Entries with tag christian gonzalez .

3 Reasons I Keep Rewatching Parks and Recreation

A few weeks ago, Steve and Emma took on Game of Thrones after our summer hiatus from Y2AM’s weekly podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour. The episode raised a bit of controversy as some perceived that Y2AM was offering a whole-hearted endorsement of the show, and while we were quick to suggest that it’s worth watching “if you have the stomach for it,” Steve and Emma nonetheless continued with the stated purpose of PCCH, which is simply looking for Christ even in the darkest of places. For those caught in the middle of the controversy, Steve issued an apology, which you can read here.

 

This week, however, Christina and I teamed up for what will doubtless be a remarkably less controversial episode of PCCH, wherein we discuss one our mutual favorite shows: Parks and Recreation.  I’ve seen all seven seasons at least three times each, and honestly, I keep wanting to go back for more. Christina and I dive into some of the finer points of what makes Parks and Rec such a great show (you can listen to the full episode here), but for now, here’s three reasons why I keep coming back to the show.

  1. The Writing

I was an English major in college, and after graduating, I had the lofty idea that I was going to apply to screenwriting school. Needless to say, I didn’t get in, and so I instead pursued a life in counseling and ministry (I’m gonna go ahead and chalk that up to God having a different plan for me than I did). Regardless, I have remained a junky for great writing, particularly in television. This is the reason I love shows like Arrested Development, The Office, and 30 Rock. While AD might be my favorite of all time, Parks and Rec comes in a very close second.

It’s hard to talk about this show without noting the genius lines that each character has. As Christina and I chatted, we couldn’t help but quote the show at every opportunity we got. It’s truly amazing to me that human beings would be so creative, that they would have the potential to put together such a flawless story while also making it impeccably hilarious. If you’re going to stop and watch Parks and Rec, you can’t stop listening for two seconds, otherwise you might miss a joke.

The writing is truly a testament to the creative power of creative people, and I can’t help but sit back and marvel that God could make people so capable of making something so wonderful.

2) The Characters

This show is full of amazing humans. Actually, it’s pretty silly. The people are ridiculous. But somehow Parks and Rec takes a random group of people, throws them together in a local government job, and magic happens. Each of them is a misfit, but somehow, they belong together. When I watch, I can’t help but feel that maybe this is in someway an image of what the Church ought to be.

Everyone is unique and have plenty of disagreements, yet somehow, they are able to stick together, to be (for the most part) unwavering for one another. Too often, however, it seems the Church is not a place for such celebration of communion amidst diversity, but rather becomes yet one more place in this divided where we are all too willing to cast the first stone at people who aren’t like us. Rather than working toward the Kingdom together, we become distracted by arguments that defame other persons.

Generally speaking, in Parks and Rec, we don’t see people who disagree with one another calling into question one another’s moral standing. Of course, there are some characters in the show who are portrayed as despicable (and rightly so), but the core crew is a group of people devoted to working together not only in spite of their differences, but through their differences. It is not uniformity that makes them strong, but unity amidst diversity. If only we could learn this lesson, too.

3) The Light

Finally, I continue to come back to Parks because it’s just so darn pleasant. It’s happy. I don’t think you have to look very far to find Christ because He radiates through the warmth and love of the people who run the Pawnee Parks Department. It’s a very silly show, but doggonit, I’m so happy to find something that I know will cheer me up when I’m faced by the realities of today’s world. It’s not that such a show distracts me from the horrors of reality, but rather it gives me hope to face the horrors of today.

Parks and Rec paints a fun, joyful, light-filled vision for the possibility of communal life together. It is my hope that you’ll listen to our podcast, watch the show, and find as much hope for the future as Christina and I did.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, homebrewer, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Yes, I Read *The Benedict Option*

Recently, one of my friends read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and strongly suggested that I do likewise. I was a bit hesitant, to be sure, feeling like I was about to be inundated with political lingo and reasons that the Religious Conservative Right was under siege from the Secular Liberal Left, and frankly - ain’t nobody got time for that.

I have enough problems. I thought. I don’t need to hear all the bad news about how the Church is under attack. And so I wrote it off.

Then I learned that many people I love and respect have been wrestling through Dreher’s work, and so I suddenly felt that perhaps it was time that I give it a go, and so I decided to follow suite, and bought The Benedict Option on Audible.

While a review of Dreher’s book is beyond the scope of this post, I can say that my time with The Benedict Option has awakened something within me: a longing for a truly Christian community. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, a part of a group of people that are committed to living out the virtues and struggles of the Christian life together.

I think one of the biggest problems I face in my own Christian life is that of isolation. I frequently feel like my spirituality is something that I’m responsible for muscling through on my own, and so I despair. I feel lonely in my striving to follow Christ, and it becomes all too easy to let myself off the hook when it comes to the struggle that is inherent in learning to be a disciple of Christ, of learning to deny myself, take up the cross, and follow Him.

I know that the Church exists as a rampart of faith, a place where we can shore up courage as we learn to battle the passions together, but functionally, it doesn’t really seem like that. For me, it often feels more like a weekly gathering of like-minded people who take refuge in being kind-of-like one another. In part, this is due to the fact that so many of us live so far from our parishes that establishing any kind of day-in-day-out rhythm of life is simply impossible. So each Sunday we come together and return to our individual huts where we are responsible for holding on for another seven days. And frankly, this is simply getting tiring for me.

It’s not that I don’t believe. It’s just that I don’t have the strength to act like it on my own. And so, as I’m reading The Benedict Option, I find myself longing for a community of faith, a community that is dedicated to the teaching of Christ, committed to living out what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.

I don’t mean this as laziness on my part. It’s not that I don’t want to do it on my own. It’s just that I can’t. I get too weighed down by the demands of my daily life: waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, waking up again to the demands of a hungry toddler, needing to get ready for work, maintaining a caseload, feeling guilty about not making it to the gym more, and amidst all this, trying to be the perfect husband who helps out around the house as much as possible while having a keen financial plan that will allow us to make a down payment on a house in a year...well, it’s just a lot. Then when someone tells me that I have to say my prayers, spend an hour in silence, and prepare for confession...honestly, those just seem like more things on top of an already very long to-do list.

Again, it’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I simply don’t have the energy on my own.

But I have this imagination that if I were part of a community, a real community of Orthodox Christians where our kids played together after school and we gathered together for evening prayers or reader’s vespers on the regular, somehow this would make it all feel more manageable.

I’m just tired. I’m tired of believing on my own. I’m tired of feeling like I have to keep my head above water by my own effort. I understand that this is an essential component of being a disciple, but it cannot be the entirety of it. If the monks are a part of a community that is committed to prayer as a way of life and the central grounding point of their life together; why shouldn’t lay people in the world want the same thing?

And so, I think I’m going to make this my quest in the next year or so. I want to make an intentional effort to build a community of Christians committed to living out the Gospel. I don’t mean that I simply want more “church events.” I want the Church, the assembled body of believers to be the center of my life so that I may continue to strive to draw near to the Lord with the fear of God, in faith and in love.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, homebrewer, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Christ Comes First

Last week, we at Y2AM hosted the 2017 Youth and Camper Workers Conference in Austin, Texas. Well, to be honest, it was more like all my co-workers who pulled it off; I seriously had the chance simply to show up and participate. They poured tons of work into the conference, and it showed.

The theme of the conference was “The Seamless Garment of Christ.” Steve chose this theme because in practice, we often pursue what he calls an “ice cube tray model” of ministry. The idea is that we separate our ministries into individual segments of work: GOYA, Young Adults, Women, Men, etc. Usually these ice cubes are kept separate and don’t interact with each other much. Our idea at Y2AM, however, is that if we are going to function properly as the Body of Christ, then we need to understand that these ministries, while distinct, should never be separated.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Stephen Freeman, the author of the excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things, started us off by perfectly introducing the topic. He suggested that everything in the Church – the icons, the sacraments, the music – existed for one purpose: Christ. They exist to unite us to Christ; for in Christ are all things complete and contained. He even capped this thought perfectly by saying, “When we speak of anything, we speak of everything, because we speak of the One Thing: Christ.”

As the conference progressed and various speakers contributed, I noticed that I heard the name of Jesus spoken more than I’ve ever heard Him spoken at any other Orthodox event I’ve ever attended. We love to speak of “Orthodoxy” or “the Faith” or even the “Ancient Faith,” but hearing each speaker offer a meditation of which Christ was the Center struck me as somehow sadly unusual.

But as I’ve thought more about this, I find that the reality is simple: our ministries can never be united unless they are united in Christ because they are actually His Ministry. There is one priesthood: Christ’s. There is one Church: Christ’s. And unless we keep Him at the forefront our meditation, at the forefront of our work, then we will never achieve the unity that we seek.

All of our ministry must be oriented toward Christ and His Kingdom; if we focus on anything else, then we are doomed from the start. His presence must infiltrate our entire lives. We must be His and His alone, seeing that all things are given to us by Him and that all things exist for Him and that all things are only fulfilled in Him.

Our ministries cannot oversimplify the Gospel, offering moralistic platitudes and feel-goodery with humanistic undertones. If we do this, if we pull our punches when it comes to Christ and water down the depth of the gospel, then we actually inoculate people against Christ, giving them just enough of the faith not to turn them off to Christ, but not enough to open the compelling reality of Life in Him. Christ simply becomes boring, something people “already know about,” rather than Someone people are invited to encounter and follow.

We boldly need to reclaim the scandal that is the Person of Jesus Christ, the God who became Man, who dwelt among us and ascended the Cross in the flesh, calling all people who wish to follow Him to take up their cross also and to follow Him to their own deaths.

Christian ministry must primarily be about Christ, and if it is not, then it is not Ministry. It is simply a philosophy that guides how we interact with others. Indeed, if we don’t have Christ as the Center of all our ministry, of all our preaching, of all our life, then we are only wasting our time.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman's Keynote address below:

 

Life Lessons from "This Is Us" - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

My wife and I are huge fans of NBC’s new show, This is Us. We love it so much, that we are even willing to admit that Mandy Moore isn’t annoying in this particular show. Seriously. She isn’t.

The show follows a family of five. Jack and Rebecca Pearson are the parents of three triplets, two biological (Kevin and Kate) and one adopted (Randall). This is Us does something unique with its storytelling, however, by splitting the narrative into two timelines. One focuses on the life of the family when the kids were children (usually when they are 8 years old), while the other focuses on the lives of kids as adults, after Jack has died and Rebecca has remarried.

Each episode is full of joy, pain, struggle, and reality as we follow these people’s lives and come to understand the unique issues that each faces. Almost every episode has made me cry at some point. Of course, it really isn’t too hard to make me cry, but still, I think it’s worth noting the emotional honesty of This is Us.

Even though Jack Pearson is dead in the timeline that follows the adult Pearson children, it is clear that he has made an indelible mark on his family. They love their father, and his family has been shaped by his optimism, his humor, and above all else, his utter dedication to them.

In the Thanksgiving episode, we learn that the Pearsons annually recreate their best Thanksgiving, which involved a 3.4 mile hike (to a convenience store), roasting hot dogs against an open furnace flame, and of course, a pilgrim’s hat. Behind each of these traditions is Jack’s unwavering faithfulness to his family, his devotion to ensuring that they are seen, loved, and cared for.

As a father myself now, watching this show resonates with me deeply. I look at how Jack has shaped his family’s life, and I can’t help but hope and pray that my children remember me as fondly as his remember him.

I hope that I leave a mark on my kids.

Jack’s mark, however, is not necessarily based in anything that he says. He doesn’t just have the right words at the right time for his kids, but rather, his impact is based on who he is. It is not so much the issue of Jack’s parenting, but rather it is the issue of Jack’s character.

I’ve talked with my wife a whole lot about how I want our girls to know and love the Lord, how I want them to feel brave and resilient, to have self-control and to be humble. We’ve discussed how we want them to stand up for goodness and truth but to be kind and merciful.

In watching This is Us, however, I increasingly realize that if I am to have any hope of my children learning these lessons from me, it has to be because I demonstrate them myself. You can’t share what you don’t have.

If I wish my children to know and love the Lord, then I must decide today that I am going to relentlessly pursue knowledge of and love for the Lord myself. If I want them to be tender, compassionate and merciful, then I need to demonstrate tenderness, compassion, and mercy in my dealings with them.

Above all else, This is Us has made me look at my own life and my own heart and realize how desperately I need to work on orienting myself toward Christ before I even dream of having an impact on my children. Both parenting and following the Lord are not just about saying the right words, but rather they must be about becoming the kind of person who has the right words instinctively, as a second nature.

St. Seraphim of Sarov is frequently quoted for saying, “Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.” I guess “a thousand” must start in my own home, with my own wife and my own children. But even before them, it starts with me, with my own acquiring the Spirit of peace.

This Nativity fast has been trying (and not because of the food). I have continually been presented with opportunities to see myself clearly, to admit that I’m quickly frustrated and extremely defensive/offensive when people disagree with me. It sucks.

But if I’m going to teach my children to repent, it means I’m going to have to model repentance in my own life, it means that I’m going to have to see myself clearly, that I’m going to have to model self-understanding and then the humility it takes to admit that I was wrong.

This is Us has been a fantastic show. It has given me an image for the kind of husband and father I want to be. Jack Pearson isn’t without his faults, but he is committed to his family, and that’s a commitment he passes on to his family.

My hope and prayer is that I, too, can become a man of commitment, first to the Lord and then to my family. Instead of just talking to my kids about Jesus, I’ll be able to talk to them as someone who knows Him, trusting that His grace will fill my words and kindle the fire of love for Him in their own hearts too.

Photo credits: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more on this idea, check out this episode of The Trench:

 
 

Finally, A Blog Post About Zelda - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

The other night, I found myself with a little bit of time that I normally don’t have. My wife had some stuff to do, and both kids were sleeping soundly, so I decided to play some video games. As a married father of two, I haven’t had time to do this in years, but I was so excited as the beginning credits of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword began.

I quickly hopped into the mode of being in on some sort of epic quest to leave the floating island of Skyloft in order to descend to the Surface to rescue Zelda and to begin establishing the Kingdom of Hyrule.

Dorky. I know.

But silly animations and annoying cinematic scenes aside, I was completely wrapped up in the story, and I was eager to make my way through the clouds and begin battling baddies with my trusty sword and less reliable wooden shield.

My wife has never really been into video games, but she caught a glimpse of my game-playing and very graciously asked me what I liked about this particular pastime.

I quickly explained to her that I primarily loved the story. It was epic. I was an English major in undergrad, largely because I love stories. I wasn’t the best English major in the world, but I always felt that if my imagination could be captured by something worth capturing it, then my heart might be changed.

Secondly, I explained, I loved that this story wasn’t something I merely observed (like a book or film), but that the story was something in which I participated. Indeed, this was the same reason I minored in Theater in undergrad. The stories I enacted had already been written, sure, but I was able to help bring them about.  

As I responded, it began to dawn on me that the very things I love about playing a game like Zelda are actually some of the very things that make being a Christian so incredible. We, too, are part of a story in which we are invited to participate.

God has written an incredible story, a story in which He is the author and the main character. His story has to do with the creation and redemption of the cosmos, inviting all human beings into a living and eternal relationship with Him in His Kingdom.

It is a story with great twists and turns, a Hero that dies, appearing defeated, and Who returns from the land of the dead having undone death itself! And while we may look at our own lives and see them headed for the grave, we know that because of God’s Story, death is not the end.

What’s more, we know that God’s Kingdom is coming. A Kingdom in which there is no more death, no more mourning, no more pain nor suffering. A Kingdom in which death has no say, but only life.

We know the end of the story, but we are called to participate in that story today.

We are on an epic quest toward the Kingdom of God, the story having already been written and completed in Christ. Knowing that Christ wins, we can bravely enter the dark world. We can go boldly into the unknown suffering of the poor, the need of our neighbors, trusting that God is at work to bring forth redemption.

Knowing that we cannot ultimately be defeated, we can risk our lives (after all, Resurrection is the promise in Christ) for other people, living for others as we battle the forces of death and Hell in our own contexts.

Of course, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we can make the end of the story come about. Only God can bring forth the Kingdom in God’s own time. But we can incline ourselves toward the Kingdom, and we can commend one another and our whole life toward that end.

In God’s Kingdom, for example, there is no more mourning. Never.

As far as I can see, in this life, our experience of grief is something here to stay. But we can sit with people who despair. We can undo the bondage of the loneliness of mourning by offering our presence in the middle of someone’s deep sadness.

We may not be able to fix this problem for someone, but our presence in the midst of someone’s pain bears witness to our belief that a Kingdom is coming in which mourning will ultimately be powerless. By sharing in the suffering of another, our action says, “Hey, I’m not scared. Your suffering can’t defeat me, and that’s how I know it can’t defeat you. Let’s get through this. Together.”

We have been invited into an epic quest. I’ll admit that I think it would be super cool if our weapons were things like swords, mirror shields, and grappling hooks, but I suppose that the weaponry of love and service is pretty good, too. Especially for a Kingdom that is not of this world, but of the world to come.

Photo Credits:
Depositphotos
Resurrection Icon photo by Steve Christoforou

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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