On message

What lessons are our young people learning from us? In what ways are we teaching and sharing the messages they receive?

That video has been making the rounds across the interwebs lately. It’s an incredible performance and a stark reminder that our children and youth are extremely perceptive and they see and hear things we might not even realize we’re sending their way. Sometimes they see and hear things we wish they wouldn’t. Not because those things are vulgar per se, but because we wish they weren’t true about us.

We showed that video to our high school youth group last night. They were especially interested in what causes people, schools, communities to ban books. Of what are they afraid? What do those people and places think will be accomplished by the bans? Don’t they know there are always other ways of getting a book?

Given the summer of Ferguson, #StayWokeAdvent, and the seemingly daily reports of violence necessitating the cry that #BlackLivesMatter, I hope next we’ll spend more time considering the stark, arresting lines in the performance about all those bones upon whom we’ve built the dominant culture.

How about at WUMC? What unspoken messages are we sending? Specifically, what lessons are our physical space teaching?

A few weeks ago we asked our teens to spend time in various parts of the church to see what our space teaches. According to our physical space, who do we say God is? After nearly an hour of scouring our building to find the messages therein, we asked them to narrow their responses.

What is the most important message you found?

  • God accepts everyone every living thing.
  • God wants us to be a blessing to others.
  • That we should be inclusive and share God’s love and message.
  • That you should be loving and caring and respectful.
  • Have faith without fear.

What was the most surprising or most troubling message you found?

  • That we should walk with Jesus rather than following him. That’s surprising because we’re used to hearing all about follow, follow, follow. This felt more like ‘think for yourself with Jesus.’
  • Treat people respectfully even if you don’t like them. That’s troubling because when you don’t like someone you usually don’t want to treat them well.
  • We serve multiple purposes, we have to help people not just in Woodridge but all around the world.
  • Surprising that most of the rooms had messages about money, that we need to give money.

What message you found is the hardest to live?

  • Putting God first.
  • Loving everyone. Because you don’t always like everyone. It’s hard to love those who don’t respect you.
  • Always follow God.
  • Waking up everyday like it’s your last, trying your hardest 24/7. Some days you just don’t feel up to giving your all.
  • Spread the word. Because sometimes we’re shy or afraid we’ll be judged.

“We were taught that It is better to be silent than to make them uncomfortable!” May we continually strive to avoid that trap.

Sleep Out Saturday

Gonna try live blogging Sleep Out Saturday. Haven’t done that before so bear with me…

2:00pm
Home preparing to go on a bike ride with our kids. Being away from them is the hardest part of any overnight youth event.

In the next day or two, I’ll share more SOS insights from WUMC teenagers in a separate post.

Finally, huge THANK YOU to all our amazing adult leaders: Kathy, Christine, Kevin, Barb, Karen, Troy, Mark, Nikole, Wally, and Martine!
You make WUMC’s youth ministries possible.

Thanks so much for reading. Let me know what you think of all this in the comments.

11:50
Worship services over, the display of Stop & Think questions – some leader-generated, some youth-created – now adorn the Narthex (fancy churchy word for lobby):

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10:30
I can tell the kids are tired at this point (me too!), but they were even better at the Conversation at the second worship service.

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9:03
Our first worship service started a little late, largely due to Pastor Danita waiting for me to finish trying to fix the presentation computer. Note: when I’m the IT guy, things are bad.

But our youth did a great job leading the Conversation with the Children, telling a little about what we did and a little about what they thought and felt about it.

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8:12
My one, indisputable take away is that this SOS completely confirms and illuminates what my friend, Hugh Hollowell, taught us when we visited Love Wins Ministries this summer:

The opposite of homeless isn’t housed, it’s community.

8:00
Breakfasting and reflecting on the experience. We’ll use these reflections to guide us as a few of the youth lead the Conversation with the Children in worship this morning.

7:50
One awesome leader brought coffee. Yet another awesome leader brought us breakfast, including bacon!

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7:40
One leader reports it is 29 degrees. For sure it was cold enough to freeze the water bottle left out:

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7:20
Breaking down tent city:

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7:00
Good morning, everybodyyyyy!

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6:45
Woke up to find most of the kids still sleeping. This is unexpected. Previous years everyone was up by 6:00. Maybe it was warmer this year? Or our groups was better prepared?

