A word about youth ministry – from 1971

The following was written by Elton Trueblood in 1971. It could have been written yesterday, today, tomorrow. It still rings true in many contexts, even as it is clearly shaped and influenced by its immediate context.

A lot was happening in the early 70s at the intersection of youth and religion. This was the era of The Way Bible (the green paperback [blue if you were Catholic] with artsy black and white photography) and the Jesus People movement; of Larry Norman, Petra, Andre Crouch, and Keith Green.

While Trueblood’s  message it timelessly prophetic, please note these two things:

  1. Many churches today have vibrant, growing, Christ-centered youth ministries where kids are challenged, discipled, fully integrated into the life of the local church, and significantly involved in and serving their local communities. Some of my dearest friends lead those ministries, and I am humbled and awed by their dedication, passion, and commitment.
  2. Many parachurch youth organizations are reaching disinterested and skeptical kids, building relationships with them, loving them, and introducing them to the Savior who desperately loves them. Some of my dearest friends lead those ministries (Young Life, WyldLife, Youth for Christ, FCA and others), and I am humbled and awed by their dedication, passion, and commitment.

Even so, there is a long way to go – as there always has been, and as there always will be. As a youth worker/WyldLife leader/historian/medievalist, I can tell you that this same conversation has been happening throughout the centuries. Preachers in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s were saying and asking many of the same things found in the following excerpt, i.e. how do we relate to, embrace, invite, integrate, disciple, and raise up the next generation of radically devoted and world-changing followers of Christ?

[from The Future of the Christian, by Elton Trueblood, Harper & Row, 1971]

Young People constitute not only the greatest challenge of the church of the future, but also its greatest hope. The evidence of the probable continuance of the Church in succeeding centuries is valid, but its validity depends on the possibility of attracting a far larger proportion of young people. There is good reason to believe that this can be done, but it will not be done unless we meet the conditions. One of the conditions is an honest admission of how radically we are failing in gaining the participation of youth at the present time. There is, as anyone can see, a vast reservoir of moral idealism, a fervent eagerness to participate in liberating causes, and an almost unlimited willingness to engage in sacrifice if the cause justifies it, but, in the eyes of the majority of young people, these features of contemporary living have no connection with the church of Jesus Christ. There are of course youth programs in most congregations, and many of these are generously financed but there is little doubt that most of them are failing to do what needs to be done. The modern Church involves the very young, as it involves a fair proportion of the mature, but the failure in regard to those between these is almost total. This is what must change!

When the failure is so great, it is reasonable to look for some really serious mistake. We soon realize that such a mistake, if it exists, is probably entailed in our philosophy rather than in our methods. Actually, our methods are reasonably good. We provide excellent quarters; we establish coffee houses; we organize camps; we employ counselors. Necessary as these may be, they are grossly insufficient if we start with the wrong major premise. We begin to see how wrong our basic approach may be when we realize that most of our youth programs are set up to serve youth. The young people, of course, sense this at once. They know that others are paying for their refreshments and their entertainment. But the tragedy is that entertainment is precisely what they do not need, because it is what they already have in superabundance.

What young people need is to be needed, and to know that they are needed. If they could be convinced that the world is plagued with a sense of meaninglessness, and that they can have an answer to confusion and perplexity, their relationship to the church might be altered radically. In short, the only way to attract youth is to draw them into a ministry! They are now trying, in great numbers, to minister to physical hunger or to overcome racial discrimination, but few have been helped to see that the deepest problems of men and women are spiritual. They have not been told that the human harvest is being spoiled for lack of workers, and that they can be the workers. They have not been told of the toil in which they must engage in order to prepare their minds so that they can be effective in reaching others and particularly those of their own age, who are harassed and helpless.

The Christian faith does not need to go outside itself in order to find a principle which can produce a radical change in the attraction of young people. The principle which is effective, when seriously applied is inherent in the moral revolution which Christ came to inaugurate. There is no way to exaggerate either the theoretical or practical importance of the words, “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Modern youth will not be enrolled in the Christian Cause until they are recruited as members of the servant team, ministering to the varied needs of God’s children.The motivations for this service is greater within the pattern of the church than within that of any social agency, because Christ speaks to inner as well as to outer needs. Preparation for this kind of ministry is necessarily difficult and long, but that only makes it more appealing to the best of our young people.

