Dynamism in Christianity by Teofanny Saragi

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
            Acts 17:11, NIV

I was raised in a religious environment that places value on understanding—although I grew up in a Christian, Seventh-Day Adventist household, I wasn’t baptized until I was 12. In other Christian denominations, baptism occurs earlier, but Seventh-Day Adventists believe that baptism should not occur until one can demonstrate an understanding of the concepts presented in church and in the Bible. Fresh after my baptism, I felt invigorated and spiritually motivated.

Several years passed, and just as there is calm after a storm, I sensed complacency in my spiritual life. The emotional high of declaring my devotion to God subsided as I fell into a routine of coming and going to church without thinking critically about the messages presented. I read my Bible without investing time to reflect and consider deeper meanings. I lost sense of what being a Christian truly meant to me, and I realized that maybe I hadn’t quite explored the depths of my faith after all. There was still so much for me to explore.

Shortly thereafter, I attended a youth conference that reinforced this realization. The conference gathered thousands of Seventh-Day Adventist youth from across the nation and around the world. I attended seminars that challenged my beliefs and introduced new perspectives—within a group of fellow Seventh-Day Adventists. I realized that my existing perspectives were not set in stone, and that personal growth came from challenges to my beliefs. In order to remain spiritually alive, I needed to seek different perspectives and consider them seriously. I needed to go out and search for the truth.

I soon came across a text that reminded me of my failure to actively question and analyze my beliefs. The Berean Jews in Acts 17:11 brought me to realize that I had serious problems in my relationship with God because I was too afraid that asking Why? or probing deeper into seemingly problematic Biblical points would ruin my relationship with Him. However, the more I refrained from challenging and questioning my faith, the more my relationship suffered. My interactions with and understanding of God were lacking in a fundamental way, but it was so much more comfortable to remain complacent, suppressed, and in denial.

Acts 17:11 piqued my curiosity not only spiritually, but also in terms of critical thinking and not accepting anything at face value. During my first year at Pomona, I have experienced moments in which I challenged my existing views, others challenged me, or I challenged them. Being in a setting with so many passionate individuals who are firmly grounded in their beliefs yet are still aware of the need to constantly refocus their lenses has led me to deeply and critically consider the reasons why I believe what I believe.

I have stepped out of my spiritual state of complacency to engage in active Christianity: a form of Christianity that requires me to step out of the comfortable, safe zone where everyone agrees with me and offers a hearty Amen! and step into realms where I actively consider the reasons for my faith. Acts 17:11 reminds me that true faith is strengthened through critical analysis and intelligent discussion.

I have been on a long journey of fostering my spiritual curiosity. Though it was initially difficult for me to develop confidence in questioning my religion, I have built upon this confidence to question other aspects of life. Instead of accepting society as it is, I find it necessary as a Christian to question it. These experiences have led me to value critical, open dialogue and a multiplicity of perspectives; it is for this reason that I am continuously drawn into Christianity. To me, being a Christian does not mean rigorously abiding to a “Dos and Don’ts” list. It does not mean shying away from criticisms or challenges to my beliefs. Christianity is a dynamic exploration of old and new ideas; it is a critical dialogue with a diverse body of individuals who are collectively seeking the truth.

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 inpeople 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 Godaccepts us but we reject others—that is what I’m sorry for.

Friend, I wish I could promise to always love you unconditionally. Iwant 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,




[1] Luke 15:2021

[2] Luke 14:33

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Perfect in Weakness by Xuan Yeo

These words penned by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth made little sense to me growing up. Having been raised in an achievement-driven culture – where (an extremely narrow definition of) success is celebrated and anything less is brashly swept under the carpet — I found Paul’s sentiment completely counter-intuitive and utterly incomprehensible.

At least in my family, gatherings served as opportunities for extended relatives (as well as for my parents, of course) to boast about their children’s phenomenal achievements –like a gold at a mathematics Olympiad or a distinction for a violin examination. I remember the abject fear I used to feel attending family gatherings on the back of a below par showing in an examination; clearly, boasting in our weaknesses was a notion that evaded me.

Seven years ago – on 10 January 2007, to be precise – I had a radical encounter with God[1] and gave my life to Jesus Christ. I immediately plunged headfirst into my local church community with an enthusiasm that I believe was both God-given but also reflective of my personality in general. Rapidly I ‘rose through the ranks’ in my local church community, precociously undertaking various leadership positions that belied my young faith.

Much as my apparent zeal was birthed out of my love for God and His church, it was also (the extent of which I was unaware of) motivated by my performance-driven attitude. My environment growing up had forged in me the mistaken, but deeply-seated, belief that my sense of identity and self-worth were rooted in my accomplishments.

We had leaders’ meetings regularly in church, where members taking on various leadership responsibilities would convene to share reports of what God had been doing in our respective groups. Strangely enough, I began to feel pressure at these meetings not unlike the kind I felt when attending family gatherings: with all the other leaders sharing glorious stories of the amazing work God was doing in and through them, I felt the tacit pressure for my stories to ‘match up’ with theirs. Even though I was a teenager struggling with issues like insecurity and pornography among others, I was not comfortable talking about them with my friends from church. I was afraid of rejection and judgment. And perhaps, more than anything else, I was afraid of shattering and tainting the spiritual and godly image that I had painstakingly built, for I had thought my ‘godliness’ was the reason why I was accepted and valued in the church community.

About a year ago, through a series of events that seems serendipitous[2] in retrospect, I met a local pastor by the name of Steve. My initial impression of him comprised mainly of fascination –he was a middle aged Chinese man, with an accent and a vocabulary that were eclectic mixtures of British and American. Steve had a demeanor about him that was determinedly casual, inviting, yet challenging. Our paths crossed because Steve wished to plant a new church in the city of Claremont, and our lives have been inextricably intertwined since. Yet, even though I have lost count of the pearls of wisdom he has given me, I would never forget one of the first conversations we had, when he told me, “Xuan, I’m not interested in what you do. I’m interested in who you are.” That sentence went on loop in my head over the next few days. I found the prospect simply incredulous: I had always seen myself as an asset to my community because of what I could do, the skills I had to offer. It was a simple revelation, but one that had completely evaded me: I am loved and valued just as I am, in all my frailties, weaknesses, and brokenness.

