Just Jay Blog

Festival of Christmas

The week after Thanksgiving break brings one of the most cherished traditions at Bethel University—Festival of Christmas. This year, our 56th celebration, the theme is Oh How Joyfully! An International Festival.

Festival of Christmas shows our Music Department at its best, and Benson Great Hall literally sparkles. Our artist-conductors and approximately 300 student musicians lead us in worship of our God and savior. And supporting them—where no one sees—are dozens of staff who make this production possible and extend our hospitality to the several thousand people who will visit our campus for Festival.

Barb and I get to go to all four performances. We choose a different seating area for each one. It is amazing what you see and hear differently from the various locations in Benson Great Hall. Before the hall was built, Festival was held in the Robertson Center gym, St. John the Baptist Church in New Brighton, and the field house on the old Snelling Avenue campus. Although there are many good memories of concerts in those locations, I am very thankful for the terrific acoustics in Benson Great Hall!

Six years ago, Twin Cities Public Television recorded the live performances and edited them into a broadcast. Their recording was thought to be the first in the United States to be produced, broadcast, and recorded in HDTV. The broadcast spread across the U.S. through the public television networks. It is likely to be part of public television’s Christmas offerings in various markets again this year. We hope to do a new broadcast recording in 2013 if funding is available.

What do I enjoy about Festival of Christmas? Several things! I enjoy the quality of music skillfully performed by our students and led by amazing conductors. The amount of work that goes into preparation really pays off! I enjoy knowing the students from other contexts. Performers include students who are involved in athletics, study abroad, theater, student government, Residence Life, worship leading, and a wide variety of majors. It is fun to watch a physics major in the percussion section, a pre-med major singing bass, a literature major on the viola, or a Spanish major on a horn. I enjoy the various groups we honor in different performances.

The Friday performance is a special “Thanks” for our employees, and the Saturday performances honor donors and other friends of Bethel. Of course, family and friends provide the underpinning that get students into and through Bethel! This year is special for me because my mom is coming from Oklahoma to be part of Festival of Christmas for the first time. She will be the one smiling and introducing everyone to “her son, the president!”

I can hardly wait! I have already heard the closing number. We’ll all leave humming it and smiling! It will be a great concert done to the glory of God—and great fun for all who are part of it.

A Time of Loss

Silhouette of man processing griefBelow are some comments I shared with our community at Chapel on Friday, October 26, 2012 as we grieve the loss of one of our students.

It has been a tough week with some moments of joy and some challenging times of sorrow.

Tonight I get to read Scripture in the wedding of a Bethel grad who is also a good friend. That is a high! On the other hand two people I care about deeply are battling serious cancer. And we lost Kaitlin Beske. These are deep lows. Her loss is real, no matter how much or how little you knew her. The impact on family and friends is huge. Even those who did not know her well feel the sense of loss. I feel it too as my tears will tell you.

When things are tough, being surrounded by the Bethel community really matters to me. We carry each other along and rest in the reality of God’s grace. We know of others who are hurting very deeply – and some of you know stories of others students struggling in special ways right now. Our team is working with all those we know about. As we do this, we work with family and friends, trying to respect their privacy and trying to aid in a process that brings healing.

Earlier this week the presidents and spouses of the Christian College Consortium were on campus. On Monday morning as we gathered, I told them about Kaitlin’s passing. From coast to coast, others are praying for us. Our neighbor down the street, Northwestern College, sent us a bouquet and a note of care. I had planned to do a devotional entitled, “Can I Ever Be Good Enough?” I felt this question strongly in college—painfully at times. And as I shared my story, I was surprised to see how many of the presidents responded to it—they felt it now even though they were in very successful positions. It reminds me that there is a battle going on in each of our lives. We feel torn between who we think we are and who we think we should be. The Evil One wants us to live in shame, guilt, and inadequacy. By contrast, Jesus wants us to live in grace. He loved us so much that he was willing to die for us so that we might experience his grace. The battle is real and there are times when we are particularly vulnerable.

Each person responds to loss differently. For some who are distant from the person lost, the impact can be very little. Others feel it deeply and respond with anger, denial, fear, guilt, or other feelings that are very typical and normal. Emotions are often triggered that link to past loss, fear of losing someone, or personal vulnerability.

I encourage you to grieve in ways that reflect your wiring—this is not a one size fits all thing. Acknowledge what you are feeling. Seek friends, find alone time, cry, be angry, read Scripture, pray—whatever helps. Reach out for help. There are great resources at Bethel: Counseling Services, Residence Life, Campus Ministries, faculty, Student Life, and others. They have done a magnificent job in responding. As you are ready, move back toward normal—but let’s be sure to extend grace to each other.

Be ready to act. Tell someone you care for them. Talk to Jesus. Look out for each other. As they say at the airport, “If you see something, say something.”

It is better to err on the side of reaching out than to stay uninvolved. Don’t be afraid to say things like, “I may be crazy, but I’m concerned about you,” or “You look down. Can I help?” In some situations where you are really concerned, don’t hesitate to ask, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”

If you feel vulnerable, reach out for help—don’t wait.

We are working with Kaitlin’s family about a memorial time on campus, perhaps next week. We are in this together—and it is the time to help each other along in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Students and employees: if you would like additional resources on processing grief, information is available in the offices of Student Life and Campus Ministries.

The Least of These

As Unto Christ

Our last chapel series focused on the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25. As you remember from reading the parable, there was a lot of surprise among those separated into the sheep and goat categories. The bottom line for Jesus was, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

As I shared my own continuing journey with our students in the College of Arts & Sciences chapel, I told them that my journey was significantly affected by the book Inasmuch: Christian Social Responsibility in the 20th Century written in the mid-1960’s by David Moberg. At the time Moberg was a professor of sociology at Bethel. Later he went on to a long and successful career at Marquette University. The book and the now archaic word “inasmuch” continue to challenge me.

When I think of “the least of these” in today’s world, my heart is drawn to categories of people who are not part of my world: children who have been sex trafficked, the very poor, HIV/AIDS orphans, and undocumented immigrant children. My time this year with Compassion International’s Wess Stafford challenged me to do more about children in extreme poverty. My time on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and conversations with President Leith Anderson challenged me to think more about the plight of undocumented workers, particularly their children. That is why I signed the evangelical statement of principles for immigration reform developed by NAE.

Who qualifies as “the least of these” in your world? Some of my colleagues at Bethel and many of our graduates put me to shame and prompt me to look more deeply it what it means to follow Jesus. I want to be among the sheep. What about you?