Love More People

By: Mindy Dennison*

In some capacity, I have worked with almost every grade-level, from Pre-K to 12th grade, over the past ten years.  With the exception of the two year hiatus I took to be with my kids, I have taught at least one high school class every year.  Some students I only get to know for their senior year.  Others I am blessed to mentor and teach for multiple years, sometimes all four, of their high school career.  Most of the time, they teach me, too.

At the end of the year, I find myself scrambling to complete their education.  Not as musicians, but as people.  I think of things I want them to know while I try to sleep at night, while I’m getting ready in the morning, or driving to and from work.  I pat them on the back or hug them more often.  I ask them about their plans, and offer help if they have not finalized them.  I write recommendations for scholarships and serve as a reference for jobs.  I let them “friend” me on Facebook.  I remind them to check in with in me from time to time.

And sometimes I find myself saying things to them that seem silly, but that I really want them to know:

Don’t wait to tell people you love them.  Call your parents.  Always carry a little cash.  Step out of your comfort zone every now and then.  Volunteer.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.  Accept that failure is part of learning. Drink lots of water.  Wear sunscreen.  Treat yourself occasionally.  Try not to let your gas tank get below ¼ full.  The experts are wrong:  it’s perfectly okay to go to bed angry.  You’ll be amazed what a little daylight will do for that anger.  Don’t expect to magically have all the answers when you turn 18 or graduate from college.  And don’t panic when you don’t.

But more than anything, I want you to remember this:

No matter how much you love what you do, always love people more.

I believe this is at the heart of Christian faith.  In fact, I believe this is being a Christian.  No matter where on the spectrum of liberal to conservative your beliefs lie, we all agree Jesus was pretty clear about two things:  love GOD and love PEOPLE. There really is no getting around that command from Jesus.  There is no, “well, let’s look at historical context…”, or “the Hebrew/Greek/Latin has multiple meanings…” when it comes to loving people.

Notice I didn’t say you have to like people.  You may not be a “people person”.  And that’s okay.  You don’t have to work with people to work on their behalf.  In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a job anywhere that doesn’t touch people in some way.  You may not work directly with many people in a medical research lab.  But your work could inevitably touch many people.  As a journalist or a writer, you may not see the way your words affect those that read them.  But they will.  Your work, even if done in
solitude, will find a way to influence the lives of people.

That is why loving people is so important.  Love will hold you accountable to the knowledge that your work will find its way into the lives of others.  It will drive you to work toward the benefit of others.  And that is the only way we can ever bring about positive change.

Yes, people can be a source of pain in your life; but people will also be the main source of joy, healing, help, encouragement, laughter, comfort, hope, and love.  It’s okay to be passionate about your career. But always love people more.  People will always have the greatest return for your investment.  Love GOD and love people…and by doing the latter we are fulfilling the former.

*Mindy describes herself on her blog This Teacher Sings, as “a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a self-proclaimed loud-mouth. I’m a teacher.” Her husband happens to be Rev. Daniel Dennison, the Director/Campus Minister of the OU Wesley Foundation.

To Finish the Race

By: David Adetitun*

“My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

 Akhwari competed in the Olympic marathon in Mexico City in 1968. This Tanzanian athlete cramped up due to the high altitude of the city. He had not experienced such an altitude before. At the 19 km point during the 42 km race, some runners hit him, he fell and got injured. He nevertheless continued running. He finished last among the about 60 competitors who completed the race (75 started). The winner of the marathon, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, finished in 2 hours, 20 minutes and 26 seconds. Akhwari finished in 3 hours, 25 minutes and 27 seconds. By this time only a few thousand people were left in the stadium and the sun had set. A television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one more runner about to finish.

As he finally crossed the finish line a cheer came from the small crowd. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

A Yoruba proverb has it that “Ibere ki se onise, a fi eni ti o ba fi oriti titi de opin.” Implying that starters are not the ones worthy of applause but the ones who endure till the end are worthy of real praise. In reality we have so many starters but few finishers. Reasons for not finishing well or not finishing at all are variegated and any one can give those reasons.

Akhwari had all excuses at his disposal not to finish at all, but he refused to give in. Instead he sought out an undeniable and inspiring excuse why he must finish. And finish he did. He has been invited to several other Olympics as a special guest (even when he was not competing) for his determination in 1968.  His name is much known than today than even the gold medalist at that race!

