Yesterday at our weekly free pasta lunch that’s open to the whole community – “no strings attached” – get it, we had a really interesting conversation. Our intern, Erica was hosting the pasta lunch and there was a guy that came for the first time. He grew up Baptist but doesn’t attend the Baptist campus ministry here. She said he had a ton of questions. He asked what being “Methodist” meant? Did we believe in one God? What does it mean to join? All sorts of questions.
Do we believe in the one true God? Now that’s one I didn’t see coming. As we were eating lunch today having a mini-staff meeting of course, she and the other two Wesley students that had been sitting there were talking to me about the questions and how they answered them as best they could. Several things hit me as we were talking. You would make the assumption, or at least I would, that in the South most people know about the “Methodist” church. I would assume that most would think at least something about the flavors of Protestantism like Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian….you know? Guess that assumption would be wrong. He didn’t have any idea what we believed. Or if we were even Christian.
Last year, a similar conversation happened with one of our students that lived at The Wesley House but didn’t come to Wesley. She was from a Holiness tradition and as she was visiting one night for dinner, she asked us if we believed in Jesus at Wesley. We have crosses everywhere and don’t worry I say “In Jesus’ Name” at the end of my prayers, but somehow she still hesitantly asked if we believed in Jesus.
There’s part of me that is really befuddled by all of this and I want to say – Duh! Of course we believe in Jesus. We believe in One God. Duh. We’re United Methodist – we’re not just a bunch of heathens – whatever that word means. Sure we welcome all sorts of people here – all sizes and shapes and colors and belief systems and struggles – but we do that as the body of Christ. Sure we have a female campus minister that isn’t really looked favorably upon with every Protestant tradition, but it is what it is. Sure we balance personal piety and Scripture and justice and Bible study and fellowship and fun and everything in between, but you can be as serious as you want to be and follow Christ and as crazy fun as you want to be and follow Christ too.
There’s another part of me that thinks it’s really telling that some people seriously don’t have any idea who we are, what we stand for, or what we believe. They genuinely don’t know and want to find out. Are we legit or not? Who is serving them this free pasta? What is this place?
If college students don’t know who we are, what makes us think that their parents do? What does the outside world think of when they hear the word “church”? What do they know about the greater Christian church not just the one they grew up in?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our faith to be a secret code just revealed to some. I don’t want this to be something that only a few know about and the rest question and wonder. How do we invite in those that are questioning or pondering? How do we engage in the honest and authentic dialogue while not being defensive or creating an unrealistic polished picture?
What is funny is that the three Wesley leaders that were talking to this guy were one who grew up Baptist, one who is Nazarene, and another whose from a United Methodist church in Maryland. I would LOVE to have been a fly on the wall.
But that’s what the world is hungry for I think. They want something real and authentic and it’s not enough for some to just come and eat pasta, but they want to question and discern and engage. And that’s a neat thing. Maybe people just don’t know what Methodist means or Presbyterian. Heck, maybe our people don’t even know what those mean sometimes. My hope is that whatever people know or not about our denominations or stucture, that they’ll know for sure and certain that there’s a whole host of churches out there trying to live out the Gospel of Jesus and to really love God and love neighbor.
So bring on the questions. Bring on the dialogue. Bring on the honest reflections.
This past week I gathered with a group of young clergy and as we were checking in with each other and I began to describe this time of year in the life of a campus minister I compared it to Advent or to an extended Holy Week in terms of the demand on one’s time and mental, physical, spiritual and emotional resources. We’ve heard the research about how critical and crucial the first few weeks are in terms of plugging students in and getting into their habit of the semester. There’s so much that goes into these first few weeks and it often feels like if you miss this first boat, you’re going to be stranded on the island with a few students that may have been hiding in the bushes, but you could be looking through the binoculars seeing what some of the other boats are doing and think wow, where did all the students go? Are we lost for the rest of the year? Do we measure up to “x” campus ministry? Should we have put more thought and planning into this? Is there any way we still have a chance to pull it all together?
We have to get out there and meet students and connect and invite and have those real, authentic interactions. You’ve got to take every opportunity (or at least send a student leader). If there’s a student org fair, you need to be there. If there’s a welcome cook out, you need to be there. If there’s a chance for you to reach out and connect students to your community through food or worship or playing corn hole (is that just in the South?) or tailgating at a football game or through a day of service or a mission project or whatever it may be – you need to be there. Ready. And with a smile. Not the creepy, too over eager kind, but the one that says I really want to get to know you and your story and here’s how you can feel plugged in here.
Going into my seventh year in campus ministry, you would think that maybe by now I would have figured out some sort of secret method to lure in students. It’s not so much a secret, but the planning and intentionality as well as the authentic and genuine interest is key because no one likes to see someone running around unprepared and frantic. Sure there are those times when things come together on the fly and the Spirit of God moves in powerful ways for it to look and feel seamless. Praise God for those moments. But there’s also a bar of excellence and quality that we have to have as professionals in campus ministry. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they have a bunch of great ideas, but those ideas never seem to come to fruition because you’re being pulled in so many directions.
I don’t know about you, but for me, where I am spiritually has a great deal to do with how I approach the beginning of the year. Where I am in my walk with God has a significant impact on how I or this ministry seem to fare in the gauntlet that is the beginning of the school year and whether it seems smooth or frantic. If I’m feeling exhausted, worn ragged and torn between family and campus ministry and preaching on Sundays and how we’re going to pay for all the beginning of the year hoopla – I can’t fully engage with new students or any students for that matter. There are so many missed opportunities and regrets and frustration when the “stuff” gets in the way of the heart of why we’re here and why we do what we do.
So, rest. Rest in God. Catch up on your sleep. Rest in the hope that you have made the preparations, that you have students and leaders and board members that are ready to help and that this is God’s. I have a post it note on my desk. As we have faced changes and challenges, it helps center me. As it gets lost in the piles that sometimes grow on my desk, I know that it’s time for me to shape up and get focused again. The post it says, “God has done this.” God has done this. God is doing this.
Often I feel like I get in the way of that. At other times I feel blessed beyond measure and in awe of how much God is in the midst. I didn’t write this to say that I have this giant cop out or loophole where I can not do any planning, preparation, or prayerful visioning and blame it all on God. Nope. But I can remind myself that it’s not all on my strength, personality, or how nice or smart or hipster or cool or attractive or funny I am. It’s not based on whether I’m a mac or a pc. It’s based on us going into these seasons of introductions, newness or renewal of relationships with the grace and passion and groundedness of the One who has called us to what we are to do in this time and in this place and who will be with us through the events that go super well and those that totally bomb and we vow never to do again.
My challenge to myself during this time is to yes, do the work. Get ready. Be prepared to hit the ground running during that beginning of the year crunch time. But also know and trust and feel that the Spirit of God is at work not only in our ministries but within each of us. God seeks to move in mighty and transformative ways on our campuses. God has done this and God is doing this and amazingly, we get to be a part of it!
For some reason – this didn’t post when we were in Nicaragua a few weeks ago….oh the internet. But here it is a bit late. If you want to check out more postings from Nicaragua from me and the students, check out http://www.wuwesley.wordpress.com!
Winthrop Wesley is in Nicaragua for the week working at the Center for Development in Central America with the Jubilee House Community. Although I’m not someone who loves plane flights or the actual travel side of the equation, this is one of my favorite places in the world. I love the people and the countryside and being here with a group of students discovering and learning and growing.
When we arrived one of the JHC folks, Kathy, asked me what I was most looking forward to, and I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to say. I enjoy the touring stuff we do like the laguna and seeing Pedro through amazingly beautiful pottery and hearing about Managua in the midst of earthquakes and hurricanes and the Contra war. But one of my favorite things is just being here in the midst of this intentional community where very different people seek to live in community, in fellowship, in life with one another. It’s an amazing thing to witness their commitment with the poor and the ways they help make things that seem impossible, happen.
Mike (my husband) told Mike (member of JHC) that he thought he was full of it when he said they were going to create the first ever fair trade organic cotton production line from the ground to the gin to the spinning plant to the sewing cooperative. Fair trade made up cooperatives and organic. And they’ve done it. It’s just very cool to see the work of JHC.
We may all be a little hot, a little dirty, and a little worse for wear at times, but it’s a gift to see the students step up and come together in this place. Watching them learn and grow and be challenged and enjoy this trip is such a beautiful thing.
So this week I may or may not be writing on this blog very much but we’re trying to post daily on the Winthrop Wesley blog – wuwesley.wordpress.com.
As always with these trips I know that I’m going to get much more out of this than I’ll ever be able to give back, but there’s no amount of money or clothes or things that I could give or receive that would ever outweigh the treasure of meeting people, knowing people, dialoguing with people, growing as a community across boundaries. These are holy moments.
You know those people who think they need to comment on everything and that they’re obviously the most brilliant people in the world and you just MUST know their opinion because it will change your universe? Maybe it’s one of your parents, maybe the little old lady at church, maybe your next door neighbor that loves to comment on your gardening, or maybe it’s even your pastor that thinks they have it all figured out and that you must be brainless or oblivious.
I know some of these folks are sincerely trying to be helpful. Some are doing it out of love. Some are doing it because they genuinely care what happens to you and they want you to have the happiest life possible.
Others are being nit-picky, patronizing, and annoying.
We used to tell my not very quiet grandmother – “Mind your own plate.” You may think to yourself, who would talk to their grandmother that way? True statement. But we’re a mouthy family and Lord knows that if any outside observer saw all of us interacting they would think we’re nuts or a real life crazy reality show unscripted. It’s not that we didn’t want her love or care or concern, but we could do without the constant commentary and opinion. Constant. Love her and miss her but I find myself wanting to give people “Mind your own plate” checks all over the place. We actually kidded with her that we were going to cross-stitch it and hang it in her kitchen.
You see, there’s a balance to offering one’s opinion to someone or giving advice or making random commentary about someone’s life choices or even day-to-day living. You need to do it in love and you need to give that person a little respect. If you think they’re a moron and you’re giving the advice or the telling what to do from a place of arrogance or superiority or just bossy-ness, than shush. Don’t even say anything. People can see through that stuff. And no one likes to be talked down to. No one wants to be that “dumb” person that doesn’t get it. And who do you think you are to think that you have all the answers to the questions of the universe?
Did Jesus give all the answers? Did he walk up to each of the disciples and dissect their every problem and shortcoming and say here you go, fix it? Did he go around criticizing everything around him? Nope. He did speak a prophetic word when people needed it. He did speak the truth in love. He did have a deep enough relationship with people that he could do that with sincerity and not come off like a jerk.
Maybe this is a bit of a rant but particularly at the start of a semester when people are sizing one another up and making judgments, maybe we should think twice about the assumptions we’re making. We all have our stuff that we deal with and if we’re to be community in the world, than we share with each other and want to get to know one another better. So let’s give a little grace. Not frowns or unwarranted disapproval. But treating each other in love.
One of the Wesley interns posted Romans 12:9-10 the other day on facebook and I think it sums up what I’m trying to say, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Honor each other. Don’t cut each other down. Don’t make those comments under your breath that don’t build anyone up. Don’t make assumptions. Give one another the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself – in all seriousness – what would Jesus do?
This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking. There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.
The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now. I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history. It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney. It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.
It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them. I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings. I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected. I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy. I get that.
What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.” This is ridiculous. I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that. You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen. But we are also called to be in the world and not of it. We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.
I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems. I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them. The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER. We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another. We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body. We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.
I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead. Not just when it’s popular. Not just the party line. (Either party.) Not just what you’re told. But what you think. What you have discerned. What you have wrestled with.
I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day. But we’ve got to do something here. In this nation that seems more and more divided. In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.
The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial. Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast. There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people. When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry. Many parents are wondering how to provide. Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds. Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington? No. Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course? No. But I think it’s a start. There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.
When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense. I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power. I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts. I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality. I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service. Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.
I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment. I pray for people that will say, “Enough.” I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect. I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way. I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The Speech on The American President
What would “A Great Nation” look like to you? What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy? (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)
If you are in campus ministry and you’re looking for some great resources and good conversation about campus ministry, check out the Faith ON Campus blog by Guy Chmieleski. It’s always a great place to stop by and get some ideas, encouragement and some feedback that will challenge you. Right now they’re hosting a Back-to-School Blogathon and I was honored to write one of the blogs for it. You can find it by following this link: