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

BY ROBERT FROST

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.”

AML

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.

EMB

I “Heart” Poland

Poland3

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.

WW

Does God have a Facebook page?

I am really excited to (hopefully) teach a new class in the next few semesters  - Social Media Communication. Anyone interested?

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

I have taught a similar class before, but not under the guise of the integration of faith and learning. Bringing faith into the discussion adds a completely new element, and one that I’m excited to explore!

Since I’m a little bored today – even professors have trouble concentrating on a Friday :) – I decided to start thinking about what the syllabus would look like for this new class. Let’s just say that I’ve found myself in a pickle.

How can we bring God into the discussion of social media? What kinds of questions should we be asking and answering in a class like this?

What can God add to the internet? Nope, wrong question. God created the internet (obviously), so he’s added everything already….

What does the internet have to do with God? Wrong question again, and same simple answer: EVERYTHING.

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

What does God have to do with the internet? UGH! Everything again! And still not an interesting question or answer!

How about, what can the internet add to our understanding of God? Or, how can we see examples of His glory/mercy/work/amazing-ness through the internet?

Hmm maybe we’re getting somewhere now…

Off the top of my head, obvious places where God shows up on the internet include:

  • Youversion.com, a site where you can read multiple translations of the bible,
  • Biblegateway.com , a searchable Bible site that also provides many different translations and where many ETBU folk have been participating in the Bible in a year program,
  • or even the websites for churches, like Mobberly Marshall where my husband and I attend…

…But what about more unique ways that God’s love is visible online?

My family is planning to go to New Orleans for Thanksgiving this year, and we are going to rent a house to stay in while we’re there. This experience has introduced me to Air BnB, a vacation rentals site.

Is everyone on this website a Christian? Probably not. But I can’t help but think of Christians using this site to live out 1 Peter 4:9.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

Can this be seen as the internet helping us follow God’s plan for our lives?

Can’t you imagine the wonderful ministry opportunities that could become available if you opened your house in this way? You don’t know who would choose to stay, or what stage in life they are in, but surely God could use this opportunity for His Kingdom!

Or what about ChristianMingle.com?

Is there a guarantee that everyone on this site is Christian? Decidedly not.

Cardinal rule #1: You CANNOT trust the Internet!

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t using the site for His purposes. Maybe that’s the best way for you  to meet your husband or wife. Who are we to claim knowledge of God’s plan or methods?!

Maybe this isn’t going to be the root of Social Media Communication class, but I definitely think these questions deserve some investigation. Maybe I’ll even use this post as assigned reading…

Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

If we return to the question I posed in the title of this post, Does God have a Facebook page? — how would we know if He did or didn’t?

He could be posing as Joe Schmo, John Smith, or Jesus Christ, offering status updates, pictures and music preferences, and we would never know. At least not for sure anyway.

Remember, you CAN’T trust the internet!

Bringing God into the discussion of social media communication seems to offer some exciting topics, and opportunities for discussion. I’m so excited!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how faith could/should be brought into a class about the internet, or social media. There are so many possibilities :)

The syllabus is still being worked on – you could contribute!!
AML

What if Your Minister Uses Pornography?

How would you respond if you discovered your minister uses pornography?

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

According to xxxchurch.com:

  • 12% of Internet websites are pornographic or about 24 million individual sites
  • Every second 28,258 Internet users view pornography
  • 40 million Americans are regular visitors to pornography sites
  • 70% of men aged 18-24 visit pornography sites in a typical month
  • 1 in 3 pornography viewers are women
  • 20% of men and 13% of women admit to watching pornography online at work
  • The most popular day of the week for viewing pornography is Sunday

Mobile technology seems to further enhance the pervasiveness of pornography:

  • 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
  • 24% of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile phone
  • 3 out of 5 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
  • 30% of all 17-year olds have received a sext

But surely – some may argue – ministers do not struggle in the same way.

In an age of pervasive pornography, ministers, ministry students and churches ought to consider four steps to pursue intelligent transparency and healthy ministerial engagement.

First, ministers need to prepare – and churches ought to expect – to proactively address the reality of pornography and other sexual issues.  While age-appropriate conversations are key, given that the average age at which a child first sees pornography online is eleven, children’s ministers and children’s workers need to carefully address with children and parents alike healthy online habits that address this issue as well as other acute online realities such as cyberbullying.

