Friday, June 04, 2010

Thoughts on the Nicene Creed

Sorry, these aren't my thoughts. A friend of mine posted a link to this on facebook and I thought it was good enough to post here (although it's not like I've been doing a lot of posting lately).

The author of this post thinks that how we view the Nicene Creed reflects our theological heritage and beliefs. Read through the post and see what you think. I think the author is pretty dead on with his assessment.

(h/t to Kyle Potter for the link on facebook)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Feast of The Annunciation

This is a repost from what I wrote last year on this day.

Today the church exhorts us to join in a great paradox of feasting even in the midst of our Lenten fasting since today is the feast of the Annunciation. Today is the day that we celebrate and remember that glorious day when the Angel Gabriel came to the Virgin and proclaimed:

Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of the his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end....The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God....For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:30-33,35,37 NRSV)

Today is the day when we can see the full spectrum of our salvation. We look ahead to Good Friday when we remember our Lord's death, and we even glance beyond Good Friday longingly looking toward Easter Sunday, the feast of feasts, when we celebrate our Lords glorious resurrection. We look ahead like this today as we think of the angel's visitation to the Virgin. We recognize today, maybe more fully than at any other point, that our Lord came as a child to die and rise again for us and for our salvation.

The Lord and maker of the heavens, he who is uncontainable humbled himself so much that he allowed himself to take on flesh and to be contained in a womb. He who knows the expanse of the universe and who spoke to the darkness at creation is the same incarnate word that came and took on flesh as a fetus (if such an impersonal word can be used). We celebrate this day the incorporeal Son, the second person of the Trinity, taking on flesh so that humanity may be united to God. We rejoice in the fact that Christ our God took on every part of what it means to be human and yet was without sin. Our Lord took upon himself not only our flesh, but also our will - assuming everything that is intrinsic to us, for as St. Basil states: "that which was not assumed cannot be redeemed."

Today we also remember Mary's response to the Angel: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). We remember that her response was a free choice and that it was not forced upon her. In this same way we remember that we are called to emulate her and to respond to God daily with the same words. Theotokos, the God-bearer, that is the title given to Mary by the early church, not as a sign of her exultation but to proclaim the mystery we celebrate today that God himself, in the person of the Son chose to be born. The uncreated one who is withoutbeginning chose to unite himself to humanity so thoroughly that we can say with confidence that Mary bore God in her womb. To say this statement is hard and absurd is true, and yet it is also beautiful in the truth it proclaims. Christ is the fullness of God, and yet also the fullness of humanity and today we proclaim his love. We can see this love clearly as we remember his incarnation and look toward the cross and resurrection.

Glory to God in the Highest! Our redemption is at hand, for Christ our God is conceived in the womb of the virgin so that he may cleanse us from our sin.

Sadly this holy-day is forgotten in most of Protestantism probably due to a number of reasons, chief of which may be (and I'm just offering a hypothesis here) connected to the staunch rejection of anything having to do with the Virgin Mary at the time of Luther's reformation. I believe it would do us well to remember this day with our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. I believe this feast helps us to think more accurately about the incarnation of our Lord. It helps us to avoid the heresy of adoptionism and some gnostictendencies that run deep in some of our traditions.

So let us today join with our Catholic and Orthodox friends and boldly sing the praises of God. For today we can see both the incarnation and the crucifixion/resurrection clearly. Let us praise God for his redemption of humanity for today we celebrate the coming of grace as the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More Thoughts on Youth Ministry

I have read a couple articles recently that I wanted to share in light of the last post about some of the problems in youth ministry. Both of these articles are by a guy named Mike Yaconelli. Mike, is considered by many to be the "Father of youth ministry" as we now know it. He was the founder of Youth Specialties, one of the largest youth ministry companies out there. Mike passed away some years ago (I can't remember why) but has left a deep legacy. Sadly, as much as his name is championed, his words are seldom heeded.

The first article, "10 Easy Steps to Guarantee a Successful Youth Ministry," is a wonderful piece of satire. When I read the article in a recent issue of Youthworker I was both saddened and elated. I was elated, because it felt nice to hear a voice that expressed the same thoughts I was having, but I was saddened because these are the exact things that I am being criticized by the parents and counselors here for not doing.

