Millennial Ministry

As a youth pastor, one of the things I have to always be conscious of (and fail at this far too often), is how the average Millennial views the world, and what things are significant and important to them. Ministry is a very challenging and even more rewarding experience in which you get to walk with young(er) people in the journey of life, and watch them grow and change into adults.

To any person who is interested in youth ministry, simply wants to understand youth (the Millennials, people born/raised around the new millennium)  a bit more, here is a fantastic infographic that is quite enlightening.There’s more after the jump!

Millennials
Created by: OnlineGraduatePrograms.com

The most significant parts, in my opinion, is the “what each generation says sets them apart.” If you notice, there are some common threads between generations- some ideals passed down from one generation to the next. For the Gen Xers, technology usage is a common thread, and thus should be common ground on which to meet millennials. Notice that while music was such an important part of the Boomer generation (Woodstock, anyone?) as well as with the Xers, it has even more significance for the Millennials.

This is why music is so essential to ministry- I’ve had people suggest that music is just a side issue and not a main area of focus for ministry, but music is HUGE. Students base their whole social structures around music. For instance, when I was in high school, almost all of my friends were people who like rock or heavier music. Granted, my heavy music tended to be Christian, but it illustrates how meaningful music was in my life. One of the first questions I used to ask people was what type of music they liked. Oh. You like post-hardcore? You are automatically awesome to me. Because your tastes in music immediately put you within a culture and a type of person.

The Social Networking aspect of things is super important as well. But there are some caveats. A rather interesting dynamic has been evolving in the world of social media lately. With Facebook achieving intergenerational adoption, many younger people have been either abandoning it, changing how they use it, or supplementing it with something else.

This article, entitled, “Facebook is for Old People” (link), captures the sentiment of many youth- that their online personal space is being invaded by their parents. I can share the sentiment. Social media has its own sort of unspoken code of conduct that almost everyone beyond the Xers, and even many of the Xers, completely destroy anytime they update their statuses. I’ve seen very, very, few Xers use social media well (I’m talking around 3 or 4 out of my social networks that exceed thousands of people), and many students are simply escaping to other platforms.

If you have a heart for student ministry, I highly suggest you sit back, observe how social media is used, and then wade in carefully. There’s little worse than watching somebody try too hard to be relevant, but there’s also little worse than watching somebody completely disregard your way of life.

I hope this is good info for anybody curious about youth, youth culture, or youth ministry. If you enjoyed this, or found it helpful, please like, share, and comment on this post.

The Path less travelled

A blossoming social network, Path, has made some significant headway in the social networking scene

As anyone who knows me well has already figured out, I really like social networking. I think it’s one of the things that will come to define my generation and I’m always interested in ways to utilize social media and to do it well.

It can be an extremely powerful platform to influence and shape, as significantly more people adopt and adapt to an online social presence. Particularly in the area of youth ministry social networking is essential. There is some discussion amongst youth pastors about appropriate usage of social networking, but except for a few detractors still holding out, youth workers have largely agreed that ministry must also extend to the social network scene.

And for good reason. Social networking has this unique vantage point of a person’s life- you’re able to simultaneously see how a student interacts outside of church (if they choose to add you as a friend, as some of my students choose not to for strategic reasons) and you also get to know them better. Social media, though not a perfect representation of the whole student, allows you to glimpse perhaps a different side to your students, and allows you to get to know them better.

Beyond the ministry benefits that come with social networking it has also been incredibly effective at connecting families and friends who experience distance problems (sometimes benefits… let’s be honest here). People have become increasingly mobile in the past half a century- families are often spread all across the country now and thus are unable to connect. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have been able to connect these families, even at a fairly basic level, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons they have been so wildly successful. My immediate family, for instance, is spread across 3 states, sometimes reaching 4 or 5 states, so social networking helps connect us at least a little.

Enter Path- a relatively new social networking system that markets itself as an online journal. Social networking sites and corporations have had a huge problem tackling the monster that is Facebook. The problem for startups is that they have to figure out a niche that they can fill that Facebook can’t, and more importantly, won’t be able to fill. The problem that a lot of corporations face is that even if they innovate and do things well, Facebook can simply “borrow” their ideas and simply port them over into their already massive user base. This has been the way of Google Plus- they had some really great ideas, great design, and decent execution, but all it took was for Facebook to simply take their ideas and plug them into their already huge user base. What happened is that people had no motivation to change to Gplus because their network was already on Facebook.

But Path is not doing the same ole thing. They definitely use foundational social networking principles- the status update, the picture uploads, the location, the music, etc. but there’s something different about it. I just picked it up a couple days ago and I’ve already found myself using it way more than I’ve ever used Google plus. Path is unique though, in the sense that it only allows you to have up to 150 “friends” in your network, although it has been raised from 50. It is also a smartphone only platform, which although is still a niche right now, more and more people are moving to smartphones, and as user base increases, mobile phones have the unique capability to do for real what social networks have done in the virtual- connect people. With check-in systems where you can see who’s near you in real life, it allows you to connect to people within your immediate physical location.

A lot of people put Path in the same category as Instagram- primarily as a photo sharing application. Though Path definitely has some of the same capabilities like native filtering and blurring (much better than Instagram’s for the record), I don’t think that’s necessarily the best shelf to place Path on. Path 2.0, as the current platform is being called, has a unique opportunity to change things with a couple of smart marketing techniques. They’ve described themselves, almost in passing, as a mobile journal. This is where they will really succeed if they press this. Because right now, although I only have like 2 friends on Path, I find myself using it a lot. Because I use it like a JOURNAL. It functions as a catalog of what I do, so one day I know I’ll be able to look back on where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and I can track my progress through life. HOW COOL. Facebook has tried to capture some of this idea with Timeline, but they haven’t marketed it correctly as such.

But Path feels more like a personal, private journal, where I can post more intimate details. I can post family photos and videos. I can put up status updates that aren’t like my Facebook or twitter updates. I like it. It’s much cleaner than Facbeook, as Facebook is going the way of Myspace in that people are all game crazy, and ads are everywhere, and everything is getting messier. I will probably adopt it more strongly than any other new social networking site. It fits. It fills something that other networks haven’t for me.

