Divinely Ordained by Andrea Conover

            John Smith rolled over and batted at the top of his alarm until it stopped beeping. He groaned and stubbornly shut his eyes, sinking his face deeper into his pillow, until, with a start, he remembered that this was His Day. He steeled his resolve and told himself it was Divinely Ordained that he get up immediately. He got up.

            John quickly performed his morning ablutions and dressed for work. He dithered momentarily over which tie to wear: the red or the blue? The consequences of the wrong decision on this day could haunt him into the afterlife. He quickly asked God which tie to wear. He waited a moment and, after hearing no response, he steeled his resolve and told himself it was Divinely Ordained that he wear the blue tie. He put on the blue tie.

            John’s wife had already laid out his breakfast for him and she brushed an absentminded kiss across his cheek as she poured his coffee. He smiled at her, already distracted by the work there was to be done at the office. Breakfast passed quickly and he was soon driving to work. The traffic was worse than usual. He prayed for the cars in front of him to speed up, then sat at a complete stand-still for thirty minutes. It must be Divinely Ordained that he be late. He was late.

            John knew that any interaction he had with the people in his office could potentially lead to their salvation on His Day, so he decided to pay careful attention to whoever was stuck in the elevator with him. He prayed that this other person would be receptive to His Message. He steeled his resolve and told himself it was Divinely Ordained that he plant the seed of Good Works within this person, whoever they may be. No one joined him in the elevator.

            John stepped confidently out of the elevator. No matter that he had been alone in the elevator; he prayed that other opportunities were Divinely Ordained to arise throughout the day and so they must be. It was thoroughly unfortunate, therefore, that both a political scandal and a major sports event had occurred the night before. Half the office assumed that his blue tie was worn in defiant support of the disgraced politician and the other half of the office assumed that it was worn in defiant support of the winning team, which was unpopular in the area. While it may have been Divinely Ordained that other conversational opportunities should arise throughout the day, none occurred as John walked from the elevator to his office. He steeled his resolve and told himself it must be Divinely Ordained that he get a lot of work done that morning. He did not, in fact, get a lot of work done that morning, as the secretary had misfiled all of the necessary reports for the third time that month. He prayed for Patience, then realized he had already been Merciful for the two previous errors. He would send a memo to HR to have her fired, but he doubted she’d successfully deliver it.

            John managed to rearrange his paperwork by lunchtime, so as to hopefully catch up on his work throughout the afternoon. John was going to simply have lunch in his office so that he did not have to face any more of the distressful situations that had plagued him all morning, but luckily he remembered that this was His Day, and he still had not had an important conversation with anyone, though he knew it must be Divinely Ordained to occur since he had prayed for it earlier that morning. He steeled his resolve and told himself it was Divinely Ordained that he have a conversation with someone in the popular restaurant across the street with his coworkers. He had lunch at the popular restaurant across the street, but none of his coworkers joined him because his secretary had bought pizza to celebrate her friend and coworker’s birthday.

            John finished his work that afternoon, then had a lonely elevator ride to the ground floor. He had a normal drive home. His wife had prepared dinner, so he absently smiled at her and enjoyed every bite. That evening he enjoyed a drink and read a passage from the Bible before going to sleep. Perhaps tomorrow he would have that Divinely Ordained Conversation.

Posted on November 17, 2016 and filed under Creative Expression.

The Sexualization of Christian Religious Experience by Colin Eckstein

TW: sexual violence

 

“I want to stand with you on a mountain.

I want to bathe with you in the sea.

I want to lay like this forever.

Until the sky falls down on me”[1]

 

“Oh Jesus . . .” comes a sultry moan from somewhere in the meagerly lit auditorium.

 

Typical slow-dance fodder for a ‘90s prom, this Sunday Truly, Madly, Deeply doubles as a Christian worship song. True to its original intent, however, we close our eyes, settle into the Divine embrace, and sway to the music hoping to be titillated. So on we sing:

 

“He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy”[2]

 

David Crowder Band’s How He Loves, a more traditional evangelical favorite (and most definitely intended as a worship song), is similarly laden with innuendo. Its relational paradigm is exciting, emotive:

 

“And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss

And my heart turns violently inside of my chest

I don't have time to maintain these regrets

When I think about the way…

 

He loves us.”

 

By the third song, some clutch hands to chests or reach longing fingers to the sky. We squeeze hot tears from our eyes—whisper and whine “I love you Jesus!”—and work ourselves into an emotional frenzy, indulging in the masturbatory display we intend to please God.

 

● ● ●

 

In The 16 Strivings for God: the New Psychology of Religious Experience, Dr. Stephen Reiss proposes the first comprehensive psychological theory of religion since Freud.[3] Reiss asserts that in order to achieve mass appeal, religion must paradoxically satisfy both high- and low-demand for the 16 fundamental human motivations.[4] Christianity, as a world religion, must necessarily affirm high- and low- demands for Family, Status, Curiosity, etc. so that all may practice their faith as a true expression of their individual motivational profile (i.e. as aligns with their own various high- and low-demands for the 16 strivings).

A Christian with a high-demand for Family, for example, may be drawn to Pauline passages that liken the Church to a family and God to a father. Conversely, a Christian with a low-demand for Family may choose to emphasize Jesus’ command to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”.[5] In expounding his theory, Reiss presents this and other dichotomies within Christian doctrine that allow for multiple interpretations and a “personalized” faith. Indeed, Reiss asserts, Christianity may be construed so as to fulfill a high- or low-demand for each and every of the 16 strivings—save one: Romance, or Sexuality. Citing a celibate clergy, Madonna, and Messiah, Reiss easily paints a picture of low-demand Romantic Christianity. He nonetheless fails to explain the empirical finding that Christianity also attracts high-demand Romance seekers.

While Reiss’ theory has both merits and shortcomings aplenty, these are not my focus here. I ask not if high-demand Romantic Christianity exists, but rather what it looks like. How has Christianity, notorious for its prudish sexual ethic, evolved to accommodate high-demand Romance seekers? And perhaps more importantly, have these changes made Christianity more healthy for and accessible to this population, or less? What is the potential for, as in the opening vignette, sexuality bleeding into spiritual practice?

I would here like to note that my intention is not to “mansplain” feminist critiques to those who have experienced first-hand the hurts of a male-dominated Church. I do not pretend to understand what it means to be an LGBTQ+ Christian, with friends and family praying for your identity to be stripped from you. I speak only of what I know—and of what I know only because I too am guilty. To women and LGBTQ+ readers, I hope this may serve as a humble apology and acknowledgment that these oft-dismissed theological “nit-picks” cause real, systemic problems.

To my fellow straight cis male readers, this piece is an exhortation to reject sexualized Christianity (and all the privileges that come with it) as the patriarchal perversion of an egalitarian Gospel. Even as Biblical heroes toppled giant phallic shrines,[6] we have erected in their place a God-ordained gender dominance that continues to poison Christian community and thought.

Christianity underwent dramatic transformation in the millennium of its founding. The apocalyptic backwater sect, after decrying Rome’s sinful excess, was named the official imperial religion. Jesus, who railed against the establishment;[7]  who lauded the poor, meek, and oppressed;[8] who was executed for crimes against the state[9]; became a symbol of the Roman Empire and its powerful elite. In what may constitute the most successful “rebranding campaign” of all time, the Christian God was remade in the image of man—a landholding citizen patriarch, to be specific.

The Lamb of God and “servant of all,” was crowned King of Kings (with Constantine his convenient second), lending validity (i.e. God-as-king) to the Roman hierarchy.[10] The Prince of Peace took up the sword and became (i.e. God-as-warrior), in the words of mega-pastor Mark Driscoll, “a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg…and the commitment to make someone bleed.”[11] The Biblical paternal metaphor (i.e. God-as-father), meant to convey God’s provision, protection, and unconditional love, came to resemble the head of a Roman household, a patriarch who underwrote the Power and Status of landowning men within a traditional social structure.[12] God-as-master endorsed the institution of slavery while God-as-groom, of particular interest to us here, called for the subjugation of women.[13] Female disciples and deacons, representing a threat to social order, were swiftly eliminated.[14]

The God-as-groom metaphor did not, at its inception, denote intimacy or “personal relationship.”[15] The romanticization of Christian religious experience, rather, arose during the late Medieval and Renaissance era, as courtly love and chivalric romance became mainstream ideals and the female form the subject of poetry and art (even while religious themes remained prominent).[16] As the Christian human-divine relational paradigm was infused with Sexual/Romantic subtext and imagery, however, its foundations in Power, Status, and privileged affection endured. Take, for instance, Renaissance artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s seminal sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1652). This Baroque masterpiece depicts a swooning (possibly orgasming) nun and spear-wielding angel as described in the autobiography of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582):

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.[17]

St. Teresa’s rapturous religious encounter, novel in its application of the God-as-lover-metaphor, nonetheless continues to depict God as violent (God-as-warrior) and dominating (God-as-master, God-as-king, even God-as-father or God-as-groom). God forces His love onto Teresa; “divinity intrudes on an earthly body.”[18] At its inception Romantic Christianity was the product of toxic chauvinism.

Today, high-demand Romantic Christianity continues to normalize choice-less love and trivialize the importance of consent in love relationships. Christ exists as a deadly cocktail of God-as-lover and God-as-master. He resembles a stalker ex-boyfriend, knocking, knocking, knocking on the door of your heart and demanding to come in so He can love you.[19] Seeking fulfillment elsewhere is hopeless: you can’t leave him. He knows what’s best for you. Raised in a patriarchal Protestant South, Flannery O’Connor identifies a palpable fear of divine pursuit in her novel Wise Blood: “Jesus was so soul-hungry that he had died, one death for all . . . and Jesus wasn’t going to leave [me] ever. Jesus would never let me forget that I was redeemed . . . Jesus would have [me] in the end.”[20]

This is not to say that Romantic Christianity is always this apparent or extreme. Evangelicalism at large tends to prefer the God-as-boyfriend trope, instructing young women to practice celibacy while playing a subordinate role in a love relationship. Christian pop artist Jamie Grace typifies the God-as-boyfriend mentality in her song Beautiful Day: “It's a love so true I can never get enough of You / This feeling can't be wrong / I'm about to get my worship on / Take me away.”[21] Jesus has become Edward Cullen, whose coveted affection you don’t deserve and can’t live without. Christian women, meanwhile, are encouraged to see themselves as Bella Swan, innocent and vulnerable, with Jesus as their sparkly, chivalrous, and endlessly devoted lover from heaven (literally). It is no wonder that Christian relational paradigms so closely resemble modern (problematic) Romantic ideals.

There is, however, good news: Christianity can change again. In his Defense of Everything Else, G. K. Chesterton compares himself to an “English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island.”[22] Fancying himself the first to set foot in New South Wales, the yachtsman realizes with a start that he’s planted the Union Jack on the Pavilion steps of old South Wales. Similarly, Chesterton recounts his journey to “found a heresy of [his] own; and when [he] had put the last touches to it, discovered that it was orthodoxy.”[23] Overcome by spiritual wanderlust, Chesterton sets out beyond the borderlands of Christendom only to find himself at the foot of the cross.

So too we must leave mainstream Christianity behind in order to return to that first, fundamental metaphor on which it was founded: God-as-love. Instead of perpetuating rape culture through victim blaming and slut shaming, we can (indeed, must) stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence, openly affirm sexual expression regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The language and imagery we use have power to shape both individual and communal identities. It is of the utmost importance, then, that it is love we are living out—pursuing in relationships both human and divine.

[1] Hayes, D. & Jones, D. (1997). Truly Madly Deeply. Recorded by Savage Garden. On Truly Madly Deeply. Columbia Records.

