A Memoir by Darrell Yeaney

A Memoir

Darrell W. Yeaney

April 2014

          This Memoir, written at the request of those planning the 50th anniversary of NCMA in the summer of 2014, is divided into three sections for the convenience of those who have little time or inclination to read it all. The first section is a brief sketch of my career in “professional ministry” which includes my recent retirement years in which my work in and through the church has continued, though on a nonpaid basis. The second section is a listing of some of the major influences on my life that have helped to determine my choices both positive and negative. And finally, I include a collection of musings or beliefs about life that are random statements of values by which I attempt to guide my daily living. The reader is invited to choose any or all sections to be read in any order.

Section I

Brief Professional Sketch

I attended Westminster College in New Wilmington PA., graduating in 1953 and moved to Pittsburgh PA with my new wife, Sue Brown, where I enrolled at Pittsburgh Xenia Theological Seminary. Graduating from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (a merger of Pitt-Xenia and Western Theological Seminaries) in 1956. I then inexplicably accepted a call to be the pastor of a small, 180 member congregation of the United Presbyterian Church in North America, located in Manhattan, Kansas home of Kansas State University and the “Fighting Wildcats.”

The U.P. Church in North America voted to merge with the Presbyterian Church USA in 1959 which led to the decision of the ruling Presbytery of Kansas City to dissolve my little U. P. congregation since there was a much larger “First Presbyterian Church” located only four blocks distant. At the same time, a new congregation was to be organized and a new church built just west of the University campus. I then agreed to be the organizing pastor of that new congregation. The new congregation was organized, the new church built and I served it – Trinity Presbyterian Church – for three more years.

During those 6 years in Manhattan, Sue and I brought our three children into the world. Linda Sue in November 1956, Timothy Dale in December 1958 and Jennifer Kay in November, 1960. Nice planning wouldn’t you say?

In 1962 I accepted my first invitation to be a campus minister at the Emporia State Teachers’ College, Kansas, as the organizing minister of an ecumenical United Campus Christian Ministry (UCCM). After seven exciting, challenging and rewarding years, during which the NCMA came into existence, I received a Danforth Foundation grant to enroll at Boston University in a PHD program in Social Ethics.

With three young children, we moved into a rented house in the Auburndale suburb of Boston in 1969. Sue took a job at a food brokerage while I luxuriated through three years of intense but stimulating study, writing, and consulting with the Consultation and Education Division of the Boston University Hospital’s Mental Health Unit and its Human Relations Center.

With a dissertation well underway, I accepted a surprise call to be the campus minister (UCCM) at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1972 where I worked amid the beauty & bounty of the UCSC campus and California coastline for 14 years. Our three children all graduated high school and entered various universities during this tenure and I finished my dissertation and received my Ph D from Boston University. Sue created and directed a community organization which she dubbed the “I-You Venture,” that ultimately recruited upward of 4000 volunteers to work in nursing homes in Santa Cruz County.

In 1986 Sue & I moved to Iowa City where I began a 12 year tenure as Campus Minister with UCCM at the University of Iowa. While there I also taught professional ethics at the College of Dentistry, expanding the curriculum from one to five courses. Sue also worked at the University with Aging Studies and then with Iowa City Hospice as the Coordinator of Volunteers.

I formally retired in 1998 and we continued to live in Iowa City doing volunteer work until 2006 when we moved back to the Santa Cruz area to be near our youngest daughter, Jennifer, her husband Ti and two daughters, Emily and Katy. To the present, I have been active with the Peace and Justice Task Force of the Presbytery of San Jose, the Palestinian Israel Action Committee of the Resource Center for Non Violence and as Parish Associate with the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Santa Cruz. Our chosen locus of international attention and activity has been focused on the Middle East and in particular, the conflicted relationship between the Palestinian people and the nation of Israel. We have traveled there eleven times leading tours including a national student peacemaking tour in 1991 and creating the Congressional Accompaniment Project in 2006.Our final trip to the “Holy Land” was a Peacemaking tour with our entire family of three children & spouses, five grand children and five close friends over the winter holidays, 2013-14. We recommend it as a gift of peace and justice to the future.

Section II

Some Major Influences

While the major influences on my life have been primarily personal, they often occurred at crucial times in my personal evolution and are associated with peculiar circumstances that reinforced their impact.  Below is a selected list, presented here in connection with the circumstances of my evolving self and career.

My parents were lower middle class protestants and raised their children as active members of a local Presbyterian church near Pittsburgh PA. My standard WASP upbringing was altered significantly at the “New Wilmington Missionary Conference” in the summer of 1948 when I was sixteen. The Rev. Wall, a evangelical Presbyterian pastor invited me to give my life to Jesus. I did and it altered by life trajectory. I entered Westminster College in the fall of 1949 as a “pre-ministerial” student for which the college had created a triple major in Bible, Philosophy and Psychology. I “grew up” at Westminster, quickly outgrowing my narrow “fundamentalist” naïve outlook on Christianity under the influence of older students like John Rock, Robert Garvey and John Geldmacher, all brilliant yet quiet mentors.