If you haven’t checked out Path yet, try it out. It’s a free App for iOS and Android. It’s clean, it’s beautiful, it’s innovative, and it’s useful.

Prayer Labyrinth, burnout, and other things

This design is an ancient labyrinth design

Over the past month or so, I have been extremely busy (hence why my blogging has dwindled, as it always seems to do). I have an incredible amount of things going on- I have 16 credits at Northwest, plus debate there which could theoretically add 4 more credits, I am a youth pastor at Everett Family Church, I lead worship fairly regularly, and I have a pregnant wife that I have to make time for. I’ve struggled, at times, to make sure I am balancing my time budget well, and I feel like I have been approaching the borders of burnout. Do I do everything as well as I could? No. But sometimes its overwhelming to try to keep everything straight.

That being said, God has been reminding me through various avenues that I need to slow down and take time for him. So, I’ve been very intentional about spending more time with him. I think it’s really helped my productivity, oddly enough as that may be. When you struggle to find time to do everything, and you don’t make your relationship with God the primary concern, you WILL burnout- and much faster than normal.

One of the ways I have been intentional about making more God-time is to focus on praying. It’s been one of the areas I’ve struggled with, constantly praying as 1 Thessalonians 1:17 reminds us, so I’ve really been trying to deepen that time with God. So I’ve done a few things to help me along this path- 1.) I’ve been attending dedicated prayer times at church, 2.) I’ve been spending more God time at home, 3.) using a prayer labyrinth.

Now, most of you are totally comfortable with the first 2 things on this list- me too. Those are my defaults, my comfort zones if you will. The third thing on this list will likely elicit one of two responses- what the heck is a prayer labyrinth? or dude, that stuff is like weird mystic, new agey BS (or maybe you just think it’s dumb).

Let me tell you how I became acquainted with the Prayer Labyrinth. I first heard of it this school year. One of my professors wrote a blog on it and mentioned that he thought it was silly. It did, indeed, sound silly. Basically, a prayer labyrinth is a maze-esque design either inlaid on a flat surface (painted, built with brick, etc.) or a raised wall structure (like a corn maze, or even just rocks outlining a path) that is laid out in a twisted, convoluted path always moving towards the center of the labyrinth. Labyrinth’s are distinct from mazes, however, in that they only have one path and are not meant to confuse the participator. So basically, you walk along this path, making a fool of yourself to anyone who doesn’t know what you’re doing (perhaps a fool even to those who do know) while praying/reading scripture.

Well, I later enrolled in a class with my professor and one of the books we read for that class is by Tony Jones called The Sacred Way. The book is a compilation of spiritual practices that one can use to help deepen their faith, the faith of their students, or the faith of congregants. In The Sacred Way is a chapter dedicated to the prayer labyrinth. Now, my more conservative (read: Calvinist) friends react pretty strongly against the name Tony Jones. He’s one of the leaders of the Emergent movement, especially in youth ministry.

One of the things that categorizes the Emergent movement (as much as this wide-spread, largely diverse movement can be labeled and categorized) is a rejection of modernity’s influence on Christian thought. This influence has lead the church, they claim, to over emphasize propositional truth (truisms, statements, creeds, etc- i.e. you have to believe core doctrine x, y, and z to be a Christian) over the personal and relational truth that exists in Christianity. Their strongest argument, I believe, is that Jesus says that He is Truth. Truth is a person, not necessarily a proposition (that doesn’t mean that truths can’t exist in proposition, however). This challenge is very post-modern (or at least, not modern… the romantic period developed much of the same existential tendencies as the post-modern period has) so much of the church, particularly fellows in the apologetic realm, have come down hard on the Emergent movement and anything that doesn’t fit within their systematized, well thought-out, intellectual perception of Christianity. Thus, practices like walking the prayer labyrinth are considered non-Christian or anti-Biblical- because they emphasize relational truth over propositional truth.

Perhaps I need to rephrase this- the prayer labyrinth is distinctly existential. When I say existential I mean that the meaning and value of a prayer labyrinth is expressly created by the participator. That means that each person develops their own understanding of it and how it relates to their relationship with God. Everyone’s relative truth meters are starting to freak out. It’s okay. It’ll be fine. Bear with me.

The reason this is so, is because ironically, prayer labyrinths are old. We have examples of labyrinths from 1000 BCE. In Greek mythology, it was said that the Minotaur was trapped in a labyrinth and could not escape. Theseus went in after a few failed attempts by others, tied a string to himself so he could find his way out (Hansel and Gretel, you thieves) and successfully killed the Minotaur. The church began to use them as alternatives to pilgrimage in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, in which pilgrims would couldn’t afford the travel to the Holy Land would go to the closest cathedral and walk through a prayer labyrinth on their knees (ouch!).

Eventually, they fell into disuse, and were almost forgotten until a lady in San Francisco began to really push for them to be picked up again in Christian spiritual practice.  Now, they’ve really gained some steam amongst more mainline Protestant denominations (PCUSA, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and the emergent church.

I find them valuable for a couple reasons, but first I need to point out that they aren’t for everyone. That’s the biggest thing for me- they work for some and not for others. Particularly if you’re in ministry, labyrinths will work more for some than for others. If you live in an area that doesn’t really buy subjective reality like the country, or in urban contexts working with minorities, or in poorer communities, this would probably flop. Because, let’s be honest, this whole prayer labyrinth thing will only work for yuppie white people who drink lattes and pretend to be socially and environmentally conscious. That being said, I find value in it for a number of reasons.

Number 1- it forces me to slow down. I live in a busy, loud, crazy world where technology exists only to help you be even more busy. Silence is something my generation cannot stand. We don’t do quiet. Our brains have been rewired so that if we don’t have something to do for 5 seconds (literally, there is research to back this up) we get bored and start trying to find something to do. I struggle with this, and in my loud city I need quiet.

