On Campus at PSU Berks: Unity Day and Easter Dinner

This past Wednesday was Unity Day at Penn State Berks.  At the time, I simply thought it was an end of the year, spring is here, let’s all be fired up with love for Penn State sort of event.  Apparently there was a theme: East Africa.  As a side note, I completely missed all the events spoken of in the linked article, though I was around that area…perhaps those events were later in the day?

Anyway, the CSF students had hoped to do some sort of outreach on campus around the end of the semester, to coincide with Good Friday and Easter.  To make a long story short, CSF ended up with a table as part of Unity Day.  Which does make some sense, since by many accounts Christianity is continuing to experience rapid growth in East Africa.

The students at the table handed out candy and tracts.  Full disclosure: I am not much of a fan of tracts.  I think they often send a message of, “I don’t want to take the time to talk or listen to you, so just read this.”  In certain situations, I think tracts are absolutely awful, such as when people leave them as a tip (instead of money) at a restaurant.

That said, I think tracts, like anything else, can be used well.  The students had me look over the tracts and I tried to help them pick ones that weren’t too corny.  Then they ordered them, sat at the table, handed them out (with candy) and talked to people.

Part of tracts being used well is for those who hand them out to be there to engage people.  For me, this is really the story for CSF on unity day: the CSF students were there with their peers, taking part in a big event on campus.  This is something I have always wanted to see more of.  There are so many events like this on campus that attract large numbers of students.  Just being there in any sort of official capacity is a step in the right direction for our community.  My prayer would be that CSF can continue to think of creative ways to be a blessing and shining light to the campus.

Moving on from that, yesterday Emily and I hosted our first Easter dinner ever.  We had Emily’s family come for dinner at two and then we invited students who were not going home for the weekend to come over at 5:30.  Inviting students is something I had thought through before, and I know other campus ministers have done it, but we never had.  Mostly we never had because we always travel on holidays to visit one of our families.  Being home, we had the opportunity to open our home.

Emily and I (and Skippy…and unborn Baby Hershey) had a blast with family and then friends.  The students were grateful to eat far better food (if I do say so myself, as the cook for much of it) than is available on campus.  After eating, we played a game called Quelf which is just weird.  But it was fun.

Now the students move into their last week of class and then finals.  Pray for them to make it through this busy time!

Recent Reads

I really appreciated these articles from the Internet Monk blog on “Demythologizing ‘Radical’ Christianity”: part 1 and part 2.  The two  posts are actually comments on Skye Jethani’s posts “Redefining Radical” (part 1 and part 2).

Two especially good quotes, first from the second post on Internet Monk, quoting Lutheran Gene Edward Leith on vocation:

When I go into a restaurant, the waitress who brings me my meal, the cook in the back who prepared it, the delivery men, the wholesalers, the workers in the food-processing factories, the butchers, the farmers, the ranchers, and everyone else in the economic food chain are all being used by God to “give me this day my daily bread.”

This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone—Christian and non-Christian—whom He has given life.

Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face—our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor—but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.

The other side of the coin is that God is hidden in us. When we live out our callings—as spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, citizens, and the rest—God is working through us. Even when we do not realize it, when we fulfill our callings, we too are masks of God.

And second, from the first Internet Monk post:

Friends, it’s OK to just be a Christian. Receive God’s grace in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Walk in the Spirit. That is truly radical. Not flashy. Not “extreme.” But fundamental. Solid. Grounded. Maturing.

31 Wild conspiracy theories.
Great video!

Thought provoking analysis of “hell” in scripture.  And then one on heaven.

On that same topic, sort of, Barna has released findings on what Americans believe about universalism and pluralism.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, pointed out that “the difference between the Christian community and the cultural norms is even more pronounced among the youngest generations than the older generations. In other words, younger born again Christians’ attitudes about religious inclusivity and exclusivity are more divergent from their peers than is currently true of their parents’ generation.

“This gap represents increasing pressure on young believers to understand those differences and to find meaning and confidence in their faith convictions. This may be part of the reason young people are hesitant to share their faith with others and why they have so many questions about the nature of heaven: they are less certain what they believe and crossing the divide to communicate with their peers on this issue is a big jump. Helping to prepare young people for this belief gap and enabling them to understand biblical teaching—while also encouraging healthy friendships with people who hold other spiritual views—are crucial challenges for today’s Christian leaders.”

I really enjoyed the book Three Cups of Tea, so it is disappointing to learn that major parts of the story did not really happen, or at least did not really happen the way Greg Mortenson says.  60 Minutes did a major story on this, uncovering both questions about his story and major issues with how funds are used by Mortenson’s non-profit.  It is a shame, because it appears some schools really have been built and Mortenson has done some fantastic work, but he wants it to look like even more has been done.  As Jon Krakaeur, author and former board member of Mortenson’s non-profit says near the end of the piece, “He’s not Bernie Madoff. I mean, let’s be clear. He has done a lot of good. He has helped thousands of school kids in Pakistan and Afghanistan….He has become perhaps the world’s most effective spokesperson for girls’ education in developing countries. And he deserves credit for that…Nevertheless, he is now threatening to bring it all down, to destroy all of it by this fraud and by these lies. ”  This story by CBS has led to lots more news which you can read about by a simple Google search.

