Archive for May, 2008

Tying up loose ends

I’m working on finishing up several books. I got bored with a few of them in mid-read and put them down, to start looking at something else. That doesn’t mean the books were not worthwhile. I’m just easily distracted by the tempting back cover Read Me! sales pitch. I think I’m currently mid-stream on six different books which is well outside my informational absorbtion zone. So, I’m going to try to finish each one and write it up within the next two weeks.

I had two adult (gasp!) volunteer staff meetings this week to tie up the end of the year, evaluate where we stand in both our high school and middle school ministries. (Can I take a second to say how much I adore my volunteers before we move on? They’re amazing!) The high school meeting was good, the two rookies were understandably shell-shocked by what they heard from their kids in small group during the year and also felt like they “weren’t doing enough to teach anything”. Since that’s not the expectation for their role, it’s great to be able to tell them they’re doing a good job andthey can relax because teaching isn’t part of what they’re there to do. They are there to be with the kids in the crap of life. They all went out from the meeting realizing the others all had a similar experience and felt that it really good to find out that it matters to their kids that they showed up, listened and pointed at God each week. Nothing was out of the ordinary. They gave me some things to consider as the direction of that ministry for next year shifts away from this pit of a fundraising year and things roll on.

I just potentially wased a paragraph of your time. The middle school meeting recap is much more worthwhile reading. It’s a jumping off point for some good ministry in the future and also for some good ideas about the practical use of narrative in youth ministry.

The first half was similar to the high school team meeting. Then I asked a question: what are the topics or principles that you think our middle schoolers should have had some experience with in our ministry in the three years they spend in middle school with us? They started out trying to answer, but then just blew off the question and we talked about middle schoolers as an age group and related it to what we had done and if it had worked or not. We had a very organic conversation- things bubbled up from each of us through our differnt roles as parents of middle school aged children, middle school youthworkers, and middle school teachers.

We had tried reading Prince Caspian to the group for the last few weeks of the year. We didn’t finish the book; it was a lead up to going to the movie when it released. They loved that beyond anything any of us had imagined. Then we got into some of the activities we tried over the course of the year that had worked well for the kids-none of the silly game kinds of things came to mind, but the times we asked them to plan the lesson and the times when they had to work together to build (or wreck) something did. None of this is ministry altering news on one hand, but on the other hand-why try things that don’t work? The kinds of lesson plans and games that our team thinks are easier to run, or will get our point across to them were the ones least likely to work out. The risks we took, the open-ended experiments and the times when we did nothing more than read a good book out loud were our most memorable nights. The whole conversation was simply energizing.

After I came home, I took a good hard look at everything we mentioned working out well with the middle school students. All of it was narrative in some form.  Everything.  We read a story to them. They invented their own lessons based on scripture passages-they all chose something narrative to explain their ideas about the passages and refrained from explaining their point. I’m assuming they thought their message was loud and clear through their storylines. (and, no, none of them was assigned a parable), they invented music videos, commercials and told stories every time they were asked to come up with their own ideas. We had a progressive meal event where they moved from one place to another. They turned it into a quest in search of dessert!

If my 11-14 years old students know, intuitively, that a great Story exists out there they can take a part in, why do we adults work so hard to tease out the meaning for them? Maybe it’s time to let them tell us the Story for a while. We may find out that we don’t have it down as well as we think we do.


things that make you go “hmmm”

“Of note in Barna’s research is that a church’s size and theology seems to be related to its use of technology. Simply put, smaller churches tend to use less tech than larger churches, and theologically liberal churches tend to use less tech than the more theologically conservative. Interesting.” from Ed

yeah, interesting.

Have you ever noticed….

…that, when you are interested in something but not searching for it, you’ll see it everywhere? But the minute you start searching for it, it disappears?

I have read and heard so much about stories and storytelling in the past few months, but the second I’ve looked for something specific, it’s all gone! On the other hand, I read a book yesterday (yes, the whole book), just for fun. It was a story about a storyteller, who is telling a story to another storyteller who in turn is telling the reader her own story….ugh.

This happens to everyone, right?

R U Redy 4 Ths?

I like linguistics. I realize that it will never make a Top Ten List of Things People Like. It’s not even something one thinks about until there’s some change like an added word or grammatical slippage that becomes the norm. Then, Watch Out! Someone will have something to say and most often it will be in defense of the old way of doing things. That way will be touted as “the right way” or more telling, “the way it’s always been done/said”. (hmm…that sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?)

I read this the other day. (If you don’t feel like jumping pages, it’s a blog by Margaret Feinberg about text messaging shorthand finding it’s way into our language and communication.)

My first reaction was to jump right on the  bandwagon. I mourned the loss of grammatical correctness and the disintegration of the written word as a common value in American academics.

