Unity and Reconciliation in Bizarro World: Johnson University Black History Month Celebration with Efrem Smith and Gary David Stratton

Johnson University’s kickoff to Black History month provided black and white perspectives on Unity and Reconciliation in the body of Christ from Efrem Smith, CEO & President at World Impact, and Gary David Stratton, Johnson University’s Dean of Arts and Sciences

Efrem Smith, President and CEO, World Impact, Inc.
Efrem Smith, President and CEO, World Impact, Inc.

Efrem’s personal and professional story paints a compelling picture of an urban church leader of deep faith who has managed leaders and budgets, transforming people and ministry wherever he has served. His track record in leading Christian Community Development efforts, serving as a Pastor, Church Planter and leader of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, have prepared him for this moment. Throughout his career, Efrem has had a passion for the urban poor, theological education, and training indigenous leaders for service in the Kingdom.

Serving as founding pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church, a multi-ethnic church in Minneapolis, MN, Efrem also co-founded and was President for The Sanctuary Community Development Corporation.  As an itinerant speaker and preacher with Kingdom Building Ministries and the Evangelical Covenant Church, he has been a keynote speaker for such events as Athletes in Action, Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth Specialties, Compassion International, Thrive and CHIC. He is the author of Raising Up Young Heroes, The Hip Hop Church, and Jump. Efrem’s latest book, The Post-Black and Post-White Church, was released in August of 2012.

Efrem is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Luther Theological Seminary and a doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife Donecia, along with their two children, Jeada and Mireya, live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Efrem has received many awards such as the Role Model Award from the Hennepin County Community Coalition and the Community Service Award from Saint John’s University.

For more information about Efrem, visit his website and blog. (If video feeds are down, click: http://livestream.com/accounts/2746937/events/4294386)

Advancers of the Kingdom in Bizarro World (2/2/2016)

Efrem Smith, CEO & President at World Impact, Inc.

(Efrem’s message starts at 25:00 minutes.)

 

The Power of Meeting with Jesus (2/3/2016)

Efrem Smith, CEO & President at World Impact, Inc. 

(Efrem’s message starts at 8:30 minutes.)

 

Jesus’ Final Request: Porch Lights, Laments, and Listening in Love (2/4/2016 Communion Service)

Gary David Stratton, PhD, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Johnson University 

(Gary’s message starts at 19:25 minutes.)

 

Ten Habits of Highly Creative People, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Adapted from Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire (Perigee Books, 2015)

Neuroscientists have discovered that solitary, inwardly focused reflection employs a different brain network than outwardly focused attention.

by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. in The Greater Good

unnamedWhat exactly is creativity? So many of us assume that creativity is something we had as a child but we lost, or something allocated to rarified individuals that we can only admire from afar.

But science has shown that, in many ways, we are all wired to create. The key is recognizing that creativity is multifaceted—on the level of the brain, personality, and the creative process—and can be displayed in many different ways, from the deeply personal experience of uncovering a new idea or experience to expressing ourselves through words, photos, fashion, and other everyday creations, to the work of renowned artists that transcends the ages.

Neuroscientists who study creativity have found that creativity does not involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain, as the “right brain” myth of creativity suggests; instead, it draws on the whole brain. This complex process consists of many interacting cognitive systems (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions, with different brain regions recruited to handle each task and to work together as a team to get the job done.

The discovery of the “default network” of the brain—the part of the brain at work when we are not purposefully engaged in other tasks—is one of the most important recent discoveries in neuroscience. The default network enables us to construct personal meaning from our experiences, imagine other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, and reflect on mental and emotional states—both our own and those of others.  It should come as no surprise then that the activity of this network—as we like to call it, the “imagination network”—also informs our most creative ideas.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

The “executive attention” network of the brain is also crucial to creativity, however. Executive control processes support creative thinking by helping us deliberately plan future actions, remember to use various creative tactics, keep track of which strategies we’ve already tried, and reject the most obvious ideas. They also help us focus our imagination, blocking out external distractions and allowing us to tune into our inner experiences.

When we generate new ideas, these networks—along with the salience network, which is responsible for motivation—engage in a complex dance. Researchers have observed this cognitive tango in action through the brain scans of people engaged in their personal creative processes. Initially, their brain states resemble a state of flow or complete absorption in the task. The imagination and salience networks are highly active, while the more focused executive domain is relatively quiet. However, as creative people further hone and refine their work, the executive attention network becomes increasingly more active.

Creative people are particularly good at exercising flexibility in activating and deactivating these brain networks that in most people tend to be at odds with each other. In doing so, they’re able to juggle seemingly contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous. Even on a neurological level, creativity is messy.

So, what can we do to augment this cognitive flexibility? In our book, Wired to Create, we explore how to develop creativity as a habit, a way of life, and a style of engaging with the world. We present many paradoxes—mindfulness and mind wandering, openness and sensitivity, solitude and collaboration, play and seriousness, and intuition and reason—that contribute to the creative process. We encourage people to embrace their paradoxes and complexities and open up to a deeper level of self-understanding and self-expression. It is precisely this ability to hold the self in all of its dimensional beauty that is the very core of creative achievement and creative fulfillment.

Here are the some of the habits of mind we recommend to foster more creativity in your life.

1. Imaginative play

Observing children in imaginative play reveals a wellspring of natural-born creativity. When engaged in pretend play, children take on multiple perspectives and playfully manipulate emotions and ideas.

As adults, cultivating a childlike sense of play can revolutionize the way we work.

Research shows that hybrid forms of work and play may actually provide the most optimal context for learning and creativity, for both children and adults, and that play and intrinsic joy are intimately connected, creating a synergy that naturally leads to greater inspiration, effort, and creative growth.

2. Passion

Passion often stems from an experience or a relationship that moved us somehow and can lead to inspiration. It is often the emotional fuel that starts one down a creative path, but it’s only a start. People who fulfill their creative dreams over the long haul balance the excitement about the future with realistic strategies for getting closer to their goals; inspiration with hard work; and dreaming with doing.

When someone advises you to “Follow your passion,” use caution: aside from being one of the most common clichés out there, it’s not very helpful advice. You must look for passion that is in harmony with your authentic self and is compatible with your other activities. Passion to prove yourself to others will probably not result in creativity, as it relies on your avoiding challenges that would otherwise lead to growth. So, while you should be open to what inspires you, don’t follow passion blindly. Make sure it truly resonates with you and your skills.

3. Daydreaming

Creative people know, despite what their parents and teachers might have told them, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time. A review of the latest science of daydreaming has shown that mind wandering offers very personal rewards, including creative incubation, self-awareness, future planning, reflection on the meaning of one’s experiences, and even compassion.

Idle though it may seem, the act of mind wandering is often anything but mindless; it can lead to improvements in creative thinking. So, the next time you’re working hard on a creative project or work assignment that requires intense focus and creative chops, try taking a five-minute daydreaming break every hour. Try engaging in a simple activity that will allow your mind to wander, like walking, doodling, or cleaning, and see how it affects your ideas and thinking.