We all are, without exception, broken vessels. For years, I have tried to hide the cracks, plastering them with my own meritorious works, thinking that was how I could gain acceptance and approval. With the help of Steve and others who have come into my life in the past year, I have come to the counter-intuitive realization that God loves broken vessels; as we embrace and become honest about our brokenness, we draw closer to Him and to the people that He has placed in our lives. It was a difficult realization to arrive at, and one even more difficult to put into practice, because being open about our weaknesses inevitable leaves us vulnerable to being hurt.

Yet, as I started “boasting about my weaknesses”, admitting that I am as imperfect and in need of help as the next person, I have experienced firsthand the grace of God and the kindness of people in my community. Slowly but surely, Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are starting to resonate with me.




[1] I am unable to share about my conversion experience for the purposes of this article, but I will be more than happy to share about it with you in person.

[2] Serendipity is certainly a viable explanation for the occurrence of this particular series of events, although I am personally convinced that the hand of God was at work in orchestrating it. Again, I would be glad to discuss this in person.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Yahweh: God Unbounded by Amira Athanasios

Science and religion share similar principles. For example, both use tangible representations to understand abstract ideas. However, these representations may be more obvious within the context of science than religion. In chemistry there are a handful of ways to represent a molecule and the whereabouts of its electrons. The silly thing is that we never know where an electron is. Nevertheless, in order to do their work, chemists must create reliable representations of molecules. So we create our representations of a molecule knowing that the molecule does not ever truly resemble our representation. To fix this gaping hole of identity, scientists created resonance structures. A resonance structure is a modification of the original representation to account for not knowing where exactly the electrons are. Many complex molecules have three or four resonance structures, and every molecule is all of its resonance structures all at once all the time. However, our minds are too limited to come up with a model that can represent the true essence of the molecule. Thus we resort to having many different pictures for one unified body, each of which are correct in some ways and wrong in others.

Perhaps you are thinking all scientists are simply inadequate, but they work with the knowledge they have. Moreover, they work fully understanding that they do not, and likely cannot, know all that they would like. It seems that unfortunately, Christians are not as quick to acknowledge our pervasive inadequacies. We compose grand representations of who our God is, and we fail to recognize that our representations, like resonance structures, will always fall short of who he is. Consider the most prevailing description for God: our Heavenly Father. The picture of the Christian God as a father is so widespread that the church accepts it as true, forgetting that it is a representation. Of course, God portrays fatherly characteristics: love, strength, determination, protection, provision. In fact, the description of God as our Heavenly Father is found throughout the entire Bible.

We must not forget, however, that God also displays typically feminine characteristics as well: gentleness, grace, kindness, beauty, compassion, and for heaven’s sake, God birthed the universe! Confining the Creator to gender roles belittles God’s greatness to our own limitations of seeing all things through gender roles. Referring to God as our Heavenly Father is a beautiful description, but forgetting God’s maternal characteristics disregards the true essence of God. Though most languages force us to use a gender-specific pronoun in reference to God, we must remember that God cannot be restrained by our earthly idea of gender. To summarize, our God has many resonance structures which are all expressed simultaneously, two of which may be God the Father, and God the Mother.

Yet another resonance structure that we take for granted is God as Love. So often we let our earthly perception of love define God. Time and again, we look to God solely for comfort, overlooking the jealous, convicting, passionate and fierce love that she embodies. While God is definitely a god of kindness, gentleness, and grace, we cannot let the idea of a soft God mask other aspects of God’s love. The prophet Jeremiah gives a beautiful example of God’s fierce, passionate love. God convicts his people of their wrong doing, and sends them into exile. Nevertheless, God speaks to his people: 

This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I  have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jer 29: 10-11)

God’s promise of prosperity and safety show that he sent the people of Judah into exile for their own benefit and that he will never forsake them. God’s love does not simply provide comfort, but fiercely and powerfully encourages us to turn from our harmful ways, as God convicts her people of their sins, but she continues to protect them while in exile. By projecting our notions of a gentle and kind love onto God, we misrepresent his greatness. Rather than defining our God by our own understanding of love, we must realize that God himself defines love. God’s gentle, gracious and forgiving heart is yet another resonance structure we use to describe him because it will always fall short of the true essence of God’s love.

Addressing a similar problem as resonance structures is the theory of superposition, which states (in great simplicity) that while we do not know the arrangements of subatomic particles of an atom, namely its electrons, they exist in all possible states until proven otherwise. In other words, if an electron could be in spots A, B, or C, I assume the electron to be in all three spots at once until I calculate exactly where the electron is. The theory of superposition was quickly debunked by an illustration famously known as Schrödinger’s cat. Schrödinger explained that if we put a cat in a box, the cat will be either dead or alive. The cat cannot be both dead and alive (as the theory of superposition would assume); the cat exists with an absolute disregard of whether I believe it to be dead or alive. Therefore, an electron is where it is regardless of my calculations. Similarly, we must also recognize that, like an electron, God is God regardless of our understanding, or lack thereof. God refuses to limit himself; when Moses asks God for a name, God replies, “I am that I am” (Ex 3:14).

The Great I Am cannot be restrained by any of our labels. Nevertheless, we will always put God in the box of our human understanding. Scripture tells us that God is limitless, boundless, and forever. However, our minds cannot conceptualize something that is infinite in every way; we only know new things from the perspective of what we already know, and everything on this earth is bounded and finite. Though our descriptions of who God is will not change or limit her, they may limit how we see God work in our own lives. This is exemplified by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. In one instance, Jesus’ disciples are amazed when Jesus calms a raging storm, though they have already witnessed Jesus perform many miracles (Mk 4:35-41). In some way, the disciples had a limited perception of Jesus’ power. Though the disciples lacked faith, Jesus’ power and authority over the earth was unaffected: he was still able to calm the storm. Two chapters later, Jesus returns to his hometown to preach, but in the face of disbelief, he does not perform many miracles. The people of Jesus’ hometown had preconceived notions of who Jesus was and they lacked faith in his power and wisdom. However, it would be inconsistent to assume that Jesus could not work miracles in his home; after all, he previously calmed the storm although his disciples also lacked faith. Jesus chose not to deliver in his home, perhaps because of the limitations that his people had placed on his identity, but he was certainly not incapable. Jesus demonstrates that our incomplete understanding of God cannot limit God’s power, but may affect how we perceive him working in our lives. While we must remember Schrödinger’s lesson—God’s true essence is never changed by our classifications—we must also be wary of how our misconceptions of God may restrict how we experience him in our lives.

