Category Archives: Faith in public life

Feeling Good About Life

They say the best lessons in life come from living, from making our way through the good times and the hard times, the days of laughter and the days when life is just plain hard to get through.

Last week I was reminded of some life lessons passed on to us by one of the great African-American writers of our lifetime.  Dr. Maya Angelou was an author, poet, actress and singer.  She died last year, but not before leaving us many gems of insight and wisdom.

I love these words of wisdom that she wrote.  Perhaps you’ll recognize some of them.

  • I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
  • I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.
  • I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
  • I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.
  • I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
  • I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.
  • I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
  • I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
  • I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone.  People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
  • I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.
  • I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Thank you Dr. Angelou, for making us feel good about life.

Ferguson: ‘A time to pray for the healing of our land’

Ferguson - A Time to PrayIt is one of our nation’s most endearing qualities that when disaster strikes, we reach out to help.  We pray.  We go.  We provide shelter, food and care.  We rebuild.  Then we construct safeguards as best we can to protect against future damage.

Ferguson has become a hurricane of the heart, battering the soul of our nation, calling into question the best that we believe about ourselves.  I have asked myself if there is anything more to say.  So much has already poured from our national psyche about this cataclysm of our collective spirit.

In these reflections I cannot hope to speak on behalf of our entire university community.  Indiana Wesleyan University is made up of almost 18,000 students, staff and faculty.  It would be presumptuous of me to try to speak for all of us.

But I do want to publicly acknowledge the tragedy that has befallen us.  I want to try to point to some of what I believe are our community’s best sentiments.

Ferguson has reminded us that racism is an evil that continues to tear apart the tapestry of our national life.  The sins of racial suspicion and animosity are not behind us.  They are beside us.  They are within us.  We can redeem this moment by submitting ourselves anew to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to seek the healing of our confused, broken, angry hearts.  We reaffirm our hope for redemption and reconciliation even in the moment when this hope seems most elusive.

Grief is an appropriate response to the tragedy played out in the heartland of our nation.  We will never fully know exactly what happened.  We may differ on what the facts mean.  But it seems to me that a Gospel-shaped heart starts with the one incontrovertible fact in this case – in a few fateful moments an 18-year-old man lost his life in a needless, senseless, brutal way, and the life of a public servant was forever changed.  How can we not grieve for the family of Michael Brown?  How can we not feel compassion for the thousands of public servants who put their lives in danger each day?

I find myself grieving for our African-American neighbors, for whom this violence is deeply personal, throwing into stark relief an abiding sense of vulnerability and injustice.

I find myself grieving for our nation, that we are still caught so firmly in this seemingly endless web of sin and tragedy.

Perhaps this is a moment for us to seek the hard lessons of grief.

Hope may seem far away in these moments of confusion, grief and anger.  But hope is our legacy in Christ.  Hope is our inheritance, purchased by the blood of Christ for every child of God.

I am reminded of five Gospel-shaped principles that Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson articulate in their book, The Heart of Racial Justice.  I ask their indulgence if I have slightly recast their thoughts in light of today’s challenge.  (Quoted and slightly revised from a review by John Ed Robertson.)

(1) Understanding, justice and reconciliation “are above all the work of God and happen best in the presence and power of God.”
(2) Understanding, justice and reconciliation “with others are based on having a healthy sense of our own identity.”
(3) Understanding, justice and reconciliation are “above all rooted in the work of Christ on the cross.”
(4) Understanding, justice, and reconciliation require us to “realize that there have been destructive forces at work in our common life,” and that some of our neighbors bear the brunt of those forces more than others.
(5) Understanding, justice and reconciliation require us to “individually and corporately embrace [the hope of] becoming a new creation.”

First, healing for Ferguson must come from within, and be lived out, in Ferguson.  Outsiders can help by praying, encouraging and holding each other accountable.  But the people of Ferguson will have to find the wherewithal to begin anew, to admit their faults, to seek forgiveness and then to work together to recreate the fabric of their community.  Our prayers for them, comments about them and contributions to them must be aimed to empower and encourage them for this work.

Second, if we believe that almost any one of our communities could become a Ferguson under the right conditions, we must work in our own communities to name and tear down the strongholds of sin among us.  We must be with each other, truly listening to each other, caring for one another, challenging one another.  We must build the relationships of trust and mutual respect that will not allow either personal sin or systemic injustice to go unchallenged among us.  We must imagine what it means for our community to be a new creation, and then work under the Holy Spirit’s guidance to become that new creation.

Third, as hard as it may be, our various communities must open ourselves to the work of “understanding something of the powers that shape [our] wounded history.” (Russ Parker)  For white communities this will mean truly hearing stories of how our innocent, upstanding, godly neighbors have been subjected to indignities and injustices simply because of their race.  It will mean working together to see that these things stop.  Other communities must also ask God to guide them as they honestly address the expressions of sin in their communities.  We must do this work together, to give each other Gospel-inspired courage for a better future.

Each of us will find ways to respond in hope of a new creation.  Meanwhile we pray for the healing of our land.

Lord, come and heal our land.
Let there be light in our darkened, soulless cities;
Let there be green in our wasted, industrial sites;
Let there be letting go of our wrangled, unhealed memories;
Let there be gardens in the ghettos of our church’s story;
Let there be loving for the soil from which we came;
Let there be a neighbor in me for the nations of the world;
Lord, come and heal our land.  (Russ Parker)

IWU Convocation Bestows Honors and Highlights New Details on Partnership

Tony Maidenberg Award Recipient

_JN_5045What a true honor it was this week to present Alex Huskey the 2014 Tony Maidenberg Award for community service in front of IWU faculty and staff during Indiana Wesleyan University’s annual back-to-school convocation.

Pastor Huskey has nearly 25 years of experience in law enforcement, first as a member of the Marion Police Department, and in recent years, as the superintendent of the Indiana Excise Police and the chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. He also has served as the pastor of New Bethany Church of God in Christ since 2007, and previously served as the associate pastor of the church for 20 years.

Alex has been immersed in the highest forms of community service and he exemplifies all that the Tony Maidenberg award represents. I look forward to our continued association as he begins a new form of service as the President of the Marion campus of Ivy Tech community college.

And congratulations also to the many faculty and staff who were recognized for their outstanding achievements and service to IWU.

Read the full story here.

IWU Formalizes Partnership with Australia Campus

WI-to-ExcelsiaIt was also my distinct pleasure to announce the partnership between IWU and Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia, making their global Christian learning community a reality. Wesley Institute and IWU formalized on August 5, a partnership by which Wesley Institute seeks to become the foundation for the first global Christian university in Australia with plans to develop multiple campuses across the Asia Pacific region.

Wesley Institute is a leading Christian college in Australia – celebrating over 30 years of operation in higher education. Indiana Wesleyan University has 94 years of experience in Christ-centred higher education. Combined, we have the expertise to roll out Christian higher education across a broader range of undergraduate and postgraduate areas. In coming weeks, an application will be lodged with TEQSA for registration of Wesley Institute as a University College.  Subsequently the college plans to apply for registration as an Australian University.

Also, in January 2015, Wesley Institute will change its name to Excelsia College.  Excelsia, ‘a community where people excel’, embodies the institution’s passion for the pursuit of academic, artistic and professional excellence within a Christian environment. It is anticipated that Wesley Institute will relocate to a new campus in 2015. New courses could be offered as early as Semester 1, 2016.

I’m so grateful for Professor Bridget Aitchison, Vice Chancellor for Asia-Pacific and for Wesley Institute Chief Executive, Dr Greg Rough and his team. My prayer is that their diligent efforts reap rewards with God’s abundant blessing. What a privilege it is to co-labor across continents for the furthering of His kingdom.

Read the full story here.

On Hobby Lobby, and today’s Supreme Court ruling

hobby-lobby-top

Today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, and other profit-seeking businesses, is a heartening affirmation that it is still permissible for Americans to honor the dictates of conscience based on deeply-held religious principles in the conduct of their businesses.  We are grateful to the Green family not only for their example of family-friendly business practices, but for their resolve in standing up for the religious freedom that has been one of the bedrock principles of our nation. We also admire the Supreme Court justices for the careful and courageous approach demonstrated by their ruling.  As a Christ-centered academic community committed to the highest ideals of inquiry in the pursuit of truth, Indiana Wesleyan University is deeply grateful for the Court’s evident recognition of the place that religious principle holds in the historic shaping, and contemporary well-being, of American society.

Nine Ways to Make the World a Better Place

Several years ago I had the privilege of helping to prepare the university I served then to host a visit from a group of young gay rights activists.  We immersed ourselves in Biblical studies, read the relevant psychological and sociological literature, discussed the issue at length with colleagues, and listened to the many convictions and opinions offered by the members of our community.

The visit was not easy for us or for our visitors.  They were visiting us, after all, expressly for the purpose of asking us to change our views and our policies.

But it was worth the effort.  We had the chance for direct personal interaction with a group of committed young LGBT activists, many of whom identified themselves as fellow Christians.  We did not come to agreement on many of the points they raised with us but did learn through the experience.  I learned many lessons as I opened my mind and heart to hear the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance on this divisive issue.

As we attempted to engage authentically, sensitively, and Biblically with these young people, I came to the conviction that two different kinds of ministries were needed.

On one hand, we needed to bring Biblical truth to bear on the issue of sexual identity.  But on the other, we also needed to interact with our neighbors for whom this was not an issue but an experience. 

