Our Seminary Retreat with Andy Crouch

This weekend, our Biblical Seminary retreat will have a fantastic guest speaker, Andy Crouch. Because I know people who know stuff, I’ve been familiar with Andy’s work for a little while.  He also writes for a small independent spiritual journal called Christianity Today.  (It’s ok, if you haven’t heard of it).

Andy is the author of the highly acclaimed book Culture Making.  If you are familiar with Andy’s work (like at the Q Conference, his articles, or seen his small group curriculum Where Faith & Culture Meet), you know some of the premise of the book.  If you’re new to Andy and engaged in the culture conversation (and bothered by some of Christian music/movies/art/general outlook of culture) you’ve probably even said very similar things while drinking non-corporate, free-trade coffee with your intelligent friend who loves literature and gardening.  However, the book is the other 200 pages of well-written thought that your refill probably didn’t cover.  

Anyway, I find myself in a good place in life right now.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve been so proud of places like my denomination for bringing Dave Kinnaman (from UnChristian) and organizations like Youth Specialites for bringing in speakers like Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Tom Sine, and Scot McKnight for the National Youth Workers Convention.  I’ve really had amazing opportunitues to hear some incredible speakers/thinkers.  So if I have to be away from my beautiful wife and son, then I am thrilled that Biblical Seminary has invited Andy am looking forward to hanging out with my cohort friends.

Francis Chan at #NYWC in Pittsburgh

 Youth Specialties Pittsburgh – General Session 3 – Francis Chan – Post 5

Francis Chan was the speaker for General Session 3.  He’s a great speaker, great energy, all that you would expect from a gen. session speaker.  Honesty, I wasn’t sure about him since I heard a particular podcast that kinda … hmm … not sure what the word is here but I wasn’t feeling him.  Glad we don’t finalize our impressions from one interview or something though.

Anyway, I connected with this message.  Loved that he spoke about the complexities of parables.  Reminding us that Jesus actually wanted people to work and struggle through their meanings.  They were for those who wanted to know and wanted to be his disciples. 

I am lost as a listener every time someone says something to the effect of “It’s easy, we just need to GO!!” or “the Gospel isn’t rocket science”.  It’s actually harder then rocket science.  Anyway, Francis didn’t do that.

One of his main points was, “We as youth pastors do so many things different than Jesus.”  I’ve always tried do to the alternative youth ministry thing but even there, I find myself doing things that Jesus might consider unnecessary.   

He also said: In reaching our students we overestimate the importance of attendance.  To the point that when kids leave, we beg for them to come back, offer pizza, prizes.  Jesus let the crowds leave for the effect of his message.

On Salt:  “Jesus talking about salt and its use.  He says that some of you are “flavorless salt” that has not use.  It’s not enough good enough to be used as manure.”

Jesus was saying, “You are ruining crap”. 

He used a fun illustration of adding  a big pile of flavorless salt to small packet’s size worth of salt.  Who adds flavorless salt to real salt?  Why would you do that?  Ohhh, because we like to have bigger piles, bigger crowds, bigger attendance etc. 

We can build our congregations, we can get people to come front. He joked how he has a story that gets people to come down every time.  True, true. 

But what we need is something super-natural.  We need life change. 

He spoke about Elijah as a man just like him.  Fire can come down from heaven but it’s the work of God not of ours. 

“It will be hard but we must teach and lead like Jesus.”  

Monday Morning Brief – November 17

Highlight of the Week:  Nathan crawling and thus the three of us shopping for more baby friendly furniture at IKEA; seeing Andy Zipf perform at Ninety Six West, great music, great guy, listen here; had a great time hanging out with the Turrners, Currys, Youseffs, and some of my church friends; grateful for our Sr. Pastor Installation Service yesterday; enjoying touring Yankee Stadium, sat in the dugout, stood in locker-room, pressbox, that was cool.  Yeah, it’s been a good week. 

Listening to:  Bob Dylan Tell Tale Signs:  The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, Fermi Project Podcasts this week. 

Reading:  The Psalms, Old Testament Parallels, by Victor H. Matthews and Don Benjamin, and Exploring the Old Testament A Guide to the Psalms and Wisdom Literature by Ernest Lucas.  perused Saving Darwin:  How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl Giberson (Should see him in a discussion tonight with Michael Shermer from Skeptic magazine).  Just started reading Culture Making by Andy Crouch.

Watched: The new Nooma video, Tomato.  Like all of them, produced well, shot well, Rob’s great, but this one didn’t pop for me (like say Breathe, or Rhythm, or Luggage or Rain or …).  There’s devil guy chasing people around – he’s the best part.  Thought it was clever and it worked for the video.  Rob is right on in dealing with identity, life, unconditional love – all good but I already feel this is what we’ve been saying for quite a while now (that’s not bad and I know there’s nothing new under the sun but this is just a brief review of  a movie short called Tomato).  So I didn’t love it but will show it.  Maybe it will connect with me more after I watch a few times or maybe someone I show it to will connect with it. 

Looking forward to: our seminary retreat with Andy Crouch, reading what Tony Jones will be saying regarding the complicated topic of homosexuality.  I admire his courage as I am working my way through this issue and others. 

Procrastinating on:  aside from pretty much everything, planning on our mission trip.  So far, we are going to DC/LA then off to a mission trip to Latin America.   Options include, Belize, Bahamas, and Mexico.  

Reflecting on Marko's words from #NYWC in Pittsburgh

Mark Ostreicher, National Youth Workers Convention – Youth Specialties – Pittsburgh – 11.3.08


I appreciate Mark Ostreicher from YS.  I really do. For many reasons but I don’t feel like listing them.  But I’m glad that he’s the president of YS.  And being president and hosting the YS event, I appreciate that he took the last session on Monday morning when so many attendees have already left. Most presidents of organizations take the best attended session to celebrate their position and their egos but in the tradition of Mike Yaconelli and Tic Long, this is a humble expression that I appreciate.

So there we are Monday morning and Marko was rewinding the events and themes of the conference and said that he felt that he should get rid of what he was planning to say.  I do that too.  Like when I have nothing, or when I know what I have is garbage, I too pull an Eli Manning and change the play at the line.  (Just kidding, Marko has too good of a mind to pull off lame speaker antics).


He told us that he thought he had the pinnacle of youth minisry with this “Back to School” Bash even that brought thousands of kids out.  He would walk around and ask people, “Did you see that?  God was truly working!”  Later on, he realied that in all the years of bumping into former students and reconnecting through facebook, none fo them ever said, “That event changed my life”.


That’s usually my argument against Christian t-shrts and bumper stickers but I appreciated Marko using it to describe events.  Because although I rarely thrown these types of events where I rent out an amusement park, I do take some pride in the events we do. 


He mentioned a couple of things that he felt were more worthwhile and they were things like the communion he enjoyed with his house church.  They had great meals together, they would enjoy the quietness together, share, pray, etc. 


It was void of great size but deep with community and mission.  Then he said, “Small is the value in the kingdom of God.”.   Here’s some more

it’s simple in its dna and structure

            beautiful and simple presence of Jesus moving into the world

            present, not distracted.

            it’s always changing, it cannot be packaged


            It’s fluid because the gospel is not an idea, it’s the person of Christ.

            Christ is the midst already present,            

            We can’t conjure it up with slight of hand and amazing programming. 

But we are the equipment.  (not the youth room etc.) bc what we have is Christ the hope of glory – this is the gospel that we bring to our kids. 

            The stuff that you thought you needed is a deterrent to youth ministry.


I love this idea for so many reasons.  One, it celebrates all that are in youth ministry.  Most conferences dangle the carrot of numbers and status in front of you forgeting the fact that many would routinely walk away from Jesus and he spent a great deal of his time in smaller numbers.  Second, while there is a place for signage, promotion and the pursuit of better resources, it is not in the place of the heart of the Gospel.  This is something we can all buy into and it’s nice to hear it from a guy like Marko.


I’ll  end this post by using his closing “May you deeply blessed as you remember the real gospel in your soul.”

