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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I’m at Oxford

Since starting this blog, I have generally tried to keep its contents different than what you might find in my journal. My journal mostly contains descriptions of what I do in a particular day in addition to anything that is particularly wearing on my mind. I try to only blog about something if I think that others will either find it interesting, helpful, or well-crafted. The more mundane things go on my Facebook.

But now I am studying in Oxford, with less access to Facebook and less desire to access Facebook. Instead, I will put up a new blog post now and then to keep those I promised I would keep informed informed.

After a looooooong summer of work I packed up everything in the flat I shared with two coworkers over the summer. Looking ahead, when I go back to Seattle in January I will not be living in the same place, so in addition to Oxford packing I had moving packing to do. I had to leave 6:30 am the next morning to catch my flight. As all of my possessions (including my burgeoning library) were being fit together into boxes like the dullest of all 3d block puzzles that someone inevitably gives you for Christmas, I began to lose it. Maddie and Meredith, two of my favorite ladies (and each wonderful poets), held me together until 1:00 am, when the packing was finished. We crammed my luggage into Maddie’s car and drove to Beth’s Diner for a late night breakfast.

Nothing revives like Beth’s.

I got three hours of sleep that night and one hour the next night on my flight to Heathrow from JFK (having flown there from Seattle). I landed in London at 7:30 am, cleared immigration, and hopped aboard an Oxford-bound bus with several other people I recognized from Facebook. I am here with Best Semester’s Scholars’ Semester in Oxford (SSO). I’m a scholar now, Ma.

Myself and two new friends checked in to Wycliffe Hall, our home for the next few months, before finding a pub to eat, drink, and be as merry as one may be after two and a half days with four hours of sleep. Over the past few days, other students and I have journeyed numerous times into the heart of Oxford for books, groceries, tours, and meals. Those trips occur when we weren’t in some sort of orientation for the programme.

We will soon be falling into a regular schedule of classes. Until the Oxford term starts in about five weeks, we will be taking a class called British Landscapes. It is basically an English history and culture class, from what I understand. It may be taken with specific focuses on various disciplines. We will also begin the Seminar class on a discipline of our choosing that. We will meet with a professor once a week as a group until Oxford term starts. After that, we will attend 16 lectures and write a research paper on a topic of our choosing within the selected discipline. For both the Seminar and British Landscape class I chose Art History. A better understanding of art will enrich my understanding of history and increase the areas I can write about. Plus, it gives me an excuse to go to all of the wonderful museums here.

When the Oxford Michelmas term starts, I will be diving into Shakespeare with my primary tutorial. It’s nice because I have one book for that class: William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ha. I won’t read all of it, but I’ll make a good dent. My secondary tutorial will be on Modern Literature. For the purpose of this class, ‘modern’ means 20th century. The authors I’ll read are Waugh, Woolf, Elliot, and Plath.

There it is, a basic summary of my time at Oxford so far. And now, off to bed.

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.

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naming (spacebags)

My freshman friends call me Spacebags Goat. Spacebags comes from something I posted on their class’ Facebook page last summer. These pages are where you can ask the important questions like “Who else likes taking picture?!??” and “Does it get cold in Seattle? That’s what I’ve heard :(” and “Am I the only one who LOVES country music here?” These questions bring people together around common interests (photography), common conversation topics (the weather, and Seattle’s lack thereof), and uncommon interests (country music). These questions also give returning students who really don’t belong on the page at all the chance to adopt the role of the mother/father/older sibling who has all of the answers. The sophomores—and some juniors—try to hype the freshman up for their first year away from home. I am the king of this. After months of not-school I was salivating for social interaction. The literal “natural thing to do” would have been to avoid Facebook like undercooked cafeteria meat and instead bloom where I was planted, whatever that means. Instead, I opted for the figuratively speaking “natural thing to do,” which was to join the incoming class’ Facebook group and snort up the their questions like an addict.

