Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Links from Sunday's Youth Group

This year, I'm not planning to try to summarize every Sunday's youth group curriculum but I do plan to post relevant links when you guys ask me to share them in "class." So here's what we looked at and discussed on Sunday, October 16th:

Our 5 Minutes of God Time song

Our random video (about calling to the whales with orchestra music)

And the meat of our discussion: Adolfo Kaminsky
  • A list of biblical verses pertaining to lying
  • Some of our discussion questions:
    • Is there ever a time when it's OK to lie/deceive or break laws? And since we agreed that in Adolfo's case, it was OK, where is your PERSONAL cutoff point (on the scale of "making fake passports to save thousands of innocent Jews" to "murdering an abortion doctor to try to prevent the death of innocent babies")? Are there times in our everyday lives that we justify small wrongdoings/lies/deceits with the belief that it's for a good reason?
    • For Adolfo to do what he did required the efforts of many people. Who else needed to be involved for him to have those opportunities (i.e.- the rest of the forgery team, the person within the Nazi regime who slipped them the list of targets, the previous employers who taught him the skills this job required, the people who helped buy supplies or supplied the apartment, etc.)? Is the courage of those people equally worthy of our admiration?
    • Was there a cost to Adolfo? Do you think he knew the consequences of his actions when he chose to help?
    • Why do you think he decided to join the resistance rather than flee when he had the opportunity?
    • When you look at the events in Adolfo's life, do you think it all took place by happenstance?
Hope to see you next week!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


One of the topics that we just keep coming back to is service- which means you have to ask yourself whether your youth leader is just too lazy to come up with a new topic or whether there's something so profoundly important in the topic that it needs lots of emphasis and discussion. Being the youth leader, I'm going to go with the second one. :)

So why is it so important to understand? It's the age-old tension of faith vs. works. Ephesians 2:8 talks about how we have been saved by grace alone, rather than by our works, so that no one can boast. Doing good alone can't save you, because the kingdom of God is as much mental as physical. And really, how many of us have done something that we thought was really helpful, only to realize later that it wasn't the right thing to do? Or have done something good for the wrong reasons? Even something as cut and dry as serving a meal to a hungry child can have a wide range of impacts on the server. Any way it goes, the child gets fed. But are you doing it because God asked you to love your neighbor as yourself, and this is an expression of pure love? Or is it because it gives you a smug sense of satisfaction to know that you're not in the position of the one who needs help? Or maybe it's because you need verifiable service hours to put on your college application, and this is an organized activity that doesn't take much thought on your end. One motivation goes a long way towards bringing you closer to God. The others? Not so much. Salvation is about drawing closer to God, not just checking off a list of good deeds.

But then James 2:24 reminds us
21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
 It's not just about the mental, either. If salvation is a drawing-near to God, there's some action required ("drawing near" is an action, yes?). If you say you believe something but your actions don't match what your mouth is spouting, you have to wonder where the disconnect happened. Dig a little deeper: Have you not really bought in to this whole Christianity thing? Do you have some unresolved questions that might make it easier to live out what you've been taught? Or maybe you just need the reality check that you haven't put much thought into your time and actions, and now that you know, you're ready for some change.

So to help us dig a little deeper, let's look at motivation and you can think about what resounds most clearly with you. Why might we serve?
  • Self-service: Not just gaining college-enticing service hours, this also includes the actions you take on behalf of someone else to make yourself more secure or to ensure that there's help for you when/if you might need it.
  •  Guilt: Feeling bad that you have it better, you throw a little something (time or money) at a problem not to make the problem better, but to make you feel like you "did your part."
  • Obligation: You serve because something you belong to requires it- NHS, Boy Scouts, etc.
  • Commandment: God said to love others as yourself, so you're going to serve to obey God rather than because you "feel it" (this is not always a bad thing!)
  • Justice: You are outraged by a wrong and so you act, not because you like the act of service (though you might) but because you have a strong need for change.
  • Feelings of joy: Maybe you really love the action that functions as your service, the fact that you're serving, or the people that you're serving. Whatever it is (and maybe it's all of the above), there is an eagerness in this service- you're happy to do it because of the heart-squeezing happiness it brings.
 Your reasons could be any or all of the above, or even something else entirely, and it probably changes based on a myriad of circumstances. But obviously, some of those reasons are going to be preferable to others. In addition to recognizing that some reasons to serve are better than others, it's important to remember that there are ways to optimize our servants' hearts:

  • The most enjoyable forms of service make your heart and your mind sing. They are pleasant and tailored to your skills. Seek them out- they'll refresh you! But if you haven't found them yet, don't just sit and wait for them to come to you. Most of the time we learn what our skills and interests are by DOING- and in the doing, we refine until it feels right. I once knew a guy whose job was to travel around and fix chiropractic tables- and he LOVED it. That's obviously not something your guidance counselor is pushing toward you as a career option, so how did he find it? By starting down a path he thought he might enjoy and then tweaking his skill set as the opportunities arose. You can do the same.
  • Serve in ways that DON'T make your heart and mind sing.Very few people enjoy doing dishes or putting away chairs or doing any of the other mundane tasks that so often need doing. It can be easier to pursue the more glamorous service opportunities and ignore the ones that won't get you praise or a Nobel Peace prize. Do the everyday services anyways- it'll help you grow in understanding, in principals, in appreciation of others.
  • Think both immediate and long-term. Put your phone away and look around you to find the things that you can do RIGHT NOW. You don't need to spend every waking minute on it, but there's always something that can use your attention. But don't forget about the future, either. Is there something you think would be really cool to do but that you're not qualified for right now? Learning a skill or preparing yourself for a move or even going to college can all be acts of service in themselves, depending on how you view them and what your motivations are.
  • Service isn't just a "do"- it's a "be." Get a black belt in service- move from having it be an event to having service be your way of life. It's a mindset shift, when you start to look at everything from where you go to what you do to how you eat as acts of service. There are very minute shifts that can make a big difference to someone else, and it allows you to immerse yourself in loving others all the day long.
  • Keep yourself balanced.  Every cause out there has more than one way to approach it (and this is not a rallying cry for you to take on all of them). Keeping balanced is finding both where you fit in the plan and keeping the bigger equilibrium across all of the ways you serve in your life. There are four main categories of service (with some cross-overs) and every Christian should have some form of active service in each of them:
    • Known: Serving in a way that allows you to know the people you're serving. You can see their faces, you can talk with them, you can connect on a personal level (even if it's nothing more than a "Hi, how are you?"). This is the hands-on stuff. It might be people at your school, at church, in your neighborhood, or the people we interact with on the mission trip. In our church, it might include the Circle of Friends Shoppe or (for some of you) the India Ministry.
    • Unknowable: Like Heifer or Shared Hope, this service benefits people that you will never meet. You can't see their faces, talk through their struggles, give them a hug. Sometimes you're benefiting people in distant lands, and sometimes they're people right here who are kept private for safety reasons, like when we raised funds for Friends of Abused Families.
    • Formal: The "organized" service action/event. Sometimes it's spearheaded by someone else, like the mission trip or the India Gala, but it can also be a personal standing commitment to an organization (greeting at church, serving on a board, providing childcare every Wednesday night at the shelter, being a Big Brother, etc.)
    • Informal: Whether spontaneous or not, this is the "I'm just gonna do it" category. It can be talking to someone who looks lonely, letting someone in front of you in line, or deciding to surprise your family with dinner. Maybe it's calling your grandma, because you know she'd like that. Or maybe it's deciding to stop buying chocolate with questionable labor practices. These are the things that don't require a big plan- they're the opportunities that simply show up in your life, nudging you to follow through. They can't be quantified on a list of ways you serve, but believe me, you'd notice a very different world if we all started to ignore the little things.
Your assignment for the week was simple: No matter how you currently serve, think of ONE new thing in any of the service categories and decide to take ONE step towards making it part of your life. Maybe it's as simple as finding the website of an organization and looking at their volunteer opportunity list. Maybe you donate something off of a wish list. Maybe you call your grandma. Maybe you.... fill in the blank. Just choose one thing and, most importantly, start.

