Last November, my son–then a fourteen year old–learned about No-Shave-November. It was toward the end of the month and we said then we would do it this year. We’d go a month without shaving. So, I’m now sporting a beard for the first time in probably 15 years. No Shave November is trying to be for men what wearing pink on October is for women–an encouragement for men to visit their doctors. Men have unique health needs but often resist going to their physician unless they have a broken bone or can’t stop the bleeding with duct tape. So we’ve all decided to grow our beards to encourage one another to visit our doctors. Did you make your appointment?
In Catholic tradition, the function of the parish priest has been called the Cure of Souls for centuries. It’s a beautiful image of one called by the Great Physician to administer the teaching, ordinances, and pastoral care that enable others to pursue spiritual health. As a local church pastor, I can tell you that pastoral care for men is quite different than pastoral care for women. Men often take circuitous routes getting to the point where they will allow a pastor to be their pastor. They resist going to their medical physicians until something is undeniably wrong and the resist going to their pastors with an even greater determination. So, your pastor is fuzzy today because his son asked him to be. But, I’d ask all sons, regardless of their age, to attend to their spiritual health. Make an appointment to visit with your pastor. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong–we can pray together, speak of God’s glory and God’s grace, ponder the big questions, and grow in our faith. Did you make your appointment?
On the way home from work today, I started wondering what an honest Sunday morning worship welcome would sound like. Here’s my first draft:
Indicative language states what is; imperative language stresses what must be done. It’s the difference between Southern Hospitality and Southwestern Hospitality. Southern Hospitality is Imperative: “Get on in here and give me a hug; let me get you something to eat–I won’t take no for an answer; sit yourself down; make yourself at home; y’all come back now, ya’ hear!” Very demanding really. Southwestern hospitality is indicative hospitality–mi casa es su casa; the backdoor is open; there’s tea in the fridge if you want anything. It’s why pre-sweetened ice-tea is Southern, it’s not Southwestern. Southerners know that tea taste better sweetened (it doesn’t but they think it does) and will tell you how to drink it. Southwesterners would never presume to understand how you like your tea.
Dad: Did you enjoy the burrito I made for you? (looking at plate that’s not been put in the sink).
Dad: Did you get enough to eat? (no movement to put plate in sink)
Dad: Can you put your plate in the sink? (still no movement)
Dad: Please put your plate in the sink now. (half distracted moves from couch, still watching cartoons, and slowly puts plate in sink)
Pastor: Did you hear that you are a loved child of God? (seeing others who need to hear that)
Pastor: Did you hear it enough that you believe it? (no move to share message with others)
Pastor: Can you tell people that they are also beloved child God? (still no movement)
Pastor: Please share this with others now. ( . . . )
Dad: Do you want a ham and cheese sandwich?
Dad: Peanut Butter and Jelly?
Dad: What do you want?
Son: I don’t know.
Pastor: Do you want to do personal evangelism?
Pastor: Home Groups?
Pastor: Media Blitz?
Pastor: What do you want to do?
Church: We don’t know.
Glad my life is consistent.
“You never stopped thinking like a youth minister, did you?” It was one of the most thrilling compliments ever paid to me. We were co-directing a camp together and working on a game. I was having fun thinking about twists and wrinkles. She is a good youth minister–far better than I could have ever hoped to be. She’s perceptive, attention, kind in the way that steps past kids defenses and hormones. She has a gift for facilitating games that get kids connecting to each other and energized. I have a gift of facilitating games that fall under the weight of their own complexity or require medical attention. She is gifted in many other ways. And she’s not alone. This past weekend I was reminded of just how fortunate our kids are to have a cadre of youth ministers who get it. As best I can tell, the criteria this cadre uses to evaluate a senior minister is the senior minister’s capacity to think like a youth minister. I would like her evaluation of me to be true. So, I’ve named a few things that senior ministers, or at least this senior minister, need to remember about ministry from being a youth minister:
1. Some days really do come down to whether people get sufficient rest and proper hydration.
2. Rigid plans and no plans are both problematic. Plan tight; adhere loose.
3. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the minister is praying and reading scripture. It matters how comfortable the people are praying and reading scripture.
