CYTI is the Campbell Youth Theological Institute. High school students begin a journey exploring how their faith and calling impacts their understanding of vocation and mission in the world. We like to think of it as standing at the intersection of faith and vocation. During a two-week residential experience on our campus, students will study with and serve alongside faculty innovators in their fields, caring coaches and mentors, and other students asking similar questions.
The fields of study include divinity, social entrepreneurship, restorative justice, public health, engineering and social work to name just a few. Students will be challenged to consider what it means to live a Kingdom-life in whatever vocation or setting they find themselves. God is calling each of us. The questions to answer are “to what?” and “how do I hear?”
There will also be plenty of time for serving where the community has invited us to participate, and for reflecting upon how God is at work in the immediate situations, but also how God can use us to work towards addressing systemic issues behind those situations. Our devotions, worship and discernment work will focus on raising our awareness of hearing God’s call and how to be faithful to it.
Over the next several months, we have asked several writers, thinkers and professionals to answer the question of what it means to stand at the intersection of faith and vocation. Their words have challenged us, moved us and inspired us. We cannot wait to share them with you.
More information can be obtained through the “Contact Us” boxes on the front page. We will also roll out a video very soon, as well as an official registration page through the Campbell University website. Until then, save the date: July 16-29, 2017, and consider if this is a program for you or the high school student in your family, church or community.
It started as a small cough and developed into acute bronchitis. Brock has never been prone to illness beyond the occasional cold, except when he was little. Although as an infant he did keep us busy with ear infections. At the doctor, when being diagnosed and treated for this bout of bronchitis, Brock also had an ear infection. His first since day care days.
Why am I writing about his health? The doctor asked this great question in her office, “Brock are you stressed out? You seem really tired, like, beyond the sickness.” A deep exhale from him confirmed that.
I have always had a romanticized view of Senior year and all the excitement that came with it. In fact, I bought into the story about how Junior year is the hardest and most pressure packed. A few tasks from Senior year might indicate otherwise:
- College applications
- Senior year classes
- Extra curriculuar activities
- Scholarship applications
- Financial aid conversations
- Decisions about where to attend college…all making for a stressful Fall in our home.
We should probably include “freaked out, but trying to act like we are holding it together” parents. Don’t judge. A few thoughts for youth ministers about Seniors.
- Many students are overwhelmed and don’t know how to handle it. You don’t have to fix this for them. Just let them know that you are in their corner and praying for them.
- Give them opportunities for places to just be, not where there is something expected of them.
- Share prayer practices that help them find peace and readjustment because of whose they are.
- Please don’t make them feel guilty when they miss a program or event. Do let them know they were missed.
- Remind them that the celebration is coming!
When I first shared my experience with the blue haired girl and friends, I noted the deep hurt I was hearing, but also the beautiful community created for two weeks. Then Brock challenged me further with his reflection.
For many, the image of home evokes love, acceptance and security, but not for everyone. It may be easy to comprehend a situation that is intentionally hurtful, but what about those “accidentally ostracized” by their family? Where do they find a place to be loved as they are? Isn’t that what home should be?
Jesus calls out to the hurting and marginalized. In fact, every time he is with someone marginalized, he stands with them in love and kindness. He welcomes them to the Kingdom. He welcomes them into his family without conditions. That seems like a good home to me.
Brock said to me, “Once a person is turned away from the church, asking them to believe there is a better way of knowing Jesus is much harder.” In Luke 13, Jesus is admonished by religious leaders for healing a woman on the Sabbath. After responding to the hypocrites, Jesus tells the parable of the Mustard Seed to describe the Kingdom of God.
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches. Luke 13:18-19, NRSV
A mustard seed that someone sowed in the garden, that grew to become a tree, is now where birds make their nests. The kingdom is like a seed, when tended with care, provides a home to the fragile. It provides security and shelter to all comers. It produces more seeds that produce more trees that provide more homes to the fragile. That is a vision of the kingdom I can get behind, one that replicates love and acceptance without condition. The tree never says to the bird, “You can make a nest here, but first you have to change, or that I even expect you to change.” We might hope people strive to imitate Christ, but that is not up to us. What is up to us?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” adapted Mark 12:28-31, NRSV
Our teenagers need us to show them a place where freedom is shared, self-expression is welcomed, and love is not a sin. We need to answer the call the other 50 weeks of the year to welcome our teenagers, all teenagers, home.
NOTE: This post was written by my 17-year-old son after a conversation we had to unpack an experience I had (as described in a previous post, the first in this three-part series). I asked him to write about how he experienced the camp. It is written here, without comment or edit from me…that’s next in the series.
A few days ago, I got home from a summer camp for middle and high school writers. It’s more than just a writing program, though—for many of the campers, it’s the only opportunity they have to be themselves. More on that in a moment. At this camp, every day, we had a readers’ forum, where campers could sign up to read some of their work. Due to the welcoming, open-minded nature of camp (and the two-minute time limit), these readings often took the form of emotionally charged slam poetry.
One day at the readers’ forum, I was struck by several pieces in which the authors seemed to believe that God, the church, and Christians in general, hated them for being themselves.
