Community at General Conference

One of my absolute favorite parts of being able to advocate for campus ministry for two weeks at General Conference 2012 was getting to know amazing campus ministry colleagues from around the connection as we lived together in two homes in Ybor City.

First of all, if you’re with people for 24 hours a day for two weeks – eating together, sharing living space, driving back and forth together, taking breaks together – you get to know them really well. In the midst of legislative committees and watching debate you find out really quickly where people stand.

We had specific legislation that we were tracking that related to campus ministry and advocating was a lot of what was on our agenda as members of the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association (UMCMA). One of the other things that was a goal of ours was to make campus ministry visible and to tell a positive collective story. We did this by handing out awesome buttons, cards, creating a prayer station for delegates, helping staff “Higher Education and Ministry night,” and overall telling the story to anyone we saw. When we first arrived at the Tampa Convention Center we were constantly being stopped by someone that one of us knew. I might not know that person from Cal-Pac but chances are that Rob or Alissa did. I might not know that person from Iowa, but there’s no doubt in my mind that West and Paul did. By ourselves we have our own contacts, but together we handed out buttons to people from all over our church.

It was beautiful.

It was amazing sharing in the Monday night Higher Ed reception and getting to talk to our African brothers and sisters about campus ministry, while spreading the word about all of the critical and necessary work that our general agencies do on behalf of those of us that don’t look quite like a typical local church.

Our collective voice is so much stronger when we come together.

This is not to say that we didn’t have some disagreements. I realized quickly those first few days in the house that I was the only one from the SEJ (Southeastern Jurisdiction) or SCJ (South Central Jurisdiction) and we are not always the rest of the church’s favorite group of people. Yes, my name is Narcie and I’m a member of the SEJ but I don’t want to squash your voice, I’m not an old white man, and I can jam and have a good time right along with the rest of you. Just having that back and forth dialogue about perceptions was critical in all of us knowing and understanding each other better. I’ll never forget Alissa, a Clairmont graduate, and Richard, an Asbury graduate, getting to know each other and bonding saying that they should stand up on the floor of General Conference, say where they went to seminary and that they are friends, and then drop the microphone. I’ll never forget my mom as I drove her to the airport saying that getting to know everyone and talking to everyone helped her understand so much more about campus ministry and our connection, and her then sharing that she now understood why sometimes people look at our name badges that say South Carolina and they don’t have the happiest look on their faces.

You see as we all have learned, have said, and know it to be true that – it’s all about relationships. It’s a heck of a lot harder to try to demonize someone if you’ve shared a meal with them. It’s a heck of a lot harder to shut your ears and ignore someone if you’ve been living with them for a week and you have a whole other week to go.

The reason we handed out so many buttons and had voices at many of the tables is because we had formed relationships with many of these people and in our crazy world of Methodism there’s not many a time when you can’t figure out some kind of connection with someone. That’s one of the beauties of campus ministry – we know it’s all about relationship. We know that this most sacred “work” and journey comes out of community. We have seen students that fundamentally disagree with each other on many levels come together around the communion table. We have seen people join together in a common cause whether on a mission trip, local service, or outreach. We know that’s where transformation takes place.

So those two weeks – although they were crazy and I still have a hard time articulating the insanity – were a gift. They were an absolute gift from God. Because whether we agreed or disagreed or whether our “side” won or lost, we all came together at the end of the day as one and we all were hopeful and ready to start the next day as we piled into the cars to head back over.

My campus minister during his retirement speech said that the only way to live life is in community and I couldn’t agree more. What if instead of living out of hotel rooms for two weeks, delegates lived in community with each other or with others in the local community? What if instead of just sitting at tables together and making quick introductions, committees and sub-committees actually shared meals and got to know one another before lines are drawn? What if we could re-create the schedule of General Conference completely and the focus not be on the “business” but on building relationships with one another so that the work and ministry flowed naturally out?

I hope that the community built in two lovely little homes in Ybor continues to bridge into the rest of our church. I know one thing for sure – we’ll be getting some houses for Portland. After this special time with colleagues and the perspective of being a little bit out of the bubble – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sarah Palin and Baptists

This morning I got the rare opportunity to watch some of the Today Show as a made the bed and cleaned up around the house a bit. I used to be a frequent watcher of the show but with the two kids jumping on the bed and me wanting to play with them in the morning, it occurs less regularly.

Sarah Palin co-hosted the Today Show this morning and it was really funny. I know Sarah Palin is a lightning bolt kind of person – love her or hate her and I always find it fascinating when we get to see people interact that you know don’t agree with each other much less like each other. There’s a segment they do where they’re talking about hot topics, much like The View and they’ve got three people that usually do this segment – Starr Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman with the host asking them questions and them sounding off. I love this segment. I like it when they agree and when they disagree. I like the give and take of someone sometimes conceding and the areas where they’re not willing to compromise.

You know why I like it? I like it because they’re talking and they’re often disagreeing but they’re still obviously friendly with each other. I would like to say this about The View but I think too often there either one side or the other gets villanized and so that’s not dialogue but just yelling over each other.

What made it interesting this morning is that they added Sarah Palin to the mix. It was obvious that one was trying to be a peacemaker for her and spoke up for her while the other two barely concealed their disdain, one more than the other. It’s hard to communicate with people we don’t agree with, yes, but it’s really hard to be in conversation or relationship with people that we don’t respect as people and who we’ve made assumptions about.