5 Minutes of God Time: Follow Me by Casting Crowns

Creation Care

Earth Day was this past week, and so it's a great time to discuss the role of Christians in caring for this earth. Do we have an obligation to care? And if so, do we then have an obligation to act? More than just being part of the ecosystem that depends on nature to survive, we as Christians have an even stronger need to be active in stewarding our environment in accordance with God's will. Need more convincing? Take a look at these scriptures:

Genesis 1:26-28

26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
        reflecting our nature
    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
        the birds in the air, the cattle,
    And, yes, Earth itself,
        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
    God created human beings;
        he created them godlike,
    Reflecting God’s nature.
        He created them male and female.
    God blessed them:
        “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

Leviticus 25:23-24

23-24 “The land cannot be sold permanently because the land is mine and you are foreigners—you’re my tenants. You must provide for the right of redemption for any of the land that you own.

Ezekiel 34:2-6

God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, ‘God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd—scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!

Isaiah 24:4-6
The earth turns gaunt and gray,
    the world silent and sad,
    sky and land lifeless, colorless.
5-13 Earth is polluted by its very own people,
    who have broken its laws,
Disrupted its order,
    violated the sacred and eternal covenant.
Therefore a curse, like a cancer,
    ravages the earth.
Its people pay the price of their sacrilege.
    They dwindle away, dying out one by one.


Jeremiah 2:7-8

7-8 “I brought you to a garden land
    where you could eat lush fruit.
But you barged in and polluted my land,
    trashed and defiled my dear land.
The priests never thought to ask, ‘Where’s God?’
    The religion experts knew nothing of me.
The rulers defied me.
    The prophets preached god Baal
And chased empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.

Revelations 11:18
We thank you, O God, Sovereign-Strong,
    Who Is and Who Was.
You took your great power
    and took over—reigned!
The angry nations now
    get a taste of your anger.
The time has come to judge the dead,
    to reward your servants, all prophets and saints,
Reward small and great who fear your Name,
    and destroy the destroyers of earth.

Rather than recap what we discussed regarding each scripture, I'd like to invite you to consider them for yourself. Why did I include that particular scripture? What might it mean to you? When you read them, are you getting any nudges in the back of your brain?

After our discussion in "class," we watched a couple of videos to further explore the issue:

 The unexpected intricacy of God's creation: How Wolves Change Rivers

 Why this is an urgent issue for us: Sixth Mass Extinction Is Here

And then we talked about what are some small steps to get us thinking about what and how we can honor our Creator in caring for creation:

  • Don’t be willfully ignorant. History doesn’t admire people who know something’s wrong and pretend it’s not happening. It takes courage and strength to decide to learn and change- be THAT type of person, rather than the one who’s guided by convention and comfort.
  • Think through your actions to find the impact. Whether it’s a purchase, an activity, a meal, or whatever, start to figure out who and what is touched by your choices. You’ll never understand the whole web of your influence, but being aware that you HAVE a web of influence is a good first step.
  • Cultivate a wabi-sabi attitude- see the beauty in things that are slightly broken, old, or not-so-flashy and embrace it, rather than replace it. It takes a lot of energy to harvest/mine new materials, produce it into your product, transport it to the store, and store it until you purchase it, and all that energy has to come from somewhere (not to mention the actual materials used up in making the “thing” and the habitat disturbance it can cause).
  • Talk about it- if someone questions why you do something different, explain it and do it simply (i.e.- I read that buying out of season flowers is really hard on the environment, so I choose to not have them). You don’t have to convince them to do the same thing or give examples and statistics (unless they ask), but it starts to change the assumptions of those around us!
  • Leave part of your yard “wild”- it gives habitat to lots of creatures, helping them survive and creating a mini bio-diverse ecosystem.
  • Plant a garden- it gives you a chance to contemplate nature, wonder, and ecology AND it gives you more control over the ethical considerations of your food (like corporate domination, poor water right laws, illegal labor practices, transportation and energy issues)
  • Embrace landscape imperfection- don’ t use petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn (it kills biodiversity in plants AND animals AND bugs)
  • Eat less meat/dairy and more veggies- and make them heritage varieties, while you’re at it. The higher on the food chain you eat, the more resources went into growing each pound of food. And remember the Great Potato Famine? The more varieties of food we have, the smaller the chance that one bug, one virus, or one climate fluctuation will wipe out our food supply. But farmers won’t grow it if you won’t buy it.
  • Go minimalist! There’s only so much space and material to go around- the less you take for yourself, the more you have to share with your neighbor (whether 2 legged, furry, feathered, or finned). You might even enjoy living light!
  • Use your skills, whatever they are! Make a video, write a song, use your body rather than powering up a machine, make daily choices to keep creation in mind.
  • Call/write/visit your government representatives. Civically engaged youth are a force to be reckoned with- just ask Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, a 15 year old from Colorado, who has addressed the U.N. THREE times about climate issues.
  • Be confident! Choosing to live outside of someone else’s expectations creates powerful ripples. Remember why you’re doing it, and embrace your choices. People will question (or even mock you) if you’re wishy-washy, but they’ll respect and accept your “eccentricities” when you’re strong enough to joke about it.
Aaand just to get you thinking: Gratitude: The Antidote for Greed

