Humility: Spiritual wisdom for academics

The Emerging Scholars Network has been doing a series on spiritual wisdom for those in academia. A recent article highlighted growing in humility. The author, Johnny Lin, notes how much self-importance and pride can affect those of us in academia:

A major “spiritual occupational hazard” for an academic is thinking too much of yourself. This can show itself as pride and arrogance . . . or finding yourself unable to understand the students in a class you’ve taught one too many times.

He goes on to highlight that

The traditional antidote to pride has been humility. For an academic, C.S. Lewis’s view of humility as a kind of “self-forgetfulness” is particularly helpful: Do I rejoice in another’s accomplishments no more (or less) than if it were my own (or if it were a phenomena of nature)? 

What that looks like in practice is different for everyone, but as Lin notes, it probably involves at least some of the following:

  • Don’t find your sole/primary identity in our job;
  • Take a Sabbath as it reminds us that the world can function without us and that it’s not on the basis of our efforts that we succeed;
  • “Purposely pursue and embrace mystery in some area of life.”
  • Trust God for every aspect of your career.

Pub Theology: Analyzing statements on sexuality

In light of the recent uproar in the Netherlands about the Nashville statement, we spent the last two pub theologies looking at the Nashville Statement, including comparing it to the Denver Statement.

After looking at the Denver and Nashville statement, we had the sense that the Nashville statement discouraged dialogue. Numerous Christians in the Netherlands agreed with that, as can be seen by the following statement by Gert Jan Segers, leader of a Christian Socialist party that would be considered to be amicable to fairly traditional understandings of marriage and how to read the Bible:

I didn’t sign the Nashville Statement because I was worried that the conversation about belief and homosexuality would not be helped by it. The conversation about this is important, touches people deeply and must therefore – no matter what you believe – be held in a respectful and open manner.  . . Jesus primary message to the world is not a list of dos and don’ts but instead an invitation that makes it clear that everyone is welcome by/to Him.

translated by Brenda; original Dutch post can be found on his Facebook page

The Nashville Statement did, however, do a good job of describing how sexuality has boundaries (even if some of us disagreed with those boundaries). The Denver statement, however, didn’t seem to give (m)any boundaries. Furthermore the Nashville statement seemed to be overly negative about sexuality and society; however, the Denver statement was overly positive, neglecting to critique the direction of sexuality in society today (e.g., pornography). While we disagreed with how much we appreciated (or disliked each statement), we did mostly agree that we’d like to see something that was a bit more nuanced (and somewhere in the middle of both statements). Perhaps we’ll have to return to the conversation sometime and look at the Catechism of Sexuality produced in connection with the Reformed Church of America.

Pastor’s Update

The following is the pastor’s report from the December 2018 newsletter

Looking back over the past semester, I’m deeply thankful for the insightful conversations about the Bible and other spiritual topics we’ve had at our studies and pub theology. Although numbers have been a bit low (about 20 people), I’ve been thankful for the relationships I’ve developed with those who come regularly. We’ve all grown deeper in understanding how we might serve God faithfully now and in the future, both in our disciplines and our lives.

I’m also excited that we’ve tried a couple of new initiatives this semester: first, we hosted Wine Before Breakfast, a brief service of communion at 7:33 on Wednesday mornings for most of October and November. We joined with University Lutheran Campus Ministry, and hopefully we’ll be able to do something similar together during Lent (albeit a bit later in the day)! I’ve also been able to participate in (and co-organize) a prayer group for faculty and staff. It’s been encouraging that there are regularly 10+ people there who clearly care about students, the university, and are following God faithfully. I was encouraged by our recent conversation about how to show compassion to students, especially when so many people are absurdly busy, many struggle with mental health issues, and the university focuses more on rules than on grace. Yet, all of us want to be seen and heard, whether student, staff, or faculty. Compassion can be shown in different ways: a gracious email after a bad grade, being present before or after class for extra questions (or with colleagues), an offer to pray for students (right now!), or simply listening to someone’s story in order to understand the need and together find resolutions that are compassionate and good.

Thank you for all your support of what we do, especially your prayers for the students and faculty. Pray especially that people who are struggling with faith would find Campus Edge.
– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, Campus Pastor

 

December report from the CEF Board

Taken from the December 2018 newsletter: a bit late, but still relevant.

Dear Friends,
December is a busy time for the graduate and professional students of MSU, whether they are preparing for final exams, getting ready to defend theses or dissertations, or just pushing forward day after day on their research. And in the background, the decorations and celebrations associated with the Christmas season multiply. No doubt some students regard Christmas as do we on the Campus Edge Board – a time to remember with joy God’s great gift of love, His coming to live among us. And they wish they had a better understanding of God, and of the meaning and implications of His actions. Others are not so sure that the events we celebrate at Christmas really happened as we think they did or mean what we think they mean. We are grateful that Brenda has made Campus Edge Fellowship a place where both types of students can feel welcome and can take a break among friends from the demands of their disciplinary studies to talk about the spiritual questions that they sometimes find creeping into their minds.

It has been an interesting semester at Campus Edge, with Bible studies on the parables of Jesus and Pub Theology discussions on a variety of intriguing topics. There was also the annual trip to Art Prize in Grand Rapids, and the annual Halloween party. And for part of the semester, Campus Edge hosted an early morning, on campus, outdoor Communion service.

Earlier this month, the Board organized a “Farm to Pizza” fund raiser, for which one of our Board members (Dirk Oudman) and his wife Kjersten (a Campus Edge Alumna), put their knowledge of local agriculture and their cooking skills to work to prepare pizzas using locally grown ingredients. The event was a big success, and we are grateful to those who showed up to support Campus Edge by collectively consuming over 40 of Dirk and Kjersten’s unique and freshly made pizzas. Campus Edge depends on fundraisers like this to help support and expand its mission to the MSU campus. Other ways of supporting the mission can be found on our website (https://campusedgemsu.com/donate/). I ask you to prayerfully consider giving to Campus Edge in the coming year and wish you a joyous Christmas season.
– Jeff Biddle, Campus Edge Fellowship Board President

Grappling with Doubt and Faith

recent CRC article highlights the work of campus ministry, a lot of which is pastoral care, justice, as well as walking alongside in the midst of their questions related to faith (doubt) and/or sexuality (especially connected to LGBT+).

The following are a few quotes:

Verhoef: “We used to live with a strong sense of transcendence . . . [but] faith is under pressure. And living out our faith with doubt is so common today on university campuses (and elsewhere of course). How can we as chaplains make space for doubts, support faith, welcome questions, and be hospitable to those to whom the doubts have turned towards unbelief?” . . .

Every CRC campus pastor is “trying to figure out how to get good at campus ministry in this day and age …. [and that means] addressing the needs of persons who are LGBT is front and center and very much in the life and work of campus ministry,” said Mark Wallace.

Campus pastors always keep in mind that they are bringing the entirety of the gospel, its full message of loving your neighbor, to every aspect of the campuses they serve, said Wallace.

Verhoef said that making a place for persons who identify as LGBT is important, but it can present challenges: “How do we stand as pastors in the CRC with one foot in the CRC moral theology and also one foot on a university campus that has a dynamically different perspective?” . . .

“I have a lot of conversations about what to do when they do begin to question — even to the point where they’re not sure what or if they believe. I see this as a movement forward, but it’s hard to figure out how to describe as positive to churches such an apparent movement away from [certain] faith,” said Kronemeijer-Heyink.

In the end, said Verhoef, a core value of CRC campus ministry is to create communities in which students of many faiths or of none at all feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. In this kind of community, students can let down their guard, get know one another — and hopefully — find God, he said.

Why talk about difficult topics?

The studies in the second half of the spring semester focused on difficult topics in Christianity and the Bible. As many people avoid these conversations because of potential conflict, it’s not always obvious why we should talk about these things. Yet, studying these difficult topics can help us love God and those around us. Reading the Bible carefully, as well as listening to those around us, makes us aware that knowing and understanding the Bible isn’t easy. How could God command the Israelites to destroy all the Canaanites when they went into the promised land, an act that people today would consider genocide? Why would a caring, all-powerful God allow people to be attracted to people of the same-sex if it’s sin to act on those feelings? What about gender dysphoria? Hell?

These are hard questions that many struggle with. Not talking about them doesn’t make the struggles go away; in fact, it often makes it worse and may even cause people to question faith. Looking for answers to these difficult questions allows us to use our God-given intellect to know God better. At the same time, sometimes the answers are unclear, as witnessed by how differently Christians address these questions. The Bible also seems to suggest (in the book of Job) that as mere humans, it is not our place to understand all things. So sometimes the questions do not need to be answered so much as they need space to be voiced. When address the problem of suffering, Mike Wagenman, a campus minister at University of Western Ontario, notes that sometimes it’s not about answers so much as providing a “listening ear and open heart” in the middle of the pain and the struggles.

How historical is the resurrection?

We’ve been talking this last semester about difficult topics in the Bible, and one of the topics has been how historical certain events in the Bible are.

One event that presents a challenge to our understanding of how historical the events in the Bible are is the flood. After pointing out that “a global deluge does not fit the evidence,” we have, Andy Walsh at The Emerging Scholars Blog suggests that

“perhaps the Flood narrative is about a regional event or is meant to convey truth about the kingdom of God but not necessarily the history of Earth. I do recognize that once one heads down that road, it shifts the boundaries around what parts of the Bible to consider history. Thus some prefer to stick with a more traditional interpretation, in part to preserve the interpretation of other passages, and instead focus on finding clever solutions to the practical challenges a literal Ark presents.”

Walsh captures well the challenge of questioning the historicity of one event in the Bible: how does one then determine which events really happened and which ones didn’t? How does one not get to the point where one even questions if the resurrection really happened, even though belief in the resurrection is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith (see 1 Corinthians 15)?

It’s thus reassuring to hear that there is a lot of corroborating evidence for Jesus’ life and death, alongside of evidence that the disciples and early church believed that Jesus rose from the dead and that this belief deeply changed how they lived (and died). Gary Habermas highlights some of this evidence in a recent article. While he acknowledges that this evidence “does not prove that the resurrection happened, it does indicate that the disciples thought that it had occurred. Further, these believers were the only ones in position to know whether or not they had seen Jesus alive after His death. That they were willing to die for these experiences is certainly significant in that it shows that they were utterly convinced of these facts. That goes a long way towards providing the best explanation of what actually happened.” Thus while one cannot prove without a doubt the historicity of certain events in the Bible, it is reassuring to be reminded that it is still reasonable to believe in Christ’s resurrection.

Young Adults in the Church

This past summer I participated in a panel discussion on young adults in the church. I argued that young adults very much want to belong to Christian community. In order to feel like they belong, though, they need to be given space for honesty and difficult questions, along with having potentially different life situations, like being single or needing to commit so much time to their discipline/profession.

The following provides further details of what we talked about, as reported by Chris Meehan.

“A Love-Hate Relationship with the Church: Ministering to Young Adults Today” was hosted by Matt Ackerman and panelists Tyler Helfers, Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink, and Jamie VanderBerg — all of whom are campus chaplains.

They started by giving some U.S. and Canadian statistics about young adults.

In the U.S., Tyler Helfers said, people who identify as “nones” — or having no religious affiliation — are growing. This group was only 7 percent of the population in 1990, but grew to 23 percent of the population by 2014. Of those who identify as “nones,” 33 percent are in the millennial, or young-adult, age group.

In Canada, Jamie VanderBerg pointed out, there are statistical differences in comparison to the situation in the U.S. Church attendance, for example, is even less than in the U.S. across the board, with only 23 percent attending church in Canada on a monthly basis. . .

Despite this decline in formal church attendance, many young people still consider themselves “spiritual,” a term that may be hard to define and yet also seems to imply young people are seeking an experience of God.

“Churches need to create a space to ask questions and have conversations,” said VanderBerg. He also pointed out that many young people are very missional and want to get actively involved in service to others at home or beyond.”

Integrating one’s faith and one’s discipline

It delights me to hear from the wisdom of those participating in Campus Edge. And last week’s conversation about how to integrate one’s faith and one’s discipline did not disappoint.

Graduate school is about being formed deeper in one’s discipline. The deeper one gets involved in one’s discipline, the more one is shaped by that discipline: you could say that each discipline disciples a person into a certain way of being and thinking. This then affects one’s faith, as these ways of being and thinking affect one’s relationship with others and God. Scientists, who are taught to question everything and accept as true only things that can be proven, often question the validity of their faith and Christian beliefs – because how can one prove that it is true? Musicians (and artists), who are taught the validity of each person’s experience, also question the validity of their faith but for a very different reason: how can we accept that Christian beliefs and my faith is more true than someone else’s faith or beliefs? For professional students, one’s questions about faith and beliefs are less likely to be intellectual and instead are often very practical: what does faith and belief look like in the presence of suffering and death and the ugly side of human beings?

Knowing the tendencies of one’s discipline helps one to recognize and understand one’s faith questions better. It also helps those of us supporting (other) graduate and professional students, as we recognize the crises of faith that are likely to happen. We can trust that God will be present in the midst of the questions and can thus be hopeful that people will grow in their understanding of God and their own discipline.

We can also rejoice in how growing to love one’s discipline can help one grow to love God more. Many doctors and veterinarians can delight in how the discoveries of medical science allows them to help others. Many scientists appreciate God better on account of the wonders they discover in creation. Many musicians become closer to God through music. Many academics understand their own assumptions about the world, God, and others through being forced to identify the assumptions that those in their own discipline make about the same things.