Category Archives: Youth Ministry

I Hope You Fail

(I am bringing back some posts from a previous blog I no longer maintain.  They are pieces that I am proud of and that I believe still have value.  This was first published in March of 2006)

It goes against everything we seem to hear about how to deal with you these days. We’re supposed to enable you and validate you and set you up to succeed. And the more I think about it the more I think you, my young brothers and sisters, are being set up for a failure of monumental proportions. I think we need to make sure that you’re given every opportunity to fall flat on your face. To auger in, to crash and burn, to have the wheels come off. In short to fail. Maybe even spectacularly.

I know, you thought I was your friend. I really am.

That’s why I want you to fail. Actually, I want you to be given the opportunity to fail. The real problem is that adults spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sure that you are given opportunities to succeed. When you were little the “circle of protection” needed to be very tight around you. Little kids don’t have any idea what can be real trouble for them so their parents and families and teachers need to watch over them pretty closely. Trouble is that a lot of adults are continuing that same process even as you grow older. While you don’t want to hear this either there is still a need for some adult supervision even for 14,15,16,17 and 18 -year-olds. If we’re really trying to prepare you to become adults capable of going out and surviving on your own we need to let you fail. And we need to let you figure your own way out of a goodly portion of those failures too. Because it’s not enough just to try and fail. You need to know that you can work your way out of it, figure out the solution and make it work.

FailwDon’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of success. I won’t kid you either, failing really stinks. It hurts and it can hurt for a long time. But it’s necessary so that you know that it’s survivable. You know what can be the strongest part of a bone? The place where it was once broken. The time is coming very quickly for you when you won’t be able to rely on Mommy or Daddy or whoever to pull you out of every problem. You’re going to find yourself out there on your own, there won’t be a convenient adult to step in and “fix” things. Yes, I know the general consensus among youth is that all these “meddling” adults are a pain and you wish they’d go away. But let’s be honest, that’s really only when things are going well, right? It’s kinda nice to have them around to take charge (and responsibility) when things go whacko, isn’t it? There have been plenty of times when I’d LOVE to have someone step in and fix up a few details for me. Trust me it doesn’t happen. The success that comes easily doesn’t feel nearly as good as the success that you know you’ve really earned.

For my fellow parents, teachers, youth ministers I need to acknowledge that we have the hardest part in all of this. We have to be willing to step back a little farther, NOT run in at the first (or second, or maybe even third) sign of trouble. Worst of all we’ll have to deal with their pain after the failure. And that is really hard. In the end, we need to remember that we really are preparing them to thrive on their own. It’s no surprise to us that it can be a cold, hard world out there. What we can do is make sure that we’re always there to help our youth figure out what went wrong, to ensure that failures don’t become too calamitous and to let them know that failure is not the end of the world. We can’t (and shouldn’t try to) prevent them from falling. We can make sure that they always have a safe place to fall. In the long run, I believe that we’ll see them succeed more often, growing more confident and able to deal with anything that life can throw at them.

So let the opportunity to fail begin.


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Filed under Episcopal, Faith, Thoughts, Writing, Youth Ministry

Reports From the Travelling Circus

(July 13, 2014) – My friends know that I bear a curse.  Often the first words out of their mouths are “Any trouble this time?”.  And then they laugh.

You see, I have a travelling curse.

It’s been going on for years now.  I get delayed, bumped and re-routed.  If there is any bad weather in the area it will lodge between me and my destination.  The curse operates pretty much everywhere but it does have two primary loci – Philadelphia and Denver.  If my travels take me through either of those locations I am guaranteed to have some kind of an adventure.

I’ve learned a certain zen like calm about it all.

It’s either that or I just stopped worrying about it.  Pretty much the same thing, I think.

So today I am travelling home from the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE), a once every three years gathering of teens from all around the Episcopal Church.  As I have done several times in the past I was serving as a member of the team running the event.

Did I mention that this year’s EYE was being held IN Philadelphia?

(That’s called foreshadowing.  Pretty spiffy little writing trick there.  You should be impressed)

The trip into Philly went without any significant trouble at all.  That should have warned me.

There was some kerfluffle about just how I was supposed to get from the Villanova University campus to the airport on departure day.  That’s not really surprising as a thousand people have to be moved off the campus in a matter of 12 hours.  Planes, trains, buses, private automobiles.  They all have to be coordinated, loaded and leave, preferably without leaving anyone behind.  Since I was something of a supernumerary I was going to fit in where I could.  Between midnight and noon that plan changed five times.  It was frustrating but was really only a tiny quiver in the energy of the travel universe.

A tiny quiver of WARNING.  (FORESHADOWING!!!!)

I got to the airport with plenty of time to check-in, go through security, grab a leisurely lunch and make it to the departure gate.

Almost immediately there came an announcement that the plane was over booked and needed 4 volunteers to take a later flight.  Since I’m not in a huge hurry today (and after consulting my lady wife) I went up to volunteer.  A moment later it was all set.

Then something curious happened.  There were three young people seated just a row away from me in the waiting area.  A young woman who looked to be in her late teens/early 20s, a tall young man of high school age and an elementary aged little brother.  As I got back to my seat I saw the two older young people exchange a quick word of what was obviously very good news.  Then all three of them turned toward me, looked right at me and said “Thank You!”

The only logical response was  “What did I do?”

Turns out these three siblings had missed an earlier flight and it didn’t look like all three of them could fly home on the same flight.  With me volunteering a seat opened up and they would be able to travel together.

As a youth minister, the fact that I could help them out, even inadvertently, was the greatest gift I could have received at that moment.  It felt really, really wonderful to see the joy on their face.  All three of them thanked me and I told them I couldn’t be happier to have been able to help.

I even thought “Maybe the curse has been broken”.

Never disrespect a curse.  Never tempt one.

In a matter of minutes my cell phone rang to tell me that the 5:30 flight I had been bumped to was now delayed to 6:05.  Then the original flight was delayed (there was a small chance they might have gotten me on that flight if someone else hadn’t shown up), followed almost immediately by the flight being cancelled.

So now I’ll be here till at least 6 o’clock.

The travelling circus rolls on.

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Filed under Episcopal, personal, Travel, Youth Ministry

For a New Year

Well 2013 was quite the experience.

My wife and I tried living apart for almost 4 months, the longest we’ve been apart in more than 30 years.  We didn’t like it.  But we’re doing it again in just a matter of days.

My daughter began advanced studies aimed at a Master’s Degree.  So far it has made her a better writer, a more confident person and taken her (with some little drama not of her own making) to Ireland.  She’s going to do it again as well (although we hope without the drama bit).

I lost the best job I’ve ever had after 13 years.  That has been both painful and inspiring.  The truth is that it was time for some kind of change.  Either move on or re-create what I was doing all together.  I’m nervous but excited.  To those who made the last 13 years the amazing ride it has been my thanks and appreciation.  I’ll keep you up date on the journey.  All I know is that I am headed somewhere I didn’t anticipate.  Kind of enjoy that really!

My travels this year took me to Del Ray, Florida, St. Louis, MO; New York City including a trip to City Island for some of the best seafood I’ve ever had; toured the wine country of northeastern Ohio; Williamsburg, VA; and a couple trips to play tourist in Pittsburgh.  There was a LOT of driving back and forth to Buffalo and the surrounding area.

I’ve continued to struggle with the weight gain of a couple years ago.  I’ve made some progress but not enough.  The time off will let me focus better and, with any luck at all, jump start that process.

I want to focus on my writing and guitar playing this year.  It’s time to let my creativity have some breathing room.  Also a good time to do some more winnowing down of the many years accretion of stuff.  I will be digitizing anything of value.  Got some toys to help with that this Christmas.

So 2013 was a good year.  I’m hoping for even more in 2014.

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Filed under Creativity, personal, Thankful, Travel, Writing, Youth Ministry

Remembering Mike

Today is the anniversary of the death of one those people who have had a special effect, a deep impact on my spiritual life – Mike Yaconelli.  If you’re in youth ministry you probably know his name.  Co-founder of Youth Specialties, author of “Messy Spirituality” and “Dangerous Wonder”.  Books that I can not read at night because they get me so riled up that I can’t sleep.  He inspired me and still inspires me.

Mike Yaconelli and friend (and I love the shirt)

Every time I read his books or watch the video below I want to laugh and I want to cry.  Laugh for the joy and energy of the faith he expresses and cry because I know I’m still not the kind of youth worker he pointed towards.

Want to know what I want my faith to look like?  Want to know what I want my ministry to look like?  Want to know what I want my church to look like?  Watch the video below.  That’s who I want to be.

I got to meet Mike.  Youth Specialties was doing an event near Pittsburgh and I took the chance to drive down and see what this was all about.  At the end of his presentation Mike stood at the edge of the stage and greeted everyone who wanted to talk with him.  By the time I got up to him I was so choked with emotion I could barely talk.  I shook his hand and thanked him.  The line about a rule forbidding playing hide and seek in the organ pipes could have come from me, so I smile every time I hear it.  I don’t remember what I said to him only that he was warm and gracious despite the fact that I was the 30 or 40th person in that line.  I don’t get real “star struck” but that is one of the great moments in memory for me.

All these years later he still chokes me up.

Thanks Mike.  I’ll keep working on being Wonderously Messy.

“I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost 60, and I fail on a regular basis.”  Messy Spirituality

Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory  Mike Yaconelli

 (July 24, 1942—October 30, 2003)

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Filed under Faith, Thankful, Youth Ministry