Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Well, while I await the inevitable bombshell that will strike the University of Miami in seven days (how’s THAT for a FOX-style cryptic tease? I learned a little from the marketing stylings of LOST…), let’s fill up some valuable bandwidth with a few discussions about life.

COFFEE, JESUS, AND THE WAY THEY CATCH MONKEYS IN BRAZIL: almost a year ago, I was approached by a student here at UM about the prospect of starting up a – for lack of a better term – “small group” or “Bible study” in mine and Ashley’s apartment. This would be a meeting place for people to come together to talk about life, spirituality, and whatever else was hitting people between the valves of their heart, all within a VERY safe and non-judgmental or denominationally specific space. Someone even unknowingly coined the name of the gathering simply because he didn’t know what else to call it; he referred to it as “That Thing at Eight.” - which is exactly what it is: a time of fellowship that does not meet any definable standards, and does not automatically come with the baggage (both good and bad) of having the label of a specific affiliation.

It started off as a group of student ragamuffins from insanely different walks of life (yet many with shared touchstone moments) who bonded, grew, and shared many a laugh with one another. While moderately inbred (since the majority of them did live in the same building), it was still the single most amazing thing to watch it grow – to morph – and to begin to solidify into this tight-knit group of spiritual seekers who all share a passion for a sincere, genuine and love-filled expression of God, grace and restoration here at Miami and in the world.

…and if all the above sounded a little too “emergent” for some folks, please rest easy in the fact that we also take communion. And we study the Bible.  And we watch Rob Bell NOOMA DVD's.  Best of both worlds, people. Consider it fundamentally evangelically emergent. Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t exclusive.

Anyway, this past Sunday we held our first TT@8-08 (translation: That Thing at Eight: 2008). Like most “first club meetings” of the semester at any college or university anywhere in the nation, it was populated by some first-timers, some returners, and then…me. Hugs were given, greeting one another with a culturally-poignant-yet-somehow-spiritually-applicable kiss abounded, and there was a ton of snack food. Then, something…odd…happened. Something I really didn’t expect:

As some of the kids were going around talking about why they came, either initially or why they returned to this motley little crew that ate up time on their Sunday nights, the phrase “I talked with Sonny…” “Sonny and I went out for coffee…” or “When Sonny and I were talking…” was used a lot. Not just by a few, but by…several. But what was the most telling to me was not the frequency of how often my name was being said, but how I heard it. It would have been easy – understandable, even – had I heard this strictly through my ears, noting “yeah, I rock. They love me,” or “Man – these kids need me.” But, mercifully, God let me hear this, hear my name being said through my heart more than through my ego.

Let me explain: I know of more than a few people – both in ministry and those who work in higher education – who feed off of the need for validation through the work that they do. They believe (in error, in my opinion) that they exist to be validated by the expressions of love and admiration given by those they are called to serve, or else they have no purpose. They feel a need to be seen as THE authority, THE one, and they fill a void that only THEY can fill. These are the people who I have found who – in ministry – tend to have churches, entire ministries, and/or websites named after themselves.

Now, for those of you who know me and know the almost-daily struggle inherent in my heart (between ministry as a vocation and ministry as a calling) and those of you who have the same fight – you know the danger of being in a situation like I found myself on Sunday night, standing on the precipice and thinking “This is what I have been called to,” with the emphasis on the “I” part of that sentence. But for whatever reason – be it God (who I tend to give credit for such things) or whatever – I didn’t so much think to myself that it was what I was called to, as it was what I heard God saying “This is what I have called you to.”

“This is what I have been called to.”

“This is what I have called you to.”

One sentence screams of the importance of me; one sentence speaks in a in a still, small, powerful Voice of the importance of Someone bigger than me.

Thankfully, God has given me the wisdom to know which is which, and which one I needed to hear.

I say all that to state that I am insanely blessed to work WITH this group of growing souls, that I am honored and humbled that any of them find any bit of sanity or depth in the sometimes inane ramblings that spew forth from my mouth (or, in this case, keyboard), and that if I have been used in any way to spur on the spiritual growth of any of these kids (and I use that term in love) or that God has used me to allow some of them to find refuge or find a way to connect back to their Creator…

It ain’t me at all. I'm just the Charlie-Brown-looking goofball that God uses.  

And I get a little misty-eyed when I think about how I have seen some of them grow, some of them mature, and how they see one another as a support – both in terms of a spiritual family and as one of the fellow walking wounded – and how they always welcome new seekers to the couch.

I just feel honored to have been used, and to have the potential to keep being used. 

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