The Honest Faith Presents: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1

At an early age, I wanted to talk to God. Not just the simple everyday prayers of a child. I wanted God to have an audible conversation with me. Some of my earliest memories were of walking around the large playground area behind my church-school while waiting for my mother to get done with teacher meetings talking to my imaginary friend called “God”. I often still feel like that doe-eyed child trying to balance on the imaginary catwalks made of concrete and playground equipment in an attempt to not fall into the lava that covered the ground all the while just chatting to God about my day.

I grew up hearing stories about these amazing Bible characters that did amazing things and had conversations with the Creator of the Universe. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted my grand adventure to start from a missive given to me from the Almighty. I think my idealistic nature started at that point. Nobody told me that God doesn’t work like that anymore. Maybe God does, but it never happened to me. I never heard a still small voice speak my name in the dark and tell me that I was needed in an audible and tangible way. Instead, I have a lifetime of bumps and bruises that show a lifetime of trying to do what I thought was right. Maybe it was God’s path for me, or maybe I had delusions of grandeur.  

Everything that I am writing may sound cynical to a large extent. I admit there is a part of me that is feeling that way. But in all honesty, I still have a deep longing to hear the voice of the Divine telling me that I am doing the right thing. That despite all my imperfection, and failings I am chosen to be God’s champion. I know deep in my bones that it will never happen, but there is still that childlike part of me that dreams it could. Maybe it still will. I pray it does. Maybe it will finally quiet the cynical realist self that wars against my childlike dreamer self.

I have found that it has a lot to do with the two religious selves at war within me. On one hand, you have the black and white simplistic approach to the Gospel.  The biggest problem with that approach is that it’s close-minded to the very large gray areas of faith. The other self-being that broad vast ocean approach to the gospel. This being that we only know the surface of what there is to know about God, Jesus, and all that took place. The biggest problem with this viewpoint is that it’s hard to find meaning in anything. I really want to think of things as black and white or good and bad. But in this world, there can be no such certainty. One of the biggest truths that I hold to in youth ministry is there is no “right” way to fix things, instead, we just have to find the way that we fail the least “badly”.

I want to think of my time with the church as part of a bigger picture. At more than 7 billion people in this world, mine is only a very very small part of that much bigger picture. There was a wonderful line in a tv show I was watching recently that said that we each come along and add our own color to the painting that is life. I like to think of life like a mosaic. Mosaics are made up of much smaller pieces so often broken, but rejoined in a way that makes the whole much grander than the sum of its parts. This is the story of my mosaic tile. This is my bit of the whole.

In the Big Inning…

I was never any good at sports. I was usually the kid that was picked last in our PE games. Except when it came to our “illegal” games of tackle football, the other kids discovered at the age of 11 I weighed a lot more than everyone else so I couldn’t be taken down that easily. What I was truly good at was using my imagination. I used to dream up entire worlds and situations for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. My brother and I would build entire cities for them out of cardboard boxes. We even had plans to build a robot out of empty pop cans, much to my mother’s laundry room’s detriment. When things got difficult I would retreat into my imagination, daydreaming about something awesome that could happen.
Though, I was always a very worried person. I never knew there was anything other than that. I worried all the time. I worried that my family was safe, that people would be happy, that I would get good grades, that I would be “normal”, that people wouldn’t make fun of me today, or that I wouldn’t get it together. There is nobody to blame for that at all. It’s just how I was. I know my mother would try to blame herself for that, but she can’t. It isn’t her fault. Biology just works in odd ways. I would say that my life of worry helped me to be a much more empathetic person.
There were a lot of things in my life that I think would cause “normal” people to be worried as well. I’m a firm believer in the paranormal. I know that may throw a lot of you off considering that I tend to be rather skeptical too. The funny thing is Jesus believed in the paranormal as well, but that’s just saying. I bring this up because as a child I would hear things and see things that would probably land me in some serious psychotherapy if I still did. There were only a few times when it bothered me. I remember that there were a few times when I was a child that I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my room when I was home alone. That freaked me out. It leads to me needing to have something playing in the background for me to get to sleep for a good majority of my life from then on. I’m sure things like that would cause anyone to have a break, but honestly, I dealt with it. My mom was amazing and giving us kids serious coping skills and emotional strength without even realizing it. When I told her about these things there were only a few times she looked at me like I was strange, although maybe she still thinks I am. I remember that when I told people at church they would immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion; demons, evil spirits, and someone having done something to deserve this spiritual oppression. It wasn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, me actually being able to hear spirits on the other side, an imbalance of my neurotransmission chemicals, or any other number of things. One thing I can say for sure, though, it wasn’t demons. I didn’t encounter those until I was older, but that is a different story for a different blog post. (let me know if you want to hear that story)
The point is that I’ve run into mistreatment from the church from a very early age. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I know they did what they thought was best, it’s not their fault. Sometimes people need better training before they try to handle a situation.

My imagination was unusual to a lot of people, and in fact, if I were to show some of the journals that I had drawn and written in back then, many would still say that I was rather messed up. Someone once told me that they were taking psych courses to find out what was wrong with me. I never did find out if they discovered something or not. I had written stories about a mad scientist who had invented the machine that would turn people into the opposite sex and then leave them that way to torment them. That’s just one of the many stories that I’m sure would make people wonder what was going on in my head.

This brings me back to my walks with God. I knew at the age of five that I wanted to be a preacher. I knew this because I knew God loved me. I loved God too. I mean we took daily walks after all. I imagined my life in the future. I pictured myself on a stage in front of vast multitudes of people telling them all about the amazing God who took away my sins. I had no idea what it meant to be a sinner at that age, but I knew that I was one because I lied sometimes.  I was going to be the next Billy Graham. I would often talk to God about this. I remember at one point in my childhood that I heard the passage about where every knee would bow and every tongue confess that God was God, I felt like I would be part of the reason for that. As I write those words I feel almost slimy and dirty for even thinking that.

Those visions of the future shaped how I went through life. I knew I was destined for something special. I knew I was going to change the world, so I was going to do everything I could to prepare myself for that. I memorized as much scripture as my attention, and patience at the time could handle. Thinking back, I probably could have done more, but I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of awesome things to distract a young man from a life of preparation toward becoming the next Johnathan Edwards.

My family wasn’t one who many would think much of. There were plenty of times when we were living below the poverty line. I remember there was one summer that all we ate was beans and rice. You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to make beans and rice. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with my faith upbringing, and my answer would be a lot. My father was a very proud man. He never wanted to ask for help when he needed it. He also knew the value of hard work. He instilled that in us very early on. Handouts were for other people, not us. We were going to work for what we had. My father worked hard to make sure we had the little we had. When he was between jobs he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. When he had a job he worked hard at that job and devoted a lot of his time and energy to those jobs. You could say a lot of things about that man, but one thing I admire the most about him is that he is not a quitter. I guess that is why I find it so hard to give up on anything.

When I was in middle school I met a best friend who shared in my delusions of grandeur.  In fact, when we met I was wearing a t-shirt, my favorite at the time, that boldly proclaimed; “Satan is a Poo-poo head”. I wonder what ever happened to that shirt. I remember wearing holes into it and it had a few bleach stains, but I digress. My friend was the first who really believed that I could become those things that I imagined too. In fact, he was going to join with me in changing the world. We came up with this dream of starting a traveling “big tent revival” thing that would go and stay in a place until everyone converted in that area. I still kind of wish things worked that way. I miss those kids, they had so much potential.

My friend and I were forces to be reckoned with.  I started taking guitar lessons, and I would go and teach him everything I learned that week. We joined the praise team at youth group. Eventually, we were the praise team. No really, I’m not kidding. We were so gung-ho about it that the rest of the people who were doing it with us decided that we were so annoying they were just going to let us run it. I remember one night that the pastor, who used to be at youth group every week, came in and heard the “Christian Rock” music we were listening to and attempting to learn to play. He immediately flew into a fury and told us to turn off the devil’s music; It was not to be played in the church. He called us into his office after that. I can remember sitting in his office looking him dead in the face and saying, “God made everything right?”

“Correct.” He said matter-of-factly.

“God saw what he made and said it was good, right?” I said a little too smart-assly.

“That’s right.”

“Well God created music, and this music is good, so It must be created by God.” Flawless logic from a fourteen-year-old jackass.

He got red in the face, and said, “Fine.” We never saw the pastor at youth group after that. That’s how I know that we were only put in charge because we were so annoying nobody wanted to work with us. We formed a band. We decided that our big tent revivals were going to be awesome concerts filled with Christian rock that glorified God. We called ourselves Overflow because our love for God overflowed. We wore matching cross dog tag necklaces. You didn’t mess with Overflow.

My last year in the deep south of Texas was where I began to receive my broken edges in this mosaic of delusion. I’m not saying that everything in life was hunky dory outside of this. No, I’m saying that this was the first time I started to doubt God. There are many reasons why this happened. My parents’ relationship was falling apart at this time. Now, I don’t blame them for me being messed up either. They did their best. They are human beings. They are probably also some of the only people who will ever read this. But I believed, falsely, that if I were to follow God closely and believe hard enough that all things would be good. I believed that “all things worked together for good for those who loved the Lord.” I didn’t know that in that particular passage it means over time, not all at once. My parents going through that time caused the biggest crack in my “holy armor”.