4:30
Somehow I lost an update. Need to add that a couple adults arrived at (the second) 2:00am to take a turn as tent city guard. We have the best leaders ever!

4:20
I bailed. I’m ashamed to admit it but, I woke up, couldn’t move in my box and, well, pretty much freaked out. I’ve never felt claustrophobic before, but I have to think that’s what it feels like.

Spent a few minutes talking with the leaders taking a turn watching over our tent city, then went inside to sleep. So I failed SOS. Great.

2:00am (for the second time) and the second shift of leaders have arrived. We are very blessed to have such dedicated adults!

Bed time for me.

2:00am…except now it’s 1:00am again. Ugh. Remember when that extra hour of sleep was a godsend? Tonight? Not so much.

Of course recognizing the privilege oozing out of that lament…is kinda one of the main points of this event.

midnight
Climbing into our boxes and tents to sleep. We hope.

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11:00
Construction complete:

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10:00
Assembling shelters, hoping to avoid the skunk that was just spotted on the church lawn…right next to where the shelters are planned to go.

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9:00
Activity 2 commences: each participant received a persona with which they had to try to gain housing by visiting various agencies: apartment complexes, women’s shelter, public housing, section 8, rescue mission, or a realty company.

We leaders served as staff for the agencies. We were instructed to make it as difficult for them as we could. No one got housed the first day.

8:30
All signed in, thereby “agreeing to abide by the center’s rules,” and the simulation begins.

First, in families of 3, a sheriff is at their door, they are being evicted, and they have 5 minutes to decide what they will take with them, but it must fit in a backpack.

Most of the groups chose to bring their passport, prompting one leader to wonder, “They know they’re being evicted and not going on a trip to Aruba, right?”

8:00
Found our last straggler (a leader no less 🙂 ), so all on the bus heading back to church to reflect, enter the simulation, build our shelters, and, eventually, sleep.

7:50
And there’s tonight’s surprise: the indefatigable SOS director, Jennie Gates, is retiring. I’ll miss working with her on this event. She’s always very organized, making it much easier for me to be as well.

7:35
“Finding Bridge was such a relief for our families.” Shout out to case workers and all who help families like these connect with the resources they need. Those women and men have to be the unsung heroes of this story.
Looking forward to hearing the group react to the stories told.

7:25
Important, honest talk from two families helped by Bridge. One family became homeless due to the mom taking her kids, leaving an abusive relationship.

7:20
The obligatory shout out to all the sponsors and each town represented. Being Woodridge means we’re last on the list. But we can be loud when we try.

7:10
Stephan Stefan Holt on stage to, er, rally the crowd.

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This is the 11th year for SOS, raising $1 Million in that time.
“It’s going to be pretty cold tonight.” Thanks for that reminder, Stephan Stefan.

6:55
Two of our boys won the head or tails game. (Put your hand on your head or your tail and if the DJ calls out where your hands are, you move on). A very helpful prize: handwarmers!

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6:45
One question answered:

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6:10
Our final participants arrive and we’re on the bus heading to Glen Ellyn for the rally. 11 youth & 5 adults. Plus a couple more adults staying behind to set up the shelter simulation which begins as soon as we return from the rally.

The mood on the bus is noticeably split: the youth are all chatting, laughing, animated. While the adults are quiet, pensive even. Or maybe it’s contemplative. Yeah, that’s probably it… 😉

The rally has music, a family or two who have been helped by Bridge Communities will speak, and Stephan Stefan (apologies) Holt from the local NBC affiliate will emcee. Two years ago, a few of our group knew one of the teens who spoke. That, as they say, brought the issue home really quickly. What surprises await us this time?

Will there be t-shirts left for the kids at the rally? Last year they were out by the time we got there.

We’ll know soon…

Building empathy, enabling community

“Stress. It was really stressful having to constantly compare prices and serving sizes. It took a lot longer than when I grocery shop with my mom.”

“I felt like people were watching us and judging us, because we we talking so much about the price of everything and the servings. I didn’t like that.”

In groups of three or four, our youth were assigned a family narrative and then off to Jewel we went where each “family” had to shop for the week on a limited budget, making sure there was enough servings of protein, fruits, veggies and carbs for everyone. The above quotes were more connections being made as we prepare for Sleep Out Saturday this weekend.

