Friday, December 31, 2010

what I liked in 2010

It may be pretentious of me to think you care, but in the spirit of New Years, I made a list of some people/places/things and apostolates that I've discovered or come to love more in 2010...  In case you haven't heard.  (By the way, I discovered Glee in the fall of 2009...  I didn't forget).  

Here ya go:

5thousand.  Two guys from SC who have put together a great retreat ministry.  They got my too-cool-for-school kiddos singing, praying and into the sacraments.  Plus they played well with others (in this case it was APeX Ministies).  All solid.  But if you haven’t heard of 5thousand (cause they're new-er-ish) check them out.

Seraphic Singles Blog.  (NOT a catholic match making service).  This blog is Ben and Jerry’s for your heart, mind and soul.  She's snarky.  And she’ll help you be holy. 

Stuff Christians Like.  Cause Christians are funny and we need to laugh at ourselves.  John Acuff is a genius.

The Middle.  I got my mom the first season of this series and it’s pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-laugh-at-how-awkward-family-life-can-be.  I don't know when Reverend  Tom Tom, the youth minister shows up, but that makes it even better.

Snuggies.  A blanket with sleeves.  I converted when Hilton Head froze over last January and I’ve never looked back.  Do I do the macarena in it?  You'll never know.

This American Life.  The stories this NPR series tells will make you laugh, cry and sit in a parking lot on the edge of your seat cause you have to know how it ends.  There's also a podcast.  I highly recomend it.  Coming in close second is The Moth.

Martha Fernandez-Sardina. This evangelist gave a talk at the St. John Bosco conference this summer that had everyone on the edge of their seat.  She’ll be coming to Fire at the Beach on Hilton Head in September of 2011.  Save the date.

The Pioneer Woman.  She makes me want to cook.  And homeschool.  And she makes them both seem cool.

Catholic Youth Ministry's Teen Girl Squad/Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...  or something like that:  Ann Marie CribbinTammy Evevard,  Joia Farmer and  Judy McDonald.  I’m always inspired when I see women leading in youth ministry... it happens less than you think.  I was really excited find these women on twitter and hear youth ministry with a distinctly feminine voice.  Often youth ministry has a very “I play fantasy football and Halo 3” flavor and it’s cool to hear from the perspective of bedazzled True Religions and glitter.  

Cornhole.  I don’t know if it’s the complex scoring system, the Midwest flavor or the fact that it’s replaced conversation at bars.  But I love it.  We got the youth group's set from Bluffton Cornhole.  They look awesome.

NCCYM.  While it had it’s share of cheese, I’m glad I went.  Part workshop, part conference, part reunion, part...  well, there were lots of parts...  but the Saturday Night Comedy was especially epic.

Family Honor.  An organization in South Carolina that’s teaching the virtue of Chastity to Families.  They’re accomplishing what Pope John Paul II challenged us to do in The Truth and meaning of Human Sexuality and it’s awesome.  

The Catholic Drinkie  is filling an interesting role in showing the lighter side of Catholicism...  I realized this when some of my friends on twitter who are very much not Catholic started following her...  and talking to her about the faith.  She's capturing an essential aspect of Catholic culture and reaching out to non-Catholics in the process.  Snaps.

Monday, December 27, 2010

our latest favorite thing...

I scored this Christmas.

I had a feeling it would go over well, but my mom is loving Season One of The Middle.  Sadly, it's one of the few shows not streaming on Hulu right now but you can netflix the first season or just pick up in the middle of the second.

It's awesome because it's hilarious and portrays the essence of family in a really positive way.  The parents-Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn-- aren't infallible but unlike most shows on TV these days they're not clueless and give their kids good advice and set a good example.  And did I mention it's just really really funny? 

Watch now.  Thank me later.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jesus is coming. Let's make Room at the Inn.

The Island Packet shared this today.

My good friend Anne went to visit the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's community) and ended up volunteering in the kitchen.  She was under the direction of a Sister who kept urging her, "Jesus is coming!  Jesus is coming!  We must prepare the soup!  We must cut the onions!"  Anne began cutting onions and the Sister told her, "NOT THAT WAY!  Go get the tomatoes!"  Flustered, Anne went to get the tomatoes and continued to help prepare lunch.  After lunch had been served the Sister realized she had overwhelmed Anne a bit.  She assured my friend, "If you are called to join our Community, God will give you the grace to cut onions correctly". 

