Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Here's wishing everyone a safe and (reasonably) sane Halloween!  May the Goblins be festive and the candy be tasty!  I also want to wish a late happy birthday (Oct. 30) to my good friend Jerry Hanbery, the best underpaid, slightly crazed youth ministry intern anyone ever had.  Come back tomorrow as my journey takes a turn north...WAYYYY north!  Have a blessed day everyone...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Losing Touch

During my youth ministry career I had the good fortune to work with many talented actors.  Curt Cloninger, CPR, the Skit Guys and Ted & Lee all performed at churches I served at some point in time.  In each instance these creative men allowed God to use them to help us laugh and learn.  Some of my favorite teaching points over the years came from their work.

Last night I was looking at You Tube, searching for clips from some of these artists, when I discovered terrible news.  Lee Eshleman of Ted & Lee (on the right) died in May of 2007- and I had no idea.  Here was a man I had quoted often; a man I had hired to come teach through drama at our church; a man I had eaten dinner with at Applebee's.  This was a man who had taken a nap on the couch in my home.  It turns out he was also a man who had dealt with depression his entire life and in the end could not live with the pain.  But I didn't know that, or that he had died.  Due to various circumstances, I had lost touch with Lee...and now he is gone, and I never even knew.  My heart was filled with sorrow for his spouse and three children, and for Ted.  I immediately began to run my minds' video clips of Lee, as Andrew the Disciple in their Fisheyes program; as the Angel Gabriel and as Solomon in The Creation Chronicles; and as a total wild man in The Squirrel Family Reunion.  I smiled as I remembered, and I felt sad for the loss.  A loss I had missed by more that two years.  Two very difficult years for me.

I began to wonder what else I had missed.  Marilyn and my Mom came home from Will's band performance at the football game and told me of a dear family friend who had gotten divorced in the past year- and we had no idea.  My mind became a blur of thought, wondering who else we had lost, who else had been through tragedy during these past couple of years while I have been so focused on ME.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed, feeling like somehow I had failed these friends...and God only knows who else.

But that's the whole point, isn't it?  God knows!  I might like to believe I could have helped Lee or saved that marriage, when the fact is I could not have done anything- not without God.  But God can do everything without me!  God is present when we are together and when we are apart.  God loves us when the people around us can't or don't.  Life does not always turn out the way I want it to, but you know what?  It's not about me- it's all about Jesus!  He is present in the storm; only He can calm the raging waters. 

I know this post is a bit scattered, but so is life.  I pray today that God will make me a better husband, a better father and a better friend so that I may be of better service to Him in the name of Jesus.  I will miss Lee.  My prayers are with our friend and her new life.  Treasure the people in your life- let them know Jesus loves them, and so do you.  And for all of my friends with whom I have fallen out of touch these last years, I leave you with the words of the patron saint of Florida, Jimmy Buffet:  "If the phone doesn't's me..."

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

July 13, 1985

I woke up the morning of July 13, 1985 feeling awful, so I called in sick to Color Tile.  It was the best sick day ever!  I sat and watched for hours as the greatest recording artists in the world came together in Philadelphia and London to raise money to fight world hunger at an event called Live Aid, organized by Bob Geldolf of the Boomtown Rats. During this day I saw The Who reunite; I discovered U2 for the first time; I saw Queen at the pinnacle of their performing power;  and I saw many of the greatest rock stars of the past and present join in the finale in London.  It was a great day.  I couldn't help but wonder as I watched why these stars could put aside their massive egos and do this to fight hunger, while we in the church could not even get past our petty denominational differences to follow the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25.  They made an attempt to feed the world while we argued about which soup kitchens were theologically and politically correct.  They stirred people with their music to the point of fanaticism; why could we not do the same in the name of Jesus?  Many of the artists that day were not Christians- in fact many were far from it.  But the words of Do They Know It's Christmastime? are in some part the story of Jesus: "At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade... Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime!"  Many years have passed, but the passion and compassion exhibited that day have never left me, and the finale still brings the goose bumps and reminds me that "all good things work for the glory of God." I have posted the video below for you to enjoy.   Help feed the world by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Santa & The Iron Man

Yesterday I mentioned a number of the jobs I worked at besides my years in ministry, but I saved my favorite for today.  For several years I was a mall Santa Claus at Christmas.  You know the guy- parents bring children to sit on his knee so a photographer can take a $20 Polaroid picture.  That was me!  Actually, I enjoyed it so much (except for occasionally being wet on!) that in later years I would moonlight at the job, working at strange locations like an Express Lube in Kissimmee.  I still own my Santa suit.  It was a joy to bring smiles to the faces of so many kids- and of course, when they knew about it, the students in my youth groups would show up as well.  I eventually wore the suit to youth Christmas parties (see the picture below; that's me with Jerry Hanbery and Ben Thacker in Kissimmee!).  It was, for the most part, a wonderful experience.

In 1981 I was working at an Outlet Mall in Greensboro, sharing Santa duty with an older guy.  When we weren't playing Santa we also worked at a kiosk selling leather hand bags, brief cases and trinkets.  This man (his name has long since escaped me; I'll just refer to him as Santa) had spent a number of years in the Navy and had lived in the Baltimore area before moving to NC.  He, like me, was a huge sports fan and much of our conversation concerned the current NFL season and the upcoming baseball season.  Santa was a huge Baltimore Orioles fan, and he told me one day of a young man who had grown up in the same neighborhood in Aberdeen, MD that he had lived in.  This young man was a player in the Orioles farm system who was ready for the major leagues, according to Santa- and he was a better person than baseball player.  His name was Cal Ripken, Jr.  Santa was right; Cal was ready for the big time.  He joined the Orioles in May of 1982, and at the end of the season was named the American League Rookie of the Year.  In 1983 he took another step towards greatness and was the A.L.  Most Valuable Player.  He led the Orioles to a World Series victory.  I couldn't help but think to myself at the time that old Santa had really been on to something...

Fast forward to September 6, 1995.  Cal Ripken, Jr. (now known as The Iron Man) is playing in his 2,131st consecutive game for the Orioles, breaking Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games (see picture at top).  The entire sports world stops to watch and pay homage to Cal- for simply showing up every day.  Cal Ripken, Jr. was someone we could all identify with.  He had done something incredible without doing anything spectacular.  He was a guy who despite fame and fortune, despite bumps and bruises and despite everyone doubting his motives had simply shown up and done his job for what turned out to be almost 17 years- a total of 2,632 straight games.  He wasn't celebrated because of his great baseball skills; he was celebrated for being exceptional at the ordinary.

As I watched Cal take a victory lap around Camden Yards after the record became official, I couldn't help but wonder what his accomplishment had to say to people of faith.  I think it says a great deal.  Scripture says "and what does the Lord require of us?  Do justice; love mercy; and walk humbly with God."  In other words, God wants us to show up!  Every day.  No matter our sin, no matter our mood, and no matter our circumstances.  Just show up and do our best in the name of Jesus.  We are not called to do OK under the circumstances; we are called to let God lift us ABOVE the circumstances of our lives.  But we do have to show up.  God doesn't need more superstars, God needs more everyday players. Santa was so right.  Cal Ripken, Jr. was someone special- just like all of us who are created in the image of God.  All we have to do is refuse to take a day off, even when we are no where near our best- and we too can be in the Hall of Fame.  It's called the Kingdom of God...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blue Collar Man

I began working in youth ministry at the age of 18, so later in my life when I would tell people I had been in the profession for over 20 years they would inevitably say "so you've never had a REAL job, huh?"  Well let me tell you- I have had some REAL jobs!  In addition to working as both a waiter and a cook at Pizza Inn while I worked at New Garden Friends Meeting, I worked several "Joe jobs" between August of 1983 and November of 1985.  And I learned a little something from all of them!

I worked as the third shift (11pm-7am) warehouse manager for Kayser-Roth Hosiery in Kernersville, NC.  This was the same plant where my Dad worked as a supervisor for many years.  Warehouse Manager was interesting job title, as on third shift there was no one to manage but myself!  Every night I would roam the factory where socks were made, determine what kinds of yarn were needed from the warehouse, use a forklift to retrieve the yarn, and then take it out on the floor to the knitters.  I worked with a lot of women on this job, and very few of them had happy stories to tell.  Most were part of broken families, victims of abuse, substance abusers themselves, and many other tragedies.  On nights when I wasn't too busy with yarn, I would stand at the knitting machines and listen to their stories about themselves and their children and try to offer suggestions- and more importantly, hope.  Sometimes it was a challenge, but these nightly meetings always reminded me that there is "that of God in everyone," no matter how downtrodden or hopeless they may seem.  Telling these ladies of God's grace, hope and love was a ministry I would have not experienced any other place I had ever been, and it was something I still carry with me.

I tried selling knives door-to-door for three days before wanting to order a set so I could hurt myself, so I moved on quickly!  I went from that to driving a Volkswagon Rabbit (the powerless, diesel kind!) 8-10 hours everyday for Roadrunner Express Delivery.  I would pick up the car in Greensboro, and then drive a route that took me through Charlotte and on to Gastonia and Black Mountain.  My job?  To pick up Kodak film people had dropped in "one day developing" bins at various stores and deliver the photos from the film I had picked up the day before.  Yes- such a business once actually existed!  Spending 40-50 hours a week alone in a car left me lots of time to think and plan and pray about the future and what I wanted my next ministry to look like.  You read that right- what I wanted my next ministry to look like!  I still had so much to learn...

My final job before God led me back into ministry was as a salesman at Color Tile, a national chain that sold carpet, paint, and of course, tile.  The store I worked at was in Greensboro near Carolina Circle Mall, a mall no one shopped at or visited.  It was by a sewage treatment plant and the smell was horrible.  I could work a 12 hour day at Color Tile and not see but a dozen customers.  Part of my compensation was commission, so you can see how this was not a good situation.  But I learned a great deal during my few months there.  I learned how to measure a room, how to install tile, the right way to paint and how to unload trucks full of thousands of pounds of tile and carpet.  The things I learned at Color Tile and the rest of these jobs would serve me well over the years because they gave me a better understanding of what life is like for so many people- jobs they hate, financial struggles and family struggles.  The faith many of these people had in Jesus inspired me; I realized how important the hope that Jesus brings was in their lives.  Little did I know at the time how much I would need that hope twenty years later...  I now knew what it was like to be, as Styx sang,  "a blue collar man."

I did have one other job beside Youth Pastor during that time, spread out over a number of years.  But that's tomorrow's story, and it involves two guys named Santa Claus as well as Cal Ripken, Jr.  Don't miss it...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Journey

The 1982-83 school year found me working full-time as the youth pastor at New Garden Friends Meeting.  There were a couple of problems with this situation.  New Garden did not want me or anyone else working full-time as a youth pastor, and they were paying me $100 a month.  We were at an impasse.  I had reached a point in my life where I felt a clear calling from God to be a youth ministry lifer.  My experiences with David Stone and the folks at Youth Specialties had shown me the cutting edge of the very young profession of student ministry, and I wanted to take New Garden to that edge.  I was expanding programs, drawing in new kids and trying new things, and I pushed fairly hard to see if the Meeting would at least commit to a full summer ministry in 1983 (very few churches did youth ministry during the summer in those days, which NEVER made any sense to me.  The students are bored and available, so we quit for 3 months!)- but they were not interested in as much change as I wanted to bring about.  But, me being me, I kept pushing the outside of the envelope.  The Youth Council, the committee that oversees student ministry at New Garden, had a budget of $150 for the year.  To do the things I wanted to do took money, and so I wound up paying for things myself with money I really didn't have; this would not be the last time this would happen.  My personal finances soon became a disaster, and it was my own fault.  Anyway, by May of '83 New Garden was ready for me to go, and I needed to go find a paying job.  At the time there were only 4 out of 80+ Friends Meetings in NC who had full-time youth positions, so I knew I was looking at some time off from ministry.  I worked one more summer at Quaker Lake as their first ever Crafts & Special Activities Director, and then it was off into the real world.

I learned a great deal on this "new journey" I was embarking on, and over the next couple of days I will share some of the lessons learned in warehouses and Volkswagon Rabbits.  But perhaps the most important lesson I learned came as I departed New Garden.  My actions, and in some cases my attitude, had given people there reasons to dislike me, and some did.  The vast majority, however, showed me nothing but love and grace at that point and in all my future dealings with them.  They showed me what it means to live out 1 John 4:7-8, which says "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  If you don't love, you don't know God, for God IS love."  All the ideas and all the gifts and all the education and all the cutting edge programs in the world don't mean anything unless they are covered in love-  God's love! 

I knew what God had called me to do; now I just needed to trust Him to get me there.  The journey would not be easy.  It seldom is.  I remember sitting on a bridge at QLC (pictured) one Saturday afternoon and praying that Jesus would show me the way.  And just like the disciples before me, I had no idea how dangerous that prayer was...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

That...was AWESOME!

This classic Quaker painting, A Presence in the Midst, captures what it is like to worship in the expectation that the Holy Spirit will be present.  What an awesome thing...

There is a scene in the Chris Farley/David Spade comedy Tommy Boy where our two heroes hit a deer with Spade's car and think they have killed it.  Feeling terrible about the accident, they load the body of the deer in the backseat of the car and continue driving, only to have the deer come back to life and totally destroy the classic convertible.  As the deer finishes his work and runs off into the woods, Tommy (Farley) looks at the scene and says "that....was AWESOME!" 

Marilyn, Will and I were at EPCOT one afternoon a number of years ago after a Florida thunderstorm, and a glorious rainbow appeared out over the World Lagoon.  As we were standing there admiring God's handy work, we heard a young lady ask her mom if Disney World had made the rainbow... 

