Friday, December 24, 2010

No more waiting: Rejoice, for a child is born

Today is Christmas Eve. The church I serve will celebrate tonight at 7 and 11 p.m., with the first celebration featuring songs led by children and the second celebration culminating in the beautiful lighting of candles at midnight.

For Christians, Christmas Eve represents the end of Advent, a season of longing for the birth of Jesus. It's a time during which Christians anticipate and wait.

Waiting for something important is difficult, isn't it? Test results. College admission. Job application. Waiting for something important is difficult.

I was reminded of the difficulty of waiting when my nephew was born. At my sister-in-law's regular visit that week her doctor discovered that her baby did not grow since the previous visit. After consulting with colleagues and not determining what the problem was, the doctors felt it best to get that little guy out. Delena was admitted to the hospital on a Wednesday night so that she could be observed and induced into labor the following morning.

There were tests, some waiting and then the doctor met with my brother and sister-in-law to advise doing a C-section immediately. The baby was showing signs of distress. The anticipation increased greatly.

The C-section was scheduled for 11 p.m., so I called a friend who worked at that hospital to find out the best "back door" place to see my nephew as soon as possible after delivery. She gave me stellar advice and I went to stake out my spot and wait. 11 came and went, as did 11:15 and 11:25.

While waiting, I realized that there was a set of doors behind the doors I could see. The creakiness of these hidden doors let me know somebody was coming. Around 11:30, I heard the creak. I quickly grabbed my camera and turned it on. The doors opened and out came ... not my brother, but a different new father, child and nurse.

The nurse asked the name of the family for whom I was waiting and then told me that "our" C-section was rescheduled but she didn't know why. Why would it be rescheduled? Until when? How can I find out? My anticipation increased drastically. I wanted answers, but I didn't want to leave my spot; I also didn't know where to go.

After some more waiting, my brother came from a different direction to confirm that the C-section was moved to midnight because they had a more urgent C-section. More waiting.

Midnight came and went, as did 12:10, 12:15, 12:20, 12:25. The first set of creaky doors opened. I turned on my camera. The second set never opened. I checked my watch. The first set of creaky doors opened again. I turned on my camera. The second set never moved. I checked my watch.

A nurse walked by. I offered to buy some WD-40 for the creaky doors. She wasn't amused.

I thought my watch quit, it was moving so slowly. 12:30, 12:35, 12:38, 12:40, 12:42, 12:43, 12:45. I waited. I anticipated.

If my watch moved any slower, it would have been going in reverse. I never knew a C-section to take so long. What was going on in there?

I longed to see my sister-in-law. I longed to see my brother. I was tired of waiting. I was eager to know something. Anything: bad news, good news, anything. I wanted to know something.

The creaky hidden doors opened. I grabbed my camera. The second set of doors never moved. I considered taking the doors off their hinges. 12:50, 1:00, 1:05, 1:10. I waited. I anticipated.

There were no chairs in the hallway, but I did not want to sit on the floor. I did not want to sit at all. I wanted to be on my feet, camera in hand, ready. I wanted to be ready to take pictures if the news was happy. I wanted to be ready to give hugs and support if the news was not. My back ached and my feet hurt, but I would not sit; I wanted to be ready. 1:11, 1:12, 1:13, 1:14 AM. I waited. I anticipated.

The first set of doors creaked. I grabbed my camera. I was tired, but I was ready. Let this not be yet another false alarm. Let this not be yet another time the outer doors defiantly stood still, mocking my eagerness, disrespecting my anticipation.

Was the sound growing stronger? Yes, I think it was. Did the doors start to move? Yes, they did. Out came my nephew, all five pounds and some change, held by his relieved and happy dad.

There was much relief! There was much rejoicing! A child was born.

Today is Christmas Eve. Christians stand waiting for the Christ-child with great anticipation. For long we have waited; for long we have anticipated.

Friends, the doors are beginning to creak. Friends, the time is now.

Merry Christmas!

Wilson pastors First Christian Church, 118 W. Washington St., blogs at and reads e-mail sent to

Friday, December 17, 2010

Higher education

What should we cut; what should we cut?

That's the question many religious communities, like many families, are asking. They want to reduce spending by eliminating all that is inessential.

In theory, that is a great idea, of course. To put the theory into practice, however, the operative question is "What is essential?"

One area often targeted by religious communities to cut is ministry with college students. I'm not sure why, though I think it has to do with college students being so transient, so irregular in their attendance and so minimal in their volunteering and giving.

Recently I was asked to address this trend. My response was that ministry with college students should be amplified, not diminished. Now, I bet you are wondering "Why did he say that?" Since I like you, I'll tell you.

First, during the college years, there is a distinct openness to new ideas and to the exploration of faith. This openness allows college ministry the opportunity to soothe some and stir up others searching to connect their spiritual hunger, social commitments and academic pursuits. In college, many choices and challenges are raised — be they moral, spiritual, physical, intellectual, economic or other — which should be held in dialogical tension to create a healthy and whole person.

