Maybe They Just Don’t Know???

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.

Nicaragua Mission Trip

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.

If you want to read more about the work of JHC, go here www.jhc-cdca.org/

 

Such a Different Perspective

I’ve been contemplating and playing over a blog post in my mind for a bit about two of the songs from The Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway.  I know, I know…one day I will have run out of songs to talk about.  The first song is called, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” or in other words Salt Lake City.  Nikki James sings a beautiful song that is endemic of the entire musical – it’s such a funny, both mocking and serious look at faith and harsh reality and the conflict that is of the somewhat prosperity gospel that is sometimes preached and how that is seen and viewed in the various lenses of most of the world.

It’s an interesting tension.  And for me it really is a tension.  I’ve spent most of the day working going over the budget and expenditures for this year at Wesley and budgeting for the year ahead.  As some of you know, this past year our Annual Conference stopped providing program or building support for our campus ministries, but is still covering our salaries and benefits (which we’re really thankful for).  As scary as that was, people stepped up in huge ways this year.  And we have tried to use that money wisely – from mission trips to educational and missional opportunities on campus to small groups to worship to training up leaders and people going into ministry and everything in between.  It’s exciting to look at.  We couldn’t have taken students to training events without you.  We couldn’t be in ministry with the poor and hungry here in York County, in our state and around the world without you.  So I’m thankful for that.  Hugely.  Especially as we start visioning for a new year.

This afternoon, actually right now, I’m on a conference call with some folks working on getting equipment for the Women’s Spinning Plant, a cooperative of the CDCA (Center for Development in Central America) to be working and functional.  We have worked with these women making concrete blocks, pouring concrete in the floors of the building, and tying rubar.  We’ve protested the company that mislead them.  We look forward to visiting again in August and continuing to work alongside these faithful, resilient, strong and powerful women and men who have withstood and determinedly marched on in the midst of all sorts of adversity.

See that’s the rub.  When I think about what so many around the world are facing in terms of World Refugee Day that we celebrated earlier this week, those in the midst of war zones, atrocities that we can’t imagine, it really puts things in perspective.

We are beyond so blessed here.  And to me blessed isn’t even the right word in some ways because to me that implies that God has blessed us and not someone else just because they were born in a different place to a different family in a different set of circumstances.

It just seems like a lot of time we throw our own “stuff” around and we’re selling people this line that may not be ours to sell and sometimes it even seems cheap and cliched somehow.  One of the last numbers in the musical is the two lovely white guy mormons singing, “I Am Africa.”  It’s very a la “We are the World” or something along those lines.  And I’m not trying to hate on we are the world or Live Aid or the other benefit concerts or celebrity commercials out there.  I’m really not.  That raises money.  And if it raises money and the money gets to the right people who will put their money out there and not just fund overhead and all of the work getting into a country, that’s a great thing.  There are so many good folks like the CDCA, UMCOR, Church World Service, International Justice Mission, Imagine No Malaria that are doing work on the ground with people in-country who speak the language of the people and are being as least patronizing and colonializing as possible.  And these folks aren’t doing the bait and switch and they’re not peddling mink coats.

Don’t have any huge answers today, but I just wanted to name the tension between our problems (check out those tweets #firstworldproblems by the way) and the things that are facing much of the world.

Still a big believer in the tremendous groups working on the ground and who live it out every day.  Still a big believer in hope and love and humanity.  But wrestling with all that these songs evoke in my mind.  Which is what I think the writers did in a beautifully comedic and amazing way.  To take something so funny and sarcastic and ironic and put so much real life and struggle in it – powerful stuff.

When it all boils down – what is the Gospel?  How do we speak that clearly to the person next door, down the street, in the next state over, on the other side of the world?  How do we share our faith in real language in the face of real problems?

Check out the words for Sal Tlay Ka Siti below.

My mother once told me of a place with waterfalls and unicorns flying

Where there was no suffering, no pain, where there was laughter instead of dying
I always thought she’d made it up to comfort me in times of pain
But now I know that place is real, now I know its name

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: not just a story mama told
But a village in Ooh-tah, where the roofs are thatched with gold
If I could let myself believe, I know just where I’d be
Right on the next bus to paradise: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

I can imagine what it must be like…this perfect, happy place
I’ll bet the goat meat there is plentiful, and they have vitamin injections by the case
The warlords there are friendly, they help you cross the street
And there’s a Red Cross on every corner with all the flour you can eat!

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: the most perfect place on Earth
Where flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth
It isn’t a place of fairy tales, it’s as real as it can be
A land where evil doesn’t exist: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

And I’ll bet the people are open-minded and don’t care who you’ve been
And all I hope is that when I find it, I’m able to fit in
Will I fit in?

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: a land of hope and joy
And if I want to get there, I just have to follow that white boy
You were right, mama, you didn’t lie
The place is real, and I’m gonna fly!

I’m on way…soon life won’t be so shitty
Now salvation has a name: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

Video for Sal Tlay Ka Siti

We have this poster framed on one of our tables in Wesley.  I’ve always liked it because a lot of what we do with CROP Walk or Stop Hunger Now or Imagine No Malaria focuses on not just spreading a message of faith to folks but also feeding the hungry and providing basic needs.  But singing “We Are Africa” in my head over and over because it won’t get out, part of me think this can be patronizing in some ways as well, because the continent of Africa is not the only region that faces these concerns.  Again, things to think about.

