Spiritual Pornography

Someday, I’ll have a little log cabin in the woods at the edge of the lake. There will be mountains off in the distance and gorgeous sunrises will paint the sky.

I should really take a vacation in the Caribbean. Relaxing oceanside is just what I need. I deserve the break from all the hard work I do.

My workplace is such a drag. I should look for a place where work is fulfilling and all my co-workers get along. 

Sound familiar?

I have become rather skilled at complaining lately. Mostly to myself, but I am sure my friends have noticed. To justify my malcontent, I’ve created a litney of excuses, such as:

I’m just so tired from work,

the weather has just been awful lately,

and I just don’t have time to do the things I enjoy anymore…

However, my excuses don’t get at the root of the issue. The real problem is that I have learned to focus on the often small inconveniences and troubles of everyday experiences while becoming blind to the much more abundant and meaningful good. Our current culture thrives on this attitude, focusing on success and growth as the markers of happiness. The emphasis to always seek bigger and better breeds malcontent and leaves no room for gratitude.

In order to cope with my selective perception and grumbling, I often turn to fantasizing about ideal situations, e.g., the log cabin dream house, where everything is awesome (as in the Lego® movie). But this is spiritual pornography:

“…creating a mental fantasy of a perfect place of people or people and not recognizing the good things around me. This spiritual porn is my nemesis. It’s poison.

-Kevin Rains in Living into Community 1

Fantasizing about a trouble-free future negates appreciation of life in the present, minimizing both personal actions and interactions with others right now. This is not the way life should be. But what to do about it? Instead of cultivating a culture of complaints, nurture gratitude. Be thankful for not only for the career advancing, relationship building ‘big’ events in life, but also for the fleeting and fragile moments of grace. Pause and take note when a friend shares their life with you over tea, when you notice an unfolding bud, and when the sun scatters light just so in the sunrise before a busy work day. Recognize the unexpected good in the mundane.

Counter-cultural attitude transformation sounds like a big deal, but I’m hoping to start with the small stuff.

– Sarah Bodbyl

 

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Trying to be thankful – even for snow…

 

 

1. Pohl, Christine D. 2012. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Eerdmans Publishing. p 215.

The above post was originally published on Sarah Bodbyl’s Musings (April 2016)

My Own Ivory Tower: Isolation

By Mike Bennett, 4th year Physics Ph.D. candidate

Isolation is everywhere in academia.  Academics are expected to put in long, lonely hours.  We’re expected to sacrifice friendships, romance, and family life.  We’re expected to produce results and not complain, even at the expense of our own health and sanity.  All for the sake of the next paper or grant or proposal.  Even the most well-adjusted, self-assured, and perfectly relatable human might buckle under the weight of these expectations.

In the midst of all this sacrifice, our relationships begin to fulfill us less than we think they should.  They start to feel clunky or obtuse, like they don’t fit in the new framework that the Academy builds around its inhabitants.  I’ve felt the empty ache of isolation keenly in my three years at Michigan State.  My advisor hates my work. Everyone else in my program is smarter and more capable than I am. My friends back home don’t understand what I do.  My family thinks I’m wasting my life. I can’t take time to date or I’ll lose productivity.  These are just a few of the many, many worries that plague me and grad students like me.

Even in the Church, it’s easy to feel alone and separated.  Well-meaning parishioners begin conversations with “So how long until you graduate? And what kind of research do you do again?” only to interrupt moments later with “Wow, that’s pretty impressive. You must be very smart!” and obvious attempts to exit the conversation.  These pseudo-interactions only fuel the fires of alienation, and even in a body purported to bring healing to the sick, academics can feel miserably quarantined.

Clearly, even being “united” in Christ isn’t enough to quell this spectre of self-doubt.  How can Christians minister to themselves and others who are suffering from the experience of isolation?  What does the Bible itself say about isolation?  Can we gain any insight?

