Archive for the ‘Different Learning’ Category

Puppets & Jellyfish

Last week I sat down to watch “Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9″ with my kids, and I was kinda blown away. Here, condensed into a 40 minute children’s puppet movie (with quite a bit of humor), was a potent message. Not just a good message. I mean – take all the current spiritual living, devotional, God/Christ-centered literature that has come out in recent years – this movie will summarize a large percentage of it.galaxybuck

(spoiler alert)

Buck works in a call center for a large ministry, and is discontent because the poster on his wall constantly reminds him “God wants you to do BIG things!” He feels like he’s not accomplishing what God wants, and gets excited when there seems to be a chance. Things go awry, and he finds himself bummed again. Then, in the subterranean levels of an alien planet, he meets someone who rips his goal apart. Literally. He takes Bucks’ poster, and rips it so that the words left read, “God wants you.” I asked my 10-year-old daughter the next day what the message of the movie was about, and she answered clearly the same thing: “God doesn’t want you to do big things, as much as God wants YOU. You’re not a shark, you’re a jellyfish caught in the flow of God’s Love.”

The obvious push-back to that is: “That sounds like an excuse for laziness, and not trying anything.” Certainly it could be manipulated into that. But when we allow ourselves to exist fully in the flow of God’s Love – we have to trust that WILL call us to be actively offering ourselves fully toward the mission of lives, community and creation transformed.  But our activity doesn’t begin with us setting a goal of “accomplishing great things for Jesus”.  It begins with us relinquishing control of everything in our being, into the great Love of God.  That may mean we accomplish great things by the measures of this world, or that mean we lose everything and all noteriety for His sake.

The first step?  Allowing the truth of that ripped poster to sink in.  “God wants YOU.”  Not because of your gifts or talents.  Not because of your heritage.  Not because you’re specifically poised to accomplish what no one else could ever do.  Not because of your purity.  But because He Loves you.  Fully and completely, and without reserve.  Just as much when you were making horrible decisions as He does today.  Most of us have been loved wrong by a human in our lives, and it messes up the kind of love we even see as possible.  So let the love of God sink in a bit, and then release yourself to it.  There is no greater place to exist, or calling to walk forward with…

For more on covenanting with God to do/be whatever He wants, check out this modern version of the “John Wesley Covenant Service” I’ve written for use in a church setting.

For a few words on God simply desiring/loving you as His child, here’s a Spoken Word I recently recorded.

Enough.

image116I remember working at Youth Haven Ranch as a teenager.  Waking early to shower, and walking on my own to the giant red barn, a new addition to the campground since I’d attended as a camper.  The dew on the grass competing with the beauty of the steam rising out over the field in the distance.  The birds calling out to welcome anyone willing to rise early enough to wish them good morning.  Coffee was not yet in the vocabulary of my palette.

With difficulties at home, it meant the world to have the confidence of Kyle, Mike, Bob, Dave, Joe, Scott and the others.  These men who were leaders of the camp, placed me in oversight of the “Petting Farm” for the entire summer of 1998.  Each morning I’d rise early to great the midwestern Michigan beauty that exists as an island between streams of somewhere in the sprawling farmland, otherwise known as a “campground”.  I, neither “city kid” nor “country boy”, but rather a conglomerate of “raised by church-going single mother” and “growing up on a highway”, would open up the barn every morning.

Thomas Merton echoed the Psalmists who spoke of all creation having special knowledge of God, and an awareness of the divine.  The personified versions of these animals knew not only God, but could have significant discourse with me on passages of scripture, drama from home, or the latest girl counselor I might be crushing on that summer.  Norma, the cow, was particularly wise and would share her insight with me – providing I allowed her to escape to the grassy fields before Jack – the lone donkey.  As you might expect, he was little help anyways, always laughing when I’d ask his opinion.