If we are to have a genuine connection with God, representations of who she is will always be necessary. Here is where Christianity could take a piece of scientific wisdom: we must remember that our representations of God will always fall short of his glory, just as every resonance structure cannot fully capture the true molecule. Scientists work knowing that their representations of molecules are incomplete. Likewise, as Christians we are to pursue God knowing that any representation we have of him cannot fully encompass her identity. When we forget that our descriptions of God are nothing more than representations, the representations themselves may become what we worship instead of our God. So we result to resonance structures to describe our God: tangible representations, analogies, and descriptions of a God who is by nature intangible and untouched by any limits we place on him.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

The Personal Journey of a Faith-Filled Scientist by David A. Vosburg

My college pastor once asked me, “What does Christ have to do with chemistry?” He was challenging me to see how my faith might inform my intention to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry, and also how my understanding of chemistry might enrich my faith. I did not have an answer for him, so the question lingered in my thoughts for several

When I was an undergraduate, I kept my scientific pursuits and my faith separate. Not because it had to be that way, but because I did not know how to integrate them. The perspectives that I had heard on science and faith were either suspicious of science or dismissive of biblical faith. Neither resonated with me, so I sought to avoid areas of potential conflict.

Such avoidance could easily have led me to give up my love for science or to abandon my faith, if I had felt alone. But I had a group of close friends—other students—with whom I felt a common identity and purpose. Through them, God sustained me.

I only began engaging the controversial issues after I decided to do postdoctoral research in chemical biology. As a chemist, I had been constructing complex, medicinal natural products. I found their intricate chemical structures fascinating, yet it often took my colleagues years and I to devise effective strategies to make the molecules. How then did bacteria make the natural products so rapidly and seemingly effortlessly? I became fascinated with biosynthetic mechanisms and the proteins that perform them.

How did these proteins come to be? Why do they make the natural products? I was going to need to learn about evolution. Furthermore, I absolutely wanted to have intellectual credibility with my biology coworkers in my postdoctoral laboratory. Yet my faith was central to my identity. It seemed that I would have to confront some of the controversial issues around the origins of life and the Bible.

Why was I so afraid of doing this? Does the Bible really discourage the honest pursuit of truth? Is it in any way laudable to dismiss uncomfortable evidence? Actually, no. Some passages that came to mind were:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)[1]

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:2)

These Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

I believed that God created the universe and that he inspired the writers of the Bible. So if both creation and scripture were from God, could I not trust both? It seemed to me that science and Christianity ought to be compatible, since both sought truth. Hesitant though I was, I looked more intently for reliable resources. I saw Francis Collins give three lectures on science and faith at Harvard[2] and found several helpful books that sought to reconcile biblical and scientific perspectives on origins.[3]

For me, wrestling with the ideas presented in these talks and books was slow and emotionally challenging. I faced many hard questions: What was I resisting, and why? Did I fear a spiritually precarious compromise with secular ideas? Where did I get the idea that science is secular, anyway? How do the most respected scientist-Christians and theologians reconcile faith and science? How might my views of scripture and of God change? What would other Christians think about me?

Thankfully, I was able to explore these questions in community—a community that extends back over 1500 years. I was surprised and encouraged by what St. Augustine and Galileo had written in the 5th and 17th centuries, respectively. Both cautioned against holding too rigidly to particular biblical interpretations in the face of apparently contradictory evidence.

In The Literal Meaning of Genesis (ca. 415), St. Augustine of Hippo writes:

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.[4]

Galileo Galilei echoes this thought in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615):

In St. Augustine we read: “If anyone shall set the authority of [the Bible] against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation; not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there.” This granted, and it being true that two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of wise expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us.[5]

Augustine and Galileo showed me that there was great precedent in trying to reconcile Christian faith with reason and scientific exploration. To hear this from such prominent voices in theology and science was immensely helpful to me as I reexamined the creation accounts in Genesis.

The more that I read Genesis 1-3, the more I became convinced that those chapters are actually more concerned with Who created and Why we were created than a precise description of When the universe began and How living things appeared. I came to realize that Genesis was not written to 21st century Americans, but to the ancient Hebrews, and through them to the rest of the world. So as a truth-seeking reader of the Bible, I needed to be cognizant not only of the original language and genre of the text, but also of the intentions of the author interpreted through the conceptual framework of the culture of that time.[6]

I now believe the apparent conflict arises not from nature and the Bible, but from flawed interpretations of scientific data and from misunderstandings of scripture. For example, some people claim that evolution proves there is no God, even though the existence of God is not a scientific question. Others regard Genesis 1 and 2 as modern scientific or journalistic accounts, despite the fact that Genesis far predates our modes of historical and scientific writing. The conflict does not come from God or nature—we have created the conflict ourselves. Intentionally or not, we often extend science past its natural bounds and use the Bible for questions it does not intend to answer.

But if there seems to be a satisfactory scientific explanation for something, does that mean that God is not involved in it? Absolutely not! The spiritual reality of prayer is not diminished by our observation of concurrent electrochemical processes in the brain. Likewise, a kiss is not fully explained by a scientific description. Scientifically, a kiss is a puckering of the lips, a transfer of saliva, carbon dioxide, and some bacteria. If you’ve ever given or received a kiss before, that’s probably not what you were thinking of when it happened. When I kiss my wife, there is definitely more going on there than a puckering of the lips, a transfer of saliva, carbon dioxide, and some bacteria. If there weren’t, she wouldn’t let me kiss her, nor would she kiss me back!

So I believe we can be freed from the myth of intrinsic conflict. We can embrace both faith and science.

