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A Concern about Potter’s Clay

March 11, 2011

I have no desire to undermine the intentions and ministry of Potter’s Clay, especially as they’re leaving today to do ministry in Ensenada. I will be praying that their time there will be edifying and constructive and that they will be kept safe in their time there. However, and I’m sure this has been asked before, have we really thought through the wisdom of having hundreds of Christians descend year after year to the same location and providing services without a clear objective or end goal? Westmont has been going on for over 40 years, but it’s not just us– tons of churches in the United States go there regularly as well.  When so many of us go down to spend a week doing rapid construction jobs and playing soccer with the kids, are we really helping the locals create a sustainable economy, or is this more about us?

Again, I’ve never been on Potter’s Clay and I don’t want to undermine the huge amount of work that students have put into planning such a massive trip.  I’ve heard many testimonies from people who’ve went and have had their lives changed by the experience.  I also have a lot of respect for the the relationship we’ve been able to build with Ensenada with our consistency and loyalty.  However, I hope that people have really researched this and are able to objectively evaluate what’s best for the locals of Ensenada, and that we really have a goal and aren’t just continuing tradition for tradition’s sake.

Currently:
… overwhelmed by the footage of the devastation caused by the earthquake/tsunami in Japan

A Response to LGBT Week, Day 1

March 8, 2011
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I wanted to reflect a little bit about  Trempor Longman’s message today and the Question and Answer session that was held later in the Page MPR in the evening on the topic of LGBT issues.  Dr. Longman was asked to talk about the Biblical vision of sexuality, particularly as it pertains to the LGBT issue in light of recent events.  In the course of his message he argued that the Bible is clear and unambiguous in labeling homosexuality as a sin.

At the question and answer session, he had an opportunity to address a few theological issues, but it soon turned into an emotional appeal for understanding between LGBT and straight members of our community.  There are a couple things I want to say about the whole thing.

I think that tonight showed very clearly that there are LGBT as well as straight people who are incredibly eager to address the deep hurt, isolation, and pain felt by LGBT members of Westmont.  I am one of them.  My heart is deeply conflicted over the issue, and I want to grow in my ability to empathize and love LGBT members of our community.  As several LGBT members of the community spoke tonight, I could sense the depth of emotional trauma they have endured in trying to discover how to live as LGBT Christians.  I know how important sexuality is to my own identity as a human being and as a person of faith, and I can only imagine the depth of suffering these people have felt as a result of their sexual identity.  We need to learn how to love and support each other and discourage the prevalence of ignorance and hostile prejudice that pervade the church and our community at Westmont.

That being said, Dr. Longman (and by extension, those who planned this LGBT awareness week) received a lot of criticism for starting with the theological question “Where does Scripture stand on sexuality?”  I think that beginning with Scripture seemed callous and insensitive to a lot of people.  I have sympathy for that criticism, but in Longman’s defense I think that if we are to have a discussion about sexuality as a body of Christians, we have to ask ourselves “Where does Scripture stand?”  Dr. Hoeckley remarked that the letter from LGBT alumni didn’t endorse changing Westmont’s Community Life Statement, which gave the impression that theology is not the issue (or at least not an important one); the issue is how we can love each other despite our differences.  However, hearing from the LGBT members from our community, it seems clear that there actually is theological uncertainty among students on this issue.  Every LGBT member who went to the microphone “respectfully disagreed” with Dr. Longman, which suggests to me that there really is a lot of confusion about what the Bible says about sexuality.  This is why I believe that addressing that very question is crucial.

Since this was the only night dedicated to the discussion of Scripture, I was disappointed.  Longman made a strong claim– that Scripture is entirely clear and consistent in its condemnation of homosexuality.  The only real response was “well, you have your interpretation, I have mine”, which I found very dissatisfying.  I think Longman’s right, but I’d be thoroughly relieved to see a convincing argument otherwise.  I fully expect that when I leave Westmont, stating confidently that I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin in any but the most conservative and traditional circles is going to make me unpopular (just look at the way the press has responded to the situation at Westmont).  I don’t want to be labeled or persecuted any more than they do, and so I was deeply disappointed that the opportunity to explore cogent alternative views was dismissed.  I know it’s not fair to criticize the LGBT students for this– we can’t expect college students to have the confidence and knowledge to critique a distinguished biblical scholar, and it’s perfectly understandable that the deep desire for LGBT struggles to be acknowledged would make them impatient with an intellectual study of Scripture.  Even so, considering all the rhetoric about the importance of dialogue, it was disappointing to me that the discussion of Scripture was met with such aggressive resistance.

