#oberlin #MichelleObama #PCUSA intersecting #spiritual and #college

I attended Michelle Obama’s Convocation Speech at Oberlin College. A speech that was won by the Nine Scholars program to help Local High School Students achieve (awesome!)

Only problems were 1. Oberlin already had an awesome speaker lined up the Founder of SAVE the CHIDLREN on the 50yr anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Grad speech 2. Security was a bear in what is normally a very informal, formal ceremony (people float in and out, wear whatever they want…I like it).

It was the 10 yr anniversary of my graduation from Oberlin and my sister, the amazing Noelle was graduating so I had dual reasons for attending.

Plus I got to stay over with my peer and fellow graduate Charlie who owns the local gaming store (back in the day I founded the now mainstream Sci-Fi and Fantasy Hall which was really just a safe place for the gamer-geeks who had yet to find popularity in the real world). Infinite Monkey, if you want to support a great small business I recommend ordering from him here or Facebook them 🙂

While there I regaled the locales with tales of my pastorhood, my supposed youth (I look really young and DEFINITE not like a pastor) my parenthood (yes, I do have 3 children) and mourned…just a little bit that I had very few Oberlin-like people in my life. Instead I spend most of my time explaining to my mostly older congregation how the modern world is and explaining to my friends (most of whom don’t go or have never gone to church) why religion is a really awesome and exciting place for me to be…at least most of the time 🙂 (I try to be really honest in these conversations).

Michelle Obama gave some nice props to Oberlin and their open-mindedness, remarking how different the world would be today if all colleges awarded degrees to African-Americans and women from way back….noting it was one of the few places that she prob. could have graduated from 100 yrs ago. I nodded to myself, finding it sad that Oberlin, college, was one of the few places where I experienced the openness and hospitality that so many organizations attempted to live into, including at times the church. (I did mope a little bit)

Then Michelle urged Oberlin graduates to not just to enter the world, but to engage with it. To be in the hard places, to find the people who don’t necessarily think and act like you, but to instead be in the real world. To know that that small incremental work that is being done is important.

She then noted that 10 years ago (God? did she really say that), 10 years ago 1 state allowed for same sex marriage, and now any minute the United States was ready to pass it for all states (and I noted to myself that the PCUSA is already there, thanks in a large part to the small incremental changes that we had done over that last 10 years). And I remembered thinking, at my graduation that the world WOULD change for the better, that our speaker at that time had noted the start of that change towards equality and being EXCITED to be a part of that.

It has been work for me to live in-between. I am a full time professional woman and a mother, both the same. I am a religious pastor and a Fantasy geek–one of which is getting less popular (the religion) and one of which has become startingly mainstream (the Sci-Fi Fantasy). But I am still both the same. (Even moreso I have a traditional worship but am very groundbreaking in my ministry to the community) I work with people who are like me and I am friends with people who are like me, very few people get all the pieces that make up who I am. And yet, here I am. Not immersing myself in one thing or one way, I am doing the hard work of the real world.

And when my session, had a progressive discussion about Gay marriage, and I shared that with those people I met at the Oberlin graduation. I talked about meeting people where they are, and sharing my experience, to love them, they said they couldn’t imagine engaging with people who believed things so differently than them.

That’s right, the people at Oberlin, who sometimes I viewed as very accepting, couldn’t accept my religious people. NOT vice versa.

But there it was…the hard work of sharing…of being in the real world. The hard work that I consider being ministry whether it is at Oberlin College with stereotypical liberal students or sitting at a meeting of the church with the elders who talk through their traditions and their desire to serve others.

I may have cried a little (hmm…a lot…) during this speech where Michelle Obama brought the word to me. When Marian Wright Edelman then, daresay I preached, sharing some of the Word of God and Liberation in the way African-American Women are able to do without offending the nontheists of crowd while reaching into the tradition of Justice bespoke by MLK. Hers were not the words I needed that day because, that’s the world I live in every day. But I am so glad she was there, giving a piece of my world to Oberlin, because Oberlin shared a piece of its world back to me in Michelle Obama that day…and I don’t live in one world or the other. But in between, testifying back and forth between the two, like these two ASTOUNDING African-American Women.

Think One Person Can Change the World?????

We do too

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That’s where they got me. I mean I was pretty sure that Oberlin was the undergraduate program for me. I had talked to the dweeby guy, stood up to my counselor “You sure you want to move that far away” (um…DUH I hate high school), and all, but when I got the packet with Oberlin’s old motto, it got me.

I also probably should have realized that I was going to be a minister then, because I was kind of like one person has changed the world (ie Jesus) and he has totally empowered me to do the sameImage

…ah the confidence of youth….

But if you know me, I am the eternal optimist, so I hopefully haven’t become too cynical since then, even though the world keeps on giving me worst and worst news….bad economy, little jobs, sucky compensation for work done, the evaporation of pension funds, the need to put off life (marriage, house, children etc) due to the aforementioned problems, wars, fiscal cliffs, national debts and taxes.

