Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter Three: Thanks, Heath

A few times each summer, my dad would disappear for a week at a time. My brothers and I would ask where he was, and Mom would tell us that he was at Jr. High Workshop. Or Sr. High Workshop. Or ACS. Things like that. By the time I was finally old enough to go to a Jr. High Workshop, it had been joined with Sr. High Workshop and repackaged as Summer Breakaway.

I was excited, because I was going to be rooming with a former neighbor and good friend in one of Louisburg College's pre-renovation dorms. I knew that it was a church camp, but certainly wasn't expecting a revelation about my faith. That summer, I didn't get one either. My roommate, Damon, and I made a few friends and with them we stayed up late, ate Pixie Sticks on the fire escape, made pyramids out of soda cans, and argued about which of the Sr. High girls was the hottest. These are the things I remember about my first Summer Breakaway. Nothing Jesus-y here, move along.

During that first summer, though, I did meet a guy named Heath Gilbert. Heath was one of the younger staff members and therefore automatically one of the coolest, in our estimation.

When Damon and I returned a year later for our second Summer Breakaway, we were pretty Stoked to find that Heath was the staff member in charge of my dorm group. Dorm groups are the end-of-the day meetings that serve the dual purpose of assuring someone adult that the youth they're responsible for have made it back to their assigned dorm in one piece and helping those same youth digest the day's happenings if they so need it.

I don't remember many dorm groups, but I remember this one. Heath opened our first meeting with the question "So who are the hot girls this week?" It seemed strange that we were being encouraged to have the same debate we had assumed we shouldn't have been having a year earlier. So there we were, joking and laughing. The weird thing was that, when the discussion turned to more serious topics having to do with faith, the tone in the room didn't change. Heath went out of his way to see to that.

It was the first time in my young life that I'd seen the room get Jesus-y without also having to get serious. Even my home youth group, as led by my dad, couldn't have a faith discussion without all of the air being sucked out of the room(this was most likely in spite of Dad's efforts, but who's going to tell a seventh-grader that about his father?). We could talk about things, ask questions, and get serious...and we didn't have to stop laughing for any of it.

I consider this the first great lesson about Christianity that I learned. To this day, if you ask me to name someone with a profound effect on my life(particularly if you ask in the context of my spiritual walk), I'll probably tell you about Heath Gilbert. That summer was the point where the things I believe stopped being the right answer in Sunday School and started being the things I believe. I firmly believe that Heath jump-started that for me.

The door was opened once I understood that faith could come with a sense of humor. It doesn't have to be solemn to the point that it feels like mourning. It shouldn't be treated like a burden. You're allowed to have fun. Knowing my parents, it's a lesson that I would have learned eventually anyway; but it would have taken much longer for me to accept that lesson from my parents than it was for me to accept it from a hip twenty-something.

When I go back to those events now as a staff member, I always tell myself that my goal is to be Heath Gilbert for one of those kids over the course of the week. Every now and then, I get a little confirmation from some corner of the universe that I just might have achieved that.

At every ACS, I do two "interest groups" that are mostly just an hour-and-a-half of general nonsense and fun with the youth who have dared to sign up for it. In order to justify the existence of this group, which I call "Laughing in Church," I have to Jesus up the last 5 minutes. I hit them with a line I stole from Lewis Black, "Faith without a sense of humor is the most dangerous thing in the world."

The Church is losing its sense of humor. It has no idea how ridiculous its members who demand that evolution be referred to as "The Scientific Theory of Evolution" so that the kids who have been trained to be mistrustful of science can immediately ignore that segment of class and daydream about The Rapture.

The only way I can think of to combat this is to try to be Heath Gilbert for as many youth as I possibly can.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

she pretty much has a zero percent chance of growing up with a normal life

Courtesy of Ted Hobgood, meet Chairman Ramu. She's eight years old, Japanese, and a professional wrestler. I know, I're wondering how an eight-year-old doesn't get totally destroyed by the giants involved with pro wrestling. Well, she's been possessed by an evil demon. The result?

So sure, she can hang with the grown-ups in the ring. But can she finish them? Of course she can. And it's adorable.

And yes, one of the guys she takes out in that last clip is indeed wearing a Bobby Hurley Sacramento Kings jersey. Probably a find more rare than a wresting, demon-possessed, eight-year-old girl.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chapter Two: Pizza and Basketball

I was pretty excited about my first day of middle school at I. Ellis Johnson in Laurinburg, NC. Not because of the school part, but because it meant that I was finally allowed to go to youth group meetings at Caledonia UMC. I'd seen teenagers come and go from UMYF, and I knew what was waiting for me when I joined up. I'd be a part of all the in-jokes, tell the kids in the church what to do, and go on the glorious trips to ski slopes, theme parks, ACC basketball games, and the beach. All I had to do was ride over to the church with my dad on Sunday nights and eat pizza and play basketball for a few hours.

