Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Eternally Safe Haven (click here to purchase the LinC issue from Cokesbury)

This week, Cokesbury published the curriculum I wrote for their weekly current events curriculum called LinC (Living in Christ). Here's an excerpt from the introduction page...there are Sunday school programs for both Jr. and Sr. High youth with activities, discussion questions, plenty of Scriptures and a devotional. To purchase a copy, click on the link above.

In July of this year the state of Nebraska adopted a ‘safe-haven’ law, which is intended to save the lives of babies who might otherwise be harmed by overwhelmed or teenage parents, by allowing those parents to drop off the child at a hospital ‘no questions asked.’ But in Nebraska, the bill was passed not just for infants but for minors up to age 18. In September of this year a father dropped off 9 of his children at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha. Reports of the incident spread and before Nebraska could determine what course of action to take, parents and guardians from neighboring states started driving to Nebraska to abandon their teens. So far, 35 children between the ages of one and seventeen have been left in the care of Nebraska hospitals.
It would be very easy to pass judgment on all the parents who had abandoned their children. And in some cases it is justified to be appalled at parents who were too lazy or too busy to find real solutions to the problems they were having with their teens. But other cases reveal much more complex situations.
Gary Staton who left his nine children was interviewed by KETV in Omaha and shared that his wife died from a brain aneurysm shortly after giving birth to their youngest child. In order to care for his children Staton quit his job, but then could not pay for rent or utilities. He felt it was better to turn them over to the state to be safe than to make them homeless. “I was with her for 17 years, and then she was gone. What was I going to do? We raised them together. I didn’t think I could do it alone. I fell apart. I couldn’t take care of them.”
According to statistics published by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services comparing information from the first 30 cases, 90 percent of the children had previously received some type of mental health care; 93 percent were living in single-parent homes; 73 percent had a parent/guardian with a history of prior incarceration; 93 percent were living in or near an urban community; and 57 percent were previously, or are currently, a state ward in Nebraska or another state. In several cases, parents who abandoned their children at Nebraska hospitals reported that they tried getting help for their children from the local and state agencies and police departments, but that no real help was available to them unless their child committed a crime. Regardless of the reasons for abandonment the statistics reveal that there are many interconnected issues like socio-economics, health care, crime, family structure or support, and availability of social services that can all contribute to the inability of a parent or guardian to care for, or get the right help in caring for a child.
There are many challenging questions that this story brings to light. How could a parent abandon a child? What must these youth be struggling with that their parents/guardians would consider such action? How equipped are our state and county agencies for caring for families in crisis? What should our responses be in our local churches to families in our communities facing these same realities? What does this situation unfolding in our country say about our priorities when it comes to children and families?
While this story will continue to unfold in the media and the Nebraska state legislature will have to deal with amending their law in the months to come, our Christian faith and our Scriptures show us that the feeling of abandonment is universal and timeless.
From as early as Abraham being willing to follow God’s command to sacrifice his own son, giving him up to God, to Jesus leaving his disciples to be with God in heaven, the Bible is rich with stories that can teach us about abandonment. From creation God knew that humans were not meant to be alone, but were created to be in relationship with God and one another. So what is our responsibility as Christians, parents, students and churches to parents and teens like these and in our own communities? One of the over-arching messages of the Bible is that God never abandons God’s people. The Israelites sinned and strayed far from God, but God could not abandon them forever. “They [Israel] shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden;” (Hosea 14:7a). Not only did God restore Israel, but later gave all of us his own son, Jesus Christ, so that believing in him, we would never feel abandoned again. “For I am convinced,” Paul writes, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
In our churches, our youth are well aware of many of their peers who are ‘at risk’ and dealing with a host of complex issues. Regardless of whether the youth in our churches have friends in their own tribes dealing with these issues, or just know of kids at school or other places dealing with these issues, it is our responsibility to dialogue about and be in ministry with teens who feel abandoned, and with parents who have lost hope. Why? Because Jesus does not just ask us to be ‘good Christians.’ Jesus asks us to follow him in mission, serving the least, the last and the lost. Certainly, these teens and these families are feeling like the least and the lost.

Especially this week while we are feasting and joining together with family and friends, pray for the children and youth who have no real family, who feel abandoned and alone. Pray for the parents who have had to let go of their children as an act of love and courage.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Norwegian Delight

Most Scandinavians and especially those of us that are of Norwegian descent have long known the secret of lefse. And one of my favorite wedding gifts was a lefse grill, pastry board/cloth, and turning stick. My husband is now well skilled at cooking the thin dough to perfection on the grill and I've so enjoyed rolling the dough like so many of my ancestors on both sides of the family. Lefse is made from potatoes - peeled, boiled, and riced. Flour, cream or milk, butter, sugar and salt combine with the riced potatoes to make a dough that is rolled thin with a special rolling pin. People eat lefse many different ways, but we like it best with plain old butter and sugar (brown or white).

Now, with my own children it's even more delightful to carry on this tradition and let them help, eat and enjoy as I did when I was a little girl. No TV's, no video games, no internet, no cell phones...just working together as a family to make lefse and listen to Christmas music. Bliss!

There is a very sacred feeling present when you can connect as a family around a tradition...especially one that connects you to your ancestors, culture, or foods of the past.
What traditions are sacred for you and help you connect to the past and present especially during this holiday time?

Still Speaking

I was blessed to hear Mike Yaconelli speak at several
conventions or seminars for youth workers. His messages were woven with so much humor, honesty, wisdom and heart that you'd laugh, cry, laugh, nod knowingly and also be cut to the quick. Anyone who met or heard Mike knew of his love for Christ, and his love for youth and youth workers. When he went home to God my colleagues and I were shocked and saddened. Thank you to his children and his wife for allowing his legacy, Youth Specialties to continue to inspire, encourage, teach and transform youth workers through the work they do. Thank you to his children for collecting some of his writings and a few audio recordings to compile this book. As I read this book, I can still hear Mike's voice, see his expressions, still be brought to laughter and tears, nod knowingly and be cut to the quick.
This is a must read for those in ministry of any kind. If you can hear us from heaven Mike, thank you!

Friday, November 21, 2008

What I've Learned this Week from 'Being in the Trenches' in Ministry

I won't go into detail about any of the situations or people I've spent time with this week, but here are some things God put on my heart this week.

Sunday - Some people are in so much pain (even if well hidden) that they don't realize they are being judgmental, vindictive or mean. God does a pretty good job convicting (and forgiving) me of my sins (which are many) and I really don't need other folks to point those out to me. But for whatever reason, some people still feel compelled to do just that. Does it hurt?...of course it does. And it makes me sad and disappointed, but God has continued to comfort and remind me that reconciliation is His, not mine and that it will come in His time, not mine.

Monday - I often resent my schedule and think my family does too. But sometimes my kids teach me how to make the best of things. Instead of complaining, being resentful, or upset about a change in schedule...they took it in stride and made it fun. Their spirit is infectious and I have to admit I enjoyed our little 'detour' as well. What a blessing children are in life...hopefully later on they won't resent my work, but I trust God to help with that too.

Tuesday - Never, ever understimate the power of sharing and prayer. Most people we know are walking around with very heavy burdens, but you would never know it. But when those burdens are shared in Christian community so many blessings emerge. God reminded me to always show matter what people show on the 'outside' there may be a lot of brokeness on the inside...and "mercy always triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13) God also reminded me that through the power of the Holy Spirit I have the gifts of compassion and prayer. And Tuesday night, that was exactly what we needed to be about. Finally, God reminded me that even if I'm not called to help everyone, or be in mission with every type of situation or person, I am still called to be aware of all kinds of suffering and to help others discern what their God-given gifts and mission are.

Wednesday - God provided another dose of joy in the midst of teaching. In the middle of a stressful and overwhelming week, I had the presence of mind to let the Holy Spirit take over and provide the words and direction so that a group of students could experience the mystery of Scripture, the enormity and infinity of God, and the power of reliance on the Holy Spirit. No matter what doubts other people try to plant in me about my abilities or credibility, God continues to use me to teach effectively about God's Word.

Thursday - Suffering is great, but God is good when we wait on God. Following Jesus does not make life easy...usually just the opposite, but Jesus said, "I will be with you even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28) Turning our lives to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit does not mean that we will be liked or blessed in the ways we think here on earth. It often leads to more persecution and judgement from those who do not know Him. That is a hard thing to share with people who are suffering and just want God to make it all better. I don't have the power to change people's hearts, but God does. Yet that doesn't relieve me of the responsibility to pray for and be a reflection of Christ for others.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This morning, Tyra Banks was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show about her conversations on her daytime talk show with tween and teen girls about their sexual activity and behavior. Tyra was shocked by what she heard. Hopefully, most of us youth workers and parents are not as shocked because we have seen the increase in sexualized media, sexualized culture and sexual behavior in adolescents and pre-teens.

But I have to ask what seems like the obvious not or was not Tyra Banks one of the sexualized images that young girls have been exposed to? How is it that a sexy, succesful model who worked in the industry does not get the power of the very images she produced or was used to produce and their profound effect on body image, sexual identity and behavior? Is it just me or is there a disconnect?

Lest I dwell on that issue, allow me to move on quickly to one good resource for parents and teachers, or anyone who works with young girls (and boys for that matter). For a great introduction to this book and a look at how to ask the good, tough questions of yourself, read this excerpt from So Sexy So Soon.
There are no easy answers when confronted with sexual questions from children, but there are some great questions to ask yourself before you rush to judgment about what a child may be telling you, why they may be telling you, and how not to react.
When to start talking about sex with your children? If you haven't already...your behind. Infancy is the time to actualy start teaching your child about their body. Sexuality is not something that just magically appears at the onset of puberty. Issues of body image, love, relationships, touches, body parts and sex develop in us as we develop from birth. If you've read some of my past know I too am dealing with these issues with my own children!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Walking the Talk

I'm sure Rev. Soong-Chan Rah did not set out to be a spokes-person for the racism that exists against Asian Americans. But when he sees it, he is able to face it with clarity, humility, integrity and Christian love. Another of the guest speakers at the National Youth Workers Convention, Rev. Rah challenged everyone to step out of the 'white western gospel' to provide a much more culturally relevant and accurate picture of the Gospel to those we teach. I can guarantee you that many were squirming in their seats during his powerful, prophetic and honest message. He raises the good and tough questions that we need to be raising at this time in our cultural and spiritual history. How have we as white westerners (Americans) co-opted the Gospel and twisted it to meet our own cultural and racial mindsets? How have we been mis-reading and mis-teaching the Scriptures based on our own limitted cultural and racial lenses? Are we allowing other cultural, racial and ethnic voices to enter into our readings, our discussions and our worldviews so that we avoid ethno-centric and even racist interpretations of Scripture? Check out Rah's blog and read more. And be sure to read about how he confronted two major publishing companies for their stereotyping of Asian Americans in their literature.

Kudos to Rev. Rah for challenging a stereotype, and to Youth Specialties, Zondervan and the Skit Guys for their retraction of the offensive material and public apology to the Asian American community. These are people I'm proud to associate with as part of the body of Christ.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Youth Curriculum for Post-Election Healing (click here)

LinC, published by Cokesbury, just released this week's issue of it's youth Sunday School curriculum, which is the best piece I've seen yet on how to deal with the post-election emotions and healing from a Scriptural perspective. Yes, I'm biased because I am also a writer for LinC, but I did not write this issue. I read it yesterday and it is outstanding...if you are looking for something to raise the discussion to a different level for you or for your church, please consider buying and downloading this issue. Click on the title above to see the issue description.
For many people, 'moving on' is much easier said than done. But let's keep the conversation spiritual and Scriptural in our Christian communities!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let's Pray for Our Publishers

Youth Specialties recently published the book, Barack Obama: An American Story and is now taking hits from people all across the religious and political spectrum for publishing it. Interestingly enough, none of the people attacking or applauding YS has even read the book yet. I have 5 copies on order and am waiting to read and discuss it with my student leaders. Honestly...what have we as a society come to that we attack first, reflect/read later? This is a non-issue that some folks want to make into an issue because emotions are still running high after a long political campaign. Are we really so small-minded in our churches and our worldviews that one little book should stir such controversy for a Christian publisher? If we are to be like Jesus aren't we supposed to be 'out there' with those most unlike ourselves, caring for one another...not infighting and arguing about how appropriate it is for a publisher to publish a book?
Hang in there Marko! Read Mark's blog response here.

Another Great Voice

Phyllis Tickle was another of the guest speakers at the National Youth Workers Convention that I recently attended. Insightful and well-reasoned, she helps make sense of spiritual and religious movement in the context of culture and history.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Building Bridges

Many Christians have no idea what to think about or how to deal with people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. In fact, rather than deal with the issue and 'those people' most churches and church leaders shy away from the issue completely assuming that it doesn't really affect their congregation anyway. But from this Youth Workers perspective (an many, many others) it is an issue that permeates youth ministries across the country, and so also is an issue in all of our churches. For some wonderful teaching and dialogue about this issue, please see Andrew Marin's website.

No matter what church or synagogue you attend, visit, or belong to I can guarantee that there are youth, young adults, parents and grandparents who are dealing with this issue in some way shape or form. If you think it does not exist where you are in denial. In over 15 years of youth ministry, I have learned so much about gay, lesbian, bisexual and sexually curious young people. And from experience, I can tell you that most of them who have 'come out' in their youth groups or churches have felt just the opposite of the love of Christ. They have felt the condemnation, judgment and anger from the very people who they thought were supposed to love them based on the teachings of Jesus.

Francis Chan (click here)

While at the National Youth Workers Convention in Pittsburgh the past 4 days, I heard Francis Chan preach for the first time. Check out his website and download a sermon or two. You will be challenged and hopefully changed!