Wise sophomore me was eager to pass along his knowledge of adjusting to college life. This peaked in a video that I posted on the page. I was in the midst of packing for Seattle, so I made a video about packing. More specifically, I made a video about a very convenient tool that has simplified my packing life, allowing me to say goodbye to the frustration and anxiety that comes along with it. Let me introduce you to a close personal friend of mine: the Space Bag. Imagine a ziploc bag, but big enough to put a torso in—or seven bulky sweaters. You then suck the air out of it with a vacuum cleaner hose, and ta dah! you can fit everything you need to take with you into your luggage without a hassle. Obviously, I’m quite passionate about the Space Bag. I wanted to impart my secret to a new generation of SPUers, so I made them a 10 minute tutorial on how to properly use Space Bags. If any of them were weirded out by the sophomore obsessed with an As Seen on TV product, they had the decorum to keep on scrolling without saying so.

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old white men

The first full week of the second quarter of my sophomore year of college is over. And, as it often happens at school, I have gone the week without a post here. Here are a couple of fragments about two strangers I’ve seen in the last week or so.

The first one is something I posted on Facebook while flying back to Seattle a week and a half ago:

There is a bearded old man sitting across the aisle from me in the airplane. So far, he has written a couple stanzas of poetry, the first line of which ended with “solitude,” and ordered the cheese, crackers, and fruit box—he fumbled with the crackers’ wrapper for a solid minute. Now he is on ebay looking through hundreds of antique Persian rugs. When I started writing this status, my intent was to say, “Well isn’t he weird,” but I’ve just realized I might be intruding on the privacy of my future self.

At several times during the flight I felt the strong urge to strike up a conversation with him. I waited for the right moment. Asking a stranger about his solitude poetry seemed inappropriate, but asking to see if he wanted help opening his crackers after watching him struggle for a while might have been a nice gesture. Or, I suppose, it could have made him feel pathetic. After an hour of his persian rug browsing, I considered tapping his shoulder to tell him “I like the pattern on that one” but I didn’t want to make him feel obligated to buy a rug he wasn’t all that interested in. They were at least $150 each, so it would have been an investment.

I didn’t talk to him.

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credo

At Quest today, Pastor Eugene asked, “Do people know who you are?” After this he asked why Christians are silent about their faith. While I don’t like shoving things down people’s throats, I guess I would like people to know what I believe.
Last week I turned in a paper for a class (shoutout to Keuss and muh UScholerz). The paper was about the history of my spiritual life—six pages, single spaced. The last page was my personal creed, or what I claim to believe. While it is probably missing a lot, it does say what I believe. Here it is, slightly revised:

I believe in one triune God: the Father/Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
I believe that God became flesh and experienced human life, but remained completely divine.
I believe that Jesus defeated sin and death through resurrection after crucifixion.
I believe that there will be a day of judgment for each of us, but I also believe that on that day we will be astounded by the infinite grace and love of our Father.
I believe in hell, but I have no clue who ends up there or how they get there.
I believe in heaven, but I don’t understand how it is both present and yet to come.
I believe that Jesus can save those who don’t know him by name.
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lions and vomit and crows, oh my

Earlier today I was walking from my survey of music literature class to the office building of my faculty advisor when I realized that I was the only student in that part of campus. But I was not alone. I was surrounded by figures shrouded in black from head to toe. It was the closest I’ve ever come to running into the mafia. It wasn’t the Italian mafia, Chinese, Swedish, or 3-6. It was a large group of crows—what has been eerily labeled a “murder.” All black, hateful stares, forced nonchalant demeanors, sharp memories, and when you get a group of them together you’re going to have a murder… mafia.

I’ve also heard that a group of lions is called a pride. When I hear “the pride of lions” I think that the lions must especially pleased with themselves for some reason. Or maybe one of the cubs is displaying great potential in training for the hunt, so she is regarded as “the pride of the lions.” If lion parents had bumpers, her parents would have “Proud parent of a gifted prowler” or something to the effect.

The only thing I really pride myself in is a personal record—a PR for you sports-minded people out there. I have not vomited since the Ravens won the Superbowl. That was, what, 2001? Nerves spit-ups, sure. Acid reflux, a little. But not a full blown PLUGHHHH. I bring this up whenever a friend mentions a bad case of food poisoning or the upward stomach flu. “My dad is the same way.” Just so they know.
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