Number 2- walking in a labyrinth is monotonous, so you can focus on God. My brain likes to be doing something menial in order for me to reflect on life. That’s why I like doing yard-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Number 3- it’s uncomfortable. This, perhaps, is the greatest benefit to the Labyrinth. When’s the last time you did something uncomfortable? The main reason I chose to do the labyrinth was because it was weird. I thought it was uncomfortable (also, my professor not liking it presented a challenge… what, don’t judge me, I like a challenge). Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone- you just might be surprised.rd-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Are you busy? Does it feel like you rarely have time to breathe? Do you sacrifice your relationship with your Creator for the other things in life? Maybe you too should step out of your comfort zone and walk a labyrinth. Here’s an easy way to find one close. Also, if you’d like a little more info about the Labyrinth, just ask me. I have more resources that I’ve worked on, or I could even do more blog posts about it.

Short Reflection on St. Paddy’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In the midst of all your pinching, a few of you and your drinking, and everyone in their green wearing (warning: I pinch), I thought I would share an encouraging little post.

In all my years, I’ve simply viewed St. Paddy’s day as simply a day where you wear green, and college kids get plastered. Perhaps that biggest tragedy of St. Patrick’s day is forgetting St. Patrick. Though… McDonald’s Shamrock shakes do help make up for it.

Patrick was a saint (hardee har). He loved Jesus. He was taken captive as a slave to Ireland as a young boy, escaped, and returned as a missionary. He taught the doctrine of the Trinity using a shamrock- so as you wear your shamrock’s today, remember that it represents the Triune God. His work started the Christianization of Ireland from paganism.

Ultimately, remember, today isn’t just about fun, it’s also about the sacrifice of great Christians in history. Our picture is painted with the brushes of the saints- and in Protestantism, we often forget that we are connected to a greater history- the story of Jesus’ work through his church. Take time to remember that today. Take time to remember that Jesus is ultimately the true point of St. Patrick’s Day- perhaps this short prayer will encourage you.

I shared this with my youth students two weeks ago- it’s a prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. There is more to it, but this is just a short section of it.

“St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”
‘Christ be with me, Christ in the front, Christ in the rear, Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me, Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left, Christ in the fort, Christ in the Chariot seat, Christ at the helm, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.’

#Phony2012 (part 1)

Joseph Kony, number 1 on the ICC's Most Wanted List

I am writing this blog to clear up a few issues surrounding Kony 2012, the initiative started by Invisible Children (IC) to raise awareness and garner momentum for a grassroots movement to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

I have some issues with this movement, and I think they need to be talked about.

I understand that at Northwest University I have a certain reputation that precedes me. As one of my primary roles at NU is as a debater I am often seen as being fairly abrasive and I am often in the thick of controversies. Many who have classes with me will probably know me as the guy they think asks too many questions. I am a very inquisitive and cautious mind. I understand that I can come across as a douche at times and I want to acknowledge that up front.

But in writing this post, I’m asking you to take me very seriously here. This post isn’t just me playing Devil’s Advocate to cause people to think critically. This post is meant to point out some VERY serious issues with the K2012 movement, and to ask people to reconsider their endorsement of said plan- at least parts of it.

Also, I want to be upfront, when I first watched the video I was really excited about it. I was jazzed to see people doing some things for it. I didn’t even watch the whole thing (it was late at night) but I posted a link to their merch page for my youth to see if they would be interested in helping. I was stirred as well. But I couldn’t help but think through a few of the other issues that were nagging me, and I’ve come to disagree with the main goal of their plan- to apprehend Kony (yes, I know their main plan with the campaign is to make him “famous” but the are lobbying for government intervention).

Before moving into my concerns, however, I would like to state where I feel IC does well. Firstly, they have a very genuine and authentic passion to make the children who are forced into rebel armies known to the world and to see them emancipated from their captors. They also genuinely want to see young people in America consider others around the world beyond their own little world. Secondly, they are BRILLIANT marketers. These guys could be making 6 figure incomes or more working for retail companies. Many ministry students would also do well to watch and analyze how they persuade people to action (though their techniques can be a bit manipulative… more on that later). Thirdly, I absolutely support their mission to make Joseph Kony a well known criminal- awareness can breed action. Their execution of their marketing strategies has always been fantastic, but this time they outdid themselves, which is why I’m particularly worried, actually.

I have a few issues with IC’s Kony 2012 campaign. My major concern is how they are trying to accomplish their mission of removing Kony from power. In the video that they released they argue for a couple things, things that besides being contradictory, are silly, dangerous, and do not take the complexity of geopolitical events into account.

First, my favorite part, they tell us that the world has changed and now WE are the ones in power. This is good marketing and is very manipulative because it stirs us to action thinking we can actually do something (which we can… but not by posting their video on your social media site). The problem is that it makes us content to think we are actually contributing to change while we sit behind our computer screens. This shifts our attention from more local issues, of which there are MORE than enough (my area of ministry, Everett, has massive gang issues, hard drug addictions, and severe homelessness). So, instead of actually engaging with the felt needs around us, we pay $30 to buy a highly packaged “Action Kit”, wear a bracelet and feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day/week. Eventually, as I’ve seen before, we will forget about this, and your bracelet will become a mere fashion accessory to show how “socially conscious” you are, instead of actually leading to serious change. So my first issue is that it builds local apathy and complacency. But that’s not even the worst part!

So, after the video tells you that YOU are the catalyst for change in the world now, they tell you that the only way of achieving any solvent change is to enlist their “2012 campaign.” This campaign involves targeting the 20 most popular cultural influencers (Rhianna, Bono, Justin Bieber and others) and the 12 most influential policy makers (John Kerry, Condy Rice, and others). So wait a second… I thought WE were the most valuable asset, yet we have to get the higher ups to still do stuff? See what I mean? Contradictory and done for the purposes of manipulation.

Now the 20 part of this campaign I really don’t have that big of an issue with. It’s the 12 part. The intentional targeting of US policy-makers to intervene militarily in Uganda. This is the part that I feel is incredibly misguided. Because, unlike their website suggests that they’re simply filmmakers and social activists, they have now moved into the realm of geopolitics and thus are playing with some serious fire. It’s no longer about social activism, it’s now about foreign policy making and political action. The problem with IC’s plan is that they want to push the US to train and provide the intel to the Ugandan military so they can apprehend Kony and bring him before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The problem that occurs for me is this: the Ugandan government itself is incredibly corrupt and the US will simply give them more knowledge, more firepower, and better training. Sure, they may be able to capture Kony, but it will only leave a bigger mess in its wake.

