1) An amazing coincidence of events occurred this weekend here at Shawnee UMC. First and foremost, we confirmed 19 teenagers as members of the church. Now, for those who don't know what "confirmation" is, for churches who baptize infants (like ours), we do the baptism with the caveat that at some point, the child will need to make the decision on their own to accept the responsibility for the baptism. In other words, it's like when your parents took out loans so that you could go to college with the understanding that when you graduate, the responsibility for those loans would be yours. Since God has no grandkids (the subject of a future blog, as I am intrigued with the notion raised in Donald Miller's new book that everyone wants God to be their Grandfather, and not their Father), at some point kids who are dragged to church every Sunday need to make the decision for themselves that being a Christian, and a church-goer (which are linked.... another subject for another time) is something they want to do for themselves.
The process for confirmation put together here at Shawnee this year was very well-organized, and obviously very meaningful to the confirmands. In listening to them speak about their experience, they obviously had given much thought to their experience, and decision as to whether or not make the "confirmation". I'm sure the affair was a positive one, and will stick with these kids for many, many years. Kudos to Marty Hutchison for all the work she put into the experience (I hope her young proteges, Brent and Andrea, recognize the planning, execution, and organization that went into making this a success), all the mentors from the congregation, and the parents. I trust that results of this year's group will have longer lasting effects, in a positive sense, than most other confirmation experiences. I have great confidence that it will.
2) Thing number 2 that happened occurred either late at night, or early in the morning before our services. Somebody, or some group of people, decided to "tag" our church with some offensive graffiti. You can imagine our dismay, as a church, when we drove up for worship to be greeted with multiple symbols for the occult and an "anarchy" symbol. Throw in the expense and time it will take to remove these crudely spray-painted objects, and you've got the makings for one unpleasant set of circumstances.
I put these two events together because I'm relatively sure that a mature adult didn't tag our building. Someone in their teens, or a period of extended adolescence, decided it would be a good idea to risk possible jail time, a fine, and the costs of clean-up, to anonymously let the public know that they disagree with our faith-choice, and that a system without governance is better than the system we have now.
In short, this person is young, confused, and disturbed.
Which brings me to this conclusion: There is no other time of life (with the possible exception of a midlife crisis) where you are more susceptible to making a stupid decision that will destroy your life than between the years of 13 and 23. I say "23", because after having worked with a number of young adults, I have recognized, as have a number of sociologists, that in an affluent culture like ours, that really has no "rite of passage" where young people can be recognized as adults (getting a driver's license, signing up for the draft, and being able to buy alcohol legally really don't fit that bill) we are now experiencing the extension of adolescent behavior in years that would traditionally be considered "adulthood".
If the church could give society any gift, the greatest it could bestow would be figuring out how to partner with parents to help young people navigate these difficult years. It ought to be one of our hallmarks.... one of our great success stories. We ought to be "the place" people come to help youngsters figure out who they are, and where they are going. While it takes money to do this, the greater expense is time.... time on the part of those not paid to be with kids (think about it.... besides parents or family members, what other adults spend time with teens without being paid to do so?). Christian adults who seek to be in good relationships (with good boundaries) in the context of a controlled, safe environment.
When a church puts this together, it becomes a dynamic place where kids who tag churches are sought out, welcomed and embraced. Where decisions to live lives of self-sacrifice, mercy, grace, and love are made by teens who are, and aren't dragged by their parents to worship on Sunday morning. Where confusion can be talked out with people who have lived enough life that they care little or nothing for what popular culture says is cool, or defining.
We lived that dream for two months during this confirmation experience. I hope we're wise enough to figure out ways for it to continue.
3) Watched the Oscars last night with my grandmother. Here my thoughts in no particular order...
- Jon Stewart did a credible job as host, but he didn't make anyone forget Billy Crystal.
- I'm sick of Brokeback Mountain, and I haven't even seen the movie.
- One of the actresses (I can't remember which one) who was up for "Best Actress in a Leading Role" wore a dress with a pillow on the shoulder. My grandmother described it as "a terrible mistake".
- Best line of the night: "For those out there keeping score, that's Martin Scorsese with zero Oscars, and the 3-6 Mafia with one."
- If you just showed the categories people cared about (Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor Actress, and Best Picture), the whole deal could be over in 30 minutes.
