Vanderbilt, What Will We Wear Wednesday?

Today, (Tuesday) many students on Vanderbilt’s campus, and also on other campuses, will be wearing white.  People will be tweeting with the #wearevanderbilttoo hashtag.  Facebook profile pictures will change to a white cross.  All of that will happen in preparation for tonight’s town hall style meeting at Vanderbilt.  My guess is, if you are reading this blog, you already know the issue, and most likely, you already have your own thoughts and your own stance.  Most articles and tweets and facebook posts will be, in a sense, “tweeted to the choir.”  Those who already care will care the most to follow what is going on.

The following is for those people who know where they stand and who will be wearing white today.  More specifically, it is for Christians, although I know other people might be concerned with what is happening at Vanderbilt.

Regardless of what happens tonight (and honestly, knowing the pace at which this whole process has gone, probably nothing truly new will “happen” tonight) Wednesday will roll around.  What then?  What will I do?  What are we, people who believe that Jesus is worthy to be stood up for, going to take away from all of this?  When the excitement and fervor die down, which they will eventually, what will be left?  We are wearing white today, what will we wear tomorrow?

I think that there are several answers to the last question, which help answer all the others:

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ... -Romans 13:14a

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
-Galatians 3:27

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. -Colossians 3:12-14

It will be easy enough to wear white today.  Have people realized that, all along, we were wearing something even more significant?  To have “put on Christ” and “put on love” ought to make far more of a statement than a day in white t-shirts.  But actually, I think my last sentence is somewhat misleading.  If we want to make a “statement,” being clothed in white will do the trick just fine.  However, if we want to make an impact, we must be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is what must happen when the fervor dies down.

Putting on white can bring people together in opposition.  Putting on Christ can bring people together in love.

White shirts will make a statement against this non-discrimination policy.  If we put on Christ, we can make an impact on the unbelievable amount of very real discrimination and self segregation on Vanderbilt’s campus.  For the last few weeks and during these days when the hubbub has been at its highest, many people from all over Vanderbilt’s campus have been brought together.  However, over the long haul, only the love of Christ, who crossed all barriers to reconcile his people, will maintain that unity.  Christ can make the most diverse people into one people (cf. Ephesians 2:14), because he has bought them, shown them grace, and taught them to show grace to one another.  Will a real impact be made on disunity through this situation?

Putting on white calls us to pray tomorrow evening.  Putting on Christ calls us to lean on the Father in prayer during seasons, good or bad.

Oh God, please let tonight’s gathering for prayer not be about simply making a statement.  If we understand who You are, we will realize that nothing can make a greater impact on this world than the prayers of your people.

When I was a student at Vanderbilt, I was a leader in a Christian organization, and on various occasions was given the task or organizing and gathering people for prayer.  Only a handful of people wanted to come and pray.  Now that this new policy is at the forefront, and religious organizations are in danger, people have come together often to pray.  That is a great thing that must continue.

If we are clothed with Christ, we will know that Christ is the one sustaining us at all times, and we will cry out to him in thanks during the joyful seasons and cry out to him for mercy in confusing seasons like the current one (cf. James 5:13).  Also, if we have put on Christ, we will have eyes to see that, all along, Vanderbilt, the city of Nashville, and our lives in general were plagued with problems, sins, and injustice that desperately needed prayer.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).  Have we truly seen our need for Christ, and do we mourn over the ills of this world?  Will this situation have a lasting impact on our prayer life, or will that dwindle after we take of the white?

Putting on white, we will boldly stand up for our rights.  Putting on Christ, we will boldly stand up for others.

Allow me to play the role of a cynic for a moment. One might wonder: “Why is it that Christians can come together and mount a movement when their organizations are in danger, while that same kind of zeal is not seen to face the world’s “real” problems?  What about poverty, sex-trafficking, AIDS, adoption crises, racism, etc?  Do we only perceive injustice when it means we can’t have our meetings on campus anymore?”

There is a partial truth to that criticism.  If we are clothed with Christ, we ought to walk as salt and light on the earth, and we will be the leading voices in the causes of justice for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).  There are far greater problems in the world than one policy on one college campus, but it is so difficult to put one’s heart and effort into another person’s problems.  However, that cynical sentiment is untrue if it determines that the small fights are unimportant.  And honestly, who can judge exactly how important this one struggle will be?

If nothing else, this small fight ought to be a cause for great hope for all causes of the oppressed, because it shows that, when people wake up to a problem, they can come together to do something about it.  On Vanderbilt’s campus, and the world in general, those who are clothed in Christ should be the voices of truth, comfort, justice, healing, and help when no one else will speak up.  If our message cannot be backed up by this…then we will have just been wearing t-shirts today, and only doing it for ourselves.  Today and beyond, if we have put on Christ, the same boldness we have today will lead us to fearlessly fight for the causes of others.  That is what will leave an impact.

Putting on white clothing proclaims that we can believe in Christ.  Putting on Christ proclaims Christ.

Today, people are uniting for religious freedom, a cause that is rightly worth defending.  Putting on white declares, “We should be able to worship freely.”

However, being clothed in Christ calls us to something more.  When he is our everything, our declaration is not simply, “We should be able to worship freely” but rather, “We should worship Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus, the crucified and  risen Savior is the one we proclaim (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23), today and for all time.  White shirts, a symbol of religious liberty, serve not as an end in themselves, but, for Christians, as an avenue toward being able to proclaim Christ.  Religious freedom alone will never save the world.  Christ alone will. (cf. 1 John 2:2)

Putting on white, we speak up for our rights.  Putting on Christ can free us to lay them down if necessary.

Who knows what will happen tonight and in the months to come?  This post has just been an effort to say that, regardless of what happens, tonight is not the end.  We trust and worship Jesus Christ, and when the white shirts come off, he will not.  If the following months bring a victory for religious organizations on Vanderbilt’s campus, then we will be clothed in Christ and thank him and worship him for that victory.  If Vanderbilt decides that their policy is not changing, then we will still be clothed in Christ, putting on his love, compassion, and forgiveness, trusting that he knows best.  After all, Christ’s greatest victory came when he laid down his rights and gave himself up for us all (Philippians 2:5-8).  Perhaps his greatest victory through us will happen when we do the same.

When we wear white shirts tonight, it will make a statement.  If we put on Christ, he will make an impact, and one that we never could have imagined.

Do you know what is happening at Vanderbilt?

If you are not aware, allow me to update you about my alma mater.  For about a year, Vanderbilt has been investigating its religious organizations to see whether or not they are in compliance with its non-discrimination policy.  To make a long story short, several including BYX and Christian Legal Society, were found to be in violation.

The problem?  The organizations discriminate who can be leaders in their organizations based upon religious beliefs.  Maybe you think, “Shouldn’t a religious organization be able to determine the religious beliefs of its leaders?”  Well, you think differently than Vanderbilt.

According to the plan they have in place, an organization, like BYX (a Christian fraternity), could stay as a registered organization and have business as usual only if they were willing to refrain from asking prospective members, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?”

I’ll include more, and better details in a second, but I would like to let you know that on Tuesday evening, there is going to be a “town hall” style meeting on Vanderbilt’s campus (I don’t think that has ever happened before) where Vanderbilt is going to discuss its policy with people who are interested.  I, as well as students who are currently there, ask for your prayers for that meeting.  Also, you can:

And now for the rest, I’m just copying the wonderful article that our former Vanderbilt BYX president just had published in the Vanderbilt Newspaper.  It is long, but well argued and thought provoking.  He has been there for all of this, and so he can explain things better than I can:

“Beginning last spring, Vanderbilt began implementing a new non-discrimination policy that undermines the integrity of many student religious organizations. As a student leader in one of these organizations, I had a front-row seat to the drama that unfolded behind closed doors as many in the religious community attempted to dialogue with the administration. Like so many others, I was dedicated to pleading the case of religious life — but only in private.

“Then I received the chancellor’s email last week and something inside of me snapped. I realized that the rest of the Vanderbilt community deserves a more accurate picture of what had been transpiring privately for so many months. So this is a public plea. A public and passionate plea for myself and any other student who wants the opportunity to make choices for religious organizations based on their religious beliefs.

“It’s that simple.

“Yet, throughout this process the university has consistently obscured the facts in an effort to gain acceptance for a policy that is widely unpopular amongst those it will affect. I’m going to try to clear up a few of those facts, and then I’ll go on to explain what I believe.