5 Minutes of God Time: For the Beauty of the Earth (Instrumental)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

March 5 Minutes

Since we've used the month of March to go through a few Nooma videos in youth group (rather than having a reproducible curriculum), we won't have much discussion online. But here are the month's 5 Minutes of God Time songs:

March 6th: Move (Keep Walkin') by TobyMac

March 13th: The Cello Song by The Piano Guys

March 20th: Air I Breathe by Mat Kearney

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby!

Since you all told me that's what I should have called our Sex, Love, and Relationships unit, I'm using it as the title of this post....

There are so many things that we covered during our extra long day or two, we won't be able to run through them on the blog. And that's why you all received binders and handouts during the workshop. If you DIDN'T get a binder and you'd like one, please let me know! Also, please remember that I am a resource for you for all these things- if you end up with questions or thoughts at any point, you can always ask me!

What I WILL put on this blog post is our Five Minutes of God Time songs and a couple of links that we discussed, but that weren't part of your binders. Enjoy!

Five Minutes of God Time: Hold Me by Jamie Grace

Five Minutes of God Time: Elastic Heart (Sia Cover) by Brooklyn Duo

The video we discussed but couldn't watch due to technical issues: http://www.upworthy.com/there-are-6-scriptures-about-homosexuality-in-the-bible-heres-what-they-really-say

Glossary of Transgender, Non-Binary and Genderqueer Words


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Who is my neighbor?

This week actually had two questions, but we're going to focus primarily on the second. The young man who questions Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 wants to know what he needs to do to be saved, and Jesus turns it around on him- what do YOU think? His response: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus applauds this! Very good! But then the young man goes a bit further, wanting Jesus to confirm that "neighbor" can be a very small circle of people- and Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, asking "Which one of these was a neighbor to the man in need?" The young man can't ignore his point, even if he can't bring himself to name a Samaritan as the hero, and Jesus tells him "Go and do likewise."

So, who is YOUR neighbor? And how do you love him/her?

We started our discussion by watching two videos:

A Norwegian Social Experiment


An episode of "What Would You Do?"

Have you ever helped a stranger before? Several of you had stories that involved your family members taking action, but there were far fewer when we narrowed the question down to times YOU personally had made the decision to help. Why? It's easiest to help people who have an obvious, immediate need (like passing out in the grocery store), or people who are considered less able to help themselves (a lost child, an older gentleman who looks physically frail).

Have you ever chosen NOT to help a stranger before? Why? There are all sorts of reasons we might choose not to act:
  • Too distracted or busy to stop- someone else will do it, I have really important things to be doing!
  • Scared of the situation or of potential danger to yourself
  • Scared of the TYPE of person needing help
  • Scared of "stereotyping"- "I don't want that disabled person to think I pity him!"
  • Not sure how to help or what to do
  • Unable to help- but what about Linda in the "What Would You Do? episode?
 What are some ways you can help when you're not sure what to do?
  • Remember that they are a human (Remember Linda giving the man the name "Billy" to give him a story and remind others that we're all relation to each other)
  • Call 911 (if needed)
  • Ask others to help
  • Ask them what they need (if you can't give it, be prepared to offer alternatives)
  • Be prepared!
    • Look up some answers to scenarios you can imagine finding yourself in- that way, you'll have an idea of what the "correct" answer is in a nerve-wracking situation
    • Practice how you'd respond
    • Carry some small bills in cash (maybe even setting aside some money for JUSTINCASE)
    •  Use your phone to look up solutions or know who you could call for help
Finally, just BE THERE and be aware. Talk with them, lend them the support of your presence. No one expects you to be able to fix everything, but honoring and acknowledging them can go a long way!