SOS has three purposes:

  1. Raise awareness of homelessness in DuPage County.
  2. Raise funds for Bridge Communities so they can continue to provide housing and community for families experiencing homelessness in DuPage.
  3. Creating, for those participating in the event, an experience of solidarity with people experiencing homelessness. That is, building empathy for neighbors in need.

Frankly, we could use your help.

First, we need your prayers. For us, sure, that we have a meaningful experience and reach those three goals. But more importantly, please pray for all who experience homelessness right now. Pray that they find shelter and community. Pray for an end to the causes of homelessness, such as domestic abuse, mental illness, addiction, lack of employment, or severe illness. Pray that unjust systems that keep people poor or undereducated or sick or jobless will end.

Next, be open to what God’s Holy Spirit might have to say to you and to me and to us on Sunday morning when our teenagers share a message to the children born out of SOS. If we look cold and disheveled, well, it’s because we are.

Finally, if you are able, consider making a donation. We’re trying to raise $1000 and could really use some helping getting there.

For super extra bonus points, join us! Come to church and sleep out with us. Or even just on your lawn at home. There’s no age limits on who can participate.

Connections. It’s all about connections.

There was a lot to like about last weekend’s Confirmation retreat. No, not everything was peachy. You can’t throw 16 people who aren’t used to spending that much time together into a fairly small space for 26 hours and expect nothing but sunshine and roses 🙂

We played a lot, and we snacked a lot, and we laughed a lot.

I enjoyed watching teamwork, listening, and cooperation develop and grow as the group navigated the multiple challenges of Reynoldswood Camp’s teams course. There was a noticeable difference in how the group treated each other from the first challenge to the last.

Retreat swinging pic

I appreciated the way the group was willing to share in response to The Game of Things questions such as, “things you dream about” or “things that make you cry.”

Pride welled in me as the youth determined together one thing they wanted to change about our congregation and made a plan to affect that change.

Understanding dawned as the Confirmands saw, some for the first time, the thread that runs from Genesis 12, through Micah 6 and Isaiah 58, and into Matthew 25 and Luke 10. The thread that, for us, informs what it means to be followers of God in the Way of Jesus.

It was in the midst of that biblical exploration that my favorite moment from the weekend occurred. One of our young people had an epiphany. I mean, you could practically see the light bulb (eco-friendly CFL, of course) jump to life over this youth’s head! “Wait…it’s all connected! Everything we’ve talked about, everything we’ve watched, everything we’ve read…even some of the games…it’s all connected!”

Yup. It’s a tangled web we weave. 😉

It’s often difficult to see the big picture when you’re 12 or 13 years old. (Or 22 or 33 or 42 or 83 for that matter.) So when that kind of connection happens, when someone – regardless of age – sees, even for a moment, how the story of their life connects with the biblical story and the Methodist story and the story of the Woodridge United Methodist Church – when in that moment they see, however fleetingly, purpose…well, that makes my heart sing and my soul dance.

Find the thread. See the connections. Act with purpose.

Which brings me back to our Offering of Letters. I’m committed to make it more than a one time event. Speaking out with and for hungry people – helping them get food – simply is God’s way in the world.

So here’s a thread to follow:

  • Like it or not, our government plays a vital role in feeding hungry people locally, nationally, and globally. Our government determines how much money goes to programs that feed hungry people.
  • Elections determine our government.
  • We are less than two weeks away from the next election.

I can’t and won’t tell you who to vote for. But I can, and do, encourage you to make ending hunger a priority as you decide how to vote.

We can elect to end hunger.

With Bread for the World, I’ve pledged to do just that:

As a Christian, I want to live in a world where hunger is rare and temporary, not the shared experience of millions. I plan to let our nation’s decision makers know that this is a priority for my family, my community, and my church.

Will you join me? (You can even get a free car magnet, if you want one.)

Bread pledge

Find the thread. See the connections. Act with purpose.

It’s not all bad

This has been a tough week:

  • Ongoing war and atrocities in Iraq and Gaza.
  • Robin Williams’ suicide
  • Shooting death of Mike Brown and all that followed (and continues to follow) in Ferguson, MO.

Death, racism, oppression, violence, pain and despair are not hard to find. I’m going to talk about all of that as honestly as I can in my sermon on Sunday.

