The Art of Faith and Friendship

The Art of Faith and Friendship

Written by Reverend Michael Bartley. 

Dominique Domercant is a Haitian artist and former minister of culture for the country of Haiti. Several years ago the Wesley Foundation brought Dominique to Oklahoma State University to participate in an arts demonstration and to share the story of the Haitian people with the students of Oklahoma State. During the last few days that Dominique was in Stillwater, he stayed in my home. One evening, Dominique and I sat in the living room attempting to talk. Dominique knew French and Haitian Creole – I know English! Language was not going to be the stuff of our conversation. However, during the five or six hours that we sat in the living room, the two of us began to share each other’s story. Dominique, like many Haitians, was raised with the syncretism between Catholicism and traditional cultural voodoo. He was raised in the poorest country in the world. Dominique is an artist who sees the world through the lens of a canvas. Dominique is an intense thinker and observer.

I am a United Methodist clergyperson raised in a traditionally conservative American evangelical protestant white family. I am the classic example of a WASP! I was raised in Topeka, Kansas in a relatively wealthy family. I have attempted painting before but to be honest my painting is not something that should be viewed without eye protection. Dominique and I’s stories stand in stark contrast. Sitting in the living room that evening was not just a language event. In fact, I would suggest, the biggest obstacle to communication wasn’t even language.

Had Dominique and I shared the same language we may have heard each other’s words, and been able to decipher the consonants, the vowels, the definitions. We may have even thought that we understood each other.

However, deeper than our language differences was our story dissonance. Dominique and I have experienced the world differently.

Tonight, as I sit here writing, thinking about my encounter with Dominique, thinking of the students and friends of the Wesley, wondering what I should share with you – these thoughts and experiences all converge. Dominique, work, you. All come together and challenge me with a set of fundamental questions. How is it that we become a people, a single people? How is it that we communicate? How is it that we live?

In that evening with Dominique, I learned as much about myself as I learned about Dominique. I was led by an artist who understood how to communicate with color, picture, smile and tear.

Dominique and I talked about the earthquake

We talked about our children

We talked about our parents

We talked about our countries

We talked about politics

We talked about faith

At one point, as we exchanged eye contact, he asked me, in the color orange, about hope.


Hope the image of looking at each other!

Hope dreaming out loud!

Hope word acts exchanged!Hope shared space?

Hope respect of difference?

Hope friendship?


Untitled. (intentionally)

Untitled. (intentionally)

Janina Graves is the Student Ministry Coordinator at The Wesley Foundation at OSU, as well as the Founder of the I AM Program. She is passionate about storytelling and expressive arts. She considers herself blessed to have listened up close and personal to the life stories of hundreds of OSU students from Oklahoma and around the world.

So much of college is about titles, credentials, and achievements…

Is this good? Is this bad? I’m not sure.

But, I have been wrestling a lot lately with Jesus’ public display of… (nothing)… at the end of his life. Jesus’ career had taken off… his ministry had just begun… he was at the forefront of an up and coming religious, socio-political movement.

And, here he is… Jesus the Christ in front of a crowd with an opportunity to “speak to power,” to “reveal his glory” and he might as well have just said nothing. (I’m gonna take some liberties here and just be me, so please keep in mind I’m not a theologian or a historian).

“Are you the king of the Jews?” – Pilate

(Read: who are you? are you who they say you are?!)

“You have said so.” – Jesus

(Read: I am whoever you say I am…)

And, there it is. “What?” you ask.


Jesus’ “big moment” – dozens, perhaps hundreds are watching: politicians, religious leaders, community members, family and friends – and, he simply concedes in the most inconspicuous way to the half-assed observation (mocking?) of another. Wait. WHAAAAT??!!!

I have to admit. This part of the story upsets me. It bothers my Valedictorian, Outstanding Senior, yadda yadda soul. Where’s his moment of glory?

The story gets worse. Jesus submits himself to a process of public humiliation, physical torture, and eventual death in one of the worst ways…

“But, wait,” you say, “he rose from the dead! His moment of glory comes later!”

Well, I don’t know about you… but, going through all of that for a few lousy private and public appearances afterwards doesn’t seem to fit the bill of the “price he paid.”

I’m not shaming you, I’m not trying to get us to “feel bad” or to wallow in the “sin that put him there…”

But, I am saying… I. Don’t. Like. It.