Some parents blame their kids for their failures while some children blame their parents. Some people blame their country or government for their inability to finish. These blame games blind people’s eyes to opportunities that are lying fallow seeking some to pick them up and become renown. In the midst of the blame, someone here and there is breaking through and finishing.

In Numbers 13:30, Caleb stilled the people before Moses and said, “let us go up at once for we are well able.” Just that speech made him a different man out of the bulk of 12. “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day, the night cometh then no man can work” (John 9:4).

As we read this; being a great mix of domestic and international students and scholars, what are your plans?

Is it to stop half way to success or to finish?

Remember, “My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

*David is a visiting scholar from Nigeria. He has participated in a variety of Wesley programs, including our Holiday Meals and International Choir. Back home, he is deeply engaged in Christian community and outreach.

Think Global, Act Local

By: Rev. Rebekah Belase & Rev. Derrek Belase*

One thing we appreciated about our time in Stillwater and at the OSU Wesley Foundation was the global connection we made with students from all over the world.  While we were there our neighbors made the world seem even smaller.  To this day our oldest daughter lovingly refers to one of her grandmother’s as “Buni” which is “grandmother” in the Romanian dialect.  As a baby she would join in family Skype calls to Romania with a graduate student.  She knew grandmothers as Buni’s before she knew them as grandmothers!  Relationships are important because our world is small.

For many years, we have participated in mission education events called Mission u (formerly Cooperative Schools of Christian Mission). Alongside faithful men and women from around our state, the mission studies have opened our eyes to situations in Haiti, the Sudan and Latin America. We didn’t even know who the Roma people were before a recent study. We have walked the streets of Corinth and visited various Native American tribes without ever leaving the borders of our great state.  Education is important because our world is small.

Today, global hunger is never far from our thoughts.  CROP Hunger Walks, a ministry of Church World Service, are an important ministry within our family.   Our family not only loves our connection to Church World Service and CROP Hunger Walks, we participate in walks as a family.   When Rebekah must travel and people ask Madison where she is, Madison’s general reply is “My mommy’s out feeding hungry people.”  What Madison doesn’t know is that those hungry people are everywhere … on our street and across the ocean.  Helping others access food and clean water is important because our world is small.

We live out our faith convictions in a local church.  Right now, we do that in Prague and Arlington – two rural congregations east of Oklahoma City.  As the name indicates, the area is heavily influenced by Czechoslovakian immigrants who settled here around the turn of the last century.  We enjoy Kolaches, Krojes, and the Chicken Dance!  The news is filled with new immigrants coming to our country each day, so connecting our historical roots with this current reality helps us understand how we might love our new neighbors.  Being in touch with our heritage is important because our world is small.

Our world is small.  Our mantra is “think globally, act locally.”  We can all make a difference in this world if we just choose to do it in the locations God has placed us for this season of our lives.

*Rev. Rebekah Belase is the former Associate Director of the OSU Wesley and is now the current Director of Development Operations for Church World Service. Rev. Derrek Belase is the former Senior Pastor of Highland Park UMC in Stillwater and is now the Senior Pastor at Prague and Arlington United Methodist Churches. They have both continued to serve and support the OSU Wesley Foundation in a variety of ways.

A Holy Week Reflection: La nube negra

By: Rev. Michael Bartley

LA NUBE NEGRA

O es que una nube negra de los cielos

ese negror le dió a tu cabellera

de nazareno, cual de mustio sauce

de una noche sin luna sobre el río?

¿Es la sombra del ala sin perfiles

del ángel de la nada negadora,

de Luzbel, que en su caída inacabable

—fondo no puede dar—

su eterna cuita

clava en tu frente, en tu razón? ¿Se vela,

el claro Verbo en Ti con esa nube,

negra cual de Luzbel las negras alas,

mientras brilla el Amor, todo desnudo,

con tu desnudo pecho por cendal?

-Miguel De Unamuno

 

BLACK CLOUD (English translation)

Or was it then that a black cloud from heaven

Such blackness gave to your Nazarene’s hair,

As of a languid willow o’er the river

Brooding in moonless night?Is it the shadow

Of the profileless wing of Luzbel, the Angel

Of denying nothingness, endlessly falling—

Bottom he ne’er can touch— whose grief eternal

He nails on to Thy forehead, to Thy reason?

Is the clear Word in Thee with that cloud veiled

—A cloud as black as the black wings of Luzbel—

While Love shines naked within Thy naked breast?

As a child I always wondered what it would be like to walk alongside Jesus.  My interest was not really religious, that is, I was not romanticizing the idea of knowing Jesus or being close to the actions that surrounded Jesus.  I simply was curious what it would have been like to be framed within his experiences and what it is that those who were around him must have experienced.

As I have grown older, I have began to understand that such questions are something that has plagued biblical studies and religious minds for millennia.  That is to say, scholar, and religious alike have always attempted to reconstruct or pretend as if they have access to the narrative life of Jesus.  However, I have to admit, the further away from childhood I grow the more I realize that our access, that is our knowledge, on how to access Jesus is at best limited and maybe best embodied not so much in claims to knowledge as it is in the graphic arts, in poetry or in dance (if you would like).

Above I quoted from the famed Spanish Philosopher Miguel De Unamuno who wrote “The Tragic Sense of Life”.  What many scholars of Spanish philosophy overlook is that Unamuno was not first and foremost a philosopher or theologian.  Unamuno was a poet.

La nube negra is Unamuno’s attempt to wrestle with Jesus’ redemptive act offered in Jesus Christ.  Black cloud is the realization that humanity thrust upon her savior what God was willing to forgive, but what humanity was not willing to relinquish without suffering, blood-lust and death.  Black cloud is the shadow that hangs over a savior crucified and a set of disciples, followers, believers who continue to want to hold onto suffering, blood-lust and death.

As I move toward this Easter 2016, I am very grateful for the philosopher Miguel De Unamuno.  I am grateful for a tradition that doesn’t read the crucifixion as a vengeful act or a vengeful God needing blood to forgive.  I am grateful for an atonement that truly is rooted in bringing us at one with our creator and our creation.  I am grateful for an understanding that in the resurrection of Christ the black cloud that we as human often hold on to and demand is not what lays on the naked breast of the Redeemer who was crucified by our demand.  I am grateful that what lays on his breast is the feeding of the body through his very death and resurrection.

And to Push Back Darkness

By: Rev. Aaron Bolerjack

There was an ungly, racially insensitive incident at my (other) alma mater a few weeks ago.

Yes, before I came to OSU for grad school, I also attended a small, Christian liberal arts college in a different town.

To make a long story short: a young man made a dumb choice in public, and things escalated pretty quickly thanks to social media. Views were traded, insults exchanged, and a few threats were made. It didn’t take long for the conversation to get out of hand, and the school’s campus justice council stepped in pretty quickly. But in some ways the damage was already done.

In the immediate aftermath, I was surprised to hear many different sides to the same story. Some of my friends saw nothing wrong with the young man’s innocent insensitivity. Others condemned his offensive actions, regardless of their intent. Some blamed the young man; some blamed the environment he was raised in; others blamed the school itself.

A few days after the incident, I attended an on-campus discussion forum held for staff members, students, and alumni to share their ideas and experiences. I was surprised and saddened to hear so many members of the campus community describe their personal interactions with racial prejudice. Right here in Oklahoma. In 2016.

I heard angry voices.

“I was told by one student here that I was the Affirmative Action hire.”

 

“I shouldn’t have to answer phone calls from people in Ohio and have to explain to people who don’t know that we are not like this.”

 

“When I came to interview for a job here, a secretary looked at me and said. ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. The trash is really piling up.’ She thought I was the janitor.”

 

I heard incredulous voices.

“On the way to Disneyworld, my family got stopped six times. We didn’t think that living in the United States was supposed to be like this, you now? The land of the free.”

 

“Let’s not promote Christ and then not act like him.”

 

“Stop telling me that you’re sorry and just fix it.”

 

I heard saddened voices.

“For 17 years I hated my skin tone. I’m 19 years old now. People have been pointing out my color for as long as I’ve been alive. People used to ask my mom whose kid she was babysitting.”

 

“A lot of the professors here are very smart and very successful. And why don’t any of them look like me?”

 

“I’m getting tired. And it sucks. Because I don’t really feel like loving people anymore.”

But I also heard voices of hope.

“I love you all. I love this place. And it breaks my heart that this has been a place where so many have been marginalized and experienced prejudice.”

 

“I really believe that as Christians we are called to do three things: love God, love others, and push back darkness.”

 

And then -mercifully, beautifully- the school chaplain recalled for us of the words of the Peace Prayer sometimes attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon…Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.”