She requested Anne everyday after that.

The Missionaries of Charity have got it right.  They don't say "the poor, the needy, the people with poor judgment, the people that didn't plan ahead, etc. are coming".  No.  To them, it's Jesus.  Jesus is coming.

It's December 23.  Jesus is coming.  We need to make some Room at the Inn.  I'm a youth minister on a budget, but I clicked on their pay-pal link and gave what I could.  I challenge you to do the same. 

Amidst all your preparations for Christmas, remember that Jesus is coming.

not quite, colbert...

My crunchy granola Christian friends have been sharing this on Facebook this week.  I'm not a religious follower of the Colbert Report, but I find his snarky take on the news to be pretty funny and this is certainly no exception.  ("I make my kids play Christbox"...  classic).

However, while everyone flutters to upload this video, commenting that he makes some good points in hopes to appear hip and free-thinking despite their Christian affiliations (and I'm not judging.  I love you hipsters and tea party people and regular party people and...  well, you get it.  I love you all) but I just have to pipe up with a quick "Jesus wasn't affiliated with any political party" and I get really cranky when people imply that just because I'm not in favor of government programs doesn't mean that I'm sitting here, drinking champagne from my red-soled jimmy choos, not caring about the fate of my neighbor. 

I'm just a fan of the principle of subsidiarity.  In the Catechism, # 1894 it's explained that "neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies".  In plain language, we need to be helping each other-- not leaving it up to the state.  Individuals and charitable organizations do a pretty decent job.  The danger of all these government programs being created is that people are forgetting that it IS our responsibility to care for the poor-- not just pay our taxes and hope that it all works out in allocated aid funding.  I know this system can't be fixed overnight, but don't shirk personal responsibility by saying it's what Jesus would do.  He didn't do politics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

homeschooling 101

Yesterday I tweeted Marc Cardaronella about my formula for producing non-awkward homeschoolers and it's slightly more than 140 characters so it ends up here.  I should clarify that I have tremendous respect for parents and think they have the hardest job in the world.  I don't believe there's a definitive answer for where or how to school your children, as long as it's not in the Hitler Youth.  I truly think that the only universal method of parenting is frequenting the sacraments and eating together as a family as often as possible.

However, as a product of homeschooling, I am quick to both defend my upbringing and harshly criticize the lifestyle when I think it's going awry because it gives everyone a bad rep (example:  raising kids in tents with nothing but a bible as a text book).  My parents didn't originally homeschool for religious reasons (I was struggling in school and was too shy to speak up to get help.  If you can believe that.  The quiet thing was a short-lived phase) but then we were learning so much as a family from Seton- the curriculum we used- that they just never stopped.

Now, I could go on and on about how brainy my siblings are (I was never "that kid" at the National Spelling Bee or editing Encyclopedias, but I do credit the attention I finally received at the kitchen table with giving me the skills to balance my check book and write a thesis statement) but what I think is a real success is general social awareness.

A lot of people are quick to defend the social awkwardness of some homeschoolers with, "if they're awkward at home they'd probably be awkward at school too".  Maybe.  However, my friends and I did an informal survey among our college classmates and discovered that of all who had been homeschooled-- the ones who appeared the most "normal" were the ones who....  (drum roll)...  got their driver's license at the same time as their traditionally-schooled peers.

Laugh all you want, but this has turned into an extensive study by my friends who asked every homeschool alumni they've encountered since this theory was devised on a train to Venice in 2002.  We've developed some theories on this.  First of all, it is an expression of why you are homeschooled in the first place.  Homeschooling is an opportunity to engage the world and culture through the family-- not be sheltered from it.  For example, as kids we used to talk openly about current events at the dinner table, my parents listening to us as we shared our thoughts and solutions about the problems of the world.  No topic was taboo.  This is engaging the world-- but through the family.  We were also active in our parish, community service and pro-life activities.  All of this allowed us to encounter lots of different people and understand that was how the world was.  "Sheltering" would be refusing to acknowledge the challenges of the world or interact with anyone different so that students are completely unprepared when they encounter it, brute force, when they leave the nest.