Based on his performance and audience participation, I doubt that he would have received a “Best of” award or earned all 50 out of 50 on a rubric. He most definitely didn’t earn an A or pass the qualifying exam… particularly by those who held the authority. What exactly was Jesus’ title? His credentials…. achievements? Depends on who you ask.

All I know is… he didn’t seem to care.

I wrestle with this question… why do I want to follow Jesus? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? For as many years as I’ve understood this story (or this version of it, anyway), I’ve never been able to understand how people can so eagerly claim Jesus as Lord. Personally, I always doubt how well they know the story. When people tell me, “I just want to follow Jesus…” I quite frankly want to ask… “but, do you know what happened to him?”

Maybe I’m less “Christian” than others. Or, maybe I just don’t want to suffer or surrender. Maybe I just have a bigger ego or like self-preservation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… I believe that following Jesus leads to death. (No, I don’t believe being Christian requires martyrdom or an unhealthy masochism.) But, again I do believe that following Jesus leads to death. At the very least, the death of the value of external validation… public recognition… defensiveness or self-preservation. Following Jesus leads to death.

So, why do I want to follow Jesus? And, what does that have to do with college?

Well, I think I follow Jesus because death is inevitable. It’s hard-wired into the way that the world works. Think about creation. Death is everywhere. And, yet… so is life.

I’m not saying I think it’s right or that I’m okay with this narrative. I told you… I really struggle with this story.

But, back to the whole college thing… those titles… those credentials… those achievements… it’s not that they don’t matter. It’s that they don’t go with you.

Each relationship, each opportunity, each experience is re-defined by who we are and how others come to know us. We don’t carry those things from one community to another… and, if we do, they are of little value, if any. Say to the street artist in Cartagena, “I’m a Top Ten Senior!” He will look at you strangely until you say, “Me llamo Janina.” These distinctions, these definitions, these categorizations are all contextual… and, more importantly, they’re completely based on the community in which you find yourself.

Maybe Jesus did care who Pilate believed him to be. Maybe he did care who others believed him to be. But, perhaps he knew that the value of the acknowledgement was not his own self-promotion, but rather the submission of himself to a community who would later witness to what they had seen and heard. Who would they say that he was? How would they live their life after he was gone? Perhaps these are the more important questions… and, perhaps in the answers to these questions are the more meaningful reflections of “who is Jesus?

So, who are you? Who would others say you are? And, not the ones you’ve spent your time trying to convince or trying to impress… how about the ones who have no stake in you, who could care less whether you live or die? Because fortunately (and, unfortunately, if I’m honest), my identity… perhaps even my salvation, intersects with who I am in their midst.

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing…”

(Mic drops here).

I don’t know about you. But, that sounds a lot to me like the God I hope for… the God I yearn for… the God I hope I’m coming to know. That just might be where I believe that following Jesus also leads to life. Not an easy one. But one which lives with the ridiculous hope that death will not have the last word. Hate will not have the last word. Because Jesus may not have been dead yet, but he was already coming back to life… and, perhaps more importantly, he was already bringing us back to life.

Who do you say that I am? 

(Peter) You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And that, my friends, is an achievement worth striving for… the acknowledgment, the replication of a hope which was propagated by a stubborn, scared hypocrite. Hmmm… sounds a lot like me. And, I daresay, sounds a lot like you.

So, now is the time when I can unashamedly say that I believe deeply in resurrection (and, I’m bankin’ on it) because I have a lot more “dying” to do. And, I daresay, we have a lot more “dying” to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Feet Washing

Feet Washing

Rev. M. Nathan Mattox is the pastor at University United Methodist Church in Tulsa. He is in connection with the OSU Wesley Foundation as a board member of the Oklahoma Conference Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He served the UCLA Wesley Foundation and as assistant chaplain at Occidental College while in seminary at Claremont School of Theology.

This was written for April 13, and since that is Maundy Thursday, I can’t help but think and write about feet washing. I like to wash my feet, but I’ve never washed another person’s feet (that I recall) as a liturgical act of worship. This is despite the fact it is one of the few customs that Jesus made abundantly clear in his last week of life he expected his disciples to carry on. There’s something “boundary crossing” about the act, and perhaps that is why he instructed us to do it.

