Rob Bell’s “How to be Here”

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I just finished Rob Bell’s book, How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, his book challenging readers to live in the present and make the most of their lives.

Meh.

I have to be honest, I was pretty underwhelmed by it. There was nothing bad about it, but nothing that really made it stand out, either. Rob Bell has been a mixed bag for me in recent years; I have significant disagreements with some of his theology, deeply resonate with other aspects of his teaching, and in general love his gift for communication.

I did appreciate his challenge that regardless of where God has placed you, your life has deep value and significance. He writes, “What you do with your life is fundamentally creative work. The kind of life you lead, what you do with your time, how you spend your energies – it’s all part of how you create your life. All work is ultimately creative work because all of us are taking part in the ongoing creation of the world.” (p.11)

Ultimately, though, while it has moments of strength and some great quotes I highlighted to use later, a lot of it felt somewhat trite. It is a short book; I think it only took me a couple hours or so to read – but it pretends to be longer than it is. Most paragraphs are only a sentence or two, most chapters are only a couple pages … there’s just a lot of white space. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; he’s done that very effectively in other books. But this time it felt a little more forced, like he was trying to stretch it into more than it is. And maybe that’s the frustration I have with it; it’s a solid message, but maybe it should be just a message instead of trying to force it into filling a book. It’s okay. And for the first time in a while, I’m not listing any theological issues to look out for in a Rob Bell book. But there just isn’t a whole to it, either.

 

2018 Winter Retreat Recap

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This past weekend was my tenth (!!!) winter retreat with Brandywine Valley Baptist Church; it was definitely one of the better ones! We had a great time. I actually went into the weekend a little worried; the weather was so mild in the weeks building up to the trip that there was no snow on the ground and the frozen pond … wasn’t frozen enough to play on.

So we changed it up. Saturday morning the group went on a hike to the top of a nearby hill, which they were surprised by how much they loved doing. That afternoon we went to an indoor water park; always a big hit in the middle of winter. Our theme for the weekend was “Run.” We had some fun with the children playing signs in our region that bear a striking resemblance to our intern, Zach, pointing out that they aren’t “no running” signs, but rather, alerts that someone IS running. That for us, those signs are now a reminder that we are running after Christ. We even made stickers and shirts to give out as reminders and prizes, which were a big hit.

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Over the course of the weekend we had three messages; Melissa kicked off the weekend, Pastor Nate spoke Saturday night, and I wrapped it up on Sunday. You can find the messages on our podcast on iTunes, or listen to them with these links:

All in all, it was a really fun weekend. The messages really seemed to flow together and the teens seem to resonate with what they were hearing. It was the largest turnout we have ever had – we literally ran out of beds and maxed the place out! And no injuries! If you want, you can check out the photos on our Facebook page.

Get up!

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There is an incredible, counter-intuitive moment in Joshua 7. Basically, the Israelites were invading the land; God had promised them success as long as they obeyed Him, and things to this point had been going well. Then the day came that they attacked Ai; the Israelites were sent packing. Joshua, and the other leaders, were stunned, and immediately fell on their faces praying to God for help.

Which is what we’re supposed to do in times of crisis, right?

But God’s response was shocking; “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this?” (Joshua 7:10, NLT) God essentially rebukes them for praying! His point? They know the covenant, they know their defeat means there is sin in the camp. The answer was not to simply lay on the ground praying … the answer was to do what they already knew to do: deal with the sin infecting and corrupting their community.

Every time we have another mass shooting and the cycle of “thoughts and prayers,” Facebook debates, media sensationalism, and reassurances that we cannot rush into any emotional decisions but will deal with it when an appropriate amount of time passes … which never seems achievable because there’s always another mass shooting right around the corner, I find myself going back to this passage over and over.

It’s time to get up.

The Bible is full of verses detailing God’s heart for the innocent, those who cannot defend themselves, and the responsibility of those who have the ability to do something. It is also full of instructions to those who claim to follow God regarding our responsibility to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. In God’s economy, sometimes it is far better to give up something I feel I deserve for the sake of others. I relinquish my preferences out of love for those around me.

We know what is causing death in our community. We know what needs to change; prayers are good and important, but they cannot be an excuse to avoid taking action. Just like Joshua needed to get off his knees and do what he knew needed to be done, we need to move as well.

4 Views On Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers review

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The Youth Cartel‘s recent release, 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers, is critical reading for anyone connected to youth ministry. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. When they first announced it as an upcoming book, I assumed it would be like most contrasting views books; a debate on whether or not youth ministry should minister to LGBTQ teens. I was wrong; this book assumes that as people created in the image of God, every church has a divine calling to minister to LGBTQ teens. This book is not a theological debate, rather, it is a presentation of a range of approaches to practical ministry with young people.

Given that premise, I had another assumption. Noticing a pattern? I assumed it would be four liberal/progressive authors presenting their approaches with little to no connection to the culture and context of my church. I was so wrong. Mark Oestreicher did an incredible job of assembling a group of authors from significantly different church contexts, each with drive to minister to LGBTQ teens, but in very different ways, shaped dramatically by their church cultures.

