It’s That Time of Year Again!



Spring is a celebratory time of year on a university campus.  There are multiple opportunities to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff, and it seems like not a week goes by without me having the opportunity to lead our community in some kind of public prayer.  It’s actually my favorite time of year–I love all the “pomp and circumstance,” and the traditions that tie us to generations past.  I was joking with someone the other day, and told them that I get so many requests to pray at events during this time of year that I sometimes forget which events I’m going to be praying at, so I just show up at events with a prayer ready, just in case!  

This weekend is Honors Day on campus, and the whole day will be filled with ceremonies held by the various departments and honorary societies.  The highlight of the day is the Honors Convocation, where we recognize new initiates into the academic honoraries, and recognize all of the awards that will be given out throughout the day.  This is the first spring sighting of all the “campus plumage,” when the faculty shake out their robes and hoods, and we get to see everyone in their academic finery.  I love all the colorful robes and hoods, and guessing where each faculty member studied, based on the colors of their regalia.  (I’m an academic regalia nerd–I fully admit it!)  

In a couple short weeks, we’ll celebrate commencement, and the students will join in the wearing of the odd mortarboard hats and the unisex (read: uniformly unflattering) robes.  For me, the wearing of the caps, gowns, and hoods is always a reminder of the church roots of our academic enterprise, as the first academic robes were actually clergy robes.  Commencement is such an emotional time for everyone–especially for the parents and family members who are there to cheer on their favorite graduates.  It’s also a time of hope, and looking to the future, making plans and dreaming new dreams.  

Finally, this year is also a special commencement season for me, as I will participate in the commencement exercises of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, having earned my Doctor of Ministry degree from that institution.  I am excited to be a part of this ceremony, because it represents a personal achievement in my own life, and it recognizes the support and encouragement I’ve received from my family and friends over the last four and a half years.  This is my last commencement as a student (You hear that–my LAST ONE–No more degrees!), so it’s a little bittersweet, but it’s also a  hopeful time for me, as I look forward to continuing the work I started in my doctoral project in starting a new ministry of group spiritual direction on our campus.  

If you are celebrating someone’s special academic achievement this spring, or perhaps your own, may you be blessed as you pause for a moment and take it all in.  These are special moments, and they should be savored.  Don’t forget to breathe, don’t step on your robe, and look around you to take it all in!  



Holy Wednesday 2014

In many parts of the Christian family, today is known as “Spy Wednesday,” in commemoration of Judas’s clandestine meeting with the authorities in Jerusalem, where he accepted thirty pieces of silver in exchange for betraying Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what motivated Judas to give Jesus up.  Perhaps it was the money–John’s Gospel points out (in chapter 12) that Judas was the treasurer for the disciples–he “carried the money box,” or the “purse,” depending on the translation you read.  In this scenario, Judas was a thief, often tempted by the money he carried on behalf of the other followers of Jesus.  If he was skimming off the top, or cooking the books, he surely would have jumped at the chance to make a little extra coin, even at the expense of his friend and master, Jesus.  But, as is often the case, things are more complicated than they first seem.

Both Luke and John also suggest that it was “Satan,” the devil, who entered into Judas, and thus caused him to betray Jesus.  This explanation, while somewhat satisfying, has problems, because it almost excuses Judas of his actions, saying “The Devil made me do it!”  Unless, of course, you consider that Judas had to let the Evil One into his heart in order for such a course to happen.

Others have suggested that Judas betrayed Jesus because he (Jesus) didn’t live up to expectations.  In this scenario, Judas wanted Jesus to overthrow the oppressive Roman government, and take control over Israel, ushering in the worldwide Messianic Age.  Perhaps Judas had been heartened by the palm branches and kingly overtones of Palm Sunday, and was hoping the Jesus might just be THE ONE who would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for Israel.  Perhaps he was disheartened when he found out that Jesus had a completely different plan in mind.

