Good Guy, Loves the Lord
Once upon a time, I was a cynical jerk face. I'm in progress, but I'm a lot better than a used to be. A lot of my formation into a more Christlike version of myself happened during my years at Multnomah University where I learned life habits from professors fully in love with Jesus who knew how to lovingly take teenagers steeped in fundamentalist judgmentalism and point them towards Jesus.
Due to my transfer, I somehow deferred taking a freshman seminar course taught by Rob Hildebrand until one of my last semesters. I sat in the back row with the other transfer upperclassmen, and we chuckled at the naive comments eager young students made. I'll never forget the day that Rob deftly handled the outrageous comment from a notoriously rude freshman who ended one mini rant with "We all know if God could vote, he'd be a Republican."
"Freshman," snorted the senior in my row who'd done military service before coming to Bible college.
Rob's response was different. It's important to note here that Rob is a Canadian immigrant known for holding several politically conservative positions. Rob doesn't hide his political opinions, but instead frequently facilitates friendly interactions on his Facebook feed with people who disagree on a whole range of issues. However, Rob wouldn't let this room full of impressionable young people leave with the oversimplified and problematic understanding that "God = Republican." I don't remember Rob's exact words in response, but I do remember him preserving the humanity of the freshman who I'd already grown tired of by that point in the term. I think of that interaction often. I want to be more like how Rob represented being like Jesus when I encounter rude people who disagree with me.
I also remember Rob always introducing divergent viewpoints of colleagues or published theologians or speakers with "Good guy, loves the Lord," before explaining why he disagreed with them. Rob Hildebrand is one of my primary role models for how to disagree respectfully. It's something I value a great deal, and a whole portion of my class is devoted to teaching students to disagree respectfully with other Christians. I'm not always a great role model of it, but I aspire to a Rob Hildebrand level reputation for loving others right where they are at without backing down on my own opinions.
There are a whole lot of other great things that I could say about Rob Hildebrand, and I know anyone who's spent time with him can do the same. Years ago, he brought at team of MU students on a tour of ministries across Europe and reached out to me because he wanted BFA to be a stop. He asked how his team could bless our school. This man has an incredible servant's heart and chose to reach out to missionaries across the continent asking how he could serve. His students ended up visiting my class and meeting with me for Q&A at my picnic table where I watched Rob encourage discussion among his latest cohort of youth ministry majors hoping to inspire them to a lifetime of service in the name of Jesus. Rob is a good dude who loves the Lord.
This isn't a lead up to a disagreement. Sure, Rob and I have some nuanced disagreements on theology, but he's my brother in Christ, and I'm honored to serve the same Jesus. I also think he deserves the recognition for the good he's done during his years of selflessly serving Jesus. This dude and his incredible wife chose to buy a castle in France, renovate it, and run a summer extension program through MU for young people who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus. They rent out their beach house with missionary discounts. They moved onto MU's campus to spend more time life on life mentoring students. He's humble too. Rob would never flaunt any of this, and I'm bringing it out because I think we all have a lot to learn from Rob's example.
I also personally have a lot to learn about affirming the good I see in people. I never said any of this to Rob in person, but I'm currently making an effort to acknowledge in the moment the good I see God growing in the people around me. Some of them, like Rob Hildebrand, are not so great at receiving compliments. For whatever reason, Rob Hildebrand will brush off his capacity to bless and turn attention to his wife or someone else nearby.
One of those people near me who I had the chance to affirm this week is Rob Shuman. Rob Shuman did my phone interview when I applied to BFA, and his comment on that call joking that he'd switch my application from a two year commitment to a ten year commitment was actually one of the deciding factors that made me come to BFA instead of the other school that offered me a job. Rob happened to walk by my classroom during lunch on Wednesday when four students were chatting with me. One of them was present at my table a couple weeks ago when the spontaneous affirmation circle happened. I'd been encouraging this particular student to practice saying affirmations more often, and he shared with me how he started something on his class trip to Berlin for peers to share kind words. I'd actually asked him about whether he'd intentionally said kind things to his dad because his dad is notoriously bad at receiving affirmation; his dad happens to be Rob Shuman.
When the other Mr. Shuman walked by my classroom, it was impossible to pass up the beautiful opportunity for us all to practice. I invited each of the four students to follow my lead in saying something we appreciate about Mr. Shuman. I'm here to affirm now the growth I saw in Rob Shuman as he stood and listened to the kind words and didn't deflect a single affirmation. Instead of pretending he doesn't have a positive impact on the school culture (that was the overwhelming message of the three students that aren't his son), he stood quietly and listened to what they had to say. I knew it made him uncomfortable. I didn't do it to make him uncomfortable; I did it because I so strongly believe we need to hear where the Lord is using us so that we can continue living from our strengths and see what the Lord is developing in us.
For years, I did the same deflecting when people complimented me. I had this distorted understanding of pride that made me think to accept a compliment made me prideful. I've come to realize now that I need to receive the kind words as celebration of the Lord at work in me. One of the best teachers to me of that was Pat DeWit who gave me such intentional, specific, clear words of affirmation and stopped me from deflecting it saying that I was dishonoring the Holy Spirit when I tried to deny the gifts the Lord has put in me. Those seniors didn't affirm each other thanks to me, but I had the privilege of being the host to the holy moment where they saw Jesus in each other. The gifted kid in my class who told her volleyball teammates that they should take a moment to affirm each other wasn't the hero of the moment; she was inheriting a blessed role to let the Holy Spirit move.
I want to give Rob Hildebrand credit for being used by God in my life as a role model for loving Jesus, but I know it isn't about Rob Hildebrand. I can affirm that Rob Shuman intentionally makes BFA a more positive place when he shows up every morning and welcomes students off the bus with "Happy Monday!" Rob Shuman isn't the hero, but one of his gifts is bringing joy on our campus, and I'm grateful that he lets the Lord use him that way.
I'm not perfect, but I love the Lord. I want the first thought people have when reflecting on me to be "good guy, loves the Lord." Okay, maybe don't think of me as a guy, but seriously, I want people to remember first that I love the Lord. And then also that I struggled well through the difficulties I had in life - particularly the leg spasms that spike in frequency and intensity during the winter months. Just to wrap up here because I want the focus to be on the positivity, I also want to ask for your prayers for my nerve damaged body. This past week has had much colder weather and much stronger muscle spasms in my legs. My physical limitations significantly limit what I'm able to do at work, and while two lovely coworkers offered me the positive affirmation that me showing up to do the bare minimum as a teacher is more than a whole lot of teachers giving their maximum effort, I still don't want to be distracted so frequently from doing my best by my ankles revolting against me.