Confused about Race.
I grew up in a small town which was very insulated.  It was a predominately white town in a predominately white county.  Actually, not just predominately…overwhelmingly: the county is currently a little over 97% white and I’m guessing that figure is down from when I lived there.  I am proud to say that my parents, in that environment, tried to instill tolerance for people unlike me.  In the process of attempting to instill tolerance, I heard statements like, “There is no difference between us and black people.”

When I arrived in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University I was confronted by  evidence that proved those statements fallacious.  For instance, the suitemates assigned to share a bathroom with me and my roommate were big, black guys from the South side of Chicago who sold drugs out of their room.  These people were not the same as me and they were reinforcing every stereotype that my parents had discounted.

During that first year of college I began to experience race in a different way.  It was uncomfortable and troubling.  At times, it seemed, the things I had been taught in childhood were lies told out of ignorance.  Fortunately, these uncomfortable new truths were not the only thing forming me.

During the course of that first year, and all of my college career, actually, I also met black folk and people of many other ethnicities/cultures who were different in good exceptional ways.  I became close friends with a strong black woman who was a single mother who had come back to school to work on her PhD.  Not only was she caring for her own daughter, but she had taken in her infant nephew who did not have a stable home.  She was a hard-worker, she was dedicated to her family, she was incredibly smart and she was compassionate: I could understand those things. Another friendship that developed over time was a man, about my age, who is also, now, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  But, unlike me, he was black, from the South, from an urban area, and had sweet dreadlocks.  He was so much unlike me in several ways, yet when together we could stay up half the night, with a group of friends, talking about culture, politics, church, and theology.

These relationships were teaching me that I could experience, and, even, celebrate cultural differences and find meaningful commonalities.  It isn’t about being the same or different, it is about growing in relationship and celebrating who we are and how we are in relationship with other people.

Where Have All The Students Gone?

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This song has been in my head most of the afternoon.  Not sure why this song popped in my head on this day…but, then, as I looked out my office window I began to think about the emptiness of our campus.  With classes out and students on break, it is eerily quiet in the student center, on the quad and even around town.

I have occasionally heard ‘townies’ (as we used to call them when I was in school and I guess that includes me, now) complain about the students.  I have experienced some of those frustrations, too, for sure.  There were times during move-in and move-out weekends that I sighed with disgust as I navigated traffic.  My wife and I, while living in Pontiac, once made the mistake of going to Station 220 on a parent’s weekend and found ourselves crammed into a noisy dining room.  And, yes, I have felt disdain when I find nowhere to park or students walking on a street or through a parking lot in a way that leaves it impassable.

Yet, the experience of being on campus is predominately a good experience, for me.  Walking across the quad takes me back to my own days of going to class (or not going, as the case might have been).  When I go to lunch at the Bone Student Center and see the students and feel the energy of the place, it energizes me.  When I meet with students over in the Campus Café at Heartland I am amazed by the depth of community that exists there.  Most importantly, being on these campuses makes me feel younger than I really am.

I suspect that having a major University and Community College has had a profound affect on this community in ways we will never even know.  I think, though, it keeps us young and vital (and thinking) in ways we wouldn’t be otherwise.  First United Methodist Church, I am very sure, is affected.  Perhaps we are affected, because of our proximity, even more than most of the surrounding community.   For this pastor, I am most impressed by the possibilities that exist here on campus in communications, programs, and worship: for which most United Methodist Churches would be envious.

I am thrilled to live in Normal, to be in a community with Heartland, Illinois State, and nearby to Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington).  I think that the students and faculty (and wider community) have enriched me already and I look forward to the ministry to come!  So, today, as I look outside my window and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a loop in my head,  I wonder with longing, “where have all the students gone?”


Resurrection & New Life: The Bloody Cross
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Today’s guest blogger is the Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale.  He is the E. Stanley Jones Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, Illinois.  He completed his master of divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. and his PhD in American History and Evangelism from Southern Methodist University in the Dallas area.

Scripture:  John 19:33-34 

33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

Many people are understandably uncomfortable with the bloodiness of the crucifixion. Specifically, theologians have grappled with the fact that the Father demanding that the Son undergo such a gruesome experience makes the Father into a monster, demanding the torture and anguish of the Son in propitiation for the sins of humanity. Certainly, if the passion and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was nothing more than a means of satisfying the Father’s need for blood to be shed, this would be deeply disturbing. However, a different perspective can be taken to this.

The world is a bloody place. Not a day goes by in which the news does not relate of some atrocity or tragedy that has resulted in the often gruesome deaths of innocent people. Bombs fall on civilians, children in their homes are shot accidentally in the midst of gang conflicts, murders, suicides, and torture abound. The sin behind this spilling of blood is truly monstrous. It leads people of all stations, ages, races, and religions to a terrible end and seems to attest to the fact that might ultimately triumphs over life. Life cannot withstand the violent assault – it must spill its blood and admit defeat.

God offers a different view of this in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The shedding of blood, stated God, was for the atonement of those who had sinned. The one killed carries the ultimate power of testifying for the redemption of the killer. This is the context in which Jesus suffered and died: He was not seeking to satiate a bloodthirsty God, he was voluntarily allowing his innocent blood to be spilled that he might claim the authority to forgive those who had transgressed the will of God. Moreover, in claiming the role of the victim, Jesus was empowering every victim of violence to stand over his or her killers with the power of forgiveness. Victims no longer, they hold the destiny of their killers in their hands and can offer them peace through their blood.

God’s demand for the blood of Christ was not to fill the divine desire for blood, but to declare the bleeding ones as the ultimate victors over those who made them bleed.