Proactive engagement is perhaps even more incumbent upon those ministering among teenagers and young adults.  Youth groups need to have pointed conversations about social media, texting, and even more broadly the use of technology.  Simply shunning technology is not an appropriate answer, though it is the one most often cited to me by college students struggling in this area.  While taking a Sabbath from smartphones and Snapchat may be necessary as a short-term initiative to break a particular habit or addiction, we cannot teach or expect individuals to simply shun technology as a means of avoiding temptation.  Otherwise, as happened to a friend several years ago, when a company or ministry issues a business smartphone it becomes an easy access point to patterns that were dormant rather than defeated.  Rather than emphasizing simple avoidance, though perhaps necessary for some as an interim step, ministers need to encourage individuals to develop a toolkit that masters technology and can navigate the workplace and ministry expectations of the twenty-first century in a healthy way.

Pastoral sermons and counseling can also play a key role. Internet pornography increasingly contributes to marital struggles and divorce.  Moreover, there are a number of corollary topics all too often neglected from the pulpit such as human trafficking and domestic violence.  A recent survey by Life Way revealed that 42% of pastors rarely or never address domestic and/or sexual violence in their sermons.

Second, every ministerial search committee ought to have an open and frank conversation during the interview process about the struggles the candidate has faced in this area.  Such a conversation is best suited towards the end of the process and perhaps with a select portion of the search committee, personnel committee or deacon body.  Though potentially uncomfortable, addressing this reality upfront:

  1. Helps foster a healthy and safe accountability relationship of trust for both the church and the minister where struggle may still occur
  2. Encourages the minister to more openly discuss the formation of healthy sexual patterns and identity drawing upon their own struggles and victories without fear of immediate retribution
  3. Establishes an expectation that the minister will in appropriate ways love and minister holistically to those within their areas of responsibility, including in the sensitive realm of sexual behavior and identity.
Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Third, every church needs to have a technology policy in place and be proactive rather than reactive.  Though dated, one 2002 survey noted that 54% of pastors reported viewing Internet pornography in the last year (http://www.covenanteyes.com/porn-free-church, pg. 113).  After recently visiting with one youth minister seeking freedom in this area, I encouraged this young minister to seek a continued and extended conversation with the pastor at the church.  The individual quickly responded that this was not possible as it would lead to immediate firing.  If a youth minister serving at a church whose desire was to seek freedom and accountability felt that the church would only offer rejection, how can we expect anyone else to turn to the church as a place of healing and restoration?

There are certainly types of clergy sexual misconduct that must be handled differently, but if a minister is involved in immoral but not illegal pornography there ought to be a guiding policy that helps the church and the minister jointly pursue a process of recovery.  Some time ago I was visiting with an individual who helps set up and maintain church networks as part of his business.  He relayed the story of how a pastor phoned him late at night because his college son who was home visiting had used a church computer to complete homework and then visited a variety of pornographic websites.  The pastor asked this network administer if he would be willing to quietly scrub the computer at the personal expense of the pastor so that the church did not know.  Whether it was in fact the son and not the pastor himself pales in comparison to the perceived need for the pastor to respond in fear and secrecy.

Churches need to be proactive in working to establish well-reasoned technology policies.  For years churches and ministers fought to place a window into the door of every office.  It is time to extend that concept.  Churches and ministers need to fight for a window into our technology.

Fourth, churches more broadly ought to work to create intentional climates of open dialogue, healthy accountability, and grace-filled recovery.  In the 1500s Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

The enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed… When the enemy tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret.  When they are revealed to a confessor or some other spiritual person who understand his deceits and evil designs, the enemy is greatly displeased for he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil design once his obvious deceits have been discovered (Movements Produced in the Soul).

Sin hates exposure and recovery begins in the light.  In the end, after all, the same grace by which we are saved is the same grace by which we are to continue to live.

- EB

The Play’s the Thing

In Fall 1999, as a first-semester freshman at ETBU, I was enrolled in THEA 1310 – Introduction to Theatre. As part of that course, there was a requirement that we get several hours of “volunteer” time working in Scarborough Chapel with the Theatre Department as they prepared for their productions. I knew immediately that completing that requirement was going to be a difficult proposition, as I was in pre-season preparations for basketball, I had to keep a 3.5 GPA to keep my academic scholarship (to thus remain in college at all), and I was still driving back to Avinger several nights a week to work at the 5D Cattle Company Steakhouse.

