Fear Of Whales

Archive for May, 2011

Making Your Stand Against the Darkness

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In case you needed a reminder that our battle is not against flesh and blood…


Written by RyanGaffney

May 29th, 2011 at 12:28 am

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After camp I drove a couple of my students back home to Kansas. It was good to have the time with the three of them to engage and hear about camp from their perspective.

As a ministry we always try to include as much as we can from various cultural traditions, Kimchi at snack time, worship songs in Spanish, and so on. The goal is that everyone would adjust a little bit to to everyone else, So that we would all be a little bit uncomfortable and nobody has to be completely uncomfortable. Still, despite this, the camp was right in the middle of Missouri, and the great majority of people are white, so it took on a culture that was closer to white Midwestern than anything else.

The 3 girls I rode with were all black, and this made things more than a little bit uncomfortable for them as they adjusted to a culture that put them in a big room with what seemed like a sea of white people.

We talked about this for about an hour. Discussing what could have been done better, and what was done well enough to make them feel at home. Then we got distracted and started singing theme songs from TV shows. We made two stops on the trip, Once for lunch at a deep country BBQ shack, and once in Kansas City to take a break and switch cars. You’ll remember that earlier this year I lost my truck. so the first leg of the trip was in another staff worker’s car, and the next was in the Minivan I’ve been borrowing.

They missed Brandon, a Christian Rapper who left Staff recently to enter church ministry, so when we got into my Minivan I suggested we listen to the album he gave me (I was curious anyway.) By this time I’d been on the road for about 4 hours, the sun was getting low, the air was cool, and my leg was cramped, so I rolled down the window and rested my left leg on the mirror as I drove.

As we drove through Lawrence I stopped at a stoplight and saw that the car next to us had pulled out his camcorder. Apparently he had just never seen anything quite like a relaxed white man, driving through Kansas with 3 black girls while listening to christian Rap.

We turned up the music.


It turns out it’s not very hard at all to be so radical it turns heads.

Written by RyanGaffney

May 27th, 2011 at 10:30 pm

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Liturgical Dance

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There is a cult down in Vista California called the Twelve Tribes that I went and visited some time ago.

You should know I don’t use that term lightly. When I say “cult” I don’t mean “people who believe differently from me”, or “people who appear christian but aren’t”. What I mean is that they actually live on a compound separated from the outside world and invite you to join them in exchange for you selling everything you own and laying the money at their feet.

With that said, I actually had a very good time with them. They live a reasonably simple communal agrarian lifestyle, and celebrate together every morning and evening with “Menha” which involved a faux Israeli style party/worship service centered around dancing merrily in a circle. And it’s awesome.

I saw a similar thing at my cousin’s wedding to his Turkish bride, and another variant at a seminar on multiethnicity for the United Methodist Church. Dancing together engenders community, participation, learning and fun. Unlike the ambiguous waving and shifting common to our protestant worship services that resemble a Pearl Jam Concert. The organized choreographed movements of these communities hearken to mind old Irish line dances and Shaker Ceremonies of early America.

Every time I see a group social dancing all together I think “Yes! That, we need to do more stuff like that!”

I saw it again at camp the other night when, in the middle of praise a group of our inner city kids spontaneously broke out in a line dance that appeared to me to be the Cupid Shuffle. It was stinking awesome.

My old girlfriend and I used to Swing Dance to worship songs back at RockHarbor Church, (most of the songs are in 3:4, the rest are Salsas) but without the community element it was a me and her thing, not something everybody was going to get in on. Still I feel like the precedent is there. If you’re a worship leader reading this, this is your opportunity. I claim no ownership over this idea and put it in the public domain. I strongly suggest you try it.

Written by RyanGaffney

May 24th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

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Hot Sauce

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The head of our Inner-City Mission Project is named Gerry

Gerry is a great old man, very wise and very neurotic, a few months ago at a staff conference I sat down with him for breakfast.

“Where did you get Cholula?”

I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing I ever said to him. I was bemoaning the bland eggloaf thing they were serving for breakfast and was more than a little surprised to see my favorite sauce for eggs at the table. He didn’t answer the question, but looked at my name tag.

“Ryan, when you enter a room, you need to exegete your surroundings: Observe, Interpret, Apply. Otherwise you miss things in plain sight.”

“Are you saying the Cholula is in plain sight because I looked around and I-“

“You looked where you thought you should look, you did not observe. The Cholula is avaliable, there’s about 10 other condiments there too”

I looked around quizzically, I still did not see any condiment bar “And you noticed this the first day?”

“First meal, sure”

“Wow, did you think to tell anyone?”

“Would you like some?” he said finally passing the bottle to me. I took it, he continued

“You don’t tell people everything you know, you live that way, others will take notice. I wish Christian leaders could learn this.”


The rest of breakfast was consumed with conversation about philosophy and hot sauce. Gerry constantly borrowed analogies from evangelism and mission to describe the properly examined omelet. I took notes.

Gerry’s not at this camp, but when I needed something for my vegetable medley I remembered what he said, and carefully looked around the room. To my surprise I found Tabasco Sauce randomly hanging out in a little alcove at the salad bar.

I started eating my food with Tabasco at every meal, then other staff members joined in. I don’t think the camp was used to people actually knowing where to find the sauce because by the second week they had run out!

Now the trick is to do that with treasures besides hot sauce.

Written by RyanGaffney

May 23rd, 2011 at 3:07 am

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Last night I came downstairs at camp to find two girls talking “What are you talking about?”

“We’re talking about proclamations of faith”

“Oh cool, have you come to any sorts of conclusions?”

One of the girls, Allie, responded after a brief pause. “I think I’ve concluded, that I’m not ready to make one”

“All right. Why not?”

“Well, I just feel like I still need a sign”

“Oh okay, what sort of sign?”

“A sign from God”

“To signal what?”

“That he… Exists, that he sees me. I just feel like nobody out here really gets me”

Allie went on to talk about how she had been an occasionally homeless girl from California, her father had been a pastor, but no longer, and she knew about the church and didn’t feel she was ready to commit to a system which she found to be less loving.

I sat and talked with her for a long time. I agreed with her about the church and the Christian subculture, we’ve been an embarrassment frankly, and a stumbling block to many people in my generation. We’ve been hypocritical, elitist, consumerist, and dogmatic. We’ve been anti-intellectual and politically problematic At times we’ve even been racist, sexist, classist, and violent. But I also challenged her that none of those things should stop her from pursuing Christ

“Jesus didn’t like religious people much either, and he disapproved of all of those same things in the church. I understand the struggle, but don’t let things the two of you agree on keep you guys apart.”

Allie decided that meeting another Californian misfit pastor’s kid was a pretty compelling sign. She prayed with me that night, and told Jesus for the first time that she had decided to follow him with her life.



On this blog, Fear of Whales. I don’t spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of accepting Jesus. I don’t run through the gospel over and over again. I don’t give “turn or burn” speeches. On the other hand I do spend quite a lot of time criticizing the church. I make fun of Christian game night, Christian dating habits, and Christian treatment of other Christians.

I just want to make it clear, in case somehow one of you wandered onto this site without having first made a commitment to Christ; that I do heartily and sincerely recommend it. and I do heartily and sincerely think the church has issues. But those are problems with Christians, not Jesus.

“don’t let things the two of you agree on keep you guys apart.”

Written by RyanGaffney

May 20th, 2011 at 5:46 pm

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Why Are You Afraid Of Boys?

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Hi there, Christian girl.

Yes, you. With the camp t-shirt, who likes Switchfoot

I just wanted to let you that you’re attractive.

You’re a really fun person to be around. You’re nice, and you can be really funny at times! You’re also quite beautiful. I like what you did with your hair today.

