The first time I spotted a rent-able motorized scooter on the massive midwestern campus serving as the venue for my denomination’s every-three-year youth conference last week, I thought, “Oh, kids are definitely going to want to ride those.” Check that. The thought was more, “Oh no! Kids are definitely going to want to ride those!”

The first time I spotted one of the event’s teenagers riding one of them it was actually two of the event’s teenagers, and both of them were from my church and thus my responsibility, and one of them was in a sling from a month-old broken clavicle. I thought–no, I don’t actually want to confess what I thought.

I shut down the scooter riding among my students. I gave two reasons. 1) there are no helmets, and 2) renting them involves waiving liability for injury, and, as one of my fellow leaders pointed out, minors can’t legally do that. I leaned more heavily on the first reason. For the remaining three days of the conference, my students had to watch their peers from other groups speed and weave down the street while they themselves trudged countless miles in sticky humid heat. Sometimes it stinks to have me as your youth leader.

By week’s end tales were being told of two conference attendees hospitalized from scooter accidents, one of them reportedly hit by a car but both of them okay. Still, sometimes it stinks to have me as your youth leader.


Platforms Revisited

Some of the earliest posts I wrote on this blog were based on Jeff Jarvis’s book, What Would Google Do? and sought to apply its insights to the church. In particular, I was really excited about the idea, that, just as Google provided a platform for communities to do the things they cared about, churches ought to think of themselves in platform terms.

That was in 2010. A lot has changed. I no longer think that global technology corporations are the right metaphor for church life, and I’m embarrassed about my previous enthusiasm, because the intervening nine years have clearly demonstrated the central danger of platforms: ownership.

It felt forward-thinking then to suggest that congregations could conceive of their mission in terms of what communities wanted to use them for. My leading illustrations were scout troops and skateboarders, and I thought it worth exploring how a church might provide a meaningful platform to those communities as an expression of its own mission. What was missing in that idea was the importance of ownership, that when you offer a “platform” for something you have to be willing to own the outcome of that something. Being a platform can easily be seen to involve surrendering authorship and ownership of the work, and that’s a mistake.

In the worst case scenario, where the platform is used to someone’s injury, you can’t disassociate yourself. Google and Facebook are providing a platform for harm, and they are failing in their missions when they shrug their shoulders about the dangerous and hateful things people are doing with them. Clearly, churches can’t copy that.

But even in the best case scenario, we should care more about ownership, authorship, and creation. It feels to me now that collaboration is the better ideal. For a church to make something in partnership with a person or a community is a more fruitful ministry outcome than simply handing them a platform to do it themselves. It’s more creative and generative, and it allows us to build more dynamic relationships–ones based on reciprocity and that prize learning–than when we simply offer up our space.


Two Rules

Fred Craddock’s Luke commentary makes two urgent suggestions of preachers working on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

  1. Don’t make the priest and the Levite out to be so evil as to be unrelatable. We are them.
  2. Don’t make the Samaritan too familiar. The parable piles on the description of his remarkable actions; he’s not easily analogized.

These two rules of Craddock’s for this particular story are a good rule for all interpretation, I think. Don’t distort the baddies, and don’t domesticate the goodies.


Two Packages

The first bulky, a red Christmas-themed padded envelope. Inside a knit shawl, green and blue and white. No note. But I know who it’s from. It’s from the woman in Ohio whose brother worshiped at my church during the last two years of his life. When he got sick and was hospitalized, she called the church and got me. She and I had long talks across his hospital bed, including one the day he died. She knows I have a daughter. The shawl is for her.

The other slim. I know what’s in it before I open it, because the return address is Lawrenceville, New Jersey. It’s the Moleskine I left behind on the mission trip last month. When I tear the package open the pen that was attached to the book where I left it on the floor tumbles out; I’d forgotten about the pen. I’m giddy with remembering it.


Wingardium Leviosa

Among the laundry, running Daughter to theater camp, and dropping off donation items at the Salvation Army store, yesterday also included a goodbye to our neighbors, who sent their Mayflower truck off down the street and piled three kids into their minivan bound for San Francisco. He’s got the professional break of a lifetime, and I know the move is going to prove worth it.

