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…

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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.


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

Extra(awesome)vaganza

February 1, 2009

I’ve had such a rich experience at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza this week.  I’m not sure where to start…so I’ll start it off with some early-week reflections from my friend Emily Harkins:

I am currently in New Orleans. Watch out Bourbon Street, there’s a new girl in town! Lock up your stray cats and dogs, I’m on the prowl.

Actually, I am here for a conference in Youth Ministry. Imagine a hotel filled with crazies, all running around with lanyards and name tags, loving on each other and Jesus Christ.

Can I get an AMENHALLELUJAH

Here’s a little something to tide you over until I get back and have a blogathon. Miss you Blog World!

My new friends, El and An at “Mothers”
Friend E likes Bread Pudding. I don’t know why.

McLos and E representing Iowa and the color brown in the land of jazz.

Who loves citrus fruits? We do. And mouth guards.

Yes. Being in my presence is that joyous. Eat your heart out blog world.

More to Come.


Something Fishy About Sea Kittens

January 21, 2009

I wrote a Faith Lens study for the ELCA Youth Ministry website this week.  Here’s what I came up with…

 

 

Faith Lens

January 21-28, 2009 – Something fishy about “sea kittens”

Warm-up question: What’s the strangest name you’ve ever heard for a pet?

There’s a new creature swimming in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Well, sort of. The folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have launched a campaign to rename fish “sea kittens.” The strategy is one of several attempts by PETA to discourage people from eating certain kinds of meat. Past projects included referring to McDonald’s and Burger King as “McCruelty” and “Murder King,” and the 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” slogan, which compared some farming practices to tactics employed by the Nazis in World War II.

PETA launched the Sea Kittens page on its Web site (www.peta.org) with the intent to appeal to children and their parents. The friendly animated characters link to interactive pages where users can create their own sea kitten, read sea kitten stories, and sign a petition. The term “fishing” is replaced with “sea kitten hunting.” Fish are portrayed as intelligent, adorable, and as experiencing emotions of pain and loss.

The Sea Kitten campaign hopes to create awareness about brutal fishing practices. PETA also wants to discourage people from eating fish in general. The petition, which has over 5,000 signatures, asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “stop allowing our little sea kitten friends to be tortured and killed. Who’d want to hurt a sea kitten anyway?!” The site goes on to declare, “The promotion of sea kitten hunting is a glaring contradiction of FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) mission to ‘conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats.’”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about the “Sea Kitten” campaign?
  • What are some ethical ways of fishing? How about unethical ways of fishing? Would you sign a petition that asks the FWS to “stop promotion of fishing?” Explain your position.
  • As stewards of God’s creation, what stance do you believe Christians should take on this issue?
  • How does changing the name or identity of something alter your opinion, understanding, or view of an issue? (e.g., Sea kitten instead of fish, conflict instead of war, online advertisement instead of spam, hate crime instead of freedom of expression, protective coating engineer instead of painter, etc. Think of some others.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 25, 2009.
(Text links are to 
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

Gospel Reflection

Mark seems like the kind of guy who would rather study Cliff’s Notes (an abbreviated overview) than read an entire book. His gospel is short and to the point. The first chapter (45 verses) tells of John the Baptist’s ministry, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the calling of the disciples, Jesus teaching in the synagogue, removing demons, cleansing lepers, and even Jesus’ first preaching tour. So much for beating around the bush!

The gospel text for today tells of how Jesus called his first disciples — Simon and Andrew; James and John. Two sets of brothers. All were fishermen. This is significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the social standing of fishermen. People who caught fish served an important purpose in society, as they provided one of the major food resources for the community. However, fishermen had very little connection with most people, other than their fellow fishers. They kept to themselves. They were dirty and smelly. Many fishermen had no home — they just lived in their boats. They were rough-and-tumble, salt-of-the-earth kinds of people, certainly not the kinds of people that would be thought of as religious leaders!

Yet these were exactly the kinds of people that Jesus wanted to have around.

Jesus called these two sets of brothers to help him show the world that God is a God for everyone; not just the educated, wealthy, religious folk. He turned the word “fishermen” around into “fishers of men” (which we know includes ALL people, not just men). Imagine the confusion that Simon, Andrew, James, and John were experiencing. Not only were they leaving behind the familiar life of fishermen, but they were now going to have to fish for people. This is just the beginning though. Jesus would lead these men on a three-year journey where everything was turned upside-down. Swords would be turned into ploughshares, rough places made plain, lowly are exalted, sick made healthy, and dead were raised to new life.

Though these young men were the same people, they had a new identity. There were no longer fishers of fish, they were fishers of people. In the same way, Jesus changes our identity from “lost, broken, sinner” to “child of God.” It’s amazing how one little name change can make a huge difference in our lives and view of the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What would you say if a strange man showed up at your school and said, “follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people?”
  • Why do you think Jesus chose fishermen to be his first disciples? Why not highly educated, publicly recognized religious leaders?
  • How does changing the identity of the chosen disciples (from fishermen to fishers of people) change the way they viewed themselves?
  • Whether they’re called “fish” or “sea kittens,” the animal is the same. Whether these men were called “fishermen” or “fishers of people,” they were still the same men. All that changed was other people’s perceptions of them. What kinds of labels do you put on other people? How do those labels impact the way you treat them, respect them, or trust them? How would you treat people if you gave them all the same label, “child of God?”

Activity Suggestion

Fishing for people is not about sticking a hook in their mouth and dragging them into your boat (the church). It’s also not about sitting in the “boat” and hoping fish will just magically jump into it. Being a fisher of people means two things:

  1. engaging
  2. inviting

Ask everyone to think of one or two people they would like to go fishing for this week. Give each person some construction paper, marker, and a pair of scissors. Have everyone cut out a fish and write the name(s) of the people they want to go fishing for during the upcoming week. Talk about ways to engage these people in conversation about Jesus. Share ideas for how and when to invite them to your church. Encourage everyone to keep their little fish cut-out in their planner to remind them to go fishing for people.

Closing Prayer

God, you have given us a new identity as your children. Help us to trust in your promises, and to share them with others. Amen.

Contributed by Erik Ullestad
West Des Moines, IA