What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up

I’m living out what I always wanted to be when I grew up.

I wanted to be a person who worked to empower students and liberate adults to be able to empower even more students.

Even though I haven’t grown up yet – sorry mom – I’m thankful every day that I have the opportunity to do the only thing my dad ever asked me to do: get paid to do what I would love to do for free.

Yesterday, at the United Church of Christ’s National Youth Event, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop based on a book proposal I am writing: “Becoming a 21st Century Youth Whisperer – Everything I needed to know about youth ministry, I learned from the Dog Whisperer”.

I learned more about youth ministry while researching how to “fix” my Roxy, then I did in years of seminars, retreats and workshops.

Roxy has been rehabilitated, and I have been “Saved”

It was rejuvenating to be amongst over 100 youth ministers, volunteers, and parents who are eager to reach and serve the next generation.

However,

Late last night, I found out that I’ve got the SECOND best job on the planet.

Check this guy out – DISCLAIMER – you will not be able to see his feet move like Gregory Hines, his face sweat like Michael Jordan, and you probably will not be able to distinguish his black velvet shirt (although if you stop watching the video before he takes off his jacket, you’ve missed the point) and you probably won’t see him jump/dance/cue the band like a magician, but, still, you oughtta be able to see why this is my new hero.

I will put his picture on my mirror so that everyday I look for me, I will see him. And on the day I look at him, and see me,… LOOKOUTNA!

Das wassup.

Amen.

PS You can read more about this amazing man, and the program that Vi Higgensen runs that pulls kids off the streets of Harlem and gives them top-notch musical training by going to Gospel for Teens Website or checking out the CBS “60 Minutes” feature on this program.

A Letter to My 2 Month-Old Daughter

Dear Burger,

Happy two-month birthday!

I’ve been gone (not home, that is) a considerable amount during your second month. It’s been hard on some days for us to remember that the calling that pulls/leads me away from you for days at a time is the same calling that provides for you and I to be together a lot more than many daughters and daddies I know.

I’m writing this at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The water is much colder but the sand is exactly the same as back home. It always amazes me how something so far away can be so different and so the same – but I find it happens a lot.
You won’t remember this, but between our mission trip and this conference, I was home to hold your and your mommy for a few hours. It’s incredible how much you changed in just that short time; I wish you wouldn’t do that, but I understand.

Your face seems to have doubled in size, it takes a few more seconds to smother it with kisses. Make no mistake about it, you’re gonna have to let me know three years before you’re ready to stop doing that, it’s gonna take me a while to adjust.

Your cry sounds much different. In a way, it seems much more… Rational(?). Good for you, kiddo! You’re mommy and I are anxious to communicate with you. This guessing what you’re feeling thing is beginning to drive us crazy, even of there indeed are only a few different options.

I want you to know how much I miss being around you, but I also feel responsible for helping you understand how important it is that I not always be with you.

You see, there might be times where you might want or need us, but your mommy and daddy will be working with other kids. This will never be related to how much we love you. It is much more because:

– the time we invest with other students allows us the opportunity to invest more time into our relationship with you. But more importantly,

– we believe God has called us to live a life that is not just about ourselves. Your mommy and I want nothing more than to spend every second of our lives with you. But that wouldn’t behold for you, it wouldn’t be good for us, and it wouldn’t be fulfilling our responsibility. And, if we’re gonna spend our extra non-family time with others, students are a great people to be around. We expect that many of these students will help us love you and grow you in ways that will enhance your life. And perhaps most of all,

– your mommy and I are blessed to be working in the realms we feel called to be in. We could only hope the same for you. We have found our lives to be transformed through the lives of the loving, challenging people that we have known. It is fair, just, and right to attempt to pay that back into the community that will continue to change our lives. We invest what we do away from you on behalf of what we hope for your world to be.

But we’ll work on all that, okay? We’ve got some time.

In the meantime, I’ll see you late tomorrow night. Save daddy a bottle, okay?

Love you always,

Daddy

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Why Are Christians So…?!

You know, it’s never a good thing when a Youth Minister is sleep-deprived and homesick, AND still coming down from his MissionTrip mountaintop when starting to blog. As if I didn’t have enough trouble making a point…

This past week, while at Franklinton Center at Bricks, we had the opportunity not only to do missions (in its most traditional sense) – painting, restoring wheelchair ramps, resealing windows, etc. – but we were also able to design our own small group and large group programming and daily themes. Our theme for the week was “Raising the Bar.”
And our students most definitely raised the bar.

See, prior to this trip, reflection was something that our students would do while I talked or showed the next video clip. Prayer was a time when we would mention those in our life we were thankful for and then awkwardly wait while nobody volunteered to do the actual praying on behalf of the group.

So you could imagine my surprise when on Night #5, our students not only went through the meditation walk that lasted for an hour and a half and pushed them to dig deep to acknowledge guilt, accept/offer forgiveness and identify their core feelings but also went out of their way to thank their leaders for the experience.

And you can imagine the humbling joy we felt on Night #6, as we watched our students on the following night walk up to the communion table serve one another the elements, hold hands and pray for one another only to go back to the group, select another friend, and do the same with them.

I must admit, however, even from cloud nine, I began to feel guilty that this spiritual push and this community focus had become such a focus while on a “mission trip” which had always been used to help understand the needs of others outside our group.

And then I met Rich McCullen.

What is Our Mission?

This week I am in Orange County, California as a resource person for the SHARE 2012 conference put on for UCC/DOC college students. At tonight’s worship, Rich McCullen shared his thoughts about the future of the church. And somewhere between there and his thoughts on the current state of the church, it all became crystal clear.

Rich began with this video:

In an hour that felt like five minutes, Rich shared personally and passionately while urging the new leaders of the Church to make sure the good news is heard by all so that the message is clear: nobody is lost. He challenged the students to reclaim their Christianity to be true followers of Christ.

Though I had already understood the need to evolve church from being as Rich called it, a “behavior modification system”, I had in many ways overcorrected to guard against the emotion of the evangelicals that I have grown weary of, such to the point that our ministry ran the risk of becoming stale, intellectual, boring, and skin deep.

After seeing this video and listening to Rich two things have become clear.

First, the Church (Capital “C”) is doing a piss-poor job of being agents of hope, joy, peace, and love.

Secondly, it is as necessary as it has ever been that, whenever we act in the name of Christ, we embody the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is indeed our mission to do justice, love one another, and walk humbly with our God. So even (or especially) as our teenagers learn to serve and work alongside others – like most good church kids do for one week every summer – we have to also challenge and guide our youth to love more sincerely and deeply and to seek God with confidence and vulnerability.

I am thankful for being able to work alongside those who understand and support that community and spiritual growth are as vital to the workmanship when it comes to what the “mission” of our church is going to be.

Based on the video shown tonight, we who identify as Christians face an uphill battle in the attempt to demonstrate the true nature of the living Christ. These teenagers this past week made great strides to not only be able to work with humility and appreciation for those around them, but also love and seek God within and around them too.

For when they are able to experience the joy and spirit when loving fully and seeking earnestly, that spirit then goes with them whoever they go. So as they hammer a nail, make a new friend, start a new job, move to a new city, and continue their journey, the mission of Christ continues.

I am thankful for Rich’s commitment to be a progressive who reaches out into the depths of the margins to spread the good news who need it most while also claiming the emotion and sincerity that are evangelical brothers and sisters seem to do so much more willingly.

I am thankful for the way our students raised the bar. Therefore, our mission in the name of Christ continues.

May it be so, Amen.