The real Saint Patrick

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Last March I had the unique privilege of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland. This “bucket list” trip was special and memorable for many reasons. I was able to spend time following the Saint Patrick trail and learn more about the man and missionary called Patrick. I discovered much information and inspiration at the new Saint Patrick Center, in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, at the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and story of Saint Patrick: saintpatrickcentre.com.

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During my travels I visited a number of historic sites including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where it is said Patrick baptized converts in a well in A.D. 450, and also Saul Church, Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick built the first Christian Church in Ireland in A.D. 432.

This post has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me as I write about the story behind the celebration . . . the man called Patrick.

Kidnapped into slavery at age 16 and taken from his home in England to the land of savages in Ireland, Patrick had visions from God that gave him strength and led to his escape. So inspired and moved by God, once home in England he felt compelled to return as a missionary to preach the gospel in a land that had never heard the message of Christ before. The story continues and his writings are full of profound insights, theology, prayers, and confessions that challenge and inspire me deeply. I have included a portion of a hymn written by, or least attributed to, Patrick from around 430 A.D.

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It should be noted that Patrick was not recognized as a “saint” until decades later, did not drive snakes out since there were none in Ireland at the time, did not use the three-leaf clover to describe the Trinity, and was basically kicked out of the priesthood for failure to submit to authority. He was, however, a great contextual theologian and missionary who reached an entire people for the Kingdom of God!

We have much to learn and celebrate from the rich and diverse history of our faith.           The traditions of past and present, while different from our own, provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith to increase. This national “holiday” of sorts, Saint Patrick’s Day, has given me an opportunity to learn to appreciate what God has been doing through servants like Patrick through- out the centuries. Of course, we can also expand our food and spirits horizons at our local Irish pub!

While last year I was in Dublin for the festivities, I will be in NYC, which may even have more revelers than the famed Irish city itself.  As I join in the cultural festivities today and in the years to come, I will always be reminded of my time in Patrick’s land.

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So, as you listen to U2, thee Cranberries or DropKick Murphies (depending on your style) and raise a pint of Guinness, thank God for examples like Patrick, and may we all follow the example of a life of obedience, sacrifice, servant-hood, faith, prayer, and mission.

 

Prayer of Saint Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

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Science for Youth Ministry

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Luther Seminary has received a $1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three-year project called Science for Youth Ministry: The Plausibility of Transcendence. The project will catalyze faith-and-science conversations with young people through youth ministry and will produce materials to encourage those discussions.

More information on this project can be found on the Luther Seminary website and has a great introductory video from lead collaborator Andrew Root.  https://www.luthersem.edu/research/templeton_grant.aspx

I cannot count how many conversations with students I have had over my 15 years of youth ministry when they ask the daunting question:  Can Faith and Science be connected?

Science and faith, method and mythology

Concept of science and faith locked in battle, or harmony, depending on one’s perspective.

They really want to know whether or not their Christian faith (worldview and convictions) can be reconciled with scientific discoveries or “truths” they are learning in school.  In many ways, I suppose this is not a brand new phenomenon or challenge facing youth ministers.  I suppose that ever since the Scopes trial in the 1920’s, issues of faith/region vs. science/technology have surfaced.    Then it was the creation and evolution debate. Now it might range from gender/sexuality biological findings to theories of time-space travel or the possible discovery of life on other planets.

I am honored to be a part of this conversation and will be attending a writing symposium at Luther Seminary with Andrew Root and other youth workers/thinkers/writers.  Initially, we will base our pieces on the book Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald L. Numbers.

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http://www.amazon.com/Galileo-Other-Myths-Science-Religion/dp/0674057414/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457642172&sr=1-1&keywords=galileo+goes+to+jail+and+other+myths+about+science+and+religion

I will write about my observations and reflections in later posts, as well as publish my article on this site.  For now,  I will say that throughout the history of humankind there have been misconceptions about how religion and science coincided in culture and in the hearts and minds of people of faith.  So, in many ways, what we are facing today is really not new or unique.  The actual questions and scientific discoveries may alter over time, but the general premise remains unchanged.

