I cannot watch TV, check social media, or workout at the Y without being reminded of the pain and suffering in the world these days. Stories I cannot believe to be true, images I would rather not see, and political debates I am surprised our country is engaging in. I am often overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed by the depth and breadth of brokenness in our world.

Each day I also find joy in my work, discover grace is unexpected places, and encounter love among friends and family. These ordinary moments, ones I use to take for granted, sustain me and ground my life. Without them, it would be hard to face each day with hope and compassion.

Our world is filled with paradox. The thing with paradox is that two realities are true, one truth does not cancel the other. The love I receive, for example, does not negate the pain of others. Some days I forget paradoxes are all around me and I try to make sense of them, reconciling one with another. I hold on to one truth and dismiss another. Yet when I live with this either/or posture, I find myself disregarding a truth I need to hear. Sometimes the truth I am overlooking is that good exists all around me – at the grocery story, in my neighborhood, on social media. Sometimes the truth I am ignoring is people suffering – in places I have never been, in homes where friends and family live, in the congregation I attend. Living aware of multiple truths, of paradox, is a necessary, and fruitful, part of life.

Our identity as Christians is paradoxical – we are created in God’s image – with all the capacity to love as God does – and we are of this world – broken and in need of healing. Discovering what it is to live based on this Christian identity means discovering how to live a paradoxical life. We know God’s love prevails in the end and God’s preferred future has not yet fully come to be. How can this be true? Because God, in Jesus Christ, came to earth and rewrote the end of the story. He told us about the kingdom of God and promised us a forever future with God at the same time he named the pain and brokenness. Living “in between” means claiming these promises, at the same time we participate in the folding of God’s future on earth.

This week this paradoxical life is going to become visible in Houston, TX. 30,000 ELCA Lutherans are gathering under the theme “This Changed Everything.” Those gathered will claim once again their identity as children of God and name the pain in the world. They will hear God’s promises proclaimed and accompany people suffering. Preparation and planning for this gathering has been taking place for over three years. Congregations, youth and adults, have been getting ready. Houston is excited to receive the sojourners. Prayers have surrounded every aspect. It has not been easy. There have been obstacles – natural disasters, staffing changes, endless to-do lists, and unexpected changes, just to name a few. But now, as so many of us make our pilgrimage to Houston, the planning and preparation shift to welcoming, embracing, learning, serving, praising, and embodying. Now guests also become hosts, speakers also participants, those served also teachers. And one idea will guide it all – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. This truth is what creates a paradox in our world. It is what makes possible God’s kingdom to be unfolding in our midst today. And this week we get to see ways our participating in is paradoxical and makes a difference.

Please pray for everyone in Houston this week. Pray that this gathering may be a witness to the hope, love, and joy of God. Pray that light shines in dark places and God’s love is experienced in meaningful ways. And look for ways you can be part of God’s unfolding future wherever you find yourself. (To follow the ELCA Youth Gathering on social media see #elcayg2018)

and the floors need to be mopped


It’s been a week since I pulled into my garage. As I walked into the house and set down my bags, I headed to the kitchen continuing the conversation my husband and I started in the car. “How’s work?” “Talked to the kids?” “What time will you be home from your meeting?” As I sat in the stairway I got a panoramic view of the house – the living room, dining room, kitchen. The floors need to be mopped, I thought.

Today I returned from Detroit were 1,050 church leaders connected, learned, and supported each other in our shared call to children, youth, and young adult ministry. Many were friends and colleagues I anticipate seeing year after year. I treasure our relationships and am amazed at how quickly hotel hallways can become holy spaces. Others were past students, now well established in ministry roles around the country. It is a pleasure to be partners in ministry with them. And other faces were unfamiliar only days ago and today their stories echo in my heart. Their stories express the joys and sadness of leading ministry in 2015.

Art, drama, song, worship, teaching, and conversation embedded the theme of story into the rhythm of each day and night. Rachel Kurtz’s “Make a Difference” made the group “Rise Up” as her voice and the melodies filled our souls. The gospel of Mark came alive as Phil proclaimed it in front of “the big book” Nate and Katelyn illustrated. Liz preached, Todd welcomed, Nikki prepared, Dawn orchestrated, and Chris, Tom, and Tim produced. The rugged, boxy cross and phonograph baptismal font claimed the ballroom, and us. And each day as characters stepped in our “theatre in the round” a room was transformed, and the lost were found. The story lives and moves inside us.

