Written by Mara Bowman
On move in day, I walked through the hallways of Territorial Hall—squeezing past piles of cardboard boxes and random futons parents had placed in the already narrow halls—and shoved moving carts back out to the front entrance. The influx of 700 new residents created a couple busy days for me and the other Community Advisors (CAs). It felt simultaneously like a decade and a minute since I had been moving into T-hall myself as a freshman only a year before, and here I was again at the start of another school year; except this time was different.
Once the parents said their long goodbyes, my residents were left to their own devices. Some emerged from their rooms and began talking to each other, asking surface level questions about majors and hometowns. Freshman would probably tell you that one of the biggest anxieties of starting college is finding friends. For many, this is the first time they’ve been thrown into an entirely new and uncharted territory. Last year, I came to the U where I only knew five people out of 30,000 and those five were high school classmates I wasn’t even close with. College can be an amazing time to meet truly genuine people and form life-long connections. However, the intense pressure we feel to establish a friend group can lead to us putting up facades in order to fit the mold of the first friend group we find in a desperation to feel belonging. Sometimes we transform into people we don’t recognize just to fit in.
As a CA it’s a huge part of my job to make impactful connections with my residents. We regularly talk about how to make meaningful connections in staff meetings, and my boss will have weekly check-ins to see how these are developing. I’m supposed to be someone they can come to with their roommate issues, questions about school or just feel comfortable talking openly with. From the comfortable distance of one year of college experience, and in my new role as a CA, I got to watch freshman interact in ways that were all too familiar. The fragility of the new connections prevents the presence of vulnerability in our relationships. Maybe it’s trying to hide the fact that you’re homesick, or that you regularly struggle with a mental illness, or that you don’t love college life as much as everyone said you would. Instead we have to appear perfectly put together. The absence of real spaces means these deep parts of ourselves are bottled up inside, weighing us down. We become too busy trying to cover up these very real conflicts in our lives, that we’re too afraid to be real.
Being honest and real about our beliefs and struggles is a conflict that has existed for, well, forever. Martin Luther was a guy who had some issues with the Catholic Church. In fact, he got so fired up about it he nailed a list of his grievances on a door, all 95 of them, a bold move that we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of this year. His willingness to be open about his discomfort, and the dissonance he felt in his beliefs, led to a formation of an entirely new way of looking at God: through a lens of grace and forgiveness.
Luther’s new ideas weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. The Catholic Church didn’t throw him a parade and toss roses at his feet, they were actually pretty unhappy with him. Being real sometimes means taking a risk that people won’t like who you are, or what you have to say—a step that can be intimidating and scary. Luther took the initiative to create a new space in which he could be real about his ideas, and find common ground with others who shared his frustrations. Participating in spaces where everything about ourselves is celebrated and accepted—even if we don’t all agree on it—is vital to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.
God knows who you are. God loves and accepts the parts of us we have a difficult time admitting to others, or even ourselves. Immersing ourselves in real spaces permits us to see the infinite bounds of God’s love and God often manifests that reminder in people we find sitting next to us in these real spaces.
Real spaces surround us with people who celebrate the people God has made us to be and the people we are striving to become. LCM has been that source for me; it has challenged me to be honest about who I am, showed me the boundless acceptance of a community that strives to grow, and challenges our ideas of who we are and who God is in the world today.
Luther didn’t upset the Catholic Church so he could sit at the cool kids table. He relished in his own vulnerability and was real about his beliefs. Be real about who you are and find spaces that support you in moments of vulnerability. When we practice a life of authenticity, and surround ourselves with people who celebrate the people we are and the people we want to become, we’ll hopefully find a life of joy.
Real spaces combat a world that tells us we’ll never be enough. Real spaces are a celebration of the “city kids and country kids, introverts and extroverts….the Engineers and English majors, questioning and certain, poor and rich.” All are a part of the body of Christ. Actively seek out spaces where you are reminded of the boundless acceptance and love God has for you each and every day.
By Julie Wall
I have always been one of those people who would love to keep a journal but never really got around to it. I have always wanted a place to work through thoughts and ideas so that I could see them later. I’m not always the best at coming up with beautiful things to say right off the top of my head, but if I have the time and effort, I often enjoy working through problems or thoughts on paper, rather than out loud or just in my head. So, with this in mind, picture me at Barnes and Noble, just a few days before we left for Iona. I was looking for the perfect journal, worthy of the inspiration, challenges and revelations from this incredible experience. Would flowers, a geometric design or maybe a cat print be the best place to figure it all out?
As you may have noticed, my expectations weren’t quite realistic, but honestly I didn’t really know what to expect from our time on Iona.