However I believe there has been a cultural shift in the last election–it hasn’t really to do with the president but more the fact that racism and bigotry has been limited due to the backlash for some representatives comments Re; gays, women, abortion, etc.

Part of that change was examined in my last post Open Source Culture (Go Millenials!)

Thanks to a recent conversation with my philosophical compadre Charlie, I have crystalized some of what I have been writing towards in the last couple of posts. (PS he totally pointed out that at least in a democracy we all have a vote that is value–talk about power)Image

Churches need to do the following to Change the World

Build a Community that

1. Forgives Debts: That’s right, be proactive, do a kickstart, open donations, find some way to address indidividual’s debts in your community–I suggest starting with student debt since that is the least questionable kind of debt. What if we as the church worked to communally Forgive as many debts as possible?

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2. Be multigenerational: Church is one of the few places where different generations interact who are not related. Embrace this. Keep young people in church, give them a special space to be look at one example. If we make those connections that otherwise can’t be made, then we are providing a service. (and of course this means making worship accessible to those spiritual but not religious people).

3. Finally Educate, educate, educate. Why are people in debt? In pursuit of education. What if church’s provided free community education: relieving debt and bringing generations together in one fell swoop (HA, wouldn’t that be wonderful?) I would love to spearhead a million different educational opportunities for my community, because that is a concrete way of helping people.

THink one church can change the world????

Let’s Talk about Debt…

Debt is a big problem for us. Even if you don’t personally have debt (hooray) the United States as a country walks around with billions of dollars in debt every day.

What does this mean to be in debt? I’ve decided it means that you are empty–you have are literally worth less than nothing when you are in debt. And here we are in debt.

If you’ve ever studied the book of Ruth there is a weird legalistic part at the end. Instead of an immediate happily-ever-after between Ruth and Boaz (I love that fact that she proposes to him, talk about being ahead of the times!) It basically has to do with the fact that if you take on Elimelech’s indebted land, then you can make it fruitful again. However, if you have a son by Ruth you are then beholden to that inheritence instead of you own. I think thats it. Honestly, scholars disagree. They aren’t really sure what all was meant, and when Ruth was written down it was already ancient history because the whole sandal thing had to be explained.

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Anyway, what everyone agrees on is

A. Elimelech’s land had laid empty/fallow for many years and the debt on it had to be redeemed in order for it be planted again

B. Ruth was part of the deal, and Ruth was so obviously (at least as far as they knew in Biblical times) barren, because she didn’t have any previous children.

So here you go, empty land, empty family.

In many ways we the mainline church have the same problem with empty land–have you seen our crumbling-on-the-sale-block-only-six-people-attend-here churches? (the irony being that non-religious people are always sad to see churches close, what is that about anyway???)

Ok but without getting too tangential, we as a church are empty.

Then there’s me, well us, well my entire generation. I grew up during the boom years, I was told that as long as I work hard and do right things will work out for me. Yet here we are (and I speak from my personal experiences and those of my friends) struggling with debt, purpose and fulfillment.

Opportunities are so scarce for my generation, and many people have had to put off marriage, children, settling down or even being able to start their career due to the economy. Every single person I know has had to live off of their parents in some way, shape or form post college.

Married, single, graduate, post-graduate, post-baccelerate, even those with children have had to get help, move in with their parents or follow their spouse across the country only to work a menial job hopefully sort of in their field.

So what is it people want when they come to church?

They want somewhere, where they are no longer empty. They want somewhere where they can be fulfilled. And (more importantly) they don’t want to feel judged. Us Milleniumers, Boomerangers (because we return home), us zero-ers or whatever you want to call us feel the weight of our own emptiness.

All our hard work seems to be for naught, much of what we are characterized by is our selfishness our need to be special our consumerism etc.

I can say (in total biased opinion) that this is not true. We don’t all think we are special or well-deserved, we just hope we might be a little bit, and our experience of adulthood (do you know my second week of undergrad was 9/11/2001–my entire adulthood has been shaped by our post 9/11 world, whereas my entire childhood was pre-9/11).

Do you know what Young People think of when they think of church? Antigay (i.e. judgemental and bigotted). I cannot tell you how much this hurts me. No wonder people think church has nothing to offer, no wonder it seems nonsensical and out of date. People don’t associate church with love and service, but rather selfishness and closemindedness. Plus the church is trying to figure out how to bring people to the church, when instead we should be figuring out how to bring church to people.

So here we are, empty. What does it mean when we forgive our debts? What does it mean when God Fulfills God’s promises?

What does God offer us that is different from the regular activity?

Here is a need, plain and simple, for many “young people” and most people in general. A need to find fulfillment and worth outside of money, a way to struggle with debt and yet not to feel empty, and definition that exists outside the bounds of the day-to-day slog. So what is fulfillment, what is forgiveness. How does debt figure into all of this, and should the church heed this desperate call of the empty young professionals today, or do we continue to figure out how to survive without worrying about these problems!!!

I feel a VERY strong call here to do something about this, what if the church stood in the way of debt, what if we showed how God fulfills us, what would happen then?

Shannon A Thompson

Author. Speaker. Librarian.

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