Of the many other important personal influences at Westminster I limit mention to Paul Weirman, a roommate whose stellar character and steady friendship has remained over the years, and Professor Wiley Prugh, who in a time of crisis at the college, taught me the importance of courage and integrity in personal and professional life.

It was at Westminster where I met, by serendipitous accident, a beautiful and bright upper-class student named Sue Brown and later persuaded her to become my wife and life partner. Meeting her extraordinary parents and gifted siblings sealed the deal.

Professor Gordon Jackson, who performed our wedding, was perhaps the most influential seminary faculty member who taught us the ethical tradition of the Hebrew prophets that is traceable in the life of Jesus and nearly all of my other historical hero guides to the present day.

In my first pastorate in Manhattan KS, I was “taken in” by a group of Campus Ministers at KSU who served as my mentors throughout my C.M. career:  They include “Abby” Abendroth, who invited me to assist at the Westminster Foundation, Warren Rempel at Wesley, Dale Turner at the Roger Williams Ct. who introduced me to Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith, Bill McMillan at the Episcopal Ct. and David McGown who followed Abby at the Westminster Ct. whose unique laughter echoes still in my memory.  Later, Cecil Findley, a fellow pastor, joined these campus ministry colleagues as mentors and lasting friends.

When I began my work as Campus Minister at Emporia State Teachers College in 1962, it was Glenn Hosman, at the Wesley Foundation, who welcomed me and in 1964 accompanied me along with Robert Goodman and Professor Elinore Hoag on our Civil Rights trip to Mississippi, who joined me for a short time in jail there and who later invited UCCM to office in the new Wesley building in Emporia.

Local Emporia Black pastors, who allowed me to help them first shut down and then integrate the only swimming pool in Emporia, taught me both courage and the importance of creating a public demonstration to break open social consciousness and focus accountability for pervasive racial discrimination.  And it was the Chaplain at Mary Holmes College in Mississippi who invited us to join him in bringing a dozen students and my reluctant parents to teach a two week Vacation Bible School there that was a learning event surpassing all formal education.

While at Emporia, I took time in the summer to learn more about urban ministry, first at the Urban Ministry Program at McCormick Theological Seminary and later through participation in a two week “Urban Plunge” with the Urban Training Institute also in Chicago. These hands-on opportunities gave me insights into the realities of urban poverty, and Industrial labor issues, insights that rarely occured in seminary or academia.

Campus ministers, I discovered, had greater liberty to live and speak a prophetic message to the church and world than parish ministers did and that task became, for me, a conscious choice. In the midst of my campus ministry work at Emporia State, I achieved a MS degree in Social Science which enabled me to more closely identify with the academic community and taught me how to do academic writing.

It was also in Emporia that we first became home owners, which was and is a significant identity and social status experience in America. The whole process of dealing with local state and national government bureaucracies and financial institutions became more complicated and consumed a larger and larger part of my time and attention and consequently became a somewhat compromising distraction from commitments to social justice and economic equality. But it also introduced me to mundane concerns like dealing with termites, clogged sewage drains, roof & foundation leaks etc. I gained a deeper respect for skilled tradesmen and honest financial advisors as well as a keener sense of possible dishonesty and corruption in the business world and market place.

We left Emporia in 1969 for three years at Boston University on a Danforth Foundation grant.  Working under Dean Walter Muelder, Dissertation advisor Paul Deats and Human Relations Director Kenneth Benne, pulled my mind and heart in directions I did not know they could be stretched. Ken Benne was the founder of the “T Group” therapy movement and I learned its usefulness and errors close up.  We found deep and trusting friendship with these men and other graduate student friends such as Dean & Elsie Fruedenberger and Sunny Robinson. Dean was a pioneer in putting Social Ethics to work in global agriculture, helping to promote the “green revolution” in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Sunny put Human Relations to work in the civil rights struggles of that time and also in personal life. Her integrity of character has been a sustaining force in our life-long friendship.

The student movement was still strong and the campus ministry staff in the Boston-Cambridge C.M – Larry Hill and Jack Cornfield – offered helpful insights into both the wisdom and the folly of identifying, sometimes too closely, with that generational dynamic. I also got a different view of Campus Ministry by serving on the Boston-Cambridge Campus Ministry Board of Directors.

