Real Freedom

As an American, I am very proud of my nation’s history and the independence we celebrate each year on July 4th.  Living now in France, I have also been caught up in patriotic parades on July 14.  ”Bastille Day”, as known among English speakers, is the the French National Day, commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France and I just recently enjoyed a wonderful parade and fireworks display this week.

I recognize and respect the many sacrifices and lives lost in order to protect these national and individual liberties.  Our two countries share much in common and just recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings and the eventual WWII victory.

As I reflect this month on the blessings of freedom, I also acknowledge the harsh truth that my situation is not the reality of so many in our world.  Millions of people live in oppressive situations, held captive by political or religious dictatorships.  Many nations are currently scorched by civil war and longing for safety.

While I watched colorful fireworks and heard marching bands, hundreds of thousands of people were scattered seeking shelter from air raids of missiles and blocking their hears from bust of bombs and screening sirens.

In addition to these “news worthy” stories, we know that millions of people from every nationality suffer under the oppression of hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, and addiction. These chains in many ways are just as deadly but often are swept under the rug of ignorance.

I will be honest, it is easier for me to enjoy parades eating cotton candy if I do not have to think about starving children in Africa, overworked immigrants in Asia, or orphaned boys and girls in Latin America.

Considering these contrasting realities, I am struck by a powerful quote from the great international leader and humanitarian Nelson Mandela.

He said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

How are we living in a way that not only respect, but also enhances the freedom of others?  How are we spending our time, talents, and treasures in ways that help release people and communities from the chains of oppression?  Are they actually ways in which we spend our money that contribute to these global problems rather than work towards eliminating them?

Personally, I know I have difficult choices and decisions ahead.  We can all do our part and believe that the culmination of many people doing their part can make a big difference.  Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

Let’s think this summer about how we can use our lives to help others break the chains holding them back and be set free for the life God intends for them.

 

#PYM14

I used that hash tag quite often a few weeks ago while in Chicago.

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The Progressive Youth Ministry 2014 conference was my destination and reason I fly across the ocean from France back to the good ole’ U.S of A.  This has been a conference many have dreamed about for years.  Prior to moving, I would attend a few youth ministry seminars and conference each year.  Some big and some small but each time I would discover a like-minded affinity group of “progressives”.  Often treated like the extra grandchildren at Thanksgiving, we would be relegated to the “kids table” of some small room or late night pub discussion.  But from these encounters and interactions, deep friendships were forged and a vision born.

PYM14 was organized by the JoPa group and came together under the leadership of Tony Jones and John Vest, and I could not have been happier.

http://pym.thejopagroup.com/

The question left undefined, by design, was “What does ‘progressive’ even mean?  Moreover, how does one describe a progressive youth ministry?  While I have yet to answer those questions, I did realize a few things.

First, “progressive” does not mean liberal.  I really despise those division terms of conservative and liberal anyway.  Progressive also does not mean “anti-evangelical”

I was surprised to learn that approximately half of the over 200 attendees came from some form of “evangelical” background.  True, the vast majority of those are no longer working in those type of contexts, but are also unwilling to completely disassociate from their heritage.  The is a general belief and hope that the “left” and “right” can find beautiful points of convergence and experience a holy embrace.  Yes, this kiss might look ugly and sloppy at times, but at least it implies some form of connectivity and relationality.  We will see what this future looks like, but I sensed a palpable energy of openness to include those radically different.

Progressives do have a few common characteristics (in general).  Most support the rights of women and the LGBT community while also welcoming and affirming them within the Church.  While active in social and political issues, most progressives remain from political alignment, recognizing the importance of official separation. I would probably be unfair to say there were few Republicans in attendance, so I will not say that :)

Most importantly, the commonality shared in this conference was threefold:

1) Love for God and desire to serve the Church

2)  Passion for teenagers and belief they can change the future of the Church and world.

3)  Uncanny and unafraid openness to believe that God is bigger than we and the Spirit of Christ is, in fact, active and engaged in our world and future (and not just in the past)

Many attendees have blogged about their experiences.  You can read some of those here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProgYouthMin/223427967852288/?notif_t=group_activity

The following is a well-worded excerpt from Tony Jones’s blog, one of the organizers and key leaders in the conversation.  His reflection and sentiment cannot be better articulated, so I will let him speak for himself, and all those who attended!

