The Gospel According to Cub Scout Troop 3256

My neighbor texted me in the early afternoon: “Eric. This is extremely last minute… But I was wondering if you could come talk to scouts tonight around 6:45ish about duty to God. Our initial meeting plan fell through and I’m scrounging for a fill in. No worries if you can’t… but you’re obviously better at this religion stuff.

I shifted my schedule to accommodate this unexpected opportunity (which is, honestly, a pastor’s dream!)… But then I got to thinking: What is the best way to connect the Gospel with Cub Scouts?

Cub Scouts are certainly different from the Kent State University students with whom I interact on a more regular basis! Still, if I’ve figured out ways to connect the Gospel to anarchists in the squats of Amsterdam… and Hindu professors in a creative writing group… and senior citizens in my neighborhood… and my own children… then, surely there has to be a way to make meaningful connections with Cub Scouts!

The Cub Scout Manual’s “Duty to God” section didn’t provide a lot of great material. It seemed to promote a way of thinking and practicing religion in a way that was primarily oriented towards behavior modification. Which is, in my way of reading and understanding the Bible, pretty different from the way that Jesus talked about things. So I talked things through with my family over dinner and came up with a three-pronged plan to employ at the Pack Meeting in the public library:

  1. Create a space for the open exchange of ideas and inquiry, letting the boys themselves drive our dialogue with their questions and concerns.
  2. Share a brief visual representation of the overarching story of the Bible, sketched out on a white board, drawing the boys into dialogue through this tool known as The Bridge.
  3. Share a story from the Bible itself that demonstrates  Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom and its ways of dealing with “bad people” and “good people,” effectively leading a Discovery Bible Study with the boys.

I figured I’d get to the meeting, feel things out, and then choose one of those three concepts from which to lead the rest of our time together; however, after five minutes of open discussion, it became clear that the group dynamics were not going to allow for meaningful interaction. A couple of the boys showed genuine interest and engagement — but one was distracting himself with a Rubik’s Cube, another was trying to make the other boys laugh with his questions, and a third was trying to demonstrate how well he’d been paying attention in his Religion Class at Saint Patrick’s Elementary School.

Through that short time of open discussion, however, one Cub Scout seemed to present a very sincere question: Why did Jesus have to die?

And when that question came out on the table, I decided to go ahead and share The Bridge as a way of summarizing the most salient points of the Bible and its explanations for why Jesus had to be born, live, die, and rise from the dead. I went quickly because I didn’t want to lose the boys’ attention (it’s hard for them to just sit still when they’re eight or nine years old), but it was cool to see some of the boys make some connections to the message of the Gospel.

The best part of the troop meeting, however, was when I got into some Bible story-telling. I chose Luke 7:36-50 for our text: partly reading, partly summarizing, and partly dramatizing. I suggested that we could think of the “Sinful Woman” in the story as a drug addict/dealer, in order to sidestep the more likely biblical interpretation relating to her sexual promiscuity — but other than that detail, we stuck pretty closely to the story. And as the story unfolded, the boys quieted. Completely. They locked into the story and responded appropriately when I checked in with comprehension questions. And they seemed to genuinely understand the most important parts of the story: that it wasn’t the most dutiful or religious person who got the most out of their interaction with Jesus, but the most humble and desperate.

I’m going to remember the success of story-telling next time (if there is a next time). And I’m going to be praying for those Cub Scouts.

Posted in Children, Culture, God, H2O Kent, Kent, Small Groups, The Bible | Leave a comment

Purple at the Polls

There was a woman on campus at Kent State about a month ago, advocating for one of the major political parties. She told everyone to wear her party’s color to the polls on Voting Day, so I made a mental note to carefully consider my wardrobe for today.

I decided to wear purple and black because I cast votes on today’s ballot for some Democrats, some Republicans, some Libertarians, and some Independents.

