Posts Tagged ‘young adults’

Advent Week 1: “Tear Open the Heavens”

Last year, I set out on an ambitious project to post something about spiritual disciplines every day during Advent.  I did it, but whew!  What a task.  Those posts are still on this blog if you’d like to read them.

That project turned into an ongoing theme in our campus ministry program.  Several times a semester, if not several times a year, our group talks in a very direct way about spiritual growth and discipline.  Listening to young adults talk about prayer, meditation, and their spiritual experiences has truly changed my life.

This year my thoughts are still with young adults, but in a different way.   I’ve noticed over the years that here in Greenville, people in their late teens to early thirties actually show up for worship on Sunday mornings.  Crazy, I know!

However, we don’t talk much during the week about the worship experience was like.  It seems that we just go back to the same old routine every Monday morning:  our work, classes, clubs, and Thursday night campus ministry program.  So this year I will write during Advent about the Scriptures we read on Sunday mornings during church, the hymns we sing, the sermon, and anything else we do during worship.

I have no idea what seeds might be planted this Advent.  For me, if blogging about Sunday worship gets me to carry the Sunday message throughout the week, I’ll be more than satisfied.

All that being said, here’s Week 1.  You’ll see some thoughts from today’s worship service, and some further reflections throughout the week.

“Tear Open the Heavens”

I could have sat for an hour this morning and meditated on Isaiah 64:1 (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence …”)

Don’t we wish that God would just get down here and fix some stuff?  That God would slay evil, abolish suffering, and … well, take away our pain with a sweep of his mighty hand?

In this morning’s sermon, Bill stated the case:  we miss God.  We have come to know and love our Creator, and it hurts to be separated from God.

Yet we also know that God has plans and promises.  That’s why we miss God so much when the promises don’t appear to be working out.

During the worship service on the first Sunday of Advent at First Presbyterian, we try to witness to those plans and promises in a tangible way.  The service combines the stark prophetic texts with the joyful “Greening of the Church “, which is a procession through the sanctuary with the elements of the season, such as light, greenery, and banners.  It feels sort of like a pilgrimage, in which we “travel” to our place of worship, singing along the way about who God is and who we are because of Him.  Too bad we don’t parade around the city as well!

I always get the sense from this service that God has truly arrived.  God is in residence, keeping office hours, and ready to get to work.  We, in turn, set out our pretty decorations as a way of saying that we’re here too.  We are ready to sojourn with this Immanuel, the Word made flesh.  We just might even be ready, should Immanuel tear open the heavens this very minute.

More this week on the texts and worship from the first Sunday in Advent.

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yes and no

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days … (from Deuteronomy 30)

Tonight in our campus ministry fellowship we discussed the idea of discernment, but with a twist.

Usually when we’re in a discernment or decision-making process, we ask open-ended questions: “What does God want me to do?”  “What is the Spirit trying to say to me?”  “What should I do?” (or even, “Why aren’t my prayers being answered?”)

Those are great questions, but maybe not always the best questions to be asking.  Sometimes a question can be too big.

So we started with two words, Yes and No.  We talked about how we say “yes” and “no” in the transition from high school student to college student to college graduate.  Along the way we outlined a discernment process that I just had to write about, because I think it’s great (open-source theology!)  By the way, keeping up spiritual disciplines (prayer, Christian fellowship, Scripture reading) is a given at all points in this journey.

Here’s the process we outlined:

1.  Begin with a very general question that you can answer with a yes or a no.  For example, a sixteen-year-old might ask, “Do I want to attend college at some point in the future?”  Those who were present tonight, by virtue of being college students, had answered “yes” to this question even if they hadn’t realized it.

2. Apply filters to this general concept:  filters of time, money, goals, personal values, or any other filter that’s important to you.  One student talked about wanting to join the military at some point in his life, but not wanting the environment of a military college.  So within his overall “Yes” to a college education, he ended up saying no to the military college and yes to the Reserves.

3.  Realize that you might spin in circles for a while, when you are in between steps in the process.  Some students talked about being so excited to attend college, but then spending some time trying out different majors or different groups of friends.  The trying-out phase was a little frustrating, but important for getting to the next step.

4.  Whittle down the number of “yes” answers into something manageable.  The students talked about making choices of how to spend their time while in college, and that fact that they have had to let some things go.

5.  Think about a “yes” within a “no.”  For example, a musically gifted student talked about the decision to say “no” to a degree in music while saying “yes” to music as a hobby and a source of personal enjoyment.

6.  Finally, evaluate your decision in terms of how it affirms life.  To the best of your ability, think of how this decision affirms you as a child of God, with all the gifts God has given you.  Even if your decision may result in some temporary stress, does it ultimately build up the life that God gave you?  To borrow a phrase from John McCall, a missionary in Taiwan, does your decision rest within “the divine yes”?

What do you think?

nametag revolution

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Your dreams were probably shaped by the world around you and its expectations, but you probably also had some kind of developing value system that influenced your dreams.  Early on, you were dreaming of adventure, or security, or being recognized, or being helpful.

There is an article in the latest edition of the Atlantic Monthly on the rise of women in the workforce.  Some experts say that the current hot fields are more receptive to women’s “nurturing” and “collaborative” nature (I am really leery of making generalizations like that), and some say that women are just getting stuff done more than men.

Regardless, it seems to me, a non-expert observer, that we are in for a revolution led by those wearing name tags.  Many of the hot jobs have varying educational requirements, but across the board they all require a name tag or badge: a hospital ID pinned to your scrubs, dog tags to go with your military uniform, or the white nametag sewn over the breast pocket of your blue coveralls.  Here at ECU, many students are majoring in education and construction management, so we’ll see their names on classroom doors, or see them wearing polos embroidered with the construction firm’s logo.  This article from Yahoo points to an increase in tech jobs, but also reminds us that laborers, technicians, beauticians, and people who fix things will continue to be much in demand.

my name tag for Sunday mornings

When I was in college in the 1990s, many of us students visualized sitting in a cubicle sometime in the future, living out a scenario much like the movie “Office Space.”  Now I work with several students who are looking at two extremes:  going on for extensive professional training in health care or technology, or dropping out of college to learn a trade.