The exuberance each animal met the dawn with, running out of their stalls to stretch, run, and snack, was equaled each week by new sets of young people – each eager to pretend for a week – that life was simple.  It was a campground for economically and socially disenfranchised kids.  Shedding the fear, the instability, and the harsh climates of home – by the 3rd day most kids understood they were safe and loved here.  The animals knew the same as I entered the barn each morning, to care for their stall and feed them.

I attempted to begin most mornings, once the animals had been let out and immediate needs cared for, soaking in the silence of the big red barn.  Breathing slow at the start of the day, I would go over the schedule of what groups would visit, and read some of the scripture from a recent message at the chapel times.   I was experiencing for an entire summer, what many of the children there tasted for only a week – the desirable simplicity of life.   To understand sabbath was less a day of the week, and more an invitation to rest and be content.

I want my kids to know that contentedness.  Shoot, I want the world to know that contentedness.  In my best moments today – I have it.  The contentment Mary and Joseph felt when they laid their firstborn son in an animal food-trough, surrounded by the sights and smells of the barn.  The breathing slow.  Not knowing what tomorrow might look like, but holding enough in this moment to outweigh any anxiety that may threaten to surface.

There is so much to hold in this moment.  You are beloved.  You are enough.  You are capable.  You are able to contribute to the lives of others.   Your smile can be a candle-light in the dark day of another.

There may be weeds growing – but there is so much wheat.

May you discover how it grows even today.

 

Story Stix…etc.

Of course, whenever a big brown box with daddy’s name on it appears, we all get excited.  Even I couldn’t remember what package I was expecting, then I opened it to realize the product I was going to review for a company called “Buzzplant” must have sent me a couple other things to check out with it.   Sounds fun, so here we go….

The products all come from a company called “Hotline to God”, who I’d never heard of before.  .

The primary product I was asked to talk about were “Story Stix”.  You know those kids’ books at Wal-Mart that have a thing on the side where you can press buttons that make fun noises to go along with the story you’re reading?  Now imagine instead of a book attached, they’ve just taken that strip of buttons and thrown all the text into there.  Then have the text recorded by a well-spoken, but not very soft voice of an older male.  There ya’ go.

They sent me four different stories, and our daughters played with them for a few minutes.  Maybe if we were in a car on a long imagejourney, it would have lasted longer.  They pretty much wanted to hear each button once, and then once they heard the story they moved on to the next thing.  Granted, I gave them to my 5 & 6 year olds.  The “Story Stix” say “For ages 3 and up”.  Maybe a 3 year old would cling longer?  I listened to each story with them, and thought they were okay.  The buttons each held only a short summary of that part of the story, so that kids wouldn’t completely walk away from the man talking.  I realize it’s Biblical, and so they probably put a lot of work/thought into having some great God-like male orator record the stories…but I feel a softer male (think Morgan Freeman), or a friendly female voice would help the product.  Then it might feel less like listening to a lecture, and more like story-time.

Still, our 5 year old has a toy Disney cat (you know the one that says something different every time you push the button). She’s memorized not only everything the cat says, but the order of the sayings.  This makes me realize that having something Biblical at push-button response could be a great idea.  But maybe a story-telling Grandpa Turtle, or Grandma Camel, or something like that…rather than a “Stix”…so that kids want to play with them more.

As in the next product I reviewed…the actual “Hotline to God”.  Apparently the company’s flagship product.

I laughed as soon as I saw it.  It’s an actual model of an old-school rotary phone, with gold trim on the receiver, and says “Hotline to God” in the middle of where the numbers would be.  Immediately, my girls wanted to play with this one (and eventually asked if it could become part of their “play house”).  Pressing the button plays one of 25 pre-recorded Bible verses.  Same voice as the Story Stix, but it’s okay this time, because it’s supposed to be portions of scripture from God.  I still think a softer voice would help, but at least it wasn’t King James.  Side note: Turning the volume all the way up, the phone becomes loud enough for the whole room to hear.  My kids loved playing with this one, and I was even asked to leave the room when asked a question, because I was “interrupting God”.  Again here, it’d be kinda cool if our daughters ended up memorizing scripture simply because they played often with this pretend phone.  Although I might recommend a product re-naming.  Something like “Bible Phone”, instead of implying this is a special “Hotline to God”, but all God wants to do is recite random scriptures at them.  “Hotline to God” might be more fun to use phrases of encouragement/love from scripture….places where God or Jesus actually says things to his people.

