Wrestling

•August 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Had a conversation recently with someone who’s really struggling with faith. Asking those tough, classic questions like, “Are people who don’t believe in the Gospel really doomed?” And, “What about all of those miracles? Did they really happen?” I could have followed up those questions with others, like, “What about the resurrection? Was Jesus really risen from the dead?” And, “How could a loving God allow such terrible things to happen in the world?”

Sometimes I wonder if people who would call themselves “Christians” allow themselves space and grace to question. Because, so often when I’ve had these sorts of convos, the response many times is something to the effect of, “Yeah! You have those questions, too? Wait, aren’t you a pastor?”

Here’s my stance on those sorts of things: we don’t live in a closed system. It’s not like the world of faith is a bubble isolated from all things ‘real.’ It’s all so very diffuse. So when stuff happens–good or bad– naturally we appropriate and discern those things through our own worldviews… or, if you will, through our faith.

So what happens when something challenges our understanding of the world? Questions arise. Things get messy. Maybe even uncomfortable. We begin to doubt. And, all too often, we feel alone.

Listen, there’s nothing wrong (in my book/Book) with questioning. Or doubt. Jacob wrestles with an angel one night on a riverbank. He emerges from that no less faithful… just changed. New name and all. Jesus even cries out from a cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not like we’re dealing with a God who can’t take it. The way I see it, we’re just trying to get to know God, ourselves, and our world a little bit better.

The problem arises when people think they’re going at it alone. Like they’re the only ones who could possibly have those thoughts. Or like they’re some sort of freak for asking what they ask. Because that’s just not true. That’s not the way it works.

Every now and then, we all need a wrestling mat.

Nostalgia

•July 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been looking at pictures of some of my friends’ kids playing on beaches, building sand castles, wearing those little floaty things that you put on your arms before you jumped in the pool. It’s weird because I remember those days, and they don’t seem that long ago. I know, I’m being cliche here… but really, once you hear a cliche so many thousands of times, there has to be some element of truth to it.

Time does fly by, doesn’t it?

I wonder if that’s why I hear so many parents of grown-up type people yearn for grandchildren. Because it’s sort of like a time-reversal. You get to play with really small humans who are still flesh and blood, but at the end of the day you can still return them to their maker (not Maker, but maker… small ‘m’). You get to play the role of ‘parent’ all over again, and the whole thing just hints of memory.

My youngest-older sister’s about to have a baby, which, for me, is odd. I mean, being an uncle for the first time was a strange enough new reality. But for the sister to whom I am closest in age, the sister with whom I, in many ways, grew up to be bearing a child just seems… I don’t know… weird.

I guess a lot of it is that it didn’t seem that long ago when I was 3-4 years old, and she, at age 9, would play with me on the beach, building sand castles, swimming with me while I wore those little floaty things that I would put on my arms before I jumped in the pool. There’s this picture of the two of us, fresh out of the ocean, where I’m still adorning a layer of baby fat and she’s tiny, herself.

We were just kids. And life was so simple then. No less grand than the ‘now’, mind you. Just simpler.

God… wasn’t that just yesterday?

Scratched Eyeglasses and a Broken Mug

•July 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

While I was up in Montreat, a couple of freak accidents happened… well, at least from my vantage point they seemed a bit freakish.

First, a brand new coffee mug I received at a conference up in Minneapolis descends barely a foot to the ground after falling off a chair… and the handle breaks off the thing. I decided not to give up on it, though, so I was carrying this sullen-looking, broke-down, handle-coveting coffee cup around the mountains while often fielding the question, “Oh, what happened to your mug?”

Then, in a similar incident, I dropped my eyeglasses on the ground outside a local pizza joint– once again, no more than a foot off the ground– and, after picking them up, noticed that the left lens had incurred a series of scratches directly in my line of sight.

Sonofabeesting.

So now I’m walking around feeling like I’ve got a gnat in my eye that won’t come out whilst my coffee mug is being mocked in class by the other coffee mugs.

Brokenness ain’t easy. That’s all I’m sayin’.

GA’s Action on Campus Ministry: Cool, But Now What?

•July 26, 2010 • 1 Comment

One thing I really didn’t have time to process while, in my delirium, I was doing energizer upon energizer up in Montreat, was General Assembly’s rather significant decision in regards to campus ministry this past month. But now that things are relatively back to normal in my world, I wanted to think about this for a sec…. because, after the Office of Collegiate Ministries was recently shut down, the 219th GA reopened it with overwhelming support. This, in my rather uninformed and naive opinion, is good news with wide-ranging implications. Namely, according to PACHEM’s (Presbyterian Association for Collegiate and Higher Education Ministries) blog:

(1) The Office of Collegiate Ministries will return as a stand-alone office.
(2) A higher education strategy will be developed to be presented to the 220th General Assembly in 2012.
(3) A Presbyterian Student Organization will be formed.
(4) The Presbyterian Student Leadership Team will be rejuvenated with funding.
(5) There was significant support across the Assembly for Collegiate Ministry.

Now, let me be real here for a minute. This doesn’t necessarily indicate sweeping reform and huge changes in the works for our denomination’s approach to campus ministry. There are still important questions to be asked in relation to funding and long-term commitment on the part of GA, etc…, etc… I don’t know how long this office will exist. I don’t know what a “higher education strategy” looks like and who will put it together. The fact that GA even used the word “strategy” in relation to campus ministry represents a serious upgrade.

