Officially Official… I think

I have to-do lists a mile long both personally and professionally, but I felt the need to share. Today is July 1. My official start date as the “Interim Director at The Wesley Foundation at A-State.” I won’t say that I am naive enough to believe that I would somehow wake up feeling differently about my ministry or my ability to lead. Yet there was this inkling that somehow the official-ness of today would initiate some kind of shift. There is still time, I guess.

On Sunday, I sat in church listening to Brother John preach and heard a confirmation of my calling. He said that you do not want a pastor who believes they are entitled to their position or their pulpit. You want a pastor who doesn’t feel worthy of the position they hold, but tries their best and greets each day with humility. I feel like being at A-State is in some ways a coincidence. There are times when I think, if my DS and Bishop figured out I was running this joint, they’d definitely appoint someone else. Honestly, it is kind of overwhelming to think that I am responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of two buildings, the spiritual welfare of numerous college students, and the connectional ministry of a campus ministry to other churches in our district. I have more responsibility through my job than I do in my personal life- I’m a renter, currently single, and a hardcore introvert. How did this happen?

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The truth is I don’t know. What I do know is that I am blessed beyond measure to be able to serve my denomination in this way. I am privileged to serve in a setting where I am able to fulfill my passion for reaching out to young adults in the church. I am certainly not entitled to be here. Yet, I am going to give this year my all. I can’t wait to see what it brings!

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. – Dr. Benjamin Spock (applicable to both child rearing and first year of ministry 🙂 )

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Asking the “Right” Questions

This week, I am reading a book from the authors of Freakonomics called Think Like a Freak. In it, the authors argue two points. First, very few of us are willing to admit that we don’t know something. Even kids when given a question that they cannot possibly know the answer to will try to answer rather than admit that they don’t know. Second, admitting we don’t know the answer is hard, but admitting we don’t even know the right question is harder. A lot of us are asking the wrong questions or not asking questions at all and arriving at good, but not great solutions. 

With these thoughts in mind, I want you to know that I don’t know a lot more than I actually do know. I recognize that I am kind of in the business that can’t truly proclaim it knows everything (mainly because when pastors do, it becomes a headache). Still, I am pretty comfortable right now, at this point in my career AKA the beginning, saying that I don’t know. However, I like to have people around me who are willing to admit that they aren’t sure either. I’ve gotten into a habit of asking people to explain things to me as if I didn’t know anything about what I’m asking about whether it’s bike maintenance or financial procedures. Part of this I realize is a lot easier because I’m new to this aspect of my position. You only get so long to pull the new card, so I’m milking it for all it’s worth. 

Now, asking the right questions seems to be a lot harder for me. This week, I am trying to plan for fall and I find myself developing all sorts of questions. What have we done to reach out to campus in the past? How well has it worked? What groups have we partnered with? What groups always schedule things that overshadow our events? How have we engaged residence life, greek life, the band, and freshmen in general in our events we offer during welcome week? I still feel like these aren’t the right questions. I feel like questions like, Is it necessary to host events at Wesley during welcome week? Would it be more beneficial to participate in events already offered on campus? Do events help people connect or do people help people connect with a ministry? Even then, the questions aren’t quite what I’m getting at. 

Fortunately, I still have a month or so develop my questions and figure out what I don’t know. Until then, I continue to poke and prod at the planning process. Praying each moment for God to move on campus and for each student to find a place to belong.  

The In-Between

In Celtic spirituality, there is a idea known as thin places. These places are believed to be liminal spaces, or thresholds, between the spiritual and material worlds. When you enter into them, you recognize being further from everyday life, but not to the point of crossing into a new plane of being. Supposedly the Garden of Gethsemane is one of these places where the presence of God can be more easily felt. Still, these spaces are precarious. The moment you set name to them as liminal, their allure and power seem to disappear. Yet, this is the space I find myself and my students currently in. We are on the threshold.

The semester ends on Monday and students will be starting finals, graduating, moving home, and beginning internships, jobs, and summer studies. Their anxiousness seems to be filling the air. They are ready to be on to the next thing, yet utterly stuck in the between. They are waiting to enter that new space of freedom and opportunity and experiences that come through summer, but they recognize that they are not quite there.

Last Worship Service of the Semester

The same seems to be true of me. I am anxious to wrap up this first year at Wesley. I am ready to neatly tie up all of the loose-ends of the semester and move on to the next challenges and experiences of summer in campus ministry. Still, I am not quite there. I am trying simultaneously to look forward and plan what lies ahead and look back to reflect on the beauty of what has happened here in the last nine months. I am trying to figure out possible next steps for the ministry, while relishing the precious moments with students. It’s a thin space. More accurately, it may be a thin time. A brief glimpse to what lies ahead and moment of pause for what has passed.

All I know is that if liminal spaces are places where we can feel the divine more presently among us, then liminal time must be moments when we can feel closer to God. These endings and beginnings challenge me to pay attention. God is in the in-between. Filling the spaces and times where we wait at the threshold.

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.