4. Solitude

The metaphorical “room of one’s own” is a basic need for many creative people. Now, science has reinforced what the work habits of countless artists have demonstrated: Time for solitary reflection truly feeds the creative mind.

Neuroscientists have discovered that solitary, inwardly focused reflection employs a different brain network than outwardly focused attention. When our mental focus is directed towards the outside world, the executive attention network is activated, while the imagination network is typically suppressed. This is why our best ideas don’t tend to arise when our attention is fully engaged on the outside world.

It’s important to make time for solitude, to give yourself space to reflect, make new connections, and find meaning. Unfortunately, solitude is widely undervalued in society, leading many people to shy away from alone time. We tend to view time spent alone as time wasted or as an indication of an antisocial or melancholy personality. But the ability to enjoy and make productive use of our own company can trigger creativity by helping us tap into our thoughts and our own inner worlds. So, don’t avoid it…embrace it!

5. Intuition

Intuition arises from unconscious, or spontaneous, information-processing systems, and it plays an important role in how we think, reason, create, and behave socially. Over the past thirty years, cognitive scientists have made huge strides in demystifying the power of the unconscious mind, leading to the recognition of a dual-process theory of human cognition—or the “fast and slow brain” theory. Intuition is part of the fast brain system.

The fast brain is structurally more sophisticated than the slow brain. It helps us assimilate new information into our existing knowledge structures, and aids us in complex pattern recognition and in making unconventional connections that lead to more original ideas and solutions. The fast brain plays the largest role when generating creative ideas, while the more deliberate slow brain play a larger role when exploring those ideas and playing around with them, to determine their uses and applications. Both the fast brain and slow brain have a role to play.

6. Openness to experience

Openness to experience—the drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds—is the single strongest and most consistent personality trait that predicts creative achievement. Openness can be intellectual, characterized by a searching for truth and the drive to engage with ideas; aesthetic, characterized by the drive to explore fantasy and art and experience emotional absorption in beauty; or affective, characterized by exploring the depths of human emotion.

Research has found that the desire to learn and discover seems to have significantly more bearing on the quality of creative work than intellect alone. So, if you want to boost your creativity, try out a new creative outlet or a totally different medium of expression, or take a new route home from work, or seek out a new group of people with different interests or values that you might learn from. Openness to new experiences can help increase your integrative complexity—the capacity to recognize new patterns and find links among seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

7. Mindfulness

While the capacity to observe the present moment without distraction or judgment is a vital skill for anyone who seeks joy and fulfillment in life, it’s particularly important for creative thinkers.

A large body of research has associated mindfulness—both as a practice and as a personality trait—with many cognitive and psychological benefits like improved task concentration and sustained attention, empathy and compassion, introspection, self-regulation, enhanced memory and improved learning, and positive affect and emotional wellbeing. Many of these are central to creativity.

However, for optimum cognitive flexibility and creativity, it’s best to achieve a balance of mindfulness and mind wandering. Some forms of mindfulness may actually work against creativity—specifically, those that encourage one to let go of thinking rather than accepting thoughts in a more open manner. Interestingly, open-monitoring meditation, which emphasizes tuning into one’s subjective experience, has been found to increase both the activation and the functional connectivity of the imagination network. So, try practicing an open-monitoring or nondirective form of meditation, and allow for constructive mind-wandering while also boosting attention.

8. Sensitivity

If we think of creativity as “connecting the dots” in some way, then sensitive people—those who have a heightened sensitivity to their surroundings and also an intensified experience of sensory input, like for sound, lighting, and scent—experience a world in which there are both more dots and more opportunities for connection.

Sensitivity can be both a blessing and a curse—leading to a greater intensity of experience as well as emotional overwhelm. Journalist Andrea Bartz wrote in Psychology Today that “those who learn to dial down the relentless swooping and cresting of emotion that is the almost invariable accompaniment to extreme sensitivity are able to transform raw perception into keen perceptiveness.”

So, rather than trying to harden yourself, you may want to harness your sensitivity into artistic expression.

9. Turning adversity to advantage

Experiences of loss, struggle, suffering, and defeat can be powerful catalysts for personal growth, creativity, and deep transformation. It is often through suffering that we learn compassion, from loss that we learn understanding, and from overcoming struggles that we come to discover our own strength and beauty.

Adverse events can force us to reexamine our beliefs and life projects, and therein lie their power and creative potential. After the experience of adversity, the mind is actively dismantling old belief systems that no longer hold up and creating new structures of meaning and identity. To make meaning of difficult experiences, try expressive writing, which research has found can lessen symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression, while improving some cognitive functions, like working memory.

Interestingly, research has also found that extreme positive events—in particular, those that evoke feelings of awe, wonder, inspiration, and connection to something greater than the self—can also encourage creativity. Positive emotions build a person’s psychological resources, broadening attention, inspiring new thoughts and behaviors, and stimulating creative thinking. So, if you’re looking for a creative boost, treat all of life’s meaningful moments—the good and the bad—as potential sources of inspiration and motivation.

10. Thinking differently

Creative people are united by their unwillingness to abide by conventional ways of thinking and doing things. In choosing to do things differently, they accept the possibility of uncertainty and failure—but it is precisely this risk that opens up the possibility of true innovation.

The secret to creative greatness appears to be doing things differently even when that means failing. Especially during idea-generation phases, trial-and-error is essential for innovation. Dean Keith Simonton, who studies creativity, found that the quality of creative ideas is a positive function of quantity: The more ideas creators generate, the greater chances they will produce an eventual masterpiece. Doing things differently means you will probably do things badly or wrong; so expect that and don’t let caution get in the way of creativity.

Will following all of these routes to creativity mean you will become a creative genius? Not necessarily. But, when the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. If we learn to embrace our own messy, creative selves, we give others permission to do the same. We help create a world that is more welcoming of the creative spirit, and we make it possible to find a greater connection with others and with ourselves in the process.

 

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Carolyn Gregoire is a Senior Writer at the Huffington Post, where she reports on psychology, neuroscience and mental health.

What does the University have to do with Prayer?

Remarks by Gary David Stratton

Given at the Campus House of Prayer Annual Banquet 

The Foundry, Knoxville, TN

October 29, 2015

The University of Tennessee Campus House of Prayer (CHOP) was established in 2009 as a venue for 24/7 prayer, worship and intercession for U.T. students and campus ministers.
Gary and Rhonda Peacock founded the Campus House of Prayer (CHOP) at the University of Tennessee in 2009 as a venue open day and night for U.T. students and campus ministers to pray.

Thank you for that gracious introduction, Bryan. And thank you to Gary and Rhonda, for inviting Sue and I to be with you tonight. When the four us first met in Colorado over seven years ago, I don’t think we could have ever imagined that one-day we’d get to live and minister together in Knoxville.

And let me make something clear: ‘minister’ is exactly what I mean. Don’t let any changes in role and title over the years fool you; Sue and I are campus ministers through and through. We started our careers as Cru staff at the University of Memphis, an experience that nearly kept us from taking another job in Tennessee, [Laughter] and everything we’ve done since has only served the pursuit of our primary calling as ministers to students and those who lead them.