Sensing that I’m not the only one who feels a little awkward washing feet or having my feet washed, I have for the past few years brought up the topic only to watch my worship committee look relieved when I suggest that we “update the practice” and “get to the root of the mandate to perform loving acts of service for others” in different ways. Three years ago, we had a “Maundy Thursday Car Washing” at the car wash down the street from my church. Church members washed one another’s cars, and passers by who had come expecting to wash their own car were pleasantly surprised to have my church members waving them into the bays so they could wash their cars too. The next year, we visited Pearl’s Hope, a ministry of the Oklahoma Conference which helps single women establish careers and avoid homelessness. Here, we washed the windows of the facility and all the residential cabins. “Washing” something was a good theme—it was just that feet were, perhaps, a little too personal. This year we plan to return to the car wash, providing loving acts of service without touching tentative feet.

I lamented a bit during a sermon series on the Song of Songs last summer, The Wisdom of Sensuality, that perhaps we were missing a key component of the New Commandment. I typically think of the foot washing in utilitarian terms. In the age of sandals and sandy roads, foot washing was a common and humbling task. People were likely less skittish about having their feet washed, so the tenderness of it was probably not as pronounced as it is in the modern mind. But who knows? Maybe tenderness and sensuality are intended by Jesus to be expressions of that mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.” Perhaps it’s not just about “grunt work,” but intended to be “relationship enhancing.”

I was delighted when my fiancé, unaware of these ruminations, suggested that we incorporate a foot-washing ceremony into our wedding this summer. I don’t feel awkward at all at the prospect of washing her feet—and in fact, the idea that she’ll be the first person I’ve done that to as a liturgical act of worship brings me great joy. I’ve smiled about the fact that since our wedding is taking place on a beach in Florida, the act will not only be beautiful, but practical! On a deeper level, the act is itself an expression of what I look forward to in marrying her. We have a keen sense of serving one another, and this liturgical (and practical!) act will embody the tender way we love one another in marriage.

Stay Gold, Keep The Faith

Stay Gold, Keep The Faith

By Becky Corbin. Becky is a junior sociology major at Oklahoma State University with a passion for telling others about The Father’s heart.

There are things I don’t want to thank Jesus for. Not yet, at least.

Entire seasons of my life feel like wasted energy and pain. Desert seasons of doubt and hurt. Wandering. Heartbreak. Sin. Addiction. Despite knowing the character of my God, there are things I hold onto with white knuckles, because praising Him does not suit the mood of my soul, or the heavy weight of the circumstances. Divorce. Death. Separation. Brokenness.

The realities of a fallen world are grizzly- lots of broken people walking around with sharp edges, brushing too close to one another, causing wounds and leaving scars. From the first opportunity, we have fought to take our lives into our own hands, and trusted our competencies more than our Creator’s. We chose sin over God, and we now walk in the ripples of our fallen fathers and mothers, while subsequently adding our own chords and melodies to the symphony of grief.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5

The good news of the gospel is that this cycle of endless brokenness was intercepted and interrupted by Jesus Christ. He ruined funerals and opened blind eyes- He restored wandering sons and drove demons from the desolate. He offered a way out of hopelessness, and into relationship and intimacy with our Father God. In a world of promising distractions He gives us an alternative to destruction, and brings healing to the wounds we decided to accommodate. He casts out shame by loving us at our worst, and redeems even the darkest of our days. He is the Good Shepherd who chases lost sheep, our Hosea that buys us back, and our Jesus, who meets us at our tax collector-worst. He opens His hands to offer to me this unbelievable salvation that cost Him everything, and I realize that all I have to offer pales in comparison. This is the Good News, the story written into the DNA of man that puts all other stories to shame, and the redeemed narrative of my life.

The Simple Gospel

The Simple Gospel

By Nina Kazarian. Nina is a junior at Oklahoma State University studying professional writing and linguistics, and is currently interning with The Wesley Foundation.

The gospel is simple. It’s so simple that it cannot possibly be made about me. The simple gospel is about Jesus who loved radically, accepted and invited the ragamuffins, blue-collar-loved His way to the cross, and then robbed the grave. It’s the most wild, fantastic adventure story of all time. Simply put, the simple gospel is for the childlike vagabonds who are humble enough to admit that they cannot save themselves, it’s for the brave warriors who will not stand for anything less than absurd grace, it’s for the ones who understand that the feast is too good to ignore. The simple gospel is good news, real good news. The simple gospel is not meant to suffocate, discourage, or condemn. It’s an invitation to a banquet of grandiose proportions, a welcome mat that has been long worn down by the feet of those who didn’t even deserve to pass through the door yet were pulled in by open arms. The simple gospel says that you’re no longer an enemy, but a beloved child. The simple gospel says that you’re in the company of Jesus and that’s where you’ll stay. The simple gospel says that you have been invited into unity with God. The simple gospel says that Jesus has made a way for you to be a part of the kingdom.

