An Order for Prayer for Finals Week (Re-Post)

An Order of Prayer During Final Exams

O Lord, open our minds.
And our pens shall show forth knowledge and praise.

The Collect (In unison)
Almighty God, giver of all Knowledge and Wisdom,
we have come to a place where our knowledge must be tested
to prove that we have learned all we can.
Grant us the strength to endure long essay questions,
the clear thinking to tackle tough problems and formulae,
and the wisdom to rest between periods of intense activity.
As you led the people of Israel through the desert, show us a way
through this time of academic intensity,
that we may emerge on the other side, singing and dancing
your praises, all the days of our lives.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
   but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
   and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

The Song of Zechariah
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus is Tested by Satan)

The Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

Prayers

Together, let us pray:
For those who have exams in subjects they love, related to their major…
For those who have exams in subjects they loathe, unrelated to their interests..
For unfinished or poorly finished work…
For the grace to accept when we have completed our tasks…
For the strength to carry on and do what needs to be done…
For professors and instructors, who must grade our exams and papers…
For our families and friends, and stresses they may be going through…
For those who are not privileged enough to have the opportunity to attend college or university…
For the Church and the World…

Lord’s Prayer

Closing
Go now in peace, and as you learn more and more, may you be blessed to know that you understand less and less, and be comfortable knowing that God is in it all.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

End of the Year Express Train

The express train is chugging its way through Ada lately, and I’m not referring to the increased traffic on the railroad crossings at the north end of town!  It’s that time of year, when things start to pick up on campus, and everything seems to go into hyper-drive (or “ludicrous speed,” to quote Spaceballs.)  Papers, exams, Capstone projects–you name it, and it’s probably coming due for our students.

It’s not just the students, either.  We are hard at work getting ready for baccalaureate and commencement, and in the meantime we in student affairs are working on applying for the President’s Service Honor Roll, a distinction we managed to achieve last year and are hoping to repeat this year as well.  It’s a lot of hard work, but well worth it in the end, as we see how all that we do contributes to making ONU an even better place to work and study.

I often tell my staff during this season to remember that their first job on campus is to be a student.  They don’t always listen to me, but I feel that I need to remind them of this often, because self-care is most important during our busiest seasons.  If we neglect our bodies, minds and spirits when we’re busy, how can we ever hope to take care of ourselves when things are calm?  So if you’re a student, faculty member, staff member, administrator, or parent, take some time during these next few weeks to look around you.  Things will never be the same again.  We will never again have a campus community made up of this exact student body, because our graduates will be leaving us, and when they do, and new students come to take their places, the campus will inevitably change.  When change happens, we need to embrace it, lest we find ourselves run over by the runaway express train that is life.

As Pete Seeger used to say to his audiences, “Take it easy, but take it.”

–David

Some Thoughts on Vocation and #2015NetVUE

Today, I am in St. Louis, within spitting distance from the Arch (although it’s so massive that everyone in this city probably feels like they’re within spitting distance), as I await the beginning of the 2015 conference for the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE).  This will be my third NetVUE conference, and I’m particularly excited to be attending this year because Ohio Northern University recently received a two-year $50,000 grant from NetVUE to fund a project called “Creating a Common Language of Vocation at ONU.”  This grant will allow us to have some meaningful conversations (the first of which is actually taking place back on campus today) about the concept of vocation, or “calling” in the context of our teaching and learning environment.  When I was writing our grant proposal, I spoke with many people on our campus about vocation, and I found that while many people were interested in helping students explore their calling or purpose in life, none of the people who were doing so were talking to each other.  Life on a university campus can get hectic, and we so often go into our own silos when we are working, particularly if we feel that we might be the only ones talking about a particular topic.  With vocation, I’ve discovered that people on our campus are all generally talking about the same thing, but we’re using different “dialects” particular to our areas of expertise, so it only seems like we’re speaking different languages.  In the same way that the U.S. and the U.K. are “two nations divided by a common language,” university campuses can become divided when we don’t recognize the common themes within our discourse, research interests, and pedagogy.

Vocation is a word that is inherently theological in nature.  It stems from the Latin word vocare, meaning to speak or to call.  For many Christians, vocation is often expressed in terms of a call from God.  Others might define the vocational call as a call from within–no less spiritual, and no less powerful, but differing in the sense of the source.  Still others might feel a call from the communities from which they originate–a call to become a doctor or a pharmacist, for example, that comes from a community struggling to access adequate health care.  Some  might reject the idea of a “call” altogether, and opt instead for the terms purpose, mission, or duty.  I believe that all of these express vocation in its broadest and deepest sense.  Vocation is about asking the big questions:  Why am I here?  What use am I to the world?  Where am I going?  If a student knows that she wants to be a pharmacist, and feels deep down within herself that this is true for her, that’s great.  A conversation about vocation might begin with someone asking her “Why do you feel that?  What’s the source of your assurance that you want to be a pharmacist?  What do you want to do to make a difference with your chosen career?”

Some of the readings for this conference have challenged me to think about the crucial role of university faculty in the process of vocational discernment.  While I as the Chaplain have the opportunity to speak with and counsel many students in the course of my work, members of the faculty reach many more students than I will ever be able to engage.  In his paper titled, “Purpose, Provender, and Promises: Church-Related Colleges in a Secular Age,” Richard Ray wrote, “Professors wouldn’t expect to be of much use to their students in helping them develop a lively imagination–much less a vocation–for their particular academic disciplines unless they themselves were deeply engaged in continuous learning in their respective fields.  So too with the spiritual formation of their students.”  I have encountered a few professors who take an active interest in their students’ spiritual development, and are adept at encouraging that development while not forcing their own religious or spiritual perspective on the students.  I have also met many faculty who are wary of delving into the spiritual development of their students, mostly because they feel wholly unqualified for the task.  “That’s your work,” is the response I often get when I ask professors if they ever provide spiritual guidance or counsel to their students.  My answer to that is that yes, spiritual development is my primary area of work with students, but that student in that particular moment has come to you–not for a referral to my office (which most of them ignore, by the way), but for real wisdom and guidance from a person whom they respect.  Faculty members embrace their vocation as professors when they are able to profess–or at least be attentive enough to their own inner development that they are able to provide some guidance when students approach them with spiritual questions.

So, this conference hasn’t even begun yet, and I’ve already had a profound change in my sense of direction for our project at the university.  I hope that our project will be able to help faculty members develop their own inner/spiritual lives enough that they might be able to help their students answer the big questions of life–or at least be able to help them ask the big questions.  That may be enough of a victory; and that’s a topic for another blog post on another day.

May you grow into the sense of your own call in life,

David

“You Do You” (Thoughts on Becoming and Believing In Ourselves)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity lately, both on and off campus.  Last week was spring break, so I got to spend the week with 29 of my best friends in Davidson, North Carolina, on a Habitat for Humanity work trip.  We were able to help Our Towns Habitat for Humanity do about a month and a half’s worth of work in just five days, and we made some great friendships and personal connections along the way.

On a trip like the one I went on last week, I often take a behind the scenes role. I see it as the students’ trip, so I try to let them step forward and have the experience of helping out.  I pitch in when an extra hand is needed, but I have the belief that I should never deny a student the opportunity to learn and grow by doing something that they could be doing.  As a result, I spent much of the week going around the job site reminding people to drink water and take breaks.  When we are in our 20s, we tend to forget that our bodies are not indestructible, so breaks and water are often neglected.  I’m proud to say that not one person passed out from dehydration last week!  I also had fun walking around with a big strong magnet on a stick, picking up nails that had fallen all over the ground.  My motto all week was “saving your toes, one nail at a time.”  While doing both of these tasks, I got to talk with each of the students, and often our joking and checking in with one another led to some serious discussions.

One of the most common discussions that I have with students is about what I call “Becoming and Believing in Ourselves.”

The first part, “Becoming,” is all about figuring out who we are.  The period of life called emerging adulthood (roughly the years between 18 and 25) is a time of tremendous personal, psychological, social, and spiritual growth.  Students come to college with a lot of questions, many of which are rooted in their growing sense of personal identity.

“Who am I?”

“What’s my purpose?”

“What does the future hold?”

These questions, and questions like them, offer students an opportunity to make choices, and those choices lead to a greater understanding of their truest selves.  In my conversations with students, I am often struck by how serious these questions are for them.  I sometimes forget how much such questions troubled me when I was their age, and I’m thankful for the reminder to never stop asking questions of myself.

Becoming is, in one sense, the easy part.  Becoming happens almost without us thinking about it.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, our bodies, minds, and spirits are developing (for good or bad), each day that we live on this earth.  Believing in ourselves is a different story.

