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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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.

 

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!

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