Friday, December 18, 2009

So I Married a Vampire . . . The Strange, the Dark and the Compelling

I have a confession to make.

I watched the two Twilight films recently . . and I feel dirty. No, no that’s going to far - it was a joke. Truthfully though, before watching the films I wondered if the decision to do so was somewhat akin to indulging in a guilty pleasure. It felt like I should be embarrassed to tell my friends about . . come to think of it, I guess I really haven’t yet. The title of this article is not a singular reference to a bit of pop culture, but two. The first and most obvious being the hoop-lah of recent years over the ultra successful Twilight saga and the second is a reference to a lesser known film oddity - ‘So I Married An Axe Murderer’. If you hadn’t already picked up the foreshadowing of the nuptials between the two lovers Bella & Edward in the title - I’ve just handed it to you.

My story begins in Eastbourne, England on a recent trip with some fellow youth workers from around the island of Ireland. We were attending a conference on youth ministry and by day two I had reached my ‘full’ indicator a little earlier than I normally would. I was searching for a way out - a pass to remove myself from the suffocating world of often covered, rarely inventive, youth ministry issues. So, while firmly wedged in an over-sized bean bag, I grabbed my iPhone and began to leech the free WiFi while searching for excuses to get off site. I opted to check listings for films since I seldom get out to see any since entering fatherhood. I found two options. Choice number one: ‘2012’ which, although seemingly mindless entertainment, was mildly intriguing. I wasn’t looking for the soul-searching or inspirational fare - just something to veg in front of. Choice number two: some film about vampires and werewolves . . ripping each other apart, I had hoped.

After exhausting my iPhone address book for possible other dissenters to invite into my minor rebellion, I found one; but his availability meant that in order for me to accommodate him, I’d have no choice between films - it was the New Moon Twilight film thingy or none. Not knowing much about the Twilight films apart from my normal youth work responsibility of intentional familiarity, as mentioned above, I was hoping for Action (yes, with a capital ‘A’). It wasn’t to be. Upon entering the extremely cool retro theater, and gliding up the red carpeted staircase I noticed something strange . . we were vastly outnumbered by members of the feminine species and young ones at that. It was at that point I should have connected the dots, but I didn’t.

Now, let me tell you this, I like the occasional dark, moody film. I enjoyed the first and the third installments of the ‘Underworld’ series, I liked the atmospheric sensibilities of the Brothers Grimm (even if the characterization was crap), I enjoyed the older French film ‘The Brotherhood of the Wolf’ - hey, even VanHelsing pushed a few buttons for me. So, going into ‘New Moon‘ I expected at least mildly aesthetically pleasing elements and some serious action sequences as the vampire and werewolf factions clashed. It wasn’t the case. Those two and a half hours were some for the most painful in recent memory for me.

The prevailing reason I remained in my seat for the entirety of the film was so that I could have more credibility when critiquing it in the eyes of my ardent adversaries. More than a few times I was about to laugh out loud at the incredibly cliche encounters between Bella and Edward. Their interactions seemed to me like a play put on by adults who had been told they were master actors by those who knew no better. The exchange of lines and looks was verging on hilarious too often for me to pick out a singular occurrence. In addition to the abhorrent lines between the main characters, I felt constantly pummeled by the uncertainty of the relationship between Bella and Edward and their own uncertainty in their standing with one another. It wouldn’t have been too far out to have had them pass the “Do You Like Me? Please check Yes or No“ note we who are Gen X’ers remember from our elementary years. At least the reply to that note by one of of the pain-stakingly, perplexed lovers would have ended the debacle then and there. I told the friend I attended the screening with that it felt as if I had spent the entirety of the film swimming in the morass of a troubled teenage girl’s mind. Maybe that was the intention of the author but it made it no less pleasant.

Adding to my already beleaguered soul was the uncomfortable reminder I was in the extreme minority in the room. At choice moments which only a young female of the pre-driving age could discern, we would hear the sickening ‘aawwww’ or muffled giggles of glee and delight. I still shudder at the experience as I relive it. I couldn’t help but ask myself ‘Why am I here?’ each time the room was enveloped in the crowd’s ecstatic responses to (nearly) universally apparent cues embedded in the marathon event. Yes, it was a waste of money in light of my desire to have been drawn into a story and entertained for two hours. The other side of the coin is that as a professional youth worker and a trainer of youth workers, it was a somewhat valuable experience. I may have been slightly aided if I had seen the first installment before ‘New Moon’- but only slightly. Surprisingly enough, I did choose to rent the first Twilight film two weeks later and beyond all belief, I enjoyed it. As of this moment, I still have yet to clarify exactly what was qualitatively different about the first film over the second, but there was something different. Okay, it still felt a little claustrophobic being trapped in the mind of the tragic ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ teenage Bella, especially in her manically depressed moments, but on the whole it was more engaging and believable (all but the parts about vampires of course).

