Here’s to the Dreamers

On November 22, 1963, the whole world was glued to television sets and radios, listening intently for news surrounding the death of the young American president who lost his life in Dallas, Texas.  As news of the tragedy of John F. Kennedy’s death spread, not only Americans, but people of many nations, mourned the loss of this energetic, go-getting, controversial young politician.  The images of Mrs. Kennedy, grief-stricken, wearing her blood-stained pink dress and pillbox hat, holding the Bible while Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the President of the United States, were burned into the psyche of an entire generation, as were the iconic images of the funeral–particularly the horse-drawn casket and the sight of the president’s son saluting the casket as it went by. 

But JFK was not the only luminary who died on that day.  In a twist that would interest historians and trivia buffs for decades, the authors C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley also both died on November 22, 1963.  Many parallels and lessons have been drawn between these three men over the years.  Today, though, I would simply like to highlight the fact that all three men were dreamers.

Kennedy dreamed of a vision of America leading the world into space–to the moon and back and back again.

Lewis dreamed of a world where all people would come to know God, and he encouraged his readers to explore the mysteries of God through the genres of myth and fairytale. 

Huxley dreamed of a world where all people could be free to express themselves, unimpeded by government or corporate corruption, and warned us of the dangers of a society controlled by the need to be “normal.”

Each of these men were so much more complex than the descriptions above, but they each embodied for the world the necessity of thinking deeply, dreaming of new realities, and sharing their vision with others. 

As I have experienced Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley, I have been influenced personally by each of their dreams and visions.

When I first encountered the speeches and writings of President Kennedy, I was inspired to see a progressive vision for what America could be–forward-thinking, a leader in technology and research, and open to the possibilities of change.

When I read C.S. Lewis for the first time, I was awe-struck by his ability to weave a story in a way that led the reader into a deeper sense of the mysterious nature of the universe.  Later, when I read some of his fiction for adults, and his writings on Christianity, I was drawn deeper into that mystery, and encouraged to think as deeply as I felt my faith.

When I read Brave New World, I admit that I was at first frightened and confused, not sure what vision that Aldous Huxley was trying to convey.  As I re-read it later in life, I realized that this work of art was a beautifully prophetic warning about the effects of power, and the resilience of the human spirit in spite of the madness of the age. 

Dreamers like Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley are what keep us moving forward in life.  They dare to step just a bit ahead of the rest of us, in order to glimpse what might be, and they invite us to join them on their journey of discovery.  These three men are but a few examples of those who have dreamed dreams and seen visions in the history of humanity.  I chose to believe that they were given the ability to do what they did through the movement of God in the world.  Others have been similarly gifted throughout the ages, and many are so gifted even today.  May all of us reach for the impossible, and become dreamers of dreams ourselves, that we might stretch beyond our current visions of reality and create a new world, built on the hope that comes from God alone.



“It’s All Worth It In the End”

Through participating in a Doctor of Ministry program, I’ve become aware again of what it’s like to be a student, struggling to figure out the system that includes financial aid, tuition, due dates, etc.  Because of this, I have great sympathy for the students I work with, who often come to my office distraught over some mix-up or other with the business office or some other administrative office of the university.

Throughout my frustrations with my own seminary, I’ve kept one thing in mind:  It will all be worth it in the end.  Not because I’ll have the “Dr.” added to my name, or because of the cool new stripes and hood that will become a part of my academic regalia, but because of all that I’ve learned along the way.  Being a student again has reminded me of why I went to college and seminary in the first place–to learn more about the world and about God in order to share God’s love with others.  That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have shared God’s love with others without college, seminary, and the D.Min, but all of those academic programs have helped me do so in a way that reaches a much larger audience than I could have otherwise.  Being in ministry has given me the opportunity to share God’s love with people in two different countries, in rural, suburban, and urban environments, young and old, and from all walks of life.  So, is the momentary frustration that I’m going through as a student worth it?  Absolutely.

All of us go through times every now and then that try our souls.  Everyone experiences frustrations.  Being a student and having troubles with professors and the financial aid office do not make us unique, but part of the wider human condition.  But, thanks be to God, we have the promise that it will all be worth it in the end–that what we learn now will be helpful in taking us where God is calling us in the future–and that the places we go in the future will provide us with opportunities to continue to grow in our faith and perspective on the world. 