Allowing kids to get their driver's licenses gives them a common milestone with their peers (they have so few others-- no lockers, pep rallies or freshman hazing) and gives them a little bit of independence to begin exploring the world on their own.  It involves taking  a test from someone who isn't related to them and answering to authority that isn't their parents-- and important step.

I have other theories about how homeschoolers can be well-socialized, but my friends and I have determined that the drivers license is the first way.  Even if you're rolling in a 13 passenger van, it's your first taste of freedom and gives you an experience to share with your peers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the latest best thing ever...

I'm sure I'm not the only youth minister out there who, while trying to not get too hung up on messiness, still cannot believe the capacity of youth to make a mess.  I mean, when a 9th grader eats popcorn, I swear it multiplies in their hands and they intentionally drop half of it on the ground.  My time in food and beverage has me trained to grab a broom at the first hint of a dirty floor, so I've really had to supress that instinct or my "relational ministry" looks more like "merry maids". 

Beverages always pose a particular challenge, I learned that pouring vs. cans vs. juice boxes are all about the same, the only good strategy is very, very small cups so that the puddle you find under the couch two and a half weeks after the spill is, at least, only the size of a dixie cup.  (moving furniture often is always a good idea.  for lots of reasons, but especially the fact that pizza smells, eventually.  better to find it before that point)>  Anyways, hot chocolate is always a win but seems to be a huge challenge between portioning the powder, hot water and mixing.  Enter the CL400BR-60-Ounce-Hot-Cocoa Maker  for the win. 

and no, I did not pay that much for it.  found it at TJ Maxx this weekend.

The beauty of it is that it elminates about twenty of the hazardous steps-- you pour water and hot chocolate mix in, it mixes, heats and dispenses from a spigot.  Not to mention that it can sense when it's getting cold and keeps the hot chocolate at a perfect temperature for hours yet not so hot that kiddos will burn themselves.  Plus, there is no pouring involved which we know to be a win if you've got middle schoolers remotely near liquids.  

Technology never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I absolutely love my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville.  I am also aware that as a graduate of FUS who is a youth minister, I fall into a certain stereotype and while I try to defy it by not hugging people and keeping my hands to my sides when I say "and also with you" at Mass, I acknowledge that sometimes I am pretty cliche.  I use Lifeteen materials and occasionally St. Mary's press but nothing crazy.  I follow Mark Hart on twitter.  We attend The March for Life and Steubenville Atlanta.  I go to the St. John Bosco Conference each year.  I re-read The Catechism of the Catholic Church to avoid a millstone and Evangelii Nuntiandi to be inspired.

It's not that I'm opposed to other views or ways of doing things.  It's more that I just feel that I don't have time.  I know that my fellow graduates and I are infamous for not checking out other resources and writing it all off as fluff.  The days are just so busy that I get into a routine and forget to go outside of it.  I also thought NCYC was a little overwhelming and cheesey, so I categorized these as one and the same in my head and didn't give NCCYM a second thought or column in my budget.

When I had 5thousand and Apex Ministries come to Hilton Head to lead retreats in October (I highly recommend both ministries, by the way.  Catholic, low-maintenance and engaging) and in addition to swapping all sorts of hipster music topics, they strongly encouraged me to check out NCCYM.  When I straight up asked Gene if it would be lame, he replied, "I'm an organizer".  Oh. 

Plus it was in New Orleans and I had never been.  I made reservations.

I realized I had never been to a gathering of just youth ministers-- I love the Bosco Conference at FUS because it's all people who are in ministry for Team Catholic, but it's always comical to swap stories with teachers and DRE's cause we all still have such different challenges.  DRE's worry that their catechists are teaching heresy...  youth ministers worry that their teens are like, bringing pot on retreats.  The cool thing about NCCYM is that it was over 2000 people who knew exactly where you were coming from.  Anyone you struck up a conversation with may have been from a different state but still "got it".  Even the people from Notre Dame!  Who knew us FUS folks had anything in common with them?