Aesthetically, I was awash in the atmospheric elements which I have been all to familiar with the past ten years living in Ireland. When sporadic, those dreary days are a welcome experience. If any of you are particularly drawn to continually overcast skies and perpetually wet weather, come live in my world for a bit . . hey, why don’t we just get down to business and bring up a permanent exchange program?? I’m game. Of even stronger interest to me were the plentitude of exceedingly tall coniferous trees populating the sets and scenes. I loved that sense of being dwarfed by these earth-bourne giants. I can imagine the pleasant smell of pine filling the damp air of ‘Forks’. The fact that the sea was apparently very accessible was a welcome invention as well. Another thing I appreciated about the production value of the film was the stylizing of the vampires - especially the abstinent Cullen crew. Of course, their human-free diet choices added to their mystique, in addition to minor aspects of their appearance and ultimately their behaviour.

Beyond the purely ‘arty’ aspects of the two Twilight films, there were some deeper issues that came to light but which did not glisten like the glittery skins of their blood-sucking central characters. A few of these issues are certainly of utmost concern for parents of teens and youth workers / pastors as well. Next week, I’d like to explore some of these concerns and highlight what we should be aware of which may be negatively impacting more impressionable psyches through their often whole-sale embrace of stories such as Twilight. Even with this in mind, we will continue to celebrate what can be celebrated, when and where it is found.


**This was originally posted on Risen Magazine in the Blog section**

MySpace of Solitude & Silence

This is Moinahincha (sp?) Abbey in northern Co. Tipperary, Ireland, just to the south east of Roscrea where my office is. I have known the need to get away from the traffic of life - to step out of it for a while - at God's invitation for some time now but I didn't have a regular practice. Apart from moments devoted to quiet reflection and connection with God each day, it is my intention to make a regular monthly, more lengthy get away. This is my place of choice for now. Today it was freezing - literally - while I was there (0C/32F). C-O-L-D!

The Abbey was established on an island in a lake (drained now) in the 8th century. The name Moinahincha means "The Monastery on the Island of the Living". Cool, huh?!

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Oh My God'

Here's a little film that apparently came out sometime this autumn but I must have missed it. I've never heard of it before, having just came across this interesting promo video on Pete's blog (thanks Pete!) I would really like to see it. I'm always interested in how people describe, express their understanding of and feel drawn to the Divine. I'm equally interested in discerning how God makes Himself known to people and draws them to Himself.

As a Christian I see all this through how God has revealed Himself to me (in the Scriptures and Jesus Christ primarily) and how He continues to communicate who He is . . even in silence. So, when a filmmaker makes a courageous move to explore some of these issues (ala 'Religulous' by Bill Maher)- I'm interested. Ultimately, I think these sort of open ended explorations help me to understand the human person better and consequently, how to best facilitate people encountering Jesus in fresh ways.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Youth Ministry Christmas

Something from our friends at Simply Youth Ministry for the Holidays . . .

Help Portrait Help Others

Check Help_Portrait out on Twitter HERE

Check Help-Portrait out on the Home Page HERE

Images from the Road

Here are some random shots I've taken from some of my travels the past few months . . .

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Church Planting in Post Christendom

Here's a video of a friend's pastor sharing about the development of 'Missional Orders' as one answer to being a thriving Christian community in 21st century Western culture. It was a bit like the froth on the top of a cappuccino . . nice but light.

Dave Fitch - the Cultivate Talk on Missional Orders from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.


One Minute Soundsculpture from Daniel Franke on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Open Letter to an Anonymous Friend

Below is a response to a friend whom I've recently been in contact with again after nearly twenty years. In high school we were seemingly coming from polar opposite viewpoints, but I always appreciated his willingness to converse with me and I felt there was a mutual respect for one another - even though we disagreed at many points.


Friend, I find it interesting that you said you had a 'calling' to go to church. I'm still interested to know what denomination/brand/flavor of Christian church it is - i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, non-denominational, charismatic, etc, etc.

I understand (largely from experience) that people can often tune out when someone begins expounding on the Scriptures (Bible). It's been done to me and I have at times done it to others! But this can also happen with any subject in life - not just the Bible. I find it often has more to do with the messenger (teacher/preacher) than it does the Bible or content itself. A passionate, well-studied, dynamic messenger can keep me hooked by speaking on how mould grows or paint peels for an hour. In the case of the Bible, it has content that speaks for itself - but a deathly messenger can cause people to tune it out. Agreed. The interesting thing is that the issues/topics you mentioned such as angels, the human soul and healings, etc. are all IN the Bible already - waiting to be discovered. There are also much more disturbing elements, as well as the incredibly satisfying truth and reality that resounds in our soul when we take it in!

You mentioned that "it is really sad how a majority of Christian's put Jesus on the same level as God, how some seem to think they are one - in a way Yes but No." A few things about this . . firstly, of course Christians put Jesus on the same level as God - Jesus Himself claimed to be God (wrapped in human flesh) and that He and the Father are One. This is the point of being a Christian . . we follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. If someone decides they don't like or don't want to believe something that Jesus has said - well then, why should that person even bother thinking that they are a Christian? The etymology of the word 'Christian' means 'little Christ'. The end result of following Jesus is to imitate Him in every way, to become like Him - His teachings, example of how He treats people and how He lived His life. A Christian does this because they believe (whether they are able to articulate it or not) that Jesus Christ is the highest/perfect/truest example of what it means to live a truly human life in the love of God - as we were designed to. If we begin picking and choosing what we want to believe or imitate of Jesus' life and teachings, we then cease to be a Christian - by choice - and we become something else. In the Book of John (New Testament - last third of the Bible), chapter ten and verse thirty, Jesus says, "I and the Father are one." [N.I.V.] After being accused of blasphemy/lying by His fellow Jews, He then goes on to say, "Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (vs. 36-38). I encourage you to read the whole of John chapter ten in the N.I.V. version and then in the Message version (to contrast) to get a clearer sense of what Jesus said about Himself here and here.