But here’s what I do know: after attending a conference on Presbyterian collegiate ministries in Minneapolis this past month in the days leading up to General Assembly, I encountered a group of people who are ready for something. What, I don’t know. But I certainly sensed a call for change. Or, perhaps more precisely, a desire to be noticed. To be on the denominational radar, a place we college ministries haven’t been for awhile.

And I also know that candidates vying for GA Moderator were openly naming Presbyterian Collegiate Ministries as a field that needed tending. Our outgoing Moderator even dubbed Collegiate Ministries as his domestic mission that would receive a portion of the offering at GA’s opening worship service. And, from what I heard, when the issue of reopening the Office of Collegiate Ministries came before the Assembly, all of the Young Adult Advisory Delegates wore college/university t-shirts as a symbolic gesture. Almost like they were saying, “We’re here. Always have been. Always will be… unless you keep stepping on the collective throats of our ministries.”

I guess it worked.

All of which is to say that, for the first time in awhile, collegiate ministries in the PCUSA has some momentum, some energy, some direction to it. The next question, or course, is, “What now?”

Collegiate Ministry Summit: “Gather at the Well”

•July 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, guess now’s as good a time as any to pick up where I left off two months ago. The thing is, I really enjoy blogging… but isn’t it just like life for things to happen that take you away from some of those things you love to do? Wah wah, Debbie Downer.

But, hey… here I am in Minneapolis ready to attend the Presbyterian Collegiate Ministry Summit, with the theme “Gather at the Well.” Don’t really know what that means just yet, but I’ll let you know. I’m excited about being here, though, even if I’m sort of running on fumes. It’s already been good to see some familiar faces and start catching up a little bit.

I’m really curious to see what course this conference is going to take, especially since it leads up to the PCUSA General Assembly happening here next week. If you know me or if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you probably know that I’m not that high on our denomination’s campus ministry efforts. Granted, I think things are moving… where, I don’t know, but I think they’re moving. Which, I guess is what I’m interested in when it comes to “gathering at the well.”

I mean, it’s not just a question of how my colleagues in college ministry are doing. Or, for that matter, what they’re doing. It’s more a question of where we’re going… emphasis firmly placed upon “we.” Because the only way we’re going to effect change or make inroads when it comes our denomination’s approach to college ministry is together. At least, that’s what I believe.

Now what does that all look like? No clue. But maybe someone at this conference has an idea. And maybe we can work through it together. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for this weekend.

Stay tuned.

A Breather

•April 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I write this, students, faculty, and staff are staring straight in the face of one the most (oxy)moronic names for a week I can think of: Dead Week. Which, as implied by that opening sentence, is anything but.

Papers. Labs. Final projects. All to be written and performed and presented and, for professors, graded. All leading up to the climactic part of any semester: Exam Week.

Which means things are about to change here in Tuscaloosa. The hustle and bustle that was academic year 2009-10 is soon to be replaced by sleepy, Southern-ness… albeit with a summer school edge. In two weeks’ time, traffic snarls on University and Bryant will clear up a bit as 20,000 or so students head out of town to summer internships, jobs, and a little R&R at the lake or beach. And one Presbyterian campus minister will be left to reflect upon the year that was and what all will be in store for 2010-11.

Hard to believe that it was in August when a group of Westminster Fellowship students and College Committee members gathered to plan the year ahead. Harder still to believe that it was October (seems like yesterday) when Westminster Fellowship had its first ever Fall Retreat at the Loper farm. And then there was the Christmas Party at the Hancocks’, Montreat’s College Conference in January, two mission trips over Spring Break, and just now a spaghetti luncheon in April.

We’ve discussed interpretations and theologies of the Incarnation on Monday nights. We’ve also gone over the ramifications of “mission(s)” at our Bible studies. We’ve moved from two studies at 6:00 and 8:00 to one at 7:00, so the whole group can be together.

We’ve covered a lot of ground… and yet there is still much to be done.

I think summer comes at a good time for our group. To be honest, I get the sense that our students, like much of our community in Tuscaloosa, has a bit of spring fever. And who can blame them?

So much has changed in our neck of the woods. So much for just 2 1/2 years. And the only thing I can hope is that this summer– for all of us– allows us space to breathe. To gather ourselves. To take a look around at the world that escapes us when we’re in our own little bubbles.

Because there is still much to be done. At Westminster Fellowship. At First Presbyterian. At the University of Alabama. And wherever we go.

Take a breath. Because even God took a breather when it was all said and done.

Backseat

•April 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

It’s sad how, when life gets crazy, the things that bring you joy take a backseat.

Fly fishing. Coffee with students. Laughter. And, yes, blogging.

Two months almost since I’ve done this. And not for a lack of material, mind you. There was a spring break mission trip to Miami. There have been good discussions at WF on Monday nights. Lots of preaching, for some reason. And even moments a bit tragic and melancholy.

I wish I could make some sort of promise that I’ll be doing the blog thing more regularly. But I can’t do that. Because it seems that things just keep happening. And the things that give me joy take a backseat.

And the only thing that gives me hope is You. Who, of course, also takes a backseat.

Sorry about that. I’ll try and do better.