“From the beginning, Vanderbilt has denied crafting a new, more expansive non-discrimination policy. Instead, administrators have tried to convince us this is actually a case of a few organizations being asked to conform to a longstanding practice.

According to this story, various offices are finally “catching up” with a policy that has been in place across the university all along. But no matter how the facts are framed, the reality is that the student organization handbook was altered last December, when a section specifically protecting religious association was removed, as highlighted by The Hustler in September 2011. Then, in April, a number of organizations were placed on provisional status as constitutions that had been easily approved in previous years were evaluated under this new standard. Call it a policy change or call it “catching up.” Either way, something changed. And that change will have real consequences for student organizations.

“So far, the refrain echoed by a variety of university officials is that for all intents and purposes, business will continue as usual. But in a meeting with the Interfaith Council last Tuesday, Dean of Students Mark Bandas went so far as to admit that religious organizations could come under investigation if there was suspicion that members used religious criteria in voting for their leaders.

“Let’s say that you’re a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and that you’re running for president of the organization. You win the election, but the student that you beat feels that he lost because members of the organization cast their votes based on his religious beliefs. According to Bandas, Vanderbilt would have grounds to investigate your organization for discrimination if the other student lodged a formal complaint. That hardly seems like business as usual to me.

“Many students and administrators have also asked why students who don’t agree with an organization’s beliefs would try to lead that organization. Do I actually believe that an atheist student would want to lead Navigators? No, I don’t believe that “hostile takeovers” are a real threat. But that doesn’t make this new policy viable. One main reason being that it exposes religious organizations to other threats.

“What if a student leader goes away for the summer and has a change of beliefs? And if she doesn’t believe in the shared values of the organization, how can she lead people in putting those beliefs into practice? Under the new policy, asking her to step down qualifies as discrimination, yet keeping her in that leadership position undermines the integrity of the organization. This is only one example of the kind of catch-22 this policy creates for religious organizations.

“There has also been a lack of transparency about which groups this policy will affect. While it is still unclear who will be kicked off campus in April, members of several groups have expressed their opposition to the implementation of the policy, including members of: Vandy Catholic, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Navigators, CRU, Beta Upsilon Chi, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Asian-American Christian Fellowship, Bridges International and the Lutheran Student Fellowship, as well as graduate organizations like the Christian Legal Society, the Medical Christian Fellowship and the Graduate Christian Fellowship.

“The current narrative also fails to represent the concern of hundreds, if not thousands, of parents and alumni from across the country who have called, written and recently purchased radio ads expressing their discontent with Vanderbilt’s new policy. This is not a case of a few rogue groups flaunting a well-established and accepted policy; this is a story of Vanderbilt enforcing a new, aggressive policy that has been met with widespread resistance from across the Vanderbilt community.

“At various times the administration has also argued that they must enforce this new reading of the non-discrimination policy to protect Vanderbilt’s federal funding. This claim holds absolutely no weight. In a letter sent to the chancellor and the board of trust in December, six prominent law school professors, including the director of Stanford’s Constitutional Law Center, expressed their “collective opinion that no court decision, administrative regulation or federal or state statute requires Vanderbilt to prohibit religious student groups from requiring their leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs.”

“On numerous occasions the university has also advanced the argument that this new interpretation of the non-discrimination policy is necessary to protect students against discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Yet, even if you believe Vanderbilt’s previous policy allowed for discrimination against LGBTQI students, this sweeping new restriction on religious association is overly broad. Protecting LGBTQI students does not require the kind of policy that prohibits members of religious organizations using religious beliefs to choose their leaders.

“But let’s look past the administration’s position. Here’s what I believe.

“I believe that groups that challenge beliefs and promote dialogue are critical components of Vanderbilt University. I also believe that groups that exist to support members in expressing their commonly held convictions are essential for a healthy campus community. Some groups aspire to meet both purposes, some focus on one over the other – and I believe that an institution like Vanderbilt should promote and encourage both kinds of communal expression.

