Monday, February 28, 2011

youTheology Program With High School Students

Find out more about what happens and what high school students do in youTheology.

About youTheology from Claire Smith on Vimeo.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Friday, February 25, 2011

Perspectives from the Field: How do you Achieve your Dream?

It’s Black History Month. What does that mean for your congregation? I’m at a church in the Northland of Kansas City and our congregation is overwhelmingly white but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from Black History Month. In fact, we might have more to learn than a congregation that is more diverse.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech is famous as he laid out a vision of an all inclusive society. He is also famous for advocating non-violence as a way of achieving this dream when speaking up for what he believed in. Embracing Dr King's dream will often take us outside our comfort zone. It is important that we do so.

Last year, some of our youth went outside their comfort zone and visited St. James UMC, a predominantly African American congregation, and came back talking about their wonderful worship experience. This church was within our denomination but the style of worship was dramatically different.

When our youth attended “One God, One Day, One Love” in the fall, we got to interact with youth from other Methodist denominations and to see both how we were different and, more importantly, that we all worshiped One God.

Let’s all ask how we can bring us all together to share God's love with the world. We too can have a dream.

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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Love the Lord Your God; Love Your Neighbor

He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

I've known this verse forever, it seems. However, it took on added significance when I was working on my dissertation, especially while taking an in-depth look at Letty Russell's Christian Education in Mission. Of course, this sums everything up!. Yes. If we could only love God with everything we have then our commitment to and worship of God would be less trite and self-centered and really about God. We would joyfully surrender to God. This movement away from self-centeredness and distorted self-love would push us out to love our neighbors. It is really difficult to truly love God and not love God's creation. It is really difficulty, maybe impossible would be the right word, to truly love God and not desire the best for everyone. The best: Not in an airy-fairy way, but in a way that involves a commitment to do one' part to ensure an equitable and fair living for all.

In "Love God, Love Neighbor: Societal Vision in Matthew 22:34-40," Warren Carter locates love for God and neighbor in the Jewish tradition which Jesus drew upon. In keeping with this tradition, Jesus emphasized mercy, justice, faithfulness, etc. However, he did it in a way that put people and their needs above the status quo and their definitions of reality. Thus Carter says, "Jesus's connection of love for God and neighbor casts doubt on any profession of love for God that is deficient in its treatment of people." This means that with Jesus tying love for other people to love for God, when our behavior towards other people leaves much to be desired our claims of loving God are suspect. Taking the chapter on the whole, treating people the right way entails giving them what is fair and right, even it means that you personally enjoy less privilege and wealth; ensuring each other's dignity and valuing each other as beloved children of God. I could go on, but by now you know what this means and what you need to do.

So often, and too often, our interpretation of these verses, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37, 39)is mingled with self interest. This makes our interactions with others "deficient." We really need to pray to God to open our capacity to truly love God and other people and mean it. We need to ask God to deliver us from the desire to have the most and be the most because that is almost always at the expense of others. Instead, let us seek God and God's will out of a purified heart.

Warren Carter's chapter,"Love God, Love Neighbor: Societal Vision in Matthew 22:34-40," is found in youTheology's book: Matthaei, Sondra. Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 21, 2011

yT, Time With God, and Joy

Hi, I'm Hannah Boren. I'm currently going to Wartburg College, which is a small private college in Waverly, IA. I'm studying Elementary Education. At Wartburg I'm involved in an organization called SMART, a program to spread awareness about sexual misconduct focusing its efforts in consciousness raising among women.

I was part of the 2009 class of youTheology. That year was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I learned a lot about Methodist history and how the things that happened back then have impacted what/who we are today. While learning these things we were able also to share our faith through service. We toured sites on the east coast and actually visited places that had historical significance to the Methodist/Wesleyan movement in the US.

The people that I met while in this program had a great impact on me that I still feel today. I learned so much from them. I was also able to grow in my faith journey because of the friendships developed during the program. youTheology encouraged me and gave me a chance to spend more time with God and learn more about God.

While at college I've found a United Methodist church in the area that I try to attend. Whenever I am back home I am still a very active member of my church. I still go with my church youth group on their mission trip during the summer.

As a college student I experience God every single day. Right now I am taking a religion class that has given me a chance to dig deeper into the Bible and explore more about the basis of my faith. Praying has become my most solid connection with Christ right now since I do a lot of it. I feel like it's a connection that allows me to keep from being too stressed and it allows me to thank God whenever something happens that feels like a special gift (of sorts) for me.

