wisdom. I was thinking about this early this morning as I was thanking God for two people who are just a few years older than me, but full of a sweet combination of humility (refreshingly so!) and wisdom that I have been a beneficiary of for so many years. The saying takes on the latter meaning for these folks.
Over the weekend I traveled to
I’m also grateful for our good friend Denis Haack, who runs Ransom Fellowship (www.ransomfellowship.org). This morning I was giving a final read to our Winter edition of ENGAGE (which was just released today...if you order by the end of the week you can still receive our discounted rate.) which includes a wonderful article by Denis on the intersection of faith and life, particularly what it means to live out the will of the Father by being in but not of the world. By the way, this article by Denis is not only personally challenging, but something worth talking about with the kids you know and love. In the article, Denis says that we need to be constantly thinking about what it means to assume our God-given place in this world. He reminds us that we need to always be aware of how the culture might be affecting us without us even knowing it. He encourages us to probe our own involvement by asking questions, because “learning to ask hard questions can reveal our blind spots.” Consider these questions Denis invites us to entertain: How am I subtly shaped by the values of consumerism? Do I ever buy stuff mainly to feel better after a stressful day – is it ever wise to turn stewardship into a form of therapy? How does the insistent flood of advertising make me feel discontented with what I have? Even if I claim to reject them, how do standards of attractiveness affect the way I respond to people? To what extent does the biblical concern for caring for the earth shape my political involvement? When people sit in my living room do they see a décor shaped by thoughtlessness, or the latest fashion, or a creative attempt to make people feel safe and welcome? Yes, Denis too, has been around the block a few times and I’ve benefited from his trips!
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that with age comes irrelevance. I’m finding that with most of my friends who are a few or more than a few years older than me, just the opposite is true.
Another opportunity to live my passion. . .
I get to speak to lots of different types of folks. . . parents, educators, pastors, kids, etc. I know it’s probably not right or fair to single out a favorite group, but I love spending time with youthworkers. Over the course of the last few years spending time training, talking to, and learning from youthworkers has become a passion. Today, I’m sitting here in
The start of the New Year will be equally exciting. One of the events I’m looking most forward to is Willow Creek’s annual Shift Conference, taking place in
As part of our ongoing service to you, we look for and point out opportunities and resources that we think are worth checking out. Please take some time to visit the Shift Conference website. Bo and his staff have graciously donated a free Shift Conference registration to someone from our CPYU constituency. We’re going to give it away to someone who can correctly answer this week’s CPYU Google-Proof Trivia Question in our e-Update. If you don’t win at our trivia game, don’t fret. The Shift Conference staff are willing to give a $50 registration discount to the first 100 people who register here using the following discount code: SMC8EWM
Please pray for us at CPYU as we work to live out our passion. Our prayer is that as we live out our passion and calling, we might somehow be used to help you do the same.
The death of Evel. . . .
Anyone born and raised during the MTV years has no clue at all about daredevils! Okay, I just wrote that to sound like an old guy. But it’s partially true. Long before the days of extreme sports, the X Games, and bungee-jumping there was a guy named Evel Knievel –well, actually his first name was Robert. As the story goes, he got arrested as a boy for stealing hubcaps in Butte, Montana and the police locked him up with a petty criminal name Knofel, who they happened to start calling “Awful” Knofel. Thinking they were funny, the police then threw the nickname Evil on young Robert. He liked it, and changed the spelling because it looked better.
Evel Knievel died last week at the age of 69. As one who was part of the generation that watched Knievel take dare-deviling (is that a word?) to new heights, lengths, and depths, I can tell you that he should never have lasted that long in the first place. . . . based on all the crazy stuff he did. There’s not an extreme-sports athlete or daredevil alive today whose roots can’t be traced back to Knievel. He was a pop culture icon for my generation. In a funny way we needed this red, white, and blue clad madman to pull us together at a time when we were reeling from the sixties and the ongoing war in
I remember the day in September, 1974 when I gathered with a bunch of guys at
I guess when guys like Evel Knievel die - pop culture icons from my own youth – it offers a great opportunity to think about the role pop culture played in your own life. This icon led a rather crazy life where he did whatever he felt like doing. He made a lot of money and broke a lot of bones doing it. In the end, I love the ending to Evel’s story on his website. I had heard rumors of this, but you can read for yourself:
Friday, November 30 marked the end of what will forever be remembered as the longest and most courageous battle between one man, a man we all know as the world's greatest daredevil, and death. Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel died in
His death was preceded by more than 40 years of constant battle against the persistent pain of broken bones and severe trauma after jumping and crashing motorcycles like no man had ever done before. In addition, he fought to overcome the tremendous obstacles of diabetes, hepatitis C, a liver transplant, numerous surgeries and two strokes.
Knievel's legacy as America's Legendary Daredevil, Last of the Gladiators, and King of the Stuntmen will undeniably live on among millions of fans, past, present and future. However, the memories of the man apart from his legend will live on even stronger in the hearts of his friends and family. Despite his well-known swagger of self confidence, the legacy he wished for most of all was simply to be an inspiration.
