Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Be the Light

So, there is no doubt that this past weekend was not an easy one to watch the news.  School shooting in Sandy Hook, shooting in Memphis, school stabbings in China, shooting of women making polio-vaccinations in Pakistan, it is just depressing to read the news these days.  These events are not contained to the United States, they are worldwide. 
When tragic, terrible events like this happen, it always opens the door to questions.  What can we do about gun control to prevent this?  What about healthcare to help the mentally disabled, how can fix that?  How do we fight bullying in school?  Does the media cover these events the right way?  How? Why? What?
Always so many questions get asked.  Now, there is no way I am going to pretend that I could answer any of these questions.  Not even going to try. Instead I want to look at things in a different light.
When events like this happen, we think a lot about evil and all the darkness in the world.  We struggle to understand why and how so much darkness persists in the world.  Where is God?  Where is the light?
This past Sunday, these events were discussed in our 10th-12th grade Formation class.  And one question that came from our discussion was, “What can we do?” 
Below is a post from a mother who had a conversation like this with her daughter.  How can one person change the world? 
My daughter asked this the other day, as we walked along the bike path, the sea murmuring at our side, low bushes thick to the east and west. A small wren darted near our feet, its tail erect and bright blue. A new housing development sat squat on the headland, looking over a dense history of waves, of spirit, of sun and moon rise, and the endless calls of birds.

Here is where deep spirit lies, the local Aboriginals say. There is an indigenous tent embassy set up by the beach, by the water. People are still listening to the living, breathing land, here and elsewhere.

"How can one person change the world?" my daughter asked. "I'm just one person. Humans have done so much damage—it makes me sad. I can't change it."

"You already are changing it," I said. Her hand lay small and soft in mine. Her feet walked in time with mine, her eyes watching everything, noticing, listening. "You are changing it by living your truth," I said. Which sounded so very ambiguous and new agey but that's how we talk. We talk like hippies in our house, and idealists and impossible adventurers.

"But," she said, "I can't make a difference. One person can't."

"One person can, and does, all the time. Their voice speaks out, then it adds to another person's voice and another person's voice, and all of a sudden…"

People start to listen. It can begin with a single voice. Think of Gandhi, and Buddha, and Jesus, and Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks. Think of people camped in treetops trying to save old growth rain forests. Think of a girl baking cookies to raise money for the RSPCA. Think of an Israeli man posting a 
message of love to Iranian people on his Facebook page, and then it spreading, Iranians posting messages in return, a great sweep of peace rising. Think of a President speaking out for marriage equality.

Think of the small acts people do every day— smiling at others, including others, listening to others, sharing with others. Think of passionate people, creative people, questioning people, people who care so much about this planet and the living things on it that they can't help but speak out. They make a difference by living their truth, by spreading compassion, by loving others. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Remember this the next time you feel surrounded by darkness.  All it takes it’s a single glimmer of light.  Be that light.

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.”
-The Buddha

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What a mess!

So the other day, I ran across an interesting post online.  17 Captivating Fractals Found in Nature.   You may look at this and just think it looks cool but have no idea what a fractal is.  When I saw this post, it made me think of a book a read a few years back.  The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.  This article stood out to me for many reasons.  One, the pictures were just beautiful. The second, it reminded of this book.  It was the first time I had seen or heard that word since reading that book.  It is stood out to me so much that I was able to find notes I took about fractals.   
What is a fractal?    
They are defined as a geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractals are used especially in computer modeling of irregular patterns and structures in nature.   
 In The Shack they are described as something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified.  Almost infinitely complex.  Young did his homework, because that description seems to be a pretty good definition, similar to what good ole Webster had to say about them.  
So in the book, The Shack, there is a man who gets the chance to meet with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  This man had been through a great loss in his life and had given up all hope.  Even to the point where he yells at Jesus, "I am NOT a Christian!"  
So much anger and hate, all built up inside that it comes pouring out and directed at the only person we can think of to blame.  Christ.  
If my prayers had been answered, this would have never happened.  Jesus, why did you let it get to this point!?  Imagine this scene in Bruce Almighty, where Jim Carrey let's out all of his anger at God.  Watch it for yourself here.

