What do people see?

Do you ever wonder what people think when they see you?  I’m not completely just talking about visual judgments here, but the whole shebang.  It’s just funny to me to think about how we are each perceived and how close to the mark that is.

One of the students and I walked over to the campus Starbucks earlier today to talk about seminary and candidacy and all that is wonderful and crazy about heading into ministry in the United Methodist Church.  It was a fun conversation and I’m excited about his journey.  What was funny to me is that one of the folks we met along the way, that I know pretty well, didn’t even speak to me or seem to recognize me.  Now, I must say, that since there’s no meetings today and I’m not anticipating having to look too terribly nice, I’m in jeans and a short sleeved shirt with no make up.  You could call this one of my uniforms.  What is hilarious is that when I’m dressed nicely with my make up on, I’m recognized immediately, but in my “natural” state, not so much. Now there are pros and cons about being recognized and pros and cons about blending in.  I just think it’s funny to think about.

I mentioned this to some of the students at lunch and one very nicely and graciously and probably a little untruthfully, said – “What?  You look exactly the same.”  God bless the young.  We were having some conversation about the upcoming school year and getting ready for Welcome Week and the first few weeks of classes and how we need to plan and prepare and get rocking this summer so that we show the very best of Winthrop Wesley those first few weeks. In other words, we’re going to put on our nice clothes and make up and rock this thing.  Or as my Ganny would say, we’re going to put our “face” on.  Thinking about it – it’s the truth.  When do I clean up and make sure everything looks nice – when someone’s coming over, when there’s a board meeting, at the beginning of the school year.  When do we put out fresh pine straw and make sure the outside of the building looks good – Orientations and the beginning of the school year.  When do I actually consider wearing a suit or ironing that dress – Annual Conference, a district meeting, or some other professional gathering. When do our congregations particular dress up – Easter, Christmas, graduation, the big days. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with celebrating or dressing up for dinner or actually using the fine china every now and then.  (Come to think of it – we have NEVER used ours and that is a sad, sad thing.  Maybe we should plan a big dinner sometime soon or at least use the stuff.  I don’t know why we even registered for those tea cups.  My Lord.)  Reality is that I think sometimes we need those occasions or deadlines to get geared up and do something.  Although I know that I need to exercise more and stop eating all of these delicious cookies from Lell’s, I also keep thinking to myself – I’ll start tomorrow or maybe one day when I get a bike and ride it to work or maybe before bathing suit season.  And yet, we’re at bathing suit season and I’m thinking, I don’t really have to wear a bathing suit, right?  Or maybe I can scratch the bikini this year and actually go for the “Mom” suit.  (You know the kind I’m talking about, don’t even try to deny it.)  Sometimes without an imminent deadline, we languish where we are and don’t make the extra effort to get our “stuff” together. So as much as I in some ways don’t like being recognized and it’s nice not to be “seen” all the time, it’s also a good reminder that we’ve got to keep it moving and keep it flowing not just on the high traffic, big deal, main event kind of times, but maybe at least a trickle of keeping it hospitable, welcoming, genuine and open all the time.  You never know whose going to walk into your congregation at what time or who you’re going to welcome to your door.  You don’t know if today’s going to be the day at Starbucks that you meet someone that is going to rock your socks off and be that missing piece to some ministry idea or ministry team or whatever for your congregation.  I’m not saying we’re not authentic – and I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to suddenly dress up for Wesley each day, but I am saying that we’ve got to be aware of what the world sees.  We’ve got to be aware of how we’re perceived.  We’ve got to be aware of the image that we create.

While at lunch there were three professors in the restaurant with us and one of them who comes to our Faculty-Staff lunches looked over and smiled and waved as the students and I were discussing Nicaragua and the upcoming school year.  That’s what I want these folks to see – students engaged and excited and brainstorming – not just about their schoolwork or their majors but also about their vocational journeys, their worlds – all the fun and mess and real life.  We want the world to see all of who we are – not just the Sunday morning shiny with the great hair, outfit, and full face, but also the struggles, the tears, the frustrations and everything in between. So the challenge – put our best foot forward – true – but be real.  What is your image of yourself?  What do you think the world sees?  What do you think God sees?  How are we called to be in the world?  Do we need a big fancy event to throw on some nice clothes or use the good china?  Who or what has helped to define how you see yourself?

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  – Parker Palmer

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. 1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hello!

I readily admit that I am a lover of Broadway.  Love it!  Especially musicals.  From the first time I saw Cats in the 6th grade to Wicked to Avenue Q to Phantom to Promises, Promises to In the Heights to most recently The Book of Mormon, there’s something about a story being acted out in the midst of great acting, catchy songs, and neat stages/dancing/the whole atmosphere that I just can’t get enough of.  I know, I know – it’s a long way to Broadway.  But there’s loads of shows that come through even wonderful South Carolina.  And you could see the Legally Blonde musical on MTV or the anniversary special of Les Mis on PBS or even bootlegging from your wonderful youtube.  There’s just something about being transported and watching really great art – singing, dancing, acting, the amazing orchestra – the whole experience.

So that’s the place I’m coming from when Mike won tickets to the Book of Mormon and we could see the whole thing from boxed seats and into the orchestra.  I’m not the hugest fan in the world of South Park.  I think it’s sometimes funny – the episodes about Tom Cruise, Scientology, Mormons, the Christian rock band, those I can find the humor and appreciate it.  I’m not a fan of the overkill of language and violence but I know that is part of what they’re trying to speak to.  I get that.  I had no idea what to expect out of this musical.  I had read about it in Entertainment Weekly and how they described it as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  Yes, there’s some awful language.  So much so in parts that I can’t even describe some of the songs.  But how real and open they were to work with real issues and serious situations in the midst of the hilarity and satire, was a unique look about religion, faith, and just how cruddy or overly fake life can appear to be and yet how real and authentic it is.

