The Gift of 2020

The Gift of 2020

I usually work my way through things by writing.

This practice forces me to gather the experiences of my body, stroll them through my brain, and force them down my arms into my fingers, making computer keys create a screen image of what I am thinking, feeling and living. I have written very few reflections or thoughts about 2020. I’ve just been absorbing it. 

The self-centered individualist tendencies we are born with cause us to do whatever it takes to fix the things that trouble us most. We tend to think primarily about ourselves. Even with a robust experience of the sanctifying grace of God, which redeems us from self-centeredness and restores us in the likeness of Jesus, I must admit that the old self still screams loudly when life gets complicated. I’ve struggled with this, as have many of my Christian friends whose posts and blogs reveal more than they might admit.

There has been a lot of self-protection: my stimulus check, my candidate, my read on the election, my mask rights, my conspiracy theories, my racial thoughts, my tribe, my government critique, my opinion about worship gatherings, my pro/con vaccine theory, my tribe. The old self still screams loudly when life gets complicated.

In many ways, Trevecca has been God’s gift to me through this pandemic. The weight of caring for employees and 4,000 students has gotten me up every morning with work to do. This work has been humbling because fixing a pandemic is far beyond my human capacity. I’m reminded of something that Anne Lamott once said about prayer … that life boils your long-winded prayers down to one simple expression: “Help me, help me, help me. Thank You, thank You, thank You.”

I don’t feel very profound as a college president these days. But I do feel grateful. 

My family has a motto: “Life is wrapped up in who we loved, who loved us, and what we built together.” This motto has little room for self-absorption because love lifts us out of our tiny controlled kingdoms and enmeshes us in the lives of others. At the core of the faith that has been handed down to me is the belief that humans are made in the image of God, capable of loving relationships that build families and friendships, which become communities of worship, caring, and service, which enable institutions, economies, and governments to function for the common good. It begins with the recognition that we are radically loved by God in ways we have never deserved. As the beloved of God, we are enabled to love others—or we can just sink into self and get all we can get. If we love and belong to communities that love us back, we find the capacity to build something. Denise and I have spent our lives loving our family and friends, being loved back by them, and trying to build something together—a church, a college, a city, a world. 

That’s why Trevecca Nazarene University has been God’s gift to me through the 2020 pandemic. We are building something together that matters. And our strength comes from being loved by God. Now I don’t want to avoid the stark realities of this pandemic and all the challenges it has brought our community.  We’ve had our fair share of tests, twists and turns. This is why from the very beginning we rooted our response to the pandemic in the upward call to love our neighbor. You cannot do this and be preoccupied with self or convenience. It’s also why we decided to face the pandemic with a community covenant rather than a regulatory penalty system. As a university that is committed to maturing whole persons rather than backfilling individual brains, we see this moment in time as a character formation opportunity.

Let me testify to the strength and character of the people I am privileged to serve. We asked our employees and cabinet members to make financial sacrifices in their personal and professional lives by changing departmental budgets during the pandemic. To date, not one single complaint. We ran a clinic, tested students, contact traced and quarantined our way through fall semester while offering the option of face-to-face or remote for almost every class. Our student leaders took on the task of creating a culture of protocol compliance while keeping campus life as active as possible. The character they demonstrated gives me hope for our future world. A task force met weekly under the direction of a selfless provost and each member brought their best to the table for the sake of the community. We laughed together, grieved together and worked tirelessly together. A team of people in our finance office worked to distribute government funds to our neediest students, to establish an equitable refund for spring room and board and to keep students on track to graduation. Our leaders came together to provide free online instruction for 20,000-plus K-12 teachers, teaching them the tools and technologies of remote instruction. They also created a website to help parents of remote-learning students. A board of trustees demonstrated compassion, lent wisdom, and kept us on mission. A group of campus leaders hunkered down and gave serious thought to what we look like on the other side of the pandemic, resulting in new programs, new facilities, and stronger community partners. We worked with our sponsoring denomination and a local friend to provide emergency funding to DACA students whose families had lost jobs, needed food, and could not pay their rent. We housed and fed international students who could not return to their homes over the Christmas break. I do not say these things to inflate egos. I love these people and I pray that they recognize they have sown seeds that will enlarge their souls, connecting them with their friends and neighbors in eternal ways, building something that matters.  

Being in the middle of all this has been my salvation from shrinking into my own fearful skin, becoming smaller and missing the gift of 2020. Because life is wrapped up in who you love, who loved you, and what you built together.

Comments

  1. The best conclusion of 2020! I’m honored to love you and to have received your love at the very moment of my need!

  2. Paul Schaper says

    How heartwarming to feel the love and honesty expressed by Dr. Boone. So proud that we have a school that values he real, and provides the atmosphere where students can develop in a wholistic Christian setting where they are valued and loved.

  3. I think it was E. Stanley Jones who said the self is the center of problems and possibilities. It was also ESJ who said when the self bows at the feet of Jesus it stands tall everywhere else. When we broach such matters we must walk carefully so that we do not appear to promote the unhealthy condition of being selfless. Too often this is the case and it unintentionally, I think, sets up weakness that can lead to abuse. The subject needs much more unpacking than this response box. The section “Speak Your Mind” could even be considered self-centered. It seems to me that self-interests is not so much the problem as self-interests ruling is.

  4. J. Paul Turner says

    Dan, love to read your writing from the heart. I can best describe my current level of grief with your phrase slightly edited: who I loved, who loved me, and what we built together. It’s a wonderful way of describing my relationship with Marilyn. So don’t ever stop writing. I predict it will be a powerful venue of ministry for you, if and when you retire. J. Paul

Speak Your Mind

*