The C Word (and it’s not Cancer)

You know how in different seasons, there are specific words or lessons or visuals that seem to keep popping up in your life?  Maybe that doesn’t occur for everyone but for at least for some of us stubborn folks, it’s like God has to drop clues all over the place for us to actually get the picture.  The thing that keeps coming up to me right now is this idea and belief in community.

For those of you that read the blog (or at least when I used to write regularly) you know this is something I talk about A LOT.  Probably annoyingly so at times.  It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.  The thing that I believe is integral to the body of Christ and to any semblance or form of Christian life.  You just can’t get around it.  But for some reason, in this move and transition which was months ago at this point, I’ve pulled back a little from it.  I don’t know if it’s new places, new people, new community building, or the grief and loss or change of old close community, but there’s something that is raw inside me around this concept.

I then start to think about student and campus ministry life and how hard it is to transition in from high school community to college community and then transition from college community to being out in the wide, wide world.  I also think about how hard it is to transition from friend groups and single life to married life and professional life and all these in between times and the things that work out and don’t and how so many, random things affect how we view community, who we think are part of our “tribe,” and what we need from community.  It’s not all about what we get out of it and it’s not all about what we put into it, but it seems to be this dance of times and places and seasons.

What are the things that hold us back from real community?  Not pseudo surface-level stuff, but showing people the cracks and vulnerabilities.  I think it’s scary.  It’s unnerving.  We want to be stronger and more patient and more perfect on the outside than the swirl of gunk on the inside.  It gets messy.  It takes a lot of time and real sharing.  It sometimes makes us feel like we’re on display, left wide open or being dissected.  But are these some of the same things that hold us back from fully sharing with God?  Or fully sharing from the heart all aspects of our lives?

I know that not everyone is going to get along and gel 100% of the time.  I’m not talking about being bff’s with everyone you meet.  I’m not even talking about everyone “liking” each other even though I believe we’re all called to love each other and live in community together.  I do challenge us to pause and think before we speak.  I concede that sometimes our guard has to be let down to create those thin places where God can speak to us.  I hope and pray that the world doesn’t see how we fight, bicker and belittle each other, but how we love, support, uphold, and care for one another.

For me, the song that’s been holding me through this season is Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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/

Duck, No Eye Contact, Run, Run Away

It’s that time of year in campus ministry world when we’re enjoying Orientation.  What that means at Winthrop is that we as all of the campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) come together and greet people at one table and provide brochures and info about all the groups.  We also let students know about the campus ministry open house and worship service for freshmen that we do right after they move in.  Good times.  A great way for people to get connected and meet other people of faith.

What is always amusing to me is the interactions with the students.  As soon as they read the sign on the placard behind me that says “Campus Ministries” some quickly look away and move quickly to the Greek Life table or the Study Abroad table or the DSU (Campus Entertainment/Activities/Awesomeness) table.  As parents read the sign though it’s funny to watch them often nudge their child and say, “Look campus ministries.  We should go over there.”  And the students that then pull them in another direction or say Mo-om or Da-ad, in that lovely two syllable exasperated way many of us Southerners have.  I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, that when a parent walks up to our table and signs their student up and the student is no where to be found or the student is standing impatiently behind the parent or grandparent hoping that they’ll just sign them up and be done with it – we’ll never see that student.  Sometimes it happens.  Rarely.  But that’s the thing about college – it’s on the student/young adult/person making their way on their own.

Two things happened today that were thought-provoking for me.  The first was a lady who stopped and got a card.  Her child wasn’t with her but she said that she wanted her to be involved with campus ministry.  She said that her daughter had never been involved in church and hadn’t ever really been inside one except for funerals and she really wished she would get involved.  She then said that the girl was dating a nice Christian boy that goes to church and she was hoping that maybe she would start going.

The other was a guy who walked up to the table and I smiled at home and he’s reaching his hand out to shake mine and I’m about to give him a WCCM card that has our website info with all of the campus ministries listed, and he reads the placard above my head that says “Campus Ministries” and then quickly jerks his hand back and says that’s okay.  I don’t need one of those cards.  Ouch, dude.

It’s just really funny dynamics. Some are super excited to hear about campus ministry on campus and this new church experience.  Some of our strongest leaders at Wesley are people I met at Orientation or at the beginning of the year Open House.  But I do wonder about all of the ones that cringe and walk away.

I ate lunch in the student center yesterday with the Dean of Students who is also our Board Chairperson.  She stopped to talk to some of the Orientation Assistants and I joined her.  At the end of the conversation she introduced me as the United Methodist Campus Minister.  As we were walking away afterwards, she asked if I had noticed how they blinked and paused.  She’s a campus minister?  Who knows what they were thinking?  I had seen a few of them before but didn’t know any of them.

There’s so much rich ground to cover here – what is the perception of the Church today?  What do these young adults think of when they hear campus ministry?  I have the feeling that some of them think I’m going to make them walk over to the West Center and jump in the pool so I can baptize them right there. The mixed bag of looks from relief and joy and hope at finding a community to apprehension, mistrust and all sorts of things.  It’s interesting.

I’m curious whether more or less students would stop at religious affiliated tables in different parts of the country.  It’s always fun to see which denominational affiliation stops by or the increase in how many people check non-denominational.

My primary question today though, in the midst of the news covering Koran burnings, church trials, and the like – what does this new class think of when they hear the word “Christian”?  What do they think of in the importance of finding a community of faith while in college?  Are they going to stay connected to their churches back home and just take a break for awhile?  What does it mean to be Church?  What are the differences and similarities in how we would define that?

Oh Christians…

So it’s been pop culture Christian overload lately with Glee last night – Dear Cheezus (one of the main characters praying to a grilled cheese sandwich that happened to be burned with the face of Jesus into it – very random considering that the news was covering a woman who found the face of Jesus in her MRI but neither here nor there…) and watching the movie Easy A a few weeks ago. 

Christianity is so often a parody or stereotype but I’m glad to see television, movies, and media really trying to engage in the conversation even in random ways.  In Easy A Christianity becomes the hate/bashing/judging yuck of quintessential stereotypes, and yet I think that’s how a lot of people associate us.  If I was playing family feud right now (new obsession thanks to my wonderful students who hounded me until I accepted an invite) what would the number 1 answers be for – describe a Christian?  I hope we would not do too terribly, but I have a sinking suspicion that it wouldn’t be all that great.

A recent Pew study just came out in Christian Century and it was saying that one of the challenges for declining worship attendance/church membership is that the group that most self-identifies as having “no religion” are 25-34 year olds http://ow.ly/2OFU9.  It’s a good article and I like that it is looking at worship attendance instead of typical church membership because it seems that less and less people want to actually “join” even though we are great at “joining” things and “liking” things on facebook.  There’s just something about doing it in real life that seems to freak people out or turn people off or make them think that there’s this big commitment or wapow! sudden change that’s going to suddenly happen.

The study also looked at why people are attending church less frequently.  Is it demands on time?  Is it lack of commitment?  Is it cultural/social/any kind of relevancy?  Is it a time or schedule thing?  Is it inconvenient?  Does it not meet our criteria of being a “good enough” use of our time?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s all of these and a ton more that no one wants to admit or say outloud. 

I had lunch with a student today and we were talking about Wesley.  In case I haven’t told you this is what some would call a rebuilding year for us.  I kind of don’t like that language and am not sure if I even want to type it, but we graduated a huge group of seniors last year and in many ways those were our leaders – the people that showed up consistently and really rocked it out.  That can have a big impact on a group.  Trust me.  We’ve also had a lot more people with night classes and schedule changes and blah, blah, blah.  Bottom line – you can’t please everyone and there’s no good time for everyone to meet.  Maybe we should just move it to Sundays at 11 am – just kidding.  Anyway in our conversation we talked about the balance of wanting Wesley to not be a place of stress or people feeling like they have to come even if they’re swamped with schoolwork, etc. but also the kick back of not wanting Wesley to always be put on the back burner of whatever comes up in the many other activities these students are committed to.  You want to give grace and you want people to not be overwhelmed, but then again do you want to make it so easy for them to pop in and pop out that they miss what it means to be committed to something?

Is that how we treat our congregations or worshipers?  Do we notice when some of them are missing or just randomly show up once every other month?  I’ve never been someone that says we need to bow down to the sticker chart in the sky of how many times we’ve been to church over the past year, but I also think I’m a bit guilty of not taking seriously the commitment of being part of a community of faith or of realizing that worship, community, and the body of Christ matter more than we sometimes give it credit or rationalize away.

We know we can turn to the church when the chips are down and we don’t know where else to go, but where do we go when we’re happy or things are going well or when life just gets too busy?  Is “church” the first thing to get cut from the to do list, when a better offer shows up?  Nope, we’re not getting extra brownie points here, but we’re missing out too.

You don’t just go to church for the numbers or the “memberships.”  You go because there’s something about intentionally sharing and being in community with people you wouldn’t necessarily spend 10 minutes with outside these walls.  There’s something about letting your guard down and being family that is sacred.  There’s something about breaking bread and opening up to someone that can’t be undervalued.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always convenient.  It will often challenge you.  And maybe sometimes you do feel shut out, unwelcome and frustrated.  But you don’t chuck it all over the little things – or it must not have meant that much to you to begin with.

Watching Glee last night and still actually being within that age range that the Pew study was talking about – I don’t  think it’s that people don’t care about religion and maybe it doesn’t even have to do with commitment level (even though I think this has some to do with it for all ages), but maybe our Christian story is not as clearcut for everyone.  Take for example Donald Miller’s blog post about the Blue Like Jazz movie http://bit.ly/aUcLb2 .  It’s hard to find backers for a “Christian” movie that’s not a typical clear-lined story.  I hear completely what he is saying.  But there are a lot of Christians that don’t have a hallmark movie story.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the hallmark movies or those of us that fit that mold, but there’s also nothing wrong with a little Lifetime thrown in either.  Just kidding.  I’m not advocating the drama, but I’m saying that maybe our Christianity sprinkled with a little pop culture (GleeEasy A – don’t forget Saved – and many more) speaks more to the fact that people are trying to sincerely search, question in deep ways, and claim both a brain and a foundational belief in the Gospel.  It seems like the conversation is changing – but I’m not sure that everyone is realizing that or if it’s changing at all for some folks.

Christianity doesn’t always fit neatly into certain parameters, and I don’t think Jesus did either.  But he did challenge and he did call forth something different – something not always easy and something you had to commit to.  May we not just show up for worship or believe on the inside, but may we also live out, question, challenge and nurture our faith in a variety of ways!  Looking forward to continuing the journey with you!

So if Family Feud asked you to describe “Christians” what would you say?