They also snuck one last product into the box.  Something for the adults to enjoy, since the first two were obviously going to be played with by the kids.  It was a “Serenity Prayer Keychain”.  No frills here, just a little white square with a “praying hands” symbol on it, and a button.  Push the button, hear the Serenity Prayer.  Guess what?  Same voice as the Story Stix and Hotline to God.  Either they really love his voice, paid a lot of money to get him to narrate, or he’s the owner of the company.  It was loud enough to be a bit awkward anywhere you might play the prayer audibly around others.  But I imagine if someone’s got a really big rage problem, it could be a good button to try before pummeling someone.  In any case….this made a great gag gift to a friend for his birthday.

So would I buy any of these products myself?  I doubt it.  The Story Stix are $10 each, Hotline to God is $25, and the Keychains are $9.  These are the kind of thing and older person from our church might buy our kids as a gift, and we’d smile and say thank you.  I could see Grandparents whose children don’t attend church giving these gifts to their grandkids, hoping it will sneak God into their lives.  But even that would be a lame substitute for grandparents actually spending time reading Bible stories to their grandchildren.   The phone is the coolest thing they’ve got going here, but it needs new recordings.

I will admit…we had a giant birthday party with tons of friends/kids over yesterday, and my daughters shared around the Story Stix and Hotline to God.  Story Stix seemed to grab a child’s attention long enough to push each button once.  The Hotline to God garnered Fisher-Price-Classics-Chatter-Phone--pTRU1-8176908dta sort of “Really? This exists?” response from parents.  Main conclusion here?  Spend much less money on an actual Bible.  Read it to your children.  Then buy them a toy rotary phone….cause they love playing with that. Might even consider the “Hotline to God”, because there aren’t many toy rotary phones out there without red receivers and moving eyes.

how the US is fighting world peace.

A news update I’ve become aware of (that you may all already know, because you watch the news), concerns the future of the US and our World in a way that seems to matter.  “UNESCO” is the “United Nations Educational, Scientific, & Cultural Organization”.  It was launched many years ago under the premise that you do not bring peace about by enforcing a cessation of violence, but by developing minds and hearts together.  Literally “building peace in the minds of men and women”.  More specifically, it came together in the mid-40’s, “In their eyes, the new organization must establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” and, in so doing, prevent the outbreak of another world war.”

unesco-sign-and-buildingSounds like a pretty important effort, right? One that we would not only want to join, but help be an influential voice within?  And we did.  Until 1984, when we left because UNESCO’s goals were found to be different from our own.  But in 2003, (after we were attacked horribly in 2001, and remembered why it’s important to connect hearts and minds globally), we rejoined.   President George W. Bush stated, “As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning.”  Ever since 2003, we’ve been a big part.  Even as recently as a few years ago, the US Contributions to the UNESCO budget made up over 22% of their operations.

They’ve done great work to connect the scientific developments across the globe.  Along with cultural education/sharing/protection, encouraging/promoting rights to eduction and especially of girls/women.  They do some pretty incredible and VERY important stuff – for more specifics, check out their report from last year. Education for children, power for powerless, food for hungry, etc.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is, back in 2011, UNESCO voted to allow Palestine participate as a nation.  That went against a 1990 US Policy that amounted to “If you invite _____ to the party, we’re not coming.”  At the time, some feared that it was a first step into crazy things like Palestine joining the UN.  I get it, as a group, Palestine definitely has problems with stability.  Some with long-standing land-conflicts..and some from the “Fatah vs. Hamas” conflict within.  I’m very limited in my knowledge/understanding, but I don’t like a lot of what I’ve learned about the Hamas side of things.  That being said…would I still want to invite them to a global conversation on how to better humanity around the world?  I think so?  After all, look at the list of nations who are part of UNESCO…we were cool sitting at a table with North Korea.

There was a grace period of a few years, where we had opportunity to keep our involvement/funding.  But now we’ve officially lost our “vote” as a part of UNESCO.  Whether it was just a final plea for our finances or not, the Director-General made some very powerful statements about why the US needs to stay connected to UNESCO.

So what’s my rant about?  I just think it’s important to note that most of the world disagrees with us on this one (in the 2011 vote, out of 159 nations, 13 sided with us).  That in order to protect “our own interests”, we’re actually modelling the very behavior that in the 1940’s we set out to combat.  That the “interests of humanity” worldwide must always be more important than the “interests of a nation”…if we’re to avoid roads of world war…or even continue living on this earth as the growing collective humanity that we are.

So how do we communicate all of this…something I hardly understand myself…to our children?  I’m not sure, but it starts with prayer.  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”, not as interpreted by one nation…but for all.

trendy witches?

A new article in “Newsweek” recently caught my attention, talking about a growing number of young people (teens through 30’s) who are interested & participate in the occult/witchcraft.  I’ll be honest…most of the time when someone starts talking to me about witchcraft, or the occult, or even the “wiccan” people….I have flashes of this movie play in my head:

But apparently, it’s gotten more hip.  At least, in big cities that define “hipness” for the rest of us.  I’m not too worried, really.  A news-source is supposed to do what it takes to tell stories that sell more copies.  Getting the general public worried about witches, or making the average Joe who’s looking for something new that’s socially acceptable….will definitely move issues.  Especially around Halloween.

But what caught my attention was toward the end when they had statements from a woman who’d recently moved to Brooklyn.  First she says, “It’s embarrassing to admit you’re religious….But I think a lot of people my age are sick of being nihilistic.  Spirituality is a lot cooler.”  (nihilism = believes values are baseless, and nothing can be known…denies all established authority and institutions)

So she and many others in our culture have thankfully come to realize the result of nihilism…and how empty that approach is to…well, anything.  But to jump from that to the trendiness of a vague “spirituality” definitely seems to be the move our culture is making.  Whether you follow this article as highlighting an actual trend, or you look out your window…we know people are searching for “something”….and it’s much more socially acceptable to keep calling it “something” than Jesus.

Unfortunately, we find a result toward the end of her interview…as she follows up with:  “It’s hard to say if anyone is actually invested in any of this occult stuff they meddle in…it almost devastates me to say this, but daily life can be so mundane.  Applying thematics of epicness to your life makes it more exciting.”

It’s amazing how spot on she is, and yet because of her rejection of “traditional religion”, she’s missing out on the “epicness” of a life lived for Christ, and joining God in His story of redemption/New Creation.

More than anything, her statements and this article can be an encouraging invitation.  Our world is recognizing now more than ever the internal desire to be a part of something much grandeur than ourselves.  Something powerful.  Something that I can actually live for…instead of just wait to die for.  May we, our families, and our churches continue to be places where the story of God is happening in ways that testify to the power of His Spirit…the Love of God….and the New Creation possible in Jesus Christ.  No goat-leggings required.  🙂

gym night.

I have a confession to make – I’m a youth pastor who hasn’t been a big fan of “Gym Night”. The one night each month where I don’t get to talk in depth about scriptures, or spend time in small group conversation, or lead teens in extended moments of prayer.  The purpose is plain: invite your friends, reach out relationally, play together.

