The Value of Life.

38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'" 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

It's pretty rare for me to venture into the world of politics on this blog. In fact, I even found myself in a bit of trouble a few weeks ago raising a question about the role of church leaders in politics on twitter. But hear me out...

Apparently today Vice President Cheney went on Fox and had a bit of a tiff about President Obama's (or rather, the administration's) decision to investigate those people involved in the interrogation of suspected terrorist suspects. For a point of reference, the articles I was reading can be found here, here, and here.

I'm not even really interested in the politics behind this argument. Even as I find myself sliding slightly to the left on some political issues, I would agree that an investigation of this sort surely has some sort of political motivation. More than anything I would imagine this has something to do with a sense of timing. Democrats haven't been doing such a hot job of explaining why their health care overhauls are important, and so it might behoove them to put the Republicans on defense. I get that.

What I didn't get a sense of in any of these articles (and perhaps I should try to find the video online of the original interview) was any kind of remorse for the horrible situation that such interrogations were in the first place.

"It's clearly a political move. There's no other rationale for why they're doing this."

I think that there could be a few reasons for investigating the devaluing of a human life. This is essentially what such interrogation techniques do, they strip a person of their humanity. When we put someone in a situation where we are in control of their feelings of drowning, we show them that we are more powerful than they, and they become less human. When we dress everyone in the exact same orange jump suit with black hoods over their heads, we rob them a little more of their humanity. And really, no matter what side of the political spectrum you find yourself, you probably agree with this. What separates us as a nation is that about half of us think robing people of their humanity is a terrible crime, while the other (rightfully so I might add) thinks that such techniques force people to give us information. But again, one could hardly argue that our actions did not rob people of their humanity at least a little.

And now we arrive at the real problem.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b]and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

The scriptures (particularly this one in Genesis 1) indicate that our humanity actually holds a pretty tight connection with God. Our humanity is the imprint of the Divine, His all powerful signature in our lives. When we strip someone of their humanity, we both refuse to recognize God's presence in that person's life, and as well we act in direct rebellion to God and his creation. Whether we like it or not, God created all of us, even the people we call our enemies.

Which becomes an obvious defense of those who agree with such methods of questioning. I would venture a guess that a majority of those who find themselves in our camps and prisons aren't saints. They want to hurt us and our way of life, and in that sense are our enemies. I get that too. But I would again refer you to the scripture above. Jesus is VERY specific about how we should handle and relate to our enemies.

I'm also drawn to the story of King David. David absolutely had his enemies, but at every turn he treats them with as much respect as he can muster. For instance when David rose to the throne, he had all the authority and cultural support in the world to track down and persecute everyone who was out to kill him before. This of course would include everyone who was in King Saul's family. Which is what makes this scripture so phenomenal:

6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.
David said, "Mephibosheth!"
"Your servant," he replied.

7 "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table."

8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?"

David is unwilling to take things too far. He's unwilling to push someone to their limits just to exert his power over them. Above all, it seems as though David understood that people's humanity was to be cherished.

One of the reasons I try my best to steer clear of the political world is because it often has very few practical implications for our day to day lives. We could have debates back and forth on this blog in the comments section about what we believe, how we view the situation, what we think should be done. And then we will wake up tomorrow morning and everything will be exactly the same. Our influence doesn't reach very far I'm afraid (at least not on this blog).

So I would ask us how we rob each other of our humanity? I was incredibly guilty of this today when I was out driving. The people operating the vehicles around me were no longer people, they were morons driving stupidly (by the by, if you were someone being tailed by a green jeep compass today, I am so sorry). How are we robbing people of their humanity in our day to day life, and how can we remedy that situation?

That said, I'm certain there are people out there who would love to comment on this post and debate the politics with me. That's fine, and I'm all for having a little bit of fun. Just two rules: that we treat each other with respect, and that our opinions be backed up with scriptures (obviously the more you use, the more validity your argument has!)

And may God bless us all, even the people with whom we disagree.



Thoughts about Worship.

Greetings friends!
I've been kind of been absent from the blog lately, and I apologize for that. I could make up some kind of excuse about my lappy hard drive crashing, but really I had checked out long before that.

