Staying in this part of Nashville means that Methodism secretly surrounds you. To the north of my room here at the Scarritt-Bennet Center is the center of finance for the United Methodist Church—the General Council on Finance and Administration. Across the street to the west—all the Discipleship programs have their central command, as does the support for Higher Education and Ministry. There also is the Upper Room with their famous Last Supper carving. The biggest of all these is where I am staying, the Scarritt-Bennet Center. I won’t tell you all it’s history—it looks like a Medieval English boarding school—its architecture lending to its original educational purposes. Who knows the servants that prepared for ministry that lived in this little dorm room I’m staying in!
All of this, however, lies in the large shadow of Vanderbilt University. Founded by a Methodist bishop, and aligned with the Methodist church till the early 1900s, it still has a seminary, but is simply a large and prestigious research university that looms even larger than its 330 acre campus would indicate. Into this milieu walks this simple Methodist preacher from Boca Raton.
The place is beautiful. Lots of trees and old buildings (many filled with antiques) line the quad of the school, and many of its streets. Walking towards the west end of campus, a ‘fer piece’ away, I saw a large tower. It looked like a church steeple only bigger. In Chicago and in Oklahoma City I have seen churches built into towers, so I wondered if this was one of them. As I got closer, porticos and walkways gave the feel of an old English city street. Looking at the corner sign, which simply said “Vanderbilt University” I figured this must have been the original building of VU. Really, I thought that to myself. After all, I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate, and this was at that scale and appeared from the same vintage.
Content to stand in amazement no more, I stopped a young man and asked him what this place was. He said it was the newest dorm on campus. “What?” I asked with an incredulous chuckle. “Yeah. Finished last December. We are the first residents.” I shook my head in disbelief at how wrong my call was. “Look, the twin building is still under construction” he said before walking off.
Wow! How does the old saying go? “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” The oldest looking building was in fact the newest. Blew my mind! And let me tell you, they are going to hate, hate, the maintenance costs on those buildings in the decades to come. A dream to look at today, a nightmare for tomorrow. (That’s something I’m learning about in the facilities discussions this week). And completely irrelevant to where I’m headed.
God sent the amazing prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel. He told him to find one of Jesse’s sons. Great choice, but God kept saying no. God said – “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
If I had looked at the inside of the building, I would have seen the modern accoutrements and design. I would have seen the green (eco-friendly) touches. I would have talked to a kid in the dorm and found out more. Samuel hadn’t looked on the inside of Jesse’s sons. Just the outside. And God had to correct that.
I think we should do the same with everybody we meet, not assuming anything till we visit with them, get to know them, and them us. The sociologists call this “proximity.” When we get closer to people, we get to know them, and our attitude changes towards them. Maybe it’s your next-door neighbor – our physical proximity doesn’t always mean social proximity! Maybe it’s somebody an aisle over in church. Say hi to them. You never know who they might turn out to be!
Saying hi to folks,
Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. John 7:24 (NLT)