In Tension- Father’s Day reflections

Holidays are weird. I’ve found that they often breed more tension than other days of the year because they come with lots of expectations. Unmet expectations, the wise Kevin Hall once told me, are the root of every relational conflict we experience. But this Father’s day I’ve experienced a very interesting emotion: tension. 

Most of you know my wife Julia and I are expecting a baby girl, Evelyn Rose Mooney, on July 25th, 2012. This has left me in a really weird position during this Father’s day… I’m kinda a father, but not yet fully a father. I have a child, but she hasn’t yet emerged into this world, ready to make it a better place, so I’m left in this awkward tension of kinda father/fully father. I don’t feel like a father yet- I don’t have a little girl to hold, to give baths, to cuddle with yet so I don’t really feel like a father. But I am a father. Though Evelyn isn’t in the world to brighten my day and lengthen my nights, she still is. She exists and is among my family… my wife’s profile attests to it! I have fatherly responsibilities, to take care of my wife, to prepare our home for Evelyn, and to make sure we have all the medical things taken care of (let’s be honest… Julia’s been doing most of that…), but I haven’t fully experienced fatherhood yet, things like teaching my daughter to walk, taking her on daddy-daughter dates, teaching her how to make espr… cookies, how to behave appropriately, etc. 

This tension of having a something already be a reality but not a full reality is exactly the same sort of tensions Christians have felt through the ages. We are currently experiencing the reality that God’s Kingdom is being injected into the world, but it has not been fully realized. Bible scholars and theologians refer to this phenomena as the “already/not yet eschatology.” The word eschatology comes from the Greek word “eschatos” which means ‘final’ and “logos” which means ‘word/reason’ so eschatology is the reasoning (study) of final things, sometimes called the “end times.”

Eschatology, in Evangelicalism, has unfortunately taken on a very “Left Behind” vibe, where the Antichrist will come and some nation, likely some communist country like Russia (wait, they aren’t communist anymore?) or China, will rise up to make the world into a “One World Government.” This paranoia of “the beast” and all sorts of crazy prophecies of Christians coming under intense persecution and such, while having some Biblical merit (highly dependent on how you read Apocalyptic literature in the Bible), strips away much of the important value to studying eschatology from our lives. For the longest time I completely avoided eschatology because there are so many interpretations (some people think Revelation is a prophecy where John was predicting modern technology… other people see many of the forward thinking prophecies as being already fulfilled) and so many people will call you a heretic for having a different interpretation than they do. However, since attending Northwest University, I’ve come to appreciate eschatology in a much deeper way. 

When Christ came to the Earth he began the process of eschatology, the process of God restoring the Earth to the way it was in Eden. Luke 11:20 tells us that with Christ came the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God (Matthew generally refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven to avoid offending Jewish readers because the name of God was to be used sparingly) is where God’s will is done- both “on Earth… and in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is now, when Christians gather together to celebrate Jesus, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When Christians feed the widow and orphan, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When we comfort the downtrodden and marginalized, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God exists now. 

But it is not fully here. We still live in a world marked by brokenness and suffering. We still taste pain and hurt. We still see injustice in the world. We cannot see God’s perfect Kingdom just yet. But it is coming. God will restore our earth from the brokenness we have caused. Through Adam came sin into the whole world, but through Christ sin will be removed- and has been removed! This fallen world we live in will be restored to paradise- we will live in good relationships, we will not harm the Earth, we will not experience sickness, suffering, or pain.

Just like I am a father but not yet a father, so too is this world restored and not yet restored. Take hope! The day is coming where we will experience completion and joy, just like the day is coming where I will get to hold my baby girl in my arms and teach her about God’s graces in this world.

 

30 Hour Famine Recap

  1. Here’s a recap I wrote up for our youth ministry’s 30 Hour Famine event- I posted this via Storify.
    When students first showed up to Hope Church in Everett, WA on May 18th, they walked in the door and checked in. When they checked in they received 1 cup, a “tribe” to be in, and a disability.
  2. The cup had to be kept the entire event, symbolizing the limited resources often available for those in destitute poverty. The “tribe” they were a part of was their group that they were a part of, each tribe was named after a country World Vision is working in. Finally, each student had a disability that they had to work with during certain activities over the weekend- this was representative of the disabilities that many malnourished people have to overcome just to get food. A sample of the disabilities: healthiness, weakness imposed by hunger, weakened knees, partially working hands, muteness, and blindness.

    One of the first things each tribe had to do was to create a flag for their tribe.
  3. After the tribes made their flags, they had to head outside to erect their shelters for the night. The activity was centered around cardboard- a staple for many low-income shelters. This was filled with much “creative bending of the guidelines” with some teams using rope, trees, fence structures, and even one team lead by one Mr. Mike Lee breaking out PVC pipe and powertools.
  4. After the building of the shelters, we had a short juice break, then we engaged in “Disabled Kickball” where we had a game of kickball in which every student was effected by their disability. The blind were definitely at a disadvantage during this particular event!

  5. Students standing in the kicking line
  6. Pastor Beau provided hilarious commentary.
  7. After Disabled Kickball, we had a couple of relay races to get water into a pitcher using only one small cup. This represented the often difficult journey to fetch water that many have to take in poor countries.After the relay race, we learned about many of the issues that affect those entrenched in poverty and how World Vision has been able to address many of the systemic issues that developing nations face. After watching informative videos (and some not so informative. WE spent some time watching HomeStarRunner videos) we settled in for the night. Some students chose to sleep in the shelters they built. Others chose to sleep in the building. And some who slept outside deserted for the inside.That morning, those who slept outside were awoken rather abruptly thanks to Pastor Beau and the crew blasting some classic 90’s music, blowing air horns, and rushing the shelters were people were sleeping. The rest of the day was spent busily cleaning up the church and preparing for the days events.

    We split up into two groups: one group headed down to Seattle to pass out sack lunches to homeless folks, the other group did a canned food drive by going door to door asking folks for contributions.

    The Seattle crew went to Pioneer square where all of the sack lunches (close to 150 of them) were gone within 5 minutes. Then they met a group from another church that was providing lunch for the homeless and sharing the Gospel with them. We helped out by cleaning and singing Amazing Grace with them.

  8. The canned food group was able to bring in over 400 pounds of canned food! An impressive feat indeed! The food was donated to the Everett Food bank, so we were able to provide direct relief for local needs as well.The whole event was a huge success. Students were able to raise money (EFC youth raised over $200!!!) and awareness for global poverty, but they were also able to help with local poverty and hunger, which is also a massive issue. Overall, 30 Hour Famine was a powerful testimony of the ability of students’ making a difference in the world by being Jesus with skin, and bringing the life of Christ to their community and world.Blessings,

    Max

  9. Update: The official 30 Hour Famine twitter account Retweeted this article. Many thanks to Pastor Beau and crew for putting together such a great event!
  10. 30HF
    Thanks for sharing your weekend with us! Great ideas for Famine Leaders! RT @maxwellamooney: 30HF recap here: http://sfy.co/11gn #30HF
    Wed, May 30 2012 17:05:11

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.’