A central theme to the book is this; “if we say we are all made in the image of God – the Imago Dei – then we must affirm that LGBTQ individuals are also made in the image of God” (p.17). Each of the authors are united in the calling to minister to all young people, regardless of labels; what was fascinating to see them each present their approaches, as well as push back on one another  in areas of disagreement. One author comes from a point of view of full inclusion and equality, another writes, “even though we may not agree with their sexual behaviors or what many in the church would call lifestyle choices, we can still offer love and extend grace” (p.76). What would seem such conflicting theologies, and did result in some thought provoking rebuttals in their responses to one another, was still incredibly exciting to see because each of these ministries were being proactive and intentional in their love and ministry to a community typically rejected or ignored by the church at large.

The format was simple; each author (Shelley Donaldson, Gemma Dunning, Nick Elio, Eric Woods) presented a personal story that shaped and challenged them, followed by their theology and ministry framework, and concluded with a description of how they applied that practically in their ministries. Each of the four views are followed by one response from one of the other authors, highlighting areas of agreement, concern, and even outright disagreement. The book concludes with two appendixes on ministry to transgender teens (Mark Oestricher, Audrua Welch Malvaez); the first from the parent of a transgender teen, the second from the perspective of pastoring transgender teens. For me, perhaps one of the most convicting and powerful quotes came from Oestricher in his appendix, “Thoughts from a Parent of a Transgender Teen.” He was answering the question of what he needed as a parent, and it was simple; “to know that you still want my kid here, even if they don’t fit your idea of the ideal youth ministry kid. I want you to celebrate all that is good and beautiful and true about my child and my relationship with my child” (p.122).

So, to sum up; this book is a must read. It’s not huge; at just under 140 pages, it is not overwhelming. For me, as a youth pastor, I felt like it was the first time I was reading something that gave actual direction on possible approaches to ministry instead of just theological arguments. It’s a risky book to write in our American church climate; I wonder if there aren’t more resources out there like this one because of fear? I may have drained the ink in my highlighter as I was reading; there is something marked on just about every page of my copy. It’s well written, from significantly different ministry theological and practical climates, and it is a significant contribution to the youth ministry world.

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Time for Something New

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Yeah, this picture has nothing to do with anything other than to remind the world that my brother and I were a couple of rad go-kart experts in the 80’s.

But on to something new … I’m in the process of overhauling my blog. Deleting some things, adding some other things, rethinking what my goals for it are … all sorts of good stuff.

I also switched hosting providers; I made the switch from a GoDaddy hosted WordPress blog to doing it all through WordPress. It makes things simpler, but it also means that I’m changing up the theme and appearance as well, and still waiting for some of my domain transfer stuff to finish processing.

Ultimately, my blog has served different purposes over the years. I’ve been using doing platforms to blog for close to twenty years now. Sheesh. At first it was my nerdy outlet for video game reviews, thoughts on the latest sci-fi movies and books, and documenting pranks. Later it became less about that and a lot more about my experiences with NBC’s Biggest Loser. Gradually it became a mix of family stuff, Biggest Loser thoughts, and youth ministry reflections. At this point, I find myself documenting family photos and memories more through social media and enjoying writing about ministry; what I’m learning, what I’m reading, and what I’m processing.

Anyway, just a random post to explain why my blog looks different … and might be having some glitches for a few days because of domain transfers and all that good stuff (supposedly should be finished processing in another day or two).

Nonverbal Communication with Adolescents

teenagernotcrazyDid you know that 93% of communication is nonverbal?* A large percentage of that nonverbal communication comes through facial and tone of voice cues. What is surprising, however, is just how different the level of ability is in interpreting these nonverbal cues are when comparing adults and adolescents. Further, it probably explains a significant amount of the misunderstanding that can and does happen between adolescents and their parents.

At this point, it’s probably clear that I am a fan of Dr. Jeremy Clark and Jerusha Clark’s book, “Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent”. I blogged a review about it here, and then a follow up post on some of the neurobiology research they were exploring here. In their chapter entitled, “Why are you looking at me like that?,” they explore this topic of nonverbal cues and what the latest research is showing us about it.

Citing research from Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, they pointed out that while adults have a 90-100% success rate in interpreting the emotions and tone behind facial expressions and other nonverbal cues, adolescents only decipher them correctly about 50% of the time (Kindle location 1389).  Essentially, what the research shows is that adults interpret these cues by using the part of their brain where decision making and executive functions happen (the prefrontal cortex), while adolescents use the region of the brain where emotions are the dominating factor (the limbic system).

Where this is helpful for parents is in thinking through how we communicate with our adolescents. We cannot just assume they recognize the emotions or intent behind our words; 93% of communication is nonverbal, and teens misinterpret those cues half the time, which means they genuinely misunderstand us potentially almost half the time. We can’t change that; it’s biology. Their brains do not finish developing until around age 25. Instead, the Clarks recommend naming our emotions calmly. Let them know when you’re confused, worried, upset, etc., don’t just assume they know what you’re feeling when other adults would understand.

All that to say, if you’re a parent of kids of any age, or someone that works with young people. Get the book. It’s fascinating!

*All percentages and information in this post are drawn from the Clark’s book.