Watch video here

I am going to go out on a limb, and say that this feeling is a lot more common than we think.  But it is one of those things we don't talk about.  We are supposed to be strong!  We are supposed to be independent!  We can do anything if we just put our mind to it!   
Those are the standards we as a society place on ourselves.  Never mind what we talk about on Sunday about living for Christ.  Because that requires us to be dependent when we are taught to be independent.  Never mind, I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.  Cause I got all I need inside me.  I just have to focus.  I can do it on my own.  
But when things don't work out.  Who do we blame?  I may be alone in this, but I have been called independent to a fault.  It is not a good thing.  And when I felt that my back was against the wall.  Whenever had gone wrong.  When there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  I had my "Send me a signal, send me a sign" moment.  I felt truly and utterly broken.  I was a mess.  
Similar to this clip from Bruce Almighty.  Only my hair was more curly, and fro-y.  And I was not as well dressed.  
But if I had to guess, I would assume that I am not alone in this feeling.  At one point or another, you may have felt the same way.  Maybe it is now.  Maybe it hasn't happened yet.  Hopefully it never happens.  But I am so sure in my thoughts that I am not alone in this, that I am willing to share it here.  
Ok, that makes sense, but why on earth were you talking about fractals?  Just look at some of these examples of fractals.  How can something so beautiful, so perfect, be just an accident?  Is that possible?   
We have these fractals.  That look like utter chaos.  Random.  Unorganized.  Just a total mess...  
It was at this point that Sarayu, the character of the Holy Spirit speaks up...  
"This mess is you! Together you and I, we have been working with purpose in your heart.  And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process.  To you it seems like a mess, but I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive - a living fractal."                                                                                    
 -The Shack, Wm. Paul Young 


This past Sunday, I was joined by nearly 30 children, youth, and adults to go caroling at Trezevant to some of our parishioners.  Boy Oh Boy, was it fun.

Looking back, I remember that caroling was always the dreaded last EYC event of the year.  Few showed up.  Even fewer who could sing.  I feel sorry for those who had to suffer through those times trying to listen to us make it all the way through a song...yes even those versus that you never knew existed.  No beat, no rhythm, no one was in tune...just to name a few.  We were always lucky if we made it into the double digits when we went caroling.

So this past Sunday, 30 was huge! And it was beautiful!  Such wonderful singing filled the halls as we spread the glorious Christmas spirit!  For many, it may have just been a time to hang out with their friends and awkwardly stand in a hallway and sing.  For others, they just enjoy being able to be that loud inside.  But seeing the faces of the ones we sang to was a true joy.

Down the road, when these youth look back, these will be the events they remember.  I know I will.  Thank you for everyone who came!  I was very proud to see everyone doing such great works for others!

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying our New Year!  Happy Advent everybody!  As many of you know, Advent is a very important time in the Episcopal Church.  

One, it marks the first day of the Church New Year! Second, it is a time where we celebrate and prepare for the coming of Christ.

Very excited time!

So I have an exercise that I want everyone to try out.  Get out a piece of paper and something to write with...got it? Ok, here we go.

Think about a typical week in the life of you, what do you do, how often do you do it, how much time do you do that?  For many parents, work will probably a pretty time consuming one, either around (or well over) 40 hours a week.  For the youth, school.  About 35 hours a week you are at school.  Sports, homework, TV....really think about your normal schedule and write it down.  And next to that, put down about how many hours you spend on that one thing during an average week.

When you are done making your list, just look it over. Find the one thing that you spend the most time on and place a 1 next to it.  Then a 2 next the one with the second most amount of time next to it, and so on down the list.

Where does church fall on that list?  Is it even there?

School, work, homework....I agree, these are all very important things.   They should be.  But when push comes to shove, more often than not, what gets cut out?  Church.

When I was younger, I remember seeing a skit that was done at a youth retreat I was at.

There was a group of friends hanging out who all go off to meet up with other friends or go run errands, or to a sporting event.  Among them is Jesus.  Each time someone left, Jesus tried to follow.  Each time Jesus tried to follow, they told him to stay.  It ended with the last person pushing Jesus' arms to the side and then hitting him in the feet while yelling, "No, Jesus! You stay here!" as they walk off and leave the character of Jesus standing in the middle of the arm with arms spread wide.

A little corny, yes, but still can get a point across.  

Are we called to be a part-time Christian?  Is that even possible?  Do we only put on our Jesus cloak when we go to church?

During Advent, we are supposed to be preparing for the second coming of Christ.  We celebrate his coming while we look for the next coming of Christ.  This is reflected in our service every Sunday in many ways! Can you name some ways that we do this?

So how do we prepare for the coming of Christ?

One of the best analogies for this concept is something I feel is very common in the most households.  Children, youth, husbands...we all do this, I am almost positive.

We are asked to do something simple, vacuum the rug, sweep the floor, do the dishes, and are told to have it done before Mom gets home.  So naturally we watch TV, update your facebook profile pic, text with your friends....and then, you hear a car pull into the driveway...

Immediately, you are up and flying across the room to do whatever chore you were suppose to already have done.  Of course, I was working on this for hooooouuuuuurrrrsssss! There were so many dishes!