But God’s been reminding me of some important aspects of what “Gym Night” can offer.  In a world that increasingly treats our bodies as objects that we’re meant to/encouraged to shape and mold as we see fit.  Where pursuits of beauty and athletic ability make any pain and sacrifice worth the “gain”.  Where we’re encouraged to prove we’re not aging, and our young people are encouraged to prove they can ______ better than ________.bowling

There are very few, if any, places our young people (or older people) can go these days to simply have fun.  Places where it’s safe to fail, and you’re embraced as one who is beloved.  Youth group gym nights at their best can be a safe place for play to happen.  Often providing games/experiences that are either too unique or goofy for anyone to brag about their innate or developed skill at them.  (Sure, they’ll still try to brag they’re the best at smacking your feet with a pool noodle….but just stare at them and smile for a while….they’ll come down from the pedestal.)

In his book “Ethics of Hope”, Jurgen Moltmann reminds us: “People who feel that they are accepted and loved can also accept themselves and their bodies as they are, and as they become as time goes on.  The experience of the divine love makes the believer not only ‘just’ but also beautiful……The incarnation of God has really already given us a counterimage to the modern ‘human being as machine’ and to the artificial products of ‘performance’ and ‘beauty’.  God became human so that we might turn from being proud and unhappy gods into true human beings.”

This hits home also as a parent, watching my daughters learn to play games and dress-up.  They’re so talented and beautiful.  But not because they can do an amazing “grande jete'” or because they share a rich inheritence of physical beauty from their mother. (although both are true)  They are beautiful and valuable because they are loved by God.  To pursue beauty or value from any other source is to participate in a reality we don’t believe exists.  An economy already proven bankrupt in the broken and ugly crucified Christ.

So if you come to one of my gym nights, you’ll probably find more pool noodles, balloons, and nasty foods than basketballs.  If you visit my home you’ll probably find my daughters dressing up like Fancy Nancy more than Barbie.  And if you stick around either, you’ll find people who are learning how to exist genuinely as those Christ has called His “Beloved”…

the makers.

I remember learning about the concept of “pax” back in college.  The fact that “peace” was not believed to simply be the cessation of violence, but active sharing/pursuit of right relationship.  That has come up again in both my reading and my parenting.

IMGP8574I’m naturally a “lover, not a fighter” (aka – a wuss).  I remember attending one wrestling practice with my big brother back in high school, jus to check things out.  The amount of grunting, sweating, and sizing each other up to see who could best who…for some reason wasn’t appealing to me.  To brag about how much you can lift, curl, crunch, or how many times you can pull yourself up on a bar….yah, I never understood that.  But someday when the zombies attack and I’m eaten first, all the jocks will be able to say “I told you so.”

I generally find myself agreeing with the kinds of things that pacifist Mennonite and Anabaptist writers might say in regard to conflict/war/etc.  But I was reminded recently by Jurgen Moltmann is his book “Ethics of Hope“, there must be something more.  That it’s not simply about allowing swords to do their thing, and retreating into ploughshares; but rather reforging swords into ploughshares.  Moltmann says:

“Nonviolence, like the forgiveness of sins, is only a negation of the negative, out of which nothing positive as yet proceeds.”

Or the more obvious quote:  “We are not told: ‘Blessed are the peaceful’ but ‘blessed are the peacemakers'”

It makes sense.  I don’t want my girls to simply shy away from an inflammatory situation.  Especially in our drama-rich culture that celebrates the ability to reduce your opponent by well-placed physical or emotional blows.  It can be easy for someone who’s been taught humility and gentleness to simply bow out, quietly walk away, and keep to themselves.  Certainly I hope they know when it’s wise to walk away.  But that’s not always the best response.

I want to raise my daughters to be filled with the wisdom, hope, and Love it will take to diffuse a tense moment.  To help bring healing and reconciliation when two of their friends are conflicted.  To mediate arguments, and offer solutions.  To speak up for the voiceless, and reveal the underlying and uniting Truth beneath the facade of drama.  To enter the places where swords are drawn, and bring redemption for the sake of all involved.

Oh snap.   It sounds like I want my daughters to be like Jesus…

 

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