How, if at all, can my  faith coexist with science?  Can “ancient” religious views hold up against “modern” scientific discoveries?  Are those terms fluid or fixed..and for that matter, is one’s faith fixed or fluid?

For more information, and to get your hands on the forthcoming resources to help youth workers embark on this great journey, please visit the Science for Youth Ministry website  http://scienceym.org/

Also, join the online discussion and network by connecting on the Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/scienceforYM/?fref=ts

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“The Whole Thing is a Temple” – Rob Bell’s talk. here. now

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4LJWg4zr1A

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It is finally arrived!  The epic talk given by Rob Bell at the Progressive Youth Ministry conference this past February in Dallas, TX

I wrote a post a few weeks back about Rob’s memorable and almost magical presentation, but now you can actually watch it for yourself.  *See the YouTube link provided above

https://emergingyouth.com/2016/02/24/on-rob-bell-broken-foots-and-deep-mysteries/https://emergingyouth.com/2016/02/24/on-rob-bell-broken-foots-and-deep-mysteries/

Enjoy and feel free to post thoughts, comments, or questions (which I am confident Rob’s talk brings up and he commends!)

 

 

On the big E word….evangelism

That is one word which can bring embarrassment to Christians due to their lack of understanding, experience or lack of comfort. Unfortunately many pastors and church leaders then completely shun,  not only using that term, but actually doing it!

While at #PYM16, I attended a seminar lead by John West, the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism 

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http://johnvest.com/
I first met John at PYM 14 in Chicago when his own church, the historic Fourth Presbyterian Church hosted the inaugural conference.  John is a brilliant thinker, passionate youth worker and was deeply committed in the re-imagining of Confirmation for today’s youth.  He now teaches on evangelism, faith and the advancement of Christianity within the intersection of progressive and conservative contexts.  I applaud his vision and commend his writings.

Part of this methodology lies in retaining the purpose of evangelism.  This is not about finding new tactics or strategies, but rather by entering into meaningful discussion with other and (most importantly) living authentic lives of faith as examples.

Re-imagining evangelism lies in discovering what resonates  within people, and how to bring others into greater resonance with God’s activity in their lives and the world around them.  That will, and must, look differently for different people, since everyone is wired uniquely. Therefore, how we communicate the gospel and how they understand, articulate and live it needs to also fit uniquely.

Some of his seminar was influenced by a recent book Unbinding the Gospel : Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese.

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http://www.amazon.com/Unbinding-Gospel-Real-Life-Evangelism/dp/0827238088/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457468663&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=unbindng+the+gospel

Some challenging questions asked by the author, and also by John in the seminar include:

Is there good news in our churches?

Is there good news in our lives?”

Reese writes, “Our most important discovery is that a vivid relationship with God lies at the heart of real evangelism.”

The premise is simple but provocative:  You cannot give what you don’t have.”

We should be asking “How do you know God is real?”, rather than “What do you believe?”

Perhaps instead of seeing our “duty” of evangelism as an obligation to convince others our a particular set of beliefs, we can see ourselves as spiritual directors;  helping others to see God’s activity in their life and the world and then learning how to talk about it in real and relevant ways.

John offered some interesting questions to help engage in this process, which I have found to help discover an evangelism that doesn’t suck! (the subtext of his seminar title)

“What was the most important time in your life with God

“How have you experienced God’s presence in your life?”

Perhaps the most thought-provoking and convicting question asked was this:

Does it matter to you 
if other people 
follow Jesus? 
Why or why not?

In many ways, one’s answer to this question holds a key to how to think of and approach evangelism.  I suppose like every Q, this one assumes additional subterranean questions about heaven/hell, what “eternal life” is, the exclusivity of Christ, and whether or not one can live a full and flourishing life outside the contexts of Christianity. These are all worth contemplating in our highly pluralistic society and ever-changing religious context.