So, maybe he did it because of the money, maybe Satan got into him somehow and made him do it, maybe he did it because he was disappointed with Jesus’ role as Messiah and king.  Or maybe it was something else.  Or maybe it was some combination of all of these reasons.  For whatever reason, Judas did what he did, and because of his actions, and the actions of many others who felt threatened by Jesus’ teaching, Jesus went to the cross, died, and was laid in the tomb.

Regardless of the reason for Judas’s betrayal, it was ultimately necessary for the betrayal to take place, in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission on earth.  In being crucified, Jesus set up an existential mirror before the world, saying, “Behold, what humankind has wrought!”  When we look at the cross, we look at the cruelty of humanity writ large, and we witness what the lengths to which humans will go to suppress the love and compassion of God.  When confronted with the One who can bring peace, we react with violence.  When we see the mercy of God on display, we respond with hatred and anger.  When we hear the call to care for the least, lost, and lonely of the world, we enact legislation that protects the wealthy, powerful, and controlling.  This is what the crucifixion shows us, as we gaze with horror on what we do every day to those whom God has given us as a gift.

The action of God’s grace on the cross is a reminder to us of the cost of loving others–pain, anguish, and sometimes death.  Rather than being a deterrent, however, the image of the cross should encourage us to love all the more, for the cross is simply a reminder to us of the resurrection that is to come, the celebration of Easter that never ends!  In the cross, we are reminded that pain will be replaced with joy, anguish will be wiped away by God’s comfort, and death will be defeated by eternal life.  So, in a way, Spy Wednesday is as important to us as Good Friday and Easter, for without it, and those events which followed, we would not be where we are today.

Happy Spy Wednesday!


Holy Tuesday 2014

Although I had realized this at the beginning of Lent, somehow I had forgotten again until now the fact that the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic/Protestant) branches of the Christian family have celebrated Lent at the same time this year, meaning that Holy Week and Easter are being celebrated together by everyone in the Christian family this week!  The last time this happened was in 2010, and the time before that was in 2000.  This occurs because the Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, and the Eastern churches us the old Julian calendar to date holy events.  This accounts for the difference in when we celebrate Christmas, too, and is actually one of the main causes of the rift between the East and West in the way back times.  What a joy that the entire Body of Christ can celebrate Easter this Sunday as one!  


Holy Monday 2014

Today is Monday of Holy Week, the week that Christians all over the world celebrate as a remembrance of Jesus’ last week on earth.  

One of the traditions associated with this day is the remembrance of Jesus’ “Cleansing of the Temple” (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-16).  As the story goes, Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem, and became distraught by the money-changing and animal-selling that was going on in the courtyard. These activities were necessary to carrying on the tradition of tithe-giving and animal sacrifice in the temple, since people needed to change their Roman money into the temple currency, and needed to purchase animals for sacrifice, since it was very difficult to bring the needed animals over long distances while maintaining the ritual purity necessary.  Most people suppose that the money-changers and animal sellers were corrupt, however, inflating their prices and keeping a healthy profit for themselves, thus cheating people in the midst of what should have been a holy environment. 

The scene of Jesus turning over tables and whipping animals and people out of the temple is at once exciting and disturbing.  It is exciting because it is a scene that evokes the righteous anger God must have over our hypocrisy, when we distort rituals and holy things into objects to be used for our own gain.  And, it is disturbing because it presents us with a very different image of Jesus than most of us are used to seeing.  When most people think of Jesus, they picture a gentle, meek-and-mild savior, cuddling lambs and bouncing children on his knee.  We certainly don’t imagine his face distorted in anger, with a whip in his hand, hitting people and animals in the temple!  

