Lodged and Loving

This post is in response to a post by Laura Nile, who says that Seattle Pacific University is hiding its faith. It is a thoughtful post by a wonderful woman who is genuinely concerned with the affairs of her university. The following are musings on themes raised in her post.

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That SPU doesn’t talk about Jesus enough wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind until this summer, when, after a panel discussion for people previewing the school, a family shuffled over to me. The mother, who seemed flustered, introduced herself and said, “Thank you. We have been touring the school all day—going to presentations, talking with advisors—and you were the only person who has said anything about Jesus. When we visited [another Christian school in the state], they spoke about Jesus a lot. Does SPU even care about him?”

I was a bit flabbergasted. In response I reassured her that Jesus is very much at the core of what SPU does, even if we don’t say his name a lot at all events for prospective students. I think part of her disappointment as a previewing parent (which is, granted, different than a student) comes from trouble differentiating between the role of evangelism and preaching in the church and the role of recruitment in the university. Talking about your love for Jesus when discussing your faith with believers and nonbelievers alike is a good and necessary thing that we as Christians must do. It is different to talk about your love for Jesus in the context of an admissions event designed to convince prospective students that this school is the school you should attend (and send your money to) over that school. I think it is possible to do so tastefully, but you run the risk of muddling the goals of the two institutions. The goal, or function, of the church is to be the body of Christ—worshiping God and showing God’s love to the world. The primary goal of a university is to educate. A Christian university does this differently than other universities because it sees an individual’s education and vocation as parts of the larger mission of the Church.

In her post, Laura shares pictures of banners from SPU’s new “FROM THIS PLACE” campaign that tell of alumni who have gone on to end river blindness in Ecuador, launch Washington state’s first Asian giving circle, and engage the culture and change the world (the final of these being the school’s motto). Laura writes,

These are wonderful achievements from some talented and gifted alumni, but not one of them mentions a single thing about Christ. Not one of them even hints at our Christian identity. We will boast about non-profits, development work, social justice, and professional athletics, but Heaven forbid we boast about Jesus Christ.

Advertising and branding campaigns are intended to pique curiosity. As a university, SPU wants to showcase its graduates, hence the “FROM THIS PLACE” campaign. It is true that the banners from this campaign do not mention Christ, but the variety and nature of the jobs they describe (treating “veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” or playing pro soccer) suggest the sundry ways that someone motivated by a their Christian education would go forth into the world to serve their God. Not everyone is the same; people serve in different ways. The body has many parts. If the banners were to “boast about Jesus Christ,” I worry that the line between evangelism and recruitment would be too blurred, given that the purpose of the banners is indeed to advertise. What would such banners say? “We believe in Jesus Christ” or “Our students lead lives of Christian integrity” or “Christ has risen!”? There is something I don’t like about putting credal truths and other things about Christian living onto advertising banners. Let them know we are Christians by our mission statement, our magazines, our non-mandatory chapel services, the Bible verses engraved onto the stone of our buildings, and yes, our love.

Laura also raises the concern that our advertising runs the risk of being dishonest to non-Christians about what is most important to us—our Christian identity. She writes,

Sadly, the false advertisement is hurting the non-Christian students who we attracted, who feel tricked into coming to a Christian school.

Another mother approached me after that panel last summer, along with her daughter. During the panel earlier she had asked questions pertaining to SPU’s faith. When she spoke to me afterwards I learned that she was curious because she and her daughter are liberal Jews, wary of SPU’s Christian class requirements. They didn’t need a banner to tell them SPU cares about Jesus. The mother was concerned that because her daughter had a different faith that she would feel alienated here. “She’s bright and she doesn’t let other people say things that they believe without questioning them to see if they’ve actually thought things over.” I told her that SPU’s faculty does not let their students’ beliefs go unchallenged. Many students struggle with ideas like creation or the possibility that some of their beliefs were formed through careless eisegesis. I told her about how the community supported me so amazingly—students and faculty alike—when I came out a year ago. I also told her that being different is both hard, when you feel like no one understands you, and good, when you are able to engage in tough conversations about those differences. By the end of our twenty minute talk the mother and I pretty much agreed that we’d be best friends if things were different, and in retrospect, I don’t think I had to ignore Jesus at all.

Putting the banner issue aside, I really appreciate Laura’s post. While my experience has been a bit different than hers, I think, (or perhaps we just have different expectations), I admire the courage she has to critique something that she loves. Many people are quite willing and eager to point out the flaws in things they dislike (ex: “NASCAR—it’s just driving in circles, amirite?”), but it is more difficult to give a thoughtful critique of something dear to you. Compassionate criticism is necessary in the Church. It calls us to ask ourselves questions like “Why are we here?” and “Why do we do what we do?”—questions whose answers reveal what lies at our core. And, like Laura, it is my prayer that SPU continues to remain firmly lodged in Jesus. I also pray that SPU does this without forgetting that to be in Christ is to “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2, emphasis mine).

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settle down

“After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.”

I found the above sentence earlier today when I opened my laptop. Chrome had kindly saved the tabs that were open before I closed it last, including the one in which I now type. “After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.” There it is, a reminder of my inability to sit down and write without being distracted by the internet or sleep. It’s also a reminder that 48 hours ago I was able to pause for prayer and  introspection during what I am realizing will be the most frantic summer of my life.

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Something that I have tried to do recently is to be aware of the presence of God. People go about this in different ways, but for me I think I need routine. I am generally able to stay on top of Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours, which consists of different prayers and Scripture readings for each part of the day, but I’m not the best at keeping up with my church’s Bible reading plan. I’ve also begun to carry around Anglican prayer beads in my pocket. My mother bought me a set four years ago. After a few months of fervent devotion they fell cold from my hands. Since then, they have been one of those small things that I pack to take with me whenever I fly back and forth between Seattle and Grand Rapids but never actually use. Now when I’m walking around campus I’ll do a lap on the beads if I remember.

Perhaps the simplest thing I’ve begun to do is to keep a candle lit in my bedroom—a small, white, tea candle. I remember going to mass at my Roman Catholic elementary school in New Hampshire and seeing the little candle dangling in red glass next to the tabernacle. It is kept lit to honor Christ and to remind people of his presence. At the end of freshman year someone gave me a box filled completely with tea candles, so I have enough presence to last me at least until the end of the summer. It is a good practice for me because once it is lit, I don’t need to remember to do anything, I just see it and the little postcard next to it of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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Back to the most frantic summer of my life. I’m working full time for my school and interning with Image Journal. Continue reading

the end of a sophomore year

A collection of images from the last week of my sophomore year at SPU. All of these were edited with the recently updated VSCOcam app—perhaps the best photo editing app there is (that I have seen).

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The study of Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison, the wonderful woman whom I have had the opportunity to work for this year.

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Kitten.

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Grace and Kitten.

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The sunset as seen from the Ballard bridge.

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Maddie and myself, passed out from the intense wonder of Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee.

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Myself, in a nest of thriftables, fresh from the dorms. My last day with the beautiful people of Hill Hall.

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Lazaro, my new and good friend from Southern California. He now blogs at whosaidthiswasokay.wordpress.com/

holy rollers for love

Ask anyone on campus how they are doing and the response will inevitably involve something to do about death, hell, or research papers. It is the week before finals at SPU. Third quarter finals—the final finals. I have certainly been feeling the Pull these past couple of weeks. The Pull is the raw gravitational force that constantly tugs at the corners of your mind saying Go to bed. Just go to bed! Wake up in a week. Finals will be done and it will be summer. Oh it will be summer! But the Pull is a lie. Last night I got a solid seven and a half hours of sleep and still I awoke feeling as if God, going for the extra point after a touchdown, had kicked me intending to fly me victoriously through the goal posts but in fact sending me on a beautiful arc ending in the unforgiving track that surrounds the football field. The crowd stops cheering and sits down knowing that their team will lose because of that one lost point.

Tonight I went to a coffee shop that closes at 1:00 am in Capital Hill with some friends to finish off an assignment due tomorrow. Due to the craziness of the day and the week—read the chapters, write the reflection, map out your fourteen-page paper on the Brothers Karamazov that’s due in less than a week, get to a Post Office to drop off the form that was due a week ago, rush back to speak at an admissions panel, go to the Hall council meeting, and try to polish off the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto—I was bordering on an embarrassing meltdown while attempting to read about China’s economic turnaround in the late 20th century.

I unfairly hoped that someone would interrupt me.

Continue reading

khakis and a cell phone holster

I received a package in the mail today from my father. Still in the mailroom, I cut the cardboard box open. After lifting the top flaps, the first thing I saw in it was a new iPhone case. Without investigating further I closed the box and headed back to my dorm room to finish opening it. I always open my packages in my room. I’m not sure why. It is probably a combination of the fear of losing the package’s contents, the desire to cultivate patience and build suspense, habit, and some sort of animal instinct. Find the antelope. Kill the antelope. Drag the bleeding antelope back to the den. Eat the antelope.

For the record, I’m not sure if animals of prey drag their meals back to the den before dining on them. It has been a long time since elementary school.

When I got back to my room I opened the box again and pulled out the cell phone case. Beneath it was hiding a plastic mailing envelope with a grey pair of khaki pants I knew my dad was planning on buying for me. Rolled up in the pants were two books. One is on Christian living; the other is a discussion on matters of belief and disbelief between a well-educated Christian and a well-educated exChristian atheist. After flipping through them, I put them on my shelf, put on the pants, removed the pants’ tags, and opened the cell phone case. At first glance I thought for sure I was getting an OtterBox, but I was relieved to find something less chunky. It is almost as protective as an OtterBox but it doesn’t have the “Your iPhone is Now a Brick” feature. It is black and it comes with a holster. I shouldn’t assume that sending it to me was my dad’s idea—my mom could’ve done it—but given the other contents of the box and my dad’s practical obsession with protective cases, I’ll go ahead and assume. Continue reading

the end of a silence

I was wondering when the appropriate time to write this blog would come, and with the recent death of Jadin Bell, I’ve decided it is time enough.

the preface

For several years I have kept a journal, and that practice eventually gave birth to this blog. From the start, it has been my desire to openly discuss the trials and joys of my life, finding beauty in the ashes, strength in the fear, and clarity in the confusion. My purpose in doing so is to encourage you who also live with ashes, fear, and confusion. It has been a process of exposing, healing, and ultimately seeing God redeem the irredeemable. I pray frequently that through sharing my story, others—all one hundred of you who will read this—will also be emboldened to open up and feel the freedom I have experienced and the grace I have been shown by my friends, family, and God.

the kicker

I am gay. I do not “struggle” with homosexuality, but that has not always been the case.

the life story

For a general framework of my life, see this post, written before I went to college my freshman year.

a. childhood

I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. My mum is a pastor and my dad is an editor of theology books used in higher Christian academics—early Christianity, mainly. I have an older sister, two years and a half my senior. She began ballet dancing at five or six and has never stopped. That same year my parents put a violin in my hands and I have never stopped playing.

Continue reading

naming (goat)

This is the second of two posts about my nickname Spacebags Goat. This one focuses on Goat.

One day close to the end of fall quarter, one of my new freshman friends-someone who has taught me the meaning of “whimsy”-ambled up to me and said, “You are Goat.” That’s really the whole story.