You Should Do Shakespeare! (or… How We Choose Our Season)

Once, after a performance of a contemporary play, a patron told me, “You should do Shakespeare.”

Sometimes it’s hard to find the grace to respond with kindness when I’d rather be banging my head against a wall.  Repeatedly.  Then I remind myself… they don’t know the whole story.

ScriptsChoosing a production season for any theatre, whether professional or educational, is a painstaking process.  We can agonize over it for months before we commit to next year’s work, essentially because there are several criteria that guide our selection of a play.

I’d like to share those with you.

1. Is the cast size consistent with the talent in the department?

It is folly to choose a show we have no hopes of casting.  Though our productions are open to the entire student body, we have found that only those who have a deep love for the theatre are willing to commit to the demanding schedule required of any show.  This limits the size of the cast and, as a result, the type of shows we can do.

2. Does the production have academic and thematic merit?

We are a university committed to the intellectual growth of our students.  If we say we want them to think critically, then the material must demand intellectual inquiry through skillful storytelling and ask the participants thought-provoking questions regarding the content.  Wrestling with great literature helps our students think and problem solve beyond everyday expectations.

3. Has the play been recognized for excellence?

This is closely tied to #2.  Usually those plays that have been popularized through strong word-of-mouth reviews, legitimate awards, or favorable critiques provide the richest academic and artistic challenges.

4. Will the demands of the show exceed our budget or workforce?

Selecting the wrong show can sabotage an entire department in one of two ways: we can break the bank by committing to a play that demands too much of our budget or we can break our backs by selecting an overly ambitious show that will drain our workforce.  With a season of at least four shows, we must find a healthy and economically sound balance.

5. Will the experience stretch, challenge, and grow our students (both on stage and behind the scenes) in a way that prepares them for professional or graduate-level academic work?

Students should experience a wide range of genres, forms, and styles from across history to better understand the discipline.  We must also prepare our students for the real world by engaging them with the work out there now.  They are challenged to make bold choices, take risks, engage their faith, and set their boundaries.  It’s not all black and white, and our students must know how to dialogue about their limits in a profession that won’t necessarily sympathize with them.

6. Does the play reflect the faith and values of the institution?

This question is best answered by our Theatre Arts and Christian Worldview statement found on our website and in our programs.  In short, we absolutely want to maintain the integrity and mission of our university.  We love to discuss the redemptive, cautionary, or unresolved conflicts found in the work we do.  As a result, we often schedule talkback sessions after particular performances to help answer the difficult questions.  Our goal is to balance the needs of our students with the expectations of our patrons.

7. Is it something we personally want to work on for 6-9 months?

That’s about how long we spend on any one show, often overlapping the various needs as the schedule demands.  While one show is in performance, another is being designed, while another is being researched and conceptualized.  If we aren’t passionate about the work we have chosen, the end product will suffer.

2014-15 Production Season

2014-15 Production Season

I love Shakespeare’s work and would welcome the opportunity to produce any one of his histories, comedies, tragedies, or romances if we can do the play justice.  However, large cast sizes, multiple male roles, few female opportunities, lengthy run times, multiple sets, iambic pentameter (with numerous variations), difficult thematic content, and some of the most beloved stories ever told make his work a significant challenge for a department of our size.

So we work to grow.  We try hard to recruit top-tier students.  We train them in voice and movement, acting and design, analysis and history.  We build our stock of period clothing, weapons, and props.  We dream big and problem solve within the limitations of our facilities.  We press on in the hopes that one day we will do Shakespeare.

But until that time comes, we strive to meet the immediate needs of the department in a way that gives students opportunities that are just as rich and rewarding.  Maybe it will be Miller, Ruhl, Brecht, Molière, or Sondheim, but it will be just as worthy.

TEL

Is there a Happily Ever After, Daddy?

One night while putting my kids to bed I opted to tell them a story, rather than read them a story. The difference is subtle. When I read them a story, I read the words on the page and show them the pictures illustrating the narration.