It made me kind of mad. What did they mean, God hates them? He loves everybody, according to my half-remembered children’s hymns and Sunday school lessons. What made these people so special that He couldn’t be bothered?
I kept listening and later talked to a few of them. As it turns out, they learned different things in Sunday school. Their parents and their ministers had very particular definitions of ‘everybody.’ These kids were used to sitting at the dinner table and listening to their parents discuss the moral infirmities and inevitable damnation of groups of people that, unbeknownst to them, included their own children. One girl who still hasn’t come out to her family told me a story about how, over Thanksgiving, her parents and relatives shook their heads over the folly of these strange people who identified as ‘pansexual.’ She narrowly resisted the urge to look up and say, “You rang?”
Humor was her escape from her family’s accidental ostracism. Not everyone was able to be so cheerful. On the last night of camp, a transgender girl was in tears at the prospect of returning to her strictly conservative town, a place she described as “essentially, a theocracy.” Other campers had similarly restrictive places to return to, places they didn’t call home. Camp is home; those places are just where they live.
Among many of my peers, the church is a place where freedom is stifled, where self-expression is denied, and where love is a sin. They’ve been embittered by the atmosphere in which they grew up, and they cannot see the church that I want to imagine: a place where everyone is welcome, where ministry is kindness, and where love is salvation.
Maybe there are churches like that; I don’t know. I hope so. But to the people who have seen the worst Christianity can offer, those churches might as well not exist. They want nothing to do with this God or the people who claim to be doing His will. In a time when they need more guidance than ever, they are least able to find it. They don’t trust their parents, or their churches, or their schools. They trust this camp. For two weeks out of the year, they feel safe, welcome, loved. For the rest of the year, I don’t know what they do.
Getting to the auditorium late was bad enough. Then I had to find a seat. After several “oh, it’s saved” interactions I finally found seating next to a 14-year-old girl with electric blue hair. At this readers’ theater, she snapped her fingers to show appreciation and encouragement. She cheered with delight for her peers and strangers alike. She celebrated the uniqueness of others and their expressions of self, whether through apparel or hair color. She welcomed me to share the seat next to her.
This was the setting for the readers’ theater that concluded the youth summer writing academy where Brock had just spent two weeks. I listened to teens read their pieces, many deeply personal, over the next two hours. Two things stood out:
- There is a lot of hurt, anger, and fear in the lives of these teenagers. Many are “artsy” kids that find themselves the target of bullies, who might even be parents that just want “normal” kids.They lack a refuge at home and school where they find unconditional acceptance and love. This isn’t my assumption based on appearances but rather from the pieces shared, peer reactions, and eavesdropping on conversations all around.
- Despite all of the angst… and this was more than your normal teen “angsty-ness,” there was also a deep community forged and shared at this two-week camp. Many of the students had come here multiple years. Others like Brock were rookies. Watching the teenagers was wonderful. The carefree joy and laughter that came after the angst-riddled show demonstrated love shared and experiences connected.
All of this left me wondering. For many of these students, they find safety and community in a writing camp two weeks out of the year. While I celebrate what they have, my heart hurts for what they lack the remainder of the year. We have to do better. My finger snapping, giddy, seat offering friend that night deserves better. She made room for me. How am I making room for her?
NOTE: This post is the first in a three-part series about the Blue Haired girls of the world. Next up, I’ve asked Brock to share his reflections, especially as they relate to how people grasped what the church and God thought about them.
The envelope sat menacingly on the table. It had already been opened and the contents gushed over. A celebration of sorts had begun, at least for 3 people in my home. Problem is, 4 of us live there. I am the celebratory hold out.
It is two weeks later and the envelope is still on our counter, the contents now hidden under an order form. The contents are proof, well proofs really, that another chapter of life is coming. On one page is Brock, my now 17 year old son, wearing a purple cap and gown. Another page is him in a tuxedo. These are his Senior portraits. I have not accepted yet that I need to look at these. Each time my wife admires these proofs and wants to discuss our potential order, I find a reason to exit the conversation.
To be clear, I am enormously proud of the young man my son is becoming. I admire so many amazing traits he exhibits, especially his sense of mercy, compassion and creativity. I am not however, ready to think about his presence in our home being part time. I am not ready for his chair to be empty at dinner. I am not ready for the absence of his humor, his grunts or his eye-rolling at his sister. While many are starting to celebrate this transition, selfishly, I am dealing with pangs of anticipated grief over the absence of his presence. I’ll get to the celebration too, but I need to acknowledge what conflicting emotions I am currently carrying.
As a youth minister, I could celebrate with families in these moments. I could read about parents experiencing appropriate sadness. I could hear their stories and see their tears, but until that envelope landed on my kitchen table, I couldn’t understand it. I’ll write about these moments and emotions from time to time during the next year for three reasons:
- Personal catharsis.
- To give space for other parents walking this same path to know they are not alone in this paradox of emotions.
- As a way for ministry colleagues who work with families like mine to have a glimpse at the complexity of what we are experiencing.
I suppose my next post will be a confession when I finally deal with that envelope. In the meantime, I am keeping this card on top of it.