I started to go through most of the things that normal teens go through. I liked people in a like like way. I got mad at my friend when they ended up like liking him instead of me. I struggled with my self-identity. The only problem being that I knew what I was going to be. I had always known, but how could the next Michael Faraday struggle with things like looking at naughty pictures and really wanting to make babies with any girl who was even the slightest bit nice to me. I finally discovered what it was to be a sinner. How was it that Paul was able to put away those childish things? Was the thorn in his side, girls? It had to be. I wanted people to see that God was forgiving, but if you go too far, God wouldn’t forgive anymore. I kept trying to keep myself and others from going too far. But it was a lot of pressure. The pressure was too much to me at times. I often thought of suicide at the time, or as I worded it, “Just going to my eternal home”. The only problem, that was a sin, and probably was going too far. I was a teen, I did normal teen things just in my Jesus bubble.

I finally cracked one night. I couldn’t believe that my other best friend, God, wouldn’t make my life perfect. I was doing all I could to follow God after all. God must just be a mean bully in the sky. How dare God let me struggle with feelings! How dare God let that girl like like my friend and not me!  That’s it! I guess I wasn’t supposed to be born! I guess I’m just worthless! I’ll show you! You need me! Those knees won’t bow without me! You’ll see! I don’t care if it’s going too far… Needless to say, I didn’t follow through on those thoughts and feelings. Thankfully, though sometimes I do wonder what would have happened to the world if I did.

These are dark thoughts that constantly plague me. Even to this day, I wonder if my family and loved ones would have been better off without me. I look at my son and wonder if he’ll struggle through those same thoughts. I wonder if he’ll be better without me raising him. These are things that I often try to pack away, but they pop up in the worst way sometimes. I just wanted to mention this because I know so many of us in ministry struggle with mental illness. It’s a problem that we all need to face and take care of. If you are facing some of these same dark thoughts, don’t worry it’s normal. Don’t let them tear you down. Get help. It took me a long time to ask for help myself, but I did. It’s not always easy, but you need help. We all need help… Anyway, back to the story.

I went to a Jesus camp the summer after that. No, it wasn’t as bad as the one in that one documentary. But it was one of those, week long come to Jesus camps. To which I barely paid any attention to the preachers, and tried to figure out if I could maybe start a long distance relationship with that cute blond girl across the room. The funny thing is that I ended up marrying a cute blond that really is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. It would have blown poor teenage me’s mind! It was that week that I actually had a come to Jesus moment.  It was at the weepy “testimony” night. You know the ones. The ones where everyone confesses their undying and eternal love for everyone, even though they have only met you like a day or two before. That night I suddenly felt God talking to me again. It was through a friend’s admission of being “not normal”.  I suddenly realized I wasn’t the only one who felt not normal. I mean really, who actually feels normal? It was in that that I heard God saying, “I love you. You are my own. Things will be alright.” So that night I decided that yes I am going to do whatever it takes to follow this vision God gave me…

Doing whatever it takes.

Life moves a little quickly. You don’t realize it as a child because you haven’t experienced enough of it to realize how quickly it moves. I wish that I had listened to the immortal words of Ferris Bueller who so eloquently said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I look back at all of this, and even now at thirty-three, I feel like I got here way too quickly.  I don’t feel like an adult sometimes. Maybe that’s pretty evident to everyone else, but I know that I am. I don’t feel like acting my age, maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in Youth Ministry. I couldn’t wait to start my life back then. I think that impatience is what proves to be my undoing time and again.

Midway through high school, my parents’ relationship finally fell apart. My mother wanted to move us with my Grandmother, what seemed like a million miles away. I had made friends, though. I had a band! We actually put on an entire concert, complete with a failed guitar jump attempt on my part. Things were finally starting to look like I could pull off this crazy vision of mine. Oh well, there is always a time to go. It doesn’t always happen when we want it to. It also, most times, happens when you least expect it. I got mad at God again. Like it was really God’s fault that crappy stuff happens sometimes. This was the biggest gray area I’d experienced to this point. I couldn’t find the meaning in this suffering at all. This was in 1999. My grandmother lived in Colorado, and the horrid nightmare that was the Columbine shooting had just taken place. Everyone I knew told me to beware of guys in trench coats. The suffering didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t but now I know that God doesn’t cause the suffering. There is no meaning in it.
I can sum up my childhood and adolescent years with a statement that was told to me about my mom leaving my father and moving to a different state, “You will no longer be under God’s protection if you move.” Needless to say, I’ve worried about the validity of that statement for longer than I’d like to admit. Who says that to a 15-year-old? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not going to tell you who said that to me. But I want you to examine the impact of that statement on an impressionable mind.
We spend tons of money trying to tell teenagers to worry. We do it in the church as well. Worry about your spiritual life as well as all the worries of modern society. We are churning out anxious adults at an alarming rate. As was done with me, we are very much guilty of pushing children to be worried about “sin” and “falling short of the Glory of God”. These are very adult concepts. There is a ton of abstract in those concepts. Children are remarkably smart but the way their brain is structured up until they are of puberty age is set up to really only handle concrete information. We manufacture this worry as a demand for the supply of Grace that God has. The problem is that we know we are in need of love and acceptance from the time we are born. We know we need love and grace, it is embedded in our DNA. So learning this inspired me. It inspired my message from that point on. My message was going to be simple. There is nothing you can do to earn the Divine’s favor; there also is nothing you can do to lose it either. This was something that I had a hard time believing for myself as if I was the only one who was exempt from this rule, I have a weird relationship with pride.

I found a new view of God. It was a different side of God that I haven’t ever been introduced to. It was a side of God that loved unconditionally. This side of God didn’t have a “too far”. Whew, pressure off, well mostly. I found this image of God in people and places that I had been warned were not really Christian. I know you doubt what I just wrote, but it’s true. I was pulled aside about a month before we moved by the same pastor that I had thwarted on the whole Christian rock thing. He told me that, “those Methodists believe you can lose your salvation. They aren’t real Christians. You need to be careful!” The funny thing is that because of those long conversations I had with the pastors in the “non-Christian” Church really taught me what it meant to be a true God follower. It showed me that people were willing to put up with a nerdy teen, who felt like he knew it all. It showed me the tremendous patience and love that God has for all of us, even when we feel like we know it all.

It was because of the patience and love that the pastors, men, and people of that church had for me that I discovered what my vision really was meant for. It was meant to reach out to those who were like me. Those who felt the most vulnerable, and struggled the most with identity; those who needed the most patience and love: Teens.

There I went, set on this path to become a youth minister. I was going to do everything it took. I pushed, I annoyed, I learned, and I got distracted. Like I said I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s lots of awesome stuff to distract you from life. It was mainly video games. There really is only so much Unreal Tournament you can play until you have to get back to what you were doing. Eventually, I finished high school and went off to college. I decided to double major in youth ministries, and something that I thought would be an excellent complementary course of study, Theatre. I mean because aren’t all of us church folk just sort of acting in our own little plays anyway?

College really helped to reinforce my vision. I now was an educated jackass. I really took pleasure in showing people that they were wrong. In fact, I made it a point to stir the pot whenever I possibly could. Partly I did it just to show off how smart I was, but mostly it was to help break people of preconceived notions that I felt were dangerous to faith. I really wish I could smack my younger self and tell him it only helps to make people dig their heels in and think you are more of a jackass. It had taken a lot but I had broken free of a lot of unhealthy and dangerous ideas on God through the course of my schooling. I wanted to do the same for others. So, all my jackassery did come from a good place, it just was not a good way of going about changing people’s minds for the better. We’ll talk more about how this proved to be disastrous for me later.

I learned. I really enjoyed learning. I really enjoyed thinking about God. It was like my entire life I had only seen the surface, hence the birth of the new religious self. I used to liken it to the beach. If you go the beach and stand on the sand you have an appreciation for the beauty of the water, but it is only when you start to wade into it, do you fully begin to grasp the vastness of the ocean. All my life I had been told that only specially trained people could go wade in that water. Don’t worry about that stuff, we think about God so you don’t have to. My invisible friend became so much more real to me, and so much more complex through this process. I realized I would never fully understand God. Nobody ever has, nobody ever will; which is a wonderful thing because it means we will always have something to talk about.

My learning process expanded much beyond the formal education. I guess there are things that people can’t really teach you. You have to stumble through, sometimes very blindly, on your own. I know that it’s not supposed to happen as many times as it has happened to me. Maybe that’s the nature of my calling. Maybe it’s the nature of my idealism. Maybe I’m just as much a failure as all those people said. Whatever it is I hope that whoever happens upon this strange writing will not have to go through what I went through. It’s painful as hell and twists you into a neurotic paranoid mess.

