I'm still learning the middle school dialect

K-pop band BTS

One of the side benefits of teaching confirmation class to seventh and eighth graders each year is that it exposes me to some elements of pop culture that I would never have noticed on my own.

One of my students turned in a sermon report from Epiphany Sunday with a comment at the bottom, “‘Epiphany’ is the name of a really good BTS song!” And just like that, I took a step into the world of K-pop, or Korean pop music, which to me looks like a reincarnation of 1990s boy bands like Back Street Boys and N Sync. Maybe it’s more accurate to call the genre an extrapolation of that musical era. The groups have more members, some are female, and incorporates hip-hop, electronica, and rock along with creative choreography.

I asked this student, “If I needed to cram for a test on K-pop, what videos would I want to watch?” She sent me a long list of YouTube videos to check out, but would only just scratch the surface. We’ll see how it goes as I begin to do a little research.

There is no Rosetta Stone for learning the middle school dialect. Besides, it changes from year to year. Three years ago I had a student who pretty much spoke in quotes from “The Big Bang Theory.” Bazinga! Others of my current students speak in memes, which they spend more time studying than their academics or the catechism. Some live in video game world. Others only understand metaphors from sports they’re involved in, from golf to football to martial arts. It’s always fun to discover how God’s Word speaks to all those “worlds” in which we live.

I’ll do better next time.

Last Monday morning, as I was reading the bible and journaling, I jotted down a few reflections about Sunday morning. I preach twice each Sunday morning and one sermon always goes a little better than the other. Sometimes it’s the first one, sometimes the second. Anyway, I noted that I left out an illustration the second time around, one that really helped me connect with that morning’s text. Of course, no one knew this but me. I’m the only person who heard the sermon twice that morning.

So I started pondering what I could do to do better next time. Should I have reviewed the sermon between Sunday School and the second worship service? Should I have practiced more the week before?

And then I paused and mused to myself, “After all these years, I am still trying to do better next time.” If I include some of my seminary field work and my vicarage, I’ve been preaching for over thirty-five years. One might assume I’ve got it down by now. But weekly a little voice in my mind suggests, “You can do better than that!”

I like to read articles, books and blogs, and watch videos about speaking effectively. I love to watch TED talks as much to learn as speaking as about the topic. My radar is always on when it comes to techniques that get people’s attention, how connect with listeners, the power of storytelling, and what people remember. I rarely learn anything new, for there is still nothing new under the sun. But it never hurts to reinforce what I’ve learned and remember what’s effective.

At the end of my journal entry, I wrote, “Don’t worry. If you forgot to mention something, it probably wan’t that important anyway. I’ll do better next time.” And I will.

Live from our chapel

Preaching live from the chapel

This past Advent and Christmas, I experimented with setting my iPhone in front of the church so that the service and sermon could be on Facebook live. It certainly wasn’t an elegant solution, just easy. Those watching only saw me during the sermon, but they could hear the rest of the service. I figured there is always someone who can’t get out, who can watch and listen and worship with us. They can even watch later since the video is saved indefinitely.

Right after the first of the year, I did a memorial service in our chapel. Some who would have attended couldn’t, so I set up my phone and they got to join us virtually.

So I started setting my phone out on Sunday mornings, too. I discovered that I had an audience. Some were former members who had moved to Wisconsin. Other viewers’ worship service had been cancelled due to a big winter storm in the Midwest. There were some who were sick and stayed home to rest.

I’ve been to churches that had multiple television cameras in the sanctuary to broadcast their worship services. I never thought something like that would be possible with the phone I usually keep in my pocket. Yet here we are, broadcasting live.

Learning to communicate

So I’m learning how to communicate with someone who can’t communicate. I’m talking about my three-week old granddaughter. I’m fascinated by one who can’t speak or understand a word, yet can communicate so much.

Her face, cries and body language effectively communicate discomfort, curiosity, recognition, surprise, anger and contentment. She responds to voice, music, touch, motion, a breeze, and a smile. Without speaking a word, we communicate very well with each other!

In contrast, there are many adults I speak with who completely misunderstand my words. Or sometimes as I listen I have no idea what someone is talking about.

So one of my “blessings du jour” is learning to communicate – from someone who herself is just learning how to communicate! My granddaughter reminds me to watch the eyes, the mouth, the hands and the feet. Those parts of the body speak non-verbal volumes. She also reminds me to listen to the pitch, the timbre, and the volume of the voice. Or the silence. When I pick her up and she suddenly calms down, it’s clear that she just needed to be held. Words weren’t necessary. But human touch was. My nose tips me off to what she needs, too. (And you know exactly what I’m talking about!)

Much of my work as a pastor is communication. I preach the word in season and out of season. I proclaim the excellencies of the one who called me out of darkness into his marvelous light. I’m ready to give a reason for the hope I have. I teach. I listen as a person confesses their sin, and then speak absolution. I have ears to hear God’s word. And I not only call upon him in the day of trouble, but I pray, praise and give thanks.

I am still learning how to do all these things, from someone who is also learning to communicate!