A Week With the Unholy Trinity


Don’t let the title fool you, this post has nothing to do with God.  It has everything to do with dogs!

Emily and I have been dog-sitting for my sister and brother-in-law this week while they are on vacation.  Three dogs, two adult humans and one baby human in a place I like to call, in my best Charlton Heston voice, from Planet of the Apes, A MADHOUSE.

First, there is Skippy.  He is our white American eskimo (who used to blog, and will again someday, God-willing).  Skippy is very territorial.  He defends our house with a surprising fierceness, unexpected by some who only note his fluffy exterior.  If you meet him outside his domain he is the kindest, friendliest dog, even letting large men with piercings and tattoos pet him. But if you come into our house, watch out or you might be missing a foot (like Skippy, he only has three legs).

While he is not guarding Skippy is very simple – he likes to sit around, sleep and eat.  He is not a fan of playing.

This is a problem because Skippy’s cousin, Nelly, only wants to play.  All the time.  Constantly.  I think she has the dog equivalent of a hyperactive disorder.  She is always running around and barking and climbing up on tables and chairs and walking on your face at 1 AM when you are trying to sleep.  When Skippy is sitting contently on the floor, she’ll run over and bark at him and bat him with her paws, wanting to play.   For the most part, Skippy manages to ignore her, though the occasional guttural growl helps.

Daisy and Nelly

Junia, the aforementioned baby, loves Nelly.  Nelly and Junia have had a lot of fun playing together this week, though sometimes Nelly does not know when to stop…or maybe Junia is just not used to a tiny dog tongue shoved up her nose.

Finally, there is Daisy.  Daisy is Skippy’s nemesis.  Every time Skippy enters the house, Daisy takes a bite out of him.  Luckily Skippy is well-insulated with fur, so she only comes away with a mouth full of white hair.  But really, Daisy is a fake tough dog.  She’ll bite Skippy, but then run away.  She is the first one to hide under the bed or flee from you if she thinks there is any sort of danger.

Yet Daisy, unlike her sister, will sit calmly next to you, just enjoying your presence.

Skippy, Nelly and Daisy – the unholy trinity!




The Best…and the Worst? Is there a connection?

Two articles in the local paper caught my eye today.

Newspaper Ranks Wyomissing Best High School in PA.

This is where I live so I am encouraged about my daughter’s future education.  Of course, by the time she gets there who knows how much things will have changed.  It is also interesting that the BEST school in PA is ranked 193 nationwide.

The other article tells a story about the next school district over: Reading School Could Cut Up To 364 Workers.

That is not good news.  I have friends who work in the Reading schools.  It is sad that 364 people will be losing their jobs.  Further, it is another sad story from the city of Reading.  Reading is a place in need of lots of love and prayer.

As I read these two stories, the first thing that popped into my mind was whether there is a connection?  Reading and Wyomissing are right next to each other.  How can one be so good and one struggle so much? (I hope no one takes offense to my use of “worst” in the title…I am not good at titles)

It might be tempting to say, and perhaps some do, that since we are in Wyomissing this is not our problem.  But it is not like this is the other side of the planet.

I would be interested in hearing from my teacher friends (here or on Facebook).  Is there a connection?  Will whatever problems Reading has spread?  Will any good solution include other districts besides Reading banding together?

The Campus (Ministry) Tsunami

David Brooks writes in his piece, The Campus Tsunami, “What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.”

Brooks mentions many of the doubts people have about the usefulness of online learning: decreased academic standards, celebrity professors putting everyone else out of a job, contact being lost as students sit in front of a computer more and more.  Yet there are positives: online learning gives more people access to the best professors, online learning could increase influence of American universities worldwide and research shows online learning is about as effective as classroom.

Brooks goes on to say:

The most important and paradoxical fact shaping the future of online learning is this: A brain is not a computer. We are not blank hard drives waiting to be filled with data. People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.

Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process.

In other words, the colleges that adapt the best will be the most successful in the new atmosphere.

With the changes happening on campus it is clear that the atmosphere of college ministry is changing too.  Steve Lutz talks at length about this in his fantastic book, College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture.