Noah and the Ark, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Samson and his feats of strength, David and the slaying of Goliath- all of these awesome acts of God are now often treated as Old Testament "parables."  People don't believe they really happened, they were just stories told to illustrate truths.  We live in a world that often doesn't believe in the awesome and the miraculous.  Even those of us who claim Christ as our savior don't really expect God to "show up" in amazing ways.  We go to church on Sunday morning hoping the choir or the band will excite us, or that the preacher will keep us awake.  Where is our sense of expectation?  Why aren't we experiencing the Holy Spirit in our midst, making us sit up and exclaim "THAT...was AWESOME!"  Why do we not look at every newborn baby, at every mountain and every star-filled sky and scream "You are AMAZING, God!"  How is it that we can experience the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ in our lives and not be amazed that the Creator of the Universe loves us?  We have come to believe that we are in control.  We have come to believe that our own power and wisdom can save the world.  Too many times, in too many ways, we underestimate and under appreciate the power of God.  We live our lives in fear of terrorists with bombs and meteors crashing into earth, when in fact only God controls the future.  The late Rich Mullins got it right:
Our God, is an awesome God
He reigns from Heaven above,
With wisdom, power and love
Our God is an awesome God!

We need to live our lives in Holy Expectation that the Holy Spirit will move in our mundane lives every day in ways that can only be described as awesome.  Rich told me once that the most important line in the entire Awesome God song is "I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God."  Remember- and expect God to amaze you, so that every night when your head hits the pillow you can look back at the day and say "THAT...was AWESOME!"

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The United Nations Seminars

In the early days of what later became known as New York trips, I was a part of groups from NC who attended U.N. Seminars sponsored by Friends United Meeting.  These seminars were held each November and attracted high school students from all over the U.S.  I first attended in 1976 as a high school senior, and then went again in 1978 as a "part time chaperon."  I attended again in 1979, 1981 and 1982, and then beginning in 1987 I went back numerous times, often as the planner and leader of the trip.  Those first few years I learned so much about the city and about leading a large group, information that I put to good use in later years.  Those early years run together in my mind a bit, but there are some things I do remember...
  • In 1978 while we were in the city, Jim Jones and his followers all "drank the kool-aid" and killed themselves in Guyana.
  • That same year, the late Joe Cannady (a dear friend from New Garden) got smacked in the face on the boat to Liberty Island.  There was a set of identical twins we knew from Quaker Lake- Angela and Rene Dentiste.  They were very attractive young women who were quite difficult to tell apart unless you knew the secrets- like which one wore braces, and which one had a bigger, uh, shoe size!  They were seldom apart, but on this trip only Rene was with the group.  Joe was trying to flirt with her, and as he talked he called her Angela.  She was not happy, and told him so, saying "I'm not Angela- I'm Rene!"  To which Joe, bless his heart, replied "What's the difference?"  It got ugly fast... 
  • For many years the seminar part of the trip was conducted by and at the United Methodist Center at the U.N.  Strangely enough, we quit using the Methodist Center not long after I began working at a Methodist Church!
  • Also in 1978, our topic at the U.N. was "Peace in the Middle East," and we had representatives from Israel and Egypt speak at our sessions.  But the one I really remember was when a PLO rep came in the room while an Israeli was still there- the conversation was quite animated!  Those 2 groups felt about each other the way FOX News feels about President Obama! 
  • In those days we stayed at the Hotel Tudor, a formerly ritzy place at 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue, near the U.N.  One of the things I remember about the Tudor is that is had two separate sides, and you could not get from one to the other without taking the elevator to the Lobby.  Made it very difficult to sneak around after lights out...
  • On Sunday mornings we would walk for MILES to attend 15th Street Friends Meeting (actually we walked for miles every day, everywhere we went!), a very interesting traditional Quaker Meeting where you never knew what you might hear- and usually it concerned politics.
  • One year, I think 1981, we drove vans to New York instead of chartering a bus.  This was fine until we got to the city and discovered there is no place to park a 15 passenger van in New York.  I nearly had a nervous breakdown driving around Manhattan looking for parking!  We also missed a turn in the middle of the night on the way home, and the trip took an extra two hours.  And even with that, Leigh Ann Everhart still never figured out the "it can be Snoopy, but it can't be a dog" brain game...
  • We would always attend a Broadway play (later we would attend two, sometimes three) and one year Paula Teague, who was in charge for FUM, got us tickets to see A Chorus Line.  This was fine until they performed the song about "T & A" and Paula nearly died from embarrassment!  She was going to call and resign then and there, but we stopped her!
  • In those days Times Square was a real dump.  Hookers, drug dealers and other dangerous types were everywhere.  It was quite an education for kids from Iowa, Indiana and NC.
  • In 1981 Marilyn (still 5 years away from being my wife) went with us for the first time- the first of many.  New York will always be a special place for the two of us.

Those were some great trips.  We spent hours talking international politics, seeing the tourist sites, and learning a great deal about the world we lived in.  I also made good friends from all over the country.  In later years, we moved away from the seminar model because the Methodist Center quit finding interesting speakers and being creative with their teaching.  But the Big Apple never lost its' appeal...and the stories just kept getting better!  So keep reading...

Friday, October 23, 2009

One Tin Soldier

I never saw the original Billy Jack, yet few movies have ever had as much influence on my youth ministry career.  The big song from that movie was One Tin Soldier, written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter and performed by Coven.   We sang it at camp when I was a camper, and continued to sing it off and on my first few years on the Quaker Lake Camp staff.  We sang it so much, in fact, that we got sick of it. In fact, like many great youth group songs, it at some point made it to the Youth Group Jukebox of Cheese (Songs that are cheesy, but as some point became popular with a group).  But you can't keep a good song down, and it would make comebacks during my time at Springfield Friends Meeting, and, after another hiatus, at First UMC-Kissimmee.  The reasons it kept coming back are simple; it has a wonderfully catchy melody and a message that resonates with students in our world- peace and brotherhood.  And it hits the nail on the head on the number one reason for violence in our world- greed.  I offer this thought:  the arrival of the Christ-child was heralded by angels singing "Peace on earth; good will to all people."  Why, then, do we still have war, famine and injustice?  A bumper sticker says it all:  Know Jesus, Know Peace;  No Jesus, No Peace.  Here is One Tin Soldier.

Listen children to a story that was written long ago
about a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folks below
On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath the stone
and the valley people swore they'd have it for their very own

So go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of Heaven you can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing, come the judgement day
On the bloody morning after....One tin soldier rides away

So the the people of the valley sent a message up the hill
asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they'd kill
Came an answer from the mountain with our brothers we will share
all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there


Now the valley cried with anger "Mount your horses!  Draw your swords!"
So they killed the mountain people and they won their just rewards
Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain, dark and red
Turned the stone and looked beneath it...
Peace on earth, was all it said.

