I was sitting on the plane back from my vacation from Boston. The trip was full of pleasant surprises and lots of time to reflect. Call me strange, but I find cities extremely reflective and contemplative. Perhaps it’s the broken loneliness of the city redeemed for something good. I can just zone out and be alone even in the midst of thousands of people. And somehow in the clanking of metal and towers of concrete, I hear the soft whisper of God.
It’s really funny where one can hear God’s voice.
But I’ve already wandered after one paragraph. I was sitting on the plane (next to two German tourists). So there wasn’t much to talk to them about, except to let them know the stewardess was asking them what they wanted to drink. “Justification”, NT Wright’s response to Piper, was my only entertainment for the plane ride. But the book was so thick and academic… honestly, I think I’ve become dumber since I graduated. So that wasn’t going anywhere.
Luckily for me, they had an inflight movie, “The Soloist”, which I remembered only had a 54% on the tomatometer. It’s about a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) who starts writing about a homeless man (Jamie Foxx) he meets who had dropped out of Juliard. I was surprised at how much the movie hit me. Perhaps it was my already lowered expectations. But wow. Luckily the german tourists were asleep, because I’m pretty sure I shed a tear or two. There were several moments of resonance for me… like when Jamie Foxx’s character took hold of a cello for the first time in years… if you didn’t know, the cello is one of my favorite instruments- its timbre, the way it resonates, how the notes can glide or puncture the air with sharp marcato’s… is just mind-numbing to me. And I know that feeling- getting to play your first instrument after a long time of not playing it and the emotions that rush in… I snapped out quickly as our plane hit turbulence.
But beyond all my music nerdiness, what impacted me most about this film was the reporter’s journey of figuring out what to do about his relationship with the homeless man. The homeless man started out as his means to a good article, to an improvement project… to a friend. It was really powerful to see his struggle as he saw the ugliness of his own conceited motives for hanging out with this homeless musician. It was beautiful to see his perspective of the man change from a project to… a real friend.
It got me thinking. As I talk to partners and donors about MiraCosta and my students… it is so easy to turn my students into objects and achievements. It’s so easy just to flash a picture of the strangest person on campus and say “I threw a frisbee at him” with a sense of accomplishment. But when it comes down to it, do I hang out with these people because I care for them or because I want a cool picture to show people so they give me money?
These ugly realities bounce in my head. I realize that this is what ministry is when I don’t know love. If I don’t know God’s heart for MiraCosta and the students there, I won’t know how to love them as people, and I will start to treat each of them like a project. And as I think about this, I just see each student individually saying, “I am not a project”.
The guy with low self esteem, “I am not a project”
The girl struggling with finances, “I am not a project”
The cutter, “I am not a project”
The guy I do GIGs with, “I am not a project”
The international student, “I am not a project”
I could name more students, and even stranger students that I meet every day, but even naming who I see seems like a way of showing them off as a project. But I pray every day that God would shed off these dehumanizing ways of objectifying the human beings that He has called me to love. I pray that every time that I mention one of my students to people outside of the ministry, that I would be speaking out of the heartbreaking, unrelenting, pure and compassionate love of the Father for His children whom he wants to see brought into the freedom that He created them for. I pray that I would never forget the core of ministry- friendship.
It is from our radical friendship with Himself which God offers us that ministry must flow from- and that must still be spoken in the language of friendship and love. We can have grand projects of reconciliation with the homosexual community, social justice, academic advancement, evangelism, prayer…. but they are empty without love, a banging of cymbals and just noise.
May the love of God come like an uncontrollable hurricane and leave my projects in shambles. May I never forget love.
~I Cor. 13.~