So speaking on prayer to the extended family of the Campus House of Prayer, CHOP, at the University of Tennessee makes perfect sense. And as I prayed at CHOP early this morning, I sensed that I needed to scrap my planned remarks and pave the way for the stories you have heard already tonight and the ones you will hear later by providing an educational rationale for a campus house of prayer.

But first, I want to start with a piece of advice that might lead to some great PR for CHOP. After just a few months of observing the UT community, I believe that the greatest service the Campus House of Prayer could offer the University would be to petition the football program to stop praying before games… [pause] ….and ask that the athletic department move the prayer time to the fourth quarter! [Laughter.]

(Note to those who are not Volunteer football fans: The UT football team–who open every game at Neyland Stadium with public prayer for the 102,422 faithful in attendance–lost four of its first seven games in the 2015 season after leading in the fourth quarter, including narrow losses to eventual CFP tournament teams Alabama and Oklahoma.)

Prayer: An Odd Duck in the Modern University

Let’s admit it, football traditions not withstanding, a House of Prayer on a college campus sounds more than a little out-of-place. Colleges are centers of learning; universities established as institutions devoted to study and to scholarship, not spiritual exercises.

In the second century after Christ, Christian theologian Tertullian famously asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Now the tables are turned, and a better question today might be, “What does U.T. have to do with prayer and prayer with UT?”

Some might argue that the best answer that question is, nothing. Even many Christians may say, “We have so many campus ministries devoted to teaching Biblical truth in a manner worthy of a community of higher learning, why confuse things with a practice that appears amusingly antiquated to many in the university community, and completely delusional to others? Let’s preach the gospel and forget this troubling notion of prayer.”

However, tonight I wish to argue that the real answer to the question, “What does UT have to do with prayer and prayer with UT?” is everything. I believe that is true even for those who have no faith commitment whatsoever. (I will have to leave that argument for another day.) However, it is especially true for those who name the name of Christ. Here’s why.

Prayer in the College of Christ

While Jesus never established a brick and mortar school in the modern sense of the word, the discipleship movement he founded was indistinguishable from first-century Jewish higher education. Itinerating with a rabbi was simply the way you “did” college in Jesus’ day. After a youth spent studying the Torah, only the most remarkable students were allowed to go on to the Jewish version of higher education: obtaining permission to study as a talmid (disciple/student) of a great Rabbi. (See, Rabbinic Higher Education: Culture-Making, The Life of the Mind, and the Word of God.)

Like all Rabbis, Jesus’ curriculum centered on the study of his teachings and interpretations of Torah. Like all Rabbis, Jesus’ pedagogy was highly relational and centered on the creation of a learning community where master and disciples lived in close proximity and forged a friendship.

What distinguished the “College of Christ” from other first-century higher education was Jesus’ unique emphasis on the spiritual discipline of prayer. While prayer was part of all Jewish education, Jesus’ overarching commitment to prayer goes far beyond any Rabbi of his day. [2] Luke records no less that nine occasions when Jesus prayed with and/or modeled prayer for his students. [1] Matthew recalls least twenty-percent of Jesus’ parables and the Sermon on the Mount centered on prayer. John, perhaps Jesus’ favorite student, notes that his teacher devoted nearly half of his “last lecture” (John 13-17) to teaching his students about prayer, and praying together with them.

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable. Whereas the object of Greek education was to study to ‘know thyself,’ Jesus taught his students that true spiritual life is found in knowing God (John 17:3). This emphasis was consistent with the Rabbinic concept that you could only know someone or something you experienced. Jesus’ learning outcomes demanded that his students encounter God not merely intellectually, but experimentally as well. He taught them to seek this experiential knowledge of God not only through the discipline of study (as important as this might be), but in prayer as well.

1) Education and Contemplative Prayer: Instruction in Abba Intimacy

After years of teaching and modeling prayer, Jesus’ students finally ask their Rabbi, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’ response would have sounded both disappointingly familiar, and astonishingly radical at the same time.

On one level, “The prayer is thoroughly Jewish “and “could easily have appeared without change in rabbinic literature.” [3] However, another level, the Lord’s Prayer highlights at least two unique aspects of prayer in the College of Christ.

First, in teaching his disciples to address God as Father, Jesus’ rooted the practice of prayer in his desire for his students to experience the intimate love of God. While the fatherhood of God is only inferred in the Torah, it is clearly evident in the Psalms and Prophets, and later rabbinic writings. [4] Jesus drew upon this rabbinic tradition, deepening it in a manner that would have been nearly unthinkable for most Rabbis of his day.

Renowned Near Eastern Studies scholar Joachim Jeremias discovered that “In the literature of Palestinian Judaism no evidence has yet been found of ‘My father,’ being used by an individual as an address to God… We do not have a single example of God being addressed as Abba (my father) in Judaism, but Jesus always addressed God in this way.”[5]

It is an astonishing choice of words. Abba implies a close, personal and familial relationship. “What others thought too intimate in praying to God, Jesus used because of its intimacy.”[6] What’s more, he taught his disciples to do the same. As New Testament scholar Joel Green asserts, Jesus’ teaching on prayer “begins and ends with references to God as the Father of his disciples.”[7]

Prayer was a critical educational practice, because in prayer students encountered genuine knowledge of God the Father. As Singaporean theologian Simon Chan affirms, “Intimacy with God is what characterizes a life of prayer.”[8]

The early Christians followed Jesus’ example so thoroughly that for the first 1200 years of the church, prayer and education were inseparable. In fact, for most of that time if you wanted to learn the great Greco-Roman liberal arts, you had to do it in a community devoted to prayer. As renowned church historian, Jean LeClerq, summarizes, “Hence, there arose a distinctive culture with marked characteristics, contemplative’ in bent, oriented toward spirituality [and] assuming there is no theology without prayer and the establishment of certain [experiential] contact with God.” [9]

How will they know unless someone teaches them?

This past summer I had the honor of addressing many of the top leaders in Christian Higher Education in Canada—presidents, faculty and student life staff. As part of my remarks I led us in a brief centering prayer exercise. Now, there is this wonderful thing that happens regularly in centering prayer known as “the drop.” It is a physical sensation that often accompanies moving from our head to our heart in prayer. Now, I can practice centering prayer for twenty minutes a day for a week and never experience the drop. However, that day the Lord graced us with a nearly universally experienced collective drop that you could literally hear in the transformation of everyone’s breathing patterns.

But was most instructive was when I asked how many of these perhaps most highly educated leaders in the entire nation, “How many of you have ever been taught the art of centering prayer and experienced a drop before?” The answer was significantly less than half the room. Their education had never included instruction in what would have been considered a Freshman 101 lesson in most Christian catechetical schools for over 1200 years. Why? Because there was nothing like a campus house of prayer on their campuses to teach them.

So… “What does UT have to do with prayer and prayer with UT?”

If we are committed to building campus ministries capable of following after the model of the College of Christ by leading student into a life of Abba intimacy, the answer is Everything!

How are UT students ever going to learn to pray, unless as in the College of Christ, someone models a life of prayer so thoroughly that students ask, “Teach us to pray”? Which is exactly what happened to Aaron when he wandered into that CHOP city prayer meeting.

