Graduation season is in full bloom. Our youth group will graduate this month 25 seniors from thirteen schools and two homeschool groups. We hosted an 8th grade graduation (last Wed) and host an upcoming Senior Sunday (this Sunday). Personally, my youngest son’s eighth grade graduation from the school of dialectic at Augustine Academy was last night and my oldest son’s graduation from Jenks Public High School is Monday night. You might not be shocked to discover I have been thinking about graduation celebrations.

As I called a number of senior’s families this week and several 8th grade families last week, I heard their stories and was able to encourage and to pray for them. I was struck again – as I am each year – by the privilege of “coming alongside” and “being with” families in times like these. I jotted down some thoughts about graduations in the church. They are almost stream of consciousness. Let me know what you think:

Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church?

It seems to me that the very heart of what we should be about finds its antecedent in the ministry of Jesus. He was WITH people both in the common times (along the way, at a meal) and at the celebrations (wedding, parties, Passover feast etc) and other transitions (funerals). It is interesting that His ministry both starts and ends with a wedding celebration.

How should we celebrate? The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christ Hymn in Phil 2 calls us to not seek our own interest or agendas, but to value highly those of others. It calls us not to be grasping at position or power or role, but to empty ourselves and serve. It calls us to go on others turf and to experience with them their joys and sorrows. We have talked a lot this year in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may choose to exclude ourselves, but that Christ gives us every opportunity to understand and respond to His invitation. As His ambassadors, we seek to operate the same way.

Graduation is a time perfectly created for youth ministers and other incarnational missionaries in our culture. The whole culture celebrates, but has no answers. They know this is a meaningful time. But they don’t really know why. That is a great starting point. Graduation provides a time for us not to preach or correct, but to join in with those that celebrate…to serve…to encourage…to alleviate stress for…and with our very presence in the parties as Christ’s ambassadors…to lift up Jesus Christ.

How does that work within our programming? I believe Jesus would be at the graduation parties. Jesus would be listening to the parents and grandparents brag. Jesus would take an interest in the half-formed dreams of kids. Jesus would show up….and lift up…and shower with love in all joy. And so…

We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family. At least one of us is there. We cheer. We affirm. We ask good questions. And we listen.

We throw a party. Not only to celebrate, but to do the things that a rite of passage does – to offer “safe passage,” to provide significant learning, to connect to community, and to provide opportunity for transformation. But also to celebrate. As the First Family – the priority relationships for those who belong to Christ, we join graduates in their joy.

We invite. Every single phone call is a chance to share in the joy and to offer pray for this joyful, stressful and occasionally painful time. Every intentional personal invitation is a reminder that they are not forgotten. That they are loved. That we long to be included in their joy. So we call everyone. The program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff. And so we pray.

We stay in touch. Because our sheep are not just the ones that find their way to the church each week. They are those we have been given to shepherd. We have compassion. We understand that they – like we – are just dust. We know how sin and busyness alienates. And we keep the bridge clean and the door open and the communication inviting.

Why do we celebrate graduations in the church? Because we are Christ’s ambassadors!

There are three places I have been where I remember thinking, “Wow. Look at all these nice cars!” All three were high school parking lots.

In the church where I worked previously for 12 years, I can remember families agonizing with the decision of whether or not to get their child a car when he or she turned 16. They wanted them to know that driving was a privilege and not a right. They wanted them to have ownership in the expensive decision (beyond “this is what I want”). They wanted a car to be a response to actual need and not to desire. And teen driving is dangerous. Numbers I have read tell me that over 5,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries each year are a result of teens drivers age 16 to 20. They are four times as likely as any age group to get in an accident.

And yet the parents themselves felt incredible peer pressure. This is interesting to me because Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the brothers who host National Public Radio’s Car Talk, polled 5,000 listeners a couple of years ago on whether or not a 16-year-old should have his own car. Sixty-seven percent of those listeners answered with a resounding “no.” (Noted in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Personal Finance in your 40s and 50s, p 70). A mention of the possibility of not buying a 16-year-old a car was met not with approval or understanding the reasonableness of the decision, but with incredulity and with a passionate defense of the virtues of buying one’s teen a car. And there are some good reasons…but solving that dilemma is not really the point of this post.