As my husband left, the house quieted and I went to get the mop and the broom. Almost Cinderella-like, I went about my cores as my mind wondered about my friends and the future. “Did our students make it home safely?” “What will come of my new friendships?” “What will next year be like?” “What time is it in our church?” “What do I do with this?” Seeing the new blanket of snow falling outside, I’m hopeful flights continue getting people home. Then the washing machine buzzer sounds; time for another load.

Many hands and minds make a gathering like this possible, and makes evident the claim, “many hands make light work.” But this gathering is not just about an event. It is not even just about growing as leaders. It’s about the church. It’s about people telling God’s story even as they tell a bit of their own.

Tomorrow I, like many others, will return to my “ordinary” work. Classes to teach, confirmation to prepare, sermons to write, retreats to plan, expense reports to complete, emails to return. The list will be long, the demands great, and the energy low. Then, after a full day of work, I, like many, will enter a church building and sit among Kentons, Alexes, Jakes, Jonahs, Justins, and Davins – with all the energy and curiosity 7th grade boys can bring. We’ll ask each other about our week. I’ll hear about soccer and basketball and math tests and siblings. They’ll hear about Detroit, getting 16 inches of snow, and what it’s like watching the Super Bowl with several hundred other people. And in the midst of telling our stories we will tell God’s story.

Perhaps big things will come of this week in Detroit. Some may have sensed a call to ministry, decided to take a new job, committed to go to seminary, or met the person they will marry. I hope the Spirit moved in such profound ways. But perhaps this week in Detroit has as much to do with the ordinary things – our to-do lists, conversations with our friends and family members, healing our hearts, reminding us we are not alone, and, well, mopping the floors. Tomorrow as I head off to work, I will hold this past week in my heart and pray my eyes are open to see God’s story in the people I encounter. Perhaps you will too.


A visit to South Carolina

I’m wrapping up my time in South Carolina. It has been a great opportunity to teach seminary students located in a different region of the country. I have learned from them in class, I have discovered a bit of South Carolina’s history, and I have even tasted some southern cuisine. It has been nothing but delightful to join another learning community, even if for a short amount of time.

In class we have been talking about, rather wrestling with, ministry with children in this time. So many forces are shaping children today – consumerism, digital media, social networking, athletics – and it can be overwhelming for parents and ministry leaders as they try to engage in faith practices and learn about God’s story. While we are ending with more questions than answers, a few things have surfaced:

1. Our identity as people of faith comes from God, not society. Ground kids, ground us all, in that promise. Our identity as children of God never changes. While the world wants to commodify life, tell us what to wear, try to influence our values, and turn us into objects, God claims us and makes us subject of God’s love. That’s pretty cool.

2. Subjects need to live in community. As subjects of God’s love that means living in a relationship with God and with other of God’s subjects. Being in Christian community we are reminded of our identity and of the one who loves us and created us. In community we are formed and shaped as subjects of God’s love. In community we are informed of who is God is, and we grow deeper in our love for God, ourselves, and the world. And in community we are transformed, made new and empowered to love and serve others. And that leads to…

3. As subjects of God’s love we are also agents of God’s love. Yes, we gather with other Christian periodically, but we spend most of our time scattered in the world. And when we are scattered in the world, we have a role to play. We are to embody God’s love in the world, we get to give God’s love hands and feet and hearts and ears.

What if, at the heart of ministry with children (and their families), we helped children know theses three things? What if we shared these ideas with words and actions? What if we helped families do this as well? I don’t know what a typical week would look like in our congregations, but I’d hope we’d be spreading God’s love in the world.

Oh yea, and we have a guest who joined us. Check this out.

Welcome to the World!

Seeing posts (and pictures) on FaceBook welcoming new babies and celebrating the fist milestones of babies has prompted me to share with you a video. Kid President has a great message, not only for the new ones, but also for those of us who surround new people.

Love, forgive each others mess-ups, and breathe. Not bad advice for new humans…and for all humans. Enjoy!

Hanging with Phil


Phil, the compensated celebrity spokesperson for the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, invited me to spend a long weekend in St. Louis. I, along with 650, said yes. (Phil’s the one in the middle and here’s the invite if you want to see Phil in action – 

Honestly, it wasn’t convenient. (There were several things going on at work and at home which I had to miss.) But I missed it last year and I needed to go. Why?

First, as many will say (including Tara Ulrich and Organic Youth Ministry) the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Gathering is more than a learning event, it is a network. And while this network is always there – virtually accessible with local and regional opportunities to gather – there’s something powerful about being in a space where the virtual network is physically real.