I mourn the fact that there aren’t more and better choices in our political system — but I’m also glad to live in a place where my vote is counted. Let’s not take it for granted!

Posted in American Politics, Kent, Ohio, Politics, Social Issues, The United States of America | Leave a comment

A Peek at the Peak

I love the way that the window over our backyard gets turned into a stained glass window every autumn. It seems to me like the “peak color” of our fall foliage arrived a bit later than usual this year… But it arrived this weekend — and man, was it spectacular!

I got to get some extended time with God on Friday, walking around West Branch State Park. It was kind of misty and rainy, but even so the fall foliage was beautiful to behold, with such a wide spectrum of color throughout the forest.

On Saturday, the weather cleared a little and created space for further enjoyment.

I got to go for a group run in the afternoon, down one of my favorite roads in the area (Lake Rockwell Road) — and it just felt like a privilege to be able to run, to run with friends, and to run with friends through such lovely fall scenery.

And then today (Sunday), the sun came out in force — electrifying all the colors as we gathered for worship on campus.

Our family went to take some family portraits immediately following the worship gathering, and conditions for the photo shoot could hardly have been more perfect.

After going home and grabbing a late lunch, I spent the weekend’s last four hours of daylight out in my yard: putting away garden hoses and deck furniture, blowing leaves from the deck and driveway to be mulched in the yard and laid into the garden beds — preparing everything for the winter.

I know that it may not sound ideal to everyone: hiking in the rain… long-distance running… and the hours of yard work… But I actually feel like it’s been a wonderful weekend.

With a good bit of rain and wind in the forecast for the coming week, the peak probably won’t last very long. But I was glad to be able to make the most of it, while it lasted.

Posted in Family, Kent, Photography, Recreation, Running, Transition, Weather | Leave a comment

The Light that Leads to Life

Theological discussions — and, frankly, disagreements — are a part of my life, as a pastor and campus missionary. Which version of the Bible is the best to read? Which form of church polity or governance is most appropriate for our cultural context? How should one interpret the Bible’s prophecies about the “end times?” It’s understandable that we would grapple with these questions. But the posturing and positioning of these arguments can grow tiresome. I’m especially allergic to any claims towards “the authoritative understanding” of a controversial issue. So I was recently refreshed when I read these words from the first chapter of 2 Peter:

You must pay close attention to what [the prophets] wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place — until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star in your hearts. Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

As I was reading I got this image of scared children, hiding behind costumes and masks, darting from street lamp to street lamp, front porch-light to front porch-light, on Halloween night. Everyone is immature and insecure, groping from one small pool of light to the next. But we’re trying to convince the world that we’re scary monsters (not scared children). Following the example of Peter, though, we can instead adopt a mindset of bravely and cautiously stepping forward along the path illuminated by Scripture. The Christian faith works best when we’re each doing our best to humbly use the Bible as our guide for day-to-day living… until such a time when all things will be revealed.

Earlier today, I read a corollary in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John:

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

In this, I felt fresh appreciation for Jesus as the Light of the World, and I started praying for others in my life, as well: that they would be guided by Jesus and then, in turn, offer glimmers of hope to others around them.

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Paper Generation

I grew up using telephone books to look up numbers I needed to call (and when I found the number I needed to call, I employed a rotary-dial telephone with a long, curly cord to place my calls). I used a Rand McNally Road Atlas to find my way from one point to the next, on a road trip (local directions were shared verbally and written out on a scrap piece of paper, if necessary). My wife and I wrote three or four letters per week, sent through the U.S. Postal Service, to sustain our long-distance relationship back when we were dating. I didn’t even hear about the internet until I was a college student.

These days, however, I’m quite comfortable in the digital world.

Google Calendar is my preferred way to keep track of my (and my family’s) schedule(s). I use Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive to keep track of all the little scraps of information I need for everyday life. When I get a new book, I prefer to have it on Kindle to reduce the amount of weight I’m carrying around in my backpack. Even when I read the Bible, I enjoy the versatility and study resources that come with the Olive Tree app on my electronic devices.