My kids were younger and so I watched with interest the families that struggled out loud with this issue. I believe that every single one purchased a vehicle for their child when they turned 16 and became part “believers.” And where I now live and work (for the past seven years), buying your child a car appears to be a fait accompli. I have not heard one parent vocalize the struggle. I am attuned to this struggle as my 4th child prepares to turn 16 and will do so without a car. Gone are the days when my dad and other parents told their offspring: “When you can afford the insurance and the upkeep, you have my permission to buy yourself a car.”

My point, oddly enough, is this. I think Eugene Peterson’s chapter title is dated. but his content is not. Do you agree?

This is long enough so (cliffhanger music) tune in next time to catch a post about his content in chapter 10.

Hope. The famous agnostic Ingersoll called hope “a universal liar” and Nietzsche considered it “the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.” They echo the voice of Good Friday. Engulfed by present circumstances, unprepared by our past, and uncertain of our future. Death, despair, and shattered dreams are presented as the final answer.

But those who follow Christ are not a people of Good Friday. We are an Easter people. Good Friday is part of our past, but it is not our present!! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He is alive forevermore! The Risen Lord is our present reality and future hope. Because we live in Easter, our Good Friday moments have meaning.

Adolescents are not naturally a people of hope. Idealism, yes. Dreams and fantasies about the future, absolutely. But not mature hope.

The ‘future’ is a new experience for adolescents. Infants and young children live in the present. They have almost no historical sense. They are absorbed in what is. That is, in fact, one of the attractions of childhood – the capacity to lose oneself completely in the now. But in adolescence the capacity to imagine forward, to plan ahead, to anticipate, awakens…the ‘future‘ is no longer dreams and wishes to be indulged, but a spectrum of possibilities that must be planned for. (p. 71)

The kind of robust hope that inhabits the Christian faith is the very context adolescents need to process and sift through “this sudden inrush of future.” The Christian doctrine of hope allows us to move beyond the shallow impotency of wishing and paralyzing fretfulness of anxiety. These emotional red herrings allow us to project our own fears and our own hopes into the future, while avoiding grappling with life in the present.

Between this Scylla and Charybdis the Christian church teaches hope. Hope is a response to the future which has its foundation in the promises of God. It looks to the future as time for the completion of God’s promise. It refuses to extrapolate either desire or anxiety in to the future, but instead believes that God’s prmisse gives the proper content to it. But hope is not a doctrine about the future: it is a grace cultivated in the present, it is a stance in the present which deals with the future…Christian hope alerts us to the possibilities of the future with the promises of God, opens up the future as a field or action, and as a consequence fills the present with energy.” (p. 73 emphasis added)

As Peterson points out, there is a group of people who need hope even more than adolescents. Parents of adolescents!

Peterson names acedia (a spiritual sloth or indifference) and tristesse (a sadness and melancholy) as two afflictions of the middle aged. He points out that our whole culture in North America functions to manipulate and make a profit out of the faded hopes as well as the fears of a population whose present feels unfulfilled and whose future seems no longer to hold as much promise.

Our Hope is a person, not a projection of our own inadequacy. The Risen Jesus Christ. He knows our past better than we. He is our future. He gives us power and purpose to live in the present.

What does that look like for you today to say no to sloth….to melancholy….to indifference…to wishful thinking….to procrastination….to anxiety and say YES to Jesus?

What does that look like for you to walk that out in the living laboratory with your teen as you talk about money…the opposite sex…house rules…grades….failure…idealism…faded hopes…and Good Friday?

I’m looking forward to hearing your story.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

(This post is inspired by chapter 9 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 4 weeks to become part of the discussion).

I thought about titling this “You’re Nothing but a Hypocrite” 8.3, but I can’t blame any of this on Eugene Peterson. These are my social media insights from the last couple of days. Your news feed may be different than mine. THe first four are pretty sad. The 5th is a gift.

1. The issue of gay marriage being a significant social media discussion topic is driven by the news. Almost to a person, everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon to show they have something to say.

2. Very few people are offering their own insights, but are parroting the memes, the cliches, the sound bites and the cutting remarks of others.

3. Most of those using Scripture are using it not to bring light and salt, but for memes, cliches, and clever (read cutting or combative) remarks.

4. Many, many of those over age 35 are either not engaged with the topic (at least in this setting) or are rushing to a cause with weapons drawn.

