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Lenten Reflections – Ash Wednesday

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning God created…” is one of the best opening lines ever written. It sets up our understanding of the world, and our understanding of God. In other religions the origins of the world are often described as violent, brutal, and focused on the anger or the desire of the gods. The Judeo-Christian story is different. The epic hymn in chapter one of Genesis celebrates a God who cares deeply about the world and everything in it. It celebrates a God who speaks life into every aspect of creation and calls it “good.” 

On the first day of creation God created light and dark, day and night. Through that act God set in place a rhythm for our lives. It’s a rhythm that all of creation experiences along with us; periods of activity and sleep, of work and rest. As we approach this next week, think about the ways God has created rhythms in your life that sustain you and help you flourish. 

Remember also that God created us from dust taken from the earth, breathed life into us and placed us in this world. We are connected to it and part of it. We are a part of God’s good and incredible creation.

Suggested action: Make this week a special focus on learning more about the world around you. Find out what watershed you live in. Go for a walk and see how many different birds and trees you can identify. Watch an environmental documentary or read a book or article about creation care.  Visit the Climate Caretakers Resources page for some book and movie recommendations: https://climatecaretakers.org/resources.

Suggested resources: A Netflix series, “Our Planet” https://www.netflix.com/title/80049832 , and the book “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger 

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Winslow Homer, “Moonlight, Wood Island Night”

Lenten Reflections

During Lent we often give up significant things to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice. This Lent we hope you’ll join us in doing more than just giving things up  – and instead choose to engage in a variety of activities and changes that will help sustain God’s good creation. Each week – starting tomorrow with Ash Wednesday – we’ll post a new scripture, reflection and suggested action on the Campus Edge blog to help you think more deeply about how to care for the various aspects of our created world.  You can also access them via our Instagram and Facebook accounts.

However, if you would like to sign up for weekly Lenten Reflection reminder emails, please email: info@campusedgemsu.com with the subject heading “Lenten Reflections”


The suggested actions come from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto” and All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/.

Liminal Spaces by Dara Nykamp

This year has been one of living in liminal space for me.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word liminal as “of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, transitional.” That concept of “in-between-ness” has marked my year. Transitioning from my job doing prison ministry to joining Campus Edge. Transitioning from life in Kalamazoo to life in Lansing. Even transitioning from life as we knew it to life during a pandemic and its associated adjustments. This year has been a year of waiting, transition and change. 

Transition used to be something I avoided at all costs. But lately I’ve grown to value transitions. New semesters, new classes, new places to live all provide a chance to make new decisions. They allow us to create new patterns in our lives. There has been a ton of speculation on how the pandemic, this year of waiting for things to reopen and normalize, will shape our decisions and lives moving forward. Will the patterns we created become part of our new routines? Will we jump back into all of our roles, activities and habits from before, or will we make new choices after having lived in this liminal space?  

We see people faced with that same set of questions over and over in the Bible. When the Israelites left Egypt they made a new choice to follow God. When they came to the promised land they renewed their relationship with God.  In living in exile, returning from exile and waiting for the Messiah to come – the nation of Israel lived with liminality for centuries. The prophets even encouraged them to live in that liminal space, Jeremiah told the people to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jeremiah 29:5) while waiting to come back from exile. God wanted their lives to flourish. God wanted them to thrive. Sometimes the people managed to follow God, to change their lives. Sometimes they fell back into old patterns. 

Even Christ’s description of his Kingdom has a liminal aspect. When the disciples decided to follow Jesus they stepped into the “already-but-not-yet” nature of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. Jesus was on earth showing people a glimpse of his kingdom and pointing them to an even more glorious future marked by the Spirit’s dwelling in believers’ hearts and the eventual coming of the New Heaven and New Earth. He was living and leading in liminal space. 

So, what does it mean for us as Christians to live in liminality? It means we realize that the world we are living in is not perfect, but that we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom right here and right now. For us today God’s kingdom is in every act of love and kindness, every action we take that is Spirit lead and faith driven. It is here when we gather together as Christians and when we pause to reflect with thankfulness on everything that God has given us. The year has held grief and loss and been one full of transitions. But it can also be full of hope as we look toward the choices we make as things “get back to normal”. 