 

And we were reminded: as Christians, we are created to live (and love) in community.

We are responsible for each other -in good times and bad times- because we are in relationship with each other. And those relationships transcend categories like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status.

As the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28, NRSV)

In other words: we are called to bring love, light, and joy to each other.

To love God. To love others. And to push back darkness.

Amen.

 

*Rev. Aaron Bolerjack graduated from Oklahoma State (MA History) in 2010.

 

He is currently Co-Pastor for College & Community at OKC First Church of the Nazarene and Adjunct Professor of History at Southern Nazarene University.

What does it mean to be fed?

By: Fr. Jeff Huston*

What does it mean to be fed?  Better yet, what does it mean to be fed at the Lord’s table?  I probably don’t spend enough time thinking about if, I’m honest with myself, regardless that presiding at the table remains one of my chief responsibilities as a priest.   Don’t worry, I am not planning on an extended discourse on the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, but I would like to spend a few moments reflecting.

Starting with the basics, we have Mark, Matthew, and Luke (chapters 14, 26, and 22, respectively) recounting the story of Jesus celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples.  His Last Supper.  What does Jesus say?  What is His command?  “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Seems simple, right?  But I think there is a lot more going on here.  This is so much more than an olfactory or visual trigger of fond memories.  You know what I’m talking about here, I’d venture to guess that we’ve all been set adrift on memory bliss due to some random sight or smell.  The thing is, these are passive remembrances.  This isn’t what Jesus had in mind.  The verb at issue here is anamnesis. It can be defined as “reminiscence and or memorial sacrifice” (from wikipedia, so it must be true.)  But more than that it is the very essence of what it means to gather in worship and praise, not in a passive sense but in an active, engaged, encounter with the whole mystery of Christ.

When we approach the Lord’s table, we are crossing a threshold of time, entering that strange space between past, present, and future.  We look back and remember the words of institution, when Jesus changed a meal together with friends and disciples into a memorial that we continue honoring to this very day.  We look to the present as we taste and see the Lord’s goodness brought to us in bread and wine, Holy Spirit, flesh and blood.  And we look forward to the great banquet that awaits all of us on that blessed day we are reunited with our loved ones in our Lord’s nearer presence.  In one fell swoop, we are thrust into the past, present, and future of our life in Christ.  Shortly put, this is no snack.

We are not just remembering, we are participating.  Actively participating as members of Christ’s body, the joyful (hopefully) cloud of witnesses raised to new life through the baptism, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  That is a lot to chew on, isn’t it?  For me, being fed at the Lord’s table is all about being reminded of whom I belong to, who I share my life with, those who are waiting for me on the other side, and the starting point for not only my ministry, but the ministry of ALL God’s beloved ones. This isn’t just being fed, it is becoming filled and equipped for the work God has given us to do.

I want to conclude with a poem sent to me by one of our parishioners at St. Andrew’s here in Stillwater.  I had been mulling over what to write so the other day when I received this I knew that I must include this for you all.  It sums up beautifully not just what I have been hoping to say, but also the gift of approaching the Lord’s table.

I am grateful for Lois Jackson, her thoughtful and prayerful pursuit of her life in Christ, and her ministry here in Stillwater.

 

My Ascension

Lois Jackson

 

The altar table is set.

Ready is the holy banquet of my Lord.

Ready am I to attend?

I’m unsure.

I must rise to the occasion.

I lift my heart to the Lord.

I follow then my heart.

I approach the altar.

Holy, Holy, Holy.

I am ascending to my Father.

In Christ, I am ascending.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

I have ascended and arrived.

Looking through Christ with my Father.

I can see, as above, then so below.

Earth is full of thy glory.

The face of God is upon all and in all.

I partake, I eat, I am infused.

I am filled.

I hunger no more.

This feast reminding me I have what I need

to nurture every aspect of my divine being.

I reluctantly begin my descent.

Knowing at a mere intention

I remove the illusion

that I am not always and eternally present

with my Abba.

I, then, in gratitude,

do the thing that is mine to do.

I, then, in gratitude,

do the thing I cannot not do.

I go in peace, to love and serve my Lord.

I want all to experience as I.

I want all to know not that there are many rooms

in my Father’s house,

but that there is one large banquet hall where

all are welcome.

All are nurtured.

All are contained in Love.