I’ve been teaching children, youth, young adult and family ministry at Luther Seminary for the past 9 years … and the funny thing about students is…well, they graduate. So one of the coolest things I get to do at this gathering is hear how life and ministry is going today…on the “other side” of graduation. While in St. Louis I had dozens of conversations with Luther alumni, now working in some area of ministry in the first third of life. I heard their joys, and felt their struggles. I listened. We laughed. We worshipped together, and we dreamed about what it means to move the church forward into this new age. These conversations were rich, not only because we reconnected, but because we were now partners in ministry – colleagues and friends.

But that’s not all. For the past several years I have worked with a team of leaders on a church-wide initiative on equipping youth ministry leaders. When we started it was a new concept, never tried before. People were confused and unsure how it would go, but they went with it. Now, three years later, people are coming up to me and sharing really cool stories about how they are using the work of this initiative to empower leaders – adults and youth – in ministry and in integrating their faith into their daily life. The smiles, many accompanied with hugs, tell me their confusion has turned to hope. I love the church. But I also know the church has to rethink it’s frames and approaches to ministry if it is going to faithfully live out its calling. While in St. Louis, I had a glimpse of the change taking place in the church.

And there’s one other thing. Our church, the church I have been part of all my life, is shifting it’s leadership model. Oh, don’t get me wrong…we don’t have it all figured out  but we are on our way. And I got glimpses of a new future, a future were leaders are  humble, servant leaders with a mission and vision. There is a desire for faith to be alive among God’s people and God’s people to be active in God’s world. For two days after the big gathering, I had conversation with some of these leaders. They, like me, had other places they could have been and other things they could have been doing. But they came together in St Louis to think beyond their stream of work and vision about a new day, a day where our church initiatives are more connected and collaborative. Why? because fostering faith among those in the first third of life – babies, children, youth and young adults – matters! 

So today, I’m tired and having a hard time reentering the world I left behind. It’s so easy to get back to the daily tasks…and I will…but I want to reengage in light of what I just experienced. How might my daily work, my ordinary work, keep these ideas alive? How might my decisions, big and small, be part of our larger church’s exploration of what it means to be church in 2014 and beyond? These are just some of the questions which distract and challenge me today.

For those of you who were in St. Louis – thanks for your work. You matter, your work matters and your presence in the ELCA Youth Ministry Network matters. Help me, help us, help each other and the church live our calling. And to those who were not there but are in some way part of this larger network of God’s people seeking to faithfully live their faith everyday…stay connected, both virtually and physically, because it helps fuel the journey.


Access to Information


It was a Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were running errands. We were halfway between home and a store I wanted to stop by. In a “senior” moment, I asked my daughter if we could stop by home to check on how late the store was open. Before I even realized what I had said, (I wanted to go home and call the store or look up their information on their website) she had taken out her phone, searched for the store and told me we had an hour before they closed.

I grew up in an era with phone books – yellow pages for businesses and white pages for home residents. My mom loved phone books, and she taught her kids well. As the saying goes,”She let your fingers do the walking” and made use of this valuable tool located right in our kitchen cupboard. In the 1980s, phone books were a source of information.

My kids don’t know the difference between white pages and yellow pages, and laugh at the idea that a book, updated once year, could we valuable for getting people’s numbers, findings specialty stores or even discovering a shop’s hours. This information, as witnessed with my daughter, is all at their finger tips. All the time, everyday.

So what, you might ask. What does it matter how one finds phone numbers or store hours?

It matters because the world has shifted. My daughter doesn’t only have access to the yellow pages in her phone, she’s got “the world” in her hands. Think I’m over exaggerating? Think again.

This fall, while said daughter was in a class on Martin Luther, mom became a great resource. For about five Tuesdays or Wednesdays in a row, I’d get a text, email or even a call, asking for help. My daughter was struggling with the assigned reading in her religion class, usually a reading I had in print in my office. She’d written a 2 page reflection, but wanted me to “look it over” and offer critical feedback. (A theologian’s dream – quite possibly!) To offer good feedback, I needed to “refresh” my own reading of these texts. And guess what I did? I Googled it.  And, lo and behold, I found the texts I needed. All of them. Imagine that.

Today, all kinds of information is available at our fingertips – in our Smartphones, in our iPads and in our laptops. Getting essays by Martin Luther, for example, is not a problem. The issue at hand is, like it was for my daughter, finding a good conversation partner. What does this mean for faith formation? What does this mean for Christian education?

This experience with my daughter has helped me rethink what it means to be a teacher of the church. Yes, I’m teaching church leaders, but I don’t think it matters if it is a “soon-to-be” pastor or a 13-year old or an educated lay person. Studies show, we can get access to information. But who will be a guide? Who will help people make their way through the maze of information? Who will ask good questions? Who will be there for conversation?