Now I’m not defending Sarah Palin….and yes, in some ways I am. Each of these “public” figures that we make judgments about are people too. I’m one of the first people to say that if you put yourself on a national stage than you’re inviting the world to comment on what you do. That’s a given. But to me there’s a line between commentary and being nasty. Talking about someone personally is different than disagreeing with their views or choices. When personhood is brought into the mix – it’s a whole different game.

In a conversation with the Baptist campus minister and one of the Presbyterian campus ministers this morning at breakfast we talked about the assumptions that people make about each of us. Of course if you’re a Southern Baptist or a PCA Presbyterian than you’re conservative and close-minded and you obviously judge people. If you’re a female pastor you’re obviously liberal, you obviously haven’t opened your Bible to read the scriptures, and you must not be the best wife and mother you could be.

I get that we have stereotypes. I get that we all make assumptions based on our experience, the information we’ve been given, our world-view – but if we let that get in the way of digging deeper and really getting to know each other not as labels, views or caricatures but as real, living and breathing people, than we are missing out on just some amazing friendships and conversations but on the gifts of community, fellowship and iron sharpening iron that God gives us.

These two things this morning – watching Sarah Palin on the Today Show and the sometimes awkwardness of the situation and talking with two dear friends in ministry that the theological world would have us on pretty different ends of the mainline denom spectrum – it made both convicted for the times that I’ve been the one to make those assumptions or quick judgments and grateful that God asks us to not just hang out with the people like us.

Who are the people that you make assumptions about? Do you think our country is more “split” or contentious now? Have we made things too personal and mean in our attacking? Does the rhetoric we use have anything to do with the fact that God made each of us as people of sacred worth? Even the people that we may not enjoy? Or is that right out the window?

** What do you think about Facebook’s new “EnemyGraph” application? Are you going to declare your “enemies” or “archenemies”? (that’s a whole different post!)

Grenades and Blue Like Jazz

I had a comment on one of my blog posts this morning that made me think a bit. It was on the post “Jesus to a 4 Year Old” and the person posted that we (Christians) are stupid and we’re corrupting our children and making them stupid. Wow. Good morning! I can understand that. There are many that have experienced Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, unethical, and dillusional. There are some who assume that to believe what we believe, we must be stupid, unenlightened, or just ignorant.

It’s ironic reading this comment after watching a screening of the Blue Like Jazz movie last night while at the Refresh campus ministry conference. If you know me, you know I’m a big supporter of the book and have been a big supporter of the movie. I didn’t know what to expect last night and was trying very hard not to get my hopes up or set the bar too high. The book and the movie are VERY different in a lot of ways. It was hilarious last night explaining the differences to the many who had not read the book yet. They are so different that the wonderful Donald Miller wrote a book about the making of the movie – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Read it. (I may actually it more than Blue Like Jazz.)

Some of the questions afterwards were what kind of audience is this going to be directed to and why was it so different than the book, etc. This is not geared towards the Christian audience that would go see something like Fireproof or Soul Surfer. I don’t know if they would it make it through the slightly over the top first 5 minutes. It’s slightly more appealing to those of who believe that we can be authentic and real people of faith and can still enjoy a good sometimes crude laugh sometimes a la Jimmy Fallon or Bridesmaids. Even still to me it’s really geared to those who have railed against the church and the things that don’t add up when comparing the love and actions of God with the love and action of God’s followers.

The Book of Mormon Broadway musical writers said that it’s a love letter from atheists to people of faith. In some ways I can see this as a love letter from Christians to atheists. In a lot of ways that simplifies it way too much, but it is something different. I can’t say enough: read the book, read the book, read the book.

It’s easy to throw pot shots at each other – whether people of faith or those ticked off at the Church. It’s easy to make judgements and assumptions and believe in the cliches. It’s harder to engage and dialogue and admit fault -not just on a personal level but as this body of believers that we represent. I know there are times when I want to apologize to folks for what some do in the name of Christ and the church. I know there are times when we as Christians hate on each other and judge each other because of worship styles or how we live our lives. Part of it is admitting that there’s something wrong – that we are culpable or personally responsible for some of these things and not just pointing fingers at particular bodies or theologies or idealogies.

All this to say – talk to me – give me a dialogue on what you believe or don’t believe. Engage. Chat. Share a meal or grab a cup of coffee. Don’t just toss an anonymous grenade where you feel self-righteous and filled with purpose, actually get to know people and see them as who they are as people – not just what box you have put them in.

I’m saying this to myself as well. We have put up the walls to our boxes so high and so thick that we don’t get out of those very often…whether we’re scared or angry or indignant or ignorant as to the whos and whys outside of stereotypes. Do you have friends that aren’t Christian? Do you have friends on the fringe? Do you have friends who don’t look like you or talk to you or believe exactly as you do?

I admit that after seeing the movie last night, I’m a little nervous. I’ve used this book countless times in sermon illustrations and small groups. I’ve pitched the amazing story of funding the movie and how I believe in this thing that’s not Evangelical or Liberal but it’s one person’s story of faith and a journey we’re invited into. But the movie is a heck of a lot more risque than that and there are some seens that I’m like – can I promote this movie? Not just in campus ministry/college student land, but to multi-generational crowds? We don’t blink twice about some of the tv shows or movies we watch or what we read, but when we throw Jesus into it, it makes it that much more layered and complicated. So am I going to promote this knowing that there’s profanity and drinking and who knows what else not to mention the disregard and mockery of the church for much of the movie?

Are you? What do you think as pastors, as lay people, as Christians, as people of faith in a sometimes hostile world and a sometimes blissfully presumptive world??

http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/