The video for “I Am Africa”

Check out these great organizations:

Imagine No Malaria – http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/

Church World Service – http://www.churchworldservice.org/

International Justice Mission – http://www.ijm.org

UMCOR – http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

Center for Development in Central America – http://www.jhc-cdca.org/

Great Commission not just for Superheroes…

Yesterday morning’s lectionary text, Matthew 28:16-20 was one of the most well-known scripture passages around.  It’s commonly known as The Great Commission.  In verse 18 it says, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There’s a lot summed up right there.  Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t have Jesus ascending into heaven or promising that the Holy Spirit is coming to help them.  Matthew has the disciples showing up to a mountain where Jesus told them to go and both the ones who began to worship Jesus and the ones who doubted all being commissioned to go ye and tell the world.  He didn’t just commission the Super Christians that had done everything right (do those even exist anyway?).  Jesus commissioned these eleven – a motley crew – to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.  Surely some of these were gung ho and ready to go.  Surely some of them were a little scared and wondering what was going to happen next.  Surely at least one of them thought – wow, that was a cool three years, is this about the time I go back to my day job?

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in my brother Josh’s ordination service.  During the ordination service at a certain point you go up to the altar and there the Bishop, your District Superintendent and two people who have touched your life in some way or who have helped you on your journey to ministry, all lay hands upon you.  I was honored to lay some hands on the little bro.  Listening to the words the Bishop said to him reminded me of my own ordination.  One of the parts that stands out is where the Bishop says something about authority.  I actually carry the cards she read from in my Bible as a reminder of what I was ordained to.  Here’s what they say:

Narcie McClendon Jeter, take authority as an Elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There’s more to the whole service course, but there’s something important about that authority part.  Not that we want the ordinands walking around with big heads and saying what’s up, look at me, I’ve got it all figured out now and I’m taking my authority and running with it.  Not even.  But there’s something about this ordination, the laying on of hands and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that lets you know for sure and for certain, that it’s not about you.  It’s about this larger story that you’re apart of.  It’s about all of the years that you’ve worked, all the hoops, all the times of doubt and struggle, but even more than that it’s about this Greatest Story Ever Told that we’re apart of.

Enoch has now turned 4 and he’s close to 4 feet and the size of one much older than him.  If you try to put the straw into the CapriSun for him, walk across the street holding hands, put him in his booster seat, you’ll hear him say these now familiar words.  “By myself, Mommy.  I do by myself.”  There’s something inherent in us that wants to do things by ourselves, by our own might, our own smarts, our own strength, our own glory.  Yes there’s the natural claiming of one’s identity and independence, but there’s also something in us that wants to do it by ourselves and not ask for or need someone else’s help.  I hear the “I do by myself, Mommy” so loudly and clearly and confidently.

Jesus with all the authority of heaven has commissioned us (sent us out with blessing) to preach the Good News but we don’t have to do it by ourselves.  There’s a tension there.  It’s not all on whether we do everything right, have the most energy or enthusiasm or have all the right words to say.  A little secret – we don’t suddenly get ordained and have everything figured out with the perfect eulogy, all knowledge of scripture and the ability to pray beautifully on command.  So it’s not all about us or our merits, but we do have to DO something.  It’s not about earning anything, but it is a command to GO and make disciples and baptize and teach and remember.  Those are action words.  It’s not based on our power, but God’s power.

Enoch is loving superheroes right now.  Somehow he heard about Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and he loves them.  He wants to pretend to be them, he plays with the action figures, the whole thing.  We can’t let him watch a lot of the cartoons because they’re scary and violent but he still loves the whole idea of these heroes.  We were talking to him about Sunday school last week in the car on the way to church yesterday and he was talking to my mom about Jesus healing the paralytic man and how the man got up off his mat and walked.  Enoch started asking a lot of why and how questions.  Why did Jesus heal him?  Why did he need healing?  How did Jesus heal him?  It finally ended with – because Jesus is powerful.  Jesus is powerful.

Jesus is powerful.  More powerful than any superhero – Iron Man, Green Lantern, Black Widow, any of them.  It’s not about our power in this Great Commission, it’s about God’s power.  It’s about being willing to go forth and tell all nations.  Not just the people in our church already.  Not just the people in the USA.  Not just the people that look like, act like or believe like us.  Or the reverse of that – it’s not just about going to some far off place like Fiji, India or Zimbabwe to tell people about Christ.  We have to look around right here, in our time and place and live not just by our lives and actions but also by our words, the Great Commission.

What does this commission of God mean to us?  What does it mean that Jesus called these folks, not great scholars or awesome speakers, not just ones full of faith, but also those with their doubts?  Who are the “all nations” or all people that we are called to reach out to?  How does our life, our home, our family, our community, our church show by our words and actions that we are taking this Great Commission seriously?

Those are questions to think about, pray over and wrestle with.  It seems like a tall order at times.  Especially verse 20 – “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  That’s a lot of stuff to teach.  It seems pretty big.  But we can’t forget the promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are not alone in this journey.  We are not alone in this task.  We are not alone in this great story.  We just have to be willing to be an active part of this tapestry of movement within our world.  We have to trust that even when things look darkest and at their most doubtful that God is with us and we have been given the blessing and the commissioning to go and tell the world about this great God we serve.

What does the Great Commission mean to you?

What are those little nudgings from God about ways to serve or ideas that may seem impossible or people that you just can’t stop thinking about, praying for, and wondering about, or the things you keep wanting to do but putting off?  Often God calls us toward something, long before we answer.  What is God laying upon your heart?  What is holding you back?  Who are the bad guys/girls that your superhero is facing?  What fears and concerns can possibly stand up to the power and majesty of Christ?

May we not push aside or compartmentalize, may we not put off until another day.  May we embrace and wrestle and intentionally wonder and vision and ask God to lead us and guide us as we depend on God’s power and might to carry us forward.