Though great numbers of young people are wholly outside the life of the Church at this moment, this can change rapidly, as it has changed before. In many areas the moral debacle is so great that a shift of the pendulum is almost inevitable. The obvious weakness of a permissive morality, which is ultimately self-destructive, may lead to a new Puritanism. If it is a Pruianims like that of John Milton who “was made for whatever is arduous,” that will constitute an advance of genuine magnitude. Already there are signs that this is beginning to occur, and frequently the young people are more advanced on this road than are their teachers. Some who have discovered at first hand the fact the the pseudo-gods, such as drugs and promiscuity, are fundamentally delusive, are turning, with open eyes, to the Living God.”  (pp. 36-38)

 

THANK YOU (a note to Young Life and WyldLife leaders everywhere)

I love The Church.

I love Young Life.

(Much less than I love Jesus – but true love for both, nonetheless.)

During the past 15 years, in my work as a youth ministry trainer and cheerleader, I’ve said THANK YOU to countless youth pastors – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand why you do what you do; thank you from every adult in your congregation who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who grows up under your love and guidance; thank you for ushering in the next generation of The Church with dedication, energy, creativity, and passion; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

During the past 25 years, in my role as a Young Life spouse (and other YL things), I’ve said THANK YOU to countless leaders – thank you for loving our kids; thank you for all the unseen hours of ministry in your day; thank you from every parent who’s forgotten to say it, or who doesn’t understand who you are and what you do; thank you from every adult in your community who watches from a safe (and often disinterested) distance; thank you from every teenager who sees and experiences the love of Jesus through you; thank you for believing that pursuing the most disinterested kid is worth your time; thank you for introducing teenagers to the God who created and loves them; thank you for leaning in to your sacred calling with joy and grace; thank you for sticking with your vocation for the long race; thank you a thousand times over.

My single thank you can’t begin to express the true depth of those sentiments – but I offer it with sincerity.

I also offer this – a real note from a real teenager written to a real person who was doing real ministry borne out of real passion flowing from real grace abiding in Real Love.

This camper articulated what countless kids truly experience but few actually express.

It’s good to reminded why you do what you do (because there are kids who need to be seen, noticed, befriended, loved, and introduced to the Savior). It’s good to remember what this ministry is really about (Jesus and teenagers…not me or us). It’s good to close your eyes and humbly remember that thank yous – as sweet as they are – aren’t the goal or the prize (that’s Jesus – always and only Jesus).

Even so, thank yous matter: so thank you. All of you. Each of you. A thousand times over. And more.

young-life-leader-card

[Young Life camper-written notecard, c. 2010. The leader’s name has been removed – but I sent that leader a picture of this card because, oh gracious, what depth of precious and sweet grace is wrapped up in these simple 25 words?! See your name in that big white space and ask Jesus to steer you towards the kids who currently feel as this one did, because that is who we are and what we do.]

 

 

Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

Five Rules for How to Use Media in Christian Education

We’ve all been there – whether planning a Sunday School lesson, a youth group meeting, or a Young Life club talk; that moment when we ask ourselves: “What video clip could really illustrate this point well, perhaps better than Scripture itself?”

It’s a deeply spiritual and philosophical question that is two-fold (when should and I use media and how should I use media) that often leads to deeply theological tangles (“Does Monty Python truly reflect the epistolary messages of Paul in their doctrinal fullness?”) that have no clear-cut answer (except in the case of Monty Python, when the answer is almost always “yes”).

To help with this distressing process of pedagogical discernment, I offer some much-needed insight from a little book I recently stumbled across:

Blackboard 1
The Blackboard in Sunday School (Henry Turner Bailey, 1899)

See here The Blackboard in Sunday School, published in 1899 – right on the heels of The Blackboard in the Sunday School, published in 1884 (because if one book about blackboard use by Christians is good, two is better).

In 1899, the blackboard was the height of advanced technology – in the church, anyway. It was pretty well established in every public and private school across the country for 50 years prior. But we do so often wait until we’re very sure that something can be used by the Lord before we appropriate it from the wicked world into our own sacred milieu.

