Where the Wild Things Are

I got an annual membership to the Kent State University Recreation Center for this year.

I know. Classic New Year’s move.

But I think it will be a sustainable part of my life and ministry throughout 2019.

I know. We’ll see…

So anyway: I went in to work out today, and I was surprised by how many students were around — even on the university’s winter break. The weight room was actually quite full. There were a number of (older) people swimming. And there were even a handful of students on the basketball courts.

When I went into the locker room. There were a couple of students who were carrying on like caricatures of fraternity guys. Their hats were on backwards. They were wearing cut off T-shirts, and talking about their chests and triceps. And they were speaking in accents that were almost Californian, dropping F-bombs every other word. I didn’t pay close attention to their “frat-boi” patter, as I got dressed for my exercise. But I thought they were kind of funny and interesting.

I was planning to get most of my exercise in the pool, but I thought I would start with putting up a few shots on the basketball courts to warm up. After about ten minutes of shooting around, however, a couple of other fraternity guys (not the ones from the locker room) asked if I wanted to play full-court basketball with them, so they could have a full five-on-five. I figured “Why not?” and trotted over to their court.

It took a while for us to get started, with everyone tying their shoes and putting up practice shots. As we prepared for the game, one of the guys started talking about his plans to go to “the Jack” in Cleveland that night.

His friend said, “I can’t play there, man. I went to Vegas for my 21st, and now all other gambling has been ruined for me.”

“Oh yeah,” his friend responded. “Vegas is pretty wild…” I couldn’t tell if he had ever actually been to Las Vegas, but he played it off as though he knew all about it. He didn’t mention anything further about “the Jack.”

“Pretty wild,” I thought, smiling to myself. I don’t get to experience life in the “wild” very often, at my stage in life. Now I’m not one to mourn that fact. But I recognize how insulated I can be from anyone who experiences any sort of thrill from those “wild” places.

Eventually, teams were formed, and we started playing. I was not an All-Star by any means, but I held my own. My team won the first four games. So suddenly my ten minutes of “quick warm-up cardio” had turned into over an hour of pounding up and down the court. My body groaned under the unfamiliar physical stresses, but I enjoyed the opportunity to mix it up with the students. And after a while, I got to know them better: Which high schools they went to… What they were studying at Kent State… Why they were around over winter break… What they did for Christmas… Nothing particularly deep or spiritual, but it was the beginning-of-relationship stuff.

When my team finally lost, I felt like I had gotten to know the other four guys on my team pretty decently. We exchanged handshakes and fist bumps as I left the court, and we said that maybe we would see each other some other time.

Of course, I only had the energy to swim about a dozen laps in the pool by the time I was finished with all that basketball, but as I swam I kept thinking about those guys from the basketball court. I don’t get many other opportunities to interact with students from fraternities. They are very busy people. They have their own very extensive, very involved social networks. They live in their own parts of town. They are almost invisible to me most of the time.

But not at the Rec Center.

God has been stirring my heart since that experience on the basketball courts. As a Collegiate missionary, I want to go “where the wild things are.” Even if it is just to remind myself that they are not all that wild. Even the “wildest” fraternity brothers and gym-rats are normal people, who struggle with insecurity, just like I do. They yell at themselves when they miss open shots, just like I do.

They need God’s love, just like I do.

So, I’m really hoping I can keep up some rhythms for spending time at the Rec Center. I feel like God has given me a broader vision for community and camaraderie this semester. So, I’m going to keep thinking about this and praying to see what will happen.

I know. Typical New Year’s optimism. We’ll see.

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