You also mentioned, "one has to remember some of the things Jesus did, he traveled to other areas and learned other religious ways first hand, he learned Buddist things, Hindu things (Yoga for one, look how some paintings have Jesus sitting). And he also learned Pagan ways since that was the main thing in those days. So he came back and thought those things, the good parts to others." Now, I am fully aware that I do not know everything, nor will I in this life, but I have been an intentional follower of 'The Way' Jesus exemplified for about 21 years now and never have I read, heard or come across what you have mentioned above. While I am quite sure Jesus had knowledge of the ways and belief systems of other civilizations around His own, present and past, I cannot see how He (if we take Him at His word that He is the Son of God) would have any need of leaning on rituals and faith systems created by mankind when He Himself is God. God defines everything else other than Himself because by nature God is an 'independent' being - His existence is not contingent on anything because He is the Source of it all. We - and the whole created order - on the other hand are dependent beings/creations . . we can only survive by deriving our life from sources outside ourselves. I know of no recorded, historical accounts of Jesus going in search of truth/reality from man-made faith systems. Please enlighten me if you do know of such sources and point me in their direction so I search them out for myself. Even if there are credible sources stating the kinds of things you have suggested, the very existence of them would work against what the Scriptures reveal to be true of Jesus and what He said of Himself and His mission.

You said, "Too many ppl pray to Jesus and not God." Yes, this is true - a lot of Christians do pray to Jesus, but as you can see from Jesus' own statements about Him being one in nature and stature with God, it is understandable. If we believe what He said about Himself, then it follows that it makes sense to speak with Him as God('s Son). While Jesus never prayed to Himself, but to His Father (God), I think it is an entirely acceptable practice to speak directly with God the Father, God the Son or even God the Spirit (Holy Spirit). The predominant Christian understanding of God being triune in nature (a trinity of persons) means that They are all one and the same, yet different in expression/function and therefore They share the same significance and are due the same status. The Trinitarian nature of God has long been one that has perplexed many people but still it has persisted. While there is no explicit mention of 'the Trinity' in the Bible, it is implied many times over right from the beginning in the book of Genesis and through the book of Revelation (the first and last books). God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Spirit that is Holy are mentioned and referred to as being one with each other (interchangeably) all the way through the Bible. It is a mystery still - but an integral aspect of God's character is mystery and that is how I prefer it. ;-)

You asked about the church you go to teaching "You are what you say". I don't know exactly what you are telling me here or what the church may be teaching with this. Every pastor/teacher/minister/priest has a unique slant on how they share or 'pitch' a message. Maybe this is something unique to the priest where you have been attending? I agree that what we 'think' is a determining factor in our behavior - how we treat others and ultimately who we become (our character). The Bible says, " . . as a man thinks in his heart, so he is" in the book of Proverbs and also in the book of Mark, chapter seven, verses twenty through twenty three, "He [Jesus] went on: 'It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.' " So, in essence, I'm agreeing with you - what we are in our inner being is revealed in our words and behavior ('you'll know a tree by the fruit it bears'). Maybe whomever shared "You are what you say" at the church meant to encourage everyone to 'do what they say they'll do' - you know, follow through??

You said, "so now I'm learning more about Christian ways even tho the vast parts of it are from Pagan and Jewish beliefs. Actually pretty much all religions share the same core things, just have different names for it. Some call the energy CHI, you would know it as The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. same stuff." Regarding your mention of Jewish beliefs being a source for many of the Christian beliefs - you are right. Christians understand Jewish faith as being the parent faith of Christianity yet not complete in itslef. Jewish faith had always (right from Genesis) been in a waiting posture for God's answer to humanity's predicament to arrive on the scene and make things right - set everything the way it was meant to be. The One they are eagerly waiting for is the Messiah (Hebrew) or the Christ (Greek) - both of which are translated as the 'Chosen' or 'Anointed One'. Basically, God's Son sent to be the answer to the world/humanity's problems. The place of divergence, or where Christianity separates from Judaism (Jewish beliefs), is that Christians believe Jesus (the Christ, the One from Nazareth) to be the Messiah and the Jews do not. They are still waiting. The Bible (and Jesus) are quite clear that the Messiah they are waiting for is a misunderstanding of God's intended and stated purpose for His Son. So, the Jews, not being able to take in or believe that Jesus of Nazareth was who He claimed and demonstrated Himself to be, killed Him themselves. That too was meant to happen as prophesied to fulfill God's purposes. And, as you are well aware, the story goes that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day which validated all He said and did before His death. Hey, if you were the Son of God and could rise from the dead wouldn't you?? ;-)

Regarding the seemingly overlap of other faith systems with Christianity, the best explanation of that occurrence comes to us from the author of the incomparable book 'The Lord of the Rings' - J.R.R. Tolkien himself (a devout Catholic). He had a conversation with another eminent scholar and writer C.S. Lewis ('Chronicles of Narnia' fame) prior to Lewis becoming a Christian in which they talked about all the resonances between the Christian story and other mythologies. Tolkien observed that Lewis had no problem immersing himself in the depth and richness of the old Norse and Greek myths - even to the point of wishing they were true - not wanting to remove himself from 'living' within them. It was the noblest, most honorable and upright elements of those stories that endeared them to Lewis and caused his soul to sing with delight. Tolkien then told Lewis why should it be any different then with the story of the world as told from the Christian worldview? Why did Lewis put up his guard when confronted with the realities of the 'good news' found in the Bible? Deep down Lewis wanted it to be true even if he didn't allow himself to consent to it intellectually. It's as if the Story of a good God lovingly reaching out to the people He made in joy was resonating with something deep inside him . . maybe because it was meant to.

