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Into the "Other"

This past week I drove the thirty mile stretch up 231 to Crawfordsville, Indiana - a city that shares many similarities with this city that we call our home. It is a place - just like Greencastle - whose connections to Indiana history are strong and whose identity has changed from frontier-land to a thriving county seat where farm and business mingled on the square. It is a place, too, that has sought to draw new industry and new life to its community even as it has wrestled with our changing times and new economy. And, on top of all that, it also has a liberal arts college that mirrors in so many ways the hopes and values of our own DePauw.

Wabash is Crawfordsville's college, and through the years there has developed something of a rivalry between the schools. As an alum of DePauw, I came to learn about that rivalry first hand - learning and then passing on the stereotypes that are associated with those "Wallies." Wallies - as was explained to me leading up to big football games - were foreign and unruly and undisciplined heathens compared to the lovely students who walked with me past East College and who sat in class with me.

Imagine, then, what it must have been like for me then to enter into the very heart of Wabash's campuses this past week. Imagine what it must have been like for me to be so warmly welcomed by the college - given a nice room to stay in and plenty of good meals. Imagine what it must have been like for me to be given a free pass to the Wabash athletic facility and to walk into the very locker room where the Wabash Little Giants dressed for the gridiron of the football field and then went out and pummeled my Tigers 47-0 this past November! Imagine what it must have been like for me - on the way out of that same locker room - to read a sign on the wall in pure red with white letters: "What have you done today to beat DePauw?"

Such determination to beat my alma mater, my beloved Tigers: What could this mean?

As the Church came into being - when everything was stirred by God's Spirit and the radical news of Jesus' death and resurrection - Simon Peter was given a vision that turned his whole world upside down - even more so than my Wabash immersion. Simon Peter had been raised and instructed his whole life to avoid another type of "other. As a Jew, Simon Peter had been formed to see Gentiles as unruly and unholy. Then, with that one dream and one vision, God wrecked Simon Peter's comfortable classifications - dropping a bedsheet of unclean animals before his eyes like a giant red "W" before my own. And with that, God began to move Peter into the region called foreign and different and uncomfortable.

Here is something I realized this past week, though. Wabash really isn't the "other." When you get right down to it, Wabash and DePauw share ten times the similarities than they do any difference. They are rivals like the Hatfields and McCoys are rivals - rivals of great similarities. Plus, Wabash - as I've come to discover - is not unruly or undisciplined. It is, actually, quite enjoyable. Besides the occasional Monon Bell joke, the "Wallies" were extremely hospitable.

What I am left with today is the realization that God is calling me to an even more adventurous and daring immersion: an immersion into the brokenness around me, into places in Greencastle and Putnam County that do not seem "Christian." That is the place God always longs to send us as a church, to the "other" side of the comfort of our church building and community - just as Jesus examplified in his own life and ministry. Jesus went to the places of poverty, of hurt. He went to the people thirsting for justice and hope and mercy.

God is beginning to move us as a church into our community, and it is beautiful to watch. SAWs is a definite bright point in this movement. Through this ministry and our obedience to God's call, we are beginning to see the faces of our neighbors, to hear their stories, to learn their strengths and their pain. It is a way we can literally make the gospel come to life - bringing people freedom from the prisons of their own homes.

But I must add one other caveat: There is a temptation - as can be seen in many churches - to celebrate our "missions" without really having to personally engage in our community. That is not the way of Christ. The call is for us all is to walk with Jesus into places that are outside our safe zones and to discover how God is at work in those communities. If we are up for it, SAWs can continue to be an open door for us to take those first few steps.

It is amazing what you can discover when you get on the other side of "other," and I think we are just beginning to discover all the good that is going on "out there" in Putnam County ... just beginning to set foot in brand new neighborhoods. I know I am learning ... I'm being challenged ... and I think that is all a very good thing. Now comes the decision whether to follow or stay where it's comfortable.

Wes

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