The first reason why UT needs the Campus House of Prayer is to provide a safe place for students and staff from every campus ministry to learn to grow deep in the experiential knowledge of Abba intimacy with God through prayer.

2) Education and Answered Prayer: Evidence of the In-breaking Kingdom

The Lord’s Prayer also reveals second reason why we need a campus house of prayer. Jesus didn’t want his students to merely become prayerful navel gazers, experiencing God in private. He wanted them to experience God breaking into their world. He taught his students how to enter into the coming of the kingdom, not only through faith, repentance, and prayer for “private” experiential knowledge of God, but also to pray for the “public” manifestation of the compassion and power of the Father God of the kingdom.

He therefore instructed them to pray, “Cause your kingdom to come, your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Through the Spirit who was “upon” Jesus, God was exerting his “authority to rule” in order to bring about the will of God upon the earth that the Father intended in the heavens. Jesus’ Spirit-empowered ministry was a sign that the Messianic kingdom of God was breaking in upon the world (cf. Matthew 12:28). Supernatural answers to prayer were the fuel of his outreach and discipleship ministry.

Like CHOPS the prayer tent on UT’s campus, Jesus’ students experienced God as alive and active in the physical world through answered prayer. He modeled, mentored and coached his students into an increasing participation in supernatural answers to prayer. He pressed his students to grow into a confidence that no prayer was too big for God (John 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23-26).  He taught them that certain kinds of spiritual resistance could be overcome only through prayer (Mark 9:29). He assured them that miraculous answers to prayer they experienced in his earthly ministry would continue in the new era of the Spirit (John 14:12). And he taught them that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is given in answer to prayer (Luke 11:13).

Then, after their remarkable “graduation” ceremony from the School of Christ at Pentecost (we give students diplomas, he gave them the Holy Spirit), Jesus’ students continued to advance the kingdom of God by praying for power of the Spirit to be released in supernatural answers to prayer (Acts 4:30-31); and witnessed spiritual awakening after spiritual awakening that demonstrated that the kingdom of God was indeed breaking into the world. (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 2:4).

Prayer preceded the first outpouring of Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1-2), and the second (Acts 4:31-5:11). Prayer was integral the spiritual awakenings in Samaria (Acts 10-11) and Antioch (Acts 13:1-3).

Prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the genesis of Paul’s great revival in Ephesus (Acts 19), where Paul adopted and adapted the best practices of Greco-Roman higher education by teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannous until, “All the Jews and all the Greeks in all the Roman province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).

And that is not the inflated spin doctoring of Paul’s PR team. It is the inspired word of God. One can only begin to imagine what might happen if prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit on UT’s campus might lead to all the students and all the non-students in province of East Tennessee hearing the word of the Lord.

Which is why, as the CHOP website so eloquently expresses, “Historically, the great movements of God have been predicated by movements of prayer. On campus at the University of Tennessee there is a space that strives to lay this foundation of prayer. We call it the CHOP, the Campus House of Prayer. It is a melting pot where students of different denominations and backgrounds unify to seek God and catalyze a movement for Christ.”

This has been Sue and my experience on each of the fours campuses where we have witnessed spiritual awakening. In each case it began with a dedication group of students and adults becoming a house of prayer for all nations in their intercessions for the kingdom of God to break into their world by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether it started with a group of students who prayed from 5:30 to 7:30 each morning, a campus ministry team who fasted together for forty days, or a mother who cried out day and night for over 17 years for God to move on the campus where her son would one day attend, God granted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to those daring to take Jesus at his word and pray.

But one does not have to wait until a season of spiritual awakening to live out the teaching of the college of Christ. Sue and I have become deeply committed to teaching people to become “Two-Handed Warriors” for the Harvest. Men and women of God committed to both the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit, to both faith-building and culture-making—intellectuals, artists, ministers, philanthropists, and leaders in ever facet of society from the local church to global relief agencies, the Silicon Valley to the Mayo Clinic, Wall Street to Main Street, Hollywood to the Ivy League.

Whether that’s a screenwriter who turns to prayer in a time of desperate need only to rise and write an Academy Award-winning screenplay, a scientist whose research project had failed, but turned to God who granted her Nobel Prize-winning scientific discovery that took her decades to prove in the laboratory, or a UT student who turned to God when an engineering simulation proved impossible like Bryan, or a group of UT campus ministers who are called to tackle racism head on like Matthew described. These men and women are true two-handed warriors following the example set by Jesus in the School of Christ.

Through both the intimacy of “Abba prayer” and the supernatural power of “Kingdom prayer” the distinctive outcome of the graduates of the College of Christ was their experiential knowledge of God. Even in the midst of tremendous pressures of leadership, nothing could distract Jesus’ alumni from devoting themselves to the two key disciplines he had carefully cultivated within them. When pressed with tremendous ministry and service demands they pressed back, “We must devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4). His graduates not only knew about God and his word, they had experienced the Father God of the kingdom.

3) CHOP: Leading UT Students into a More Experiential Faith

It has been forty-five years since J.I. Packer warned the church, “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him.”[10] Today, we may be danger of producing students who possess neither. If Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean’s sobering research on the sorry spiritual state of today’s Christian students is to be believed, we are facing a generation who knows neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:9) and are therefore bored out of their minds. And who can blame them.

The church has managed to take a spiritually intimate and supernaturally powerful faith and made it about as compelling as, “whatever.” [11] Contemporary Christianity offers little of the “personal relationship with Jesus” students were promised when they made their profession of faith and virtually no power whatsoever.

In a generation hungering for intimacy at an unprecedented level, can we offer students pathways to encounter the Father’s transforming love? In a generation flocking to supernatural movies, television shows, and video games, can our campus ministries help students experience the kingdom of God breaking into the world in ways that defy all natural explanation?

Jesus would say we can, but only if we summon the courage to fill our outreach and our discipleship ministries with prayer. A recommitment to a biblical worldview will never be enough to rescue a generation from “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” [11] They need the experiential knowledge of God. We need to be able to offer students the power of answered prayer to break through the insipid deism of a materialistic worldview. We need to be able to offer students the intimacy of reflective prayer to encounter the love of the Father and evoke genuine love of God in return.  Half measures won’t cut it.

“What on earth does prayer have to do with UT and UT with Prayer?” Nothing?

Everything?

You decide.

As for me, I can only throw my lot behind Gary, Rhonda and CHOP and cry out,

“Lord, teach us to pray!”

 

© Gary David Stratton 2015

Notes

[1] Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18,28; 10:17-21; 11:1; 22:39-46; 23:34,36.

[2] George W. E. Nickelsburg, Ancient Judaism and Christian origins: diversity, continuity and transformation. (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress, 2003). See Also, Gary David Stratton. 2014. “Rabbinic Higher Education: Culture-Making, The Life of the Mind, and the Word of God,” Two Handed Warriors, http://wp.me/p1TN9X-2R.

