Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bucky Hunting™ (or, The Things You Can See by Looking)

For me and my two oldest kids, this summer is all about the Buckys.

No, we're not picking up extra jobs for some added cash on the side; we're all-in on Dane County's #BuckyOnParade promotion, which has filled the county with 85 life-size Bucky Badger statues, each decorated by local artists around a different theme. #BuckyOnParade activity books make it easy for kids to keep track of both the Buckys they have found and the Buckys they are yet to find, and certain milestone achievements (10, 25, and 50 Buckys collected, respectively) can be acknowledged and rewarded at local establishments with ice cream coupons, temporary tattoos, etc. The kids are up to 61, eager to claim their 50 Bucky prize from the Dream Bank.

People are roaming Dane County (my kids and I covered over nine miles on foot these past two days) and finding each other, along with the Buckys, and the whole thing has given the summer a delightfully playful aura and an imaginative way to build community. Equipped with sponsorships from local businesses and a scheduled end of parade auction in September, the promotion has already raised a lot of money and awareness for local charities. The whole thing is pretty brilliant and fun.

Part of the point of the project is to pay more attention to the county we call home. So Buckys are strategically placed in locations that, if one seeks out enough of them, eventually take a person out of her comfort zone or cause him to see his place in a way he hadn't before. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, Bucky Hunting™ is an exercise in the truth that you can see a lot by looking.

Of course, implicit in the challenge is the suggestion that there is much about the places we call home that, day in and day out, we take for granted or don't see. Our lives, with their rhythms and routines, necessitate that we privilege and prioritize those parts of our surroundings that will rise to the level of Things That Receive Our Attention. So we sport our filters, because noticing everything would exhaust us. A simple example is the lament I hear from so many students on campus: that they've never been in a richer academic environment, and yet to do what that environment requires of them in their studies often necessitates that they ignore the vast majority of that which lies beyond their particular discipline.

It is a real gift to be given a game that invites us to see again what we have grown blind to seeing.

In addition to rediscovering the beauty, opportunity, and myriad amazing restaurants in and around Madison, I hope my fellow Bucky Hunters have been fortunate enough to have seen things that unsettle them. I hope they have met new friends like Skip, whom Jude and I met under the Warner Park Pavilion. We were there for water and a bathroom break, not quite decided between following the barn swallows a little longer or seeking out Broadcaster Bucky. Skip came up with a four-pack of tall boys and a small bottle of vodka. He greeted us warmly. We visited for a while before Skip looked over his shoulder and said kindly, "Y'all are going to want to be moving along. There's a group of folks coming who are going to drink too much and this will be no place for your son." I thanked him for the warning, and we talked a little longer about Marvel comics and movies before moving along.

"Daddy, why is our friend Skip going to drink like that with his friends?"

"Because life can be challenging and painful, it's not always fair or right the way things go or what people have to go through, and drinking can be a way to hide that pain for a little bit. But the pain doesn't go away for long, and drinking like that can make things more painful. You need to know that, if you ever find yourself in that kind of pain, you can ask for help."

"Daddy?"

"Yeah, buddy?"

"I'm glad we met a friend. Skip."

"Me, too."

A couple of days later, we were on the Square, this time with Annie, and I was expecting to run into friends, because Madison is a small town kind of city. I hadn't realized how, after six years in Madison, many of the friends I would recognize were those experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of it, who had visited St. Francis House through the years. We don't give financial assistance at St. Francis House, but I try to make time to listen and be present to all of those who come through our doors. That day on the Square, it was hard not to notice that photos of the children with certain Bucky statues required careful staging, if those still sleeping on the sidewalks of the Square were to be omitted from the official record of the Parade.

We were still on the Square some time later when a woman called out to us. "Did you and your kids get a picture with the Bucky on the steps of the jail? It's a good one!" I shared that we had, that the kids loved the piece. "Of course," she said, "I wasn't there for the Bucky, but it was good. I was there to see my friend. I hoped to pick him up today. He's scheduled to be released today, but they're closed for the holiday." I cringed my bafflement at the thought of a holiday keeping a man behind bars. "I'll pick him up, if all goes well, on Wednesday." "I'm so sorry," I said. "I hope you can pick him up Wednesday." That Bucky is called "The Power of Working Together."

I share these things, I hope, without either self-righteousness or shaming. God knows I have no grounds for either. Day in and day out, I feel a combination of profound inadequacy and humbling wonderment that my presence, in all its inadequacy, with no promise of improvement for the various and difficult situations I encounter, is received with warmth and generosity.

So the Bucky walks have filled me with gratitude for all of those who walk as and with those that most days go unseen, when our days are filled with more than wide-eyed wandering, in search of Buckys. I hope the Parade reconnects us, or gives us the next piece of an imagination for how we might be connected, we who pass our days mostly invisible to each other. I hope the Buckys make space in us for us to rediscover how we are implicated in each other's lives, how we belong to each other, and what acknowledging our belonging to each other might look like, we who are neighbors, strangers, and - with God's help and mercy - potentially friends.