[2] McMillan, J. M. (2005) How He Loves. Recorded by David Crowder Band. On Church Music. Sixsteps.

[3] Reiss, S. (2015). The 16 Strivings for God: The New Psychology of Religious Experiences. Mercer University Press.

[4] Ibid. For reference, the 16 strivings are as follows: Curiosity, Acceptance, Eating, Family, Honor, Idealism, Independence, Order, Physical activity, Power, Romance, Saving, Social contact, Status, Tranquility, and Vengeance.

[5] Luke 14:26, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[6] Asherah poles stood at Canaanite holy sites to honor the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah, consort of El (whom the phallic shrines were meant to arouse). Asherah poles are expressly prohibited in Exodus 34:13 and Deuteronomy 16:21. King Josiah is praised by God in 2 Kings 23 for tearing them down.

[7] Jesus harshly criticizes the religious establishment in Matthew 23:1-39, Mark 12:35-40, and Luke 11:37-54; 20:45-47. Jesus’ criticisms of Rome and the political establishment are more thinly veiled in Matthew 22:21 and others.

[8] Matthew 5-7, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[9] Pontius Pilate orders that a sign be posted above Jesus on the cross stating "Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews" to give public notice of the legal charge against him.

[10] Mark 9:35, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[11] Anthony B. Robinson. The anti-Mark Driscoll: Resisting cage-fighter Jesus. (2010, February 25). Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://crosscut.com/2010/02/the-antimark-driscoll-resisting-cagefighter-jesus/

[12] Martin, D. B. (2012). New Testament History and Literature. Yale University Press.

[13] See John 3:29, Mark 2:19, Matthew 9:15, Luke 5:34, Matthew 25.

[14] Marie Noel Keller, Priscilla and Aquila: Paul's Coworkers in Christ Jesus (Paul's Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010).

[15]Bell, R. (2011). Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Reprint edition). HarperCollins e-books.

[16] Lewis, C. S. (2013). The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

[17] Avila, S. T. of. (2010).Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

[18] Rebidoux, M. (2014). Deeper than the Entrails is That Great Love! A Phenomenological Approach to “Spiritual Sensuality” in Teresa of Ávila. The Heythrop Journal55(2), 216–229. 

[19] A play on Revelation 3:20.

[20] O’Connor, F. (2007). Wise Blood: A Novel (Reissue edition). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[21] Grace, J. (2014). Beautiful Day. Recorded by Jamie Grace. On Ready to Fly.

[22] Chesterton, G. K. (2009). Orthodoxy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

[23] Ibid.

Posted on September 2, 2016 .

Alton Sterling by Ki'Amber Thompson

How many times have we cried ourselves to sleep

Upon hearing about the murder of Black people

Upon realizing–knowing–that there will be no justice for us

No matter the volume of tears that absorb into our bed sheets

Or the blood that absorbs into the concrete

That we saw in the video footage taken by a bystander

And we didn’t have to–no, didn’t want to–watch the video of our brother’s death on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook to know that the story would be all too familiar

 

All too repetitive, on loop, played over and over and over and over and over and over again

 

All too demeaning

How many times can you watch the murder of Black people before you become desensitized

Or are you already there?

Do the 13 or 3 inch screens that you stare into trap all of the feeling?

Or does it pour out of you like 6 shots and onto your bed sheets and into your fists and into your words and onto the keyboard you use to post on social media and onto the streets as you march and onto the street like his blood?

 

All heavy

Like being 200 pounds and tackled to the ground

Like the sobs of his 15 year old son

Fall heavy on my ears

All heavy

Like his chest must have been from heaving in and out trying to process the pain he felt as his mother's heavy words dragged themselves into the mic

And the camera must have been too heavy to turn its gaze away

His hurt too heavy for that stage

And we process our heavy through watching the heavy of his family

 

Maybe we get used to the heaviness

I never get used to the heaviness

It's always heavy

I wonder if officers get used to the heaviness of their guns

Or if the weight feels natural, all too comfortable, in their hands, finger on the trigger

Their fingers always heavy against the trigger

I wonder if they ever feel the weight of the blood on their hands

I wonder how they get up out of bed every morning and how their feet carry all their weight, knowing that they've snatched a man from the arms of his children and the lips of his woman

 

All too repetitive, on loop, played over and over and over and over and over and over again

 

How many times have we cried and then done nothing about it the next day?

 

All too repetitive, on loop, played over and over and over and over and over and over again

  

We know the process

This system runs on a loop

And the video of another black body dying at the hands of the state gets posted and played

over and over and over and over and over and over again

Posted on August 10, 2016 and filed under Poetry, Creative Expression.

Dust by Scott Schuleit

The leaf obeys its Creator,

wavering its green in the tireless,

unfailing wind.

And the sky

continually bears

on its immense back,

a burden of blue.

And when a storm comes on

the clouds darken,

weaving together without question,

and from this,

lightning loses its silver,

its flicker and flash,

always obeying

with sudden bursts of illumination.

The rain falls willingly,

dropping down

to pummel dry earth,

mixing it into mud

as it should,

a task performed

without hesitation,

yet the dust,

that which is most blessed,

crowned over all creation,

burns,

burns with a rage

deep in its breast.

 

Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Poetry, Creative Expression.

Ineffectual by Helen Jun

this cliché is blaringly foreign: this pseudo-

shallow, callow kind of disabling of words

renders my poetic style completely irrelevant.

 

7 years of orphaned poetry. the perpetual 

depression of melancholic indentation

jabbed with pain that strikes the heart-and-eye

the punch line, the throbbing ring of naked-hollow

sorrow, the aesthetic grief of rhythm and rhyme

the lament of broken words, haunted

by past-present reality, abused into

submission, trial after trial after trial trial trial

 

---

yet here i sit today, prayer and pencil in hand

somehow, at some point, you've changed me.

this feeling of saplings and children and dreams and new gifts—

i'm so happy. bubbly. artlessly excited by the joyful futility

of grasping at connotations and definitions and banal phrases.

Jesus, teach me to express despite words this new thing

of being loved by you. i your healing, lovable daughter.

 

because now i realize:

i love you still, like a sunflower to the sun.

You love me creative, as poetry could never detail, for You can't be contained in these tiny,

          ineffectual abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.

Posted on November 5, 2015 .

Like Children's Toys: Portrayals of Faith in The Lego Movie

Up until its climax, The LEGO Movie follows a team of LEGO people in their attempt to prevent the evil overlord, Lord Business, from freezing the entire world in place with a bottle of Krazy Glue. The LEGO people, led by Emmett, an average construction worker LEGO, appear to have failed; doomsday begins. But then our attention shifts to a young human boy named Finn playing with a plastic LEGO Emmett in his basement, and we realize that we have merely been watching Finn play with LEGOs the entire film. 

More pointedly, Finn has been playing with his father’s LEGOs, disrupting their meticulous placement in separate and thematically appropriate worlds—knights, pirates, etc. Finn’s Father (Will Ferrell), the LEGO world’s controlling, tyrannical creator is furious when he discovers his son’s shenanigans. Lord Business (conveniently, also played by Will Ferrell), with his plans for complete control, turns out to be Finn’s fictional representation of his father. Finn’s imagination also spawns the prophecy of “the Special,” a messianic LEGO prophesied to save the world. Between Lord Business and the Special, the film accomplishes thinly veiled religious commentary, which while cleverly implemented is ultimately disappointing in its simplicity and condescension.

THE LORD IS A JEALOUS AND AVENGING GOD

The LEGOs occasionally refer to a mysterious figure conveniently named “The Man Upstairs.” Of course, this is just Finn’s Father, who created the LEGO world down in his basement, and first appears in the film standing ominously at the top of the stairs. While this is a cute gag, it’s also our first reference point by which we can explore the parallels between Finn’s Father, Lord Business, and Judeo-Christian God—beginning with the film’s retelling of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. 

The Biblical account begins: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” Humanity decides to build a tower that “reaches to the Heavens.” But God objects: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse the language so they will not understand each other.” So God “scatter[s] them from there all over the earth,” reasserting control. Similarly, LEGO legend recalls a time when “all the people in the universe were once free to travel and mingle, and build whatever they wanted. But President Business was confused by all the chaos. So he erected walls between these worlds and became obsessed with order and perfection.” 

The narratives beg to be read in parallel. We learn in the first sentences that “the whole world” and “all the people in the universe” were unified. We’re next told that they built together. But a powerful figure invades each story and is worried by what he sees—President Business by lack of order, God by what humanity might do unchecked. So they divide up all the people and, through language or through walls, prevent their further cooperation. The film condemns them as control freaks who privilege power and order over societal progress. Through Lord Business and his human analogue “the Man Upstairs”, God is characterized as a stifling force, preventing human expression and unity.

Echoing Lord Business’s doomsday plan to freeze the world with a bottle of Krazy Glue, Finn’s Father tells his son, “Let’s put everything back the way we found it, so I can make everything the way it’s supposed to be—permanently.” The two tyrants’ twisted plans belie the film’s reductive understanding of Christian eschatology, one in which God destroys dissenters and forces the world back under his despotic rule. The film-makers, with their revelatory explanation of Christian theology, are shocked that anyone ever thought this was a good idea!

A SAVIOR IS BORN

The film casts parallels not only between Lord Business/Finn’s Father and God, but between Emmett the Special and Jesus Christ. Emmett’s quite the run-of-the-mill messianic protagonist. The film is fully aware of what a trope he is and leverages that for laughs, generically dubbing him “the Special” and repeatedly referring to him as some variation of “the most talented, most interesting, and most important person in the universe.” In the opening scene of the movie, a blind prophet named Vetruvius does battle with Lord Business. As Vetruvius is defeated, he predicts in verse that one day the “greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times” will “thwart the Kragle and save the realm.” Like Christ, the Special is prophesied long before his coming. But those around Emmett repeatedly assert that he’s an ordinary, un-special construction worker, just as the Gospels recount that people dismissed Jesus as an ordinary carpenter. Additionally, it is emphasized that destroying the Kragle may cause an explosion that would kill the Special, making Emmett, like Christ, a sacrificial savior. 

A few other tidbits key us into the intentionality of this Christian comparison. Upon his capture by Lord Business, we encounter Emmett strapped to a battery with wires emerging from each side, forming a figurative cross. At this point, when it appears that Emmett’s messianic mission has failed, Lord Business’sKragle-carrying fleet spreads out over the world, and he declares: “Don’t worry about the big, black monolith blocking out the sun!” After Christ’s apparent defeat, Luke writes that “the sun’s light failed” and “darkness came over the land.” And like Christ’s disciples, Emmet’s friends lament, believing him lost—but he comes back from the dead with an enlightened message.

WE SHALL BE SAVED FROM THE WRATH OF GOD THROUGH HIM

It would seem contradictory that the film’s supposed Old Testament God is pitted against its Christ figure, disrupting the flow of its Biblical parallels. But I would argue, at risk of overstating how these parallels operate, that the film breaks from the Biblical relationship of Father and Son intentionally. In fact, it argues that the Father of the Old Testament’s anger and selfishness are diametrically opposed to the Son’s vision of salvation from oppression. This is underscored by Finn’s own vision of salvation from his Father’s iron fist. The Heavenly Father, the film asserts, is part of the oppression from which humanity needs saving; Christianity, then, is inconsistent and ultimately unsatisfying.

This accusation of inconsistency becomes apparent when we examine the “evil” that the Special has come to defeat. It is not hedonism, unrest, or disobedience that the film takes issue with, but rather the restriction of human freedom. Lord Business becomes the antagonist by prioritizing order and control over progress, creativity, and joy. Like Christians did to their heretics so well for so many years, Lord Business “captured and tortured” master builders, the LEGO artists and forward thinkers who dared to try change anything, all to gratify his obsession with order. This gets at the root of the parallel between Lord Business and God: what the film thinks we need to be saved from is not sin, but the archaic, despotic God that we think loves us.

THE STONE THAT THE BUILDERS REJECTED...

But the solution of a salvific figure is also subject to critique. From the film’s perspective, Christianity is mistaken to place its hope in a single supernatural messiah. Instead, it calls us all to utilize our (naturalistic) “specialness” to achieve progress. As Lord Business is freezing the LEGO world in place, the “resurrected” Emmett implores him:

You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things, because you are the special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up. But it’s also true! It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you still can change everything.

“And so is everyone.” The film acknowledges that there isn’t some “most extraordinary person in the universe” come to save the world; but humans, working together, can still save themselves. “Look at all these things that people built!” Emmett tells Lord Business, in a nod to Babel. “You might see it as a mess...what I see is people inspired by each other. And you. People taking what you made, and making something new out of it!” This is a pathetic, patronizing attempt at consoling Christians whose entire worldview is being ceremoniously thrown in the garbage. The film wants Christians, supposed ideological conservatives in a world of progress, to recognize that the change around them is simply the next step for humanity. 

Belief in a supernatural savior, rather than human potential, is ridiculed through the film’s depiction of messianic prophecy. The world is to be saved by “the greatest, most important, most interesting person of all times. All of this is true,” Vetruvius prophesies, “because it rhymes.” The blind prophet literally leads the blind—and we believe him because he’s a good poet. Of course, by the end of the film, when Emmett and the master builders appear defeated, Vetruvius admits that he made the prophecy up. He tells Emmett he knew that anyone who found the Kragle’s cap could be the special, because all one needs to be special is to believe in one’s self. “But how can I just decide to believe that I’m special when I’m not?” “Because the world depends on it!” The LEGOs believe Emmett is their messiah out of desperation, a certain desire and strength of will, rather than objective reasoning. Some New Testament scholars make a similar argument: the disciples so wanted Jesus to be the messiah that they simultaneously hallucinated his resurrection. In reality, the film tells us, the messiah was never resurrected; he was just a guy who had some good ideas about throwing off the yoke of oppression, and who a bunch of wishful thinkers—like children playing with toys—decided to see as supernaturally “special.”

The structure of the film’s frame story also utilizes the concept of distorting reality through the lens of faith. Finn, when imagining the LEGOs as alive, throws them through a cardboard tube on which he has scrawled “magic portal.” He views reality through this constructed lens and sees the imaginary. Similarly, Vetruvius tells Emmett, “All you have to do is to believe. Then, you will see everything.” This is the film’s broadest critique of religion: that people of faith look at the world through a spiritual lens, falsely believing that everything they see is divinely “meaningful.” 

Is anything meaningful, then? It depends on how you define meaning. We spend most of the film seeing Emmett as a sentient, self-determining LEGO, a living entity. It turns out, however, that he’s an inanimate piece of plastic whose entire reality is in the hands of a child. And as a piece of plastic, he can’t move, he can’t speak, he can’t save the world. But just as Finn’s Father is about to glue the LEGOs in place, we see Emmett barely manage to wiggle off the end of a table. This catches Finn’s attention and inspires him to implore his dad one last time to let the LEGOs be. Despite his revealed unimportance, Emmett’s small act is still a catalyst for progress, and the film wants us to see this as meaningful. While humans lack true metaphysical significance, each of us can contribute to the larger story of humanity.

Emmett’s fulfillment in the absence of meaning is characteristic of the film’s atheistic humanism. The LEGO Movie has full certitude (or perhaps we should say faith) that we will be better off when we get rid of our damn superstition. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with making an atheist movie. But there is something innately condescending about pointing and laughing at beliefs you think are childish and absurd without providing truly thoughtful critique. The LEGO Movie instead distorts my religious convictions to the point of making them nearly unrecognizable. This is not to say that religion can’t impede progress and creativity; clearly it can and often does. But to reduce all of Christendom to blind warmongers with Stockholm Syndrome towards their captor God is simply dishonest reductionism. I’m no “culture war” hawk—I think the idea of a culture war is ridiculous—but The LEGO Movie does its best to fire a few shots. For a film that promotes ideological progress, The LEGO Movie does a pretty crappy job of fostering constructive dialogue.

Posted on October 2, 2015 .

Black Lives Matter: Moving Beyond Disingenuous Openness by Lindsey Mahomes

I cry every time I think about the murder of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police officers. “I can’t breathe” echoes over and over again in my mind, the music to which the image of a father facedown on gravel pleading for his life is set, and before I’m aware, I’m sobbing. I’m angered each time I think about the sickeningly numerous deaths of my brothers and sisters and I become enraged when I consider the all-too-predictable non-indictments that follow.

Since it is likely that you don’t know me all too well, allow me to clarify something: this behavior is quite unusual for me. I come from a debate background and have always been very rational when voicing my opinions; I am always passionate, but I do not cry. I avoid letting my emotions affect my rationality when it comes to political issues. I suppose this is still the case, though, because this particular issue is not political: this is personal. My fellow black Americans and I are in a constant state of danger and appear to have little recourse for the injustice we face.

In order to directly address these injustices, I must provide two further clarifications. First: nothing is an isolated incident. Second: we–Claremont College students, Claremont residents, and beyond—are not living in isolation. The murders of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and countless others, the continued discrimination people of color face, and even the defacing of Walker Wall and the quilt at Scripps are all connected. From micro-aggressions (small, often unintentional acts of racism) to blatant acts of racism and ignorance, we see evidence of a larger institutional problem. Historically, the systemic treatment of Blacks has operated on the conceptualization of Blacks as inferior individuals, even as property. Slavery has, of course, long since been abolished, but the prevailing idea of inferiority lingers and is still evident in our criminal justice, education, political and other systems. Over time, black lives have been systematically subjected to devaluation.

Those who seek to effectively combat this devaluation must understand that “Black Lives Matter” isn’t simply a trendy hashtag circulating the interwebs. It is a movement, established by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, rooted in actively acknowledging the need for black bodies to assert that our lives are important. Consider this: if“all lives mattered,” no such movement would be necessary. The problem lies therein. These are real issues and our communal attitudes toward them have real implications for their continued existence. Even in Claremont, we as a community are affected by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, regardless of whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

Perhaps it’s simply my perception, but I feel a large sense of apathy from my fellow 5C-ers, including the Christian community. I was initially surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response, manifesting itself in the turnout for the Ferguson rally, social media posts, etc., but since then I’ve seen the enthusiasm dwindle. No one seems to be talking or even thinking about these issues anymore, despite the fact that they have far-reaching and shockingly powerful implications.  No one seems to care. I feel scared, heartbroken and powerless, and all the while everyone seems to be going about their daily lives as if nothing has happened. As if nothing is happening. The violence I’m describing is ever-present: reduced media coverage and public consciousness does not mean that nothing is wrong anymore. On the contrary, they are indications that the violence is so normalized that it isn’t even newsworthy—if it ever was.

Am I wrong? Is everyone secretly thinking about the systemic violence against black bodies and the institutionalized racism we continue to face? Are others silently hurting with me? I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this were the case; I often silently think about systems that oppress others, maybe even those that oppress you. But even a short conversation with me would usually reveal my silent thoughts, and in light of the conversations I have engaged in and observed, I remain skeptical that people care—whether silently or not. Perhaps we as a community are missing a certain depth in our relationships that would allow for these kinds of conversations to take place. I sense a perceptible lack of reflection regarding these issues that only upholds these systems of injustice.

Delving deeper into this lack of reflection, I also sense the presence of what can be termed disingenuous openness. Perhaps there’s a general understanding that institutionalized racism is real and harmful, but only to some ambiguously large extent. How many people have stopped to think about what this actually means on an individual level? I’ve had many conversations with people who claim to be open-minded but have internally settled on a very limited worldview that they are uninterested in reconsidering. A commitment to genuine reflection and open-mindedness is essential if we’re ever to make any progress or have substantive conversations. Without such a commitment, you might be even more likely to become part of the problem than those who are explicitly close-minded because your ostensible openness leads others to believe you’re on your way to being part of the solution.

In leading lives that are void of genuine reflection, we often miss the larger point. For example, why are we so quick to sign up for community service and opportunities to help those we identify as ‘others,’ but reticent to meaningfully engage with those around us when it comes to discussing these systemic issues? Don’t get me wrong: community service is great and can be an enriching experience for both you and the people with whom you’re working. But don’t be fooled: the people you’re helping are suffering from the same systemic injustice you are regularly (consciously or not) refusing the opportunity to think about and discuss. As I’ve mentioned before, it is all connected; nothing happens in isolation.

As I see it, the reality of the situation is this: we are one family and collectively comprise one body (Mark 3:34-5, Romans 12:4-5). Thus, it is fundamentally our responsibility to care deeply about and for one another. If the idea that all human beings are equally valuable and worthy of respect does not persuade you that these issues are worthy of your time and consideration, the fact that we are all closely related should. We often view the charge to be family as symbolic or only embrace it when we feel like it. Inevitably, there are times when it is more convenient to acknowledge other individuals as our brothers and sisters and love them as such. Perhaps these are the times you choose to give the issues that affect your surrounding community some thought. The problem with this approach, though, is that we are required to go above and beyond the natural human inclination to only occasionally think about others. Anyone can do the bare minimum; the challenge to care more than that is intentionally difficult. Ponder this: if we were naturally motivated to constantly think about others, the scripture would not have needed to pronounce us “family,” because our lives would have already reflected that reality. Christianity isn’t only about pursuing and maintaining a personal relationship with God or doing community service or being an overall “good person”: it is an active stance we take that demands a (binding) notion of constantly engaging with and being sensitive to each other. This means imagining issues that aren’t your reality as if they were actually happening to you. This means recognizing that those issues actually are your reality because they’re attacking a member of your family and hurting a part of your body. This means, as much as your instinct might be to kick and scream and claim otherwise, ignorance is not an option that is readily available to you. In the same way, disingenuous openness is unacceptable.

The problem I’ve identified is serious. However, I truly believe in the power of community and I have faith in our ability to create a family where we relentlessly and genuinely support each other. I’ve seen glimpses of this in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, one of the most welcoming groups I’ve encountered in my short time here at the 5Cs, but there is, as always, room for improvement. In this spirit, let us all be cognizant of our role in systems of oppression, recognize our obligation to be present in each other’s lives, and work towards building the community we’re called to live in.

Posted on September 17, 2015 .

Church: For Those Who Don't Fit the Mold by Katiannah Moise

Many days like these, I get a feeling that I need to pray

I don't do it often because I am busy

With work, homework, my social life.

 

It hurts to say that I can't pray because I am “too busy.”

It’s like I am saying I am “too busy”… for God.

 

And so I go to sleep—I sleep and sleep for hours until the next day…

 

Yet sometimes I get a feeling that I need to pray… and I do.

sometimes, right before I sleep

I quickly run through a Hail Mary[i] or the Nicene Creed[ii] on cue.

 

To pacify me and to pacify YOU.

 

I grudgingly go to church… even though I want to go to sleep.

Some days, I barely remember the sermon

And I sleep as we genuflect before Communion.[iii]

 

It's sad that in Church,

The house of God’s People,

I can't stay awake.

 

But I take the Communion because I believe in YOU and you believe in ME

…well, of course I do…

 

To pacify YOU and to pacify me.

 

Yet sometimes I get a feeling that I need to pray and Sing

In that mass

I sing loudly, so loudly my heart shakes and I feel alive.

 

I feel awakened, I feel spirited, and I sing.

I sing off-key.

 

 

My heart is aligned with the fact that I can feel GOD hearing me, hearing me.

I can feel it.

And it feels so good because it is different.

 

Different than passing a test I studied for,

Or seeing my favorite dish served at lunch,

Or getting praised by my friends…

 

It is a feeling of hope and realization that when you SING and PRAY

HE hears you.

 

Inside, I start to cry… or maybe I AM crying.

Spilling tears, for once.

For once, my actions are real.

 

I am not trying to pacify YOU or pacify me.

 

I feel, I believe, and I am happy.

 

Sometimes I get a feeling that I need to pray… and I do.

It is good.

It is good.

 

[i] A prayer to the Virgin Mary used chiefly by Roman Catholics, beginning with part of Luke 1:28.

[ii] A profession of faith widely used in Christian liturgy.

[iii] The service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared.

Posted on September 17, 2015 .

The Relevancy of Quakerism: on Integrity, Modernity, and Religious Minority by Mary Chawaga

There are only about 90,000 Quakers in the United States—a tiny number compared to, for instance, the 90 million American evangelicals. Their global influence for good, however, has been much greater than this number suggests. Quakers’ vast and varied humanitarian efforts rest on the conviction that “there is that of God in every One,” and the Society of Friends has led the way in advocating for universal suffrage, abolitionism, civil rights, and the end of war. Quakers have been a consistent historical model for direct non-violent action and suffered significantly for their radical pacifist and egalitarian convictions. From their inception, the Society of Friends was persecuted for their dissenting views, especially for refusing to swear allegiance or show deference to the English Crown. Their rejection of church hierarchy led to persecution by Anglicans and, in the American colonies, by Puritans as well. As conscientious objectors, Quakers of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for, “promotes[ing] lasting peace with social justice” in the midst of World War I. Yet, the Friends’ faith-based position on nonaggression has engendered rejection and disdain from many mainstream communities. More recently, non-violent civil disobedience for the cause of consumer rights and sustainable energy has led to further imprisonment and legal penalties.  

Despite its differences from traditional evangelicalism, Quakerism was founded by George Fox as part of the 17th century Protestant Reformation. Believing that God had created everyone equally, George Fox reasoned that each person should be able to speak to and hear from God unmediated.  It was these views about the priesthood of all believers and their rejection of creeds that made Quakers notably radical, even among other emerging Protestant faiths of their time. In the face of religious persecution, many members of the Society of Friends Quakers moved to America. And although there was continued religious discrimination, the Quakers thrived in Pennsylvania where William Penn organized his nascent state according to the Quaker Testimonies.

What little 5C students have heard about Quakers relegates them firmly to the past, an old-fashioned sect with no role to play in the modern world.  Yet the guidance of the Quaker Testimonies (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, service and stewardship) could not be more relevant to today’s oppressive, materialistic, and war-torn world.  We must practice simplicity in the face of the greatest income inequality in American history since the time of the robber barons. We must assert that “there is no Way to Peace:  Peace is the Way” as America persists into a second decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The beliefs and practices of the Quaker community are relevant to people of all religious backgrounds and identities. Unplugging, seeking authenticity, having the courage to speak my personal truth, committing myself to non-violent conflict resolution, valuing every human being fully and healing the world through service—these Quaker ideas have shaped my own spiritual identity.

It was my teachers at Friends’ Central School in the Quaker hub of Philadelphia who encouraged me to “be here now,” a shorthand expression for being mindful and aware. It is safe to say nobody here in Claremont reminds me to “be here now” and I miss the weekly Quaker Meetings for Worship that were built into my academic life before college. Each week at Friends’ Central, the entire school community—students and faculty—came together “in the manner of Friends” for unprogrammed worship.  Meeting for Worship, as Quaker “church services” are called, brings together the community to sit in silence for about an hour, listening for a message from God. If they are moved to speak, Friends stand up and share their message with the rest of the community.  Though I did not always appreciate the rare opportunity to sit quietly in contemplation for 40 minutes on Wednesday mornings, I have begun to appreciate that time through its absence.  The challenge of Meeting is to truly “be here now,” to let go of distractions and listen for (and to) the Divine.  And as I think we have all discovered in our own lives, that is easier said than done. There is a reason so many major religious disciplines choose to pursue silence and mindfulness, strategies to help pay attention to the world within and without.  

Though I must admit, I myself am notorious for not listening to people, too busy checking my Instagram likes and changing my cover photo to the newest-funniest Mindy Project screencap.  The process of writing this very piece is helping me reflect on my own embodiment of the Testimonies. To me, “being here now” does not simply include putting away cell phones and closing laptops (which we are constantly being told to do, ironically, via our Facebook timelines); it goes much deeper than that. “Be here now” means more than just being present, it means committing myself to the project of really listening and really seeing. I recently went into a Target to buy three items and realized, when I got home that everything was either the wrong size or the wrong style—a problem I could easily have solved if I had just looked at what I was buying.  Though this example may seem trite, it embodies the disengaged and scattered way I sometimes make decisions. The Testimonies are touchstones for Quakers, and meditating on the ways my actions do and don’t align with them is a useful practice, and one that helps me be consciously conscious.  When I have a moment of real engagement—when I’m completely immersed in life—I realize how much richer my experiences and actions are. I realize that the difficult task of quieting oneself in this loud, distracted world is as essential as ever as we strive towards ideals of peace and justice.

Posted on June 10, 2015 and filed under Academic Reflection.

Dear Friend by Christian

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. […] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
            —Luke 15:20b—24, ESV

 

Dear friend,

I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Let me explain:

There is something that happens when a group of people gets together. They start making small talk by finding the things they have in common—“You’re from Los Angeles?! What part? Me too, yes!”—which is great, since it gets them going about the wonderful ways the world is so small and everyone is connected by no more than six degrees of separation and all that. But after a short go at finding the things they have in common, people start looking for the things they don’t have in common with the rest of the world—the things that make their collection of people different. “Finally someone who understands! Mexican food just isn’t the same anywhere else.” This is where things get tricky.

Christians, I think, have begun to get into this second stage of small talk. We’ve moved on from finding things to love in the world around us, and begun to find the ways we stand out from the people who inhabit it. I’m a Christian; I should know. We Christians talk about things, about heavy, complicated things, as if they’re simple and obvious and anyone who’s reasonable should agree with us in a heartbeat. We cite scriptures, assuming it’s possible for us to know exactly how God wanted us to understand them, and that those scriptures bear the same weight for everyone. We forget some folks do not see authority in ancient text, or even in Christian faith at all. We lose compassion. We forget we follow the God who compared himself to a Father that embraced a rebellious son before the son had the chance to apologize[1]the God whose first question is not “are you willing to see what you’re doing as sin?,” but “do you know how much I love you?” I, personally, pretend like I’m a part of the most inviting faith on earth, but secretly I’m not sure I actually believe the gospel is here for my drinks-too-much-and-hooks-up-too-often buddy or for my privileged classmate who can be kind of a douchebag about race and class. What’s worse is I sometimes think it’s alright to say my friends drink too much, hook up too often, or are douchebags. Because, you know, I’m the right guy to make those assessments.

And I should know better, I really should. I’m gay, and inside the world of contemporary evangelical Christianity, few folks get more flack than gay guys like me. People are real quick to think they know what’s going on in our hearts. To mainline Christianity, those of us who believe God blesses gay relationships must be looking only for ways to affirm our own desires and skipping over truths that convict us. And for those of us who don’t believe God endorses gay relationships, mainline Christians overlook the weight of saying “no” to a lifelong partner and friend, to having children, and to full membership in a family-oriented church culture. Those losses can be scary. Jesus tells his disciples to renounce all they have to follow him,[2] and I think it’s safe to assume Gay Christians have a head start in that department—celibate or not, gay folks like me are renouncing a sense of safety and acceptance when they join Christian communities that place heteronormative families at their center. But instead of inviting in people who must have a heaping helping of grace to want to spend time with Christians in the first place, the church largely tells gay folks they don’t get a seat at the communion table.

So I should know better than to make people outsiders. I’ve been an outsider myself, and on the wrong day or with the wrong church, I still am one. And I don’t like it. I think most Christians have been outsiders to the faith at one point or another—they’ve been “a long way off” and felt Jesus draw them near with an embrace that couldn’t care less about their messiness or the things that are easy for others to judge. But somehow, we look at a God who has loved us unconditionally and, in our pride, we respond by offering a select group of friends a love that is contractual… a love that goes away when they annoy us or when they do things we’d rather not be associated with. That decision we make when God accepts us but we reject others—that is what I’m sorry for.

Friend, I wish I could promise to always love you unconditionally. I want to say there will always be a place for you here, that it’ll never be like Mean Girls. But I know one day I’ll wake up on the wrong side of the bed and not have my coffee and just be such an asshole. What I can promise is that I’ll give it my best try and I’ll keep saying sorry when I screw up. And I hope you’ll have the grace to be patient with me on those days.

So these are my arms, open wide, inviting you in. And this is me, on my knees, saying please forgive me for not inviting you sooner.

Love always,
Christian

 

[1] Luke 15:2021

[2] Luke 14:33

Posted on June 10, 2015 .

To become the one who is near to others by Michael Spezio

“Humility says, ‘How can I serve you?’ Hubris says, ‘Here’s how to fix yourself.’” – Fr. Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries, Los Angeles, CA

A lot of my scientific work falls under the areas of affective neuroscience, social neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, moral psychology, and mindfulness or contemplative studies. It sounds like a lot to keep together. Admittedly, keeping it together doesn’t always work (especially near the end of the term!), and interdisciplinary connections can prove elusive, confusing, even irritating, especially if they require reshaping of one’s own beliefs or of the sacred disciplines themselves. These hallowed halls of academia can seem sometimes feel rather like hollow silos, lacking the life-giving stores of wonder, curiosity, humility, and openness in a community of seekers, in solidarity to and for one another. But halls, after all, are for connecting. Hallways do the bridging work in terms both spatial and social. Thanks to the generous spirit of colleagues and communities who have led the way and who continue to seek (and find) connections that many suspected were never, and could never, be there, hallways still open up before us, sometimes unsuspected, much like NASA’s recently discovered magnetic portals linking Earth to the sun.

I entered one of these bright portals during my sabbatical in 2013-2014 at the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, NJ. CTI, which next year will begin two years of interdisciplinary encounter on the societal implications of the search for life in the universe (astrobiology) funded by NASA, is located in spirit and in space between Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. During my time there, though, our community of colleagues from biology, psychology, history, philosophy, religious studies, and theology worked in the broad area of religious experience and moral identity. We were one part of a three-year experiment, or inquiry, in deep interdisciplinary engagement, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and run by and at CTI’s wonderful offices. The generosity, expertise, and deep rigor of my colleagues stay with me and shaped my work in ways that I’m still discovering.

One of the lessons I learned from the work at CTI was about which questions to ask, rather than which answers to follow. The central question that took us all of nine months not (!) to answer was: How do we recognize compassion, justice, and the good of others before we become sensitive to the salient features that shape what it means to be for others in loving encounter? Feature set, sensitivity, and selection are central problems in decision theory, touching fields from neuroeconomics to political psychology to robotics and artificial intelligence. Are we sensitive to the features to which we need to be sensitive? How would we ever know if we are not, since knowing one’s insensitivity is only theoretically possible through suitable sensitivity? Could we follow programs already well established and celebrated by those around us we admire? If we follow the best moral principles, how do we know that we are not acting out of a love of our own pure consistency, or out of a fear of being inauthentic? If we follow the most admired moral authorities, how do we know that we are not acting out of a love of their praise and admiration of us, or out of fear of their disapproval? Will our need to belong with the morally superior overcome our acceptance of those who do not belong, who will never belong, who do not want to belong? Even if we lead our own crowd in acts of heroic altruism, how do we know we are not acting out of love of our own reputation or out of fear of its loss? These questions circled around the tables and followed us into the halls of CTI.

One weekend, a few of us from CTI went on a field trip to visit St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan community in nearby Philadelphia. Every day, about 250-450 people from the surrounding area come for a midday meal. Most are single, many live on the street, but almost all come with at least one other person. Many entire families come, children sometimes with both parents, sometimes with only one. All of them sit at tables, place orders, and servers bring their food. They don’t shuffle through a food line. They can sit, and talk, and enjoy their meals in peace. The children can sit with their sisters and brothers and parents and relax in a place that is chaotic at times but full of smiles and friendly voices. They are never asked to bus their own tables. I was a busboy that day, probably because the leaders took one look at me and saw right away that I couldn’t cook, wouldn’t do a great job cleaning, but that I could probably carry my fair share of stuff. No one at St. Francis Inn calls anyone else by any title. Even the priests don’t get the “Father” treatment. The implied hierarchy gets in the way of knowing who the other person is, gets in the way of genuine encounter. Everyone is just “sister” or “brother”. The place runs without federal funding, not because they wouldn’t be able to use it, but because the dollars would come with distinctions that no one there wants to make. If it took the federal money, St. Francis Inn would need to turn away lots of people who come and sit and eat while drunk or high or who are experiencing some other kind of challenge. In the principled language of federal funders, St. Francis could still seat the “worthy poor,” but not the sisters and brothers who come to the door.

In adherence to principle or authority, the place and face and voice of the other person in real encounter are supplanted by a search for stable moral guidance and moral purity. So a principled stance can leave one standing outside of the place of genuine encounter. Let me be clear: we can all learn how to do good things for other people, and so how to be beneficent, and wouldn’t it be great if more of us did just that? Honest reflection, though, reveals that beneficent action does not entail benevolent action, does not entail that we learn to genuinely love the good of others for their sake, with an affection for them and for our imperfect selves. In other words, we can do good things for others while looking right past them. We may look toward moral certainty and look away from risky moral encounter.

In my project at CTI, I wondered about the desire for a kind of moral certainty that shuts out risk and, at the same time, feeling. My work led me to a little and little-known book published in 1955 and edited by a Dominican friar, Albert Plé, entitled Love of Our Neighbor, first published in French in 1954. In that book the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has a little essay called “‘Associate’ and Neighbor”. Unfortunately for the English language, we use “neighbor” as a wholly insufficient translation for the original Greek term, plésion, meaning “the one who is near.” Other languages, French among them, have no such limitation, for the French translation has prochain(e), “the one who is next to.” In his remarkable paper, Ricoeur discovers the “surprise” that is the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan: the epistemological purity and certainty sought by the moral inquirer is denied and instead supplanted by a call to action, a call to “go and do likewise.” Recall that the parable is placed where it is because it is an answer to an eternal question, “Who is the one near to me?” Who is this person that I am to love, as seen in Leviticus 19:18? How can I recognize her? Tell me, what features must I look for to show me who is worthy of loving encounter? We hear the Samaritan’s story as providing the answer. The Samaritan is said to have “compassion” (in the Greek, a movement of the inner area of the viscera or womb, like a “gut feeling”) on the one who was attacked and left to die, and to immediately have gone into action. So we can hear the story saying that the Samaritan knew who his neighbor was, and acted accordingly. But at the end of the story, the question the storyteller asks is not, “Who knew, who recognized, the neighbor?” Instead, the question is, “And who was neighbor to this man?” And then the surprise: “Go and do likewise.” The answer is imitatio in action, not a principle of knowledge. We don’t know the near one, we rather become the one who is near to others. As Ricoeur notes, “So there is no sociology of neighbor; a science is at once ruled out by a praxis. I have not got a neighbor: I make myself somebody’s neighbor.” (p. 150)

Of course, we have already noticed the paradox of making oneself into something one is not already. So instead of the “I make myself” of Ricoeur, we have instead the “Go and do likewise,” a word spoken from the mind and person of Christ. So could it be that in becoming the one who is near to others, one so takes on the mind of Christ, a mind of compassion embracing oneself, the face and person of the other, and the very encounter itself? Could our call be to bestow love without first sighting evidence of another person’s lovability? Could these be the questions that continue to circle and follow us into the hallowed halls?

Invitation by David A. Vosburg

To teach is to invite.

We invite students to learn,

   to grow,

      to discover with us.

We invite them to engage with the unknown.

We invite students to walk with us,

     to take risks,

     to try something new.

They listen,

        step to the board,

      and share their ideas.

They ask questions.

We listen.

     We ask questions.

We invite students into our offices,

     our laboratories,

our homes.

We share chemistry,

 wonder,

    a meal

    —even our lives.

We open the world to them.

They reveal their weaknesses, and our own.

We are humbled.

True community forms.

We invite students to think,

   to create,

        and to explore.

But most of all, we invite students to hope.

For we too have been invited.

No Title. Simply Love. by ShaKayla Rouse

Picture a heart- big and red- full of life and joy Babum Babum Babum

a steady, healthy rhythm- a consistent beat- Babum. Babum.

            Can you hear it?

Now imagine that same heart being broken apart maliciously in a frenzy or slowly in agonizing turmoil- it’s up to you

breaking right down the middle, crackling, until it nearly shatters

            the pain- sometime piercing, sometimes aching

Can you feel it?

 

This is my heart.

 

It breaks my heart when we all come together and sing

 in church or at a weekly Christian fellowship meeting.

We sing songs about following God's will and being loving

            Unity, harmony...

And sometimes, honestly, I can’t stand it

 

and it makes me sick.

 

Because even within the body of Christ,

            that’s meant to be a representation of God’s kingdom,

the same racial, socio-economical, and other social constructions that

plague

our

society

has seeped into the church...effectively dividing us fellow Christians, our family.

So much so that people start to question their worth.

 

It’s not supposed to be this way.

 

A college-aged boy was born and raised in the church.

It was there where he learned to love God and to accept Jesus as his savior.

            doing all the Christian things- praying, serving, ministering

His church family couldn’t have been happier, seeing the boy’s love for glorifying God.

“Praise God for this boy,” they thought to themselves,

 

“God’s hand is definitely at work”.

 

His life, by no means, was easy just because of his faith.

He went through hardships that I have never experienced.

However, “God is on my side and my christian family loves me.” he thought- a message of

peace,

love, 

hope...

It was during his adolescent years when that message began to change into a message of

            confusion,

                        isolation,

                                    hurt…

His church family didn’t notice that transformation. Is there someone to blame?

 

Sometimes it is hard to see the truth.

 

I cry, I weep, and my heart is full of sorrow

I get angry, I shout, and I scream out:

“Why

God

why?”,

as I clench my heart in pain,

“Why is your body behaving like this?

Fellow Christians are supposed to be like family,

We are supposed to love one another as we love ourselves

No division in the body; its parts should have equal concern for one another.

 

Yet, all I can clearly see are different forms of hypocrisy”

 

The boy never said anything aloud, seeing how others like him were being treated.

He kept it hidden away for years, trying to hold onto that message from before

of peace, love, and hope, but it was so hard.

He prayed to God pleading that his story would be different, that his family continues to love him.

Finding the courage, he opened up to his family and stated that he is gay.

 

One would expect love or compassion…

 

Instead, he was met with revulsion, condemnation- with no understanding.

His foundation’s - his church family’s- reaction devastated him,

treating him as if he committed the ultimate sin.

Thus, effectively driving him away from the church and to some extent God,

the God who still loves him as a son- but for the boy,

 

Sadly, it is arduous to see.

 

I cry, I weep, and my heart is full of sorrow

I get angry, I shout, and I scream out:

“Why

God

why?”,

as I clench my heart in pain,

“Why is your body behaving like this?

Fellow Christians are supposed to be like family,

We are supposed to love one another as we love ourselves

No division in the body; its parts should have equal concern for one another

 

Yet, I all can clearly see are different forms of hypocrisy”

 

I will never understand the pain he must have felt.

I can’t comprehend how having those who you thought would love you

through thick and thin just abandon you...

especially by those who claim to serve the same God you do.

However, I can cry with him and mourn for his pain.

 

Lamenting is what God called me to do.

 

However, amidst my tears and frustration, I know that God, my father, is near.

He tells me to hold my head up and not to worry

for he is God and I simply need to be still.

I mustn’t stop in my walk of faith; I mustn’t let the hypocrisy faze me.

Instead I am to go out into the world, with his word in my heart,

And show everyone’s God’s love and his glory.

 

I am to walk in the authority that I have through Jesus too.

 

Even though my heart is heavy, I continue to fight and call out to my fellow Christians:

We are supposed to be set apart from this world,

so let’s help out our brothers and sisters instead of solely condemning and judging them.

            For the Bible says:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged,

and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”.

 

I will let God's word, the bible, speak for itself.

 

We cannot remain silent because we don’t understand or can’t relate.

We cannot use the excuse 'I don’t know what to say'.

Suffering and pain is universal.

Let your heart break for others, not just for those who outside the church

but your Christian family too.

Read your bibles as well and learn the truth.

Because only by learning about God's character through the study of the bible will

 

you be able to understand the God I serve.

 

Once we learn to open our mouths and hearts,

we will be the family we are supposed to be-

the body portrayed in the songs we sing.

That's why we were created, to bring glory to God’s kingdom and to serve one another.

 

As difficult as that is, I know that we can do it.

 

To that gay college student, I sincerely apologize.

For no one should be treated the way that you have.

My heart aches for your pain.

You are part of my family in Christ who 

deserves

to be

loved.

I want you to know that not every Christian out there are like the ones you may have encountered before.

There are Christians who care.

Do not let the negative experiences you had with Christians prior

dicrate how you see God or all of them.

 

We are only human.

 

I cry, I weep, and my heart is full of sorrow

I get angry, I shout, and I scream out:

“Why

God

why?”,

as I clench my heart in pain,

“Why is your body behaving like this?"

 

Nevertheless…

 

I smile, I laugh, and my heart is full of joy

I calm down, I sigh and I proclaim:

“Thank

you

God”

as I lift my hands to the sky,

“Thank you God, and I praise you in advance.

Fellow Christians, one day, will be like family.

We will love one another as we love ourselves.

No more division in the body; each part will have equal concern.

 

I will no longer see any forms of hypocrisy”.

Foster’s Forest by Danny & Bishoy Nasry

Not far from here, there once stood a frightfully beautiful forest, quivering perpetually with life. Some say that the trees came alive at night, as subtly as the twinkling of the stars above them.

The forest teemed with creatures great and small. They were sustained by a mix of sunlight, grass, and the fruits the trees dropped every morning without fail. The creatures were happy together, provided as they were with an abundance of food to eat and an abundance of company to share their days with. The eating of meals was, for as long as any of the creatures could remember, an event that they shared together, slowly and quietly, in a clearing in the middle of the forest—an event in which they all enjoyed fully the sweetness of the grass and the juiciness of the trees’ fruit. Aside from the occasional squabbles that you will observe within any family, the creatures did not harm one another, at least not ever out of malice.

It is true, though, what they say: that a certain fox, named Foster, once tried eating some grass while he walked during lunchtime and that a hapless little ant got stuck in the crease of a grass strand he had scooped up. The rustling of the leaves beneath Foster’s paws, you see, muffled the little ant’s yelps of terror. The unfamiliar crunch in Foster’s mouth stopped him dead in his tracks. “I’ve done a horrible thing!” Foster thought. “A little life is no more, and I’m to blame. And now that little life is inside me! That sort of thing has got to be deadly…oh no!”

Foster just knew he would keel over any minute. But as an hour passed, all Foster felt was a slight grumble in his belly. Oddly enough, he felt full longer than usual, and he realized he ate less than usual at dinner that day. Foster made a mental note of this, though he thought the sensation of fullness must have been a coincidence. As had become his habit, Foster still occasionally walked and ate, when no one else was watching. And, on one fateful day, the now slightly less foreign ‘crunch’ came again -- and (“Ahh!”) in the same bite, a second! Foster’s almond-shaped eyes widened to walnuts in dismay. The gravity of taking two precious lives was too much for Foster to bear. He wept and crumpled to the ground. “I’ll never walk and eat again! Never!” Foster half resolved, half lamented. He lay there an hour before he willed himself to rise. This time it was unmistakable: he felt just as full when he arose as when he had finished his murderous meal. “How can this be?” Foster wondered. “If something catastrophic doesn’t happen by dinner time…” Foster’s thoughts paused in a confused haze, “then, well…then maybe this isn’t so bad.”

Foster could hardly believe what he was telling himself, could hardly accept that such a thought had entered his mind. But something in him allowed it to stick around, to cross, and even crisscross, his mind as he waited, on pins and pine needles, till dinner. To Foster’s surprise and almost to his chagrin, the only thing awry at dinnertime was that he didn’t feel hungry. He went for a walk instead and this time at no danger of gobbling up an ant in the meantime.

As was his habit, he walked by the trees, those majestic trees, to look at them; to gaze upon their beauty; to get away from the hustle and bustle at the center of the forest. This was grand. Here, he felt grand!  Anything that gave him more time here, more walking beside these giants, must be good. After all, could there be anything better? Yes, the other foxes and creatures were aware of the trees and their beauty; after all, neither tree nor creature could thrive without the other. But in what way were they aware? Did they experience this same sort of thirst that Foster felt? Foster needed to know more about the trees, about how exactly they formed their fruit during the forest’s short nights, about what caused the sheen of their green leaves to be so brilliant, about the processes that allowed the trees to grow so tall. And the way to that knowledge was all too apparent now: having ants for food. Filling ant-meals would mean more time alone with the trees, while the other creatures were busy eating, slowly and quietly. “It’s true that lives will be lost in the process,” thought Foster, “but they are only ant-lives after all; have the ants ever done anything meaningful anyway?” Foster certainly couldn’t think of something they’d done that was big enough to matter. The other creatures made the forest more beautiful. But no one would miss the ants or hear their complaints.

He was convinced, if only just barely.  Foster’s manner of eating slowly changed. He started out by being less careful to avoid the ants when they got stuck in the sweet grass; then, without telling himself he was doing so, he looked for patches of grass in his peripheral vision that trembled more with what would likely be ants; and then, after a long while, he unabashedly pursued them in the grass.  Eventually, Foster only needed one ant-meal a day, and the yelps and crunches that perturbed him before came at last to seem almost like a familiar jingle. He had much more time to be with the trees. He studied them. He understood more about them. The little pieces of bark he nibbled off of the trees and kept helped him always feel a little closer to them. Foster noticed that while he was alone with the trees at the edge of the forest, he began feeling oddly itchy. In what he thought must have been a coincidence, he would often scratch at the itch and find that an ant or two was scrambling through his thick fur, usually near his ears. How sweet it was when his new food source came to him, when he could eat the source of his itch and be energized to keep doing what he wanted: to be with the trees. Though it wasn’t his meal time, Foster never stopped to consider why the ants kept approaching his ears or why their yelps seemed more shrill. He had more time for what mattered to him — for studying the beauty of his world, of the trees that were just as beautiful as ever.

Some say that Foster ate a beetle once, and that, after a while, other creatures no longer felt safe near him. They say that when Foster walked about, his eyes glinted in a way they hadn’t seen; but no one could definitively say whether it was the flecks of wisdom or something else. When his fellow foxes caught on to what he was doing, he persuaded some, with genuine intensity, that his way was good; for, he had more time and more understanding now; he could be with beauty in a special way.  Others could not bring themselves to see things the way Foster had come to see them.  The forest was beautiful. It was very much alive. And some of the creatures experienced its beauty in new ways, and more often.

It’s true though, about the trees; few said that they came alive at night any more.

Mathematizing the Mind by Hong Suh

Many perceive math as a discipline of universal truths, but this assumption overlooks the foundations of mathematics. Math is the discipline of truths in a certain context, a context built up from a set of assumptions, or axioms, which we take for granted to be true. A brief look at history will show that math is not quite the absolutism with which it is often associated. Examining the history of mathematics may challenge our personal standards of objective logic, and inform the way we approach our own life philosophies.

The math community went through heavy turmoil in the 1900s, when the foundations of mathematics were being built. The appeal of unifying most of mathematics under one theory motivated a movement to establish these foundations, and mathematicians thought set theory could be the answer. The idea was that any mathematical object -- numbers, functions, ordered pairs, anything -- could be defined in terms of sets.

But the development did not proceed smoothly, and several challenged it. Most famously, Gottlob Frege, a German mathematician, wrote two large volumes constructing naive set theory, which he hoped would serve as a foundation for much of mathematics. Just as the second volume was being published in 1903, Bertrand Russell constructed a paradoxical set (now called Russell’s Set) that derived a fundamental contradiction in Frege’s theory. Frege quickly admitted his mistake and sought to remedy his error, albeit without success.

Soon after this famous incident, Ernst Zermelo and Adolf Fraenkel proposed another set of axioms for set theory, now called ZF. Unlike naive set theory, ZF rigorously defines what can and cannot be a set. (In ZF, Russell’s Set is not actually a set.) A slight expansion of ZF (called ZFC) is the axiomatic system that most mathematicians work with today.

Does ZFC work? Kurt Gödel, a famous logician, published his two incompleteness theorems in 1931, which firmly limited the power of axiomatic systems like ZFC. Informally, his second incompleteness theorem states that any reasonable axiomatic system either is inconsistent or cannot be proven to be consistent within itself. So if ZFC is consistent, there is no way to show that it is consistent, given the axioms of ZFC. And if we are able to show that ZFC is consistent by only using ZFC, then it is inconsistent! A consequence of this theorem is that there is no way to confirm that ZFC is not paradoxical unless it is indeed paradoxical. The only thing mathematicians can do is have faith that ZFC is consistent.

Most of us completely trust the results of mathematical research to be true, as we should—math proceeds as logically as is humanly possible. But even math hinges on assumptions whose logical consistency is unknown. In this way, a strict definition of faith does not run counter to logic as we often think. In the development of mathematics, we see that faith—in assuming the truth and consistency of axioms—is actually necessary to begin logical deduction. Mathematicians have demonstrated that rigor can be built from uncertain axiomatic foundations by being aware of the limitations of their assumptions (see Gödel’s incompleteness theorems), careful to build every theory up from foundational and relatively universal axioms, and quick to discard inconsistent theories (see Frege).

Can we similarly rigorize our philosophies? Can we make our beliefs and philosophies consistent and self-aware in the spirit of the history of mathematics? Can we mathematize the mind?[1]

We all live with our own axioms inscribed in our hearts, but often, they are so ill-defined and convoluted that we can’t enumerate them clearly. Sometimes we have no proof, not even a bad one, for our supposed theorems. Yet, in their roots, our philosophies are analogous to mathematics: both start with assumptions and build up into theories. How would our philosophies be different if they were scrutinized in the same way that mathematics has been held to a decided set of axioms?

Math relies on logical deduction from assumptions to produce theorems. It is difficult to overlook a misstep in logic when consistently referring back to a transparently articulated theorem. If we mathematize our minds, logical inconsistencies reveal themselves willingly, perhaps too much so. In Frege’s case, a simple paradox, in three lines, revealed a clear inconsistency that tore down two volumes of work. Hidden contradictions are insidious— thinking our systems of intellectual and moral standards are consistent, we may continue to build upon a contradictory set of beliefs. Approaching personal philosophies and spiritual orientations with a critical rigor minimizes the risk of logical inconsistencies in our systems.

But what is left in our minds when we reorganize our philosophies in the manner above? Perhaps almost nothing. We may find that cleaning up our beliefs results in a trash can full of unfounded theorems and little else. We may find that we actually know nothing of what we thought we knew. Examining our personal philosophies in the conventionally “rational” framework of an axiomatic system sheds light, perhaps too much of it, on the limits of our knowledge and beliefs.

For persons of faith, sifting through philosophies in a rigorous manner will almost certainly reveal that there is very little we can know about what lies beyond the physical or conceivable. But doing so also strengthens the few inklings of conviction that do survive reorganization. You may think that after such a process, one would know less than before, but can we really qualify the unfounded, disposable theorems as knowledge? I would argue the meta-knowledge of what we do and do not know to be one of the most valuable bodies of knowledge one can explore. The few axioms and theorems that survive a rigorous sifting are, then, indisputably yours. You own them confidently, you know them inside and out. Through this perhaps painful process, we can reclaim our philosophies as truly our own.

I’ll conclude with a meta-analysis of the axioms I’ve assumed thus far. Perhaps the most important axiom that this article accepts is that not believing a false proposition is preferable to believing one. Is this a reasonable axiom to accept? We put considerable effort into showing that faith does not run counter to logic, but what if one disagrees with the basis upon which we define logic? Is it worth mathematizing the mind without first accepting the mainstream standard to which these life-defining philosophies will be held? I have no answers, and you may find yourself similarly lost at many points along your analyses. But note that we were only able to ask those questions by using the self-awareness and rigor exemplified in the history of mathematics. Let us continue to organize, rethink, and reclaim our philosophies in our surely incomplete but worthy quest of understanding religion, morality, and the likes.

 

Glossary:

AXIOM: an assumption taken to be true without proof

AXIOMATIC SYSTEM: a set of axioms with a language and deduction rules

GÖDELʼS SECOND INCOMPLETENESS THEOREM: for any reasonable axiomatic system that can describe the natural numbers, it is either consistent or it cannot be proven to be consistent within itself

NAIVE SET THEORY: a set theory that defines sets to be a collection of objects with a certain property, with little restrictions on what the property can be

RIGOR: the precautions taken in the methods of mathematical proof to ensure correctness

RUSSELLʼS SET: the “set” R of objects x such that x does not contain itself. It turns out that R simultaneously contains itself and does not contain itself -- it is too “large” to be a well-defined set

SET THEORY: the mathematical study of sets, or collections of objects

ZF: a set of 8 axioms that was one of the first attempts to resolve problems in set theory such as Russellʼs Set

ZFC: ZF in addition to the Axiom of Choice; underlies most of modern set theory

 

[1]  The purpose of the following paragraphs is to draw analogies from math to apply to our personal philosophies. Note that personal philosophies are quite different from formal systems. Appeals to Godel and other math results are merely looking to mathematics for inspiration. Also note that references to technical terms such as “axiomatic systems”, “axioms”, “proof”, etc. are colloquial and meant to associate philosophies with formal systems, not to equate them.

Posted on June 9, 2015 .

Freedom and Submission by Vivian Zhang

There is, I believe, a sweeter freedom in submission than in independence. This freedom is less about freedom to do things, and more about freedom from things— freedom from loneliness, fear, insecurity.

We walk among each other blind, mostly, to the times and the ways those around us have been lonely, afraid, insecure. Yet we feel our own loneliness, fears, and insecurities so keenly. Our painful reality is that it is hard to be alone yet not feel lonely, to be faced with fears yet not be fearful, or to be unpopular yet be secure in self-esteem. Our insecurities and fears shape who we are and the decisions that we make.

We are in a way bound to our insecurities and fears: they keep us from taking risks, asking for help, and being “ourselves.”  (I’d think that most anyone who’s been through middle school knows this, and truthfully most of us will wrestle with it for most of our lives.) At our core, we want to be free from these things, and more than that, we want to exchange them—how sweet would it be to instead be known and be loved?

But to be known and be loved doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It necessarily involves parties beyond the bubble of the independent self. I think we’ve come to consider freedom primarily as independence: freedom to do what we like, say what we think, pursue what we desire. This bubble-building kind of freedom, or autonomy, is what John Stuart Mill famously argued for in On Liberty: it is pursuit of individual interests without interference by others so long as only the individual is put at risk. More simply put, this is the harm principle: “do what you want as long as you aren’t harming anyone else.”  The bubble gives us freedom to govern our own actions. But what if that isn’t the only kind of freedom we need, or if it isn’t even the kind of freedom that we need most deeply? What if, more pressingly, our heart of hearts yearns—and I think it does—to exchange our loneliness, insecurities, and fear for the freedom of being known and loved?

Let us for a moment imagine life as indeed walking among each other. I can decide to walk in any manner of speeds, styles, or directions, but if my issue is that I want to walk together with someone, then making those decisions on my own will be of no benefit. Without looking around me and taking into account someone else’s pace and direction, I’d get nothing more than bumping into a stranger or briefly taking a few steps in synchronization before falling out of step again, the way my car’s turning signal does a couple flashes in sync with the car in front of me at a stoplight until they fall out of step again, each entirely ignorant of the other’s rhythm.

If I want to walk together with others, then I have to change my pace and direction to match theirs. I might end up walking slower than I prefer, in the shade when I would prefer sun, and so on. Yet for the company— and even when there is no contact or conversation between us, for the warmth of knowing we’re in it together—it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. This then is what I mean by submission: sacrificing what I want, for who I want to be with. To submit literally means to “put [oneself] under” (from the Latin mitterie: put, sub—, under).  Submission is putting one’s own interests under another’s, freely letting the pursuit of individual desires be less important and less ultimate. It is to “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV).

We sacrifice and submit this way for our family and friends; it’s part of what makes those relationships meaningful to us, and part of how we prove that they are meaningful to us. The hours that go into surprise birthday parties, emergency hospital trips, and listening to feelings and frustrations are our submission to one another. They’re acknowledgement that our individual desires for our time are less ultimate than the needs of those whom we love. And when we voluntarily put each other’s interests above our own in this way, when we enter relationships of submission, we open ourselves up to being known and being loved. Amongst family and friends we find freedom from our loneliness, insecurities, and fears. We know that we won’t be judged or misunderstood or any less loved for what we do or say around them. Even when apart, there is freedom to be bold and take risks that comes from the awareness of unconditioned support.

But this all is speaking in ideals.

Even siblings, parents, and the best of friends will inevitably fail, betray, and misunderstand us at some point; in our relationships there is an understanding that the closer we are, the more vulnerable we are to being hurt. Submitting to others and their interests opens us up to other people’s flaws, ignorance, and selfishness.

Yet entering relationships of submission means submitting to this possibility, putting others above our personal interest of not getting hurt. Our autonomous independent-self bubbles don’t leave room for others to get in our way, complicate our lives, or hurt us, but they also leave little room for the possibility of others knowing us and loving us. How freeing it is to be both thoroughly known and still loved: to have someone know your deep insecurities and fears, to have someone know how you, too, have been flawed and ignorant and selfish—maybe even have suffered hurt from you because of that—and yet, still love you. We may or may not reach this fullness of love in our relationships in this lifetime on this earth, but the prospect is so sweet and the not-quite-there-yet form is still so rewarding that we strive on towards it anyhow. It is worth it to submit to one another in spite of the ways we hurt and get hurt, because that is where we find meaningful relationship for our whole selves.

And so submission is less freedom’s opposite than its beginning. Seeking freedom without submission we really end up with neither, but seeking to submit to one another we end up with a more whole and more lovely form of freedom, which speaks more truly to our deeper desire to love and belong.

A House Built on Sand: Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty by Pieter Hookstra

Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Mt 18:5

What does it mean to hold a worldview that is authentic and life-shaping? Although we don’t like to admit it, Western culture tends to avoid that question like the plague. And a key component of that avoidance, as I see it, is an unwillingness to sincerely engage our minds with the difficult intellectual problems our worldviews present. Instead, we thoughtlessly accept the hand-me-down worldviews of our parents or culture, stuff them into our closets, and let them collect dust while we go about living our lives as if our worldviews don’t exist. We prefer intellectual dishonesty to honest doubt because we’re deathly afraid of the question, “What am I really living for?”

I’ve witnessed and learned through experience that there are serious consequences to ignoring this all-important question—yet we’re trained to do just that from early youth. In all types of communities (atheistic included), parents want their children’s spiritual lives to be uncomplicated and care-free, and avoid challenging them intellectually as a result. As my Christian experience has demonstrated, this often results in outright indoctrination rather than the cultivation of a critical mindset. “Leave those pesky existential anxieties,” the parents say, “for when they go to college, or into the real world.” Because that always goes so well.

Don’t get me wrong: college can be a great place to seek a faith that is both communal and individual, brought on by sincere reflection rather than indoctrination. And for many (myself included), this involves a serious, sometimes painful struggle to figure out what one truly believes. But is an eruption of overlooked turmoil upon leaving the nest really our best option? Should not addressing doubts and questions be a central component of our lives? Jesus commanded his followers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” (Lk 10:27) Jesus doesn’t present loving the Lord with your mind as one of the options—the mind is a necessary component of faith, and he asks for all of it. An essential part of loving the Lord with one’s mind is seeking and understanding the challenges that the world has to offer to the thoughtful Christian. What can we learn from an honest examination of other faiths and worldviews? What can we learn from examining weaknesses in our own?

Christ asserts that a believer who doesn’t put his words into practice is like “a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Mt 7:24-27). When Christians urge their children toward the path of least intellectual resistance, they are setting the spiritual foundations of their children’s faiths on sand. That faith might look pretty, it might even feel livable, but questions will come, doubts will blow, and the faith will fall with a great crash.  Working through doubts can grow and test one’s faith in intellectually honest ways; that is how one builds a faith on solid rock. Without such inspection, the foundation of a faith remains fragile.

What might a faith built on sand look like in contemporary Christian culture? Take, for example, the Sunday School version of King David. “He’s a man after God’s own heart, the classic Biblical hero!” the teacher exclaims “What a great king for God’s people!” Christian children learn about his defeating the giant Goliath, his harp-playing, his honorable refusal to kill King Saul. What they don’t learn about is how he slaughters innocent villages for their possessions and sends a man off to his death so he can have sex with his wife. Keep in mind—this is a man some Christians views as a symbolic predecessor to Christ. The idealistic vision of Biblical “heroes” falls apart, of course, when a Biblically knowledgeable atheist points out some uncomfortable truth. The irony here is that there’s so much for a follower of God to learn from such a realistic portrayal of human nature, and the loving redemption that God offers humankind at its sickening worst. Yet Christians often shy away from gruesome Biblical realities because, well, showing grace towards murderers is tricky and they wouldn’t want to scare the kids away. And when contemporary Christianity ignores or misrepresents the vast majority of the Bible, one is justified in feeling lied to. I’ll mention in passing that this type of disillusionment—brought on simply by turning to a random, overlooked page—is symptomatic of having just emerged from a cult.

Another question arises from examining the Bible: how can the Word be authoritative and perfect when it seems to house blatant contradictions? The Synoptics say that Jesus claim that Jesus died during Passover, while John asserts he died the day before. They can’t both be right. Luke details a Roman census that scholars are fairly certain never took place. While I don’t view these kinds of issues as “faith-breaking,” they need to be addressed in some capacity if one’s views on the Bible are going to hold up outside of the Christian bubble. What do contradictions mean for how one understands the Bible and the Christian faith?

Biblical arguments aside, secular thought has produced an array of effective arguments that attempt to foil or explain away the Christian faith, and they can’t be outright ignored. Great thinkers argue that religion is an illusion, cooked up purely as a tool for social and political organization. Morality, they say, is a product of our natural evolution, and therefore inherently meaningless. The more scientists understand the human brain, the more we question whether we really have any agency in the world. Meanwhile, historians have pointed out that just about every ancient Mesopotamian society had their own flood myth with striking similarities to the Biblical account, and Christians steer clear of discussing the potential implications. But it’s when children haven’t discussed how to approach these secular explanations of faith that their ability to seek truth is undermined by fear, panic, and frustration.

Self-deception about the security of one’s beliefs—that is what leads to collapse. Our beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. There are infinite plausible explanations for who we are and why we are here, and there is no way to assign validity to one without understanding the nature of the others. We should choose worldviews based on what we find to be the most compelling explanations for existence, history, and human experience.  But it would be impossible for us to make that judgment if we didn’t seek a grounded understanding of the alternatives. You can’t pick one dish, avoid so much as smelling the other options, and reasonably conclude that you’ve found the most delicious item on the menu.

But you have to order something. Living inconsistently is inherently harmful, and goes hand in hand with not being challenged. I spent most of high school and freshman year ignoring this fact. Instead, like many others, I partitioned my brain. On one side, I had beliefs that made me feel comfortable and secure. On the other, I harbored unresolved doubts and questions about those beliefs. And the two never touched; after all, it’s much easier to simply believe that you’ve figured life out, while ignoring those nagging doubts over in the corner. But in separating my hand-me-down faith from my doubtful intuitions, I had completely undermined the faith itself. I no longer regarded it as so relevant as to actually have to impact my decisions. All this is to say that sometimes when a belief hasn’t been tested, it doesn’t get used, either. And this schism can be downright torturous, whether that means guilt, confusion, depression, or fragile delusion about one’s comfortable status in the world.

I speak from experience: don’t go down that road. I humbly invite my readers to examine their own beliefs with the critical mindset that I’ve applied to Christianity. Does your daily life reflect what you claim to believe? Have you really considered the basis for your beliefs? Why do you find yours to be more rational than the alternatives? In other words, do you actually think your beliefs are true? If you’re having trouble answering these questions, it’s time to dig that hand-me-down worldview out of the closet, dust it off, and give it a look over. Start figuring out which parts are broken, and which parts you aren’t using. Be honest with yourself. The best thing you can do for your worldview is to go all-in; whether you end up throwing it away or fixing it, you’ll be somewhere nearer the truth.

Heaven on Earth by Peter Chen

There is a children’s movie called Flatland, and in Flatland, the main characters are geometric shapes that exist in a two dimensional world. One day, a huge commotion breaks out when there is a report of a creature that can appear and disappear in a moment’s notice. This being is breaking into safes and materializing behind closed doors, and no one knows how. It turns out this being is a three-dimensional shape, a sphere. Imagine that there were creatures living in a piece of paper, and you could put your finger anywhere through the paper. The only part of your finger these two-dimensional creatures could see would be the cross-section of your finger on the paper. If you lifted your finger and placed it anywhere else through the paper, it would seem to them that your finger had teleported. But before discussing the implications of these dimensional interactions, let us clarify: what is a dimension?