[3] Marvin R. Wilson, Our father Abraham: Jewish roots of the Christian faith. (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989), p. 118, see also. p. 288. David Bivin, “Prayers for Emergencies,” Jerusalem Perspective 37 (Mar./Apr. 1992), 1-17. Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 358. Bradford H. Young, The Jewish Background of the Lord’s Prayer (Austin, TX: Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1984).

[4] Psalms 2:7; 89:26; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4,19; Malachi 3:10. See, N. T. Wright, Jesus and the victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 265. See also, Scot McKnight, A new vision for Israel: the teachings of Jesus in national context (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), p. 62-63.

[5] Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), p. 57.

[6] James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster, 1985), p. 21.

[7] Joel B. Green, The theology of the gospel of Luke. New Testament theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 111.

[8] Simon Chan, Spiritual theology: a systematic study of the Christian life. Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1998), p. 132.

[9] Jean LeClerq. 2007. The love of learning and the desire for God: A study of monastic culture, 3rd Edition. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007, p. 3.

[10] Knowing God (London: Evangelical Press, first published in 1970), p. 16.

[11] Christian Smith, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul searching: the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: what the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[12] Smith, and Denton, p. 2.

 

3 College Trends the Class of 2021 Should Expect, by Brian Witte

More than ever before, students have the opportunity to pursue specialized degrees and personalized learning tools in college.

By

140804-natunivrnk-graphicFor students who are about to begin applying to college, such as the class of 2021, there are several emerging trends that may have a significant impact on the application process and the overall college experience. These developments mirror shifts in the larger world that emphasize personal expression and individuality. Here are three to watch out for:

[See what rising application volume means for college hopefuls.]

1. Specialized degrees: A growing number of colleges are offering more and more  majors and degrees. The University of North Texas, for example, advertises 99 bachelor’s degrees, several of which are highly specialized. Take, for instance, converged broadcast media and decision sciences.​ The Ohio State University has more than 200 majors, including hospitality management.

Once a rare sight, design your own major programs, like that of Swarthmore College, allow students to explore and combine disparate disciplines, like biology and music.

While the value of such specialized degrees is occasionally debated, there is a clear trend toward increased diversity in majors. If your career interests can be narrowly defined, it may be worthwhile to research schools that can provide you with a tailored program.

However, if you suspect that a specialized degree may be too limiting for you, you can still pursue a standard major, with ample room for exploration and personalization via electives, independent study courses, internships and undergraduate research. Whichever path you choose, do not ignore the unfolding possibilities.

[Get tips from current students on picking a college major.]

2. Personalized learning:​ Both colleges and high schools are trending toward more open and participatory styles of learning. In some ways, individualized instruction has always been the ideal form of teaching – hence the emphasis on student-teacher ratio and office hours – but improved technology has truly made it possible to deliver a more customized experience.

Personalized learning is the logical extension of this shift, where tools like apps deliver individualized content to each student. If, for example, you are struggling with the math needed for modeling population dynamics in ecology, a personalized learning tool could supply you with a wealth of practice problems and additional resources, like supplemental material from the textbook publisher.

As a student, your role here is two-fold. First, remember that this trend is new to your instructors too. Do not be shy about asking for help or clarification​, as your questions and comments can help your professors improve their classes for everyone.

The second important element is you and your engagement with learning. In personalized learning, students are active participants in directing their own education. It is up to you to pursue the extra help available when a topic is unclear. So, be engaged and proactive.

[Here are seven questions families should discuss when choosing colleges.]

3. The changing role of social media in the admissions process:​ Technology is also having a profound effect on how students interact with college admissions departments. Where students were once able to present a highly curated portfolio of grades, personal essays and test scores, schools now have the opportunity to view applicants more candidly.

Social media tools like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter make it possible for admissions staff to both speak with and quietly observe prospective students via informal channels.

You may, for example, write a personal essay extolling the virtues of hard work and diligent study. If your Facebook page contains picture of you at the beach during school hours, however, colleges may not take your words seriously.

Conversely, social media offers students the chance to engage directly with admissions staff. You have the opportunity to humanize yourself in a way that essays simply cannot match, and you have the opportunity to explore campuses and student life in detailed and creative ways.

There is no arguing that social media is only increasing in significance, both generally and in the college admissions realm. Be aware of its risks and possibilities as you interact with prospective schools.

Degrees of Ignorance: The Gutting of Gen Ed, by Michael W. Clune

There is no reason to unduly limit our students’ horizons. Following your interests does not doom you to a life of poverty and struggle.

by Michael W. Clune in the Chronicle Review

I was nearly 30 the first time I met an example of the new breed — a University of Michigan graduate who knew nothing beyond what was necessary to pursue his trade. It was my first job out of graduate school, and Michigan had one of the highest-ranked engineering schools in the country.

Let’s call him Todd. He’d graduated a few years before. I met him at a party. He had a good job at a local engineering firm and drove a nice car. Talk turned to intellectual matters, and I soon learned that he was a creationist. He didn’t seem to be aware of arguments for the other side.

He was surprised to learn that Russia had fought in World War II. He’d done well in AP high-school English, which had gotten him out of having to take literature classes, and he hadn’t read a book since graduating from college. “Most manuals nowadays are online,” he said.

Learning that I was an English professor, he asked me if I’d be willing to help him with a self-assessment document he had to write for his job. I was curious, and when a few days later his draft landed in my inbox, I discovered that his writing suffered from basic flaws.

I think even those most committed to putting vocational training at the center of higher education will agree that Michigan had failed Todd. The key Todd-prevention mechanism, which had somehow malfunctioned in this case, is known as general education. This set of courses required for all majors is designed to transmit the rudiments of critical thinking, writing, science, history, and cultural literacy to the students whom our universities are training — as Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker memorably put it — to meet our “work-force needs.”

To begin to illustrate the threats that gen ed now faces, let me introduce another figure. We’ll call him Donald…

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Michael W. Clune is a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University. His most recent book is Gamelife (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015).

The Intelligence of Emotions: Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How Storytelling Rewires Us

Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.

by Maria Popova in Brainpickings

Martha C. Nussbaum
Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, who holds appointments in both the philosophy department and the law school.

“The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions,” the great British economic theorist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher wrote in his 1973 meditation on how we know what we know. He was responding to the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi who, seven centuries earlier, extolled “the eye of the heart” as seventy-fold more seeing than the “sensible eyes” of the intellect. To the intellectually ambitious, this might sound like a squishy notion — or a line best left to The Little Prince. But as contemporary scientists continue to shed light on how our emotions affect our susceptibility to disease, it is becoming increasingly clear that our emotional lives are equipped with a special and non-negligible kind of bodily and cognitive intelligence.

The nature of that intelligence and how we can harness its power is what Martha Nussbaum, whom I continue to consider the most compelling and effective philosopher of our time, examines in her magnificent 2001 book Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (public library). Titled after Proust’s conception of the emotions as “geologic upheavals of thought,” Nussbaum’s treatise offers a lucid counterpoint to the old idea that our emotions are merely animal energies or primal impulses wholly separate from our cognition. Instead, she argues that they are a centerpiece of moral philosophy and that any substantive theory of ethics necessitates a substantive understanding of the emotions.

