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Mama told me

We're closing in on a new school year. We're now on the latest of several thousand years of universities opening their doors and chaotically welcoming in a new batch of young people who are embarking on a whole new era of life.

Just now I was listening to Three Dog Night's 1970 version of "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)", and I realized that this is quite the anthem of what many students are going to experience as they venture into many areas of life they have not explored before. The confusion, the strangeness, the almost suffocating oddness of being in a whole new place where all kinds of strange things are going on all around you. Some will experience the lyrics of this song literally, others in a more general sense. These are Randy Newman's original lyrics to the song, which are just slightly different than Three Dog Night's:
Will you have whiskey with your water
Or sugar with your tea?
What are these crazy questions
That they're asking of me?
This is the wildest party that there ever could be
Oh, don't turn on the light cause I don't want to see
Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
Mama said, that ain't no way to have fun
Open up the window, let some air into this room
I think I'm almost choking on the smell of stale perfume
And that cigarette you're smoking bout to scare me half to death
Open up the window, let me catch my breath
The radio is blasting, someones beating on the door
Our hostess is not lasting - shes out on the floor
I seen so many things here I ain't never seen before
I don't know what it is - but I don't wanna see no more
Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
Mama said, that ain't no way to have fun

The most important exam that most students will face is how they will deal with these realities. Some will suck completely into the darkness around them, some will hide from them, some will be indifferent, and some will learn to function in a healthy way in the midst of them. This last one seems to be a lot of what Jesus was trying to teach people to do as they lived out their days in the world. This is also exactly what Jesus did - he went to the parties, he hung out with the revelers, he asked tax collectors to be his followers, he made friends with drunks. He of course never became any of these things himself, but he didn't seem to have a fear or disgust for them either. He just seemed to accept them as the realities of the world around them and worked as hard as he could to influence them as much as possible - not by avoiding them or condemning their lifestyles, but by creating legitimacy with them by accepting them as full-fledged people worthy of respect and relationship, regardless of his views of the way they lived. Jesus called Zacchaeus, most likely a thief, out of the tree and invited himself to a party at his house. As a result, this selfish tax collector gave up half his wealth to the poor, repaid everyone he had cheated, and dedicated himself to God. It happens. And not just in the Bible.

That's why I'm always excited about the experiences of a new school year, and driving around town and seeing dozens of pickups loaded with boxes and furniture and UHauls trying to find their place. In a week and half, all of that will be happening at the dorms as well. All new experiences await thousands and thousands of new students, and that's just here in Manhattan. I hope we can carry a little bit of that presence of Jesus into these crazy places where "mama told us not to come."


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Blogger Jessica - 9:46 AM

I can still remember what it was like to be a freshman in a place where I really didn't know anyone. Wow...it was so exciting and intense and scary and fun all at the same time. I wouldn't change a thing!

Sometimes people wish they could go back and let their freshman self know what's to come and to let them know things will be awesome. Not me...every emotion felt that first week was so raw and pure and amazing I wouldn't want to know. I wish I could go back and soak it all in again.

Good luck this week with your new and returning students. My heart is pounding for you!    



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