So, what’s your mantra for getting through a tough time?  Do you say “It’s all worth it in the end”?  May God grant you the grace to get through today, and the promise of his presence with you in all your tomorrows.




(Youth) Ministry

I’ve been thinking a lot about youth ministry these last few days.  Mostly, that’s because I’ve been asked to lead a course on “Youth Ministry Issues and Settings” next semester.  The objective of the course is to explore the many varieties of contexts in which youth ministry takes place, and the issues that each context/setting raises.  It’s meant to be a good mix of practical and theological thinking, which is right up my alley, so I said “Yes” when asked if I would consider teaching this course.

One of the issues that’s been on my mind lately has been the issue of the “one-eared Mickey Mouse” model of youth ministry.  This model is characterized by the visual:

which is usually how most churches do “youth ministry.”  This is the model that was taught and encouraged for decades in youth ministry, and is still in effect in many places today, including many successful “mega churches” (no  names will be mentioned here!)  It is, in fact, the model that I many times unwittingly encouraged in the churches I served before becoming a college chaplain.  (I know, I’m just as shocked as you are!)  The model is built on a very well-meaning principle—that young people are a special group, with needs that are different from the rest of the congregation, and that they should be treated to a special kind of ministry that addresses their specific needs.  I don’t disagree with any of that (except for the overuse of the word “special” in that sentence—someone really should edit this stuff!), but I have seen the effect that such thinking can have on a congregation, and most importantly, on the young people themselves. 

When we create “special” ministries for youth, we often lavish them with many things—their very own room in the church building, or even a building of their own, a “youth pastor,” and special curriculum that they can use during their set-aside “youth meetings,” or even “youth worship.”  All that sounds great, except for the underlying message that it communicates—that youth are different, that they are not like the “regular” congregation, and that “real church” is not what happens in the youth room or youth building, but what happens among the adults.  As one author put it, it’s the equivalent of sitting our youth at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving.  What happens, then, when our youth graduate from high school and go off to college?  They leave the church—a fact that has become so well-accepted that there have not been any major studies into why young people are leaving the church since the early 90’s.  We’ve just come to accept that this is a “normal” stage of development, and we hope that they will come back to church when they have kids, so that their kids can be shunted off to the “youth ministry,” and the cycle can start all over again. 

The only problem with that thinking is that they’re not coming back.  Many young people see graduation from high school as a graduation from church.  After all, when they graduated (or, in some cases, when they were confirmed in the seventh or eighth grade), their church gave them a Bible, a bookmark, and a pamphlet about “letting go and letting God,” whatever that means.  The rites of passage, for lack of a better word, that we engage in when students leave our faith communities to go off to college look every bit like a graduation ceremony, and they give the youth, and the congregation, the impression that it’s acceptable now to leave the church, to explore the world, that this “special” time of life called “youth” is over, and you’re now on your own. 

Harsh, I know.  That’s why I’m so concerned about trying to do something about it.

What I want to convey to the students I work with, who have a heart and a soul inspired by God for youth ministry, is that youth ministry isn’t a special calling—it’s simply ministry.  Our job as youth ministers (and as chaplains) is to help young people realize that they are part of the church—not the future of the church, as we are so fond of saying—but the church’s present as well.  We should tear down our separate buildings (or use them as homeless shelters and outreach centers), make our youth pastors part of the ministry to the total congregation, and get our senior pastors out of their offices and into the lives of the young people they’ve been called to serve.  The one-eared Mickey Mouse represents an incomplete picture of the church.  It’s a model that, if applied to any other group of people, would be abhorred for the discrimination that it really is.  It’s certainly not what Jesus would have had us do, for he invited all people (even kids, who couldn’t even understand what he was saying, but could feel his love for them) into the picture. 

I guess I could use the prayers of the faithful during the next semester, as I undergo this exciting adventure with a couple of great youth ministry students.  Pray that we will find new ways of doing ministry that are already in place out in the world, and that we will catch on to the vision that faithful pastors and youth leaders are living into every single day.  Pray that what we do will have an impact on the future (and present) ministries of our students, and that God will smile when he sees what we’re trying to do in his name.