Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting to Know "the Other"

We all hold onto stereotypes. In a way, we can’t help it. It’s a product of what social psychologists call cognitive miser, our natural tendency to conserve mental energy. Practically speaking, our brains think it’s too much work to form individual opinions about everybody. So we categorize and make blanket judgments. “Those people are all alike.” Or “Oh, you’re one of those.”

Protestants and Catholics have had the greater part of five hundred years to galvanize these kinds of stereotypes about one another. “Oh, Catholics are all about rules and regulations. They don’t have a relationship with God.” Or “Those Protestants are all about ‘me and Jesus’. They’re only concerned with themselves and their personal salvation.” "Catholic works righteousness." "Protestant fluff and entertainment." I’ve heard them all, and so have you.

It’s easy to hold these stereotypes when you live in a bubble of like-minded individuals. But what happens when Protestants and Catholics step out of that bubble and take the risk to really get to know each other?

Here’s my top ten quotes from Protestants and Catholics who took the time to do just that:[1]

“God really has changed my heart through this and not in some lofty, abstract way. It’s in the way that my behavior and thoughts are actually different. The Spirit has changed my heart in the way I see ‘the other,’ in which I don’t see them as the other but as a friend.”

“I came into these meetings with preconceived notions of the “other” and the fear of this becoming a giant doctrinal slugfest between the two sides. What came of it couldn’t be further from the truth. What I found was shared experiences . . . I found people who experienced God’s love during tough decisions, struggle, tragedy and death. I found people who despite differences, have the same fears, anxiety, and stress as well as hope, dreams and love that I do.”

“I was surprised to discover how much our faith in God and God’s presence in each of our lives truly unites us. . . deeply. As I listened to the stories of the people I did not know, I was amazed how much I could relate to them. I’m a little surprised actually that I am surprised by this! It’s something that I’ve always believed in some way, but here I truly experienced it, and powerfully so.”

“My heart has been softened in the sense that now I want to hear about a person’s story with God rather than just assuming, because they affiliate with a denomination, that they don’t really have a relationship with Jesus. I can’t stereotype a denomination like that.”

“I used to get really caught up in proving certain points about being Protestant vs. Catholic. Now I am seeing those points don’t matter. What matters is our hearts to serve Jesus and that we believe in Him. We are all after the same thing and that is spreading the Good News of Jesus.”

  “This process. . . has helped me to see that I can disagree with people and not feel attacked or intimidated by that, and still love them very, very well. I can love my brothers and sisters well despite denomination and hold true to some of my beliefs. . . It is a wonderful exchange and gift we can give one another.”

  “I respect what Catholics are doing more now. I just need to listen to them. Our differences don’t seem that important anymore.”

"Every time I was able to laugh or cry with the other, there was healing. Every time someone nodded their head affirmatively, I felt healing. I felt connected with the other and that was healing for me. I felt like we were in this together. We were loving kids and pushing in towards Jesus.”

“[This journey] of tears, laughs, Jesus, vulnerability, and raw emotions have brought us together and revealed a common bond of Jesus between us all. I think of the line in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil tells Austin that ‘we’re not so different, you and I’ and it turns out they are really brothers. We are all brothers and sisters.”

“One of the biggest things God has revealed to me through this is the way we are all parts of the Body of Christ. Each one of us, Catholic or Protestant, fills a role, a calling by God.”

“[Protestants] and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.”
From Conflict to Communion, a joint project of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

[1] These quotes were drawn from my doctoral project, “One Lord, One Body, One Mission,” an ecumenical endeavor involving storytelling, relationship building, and discovering our common mission in Christ.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Tide is Turning

The tide is turning and I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the relationship between Young Life and the Catholic Church. From Oregon to New York, from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande, Young Life and the Catholic Church are working together to reach kids. Esteemed ecumenical scholar and University of Notre Dame professor Mark Noll says, “It has been my privilege to witness up close the rising tide of cooperation that now links once-separated parts of the Christian world. Young Life is contributing to that cooperation.” And nowhere is this more true than Grosse Pointe, MI, a coastal suburban city outside Detroit.

“We’re partners, not competitors,” exclaimed Murray Sales, the Young Life committee chair whose passion for ecumenism is infectious. In a town where Catholics constitute up to half of the population, Young Life Grosse Pointe is taking its commitment to “every kid” seriously. No less than half of their committee is Catholic. They’ve asked the local Catholic priest to give a talk at club this year. And they’re working hard to build a leadership team that reflects their students. “Having equal representation sets us up to reach students from every background,” notes Patrick Mollison, the local Young Life area director. “The ecumenical commitment from the committee has allowed us to focus on students knowing Christ, and no time is wasted arguing about our differences.”

Pat’s Christian upbringing sowed the seeds for unity early on. “Growing up I watched my parents model Christian unity,” he said. His father a faithful Catholic and his mother a committed Protestant, together they provided a nurturing, Christ-centered home where Pat’s relationship with Christ grew. “My parents showed me that when Catholics and Protestants set aside their differences and focused on the overwhelming unity present in their traditions that God could do great things.”

And the Catholic community in town is taking note. Sarah Kaczmarek, the much-loved Catholic youth minister at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church, has found in Young Life not only common ground but friendship. “As a youth minister my deepest desire is that teens get to know, and fall in love with Jesus,” Sarah said. “When I saw that Young Life wanted the same thing for every single young person in Grosse Pointe, it was easy to build a solid relationship!”  

Those solid relationships between Young Life and Catholic leaders has allowed them to focus their attention on building real relationships with kids. Sarah went on to say:

Kids need relationship.  First they want relationship with an adult who cares about them and is concerned about what they're concerned about.  Ultimately, they have a need for Christ.  Our job is to build that relationship first with them and then help them translate that into an experience of God's love and a relationship with Jesus.

Not in competition. Not in silos. Young Life and the Catholic Church are called to work together to ensure that every kid has a chance to know Jesus Christ and follow him. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a reality. “This is an enormous blessing for Young Life in Grosse Pointe,” Pat reflects. And this blessing extends to the Church, Murray Sales explains. “As we have communicated many times across our Christian community: our ultimate goal at Young Life is to become irrelevant. We want to reach every kid and introduce them to Christ, plug them into a loving church community, and watch them grow in their faith. If we do this successfully, all kids in our community will be reached and Young Life will know that it has completed its mission.”

The tide is turning indeed. Isn’t it time you join in?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mending in Marysville

Jeff met Tyler at a lunchroom table at the local high school just north of Seattle. Jeff was simply doing what every Young Life leader does – meeting kids where they’re at, loving them unconditionally, and earning the right to be heard. He would have no idea how significant that encounter, and that lunchroom table, would be.

Twelve years later, a young and desperate teenager would walk into that cafeteria and shoot five of his classmates before turning the gun on himself. The shooting occurred last Friday at Marysville-Pilchuck High, one of Washington's largest schools, a place where Young Life has served kids since 2002. The shooting occurred in the very same cafeteria where Jeff met Tyler twelve years earlier. At the same table.

Jeff is now the area director for West Snohomish County Young Life, a neighboring area to Marysville. Tyler is the volunteer team leader of the Young Life ministry in Marysville, reeling in the tragic events of last week. And now they’re there together, at ground zero, in the midst of all the pain and confusion, offering prayer, presence, and compassion.

Dr. Elizabeth Marshall is a local physician, practicing Catholic, and Young Life leader. She attends the same Catholic parish as Gia Soriano, one of the victims in Friday's shooting. Last night, she and her husband Tim, a local psychologist, gathered a group of youth leaders to walk through the grief, the suffering, and the needs of kids who are grasping to deal with the unthinkable. “Walking alongside these kids is the most important thing we can do,” she said. “We have no solutions. We cannot fix the suffering. Suffering must be accompanied.”

The gathering was attended by youth leaders across the board - Protestants and Catholics, Young Life leaders and pastors. A beautiful ecumenical spirit filled the room, uniting these Christian disciples in solidarity and in a commitment to serve the lost and hurting. Dr. Marshall reflected,

God was there. God was in the cafeteria, weeping. Jesus wept. Jesus knows every suffering. Not only does Jesus know, he suffers with us. With each kid, with each leader, with each doctor, with each nurse, with each and every person saddened by this event. Jesus didn’t come to take away our suffering, he came to fill it with His presence.

Marysville-Pilchuck Young Life will launch club on Monday, proclaiming the nearness of Christ to every kid, claiming the ultimate victory of God for every soul left hurt and confused by this calamity. Pray for kids. Pray for leaders. Pray for Catholics. Pray for Protestants. Pray for every kid.

And if you want to support Tyler and the effort to reach every kid, a fund has been created through the local Young Life area. All proceeds will support a special camp to serve all those affected by the Marysville shooting. Checks can be made out to Young Life with #PrayforMarysville in the memo. Please send contributions to:

Young Life North Snohomish County
PO Box 3487
Everett, WA 98213
*or give online to WA401 at:

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:38-39

Monday, October 20, 2014

Living and Dying with Ebola

I felt compelled this morning to share with you an update from a dear friend and Young Life colleague who is struggling to maintain hope amidst the desperation and despair caused by Ebola. Steve Larmey, who nearly became a Catholic priest many years ago, now serves as Vice President of Young Life Africa. Please pray for Steve and for the many leaders and staff in Africa whose lives bear valiant witness to Christ’s hope and victory every day.

Our Young Life friends in Sierra Leone and Liberia are closing in on four months now of life/death with Ebola. They keep praying, going and hoping, but visibly they see a battle being lost. The numbers of infections and deaths are increasing -- the World Health Organization says that in two months there will be 10,000 new infections each day if some significant intervention does not happen. The death rate has risen from a low of 52 percent to over 70 percent now.

The Liberian government has run out of money to pay health workers who are threatening to strike if their $500/month danger pay is not increased to $700/month. President Johnson of Liberia literally begged the workers’ union to continue working, explaining to them the government has no money. In what has been called by some a surrender, the government of Sierra Leone is now just giving families rubber gloves and some hydration salts and medicine and is telling people to treat Ebola victims at home because they lack space at Ebola treatment centers.

Here are some updates from our Young Life family in Liberia and Sierra Leone:

  Our teacher staff in Freetown, Sahr Kamasie, lost his wife, Victoria, two nights ago. She was 29 years old, fell sick and died a few days later. She has left behind a 2-year-old son, John, and a 3-month-old baby, Matilda, with Sahr. Sahr has been alone in his house with her body waiting for Ebola test results on her body to come back. The babies are at their grandmother’s house where they sent them as soon as Victoria was sick. Please pray for Sahr and the Sierra Leone team. The results will come back Thursday. If it was not Ebola (thousands of people are dying of many things other than Ebola every day because the healthcare system can only handle Ebola cases) they will bury her body with just a few friends. If it is a positive test, Sahr and the children will be under quarantine. 
  Andrew Quimeh, one of our top volunteer leaders in Kakata, Liberia, died of Ebola yesterday. He was on the Leadership Tree of Area Director Yancy Dixon. A Campaigners kid from the same area – Greature Worr – was released Ebola-free from a treatment center after weeks of treatment, but she lost her father and her sister. Pray for Andrew's family, for Greature and for Yancy and his team.
  Jeraline Johnson has two weeks left of her second 21-day quarantine. She is the only one left in the house as both her sister and brother-in-law have died of Ebola and her niece – 2 year-old Blessings – and Blessings’ aunt were both diagnosed with Ebola and taken to a treatment center eight days ago. I asked her what she does all day as she sits alone: "I pray and I read my Bible. I pray Psalm 91 constantly. I sing and praise and thank God."  Then she broke down in tears and sobbed with me on the phone for about five minutes and said, "Steve, I am so, so scared." There was good news today as Blessings' aunt was released after eight days of treatment from the Ebola center. At the end of the call she composed herself and said, "My hope is in Jesus alone. And He is faithful." We prayed Psalm 91 together.
  Our area director from Robertsport and DGL graduate, Baccus Roberts, and two other leaders from Monrovia, Abraham and Gbeme, are all currently sick. We are praying that this is not Ebola. Pray for healing for them. 

James Davis, our regional director for Liberia and Sierra Leone, texted today, "Steve, I have to admit, I feel like giving up the fight, but if I do, who will help lead kids and leaders? We have no peace or freedom. Our people are dying every hour. Our hope is in Jesus, but we fear we may be the next Ebola victims. I can't bear this – Jesus we need you more."  He later texted back to the whole team of Senior African leaders who are here now in Colorado, "I promise I will NOT give up – the Band of Brothers do not give up. … I know that we are not in this alone – the Lord is with us. And so are you."

Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. 
Lord Jesus, come in glory.