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


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.


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.


Preaching Without A Text Is Alternate Tuning

I have to preach this week on a theme. I don’t like preaching on themes. I like preaching on texts. I have a whole system for exegeting a text and for moving from exegesis to sermon that I have used almost exclusively since 2004. Give me a text, a notebook, a few days to prepare, and I’m comfortable enough.

It’s getting late in the week now, and I feel like I haven’t done the kind of sermon preparation I need to have done, because I haven’t run my process on a text. But yesterday I listened to John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats explain why, for a very long time, he didn’t play one of his best known songs, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” in live shows, because it was recorded in an alternate tuning that he hadn’t preserved. Basically, an alternate tuning forces a musician to not know what they’re doing. Darnielle says,

“There’s always great advantages to knowing what you’re doing, but if I take a little of control away from you, I take a little something away and force you to think on your feet, you may resent it, you may enjoy the process less, but you will probably find stuff you weren’t going to find otherwise.”

If you’re proficient at preparing sermons (or lesson plans, or meeting agendas) with a hard-won process that works for you, maybe going without that process once in awhile is beneficial. Thinking of it this way, some of my most gratifying preaching experiences resulted from preparation deprived of my precious process.

Maybe this is how we create things that, like the best ever death metal band out of Denton, will in time both outpace and outlive us.

Paying For Youth Ministry

The parents of the students I work with are asked to contribute to the cost of the church’s ministry with their teenagers multiple times during the year, and I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t a better way.

Like most churches, ours conducts a stewardship drive in the fall to raise pledges toward next year’s operating budget. Youth ministry staffing and youth ministry program expenditures are in that budget.

Then we conduct fundraisers toward the costs of mission trips. The entire congregation is invited to participate in this, of course, but the backbone of involvement is the families of students. What parents give at a pancake breakfast or bake sale is in addition to the “suggested contribution” toward the trip’s costs we’ve already asked them to give.

We also suggest a parent contribution toward the cost of retreats.

There is money in the operating budget for mission trips and retreats. Parents support that operating budget with their pledges and offerings. But then we also ask them to contribute toward those events’ per-person costs and to kick in for fundraisers.

The dominant feeling I have about this is gratitude for the faithfulness and generosity of church folk when it comes to supporting ministry with teenagers. Many, many of those givers are not themselves parents of students, and the ones who are know full well they are supporting more than just their own kids. I think that’s marvelous.

But I’m also curious if it’s the norm, this multiplication of asks from parents. Does your youth ministry do this, too? Do you plan on parent contributions toward things like mission trips and retreats?