Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Promised One Has Come



One of our favorite parts of the Christmas story in Luke is when Jesus is presented to Simeon in the temple. A man who was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the Christ. Simeon blessed Jesus and cried out to God saying,

"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
Luke 2:29-32

Joy to the World, the promised Savior and redeemer of all people has come!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Time Keeps Ticking Away

Have you ever had a continuace thought bounce around in your head for a while, but you can never really put your finger on what it is? I have been experiencing this feeling recently, and it wasn't till today that I was able to really name what it is, and gain some perspective about it. I wrestle with the concept of time, and how there never seems to be enough of it. I always remember as a child hearing my dad say, "Well when you get older time just starts flying." Well he was right and I don't like it very much. I am always late, and I always think I can get ready in less time then I actually can. I get excited when it is 8:00 a.m. and I think it is so early and before I know it it is 11. Sometimes it just feels like the days fly by, and I find myself grumbling about how it is almost over. I often feel like this when Drew and I get to spend the day together. I cherish every single moment that I get to spend with Drew, and always feel sad when our day together has to end. Needless to say, I don't like this way of thinking.

I don't enjoy these feelings of sadness or anxiousness about time. I long to see everyday as a gift and opportunity to see God's work in creation, my life, and the lives of others. To see each day as another opportunity to serve him and continue to spread his redemption. I don't want to keep looking back or looking forward in a spirit of fear, but I would rather seize the opportunity that is in front of me with a spirit of joy and thankfulness.

Time is not my enemy!

I was reading a post today by Margie Haack that was originally published in Ransom Fellowship's newsletter, but posted on Art House America. Here is what I read that helped me gain a little perspective.

" In The Good Works Reader Thomas Oden writes about the Lord’s Prayer and the larger meaning of receiving our daily bread: “Ultimately the bread we most pray for is the clarity and truthfulness of our own purpose and destiny.” That is what I crave, I’m hungry to understand my purpose, to believe that human finiteness is okay, and to know and believe when God made us to live in dailyness He said, “It is good.” I’d like to live with a certain clarity that though the day inevitably comes with suffering, it’s still good, and I would like to gratefully receive that day with all its shuffling and waiting as a gift."

She later says,

"f I am busy considering either my body or time as enemies, then I have succumbed to a limited perspective informed by my senses and, more subtly, by cultural pressures that determine whether we are good, successful, disciplined, worthy people — thanks to iCalendar, diet, and proper exercise. Both body and time are gifts that enable me to serve God in holiness and righteousness “before Him (embodied) all our days.” That means being contented with 24-hour days — where God says it’s good to live — from babyhood to the end of life."

God has ordained all my days before me, and he is called me to live faithfully in them!

-Lindsey


Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Book Review


Our friend Wes Vander Lugt has written an excellent review on the book The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Andrew Root and Kendra Creasy. One of the goals of GYFM is to help youth pastors think more deeply and theologically about ministry to young people. As Wes states, the Theological Turn in Youth Ministry is a great help in asking good questions and starting the conversation on how to have a theology of youth ministry, and then how that theology is practically played out. Check out the review!

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The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (IVP, 2011) is not your average youth ministry book. Rather than a pragmatic manual, Andrew Root (professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary) and Kendra Creasy Dean (professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary) have put together an engaging work of practical theology. As such, the goal of this book is to resource and re-imagine youth ministry as Christopraxis oriented toward existential and eschatological horizons.

Youth ministers might think they can escape theology, but this is impossible. Every ministry is enacted theology and every theology is ministerial. The goal of practical theology is to make more intentional connections between theological reflection and ministerial action, which continually inform one another. Root explains theology as the process of attending to God’s revelation and ever-changing contexts, letting God’s revelation answer the questions arising from our encounters with particular people and situations. In addition, Dean notes that the youth themselves are intuitive theologians, and by doing ministry with youth, we can craft theology and ministry attentive to their actual needs and desires.

Theology constructed with youth, as Root articulates, is theology that begins by acknowledging and articulating the crisis of reality, and then recognizing God’s act and being within it. Youth ministry as practical theology takes seriously the mix and tangle of real life (the apologetic element), while always situating these complexities within the overall biblical drama (the kerygmatic element). The relational-social dimension of ministry should never be separated from the biblical-theological element. Because of this, youth ministers should not presume that theology always provides simple answers to questions arising out of complex relationships and situations. In fact, a robust theology of God’s presence and absence allows ministers, along with young people, to be patient with honest yearning and to persevere with the suffering while rejoicing with the healed.
While the first half of the book is a deep exploration of theological themes, the second half unfolds how ministry practices might be affected by this theology, whether conversations about sin, sexual issues, summer camps, nature trips, short-term missions, and mentoring relationships. In fact, it is in these practical issues that the pay-off of practical theology is most clearly seen and where it is easiest to register and articulate my agreement and disagreement with the proposals.