But ours is a God of hope and love and grace and life. Those things may be harder to find – especially in a week like this one – but they are just as real. At the risk of self-indulgence, I offer this Post by Woodridge United Methodist Church (some of which can be seen below) as one example of the life of God at work in the world (H/T Patti Cash). The Northern Illinois Food Bank does terrific work and we’re proud to play a small part in making their work happen this week.

How about you…where have you found hope and life this week?

Woodridge UMC youth and leaders served at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, IL today. Together they packed 2100 pounds of potatoes and 789.6 pounds of “Meals In The Bag”. Today their “MITB” job was minestrone soup, packing each bag with 9 cans, I box pasta, 1 bag dried beans, and instructions. 4 bags goes into each box and they packed up 21 boxes. In total, this group packed up 2,408 meals for hungry people in Northern Illinois! #itsallrighthere #youth #helpie

SOS aftermath

We participate in Sleep Out Saturday to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County – and to raise funds to help end it.

As I wrote recently (here and here), SOS is a way to be in solidarity with our homeless population. SOS creates visceral evidence that those who are homeless are included in that web of mutuality that connects us all.

Yet, I want to be sensitive to reasonable critiques of SOS. For instance:

  • Shouldn’t we just know that we are connected to all people which includes the homeless?
  • Why does it take a big event like SOS to demonstrate mutuality?
  • Is this just another form of poverty tourism?
  • Are we just using the homeless as a way or an excuse to have a fun event for ourselves?

The best responses I can offer are:

  • Yes, we should.
  • I don’t know…perhaps it is part of the nature of privileged living in the first world to need to be shaken out of our complacency cocoons?
  • I hope not.
  • I don’t think so. We’re trying to make it so much more than that.

But I’m probably too close to it to evaluate. I want to know what you think. So I’ll offer pictures, descriptions, and reflections from the evening; you tell me where we seem to be on the continuum:

tourists ————- mutuality

Or maybe that’s not even the best way to express the continuum. You tell me. Please.

The evening begins with a school bus – arranged by and paid for by Bridge Communities – that takes us to the Rally.

SOS 2013 bus

The Rally includes dance music, a roll call of the towns represented (there were dozens, from Addison to Woodridge), thanking sponsors, and thanking participants, all MC’d by local news anchor, Stefan Holt.

SOS 2013 rally

But the highlight of the Rally (at least for me) is hearing two families helped by Bridge’s transitional housing tell their story.

After the Rally at Bridge Communities headquarters, we returned to WUMC for a simulation game. Each of us received a biography detailing age, sex, family history, employment history, and what led us to become homeless. Several of our adult volunteers role played as persons working for an apartment complex, housing authority, women’s shelter, mission house, and realty. Our job was to find housing for the night.

SOS 2013 simulation

It was, frankly, frustrating.  Jumping through hoops only to be turned down at multiple places. Having a place close before I could turn in paperwork. Running out of options.

A few reflections from our teenagers on the simulation experience:

  • “It’s hard to find shelter when you’re homeless.”
  • “Homelessness can happen to anyone of any situation.”
  • “Some shelters might not let you in. Food is not readily available.”
  • “Homeless people live in harsh conditions.”
  • “Homeless people come from all different backgrounds and with all different reasons and face different personal challenges.”

Then we prepared shelter for the night out of cardboard boxes.

SOS 2013 box prep

SOS 2013 boys box

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SOS 2013 mylene box

SOS 2013 trying my box

I never said it was a grim project. 🙂

We’re lucky. The church has a great space for our boxes right out in front of the building.

SOS 2013 my bag & box

SOS 2013 ready to box

We really did sleep some.

SOS 2013 asleep

It was cold. But we were sleeping out for a few hours for one night. With a building available for warmth and bathrooms. And a hot breakfast prepared for us. We are aware we’re only simulating a fraction of true homelessness. But that fraction, it’s not nothing. The experience impacted us.

“It is humbling realizing what homeless people have to do every night. It is humiliating thinking this was hard for me but realizing they do this every night.”

“It was humbling thinking about people driving by church, seeing us sleeping in boxes and maybe thinking about me all the stereotypes of homeless people.”

