Friday, October 29, 2010

The Cloud

In chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews goes through the Who's Who of the faith. That person didn't make selections based on wealth and power, prestige and prominence. Instead, the writer noted those who were strong in faith, able to see God and God's future, and oriented their lives around these even to the point of sacrifice. Such people form our cloud of witnesses.

As we approach All Saints Day, we remember them and the many others who have since died, some quite recently. Remembering strengthens us as we note that we are not alone on this journey as we join a long procession of witnesses. Some of our liturgies, prayers, creeds, and hymns also serve to remind us that yes, we are part of the church triumphant as well as the church universal.

Inasmuch as we remember the cloud, we also look beyond the cloud to Jesus Christ. We serve Jesus and we consider his life and sacrifice. We get strength and encouragement from the lives of the departed saints, but ultimately, it is to Jesus we look and to whom we run.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-13
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who Are you?

WHO ARE YOU? That's a question that is often asked of Christians and the institution of the church. Many times, it's unspoken, but at its root is a search for congruence between our faith as seen in the Bible and in the life of Jesus Christ and our words, attitudes, and actions.

Who are you? It's a question we need to ask ourselves as we hold ourselves before the mirror of the Scriptures. We also need to recognize that our young people are asking this question. In Keep It Real: Working With Today's Black Youth, Michael T. McQueen wrote a sentence that relates to this point: "[Teens] are rightly confused because it appears that we who comprise the Christian church are confused as to how we ourselves are to model a Christian lifestyle and behave in secular society" (Wimberly 2005, 102). He is saying that the Christian faith community is uncertain about how to live as Christians in and out of the church. If indeed we are uncertain, then the question, who are you, needs an urgent response. Especially as we McQueen highlights the negative impact this has on our teens.

Who are you?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, October 22, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Hollow Jesus

When you ask any kid , “what do you think Halloween represents,” 9 out 10 will say, “CANDY , CANDY and more CANDY.” I really doubt they would say “Well, Mr. Williams, to me Halloween stands for a holiday observed on October 31, and it has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and it is also related to the Christian All Saints’ Day . The truth, is Halloween has become whatever you want to it to be. My brother is a pastor at a local Baptist Church here in Emporia, and they do a festivity called Hollow Jesus. They have games and all types of food and their main focus is on Jesus.

I know if I came to our youth group and told the kids that we were going to have a lesson on Halloween without discussing candy, costumes, or parties they would look at me as if I had lost my mind. I would hear statements like, “Mr. Williams, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?”

The foundation of what we do is Christ and as teachers and leaders we know this. Our job is to share it with our young folks in a manner that will not tear their thoughts or beliefs down. Too many times I hear some of our Religious leaders say: “Look at them kids and parents going out for Halloween to get candy and dress up like Satan. They all are going to Hell!” I am telling you the truth. I have heard some of church leaders say that. Truth be told, if some of our young people hear that they would think that the person who said it was crazy and we would have lost them. I think one of the better things to do is to replace some of the secular topics with Christian activities, like my brother does at his church. We all need some of that "Hollow Jesus."

by Earl Williams
Youth Director and Safe & Sacred Space Trainer
Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia, KS
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Priorities, Depreciation, and Value

One of the challenges we face in student ministry is the many competing activities in which our students are involved. In some cases, they maintain involvement in church activities, but just can't do everything. In other cases, church involvement is minimal while everything else matters. Of course, there are those who fall somewhere in between.

At one level, it seems as if we are not doing a good job of helping our students and parents prioritize activities so that growth in the Christian life and commitment to God in Christ Jesus come at the top. A question that could be asked is, "What have we been teaching in the church?" After all, we see faith coming at the bottom in the choices adults make between worship and games, etc. On the other hand, we need to check to ensure that we are not expecting too much. There is a line. People should not be in the church building every spare moment. After all, there are people to reach who do not come in. God sends us out into the world.

Recently, I've been looking at this matter of priorities in the midst of busyness a little differently. Over the years, the church has tended to equate itself with middle class values and has often been seen as, both internally and externally, a means to respectability and acceptance in the middle class. It's also been useful as students transition from high school to college. This I've known, but Joerg Rieger in No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and the Future and his lecture yesterday at Saint Paul School of Theology helped me to make a more complete shift in the implications of this tendency.

We are in a situation when being involved in a church youth group activities will not necessarily add value to one's status in life. Additionally, there are other activities that will be greater assets in college entry. Where is the money for going to come from? What is going to look good on the college application. Well, sports and band may provide scholarships and will look good on the application. Youth Group? Iffy.

So, what's real? What's really real? What's valuable?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Perspectives from the Field: Remembering the Saints during the Candy Celebration

It’s that time of year when people are focused on scary stuff and candy. It’s fun to dress up and pretend plus my sweet tooth is as bad as anyone’s. Yet, it’s also a time for us to remember the Saints that have gone before us to join the Church Universal.

Lots of churches (including my own) have started a tradition of “Trunk or Treat” where members of the church decorate their cars and hand out candy to the community kids so that they have a safe way to have fun. We’ve found that these ways of reaching out to the neighborhood are a good form of outreach and an introduction to our church. We also had a Rally Day to kick off the school year and a church campout at Camp Wilderness. Each of these events introduces the community to the church and plants the seed for them to start learning about God and changing their lives.

That weekend is also an opportunity for us to remember those that have gone before us – we take a moment this time of year to remember those that “joined the Church Universal” in the past 12 months. This can be a time of happy memories or that makes us miss those that we’ve lost. Of course, with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, they will be having times that they are hurting even more than usual in the next couple months. So, it’s a good time for us to reach out and offer a helping hand, a shoulder to cry one, or a listening ear. This time of year can be Scary but it can also be Sweet as we find ways to make our lives ones that have more meaning.

by Mark Whitaker
Youth & Young Adult Director and Communications Coordinator
Avondale United Methodist Church in Kansas City MO (North of the River)
Advisory Board for youTheology / Marketing Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, October 11, 2010

Closer Than You Think

youTheology may be closer to you than you think. As many of you know, we now have a site in El Paso, TX that serves the Southwest. Currently, there's a great team in Nebraska planning for a youTheology pod in that state. Is either of those closer to you than coming out to Kansas City? In the future, we'll be in other places as the Lord wills. If you would like to experience youTheology but Kansas City seems a bit far for you, keep looking and listening, because we just may be closer than you think.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Price We Pay . . . and our Children

Prices operate at various levels, but we often prefer to think of the one that has the most immediate impact on us. I'm talking about the money we take out of our wallets, our pocketbooks, for which we write the checks, and which we charge to our cards. That price. However, there is an underlying price that has often been paid with sweat, blood, and tears, especially when we want a lot at a small price. We're often not realistic, are we? We often don't want to know, do we? Do we want to know that what comes cheaply to us is because of someone's slavery, frequently children, or conditions not much different? Do we want to know of the beatings and the deaths? Or do we prefer to be callously ignorant, or worse, indifferent?

On Monday in her blog, Emily Carroll, youTheology's Mentor Coordinator wrote about the problem with bullying and the need for us to confront it in our youth ministries. She said we need to "BE PRESENT. LISTEN. USE YOUR VOICE. CARE." What she said there is true. It's also true of the issue of where cheap goods come from and the real price that's paid for them. Indifference to this and the plight of those who labor under brutal conditions fosters indifference, period. And so we bring our youth up in a culture of indifference which manifests in different ways, including bullying. Of course, indifference is not the only reason for bullying, but we cannot ignore it. Yes, we need to care in a global sense.

We need to care and act. Let us examine what we buy and what our options are. How much do we need? How much do we know and how can we educate ourselves and others? How can we foster a culture of care of the personhood of those around us? How can we help people to be truly free in the name of Jesus Christ, both the physically enslaved and the emotionally enslaved? In Proclaim Jubilee, Maria Harris helps us to see the link between biblical Jubilee and freedom as she wrote about our connectedness as human beings. I'll share a brief and simple prayer that she included so that we all may pray it together:
Free us, O God, from the narrowness of our vision. Help us to know what we see, not merely to see what we know" (Harris1996, 68).
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mentor Bites: Dealing With Bullying

It's time to speak up. It's time for Christians to not be silent anymore. It's time for those of us who care about the lives of our young people to use our voice.

This weekend in the church I serve, I preached a sermon based on the prophet Jeremiahs's words in the 29th chapter from verse 4 to 10. These words follow:
"This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.' Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,' declares the LORD."

Basically, the prophet is telling the exiled people that they are not going back to to Judah anytime soon... He is somewhat harsh but certainly speaks a word of truth to these people. You are not going home. It's going to be hard. But, do it anyway. Settle here. Your grandchildren will be born here, and probably your great-grandchildren too! Because the good news for them was that God was still with them, that even in exile God would continue to call them towards a home in grace and love.

Linked below is a heartbreaking message from the popular talk show host, Ellen. Watch it, pray and reflect. No matter where you are in your journey, we can all admit that there is a bullying epidemic in this country. Something has to be done. I have to believe that the prophet Jeremiah would tell us today to stop dreaming about the "good old days" when young people were nice to one another and bullying was not in their vocabulary. First of all, the prophet would know better because humans have always been humans and second. In any case, the prophecy still lives...WE MUST BE PRESENT. And the good news is still with us. In the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is with us.

Talk to the young person you are mentoring through the youTheology program this year. Talk to your youth groups. Talk to someone about what we can do in this country. More importantly, look in our congregations for the youth that are the least, the last and the lost.

The words of the prophet speaks to us as mentors of young people today...BE PRESENT. LISTEN. USE YOUR VOICE. CARE.

And pray. Pray for these devastated families. Pray that we will all find a better way.


Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator 2010-2011
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, October 1, 2010

Perspectives From the Field: Youth and All Saints Day

I think the best way to counteract the images of ghouls and goblins of Halloween is head on — teach youth the truth about this time of the church year and its purpose with a celebration of All Saints Day. Contrast All Saints Day with Halloween so they can see the difference for themselves.

It could be a true blessing to set aside some time to observe All Saints Day with our young people. However, this could be a challenge for local churches who do not keep strict adherence to the liturgical calendar. Nevertheless, if we make an intentional decision to do so and employ a little creativity, much is possible.

I think the first step would be to explain the purpose of All Saints Day. Find some materials that explain it and allow the youth to think about and discuss it and its relevance in our time. Youth group or bible study time would be good for this.

Second, offer the youth possible ways of celebrating All Saints Day: a small service of remembrance, which they plan. Point them to hymns and other songs that capture the meaning of All Saints Day for them to learn and sing. Allow them to write their own songs/poems about saints who have gone before us. The use of visual arts could be good also. Encourage the expressions to be personal. However, as the leader, try to set a “thankful” tone rather than a mournful one. Show youth that remembrance of the saints should lead us to offer thanks to God for their lives and their example.

Finally, plan this activity to be as near the actual All Saints celebration as possible. This allows you to really balance out the message of the thanksgiving for the saints with the Halloween mania.

by Arionne Williams
Minister to Youth and Families
Metropolitan AMEZ, Kansas City, MO
Deputy Chair youTheology Advisory Board
Loving God, Loving Neighbor