Second, college ministry can provide tools to live a faithful and informed life. It is unfair for college ministers to create false security, a sheltered environment where every question is answered, and all needs are met. The more appropriate approach is to invite students to be honest with questions about faith, to take a critical look at their inherited faith and then to begin the task of clarifying what is helpful and what is not. There may be periods when the ground of one's faith is shaky; into that uncertainty, however, can come recognition that life is uncertain, and that faith is grounded in a reality that embraces such times and tells us the truth about those times. What seems to be endless wilderness may be an opportunity to go farther and deeper with one's faith.

Third, college ministers have important opportunities as pastors to bring word of hope and peace in times of crisis, whether personal, institutional, national or worldwide. College ministers are blessed with opportunities for pastoral counseling: the great privilege of being invited into the sanctuary of someone else's soul.

Fourth, college ministers have important opportunities as prophets. In the midst of an academic community, college ministers can prod others to deeper engagement of issues that matter, to more honestly asking how we should respond. College ministers should always complement "cogito ergo sum" with "amo ergo sum," challenging the community to love as well as think.

Fifth, when done well, college worship informs and inspires. What is worship that is done well? It is worship that is genuinely ecumenical; emphasizing that God's grace is wide enough to receive us all. It is worship that allows room for the Holy Spirit to affirm our gifts, challenge our frailties and enlarge our perceptions. It is worship that reminds us that the strength of love reaches us wherever we are and brings us together. It is worship with order and flow, but is not stale or stiff. It is worship filled with songs and images from all over the world, with prayers and proclamation, with drama and dance, with art and flowers. Most of all, it is worship filled with the gifts of the gathered community.

Finally for now, college ministry can simply be fun! It should be. The college years should be challenging; they should be formative; they should be a bit confusing, at least from time to time. Amid all that, college should be this fun time of trying on ideas and perspectives, learning everything possible, figuring out how to save the world, playing hard, working hard and more.

Any metabolizing minister could not help but love to be in that mix!

Wilson pastors First Christian Church, 118 W. Washington St., blogs at and reads e-mail sent to

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

college students today

The generation of young people who are filling college classrooms today are more globally aware and less concerned about material wealth than their predecessors. Agree?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Young adults want change, not charity

Column: Today’s youth understand the true value of charity

Published: Friday, December 3, 2010 8:13 AM US/eastern

When it comes to giving money to charity, Americans are without equal. Every year, and especially during the holiday season, many of us donate money out of religious commitment or to take advantage of the U.S. tax code.

To some degree, this entire process depends on the availability of extra money. Even before the current economic crisis, many were scrutinizing the decreasing purchasing power of their paychecks and wondering if they could once again financially support the causes they believed in.

Yet there remains a potential reservoir of resources that could very well lead us into a renewed time of productivity and purpose: time.

Last year, almost 55 million people volunteered. People cleaned riversides, chopped vegetables for food programs, painted shelter walls and helped to rebuild troubled neighborhoods.

This is great stuff! This is commendable. It is important.

However, it beckons a question: If we continue to use volunteerism in the same way that we use material goods, will time become the next resource we deplete?

Two years ago, though it seems like a lifetime, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama said that they would expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. Both said they would increase the ways students can earn education stipends for using their time to help others.

The Obama Administration has expanded AmeriCorps, but has not successfully broadened the use and availability of education stipends beyond some rather minor adjustments.

Of course college is no longer a place where people start volunteering; by the time they begin their freshman year, four out of five students have worked as volunteers. By the time they graduate, many college students have spent at least seven years donating their time to good causes.

As one local example, the congregation I serve supports an annual summer trip for high school students who want to serve others. I am very proud of the hard work and commitment of the students and a host of adult chaperones.

Seeing charity from the inside has prompted many students to question whether traditional charities make the best use of the one commodity they can afford to donate: their time. More to the point, students openly state their dissatisfaction in working for causes that are not making a difference in solving vital problems. In short, they don’t have time for charity; they want change.

That is why students are now beginning to merge their academic courses with lessons learned in the process of performing community service and are spending time devising public policy ideas that will make a difference. Perhaps most exciting, they are also running for elected office to put those policies into action.

For example, at all of 22, Kesha Ram, freshly graduated from the University of Vermont, was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. She ran a very dedicated race. Seeking elected office was not Ram’s first exposure to public life. In high school, she helped to pass legislation banning carcinogenic chemicals from dry cleaning, started a recycling program for her school and led a delegation of students to India for the World Social Forum, where she made a documentary about globalization.

Unlike previous generations who divided their time between work, social activities and spiritual commitments, today’s young adults seek to merge all three.

We’ve raised this generation to think this way, and now maybe it’s time for us to learn a lesson from them.

Wilson pastors First Christian Church, 118 W. Washington St., Shelbyville, blogs at and reads e-mail sent to