Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Character is What Counts

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, delivers a unique address at a graduation ceremony for Princeton University. Check it out!

Character is What Counts

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simplicity Re-visited

I've had several conversations about the subject of simplicity over the last few days, and I have drawn some conclusions from my observations that I wanted to share in this post.

Simplicity is counter-intuitive to our human nature. What I mean by saying this is that we are wired to pursue something that is more complex than something that is simple. Simplicity is defined as having a laser focus. This means that we know what our target is, and everything we do needs to reflect our pursuit of this target. But it is our love of complexity that prevents us from fully embracing the pursuit of our target.

Think about being in love. When I finally admitted to myself that I loved Bonny, my focus and target was laser clear. Now that I had my target in sight, I need to make sure that my actions reflected my pursuit of her. Every step I took was motivated by love and the courage to fight fear. My identity was shaped by my pursuit, or what I valued...and in this case it was a relationship with my future wife.

Complexity is easier to pursue than simplicity. Not only because simplicity is counter-intuitive to our human nature, but also because the pursuit of complexity gives a tangible (albeit flawed) identity. We wear our "busy" or our "complex" as badges of honor...and for some of us, our definition of success is based on our schedule or appointment book. Busy for the sake of being busy is actually counter-productive.

Each of us longs to be a part of something. Complexity is the drug that gives us a false sense of security and identity. When we define ourselves by what we do, we lose sight of who we really are. Our identity is who we are, and it may inform what we do, but it is not dependent on what we do.

My kids are my kids no matter what. When they scream, yell, or throw food...this doesn't change their identity. Their identity is firm and set in being my children...I am their dad and they are my kids. As a dad, my role is to let them know that my love for them in consistent so that they do not question their role as my kids.

Simplicity is a value for my family, it's counter-intuitive to who we are, but as a value we are in pursuit of it and moving more towards our true identity which is found in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gaming, Behavior & Identity

This is a video of an interesting idea that is beginning to shape our culture in a new way. What do you think about how gaming or participating in games of any kind can help to influence the world in which we live? For me the larger question is about where our identity lies. If we are rooted in Christ, our Christ-like identity informs how we live. How can we use this cutting edge cultural shift to influence others in the ways of Jesus?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Relationally Handcuffed?

Has age specific ministry handcuffed the relational growth and development of youth and families?

I have been thinking about this question over the summer. Having been around the church in a vocational capacity for near 10 years, I've heard this oh so famous line from youth and young adults time and time again: "There is on one my age here." In fact, I believe there was a time or two that I uttered this same thing. It's interesting that one of our cultural norms has so drastically influenced our perceptions when it comes to friendship and relationships. Growing up in a small rural community, I didn't have the luxury of options; neither in the relational world, nor the task oriented world. I learned that in order to satisfy my longing for community, I must be willing to engage others relationally that I perhaps would have avoided had I had another option. At family gatherings, I would hang out with cousins younger and older than me (male & female) and spend countless hours building lifelong memories. In church, I learned that I needed to be able to engage others in conversation...seniors, peers, and other adults. Our youth group would at times combine Jr. High & Sr. High so that we had a critical mass to play epic games such as Mission Impossible.

All the while I never felt left out or stunted relationally because I didn't have a ton of relational options. Instead, I learned that each and every personal connection was a chance to learn and grow relationally. I remember my good friend Reuben, who was retired at the time that I met him. His hobby was polishing stones and creating hand made jewelry. One mother's day I asked Reuben to help me create something special for my mom. After school I would bike to his house and together we'd work on this project at co-habitants in the endeavor. In the end I received what I intended to from this connection (a home-made piece of jewelry...Happy Mom's Day), but I also experienced a by-product of this connection that didn't fully materialize until later on. I learned how to interact and connect with people 4 times my age. I learned that as a young boy, I have something to offer those older than me and those younger than me in a relational capacity.

I sometimes wonder if at the end of the day we're not ripping each other off when we constantly pigeon hole ourselves into age-specific categories. If we never give youth the opportunity to learn how to develop relational connections with people older and younger than themselves, it's no wonder after graduating high school they may not see a fit for themselves in the church world...because they don't know how to intentionally connect with anyone outside of their age group.

As we head into the future, I wonder if we somehow need to correct this navigation error in some capacity. When you think about it, up until high school graduation, the only "programmed" relational connections kids may have with people significantly older than themselves are with their teachers, their parents, grand-parents, aunts & uncles, other relatives, people at their place of work and maybe a smattering of people from their church (if they go to one). Most often, these connections are with people who are in an authoritative role of some sort...and you all know how we as humans tend to feel about those in authority (re-read Genesis 3 in case you need to jog your memory). Instead, we have got to find ways where youth, young adults, kids, seniors, and adults connect together as EQUAL partners in the mission of God. I believe this is the only way to demonstrate to young people that they have value in the relational church community as a whole. As a community, we need to be involved in the creation process of this kind of community for the betterment of not only ourselves, but the greater community as a whole. One such movement that is somewhat "sweeping the nation" right now is the idea of a community garden. The purpose behind the activity is to have neighbors connect with each other in creating a monument as a symbolic representation of community. The beautiful thing about gardens is that they need upkeep...and the relational connections made during the inception of the garden itself can continue to be fostered year after year after year as the community gathers to invest in the growth and maturity of not only the garden, but the community itself.

