Chris Stedman: “Faithiest”

Joe Kasper (class of 2015) wrote about one of the speakers during “World Religions Week” at Taylor:

Chris Stedman is a self-proclaimed atheist, although he seemed to be in the agnostic category after hearing him speak.  In either case, it was very fascinating to hear his atheistic “testimony” and some of his thoughts on faith.  Perhaps the most shocking thing about him was that he has been shown the kind of unconditional love that seems to permeate and reach many non-believers.  His pastors and leaders were not the overly legalistic types, but instead continued to maintain friendship after his leaving the church.  Besides this point, however, I found his talk to be fairly underwhelming.

Since he works as an interfaith chaplain and is a big supporter of churches for their societal role, he said that one of his core values is pluralism.  This seems illogical to me, because it is actually anti-truth-seeking.  It does seem to explain why his heart is hardened to the love that has been shared with him.  Rather than trying to decide and think critically between several worldviews, he seems to want to stop short and float on an amorphous and abstract cloud.  Instead of truth being an end and dialogue a means to it, dialogue has replaced truth as the end.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a trend in modern thought to which I think we as honors students are especially prone.  Having a “good discussion” without any impact on your thoughts or opinions is really just entertainment and missing the entire point.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate a few of his questions and thoughts.  One was asking “Who am I?” and then “Who can we be together?”  While it was certainly spoken from a purely humanist point of view, I think the set of questions has value for Christians as well.  It is easy to forget the incredible gift we have of a church family who is with us for love and support.  On a larger scale, this is essentially the same question that the ecumenical movement asks.  The last comment I thought was interesting was that calling atheists “unbelievers” is a misnomer since they do believe in a lot of things.  From the same line of thought though, everyone would then be both an “unbeliever” and a “believer”, as everyone believes some things and not others.  But while the semantics may not be helpful, it is a good reminder to be more clear and thoughtful of the word choices we use in discussions with those of differing worldviews.

The Sound of Silence

Jessica Baide (Class of 2016) describes her experience with silence at a monastery in Kentucky:

This retreat could not have come at a more perfect time. The semester was raging on and was beginning to get the better of me. While I consider myself a very busy college student, I usually observe the Sabbath to some degree and set-aside time to ensure that my spiritual life doesn’t suffer at the hands of my stress. However, I was beginning to slip. I had neglected the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate over spring break; instead choosing to fill it with all that I could to “make the most” of my time home. I rushed back to school, with literally not a minute to spare. And now the chaos was beginning to creep in. School began to feel over-whelming, I was skipping small group and compromising on my Sundays. I was even too stressed to take the time out for a much needed and wanted retreat. But once we headed out, I tried to set all of this aside to remember the importance of silence and rest and to observe the lifestyle of a monk.

Jessica Baide

            College does not hold a reputation as an arena for silence. Even as I write on this very “quiet” morning I hear my upstairs neighbor romping around, a door slam and I glance over at my roommates schedule to see when I will forfeit the solitude of the room. As usual I ignore all of this, but the truly nagging screaming “noise” comes from my planner. If I were to set aside this homework for a moment to think I’m sure it would taunt me saying “you won’t have time for lunch,” “only three hours until you leave for class,” “don’t forget to stop by Ayers and the Union.” Even when I do manage to find a quiet place on campus I find there is no silence.

Escaping to Kentucky required a four-hour car ride, a meditation, and some sleep for these thoughts to play themselves out and exhaust themselves in my head. Then slowly but surely something new crept in. A stranger began to ring in my head. At 5:30 on Saturday morning sitting in a cold van only that voice of silence touched my thoughts. Weird. The ever-present scrolling to do list was finally gone. Not that I really noticed at the time. For once I wasn’t thinking about what I was thinking about. Instead I simply sat there embracing the cold.

Now wouldn’t that be nice to simply be laying here on my couch and let my mind be still. Hold on let me give that a try. Hmm… Not quite. Even as I tried to ignore the obnoxious ongoing clicking of my heater, I hear the dull ringing of the bell tower chiming noon in the background and my mind quickly calculates how much time I have left. As wonderful as it was to get away and finally be silent physically and mentally, that is a practice that is going to take some work. I’d like to be able to get back to that without the prerequisite 4 hour car ride to restore my state of mind. Perhaps someday with some practice a walk to the prayer chapel could suffice. I wonder how long it took the monks to “settle in.” To quit thinking of the enormity of their decision, any loose ends they had left, the consequences of their actions. Surely they don’t change over night. I don’t expect to either.

This retreat showed me a glimpse of that peace that comes from silence and rest. I’ve been chasing that all year. I’ve been trying to read my way through The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan about the practice of Sabbath keeping. But rather ironically I’ve chosen to read it one chapter at a time when I can squeeze it in between my other “restful” practices on Sunday. Somehow I don’t imagine that is how the author wanted his book read. The book is full of great ideas and ways to apply them but I hadn’t really experienced much true rest from reading it. However, this weekend showed me what this book has been trying to get at. I felt God’s rest and peace as I sat in the Monastery.

Simplicity and sustainability have felt like noble concepts, but not very helpful or relevant for me. Yet when I think of the restful days in the Bahamas or the quiet time at Gethsemane I begin to see their value. This theme transcends recycling and really hits me as I look at it as a practice for restoring peace to my daily life. These two escapes have given me opportunities to see what a sustainable pace of life feels like. After the taste of calm this past weekend, I hope to finish this semester peacefully by instilling simplicity and sustainability into my daily life embracing one quiet moment at a time.

 

Presenting Research In Istanbul, Turkey

Suzanne Neefus had a really neat opportunity to be a part of presenting research at a conference in Turkey. Here is a testimony she wrote about her experiences:

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a conference focused on religious liberty in Istanbul, Turkey! Dr. Kerton-Johnson was able to bring two of his student researchers along on this trip. Honors and the Women’s Giving Circle generous combined to make it possible for me to have this tremendous experience.

 The conference we attended was the annual meeting of the Religious Liberty Partnership, a collection of groups from around the globe working on religious freedom issues. The conference aims to foster collaboration between the many organizations working in the field, so its structure was designed to allow lots of free time for networking. Aaron Johnson and I had a number of excellent conversations with individuals who have years of experience working on religious freedom. I gained new perspective for the research that I am doing on trends in the United States by comparison with problem areas and trends in the rest of the world. I also attended a fascinating session discussing research methodology, and I hope to implement some of the ideas from that discussion into my continuing endeavors. Again, this conference was an excellent professional development experience because Aaron and I were the only students at this conference. We were able to make new connections with very senior level people in important religious freedom advocacy organizations. We also built on the connection we started with Tina Ramirez of the Becket Fund from when she was at Taylor earlier this semester.

Blue Mosque

  The Blue Mosque

Another highlight of the trip was exploring the city of Istanbul. This was my first time in Turkey, and we skipped several of the less interesting administrative sessions to go exploring. We toured the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cisterns, and the Grand Bazaar (which you might recognize from the first scene in Skyfall).

–Suzanne Neefus

Hagia Sofia

Inside The Hagia Sofia, an ancient mosque valued by both Christians and Muslims

Active Water Ministry

Kelsey Sternberg talks about one of the speakers during Social Justice Week.

Speaker: Daren Wendell – Tuesday, February 26, 2013

            As a part of Social Justice Week, Tuesday focused on water scarcity. That night, Daren Wendell from a ministry called Active Water showed the documentary Zambia Song and spoke about what the ministry does. I thought the talk was interesting and informative, and I noticed several ties to subjects covered in Walking Gently on the Earth, which we read for Honors Colloquium this semester, and in When Helping Hurts, which I read for Short-Term Missions.            The documentary gave an informative perspective on water scarcity and safety in Ndola, Zambia. According to the quote at the end of the documentary from the U.N., “more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.” Seeing and hearing the story of Abigail and other Zambians gave me a new perspective on the urgency and severity of the situation. All sorts of diseases and deaths are being caused by something that we take so for granted. I’m reminded of a conversation I had a while ago about the fact that we have all the drinking water we want from sinks and drinking fountain and even bottled water. But not only that, the water we use in showers, and likely toilets (although I wouldn’t test that theory), is at least potable, although maybe not necessarily meant for drinking. I still can’t help but wonder at the idea that others die for the lack of this commodity which we not only have in abundance for drinking, but wash ourselves with daily.

            I really appreciated Daren’s discussion of Active Water’s focus as a ministry; it’s not just about water; it’s about active water. This went along well with what I’ve been reading recently in When Helping Hurts. If we want to truly help the poor, it is essential that we help to build up communities that will invoke change for themselves, rather than giving them resources or doing work for them that they could do themselves. Active Water funds a ministry underground of about 65 Zambian men and women that work to drill wells in Zambian towns. Another staggering statistic Daren offered was that there are 185,000 broken wells in Africa. If water is so badly needed, why are these wells going unfixed and unused? Active Water trains pump repair teams of Zambians that learn how to fix these broken wells and pumps. These strategies not only provide the necessary clean drinking water, but they provide Zambians with jobs, and remind us all that they are capable of helping themselves; we don’t need to rush in just to do things for them.