Reflecting on Pete Rollins’ Idea of the "Third Person"

I mentioned in my previous post about the Mid-Atlantic Conference in Philly that I liked this illustration:

“(Pete) used this story (that will not work in youth group) about an average guy stranded on a beach with a beautiful woman.  He hits on her with great persistence and finally she gives in and they sleep together.  In the morning, he asks her to put on a mustache  and a ball cap and meet him on the beach that afternoon.  Initially she objects, he persists, she shows up with the fake mustache and ball cap.  He then tells his friend, “You never would have believed who I slept with last night – this beautiful woman …”  the point being he needed a buddy to justify the experience.  For some, that third person is God (or our abstract idea of what we think is God).”

This illustration was in a context of not knowing what you are really looking for even though you think  you do.  So, when you are looking to date someone you never find the right person, because that person does not exist.  It’s not until you are not looking that you find the right one. 

So Pete used this illustration that cracked me up and I’m still thinking about it.  Does God really count as a “third person”?  The simple and easy answer is yes and that’s why the illustration works. 

In light of all the discussions of the god(s) that is/are created and even Rob Bell’s the gods aren’t angry, I have an understanding on this idea but what bugs me is that many times, for me, “God” (or the idea of God) makes a horrible third person to validate (or justify as Pete said) the experience.  To me the illustration implies the third person is needed to almost wake up the guy so he doesn’t think he’s dead or still dreaming or congratulate him (to complete the experience as Pete says) but God doesn’t really do any of that.  In fact, many times, quite the opposite.  I cannot help but think that many times our experiences with God continue pushing us to keep looking for the third person.  (Maybe this is why we have these celebrity type senior pastors who are larger then life but they are needed to validate the experience.)

I think I understand what Pete is saying.  Like if we are praying for the health of a loved one’s health, we would only be wishful thinking or talking to ourselves if we didn’t believe in God (or the third person). But I couldn’t help but include the aforementioned in my thoughts.

Anyway, no illustration is obviously perfect but this has occupied my mind the past couple days.  Does God make a good “Third Person”?  What do you think?

Emergent Mid-Atlantic Conference with Pete Rollins and John Franke

Had the Phillies not won the World Series this season, I would have said that this was the best day Philadelphia had this year.  The Emergent Mid-Atlantic Conference at the Church of the Holy Trinity with

Peter Rollins and John Franke was fantastic.  Pete gives quite a performance.  He speaks pretty fast in a thick Irish accent, uses his hands, quotes everyone from Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, uses parables, recites stories, employs hyperbole, and chugs coffee. 

It was great to have John Franke there to share from his perspective and to hear the two of them dialogue with each other.  You can listen to all the audio here (Thanks Scott).  

To keep it short, I’m sacrificing context – here are my highlights/questions/etc.:

– Loved the idea of the “Third Person” that is needed to justify an experience.  He used this story (that will not work in youth group) about an average guy stranded on a beach with a beautiful woman.  He hits on her with great persistence and finally she gives in and they sleep together.  In the morning, he asks her to put on a mustache  and a ball cap and meet him on the beach that afternoon.  Initially she objects, he persists, she shows up with the fake mustache and ball cap.  He then tells his friend, “You never would have believed who I slept with last night – this beautiful woman …”  the point being he needed a buddy to justify the experience.  For some, that third person is God (or our abstract idea of what we think is God).

– “… God becomes the crutch to save us from the abyss”

– paraphrase –  “(for some) we need a God to save us from fears, insecurities …. In this way, God is only an aid that leads us to practical atheism”.

– He told a story about a man who said to his neighbor that someone needed to help this poor family.  The father was just laid off, the mother was ill, the children were hungry, and the landlord was about to evict them.  The neighbor responded, “Oh that’s terrible.  How do you know them?”  The other replied, “I’m the landlord!”.  This story pointed at the disconnect between the Church’s concern with no practical application.

– He spoke about the importance of belonging over belief.  This one gave me trouble til he clarified that it was post-conversion. 

– Christianity draws a circle but the faithful Christian goes outside the circle and embraces the excluded. – This is another example of the fidelity of betrayal.

– Every time we create a god, we create a bigger/better image of ourselves. 