I think about this how end of the world hoohah right now.  When we were in New York people were wearing signs and handing out brochures in Times Square about our upcoming May 21st big day.  One of the newspapers quoted a retired bus driver who had put in over $40,000 to get the word out to the “unbelievers.”  That’s a whole lot of money to put out there.  It also quoted a bunch of people who had already quit their jobs and sold their houses.  I can’t even imagine that kind of….what’s the word….devotion?  (lots of other adjectives that could be used here)

In the opening song of The Book of Mormon and also as part of the finale there’s a song called “Hello!” and it’s a melody of Mormons doing their somewhat cliched ringing of doorbells and introducing people to the Book of Mormon.  I wouldn’t say the musical is completely anti-Mormon, but it certainly does poke major fun and lots of holes and questions about the legitimacy of Mormonism.  It talks about these missionaries being dropped into these communities and not really caring how the people are actually doing or how they live, but only caring about witnessing.  Now I’d like to get on my high horse and say that the United Methodist Church doesn’t do that – we’re working with communities, handing out bed nets, providing food, clean water, education.  You can’t deny that UMCOR rocks.  Very true.

But do we care enough to give our $40,000 savings to anyone or anything to get out any kind of message?  I’m not saying you should start shelling out money a la to some televangelist – quite the contrary.  I’m just saying, I don’t know how many of us are willing to part with our life savings for anything.  And definitely not to our churches.

What do our missionaries look like?  And not just our missionaries because that’s putting it off on just a few, but what do we look like as we share the Gospel?  Do we share a Gospel with strings attached or just the simple bare basics in our every day lives?  Do we tell people how our scripture could change their lives?  Do we share how Jesus is relevant to our lives today?  Have any of us shared scripture with someone else, much less a Bible?  Do we think that’s too pushy or too “something”?

It’s great that we are doing Change the World weekends as a UMC.  Really great.  That’s what we should be doing.  But all the time and all the churches.  Too much to ask?  Maybe so.  But if we as a church – not just UMC, but all of us – aren’t doing something, living something, breathing something, actually giving a fig about something enough to put our time, hearts, and money where are mouths are, than what are we doing?

Hello!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right had of the throne of God.”

In this season of campus ministry – you can’t just sprint.  When people talk about ministry and life in general you’ll often hear comparisons of a sprint versus a marathon.  If we’re constantly sprinting – we’re going to give out – run out – tag out.

I have a couple of friends right now training for marathons and they have their run keepers set on twitter and facebook so that everyone is keeping track of their training.  This is amazing to me.  I have a hard enough time talking myself into any exercise, much less training for a marathon.  I admire their commitment – their dedication.

I relate to the part of these verses that says “let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely…”  Sometimes it does feel like there our weights holding us down.  What are we carrying with us?  What is holding us back with all its might?  Is it unresolved hurt or anger?  Is it a feeling of unworth or mistrust?  Is it a sense of betrayal not just of a loved one but even in thinking about God?  Is it fear?

There can be a lot that weighs us down especially in the middle of the night as we wrestle with those things that we don’t want to acknowledge in the day light.  When everything is stripped away – what holds us back from running the race set before us?

We are not called to live a sedentary life.  But exercise and training can sometimes get beastly, especially when you’re not prepared.  Nobody is saying that the race is easy.  Sometimes you need to spend the big bucks on the right running shoes or suffer the consequences.  And in the race of life – sometimes you need to put in the extra time digging into scripture and forming community with one another.

How are we equipped in this life?  How are we ready?  How do we get geared up like Rocky for the fight ahead?  We have to dig into the Word of God.  We have to earnestly seek the Lord by prayer and supplication.  We have to open our eyes and our heart to the leading of God and the many ways God answers us in miraculous ways every day.

We also don’t have to run the race alone.  No one has to sit in their dorm room alone or has to hide in their office during lunch time.  Sometimes it feels that way and again – it’s not always easy.  But we have to band together as community – as church – with each other or we have little shot of making this trek on our own.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  In our busy world that seems to burst with “stuff” to do and weights pulling at us from all sides, boy do we need to get countercultural sometimes and ban together and get to know each other.

In a society where one could argue we have more opportunities than ever to connect, there are still so many of us that feel like we have to do everything on our own – by our own strength, our own merit, our own smarts, our own everything.  To run this race with perseverance – we’ve got to drop our pride at the door and be willing to step out and reach out to the others running the race with us.  If we just sit with each other on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights or whenever – and we don’t actually get to know one another – how are we being church with one another? 

Sometimes even with encouragement and building each other up, it still gets to be too much.  A student the other day mentioned how he and his roomate had decided last semester they were going to exercise 5 days a week.  They would hold each other accountable and they would encourage each other.  He then said they lasted about a week and a half.  Hey – for some of us – that’s not bad, but a week and a half…sometimes on our own – even if there’s a whole group of us – it ain’t gonna happen if we’re just doing it on our collective strength.

Bottom line – just like the verse says – we’ve got to keep looking to Jesus.  Because none of us are going to run this race perfectly.  None of us are going to always have the nice, shiny, non-scuffed up running shoes and the perfect form.  Sometimes things get tough and we need to know who to look to.  Jesus – the One who sustains us, the One who knows us inside and out, the One who walks before us and beside us each step of the way.  Do the training – dig into scripture, find a community that can support and lift you up – but always look to Jesus – who continues to strengthen our faith through both lifes sprints and marathons.