traditional church with book pages lining front walls
Connectivity, Stunted World Changers

Why Non-Christians Might Feel They Don’t Fit at Church

I am beginning to understand why non-Christians don’t feel comfortable at church.

Angelus Temple skylineChurch people are weird. They hug a lot. They sing a lot. They even have a lot of terms every church person seems to catch that don’t make sense in daily life: prayer request, praise report, clap offering, secular, and even non-Christian. But while these words can be disarming, it’s the stuff that happens in a church service that can make even less sense.

Since I moved to the greater Los Angeles area earlier this year, I’ve been looking for a new church to call “home.” In Reno, where I’d previously lived, I’d found a family in my church. But recently I had to start over.

And even as a Christian, I wasn’t sure how to feel about half the things I saw in churches I visited.

At one church, while people collected tithe (10 percent of your income, given back to God through His church for all He has given you), a young girl belted out lyrics in a solo with a literal spotlight. I blinked. Wait, was there a Beyoncé voice impression scheduled that I didn’t know about?

Then there’s the church with gluten-free communion crackers beside miniscule plastic cups of grape juice. That’s conscientious, I suppose. It just struck me as odd.contemporary church service

Then I saw countless banners, proclaiming the names of Jesus, the attributes of Jesus, the predictions for Jesus. All in jewel-toned primary colors with gold tassels and Brush Script style fonts.

One church had a literal wooden bridge outside for people to walk across as they chose to accept Jesus as the bridge between sinful people and a holy God.

One church had three tiers of balconies, a big screen to see the pastor preach in contemporary style, and stain glass windows as a reminder of its history.

One church had ripped pages of random books stapled to its walls, parchments to signify the story we’re all living.

Some churches have their own T-shirts, their own sunglasses, their coffee shops, and their bumper stickers. Some still use pews and hymnals and an only old-school piano. Some church people even meet outside on the lawns of public parks.

Gluten-Free communion crackersAmid these atmospheres—whether the air is clear or clouded with smoke from a backstage fog machine—are people. And church people can be weird.

I understand, to a small degree, why people who aren’t used to church don’t feel comfortable in our churches. I found my reasons, and I’m sure each person can add their own. I don’t presume to know them all.

Between the communion crackers, the jewel-tone banners, and a preacher’s words, we feel a bit lost.

It’s not familiar.

We don’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But church is filled with people.

Many times, I reminded myself that going to a church for the first time isn’t much different than going to a party or going to a first day of school. There’s the introvert who can’t muster the nerve to talk to his neighbor. There’s the know-it-all who forgets she can learn from others. Cliques still form when people find people with whom they connect.traditional church with book pages lining front walls

And if you don’t reach out to others, they likely won’t reach out to you. Sure, you might get lucky. An extrovert might find you on your first day. But you also might be alone for a while. I learned I had to make the effort even at church, and I couldn’t expect everyone to come to me.

Jesus promises to meet you where you are, and He never fails. People try their best to emulate Him, but sometimes we fail. So, please, be patient with us when you come through the church doors.

In the meantime, reach out. Get involved. Team up with someone you meet, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after the service, and ask questions.

Every church has its own customs. Every family has its own norm.

Like a family member, try your best to connect with others in the house. You may not see eye-to-eye on it all, but you’ll likely find the friendship (or as Christians might say, the “fellowship”) is worth coming together with people different than you.

Together you can discover what church is designed to be.

Photos (featuring churches visited) and words: Ally Siwajian

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Runner in Color Me Rad
Daily Life, Stunted World Changers

Fear and Forward Motion: Reflections on the Past Year

Last year, I wanted to learn to live again. This year, I want to learn to love life again.

I want to appreciate the little things I take for granted and to remember to find something extraordinary in each ordinary day. To awake in the morning with the sun shining through my window and to say, ‘That’s incredible.’

Runner in Color Me Rad

One of my 2012 highlights: Finishing the Color Me Rad Reno 5K with good friends and family! I totally took a pop of color to the face!

In 2012, life raced by. I challenged myself to find the balance between apathy and overworked. I considered why we couldn’t just learn to live simply. I berated the fact I couldn’t write more, do more, be more. I wondered why accomplishment, that elusive sensation, never stayed for long. And I wondered why fear never seemed to set foot away from my doorstep.