– Numerous examples from IKON:

       – In such deep conversation with someone that you do not even know their eye color because the                     conversation is so imtimate that you cannot even remember the external. 

      – IKON tries to encourage its people to see its community as a doughnut.  There is nothing in the center          (no pastoral authority/presence), only the person next to you.  So if the person next to you, doesn’t              care, no one is there to help you.  This encourages that each support the other bc no one else is                  going to do it.

– John Franke:

– As Christians, we must speak of God but we are human and cannot.  We must acknowledge our obligation and responsibility in that very way we give glory to God.  (I think it was a Barth quote).

– Barth – to speak about God as God knows Himself to be. 

– John shared on the obligations we have to carry the gospel (we are ambassadors)

– We must neither contradict or cohere for they don’t negate the other.

– It’s a manifold witness.

– Example of four Gospels instead of one.  There is a plurality. 

– We as the people of God to go out to the world by the power of the Holy Spirit…

As mentioned, it really was a great day.  I’ve expressed gratitude in other posts but I look forward for Thomas to send us next year’s email.

Monday Morning Brief – November 10

Highlight of the Week – Emergent Mid-Atlantic Conference with Pete Rollins and John Franke at the Holy Trinity Church in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.  This went really well and am grateful for Thomas, Scott, Todd,  Charlie and the many friends like Evan and Derek Cooper who supported the time.  It was fun and meaningful.  It’s sorta like youth group for the philosophy/theology kids.  Where youth group need dodge ball, these nerds need coffee (thanks One Village Coffee). 

Then there was the time with Pete.  Loved what he said at the conference, appreciated the  personal time, thrilled that he stayed over our house (put the unwashed pillow case on ebay.  Expecting Evan to bid high).  He worshipped at our church (he thought our pastor preaches well.  The sermon was on giving). 

I plan on blogging about it all … in 2009.

Grateful for – 1. Gary Schnittjer’s class on Conquest to Christ.  I learned a great deal.  2. A solid youth group meeting last week. You can’t gauge how you feel from week to week in a youth group (if you plan on having a healthy state of mind) but it was one of our better times together.  Also grateful for our new senior pastor.

Looking forward to –  Spending some time at home.  Though I have a had a great time traveling around and enjoying conferences and events, I am looking forward to being home for a little while.  Baby Nathan has early signs of his first real cold.  More exciting, he’s learning how to crawl.  

Tony Jones at Youth Specialties – General Session – 11.2.08

First, it’s about time Tony speaks at the General Session at YS’s National Youth Workers Convention.  Because the world tends to revolve around me, I did literally write in last year’s eval that Tony should be a given  a general session.  (I’m sure YS would have come up with this had I not written that since I’m pretty sure those evals head straight for recycling but it’s a great ploy in making attendees feel heard – lol.)

After a warm introduction from Marko, there was the Church Basement Road Show thing with Doug Pagitt and Mark Scadrette (who makes a hilarious preacher-type and in real life is the author of Soul Graffiti – Making a Life in the Way of Jesus).  After that, Tony began speaking …. lol– just kidding.  I, for one enjoyed the CBRS and couldn’t stop laughing, especially at Doug.  How one of the most brilliant minds that you’ll ever meet got roped into this is either a great sign of friendship or there is some Josey-Bass statistic out there that has an irrefutable link to dressing up like a 20th century traveling southern evangelist and selling thousands of copies of A Christianity Worth Believing. 

On Tony’s new belief.net blog, he wrote that he was afraid that some people didn’t get it. He and his friends are in good company for a lot of people didn’t understand the parables of Jesus and a lot of men don’t understand women and a lot of us don’t understand Sigur Rios but love them all anyway.  Perhaps some didn’t get it but for all the times I’ve had to listen to a Josh McDowell type, I appreciate YS considering those like me. 

After the Tony & Trucker Frank clip (which is brilliant), Tony shared a little about his journey, his faith and the nature of truth.  If you know Tony, you know that he’s well-educated, brilliant, and never got the memo that  you don’t have to talk to people after you speak.  He probably doesn’t know that because he was a youth pastor for 20 years (source: Marko) and as many of you know, after you just spent 25 minutes sharing the most profound truth humankind has ever known, you are talking to 10th graders about LeBron, Brittany, and the big Algebra test.   Seriously, Tony as well as many of his friends, are among the most accessible to have conversation with you.

Tony talked about his life starting in his senior year of  high school about a letter that his youth pastor made him write to himself that was sent during his freshmen year at Dartmouth  It was a helpful reminder of the presence of Christ in his life.  He shared about his college bible study experience (this story is in his excellent book, The New Christians – you should read it), his Fuller Seminary experience, his studies in philosophy and learning how to understand the great German theologians … in German.  This story transitioned into the importance of living out the Gospel relationally while he lived in a poor part of South Dakota in the Indian reservations.  If there’s something wrong with Tony, it’s that he speaks better of his time living in South Dakota then he does about his experience in New Jersey (he studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently finishing up his doctorate).

Then the scary part, that wasn’t that scary … unless you are addicted to you pre-conceived notions and couldn’t wait to pick on something.  Tony talked about the nature of truth.  What he said was extremely appropriate for a YS General Session and from my seat, I hoped it stirred people’s appetites.  He said that truth walked with Adam & Eve, wrestled with Jacob, was in a cloud leading the Israelites and that truth was born as a man and had foot fungus and bowel movements and about the profound nature of Christ.  “It’s truth with dirt under its fingerails.  That’s our truth.”  

Reminding everyone that it we couldn’t reduce it all to passages or theologies. It was almost a Pauline moment, “If anyone has right to boast …”.  He asked us youthworkers to remember that it’s worth being locked in a YMCA with junior highers, and be underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated.   But it was well worth it to “bask in the knowledge” share the truth with our young people. 

I am a fan and a friend of Tony and as a brother in the Lord was proud of his time.  Toward the end of 2003, it was books like Postmodern Youth Ministry and McLaren’s New Kind of Christians that w

ere very helpful for me like many others.   It would be typical to end the story that people rushed the stage for his blessing upon them but he ended up announcing that he was going to play the Jesus Road show song to open up the Crowder set which launched everyone out of their seats to the main stage.  So typical of Christians to rush past the challenging stuff to get to the good and comfortable stuff (I love Crowder too, don’t miss my point).

For many this was a great starting point.  And For people like me who are barely two steps ahead in this part of the journey, it was more than a good moment but a necessary one. I need to see organizations like YS encourage this part of the conversation.  I don’t need everyone to be emergent.  Not needed at all but what I would appreciate is that before people attack the conversation and the people that are having the conversation to know the conversation and to participate in it.


Monday Morning Brief on Tuesday Night (YS and Election Day Edition) #nywc

Pardon the delay but I hope to compensate by making it a … DOUBLE FEATURE!


Highlight of the Week not related to YS:  Happy for my Philly friends like Evan who now know how good it feels for your team to win the World Series.  Though tired of election hype, glad I have the privilege of voting.

Other Highlights Include:  I am not always a fan of the General Sessions at YS for several reasons.  Among them is because I usually don’t like the popular and for me, I’ve gained much from the lowly seminar speaker.  However, this year General Sessions in Pittsburgh were fantastic.  No joke.  Phyllis Tickle at General Session was a brilliant experience and thought Tony Jones did a great job talking about many things.  Among which was his journey and the nature of truth.  Also appreciated the Trucker Frank clip.  What’s the Church to do with souls like him?

Namedrop of the Week:  Hanging out with Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.  It was awesome, I got on both their nerves with all my questions.  Truth be told, even after traveling from early in the morning, to speaking all day, these guys are always willing to converse.  You may not like their theology (if you’re lame and narrow-minded – kidding, kidding) but they are good people and I wish that was more appreciated. 

Tried to compliment Phyllis Tickle after she spoke but YS Secret Service agent Tony Myles tackled me.  (Kidding.  She may be older, but she left pretty quickly.)

Laughed at:  Listening to Demetri Martin on the way to Pittsburgh.  Always appreciate the Skit Guys (or the funny skit guy) and died laughing at Mark Yaconelli going disco crazy at the end of his general session.   Church Basement Road Show was funny too.  Can’t believe Pagitt plays the trombone so well – he’s so talented.  The new Ben Folds cd is hilarious.