When I tell them a story, I put into my own words a given story, usually a fairy tale or bible story, from my own memory. No pictures illustrate the narration, but for some reason they love it. Maybe it is the sound effects I add or the fact that every time I tell a given story it is a little different from the last.

Whatever the case, they now prefer stories I tell more than stories out of a book. Just between you and me, I am beginning to run out of stories.

three bears

One of our favorites is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  I admit, my version probably does not remain entirely faithful to the classic tale—Goldilocks eats pancakes or oatmeal, not porridge (What is porridge anyway?).

Yet, just like the original, in the end the Bear family discovers Goldilocks asleep in their home.

I honestly don’t know what is supposed to come after that, but to contemporize the story I used to say that the Bears call the police and have her arrested for trespassing. Perhaps that is not the best ending for small children, so now I narrate that the Bears unite Goldilocks with her parents who have been desperately looking for their daughter lost in the woods.

In order to capture the meaning of a story about a lost girl who finds safety and aid under the hospitality of strangers, I end the story with something like, “And Goldilocks returned home safely to her family who had a party because she was safe and well.”

Last week after concluding the story, my daughter asks me, “Did they not live happily ever after, Daddy?”

Now, anyone who lives with small children in the 21st century understands how my five-year-old daughter has been so indoctrinated with Disney fairy tales that she just assumes that every story is supposed to end with, “And they lived happily ever after.”

But, how should I answer that question?

Not wanting to verbalize all the thoughts that went through my head without thinking about the best answer, I answered her with a quick, “That’s not how this story ends, but she and her family were happy to be together again. Good night, I love you.”

Lame, right?

Ever since she asked, I can’t get that question out of my head. I sense I may have missed one of those important moments, a moment where I have an opportunity to teach my child something about the way the world works. Or, about the true meaning of happiness. Or, about anything of value instead of just trying to get her to go to sleep as quickly as possible.

But now that I have had a few days to think about it, I have a couple of responses.

My first response to her question comes from my framework as a literature professor. I read and teach stories for a living, and anyone who has ever sat in my class knows none of the stories I teach end with “happily ever after.” In fact, most stories in any recognized academic canon of literature do not end happily at all. So, my first answer could have been, “No, a lot of stories don’t end with happily ever after. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

My next thought was much like my first. As a “grown-up” pushing 40 I am well aware of the way life goes. I considered answering with, “Nope. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Thankfully, I had the wherewithal not to verbalize either of those responses. I sense that a father should not pass on to his child such a cynical view of life at the ripe age of five.

The side of me that prevented me from giving my first two answers, though, is not simply ruled by common sense. It is that part of me most influenced by my faith.

While nowhere in the Bible does the phrase “happily ever after” appear, there are some important aspects of the Biblical narrative that embody the values of the fairytale ending. The fairytale ending is not merely about happiness; it reflects the simple hope that we can experience all of the best things life has to offer—love, well-being, health, personal success, and the full realization of our individual role in our community.

Therefore, what is the Garden of Eden if not the original plan for happily ever after? And what is heaven if not the ultimate realization of happily ever after? And, we can’t ignore the 28th verse of the 8th chapter of Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

If we can say anything about the Biblical perspective on “happily ever after” it is this: God’s original intent and ultimate hope for mankind is to experience all of the perfection that he created for us. In understanding Romans 8:28 and knowing what our Father has in store for his followers in afterlife, we can say that God intends a “happily ever after” for all of us.

fairytale

Furthermore, if I am completely honest with myself, I still believe in fairy tales.

Certainly, I am a cynical grown-up and a critical thinking academic. But, when I think of the joy and fulfillment I find in my marriage, in raising my children, in going to work everyday, and in the pursuit of my faith, I am convinced that if there is a “happily ever after,” then I am living it.  And, I most definitely hope that what I model in my roles as father and husband demonstrates “happily ever after” to my children.

Yes, life does not work out how we plan. Yes, there is a lot of everyday-stuff-of-life that makes us unhappy. Yes, we all experience loss and regret. Yet, those things don’t prevent me from believing in God’s great plan for all of us, that he wants “happily ever after” for all of us.

So, next time my daughter asks me whether they lived “happily ever after” my answer will just be, “Yes, they did.”

DS

 

Composition and Coffee beans: How owning a coffeeshop made me a better professor

PaperFew here in East Texas are aware that when I held an assistant professor position at a sister university I owned a small coffeeshop in downtown Plainview, TX. My wife and I had a grand idea to purchase and remodel a mid-century diner to take on new life as a gourmet coffee shop and local hang-out. Just as she was finishing her bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech we purchased the building, completed renovations, and opened in time for a new school year. I would maintain my full-time teaching job while she ran the family business.

Two months later a small hiccup left me running a new business fulltime, teaching a full load, and my wife at home with severe morning sickness that left her bed-ridden. Her aversion to strong smells—coffee being her least favorite—forced me to actually strip down and jump in the shower before I was allowed to greet her from a long day at both jobs.  So, I became the sole proprietor while my wife took on the equally challenging task of a mother to one, and then a year later, two children. Even though those six years number among the most challenging years of my life, I learned a number of important things that have made me a better equipped college professor.

Now, there are a few obvious elements of owning a coffeeshop that may well serve an English professor. The endless supply of fresh and delicious coffee left me with all the energy I needed for late night grading and early morning classes. The proximity to the lives of students who frequented my shop and were employed as baristas allowed me a unique role in educating and training them in and out of the classroom. And, my position as a small-business owner allowed me a unique perspective by which to teach my freshmen students the ins-and-outs of professional writing.

Yet, the most valuable thing I learned from owning a coffeeshop is something that is more profound, but less obvious.  It is a lesson that plays a critical role in my approach to teaching at a small, faith-based university.

When my wife and I first opened our shop, we, like most independent coffeeshop owners at that time, found our inspiration from Starbucks, the world famous coffee purveyor that introduced the American public to Italian-styled coffee drinks like the espresso and the cappuccino. We set our menu options and our prices to reflect our similarity with the chain. We were proud when customers compared us in a positive way to the coffee giant. And, even while we strived to create products that were superior in quality, we knew that we owed a great debt of gratitude to the big guys for every dollar put in our cash register.

However, over the course of our six years in the business things changed drastically, not just in our coffeeshop, but in independent coffeeshops around the nation.  These coffeeshops adopted what has become known as the “third wave.”

latte artThe “third wave” approach to artisanal coffee is characterized by promoting sustainable growing practices, purchasing beans directly from farmers—a practice that pays fair prices and cuts out the middle-man—and pursuing careful roasting methods that enhance flavor without burning the coffee (Most third wave coffee is lightly roasted).  It is also associated with alternative brewing methods, like the pour-over, that celebrate the inherent uniqueness of each coffee variety. Baristas began pouring latte art and talking about the specific flavor qualities of single-origin beans—beans from a specific lot of an individual estate rather than beans from a given nation, like Columbia.

Small coffeeshops took on practices that not only produced the best product but were healthy for the local and global community. And, those small, independent shops are really the only places capable of providing that level of quality and that amount of positive community interaction.

Small, independent shops that embraced the “third wave” approach have become so numerous and popular that the large corporations are now trying to emulate them. Starbucks now has pour over coffee and serves a “blonde” roast. Chick-Fil-A now serves coffee that is advertised as purchased directly from small, family farms. And, latte art now makes regular appearances in Hollywood blockbusters and on the packaging of grocery store creamers.

So, as a professor at a small, faith-based university, this observation is the most important thing I have learned from the coffee business. It is the observation that a group of purposeful, highly-trained and creative individuals that dedicate themselves to their craft can operate a successful venture and provide a valuable and satisfactory service to its proprietors in ways that challenge the establishment. What if the small, faith-based university could approach education in the same way that independent coffeeshops approach coffee?

As a professor at ETBU I know that if we embrace the best practices of education we can provide the highest standard of education to our students. But we must also ask ourselves what we can do better. How can we best utilize our role as a small school that has a high teacher/student ratio to provide better small-group instruction? How can we push the educational envelope in fresh and meaningful ways to provide students with a quality of education that they can’t get at one of the big guys? In what ways can we use our model to train our students and give them hands-on experience for service to both the local and global community? How can we make the small university education cool again?

