Sometimes…

Ministry is hard work. I know far too many youth workers who are consumed by calendars, meetings and programs. Truth be told, I often look at my own ministry and wonder what went wrong. When did pastoring youth start to mean planning a calendar so dreadfully full of events that there is no time left to simply be together? When did being a professional youth worker start to mean that all of our time is devoted to maintaining programs (Sunday morning, Wednesday night, fun nights, lock-ins, fundraisers, bible studies (if we’re lucky), fall retreat(s), spring retreat(s), winter retreat, mission trips, week-long summer conferences, etc) instead of devoted to seeking where God is working in the lives of our students? When did our students stop seeking the living God and start seeking a program that gives them an emotional high–or maybe we never showed them a God worth seeking in the first place?

In the midst of our broken world, it can only be expected that our youth ministries will be broken as well. But I wonder if sometimes our ministries are more broken than they need to be? Youth ministry books will often talk about helping students find a passionate faith, or helping students slow down and contemplate God, or being pro-student as Jesus is pro-us. These books are wonderful, and they talk about dealing with staff members who don’t understand why the youth ministry is suddenly interested in theology; they talk about how to help parents who just want a youth ministry that is fun see that their children need more than good morals; but these books never talk about what to do to help students realize that a jam-packed calendar and a well-maintained program aren’t the central pieces of youth ministry.

Maybe students intuitively realize this. But I think this intuition is on the same level as staff people and parents: sometimes it needs some help coming out. Ministry is tough. But sometimes we just need to turn around, seize the bull by the horns, and see what happens.

Dovie’andi se tovya sagain.

A Message to Christians

Normally I don’t post about politics on even this, my personal blog. However, after seeing some of the reactions from my conservative acquaintances and friends over the past 9-10 hours, I’m simply appalled. To those of you who disagree with me, I still wanna be friends ( 🙂 ). This is a chance for me to vent some frustration, so take it all in stride.

Barack Obama is the President-Elect of the United States of America. He has a job I would never want. Many Christians are up in arms over his election. “How could America do this?” or “See! Americans just want money, they don’t care about killing babies!” or any other number of things. So, first a disclaimer, then my thoughts. I voted for Barack Obama in this election. Not because I agree with every policy he has ever laid down, but because I agreed with more of what he said than I agreed with John Mccain’s view (the situation would have been completely reversed had Ron Paul won the Republican primaries).

1. Christians, who claim to read and believe the Bible is the Word of God, ought to remember that A) God decides who the “kings” are and B) Our citizenship isn’t here anyway. Nothing that John Mccain would have done, and nothing that Barack Obama will do will prevent us from carrying out the Jesus Creed–Love God, and Love Others (including Barack Obama and those who voted for him–and, conversely, John McCain and those who voted for him).

2. For those calling for God’s mercy–I agree, sorta. I hope he has mercy for all the truly horrible things America has done throughout the years as Bush has been in office, or Clinton before him, or any American President. Or that he has mercy on us for being greedy. Or that he has mercy on America for the far more gut-wrenching issue of our inaction regarding Darfur.

3. Ultimately, I understand that there is a lot of frustration and disappointment out there among John McCain supporters. That is fair and expected. However, Christians shouldn’t be making John Mccain vs. Barack Obama into an issue of morals, of us (the “true” Christians) vs. them (those evil pagans or liberal Christians).

At the end of the day, one guy won. It doesn’t make America better or worse, it makes it much the same as it always was. It doesn’t mean Christians need to point fingers with the rest of America. What we need to do is move through out disappointment (or excitement, as the case may be) and get on with loving God, loving others and doing our best to serve him.

James Dobson on Obama

A few disclaimers before I begin. First, my candidate didn’t make it past the primaries. As for which of the two viable candidates (yes, two. I may have some libertarian ideals, but they have no chance at this presidential election) I’m leaning towards, I think it makes little difference to this discussion.

