October 13, 2010
This week I finished a novel called Glittering Images by Susan Howatch. Many of my friends have read this novel long ago but I’m a little late to the party on this. The book is the story of a British Anglican priest in pre-WWII England. He’s been successful as a scholar at Cambridge and is sent on a mission by the Archbishop of Canterbury to collect information on a Bishop. As the events unfold the clergyman comes closer and closer to a breakdown and finally with the help of a wise spiritual director comes through the crises and has a renewed relationship with God unlike anything he’s had before. There were a couple of themes in this book that spoke to me. First, there was the theme of spiritual strength and health and how that helps us through difficult times in our lives. This got me to thinking about my own spiritual strength particularly in weathering this difficult time of unemployment. I realized that perhaps my great inability to trust God during this time is that I am not in very good spiritual shape. While I started this ordeal by praying the hours each day as I started my part time job and as I’ve become more and more frustrated I’ve left behind this practice (I did start it up today, again.) Not that this is the only thing I need to do but perhaps it is a start in getting myself back into spiritual shape. And, of course, this made me think about how we care for the souls of children. In our churches and families are we giving them the tools to be in good spiritual shape and to have the spiritual strength to weather the tough times? Another thing in the novel that spoke to me was this. When the clergyman in great crisis first met with the spiritual director the spiritual director offered him his cross and told him to hold on to it tightly throughout the ordeal. The clergyman did this and throughout the rest of the story whenever he encountered something difficult to deal with he held on to the cross or touched the cross and this seemed to give him God’s power to both get through and do what was right. Now I’ve never been a big fan of wearing crosses. I’ve never been one for overt displays of religious devotion and I’ve always seen them as such. But this novel has got me thinking differently about this — maybe is is a way of keeping God’s power close in a very tangible way. I’m sure my episcopalian, catholic, and anglo-catholic friends are uttering a collective “Duh” as they read this but you can take the girl away from the Baptists but it is hard to take the Baptist out of the girl. And, of course, maybe this is something we should be teaching children or at least offering them the opportunity to see if this is something they would want to do. Kids do well with tangible objects as a means of understanding something abstract. Even the old “cross in my pocket” might work. We could teach them to touch it every time they need to remember that God’s presence and power is with them.
Now, on a more personal note. The job hunt is still frustrating but I’ve been thinking recently about not applying for any more children’s ministry jobs. I know if I do that I will eliminate at least 75% of the jobs I have experience in, but I’m kind of thinking that this is something God wants me to do. I’ll follow through with the churches I’m already talking to but I won’t send my resume to any others. Now if someone in my network reccommends me to a church or if a church comes calling because they have read my stuff and is interested in what I have to offer I would certainly pursue those. And I won’t go interview in a church that hasn’t at least read one of my books. So what do you all think? I really am looking for feedback on this.
September 20, 2010
A friend reminded me today that I hadn’t blogged in a while and that reminder was fortuitous because I had a blogging this morning. Around 5:30 AM I was listening to “All Things Considered” on NPR Roald Dahl’s (James and the Giant Peach, etc) biographer was being interviewed and he said something about Dahl’s ability to see the world as a child sees it especially when it comes to incorporating into one’s life the dark side of the world. The biographer seemed to be implying that children to a better job of contending with darkness than perhaps we give them credit. This interview set me thinking about two things. One, I began to think about spiritual formation and how it is effected by how children understand their world. I wonder how many of us who work with children in the church or who are trying to parent children to live in the way of Jesus (myself included) really get how children see and understand the world? And how do we come to that understanding without imposing our adult contexts on what we learn as we talk with and observe children. Two, I thought about this idea of children being more capable of handling “darkness” then we might think. This brought to mind our squeamishness about teaching the crucifixion and other more unseemly Bible stories to children. In my more idealistic moments I like to think we can explore every Bible story with children and allow God’s Spirit to work through them. Maybe children are more able to handle these stories than we think and wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their perspectives on these stories. So what do you all think about these things?