My Informal Education

Learn by doing. It is an important mantra, but there is a huge difference between saying and doing. I had a lot of intern experiences. I was very eager to get at what I had envisioned myself doing for so long. My first forays into church work were rather short lived. Maybe that should have told me something. I worked a summer as an intern at my home church. I worked a few months as an intern at a church near my college. I even spent a summer working as a camp counselor. I even made sure to attend the National Youth Workers Convention every year. Each experience was different. Each experience taught me something new. Life is a learning experience. For what, I’m not sure. I like to think that it’s all meant for something someday. Like one day there will be a problem that all the cumulative knowledge gained from your life’s experience will solve. But that’s the simplistic religious self coming out.

One of the great things about going to the National Youth Workers Convention with your professor and classmates is that you get to meet some of the leading people in the field. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of big names in the Youth Ministry field. One of them my mom swears she knew in high school. One of the things I learned from that experience is that even those who have a small amount of fame thrust upon them can let it go to their head. I can tell you even some of the big names of my day are relative nobodies in the grand scheme of things, but they will still treat you like they are hot shit. That’s not all of them, though. There are some truly genuine people who can remain humble throughout. Mike Yaconelli was one of those truly genuine people. I remember meeting him at one of those conventions. He greeted us all with a smile and asked how the travel went. You could tell in his voice that he truly wanted to know, and wasn’t just making pleasantries. This was a man I was going to listen to. I’m sad to say that was one of the only chances I had to meet the man. I wish I had more of an opportunity to get to know what he was about because his teachings and writings are what I base a lot of my methods on. If you haven’t read “Messy Spirituality”, put down this writing go find it and read it. Trust me. My ramblings will still be here when you get back. Unless you are reading this during a Zombie apocalypse, then you are just going to have to put this in your bag for later. If I take nothing else away from those conventions, I want to remember meeting him and hearing him talk.

The summer I interned at my home church was an unusual one. This was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was interning with the middle school program. I lived down the street from the church so I often would walk or ride my bike over. I didn’t have an office there or anything so I would end up hanging out in the youth room. Often I would just work from home because that was where my computer was at. Can’t say that every day I worked the way I was supposed to as you can well imagine from my previous rants, I get distracted. There were a couple of things that I learned that summer: 1. Don’t try to hit on your fellow interns or volunteers it doesn’t end well. 2. I don’t know how to handle every situation (probably the biggest and most important lesson). 3. Just because I think something is fascinating, does not mean that everyone will think so too.

The church that I interned at near my college was a very short experience. I think it only lasted a month before they decided that they would rather have just the attractive female as the only intern. Oh well, every time I attended the youth programs or the church itself I felt lost. It was one of those mega churches that had a completely separate building for their youth ministries. They had a big stage, sound system, and even professional lighting! I realized pretty quickly that I did not consider that to be a church on any level. Maybe this was when the cynical part of my brain started to take hold of me, but if the whole thing is a production; where is the whole relationship aspect of our spiritual life come in? I mean there are some large youth ministries that do some very good work, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying it’s very hard to manage size and effective personal ministry. I learned very quickly that I can’t allow myself to get lost in the show of it all, even though it’s very tempting. This shattered some of my vision from childhood, but I was still determined. I wanted a large program, but not one large enough where people could easily get lost. I wouldn’t let people get lost.

Sometimes learning isn’t a completely painful process, sometimes it can be relatively painless. My summer as a camp counselor was a very good experience. The camp staff did a very good job of supporting each other. It was nice. Every time one of us ran into a difficult challenge that summer the others would come around them and help them to figure out how to best get through it. This was one of my experiences where I would say that made me want to start a commune up in the mountains somewhere. Of course, though, life isn’t clear cut like that. This is what gave me a vision of what the church is supposed to be like. Even though I had started off that summer as a jackass know-it-all, I was accepted and loved just as I was. If you don’t believe me you can ask the other staff that summer. They will tell you that the entire staff training week I kept trying to start theological arguments with all who were unlucky enough to make my acquaintance. It taught me that God’s love and patience run deep. I think that many left that place thinking poorly of me, but at least while I was there I was supported. I remember that the valley after that mountaintop experience was particularly dark. Luckily, it only lasted a short while before I started my first “real” ministry.
After 13 some odd years of working for the church and approximately 30 years of deep church living, I was finally released into the wild. There are a lot of bumps and bruises I would love to cover here, but that would take way too much space in an already long blog post. I discovered something looking back on my time as a deep church Christian. I found that the simple message of the Divine’s incredible love was a very unpopular one. I don’t want this to be finger pointing or indicating of any of the churches I’ve attended over the past 30 years. Some of them were better than others at being the gospel, others not so much. But the one thing that was constant was the priority of those places, numbers.
As much as they would like to deny that fact, it rang true across the boards. It’s not just Christian churches either, it’s everyone. They are so incredibly worried about butts in the seats and money in the coffers that they will do whatever it takes to stay afloat. As much as they preach about relying on the Divine to provide, they tend to do a pretty poor job of actually relying on the Divine rather than their own ingenuity. It doesn’t make business sense to do any of the things most of the Divine messengers throughout history taught us to do. So I can’t blame them. I don’t know how a true not-for-profit church would keep its doors open.
Maybe I’m cynical. I did get to experience first hand the dark underbelly of church politics. I experienced the financial stress all too often of those places because often the first thing to go when a church is in financial trouble are the children and youth staff and programming. This added more to my already fragile psyche. It’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did in ministry. It wasn’t just money either it was the little things that we did to carefully position and play political games that stressed me out. Like I said, it’s not pointing fingers, not all of the churches I attended or worked at are guilty of this. Some, possibly, may be. But they are doing the best that they can.
After I was set free, during this whole transition time, it made me really question what it was my faith meant. I have been trying to strip away all the worry, all the manufactured guilt, all the things that came packaged with my belief and homesickness (a reference to a Fredrick Buechner quote I love and use often I talk about it a lot in the Honest Faith Conversations podcast which is why we devoted the first episode to explaining it.) . I lost that idea of salvation I had before. I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to be “saved”. I wanted a Divine being to love me in spite of me. I wanted to break free from the self-created prison and be me. I didn’t want to live with the broken pieces of my life being broken anymore. I wanted to see the mosaic, the stained glass, the big picture for what it was. But, we’ll get there.

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The Honest Faith: The Loneliness of Caring

Preface: I know this does not apply to everyone. If it does not, that is wonderful! I hope and pray that the reality I lived is not that that common. If this does ring true for you, this post is for you. I invite you to share a comment or a message to show others this point I’m about to make.


I was in ministry a long time. Even before I was in professional ministry I had my mind and heart set on ministry. I’ve talked about this several times before. There was a newspaper article written about me when I was 14 years old about my desire to want to become a professional minister. I wrote a sermon and entered it into a competition. The headline of the article was, “This teen doesn’t need a sermon, He gives his own.” My tunnel vision toward this goal set me apart at an early age. The rest of the world who thought different of me be damned I was going to be a minister. I was going to change the world.

Last week I wrote about feeling abandoned after my ministry was over. I want to talk this week about the reality that I faced as a minister. Ministry is lonely. There is no way around it, it just is. There are ways to combat that for some, but most feel that weight on a very regular and daily basis. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you actually sat down for a real conversation with someone who cares for people professionally? I mean a real conversation, not one where you are conveying your feelings. One where you are listening to their feelings, actually conversing with them. Those moments where you see the real person beneath the thick armor that so many of us wear. This extends to more than just ministers, but to all who care for people.

Have you ever noticed the humanity of the person taking your order at Chipotle? If your Hotel clerk suddenly changed faces in front of you, would you notice? The chances are, no. There is a thing called change blindness which is commonly attributed to a lack of the human attention span. I see it more as a transactional encounter. When we go expecting to get something for ourselves we tend to only focus on what our own needs are. We don’t see the person in front of us, really. We are seeing, in our mind’s eye, what our goal is; getting food, getting a hotel room, or getting our own feelings met. I’m not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of this, I’m just saying this is something we all do. This extends to those who care for you emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc.

I’m not writing this for those are doing this, I’m writing this for the ones it is being done to. When I was in ministry I realized very quickly how lonely ministry was. The only people you ever really meet or talk to are members of the congregation you work for. You can’t really have a relationship with the members of the congregation, for a lot of different reasons. You can’t cross boundaries. You can’t really be open and honest because you don’t know who will be told next. You can’t play favorites. You must remain professional. You are also, by most, seen as their employee. They know as well as you do that their tithes help keep the church doors open and the staff paid. It is a very lonely position being a servant in a world full of bosses. It was worse when I was single.

For those of you who are single and in ministry positions, I’m sorry. It’s almost impossible to have a modern relationship as a single person in ministry. Most of the people you meet go to your church, so they are right out of the realm of possibility for a relationship for the potential fallout that may happen. Not only that, if you are a Millenial, chances are there are very few people your age that attend that church. So many resort to online dating. For those of you who have never experienced it, it is not fun. I’m sure it hasn’t aged well either. Most people in ministry know that you are more likely to live far away from family and friends as that is where the work is. It makes it much harder for a life outside.

We were told many times in college to have a life outside of the church. That is much easier said than done. Most in professional youth ministry have a shelf life of 18 months. If you are like me you have been at several different churches over the course of your career. Those churches aren’t close together either. Like I said before, you go where the work is. It’s hard to make a life or put down roots in a place you aren’t sure if you are going to be for long. You attempt to make friends, but you know full well in the deepest part of you that you may be leaving again. This leads to a deeper isolation. Especially, if you are an introvert like myself.

There are articles everywhere about why the church is a bad place for introverts. (here is a good one). Someone once told me that they didn’t believe introverts were a thing, and I just needed to get over my aversion to being with people. I don’t think they were quite accurate in their assessment. It is not that I was adverse to people, it was that I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone in the church. There have been many instances in my life before, during, and after ministry where I trusted the wrong people and made my feelings known. This very often is taken out of context and used against you in the worst way possible. It is very damaging. This causes many introverts to revert even further into themselves.

I don’t want this post to be a pity party for me. I want to speak truth to a reality that I faced and one, I pray, not many have and are facing as well. So this post is meant to reach out to those in ministry, who care for others, nurses, social workers, teachers, and other service industries. I want to tell you that I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. You can trust me. I mean really, who would I tell that matters? I don’t have any friends, :P. I know how lonely caring can be. I know that you feel empty a lot of the time. I know there isn’t much that fills you, especially after you have been beaten down.

It wasn’t until I was given permission from my therapist, (I know I talk about therapy a lot. But really it’s just so that you know it’s normal and okay to ask for help) that I realized that it is okay to take care of myself. I am a person, too. My thoughts, my feelings, and me myself matter, too. There was a phrase that came to mind recently that encapsulates this rather well for me. Like the airlines say, you must affix your own breathing apparatus before attempting to help others. You can only help someone else so much if you are unable to help yourself. I think I learned this way too late. This is something I’m struggling to find in my transition into the outside world. I still feel so much mistrust and aversion to being myself outside, but it’s okay. I will continue to tell myself that I matter. My thoughts and feelings matter, too.

So to you care-er of people, I say you matter. Your thoughts and feelings matter, too. No matter how out there your thoughts and feelings are, they matter. It is okay to share them with someone else. It is okay to cry sometimes. It is okay to be yourself. It is more than okay for you to take time for yourself. It is okay for you to take care of yourself. Your life does not have to be lived solely in the care of others. Life is meant to be lived. I know how hard it is to do that. I know how hard it is to let go of the mistrust and aversion when you have been damaged so badly. I know, because I’m going through it too. You are not alone. You matter.

You are not alone. You Matter

You are not alone. You matter

Affix your own breathing apparatus, before attempting to help someone else.

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The Honest Faith: Abandonment Issues

My whole life I lived under the impression that I was meant for something. I wholeheartedly believed that I was “destined” or “fated” for a grand purpose or plan that had yet to be revealed to me. For the longest time, I believed that meant the youth ministry that I was called to. I wasn’t bad at it. I was an excellent youth minister, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes from time to time. This was my calling. This was my destiny. This was all I was fated to do with my life… Until it wasn’t.

One of the problems I see in the Christian church is it confuses vocation, occupation, and self-worth or self-Identity. There are some of us going in with delusions of grandeur, thinking that through our career we will change the world. Others have issues with power, control, and a need to be right. There were times that I recognized this in myself and took steps to keep those desires separate from my professional life. Didn’t always work. I had a lot to work on in my life, this seemed like such a minor issue most days. That was of course until it wasn’t a minor issue anymore.

The hardest part of this transition out of ministry for me has been this issue. My identity, self-worth, occupation, vocation, and so much more were wrapped up so tightly together in the youth ministry package. This was so bad that I could not see myself as anything other than a minister for such a long time. It took a lot of work to unpack that bundle. I would have said I was fairly successful thus far until I uncovered this issue. Until, as we were working on our podcast for the week, I realized I felt abandoned by the Divine.

I felt that God called me to ministry. I felt extremely confident in that. I knew that I was meant for this purpose. I was good at it. That purpose pushed me to be the best that I could be at it. I gave a large portion of my life to ministry. I gave much more than it gave back, but that didn’t matter to me. To me, it was part of the grand plan. It was something that was meant for me just as I was meant for it. These ideas consumed me. When I encountered walls and the eventual end of this purpose I felt abandoned. If God chose me, why would God allow this to happen to me?

Now, I’m not saying I wasn’t called for a time. Who am I to say that wasn’t true for the time I was a part of that? Maybe I’m just called to be a writer with an insurance habit now. What I am saying is that we place too much importance on those things we assume are God’s will. So much so that when something terrible happens to the contrary that we assume that was God’s will as well. That in some way God allowed the terrible to happen to us. We feel abandoned by a loving and caring God because our image of that God would not have allowed such.

There has been a big argument against the existence of the Divine, asking if there were an all-loving and all-powerful Divine being, why would it allow things like disease, famines, suffering, and all sorts of terrible things to happen. This has spurred on many apologists over the years, as if God needed a defense. There have been theologians who have speculated that the Divine chose to not be all knowing so that we may have free will, in order to work around the problem. There have been many different excuses all made in order that in some way we could blame the divine for the problems that we, a lot of the time, create. Some of the problems are nature. It happens some things just suck. That’s not to say a divine being caused it. That’s how the ancients believed, haven’t we evolved past that? I tend to think that the Divine is all knowing but also all present. That the Divine stands beside or behind us whatever we may need. It’s our decision to do what we will and the Divine either shakes its metaphorical head or cheers us on depending on what we do. The Divine waits to delight in what we do.

Maybe, just maybe, the Divine hasn’t abandoned us. Maybe the Divine never stopped loving us. Maybe the Divine decided to let us figure things out on our own in order that we may learn and grow. Maybe. What if we weren’t meant for anything, but rather everything was meant for us? What if the Divine just wants for us to enjoy the life we were given, and make the most of what we have while we have it?

I am often reminded of the parable of the talents. Most often this is read during the “stewardship” season in many mainline denominations. I feel it is taken way out of context to be used as such. If you read the passages around it, you have a sense of apocalyptic feeling to the teaching. It is telling you to prepare for the end. It goes on to talk about the judgment of the sheep and goats. What does Jesus tell us separates the sheep from the goats? Kindness, He tells us that the sheep cared for the least of these. That is the given context for the talents and bridesmaids. To prepare for the “night” to invest the “talents” we are to be kind to the least of these. There are themes of abandonment in these stories, but they only happen to those who turn a blind eye or hide away from the task given to them.

I think that when I feel such abandonment I need to take a look back and ask myself, not did I do the best that I could at the job. I need to ask myself was I kind? Did I treat the least of these with love and compassion? Did I give all that I could for those in need? If I did, I was never abandoned. I’m not a big fan of that footsteps poem. In fact, I’m more of a fan of Kris Straub’s interpretation. He wrote a little blurb beneath the comic about more teaching a baby to walk than carrying. That resonates so much with me as my son is just learning to walk. I know I need to let him try on his own, but I’m so afraid he will fall and hurt himself. The thing is, if I were to carry him he wouldn’t learn to walk. If I were to help him gain confidence on his feet by supporting him he will eventually be able to do it without the support. I look forward to the day that he can and he will take my hand out of wanting the support, rather than needing it.

I’m starting to see that the Divine didn’t abandon me. I just couldn’t see the Divine because, during this time, the Divine flew behind me and supported me to help me learn to walk on my own. We have not been abandoned. We are being taught to walk. Sometimes we may fall and get a “bonk” but as me and my wife are constantly telling our son, “Bonks happen”. We may feel like the abandoned house that is pictured above, but we are just being renovated from the inside out. We can’t see it, as it is very difficult to see within ourselves, but it’s happening. I feel like the Divine wants so much for us to want support rather than needing it. Isn’t it better that someone loves you and asks for your help out of choice rather than demanding it? I don’t believe the Divine abandoned the world. I believe the Divine is ever present in all that is around us, cheering us on, supporting us, believing in us that one day we may walk on our own.

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The Honest Faith: The Slow Death of Modern Christianity

:: Warning :: this might possibly be the most controversial thing I have ever or may ever post. I don’t want to be the normal everyday “Christian” writer who writes bi-partisan political posts comparing the state of our country to Christianity. It’s been done. I don’t think I add anything to that conversation. This is one I’m going to present with as much objective fact as I can. That being said, yes, this is a blog post so a lot of it will be opinion. If it offends, I apologize. Be in conversation with me as to why it offends you rather than writing me off as “one of those writers”. :: Warning over ::

Very many years ago, I was preaching my first official sermon of my first official ministry position. In it, I said that the christian (small c on purpose) church was sick. I said there are very many symptoms that point to such, and we were in need of a new reformation. I felt I gave a pretty good sermon in 2005. This sermon was on Reformation Sunday by the request of the pastor who had retired at the beginning of the summer previous. He wanted the youth to do a whole service dedicated to Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis. He wanted them to write a new 95 thesis from the youth to the church. It was capped off by my reformation message. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.

