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.

 

Reclaiming Saint Nicholas

Today, December 6, is the feast of Saint Nicholas, as celebrated by Christians around the world (both Protestant and Catholic)

http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/12-06.htm

I will never forget the day my parents broke the horrible news to me about Santa.  I had been watching TV and a commercial with the big man in a red suit appeared and I ran to the TV and kissed his image and exclaimed “Santa I love you!”.  It may have been the borderline idolatry and worship of this fictional character or the fact I was 16 that lead my parents to share the “truth” with me.  (Ok, I wasn’t exactly 16….).

So, they sat me down and told me the cold hard facts that put Santa on equal terms with the Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Hulk Hogan. Yet I still choose to believe that Wrestle Mania was real!

I was crushed.  Certain fantasies are meant to only last so long I suppose.

Looking back what I find interesting is the “truth” about Santa Claus was more of demythologizing of him than shedding light on the actual truth of his origins.

I know many parents who do not let their kids believe in Santa (they use clever mind control tactics developed in Russia)

Others, without the budget or insanity, simply prohibited the images of jolly ole’ Saint Nick and the watching of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in their homes.  Now clearly, if you live in the U.S one would have to lock up your child inside to completely isolate them from Santa.  Besides, he knows when you are sleeping and knows when you are awake!

What many do is realize the cultural saturation of the Coca-Cola Claus propaganda, and at an early age tell their children he is simply a myth.  These kids then become more mature and sensible than their peers because they are not deceived into believing a lie.  Think about the mom in A Miracle on 34th Street and you begin to get the picture!

Now this can be done with a bit more tact and sensitivity than some parents use, and certainly more than Vince Vaughn in the following scene:

Parents, please don’t get mad at me if you happen to take that approach.  To each his or her own.

However…..rather than the above mentioned approaches, here is what I propose and some close friends are doing.  (I think this can and should apply to all Christians and not just parents)

We can reclaim good ole’ St. Nick by sharing the story of the historical (and very real) Saint Nicholas.  I find it interesting that many people do not know there was a real clergy member of the Church named Nicholas, and those who do, know very little about his life and faith.

By teaching about the life journey and faith of saints like Nicholas, tribute is paid to the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.  Theology, doctrine, discipleship, piety, and obedience can be on display and promoted during the season instead of just shiny little lights and Xbox games.

I personally believe that reclaiming Saint Nicholas back to the truly “Christian” aspect of Christmas can tie in the theological implications and reality of the incarnation with the cultural phenomenon that has become the holiday on December 25.

Attempting this dialogue and conversation may serve better than placing Santa at the nativity  (although I suppose I can appreciate the intent)

I am no expert of the life and teachings of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, but I will provide a brief synopsis and helpful links for further research and study.

Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea where it is reported he helped defend the deity of Christ in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, supposedly formed in his grave.

There are many legends and fables about his miracles and acts of service which help explain the progression towards the modern-day creation of Santa Claus.

During this Christmas season, we should keep focused on the real miracle of Christ’s incarnation.  Let us never lose sight of that.  However, if you are like me and still really do enjoy the North Pole, those cute little elves, and leaving cookies for Santa, then perhaps getting back to the actual origins of Saint Nick just might keep yourself and kids balanced a bit more than previous years.

St. Nicholas of Myra

Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch

(Also called NICHOLAS OF BARI).

Christianity Today- The Real Saint Nicholas

Catholic Online- Saint Nicholas

http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/12-06.htm

A Community Service of Thanksgiving

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Last week our church organized an ecumenical service of Thanksgiving for Americans in Paris.  Of course, non-Americans were welcomed to participate but the service was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 28 as a way for those of faith to acknowledge our corporate thanksgiving to God.

What was uniquely special was that it was the first time we were privileged to have leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities participate in the worship service.

Since Thanksgiving Day coincided with Hanukkah (which will not occur again for 78,000 years), the Rabbi Tom Cohen light the Menorah on the altar and said a few words about both the Christian origin of Thanksgiving and its Jewish roots in Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

Scriptures were read from the Koran in Arabic and English and from the Hebrew Scriptures in Hebrew and English.

The new Dean of our sister parish The American Cathedral in Paris, the Very Right Reverend Lucinda Laird offered the homily.

The liturgy, songs of praise, scriptures and prayers were carefully chosen and crafted to reflect thanksgiving to God and provide an inclusive atmosphere for people of faith, regardless of their particular religion of tradition.

The gospel embodiment of hospitality was tangibly evident throughout the service and our Jewish and Muslim friends expressed their gratitude for the warm welcome they received.

Equally, we were blessed by witnessing their passion and appreciation for God’s blessings as well as their commitment in partnering with the Christian community towards the advancement of understanding, mutuality, respect and peace for all God’s children.

If interested, you can see the actual service and liturgy below.

.A Community Service of Thanksgiving

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……

Hosting “Open Paris”

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In just over one month youth workers from across Europe and North American will be traveling to France for Open Paris.  This event is sponsored by The Youth Cartel and my church, The American Church in Paris, will play the host. www.acparis.org

I am really excited about this opportunity to get a variety of voices from a multitude of backgrounds, traditions, cultures..and countries gathering together to learn and embrace our experiences.

I appreciate the vision of The Youth Cartel’s “Open” manifesto   http://paris.openym.org/the-open-manifesto/

Here’s a blurb from their own words…..

“We think something is wrong with that. Deep in our souls we know the solutions to the problems we face today are already out there, waiting to be discovered.

Open is just that. Open. The Youth Cartel sets the table, plays host, and invites anyone and  everyone who has an idea to the table for a day where we all have equal value for our ideas. Whether you are a big dog with 20,000 people writing down your every word, a college student with some crazy ideas, or somewhere in between, the table is open–we will give you your shot and equal time to share your idea.”

On a personal note, I have known Adam and Marko for over a decade now and our journey which began at YS conventions will now finds us within a stone’s throw of the Eiffel Tower sipping wine and discussing the latest theological and cultural trends impacting youth ministry.

The U.S used to have a market on all things “youth ministry” but the global community has much to say especially relating to shifting worldviews in secular societies.

Yes, our American counterparts (which I still include myself in) know how to budget and build bigger and “better” youth ministry programs at church.  European youth workers are navigating the often treacherous waters between secular and sacred within society. Ours are often the students who can speak 3-4 different languages, have fully stamped passports by the age of 12, feel more comfortable in airports than soccer fields, and are positioned to be the global leaders of tomorrow.  This is why learning how to minister to teenagers in a European context is crucial and a good lesson for all youth workers.

And Paris…well, to many it is still the heart of Europe and center of culture, fashion, cuisine and philosophy.  It is often said that what trends in Paris finds its way to NYC and then the world.  This is certainly true when it comes to fashion and probably the culinary world.

But ask any student of philosophical innovation, especially in the era of postmodernity, and the birthplace of these ideas….France!  This cultural phenomenon that scares the multitudes in America came from the minds of French thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and the like.  These brilliant minds arguably redefined thought, literature, culture…and religion… and similar minds are being educated currently in the same schools our students attend.

That being said, Paris is just one of many cultural centers in Europe which hold great influence on the rest of the global community.

I hope that Open Paris will just be the beginning of an European movement in youth ministry that brings together divergent views in a united passion of seeing God’s kingdom redefined in radical ways among today’s teens.

If you can, please come and join us or stay tuned to this blog for Open Paris updates, live feeds, and reflections as we celebrate new ideas in youth ministry and dream together what youth work can..and will be!

For more information about our location, speakers, seminars and to register please visit the Open Paris site:   http://paris.openym.org/

The Cartel is coming….

Open Paris

I am excited to re(announce) that the Youth Cartel will be organizing “Open Paris” in the fall here at The American Church in Paris.http://www.acparis.org

I have written about the Youth Cartel previously, so you can read my thoughts here:

https://emergingyouth.com/2012/09/24/what-is-the-youth-cartel/

We are in the beginning phases of speaker proposals, so if interested in coming to Paris and speaking at this gig, please submit your proposal here:

http://paris.openym.org

It is my hope that Open Paris will bring together youth workers from across continents and that these diverse experiences will greatly contribute to the youth ministry conversation happening now and shape its future.

