Sunday, September 27, 2015

CNU - Share the Love

Today's sermon - about the Plaza Drama a week and a half ago at CNU.  You can read more about the event in the Captain's Log here.
 "Share the Love"
The Rev. Lauren McDonald
Mark 9:38-50

Every Thursday between 12 and 2, I carry two chairs and a sandwich board sign into the Plaza at CNU between the Trible Library and the David Student Union.  My sign says, “How may I pray for you?  Prayers, blessings and conversation.  No strings attached.”  This is the second year that I’ve offered this ministry, and I’ve had the great privilege to talk with students, staff, and faculty who have stopped by with prayer requests or just to chat.  Many times I get to talk with students who are Christian but not Episcopalian, who are part of other campus ministries and who want to talk about faith and Christ or to ask for a prayer but who aren’t looking to join another group.

A week ago during my time at the Plaza Prayer Station, I heard from several students and staff members about an event that had taken place the day before.  On Tuesday night of that week, the entire CNU community received a notice from the Dean of students saying that a street evangelist was going to be in the Plaza during lunch the next day.  Apparently he had been there before, and I was told that there had been some heated exchanges as he told students to repent of their sins lest they find themselves spending eternity in flames.  This time he reserved the Plaza for his preaching, and the dean explained that he was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.

What happened next is that CNU’s LGBTQ- alliance organization, Spectrum, decided to sponsor a “Share the Love” event that would take place at the same time as the preacher.  Their goal was to talk to students about love and acceptance and to make their presence known.  They respected the open air preacher’s right to speak and peacefully gathered nearby with rainbow flags and signs that said, “Free hugs” and “Carry the Love.”

Thrive is another organization that showed up that Wednesday.  They are a campus ministry group that seeks to unite all the campus ministries.  They sponsor a large worship gathering one Friday evening a month.  Several of their members come talk to me at the prayer station and have participated in our Campus Blessing of the Semester.  They decided to partner with Spectrum in order to share the love that they believe God has for everyone. 

So let me recount who was there.  A street preacher who was preaching about sin and the need to be saved, Spectrum, the LGBTQ group who wanted to share the love, and Thrive, a campus ministry group who wanted to tell everyone gathered that Jesus died for them and that God loved them.  And then there were a whole lot of other students who showed up to see what would happen.  Some came because they were part of one group or another.  Some came because they were curious about what would happen or because they wanted to engage with one of the groups.  Some came because they were expecting, maybe even hoping, to see some sort of a confrontation or show down.

What happened was a peaceful gathering of groups who ordinarily would not coexist in the same space.  Everyone’s rights were respected.  The preacher preached.  The Spectrum students hugged people and carried banners and flags.  The Thrive people brought guitars and led the whole group in worship songs when the preacher took a break.  The CNU newspaper interviewed all parties and did an article and TV segment on the event.  There were some police at the edge of the Plaza, but they didn’t need to do anything because of the peaceful nature of the proceedings. 

Which of these groups was speaking in Jesus’ name?   
Which of these groups was putting a stumbling block in front of others? 

I’m not going to answer those questions. 
I’ve shared this story because of the way it ties in to our Gospel today.  The disciples have witnessed a healer who is not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  When they complain to Jesus – like one sibling telling on another – “Dad, make him stop, he’s not one of us,” Jesus tells them not to worry about it.  Whoever is not against us is for us.

In this passage Jesus seems to have an eye on what the man has done – he has successfully cast out demons in Jesus’ name.  The fact that the man has been a catalyst for wholeness and healing is more important than whether he’s hanging out with Jesus and the disciples.  I might argue that there are some who use Jesus’ name to put stumbling blocks in front of others rather than to work for wholeness and healing.  But I think that Jesus would call me out, too, for judging my neighbor.  

Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to focus on what our neighbor is or is not doing or whether this group or that group is doing something the way we think they should do it.  He seems instead to be asking us to focus on ourselves - what we need to do to serve others and what we need to do to keep from putting stumbling blocks in the way of others.  How are we going to contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world?  How are we going to participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world to God’s self?  It’s so much easier to focus on what that one over there is doing than to focus on what we need to be doing.

What makes me proud of the CNU students is how the different groups assembled peacefully and promoted a message of love.  They didn’t all agree with each other, but they did respect each other, and they did, in fact, share the love.  I understand that the street preacher’s message became more positive under the influence of the students’ message.

In this passage I hear Jesus calling us to self-examination.  Looking at where we are contributing to healing and wholeness in the world as well as looking at where we are putting up stumbling blocks. 

This week I have also heard Pope Francis calling our country to that self-examination – to look at ways we need to work together to share the love of God with those in need.  There are so many ways we can offer a cup of water in the name of Christ.  So many ways we can tear down the barriers between us.  So many ways we can contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Wind Wins

It was windy Thursday at the Plaza Prayer Station.  15-20 mph said my weather channel app.  After days of sweating in the sun, I had a foretaste of the chilly days to come.  A couple of students and a couple of staff people dropped by to talk.  One staff person who had visited a few times last year was part of a singing group that was preparing a CD to send off to the Grammy's that night.  He was so excited to share the news.  Another staff person wanted to talk about the big Plaza drama that happened last week when a street preacher came to CNU - that's another post.  The staff person
kept saying, "I think God loves all of us."  Yes, I agree.

My great disappointment Thursday was when I went in to visit the folks in the Office of Student Activities.  Visiting them was great, but when I returned, the wind had knocked over my sign.  The "How May I Pray for You?" part broke - not just the frame this time, but one of the little dowels that allows it to sit on top of the other sign broke right off. :(  Scott thinks the sexton at St. Stephen's may be able to fix it - I hope so!

Thursday was also a CNU Farmer's Market day.  Vendors come out from 3-6 on Thursday afternoons in good weather and offer their wares to the CNU community.  Pizzas, breads, fresh vegetables, tacos from the food truck, kettle corn, baked goods, jewelry, and someone brings the biggest bunny you've ever seen.  It gives the campus a festive feel.  I had wanted to have one of the pizzas for dinner, but they left before I got there.  It's fun to stroll around looking at the offerings and listening to the music provided by students.  Next week - I'm getting a pizza!

We had two new students at the group Thursday night - seems like we're growing just a bit.  Grateful...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Clouds Over CNU

Storm clouds loomed over the CNU campus today during my time at the Plaza Prayer Station.  Other than a few minutes of drizzle, no storms materialized, much to my relief.  Many students commented on the humidity on their way into the DSU.  My hair curled into a frizzy mass after sitting in the moisture-filled air for two hours.  When the sun came out, it beat down on the Plaza, but most of the time it was behind a cloud.  One student giggled and asked if I was finding some shade in the shadow of the topiary.  I said I was like Jonah sitting under the plant outside of Ninevah.  She said, "Oh right, and then a worm ate it."  I laughed and said that I hoped a worm wouldn't eat the topiary.

A pleasant breeze blew occasionally, making it cooler than last week.  We are planning another Blessing of the Semester service for this coming Sunday.  I have invited the other campus ministries to participate, hoping to make it a more ecumenical event.  Since we say a prayer at each of the main buildings, I thought  representatives from the other ministries could say the prayers.  Sadly, I haven't heard back from them.  One student who I had reached out to who came to last year's blessing visited me today at the station.  I've asked him to offer the prayer for the DSU.  I hope he is able to come.  He kept calling it the Prayer Walk.  I wonder if I should rename it that - seems like that might be a more accessible name.  He also asked me about our Twitter handle.  Sigh...  I try so hard to keep up with social media, but I just haven't gotten the hang of Twitter.  I don't get it.  But I guess I need to figure it out because that seems to be the place to be at CNU. 

A few conversations today, no prayer requests, though one student who had come with a request last year stopped by to tell me that all was well in her world.  I had seen her go by a few times this year and had wondered if she would stop by.  She passed me today and then came back to give me the update.  She gave me a big hug.  I said, "Blessings on your semester."  She said, "Blessings on you!"

Today I spent time noticing all the different people walking by.  All skin colors, hair colors, heights, weights, clothing styles.  A few bald heads, someone on crutches, another with a cane for the blind, a third on a scooter.  Bicycles, skateboards, shorts, skirts, jeans, boots, sandals, lots of flip flops.  Some in a hurry, some strolling along, some hand in hand, others weighed down with heavy items.  Most with backpacks.  Waves of students in clumps, individuals walking alone.  An admissions tour.  Smiles and waves, frowns and heads turning away.  All God's children.  Bless them.

Oh, and you can visit us on Facebook at

Or our new twitter account:  @CNUEpiscopal
Guess I'm learning to tweet!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labyrinth at Sunset

Thank you God for most this amazing sunset!  After a lovely lunch and visit earlier today with my friend and mentor, John Kerr, I decided to walk over to the labyrinth for the sunset.  God did not disappoint.  It was a perfect evening for a walk - coolish with a slight breeze, but warm enough to be comfortable in shorts.  Not too humid.  Sky full of color.  Insects and birds singing sleepy songs.  On my way over I saw a flock of Canadian geese milling around in the grass.  When I got to the labyrinth, I walked and breathed and thought about the dance of the Trinity and how marvelous God is.  In the center I sang one of my favorite John Bell songs from the Iona community:
    Take, oh, take me as I am,
    summon out what I shall be.
    Set your seal upon my heart,
    and live in me.
Arms stretched out, palms upward, offering myself to God.  I am yours, my creator - work through me. 

