(written two days ago and only now published)
It's been a long morning already, and it's only 9:30 am. Jaydyn woke up shortly after I did at 6 am and wanted to get up. Wouldn't be encouraged to sleep a bit longer and so my ohsonecessary quiet time was lost. Such an approach-approach conflict! Spend time with him: spend time with coffee. Both high values in my life, but, yes, I chose wisely (or perhaps lovingly); I chose him, which lead to bath time and ninja warrior time and finally off to school for him and me....yes, I did get my coffee and so the integrity of this blog remains intact.
What's on my mind this morning? Ohsomuch. Thinking about the world we live in, the students I journey with, and the college/mission I still get to serve--a perfect combination for me.
The chaos of the world--hardly need to elaborate, do I? Never at peace, it seems shalom is farther away than ever. I wonder if there is any place on earth where it is, even briefly? I wonder what is meant by the evocative phrase “the reign of God”? The world is challenged at nearly every point and sometimes feels that it is falling to pieces. Here and abroad, we struggle with neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation at every turn. The period of time might best be labeled: "To wall or not to wall." Germany tears walls down and opens borders and then, in the country of The Wall, begins to talk again as if walls might be good; Hungary builds walls to close out; Croatia says we are open and then, oops, nope, we are closed. The US build walls to, what, close us in or keep others out? I vote for tearing them down or, at least, creating larger openings—but who is interested in what I have to say?
The pleasure of my students--As anyone who reads my peripatetic blog knows, I'm in my early 70s. They also know that I am still able, willing, and allowed to teach. An amazing gift to me--to live out my calling at a time when many think I should be settling down somewhere and waiting for what? Godot? The grim reaper? Jesus? Don't know but I'm not settling down somewhere, and I'm grateful that I don't have to. Instead, I get to be with young and not so young men and women at crucial times in their lives that are, more or less, eager to learn and allow me to sit with them and enjoy the pleasure of their company. And, what do I teach: I teach about neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation--and how to tear down walls. Tear down the personal walls that separate us from the closest strangers; tear down walls from the anonymous neighbor; tear down the internal walls that we erect, we hope, to keep our own internal chaos at bay--and that keep us from knowing the most intimate stranger: ourselves. Pretty damn amazing!
What's even more amazing is that I am welcomed into the lives of these student/persons! I'm allowed/invited to know them and to speak into their lives. Better still I get to hear the stories they carry and watch the stories they are writing. These stories, oh, my Lord, are stories of such power and pain and joy and bitterness and anger and love and exclusion and inclusion--the list is endless. I'm allowed to laugh and cry with them as they embrace and tell and reflect on their stories--and to help them to grow with and through those stories. Sometimes I even get to be co-author. I am so fortunate I can barely speak at times. So grateful. So very, very grateful.
The focus of a mission--And on top of all that I get to serve in an institution that owns and lives out of a mission that not only allows me to engage in these ways but holds me accountable to doing so. A real mission. A lived mission. A thoughtful mission. It says that I get to follow Jesus in my work and life and with my students--to bring Jesus into the classroom and say welcome. Not in any prescribed or proscribed sense, but in the same sense, I think, that Jesus himself walked into the lives of the folks he encountered and said, "Come, follow me." In class, yesterday, we were listening to reports on various aspects of the human condition; the one we were learning about was "curiosity." I asked, "I wonder, if we are created in God's image, if we can say God is curious?" In some places that question might be seen as absurd or even heretical: How can an omniscient God be curious--about what would that God be curious? Ha! Well, the point is, the question can be asked and we can wonder what a curious God might be like....
But, in addition to following Jesus (i.e., WPC is Christ-centered), the mission I serve also says we are urban. That is what? We are connected to the world outside the classroom. Yesterday, the campus shut down as it has for 11 years. Yes, in the third week of classes, we shut down, and a huge number of us got into vans and headed out into our urban world--our classroom--to serve. I think I heard that students, faculty, and staff were engaged in service projects in the greater Portland Metroplex at 20+ sites. I joined my co-teacher, Bill Dobrenen, our two peer mentors, Olivia and Milo, and 13 students.
We traveled to NAYA, a complex service and education entity serving Native American youth and families. (Did you know that Portland is accurately an urban reservation with nearly 40,000 Natives living here?) There we engaged in those tasks that often get overlooked because there are so many more urgent demands taking the attention of staff. Some of us cleaned out a refrigerator, recently donated, so that the food pantry to supply more than canned foods. Others stacked and sorted clothing, so that seasonally appropriate clothes can be available. Others cleaned out a space that is used for the food pantry, creating larger and cleaner space. Some engaged the outdoors, in the pouring rain, to work in the educational garden so that the students who study at NAYA can learn what they need to know about food survival and the value and importance of Native natural medicines. One person’s weed is another person’s lifeline. That, I think, may be a life principle?
Beyond the service is the joy of being with my students, engaged in serious and humorous conversations, working hard, getting dirty, ruining shoes, and generally emerging as a community that begins to understand not only in intellectual and emotional ways but also physical, dirty handed and kneed ways, what community is and how really valuable it is.
I am so fortunate and so deeply grateful!