DS

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

Imagio Missions: The First Ethic for Missions?

Missions is at the heart of God. (Click to Tweet)

Where then is the first biblical passage detailing an ethic for missions?

Children Holding Balloon

Photo Credit: rachel_titiriga via Compfight cc

We live in a time of diversifying missions practices, shifting priorities and timeframes, and changing personnel.  Two weeks ago the International Mission Board (IMB) elected Radical pastor David Platt as the new IMB PresidentAt 36, Platt is the youngest individual to serve the IMB in this capacity.

This announcement is in close proximity to key personnel changes at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) where on September 1 Steven Porter was slated to begin as the new Coordinator of Global Missions.  Called a “strategic and innovative former field personnel,” Porter was most recently a lecturer in missions and global Christianity at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and at age 41 is also a relatively young leader.

Though from different backgrounds, transitions at two of the leading Baptist missions organizations in the United States to next generation leadership perhaps signals renewed intentionality to embrace the changing missions dynamics of the twenty-first century.  In an increasingly urban, religiously diverse and migratory world, shifts in missionary leadership do not, however, alter a biblical missional ethic established as early as Genesis 1.

There are approximately 7 billion people living today.  Missiologists consider “unevangelized” any country in which less than 50% of anyone in that country has heard the Gospel.  By this definition, according to the World Christian Database of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, there are currently 4,402 unevangelized people groups representing 1.72 billion individuals or 24.9% of the world’s total population. (Click to Tweet)

This past week students in an ETBU missions class were challenged to ground their understanding of missions into a robust biblical framework beyond well-known passages such as Matthew 28:16-20 or Acts 1:8.  It was suggested that perhaps the first and earliest ethic for missions is found in Genesis 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them (NIV).

Known more often for the theological articulation of the imagio Dei or image of God in all people, this passage has a clear missional implication.  It speaks to God’s global scope and prerogative as it asserts that all individuals are made without exception in the image of God.  To categorically state that God is the sole author of life is to also note that God intends a relationship with each individual who has received his indelible mark.  These individuals cannot be who God intended for them to fully be until they enter into a relationship with God.  To affirm the image of God is to affirm the call to missions. (Click to Tweet)

Moreover, if a Christian claims that another is made in the image of God the only ethical option available to the Christian is to then tell the individual about the God in whose image they are made.  One cannot – in good faith – proclaim to the 1.72 billion individuals living in unevangelized contexts that they are made in God’s image and then not tell them about that God and his desire to enter into a relationship with them.

World Map

Photo Credit: rogiro via Compfight cc

As Genesis 1:27 clearly evidences, even with cultural and ethnic divisions people are after all still fundamentally people.  It is easy to get swept up in the differences – different geographies, different languages, different cultures, different value systems, different skin tones – and yet even within the reality of all of these differences we are all fundamentally and undeniably people equal to each other and equal in the eyes of God.  Missions recognizes that if God created all people in his image then it is possible, indeed it is the calling of Christians to cross over these divisions and to no longer allow them to remain as barriers.

Christ-followers ought to serve in the midst of communities, build relationships in the most difficult of neighborhoods, stand with the most marginalized, vocationally live with intentionality as outposts of the kingdom, and love holistically among the 1.72 billion individuals living in unevangelized contexts for fundamentally and undeniably we believe these are places filled with those made in the image of God.  Even if some of these places are dangerous, difficult, inconvenient, or otherwise labeled as “enemies,” do we not have a responsibility to tell them the Good News about this God in whose image they are made?

It is not enough to simply affirm that all individuals are made in the imagio Dei.  There is a corresponding and compelling theological and missional implication that ought to shape the ordering of our lives.

If we believe that all individuals are made in the image of God, can our mission be anything less than helping all individuals know the God in whose image they are made?

EMB

 

Small… Large… MEDIUM! I’m the MEDIUM!

“The medium is the message.”

Marshall Mcluhan

Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos via Compfight cc

This quote is one of the most famous phrases in the discipline of Communication Studies, and was originally voiced by Marshal McLuhan, a media scholar from the Toronto school of Communication Theory.

His point is that how you say something is just as important as what you say. (Click to Tweet)

In many cases, it may end up being even more important.

Studying Communication is so important to me, and what I really love, because it allows me (and every Comm scholar) to understand where other people are coming from, and what they are trying to say through the words they choose to convey their message. I get very excited for each new class – a chance to share my passion with a new group of students, and a chance for us to learn together about what Communication Studies can mean together.

I have loved Communication Studies since my first Communication class at Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2005. It was at this small, private university that I first heard McLuhan’s words. They have been repeated throughout my journey to a PhD, but it is only now that I’ve first made a connection between McLuhan’s message and Jesus’s.

That statement may seem shocking and sad, but ETBU is my first school environment where the integration of faith and learning is placed at such a high priority.

It is refreshing, to be honest.

At so many public schools, and even some religious universities, professors (and professors-in-training) are encouraged, pushed, even threatened to take religion out of the classroom so that we don’t offend anyone.

In my first semester at ETBU, I was struggling to bring my religious views into class because I felt as if it had almost been beaten out of me. But now, with the opportunity to reflect on how my discipline relates to faith and Christianity, I am struck by the complete obviousness of it all!

Allow me to show you what I mean…

Jesus was God’s son, sent to earth to deliver God’s message of salvation – to COMMUNICATE it to us! (Click to Tweet)

He lived a perfect life, and focused on sharing God’s mercy with the world – communicating even still. A connection to my discipline if I’ve ever heard one.

But the connection that really hit me over the head when I started thinking about McLuhan’s emphasis on the medium, is that we are the medium that God has chosen to spread his message today. That was the plan all along…remember… the Great Commission…

Bible Study

Photo Credit: rafa2010 via Compfight cc

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

To make this idea even more concrete, let me put it another way. I am the medium that is charged with spreading the message of Jesus. You are the medium. All of God’s followers are His chosen medium.

If we return again to McLuhan’s idea that the chosen medium for communicating a message is extremely meaningful, it must be a big deal that God picked us. We are the medium here, after all.

But why? Why us? Studying communication shows us that people who really believe their message, or have experienced something themselves, are often the most effective at passing their passion along to others.

restaurant

Photo Credit: jesuscm via Compfight cc

My former pastor used to use the analogy of restaurants: If you’ve eaten a great meal, and tell others about it, they will want to try out that restaurant too because you are so excited about it!

So, when I consider the importance of God picking US to be his medium, it makes me feel a lot of pressure to step up and do a better job. Also, I need to remember to trust myself, and God, and know that my excitement and passion will easily flow through trough my words.

After all, that’s how communication works.

AML

Refugee. Flight. Displacement.

Photo Credit: Zoriah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Zoriah via Compfight cc

Refugee.  Flight.  Displacement.

In The Idea of a Christian College Arthur Holmes reminds us that a Christian college, and by implication those vocationally pursuing the study and application of Christian studies, must rigorously pursue the intersection of their faith within the wholeness of the human experience because “we live in a secular society that compartmentalizes religion and treats it as peripheral or even irrelevant to large areas of life and thought” (Holmes, 9).  The biblical worldview however clearly and consistently admonishes believers to positively contribute to a vision of human flourishing.

People of Christian faith are to live out what the New Testament describes as “good news” in the midst of contexts that are all too often divided, conflicted, and trapped in poverty.  As one example, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2014 the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide exceeded 50 million people for the first time since World War II.  As the UNHCR rightly notes, “1 family torn apart by war is too many.”  The following facts from the United Nations are indeed sobering:

  • 43.3 million people worldwide forcible displaced due to conflict and persecution
  • 46% of these individuals are children
  • 15 million of these individuals are uprooted from their home country
  • 27 million remain within their country but are internally displaced due to conflict
  • Many lack the essentials of life such as clean water, food and protection from violence and abuse.

