Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parental Control

No, I have no interest in my thoughts of that charming show.  Rather, I ran across this article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Key to Stemming High School Dropouts: Parents."

Two comments on this.

1.  Communication with the parents is absolutely essential.  Any publication on youth ministry worth its salt will have this somewhere in its pages.  However, do we really follow through?  Do we take the time to make the calls, send the letters?  Do we promptly return parent calls, emails, and letters?  With the exception of when I have a day off or am traversing the globe on the latest harebrained-why-was-this-a-good-idea-pilgrimage/service-trip, I hold myself to a strict 24 hour max on any delay in returning communication.  Even if I can't answer the question, I call back to say I don't know but I am working on the answer and will get back to you (I fill in a reasonable amount of time here).  None of us like to be kept out of the loop, so why do we do that to parents?

2.  Parental involvement.  Dangerous words.  Just about every youth minister can point to their train wreck moment when a parent volunteer caused massive amounts of damage to their ministry.  I had the joy of my train wreck being all of four months into the job.  However, I did not let this stop me from having parents involved in the ministry.  I simply did a better job from that point on in vetting and preparing volunteers.  Five years in, I'm still on a learning curve for this.

Side note - youth ministers, don't get caught up in your bubble of ministry, youth, and all that is church.  Remember that wisdom can come from unlikely sources so keep your nose in non-church media.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Headscarves and Bibles

Two articles that I ran across yesterday gave me pause.  

The first was Generation Faithful found on the New York Times website.  Here is an interesting article that discusses how the Turkish young people are living out the typical call to rebel, by returning to their faith.  Now some could argue that this breeds extreme ism. Yes, that does happen.  however, it also breeds young people who the pursue life in business, science, medicine, education, and families that are grounded is firm moral and spiritual roots.  Thoughts of the justness and righteousness of an action are weighed as much as the ability to complete the action.  Is this not a good thing?

The article took me back to my freshman year of college.  I lived in the all girls dorm.  Due to it having the largest rooms and best cafeteria.  Plus it was a great location, next to three of the buildings that housed most of my classes given my areas of study.  Anyways, also in the dorm were a cluster of girls I had been good friends with in primary and secondary school.  One had moved somewhere in the middle school years.  The other two remained in my circle of friends throughout high school.  When the four of us discovered we all were in the same dorm, we began to have regular meals together.  An odder set you likely would not see.  Fatima was becoming as involved int eh Muslim student group as I was in the Catholic student group.  Another friend, from Taiwan, was Buddhist, but mostly secular in her beliefs.  Then there was the eccentric one who was raised sort of Catholic but was heading down the atheist path.  Especially Fatima and I would have constant conversations about our faith and how that influenced our lives. She, like the girls in the NYT article, chose to wear the headscarf.  Her mother did not, I believe.  She saw it as a sign of her faith, as a sign of her choice to live according to that faith.  I understood.  I wore my cross daily and a Miraculous Medal with it.  We shared stories and found strength in each other's faith.  Both of us were parts of a faith that was predominantly led by a male hierarchy.  We were both trying to be faithful in a secular university where professors and students didn't always respect our choices.  We both were singled out by professors due to the physical signs of our faith.  I remember being verbally attacked by a philosophy professor due to my cross and medal I wore.  Petrified at the time, I now see that as a valuable life experience.  Fatima helped me through some of those freshman year challenges.  

The second will have to wait.  I need to get into the office.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Little Things

Let me share a great piece of wisdom with you.  It's all about the small things.  The small things will either keep you going or drive you nuts.  

Sample of today's small things:
1.  In a moment of clarity while at a store's close-out sale, I saw those plastic disks you put on the bottom of your furniture to make the furniture "move like it was on wheels."  After a year of shoving the couches around the youth room (they are those really solid wood 'crate' style that could kill an elephant if dropped incorrectly), I had the epiphany.  "I should buy these things."  After rooting around for the last two for solid pieces, sans wheels, I stuck them on the couches.  A huge sense of accomplishment.  I dropped the couches on their backs, stuck those little things on, and then righted the monstrosities again.  Now those couches move without scratching the floor and without breaking my back.

2.  Here's one of those small things that has driven me nuts for a while.  I accidently bought scented dry erase markers.  The combination of dry erase chemicals and cherry, orange, and grape leaves me with not so fond memories of children's medication.  Oh well, I refuse to waste them, so here's hoping they dry out soon.

3.  I am reading the kids one of my favorite stories, A Tale from Paleface Creek.  This was a book given to me by the author, Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, WI.  It is a fantastic reminder of what is important in each of our lives.  As it was a gift when he spoke at a conference I helped organize, the lesson on being too busy of a beaver was appropriate.  It is just as good of a message as I am a too busy youth minister.

Well, I'm off to review my notes for tonight.  As biblical literacy is a huge focus in the youth ministry this year, tonight is on the parables with a chunk of time on the origins of the Gospels.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lessons from Australia

I am sitting in our youth room due to my normal office being rewired.  Plus the paint fumes from the front parish offices is quite annoying.  I am glad to have this retreat.  The silence is only interrupted by the buzz of one of the lights.  (Soon to be replaced as part of our electrical system upgrade - more energy efficient light bulbs which I guess need a different socket - project for later next week the electrician told me.)

It is full fall weather here.  Chilly mornings dipping into the 40s while the afternoons see balmy temperatures into the 50s, maybe low 60s.  This was the same weather we faced in Australia for World Youth Day (WYD).  Being chilled, I found myself staring at my scarf collection.  Searching for one that I could wear with my fleece and use as a shawl or scarf while sitting down here, I pulled down the one I bought in Melbourne.  Yes, I must admit I took a cluster of my kids to the mall in Melbourne.  While we had been very prepared, the area had a cold snap accompanied by nearly constant drizzle or mist.  Very reminiscent of England for me.  It seeped through you and left you chilled just about all day.  Our trek to the mall was a side trip on our walking tour of the city center.  We trooped in to purchase additional warm wear - hats, scarves, gloves.  A couple girls bought think tights to layer under their pants for added warmth.  Smart girls.

Another rule of youth ministry crossed my mind at this point - no matter how well prepared you and the youth are, you will be unprepared for something.  This was not a major hindrance, but it was miserable some mornings as temperatures hovered around 45 degrees and the drizzle and grey skies lurked.  But this was a blessing in disguise.  On the superficial side, instead of tossing money away on items of little value, intrinsic or sentimental, the youth purchased practical mementos in the forms of the Days in the Diocese hats or scarves.  Host families gave the kids items from their own closets and insisted the kids keep them, as host parents and grandparents feared chilly temperatures for us in the following week in Sydney.  The weather and the trek to the mall made for great memories.  We huddled together as we waited for trams.  We learned about Aussie Rules Football from the avid fans leaving a game as we journeyed home on the tram.  We were humbled by the graciousness of our hosts.  We recognized our interdependence on others in our group, our hosts, and the strangers in the street.

This ties into the other, possibly most important rule of youth ministry, be flexible.  Or as the colorful sign my friend gave me for my last birthday says, "Improvise!"  Our daily plans changed according to the weather.  When we couldn't adapt our plans, we changed our wardrobes.  We changed our routes so the kids could find hot cocoa or coffees to stay warm.  

A combination of that preparedness and improvisation is one of the greatest tools I strive to foster.  The kids are amused by my immense preparations - the envelopes of contact info, health forms, maps, first aid kit, duct tape.  Parents appreciate it as they know that they have as much information as possible and we, the adult leaders, are as ready for what comes as we can be.  However, the real world does not exist in a vacuum.  Personalities, weather fronts, mechanical difficulties, health concerns, road construction, and all the other variables add up to keep us on our toes.  Being able to take that preparedness and retool it to work with a new set of circumstances is crucial.

It even helps on the days when the parish offices are in disarray.  I do not have access to my work computer, voicemail, file cabinets, or card stock.  However, I could put files on a flash drive, create new files and save them to Google Docs, work on the blogs we use to plan Sunday youth group.  I have been able to have fully productive days even though I am cut off from my normal office environment.  Some of my coworkers have struggled with this as they are less mobile, less tech savvy (not that I am worthy of employment at Google or Apple), and a bit less practiced at improvisation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Between Two Jungles

Keeping with the contrived theme of the blog, I have been caught between two jungles.  Beginning with the summer months and really continuing now for the next year.

A short summary of the conflict isn't too easy.  There were things mentioned over the summer - tragedies in the lives of my closest friends, travels to see family, and the like.  Now, I am also facing the fact that my brother is deployed to Iraq.  It has taken a toll on me and my ministry.

Most noticeably, the personal issues manifested themselves in one of the nastiest head colds I've ever had.  Likely worsened by the chaos of the first three weeks of youth group and the very early youth retreat, I was down for the count most of last week.  As it was last Tuesday that my brother left for the Middle East, it left me physically and emotionally wiped out.  Apparently, some people also have noticed I am not quite as upbeat or, as one of the school teachers put it 'chipper', as I normally am.  Again, a major component of this is my brother, a smaller portion, exhaustion.

All of these have led to some minor revelations and practical changes.  The simplest is that due to the cold, I have finally gotten back into a normal sleep pattern and a sufficient amount of daily sleep.  Granted last week I was napping for a significant portion of the day, but it has carried through this week in so far as I am getting around 7 hours of sleep a night.  Not bad for a youth minister.

All the worry, stress, and sheer quantity of work, family issues, and the like has led me to a better prayer time.  In the way of so many before me in the Catholic faith, when my own words fail me, I have turned to the Rosary.  I know I am praying for my brother's safety, safe return, my family, and all those I know deployed.  However, I do not know what to pray for in regards to helping them in the day to day life in Iraq.  I also thought and reflected on the power of Mary's intercession.  If ever there was a woman who had no control over the events and dangers surrounding a loved one's life, it is Mary.  Her intercession cannot harm my prayers.  I have also been spending more time reading my Bible.  On the days that I have not had to head into the office until later, I also have picked up the book, A Pilgrim Pope.

The combination of sleep and better prayer time in the very early morning are leading me into a more solid routine to my day.  This helps me to place things in perspective before being inundated with the massive quantities of email, phone calls, drop-ins, mail, and other business of being a youth minister.  I also hope it will help to center me so that the coming year does not overwhelm.

By really focusing on a rhythm to life, I am able to get back into habits that the chaos of the summer and the stresses of early fall pushed to the side.  I am again reading voraciously.  Currently I am utterly engrossed in A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  To read something that is unrelated to ministry or the Church is incredibly helpful.  On a less cultured note, I am also enjoying watching the DVDs of the first two seasons of Heroes.  Mind you, it is no West Wing, but it is entertaining.  I also have made time to cook, whether an Indian chickpea recipe or Pumpkin bread, the creative, relaxing activity is immensely helpful.  Plus it makes my condo smell wonderful.

As much as I have joked about how I have no regular pattern to my schedule, I am seeing how incredibly necessary it is.  I skated through the past five years, probably based on my youth and sheer force of will.  The added responsibilities professionally and personally will not continue to allow that.  This will hopefully be a much better balanced year.