Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unspoken Request?

This is a blog entry I have been reluctant to make. The whole facebooking, blogging, and Twittering process involves sharing information about yourself with others. Everything from the mundane "had Fruity Hoops this AM, Yum!" to the amusing "son shoved rox (sic) in the furnace vent--only cost us $1000" (true story) to the annoying, "Jimmy bought a new cow bell and overalls in Farm-Land." I'm comfortable in the land of self-disclosure, and often (as you probably know) fill the digital landscape with verbiage both pedestrian and profound.

But recently, I ran into a roadblock. Something going on in my life so big, so perplexing, that I fell back on that old chestnut of youth group prayer meetings. "I have an unspoken request." For those of you unfamiliar with the expression, it could be hauled out if one was so verklempt as to be rendered speechless by life's troubles, or simply when you didn't feel like praying for Uncle Bob's travel mercies any longer. It was like saying, "I take a pass." Which was exactly what I felt like saying, when I found out that my dad had a tumor in his spine.

To be fair, my Facebook friends responded with grace and charity. "I'll pray!" said one. "From your heart to God's ears," chirped another. But it didn't feel like that to me. When an MRI revealed that my pops had a tumor in his cervical spine, I experienced it almost as a digital event, a strange post about a made-up world of fantasy; this couldn't be happening to me and to my family. Writing the status update , "my dad has a spinal column tumor" was something neither my fingers nor my brain were ready nor able to do.

Not that I am a stranger to tragedy. As a pastor, I have walked through devastating days with parishioners, and our family like yours has endured our share of pain. Yet in this pleasant season where we share a neighborhood with my folks, seeing them nearly every day, such unwanted news shocked me. Writing down that diagnosis seemed too stark, contemplating the possibilities too grim for me to attempt. So I retreated to the unspoken...

But now I speak. First, because I need help. I need friends and acquaintances to pray and encourage me because I simply can't handle life alone. I wish I could. Second, in speaking the unspoken I name our enemy, focus our prayers, target our petitions. Because as dire as that news is, I do believe in power greater than all our troubles. Speaking my need focuses my attention on God's power to save and heal, even in the worst situations.

I'll be frank; my mind often floods with the torrent of possible complications from a surgery that could scar, paralyze or kill. I choose nevertheless to give a "confession of hope" because "He who promises is faithful." That is to say, I dare speak these bare words of need because I do believe that Jesus the healer can and will deal with that need as only one who has died and rose again can... through the doctors, yes, and even beyond a doctor's skill.

So tomorrow morning you may see my status "At the hospital for my dad's surgery." I hope you'll join me in saying a prayer, because this is bigger than me. And the next time you have an "unspoken request" know that I'll understand. But more importantly, the Bible says, "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD." The unspoken is already spoken to Him. And that's what gives me hope...

Friday, October 2, 2009

“More Cowbell. I’ve got the fever…”

The joke rings out of a Saturday Night Live skit from April of 2000, bringing a smile to those who cannot now escape the sight of Will Farrell in a crazy wig, clanking a cowbell in the ear of an apparently oblivious guitarist. People who’ve never seen the skit or wouldn’t catch a SNL reference if it were lobbed at them underhand respond with incredulity when a group of “insiders” bandy about the saying, “More cowbell. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE COWBELL.” “What in the world are they talking about?” they might mutter to themselves.

Perhaps some around Regent have found themselves muttering about a different phrase, an insider’s slogan; that may seem equally foreign, equally obtuse. “Becoming Community.” What does it mean? Who is it for? Is this a socialist plot?” some may have asked.

As one who was there when the term was coined, I feel obligated and perhaps compelled to explain this insider’s phrase, and to make sense of its meaning and intent. Because I too have a fever. And it’s for More Community.

The phrase “Becoming Community” originated in a Student Services brainstorming meeting, whose intent was to set a theme for the year that would capture our sense of what God was up to on our campus, and would name our hopes for the academic year 2009-2010. Becoming Community was unanimously selected as our theme, and has since filtered out, like any good inside joke, to others, both in the faculty, staff and student body.

To be fair, not everyone gets it. “What community?” Who gets to decide? It sounds too soft and gooey to get my arms around.” Individuals point out that community requires trust, a scarce substance in many places. It requires socializing and eating together, something made difficult in Regent’s online environment. In our culture of advertising hype, it sounds like yet another empty cliché, designed to pad recruiting or retention statistics. But still, I have a fever.

I’m not sure whom to blame for my malady. I desperately, with all my being, want to be part of a living, thriving, healthy community. I want to work in a place where I know the people around me, and in turn am known. I want to invest myself in others and celebrate their accomplishments, and in turn be celebrated. My heart hopes for a place where I trust those above and below me to work side by side for a mission greater than all of us. But I need more cowbell…or I should say, I need more community at Regent.

I’d like to see more students meeting together in the Commons, studying the Bible and sharing what a verse means to them, rather than staying up till midnight—door closed to others- to turn in an online post for a class. I want to see more faculty and staff in the Ordinary, pouring themselves into mentoring relationships that cross generational and denominational boundaries. I long to see a weekly chapel packed with students, staff and faculty laying aside cherished worship preferences in order to express their common faith in Jesus Christ, united with students around the country and the world though online access.

The Apostle Paul had it when he spoke to a deeply divided body of believers, 10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. I hear the passion in his voice as the great pastor and educator pleaded with individuals and groups to get along, to work together, to be united in mind and thought. Would he ask for less from a Christian institution founded for God’s glory, whose very seal includes a ribbon symbolizing the unity we proclaim to a watching world. Shouldn’t we all have this fever?

And Guess What? I think I hear the distinctive ring of community’s beat. This year Residence Life professionals along with Student Services staff were joined by area churches on a true Freshman Move-in day. Music played, brightly colored signs welcomed new students. Blaze orange “Volunteer” shirts on Vice Presidents and “2 L’s” melted diversity of rank into unity of purpose. I was there in the room when Katie first met Lauren, their mothers smiled and cooed as they envisioned their girls in each others’ weddings years hence.

I watched as students organized a new evening chapel and were joined by dozens of their peers from every graduate school as well as the large contingent from undergrad. I’ve seen Students involved in Free Enterprise (SIFE) unite Operation Blessing, CBN and Regent through their service initiative to Can Hunger. (honored by Campbell’s Soup with a “seed money” grant.) I was witnessing the fever spreading…not an epidemic, to be sure, but the story getting out, the flame spreading. More “outsiders” getting in on the joke.

To this ear, it’s the familiar ring of a favorite song. One that brought seven professors and seventy students together to pray and to worship and to seek God’s face united in a community for His glory. And when an undergraduate student shared with me that upon his mother’s death, students, staff and faculty rallied around him, his flight home was paid out of the Regent Student Emergency fund, and he received a personal call from the President and Chancellor Dr. Pat Robertson, I knew what we needed more of…more Community. More cowbell. So I’m wondering, do you have the fever?