NCCYM was also a crazy fun reunion.  There was something crazy about walking to the French Quarter for beignets with friends from college, South Carolina and even twitter and all just chatting about fashion, theology and safe environments.  The workshops were helpful, but I think the networking and socializing was my favorite.  I was even in a flash mob, which you can see here on my new Canadian Friend Clayton's website.

Did it have it's share of cheese?  Of course.  Old school praise and worship made an appearance in addition to cross-clapping.  However, it was cool that there was a collective awareness that this is where we're coming from and this is what we're working with and if we can't laugh about safe environments well then, what can we laugh at?  Just like youth ministers need to take time for retreats and ongoing theological training, NCCYM made me appreciate the need for ongoing socializing.  I'm rarely cognizant of the fact that I am the only full-time youth minister for team Catholic in my deanery (not to minimize the very competent part-time youth minister in the parish in the next town over).  NCCYM made me appreciate what I didn't even realize I had been missing out on.  Communio.

After my first NCCYM I can say without a doubt that as long as I'm in youth ministry...  I'll be there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

why yes...

as a matter of fact, I do believe in Santa...  click to read the latest Pastor's Corner column.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Flannery, Doritos and Pepsi

Yesterday, Thomas Peters, aka, @americanpapist, posted a link to an advertisement that Pepsi/Doritos posted to youtube and has since removed.  I'm not sure if I found it offensive or clever.  In it two pastors (both in Roman Collars) discuss how they can better "feed their flock".  (while they may appear to be Catholic, to the experienced eye they clearly are not.  They call each other "pastor" and use the "shot glass" style communion cups found in non-catholic churches).  They decide to use doritos and pepsi max in lieu of traditional communion.

While the ad is certainly controversial it does raise the question, why?  Why are we offended when doritos and pepsi are substituted for bread and wine at church?

While conversing with others about communion someone made the comment, in the presence of Flannery O'Connor, that it was a nice symbol.  Her reply?  "Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it."


Thursday, December 2, 2010

and we don't even use vuvuzelas...

I, for one, would've attended the World Cup in the US for... uh...  love of the game?
Originally published in The Bluffton Packet:

Published Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Watching the players in the World Cup reminds me of one of my most embarrassing moments involving my college's soccer team -- and my friend Ann failing to look out for me.
Ann had invited me over to her house for an evening cookout her fiance and his family. Despite the fact that her fiance was the soccer coach, I was not intimidated by hanging out with him (taken) and his family (from Detroit). So I rolled out of bed from a nap, threw on jeans and a T-shirt and went to what I thought would be a quaint family gathering. What Ann failed to mention was that this was a quaint family gathering with her fiance, his family and his entire team.

I don't know what it is about soccer players. Maybe it's that, unlike many sports, they don't wear helmets so you can actually see their faces as they casually push hair out of their eyes with a savvy that Justin Bieber could never pull of. Maybe it's that they all have accents. Maybe I haven't gotten over my crush on the coach from "Bend it Like Beckham." In short, I wished I had dressed differently for the evening.
Ann, being blissfully engaged, was oblivious to the fact that the scenery in her Ohio home had dramatically improved, and I'm not talking about the river cleanup. She was excitedly introducing me to her future in-laws when one of the soccer players, a graduate theology student with dirty blond hair and blue eyes asked, "Who's your friend?" So I extended my hand and said brightly, "I'm Alison's friend, Ann." Yes. I forgot my own name. And introduced myself as Ann.

I was mortified. But it served as an important lesson to me: There will always be moments when you are caught off-guard by life and literally cannot think of what to say, even if it's your own name. Sometimes it's an innocent problem and you merely embarass yourself, but sometimes it's serious. The question, when you're left speechless regarding sin, is simply this: Who are you really hurting?

One of my favorite illustrations of this is in Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." If you haven't read the book, you should. But allow me to spoil the climax for you. Jane Eyre has fallen in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers he is married. He tries to convince her to run away with him anyway. She wants to, and he asks who, exactly, they would be hurting?

Jane's reply is so eloquent that you should read the whole bit, but let me summarize. She acknowledges at the moment, her feelings have completely carried her away. She wants to be with the man she loves to the point where she describes herself as "mad." But she firmly states, "I will keep the law of God, sanctioned by men... Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for moments as this... If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?"

Now, maybe it won't be as dramatic as a wealthy Englishman asking us to be his mistress, but we all encounter moments where we are at a loss as to the right answer. Our feelings may push us one way, even though we know deep down that way isn't a good idea. I re-read this passage often to remember that the law of God exists for one's well-being and the common good. In the end, it works out for Jane. And when we do what's right, it works out for us, too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's.... Advent!

Making a list and checking it twice?  this will make you think. 
In a day when people are punching each other over toasters at Target, I think they're onto something here. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

oh, Justin Bieber...

I didn't see it but people cooler than I who were watching the AMA's tweeted that Bieber was rocking this rosary as a necklace while he performed.  oh, kids wear the darndest things.

Now, I don't know if it counts when you replace the Blessed Mother with a "D&G" label, but rosaries, and variations of them are all the rage these days.

My dear friend Adam who is my polar opposite in pretty much everything except our mutual love of red wine, Glee, and the art of sarcasm rocked a rosary as a necklace a few years ago.  It was one of the first times I felt that I really knew someone well enough to say something.  My awkward moment of evangelization went something like, "uh so friend, I know that you wouldn't want to intentionally offend anyone, so can I be completely honest and say that you wearing a rosary, something I pray with, as a fashion accessory...  kinda does?"

Because he's cool, he pocketed the rosary and patiently accepted the booklet on praying the rosary that I gave him.  He tried to salvage his purchase and wear it two more evenings when he didn't think he'd be around Catholics, but after unexpectedly running into me and every other catholic he knew that evening I think he got spooked and retired it to a nail hanging over his sink. 

While I don't advocate the rosary as an accessory and certainly think Lady Gaga needs to be catechized on this, it's not very understood by many, including Catholics.  Rather than cry "sacrilege", don't miss the opportunity to share why you pray the rosary.

the nun run...

I haven't actually seen the whole episode, given that 1) it was broadcasted during middle school youth group and the first part was about a woman who married a man in prison.  I didn't feel the need to introduce "conjugal visit" to the 6th graders vocabulary.  also, 2) we do not have DVR.  But we survive.

Anyways, the clip with our girls actually made the cut.  So proud, you can see them here.

I will say, they condensed about 13 minutes into twenty seconds seamlessly...  it's a little scary how well they can edit.  I thought they made the girls sound really good, but yikes, they've got power.

and read more about our "nun run" in the Catholic Miscellany.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Digital Drama

There’s a new teen night in town, have your kids heard about it? It features topless underage girls, any type of language is permitted and slanderous rumors spread like crazy. Kids come and go—some able to shrug off the insults that are hurled at them, while others are devastated by the damage to their reputation. At least two have killed themselves because of their experiences of being harassed. Disturbed? Look no further than your child’s phone or facebook. It’s where it’s all happening these days.

In no way does it make up for the offense to humanity that is “Jersey Shore”, but my friend alerted me to a helpful resource MTV has set up to educate teens and parents about the dangers of bullying on-line, via text messages and the trend of “sexting” (sending sexual photos on ones cell phone). Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a text and twitter addict, but these resources can be abused. Phones and facebook are not evil, but poor supervision is causing a world of hurt and permanent damage to teens and their reputations. On, MTV displays information that everyone should know about before they take pictures or share information on their phone or internet.

Even when teens are with their friends it’s not unusual to see their phones in hand, fingers constantly fluttering over their keypads, either texting friends not present or, in a more advanced maneuver, “table texting” the people next to them to say things they don’t want the rest of the group to hear. I often complain that texting is affecting their ability to socialize—you’d be worried if your kids were only speaking in spurts of 140 letters at a time—but now it’s becoming evident that hurtful words and images said are spreading much faster than an old-fashioned note on paper ever did.