There are so many voices out there. There are voices that are going to tell you you’re a broken down sinner with no worth to your name. There are voices that are going to make you feel like you have to white-knuckle grip onto peace. There are voices that are going to tell you that you have to work for your salvation. But those voices are wrong. 

The simple gospel says Jesus is as much an encourager as He is a teacher. The simple gospel says you have been made a new creation, one that cannot, is not, will not ever be defined by sin again, because God murdered sin when He allowed His Son to die (and He gave us the gift of repentance and forgiveness). The simple gospel says Jesus is the God of peace and hope, and in His presence you’ll find just that. The simple gospel says you are free to believe that Jesus accomplished what He set out to do when He went to the cross.

I hope the simple gospel echoes in your heart. A lot of people don’t like the simple gospel because it sets us a little too free. I get that. Freedom is pretty absurd. Some people want to use big words and make it a little harder to get to heaven. I get that too. Grace is audacious. But the simple gospel says that Jesus made a whole-hearted decision, and He’s never going back.

What If…?

What If…?

By Sterling Ellsworth. Sterling is an alumni of Oklahoma State University and he still maintains connections with leaders at the Wesley Foundation when he comes back to the states. Sterling lives with his wife in France where he is studying Geography and Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Perpignan; they hope to serve in missions in West Africa when he finishes school.

“How often does Love have to tell us, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’                       -Pope Francis

“God responds to our weakness by his patience, and this is the reason for our confidence, our hope.” – Romano Guardini

There is a wonderful phrase in French: se remettre en question. Every time I try to use this expression in English I am faced with several imperfect choices. The dictionary says: “calling into question”; “re-assessment”; or even, “soul-searching.” “To cast doubt on” comes close if you could imagine yourself saying, “I cast doubt on myself” in a slightly positive sense. Here’s my loose translation: se remettre en question means going back to the point before your certainties were set in stone.    

Now, this questioning ourselves makes us think of the word “doubt.” While is true that doubt is not always rewarded in the Scriptures (Oh, you of little faith?) doubt can also be the first step on an incredible journey, following one of God’s marvelous, unexpected surprises. Let’s consider a few examples:

Zechariah and Mary

As an angel of the Lord appears to Zachariah, he is immediately “startled and gripped with fear”. The angel instantly comforts him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.” Later on, Zechariah asks the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

After the angel speaks to Mary, she asks, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

Encounters with The Risen Lord

Thomas does not believe it when the other apostles tell him, “We have seen the Lord” (though Jesus warned them time and again). However, with the help of Jesus’ patience, Thomas passes from stubborn unbelief to positive doubt… What if he really is the risen Jesus? When he acknowledges his own poverty, his little faith, he discovers trust! He passes from unbelief to belief, proclaiming “My Lord and my God!”

The women who go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body also encounter something entirely unexpected, “something that upsets their hearts and their plans, something that will upset their whole life.” When the stone is removed from the tomb, they don’t find Jesus’ body. Indeed, this event “leaves them perplexed and hesitant, full of questions”: “What happened? What is the meaning of all this?” And then two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening appear and say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). Who can blame them for their doubt? The earthly certainty is that you don’t open a tomb expecting to find a living person!

Reflecting on this passage, Pope Francis says,

“Doesn’t the same thing happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness God brings us, the newness God asks of us. Often we would prefer to hold on to our own security. We are afraid of God’s surprises! But He always surprises us! The Lord is like that. Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!”


In the beginning, Jonah is an example of someone who is not willing to doubt. I appreciate Pope Francis’ account of the story of Jonah:

“Jonah is a devout man, with a tranquil and ordered life, which causes him to have a clear-cut way of seeing things and to judge everything and everyone accordingly. He has it all figured out: this is the truth! He is rigid! So, when the Lord calls him and tells him to go and preach to Nineveh, the great pagan city, Jonah doesn’t like it. ‘Go there? But I have the whole truth here!’ Nineveh is outside his comfort zone; it is on the outskirts of his world. So he escapes.”

As you see in these stories, when we hold on to all-to-earthly certainties, God often bursts onto the scene and breaks up our world of carefully constructed strongholds with marvelous surprises. Furthermore, God accompanies us in our uncertainty. How many times does he tell us “Do not be afraid!”

