Outrage

What is your outrage getting you?

If it’s motivating you to change, both yourself and the world around you, in positive ways, then stick with it.

But use caution.

If you’re coveting outrage, if it’s draining you of sleep and making you twitchy for the next nugget of scandal, walk away. You don’t have the outrage, the outrage has you. It’s not doing anything constructive for you, and we need you constructive.

Outrage is fuel for change and highly flammable.

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The State of Piety in Mainline Youth Ministry

I have been working in mainline Protestant church youth ministry since 2008, and during that time I don’t think I have done much of anything to help young people cultivate a Christian piety*. That’s both bad and good.

First the good.

Piety can easily be equated with the whole of faith in a way that leads the believer to imagine herself in the driver’s seat of her relationship with God and of God’s working in her life. I don’t know how many times I heard, as a pious young adult, that if I didn’t pray regularly or correctly, didn’t spend daily time reading and meditating on the Scriptures, the God “couldn’t” work in my life. There are few things less Christian that the assertion that God’s intervention in our life depends upon the quality of our pious devotion. The gospels are pretty much the story of God’s apprehension of the impious. We call that grace.

Teaching young people to pray and study their Bible as a tool for achieving God’s favor is poisonous to their faith.

Also, the churches I’ve served have not been marked by open displays of personal piety among adult congregants, at least not the kind of displays I was taught as a young adult. The piety in mainline churches differs somewhat from the “daily walk” urged upon the faithful from the evangelical pulpits I’ve sat beneath. It has more to do with corporate worship participation–praying unison prayers and listening to the Word read and proclaimed–than private prayer and devotional reading, and instilling a piety in teenagers that is out-of-step with what the grown ups in their church actually do does only walls them off from adult participation in the congregation.

But the goodness of pious practices should not be overlooked, and I fear, both in my own discipleship and in my shepherding of teenagers, it mostly has been. Maybe as a nervous reaction to the overzealous piety of my own youth, or maybe out of laziness, or maybe even as an attempt to stand firm on the assertion of God’s initiative toward us, without our knowing anything of it or doing anything to earn it, but something has muted the insistence on personal piety.

What characterizes the piety of your congregation? How are young people being taught it?

*Here’s my shorthand definition of “piety”: personal practices that connect the claims of faith with one’s daily experience. In my own experience, daily prayer and Bible reading have been the most prominent elements of personal piety.

 

What Your TV Catalog Says About You

Halt And Catch Fire ended last week, and ever since I’ve been sad. It was made for the me, that show, with it’s 80’s/90’s cultural nostalgia and plot that steadfastly refused to allow any of its characters lasting happiness or success. You rooted for all of those characters, because they had huge ideas to do important work, and your heart broke each time one of those ideas ended in underestimate-the-competition or overlook-the-wrong-variable failure. I identified with the show so much that I made its theme my ringtone.

The quality of the stories we consume plays a significant role in the quality of the stories we can conceive and tell. So I’ve been cataloging my shows, the ones I have watched to the end and the ones I will.

Halt And Catch Fire

Deadwood

The Wire

The West Wing

The Leftovers

Les Revenants

The Walking Dead

Fear The Walking Dead

Mr. Robot

Game of Thrones

Stranger Things

The Americans

It’s a larger catalog than I thought I possessed, and there’s not a comedy to be found in there. Most of it is dark and complicated.

I’m not sure what to make of that.

Why I’m Adding A Curriculum Page

There’s a new tab atop the page here called “Curriculum.” There are lessons there I’ve written for youth groups over the past year mostly, but in time I plan to add older pieces I’ve written. Sharing–showing your work–makes you better. It may even benefit the community of practitioners you’re a part of, in my case youth ministry.

It’s rough though.

The curriculum I’ve posted has simply been “published to the web” ala Google Docs, and it has not been thoroughly edited; it still reflects the context for which it was created. That stuff is easily adapted. I’ve tried to attribute sources for activities, though that’s not done in an academic way (“MBI” is Moving Beyond Icebreakers, for example).

Placing curriculum here is a very small experiment grease some collaborative wheels in the youth ministry community, particularly that part of the youth ministry community that does not like to rely exclusively on published curriculum or that enjoys creating its own, contextual, lessons. If that’s you, I wonder if you’re interested in sharing. I wonder what we could make out of our work together.

 

The Contempt of Those Who Disagree

I keep trying to converse with differing perspectives, and I keep failing at it. I was reading this blog for awhile, because a profile in The New Yorker and a new book made the author seem like someone who had some important things to say, things I was likely to disagree with. Disagree I did, but also shudder at the tone of contempt.