For example, I wholeheartedly resonate with Root’s concern to orient mission trips away from accomplishment and toward accompaniment, focusing more on being with and partnering with one’s hosts rather than doing something for them. Seen in this light, the purpose of a mission trip is learn more about God’s kingdom and to build relationship with Christians around the world rather than accomplishing something that makes us feel good but maybe does more harm than good. In addition, I applaud Dean’s identification of desire as the foundation of spirituality, and her insistence that youth ministry cannot divorce sexuality from spirituality. The ongoing challenge of the youth minister is to affirm the structure of desire while providing pastoral guidance regarding the direction and expression of desire, and this requires us to expel “the corset of modern rationalism.”

At other points, however, the practical suggestions reveal my disagreement with the authors’ theology. For instance, by identifying evil as nothingness and sin as flirting with death and non-being, I think Root makes conversations about sin more convoluted than they need to be. Much more helpful, in my opinion, is describing sin as Cornelius Plantinga does—“not the way things are supposed to be”—which includes both the objective brokenness of the world and our complicity in breaking it. In addition, because of his strong Barthian theology, Root claims that nature is inert and does not reveal God in his beauty and grandeur. On the contrary, a stronger view of general revelation and a more robust theology of creation leads me to believe that no element of creation is inert and every creature is a full participant in the drama of creation and re-creation. As a result, outdoor trips are a time to experience longings and brokenness, but they are also a time to encounter God. Furthermore, while I agree that a youth minister should be a “captain of the company of companion doubters,” I disagree that “Christianity has nothing to do with certainty.” It is true that Christianity does not offer hard, rationalistic certainty, but there remains, as Newbigin maintained, a “proper confidence” rooted in the reality of Christ’s resurrection and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. “Faith seeking understanding” can dispel some doubts while learning to live with others. Finally, while it is necessary to keep theology and ministry rooted to the “crisis” of reality, our starting point and ultimate point of reference needs to be the abundance of God in Christ and his creation. Even though Root maintains that theology and ministry should always maintain a tragic and comedic element, his theology and practice tips toward the tragic. “Healing is wonderful, but it’s weird” is a tragic perspective; a comic perspective claims that although wonderful healing may be sporadic, it’s actually the way things should be.
Even though I disagree with the authors’ theology at times, overall I am encouraged by this “theological turn in youth ministry.” The best youth ministry arises from and leads to robust theology. As my theological critiques reveal, however, there will always be “theologies” of youth ministry rather than “a theology” of youth ministry. Divergent theologies result from different conclusions regarding what God has communicated in Scripture and creation, different conversations partners within the Christian tradition, and doing ministry in different contexts. Consequently, if the theological turn in youth ministry is going to spread and mature, youth ministers intentionally need to bring their theology into conversation with other theological traditions. The goal is not to blend all theologies into a nebulous amalgam, but to realize how our own sin, cultural situation, and human finiteness have blinded us to some aspects of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. The theological turn in youth ministry, therefore, is also the global turn in youth ministry, because the collective reflection of the global church serves as a corrective to particularly theological and ministerial deficit disorders. It is exciting that Root and Dean were courageous enough to begin these theological conversations, and it is even more exciting that this is only the beginning.

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After serving in youth ministry in Mexico and the USA, Wes now ministers to young people in St. Andrew’s, Scotland, where he is a PhD candidate in Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Check out his blog at: http://theatricaltheology.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How Good

The ever so brief Psalm 133 describes how good it is when brothers live "in unity." This weekend Lindsey and I attended a team meeting back in Missouri, and we got a tast of the goodness that the psalmist describes. It was wonderful! In the past few months many of us on the team have been through a number of painful and trying circumstances, and this meeting provided a beautiful opportunity to band together. We spent good times speaking, listening, and praying with one another, offering grace and encouragement, and generally shoring each other up to return the work we are all engaged in. It was wonderful.

Lindsey and I in particular have faced some difficult challenges this last month, and the counsel and encouragement that we have received from friends in St. Louis, here in Annapolis, and on our GYFM team has been invaluable. This weekend came as a wonderful reminder that we are not alone, that we have dear friends and supporters who love us deeply, and are excited to step in and offer us the care we need. Thank you all so much for being there for us. We love you - thank you for supporting us in both our professional work and in our personal lives.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.
(Psalm 133 ESV)

- Drew