Moms are never fooled by this, they always know.  Something that I learned young, Moms are generally always right, even when they are wrong.  Kids, remember that.  

So, I always felt disappointed after this happened.  I didn't like disappointing my mother.  She had done so much for me in my life and I couldn't even make sure that I got the dishes done?  I owed her so much and I couldn't even manage to help her out?  Come on, Matthew!

Does this sound like something that takes place in your house?

Or something EVERYONE does...someone says they are coming over...you immediately start cleaning up and throwing that pile of dirty clothes in the closet, closing doors to the messy rooms, light a candle so it doesn't smell, clean the bathroom (spit of the mirror, under the toilet seat, you know, the key spots)...

So this is Advent, a season to prepare for the coming of Christ...

We can't jump up and clean up really quickly for that.  We can't just toss our mess into another room.  

So, what is it that we are called to do?  What is right? How should we prepare?  Do we leave Jesus at church when we can drag ourselves there every now and then?  Do we talk about these things with our families?  

We don't do these things out of fear that God will ground us if we are bad.  We do them because it is right and He is worthy.

So throughout Advent, I want you all to reflect on how you are preparing.  Where is your focus in life?  
Where should it be?
How can I bring Jesus with me, instead of leaving him behind?

What is our Mission?

AFLAC, To combine aggressive strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best insurance value for consumers. 

Chevron,  At the heart of The Chevron Way is our Vision to be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership and performance. 

CVS, We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use. 

Dollar General Corporation, Serving Others For Customers A Better Life For Shareholders A Superior Return For Employees Respect and Opportunity 

What are these? That is probably the question you are asking yourself.  

A little while back, I spent almost a year researching and trying to start my own business.  I read every book I could get my hands on and researched every aspect I could think of (man, oh, man was that tax stuff boring!). I must have read a dozen books about how to start your own company and listened to hours of podcasts and audio books on the subject.  In everything I read and listened to from various authors and about all sorts of companies, there was one common trend - if you want to ever be successful, you have to know who you are and what you want before you start.

So to answer your question, (or the question I presumed that you would ask), those are mission statements.  A mission statement is a summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.  Yes, this is a method used by business, but it also a practice that is recommended to individuals to outline their goals in life and is a highly recommended practice for a youth group.

Here at Holy Communion, our mission statement is to be an Episcopal Church in the center of Memphis that seeks to be a sacred presence, grounded in the servant ministry of Jesus, offering spiritual growth opportunities for all.

It is no secret; we are in a time of transition here at our church.  We have had countless changes in staff, priests, and youth directors.  When it comes to youth, continuity is very important, and three youth directors in about three years is not ideal.However, I firmly believe that great things can come from where we are. So I am calling all youth, parents, and everyone out there, to help us reach the amazing potential that I know our group of youth can reach.

As we look to make a fresh start once again, let us define our mission statement by considering the following model developed by Dave Ramsey:
  "Before you do any serious goal setting or personal/business planning, you should  
sit down and write out a personal mission statement. This says in concrete terms  
who you are, what's important to you, and what you want to accomplish in life."

I ask you -  Who are we?  Where do you want us to go from here?  What is important to you that we need to focus on?  What should our focus be?  How do we move forward?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Great Thanksgiving

So given that we are at the Church of the Holy Communion and it is Thanksgiving, I thought this would be a proper topic.  Thanksgiving.
Did you know that the two go hand in hand?  Communion and thanksgiving...
Stay with me for a minute as we take a brief look at the history of Episcopal Church.  As many know, we broke apart from the Catholic Church, most famously because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce (annulment) .  However, King Henry actually challenged the authority of Rome for most of his rule.  Anyway, so we split.
We also have a connection to the Protestant Church.  If there is any question about it, look at the official title given to members of the church. 
Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  
First, WOW! Second, did you see the word Protestant in there?
In the Episcopal Church, tradition plays a very important role in our theology.  It was one of the keys to our foundation and is one of the "legs" of the Three-Legged Stool as decribed by Richard Hooker.
How do we honor our heritage and traditions in our church every Sunday?  
Well, our service is spit into two main parts.  The first half where we honor our Protestant background.  During this part of the service we have the readings, the Gospel, the Sermon...we focus on the Word of God.  Which is largely the focus of the Protestant Church.  
The second half of the service is to honor our Catholic background and our focus on the Eucharist.
It is this second part that I want to concentrate on for now.  The Eucharist.  It is during the Eucharist that we all come together, at the Lord's table and share Communion.  We do this every Sunday.  
Earlier, I asked if you knew how Communion and Thanksgiving go hand in hand?
The definition of Eucharist is actually means thanksgiving!  That is why when we start the Eucharist it says The Great Thanksgiving!  Why?  I am glad you asked!
We have been blessed with so many gifts!  We have so much to be thankful for!  The Eucharist reminds us that the central act of the service is the giving of thanks to God for all of God's gifts to us!  
Then to show you how much we like to honor the traditions of the church, there is a dialogue between the priest and congregation that comes from the Jewish tradition!  
Whoa! So you're saying that in one normal service, we honor our Protestant background, Catholic background, Jewish heritage, and give thanks to God!?!  Crazy right.
This Thanksgiving, the only challenge is to truly give thanks.  We are all so blessed, so be thankful.
Lift up your hearts! We lift them up the the Lord!  Let us give thanks to the Lord or God.  It is right to give God thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. 