In a recent Campus Edge study, we looked at several passages that dealt with the experience of loneliness.  Among them we read about the prophet Jeremiah, who experiences intense persecution and alienation at the hands of the Israelites.  Jeremiah, though called directly by God to his ministry, is brought by that same God into a deep and anguishing experience of isolation.  We often feel as though being alone or feeling isolated are symptoms of God’s absence or displeasure with us, but it’s darkly encouraging to realize that these can be an important part of God’s call for us, even if doing so doesn’t prevent or even soften the sting.

Further, we do not worship a God who is unable to sympathize with our experience of isolation.  In Gethsemane, Christ himself experiences a complete abandonment; by his disciples, who can not stay awake with him while he prays to the Father for deliverance from his impending crucifixion, and then by the Father himself, whose answer to Jesus’ plea to “take this cup from me,” is a deafening, cavernous “No.” Even as he dies on the cross, in perfect fulfillment of God’s plan of reconciliation, Chris experiences tremendous isolation.

Though we may never be able to completely overcome isolation in academia or in life in general, knowledge that loneliness can be part of God’s plan can help us persevere through our experience of it.  We can additionally take heart knowing that even Christ, through whom “we live and move and have our being,” was not spared the torment of loneliness.  As Henri Nouwen writes, it may be possible with this knowledge to transform our understanding of isolation into something that can point us toward God, who alone can address the underlying problems and bring lasting healing.

The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief… The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

Reflections on Campus Making – Sarah Coburn

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Campus Making conference through CRCMA. First, a little background: this upcoming school year at Michigan State University I will be joining the leadership team of Campus Edge. While I have been involved with leadership positions in the past, this will be the first time I’ll be thusly involved in a campus ministry. I’ve admittedly been a little nervous because of this, so I was both anxious and excited about the Campus Making conference: this would be an opportunity to meet other people my age in similar positions and learn from people who have had years of experience. Quickly my anxieties proved to be unfounded: I found a great group of people (new friends!) who were excited for the future of the body of Christ.

Over the course of about 48 hours, we listened to various speakers and panels that were designed to address general issues in campus ministry leadership, as well as specific ideas as pertaining to the idea of “power.” The location was beautiful, and was the epitome of a retreat from the activity of the world. The people and location of the Crieff Hills Conference and Retreat Center were both wonderful. It was my first time to Canada, and it was definitely a memorable one– in all the good ways!

One of the panels I chose to attend was focused on how to find rest in God while living in a busy world. I chose to attend this because often I find myself anxious over day-to-day issues, and I know that many of my friends and cohorts in grad school are constantly facing the same sort of issues. Since Campus Edge is primarily aimed at graduate students and faculty of MSU, I figured this would be something good to learn about, and later share. This panel turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the conference. The second panel that I attended addressed issues associated with collaborating with campus and local groups. This was lead by three students who had lead various student ministries, and it was interesting learning from their experiences, as well as other students who attended this panel. On the last morning, I attended a panel titled, “The Constellation of Shared Leadership: How Following Well Makes Leading Light.” I particularly appreciated this panel, since the speaker made sure to address any and all questions that we had about leadership. In a way, it was good that this was at the end of the conference, as it let us ask any remaining questions that hadn’t been addressed earlier.

Overall, I had a great time at the Campus Making conference: it is a rare occurrence to meet with other Christian student leaders. It leads to making new friends, and having spontaneous worship sessions! I look forward to utilizing what I learned at this conference, and hopefully hearing from the people I met to see how their respective ministries fare over this next year.

-Sarah Coburn

Campus Making Reflection – Bryan Crutcher

My time at the conference was definitely productive and healthy. Being around other campus leaders and students was not only good for networking, but for growth. It always helps to see other Christian leaders to compare notes, ideas, and experiences. Having a community of those around you who share you beliefs and are in the same types of environments allows each of us to build upon each other. This conference provided a time of fellowship and learning, but more importantly for me, it was time with God. Being away from any cities or highly populated areas, and just out in the country was very much needed. It allowed me to really try and connect with God on a deeper level, without the hustle and bustle of all the things that compete for our attention. Nature is a way that I communicate with God and find solace with Him. This conference provided the location, opportunity, and motivation to do so. One final note is that it gave me a deeper perspective of the Christian Reformed Church, given that I come from a Pentecostal background. It was interesting to engage in conversation with those not from the same background as myself. However, we all did share one thing, a love for Jesus Christ.