All of our armies and weapons and technology and fear have not made the world a safer place.  "Why don't you look into know He's got the answers...     -Larry Norman

Thursday, October 22, 2009

7 Things (New Garden Edition)

We are nearing the end of my blogging about my days at New Garden Friends Meeting, but before we go I want to leave you with 7 Things I have not blogged about yet and know I will never forget about my time as a youth leader there.  You can read other great New Garden stories like Six on Six or Sand, Water, Sand, Water, Crab, Crab, Crab by visiting some of my earlier posts. So here they are, in no particular order:
  1. We did a Polaroid Panic Scavenger Hunt one Sunday afternoon in various teams, giving each team a list of pictures to take.  One of the pictures was to be of a team member kissing a mannequin.  The team that Marnee Larkins was on came back with a pic of Marnee molesting the poor mannequin; her hand was in a most unfortunate place, and so was his! Another group had an unforgettable picture of Robbie Hale in a dress. We laughed for days.  That was a great event, and those pictures cemented it in my memory!
  2. Field Day @ Quaker Lake was an annual event in the early '80's that drew huge crowds from all over the state.  Some teams would stack their youth group with local athletes so they could win the event; we never did.  But we always competed well, and we often declared ourselves the winners with a resounding "it just doesn't matter" cheer at the end of the day.  I am convinced that we were always the loudest group there, and that we always had more fun than anyone!
  3. After Dann Newby graduated and went to Wake Forest in the Fall of 1982, Kathy Fountain (his future wife) and I began writing bogus "secret admirer" letters to him, claiming to be a Wake student as well.  I don't remember much about it except how much fun Kathy and I had crafting the letters to be just so.  As a matter of fact, as I type this I realize I don't remember how (or if!) Dann ever found out where the letters came from!
  4. Marshall Ratledge (pictured above on left, with Darek Newby) had this "Gilligan" style floppy sailor hat that he was convinced was a "babe magnet."  As time went along he became Mag and the hat became the Mag Hat.  Woe unto anyone who tried to take the hat away from the Mag...
  5. I have mentioned this briefly in a previous posting, but the Class of 1983 was an amazing group in many ways.  We had top-ranked students from three different high schools who were part of that class, along with a number of other outstanding youth.  Jay Wilkins at Southern Guilford (he was kind of ours!), Kim Winters and Matt Mason at Northwest Guilford and Terri Johnson and Kathy Fountain at Western Guilford were all at the top of their classes.  There were also students from Greensboro Grimsley and Eastern Guilford who were a part of that group.  It was that kind of leadership and diversity that made my last class at New Garden one of the best I have ever been fortunate enough to work with.  We were also close enough to the same age that many of them became my good friends over the following years.
  6. There were so many siblings who were in the student ministry at New Garden, and I learned so much about how different brothers and sisters can be from one another.  Dick Lee was very different from his sister Ling, who was very different from their younger sister WillaLinc, Ann-Marie and Jason Dewar were all very much alike, yet so completely different.  The Edgerton girls, BethLori and Stephanie, were totally different from each other.  David and Tim Fountain were individuals, not clones of each other or their older sister.  And Scott Johnson and his sister Terri might as well have been from different planets!  I learned to deal with sibling rivalry, sibling protection, and family issues at a very young age, and all of those things served me well as I traveled my life's path.
  7. You have read it here before and you will again, but youth ministry is all about relationships- the ones we form with each other and the ones we form with God.  I thought I knew this to be true after my own high school days; I knew it to be true after my time as youth leader at New Garden.  Jennifer Bills took the time and care to calligraphy our Quaker Wedding Certificate several years after I left New Garden.  I watched people from different schools and very different family situations become great friends.  I watched Freddie Hollowell harass Kathryn Burris, Beth and Terri, and saw how much they all loved it.  I learned from Leigh Ellen Parker, Willa and Lori that anytime you have more than two middle school girls together, one of them feels left out- and that held true for all 28 years of my ministry!  And I learned that "friends are friends forever" from the relationships that have survived the miles and the years.  Darek Newby wrote me recently that he, Dann, Jay Wilkins and Marshall still get together once a year, and still tell the old stories.  I believe those kinds of relationships, lived out in love and friendship, make Jesus smile.  I certainly know they make me smile, and help me to know that at least in some small way those years were spent in the service of my God.
I look back in amazement now at all we did and accomplished, with no group t-shirts, no church van, no catchy group name (YFYF?  Come on...) and summers off.  Of course, we didn't know any better!  There are lots of names "dropped" above, and I could list many more from those days.  Each and every one of them holds a special place in my heart and played a part in my spiritual journey.  Thank you, God, for sharing their lives with me.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tony Campolo Stories, Part 1

If you enjoy this blog, please help Feed the Hungry by clicking here in the name of Jesus!  Thanks!

I have mentioned the name Tony Campolo several times already over the course of this blog, and it is a name you will hear several more times.  Tony is a preacher, speaker, professor of sociology and story teller supreme, and I came to know him through my participation in the National Youth Workers Convention.  His stories are legendary, and often a bit hard to believe.  In more recent years his adult son Bart was asked if his dad's stories were true, and Bart famously responded "Yes, they are true- it's just that dad remembers BIG!"  The story you are about to hear, however, I witnessed in person.  And it is still hard to believe...

After hearing Tony in Dallas in 1982 I began to push to have him as a speaker for our Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions.  This surprised a number of people,as Tony was well known as a strongly evangelical speaker and this went against type for me at the time.  Having heard him in person, however, I knew he spoke of Jesus in real terms and challenged you to follow Him in real ways, not simply by responding to an altar call.  He once described altar calls by saying "people walk down the aisle to Just As I Am; they kneel just as they are; and they go back to their pew just as they were!"  They booked him for August, 1984, by which time I was no longer working at QLC or at New Garden, but I attended a few sessions just to hear Tony speak.  One particular night a crowd of youth and adults flooded Sternberger Auditorum on the campus of Guilford College to hear him.  What he said that night he had said before, in other places.  But for anyone who was there, it was unforgettable!

He spoke of God's love and grace, and he spoke of how only Jesus can bridge the gap between our sins and God's love.  He spoke of our responsibilities to feed the hungry, take care of the homeless and to be peacemakers.  He spoke of how he felt the church was too busy "majoring in the minors" and not busy enough doing the work of Jesus in our world.  And then he drove it all home!  As the crowd gave him "amens" and "yes, brothers" he stopped, and then started again with the following words:  "But we don't really care about our brothers and sisters around the world, do we? Over 3000 (number is not exact) children starved to death in the world last night, and you people don't give a sh*t!"  He paused again, and the air simply left the room as people gasped upon hearing such a word in such a place.  And then he nailed us all.  "And what's worse is that you are more upset that I just said sh*t than you are that 3000 children starved to death last night..."  Half the audience roared their approval as the other half sat in stunned silence.  It was a moment that helped define my faith and the direction of my ministry in the years to come.  I was determined not to "major in the minors."  Pointing students to Jesus was really all that mattered; language and politics and everything else simply were not important.  What many people don't know is that the following day Tony did a youth ministry workshop which featured a section in which he taught us "if you can't hear the word sh*t without throwing a fit, you have no business working with teenagers!"  All in all it was an adventurous few days.

My life was about to take some major twists and turns, and I would not be doing any actual youth ministry until December, 1985.  God had lots for me to learn in the meantime, and my education had begun with Tony.  I was always so proud of the fact that I was the instigator who brought him to NCYM for those sessions; he has since been back a couple of times. And Tony was not nearly done with my life- he would later dance on a table while I sang- but you'll have to keep reading to get to that story! It was time for me to take my twin passions of Jesus and social justice and see where God would lead me- and the journey was about to get weird...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Myrtle Beach Pavilion

It's sometimes difficult to believe how many trips, retreats and conferences I took part in over my 28 years in youth ministry.  There is something special about getting away together that bonds a group in a way no "group building exercise" could ever do.  While the list of places we traveled to is quite long, there were only a few places we returned to over and over again; places that became iconic to the groups I served.  Quaker Lake Camp, New York City and Walt Disney World were among our favorites.  But no place received more visits from me, as a youth and as a youth pastor, than Myrtle Beach, SC.  We stayed in a variety of places over the years, mostly in North Myrtle Beach; Camp Pla-MorThe Ponderosa Campground, the Betsy B, The Spinnaker and others.  We even took a "Mystery Trip" from Kissimmee to downtown Myrtle Beach one weekend, spending more time in the vans than we did at the beach!  No matter where or how long we stayed, there were always two constants about MB- the Atlantic Ocean and the Myrtle Beach Pavilion!

My relationship with the Pavilion goes back to my childhood, when my family would camp at Lake Arrowhead or The Ponderosa for a week or two each summer, and one of the highlights of the trip was traveling downtown one night to visit the Pavilion.  Actually, the term "Pavilion" came to mean much more to us than the actual building (with its' arcade games, food, and magic mirrors) and amusement park.  It meant everything in downtown Myrtle Beach.  The T-shirt shops, the arcades, Castle Dracula, the Gay Dolphin (for years billed as the "worlds' largest gift shop") and the miniature golf courses were all part of the Pavilion in our thought process.  And every year we could not wait to go!  I rode my first roller coaster at the amusement park; I played "Pong" for the first time at the arcade; I made stupid jokes with my friends about the Gay Dolphin; and I walked the boardwalk, looking at the moon and the stars and dreaming of romance and the future.  The passing of the years and my becoming a youth minister changed almost none of that.  The rides still seemed cheesy, the arcades fell a little behind the times and the Gay Dolphin lost its' luster, but still the Pavilion called to us all.  Each summer we were at the beach major planning went into which night we would go to The Pavilion.  Part of the allure of the place (most of it, in my case) was simply watching the people, wandering around the park, the stores and cruising on Ocean Blvd.  Our teens were usually quite normal, so if they were going to be in contact with that many other people their age, they wanted to look GOOD!  Wardrobes were planned, hair was done, showers were taken all in preparation for that one night.  In later years there was even a dance club for those 17 and under called The Magic Attic, and some would partake of that excitement.  I remember on one of the earliest youth trips with New Garden taking Kathryn Burris, Beth Edgerton and Terri Johnson to Castle Dracula, only to have the "monsters" try to pick them up!  I remember some of the guys from Springfield falling in love about every 5 minutes with some beauties they had spotted by the Swiss Bobs ("Do you wanna' go faster?  Do you all wanna' go faster?  SWISS BOB!").  I remember taking Jim Fry from Kissimmee to get a hot dog at the Corner Bar on the beach and getting him hooked on chili and slaw footlongs.  I remember students going into the t-shirt shops to buy shirts featuring their favs, just like I had done when buying Beach Boys and Chicago shirts years before. But mostly I remember walking around, seeing the students I loved with huge smiles on their faces as they ran from ride to ride or from game to game, knowing EXACTLY how they felt because I had felt the same things!

I was last at Myrtle Beach in July, 2004, with a group from Tampa, and we once again visited the Pavilion.  The summer of 2006 wound up being the final year of the place, as much of downtown Myrtle Beach was sold so developers could build high rise condos.  Marilyn and Will got to see it one more time before it was leveled; I am left with hundreds of great memories.  And as always, the memories have less to do with the place than with the people I shared them with.  I treasure both.  Rest assured, as we go through the Springfield, Kissimmee and Tampa years, there will be many more MB stories to tell here.

One final story- about 6 months ago I walked into our local Papa John's Pizza to pick up an order, and while waiting another customer entered.  She was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that said Myrtle Beach Pavilion: The Final Summer 2006.  I asked her about it, and she said she had been there for a family reunion and had seen the beginning of the destruction.  She left, and as a thousand memories flooded my mind, I shed a tear or two for the old place right there in Papa John's.  I found myself praying, once again, that all of these stories and memories, from all of the times and places, have had the same kind of impact on the people I was in ministry to and with as they have had on me.  Thanks again, God, for the amazing lives you have allowed me to share in!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Baseball has been very, very good to me..."

The baseball playoffs are in full swing, and I am SOOOO happy! (By the way, Rob Thomson, the Yankees third base coach, had a daughter in one of my youth groups...I am such a name dropper!)  Sports have always been an integral part of my life.  I was 6 years old when I watched the first Super Bowl with my Dad and Ed Carrol, who would be my assistant principal in high school.  Dad and I would watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, and I became a Washington Redskins and Notre Dame fan (I got over both!).  Summers would bring the baseball game of the week on NBC, and we would watch.  I pulled for the Yankees (my little league team) and the Red Sox (they had Carl Yazstremski), not understanding at the time what a sin it was to pull for both of those teams! From abut 1970 on I became a Braves fan and would listen to their games on AM radio with Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson Sr.  I grew up in NC; we didn't know the NBA existed, but the UNC Tarheels were the best basketball team of the planet.  I grew up in a neighborhood where we were very seasonal; we played football in my front yard during football season; we played basketball in my back yard during basketball season; and we played baseball anywhere we could without smashing windows during baseball season.  From ages 8-12 I played Little League baseball for the Guilford College Yankees and loved every minute of it.  Well...almost every minute!  My first day of practice everyone was warming up, and 12 year old Mark Gunther grabbed me and said "warm me up Jonesy."  Turns out that Mark, who everyone called "Swifty," threw much harder than anyone I had ever caught before, and he almost killed me the first day (Mark turned out to be the best 3 sport athlete my high school ever produced!). But I survived, and loved playing for the incredible Charlie King (more on him later this week) and the Yankees.

I was a better football and basketball player, but baseball was always my first love.  My Uncle Don Dormstetter took me to see the Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers) on "Bat Night" and I was amazed by big league baseball.  My family took regular trips to Atlanta to see the Braves play, and we were there the night Hank Aaron hit his 700th career home run.  In 1979, the Greensboro Hornets, a Class-A affiliate of the Yankees, came to town and I went to several games, taking New Garden youth with me on a number of occasions.  And then came the 1980 season...

Working at New Garden Friends Meeting didn't pay many bills, and 1980 found me working a second job at Pizza Inn.  One night in the Spring of '80, a group of young men came in late one night to get pizza and beer, and I waited on them (even though I was a cook at the time).  It turned out to be a bunch of Greensboro Hornets, and as we talked I discovered who they were.  Some names I do not remember; others I will never forget.  That Hornets team included Otis Nixon, Greg Gagne, Matt Winters and Don Mattingly.  Yes- THAT Don Mattingly, also known to Yankees fans everywhere as "Donnie Baseball."  All I knew at the time is that they were young guys, about my age, playing pro baseball- so they were beyond cool!  I remember Otis as quite a character, and Matt Winters gave me a Hornets hat and left passes for me for games for the rest of the season.  And I gave them free beer!  If I had known Don Mattingly would become one of the all-time great Yankees, I would have hit him up for an autograph- but I didn't.  If I had known Otis Nixon would become a star for my beloved Braves, but also would struggle with substance abuse, I wouldn't have given him beer- but I did!  And no one would have ever believed that Greg Gagne would start at shortstop for the world champion Minnesota Twins of 1991 (they beat my Braves).  But the person about whom I have thought the most in the years that have passed since those days was Matt Winters.

Matt was a star.  He was in Greensboro for most of 3 seasons, and he hit the cover off the ball the entire time.  But the Yankees were loaded in those days (as they are now) with big money free agent outfielders, and Matt never really got a chance.  He eventually made the majors with Kansas City, but never had a breakout season.  I think about him so often partly because he gave me a hat that I still have, and partly because he is a great example of someone who had great skills and small opportunity.  Matt had better numbers than other Hornets who went on to stardom, including Mike Pagliorulio, Greg Gagne and Derek Jeter (who made about 100 errors his year in G'boro!).  But he did not get the same opportunity to succeed.

As the years have gone by, I have tried to always give the youth I have worked with the opportunities to do the things they are gifted by God to do.  Some sing, some write, some act and some play sports; everyone has a gift!  For some (perhaps many) of the students I have known, I missed their gifts, and didn't help them to become the people God made them to be; that was left to others.   Many reached higher heights because of their experiences in our student ministries, and I thank God for that.

I still love sports, though I am not as fanatical as I once was.  I still love baseball.  I never got that Don Mattingly (currently hitting coach for the Dodgers) autograph, so Donnie, if you are out there, you owe me!  And Matt Winters- you are still a star in my book!   May God give us all the opportunity to use our gifts in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sheep Good...Goats Bad!

The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus is speaking:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'  "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'  "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'  "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

This has always been one of my favorite scriptures, but for many in the church, it is a hard one to wrap our minds around.  Tony Campolo was once accused of heresy for saying that this scripture is indicating that we should treat everyone we come in contact with as if they are Jesus.  Not that everyone IS Jesus- that we should treat them as if they are Jesus.  What else are we to take from these words of the Christ?  The bigger question becomes "what would happen if we actually lived out these words?"  The world would be a very different place.  "The least of these" are the very people our world chooses to hate and ignore.  Not only do we not take care of the people Jesus is speaking of, we turn from them on the streets.  We accuse them of not trying or being lazy.  We tell them to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps"- even if they no longer have them!  We think, and sometimes even say, that they are just getting what they deserve. (I thank God everyday that I don't get what I deserve, and you should too!) The roots of all racism and prejudices are found in the way we treat "the least of these."  This would not be true- this COULD NOT be true- if we were following these instructions from Jesus.

Jesus told us in various places to love our neighbor, to turn the other cheek and to love everone.  And yet Matthew 25 is often treated as if it was added to scripture by someone else.  Tony C. has often pointed out that this is the ONLY place in scripture where Jesus himself tells us what it will take to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The sheep- those who take care of their fellow man and treat others like they would treat Jesus- will join Jesus for eternity.  The goats- well let's just say they are in trouble!  We talk about faith and belief and understanding the Bible and so many things; where is our compassion?  Where is our realization that there is "that of God in everyone" as the earliest Quakers believed?  Wearing a christian t-shirt, being against the right things, listening to christian radio and attending church on occasion will never replace loving and caring for the other humans with whom we share this space.  You'll still be a goat!  And goats are bad...

In Genesis, after Cain murders Abel and God asks where Abel is, Cain responds by saying "Am I my brothers keeper?"  In Matthew 25, Jesus emphatically says YES!  So join the revolution- be a sheep!  Offer love and help and care to the very people who scare you, the people who make you nervous.  Lend a helping hand to the people society tells you to hate.  God's love can and will change the world- but only if we share it with EVERYONE!  So join in everyone- BAAAAAAA!  I wanna' be a sheep- 'cause sheep are good!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

No Ordinary Job

People often ask me if I can describe what being in Student Ministry is like...the above description (from a t-shirt I often wear) pretty much says it all!  And's all about Jesus!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Marilyn!

Today is my wife's birthday, and like most days in her life, it will be all about other people. (The picture on the right is old now, but it's of us at Disney, our favorite place in the world.)  She's at work right now; I hope some of the good folks there will take her to lunch.  Later today she will be serving as a band booster for Will's marching band at Sickles High; I hope we can work in a birthday dinner somewhere along the way.  But that's Marilyn- always going the extra mile for other people, and especially for family.

She has survived some ridiculous things in our 23 years together.  Before Will was born in 1995, she took most of  her vacation time to go on youth trips and spend hours on the road with teenagers.  The first few years after Will was born, she had to take care of him by herself quite often as I was still on the road with those teens.  She put up with late night phone calls, unexpected visits and spending way too much of the family budget on our ministry.  She even put up with being married to an idiot, and she never lost faith in me or in God.  I don't know if people marvel at her steadfast devotion to Jesus and her family, but they should! 

So today, I wish a happy birthday to the best wife and best friend an idiot ever had!  A long time ago, when we were dating, I gave her a stuffed bear named Boo, and we began calling each other Boo as our "pet names".  This was the very early 1980's, mind you, so we were Boo before Boo was cool!  Happy birthday, Boo...I can never give you everything you deserve, but I will always love you.  Now we just have to survive this one last teenager...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dallas, 1982

My regular readers may have already noticed that 1982 was a very pivotal year in my life and in my ministry.  Somewhere along the road of this most interesting year, David Stone (see Influences: J. David Stone) suggested to me that I attend the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC).  I knew of Youth Specialties (YS) from their series of Ideas books and a few other youth ministry resources, which were really just starting to be published at the time.  I had never heard of the NYWC, and neither had anyone else I knew, but David made it sound like a place that I needed to be, and he was leading some of the workshops.  So I made plans to go by myself to Dallas in November of 1982.  I was 23 and venturing out on my own, and I had my doubts.  It turned out to be a  very good decision plus I came home with awesome belt buckle seen above.  Thanks Wayne Rice!

The NYWC in 1982 was not the same beast it is today.  Dallas was the only location, and there were only around 800 of us there, compared to the thousands they draw to multiple locations today.  It was held in a hotel ballroom with very limited sound equipment and no big screens or projectors.  And it was wilder- MUCH wilder!  Those were the days when YS was a stand alone company, not part of the Zondervan conglomerate, and they were much bigger risk takers.  I was clueless as to what to expect, but the opening general session told me all I needed to know.  Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice,the two head-honchos of YS, did a welcome and orientation, during which they roasted many of the denominations represented at the convention.  The barbs went something like this:
  • How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?  Just one- and it doesn't even matter if the light bulb needs changing!
  • Pentecostals, the hotel pool is NOT available for mass baptisms!
  • Episcopalians should note that hotel bar closes at midnight...
  • There will be an all-night meeting of the Committee of Methodists in room 806 to determine if that committee needs to meet again tomorrow!
  • Sorry, Lutherans, but the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel is NOT available for a potluck supper on Saturday night...
They then did a "roll call" of denominations, and I was surprised to find out that there were a few other Quakers in attendance, all from Iowa, including my future friend Tom Klaus.  There were not, however, enough of us to qualify for an insult from the stage!