The world has shifted. As one “teaching” about the Bible, theology and what our church believes, I have to remember, I am not the dispenser of information – my role has changed. These days, what’s needed is a guide. one to accompany learners in their journey of faith. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’m trying. And I’m making mistakes along the way.

Two easy things to do to get started:

As you ponder what this means for you, think about an area you don’t know anything about, but want to. (I recently needed help with some aspect of knitting, for example.) Maybe  you have a particular “situation” or problem you want to address. Maybe it’s a really big issue, and you want to know how to get started. What did you do? Where did you turn? What would you need? What kinds of questions would you have? Maybe the exploration is a place to begin.

Next, listen. In the “normal” places and in the “abnormal” places. Listen to what people talk about in the coffee hour between services or before or after confirmation. What insights do these comments have for you as you think about being a guide. But also listen at coffee shops, at the basketball game or when you are out to eat. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a clue as not only the questions, but what tools these folks need to access the information they are looking for.


Digital Storytelling

Watch this…

Got your attention? 

We, God’s people, are invited to be sharing the good news of  the gospel – to all people, all of the time. Yet so often many of us aren’t sure how. What if we – adults, kids and young people – once again became active storytellers? Not only in “telling” the story, but also in crafting how we are telling the story. In a participatory culture, with access to lots of digital tools, and a little imagination…I think we, just like Caitlin Jensen did above, can do it.

One of the things my Faith Formation in a Digital Culture class explored was digital storytelling. If you are not familiar with it, it’s simply a digital version of telling a story and it uses images, sounds and words. What if in this digital age, we, ministry leaders, recommitted ourselves to telling God’s story…and helping others do the same? Think about it.

(For more see: Center for Digital Storytelling or 


Faith Formation in a Digital Age


According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Study – Generation M2,

Over the past to five years, there has been a huge increase in media use among young people ages 8 to 18.

That doesn’t surprise anyone, especially parents and youthworkers.

According to the study…in 2005, the average media use (computer, TV, music, video, etc.) was 6 1/2 hours per day (with a content level of 8 1/2 hours because of multi-tasking). In 2010, the average media use was 7 1/2 hours per day (with a content level of 10 3/4 hours). That means young people are engaged with media more than 53 hours a week.

How are they spending their time?

  • listening to music – 43%
  • using the computer – 40%
  • watching TV – 39% (although not in real time, but recorded)
  • reading – 27%
  • playing video games – 22%

And 20% of media consumption (2:07) occurs on mobile devices!

And, according to a 2013 Pew Research Study,

  • 78% of teens have cell phone (47% own smartphones)
  • 23% of teens have a tablet computer (similar to the adult population)
  • 95% of teens use the internet
  • 93% of teens have a computer (or access to one at home)
(For the full Kaiser Report and the Pew Study go to the research section .)
On the one hand, that’s just a bunch of numbers. On the other hand, those numbers paint a picture of the digital shift taking place in our midst.
The world is changing, it’s fluid and hard to get our head around the impact of all these changes. But those of us involved in faith formation need to take note. These changes are shifting the ground so much of ministry rests on. As church leaders, and parents and grandparents, try to stay connected with children, youth, young adults and their families, it is important to take a step back and take account of the impact these media devices are having on our culture.
As I work with leaders, I note five key aspects of culture which haven been impacted by the digital age.
  1. Access to information has shifted, and this means learning has changed.
  2. Communication patterns have shifted, not only digitally but also face-to-face.
  3. Socialization is changing, and not just for young people.
  4. Multi-tasking is changing the ability to focus, and our sense of time.
  5. Technology is integrated in a way of life, it is not separate from our daily living.
Over the next few posts I am going to say more about each of these shifts and ponder how they might relate to a bigger question: What impact does the Digital Age have on Faith Formation?
Stay Tuned!

Dec. 4 – to Believe

I remember a few years ago an ad from an area department store aired a commercial during the holidays with the theme ‘to believe.’ The first time I saw it, I paused, reflected and then was deeply saddened. Yes, it was great to have children dreaming … But their dreaming was so narrow, so limited, so focused on themselves. And that was the picture they were lifting up. Really? It took me a few days to recognize what it was that left me so melancholy. For me, this commercial robbed Christmas of one more critical element and pushed the Christian faith a bit more toward the margin.

I’m all for kids dreaming, but to romanticize dreaming of material things as the ideal thing to believe in was down right wrong in my book. Counter that picture, or the many other pictures you might be able to name, with this one. A child singing a beautiful song which calls all of us to dream big, and to believe in the world God imagines.

To Believe

So today, in this season which beakons us to believe, what will you believe in?