the first lady and locating barbecue

Yesterday’s post had Barack; today’s features Michelle.

I don’t know if you saw the surprising (and funny) little flap last week after the First Lady announced that Charlotte would host the 2012 Democratic Convention. But the mini-hubbub has something to remind us college ministers.

In her email announcement touting the choice, Obama wrote,

Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an “up by the bootstraps” mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South. Vibrant, diverse, and full of opportunity, the Queen City is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds. And of course, great barbecue.

The funny thing is, the residents of Charlotte apparently want us all to know that is not – I repeat, is not – known for its barbecue.

As Politico reports, everybody from the editors of the Charlotte Observer to a retired UNC professor weighed in to make it clear that the First Lady’s compliment wasn’t accurate. Which, of course, seems a little funny. But those North Carolinans are proud of their barbecue… and apparently that pride includes clarifying where to find the best of it.

I certainly wouldn’t have had any idea that Charlotte didn’t have great barbecue. The First Lady (or her email-writers) made the same mistake I could have, extrapolating from what they know about the state of North Carolina and (wrongly) applying it to Charlotte.

We do the same thing in campus ministry, believe it or not. We extrapolate from what we’ve seen to what we haven’t, assuming things like

  • What worked in college ministry at my alma mater or former campus will work here
  • Every chapter of that campus ministry organization is like the chapter here
  • My years of experience in one setting means I know what campus ministry is like everywhere
  • This campus will benefit from our version of college ministry just because it’s working over there
  • It’s not incredibly important to spend real time exegeting my context before ministering

Whether you serve at the local level, regional level, or national level, how well have you gotten to know the campuses you serve? Are we assigning “great barbecue” where it doesn’t fit?


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  1. Rick Jenkins

    I agree with your insight. The crazy thing is, is that Charlotte is known for it’s BBQ, but for some reason the story has taken this strange twist. Every year they have the Hog Jog, which is a great 5K in the middle of an incredible BBQ weekend on the streets.

    The truth that I picked up from the story is that sometimes PR is stronger than truth. I like Politico, but sometimes they put their own spin on non-stories.
    There are some student events that we don’t know all of the story. I’ve been involved in events, where the hype was bigger than the event and I’ve seen where great things happened, but ney sayers downplayed the great things that did happen. They have their own “cold water” agenda. I’m afraid that a lot of that happens concerning some great grass roots campus ministries as opposed to mega-conferences.

    God bless, keep the great campus work and go to Charlotte for the Hog Jog this year!

  2. That’s a good application, for sure – sometimes the “extrapolations” are a little closer to home, when we don’t really know what’s happening elsewhere on campus – and we simply rely on one or two students or a few experiences over a year to give us the complete picture.

    Thanks, Rick.

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