God Plays the Lottery

So I asked God to tell me he loves me. Sappy I know but I needed a hug ya feel? So I randomly flipped to Isaiah 43 and then proceeded to cry a bit.

Trivial? Chance? Easy for you to say, until it happens to you.

It’s a cognitive bias to constantly assume cognitive bias. The God of chance will always give you a way to explain Him away, an easy out, so you remain free. But what if, just for today, you lived as if everything happened because He willed it?

Sure it sounds like over-optimistically pushing purpose onto the purposelessness of time + matter + chance. But faced daily with chance and free-will as simultaneously part of the human condition, we don’t blink.

Or at least we would rather not.

Is it too much to ask to believe God freely wills chance to work for his and your good?

God is eternally drawing lottery numbers, like an ecstatic three year old with too much money to give away, and showering winners with divine providence.

Some Notes to the Director of My Personal Video Trailer

Hey guys! Real excited about this upcoming project. Thought I’d let you take a quick sneak peak at the email I just sent:

Hey Rob,

Thanks a lot for agreeing to work on this project with me. Glad to be working with Spirit Juice Studios, you guys are the best.

The purpose of this video trailer is to get people to see how awesome I am so they invite me to come speak at some big conference or something.

Contained herein are some Director’s Notes to help us during the filming process.

Scene 1

A wide-angle shot of Times Square at street level. The sun is beginning to set on the Big City. Tiny people in the distance walk to and from pagan destinations unknown. Cars are passing. Wait, who’s that left of center strutting toward the camera? A handsome man, 5’11”, brown hair, athletic build. Catholic.

Ok I’ll just say it – Me. Continue reading

A Few Things Before We Hold Hands At Mass

Hi. My name is Keith. You haven’t noticed, but I’ve been watching you ever since I squeezed past your knees to get to the middle of this pew about 9 minutes ago. I want to let you know that today God has preordained you to be blessed in a very special way. As of now, you have passed my peripheral inspection and I will actually hold your hand during the Our Father. Before God formed you in the womb he knew you, and before you chose this prime pew real estate on what seemed like a normal Sunday 11:30 Mass, the angels have been leading you ever closer to this hand communion.

During the Our Father here at St. Dude the Nice we normally all hold hands lovingly, as you probably know because you look like you come here often. Not like, in a bad way though.

Now I want to let you know, I don’t just let anyone hold my hand. Have you heard of MRSA? It’s scary stuff. And its an evil in our Church that is literally leading people to Satan.

But you… You look clean.

But not too clean. I sat next to a guy once who looked too clean.  I didn’t trust him. Feast of St. Stephen, day after Christmas. He had a Michael Vorris look to him. Didn’t hold his hand. Nope.

But you. You have all your teeth and a holiness that really shines in a totally humble and profoundly charitable way. Well, actually I really just noticed that you are wearing a scapular.

Oh hey, First Reading… It always creeps up on me.

Okay let’s talk general guidelines real quick.

First. We will by no means be interlocking fingers. Interdigitation is for hippies. If you try something like that I will end our mildly-intimate physical prayer contact so fast you’ll think I was Pope Urban the VII.

Second. I’m not a fan of hand-raising at the words “For the kingdom and the power…”. If you are, well good luck there buddy. I know two things for sure.

1: The small old women at this parish are conspiring to kill the prime minister of Malaysia.

2: My hand will stay firmly at upper-mid waist level.

If you got some beef with that, you can take your liturgical non-sense down the street where they sing Lord of the Dance, says me. I’m going to stay at waist level because I love Jesus. Plus I work out and can think heavy. You really want to attempt to hold this beast of a forearm up that high for that long? I pray a lot of rosaries. And Father could be feeling particularly saucy today, audible, and then sing the Our Father. What then?

Thirdly. My hands get real sweaty. Don’t clasp my prayer digits too firmly. We aren’t going to prom. I’m not going to buy you dinner.

As long as we are good on this 3-Point System, we won’t have problems. Who knows, maybe next week I’ll sit near you again. Maybe a pew in front of you. And when you see me not holding hands with Karen, that Mom with lots of kids and who knows how much bacteria on her grimy grubbies, we’ll make that knowing eye contact during the sign of peace and you’ll feel the warm embrace of sweet divine affirmation. And we’ll give each other a quick nod and hand shake and you’ll remember this day as the day Keith allowed you to hold his hand during the Our Father. It’s a big day for you. Are you ready for it? Do you feel the consolation?

I’m definitely staying as far away as possible from Felipe the Usher, who’s partially deaf and would hold my hand through the dismissal if I let him. Gross.

Alright here we go. Show time. Oh, one last thing.

Don’t. Even. Think. About. Hugging. Me.

Your Temporarily More-Than-A-Stranger,

Keith

Chekov’s Guns

In 4th grade we lived in Biloxi Mississippi on the military base so it was safe enough for me to walk 8-10 houses down from ours to get my friends Robbie, who was a little older than me and had a wicked mean sister, and a hispanic kid who’s name I don’t remember. I do remember that his house smelled weird and he was missing the first two knuckles of his pointer finger and he limped when he ran because “my legs are not the same length.”

All the cookie-cutter stucco houses looked the same and it was hot no matter who’s 20 sq. ft. front yard you were in. But we knew to stay away from the girl’s house across the street from me because she had a mean Dalmatian that was big and going blind and only my driveway had a basketball hoop so we played basketball at my house most days anyway.

A welcome addition to our crew was Sara who was a skinny tom-boy with a bowl-cut of short blonde hair. I liked Sara because she had a quiet cuteness and was funny and could hit like a 5th grader. She lived one block of houses over, across a more busy main street, so I always prayed that she would come play with us because I wasn’t allowed to walk that far. Before I moved away to New Hampshire she gave me a gorilla beanie baby that I didn’t get rid of until a few years ago.

