Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Youth Masses

Tonight I met with my Youth Mass committee. Our parish has a 6:00 Mass, and we plan all the high school faith formation classes to abut that Mass, and we have this group of adults who are interested in making it "youth-friendly". We trained a buncha kids last year to be lectors and Eucharistic ministers and greeters, and we have meetings to plan things like helpful homily ideas and decorations and whatnot. But there is only so much we can do, because three weeks of each month there is a "contemporary music group" who play their guitars and flute and sing.
But I'm not going to complain about the youth-Mass-ness of the youth Mass. What I want to talk about it LifeTeen.
Last year at this time I was just getting started at this parish, and this very group of people came to talk about instituting Life Teen Masses and Life Nights at our parish. I shared with them my views on the subject, which I think they mostly disagreed with, but let it go in hopes of pursuing it later.
And here are my views:
* I have a problem with putting a brand name on the Mass. I cringe when I ask kids where they go to church and they say "I belong to such and such Lifeteen". Wha?
* I hate how kids at Lifeteen Masses sit separately from their parents and the rest of the congregation. Okay, maybe it's just at the several parishes whose LT Masses I've visited.
*I think it's GREAT, but only for a small part of the community- not just that it's only great for teenagers, it's only great for a portion of the teenagers in a parish. When a hundred kids show up and do the hand motions to the songs at a Mass every week, it sure looks like great ministry is happening- and it is- but only for a small portion of the population. I think putting all our effort into one model in that way creates walls that do damage in a parish community.
* I think the Liturgy is enough, if done well, to reach young people. It doesn't need to have skits and jokes and silliness to reach kids and I think the theatrics of a Lifeteen Mass set up kids for serious disappointment when they graduate to the real world and Mass isn't as entertaining as it was in Lifeteen.
Sooooo, there it is. The arguments I've heard against my opinions mostly fall into the kids need Mass to be that way, for them< and >the Lifeteen organization doesn't really want parishes to do it that way, they just abuse the idea.<
I will grant ya that Lifeteen puts out some great resources for the Mass. BUT, you can't just buy what you need, you have to pay upwards of 600.00 to get a box every few months with a Liturgical planning guide (this is all I really want), Life Night planning guides (even if you don't do lifenights) a few cd's (nice, but not necessary) a couple of random books, and some silly thing like a blow-up-something-or-other, or a toy or a tchotchke. If I could, I'd buy the Lit. Planning guides at every opportunity, happily pay 20 bucks for the book, and let the rest go at a savings of around $520.00 or so.
I DO believe Masses should be youth- and youth-family friendly, but I think it takes only some effort on the part of the music group to make the music singable, some effort on the part of the ministers to create a friendly (to everyone) environment, and effort on the part of the presider to at least acknowledge the existence of young people. After that, God's got it covered.
But hey, that's just my opinion(s).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

new computer!!

So despite the fact that PC laptops are about 1/2 the cost of macs, and despite the fact that we arrive at payday regularly with about 2.50 in our bank account, we went out and bought a macbook. It's totally cool, of course, and since we are Catholic Educators with ID cards from the National Catholic Educators Association, we got a discount and a free (after rebate) nano ipod and a free (after rebate) color copier/printer/scanner.
Yesterday I spent most of the day on my rear end (it was MUCH needed) reading through and cleaning out my old emails, which were mir-maculously transferred, along with everything else, from my old computer to my new one when I brought it home. It was kind of weird; 1. to see which emails I didn't delete for some unknown reason... and 2. to relive my life of the past two years or so through the emails people have sent me. Congratulations on new jobs, sorrys to hear about your job changes, what's your new addresses, sorry's about your miscarriages. Meetings, parties, holidays, trips. Jokes, lots of jokes from my aunt, MMMM's, Bible Study night plans with the girlies. Such is my life, as seen through my inbox.
I heard a radio piece once about how computers were making changes in what people left behind when they die. What is to happen to all the information a person puts on their hard drive throughout their life? Where our grandparents left maybe a diary and a few pictures and some items grabbed by loved ones before the house was sold, this generation leaves every thought they've ever had, on some computer somewhere. EVERY picture they ever took, their blog or journal or myspace or facebook... what are we supposed to do with this stuff in the future? Will there be some kind of hard drive cemetary where we can deposit people's computers when they die, and go back to visit and see videos and pictures and financial records contained on them?
What a world, what a world!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday brain drain