Issues become depersonalized and abstract.  We were being asked to answer serious Biblical, theological, and psychological questions as honestly and rigorously as we could, without dissembling because we were afraid of giving offense to our visitors.  We were talking about an issue.

But when we were actually in conversation with our LGBT visitors, we were no longer just talking about an issue.  We were talking to real people about their experience of life.  Depersonalizing the conversation created a distance that became a barrier across which it was hard to communicate the message of Christ’s love and redemption.

Further, some members of our community believed that addressing the issue was the most important opportunity of the visit.  Others believed that embracing our LGBT visitors with expressions of love and acceptance was the most important opportunity of the visit.  When we said and did things that seemed to favor one of these two aspects, we raised the concerns and criticisms of those who believed the other was more important.

Now, there is a lot I don’t understand about this, but I do think this experience gave me an insight that applies to many of the difficult and divisive issues Christians are called to address in the public arena.

Different kinds of ministries are needed in order for the good news of Jesus Christ to permeate our society, and in order for Christians to make redemptive contributions.

We cannot allow our Christian imagination to be reduced to an overly simplistic dualism of ministries of conversion and ministries of social justice.

Whether we are engaging questions about sexual identity and the definition of marriage, immigration reform, abortion, sex trafficking, economic structures, or nuclear disarmament Christians must take up many different ways of bringing God’s wisdom to bear on these discussions.

This is particularly important for us at Indiana Wesleyan University since our specific mission is to make the world a better place by preparing our students in character, scholarship, and leadership.  By mission, we are committed to preparing our students for ministries in the public square.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s typology of Christian activism may help us see the many ways that Christians can engage the public square.  (The World Is Not Ours to Save)

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.00.05 AMPriestly Engagement. We practice priestly engagement when we address public needs “through corporate and individual prayer and fasting for the public good.” We serve in the role of priest for our nation when we “genuinely [search] for God’s will and requesting his intervention and strength” in the life of our nation. Priests minister for the public good by ministries of public and private, personal and corporate prayer.

Didactic Engagement. Didactic engagement takes place when the church faithfully exercises its “teaching role toward its membership.” Russell Moore says that pastors engage the public good when they “shape the theological imagination of their congregations, so that the people of God build instincts of natural delight at what God delights in.”

Architectural Engagement. Some of us are called to engage the public good by “building . . . institutions and ventures that contribute to the public good.”  These can be churches, schools, single purpose non-profits, as well as business ventures and artistic work that contribute to the common good of communities.

WHM146809Judicial Engagement. William Wilberforce might be an example of one who practiced judicial engagement for the public good.  Judicial engagement is “participation in public discussion and debate, as a stakeholder whose bottom line is the moral good and human flourishing to the glory of God, rather than any particular partisan, military, or economic interest.”  Christians who practice judicial engagement reject factionalism.  Instead they seek common ground for the common good, guided by the moral imagination of Christ.

Prophetic Engagement. We seem to be most familiar with prophetic engagement.  Prophetic engagement, according to Wigg-Stevenson, is “the sort of action and speech that seeks to reveal truth, indifferent to political calculus or efficacy.”

Pastoral Engagement. Some are called to pastoral care.  Pastoral engagement is “caring for the lives and souls of people who exercise authority in public matters,” as well as for those who suffer from the effects of the issues under public debate.

Diplomatic Engagement. Diplomatic engagement is “the direct ambassadorial work of gospel peacemaking,” actively seeking to break down walls of hostility and animus.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.05.27 AMMilitant Engagement. Throughout history there have been times when Christians have practiced militant engagement, “employing the infrastructure and numbers of people in churches toward deliberate political ends.”  Wigg-Stevenson argues that militant engagement “should be employed only in the face of undeniable injustice.”  Militant engagement, it should be noted, is not political action to protect a privileged position that Christians may have gained within society.  It is engagement on behalf of those who face injustice.

Sectarian (Dis)Engagement. When all else has failed, occasionally Christians must practice sectarian disengagement.  This is “withdrawal . . . when confronted with evil so radical that it is beyond reform.”  Sometimes, in extreme cases, the “most faithful testimony and powerful action [may be] to withdraw and refuse participation, because even to engage the opponent is to bestow legitimacy on it.”

None of us is called or gifted to perform all of these.  I believe each of us may find our unique calling in one of these areas.

Most of the good each of us will do in this world will be done through the vehicle of our calling, the good and inventive work to which God calls us and for which God equips us.

We must not denigrate one of these ministries because it is not the one to which we are called.  All have their place in bringing the good news of Christ to bear on this present world.

Perhaps these nine ways of making the world a better place will free us to imagine the new pathways to which God might be calling us.