True to One’s Convictions

I grew up in a number of small towns in Arizona, and in 1976, America’s bicentennial year, I graduated from Flagstaff (Arizona) High School. The Vietnam War had come to a close and the Civil Rights movement had consolidated many of its gains in culture. American culture had changed in many positive ways.

At the same time, there was a growing sense that the broader influence of Christianity in culture was weakening, and it was symbolized in some ways by the publication of Francis Schaeffer’s book, How Then Should We Live. While Schaeffer’s argument was complex, I was interested in the challenge he provided to Christians: In an era that is increasingly secular, how will you live in light of your own faith convictions?

Fast forward 38 years and we are certainly in an American culture that is post-Christian, or at the very least post-Bible. The American Bible Society recently released its fourth annual report on the State of the Bible in America. The survey, conducted by the Barna Group, now finds that 1 in 5 Americans is now hostile toward the Bible – roughly double what it was four years ago. Further, those who would view the Bible in friendly terms dropped to 37 percent. I think it is safe to say that our culture has little understanding of the Bible and subsequently why Christians (a very diverse community in itself) believe the way they do.

In the great cultural debates of our day we find our communities arrayed into opposing camps. Each “side” operates under different philosophical assumptions and has little understanding of the other. Debates often lead to simple name calling as both sides fling poison arrows at the other – gay marriage, abortion rights, and other issues related to sexual minorities. The perception is that Christians rely on their commitment to tradition and the truths they believe have been conveyed in the biblical story. Secular persons rely on the advance of civilization, new emerging understandings of the human condition, and the progress of the sciences. In the end neither “side” seeks to understand the other but to isolate and dominate in order to control the public debate.

I happen to fall into the more traditional Christian camp (but also know that God asks us to pursue truth using all the tools available to us). I recognize as well that our sacred communities have become increasingly isolated on key cultural issues. The broader society does not understand our faith commitments and, in particular, our belief that the Christian must, at times, be willing to give up personal “freedom” for the sake of others and the community. We are often depicted as primitive tribalists who have held onto ancient conceptions of family and sexuality in the midst of more progressive ideas. At the same time, Christians have a history of imposing (particularly the Moral Majority) moral ideas on the broader community. Thus, as the public support for Christian commitments have shifted (gay marriage, for example), Christians find themselves the recipients of the same types of treatment doled out by the Moral Majority to the culture in the 1980s.

Is it possible, in a free society, to carve out space for people who hold vastly different convictions? Perhaps more specifically, can an increasingly secular culture find room for those who are committed to an ancient document, the Bible, and who choose to live as closely as possible to the tenets of its teachings? At the very least, is it possible to understand the “other” although each may articulate quite different views of our world?

More than 40 years ago members of our community at George Fox faced a similar challenge. The Friends community, because of its understanding of the teachings of Christ, is opposed to killing others, even in war. As a result, Vietnam was a very divisive issue in our community and in the society around us. If one was a patriot you accepted military service. If opposed then one protested the war and avoided service. For the Evangelical Friends in the Northwest, neither option was viable. A good friend of mine, Fred Gregory, conveyed to me his story . . .

Fred Gregory“I am an early baby boomer, being born in mid-1944. I am a product of the 1960s, as I graduated from college in 1966. It was a traumatic time in American history. We were deeply engaged in the Vietnam War, or as my Vietnamese friends say, the American War. I am not just a baby boomer — I am a Quaker boomer! I was taught and later embraced the belief that to learn to kill and then practice the skill was not the Jesus way. On many other issues my family and community of faith were very conservative and fit well into the American evangelical tradition. While our faith is centered on Jesus, Friends have always been keenly aware of our responsibility to act with love and grace in the larger society, even when our commitments led us to move away from the consensus operating in the broader culture.

I was a typical college student of the day. I attended George Fox College, a small Quaker liberal arts college in Newberg, Ore. My brother was three years ahead of me at GFC. While the war in Vietnam was spooling up in the early 60s there was little discussion, let alone protests, happening on campus. Many of our men were conscientious objectors to war because of our understanding of the teaching of Christ. We didn’t act on our commitments by openly expressing concern in public ways or through open protest. On the other hand, we deeply believed that something seriously wrong was happening halfway around the world. Popular opinion suggested to us that Vietnam was where the United States and freedom-loving people were going to stop communism from taking over the world. Opposing the war effort was a difficult position to take.

Fortunately in America, our society enabled Christians (and others) who were opposed to killing people in war to find other ways to serve their country. I benefitted from a tolerant culture that allowed me to become a Conscientious Objector (C.O.) to war in a time when opposition to the Vietnam War made one suspect in the broader community. I have to say that I was conflicted inside as I sought to find a way to live out my conviction in a way that was helpful to my own faith and practice and to others.