The book opens with a properly spiritual hook, a tragic narrative about another adolescent boy gone wrong (a hooligan, a ruffian, a petty criminal), a boy who at one time had regularly attended Sunday School.

Bad boy. Bad Sunday School. Bad church. Woe unto us.

Enter: The Blackboard. (There’s a few more plot points in the narrative, but I’m condensing for ease of space and time, a strategy often used in presenting the Gospel.)

Per the author, in 1899:

“Among all the workers for the coming of the kingdom of God, none, perhaps, ought to be held in higher estimation than faithful Sunday-school teachers. As a rule they are among the busiest people in the world, every hour of the week filled with crowding duties, every volt of energy required to do that which their hands are forced to do by the conditions of our congested life. Yet these, who most need a Sabbath of rest, cheerfully devote that day to teaching, give to their classes their best thought, and patiently continue year after year a self-sacrificing service without remuneration, perhaps without a word of encouragement or appreciation.

“It would be cruel to add one straw to the burden such men and women are carrying, especially by a word of harsh or cold criticism. But sympathetic criticism is never unkind. The truth, spoken in love, and the truth only, will enable us to see ourselves and our work in clearer light and move us to self-improvement.” (24)

Then follows a long essay on why over-busy, under-appreciated, un-paid Sunday School teachers should learn how to use the blackboard.

[In fairness, the pedagogical premises in the book are solid: 1. Learning is dependent upon interest and attention; 2. Ideas must be taught by means of their appropriate objects; 3. Never tell a pupil what he may wisely be led to see for himself; 4. Proceed from the known to the related unknown; 5. Correlate with the life of the pupil.]

And then follows all a person needs to know about how to effectively use graphics and media to supplement and enliven the teaching of God’s truth.

  1. Use fonts purposefully:

blackboard fonts

2. Use emojis freely:

blackboard emojis

3. Use photo-editing judiciously:

blackboard photoshop effects

4. Use info-graphics intentionally:

blackboard infographic

5. Use visual data liberally:

blackboard visual data

Above all, remember this:

“The Sunday-school teacher who understand all mysteries and all knowledge, who speaks with the tongues of men and of artists, but who has not insight, good sense, wisdom in adapting means to ends, will fail…When the question of the week is not, ‘How shall I teach that lesson?’ but, ‘How can I find a blackboard illustration for that lesson?’ it is high time to ask another question: ‘Is it wise to use the blackboard every Sunday?’ The answer must be simply, No. Because one can use the blackboard is no reason for always using it…The blackboard should be a servant, not a taskmaster.” (88)

Thus do our ancestors whip our little media-frenzied technology-addicted butts into shape.

Amen.

Naughty teens, pernicious literature, and scare quotes: a glimpse at 1884

Youth's Golden Cycle

132 years ago – when (according to some) people slipped seamlessly from childhood into adulthood – John Fraser (Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, University of Chicago) published a 439-page-thick doorstop book titled:

Youth’s Golden Cycle: or, Round the Globe in Sixty Chapters: Showing How to Get on in the World, with Hints on Success in Life; Examples of Successful Men; The Blessings of Loving Mothers, Careful Housewives, Clean, Cozy Homes; What and How to Eat and Drink: What to Read and How to Write; the Structure and Uses of the Most Important Members of the Body; How to Be and Keep Strong; The Wonders of Creation, Science and Art; Little Things-their Importance; Entertaining Stories of Animals; Animals-their Language and Habits; (etc.)

Back in 1884, titles were often as cumbersome as the books themselves.

This book was written for adolescent readers in response to “the rapid increase of the evils that result from the reading of pernicious literature,” “immoral fiction,” “bad books,” and other things being written by “vile writers” and being marketed by “worse publishers.”

Shocker: the market has been targeting teens for quite a while now. And adults have been afraid about the commercialized culture for as long as the market has been targeting teens. As the author says in his introduction:

“Every hour, the havoc wrought by the perusal of immoral fiction by our school-boys is assuming graver aspects. Almost daily we read of bands of youthful desperadoes, just entering their teens, being broken up by the police, and nearly always it is found that the organizations so broken up were directly suggested by dime novels…”

In other words, young teens and the media marketed to them have been viewed with alarmist fear for – well, for quite awhile now, even long before 1884. Cell phone apps and music videos may be new; the fears surrounding them are not. Nor are our lofty attempts to replace the offending filth with something nobler.