Is that creepy? I’m sorry, listen though, here’s the thing. I noticed. Actually, everyone noticed… Every heterosexual guy who knows you has become aware of the fact that you are attractive, and there’s not much any of us can do about that fact.

It’s not like you hide it either. I mean, you dress modestly-cute on purpose right? Isn’t that because guys like me like it? How long did you spend getting ready this morning?

Listen it’s really awkward for us. Because now, if we come out admitting we like you, we are taking a gamble between learning that you like us to, and going out. Or ruining the friendship because you are going to treat us like we are weird from now on. But what’s weird about it? I think you’re cute, you don’t like me that way, let’s move on.

Why should you treat boys who want to get to know you better, like they want to kidnap you?

He is a boy, not a sexual deviant. The dude might like to kiss you under certain circumstances, but trust me it’s not like he is going to try it against your will! So you say, “I’m not interested” and you don’t worry about it anymore.

Otherwise you actually end up perpetuating a problematic cycle, whereby even the boys that you want to like you, will pretend like they don’t like you because they think that if they admit they like you and you don’t like them they’ll be treated like a freak. So then you get upset because none of the boys are paying attention to you but Becky, the standofish witch seems to have no shortage of attention from boys. You start to think that it’s just because you’re not pretty enough, when really it’s just because they value your friendship. Becky treats everyone like a pariah, so we don’t have much to lose by flirting with her.

I know that not all of these emotions are logical, and you just kindof feel what you feel. Creepy feels like creepy, I get it. But I really think this is hurting relationships, and creating Beckys. And it could be prevented if you just think about these sorts of encounters in a different way. Next time a boy is nice to you, instead of getting weird about it just say to yourself “either he is nice, or he thinks I’m cool. Either way is good news, and if he asks me out, all I have to do is say ‘no’ ” Rinse and repeat inside your head as many times as necessary.

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May 16th, 2011 at 12:00 am

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The Power Of Yes

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If you’ve been reading for any length of time it should not surprise you that I’m something of a rule breaker. I believe that Jesus was Neutral Good not Lawful Neutral and I also care about rules only in so much as they imply consequences. But I don’t value conformity much for it’s own sake.

Christian camps on the other hand, love rules. It’s just an ideal environment for rules to thrive. Wilderness locations love rules, Christians love rules, and people who work with minors love rules, so when you put all three together you have no trouble explaining that you may take a boat out, but only between 3:30 and 4, only when there is a lifeguard on duty and only north and east of the dock. You must wear your lifevest at all times, as well as sunscreen and closed toed shoes. No swimming, splashing, sailing, or having fun.

But I know of another camp that has sortof a different take on things. It’s a camp for foster kids and although there are still a lot of rules (the government mandates most of them) there is a consensus among the staff that our goal is to provide the kids with a positive experience first, and so we avoid saying “no” at all costs.

Sometimes it’s tricky of course. There are a great many things you get asked at these camps that you simply could never say yes to, So when someone says “Can we throw Mikes bed in the pool?” you end up saying something like “Oh we are going to do something way more fun than that! We can go to Rec Time!” rather than “No, That’s against camp rule #343”

Still the concept has transformed much of how I think about camp ministry and ministry in general. Such that now, at a camp with adults, where I have a reasonable amount of power to call shots, I’ve learned to answer in the affirmative as much as possible.

There is just power in the word “yes” and I love to unleash it. So where previously I might have responded to the question “How late are we allowed to stay up?” with something along the lines of “You should go to bed, it’s late” I’ll now say “You’re adults you can stay up as late as you want but you will hate yourself in the morning… You know this right?”

Sometimes they listen and go to bed, but feel respected that I trusted them, sometimes they learn a valuable lesson. It’s a win-win!

I don’t know when it was that so many of us got the impression that there was safety in rules and restrictions, and that by classifying and limiting everything we would all be better off. It seems that not only is that not true at all, but that the opposite is the case, and more than that, it’s way more fun!