It is exciting to envision youth workers from the U.K, western Europe, and the emerging fields in Easter Europe connecting with youth workers from all across the U.S.A.

Plus…Paris is a pretty sweet place to hang out and enjoy the beautiful back drop of Les Miserables!

So, I invite you all to venture to France and experience a whole new world in culture, theology, and youth ministry.

a bientôt mes amis

The American Church and Eiffel Tower copy

Ascension Day?

*the picture above is from the sanctuary of The American Church in Paris

I must be honest…I had never had of Ascension Day before moving to France.  Of course this does not surprise me as I continue to learn how little I knew or experienced prior to moving overseas.

One of the many observations I have made since moving to France is the number of public national holidays celebrated here that have religious origins.  In addition to Christmas and Easter holidays, France recognizes All Saints Day, , Ascension Day, Pentecost (Monday), and Assumption Day.  Schools and shops are closed and churches hold various festivities and services.  I dare say that most French no longer understand the significance of these holidays.  I do find it odd that a “secular” nation still celebrates such important Christian feast days.

One of the blessings for me personally has been the introduction of these days and a deepening of understanding and appreciation of their traditions.

During my tenure in New York, the schools had all of the major Jewish holidays off, and I was able to learn the significance of those days, not only for my Jewish brother and sisters for my own faith as well.

Throughout Christian history, the Church calendar has set aside such feast days as a way of remembering the story and marking the seasons.

Growing up, my tradition would celebrate Christmas and Easter and the rest of the year….well that basically was up for grabs.

Here at The American Church in Paris, we follow the Church lectionary and calendar and I am amazed at how the intentionality of the seasons helps with the continuity of the story of God throughout the entire year.  Certainly there are some “low” periods in the year, but much of our worship planning (and cultural holiday season) is impacted by the legacy of Christianity.  Truth be told, if today were not Ascension Day, I probably would not be focussing as much on the resurrection stories of Jesus and commissioning of disciples.  The nation of France gives me a day for this!

Next week our church will enter probably our third largest “holiday” season of Pentecost. I hope to reflect on that and how serving at a widely diverse and international congregation has also change my views and appreciation.

The “Ascension Window” in the sanctuary at ACP is also our Pentecost Window.  What is interesting is that both are part of a much larger window known as the “Missionary Window”. From a theological perspective, the ascension of Christ and the descending of the Spirit directly impact discipleship and the sending out of missionaries to preach the gospel. The Missionary Window depicts some famous missionaries, covering four regions in four of five columns, starting on the left with Asia, then Europe; the centre shows Christ’s missionaries; then to the right, Africa and the Americas.

These reflections lead me to wonder what I have missed growing up with liturgy or tradition of the Church. *Perhaps another poll question and post for later!

For those of you who, like me, may not be as familiar with today’s Christian feast, here is a brief overview…followed by a Wikipedia excerpt

Ascension Day marks the day that Jesus ascended to heaven following his crucifixion and resurrection, according to Christian belief. It is the 40th day of Easter and is ten days before Pentecost Sunday. It is a public holiday in France.

From Wiki:

The Ascension of Jesus (anglicized from the Vulgate Latin Acts 1:9-11 section title: Ascensio Iesu) is the Christian teaching found in the New Testament that the resurrected Jesus wastaken up to heaven in his resurrected body,[Acts 1:9-11] in the presence of eleven of his apostles, occurring 40 days after the resurrection. In the biblical narrative, an angel tells the watchingdisciples that Jesus’ second coming will take place in the same manner as his ascension.

The Ascension of Jesus is professed in the Nicene Creed and in the Apostles’ Creed. The Ascension implies Jesus’ humanity being taken into Heaven.The Feast of the Ascension, celebrated on the 40th day of Easter (always a Thursday), is one of the chief feasts of the Christian year. The feast dates back at least to the later 4th century, as is widely attested.

The account of Jesus ascending bodily into the clouds is given fully only in the Acts of the Apostles, but is briefly described also in the Gospel of Luke (often considered to be by the same author, see Luke-Acts) at 24:50–53 and in the ending of Mark 16 at 16:19.