I’ve read this pastor’s blog off and on for the past eight years. He and I were presbytery colleagues before he led his church out of our denomination. Staying connected to his blog once seemed like a helpful way to maintain a relationship with a perspective on ministry and the gospel that is markedly different from the establishment mainline Protestant one I’m in most of the time. The tone there, too, is contemptuous of disagreement. It makes me feel like garbage.

I need to develop thicker skin for engaging with whip smart people who think me and mine are arrogant infidels who wish only to gratify ourselves the the strains of cultural accommodation and the death of the church. That’s not me, and it’s not the people I know. So why does that tone land? I can stop it.

I’m not giving up on listening to people I disagree with. The respectful, humble ones are the best. Those are in short supply, though, so I’m going to have to grapple with the contemptuous ones. I need all of you for emotional inoculation.

Maybe We Should Talk About Tragedy Before The Tragedy

Most of the youth I work with are surrounded by caring adults who are eager to listen to them in the aftermath of a public tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas. That is a good thing. I have often found that when I offer to talk to students about one of these incidents, even just to create space at youth group for them to process it, students don’t want to. They’ve done it already at school or at home, and they are eager for time to think about something else. Still, we leave the space just in case.

I wonder if the bigger opportunity isn’t to create space to explore things like violence and tragedy absent an immediate crisis and to equip youth to interpret these things theologically and to respond to them faithfully before they happen.

 

A Lament for Victims of Gun Violence

Merciful God,

Hear our prayers in this hour for the victims of gun violence, the women, men, and children whose lives are shattered–even ended–by a bullet fired from a pistol or a rifle, a shotgun or some semiautomatic weapon; a gun bought legally or acquired through criminal means; a gun fired by an enemy or a stranger, in plain sight or in hiding, accidentally or on purpose. In the injury and death that guns visit upon victims, O God, we pray for your comfort and strength.

Comfort we would seek, too, for the ones who escape, those victims who endure the terror and the trauma of gunfire and live to tell about it, many whose job it is to protect and to rescue others. In their troubled sleep and their shattered nerves; in their pained questioning; in their testimony, O God, be present, so that the rupture introduced by a gun may be fused and their life restored.

Finally, Compassionate One, we pray for those who have lost a friend, a co-worker, a parent, a spouse–any friend and any relative–to the violence of guns. Be near to them in their grief; guide the anger of loss to life-giving and life-restoring ends; overcome despair with hope and numbness with action, not just for those who grieve, but for all of us who lament yet one more outburst of gun terror, feeling helpless, feeling devastated, feeling afraid.

God, help us.

Nine Year-Olds Don’t Get The Second Amendment, But Really They Do

My nine year-old’s teacher talked about the shooting in Las Vegas to her students, because her sister in-law nearly took her family to that concert and spent hours on lock down in the hotel as it happened.

This prompted a car ride conversation later in the day about American mass shootings. It’s the first time my wife and I have discussed one of these incidents with her rather than whispering to one another about it while she’s in the next room. We were delicate. We don’t want her to fear for her safety at school, at the park, at church, so we left out specifics.

She’s smart, though. She’s done lock down drills at both schools she’s attended. She heard the reference to “Sandy Hook Elementary School” in the episode of On The Media I had on while cleaning the kitchen after dinner.

Yet she’s not afraid. She’s angry.

The uninformed anger of a child at a complex political issue most adults don’t fully understand is easily sentimentalized or dismissed. Still I note how outrageous it seems to a nine year-old that the law does not prevent American citizens from purchasing machine guns and that you’re not supposed to talk about changing those laws right after one of those citizens kills a bunch of people with them.

I’m noting her anger. I’m listening. The politics of guns in this country endangers her as much as any grown up, and I am certain she understands that perfectly clearly. And she’s pissed.

Good.

That Ain’t No Way To Go

The first concert I ever attended was George Strait, with my friend Josh, at the McNichols arena in Denver. It seems a lifetime away, but I have been revisiting that concert and the larger season of my early adolescence the past several days. Last week I  heard a beautiful episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast called, “The King of Tears.” It’s all about how country songs are built on specificity and detail, like a “lipstick letter ‘cross the mirror,” a picture tacked to a wall and a letter “dated nineteen sixty-two.”

I was an avid consumer of early 90’s country music: Garth Brooks, Diamond Rio, Tricia Yearwood, Brooks And Dunn, Alan Jackson, Wynona Judd, and, of course, George Strait. I owned all those cd’s. I listened to the weekly country chart countdowns on the radio. I learned to line dance.

It was a short-lived phase. I can’t stomach country radio now. But there is a lot of non-radio country music in my library. Just this year I’ve spent an inordinate amount of earbud time with Caroline Spence, Angaleena Presley, and Jason Isbell.

I only ever went to two country concerts, both of them George Strait.

This morning’s breaking news about a mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas takes that placid western nostalgia and turns in bloody.

God help us.