A scan of the R.U.R.'s yearbook page; in looking for photos I realized that it is almost like everything before digital photography and the Internet never happened.

A scan of the R.U.R.’s yearbook page; in looking for photos I realized that it is almost like everything before digital photography and the Internet never happened.

I knew that official basketball practices started on October 15 and if the volunteer hours were not completed by that date, they simply were not going to get done. Of course, nearly everyone else in the class waited until late in the semester to earn their hours.

It is with these circumstances that I became the sole volunteer that worked with ETBU Theatre start-to-finish on their production of R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots, which was the first production of that year.

Throughout that experience I helped with various odd jobs (building sets, inventorying costumes, running errands, etc.) as required. Beyond these experiences, however, I picked up something very valuable.

“Expanding your horizons”

By no means did my parents “shelter” me, but there was only so much worldview a person could have growing up in the 90s with basic cable and dial-up internet in a high school graduating class of 10 people.

1. K.P. was absent that day. 2. And OF COURSE class pictures got scheduled the week after the basketball team decided to shave our heads together.

1. K.P. was absent that day.
2. And OF COURSE class pictures got scheduled the week after the basketball team decided to shave our heads together.

My experiences with ETBU Theatre helped me to grow as an individual, simply because I was forced to work together towards common goals with people with whom I otherwise would not have interacted, in a context with which I was not familiar (and in which I was uncomfortable). Remember, because I was planning on playing basketball for ETBU and I knew that it was a long-shot, I spent a disproportionate amount of time preparing for my sport beginning the day I stepped foot on-campus, and as a result much of my time was spent forging relationships with people similar to me in many respects. The theatre experience allowed me to grow relationships outside of my self-imposed circle of athletes, and many of those relationships are still alive today. Additionally, I continue to support ETBU Theatre; there is a poster for Urinetown outside of my office right now.

You should go see this, at least twice.

You should go see this, at least twice.

When I transitioned into a coaching role at ETBU, and again later as a professor, I would see this same pattern in many of our first semester students. It wasn’t that they were actively avoiding others; it was that so much of their early time on campus was with their “thing” that they literally didn’t have time to invest in relationships elsewhere. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to athletics: debate, choir, band, theatre, and other groups that engage students very early in the Fall semester probably see this as well.

Therefore, 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. This is why the concept behind our Learning and Leading courses for first-semester freshman at ETBU is so important. It is also why things like sports and other campus performances are vital; they create a shared experience that we can all enjoy live, in-person, together.

One cannot understand others’ perspectives without understanding their individual life contexts, and one cannot possibly understand those infinitely complex contexts without real social interaction. These sorts of interactions help students recognize that there are more ways to think about things that what they have always been around, and it is that recognition of other perspectives that allows for the personal growth we want for all of our students.

(More on this later.)

WW

Walk the Walk… in secret?

After my last post about Small Group Communication class working with Mission Marshall, I got some questions about what communication has to do with a service project, and why we would count that as a class requirement.

So that got me thinking… an easy answer would be that the point of Small Group Communication class is to learn how to effectively work in groups, be a leader, and make your group stronger. Therefore you need a group project, and what’s better than applying your skills in a real life situation?

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

But that doesn’t speak to why I felt I could write about this project and class in a blog focused on integrating faith an learning in the classroom.

I’ll admit, I’m very new to the idea of talking about faith at school. You might know that I got my PhD, and a lot of my teaching experience, at the University of Kansas. Great school, but public. There was absolutely no room for religious views of any kind at school.

But, we did have Small Group Communication class, and my adviser developed this idea of connecting the class with an outside organization so that we could also make it a service project.

You did not have to teach the class that way. A board game creation project would also fit the bill.

But thinking back now, those of us who adopted the service project model all had something in common… I think we were all Christians!

We just did not talk about it. Ever.

For me, the connection between doing a service project and integrating faith and learning is clear. Didn’t God teach us that every helping hand we extend is the same as helping Him?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’” Matthew 25:34-36

Photo Credit: the tartanpodcast via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: the tartanpodcast via Compfight cc

At ETBU, we talk a lot about faith in the classroom. Professors are encouraged to share their own faith stories, pray with students, and involve Bible verses as they are relevant.

