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.

Emerging Leader Grant Final Reflection Part 2

The pursuit of spiritual growth during graduate school
Welcome back to part two of the reflection of my recent Ignatian Exercises program made possible through the Emerging Leaders grant through Campus Edge Fellowship and the Christian Reformed Church. This reflection zooms out from the Ignatian Exercises program that I have been participating in, and focuses more generally on the question of how to pursue spiritual growth during graduate school. I am just wrapping up my doctoral program at Michigan State University and am well aware of the multiple competing priorities for one’s time over the course of a graduate program: coursework, lab meetings, qualifying exams, mid-term exams, committee meetings, conference presentations, lab reports, proposals, defenses, grading, job hunts, emails, sleep, well, you get the picture. Life if very full, and the list of demands are seemingly relentless. Go, go, go. Push, push, push. Think, think, think. More, more, more. Do it all. How exactly is one to make space – in the head, heart, and agenda – for the pursuit of spiritual growth during this season of life? Well, that is a question that can be answered differently by each person. It is my aim to share my unique experience of this challenge and a few ways that afforded me the opportunity to develop spiritually.

The challenge: Failure
I am not sure about you, my dear reader, and what your relationship with failure has been throughout your graduate studies and life, but this F word haunts me. Specifically, when I consider how I was taught that my relationship with the Divine is my bounden duty, ultimate priority, and greatest calling in life, my apparent failure during graduate school has been a source of shame, disgust, and anger at myself for just not “having it all together.” Sure, I attended church most weeks, but actual intentional study, prayer, and practice of faith outside the church walls felt beyond my capacity. (Side note: this is my unique experience, and granted, there were other life events happening beyond the demands of graduate school that led me to feel overextended. Feel free to ask me about this in person.).

Despite the sense of failure on this front, when I reflect upon my spiritual journey of the past three years, I mark it as a largely pivotal season in which I engaged in prolonged, perennial spiritual conversations; actively sought out space and time for retreat and silence; and adopted a more grace-filled view of my available resources during the graduate school season. In essence, my sense of failure was sourced from my adolescent approach to doing spirituality. Events and people I encountered during graduate school have permitted me to redefine spiritual growth as neither success nor failure, but rather a slow, incremental, and nearly undetectable faith-building project. Below I will highlight a few invaluable bricks I received during the season of graduate school.

Spiritual conversations and friendships
I am so privileged to have come into contact with several brilliant and intentional individuals over the course of my graduate program. Some of these people shared the same faith background as I, and others were at various stages along their faith journey. At the near start of graduate school, my life circumstances forced me to verbalize my discomfort, questions, and shifts of faith with newfound friends and mentors. These dialogues were initially scary and threatening to my reputation, but I know that the honesty, suspension of judgment, and caring curiosity expressed among the individuals wove us together in a way that established robust relationships able to weather future conflicts and difficult conversations. I particularly valued hearing parts of others’ faith journeys and the questions they carry. All in all, relationships that honestly plumbed the depths of spiritual matters were new to me; I began to grasp how true high-impact relationships can offer one another accountability, challenge, guidance, and true integration of faith into real-life relationships.

A specific example I’d like to offer is how I have encountered Christ in the flesh through a few of these spiritual friendships (Note: Spiritual Friendship is the title of a book that will be reviewed on the CEF blog soon. It is highly recommended!). I encountered the following prayer by Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) in the The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien (2011) and immediately recognized how individuals have embodied Christ for me.

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

It has been through these spiritual friends during graduate that I have encountered the eyes, ears, and hands of Christ. Despite the difficult demands on my head and heart during this season, Christ has showed up and made His love real life to me.

A bit more removed than face-to-face spiritual friendships have been a number of authors that have held my hand and heart throughout this season: Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love, Parker Palmer’s Let you life speak, and the podcast show On Being with Krista Tippet. I believe the Campus Edge Fellowship library has a number of these titles that individuals can borrow.

Retreat and silence
Since my return from abroad in 2014, I have had the opportunity to participate in a silent retreat at least twice per year. One of my former InterVarsity friends introduced me to the Hermitage, the Christian retreat center where the Ignatian Exercises program is based. I deeply cherish these 1 – 3 day opportunities to withdraw from my daily responsibilities and technology, breathe in the silence and natural beauty of the countryside, have no particular agenda or to-do list to complete, and simply rest, read, and reflect on the past, present, and future. Retreating at the Hermitage is particularly rejuvenating thanks to the healthy and hearty food (which is “God’s love, made edible”). It is prepared by the retreat center hosts, and many of the vegetables come right out of their on-site garden. Any guests that stay at the retreat center offer the other retreatants the “gift of silence,” meaning that no one speaks to one another during the meals or other times. This is a welcome relief to this introvert who, at times, must expend much emotional energy to carry on conversations with strangers. Retreats at the Hermitage are truly a retreat, a break, a slowing down, and an opening up to attend to the working of the still, small Spirit within.

Faith building project: Brick-by-brick
The graduate school season has been one of re-evaluation of a number of foundational life boulders, such as family, vocation / calling, and faith. In brief, I sensed the need to step away from the faith of my childhood and all of the black and white lines and prescriptions that accompanied it. There is no doubt that many questions still remain; nevertheless, there is a spiritual muscle that I desire to exercise, a desire to encounter the Divine apart from the familiar social club approach or musical outlet. One particularly helpful book throughout this process of deconstructing and reconstructing faith in this season is Escobar’s Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart. During this shifting season, I have found hope and comfort in the slow working nature of God. If faith is something that will be reliable and dependable, it must be built with care, attention, and patience. I will finish this reflection with a prayer that has been a guiding light over the course of the Ignatian Exercises.

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.