I can now answer my college pastor’s question: What does Christ have to do with chemistry? Jesus has everything to do with chemistry, since “all things were created through him and for him,” and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17). My response is to love God and to embrace science as a joyful form of worship, discovery, and awe, delightfully learning about God’s thoughts and designs at a molecular level. As a synthetic chemist or molecule maker, I especially resonate with J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept of sub-creation: human creation that reflects God’s image as creator.[7] Sub-creation is illustrated in Tolkien’s creation story of Middle-earth:

Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without any thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father.[8]

My ability to create comes from God’s own creativity. Tolkien’s concept of rejoicing in this gift of creativity reflects the joy and inspiration I experience as a synthetic chemist.

Molecules are beautiful. Making new ones is a privilege and a cause for joy and worship. I delight in them, and I believe God does, too. He is the first and greatest chemist, and he has entrusted me with one small corner of his laboratory.

A traditional way to express joy and worship in the Judeo-Christian tradition is in song, as in the book of Psalms. Inspired by Psalm 148, I wrote this chemistry-themed psalm:


Praise the LORD.


Praise the LORD from the classroom,


Praise him in the laboratory, too.


Praise him, all his molecules,

Praise him, all his proteins and nucleic acids.


Praise him, all alkaloids and steroids,

Praise him, all you sweet carbohydrates.


Praise him, you manifold terpenoids

and you polyketides and peptides.


Let them praise the name of the LORD,

for he commanded and they were created.

He formed them from the elements;

he decreed how they should bond.


Praise the LORD from the NMR,

all you chemists in industry and academia,

whether you be famous or not,


carbon and oxygen, sulfur and nitrogen,

electrons that do all his bonding,


you fluorine and chlorine,

light hydrogen and heavy iodine,


all alkanes and alkenes,

every alkyne and aromatic ring,


all amines and aldehydes,

ketones and carboxylic acids,


esters, amides, and anhydrides,

alcohols and ethers.


Let them praise the name of the LORD,

for his name alone is exalted;

his splendor is revealed in our every molecule.


He has raised up for his people the Christ,

the praise of all his saints,

of the church, the people close to his heart.


Praise the LORD




[1] All scriptural quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001.

[2] The William Belden Noble Lectures of Harvard University February 3-5, 2003. The titles were, “From Atheist to Believer: A Personal Voyage,” “Can a Geneticist Be a Believer? Evolution and Other Challenges,” and “Genetics, Ethics, and Faith.”

[3] Some of the first books that helped me were: Miller, Kenneth R. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, New York: HarperCollins, 1999; Falk, Darrel R Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004; Godfrey, Stephen J. and Smith, Christopher R. Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology,and Biblical Interpretation, Toronto: Clements, 2005; and Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, New York: Free Press, 2006. A new favorite is Haarsma, Deborah B. and Haarsma, Loren D. Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, 2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Faith Alive, 201.

[4] Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 1.18, trans. J. H. Taylor, New York: Newman Press, 1982, p. 41.

[5] Galilei, Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, trans. Stillman Drake, New York: Anchor Books, 1957, p. 186.

[6] Walton, John H., The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

[7] Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-stories,“ In Tree and Leaf, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964.

[8] Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarrillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, p.4

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Tales from the Broken Road by Laura Rebecca

It started with a dance. There was some flattery, flirtation, and before I knew it a kiss on the cheek led to too much more. Every step of the way, I thought I was totally in control and justified with an excuse for everything that happened. The Bible only warned us against sexual immorality. If we didn’t have sex, how could it be immoral? It all made perfect sense, except for this gnawing ache in my gut I could not explain away. As my mind was racing on my way back to my apartment, instead of the replay of sweetly whispered lies, all I could hear was the Apostle Paul’s word to the Corinthians: “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” Maybe I had done nothing wrong, but if I had done something right I would have felt a lot better. Even with this newly discovered connection, I found myself feeling more lost, alone and empty than ever.

I had grown up in a Christian home with clearly implied boundaries regarding relationships and sex. By the time I moved out for college, this was more by my choice than my parents’. I tested the limits a couple times, just enough to realize that there were parts of myself I didn’t want to give away yet. It wasn’t hard to stay within my boundaries, but then I went abroad. The culture was so dramatically different, especially in regards to how men and women interacted. Suddenly my boundaries didn’t translate and my perfect plan to control my interactions with men wasn’t working. On top of that confusion, I was in a society where feminism simply didn’t exist, and I had no idea how to hang on to that part of my identity in this whirlwind of culture shock.

So I took others’ advice and decided to do what I wanted. I wanted adventure; I wanted to try something new. This particular new adventure didn’t seem to fit in with God’s command of purity, but the more I tried to understand what He meant by “purity,” the less sense it made and the more frustrated I became. This man jumped on my confusion, persistently pushing for more and more, complicating all my attempts to sort through what God wanted, what I wanted, and if or how those two were different. Eventually his shameless tenacity won over this ambiguous

rule from an invisible God and so I tried it. I knew this could only lead to trouble, but I wanted to play with fire. Besides, if it turned out to be a mistake, I knew He would forgive me.

It was fun, and it was liberating. But then things went wrong. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was complicated trying to do whatever I wanted with a guy who was trying to do whatever he wanted. Desires clashed, and although I acted like I was still in control, he was the one writing the rules. Even as it grew painful, I kept trying to come up with excuses as to why none of this was wrong and I could keep acting like I was. I liked the high that came with it, and

I could ignore the lows. But the only reality about our two-week fling was that it sucked. Compared to the relationship I had had with God before all this, this was crap.

No matter what I did, though, I didn’t seem able to get myself away from the mess until departure plans unexpectedly changed and God got me out of what I couldn’t get myself out of. God would have been more than justified in leaving me to reap the consequences of my actions; He could have left me in a destructive relationship, but instead He took me back home to safety. The very God I abandoned was the One who was waiting for me. The God I ignored is the only One who listens to every complaint and sees every tear from what happened. Before, I had known all that intellectually but didn’t believe it enough to act upon it.

Just as Eve wanted more fruit than God had already given her, I was sure God was holding out on me. It’s not that the fruit or expressing sexuality are inherently bad or sinful; after all, God created them. Where I went wrong was not trusting God and believing that I knew better than He did about what was good for me. I did not understand that God is a generous God who does not hold back, and in my greed I reached for destructive things.

