The Age of Wikipedia

Last week my discipleship group was having a conversation about beavers of all things. One of my students said beavers were rodents, but I wasn’t so sure. Of course, everyone at the table pulled out their cell phones to look up the order classification of these mammals. Sure enough, he was right, as much as I hated that fact. Wikipedia, the all knowing authority on all things told us so. Encounters like this beg the question: who has authority? I thought nothing of my student pulling out his phone to check our accuracy. Theoretically, I have authority in the room simply because I’m the pastor or possibly because I’m the oldest person, with two degrees (although neither is in biology). However, without Wikipedia, which one of us would have been “right?” The student? (Who was actually correct about beavers being rodents by the way). Or me, the leader? (Who obviously needs to go back to a basic bio course.)IMG_4519

Authority in the past has been based on tradition, but today is authority commanded through knowledge? Or is it based in something else?

Looking at the locus of authority is by no means a new idea. Classes and addresses given by Iliff alum, author, and pastor of the coolest church in Denver, Nadia Bolz Weber, piqued my interest about authority in the age of Wikipedia. Authority, in case you were wondering, is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, or enforce obedience. See also, dominance, rule, command, and supremacy.  Authority can be related to institutions like the church or a government. Yet more often than not, people are skeptical that institutions have authority simply based on their longevity. After all, institutions including the church are simply made up of human beings. Authority is also commanded from individuals. Doctors have credibility over medical matters. Plumbers have authority over the leaking faucet. Even then, these individuals cannot escape scrutiny from the overwhelming access to information available through Web MD or even a second opinion from another doctor or plumber. It seems that you can get anyone to agree with your opinion if you only search long and hard enough. Whether that is for a diagnosis, a cost estimate, or perhaps a certain belief. So again, I ask, who has authority and what is it based upon?

Though we don’t like to think about it, authority is about relationship. People and institutions cannot have authority without first having relationship. If you think about what makes for good relationships, the same tends to hold true for authority. Relationships are fostered by honesty, and brought down by lies. Relationships are kept thriving by asking and offering forgiveness. Relationships continue because of mutual love and support. When we think about the authority of the church today (specifically the UMC), are we basing that authority upon our relationships with people? Or is the church’s authority based upon its longstanding traditions, polity, or policies? Honestly, I think as an organization, the church has long felt the shift toward new understandings of authority, yet instead of trying to garner authority in other ways, we have continued to cling to what authority we have left because we are old, bureaucratic, and political.

In order to gain authority over a new generation where information is at their fingertips, the church and its pastors need to be relational. We cannot rely on our theology or connection, but instead we have to be honest, ask for forgiveness, admit mistakes, and love people. I learned this lesson the hard way, last semester.

I sat around a table with our students during a leadership team meeting and asked them for a minute of silence to think about the highs and lows of the semester. The students revolted… refusing to sit for a single minute in silence. Instead, they marched off to other rooms and other tasks, while I sat down visibly frustrated and not even slightly amused. When they returned, I kept stewing and went off about how frustrated I was. The students began recalling their highs and lows and when the question came back around to me, I surprised even myself by apologizing. I admitted that I should not have been mad at them and that I would try to take their distaste for silence into account next time. Immediately the dynamic shifted. I no longer was trying to have authority based on the nature of my position, but I had authority based on my relationship with them. I wasn’t above making mistakes or asking for forgiveness.

To answer my own question: everyone has the opportunity to have authority. Authority is ultimately based on authenticity. It means being true to you while being in a relationship with another person. It is this kind of authority our world so desperately needs. It is this kind of authority that Jesus embodied.

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The Power of Silly

Most days I am content with thinking surface level thoughts. If thoughts were an ocean, I like to spend the majority of my time in the tidal pools, splashing about, but never really getting too deep. I think this is part of my recovery mode from 3 years at Iliff where I was forced into the deep to think about such vast things as creation, theological anthropology, and the effect of Christianity on colonialism. Now-a-days, I only find myself in those spaces every so often. This week, I have found myself swimming in the deep more than I like.

On Sunday a young man from my high school class passed away in an automobile accident. The response of my hometown and the community he was serving as a fireman have been overwhelming. Yet in light of such tragedy, I find myself wandering in the deep. Questioning my beliefs and my choices. What is the purpose of our time on earth? Am I doing all I can with what I have in order to make a lasting impact on my community? I catch myself wondering why I am not always happy, much less content.  I question whether I have misinterpreted my calling, whether I have missed my lucky break, or whether I have not fought hard enough for what I believe to be true. As I think all of these thoughts, I find myself sinking into a painful self-evaluation that I don’t know that I can handle.