- I'm sure if Jack Nickelson E-bay'd a chance for a guy and three of his buddies to hang out with him in Vegas for a weekend, that he'd raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. The guy is walking party.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman is a brilliant actor. Have liked him in everything I've seen him in, but I thought he took it to another level four years ago in in the movie "Love Liza", which is described by IMBd as "a searing look at grief". Anyone that can pull off a movie about a guy who starts huffing gasoline after the unexplained suicide of his wife is pretty brilliant (and, that being said, this is not necessarily a recommendation that you rent this movie. You've got to like independent film, and be willing to be depressed for a number of days to watch this puppy).
- I never thought the word "pimp" would ever be used at the Academy Awards.
4) Went to the "Vision Life" retreat hosted by Bishop Ough on Saturday, and while I won't say much about it, I will say this: If someone from the Conference Office had showed me a way to re-organize itself into a ministry that was "distinctive and additive" to what is supposed to be done at the District level, all in the name of developing/planting local church, and CUT the budget by $200k (as opposed to raise it the same amount), all in attendance would have been intrigued and impressed. That truly, would have been thinking outside of the box.
5) And another thing about the Vision Life retreat...
The featured guest speaker for the day was Bishop Huie, the bishop of the Texas Annual Conference (one of six Annual Conferences in that state). One of her greatest concerns (echoed later by our own Bishop) was the declining percentage of clergy in the UMC that are under the age of 35. The number, which nationally has declined from 15% in 1985, to about 5% in 2005, reflects the decrease in the number of people (like myself) who went to seminary straight from college. Largely, our ranks have been filled with "second career" folks, which isn't necessarily bad, but since national studies show that churches tend to bring in people who are, on average, about seven years older or younger than the Senior Pastor, many are afraid that this trend will exacerbate an all-ready rapidly aging denomination. Thus, conferences like Texas are going to concentrate efforts to try and turn this around largely by trying to offer appointments that pay better in more "happening" communities.
I'll make an observation here: Right now, if you were young and had great potential, you could go to a number of denominations that would give you money to start a new church. While starting a new church is a challenge, trying to fit in one that's already established (and may have developed some bad habits) can be ten times harder. What's more, you don't necessarily need a seminary education (and the massive loans people take out to get one) to plant these churches, as these denominations are finding new ways to train and apprentice young pastors that can successfully lead a congregation. I mean, we have two UM-seminaries in the West Ohio Conference, and somehow that kind of proximity to training and education hasn't produced the results desired by those in charge, so I have to wonder...
- In an effort to recruit new pastors, will we alter our expectations regarding education and experience when it comes to credentialing?
- Will we make available appointments in new church, or multi-site settings that have the kind of potential for growth that will excite young, entrepreneurial pastors?
6) Am making the long trek to Wilmore, Kentucky tomorrow to try and hammer out some sort of schedule and plan regarding my doctoral work that will be acceptable to this church, the conference, the Beeson Institute, and Asbury Theological Seminary. If we can reach some sort of agreement, this will force us all to commit to a fixed schedule in the coming year. Pray for us all as we seek a compromise that will bring glory and honor to the Kingdom of Heaven.
7) Met with Robin Andes this morning to get a handle on what I should be doing during my daily workout. If you want any idea of how it went, I found today that I warm up and stretch incorrectly. Talk about having a lot to learn. I'm looking forward to the pain.
8) This Thursday, yours truly is heading off to Indy to see the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament. Accompanied by Eric Stalkamp and Tim Yunker (my dad will make the trek on Friday, and my old friend Steve Clouse, a Goshen compadre, will sit-in on Thursday), we will venture forth into the great abyss that is 10 games in four days, and a number one seed for OSU. Because I am cheap, we are staying at Horizon House, a home owned by Horizon of Hope UMC in Indy for the express purpose of providing pastors and church people a cheap place to stay and re-charge. Which bring me to this thing I think:
There are two kinds of travelers: The kind that need to stay close to the arena where they drink "double chocolate creame" coffee in a hotel room complete with a king-sized bed and 42" plasma screen TV, and the kind that are thankful when they don't have to sleep on a floor, but will, if necessary in a place where you boil your own water for instant coffee. You obviously know what kind of traveler I am.... we'll see how "foo foo" or how tough my traveling buddies are this weekend. There should be a good time had by all.
9) Elijah started crawling this weekend, so we're getting ready for another mobile child. Now that they outnumber us, we'll need to outsmart them. Here's hoping that we can.
10) And finally, spent some time at the rear of our sanctuary observing 30 young people from our church worshipping in faint candlelight, and was personally, very moved. I remember many such evenings as a student, and leader, myself, in many different places in the world, where it was obvious God was present, and active. In the faint chance any of those kids are reading this now, store up the experience, and count it as a treasure. The memory of the experience, and the people you experienced it with, will someday warm your soul. Thanks for the gift, kids.