Then, I thought about it a little longer and got off at the next bandwagon busstop. Language is a technology. We don’t necessarily think of it that way, but it is. You’ve probably come to expect updates in your tech gadgets. When’s the last time you popped an 8-track into the car stereo? People perceive a need or simplification and develop a solution. Language updates are a kind of technological update, too. It’s why most people can’t read Old English anymore. There was a percieved need to combine or alter the language and we did it-again and again. There was a time when spoken language was a new technology. But we couldn’t remember enough or get it to people who came later, so we deveolped written language. That was too slow until there was the printing press and BAM! we have all kinds of texts that are user friendly and cost effective and NEW in the fifteenth century.

If we can think about language as a dynamic technology, we shouldn’t be quite so surprised or disappointed when it updates. Do I want to read a book full of text acronyms? No, I don’t. But I’m prepared to say that while all updates aren’t necessarily good (thank you Microsoft Vista) it doesn’t mean we should reject them outright. If we do that, we may as well have stayed back in the dark ages where scribes copied texts by candlelight.  Some of those lousy experimental updates can lead to decent improvements later. We need them, even if it only shows us the direction that we don’t want to go. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep editing my students’ papers, blasting them on grammatical missteps, random caps, and all manner of awkward phrases or missing details. Occasionally, tho, I may let a little more text shorthand slip in here and there. 😉



I’ve been reading a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Made To Stick. First, let me say that the cover has this duct tape look graphic across the middle, it’s textured and it catches the attention of about every third person who sees it! They are compelled to touch it and most ask if it’s a real piece of duct tape.

Ok, so cool cover aside, the book is terrific. It’s like mining for gold-there’s a big pile of dirt and some gold nuggets. You wouldn’t have nearly as much fun digging around for gold without the dirt to dig in and enough gold that you actually find something once in a while. Terrific stories, made-you-think “exercises”, and lots of little quips and proverbs. The brothers have an easy-going, casual style of writing that makes the how-to aspect of the book feel more like a friendly conversation than  a bullet point, Six Steps to Better Communication inter-office memo.

Their way of thinking about communication and passing along ideas must work because I can remember most of what I’ve read and tell it to other people without agonizing over a “What exactly was that about, anyway?” feeling when I’m talking about it. Plus, they like the idea that doing helps with long-term learning and that just makes me happy.  

a blip on the radar

I’m celebrating a miracle moment about my youth group, who I’ve been a little down about this year-our “Breakfast Club” bible study group (get up really early and do a bible study before school every week) wrapped up this morning and a couple of the students who come regularly suggested we start a “Midnight Snack Club” for the summer….wow-a request for Traditional Bible Study-not youth group get togethers, trips to the shore or amusement parks, lock-ins, or etc… cool is that? 

Forward motion is overrated

This weekend I was supposed to be retreating-going off to listen to God tell me which way to take the story project. It would be a nice time of reflection, meditation and receiving. I was going to go to the shore, spend a few days away and have God tell me what to do and move merrily on afterward.

What’s that saying? “God laughs at plans”?

I built a porch. It’s a very serviceable, screened-in porch. Really, it’s quite nice.

OK, I did not build a porch in the strictest sense. I built a porch with other people-I was the helper, not the contractor or even the site supervisor (my preferred position). I was the person who is made to stand there for extended periods of time until someone drops a screw or needs the drill or could use an extra hand to “hold this thing there while I attach this piece to it”(usually followed by “Don’t move it!”) or any of the other myraid of little jobs that have to be done while the knowlegeable people do the real work. 

Building a porch is not traditionally considered meditation, as far as I’ve heard. There was a lot of hard work, it was hot, and it mostly felt like someone was hitting my pause button way too much. I’m not good at waiting around until needed; I have no patience for it. Don’t me wrong, I’m not bad at waiting in general. I can hang around waiting for things all day as long as they’re things I want to do.

Sometime, late in the morning on Saturday, the single thing I had to be present for happened. It was the moment. We had to lift a very large, heavy beam onto a series of eight foot posts. There was no way to get the beam up there without all of us lifting it together. So we lined up a bunch of ladders, got the beam on our shoulders and climbed the ladders one step at a time. It was one of those things where we had to rest between each step up the ladder and then count to three before each step so we all went up at the same time.

Remarkably, because of one person’s preplanning and two children holding wayward posts in line, the beam went right into place when we finally made it up the ladders. After that, the rest of the work went quickly and the atmosphere had a sense of celebration at our accomplishment. By mid afternoon we finished what we had planned to do and had a great time that night just relaxing on the almost-complete porch.

And in the middle of it, during all of that enforced waiting, God showed up. I was irritable and impatient and bored to the point of comatose. I wasn’t thinking or meditating or purposefully praying. I was existing in an entirely selfish state, wishing I could get to my plans for God for the weekend. And God laughed then showed me how building a porch with family and friends was more about Him than anything I’ve been doing lately. He showed me that I’ve gotten a little lost along the way-that the reasons I chose to follow Jesus aren’t nearly as evident in my life now as they were five years ago. I am amazed how dull I’ve let myself  become in the last few years. There have been good changes, too, but there were things that I’ve let go that God needs me to keep. He reminded me of the simplicity of being together, working together and that it’s not my place to make things happen. He reminded me that I have the spiritual gift of frustration and that I’m responsible for using it say the things that are honest but hard.

And that there is no Story until someone tells it.