What does this mean for the ideas of vocation and calling, ideas that we toss around a lot in ministry with young people?  Does it mean that some people won’t be able to live out their true vocation, because the “New Economy” calls for something different?  Does it mean that we each need to find our vocation wherever we are, regardless of what our name tags say?  Does it mean we should examine our assumptions about vocation, such as thinking that finding one will make us endlessly happy?  (see this “Faith and Leadership” article from Duke.)

Well, when I was little I wanted to be an artist, astronaut, writer, and pastor.  I don’t think my name tag reflects all that, and I probably won’t get around to all those things.  But I hope I can help people as they prepare to put on their tag for the first time.

the loneliness hurts

At East Carolina University the Campus Multifaith Alliance maintains a prayer box, located outside the bookstore.  Anyone can drop in a written prayer, and the campus faith leaders read the prayers in confidence at our meetings.  The other leaders gave me the OK to post this prayer, which appeared last year:

I wrote once before with this request, but who ever is in charge up stairs must not have been listening.  That or I’m just unlovable.  I suspect the second but hope it’s the first.  Please pray for me to get a girl friend.  I’m trying hard on my own, have been for 6 years.  I try all the non-drinking based events I can find and go to class I think girls would like.  But nothing.  I think I’m just too stupid and ugly for anyone to care about.  I try to be nice too.  I hold doors and give rides and I’m never rude.  I don’t think that’s hurt but maybe I’m wrong. The loneliness hurts, too. It physically hurts.  It feels like someone drilled a hole in the bottom of my chest and is trying to suck everything out.  So please pray, please.  I’d love it if she was clingy and cuddly, but even that’s optional. I know it’s a selfish thing to pray for but I’m running out of options.  Also if you could include something about getting through the week, that would be great, too.

The loneliness hurts.

If you visited ECU, you might be surprised by the loneliness the student expressed.  It’s warm and sunny here most of the year; walking through campus, you see students laughing and hanging out with their friends.  On the weekends, this place is Tailgate Central.  The downtown area is packed well into the morning on the weekends.

In my campus ministry world, I’m surrounded by dynamic, go-getter students who have lots of friends, and who do mission work, discuss theology late at night, and go to all the Christian events.

So who’s lonely?

Actually, I wasn’t surprised at all to read the prayer.  When you dig below the surface, you find a lot of loneliness.

I know smiling people who have a lot of friends, but who have no one to hold when they don’t feel like smiling.  (Remember the part in the prayer about “clingy and cuddly?”  Don’t doubt the power of a hug!)  I know faithful people who sit by themselves week after week in church on Sundays.  I know people who spend their weekends going to friends’ weddings, and wonder if there will ever be occasion for their friends to return the favor.

You may be reading this saying, big deal.  College students need to concentrate on their studies and on getting ready for a career, especially during a recession!  That’s what I used to think too.  But spend a while with the students and you’ll notice the longing for deep friendship, companionship, and intimacy with commitment.

I’m beginning to wonder if those of us who are Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers are part of the problem here.  For a while, maybe about fifteen or twenty years, we’ve become very confused about what to do (or what our children should consider doing) after high school graduation.  Some people still advocate a quick progression of college/vocational training/job, marriage, and family.  Some say young people should explore the world and spend 5-10 years in self-discovery.  Some say you should make a pile of money so you can settle down later (more difficult to do this in 2009!)    Maybe I’m wrong, but I wonder if so many students and recent college grads are lonely because they haven’t received any guidance.   Why bother risking a broken heart, if you’re supposed to be traveling the world or climbing the career ladder?  Why invest in anything long-term, when you have been encouraged to keep your options open?  Why bother at all, if your economic future looks bleak?  For the students who really are after casual encounters, I guess it’s a great day to be alive.  But for the rest ….?

What can the church do to minister to people hurting from loneliness?  Sometimes I think we could minister to a lot of people by working really hard on fellowship.  Instead of just having potluck dinners under the fluorescent lights of the church fellowship hall, we need to offer more retreats, road trips, gatherings in people’s homes:  anything that helps people feel like they are really the body of Christ and not just bodies in the seats.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep the prayer box open.

(Note:  if you haven’t read Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt, or her blog, do so!  She writes in more detail about young adults, the challenges they face, and ways to minister to them.  Her book helped me make some sense of all the things you read about in this post!)

the liturgy of quesadillas

We have a group of folks in their 20s at our church, and this weekend I joined them for Mexican food. Here’s how the evening went:

  1. We gathered, ate chips and salsa, and grieved over some members of the group who had recently moved out of town.  Also, we welcomed back one group member who came from out of town for the weekend.
  2. We ordered and talked about new people we have met who may like to join us for dinner the next time.
  3. We ate and talked about the next round of moves. People are changing careers, looking for work, thinking about joining the military…and it all adds up to not staying in town.
  4. We talked about being single, being in relationships, and how tough all that is when you don’t know where you will be in six months.
  5. We set another date and said goodbye.

In that one span of a few hours, we embodied ancient practices of faith:  hospitality, mourning, celebrating, marking life’s passages, and bearing one another’s burdens.

I spend a lot of time trying to run programs that will minister to college students and young adults.  Spending a few hours just talking and eating with good companions, and being with them as they ministered to one another, was refreshing.  I don’t think any program or guest speaker could have replicated the ministry around that table.

Who knew a quesadilla could be so divine?