Wednesday, May 23, 2018

2018 Gathering of Youth and Children's Ministry Leaders

From an invitation sent out locally. Will you help us spread the word? 
peace, jonathan

Dear friends,

I'm writing you to invite you and anyone you'd like to invite to the 2nd Gathering of Children's Ministry and Youth Leaders, July 21, 2018, at St. Francs House. If you're receiving this, it's because you either fit the bill or work with amazing folks who do. Maybe you even came to the event last year! For this year, I am DELIGHTED to share that we'll have Melissa Droessler with us for a part of the day as our guest speaker. If that's all you read, awesome. Mark your calendars and RSVP! For those who want to know more, more follows. :)

Peace,
Jonathan


Who is this Guest Speaker?
Melissa is Head of School at Isthmus Montessori Academy. She's a gifted educator with an uncanny understanding of children and youth's different developmental stages and the specific needs for flourishing that attend each developmental stage. I learn something about being a teacher, parent, and person every time I'm around her. 

Building on Your Feedback...
We've asked Melissa to lead us in part education, part exploration, activity, and making space for the particular contexts you bring to the table. Per feedback from last time, we'll still have plenty of time for informal connections and conversation among those gathered. One of the big feedbacks from last time was that it would be helpful to separate out content specific to children's ministry and youth ministry *and* sometimes our churches don't have enough of one or the other to separate them programmatically. I'm excited that Melissa is especially equipped for helping with this.

Why is Jonathan So Excited?
  • Being better able to see and appreciate concepts that are important to children at different stages allows us to empower them and follow their lead in ways that demonstrate trust in their capacity to be people of faith. 
  • Sometimes "intergenerational ministry" is code for "we don't have enough people for the separate classes we'd like to have." The ability to creatively engage developmental stages opens new possibilities for intergenerational ministry that is deeply and truly rewarding.
  • Episcopal curricula like Godly Play have Montessori roots. This isn't, of course, to suggest that Montessori has all the answers, but that we'll be building on existing gifts/instincts of our communities.
How Can You Help?
  • I'd love the help of 3-4 folks to help me organize breakout sessions and additional logistics for the day. Is this you? Send me a note!
  • The event remains free to all! But we want to offer Melissa an honorarium. If you or your church can contribute any amount, please let me know and send a check payable to St. Francis House, memo Formation Honorarium. 
  • Get the word out! St. Francis House hosts this annual event because we believe in, and in a real way rely on, the bridges we build across the different seasons of our children's life of faith. If you know others who share this priority - parents, teachers, volunteers, youth ministers, etc., please invite them! We had 13 faith communities represented last year. Our goal this year is 20. We can get there with your help!
For 2019...

St. Francis House is in communication with Nurya Love Parish, curator of the blog Grow Christiansand she is excited for the possibility to visit with us next year. We're excited, too! Stay tuned!

Thanks, friends! Holler if you have thoughts/ideas/questions. I hope to see you in July!

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Waiting Dad's Sympathy for Nicodemus

Maybe Nicodemus was on to something. When the fan-by-night of Jesus asks him how a person can be born a second time, Jesus doubles down on his insistence that a second birth is necessary to entrance in the kingdom of God, but I wonder if Nicodemus' confusion is less an argument with Jesus on this point and more an acknowledgment that each of us plays such an alarmingly small role in our first births that it is difficult to imagine how something that is not ours to do or initiate, but which is nevertheless essential to our being, comes to be.

In other words, maybe Nicodemus is wondering how a full grown man crawls into the womb, but surely becoming smaller would not have given him any more of an ability to be born on his own command. After all, my children regularly remind me, human babies are the least developed of all mammalian babies; the least in position to coordinate any action.

Maybe Nicodemus wrestles with the necessity of what can only come as gift. If this is the case, then Nicodemus' perplexity is itself a gift to us, for history is replete with instances of human insistence on misconceiving God's gifts as commandments to perform. But none of us thought to be born or had any input in the matter. Faithfulness, with respect to birth, is not in the being born; faithfulness is thanking God for gifts we did not make ourselves, our selves not least among those gifts. Indeed, even the wherewithal with which we lift up our hearts is a gift of the living God.

The mystery is similar, I think, with the "command" to bear fruit, which Jesus speaks in the same gospel in which we find Nicodemus. Here, the agency of the parent in the birthing metaphor is revealed to be only a slight step beyond the limited agency of the child. Admittedly, this is not a purely hypothetical metaphor for me today, with my wife and I expecting the birth of our third child any day now. And that last phrase well expresses the limits of our agency: any day does not suggest that Rebekah and I are free to pick whichever day we'd like, but rather that we do not pick the day.

It is no use commanding someone to be born, but that does not leave us unable to prepare for the day we will not pick (just as we, following our forebears, pray to be delivered from dying suddenly and unprepared). Of course there are the usual things people do preparing for birth: we bought a car seat, purged inessentials from the house to make some room, enlisted the help of friends and a doula, and made plans for abrupt, if temporary, leaves from our professional jobs. Also, there are unusual and mostly unseen-to-others things: Bek has come to rely on her daily pilates routines. She's taken to sitting at the dinner table with her chair turned backwards and to exercising off of the couch in ways that leave her all but standing on her head. (My own daily practices includes getting up at odd hours uncommon to me.)

I smile when I see her do these things because of the ways they reflect her embodied acceptance of the bodily gift she does not control. I also smile because of the beautiful picture they are, I believe, for the life of the Christian who does not control the timing of God's gifts and whose life receives the invitation to be made ready by a standing of things as they are on their heads. The command to bear fruit is not the command to produce on command. The command to bear fruit is to abide in the love of the One whose love we learn to trust, like John, to recline on his Savior, our hearts become open to those gifts we do not control, our surrender become our thanksgiving.