So many of the young people I encounter every day are struggling with believing in themselves.  Because they may not be sure of the answers to all of the questions above, they may feel that they haven’t “arrived” yet, or that they are inadequate to the task of facing the world as an adult.  Or, they may have a false sense of belief in themselves, accepting a self image that is distorted, and doesn’t reflect their true self.  Athletes who put a disproportionate amount of faith in their ability to make it through the world based on their strength and endurance, or students who have chosen a major based on a belief that it will make them a lot of money in the future are just two examples of this overconfidence.  Confidence isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be destructive when it is inflated, and doesn’t reflect the person that God has called you to be.

Both of these tasks, Becoming and Believing in Ourselves, are of critical importance during this life stage.  It is the job of mentors, chaplains, parents, professors, and other caring adults to help emerging adults navigate these waters.  With a guide who has “been there and done that,” the pitfalls of this life stage can more easily be explored.  Not that it will be all sunshine and roses, but it will certainly be better than without a guiding friend.

Accomplishing a task like helping to build a house goes a long way in helping students Become and Believe in themselves.  I’m always amazed by the students who go on a work trip with little to no knowledge of construction–some of them have literally never even used a hammer before!–who suddenly become experts in using saws, hammers and nails, and many other tools.  To see a young woman who has always believed that she’s “too girly” to do manual labor transform into a confident hammering pro (complete with muddy jeans and sawdust-covered hair) is a wonderful thing.  To watch as a young man suddenly grasps the concept of being able to walk on a roof after being afraid of heights all his life is a joy to behold.  Building homes also builds lives, both for the homeowners of Habitat, and for the students who volunteer their hands and their hearts to the job.

So, every year before I go on a work trip, I say to myself (and my long-suffering wife), “I think that next year I may not go on a work trip.”  Then, at the end of every trip, I come home and say, “Forget what I said, I’ll be going again next year.”  It’s not because I enjoy bugging people about resting and drinking water, or that picking up nails is that vital a task to be completed on the job site.  What I really get out of these trips is the feeling that I have done something useful, helping my small group of emerging adults make it through this time of their lives, as they both Become and Believe in themselves–one nail at a time.

On Being a Good Neighbor, and Sharing Space

My inbox, Facebook news feed, and Twitter have all been filled with references this week to the tragic shooting of three students in North Carolina who also all happen to be Muslims.  The responses have ranged from grief to astonishment, with a fair amount of confusion, anger, and religious vitriol thrown into the mix for good measure.  (For a summary of the incident, click here.)

While no one knows for sure yet whether the incident was racially/religiously motivated (and thus a hate crime), or the result  of a parking dispute that got out of hand (and thus a regular really bad crime), one thing is certain–three young people lost their lives unnecessarily, and the community of Chapel Hill has some serious introspection to undertake.  Perhaps our nation as a whole needs to do some thinking and praying about this situation, and what it might say to us about how we can be good neighbors to one another, and share the space we’ve been given on this planet in which to coexist.

Whether the students who were killed in Chapel Hill were killed because of their faith, or because of parking issues in their condo, what lies at the root of this story is the simple fact that people of different beliefs, backgrounds, and worldviews sometimes have to share space. We bump into people who are different from us every day.  You don’t even have to leave the house for that to happen most days–the people in our families and with whom we spend the most time can sometimes be the first “strangers” we ever encounter.  Each person is so unique and different in his or her own way that it is impossible for people to live side by side without some kind of conflict erupting.  Even if two saints were to live with one another, an argument would erupt eventually.  Add race, religion, and politics to the mix, and you’ve got a volatile cocktail of anger and misunderstanding before conversation and interaction can even begin.

Part of what I do for a living is understanding difference.  I work with people from a wide variety of expressions of religious faith, and a fair amount of people who do not express a religious faith at all.  Even among my own “tribe” of Christianity, there are many differences between denominations and sects, and even within denominations and sects.  Variety, that ever-present spice on the smorgasbord of life, keeps things interesting, but it can also lead to stress and conflict.  How we deal with that conflict is the key to our success in the world.

