The Return of the Prodigal Blogger


It has been awhile since I have last blogged. I guess that’s what happens when one has to deal with conference presentations, dissertation proposals, and the looming deadline of writing the actual dissertation. But, those are all excuses. At the end of the day, I’m just bad at time management. Sigh. 

Well, I’m about to embark on a vacation of sorts so I have decided to write a quick blog post to let yall know I’m still alive. But what does alive even mean? I sometimes feel that I’m barely existing. The stress of a PhD program coupled with insecurities, feelings of failure, and constant bouts of wondering if I’m good enough, can take its toll on a person. I’m feeling rather raw… and vulnerable… so this post will be about my ruminations on the topic of vulnerability. 

I would say that within the last decade, the concept of being authentic and vulnerable has shaped a whole new generation. We have grown up with this constant admonition to be “authentic”, to be a person who does not change for anything or anyone. But what does that even mean? Does that mean that if you are someone with jerk ish attitudes, you should just admit that being a jerk is what makes you you and that you should not change because to change your jerk ish attitude is to be false to who you truly are? I’m sure that’s not what people mean when they talk about being authentic… and yet this can sometimes be the unintended message. Same goes with vulnerability. We are supposed to share our thoughts with no fear of any repercussions. But we all know that in the digital world we live in, every Facebook post, every tweet, every snap we send out in the virtual world can come back to haunt our analogue lives. Yet, we are supposed to not have any masks and show the world who we truly are, whatever that means. 

Yet, in reality, even being authentic and vulnerable with others can be another mask we put on. It becomes another performance we enact to gain some social capital in the circles we frequent. Maybe, there is no such thing as true authenticity or true vulnerability. Without the performative aspect inherent in these two concepts, we can come across as critical and judgmental human beings whose unfiltered thoughts and views tell the world that we are selfish and unruly tyrants. 

If authenticity and vulnerability are not understood within the context of a relationship, it is of no use to the unlucky recipient of these two traits. When I share something that means something profound to another person, I choose my words carefully to elicit the feelings and emotions I want my words to convey. If I share a very difficult moment in my life to my friend, I will not only give the “objective facts” of what happened but also include the “subjective feelings” I felt during said event. Failure to add the emotional context is to present a false picture of what happened. Also, because I know my friend, I will use words and concepts that s/he can relate with. If I use academic jargon that obfuscates the issue, then I have failed to be truly authentic or vulnerable. I need to let the other person know what it was like to be me, to invite them in to my personal journey, and as the story unfolds, allow them to put themselves in my shoes. Authenticity and vulnerability is not about merely stating facts, but also giving permission to the other to become you. 

This is what makes authenticity and vulnerability an unbelievably scary and terrifying act. Moments of true authenticity and vulnerability is like creating a horcrux… a piece of your soul is torn from you and given to another recipient. In that authentic and vulnerable moment, this other person now has a part of yourself that exists outside of you… and this part is something that is now forever a part of both of you. Your souls have now met and are intertwined and to separate it from each other is to destroy a certain part of yourselves in the process. 

Yet, to be fully human, is to be relational. We are social creatures. We cannot live in isolation, as appealing as that that thought can be. I don’t think that it is surprising that cultures all over the world always manage to form a belief system that acknowledges this universal truth. Time and time again, people come together to form societies. Time and time again, we find objects of worship. If one does not believe in an external deity, worthy to be worshipped, they create one internally and make themselves their own object of affection and worth. There is no escape from this desire to participate with another, even if the other is found in one’s own very self. 

As communal creatures, we seek the other. We want the other to like us, to affirm us, to be one with us. The hard part is discerning who those people should be in our lives. We cannot be 100% authentic and vulnerable with everyone. I don’t even know if I can do that with my own self, let alone with others! But, I encourage everyone to find someone you can trust and can confide in… who will help you bear the burdens of life because we are not meant to be alone. 