Sure, there was confirmation. A few of us gathered for those classes and learned about Weslyan Quadrilateral, circuit riders, and who the audience is during Sunday morning worship(the answer is God); but we never really came alive until the Little Caesar's was ordered and the basketball came out. This was the era in my life in which going to church stopped being a chore and started being something I did for the stuff. Still not a very spiritual center, but at least I had started looking forward to it. The problem is that my enthusiasm wasn't for a spiritual understanding my myself and my relationship with God, nor was it an excitement for the good things that the church was doing. I went to church for pizza and basketball, and didn't care if I never knew why it was important that Tradition is the first point on the Weslyan quadrilateral...I just knew that it was and that was good enough to get me a trip to Durham to be confirmed into the United Methodist Church. We probably even had pizza on the way home.

This is where I see a lot of people in the Church now. They've learned a few things and are excited about what they're doing, but still haven't put the whole picture together. More dangerously, they don't care to. I see people enthused to hit up the contemporary service so they can belt out a Michael W. Smith song with no more than 2 unique verses, no less than 8 repetitions of the chorus, and the theological depth of a t-shirt(I'm sure I'll take some time to elaborate on this idea in a future entry). They're more than willing to contribute to all the hoopla that's drummed up by those willing to take political advantage of their faith, without ever really taking some time to question the source or motivation behind that hoopla. In general, there seems to be no effort from a majority of the Church to learn anything more than what they know.

The Church is moving away from intellectual curiosity about the very things that define it. That can be exploited(by more than just people with a political agenda, by the way). That is dangerous.

I'm not at all suggesting that I've got it all together. If I did, I would be offering up solutions with these entries rather than my vague discomforts with my faith. Maybe someday, if I keep my intellectual curiosity sharp, I will be able to offer up something in the way of a solution. In the meantime? I pray for the future of the Church.

couples that march together stay together

Saturday, Andi and I joined up with some folks from Planned Parenthood to participate in HKONJ. This was an interesting time. When you have a far-reaching 14-point agenda, you'll see people that probably support one point much more than others. That's a given. It's a given that every group will be handing out information on their particular agenda.

What's more fun is the conspiracy theorists trying to get subscriptions to their -for lack of a better word- publications. They read your sign, try to figure out how comprehensive sex ed fits into their theory that 9/11 was an inside job, and give you their pitch. It was less than impressive, but kind of hilarious.

Also, the "vegan lobby" showed up at the end of the march. I'm not really sure I know how that's a political issue, but I was actually made more uncomfortable being identified as possibly sympathetic to their cause than I was the conspiracy theorists.

Still, it was a good time and I met some interesting folks. Not to mention, I was one of a number that might have even drawn some attention to some points that need attention*. Not a bad day.

*Some of the 14 points on that agenda are much stronger than the others. I'll leave it to you to determine which is which.

Monday, February 4, 2008

the new england patriots are the 3rd best 18-1 team ever

Because people will ask or just assume that it was because I was personally experiencing Patriots fatigue, here are the events that made me so giddy to see a New York Football Giants team that I don't really like that much win the Super Bowl.

1) In 2002, the Patriot dynasty begins as they wrap up the 2001 season with a win over the St. Louis Rams. Tom Brady was a feel-good story about a guy who was making league minimum and waiting for his chance behind Drew Bledsoe. So why was I irked that the underdog Pats took home the win over the heavily favored Rams? Because of these words, spoken by the play-caller not 15 whole seconds after the game clock hit zero:

"How fitting is it that, after the year this country has had, a team called 'The Patriots' wins the Super Bowl?"

I felt physically ill and was left to contemplate how 9/11 changed everything.

2) As the legend of Tom Brady grew, there were signs that maybe it was a little too much. The last straw was a moment watching a Patriots game with my brothers where a 15-30 minute tribute to Tom Brady's brilliance was played before the game kicked off. Immediately coming out of that video package, the first words out of the mouth of the commentary team were

"I think Tom Brady is the most underrated quarterback in the NFL."

Brady would continue to get mind-numbing press coverage to the point where he was the complete opposite of a feel-good story.

3) Even before the nonsense with the spying on other teams(I'm so glad that Congress has taken an interest in this...that's way more important than little things like health care, war, or a failing economy), Bill Belichick's rep as a total genius paired with his heinous press conferences and more heinous hoodie tired me out pretty quickly.

4) Prior to the start of this season, the Patriots became everyone's pick to win the Super Bowl by signing Randy Moss. A guy who admitted to taking plays off. A guy who sat on huge piles of money he was being paid to catch footballs and said that he wasn't happy enough to catch footballs. I would have hated to see this jackass rewarded with a Super Bowl ring.

5) Haterade. I won't lie, at least a small part of my joy over the Patriots loss could be described as schadenfreude. I'm okay with that.