Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places

If you read FALLING FREE, Shannan Martin returns with an even more lyrical and soulful memoir of her life as a radical neighbor lover. As a member of her launch team, I received an advance copy.

I was blessed so much by THE MINISTRY OF ORDINARY PLACES and I especially appreciated the very tactical ideas Martin offers for loving our neighbors. The author also takes a necessary and admirable stance against a lot of what I can only refer to as ministry "gimmicks" that churches in the First World have adopted as de rigueur. Examples of this included "pop-up" ministry events, short-term missions that do more harm than good, or just ill-advised donation drives. The love the author has for her neighbors and her neighborhood is so palpable, and the book is an inspiring look at how one family can be a beacon simply by choosing to stay. 

Pairing my own fave coffee mug with this book’s darling cover.

Pairing my own fave coffee mug with this book’s darling cover.

The only aspect of the book with which I really struggled was the lack of discussion of boundaries. Much of the ministry of being embedded in a community was familiar to me, since I have lived at the schools where my husband and/or I worked. It can be very overwhelming at times to field requests at all hours of the day and night from those one has been called to serve. As a mother, I believe my first order of ministry is to my family. Sometimes living in an insular community, one has to set hedges around one's family in order that the family not get exploited. The author makes mention of how her husband sought counseling for anxiety, and I was grateful for that. As a Christian, we can see from Jesus' example that there were times he reserved only for his prayer time, that he disappointed people by being unavailable because of his priorities. I wanted to hear more about that -- that giving freely of ourselves is still something we need to have discretion about so that we're not placing our family as a sacrificial lamb on the altar. The Martins are fully committed to their ministry of being present, and there are certainly instances mentioned where simply being present is hard. Still, I was left to wonder what they did when and if their children just sort of wanted their parents to themselves (?) Projecting here, but my kids help alongside me in ministry but sometimes they have bad attitudes about it and it's usually because I'm not devoting enough time to them. I think this begs the question: Can you live in the upside-down kingdom while still keeping your priorities in order? I don’t have the answer and I think anyone living in close community is looking for guidance about how to do it well.

I think my favorite chapter was about the Jail Ministry house. Martin explains the real disparity for families with an incarcerated person reentering society and the high cost of housing, job hunting that befalls individuals/families because of time served. I was so moved by the story of the Jail Ministry house and feel inspired to explore opportunities to serve inventively in this vein in my own sphere of influence.

I highly recommend this book if you are impressed to live and experience the Gospel in a less abstract and more practiced way, to have your eyes wide open to the biddings and beckonings of Divinity that hasn’t given up on our spinning planet yet.

An update on life per ye blog times of olde

I transferred all the kendraspondence content to this proffy site to be less insane, oh I mean, to streamline the brand and it's all nicely in tandem with some other moves happening.

Like how we moved across town to the cutest little cottage. I keep pinching myself at the good fortune, which leads me to the notion of favor.

I've been feeling some favor over my life. I learned recently that mentions of “favor” in the New Testament usually uses the Greek word "karis." I'm told its purest translation is "grace." And that's changing my conception of what favor has meant and looked like, at least for me, in the past. Because from my sloppy read of favor in Scripture, it usually entails God doing a mighty feat through a cracked or flimsy vessel. God favors the surrendered heart so he can do his thing. It challenges our present-day definition of favor, from the verb associated often with teacher’s pets and the noun associated with plastic eggs full of slime netted from a birthday party.

At first blush, there is no expectation tethered to our modern concept of favor. A coach runs plays centered around one player; a party girl hands out bath bombs to her guests. But of course there is an expectation. To whom much is given, much is expected. So score some goals with all that ice time. And invite me to your party next time.

Our family has been given a house to occupy for as long as Loverpants is in this school’s employ, and in exchange we pay the price of our proximity. We have surrendered privacy for community, boundaries for a lack of a mortgage.

Whereas God lavishes us with favor and expects nothing in return. He has already paid the ransom for our very lives. This is why the Gospel is just so impossible, so unmanageable. What could we even offer him?

And yet he makes like our turning hearts toward him like sunflowers arching toward sunlight is enough.

I’m overwhelmed by the favor God has shown me recently: our house, some writing opportunities, the unbridled love of family and friends. It’s too much.

And then I remember how long we have lived with housing uncertainty in our short 13 years of marriage. I think about how dry and dark the winter was when I was pitching my little typing hands off to just land one article with one measly pub. I can’t forget the trials my friends have faced down and had to take on the chin.

This too, is where God has shown favor. The favor of his restoration. think I like God doing a new thing even through old battered vessels best of all. It’s not just the unlikely characters that he works through. He shows favor even when we have trashed the house.

In the last few months, I have seen the restoration of my daughter’s easy, trusting smile to an otherwise furrowed brow. I have seen the reunification of a friend’s marriage. I have seen a friend get engaged and thrive in her career after a year of scorched earth. I have seen my baby brother blow out 30 birthday candles on a cake. God has shown his kindness when we couldn’t have muscled any of this on our own. He has restored the years the locusts have eaten and dried the tears that the vipers had shaken out of us.

millennium force cedar point

Restoration is my favorite. I’m buckets of grateful. God is good. 

On my experience as an LGBTQ ally at SAU

“Love keeps no record of wrong.” Since my departure from Southern Adventist University in 2016, I have pondered the words of Paul to the Corinthians as I worked through my feelings of sadness, hurt, and confusion, knowing that the kind of love Jesus offers us is liberating, and that liberation comes through reconciliation.

However, I have also pondered the Golden Rule. To treat others as I would want to be treated. I have resolved to tell my story, even though it records wrongs, as I would not wish for others to have had the same experiences I had as an employee of SAU.

I should first establish that I voluntarily left Southern after five years of full-time employment as a professor. I was not “invited to resign” nor did I depart on the grounds explained by other euphemisms. I left to take a job at another school because I was tired of fighting the same battles at Southern, tired of constantly feeling frustrated and that my job would be placed in jeopardy because of the marginalized students for whom I cared and advocated.

I would also like to establish that I did not grow up in the Adventist church. I was raised Catholic, attended primarily Catholic Schools and converted to Seventh-day Adventism when I was 23 years-old after attending an Adventist Church and feeling convicted at GYC in 2003 that a biblical faith was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. I received my master’s degree from Harvard University and taught at a community college prior to joining the faculty of Southern in 2011.

For five years, I worked hard and taught students who were bright and generally hardworking and mission-minded. I adored so many of my colleagues and was inspired by their interesting research and their total dedication to student success. I was promoted to associate professor after submitting my portfolio for review. However, because I did not have a terminal degree, I would need to pursue one in order to be able to be eligible for promotion or apply for sabbatical. As fewer and fewer of my colleagues were being released of coursework to pursue terminal degrees, I began to consider different prospects for myself and my family. 

More importantly, though, I was finding the culture at SAU toward LGBTQ students deeply troubling on campus. I would estimate having at least one student per semester in one of my classes who self-identified as LGBTQ. These students were active in Campus Ministries and community service, were excellent students earning high marks.

And they often sat in my office weeping.

They were consistently harassed in the dorms, they said. They were maligned on social media. They did not feel safe engaging in campus-wide or in class dialogues or even in seeking counseling on campus for fear of being reported to their deans or their parents (were their concerns unfounded? I would like to believe so).

I could list a great many upsetting incidents to which I was privy as a faculty member on Southern’s campus, but these would not be productive and may only make me seem embittered. I did find the leadership of Former President of SAU Gordon Bietz to have a loving posture toward LGBTQ students. He welcomed them into his office and did not discourage them from meeting as group as he understood the need to be in solidarity with one another, although he made it clear to the LGBTQ group SHIELD that they would not be eligible for funding through the Student Association budget. (My time with current president David Smith did not overlap more than a couple of months.) I did not, however, find the leadership of some others on SAU’s Administration to be as loving toward LGBTQ students. I and another of my colleagues were warned not to invite the SHIELD students to gather for worship in our homes because of the message that might signal to the community.

Wrap your mind around that message for a moment. Replace LGBTQ with "struggling with disordered eating" or "homesick" or “sexually promiscuous” or “substance abusing” students and you will see the hypocrisy of the messaging around those to whom Southern’s faculty were encouraged to minister. It’s inconvenient when the tendencies, behaviors, or even the sexuality of people in a community do not align with one’s branding. I’m sure Jesus felt this profoundly true to his leading of the Twelve Apostles. But he loved and led and invested in and died for them anyway. 

One incident that highlights this hypocrisy most prominently was when I was departing Southern. As I was preparing to depart from my position (I had already cleaned out my office), a current student reached out to me and told me a story of an LGBTQ student who had just arrived on campus as a new student during the Smart Start summer session. This student had been so harassed by students he’d never met in the dining hall, blocked from moving through the cafeteria line and called “fag” tauntingly to his face, he was in a state of shock. He did not know a soul on campus and was already being harassed. I decided to make the faculty body aware of the terms of this incident, because, from my view, there didn’t seem to be any reason to hold it under my hat. If it was true, the community had a responsibility to respond. It if were falsely reported, the community needed to take stock of what the response should be if it ever did occur.

In sharing the alleged incident with the faculty via an online listserv, the response was overwhelmingly kind. Prayers and offers of support swelled via e-mail for the student and the faculty body was unilaterally sad to learn that a student had been mistreated. Then an elder male colleague (whom, I should disclose, I had never had a poor interaction with and who appeared to never know my name when I introduced myself to him, even after giving his daughter rides and working in the same building for five years) shot back. He said that reporting an allegation of this nature was patently wrong and that I was, “Unfit for higher education.” This was not the parting gift I had hoped for in leaving Southern. Nor was his complete lack of apology for excoriating me among my colleagues as “unfit.” Yet, I am grateful for the experience as it allowed me to experience what our LGBTQ students experience on Adventist campuses every day: being made to feel “unfit” by some administrators, faculty members, and peers who lack the compassion and wherewithal to love them well. In five years, I never heard a single LGBTQ student ask for any sexual promiscuity to be condoned. I never heard them asking for a change of biblical language or policy. I only ever heard them want to be loved: by their teachers, peers, and even by their parents. Sometimes they just wanted to meet as a body of students to discuss their lives on campus. Sometimes they were only asking for a forum.

There is signage in the Hulsey Wellness Center on Southern’s campus that greets all who enter. It says, “Fit for Eternity.” It has often struck me as clever, though egregiously inaccurate. We are all -- regardless of sexual orientation, diet, language or creed -- abysmally unfit for Eternity. It is only through the matchless love of Christ that we can be made whole, that we can be made well, that we can be deemed fit to share in the bounty of his riches. I cannot wait for the day when he would only speak the word to make us - you, me, and all my former students - fit to share in his glory.

I am wishing the current graduating class a happy graduation weekend and want to encourage them to continue to go forth as lightbearers, and to never be afraid to love others well.