Listening to:  The new Ben Folds album, Way To Normal.  Not for the easily offended (also has parental explicit warning.  I’m a dad now so it’s ok). 

Discouragements of the week:  1.  Both fantasy football teams lost.  One was a heartbreaker.  2.  Had a meeting that I didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.  Though I believe that good will result, I didn’t like the meeting. 

Something That Broke My Heart:  When Evan told us he lost was let go from his job due to budget cuts. Supposedly it was a Presbyterian Church but as I mentioned in an email to him that I didn’t think they were exhibited that infamous “Perseverance of the Saints” thing.

Youth Ministry Update:  Doing Ecclesiastes in Sunday School.  Starting new series tomorrow called “The Letdown – Dealing with Disappointment”.  Trying to make final decision on mission trip this summer.


I think I like but I’m not sure if I am supposed to:  Gas being cheap(er).  Wheels falling off the economy or those prayers at the gas pump are working?


Really Didn’t Like:  The way some of my Christian brothers and sisters spoke about the election, the candidates they preferred and didn’t prefer.   I got tired of hearing how awful McCain was.  I was angered at the comment that Obama was evil and was the antichrist.  (No joke – heard this from people I respect).  Got tired of hearing how amazing Obama is.  He’s just a man and this should remind us of how many felt during the beginning of W’s first term.  Things change. 


Still Really, Really Loathing:  Dobson’s letter from 2012.  If Luther’s 95 Theses was one of the greatest moments of Protestantism, then Dobson’s letter was the lowest and meanest kick to the crotch.  Going to my church library and burning all the copies of Life on the Edge.


Proud Moments in my Consumerism: When I received my friends’ books:  Brian Chidester’s Pop Surf Culture and Derek Cooper’s So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary: An Insider’s Guide.

Looking Forward To:  Emergent MidAtlantic Conference with Peter Rollins, John Franke and my friends.   

Brief Monday Morning Brief

I’ll update this later but I hate giving the monday brief on tuesday.  

Highlight of the week:  Nathan turned six months old yesterday.  He threw up on me as a symbolic act of thanking me from the depths of his soul.  “Here, this nutrition that my tiny body desperately needs, I give to you as homage”.  Also, the Emergent Reclaiming Paul Conference.  Met some great people, pondered some worthy things, and inspired to change and apply some things.  

Namedrop of the week:  Sitting next to my new friend Doug Pagitt (and Don Heatley) trading notes on how we prepare our sermons.  I think I really helped them out.

Embarrassment of the week:  Did anyone know the Pagitt wrote some books???  (I’m not the only one, I think one of his friends forgot the the title at the RC Conf.).  Just kidding, of course, I knew, I own them all! They’re sitting right next to the 300 other books I haven’t read like Imaginative Leadership, Great Emergence, Finding Our Way, Culture Making

Looking forward to: Seeing Coldplay tonight with my wife!  Appreciate our friends who are babysitting for us. We think they are doing us a favor, they think we are doing them a favor by letting them.  Boy are they in for a surprise.

Disappointment of the week:  When I thought I checked in my textbook with my suitcase on my return flight to Philly.  But then they lost my luggage. But then I got it but the book wasn’t there.  Could the luggage handlers have stolen it?  Then I realized I forgot my textbook at the hotel in Kansas City.  So I called and asked and she remembered because I gave a generous tip.  (Imagine if I didn’t, it would be on ebay).  So I gave them my fedex number and thought the problem was solved.  But then they said they can’t send it for a few days – what???   Truth be told, if this is the worst thing that happened to me to this week, things are pretty good.

The real disappointment of the week – I’ll put up links later but James Dobson letter that Thomas pointed out is ridiculous.  Evan blogged about it too.  If I have to spend eternity with Dobson then I hope he has to stand on the other side of the galactic heavenly choir loft … on his head.  (And I hope Obama is standing next to him and McCain is singing off-key from behind.  We talk about our Platonic views of heaven, this one reminds of a Frank & Ernest comic.

Just realized:  The Phillies are in the World Series.  Hockey Started.