On another note I’m watching Oprah and she has on the director of a new documentary called “Waiting for Superman” about the grave problems in our public schools. I just read an article in New York Magazine about this film, too. I’m hoping I get a chance to see it
August 27, 2010
I sometimes say (and some of you have probably heard me say it) that we act our way into belief much more than we think ourselves into belief. Acting like we have faith and living in the way of Jesus is a much more effective way of strengthening faith than thinking about strengthening faith is. Well, these days I am gripped with a lot of anxiety over this job hunt that I’m in. In my mind I believe God will supply and I can point to lots of instances in my life where God has taken care of me and supplied my needs. But tell that to the continuing pain in my stomach. So, the other day I was thinking what if I actually behaved like I believed that God loved me and only wanted the best for me? What if I lived like that in these days of personal uncertainty? What would that look like? I think I know what it wouldn’t look like. I probably wouldn’t obsess about money every hour of every day. I might not find myself bursting into tears at odd times during the day and, perhaps, my stomach wouldn’t hurt. But when I tried to come up with what it would look like to live that way I had a difficult time picturing it. Would I continue to be generous even though there was little new cash coming into my bank account? Would I walk through each day with a great sense of peace in the providence of God? Would I be like the lilies who give little thought to tomorrow and what does it look like to give little thought to tomorrow? So, here’s the deal. I really do want to act like I believe God loves me and only wants to give me good gifts. But, what do those actions look like, concretely. Tell me. I need good suggestions.
Now a little bit about the job hunt. I’m finding that I am overqualified for most of the Children’s Ministry jobs that are out there. Now I’m not against taking a job for which I am over qualified if it is the right place. But sometimes I don’t think I’m given the chance to find out because my resume gets discounted because of my overqualifications.
Another thought. Churches that can’t pay benefits or a living wage should not advertise on national job boards. I guess you could say I’m a little discouraged right now which only fuels my anxiety. I’ve taken a little part time job for a large pet supply chain store to bring in a little cash and to get me out of the house. And so far that’s been good and it has been a great experience to get out of the rarified atmosphere of the church. I got the job relatively easily and I do believe it was a gift from God.
So help me out? How should I then live? And say a little prayer for me.
August 11, 2010
My friend Holly Rankin Zaher posted a USA today article on Facebook about how teens are not attending youth groups anymore. Two things stood out to me as I perused the article One was a quote from a mega church pastor basically blaming the problem on parents. If Parents thought church was important then their kids would be there. While there is some truth to that statement I do have to ask why it is church parents don’t think attending church is that important? And parents have so many battles to fight with their teens these days I know many parents who just choose not to fight the church fight with them.
The second thing that stood out to me in the article was a quote that perhaps kids were not so much interested in youth groups that were just pizza and fun and games and Bible Study but might be interested in something with more substance and teaching and action that was more radical than your average youth group. So maybe emphasis and format of youth groups neednto change.
I don’t have any answers to this trend but maybe we are heralding in a time in the history of the church where a major emphasis on age graded ministries are a thing of the past giving way to real communities where a variety of age groups live, worship, and serve together. Youth and children’s ministries are a rather recent phenomena in the history of the church, after all.
August 2, 2010
I haven’t blogged for a while. My mother came to visit me here in Connecticut for about 10 days in July and last week I had a job interview (yippee!) And while I’ve had ideas for posts — I just couldn’t get my thoughts logically around any of them. But today’s post is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
When I left my job at the end of May I knew I would need to continue to have structure in my life because that is just part of my personality. Also, I knew that this time of unemployment would be difficult for me because I am a person who likes to work and interact with people and have my mind stimulated. So I decided once again to try and “pray the hours.” Since the beginning of June I’ve been using Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime” stopping to pray each morning, noon, and early evening. Tickle rounds out each prayer section with psalms, Bible readings, pithy quotes, prayers, hymns and the Lord’s prayer. I have found the prayers and readings for each day helpful to me for the place I am in. Particularly in reminding me of God’s faithfulness when my daily anxiety about unemployment and what to do next rears its ugly head. I have found the words from these thrice daily readings coming back to me at unexpected times. As I have been thinking about this discipline I’m trying to form into a habit I am reminded of the fact that other religions — I think particularly of Islam– have fixed hour prayer built into what is expected of one who claims to be a follower of Allah. I remember settling into an empty and secluded gate in the Seattle airport and coming upon a young muslim man on his prayer rug and thinking about how prayer was more important to him than what people might think about his praying in public. I don’t think western Christians are ready yet to en masse stop and pray 3 times a day at a fixed hour and I don’t know if we should. It’s just that as I have been doing this and finding the benefits of it (oh and maybe also being obedient to God) that it has got me thinking about what it might mean if more Christians did this. We might find ourselves closer to God and more centered on God as we turn our hearts and minds godward three times a day. Would this have an effect eventually on our decision making and our values? Would we live with less anxiety? Would God’s spirit have the opportunity to spiritually form us in ways not presently open to the spirit.? And what if we taught our children (as other religions do) to stop and pray 3 times a day? Perhaps we need a child’s version of the Tickle books? What do you think??
