On Campus at PSU Berks – Two Kinds of Students in Campus Ministries

When I was a student at Penn State University Park there were at least fifteen evangelical Christian ministries on campus (and there may be more now).  As far as I recall, the groups got along well, recognizing they all had similar goals.  That said, some groups had more of a reputation for being intensely committed to their mission to save the campus.   But I do recall there were some students who came to Christian Student Fellowship who simply did not fit into such groups because they were not prepared to join in the conquering of campus.

Perhaps to put it another way, using a war analogy: if the  mission was to take the enemy hill and the message was to get on board the mission or be left behind, some students, even if they found the mission desirable, were not wanting to charge up the hill.

It seems like there are, and I admit this is a broad generalization, two types of students drawn to campus ministry: Conquerors and Survivors.  Conquerors are those who could be described as “on fire for Jesus” and thus ready to charge up the hill.  They know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and desire for others on campus to know him also.  When there are many Christian groups on campus, these students are drawn to the ones with the most intense outreach plan, the ones charging up the hill.

Then there are students who just need the Christian community to survive another day, the Survivors.  Some of them are plagued with depression.  They are overwhelmed with the pressure of life, often coming to weekly meetings appearing completely drained.    Some are not sure what exactly they believe, other than that they believe in Jesus and want to be part of a community so they can learn more.    Maybe they are just shy and introverted.   The idea of getting on board with a mission to conquer campus may be appealing, but adding another thing to do may end up conquering them.  Or to return to the hill analogy one more time, they may like the idea but they know charging up such a hill is not for them.  They are left wondering if there are other ways they can contribute to the mission.

One of the cool things about Penn State Berks is that CSF is the only Christian group on campus.  Which means the “conquerors” and the “survivors” are forced to, if they want to be in any group, be in community together.

It does cause tension every now and then.  There have been times when it appeared that some of the “conquerors” questioned the sincerity of the faith of the  “survivors”.  The “survivors” have at times felt intimidated by the “conquerors” who appear to have such a passionate faith.  Other times the “survivors” have manifested feelings of resentment, thinking the “conquerors” see themselves as better Christians.  Or, perhaps worst of all, in the face of the “conquerors” faith, the “survivors” simply have one more thing to stress about.

Over the past seven years at Penn State Berks these two types of students have managed to build a community together.  They have managed to recognize that they are one community with much diversity in its members.

CSF Berks is a place for people to come who need help to survive another week at college.

CSF Berks is a place for people to come, and go out from, on a mission to bring blessing and hope to the campus.

Of course, and perhaps here is where my generalization breaks down, very few students fit into one or the other category at all times.  Depending on what is going on in life, an individual may sometimes fit in as a “conqueror” and other times as a “survivor”.  Either way, my hope is that CSF is there to meet the needs of both.


When The Temple Crashes Down

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Gospel of Mark 13:1-2

I have always been proud to be a Penn Stater.  Returning to State College, PA is like returning home.  Along with many alumni I enjoy visiting old haunts and seeing the campus that played such a huge role in my life.  The Lion Shrine, The Corner Room, Old Main, The Creamery, Beaver Stadium – these are some of the temples of Penn State.

In the past few days, these temples have come crashing down.  Not literally of course, but symbolically.  A place many of us love has forever been tarnished.  The actions of a few have caused tremors that will not soon subside.  At the forefront of this has been legendary coach Joe Paterno.  An idol to many, his image has been damaged.  When Joe’s story is told, it will now end on a sour note.

Jesus of Nazareth lived among a people who had a long history and grand monuments.  The Temple in Jerusalem was at the center of their religious, ethnic and political life.  It was one of the signs that they, the Jews, were God’s chosen people, specially blessed.  In Jesus’ analysis, many of the Jews had taken this a few steps too far, focusing so much on the Temple and the outward appearance thatthey missed the true heart of God, things like justice, mercy and compassion.

Jesus warned the people that if they continued on their current path, the Temple would be destroyed.  If their national pride overwhelmed all else and they went to war with the powerful Roman Empire, the center of their world, the Temple, would become a ruin.  This would be God’s wrathful judgment on them for their idolatry, for putting their religious system, Temple and outward motions in the place of true worship of God.

The only way to survive the coming destruction was to follow Jesus.  It was the disciples of Jesus who were God’s true people.  After destruction came and the Temple was no more a remnant true to God would remain.  Even if the disciples were killed, as Jesus was, there was the hope of a new life through resurrection.  The community of Jesus’ followers would persevere.