This particular book attempted to do just that: “Now the express object of this book is to counteract the evil influence of this vicious literature, and to furnish youth with reading that will be as exciting as any novel, and at the same time instructive, wholesome, manly, and fresh. Nor will it be of the ‘goody-goody’ order, to which so much of our Sunday-school literature belongs.”

Ouch. Genuine scare quotes in 1884. “Goody-goody” used pejoratively in 1884. Sunday-school taking it on the chin in 1884.

In some ways, things haven’t changed at all.

 

 

The “problem” with middle school ministry (how they got it wrong…again)

In case you missed it, middle schoolers (all of them, presumably) are in the news this week.

Real Simple (which I thought was mostly about food, fashion, and repurposing canning jars and wood pallets into anything and everything you could ever need or want) recently posted this story:

“Sorry, Parents. Middle School is Scientifically the Worst (and you thought the Terrible Twos were bad).”

Spoiler alert: the article isn’t very hip on early adolescents. And I quote: “middle school is not fun for anyone” and “[every middle schooler is] a surly, exasperated pre-teen.”

Bah. Boo. Piffle. Grrr.

Then there’s this from Science Daily last week:

“Mom, You Think Babies Are Tough? Wait Until Middle School.”

This sounds a little less alarmist than the other article, but equally down on middle schoolers. How thoughtful of them.

Both articles are lay-summaries of a study out of Arizona State University titled:

“What It Feels Like to Be A Mother: Variations by Children’s Developmental Stages” (Luthar and Ciciolla, Developmental Psychology 52:1 (2016), 143-154).*

You may notice that this title doesn’t diss middle schoolers at all – doesn’t even mention them by name. That’s not to say the article is all warm and fuzzy on middle schoolers. In fact, before the study was even conducted, the authors “anticipated, first, that the middle school years would be the most challenging” for mothers. (Fathers weren’t part of this study, so there’s that to consider.)

The study – conducted between 2005 and 2010 – of 2,247 well-educated American women showed that many mothers (many of those specific mothers, anyway) do/did in fact experience some more negative things and some fewer positive things when their children were in middle school than when their children were other ages.

So, therefore, hence, ergo middle school is scientifically proven to be The Worst.

The End.

Except for, well, these (and other things) that the authors concede:

  • mothers might have experienced higher stress levels because they themselves often become busier when their children reach middle school (extra-curricular activities, more friend events, extended soccer-mom chauffeuring – that kind of thing)
  • mothers might have sensed more child negative to me attitudes – which were measured by distancing behaviors because middle school is when children start naturally displaying more independence
  • mothers might have experienced less fulfillment and lower levels of life satisfaction because of their own transition to mid-life (a time of “heightened introspection and increased awareness of mortality” due to “declines in their physical and cognitive functioning” (150) or: My Life Rots)
  • mothers might have experienced more depression and parenting overload due to “contagion of stress” in which mothers internalize and worry about their children’s ability to cope with middle school challenges (perhaps because she is reliving her own middle school experience, something mothers are notoriously good at doing)
  • &c.

All of that to say – “Middle School is Scientifically The Worst” is horribly misleading and ridiculously unhelpful and eminently unfair – to middle schoolers primarily, but also to those who care about them.

But it sure makes for a dramatically catchy headline, which the world loves. And it confirms what those of us in middle school ministry know the world thinks of us: “you are big losers” (or maybe “you are demented saints” depending on the day).

But we know better. We know that we are the big winners not because of anything we’ve done or said (don’t stumble by patting yourself on the back) but because Jesus has graciously given us an enthusiastically authentic love for the kids too many people think are unlovable and unmanageable.

Guess what: we don’t care one teeny tiny bit about dramatically catchy headlines. We care about middle schoolers – each of them and all of them.

Here might be the most important statement in the study:

“This developmental transition [early adolescence] is especially difficult because junior high schools bring decreased personal, positive relationships with teachers at a time when youth particularly need connections with supportive adults.” (150)

Spoiler alert: enter – you.

The middle school pastor. The Wyldlife leader. The involved parent. The caring aunt and uncle. The interested neighbor. The loving grandparent. The faithful small group leader.

So go ahead – go change a middle schooler’s world today by showing up, being present, celebrating them, sharing real life, and breathing Jesus all over the place.

Really. Just go do it. Now. Because the only problem with middle school ministry is that there’s not enough room in our hearts for all the love for all the kids.

*The original peer-reviewed study can be accessed through EBSCO host PsycARTICLES research database. You can find an earlier public-access version of the study here.

 

 

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.

 

Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.

Expect Dragons (in which I leverage the lessons of certain dead British authors)

Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien (The Art of The Hobbit)
Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Art of The Hobbit

**In my ongoing quest to leverage my love for dead British authors (whose writings continue to be long-lasting and meaningful) in the realm of life and ministry (which on occasion runs the risk of being short-lived and shallow), I have compiled:

Seven Principles for a Lasting and Meaningful Ministry, also applicable to Life and other Meaningful Endeavors, based on the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, authors now long-dead but whose Devout Embrace of Christ lives still in various and sundry essays, tales, poems, letters, and diaries. MMXV.

PRINCIPLE #4: EXPECT DRAGONS

“As you like,” said Chrysophylax, licking his lips again, but pretending to close his eyes. He had a very wicked heart (as dragons all have), but not a very bold one (as is not unusual).
–from “Farmer Giles of Ham,” J.R.R. Tolkien

But perhaps if he had known something about dragons he would have been a little surprised at this dragon’s behaviour. Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.
–from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
–from “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles, G.K Chesterton

Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking . . . why, how small a thing is death!
–from “Desdichado” in Catholic Tales and Christian Songs, Dorothy Sayers

So, here’s the thing about dragons: they are hands down, entirely, thoroughly, exceptionally, and superlatively bad, wicked, evil, nasty, foul, no-good little stinkers. Period.

Except here. Except now.

Our sophisticatedly nuanced world offers us dragon riders, dragon trainers, and dragon fighter-pilots. Nothing against these tales or their authors (Naomi Novick’s series about draconian aerial warfare during the Napoleonic wars is supremely delightful), but this recent domestication of dragons portends something infinitely more perilous.

On the one hand, we fail (or refuse) to recognize dragons for what they really are, convinced that if we just handle them gently enough, feed them plenty of tasty bits, and cajole them with sweet songs, they will somehow cease to be dragons — as though we have the power and the wisdom to be undragoners.

On the other hand, having lost sight of real dragons, we now see dragons everywhere, squinting our eyes crooked-like and viewing things from inverted angles until – beware! – every kitten, tree, and cloud is branded a dragon — as though we have the capacity and the discernment to be dragonlords.

We surely do hate dragons . . . especially if they are of our own imagining.

We surely do love dragons . . . even if they threaten our very soul.

And by they, I meant it.

Sin. Self-enthronement. Me-centricity. I-fullness. God-emptiness.

It is a dangerous path we tread when we forget that Christ died because of dragons and instead focus our undivided attention on kittens, trees, or clouds, as though they endanger our very existence.

It is a perilous turn we take when we neither recognize nor admit the power of dragons, and instead head off into the forest with a knapsack of jelly sandwiches and a flapping paper shield, as though life were naught but a make-believe quest.

Dragons are. We ignore and forget this at the cost of our ministries and our lives.

But– Christ is. Christ will be. Christ forevermore. We live and minister within that brilliant truth, regardless of the cost.

Expect dragons, dear friends, and then prepare to willingly see them slain.