Every Wednesday I am constantly amazed by the depth of questions and the yearning to learn more when we gather for WOW.  It is a constant reminder for me why I fell in love with studying and learning about the subject of religion and theology. 
 It was about a year ago that I was getting ready to go drive to Atlanta for a youth workers conference.  I was not looking forward to the long drive all by myself.  Someone recommended to listen to an audio book or podcasts, it would make the trip go by quicker.  I ended up listening to a sermon given by Marcus Borg at the Calvary Lenten Preaching Series a few years ago.  Well this lead to about 6 straight hours of sermons, all of which were amazing.  
This past Wednesday, we looked at the Gospel text from look about the Crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43).
If you aren't rushing to get your Bible or Googling that text right now, I will give you a brief paraphrasing of what happens.  So Jesus is on the cross, the people are saying, Come on, if you really are the Sonf of God, save yourself!  One of the two criminals next to Jesus, says, Yea, and if you save yourself, save us too!  The second criminal is like, Naw, leave him alone, he is innocent.  We are guilty.  Jesus then says, " Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  And they skip happily through the pearly gates hand in hand...something like that. (I still recommend that you read the actual scripture.
So, on my drive to Atlanta, I listened to a sermon by The Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood.  And I will tell you one thing, he was not happy about this scripture.  Really!?  This criminal!  This thief! After all this time of robbing people, and who knows what else, he has been caught.  He is being punished for his crime.  Finally, justice!  But this guy, Jesus, takes him.  Hand in hand and walks with him through the pearly gates...Oh come on!  the Rev. goes on and on about his anger towards this single act.  It is not fair, he can live his whole life perfectly and still not get that kind of treatment.  It just wasn't fair.  So, he wants answers!  Where do you go for answers?  You pretend to visit the people of the Old Testament to get their views and thoughts on this act, naturally.  
So The Rev. Youngblood goes back in time to talk to Abraham.  (from here on out, he refers to himself simple as Youngblood, so I will do the same)  So, Youngblood thinks that everyone is going to be equally frustrated with what happened.  Abraham, lets him down.  Really, Youngblood?  Look at my life, i was by no means perfect.  I could be considered a screw up.  But I had faith.
Dissappointed, he moves on.  Moses, ha, that upsets you? Look at me.  I helped the enslavement of my own people for the longest time.  I stutter.  Orphaned.  I was forgiven.
So, as Jesus was on the cross, dying.  He forgave the man who was dying next to him. 
This weeks challenge...forgiveness.  Forgive others, forgive yourself.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Silence is Golden

I don't know about you, but I sure do feel incredibly busy these days!  I am sure you can relate.  Exams, homework, work, the holidays are coming!  When those approach, there is not escaping the anxiety you will feel.  How will I get this all done!? WORK WORK WORK WORK, right?  Have you heard that really goofy commercial on the radio about the guy who is a busy bee?  He is always working and always telling people, "No, I'm BUSY!"  If you haven't heard it, well it's this commercial about this guy who is always busy.  When someone talks to him he always responds, "I'm BUSY!" 

Ok, now that we are all on the same page, let's move on.  A lot of times I feel that this is the case in my life.  I am always busy and answering, "I can't, I'm BUSY!"  To everyone!  Can you meet on Tuesday?  Can't I'm busy.  Can you spare a minute to catch up with an old friend?  Sure, but be quick I'm busy.  Will you come home and have dinner with your family one night this week?  Sorry, busy.  Can you please help me?  Sorry, I am busy.  Can you pray for me?  Or are you too busy?  Can you pray for yourself?  Or is your schedule too full? 

How often do you finish your day, stop and sit down, clear your mind, and just sit there in silence for maybe 30 seconds before realizing something else you have to do?  How tired are you after just that 30 seconds.

