Last month’s Urbana 12 taught me a few things — for example, on a panel of three people, it takes a long time for each panel member to answer each question from the audience. The more important lessons, though, were reminders more than anything else. Three lessons, in particular, have been helpful to me as I’ve been processing God’s messages to me through Urbana 12.
Every person serves God in a unique way.
There is no one career that all Christians have to follow. Since I’ve been going to Urbana, I have seen powerful testimonies and performances given by lawyers, missionaries, rappers, actors, dancers, poets, painters, and even professors. All are serving Christ in unique ways through different professions. In the past, this has been a difficult message for Urbana to convey, since the featured speakers have so often been cross-cultural missionaries involved in full-time evangelism or church planting. The Emerging Scholars Network works hard to communicate the message that becoming a professor is also a way to serve God, though we are also quick to affirm that it is only one way of many.
Further, each person’s journey is theirs and theirs alone. Academics, like many other professionals, are often tempted to compare themselves to others in the same field. This can lead either to despair — “He’s two years younger than me and already has three books published?” “She and I graduated together, but she already has tenure?” — or to arrogance — “That’s right I have three books published. What’s your hold-up?” “I earned this tenure through blood, sweat, and toil, and don’t you forget it.”
Comparing yourself to others is an easy way to go crazy. Each of us has different gifts, abilities, and responsibilities that enable us to serve God in different ways. Public recognition for these efforts is fickle and ultimately meaningless, like “chasing after the wind.” Further, Mark Washington (who leads InterVarsity’s MBA Ministry) reminded me that so many people put forth a public image that bears little resemblance to the turmoil in their real lives. The appropriate measure for our lives is our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Are we loving God? Are we loving our neighbors? Those are the important things to measure.
Several weeks ago, I remarked to my wife Elizabeth that I feel like God has been teaching me to trust in his provision ever since I became a Christian. Usually, this takes the form of my need becoming exposed in a very deep and powerful way, only to be met at that the last moment through an incredible “coincidence” that has been on its way all along. Elizabeth, a bit weary of these experiences, replied, “Would you hurry up and learn the lesson already?”
Sometimes, the needs are the result of my own lack of preparation. I left for Urbana much less prepared technologically than I would have liked, missing both an adapter to connect my Macbook to a projector and a battery for my presentation remote. These are small, relatively inexpensive items, and I assumed that I would be able to buy them on the way to St. Louis or once I arrived.
Wrong. There are no electronics stores in downtown St. Louis, and none of the grocery or convenience stores downtown carried the right kind of battery for my remote. I must have asked twenty people for an adapter before someone had the right kind (thank you, Joe Moore!). As for the remote, I checked with six separate stores before finally visiting a small family-owned jewelry store about two hours before my presentation. “I know it’s a longshot,” I said, “but do you have this kind of battery?”
“I have every kind of battery,” he said. Sure enough, he disappeared into back room and returned a few moments later with the right battery.
These may seem small, but I found both the right adapter and the battery shortly after I asked friends on Facebook to pray for my presentation. I was reminded of God’s provision for larger things, too, such as my grad school friend Ann Chow sharing with me about the amazing opportunities she has received to work with Christians around the world. Several other friends, including faculty, told me about their unexpected journeys.
Faithfulness in small things matters.
Urbana is a huge event, but it can only take place with lots of people doing many small things faithfully. That troublesome remote I mentioned stopped working halfway through my presentation. With hardly a moment’s hesitation, though, the seminar proctor, Latoya, stepped in and began advancing my slides by hand. Her rescue was so quick and smooth that I soon forgot my remote wasn’t working.
The following day, I reported to one of my staff jobs at Urbana: data entry for seminar evaluations. A small team of InterVarsity staff were responsible for entering thousands of seminar evaluations into a SurveyMonkey database. I had only a 2-hour shift, but the team leaders had been in a back room for hours and hours, faithfully entering the evaluations so that Urbana speakers and administrators could know how the seminars were received.
Throughout the week, students came by the ESN/Graduate and Faculty Ministries booth to connect with our ministries and meet with staff and faculty. Several of these were students thinking about pursuing careers in academia, and I have a feeling that the half-hour conversations they had with the faculty at our booth will have a long-lasting influence on their lives and vocations.
It’s easy for me to overlook the importance of small things. Big things call attention to themselves. Big things
make the evening news trend on Twitter. Hardly anyone will notice small things, but big things can’t happen without the faithful attention to small things.
Now, as I have returned from Urbana and returned to “normal” life, I’m trying to remind myself of these truths. If I have trouble, maybe I should invite 16,000 friends over for dinner to help me remember.
Were you at Urbana 12? What did you learn or remember at the conference?