5. Many of those under age 35 are reacting to what they see as a choice for compassion and fairness vs a stance of hypocrisy. Specifically, I have heard/read young people over and over calling out the church for her silence on divorce and on gossip as proof of her hypocrisy on the gay marriage issue.

If you have read my earlier blogs on hypocrisy, what do you think? I’m not interested in this forum for a discussion on the rightness or wrongness of gay marriage or for political posturing. But as a first step….instead of trying to correct the minds of those we disagree with, should we thank the young people who are calling many of us out for our hypocrisy and receive their indictment as a gift?

On Wed night my daughter’s car was burglarized. She had just finished serving as a counselor for a pretty awesome four-day local Junior High mission event with our church for about eighty kids. After the students left, the counselors went out to eat for debriefing and closure. While they were inside the restaurant, her passenger side window was smashed and her bags stolen.

You probably have thoughts about that. Here you go: Her vehicle was under a light, her vehicle has no trunk, her belongings were under a blanket and pillow, she had come straight from college…but this post is not about the theft. It’s about leadership. I think you will see what I mean.

On Thursday morning insurance and I talked. Since we only have liability coverage, they wouldn’t pay, but they connected me to their preferred glass company who promised to have the window fixed onsite by Friday noon. I covered the hole with plastic and waited for Friday.

At 8:30 Friday morning, the tech called to say the window was supposed to arrive at 8:00 and it hadn’t, but he would get out there and repair the window just as soon as possible. At 11:45 AM I called him back to see what he had learned. “All I know is it hasn’t arrived. If it doesn’t arrive by 2:00, it might be Monday before I can do your window.”

Me: “Well, I understand. But that won’t work for a final answer. My daughter will be going back to college. I would like to have this fixed.”

“Probably someone would have to call around Tulsa and see if someone had it in stock.

Me: “Okay, are you going to do that?”

“Um, call the home office. I can give you their number”

So I did. And explained the situation. “I’m sorry, sir. All I can tell you is that it hasn’t arrived yet. There is nothing we can really do. We just have to wait for it to arrive.”

Me: “That is a pretty passive position. I am looking to be proactive and do some problem solving. Is there someone in your office who can do that?”

“Sir, I understand your frustration. You could talk with my manager when he gets done with another customer.”

Me: “That will be great….”.

“Okay, goodbye…”

Me: “Wait, he can call my cell @ 918.xxx.xxxx. Thank you.”

Manager does not call. I call insurance company. They call the manager. He is “out of office” but will call me when he returns.

Manager finally does call. “Hi, I was told to call this number?” I explain situation. He responds: “All I can say is that it didn’t show up. It’s probably xxxx’s (the national delivery company’s) fault. It happens all the time. We never know why it happened. It’ll be Monday or Tuesday before we can do anything!”

Me: “Thank you. That is not satisfactory. I will look for another solution.” I call insurance company back to let them know what has happened. I speak to a new person who decides to call the first company to see what problem was and when they would have the part. Manager tells him there is no problem, that I decided to cancel the order so they were no longer waiting on a part. I tell insurance lady that this happened five minutes ago. She connects me to Glassmasters at 8504 Admiral Place. Sxxx answers and tells me if I can get there within the next hour she will fit me in. Quote is only $20 more. I tell her I’m on my way.

S. calls me enroute to double-check order. Insurance company had said windshield, but paperwork they faxed to her says side window. She wants to clarify. I tell her window. She asks me to hold while she checks with supplier. Comes back on line to say we are still good. Local supplier has window in stock.

While sitting in waiting room I hear three separate people thank cashier for fitting them in. Fresh coffee is being made. There is a table for checkers. Sherlock Holmes movie playing.

S. comes out again and apologizes. Supplier sent wrong window, she sent it back. We discuss and I apologize. I said car was 2 door when it was 4. Mixup is my fault. Not sure what I was thinking. S. says it will only add about fifteen minutes to the job. I commend her for her customer service. She thanks me and says it is important to her to get it right, to do it quickly and to meet people’s needs.

After less time than I expect, the car is done. I pay and go out to the car to discover they have also cleaned up all the excess glass. As I drive home, I decide to blog on leadership.

I think there are a lot of lessons embedded in this story. But you can go first…what do you see?

So you read my last blog post, but you are not convinced? “That’s right, Hal. Tell me more about why it is a good thing that my teen is highlighting my inconsistencies and hypocrisies….that is, IF I even have any!”