“The speakers were incredible. Jeff Chu and H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

What happened in that room was that we had a sense that something special is happening. There was an unmistakeable sense that we have an opportunity to claim a significant voice in the conversation about what youth ministry is in America, that we can fight back against moralistic therapeutic deism, and that we can start to articulate a view of God that is generous, life-affirming, and inclusive. We have a tribe — that’s a clear take-away from last week.

For myself, I knew from the opening session that I was among people whom I understood, and who understood me. Most of my own leadership skills were honed in youth ministry, so I appreciate the challenges that many of the folks in that room face. But I also knew that the energy in the room could only have been generated by youth workers. The laughter was a bit louder, the singing a bit bolder, and the tears a bit less restrained than we’d ever get at a different kind of pastor’s conference.”

People always ask me where I will “land” in ministry, and for now specifically youth ministry.  I certainly receive a warm “home” welcoming back from so many friends, both old and new.  The conference was fun and entertaining, especially the live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller.

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/13/youth-ministers-the-niebuhr-revival-pastormark-other-goodies-pym14/

This tribe speaks my language and speaks up for the issues closest to my heart. Yet one key admonishment during the week was for this small band of progressives not to become “tribal”.  Very easily that can happen.

I am glad to have feet in both camps of theological tradition and practical ministry.  I appreciate my evangelical heritage and foundation but also deeply appreciate the progressive soul and lived-out gospel.

My sincere hope is to continue to converse and communion with all youth workers from all denominations, traditions, backgrounds, races, and cultures.  For that is where the Body of Christ is most beautiful.

Thank you to #PYM14 for a much-needed voice and platform in the expanding world of youth ministry. 

Times are changing, and as the Spirit progresses forward ahead us, so must we. 

Magi Musings…an Epiphany epilogue

(the Epiphany mural above was photographed by yours truly at the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris)

I must confess that before I moved to Paris to work at The American Church, I did not know what Epiphany was, so if you find yourself wondering the same question…no worries!

In the liturgical worship of the Christian calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on January 5 this year to mark the arrival of the wise men or “magi” to worship the infant Christ.  Of course we do not know how many of them came to visit Jesus, but we do know that at least three signficant and symbolic gifts were presented.  We also do not know when precisely they arrived, but most scholars maintain it was probably a few months (or even up to two years) after the birth of Christ.  Either way, it is important to celebrate their arrival of these first Gentiles to worship the Savior of the nations.

Epiphany also concludes the 12 Days of Christmas, which contrary to some, is the 12 days of giving gifts after Christmas, not before. Epiphany is celebrated among liturgical denominations and Orthodox Christianity. In fact, a number of students and young adults from ACP who are from places like Russia, Romania and Greece, wait until January to give and receive their Christmas gifts.  Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastide and when the decorations are stored and festivities conclude, thus ushering in a new season of preparation for Lent.

The actual word Epiphany can be translated “manifestation”, “striking appearance” or “vision of God”, and as mentioned  traditionally falls on January 6. It is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a  human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the magi to the baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptisms in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. Many of the Eastern Churches follow a different calendar and so may observe this feast on January 19.

I rather enjoyed rethinking my normal Christmas traditions and assumptions and appreciate the continuation of the season and spirit into January. I was always one who wanted to keep up decorations at least through New Year’s day, but now I actually have a theological reason to do so!

Concerning the magi, we do not know much about their story (background, beliefs, or future faith journey), but we know that they were guided and lead by light.  They responded in faith with what they had.  a vision. a desire. a star.  hope

Many of us are on a similar journey.  We do not know where it will end up but we hope to encounter the Christ along the way.

As I reflect back upon the story, part of the beauty  for me is the journey of the magi.  People in biblical times were accustomed to rather long and tiresome journeys.  Hoping on a plane and traveling from Asia Minor to Bethlehem in 2 hours was not an option.

I  wonder what they were thinking during the day, week, and months of their pilgrimage.  These individuals were scholars, astrologers, and cosmologists.  They were intelligent, observant, and rational people I assume.  They were men of science…and faith it appears and God revealed himself to them in means they could understand and interpret.

A reasonable conclude from this story is that God worked, and works, in mysterious ways and we should not limited God to work only within traditional “religious” or even “Christian” parameters.

Many questions come to mind looking back upon this fascinating story

What the magi were hoping to find?

How much of God’s story did they know or understand?

Did they fully grasped what kind of Savior-King this would be?

Unlike some of our Christmas gifts, which I am sure were returned on “Boxing Day”, how much thought actually went into their gifts.

Did they really know that this baby would be a King unlike any other?  Did they ever come to understand or know that his baby ould serve as God’s High Priest eternally, and would die on behalf of the human race.

