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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Break, God's mission, and college students (Or, what do you call a pile of wood chips?)

Last year as I was wandering through the University of Nebraska-Omaha (I live next door to the southern portion of the campus), it occurred to me that I should help out the campus ministry in some way. Through a rather roundabout search via the internet and phone, I was finally hooked up with some students of the Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry (ELCA). Every Tuesday I am in town, I wander up the hill to have Bible study with the Lutherans, and I have had a good time getting to know the young adults who read with me.

Over the past 7 months I have appreciated their intelligence, curiosity, their willingness to engage in conversation, and to actually care about each other. It has been good for this old soul to hear the questions again in new contexts and situations. The "old" part comes into play at this point because they recently asked if I wished to join them (along with students from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and the University of Nebraska Lincoln) on their Alternate Spring Break Trip. The trip, last week in San Antonio and Austin, TX, would be a chance to serve God's mission in that part of the world. It would be warmer than Omaha, but I would also have to sleep on a floor.

There was a time when I could sleep on a floor, and function pretty well afterwards. I m sure those days are well behind me, sort of like my Cosby sweaters from 1991.  (Yes, at one time that was high fashion...of course the internet hadn't been invented yet. Al Gore was still a Senator.) So sleeping on the floor almost outweighed the sun, and a chance to see what that part of the world was up to in the 25 years since I had went to UT-Austin. I went.

And I am glad I did. I got to meet some truly incredible people, and I saw my faith uplifted and improved by working with (well, gentle reader, "working with" is a euphemism for "watching people work," which to this day still fascinates me) such caring, smart, and fun young adults. Not only some of the folks from Omaha, but the other two Universities as well, provided me a week of participating in God's mission in the world. This is us in downtown San Antonio (thanks to Rae who took the picture, and isn't in the group photo --and the guy hiding in the back behind Josh of Omaha  is Pastor Adam of Lincoln...and I could do a whole year's worth of blogs on this incredible minister of the gospel, and what he does.) Photo

As these trips often go (17 hours in a van together will do this), a thread of jokes emerges from such intimate and intense cohabitation and cooperation. A joke told at the beginning of the trip is told for days as a way to make new connections with new people, and provide them all with a a shared vocabulary. Many of our jokes revolved around this verse from the Bible:
"So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth." (Joshua 5.3)

 You can see why this is so humorous to college students...no? Ah, perhaps the Hebrew confuses you? The place of this mass circumcision is called "The Hill of Foreskins." (Gibeath-haaraloth)...Pastor Adam teaches a Hebrew Bible course at Lincoln, and he has taught his students this verse, and its importance to males in being a Jew of upstanding character. And the Lincoln students were quite willing to share this knowledge with those of us from Kearney and Omaha. Surprising to no one, college students found many opportunities to make jokes about such a hill all throughout the trip. (I did not tell them that Austin is in the "Hill Country" of Texas, as that seemed like a sure invitation to degradation...)

Anyhow in the midst of one of a series of intense and fruitful group processing events, a lull in conversation about our work in trimming bushes and readying gardens for planting, found people making some jokes about wood, trimming, and Joshua 5.3. At first, such jokes may seem crass and tasteless (and some were), but the point of such a joke-thread is how it builds community. As the stories and jokes are told, we bind ourselves to each other together in community, we hear each other, and we remember and hold ourselves accountable to our place in God's world. This kind of sharing is what I call "heaven." To have these kind of relationships is why Jesus died...and we tell his story of the resurrection so that our relationships with each other, even as short-term and temporary as a week-long mission trip, have value right here and right now. Jesus makes us his people not so we can be apart, but so we can be together. Laughing, working, helping, caring, and sharing in the fecundity of God's wonderful grace. A mission trip like this is a one-week intensive to a life of living in God's grace.

So, what do you call a pile of woodchips? Simple: a hill of foreskins...trust me, at 11:30 at night, after 4 days with no sleep, too much sun, and too much food...that's about the funniest joke you'll ever hear...of course, maybe it's one of those you have to be there for--and because some young folks invited this old fool to drive, I was blessed enough to be there.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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