I learned a lot in 2012. I achieved personal goals, like becoming a vegetarian to support Mom through her health issues and lifestyle changes. Training for my first 5K, even though I couldn’t run for a quarter of a mile when I started. Meeting celebrities, like blogger Perez Hilton and The Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, and discovering a “work event” meant attending a CeeLo Green concert on a warm September evening.

I also fought fear … and likewise often succumbed to it. I thought about money issues and financial struggles much more than I’d like to admit. I worried about friendships and relationships and the changes that happen as people grow. I cared a lot about image, and I didn’t share as much as I may have liked on this blog for fear of crowds.

This past year was ripe with frustration at my own immobility. A lot of that boils down to how much I take for granted. I saw myself as stuck, merely existing, just there. Toward the latter half of the year, I realized as much. Sometimes it’s not your circumstances that need to change. It’s your perspective that needs to shift.

This year I want that focus. I want to choose forward motion over stagnancy, positive thinking over “realism,” and faith over fear. Remind me of that, friends.

Photo credit: Anthony and Ally Siwajian © 2013

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hand prints
Stop Social Injustice, World News

Evil always wants an audience

Evil is not content to stay in the shadows.

The thief wants acknowledgement. The murderer can’t hide for long. The adulterer eventually takes the relationship public. The liar lets loose a little too much, and those who envy are bound to show it with time.

Evil is not content to stay in the shadows. It wants a scene. It wants a screen, and it wants to be seen—to be known and feared and reviled and celebrated.

We must stop giving evil its stage.

As someone who cares about stopping social injustice, I do think we need to know about evil in our world. But just watching it… just reading the news… just following the updates: That is not the answer.

In the wake of this past week’s horrific shooting at an American elementary school, I read a friend’s Facebook post that struck a chord within me. Its writer asked people to stop announcing they were praying for families and to start taking action.

I found out about the shooting through Facebook—through people who offered their prayers.

Those of you who know me or have read my Blog’s Motivation know I believe in prayer. It is a good gift from God the Father to enable His kids (us) to communicate with Him directly, and it is powerful tool in time of need. But I have to agree with my Facebook friend on this one. If all we have is faith that is not accompanied by action, then our faith is dead (James 2:15-17).

But when faced with such tragedy, what actions do we take?

Continue to pray. Then…

Honor the fallen victims, rather than sensationalize the criminal.hand prints

Send cards to survivors.

Add a heartfelt comment to an online memorial page.

Donate to a relief agency or grief counseling organization.

Support a hospital, mental health center, or medical group.

Sponsor a funeral fund.

And do not condemn those who do not immediately follow in your footsteps.

We need to empower people by sharing what they can do to help.

Rather than tell the tale of the criminal and his craziness over and over, rather than give evil continued audience, let us make people aware of the situation and ways to support survivors. Then don’t stop there.

Begin to act proactively as well.

Find ways to give all the time (because giving is good), not just in times of national tragedy. Reach out to your community and its victims. Volunteer. Donate regularly. Build relationships.

Take the space where evil would make its stage, and instead claim it for good. This takes faith in Jesus, who genuinely knows how to overcome evil with good. This takes action. And this takes all of us together.

Let us do this. Let us change the scene, the conversation, and the images that occupy the corners of our TVs, computer screens, and brainwaves.

Overcome evil with good.

Photograph credit: Allyson Siwajian © 2012

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Lauren with sun glasses
Discover Your Dream, Influential Interviews, Stunted World Changers

Warning: Not Your Typical Missionary: An Interview with Lauren in Las Vegas

Lauren with sun glasses

Meet Lauren from Las Vegas!

This summer, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Lauren Patton.

She’s 22 years old, loves a creamy cup of coffee, and brings new volume to the term “Laugh Out Loud.” Behind her long, blonde hair and favorite plastic shades, Lauren loves Jesus.

Today I want to bring you a look into her life as a less-than-typical missionary to Las Vegas, Nevada—a city I love and a place Lauren has decided to devote her time, passion, and energy.

Ally: You’ve traveled to the Philippines. You’ve lived in India, and you’ve even spent time in Canada. Why did you choose your hometown Las Vegas, Nevada, as the place for you to be a missionary-in-the-making?

Lauren:  “Funny story actually. I was in Youth With A Mission (YWAM)’s Discipleship Training School and I actually was in India, and I felt like the LORD told me in October 2010 that I was supposed to go back home to Las Vegas by January.

“I said, ‘You know, that sounds all fun and good. But I want to go to the nations, and I want to go all over the place. I don’t want to go back to Vegas.’

“I finished up the last two months in India. I prayed about it again, and I was like: ‘Okay, LORD, where do you want me to go?’ And He said: ‘I want you to go to Vegas.’

“So I came back home to Vegas, and I was like: ‘LORD, I don’t know what to do.’ And He was like, ‘I want you to join the YWAM base in Vegas.’ And I was like, ‘There’s no YWAM base in Vegas. I’ve lived in Vegas my whole life. That’s a bunch of balogne.’ And He was like, ‘Oh really. Go Google it.’

“So I Google YWAM. And, of course, YWAM Vegas is the first thing that pops up. I was like, ‘Okay. You are LORD. I am not. You have spoken. I have not. I’m going to YWAM Vegas!’ I’ve been at that base for fifteen months now.”

Now you’re working at the YWAM Las Vegas base on F Street and Washington. What does a day in the life of Lauren look like?

“Well, it depends on which season I’m in. I work with a program called Mission Adventures, where I recruit these youth groups and we have these kids come, anywhere from ages 9 to 28. We teach them how to share their faith and how to show God’s love wherever they go.

Laur with storm troopers

Lauren (second from right) isn’t afraid to have fun! Here her outreach team joins stormtroopers on the Strip!

“So if I’m in a season where the kids are in town, then my day is jam-packed from 7:30 in the morning ‘til 11:00 at night. I’m either cooking a meal or I’m teaching a lesson, doing small groups, washing dishes, organizing outreaches, like holding a giant sign on Fremont Street that says, ‘Come get free prayer.’

“We also do a thing where a couple of my friends and I will go down in front of the Bally’s casino on the Strip and basically play worship songs right there with everybody else. It’s really fun.

“Then for promotions for Mission Adventures, I’m usually sitting at my desk praying and asking the LORD for new ideas on how to promote. It’s either making cool videos, or it’s calling churches and trying to promote that way.”

Now you’ve also done some work through The Pier in Vegas as well, right?

“Yeah, it’s a community resource center. Basically what we do is we feed low-income families. We give them boxes of food per number in the household. We get 700 pounds of food from Three Square Food Bank on Mondays. Then I’ll organize it with the local church on Monday afternoon. Then on that Tuesday, people with appointments will come and we give out food.”

From office work to working with kids, how do you keep up your energy level and what motivates you to do this?

“I’m a people person! If I’m around people, I can get a lot of energy. So that’s easy! But if I’m in the office for promotions, it’s a struggle. Some days, you just really got to fight and push through.

“When you tell yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ you’ve just got to remember: ‘If I don’t work now, if I don’t try to get teams now, then nobody’s going to come next summer. Nobody’s getting transformed for Jesus. Nobody’s changing lives. Nothing is happening.’

“Then I usually go on Pandora and find some really upbeat music.”

You’ve inspired kids and adults alike with your life story. You say you’ve transformed from someone who had no hope to someone with purpose, passion, and a lot of joy. Who or what helped you in difficult times?

“My motto is: ‘Who I am hates who I’ve been. But I’m called to love those like I once was.’

“When I say ‘I hate who I was,’ it’s because who I was, was suicidal. Who I was had no purpose. Who I was had no joy. I was a metaphorical walking zombie, if you know what I mean. I had nothing to live for. I was just going through the motions of day-to-day life.

girl hugs Jesus

Lauren is also an artist. She created this cool picture to recognize Jesus has rescued her. (Yes, that is manga Jesus.)

“But God is good. He totally saved me that night I tried to take my life. He wouldn’t let me die. He is the reason I am alive.

“People supported me in that tough time in my life. People I didn’t even know that well were reaching out to me, in my church or at school.

“I mean, you can’t beat suicide in a day. You can’t beat it in a night. You can’t beat it in a month. For some of us, it takes years. But you just have to know: There is life. There is purpose. There is a reason why you’re going through what you’re going through.

“I know something the LORD has really been speaking to me about a lot of crap in my past is: It’s not God’s will for this to happen. But He has a plan for what has happened.

“While I hate who I used to be, I cannot hate those who are like the old me. I have to love on them. I want to reach out to them.”

It’s encouraging to hear how you want to reach out to help others. Can just anybody be missions-minded?

“A lot of people have this mentality of ‘Oh, I have to go to third-world countries: to serve in Africa, to serve in the jungles of the Amazon, to serve in rural places. Well, as I learned in the Philippines, you can live in Beverly Hills and be a missionary. You can be in Tent City and be a missionary. You can be in Reno and be a missionary. You can be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and be a missionary.

Lauren by grafitti wall

Anybody can change the world. Lauren (far left) and her friends can. So can you!

“To be a missionary just means that you accept the mission that God has given you personally and that you go and you share the Gospel.

“You’re going out to your neighbors and saying, ‘Hey, we’re a couple of kids. Can we serve you?’ We don’t need to always speak the name of Jesus. We could just be nice.

Anybody can be a missionary. You just go out and do what the LORD calls you to do. The LORD’s going to equip you to go wherever you need to go. That’s all there is to it.”

What’s next for you?

“I’m going to Dallas, Texas, for seminary school. Then it’s right back to Las Vegas to start the LOVE Revolution and transform Sin City to Saint City!”

Words: Ally Siwajian and Lauren Patton © 2013

Photo credit: Sarah Nilame and Lauren Patton © 2012

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Advocacy Tips, Connectivity, Daily Life, Stop Social Injustice

Every day is grief awareness day when you’ve lost someone you love

This past Thursday, November 15, 2012, I wore a blue shirt as part of a movement to commemorate Children’s Grief Awareness Day and speak about the needs of grieving children and young people. Yes, kids are resilient. But they cannot be expected to bounce back within a specific time frame.

As a culture, we too often expect the same of adults. Not at first. No, at first, it’s:

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“That’s so sad. I’ll be thinking about you.”

“May I make you a meal or bring you a card or talk with you for a while?”

That’s how it starts. It’s heartfelt. It’s genuine. But time passes, and time is expected to heal all wounds.

“You should be over this by now, don’t you think?”

“It’s not healthy for you to still be sad these days.”

Perhaps instead we should continue to offer help, empathy, and heartfelt care to those who are grieving even as time passes.

“I’m here for you.”

“How can I help? Not just this once, but any time for a long a time.”

When I think of friends and family members who have died (and yes, let’s not use euphemisms here), it never feels good. But it feels less bad with time. That’s called healing. As we grieve, we must learn how to heal. As time passes, the intense sorrow will subside and make way for a dull ache, that pang when you remember.

It’s not Grief Awareness Day today. But I am aware of my grief today.

So I choose to remember, to channel grief creatively, and to choose the path to healing.

I think of you when…

I scroll past your phone number in my contact list.

I wear your ski jacket to stay warm.

I glimpse your photo framed by the front door.

I drive my scarlet car with your name embroidered on the dashboard cover.

I observe a yellow Labrador running in the park.

I look for the signature 925 on a piece of silver jewelry, just like you taught me.

I carry cash bills in my jeans’ front pocket, not the back.

I pledge allegiance to the flag.

I notice waitresses’ faces at Caesars Palace.

I see someone in gray scrubs.

I hear someone speak your name.

Take time to remember your loved ones today.

If you would like to share a small eulogy or a few memories of someone for whom you care who has died, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

I am standing with you.

To leave a comment, use your WordPress ID or select “Name/URL” to enter your first name, e-mail address (which will not be published), your message, and (optional) the link to your blog’s home page. Thank you.

Photo credit: Ally Siwajian © 2012

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Sketchbook with words: Move. This is the story of ... young dreamers, trying to move the world, the chaos that followed, and what's next.
Connectivity, Discover Your Dream, Stop Social Injustice, Stunted World Changers, World News

MOVE: In the aftermath of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012

Author’s Note: This post assumes the audience knows of nonprofit organization Invisible Children and its mission. For introductory information, please view the following videos: Who is the LRA, TONY: Lose All. Gain Everything, KONY 2012: Part 1, and KONY 2012: Part 2.

           

On March 5, 2012, nonprofit organization Invisible Children released their KONY 2012 video to kick-off their latest campaign to call for awareness, justice, and unification. Millions of viewers watched the film on YouTube, and millions shared the video via social media. A new era dawned. People knew, and people cared in mass numbers.

But with glorified success, Invisible Children and its Creative Director Jason Russell also faced scathing criticism. In the Western world, we have the privilege to share our dissent and to do so publicly with whatever words we choose. I am grateful for freedom of speech. But sometimes we forget who is on the receiving end of our verbal pitchforks.

In March, I watched with the world as Jason Russell, one of my heroes, fell beneath the weight of a burden he was not prepared to carry. I had met Jason briefly at The Rescue in 2009, and his messages of hope, his cries for creativity, and his inspiration for activism had empowered me with the knowledge that every life matters. As such, we each should do all we can to let everyone know they are valued.Sketchbook with words: Move. This is the story of ... young dreamers, trying to move the world, the chaos that followed, and what's next.

Sooner or later, we all have to MOVE.

I would like to invite you to peek further into this chapter of Invisible Children’s campaigns and the movement to stop the use of children as soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This film, MOVE, will illustrate the rise and fall of leaders. It will elucidate the emotions felt by those on both sides of the debate.

Most of all, I like it because it restores hope. If you’re looking to find hope in your own life or to bring hope to others, I think you will find you like it too.

I respect a man who will publicly apologize for actions he realizes were wrong and accept the consequences. If anyone can fall that far and that hard, only to stand back up and ask forgiveness and dedicate himself to “Stop at Nothing,” well, then what Jason told me at The Rescue in 2009 is true: “Anything is possible.” So dream. Dream big. Imagine the world you want to live within. But don’t stop there. Stand up, say something, and urge people to take action with you.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Please, friends, keep it clean and keep it friendly. Comments will be published after moderator’s approval. Thanks.

Photograph and video: Invisible Children Inc.

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girl in a crowd
Scripture Study, Stop Social Injustice, Stunted World Changers

Do you know The Voice of Justice?

Welcome to Missions-Minded Mondays, the day of the week where I focus on Scripture, social injustice, and solutions.

girl in a crowd

Justice can be a tough and often touchy topic.

We have to learn how to view it in a moral sense, not in a political sense. Only then can we decipher what is true and what is good and what is worth pursuing with our words and actions.

I want to start our journey into the notions of “justice” and “injustice” with a call to discernment.

To do this, I’d like to encourage you to take a few minutes to watch the following video. It’s a brilliant piece of spoken word, created with a powerful message and directed intentionally for the screen. As you watch this, please consider the questions presented by its creator, Micah Bournes.

When presented with equally convincing rhetoric, can you discern the voice of justice from the voice of injustice?

When I first watched this video at a conference in Bend, Oregon, I shuddered. I identified with far too many ideas from “the other side.” Perhaps you can relate. But ultimately, as I examine what I really want for (not from) this world, I realize how my motives can be checked and corrected to instead be an advocate for true freedom.

Now the question becomes: How do we follow the call to justice?

Jesus gives the answer in Matthew 22:37-40. He lists the Greatest Commandments as this: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I would like to challenge us to redefine “social justice” to mean following the Greatest Commandments:

Love God. Love others.

Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann says: “Love of neighbor is a way to exhibit love of God.” As we go forward this week, let’s look for ways to do this. I’m thinking of this too.

  • How can I better love God?
  • How can I better love people?

As I discover the answers, I hope to not simply think about what I could do.

I want the courage to put these ideas into tangible actions.

I wish the same for you.

Let me know about your journey in the comments section below. What did you take away from this video? How do you plan to better pursue the voice of justice?

“Be not only hearers … but doers of the Word.” – James 1:22

Video: directed by Nate Salciccioli, starring Lauren Edwards and Micah Bournes

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