These are real people with real needs. (Click to Tweet)

Moreover, the call to stand alongside displaced individuals is central to the biblical narrative.  In fact, there is an entire book within the Old Testament addressing this subject.  The book of Ruth is in part dedicated to establishing an ethic that asks people of faith to contribute to human flourishing by standing alongside those living in the midst of difficult cross-cultural situations.

Ruth is the story of a young woman who found herself in Israel, a country that differed in culture, religion and background from the one in which she was raised.  And what is more, there was a long history of suspicion, hostility and violent armed conflict between the peoples of Moab and Judah.  Imagine yourself as a young, single woman with the responsibility of providing for an older relative, with only limited access to finances, separated from family and friends, and suspiciously viewed with ethnic hostility in all of your daily interactions.

Ruth was forced to glean the leftover grain that was first missed by harvesters and servants, and it is in this context of difficulty and poverty that that the Biblical story introduces Boaz.  Having compassion, Boaz extended an open hand to Ruth and helped her with financial and material goods.  Over the course of the grain and barley harvests this initial relationship grew.

Ruth is usually told as a story of love and marriage or as a foreshadowed celebration of King David or of Christ himself.  These interpretations may be true.  But what is often lost in these themes is the reality that this is also a story about crossing boundaries, of an immigrant who came from a country that was deemed “suspicious,” and about overcoming prejudices by showing compassion and financial generosity specifically to the displaced within our communities.

The book of Ruth is a reminder that people of faith are called to stand in prayer, friendship and practical support with all those within our community who have been displaced, especially those who have experienced the traumas of violence, war and forced flight.  This is where faith, friendship and vocational discipline intersect. (Click to Tweet)

For many in the United States this reality has taken on new meaning as 50,000 unaccompanied minors have sought asylum over the last twelve months.  As the Baptist World Alliance recently noted, many of these individuals are “victimized by separation from their families, economic exploitation, lack of medical care and education [and] discrimination.”  It is our responsibility to “respond to the need for spiritual support and pastoral services for these children” and to “create welcoming communities.”

Behind the overwhelming numerical statistics are individuals who can be influenced by individuals.  This is the power of one connecting with one.  In a way, after all, the believer in Christ is to see themselves in the words of Hebrews 11:13, “[as] foreigners and strangers on earth.”

People of faith let us be among the first who recognize fellow sojourners and to follow the call of the biblical narrative by welcoming the refugees and displaced within our communities.  This week would you commit to doing one of the following:

  • Praying every day for seven days for the refugees and displaced around the world
  • Seeking greater awareness about the reality of the 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have sought asylum along the southern border of the United States
  • Reaching out and befriending an immigrant or refugee in your context and to help build a community of welcome

eb

 

CECS Announces Spring 2014 Bloggers

As our inaugural blogging semester concluded in December 2013, the Center for Excellence in Christian Scholarship issued a call for bloggers to the ETBU faculty members for Spring 2014. This semester we are able to sponsor 3 new faculty bloggers as they endeavor to explore the collisions of faith and academia. Please join us in congratulating our Spring 2014 bloggers – Dr. David Brooks, Associate Professor of Biology & Nursing, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, Director of Leadership Studies, and Dr. Darrell Roe, Associate Professor of Communication Studies. Together they will use their varied vantage points to examine what it means to be a Christian scholar and teacher in today’s world.

Dr. David Brooks, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, and Dr. Darrell Roe

Dr. David Brooks, Dr. Emily Row Prevost, and Dr. Darrell Roe

You will have an opportunity to learn more about our bloggers and their individual journeys next week. Each writer will share a weekly post on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Stop by three times a week to see what they have to say or subscribe via email by signing up on the right side of the page. We hope that you will engage with our authors by leaving comments and asking questions throughout the semester.

Have a topic suggestion for our bloggers? Leave a comment below!