My faith is what drives me everyday and it's what keeps my life so much more joyful!

By Hannah Boren
youTheology Alumna
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Passive Acceptance or Engaged Critique

When we're part of a culture, especially one that purports to be Christian, it is easy to passively accept its norms as okay. Yet, as Christians, okay needs to mean it is pleasing to God. There are many practices, activities, people, and ways of viewing these, etc., that displace God, and are unfair and negating of self and neighbor. Yet, it is amazing how we hold up many of the icons of the day with little regard to how the Bible would see them and specifically how they fit with love of God and neighbor. If we are unable to do this for ourselves it becomes easier to allow these icons to be the main story in the lives of our students. The question Sondra Matthaei asks in the opening chapter of our book, Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth therefore, needs consideration and an answer: "How could we have come to this place, abandoning our youth to the culturally mediated icons, and how might the church make a difference" (Matthaei 2008, 25)? To put this a different way, how did we get to the point where we have abdicated our responsibility for our youth and allowed it to be replaced with cultural types and symbols and how can the church bring about a shift in this matter?

We cannot escape our culture, but we can be engaged in critiquing it in the light of the gospel. Moreover, we cannot simply allow the images and symbols of our time as they come through various media to be the main formative influences in our students' lives. We need to be present with them, accompanying them, pointing to, and lifting up God in Christ Jesus as we love God and neighbor.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 14, 2011

youTheology Showed a New Side of Religion

My name is Shannon Shellner and I am a freshman in my second semester at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. My major is Sports Medicine and Athletic Training. After obtaining my Bachelor’s of Science degree, I plan to attend graduate school on the East Coast and obtain my Master’s degree.

I was in the 2008-2009 year of youTheology. My experience in youTheology was very enlightening even though I may not have showed how I felt all the time. youTheology has impacted my life tremendously by allowing me to enter into a side of my religion that I never knew existed. It allowed me to learn the history of my church that I would have never learned anywhere else. Being in college has put a bit of a halt on my being able to attend church but I read my bible at least three times a week and I pray every day.

Back at home I was the president of my youth ministry and I was always involved with something that the youth were doing. As of right now I am just going to school and I am helping out at the local Boys' and Girls' Club every Monday from 5:30pm-6:30pm. While there, I get to play with my “Little Sister,” get to learn about her and what she does at school and different things like that.

I experience God at work in my life every day because he wakes me up every day without fail. He has allowed me to attend college to pursue a career that I love. Without God in my life I do not know where I would be. I am glad that my parents put God in my life at a young age, because now I have grown into a young woman who believes in God and I know he will always make a way for me and my family.

by Shannon Shellner
youTheologian 2008-2009
youTheology Intern 2009-2010
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Worship God

Today, I'd planned to go in a different direction from the last two blogs I posted. In those two entries I blogged about remembering that God is our source and the importance of keeping God at the center.What changed my plan, or maybe I am better off saying God changed my plan. A section in OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook caught my attention, especially these words: "So we do not need to make worship meaningful; it is already meaningful. An encounter with the living God, coming into God's presence, is as meaningful as this life gets" (Dean 2010, 100). This says that worship is already filled with significance because it is about meeting God who is alive and it doesn't get any more significant than that. Yes. This is something we emphasize in youTheology, that worship is about God. Yes. It troubles me when I see many awkward and uninspiring attempts to get people to like what we do in worship and focus only on how people are responding to worship and when I hear some people talk about worship as if it was all about them. Sometimes guilty.

So, as in other areas, God has to be first. Worship, like life, has to be about God if we are serious about serving God as Christians. If our worship is more about how we feel and what we get out of it, isn't it idolatry?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mentor Bites: It Means Be Present, Listen, and Care

When I think about what it means to be a mentor for a young person, I cannot help but think about the times that I experienced good mentors when I was growing up in the church. One of the best mentors I ever had was the pastor who confirmed me. Pastor John was perhaps the most patient man on the face of this planet. The year I was confirmed in my small congregation, there was only one other youth in the confirmation class. And so, Pastor John (who must have been about sixty years old) found himself trying to teach two thirteen year old girls about grace through a Wesleyan lens and our United Methodist roots. Needless to say, he saw a lot of our distractions play out. One particular day I remember, when the other student and I (who were also very good friends) had come to his office following a bad day at school. The very popular crowd in our class (which, if you know anything about seventh grade means that they ruled our everyday lives) had decided to ostracize both of us. It is all we wanted to talk about. It is all we cared about. Pastor John had a day of talking about “the book” as he called it. He wanted to talk about the Biblical story as it related to our present day…or something like that. I really don’t remember anymore what he really had planned for that day. John showed me that day that some adults really do care what was happening in the hallways at middle school. He showed me that plans could change if they needed to, so that our voices could be heard and valued.

Sometimes being a mentor means that you simply just listen. It means that you are present with the young person. It means that you help them understand their worth and value in the eyes of God. It was a few years later that I visited Pastor John when he was very sick and facing the end of his life here on Earth. We talked about that day in confirmation class. I thanked him for being such a wonderful mentor. And he offered me his entire library, which now sits on many bookshelves around me. Each time I open one of his books to read for school or to help on a sermon writing adventure, I am reminded that sometimes being a “pastor” means I need to put the book down and listen. May you find ways to listen as a mentor and may God bless our important work of being with young people!

by Emily Carroll
youTheology Mentor Coordinator
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Perspectives From the Field: 3 Reasons It's Important To Celebrate Black History With Youth

1) Black History is American history. African Americans have played an integral part in the development of the U.S. from the very beginning. Our ancestors have been involved in every major historical moment of America from the Revolution through today. We have contributed to politics, arts, invention and innovation, science, international affairs, business, the U.S. Armed Forces, and every other industry. The U.S. would look very different today without the presence of African Americans. Every American can be proud of all the gifts African Americans have given to this country as we have helped to make it become the America we know and love.

2) Black History can help to shape the faith identity of all youth: African American and otherwise. The faith that African Americans have demonstrated in God throughout our fight for freedom, justice, and equality in this nation serves a great example for Christians everywhere. Our people could not have made it this far without God. And in every struggle, African Americans have called upon God to be our protector, provider, sustainer, and most of all our liberator. The story of God's work to free African Americans from unjust and racist legal and social practices in the U.S. is an inspiring one that can remind all Christians of God's amazing love and power.

3) Black history is Church history: There is much to be said about the contributions of African Americans in the growth and development of the Church, particularly in the U.S. We have several historically black denominations in the U.S.: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, National Baptist Convention, USA, National Baptist of America, Inc., Progressive Baptist Convention, National Missionary Baptist Convention, and the Church of God In Christ. Reviewing the history and development of these Churches and their contribution to American life and history is astounding and can greatly enrich our work with youth. In this way, youth can more clearly see how African Americans have helped to build the Church in the U.S. and abroad.

For these reasons and many more, it is very important that youth workers make observing Black history month a priority. Black history connects with who we (adults and youth) are as Christians, Americans, and Church leaders. This is a key awareness for workers as we work to develop the youth who will lead the Church tomorrow. To embrace Black history, is to embrace not only our identity but to also expand our understanding of who God is and how God has acted in the lives of his beloved. I encourage everyone to celebrate Black history. It is not only a Black story, but it is a a human story that can inspire and teach us all in meaningful ways.

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

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remembering God

With all the resources that we have we can fall into the trap of conducting our ministries as if God was that optional extra. We plan, we figure what we want, we get the resources, and then, oh by the way, God. God, please bless these plans. God, please keep us safe. But where was God in the beginning? So related to Monday's blog, God must be the center from whom everything emanates with Christ as the head. Now, there may be a better way to say this, but what I seek to convey is that without God there is nothing.

It is only God who can bring life to what we do and change hearts and minds. Without God, we're just another . . . . something; often indefinable. So God, not as an afterthought, but as life itself. OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook suggests this approach to the Bible when it says, "What young people need and seek in the Bible---what we need and seek in the Bible ---is not the Bible, but God" (Dean 2010, 89). In other words, we go to the Bible searching for and expecting God; to meet with God and to be changed. Thus, the Bible is not about our curiosity, simply finding how to prosper, how to be better, etc., but it is about God.

Can we surrender our agendas so that God would be glorified not only through the reading of the Scriptures, but in all that we do because our lives are about God? We then constantly admit our need of God and search for God with all our hearts for God is our only source and our hope.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor