Following the trail of Patrick

On March 17 I had the unique privilege of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. This “bucket list” trip was special and memorable for many reasons. I was always able to spend time in Northern Ireland following the Saint Patrick trail and learn more about the the man and missionary called Patrick. Much information and inspiring was discovered at the brand new Saint Patrick Center, the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and story of Saint Patrick. http://www.saintpatrickcentre.com/

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During my travels I visited a number of historic sites included Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where it is said Patrick baptized converts in a well in AD 450. IMG_4372

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saul Church, the site where Saint Patrick built the first Christian Church in Ireland in 432 AD.

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also his burial site in Downpatrick.

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It was a remarkable and memorable experience which I highly recommend if you have the opportunity to visit the island of the Irish.

My time and travels in Ireland provided me an opportunity and invitation to expand the horizons of the Christian faith as well as sounds, sights and spirits of this great culture. During my remaining few months living in Europe, I do hope to experience a few other new countries and cultures, as so much can be learned that help broaden and expand our minds, hearts and lives.

I leave you with these words from Patrick that serve well for us all as we enter into the Eastertide season celebrating Christ’s resurrection and presence with us!

 

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,

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Being in the moment…a Lenten reflection

As I continue my Lenten journey, I am encouraged to reflect on the idea of what stands in our way in experiencing God anew this season. For some, Lent simply becomes a time to give up a favorite snack or drink, somehow confirming personal endurance or strength. Yet, Lent is to remind us that we cannot do it on our own power, but need to rely daily on God. Perhaps it is not chocolate or wine (both very popular here in France and indeed difficult to go without!) that we need to think seriously about. Perhaps busyness, worry, stress, or even our personal agenda is distracting us from experiencing freedom and new life this spring.

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I remember a time one month ago when I was with my boys, Jack and Blake. It was one of those magical moments when they were laughing and playing and simply enjoying life. Rather than being captivated by this moment, I wanted to capture it and so naturally I took out my cell phone and attempted to take pictures and videos. Of course, my phone was not very “smart” then and did not work. Meanwhile, I realized I was missing the moment with my boys: so preoccupied with technology and maintaining a memory, that I was unable to create a memory.

Sometime, I confess, I am too busy taken up with life to step back and record such moments. Even if I am physically present, my mind is full of chores, duties, worries, or other preoccupations. I feel this impacts my time with my boys; and I fear this also has a profound impact on our relationship with God. Could it be that God in fact delights in our presence…our full and attentive presence?

But often we get too easily distracted by life’s worries. Even good things such as food, drink, and technology can become hindrances to entering fully and freely into God’s presence. This Lent, let us each reflect on what we can say “no” to and leave behind, so that we may be open to receiving the joy of God’s company.

One final springtime summary.

As I continue my reflections on what I will miss most here in Paris, I hear the birds chirping outside my office. Growing up in the northeastern United States, I remember that spring rarely showed her face until late April or May, whereas here in Paris, the month of March manifests miraculous new beginnings as the weariness of winter warms away. I have always appreciated and anticipated the early arrival of spring this month. The green grass, bulbs of flowers beginning to blossom, and the once barren trees beckoning forth their leaves. This serves as a hopeful reminder that during Lent, the deaths we may experience during winter, serve as fertile soil for new life to burst forth. May we let go and behold the beauty of it all!

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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!

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.

What’s wrong with this Christmas list?

(Click on the link below to see the list)

http://www.imdb.com/list/Uqan8j7UpHQ/

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I will tell you!

Besides the glaring fact that Sherlock Holmes is NOT a Christmas movie….(I am open on Die Hard though)

This list from IMD is a typical list of top Christmas movies, similar to any you may find. Other similar lists including “top grossing” Christmas movies, etc..

The word “wrong” may have been a feeble attempt to stir the pot a bit….

This list is certainly “telling” just how far culture and society has indeed moved away from the true meaning of Christmas. I have watched every one of these top 25 Christmas movies, and to my recollection only 3 of them state the actual meaning of Christmas, with The Nativity depicting the historical accuracy and significance of this most beloved holiday.

Santa Clause, of course, is the main character in the vast majority of these movies, with Jesus taking a back seat (with the exception of Little Drummer Boy, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Nativity…and hey at least that movie made it to #7)

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It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol at least get to the meaning of giving, love, faith and angels (in some regards)

In youth group this past week we discussed the question “Is Christmas still a Christian holiday”.  The majority of people who celebrate do not attend any church service or mass, nor participate in Advent or read the Biblical story.

Moreover, an increasing number of non-Christian countries are beginning to celebrate Christmas including Muslim and Hindu countries.  While I am in favor of that (in theory) I have been told from friends who live there that the commercial interests and American culture has infiltrated their countries, much to the display of the traditionalists.  Santa, Rudolf, colorful lights, trees, presents, and well…more gift giving has won the day and America is to thank.  But nowhere, literally nowhere in these cultures does the story of Jesus’ birth and theological impact of the incarnation ever make it into the celebration…thus proving (in some way) that Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday.

Perhaps this is good as the commercialism and consumerism of the holiday (as celebrated by Americans at least) has moved in stark contrast to the ideals of that first Christmas and Jesus’ message “It is better to give than to receive.”

Let me be honest for a moment.

I struggle with this because as my two boys grow up, there is a huge part of me that wants them to be just as excited with Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and opening shiny boxes on Christmas Day as I was.  I do not believe this is bad.

However, it is very easy to let our attention and affection gravitate solely towards those aspects rather than the simple, humble and profound message of God becoming one of us…”Immanuel”

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Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

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Let me begin by saying I really, really appreciate this book and applaud Brock for writing it and the good folk at The Youth Cartel for publishing it.

This book should be on the shelf of all youth workers in the U.S and I think Europe as well…but more on that later.

I have known Brock for a number of years and actually sat down with him over coffee (at the same Starbucks he meets his students)

He was very helpful during my decision and transition to leave youth ministry in the US and experiment with it here in France.

I remember Brock sharing about his call to Trinity Church in Greenwich and my honest wondering how he would make the transition from the glitz and glamour of youth ministry in Southern California to the challenging world of postmodernism and post-Christian world in the Northeast.  I had been serving as youth pastor for 10 years in the neighboring town of Bedford, NY and so understood full well the implications of postmodernism in society, the church, and especially with student ministry.

Many are called and few make it.

Brock transitioned well.  He gets it.

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You may not agree with everything he says in the book and I would bet it is because your ministry context is vastly different from his in the metro NYC über wealthy, highly intelligent and often antagonist culture riddled with cynicism, skepticism and secularism.

Because Brock is truly a practitioner of youth ministry, he unpacks the real issues facing today’s post-Christian teenagers better than anyone else I have read.  He really understands his context including the challenges facing the message of Christianity..or at least the image of Christianity.

You may think your environment is nothing like Brock’s and you may be correct...for now

Statistics and social experts correctly predicted that the Northeast of the United States would follow the trends in Europe.  This has already happened and will eventually sweep through the rest of the United States, hitting urban areas and both Coasts first before merging in the middle and …wait for it…actually impacting the “Bible Belt” of America’s heartland.

Whether you like it or not, we will be living in an ever-increasing post-Christian society.

Here in Europe, and especially in France, Christendom has long since evaporated and I would argue that for the best 25+ years students and churches have been experiencing what Brock describes is now happening in his area.

So, if you live in the Northeast, the first few chapters of the book you will understand because it is the reality in which you are serving. These chapters will be crucial for those trying to discern where society and culture is heading in the next 5-10 years.

For me, the chapter “The Way Forward: Response to a post-christian world” is paramount.

Brock argues that youth workers must embrace Christian relativism, embrace tolerance, embrace spirituality, embrace intellectualism, embrace mystery, embrace the miraculous and embrace answers.

Of course he unpacks each one with stories and strong theological arguments while remaining unwavering in his focus on Christ and passion to see students embrace and encounter Jesus.

In the chapter “A New of Mission”, Brock shares about moving away from an agenda of conversion to full engagement in the community. “We don’t serve to get people saved. We serve because we are saved.”

This indeed is a radical paradigm shift, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of God’s grace and blessing to the world in which we live.

In the chapter “A New Measurement for Success” Brock brilliantly and carefully attacks the numbers game of youth ministry in favor of relational and spiritual development as measures of a healthy youth ministry (and youth pastor) “My relationship with Jesus is my ministry”, and we are challenged and called to truly live out our faith with our students in honesty, transparency, authenticity and grace.

Brock Morgan has a challenging task and he approaches it as a missionary. Brock stands outside of the post-christian culture and observes as a missiologist and then delves into that world with optimism and hope.

From the stories I hear, God’s Spirit is truly moving among his church and youth ministry in Greenwich.

After finishing the book, a few questions linger.

I wonder if this approach is still valid for a society already gone through this shift away from Christianity.  Though hard to disagree with the movements in England, in France and other parts in Europe the history of the Church is so sullen people have lost faith. Whereas in the U.K and U.S, the church and state have not really been separated, a nation like France nationally split from the Church and makes it almost illegal to display one’s personal faith publicly.

I also wonder what youth ministry will look like as the next generation rises up in leadership, a generation itself raised in post-Christian values and worldview.

Around 10 years younger than Brock, I find myself actually on the cusp of a generational divide.  While others approach youth ministry from the vantage point of missiology, the time is coming when words like “progressive” and “post-modern” will define not only students but leaders as well.

What will faithfulness to God’s work in youth ministry need to look like for those who honestly question traditional beliefs and practices while embracing skepticism, tolerance, pluralism, inter-faith partnerships, social equality in all forms, and Biblical “openness”?

It is still to been seen how post-christian youth workers can embody a new kind of youth ministry.

That book has yet to be written……

Taking a fast train to “Thrive” ville

From October 21 to November 3 over 100 students converge upon Luxembourg City for the annual AICEME Youth Conference.  Members from our ACP lycée group will be taking the famous high-speed TGV train to be amongst the scores of teenagers also traveling by plane or train for this weekend getaway in the tiny country of Luxembourg.

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Our host is All Nations Church and they will be celebrating their 10th anniversary the weekend of our arrival.  http://www.allnationschurch.lu/en/ 

Each year, the Association of Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) hosts a number of gatherings and conferences including the Pastors and Spouse conference, Youth Pastors conference and also this Youth Conference.

You can visit the website to learn more  http://www.aiceme.net

AICEME is an association of Christian congregations, bearing witness to the Gospel and serving Jesus Christ among English-speaking people throughout Europe and the Middle East.  AICEME member churches are diverse in style, tradition, denominational affiliation, and membership.  Many of the churches were started by English-speaking Christians from North America. Today, the association includes believers from 6 continents who are business people, expatriates, diplomats, refugees, missionaries, and students.

What brings everyone together is the English language and  love for Christ.

There are approximately twenty-eight member churches in this association and each church has middle school and high school students involved.  While some churches are not yet able to hire a youth pastor or have an official “youth group”, AICEME creates an opportunity once a year for all churches to send students to an international conference where they can make new friends, be inspired in their faith and equipped as a follower of Jesus.

What I have discovered is that these Third-Culture students find commonality and solidarity with one another and instantly forge friendships.  Why?  Party due to the fact that they are all accustomed to transitions and having to open up to new students on a regular basis.  Many of these churches are full of transient families and, like my church here in Paris, have learned to become a welcoming community for all, even if only traveling through for six months.

Another reason why students love this conference is that they understand each other.  Many are from multi-cultural families, speak multiple languages, have dual citizenship, feel 100% comfortable at an airport by age twelve,  and struggle to answer the often posed question “Where are you from?”

So, once a year we gather from across Europe to support and encourage one another.  This year the 2013 AICEME Youth Conference is themed THRIVE  Real faith: Real life

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Youth pastors from various churches will lead the main sessions and seminars and we have city-wide treasure hunt and Serve the City opportunity to focus our time on having fun together, exploring this new city and serving those in need.

I am honored to be part of a church that supports this association and believes in the importance of our students learning, worshipping, serving, and living alongside each other as we embrace our unity in diversity as followers of Christ.