The next few days were among the most exciting, draining and educational of my life.  The workshops were amazing, with people like Yac, David Stone, Dennis Benson, Tony Campolo and Jim Burns opening my eyes to what student ministry could truly be.  Tony led a workshop called Issues that Divide the Church, and focused on the sacraments, abortion and homosexuality.  As you can see, we have made SOOOOO much progress over the last 27 years!  Jim Burns 2-part Advanced Youth Ministry seminar became the basis of almost everything I did for the next 10 years. (I finally got to thank Jim in Pittsburgh in  2005!) In those days, the general session speakers YS chose were there to challenge you to think.  No matter your theology or your politics, there was a main speaker who would really tick you off!  The whole thing was like drinking from a fire hose- totally overwhelming!  And then there was The Wittenburg Door banquet.  The Wittenburg Door was a magazine published by YS that featured satirical humor, generally making fun of the excesses of the church.  It's now just The Door and YS let it go years ago, but at the time it was quite a thorn in the side of the mainstream church.  For their banquet in 1982, the speaker was Dick Gregory, the radical, outspoken African-American comedian who was not known for his religious views or church language.  He held nothing back as he spoke about our responsibility as Christ-followers to feed the world and take care of the broken and cast out.  It was amazing, and I was among those who gave him a standing ovation.  Many had walked out far before the end.  My eyes were opened in a whole new way for about the 34th time that weekend!

It was also at this event that I met James Ward for the first time.  James was a featured musician at the convention, who came out looking like James Taylor- a skinny white guy in a white shirt and loose tie.  He say down at his piano and began to play, and JT disappeared and Stevie Wonder popped out!  He was incredible, and our paths would cross a number of times over the years.  His long out-of-print album Good Advice remains one of my very favorite contemporary christian recordings, even if it is on a cassette tape!  I also met and got to play guitar with Yohann Anderson (just YO to his friends!), the founder of Songs & Creations.  The Songs & Creations song book was the standard for youth group singing from the 1970's until the praise and worship movement of the 90's, and YO was the man behind gathering so many great songs in one place.  He led all the group singing at the NYWC until praise bands were discovered...

It would be 5 years before I returned to the NYWC (an event I would eventually attend 15 times, and speak at once) but the lasting impact of that first time would be difficult to overstate.  The lessons I learned and the connections I made would last the length of my ministry and beyond.  You will read many more NYWC stories as time goes by; you will hear some of these names again as well.  I returned to New Garden more fired up than any $100 a month part-time youth leader ought to be, ready to make the student ministry there all it could be.  How could I not be excited, with the words of the greatest speaker I have ever heard, Tony Campolo, still ringing in my ears:  "You are thinking the world is too big, and one person can't change it.  Well you CAN change it!  YOU can make a difference!"  I was certainly going to try...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The White Team

My Dad began coaching little league football in the early 1970's with the Guilford College Steelers in Greensboro, NC.  The Steelers were a "county" team who played in the powerful Greensboro city league, and in the early years they were doormats.  Dad transformed them into consistent winners at the 8-10 year old level, and I always enjoyed helping him.  As their success increased so did the number of kids coming out to play.  There was a limit (35, I think) of how many players a team could carry.  And to make sure all of those players got to play the city instituted a great program.  Regular games were on weeknights, and all of your players were eligible for those.  Then on Saturday mornings there was another game- but your top 15 players could not participate!  So Saturday morning was the game for the back-ups.  On a powerhouse team like the Steelers, that Saturday morning team was very good.

One particular season (the year escapes me) we had over 50 kids come out to play for the Steelers.  Dad would not cut anyone, and he wanted everyone to play, so he came to me with an idea.  Would I be willing to coach a third team- one that didn't even dress on weeknights, but that played as a second Steeler team on Saturday mornings?  This would be a team full of kids who had not played organized football before; full of the smallest kids and the slowest kids and even some who didn't know their left from their right.  In short, it was going to be a bad team.  But it seemed like a challenge to me (not being a very bright young man!) so I said yes.  Not wanting to call it the "C Team" or the third string, we settled on The White Team, because they would wear the white jerseys abandoned by the "real" Steelers a few years earlier.

The White Team practiced separately from the other players, and slowly a team began to come together.  Eddie Pope became our quarterback because he could remember the plays.  Kevin Morris, who came out to late to make the other roster, was our ringer- he was talented and very fast. And our guys practiced very hard- but we also had lots of fun.  We would run trick plays every day just to break things up.  When the starting defense needed to hit some people, I would play quarterback for a make-shift offense, and they could hit me all they wanted to.  The team progressed, and played well in our first game- but lost 7-6.  No could believe we had been that close, but still, everyone feared for us- game two would be against Lewis Center.

Lewis Center was the power program in Greensboro city football.  They annually played for the city championship at a least one age level, and they had been doing this for years.  The general assumption was that their Saturday morning team could make the playoffs in the regular league!  And The White Team was about to take them on.  My Dad was worried that we would be beaten so badly that it would humiliate the kids.  I secretly worried the same thing.  But we showed up anyway- and the game was amazing.  They drove the ball down the field, and we stopped them inside the 10.  This pattern repeated itself all game long.  We never came close to scoring, but we kept fighting.  The game ended in a scoreless tie, which, of course, was a major victory for us.  My Dad often said over the years, as he was winning city championships with the Steelers, that The White Team performance that Saturday morning was the greatest game he ever saw a Steeler team play.  And I wouldn't argue...

My experiences with that team were full of great lessons that I carried with me into my years in student ministry.  I learned the value of mixing working hard with playing hard.  I learned that building bonds between myself and the students I worked with could lead to results that seemed miraculous.  But the big lesson was this- a team (or a group) can be so much greater than the sum of its' parts.  Over the years my groups didn't always have the most "popular" students, or the most jocks, or the most "beautiful" people.  But we usually had amazing youth groups full of people who loved each other and who were seeking Jesus.  And just like with The White Team, some of the individuals drew on their experiences to become stars later on.  Many of those students are still out there playing, raising families, seeking God and "shining their lights" for others.  I thank God for them everyday.

I am  seriously considering trying to get the team back together and challenge my Tampa Bay Bucs...I think we could take 'em!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back Home

"Back home, I spend my summers; Back home, I spend myself...

In my late teens and early 20's Quaker Lake was not just a place I worked in the summer; it was a place of sanctuary for me and my friends.  When life was stressful and we needed to "get away" we would call Neal and ask if we could come down and spend a night or two.  When the forecasters called for a big snow, we would drive the 25 miles to QLC hoping to get snowed in there.  There were times when I would drive down and just walk around by myself, exploring the woods and visiting the Campfire Circle.  In many ways, Quaker Lake was home.