Did they know this on their journey towards Nazareth?

Did they leave their visit with this knowledge?

I suppose we cannot know.  But we do know that God spoke to them in amazingly clear and directive ways.

Is God speaking to you?

Might this new year be one of many “epiphanies”?

Are we prepared to hear the voice of God is strange and unusual ways?

May we be open and ready to discover God, not only through these miraculous manifestations but also  in the commonplace; arts, conversations, culture, and sciences.

It has become clear to me that God desires to be discovered in all, and through all things.  He is a self-revealing God, and we should not box God in by our own expectations and limitations.  God will come to us.  The question is…we will let him on his own terms?

Dispersing the gloomy clouds of night, Putting dark shadows to flight, The Dayspring has come to cheer us. The Lord has come to be near us. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!

Top Ten Christmas Comedies

Please comment to add your suggestions to this list!

1.  Elf

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2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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3. A Christmas Story

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4.  Home Alone

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5.  Four Christmases

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6.  Deck the Halls

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7. Scrooged

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8. Christmas with the Kranks

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9. Fred Claus

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10. The Santa Clause

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Virgin Mother and Second Adam

Dec. 6, Bruce Herman, Magnificat Miriam Virgin Mother_1_advent_image

Miriam: Virgin Mother and Second Adam Triptychs
Bruce Herman
Oil on wooden panel with silver and gold leaf
Permanent installation–Monastery of San Paolo, Orvieto, Italy

About the Art 
Bruce Herman’s paintings—in the traditional form of two large altarpieces—constitute a sustained reflection on the life of the Virgin Mary from the time of her “Yes” to God at the Annunciation to the fulfillment of this “sword that will pierce your soul” at her Son’s Crucifixion. Critic Rachel Smith states, ”The two triptychs represent the dual paths of discipleship that Mary exemplifies: the via activa, where Mary is active participant called to be a key instrument in God’s most critical work and the via contemplative, where Mary is a reflective witness pondering the implications of God’s audacious plan.” The theme of incarnation and Herman’s interplay between the traditional biblical narrative of scripture juxtaposed with a modern abstract sensibility make these works unique.

Bruce Herman was an art professor at Gordon College when I attended, and I was personally blessed by many of his pieces on display in the campus art galleries and including in worship events.

The comments below (as well as the image) was taken from The Advent Project of Biola University Center for Christianity Culture & the Arts

http://ccca.biola.edu/advent/

As I view Bruce Herman’s Virgin Mother and The Second Adam I am captured by two images – vessels and bearing. Mary was the chosen vessel to bring the Son of God into the world, yet she was a willing vessel – one who said “yes” to God. She was the chosen vessel, yet she chose to be the vessel. She was willing to bear Him in the pain, fear, and loneliness of childbirth, a foreshadowing of His bearing our sin on the cross. In His example, we are called to bear the cross and the burdens of others. I am struck by the placement of Mary’s arms and hands in these paintings. In one image she has her hand on her belly indicating her pregnancy and expectancy for birth. In another she is contemplating two vessels, and in yet another she is grasping her throat perhaps in a way to contain her sadness at seeing her son on the cross.

Top 5 Classic Christmas Movies

Every year I go through my collection of Christmas movies and try to view my favorites.  There are just some movies I must watch each year.  The TV networks do the same thing.

Some stations like ABC Family will start playing movies on Dec 1st and run them all the way to Christmas.  Other networks will have Christmas movie marathons all day on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Here are my personal top 5 Christmas “Classics”  (pre 1960′s)

Top 5 Classic Christmas Movies:

1) Its a Wonderful Life (1946)

2)  A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)


3) White Christmas (1954)


4) A Christmas Carol (1951 w/ Alastair Sim)


5) Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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Top Ten Christmas movies (animated)

I now have two little boys and am already exposing them to some of my favorite children’s Christmas movies.  Thanks to YouTube,  Apple TV, and ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas my mind is brought back to many of these instant favorites from my childhood.  Some of these are old but still good and others are more contemporary (and perhaps enjoyable for young children today!)  Some of these bring back fond memories for me and others I hope to build new memories for my children.

Either, way, here is my list.  Please comment to add yours to the list!

Top Ten Animation/Claymation Christmas Movies:

1) Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (1964)

2) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

3) The Polar Express (2004)

4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

5) Frosty the Snowman (1969)      (none of that Frosty Returns business….)

6)  Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)

7) Veggie Tales Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (2009)

8) Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

9)  Veggie Tales: The Toy that Saved Christmas (1996)

10) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

 

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