Monday, March 31, 2008

Ministers of Light

Within the Catholic Church's tradition is a beautiful moment at the Easter Vigil. At the very beginning of the Mass we all empty out of the church and gather around a fire.  We have a beautiful metal stand in which the small fire is made on the front steps of the church. 

Prior to this Vigil, I was in the back room where all those involved with the day's liturgy gather to hear final instructions and pray together.  There was a young man serving as an Eucharistic Minister, like me.  He seemed to have some slight developmental disabilities and kept interrupting the very frazzled liturgy coordinator and the priest.  At one point we who were Eucharistic ministers, were told that at the point immediately following the baptisms we were to go and light our candles to help the rest of the congregation's candles.  This would then mean we were all holding lit candles for the renewal of our baptismal vows.

As our liturgy coordinator was finishing, the young man interrupted saying, "So we are Ministers of Light tonight too!"  At the moment, it frustrated all of us as we were all rushing to understand the details of roles for the night.  Now I regret my frustration. 

I have been pondering those words, Minister of Light, for the last week.  It really resonated with me.  After all, isn't that what we are all called to be?

The field of youth ministry presents us with the hidden depths of the lives of teens.  We are called to bring the Light of God.  His love, his forgiveness, his guidance, his constant presence are to be our message.  We are called to bring the Light of Community.  The youth today are connected to the Internet, sports, music and so forth. We are called to offer the Light of a deeper spiritual community where they will be challenged, loved, and protected.  We are called to bring the Light of Love. Not the love they see on TV or in the latest self help book. Rather the complex love that is unconditional but will challenge the kids as much as it accepts them.  There are countless ways we are to be Ministers of the Light

The Catholic Church celebrates Easter for the next few weeks until the Ascension.  Throughout this time, I am going to focus on my role as a Minister of the Light.

May you be the Light and may you see the Light.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Theology on the iPod - Part One

Last year I gave a short (10 minute) presentation based around the Theology of the iPod. My audience was every member of our diocesan staff. I was brought in to explain the minority demographic of that peculiar group, young adults.

As I normally have a two hour workshop set up on "Who Young Adults Are," condensing this into ten minutes was a challenge. While working, rather staring at the blank Word document wondering how to begin, I went into my purse (which can support a family of six for ten days). I rooted around, likely for my lip balm or some tissues. My excavations revealed my iPod in it's friendly red case. if nothing else, I thought I could put on some inspiring music to help jump start my brainstorming.

I pulled the speaker cord from my computer speakers to plug into the iPod. And that is when it struck me, when you want to talk about young adults in the church, you need to talk about the Theology of the iPod.

Now picture saying that to a room comprised of church employees aged roughly 45-70+ (some older priests, sisters, and other wisdom figures were present). Imagine seeing the faces of those raised in the pre-Vatican II Church hearing that we need to have a theology based on some new-fangled device. I enjoyed that brief moment.

When I have the time and it strikes my fancy, I'll be posting some of the components of this talk. I also hope to expand on that short presentation. All hooks aside, I believe that what I am saying has merit.

First in the Theology of the iPod is the concept of portability. Today I want to focus on the compact, easy to carry nature of the iPod.

Whether you have the latest video iPod or the most compact iPod Nano, you can comfortable fit it into the pocket of your jeans. You can shove it into your date purse or your glove compartment without a thought. You slip it into your desk drawer or the pocket of your uniform. Whether you are at the gym or on a road trip, it moves with you.

Traditionally, and in some places still, where you were born was where you were buried. Perhaps you traveled a hundred miles if you were exceptional to attend college or university, but you returned and lived your life all in one place. Slowly this has dramatically changed. In an economy and society where young adults will hold dozens of jobs prior to their retirement, mobility is a constant.

Young adults live in one city for their studies. They move for their first job. Then they are promoted, laid off, marry, or have another life change that draws them to another home.

I am a prime example. I lived in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Brown Deer (Wisconsin) as a child. My college was the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now I am a resident of Ann Arbor. In something abnormal for my generation, I am still at my first job almost five years after college graduation.

This leaves churches with a very frustrating phenomenon. The traditional model of leadership is to have a parishioner involved in a ministry for a significant length of time. A strong understanding of who that person is develops and they are called forth sometimes after years to take on a role of leadership. Years of formation then are put into making that new leader a well-trained catechist, finance council member, or youth ministry volunteer. The classes, conference, workshops, books, and other resources are seen as a long term investment for the parish. The traditional understanding is that the parishioner you are forming as a leader will reside in your parish for decades.

Young adults form a generation that moves more frequently than any before. Waiting years to tap them as leaders will result in their slipping through our fingers.

Just as an iPod is portable, we need to form young adults as 'portable leaders.' We need to recognize that the training and formation we offer to them is not a long term investment for our parish but an investment in the universal Church. We need to offer to the them the chance to grow and strengthen so that when they do move they will be able to take on leadership roles or continue their formation at the parish they find in their new home.

This requires a leap of faith. We all look to our budgets, thin numbers of volunteers, and other difficulties. We question whether we can afford the time, money, and effort to form these young people who are only going to leave in 12, 18 or 24 months.

The answer is that we cannot afford to not put the time, money, and effort into our young adult community. We need our young adults to be active, well-formed, conscious Catholics that can be active, well-formed, conscious Catholics in each of the coming places they call home in the future.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Clear Signs Last Week Was Holy Week

And now, the top signs that a Catholic youth minister can tell last week was Holy Week:

6. On Holy Thursday you realize you are down to less than half a roll of toilet paper.

5. On Wednesday, the only day you get home while the sun is still up, you sit down on your couch only to immediately fall asleep and nap until the sun has set.

4. You build your wardrobe for the week around what shoes you can wear that are most comfortable but do not squeak, clack, or make other noises on the church floor. Your clothing choices in turn manage to be appropriate for Mass but also fully washable as you spend the afternoons in the church attic sorting through costumes and props for the the Living Way of the Cross. This also results in triggering your allergies. You are thankful you didn't give up Claratin for Lent.

3. You no longer have cans of soda (Diet Pepsi or Diet Mountain Dew) in your office. You now keep two liters available to keep you running.

2. When you check your email on Thursday night, there is an e-card from your kitchen appliances saying, "We miss you."

1. You are so exhausted/overwhelmed/scatterbrained during the week that you forget the password to your blog leaving you to post about Holy Week on Easter Monday.

With Holy Week behind this means it is now Easter! So happy Easter to all!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The nearly constant refrain I am hearing lately is, "Better you than me." This is getting a bit tiresome. Mostly because I have a hard time imagining a better occupation for myself than the one I am in. I think only taste-tester for Godiva could beat this out.

Now I know the main reason I am hearing this refrain is due to the quantity of special events I am coordinating in the next 18 months. An international pilgrimage to World Youth Day begins the marathon. A trip (in the works) to New Orleans to continue helping to rebuild the city after Katrina. A service trip to Central America in the summer of 2009. In between are the normal events of youth groups, Bible studies, retreats, Living Way of the Cross, girls' ministry events, and so on. Yes, the schedule is bizarre. Yes, it is nearly overwhelming at times. Yes, I do question my sanity periodically. (However, my mother always says, "If you're crazy and you know it you are a step ahead of the rest of the world who still thinks they're normal."

Ultimately though, these trips, pilgrimages, and service trips are life changing for the youth, those we help, and frankly, me. The young people we cart off in caravans of minivans learn that they can change a life. They learn that there is a place for destruction and place for resurrection. They learn to see God in devastation, strangers, and the simple act of sharing a bowl of jambalaya. They learn to be God in the strangest of circumstances as they swing crowbars to remove dry wall or help a fellow pilgrim carry their pack. They find new challenges and insight for their own spiritual journeys. They find new directions for their lives.

And yes, I often find myself leveled by nasty colds or utter exhaustion at the end of these trips. Yes, I say as the last youth is carted home by much better rested parents that I can't imagine doing the trip again. But without fail, sooner, rather than later, I start having that pull back into the wilds.

My heart is restless. And I know it will remain so until it rests in God (St. Augustine). And I know that in the wild, unpredictable excursions we take our youth on, we will find God and we will find places to rest our hearts in God. And we will return, because we leave a bit of our hearts behind us.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jungle Culture

I am fully immersed in today's culture. I own an iPod. I see blockbuster movies ranging in type from chick flicks to action to historical dramas. I read best sellers and classics. I subscribe to a cooking magazine and Netflix. I look forward to watching my guilty pleasure's season finale tonight, Project Runway.

When I read articles in youth ministry magazine or hear conversations among church workers about the dreadful state of 'pop culture' I internally pull my hair out and usually offer a soft sigh. If I am too tired or simply not in a situation to explain myself, that sigh is usually misinterpreted as an acquiescence to the truth of that statement. In actuality, that sigh is frustration and a sign of my years of debate training warming up.

Yes, there are some awful facts about 'pop culture' today. Video games, movies, and, increasingly, even TV shows offer violence, illicit behavior, and other amoral behaviors. Reality TV makes stars of people with less than admirable qualities. Some music contains lyrics and messages that make me cringe. Yes, 'pop culture' has some tragic flaws.

However, to point to culture as if it were a separate entity, tut a bit and shake our heads we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our ministries. One of the fundamental flaws on blaming 'pop culture' is that people forget that culture is nothing more than what we create. We are a part of that pop culture. Even if you don't know how to work the iPods that your kids bring to youth group. Even if you don't know what LOL or OMG stand for, you are a part of the culture. By placing culture as the 'other' we alienate those we try to reach and place ourselves in a precarious position. We become outsiders, seen as (often quite rightfully) judgmental and (just as rightly) hypocritical. Our youths will see that we really are a part of the culture. They will see that we pass judgement on some things, not others. Some will recognize why we criticize particular aspects. Others will only see that we don't like what they like.

When 'pop culture' is attacked, people often forget the power of praising what is good. There are spectacular films, books, TV shows, music and the people who make them possible. They manage to show the positive power of that 'wicked pop culture' we so often forget. They may not be "Christian" in their motivation, but their messages are such that we can embrace, point to them and say, "Look. Here is good media. Here is positive culture." We focus so acutely on the negative that we miss the popular song speaking of redemption. We miss the film showing the power of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances living the call to love each other. We miss the film star who uses their fame and wealth to help rebuild a city destroyed by a storm.

I am not saying we should turn a blind eye to all that is wrong in our culture. I am saying that we should be careful how we approach it with the youth. I am saying we should make sure that we are just as vocal in pointing out the good as we are the bad.

After all, let's not forget a few of the other times pop culture was condemned. Two hundred years ago the waltz was risque. Now the Blue Danube is a classic piece of orchestral music. Eighty years ago jazz was scandalous. Now it is respected and we look to musicians like Louis Armstrong as near mythic figures. Fifty years ago rock and roll was a sign of all that was wrong with society. Now we have Christian rock and mainstream rock stars fighting to end poverty and hunger, provide assistance to those with AIDS, and provide instruments for schools in disadvantaged areas. By this time, should we not be able to see that 'pop culture' has a validity? Should we not be able to see that it is truly our culture?