Nussbaum writes:

A lot is at stake in the decision to view emotions in this way, as intelligent responses to the perception of value. If emotions are suffused with intelligence and discernment, and if they contain in themselves an awareness of value or importance, they cannot, for example, easily be sidelined in accounts of ethical judgment, as so often they have been in the history of philosophy. Instead of viewing morality as a system of principles to be grasped by the detached intellect, and emotions as motivations that either support or subvert our choice to act according to principle, we will have to consider emotions as part and parcel of the system of ethical reasoning. We cannot plausibly omit them, once we acknowledge that emotions include in their content judgments that can be true or false, and good or bad guides to ethical choice. We will have to grapple with the messy material of grief and love, anger and fear, and the role these tumultuous experiences play in thought about the good and the just.

[…]

Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.

One of Nussbaum’s central points is that the complex cognitive structure of the emotions has a narrative form — that is, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we feel shape our emotional and ethical reality, which of course is the great psychological function of literature and the reason why art can function as a form of therapy. What emerges is an intelligent manifesto for including the storytelling arts in moral philosophy.

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The Illusion of Respectability, by Allen Guelzo

A wonderful piece from one of my favorite historians

Our mission is simple. And it means death to one of our greatest lusts.

by Allen Guelzo, PhD in Christianity Today

Guelzo2-190x286
Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg Colllege

It is very nearly four decades since, as a terribly callow graduate student with an interest in philosophy, I made a pilgrimage with a friend to the home of a professor of Christian apologetics. I was looking for direction, and even though Cornelius Van Til had been retired for many years, he was known to welcome inquirers—whom he often greeted on his front porch with a rake in hand, suggesting that perhaps they could pile-up his leaves for him before they talked.

I was hoping to hear an intimidating, intellectually-convoluted, scholastic, metaphysical strategy for blowing the philosopher’s version of Gideon’s trumpet. Van Til, then pushing 80 stood with his hard white comb of hair brushed back from his cliff-like brow, and the smile of an old Dutch dairy farmer (which his father had been). I asked, “Dr. Van Til, why did you decide to devote your life to the study of philosophy and the teaching of apologetics?”

And I then sat back to allow the metaphysics free room to roll. Van Til never blinked.

“Why,” he said, “to protect Christ’s little ones.”

The surprise that could have dropped me to the floor that afternoon has never quite evaporated. Why, to protect Christ’s little ones. Not only because those words express a great nobility in a few syllables, but because, remembering them, they cast down every castle of intellectual folly I erect, or am tempted to erect. And because, at the end, I am not worthy of them, and because anyone who understands that the kingdom of God is our true home, that God’s people are truly our people, and that this is a world by turns indifferent and hostile to both, must see those words as a true reminder of what we owe to each other as Christians, and in what relation we stand to each other.

I recall those words—Why, to protect Christ’s little ones—with tears, both because I have not always lived according to them, and because it is precisely the world of the scholar and historian that encourages me to ignore them…

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Allen Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, where he serves as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program. He is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars of the Civil War in general and Abraham Lincoln in particular. He is also a committed Christian and churchman. Though far better known for his work on Lincoln and the Civil War, he has also written noteworthy studies on Jonathan Edwards and free will and on the Reformed Episcopalians, as well as co-editing a book on the New England Theology. (Bio by Justin Taylor, who I gratefully thank for pointing me to Allen’s article.)

 

What do Recent Campus Protests Mean? NYT, WSJ, CHE, and IHE Disagree

The Wall Street Journal

The Rise of the College Crybullies

The status of victim has been weaponized at campuses across the nation, but there is at least one encouraging sign.

At the Odegaard Library of the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12, a rally in support of black students at the University of Missouri. PHOTO: BETTINA HANSEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
At the Odegaard Library of the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12, a rally in support of black students at the University of Missouri. PHOTO: BETTINA HANSEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

For more than a week now, the country has been mesmerized, and appalled, by the news emanating from academia. At Yale the insanity began over Halloween costumes. Erika Christakis, associate master of a residential college at Yale, courted outrage by announcing that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society” and it was not her business to police Halloween costumes.

To people unindoctrinated by the sensitivity training that is de rigueur on most campuses today, these sentiments might seem unobjectionable. But to the delicate creatures at Yale’s Silliman College they were an intolerable provocation. What if students dressed as American Indians or Mexican mariachi musicians? Angry, hysterical students confronted Nicholas Christakis, Erika’s husband and the master of Silliman, screaming obscenities and demanding that he step down because he had failed to create “a place of comfort, a home” for students. The episode was captured on video and went viral.

At the University of Missouri, Jonathan Butler, the son of a wealthy railroad executive (2014 compensation: $8.4 million), went on a hunger strike to protest what he called “revolting” acts of racism at Mizzou. Details were scanty. Nevertheless, black members of the university football team threatened to strike for the rest of the season unless Tim Wolfe, Mizzou’s president, stepped down. A day or two later, he did.

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The New York Times

The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond

by Roxanne Gay

I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.

This past week, the news media has energetically discussed student unrest at Yale and at the University of Missouri, where students are protesting administrative insensitivity or inaction in the face of troubled racial climates. At Mizzou, in particular, student activists have demanded safe space. A student journalist, Tim Tai, was denied access to the protesters’ tent city in a public area of the campus. The protesters didn’t want to be photographed or interviewed, possibly not trusting journalists to tell their story accurately.

The next day, they rightly changed their stance, opened their space to the media, and a debate on free speech and safe spaces found new life. Quickly, the student protesters were accused of not tolerating free speech in regard not only to Mr. Tai, but also to those who use racial epithets and otherwise engage in hate speech. They were accused of being weak, of being whiny for having the audacity to expect to attend college without being harassed for their blackness.

As a writer, I believe the First Amendment is sacred. The freedom of speech, however, does not guarantee freedom from consequence. You can speak your mind, but you can also be shunned. You can be criticized. You can be ignored or ridiculed. You can lose your job. The freedom of speech does not exist in a vacuum.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Embattled Leaders Should Be Stepping Up, Not Stepping Down

Mizzou president, Tim Woldfe, steps down amidst racism controversy
Mizzou president, Tim Wolfe, steps down amidst racism controversy

Ithaca College has been among the institutions roiled this fall by student protest onissues of diversity and inclusion. As has been true elsewhere, the immediate impetus for these protests has been concerns about racism and bias stemming from incidents that occurred on campus this year.

More fundamentally, though, the protests are a result of longer-term frustration and anger over persistent shortcomings in the inclusiveness of the campus culture and of the daily interactions that enable students to feel fully accepted and embraced for who they are. Inclusiveness is an important value, but especially so on a highly residential campus and in a tight-knit campus community like that of Ithaca College.

In the wake of decisions by the president of the University of Missouri system and the chancellor of its Columbia campus to step down in the face of similar protests, many people wonder if such resignations will become a trend. At Ithaca College, as well, the focus of student protest has been on me as president, not because of anything prejudicial I have done but due to a belief that the campus climate is not what it should be and that the buck stops with the president.

It is impossible to know whether the current wave of campus activism will increase leadership turnover. So much depends on institution-specific circumstances such as the extent of board support for a given president and whether there are any hidden issues in play in addition to the public issues that engender the protests.

