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Friday, August 22, 2008

All we need. . .

Yesterday at the end of a rather long and discombobulated faculty workshop to start the new year, a professor was asked to pray and dismiss us. She asked us to close our eyes and think of something that we hoped for this school year. I'm not much investing in wide ranging hopes these days; I think hope has something to do with the future, and I'm not much imagining futures these days. But, I easily thought of one thing I hope -- in all hope's complexities of belief, expectation, and desire. To love my students.

I do love my students, of course I do. I love everyone In God's Way. Ha -- such the goofball phrase from my 70s-80s church-talk childhood. Did you ever say it? I remember in elementary school if we were asked if we loved someone that we really "liked" (romantically) we could preserve the privacy of a crush by answering quite properly, "I love him in God's way." As in, most definitely not in the movies or Top 40 radio way so no need to tease me. Oddly, the same response applied even more frequently to someone that we found quite difficult to like at all (not least of which romantically). Amy Grant's 1979 song "Giggle" serves well here: "Must I hug him real close now? He smells so bad I'll faint! What will my friends think if they see me? Kill my pride, I caint!" But do I love him? Of course I do, in God's way. Because the simple fact is, God loves everyone. So, I indiscriminately loved everyone, too.

But the less simple fact is to love a human being as a person, not a conglomeration of humanity, demands discrimination.

And sometimes that takes things I don't have a lot of in my natural state: patience under pressure in particular. When I get stressed, I get in a hurry, and the apparent most important thing is to do the tasks I'm supposed to do.

This morning at the annual Faculty/Staff chapel service, our Assoc. Dean for the First Year Experience gave one of the most refreshing reflections I've heard in a long time, miraculously saying words and painting pictures I needed. She spoke about hospitality, and all followers of Jesus being called to provide a welcoming place for strangers, being attentive to their needs at the time we meet them. Visiting them in prison (not necessarily breaking them free), a drink of water (not necessarily digging a well). I think my dad was good at this, what my brother and I meant when we talked at his memorial service about his generous and paradoxical interactions with strangers and with family.) Mainly what struck me this morning was hospitality not as "entertaining" (providing well-planned, shiny food and decorations) but as providing an opportunity for the people we encounter to be who they are with their needs and not letting them get lost in the big fat details of the doing and the tasks.

It's certainly a familiar idea (be present, love people, meet needs), and my reflection here is a fuzzy one, but her saying those things in the way she said them today was what I needed, and I now hope with more faith that I can love my students as I meet many of them for the first time -- strangers to me, to be treated as if entertaining angels unaware even though, as my friend said this morning it becomes clear they are not angels soon enough -- and as I welcome back so many more in a fresher, more discriminating way.

My to-do list is ridorkulously long and convoluted, and the tasks are not irrelevant or without some connection to meeting real needs, but I hope in some moments I will be more hospitable, providing a space for individuals to be present and to have some needs met by me that I might otherwise be inclined to miss.

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