This isn’t just a case of “kids saying the darndest things”. Whether it be comments on a profile or photo album, texts or pictures, it’s slanderous and sometimes even illegal. When I stumble upon any kind of drama with teens, my initial reaction is to hope that they’ll work it out as the adults that they are becoming, but I am realizing that teens need more guidance and at times intervention from parents and other adults when it comes to this new social venue. Technology is confusing and it’s challenging to navigate the profiles, passwords and trends but as adults we must mentor youth, even if it means doing a little research first.

Sirach 6:5-6 warns that “a kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings. Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant”. This is sound advice for social networking and texting. The words that we say-- whether typed, twittered or texted-- are permanent and can be passed around cyberspace indefinitely. In a world where we’re so cautious about where children are and who they’re with, we need to recognize just how far the boundaries of a cell phone or facebook profile extend and be just as vigilant about what is said and done.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Faith and Works

Faith and Works:

Watching winter sports is fascinating. I can relate to track and field, soccer, volleyball and other stuff that used to happen in gym class but things like curling, skiing and the luge completely elude me. Besides my brief, tragic experiences on the rink in Savannah I have very little knowledge of what snow and ice are actually like, so the winter Olympics might as well be held on the moon—life in Vancouver is just as foreign.

I didn’t even know that ice hockey was a legit sport (I thought that “The Mighty Ducks” was based on a game made up for the sake of the story, like Quidditch) until spending four years in Ohio where people come from states with actual teams and had opinions about which is best. Like any sport, I usually only express interest if it helps strike up conversation with a cute boy, but last Sunday evening I found myself watching the U.S. vs. Canada hockey game for it’s own sake. It was exciting and violent.

Watching the instant re-play of the final goal for team US, my friend remarked that Canada had removed their goalie to have an extra man on offense. As I’ve said, I know very little about sports and especially nothing about hockey, but I remember from my Island Rec Center soccer days that a goal should not be left un-tended (or no oranges at team snack-time). I understand that this is a last-ditch strategy that occasionally works, but to me it seems foolish to leave a goal completely un-tended.

It did make me think that the balance of defense and offense is an analogy for the spiritual life (I acknowledge that’s a strange way to see a game. I can’t help it.) Soccer, hockey, basketball and all those sports that require attention to both scoring and defending the goal demonstrate the need to balance our faith and our actions. You can’t win a game without scoring points against the other team just like you can’t grow closer to Christ without following him with actions like service and worship. Volunteer work, mission trips and singing hymns are actions that draw us closer to God. However, actions are not enough.

As Canada painfully learned, defense is also critical to winning. A team could score a hundred points and lose if the other team scored a hundred and one. Similarly it’s not enough to be a nice person doing nice things if we want to grow closer to Christ. It’s also necessary to nurture and defend our faith against the influence of evil and doubt. In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him “to stir into flame the gift of God you have…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Faith is nurtured through prayer, scripture and rejecting evil. Those following Christ have a real enemy waiting to step in and score when their defenses are down.

The book of James summarizes this balance, explaining that belief in God is important, but “even the demons believe that” (James 2:19). There must be a balance of both faith in God and action, “see how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone… just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:24, 26). St. Augustine summarized this balance, saying, “pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on us”.

Growing in Christ

There’s few things I dislike more than getting in shape. Sure, after a month of beating your body into submission, training the will and expanding your lungs, running and lifting feels slightly less torturous and you can start appreciating the endorphin high. It’s the initial days of stretching out your joints which have rusted into place after eating cheese and re-watching the first season of “Glee” that are brutal.

Like anyone in their twenties, the last several summers have become completely dedicated to weddings. While I love dressing up, it’s a reality check when you log onto Facebook that Monday to find that you’ve been tagged in multiple pictures which showcase your un-toned arms. One summer with that on your record and the motivation to exercise comes much easier. I do not want my Facebook legacy to be “fat bridesmaid”.

Even though the motivation was there, the thought of a gym left me feeling really unsettled. I put if off for a long time because I had visions of walking in and encountering the cast of “Jersey Shore”— sculpted, tanned, toned and teased. Rather than suffer such comparisons, I made some feeble attempts to get in shape on my own. This quickly left me bored—you can only do so many pilates from youtube before you lose your motivation and it’s hard to push yourself in the comfort of your own home, when no one is watching. Clearly, a gym was my only hope for actually getting in shape.