I also felt that the discussion of water went along with the conversations on natural resources in Walking Gently on the Earth. Although water is a renewable resource, it still pays off to be good stewards of it and to be conscientious of our water usage. “God’s design in a box” was one name for a certain type of sand filtration system. These systems are built by Zambians and given to homes only after the family members attend sanitation and hygiene training, which is essential to ensuring change and health. They are called “God’s design in a box” because it uses the idea of water being filtered down through sand, as in nature, to filter the water. This was another reminder to me of the beauty of God’s creation, as talked about in Walking Gently. If we pay more attention to this beauty and these natural systems, we find that God really is very creative, and natural systems he’s put in place, even rotating crops in fields to simulate plant diversity, really are effective and good for everyone involved.

Lastly, I thought the way Active Water does fundraising was really cool. They involve all kinds of people, doing whatever they love to do, in order to raise money, awareness, and support for the cause. After hearing Daren speak, I was very impressed with their ministry, and in my original reflection on the event, I stated that I hoped to maybe even get involved someday.

As I said before, they make it exceedingly easy to get involved. By going to their website, www.activewater.org, you can read more about their ministry and about many ways to get involved in fundraising. You can even create an account and create your own personal fundraising page. So that’s exactly what I did! This summer, I will be organizing the arts and crafts for middle school students at a summer camp in my hometown. As I began planning, I realized that my hobby of making friendship bracelets could benefit more than just my summer job. My goal is to raise $50 for Active Water this summer by making and selling friendship bracelets. For more information on this particular fundraiser, visit my fundraising website.

Even if friendship bracelets aren’t your thing, I highly encourage you to find some ministry somewhere, be it local or global, to support in some way, whether with your time or your resources or by simply raising awareness. If you’re looking for one to support, and ActiveWater’s ministry has struck a chord with you, then go ahead and get involved!

Check out some other blogs of Honors Guild students here:

Paula Weinmann:  http://vagabondverses.wordpress.com/category/everyday-extraordinary/colloquium/

Suzi “Sushi” Rhee: http://suzannerhee.wordpress.com/.

Diana Meakem: http://wordflow-writefreely.blogspot.com/

Melinda Patterson:http://malindapatterson.wordpress.com/posts/

 

Poverty Cure

Hope Covington, a senior in the Honors Guild, wrote recently on a presentation provided by the Poverty Cure organization on Nov. 5th.

            On Monday night, November 5, I went to a presentation on world poverty and development by an organization called Poverty Cure. This organization aims to ask difficult questions about traditional concepts of aid and charity, such as, is the traditional method of giving money helpful? Why have we seen such little progress in developing countries after decades of pouring money into their economies? How do governments and local people feel about foreign aid? How does foreign aid impact local businesses?

            Members of this organization travelled around the world, interviewing government officials, business owners, and local people to find the answers to these questions. What they found was surprising. Local people around the world complained that foreign aid had hurt their country. One woman in Kenya told how, when she was a child and she needed new clothes, her mother would take her to the store and buy her a beautiful shirt made from Kenyan cotton. Now the stores are full of second-hand clothes shipped from European countries, because those can be sold much more cheaply than handmade clothing made from locally grown cotton. This woman said that it is impossible now to find quality clothing made in Kenya from Kenyan materials. The sight of a cotton field in Kenya is now a rare thing.

            Another man told a heartbreaking story of how, after an earthquake in his area, a church overseas decided they wanted to send eggs to the people affected by the earthquake, so that they would have nourishing food. Problem was, this man had been working years to build a small business raising chickens and selling the eggs. When the church sent an abundance of free eggs, no one needed to buy eggs from this man, and he eventually went out of business.

            When the earthquake happened in Haiti, foreign aid responded immediately by sending food to the people affected. Problem was, none of the farms were affected in Haiti. So the farmers packed up their food and took it into the city to sell to people. But the aid organizations had already gotten there. People had their hands full of free food, and no one needed to buy food from the farmers. The farmers’ produce rotted in their carts.