After fifteen years of ministry in the Chicago metropolitan area, most recently as the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church, John W. Vest currently serves as the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He holds degrees from Rice University (B.A.), the University of Chicago Divinity School (M.Div.), and McCormick Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and has studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is co-founder of the Progressive Youth Ministry conference, recently published a collection of confirmation sermons called It’s Not Conformation, and blogs about his “Adventures in Post-Christendom” at johnvest.com. An enthusiastic pitmaster, John dreams of one day achieving the mystical union of church and BBQ.    

Choosing Hope

Choosing Hope_Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

This week our church had the privilege of welcoming Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis for a community event here in her home town of Greenwich, CT.

She is the is the author of Choosing Hope: Moving Forward From Life’s Darkest Hours and the Executive Director & Founder of Classes 4 Classes. https://classes4classes.org/

A local newspaper, the Greenwich Sentinel did a nice job covering event and you can watch a brief recap here:

https://www.greenwichsentinel.com/2016/02/25/former-sandy-hook-teacher-inspires-encourages-hope/

Kaitlin is a wonderful example of how a person who suffered through a horrific tragedy is able to move forward..not necessarily move on.

On December 14, 2012 gun shots sounded throughout the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It was indeed a dark day for America and a day of unimaginable pain and loss for the parents of the innocent children whose lives were taken from them.

While my wife Lauretta and I welcomed our twin boys Jack and Blake into the world that same morning, we were simultaneously reading the reports of that attack back home.  Our faces were flooded with tears of joy (for the new life brought into the world) and tears of profound sadness (for the parents who would never hold their children again in this life).

It was a day that we will never forget, nor will Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

Kaitlin was there that day, fulfilling her life-long goal working as a teacher.  Her heroic actions saved the lives of her 15 first-graders that day and she shared with us last evening the emotions and thoughts swirling through her mind during those life-and-death minutes between the shooter’s first fire and the SWAT team’s rescue.

I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty in sharing just how frightened and virtually crippled that day made her and how it was a long and painful process towards healing.  Through prayer and the immense support of family and friends, Kaitlin was able to move beyond that fateful day and not let that dark moment define her future.  She now seeks to help others do the same.

Through a powerful array of inspiration stories, poems, quotations and personal reflections, Kaitlin is able to offer a message of hope to all who have gone through difficult and dark times.  Each day we have an opportunity before us to choose hope.  This choice, as she states, is not always easy but is possible and helpful to bring healing. We cannot control the situations surround us, especially the choices and actions of others.  However we can choose our attitudes and actions and how we respond to situations and circumstances.  We will respond with fear and despair (which is crippling) or hope? (which is life-giving).  In her own words:  “Bad things happen to all of us, things that test us and impact us and change us, but it is not those moments that define.  It is how we choose to react to them that does.”

I believe that part of her own journey towards healing and health, was found in writing her story…as many survivors have done after tragedies.

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http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Hope-Moving-Forward-Darkest/dp/0399174451

By going through this process, she was able to reflect on her life’s purpose and calling to be an educator and advocate for children.   Though no longer teaching in one particular school, Kaitlin now educates children, teachers and schools across the nation. Her messages are still about choosing hope, but now Kaitlin is able to leverage her influence and use her platform for another vision.  Her organization Classes 4 Classes believes that “when we teach kids empathy and tolerance there is no room for hate.”

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Classes 4 Classes provides a social network that promotes kindness and social curriculum by connecting teachers and students with other classrooms. Now in 10 states nationally, this Pay-it-Forward grass roots movement is exciting and much needed in our country and globally.  Part of Kaitlin’s vision is to see this movement of connectivity, compassion, kindness and generosity spread across the world.

Many people, such as myself, believe that education is a foundation of flourishing for any society.  Today’s children are indeed tomorrow’s leaders and Classes 4 Classes has a great opportunity of making a positive impact through developing life-long friendships that cross sociology-economic, cultural, racial and ethnic lines.   This is a beautiful and bold vision, which I am honored to bring awareness about and advocate for.