I knew that as soon as I graduated from college I would be drafted and have to serve two years of alternate service, in lieu of military service. I had to perform some duty that could be construed as contributing to the health and welfare of the United States.

I wanted to make a difference and not just put in time fulfilling an obligation. I was rescued from my dilemma by a wise George Fox professor, Dr. Arthur Roberts, who challenged some of us to practice our peace testimony in Vietnam in the midst of the war. I hadn’t thought of that possibility before that day. His challenge pushed me to think beyond the ordinary. In the end I volunteered to do my alternative service in Vietnam with Mennonite service community. I was not sequestered from the realities of war. War was often up close and personal, and uncertainties confronted me often. Yet, my Vietnam experience was seminal in my life development and sent me on a vocational trajectory much different than what I thought I was preparing for in my college experience.”

Religious people change slowly when they do change. Our theological and cultural commitments run deep and are part of communities whose traditions go back thousands of years. The way we create and develop our families, convey norms to our young people, and seek justice for the poor are all activities that are rooted in our understanding of the Bible – God’s revelation to people. We believe that God is active in this world.

Far too often in our current culture there is little room for difference on some important, yet deeply held perspectives and beliefs. For much of American history, Christians, in particular Evangelicals, have been at the forefront of societal reform: prison reform; the anti-slavery movement; temperance; urban social reform (Dwight Moody, the Salvation Army); and child welfare. I would suggest that our society benefitted from religious people who had a vision for personal and cultural transformation. At the same time, this is not to suggest that Christians have always been right or have not reacted in ways that hurt others. Indeed the damaging rhetoric of the Moral Majority of the 1980s had a tendency to divide people rather than create a lasting vision for a better society.

While the Vietnam War, in the end, was a deeply divisive and contentious social and political issue, there was room for some people of faith to practice their beliefs as a minority without official opposition. There were, and will always be, personal attacks, but our system of governance and civility allowed our differences to be expressed and lived out. In a similar way to the Vietnam era, our culture needs to provide today “space” for different religious communities to live out their convictions while at the same time understanding that Christians are obliged to serve others with dignity and respect.

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Appreciating the Significance of ‘Divine Moments’

At George Fox University, conversations about “purpose” and “human flourishing” are commonplace with our students. While we are certainly concerned with whether or not our students are adequately prepared for their chosen vocation, we are equally concerned that they understand why they are here. One of the scholars I most admire is Francis Collins, a noted scientist and one of the main individuals behind the human genome project. In addition to his work as a scientist, Dr. Collins is a deeply committed Christian. I was recently rereading his work, The Language of God, and found one story particularly meaningful.

Francis CollinsIn the summer of 1989, Dr. Collins and his college-age daughter volunteered to serve at a local hospital in the village of Eku in the delta of the Niger River. Their visit enabled a group of long-serving missionary physicians to get some rest and attend an annual conference. As he was thinking about the trip, he wrote: “I was aware that my own medical skills, dependent as they were upon the high-tech world of an American hospital, might be poorly matched to the challenges of unfamiliar tropical diseases and little technical support.”

The conditions were much worse than expected. There were not enough beds, and patients were sleeping on the floor. Their families took the responsibility for care and feeding since the hospital could not. Patients came to the hospital after suffering for many days with progressive illness – and usually only came to the hospital when all else failed. The experience was hard for Collins to accept. “It became abundantly clear that the majority of the diseases I was called upon to treat represented a devastating failure of the public health system. Tuberculosis, malaria, tetanus and a wide variety of parasitic diseases … While I was there I grew more and more discouraged, wondering why I had ever thought that this trip would be a good thing.”

One afternoon a young farmer came into the clinic with progressive weakness and significant swelling of the legs. Dr. Collins took his pulse and noted that it disappeared every time he took a breath. Although he could not confirm it by testing, he was sure that this was the result of a large amount of fluid in the pericardial sac around his heart. The fluid was essentially threatening to choke off his circulation and take his life and was probably the result of the development of tuberculosis.

Although Dr. Collins could treat the disease with drugs, the man’s condition would not improve quickly enough to save his life. The only solution was to take a large bore needle and draw off the pericardial fluid surrounding the heart. In the United States such a procedure would only be attempted by a specialist with the right equipment, neither of which were present in Eku. Dr. Collins communicated the risks to the patient, and when he agreed to move forward, Collins proceeded. The procedure was successful and Collins drew roughly a quart of blood from the young man’s body – success!

Dr. Collins noted that, for a few hours after the surgery, he felt a sense of elation. But over the next several hours the “gloom,” as he calls it, returned. “The circumstances that had led this young man to acquire tuberculosis were not going to change … The chances for long life in the Nigerian farmer were poor.”