But it is highly likely that we have entered a new era of student activism focused on inclusivity and bias.

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Inside Higher Education

What the Protests Mean

by Scott Jaschik

The protest movement that started at the University of Missouri at Columbia has outlasted the president of the University of Missouri System, who resigned on Monday. While Missouri had some unique factors, in particular a boycott started by the black members of the football team, campuses nationwide are seeing protests by students over racial tensions without the benefit of support from football teams. Some of the protests are expressions of solidarity with the black students at Missouri, but many go beyond that to talk about racial conditions on their own campuses, which many describe as poor.

The movement is showing up at large campuses and small, elite and not-so-elite institutions, campuses with strong histories of student activism and not. On some campuses the focus is on issues experienced by black students, while on others the discussion is about many minority groups. More protests are planned for this week.

kansas pic
University of Kansas minority students are demanding the resignation of student government leaders who they say haven’t done enough for all students

As the weekend ended, students who had been staging a sit-in in the library at Amherst College, with a long list of demands, agreed to leave, despite not getting their demands met. At the University of Kansas, minority students are demanding the resignation of student government leaders who they say haven’t done enough for all students, and an alumnus has started a hunger strike on campus — all on a campus that last week held a lengthy open forum on race relations (right) with the university president, who on Friday issued a statement of support for minority students.

The protests are also provoking considerable backlash — with online threats appearing at many campuses. While the threats have led to several arrests, without indications that those posting the threats actually intended to carry them out, these actions have caused fear at many campuses.

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Are Doomsday Approaches to the Loss of Faith Among Millennials Accurate? by RJS

The percentage of young people with a strong Protestant identity, and the percentage who regularly practice their faith publicly and privately has barely budged over the past forty years. 

By RJS in Musings on Science and Theology

Emerging AdulthoodHeadlines scream … Ex-Christians, Young Adults Leaving the Faith, A Generation of Dropouts, Quitting Church, the Rise of the Nones. We are on the verge of a crisis with faith and the faithful in retreat. Could we be the last Christian generation? We must rally the troops, cut our losses, and tackle the problem.

Jonathan P. Hill, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Calvin College recently published a short book Emerging Adulthood and Faith that explores the change (or absence of change) in the religious faith of young adults, the so-called generation Y or Millennials who were born roughly from 1980-2000. Much has been written of late decrying the loss of a generation, with the explicit or implicit assumption that the experience and trajectory of Millennials is unique.

But do we have such a catastrophic problem?

Hill, like many other sociologists, argues that we need to take a closer look at hard data. Only then will we make good decisions for the right reasons. Bluntly: We need the facts. Hill’s book is a valuable fact-based resource for anyone involved in church leadership, from lead pastor to youth pastor to elder. Less than a hundred pages and very readable.

First, we need to frame the problem.

At any given moment, age differences between people can be the result of what demographers refer to as age, period, and cohort effects. (p. 7)

Some changes depend on stage of life. In many respects those who are 20 today reflect the same trends and attitudes as those who were 20 in the 50’s, 70’s and 90’s. For instance the elderly pray more than the young. In 1983 42% of those 18-29 reported daily prayer compared with 68% of those 70 and above. In 2012 the numbers were 39% and 71%. This isn’t a generational change; it depends more significantly on biological age and stage of life.

Some changes depend on period – historical shifts, cultural transformations that cut across generations. These events have a significant event on everyone alive at the time, both old and young. The reformation was a historical shift; the great depression and World War II are other examples.

Other changes are generational or cohort effects. These can be significant, but it is important to separate them from effects depending on stage of life and from larger cultural transformations. Bad information will lead to bad responses.

Second, we need to consider the source. There is power in stories, but anecdotal data will only deliver part of the picture. Individual stories always focus down to a specific social context and experience.

Good social science allows us to take a step back from our own experiences, providing data that can give us glimpses of powerful social forces we would otherwise be blinded to. These forces are the background to our lives, though we are often unaware of their influence. Social science can help us see these contexts. (p. 10)

It is important to consider both stories and survey data. In his book Hill focuses on survey data to consider three big issues: the religious identity of young people, the influence of higher education, and the influence of science on faith. He doesn’t disregard stories, but looks at the data that provide a larger context for the individual stories.

Is the religious identity of young adults changing?

Certainly the data tell us that “somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of teenagers who were regularly in church on Sunday morning are no longer attending by their early twenties.” (p. 15) In fact, the drop in attendance begins at ages younger than 15 and levels out around 18 or 19. But much of this is a trend based on biological age. This isn’t a cohort or generational effect. About 12-13 percent of 18-29 year olds attend a Protestant church every week, a number that has been remarkably steady for the last forty years! Similarly about 42% of 18-29 year olds pray at least daily – a number that has been remarkably steady for the last forty years. There has been a significant change with the rise of “nones,” but this comes from those who were less committed to begin with. There has been a significant drop in those who attend services occasionally or who pray occasionally and a concomitant rise in those who never attend and never pray.

At least among Protestants, every concerned parent and pastor should know this: The percentage of young people with a strong Protestant identity, and the percentage who regularly practice their faith publicly and privately has barely budged over the past forty years. They are in your churches, youth groups, and Bible studies. Yes, something has been happening at the margins, but the center has held. (p. 20)

To me this suggests that we don’t need massive institutional transformations. We need to continue engaging people, families, young and old, in strong Christian community.

There is no evidence that Millennials are “drastically different from previous generations” except that those loosely affiliated with religious identity are now willing to drop it altogether. There is little social advantage to maintaining this kind of religious identity.

100_1449 dsIs secular college education a threat to faith?

Bluntly, the answer is no, but there is a generational element to this one.

While stories of individual faith loss are real and deserve our attention, there is little evidence of widespread disaffection from the faith as a result of secular higher education. (p. 29)

When college graduates are compared to the general population a different trend appears.

College graduates are actually more likely to practice their faith and say it is important in their daily life. They are no more likely to disaffiliate from a religious faith, although they do appear more likely to shy away from exclusivist claims about the Bible and more prone to switch to a mainline Protestant denomination. (p. 30)

Hill digs deeper and compares those with and without a college education, controlling for religious affiliation as younger teenagers. In the past college education did have an influence on secularization, but this isn’t true for the millennials. At last a distinction, but it isn’t negative.

Overall college graduation has a positive correlation with regular participation in a church, perhaps because college graduates have more faith in institutions than those who have never attended college.

Hill also finds that evangelical colleges and universities are doing a good job of nurturing faith. “On every measure of religious practice and identity, individuals attending evangelical Protestant colleges decline considerably less than their counterparts at other schools.” (p. 50) For example, at evangelical Protestant schools 73% of students who prayed regularly continue to do so, a number that drops to 56% at public schools.  This probably results both from the curricular and social environment of the schools and from the family commitments and support experienced by these students.

Does education in science drive young people from the faith?