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I was honored that she was willing to speak at our church and it was a true delight to facilitate a thoughtful and inspiring Q &A session following her presentation.  I consider her a friend, partner and colleague as together we strive to bring a message of hope into our schools, churches, families and societies.

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On Rob Bell…broken foots and deep mysteries

Who begins a talk about the mysteries of the cosmos with a story about a broken foot and a Polish jack-of-all-trades miracle worker?

Rob Bell does.

In my last post, which was a review of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, I ended by alluding that Rob Bell spoke, without giving much print to him.

https://emergingyouth.com/2016/02/22/pym-16-progressing-in-the-cosmos/

Truth be told, Rob was indeed the featured “celebrity” speaker, the reason why some choose to attend the conference and for many the highlight of the weekend.

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For ten years, much of my youth ministry teaching and pulpit preaching drew ideas and insights from Rob Bell’s books and Nooma videos.  I have always appreciated his thoughts and admired his way of communicating.  I know he has received a bad rap by a sub-sect of more fundamental Christians, but I still applaud his vision and was very happy to see him invited to come and speak at this year’s conference.

In classic Bell fashion, he cleverly crafted a story that helped illustrate how every question (and relative answer) always lends to another question…with a set of answers that inevitably lead to more questions..  Etc.. etc.

Every question and answer leads deeper down into mystery.

One of the basic premises of his talk was the view that all discoveries of humanity thus far, have actually done little to make sense of the human experience and emotions involved.  Scientists becomes theologians the moment they exclaim “Wow” at some wonder they observe. Similarly we become theologians when we experience something profound that no discovery can address.

To Bell, the world will always need those who can create spaces for people to share in the unexplained mysteries of life.  The human experience is rife with raw emotions that cannot be simply explained or rationed away.  These emotions and longings draw us inextricably together in ways that modern science (such as quantum entanglement) may beginning to now realize.

The posture for people of faith towards the advancement of the sciences should be an openness without fear that it will limit our view.  Rather, all discoveries and “truth” should be claimed and celebrated as an expanding of God’s presence in the cosmos and our particular lives.

This mindset does indeed enhance, rather than inhibit, our sense of the inter-connectivity of everything and that the presence of God does permeate in all, through all and with all.  This seems to concur with the ancients view of God and Jesus’ own beliefs.  The great religious traditions have a beautiful role to still play in the world, but too often focus on creating (and then defending/protecting/expanding) their own particular “temples” i.e. institutions, buildings, doctrines, denominations, creeds, etc..

The challenge, Rob offered, is for church to build up the temple in order to inspire others but not to focus on the temple…rather tear it down and let the Divine flood into the world.  This does not insinuate that God’s presence and activity is not already permeable throughout the cosmos, but rather how often people of faith believe that it somehow exists and operates almost exclusively within particularities.   The Jews certainly believed that to be true with the Divine and the Temple.  Jesus came onto the scene and radially revolutionized that concept in many ways, one of which was his conversation with a woman at a well:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Sadly, many Christians have continued this false dichotomy and almost dualism by insisting that God can only be found, understood and experienced through very specific (and often limited) means.  This may include one’s particular creed, denomination, theological view, style of music, method of baptism, etc. etc.. etc…

What if….

What if the whole thing is a temple? 

Everything and everywhere.  The heights and depths.  The earth and the heavens.  The past and the future.  Those of homo-sapien origins and perhaps those of extraterrestrial existence?

It seems to me that if this were true, it would expand God’s majesty and beauty, while at the same time enhancing the importance of every aspect of life.  No more would the sacred -secular divide exist, which appears to be what Jesus desired and ushered in.

Well, every question leads to other questions, so I will ruminate on this idea for some time but am glad that Rob came to not only entertain us comically, but also enlighten us theologically in brilliant Bell fashion.

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PYM 16…progressing in the cosmos

 

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The smoky smell of Texas meat and the taste of tacos remain in my mind and fresh on my person as I write a recap of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference 2016 deep in the heart….of Texas.

This is the third PYM conference in which the organizer, the JoPa Group http://thejopagroup.com is attempting to create a unique, “one-of-a-kind” conference for progressively minded youth workers.  It is always difficult to define “progressive” because it is not necessarily a synonym for left-wing liberal (as some naively believe).  By definition the word alludes towards a hopeful progress or maturation of something that perhaps was working at the time, is now broken, or simply in need of new energy.   I’ll attempt to write more about that at a later time and why I have chosen on two occasions to attend this conference…and am glad I did.

Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and John West once again teamed up to offer an eclectic array of seminars, speakers and experiences.  Although the overriding theme is youth ministry, this year’s specific focus Faith in an Age of Reason. Special sessions included Paul Wallace on “Finding God in the Evolving Universe” and Catherine Keller, “God, Mystery and Science”.  These were riveting and thought-provoking as both presenters, and the majority of attendees, see the correlation rather than confrontation of faith and science. This can, and should, open the religiously minded up to new scientific discoveries that actually expand our view of the majesty of God’s presence in the cosmos and our lives.

Progressives are learning and loving to not be afraid of science and do not believe that one must check their intellect at the door before entering a church or following Christ.  Scientific discoveries such as the Higgs boson”God particle”, quantum entanglement, and fifth-dimensional black holes are not seen as inhibitors of faith, but rather as enhancers of faith and the cosmic grandeur of God and inter-connectivty of everything.  This opens the door of wonder and awe to the possibilities of time-space travel and extraterrestrial life without fear of crumbling faith.

This year’s conference was hosted at the Cathedral of Hope, https://www.cathedralofhope.com/ a congregation of the U.C.C known regionally as a radical beacon of civil rights, justice and inclusivity. I also have another blog post drafted about this particular congregation in light of my personal experience there over five days.   Of course, this choice of host church is both symbolic and practical, thus granting freedom for the conference organizers to include members of the LGBT community as speakers and presenters.   This is no longer an issue for progressive churches and denominations but what has become an issue is the apparent devaluing of Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection.

The issue at stake for many of the conference presenters and attendees?

How to get Jesus back into our churches and central in our lives.  The overall view is that many progressives, the pendulum has swung too far to the point where even talking about one’s experience of God, singing worship songs about Jesus, and inviting the Holy Spirit’s work is see as negative and almost embarrassing.

I was fortunate to arrive on Wednesday to attend “The Pulse” contemporary worship service and have not experienced a more Spirit-infused worship service in quite a while. It reminded me of many evangelical/charismatic services I have attended in the past…except it was not.  The same Spirit was clearly present and active as the congregation (mostly LGBT persons) declared their desire to passionately follow Christ and make Jesus the center of their lives.   The Senior Pastor time and time again throughout the conference stated that they are a church that is unapologetic about their passionate pursuit of Jesus.

The host church provided exceptional hospitality and an overwhelmingly warm welcome from the first day to the last, for that I am grateful and inspired.

The conference itself provided an array of plenary sessions, workshops, general sessions and alternative gatherings such as a live podcast of Homebrewed Christianity with Tripp Fuller homebrewedchristianity.com and a live concert at the Union Coffee House https://uniondallas.net/ with Grammy-Award winner Phil Madeira  http://philmadeira.net/

These were fun, lively, entertaining and thought-provoking.

The seminars I personally attended I hope to write about as well, but it seemed apparent to me that most attendees were interested in the practical implications/applications of theology and student ministry.  Most people who attended have youth groups to organize, bible studies to lead and students to counsel.  They were looking for ideas and insights and hoping they could return to their churches with heads and hearts inspired to continue their call…and with suitcases uncluttered from PYM “swag”.

The conference provided a good balance of “heady” material with “heart”, as seminar leaders hoped to encourage and equip us for our everyday calling.

Oh yeah…and Rob Bell spoke as well🙂IMG_1485.JPG