This week was a whirlwind of action at work, lots of last-minute getting-things-done and the beginnings of the registration mailing process. With two hundred kids in each grade level, that means a mammoth amount of work- and every time I glance at my calendar from September 1st forward, my stomach tightens. I’m more overwhelmed in this job than I’ve ever felt, which should be a great motivator for me- I always have done well right at deadline when the pressure’s on. But now the pressure’s on all the time, from Sunday-Thursday, and by Thursday (which is my Friday) I am so ready to sit on my chair and catch up on all the blogs I read (or try to read) every day, and watch mindless television.
We had a years-first-staff-meeting this week, introducing the newest staff members to us “oldies” and vice-versa. I want to make good use of staff meetings this year for PR and to educate people on just what’s going on in YM and the goals and needs. I have found that when you repeat things to people often, they start to take what you say in, and on, and believe them. So I’m trying to decide what it is I should be repeating. So far what I’ve heard myself hear is that my job is inhumanly huge… and I do want people to hear and believe that, because it’s true. I don’t want everyone to think it’s a cake-walk because when people believe that about your job, they start to offer helpful suggestions of more things you could be doing, I just don’t have the time/energy/resources, at least this year, to respond to that helpfulness, even the good ideas. I want people to know that I’m capable but strung out. Or, rather, strung out but capable.
But ultimately I want to remind people over and over this year that the Church is calling for change- that we are to really put our money where our mouths are and start serving/catechizing/evangelizing people throughout their lifespan. If we do truly believe that faith is a lifelong journey, then we have to stop concentrating our catechetical and evangelization efforts at the first 15 years of a person’s life. It’s time for the CCD paradigm to change.
So there’s a Friday blog entry after a whirlwind week. Maybe tonight I’ll have lost my work buzz enough to tackle something a bit more meaty….

Sunday, August 20, 2006

neato sunday, part two

But the REALLY cool thing was driving home with my friend. She is a Sophomore in college, and was telling about how she is just not sure what she wants to pursue/become. In the span of our conversation, we talked about how sign language has become such an important part of her life, and when she looked back over her life she could see that God had been lining things up in her life since she was small, to bring her to where she is now.
She told me that she had been fascinated by Helen Keller’s story as a child, and had asked for a book from Santa one Christmas long ago. But we realized together that not only had there been interest from way back on her part, but that so many things lined up that were outside of her control or awareness. Her father works at her college, which made it possible for her to attend there. This college has an active “deaf ministry” which she felt drawn to immediately- and the fact that she attended the ministry fair her freshman year that connected her to that ministry is a pretty neat trick of fate, too, when you look at it.
I was jealous of what looks like her easy float downstream toward her calling, and we laughed a bit at her worrying about what to do/be, when it all looks so much like the plan is set for her.
Then, I got to thinking… what if all my agonizing is silly? What’s God lining up in my life that I don’t have the distance and perspective to see? Why do I have such a hard time believing that God has put that much thought and design into my plan?

