Saturday, June 30, 2018

Making a Difference in Houston

Wanted to share with you a few interactions I've had with people in Houston as we send out 10,000 servants each day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Service Day has us wearing blaze orange t-shirts as we go out to serve. As you can imagine we are disrupting things from restaurants, public transportation, and hotel life.

Sat next to a woman on the light rail train. She inquired as to 'what's going on with all these young people in Houston?' I gave her a brief overview of the ELCA National Youth Gathering. "God bless you," she said. "I've seen them in my neighborhood. It just gives me chills knowing they're doing it as God's work." She is a school teacher.

I'm playing nurse at the hotel for a couple of kids. Went to McDonald's a block away for lunch. Cashier sees my blaze orange t-shirt, smiles at me and says, "Your kids were in my neighborhood cleaning out the cemetery by my house. Thank you."

Looking for soup at Starbucks and the barista is talking to a co-worker. "These kids are all over. They were picking up trash where I live. I wish I could give free drinks to them all. This is great!"

Nice to hear that in spite of the infusion and interuptions that come with 30,000+ extra people in a metropolitan area, people are seeing the witness of the ELCA through our young people who are doing God's Work with Our Hands. Yeah, God!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Some quotes from speakers at the Gathering

Bryan Stevenson, “It is important that we spend our time NOT talking about the things we did but about the things we are going to do.”

Aaron Fuller, “It is by faith that we walk with people in their time of pain. No one wants us to fix their problems but they want to know that we will walk with them as they figure things out.”

Erin Power, “Like the woman at the well, people need to know there is a place for them. That this church is their home.”

Marlon Hall, “Comfort is the enemy of creativity. You were born to make an indelible mark upon the world. God’s love can rise us through the ashes, like a phoenix. Your job is to reclaim God’s love when people reject you.”

Diversity in a Positively Charged Environment

I am always amazed at the number of exhibits at the Interactive Learning Center during the ELCA National Youth Gathering. 2018 was no different. Youth have so many things to choose from for activities. 
If you enjoy music there was karioke, performance, and music writing areas. Sports people could do high ropes, dodgeball, bumper cars, as well as areas for basketball, soccer, and other sports. Arts and crafts people have numerous opportunities for creativity. Advocacy and issues around justice concerns abound. Lutheran colleges are represented. There are relaxation zones and prayer corners. There is, literally, something for everyone. 
And all the while church groups are trying to attach items to backpacks and items of clothing. Usually they are clothes pins with decorations and the name of the church. Others do key chains, flat Jesus, or pens with church names. Trinity-Crookston kids gave out compimentary sunflower seeds, a donation from our local Synopta plant!
This diversity also plays through in our Mass Gatherings in the evenings. The speakers come from a plethora of cultural and life experiences. One dance number included volunteers and used the entire arena floor in their production. Our emcees are made up of young people with diverse backgrounds. Musicians include a stage band, solo performers, a charismatic DJ, and we ended the Thursday evening gathering with a large brass and percussion band. The youth are loving all these aspects. 
In many ways, the Gathering reflects the world in which our youth live. Issues are complex and often difficult to process. Everyone has something to contribute to the betterment of the whole. But the message remains the same. JESUS CHANGES EVERYTHING! Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Large Group Dynamics

Large Group Dynamics

Traveling together with two hundred people comes with some interesting dynamics that should be predictable but often catches some people unsuspecting. When you consider that every stop requires time. Stopping to eat means loading up 200 people on busses, unloading, filing into a restaurant, being served, waiting for everyone to complete their dinner, then loading up the bus again. Even a simple bathroom break can take a half hour given the number of toilets available and the amount of time individuals require to “do their duty.”

Stress is also a factor when traveling. Being in the Texas heat at Six Flags was physically stressful and our northern bodies are not used to activity in 90+ degree heat and humidity. With larger groups there is a lot of noise. People talking, background music, and ambient noise all contribute to the brain having to process loads of information and that causes stress.

By the time we got to the hotel last night, a lot of people just wanted to get to their room and relax. Bodies pushing against each other, bags getting in the way everywhere, waiting for elevators; all contribute to occasional outbursts, impolite comments, and general anxiety of being in an unfamiliar place both physically and emotionally.

For the most part, we are doing quite well. I believe we have done a good work in developing community as a group and have emphasized the need for patience and understanding given some extraordinary circumstances that might be new to a few people. Our Lutheran theology of grace plays a big role in how we approach not just traveling with many people but also out interaction with life. We often can’t control our surroundings but we can influence the environment in a positive way when we practice those traits of mercy, compassion, kindness, and empathy.

We have more days ahead and we will encounter 30,000 people in one metropolitan region. We will have many more opportunities to practice our faith. But God has indeed blessed us and has taught us the spirit of gratitude in all things. Praise God for these valuable life lessons!

Reflections on Day 2

Reflections on Day 2

The Brown vs. Board of Education Museum was a great experience for me. Most people have heard or had a social lesson in school about this landmark Supreme Court decision. At the museum, however, our presenter did a great job of helping us understand the complexity and the importance to this societal issue.

I think, to begin, one must comprehend the doctrine of “separate but equal” that was conventional thought in that day. Dexter, our presenter, laid the ground work as we sat in a typical kindergarten classroom. He pointed out that this classroom was the same for both white and “colored” children. The desks were sized appropriately for 5 year olds. The teacher had a desk positioned to oversee the entire classroom. There were many books, learning toys, artwork, and even a piano which required the teacher to have that musical skill to lead the children in songs. To make the classroom more “home-like” there was even a fireplace which was never used because there was a state-of-the-art heating system. Teachers even had professional degrees in education in order to teach the children. What made Topeka, Kansas unique was that their supposed “equal” status was indeed much better than other states that had obvious inequalities in their education systems.

As Dexter pointed out, the complexity of the court case was to prove that “separate but equal” was indeed not equal. What stood out for me was the study that took white and “colored” children and had them write about their impressions about two different dolls. One was a typical white doll. Another was a dark-skinned doll. As expected, white children spoke positively about attributes affiliated with the white doll. More surprising was that the “colored” students spoke much more positively about the white doll with attributes to acquire than the comments made about the dark-skinned doll. Value was placed more upon the white doll than the other. Also, the segregation included that black teachers would NOT be teaching white students and much fewer white teachers taught “colored” classrooms.

Dexter then divided the classroom into one side being white and the other “colored”. With simple building blocks that are used in any kindergarten classroom, Dexter presented the “white” side their blocks with great acclamation and praise and thanks. When he presented the “colored” side with their blocks, he dropped them on the floor instead of handing them out to each person. He even emphasized the action by kicking the blocks around with comments like, “you are getting the same as everyone else.”

When asking the youth what was the difference, they immediately responded “I felt disrespected. My block felt less worthy. Our blocks had no value.” The lesson in the room was made. Hence, the reasoning from the Supreme Court that “separate but equal” was NOT constitutional. This ruling laid the ground-work for further civil rights legislation that has guided our inclusiveness as an American society. The experience for all in the room went from “book” learning to “real life” significance as to the importance of this ruling for ALL people.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

We're Ready for "This Changes Everything!"

We had our final group building meeting before taking off on our adventure to the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. This has been a journey which has taken over a year of meetings, fund-raisers, service projects, and prayers! Thank you to everyone who contributed to our campaign and we look forward to sharing our experiences when we get back home. "This Changes Everything" is the theme for this gathering and will guide our devotional and worship times together.