July 25, 2010
Today’s New York Times Magazine has a terrific article called “The End of Forgetting.”. The article deals with the fact that everything we or someone else posts about us on the Internet never disappears and follows us forever and ever. Rosen, the author, postulates that this could mean the end of second chances for people. If youthful indiscretions can always be found some where on the Internet are we ever able to reinvent ourselves or to even be allowed to grow up and change?
As I was reading this article I immediately began thinking about God’s forgiveness and God being the God of second and more chances. How do people who try to be followers of Jesus deal with the infinity of the Internet? As people commanded to forgive others, How do we stand against this growing cultural desire to hold others accountable for everything they’ve ever done on their lives even if they have changed? The author does bring up some of these theological issues as he speaks about the legacy of forgiving and forgetting in Judaism.
The article also holds some insights for those interested in generational topics as it explores how this affects cyber-suckled children. Are they generations that desire to live in less privacy than those of us who lived pre-Internet or are they backing off and being more careful about what they post? Or will they be more forgiving of lives lived on line than their current elders?
July 15, 2010
As some of you may know I am looking for a job. While I’m not exclusively searching for a Children’s Ministry position I would consider one if the church was in agreement with how I understand the purpose for and methods of Children’s Ministry. But as I peruse the church ads for Children’s Ministry jobs I think it may be difficult to discover if we are of the same mindset or not. For the most part the ads are pretty generic. The only thing that changes is the name of the church. Some churches are more specific asking “Are you Orange?” or looking for someone who meets the standards of I Timothy 3 which is code for only men need apply.
Rarely do they ask for someone who understands the spiritual formation of children instead asking for some one with an education degree. Which to me implies that they understand spiritual formation in terms of schooling and educational theory. So this brings me to the question of why it it that churches hire Children’s Pastors in the first place. Is it because they are really concerned about helping children and families love God and live in the way of Jesus and they want someone to show them the way? Or are they really just about finding some one who will do the recruiting, count the markers, and keep things just fun enough so that families don’t leave for the new church down the street with the exciting new “program.”
I’m not trying to rag on churches here. I think they are only following the model they’ve been given and few have ever been challenged to think about their Children’s Ministry in anything other than a programmatic way to get children to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and to teach them how to live a moral life.
July 12, 2010
The July 12 issue of New York Magazine published an article entitled “All Joy and No Fun.” Basically, the article is about how most parents, particularly moms, hate parenting. They love their children but hate the act of parenting and all that entails in our culture. Much of the blame is put on the changes in how children came to be viewed in the 20th century. Where once children were the employees of the family (farmers depended on their children as unpaid laborers to make the farm profitable) today because our society requires so much of children (i.e. being prepared to get into a good college so one can get a good job) parenting has become an unending marathon of sports, lessons, tutors, and leaning on and fighting with children to do their homework. Once children worked for the parents, now they are the parents’ bosses. As I read this I was reminded of a point that David Elkind makes in his book, The Ties That Stress, about family life. He points out that earlier in the 20th century kids’ needs and desires took a back seat to what parents needed and desired. If dad had a meeting and the child had an invitation to a birthday party, the meeting always took precedence over the birthday party. But in the later half of the 20th century this changed as families became more child-centric. These families when faced with this dilemma would see both the Dad’s meeting and the birthday party as equally important and try to work something out so that both needs would be met, likely stressing out some one in the family in the process. Elkind says (if I remember correctly and some one correct me if I’m wrong) that when everyone’s needs in the family are seen as equal or the needs(wants?) of the children take precedent over those of the parents the family and the children suffer because the children are put on the same level as the adults causing them to grow up to fast (which is the recurring theme in all of Elkind’s books).