Trying to organize things for God

Over a year ago, the main chaplain for the CRC campus ministry at the University of Toronto (U of T) made known his plans to retire. As a fellow CRC campus minister, I’d become friends with some of the U of T staff team and hoped they’d find a new staff member who was a good fit for the ministry. And, because I’d like to see more female campus minister colleagues, I also thought it’d be great if they could find a female to take on the position. 

When it became known that the campus ministry was indeed looking for someone to fill the position full-time, I started reaching out to people who were qualified. I brainstormed with Sara, a friend of mine who used to work as part of the staff team in Toronto, about all of the qualified females we could ask, trying to help arrange things for God.

And then in February this past year, Sara and I were wondering again how we could help out the ministry (and God) with filling the position, and she suggested again that I apply. When she’d suggested this previously, my answer had always been a quick no, sometimes with a laugh at the absurdity of the idea. I loved my job with Campus Edge, and besides, if/when we moved again, it would be back to Europe. 

When Sara asked again if I shouldn’t apply, what had once seemed an obvious ‘no’ felt differently. So I wondered if perhaps the Spirit was prodding me to look again – might God have even been using my intense interest in arranging things for the ministry as a preparation for being open to the idea of applying to the position myself? But it still felt absurd to contemplate moving to Toronto, and so when I asked my husband about his thoughts about moving to Toronto, I assumed he’d respond negatively. But he was enthusiastic about the idea, and I had a stronger sense of what chaos God might be asking us to enter into the coming months.

And then the pandemic hit, life truly turned chaotic, and I was in a position to provide needed encouragement and pastoral care to folks connected to Campus Edge as we navigated this new season. And still, sensing God’s hand on the whole process, I applied to the position at U of T. I was hired and accepted the position and thus made plans to leave Campus Edge. I worked part-time for both ministries this past fall, gradually shifting more of my time from Campus Edge to Toronto. I have experienced God’s help throughout the process: everything went well with selling our house, we had tremendous help in finding housing in Toronto (and were graciously welcomed), and Campus Edge has found a new pastor.

Not surprisingly, God answered my prayer (for more female campus ministers), just not in the way I expected. I will stay in campus ministry, albeit in a new place, and my experience with Campus Edge will be a gift to the ministry at the University of Toronto. And there will be one more new female campus minister with the Christian Reformed Church: here at Campus Edge!

Lab Girl (2016) by Hope Jahren

I found Lab Girl (by Hope Jahren) helpful for understanding the experience of academics in the sciences, both graduate students and faculty, especially those involved in labs. I wasn’t sure, though, what to make of the interspersed chapters on plant biology, as fascinating as they were. They did provide a metaphor for understanding the rest of the book: “People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed – a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be.” (18)

At times, though, these interspersed chapters on biology felt like they got in the way of the story I wanted to hear more about, even as much as Jahren’s telling us of the biology of trees is as much a part of her story as all the (mis)adventures that she had. Her story was unique: “there’s still no journal where I can tell the story of how my science is done with both the heart and the hands.” (20) Nor can she speak fully of all the non-successes that obviously don’t make it into journals. Instead she notes that “I have become proficient at producing a rare species of prose capable of distilling ten years of work by five people into six published pages, written in a language that very few people can read and that no one ever speaks. This writing relates the details of my work with the precision of a laser scalpel, but its streamlined beauty is a type of artifice, a size-zero mannequin designed to showcase the glory of a dress that would be much less perfect on a real person.” (20)

The book was also helpful in providing insights into some of the unseen challenges of academic, especially that of science professors (and those who direct labs). She notes how, while we might expect knowledge and research to be the hardest questions that scientists face, funding is actually the biggest stress:

“Next time you meet a science professor, ask her if she ever worries that her findings might be wrong. If she worries that she chose an impossible problem to study, or that she overlooked some important evidence along the way. If she worries that one of the many roads not taken was perhaps the road to the right answer that she’s still looking for. Ask a science professor what she worries about. It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: “Money.” ” (124-5)

She also talks about the challenges and loneliness that she experienced, particularly as a female in her profession. Despite being someone who won some prominent awards (and was on the tenure track at 26 already!), funding was a significant problem for at least ten years. She also speaks about being taken advantage of by another lab in the building, of being yelled at a conference presentation, of being ignored socially at conferences by the senior scientists in her field. She also notes about how hard when her life went against a lot of societal norms, especially what is expected of females:

“I didn’t know if I was crying because I was nobody’s wife or mother – or because I felt like nobody’s daughter – or because of the beauty of that single perfect line on the readout. I had worked and waited for this day. In solving this mystery I had also proved something, at least to myself, and I finally knew what real research would feel like. But as satisfying as it was, it still stands out as one of the loneliest moments of my life. On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known. In the years to come, I would create a new sort of normal for myself within my own laboratory. I would have a brother close than any of my siblings, someone I could call any hour of the day or night. . . I would nurture a new generation of students, some of whom were just hungry for attention, and a very few who would live up to the potential that I saw in them.” (71-2)

Despite all the challenges, there is a lot of hope in the book: the community that she builds, the grace and acceptance that she presents, and the quiet presence of God:

“My lab is a place where my guilt over what I haven’t done is supplanted by all the things that I am getting done. . . My lab is a place where I can be the child that I still am. . . . My laboratory is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe. The machines drone a gathering hymn as I enter. I know whom I’ll probably see, and I know how they’ll probably act. I know there’ll be silence; I know there’ll be music, a time to greet my friends, and a time to leave others to their contemplation. There are rituals that I follow, some I understand and some I don’t. . . And, just like church, because I grew up in it, it is not something from which I can ever really walk away.” (19)

Young adults and the church (2)

To understand the relationship of young adults and the church, the following is some extra information about GenZ (also known as iGen) and millennials that is helpful for understanding those generations (to supplement the previous post).

The following are some of the most significant shifts in our culture and experience in the last twenty years:

  1. Technology, especially the internet and smart phones.
  2. We’ve become more secular: it has become more normal for people not to believe in God or be associated with church. Even more so, people are not so much for or against God as much as they’re even sure why faith and God are relevant to their lives.
  3. The world is not safe: 9/11 happened and terrorism, financial collapses, and we’re more aware of racism, climate change, school shootings.
  4. The pandemic, the implications of this on society and individuals still to be determined.

These things are affecting all of us, but I believe younger generations are especially negatively affected because they haven’t had the blessing of more perspective of having lived through different cultural emphases and shifts.

To give more specifics, in terms of safety, IGen is the first generation where we’ve seen a significant decrease in drinking, sex, going out to parties, and even driving. They are making decisions based on what is safe for them emotionally, physically, and even in terms of their reputation. They also have great relationships with their parents, although sometimes parents can do too much for their children, organizing everything in their lives from classes, homework, and even getting them out of bed (and this is even in college). Millennials have been told all their lives that they’re great and so there is some disillusionment about their talents and abilities. At the same time, they long for responsibility (which is often kept by older generations) or they get bored.

So what does this mean for faith?

For the millennials, it means finding ways to share responsibility for the church with this generation – even if they’ll make mistakes. Give young adults/ young people the keys to the church is how Kara Powell talks about this in Growing Young. For Igen, it’s important to realize how faith can be one more thing that parents organize for their children and something that they don’t own – or leave behind when they finally differentiate from their parents.

More importantly, one needs to be honest about how God and faith are not safe. The purpose of Christianity isn’t simply to make you happy, well-adjusted, or safe. That’s moralistic therapeutic deism, not true faith. The more we can all be honest with each other about faith – about how God doesn’t save us from hardships but instead walks with us through our sufferings, the more hope we can give to those who long for adventure (like millennials) and/or (like Igen) for safety (but are coming to recognize that it’s ultimately impossible).

In terms of technology, young adults tend to be distracted and don’t know how to interact with each other. We’re also curating our images and lives. We’re deeply lonely and disillusioned. It will be interesting to see how the pandemic affects this tendency. For millennials, technology has hindered an ability to have work/life balance. Millennials will often define themselves by how productive they are. So they’re often overwhelmed.

So what does this mean for faith?

While younger generations crave responsibility and ought to be given more, this not true when they’re overwhelmed. Sometimes we all – young and old(er) – desperately need to be able simply to show up without worrying about how we might fail or do it imperfectly. 

The church offers community; but this means also that we need to be willing to be honest about how our lives are not as perfect as we might like to pretend they are – because how else will others around us know that it’s okay for them to speak about how messy their own lives are?

When it comes to secularity, (as noted in the previous post), the bad news is that more and more of the next generations are growing up with little to no exposure to church and Christianity, except perhaps in a vaguely negative way, as a group of folks that are not inclusive or diverse. The good news, though, is that young adults are longing for strong community, authenticity, meaning, and hope. In other words, people are longing for the gospel of Christ; the challenge is to help people see that we, as a church, are a place where people will experience God’s grace. The church is full of broken people (like us), and while this might seem to discourage people from wanting to participating, it’s more likely that pretending that we’re all okay which actually turns people away. People, especially young adults, are looking for a place where one can be honest about the messiness of life and a place where we receive and extend grace to each other.

I had the privilege of participating last summer in a seminar on ministry to and with the next generation with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Calvin University chaplaincy. Some of the above thoughts are based on things that we talked about during that seminar.

Young adults and the church (1)

The following was mostly written before the pandemic. The pandemic has only increased the questions and uncertainty about how connected young people are (and will be) to church.

Recent Pew Survey results tell us that less people are identifying as Christian, especially among millennials. This has raised a lot of questions about (young) people leaving the church.

The good news is that other studies have shown that the number of committed Christians, both young and old, has not decreased by much. Many of the young people growing up in Christian families and actively participating in the church continue to be committed to church. On top of this, there are a number of great resources available to help us with that (see below for a list of resources).

The bad news is that millennials are no longer coming back to church when they ‘settle down’ and raise a family, which is when we as a church have expected people to come back (since this is what used to happen). Something has shifted in our culture that has made people less interested in church: part of it might be the rise of secularity (for more on this, see books by Andrew Root); part of it might be a misunderstanding of the purpose of church:

“If I can be a good person by going to a city council meeting, or by reading the features in The New Republic, or by volunteering at a charity, why do I need Jesus? Why do I need Christianity at all? The answer would be, you don’t. You might credit Jesus as a model citizen, acknowledge his death as unfortunate for him, but it takes a sense of sin, and grace, to really feel a particular allegiance to the man and his mission.”

CJ Green

At the same time, though, the Washington Post article written by Christine Emba, a millennial, argues that even though millennials are not coming back to church they are still looking for transcendence and fellowship with others. The longing for community has only increased with the pandemic, especially with the loss of social trust.

The (other) bad news is that more and more of the next generations are growing up with little to no exposure to church and Christianity, except perhaps in a vaguely negative way, as a group of folks that are not inclusive or diverse. The good news, though, is that young adults are longing for strong community, authenticity, meaning, and hope. In other words, people are longing for the gospel of Christ; the challenge is to help people see that we, as a church, are a place where people will experience God’s grace. The church is full of broken people (like us), and while this might seem to discourage people from wanting to participating, it’s more likely that pretending that we’re all okay which actually turns people away. People, especially young adults, are looking for a place where one can be honest about the messiness of life and a place where we receive and extend grace to each other.

Further resources connected to the above and on young adults and the church:

I had the privilege of participating last summer in a seminar on ministry to and with the next generation with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Calvin University chaplaincy. Some of the above thoughts are based on things that we talked about during that seminar.

Creation, Exile, and the Pandemic

Inspired by our chapel series last fall called “Hope of All Creation,” I have been increasingly interested in how the creation itself reflects the actions of God and the relationship between humanity and God in the Bible.

One idea I wanted to explore is the way in which the good news of Jesus is not just about redeeming human souls, but all of creation. The entire cosmos will be restored to right relationship with God. Paul beautifully describes this cosmic hope found in Christ:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25

With any eye towards the “universal restoration” (Acts 3:21) promised in the gospel, I am curious how creation imagery in the Bible reveals a broader picture of God’s creative actions. Our theology often emphasizes the relationship between God and humanity to the exclusion of humanity’s relationship with creation and God’s relationship with creation. In an age of unprecedented climate change that threatens the well-being of the vulnerable throughout the world, I believe it is crucially important to highlight these relationships in our faith communities, drawing from a deep well of biblical ideas about creation.

The book of Isaiah is filled with creation imagery that reflects God’s intentions and the people of Israel. The prophet sings a love song depicting the nation of Israel as a vineyard that produced the wild grapes of injustice and bloodshed (5:1-7), but will one day make peace together with God (27:2-6) and “fill the whole world with fruit” (27:6). God’s salvation will be known in all the earth (11:9, 12:5; c.f. Hab 2:14) by way of a Messianic seed: “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (11:1).

One key text that discusses the state of creation in response to social injustice is the so-called “apocalypse of Isaiah” (ch. 24), in which the economic and social upheaval present in Israel (24:1-3) associated with the destruction of the environment:

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”

Isaiah 24:4-5

I’d argue that, in most of the Old Testament prophets, the state of creation seems to reflect the relationship between God and God’s people. In our time, human-made climate change, brought about by needless consumption (and made possible by exploiting the poor), has ravaged the environment. In this way our world is experiencing “ecological consequences” of injustice, which are found throughout the book of Isaiah.

Without downplaying the devasting human impact of Covid-19, I believe that the pandemic can lead us to reflect on our relationship with the environment. Recently scientists have noticed an unprecedented drop in C02 emissions as much of the industrialized world “shelters in place” to control the spread of the pandemic. According to the historian of 2Chronicles, one purpose of the exile was “to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” (20:31) In other words, while the people are not presents (and are away in exile), the land itself is finally able to rest after Israel had neglected the commandment to care for the land (observing a weekly Sabbath rest).  I am struck by the parallel.

As we come to terms with the destruction of the environment, we lament. We might be inspired by the language of the prophets, who personify land that “mourns” the exile (Hosea 4:3, Jer 12:4) In the NRSV Bible, Joel 1 has the header “Lament over the Ruin of the Country” and plainly observes that “the fields are devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil fails”(Joel 1:10). In my estimation, all of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible (save, perhaps, Obadiah and Daniel) describe the destruction of the earth. If the exile (the subject of the prophets) is about a fall from grace due to social injustice, then injustice and the destruction of the earth are deeply intertwined.

Through sharing the gospel, Christians see themselves as being agents in God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. But I wonder how much “building the kingdom” also involves caring for creation.  I am currently reading The Green Gospel which seeks to provide an agricultural context to the time of Jesus and how this might prompt us to redesign food systems to be more sustainable and equitable.  

Despite the destruction evident from exile, the hope of the gospel spreads further, to the far reaches of the cosmos:

  • “By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.” (Psalm 65:5)
  • “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:19-20)
  • Like the lovers in the Song of Songs, in which creation is animated by love and mutuality, we long for the day when “the flower appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land” (2:12).

Perhaps one of the most poignant messages of hope for our time is expressed in Habakkuk 3. Despite destruction during the Bible and destruction now, God’s saving work continues:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”

Hab 3:17-19

– Mitchell Eithun, Campus Edge pastoral intern

Pandemic reflections

This has been a strange summer. The global pandemic has forced faith communities around the world to find new ways to “be the church.” I believe that this time can transform and grow us as followers of Jesus if we accept the invitation.

When the pandemic gained momentum in the United States I became curious about theological lenses  for viewing this unique time. I attended a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Veritas Forum called Coronavirus & Quarantine: What Big Questions Can We Be Asking?  I was inspired by the idea that the Judeo-Christian narrative makes meaning out of suffering by attaching it to “a narrative of redemption.” They discussed this idea in the context of the theological journey of Israel in exile and Jesus’s own plea, “let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). One speaker suggested that “lament is the seedbed of creativity.” In other words, how can the limitations and pain of social distancing spark creative ideas for connection?

During the pandemic we feel distant and disconnected. We find joy from phone calls, socially distant gatherings and perhaps more time with loved ones. But relying on fleeting bits of connection is not God’s intention for humanity. We are meant to live in community: to be with and beside people, to perform acts of kindness and generosity. We long for the ability to connect with people again, in more fulfilling ways. During the pandemic I have wondered how our angst during the social distancing might be parallel to the eschatological hope that God will make all things new. We see only fragments of God’s rule and reign a care for humanity and creation. We long for God to make all things new through the resurrection of Jesus, until that day when we relationships  between God, humanity and creation are fully restored, sustained by the river of life and the tree of life, whose leaves are for “the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).

A closely related lens for the pandemic is that of apocalypse. As in every generation, Christians identify current catastrophes with images in Revelation or even claiming it as God’s judgement. But the word apocalypse does not mean “the end of the world”. This is a modern misunderstanding, particularly in American Christianity. Scholars Tim Mackie explains that the Greek word for “apocalypse” means “uncover or reveal—to make something visible”.  Thinking about an apocalypse as an unveiling of things that were previously hidden forces us to acknowledge buried realities that have come to light (Luke 8:17). In the United States, the reality of systemic racism has become more apparent by the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on communities of color and rampant police brutality, both of which have stamped out Ruach Elohim, the breath of God.  According to John the visionary the blood of all who are unjustly murdered will be accounted for (Rev 18:24). In this way, we see apocalypses as opportunities to “pull back the veil” and more fully understanding of underlying realities and pursue justice.

I have come to see that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus is inherently political. The word “politics” means “the affairs of the city” and deals in the welfare of its people. The Old Testament prophets had harsh words for those perpetuating systemic injustice: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees” (Isa 10:1). Jesus spoke about God’s government – the kingdom of heaven – more than any other topic: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)  I believe Jesus’s jubilee mission to free the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19) presents a marching order for white Christians to pursue racial reconciliation.

– Mitchell Eithun, Campus Edge pastoral intern

What’s with the pigs?

Mark 5 tells the story of Jesus sending a demon out of an unclean man into a herd of pigs. Then the pigs (2000 of them) rush down a steep bank and drown. Simply asking the question, “what’s with the pigs?” gets at some of the complexity of the text:

  • Pigs are unclean. Jews don’t eat pigs, so it’d be unusual for them to be raising pigs. Mark suggests the place is close to Jewish territory, but Matthew and Luke suggest that its further away. So the man and the swine herders were probably Gentiles. That then changes the story and the interpretation.
  • Why did the demon, named Legion, ask to go into the pigs? There is no mention of demons going anywhere in other stories of Jesus casting out demons.
  • Pigs can swim, so why did they drown? Furthermore, if they were also quite a distance from the coast, where was the “lake” in which they drowned? Incidentally, as veterinary students pointed out during the study, pigs tend to carry a lot of diseases so that water would have become contaminated.

All of these questions point to the text having a more complicated understanding to it than we first imagine. Add to this the political implications of the text: Legion refers to a 5000 man unit of the Roman armies, so there’s something very subversive in “legion” drowning.

Finally, there’s one more odd thing in the text: why did Jesus not allow the man to follow him, especially when Jesus was calling followers? How did the man know enough for him to be a true witness? Considering that I come out of a tradition that values high understanding, this is a bit confrontational. What does this then say about the high value that the university puts upon knowledge? What about rational explanations for things?

These are the sorts of questions and textual analysis that we ponder at our studies. If these sorts of questions intrigue you, join us!