4. You can’t very well expect to get them to open up to you if you’re always sitting with someone else.
5. Neither congregations nor youth groups can be built around the minister’s insecurities.
6. Letting people remain unaccountable for destructive behavior is the exact opposite of loving them. Holding people accountable is not punishment.
The biggest thing I see from the good youth ministers I know is that they anticipate seeing God transform the people they serve. They live with the belief that the next worship service, or game, or activity, or conversation, or meal, or message may be the point of transformation for someone. Too many of us stop anticipating transformation. Truth be told, many ministers have never anticipated transformation. These folk do time in youth ministry rather than do youth ministry which is how they do other forms ministry later on. We might defend ourselves saying that we’ve been at this longer and therefore we have calibrated our expectations to fit reality. That’s just another way of saying we’ve let the calling become a job. Transformation can happen whether we expect it, pray for it, and anticipate it. After all, God doesn’t ask our permission no matter how offended we get by that. We can get in the way or miss transformation altogether by failing to look, pray and work for it. So, to my friend who asked if I still think like a youth minister I’d say, only on my best days.
–>My daughter has been away at college for a year and a half. One of the ways we stay connected to her is through her use of Social Media. Here are some things I’ve learned about following my daughter’s twitter feed.
1. Following your daughter’s twitter feed is all about the relationship.
2. Following your daughter’s twitter does not replace real conversation but, it sometimes helps.
3. Knowing the names of the places she goes and the people she knows helps make sense of the things she says,
4. You don’t act on every post. Sometimes she’s just quoting song lyrics that are stuck in her head. But, Piece the posts together and get a sense of how to act in general.
5. Don’t assume the angry posts are about you . . . don’t assume they’re not either.
6. And one that was verbatim from my daughter. “Creeping on [your daughter’s] crushes’ profile is good. But be cautious when letting them know that. Some may not want you to know who their crush even is. I, on the other hand, will gladly sit there with you and “creep”.
These six things also apply to reading scripture particularly when we think about how we read the Old Testament. Let’s start with my daughter’s own contribution to the list–creeping on crushes. There are three great crushes in the Old Testament–God’s and Creation’s crush on each other (Psalm 8); God’s and Israel’s crush on each other (Deuteronomy 6:4-5); and God’s crush on Humanity (Micah 6:8). What we’re doing when we read the Old Testament is creeping on these crushes–i.e., eavesdropping. As Fred Craddock would say, we are “overhearing the gospel.”
We eavesdrop on this record of crushes because the relationship matters to us. Reading the Old Testament is about the relationship. It’s the search for language through which we can join in the crush (Psalm 19). Because the God who has a crush on creation, Israel and humanity has a crush on you. As such, reading the Old Testament doesn’t replace prayer or a real conversation with your God. But it does sometimes help. My favorite hymn lyric probably in all of Christian music comes from the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” We sing, “What language shall our borrow to thank thee dearest friend?” The Old Testament gives us language we can borrow to thank God.
Knowing the places, characters and idiom enables us to understand the text. The student ministry my daughter attends has a funny name for its Tuesday Night worship. There’s a ministry intern at the student ministry with a unique name also. If she mentions him in the context of the worship service, I have to know both the places and the names to make sense out of what she’s said. Similarly, when we read scripture it’s important to know the background. I think about these as hash tags (#). There are hash tags for genre #torah #history #story #wisdom #lament #apocalyptic #propehcy. There are hash tags for historical placement #foundation #inEgypt #exodus #conquest #judges #monarchy #dividedkingdom #exile #restoration. These hash tags help orient us to the text.
Fifth, We don’t respond to a single text–don’t try to build a response around just one passage of scripture. Piece them together. Most of us have had the experience of over-reacting to someone’s facebook post only to find out that they were just quoting a song lyric. Similarly, most of us have had the experience of watching people who try to expand one single passage into an entire doctrine. The point of scripture is to see how God’s word comes through the entire arc of scripture.
Finally, the angry texts aren’t about you. However, we can’t just skip over them and pretend they have no value for us. If we’ll listen closely to them they may speak to us in ways we need to hear.