In my work, I often utilize the image of a circle to represent the individual.  Each circle (individual) has a center, and each circle has an edge.  The center represents that place or state of mind where we feel most comfortable and at home.  The edge represents the scary places, or the rough edges, which is often where growth occurs the most.  When two or more people come together, centers and edges begin to rub up against one another, causing friction.  After all, what may be my center–the very core of who I am and what makes me feel safe–may be your edge, and your center may represent my growing edge.  Rather than avoiding such situations, I believe that interaction with people who have different centers and edges is essential to growth as a human being.  And, such interaction can help us to grow spiritually.  As we grow and mature in our own spiritual lives, we become more and more tolerant and embracing of others.  That’s not to say that we necessarily have to change our beliefs or deeply held convictions when we embrace others.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I find that the more I learn about others, and the closer I come to people who have different beliefs and convictions, the more firmly I am able to hold my own convictions.  It is when we are most open, most honest, and most completely who we are within our centers that we are able to interact in a compassionate and hospitable way toward those with whom we differ.

Would a touchy-feely session of spiritual direction, or a mindful encounter with “the other” have helped the situation in Chapel Hill?  Because we don’t yet know all the facts, it’s hard to say,but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.  If we are ever to share space with one another on this big ball of land and water that we call home, we had better begin to encounter one another in ways that are more life-giving and more mindful than the ways we currently undertake.  To avoid tragedies like the one that happened at Chapel Hill, we need to be able to be open with our neighbors about who we are, what makes us unique, and what doesn’t make sense to us.  We especially need to do this if we are part of the traditional majority within the U.S., and we must find a way to be welcoming and tolerant of one another’s differences.  Peace demands it, and our survival as a planetary family depends on it.

Peace,

David

Last Night (A Meditation on Family Promise)

last night
we slept on the floor.
mattresses, really,
arranged on the floor

for comfort

this morning,
we woke up
and went home,
without a thought
to where we would sleep

tonight.

tonight,
someone else will sleep
on those same mattresses,
playing host
to families who sleep
on floor-arranged mattresses

every.

night.

thank God for mattresses,
for sleeping hosts and hostesses,
and the gifts the guest give us,
reminding us
that mattresses, so arranged,

saves lives.

Things your church might be doing wrong (and why it’s o.k.)

These days, there seems to be no end to the ever-growing stream of articles (usually heavily accented by bulleted or numbered lists), telling churches, pastors, and Christian leaders what they are doing wrong.  In the spirit of being helpful, most of these writers are trying to help churches to reach out to their communities, grow, and be intentional about the whole church thing.  That’s great—to a point.  As a college chaplain, I have taken many of the points in such articles as helpful hints for us when we think about welcoming the campus community to our worship and programming space.  However, I can also relate to those pastors and church leaders who read such articles and throw up their hands, saying, “Forget it!  There’s no way my congregation would ever go along with any of these suggestions!”

Bless you, pastors and lay leaders, if you have ever felt inadequate because of what someone once said you were doing wrong in your going about being the church in the world.  For you, I offer the following numbered list of things that you are probably doing “wrong,” along with explanations of why that’s o.k.

  1. Providing unprofessional, sometimes messy and slightly out of tune music.

I remember the church service where we heard the most out of tune, tremolo-filled, and scratchy solo ever forced upon the people called Methodist.  The soloist, however, was quite proud of having been asked to sing, and sang her heart out to the Lord, with all her might.  Everyone there understood in that holy moment that it was not the quality of the “performance” that mattered, but the heartfelt expression of this person’s love for God and her fellow Christians.

Church, it’s good to have clear and singable worship music, and musicians who show a level of care and professionalism in their leadership of singing, but we shouldn’t idolize perfection in the name of “excellence.”  Yes, God wants us to bring our best, but our best may not always be professional quality.  Some of us could use a reminder that the scriptures tell us to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” (Psalm 100:1) sometimes with extra emphasis on the “joyful,” even if that joy sounds to our ears like a lot of “noise.”

  1. Not having seventeen “touch points” for first-time visitors.

I know what the research says—people need to feel welcomed in worship if they are ever to come back.  Make sure your visitors make six new friends in the first six weeks.  Have a welcome gift that someone takes and gives to first-time visitors within 24 hours of their first visit.  Connect.  Touch base.  Whatever you do, don’t let them get away!  That’s all well and good, but some of us are terrified by such things!

As a chaplain, I have the opportunity to visit many churches for the first time.  It’s always nice to be greeted by smiling friendly faces, and even to be introduced around a bit.  But it can be really disconcerting to a newbie to be confronted by 30 such smiling friendly faces within the first three minutes of arriving at worship!  It’s good to have greeters, but consider having greeters who are sensitive to the fact that people respond well to different levels of welcoming intensity is key.  If you don’t always provide seventeen “touch points” for every single visitor, that’s fine, as long as you are keyed into the fact that different visitors require different approaches.