Thanks be to God!

*Jeff Huston, associate rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Episcopal campus minister.  Ordained a priest 10 years.   Gratefully married to Dr. Elisa Davis and proud (albeit unworthy) father of Clayton and Eleanor.  Chicago Cubs fan.  Still sad I never got to see the Grateful Dead in concert.

 

Purpose

By: Sarah Hundley, Global Mission Fellow in OKC

I have always had that thing they call wanderlust. Ever since I knew what another country was, another state even, I wanted to go see all of it. That desperate desire to travel, to see the world, is what led me here to Oklahoma City. I found out what another country was at the age of four, so naturally, when adulthood and a life without school was on the horizon, I looked into ways I could see that world I was always desperate to see and to have some kind of impact. With some help from my father, I found the United Methodist Global Mission Fellow program. It could send you anywhere in the world, including the United States, doing mission work for two years. My only thought was that as long as it wasn’t Virginia, I wanted to go there. When I got the news that I was going to Oklahoma City, I was shocked. Oklahoma City was never on my bucket list, not even on my radar. It didn’t feel like a place I’d really learn anything. It didn’t seem like a place where I’d grow. Everything I had ever heard about Oklahoma was that they had a lot of tornados and they all lived in the middle of nowhere, none of which I was interested in experiencing. What purpose would I have in Oklahoma? Who needed me there? Couldn’t they send someone else? Now here I am, six months into my two years here in OKC, and my perspective has, of course, shifted.

I am the director of an after-school program for both OKC public schools and Putnam City public schools. Every Monday through Thursday afternoon, from about 3:30 to 6, I spend two and a half hours with some of the best elementary schoolers in the world. They’ve opened my eyes to so much and helped me to grow as a person. Without them, I don’t know if I would have stayed. Here’s the thing, I’ve never had any training in education so the transition was extremely difficult. I didn’t feel like I fit in Oklahoma City and, on top of all that, I severely sprained my ankle three days before The Gallery began, which landed me in crutches for a month and a half. The volunteers expected me to know what I was doing, the kids wanted their old director back, and I was at a loss, partially my own fault because I’m terrible at asking for help. Instead, I kept asking myself why God had brought me to a place that felt like no one wanted or needed me, especially when there were places all over the world that I wanted to see. What a pointless question when the answer is staring you in the face!

Over time, I became a little bit confident in what was supposed to be happening and I changed a few things with help from volunteers which made things easier on everyone. That was when I started to notice little things that would answer that pointless question. I started noticing smiles on the volunteers faces. I started noticing my kids getting to know one another and getting excited to do certain things. I noticed grades improving and the kids having confidence in me. They started asking for applications to give their friends because their friends wanted to come, too. All that frustration and anger I had had about my situation began to vanish. I have purpose here, I just had to give it a little time to figure it out.

That’s the whole point of this post. To tell you, dear reader, that you’ve got purpose. You’ve got purpose wherever God sends you. If you choose to do a volunteer program, I promise it will be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done, but it will be worth it because you’re there for a reason. You will grow and change because it will push you to be things and do things you never thought you would. I went home for Christmas and was told by several people in different ways that I had “blossomed,” that I was a version of myself they had never seen before and that version was one they were happy to see. I’ve only been here six months. I’m interested to see what they’ll say after a year, then a year and a half, and finally the full two years. I’ve “blossomed” because I know my purpose in Oklahoma City. My purpose here is to show my kids that someone cares. My purpose here is to show them that they can go to college one day. My purpose here is to do everything in my power to give them the bright future that every child deserves. My purpose here is to give them a fighting chance. I love my kids with everything in me. They test my patience and find different ways to make me go home worn out, but they also give me a reason to come back every day. Sometimes it’s being told that I’m their favorite (yes, I’m easily charmed), sometimes it’s the little comments they make about themselves or things in the world that crack me up. Usually it’s their smiles every afternoon when I pick them up. No, I may not be changing the world or seeing the places on my bucket list, but I am helping to change some worlds and that’s enough for me.

So, what’s your purpose? Where is God calling you?

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” – Philippians 2:1-4, The Message

If you’re ever looking for volunteer opportunities and you live in Oklahoma City, please consider volunteering at The Gallery. That’s my shameless plug for help. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I wrote it with a fever so if it’s awful, please forgive me.

For more information on applying to become a 2-year Global Mission Fellow, click here.