Whenever I read an article like this one my mind always goes to thinking about families as the center of the child’s spiritual formation. It makes me wonder what parents hear when they hear people like me say they need to be intentional about spiritually forming their children or they need to institute family rituals as a way of teaching children the values of Jesus? Do they hear this as just one more thing to add to their already overloaded parenting life which apparently they hate in the first place. I don’t necessarily have answers but I do have questions. How do we help parents weave spiritual formation into everything they do with their children? How do we help families prioritize all those things on the child’s and their to do lists? How do we help them not to buy into everthing our north American culture says parents need to be and do in order to give their children the best? Do we always have to give our children the best or is sometimes good enough, good enough? If parents see the spiritual formation of their children as just one more thing on the to-do list and not the most important gift they can give their children, then they are simply not going to do it and continue, if they are so inclined at all, to give it back to the church to do.
If you would like to see some parents’ responses to this article I’m sure they can be found on the NY mag website or go to themommyrevolution.wordpress.com.
July 10, 2010
A few weeks ago a new book ,When God Shows Up arrived in my mailbox. This is a history of Protestant youth ministry in the 20th century by Mark Senter. Mark is a former professor and friend of mine and he has done a painstaking job of chronicling Christian youth movements during the 20th century and showing how they grew out of the various cultural and social milieu that the country experienced.
When this book arrived in my mailbox it reminded me of the germ of an idea I’ve bee carrying around in my head for while. Some one needs to write a history of Children’s Ministry in the US. I think it would be a fascinating study explore how educational theory came to be such a part of the spiritual training of children. And to explore how the various independent publishing houses were established some to provide better curriculum material than what was being offered by the denominations. Also begging for exploration is the advent of parachurch organizations (Awana, Pioneer Clubs,etc) and why they became popular. Then it would be interesting to look at what has happened from say the mid-seventies to the present with the influence of Group Publishing and Willowcreek’s Promiseland and all the other resource and ministry model purveyors that have popped up in the last 20 years. And we shouldn’t forget the rise and fall of the Sunday School convention and how it seems to have been replaced with other kinds of conferences for children’s ministry workers. And then we can’t forget about the Southern Baptists and their influence on the educational ministry of many, many Protestant churches.
Does any one know if thread is some one in the academy taking on a project like this? It’s something I’d love to do but I think I’d need a grant or two and a serious advance from a publisher to be able to pull it off.
July 4, 2010
I would not describe myself as a hugely patriotice person but there is something about the 4th of July that makes me want to wear red, white and blue and wave the flag. Perhaps because it is the one holiday all Americans can share in common and it seems that for just one day — the 4th does seem to bring us together.
Yesterday I was at the Minnesota Twins game in their beautiful new outdoor ball park. (Whoever thought indoor baseball was a good thing?) It was Armed Forces Appreciation Day, the highlight of which was, I think, 6 or 8 navy seals parachuting into the stadium. What a sight that was! They also gave a video memorial to Minnesotans who had died in Iraq or Afghanistan over the last year. It was a stark reminder to me that however one might feel about either of those wars they are being fought with very young men and women who come from families who, we hope, care about them. And they are in grave danger every day and every day they deserve our prayers.
I was also reminded of what this country and government has done for me. I was fortunate to have a very good public education and without government backed student loans I never would have been able to complete two stints in graduate school. So, thank you, USA for that.
So what are my plans for the 4th of July?I’m in Minnesota visiting friends and if the rain lets up we hope to go to the Chanhassen 4th of July parade this afternoon and then cook out later. And, maybe, fireworks!
So, Happy Birthday, United States of America!