The Second article is about rethinking youth ministry. Since my first youth ministry class with Dr. Walters at Houghton, I've held the belief that one of the highest goals of youth ministry should be to engage the students in the greater life of the whole congregation. This article takes this belief one step further and asserts that no youth ministry is the best youth ministry. Yaconelli doesn't say that we need to get rid of youth ministry all together (thankfully, because I need a job) but that we do need to get kids plugged into the church at deep levels that transcend just attendance. I agree completely and from, what I've found, so does everyone with whom I've talked. The problem I've found is that everyone like this in theory, but once you try to actively implement engagement with the whole church people get angry if the youth take a while to respond or "get it."

Here is this article: A Better Idea Than Youth Ministry

I'd love some extra thoughts on these issues.

- Ben

Monday, March 01, 2010

Entertainment or Ministry

A little over a week ago I took a group of students from our church on a ski trip to WV. As I stood in the parking lot I saw streams of teenagers file out of bus after bus. Some of the busses were chartered and others clearly had the church logo and name painted on the side. As I stood, waiting for our rental agent, I realized that you couldn't tell there was a recession going on in this country and that somewhere people were in need. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty disgusted as I looked at all these lines and all this money. I was upset about the entertainment driven focus of youth ministry. (You might be asking why I took our students there. Well, I tried to not do a ski-trip this year and do a spiritual formation retreat, but I met so much resistance that it couldn't be done.)

I guess I never realized how much ski-trips were essential to youth "ministry" until the other day. Growing up in poor, rural Pennsylvania I didn't go on my first youth group ski trip until we had a new pastor come in and tell us that to be an effective youth ministry we need to go on one.

I was upset, and was going to blog when I got back but I put it off and never got around. Then the other night in our youth council meeting the students tossed out the idea of doing a movie night at youth group. I spoke up and said that a movie night would have strict limitations given current copyright laws and the fact that I would not allow anything over a "G" movie. As we were having discussion I heard one of the youth counselors mutter to another counselor "he's never been a fan of showing a movie" in a disgruntled tone. To be fair, she's right. I'm not a fan of taking valuable spiritual formation time and spending all that time in entertaining students. The only real way I'd consider this would be if we found a movie that offers a great chance for spiritual dialogue and then we analyzed the movie afterwards. But I know that this isn't what they have in mind.

I was a little disturbed by the fact that I have to constantly defend my desire for formation over entertainment in our youth program but just counted it up to a need for further growth and education.

Today, as I came into the office I got a small "events guide" in the mail. The guide is by a group called "Entertaining Teens" which offers "Live Entertainment, Touring Ministries & Events." Seriously? How did youth ministry ever get to be about entertainment? Especially the crappy, cheesy, gimmicky, over-the-top entertainment that this organization offers. What are we doing?

Many people would object to my anti-entertainment ministry stance citing that we need to "attract" the youth and get them here. I honestly can't think of a bigger lie in the history of the Christian church. The idea that we, in youth ministry, can somehow compete with Hollywood, friends, video games, etc in the realm of entertainment to "get kids here" is absolutely laughable and until the youth ministry culture realizes that we will continue to produce generation after generation of half-discipled students who will easily drift away from Christ when life gets hard, the entertainment stops, or other things grab their attention.

Some would point out that the youth ministry culture is changing. That this is a growing realization. I would disagree.

I recently (back in September) attended the Youth Specialties National Youthworkers Convention in Los Angeles. As I sat in the small break-out groups I had much hope. I heard the presenters talking about deep discipleship, having kids encounter the scripture, and other wonderful things. I really thought the culture was changing...until I went to the main sessions. These main sessions were filled with "sermons void of content," rock 'n roll covers as "worship" songs, high production videos, sound, and lighting design, and enough "ra-ra, yay Jesus" to put the National Cheerleading competition to shame.

As these two worlds (the small and large sessions) I realized that the culture really isn't changing. Sure, there is a growing emphasis in youth ministry on contemplation, silence, and the like. But it is still shrouded in gimmicks and entertainment. Silence is only valued if it's accompanied by powerpoint images and eclectic music. Contemplation is valued only at a pragmatic level. The emphasis is still with entertainment. Why? Because this is how the youth directors are filling their souls.

Sure there are always the exceptions (Praise the Lord!!) but as long as those who lead the youth seek entertainment and not discipleship then youth ministry will continue to be entertainment driven and as such we will continue to fail generation after generation.