CNN has an article regarding some things Dobson has said about Obama. Personally, it sounds to me like Dobson is raving. His arguments and jabs are half-baked at best. That works for Ice Cream, but not so much for logical discussion. I try to keep politics off of my blog. But I really can’t stand aside at this point.

First, Dobson criticizes Obama for saying that we can’t use the Bible as the sole document regarding how we govern. As evidence for this Obama puts forth Leviticus and Deuteronomy. To be sure these are some tired arguments. Obviously, a proper understanding of those two books makes them far less offensive than they might appear at first glance. But that is neither here nor there. Obama is right we can’t govern based solely on the Bible. Our world is not the Ancient Near East. It’s not even the modern middle east. Obama is also right when he says, “So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bible now. Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.”

Dobson’s response to this? According to CNN, “Dobson said Obama should not be referencing antiquated dietary codes and passages from the Old Testament that are no longer relevant to the teachings of the New Testament.” Now, this isn’t a direct quote. So one must be careful. But I really, really hope that Dobson didn’t say anything remotely close to “[certain Old Testament books] are no longer relevant to the teachings of the New Testament.” If that’s the case then I don’t think it is Obama who has no clue about how to read and interpret the Bible. CNN also reports that Dobson said the following (direct quote): “‘I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology,’ Dobson said, later adding that Obama is “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.'” Again, I don’t think Dobson has any clue here, nor does he have any business being the arbiter of what is or isn’t “biblical understanding” or “confused theology.”

CNN reports that Obama also asked a, in my view, legitimate question concerning what brand of Christianity one might govern by. In this case the Senator from Illinois actually mentions Dobson, “Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s?” I think that is exactly the issue. Now, of course, Focus on the Family came back with some argument that Obama was calling Dobson a racist. I don’t think that’s what Obama was doing at all. I think he was legitimately pointing out that we have Dobson on one extreme and Sharpton on another, and they will probably never agree on which brand of Christianity should be taught in schools, or which brand should be used to determine policy. He wasn’t comparing the two of them, he was contrasting the two of them. It’s a common practice, in rhetoric.

The solution? Christianity should stay out of politics and instead focus on helping the poor, blind and lame. After all, what could be more pleasing to God than taking care of widows and orphans? I hardly agree with everything Obama has ever said about faith, but I certainly find myself agreeing more with him than the self-appointed arbiter of Evangelicalism.

re: Emergent-phobia

Mark has an interesting conversation posted over at his blog. One thing I’m very thankful for is that my church is very open to trying new expressions of worship. The thing I find fascinating is that one of the issues was over candles. My church will begin lighting Advent candles this Sunday, as will many other churches that are the furthest thing from “emerging” that you could imagine. Now, my church will also do an Advent prayer station service at some point, so I guess we’re on that slippery slope.

In all seriousness though, I think that this may be driving home Art’s point. McLaren has written some amazing things. I understand, to a great extent, where he is coming from. But, as Art says, he’s a turn off to some (many?) in Evangelicalismâ„¢. I resonate with many of Brian’s criticisms, but sometimes I think the way he says things makes it more difficult for people like the youth worker in Mark’s post to do ancient-future kind of stuff. Of course, part of this problem is that as much as Art might be at least partially correct that Brian caricatures parts of Evangelicalismâ„¢, I think an equal (if not larger) part of the problem is that those within conservative circles caricature the entire emerging movement as somehow lead by Brian McLaren. As such they’re able to say, “See, McLaren is a horrible liberal! Therefore anything that falls under the emerging worship label is liberal! Therefore candles used in youth ministry are of the devil!” I realize that I might be using a little hyperbole there, but not much.

I long for the day when the church can love one another, and agree to disagree about many things. Sadly, I doubt that day will come before the Eschaton. Nevertheless, to those of us in the emerging/missional/ancient-future/post-evangelical sphere I say this: humility in all things. A reminder I need to hear myself as much as anyone else.