Spy Hop – Media…Ministry…in Salt Lake


On Sunday mornings, as I drive to church, I listen to NPR. I do this because, well, I love NPR and I listen to it every time I’m in the car. But also I do this because somewhere in my mind I think there’s a possibility that something major has happened in the world and I will get to church and not know about it. I will not mention it in my prayers, or I will be caught off guard when someone says, “so what do you think about what happened this morning in…Mumbai… ?” or something like that. The truth is that has never happened. And even if it did – as I do, actually regularly get caught not having read a certain article in the times or something – most people act like it is no big deal, even if secretly they are thinking that their pastor is totally out of touch and they should never have hired a woman pastor with two young children who never reads the paper.

The other thing is – most often on my drive to church from my home, which is a very short drive, I am in the car right during Will Short’s puzzle. Which is wonderfully entertaining, and great for my brain, but certainly not newsworthy. I do have fantasies that I will someday send in an answer during the week to one of his puzzles and get chosen to be on the radio and I’ll say – “Actually, I’m a pastor on my way to lead worship in my church, and I listen to you every Sunday during my weekly commute!” But alas – I have still yet to send in an answer – let alone solve one of the weekly puzzles…so it may remain only a dream…

So – this past Sunday morning I was on my way to church (perhaps a little later than I’d like), and I caught the tail end of Will Short’s puzzler. But then they had a little article about an organization that works with teenagers in Salt Lake City, Utah. The organization is called Spy Hop, which is named after the brief lurch out of the water that whales make to get their bearings and look around. Spy Hop is a fully equipped, multi-media studio. They offer classes in film and video, music and audio, and interactive media – teaching high school age kids the ins and outs of the media scene. But the story was focused on one particular aspect of their program: Open Mic. Open Mic is free studio time offered to anyone who wants it, to record and produce music or video on the awesome equipment that Spy Hop offers. To be sure, the director admitted that they have all sorts of kids come in, wanting to record words and music that is inappropriate or offensive – and they do indeed have rules against that: no misogynistic, racist or violent language allowed. What they encourage, though, is for people to come in and tell their stories – even the very difficult and deeply painful stories that these kids have experienced at such a young age. NPR played a couple of songs produced by Spy Hop – written by teenagers who have come seeking a way to talk about the things they could never talk about otherwise.

I found myself sitting in my car outside the church, tears in my eyes, listening to this amazing song: “Glass” by Joel Green

I kept listening to the story of another young man who had learned the ropes at Spy Hop through Open Mic – and had recorded a number of songs. One in particular was about his experience of having a friend die in his arms from a prescription drug overdose. The song is called “Only for the Wise,” and is full of powerful words about the dangerous youth culture of ‘chasing the high.’ You can listen here: “Only for the Wise

I can’t seem to get these songs, and these kids, out of my head. Maybe it’s because their stories are so tragic and difficult. Maybe it’s because no one that young should have been through what they’ve been through. Maybe I wish that my experience in youth ministry somehow mimicked the ministry happening at Spy Hop Open Mic – the empowerment of young people to tell their own stories, to help change the world for the better by sharing those stories, to heal a little bit the hurt and pain we all experience in our youth. I found myself wondering how I could help, what we could do here, in Mamaroneck to lift up the voices and stories of young teenagers who may have seen and experienced more than they should have at their age. I wondered how I might expose the kids in my youth group to these voices – what our kids at LAC, who are so privileged for the most part, might hear and see in these stories. How these kids could unite and teach each other – or at least listen to each other and gain some wisdom and perspective. Maybe none of that is possible. But Spy Hop is an inspiration for ministry, and I’m glad I know about it, can tell others about it. And I’m really really glad for the courage of these young people to share their stories with the world…


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