Well, here it is 5 days since the end of the CYNCK conference. It was such a dream come true to be part of something so very special and unique. My prayer is that this will either become an annual or biannual event, but that may be a tall order. This four day conference took nearly 3 years to organize, so it may seem daunting to even imagine putting the time into doing this again. However, I am hoping that the conference organizers will consider hosting something like this again. From what I was hearing from those in attendance, it was a huge hit.
In continuing my report on Day 3 I need to mention Paul Hill. He was supposed to present a few days earlier, but hit a travel snag. The conference organizers gave him the chance to present late on Wednesday, and I'm glad they did. Paul talked about a favorite subject of mine: the human brain. He discussed the importance of children and youth leaders in church understanding the basic workings of the human brain to better understand how to teach and reach. The human brain holds more neurons than the universe holds atoms! In fact, the human brain creates 1.5 million neurons every second. The human brain is naturally curious, especially before the teen years. It longs to understand, and to be understood. What if we thought about this within the context of faith? You can read more about Paul's findings about spirituality and the human brain by reading his blog www.thoughtsfrompaulhill.com. His brain series begins in September of 2011. You can find them in the blog archives.
The next presenter was a fellow Episcopalian, Patricia Lyons. She discussed Christianity and Harry Potter. Initially Patricia was not wild about Harry, as she put it. It wasn't until the high school where she is the religion teacher had Harry Potter as its Homecoming theme that she began to change her mind. Learning about the young wizard's world helped Patricia see the Pentecost miracle in the second chapter of Acts in a new way. What if we were willing to learn more about someone else's language? Youth have their own language, and we need to understand and embrace it if we want to keep them interested in church. The Bible is messy to them. They need help in deciphering it's language, meaning and stories. We need to make it more approachable to them, and in a language they understand. And we need to remember that it can take up to 10000 hours to master something. We should focus on teaching the faith as a way of life. Patricia says that "zeal without knowledge leads to violence." What if we got youth excited about Jesus, helping them see why he is relevant to them?
Dave McNeely spoke about youth and sexuality, an awkward subject for churches to embrace. He encouraged us to step away from the traditional way of teaching about sex: simply telling them to wait until they're married to have sex, then it will be awesome. This reduces sexuality to being just about sex and falsely sets up what marriage is about. Today it is believed that 80% of young evangelicals engage in premarital sex, and 1/3 of evangelical pregnancies are aborted. Also, Dave pointed out that 26% of society perceives that the Christian faith has a positive impact on sexuality. However, compare that to the 37% who see no impact, and the 32% who see it as having a negative impact. Youth are in a crisis of behavior, belief and belonging. Dave calls this "Post Modern Homelessness", youth are having a hard time finding a theological home were it is safe to discuss things that matter to them, such as sexuality. They see religion as being scared about discussing sexuality. So, they then perceive sex as something to be given to get something. It has lost it's sacredness. He challenged us to rethink behavior, belief and belonging when it comes to youth. We need to renew our faith practices, recover our theology and restore a countercultural community by being open, honest and real with our youth, especially when it comes to sex.
Day 4 of the conference was shorter, but still packed with amazing presentations. The first was from Brandy Walker called "Teaching Kids the Third Way." We know that our two basic human impulses are known as "Fight or Flight". Brandy argues that there is a third way to respond that teaches non-violence. She uses stories to help kids and youth understand that there are always alternatives to the ways we react in fear, anger and hostility. She sees this third way idea as one way we can fix broken systems and empower our kids in a positive, non-violent way. Share peace stories from the time children are really little, and continue as they grow. Practice peace as adults, finding alternative forms of reaction to model. This means we may need to suffer as we let go of the old and welcome the new way of reacting. We also must be willing to confess to youth when we make mistakes. Be humble and willing to have conversations where we admit we've failed, or made mistakes. It builds trust and hope.
Sarah Million was the next presenter. She talked about how we can teach children to help themselves, rather than try to do things for them expecting them to understand later how to do it for themselves. How do we connect children on a deeper level? Allow them to be curious and independent. Shift from external ways of communicating (talking AT children, telling them what to believe, not how) to internal ways (use "why" questions, nurture curiosity, be drawn into a conversation with them). By nourishing their souls, we can help children become real. Rather than using the "because I said so" approach, which doesn't allow for discussion, we need to help children discover their own ability to problem solve. Jesus rarely gave direct answers. Instead, he chose to speak in stories and parables, allowing his disciples to discover the answers on their own. By creating a sacred place where children are encouraged to think on their own, we can let go of our fear that children can't do things by themselves. And, in doing so, we are honoring and respecting them while nourishing their soulfulness.
Next up was Ben Lowe, author of Green Revolution. Ben is an avid Creation Care advocate, and an avid Republican. To him, Creation Care is about loving God and loving your neighbor by caring for creation. He believes that Creation is God and our neighbor. As Christians we need to ask ourselves if it is right to allow selfishness, greed and pride destroy the very earth God created for us to manage. He believes that destroying the earth is a sin (Romans 8). Ben also believes that Jesus, the Healer, is the solution to our creation problem. Our work to heal God's earth is part of God's cause. God gave us the responsibility to care for and manage what He placed in our care. This means that we should not feel entitled to things on earth, but rather we need to care for and nurture it. Ben sees in children and youth the opportunity to teach the importance of being responsible stewards of the earth. They want to be responsible, and have a great love for the earth. He challenged us to teach and preach Creation Care to them. Take them out to enjoy the earth, such as camping and hiking. Let them take part in short-term mission trips and service projects that help the earth. Have kids and youth begin a "Green Church" campaign at church, and also have them go out into their communities with other creation care groups. By teaching them early to love and respect God's beautiful creation, they will be more responsible and intentional about its care when they are adults.
The final presentation came from Mary and Steve Parks of Little Lights Urban Ministries (http://www.littlelights.org/). According to the Parks, there is a great deal of suffering in the world, and compassion is what life is truly about. Jesus had radical compassion and love for the "rejects" of society. Children are the most vulnerable victims in this broken world. They are created as beautiful and open vessels, but are easily hurt and victimized because of the brokenness in the world, through no fault of their own. God called the Parks to minister to the "least of these" in low income housing communities in Washington DC. In these communities many children see getting a gun as a high point in their lives. In many ways, the Parks feel that society has abandoned these urban youth. Yet they believe that God has given us the responsibility for others, and these forms of ministries should be manifested in our churches whether they are urban or rural. They finished with reminding us that when God calls us to greatness it isn't in reference to our egos, pride or personal accomplishments. Rather, our greatness is found in our ability to show the compassion of Christ in serving his own. Therefore, we must invest in our young by giving them the opportunity for success in life through our willingness to offer Christ's love and compassion.
In retrospect, this conference was filled with valuable information and numerous opportunities for conversations. It was a lot to absorb in just 4 days. However, to have been a part of something that was as intentional, relevant and moving as this conference was I consider a major blessing and look forward to sharing more about it over the coming months.