The truth is, we've been crazy busy these last few weeks. Our kick off on Wednesday was probably one of the most brilliant youth ministry experiences I've had in a long time. The day after that, our new sound system came into the church (FINALLLLLLYYYYYYY!!!!!), and was them promptly delayed again. Each of these events are deserving of their own blog post, so keep your eyes peeled for those in the near future.

But today, I want to talk about worship.

It's difficult when you're a half youth pastor and half worship leader to keep everything straight. I made the set list for Sunday sometime on Thursday evening. To pull my fingernails down the chalkboard a little bit more for the more professional worship leaders, I made the list before I had a chance to talk to Ed about what his sermon would be about. We didn't have time to get the band together and rehearse. Basically, everything you've ever been taught about creating flow in a worship service was completely chucked out the window. It was just me making the setlist on my own, and hoping for the best.

My best was nowhere near as good as worship was this morning.

There's really no substance to that statement. Sure the band was clicking together. Sure we took a new song for a test drive to a receptive audience. Sure that receptive audience even danced around a little bit (which in other churches might not be that big of a deal, but holy cow we're Presbyterian!). But I think all in all, when you ask people around the room what was going on, they would tell you that God's Spirit had an agenda, and the whole worship team (which, by the by, I think more and more should include the speakers, prayers, scripture readers, and drama folks, don't you?) was not afraid to let it do it's thing. So often we have our own agendas and our own dreams and our own "wouldn't it be cool if"...but that's not the Spirits. What does it look like to truly get out of the way?

I'll tell you what it looks like. It's stinking awesome.

More tonight. I really want to get back in the habit here!



While we're updating...

Hello friends.
I'm fixin up my computer after a pretty severe hard drive crash. This thing is so much faster now!
In the meantime, I wanted to post this video. Philis Tickle is pretty much the bomb, and I think this video presents some pretty interesting food for thought. I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Making the BIG seem small.


Hello friends.
When I first got here to Westminster, we had about 10-15 kids showing up on a typical Wednesday night. This was wonderful! I came from a youth group where 15 was a big deal, and while we don't want to play the numbers game too much, there is something to be said for critical mass. We all fit quite comfortably in the youth room, gathered together for worship or a talk or prayer time or whatever we were up to, we did it all together. And it was good.

Fast forward two years. It's move up night, and now Ed and I are standing in front of the group of about 25 waiting for the new 7th graders to make their way up the hall. I think our jaws officially hit the floor when we realized that 20 more kids were joining us that evening, bringing our total up to 45. It hasn't really left yet.

I am completely aware that there are groups that are WAY bigger than that around town. I'm not in any way bragging about our numbers. In fact, I actually consider them both the blessing and the curse. Sure, on the surface they make us feel good about the ministry that's going on. Obviously if 45 kids are showing up every week, we must be doing something right! But we kind of lost that sense of cozy conversation that we had in the early days.

My hope today is to remedy that feeling without shrinking the group. We've been planning for the last couple of months to do a small group initiative, to break down the whole group into smaller groups at least once a month. But the hope would be to foster relationships on a much deeper level, perhaps even participating in outside trips or activities. And so today will be consumed with meetings that I actually plan to enjoy (a rarity!) I'll be hanging out with the last two potential small group leaders. If nothing else, I'm super pumped that we formed a game plan back in May, and we're still on it in August!

How about the rest of you out there? How do you take big things and make them feel small? Do you have a small group program? What has worked and what hasn't? Feel free to chime in below!



Wrecking Ball


Ahh, Twitter. I saw your ugly side today. It does not flatter you.

A prominent worship leader was tweeting today about health care reform. To be honest, I'm super conflicted on that issue to begin with. My wife sure needs health insurance, as do many people in our country. As of now, affording it on our own is pretty much completely out of the question given the amount of coverage she needs for drugs and such. Were she not going to school, we wouldn't be able to afford it at all. On the other hand, I am starting to get a bit weary of the amount of money the government is spending. I'm a bit of a saver myself, and it's starting to freak me out.

But that's not the point.

I asked a question of said worship leader that I ask a lot of people I know and respect. It was not meant as any kind of dis, or snarky attack. Just simply a question I challenge many of us with:

Should Church leaders be involved in political debate and discourse?