-Bryan Crutcher

Reflections on “Campus Making” – Austin Dreyer

It was my honor to attend the Campus Making ministry conference, May 7-9 in Guelph, Canada.  There were many facets of the three-day retreat that will leave a lasting impression on me, not the least of which was the fact it fell on my first consecutive days above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in 2013!  The purpose of the retreat was for people invested in campus ministries from campuses across Canada and the United States to gather and experience God in community.  This included worshiping together, attending workshops tackling controversial topics, eating meals together, swapping stories around a campfire and several keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch. For me, the conference proved to be a much-needed break from my regular schedule as a graduate student in addition to a spiritual renewal for my dedication to the Campus Edge ministry at Michigan State University.

 

The specific location of the conference was the Crieff Hills Conference Center, where their tagline is, “A place apart.”  I was struck by how easily the center lived up to this promise, primarily by having miles (or kilometers perhaps, we were in Canada after all) of trails to roam, and extremely limited Internet access.  Technology in general is often demonized for constructing barriers between people in this world of personalized entertainment and the constant barrage of e-mails that demand our attention over the people sitting in the same room as us. Having those links intentionally severed was very liberating.  And having the opportunity to run over some trails through the forest combined with freedom from my electronic leash did much to clear my head.

 

Given a wonderful setting to encounter the glory of God’s creation, the only other ingredient for a conference is filling the space with awesome people.  And the people that gathered with us at Crieff Hills fit that bill to a ‘T’. It was a mix of graduate students, undergraduates, campus ministers, retired ministers, spouses, old, young, Pentecostal, Christian Reformed, the list goes on and on. I was really blown away by the variety of people in attendance. It was thoroughly refreshing to spend time with people outside of my typical departmental and even institutional bubble.  In fact, Americans were in the minority at this conference, and I can’t remember the last time I attended a meeting where that was the case! The real value of that diversity, for me, came in conversations with people from so many miles away, both geographically and spiritually in terms of faith journeys. To hear all of us discuss the same topics and be able to offer guidance to one another was a very satisfying experience. I know it will also be a source of courage the next time we face a challenge at MSU, knowing full well that so many brothers and sisters on campuses across North America are facing the same struggles with us. 

 

The actual title for the conference was “Campus Making:  Playing with Power.” Our unifying theme was that we all felt called to share the gospel with those around us on our respective campuses, a powerful mandate indeed. To that end, there were keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch, and many workshops focusing on issues that are highly relevant to a body of believers reaching out to the campus community structure.  Both of these activities gave me abundant food for thought, and while I did not agree with everything that was said, I took my discomfort as an indicator that I was plugged in and actively participating in what was going on around me.  And for anyone that knows me and my potent sweet-tooth, the candy the organizers provided at each keynote was quite literally the icing on the cake for those times we gathered together to engage with what Andy had to say.

In the end, the conference boiled down to just a few key components for me.  It was a time for me to experience community with other individuals who, like me, desire to grow campus ministry.  It was also a time for me to worship with, and get to know better, the people that lead my campus ministry with me.  As we participate in different worship bodies back at MSU, I enjoyed having time together with my comrades at Campus Edge and simply praising God. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had to set aside a few days to focus solely on our creator and how he can use us in his good works.  And ultimately, as a result of the conference, I am more eagerly than ever anticipating another year of ministering to graduate students at Michigan State University.

 

 

CEF Girls’ Night!

On March 15 the girls got together at 1518 for a proper girls night. We had the works: salty snacks, sweet desserts, and a great movie. We watched Pixar’s Brave, which surprisingly only a handful of girls had seen.
After the movie, we watched the MSU basketball game on tv and cheered them on to beat Iowa 59-56!
It was nice to be with just the girls for a change. As a wife and mom, my free time is quickly occupied by my family. It’s so easy to get stuck in the daily routine, but being able to relax for a few hours with friends every so often is really helpful.
Today, I encourage you to do something outside your routine. It doesn’t have to be anything major, start small. Take 5 minutes to call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Get outside and go for a walk. I promise you will feel better afterwards!

~Lauren Plockmeyer

A Day of Men’s Fellowship and Fun in CEF

On Friday, March 15, a group of men from Campus Edge came together for a day of fellowship.  It started with service that morning at Lansing’s Veterans of America Community Kitchen.  We all got up much sooner than we normally would for a Friday morning, only to realize that our sacrifice is really a way of life for the people we were serving.  By the time we arrived at 6:30, there were already people waiting at the facility for the free meal that would help them get through the day.  An hour and a half later, with well over one hundred hungry people fed and kept warm, I think all of us had a deeper appreciation for God’s call that we love one another as Jesus loved us. 

 

Fast forward twelve hours and the same group of men showed up at Spare Time in East Lansing for some laser tag fun.  I couldn’t have imagined a more enjoyable way to bond with my brothers from CEF than by chasing them around in the dark wearing vests with fluorescent lights.  That alone probably motivated me to join the YMCA the following weekend!  We played two 15-minute missions, trying different sets of teams, only to learn that it really helps to be over 6 feet tall when playing laser tag. 

 

We finished the night off with dinner together at Olga’s in Frandor.  During that time we all enjoyed some great food, a chance to catch our breath, and time for conversation.  We all got excited learning about the fun we’ll be having this summer playing softball with CEF, shared a little about our backgrounds and faith, and connected as fellowship of believers. 

~Diego Avila

Thursday Night Bible Study

We have been studying Moses and Paul and it has been very insightful. These are two individuals that were just as imperfect as any other human, yet did amazing things for God. We have been trying to learn and understand what made these two men unique, yet still human like us. How did God use them despite their imperfections? That is a critical question we have been asking during this study. We have tried to relate the story of Moses and Paul to our lives. We see our imperfections, our failures, our shortcomings, but then we see God display His power through it. We see how Moses and Paul were frustrated at times, tired, and angry, yet they persisted through God’s strength. We want to model their character and behavior in our continual pursuit of a relationship with God. Being able to take what God has given us, use it in the face of difficulty, is of paramount importance to our every day lives. Relying on God and not on ourselves. This is what Moses and Paul exemplified. Yet, they were still both imperfect which shows us that no matter who we were, or who we are, God can use us. All we have to do is commit and say, “Yes Lord, please use me because you are greater than me or any of my failures.”

 ~Bryan Crutcher

Spring Break and Rest?

Spring Break is finally here!  I don’t know about you, but after a hectic week of midterms and being in East Lansing way too long, I am thrilled to be back in the U.P where we have tons of snow.  I’m looking forward to skiing throughouZill10(1)t the week, reading a good book by the fire, and eating my Mom’s amazing food.  And resting.

Like many of you, and many Americans in general, I  sleeping in and resting with laziness and sloth.  I like to be busy and moving around doing something productive and active all the time.  And this is normal and expected for Americans and by individual families.  Productivity is the name of the game.  But are we missing something in our busy-ness?  Is this what life is all about?

Rest is mentioned many times in the Bible.  In Genesis, God makes the Sabbath on the seventh day for rest, and not only did he do that for us, but He Himself rested.  Obviously, if God rested, maybe we should too.  Jesus highlights this in Mark 2: 27 saying, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  God gave this day for us as a gift, allowing us to be rejuvenated and restored in Him.

Psalms 23 also highlights rest:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me besides quiet waters,

He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)

The Lord makes us lie down.  He orders us to take a break, find a nice field and pretty lake, and let Him do His work in restoring us.  We don’t have to do anything.  For me, this is hard, especially in a society that almost idolizes work.  But it’s so important to get restored, re-energized, and renewed.  Hopefully my Spring Break will be like that and I hope you will take the time to rest and get restored on yours too.

However, this conmountain_wildflowers_field_4-t2cept of rest should not be confined to university breaks and weekends.  It’s important to have some time to yourself for renewal multiple times a week, if not every day.  Just going on a leisurely walk, fiddling around on an instrument, or reading a book that has absolutely nothing to do with work are perhaps some ways to stay sane.  There is no harm in taking a break.  God’s promise of renewal is one to cash in on no matter how busy life gets.