Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street!

Sesame Street turns 40 today. One of the most innovative, and the longest running, shows for kids. So to celebrate, I recorded another ukulele video! Hurrah!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It probably could have gone better

I think my problems started when I woke to my alarm with a start, with a deep fear in my stomach that I was supposed to have written a sermon for today. I lay there, gripping my pillow, eyes wide with fear. Then I realized that I wasn't preaching, so I tried to go back to sleep for a bit. But that wasn't successful.

Well, I guess I could say that they started before that. I had this long, graphic dream about going to the dentist. Now, many of you know I'm not a fan of the dentist. And the dentist has, historically, not been a fan of me. In fact, in grade school I actually had one refuse to see me anymore. Yeah, so that's kind of my deal with the dentist. But I had a dream about it which involved a lot of drilling and a lot of time spent in the dentist chair and all sorts of yummy goodness.

But enough about that. Over at church, the first service didn't go so badly. I managed to do all of my responsibilities well. But, in between the services, I was in the kitchen talking with the group of confirmation kids that were in charge of coffee hour. As I was talking to a couple of the parents, I leaned forward against the counter, only to notice a couple of minutes later that I was leaning against a wet towel. I moved backward, looked down, and saw a large wet spot on the front of my pants, in an especially inconvenient area. So I had to walk around like that for a while.

Then, when we were getting ready for the next service, I put my robe on. Now, the way you put my robe on is you slip it on like a coat or a jacket, and then there are snaps on the shoulders that hold it in place. Then, near the waist there is a string on each side so you can tie the robe and help it stay in place that way, too. As I was tying the strings, one pulled completely off of the robe. Luckily, with the shoulder snaps and then also with the cincture (rope belt) that I wear, it managed to stay in place. But it was an inconvenience.

As I was getting ready to set up communion, during the service, I thought I should use some hand sanitizer. So I stepped off into the sacristy (room right off of the altar area) and took a squirt of hand sanitizer. Only it didn't shoot down, as it should, instead it arced upward, spraying my sleeve and then the front of my robe. Luckily, it's almost all completely alcohol and so it evaporates quickly, but I still had to go out and preside over communion with a large wet blotch on the front of my robe. I'm fairly certain no one really noticed, but I certainly knew it was there.

Overall, despite these small snafus, I think things went well. The Gospel was proclaimed, sins were announced as forgiven, 5th graders participated in their first communion, a baby was baptized, and I had a chocolate cupcake. God was, is and always will be Good.

So I'm going to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon. I hope you do, as well.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In all fairness

I should say something about our synod youth event adventure. We ended up leaving on schedule, despite a couple junior high girls who seemed to try their best to prevent us from doing so. We waited as long as we could and just as I was getting ready to leave them behind, there they were on the bus.

We made it up to the city without hitting much traffic, and got to our parking spot at the convention center with no problems. We were one of the first groups there, and it was pretty easy to register and find our seats. Now, looking at the map of the facility, and seeing that our seats were in the bleachers, did not give me an accurate picture of how far away we'd actually be. Thankfully, we were much closer. The people on the stage were actually several inches tall rather than only one.

The speakers were good, of course I am biased, as one is a good friend. He did a good job preaching the Gospel, if I may say so. My kids wanted his autograph. The other speaker was from Malawi and is doing great work providing clean water for the people over there. However, with his accent it was a bit hard to understand what he was saying. They showed a video of him first, and it was with English subtitles and that was easy to follow along with. But then when he came on stage and began to talk, I found myself getting lost and not being able to understand everything he was saying. Then, at the end of his talk, he opened it up for questions. In an auditorium with 500 or so kids in it. Probably not the greatest idea, but I'm not sure if he was used to speaking to such a large group of people.

The musician was fairly good. I've heard good things about her, and so I wanted to like her more than I did. She seemed very folksy and artsy, and shared some of her own original music about water and the need for clean water. I like folk music, so I'm not saying this because I didn't like her style of music. I just think if you are with a large auditorium of junior high aged kids, the best way to keep them paying attention and engaged is to sing songs that they can sing along with, either songs they already know or songs that are easy to learn and catchy. Her songs were good, and they had a good message, but a few bars in and my kids were fidgeting and whispering.

They had a group of youth dancers that performed a couple of times, too. They did this last year and my kids loved it. They were instantly engaged. Last year the music was a little faster and heavier and the dance moves were more hip hop. This year, the music was slow and the dancing was slower and more interpretive. Once again, it was hard for my kids to stay engaged with what was happening.