As you also may have noticed at this point, I tend to lean toward the intellectual side of the spirituality types. I prefer logic, order, organization and lack of chaos. Serious discussion and reflection are ways that I enjoy exploring my faith. For me, prayer is often focused around words, and I love to turn to the hymnal and liturgy when I can’t seem to find the right words. I often feel most near to God during worship.
With all this in mind, on this trip I was hoping to find an island community with inspiring and meditative worship services and abundant opportunities to engage in structured, meaty discussions of different faith backgrounds and issues. While I found some aspects of this, what I really found was a group of passionate people who quickly formed a community and family through shared meals and open activities rather than intense discussions. I was so inspired by each and every person I met, their journey to Iona and why they were there. From a Methodist pastor who was on sabbatical, a family from Canada who had visited many times before, two Dutch families who were re-exploring their faith practices after they had been hurt by a church they loved and a group of young Swedish confirmation leaders who were so committed to the church while living in a country, and families, where faith is often looked down upon.
I found the worship experience at Iona to be refreshing and encouraging. The services had the same structure and mood as many of our services, but I enjoyed some of the different language and wording used by the Iona community. There is an authenticity and honest texture that I am excited to share in some of our LCM community worship through the coming year.
I was also challenged to experience God in ways that I did not expect and were somewhat foreign to me. I was challenged to see God through experiences that seemed mundane. I was challenged to see God by being flexible. I was encouraged to see God in our beautiful surroundings. I learned from those whose spirituality is formed around emotion. While, I cannot say that I am now a perfectly well rounded person, I can say that I have learned more about how people are different and how those differences are surrounded by different strengths. In the coming year I hope that we, as a community, can continue to recognize and reflect on how we are formed by different spirituality types and make conscious choices to care for each other to the best of our abilities.
(Before you read this, please imagine the happiest baby getting baptized just minutes before this sermon was preached; and if you’d like, take a look at the Baptismal Service on p 227 of the ELCA’s standard hymnal, the red book in most ELCA Churches’ pews)
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord.
Each November, Lutheran Campus Ministry, for whom I serve as pastor, and the Muslim Student Association, share a meal together. And I remember this past year’s meal so clearly because it was just a few days after the election. I was sitting with a couple of pragmatic 18 year old guys – one in the Carlson School of Business, and one an engineer in the College of Science and Engineering. I asked about the election, and how they were doing, and they kind of looked at me with blank faces, and said “Okay.” When I pressed further, they said, “all of the white liberal people we know seem so surprised that a presidential candidate could run, and win, on a platform of bigotry and hatred, but it doesn’t surprise me. This is my life.”
As I was scrolling through social media yesterday, following the Neo Nazi rally in Charlottesville, I noticed a similar post from a black friend of mine. Welcome, everyone, to the world we’ve been living in. It’s out in the open now. But let’s be clear, not much has changed.
Except now the sheets are off, and the hatred is in the wide, wide open.
And so what are we to do, thousands of miles from Charlottesville, but still existing in these same systems which breed, and have bred, hate and bigotry and violence for centuries? How do we stand against it? What do we stand for?
And what does this text that we are given for today have to say about any of it?
Can we pivot for a minute and take a look at this disciple Peter? He is such a human being, isn’t he? Trying and failing. Trying and failing. Earnest and adventurous, this fisherman was one of the first people to say ‘yes’ to Jesus’ call to follow him. Peter, the one with ‘little faith,’ the one who will betray Jesus three times when the going gets tough. He is a complicated character indeed.
And Peter, let me remind you, is the rock on which the church is built.
Sound like anyone you know? It’s liberating, isn’t it? Because if the church is built on Peter, then certainly that gives us some freedom to be human; to not have it all together or to be perfect: but still to keep trying, and to keep getting our feet wet…
When we baptize people, whether they’re six months old, or sixty years old;
We don’t baptize them into a call to perfect faith, or life, but instead we proclaim all of the messiness and mystery of life, God’s promise to be with us in that mix, and our commitment to the newly baptized to be bearers of God’s love as well. We renounce evil, and goodness knows there is evil in our country to be renounced today.
We proclaim that life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, and we claim that all of the practices of our faith are bound up in a call to something greater than ourselves, as individuals or as a church community.
It’s such a blessing to have a baptism on the same morning as this story that we hear today – because this story is so much like life, isn’t it. Both in what it teaches us about ourselves, and what it teaches us about God.
Let’s listen to the text again:
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Fear is all over in this text. Peter doesn’t just flounder because he takes his eyes off of Jesus, but because he grows afraid. And, that fear is justified, right? It’s a storm, for heaven’s sake, raging powerfully enough to sink the boat…
And so too, with our fear, right? Whether we fear the rise of the alt right, or the return of an illness, or a disappointing grade; or a disapproving loved one, or the future of our country; fear is no stranger to us. And it is certainly justified.