Much like the kids who are afraid of kindergarten because they don’t know how to read and people who think they are too sick to go to the doctor, it was illogical to think I had to be in shape to join a gym. I finally just went and found that while there are a few who approach Spinning with the intensity of an Olympiad (your bike is NOT MOVING! Calm down, would ya?) many are like me—pasty, average and just hoping to shed a few pounds to look good for the summer. Furthermore, there’s a camaraderie that exists among people working towards a similar goal that you just can’t get from watching “Buns of Steel” alone in your living room. A little competition encourages intensity.

Many approach religion or church with the same hesitancy. Just as I feared encountering a level of fitness that I couldn’t live up to, they expect to encounter sanctity that will make them feel inadequate. They think church is just a place for Mother Teresa and Billy Graham to have coffee and doughnuts and there’s no place for real people with real problems and sin. However, much like I could never have changed my body if if I didn't take that initial plunge and allow myself to be challenged by trainers and those around me, our souls cannot change if we attempt to do it all on our own.

Any Church community will be full of people who are very advanced in their walk with God as well as those who are just starting out. Holiness is not a competition, but we benefit from witnessing how others have handled the same challenges we face, much like I was motivated by those who could run faster and lift more than me.

In the Gospel of John, Christ reminds us, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4-5). Taking the steps to be connected can be intimidating, but unless we are connected to Christ we cannot grow.

March for Life

When I waitressed I dreaded tables of teenagers. I would argue with my coworkers about taking the raucous high schoolers who would sit down, run you ragged re-filling their mountain dew and then tip you $1.13 for your troubles. I sympathize with the servers, baristas and counter help that gives me the “oh, why did you come here?” look when I walk into a restaurant or cafe with my youth group. And it’s not just the employees. Guests eating will also eye us with suspicion and start gathering their things ready dash at the first sign of drama.

As much as I love teenagers, I concede that the wary glances they receive when they congregate in public are somewhat rightfully earned. I’ve seen kids at their best—when they’re serving the homeless and helping elderly cross the street—but I’ve also witnessed some pretty inconsiderate and apathetic behavior. For example, once while a speaker was telling the youth group about a project to deliver clean drinking water to the third world, a teen raised their hand and asked, “but they’re like, used to walking miles to get clean water. Why do we have to change that for them?”. I died a little on the inside, convinced somewhere an angel lost its wings and that there was no hope for the future if kids could be this apathetic and insensitive to those in need.

However, these past few weeks have left me pretty inspired and hopeful for this generation. Regardless of how you feel about the issue of Roe vs. Wade and abortion, I’ve been very encouraged that kids aren’t just “waiting on the world to change”.

Each year on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade people opposed to and in favor of abortion congregate in Washington D.C. As a Catholic youth group (and fans of “Juno”), we have talked about abortion and many of my teens feel strongly that it should not be legal. They believe it’s affected their world, as they say, “like, Miss Alison, there have been over a million abortions each year? That’s probably why there are no cute boys in my class!”. They asked me if I would take them to D.C. to peacefully protest this law with others from around the country.

We went and it was no vacation. We slept on the bus and on the floor of a gym, didn’t shower for three days, ate peanut butter sandwiches and braved the cold weather to take a stand for what we believed in. We prayed for our country, our leaders and for a greater respect of all human life. Through it all they were peaceful, respectful, attentive and never complained about the challenges of the trip.

There were 32 youth and 13 adults from Hilton Head who joined 200,000 others in DC on January 22. What struck me and many others was how many of those gathered were teenagers. Journalist Robert McCartney and Roe vs. Wade supporter observed, “I was especially struck by the large number of young people” who attended. (Washington Post, Sunday, January 24, 2010). I too could not believe that I was not the only adult crazy enough to attempt such a trip, there were high schools, colleges and youth groups (and youth ministers frantically counting heads) everywhere. They were peaceful but passionate, carrying signs that said, “a person’s a person no matter how small” or “I survived Roe vs. Wade”.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Teenagers aren’t perfect, but our trip to DC reminded me that thousands of teens are setting an example and standing up for what they believe in, including those in our hometown. If it takes a village, we should be proud and hopeful.