I chose as my dissertation topic, the history and dynamics of the United Ministries in Higher Education, which was the national ecumenical structure that gave professional support to a number of mainline Protestant campus ministers.  The effort gave me a birds-eye and critical view of my own work and its setting in the 20th Century Protestant Church’s effort to influence higher education and its denizens from a progressive Christian perspective and commitment.

My research on the dissertation brought me into close association with several denominational executives who managed the higher education work of their respective denominations. Hal Vieman and Vernon Barker were most helpful in this effort. But by far the most influential was Clyde Robinson, an executive at the Presbyterian office on Higher Education. Clyde, a true “southerner,” carried in himself all of the best of southern cordiality and suave ability to maneuver through the church bureaucracy, always remaining loyal to his constituents – the campus ministers whom he served. Under Clyde’s able guidance, I served on the national campus ministry advisory committee and for a term as President of the Presbyterian Campus Ministers’ Association. It was a learning curve where I felt continually supported by Clyde’s personal friendship and professional knowledge and ability.

We passed up the first invitation to interview for the Campus Ministry job at UCSC Santa Cruz, but when it came again a year later, we saw it clearly as a divine intervention, flew to Santa Cruz and accepted the call, beginning work there with the UCCM in the summer of 1972.

The first Northern California-Nevada regional Campus Ministers gathering occurred in Santa Cruz that Fall and it came as a rude awakening to learn that the position of C.M. at Santa Cruz was regarded as folly by most of the other staff who were forced to take budget cuts due to declining revenue. For the first time I found myself unwelcomed by colleagues and had to overcome resentment of a policy decision about which I had no foreknowledge and for which I had no responsibility. However, the misplaced personal resentment was soon acknowledged and a long tenure of 14 positive and supportive years followed. Once again I discovered able and creative C. M. colleagues such as John Dodson, Pete Koopman, Marna McKenzie, Bill Ng, “Lefty” Schultz, and others who, like other campus ministers, were “progressive” in their theology, philosophy and social action long before such insights became more mainstream.

At UCSC my local Lutheran Campus Ministry colleague, Herb Schmidt, became a life long friend and constant source of encouragement and amazement. Politically savvy, ecumenically committed, imaginative and collegial, Herb was able to be theologically progressive while maintaining support from the conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church – quite a trick. We continue to work together in retirement on issues of social justice & progressive religion.

It was in Santa Cruz that I first met Mark Rutledge who was working at  Monterey Community College and who asked me to assist him in designing an innovative wedding service. Mark’s quirky sense of humor and indefatigable pursuit of meaning has made him a life long buddy on the journey of life and the work of campus ministry.

Five other persons must be named as “persons of special influence” during this tenure in Santa Cruz. The first is Noel King, who was professor and head of Religious Studies at UCSC. Sometimes affectionately described as a cross between a Pakistani Holy Man and Santa Claus, Noel was beloved by his students and treated me as his religious advisor though the truth was quite the opposite.

Herb & I worked as adjunct members of the University Counseling staff and while all of them contributed to my self understanding and professional work, it was Ray Charland who stood out as a close friend and counseling mentor. Ray invited me to conduct his wedding to Marcia and both have remained as trusted life companions.

Then there was Scott Kennedy, founder and Director of the Resource Center for Non Violence. Scott arrived in Santa Cruz at about the same time as I did and his sudden and unexpected death a year ago has left a void in the civic leadership in Santa Cruz (twice elected Mayor) and of what a non-violent life might look like in the modern world. Scott had a profound influence on my life and my own commitment to a personal and social strategy of non-violence. Scott also became a tutor to me, unraveling the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict and highlighting the importance of that area of the world for my international peacemaking agenda.

Then there was Jim Douglass, founder of the Pacific Life Community, whose courageous commitment to living a prophetic life of non-violence gave the 20th Century world a living example of what that might mean in every aspect of life. Jim’s writings, especially The Non-Violent Cross and Contemplation and Liberation, gave me a practical theology of prophetic non-violence in a nuclear age and a sense of hopeful urgency to confront the conventional wisdom of the national security state.

Finally, I must mention Paul Niebank, first Provost at Oaks College, UCSC, whose commitment to truth and wise collegiality let me know what a model of administrative leadership in higher education might look like.

In 1980, I spent two weeks at a conference sponsored by the Guild for Psychological Studies at Four Springs near Calistoga, CA. which was a life changing experience, The Guild had developed a course of study that examined the Gospel accounts from the perspective of the writing of C G Jung, & had published a parallel Records of the Life of Jesus  assembled by Henry Burton Sharman.  By means of a unique curriculum of group study, art and meditation I began to see deeper meanings in these canonical accounts than I had learned in seminary.

Also during this period of my life I spent a week with Matthew Fox and company at his school for religious progressives in Oakland, CA. Along with his physicist colleague Brian Swimm and others, Matthew led me into deeper insight and courage to abandon the sterile doctrines of orthodox Christianity for an open-ended search for meaning within a broadened spiritual understanding of Christianity and its teaching of “Original Blessing.”  I still recommend Brian’s book The Universe is a Green Dragon to beginners on this Way.

In 1985, I joined a group of 20 west coast people on my first of ten subsequent visits to the Middle East. This tour was led by the American Friends (Quaker) representatives living in Amman, Jordan.  We traveled through Jordan, to Damascus, Syria and throughout Israel and the Palestine occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza. We met with numerous people from the U.S. Embassy, the Israeli Defense Ministry and PLO staff, to Human Rights workers, to Palestinian and Israeli academics, Israeli Settlers and Palestinian refugees. My entire perspective and understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict changed as did my long held assumptions about Israel gained from Jewish-Christian Dialogue groups. Not surprisingly, on my return home, I found myself speaking a distinct minority voice among standard brand Christians when the subject of Israel vis-a-vis Palestine arose. I was amazed, not so much at the ignorance of most Christians about this conflict, since I had shared that ignorance before my trip, but at the stubborn resistance and even vehement defense of Israel as the victim nation in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. It eventually became clear to me that this peculiarly “pro-Israel” American consciousness was due to the pervasive work of what has become known as the “Israel Lobby” in American religious, political and cultural life. After returning with Sue in 1989 on a trip with a group of Campus Ministers sponsored by PAX Christi, I have returned nine more times, including a trip in 1991 with 25 university students and later led four trips with the Congressional Accompaniment Project which we founded in 2006.  In 2008 we joined in founding the “Israel Palestine Ministry Network” of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and have chosen this area as our principle focus of international peace and justice work.

It is important to add several names here as persons whose life and work in Middle East (Israel-Palestine) peace and justice work has had profound influence on my life and work.

Abba Chacour, recently retired Bishop of the Melkite Church in the Middle East, and founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institution in Ibillin, Israel, is well known for his book Blood Brothers.  Chacour’s work and contribution to Middle East peacemaking and especially Palestinian education and advancement can hardly be over estimated. I am grateful to be able to know him as a friend and mentor in my own efforts to be a Middle East peacemaker.

Alongside Chacour is Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Christian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. A former Canon at St George Cathedral, Naim has constructed a global program called “Sabeel” for educating people in the importance of making justice central to any peacemaking efforts in Israel/Palestine.

The affable friendship and work of Jewish Israeli Jeff Halper, founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) in Jerusalem, has been another central influence on my life and work in this area. Jeff’s vision, brilliance, persistence and now global influence is quite remarkable and serves as an inspiration to me.

Pastor Metre Rahib at the “Christmas” Lutheran Church in Bethlehem has developed that parish into a dynamic service  & education center and has become the second largest employer in Bethlehem. His courage and persistence under fire – literal Israeli military fire – is remarkable and a source of sustaining hope in the midst of the crushing Israeli occupation.

I must also mention Saed Abu Hijlah professor at the Islamic University in Nablus and former student at the University of Iowa where I first met him.  A gifted poet and charismatic leader, Saed was wounded when an Israeli squad of soldiers shot and killed his mother on their doorstep in Nablus in 2003. His ability to rise above this senseless tragedy and continue to demonstrate a kind of transcendent human love and yet a persistent non-violent resistance to the forces that brought such grief into his life, continues to amaze and strengthen my resolve to speak truth to power in my own society of complicity in the unjust and inhumane policies behind this personal tragedy.

In 1986 I accepted an invitation to move to Iowa City, IA. and I became the UCCM pastor at the University of Iowa.

This was the most widely diverse campus ministry I had experienced, challenging my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual abilities to the limit. It was, fittingly, at the end of my Campus Ministry career, and led appropriately to my retirement – in the nick of time – in 1998.

The UCCM House in Iowa City hosted an “international Student Loan Closet,” (a furniture and household goods loan service), a Guest Hostel for out-patients at the University Hospital across the street; and a pre-school for 25+ children at the house and yard next door. Managing all of this in addition to a student group ministry, teaching one-quarter time the Professional Ethics curriculum at the University Dental College, hosting an annual lecture series at the School of Religion, raising funds from local congregations and supporting judicatories and by parking cars during home football games (the UCCM House was located adjacent to the football stadium)  proved a full-time challenge to my energy, time and ability.

A few highlights of this period of campus ministry were: taking students on service-learning trips to places like Washington DC, the Chicago Parliament of World Religions & work camps in Chicago and in Juarez Mexico, plus annual canoe trips with Wesley to the Canadian Boundary Waters; training student “Peer Ministers;” meeting with a group of women students for open discussion each Wednesday morning and later officiating at all of their weddings; joining Tom Boyd in “Conversations with Tom & Darrell” dorm discussions; teaching professional ethics and watching graduate students separate themselves into those seeking integrity and those seeking wealth. All these were instructive and often exciting gifts of doing campus ministry in Iowa.

Another significant influence during these years was my participation in a two year training program in Spiritual Direction at a Roman Catholic Adult Education Center in Des Moines and later participation in a Spiritual Directors support group for a number of years with Dorothy Whiston as Director. This was an excellent balance to my deep and long standing commitment to active work for social justice and peacemaking.

In retirement, I have continued my activity in peacemaking and social justice, helping to found the Palestine Action Committee in Iowa City and later the Palestine Israel Action Committee in Santa Cruz. Sue and I created the Congressional Accompaniment Project and organized and led four tours to Israel-Palestine. In 2011, Paul Seever, a Presbyterian layman and I organized the Progressive Christian Forum in Santa Cruz which has conducted four annual public forums and numerous seminars for progressive Christian in the area. I continue to serve as its Convener.

I became a “Parish Associate” (unpaid helper) at the local Trinity Presbyterian Church where I work with the Worship and Education Committee & write a column called “the Non-Prophet Corner” for the church newsletter. While I suspect no one reads it, I find writing stimulates and organizes my thoughts.  Sue and I work with the church’s homeless shelter program which keeps us grounded in the underside of an otherwise affluent society . We also serve on the Presbytery’s Peace and Justice Task Force that struggles to provide opportunities for pastors and lay leaders to move beyond “comforting the disturbed” and toward “disturbing the confortable.” These activities keep my mind and body engaged in dealing with the challenges of a 21st century world.

Section III

Reflections of an “Old Fart”

I was 31 when I entered the profession of Campus Ministry with 6 years of local parish ministry experience and a college and seminary degree. I had been president of my college honorary fraternity, vice president of the Student Council and president of my Seminary class. Although I was an average student academically, I had established a sense of accomplishment and leadership in my own mind and, more importantly, had achieved a reasonably positive sense of self worth. However, I was still restless with the orthodox theological & institutional box within which I was raised and trained. It was the institution of Campus Ministry and the larger church’s support of it, that gave me the freedom to explore and grow on the frontiers of theology, philosophy, psychology, spirituality and social practice. And for that I am forever grateful.

Below are a collection of musings and quotes that express some of the ideas that have prompted, nourished and guided my evolution of consciousness over these last 50 years:

I am not impressed with the crowd pleasing success of the evangelical fundamentalists or the commercial success of the new atheists, both of whom, it seems to me, are tilting at windmills and having their own rewards. I have participated in those enterprises and have found them barren. Wisdom it seems to me, admits to mystery not certainty, and maturity exhibits humility, not arrogance.

          Religious awakening, at its best, consists of a conscious break out of the cocoon of the socially conditioned ego-self, allowing both the deeper divine self to emerge and connect to the wider transcendent or cosmic Divine Self that unites a person to other sentient beings, to nature and to the Ultimate – God.  This conscious awakening experience is common to all deep religions and is the means whereby human community is established above and beyond all culturally conditioned boundaries of tribe, class, race, nationality or religion.           

          “Only as we know for certain in our hearts that love never fails and never loses its own, can we attain that eternal relaxation that achieves the maximum through creative concern.”

–                                                    -Nels F.S. Ferre

          “Whoever seeks to gain his/her life (ego desires) will lose it. But whoever loses his/her life for my sake, will find it.”

                                                          -Jesus

          “I see quite plainly that God has no favorites, but that he who reverences Him and lives a good life in any nation is welcomed by Him.”

                                      The Apostle Paul, (Acts 10:34-35)    

          “No one is born a new being. He bears in his psyche the imprint of past generations. He is a combination of ancestral units from which a new being must be fused. yet he also bears within him an essential germ, a potential of a unique individual value. The discovery of this unique essence and its development is the quest of consciousness.”               -Frances G Wicke

                   “For Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be quieted till it may find repose in thee.”

                             -Saint Augustine

          “Die and Become.

          Till thou hast learned this

          Thou art but a dull guest

          On this dark planet”                         

                             -Johann Wolfgang Goethe

          The insight of Rene Girard, has helped me to see – once again, and, as if for the first time – the truth in the concept of “original sin” as basic to my self understanding. This notion of original sin, however is not a static formula of spiritual genetics wherein we inherit guilt from our ancestors, which is the orthodox interpretation. Rather, it is an ancient insight into the dynamic choice-making of all human beings.

By learning through imitation, all humans learn to desire what others desire and in the competitive struggle that automatically ensues, we choose envy and jealousy over generosity and creativity; fear and hatred over curiosity and appreciation; and retaliation and violence over understanding, empathy and forgiveness.

We tend to ignore, forget or deliberately deny our own participation and complicity in the competitive, win/lose struggle of life and blame the “other” for weakness if he/she loses, or for wickedness if he/she wins.

We join in the group battles of families, tribes, religions, political parties, nations, races, etc. in their efforts to win over others. These group battles usually, if not always, allow the means of winning to corrupt any good goals the group may espouse.

The solution to this human propensity toward competitive violation of the human rights and well being of others lies, I believe, in an awakening to and recognition of our own complicity in choosing to imitate the competitive violence of our human society instead of accepting the invitation to a different way of responding to problems and life challenges – a way that includes cooperation, collaboration, and appreciation of differences – a way that is based on empathy, forgiveness and love.

This solution is the most fundamental challenge we face in life and it is the only path toward a truly human global society.

A few of the more prevalent and personally experienced social expressions of the “original sin” as described above, are racism, sexism, communism, capitalism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, Zionism, Islamicism, Americanism and colonialism.

The way out of these social patterns of “original sin” is: first. a recognition of our complicity; second. a full and cleansing acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness; third. a firm and respectful resistance to all social injustice and scapegoating violence; and fourth. a daily personal commitment to the path of forgiveness, reconciliation, non-violence, respect for all life, universal human rights and ecological welfare.

This is a faith-act and will require spiritual as well as moral and intellectual disciplines and social and emotional (communal) support, which is why the church exists.

-Being out of favor is not equivalent with being wrong.

-Being unpopular is not the same as being stupid.

-Creative innovation will always meet the opposition of convention.

-All religions foster a contradictory double movement: one toward expansive inclusion and another toward restrictive exclusion. But a choice is always available.

-The human capacity for doing good is restricted by its propensity for doing evil.

The disciples of Jesus, like other normal followers of a charismatic leader, fought each other for priority and status in their imagined future of an all-powerful kingdom.  Jesus knew the corruption of the human spirit when power was sought over others – the powerful human instinct and drive to dominate and control. So he directly intervened and set a new and opposite standard: humility and service. They didn’t get it until later when the power of his sacrificial love made it clear. Many religious leaders since have forgotten this lesson.

-Some ideas that are frequently confused, poorly defined and often conflated in the popular mind are: religion, spirituality, the church and Christianity.

Belief in God is in itself no guarantee of responsible moral or consistent ethical behavior among people or in a single individual. Rather, it is the kind of God – the moral and ethical character attributed to the God one believes in – that makes all the difference.

-Religion, in its offer of support for a hopeful worldview and belonging to a community of acceptance, is a useful contribution to human life, so long as that worldview is humane, inclusive and ecologically positive. If this world-view is also encouraging and inspirational in a way that enables persons to deal constructively and positively with pain, suffering and abuse, religion can be a very constructive contribution to human life. On the contrary, when a religious worldview is exclusively tribal, entitling one group over another, or promising exclusion from suffering and pain, or attributing magical, superhuman abilities to one person or class of persons, it can be destructive to human flourishing and human community and ecological sustainability.

-There is no conflict between the human constructs of science and religion when their basic quests are properly defined and understood.  Science is the human quest to understand how the universe exists and works and to manipulate its dynamics for good or ill. Religion is the human quest to understand why the universe exists and works as it does and to conform human behavior for good or ill to that understanding. Both science and religion are ennobling when they are pursued in the service of universal humane and ecological values. However, both enterprises are corrupted and corrupting when they are pursued for lesser ends.

I awoke from a dream in which I had become lost in a strange neighborhood of a strange city. I knew my name, but could not remember the name of the family or the address from which I had wandered. My attempts to retrace my steps only led me into more unknown and stranger neighborhoods.

The significant aspect of this dream is the feeling of lostness, or disorientation and of being a stranger, uncertain of how to get “home” or back to some familiar and certain world.

So the mind is able to imagine a situation of lostness that in itself engenders feelings of fear, even panic; feelings of growing vulnerability, almost like being caught on a spinning amusement park ride and unable to stop it or get off. You are not in control of your life. Death becomes a desired option to escape these feelings of lostness and powerlessness.

This dream of disorientation and lostness which is a projection of deep inner psychic feelings onto an imagined personal situation, tells us of the need for stability, and a sense of belonging to a real and known world or universe. Faith in such an ultimate reality is essential for rational, secure human living. Everyone must accept the reality of some experiential world to function as a human being. And, the larger or most comprehensive and inclusive that world is, the freer is the person to function with security in one’s surroundings and in one’s ability and capacity to cope, to thrive as a fully functioning and appropriate part of that world. Every human must have faith in his/her world as a real one and as part of an ultimate and eternal universe that gives meaning to one’s own small existence. A person needs to feel and believe that his or her life counts for something that has lasting value.