While this image can be uncomfortable for some, it is a necessary image for us to confront during Holy Week.  The image of the righteous anger of Jesus provides us with some perspective into the nature of God’s love for us, and the kinds of actions we should take as followers of Christ.  Not that we should also take up whips and turn over tables!  Instead, perhaps we should search ourselves and see where we have distorted the love of God, or the rituals, practices, and doctrines of the Church to our own benefit.  Whenever we cite Scripture as a way to exclude others, or to bolster our own point of view, we do the same injustice to God’s commands as the money-changers and animal dealers.  Whenever we ignore our own sins while pointing out the flaws of others, we directly disobey Jesus, and we flaunt God’s forgiveness of us. 

On this day, I don’t see myself in this story alongside Jesus, holding a whip in my hand, driving out the hypocrites.  Instead, I see myself as one of those hypocrites, needing to be reminded of the high and holy purpose God has for me, for the Church, and for the Body of Christ.  Some say that the Church is too full of hypocrites, and that is why they don’t go to church.  I say, “There’s always room for one more.” 

During this Holy Week, may we all be reminded of our need for Christ, especially in the face of our own hypocrisies and judgments.



A Return to “Normal”

It’s been a long time since I blogged, but it’s been a pretty busy and wonderful spring semester this year!  

Since I last wrote, I went on a fantastic and adventuresome spring break trip to Dade City, Florida, with 34 of the most energetic, enthusiastic, and caring young adults I’ve ever met.  Over an incredible week that included 80-degree weather in March, we helped to construct and install the interior walls for two Habitat homes, and helped out at the local ReStore.  During my day at the ReStore, I had the opportunity to meet some great people, who are dedicated to the cause of providing adequate and affordable housing to people everywhere, and particularly in their community.  The students from ONU who went on our trip were fantastic, especially when our ONU bus broke down, and we had to car pool to the job site every day in the cars and trucks of the Care-avan volunteers.  These folks travel all around the country in their RVs, working on Habitat builds.  They were awesome!  The other great thing about spring break trips is that it gives me the chance to get to know students I wouldn’t have otherwise come to know, and to have some really deep and meaningful conversations with them about life, school, and God.  

After spring break, I put my nose to the grindstone, and finally finished my doctoral dissertation!  And, on March 31st, I successfully completed the defense of that paper, making me an honest-to-God Doctor of Ministry!  This process began back in 2009, when I first applied to the D.Min. program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  Nine trips to Chicago, eight classes, two car accidents, a proposal, project, and dissertation later, it’s complete!  I thank God for the opportunity that was presented to me to further my education, and for the strength to get through it all.  I’m also grateful for my family, especially my wife, Kelly, who supported me through it all.  It was really because of my doctoral work that I discerned a call to campus ministry, and that’s what brought me to ONU and to Ada.  God truly works in mysterious ways.

I’ve also traveled a lot.  Besides the spring break trip, I’ve also traveled to Tacoma, Washington, for the annual National Association of College and University Chaplains (NACUC) conference, and to Chicago for the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) chaplaincy conference.  Both of these were opportunities for me to connect (or re-connect) with chaplain colleges from around the country who are working hard to make a difference in their own communities.  

The semester has also come with some sadness.  Shortly before spring break, we lost one of our own, a student named Tim who took his own life.  It shocked everyone on campus, and especially his closest friends and family.  What I learned from that experience is that the human spirit is resilient, and that communities really do pull together in times of tragedy.  Tomorrow night, from 6-8 p.m., we will be holding a benefit dinner for Tim’s family in the Activities Room of McIntosh Center.  The cost is $8 if you buy your tickets at the Mac table, or $10 at the door.  Tim’s family will be there, so it will be a wonderful way to show our community’s support for them in this difficult time.  

After all that, life is a little bit back to normal–whatever “normal” means.  I can breathe a little more, and relax as I prepare for what comes next.  In the short term, that means baccalaureate and commencement, and then my own graduation from Garrett.  In the longer term, that means getting ready for the next academic year, and looking forward to a cruise to the Bahamas that Kelly and I will be taking in the fall, to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.  

Life is good, and God is great.  Celebrate each day as a gift.