So maybe it is about economics?

In our studies on the parables of Jesus, I’ve been struck by how often the parables talk about money and economics. Perhaps, though, as Jesus’ teachings tended to make people upset, it’s not that surprising: nothing quite gets people as upset as challenging them about money, power, and their self-importance.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) challenges readers both about economics and their self-importance.

The traditional understanding of this parable is that of grace: like the day’s wage that each person is paid at the end of the day, all those who believe are given salvation (irrelevant of how long they have been doing kingdom work). Salvation by grace alone (not by works) is one of the often repeated themes in Paul’s letters, so while there is something wonderful about being reminded about God’s extensive grace, there’s not much surprising in this message. Nor does it fully explain the ending of the parable – the part where the landowner basically tells the ‘early’ workers to get over themselves and highlights the generosity of the landowner in making sure all those who’d worked received enough for their daily needs.

It helps to look at the context. This parable is probably being told to the disciples. The text surrounding the passage doesn’t give the best picture of the disciples: they rebuke the people bringing their children to Jesus, they ask what they’ll earn because they’ve given up everything to follow Jesus, and then two of them ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom (and the others get upset at their audacity). The parable then rebukes the self-importance and entitlement of the disciples, something that many of us ‘older’ Christians also tend to have. The challenge to the hearers of this parable is thus:

“Why do we find it so difficult to rejoice over the good that enters other people’s lives, and why do we spend our time calculating how we have been cheated? . . . Even while we speak of justice, none of us is satisfied with average. We always think we deserve a little more.” Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 378.

As the text surrounding this parable talks a lot about money and our desire to get what we deserve, it is also important to wonder what the strange economics in the parable might have to say to us today. Amy-Jill Levine does a great job of pointing out how the justice portrayed in this parable is a justice that is not related only to saving grace but also to every day life:

“The workers seek what they perceive to be ‘fair’; the householder teaches them a lesson by showing them what is ‘right.’ . . an economic lesson: the point is not that those who have ‘get more,’ but that those who have not ‘get enough. . . . If the householder can afford it, he should continue to put others on the payroll, pay them a living wage (even if they cannot put in a full day’s work), and so allow them to feed their families while keeping their dignity intact. The point is practical, it is edgy, and it a greater challenge to the church then and today than the entirely unsurprising idea that God’s concern is that we enter, not when.”  Levine, Short Stories by Jesus, 213, 218

Support and your Cohort

A recent study highlights how the lower the percentage of other females in your (STEM) cohort the greater the chance that female students will drop out of their program.

Katie Langin highlights this study and looks at the experience of different females to understand better what effect having female peers has and how one can find support outside of one’s cohort. She quotes Susan Gardner, “who has interviewed Ph.D. students about their experiences in graduate school. Students usually drop out because of some other factor besides intellectual ability, such as poor advising, a toxic climate, or because they want to pursue other options, Gardner says. ‘Very few people drop out of doctoral education because they got bad grades.'”

The reason that females leave isn’t necessarily toxic environments, although harassment and other negative experiences related to gender and sexism do occur, as the anecdote at end of the article illustrates. Instead, the challenge can be summarized as a lack of support: whether that be through challenging negative environments or simply through social isolation and difficulty in developing friendships (within one’s cohort and labs).

The end of the article presents how important it is to find good support. It is my hope that Campus Edge provides that kind of support, especially for people who feel isolated and unsupported in whatever program they’re in, for whatever reason.

Moral Distress among Veterinarians

NPR recently published an article about moral distress among veterinarians. The author, Carey Goldberg, highlights a study “published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine about “moral distress” among veterinarians. The survey of more than 800 vets found that most feel ethical qualms — at least sometimes — about what pet owners ask them to do. And that takes a toll on their mental health.”

She quotes Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman in highlighting the challenges:

“Sometimes, owners elect to have their pets put to sleep because they can’t or won’t pay for treatment, she says. Or the opposite, “where we know in our heart of hearts that there is no hope to save the animal, or that the animal is suffering and the owners have a set of beliefs that make them want to keep going.”

Furthermore, “J. Wesley Boyd, sees a connection between the study’s findings and daunting statistics about veterinarians’ suicide rates: “My assumption,” he says, “is that the findings from our survey are definitely part of, or even the majority of, the reason why veterinarians have higher-than-average suicide rates.”

Your prayers for veterinarians – especially those in training – are appreciated.

Loving the grad student in your life

Christian Courier recently published an article by Meghan Kort on how to love the grad student in your life. She begins by explaining a bit about the mental health challenges of grad school and then provides wisdom about “how churches, families, and friends can show more love when we encounter stressed-out grad students in our lives. The following are some helpful (and unhelpful) questions that she provides that can help you reach out to, encourage, and love the grad students that you encounter.

  1. Asking what they’re going to do when they graduate is unhelpful because “life rarely moves as planned.” They know that there’s probably not a huge niche for their expertise “but they are working on figuring out how their God-given curiosities fit into the larger questions that run this world.”
  2. Helpful: “Your research sounds really specific/interesting/unique. What led you to this area of study?” You probably have little connection to their specific topic but you might just have connections with the how and why they came to study that topic.
  3. and 4. Not so helpful: “How is your thesis going?” or “When will you be finished?” A variation of these questions are found in PhD comic’s second most popular comic on what accounts for bad manners in grad school.
  4. Better questions might be “How was your week? Have you been reading anything interesting lately? What parts of your research/writing/teaching do you find most energizing?”

We need to lend extra understanding and patience to grad students as they experience the stops and starts of their academic paths. Some months, they may disappear into the lab or library and check out of church life. At other times they are surprisingly available and eager to apply their skills to church ministries. Ask “what works best for you?” when looking for commitments and try to be flexible with last minute changes.

We need to challenge ourselves to look past what we do not understand about grad students’ research or career decisions and engage with them as valuable members of our churches, families and communities. Long-time campus chaplains and professors, Neil and Virginia Lettinga hope that “more churches would bluntly say to grad students that they are a beloved part of the community – even as they flutter in and out.” As we extend our patience, compassion and love, grad students will find that your presence is a welcome embrace next to the sometimes icy and often isolating ivory tower.

Academia: staying (or leaving) for the right reasons

Beth Godbee, in her article in Inside Higher Ed talks about leaving – or staying – in academia for the right reasons. While she has now decided, post-tenure, to leave academia, she talks also about how and why it can be good to stay:

I remember conversations with an amazing counselor who really understood the trauma of graduate education and worked primarily with doctoral students. When I shared that I was thinking of leaving graduate school since my back pain was indicative of too much stress, she encouraged me to keep open the decision of whether to stay or go. As long as I felt I could grow, contribute and heal in my discipline, I had reasons to stay, which she had me itemize. If or when I felt that I couldn’t be myself, then I could consider how to leave and for what.

A Christian might put her words slightly differently: as long as one can serve God faithfully – by loving others, contributing to the world, and growing, including desiring to know and love God more fully – then staying in grad school is good. But if that is not true, then leaving is a good thing; but leaving ought to be towards something, something that is more good and more faithful to who God has formed us to be and uses the gifts, talents, and experiences God has given us in order to be a blessing to others and the world around us.

Evolution and Creation Resources

The following are a few resources to help people understand how much of a dichotomy there is between science and religion (especially regarding the formation of the world).

Nautilus provides a digital comic discussing whether religious people really have a problem with evolution through providing an overview of a project ‘exploring the spectrum’ of views on ‘science and religion.’

Emerging Scholars Network has a very helpful overview of positions that different Christians hold with regard to how God formed the world, as well as links to more resources.

The Steam project, which incidentally funds some of the science-faith initiative of Emerging Scholars Networks, has a growing number of resources.

More resources to follow.

Leaving the church over (bad views of) science?

America recently published an article about why teens are leaving the church. In that article, Dinges highlights that, according to two recent reports looking at young people’s church relationship to church, one of the reasons young people give for leaving the church is related to science (or reason). Yet, Dinges, points out that it might not be science (or reason) causing young people to leave so much as it is a misunderstanding of reason (and its relationship to faith).

Dinges notes:

A related disaffiliation rationale that both reports suggest is in need of deeper exploration concerns the role of science. Significant numbers of teens indicated that their beliefs were now predicated on “factual evidence.” In one fashion or the other, they attributed their departure from religion to their ideas of what is required by a belief in science. These assertions, like knowledge of the content of their faith, raise the question of scientific literacy: How much do most respondents—especially young ones—actually know and understand about both scientific facts and scientific epistemology? Data on American scientific literacy in general is not encouraging in this regard. Nor is it apparent why Catholicism, a tradition that extols a positive relationship between faith and reason, apparently falls so short here.

Dinges’s question about how well people actually understand science is helpful for encouraging a healthier understanding of the relationship of faith and science. As a pastor, I’d also say that a better understanding of faith and the role of certainty in faith would also be helpful.

Advocating for Refugees

As we often talk about justice in our studies, I am thankful that Campus Edge is connected to a denomination that cares deeply about speaking up for the marginalized. The Christian Reformed Church recently released an official statement about (the lack of) admission of refugees to the United States. The following are highlights of that statement:

 “We identify the proposed drastic cuts to the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. as a critical moment for the voice of the church. . .

Caring for refugees is a central issue of our faith, rooted in Scripture. We are commanded to welcome the stranger (Deut 10:19, Lev 19:34, Ex 23:9), to love our neighbor (Mk 12:31), to seek justice (Micah 6:8), and to come alongside the vulnerable (Psalm 82:3). We are called to hospitality both in order to give of our resources, and also to receive blessings (Heb 13:2). We are told that the presence of our Savior, Jesus, can be hidden the face of the stranger. (Matt 25:35). . .

Synod was particularly clear about the CRC’s commitment to refugee and immigrants in 2010, resolving that “God’s Word consistently directs the people of God to be welcoming toward the strangers in their midst and to extend special care to those most vulnerable to social or economic conditions that threaten their ability to survive.” It also called members of the church to advocate with government representatives for just policies, saying “…citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples.” . . .

We are grieved by that which stands in the way of our church’s calling, in particular, these further cuts to refugee resettlement.

  • We are deeply concerned about an emerging pattern of U.S. policies which are harming immigrant communities — for example, revoking legal pathways to immigration, restricting the definition of asylum, cutting refugee admissions and more.
  • We lament the thousands of vulnerable citizens who will remain in refugee camps for far too long, exposed to further violence and trauma, because of these reductions.
  • We grieve that this may impact the policies of other nations. After decades of receiving upwards of 75,000-100,000 refugees, this cut in the U.S. threatens to lead other countries to follow suit.”

Possible actions, including prayer, can be found on the CRC website.

Farming metaphors for grad school

Heather Dubrow at Inside Higher Ed recently wrote a poem describing grad school using farming metaphors. The metaphors of diversifying crops, nutritional value, and efforts bearing fruit are helpful for understanding how complicated academia (and grad school) can be. Below are several excerpts from the poem:

Orange Harvest Moon

A field exuberantly growing
careers that will be harvested?
Or does that promised carrot
just glimmer on some hope-filled pond?

Look — so many universities
dangle that carrot
to feed their hunger for applicants . . .

how about the programs that attempt
to diversify by rotating crops —
Professor? But maybe arts administrator, technical writer, editor…
Are these new carrots wholesome food?
Can this new menu sustain and be sustained?”

I encourage you to go to the website to read the whole poem, including her praise of those in academia who continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Prayers for the summer

Summer brings with it a different rhythm for academics and students. For some summer brings the extra work related to field season; for others it brings a transition from one stage of academia to another. For many of us, it brings an opportunity for a change of pace. My prayer is that this change of pace brings with it rejuvenation so that we might approach the upcoming academic year rested and with restored enthusiasm.

Recognizing the different rhythm of summer, the blog from the Emerging Scholars network has posted a series of prayers for the summer. I, too, pray the following the words from one of the most recent prayers:

Thank You for the chance to rest, if only a little, during these months. Thank You the Summer months are calmer and less hectic on our campuses. Thank You for the chance to stand in shorter lines at the cafeteria or food court, for the chance to hear the wind blow and birds sing because there is less activity, for the chance to play volleyball games on the lawns or take walks through the gardens or arboretums or go out into the mountains on a field project. Thank You for the sounds of renewal and repair, whether those are made by nature or are made by our colleagues in facilities working on maintenance projects. Thank You for the chance to recover.