I discovered that people don’t like hearing what is wrong with them, even if it may be the truth. I preface this blog post with the warning above and this little note to say I write this in love. I know the truth hurts sometimes, but we need to be in a constant examination of ourselves or we risk not growing or bearing fruit. Don’t believe me? I know a tree in a children’s book I read to my son that learned that lesson. I also know a particular fig tree that Jesus had some choice words for.

This was something I believed in 2005 and something that in 2017 I’m beginning to see the actual impacts from. The Christian church is in decline. Christianity will soon no longer be the most populous religion in the world, being quickly replaced by Islam ( Pew Research Study ). In fact, in our own country, we’ve seen a steep rise in “post-Christian” viewpoints ( Barna Research study and Pew Research Study ). We are trending toward a society where people no longer go to church on Sunday morning. The thing is though it’s not that people have stopped believing in the Divine.

As I’ve stated many times before, my generation, the millennials, are discovering a very different image of the Divine than our parent or even Grandparent generations. We are even dragging our older siblings the Gen-x’ers along with us. The US has only slightly dipped in our belief in the Divine. We’ve gone from 92% to 89% who believe in the possibility of the Divine. Although, the strongly believe in the existence of a God dropped from “71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014” (all numbers from the pew research study linked above). I’d say that has to do with Millennials being tired. We have been worn out by the church.

There has been this old concept that you had to be perfect to come to church. Some may say I’m wrong in that, but I’ve experienced this first hand more than once. That is what we were taught growing up. That’s what makes it so hard for us to want to go to a place where we will be judged because of whatever reason on an early Sunday morning. I mean I find it extremely difficult to get up and get my family ready to go on Sunday mornings albeit that church is at 10 am, it’s still tough to get out the door at 9:40 something. There has been so much that the church has done to injure not just my generation but the ones who came before us. It’s no wonder we decided to give up on going.

Don’t believe me? Take a moment. Search it out. When I began my transition into being a writer with an insurance habit, I started to seek out other writers who had similar stories to me. There are a lot. In fact, I found so many who were published, publishing, or writing blogs about the very same issues and topics I found myself writing about. I could list all of them here, but that would take up way too much space.

I started to think about this topic because I heard about another friend who was let go from a youth ministry position. This has become an all too common story across the country. I believe we are standing on the precipice of the death of the professional youth minister. I know some of my friends would beg to disagree, especially those who are still working with professional youth workers. I was thinking about what was causing this and I was reminded of my all too often worry when I worked for the church. If the church wasn’t making enough money, what are the first things they cut? Children and youth programming and staff…

Increasingly, boomers are retiring. That retirement may be on sure or unsure footing depending on how the economy looks on any given day. But the large majority of the workforce is now being comprised of Gen-X’ers and Millennials. We have become parents ourselves and we are finding it hard to give money to churches or to organizations we don’t necessarily believe in anymore. This is money we can’t easily part with either. I can cite source after source as to why it’s much harder to make a living nowadays than it was even 20 years ago. I’m not going to do that because that’s not what this blog post is about. This is about the death of our status quo Sunday Morning church offerings (Not the tithe, what the church offers to its congregation on Sunday mornings is what I’m getting at).

We are looking for non-traditional churches and offerings. Increasingly it’s become about service for millennials and gen-x’ers. Not the Sunday morning kind of service, but actual getting off your bum and getting your hands dirty doing the work kind of service. There is article after article pointing to this as well ( Here’s one I found particularly readable ). In fact, the Gallup poll that was posted in that article seems to reaffirm that point as well. Millennials are looking for something different. We’ve been beaten down by the world that tells us we aren’t worth much and then shown the same from the churches we decide to try. We grew up in different programs. The vast majority of us went to youth programming at a local church. We grew up with this idea that church didn’t always have to be the stuffy pews on a Sunday morning. No, most of us experienced the Divine on short-term mission trips, in a youth group, at a lock-in (God help me), at a service project, using our talents for a youth Sunday service, or even hanging out with our dorky well-meaning youth workers. This is why so often in my career as a dorky well-meaning youth worker I tried so hard to emphasize the importance of Sunday morning. I didn’t want the trend to continue. I tried to help. But it was bigger than me.

The trend started way before I became a youth worker. It started before I even went to youth programs myself. I’m not condemning youth programming. I think that it has done an amazing thing, it changed the church. The problem is it changed it in a way that we didn’t understand and the church couldn’t keep up. Youth ministries created generations that expected more of their worship communities. In turn, the status quo failed. I may be completely off on this, but I think this is the reason why youth ministry is dying. It’s being killed off to save the “status quo” church. But the problem has already taken hold. It’s much larger than the small c church can deal with.

So now we have this problem. We have two generations of adults (gen-x and millennials) who expect more from worship communities. They don’t know if there is a Divine, but they want to believe in one. They want action and depth from their communities. They want something different from the status quo. They want to experience the Divine like they did when they were teens themselves. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I think it’s time for the church to change. I think it’s time we abandon our Sunday mornings. Maybe not all at once, since there are those who still get something from those services, maybe a slow transition is needed. How about something more akin to what youth groups used to be? An evening service focused on group building, discussion, and diving deeper into discipleship? What about a place where we can share our gifts and talents with each other, and help grow the talents of others? A place where we are welcomed without judgment or fear of the questions that we bring. A place where all are welcome regardless of how we look, who we love, what we do, or what we believe? A community that we can serve with together. A community we can drop our masks with and come as we are, warts and all. A community that can embrace all images of the Divine and struggle together to find the truth in those that confuse us. This is my image of what large C Church is supposed to look like. A community that loves, regardless.

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Unsolicited Advice: Presidential

Hello Mr. President,

This isn’t going to be one of those letters. I know you have been getting quite a few hate filled letters from people who obviously are not your fans. I’m not really a fan of yours either, but I’m not writing about that today. I’m writing to give you some advice from my years as a youth minister which may be helpful. I found that working with people doesn’t really change across the boards so these things may be helpful to you. Or they may not be, I don’t know I’m just a former youth minister.

Don’t make changes too quickly!

This was something that my youth ministry professor stressed with us when I was in college. He wanted us to make sure that we had the right tools in ministry and I can tell you from experience he was right! You never want to jump right into a job, especially one of leadership and make changes too quickly. This tends to make those you are working with and leading to resent you. They had a set way of doing things that were working out pretty well before you got there. Sure, it may not be your style of doing things, but if you are in it for the long haul you’ll have time to make the changes you need to suit your way of doing things. Besides you may even find out that those other ways of doing things suit you just fine. Adaptability is key in the first few months to a year in a new position. Once you understand the people you are working with, and when they trust you enough, then and only then should you begin to make changes that you see fit.

I realize you’ve already done some things so far, it’s been a busy two and a half weeks, but you can still delay on all the other things you want to change. Don’t worry if it truly is a good and needed change you’ll still have time to make it.

Don’t bad mouth the last leader

You may be following the worst leader ever when you come into a new position, but it still doesn’t justify bad things being said. This goes for everything he/she did and all the recruits he/she put into place. Trust me, that person was facing some of the worst things in their own lives and careers just like you are going to. It is helpful to seek their advice and to praise what they accomplished. This goes hand in hand with not making changes too quickly. Even if they were the worst leader, they gained the trust of the people they were working with and were able to accomplish what they did for a reason. I have followed some amazing leaders and some not so amazing leaders. I’ve been called the devil by some of those former leaders (long story, ask me about it sometime). I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of belittling the last person to make yourself look better.

Okay, you have done some of this as well. It’s never too late to apologize. A little humility goes a long way!

Never stop growing

The moment that you feel you have it all figured out is the moment you fail. I can’t tell you the number of roadblocks I’ve faced because I felt that things were going along just fine and then… Even if you think you have the job completely figured out, you still have more to learn. One of the greatest things I learned in ministry was how to say “I don’t know, but let me try to figure it out.” I probably could have said that a lot more, but sometimes pride gets in the way. Never be too proud to say those words. Chances are people will help you figure it out! We are never the same person we were the day before. Oh here is another cliche you may hear a lot too, The only easy day was yesterday.

Listen to your haters

Sometimes your critics have important things to tell you. Granted, they come in pretty hurtful packages, but they are still important nonetheless. I have an example for this one. Okay, so you know how if you just read a word but never say it out loud your pronunciation of it can be way off what it should be? Well, I was performing in a show once and I had only ever read the word “respite”. I thought it was pronounced re-spite instead of res-pit. Lordy, did I hear it from a critic in the paper the next day about my pronunciation! I went and found the words that I mispronounced and made those changes. I think it was an excellent show after that. Remember that sometimes you got to take those things with a grain of salt, but try to find the truth in the things they are saying.

I realize you have many, many haters right now. But they have some important things to say. Many of them just want to make sure they are heard. Some of them are a bit hateful and don’t have much to say, but there are still those who have important things to say.

Love your neighbor as yourself

You are going to come up against things you don’t understand. You are going to meet people who are going to change your whole perspective on life. But that won’t happen unless you are open to it. Love, so often, is being able to see the small things in someone else that make them unique and valuable. Everyone has that thing, even you. I call that the spark of the Divine. Even the worst students I’ve encountered had the spark of the Divine in them. I can’t call any one human being evil or not of God because I’ve discovered that everyone, all life for that matter, has the spark of the Divine in it. When we work together, when we are all able to let that spark shine through that is when the world will be truly great again. So it means that sometimes we have to get out of the way, or not stand in the way of someone else letting their spark shine. That means allowing someone else the freedom to be who they are. I understand that is scary. I understand that it puts you at risk sometimes, but I know from experience that it is worth it.

I think you know where this applies, and I’m not going to tread on ground that so many others are treading right now.

Salutations

Although I’m almost positive this would never get around to you. I still think this is advice that could be helpful. I am praying for you. I do have a little hope that you will finally figure out how to be a good leader. I’m not sure that I myself hold out a lot of hope for that, but I like to be surprised in good ways. These are just some of the issues that I think can be helpful to you.

 

Salutations,

A Former Youth Minister

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Ten reasons why I’m reclaiming the name Millennial

Okay so, I know my last post was a list post. I’m not switching to solely list posts, I just found it to be a fun way to organize my thoughts, and it actually helped. I think it was one of my better posts in a while. I don’t know, maybe you disagree, but I figured it’s better for me to organize again in a way that makes sense to me. So here we go the ten reasons why I’m reclaiming the name Millennial.

1. Names are important!

Maybe you were forced to read Shakespeare, maybe you weren’t. Maybe you have done a lot of study on story, the bible, or ancient writings. Maybe you have read the book Freakonomics. If you have you know that names are important! In fact one of the most famous, and famously misquoted scenes in Shakespeare is a characters struggle with why names are important. william-shakespeare-dramatist-whats-in-a-name-that-which-we-call-a-rose-by-any Juliette struggles with Romeo’s name. After all he’s a Montague and no self respecting Capulet would be caught dead with one. The most misquoted part of that scene is “Wherefore art thou Romeo.” Which instead of the commonly misconceived meaning “Where” means “What or why”. Why are you a Monague? She struggles with the fact that his name divides them from being together, in fact the entire plot hinges on it.

In the Bible names are extraordinarily important. People throughout the Bible are named for the amazing works they are going to accomplish or an important thing that happened to them, except for the James’ whose names were changed for a king but that’s a different blog post for another day though I’m not discounting the name it still bears weight. In college I had to write a 20 page paper on the book of Ruth. One of my favorite parts of that paper was researching the names in the book. One of my favorites was Orpah changing her name to Naomi, going from bitter (or stiff neck) to pleasantness. There are many iterations of name changes and why it’s important. in the Bible. From Simon (God has heard) to Peter (Rock). Jacob (supplanter)  to Israel (May God Prevail).

maxresdefaultEven in modern story telling names are important. In the new star wars movie for example *******SPOILER ALERT****** (seriously how have you not seen it yet?) Kylo Ren, whose chosen new name I have yet to figure out (also one that I saw that I thought was kind of funny Ky from skywalker and lo from Solo) besides Ren being Ruler, forsakes his given name Ben Solo (bum bum buuuuuummmmm, seriously I gave the spoiler alert why did you read this?). This is essential to who he is. He forsakes Ben (son) or if his full name is Benjamin (son of justice), he forsake being a son and he forsakes justice. There are plenty of these peppered throughout modern stories like in the Matrix, Thomas Anderson (Twin Man, best superhero name ever!) Is the name given to his “digital” counterpart within the matrix. One of my favorite examples, Dolores Umbridge (Pain or sorrows) basically her name is pain so bad she’s named it twice, it’s no wonder she does what she does to the students at Hogwarts…

******Spoilers Over*******

All this to say I wanted to take a name that held some importance. I chose to start the list with this because I wanted to convey the importance of this name in the next list sections. This name may have been one that has been placed upon us millennials, but it holds importance nonetheless.

2. The Dawning of the new Millennia

We are now firmly in the third millennium Anno Domini, year of our Lord or common era if you’d rather. Some important things happened around the turns of the millennia. In the first we had Jesus’ life and death, in the second we had the forming (as in giving form to) and structuring of our most dominant religions, and here in the third we have made information and learning more readily available for all humankind. That’s terribly important. We are named for the fact that we came of age at the dawning of the new millennium. I was the first graduating high school class of this new milletumblr_mbo4b85mF71r31ngfo2_250nnium, take that class of 2000 that’s right there was no year zero. We are the ones who are to shape the direction of this millennium. I know that’s a lot of pressure, but whether you want it or not it’s ours. We will be the ones who shape the future, good or bad. This is why I feel it’s so important for us Millennials to reclaim this name. They call us lazy, incapable moochers on society let’s prove them wrong. Our grandparents (or great grandparents depending on the timing of your birth since the term millennial has been blanketed over a few generations) were called the great generation maybe it’s time we take up that mantle and take responsibility for this new millennia. Which brings me to my next point.

 3. Making a name great

Every great name has to start somewhere right? Whether you are a Catherine (pure) or a Miguel (Who is like God?) your name has an origin. You may have been named for an ancient saint or a saint a bit closer to home. But you are named for someone who made that name great. We have thought a lot about what we are going to be naming our child. He will be named for many many wonderful people who took their name and made it great. There’s Peter Capaldi (incredible actor and the most recent Doctor), Peter Parker tumblr_mgxs7pXmgl1rmxg74o1_500(spider man), Saint Peter, but the biggest influence of them all was Peter Bishop (Fringe). Which, granted they are all characters who have not always made the best choices, but they all were solid and reliable in the end. They all embody the name Peter, and they make it great. That is what I want for my son. I want him to embody the name and make it great.  His name will be Solid Joy, because he is that undeniably bright rainbow at the end of a long storm. He has already succeeded in that. We millennials didn’t choose our name, but we have the opportunity to make it great. We have the opportunity to turn what was meant to be a negative into a glorious positive. Those are some of the best stories aren’t they? The ones where something went horribly wrong, but in the end the protagonist redeems it all. You are not what people call you. You are not what is said of you. You are what you make of yourself. We millennials are what we make of ourselves. Let’s make ourselves incredible!

4. Rethinking Religion

Millennials, it has been said, are much more accepting of different faiths than any preceding generation. The only problem is they are largely giving up on organized religion, allegedly. There are many reasons for this in my studies. Not the least of which being that this age demographic throughout history has always had an odd relationship with the institutions of faith. Eighteen to thirty-ish has been a largely un-reached demographic within mainline denominations and faiths. It’s only when those thirty-ish-somethings start having children to they finally see value, again, in the institutions of faith. I could write another whole list post on why this is as well. Well they are all mostly unproven hypothesis’, but educated ones to say the least. One of the biggest ones in my mind though is one that I keep facing to this day.

I think this image encapsulates exactly what I mean by this.youth-group It was the very first image that came up when I did a google image search for “Youth Group”. Let’s deconstruct the image. It looks like a raucous good time. It looks like a bunch of people at a rave or something. A lot of people with their hands in the air like they just don’t care. OK, now what in this image says church? Go ahead take another look, I’ll wait…. You back? Did you find anything? Maybe a cross? A star of David? A crescent moon and star? No? What did you find? I couldn’t find anything in this that says church to me. In fact have any of you found an institution of faith that looks like this? Not discounting Mega-churches and all that they do, but since when has a church that actually did spiritual direction, education, and formation looked like this? Granted the early church worship services were basically dinner parties at peoples homes, I don’t think they ever looked like that. That’s the problem. We have made youth programs into fun raucous parties, and when those teens go off to adult they can’t find a church like that. They don’t really exist, at least in my experience. So there is this big disappointment and let down in college, and they end up leaving the church until they find value again for their own children. This is a cycle that I have so desperately fought to break in my career. It’s tough though to break people’s expectations.

Pretty-ChurchIt’s on millennials to shape the direction the institutions of faith are going in. I, personally, don’t think that we should go the direction of Sunday morning raves.  But maybe I’m a bit old fashioned. I think it has a lot to do with rethinking what those institutions of faith are supposed to do, and how best to do it. I think it’s a bit of deconstruction and reconstruction. After all isn’t that what the people at the turn of the last millennia did? It’s a new millennia time for us to do our own formation and structuring. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as it were.

5. An age of Love

At the risk of sounding like a hippy, wouldn’t it be great if we learned to love each other? Again, millennials are seen to be the most accepting of all generations. I think there is a major hurdle facing millennials is that the preceding generations are teaching us division. Especially in this country, people are deeply divided on many issues. Which is alright in itself, but we have to allow people to hold their own opinions and love them anyway. This is one of the reasons why I fell in love with the Episcopal Church.Episcopal-Church-welcomes-you-1024x464 I had been looking for a place where I could still worship with people even though we held different viewpoints, but we still came together as family around the Lord’s Table. I think this is what can make a society great. An ability to put aside differences and talk about how best to move forward as a whole. Isn’t that the vision our country’s forefathers had for us? Isn’t that what Democracy is meant to be? Let us Millennials be the generation that does that. Let’s come together. Let us not hate each other due to differences, but love each other and realize that only together do we have all the pieces of the puzzle to move forward. I believe that we can achieve that. That is another reason why I’m choosing to be called a millennial.

6. Millennial doesn’t have to apply to only one generation

The official term came about to describe “those who came of age at the turn of the millennia”. To which I say, giphy“that’s incredibly vague!” Coming of age is a sort of nebulous term to me. Considering this whole concept of adolescence has thrown us off of things for over a century. We’ve prolonged the process of transition to adulthood well into the twenties, and sometimes even thirties. Here I am sitting here writing this thinking, “Yeah, I don’t feel like an adult.” I’m thirty-two. I don’t know that we have enough rites of passage as a society to help people feel like they have left behind childhood. Or maybe it’s alright that we haven’t completely transitioned out of childhood. Maybe it’s alright that we still hold on to that. Because as Madeleine L’Engle once said “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” So in essence we all still have that child inside of us that gets giddy when watching the latest Star wars movie (Woot! two references to star wars down!).  So essentially I’m saying you are a millennial if you want to be one. If you don’t that’s fine too. The reason why I say that is because some of the most inspirational and transformative moments I’ve had in my life were moments of inter-generational togetherness. Some of my favorites were talking theology with a deacon I served with, her husband, and my wife in the pub. We all learned and grew from these interactions. It wasn’t focused in a teacher/ student dynamic, it was a free flowing conversation on whatever came to mind. This, then, became the inspiration for one of my favorite ministries. I think this goes back to my previous point about overlooking the differences and just loving. So don’t worry too much about the name, but know that it holds importance and meaning.

7. It’s a challenge

There has been plenty of shade thrown the way of the Millennial. I’ve mentioned a lot of it here already. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as well. We have been called the unluckiest generation, and many other things that instill doubt and hatred of us. The funny thing is that I don’t take that too personally, because I know I, for one, am not like that. So I take it as a challenge to prove the powers that be wrong. I don’t know why I do this. Every time I have been called something in my life or challenged on something I have always tried to set out to prove that person or thing wrong. Often I come up short, or I’m the one who changes in the process; but my point is that we should see this as a challenge to be better.

As I’ve already, and will in the next points, laid out some of the goals for us we need to change some things.d8cfdcb6950f67925848ab725d75300b57603e8fd54b348ebba9e8c46a641f7f Yes, change is hard. But nothing in life worth having is ever easy. Those who tell you that they are easy, I think, don’t truly appreciate what you have. Remember how I said the best stories are those where something is redeemed. It’s through hard work and dedication to something that redemption is achieved. I enjoy a challenge, because I know that something will be gained through the process. Win or lose you are changed by the process of the challenge. That’s why you take it on. You will be changed by the process. Hopefully for the better, but it’s not often that rising to the occasion has made someone a worse person.

8. It just sounds cool

bcooOThis is probably my least significant point, but seriously say it.
Millennial… Millennial… Just sounds cool doesn’t it?

 

 

 

9. It’ll strike fear into the hearts of your enemies

Okay, so I know these last two sound like I’m kind of stretching for extra points, and on some level I am. I challenged myself to 10 points after all. But if you have a name that sounds cool, and has had negative pr surrounding it don’t you think it would be a bit intimidating, for others, if you chose it for yourself? Sometimes intimidation can get some people to listen to you, granted it’s not the best method to do so, but it can get the job done.

10. We are here

George Mallory was asked in an interview why he wanted to climb mount Everest. His response has been famously re-quoted ad-nauseum. He said “Because it’s there”. Honestly, it is simultaneously apathetic and inspirational. On one hand it’s basically saying, cause I wanted to. On the other it’s saying, why the hell not?  We the millennials are here. We’ve been named, so why the hell don’t we reclaim that name? We are much more than Buzzfeed articles or test results. We are much more than youtube and netflix. As Father Richard Rohr said,

Grace and mercy teach us that we are all much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves or about one another. Please don’t get caught in your small stories; they are usually less than half true, and therefore not really ‘true’ at all.

Don’t let the bad stories define us. Make our story the best the world has ever heard. May it be said of the Millennials, not that we were the unlucky and lazy ones, but that we met our struggles head on and overcame. That we changed the world and shaped the millennium to come. We are here, whether we like it or not, so let us make the best of the time and stories that have been given to us. May we be remembered, and remembered for the good that we did. So come with me. Let’s climb this mountain of reclaiming this name together. Let us be the millennials they will speak of!

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Enough is Enough

Disclaimer: I am tired. It’s been a very long week, and I feel like I have worn through all of my diplomacy. I apologize if what I’m about to say seems harsh to anyone. I certainly don’t mean to offend, but rather spur to action. If you are offended (this is something that I’ve been wanting to say to several people this week) then maybe you should examine yourself. Why are you offended? Is it really because of something I say here or is it because of something inside yourself?

When is enough going to be enough? Two mass shootings in a week. Two of them in places where I have ties. Both of them a few short miles away from family and friends. Not just have there been two in a week, as of me writing of this, there have been 355 mass shootings in our country in the year of 2015. The only thing we as a country have actually accomplished to date is to solidify the cliché-ness of “Prayers”.

For me, prayer has been a difficult issue. When I was growing up and going through tough times as a teen I didn’t feel completely safe going to family, and I didn’t have a whole lot of friends at school. So I turned to people at my church who I thought welcomed and accepted me. I tried to lay out my problems and there was that cliche ready and waiting for me with most people I went to “Oh, I’ll pray about it.” Eventually I began to discover what that really meant. It meant, “stop bothering me with your problems.” Granted that is an over-generalization of the people in the church I grew up with, but ultimately that is the impression that stuck. This beautiful thing that prayer is got twisted and mangled in my mind into a weapon. I heard people pray that others would come to harm. I heard people pray that politicians would not win. I have heard people call me the devil through prayer. I heard people pray for things that never coincided with the message of love I read from the God of the Bible. But still I would pray. It was difficult for me. Meditation and prayer have never been easy for me. My brain always gets easily distracted. But I tried. A few years ago I heard a statement from Father Richard Rohr as he was speaking at a FORMA conference. I don’t remember fully what he was speaking about but this statement stuck out to me. “Prayer is not about changing God’s mind. It’s about changing yours.” After that I found it much more difficult to pray. Since, I am a human being, and we are after all egotistical narcissist monsters  that assume we are the end all and be all of creation. There is a part of my brain that feels that I don’t need to change my mind so I don’t need to pray. That part has unfortunately won out for a long time. To be even more honest I started to resent prayer. These things have coupled to twist, even further, the beautiful and life-altering practice that prayer is meant to be into a worn out cliche. But I have since been rediscovering the richness (get it rich-ness? because his name is richard?… nevermind) of his statement. Prayer was never meant for God, it was meant for us. It was something meant not for us to pull the arm of the cosmic slot machine and maybe get our way. No, It was a way for us to quiet our minds and souls and find out what the God of love would have us to do to encounter the situation we now face.

With the original definition of prayer in place I wonder how many of us are actually praying about the situation that we now face. How many of us actually want to hear what the God of love would have us do in this situation? Or, as we are so oft to be, are we terrified of what God might say? I am suddenly forced to examine myself and see if I am part of this problem. I have a lot of youth group games that involved “killing” or “violence”. Yes, these things are simulated and often in very innocent ways, but what if they are helping to create a more violent generation. In my opinion they don’t, but I need an outside opinion. So therefore I pray. I seek council with the Creator of the Universe.  I ask how I can be a comfort to those who are hurting, and that it may be revealed to me how I can make a difference.

It’s time to make a difference. We can no longer sit idly by while continued injustice, pain, and death is inflicted on our fellow human beings. Yes, we human beings can be messy, but take a deep look at yourself. You are a mess too. We need to say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” and start cleaning each other up. If you say we need to take care of our own first, wonderful, then do it! Seek council from the God of the Universe with what you are to do to make a difference, and do it. If you need some help I know of a terribly silly viral video that Shia Lebuff put out this year that may help you. But let us stop killing each other. Let us stop the violence. Let us stand together and stop bickering about whether legislation would actually do anything and try it. Let’s stop letting fear win. Let us let love win. Enough is enough!

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Through the Looking Glass

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about leaving from a summer of working at a camp. I really felt God’s love at that camp. It was a deep connection with those around me, the area we were at, and the God I love so dear. I wrote that it felt kind of like stepping through the looking glass, returning from wonderland. I had another such experience just this last weekend.
I attended a youth retreat weekend as an adult participant, which in itself was a great experience (not running anything and not having to worry about all the stuff that youth leaders worry about). This program is mainly put on by teenagers for teenagers, and supported by adults. Over the course of the weekend it was as if God slowly snuck into the campground and started connecting all of us to each other and to God’s self as well. We reached that ethereal and ineffable substantive experience of which I believe heaven is made of.
This was not my first time getting to taste what heaven is like. It is in fact something I strive for every day of my life. It is this feeling of oneness. To borrow a word from Hinduism, Nirvana. As i sit here writing I am wanting to describe what it is like, but I feel it is so much bigger than words. It is like being loved, accepted, welcomed, cared for, and at peace all at the same time. I felt this back when I worked at that camp, at an amazing concert, at various moments during my wedding week (including my wedding), and this weekend.
For those of us who were involved and connected during those moments it’s very hard to return to the places that we are from. It’s like you have changed into another person, but everything you returned to belongs to the person who left. It is very much like stepping through the looking glass out of wonderland into a dark reality. You try to explain to people about what it was like on the other side, but all they can see is a reflection of their own reality staring back at them. You feel disconnected. It was so easy to listen to and hear God in that place, but now God feels distant and unclear.
I do believe this is what the first Christians intended church to be. The first Christians were called such because they were just like that revolutionary Rabbi named Christ by his followers. They lived together in love. They connected on that deeper level. They showed the world how they were different by inviting them into this community. This community that loved each other, cared for one another, accepted everyone (most of the time), and loved peace. I don’t know maybe I am just an Idealist and create this beautiful picture that never truly existed. I do believe the concept is sound though. I do think that is a community we are capable as a church of creating. This is a big lesson, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this post. If you would like to learn more about the early church I recommend checking out Nooma video #15 “You”. Rob Bell does a great job of condensing a lot of ideas into about 11 minutes. You can purchase (it’s only a buck to watch online and 2 bucks to download) and download itHere.
My challenge to my readers today is this, strive to bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and all we have to do is welcome it in. We can create the Kingdom of God all around us. We are citizens of that Kingdom after all. We need to fight against hate, injustice, greed, corruption, nonacceptance, and all those things that keep us on this side of the looking glass. Let’s allow God’s love to invade our world and revolutionize who and what we are as a people. God’s love is too good not to share.

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It gets better…

So as I sit here  only half watching the “Tony Awards” with my wife, I was blown away by the opening number “Broadway isn’t just for the gays anymore.” This was just moments after watching a special on teen bullying. It was also a few more minutes before the now controversial “It gets better” google commercial.

I want to focus on the itgetsbetterproject; If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. I started to wonder whether or not a straight youth pastor, or for that matter a gay youth pastor, has posted a video in support. I searched and all I found were videos telling gay youth that “Christians don’t care” or that they need to “get help to become better (as if there was something wrong with them)” This saddened me to no end. I feel like church people have dropped the ball on the whole loving thing. I feel like all of a sudden we needed someone to hate so we decided homosexuals were the perfect people for that. The late Peter Gomes once said in a speech, “When anyone looks at the record of our religious treatment of the other in the culture, we find that the first and the last resort used to justify a prejudice is the fact that the Bible tells me so.” I find it very sad that we use this collection of books, about how God has continued throughout the ages to act redemptively and lovingly toward His people, to push an agenda of hate and prejudice. Who are we to put that in God’s words? Are we judges? Who gave us the God badge? Who gave us permission to be God? In my opinion, nobody. We did it ourselves. It sickens and saddens me. What’s worse is I do it too. I know I do. I try to stop myself, but I can’t. So in response to that I would like to write out my “It gets better” speech:

Hello! My name is Miguel. I am a straight youth minister in western New York. I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you, it gets better. I know high school is rough. I was there. I was made fun of. I was bullied. I know how rough it can be. I was plagued by thoughts of suicide and the like. What’s worse for you is that I know I have brothers and sisters out there who share my profession that are allowing the continued bullying and discrimination against you. Not only that they are even encouraging it sometimes. I want you to know that God doesn’t hate you. I don’t hate you. The church shouldn’t hate you, but right now it is a very hostile environment for you. To be honest if I were you I wouldn’t want to be there either, even if I was Christian. I want to take this opportunity to apologize. I’m sorry for what is being done to you. I am sorry that instead of stopping this hate and prejudice we have continued it and fueled it. I’m sorry that once upon a time I bullied people like you. I am sorry that you have to endure it now. But I promise you, it gets better! There are people, churches, and even church leaders who not only openly accept you for who you are; but even are a part of that community as well. I know straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered  people who are great examples of God’s love. So I ask not only for your forgiveness, but also for your patience. One day the Church will be a safe place for you to be. One day we wont try to tell you who to be, or who to love. I pray that day comes quickly. As for me, I will love you and accept you. You are always welcome here. It will get better elsewhere. Don’t listen to my brothers and sisters that try to tell you to be different. Don’t listen to those who tell you it’s wrong to love that person. I don’t believe God made a mistake when God made you. You are perfect the way you are. As Ga Ga has said “God makes no mistakes.” My promise to you is that I am going to try to make it better.

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The Continuing Adventures of Missing the Point

I know I often write about faith and culture, about the dichotomy that does not exist between them; despite the constant rhetoric from the western church that it does. I was sorting through my I-tunes library this morning in an attempt to get more of my good music that I haven’t listened to in a while onto my I-pod. (wow, how yuppy do I sound right now) I came across a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that I loved when it was first released. My friend Johnny G. can attest to that! Anyway i would like to share the lyrics with you before moving on:

See the Glory

By: Steven Curtis Chapman

I never did like the word mediocre
I never wanted it to be said of me, oh, no
Just point me to the top and I’d go over, over
Looking for the very best that could be
So what is this thing I see
Going on inside of me?
When it comes to the grace of God
Sometimes it’s like …

I’m playing Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon
I’m eating candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast
I’m wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean
Tell me what’s the deal with me
(I know the time has come for me to)
Wake up and see the glory

Every star in the sky tells His story, oh
And every breeze is singing His song
All of creation is imploring
Hey, come see this grand phenomenon
The wonder of His grace
Should take my breath away
I miss so many things when I’m content with …

How could I trivialize it
This awesome gift of God’s grace?
Once I have come to realize it
I should be speechless and amazed

Wake up and see the glory
Open your eyes and take it in
Wake up and be amazed
Over and over again

God’s love is calling to you and to me
Wake up, wake up
Open your eyes

Yesterday I was chatting with the pastor of the church i work at. She had me looking for a quote which i was unable to find, despite my internet prowess. Her friend had found it before us and this made me think as well:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

I think that the unthinkable has happened. We have become complacent with mediocrity. We are content to live our lives ignorant of the greater reality that surrounds us everywhere we are. Have we gotten so used to the amazing that it doesn’t phase us anymore?

I am currently sitting in my office which faces the park and the Rimrocks beyond that. It is so beautiful and green. We have had a very long winter and in fact it keeps trying to sneak back in the door without going through the usual seasons of summer and winter first. I see people running around the park playing, picnic-ing, and enjoying the surroundings. I wonder though, how many of us have just taken the time to observe the incredibleness of spring. We have come out of a season of death and cold. We are now observing the season of new life. A resurrection of creation that is taking place all around us in the northern hemisphere. We miss the point.

Unfortunately, I feel this story is true about the majority of the western church as well. We are missing the point of the incredible gospel that is told to us every day. I mean we hear the words “God loves you”, but do any of us really believe it? Or do we rather go through the motions to just be labeled as “spiritual”, “holy”, or “religious”? How many of us actually believe that? How many of us actually let it impact us? Like Anne Dillard said, We are children playing on the floor with our chemistry sets! We have no idea the power and the beauty of God’s love, power, and care for us! We have put those things aside like they didn’t matter. We are missing the point.

The church has become so influenced by culture that the church has become an agent of culture. We just end up reinforcing the ideas of general society instead of becoming the counter cultural revolutionists that Jesus once was. We have put a beauty pageant sash on Jesus, and made him up. He doesn’t look like the same person. He now looks like this nice guy who likes everyone and pets little lambs. That isn’t Jesus. Do you know that man? He was a counter culture reformer. He was telling people that the kingdom of God is here! He said that God had already made peace with the world. We didn’t have to earn God’s favor! I think it’s funny that the church likes to quote so often the verse that states “Be in the world, not of the world” John 8:23b, Jesus isn’t even talking about culture there at all! Jesus is talking about belief. He was saying he was different than all the other teachers. The dichotomy that doesn’t exist should be our message. It should be the power and message of the true gospel, which states: “God loves you, there is nothing you can do about it!” That is what should set us apart from the world. The world that wants you to think that you have to appease the powers that be. This, unfortunately, has become the “gospel” the western church is obsessed with and therefore made it into an agent of culture. This “gospel” states: “be moral and turn from your evil ways and maybe God will take notice of you”. There is a whole lot more to this idea that will have to be saved for a different post on a different day.

I think it is rather appropriate that Lent takes place during the winter and usually ends toward the beginning of spring. It’s like God is using the whole world to tell us, “There is always a second chance!” Wow, that is incredible is it not? God loves us so much that there is nothing at all we can do to screw it up. No matter how bad we get,  No matter how much we ignore it or God, No matter the circumstances God loves and forgives us! That is the Good News is it not? If we truly believed that why don’t we live like it? Do you live like God loves you? Do you live like God loves everyone and everything?

I don’t know about you, but I want to live like that. I don’t want to continue overlooking the beauty and the grace that surrounds me every day. I don’t want to continue ignoring the power and majesty of God’s love and grace! God is here! God is now! God’s kingdom is here! God’s kingdom is now! I am a citizen, are you?

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