Occupy Christmas Part 2

[Reprinted from Immerse Journal Blog]

Maybe the most moving interaction I’ve had with the Occupy movement was in November in Vancouver. I was leading a retreat for youth workers in the United Church of Canada. One night I met up with my friend Blair, a pastor, theologian, and veteran youth worker. Blair took me out to dinner with a group of youth workers who were attending the Youth Specialties National Youth Worker Convention held at the downtown Hyatt Regency. We finished dinner, and I walked with the group back to the Hyatt. On the way, we passed the Occupy Vancouver people, camped across the street on the steps of the provincial courthouse. The temperature was near freezing and the rain coming down heavy. The rag-tag protesters were trying to keep dry beneath makeshift tarps, many standing on wood pallets to keep their feet out of the pooling water. It was a pitiful sight.

My youth worker companions were intrigued by the Occupy folks, so we walked into a tent that had posted a wooden sign reading, Information: We can respond to Where? How?, and What?. But you must answer Why? I walked up to a young woman bundled in a heavy orange parka, her head enclosed in a wool cap with ear flaps. “Can I ask what you’re doing here?” Read More

Occupy Christmas: Reflections on the Occupy Movement Part 1

Mark Yaconelli presented with a protest sign from an "occupier" on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral in London last October

[Reprinted from Immerse Blog]

I’m cooking potatoes over a black iron pan on a Saturday morning in August 2010. In the background are the sounds of National Public Radio—sounds that include voices, ocean water, and feet trudging through wet and sticky earth. It has been four months since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The voices are from people working the coast of Louisiana, trying to clean up the sludge. They describe dead fish, dead birds, shellfish, and plants suffocated in black muck. There is despair in many of the voices. One woman begins to cry as she talks about the decades it will take for the coastal ecosystem to recover. “It seems hopeless,” she says.

The Saturday paper is spread on the kitchen counter and my two teenage sons sit waiting for their breakfast. Noah, my eldest, begins to read out loud, “Six children, aged 6 to 12, were killed in an airstrike by an Apache helicopter.” There is a pause, and then Noah reads another line. “They were collecting wood for their families.” [This past week an independent human rights group produced a report that an average of two Afghan children were killed by U.S. forces each day of 2010.]

Noah pushes the paper away. I put eggs and potatoes on plates and take down glasses for orange juice. “Can you turn the radio off?” My son Joseph interjects in a voice that feels tired and fragile. I unplug the radio. Joseph shakes his head. “I can’t listen to all that right now. It’s too depressing.” Read More

Merry Christmas

Everyone in my family dances.  My eight year old does hip-hop. My boys have both been president of their high school ballroom club. My wife and I disco.  The world is not safe.  There is suffering and death in store for all of us. Dance anyway.  That’s my message to my children.  That’s the essence of the Gospel. Dance anyway. My Christmas present to you is this video which captures the Gospel story as good as any sermon you’ll hear this season:

Rite of Passage

[I get lots of questions about leading rites of passage experiences for young people. This is an article I wrote for the Journal of Student Ministries (now Immerse Journal) about a rite of passage I helped facilitate along with Nancy Wiens , who is the Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Nature and Christian Spirituality

“Mark, are you awake?  It’s time.”

Unzipping the door to my tent, I looked out across the pre-dawn sky at the dark shoulders of the Mendocino Mountains.  I quickly dressed and joined Nancy and Lori by the truck bed where we kept our food. Nancypulled the coffee kettle off the camp stove and poured me a cup. The three of us looked quietly across the moonless sky.  Somewhere out within the early morning darkness, seven high school students were each loading their packs, preparing to begin their trek back to the base camp.  Three days earlier they had left as kids, but this morning they would return as men and women.

It started with an injustice.  One night at a December youth group gathering a group of ten seniors from our high school ministry announced they couldn’t commit to our summer mission trip.  These kids were at the heart of our ministry and we were crestfallen to hear they were going to miss our annual trip.  After a little investigation we discovered the story behind their decision.

At the end of each school year a local travel agency would meet with the junior class to propose ideas for a celebratory “graduation” trip the following summer.  The agency offered a package deal that included chartered airfare, lodging, and meals at a Mexican resort.  In the agency’s presentation, they mentioned there would be no adult chaperones and emphasized that the alcohol policy in Mexico would be very lenient.  For the past ten years each junior class had voted to do the package trip.  It was now considered a tradition among high school students. Read More