I reached the end of me. All my boundaries were for naught; there was no line strong enough to hold against what this world threw at me. I now understand that God’s commandments are for our good, not to keep us from having fun, but moreover I understand that it’s not about following commandments. Instead, it is about learning to know the God who loves us deeply enough to protect and provide.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

A Story about the Church by Ryan Stewart

I often find myself a adrift in a sea of cynicism. There are many of us, aren’t there? Many of us “grew up in the Church” and now peer back into our past with questions, doubts, frustrations, and perhaps anger. Whether we occasionally dropped by youth groups or masses, or once zealously committed ourselves to religious ministries, all that seems a bit odd to us now. Perhaps we had doubts and questions about faith that could never be answered. Perhaps boxed answers never satisfied us–or they did, but now those tired, old arguments don’t stand up in light of our deepened learning and broadened experience of the world. Perhaps the other “believers” seemed fake. Their smiles, their “Hallelujahs,” their worn out metaphors and overplayed songs–it’s all just sickening now. Or perhaps they were simply jerks.

The “Church” means many different things to many different people. For me, the Church has meant Evangelicalism. In my experience, this has often meant the efficient conversion of souls into a personal, saving relationship with God, in which Jesus becomes a best friend forever. It has often meant that nothing really matters except for evangelism, discipleship, and a narrow, cliche vision of justice. Throughout my life, Evangelicalism has also meant a specific political agenda, a rejection of science, a devaluation of the physical world, and a negative view of the life of the mind.

But one issue was particularly troubling. I often wondered: if it’s all about evangelism and discipleship, saving souls and reading my bible every morning, then why does anything matter? What was the real spiritual value of fun? Of sports? Of learning? Of course, I continued to have fun, play sports, and learn, but I couldn’t help feeling it was all a bit, well, meaningless. Shouldn’t I just abandon worldly vocations and pursue international missions? In effect, daily life held little meaning to me. My hope was in getting myself and others to heaven someday, when we would eternally praise God with our immaterial bodies. It was quite troubling when I stopped to consider how ridiculously boring that sounded.

“Discipleship” was run like a business. Discipleship meant: please prove to me that you are making productive spiritual progress. How have you grown closer to God? You must constantly be improving yourself. After all, isn’t faith one big self-improvement project? It was as if our American idolization of efficiency and productivity had been simply replaced with Jesus-y content.

Another major problem for me was the pop-culture cheesiness embodied in the experience of Jesus as BFF. A classic story in Evangelicalism is growing out of an impersonal “religious” church upbringing into a real (emotionally exciting) experience of the person of Jesus Christ. (I used to just go through the motions at church, but then I met Jesus!!!!) In this culture, what mattered was that church was fun and exciting. Traditional practice, and indeed tradition itself, was chastised as an empty, man-made idol. For many Evangelicals, it’s just them, the bible, and a personal relationship with Jesus. What else could possibly matter?

It wasn’t until I left my childhood home for the first time that I began to grow uncomfortable with faith. In college, I stumbled through new experiences, groping for answers in the dark, yearning for more substantive experiences of faith. In a diverse world of compelling ideas and fascinating people, my uneasiness with faith developed into more solid criticisms of Evangelicalism. Once I was able to identify my religious experience, I was able to identify it as weird. It seemed like things were getting worse. But then I began to meet some very interesting people.

These people have made all the difference for me. It’s part of the reason I can’t credit myself for remaining a part of the body of Christ. Without examples of what it means to pursue God with painstaking honesty, where the deepest questions and doubts and (dis)beliefs are fully recognized, I would have abandoned my pursuit of faith years ago. Without the humble, loving examples of those wiser than myself, I might have walked away forever.

Through the platonic spirituality, the cultural cheesiness, the business mentality, and the certainty, I think what I was looking for was honesty. A sincerity free of self-deception and romanticism. A perspective that recognized the genuine value of this world. One that recognized that faith wasn’t always fun and dandy and happy and cheery and exciting but instead could be angering, saddening, and painful. One that recognized that living a Christian life does not always consist of clear and consistent progress and immediate transformation but rather manifests itself in a long, and often bumpy, spiritual journey. And one that recognized that loving God and following Jesus can be quite complicated. There aren’t logical answers to every question.

Faith, after all, is a mystery. At some level, religious or not, we all have to learn to live with the bumps and the bruises and the questions. None of us will ever have everything figured out. And somehow, my community of faith makes me okay with not having everything figured out.

But even as I began to meet these people, faith still felt a bit odd. I could never grow completely comfortable in bible studies and fellowships. Although I had encountered a deeper faith– one that transcended my frustration, my lingering presence in Evangelical circles still felt frustrating. Although this new collegiate community had encouraged me in a number of ways, the same fundamental, and in my opinion, problematic, frameworks remained. I continued to feel alone and isolated.

The Church is supposed to be a home for struggles. When you struggle with school, or with family, or with friends, or with work, you lean on this community. But what happens when that community itself becomes a source of internal strife? What happens when you begin to see the “biblically supported” condolences and romantic dreams of your fellow Christians with disgust? Those of us who have found ourselves adrift in this dark sea know the guilt. You might also know the victorious sense of liberation when you leave it all behind.

I was once very frustrated with Evangelicalism. Actually, I’m still quite frustrated. But for me, the story doesn’t end there. By the grace of God, I haven’t left Evangelicalism entirely behind.

Evangelicalism has also meant other things for me. Good things. It has meant the transformation of my mother’s life from emotional instability to a joyful and life-giving selflessness. I have met some of my very best friends in the world of “Evangelicalism.” I have learned a reverence for God and his Word. It has taught me that all my intellectual explorations must ultimately be rooted in loving God and participating in his redemption of creation (and my own life!). I eventually learned to dream not of escaping this world, but of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as in heaven—of space, time, and matter being redeemed rather than rejected.

Perhaps in your experience of the Church, there were more good things. Or maybe there were very few. Or maybe you’re just not sure. Maybe you’re just sick of the religious crazies you see in the news. Maybe you, like me, remain with some sort of ambivalent attitude to your religious upbringing. Although I still cling to my cynicism, I realize that it’s not entirely justified. I haven’t encountered blatant lying or hypocrisy. I haven’t heard the hateful political speech from the pulpit that you might expect. I haven’t had the fear of hell dangled over my head. Despite all the anguish I have described, the stereotypical caricatures of Westboro Church that often grace our television screens have remained just that—stereotypical caricatures. Anecdotal evidence that only fuels tired generalizations.