He commented to me on the lawn that the professional part of this move is the easy part; he knows how to do it because he’s made a career of it. The personal and family part is the great unknown. I get that. There’s a feeling of being suspended between the terra firma you and your dear ones know well and a great possibility, either successful or disastrous, and the decision is already made. The truck just left.

“Lesser people than you have done this successfully,” I told him. And then I wondered what “successfully” means in such a context. It certainly can’t mean that everything about the new place is better than the old, or that nobody in the family (including you!) struggles once you arrive. I think it means allowing the things that are most important to you to change in ways you can’t control. Some of those changes will be confounding and others will be glorious, and maybe neither would have occurred without the move. Maybe “success” means taking them both and not measuring the move entirely by either one.



On about three separate occasions since the Advent of Google Photos, I have uploaded my entire extant photo library to that service. I’ve done this each time in the confidence that duplicate photos would not be imported.

How wrong I have been.

I stand before you today as a man with a Google Photos library that is an absolute wreck of duplicate (and sometimes triplicate and quadruplicate) pictures that are incorrectly timestamped. The hours I have spent working to rectify this–it’s embarrassing to admit.

I’m battling opposing negative possibilities. On the one hand, I could delete photos I take to be replications and be wrong, thereby wiping out the only copies that exist. I’ve protected against this by backing up the entire thing on an old iPod classic. But still, especially when the pictures feature people no longer living, my index finger trembles over the “delete” button. On the other hand, I could permit this photographic stew to simmer indefinitely, making a nostalgic sip of my photo timeline a bitter mouthful of memories not where they should be, and not where they should be, and NOT WHERE THEY SHOULD BE.

What is a photo for, anyway? For memory. And what is memory for? To re-live moments exactly as they happened, to prove to myself that, yes, I once had a full head of hair and that the 11 year-old who frequently rampages through my apartment could once be held in the palm of a single hand? No, memory’s best use is as a catalyst for present growth, a spur to keep becoming the person my favorite photos show me to be. That person is most often not in the picture, but has the attention focused on an object of admiration, awe, or devotion. Memory should expand those.

I think I am starting to prefer the risk of deletion to the risk of duplication. The photo is not the memory. The photo is not the person.


Thank You Notes

Writing thank you notes to all the leaders and partners from the mission trip is a nice way to spend the first afternoon back in the office. It kind of lets you re-live the best thing about any mission trip, which is the people. It gives you an excuse to swim in gratitude for as long as it takes to thank everyone you need to.

Yesterday I exhausted the remains of my supply of the note cards I snapped up in bulk from the clearance shelf at a Starbucks over a year ago, so I had to walk to the local Papyrus store to get some more. The new ones are fine–nature pictures with Thoreau quotes–but they’re less fun. The old ones were bright pink and said things like, “You’re Killing It.” I loved those.


Mission Trip Games

We played group games on the mission trip every night, in the sitting room of the retreat center where we were staying, as the first part of our daily devotion and reflection. Nothing complicated: Four on A Couch, Telestrations, things like that; nothing requiring more than paper and pens. I’m so glad we did.

Group games grease the wheels of conversation and introspection, and so I think anybody who works with groups of people–particularly young people–should have a stash of them in their back pocket. Two sources I’ve found really valuable for building that stash are Playmeo (the subscription is worth it) and Youth Ministry Great Games. Also, the book Moving Beyond Icebreakers demonstrates a useful way to structure a meeting or youth group so that the games are part of the work, and not just a time-filler.

Two years ago I started planning two dedicated blocks of group games in all my weekend retreats. Now I’m going to be sure to plan for them on every mission trip.


Three Statements I Made On The Way Home from The Mission Trip

Me to youth as we’re packing to come home:

“Make sure you have everything: water bottles, hats, shoes–whose shoes are these?!-chargers, socks. Everything. If you leave it here it’s gone.”

Me to the chaperone on why such an announcement is needed:

“They’re teenagers, so they’re paying attention to what’s in front of them just right now. Plus they’re tired after a long week, and now that they have their phones they’re distracted.”

Me in an email to our host site, as we’re riding in a van to the airport:

“I left a navy blue hardbound Moleskine notebook with a white pen attached to it in the sitting room of the house. If found, can you please mail it to me at  . . . “