We construct numerous temples, many idols,  in our own lives.  Over time we begin to find our identity in such things.  For many of us, a central part of our identity is “Penn State”.  There are other temples though.  We may find our identity in our nation or our political party.  Perhaps our identity is in the house we have or the car we drive.  Maybe it is in our job or our friendships.

What happens when those things are destroyed?  What happens when destruction comes and what you based your identity on is in ruins?

Some people reaffirm their support for the Temple.  We have seen this in the many students and alumni as they very vocally support Joe Paterno.  Other people distance themselves from the Temple, vowing to never go near the ruins again.  This is easy to find on new story message boards, with people declaring they will never donate, send their kids to, or set foot on Penn State again.

Personally, I am convicted.  I have often made Penn State an idol.  When a study came out ranking Penn State highly among all universities, I proudly trumpeted this among friends.  When good news came out of Penn State, such as the millions students raised each year to help kids with cancer, I bragged about how my alma mater is just better than yours.

My idol has been exposed.  My temple now lies in ruins.

It has driven me back to a simple fact: the only one who never disappoints is Jesus Christ.  If our identity is primarily in Jesus Christ rather than our own man-made temples and idols, we will persevere.

Honestly, as a Penn Stater it has been hard to see the eyes of the world turn towards us in judgment.  I am not saying this is not deserved, I am just saying it is not easy to take.  But it does lead me to the question: Are you ready for your Temple to come crashing down?

How will you persevere when you lose your job?

How will you persevere when the economy crashes again?

How will you persevere when  a person close to you betrays you?

How will you persevere when America, like every other nation that has come before, collapses?

How will you persevere when a person you admire is exposed?

If we can avoid the temptation to just see the Book of Revelation as a future timeline, we can find a challenging message.  In the sixth chapter there is a vision of destruction, when the whole world comes apart:

12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Who can stand when the whole world as we know it falls apart?

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

Those who have their identity in Jesus Christ are able to stand.

I ask once again, are you ready for the temples, the idols, in your life to come crashing down?  On what strength will you be able to stand?  In who or what do you find your identity?

It reminds me of a book I have not read, but that has a great title: Jesus +Nothing = Everything.

The Penn State Scandal and The Injustice We All Ignore

By now the scandal at my alma mater, Penn State University, is well known by everyone in America who does not live under a rock.  It is a horrendous story of the worst kind of abuse, a man using his position and power to abuse children.  Like most others connected to PSU, I have never been less proud of my alma mater.  It is a dark time.  My prayers are for the victims of this crime.

A lot has been said about what various people knew and when they knew it.  Legendary coach Joe Paterno apparently fulfilled his legal duties in reporting whatever the witness (graduate assistant at the time, current assistant coach Mike McQueary) told him.  But the consensus at this point seems to be that those charged with crimes (Curley, Schulz) and those innocent of any crime (Paterno, McQueary) did not do enough with the information they had.  They should have done more.

Why didn’t McQueary, 28 years old at the time, step into the shower and stop the abuse?  He surely could have taken a fifty-something Sandusky, or at least done enough to help the kid get away.

Why didn’t Paterno follow up, at the very least ask why no police ever came and interviewed him?

They should have done more.

Last night I attended a meeting of FREE (Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved).  It is a local group whose purpose is to raise awareness of human trafficking in Berks county and the world and to motivate people to work to end human trafficking.  The speaker was Dr. Victor Joseph, reporting on his research on Indian women who had been rescued from prostitution, studying their “psychological and emotional stages in a post-brothel setting, and also…the impact of forgiveness and futuremindedness on their lives.”

Dr. Joseph talked about how many people in small Indian villages are in massive debt.  Men visit the village, tell families there are jobs for their young daughters as housekeepers in big, faraway cities.  These young daughters, as young as six or seven, are sold by their families to these men.  The daughters go willingly, thinking this job will provide money they can send back to help their families get out of debt.  The truth is, these men are recruiters for the sex industry and in a matter of days these young girls will be working on the street, forced into prostitution and being raped dozens of times a night.

Listening to Dr. Joseph speak I could not help but compare the situation to what is happening at Penn State.  In the last few years I have made an effort to educate myself about human trafficking.  I know a lot about the horrors in the world.  Do I do enough with what I know?

We are quick to question Penn State officials about what they did or did not do.  Rightly so.  But the uncomfortable truth is that what Mr. Sandusky did to those boys happens every single day to thousands of boys and girls around the world.

It does not just happen in other countries. Estimates are that 100,000 American children are forced into prostitution each year.  The average age of entry into prostitution is 13.  This means that a large majority of prostitutes who are over eighteen did not choose that lifestyle, instead they are victims of child rape.