© Crystal Kirgiss 2015

People worth knowing (in which I consider the active obedience of YoungLives childcare workers and Young Life work staff)

In a world full of bad news, broken lives, battered souls, and bruised hopes, there are still plenty of reasons to rejoice and be glad. Here are 80:

Childcare Workers: Young Lives Camp 2014 TWL (Photo: MKirgiss)
Childcare Workers: Young Lives Camp 2014 TWL (Photo: MKirgiss)

In July 2014, these people paid their way to a week of camp (which they also paid for) to watch the babies and toddlers of over 100 young mothers. Some drove an hour. Some drove a day. Some flew a ways. Some flew more than halfway across the country. All spent 6 days cuddling, cradling, strolling, rocking, soothing, reading, playing, singing, and all manner of actively humble and obedient things in order to love beautiful, wondrous, and miraculous living souls so that those souls’ mothers could live and laugh and play like other teenage girls.

While that group of people was taking care of the babies, these people were taking care of everything else:

TWL July 2014 Workstaff (Photo: CKirgiss)
TWL July 2014 Workstaff (Photo: CKirgiss)

The baking, the cooking, the setting, the serving, the clearing, the cleaning, the washing, the folding, the mowing, the raking, the weeding, the wiping, the working, the lifting, the hauling, the carrying … if it was a task of any sort, then these people did it. Over and over and over again. For a month. Without pay. Because Jesus has done something beautiful deep down inside their hearts.

These two groups of people – plus so many more all across the world, at all manner of camps and schools and centers and businesses and homes –  are who we should be reading about in the news. They are the ones who should be held up as the model of humanity, as the picture of humility, as the image of community, as the example of possibility.

All of the world’s bad news needs an antidote of good news. The cult of celebrity needs an equal measure of homage to humility. The buzz of headlines needs a revised tune of faithful daily living.

For just a moment, let’s stop and collectively consider the amazing wonder of such mundane and quiet things as integrity, hard work, faithfulness, honor, commitment, contentment, service, and sacrifice.

And Love. Love that comes first from God and – if we allow it – then spills over onto those around us. Onto young mothers. Onto babies and children. Onto co-workers and campers of all ages. Onto colleagues and neighbors and family and friends.

It’s a wonder, really, that such Love manages to pierce the hate-filled darkness of the world. But pierce it, it does, sometimes in large swaths of a brilliantly blinding light and sometimes in small pinpricks of a persistently gentle glow.

We are all, each one of us, invited into this piercing Love – both as a recipient and as a conduit. The people in these pictures have experienced both. The people in these pictures have been changed by Christ. The people in these pictures have helped change the world – not by their own might or power (which is the stuff of temporal headline news) but rather by humbly surrendering to the Only Almighty and Powerful One (which is the stuff of eternal selfless being).

We would do well to seek out such people. We would do well to know such people. We would do well to be such people.

Psalm 23 for Young Lives camp (in which I consider how childcare workers reflect the character of God)

Precious Young Lives childcare worker (Photo: CKirgiss)
Precious Young Lives childcare worker (Photo: CKirgiss)

[If a shepherd can reflect and illuminate the character of God, then surely a Young Lives childcare worker can too.]

Psalm 23 (repurposed) –

The LORD is my childcare worker, I lack nothing.
He travels from far away at his own expense to spend time caring for me.
He helps comfort me when I am separated from those I love.
He holds me near his heart where I can hear his love beat strongly.
He rocks me to sleep when I am tired while cradling me in his gentle arms.
He patiently listens to my sobs and never tells me to “just get over it” or “stop that now” or “quit being such a baby!”
He keeps careful track of when I need to eat and sleep and makes sure they happen.
He checks the weather and dresses me appropriately.
He cleans up my messes – no matter how horrid – with a gracious and humble attitude.
He holds me tightly and safely while we ride on a flatbed trailer through the countryside.
He strolls me up and down the sidewalk so I can breathe fresh air and see the beautiful creation.
He takes care of me faithfully and joyfully, as though I were his own child or grandchild.
He laughs at my silliness and encourages my attempts to learn new things.
He makes me feel safe as I experience things that are not part of my daily life.
He welcomes me sincerely and enthusiastically each and every day.
He expresses joy and excitement and grace when I recognize him and hold out my arms to be held.
He makes me feel loved and safe, each and every moment of each and every day.
He does many unexpected and fun things to make me smile and laugh.
When I reject his care and love, he is disappointed and hurt, but he does not reject me in return.
He is available all the time to provide whatever I need without asking for anything in return.
He is wise. He is loving. He is comforting. He is humble.
Amen.