I honestly think it's a fair question. If God has placed me in a situation where people are looking up to me, and He has asked me to lead them closer to him either via Youth Ministry or Worship Leading or what have you, is it appropriate to attempt to sway people towards one particular political leaning or another? On the whole in my ministry experience, I've been leaning towards no. Never mind the idea of being one of those postmoderns who doesn't think there's such a thing as left and right divisions any more, is it appropriate to use my influence toward that end?

Of course Christians have a role in politics. Of course we should speak our minds when it comes to how this country we find ourselves in is run. Of course it's only natural to try to make people see the world the way you see it. All I'm asking is should Church leaders play a different role than that of everyone else?

Now, try to fit that into 140 characters.

I did this afternoon.

It did not flatter me.

One of two things happened, or some sort of combination of both. Either I did an incredibly poor job of communicating that I was simply asking a question with no malicious intent whatsoever, or people were defending their positions a little too tightly. My twitter account was flooded with mentions and messages, some of which weren't exactly positive and encouraging. Without even thinking about it, I apparently started a fight on the fastest growing social networking sites out there.

If anyone bothers to research this event, you will note (as it should be noted here) that the worship leader in question actually handled himself really well, and in fact we had a pretty solid e-mail conversation that followed my question. He gets mad props in all of this for engaging in a discussion rather than a spitball contest.

It should also go without saying that if my tweets today somehow offended people or upset them or made them think I was some sort of jerk, I apologize. I think if you read the blog or better yet asked some people who knew me, you would realize that none of these adjectives apply to me. I become absolutely terrified when people don't think highly of me, and so I did not gain your approval today, I am truly sorry.

I learned some things today that I think are worth sharing:

  • Twitter is dangerous. 140 characters is nowhere near enough to actually make a point, though it is certainly enough to lose your point entirely. I have preached again and again and again that social networking sites are not a good place for high-minded debate, and today I refused to listen to my own advice.
  • I am entirely too dependent upon the opinions of others. Like I said, I was a wreck today in the Giant Eagle because I just then noticed the hub-bub I had caused on twitter. I don't have a personal relationship with anyone from today's conversation, and yet I wanted to crawl in a cave and die if they didn't like me. The irony of course being that our dear worship leader in question has authored a song all about God's grace being sufficient in our lives, and while I will sing that song loudly and boldly in church, I did not in any way live it out today. Though perhaps the biggest and most dangerous thing I learned today was
  • Questions are like wrecking balls. This all came out of a question. There really wasn't any malicious intent at all behind the question, though understandably the question itself can shake things up a bit.
Questions make us uneasy. Questions make us unstable. If someone questions something we've stood on for a very long time, the ground beneath our feet is no longer to be trusted. And we become nervous wrecks, and we start eating ice cream to ease the pain until we develop an eating disorder (or at least that's what I've heard...)

But the truth is, some of our ground could use some re-examining. The best thing that could happen to us is for everything we stand for and believe in to be called into question, only to find out it was exactly as true as we thought it was in the first place. Or perhaps we'll come to some sort of understanding that the ideas or concepts we defend the most are some of the least important, and that our resources could be better used elsewhere. Ideally, if we're journeying with the right people, we'll even make a friend or two along the way.

So again, if I offended you today, as a brother in Christ I am truly and deeply sorry. However, I beg you to at least examine what you stand for. Ask yourself the question you wish no one would ask. Test, probe, deconstruct. If what you have now is left standing at the end, then more power to you. Perhaps we'll end up with something even more beautiful.

As for me, perhaps some slightly more shallow tweets.



The Office.


Today was the first day in a long time that I felt like I was officially back in the office. I even filled out a TPS report. (That's a lie)

But for real, today was a bit odd at times. We've been in and out on various trips and vacations and what have yous, and for a bit there I forgot what life was like in the office. No joke, a student just walked in to our office to sign up for our kickoff, and after she left I sat staring at the permission slip like this:

I couldn't remember what to do with it. Seriously I sat here with a dumb look on my face for no less than thirty seconds. Thank goodness I remembered I have a secretary who is way smarter than I am.

Beyond those momentary lapses of judgement, things are good. We seem to be rolling towards our kickoff, the plans for the new sound system FINALLY seem like they're running smoothly. We even played a couple of rounds of Mario Kart to warm up for the school year. Now, I'm about to take a quick trip to the hardware store to pick up the paint for tomorrow's work day in the youth wing, and then I'm going to watch a tv show or two in the office before a marathon night of meetings.

More to come!


Come Worship With Me!


Hey everybody!
Forgot to mention that tomorrow night (Sunday) I will be leading some worship at Southminster Church in Mt. Lebanon. The shindig starts at 7, and I'll be trying out some new songs. It'd be super cool if you could swing by!




Hello from a very comfortable chair in my good friends Keith and Emily's living room. For the record, I'm fairly certain that Keith makes the finest pot of coffee on the planet earth, and so I will be drinking my fair share of caffeinated goodness throughout the writing of this blog post. Fair warning in case I get all Ashton Kutcher on you.

These last few days and weeks have absolutely been an in-between time. On the trivial side, I've been waiting with baited breath for the Steelers and Penguins seasons to get started this year. I've been so ready for it that I might actually watch all of next Thursday's pre-season game, even after they bench the starters. I tried for a healthy 10-15 minutes to support Pirate Baseball, but my desire to see a team get kicked around was not that high. Sorry guys, 18th time's a charm?

More importantly, we're just rounding out the inbetween time on our Veritas year. Last week was a rude awakening to how much we have to get done in the next two weeks. I think I will have more meetings this week than the whole summer combined. As a youth leader, I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I absolutely miss our kids. There are a bunch that come and hang out with us over the summer, and that's awesome, but nothing beats the fun of Wednesday nights. I love walking through the cafe and seeing everybody. Of course, if you're one of the Veritas kids, and you're reading this blog for some reason, don't forget about the kickoff on August 26th. Info at our website. It's going to be the bomb, I can assure you.

So this weekend I'm going to hang with Keith and Em and drink some delicious coffee. The whole point of this blog post is that I am soooo ready to start another year, and I have been for quite some time.

Let's kick the tires and light the fires.



The force of Twitter.


Hello friends.
I'm working on some thoughts on a bunch of subjects today, but I wanted to start with something that surprised me (but shouldn't).

Earlier this morning, Twitter took a hit because someone unleashed some sort of virusy thing. (Obviously I have paid very close attention to the details of this story)

The story was on the top of Google news when it first came out, which I was kind of surprised by. Twitter is supposedly not as popular as the ever-growing Facebook, and a lot of times, people tell me that I am in the minority for my love of the bird.

But what really floored me was that in the last couple of minutes, the Senate confirmed the very first hispanic for the supreme court. And while that news was historic and epic, the Twitter whale still made it's presence known at the very top of Google News. It hung there for a little while, and just fell the number two spot a few moments ago. It's kind of like watching TRL.

My question is this: Just how much does Twitter impact the work we do as youth pastors? (Oh yeah, that's what this blog is about!) If the mainstream media is willing to pay that much attention to a momentary lapse of service, how big of a hold does Twitter really have on our kids (and us for that matter)? Only time will tell, but it's definitely worth thinking about.



Back in the saddle.


Hello bloggers!
It's good to be home from a long vacation! We spent a great week in New York City, including an entire media blackout for me. No twitter. No facebook. No blog. It was tough, but it was really good for me. Kind of like getting a shot.

We spent some time at the beach with Marley, and of course there are pictures:

(strange terrain)

(puppy and daddy running)

(Dude, this water moves!)

(Worn out!)

I also spent a little bit of time in New York City, my absolute favorite place to visit!

(Somebody's getting rich, and it ain't me!)

(Been thinking about this for a while, and I don't have a caption for this that's funnier than the sign itself)

(Put a hotel here and beat your sister at Monopoly!)

(Bad hair piece needed to enter)

(Manhattan from Brooklyn)

It was a great trip, and super relaxing. But man am I ready to get back to work! All that boredom that plagued us before our trips is gone, and we are in absolute go mode for the 2009/2010. On this week's to-do list:

  • More promo videos for the Bridge (the first one will be on youtube soon!)
  • Figuring out our new small group initiative (got a big jump on this today, pretty slick)
  • Get the kickoff in order (this years will be the easiest ever...thank goodness)
  • Figure out a good way to bring in the new 7th graders and make them feel welcome.

Pretty good to-do list. I'm so excited to start tackling it.