In conversation with a friend, we agreed that we weren't very keen about the presentation of the theology of the event, either. The theme was about water, and right from the beginning they started listing statistics and facts about water and bottled water and how that affects our environment and wildlife. They also talked about providing clean water for people in other countries. It was water, water, water,Jesus. It should have been Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, water. We conserve our resources and we share out of our abundance and we help others receive the blessings of clean water because of Jesus and what he has done for us. We help quench others' physical thirst because Jesus has quenched our spiritual thirst. But it seemed like the event was more focused on recycling and using reusable bottles, which is important - don't get me wrong - but it should have just been secondary to the Gospel message, not primary.

Now, I don't like to be someone who just states the negatives about something and doesn't do anything to make the event better. In fact, a year or so ago, I was supposed to be a part of the team that helped plan this event because I had spoken up about my concerns. However, the group kept planning meetings for days and times that were not convenient for me, and they also planned them at places where it would take nearly two hours out of my day just for driving time. I don't say that as a strike against them, just as a reality of my current situation.

So, I was thinking of how I would do the event differently. I think I would keep the dancers, just speed up the tempo a bit. I'd have musicians, just switch up the music a tad. Make it a little quicker, a little more upbeat, a little more catchy and singable. I'd switch up the speakers, a bit. Instead of two blocks of two speakers, maybe have each speaker split their speech into two parts, interspersing a song or a video or something in between. And maybe hear from someone who is closer to the age of the youth. Don't get me wrong, adults are smart and important, and it's good for the kids to hear the Gospel message shared well from an adult (especially my friend), but I have noticed that if the person who is talking is younger and closer in age and experience to the kids, they tend to listen more.

One of the words in the title of the event is "celebration." I think, then, that I'd focus more on celebrating. Have a good time. Play some loud music. Get the kids dancing and singing. Have fun. Make them laugh. Share the Gospel in an engaging and age appropriate way. Make the Gospel message the focus. Build off of that.

That's what I'd do, anyway.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Adventures in Synod Wide Youth Events

So, this coming Wednesday we head up to The Cities for a big youth event. It's an annual event put on by both synods for Confirmation aged youth. This will be my fourth time attending, and I'm always trying to decide whether it's worth the effort or not to go there.

You see, we are in one of the more remote churches included in the Minneapolis Synod. We are about as far southwest as you can get and still be in the boundaries. This event is held at 6:00pm, usually at an auditorium in St Paul. If you factor in traffic, that means we have to leave here by about 4:30 to get there on time. This also means that we have to figure out some way to feed the kids after school before we leave, which means we have to get the kids to come to church right after school. Last year we went with our normal meal of pizza, and asked the pizza place we work with to deliver the pizza earlier than normal. Except they forgot. So we scrambled and called them and they delivered it about 30 minutes late.

Three out of the four years we have gone we have also been assigned seats in the nosebleed section. The one year we weren't was because it was at a different (closer) venue and there weren't really assigned seats. So we end up going to all of this trouble, spending close to an hour and a half on the bus in traffic, so that we can sit way up in the balcony and watch performers and speakers that look about an inch tall to us.

Now, I know what you are saying: Get your registration in early. My response to that is that I have. The first year I went we sat in the nosebleeds so the second year I sent it back right away. Pretty much the day after I received the registration form in the mail. We still got put in the nosebleeds. I'm not quite sure how they figure that seating stuff out. Maybe they arrange the seats to resemble where we are geographically within the synod. That would make sense, then, that we would be put so far away from the stage.

I want to be a team player. I want to support synod-wide ministry because, to me, there really isn't a lot of that here. We are a big synod of big congregations that don't often play well with each other. So I want to be a part of the stuff that we DO do together (yes, I'm aware I said do do). But part of me wonders if it's worth the hassle. By the time we get there we have 40 junior highers who have been forced to sit in the same place for more than an hour, who are then expected to sit in the same place and listen to speakers and musicians for another hour or two, usually in a place so far away from the performers that it's hard for them to become engaged. Several of my returning adult volunteers have suggested we not do it. But I've said I think it's good, or I want to give it another try, or maybe this year it will be different. But it has yet to do or be those things.

This year we are going because one of my best friends in the entire world happens to be one of the speakers. I survived my first year of seminary because of him, I went to Disney World with him and his family, I lived with them in Duluth when I did my Clinical Pastoral Education at the hospital there, he preached at my ordination. I think he will be a good speaker and the kids will like him. Unfortunately he'll be an inch tall.

Last year it happened to be at a venue in Minneapolis, which was a lot closer than the normal auditorium. We got started late but ended up getting there at a decent time. We got decent seats close to the stage. The kids could actually see the people performing. They stood and clapped and had a good time. So I know the event can be worthwhile, which is why I keep giving it chances and keep going. Hopefully this year's event will be another good one.

I'll let you know.