Assumptions and Choices

(Note: some of the imagery in this week’s post deals with a mature subject that may bother some readers. However, it must be understood that situations like those described DO occur and thus it is appropriate to discuss in a college course.)

One of the great things about my job is that I get to teach a wide-variety of courses. There is always something new to teach and some new challenge in how to best-teach that material, depending on the way that group of students would use that information.

I once taught a now-defunct course called Health and Fitness for Elementary Schools, in which I was tasked with teaching all K-8 Health TEKS to a group that was generally about 50% Elementary Education majors (they had to take it) and 50% people taking the course as an upper-level elective towards a Kinesiology degree. It was a truly unique demographic mix of students.

As part of that class, students presented over assigned health topics; part of that assignment entailed creating questions from each of the levels on Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. In that context, two of my students that were not Elementary Education majors came up with the original version of the question posed below; since then I have made very small changes to the question, re-purposing it and re-using it in that class (until I stopped teaching it) and in other courses. It has turned out to be the question I use in classes that creates the best discussions: “Susie Goes to a Party”.

“Susan goes over to her friend’s house for a party. She decides to wear her really short denim skirt and a low-cut halter top. When she gets there she has a few drinks. A cute guy starts flirting with her, and she flirts back. They decide to go into a bedroom, where it is quieter, so that they can talk. He then rapes her. Is it Susan’s fault or not? [If you want, assign a percentage of blame to each of the people involved.] Support your answer.”

After that first time it was used in class, I made it a required take-home writing assignment each subsequent semester of Health and Fitness in Elementary Schools. In general, probably 90%+ plus of all of the students would assign some percentage of blame to Susie; I would estimate that in the writing assignment about 1/3 of the class would say it was at least 50% her fault. After the assignment was graded, we would spend a significant amount of time, up to an entire 80-minute class period, discussing the scenario and all of its related implications, especially as it relates to health.

There are a variety of discussable factors brought up in that question, ranging from drinking, to appropriate dress, to sexual practices, to the role friends should serve in social contexts, to rape drugs, and so on. What I have found most-remarkable about it is the layers of subtext that it has. What do I mean?


When you read the question, you automatically make some assumptions. You generally base those assumptions on your prior experiences. Go read the question again. I’ll wait…most college students imagine Susie as a college girl that goes to an off-campus party of some kind, drinks alcohol, is overly flirtatious, and then is raped.

But the question does not say those things; the reader assumes them.

Yes, maybe Susie is at a kegger, but what if Susie is an older adult at a swingers party? Does your percentage of blame to her change then? What if Susie is a 9-year-old at a child’s birthday party, the drink is literally Kool-Aid, and the “cute guy” is an older man? Do you feel more sympathy for Susie then? What if the party is a kegger, except that something was slipped into Susie’s drinks? What if Susie is known to be promiscuous? What if Susie was a virgin prior to the party? What if Susie’s name were something more suggestive of a specific race? How might that sway your opinion? (To really go next level, what if Susie was “Steve” and the “cute guy” was a “cute girl’?)

Anyone seen Jurassic Park? Right after this scene the group is taken to a lab and it is explained that the dinosaurs are re-created using incomplete DNA and that the gaps are filled in with that of frogs. In other words, the scientists are filling in the unknown with their “best guess”. SPOILER ALERT: it doesn’t work out very well. Similarly, if we do not know the entire picture of a person or a situation, we should look a little closer to find out what we want to know (2nd video with episode 109) rather than just guessing based on our very limited experiences.

That is a tremendous lesson for all of us to learn, and especially so for college students.


To be clear, at the end of every discussion of the “Susie” question, I would make sure that the students were told that no matter the scenario, rape is always 0% the fault of the victim and always 100% the fault of the perpetrator. Period. End of discussion. If you are raped, it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

Billboard that went up in Marshall over the last couple of weeks. There is another that says "Just because I was drunk doesn't mean I said yes!", or something to that effect.

Billboard that went up in Marshall over the last couple of weeks. There is another that says “Just because I was drunk doesn’t mean I said yes!”, or something to that effect.

That said, from a teaching perspective our students must know there are choices we make that do expose us to risk. During the discussion on the “Susie” question I would ask “What are some things Susie could have done differently?” Here were some common answers:

  • Not gone to the party at all.
  • Not dressed provocatively (if she did).
  • Not had alcohol (if she did).
  • Not led him on (many students assumed this).
  • Not gone into a private situation with a stranger (or for that matter, with someone you know, as “acquaintance rape is the most common type of rape”).
  • Made sure that anything she ingested was “vetted” in some way, i.e. bring your own food/drink, don’t drink from an open punch bowl, don’t let a guy give you a potentially manipulated drink, etc.
  • Attended the party with friends with the express purpose to watch out for one another.

There were other suggestions, but those were the major ones; the common thread is that they all involve a choice.

The vast majority of human health comes down to making wise choices. Yes, some health problems exist that are outside of our control (more on this later), but the vast majority of health comes down to choices. You can choose to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. Do you exercise, avoid alcohol and other drugs, get flu vaccinations, floss, wear a seatbelt, or not expose yourself to unnecessary risk?

It is tremendously important that we impart upon our students that making wise choices is vital to health, both on this earth and elsewhere. If we can do that, maybe we can help save future “Susies” (no matter the nature of the risk behavior) from unnecessary despair.


Like eagles y’all!

“East Texas? Why do you want that job?”

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Compfight cc

“Are you sure you like it here?”

“What’s in Marshall, Texas anyway?”

“Isn’t that far from home?”

I’ve been getting questions like these ever since we moved to Marshall – mostly from my parents and grandma – because they just don’t see the whole picture.

If I’m honest, I don’t really see it either. But that’s ok. God does. It’s just our job to trust Him.

In fact, I’ve moved around more than you’re average young adult. And my parent’s aren’t even in the military!

I was born in Shreveport, LA. We lived there until I was 7, when we moved to Euless, TX  because of my dad’s job. When I was 10, we moved to Omaha, NE, again because of my dad’s job. Then I got my bachelor’s degree at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, NE. I moved to Saint Louis, MO to get my Masters at Saint Louis University, and moved to Lawrence, KS to get my PhD.

For those of you keeping score, that means moving to Marshall was my my 6th move!

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Frenkieb via Compfight cc

My dear, sweet husband has been with me for two of those moves. And that’s a lot for most people we know! Not to mention six!!

Has the path always been clear? Absolutely not!

There were a few veeeeeeeeery long months where I was about to finish my Masters degree, didn’t know where to apply for PhD programs, wasn’t getting accepted anywhere, couldn’t get a regular job, and almost lost all hope.

But then I got accepted at the University of Kansas – my ideal program! I prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

When I was about to finish my PhD, I had some choices available. I was receiving a tuition grant in exchange for teaching undergrad Communication classes, and it would have been possible for me to stretch out the work on my dissertation another year, and just stay in Kansas for the 2013-2014 school year. I was comfortable there, so I thought I’d just see what kind of jobs were out there to apply for.

There were some veeeeeeeeeeeeery long months where I was looking for jobs, applying, and getting rejection letters. I was thinking that maybe I was supposed to just apply for  positions again the following year, because NOTHING was working out.

But then I got a job at ETBU – my ideal program! I, very excitedly, prayed about it, and God said that He told me to wait, and everything would work out.

Sometimes, in moments like these, God’s voice sounds a little sarcastic to me – like, silly, you know that I will take care of you and that I have a plan, you just aren’t patient enough to see it through. Does that happen to anyone else?

Throughout all of this, I continually turned to Isaiah 40:31. I even had a sticky note on my computer with that verse, so that I would see it every time I sat down to fill out ANOTHER application.

Isaiah 40:31 New Life Version (NLV)

31 But they who wait upon the Lord will get new strength. They will rise up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weak.

Does anyone remember that scene in Remember the Titans where the large, white football player recites this verse in song? That’s how I always think of it :)

If you need a refresher, check out this clip:

Well, the moral of this long, drawn out story is that God ALWAYS has a plan.

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: EladeManu via Compfight cc

And it is ALWAYS better than any plan you or I could dream up. We just have to wait to find out what it is, which is definitely the hard part.

Since coming to Marshall, other wonderful things have happened to me and my family, and it is a constant reassurance that we really are living out God’s plan, and it feels good!

I know that lots of students are staring graduation in the face right now, or in six months, and it is scary.

But take it from me, God’s in your corner, and things will work out if you just wait for His plan!


Human Trafficking: A Practical Response

On Friday, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized Yousafzai and Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

In an interview with the Associated Press, Satyarthi noted:

Child slavery is a crime against humanity.  Humanity itself is at stake here.  A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime.

Unfortunately, slavery remains all too prevalent in the world today with an estimated 29.8 million individuals trapped in bondage.

According to the Global Slavery Index, 76% of all slaves are found in ten countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.  India alone is estimated to have 13.9 million slaves.

This sobering reality imperils families and communities and according to Free the Slaves:

  • Generates $150 billion for traffickers each year
  • 26% of victims are children under the age of 18
  • 55% of victims are women and girls
  • 78% of victims are in labor slavery
  • 22% of victims are in sex slavery

In the words of Seba, a young woman trafficked as a domestic house worker into Paris, France, and recorded by Kevin Bales in his provocatively entitled Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy:

I slept on the floor in one of the children’s bedrooms; my food was their leftover.   I was not allowed to take food from the refrigerator like the children.  If I took food she would beat me.  She often beat me.  She would slap me all the time.  She beat me with the broom, with kitchen tools, or whipped me with electric cable.  Sometimes I would bleed; I still have marks on my body.

Though slavery can be found in 160 countries, far too often slaves themselves remain little more than silent and suffering silhouettes in our community.

Acts 16:16 begins the narrative of a young woman trapped in this reality:

“Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.  She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.”

As the Scriptures record, this young woman earned “a great deal of money for her owners” while she herself was a slave who did not profit from her proceeds.  Though it is not known how much the owners charged for a consultation, a Greek author named Lucian who lived near to this time wrote that owners could charge one drachma per question.  A drachma was worth approximately one day’s labor.  Scholars estimate it was therefore quite possible for someone such as this young girl to earn 70,000 to 80,000 drachmas over the course of a year.  To put it another way, if one drachma equals about $7.5 it is estimated that this young woman made approximately between $525,000 – $600,000 a year for her owners.  This was a very lucrative business but not for the young slave girl.

Most likely inhabited by a python spirit connected to the ancient site of Delphi, this was a woman who was doubly enslaved.  Spiritually she was enslaved.  Physically she was exploited by her owners.

According to the Word Studies in the New Testament, Luke the physician very intentionally and carefully chose unique words in order to connect the physical actions that he and Paul and their team were witnessing with the “phenomena identical with the convulsive movements and wild cries of the Pythian priestess at Delphi.”

The picture of this young woman is not of a quiet and tame woman calmly following behind but speaking loudly.  It would be more appropriate to envision one wracked with convulsive movements, wild, disruptive cries, interrupting Paul and those on their way to worship.  Sometimes the cries of our community must disrupt our worship.

How can individuals and churches practically respond to this pressing problem?

Picture taken by Amy Brown, used with permission

Picture taken by Amy Brown, used with permission

Those being trafficked are often transported along interstates and highways and sometimes smugglers will stop at gas stations and other public restrooms for breaks.  Individuals, churches and civic groups could adopt a project to identify every public restroom in their area and ask to post a sign within each stall detailing how individuals currently being trafficked could receive immediate help.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) maintains a 24-hour confidential toll-free number as well as an email address available for tips and for immediate response to individuals reporting to be trapped.  The NHTRC recommends the following template posters:

Trafficking Reporting Poster in English

Trafficking Reporting Poster in Spanish

There are other steps that could be pursued in order to practically address the reality of modern day slavery such as praying with intentional consistency, distributing local law enforcement officials with emergency hygiene kits distributable to rescued individuals, and providing financial support for organizations engaged in this area.

Slavery and human trafficking remains a sobering reality but there are practical initiatives individuals and churches can adopt in order to combat this pressing problem and create communities of refuge.  Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he himself articulates his mission in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Wait a second…HOW big did you say?

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the new version of Cosmos that Fox put together this year, but earlier this week I saw that it is now on Netflix, so I have added it to “my list” for viewing in the near future.

Pale Blue Dot

Source: Wikipedia “Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.[1]“

Upon first hearing that Cosmos was going to have new episodes, I thought about the famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. I don’t recall the exact time, but at some point in my youth I was made aware of the existence of this photograph and how it had been taken as the request of Cosmos’ original host, Carl Sagan.

Now, this is not meant to be a discussion over Sagan’s particular viewpoints, although I do find it amazing that given the exact same evidence two groups of people could be so absolutely sure of two polar opposite possibilities (deists and atheists). Perhaps that is another discussion for another day.

This post is about our place in creation.

As much as the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph and Carl Sagan’s famous speech from his audiobook of the same name puts all of human existence in a small place, this video, which I came across just this week, makes us seem even smaller in the grand scheme of things:

The above video takes the idea of the “Pale Blue Dot” and literally multiplies it infinitely.

Why bring this up?

Last week I wrote that Alan Huesing, myself, and everyone else that has experienced God’s influence should make a point to “write it down” as a testament to future generations. Well, in KINE 1301 Intro to Kinesiology (mostly freshmen), I try to get the students to think about how many books their total life’s story would actually entail. That part is easy for most of them…they realize that such a collection would, even at 18 or 19 years-old, be so expansive that no library could contain it. Then, I literally ask them to look at everyone else in the room, emphasizing that each of THOSE individuals also has a life’s story that is already near-infinite in nature.

To Kill a Mockingbird” taught me that to understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. To foster any positive change, regardless of occupation or God’s calling for your life, understanding people is a bare minimum requirement. That said, to walk a mile in others’ shoes you have to realize that the complexity of all of the factors in someone else’s life is just as complicated as your own.

Beyond the person next to you in class or working with you at your job, there are over 7 Billion people currently on the Earth with untold others before, and each of THOSE people also has or had a story that would fill entire libraries.

Here is the point: We have no concept of the expanse of God’s creation.

When made aware that they live on “a fraction of a pixel”, some people might feel overwhelmed or worthless. However, while we may be only a teensy-tiny part of creation, we are not insignificant.

Students must understand that regardless of their stature (relative to the rest of creation) they are important cogs in God’s creation. “The body is not made up of one part but of many.” If I can help students reach that state of mind and accept it, I have succeeded in part of God’s purpose for my life.


Life Hacks for … Life?

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Do you have a big project that you’re trying to finish before the end of the semester, the year, or the decade?

Maybe it’s a big paper at the end of the semester, or to graduate from college. Maybe you signed up for the Bible in a Year program and, like me, have fallen off the wagon a bit. Maybe you have big plans for your career or grad school or writing a book. Maybe you’re working up to sharing Christ with a friend.

I recently read an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about working on a writing project: Scholarly Writing Hacks

The idea is that you have to set aside a time every day to write, and that you need encouragement from other writers to keep you going. Then you will achieve success and come out with at least a solid draft of your paper/book.

About a year and a half ago I finished my biggest writing undertaking: the Dissertation. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

I can’t say that I purposefully did any of these tricks, but looking back on it I can see that I did try to write a little most days and I did have others to talk to about it with. So maybe it does work. Maybe I’ll try it out on my next paper!

The point that really struck me about this though is that these tricks would work for anything – not just writing.

If you’re trying to read the Bible in a year, setting aside time to read every day is important. Otherwise, you’ll never make it. And if you’re trying to finish a big paper, putting if off until the last days WILL NOT WORK!

In either of these situations, you need people around you to encourage you, keep you going, and give you guidance.

It works for scholarly writing, and it works for being a Christian.

You can easily see in the Bible that there are many references to the need for community and accountability partners. Like in Hebrews 10:24-25 -

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have days that I would like to just relax and be lazy… not calling that friend to check on her, or not keeping up with my Bible reading.

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

I also have times when I struggle to make the right decision, or need some help deciding what to do. And that is where community comes in!

I hope that everyone here at ETBU has found a sense of community and that we can lean on each other in times of need. But it’s hard to be vulnerable!

Sometimes all we can do is open up to that one special person, make sure we listen for God’s guidance, and surround ourselves with community. If we work on it every day and talk with others walking the walk we just may have a chance at finishing the biggest project of all - following God’s plan for our lives. 


Ebola: How Should the Church Respond?

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Ebola is ravaging West Africa killing roughly 45% of those infected.

The worst Ebola outbreak since the virus first appeared in the 1970s, according to the CDC there have been 6 countries affected, 7,494 total cases and 3,439 deaths.  Underreporting, however, has led the CDC to state that as of September 30th there were likely 21,000 cases, the number of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone is doubling every 20 days, and that by January 20, 2015 there will be a total of 1.4 million cases.

A recent New York Times article depicted a scene of a “hospital from hell”:

A 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open.  A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight.  A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit.  They sprayed the body, and the little girl on the floor, with chlorine as they left.

Perhaps no country has been more profoundly affected than Liberia, home to 4 million people.  Established in 1822 by the United States as a country for freed slaves, poverty remains an all too pressing reality where 80% live below the poverty line and 85% are unemployed.  In a recent memorandum, Richard Wilson, president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, described the compounding impact of Ebola on the nation as a whole:

The demands for isolation to prevent the spread of the virus undermine the basic economics of a nation where 90 percent subsist on $1 U.S. a day.  When the markets are emptied and the streets are barely filled, the merchant has an impossible task to secure small money… Hunger is growing in Liberia.  It will continue to become the most critical issue… Hungry people become desperate.  Desperation breeds violence.  Violence leads to conflict.

Though news agencies have been covering this outbreak for several months, the reality of this horror has only now begun to settle on many in the United States with the report this week that Thomas Eric Duncan had been admitted to a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas as the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States.

Many are scared.  This is easy to understand for Ebola is a disease without a cure or vaccine at present and horror film symptomology with high fevers and hemorrhagic bleeding.

How should the church respond?

Perhaps it is helpful to frame this question through a different lens: why did Jesus have physical contact with leprosy?  Wouldn’t the spoken word have been enough?

Matthew 8:1-3 and parallel passage Mark 1:40-45 describe a man with leprosy kneeling before Jesus and asking for cleansing.  Shockingly, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (Matt. 8:3).  Against the best medical advice, in a culture mandating forced isolation as the best means for containment, fully knowing the danger of contagion, Jesus intentionally touched and healed an individual with a disease spread by contact.  Would we do the same?

Even more pointedly, are we doing the same by following Jesus’ example and engaging in a healing ministry among those with a feared infectious and isolating disease?

Jesus loved with proximity those with a contagious disease. (Tweet This) He often healed by spoken word but in this instance specifically chose touch.  Touch cannot happen from a distance or be undervalued.  In no way am I suggesting the disregard of the appropriate use of personal protective equipment or other safety measures, but as Christians we must move beyond the stigma and fear and offer healing ministry where sickness is found, right in the physical space of people’s lives.

I must be quick to admit that such a ministry would be personally challenging; frightening even.  There is however a long history of the church responding in this compassionate manner. As recorded by Rodney Stark, in the third century Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote a pastoral letter to members who were offering care in the midst of a devastating plague:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.  Heedless of danger; they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.  Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

In the midst of this significant medical crisis facing the Roman Empire of the third century, Stark believes that the unnamed numbers of Christians who intentionally choose to provide medical care to those infected reduced overall mortality by as much as two-thirds.

Building upon Jesus’ example of touch to those with infectious disease and the historical example of Christians sacrificially offering health care in the midst of outbreaks, the church today could compellingly respond to the Ebola crisis in the following ways:

1. Regularly pray for individuals infected with Ebola and those seeking to help them.  

Though the exact true number of those infected with the disease is unknown, the lives impacted via relational and economic impact is likely in the hundreds of thousands.

The All Africa Baptist Fellowship, one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance, has specifically asked for churches to set aside Sunday, October 12 as a day of prayer related to Ebola.  This call for prayer has been further endorsed and echoed by the American Baptist Churches USA and the North American Baptist Fellowship.  Ethics Daily has compiled a helpful video of local footage from the Ebola crisis in Liberia that can be utilized as part of a day of prayer.

2. Speak calm and truth in an environment prone to hysteria and misinformation.

Within the United States, over the next few weeks there will likely be an uptick in the coverage of this subject and the amount of individuals being watched for Ebola.  While precautions are warranted, Christians must avoid responding out of alarm, fear or misinformation.  An outbreak of Ebola in the United States remains unlikely and pertinent facts are readily available.

3. Pursue support for those physically offering medical care to the infected. 

As an interconnected family, Christians in the United States should share equal concern for those already living in the terror of a devastating outbreak and seeking to respond with care and compassion at great personal risk.  These are individuals facing a harrowing experience who have chosen, like Jesus, to engage in a ministry of touch and deserve the best support that can be offered via prayer, logistical support, and an influx of medical supplies and personal protection equipment.

4. Strengthen health care systems especially those in the affected countries.

One of the reasons this particular outbreak has been so damaging has been a lack of medical supplies, adequate health care systems and trained personnel in the affected areas.  While the Ebola virus is not yet curable, it is treatable with symptom management: fever breakers for dangerously high fevers, rehydration for dehydration, and blood products for blood loss.  Immediate response is critical but a long-term solution strengthening local training and health care systems is also needed.

5. Contribute to churches, ministries and other organizations already addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa. 

A number of agencies have responded including the Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery and the Baptist World Alliance.  Whether to these or other ministries and organizations, it is essential that our response to the Ebola virus wracking the lives of thousands of individuals includes both prayer and ministerial action.

Ebola Crisis in Liberia from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.




Write it down so you won’t forget.

Late one night in a Polish hostel, wide awake due to jet lag, I asked my roommate Alan Huesing, “so how exactly did you get started in the ETBU International Program?”

This innocent question led to a roughly 4-hour long conversation in which Alan told me of the most fantastical set of circumstances a person could ever hope to hear:

  • Being prematurely selected as an ETBU BSM student leader led to a trip to a conference in Dallas with an ETBU international student.
  • This led to a volunteer missions opportunity in Hong Kong (mainland China was still closed).
  • On the way, Alan’s flight got delayed and he somehow ended up on a new connecting flight sitting next to the man in charge of the entire mission operation, which was spread across many Hong Kong churches.
  • While waiting for the connection, this man had received a telegram (or some other type of hilariously outdated communication) that the leader at one of these outreach churches was ill (or died?) and was unable to do his job. Who could be found on such short notice to step in?

In this way, at 19 or 20 years-old Alan became the leader over a major international mission at a church in Hong Kong. Then some other completely unlikely thing happened, followed by another, and another, and another…

The stories almost seemed fake; I half-expected him to tell me about how he rode a unicorn through Mordor on his way to blow up the Death Star. (Just thinking about that makes me giggle. The first person that Photoshops that image together and adds it to the comments gets at least $20 from me.)

I believe it was the great 20th century philosopher Forrest Gump (YouTube) that said, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if weren’t all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

Alan’s story could easily be a movie, too, and at the minimum, it would be a tremendous book that would demonstrate the reach that God has in directing His chosen people to His purposes.

I also believe that book should be written.

Now, I will never be Alan Huesing, but neither will he ever be me. I also have a unique set of astounding circumstances that have helped me reach this point in my life. Often, while sharing a story with a class, I will in fact suddenly remember an instance in which a seemingly minor or fluky thing resulted in a total change of direction for me and my own walk. The part that makes me disappointed in myself is that I could ever forget. A sampling…

In 2000, had I not read an obviously premature report about Type I Diabetes being cured soon and started thinking about other possible career options, I might now be a Pediatric Endocrinologist. Sorry Dr. Cone.

In 2005, had I not had the encouragement of Dr. Jim Webb in a single unplanned face-to-face encounter, I likely would have started a Junior High job teaching history here in Marshall instead of receiving a full-ride + salary fellowship at the University of Arkansas. A PhD had never even crossed my mind.

That same year, had a tree not fallen on my first-ever home, on the third night my wife and I lived in it, I would probably still be coaching basketball, because I would not have had to quit my non-paying volunteer position with the University of Arkansas’ Women’s Basketball Team to take a paying job at the Jones Center for Families.

In 2007, had I not emailed Dr. Danny Essary about something completely unrelated, I might not have gotten this response: “P.S. A job is opening. Do you want to interview for it?”

Those examples are only occupational. These seemingly insignificant moments happen in all facets of our lives constantly, but often through no effort of our own they become completely life-altering. It might even be something as flippant as sitting down next to a stranger the first day of chapel…

Week06Wedding…and you end up marrying her.

But here is the challenge: How can my life be a witness of God’s miraculous works in people if I don’t pass that information on in some way? How will my kids at home or my “kids” at school know about God’s intervention in my life? At ETBU’s 150th anniversary in the year 2062, how will people know the miracles that took place for an underclassman in the 1970s to transform our International Program, reaching thousands of students in dozens of countries?

We already have that mandate:

18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.

I think Mr. Gump was right; we simultaneously “float on a breeze” and “have a destiny”. However it is up to us to recognize the divine nature of so-many happy accidents and use our stories as a witness to our students and others around us. To adapt Romans 10:14, how can they hear about these things if no one tells them?


The Frosty Road

Our campus verse for this year is Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Always acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.

I memorized that verse so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. I used to have these book marks in my Bible when I was 5 or 6, and that verse was on one of them.

I used to read it when I got bored in church…

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Today, for whatever reason, while thinking about that verse and what it means especially for us right now, a campus in search of a new president, I also thought of the famous Robert Frost poem.

So, while considering this verse in my new favorite translation style, the New Living Translation:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

I decided to reread one of my favorite poems…

The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

All of a sudden, something (God, or the Holy Spirit, or my 6th grade Sunday School teacher) hit me!

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Obviously, the two roads are the roads of good and bad… faith and sin… trusting God or trusting ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am often sorry I can’t travel both. Try one out for a while, then rewind and do it all over again? If there weren’t any consequences? That sounds pretty nice sometimes, don’t you think?

Don’t we all most times take the road of sin for as long as we can until it grows in on us, fills up with undergrowth, and we have to turn back towards the light of God? Only to look back and realize we NEVER want to go down that road again?!

God’s road and the path to salvation are sometimes not the most popular. Here at ETBU we do a good job of making those roads seem well traveled and easy, but the truth is that they aren’t. Unfortunately, God’s road is often the road less traveled by, but as Frost says, taking that road often “makes all the difference.”


A Biblical Response to Domestic Violence

Does the Bible specifically address domestic violence?

Domestic Violence

Photo Credit: Erminig Gwenn via Compfight cc

If the number of sermons or Bible studies you have heard directly discussing this reality were an indicator, what would it suggest about your church’s biblical engagement with this issue?

A recent Life Way survey revealed that 42% of Protestant pastors rarely or never address domestic and/or sexual violence in their sermons.  However, one in every three women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime thus raising the question: why have nearly 50% of these pastors rarely or never addressed a critical issue faced by 33% of all women?

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as:

The willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.

The NCADV notes:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States
  • More than 10 million women and men experience domestic violence each year
  • 1 in 7 women will experience stalking victimization during their lifetime
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide
  • Intimate partner violence is most common among women between the ages of 18-24
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner
  • At least 21% of all victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse
  • The cost of domestic violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.

In recent weeks national news has focused on the reality of domestic violence due to the wide circulation of a specific incident caught on an elevator video between an NFL player and his girlfriend.

According to a recent and related Associated Press article, a number of women used the hashtags WhyIStayed and WhyILeft to “share their own stories reflecting the sometimes difficult choice of whether or not to leave an abusive partner.”  One woman was Beverly Gooden who tweeted on September 8, “I stayed because my pastor told me God hates divorce.  It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.”

Does God hate abuse as well?

By the standard of church awareness, teaching and response to the reality of domestic violence one might be tempted to answer in the negative.

Illustrative of the experience of far too many women in the church, one British website notes:

Quite often, if we as victims approach and confide in an elder, priest, or member of our Church, hoping for some support and encouragement, we can leave feeling even more guilty and trapped than we did formerly.  We may be told that the abuse is due to our own lack of submissiveness, or our own sinfulness, that we would not suffer if our faith was greater, or that we will be rewarded in the next life for the suffering we experience in this one (!?!).  I have heard of women who have been told earnestly by their vicar that it would be better for them to die at the hands of their abusive husband than to seek a separation and protection for their children! … The question, however, for every Christian person should not be what does our Church say about our situation, but what does the LORD say to us in the Bible?

Malachi 2:13-16 addresses the reality of domestic violence:

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the Lord made them one?  In flesh and spirit they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.

So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. (NIV 1984)

Despite the fact these husbands were weeping and wailing before the Lord and offering sacrifices to him, they were rejected.  Why?  According to verse 16, the Lord hates divorce and the Lord hates a man who covers himself with violence towards his spouse.  Though there is some debate about how to best translate verse 16, the NIV text indicates that when it comes to discussing familial health, churches ought to address intimate violence in a substantive way.

According to Scriptures, a person engaging in verbal, sexual or physical violence against an intimate partner or family members is committing sin.

The Malachi passage is far from alone.  Other passages implicitly addressing this reality:

Genesis 1-2 articulates marriage as a helping relationship forged in the unity and equality of one flesh

Psalm 11:5 notes that the Lord “hates with a passion” those “who love violence”

Isaiah 59 does not mention specific sins but clearly condemns in verse 2 those whose “hands are stained with blood” and “fingers with guilt,” and again in verse 6 that those who commit “acts of violence” with their hands are doing “evil deeds”

Matthew 18:1-10 describes children as those highly regarded in the kingdom of God and therefore to be welcomed, honored and protected

1 Corinthians 13 offers a portrait of love that is patient and kind and free of intimidation, abuse or violence

Ephesians 5:21 discusses mutual submission

Ephesians 5:25-33 calls upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church: sacrificially unto death

Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 emphasize that fathers should not provoke their children

Domestic violence is sin.  When a person engages in verbal, sexual or domestic violence he or she has broken faith with his or her husband or wife.  Domestic violence is far too often a dirty secret happening behind closed doors and weekly filling church pews in suffering silence.  We have a responsibility to name this sin and to be grieved over its prevalence in the world.

If are to be God’s people then we must publicly teach that domestic violence is sin, acknowledge our complicit silence in this area, provide safe havens for those seeking freedom, regularly pray for those trapped in abusive situations, and model healthy and life-affirming relationships.


I “Heart” Poland


Will Walker & Alan Huesing

In early-Fall 2009, Mr. Alan Huesing, ETBU’s Director of International Education, asked me to join him on trip. ETBU’s Theatre Department was performing at a festival in Częstochowa, Poland, and Alan was accompanying them as a guide, nurturing ETBU’s relationship with a local sister university, and working towards setting up future travel courses experiences. As the then-Department Chair in Kinesiology, I was asked to join the travel group to explore course options for our department. What a great opportunity!

But I really didn’t want to go, because I was afraid.

I am a Type-I diabetic (I may write more-extensively about this later), and at the time I had been on an insulin pump for only a few weeks after taking multiple injections every day for nearly 20 years. I was not at all comfortable yet with my mastery of this technology that was literally keeping me alive (and that runs on a single AAA battery).

What if I screwed it up? What if something happened to my insulin? What if my pump broke? What if, what if, what if…

Last week, I wrote that “professors must intentionally take students out of their respective comfort zones, forcing REAL goal-directed social interactions among mixed groups. Additionally, students must be intentional in their pursuit of these connections.”

Well guess what? Professors must do the same thing for themselves.

"All along the watchtower, princes kept the view..."

“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view…”

If we only invest ourselves in what and who we already know, we stagnate as professionals, and we stagnate as people. Also, we have to intentionally pursue those opportunities to move beyond our comfort, or at worst, not turn them down when they are presented to us.

As you may have guessed by this point given the pictures, I went on the trip.

I went on the trip and everything went off without a hitch (medically). I had nothing to fear, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

From start to finish, the trip was a blessing. This is just a small sample of the positives.

  • I had the awe-inspiring experience of touring different camps in Auschwitz.
  • I learned about Alan’s history working with ETBU International Education (more on this next week).
  • I re-established old connections with the ETBU Theatre Department. As part of that, I gained a better appreciation and understanding for what Traci Ledford and others in their department do; she’s a coach, not of a sport, but of a physical performance. The skillset is amazingly similar to what a head coach in a sport might do during game preparations and on game days.
  • We got to attend several tremendous productions, including our own production of All My Sons.
  • We went to Jurassic Park.
  • I accompanied Alan, as he met university presidents and school headmasters, helping set up future travel opportunities (the Kinesiology travel course to Poland happened in May 2011). We were even treated to a children’s play.

I would have missed out on all of this had I not overcome my concern. Just as we encourage those in physical training to go beyond comfort in order to have physical benefits and just as we must encourage our students to expand their horizons in order to grow, we must progressively overload ourselves to produce personal growth. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Even in Poland.