neato sunday, part one

Today was such a neat day. I met one of my “old kids” (she’s in college now) and we went together to an ASL Mass- that’s American Sign Language. I’ve seen Masses signed before- usually it’s a spoken Mass with a person in the corner of the screen or at the side of the sanctuary signing away. But this was the opposite scenario. This Mass was completely signed by the priest, and all the prayers were silently signed by the congregation- and a man with a microphone sat in the front row and translated what was being signed into spoken word.
I loved the Mass, although I had a mildly uncomfortable (but endlessly intrigued) feeling of visiting a foreign land, and attending a Mass in a foreign language, which is essentially what I did, I reckon. It made me pay very close attention to what was being said. I loved, too, how expressive the lector was- she gave the readings more dimension than they seemed to have when I heard them again later at my parish Mass.
One thing that we ran into was that we couldn’t tell who was deaf and who wasn’t. Most of the people there didn’t use their voices at all, the entire time we were there, and all were fluent in ASL, so it was really impossible to tell the difference. After Mass we decided against attending the social time, since all I know how to say in ASL are these words: priest, book, and play… and my friend wasn’t feeling quite up to conversational signing yet. So we took a walk to Starbucks, and then when we returned to the car, we were surprised to meet the priest who had just signed the Mass. He was lovely and greeted us warmly- he’d noticed that we were new there, and invited us back anytime. He asked about us and spent a few moments talking with us, and it just really felt good.
I left the Mass feeling really enriched by the experience. The readings were vibrant and real to me, the community was welcoming and kind, and the whole experience was uplifting. I think we’ll go back again and again.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Book Meme

One thing that every blogger must know about is the “meme”, which is kind of like those chain emails where you are asked a series of questions and you must answer them, and then tag someone else to do it too, on their blog.
This one, called the “book meme”, has been passed around all the blogs that I read regularly but since I am a veritable unknown, I had to wait until ATP at the Scrutinies blog (links to come) passed it to “everyone!” and that is my in! So here goes:

1. One book that changed your life: The Godbearing Life. This book changed my ministry in amazing ways- got me back to focusing on the POINT of ministry, which is not paperwork and politics but rather GOD. Radical.

2. One book that you've read more than once: A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t read many books more than once, but I did go through a phase in my 20’s where I wanted to re-read a lot of the “young adult novels” that had transfixed me when I was a young teenager. So, A Wrinkle in Time, but also “The Diamond in the Window” and the others in that series, and “All of a Kind Family”, and more.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: I have no idea. Maybe a dictionary?

4. One book that made you laugh: Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris. Not for the feint of heart and soooo dark but wickedly, wickedly funny. I laughed out loud while feeling ashamed that I was laughing. Ohhhhh good stuff.

5. One book that made you cry: The Lovely Bones, but probably not where you’d expect… I cried like a baby when her dog arrived in her heaven, (or whatever that was) because I want so much to believe that my pets will be there to greet me, too.

6. One book that you wish had been written: the Godbearing Life! I swear I’ve got a book like that in me somewhere.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Most of the Dickens books I was made to read in high school. WHY so much detail???

8. One book you're currently reading: American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds. An anniversary gift from Scott, who knows what I like! I did finally finish Cordelia Underwood, which I liked, but struggled through. Now I’m inexplicably drawn to the next in the series, which is pulling me away from the Bee book, and that’s making me avoid reading at all, so as not to have to choose.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: I have been teasing myself by putting off buying Spook, by Mary Roach, because I loved Stiff.

Tag: Sue B, because she is the only person I know who has a blog, and of course you blogless ones are welcome to answer the questions in the “comments” section of this blog. Happy Reading!

It's my birthday!

Hello from birthday land! I am a whopping 38 today. I’ve been told a lot lately that I look like I’m in my 20’s, which I know is supposed to be good news, but I worry that this young-looking-ness makes me less credible to people older than me. So there’s my obligatory worry about aging, such as it is.
It is traditional for me to celebrate the whole Birthday Season, which for me is the entire month of August… this year I’ve toned it down out of guilt for how awful I am at remembering my friends’ and family’s birthdays, so I’ve only made a deal out of this week. Monday Scott got up BEFORE ME and went downtown to get me eggs benedict for breakfast!
Last night for Girlie Bible Study, we threw the Bible aside and had a campfire. Scott put a giant banner up on our house that says “Happy Birthday” and Nancy brought me the most deeeelicious non-ice-cream cake ever.
Today we’ve started the day out with a rousing stint of DANCE PRAISE!!! –which is a version of Dance Dance Revolution that uses Christian pop songs. SOOOOO fun, and I have a real talent for it that I think will take me far in the world.
Soon we’re off to Newburyport to spend the day “donking around” as my Dad would say, and tomorrow we’re headed for Maine to see my family and eat our weight in lobster, steak, and cake. We’re also going to see Sister Hazel in Freeport, which is a band I’m sure I should know/remember. Did they have a hit? See, I’m getting old, and can’t remember everything.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ramblings of a tired YM

I snuck in a day off today, despite the crushing weight on my psyche that is my workload at this moment. Scott just did the math and we did an extra 58 hours each on top of our 40 hour work-week schedule, so after 8 hours off today I’m down to 50 extra hours to while away in the near future.
But I have so much to do!!! Somehow, everyone expects everything to happen in September in youth ministry, despite the fact that no one is available UNTIL September to do any planning or work. So I’m left to do lots of writing and readying and have a whirlwind period of spastic last minute planning and training and organizing and scavenging of supplies and whatnot to look forward to. It makes me exhausted to think about it all.
The other reason I can’t take tomorrow off, too, is that since GR there have been kids in the YM center pretty much constantly. They goof and yell and chat and run around and are painting the walls in the living room bright colors, and they play the radio loud and ask lots of questions and bring junk food in and leave messes and it’s glorious. It’s a torturous brain puzzle that having youth (actual YOUTH) in your office makes it hard to get your YM work done. Of course, it is just that, being with the kids, that is supposed to be the work, but… well there’s the torture.
I’ve given a lot of thought about the skills needed to be a good Youth Minister. It’s not just an inexhaustible knowledge of ice breakers and group games. It’s desktop publishing, web design, group facilitation, supervisory skills, crisis management, discipline, counseling, knowledge of pop culture, mass mailing, writing and research, and of course the ability to turn the radio station away from an inappropriate song while backing up a fifteen passenger van. You have to know how to answer questions like “why do Catholics hate gay people?” and “what’s the difference between Catholics and Christians?” Sigh…
Still, it is the kids who keep me hanging in with this vocation. I love to watch them interact, I love to hear what’s on their minds, I LOVE their questions. It makes my heart jump to see young people pray and it fills me with joy to hear them laugh. It’s when I lose touch with kids that this job seems too hard, too impossible, not worth the trouble. So tomorrow I trudge in for another day of fun with the kids and worry about getting it all done.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

about Gospel Road...

So we’re back, and nearly recovered, from our week at Gospel Road. It was a wonderful week, great youth ministry and great service done. The setup is this: 100 kids and their YM’s come together on Monday and do some icebreakers, meet their small groups, and start learning to work together through some neato initiatives (designed by the brilliant Scott). Then they are divided into two houses and get to pray and play together with this new community on Monday night. (We were in a basement room with no AC, and it was HOT. Lots of running around and within an hour that room was a gloriously stinky place. I mean, really. STANKY. But, oh so fun.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the small groups rotate between three service sites. We adults are stationed at one of them all week and host each group for one day. I was stationed at a crisis pregnancy center, and the groups that came there with us worked hard at renovating rooms of a convent to house homeless mothers and their newborns. It was hard work but really really rewarding. The couple who run this place are lovely and holy and had a sweet 6 month old baby who they made sure everyone got a chance to hold. We had to scrape up 50 year old carpet padding from the hardwood floors in three “cells”, which apparently, back then, they glued to the floor for some crazy reason. But what the kids found so rewarding was the building of a retaining wall out in front of the house. On Tuesday it was a pile of bricks and weedy dirt, and by Thursday it was a lovely wall, built by volunteers of donated bricks, a monument to our faith and prayers for the people who would pass through that home. It was so gratifying to watch it grow up in front of our eyes, and to see how hard the kids worked on making it happen.
Scott was stationed at a park where city kids spent the day because they have nowhere else to go. The kids at night told stories of working and playing with these kids that would be heartbreaking. One told of playing “house” with a young girl there, who told her she was the Mommy, but that she was divorced, and that there was a gun in the house. It was so shocking to her that a child would have those stories in her head, and to imagine what her real life must be like.
The kids also visited a nursing home for nuns, and talked about how happy all those lovely women are. The sisters were amazing witnesses to them, just by being their joyful selves.
Friday we celebrated Mass together, affirmed each other, and took the group picture. An absolutely wonderful week.
As for me, it was glorious to feel like a youth minister again, to work and play and pray and laugh and share with kids, instead of writing programs and planning calendars and training other adults to have the fun. I love comparing the “before” group picture at the parish before we left, to the “after” group picture at the very end of GR. In the first we are all standing up straight, smiling “school photo” style, looking game but unsure. On Friday, we are leaning into each other in matching t-shirts, arms intertwined. We’re physically different, as a group. Weeks like this are an investment in kids that pays beautiful rewards in the comments they share at “processing” time, the notes they wrote to me at the end of the week, the thankful parents who have been regaled with tales and inside jokes from their kids at home. A great connection has been made and will stay. Weeks like this are a blessing to everyone involved, and I’m so thankful for my experience there.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I'll get to the Gospel Road posts soon,

but with Mel Gibson back in the public eye again, there's something I've been mulling over. Really, I've mulled this stuff for a long time- almost like a song playing in my head over and over, this has been a background noise for my faith life for quite a while.
The thing that made me uncomfortable about the Passion of Christ movie was that it seemed like a giant guilt trip- so much the pre-Vatican II style of Catholicism(which apparently is what Mel is...)that said "see? be grateful that I suffered so much, and just do what I say." Like a mother using her labor pains as leverage against her child. As I am not keen on guilt overall (bad at it, really) this message didn't hit me.
Then I heard a piece on This American Life that featured parts of Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God", in which she tells of her return to Catholicism, and the struggles that followed. She decided to start learning about the Church she'd grown up in and left, and joined a Bible Study at her church. The rub is, the more she learned about the Bible, the less she believed in God. One part of the story particularly effected her, and her telling of it kicked my butt too- she said, basically, that in the grand scheme of things Jesus didn't suffer all that much... she had a brother who died after many months of throat cancer- very painful, awful throat cancer. Now that, she said, was suffering. She said someone told her once "Jesus had a very bad day for your sins."
Wow, when you look at it that way, doesn't that blow your mind? It really did a number on me. I couldn't understand why we should be asked by Mel and others to try to relate to Jesus' suffering. It made those Good Friday processions in foreign lands (you know, the ones where they carry a cross and wear thorny crowns and make themselves bleed) seem upside-down.
When my dearest friend's neice died, things came a little clearer. I realized that it wasn't so much important how much Christ suffered, it was that he suffered. HE suffered so that he could relate to US. We don't need to watch that movie and cry for his pain (although it's nice of us to!)because his suffering was his cry for us, for our pain.
When children die, their parents often say to tv reporters "I wish it could have been me instead". Jesus' pain and death were that wish, lived. His suffering is not meant to be a guilt trip for me, should not be something I should try to relate to. It is something I can take comfort in, because Jesus knows how it feels to suffer, like I do.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On the Road

Today is our last blissfully quiet day before Gospel Road gets rolling. Gospel Road is a week-long program of service for high school students. We kick off the week tomorrow night at Mass with a blessing of our participants, then early Monday morning we load into vans to head to the Worcester area. I’m traveling with 17 kids and two other adults, plus a bunch from a local Catholic High School.
Scott’s done this trip many, many times- and although I’ve visited and helped out there a few times, this is my first official time. I’m really excited about the kids that I’m going with, and the adults- I think we’re going to have a great week. Every year Scott comes home with a new attitude about wasting food and appreciating what we have. I know it’ll be a week of hard work and high heat and tired bones. I bet we’ll be tired and I bet there will be frustration. But we’ll be there for a higher purpose that I think will keep us going when it’s hard.
Our group, in particular, is “offering up” the tough parts for specific people. We wrote our names on little pieces of paper, and then chose people to dedicate our week to. Some chose specific people, like relatives or friends who are struggling with health issues or difficult times. Some chose groups, like Hurricane Katrina victims, cancer patients, etc. I chose the elderly, because I think a lot about how frustrating it must be to lose the abilities that you’ve had in life, to know that you may have done something you love for the last time.
I know, I’m grim. But I do think about that kind of stuff. I’m thankful that I can use my body to do stuff, and feel guilty that I let it sit around and go to waste (waist), while I could still, technically, go for a run or at least a ride on the bike. I imagine that someday I’ll be lying in some hospital bed really regretting that I didn’t go running while I could.
Pray for us this weekend, that we’ll be good servants and that our kids will see Christ’s face in the faces of the people they serve. Pray that the people will see Christ in our kids’ faces too, please- and please pray for everyone’s safety too! I’ll be back in a week to report!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

about that call...

I get a prayer email-a-day, well, just about every day. It's meant for people in business, so it's brief and applicable to yer average businessperson's life. Here's today's:

I pray that I acknowledge my specific calling with the respect and responsibility it deserves.

"He had been lead to believe that business was of the world and that as he matured in his faith, Jeff would eventually be lead to a higher calling, outside of business. Jeff recalls, "In many ways it left me feeling guilt that as a businessman, I was a second-class Christian." After much prayer and discussion with wise people, he discovered that his business was a higher calling and that it was his. - - Larry Julian, God is My CEO

You can get a prayer like this evey day too:
Visit our Website to Register: http://www.companyofprayer.com

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

put out that light!!

It struck me recently that unlike what I've heard about World War II (which is a little more than a little- I’m by no means an expert but did catch my Dad’s interest in that time… he bought the Time-Life book series and I dug through it endlessly!), none of us here in the homeland seem to be suffering any discomfort at all for being at war (that is, unless we know someone directly involved). What I mean is, where are the scrap metal drives? Why aren’t we rationing gas?
A few months ago I drove past a house that had 6 giant blow-up and light-up displays for Easter. There were bunnies, and Winnie-the-Poohs, and other silly things. I said to myself, “Self” (I said), “what a waste of energy!!” It occurred to me that nobody seems to talk about how our use of energy and other resources has an effect on the Community around us. When did we stop talking about conserving, for the good of others?
I remember thinking in some idle moment long ago that if I were ever President of the USA, my first move would be to turn off that stupid fountain in front of the White House. (There is a fountain there, isn’t there Sue?) What a complete waste of water and energy. It kills me that people starve in their homes while we spend money to keep a fountain going. And even after reading Sue’s touching account of the monuments she saw in DC, I really do believe that every tragedy like 9/11 should be memorialized with a soup kitchen or a food pantry, or a daycare for poor families. I get that monuments are beautiful and stirring, but to me they’d make a lot more sense if they were productive. Imagine a soup kitchen at Ground Zero dedicated to the memories of those who died- a place where family members could come to serve those who suffer every day- now that’s love in action. That’s making something good out of a bad situation, and it makes a lot more sense to me.
Once everyone is fed and clothed and insured and cared for in this richest of nations, then we can spend money on things like fountains and granite monuments. (Okay, I’ll allow some granite at the soup kitchens.)
I know, I know, I can’t change the world and these are cockamamie ideas… Liberal, tree-hugging ideas, and I’m not living the austere life of one who gives all her extras to the poor. But I do think if we all did something…. Something… anything… we could probably make things better for everyone.