Finally, our teenagers were asked what they would be willing to do without to help homeless people:

  • $10 a week
  • a meal every week
  • let them stay in my house until they get somewhere to stay and a job
  • $1 per week
  • half of my American Girl dolls
  • my iPod
  • $10 per week
  • $5 per week
  • $1 per day

So, what do you think? Tourism, mutuality, or somewhere in between?

Sleep Out (in solidarity) Saturday

“Everybody belongs,” I said on Sunday. That phrase comes from a teaching by Father Richard Rohr, but also, once again, calls to mind MLK’s brilliant, under-valued recapitulation of the gospel: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Lots of ways to express that thought:

  • We are all connected.
  • We are better together.
  • Yes, I am (and you are and we are) our brother’s – and sister’s – keeper.
  • Solidarity.

It is with this understanding of the gospel – and thus of the life of faith – in mind that we approach Sleep Out Saturday tomorrow. It is with that understanding of the life of faith in mind that we offered our youth a scavenger hunt this week. This was a hunt aimed to help deepen our solidarity with the homeless population.

I thought you might like to join the hunt cyber-style. Feel free to try it IRL too! Big THANKS to Kathy Falout for designing the hunt.

Divide into a team of 3-5. Imagine you are homeless. Find these items:

1. rain/bus schedule

2.    Listing of apartments for rent in Woodridge

3.    Can you get a Library card without an address?  Find out!

4.    Job listings or “Want-ads”

5.    Address for the local Food Pantry

6.    Address for the local Walk-In Ministry

7.    Employment application.  What is the pay rate?________  How will you get to work? – map out walk/bike/bus route.

8.    Free museum brochure

9.    Free e-mail account.  Where would you check your e-mail?

10.   Where would you find card board boxes to build a shelter?

11. Where would you go to exercise/work out?

12. Where can you take a shower and clean-up without getting kicked out?

13. Where do you brush your teeth and use the bathroom before school?

14. Address of Community or State Health Clinic

15. Collect sale coupons for the grocery store.

16. Info on bank accounts. What is the minimum to open a checking acct?

17. “Used” car dealer ad.

18. Where can you find a cheap bike?

19. Find a phone booth and call Pastor Dave on his cell phone.

20. You have a budget of $10 to feed dinner to your “family” (your group).  Make a list of the items you would purchase and their cost.  Remember:

  • You don’t have anywhere to cook this food.
  • Think about quantity – will this fill us up?  What about the nutritional value?
  • You are NOT allowed to select food from fast food establishments.
  • You may not add money to the budget.
  • Be creative, spend wisely and don’t forget about tax.

I haven’t often thought about all the different things that having a permanent address makes easier – or even just possible.

This will be my first Sleep Out Saturday. I’m excited to be able to participate this year. I’m a little nervous about my shelter-creating abilities. I can’t wait to experience the rally and hear our young people reflect on the event.

SOS box tent prep

I hope and I pray that our involvement in this event continues to grow in all of us the understanding that we are deeply and truly connected with our homeless sisters and brothers; that what affects them affects us as well.

Take some time to join us – either in person this weekend or online. You can add to our fundraising effort there and read all about the amazing work done by SOS sponsor, Bridge Communities.

Listen to Amos, #endhunger

“…Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

We read those inspiring, challenging words from the prophet Amos this past Sunday.
It certainly is a beautiful image – justice, as strong as the tide rolling in yet as refreshing as a cool stream, coming for those in need.

But for we who would worship and serve God, those words also culminate some stark proclamations. To paraphrase Amos, God says that no matter how eloquent are our prayers, no matter how big are our offering checks, no matter how pitch-perfect and heartfelt are our songs, God will not listen, will not accept, will not hear  them…unless and until we are also actively engaged in bringing justice for the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed.

Like I said, challenging words.

This week, a group of our youth (with some leaders, of course) did their best to live up to that challenge. In lieu of our regular Wednesday night activities, we spent two hours serving at Feed My Starving Children in Aurora. In those two hours the 20 of us, along with about 50 other volunteers, packed enough meals to fill 82 boxes.

That means we packed 17,712 meals, enough to fed 49 kids for a year.

The boxes we packed are scheduled to go to Haiti next week. It’s been two years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, but tremendous need still exists.

We are humbled and thrilled to provide a small piece of relief, to help bring to life God’s dreams of justice for hungry children.

In what works of justice are you participating?