  • To read my perspective on YES in a more political context CLICK HERE
  • CLICK HERE to Hear More Back-story about Alignment and why I favor “Neutral Good” freedom
  • If you want to hear thoughts about what freedom leads to, and what freedom is for CLICK HERE


    Written by RyanGaffney

    May 16th, 2011 at 12:00 am

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    Tonight I ran the PowerPoint for the Musical Worship at camp.

    We have a slideshow with all the words to the worship songs set up on a computer, churches often need a person (or trained monkey) to accomplish the very menial task of pressing “next” whenever the singer finishes singing the words on the current page.

    It’s been years since I’ve done that, Since High School I think. And the experience was actually pretty awesome.

    Early in my christian life, when I was a 12 year old in student leadership, PowerPoint was my thing! I ran the lights and the sound and the PowerPoint for services all the time, multiple times a week. But late in high school for some reason the ministry I was involved in got kinda crowded with tech people. And everybody wanted to do the trained monkey job, as if there was some kind of prestige to it, so I moved on and started doing announcements.

    Then I did Games.

    Then Small Groups, Bible Studies, Sermons, Camps, and Secular Universities.

    But tonight they needed me back in the sound booth pressing the next button.

    I actually really engage with worship that way. I’m not normally crazy about music, I’m a terrible singer, and I have trouble engaging with what always feels like an excessive amount of time in church spent singing. But from the booth it doesn’t feel that way to me, It feels like I’m more engaged, like I’m contributing something to the sacrifice we’re offering together.

    Actually there’s a sense, when you get the slides flowing with the music at just the right moment when the idea shifts from the chorus to the bridge, and you get into the flow of the song, and you almost feel like you’re a part of the band and…. Okay I’m a nerd. Maybe not.

    Written by RyanGaffney

    May 15th, 2011 at 12:00 am

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    The staff gathered the other night, a night before the students arrived and debriefed and hung out.

    At one point one of the staff asked the room full of people about a situation that had arisen. Apparently the pool at the camp will not be open for the week, neither will “giant inflatables” which had been advertised, and she wanted to know why. “The students are going to ask.” she said.

    Without hesitation, another staff, one of our Intercultural experts piped up.


    …What? The sharks popped the inflatables? That makes no sense!… I mean I can understand them infesting the pool I guess…

    But before I said anything, our administrator answered the question seriously (administrators are good for that).

    “Well it seems, that our camp liaison has changed from the one we’ve been working with in years past, and we learned from this new liaison that the previous one had given us a sort of bonus package and included the pool and the inflatables for free, but since we did not order that, this time we won’t have access this year. Nonetheless we’re hoping that as we continue to develop a relationship that possibility will be reopened to us”

    The staff response was as unanimous as it was instantaneous

    “so… Sharks?”

    “We’ll say sharks”


    Written by RyanGaffney

    May 14th, 2011 at 12:00 am

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    Summer Camp

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    It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for me to go up to camp again.

    I’ll be up here for two weeks, but I’ll have internet access, you can expect periodic updates about my thoughts and stories at camp. Hopefully it will be an insightful and expository view behind the veil at what camp looks like for a Pro Minister.

    But who knows? I haven’t experienced it yet.

    What I do know is that camp is really sentimental for me. many of my first activities in ministry took place as a volunteer at various camps (and as a student before that) and when I burned out and crashed and burned ministerially, it was a job at a summer camp that got me back on my feet again.

    With my background it’s actually much more likely that I would have become a Camp Program Manager rather than a College Campus Minister. But God knows best apparently (I think I read that somewhere).

    Last night it was messing with me though. I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do with myself this summer without any students around and there is a considerable part of my spirit that really would like to sign up as seasonal staff at a summer camp. There’s just something about these places…

    Written by RyanGaffney

    May 13th, 2011 at 12:00 am

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