For me, cynicism came to be a disease, a rampaging intellectual pride. I quickly came to detest everything and anything that resembled Evangelicalism. If an expression of faith was draped in the language of Evangelicalism, I simply dismissed it. I came to resent anyone who was satisfied with what I felt were broken systems and fancy illusions. I relished in joking about these silly religious fundamentalists.

Soon enough, I began to reject my community for not seeing the light. I started to dream of a community different than my own. I hoped to bring my enlightened understanding of the Christian tradition to help these poor folks shackled by moder-

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflection on Christian community, Bonhoeffer writes,


I often wonder if this principle is true for all communities—not just Christian ones. But then I wonder if this perspective simply hampers radical change. Yet deep down, I know I must love my brothers and sisters in Christ more than I love my dream of that community—at least if it is truly to remain a community. And I must be aware that my honest, earnest, and sacrificial intentions can cause great harm.

Of course, I do still hope to participate in the redemption of Evangelicalism. I’m overwhelmingly passionate about seeing Evangelicals come to value embodiment, tradition, and diverse intellectual exploration. But I now do so with a forgiving love for my community. I do so knowing that if there ever was a perfect church, they wouldn’t let me be a part of it. I do so striving for a humility that recognizes my own lack of understanding. Finally, and most distressingly, I do so with the added expectation that Evangelicalism will continue to transform me for the better.

This story is framed in my experience of a particular faith tradition. It is my subjective encounter with the “Church.” Perhaps some of it resonates with you. Or maybe your pains were—and are—deeper. I wish I could just tell you to come to church and it will all be great. It won’t. That’s the reality. The people inside the Church are as broken as the people outside. But lobbing hand grenades from the outside will never accomplish anything. When I did it, it only goaded me into spiraling cynicism and a debilitating despair.

Nowadays, I still don’t have faith figured out. But occasionally I stumble into wise, loving, and humble human beings who call themselves followers of Christ. Those are the ones that give me hope. Working and laughing and crying and eating and drinking with those people has come to sustain me. Despite all the relational bumps and bruises, and the odd scar, that make up the mess of physical particularity that I call my spiritual home—that is, the Church—this community has ultimately provided me a family for which I am thankful. And this family is what gives me hope in the mess of physical particularities that we all call the world.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Mourning into Dancing: An Expose on Grace Beyond Normalcy by Laura Mallison

I remember when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it was presented to me as good news. It was not autoimmune, it would not kill me, it did not have a cure, but if I exercised I should be fine. It was a roller coaster getting there, but I was relieved. In that moment, there was no way  I could have anticipated just how much it would come to dominate my life.

The trickiest part for me is that fibromyalgia has no obviously visible symptoms. I try to pretend I don’t have it both as a coping mechanism and out of sheer pride, and my friends tend to follow my lead. As strange as this may sound, I’ve become so accustomed to it that I don’t remember what life without fibro is like.

However, as it has been getting worse over the years, I’ve started noticing that I really am different. Excessive air conditioning doesn’t bring chills but pain, running is out of the question, short-term memory is never a given, carb intake matters, and then the constant, never ceasing rationing of daily energy...going for morning walk affects the rest of the day, and even something as careless as staying up too late can lead to weeks of consequences. I stay in more nights than I used to, continually ask for extensions, and sometimes just cancel everything for the sake of a nap.

In an achievement-driven society, there is less and less room for mere survival and being. We do, but being is not among what we do. It’s not something concrete enough to pencil in our calendars, and it’s certainly too abstract to list on our resumes. As much as I want to be able to do more and meet this standard, that has not been an option these last few years. I still can’t honestly say I don’t envy more abled people, but I can say I am grateful for what my disability has enabled me to learn.

As my health began to worsen, I had to re-prioritize and give up on my high school activity-driven mentality. I was sad to see dance go with it, but I could not imagine devoting even a couple hours a week and knew my body would never cooperate with me to move as gracefully as it should. Three years later, though, I find myself dancing more than I ever had before, enough to hope that my professors never find out the ratio between hours dancing and hours working on thesis per week. For this, I blame my much beloved roommate. She saw me hit a mental wall one night sophomore year: I was overwhelmed by all I had to do but discouraged by how little energy I had to do it. I didn’t want to keep dwelling on why this was fibro’s fault and talk about how life was unfair; I just wanted to feel able and useful again and find something bigger than my limitations, which is why I agreed when she mentioned salsa night.

As graceful and friendly as dancing is, that night it became my weapon of choice in this war I knew I could not yet surrender. Exercise was my only treatment option, but unlike most exercise, dancing did not leave me sore for weeks.

More than that, though, dance has become a tangible analogy for my intangible faith. The effort it takes to keep going some days is more than I want to deal with, and at twenty-two I often feel forty years too young for the way my body is acting. Through the lens of consumerism and ambition, my body does not work well, and I find myself often joking that I want a refund. With dancing, though, this thing that seems like junk can suddenly make something beautiful. Just as God makes something miraculous out of my messes, dancing turns what was broken into something glorious.

After working so hard throughout the day to figure out what I can and cannot do, it is always a relief to take off my street shoes weighed down with the worries of the day and put on my dancing shoes. Stepping out onto the dance floor, I feel a rush and new sense of self. The brokenness of my body is still evident, but I shift my focus part by part: the power of my muscles to move, the strength of my bones to support me, and my mind’s ability to make them work. For a few hours, I take a break from trying to fight my body into doing things, and I simply am.