I could imagine Dr. Collins asking himself, “Why did I risk saving him in the first place?”
The next morning Collins went to the bedside of the young man and found him reading his Bible. His condition had improved substantially. He asked if Collins had worked at the hospital very long. “No, I am just visiting.” Then he said the words Dr. Collins said he would forever remember: “I get the sense you are wondering why you came here. I have an answer for you. You came here for one reason. You came here for me!”

As he stopped and reflected, Frances Collins thought, “I was stunned. Stunned that he could see so clearly into my heart, but even more stunned at the words he was speaking … With a few simple words he had put my grandiose dreams of being the great white doctor to shame. He was right. We are each called to reach out to others. On rare occasions that can happen on a grand scale. But most of the time it happens in simple acts of kindness of one person to another. Those are the events that really matter … I was in harmony with God’s will, bonded together with this young man in a most unlikely but marvelous way.”

Often we are too caught up in the “big things” to realize the significance of “divine moments.” God placed us here to make a difference in the lives of the people we touch. Our promise is to “Be Known.” The reality is that you can get an education anywhere. But here, at George Fox University, it is our vision to provide students an opportunity to gain something much deeper – a life – to see as God sees. For a moment in 1989, in the heart of Africa, an internationally known scientist and doctor gained insight into his soul. He began to see as God sees, and he brought healing and grace to a young man who also gave him deeper insight into Dr. Collins’ own purpose for living.

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Sports and Civility

I love this Theodore Roosevelt quote (although it needs to be extended today to women) …

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . . 
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What Does the Future Hold for Higher Education?

It is so difficult to know what the future holds for any organization. This past week the Oregon Business Council gathered the leaders of Oregon universities, private and public, to think together about the future of higher education in the state. America has understood, perhaps better than other cultures, that advances in education are also inexorably linked to significant improvements in the economy at both a personal and broad-based cultural level. Perhaps that is why so many are concerned about the future; for the first time in American history it appears that the current generation will not exceed the educational attainment levels of their parents.
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Considering the Future of Higher Education

The Apostle Paul once reflected on the future by noting that, in this life, we see “through a glass darkly.” That has been particularly true of the state of higher education for the past five years. Since the great recession of 2007-08, American universities have undergone dramatic change and some of our basic assumptions about the future have been challenged.
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Amish Grace

Every fall the presidents of the Consortium of Christian Colleges gather to dialogue. We discuss the challenges facing our institutions and our families, and we share and seek spiritual growth as a group of Christian leaders. Ruth and I have had the opportunity to attend seven of these gatherings, and they have become more meaningful over time.
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‘Packing Light’ – Part 2

I’m not sure why I like to collect “stuff,” but I do. Perhaps some of it comes from the fact that my family moved a lot when I was growing up and having “things” seems to give me a feeling of permanence. I know you are thinking that, from a logical standpoint, that is ridiculous – things aren’t permanent. True, but when it comes to collections, I am not very reasonable.

After reading alumna (MAT program) Allison’s book I thought that I might collect “things” because I don’t really trust God. Collecting things does give me a sense of control in a world as president where I always seem to be responding to some event or crisis. I have always thought it was funny that many people believe that when you’re a president you have “control” of most of your life. The opposite seems to be the case.
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‘Packing Light’ – Part 1

OK, first a disclaimer: I need to tell you that my communications staff consistently tells me I don’t know how to write a blog – I write too much. What you must remember is that I am at heart a historian. To really tell a story takes time. So if you are one of those persons who really need to have something stated in two paragraphs or fewer, this story is not for you.

About two weeks ago I was going up the staircase in the Stevens Center and made my usual brief stop in our admissions office. I started a conversation when Mandee Wilmot asked, “Would you like a copy of my sister’s book?” Well, I really didn’t need another book to read at the moment, but Mandee was so sincere and, after all, it was her sister. So, I took the book, placed it in my bag and thought, “I will get to it sometime.”
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Taking Tara to College

This past weekend we welcomed more than 700 students to George Fox University for the fall of 2013. On Thursday evening several of us host a session with parents where we talk about their hopes and dreams and how George Fox can partner with them in achieving the goals of their student. It is never easy to leave a child at college. Although Tara is our third child (and we have done this before!) it proved to be just as hard to leave her as it was for Jacob and Rebekah.
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Thoughts on a life well lived


In our culture, death and the subsequent funerals are often hidden from view. We do not like to be reminded that our time on earth is limited. We are bombarded in the media with “visions” of youth, and many of us are constantly engaged in efforts to retain our youthful vigor as long as possible! In my case, I am addicted to running. I run most every day and it does help keep me relatively healthy. One disadvantage in my community (George Fox University) is that I am constantly reminded that the “distance” between me and the college students grows greater each year.
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