Scenarios (what could you do?):

  1. You see a family in a store/restaurant that really looks like they’re struggling. What could you do?
      1. Interact with the kids (“I heard your mother ask you do something, can you tell me what that was?” or “Do you think that’s a good idea?”)- Use your judgement as to whether it's really needed, but this can remind everyone involved that others can see them
      2. If he/she is obviously frazzled, you can ask the parent if you can help them get anything, since you how hard it can be to keep everyone on task and you have a bit of extra time
      3. For any financial situation: Talk with a manager- “I’d like to put this towards their bill when they check out” makes your act of goodwill less confrontational and also less about you)
    2. You witness an accident where someone is/might be hurt
      1. Keep a phone on you or ask someone else to call 911
      2. If person is conscious, ask if there’s someone you can call for them
      3. Stay with them until (and sometimes even after) help arrives
      4. Remember that you don’t have to know what to do- you just need to be present. The only thing worse than being hurt and scared is to be that way without anyone around to help
    3. You hear someone saying something hurtful or mean (or even abusive). What do you do?
      1. Pay attention- don’t ignore it
      2. Step in, calmly, if it’s safe- call out racist, sexist, or otherwise biased language and behavior (“I don’t agree with what you’re saying, and it’s making me uncomfortable to hear you treat this person like that” or “I think you/what you’re doing is beautiful, and I hope you don’t let that person make you feel any differently”)
      3. If it's not safe or it's escalating, call 911- I’m witnessing an episode of abuse at this location

    5 Minutes of God Time: Multiplied by NEEDTOBREATHE

Do You See This Woman?

Following our current "unit" of discussing Pastor Rich's sermons, we discussed the story in Luke 7:36-50. It's the story of Jesus having dinner at a well-known religious leader's house and a rather infamous woman from town comes to honor Jesus. She cries on his feet, then wipes them with her hair, and anoints him with some expensive oil- much to the disgust of the religious elite, who feel that if Jesus really knew who she was, He wouldn't have anything to do with her. It's a story about spiritual pride and how that pride leads to blindness. A real, live person becomes a talking point, a pawn in their games of self-importance and status. They turn a complex human into a caricature, and if they even notice her at all it's to say "At least we're not her!" But mostly she's not even worth wasting the time to think about.

Jesus turns it around and calls out their blind spots- "Do you see this woman?" is not a question of whether they can physically see her. They have quite obviously noticed her. But it goes deeper than that, to demand that they not value one human life less than another. And if we're honest with ourselves, we need that advice today just as much as the Pharisees needed it 2000 years ago.

Discussion questions:

Name something that is often associated with a class/group that you belong to, but that you don't think personally fits YOU. Once again, the danger of the single story came up. We all have parts of a stereotype that we don't claim and that we'd hate to have define us.

Talk about a time when you felt like someone really "got" you. What made you feel that way, and did it change anything for you? You can't fake "seeing" someone- it requires openness and receptivity to see them as they really are, not just as you want them to be. And "seeing" goes way beyond just interacting with words and physical presence.

What are some of the reasons we choose not to truly see another? There's a cost to seeing others, understanding where they come from, and why they re the way they are. Some of the costs include:
  • Social relationships (That person is just too weird! Your friends might expect you to just ignore them like everyone else, assuming if you can understand them and find value in them, you must be just like them)
  • Time (Seeing might require that you take action in order for you to maintain a sense of integrity in your beliefs)
  • Emotional (it can feel like going through the wringer to put yourself into their shoes and truly understand their emotions and motivations in anything other than a clinical way)

Is there a particular group it's easier for you to understand/see? Is there a group that's harder? It's easiest to understand those who have something in common with us. And our society often tries to divide rather than unite- THAT political party, THOSE immigrants, THAT race.

Do you think it's easier or harder to "see" those closest to you?  It's easy to only view our family members and friends through our own perceptions. But what about switching your viewpoint so that they're the main character in the story? What do you learn about them when you view them as the center of the universe instead of yourself? What about seeing yourself? Maybe you see yourself well enough to know that you're shielding some things from your consciousness, and truthfully, a full reckoning of our faults and skills would be overwhelming. But to recognize that we CHOOSE to not see everything is a good first step towards getting to know ourselves better!