Work with Friends

I found myself unexpectedly among friends last night. On the way back from a preaching engagement in my hometown, my friend Billy invited me to stop by our college Wesley Foundation to help a group of alumni serve dinner to about 70 current students, this generation’s set of Wesley leaders.

Friends serve together to help make space for new friendships among current Wesley students. Photo courtesy of Billy Reeder

Friends serve together to help make space for new friendships among current Wesley students. Photo courtesy of Billy Reeder

 

The thing about volunteering at Wesley is that there’s no such thing as a cush job. The ethos of the place, instilled in us as students and still alive two decades later, says that if something needs doing, there should be multiple people lining up to get it done. Anyone without a job needs to find a job, or at least to keep one of the workers company.

I know people to whom that sounds like a twisted definition of a fun evening. Spend your time doing someone else’s chores for free? (Actually, we each chipped in some money to buy food so we could do it.) No thanks. The Broncos and Patriots are playing, and if the game’s no good, we’ve still got “Once Upon a Time” to watch.

But for me, none of those were as appealing as the chance to volunteer at Wesley. When we hang out with friends to play games or watch movies, we create memories that belong to those who were with us at the time. But when we work alongside people who love us in service to other people–no matter who those people are–we do more than share experience. We open the doors to those memories not only for ourselves, but for all who are present.

Work with friends is not about accomplishing a task, or at least not at its core. It is about creating something together that bears witness to the love among us. It is an act of praise, a joyful response to God, who gave us each other.

Home

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. —Edward Abbey

When my students at A-State Wesley Foundation talk about home, they most commonly mean the place their parents live. I’m going home to see my family, they say, or I have to get my winter coat next time I go home. They recognize that, even though college for them involves a residential component, that their dorm or apartment is not in itself “home.” It’s just a temporary place of residence.

We Methodist preachers sometimes get in the habit of thinking that way too. This can, of course, be a horribly unfair way of thinking, one in which we are blinded to our neighbors because our sights are set on the next (bigger, better) appointment. Some of us never learn to really live anywhere, which is sad for pastor and church alike.

But on the positive side, the sense of transience common to Methodist clergy and traditional college students can help keep us awake, particularly concerning this idea of home. Rather than get settled into a particular house or geographic region or spatial arrangement of the sanctuary, we are free to embrace a dynamic concept of home, one that recognizes that home is first and foremost about belonging somewhere—or, more accurately, belonging among a certain group of people.

Occasionally, I’m reminded of the various settings that have been home to me over the years, from my own days as a Wesley student at Arkansas Tech to seminary in Kentucky to a half dozen other places I’ve worked in ministry. When I see people from one of those “home” networks now, I don’t get too nostalgic. Sentimentality is not my thing, and I try to travel light. But I do give them a hug and say a prayer of thanks, grateful as I am for the people and places that have incorporated me into their lives.

Students at A-State Wesley reflect on what their time here means.

Students at A-State Wesley reflect on what their time here means.

More and more lately, I hear my Wesley students talk about our ministry as their home away from home. I think this goes beyond meals prepared or memories made. What they are saying is that they recognize that they have a place to belong among people who love them. I’m glad to know that my professional life can bear this kind of fruit for some people.

Home is not a place or a sentiment. It is a nest in which, regardless of our age or experience, we are held safe and nurtured. It is a web of belonging, a state of grace, a gift from God.

A Lovable Enemy

I admit that when I first saw the Red Sox’s ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I cringed. Losing the World Series isn’t fun, even for a fan who puts these things in perspective. It seemed like just a touch of salt sprinkled in a not-quite-healed wound.

But when I read it again, it looks to me like this was done in a good spirit, and I have to give kudos to the Red Sox. As much as American professional sports tries to play up rivalries and conflict, part of the beauty of games is that they are still just games.

And it reminds me of one of the main reasons I love baseball. Other sports thrive on embarrassing your opponent–dunking in someone’s face, standing over a tackled ball carrier, dancing in the end zone. Taunting is seen as “just part of the game” or “just having fun.”

I can’t see it that way, though. I’m still of the mind that we need to respect our opponents, whether in MLB or church softball or workplace environments. I’m also of the mind that we need to strive ourselves to be worthy of such respect that, when we lose a contest, the victors still want to shake our hands and say well done.

Now here’s hoping the Cardinals can take out a similar ad in somebody else’s paper next year.

Fall

 “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”

—Stephen Jay Gould, from Eight Little Piggies

Fall came without me noticing, wrapped up as I have been in the various profound and piddling things that have occupied my attention these past ten weeks. It’s as though I looked up one day, and there it was—red and yellow and mercifully cool. Then, in one windy day, much of it was already gone.

It’s a life metaphor. I see those a lot this time of year. It’s like the world has finished its long season of work and can

The autumn blaze maple  we planted three years ago is living up to its name this fall.

The autumn blaze maple we planted three years ago is living up to its name this fall.

finally take a moment to reflect on what is happening around us. There is less daylight, but I seem to have more time. I get even more introspective than usual.

I’m also more connected to the natural world in the fall. I spend more time outside. I notice more living things. I remember not just how dependent we are on the earth, but how interconnected we are with it. When we forget that interconnection, we not only run the risk of damaging our environment. We become less human.

Fall is a melancholy season, even for those of us who love it. But that love is itself a reminder of how precious our world is, and of why we need to preserve it for our children.