Open Table

Written by Matthew Frantz


What is one of the few things that everyone must do?

We must all eat! This is a matter of survival, and we can all understand the importance of meals. There is no argument about our need to eat; it is just a means of life to have food. This dependence on food has the beautiful opportunity to unite all people because it provides an avenue to sit down and connect with our most basic needs. Our need for sustenance drives us towards community. Throughout history, meals were most successful in community and they provided an opportunity to share with neighbors. What better time to think about communal meals than during the holiday season, when we all sit down with loved ones and share meals together in order to catch up and grow closer with one another. Meal sharing goes well beyond just food; we share our lives over meals as we sit down and rest.

Meals are crucial to community because they allow everyone to contribute to the common good and they provide an opportunity for everyone to share the stories of their lives over a few hours of being still. By sharing meals, everyone joins a collection and new bonds are formed between people. Barriers break down and people who would not generally convene can sit across the table and talk about life together. Meals are one of the best means of hospitality because they provide a response to one of our most basic needs. There are few more hospitable requests than to invite someone over for dinner to share in your work and time. So go out and share meals! Take some time to sit down, eat, and remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season!

Is God Always Good?

Is God always good? This is a question asked by many people, believers and non-believers. How can God be all good when there are bad things that happen? What about the God that is wrathful in the Old Testament? This subject has stumped people for ages. One thing I do know about my God is that He is intentional. He works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Whatever storm you are going through, small or large, the Lord is faithful and will see you through it. He will work for your good. Don’t be discouraged if you are upset or feel hurt. Job, one of the Lord’s most faithful servants, became upset and frustrated towards God after everything was taken away from Him. Yet the Lord forgave him, and ended up blessing him more than he was blessed before because he was faithful (Job 42:10)

So don’t give up! Don’t be discouraged! Our God is bigger than our problems. He is constantly at work, and loves you as His child (1 John 3:1). Hard times will define who you are. Will you turn away from God and blame Him? Or turn to Him and embrace His bigger plan?

Written by Garrett Hall, a Senior at OSU studying Physical Therapy.

Depression + The Mustard Seed

I went to Colorado for spring break; the soft chilly air enveloped every surface. After being diagnosed with severe depression and a panic disorder I craved the unfamiliar cold. There were a million options placed in front of me when I left the hospital; instead of choosing my next steps, I ran off to see mountains. I chased the adventures, the thrill-seeking distractions, to avoid facing the pain I felt. But there wasn’t enough adrenaline I could gain that could stop me from storming out of the rooms in my mind. It was easy to pretend I was fine but the reality was I needed help.

When I returned home from the trip I was joyful briefly, the reality of my mental health set in and I lost myself in waves of depressive episodes and fear. It felt like my mind was breaking up with my body and hopelessness was the replacement. I avoided my bible, avoided talking to Jesus, I ran out of words to say. A passage in the bible flashed through my thoughts after several weeks of struggling. It was about the disciples who could not heal a young boy of his demons and asked they Jesus why they could not perform. And Jesus answered, “Because you have so little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

I ask Jesus for mustard seed faith daily. Depression is mental illness but also a mountain I need moved continuously. For many who struggle with their mental health, asking for help can seem like an impossible task.

Since that trip to Colorado I’ve grown in my personal faith but also in my mental health. The understanding, that living with a mental illness is not impossible keeps me moving forward. I strive to share my story with others in hopes that they find their mustard seed too.

 

By Neke Carey

I Can’t

I’m going to say something that may sound weird to you, so get ready.  I think the beginning to a freedom-filled pursuit of Jesus start’s with two words: I can’t. 

Okay. Bear with me for a minute. In my fourth and final year at OSU, I’ve begun to see something that absolutely plagues college students and their relationships with Jesus. It’s this idea that we have to perform for Him and be good enough for Him. I don’t know where or when this idea sprang up, but I think it’s pretty destructive. These subversive messages creep into our friendships, our sermons, our prayers: be this way so that Christ will love you; behave like this so that the church will accept you; avoid failure so you can be a worthy Christian. About a month ago, I realized I had been desperately trying to live up to those expectations, which resulted in a lot of pain and hopelessness in my own life. I couldn’t do it.