            Most foreign aid stems from good intentions. We want to help people. We see need, and we respond with a desire to help. The problem is that we don’t think about it enough. We don’t think about the unintended consequences that might result from our help. Sometimes aid stems from not so good intentions. Sometimes we want to be the heroes of the story. We want to people around the world to recognize us and thank us for our help. So we send money overseas and we end up making people dependent on us.

            So often, the question we ask is, what can I give you? We need to turn that question around and ask, what is your vision for your country, and what can I do to facilitate that? How can I enable you to fulfill your dreams? Rather than seeing ourselves as the benefactors and them as the recipients, we need to recognize the human dignity in each person. We need to honor and respect them, and ask, what can we do to enable you to live the life that you want to live?

November 8, 2012

The Psychology Behind Racism and Stereotyping

Honors Guild student, Erin Gillette, wrote on one of our significant November campus events: The Psychology behind Racism and Stereotyping

     This lecture was given by Dr. Joseph Lund and was put on by MESA. Dr. Lund based the principles on Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  As we discussed racism and stereotyping, Dr. Lund encouraged us to act out of an attitude of justice, mercy, and especially humility both towards ourselves and others. Dr Lund also encouraged us to ask ourselves, “How well do you know yourself?”

     First, Dr. Lund discussed the differences between implicit and explicit attitudes. All people have pervasive implicit attitudes. Most of us tend to initially react aggressively and defensively when we feel threatened by people’s differences. These reactions, however, are not ideal and are many times laced with prejudice. C.S. Lewis stated that it is not our first thought that counts but the second. It is possible for us to change our attitudes, but we must first be willing to admit that we all have some unknown implicit attitudes that we act on subconsciously.

     Second, Dr. Lund discussed the idea that distinctiveness feeds self-consciousness. The example Dr. Lund gave to illustrate this idea was a white student in a room of ethnic students. The white student becomes aware of their difference which makes them feel self-conscious and then they act out of this discomfort. We as people tend to emphasize our distinctive rather than our commonalities. This influences our communities as we each bring our distinctness and self-consciousness to the group. As a group of individuals, community is something towards which we work, not something we declare that we have. We must focus on finding harmony amongst each other rather that unison. Our differences can bring us together if we allow them.

 

Daoud Nassar

Honors Guild  Student, Erin Gillette, wrote on Daoud Nassar’s visit to Taylor:

     WOW, MECA, Global Engagement, and the Honors Guild all together hosted this event featuring Palestinian Christian farmer Daoud Nassar. Nassar is the owner of a farm near Bethlehem located in the Palestinian occupied territory. Out of the farm, Nassar runs the organization Tent of Nations which focuses on building bridges of understanding between different peoples.

     First, Nassar outlined some of the difficulties of living in Palestine. The Israelis have tried confiscate their farm numerous times using legal battles, physical pressure, financial pressure, and isolation. For their property, they are not allowed to have electricity, water, or building permits. These situations cause many to have one of three responses: violence, resignation, or running away. Nassar and his organization, however, have created a different reaction; they have chosen to stay with a perspective of hope. They have refused to be victims and to hate as well as living their faith and believing in justice.

     Nassar and the Tent of Nations have two main goals: to invest frustration constructively and to create a place of encounter. These goals have been difficult to accomplish due to their restrictions, but they have overcome many of them through creativity and faith. Instead of electricity the farm runs on solar panels, instead of running water the farm uses rain water, and in the place of buildings they have renovated existing underground caves. Nassar’s farm has become a place of hope in a difficult land. By refusing to be victims or to view others as the enemy, Nassar has encouraged dialogue and mutual understanding. Nassar has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of bringing together Palestinians, Israelis, and members of the international along with Christians, Muslims, and Jews. This small farm outside Bethlehem has truly made their land a symbol of hope and a sign of peace in a region desperately in need of both.    

  7 November 2012

Honors Conference Reflections– On “Feasting and Fasting,” by Diana Meakem

Junior Diana Meakem provides us a fascinating reflection on one of the breakout sessions in the Fall 2012 Honors Guild Conference. Reagan Sutterfield, an agrarian and a writer from Englewood Community Church in Indianapolis, delivered a talk titled “Feasting and Fasting” during the conference. Here are Diana’s thoughts:

Reflection On “Feasting and Fasting” by Ragan Sutterfield

     “When we eat a meal, we’re participating in a concert.” I have always felt this way about meals, but have never been able to articulate it. I appreciated the many facets to Ragan’s talk, the way he intertwined literature, theology, and agriculture. It was particularly apropos because he talked a lot about how God made everything to be connected, even though we often pervert that. 