Tolkien, ingenious author that he was, once stated that every 'good' story contains elements of the one 'true' story in it. Could it be that the Story which speaks to the deepest places in our souls and offers answers to our most innate desires could, in fact, be true?? Is it really true in every circumstance that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is? Most of the world, truthfully speaking, would hope it isn't the way. I love a good story . . how about you?

I leave you with the encouragement to also check out John chapter one verses one through thirty four in The Message version of the Bible. It has a lot to say to some of your thoughts/questions about who Jesus is. You can find it online here friend.

May God continue to reveal more of Himself to us and illuminate our otherwise muddied souls with the Light of lights and the Truth of all truths!

Catch you soon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Band To Watch (and listen to)!

I was introduced to these guys by long time friend Jeff Jackson of Covert Management two and a half years ago. He manages Seabird and has one terrific band! The first time I heard their first album I had the songs lodged in my soul for three months without hearing the songs again during that time. When I got their first album from Jeff after a long time waiting, it was like a reunion with someone who I had been longing to be with for ages - sweetness and light!! Their music really is exemplary. No joke. They recently had a song on Grey's Anatomy - Joy To The World (opens in iTunes) - and their new single from the upcoming (Dec. 15th) album 'Rocks Into Rivers' entitled 'Don't You Know That You're Beautiful' (opens in iTunes) is absolutely satisfying for the musical connoisseur. You'll be doing your soul a favour by buying the new album (or the single now) in a couple of weeks.

I'm glad they'll be coming to Ireland in December, with one gig in Ballymena, N. Ireland and possibly another somewhere in Dublin (TBA). Check out this brief 'behind the scenes . . .

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Simple Joys!

Here are some pictures from our family day out today at Kildare Village just off the M7. I love both times we've been there- mostly because the kids always have a great time. The last time we were there the kids had their faces painted, enjoyed a clown and stilt-walker & got balloons. Today they met the one and only Santa with his elf helper. We then headed out to have dinner at Midway where Neve and Aidan had pizza & cookies. It's the simple things which can often bring the most joy in life. All-in-all it was a great day . . and Christy and I had Starbucks (not a regular occurance because we don't live near one)!

PS- There's an ancient quote from the Kildare Papers posted there which says, "Always remember three things, 'Whence you came, who you are and where you are going.' " Great quote!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whom Shall I Send? Who Will Go for Us?

Do Celebs Need Saving? from Risen Magazine on Vimeo.

Artistic Missional Practice and Theory

The above title of the post reminds me of a line of thinking that has been going around for some time. It's one of contrast.

It has been said that the Church in the past few centuries has been (over?)fixated on orthodoxy or 'right belief' - getting your theology or 'study/understanding of God' right (sometimes to the exclusion of doing right by people who are created in the image of God Himself). Then, and only then, can you be about orthopraxis or 'right doing/living'. As the book of James seems to stress, more attention in recent years has been shifting to orthopraxy with its specific application as we live in relationship with others. This re-calibrating focus then is moving toward orthodoxy VIA orthopraxy - or 'right belief through right action/living'. While I see the need for this shift in the Church in the West, it must only shift so far as to rebalance our faithful obedience to Christ's example and call.

In Scott McKnight's 'Missional Mondays' post this week he shares some insights that are particularly helpful from pastor and author Dr. Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He shares Keller's "key characteristics of missional churches who've made the ecclesiological shift" from his article 'The Missional Church':

1. Discourse in the vernacular: Missional churches avoid tribal language, we-them language, talking as though non-believers weren't present in our churches. We must learn to discourse in the local vernacular's our churches are situated within

Enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel: Missional churches enter into their culture by showing sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the artifacts of the culture (music, art, literature, food, etc.) acknowledging the goodness of culture because of common grace and the image of God in all humanity; missional churches are able to re-tell their cultures stories in light of the biblical story which shows us how in Christ we can have freedom without slavery, embracing the 'other' without injustice.

Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation: Missional churches train everyone to 'think Christianly' about everything and work with distinctive's shaped by the biblical story; people are encouraged to renew and transform culture through a theology of work; and to become culture-makers; missional churches encourage people to demonstrate love and 'tolerance' in the public square, under cutting intolerance as a common defeater of the gospel in the Post-Christian West.

Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive: Missional churches seek to empower and equip the body to show the surrounding culture how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power; and missional churches practice holistic mission because the world is a holistic mess because of sin and God has provided a holistic answer in Christ; they do this through word and deed, through the proclamation and presence of the Kingdom of God.

How does this all dovetail with the Arts? Well, as per Tim's first point, the Arts ARE the vernacular of any culture. It seems to me that it's a matter of art imitating life and life then, in turn, life imitating art. It's a strange cycle, but true for the masses. So, if we are to be masters of our craft - whatever the field or medium may be - we have an opportunity to become more conversant in the vernacular or the 'everyday language' of the places, spaces and networks in which we live, move and have our being by listening. No one who has yet to develop the art of listening will have anything really valuable to contribute to a conversation, much less someone's life. Learn to listen, then, by God's empowering Spirit, offer what He has already given you ("What is in your hand?" He said to Moses) in a 'language' that those around you speak.

The second point Dr. Tim Keller makes about entering and retelling the culture's stories is one that should come somewhat naturally to someone with a gifting and vocation in the Arts. It doesn't really matter what your discipline is, every area of specialty in the Arts is essentially about narrative. Through your medium you're telling a story. Even if you deny your work communicates a story, the work itself carries it's own story within it - how it came to be and what brought it 'to life'. If we are to really move people, learning and re-telling stories that they either face daily, or that are embedded deep within their psyche, is a core practice. We, as artists, can employ our general vocation as 'prophets' in society to share Truth - especially when we reinterpret and present anew stories that people thought they already knew and understood. We can enable someone to see life from a different perspective or angle. Speaking Christianly, this conversion to Truth, is akin to the role C.S. Lewis believed the Arts fulfilled . . being pre-evangelistic in nature.

What other thoughts do you have on Tim Keller's points three and four regarding the role of the Arts and the 'Creative' in culture?

Psalm 119 Meditation

Here is a brilliant meditation on Psalm 119 - lectio divina style - that was used at Youthwork the Conference last weekend in Eastbourne, England. I think I may snag it for some school retreats I'll be doing in the New Year. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Might You Have Done Differently?

I recently connected with Rev. Thomas Brackett who is the Programme Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment with the Episcopal Church in the USA. His role is a relatively new one which he is helping to create as he goes along. I had the privilege of speaking with him about three weeks ago and I was very interested to hear what his experience has been like in his position. He keeps a blog called 'Church Planting Central' which is very informative and inspiring. If you're at all interested in the interface of the Church and culture and have a missional heart, or especially if you're a part of the Anglican Communion, check out his blog and even get in touch with him.

What follows is a segment of a recent post on his blog entitled 'What Might You Have Done Differently?' which explores some of the current difficulties the Church in the West is experiencing in regards to the hemorrhaging of people - and especially those between 15-35 - and the chasm in understanding and connection with those outside its family. It touches on areas that I have been investing significant time, thought and prayer the past five+ years in regards to Fresh Expressions (UK) and 'Pioneer Ministry' (new and as-of-yet unknown expressions of what it means to be the Church in society) Read and heed friends . . .

"Some of you know that, a few months ago, I spent three weeks in the UK, exploring the Church of England’s “Fresh Expressions” movement. It felt like I barely scratched the surface in my explorations! I met so many wonderful people – sat in on challenging and inspiring conversations – I mean, overall it was more than I ever expected from this visit. I was welcomed by gracious hosts in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, London,Devon and various stops along the way. I went there with one question on the tip of my tongue – everywhere I went. I asked that same question in pretty much the same way, each time. It went something like this . . .

“If you knew twenty years ago what you know today about the impact of secularization on the relationship of Culture to Church and vice versa, what might you have done differently to prepare the institution for those emerging realities, back then?” I asked this seemingly rhetorical question of nearly seventy people there in the Church of England. Some lay folks, a scattering of bishops and a whole lot of active clergy agreed to talk “for the record.” I filled a notebook with their responses – it was marvelous! There were a few who objected to the question and a few more who cautioned me against asking such a question from Church leaders engaged with a very different culture.

Nonetheless, I’ve been carrying that notebook around with me for the last three months, reading and rereading the responses. A few weeks ago, I began sorting what I’d written into major themes – sort of categories of answers. It was no surprise that the most powerful answers I encountered centered around the following paraphrased response:

'Twenty years ago, we were actively pushing our young people out the doors of our churches and Dioceses. We didn’t mean to – it’s just that we wouldn’t make room for them in our activities; we didn’t include their voices in our public conversations; we didn’t ask them for stories of their encounters with the good news of God as known in Jesus Christ. As a result, we lost them. They went elsewhere to find expression for their gifts. Today, there is little likelihood of attracting them back into our Church. In their absence, we lost sight of the huge gap growing between the insider language of the Church and the realities of the Culture we are called to serve. Now that’s a huge loss, but it’s not the biggest loss we’ve experienced, subsequently.

The greater loss is that we forgot how to nurture the prophetic voice in our midst. We’ve forgotten how to foster new young leaders in nurturing and mutually-shaping communities. Today, we are working on bringing new young leaders into our churches but that’s not the same as nurturing the prophetic voice in community – training new leaders to cultivate community with a hoe instead of directing with the Verger’s mace. That takes time to develop! It’s an art of “being in community” that very few have ever experienced, nonetheless mastered.

So, (several of them concurred) if we could go back – if you could learn from us – we would encourage you to take action now; do not wait until you have it figured out. Invite faith-filled young leaders into your communities. Listen. Try on new ideas. Experiment. Be willing to fail – often and early. “Fail away” until patterns of meaning start to emerge from your communities in discernment. Listen for the Fresh Expressions of the Spirit in their sometimes awkward and clumsy offerings. Especially listen and observe the way they use ritual and music to make sense of the insanity of our lives.'

(I’ll stop there – I think the point is clear!)"

Read the introduction and conclusion of this post . . .

Friday, November 06, 2009

ANOIS 2009 Review

Well, all said, this year - the sixth - at Anois was the best yet.

We had many new experiences this year- a new venue, new location, some new young people and new leaders! It was hosted at Kilkenny College in, uh, Kilkenny City. I think both the location AND the venue were very good for the event as a whole. Kilkenny offered a wide range of activities available for the young people to be a part of and the school campus was sufficient for the weekend festival.

The theme this year was CANNONBALL - being the 'freak' that God made you to uniquely be and leaving your mark on the world in relationship & partnership with Him. Scott Evans our messenger (and Diocesan Youth Officer for the SouthEast region with the Church of Ireland) did a superb job communicating honestly, authentically and sensitively to the young people. Well done friend! Jeremy Casella (long time friend from Nashville, TN) was, as per usual, very gifted and genuine in his leading of the worship segments. Thanks brother!

I get such a buzz out of seeing the young people being exposed to God in what is often a new light for them and how they respond to the Spirit's work in their lives. May God continue it long after Anois! I also get very excited about working with the fantastic leadership team we have EVERY year. This year was no exception. In fact, we had a huge number of dedicated, passionate volunteer leaders - 55 in all!

So, thanks to each and every one of you . . to the young people of Ireland for making Anois possible and to the leaders for birthing vision into reality . . where we ALL had the opportunity to experience something of God's love and goodness over that weekend. Thank you God for showing up!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Relational Intelligence Report

Research is telling us that there are many different types of 'intelligence' within the human race. No, that's not just something people who are thick-headed say. It's true - intelligence reaches beyond the simple acquisition of information and knowledge. It basically is identified in those aspects of your person that are the most developed. I just took this Relational Intelligence Survey which gave me a report at the end of it and here are the results:

While it's always important to remember that a survey or test does no define who you are, they can be useful in encouraging self-awareness and reflection. Why don't you take it too and see what turns up?

Go HERE for the survey.

Monday, October 12, 2009

S.O.G. Crew with Risen Magazine

From my Mag -

Eite TV - S.O.G. Crew with Risen Magazine

S.O.G. Crew:



The S.O.G. Crew|MySpace Music Videos

The Spirituality of the Young

There are roughly two groupings of young people we could address: those not walking with Jesus and those who are His apprentices. While some of the following will pertain to both groupings, we’ll primarily focus on those not yet walking with Jesus.

Let’s look at what we’re talking about when we speak of youth. For purposes of our conversation I’ll be referring to the phase of development in the lives of young people called adolescence. What is adolescence then? It comes from two words in Latin that together convey ‘maturity’.

Adolescence is . . .

    • Is seen as a period between childhood and full maturity.
    • Classically this time frame was considered to be the period between the ages of 12-18 but in contemporary times it is often now considered to extend to the mid twenties.

From the 1850’s until the second World War, adolescents often left school when they began maturing physically - the age of puberty. They then took their place in the workforce and were considered to be at the age to take on the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing. Around the time of WW2 much of the ‘developed’ world introduced compulsory full-time education - except in Ireland where it was adopted in 1965.

Now due to numerous factors including . . .

    • compulsory education until the age of 18
    • The proximity of a majority of the Irish population to 3rd level (university) education
    • The increasing fragmentation of the nuclear family unit from divorce / separation and the resulting lack of confidence in monogamous, life-long relational stability
    • The relevant affluence of much of the population but increasing suspicion of the lure of materialism and it’s hollow claims
    • AND possibly the ever-broadening awareness of the world’s problems

. . young people’s dependence on parents or primary care-givers is now stretching into their 20’s, thus lengthening the period of adolescence.

Referring back the mention of relative affluence, it’s important to not underestimate the effect that recent changes - both increasing prosperity and even more recent financial difficulties - have on the formation of young lives. Some of you may remember a book and subsequent television programme that came out in 2006 / 2007 called The Pope’s Children. The book was written by David McWilliams and the show was presented by him as well. It was a fascinating look into Ireland’s culture from the time of Pope John Paul the second’s visit in 1079 until the present time the book was released. The title ‘The Pope’s Children’ refers to the generation born roughly around his visit to these shores. David McWilliams had many insightful comments to make in his presentation. He stated that this was the first time in ages (donkey’s years) that a large majority of Irish children have been able to grow up in the same country as their parents. This change stands in stark contrast to the sad story from ages past where grannies would spend Christmas day sobbing down the phone on Christmas day wanting to see their grandchildren who lived in far off places. Many of the enticements of the presently absent ‘Celtic Tiger’ are what contributed to the Irish being dubbed among the happiest people in the world, and to 7 out of 10 immigrants choosing to live in Ireland over France.

Much of the experience of Irish teens is seemingly contrary to the benefits up til no enjoyed by the European ‘poster child’ for success. In her 2006 book, ‘Celtic Cubs: Inside the mind of the Irish Teenager’, Dublin counselor and psychologist Orla McHugh addresses many of these pressing issues for the Irish adolescent. From even a cursory glance of her table of contents one can see she addresses general parameters for the period of adolescence and then continues delving into issues now often synonymous with the teenage experience: parental separation or divorce, bullying, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, criminal and anti-social behaviour, depression and suicide. Dated from just last September, an article on RTE’s website read, “The annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention shows that Ireland has the fifth highest rate of youth suicide in Europe. Provisional figures show that Ireland's suicide rate rose by just over 10% between 2006 and 2007. The report found men under the age of 35 accounted for 40% of all suicides.” This problem isn’t going away on its own.

Being honest with oneself, it’s sad to be reminded of these very pertinent and pressing issues which so many teens face and realise that while there is hope - there is always hope - we are part of the problem. We’ve heard it said that children suffer because of the sins of the fathers (meaning parents), and while I know I have borne pain inherited from my own parents and those generations before me, I am also leaving some of inherited pain for my children. Either by our implication by being a member of the human race, or by our decision to ignore the issues, we become part of the persistent problem. To some degree we all carry baggage - known or unknown to us - passing something of it on to those who come after us. Fortunately - this is where hope comes in - as people who place their faith in the God-man Jesus Christ, this sad story has a redemptive turn in it. As Christians, redemption is the card we carry since through our lives we demonstrate how God is re-making the Paradise that was once lost . . Intimate, life-giving connection with Him and with one another.

The reason that so many of our young people are lost and are being lost is because they often have no tangible grasp on hope. No demonstrable example of it in their sphere of reference. AS one aspect after another of teens’ lives disillusions them to the reality of a real, lasting ‘Good’ being present to them - the Body of Christ, ‘the Restoration of Humanity’ - has an unmistakeable opportunity to build that bridge of hope for the young people of this land. Let’s not be led to believe that the cold, impersonal, behemoth of an institution some perceive to be the ’church’ will ever, in actuality, offer a saving hope to young people. It has never and will never do so. Thankfully young people are hard to deceive - they see under our pretense and posturing - our layers of protection - much better than we do with one another. Real personal connections matter a great deal to teens, even though they often give in to appearances. As Jesus is quoted as saying in a recent New York Times bestseller, “Being always transcends appearance.”

Because of the centrality of relationship to the God-head, and therefore to humanity itself, it is only truly through authentic, healthy, inspiring relationships that teens will have access to the light we hold inside these ‘jars of clay’. It is passed on, if you will, through assimilation . . as time and concern are given as though someone’s life depends on it - because it often does. I was listening to CNN in the car on the way home this week and I heard about a study which showed that drug, alcohol and cigarette abuse was higher among children that eat three or less dinners a week with their family. Those who ate four or more undistracted (no television or phone use) meals a week with their family were less likely to engage in such destructive behaviour. As they said, ‘it’s not what is on the plate that matters, it’s who’s at the table.’

In order for young people to encounter the living Jesus Christ, to some degree we must share our very lives with them. Programmes can’t be trusted to do this. Good, worthwhile humanitarian service projects can’t do this on their own. Church services and liturgy - as much as we value them - for that matter are only supplemental to an encounter with Jesus Himself. It is only through you and I caring deeply about young people and being available to be present to them that their progress in apprenticeship to Jesus can be made manifest, real, palpable.

All that to say, more and more I find myself not knowing how to separate spirituality from the experiences of our everyday lives. It’s no different for young people as it is for us. If we understand the Gospel to be reconciliatory and redemptive in nature, and salvation to be holistic, then salvation in it’s fullest sense means a reacquisition of all that God originally intended for us as played out in the beginning of creation. As has been shown to me in more recent days, it’s the orientation of people’s souls that matters most - or whether they’re aware of their hunger for God that lies within. If someone is moving God-ward we have much to thank Him for and much to work with. If someone is moving away from Him, embracing their own plans and devices, then our task is much harder. I believe, as was the case in the Gospel story, that the surest way to become like Jesus is to spend time with Him. For many of the young people we walk alongside their initial encounter with that same Jesus will be through our lives, as they reveal that we too have been with Jesus.

The Social Media Revolution!

This is going to be quickly outdated - but - when it is, the case will be even stronger. Watch and understand . . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Can't Believe I Missed This Until Now . .

I really can't believe I missed this until now! I was impressed with what a bunch of enthusiastic fans accomplished . . it was excellent. That should be a lesson for all of us no matter what we're passionate about! Here's the film's website for more info and behind the scenes coverage.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life Lessons for Leaders

If you're responsible for pastoring others and are operating in a leadership capacity, you may want to make time to learn from some capable, interesting people of influence in the lessons they have to share from their own lives. This is a *FREE* inline event and it starts today at 9:09a.m. CST in the States. Register and check it out!

From the site:

"THE NINES is a free one-day event that will take place totally on-line. It is designed for all church staff members who want to be motivated and stretched in their leadership. Leadership Network asked some of the church's greatest communicators: 'If you had nine minutes to talk one-on-one with thousands of church leaders, what is the one thing that you would tell them?' The result is a series of passionate and personal messages that will help you and your church navigate into the future."

