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/

Thankful

It has been a long, long, very long day.  And yes, we are watching The Tudors again.  Can’t wait to see the Emmy’s tomorrow though…love Jimmy Fallon and definitely want to pull for some folks!

Worship was good this morning, but I admit I nearly choked up saying outloud our news about conference program money.  It’s good to say it outloud.  That makes it real and then we begin to work towards being proactive and not just reactive.

I finally worked up the energy to write to our board members and to some fellow alum and at dinner tonight I told the students about our new opportunity.  I thought I could make it at least the night without telling them – especially since this was our first worship, but at dinner I told them.  We had a good discussion about how we could cut costs and the things that they definitely wanted to keep and that was encouraging.  They were ready to help and all of us I think are ready to see what we can do.

I was also encouraged by a recent graduate who just entered grad school telling me, “I’m going to see how much of my paycheck I can give to Wesley every month.  Other students deserve the same experience that I had with Wesley.”  I was encouraged by the words of a dear, dear friend who was a part of Wesley when it was WNW with me.

“To the old Wesley Crew –

 Narcie – Thank you for sharing this unfortunate news with us all.  As we continue to struggle through this “recession” many nonprofits are losing support from their normal revenue streams.  On a positive note it is an opportunity to seek out new opportunities for funding and partnership.

After reading Narcie’s note I couldn’t help but reflect on my time at Wesley.  I think all of us on this list that are alumni think fondly of our time together.  Wesley gave us home away from home, a place to spend time with other students that were interested in grace and love.  I am forever grateful for the opportunities that Wesley afforded me as a student.  From the experiences of providing hope to those who needed it most to enjoying tons of laughs with friends, Wesley made an indelible mark on my life.

That being said I am pledging to make monthly donations to the Winthrop Wesley Foundation so that currents students can have the same opportunities that we did.  I want the students that are apart of Wesley now to be able to be fans of miracles, mercy, humility, grace and hope and they need our help to make that possible.

I do hope all of you will join me in true reflection on the importance of Wesley in your life and commit to making a monthly gift in support of its mission.”

I am thankful for the passion I saw in the students this evening around the dinner table.  I am thankful for my recent grads who are starting out but are already looking to help the next generation and I am thankful for the dear friends who like me, still to this day feel the forever imprints of our time spent in campus ministry.

Thanks to all of you for the prayers!  Tomorrow will be time for setting up paypal accounts, newsletter writing, and evaluating our budget and ministry! 

These Tudors really are crazy…

Money, money, money

I think it was in the first couple seasons of The Apprentice that they always played the, “Money, money, money” song that played at the beginning.  In looking at the lectionary texts this week, I actually liked them all.  But I’ve mostly been in Hebrews lately and I have never really preached it very much so I decided to stick with there.

The text is Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and it’s a lot of instruction and wise counsel.  Mike and I have been watching The Tudors recently.  We’ve finished season 1 and have begun season 2.  Wow.  In so many ways times have changed!  It is amazing to me how far the rights of women have come from those days.  Mike spends much of the shows saying, “They were really like that?”  Sadly, yes.  There’s a ton of lies, betrayal, power hungry insanity, and since it’s on Showtime – sex.  Wow is it crazy.  We’ve been watching an episode a night and I think that’s the main reason I was drawn to this tet.

This passage is the absolute opposite of this royal debauchery.  It talks about showing hospitality to strangers, remembering those in prison, marriage being held in honor and then closing out with “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  These are very different instructions than how the Tudors acted even though they loved to throw the name of God and what “God’s will” is around all over the place.

It speaks a great deal to us all.  In reading this earlier in the week and in thinking on it the past couple days, the part about money wasn’t something that leaped out to me anymore than the rest of it.  Then this morning I go to our biannual Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry meeting and I find out that not only will we at Winthrop Wesley Foundation not receive any program money for 2011 as we were told a week and a half ago, but now we are no longer going to receive any other program funds for the rest of 2010.  So no check coming in September in the thankful income column, but plenty of expenses still going out.  Eek! is about the most nice, censored thing I can say…

But then tonight I read this text again abd I see verse 5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'”  I don’t know if I would say I loved the program money we received from the conference.  In actuality it only made up 15% of our program money receipts.  But I would definitely say that I depended on it.  In the lean months when nothing from churches or sweet giving folks is coming in, I knew that we would receive that money from the Annual Conference and we could pay the light bill.  And that is a very good thing.  So although I don’t know if I “loved” the money we got, I was incredibly thankful we received it. 

