Samuel L. Jackson Delivers Boy Meets World Slam Poem

Not only is this brilliant for eighty-eight million reasons, but Samuel L. Jackson’s description of Feeny is reminiscent of all those who spend their lives investing in young people.

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Disillusionment

Noun: A feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.  

-Oxford Dictionaries (oxforddictionaries.com)

I didn’t discover the saving grace of Christ until late in high school.  Though I’d been to church, I wasn’t a church goer and certainly didn’t grow up in the Christian faith.  For me, coming to Christ was exciting.  I loved church and was almost recklessly drawn to all things Christian.  If there was a Bible study or youth meeting, I was there.

In my new faith, I was actually surprised to find out that so many “church kids” were bored, if not altogether disillusioned with the Church.  In some cases this sense of disappointment went beyond the particular faith community and was applied to either the larger church universal, or even the whole Christian faith.  While this was once news to me, it isn’t news to us now, especially for those of you that have fought this battle in your own life.  Though I was once easily frustrated by Church kids who seemed to so easily overlook the good things of their Christian faith, I have now become much more sensitive to their journey.

sad_man1One of the callings of college/young adult ministry is dealing with disillusioned youth.  If you’re going love these kids, this is an inevitable factor in the stages of late adolescence.  Some are still reeling from the consequences of their parents’ divorce.  Some have seen moral failures of Christian leadership.  Some have sat under the leadership of an older generation that makes no effort to cross the generational-culture gap.  

Obviously this list could be longer, and is made up of things which are unfortunate realities in our churches.  We could talk about how to solve those things, which would be a worth while conversation.  However, I’d like to just remind us that the church will always be made up of people, and though we must strive to deal with our issues, there will never be perfection.  We simply can’t solve all of the causes of disillusionment in young people.

A better strategy is to simply not give up on them.  Our job is to remain available for relationship and conversation.  Though their disillusionment will at times be growing into bitterness, we need to remain patient and loving.  It seems that for many students the anger must run its course.  This is especially true when their criticisms are legitimate and well founded (admittedly, some are not).  Yet these criticisms are often unable to cast out all sensitivity to Christ and the Good News.  Thus we need to help them process their disillusionment and once again reveal to them the love of Christ in the midst of human brokenness.  In fact, maturity will hopefully reveal that the reality of Christ’s redeeming Grace amidst the foolishness of human institutions becomes is not only viable, but necessary.

Suddenly, disillusionment may become a path to maturity.  It may just be that for many students the inherent processing of disappointment and anger are a necessary byproduct of the world we live in.  Furthermore, if they must go through it, we can trust that the Holy Spirit can use it for long term transformation and maturity.  However, if that is the faith that we proclaim, we must accept our (the Church’s) role in sanctification.  Trusting that they’ll be better on the other side doesn’t mean waiting passively for it to happen; in fact, it may just prove to be the impetus for our diligent involvement in their lives.

My broken heart

2013-01-30-SuperBowl47logoI’m just now getting to the place where I can openly discuss the heart break from Sunday’s game. As a life-long Forty-Niner fan, I was and am devastated. I woke up in the middle of the night after the game with a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t go back to sleep as I re-lived plays and stewed in the loss of our perfect Super Bowl record. 5-1 just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Then I got to thinking about Colin Kaepernick. If you’re not a football fan, the short of it is that he’s a second year quarterback out of the University of Nevada, Reno. At Nevada, Kaepernick was a stud who broke all kinds of records. He’s really just an amazing all-around athlete who apparently could have even played professional baseball if he’d wanted. Coach Jim Harbaugh controversially replaced starter Alex Smith with Kaepernick after Smith went out mid-season with a concussion. The punchline was that as Smith’s replacement, Kaepernick did extremely well and as you may be aware, took his team to the Super Bowl with two epic post-season performances.

Another important factor: The Super Bowl was only his 10th start in the NFL.

Up till Sunday, this guy seemed to be completely unshakable.  He’d kept his cool during a couple of rough regular season starts and two big post-season games. But on Sunday, for the first time, I saw fear in his eyes. I think that for the first time it seemed like he wasn’t sure and for the first time he felt the weight of circumstance bearing down on him.

Then I got to thinking about how Colin Kaepernick is only 25 years old, how he could be in my young adult ministry and that I know kids just like him (though none of the kids I know have played in the Super Bowl). On some level, what Colin experienced on Sunday was only an aggrandized version of what college students and young adults experience all the time. All of a sudden I realized that this isn’t just about football, this is a life lesson. The weight of those circumstances, the experience of fear and the feeling of defeat will forever shape the athlete, and the man, that Colin will be.

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I then started to wonder what might have happened if the 49ers had won. Don’t misunderstand me, victory is still my preference; but I think the outcome for young Kaepernick is profoundly different. The character formation of humility is important for every young man, many of which are of lesser prestige than Kaepernick’s. Which makes this lesson for him, someone who I truly believe can and will go on to achieve great success in his career, virtually priceless. If he wins that game he is forever the guy who won the biggest football game in the world on his 10th career start. The potential ego-mania of that is endless and could have turned him into a certain kind of person and player for the rest of his life. If he loses it, he has the chance to be something different; and quite possibly something better.

I cannot find it in myself to be glad that they lost.  Still, and maybe only for my own consolation, I am glad that he had this experience. Every young person who faces the challenges and obstacles of their circumstances will eventually be humbled and overwhelmed. This shapes them, changes them, matures them and propels them. And this I think, is good for everyone.