As a Christian, I am thankful that the Christian God is one who constantly pursues me and woos me to himself. He is like a loving father who sings over me and is like a mother hen who protects me from harm. The psalmist speaks of how “though my mother and father forsake me” the Lord our God will not leave me. There is a beauty in that kind of love. I’m thankful that this type of love is something we are all called to embody. 

We live in a world where strife and hostility is our everyday reality. Amidst the hate, let us all to seek to reach out in love, even when that’s the last thing we would like to do. In these moments of loving relationships, authenticity and vulnerability can bind us together, reminding us that love can overcome hate. Love will prevail… but it will come at a cost. The cost is our decision to rid ourselves of hate and submit ourselves to the continual process of loving and loving again. 

If we are being honest with ourselves, that cost is too much to handle. It is a sobering reality that we are not as compassionate as we wish we could be. But, it is only when we come to that realization that we can appreciate how courageous it is to be authentic and vulnerable. It is a helpful reminder that authenticity and vulnerability is a precious gift and it must be cherished and adored. 

So go ahead… be authentic… be vulnerable. Open your heart to pain and in doing so, you open your heart to unspeakable joy.  

Tunes for Tuesday – Doubt

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Doubt is something that I have struggled with for a very long time. In many ways, I still struggle with it to this very day. It’s hard not to doubt yourself. It seems as if the whole world is against you. My world tells me that I’m not skinny enough, I’m not good-looking enough, I’m not white enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not Christian enough, I’m not *insert anything here*. It can be very crippling at times. You don’t want to make a mistake and that fear of making a mistake can be so paralyzing.

It is amidst that background that I want to share this song with yall. It’s a song that perfectly encapsulates things that I have felt… and want to feel in the future! I may have struggled with doubts in the past (heck, even to the present!) but I would really like my future to be doubt-free! I am thankful for friends who continually encourage me to see myself in the way that they see me. I am grateful that I have people in my life who are willing to say the hard things I need to hear so I can be a better person. I am glad that I have loved ones who tell me that I’m good enough… and not only good enough, but that I’m great and that I should never forget that.

It’s hard not to settle for lesser things because you have this feeling at the very core of your being that you are probably not going to amount to much so you might as well settle for anything… or anyone… who comes your way because that’s the best you’re going to get anyways. It’s hard to believe that you will amount to something when you have always felt that you are a colossal failure… someone who is barely keeping it together. So many times, I have felt like I am barely hanging by a thread. I could not fake one more smile when all I wanted to do was curl into a little ball and cry my eyes out.  When the doubts overwhelm me to the point of apathy, I am reminded that somehow, someway, somewhere along the way, I have believed a lot of lies about myself and that I need to let go of the lies so I could live in my truth. The truth is, I am loved with an everlasting love by a heavenly Father who knows my name and cares for me. I am loved by people all over the world who somehow sees the best in me even when I couldn’t see it.

The battle to overcome our doubts and fear of failure is an ongoing one. I hope this song can encourage you in the journey to release yourself from lies and walk in the truth that you are loved.

“Truthiness” vs. Truth

I’m so thankful to be surrounded by so many friends who are ridiculously smart and just all around nice people. Today’s guest blog post is by my friend, Phil Strickland. With everything that is happening in our world today, his voice as an American evangelical Christian is one that needs to be heard amongst other competing American evangelical voices. His post is insightful and is an invitation for evangelicals to examine how they think and engage with Trump’s presidency based on how the Bible says Christians must think and act. – Sid Sudiacal

 

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Photo: Donald Trump’s first press conference after the election. Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal/Getty Images.

The Bible talks a great deal about the importance of truth and the dire consequences of lying. The world was cursed when man and woman believed a lie and disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-19). Satan himself is called “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and “all liars” are said to be destined for judgment (Revelation 21:8). However, regarding truth, Jesus tells his followers that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The Holy Spirit’s mission is to guide Christ-followers “into all truth” (John 16:13). The word of God is said repeatedly to be “true,” since God cannot lie (e.g., Psalms 33:4, 119:151; Hebrews 6:18). In fact, in John’s Gospel, Jesus self-identifies as the very embodiment of “truth” itself (John 14:6). Scripture teaches us that, above all, Christians should be devoted to the truth (e.g., 1 John 5:20).

