Exasperated Optimism

24 Feb

Earlier this year, some students hanging out at United Campus Ministry received a visitor from a large, local church.  I was off delivering food for the Kendall-Whittier Food Pantry with some other UCM students, so I wasn’t present for the exchange that took place.  The visitor came in and introduced himself as being from the large, local church, and asked if UCM ever needed speakers at veggie lunch, or for other events.  The students were welcoming and enthusiastic, and began to answer the visitor’s questions about UCM.  They told him that we were an ecumenical and interfaith campus ministry dedicated to peace and justice, and that we drew people from every walk of life, and that all were welcome to be a part of our community.  The visitor commented, “Wow, you people love everybody.”  The students went on to tell him about the various groups that call UCM home, including TU Peace and Justice, the Coalition for Women’s Issues, Earth Matters, and the Cultural Exchange Coalition.  When they got to the Bi-sexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Queer, Straight Alliance, the visitor interrupted and said “Wait, you people aren’t involved with GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) or anything, are you?”  The students answered that they didn’t think that GLAAD had a chapter in Tulsa, but that both the BLGTQSA and UCM did work with groups that care deeply about the rights of GLBTQ people.  Not long after that, the visitor left.

Of course some version of this scenario has played out for me hundreds of times since I started working at UCM in 2002, but it doesn’t happen nearly so often for our students, and I find a couple of things about the situation really telling.  First, the students really had no idea what the theological practice is of the church our visitor was representing; they took it on good faith that his interest in UCM was sincere and that the information they shared about UCM would be received with an open mind.   Second, when they sensed that something they had said caused him to leave somewhat abruptly, and after they had pulled out their smartphones and Googled his church and realized that what had probably made him uncomfortable was our full inclusion of GLBTQ people, they said to me, “But he didn’t need to leave.   We thought it was an affirmation when he said that we love everyone, but perhaps his “everyone” does not include GLBTQ people.  However, even if we don’t agree on this issue, he was still welcome to be here.”

The generosity and graciousness of spirit I see in our students, year after year, are one of the many reasons I feel this ministry is so important.  In the changing religious landscape in which we find ourselves, these students are creating a safe and welcoming place for discussions of faith and doubt, justice and equality, inclusion and community.  However, I think the best way for you to understand UCM, is through the experience of one of our current students, who agreed to share her experience with the little blue house.

The first time I was in the Little Blue House, I was astonished how large it was. From the outside, it looks a bit like a toy; at the most extravagant assessment, like one of those little decorative sheds people sometimes store lawn implements in. I certainly never expected to find upwards of thirty people in the main room. When we run out of room at the tables, people sit on the couches. When we run out of room on the couches, we stand, or perch on counters. Everyone always fits; we find a way to make room. My friend, who’d brought me along for Veggie Lunch that Wednesday, had promised a free meal. He neglected to mention that the salad and fair-trade cookies would come with the most inclusive and enveloping community I ever could have dreamed of.

Just as the house itself often seems disproportionately large, the people it contains often seem disproportionately inclusive. The Little Blue House is the umbrella over a variety of organizations around a variety of purposes (feminism, progressive sprituality, and the opinion that fair trade tastes better), but every one of those organizations is built around a sense of community, one that its members embrace wholeheartedly. People involved with the Little Blue House are people who want to do more than study and party at college, who want to find a way to involve themselves with a world that it would be easier to ignore. No doubt one can live a far more relaxed existence unaware of discrimination, racism, and poverty. The Little Blue House is for students who can’t look away, and who then are willing to devote some part of their lives to changing what they’ve seen for the better.

There’s a recurring joke among Little Blue House veterans involving the song “Hotel California” – you can check out, but you can never leave. It’s usually half-exasperated, half-jest; it’s hard to remain devoted to tilting at windmills, but the networks and connections fostered under that roof have a strange way of connecting students long after they graduate, and – outside the broadly philosophical sense – can no longer truly be called students. But the commitment to community and the dedication to change remains. We aren’t, generally speaking, naive enough to believe that it will, somehow inevitably, get better. But we believe it’s possible.

There needs to be room for this sort of exasperated optimism at TU. There need to be people actively working to make lives better, regardless of creed, class, race, or orientation. The Little Blue House doesn’t come with a required dogma; it asks only that its members, nebulous a group though they may be, be kind, and perhaps brave. Entrants aren’t handed a truth with their vegetarian entree; you’re responsible for finding your own.

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2 Responses to “Exasperated Optimism”

  1. ambiguitygreen February 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Not to be picky, but it’s exaggerated, two g s . . . fantastic blog.

  2. Rob Crenshaw February 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I am so happy that UCM and the Little Blue House are still going strong and is a place of gathering and community for anyone and everyone. My time there as a student and intern helped shape me and gave me strength that I use in my life every day. It really is so much bigger on the inside.

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