Our weird community of friends ran the neighborhood and other kids would join our adventures and elaborate games/dramas. For some reason I was always the mediator. Not necessarily always in the sense of being the peace-maker (though this happened a lot) but also being morale-booster and visionary adventure-brainstormer. And I really put a lot of myself into being the mouthpiece of our group. I wasn’t the strongest, Robbie could beat me up if I got too cocky, but I definitely could sway the group one way or another most days.

I remember a few summer days of continuous 4th grade melodrama causing tense division in our hood group and waking up one morning in bed wishing we could all play together again like the good old days (last week). I woke up and tried clenching my fist as tight as I could and, as you know if you’ve ever tried this, it was really hard to do.

All I remember is that somehow I used this phenomenon as an anecdote during a rousing speech to my sweaty peers in front of Robbie’s house that somehow reconciled all our friendships and made everything better again.

I’m not sure I honestly understand how the guts of vocation really works. To me it seems like it involves two impenetrable mysteries: our free will and God’s omniscience. But now that I’m three years into being a husband, father, youth minister, and catechist, I’m getting more and more Chekov’s Gun kind of moments. Every time I prepare a catechesis, or walk on a stage to speak to a large audience, or get excited about explaining things I’m passionate about to my kids, I remember how hard it is to clench your fist in the morning and how our neighborhood’s order was restored by a kid preaching to seven other elementary school kids standing in the grass.

Maybe when we die and are standing next to God looking back on every single moment of our lives, all those flickers will seem like an infinite number of Chekov guns. Every moment, regardless of how banal and boring sitting in your room when you are ten with nothing to do is, returns in the third act to show its latent significance.

I think I could spend an eternity laughing and crying with God as He explains all the elaborate work He put into writing my life. And realizing all the clenched fists and lost friends and words I yelled and really meant deep down in my gut all came from and sent me to the only Person who could pull any of this off, I think I could spend an eternity right there.

 

Happy Easter!

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike

2 Memory Tips So Teens Don’t Forget Your Talks

Computer Memory Hard Drive Disk HDD Storage Technology by epSos .de

I wrote an article over at the very cool projectym.com about applying the way our brain remembers things to the methods we use to give talks to teens, or teach anything for that matter. Two memory tips called the “Serial Positioning Effect” and the “Von Restorn Effect” we can use to help teens remember our talks based on the way their weird brains are wired.

I’m going to try to be more aware of these and experiment with it when I give my next couple talks. Let me know what you think, and if you have any success trying to structure your talk with this in mind.

Here’s an excerpt:

“You’re talking to teens five minutes after you just gave a rousing 20 minute talk. “What do you remember about the talk? What stood out to you?”

Blank stares.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Think about the best talk you’ve ever heard. What do you remember? Probably very little. For an even more sobering effect, try this experiment: listen to a talk (podcast, video, Sunday homily, etc) and the following day write down as much as you can remember about it.

There are two simple scientific facts about the way our brains memorize things that can help you help teens memorize what’s important in your talk.”

You can read the full article here. Continue reading

Youth Ministry Office Calendar

YM CalendarVisiting Good Shepherd Catholic Parish in Fort Worth, TX I found all three of the youth ministers (yes…three!) have these amazingly huge year calendars on their wall in their offices. Made out of a sheet of dry-erase material screwed into the wall (I’m guessing you can find this stuff at Lowes) they used some electrical tape and printed labels for the months and dates. I love this idea because it helps you see the entire year in context for planning youth group nights, a semester curriculum, large events, deadlines for paperwork, and meetings in a way that constantly reminds you of the bigger picture.

The summer is coming up and as I transition to a new youth ministry position at a different parish, I’m starting to think about how best to plan a year in a way that I will actually stick to. In the past I’ve sat down and planned out great youth nights, awesome events and activities, and goals that I want to accomplish, only to throw out the entire plan two months in.

How do you plan out your school year and make sure you stick to the plan? I’d love to hear from you and I reply to every email and comment.


Part of the Professional Youth Minister Series:

Grace builds on nature. So if you are paralyzed by 347 emails you haven’t read, find yourself despairingly browsing Facebook for most of the day, haven’t had a good idea in weeks, lack vision in your youth ministry, or just need some motivation to get back to work, welcome to the club. This series is about working on our nature and becoming a professional youth minister so all that grace has room to build. Check out all the posts in this series by clicking here.

These 5 Questions Help You Give Better Talks

 

This hour long workshop by Andy Stanley (author of Communicating for Change) is wrecking my world.

If you have ever been frustrated with feeling like a talk you gave at youth group fell on deaf and bored ears, this video will give you some simple shifts in preparing your talk that will get people to actually DO something, as opposed to just making people laugh and filling 15 minutes of the night with rambling and reading from the Bible.

His “One-Point Preaching” method could be applied to any of us who speak publicly with the intention that the audience would actually DO something after hearing something we say.

Key Take-Away’s: Continue reading

Criminals and Jesus

Judas-Doug Weaver

For Lent I’ve been trying to pray everyday with the Passion parts of the Gospels. Today was Luke 23:39-43. Jesus is crucified with two criminals. One who is repentant and one unrepentant.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43

Sometimes us Christians are plagued by the curse of familiarity. Its tempting with this part of the passion to just gloss over and simplify it because we’ve heard it so many times. One criminal is angry and one repents. Jesus rewards the repentant criminal with “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today in prayer I was wondering what the repentant criminal was thinking. His words seem odd. Continue reading