Here’s what happens when we think we have to perform a certain way for Jesus. We become responsible for the relationship. We become responsible for salvation. We become responsible for provoking His love.

Wow. That sounds like too heavy a burden for us. In fact, it is. There’s no life there, just back-breaking expectations, inevitable guilt, and fear of punishment. Jesus never intended for us to live that way. He never intended for us to be responsible for our relationship with Him. Did you hear that? The burden of your relationship with Jesus doesn’t rest on your shoulders, it rests on Jesus. And, in case you ever forget, He established your relationship once and for all between two pieces of wood. You’re sealed in Him.

Jesus never had any illusions about you. He knows the sin you are capable of. He knew about it all before He chose you. He is not surprised, therefore He is not disappointed. He knows where you will fall short. He knows your quirks, your darkness, your shame, your secrets. And He has never been, nor will He ever be, intimidated by any of it.

Jesus never asked us to perform for Him. He certainly knows we can’t be good enough for Him on our own. Alone, we will fail every single time. With Him, we’ll win every single time.

That’s why I think I can’t is such an important statement in this pursuit of Jesus. It liberates us from the illusion that we can do a single thing to provoke God’s love and favor. It liberates us from the foolish idea that we can ever get righteous on our own. We can’t. My righteousness is actually Christ’s responsibility. How cool is that? I can’t do it on my own. I get to do it with Jesus. And, if I invite Jesus into it, I’m destined to win.

Today, try admitting the truth. On your own, you can’t. But that’s just the way Jesus intends it to be. He wants to do life with you. He wants to grow with you. He loves watching how Grace transforms you. He is patient, committed, and in love with you.

I can’t. But He can. 

 

Written by Nina Kazarian

The Art of Faith and Friendship

Written by Reverend Michael Bartley. 

Dominique Domercant is a Haitian artist and former minister of culture for the country of Haiti. Several years ago the Wesley Foundation brought Dominique to Oklahoma State University to participate in an arts demonstration and to share the story of the Haitian people with the students of Oklahoma State. During the last few days that Dominique was in Stillwater, he stayed in my home. One evening, Dominique and I sat in the living room attempting to talk. Dominique knew French and Haitian Creole – I know English! Language was not going to be the stuff of our conversation. However, during the five or six hours that we sat in the living room, the two of us began to share each other’s story. Dominique, like many Haitians, was raised with the syncretism between Catholicism and traditional cultural voodoo. He was raised in the poorest country in the world. Dominique is an artist who sees the world through the lens of a canvas. Dominique is an intense thinker and observer.

I am a United Methodist clergyperson raised in a traditionally conservative American evangelical protestant white family. I am the classic example of a WASP! I was raised in Topeka, Kansas in a relatively wealthy family. I have attempted painting before but to be honest my painting is not something that should be viewed without eye protection. Dominique and I’s stories stand in stark contrast. Sitting in the living room that evening was not just a language event. In fact, I would suggest, the biggest obstacle to communication wasn’t even language.

Had Dominique and I shared the same language we may have heard each other’s words, and been able to decipher the consonants, the vowels, the definitions. We may have even thought that we understood each other.

However, deeper than our language differences was our story dissonance. Dominique and I have experienced the world differently.

Tonight, as I sit here writing, thinking about my encounter with Dominique, thinking of the students and friends of the Wesley, wondering what I should share with you – these thoughts and experiences all converge. Dominique, work, you. All come together and challenge me with a set of fundamental questions. How is it that we become a people, a single people? How is it that we communicate? How is it that we live?

In that evening with Dominique, I learned as much about myself as I learned about Dominique. I was led by an artist who understood how to communicate with color, picture, smile and tear.

Dominique and I talked about the earthquake

We talked about our children

We talked about our parents

We talked about our countries

We talked about politics

We talked about faith

At one point, as we exchanged eye contact, he asked me, in the color orange, about hope.

 

Hope the image of looking at each other!

Hope dreaming out loud!

Hope word acts exchanged!Hope shared space?

Hope respect of difference?

Hope friendship?

Hope?

Untitled. (intentionally)

Janina Graves is the Student Ministry Coordinator at The Wesley Foundation at OSU, as well as the Founder of the I AM Program. She is passionate about storytelling and expressive arts. She considers herself blessed to have listened up close and personal to the life stories of hundreds of OSU students from Oklahoma and around the world.


So much of college is about titles, credentials, and achievements…

Is this good? Is this bad? I’m not sure.

But, I have been wrestling a lot lately with Jesus’ public display of… (nothing)… at the end of his life. Jesus’ career had taken off… his ministry had just begun… he was at the forefront of an up and coming religious, socio-political movement.

And, here he is… Jesus the Christ in front of a crowd with an opportunity to “speak to power,” to “reveal his glory” and he might as well have just said nothing. (I’m gonna take some liberties here and just be me, so please keep in mind I’m not a theologian or a historian).

“Are you the king of the Jews?” – Pilate

(Read: who are you? are you who they say you are?!)

“You have said so.” – Jesus

(Read: I am whoever you say I am…)

And, there it is. “What?” you ask.

Exactly.

Jesus’ “big moment” – dozens, perhaps hundreds are watching: politicians, religious leaders, community members, family and friends – and, he simply concedes in the most inconspicuous way to the half-assed observation (mocking?) of another. Wait. WHAAAAT??!!!

I have to admit. This part of the story upsets me. It bothers my Valedictorian, Outstanding Senior, yadda yadda soul. Where’s his moment of glory?

The story gets worse. Jesus submits himself to a process of public humiliation, physical torture, and eventual death in one of the worst ways…

“But, wait,” you say, “he rose from the dead! His moment of glory comes later!”

Well, I don’t know about you… but, going through all of that for a few lousy private and public appearances afterwards doesn’t seem to fit the bill of the “price he paid.”

I’m not shaming you, I’m not trying to get us to “feel bad” or to wallow in the “sin that put him there…”

But, I am saying… I. Don’t. Like. It.

Based on his performance and audience participation, I doubt that he would have received a “Best of” award or earned all 50 out of 50 on a rubric. He most definitely didn’t earn an A or pass the qualifying exam… particularly by those who held the authority. What exactly was Jesus’ title? His credentials…. achievements? Depends on who you ask.

All I know is… he didn’t seem to care.

I wrestle with this question… why do I want to follow Jesus? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? For as many years as I’ve understood this story (or this version of it, anyway), I’ve never been able to understand how people can so eagerly claim Jesus as Lord. Personally, I always doubt how well they know the story. When people tell me, “I just want to follow Jesus…” I quite frankly want to ask… “but, do you know what happened to him?”

Maybe I’m less “Christian” than others. Or, maybe I just don’t want to suffer or surrender. Maybe I just have a bigger ego or like self-preservation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… I believe that following Jesus leads to death. (No, I don’t believe being Christian requires martyrdom or an unhealthy masochism.) But, again I do believe that following Jesus leads to death. At the very least, the death of the value of external validation… public recognition… defensiveness or self-preservation. Following Jesus leads to death.

So, why do I want to follow Jesus? And, what does that have to do with college?

Well, I think I follow Jesus because death is inevitable. It’s hard-wired into the way that the world works. Think about creation. Death is everywhere. And, yet… so is life.

I’m not saying I think it’s right or that I’m okay with this narrative. I told you… I really struggle with this story.

But, back to the whole college thing… those titles… those credentials… those achievements… it’s not that they don’t matter. It’s that they don’t go with you.

Each relationship, each opportunity, each experience is re-defined by who we are and how others come to know us. We don’t carry those things from one community to another… and, if we do, they are of little value, if any. Say to the street artist in Cartagena, “I’m a Top Ten Senior!” He will look at you strangely until you say, “Me llamo Janina.” These distinctions, these definitions, these categorizations are all contextual… and, more importantly, they’re completely based on the community in which you find yourself.

Maybe Jesus did care who Pilate believed him to be. Maybe he did care who others believed him to be. But, perhaps he knew that the value of the acknowledgement was not his own self-promotion, but rather the submission of himself to a community who would later witness to what they had seen and heard. Who would they say that he was? How would they live their life after he was gone? Perhaps these are the more important questions… and, perhaps in the answers to these questions are the more meaningful reflections of “who is Jesus?

So, who are you? Who would others say you are? And, not the ones you’ve spent your time trying to convince or trying to impress… how about the ones who have no stake in you, who could care less whether you live or die? Because fortunately (and, unfortunately, if I’m honest), my identity… perhaps even my salvation, intersects with who I am in their midst.

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing…”

(Mic drops here).

I don’t know about you. But, that sounds a lot to me like the God I hope for… the God I yearn for… the God I hope I’m coming to know. That just might be where I believe that following Jesus also leads to life. Not an easy one. But one which lives with the ridiculous hope that death will not have the last word. Hate will not have the last word. Because Jesus may not have been dead yet, but he was already coming back to life… and, perhaps more importantly, he was already bringing us back to life.

Who do you say that I am? 

(Peter) You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And that, my friends, is an achievement worth striving for… the acknowledgment, the replication of a hope which was propagated by a stubborn, scared hypocrite. Hmmm… sounds a lot like me. And, I daresay, sounds a lot like you.

So, now is the time when I can unashamedly say that I believe deeply in resurrection (and, I’m bankin’ on it) because I have a lot more “dying” to do. And, I daresay, we have a lot more “dying” to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Feet Washing

Rev. M. Nathan Mattox is the pastor at University United Methodist Church in Tulsa. He is in connection with the OSU Wesley Foundation as a board member of the Oklahoma Conference Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He served the UCLA Wesley Foundation and as assistant chaplain at Occidental College while in seminary at Claremont School of Theology.


This was written for April 13, and since that is Maundy Thursday, I can’t help but think and write about feet washing. I like to wash my feet, but I’ve never washed another person’s feet (that I recall) as a liturgical act of worship. This is despite the fact it is one of the few customs that Jesus made abundantly clear in his last week of life he expected his disciples to carry on. There’s something “boundary crossing” about the act, and perhaps that is why he instructed us to do it.

Sensing that I’m not the only one who feels a little awkward washing feet or having my feet washed, I have for the past few years brought up the topic only to watch my worship committee look relieved when I suggest that we “update the practice” and “get to the root of the mandate to perform loving acts of service for others” in different ways. Three years ago, we had a “Maundy Thursday Car Washing” at the car wash down the street from my church. Church members washed one another’s cars, and passers by who had come expecting to wash their own car were pleasantly surprised to have my church members waving them into the bays so they could wash their cars too. The next year, we visited Pearl’s Hope, a ministry of the Oklahoma Conference which helps single women establish careers and avoid homelessness. Here, we washed the windows of the facility and all the residential cabins. “Washing” something was a good theme—it was just that feet were, perhaps, a little too personal. This year we plan to return to the car wash, providing loving acts of service without touching tentative feet.

I lamented a bit during a sermon series on the Song of Songs last summer, The Wisdom of Sensuality, that perhaps we were missing a key component of the New Commandment. I typically think of the foot washing in utilitarian terms. In the age of sandals and sandy roads, foot washing was a common and humbling task. People were likely less skittish about having their feet washed, so the tenderness of it was probably not as pronounced as it is in the modern mind. But who knows? Maybe tenderness and sensuality are intended by Jesus to be expressions of that mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.” Perhaps it’s not just about “grunt work,” but intended to be “relationship enhancing.”

I was delighted when my fiancé, unaware of these ruminations, suggested that we incorporate a foot-washing ceremony into our wedding this summer. I don’t feel awkward at all at the prospect of washing her feet—and in fact, the idea that she’ll be the first person I’ve done that to as a liturgical act of worship brings me great joy. I’ve smiled about the fact that since our wedding is taking place on a beach in Florida, the act will not only be beautiful, but practical! On a deeper level, the act is itself an expression of what I look forward to in marrying her. We have a keen sense of serving one another, and this liturgical (and practical!) act will embody the tender way we love one another in marriage.