• A Whisper, Stronger than the Storm

    The world is spinning for me right now. So much has happened in the past couple of months that I don’t even know how to begin processing it all: In South Carolina, an African-American man was shot in the back multiple times by a police officer. After killing him, the officer planted evidence to corroborate a story that he made up as a defense. Religious freedom legislation in Indiana has raised a firestorm of media (and social media) attention, leading many people on both sides of the issue to draw hard lines in the sand. A Vice President of a religious university was demoted, seemingly because of a sermon he delivered on peace. A few weeks later, at a separate religious university, a prominent and tenured theologian was laid off for questionable reasons. These situations, and many others like them, have led to some BIG questions, big discussions. They are conversations that need to happen. But instead of conversing like adults, many of us - on all sides of the issues - are making assumptions and shouting with vitriolic disdain. Then we’re surprised when the other side gets defensive and responds in kind, resulting in a multi-tiered escalation that can only conceivably result in destruction. Everyone, including myself, wants to be heard over everyone else. Thad Norvell pointed out that when we (Christians) approach a potentially divisive issue, we should focus less on our position and more on our posture. He stated it so: No matter how correct your position, if your posture toward a world you believe to be “still sinners” is anything other than a love that stubbornly refuses to condemn, but instead gives itself away to point to Jesus giving himself away, you are on your own. You are not standing on the truth of the scriptures or the shoulders of Jesus. Right position without the posture of God revealed in Jesus is not the Gospel. Carry on with the discussions.... We need those conversations. Just remember that if we claim the name of Jesus, we are not ambassadors of moral positions or good behavior; we are ambassadors of a transcendent reconciliation possible only in Jesus, who made God’s love for sinners known not by a posture of condemnation, but of cross-shaped love. I am convinced, along with Norvell, that we (I include myself in this) have become obsessed with our position on tough topics and have forgotten the posture that Christ took for us - and calls us to take as well (Luke 9:23). But I still keep catching myself defending my position on a topic instead of committing myself to a Christ-like posture. It’s easy for me to get caught up in shouting matches - particularly on outlets like Facebook, where it’s easy to conveniently forget that it’s a real person on the other side of the screen. From now on, I am committing to converse with love and respect instead of shouting my stance on an issue. That’s not to suggest that I don’t have a position or that I…
  • Adults, We Don’t Have to Agree.

    My faith has grown a lot over the years, and I hope that it keeps growing as I continue to mature. We all grow up with ideas about how life works. As we grow, we learn that some of them are right (don’t touch fire, because it burns), some are wrong (Santa brings us presents on Christmas), and some are simply matters of opinion (sauerkraut is nasty). Part of being a mature adult is having the ability to challenge - and find answers for - those assumptions. Being able to have truly open discussions about life questions is crucial to growing and learning. The key word in that sentence is “open.” We Christians (particularly evangelicals) love to talk about the hot topics in our social circles. We love making sure everyone knows exactly where we stand on abortion, creation, and homosexuality. The problem is that we are unwilling to concede that our views could possibly be wrong. When we approach the conversation in this way, we are behaving like a child who, upon being told that Santa isn't real, puts his hands over his ears and shouts “I’m not listening to you! Santa IS real!” If we are mature in our faith, we have to be able to approach these conversations with the mindset that we COULD be wrong in what we believe. That’s not to say that we definitely are wrong - but we must be able to admit that the possibility exists. Aristotle summed my thoughts up well. He said: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
  • We Need to Have a Healthy Conversation

    In the last few weeks, I have become acutely aware of the fact that we evangelicals are horrible participants in discussions, particularly on social media. I am fortunate to have friends from a wide variety of faiths and religious backgrounds, and recently I've seen several of them publicly wrestling with tough, real-life questions. Through the sincerity of their questions, they have made themselves vulnerable, opening their hearts to the world. And I have been appalled at the way many well-meaning evangelicals have completely derailed the conversations with pat, predictable answers that harm more than they help. Most of the time, these answers don’t even address the question and aren't relevant to the discussion. Why do we do this? Math has always come really easily for me. From the time I first learned how to add and subtract, I've had this innate ability to see the answer long before others. I never had to memorize multiplication tables because I could do the calculations immediately in my head. I could shout out the answer to a problem before anyone else could even begin working it out, and I was rarely wrong. The first couple of  times I did this, everyone was impressed. Quickly, though, my immediate answers started to annoy my classmates. I thought I was being helpful (and truth be told, I was having fun), but my casual responses made them feel like I was showing off. To my friends, I was showboating - even arrogant - with my solutions. Even worse, by discouraging them from working out the answers for themselves, I was preventing them from learning. Fractions and long division came as naturally to me as the multiplication tables, but as the problems became more complex, I started getting my answers wrong more frequently. At first, I could convince myself that I’d simply misread the problem, but eventually I had to admit that my easy answers were flat out incorrect. Then I’d have to go back and actually work out the math to see what I’d done wrong. When I started learning more advanced mathematics like algebra and trigonometry, the answers that I got in my head were more often wrong than they were right. I was forced to admit that I needed to work out every problem if I wanted to get the correct answer, but since I’d spent my entire life skipping steps and figuring the problems in my head, I was woefully unprepared to do the work. I struggled with math for the first time in my life as I had to relearn all of the processes that my fellow classmates had been doing for years. I think that, as evangelicals participating in cultural discussions, we tend to make a lot of those exact same mistakes in our conversations about sensitive issues. When we respond to our friends with trite, quick answers, we’re devaluing the very real struggle that they are working through. We’re telling them that the answer is easy - it’s right there in front of them, how could they be confused? And…
  • In Light of the MNU + Randy Beckum Situation

    Last updated: July 20, 2015, 10:18 pm MidAmerica Nazarene University recently relieved Randy Beckum of his role as Vice President, although he retains his position as the school's chaplain. The reasons for this move by the school are somewhat unclear. The official announcement from the school suggests that they wanted to allow him to focus more on his chaplaincy, although recent events at the school cast doubts on that assertion. Many have suggested that he was relieved of duty in response to a sermon regarding non-violence that he delivered to the student body about 2 weeks prior to his demotion. The discussion of Beckum's seeming-demotion has overwhelmed my Facebook feed and many of my friends seem to be scrambling for more information, so I want to present as many relevant resources as I have been able to find. The blog post by Blake Nelson that seems to have sparked the discussion. Blake Nelson's transcription of the official MNU statement. MNU's student newspaper's story on Beckum's change of position. MNU's student newspaper's transcription of Beckum's controversial sermon. An editorial from MNU student Joshua Brisco evaluating the current student climate of the school A statement from the MNU President in response to the controversy A call for transparency from MNU alumnus Shannon Greene (she's my wife, by the way) An article in the Kansas City Star bringing regional attention to the concerns A Change.org petition for Beckum to be reinstated into his VP role at MNU Examination of Beckum's public statement and President Spittal's response An article in the MNU student newspaper written by faculty member Mark Hayse on the politics of chapel The complete text of Beckum's public statement. A Facebook group has been set up to promote an endowment fund in Randy Beckum's honor. The group describes its mission: "to send a powerful message that financial influence and pressure has no place in influencing what "kind" of Gospel message is preached in our churches." (You can give to this fund directly through the Church of the Nazarene Foundation.) You can watch the original sermon in its entirety below. A group of alumni, friends, family, and current students sent in videos from all over the world in a message of encouragement for Randy Beckum. Here is that video: My goal is that this post serves as a central place for relevant information and productive conversation. If you have information that I've missed and you feel should be listed here, please leave a comment. Please note that, since this has become a heated discussion on social media, I will be closely monitoring the comments. I will not tolerate hatefulness or name-calling. Let's lead with love.