It was good and healthy to have time to mourn over the uses of my body that I’ve lost, and it’s a process that comes in waves. I do need to recognize my hurts both physical and emotional, but I refuse to let them define me by dwelling on them. Dancing has consistently been my escape from self-pity, and through it God has fulfilled His promise in Psalm 30:11: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Each time I dance, I thank God for the miracle of its freedom and beauty. I am still mobile, but I fight for mobility and no longer take it for granted. It’s easy to feel entitled to activities like walking and complain when they get difficult, but being able to experience the thrills of dancing reminds me that it is all a gift. What sets dancing apart for me is that it is not just another task or activity, but rather a sacred time of day when I can go, be, and remember that I am so much more than this illness I am conquering.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Only by the Grace of God by Diana Ortiz

My admission into Pomona College is a blessing that constantly gives me gratitude. But years ago, I remember feeling hopeless and worried about going to college. My worries were not about grades or activities, but about a deeper fear of being rejected as an undocumented immigrant. I constantly felt the pain of exclusion whenever colleges and scholarships required me to be a citizen or permanent resident before applying for financial assistance. With all of my heart, I wanted to achieve my dream of attaining a higher education; but, as a Christian, I felt the real heaviness of my status weighing down my trust in God.

During the first few years of college I did not look forward to going home for the breaks. I did not want to return to my family’s financial problems or hear about my stepfather’s alcoholism. Being away from home had suddenly given me the privilege to not deal with these problems. But deep inside, even as I was sheltered by the “good life” at Pomona College, I was still hurting for my mom’s inability to buy groceries. I was hurting for my brother’s need to commute three hours by bus to UCLA without access to financial aid, a meal plan, or a place to sleep during the nights he missed the bus.

My family’s situation prevented me from rejoicing in God’s provision for me. For a long time I felt more guilty than grateful for living in a comfortable dorm with access to a dining hall, while my family worried about paying the rent without much money left for food. At times, I was consumed by sadness and could not focus on my academics. Though I did not blame God for my family’s problems, I did feel like it was unfair that I had to help my family financially while some of my peers never really had to think twice about going to Yogurtland. These burdens prevented me from rejoicing in other’s people’s blessings. At that time, I did not yet see my life as an instrument of God’s love for others.

Fortunately, this fragmented view of my life as a helpless victim of poverty took a significant shift when I decided to put all my burdens in God’s hands. The verse “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) had never felt as real as the summer of my sophomore year during that day at LAUP[1] when I cried about everything that could possibly make me cry. In midst of all my worries and harrowing doubts about my future, I felt God’s gentle presence fill my heart and mind with a comforting, incomparable sense of peace and love.

Although today my family still struggles with financial instability, I now see my struggles more as experiences that have enabled me to reflect the love that God has repeatedly shown me. Although I couldn’t see it years ago, I now realize that these experiences have enabled me to reflect the love that God has repeatedly shown me. Although I couldn’t see it years ago, I now realize that these experiences have enabled me to share in the struggles of others and to comfort those who deal with rejection, doubt, and fear. I am reminded of this word from Scripture: “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

For instance, my experiences growing up poor have given me compassion for the poor and the oppressed. As a faith-rooted activist, I have concluded that there is a real tangible purpose behind all the painful experiences I had growing up. Because my mom was working so hard to make a living, I had to take responsibilities around the household, such as cleaning, cooking, translating, and budgeting. I started working since I was twelve years old cleaning houses, packing newspapers, and tutoring. Working motivated me to do well in school, and it relieved my mom’s stress as it allowed her to be proud of me. Memories about my mom working day and night while my brother and I struggled to learn English in school still shape my value for education and my support for labor rights.

My life’s struggles have also inspired me to make a tangible difference in the lives of others while I am here in college. I co-founded a club called Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success (IDEAS) for undocumented students and allies to support and collaborate with each other. I co-organized two alternative Spring Break service trips to Los Angeles where students were exposed to homelessness and hunger, gang violence, and educational and environmental inequity. Additionally, some of the most meaningful educational experiences I have had did not come from writing papers or reading books. Rather, they came from conducting oral history projects with an undocumented high school student and from my conversations with workers fighting for labor justice.

In light of all of my family’s struggles, I thank God because these experiences have made me a more sympathetic and justice-oriented person. I have grown to love the poor and the oppressed, including the exploited worker, the recent immigrant, the single parent, the homeless, the struggling student, and the broken-spirited, because I see my family in all of these people.

Although people can accomplish great things without God in their lives, I believe that only God’s infinite grace–and nothing in this world–can sustain me during my struggle for justice. While the world tells me to target oppressors and be angry at the system, God clarifies the need to show compassion to everyone. God gives me an alternative not only to love the poor, but also to pray for Him to change the hearts of oppressors. In Matthew 5:44-47, God says, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? If you love only those who love you, what good is that? If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” I believe it is only through this sort of love that I can make a difference in this heart-breaking world. And though it is not easy to pursue justice out of love, I thank God for my spiritual community that encourages me to persevere and not grow weary.

Anyone can be grateful for life and people we love. But I have personally come to realize that my gratefulness only ultimately has meaning when I direct it towards my creator and provider. I owe all that I am, and all that I will be, to God’s immense grace. God took me out of my darkness and brought me into a marvelous light of hope. God changed me from the inside out and called me beloved daughter.  With all the temptations to pursue a secure financial career, God’s work in my life is a daily and conscious reminder that I must remain humble and full of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

I hold on to a poem that reminds me of this commitment of faith:

“Walking in the Spirit means living every day,

Looking up at Jesus and following His way.

And when I give Him all of me, just like a mighty tree,

My actions will become sweet fruit for all the world to see.”

Eventually, though it took a lot of patience and love, God managed to conquer my mind and broke my heart for what breaks his: injustice and suffering. For all this, I am eternally grateful. And I pray, just like the Apostle Paul prayed, “that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, you may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).




[1] The Los Angeles Urban Project (LAUP) is a six-week summer mission sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. This program allows college students of faith to develop a heart for the poor by living in community with inner city low-income residents. LAUP also encourages participants to pursue transformative justice via a foundation of faith that promotes hope, peace, and love.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

When Shiny Plastic Jesus Ain't Enough: The Scary Parts of the Bible that My Church Forgot to Mention (Or I Chose to Ignore) by Caitlyn Hynes

I love blogs.[1] You get to read some random person’s musing about life, God, relationships, school, etc. and never have to respond. You can take in their edited streams of consciousness, bookmark what you find striking, comforting or challenging and toss away the rest. It’s like a one-way friendship with no strings attached!