(To learn more about human trafficking is quite easy online, there are many   organizations    working against it and articles often appear about it too.)

Pornography plays a huge role in this.  Women forced into prostitution have reported they have been filmed.  The pornography industry feeds the trafficking industry.  There are loads of horror stories about the pornography industry (go here).

What happened at Penn State is horrible and I pray for justice.  I hope the victims find restoration and the guilty are punished.  But as the questions swirl of whether those who knew did enough, I hope that those asking the questions look at their own lives.

We know women and children are forced into prostitution throughout the world and even in our own neighborhoods.  What are we doing to stop it?

We know pornography uses and abuses women, breaks up marriages, and destroys lives.  What are we doing to help those enslaved?

I could go on: we know millions in the world do not have access to clean water, we know tens of thousands suffer from AIDS and other diseases, we know that many starve to death daily while we live within a few miles of more food than they will ever see in a lifetime.

I know and I am guilty of not doing enough.

Now you know too.

The words of the prophet Isaiah (58:6-10)

 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Snow in October = No Lettuce This Week!

It snowed in October for the first time I can ever remember.  I read that one year in the late 1970s was the last time there was enough snowfall in October to actually measure.

Many people in the area are just now, days later, getting electricity back.  For most of us though, life is pretty much back to normal.

Yesterday I picked up our bi-weekly Community Supported Agriculture box and was surprised to see there was no lettuce.  When we signed up we knew we were going to have to start eating lettuce a lot more as it was promised to be in every single box.  So why no lettuce?

The snow killed it.

Here is a copy of the Crawford Organics CSA Newsletter which explains what happened to the lettuce, and other vegetables, on the farm during the storm:

     The cold weather last week did more damage than we expected. The snow was pretty and we enjoyed a more leisurely day while it fell. However, after the snow stopped, the cold came. We had 22° at our place on Sunday morning. I had to carry water to the chickens before we left for church. Their usual waterers weren’t frozen very solid, but it still took several hours for them to thaw. It warmed up Sunday afternoon and quite a bit of snow melted. Sunday night it got cold again, though not as cold as Saturday night.

On Monday we waited till noon to start harvesting. We can’t pick anything while it is frozen so we waited. We also wanted to let some snow melt before we tried to harvest. Only once we started picking did we see exactly how everything fared through the cold. Most of the kale was okay, though there were a few damaged leaves. When we went to get the lettuce, we found that it wasn’t so happy. Many of the ribs had frozen and cracked. Several of them were already beginning to decay. When we stripped all the bad leaves off, there wasn’t anything but the heart left. We were planning to send lettuce in the boxes this week. We checked both the older and the younger group that was left outside. They were both equally bad. We checked the next younger group that was in our high tunnel. They were fine, just way too small. There will probably be a couple weeks here without any lettuce. We will have to wait for the young group to grow big enough that we can pick it. We had also planned to send bunched beets. However, their tops were badly scarred from the freezing weather. We were thankful to see that the roots were unharmed. We sent just the roots in the box this week. We just barely had enough cauliflower to put in the boxes. We didn’t think we would have any, but there were just enough that survived. This will be the last time we can send it. (With all the rain this fall, both broccoli and cauliflower have had a lot of disease trouble. In a drier year, the cauliflower would normally last much later into the fall. The broccoli is still trying, but it is growing very slowly. At the moment there isn’t enough to send.) We are sending peppers this week. We had just a small patch inside one of our high tunnels. All the peppers outside are totally dead. The plants inside are damaged, but the fruit is still in good shape. We hope to have peppers for another week or two.

One blessing we have by living in America today is that we can head to the grocery store and buy pretty much whatever we want whenever we want it.  Occasionally there may be a shortage of something due to a bad crop somewhere.  I recall a couple years ago stores were short on canned pumpkin.  Prices may be cheaper when specific fruits and veggies are in season.  But for the most part, we have a tremendous amount of variety at our fingertips.

It is a blessing.  Perhaps it is also a curse.  We have little to no connection to God’s creation.  That is why I thought it would be cool to do the CSA.  We have some connection to the people who are cultivating the ground, growing the food.   Not all of it of course.  But it is a bit satisfying that later this week I will be eating beets, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, cauliflower AND POPCORN (which is awesome) that were grown right down the road.

But no lettuce, because there was a snowstorm in October.  In a CSA it is not just the farmers taking the risk, having to worry about losing a crop to weather.  In this community, we all eat lettuce or have no lettuce together.

I encourage you to look into Community Supported Agriculture.