Let that sobering thought sink in for a moment before you continue reading….

The assertion that “all politicians lie” has become a maxim in our culture — and not without reason. Politicians of all stripes have been known to bend the truth and strain credulity from time to time. Spinning facts to comport with a partisan political agenda is a favored pastime for many Congressmen and women in Washington D.C. and the political operatives who serve as their surrogates in interviews on 24-hour cable news.

However, one thing that became painfully apparent in the recent presidential election is that, as far as politicians go, Donald Trump takes lying to a whole new level. Throughout the election cycle, the non-partisan organization PolitiFact meticulously tracked and evaluated the claims of the candidates running for office. They then ranked those claims based on degrees of truthfulness. During the campaign and following the inauguration, an astonishing 70% of Mr. Trump’s statements have been rated as differing degrees of false, with 51% being rated as simply “false” or “pants on fire.” None of the other candidates from either party even approached the threshold of Mr. Trump’s apparent disregard for the truth. Yet many among the conservative Evangelical right strongly supported Mr. Trump throughout his campaign and remain some of his most vocal supporters still.

There are a variety of reasons why Evangelicals have decided to support Mr. Trump. For instance, many view the Supreme Court vacancy as a potential means of reversing the effects of Roe v. Wade. Mr. Trump’s Evangelical supporters also find hope and security in his sweeping promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth.” Many of Mr. Trump’s Evangelical supporters are also experiencing the same kinds of financial hardships as others who have been left behind in the fast-changing, global economy of the 21st century. Donald Trump’s election is, of course, also seen as a way to prevent what is viewed as a further descent into a liberal social order hostile to traditional Judeo-Christian values.

Evangelicals, like other Republican demographics who supported Mr. Trump, have also shown a powerful disdain for the “liberal media.” In fact, recent Gallup surveys show that public confidence in the media has dropped precipitously since the election as only 32% of Americans say they trust the press. Of Republicans surveyed, however, that number was just 14%. While a degree of caution is always warranted when it comes to media consumption, these statistics show signs of a disturbing trend towards an unhealthy skepticism by which even standard reporting of basic facts is easily dismissed as untrustworthy if those facts do not comport with some pre-determined partisan ideological narrative. Such rabid skepticism and hostility towards the press has frequently been stoked by Mr. Trump at his rallies, and again at his first press conference following the election. Mr. Trump’s pugnacious approach to the media is only heightened by the appointment of Sean Spicer, who is already proving himself to be one of the most combative and mendacious White House press secretaries in recent memory. Mr. Trump, in a visit to the CIA, has also falsely claimed that he never criticized the intelligence agencies over revelations about Russian hacking, and that this was a false story peddled by a dishonest media with whom he is at “war.” And now, in a move straight out of George Orwell’s book 1984,  we find Trump administration officials like Kellyanne Conway promoting some new kind of fantasy reality based on “alternative facts,” even though these “facts” are actually falsehoods easily disproved by real evidence. Americans thus find themselves in an existential crisis. A free press is a constitutionally-protected institution necessary to the preservation of a free and informed society. So, what happens when the press is undermined by the virulent partisan politics of the very society it is charged with protecting?

One problem that contributes to the issues the U.S. is facing is our country’s difficulty with media literacy. While several news organizations are credible, there are other networks and publications on both the “left” and the “right” who have a veneer of credibility that also serves as a conduit for partisan propaganda (e.g., the Huffington Post and Fox News). The internet is also littered with rabidly partisan conspiracy-theory sites that deliberately engage in misinformation campaigns in order to slander politicians seen as enemies and undermine public confidence in the press (think InfoWars, Drudge Report, and Addicting Info). As a result, many Americans simply cannot tell the difference between what is credible and what is not. Additionally, the tribal nature of partisanship in U.S. politics has led to different segments of the American population clustering around only certain outlets for any information that affirms their politics. We now have a problem with people, including many Evangelicals, preferring “truthiness” to truth. Truthiness, a word coined by the comedian Stephen Colbert, according to Webster’s Dictionary refers to “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” It refers to the feeling that something must be true, even without evidence or logic to back it up. Truthiness is truth “from the gut.”

Unfortunately, the current U.S. President also prefers truthiness to truth as well, and to potentially disastrous effect. Mr. Trump, who regularly trafficked in ridiculous conspiracy theories before and during the election, has now insisted that he will spend tax-payer money in order to launch an investigation into (extremely dubious) claims of massive voter fraud for the simple reason that his ego will not allow him to believe the indisputable fact that Hillary Clinton legitimately won the popular vote by a difference of nearly 3 million votes. Because Mr. Trump prefers to believe “alternative facts” instead of the overwheling scientific evidence surrounding the issue of climate change and its causes, he has ordered all references to climate change removed from the whitehouse.gov website and has issued gag orders to a number of government agenices like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service with the goal of censoring out references to climate change from websites and social media feeds (fortunately NASA’s site on climate change is still intact…for now). Mr. Trump, also notoriously refused to accept the consensus verdict of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee as part of a larger influence campaign during the election, causing an obvious rift between himself and the intelligence agencies he must depend upon for U.S. national security — he only just recently has reversed course on this. The President is also convinced — against all evidence to the contrary — that torture works as an interrogation method, and is now musing about reopening CIA black-site prisons and reinstituting torture even though intelligence experts have widely condemned torture as ineffective and immoral (if anyone is an expert on torture, it’s Sen. John McCain — see his comments on the intelligence community’s decision to reject torture). And now, Mr. Trump also refuses to acknowledge the reality that terrorism is by far more of a domestic problem than an immigration problem; yet the fact remains that out of all of the lethal terrorist attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since 2001 none have been committed by anyone on an immigrant visa status, and none have been committed by refugees from Syria. Mr. Trump’s sensational characterization of our current situation as being one of “open borders” and rampant illegal immigration is a total misconstrual of the reality that has existed since the U.S. immigration system was completely overhauled after 2001, and shows a surprising lack of regard or even awareness of the incredible work on immigration and vetting being done by the Department of Homeland Security (the truth is that DHS should be given more credit than anybody else for the fact that another 9/11 type of terrorist attack hasn’t happened since 2001, and for the fact that no fatal attacks have been carried out by vetted immigrant persons). Yet the President issued an executive order indefinitely banning refugees coming from Syria who are seeking asylum even though the order doesn’t touch any of the countries where foreign terrorists who were associated with the 9/11 attacks originated or any European countries where terrorist attacks have happened recently. With one swift stroke of a pen, the President signed the ill-conceived order which soon sent the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and law enforcement officials into mass confusion, and which caused a great deal of needless anxiety for foreign nationals, legal residents, and refugees who had already been thoroughly vetted and properly awarded legal status by the U.S. government (part of the order has been blocked by a federal judge, and similar rulings are being made elsewhere in the U.S.). Lies, including those of the self-deception or truthiness variety, have consequences.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that lying is an all-too-human trait since every human being has lied at some point in his or her lifetime. So, when politicians criticize each other for lying, or when the press criticizes them, all parties should take care not to throw stones in glass houses. However, Evangelicals, as truth seekers, need to be willing to allow real facts (not “alternative facts”) to inform our view of the world. We also need to be able to agree on what the real facts are so that we can have a coherent basis on which to hold both the press and politicians accountable, and by which we can work together to address significant spiritual, moral, and societal problems. There are a number of issues where American society could stand to benefit from greater intellectual honesty from Evangelicals, including problems related to civil rights, immigration, climate change, gun violence and healthcare.

This brings us back to the beginning of this article. The Bible is unequivocal in teaching that Christians should be seekers of truth. This applies to all areas of our lives as Christians, including our media consumption and including our politics. A commitment to the truth, therefore, should always trump (no pun intended) our political ideology. It is imperative that we have the courage of conviction to follow the truth wherever it might lead, even if that truth turns out to be inconvenient. Evangelicals do need to hold the press accountable. However, we also need to hold President Trump and his administration accountable as well, regardless of whether one voted for him and regardless of how wonderful his promises might sound to some people. At some point, reality always has a way of catching up to us, and a dishonest and opaque government is a reality which could have dire consequences for American society, especially for those who are least powerful and most vulnerable. A lie is still a lie no matter who tells it.

 

Phil Strickland is a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College. He spends his days researching, writing, and building Lego sets with his awesome kids.

New Year, New Me?

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2017 has come upon us. I remember January 1 as if it was just yesterday. I was full of hope, full of expectations, full of the thrill of the unknown. I really wanted this year to be different from last year. 2016 was not the best year for me. It was full of stress… well, more stress than usual. I found myself in a mental and spiritual space that was not the best. It was suffocating, it was unnerving, it was challenging. I isolated myself from others because… well, because I found it easier to stop caring. I’m an extraverted person and I definitely put myself out there. I care about others and as much as possible, I try to support others especially when they’re going through a difficult time. But there comes a point when you realize that when it is your turn to need help, it seems as if there is no one there. No one’s got my back, so to speak. Of course, this may, or may not be the actual case. I wouldn’t want to categorically say that I didn’t have friends who tried to reach out to me or were supportive during this time. However, perception is reality. Unfortunately, this was the reality I lived in.

As time progressed, I definitely got out of that horrible space. I was happy to be rid of 2016, with all of its hurts and pains. I was ready to shed the old Sid and was preparing for the new Sid of 2017.

Not even a fortnight and I seem to be back in the same, old patterns. In some ways, I’m not surprised. It’s a bit ridiculous and overly optimistic to think that the simple passage of time will bring about the necessary changes in my life. Maybe 2017 is the year of acceptance. I need to accept who I am (whatever that means!) and that whatever answer I find to that question, that I would know that I am accepted and loved by me. I think most of my life has been about trying to find love in all the wrong places. I want to be loved by others. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, there is something fundamentally wrong about not being able to love yourself.

Loving one’s self has been an arduous and tumultuous journey. I don’t know why it’s easy for me to look past other people’s flaws and failures, but can’t seem to let go of my own. I think it’s easier for me to believe that no one can love me than to believe the opposite. There are times when I would be walking and unintentionally catch the reflection of myself in the mirror and wonder why I’m still around. I feel like a waste of space… that my very being is consuming precious oxygen that should probably go to someone else who is more worthy or deserving of it than me. Or, that my physical appearance is so ugly or my voice is such a torture to be heard by those around me that I wonder why they tolerate my presence. Sometimes, I even wish that I was anorexic or bulimic so that I could have a skinnier body so that I don’t have to hear one more negative comment about my weight from family and friends. Trust me, I know how destructive these thoughts are… and how they are lies that I choose to believe. But when you are constantly fighting to believe the good about your self, it’s a little bit easier to go back to your default mode of self-loathing and self-hatred.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be the year that I can learn how to truly love my self. I want to be able to see myself through the lens of my friends who have told me how smart I am, how kind I am, how amazing I am, or how good-looking I am. (Apparently, I made it to a friend’s top ten list hahaha) Most importantly, I want to be able to see myself through the lens of a Father who loves me and cares for me. He sees me as the apple of His eye and someone who is a co-heir of Christ. He sees me as someone who is precious in His sight.

I’m not going to lie, I am a bit skeptical that I will get that far. But, at the very least, I’m going to make the important baby step to move forward in that direction.

Let’s do this, 2017!

Back to School

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It’s weird to think that I’m entering my fourth year of Ph.D. studies. I feel like it was only yesterday when I was starting this journey full of hope, dreams, nervousness, anxiety, trepidation and excitement. It’s one of those moments where you are just stunned that you’re actually living the dream. You’ve dreamt of this moment and now it’s finally here and you are in it and it is just so dang surreal. Questions of how did I get here and am I good enough to make it swirl in your head. The answers shall reveal themselves in due time. But for now, all you have is the now and it is intoxicatingly refreshing.

Four years later, fatigue takes over and one feels like almost fainting. The end is both so near and yet so far. I have realized things about myself that I haven’t known before. I am amazed at the opportunities I have been given and it is truly astounding to me that I get to do what I do. I remember guest lecturing at a class taught by my supervisor and seeing faces that I have gotten to know during the school year and I’m thinking how in the world did I get here? Am I actually standing here and teaching these students? Recently, my paper was accepted for SBL (Society for Biblical Literature) and I will be heading to San Antonio, Texas this November to present my paper. And I’m struck yet again by that question of how did I get here? You go to these conferences and you look around and you see all these presenters and wonder if you’ll ever get to that point in your own academic career when you’ll be the one presenting at these fancy conferences… and then next thing you know, you’re doing exactly just that.

I have also been able to meet and develop friendships that have changed me. I’m thankful for my workout buddies who have played such an instrumental role in my consistency in going to the gym these last two years. I’m thankful for roommates who have given me the opportunity to practice patience and mercy lolz I’m thankful for family and friends who have seen the journey that I am in and have chosen to walk alongside me to encourage me and strengthen me. I am truly amazed at how blessed I am to know and have so many stand up people in my life.

About five years ago, I had coffee with my supervisor and asked him if he was willing to take me in as one of his doctoral students. You always hope for a yes but until you ask, you don’t know what they will say. Thankfully, he said yes and the rest, as they say, is history. (If you didn’t get that joke, I don’t even know if you know me at all!) I wouldn’t be where I am today without his supervision and encouragement. It’s great to know someone is on your side and will be there to support you and champion you, instead of trying to make your life a living hell. I’ve heard horrible stories with grad students and their supervisors… it is tough out there if you feel like you have to compete with your supervisor.

I’m truly thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I know I complain and grumble a lot about the amount of work I have to do. However, amidst the difficulties, I realize and acknowledge how truly blessed I am to be able to do what I am doing. Four years later, I’m still the same student who walked into Orientation Day, somewhat dazed and confused, wondering what the future holds. I have no clue what tomorrow may bring but I do know Who holds my tomorrow. And for that I am eternally thankful.

 

Community and Belonging: Pappas Patristic Institute Summer Program 2016

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Last week, I had the great opportunity and privilege to participate as a Teaching Fellow for the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program. I was there last year and enjoyed my time so I came back for another year. There’s a certain feeling of home when I enter the Hellenic College Holy Cross campus. I come from an evangelical background and yet, in many ways, I feel more at home in this Greek Orthodox setting than in an evangelical church context. Perhaps, it is because I’m surrounded by people coming from diverse backgrounds. I have friends coming from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Methodist, Baptist, and other Christian traditions. Despite our different backgrounds, we are all united in our desire to learn from, and understand, the words of wisdom handed down to us by our spiritual ancestors. It’s a little taste of heaven on earth! There were 12 (!!!) courses to choose from this year and trust me, it was a struggle because I wanted to go to every one of them! This year, I took “The Gospel of Matthew in the Patristic Tradition” taught by Dr. Brian Matz (Fontbonne) and “The Theology and Hermeneutics of Irenaeus of Lyons taught by Dr. David Jorgensen (Colby College).