Again the aggregate answer is no. Surprisingly, education in science in general and evolution in particular seems to have little effect on faith commitments.  (As a science professor I cringe at this one – student form their views on “touchy” issues based on things other than the evidence.) And certainly there are plenty of stories of people struggling with these issues and changing their views. Hill doesn’t disregard or discount these (after all, the NSYR survey indicated that some 40 percent of young people with creationist views in 2002-3 did change their views by 2007-8, whether they go to college or not). But science education seems to have a minor influence one positions most people take.

People come to accept or reject evolution not as a result of pouring over the details and evidence, but as a symbolic gesture to indicate to others where they belong in the socio-political landscape. This requires understanding that religious beliefs, and beliefs about other contentious public issues, are intertwined with identity and social relationships. Formal science education, for most young people, is unlikely to change this. (p. 57)

Those who enter college with particular views concerning evolutionary biology are likely to retain them throughout the experience. The more tightly these views are coupled to social identity, the more tightly they will be held by most. This can be a wrenching experience for some who do find their views changing – to conflict with their social community, but it isn’t a widespread crisis for the church.

 

Why do doomsday scenarios carry such appeal?

Hill suggests three reasons:

First, our own social experience strongly colors how we frame the problem and interpret the data, yet our personal experience can frequently be an unreliable guide.” (p. 61)

There is a distortion in perception that arises from the ways we receive data. Personal stories are powerful and true, but the ones that “stick” are the stories from the margins, not the mainstream. Hill points out that many Americans feel that violent crime is up while the data shows that homicide, for example, is markedly down since 1990 and at about the same level as the 1950’s. “All violent crime has been declining, yet public perception of crime—largely filtered through mass media and politicians—is systematically in error.” (p. 61-62) The stories told in the Christian community carry the same kind of bias.

Second, generating crises in the Church can be an efficient and effective way to mobilize the faithful to action. (p. 62)

Sociological study of social movements can identify techniques that succeed in building a community.

Elites must work on generating an interpretational framework that identifies a specific problem, then identifies the source(s) of the problem, and finally provides a potential solution in the form of collective action. Further, the entire interpretational framework must align with existing grievances in recruits, otherwise collective action will fail. The temptation, then, will be for leaders in the Church to frame concerns about the next generation of Christians in such a way as to result in action by the rank and file, even if these interpretations are not entirely accurate. (p. 62, emphasis added)

Grabbing onto a crisis works to build a cohesive following.

Last, there is a fairly large gap between the ideal concept of Christian faithfulness and the “lived religion” of ordinary
believers. (p. 62)

There is a tendency to idealize the past and see the current trends as a significant deviation. One thing the longitudinal studies show is that this is not really the case. While there is a clear generational loss of youth from the Catholic church the same cannot be said for Protestants, particularly “evangelical” Protestants. Beyond these longitudinal studies, there is a temptation to believe that the current state is the result of a serious religious decline and the historical evidence (although sketchy) doesn’t really support this. A so-called “Christian” nation didn’t necessarily mean deeper, or more wide-spread, devotion.

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Does this outline of emerging adults surprise you?

Where should leaders in the church be concentrating effort to maintain a nurturing environment (i.e. a disciple making environment)?

The surprising institutions that refuse to drop the liberal arts, by Jon Marcus

People without a liberal-arts background really have no place to go with their skill sets. They lack an overall knowledge, and an ability to relate to people and make educated decisions, and not jump to conclusions.

by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report

Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are required to take humanities and social sciences courses. Photo: U.S. Military Academy
Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are required to take humanities and social sciences courses. Photo: U.S. Military Academy

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Christian Nattiel rattles off the way his course of studies has prepared him for his prestigious role as a company commander in charge of 120 fellow cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

Nattiel, of Dade City, Florida, isn’t focusing at West Point on military science, or strategy, or leadership. He’s majoring in philosophy.

Ramrod straight in his Army combat uniform on the historic campus, where future officers are required to take humanities and social-sciences courses such as history, composition, psychology, literature, and languages, he said that, in philosophy, “There’s no right answer, and that’s very useful in the Army, so you’re not so rigid.”

“People without a liberal-arts background really have no place to go with their skill sets,” said Frank Guido, a Culinary Institute student from Rochester, New York, sitting in the campus café and studying the Mayan Indians for a course he’s taking in history and culture. “They lack an overall knowledge, and an ability to relate to people and make educated decisions, and not jump to conclusions.”

As mainstream universities and colleges cut liberal-arts courses and programs in favor of more vocational disciplines, and the number of students majoring in the humanities continues to decline, unexpected types of institutions are expanding their requirements in the liberal arts with the conviction that these courses teach the kinds of skills employers say they want, and leaders need: critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication

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See Also

The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts: Education with Friendship and Heart, by Gary David Stratton

Why Liberal Arts Education is Best Preparation for Filmmakers, by XMen and The Giver Producer Ralph Winter

The Endangered Liberal Arts College, by Jason Jones

The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts, by Gary David Stratton

Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And Why We Should Care, by Joseph Epstein

The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World, by Eric Hoover

Why Liberal Arts Education is Best Preparation for Filmmakers, by XMen and The Giver Producer Ralph Winter

Ralph Winter is a Hollywood film producer who has helped to produce blockbuster movies such as the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Star Trek series as well as “The Giver” and the first remake of “Planet of the Apes.”

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(Unless you’re an IAM member, you will need to watch this on Vimeo.)

Producer Ralph Winter advises against film school from International Arts Movement on Vimeo.

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Parker Palmer’s Spectacular Commencement Address on the Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life, by Maria Popova

“Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself… When you are able to say, ‘I am … my shadow as well as my light,’ the shadow’s power is put in service of the good.”  -Parker Palmer

by Maria Popova • BrainPickings

parker_palmer_streamIn 1974, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford alumnus Chögyam Trungpa founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado — a most unusual and emboldening not-for-profit educational institution named after the eleventh-century Indian Buddhist sage Naropa and intended as a 100-year experiment of combining the best methodologies of Western scholarship with the most timeless tenets of Eastern wisdom, fusing academic and experiential learning with contemplative practice. Under the auspices of its Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Allen Ginsberg, the university hosted a number of lectures and readings by such luminaries as John Cage, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac himself, for all of whom Buddhism was a major influence.

In 2015, Naropa University awarded its first-ever honorary degree of Doctor of Contemplative Education to author, educator, and Center for Courage & Renewal founder Parker Palmer — one of the most luminous and hope-giving minds of our time, whose beautiful writings on inner wholeness and the art of letting your soul speak spring from a spirit of embodied poetics. In May of 2015, he took the podium before the university’s graduating class and delivered one ofthe greatest commencement addresses of all time — a beam of shimmering wisdom illuminating the six pillars of a meaningful human existence, experience-tested and honestly earned in the course of a long life fully lived.

Annotated highlights below — please enjoy.

In his first piece of advice, Palmer calls for living with wholeheartedness, inherent to which — as Seth Godin has memorably argued — is an active surrender to vulnerability. Echoing Donald Barthelme’s exquisite case for the art of not-knowing, he urges:

Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

[…]

What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success… Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice.

Palmer’s second point of counsel speaks to the difficult art of living with opposing truths and channels his longtime advocacy for inner wholeness

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