We do a great job of talking the talk in the classroom.

I think all of us are also walking the walk with God, but maybe in a more private manner. How often are classes involved in feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked?

How often do we help students walk the walk in public?

When I was at KU, I was involved with a great church and felt that I was doing my best to serve others… on Sunday. Then I would return to work, where I was forbidden to share my religion in class, and leave it all behind. A good idea? Of course not, but I caved to the pressure.

The one place where I could broadcast my Christian values clearly and reach out to help others with my students was through the service project in Small Group Communication. And I think we were all doing that, we just didn’t talk about it in those terms.

Moral of the story? I think it’s threefold:

  • I am so happy to have the freedom at ETBU to talk about our Christian walks openly with students!
  • Serving others IS serving God.
  • Doing more than talking about faith may be a better measure of the integration of faith and learning.

AL

Has Texas Been Bought?

Has Texas been bought?

According to a recent study by East Texas Baptist University Associate Professor Elijah M. Brown and student Taylor Cruse, 81% of all members of the Texas House of Representatives have received financial support from the payday loan industry.

In a recent university class project I worked with students to identify the extent of the payday and auto title loan industry in Texas.  According to the Christian Life Commission, payday and auto title loans are “high cost, small-dollar loans offered to individuals without a credit check and little consideration of their ability to repay.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Money Mutual, a somewhat typical payday lender, proclaims, “Get up to $1,000 as soon as tomorrow!” and then in fine print on their homepage note, “the typical representative APR range is somewhere between 261% and 1304% for a 14 day loan.”

In Texas the average payday loan is $475 and effective APR ranges from 250% to 800%.  According to a recent report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, “Texans paid more in payday and auto title loan fees in 2013 compared to 2012 and remained in debt longer, even though they took out fewer total loans during that same time.”

Payday and auto title loans offer “no meaningful protections for borrowers,” imperil financial viability, restrict financial growth, and trap individuals in cycles of debt.  One student voiced his worry that his parents who had taken out a payday loan in his name and without his consent might jeopardize his credit and future earning potential.

Nationally:

  • There are over 22,000 payday and auto title loan locations in the United States (meaning there are more payday and auto title loan locations in the USA than there are McDonalds);
  • Payday and auto title loans generate an estimated $27 billion in loans each year;
  • The typical borrower ultimately pays $822.50 in principal and interest for a $350 loan;
  • Over 80% of payday borrowers take out more than one loan per year;
  • In Texas, a majority of borrowers are in their 20s and 30s, 59% are women many of whom are single mothers, borrowers include all major ethnic groups though there is a disproportionately high percentage of African American borrowers;
  • The majority of individuals who utilize these loans do so not for one time emergencies but to pay for recurring basic expenses such as utilities, food and housing.

Payday and auto title loans trap borrowers into cycles of debt by charging usurious and exorbitant APR and often refusing partial payments.  The following are actual APR charges self-reported by a variety of payday loan companies on their websites:

How can this be legal?

The Texas Constitution notes that in the absence of other legislation individual borrowers should not be charged more than 10% APR.  In 2005 the payday loan industry reorganized themselves into Credit Service Organizations (CSOs) which were designed in 1987 to help individuals with bad credit receive small loans from third party vendors.  An individual who visits a payday store in Texas will therefore be offered a loan from a third party vendor at less than 10% actual APR thus satisfying the legal requirement of the state.  For procuring this loan the CSO will then leverage a fee and in Texas there are no regulatory caps on these fees.  This causes the effective APR to sharply rise into the hundreds of percentage points.

Payday and auto title loans can quickly propel people into a cyclical debt bondage.  According to the Pew Charitable Trust, 41% of borrowers need a cash infusion from an outside source in order to pay off a payday loan.  In 2012, 35,000 cars or an average of 95 cars per day were repossessed in the state of Texas due to defaults on auto title loans.

Unfortunately, churches and other nonprofits are implicitly at the forefront of subsidizing this industry.  At times individual borrowers pay off their payday loans and then request and receive help from churches and other nonprofits to cover expenses such as food, rent and utility bills.

The challenge, in the words of a timely episode of Last Week Tonight by Jon Oliver, is that regulating this industry is “like playing legislative whack-a-mole.”