As we studied together, I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. We are not the first society to deal with the problem of evil, of violence, of discord, of natural calamities, of economic injustices, of competing biblical interpretations, etc. The words of the ancients, written so long ago, still have the power to touch and transform us because there are some truths that can stand the test of time. As we look at the text, argue about how we should understand it, talk about the social context in which they lived in, we are left forever humbled and changed by it. Personally speaking, I just find it so refreshing to have the level of conversations I have had with everyone. If you want to be smart, surround yourself with smarter people than you. I have definitely been a believer of that advice and this week, I definitely got smarter as I interacted with such amazing minds. I think it is hilarious that whenever there was any debate in terms of trying to understand a certain passage, the admonition to “look at what it says in Greek” becomes the call we all heed. And maybe that’s what I enjoyed the most about this group of people who gathered together to learn from the Church Fathers… we came to learn from the text and we want to know what the text means. Any interpretation we may have concerning the text is first and foremost based on the text. The text is the ultimate control of any interpretation. Too often, I am around people who have Scriptural interpretations that do not take into account the whole of the Scriptures. For once, I am with people who acknowledge the primacy of the text over our own interpretations. There’s something beautiful about that. It becomes less a debate about ideas of what we think the text is about but actually debate about what the text is trying to say. I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to have that type of learning environment. We spend time looking at the text, mulling over the text, digesting the text, and just eating it up. To say that it was fulfilling cannot fully capture the feeling.

At the end of the day, any organization is really less about the program, but more about the people. I am thankful for the leadership of Dr. Bruce Beck in organizing this week of awesomeness. In many ways, his belief that it is important to learn as a community is reflected in how he has organized this program and its outcome. I’m blessed to get to know so many awesome people over the past 2 years. These people are legit smart and I can’t help but feel dumb around them because they’re so smart. Even though they’re smart, they are also the funnest and friendliest people I have ever met. Definitely came out of it feeling spiritually refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished. Looking forward to next year!

The Gift of Play

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Today is Friendly Friday! I have been blessed to be surrounded by awesome people who are incredibly gifted and talented. Today’s guest blogger is my friend Justin Roberts. I got to know Justin awhile back through a mutual friend and at a young adult’s retreat. After that, I had the great privilege of starting my PhD journey with him as well. He is one smart dude!

And now, to present his guest blog post, here’s “The Gift of Play”

The Gift of Play

Sport is inherent to ancient and modern cultures alike, and because we are pressed to find
a thoroughly nonathletic society, it is more than trivial to ask why. Why are human beings
compelled by sport, to the point they cannot imagine life without it? The most convenient,
though pessimistic, answer might be that sport comes from combative instincts that favour the survival of the fittest, as demonstrated in the natural world and most spectacularly in war. The UFC, NFL, and NHL would be case in point.

Is sport simply the release of primal desire for domination, in which case “competition”
is the acceptable form of self-assertion and pride intended to gain personal advantage in the world? Perhaps, in some respect. But sport takes whatever domineering impulse lies in human nature and transforms it in the arena of play. With sport, we take swords and beat them into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2:4). From weapons, to instincts, to virtues, the athletic arena is violence overcome, and the chaos of survival is tempered by the game. Like the beautifully unnecessary play of a child, who delights in new challenges and works with others, we engage a culturally edifying act. Even the stereotypically cynical “sports guy” who demeans women and increasingly hardens himself to emotion finds sports deeply attractive, as there is an inner radiance to play that finds fewer and fewer outlets in the world.

This is not to turn a blind eye to those who abuse sport—in the many ways humans can—
for everything good is vulnerable to misuse. But we should recognize the place that “all the nations shall flow to” (Isa 2:2), and participate in the decidedly redemptive, and thoroughly Christian, gift of play. We should recognize the spectacle that tells of a primordial fount of glory, one in which life and love and gift is given and received in Father, Son, and Spirit. Be weary of the one who cannot play; for their noble and ardent facade will only distract from their more secret occupation of strangling Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Practice the gift!

 

Justin Mandela Roberts is a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition and Behold Our God: Contemplative Theology for the Soul.