One theme of his book is that campus ministries are competing over a shrinking group of students.  A large number of students who naturally seek out involvement in campus ministry are already Christians.  These students who are already Christians are the ones most campus ministries are geared towards.  As Lutz says, “Many of the groups are growing by becoming more efficient at attracting students from the increasingly smaller pockets of Christendom” (Kindle Location 455-456)

Lutz’ call is for campus ministry to become missional.  He describes this in various places, saying things such as:

As God’s gospel-transformed and sent people, we orient everything we do to God’s mission, which is to reconcile and restore God’s fallen creation to himself through his son Jesus Christ. This is what we mean by “missional.” This reclaiming of our identity changes everything”  Kindle Location 466-468)

Campuses are changing.  Those of us who work in campus ministry have a big job to adapt so as to best reach out to the students coming to campus this fall and beyond.

College-Aged Millennials – You Lost Me!

The Public Research Institute recently released their study titled “A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics among College-Aged Millennials

It is filled with interesting findings for campus ministers, or anyone who is connected with, college students.

*They are generally independent but lean towards the Democratic party.

*There is a move towards no affiliation with religion – while only 11% were unaffiliated as children, 25% identify as unaffiliated as young adults.

*Most see the gap between the rich and poor as a big problem, thinking the economic system favors the wealthy and that the government should do something about this.

*While a slim majority (51%) think abortion is morally wrong, a majority think it should be legal in all cases (30%) or some cases (24%).

*A majority think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry.

*61% support the DREAM Act which would allow illegal immigrants brought to the US as children to gain citizenship if they join the military or go to college.

This is a helpful survey to understand the mindset of college students.  I do suspect though that students strongly committed to their Christian faith tend to be in the minority on some of these issues mentioned.  Based on my experience the Christian students are less in line with their peers and more in line with their parents.

At the same time I noticed this study, the book You Lost Me by David Kinnaman was free on Amazon.  Since I will read almost anything if it is free, I downloaded this book and today I got around to beginning to read it.  I read his previous book, UnChristian, which looked at reasons why young non-Christians reject the Christian faith.  You Lost Me is about “insiders”:

At its heart are the irreverent, blunt, and often painful personal stories of young Christians—or young adults who once thought of themselves as Christians—who have left the church and sometimes the faith. The book’s title is inspired by their voice and mindset, and reflects their disdain for one-sided communication, disconnect from formulaic faith, and discomfort with apologetics that seem disconnected from the real world. You Lost Me is about their perceptions of churches, Christianity, and culture. It gives voice to their concerns, hopes, delusions, frustrations, and disappointments (Kindle Locations 114-119)

I am looking forward to reading this book and I will probably blog through it over the summer.  While I said above that I suspect committed Christians are more in line with their parents then their peers, perhaps You Lost Me will show that young Christians are struggling to live in the tension between an outdated church and their surrounding culture.  In such tension, they leave the church.

I am interested to see what You Lost Me says about this – why it happens and what the church can do to help young people.


All is Grace

Sometimes I get tired of being a Christian, let alone a pastor.

I struggle with doubt: Is God really there or when I pray am I just talking to myself?

I struggle with cynicism: American Christianity is really arguing about ______?  Really!?

I struggle with feelings of inadequacy: If only I was as talented/gifted/intelligent/personable/etc. as ________, then I’d be a better campus minister.

Then I read a book like All is Grace, the memoir of Brennan Manning.  In this book Brennan Manning bears his soul, being honest about his struggles with alcoholism and his failure as a husband.  He does not write as a man whose life is altogether, he does not write from a tower of self-confidence.  Instead, he writes as a broken man caught by the love of Jesus.

As I read this book over and over again I thought, yes, I can worship the kind of loving God Brennan Manning keeps talking about.

“Ragamuffins have a singular prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”” (p.31).

“If I’ve learned anything about the world of grace, it’s that failure is always a chance for a do-over” (p. 162)

“God strips away those falsehoods because it is better to live naked in truth than clothed in fantasy” (p.188).

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be” (p. 192)

“This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough” (p. 194)

Thank you Brennan Manning.