Some of my friends have rightly asked me what a better option would be, if I didn’t like IC’s initiative. I would have to say- pretty much anything is better than this plan. See, African politics doesn’t work like Western politics. Africa is a hotbed of culture wars, where tribes are often stuck within borders that don’t make any socio-economic sense. During the colonial era, western powers went through and just partitioned off whole chunks of Africa according to whatever land they could grab. They didn’t pay any mind to the regional politics that were in place. In the post-colonial period, the borders stayed, even though there was (and is) significant amounts of in-fighting that occurs. This caused serious regional instability. The West cause serious regional instability. The same exact thing occurred in Afghanistan (and Iraq, Iran, Israel etc.) conveniently. So we just assumed that everyone could all get along. Well back in the 80’s the US was in the Cold War with Russia. Russia was, at the time, occupying Afghanistan. Many Afghan locals wanted to see Russia gone, so the US capitalized on this and started funneling weapons, training, and intel to a rebel sect called the mujahideen, the group that later formed into the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was a part of this group, and this group eventually went on to subjugate women, commit numerous human rights violations, razed farmer’s land, and contributed to a whole host of civilian problems. Then the US decided that they had to go fix the problem it created by propping up and providing weaponry and money to the very regime that would come to do MORE harm than the predecessors originally had done. The same exact thing can be said for Iran and Iraq.

So, I think that providing a corrupt government with more power and money is actually MORE harmful than good. So, if you must know, I think that the current problem is better than what they’re supporting. I also have problems with utilizing the Ugandan government to apprehend Kony and any other LRA leaders who are no longer in Uganda. They would have to invade other countries and break their sovereignty which is a major issue. It’s also problematic to ask the US to fund a mission to apprehend Kony to take him before the ICC, which the US revoked its support for. The UN would be a much better actor in this situation, because they have international legitimacy, peacekeeping forces that wouldn’t violate national sovereignty (not perfect but better than Uganda), and a larger pool of internationally supported money. Also, this furthers the silly notion that the United States needs to serve as the police of the world. It takes away from the international accountability that ought to be brought for other countries as well.

This is my biggest complaint with the Kony campaign. Even though the intentions are there, it will actually lead to more problems than it actually solves. There are some more issues which I will illustrate more in my next post, as well as address any concerns that may be brought up regarding this post.

About a Boy- Themes of Christian Discipleship

 

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called Youth Discipleship. It’s been an engaging class that I’ve very much enjoyed- especially because it has immediate implications for me, since I have the privilege and honor of discipling some awesome youth at EFC. One of our assignments for class was to watch the move “About A Boy” and analyze how it may relate to Christian discipleship. I submitted my paper and my professor, knowing I do a bit of blogging, encouraged me to adapt it for a blog post, so here it is.

The move stars Nicholas Hoult as Marcus and Hugh Grant as Will, the main characters of this dramedy about the evolution of a relationship between a socially awkward boy (Marcus) and a man (Will) who seemingly has it all. Interwoven into the tapestry that composes the plot are a few bright threads that bring a subtle critique of the American individualism that disregards the needs of others, the struggles of an essentially parent-less boy (he has an absentee father and a self-absorbed, hippie mother) caught in the throes of a vicious social atmosphere, and the blatant apathy of of today’s adult male towards familial responsibilities. This scenario is now the norm for Christian youth workers, and we must adapt and learn to address the issues facing us today. There are 3 main principles that show promise for Christian leaders to draw principles of discipleship from: 1.) the vacuum caused by absentee fathers, particularly for boys, 2.) the mimicry process that occurs in relationships, regardless of intentionality, and 3.) the mutual transformation that occurs in discipling relationships.

Within the last five years or so, there has been a lot of research regarding the male decline in society- which has lead to the question of how the church ought to respond appropriately.  “About A Boy,” clearly shows traces of this theme, as the lead character Will has no job, no commitments, and dates casually (going so far as to join a single parents’ group to pick up the ladies). Similarly, Marcus’ father also rejected his responsibilities to his son and comes around only for holidays. This leaves Marcus with very little idea of how to relate to society, except from what he has learned from his “crazy hippie” mother. This leads us to ask, how can we help fill this gap in students’ lives, particularly the boys with absentee fathers/male role models. Much of our job is not only to teach them about Jesus, but now includes teaching them what it means to be a man in an evolving world that seems to be rejecting any sort of masculinity of old.

An interesting part of the movie is how Marcus picks up Will’s mannerisms and demeanor. Marcus begins to glean social cues from Will’s interactions- even if Will did not intentionally go about teaching Marcus societal expectations. Human beings, but particularly young human beings, are naturally mimics. Infants learn by observation and mimicry, they do not understand language yet, so traditional oratory learning is impossible, it’s all mimicked learning. This means that the actions of Christian leaders will likely be passed on to our students- both the good and the bad. This is a powerful tool that can either lead to particular harm or good- if used well, a leader can do positive discipleship simply by being rather than actively pursuing a goal. This leads to stronger affirmation for the student because they do not feel like a project, but rather feel like a valuable human being. Alternatively, however, students can also mimic the negative actions of leaders, which can lead to negative growth in students- thus leaders must be conscious that their actions have behavioral implications for their students.

Finally, this movie clearly illustrates the transformational nature of discipling relationships- not only the character/intellectual transformation of the student, but the transformation that also occurs for the teacher. Not only does Marcus go from the nerdiest kid on campus who gets others beat up for merely hanging out with him, but Will also goes from being the guy that hits on college girls in the bar to bearing the guilt and shame of humiliation with Marcus during the school talent show. Will’s sacrifice of character in that scene has faint echoes of the sacrifice and humiliation of Christ on our behalf. This is the distinguishing factor that separates Christian leadership from other leadership types. Most corporate leadership encourages leadership that ensures the dignity of the teacher isn’t lost- that he/she maintains their power. Christian teaching, as Will picked up on, is based in serving. It requires us to get messy, to get deeply involved with the needs and desires of our students. Much like Christ had to enter into the human condition in order to bring redemption and to teach us the value of life, Christian leaders should make sacrifices in comfort and position in order to ensure the spiritual well-being of our students. Christian discipleship, then, often transforms the teacher as much as it changes the student. When we can model the love Christ has for us, it grows us and teaches us that much more about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice.

The Yo-yo Gospel?

Image

Yes. The Yo-yo Gospel. Sure, it may sound ridiculous but hear me out.

Lately, in a fit of nostalgia and more probably, childlike glee, I have had a renaissance with the yo-yo. I was first introduced to the yo-yo in the second grade when I saw some kids on the playground with the Yomega X-brain. I begged my mom to get me a Yomega Fireball and she finally caved. I came home from the mall with my newfound source of joy and ripped it open. When I finally removed the pesky packaging from my coveted prize I quickly put the end of the string around my finger and in one fail swoop managed to tangle my precious yo-yo in a rat’s nest of frustration. But, over time and with much practice I was able to finally throw a yo-yo and get it to do the most important of all things- to sleep. You see, the sleeper is the foundation for almost every trick you can do with a yo-yo.

After a while I developed some significant skills with my weapon (legend has it the yo-yo developed as a weapon in the Phillipines), at least I thought so anyway. I could walk the dog, go around the world, rock the baby, scale the Eifel Tower and even ride the elevator. After a while though, I lost interest in my yo-yo because I encountered a few problems. Number 1 was that I was in second grade, thus the maintenance regimen for my yo-yo was dependent upon my mother’s subsidization, number 2 was that tricks got increasingly difficult, and number 3, finally, was that my yo-yo strings broke while performing around the world indoors and I broke one of my mother’s favorite picture frames. Whoops.

Life moved on and I duly forgot about my yo-yo. Then I encountered it again through my students at EFC. I saw them doing some crazy tricks and asked if I could see their yo-yo. To my surprise I found that yo-yoing is similar to riding a bike. My wife was shocked that I had this secret “talent”. So I got a yo-yo and I am now able to do some pretty advanced tricks.

Between homework assignments I will intersperse some yo-yoing. This means I get lots of practice… cause I have lots of homework. Anyway while I was doing a particularly involved trick called Cold Fusion I got to thinking. I realized how absurd it was that I’m doing such a complicated thing with string and a piece of metal/plastic.

See, the yo-yo is extremely simple. It’s a classic toy- one that has been around for centuries and has entertained even my grandparents. The basic premise is that a circular object descends down a string and returns back up the string. Fun. Simple. The yo-yo is a giant paradox. It is simple enough for a child to pick up and use and complex enough for the masters to baffle everyone with.

The Tuesday after next I will begin a new teaching series at Praxis Youth Ministry. I will be teaching through the book of John. The book of John is the yo-yo Gospel, for it is simple enough that a child can understand what it says and complex enough to have warranted the largest body of Biblical scholarship throughout history. This Gospel is perfect because it is a great entry point for anyone and it is deep enough to keep even the most seasoned Christian on their toes. When you read through John’s account of Jesus life, you WILL encounter Christ. You cannot get around it- Jesus is the center of John’s Gospel. It teaches us more about the person of Jesus than any other body of scripture, in my opinion.

John begins his narrative of Jesus with the beginning. He takes us on a journey through the magnificent work of Christ and the story of His redemption of humanity through history. It begs us to ask ourselves where we fit within the narrative of salvation. How is the story of Jesus continued with us? John’s Gospel will ask these questions of us- even if they are just implicit questions.

So I want to encourage you- if you’ve never read the Bible before, start with John’s Gospel (4th book in the New Testament, about 3/4 of the way through the whole Bible). If you’ve read through the Bible more than once- read John’s Gospel again. Meditate on it. Let the presence of the Word saturate you in the Gospel story. If you are just checking out Jesus for the first time- John is a great place to start. If you’ve gotten a little distracted from your relationship with Christ by the busyness of life- John is a great place to re-encounter Christ. If you’ve been a faithful Christian for a long time, John has a wealth of spiritual depth to discover and mine.

Let us ultimately remember the words of John (The Baptizer), “He must increase, I must decrease.” Amen.

Oh, Mark Driscoll!

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Mark Driscoll, you never fail to stir controversy!

With the release of his new book “Real Marriage” Pastor Mark Driscoll- lead teaching pastor at MarsHill church here in Seattle- has elicited a whole new batch of scathing criticisms.

The genesis of this blog post came from a friend who asked me my opinion of Driscoll and specifically his book Real Marriage. My friend has a few friends that are big fans of Driscoll and are going through the book in a small group format. My friend read through about 4 chapters of the book and found them to be “a piece of trash.” My friend is not a Christian and is gay, so naturally Driscoll would not speak to his/her experience too much.

First of all, I need to commend my friend for being willing to read through 4 chapters of a book on sexuality by Driscoll who is very vocally opposed to the lifestyle he/she lives. I am always pleased to find people who aren’t so entrenched in their own world that they refuse to research a differing opinion.

I need to come clean- I have yet to read his book and probably will not make time to do so for a few months. My reading time is jam-packed with school/ministry related reading. That being said, I am fairly familiar with Driscoll’s theology of sexuality, having read a few of his resources on the topic.

So, here goes!

My relationship with Driscoll goes back a number of years. My first introduction to him was in my junior year of high school.

As a Christian guy in high school one of the major issues you deal with is sexuality and how to reign it in in a healthy fashion. I attended a number of small groups that dealt with sexuality and how to properly handle it. I read through one book called “Every Young Man’s Battle,” which was, in my humble opinion, terribad. Then my roommates and I read through a free e-book published by RE:lit, the publishing section of Driscoll’s ministry The Resurgence, called “Porn-Again Christian.”

The booklet was everything that EYMB wasn’t. Frank, honest, insightful, and helpful. He didn’t just say, “the Bible says no, so that means no.” He gave solid psychological, medical, and relational reasons for his positions, grounded in the theology in the Bible. It changed my life for the better.

Before becoming a Christian I held a very poor view of women. My friends and I had a very detailed rating system for how attractive women were, based on categorical areas (butt, boobs, etc.) and an overall ranking. No semi-attractive girl escaped our scrutiny. This was an incredibly destructive view that robbed women of their status as a human being made in the image of God. It took me a long time to rid myself of this view- it required a lot of close friends being willing to walk down a difficult road and me yelling at myself quite regularly. Driscoll’s teaching in this area seriously helped me make sense of what I was experiencing. Driscoll has always been extremely good at speaking to young men, especially ones who are lost in a world that is increasingly hostile to traditionally masculine views of men. I know that statement alone is enough to frustrate some people, but bear with me.

One of the strongest criticisms leveled against Driscoll is that he subjugates women to a pre-feminism era. Driscoll holds what Christians call a “complementarian” position. For those who aren’t familiar with Christian positions on sexuality and gender roles, it is a very diverse “field” if you will. In terms of gender roles there are 3 major areas: 1.) Hierarchical 2.) Complementarian 3.) Egalitarian. In terms of sexuality there are pretty much 3 categories regarding homosexuality as well: 1.) Reparative (no better way to describe this, basically it’s the idea that you can become “ex-gay”, i.e. Exodus International) 2.) Semi Gay Affirming 3.) Gay affirming. The gender-roles debate has much more concrete terminology and is a much more developed field. The Christian gay debate is much younger and doesn’t have particularly well developed groups just yet- in fact my nomenclature is sort of made up for it, so don’t hold on too tightly to it.

This is an incredibly deep topic. Far far too deep for me to attempt to address in a single blog post. The topic of gender-roles/sexuality is so intimately related to the human experience that it has massive implications for a variety of areas. I will try to give a brief overview of the whole topic and hopefully provide some resources for further study. I’m also willing to write further posts expanding my views if anyone is interested.

I don’t have time to outline each of the 3 positions for both gender-roles and homosexuality, so I will pick the ones I think Driscoll fits best. He is a self-identifying “Complementarian” and is a regular contributor to that conversation. I would also say Driscoll likely holds a semi gay affirming position, but I’m not going to hang my hat on it.

Here are a couple of resources regarding the gender-roles debate. The hierarchical position honestly isn’t held very often and in my opinion is not Biblically tenable in any way, shape, or form. For transparency’s sake, I will come out that I am a complementarian in the area of family. Not sure about ministry just yet. Anyway, here are the resources:

Complementarian position:

http://www.cbmw.org/

Egalitarian position:

http://www.cbeinternational.org/

Driscoll’s theology of marriage and family would no doubt start in Genesis 1 and 2. Since this part of the Bible deals with original creation, it is the place to find out what the ideal is. Creation was made perfect (in the most sense that perfect can describe finite things like creation), so for the Christian it is the place to find the original plan for humanity.

Genesis 1:25 tells of God’s plan to make mankind to “rule” over creation- the implication is that “ruling” is to be done together. Then in v. 26 it says God created man (humanity) and he created them “male” and “female.” Driscoll and complementarians would look to this passage as an example of “equality in essence.” What that means is that male and female are equal in created worth. Meaning that men and women are equally valuable in the sight of God and each are made uniquely by God. Later on, in Chapter 2 we find a more detailed record of how man and woman were created. God formed man out of some dust and placed him in the Garden of Eden. God then decided it wasn’t good for man to be alone so he performed surgery on man, took a rib and made a woman out of it. Then man saw her and named her “woman.”

This naming bit is important, because in ancient near east culture, the ability to name someone/something designated authority over him/her/it. This is why God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, Jacob’s to Israel, Saul to Paul and plenty others. An egalitarian would say that this hierarchy only existed because of the Fall, but the naming occurred both before (man names her woman) and after the fall (Adam names her Eve). This would mean that the ability to name, and thus have some measure of “authority” is given to man in the ideal condition.

Woman is also said to have been given as a “helper” to man. This word, in the original Hebrew is etzer. It is the same word used to describe God as “helper” later, so it shouldn’t be interpreted as a helper from a position of inequality. This part of the text has been used in the past to abuse women and tell them they’re lesser- this is flat-out wrong and extremely damaging to women. It does give some measure of justification for Driscoll’s position of women sacrificing some of their own ambitions for the goals of the family/ marriage. This is not a popular position in society anymore, especially given the rise of second/third wave feminism that has had a very heavy emphasis on women climbing the work-place ladder. Christians have to be careful not to anachronize their interpretation of the Bible, however, so Driscoll and complementarians would argue that it is short-sighted and misplaced to assume that women’s sole role is to be in the workplace.

Furthermore, Driscoll would probably look at Gen 3:8-9, after the eating of the fruit by man and woman as an example of man’s responsibility to his wife. After they ate the forbidden fruit, God came looking for man. God who already knew what they did came asking for man, “where are you?” Even though woman ate first, God expects man to give an account of their actions, meaning that he was responsible for his wife’s actions. This is where complementarians would see men as completely responsible for the well being of their families- not women. Later, woman was punished for her misdeeds, but man was ultimately held responsible for her actions.

Later, in the New Testament Driscoll would look to Ephesians 5:21-33 as another example of where gender roles are clearly outlined in the Bible. Verse 21 starts out, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is really important to keep in mind, especially for you Christian men out there. You are to submit also to your wives. It’s not like you get to have all the say and she has to just follow along like a sheep. You are responsible for your family’s well being- that means when you screw up, you are held to account for it.

Then it goes on to tell wives to submit to their husbands like the church submits to Christ. This one is pretty clear. Neither Driscoll nor I will make apologies for the Bible. Christian wives are to submit to their husbands “in everything.” Doesn’t sound good to our modern, progressive ears but it’s there and I won’t make any bones about it. More importantly though, especially since Paul spends a lot more time talking about it, husbands must love their wives like Christ loved the church… which last time I checked required an incredible amount of sacrifice and finally death. That’s the funny thing about the complementarian position: it gets marked as being misogynistic, but really it places far more responsibility and weight on man’s roles. Men are supposed to sacrifice their own lives for the good of their brides and families. That means putting down your controllers, stop watching porn, get a job and take care of your family (wow… I feel like Driscoll right now… but he’s right on this).

This is where Driscoll would get a lot of his theology from. It’s not progressive in any sense and may not even be conclusive. The Bible can often be taken out of context, but I’ve tried to give the clearest Biblical reasons for his position. Since I hold this position myself, I don’t think it’s exactly a straw man.