So when all of the politics and turmoil (see yesterday's posting) that was North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1982 came to Quaker Lake the week after Christmas for the annual Winter Camp, I was nervous.  And I was not alone.  There was great debate at New Garden Friends Meeting as to whether or not we should even take our youth.  But we did.  And while the program and speakers were very different than what we were used to, it was not awful- until the last night.  The speakers/musicians they brought in spent an hour telling us all we would burn in hell if we didn't respond to their invitation to give our hearts to Jesus.  Many of us came from backgrounds that taught us that following Jesus was a life long spiritual journey, not a pressured, spur of the moment decision.  We were not even given any time to sit in silence and pray about our choice.  So we didn't raise our hands.  And the leaders became angry.  They again reminded us that if we didn't act at that moment, hell awaited.  I was distraught; the 14-17 year old students from a similar background were horrified.  I wrote a song late that night that tells the story; few have ever heard it, but I share it with you now. The opening tag is at the top of this posting, the rest is below.  It's called Back Home.

As evening fell one winter night, I sensed that something was not right
with the people and the place that I had come to know so well
I looked for faces that I knew as shadows crept across the room
I looked up and it seemed as if no one I knew was there
and I bowed my head in prayer

The question they shared in the end asked if Jesus was my friend
but the answer didn't matter, 'cause I would not raise my hand
I felt that eyes were now on me, and what I feared had come to be
Outcasts in the place we loved, in the place we called our home
and we felt so all alone

Chorus:  But we know, yes we know, that our friends aren't far away
And we know, yes we know, that no matter what these people say
the LORD will find His way...

I sat still in deep despair of all that they were saying there
trying to get my courage up and say "that's just not true"
As I reached out for the Light, I knew could guide me through this night
it seems I finally understood what it really means to pray
for the LORD to show the way


A dim fire gave me just the light to see if what I feared was right
to see if all was really lost, and we had to leave our home...
But instead we reached out on that day and without a sound began to pray
and with that bond of unity we would not be denied
you see the LORD was by our side!     -C. Jones  (1982)

That moment- when the crowd was breaking up and many of the youth gathered around me, could have been a time to complain or give up.  But in that moment, God moved in us, and I knew just what we needed.  As we held hands and prayed silently, our emotion was every bit as intense as the evangelical fervor of the speakers.  Our leaders could see that, and they left us alone to pray.  There were only 6 0r 7 times over the years when I felt like Jesus just stepped in and took over, joining groups in a tangible way.  This was the first of those times- He was in the circle, holding our hands- and spiritually, I was never the same again. The struggles over theology and style would continue, and New Garden sent a strongly worded letter to NCYM asking for more balance in programming.  But for those of us who had been in that circle, we knew we had encountered the living Christ amidst the struggle, and it would not seem so scary anymore.  Once again, Quaker Lake had become a sanctuary to me...and it was still home.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Sit-In

The early 1980's were a strange time to be a 21 year-old, socially concerned seeker/christian trying to find his way in the world.  In November 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected and my roommates and I strongly considered moving to Canada (just so you know, this was not simply politics for me; I was a registered republican at the time and I voted for John Anderson, a republican who ran as an independent.  It was just that Reagan scared us to death!).  In December 1980 John Lennon was shot and an icon of the peace and justice movement was dead.  By 1982 Reagan had declared it was "morning in America" (which was true if you happened to be white and have money) and the country was in an extreme conservative swing.  Worse, at least for me, was that the church was becoming completely immersed in politics.  Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority and Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition had been a great help to the Reagan campaign, and now they were using their power to urge congress to pass more "christian" legislation.  On the national stage Christianity became less about what Jesus taught and more about conservative politics.  And if you dared disagree with them, you were quickly declared both unchristian and un american, which they saw as the same thing.  For example, the Moral Majority worked tirelessly against the re-election of Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, despite the fact that he was one of the most outspoken evangelical Christians in the Senate.  His flaw?  He was for disarmament and a World Peace Tax Fund.  To paraphrase the great Tom Leher,  it takes a certain amount of guts to get up and speak out on behalf of peace and justice and brotherhood and all the other things those people are against!  Strange days indeed...

In the midst of these changing times, Quakers in North Carolina were changing too.  For years, the Young Friends (7th-12th grade students) of NC Yearly Meeting had been primarily controlled by students who went to Quaker Lake for summer camp, many of whom also attended New Garden Friends Meeting. (For those of you who are regular readers, you will know that those are the two ministries I worked for at the time, so I was double trouble!)This began to shift in the early '80's as the leadership at the top of the Yearly Meeting began to change.  When the position of Youth and Christian Education Director for NCYM came open, the search committee went outside of NCYM, passing over several local candidates and hiring David Tebbs from Ohio.  Over the next few years David and I disagreed on many things, but I always had the ultimate respect for him as a leader and as a Christ-follower, and we eventually became good friends.  At about the same time, Jerry Cannady was installed as the new head of the Young Friends Activities Committee, which controlled the planning for all NCYM youth events except Quaker Lake summer camp.  Jerry was a large, angry pastor who had no interest in youth- he was put in place to put us (the Quaker Lake and New Garden crowds) in our place. He did not have our respect on any level, and he made it clear he didn't like us at all.   A showdown was inevitable.

The showdown came at Yearly Meeting (a once a year, statewide gathering of Quakers), August 1982 at Guilford College.  For several years, part of the program had been the showing of the Quaker Lake slide show from the the recently completed summer camping season.  The campers who also attended this event looked forward to it, and others came in just for the slide show presentation.  On this particular occasion, the slide show was the last event of the day on the next to the last day of the sessions.  For those who attended camp, the slide show was often a very emotional event, and this year was no exception.  At the conclusion, before anyone connected with QLC could say anything, Jerry Cannady jumped to his feet and announced that it was time for everyone to go back to the dorms, and that there was to be total silence as we did so.  We were stunned.  No time to visit and chat about what we had just experienced.  No time to go back through the slides and take them in more slowly, without the soundtrack.  Jay Osborne, the Presiding Clerk (that's Quaker for chairman or president) of the Young Friends spoke up and asked if those who wanted to could watch it again.  He was told NO in a most unpleasant way.  As people began to get up and leave in silence, Jay and I did not move.  Neither did many others.  Jerry began yelling at us and using some distinctively un-Quaker language, demanding that we get out and go to our dorms.  And still we sat there.  A long, ugly discussion ensued that let us know in no uncertain terms that things were changing.  Those of us who found our expressions of faith more in the peace and equality and searching for Truth were now being dictated to by those who saw everything in black and white; and we had just been declared part of the darkness.

I don't really remember how it all ended that night; I don't think we saw anymore slides.  My own theology and beliefs, so young at the time, have certainly changed since then. 
But what I really remember is my good friend Jay Osborne, age 17 or so, (yes, the same Jay who dropped my guitar off the roof of the QLC lodge!) staying seated to "stand up" for his beliefs and his friends.  I was proud to sit with him and all the others. To this day, I feel bonded to Jay by that moment, and it is something I will never forget.   We knew challenges lay ahead for us, and we were right.  Winter Camp was coming to Quaker Lake in December, and we were afraid of what was going to happen at that place we all loved so much.  The storm clouds were gathering- and I was about to have one of the great spiritual experiences of my life.  But that's tomorrow's story...

Because of Jesus,