This is especially the case in Texas.  The Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner is tasked with protecting consumers from predatory lending practices.  However, an El Paso Times article observed that the current individual overseeing this state agency is William J. White who is also a Vice President of Cash America, a company hit with sanctions last November for abusive practices.

The situation in Texas is perhaps even far worse than the above indicates.  Working closely with East Texas Baptist University student Taylor Cruse, public campaign donations for every member of the Texas House of Representatives was meticulously considered.  This new research revealed:

  • 81% of all members of the Texas House of Representatives have received financial support from the payday loan industry;
  • 70.9% of all Democrats and 87.4% of all Republicans have received monetary contributions from a lobbyist working on behalf of the payday or auto title loan industry;
  • 56.4% of Democrats and 81.1% of Republicans have received $1,000 or more from this industry; 18.2% of Democrats and 43.2% of Republicans have received more than $5,000 and 1.8% of Democrats and 16.8% of Republicans have received more than $10,000 in cash donations from this industry;
  • The median amount received by Democrats was $1,000 while for Republicans it was $3,250.

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue but a common good and public wellbeing issue begging the question: has the payday and auto title loan industry bought the Texas legislative assembly?

4 - Chart on Payday ContributionsThe payday and auto title loan industry is a predatory industry running counter to sound financial principles, the common good, and multiple biblical commands.

How can churches, nonprofits and other concerned citizens respond to this situation? Perhaps the following are five beginning points:

  1. Emphasize fair living wages and fair lending practices for all;
  2. Incorporate awareness and education about the duplicity of the payday and auto title loan industry into financial stewardship initiatives;
  3. Help individuals pay off payday and auto title loans;
  4. Contact state and national representatives and, whatever their previous record, ask them from this point forward to refrain from receiving any additional financial contributions from lobbyists working on behalf of the payday and auto title loan industry;
  5. Support the work of the Christian Life Commission and other organizations working to limit the injustices perpetrated by these industries.

EMB

“Let’s Build Something Together”

The physical benefits of sports and exercise are well-documented, but at this time, especially in the state of Texas, it has become increasingly difficult for students to learn any form of moral and affective education in a traditional public school setting. In many ways, standardized testing has crushed the role that many teachers used to hold dear: that of a model of proper behavior in society.

There is simply not enough time in schools to talk about life lessons when the focus is always on “the test” rather than “the life.”

Therefore, the roles of the sports coach (whether in athletics or Physical Education settings) have become even more important, because the coach is now one of the last available sources of moral and affective education in schools (and other workplaces). In no other situation can a young person so readily learn some of life’s most basic lessons in an applied setting: losing well (dealing with life’s failures), winning well (avoiding the pitfalls of pride and complacency), using one’s personal skills to the betterment of the whole, working in close proximity to those with which you do not get along…The applications of sports’ lessons to both personal and occupational realms are infinite and universal, and helping people learn these things through sports is a noble cause for the dedication of one’s life.

Over the course of the semester I will occasionally highlight one of these ways that sports can serve as a “life lab”.

“Let’s Build Something Lego Together”

A few weeks ago I took my younger brother (25), nephews (17 and 10), and son (4) on what I told them was a Super-Secret Adventure. None of them knew where we were going until we arrived, in Dallas, for Lego KidsFest.

Per the link above, there was plenty to do, but one of the things that surprised me the most about the experience is how that all four of them, despite their great differences, used their time upon our arrival.

They spent their first 45+ minutes helping each other find parts to build different vehicles.

Lego - Working Together

Then the oldest three spent nearly a full hour building a tower to place into the Lego Nation exhibit.

Lego - Tall Tower

There is a great satisfaction that comes from working together towards a common set of goals, and when all of that creative energy goes in the same direction, the participants can achieve beyond anything that could be done individually. That’s biblical.

http://pmcdeadline2.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/minecraft__140227211000.jpg

http://pmcdeadline2.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/minecraft__140227211000.jpg

One of the most popular videogames on the planet right now is Minecraft, which relies on the idea that creating things is fun, but working together with friends to create things is even more satisfying. A quick stroll around YouTube will reveal multiple examples of collaboration to create amazing things.

Microsoft understands this and is poised to bid $2 BILLION dollars or more on the company that created the game.