So Jesus’ metaphor about building your life on a rock and not sand, refers to this existential need for permanence and connection to ultimate reality, a reality usually called God.

A major problem in this human world is when humans accept a limited worldview that is circumscribed by racial, religious, ethnic, class, nationalistic or other identity boundaries that exclude others and privilege those who “belong.” Friction & tension inevitably arise from these limited social identities which too often lead to violence and devolution.

While earth’s people are gradually becoming used to a more pluralistic community and language, the racial, ethnic, class and national boundaries still pose major blocks to the development of a truly humane world. We have a long way to go. Every effort to overcome these barriers through peaceful effort and to nurture a universal human consciousness is to be commended.

 

 

 

Ministry with Blacks in Higher Education by Jim Wilson

Ministry with Blacks in Higher Education (MBHE)

By Jim Wilson

I became the campus minister at Northeast Louisiana State University in the fall of 1969. The university was located in Monroe, on the edge of the Mississippi River delta, and had integrated only a year or two before my arrival. Fewer than 500 of its 7500 students were black, and most were the first in their families to attend college. The only black employees of the university were in food service, custodial or maintenance work; there were none in faculty, administrative or secretarial positions.

The Wesley Foundation had integrated before the school, thanks to the prophetic insight of the former campus minister, Roy Nash. Our ministry included Sunday morning worship. We were the only worshipping community in walking distance from the dorms that welcomed people of all races and nationalities. The service was well attended.

Life in the delta was very harsh for people of color. Blacks greatly outnumbered whites, but most blacks were farmhands for rich planters, receiving low pay and often rude treatment. I noticed the black students usually did not look me in the eye when they shook my hand as they were leaving. I soon learned to hold on to their hand until they raised their heads.

A black student, Noah Riley, came to our chapel every day playing gospel music on our piano. We talked quite a lot about how to make a difference in the lives of black students and help them raise their self-esteem. Noah had a brainstorm and suggested we begin a gospel choir. Soon the Northeast Louisiana State University Interdenominational Ensemble was formed. We were its home and provided a practice facility. I was privileged to hear gospel music at its finest! The choir sang on campus, primarily giving the concerts at the Campus Ministry house. Before long, the Ensemble became a great choir!

In the early 80’s, I received an invitation to come to the MBHE (Ministry to Blacks in Higher Education) gathering to be held in Jacksonville, Florida. I asked if they would like our Ensemble to sing. They said “Yes!” Our Campus Ministry and a local church had purchased an old school bus, and “old” is the operative word. We took off for Florida, but had lots of mechanical troubles. After patching the bus together about five times, we made it to Jacksonville with only fifteen minutes to spare. Harold Bell and Richard Hicks were waiting anxiously and rushed us into the conference. The students went in to sing without having an opportunity to change clothes. They held their heads high and brought the house down!

The students grew during their time together at the conference, because they were respected for their talents. It was a great experience, and these students basked in the warmth of the total acceptance.

On the way home, we stopped in Pensacola overnight. Just as we were pulling up at the church we had arranged as our hostel, the bus broke again. Sunday morning we fixed it and proceeded on toward Monroe, but it died again in Mobile. Several churches in Monroe brought vans and rescued the students. I got the bus fixed the next day and made it into Monroe that night.

Despite the problems, there were no complaints from this group of students. Honoring their gift for gospel music enabled them to survive in the university, which was in many ways a hostile environment. My understanding is that the Ensemble is still in existence, though it is now offered for class credit at the university.

I recently received this from a former student, now a pastor, and it describes one of the special fruits of campus ministry:

I hope this finds you doing well.   I haven’t seen you in a number of years, so let me briefly bring you up to speed on my life.  After spending 13 years in youth ministry, I stepped into the pulpit almost 14 years ago at the behest of my then regional minister.   I served as pastor of Broadmoor Christian Church in Shreveport for 8 years while also working as a licensed professional counselor with the Youth Challenge Program.   Just over 5 years ago, I made the move to Hot Springs, AR and have been serving as pastor of First Christian Church.   I was ordained in the Disciples of Christ church 4 years ago on the alternative track to ordained ministry – but recognized my need to continue theological education.  Two years ago, I enrolled in a program with Lexington Theological and am currently enrolled in my last two classes.   Evangelism and Outreach and Leadership in the Black Church Tradition.

In my evangelism class, we were asked to define evangelism on a discussion board in 400 words or less.   The following is what I wrote;

According to page 337 of “Christianity for Dummies” the definition of evangelism is defined simply as “sharing with others the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  However, I believe the more important and more interesting question is not what is evangelism, but rather how do we evangelize effectively?