In my last post I suggested that this ability to recognize and call out hypocrisy by our teens was actually a gift to us provided by God and delivered personally by some of those we love the most. But just in case you were thinking of trying to exchange this gift let me suggest that the gift is not for you alone.

In adolescence, teens are learning to think in some advanced ways and need to practice. They develop advanced reasoning skills. They learn to think about things hypothetically. They can dream about possiblities. Teenagers begin to think about things in the abstract like love…and faith…and hope. They learn to process things logically and see implications. They can even think about thinking…or think about feeling…a process called “meta-cognition.” They can even project what others might be thinking about them.

If you have been around any young teens and are past the age of 14 yourself, you can immediately see some of the difficulties this raises. There isa phenomenon called “the imaginary audience,” where each teen imagines that everyone he or she encounters is thinking about them and evaluating them critically. In fact, there is always an audience in their head, even when no one is around. And it is hard for them to imagine that everyone is not as transfixed by their own thoughts and feelings as they are themselves!

There is also a sense of personal uniqueness. Surely no one else alive or dead has ever experienced situations…or feelings…or life itself in the same way! (We talked about some of this briefly when reading chapter 5). There is a sense of increased drama and emotion to almost every situation. In fact, if a given moment does not have enough drama, it seems that the teen will seek to create some. And there is a sense of heightened justice…with no room for gray or compromise.

Think about how shallow and simple life would be without these new abilities. What a gift this cognitive and emotional development is to the teen! But what a challenge to those on whom they practice their budding skills!!

It may be the subject of another post why we think it wise in our culture to put groups of twenty-five to thirty-five middle schoolers in a classroom as they bludgeon each other while they experiment with the new things they can now do.

If you are an adult in a young teen’s life, what can you do? Here are my suggestions. Feel free to add your own:

*Thank God for the blessing….for them and for you

*Listen between the lines. Listen for the feelings. And just listen.

*Test everything. Don’t take it personally unless the Holy Spirit tells you to tune into something specific.

*Express unconditional love. Help them temper this new gift through modeling love.

*Own it and ask forgiveness when you have been a hypocrite. Model being okay with messing up, owning your stuff, and asking forgiveness.

*Thank the Lord that He isn’t done with you…adn that He trusts you to influence another!

What would you add to the list?

(This post is inspired by chapter 8 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 5 weeks to become part of the discussion).

But of course. Guilty as charged. But with a caveat. I’m a hypocrite, to be sure. (Along with the rest of the human race.I haven’t managed to get an exclusive market on that from the rest of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve). But I am more than a hypocrite. For one thing, I am a hypocrite in transition. (Colossians 1:9 -14) I used to have a boss who would say, “You’re a good man, Hal.” And he was partly right. But the rest of the truth and the much deeper reality was in my standard response “The nearness of God is my good!” (Psalm 73:28)

I have been rescued and given the freedom to be more than a hypocrite….and in fact to grow into a wholeness of integrity and purity and kindness and grace that is nothing at all like who I was. But I am in transition. And I need to stay near my God in every way. And I forget. And so God blessed me with five children and a wife to help me grow.

Does that feel like a gift? Are you kidding? I’m a third generation PK (preacher’s kid). I’ve been doing youth ministry for over 25 years. I have been in the limelight and in some precious hidden places. I have seen God use me. Consistency and integrity are a really big deal to me. Do I want to be reminded that I can be a hypocrite? Well, do you?

Robert Burns wrote these words in his Scottish dialect: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!” Peterson suggests that the gift, the power, is the adolescent in our home. Although the words that adolescent speaks are often painful and often accusatory, Peterson puts it like this: “I can’t help but believe that this is one of the most useful and timely things our youths do for us.” (p. 69)

What about you? Has our Father blessed you enough, shown His love to you enough, to put someone in your life…an adolescent even…who will point out your inconsistencies and hypocrisies?

By the way, for my regular readers, I am sorry again for a post a whole week late. My intent was good, but reality crashed in. Our youth ministry hosted the Tulsa After Party for the WinterJam tour last weekend while getting ready for next week’s mission trip and vacating our old offices. It was a little much. Thank you for your patience!

(This post is inspired by chapter 8 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 5 weeks to become part of the discussion).