"The fame of great men ought to be judged always by the means they used to acquire it." By this maxim, nothing will ever be able to take away or challenge the things accomplished by Evel Knievel.
Whether it was unmatched courage or just an absolute unwillingness to give in to fear, Robert Craig Knievel was a man's man through all the days of his life. He took great pride in the simply stated, yet most difficult to accomplish principles: always living up to his word, never shirking the responsibility or consequences for his actions regardless of the personal risk, and never, not ever, failing to stop trying.
Knievel was born in
Growing up and living in
Growing up in a blue-collar mining town, Knievel attended
During his prime as a bona fide celebrity, Knievel enjoyed his spoils to the highest. He loved fast cars, private airplanes, fancy yachts and the finest clothes and jewelry money could buy. He was sought out by
In the end, he had a few regrets, but he always sincerely strived to do the right thing. He never forgot who his real friends were. He never forgot his love for his family. And he never forgot the place from where he came, what he'd learned or what others had done to help him get to where he did. The red, white and blue for which he is famous were a tribute to his
He dearly loved his grandchildren and he always made it a point to stay in touch with the people he loved the most, his friends and family. And lastly, most important to him above all was his new-found faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he always took great care in surrounding himself with the best people he could depend upon to help him make his jumps during his motorcycle career, Knievel found his greatest friend of all in preparation for his final leap from life. He was profoundly happy that he gave his life to God, who comforted him and gave him the strength he needed to make it through the end.
Be prepared. . . .
If you care about and love kids, there’s a cinematic event happening next week that you need to know about. No, it’s not the December 7th release of the much-publicized film The Golden Compass (I’ll be emailing something next week on that film to all of our e-Update subscribers). This event takes place on Tuesday, December 4th and it will be relatively quiet compared to the press that The Golden Compass is getting. It’s the DVD release of the summer blockbuster hit film Superbad into stores.
When Superbad hit the theaters late last summer, I asked Derek Melleby and Chris Wagner to head to our local movie theater to give it a look. Neither of these guys are candidates for any prude awards. Monitoring youth culture here at CPYU means that they’ve seen and heard a lot. But when they got back to the office, they were somewhat stunned by what they had just seen. The film, rated “R” - yet targeted to early adolescents - follows the escapades of three nerdy high school friends who embark on a mission to experience sex for the first time before their senior year comes to an end.
The film did very well at the box office even though its real target audience wasn’t supposed to be allowed in the theater without an adult. A few days after its release, the film’s three main characters appeared onstage at the Teen Choice Awards, much to delight of the middle school girls in the audience. The movie was a hit. Now, its DVD release insures that a whole new wave of kids who couldn’t/didn’t see it in theaters will be mindlessly consuming Superbad over and over on DVD, complete with all the extras.
Your awareness of the film and it’s impending DVD release should serve as a catalyst for talking to kids about Superbad. I’ve already told my fifteen-year-old that it’s not a movie that should be on his “to see” list. But let’s be honest and realistic. A large number of the kids we know and love might not have parental boundaries and input. You’d better believe that many can’t wait to see Superbad. And let’s be honest and realistic again. Many of our kids who have parental boundaries and input can’t wait to see Superbad either.
Here are our suggestions on how to deal with the upcoming release of Superbad. First, be prepared to talk to your kids about the movie. For those who have already seen it or who let the cat out of the bag that they’ll be watching the DVD, get them to move from a posture of mindless consumption to one of mindful critique. Encourage them to think Christianly and critically about the film and it’s message. If they’ve already seen it, they’ve already processed it. Enter into the processing stage with them by offering input from a Biblical perspective. You can use our valuable little How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: 3D Media Evaluation Guide.
Second, take a look at Derek Melleby’s 3D review of Superbad (which is based on the steps in our How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: 3D Media Evaluation Guide) that we ran in the Fall 2007 edition of ENGAGE. You can download the pdf of Derek’s handy guide here.
Finally, if you want to know more about the movie, its message, and how it’s being marketed to a young audience, you can visit the Superbad website and view the trailer - along with numerous other downloads, etc. (Be forewarned – the conversational content of the site is sexually straightforward and profane). When you visit, please note how visitors to the site are warned that they can’t enter unless they’re over the age of 18. Then, notice how anybody can say they’re 18 or older to gain access. While I’m giving fair warning about the website’s content, please remember that anyone, regardless of their age, can access this site.
Our children and teens are at a vulnerable and curious age. Their worldviews are being shaped. They are making decisions about who God is, how to live out their sexuality, how to view and treat the opposite sex, etc. Superbad is one current cultural voice speaking loudly into our kid’s lives. Let’s help them avoid and/or process that voice from the perspective of a Christian world and life view, so that they will grow up to embrace a lifestyle that brings honor and glory to God.
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