  1. Preaching that is sometimes dull and “teachy.”

I get it—dull preachers not only turn away new folks, but they might just bore away the faithful committed members.  I also get that not every sermon hits it out of the park (a metaphor that went over like a lead balloon when I used it in a sermon in England once—they don’t so much know about baseball metaphors!)  Even the greatest of the great preachers have a bad day, and sometimes certain passages of scripture just lend themselves to more extensive teaching rather than three points and a poem.  You know what?  Sometimes, the sermons that I thought were the dullest and least inspiring, some of my very worst stinkers, were the ones where someone from the congregation would come up to me and say, “That’s exactly what I needed to hear today!”  God works through even the driest material sometimes.  If what was required of us as preachers was to give an awe-inspiring sermon every seven days, regardless of what has been happening in the parish or in the community, then we would go through ministry without paying much attention to what’s going on around us.  Those weeks that I had three funerals, two pre-marital counseling sessions, and a visit in every hospital in the county?  Those weeks did not have very polished sermons, but they were the weeks when my preaching most relied on the work of the Holy Spirit to get us all through.

  1. Traditional music/worship.

The experts all tell us that traditional is dead.  Hymns are passé.  Robed preachers and choirs are on their way out.  Formal liturgy is off-putting.  If you recognize yourself in any of those statements, then everyone knows you’re doomed to a slow and painful death, right?

Not necessarily.  I have experienced beautiful so-called “traditional” worship–with robes, choirs, Eucharist, liturgy, and all the smells and bells–which has lifted the worshippers closer to God than any contemporary-music fest worship in which I’ve ever participated.  Done well, such traditional worship can be breathtaking, inspiring, and yes, will attract young people.  Traditional doesn’t have to mean boring, and ritual doesn’t have to become rote.  To me (and I suspect, to others as well), one of the most beautiful expressions of worship can be found in the ancient words of Orthodox prayers being said in an incense-filled nave, while the priest enacts the ancient liturgy of the miracle of Christ coming among us from within the sanctuary.  Such worship can seem totally foreign to modern sensibilities and style, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—sometimes we could all use a little mystery in our faith.

  1. Contemporary music/worship.

On the opposite side of the coin of the above comment is the notion that so-called “contemporary” music and worship are wrong.  Comments such as, “It’s all just a show,” and “There’s no theological meat on those bones” are quite common among the worship snobs I know and love.  I’ve even caught myself saying such things, and I work in an environment where we encourage the use of contemporary music and worship forms!  This idea is as empty as the previous one, because it doesn’t necessarily hold true.

Contemporary worship and music don’t have to be banal and shallow expressions of the faith.  Indeed, some contemporary worship music has taken me to new heights of theological reflection that I had not encountered before.  The first time I sang the David Crowder band’s lyrics “heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,”* I was thrown into a long theological reflection on how God meets us in the “thin places” of our lives, and how God’s love meets us in unexpected ways.  Such lyrics can be deep sources of theological reflection if we just give them a chance.  Contemporary music is no less dangerous to the overall message of the Church than is traditional music.

Church, it’s time for us to stop listening to the list-makers and the ecclesiastical pundits, and time to start listening to the Holy Spirit.  In the still small spaces of our sanctuaries and chapels, if we are quiet long enough and seek after God’s heart fervently enough, we might just occasionally find the Spirit moving among us, enlivening our communities and enriching our worship.  No technique or gimmick can ever replace the powerful transformation that takes place when a person meets the loving God for the first time within the context of a community of faith.  No list of do’s and don’ts could ever give an exhaustive account of what we need to be about, because what we need to be about is helping to usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.  If we only listen to the naysayers, we run the risk of not being open to the fact that God just might take our messiness and turn it into something beautiful that is exactly what the world needs right now.

So, are you doing some things wrong with your church?  Probably.  But we’ve been doing them for 2,000 years, and God hasn’t given up on us yet.  That gives me hope, and I pray that it gives you hope, too.

Blessings,

David

*Yes, I know that the original lyrics read “sloppy wet” in place of “unforeseen,” but those are the lyrics I first heard, so deal with it!  Either way, they provide interesting fodder for theological reflection.