            Ragan talked about soil, how we were made from it, how we return to it, and how we as humans are dependent upon the soil. I’ve done a little gardening growing up (I love growing basil and making pesto from it), but I had never thought about how special, complicated and life-giving soil is. The soil affects what we eat.

            After that, Ragan talked about how we eat, and spent a lot of time talking about fasting in particular. Fasting has always been a tricky topic for me. I know Christians have done it for centuries, but have struggled to understand why or how fasting should be done. Ragan spoke of fasting as “a kind of mourning,” as a holding out for something better, anticipation. He addressed, too, that fasting is not about manipulating God, which has been an underlying theme behind most of what I grew up hearing about fasting. I like the idea of fasting as waiting for something better. As Christians, that is a huge part of how we are called to live—on the earth, but not of it, waiting eagerly for the redemption of the world (Romans 8).  

            In fact, Christianity is a religion based on waiting. The Jews waited thousands of years for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return. We’re called to wait in other areas of our life, too: we’re called to wait on the Lord, called to wait until marriage for the consummation of sex. Fasting, a discipline of waiting, can teach us about delayed gratification in other areas of our lives. Most things worth doing can’t be done by clicking a button, and it would be good to have a discipline to remind us of that.

            Ragan talked about the historical rhythm of the church fasting on Fridays, always remembering the death of Lord. Then Sunday is always a feast day, remembering his resurrection. In between feasting and fasting is ferial eating, a more normal eating. Observing these disciplines, or a version of them that I could maintain (like eating only fruits and vegetables Friday for breakfast and lunch) might be a lovely way to embrace a historical, sacred rhythm in my busy life.

The Presidential Election and Technology: A Reflection By Taylor Blake

Hello Honors Students!

We are starting off the first post new year with this reflection by Taylor Blake, a fellow honors student, who remarked on the Presidential Election and the influence of Technology:

Reflection: YOVO 1st Presidential Debate

            I attended the live streaming of the first presidential debate on October 3rd. This event was held in the Euler commons, and was hosted by the Global Engagement group YOVO: You Only Vote Once (in College). I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire presidential debate before (although I have seen snippets of them in the past), and so I was excited to have this opportunity to watch it with friends and discuss it with other people who were interested in the topics.

            I was blown away by the number of students who attended—one person helping run the event estimated about 400 came. One thing I took away from the night is that Taylor students care about politics and matters that affect our country. However, by my estimates, there may have even been an important count that outnumbered the students in Euler: the count of tweets we sent out in that hour-and-a-half period.

            As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debated, students typed away on phones and laptops, recording their reactions and responses to what they saw on screen. The provider we chose to watch the debate online with also featured tweets about the debates on the bottom of the screen—you could hear the group of us begin laughing and “oooh”-ing in response to what some other watchers around the country (and probably around the world) had to say about Romney and Obama’s performances.

            Needless to say, our consumption of politics has changed in recent years, even since the 2008 election. Our generation feels the need to reply to the events around us by posting about it on social media (oftentimes Facebook and Twitter), and we continue the process by replying to each other further on social media. The physical world is companioned by the Internet world, which is full of thoughts and words people probably never literally utter in the former.

            I tweeted four times throughout the debate and kept up with others responses on Twitter on and off through the night. Although some critics might say that’s not a positive development in our society, I disagree—I think it is just one of our new forms of getting politically involved, especially with my age group. We students were bringing the politics into our daily lives of social media. To me, that’s a step forward for civic awareness in my generation. Romney and Obama continued to throw numbers and accusations at each other, and I never could completely follow that, even though I’ve studied government before. However, opportunities to understand better actually came up on Twitter: The Echo tweeted and retweeted commentary on what the candidates were saying for Taylor students, and other national news sources provided their own thoughts and fact checks to what the candidates said. The tools of every generation are what the users make them to be; obviously not everyone will use social media to keep up with our political landscape, but many people are choosing to do that, even the younger generation.

            I’ve decided that the campaign name for the political activism on Taylor campus is quite appropriate. YOVO is a play off of “YOLO,” a trendy Internet acronym right now. It represents the fusion of politics and media that our generation commonly creates and interacts with, especially present and prevalent on our campus. Instead of a concern, though, this is a positive step forward—students are finding opportunities to connect with politics with where their lives are now and are continuing to influence the trends and results.

Stay tuned for more regular updates as the year goes on!