All are Welcome

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Yesterday, I went to drop off some waivers to some of my students going to Valleyfair with me on Saturday. Each of the kids in the youth group can bring one friend with them on this trip. As I was standing in the entry, I heard hushed conversations between the kids.

What rang clear was, “Why don’t you just ask? He’s your friend.”

Two of my students walked down the steps along with a friend of theirs. Their friend asked, “Are Muslims welcome?”

Without hesitation, I say, “Of course!”

My older students says “Seeeee! I told you!” in an taunting voice, like it was an obvious yes.

Currently, I am reading What’s the Least I can Believe and Still be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen for research for the series of hard questions I am exploring with my high schoolers this fall. Chapter 10 discusses the implications of judgmental Christianity and the damage it can do to people in and outside of the church. To conclude the end of the chapter, Thielen tells a story of a good friend who stopped attending church while going through messy divorce. A co-worker of the friend started pestering him to attend her church.

“One day she asked my friend, ‘Don’t you want to go to heaven?’ In weary exasperation he responded, ‘Not if it’s full of people like you’” (page 63).

And honestly, I feel quite the same way. The concluding line of the chapter is, “True Christians leave judgment to God.” Though I’m guessing for the young guy in my story above, there have been plenty of activities he has not be welcome to attend, plenty of criticism from other students who learned hate from the adults surrounding them, and plenty of sneers and jeers from people who hold prejudices. This is exactly the reason why we all need to strive for religious understanding and acceptance of others’ beliefs. When kids have to ask “Am I welcome?” because of exposure to judgmental Christianity, we have giant problem.

In Acts 10, there is a story of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius, a centurion, has a vision and sends for Peter. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls to Peter’s feet, but “Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal’” (v. 26). They continued to talk and went inside to find that many people had assembled. Peter said, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (v. 28). He continues, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God]. You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–[God] is Lord of all” (v. 34-36).

The disciples had to learn that they needed to interact with people of different faiths. Peter learned this through a vision that he had that all are welcome. Jesus cared for the outcasts, welcomed people of all religions, and loved the ones who society did not. Jesus called all to that life as well. We are called to welcome people into our communities.

Think about how many times this 6th grader has heard “You aren’t welcome” to have to ask me if he was allowed to come with us to Valleyfair. It honestly breaks my heart. My youth group will always be one where all are welcome. Because All are Welcome is one of my favorite hymns, I will leave you with the first stanza that guides my steps as I build my youth ministry.

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
All are welcome, all are welcome.
All are welcome in this place.

Photo from patheos.com

Inspiration Strikes

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Inspiration is something that is completely unpredictable. Inspiration comes from many different places. Often for me, inspiration comes from other people, books, nature, and music. This week,  inspiration has come from many different people—from youth and adults living out their passions and vocations.

This past week was my first week at my grown up job. I met so many people, all of them wonderful. Do I remember all of their names? Probably not. But I will learn them at some point.

This week was Vacation Bible School at First Presbyterian Church. (Click the link to see pictures from VBS.) The middle schoolers had their own program in conjunction with the children’s VBS. These kids were full of life and spunk and many questions.

The youth shocked me with their kindness and love toward one another. There were three students who were visiting us from another church. These kids tried to make sure that our guests were involved. They also blew me away with how quickly the began to accept me, the outsider. Their simple gestures of love and kindness have inspired me to be conscious of how I can work to make each space I am in more welcoming. Not only have the youth at First Pres been welcoming, so have my fellow staff members and the parishioners. So you can say this week has been a good one.

Music has been my other inspiration this week. There honestly has not been a day where somebody’s music talent or love of music has not inspired me. Music is ingrained in the life of First Pres. They have some fabulous musicians who share their music weekly. I think I am going to fit in well there.

However without the consistent opportunity to make music, I have found myself in a weird place.  In the past couple weeks, the fact that I do not have a specific ensemble to make music with has been sobering for me. I’ve been longing for a musical outlet to express myself. So I have been trying to listen to new music almost everyday.

I was inspired to do this by an awesome guy I met a couple of Fridays ago. In January, he started listening to new music every single day—which is one heck of an undertaking. He said that he found he was so much more creative because of his intentionality of listening to new music. So I thought I would give it a try.

While I have not been successful at listening to new music everyday (I think I need longer to process new music than just one day.), I have found this incredible want to be more creative in my daily life. Whether that be in creating age-appropriate and engaging curriculum for my kids or simply looking for a more creative way to express myself through writing or cooking, listening to new music has helped me tap into my creative side. 

But really, my point for writing this post was not to just tell you about what has inspired me this week. I’m curious where you found your inspiration this week. Did you find inspiration in nature? Did you find inspiration in the people around you? Did you find inspiration from others’ inspiration? Let’s start a conversation about inspiration. Who knows? Maybe that is where your inspiration for the week will come.

Image from Biz City Area.