Look around you: the world we live in and perceive is in three dimensions, with the components of length, height, and width. In modern physics, space and time are connected to create the space-time continuum, which consists of four dimensions. This one higher dimension defies our natural perception of a physical reality, as aspects like distance are distorted. One can only imagine what changes in the higher-up dimensions, as new variables are introduced and with it a new set of natural laws and conventions. And we should also establish the mathematical principle of dimensions: every lower dimension is subsumed under its higher counterparts. Each lower dimension is a part of those higher than itself, and the higher dimensions contain those lower.


Imagine if a four-dimensional or higher being acted in our world as the three-dimensional being acted in Flatland. The fullness of their existence would be out of our natural scope of understanding and perception, and they would have powers we struggle to comprehend. We could only catch a glimmer or a shadow –a three dimensional image – of their higher-dimensional existence. Just as the idea of capturing only a glimpse of a being’s essence is logical under the mathematical assumption that there exists more dimensions than we are able to perceive and that they permeate through dimensions lower than themselves, looking from a religious perspective, perhaps we’re able to see glimpses of a spiritual realm in which a god or deity dwells and how it may filter through our physical reality.[1]

For the purposes of my own faith and this article, I interpret this in terms of Christianity and the Christian God,[2] and consider some of the implications that arise from such a perspective. Within this framework, God must exist in the infinite dimension, because Scripture describes God as an infinite and eternal God.[3] Jeremiah 23:24 says,

"Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?" declares the LORD "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. “

Just as the third dimension contains the first and second dimensions, God, on the infinite dimension, fills all the ones below Him, and we can see how this echoes throughout God’s characteristics. God is touted as omnipresent: He fills the vastness of space. God is eternal: time exists in a lower dimension for Him. And this is why God considered to be omniscient: He can see everything that happens and might happen as well.[4] Earth, existing in the third dimension, is only capable of capturing a shadow of God’s glory. The earth simply cannot contain His glory, and that is why when God manifests on earth, in the form of a pillar of fire, a burning bush, or a huge cloud in the Old Testament, these are physical wonders that are temporary and do not fully make sense to us.

Although something does not make complete sense to us does not mean it does not exist. God exists behind a veil that we can never lift and lives in a space we can never reach: He is beyond us, and the most we can ever know about Him is a shadow of His entire glory.

But now, what are the implications for approaching Christianity within this framework? If each dimension is contained in the one above it and God is in heaven, this begs the question: is heaven right in front of us? Just as the second dimension is not a separate bubble of space that we enter into, what if our three-dimensional space is not a separate bubble from heaven, but in actuality, a part of heaven?

If heaven exists in a higher dimension, then we, as humans, cannot see anything that might be happening in heaven, since we are limited in our ability to observe the characteristics of these higher dimensions, heaven included. Just like the citizens of Flatland, we can only see how these supernatural ripples affect our world. There is no denying that Christianity is founded upon elements of divine intervention. An example of this is the prophetic gift. Another example is the divine inspiration of the Word of God. The prophetic gift allows us to see and sense past that veil and beyond the space-time continuum to see what God sees. The inspiration of the Word brings these higher dimensions down to earth, revealing to the world who God is. In either of these situations, it is the Holy Spirit and the spiritual aspect of our identity that allows us to experience and recognize the supernatural. In 1 Corinthians 2: 13-14, Paul writes to the church in Corinth:  

“This is what we[5] speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words…because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Furthermore, 1 Peter 1:21 also says,

“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

From these verses, we see an illustration of what the life that we live could be if we moved in the Spirit and what the words we say would mean if we spoke from the Spirit. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis writes in his Reflections on the Psalms, regarding the illumination of the Scriptures,

“Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately….When a series of such retellings turns a creation story[6] which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.”

C.S. Lewis makes it clear that in some way, the re-tellers and writers of the Scriptures were guided by God, and that there was purpose in God’s decision to move in their spirit to write such stories.

These verses, along with this excerpt from C.S. Lewis, point to a gift that is instilled within us as humans in the core of our spiritual identity: to be led along by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps these are signs that our world exists within the heavenly realm, that our spirits, guided by the Holy Spirit, testify to a spiritual reality above our physical existence, even though we are still on earth. We may not be able to discern the fullness of heaven’s presence on earth, but from this cross-section of the spiritual realm, we see glimpses and shadows of realities greater than our own. By living and walking in the Holy Spirit, our actions reflect the spiritual reality above us, and thus, in doing so, we bring heaven down to earth.

[1] For the sake of this article, I won’t discuss those implications here, but I am more than happy to meet and have a conversation about it.

[2] I think it’s perfectly viable to look at this mathematical argument and make a case for pluralism or for the truth in any other religion. The point of this article isn’t to prove Christianity as the one true religion by any means. Please come discuss this with me if you want.

[3] To not detract from this article, I will not prove the infinitude of God, but for a biblical assertion of this, see Revelations 1:8 and 2 Chronicles 2:6. For a non-biblical assertion of an infinite God, see Thomas Aquinas’ Contra Gentiles.

[4] So this article is not scattered, those who have questions on how this idea of God’s omniscience can be reconciled with the idea of free will can also come talk with me, and we can engage in delightful conversation.

[5] Contextually, Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church, but in our day and age, I interpret this to apply to all believers that allow to Holy Spirit to speak through them, as I believe that this gift has been extended to all believers.

[6] Academically speaking, scholars say that Genesis borrows heavily from Babylonian and Mesopotamian creations myths, such as the Enuma Elish, as well as other myths from that time period and cultural context. Also, C.S. Lewis is speaking from a Christian perspective.

Posted on June 9, 2015 .

Letter from the Editor (Spring 2014) by Amira Athanasios

In the summer of 1926, Miss Ellen Browning Scripps recounted her newly inspired vision to Mary Patterson Routt, an aspiring journalist of the time: “I am thinking of a college campus whose simplicity and beauty will unobtrusively seep into the student’s consciousness and quietly develop a standard of taste and judgment.”

Miss Scripps’ words capture the essence of a particular power –that of external beauty and aesthetics. I have come to learn that the physical campus has great influence on the culture of the student body and its ideologies at the Claremont Colleges. Scripps’ dream for her school captured two ideas: consistency and subtlety. The unchanging aesthetics of the campus evoke particular feelings, which go on to shape how we hold ourselves and how approach others: there are open, inviting spaces which foster community; secret gardens that persuade the mind into self-reflection; regal book rooms which challenge our studies; rolling lawns that encourage play. I am led to question what might it look like to actualize one’s beliefs quietly and unobtrusively, with simplicity and beauty, as the Scripps campus has done for many of its students.

Quite contrastingly, we often characterize others by their SHOUTS. I have misjudged friends by their actions on particularly important days, rather than remembering the subtle ways by which they care for me each day. Similarly, the Christian faith is frequently seen in light of the LOUDEST actions and statements made by the church. Whether we judge the church by obvious gestures of goodness or of wrongdoing, both actions are shouts. Shouts are bold and so easily heard, but they are neither captivating nor revealing in the same way as are our everyday thoughts.

So, I ask, might the quiet and consistent thoughts –the whispers– within the Church be more telling of our beliefs than the shouts, just as the subtlety of the campus architecture is more telling of the campus culture than its mission statement? Of course it is difficult to hear a still and quiet voice amidst the noise, but perhaps the transforming, inspiring hope of Good News is more truthfully heard within the whispers among us than within the shouts (1 Kings 19).

Our faith reveals itself through whispers. Many of us have had ‘Jesus’ and ‘salvation’ shouted at us from different directions, particularly the pulpit. However, the Christian faith cannot solely inform our understanding of Jesus and Salvation, but must shape our understanding of each issue, topic, or project we approach. Herein lie the whispers of our faith –in the subtle and beautiful ways by which an understanding of Christ as Lord distinctly and persistently colors all other things that we think and do.

I hope that the following pages quietly develop a standard of taste and judgment: a taste for reconciling damaged hierarchies of power, articulating critiques, expressing emotions, and questioning one’s beliefs, and a judgment that allows us to pursue our desires righteously. Above all, I hope that we may continue to whisper with a beauty that is humble yet influential.

Education is Not a Right by ShaKayla Rouse and Laura Mallison

For those who only read the first sentences of articles, we’re just gonna lay it out: at the end of the day, we don’t understand one another, and any insights we may have are just gravy.

For people facing power structures like the patriarchy, racism, ableism, homophobia, classism, among other “ism”s, words like “I know what you’re going through” and “I understand how you feel” can be more inflammatory than comforting. Unless the speaker faces the same “’ism”s, what is meant as compassion instead trivializes the experiences surrounding these issues. For example, a day of exhaustion from working late on a paper is not the same as living with a chronically exhausting disease, and not being able to afford a luxury trip is not the same as growing up in the working class.  There may be enough similarities among our experiences to provoke empathy, but part of truly understanding is recognizing that power structures make these experiences inherently different.  Every experience is legitimate, but that does not make them equivalent.  To treat them as the same essentially denies the existence of the “ism”s that are very real sources of anger and hurt. For minority people, these power structures are not ideologies to be discussed, debated, and then put aside at leisure.  Rather, these are issues with many intricacies and nuances that form daily battles that we do not have the privilege to ignore.  Similarly, the movements against these power structures are more than ideals or schools of thought; they can mean protection, legitimization, and otherwise impossible rights.

Because these struggles are daily personal experiences, not just classroom discourses, some level of privacy in sharing them should be expected. In this way, educating others regarding our experiences is not a given right. Our experiences are just that: experiences. Some conversations are better kept between friends where there is enough trust to be vulnerable; there are times when we simply cannot deal with an audience in the process of healing from the hurt of our struggles. Our purpose is not to be academic sources, microcosms to study power structures, or inspiration; rather, our stories are simply personal, unique, raw experiences that no one can be entitled to hear.

One of the layers that oppressed minority groups face is the necessity to conform to the expectations of the majority, be that the ability to take the stairs when no ramp is available or choosing a live-in partnership instead of marriage because of geography. Using our experiences to educate others becomes yet another layer of oppression. Sharing our stories to promote awareness and understanding is very important, but the attitude of being entitled to our perspectives perpetuates the very cycles we are trying to break by sharing them. It is a privilege to hear personal experiences, not a right. Oppressed groups must be given the right to privacy and the power to choose if, what, how, when, and where to talk about our experiences. Go ahead and ask! Just treat it like consent: you’re not entitled to it, permission is continual not one-time, and it might be awkward, but that’s ok. Minorities, this does not mean we’re off the hook and never have to leave our comfort zone of what to share.  However, they will continue to suck if we’re never willing to move past the hardships and emotional responses, and towards productive action.  We are by no means suggesting pushing beyond what feels safe or meeting expectations for the sake of meeting expectations.  However, sometimes discomfort can be worth it as long as we have control over when to engage in an uncomfortable conversation.  For example, we are not responsible for engaging in every discussion that could concern us or calling out every sexist status on Facebook.  What we are responsible is putting forth effort, however small it may look like.  Some days this might be confronting all the “ism”s with every form of activism imaginable, and other days this might be making the response “I don’t want to talk about it right now” polite instead of brusque.  Both of these are awesome!  How much we do is far less important than the fact that we are doing something.

As we’re moving forward, we need to remember that being oppressed does not come with an automatic understanding of oppression. Being in the same “group” is not the same as having the same experiences. Being disabled does not come with magical insight into racism any more than experiencing gender discrimination yields an enlightened perspective on sexuality discrimination.  We need to be careful to not set an example of overgeneralizing ourselves amidst the frustrations we seek to address.  We are just as responsible as the majority to approach these topics with tact and humility and make room for others to express their voices and experiences.

Just in case, like us, you tend to read the first and last paragraphs and fudge the middle: we all have privileges, which are better recognized than demanded.