We do not have to be “little gods”, who know everything in advance, who have everything under control, have a plan for everything and never waiver. As Pope Francis says, “He is always bigger than our little way of seeing things!” It’s okay to change our opinions when confronted with new information from God. It’s okay to be weak; it’s okay to go slowly. God welcomes us, meets us and understands us. Simplicity and humility, not knowing everything!

That being said, reflection is important. Let us think, let us ask ourselves questions, and let us listen to others’ answers, not only our own. Let us be willing to accept complexity, and to not have answers to each and every question. When we decide things with doubt and reflection as our base, we decide them thoughtfully, knowing that we might be wrong and that we might have to rectify certain things.

Why this paradigm? Because as God does with us, so we also should do with those who do not yet have ‘the gift of faith.’ We “need to show understanding and sympathy, and remain close to those who suffer. We need to be people who offer solace, hope, and encouragement to keep on walking on the path of the Lord of life.”

When we listen to others opinions, we call into question even our own prejudices. We consider the fact that we might have prejudices. It’s much easier to adopt extreme positions because they don’t require any form of argumentation, dialogue, or doubt. But these positions often hurt real people. The question today is, “How do we learn how to doubt in a world in which those who show absolute certainty are the ones who triumph?” What would the world look like if we had the same patience and understanding with others that God has with us?

Of course, it is useful to distinguish different kinds of doubt: Perhaps when we encounter God, we begin to move from negative self-preoccupied doubts What if I’m wrong? What if it doesn’t work? What if he/she is not the one for me? to more constructive, less self-centered doubts What if Jesus really is the Son of God? What if he means what he says? What if I did turn the other cheek? What if I really did love others as myself? What if the meek really will inherit the earth?


And where do these doubts lead? To belief! To faith, which emerges “following an encounter with the living God” who loves us, “who lifts us up and leads us on”.  Let us thank God for his mercy and his patience, the fact that he never abandons us, even when we doubt. Indeed, he is “patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, and to inspire confidence”.

And what do we do with this newfound confidence, which is the result of our doubting and God’s patience? We leave our worries behind and go out and share the delight of meeting Jesus Christ with others! Indeed, when one receives the gift of faith “he or she then gives that gift in turn to others.” Furthermore, we do not have to be afraid “ to go even to the furthest edges of human existence because the Lord walks with us and, indeed, before us.”

But even once we receive this gift of faith, perhaps being open to a little “remise en question” is still healthy:

“Faith is not intransigent but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, because believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing the truth, it is the truth that embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.”

So what is the remise en question that I’m advocating here? “It is like a dialogue between our weakness and the patience of God; it is a dialogue that, if we have it, will grant us hope.” Doubt is the first weak, little baby step, but perhaps, in this day and age, we need to go back to square one; go back to the point before all our certainties were set in stone and let ourselves be looked upon by the Lord. Let us let his fire warm our heart! Let us accept the gift of faith and be illuminated by it! For to be faithful, to be creative, we need to be able to change. We need to be able to pass from darkness to light. If we are rigid, we will dry up and whither… Let us be open to God’s surprises! Let us thank God for the poor, the foreigner, and those on the outskirts, from whom we have so much to learn. Let us thank God that “the strength of the Church doesn’t depend on its members and their capabilities, because they are both weak and inadequate.” That being the case, let us fling open the doors of the Church and face the challenges of the world! It doesn’t matter if we sometimes fail, stumble or doubt along the way. And finally, as we go out, let us abide in Jesus and not lose trust in the patience and mercy of God. He is with us, he is before us and he waits for us.


By Kira Cox

Throughout college, we are told to have a goal, and to work hard to achieve it. If we do that, we will be considered successful. But how do we define success? Many people define it as having a high paying job, a big house, and a good car; others define it as being the best in their specific field; and still more say that it is coming up with the latest and greatest invention. But people often find that there is still an emptiness. They don’t know why they have that feeling, but it’s there nonetheless. So what has God called us to strive for?

As Henri Nouwen said, “We have been called to be fruitful – not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness.

Many times we choose to build walls around ourselves in order to hide our weaknesses and our faults from others, especially those closest to us. Being seen as someone who has it all together is also something we see as success, so being vulnerable goes against what we have been taught for years, but it is also how we will lead fruitful lives. By breaking down the walls that surround us and being truly vulnerable, we will be able to truly get to know those people we know and care about. That way, we can live truly fruitful lives.

*Kira is a junior at Oklahoma State University. She is majoring in accounting, and she loves sports and singing. She grew up at the Cushing FUMC and has enjoyed participating in weekly worship, Bible studies and discussion groups at the Wesley.