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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.

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“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.

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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!

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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.

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“We found friends in a hopeless place” – The Grad Student Life

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This September, I entered my third year of Ph.D. studies. I can’t believe how that is happening! Time flies when you’re having fun … or so stressed out you no longer have the energy to mark the passage of time in the first place. There comes a point when I have lived from one paper to another. Writing furiously to finish one paper only to have enough time to start writing furiously for another paper. Deadlines rule my schedule. Sleep becomes a luxury. Amidst the busyness of life, it’s easy for the social life to go as well.

The problem is I’m an extravert. I need people. People give me energy. From time to time, I admit that I can go into hermit mode and lock myself away from people… but that’s not the ideal. Over the years, I have learned that I can’t allow myself to neglect the social aspect of life. It’s easy… so easy… but it is not the ideal path.

We are social creatures. We need each other. Community is very important. Oftentimes, it is when I don’t want to be with others that I realize how badly I need to be with others. It’s easy to get trapped in your own little world where you are the center of the universe. Being with others is a nice reminder that there is a world outside that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Life is better with other people.

This year, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t lose sight of community. The Ph.D. life can be very lonely. You often work in isolation and let’s face it, no one really wants to talk to you about what your dissertation is all about. They ask out of politeness but attention spans are usually within the 1-2 minute range. If they’re listening after 5 minutes, give them a gold star! During Orientation Week, I got a chance to meet a lot of awesome students. It’s always fun meeting new people. Then, I felt bad because knowing my normal schedule, that might have been the last time I would be able to see them. Then, I remembered that I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. As a student, we don’t have a lot of time to spare. So what if we can kill two birds (the need to study and the need for community) with one stone?  That’s when I decided to start a study group!

Studying in a group is way better than studying alone. I would rather be distracted by a funny personal story than random YouTube videos. We’re all going to be distracted at some point. I’d rather be “distracted” by something a friend says than the hundred other stupid distractions I could have come up with by myself.

It has been a blast getting to know people within this new setting. They are so full of life and energy. There is laughter whenever we get together punctuated by the silence of trying to understand Hebrew verbs and that book that just doesn’t make sense to you. It’s great to be able to talk about theology one minute and good T.V. shows the next.

Seminary can be a very difficult place. Sometimes, it can even feel hopeless (especially when all your papers are due around the same time!)

I’m just glad I was able to find friends in a hopeless place.

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Tunes for Tuesday – Grace Defined and This Love

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I am so blessed to be surrounded by amazingly talented friends. Today, I want to give a huge shout out to my friend, Grace Defined, who released her album today! She is an amazing friend and a wonderful artist. Download her new album, This Love, and share it with all your friends. The best part is it’s free! Head on over to her website where you can check out some of her writings as well. You can also get in touch with her through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

For now, check out her video below.

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Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part I

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Lent is a time for reflection. To help me in this process, I have decided to give up Facebook and Twitter, two of the social media platforms that I frequently use. Today is Day One and I’m already feeling the withdrawal symptoms. As a result, it has forced me to reflect on some key personal issues that I will be reflecting on during this Lenten season.

One of those issues relates with the idea of being God’s image bearer. In the book of Genesis, it tells the story of how God created human beings, male and female, in his image. In theological circles, this is often referred to as the “imago dei” (the image of God). I was at a conference in Spain about five years ago when one of the speakers talked about this topic. He mentioned how a lot of the times, we are more image-builders than image-bearers. Too often, we become obsessed with creating an image for other people. We want others to know us as this self-created image. We put on masks and we readily wear it around those who surround us. We become people pleasers, continually seeking the approval of others. We end up finding our validation from what other people think of us. But, this comes at a cost. Wear a mask too long and there comes a point when you can fail to recognize what is fake and what is real. The mask no longer becomes a mask. The mask becomes the face.

As God’s image-bearer, we have nothing to prove. Have you ever met someone’s dad and look at your friend and be utterly shocked at the strong resemblance? I have. No matter how loud the protests of the son about not looking like his dad, it is to no avail. He is his father’s image-bearer. The imprint is there for everyone to see. He doesn’t have to announce its existence. His very presence is its own validation. There is something liberating about the notion of being God’s image-bearer. I have nothing to prove. Nothing I do will make me more, or less, of an image-bearer. There is freedom in that thought. This is not something I can conjure up or create by myself. This is something wholly Other.

As I think about this issue, I sadly confess that too often, I spend more time planning my own kingdom rather than furthering God’s kingdom. I think of all the ridiculous schemes I have in my mind to obtain money, power, and fame. Yet, too often, I don’t expend that much energy thinking of how I can help usher in the kingdom of God to this world. It is so humbling and humiliating to find oneself “losing the plot.” It is far easier to sing songs of devotion to God than actually being fully devoted.

And so, as the Lenten season continues, I pray that God would continue to reveal and uncover the various areas in our lives that we need to surrender to him. May we, as Paul beseeched the Romans, offer our lives as a living sacrifice unto God as our spiritual act of worship.