Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: May, 2012

A Youth Group Worth Looking At

“A generation of young Christians believes that the churches in which they were raised are not safe and hospitable places to express doubts.” That line from a new book by the Barna Group’s David Kinnaman called “You Lost Me.” That is sort of scary and I will be working my way through that text – but it is an echo of my experiences though I am from a much older generation.

Then I read a recent article in a local paper – the St. Louis Today from the Suburban Journals – about a new youth group being started up in Granite City, IL called “The 99.” The idea and the heart behind it all is great and hopes and prayers for their mission. I met and spoke with a young man today and he recounted his short and poor experiences with church and with youth groups and currently avoids both.

So here it is – do we do the social justice thing with our youth groups to get them more involved? But are we doing anything about that wall that keeps young people from church – is it safe? Now doing social justice work is awesome stuff, though someone made the point that performing social justice work (alone) is like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Pretty harsh but a lot of truth there as well.

So the question is really how do we combine that mission for compassionate action (social justice works) with the Gospel message? I know the flipside is true – just talking about the Gospel message (without that social justice activity) makes Jesus look a little strange – all mouth and no hands and feet. Is there something in between that makes sense?

There is a group going on also in Granite City, IL that seems to be working a mix of the two in a way that fuels this social justice work by learning about how simple compassion supplies the energy and motivation to reach out to our neighbor. And what makes this all a difference is that learning about becoming a person of compassion wipes out any need to justify our social justice activity. We no longer need to compete in the market place of ideas and justifying our stance in the world. We are people seeking to live out our lives listening to the one who said “I AM” and that makes all the difference.

Most of the time we ask questions and break out to smaller groups to talk about the questions – we just look at and talk about that question and sometimes we come up with some ideas about how we are living and how living as an “I AM” might look like. We aim at trying not just to do something good – that begs the question of who gets to define what is “good.” I suspect that letting me be the one who gets to make up that definition may lead to some really screwy activity every now and then – but to become people who reflect Christ in our thinking and doing without having to judge – just being. I think that is real safety.

So we sit in a circle – loving that circle thing. There are no “teachers” standing up front giving lectures, writing the assignment on the board, and youth sitting in their chairs trying not to hit their head on the desk. It’s a conversation – sometimes a little spirited, sometimes a little silly – between what we like to call family. I have heard it said if we want people to experience the Kingdom of God and to dwell with God for eternity – starting right now and right where we are at – then how they experience their relationship with us should be a foretaste of that goodness and joy. The Apostle Paul says it this way – “When God called you, my dear family, He called you to make you free. But you mustn’t use that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather you must become each other’s servants through love. For the whole law is summed up in one word, namely this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14).

Maybe we can learn together, as a family, how to live out this life together. Love to have you join us.

Be blessed and be a blessing.


Lolo Jones – You’re a What?

A few days ago I was watching a clip on a morning news show – you know the sort of news and talk show/entertainment shows. The 2012 Olympics are coming soon and the news coverage will begin focusing on that event to draw us into watching them. Well, a young lady was interviewed. What struck me about the interview was not about how she is a world class sprinter – she is – but about her faith stance. Lori “Lolo” Jones confessed (somehow that is the sense I got that she was confessing to something odd in this world) that she is a 29 year old virgin! She is a beautiful young woman – model type (and that is a thought that needs to be examined some as well but maybe down the road a bit) – that is saving herself for marriage.

Now that is something we don’t see very often. This monk is working in a community where sexual expression is more the norm rather than something to be thinking about (I know – here we go again, an old guy pushing the Bible and purity again) but maybe just maybe if we go around in public and are able to say the name Jesus easily and claim the label Christian, then this may be something we need to be reflecting on some more.

A common response, sometimes rather impolitely (see this blog) is that sexual expression is just part of our growing relationship, and marriage has nothing to do with that. As well, often people – even some who profess to be Christians – urge sexual expression for the purpose of determining compatibility (see the responses to this blog posting). Both of those thoughts strike me as a little selfish if not narcissistic when you unpack them.

Sexual expression is a tricky thing – I’ve heard it said, that sex is like a fire. In the fireplace it provides warmth, calm, and such things. Jumping to the drapes it is a disaster. Maybe Lolo has it right. Looking for integrity and a real relationship are a little more important. Maybe, as Lolo said in the interview, living life as she has chosen it is the hardest thing she has ever done – that includes training and focus on being an Olympic hopeful and a recognized world class sprinter – which makes you think about what is really important in life.

Finding out if you all are compatible? . Maybe a little blunt, but my question has been what is your standard of compatibility? Will this “test” really tell you anything other than your partner has sufficient “skills” to make you happy? Or is this test something that will tell you what happens when life gets a little hard and you need someone to have your back. And if your concern is being made to feel happy, then I’m sorry, a relationship has not been established, rather, all you found is a play partner for a time.

Maybe we can read some stories. Have you read about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 and 2? We can talk about the background a little bit to understand that in the Israelite society of that time, barrenness (not having children) was a cause of great shame and distress. Indeed barrenness appears to have a recognized ground for divorce in the Israelite culture. We can hear and imagine the torment Hannah endured at the hands of Peninnah – the other wife; we read she was tormented until she wept. Yet Elkanah, her husband, remained devoted to Hannah and favored over his other wife who gave him many children (the question of polygamy is not germane to this point and is a topic for another day). Reading this story can lead us to question the strength of the relationship and compatibility. Will the devotion and care be there during the hard times of the marriage?

Then read about King David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. Now of course many people would say stop because that was a case of lust. Yes it was, but it is a story as well as to the blindness that arises when sexual desires move up the chain of attention. Bringing the story forward, questions that I am thinking about include: wasn’t the motivation really about satisfying a desire, and as such wasn’t it clearly selfish, and didn’t it turn the entire sexual encounter into a commodity – a type of consumer good? Obviously David saw something he wanted, and he made a choice. But in making that choice he blinded himself to all other concerns. So if we ask these types of questions for our situation, can we still say like the other poster, we need this final test, when we are in a state of emotional, intellectual and spiritual blindness, to make our decision about our future compatibility?

My concern is not so much that we are in obedience or disobedience to the Word – as important as that is. Rather, the Scriptures talk about chastity and such things until marriage for the purpose of giving us the wisdom to walk forward with our eyes clear – well, as clear as possible in light of whom we are and where we are at for this moment. Paul talks about seeing dimly, and that isn’t only about grasping Scripture and such things. By talking about Hannah and Elkanah, and David and Bathsheba, maybe we can come to a place where we begin to grasp that our sexuality is a part of us, an important part, but that it rightly does not have claim to the top spot of the lenses of our minds and souls. We value Scripture not simply or solely because it tells us how to live, but the Word gives us a story that once joined begins to shape us for living truthfully in right relationship with God and with our neighbors. While, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, we will do it less than perfectly due to our inability to see clearly, we have the ability to get it right some of the times, and maybe with a little effort and being in a faith community, we can get it right more than we used to.

“I’m going to kill myself today.”

I met a young man today. I was sitting on the steps outside the parsonage where I am currently at home, and I saw him walking down the street. He looked up at the cross on top of the bell tower and saw me. As he approached me he said “I’m going to kill myself today.”

He sat down next to me and I could see that stare off in to the distance. I called the 911 dispatch and they advised me someone was on the way. Robert was his name and he said he has given up trying anymore. His addictions wouldn’t stop and he was just kicked out of the local Sober House.

He told me he had a family, that was now lost to him, and a young daughter of 14 and a son of 8. While he wasn’t married per the state law, he had been with the same woman for many years – until the last few years due to his inability to stay clean. Maybe I said, not lost just not in touch for today. I’ve been there, and 2 years is a painful absence but I’m learning Jesus already knows that. Sometimes I want to ask isn’t there a way that doesn’t hurt so much? I don’t know why it is that way.

We talked a little about the future and how Jesus warned us not to worry about tomorrow as we only get 1 day at a time – which carries enough in it to worry about so tomorrow is another day. We talked about how our God is a God of second chances, third chances and indeed a God of many chances beyond our capacity to comprehend why He gives us so many chances, but I let him know God isn’t letting him go today. And that was all he need be thinking about – today right now and right here and being led to a place where he didn’t have to fight it all out on his own – and nothing more than that because surely I thought that was enough for the moment.

The paramedics came and took him to the hospital. But before he went into the ambulance he called me over and shook my hand and said thank you, Now I’m sitting here wondering why God led Robert down this street and why God choose that moment to have me go out to sit on the steps to soak up some sun and watch the cars go down the street.

Then again, maybe it’s not about me ever figuring out the whys – not that I really can. Maybe it’s not about being worried about saying the right things and doing the script for such situations that I was taught so many years ago – not that I remembered any of it until now. Maybe it is about somehow someway learning to be a person who when I get a call to follow I can respond like Simon and Andrew and just drop my nets and follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20). What I didn’t realize at the time was that dropping my nets meant a lot more than dropping what was holding me back but in fact dropping a huge chunk of myself. Not that such a thing makes sense. I mean how can we lose that chunk and still be who we are supposed to be when I think I hear something about losing that chunk will in fact allow us to become all we were meant/created to be.

Now my head is starting to hurt. But this is about Robert and not me. So join with me in a prayer for Robert and maybe someone else not too far down the road showing him a little of the light we know is out there.

Be blessed and be a blessing today.