Here’s the funny thing, though, when I interact with today’s college students and twenty-somethings, I find that an increasing number of them prefer paper products for their Information Age lives. They opt for hand-bound, leather-backed, paper planners to keep track of their homework assignments and appointments. They utilize bullet journals and Moleskines to track information and ideas. They enjoy the look and feel and heft of a hardbound book, instead of the convenience of e-books.

Why is this?

I still haven’t figured out all the reasons — as most young people will simply respond with a shrug and a statement to the effect of “I just like it better,” when I ask them directly — but the trend is definitely real. As a “digital immigrant,” I think there’s something ironic about the paper preferences of this generation, these “digital natives” born after the dawn of the Internet. But I also find it kind of endearing. If I weren’t so acclimated to the Information Age myself, and so enthusiastic about electronic efficiency, I’d leave them each a note to tell them I love them.

Posted in Culture, Nostalgia | Comments Off on Paper Generation

Six-Week Sprint

Sprinting sucks. Literally. It sucks the air right out of you.

You need oxygen. Especially when you’re running. Your legs and lungs demand it. Your guts and bowels back up the demands with threats. But there’s just not enough oxygen to be had. Sprinting sucks so hard.

But sprinting is good for you. It covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. It builds greater strength, burns more calories and fat, trains the body to process oxygen more effectively, and ultimately offers higher efficiency in training.

So, I build sprints into my training regimen, when I’m training for a race: intervals… sprints… strides… hill repeats… fartlek (“speed play”)… Whatever variation or name, these high-intensity sprinting strategies work. But they make me work. And they feel like work, not play.

Collegiate ministry can be a lot like sprinting.

Welcome Week is an extra-intense part of the experience, but I think it’s fair to say that we undertake a Six-Week Sprint every year: from Freshmen Move-In Day to our Fall Retreat in the last weekend of September. This Six-Week Sprint helps us cover a lot of ground, and it quickly establishes an effective rhythm for the rest of the school year… but it doesn’t necessarily feel great in the midst of it.

I’m catching my breath now, over Kent State University’s Fall Break (which is a welcome adjustment to the academic calendar this year!). I’m excited to settle into more sustainable rhythms and routines for the rest of the school year, once all the students return.

But I’m also glad we also ran hard to start things off. And I’m praying that God will use our Six-Week Sprint to lay a solid foundation for the rest of the year.

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Ten Years of H2O Kent

We celebrated the 10th birthday of H2O Kent this weekend, with a bunch of different activities including a 5K race, a brunch, a tailgating party, a banquet, and a worship gathering (also: let the photographic record show that I wore a different H2O Kent T-shirt to each activity!).

I wasn’t a part of the original church-planting team back in 2008, but I feel like I’ve been blessed with a unique vantage point to the church’s “conception” and “birth” through the years. Because of my friendship with Jason Slack, I was invited to a special ordination and commissioning service at H2O Bowling Green in the Fall of 2007.

Two years later — after the church planting team moved and settled into Kent — I was afforded another opportunity to attend a worship gathering in the Fall of 2009. This was just as the church was starting to hold its first public events on-campus, meeting in the Multi-Cultural Lounge of the Kent State Student Center.

At the time of that visit, I wasn’t really thinking about the possibility that me and my family would ever play a more active role in ministry at H2O Kent — but I remember being encouraged and impressed by the way the church was establishing itself back in the earliest days of their life in northeast Ohio.

Then, of course, I got to be much more intimately acquainted with H2O Kent when our family moved to Kent in the summer of 2012. We felt immediately accepted and embraced, starting with the warm welcome we received at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Our full-fledged involvement over the last six years has only deepened my appreciation of everything God has done (and is doing) in this church. Our church is certainly not perfect, but we’ve fostered a strong culture of plurality, humility, and family that has lent itself to slow, steady growth through the last ten years.

