Saturday, March 21, 2009


Walking into the LutherHill chapel at sunset.

The discussion turned
 to angles and demons. When in safe trusted conversation it is always surprising how many people have will admit to having personal experiences. Ghosts enters into the discussion also. It seems amongst my Spiritual Director friends these are common experiences.

I do believe in God and that we do live in and amongst many spiritual flurries breathed out amongst us all kinds of ways I can’t understand. I suspect there is no theology that hold what can’t be understood.

One of my last days in high school, a class called “Life and Living” we had a substitute. She was a mom of two twin sons, also seniors at Cedar Falls High. She was to show a film about loss and death.  Half way through the film she shut it off. She then shared her own experience of being “clinically dead,” I believe during a operation. She described the experience of leaving her body and the meeting of a being of light. There was no doubt in my mind that she spoke truth of her experience. I sensed she had complete confidence in her faith and also had no fear of death.

That may have been one of my first experiences hearing a story of spiritual mystery. As I hear people tell of encounters with angels, demons and ghosts I wonder. I am certain that mystery experiences exist. I am not sure we have words that accurately can be attached to these experiences. I wonder if our attempts to fit such experiences into our world view and theology have any semblance for being named with words.

I am most comfortable with using the word “mystery” and being comfortable with not needing to explain or over interpret. God is. God is present. Our understandings of God can are incomplete. “We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”  (The Message 1 Cor. 13:12)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kids Are Either Leading or They Are Leaving

Episcopal Youth Leaders in the Diocese of Virginia invited me to join them at Phoebe Needles Center in Callaway, Virginia. The Diocese has only three paid youth ministers in Parishes. Thus the leadership relies heavily on the volunteering adults and a very vibrant faithful core of youth.

One of their issues --- maybe too many youth who want to be leaders.

I woke up this morning reflecting on Jesus’ disciples telling Jesus, “There are too many! Should we send them home?” Jesus’ coment? “Feed them.” And so they did. (Loaves and Fishes)

Youth are either leading or they are leaving. We either equip, empower and allow or the demands of others will prioritize kids time away. The church’s job is less about consumer programming, which assumes kids are attracted by more glitz, more gadgetry, with bigger, and better entertainment.  Instead the church is about making of meaning, developing  purpose, and giving responsibility in ways that kids know they count!  

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Faith Hopes of 12 Parents

The picture is from a "Building Bridge" evening, where Andrea works with parents and kids to learn faith practices that can be lived in daily life and households. "Don't expect parents to do in their homes what they have not practiced hands on in the congregation." For Andrea, the gathering times are very specific equipping times. I believe it to be one of the most effective ways I have seen for equipping home to be church too.  

I recently interviewed 12 different parents from Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran in Prior Lake. I asked parents about their faith hopes for their children. I used various questions to get at the topic but started out with, “If you were to write a letter to your son/daughter describing what you hope their faith and life may be like in 15 to 20 years what would you say?” I discovered that parents were eager to talk and seemed appreciative for someone to be interested.

Optimistically these parents reflected a positive attitude about their congregation and a confidence that the congregation was a source of help. The parents I talked to were very good parents. Most are involved in various ways of helping and volunteering in the ministries of the congregation. They were selected by congregational staff, and were the best of the best, with high faith hopes.

These parents’ imaged God as a God who mirrored parenting roles; setting values, modeling behaviors, and surrounding children with caring people. These parents want help! Including a God who will help.

Because of our focus at The Youth & Family Institute I was very aware of the lack of spiritual practice or expectations outside of the walls of the congregation. Most of their hopes pertained to going to worship and involvement. My hope would be for congregations to become more of the empowering and equipping place for households that learn to make their homes church too.

Instead I sensed a consumer mentality that assumes signing up and sending kids to various programs will be their answer for taking care of spiritual needs and values.

Faith parenting was mostly interpreted as volunteering in programs their sons and daughters were a part of. Certainly a positive thing to do, but also a limiting view.

The Conversation Threads

What follows are some of the threads that came out of the conversations.

Congregation Participation

Almost all hoped for continued church involvement and participation. “Going to church on Sunday,” “Involved in…” “Attend with their family,” where common expressions.

Prayer Life

A personal prayer life was also a common theme. This seemed to be coupled with beliefs about God and a desire for personal connectedness. Parents wanted a God who “Goes with,” “Who is always present,” “Who can be sought in the midst of the bad and unpleasant,” “In the thick and the thin,” “Who can be approached anytime, anywhere.”

For parents there is a hope for a God who will protect, and comfort their children. I sensed they want a parenting God, and extension of themselves.

Biblical Understanding

Biblical knowledge came up frequently. They hoped for “Enough to understand their faith,” There was a hope that youth would grow up with a knowledge that would help them live in pluralistic religious community. That they will “Not be manipulated,” that they can, “Defend and debate what they believe.” Some of these comments came from parent’s memories of times they felt inadequate when entering into conversations, especially with more conservative Christians.

The Bible was also seen as a source for comfort, and discernment in tough issues.


Relationship was another big theme. As they talked they seemed to forget I had asked about the future, but wanted to express their concerns for the present as well. Parents said they wanted, “Friend connections,” “Intentional knitting together of supportive community,” “Wish for friendship groups formed at the church.” “Can talk about and share values with other kids,” “Will emulate role models,” “Find a safe place,” and “Will be surrounded by good people in the congregation.”

I sensed a big hope that the congregation would help with this role of surrounding. I believe parents are looking for help and support. They want others to love, challenge, encourage, and affirm. One parent spoke of a special relationship their young person had with a building manager at the church. At The Youth & Family Institute we speak of this out come as the need to find faithful Triple-A adults, people who are authentic, available and affirming.


Parents greatly valued an attitude and practice of service. They used phrases like, “A giving heart,” “Helping world,” “Being charitable,” “Volunteer in a church,” “Pay it forward,” “Helping and caring for others,” and  “Involved in community service.”

While service was highly valued, and seen as a value of this congregation, the assumption seemed to be that this should be learned through congregation programs. While a lifestyle that has an attitude and practice of service is desired, I heard very little that demonstated models of learning this other than organized programmatic ways.


Parents hoped for discernment in making wise choices. “Sex and drugs,” came up a couple of times. “Making wise decisions,” “Knowing right from wrong,” “Having an inner compass,” and “Finding support needed for trials and temptations,” were other phrases used in the conversations.

I may exaggerate a bit, but parents seemed to be looking for an inoculation from evils provided by the congregation.

Faith Diversity Value

In about a third of the conversations people hoped that youth would grow up with an understanding and appreciation for other religions. They hoped that youth may learn about, visit and be in dialogue with people of other faiths.

Spiritual Practices

When asking about spiritual practices, I asked for things they would hope for in homes and daily life. I asked about things outside of the congregations programs. This consistently produced some hesitation. People would then name meal time prayers, sometimes would suggest reading Bibles, but would often go back to a practice of “Going to Church.” Only one person remembered the “Seven Faith Habbits,” that has been a core theme at this particular congregation. They could not name them all, but remembered they existed.