As I was walking down from the Page MPR, I happened to walk behind a group of students loudly quoting crude gay jokes from a recent film, and finding sick pleasure in how “inappropriate” they were.  It was a poignant affirmation that we need to have this discussion.  Prejudice and ignorance is very real on this campus and needs to be addressed.  I was very pleased that there was a sincere, genuine connection at the conclusion of the evening, and I hope it’s only a taste of more to come later this week.  However, I also really hope that we will find a way to have an honest discussion of Scripture.  If Scripture is not allowed to have a voice, I worry that whatever gains we make will be hollow and superficial.

What I Might Say If We Bumped Into Each Other

March 5, 2011

This post is meant to be just a quick breaking of the silence on this blog.  I haven’t blogged much this year, which may not be a bad thing.  This sort of public writing often feels like the declaration of a position, and even in these last few months at Westmont my thinking is deepening and shifting and maturing rapidly.  Anything opinions I publish today I’m liable to disagree with in a matter of days.  I’m happy to keep my mouth shut for a while until this process slows.

Being an RA has been challenging.  I’m fortunate to have been given a fantastic group of men, but the responsibility and expectations of the job as well as the isolation of the position has forced me to confront myself and my own inadequacies and insecurities more intensely than I have up to this stage in my life.  I feel I have grown as a person as a result.

At the beginning of the year, I got the idea to produce a film festival for Westmont students.  The process has been exciting and has given me opportunities to develop a different set of leadership skills.  Over the four years I’ve been at Westmont I’ve been consistently impressed with the creativity of Westmont students, and I’m excited about the fresh new ways that creativity and spirit will manifest in this medium.

The prospect of graduating in two months has been more bitter than sweet for me.  It seems every day I spend here I’m struck anew by the beauty of this campus and the high caliber of men and women I have had the fortune to live life with these past four years.  I have been richly blessed.

Currently
… enjoying being a musician
… embarrassed.  I was at a barbecue in line for a hot dog and exclaimed “Wow, that grill is hot!”  Apparently I didn’t articulate the word “grill” well and got some awkward stares.
… thinking about sexuality and faith in light of recent events
… listening to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Seek First the Kingdom

November 15, 2010

Richard Foster–>Kierkegaard–>Matthew 6:33.

“Simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom.  In a particularly penetrating comment on this passage of Scripture, Søren Kierkegaard considers what sort of effect could be made to pursue the kingdom of God.  Should a person get a suitable job in order to exert a virtuous influence?  His answer: no, we must first seek God’s kingdom.  Well, then perhaps we are to go out and preach this truth to the world that people are to seek first God’s kingdom?  Once again the answer is a resounding: no, we are first to seek the kingdom of God.  Kierkegaard concludes, “Then, in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do.  Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom.”

Currently:
… appreciating Telford Work’s address in chapel on the topic of pornography
… watching Thank You for Smoking
… reading The Bear by William Faulkner and The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
… listening to Feedback by Derek Webb and Moving On by Michael Giacchino

Supporting our Leaders

October 14, 2010

It’s easy to be unkind those in authority because we hold those in authority to a high standard.  People in authority have to prove that they are worthy of that power, and we are quick to judge those that don’t seem to deserve it.  None of the RAs I’ve ever had have succeeded in meeting my standard.  The problem is that as an RA myself now I’m starting to discover, neither do I.

I could solve this problem by lowering my standards.  After all, I’m really busy, and the people who are doing more than me have an unfair advantage.  They don’t have as much homework as I do and they have the instantly approachable and social RA personality.  It seems that this is the option our culture tends to take toward personal morality.  We are the baseline for acceptable morality.  People who expect more from us are “preachy” and “judgmental” (but of course, anything that doesn’t meet our standard is unacceptable).

But this isn’t the Christian way.  God doesn’t relax his standards.  We are to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11:45).  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)  We simply do not have the option of lowering the bar.

It seems that the Christian way is not to lower the standards, but to extend grace.  Yes the standards are high, so high in fact that nobody could possibly attain it.  The standard is nothing short of perfection; perfect reverence, perfect obedience, perfect love; and God’s not willing to simply relax it.  But he forgives.  He offers grace.  He offers compassion and understanding.  And he offers companionship.

This is how we must learn to treat each other, especially our leaders whom we tend to have uncommonly high expectations for.  Of course, some leaders simply aren’t a good match for the job and should be replaced, but a lot of leaders just need support and encouragement to grow into their authority.  And this is how we need to learn to treat ourselves as well.  We don’t relax our standards, but we give ourselves grace within them.  When we fail, we repent, we forgive ourselves, and we try again (a little bit differently this time).  We learn to stand not on our achievements but on grace.  We allow our failures to open up in us a capacity for humility and compassion, and we build a community around that.  Eventually pride and rejection give way to love and acceptance.  This is the Christian way.

Currently:
… reading Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  Great introduction to spiritual disciplines
… watching The Social Network.  Brilliant film.
… watching South Park (it’s a Jersey thing…)
… listening to Rehab by Lecrae (and possibly rapping along to it in my room…)
… reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
… reading On Thinking the Human by Robert Jensen and Original Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs
… driving MY car!

Something New

August 10, 2010

Tonight is the last night of summer vacation.  Tomorrow I return to Westmont and begin RA training (and my senior year).  Some things I’m thankful for:

  • Living in Santa Barbara with 7 of the most upstanding guys I know.  Their love for God and their passion for his kingdom was infectious.
  • Being introduced to the Uffizi Mission Project in the West Side.  This is a very unique and powerful ministry that has expanded my vision of the Kingdom of God and the concept of shalom.
  • Dating a girl whose quiet strength, soft heart, and passion for life continues to inspire and encourage me
  • Guinevere, who condescended to allow us to stay in her(his) apartment
  • Continuing to discover new things about my family that increase my appreciation for their richness and depth, and that remind me of the importance of pursing a vision of love and family based not on selfish individualism but on commitment, love, and hard work.
  • God, the father of lights and giver of all good things

Please be praying for me in the next few weeks.  I look forward to seeing you all back on campus.

Currently:
… reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
… eating Iowa sweet corn.  Nothing like it.

Straining a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel

July 15, 2010

Tonight I came across Jesus’ powerful and harsh sermon against the hypocritical scribes and pharisees in Matthew 23.  It reinforces my somewhat bleak self-assessment that if I had met Jesus in real life, I probably wouldn’t have liked him.  Early in the message he tells us “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven”.  Huh?  Really?  And then there’s just his tendency to lump the scribes and pharisees into one big group.  I personally would be careful to qualify that not all pharisees and scribes are hypocritical, but Jesus doesn’t bother.  Perhaps some of you can help me!  It really bothers me that sometimes I think to myself “what on earth is Jesus smoking?”

However, despite these things that rub me the wrong way, each of the seven woes to the scribes and pharisees that Jesus lays out convict me deeply.  One in particular really jumped out at me as an articulation of a lot of what I find frustrating with elements both of my home church of CCAC and of Westmont.  It’s a bit intimidating to try to articulate these thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for about three years now, but I’m going to give it a shot.

This is what Jesus says:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matt 23:23-24 ESV)

First, CCAC

I am immensely grateful for CCAC.  I think the church is led and influenced by genuine, responsible, and godly people.  These men include my dad (if I’m allowed to call him that), who I can easily say even after three years of college is still my most trusted thinker, guide, mentor, and friend.  I believe with all my heart that CCAC has its heart in the right place.  They have a deep passion for accurate, clear, and rich doctrine, and for the rigorous pursuit of sanctification.  I am incredibly indebted to CCAC and the people who shaped me there for the sturdy theological framework which I have maintained at Westmont, even if my understanding has broadened and developed in many ways.  I do not in any way believe that CCACers are inauthentic or hypocritical.

But my problem with CCAC is its neglect of the “weightier matters of the law”, especially among the youth program.  At the moment, the typical college student will listen to a sermon on Thursday night (perhaps two if the small group leader isn’t any good), a sermon given to the congregation on Sunday morning, and then a sermon given in Sunday School.  They then go to various conferences where they may hear 10 hours of preaching in a single weekend.  Our college students are being fed rich food, but are given few opportunities to burn off those calories.  I see preaching as CCAC’s version of tithing.  As far as I know, there is currently no regular time of prayer and confession, and very little movement toward bringing shalom to the San Fernando Valley.  I believe that CCACers in general lack a strong vision of the church and Christian community, and lack a strong vision for how God’s justice and peace can be realized in the local context.  CCAC likes to emphasize that “we never move on from the gospel”, and this is true, but I remember even before coming to Westmont taking a walk with my dad and telling him that I felt like there had to be something more, like we were missing something if we spent all our time talking about the gospel.  I think that what it was missing was the gospel really lived out in community.  Having been in an institution that forced me to think hard about Christian community and the church for three years, and then spending a summer working on initiatives in the West Side of Santa Barbara designed both to spread the gospel and to bring deep reconciliation and restoration and to cry out to God that his will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, has made me very passionate about this topic.

CCAC, I would like to see you take ownership of the community.  You are planted on Roscoe Blvd. between Reseda and Wilbur for a reason.  You are in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, a place seething with desperation and loneliness.  Learn something about your context.  Learn something about Latino culture.  Go find out where the kids hang out when they’re not at school.  Find out how you can partner with initiatives already springing up.  Learn something about economics and power structures and systemic inequality.  Learn something about postmodernism (it’s not the plague, I swear!)  Try to focus on incarnating the gospel in your relationships (you’d be amazed at how much more likely people are to listen to you after you’ve put some effort into getting to know them!) Think about how you can use your talents and your resources to contribute.  Get out of the pews and take some initiative.  Recognize that the church is made up of many parts, not just the pastor/teacher.

Second, Westmont

Note that Jesus says “[you] have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  I emphasized “without neglecting the others” because I think that in seeking “the weightier matters of the law”, Westmont students have a major tendency to throw other essentials out the window.  This manifests itself in many ways.  There’s a general disdain for “evangelical” culture, though I believe very few Westmont students have any knowledge of the history and context of the term “evangelical”.  I see a lot of disdain for conservative Christians, which I think is dangerous.  Westmont students tend to be appalled at churches that believe that the earth was created in seven literal days and that women should not be pastors, without acknowledging that such “backwards” Christians have the weight of pretty solid exegesis and centuries of tradition.  I personally lean toward a more liberal view of both those issues, but I think that many students’ quick dismissal of them points to a lack of knowledge of and respect for the authority of Scripture.  Westmont students are too often more products of the culture rather than rigorous and honest students of Scripture.

I also get the sense that there is a large population at Westmont who could not accurately articulate the gospel itself.  I think that Westmont tends to assume a basic knowledge of the gospel in students, with the result that often the core of the message gets forgotten.  The cross is talked about at Lent and Easter, and not much more often than that.  GE religious studies courses and the books assigned in them also tend to be focused on already established Christians, and sometimes I get the sense that the professors and authors derive prideful glee in challenging what students grew up thinking in church.  It seems that there is a general attitude among students of distrust of doctrine as a stale and irrelevant intellectual exercise.

Westmont, don’t lose sight of the basics.  Read your Bible and pray.  These are the two most crucial elements to spiritual growth, and so often neglected in your community.  Fight the laziness and apathy that keep you from pursuing spiritual disciplines.  And don’t fear doctrine!  It is my strong conviction that the richer your doctrine, the more wonderful and breathtaking God becomes.  And learn to articulate the gospel.  Preaching the gospel with words is ALWAYS necessary.  Evangelism is necessary.  Affirming the authority of Scripture is necessary.  Understanding sin and hell and what’s at stake is necessary.  Discerning and fighting false teaching within the church is necessary.  Being motivated by Christ’s return is necessary.  If you lose sight of the basics, you lose everything, no matter how good your intentions are.

Currently:
… watching The Road.  Very, very bleak.
… cooking Jambalaya.  I bought ten bulbs of garlic because I didn’t understand what the recipe meant when it called for ten cloves.  So much garlic…
… trying very hard to not piss off Pepe
… visiting the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.
… making an appearance at the West Side Young Life club as Zoodander
… spamming lots and lots of mom blogs for work.  My current favorite blog names are At Your Cervix, OB/GYN Kenobi, 10 Centimeters and Beyond, and the breastfeeding advocacy blog The Lactivist