“Let’s (use sports to) Build Something Life Lessons Together”

Most sports scenarios are collaborative as well; even in individual sports like tennis or golf there are potential elements for collaboration towards a team goal and working to “sharpen each other” through practice and intra-team competition.

Those that have worked to “build something together” in an intimate, like-minded physical environment have unique experiences that carry over to many real-world settings, and these experiences cannot be replicated as well in a traditional classroom environment.

Working for a business is this way. In successful companies of any size or type, the most successful results come when there is a combination of working towards a common goal and the existence of a culture that encourages intra-group competition, improvement, and innovation. You may not like everyone on your team, but you still have to cordially coexist and work together. This is exactly what it is like to be on a sports team.

Being in a marriage is this way. You must understand the unique attributes of yourself and your partner/teammate so that you can maximally reach each other’s potentials, without being a detriment to each other. You must build each other’s ego and confidence. You must make and work towards realistic goals. You must sometimes make sacrifices for the betterment of your partner/teammate and vice versa, but you do it because you want to reach those common goals. This is exactly what it is like to be on a sports team.

Raising kids is this way. The goal-setting, strategizing, setbacks, successes…it all fits.

The lessons learned through participation in sports can be applied to these and many more life settings, and so it is vital that sports coaches and Physical Education professionals tailor the experiences that they oversee to best help their students learn how to effectively “build something together”. In sports and in life, there will be successes and failures (more on that in a later blog), but there is a satisfaction that occurs from seeing through a collaboration to the end that cannot be so readily replicated anywhere else than in sports.

Lego - Proud of Hero Factory

OK, maybe Lego, too.

WW

Your MISSION, should you choose to accept it…

MISSION: Marshall

Photo Credit: szeke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: szeke via Compfight cc

Today in Small Group communication class we were lucky enough to have Mrs. Misty Scott (wife of Glenn Scott – ETBU IT extraordinaire!) from Mission Marshall come to talk with us about some service the groups in class could participate in this semester.

I thought it was AWESOME!

She explained so much about their history and vision that I didn’t know. I’m thinking you might not know it either, so allow me to share!

Mission Marshall Facts:

  • Mission Marshall has only been operational for 2 years.
  • They partner with many other non-profits around the area like the United Churches of Marshall Food Pantry, the Faith Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross.
  • One of their biblical inspirations comes from Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, which encourages them to make the most of the land God has sent them to inhabit.

Wow! What an inspiring woman! What an inspiring program!

She explained to us that the city of Marshall has a 25% poverty rate, and though we have many churches/organizations trying to help, there is still a lot to be done.

Mission Marshall seeks to help people along the way, create relationships with them, and show them how to help themselves, all by showing them the love that Christ has for them.

They have seemingly a million different programs, but some of the highlights are their Jobs for Life class, the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and a Food Pantry that even provides PRODUCE twice each month!

Photo Credit: cignoh via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cignoh via Compfight cc

(If you’ve ever found a tomato or peach at the back of your fridge that’s even 1 day too old, you can imagine how difficult it is to collect and distribute such perishable foods!)

So besides offering more services than your average non-profit, what was so captivating about Mrs. Scott’s presentation and Mission Marshall?

Much more than just a food pantry, relationships are their number one priority. (Click to Tweet)

Photo Credit: cignoh via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cignoh via Compfight cc

Their main purpose is to treat every individual as a person and not just someone who “needs help.” They seek to help people help themselves, and to help them realize God is there to help them too. 

Why is this such a new idea? Helping the whole person and not just their one need –  sounds like an obvious solution!

But how quick are we to zero in on one problem and fix it as fast as possible? We pat ourselves on the back for “serving,” and then just move on to the next project.

But people in this city need our help. (Click to Tweet)

Churches do a great job of feeding the hungry, at least for a time. But there is a greater need.

What about self-fulfillment? What about friendship? What about love? What about God?

Photo Credit: szeke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: szeke via Compfight cc

What kind of poverty are we really fixing here?

I am so excited to see how the students in Small Group Communication will work to serve this city this semester! There are some great ideas already, and we have only just gotten started.

I know I am motivated to be more involved, and I hope you are too!

Saving our city and our neighbors is really a pretty selfish mission. Don’t you want to live in a nice place, with nice people?

But, thankfully, it’s also God’s mission for us.

And I know we are already making progress. We can make an impact on this mission!

After all, God does not know the word impossible.

AML