Right now, let's change that.  Turn off the TV.  Find a quiet spot.  Turn your phone off.  Stop.  be still.  Take a moment of silence.  Relax.  Make it last a minimum of 5 minutes.  I dare you to shoot for 10. 

How do you feel? 

This week's challenge.  Slow down. 

Just Show Up....

Tuesday Greetings!  Hope all is well.  I want to start off by thanking every person who helped make Trunk or Treat possible.  So many people worked together to pull off such an amazing event.  We had around 160 people out there, around 30 cars beautifully decorated, and we gathered nearly 100 pounds of canned goods for the Memphis Food Bank!  So everyone, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back!

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak during the Parish Hall forum lead by the vestry about "Moving Forward."  For those of you who were there, who knew church could be so exciting, right!? 

Well, I wanted to take this chance to reiterate some of the things I mentioned and expand on a few concepts that we are really trying to focus on in our youth program. 

First off, I read a letter during my presentation, if you missed it or do not remember here it is. 

Perspective from the Back of the Church
by Eleanor Michael*

I was asked to write a little bit about St. James's "from the perspective of a parent of young children," but by using my quick, working-mom-style skim email reading technique, I first read the request as "from the perspective...of young children." I quickly realized my mistake, but after some consideration, have decided perhaps that the perspective of my two young children would be more interesting than mine.
To my boys, Nate (4) and Calvin (2), church is:
  • Friday night pizza and movies, and Sunday morning snuggles with Maddy and Priscilla;
  • making eyes at the ladies in the pews behind us, and eyeing the toys of the kids in the pews in front of us;
  • getting "snacks" at communion and dancing to the recessional;
  • the all-you-can-eat (before-a-parent-intervenes) Munchkin and lemonade buffet at coffee hour; and
  • discussing the intricacies of the latest Cars movie with [the Rev.] Molly Louden.
In a word (or two!), if asked, I think my kids would say that church is about food, and fun.
My husband and I share this sentiment to a certain extent, but to us, church isn't always quite as "fun" as snuggles and Munchkins and dancing. I regularly break a sweat trying to restrain my boys from hurling themselves into the pew behind us, while simultaneously wondering whether this will be the week that someone forgets to "listen to his body" and doesn't quite make it to the bathroom in time. I brace myself during communion (hoping Calvin doesn't feel the need to demand "MORE SNACKS!" from Julia again) and during the collection (praying he doesn't cling to his dollar and yell "MINE!" at the top of his ever-so-strong lungs, as he is wont to do). I am constantly wondering whether I have a dinosaur sticker stuck on my sweater in an inopportune location.
So if church is causing us so much weekly grief, why do we keep going back? Why not wait to become "churchgoing folk" until our kids are old enough to control their bowels, their tempers, and the volume of their voices?
To us, church is about a more sophisticated word (though related to "food" and "fun" in many ways!) that our kids do not yet know. To us, church is about community. Although our kids cannot yet articulate this word, they seem to understand the concept, in large part thanks to our time in the St. James's parish. It is about having a surrogate family when our extended families live far away. It is about having a place and a group of people to begin discussions about other big words, such as faith, love, respect, forgiveness, and social injustice. And of course, it is about pizza, chili, pancakes, brownies, and let us not forget, jambalaya!
To us, church cannot wait because learning to be part of a community cannot wait, and so we force our kids into anything-but-sweatpants week after week, and faithfully occupy our spot in the (easy-escape-route) back of the church, and feel thankful for our blessings, our church community, and our understanding pew neighbors. A few weeks ago the reading from the Holy Gospel seemed especially pertinent, when Jesus said to the twelve disciples:
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." - Mark 9:30 -37
Thank you to the entire St. James's community, which has welcomed us with open arms.

Now I want to share another story.  When i was in high school, I was asked to give a reflection during our Wednesday night worship group.  A rather large group at this time as around 30 youth and a handful of adults and parents (who were invited to attend our services whenever possible) gathered as I shared about what keeps me coming back.  Was it the events and games?  Was it my innate desire to do everything to glorify God?  Or was it simply a high schooler who wanted to spend time with his friends.  Who simply wanted to be apart of that group.


Another story, this past Happening, one youth shared a story about how he questions his faith.  So much so that he struggles to really know what it is that he believes in.  He found it hard to get plugged in to too many church like things, but Happening was something he would never miss.  He loved the atmosphere, the people.


As someone who had serious doubts about faith as a teen and someone who gave up on faith completely, I can speak to the power of this community.  I had given up on this thing known as religion.  But my friends went and that was my community, so I went, but didn't care.  I had given up on it.  But it did not give up on me.  No matter how much I didn't want to listen, this group, this atmosphere, this setting drew me back in.  Do you know how powerful something must be to take a teenager that doesn't care and to draw them in and make them feel special, important, involved...THAT is the power of this community.  That is what church and this youth group is about.  A support network, friends that will always be there for you, a place you can go to when you have lost all your faith, and still be accepted.


This letter hits the nail on the head.  We know its there, we know where we can find it...buuuut, its Sunday, that's one of the few days I can sleep in....But that means I should go to bed early on Saturday....But......but......but.....

As said on Sunday, in the wise words of teh Rev. Ollie Rencher guarantee, "Just show up." 

I guarantee that, especially for youth, if you just show up, you will find a new home in this community.  And that will stay with you for a lifetime.

This Sunday is baptism Sunday.  My challenge this week is to listen to the words as they are said.  Listen to the covenant you agree to be a part of as you say, "We will!" so proudly as we do in the Episcopal church.  I say read it, make sense of it, and think about what you are saying. 

If you don't mean it, don't say it.
If you say it, do it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Good Shepherd

If you know me, you may know that for the past 6 years I have volunteered at a week long retreat for middle schools at Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina.  I remember how exhausted I was after the first year I was there, but also how fully renewed I was in my love of youth ministry, in my own formation, and how much it helped me on my own spiritual journey.  A group of around 18 volunteers all gather to work this event (JYP) year after year to help guide and mentor youth from around the country.  Little do they know the amzing impact they have on the lives of every "adult" figure there!  They are the true teachers and I am blessed to be a part of this week.  I only bring this up, because today I wanted to talk about a lesson that I learned this past year.
The theme for the week was prayer.  We really focused on different ways to pray and what it means.  Naturally, Jesus was a prime example used to show how we pray and the importance of prayer.  In these examples, the reference to Jesus being the Good Shephard would constantly show.  Something we all hear all the time.  The symbol on the front of the altar at church is...The Good Shephard.  Children's Formation classes are called, Catechesis of the Good Shephard.  The Good Shephard.  It is a very very common theme for us at church.  Since we all grew up in rural 4th century BC Middle Eastern cities, we all agree on what it means to be a shepherd, right?
In today's society, we are just not that accustomed to hearing that term outside of church, shepherd.  When you think of that word in todays terms, what do you picture?
something like this?
or this...
maybe this...?

If I had to take a guess, I would guess that a lot of people had images simliar to this in the minds.  If they didn't, well they probably do now.  In today's society, this is as close as we come to shepherding in real life.  So why on earth is our Savior Jesus Christ refered to as the Good Shepherd?  Does he chase us down to amek sure we are on the right track?  Use a large stick or whip to keep us in line?  Someone that we are scared off and that is why we don't want to wonder off?

These images are not of shepherding, but of herding.  A herder is someone who would walk behind and keep the animals in line but pushing them and literally "herding" them in certain directions to get them to go where the wanted.  This is not and should not be the image we have when we think of the Goof Shephard.  It probably is not, but still, this concept of what it means to be a true shepherd may not be the easiest to understand.

I had a friend who went to school in Scotland who explained to me what shepherding truly was and how the shepherds worked on the other side of the sea.  The shepherds lead the sheep.  They stayed with the sheep, lived among them, slept outside with them, was always there for them.  The shepherd was a friend to the flock and therefore the flock trusted them.  This was how they lead.  The shepherd knew his sheep and the sheep knew the shepherd.  When they would travel, the shepherd would walk in front and guide them and the sheep followed out of trust and of love for the shepherd.  If one wondered off, the shepherd would stop everything to go get the one that wondered off.  
Who is your shepherd?

~Psalms 23:1-6~
The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not  want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where do you see Christ working in your life?

So the question I ask today, comes from one of our youth, Eliza.  Today I was thinking of what to write about, her answer was simple.

"Where do you see Christ at work in your life?" 
Very good question.  I respond by asking her,
"Well, how do you see Christ at work in your life?" 
Again, she replies with a very simple answer,
"In the simple things." 
Yet, another very good answer.  "What are the simple things then?" I ask. 
 "What are you asking me for, isn't that your job?"
I laugh. 
So the one questions still remains though, "Where do you see Christ at work in your life?"
Sometimes this is a difficult question to answer.  Sometimes it is as easy as the simple things.  A lot of people refer to these as God Moments or GM's.  We will return to this point in just a moment.
Last year, I was teaching the Rite 13 class.  The class asked to learn more about Lord's Prayer and I was happy to oblige.  In preparing my lesson, I read a book by N.T. Wright where he breaks down the prayer line by line.  I am no author and by no means as educated on the these matters as he is.
(For those of you who do not know, N.T. Wright is an Anglican Bishop.  He is currently the Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews in Scotland.  Before taking this job, he was the Bishop of Durham.)
So, I am just going to expand on somethings that he discusses in his books.  When we say the Lord's Prayer, are we actually thinking about what it says? 
 "Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven."
So what is "thy Kingdom" on earth then?  Does it literally mean that we will have heaven on Earth?  What does Heaven look like then? Or is it saying something else?  What is his will?  How will he carry this out?
His Kingdom has come.  Easter is proof of that.  That is God's Kingdom.  And we must be Kingdom bearers.  We must be Servants of the Lord.  In this sense, we are must continue to carry out the Kingdom here on earth.  We are carrying out his will here on earth. 
So let's revisit the original question.
"Where do you see Christ at work in your life?"
Yes, Eliza is very accurate in saying that it is in the small things.  When your friend is there for you when you are hurting, when you family is there to listen when you have had a bad day, when your teacher encourages you class...These are all little GM's.  We must be the bearers of God's will.  That is what we are called to do, that is what we pray for every time we say those sacred words Jesus taught us 2,000 years ago!
So yes, Eliza is right.  Where does Christ work...the small things.  And yes, it is my job.  It's your job too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What does it mean to be a Christian?

So this week I wanted to talk about the Gospel.  When asked what it is, we all could probably quickly ramble of literally what it is, "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!"  BOOM, nailed it.  Okay, and what does the Gospel say?  Tells the story of Jesus, two for two!
How much longer could you keep talking about the Gospel before feeling uncomfortable or not knowing how to answer the question?  I think for most people, we are already at that point.  Why do I think that?  Fuller Institute for Youth asked college juniors, "What would you say being a Christian is all about?"  Two thirds gave answers to "doing" the faith (loving others, following Jesus' example, etc.).  One third did not even mention Jesus and of them 35% didn't even mention God.  If so many of us don't fully understand what it means to be a Christian, how can we fully understand the Gospel?
There are a few ways to look at the Gospel.  Two of the ways I will briefly explain. 
One way is to fully dive into it.  Read it, be excited about it.  But only while they are involved.  So during high school, they can be very active and engaged in youth group.  Love it.  It will help you make some choices, but once you leave high school, just like when your sugar rush runs out, you crash.  This is known as the Red Bull Gospel.   After all, Red Bull's sugar and caffeine (as well as some other ingredients we can't decipher) can get you through a few tough hours. But eventually you crash. And crash hard.

Similarly, our youth group kids often have a Red Bull experience of the gospel. It's a gospel that is potent enough to help them make the right decision at a Friday night party in high school, but the Red Bull gospel and the support of other Red Bull gospel followers isn't powerful enough to foster long-term faith.
The other way is simply using the Gospel as a set of rules.  A list of things we should do and things we should not do.  Yes, following rules is important and a good thing to do.  But is that the point of religion?  Most youth follow this path, but who can blame them.  It is what they are taught.  By parents, teachers, mentors, church leaders...its a simple answer to a very complex question.  But hey, maybe this way we can keep them out of trouble.   For many of our youth group kids, the gospel has been shrunk down to fit inside the small box of what Dallas Willard calls the "gospel of sin management."  In this gospel focused on behaviors, we've sadly let the gospel deteriorate into a list of good virtues, and then we slap Bible verses on them. We don't blame them for tossing that gospel aside. Wouldn't you do the same?
When asked what it means to be a Christian, I can guarantee that you will hear "loving others" or some form of this by most of the people you ask.  Yes, isn't that the big rule Jesus told us, "Love your neighbors as yourself."  But I think that most people would think it is moral and right to treat others nicely, even an atheist.  That does not mean Christian.  It is called being nice.  But wasn't there another rule that came before this one?  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).  That is what it means to be Christian.  To live our life following these words.  This takes more faith than simply following the rules.  We must be more willing to seek and to listen and to learn.  We need to focus on trusting God and not just obeying God.  So I leave with two questions. 
"What does it mean to trust God?' 
"How do we put this into practice everyday?" 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We Will...?

So this past week, I had a friend introduce me to TED talks.  If you know what they are, you may think, "About time, it has only been around since 1984!" (Which makes it older than I am)  For everyone else, TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.  It started off as a conference intended to bring people from the three worlds of design, technology, and entertainment together.  It has grown since then.  You should look it up. 

The other day, I watched a one where Ze Frank was the speaker.  Many people may not recognize the name, but essentially, he is a blogger gone crazy.  Frank studied neuroscience at Brown and even played in a band.  One day he sent out an "Online Birthday Invitation" to 17 of his closest friends.  After a few forwards of this email, the invitation had reached over a million people.  And that was how it all started.  Since then Frank has been connecting people of different cultures and backgrounds through "the network".

In his talk, Frank mentions something very relevant to our lives as Christians.  He talks about why there has been so much success in all of these things he is doing.  He uses an example of a street sign of a crosswalk, where the person is pressing the button to cross the street and compares it to a person standing on the street fully engaged in their cell phone.  "Life is being lived in that moment" he says.  Which is true.  He then goes on to talk about this need to feel and to be felt.  That this is a way for people to connect and to be felt and for others to connect to them and to feel. 

This concept made me think.  In a society that has become so accustomed to being independent.  Disagree?  Just ask Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, or Lil Webbie...all of who have songs out about celebrating being an independent individual.  But is that what we really are suppose to be?  I agree with Ze Frank, deep inside of us, everyone has this need to connect to someone to understand to have them understand.  We all want to have this deep powerful connection. To feel and to be felt...

Hasn't that already happened?  

Wasn't Jesus made man and died on the cross to understand human suffering to forgive us of our sins.  In that moment, we are felt.  In one of the most powerful, meaningful ways possible. 

Isn't that what this community is there for?  Isn't that why we have our church family.  To have a community to support us and be there for us as we grow?  

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ? 

We are asked this every Baptism and as a congregation and we always respond, "We Will!"

From our childhood, we already have this entire group of people who have devoted themselves to helping you and being their for you.  All in the name of Christ.  This great and amazing person that was made man and died for us.  Shouldn't that mean we should be dependant instead of so independent.
Now as someone that has been referred to as "independent to a fault" it is very difficult for me to do this.  To fully give yourself to Christ.  To feel and be felt by Christ.  To connect with Christ, and in Christ, and through Christ.

In a society that promotes and encourages to be independent, I propose the opposite.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I start today with a question I have been challenged with for a long time.  A question I continue to search for the answer.  Everytime I think I find something, something else happens that will change my answer.
Why do you go to church?
Has it just become a weekly tradition that was engrained in you by your parents.  Are you trying to set a good example for your children?  It's just what you do.  I can atleast give part of my day to this stuff, right?  
Now, for the most part, I do not people have these outlooks on the subject.  I do believe the reason for most is just, to learn about Christ, to grow closer in community through Jesus, to grow their faith, to worship the Lord for all the great and amazing things he has done.
But sometimes, my mind just isn't in it.  Being so busy and constantly thinking of other things, I found that while my body was at church, my mind was not.
I want to share 2 short stories from when I was younger and I was considering this question.
The first time I was on a DYC event called Bishop's Bash youth from all over West Tennessee gathered in Eva, TN.  While there someone challenged us with a question.  Being that there were over 60 high schoolers all sitting in the floor in a small hot room, it was doubtful most were listening.  But that question still makes me think.  He brought up the Nicene Creed and asked what it said.  Since we are all good Episcopalians, we know it by memory, no BCP needed!  He stopped us.  Yes, that is how it goes, but what does it mean?  That still gets me.  I wanted to know why we did everything!  I didn't want to just say things.  I wanted to mean it.  No more going through the motions.  I wanted to be intentional about my time during worship.
Another time, also in high school, I found that I was spending a lot of time at church and youth group.  If I wasn't there, I was hanging out with my friends from youth group.  My schedule was getting pretty busy.  I was pretty involved at church.  I went to every event.  I was on DYC.  I was a lecturer.  I was also pretty busy at school.  3 AP's and a  couple of honors classes.  I was VP for German Club, a member of NAHS, FCA, I was on the bowling team (really), and even ran on the cross country team for a little bit.  I played competitive soccer...I mean, I was a busy kid.  But I had made it a priority to go to church and be as involved as possible.  I was asked why am I trying so hard to be there for everything.  I did not really know at the time.  I just loved it.  Yes, all my friends were there, but sometimes they weren't.  But I just made friends with the other people that were there.  We all became very good friends and one big community.  Looking back it makes sense.  The atmosphere!  I was constantly surrounded by these pressures.  Pressure for good grades, good times, good scores, playing better, trying to impress EVERYBODY!  At a time when you feel that nothing you do is every good enough, it can take its toll.  I found one way I could get away was to go to church and youth group.
It was a place where I was friends with everyone there.  Were my best friends always there, no.  But I made new friends.  In all honesty, those friends are some of the same people that I am still very good friends with today.  All the pressure of the outside "real" world just didn't matter there.  You could have fun with no worries about having to impress anyone. 
So why do you go to church?  Or why do you not?
My friends weren't going that day.  I didn't think anyone would be there.  I was tired.
Yea, we can't be there always.  But ask yourself, Why SHOULD you go to church?  
What seems to be a stronger answer?