Moving On Over

February 16, 2009

I’m no longer blogging at this site.  I’ve moved to http://erikullestad.blogspot.com/

(For those who do the rss thing, here’s the new feed — http://feeds2.feedburner.com/blogspot/erikullestad)

Why move?

I’m tired of explaining the “godsnowhere” gimmick to people.  I need a break from WordPress, which is an awesome blog site (probably the best), but the features are limited if I don’t self-host my website (which costs money)…and requires a certain level of tech-savvy that I don’t have.

I’ll be doing the same kinds of things at the new site.  I would be much obliged if you’d join me over at KOINONIA.  Thanks…


Confirmation Epiphany

February 14, 2009

During the season of Epiphany I have been teaching Confirmation class at church.  Normally this privilege is reserved for the pastors…not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it’s their opportunity to connect with 5th – 9th graders.  However, since we’re short a pastor, I get to do some teaching.

I’ve been plowing through a six-week series on The Sacraments.  Frankly, I’ve been having a hard time coming up with creative ways to teach 7th & 8th graders about the importance of sacraments.  I really don’t want to make Communion and Baptism more complex than it needs to be – and I want to make sure the teaching is developmentally appropriate for 13 year old brains.  But, seriously…what kid wants to talk about sacraments for 6 hours?

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In an attempt to keep things interesting, I’ve been using video clips, songs, small group games involving toilet paper, telling silly stories (like the time a pastor almost drown a baby during Baptism), and other youth director tricks.  However, one of the unexpected surprises came when I asked students to write down any questions they have about each of the sacraments.  This is nothing new or fancy.  (In fact, I needed to fill about 10 minutes at the end of one of the class sessions, so I ran into my office for salvation in the form of pencils & index cards.)  Here is a sample of the 50+ questions they came up with:

  • “Why does the wafer taste like cardboard?”
  • “How much money do we spend on communion?”
  • “How come my friend’s church won’t baptize babies?”
  • “Why do I need to go to confirmation class in order to affirm my baptism?”
  • “Has the priest ever gotten wasted by not wasting the wine after communion?”

Suffice it to say, I have been overjoyed with both the quality of questions and, by extension, what this has done for the discussion during class time.  Two of our class sessions have been almost entirely consumed by addressing their questions.  We have covered everything I wanted to address, but we did it in a way that made students feel invested and valued.  This simple little exercise led me to a rather simple epiphany:

Instead of imposing our pedagogical agenda on young people, why aren’t we asking them to tell us what they want to know?

I think that if we strip away all the traditional requirements / expectations (imposed on both student and teacher), we can reveal the core purpose of Confirmation ministry.  The church forms a partnership with parents and baptismal sponsors to nurture faith in young people. The best practitioners in youth ministry know the way to have this purpose play out is to create an environment of relationships that allow young people to wrestle with their questions.  (Recommended reading – Revisiting Relational Ministry, Andy Root.)  Confirmation curriculum and other resources can aid in this process, but I don’t think it should drive the experience.  Lectures, Catechism study, scripture memorization, faith statements, worship notes, and service projects are the asphalt for the road on the journey of faith.  Relationships with peers, adults, parents, and church leaders are the vehicle that young people get to travel in.

What good is a road if nobody drives on it?  So too, driving a car off-road for an entire lifetime isn’t a very pleasant experience.  The road and the vehicle both need each other to do their job.  In the same way, the best Confirmation resources are rendered useless if they aren’t implemented in a proper context…and a child’s relationship with peers, parents, adults, and church staff is empty without a variety of teaching tools and experiences.

At the church where I work, we ask our small group leaders to sit at a round table with 4-6 students during the 1 hour class time.  They are asked to fully participate in the lesson activities, as well as facilitate groups discussions throughout the time.  No prep or expertise necessary.  Just a person willing to be faithful to their own baptism, as best they can.  One such leader is Sonja – an active member of the church and someone who approached me about the possibility of helping our with confirmation ministry.  I’ve known Sonja for a while (we went to college together), but it’s been fun to get to know her better through her ministry with one of our 7th grade groups.  Here is a blog post she wrote over on Facebook earlier this week:

I had the pleasure of being present as a small group leader for our confirmation class last night, as I do each Wednesday evening.

I enjoy this ministry for a variety of reasons.

First, it asks little of me other than a commitment of time. I do not have to prepare a lesson, food or be in charge of the plan for the day. I simply show up, help focus and direct my group’s attention and assist in fleshing out the various questions that arise as a result of the day’s topic. This is good because the act of tearing myself away from my family for the evening is usually effort enough.

Second, I find these kids fascinating. In so many ways the members in my group of 7th grade students are still kids. At times they are shy, yet they are willing to be vulnerable with each other and with me. They are still full of glee and at times downright silly. They remind me, again, what it was like to be on the verge of adulthood with one foot still in childhood. I appreciate the setting of having 6-7 with whom I work throughout the year.

Third, I enjoy getting to know these young members of our church and find their questions fascinating. Questions that at times can seem brazen or disrespectful often find their root in a deep spiritual question. Many of our terribly old customs seem confusing and pointless, and they are not afraid to challenge and question.

Fourth, it is refreshing to relearn about my church, its roots and the Biblical basis for its many traditions. I enjoy the opportunity to raise questions, discuss and at times wrestle with and accept uncertainty.

As an adult, I don’t find a lot of opportunities for this kind of dialogue. There are lots of opportunities to sit and listen and learn. But, I like to dig my hands in and get dirty with the messy questions and uncertainty.

And that is one thing, my friends, these kids are very good at.


More Extravaganza Thoughts

February 11, 2009

I had a great experience at the 2009 Extravaganza.  Lots of wonderful moments, including:

 

  1. Keynote speakers Chris Scharen (video divina) and Leslie Hunter (Pencil & the Pen)
  2. Varied styles of worship, all led by the incomparable Pastor LeAnn Stubbs
  3. Talking about cultural shifts in communication during my Facebook 101 workshop
  4. Seeing people that I had “met” on-line, but never had a face-to-face encounter with
  5. Hanging out with the Unholy Half Dozen + 1
  6. The best meal I’ve ever eaten (Sunday jazz brunch), courtesy of Court of Two Sisters in the French Quarter
  7. Reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years
  8. Dancing and singing until the wee hours
  9. Lost And Found giving away a disc of PDFs of all their songs
  10. Willy the Bike Man

 

I didn’t take any pictures while I was there, but there are about 500 shots from E’09 over on the ELCA Youth Ministry Network site.  And, for those people who wondered why two of the pictures I posted earlier were with women who aren’t my wife…here I am with DotCom hanging out at the Wartburg Seminary booth.

Bouma / Ullestad


Spark

February 10, 2009

Spark

I’m excited to see that Augsburg Fortress Publisher’s new children’s Sunday School curriculum, SPARK, launched today.  Our church’s children’s ministry might be ready for a breath of fresh air.  I’m also pumped because I was one of the contributing writers for the curriculum, and it’s always fun to see what the finished product looks like.  (Shameless self-promotion, to be sure!)  I’m told there are 500 congregations that are going to be giving Spark a test-run.  I hope the feedback is positive…because I think the ceiling for Spark is very high.


PowerMeter

February 10, 2009

I can’t wait for this to fully launch:

Over the last several months, our engineers have developed a software tool called Google PowerMeter, which will show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer. Google PowerMeter is not yet available to the public since we’re testing it out with Googlers first. But we’re building partnerships with utilities and independent device manufacturers to gradually roll this out in pilot programs.


Across the Universe

February 10, 2009

Just saw the movie for the first time, at the urging of many friends and youth from church.  Good flick.  Artsy…intense…trippy…odd…amazing.  It’s cool that they were able to weave 33 different Beatles songs into the plot (in many cases, entire songs!).  I’m not a huge Beatles fan, but I have much love for their body of work.  

A few highlights:

  • I counted at least 5 songs from the “Abbey Road” LP, my personal favorite Beatles album
  • The “Let It Be” scene…powerful
  • JoJo’s character (akin to Jimi Hendrix)
  • Jim Sturgess (I also liked him in 21 and The Other Boleyn Girl)
  • The “Oh Darlin” scene 
  • Cameos by Joe Cocker, Bono, and Eddie Izzard

 

It’s lengthy, confusing, and drawn-out in spots…but not so much that it detracts from the overall quality.  Beatles fans will be pleased.  I liked it.  All in all, I recommend it.  8.5 out of 10.


Super Bummed

February 6, 2009

Like any good Lutheran, I like to take the long view on the issues du jour.  Wait to formulate a cogent thought before spouting an opinion.  Avoid the tendency to jump on or off a given bandwagon.  Live in the tension.  Blah blah blah…

After 5 days of reflecting, watching video, listening to talking heads, and reading hundreds of articles…I’m ready to weigh in on Super Bowl 43 / XLIII with a list of 10 “quick hits”:

 

  1. Easily one of the Top 5 Super Bowls ever in terms of big plays & riveting drama
  2. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band rocked…especially for AARP members
  3. Kurt Warner cemented his status as a Hall of Fame QB, even in defeat
  4. John Madden says a lot of goofy things over the course of 4 hours
  5. The commercials were uninspired, unoriginal, and uninteresting
  6. Santonio Holmes only got one foot down on the game winning TD
  7. Santonio Holmes should have been penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration after said TD
  8. I will forever believe that Kurt Warner’s game-ending “fumble” was really an incompletion
  9. Lamar Woodley clipped Tim Hightower on the James Harrison TD at the end of the 1st half
  10. I’m way more bitter about this than I thought

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