Almost Christian 5 – Missional Imaginations: We are Not Here for Ourselves

Kenda Creasy Dean begins the fifth chapter of Almost Christian with a beautiful story from Texas. It is about a high school football coach who encouraged the fans from his wealthy district to show love and blessing to a team on their schedule made up of juvenile offenders from a local youth prison. You can read the story here.  It sets the tone for a chapter on mission and imagination.

The theme of this chapter is that God enters the world through people like us (88). This entering the world is modeled by Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificial love and the same love motivates true religion:

Instead of lowest-common-denominator Christianity in which everyone is happy if people just get along, missional churches ratchet up expectations by consciously striving to point out, interpret, and embody the excessive nature of God’s love…nothing undercuts the human instinct of self-preservation like sacrificial love (89)

This entering the world in self-sacrificial love is mission. When I visit churches to talk about campus ministry, I always say that I do not look at myself as the lone “missionary” at PSU Berks.  A lot of these churches are Evangelical Congregational, under whose bookkeeping I am a missionary in the Global Ministries Commission.  Thus, I am often invited as the “missionary” speaker for the week.  But I want the churches to see that in my mind, CSF is a team of missionaries on the campus.   Furthermore, as a challenge, I try to help the congregations see that they are all, in their daily lives, missionaries. Mission is not one department in a church only for people who are good at it, instead mission is at the root of all we do. Dean says that, “The fact that we have turned the word ‘mission’ into an adjective testifies to the American church’s frayed ecclesiology” (89). She quotes Alan Hirsch in saying that the church does not have a mission but rather God’s mission has a churchMore specifically, God’s mission at PSU Berks has a community called Christian Student Fellowship.

Part of the mission of the church is to its own young people: “Just as God came alongside us in the person of Jesus Christ, we best represent Christ with young people by coming alongside them as envoys of his unconditional love” (93). The church must translate the gospel to its own children. But that is only the first step, as churches invite young people to join in the church’s mission: “A missional imagination assumes that young people take part in the church’s mission – that every Christian teenager is a missionary called to translate the gospel across boundaries, not because she is capable or even interested, but because she is baptized and is therefore sent into the world as Christ’s envoy” (97)

Applying this to my own ministry with college students, I recognize that though I do not need to learn a new language in the way a person going to another country must , I still need to, in some way, learn a different language. First of all, I am now over 30, I am married and have a child on the way. Further, I grew up in the church and am seminary educated. This means I look at the world differently then most college students. I need to interpret their world in order to speak into it.

Second, this is not just a challenge for me. Students who grew up in church have learned to speak church language. In many ways, communicating the gospel to their peers requires speaking in a different language. This may be why those students who come to Christ while at college, with little to no background in the church, often seem most at ease in reaching their peers. They know what it is like to be on the other side, they know the language!

Third, Dean speaks of how young people are suspended between adulthood and childhood (she uses the technical term “liminality”). Such a transitional part of life is also a place for creativity, insight and openness to new ideas. Middle school, high school and college students are all at times in life when they are deciding what they believe and how they want to live. It is vital for the church to reach out to them; within this it is vital for the church to encourage its own young people to reach out to their peers.

Giving young people mission and purpose, encouraging them to live for something bigger then themselves (and there is nothing bigger than God’s plan to renew all of creation through Jesus Christ) is the way to grow and disciple Christians. Of course, that is easier said than done!

Recent Reads

Here are some fantastic articles on the future of campus ministry!

I recently read John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.  This is a fantastic book.  It is a classic that had been on my list for a while and I finally got around to it.  It was especially appropriate to read it during Lent.  I think every Christian leader should read this book.  And speaking of the cross of Jesus Christ, I found this post with another way to illustrate the atonement, as interesting.

Speaking of books I have read recently:

The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders – a great book on the vital importance of the Trinity in evangelical Christian life.  Note “evangelical” in that last sentence as Sanders only cites “evangelicals” because he says they do not have a reputation for being Trinitarian but they are.  This book will stretch your mind and move you to discipleship

The Story of God, the Story of Us by Sean Gladding – This book would be a great read for anyone who wants to get an overview of the entire Biblical story.  The portion on the Old Testament is written from the perspective of the Jewish exiles living 500 years before Christ; the New Testament from the perspective of a church community a few decades after Christ.  Therefore it is kind of like reading historical fiction.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet – I actually read this book a few months ago but I wanted to mention it because I loved it!  It was a compelling story that I could not put down.  I will definitely be reading more Follet in the future.

Back to some articles…

I often wonder, and discuss with others, what are the “essentials” of the Christian faith.  This is not an easy question because almost any answer you give leads to other questions.  I think Roger Olsen does a pretty good job answering it, so I recommend this post.

Do we have free will?  If so, how does it work?  This post argues for a midway position between  free will and determinism.  The author does so in the context of the debates surrounding Rob Bell’s new book .  He also mentions Greg Boyd, whose work I enjoy and appreciate, who leans heavily on free will.  But one problem is that their view of free will seems to discount the many anthropological, sociological, psychological and other various factors that influence us.  Being raised in a specific place and time and culture influences us so greatly that we simply are unable to freely choose anything.  I often make this point when Christians slam messed up Christians in the past, such as the Crusaders.  Yes, killing in the name of Jesus is wrong and abhorrent.  But I am not arrogant enough to assume that had I been living in those days that I would not have gone along with the vast majority of my culture on the way to war.