I started following blogs in earnest after my experience at the Los Angeles Urban Project in the summer of 2012. LAUP gives students the opportunity to spend six weeks in the inner city in order to learn about the Bible’s call for social justice.[2]To an outsider, it admittedly sounds like a cult because they ask interns give up their cell phones, Internet and all modern forms of communication with the outside world to go live in the inner city and learn about Jesus, poverty, and how we should, as Christians, engage with the poor and promote social justice. That summer I was introduced to principles of Christianity that I’d rarely heard before. After all, who goes to live in the inner city willingly? Don’t missionaries just go build houses in other countries for a week?

I grew up in Upland, California, which is approximately one hour and several worlds away from the South Los Angeles neighborhood that I would spend the summer in. I was equipped to do well in school, played lots of sports, took some piano lessons, lived in a nice house with a pool, and spent time with my friends in their equally privileged worlds.

I was set up to succeed. Although there were certainly disadvantaged areas in my community, I did not live there. We didn’t visit them unless we had to, and thus they remained separate from my awareness. I knew people whose families struggled financially, but I didn’t understand. In 2012, my LAUP team and I lived in South Los Angeles for six weeks while teaching at a summer enrichment program for neighborhood kids, and living in south LA was a shock. I met families struggling with money, immigration, and violence in their communities. I couldn’t turn away or retreat to my own world, because I was there too. One eight year old boy told me candidly of his family’s immigration struggles, and I was startled by the stark realities of the problems I had turned out. Prior to this experience it was easy for me to turn away and ignore these issues because they didn’t necessarily affect me, but here I was forced to engage more intentionally with the issues around me. I know that many people struggle to understand the realities of those in different economic situations than their own, but living in the midst of it gave me a radically different understanding of poverty because I could put faces and real people to previously vague problems. I also saw Jesus at work in that community. I saw people, including myself, receive physical healing through prayer.[3] I saw how God was using his followers to bring justice and peace to their neighborhoods.

I began to realize that the Christianity I knew was perhaps not the whole picture. Maybe my knowledge had gaps that glossed over some of the more challenging tenets of faith. At LAUP, I studied passages to which I had previously spared only a passing thought, including Jesus’ “inaugural address” to the Nazarenes:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has appointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the years of the Lord's favor...to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion" (Isaiah 61: 1-3)

Preaching good news to the poor? Talking with criminals? I ain’t Jesus!

But that was only the beginning of my struggles. It was one thing to be in the middle of this experience, trying to take everything in and live day to day, waiting for the end of the program. But what are you supposed to do after an experience like that? How do you respond, how do your daily patterns shift in favor of justice for the oppressed? How does God’s call to love the poor and trust in Him affect my day-to-day life, my dreams, my choices?

This is the struggle that I now face. I have been prepared for success. I have worked hard, attended a great college and learned a lot. And yet perhaps, though I’d call myself a Christian for the majority of my life, I’d been operating with a skewed or incomplete picture of who Jesus is.[4] The Jesus that I knew was loving, but a little too shiny and clean. This Jesus–the one I met in South Los Angeles–saw those on the streets whom I had overlooked because they made me uncomfortable. He didn’t call people to show up to church once a week and pray before dinner. He called people to leave everything behind, literally, in order to love those whom society had forgotten: homeless people, immigrants, prisoners, and everyone else who wasn’t deemed good enough. I realized that I had read Jesus’ teachings thinking, “This is for me!” And over the course of the summer, and in the time since, I began to realize that it was also about other people. Christianity wasn’t about the rules and words that made me feel better, but about a call to love, trust, serve, seek justice, and follow the call of Jesus with reckless faith.

Upon returning to the “real world”,[5] I had several options.[6]

1.      Give away all my money.

2.      Drop out of college and start living in the city.

3.      Realize that maybe I could think and pray about this more before doing anything drastic.

As a senior in college about to graduate, I am forced to consider how I want to shape my life around the ideals and calls of this Man. I cannot simply go forward ignoring the principles that he has set forth and continuing to live in isolation from those whom he calls us to love. But what does that entail?

From some perspectives, it seems irresponsible to give up the privilege that my family has worked hard for. But Jesus doesn’t call us to live responsibly. However, if I want to take this call seriously, does that mean that I have to take a low paying job and live in the inner city? I don’t know. But He calls us to trust and follow him, saying,

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes...Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12: 22-24)

I desperately want to trust. I want to be that person who goes where God calls them with no resources and then has an awesome testimony about strangers offering them food and shelter.[7] I want my heart to want what God wants, but I find that I am often distracted by what other people tell me I want, like a nice house, a nice car and lots of money. Although this article has focused on my experience, there are many other people out there who are trying to follow their own unique paths while pursuing faith, hope, love, and justice.

Now is the time where the road splits. Do I (we?) seek a life of comfort, and choose to ignore the problems facing those at the bottom of society, or do I intentionally join in and fight for justice alongside them? How can I follow Jesus’ example, and how do my career and life choices play into that? There are many blogs out there filled with people trying to figure out those same questions, and reading about their way of addressing injustices while trying to follow the crazy, irresponsible love of Jesus gives me hope. Each person has their own problems that they wrestle with, and each story is unique. But threaded throughout each ongoing, unfinished life whose fingers type those blogs, are the testimonies of God’s faithfulness, his transforming power and love, and faith that he will provide despite their questions and trials.

I wish there was a happy ending to this article detailing how someone called me up one day with an offer for a dream job that both fulfilled me and allowed me to seek justice for the poor and broken hearted. Or some kind of flashing sign indicating where I should live next year. But there isn’t. Yet. I don’t know what part I will play in engaging with those forgotten and neglected but I am certain that Jesus’ upside-down kingdom will continue to open my blind eyes and hard heart and question all the “truths” I thought I knew. Now that I’ve seen the things I tried to ignore, there’s no turning back now.




[1] I also love footnotes and proper citations. Dear editor, please let me leave them in.

[2] My parents definitely thought it was a cult. Just to be clear, it is not.

[3] Just to clarify, I do indeed mean physical healing.

[4] IS. Not was. The Bible is not a boring history book, people. Ahem. Not that history books are boring.

[5] Hooray for the Internet and instant communication!

[6] I’m not saying that they were all carried out. I ain’t that crazy. But they did cross my mind.

[7] I’d also be cool with being the stranger to offer such things. I’m not picky, just a little blind and unaware of other’s needs.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .