Saturday, September 25, 2010

some old guy

I was going through some old e-mails and such today, stuff that I'd saved for various reasons, and reliving past memories. It brought up all sorts of memories, like the time I got stuck in between a bed and the wall at a high school lock-in at a hotel during my years in seminary.

Then I got to some e-mails from around 2006, right before I moved out here to Minnesota to start my call. There were quite a few from when I volunteered at the ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio. It reminded me of how, even though there were thousands upon thousands of ELCA youth and adults there, I still managed to run into a lot of great people I knew.

I wrote about my experience volunteering on the Community Life team a few posts ago, but as I was looking at some of these e-mails it reminded me of a particular story that happened. I think I shared this on my old blog, but I don't believe I've shared it on this one. If you've read it, then feel free to stop reading. But if you haven't, or want to read it again, then read on, dear friends!

At the hotel where I was stationed, I was paired with one other person, a guy named Nick who was one year out of high school. It was obvious that the high school girls in our hotel fancied Nick. They would always giggle and say hi when we walked by. One time, Nick and I were walking through the lobby on our way somewhere, and a group of girls were lounging on the sofas and chairs. As we passed them, a chorus of "Hi Nick!" rang out. Finally, one girl said, "Oh. Hi, Mark!" I was not phased. Spending two weeks with Nick made this seem perfectly natural.

As a nightly ritual, Nick and I would walk through the hallways and make sure everyone was in their rooms with their doors closed. The first night we had split the floors, and each took half. The second night, we decided that even if it took longer, it would be more fun to team up to do it. So we began patrolling the halls together.

We were walking through one of the hallways that Nick had been in charge of the night before, when we saw a doorway propped open and some girls talking loudly inside. Nick and I looked at each other and Nick said, "Why don't you take that one." So I walked up to the door and knocked on it.

The door was opened by a smiling high school girl whose smile diminished when she looked at me. "Oh... hi." she said. "It's after curfew. Why is your door open?" I asked. "I guess we just forgot to shut it." she replied. "Well, could you go ahead and shut it? And would you mind keeping it down a little?" The girl agreed and shut the door.

And then I heard her say to her friends: "Oh my gosh! NO! It was some old guy!"

Nick then revealed to me that this same room had the door propped open the night before, and he had had to stop and ask them to close the door and quiet down. Apparently, they had enjoyed this interaction and so hoped to repeat it the following night. Unfortunately, it was not repeated and they didn't get to see Nick again. Instead, it was some old guy who asked them to be quiet.

I don't think their door was propped open the following night.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Real Ministry

A while ago, I applied at a place to do something I have wanted to do for many years. I don't want to say what the place was or what it was for, because I don't want to sound like I'm badmouthing some place or some people in particular. What I'm bad mouthing is an ideology.

The reply came back from this place that they appreciated that I was interested, and they were sure I would do/am doing great things in youth ministry, but that they didn't see me as a good fit for what they were looking to do.

Now, this thing I was applying for is ministry related, but it is not youth ministry focused. And, while I think I do a good job in youth ministry and have quite a bit of experience in that area, I don't think that disqualifies me from doing well in other areas.

It seems to me that there is this idea that youth ministry doesn't always qualify as "real" ministry. It's those backhanded compliments given to youth directors, asking them when they are going to become a pastor and do real ministry. Or questioning a person's call to ordination because they feel called to focus on youth ministry. Or thinking that someone wouldn't be good at doing something because they have a lot of experience in youth ministry.

Youth ministry IS real ministry. In youth ministry you deal with the same kinds of things that you deal with in every other kind of ministry. There is joy and celebration, there is frustration and disappointment, there is healthiness and new life, there is sickness and death. But, throw into that mix all sorts of other things like hormones, drama, teen age relationships, acne, junior high girls... and there's quite a bit more that comes with youth ministry.

I think we can discount the kind of ministry that happens with young people. We don't see it as real or important, just like we don't think that young people are an important part of our church today. At least that's the message we send when we tell them they are "the future of our church." They are here now, and they are looking to be engaged in ministry, and they need people to walk alongside them and work with them and advocate for them. And that IS real ministry.

So I wanted to write a letter to this place and tell them that they really missed out. That, by overlooking my other gifts and seeing only those that they saw as dealing with youth ministry, they were depriving themselves of the opportunity to get to know me and to see the ways we could have been mutually blessed.

That's what we do when we overlook our young people. We miss out on a great opportunity to get to know some amazing people. We miss out on the opportunity to have them plugged in and engaged in the life and ministry of our congregations. We miss out on the opportunity to lift them up and encourage them to use their gifts and to recognize and celebrate the ways they already are. We miss out on the opportunity to acknowledge them as children of God.