Some of the messengers are:

Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church)
Reggie McNeal (Leadership Network)
Perry Noble (NewSpring Church)
John Ortberg (Menlo Park Presbyterian)
Steven Furtick (Elevation Church)
Nancy Beach (Willow Creek Church)
Leonard Sweet (Author/Speaker)
Stacy Spencer (New Direction Christian Church)
Ed Stetzer (Lifeway Research)
Mark Batterson (National Community Church)
Dave Ferguson (Community Christian Church)
Alan Hirsch (Forge Mission Training Network)
Dino Rizzo (Healing Place Church)
Dan Kimball (Vintage Faith Church)
Greg Surratt (Seacoast Church)

+ about 50 others!

Monday, September 07, 2009


As ever, I'm so inspired by what Craig Gross and his friends are up to as the Spirit leads them.
The newest inspiration has come in the form of moving to Las Vegas - Sin City - and starting a church (of sorts) on the Strip for people who would not otherwise entertain being in church. They have a number of ministries that are practically meeting the needs of people in the area and that serve as a point of connection with them including offering free water on the sidewalks (see video below), free bus rides in the 'Jesus Loves Sin City' bus, cleaning, cooking and connecting with
prostitutes at brothels and a traveling wedding chapel bus! The church is due to start in December 2009 or January 2010. Of course, there is still the official link with Craig's original effective vision of XXX CHURCH.

Check these links out and see what God is doing in 'sin city'. He's not absent. Sign up for a service trip for yourself or a team from your network. Be prepared to be moved and to stand in wonder of God's goodness and love for people lost to themselves . . and don't forget to give to or pray for the STRIP CHURCH team - if you're the praying type.

Check out EXIT Concerts for another brilliant initiative to reach hurting and at-risk young people in Las Vegas!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Finish with a Great Song

I think we'll close out this week with a classic killer song from our boys P.O.D. called 'Alive'. Enjoy!

The Bible, Mary & God's Initiative

I was just thinking in the car this morning on the way to my office that there is another way in which Christians of the Protestant faith are similar to those of the Catholic faith . . and it's an unexpected one.

One area of major divergence for these two camps is in how they each view the person of Mary, Jesus' mother - or the 'theotokos' in the Greek Orthodox tradition.
The Catholic Church has always had a special status among humanity for the mother of God - and rightly so - after all, she is the mother of God. She is said to have been born free of sin (the Immaculate Conception
) in order to be the 'host' of God in this world. The
Protestant understanding of Mary, the mother of God, is that in all ways she was as any other human being is - except that God chose her for the special purpose of birthing Jesus Christ into the world. She had her purpose, other saints had theirs and you and I have ours. Simple. Done. One musician named Rich Mullins once said that, 'Maybe it's not that Catholics revere Mary too much, maybe it's that we revere each other too little.'

I do not claim to be a theologian - nor do I believe in false dichotomies that give some claim to some special place over others in regards to access to God. I believe Jesus settled that one for us. I do recognise however that some have invested more time, energy and experience in the
pursuit of the One who passionately pursues them and therefore have more to contribute to conversations about God. However, while it may be that Catholics feel they must attribute a 'special righteousness' to Mary in order that she might have been more acceptable to be the one who bore God into the world (being without sin herself); many Protestants have seemingly employed the same principle in the collating and elevation of the Scriptures. The Scriptures (Bible) have been the dominant feature in Protestant theology & praxis, and therefore since all of life and faith under God emanates from the source of God's communiqué to humanity (the Bible) it must be 'protected' and held to be without fault or inaccuracy (seemingly of any kind) since God Himself is immutable, Truth itself and the Source of all things.

In my opinion it seems that in this both Catholics and Protestants are alike - in the Catholic estimation and elevation of Mary the mother of God and in the Protestant estimation and elevation of the Scriptures - in order to make both Mary & the Scriptures more acceptable, pertinent, authoritative (in our eyes?) to ordinary human existence. This is unnecessary and it smells of the human tendency to attempt to build on the efficacy of God's already capable plan of grace and forgiveness. It seems in both of these attempts to 'make good' what God has already done (i.e. 'to prop ourselves up' and contribute something to our own right-standing with God), we reveal what our true belief is . . that what God has done is not already good enough.

Built into the meta-narrative (grand, over-arching story) of God's engagement with humanity is that all the initiation, effort and persistence in chasing us is all His doing. He carries that story where we have dropped it countless times. God has always sought us out. He has always come to our side, reached out to meet us - rather than us elevating ourselves to Him. He has (seemingly) always been committed to getting into the mess and the mire of our human existence in order to communicate something of His depth of love for us. We DO NOT need to clean ourselves up before coming to Him, nor can we. He does this also for us when we do come to Him. In contemporary idiom, "It's all on Him." That's the way it is, always has been and always will be.

There is truth that leads to information and truth that leads to salvation (transformation). Both are good but one is essential. So while I do not personally believe it necessary to defend Mary's sinless holiness nor the Bible's inerrancy, I believe that God has, and is, communicating Himself through both to great effect in people's lives. Both are somehow key to God's unfolding story of love and redemption in the human race. That is not to say that I wish to devalue either. In fact, although my own heritage causes me to lean toward a higher view of Scripture, I do not wish to elevate it (The Word of God) over God Himself - which seems to be common practice in some sectors of the Christian family.

'Let God be true, and every man a liar.' (Romans 3:4)