Not long after I finished singing, I heard a sound and looked up to see the flock of geese flying over in their classic V formation.  One goose trailed behind, finding his way into one of the lines.  The leader honked.  I could hear the whoosh of their wings beating against the air as they flew.  I smiled up at them.

A few minutes later I noticed something dark moving across the sky over my head.  At first I thought it was a giant spider.  My memory flashed to a Piers Anthony Xanth book, read when I was a teenager, that described a spider ballooning itself across vast distances on a line of spun silk.  As I looked at it longer and rational thought set in, I realized it wasn't a spider, but it might be a leaf.  Since I was in the center of the labyrinth, I couldn't imagine where the leaf had come from.  As it descended, floating gently down, a bit of light caught it, and I saw that it was a white feather, a bit of down from one of the geese, separated from its source, fluttering down to the earth. 

One of my spiritual directors used to say that in centering prayer, when we return to our sacred word, we need to do so very gently, "floating like a feather on the breath of God."  She was quoting Hildegard of Bingen.  Tonight it looked as if the feather was floating on the breath of God until it landed on in the grass at the edge of the labyrinth. 

I felt a bit like that feather this evening as I walked, carried gently on the breath of God.  In a world that grows less and less safe, where refugees flee and police folk are shot, where it's criminal to be black and the distribution of resources is completely out of whack, where mental illness and addiction are treated as crimes to be punished not diseases to be treated, where you turn off the news to keep your heart from breaking, where there is so much that is horrible that we numb ourselves to keep from weeping - in that world there is also beauty and goodness and light.  Dynamic sunsets and caressing breezes.  Geese flying and feathers floating.  Birds and insects saying good night.  The groaning of our planet and her people continues, but for a moment there is a glimpse of something else, elusive and fleeting.

Breathe your breath into us, God.  Fill us with your peace.  Hide your children under the shadow of your wings.  Bring us all safely home.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Plaza Prayer Station: September is the New August

I won't complain.  I won't complain.  Before I know it, I will be wearing long johns and huddling around my little kerosene heater.  I will long for these days when I'm scooching my chair into the shade of a topiary, sweat dripping down my back, hoping the students don't mind soggy hugs.  We had some lovely cool and less humid weather in August, but today was like a sauna at the prayer station.  Not that I'm complaining!  One student came up and sat down beside me to chat for quite awhile - dressed in a suit.  I didn't understand why he wasn't melting.  He walked over to where the Student Assembly was handing out free cups of Rita's Italian ice and brought back an orange one for him and a strawberry one for me.  A perfect day for a sweet icy treat! 

A new faculty member stopped by for a prayer and said her two best friends from back in Kentucky are Episcopal priests.  The Catholic priest walked by and said I was braver than he was - it was too hot for him to sit outside today.  I also had a couple of students come by to ask for prayers about their ministries.  It never ceases to amaze me how much these CNU students long to serve God.  I feel privileged to be able to be a companion to them on their spiritual journeys.

The first hour I sat in the direct sun, but by 1:15 the sun had moved behind the DSU, and I was  in the shade at last.  Not much breeze today, but I was close enough to the doors that when the students went in and out I would occasionally get a blast of A/C blowing my way.  Shortly before I got ready to pack up, a young woman and her friend came over.  She said, "I just want to thank you for being here and providing prayers for everyone.  I brought you a muffin.  I didn't know whether you'd had lunch or not."  She held out her hand, and in it was a large blueberry muffin.  My heart melted, and not from the heat.  These students are so generous.  I asked her if I could say a prayer for her, and she said I could, so the three of us prayed, and I sat down to eat half of my muffin. 

Isn't it amazing how God provides?  I had been wondering how to deal with meals today since I'll be here until after 9:00 tonight.  Lo and behold, a generous soul with a blueberry muffin appears and offers me sustenance.  And it tastes better than how I imagine manna would taste! 

Last week the flowers around the topiary were yellow marigolds.  Today they were fuschia-colored New Guinea impatiens.  Constant change at CNU.  I went to visit my friend in the Admissions office, just inside the DSU and discovered the office has moved to the new Christopher Newport Hall.  So I trekked over to say hi to her in her new building.  Quite fancy but far away from where I sit now, so I probably won't see her as often. 

Seniors gone.  New freshmen walking around.  Admission office moves.  New faculty arrive.  Ebb and flow.  It's the circle of life.  I was glad to see that a couple of students who I thought had already graduated have just now become seniors - so I get another year with them after all.  Looking forward to another good year.