Romans 8, Part 2

erik-eriksonErik was born in Germany to a Jewish mother.  It is thought that he probably took on the last name of his biological father.  However, after he and his mother moved away, she was remarried and he then took on the name of his step-father.  It is also believed that Erik was never completely convinced as to the actual identity of his biological father which became a quest that would take up much of his life and provided tremendous influence for his eventual work in psychology.

The boy was Jewish, though he apparently didn’t look it.  Thus when he interacted with his family’s Jewish community he was often treated like an outsider and when he interacted with his non-jewish community he was treated poorly for being a Jew.  Erik didn’t know where he belonged.

These struggles are important for understanding both Erik’s story and his eventual contributions to psychology.  Not knowing who his father was or what his last name actually should have been in addition to not knowing where he belonged exacerbated a problem that is common to every person.  Specifically, Erik had an identity problem.  Who was he?  Who’s was he?  These are questions we all ask and questions which every person needs to have answers for.

Erik goes on to become one of the most influential people in the world of psychology by shedding light on his own problems: human identity formation.  He spent the rest of his life studying this process in human development, specifically in children and adolescents.  Most of what we now know and use in this field is either directly from his work or is in debt to his work for something.

Erik’s journey isn’t over though.  It is said that even until late in his life he was wrestling with the question of what his last name was supposed to be.  Eventually, Erik changed it to its final form, the name we know him by now: Erikson.  Tranlation: he was Erik, “Son of Erik” or Erik, “Son of myself”.  In the end his identity was not given to him and so he provided it for himself.

Those words should stir deeply in the heart of Christians.  From whom to we get our identity?  Who’s son (or daughter) are we?  To whom do we belong?  Are we meant to provide these things for ourselves or are we to receive them from someone or something else?

Romans 8:15-17

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

We have received a spirit of sonship.  This word can also mean adoption.  We are sons and daughters of the living God.  There is no question of our identity in God’s mind.  We are meant only to journey into that discovering that for ourselves.  Furthermore his Spirit is testifying with our spirit that we are in fact his.  Which means that when we hear or believe otherwise, that thought is not from the Spirit.  The thought which questions God’s absolute Fatherly love for each of us is from somewhere, or someone, else.

who-am-i-There is absolutely no question that young people in all stages of adolescence are dealing with identity formation.  Most psychologists assert that this is something we deal with for the rest of our lives, but that the bulk of identity formation is done when we’re young.

We need to intentionally help students understand how God in fact speaks to their journey in his Word.  God has answered their deepest questions and our role is to point them to it and/or remind them of it!  I don’t think this is a ministry model or another strategy.  It is a journey that they are already on and something that God’s is actively working in them (remember that if they’re in Christ, his Spirit is testifying to their spirit).  We can’t afford to miss this.

As both a warning and an encouragement, there are a couple of things that will hinder our ability to minister to these folks.  The first of which is when we don’t believe this ourselves.  You can’t lead someone down a journey you’ve not been on.  Second, when our churches don’t actually represent this.  Nurturing, grace-filled environments are crucial.

And we didn’t even get into the theological significance of being “heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ”!

This is the second post in a short series I’m doing on the relevance of Romans 8 to college ministry.  You can check out the first one here.

Who are these people?

Who are we dealing with when we generalize college students with terms like “college students” or “young adults”.  Recently our denominational office of young adult ministry was renamed “early adult ministry” (at least that’s what they changed their Facebook name to).  What does the life of an early/young adult look like?  What does the life a college student look like?

I’d like to say that students who are currently attending college are the most homogeneous.  But realistically that may not even be true.  The reality is that in the western world, the life stage of early/young adulthood is incredibly complex.  Just for clarification I’m talking specifically about how their living their life, as opposed to the general life stage characteristics of late-adolescence (which are common to all people, even if heavily effected by our topic here).

At one point the church just called them college/career people.  To some extent this still describes them, although not well.  Personally I do not like that terminology for reasons I’ll spare you from.  Suffice it to say that there are too many options now to be summed up in college or career.  Come to think of it, it would be nice if it were that easy.  A few years ago I was working with a team of volunteers to think critically about this age group in our church.  We came up with something like 15 different possible classifications of a young adult.  Here are a few:

College students (duh)

Junior college students (our church campus is like five blocks from a huge Junior College, and as you probably know, this is totally different from being at a four-year college)

Recent college graduates (most of whom are still working out their direction)

Career People (they just went out and got jobs right after college…interesting that they figured out how to make money without spending it first)

Lazy pot-smoking video game player on his mom’s couch (the kid who literally doesn’t do anything)

The missionaries (these are the students who just keep going on missions.  YWAM, Peace Corps, whatever.)

The graduate student

Young marrieds (they just couldn’t wait!)

Anyway, the list goes on.  Notice that some are bad and some are good.  Most are what you make of them.  Some churches will find themselves in a situation where they can focus on one particular group.  For instance a church in a town with a major 4 year college might focus on 18-22 year old college students from that school.  Though again, while this may narrow your target, there are still sub groups within that school.  My location affords me the diversity of all those listed and a few more.

If there’s a silver bullet to solve this problem, I haven’t found it.  But I’ve found some freedom in recognizing obstacles and trying to address them in whatever ways I can.  What about you, do you find yourself in a context where you can focus or where there is great diversity?