Looking forward to another semester @ The Intersection,

Elizabeth Ponder, MSLS
Program Coordinator, Center for Excellence in Christian Scholarship

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

Watch this Video : http://youtu.be/8H48vMYu1J0

Hillsong United – Oceans (Where my feet may fail)

” Spirit Lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Whenever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

in the presence of the Savior

I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine”

This past Sunday I was introduced to this praise and worship song. I remember thinking back to lifeguard training. We would tread water for 20 minutes straight with our hands above the water in-order to get our lifeguard certification. We started with 5 minutes, then we trained for 10 minutes. Eventually, we mastered 20 minutes. This skill was required and needed for life saving purposes. If I was drowning, I would want a lifeguard that could tread for as long as needed.

This reflective process has taught me that we set standards, we prepare our students for what we know they will need, and we implement strategies to help them succeed. But in reality, we can only prepare them for so much. So much more learning must take place through life experiences and outside of class assessment.

At this time in the semester, I see many of the students treading water with their head just above water. I challenge my students to cherish these moments. Let God use these moments to prepare them for the road of life ahead. To one day be the leader that is teaching others. My hope is that these moments they share at this university will help them to dig deeper in their faith. My hope is that God will take the moments and use them to draw closer to him.

My challenge to myself is the same. I am in my own journey of “treading water” and I know God is going to lead me to a deeper place in my faith. He is going to stretch my abilities and give me the ‘required skills needed’ to make a difference.***


Podcast Update

I have been tracking the progress of the students viewing the podcast prior to class. Six out of 16 students are viewing the chapter podcast prior to or after class.  In addition, the same 6 are completing all assignments whereas the other 10 are just not. Conclusions: if students do not turn in assignments, they are also not likely to read, listen to the podcasts, or come prepared to class.

In order to increase in-class participation, I started posting the discussion questions from the podcast/reading materials the day prior to class and individually assigning them to a question. Most everyone in class shows up with the answer for their question. This has helped in-class discussion and has given the more introverted students time to prepare to speak in-front of other students. It has also facilitated deeper discussion when the student are prepared to talk about the topics.

Although this process has not been perfect or easy, the process has provided opportunities for students to be responsible and mature learners. These opportunities are crucial for developing critical thinking in higher education.

In summary, I will continue to provide opportunities that facilitate in-class discussion and develops critical thinking opportunities. Today it may involve a podcast, tomorrow it may involve video conferencing or some other type of teaching method.

-LM

Real Live Prof

Semi-sweet. I am really sure that when I took the class, “How to Teach Sociology” at UNT, the prof never covered the end of the semester.

I was in my office this week, between classes, when three students dropped in. One is graduating next week, and is already applying for jobs for which ETBU has well prepared her. She is also getting married next year (she has already picked out the guy, and is asking us to save the date). The second student graduates in the spring, and is already planning on grad school. She too, is applying for jobs in her field. The third student (I have now run out of chairs), is graduating in the spring, and looking at grad school as well. They are all excited about life and the seemingly endless possibilities and permutations. I am very excited for them, and I know they will do very well. I should probably care more that they are so raucous and such frequent visitors, because I am sure “they” disturb the peace of the otherwise somber and tranquil office. But, I love being with students. It is my favorite part of the job. It is also emotionally taxing when they leave.

I know this because they will soon graduate, and be gone. Oh, they will promise to “stay in touch” and will try to do so. I might see some them at the Homecoming football game, or be asked to write a reference letter…and then I will see a posting or status update of theirs on Facebook, and realize I have not seen or heard from them for several years.

Students are also nervous about their futures and all of the unknowns it holds for them. I am always amused when they ask me, “Will you be at my graduation?”

I always respond, tongue in cheek. “I was thinking about not going this semester. However, because you were such a wonderful student, I will go, just for you.” (Of course, I am required to go.) But the truth is, I would not miss it even if I could. Semi-sweet: I love to meet the students’ families and I love to say over and over, “Congratulations!” However, nearly 30 graduation ceremonies (3 per year) have taught me it will probably be the last time I see most of them.

I was eating breakfast very early this morning with my wife Diana, when she said, out of the blue, “I miss my kids”.  One has graduated college, and has a job (The dream comes true!), but she lives 3 hours away. The second is half way through college, and stays gone most of the semester. The third, whom she was about to struggle with waking and getting to school, is in 8th grade. But I know what she means.