Pantyhose tug-o- war at Gillett UMC

Pantyhose tug-o- war at Gillett UMC

So, my solution was to be silly. Being silly is underrated in our society. It tends to be limited to children and youth, but is frowned upon as adults. Being silly is often treated as being irreverent. Silliness shows a lack of respect for adulthood, or school, or church.

One meaning of silly states that it means something that is ridiculously trivial or frivolous. In times and places when seriousness is the default tone, when depth and pain seem rampant, isn’t there a need for silly? If we dare to talk about the deep questions of life, as we do in churches, why can’t we also endeavor to talk about inconsequential things and embrace the frivolity of life?

I can guarantee that I have made more friends being silly than I have ever made being serious. Yesterday as my students gathered around to taste test Reese’s cups and their Easter variation, I forgot about the questions that had been plaguing me since Monday morning.

Taste tester

Taste tester

They laughed as we blindfolded one another and performed “accurate measurements.” Little did they know, I needed their silliness. So, here’s to the underrated virtue of silly and to accepting the seriousness of life by recognizing its polar opposite.

Belong

On a scale of 1-10, my brain is functioning at a -3 today. It’s something about the stormy weather and the fact that my contacts refused to go in my eyes this morning that is keeping me from working at my best. In light of that, I am going to talk about the thing that I think is the biggest “selling point” of campus ministry: belonging. 

As I sat in the union this week, tabling (literally sitting at a table giving out information) for our biking mission trip, Tour de Faith, I was admittedly people watching. As you can imagine, you get to see some very interesting fashion choices at a college campus. I was struck by the fact that I was mentally categorizing people based on their appearance. I could tell those who were in a sorority based on their shirts with their letters. I saw people involved with sports teams based on their jerseys or athletic apparel. With Relay for Life approaching, I could guess those who were involved based on their choice to wear purple in support. Yet there were others who I could not discern an iota about their involvement on campus based on their appearance, like the girl in the black sundress and floral combat boots, or the young man dressed to the nines wearing a navy blazer and salmon pants. I could only ask myself, “Where do you belong?” 

One of the challenges of young adulthood is finding a place to belong. Moreover, it’s finding a place to belong on more than a superficial level. Some choose sororities, fraternities, ROTC, athletic teams, or academic clubs to call home. Far fewer, it seems, turn to religious organizations or campus ministries. As I examine these two types of groups, a difference I hadn’t noticed previously arises. In the case of the former, in order to belong you are invited to create a new identity that looks roughly like the identity of others in the group. In the case of the latter, you are invited to “come as you are,” to change and to create a new identity that looks roughly like Jesus, but mostly like yourself. It’s an interesting idea and one that I don’t have enough brain power to dig further into at this time. 

As a young adult trying to belong in a new city during seminary, I joined a church. The way I found to belong was through a Sunday School class filled with young people like me who were new to the city and looking for a place to connect. The best thing that happened to me was that no one judged me as the new kid. Nor did they go out of their way to get to know me quickly. They were used to new kids. They were used to people coming and leaving. When I stuck around, that’s when they invited me into deeper relationship. It took time, but they invited me in and gave me a place to be and a community who cared. So often in churches I encounter the two extremes either extreme apathy or extreme interest. Both are off-putting. Belonging is a choice of both the community and the member. Like friendship it takes time and encouragement to grow. 

Seeds

Today is one of those days when I need a reminder why I am doing what I am doing. Why am I at Wesley? Why did I choose a career working with college students in ministry? With spring break just around the corner, I admit I am feeling a little bit worn out. It has been a good, but demanding week starting with Board of Ordained Ministry interviews last Thursday where I was approved to continue my journey toward ordination as a deacon. That was followed up with a youth rally and leading Sunday services at churches 3+ hours away. This week has included baking +/-250 muffins, Monday lunch chaos, finishing a vocational discernment group, a Wesley board meeting, wonderful worship, a Buffalo Wild Wings trip, and now discipleship group tonight. As I look at that list, I can’t help but ask myself, is this ministry?

