The students in our religious education program are required to attend a certain number of retreats before receiving the sacrament of confirmation in our faith. A retreat is a removal of one’s self from the world to focus on a relationship with God. While we confiscated a total of six cell phones over the weekend (and no telling what other devices were smuggled in), for the most part the kids cooperated and participated.

I’m having a hard time returning to the “real world,” as this experience was one of the most intense I’ve had. Some retreats I feel like I’m more of an observer and a helper. This was one of those retreats that I put together and executed, and I was intensely involved in the student’s journey.

We started out with my essay on “The Lesson of the Five Thousand,” then watched a YouTube video called “Cardboard Testimonies”. It was all about having a hunger for the message of Jesus and what happens when you let God enter your heart. We played some games (they ARE teenagers, after all), and the real work began on Saturday morning.

While the praise and worship was flat – our church has never done P&W and the kids were not used to it – we spent a good part of the day with a series of Scripture, reflection/journaling, and discussion, with each session building on the last. I took them from “where are you now” to “what do you think is good for you” to “what does God want for you” and finally to “what is God offering you”. We had some truly insightful comments from the teenagers in small group. We played a blindfolded obstacle course game, where their teammates had to yell directions to their “runner” to get them to maneuver the course correctly. Of course, the other team could play dirty pool and yell out wrong directions. We then had a discussion on how to hear God in our lives, and how do we know which voice to listen to, and how do we block out the noise to find our “true direction”?

But the icing on the cake was Saturday night prayer. I hadn’t actually figured out exactly what to do that evening, but after some of the revelations (particularly from my troublemakers), I decided to do a candlelight prayer service. The teens did prayer with a partner, and then each one came to me individually for some personal prayer. “J” is a teen that has always acted out in class, and he shared with us some very significant family problems, which caused him much anger. “C” admitted to carrying a lot of anger, also. So when “J” came up to me and asked me to pray for his family, I did so and then added some very personal prayers for him. While the girls were eager to hug me after prayer, “J” tried to leave quickly. I reach over and, grabbing his neck, pulled his head next to mine for a quick “head hug” and whispered in his ear “I really care about you, J”. This tall guy, who always tried to act tough and act out and always sought attention (which disrupted my class), had to wipe his eyes as he left his chair.

Forget the games. Forget the praise and worship. Forget all the other stuff. It is for those personal moments when I may have changed a life for the better that I stay up until 2:00 am preparing my schedule. It is for those moments, where I can touch a heart, that I work myself to a frazzle. It is for those moments, when God works through me, that I feel His grace.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

Thank God!

Envy: Capital Sin Not Capital Improvement

I have been watching in disbelief as our “leaders” in government try to fix our economic distress. The Democrats are, once again, blaming it all on the “rich,” that elusive, unidentifiable group of madmen who are supposed to be bent upon the demise of our country as long as “they” manage to keep their money.

This is such a laughable proposition that I should be rolling on the floor, but the fact that there are actually people who belief this hogwash and vote based upon this belief keep my chuckles at bay. I cannot help but exclaim to myself, “Do people actually think that someone who is invested in our economy wants it to tank? What the heckfahr are they supposed to gain from an economy that’s closing businesses right and left and draining our tax rolls?”

Ah, but it’s not really economic dominance – nor even economic equality – that is sought here. It is power, the power that is wrung from an uneducated and mostly apathetic populace. For those who do not know better, it is easier to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the human condition rather than make educated arguments to persuade voters to understand your position. It is easier to cry “The rich, they are out to get you!” than to work hard to provide equal opportunity to those less fortunate. Indeed, if those “less fortunate” were to become successful, much of the power base of these sleazebag politicians would be lost. Notice that “the rich” won’t be found in any list anywhere. “The rich” is not merely those who are lucky enough to have incomes over a certain amount. (Note that the “luck” is often disguised by the years of hard work, sacrifice, and assumed risk.) No, “the rich” are not evil unless they also subscribe to a certain political attitude, blaming their “fellow rich” of the opposite political spectrum for all of the evils. I suppose dollar bills, like sand*, have a memory, and reflect the social mores of their last owner. That evil, evil money! Except the money from the likes of George Soros and his ilk!

It is more expedient for the power hungry politicians to appeal to the base emotions of the uneducated in order to gain their votes and keep their power. One of those base emotions, and one of the Seven Deadly (or Capital) Sins, is Envy. Envy keeps one from being happy. Envy makes it easy to not achieve. Envy lets the lazy offload their personal guilt over non-achievement to focus their frustration elsewhere. You don’t have a lot of money? Well, then, the rich people must have taken it from you! They refuse to even think that accumulating wealth is not a zero-sum game, where if one wins it means another loses. They think of wealth as coming from a finite pile of money, and if someone else grabs larger handfuls of the cash it means there is less for someone else. Even with the wealth of information available in public schools and free libraries, it easier to blame someone else for their failures than to bootstrap themselves through self-discipline and a taxpayer supplied education. Envy! Be jealous of someone else’s good fortune! Don’t be happy for the success of others! Noooo, carry that weight of envy and anger and allow yourself to be manipulated into voting for those who would continue your plight, in order to retain their power.

I teach the pre-confirmation class at my church, and last week’s discussion was Sin & Virtue. We talked about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Three Theological Virtues, and the Seven Capital Sins. When we got to envy, I asked if any of the students had heard about how to keep crabs in a bucket. One of them had, and explained to his fellow students the best way to do it. If a bucket holds only one crab, that crab will escape the bucket every time, unless a lid is used. However, if two or more crabs are in the bucket, as soon as one crab starts making progress out, the other crab will reach up and pull it down.

The envious class is treated like a bucket of crabs. They continually try to pull down those who are escaping their poverty bucket, and peer in awe at that godlike creature that put them in that position in the beginning. That godlike creature has every reason to keep them in that bucket. Little do the crabs realize that they are the main course for the godlike creature who wants to keep them right where they are.

*A reference to Al Gore’s book on the environment. I refuse to supply the name.