I know from my own life experiences (as someone who wasn’t raised in the church) that the most effective evangelistic effort toward me has simply been by example.  I’ve been blessed with several great mentors in the faith in my life, but the one who comes to mind most often is my former campus minister – Jim Wilson.  I grew up having the same stereotypical ideas about ministers as lots of other people.   To me a minister was someone who had a lot in common with used car salesmen.  Ministers were people with slicked back hair, cheap suits, people who yelled a lot, had great enthusiasm, and were always glad to see you – as long as money was potentially going to change hands.  Ministers in my mind were judgmental people who exaggerated the last syllable of each sentence and tried to intimidate others with a “get right (with the Lord) or get left (behind)” attitude. 

Jim was nothing like what I had imagined.  For two years, I served as the resident house manager at the campus ministry when I was in college, so I got to know Jim on a personal level.  Jim was knowledgeable about scripture and faith but challenged students to ask questions and to think beyond the text and the rituals.  I got to know Jim as a minister and as a human being.  He shared spiritual insights and thought provoking experiences as well as off-color jokes, and even a darker side of his personality.  I saw him get angry, I saw him sad.  I was nearby when his marriage dissolved and when he began a new relationship.  Jim Wilson is far from perfect, but he was relatable, he was authentic, and he honored me by sharing (or at least not hiding) his personal struggles in the midst of his faith.

I knew that I could never be a stuffed shirt pounding on a pulpit yelling about fire and brimstone.  But after getting to know Jim, I realized that I didn’t have to fulfill the stereotype in order to effectively “share with others the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

My daughter graduates from college in May, so she is now older than I was when I first met you.  You are indeed one of the first people who comes to mind when I think about my faith journey – I just thought it was high time that I told you so.   Take care and God Bless.

In Love and Respect,

 

Pioneering Campus Ministry for Women by Jan Griesinger

I worked for the World Student Christian Federation  (WSCF) from 1971-1975, specifically for the North American region on what was called a women’s project.  I edited a book, the first one as far as we know, with articles by women all across the world  – not things written by European travelers about what they saw but writing by actual women living in the country they wrote about and describing the status of women.

I helped form the group Campus Ministry Women in 1972 and much of my work was with that group – giving support to women working in their field, exchanging info, meeting nationally a few times. Women in Campus Ministry included women who served as office staff and wives of men working in campus ministry, as those women also often worked hard as volunteers. It continued until 1996.

From 1976 to 2004 I served as Co-Director for United Campus Ministry at Ohio University in Athens OH. I was privileged to work with students, faculty and staff on things like personal support and faith struggles but also on work for justice.

One of the best things was taking students on several spring break trips in several different years to the historic sites of the civil rights movement – Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham Alabama,  Memphis, TN, Jackson MS, Atlanta GA. We were all inspired to see museums that had been created, attend the church where MLK preached, the church in Selma where the famous march began to Montgomery. I also enjoyed fine trips I took students to in Puerto Rico and Cuba. And we did some hurricane relief work in New Orleans.

Here are some comments from student evaluations from the 2002 Civil rights trip:

–      “it gave me a renewed faith in black people, gave me a chance to put everything into perspective and filled in a lot of holes from previous information that I learned.”

–      “ I came to realize the role of non-violence in standing up for what we truly believe in. The movement was for all people and not just for African Americans as I believed earlier.  1955-1968 was a small phase of what was started earlier and something that needs to be carried on by our generation.”

–      “it changed me forever. There are so many books I want to read. I want to educate people about what I’ve learned. This trip changed me as a person.”

–      “the trip gave me a more clear idea of what still needs to be done in human rights issues. I also was able to get the perspectives of those who were not black (those who went on the trip.) It also gave me the sense of my history as an African American.

In addition there was the work on such things as divestment so the university would spend no funds in South Africa until after full liberation there, stopping US funds going to Central America to prop up bad rulers, working hard for LGBT justice, protesting the war in Iraq, during which a number of us were arrested sitting in the street at the main campus intersection.  The peace vigil we began in 1979, one hour a week at our county courthouse, is still going on to prevent future wars and to work for justice for the 99%.

I helped start the Women Take Back the Night march in 1979 and it still continues to this day. I worked hard to get a Women’s Center in the student union building, which finally happened in 2005. I helped start the battered women’s shelter in 1978 and it continues.

We did good interfaith work through a campus ministerial association.  I served on the statewide board of Ohio Campus Ministries from 1989 until the present.

I have a story written in Journeys That Opened Up the World, edited by Sara M. Evans, 2003 about our involvement in the WSCF and the connection between church-related experiences and the movements for justice.  Also my work appears quite a bit in Feminism in the Heartland by Judith Ezekiel, 2002, on the women’s liberation movement in Dayton OH, which I co-founded in 1969.