And so I wonder, what are you bringing with you into this sanctuary today? What is making you afraid?
Notice how Jesus responds to this very human emotion, which can engulf, overwhelm, make you feel like you can’t breathe…
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.
Jesus reaches out and grabs Peter. Jesus reaches out and catches you. Jesus must anticipate that with some adventurous and brave and whole hearted living there will come some lapses in trust, some storms that sweep us off our feet, some worthy risks that flatten us.
And it is there Christ meets us.
Oh you of little faith, come on. I’ve got you. It’s okay. Come on in the boat and dry off. We’ll try again tomorrow and I’ll be with you there too. If you can hear that phrase with compassion or even as a term of endearment, instead of rebuke, it becomes a welcome invitation into the waters of living and loving and following Jesus, which is quite the adventurous undertaking.
In baptism, all of our practices as a community point us towards this adventure. I like to call them the “so that’s,” a series of calls which are the vocation of Christian people everywhere:
so that we might learn to trust God,
To proclaim Christ in word and deed,
To care for others and the world God made,
And to work for justice and peace.
This life of faith is for something. Some days when you read the news, or look around your home, or scroll your Facebook feed, it will be obvious how it is you’re called to care, what it is you’re called to work for. Other days, the answers will feel much harder to come by. Maybe we don’t know exactly how it is we undo centuries of racism, or what it means to sit at the bedside of a loved one who is dying, but let us never forget that this life of faith is for something. And it’s hard, and it’s beautiful, and it is radically counter cultural.
This story is, perhaps tellingly, right on the heels of Jesus feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children. One of our greatest invitations as followers of Jesus is into an abundant life, which necessitates courage and risk.
Stepping outside of the boat to play and to splash, and to slip and to slide, and to try and to fail, as we follow Christ, and as we learn to love abundantly, to care for others and the world God made, to work for justice and peace – this can be an incredibly scary process. But brothers and sisters, hear this good news:
First of all, you are not God. I am not God. Thanks be to God. And you are not in it alone! God is with you. This community is with you.
This abundant life is fed by deep and abiding trust, but also playfulness, and joy. In the baptism that happened today, sweet Benjamin was grafted onto God’s time transcending family tree, with those that came before us, and those we will never meet, the wild and raucous communion of saints – Benjamin’s great great grandmother, and our complicated St. Peter, Julian of Norwich and Martin Luther King, Jr. And together, all of us, are invited to splash around in this baptismal call to love one another and this world, bravely and kindly and imperfectly. And when it goes wrong, as it often will, know that Christ meets you there, saying I’ve got you. It’s okay. Come on in the boat and dry off. We’ll try again tomorrow and I’ll be with you there too.
May it be so. Amen.
By Pastor Kate Reuer-Welton
Dear LCM community,
I am so excited to write to you all today as part of the 2017 LCM Vision Team, which includes myself and my fearless counterparts: Jonah and Regina. Every year, three students are nominated by their fellow student leaders to identify a growing edge of our LCM community, visit another Christian community to learn about how others approach a similar issue and bring our learnings and thoughts back to our LCM community.
Identifying this growing edge was somewhat of a challenging process for us. We each had different opinions about what aspect of a community and church’s life was most important. We disagreed about what we thought was working well and what we thought could be improved. Through these challenging and hopeful conversations, one theme jumped out; that was that we all experienced our faith differently. In the end, we chose to explore differences in people’s experiences of faith and spirituality through the framework of Corrine Ware’s four spiritual types.
Most of us were first exposed to the idea of “spiritual types” at the LCM winter leader retreat last January. Through informal polling and conversation, we discovered that LCM tends to have individuals of all spiritual types but as a whole, we tend to lean more heavily toward two of the four types (more on all this in blogs to follow!). As the vision team, we settled on the question of how LCM might make space for people of all types to feel welcome and fulfilled; and how can we as individuals grow by stepping outside our comfort zones and walking alongside those who experience their faith differently than ourselves?
In pursuit of this question, we will be journeying to the island of Iona in Scotland to spend a week with the Iona Christian community, established at a former abbey and monastery. We chose this community because it is comprised of members who live on the island as well as a network of members around the globe who are committed to living their lives following the principles of the group. The community embraces mystery, pioneers new music and ways of worshipping, and is committed to putting their faith in action in the public square. We are so excited to learn from this community about how we might build a community which can hold diverse spiritual needs, and kinds of religious expression.
Stay tuned at this blog to hear more about how we’re growing and learning as individuals, as well as our hopes and dreams for the formation of our 2017-18 LCM Community at the U!
By Julie Wall