Sometimes, I get so bogged down with my “list” that I forget to live in the moment. I forget about the bigger picture of serving God, serving neighbor, and putting love first. These times when I feel so bogged down; inevitably my students do something that makes me see that all of the business of campus ministry is a huge blessing. On Monday, one student pulled me aside to ask about Wesley taking part in a canned food drive on campus, which has since spiraled into a collaborative ministry project for all campus ministries at ASU during Holy Week. Another student asked me about how to reach out to our incoming freshmen for next year showing true leadership.

IMG_4385

Image

 

Talking about fruitfulness happens a lot as a resident in ministry. Is your ministry bearing fruit? How can your setting be more abundant? I struggle with that image. What suits me better is sowing seeds. Perhaps it is my black thumb that makes it hard to fully grasp the concept of fruitfulness, but seeds I understand. You give seeds soil, sun, water, and pray that they find a way to move out of the dirt and into the sunlight. It takes a lot of hope to plant a seed. As a minister to young adults, I know that I am planting and watering for a harvest that will be reaped by some other minister in the future. When I forget that I pull out this prayer written by Bishop Ken Untener for Bishop Oscar Romero. (In fact, I read this prayer at graduation worship last year at Iliff).

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Miss America

Today, I ran across an interesting announcement. “Miss America 2014 to Visit A-State as Speaker for Women’s History Month Conference” the headline read. I’ll admit my immediate thought was that they’ve got to be kidding. A 24 year old pageant queen is going to give the keynote address at the conference about women’s history? What decade am I in? Sheesh! Then I started reading about Miss America 2014. She’s the first Indian-American winner of the pageant with a platform of “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” She is also an ambassador for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs for young women and girls) and desires to become a physician after her reign.  Well, shoot! Perhaps I should have waited to judge her.

My reaction says much more about me than it does about Miss America. Yes, I would rather see Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, or Marissa Mayer speaking about women’s history. However, I didn’t give Miss America, Nina Davuluri, a chance. She certainly has something important to say.

Margaret_Gorman_2The first Miss America winner, 1921

I find myself doing this over and over again. Casting judgement before I dig deep enough to really know what’s going on. I know I’m not alone. The internet can rocket an idea, concept, video, article, or person to fame with a few keystrokes and bring them crashing down with just a couple more. In a technology driven world, everyone has a voice, which means everyone has a critique. Yet, I have to learn to sometimes silence that switch in my brain that is constantly analyzing for flaws.

I’ve got to retrain my brain. To look for beauty in the ugly. To see hope where I notice despair. To notice incremental change where I want radical, immediate revolution. As a student at Iliff in an online Missions and Evangelism course, my professor challenged the class to tweet everyday the way we saw the Holy Spirit working. It was a difficult task at times to write in 140 characters or less the tremendous movement of the Spirit in a breakthrough discussion in class. Other days, I found myself praying for rain because at least I knew I could the Spirit in nature.

I hope that I can continue to grow and to practice seeing the good in the world. It is such an important skill that many people take for granted. Today, I am grateful for the work of Miss America as she shares her passion for dialogue across difference at ASU.

Welcome!

Long time, no blog. Actually, I think the last time I blogged was 2008 as I was studying abroad in New Zealand. Well, here I am again. Older, but probably not wiser. I wanted to start this blog, so that I could keep track of interesting ministry ideas that I have run across during my ministry as a campus pastor for the Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State. I want to communicate some of the fun ways that churches help their neighbors, serve their community, and generally “do church.” 

Let’s start with one of my favorite churches in the Rocky Mountain Conference, Trinity UMC- Denver. I served as an intern at Trinity UMC from 2011- 2013. One of the coolest practices that this church was perfecting was their welcoming of new guests and members. As a large downtown congregation, Trinity sought to help visitors become a part of the church community as soon as they enter the doors. When visitors register their attendance they receive emails from the senior pastor and pastors in their area of interest- youth, young adults, adult ministry, missions, or music. Additionally, they are invited to a six-week course, Exploring Trinity, where they learn about Methodism, ministries of the church, church history, and meet different pastors. During this six weeks, course participants get to know not only the church, but one another thereby creating an instant connection to the congregation. At the end of the six weeks, individuals are invited to join the church in a group. Afterwards, they are invited to a meal where various members of the congregation welcome them into the church family. When it comes to welcoming people to the congregation and helping them become involved, Trinity does a magnificent job! I was welcomed into the congregation by their method and found myself invested and involved in the church almost immediately. 

What an appropriate topic for the welcome to my blog! Welcome!