As a young person learning to develop relationally, I must lead the charge through my willingness to create and develop opportunities for myself to develop on a relational level with those outside of my "age group." Volunteer in kids ministry, hang out at a seniors luncheon, go to the mall during the middle of the day and have coffee with others. Stop and talk to your mechanic, be nice to the waiter or waitress, and spend time connecting with your kids. These are just a few of the ways I can think of to begin growing in this capacity. Great movements of change begin with one person defying the status quo and rising against the cultural norm because he or she has had enough. Well I've had enough of the old adage that says we need to function in age specific silos in order to experience life to the full. It's time for a change...who's with me?

Changing the World Through Gaming

Sounds crazy right? What if we were able to engage the issues we face in our world with the same tenacity and commitment as we do with gaming? In church we wonder where all the men are...maybe we need to rethink how we invite them to participate in the mission and vision of Christianity using creative ideas and solutions such as those presented in this video. I don't personally endorse her take on the evolution of humankind, but nonetheless, her ideas provide us with an interesting challenge and perspective on how to engage the emerging (and so-called lost) generations of both men and women in the mission of God.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Great White Buffalo

This morning I spent time at the youth booth at our church in between and after the Sunday morning services. As someone who enjoys observing people, this opportunity provided me with a great vantage point from which to observe my fellow humans. There where several things that caught my eye (no, not girls, actual things!!), but none more than the underlying need that perpetuates much of what we do as humans...relationship!

Relationship is at the core of who we are. We want to be known and to know others. When we come to any sort of social gathering (church or otherwise), those of us that have some sort of connection with others feel like we belong...but those of us who do not, seem to wander around searching for the elusive desire...our Great White Buffalo.

A mom and her two daughters popped by the youth booth to say hello to me. The oldest daughter is already in our youth ministry, but I had not met either her mom or sister beforehand. They introduced themselves to me and we exchanged some pleasant conversation. As they were leaving I was joking around with the youngest daughter about not knowing her name because she isn't in youth ministry yet. She replied, "Yeah, but when I am, you better not forget my name!" Her reply was laced with a little sarcasm, but a lot of truth. In this moment it once again dawned on me that the most important thing we can offer another person is a relational connection. I believe that what truly draws people to know who God really is, is relationship. Jesus told His disciples that the world would know who He was by the way they showed loved to each other...by their relationships. This got me to thinking, how much do we invest in developing relational connections with others? From a church perspective, we invest money in lights, staff, sound equipment, cameras, seating areas, food, effects and other things. But at the end of the day, how much of this stuff helps us to foster relational connections with others?

You know what makes me feel like I belong somewhere? When someone knows my name! Imagine this for a moment...when you walk into a gathering of people (Christian or not) people know your name and extend relationship to you, because that is the primary reason for the group to gather together. Sometimes we lose sight of the entire focus of the greatest commandment that Jesus gave to us...we are called to both love God and love other people, and in God's economy these two pieces are of equal value. Our church gatherings can sometimes focus on the first part of this commandment and neglect (albeit unknowingly at times) the second part. If what we truly desire is relationship, what do we need to do to ensure that this value is something we actually pursue instead of something we can point to and say that it means something to us?

I'm learning more and more about the pursuit of this Great White Buffalo that is relationship...and I can taste a revolution on the horizon. Be the change you wish to see in the world...who's with me?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Relational Influence

Each of us has the capacity to influence others for good or for bad. Consider this: how can you use your relational influence to create world-sized movements that grip the human heart to the very core? As Christians, the hope we have in Christ is the ultimate motivation for restoration, truth and life to the full. How is Jesus shaping the way you live? How is your life creating a world-wide movement in the name of Christ? Enjoy the video!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leadership Dynamics

As Christians, we are called to be people of influence in the world around us. Watch this video and consider how you can be a person that inspires others to grow relationally and spiritually through connection. Enjoy!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Enable or Empower?

These are two words we don't often use as youth pastors, but as parents, I think we do even though we may not know we are. As a parent of two young children, I am learning a lot about this idea of enabling or empowering my children. Neither of my kids particularly enjoy going to their children's classes at church. We've had struggles off and on with each of them as we try to encourage them to experience things without mommy & daddy right beside them every single step of the way. This last week, my daughter Saydie had a particularly difficult time in her class. I was asked to sit in with her a little bit in order to calm her down. Saydie showed me around her classroom, talked with me a little bit, we shared craft time together and then I slipped out of the room during the story portion of her experience. I found my wife Bonny and chatted with her about my decision to leave the classroom and together we reached the conclusion that it was a decision based on wanting to empower our kids rather than enable them.

When I think of enabling kids, I think of a mother kangaroo. A mother kangaroo keeps its' baby (a joey) safe in her poach for a minimum of 9 months and up to 18 months. In a mother's poach, the joey is safe and secluded from the world and allowed to grow and mature over time. Did you know that mother kangaroos can actually stop the development process of their babies? They are able to control the rate at which their child develops and at times they do choose to slow down the growth rate of their kids for one reason or another. Sometimes as humans, we do this very same thing even though we may not have intended to do so. When we enable our kids, when we prevent them from experiencing both success and failure, we stunt their growth.

When a child is first learning to walk it's easy for mom and dad to hang onto to them every step of their journey. But over time, we must be willing to let go in order to allow them to experience success (taking steps on their own) and failure (falling down) so that they can grow and mature in their ability to walk and eventually even to run. When we let go of our kids, we are empowering them, but when we hang on to them, we are enabling them. Enabling another person robs them of the confidence they need to succeed in life. As my kids go to sleep I utter a blessing over them, but I also remind them that they have what it takes to succeed in life. It might seem silly to share these things with a 2 year old and a 1 year old, but I believe you are never to young to be affirmed and encouraged to grow.

On the other end of the animal kingdom is another animal known as the sea turtle, who's parenting style is drastically different than that of the kangaroo. A sea turtle swims to shore to lay its' eggs in the sand. It then buries them and swims back out to sea. The eggs hatch without a parent present, and the newborn baby turtles are left to figure out how to survive on their own. This is a parenting style that is all too familiar in our world today. When we as parents desire to be a friend to our children instead of a parent, we operate under this same sea turtle type parenting premise. Instead of helping our children find success, we leave them to flounder on their own without lending a hand for guidance and direction.

There is a third animal, the bald eagle, which employs a balanced approach to parenting that I believe we have much to learn from. When teaching its' children to fly, the mother bald eagle glides up into the sky on the wind currents with her kids on her back. At the appropriate altitude, she turns over allowing both gravity and the wind to take over. She then swoops down underneath her children and catches them on her back once again before repeating this process over and over as her kids learn to fly.

As parents and youth workers, our approach to youth should reflect the balanced enabling and empowering approach shown by the bald eagle. When we connect with youth, are we enabling them or empowering them to succeed? When we teach kids, do we allow them to find their own answers to the questions they have while giving them a set of boundaries and guidelines to help in this process, or do we dismiss the learning journey altogether and simply expose them to a verbal barrage of truth that we hope may stick to the walls of their hearts?

Do we enable or do we empower? I hope I have the courage to empower my kids and strength to refrain from enabling them to simply become consumers instead of creators.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tearing Up Rainbows

I'm currently reading The Divine Commodity written by Skye Jethani. This piece of literature is one of those slow reads in that the reader is left with much to think about and digest before moving on to the next concept presented. As pieces of this book have been ruminating around in my heart and mind over the last few weeks, I've come to some conclusions about what I feel I'm learning about my own personal consumer driven tendencies in spirituality.

Years ago I heard a talk given by Louie Giglio where he presented the difference between being a consumer of worship music and being consumed by worship. A consumer of worship music is looking for the next greatest hit to take the church or the individual to the next level in their walk with God, while the person who is simply consumed by worship seeks new frontiers every day through which to express their thankfulness and gratitude to God for who He is.

This basic concept of consumerism is the main theme in Jethani's work. The Divine Commodity outlines how our consumer culture has infiltrated the sacred and become a driving force behind the how, why, when, where and what of church and spirituality. It is this presupposition that each of us brings to the table when we consider questions about God, life, love, faith and spirituality. We are driven to consume. Our lives could be described as a journey of tearing up rainbows trying to find pots of gold that just don't exist. When you think about it, each of us is looking for a little piece of comfort, contentment and pleasure in life...we are looking for our next fix. As a culture, we are addicted to consumerism. We buy, pillage, borrow and consume our way through life looking for that one stabilizing big idea that will somehow make everything else in this world make sense. It is in this pursuit and we are exposed for who we really are...carnal beings with an insatiable appetite for more. This is why I believe the teachings of Jesus are so difficult for our North American culture to truly comprehend. We not only have to reject our default programming, we must also reject our cultural norms and standards and embrace a completely counter-cultural way of life in order to find the true rest and peace our souls crave.

Seems impossible, doesn't it? For me the key lies in the presupposition: Am I drawn to consume, or am I willing to be consumed by something that is larger than life? The Bible describes God as being a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29). If we allow ourselves to be consumed by God instead of focusing on devouring the next big thing in attempt to satisfy our insatiable appetite, I wonder if we would find what we are looking for.

I've torn up my fair share of rainbows in pursuit of my next fix. I've consumed more than I thought was possible and still haven't found absolute satiation. But in learning to be consumed by a God who is greater than I can imagine or hope for, I'm learning that the pot of gold I've been searching for pails in comparison to what I've been given in Him.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning: The Changing Landscape

You may have heard or been subjected to a shift in learning methodology in church and education known as personalized learning development. This video elaborates more about this idea and will hopefully create conversation points in church about how we can develop a collaborative learning environment that is balanced in both hearing and doing. Enjoy!!