At one point this weekend, we said: “The vision has never been stronger; the need has never been greater.” And I think that’s so true. The story of H2O Kent is still being written. We’re genuinely excited to see what God will do in the next ten years!

Posted in Church, H2O Kent, Kent, Nostalgia, Photography | Comments Off on Ten Years of H2O Kent

Tarnished-but-Golden Years

On my way over to Europe, I reflected on the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship. It felt arbitrary at the time (and indeed, it may have been nothing more than silly sports nostalgia)… But whether it’s God’s providence or simple serendipity, my thoughts have continued to percolate and point towards deeper truths in my life.

The summer of 2014 through the summer of 2018 represented some good years in Cleveland. The Cavs’ championship in 2016 was the crowning jewel — but all four seasons in that stretch resulted in conference championships. The Cavs were relevant in each of these four basketball seasons. I expect history will show that these were golden years for players, coaches, and fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Even though these four seasons included challenges like injuries (to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, especially)… poor decisions by players (JR Smith dribbling out the clock in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals), coaches (David Blatt calling for a time out he didn’t have in 2015), and front office personnel (letting David Griffin and Kyrie Irving walk away in the summer of 2017)… and losses to end the season in 2015 (4-2), 2017 (4-1), and 2018 (4-0)… some perspective and time will prove that these were good years. Worthwhile years.

The freshest memories in this moment may be a lot of “What if”s: What if we kept Andrew Wiggins instead of trading for Kevin Love? What if Kyrie Irving could have been brought back into the fold with a long-term contract in Cleveland instead of being traded away for minimal returns in the summer of 2017? What if the Cavs could have stolen Game 1 in 2018 instead of suffering a heartbreaking loss? What if LeBron James chose to finish out his career with a long, extended run towards retirement in Cleveland, instead of Los Angeles? These “What if”s are natural, I think. But…

The “What if”s are not the whole picture.

As much as I love the Cavs and could talk a long time with anyone who wanted to chat about basketball — I’ve really come to feel like the Cavs are a useful vehicle for assessing my Amsterdam years. The recent travels to Europe have helped me to gain some healthy perspective on mistakes I made on my way out of Amsterdam, and I’m thankful for the insights that have come along these lines in the last week or so. But really, there’s only so much to be gained from these discussions.

Obsessing about the unsavory elements of the Cavs’ run from 2014-15 to 2017-18 ultimately becomes silly, inaccurate, and deranged. If JR Smith were to get stuck on the last five seconds of Game 1 in the 2018 Finals, and that’s all he ever wanted to talk about — to show his contrition, even if reporters wanted to ask about the 2018-19 season, or his family, or his foundation to help underprivileged children in New Jersey, or his recollections of hitting those big shots at the beginning of the 3rd quarter in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals — then he would be pathetic and pitiful.

And if I were to camp out on the mistakes I made in 2011-12 — seeing just my “game-ending blunders” without the “shots, rebounds, and defense” throughout the rest of my time with “the team” — then I, too, would be pathetic and pitiful. Short-sighted, at the very least.

I feel freshly grounded in a wider perspective, which I believe more closely adheres to God’s perspective.

The first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes” (v. 4). “Everything is weary beyond description… History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new… We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now” (v. 8-11). “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless — like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered” (v. 14-15). “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (v. 18).

A wider, God-sized perspective seems to give up on setting the record straight about “that one conversation” from “that one time” in 2011, or 2014, or whenever. A wider, God-sized perspective seems to suggest that I need to embrace God’s forgiveness.

I still want to be sensitive to others, particularly if they feel injured by any of the events of 2011-12. Gratitude and grief from the past are not mutually exclusive. But if my perspective remains planted where it rests at this moment, and it eventually sprouts, flourishes, and produces fruit in my life, I think I will be able to move forward with a new sense of freedom. And I’m pretty excited about that.

Posted in Amsterdam50, Church, European Missions, Introspection | Comments Off on Tarnished-but-Golden Years

A September Day in Stockholm

Nobody blogs anymore.

Our society seems to have shifted away from textual communication, in favor of visual communication. Specially-designed platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter provide much of the same ability for self-expression, without requiring so many words — and most people seem to prefer that.

Except for me.

I dabble in the newer forms of social media (find me in the links listed on the sidebar) — and I’d really rather stick to observing the shifts in cultural communication, not criticizing them. Still, my preferences in communication are not invalid — and the fact of the matter is that I like words (in addition to images), and I appreciate some sense of permanence.

Consequently, I like to maintain an online presence here, in my own little corner of the internet, where I can keep a record of my life (for my own reference) while also providing a window for others who want to know me.

Among the college students with whom I work, it seems that short-term (24-hour) stories on Instagram and Snapchat are the preferred way of telling stories — so I decided to practice cross-cultural story-telling while I was in a cross-cultural setting: using my Instagram story to reflect on my day in Stockholm (Sweden).

Since it automatically disappears within 24 hours, though, I wanted to save a parallel version here on my website — for posterity sake — while also taking advantage of the opportunity to evaluate the mode of communication itself.

Publishing to my Instagram story felt clunky and cross-cultural. Like any sort of second language. But I think I was able to express myself pretty effectively. I didn’t like the way that the medium limited me to vertical (“portrait”) images, whereas I’m used to shooting in horizontal (“landscape”) mode. The two images above and below, from the Stockholm Public Library, originally had a lot of wasted space above and below them.

I didn’t really have a lot of meaningful stuff to say about them, just: “I started, by myself, with a visit to the Public Library” (with a location tag and a GIF sticker of a book with pages flipping) and “Almost all of the books are in one, big, round room!” (with a nerdy smiling face emoji).

In retrospect, I think these lame library posts were just me getting used to the medium, taking my lumps in learning how to tell good stories by telling some bad ones, too. The pictures — even expanded horizontally — don’t do that library justice, though. It was a pretty neat place to visit.

I didn’t go to Stockholm for tourist purposes, though. I went there for ministry purposes.

H2O Kent has established some key partnerships with Christians in Stockholm who are working hard to establish missional initiatives in unreached (or under-reached) communities. There’s one American missionary with Great Commission Europe, who has been living in Stockholm for three years (in Sweden for six years), and she’s currently working in an immigrant community called Tensta. The vast majority of her neighbors come from the Middle East — but many of the people from these “Muslim” countries are surprisingly open to learning about Jesus.

We currently have one young Kent State graduate who is raising support to join these efforts (please pray with us that God could clear the way for Janelle to move this winter!), and it was very helpful to connect with one of the leaders from this community to learn about his experiences and receive his insight for how we can continue to provide meaningful partnership with this missional initiative.

 

Even while we’re praying and preparing for a new Kent State connection in Tensta, it’s significant to note that H2O Kent already sent out a staff couple (named Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart) around this time last year — and they’re currently working to reach university students at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm’s city center.

 

They’re also thinking and praying through the possibility of a new missional initiative in an area of the city called Södermalm. So while we were taking time to talk about the past, present, and future of the Rineharts’ ministry in Stockholm, we made it a point to spend some time in Södermalm… And I loved the opportunity to be a part of their world, even if it was only for a day (or two-and-a-half).

 

As I look through these screenshots from the Instagram story and write out some of the background information, I realize that I didn’t do a very good job of showing the strategic ministry side of my day in Stockholm — even though that was really the whole idea. Something about the culture of Instagram lends itself to easy, breezy, beautiful images that look more like a tourist magazine than a full-fledged glimpse into the place and people I was visiting.

I blame myself, more than the medium, for this. Still, I’m also glad that I can back things up here, in a more expansive setting.

Posted in Blog, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, European Missions | Comments Off on A September Day in Stockholm