3 Things I Would Tell My High School Self by Jake Tatarian

 

I graduate from Seminary in May. It’s a strange thing being on the precipice of the end of my foreseeable future as a student and seeing a future that is not filled with homework assignments and sitting in a classroom, looking at a clock, counting down the time until you can leave. Nearing this crossroads of a major transition in my life, I have found myself looking both backwards at what you’ve accomplished and forward, to a future that is full of boundless opportunity.

Looking back, I can see the personal transformations that I have undertaken and continue to experience, especially in recent years as I feel I have undergone the most radical transformations since I left high school. In light of this, I have decided to write this letter to my high school self: three things my current self would tell my high school self in the hopes that you, too, might find some encouraging message within.

 

  1. Take School Seriously…But Not Too Seriously.

School is important. Your education is important: it lays the foundation for the rest of your life and, in my case, is a prerequisite for beginning the career I want to build. Doing well in school and making sure you do your work not only establishes good work habits during your formative years, but getting good grades allows you to continue on in your education to college and beyond.

However.

School should not consume your life to the point that you never have any fun. Life is meant to be experienced and there are a whole lot of fun things that you can do instead of spending all of your time outside of a classroom with your nose buried in a book. Class time is a serious time for soaking up what the teachers want you to learn, but it’s OK to keep it a little bit light-hearted too. Enjoy it—you’re not a student forever.

 

  1. You Have to be Intentional About Your Friendships

I remember the summer between my high school graduation and the beginning of college and all of the pacts that were made that we would always keep in touch and my friendship with certain people would withstand the inevitable tests of time and distance…and those friendships faded over time. There were never any fights we just quit…talking. Now this is a two-way street, but for your friendships that you want to keep from your high school years, you need to be intentional about maintaining communication and finding time to get together for lunch or to simply hang out and enjoy being in each other’s presence. You spend a lot of time cultivating relationships throughout high school—it would be a shame to lose those because you quit finding time for each other.

 

  1. The Best You is the Real You

Far too many high schoolers spend way too much time trying to be someone they’re not for the sake of popularity or friends. I have news for you, though, that’s very difficult to maintain. Faking an interest in a band or sport, dressing in a fashionable sense where you look cool, but can’t breathe (I’m looking at you, skinny jeans), even picking up on the hip lexicon that all the cool kids are using, but you would be embarrassed to have your parents hear, can become toxic to the real you. Don’t be afraid to let the real you come out of its shell, to let the person God created you to be breathe and experience the world. I’ve found that the more authentic and up front I am about who I am, the easier it is to make friends and foster relationships that are built upon trust much more quickly. Plus, you don’t have the added burden of trying to juggle the masks that you keep in your back pocket depending upon who you’re with at a given moment.

So there you have it. Three things that I would tell my high school self which can be boiled down to this: Throw away the masks, make lots of friends, and enjoy life. There are many wonderful people and experiences to see and God did not mean for our lives to be miserable where we await the day that we might depart this world. So, close your computer screen, go call that person you’ve been meaning to check up on, and plan a get-together to catch up and continue strengthening your friendships.


Picture1.pngJake Tatarian is a soon-to-be seminary graduate and pastor currently living in Oklahoma City. He is a basketball and soccer fan, of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brighton and Hove Albion, respectively. Jake does not follow baseball, but if pressed for a favorite team, and in keeping with the tradition of this site, he would say his favorite team is the Seattle Mariners.

I Love My Job! by Austin Leeviraphan

I was honored to be invited to write a post for “Bearded Theologians” even though I have a clean shaven chin… but naked face aside, here we go. I, or anyone else for that matter, would never have thought myself to grow up to be someone who would minister to youth. That seems to be the way God’s design usually works though, separate and not dependent on our own plan or ambition. My plan was to go to OU and get my degree in mechanical engineering. I even completed a year of college in that degree field until something changed. You know that feeling you get when you discover your passion, when you feel like you have found your purpose? There is truly something intimate and divinely romantic in discovering the call the Lord of creation has placed on your life. Discovering and discerning my call into ministry started with less than sincere intentions. My freshman year of college I had a crush on a girl who was very involved and enthusiastic about the youth group she had been raised in, and it just happened to be the same church that I had “grown up” in. I say “grown up” because church was never something I was enthusiastic about, and my only memories of youth group was during my 8th grade year when I was forcibly put through confirmation. The youth minister at the time was always so welcoming when he saw me and would text and write me, encouraging me to be involved. I appreciated the invitations, but I just didn’t see what I could tangibly get out of being involved in a church youth group.

Back to that girl I had a crush on, we’ll call her “Sally” for namesake. Sally would have been considered super involved in the church. Sally attended every mission trip, was on the leadership team for the youth group, led Sunday evening worship, and was an officer in the youth choir. In a poor attempt to impress Sally I told her that I was interested in volunteering in the middle school ministry at our church. I never expected that statement to ever materialize into anything… That is until I got a text the morning of October 12th, 2012 at 10:49am. It was from my old youth director, the one who was relentless in his pursuit of getting to know me and minister to me. The text read “What’s up brother!? How are you? I heard you are wanting to help out with youth stuff.” Uggghhhh, what had I gotten myself into this time. Little did I know, this was one of those moments in that seemed completely insignificant in the grand scheme of my life, but the impact it would have on the course of my life is nothing other than divine intervention. I was caught between a rock and hard place on this one, I could have told him I couldn’t help and go against what I told Sally, or I could say yes even though it didn’t sound all that appealing to me at the time… I said yes.

Little did I know that saying yes would significantly alter the trajectory of my life. I start off with just volunteering for Wednesday night small groups and was planning on dropping it after the semester was over, if I could make it that long. Something happened though that caught me completely off guard, I found myself prioritizing Wednesday nights in my life. And then instead of dropping volunteering at the end of the semester, I started volunteering for more. Soon enough I was going to student bible breakfasts on Thursday and Friday mornings, helping out in Sunday School, and I even helped lead a mission trip that summer. One night on that mission trip I was talking with a distraught student about the pain and suffering she had seen in the community we were working in. I prayed with her and afterward she asked me, “Austin, what do you want to do with your life?” I remember at that moment I questioned everything I thought I knew about my future. I was good at math and science, but those were by no means my passion. It hit me like a ton of bricks, being here with these students, pouring out into their lives with the love of Christ, seeing them wrestle with their faith and moving from “knowing about Jesus” to “knowing Jesus”, this was my passion! The Lord was speaking through that student that night, and the next morning I talked with the youth director and senior pastor of our church about wanting to pursue the calling of Youth Ministry in my life.

There are many reasons that I truly love my job as a youth minister, talking with students about our Lord Jesus and how he can change their lives just like he changed mine, I love leading groups of students to places both abroad and nearby on mission trips, I love being a person a student can come to with hard questions and heavy burdens, but most of all I love following the Lords call in my life. I thought I knew what I was supposed to do with my life, but ever since I found out what God’s plan was for my life I couldn’t imagine a day in my life doing something else. God was working in my life with that text message that Friday morning of October 12th. Prevenient Grace is when God’s grace is working in our lives before we even know it. I always had a hard time understanding that concept. But now after being in youth ministry for almost 3 years I am just now seeing the work that God was doing 5 years ago in my life. God is at work in your life right now and you might not even know it, or like me you might be pretty unreceptive of it. But maybe saying yes to that text, that invitation, or that nudge you feel in your heart just might lead you to the passionate life God has designed you for.


Untitled design.pngMy name is Austin Leeviraphan and I was born and raised in Norman, OK. I am the Associate Director of Student Ministries at McFarlin Memorial UMC. I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Oklahoma.

Why Easter? by Rev. Kyle Kiner

Why Easter?

Easter is confusing.  In many ways we are left scratching our head.    

When is Easter?  First, it is not a fixed point in our calendar.  Each year the date of Easter Sunday changes.  Some years we celebrate Easter in March.  Other years it shifts to April as it does this year.  Whether you are in the church or in the secular world, the date of Easter Sunday messes with your life and schedule. It throws you off balance.  The schedule depends upon the moon and scientific terms like vernal equinox.  The spring seasons shift and make us confused.  It is the similar feeling I have toward daylight savings time.  We are left wondering if this is really necessary?!?  Who can do something about it?  A confusing mystery is what we find.  

Why Easter?  Because it does leave us off balance.  It should leave us wondering what is going on.  

Next Easter confuses us because we cannot fully understand unless we learn about a man’s death that happened about two thousand years ago.  The man was not the Easter bunny.  The man was Jesus.  He did not die because of Easter eggs.  This has nothing to do with chocolate.  

The church tells the story and reenacts the story of Jesus.  We remember how he came to Earth.  He taught.  He died an awe-full, terrible death on a cross.  This is confusing.  We don’t understand or fully realize why God would do that to one man he called his Son.  

The sacrifice is completely contrary to what we know and see in our world.  Isn’t it all about me and what I get and what I should become?  Isn’t life all about it my pursuit of happiness?  Why should I care about others?  What did they ever do for me?  

Why Easter?  Easter is a confusing act of redemption.  Easter calls us to hear that we should give ourselves for others.  Jesus gave his life.  He gave his life to show that God wants the world to know the way, the truth and the life.  When we give ourselves to others, we die to our selfish ways.  We die to our greed, our lust, our anger, our self-centered ways.  

Easter is confusing.  

Why Easter?  

Easter is a mystery.  We don’t understand how the man that died came back to life.  

It leaves us speechless to hear that Jesus came back from the dead.  Resurrection is not something that can be proven scientifically.  We can’t understand it rationally.  

Modern medicine has given doctors many ways to make life last longer.   Doctors have ways of bringing people back death when cardiovascular failures happen.  Cancer treatments help to fight and prolong life.  We know of people that have survived.  

Sometimes these treatments work.  Sometimes these do not.  We are confused. We have lots of questions and wonderings.  Why not my husband?  Why can’t my child survive with treatment?    

We find ourselves feeling like the loved ones of Lazarus at the tomb.  We say Lord if you had been here they would not have died.  

Easter is a mystery.  Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  

We celebrate that in Jesus new life is found. New life is here on this earth.  New life is found beyond this life. 

When we believe in Jesus we hold onto that promise that new life is there for us.  Something is happening.  We can see it.  We can feel it.  We place our hope and trust in the miracle of the resurrection.  

This is the glorious mystery of Easter.  

This is why Easter!  God reveals to us something beyond our confusion.  

We can have that peace that is beyond our human understanding.  

This is what we celebrate!  This is our hope!  This is why Easter!  


kyleReverend Kyle Kiner is currently serving as Lead Pastor of Henryetta First United Methodist church. Kyle is married to Jennie and they have two children. He enjoys playing golf and watching premier Star Wars movies in 3D with Rev. Matt Franks.

First Timer Lent and Mindfulness

Lent. It is one of those interesting times that has divided the evangelical world (as originally termed by Luther) from the liturgical world. So many from the evangelical side have shunned lent, among many other celebrations and observations. While religion and religious rites were once an instrument of social control, in today’s day and age, that is no longer a factor in most areas of the world. However, observations like Lent have a new place among the world these days.

A step back from this momentary quick start… I have grown up in the evangelical side of Christianity. I am a preacher’s kid and have a lifetime of exposure to religious atmosphere. Like many kids, I grew up learning my parents’ beliefs and understandings. As I got older and branched out in life on my own, my belief never wavered. However, I turned into what you may call a religious academic. I have known the stories. I’ve known the text. I’ve known the morals of the stories. I’ve known that the Jewish storytelling tradition was basically the same as anywhere in the known world at the time (think Aesop). It wasn’t about the facts. It was about the moral of the story.

I have grown more and more interested in the facts that go along with the stories. To me, they’ve provided more of an understanding. Instead of a lot of the speculation and interpretation that goes on with scripture, context explains exactly what was being told.

So, for me, this gives a new context to observations like Lent. No longer is it about social religious control. No longer is it about ritual. To me, it’s about differentiation. (Ask a teacher.) People understand the same idea, facts, and context in different ways. For a better understanding of what your God has done for you, maybe you leave the secular and the ritual behind. If an observation of Lent helps you be more mindful, then more power to you. If observing Easter as the day Jesus was crucified helps you understand the physical suffering that was not necessary, then go forth. They are organized observations that help those of us who need formal construct to help our mindfulness.

My observation of Lent has not been big, as this is my first year on this journey about mindfulness. But I can tell you that I have done two things. One, I went for an Ash Wednesday blessing. I appreciate the pastors who offer the quick blessings, including the one I went to. It was simple and straightforward, but something I can say I’ve never had a blessing directed just at me in that manner. I did not wear my ashes all day because I am so uncomfortable being addressed out of the blue for anything, even if it is a good thing, and have trouble interacting at that point. However, the blessing and the smell of the ashes stayed with me all day. I have not given up anything for Lent, but I have been observing (to the best of my ability) a photo of the day challenge on a social media account. I’ve played catch up if I have missed a day. And I have appreciated the formal construct to help my mindfulness.


63618_182980491719336_5407577_nTim is a project management consultant out of Lubbock, Texas. He’s been married to his wife, Tara (who went to high school with Zach), since 2009. They have a son, Jameson, age 3. Tim is an alum of Lubbock Christian University and Arizona State University.

No Chocolate. 46 days. by Kelly Carpenter

Haters gunna hate and it makes me a little sad each time someone slights the practice of giving up chocolate fornochocolate.jpeg Lent. I do it. I’ve done it since the 6th grade. I cannot come up with anything else that I have elected to do by choice every year since the 6th grade. So, why stop now? Shake it off.

The bigger question for me and Lent is WHY chocolate. When Lent and the concept of fasting was first described to me around 6th grade it was more about what would provide a daily (or more) reminder to connect to Jesus. It was also about giving up vices which is why soda took the Lenten road in the 10th grade and just never came back.

I LOVE me some chocolate. ALL chocolate. Except when it is ruined with mint.

I reach for chocolate at least several times every day. During these seasons of withdrawal abstaining, I find myself reminded to re-center upon God in little moments that might otherwise pass by unnoticed. I become glaringly aware of how often I think about, crave and do something about my love of chocolate vs. how rarely in a day I actively think about, crave and do something about my love of God.

Okay, I confess, it is not just chocolate or soda, there was one year without meat and those years sacrificing all things sweet. But Lent is about more than food (is anything not about food though?) But seriously, I also take up a spiritual practice during Lent each year as well. Anything from new daily devotionals, walking meditations, photo meditations, Hatmaker’s 7, and so forth. This year I’ve taken on a daily prayer of self-examination. I feel that I am in a place of both contentment and complacency with God and am feeling the need to very intentionally ‘check-in’. Life is in a crazy phase with job responsibilities shifting, my first nephew arriving and our own first baby on the way (hence the obsession with food?), so in practical ways God is doing a lot in my life right now.

At the same time, God also seems pretty quiet.

I just feel complacent when it comes to my own faith journey.

Then on that 13th day my Lenten journeys collided. During a committee meeting lunch.

I routinely filled my plate answering mental question as I picked up each item: will I feel averse to the taste of chicken today? Will the baked beans give me indigestion? Can I eat potato salad or is that a pregnancy no-no? Grabbed the big ole’ classic church meal chocolate chip cookie and went to my seat. After finishing the meal that passed all the tests for pregnancy eating, I cleared my plate and took a huge bite of that cookie….

Ah! Mouth. Full. I realized instantly what I had done.

My journeys had collided. I spent great mental work to determine every bite related to the development of Woodchuck (that’s our fetus’ name). I was grateful to those who prepared the meal. I was intentional to eat enough to nourish but not too much to upset the delicate balance of the pregnancy digestive system. I spent no time. No mental energy. Not the slightest thought to my spiritual practice. My complacency hit me right between the taste-buds.

So, once again I’ll let the haters hate because chocolate has opened the way for God and I to have more unexpected moments than I could ever account for. (yeah, I spit out the bite, washed my mouth immediately and waited a solid hour before going for one of the oatmeal raisin cookie…give a pregnant woman a break!)

What is keeping you from God? What could you do for these remaining days of Lent to encounter God in surprising moments throughout the basic tasks of daily living?

Do it. Give it up. Take it on.

Own it like Marion Kelly walks into a room.

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KellyBioPhoto.jpgKelly Carpenter works in Faith Formation at the Center for Leadership Development of the North Texas UMC. She also serves as co-executive director of Reaching Others Through Christ Jr High Missions (ROTCmissions.org). Kelly attended Texas Christian University where she received her BFA in Theatre Scene Design. She attended Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA where she received her Masters of Theological Studies in Religion and Art. She grew up in the United Methodist Church serving on local and conference councils as a youth, working in camping and campus ministry through college and serving on local church staffs for over 10 years.