But you know times they are a changing, and we live in a different world and economic time.  So it is what it is and it’s now time to move forward and trust that God is with us and will provide for us.  We step out in faith and trust that God will provide.  The semester is planned and commitments made and we’ll see how it all works out in the midst.  I trust that it will.  No amount of stressing is going to help, but boy it’s time to shake the bushes and get some money raised!

Again, God amazes me in giving us the Word we need when we need it.  Even in the midst of the unknown and the uncertainty and the obvious fear, there are tremendous opportunities and new and bold paths to explore and step out in.  I am weary thinking about the work ahead, but I’m excited to see new partners in ministry and the chance to vision anew as we as always try to do more, with less.

Money.  Power.  Intrigue.  Definitely more the world of the Tudors than campus ministry.  But hey – we all need a little instruction and reminders about where our hearts need to be and who are faith is in.  Still not sure what I’m preaching about tomorrow exactly, but often this sound instruction speaks for itself.

So in reading about afflictions…

Affliction is such a yuck word.  Don’t you think?  Affliction.  Doesn’t sound good at all?  I just googled it and did you know there’s an Affliction clothing line?  Why in the world would you want “Affliction” clothing?

The Upper Room this morning was on 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.  It begins with, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”

I wrote about the race earlier and about perseverance and some of our afflictions sure do take some perseverance.  This is the first week of school at Winthrop and could arguably be one of our busiest weeks of the year.  We’ve been doing our thing here at Wesley and things are going pretty well – it’s great meeting new people and love, love, love connecting and catching up with our returning Wesley folks!

But this is tiring….and draining….and so many more depleting adjectives.  It doesn’t seem like it’s just student life, but everywhere it seems that folks are tired right about now as we all get into the swing of a school year.

I admit that at times I am frustrated – I can’t remember things I used to.  I am really tired and the typical adrenaline boost is not kicking in.  I just can’t gear up for this right now – the energy reserves are not there.  I also finally got the letter scheduling the next MRI and surgeon’s appointment – September 14th MRI and September 15th the brain surgeon.

I’d like to think that I can do this normal welcome back wohoo wesley thing no problem and the same as always, but if I’m honest with myself – it’s not the same.  I can’t run around like a crazy person and not feel those affects.  Humbling.  Frustrating.  Frightening.  Freeing?

We get so caught up in a numbers game – so caught up in how much can we produce?  Who is coming to Wesley?  How many?  Who showed up for church on Sunday? How much money is our company making?  What did we do today?  There’s such a focus on numbers and what we do that we forget to just be and that we don’t have to do it all.  I write that, but do I mean that?  Josh and I were talking about numbers and church/Wesley/what is the crazy thing called ministry stuff this week and I know that when pastors say we shouldn’t focus on the numbers, that can sometimes mean they’re just using that as a justification for the size of the body of folks that they work with.  But sometimes I really do question numbers…is that all that there is to say that you’re doing something?  Do we get so caught up in proving that something is happening at our churches or in our classes or in our workplaces or in our lives that we miss the blessings and consolations that God gives us along the way?  Or do we miss being those blessings and consolations to others because we’re more concerned about the to-do lists and keeping up with “that” family or company or church or whatever?

I wonder what would happen if we didn’t just feel frustrated by some of these things that seem to limit us or tie us down but we could flip that and feel the freedom from the endless search for perfection and the chance to claim even our inabilities, sufferings, and crud for the grace and strength of God?  I can believe that at the beginning of the day reading the Upper Room.  It’s harder to believe at the end of a day wondering where it all went and how the list never gets shorter.

Maybe we just need to give ourselves a break…

U2’s “Walk On” is on my itunes dj right now.  Maybe that’s what we do from all the things that can weigh us down – we walk on.  Some of our afflictions may go with us, but we can trust that God is with us and we walk on.

“Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme…”