Now the next part is far, far, trickier. The debate on how Christians ought to address the issues brought up by the queer community is a very delicate one. The thing about these theological positions is that they aren’t simply mental assents to doctrinal positions- they intimately effect every aspect of people’s lives. Brian McLaren put it best when somebody asked him where he stood on the issue of homosexuality when he said, “No matter how I answer this question, someone will end up being hurt.” This question deeply affects many people, many of whom are my close friends. When addressing this question, a grace-filled heart and understanding mind are the best tools to dialog without offending.

First off, I cannot apologize enough for how the church at large has treated the queer community. We have isolated homosexuality in particular and it’s been detrimental and harmful at best. I have a great number of friends who have been so turned off from faith because of how Christians have treated them or others they know who are gay, so to them I apologize. Also, there is a lot of language that needs to be learned to adequately engage in this dialog. I find that’s the most difficult thing for me. Political correctness is probably one of my least favorite things on the planet, yet I know the impact that language has on people, so I really try to make sure I’m not saying anything flippantly or without thought. If I offend anyone I apologize. If Driscoll offends anyone… well, let’s face it, offending is what he does best, but I apologize for him too.

Now, on to this issue, and hopefully painting Driscoll’s position the best I can. In places where I’m not sure about his position I’ll give my opinion.

This debate about how Christians approach this topic has often been sidetracked by stupid side debates that are absolutely unhelpful. I always try to be careful about which hills I’m willing to die on as a Christian. I hate culture wars. I think they’re so stupid and I think Christians waste valuable time engaging in culture war that they could be spending ministering to the poor, broken, disenchanted, or the hurting. That being said, one of the biggest and most ridiculous of all parts of the culture war of this debate is the “born/not born gay.”

I cannot tell you how ridiculous this is. For the Christian, absolutely NOTHING rests on proving this. In fact, it actually works against us. The logic for many Christians is this: God would never create someone in such a way that they would be gay, therefore it must be a choice, therefore gays are all choosing to be in sin.

This logic, frankly, sucks. It won’t work in any other area of people sinning. ALL have sinned! Not a single person is without it. God created us all and we are all sinful. God’s original plan for us was not to be sinful, but we screwed it up. Adam sinned and we have all chosen to walk in his footsteps. So Biblically speaking, you should have no problem accepting that gays are born with the natural predisposition to sin in such a manner (if you hold that it’s a sin), just like teenage boys are more likely to sin sexually in general. Also, psychology is pretty much conclusive that homosexual feelings are not behavioral/chosen, but are feelings that cannot be stopped. Gay folks cannot escape those feelings- they are often genetic even. I have a number of family members who are gay or bisexual at the least, genetics can play into the equation.

That being said, Driscoll would argue that any sexual activity that is outside God’s original design pre-fall is sinful. This means lustfully looking at people, fantasizing, viewing pornography, homosexuality, premarital sex ,and adultery. It is essential to view homosexuality in light of what the Bible says about sexuality as a whole. This is why it can’t be isolated. That means that homosexuality is absolutely no different, Biblically speaking, than checking out a woman and thinking about her sexually. That being said, Driscoll would say that homosexual activity is not permitted by the Bible (I would agree). Similarly, however, that doesn’t mean that those who have same-sex attractions cannot be Christian. I hate that so much. Christians talk about how we are saved by grace and not by works all the time- if you have lied, cheated, stolen, slept around, whatever it may be, then Jesus is enough. If you do it while you’re a Christian, just repent, get some accountability and keep going. But if you’re gay, you’re pretty much lost. I HATE this so much.

Anyway, this is still extremely difficult for the queer community especially because it leaves you with two choices, really. You can find a completely gay affirming church and pray that God sees your heart, or you have to basically live a celibate life. I can’t imagine what that must look like. I truly feel for those of my friends who have faith in Christ but are unable to engage in relationships with people they are attracted to.

That being said once again Driscoll and I can’t apologize for what the Bible has to say on this topic. Obviously there can be a difference of opinion on interpretation, and I’m totally up for debate on that subject. I’ve earnestly reviewed gay affirming interpretations, yet I cannot see how the position can be held with any consistency on how the Bible is interpreted.

That being said, here is another good resource for people with questions regarding this topic:

http://gaychristian.net/greatdebate.php

All in all, this topic is very delicate and I pray that everyone can talk about this with gentleness, love, and humility.

Regarding that… Driscoll recently was interviewed by a British journalist and made quite the fool of himself. Granted, the blogger clearly had an agenda and was badgering Driscoll to the point of losing his temper. I don’t think the way Driscoll handled himself was Biblical, since I was asked to give my opinion of him. Too many people idolize Driscoll and think he is practically divine. Driscoll is often wrong. He’s often right though. I try to take both the good and the bad from people. 🙂 Anyway, here’s the link to a small excerpt from the interview.

http://cognitivediscopants.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/driscoll-brierley-on-women-in-leadership/

Okay, I’m closing this up. This is waaaaay too long. I’m pretty sure nobody will actually have finished this, so I apologize for the incredible length of this post.

I would love to hear opinions! If you would like me to write some more on this topic, please let me know and I will try my best. I hope that this has helped clear up some of Driscoll’s positions. I pray that everyone can be encouraged by this dialog, even if you may disagree with me. I love when people can disagree without getting too offended. That being said I know the highly personal nature of this post may stir some strong emotions. I apologize if I have offended anyone, and if I have please let me know. My goal is to show Christ like love to everyone, regardless of lifestyle, beliefs, or values.

In His grace,

Maxwell Mooney

It’s Not Religion, It’s a Relationship!!!! (Or is it?)

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My wife and I were over at the house of some friends of ours playing Apples to Apples one night. It’s an incredibly entertaining game and it’s very simple. There are two types of cards, red and green. Green cards have an adjective on them and red cards have a noun. One person in the game gets to be the “chooser.” The chooser controls a green card, then everyone else places a red card he/she thinks fits the adjective the best. The chooser picks which of the red cards he/she likes the most. A small description/definition is included on each card as well, just in case anyone is unsure of what the card means.

It’s a great game because it forces you to learn the tendencies of the people playing, because a chooser might like a more literalistic approach, or ironic, or funny etc. You learn a lot about people from playing Apples to Apples with them.

Well I grabbed a green card because I had just won a hand and the card said, “Worldly.”

I thought to myself, “HA! NOW THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD!” I was expecting something really trite to be laid down. Like TV, drug dealers, Jersey Shore, sex- y’know, something really bad. Because that’s how Christians think of the word. “Worldly” always has a negative connotation for Christians.

Then I read the definition of the word. I was shocked.

“Worldly- experienced, sophisticated, materialistic.” I let out a sigh of relief that at LEAST the writers included materialistic!

It really got me thinking, though. Christians use words in ways that nobody else uses them ALL the time! We have our own little jargon to separate us from “the world.” We are supposed to be “Not Of This World” as one particular brand of Christian apparel so constantly reminds us. This Christianese is ridiculous. It doesn’t really get us anywhere, does it?

When people use the same words to describe different things, it leads to confusion. There are brilliant philosophers who’ve written scores of books about this. In argumentation, the power to define almost always gives you the advantage. Christians don’t seem to mind too much though, we still keep using words differently!

My favorite Christian slogan is an extremely common one. It’s all too common, but doesn’t really mean anything. One time, I had somebody ask me if I was religious. I didn’t even have time to think about my response. No, I had seen too many strong Christians handle this in a brilliant way before me, so my response was automatic. Perhaps you’ve said it too?

“Nah man, I’m not religious. I’m a Christian. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!!” Man… That TOTALLY worked. My friend, judging by the look on his face, was speechless. He must have accepted Jesus because he finally realized that it’s not about religion, but about relationship. In reality, maybe not so much.

Most likely he thought, “whatever floats your boat man. Last time I checked, Christianity was the biggest ‘relationship’ on the planet.”

A powerful video was just released on YouTube by a guy named bball1989. It’s a video entitled “Why I hate Religion, but love Jesus.” It’s been passed around Facebook by a TON of my friends. When I took a screenshot of it, 25 people had already posted it, but now it’s over 35. The video is fantastic, and I don’t want to dog it. But it still falls into that trap of using words differently than everybody else uses them.

Even some of my favorite preachers use this phrase. They say, religion is about rules but Jesus isn’t. Really? Jesus doesn’t give us guidelines to follow? Seems like Matthew 5 piles on even stricter rules than the Old Testament had given… And what dictionary in the world actually says that religion is about rules?

Now, I get that we aren’t saved by rules. The fact of the matter, however, is that when it comes to defining what religion is, the rest of the world tacks on “rules” almost as an afterthought.

Here’s how dictionary.com defines religion, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Huh, sounds like Christianity fits ALL of those criterion.

Maybe, when somebody asks us if we are religious in the future, instead of highjacking the question we should just answer them straight. “Yeah, yeah I am. Are you?”

Maybe, instead of trying to reeducate people about the Christian definition of religion we can just use our faith as a springboard for having a conversation. Maybe we can say, “hey Christianity might not be what you think it is.” Or “yeah I’m religious, could you tell? I’m glad you could- let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life to make me believe in him.”

Just say anything other than, “no man, I’m in a relationship with Jesus!” All religions claim to be in a relationship with their gods, we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.

New Seasons

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I’ve always found the phoenix to be a fascinating (mythical) creature. Though it isn’t a Christian image per se, it definitely fits with the Christian’s walk of faith, the imagery fits quite nicely with resurrection as well, which is probably while some early Church Fathers, like Clement, used it as a type of Christ.

It’s a fascinating story. The phoenix was mostly red, with a tail-full of gold feathers and would live anywhere from 500-1000 years. Then, when it was ready to procreate, it would migrate (most believed to Egypt), build its nest out of twigs (Clement wrote that it was out of frankincense and myrrh- referring to Christ), then lay down and set itself on fire. I feel like that might be a bit much, but hey, the bird can do what it wants. The true beauty of the story, as most are generally familiar with, is that from the carnage and ashes, a tiny little phoenix would find life. The phoenix would find its sustenance from the ashes of the old and new life would emerge. The baby phoenix, once it was strong enough, would the emerge from the destruction that was its home, and would find a life of beauty for 500-1000 years afterward.

Startlingly powerful imagery. Like Clement, I find it to be of incredible value to the Christian faith. It’s clearly a type for the death and resurrection of Jesus- but it also has implications for our own lives. As we ponder the year that has passed and dream (sometimes fear) the year set before us, the phoenix is an image to guide us.

Maybe 2011 was a great year for you, maybe it was the worst year you’ve ever experienced. Maybe you’re in the middle of the greatest blessings you’ve ever received, or maybe you’re in the depths of despair wondering where God might be. I like to view 2011 as the old phoenix building its nest- and 2012 holding some wonderful things ahead.

Don’t get me wrong- 2011 has been a great year for me. I married my best friend, developed even greater friendships with people that I value greatly, answered God’s call on my life to enter into ministry, and built friendships and Godly community with two fantastic faith communities this year!

My heart still breaks for those who experienced the roughest year of their lives. If this has been a tough year for you, I encourage you to look to the future. 2012 looks to be a great year, regardless of what stupid predictions clutter the media, presidential outcomes, or economic quality. I am fully convinced that God has something incredible for those who trust in Him and His Son. Will it be devoid of pain and hurt? No way! Will it be difficult? Absolutely. Just like the baby phoenix that must grow from the destruction of its past, so too must we learn from the mistakes of our past. My personal experience has been that God will wreck me when my goals and priorities are not oriented around Him. But if you can come away from the wreckage with a repentant heart and humility, Christ can do amazing work in your life. It might not be the Benz or the big house- but it will be something greater.

Beauty in the midst of pain. Joy in spite of adversity.

Any of you who know me well know that I’m not an optimist necessarily, but I truly believe that God will be moving this year, and if we orient ourselves to Christ, and make everything we do about Him that is when he can truly use your life.

Christ has called every Christian to die to our old selves, like the phoenix, and emerge a new creation. This year, may we die to the old to make way for the new.

May we always remember that we are nothing, by our own power, but Christ can take fisherman, tax-collectors and whores and change the world through them. Let us seek Christ with a diligent heart this year, and be renewed by his restoring presence.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19