Children of God are important no matter what their age. Ministry is valid and real regardless of what age group it encompasses. We all lose out when we don't acknowledge this.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Something I never thought I'd say at work

Yesterday was Sunday, and I was in charge of preaching. Today our custodian, who had been at our 8:00am service, came up to me and asked what I did for the sermon at our 6:30pm service. You see, our 6:30 service is our "contemporary" service and usually attracts a much smaller, more casual crowd. And my answer is something I never thought I'd say at work:

"Well, it was pretty much the same sermon I gave in the morning, except without the fireworks, noisemakers and orangutans."

Meme: My Faith, My Tattoo

Adam Copeland over at A Wee Blether is conducting some informal research about people of faith and their tattoos. Seeing as how I have one, I decided to help him out and answer his questions. So, here goes:

1. Describe your tattoo(s):
I have one tattoo on my right shoulder blade. It's a red cross behind an icthus (sometimes called a Jesus fish). I have ideas for other tattoos (all faith-oriented) that I think about getting. We'll see if I ever do.

2. What made you want that tattoo?
I had been contemplating one for a while. I ended up deciding to go and get one my last summer as a camp counselor. There was a whole group of us who decided to go and get some ink one weekend. I didn't set out to get this specific tattoo, however. I told a co-worker, who I knew was artistic, that if she drew something I would get it tattooed. So she did, and I did.

3. How did your faith influence your tattoo, indirectly or directly?
I have always been a very faithful person. In fact, the summer I got this tattoo I was working at a church camp, and it was also the summer before I headed off to seminary. A tattoo is a unique and fun way to share your beliefs or what is important to you. So a cross and a fish, two symbols of Christianity, seemed like a good way to share what is important to me.

4. What's the relationship between your tattoo and your broader understanding of your body?
My senior pastor has told me on numerous occasions that I should never play poker. I have a hard time keeping a straight face in a lot of situations. People can tell, by looking at my face, what is going through my mind. In fact, there is some statistic (that I can't remember and so I won't quote) that says that a majority of communication is nonverbal. We use our faces and our bodies to communicate all the time. My tattoo is an extension of that.

5. Was it worth it... do you have regrets?
I see my tattoo everyday in the mirror. Everyday I look at it and I appreciate it. I appreciate what it stands for, I appreciate what those symbols mean to me, and I appreciate the memories that it brings back of the time in my life when I got it. Never once have I looked at it and wished it wasn't there or that I hadn't got it.

6. What funny story has happened because of your tattoo?
I have several stories about it that are kind of funny. I'll only share a couple. Since I was a camp counselor when I got it, I know that I didn't take care of it like I should during the first few weeks. There are guidelines about what you should and shouldn't do for a couple weeks, and going into a chlorinated pool is one of the things you shouldn't. But I worked at a camp with a pool, and had to go there everyday with my campers. Trying to explain to my boss that I'd rather sit on the side of the pool and not get in because I decided to get a tattoo during the summer would not have gone over well. The campers would not have been big fans of this, either. And I'm not one to sit on the sidelines and let other people have fun. I like to be in the mix. So I ignored some of these guidelines and played in the pool. Well, one day in the pool, I was giving a camper a piggy back ride. Now, when tattoos are healing they will scab over. You are not supposed to pick the scabs as that can affect the coloring. But I'm giving this camper a piggy back ride and he says to me, "Is your tattoo real?" and I said, "Yeah it's real." and he replies, "No it's not. Look, I can peel it off!" I told him not to do that, and thankfully he didn't because not only could it have made some spots on my tattoo that are less colorful than the rest, but it could have been pretty painful, too.
Another story is how I told my parents about the tattoo. I was unsure how they would respond, so I showed it to them while we were in the hospital and my dad was just about ready to go in for hernia surgery. I knew that if they didn't like it and weren't happy about it, that it wouldn't give them much time to be upset about it before my dad went under.
Being a pastor, my work does not call for me going shirtless a lot. Most of the time this happens at events or places where we can go swimming. Most of the time, these events are youth events. It is always funny to me to see the kids' reactions when they see that their pastor has a tattoo. Jaws drop, eyes widen, and they say, "Pastor Mark!!! YOU have a TATTOO?!?!" It never ceases to amuse me.
There's also a funny story surrounding the inception of the tattoo, and some events that happened afterward, but I think you might have to know me better to get that story.

7. How did your tattoo change your faith (and if not, why not)?
I can't say that it changed my faith, really. I don't think that, because of my tattoo, I am now bolder in my faith or that I suddenly have less doubts. I think it is just an outward manifestation of my faith, and has given me opportunities to talk about it with other people. When I'm in the pool or the hot tub, or on the beach, or some other activity where I am not wearing a shirt, my tattoo is readily visible. I've had people ask me about it, when I got it and why I got it, and it opens it up for a conversation about what the symbols mean to me.

For background on how this meme started, see Adam Copeland’s blog at