“Vanderbilt’s new non-discrimination policy undermines those groups with common interests, especially communities that meet to express commonly held religious beliefs. By preventing students and organizations from choosing leaders based on principles of faith, administrators are charting a new course that inhibits student efforts to create communities that can adequately meet their needs. This new policy also prevents students from maintaining the purpose and integrity of their communities over time. As Supreme Court Justice Alito wrote in a recent 9-0 ruling for the high court regarding religious association, “a religious body’s right to self-governance must include the ability to select, and to be selective about, those who will serve as the very ‘embodiment of its message.’” That same right is necessary for religious groups at Vanderbilt to accurately represent and adequately serve students.

“Over my four years here, members of various religious organizations have supported, strengthened and stretched me as person. Organizations like BYX, the BCM and Navigators have truly changed my life, and I know that religious organizations of all types have contributed in important ways to the lives of hundreds of other students at Vanderbilt. So tomorrow I’ll be wearing white to express my love for Vanderbilt, my conviction that religious students should be allowed to make decisions in religious organizations based on their religious beliefs, and my hope that this new policy will be changed in order to protect religious life for future Vanderbilt students. If you share the same feelings, I’d love to have you join me.”

January Photos

I’ve already posted a bunch of photos from this month in earlier posts, so look back if you want to see things from the Arboretum or my trip out to the villages or baby pictures.  I thought I’d include a few more photos though, especially since my mother will appreciate the fact that I am in a few of them.

Cultural Differences: Babies and Children

Per request from my sister, I have decided to post about cultural differences regarding babies and children and how they are raised.

Fezoro likes to grab my nose.

It does not take a long time at all while here in Madagascar to notice that things are a little different in regards to children.  The immediately noticeable difference is that there are a lot of them.  Babies and children seem to be everywhere.  Some of that comes, from the philosophy that having lots of children is a wonderful gift.  When a couple is married, an elder blesses them that they may have seven boys and seven girls.  Honestly, your average Malagasy in the city is not wanting quite that many, but they still think that American ideal of two or three children is very small.

Here are some statistics from the World Bank and other sources you might find interesting.  Otherwise, skip these bullet points:

  • 43% of the population is under 15.  Compare that with 13% in the United States.
  • Only 43.9% of births are attended by a professional healthcare professional.  Most of that is a result of lack of access to those professionals or lack of money.
  • The fertility rate is 4.8 births per woman.  The poorest segment of the population has a fertility rate of 6.8 and the wealthiest segment has a rate of 2.7.  The fertility rate in the United States is about 2.06.
  • Imagine you meet a woman in Madagascar today who is between the ages of 20-24 (in other words, the young generation, not the old one).  If she is in the wealthier segment of the population, there is a 1 in 4 chance she had a baby before she was 18.  If she is in the poorer segment of the population there is a 66% chance she had a baby before she was 18.

That’s enough of statistics.  The rest of this will just be some of my observations of life and behavior here.  It might be helpful to think as you read, “How would I raise all these children with very little money or resources?”  And also, “Why do I do things the way I do them?”

  • Diapers are expensive, and there is not a good system for disposing of trash, so people don’t use them.  It is much cheaper to just wash a lot of underwear. (As a side note, in China, parents don’t use diapers much either, but instead use “split-pants”.  These are pants split down the middle so that when the child squats, they automatically open up, and the child can just pee or poop on the ground.) Continue reading

How Are You Celebrating Australia Day?

Because I know you are!

Hooray for Reading!!!

Books are great!  A couple months ago, I wrote about some of the books I have been reading.  And now, here are more of them!!!

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving The World In Christlike Humility
Duane Elmer 

If not for this book, I think my ministry and mindset here would be vastly different.  Pride is always a danger, and especially so when one tries to be a servant.  Because missionaries come to give and serve, they often start thinking or acting like the people they are serving have nothing to offer them.  For example, if I lead a Bible Study with the Malagasy people, will I listen to them, or will I assume I am the one with all the answers?  Surely anything these believers have to say will be somewhat childish, right?  Surely I will need to supplement a Sunday sermon heard here from a Malagasy pastor with a Podcast from America where I can get some real teaching.  Right?  Elmer’s premise is that missionaries, and anyone who serves cross-culturally will be much more affective, loving, joyful, and Christlike if they stop giving the impression that they are better than the people they are serving.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeff Sachs

Jeff Sachs is an economist, and a happily optimistic one.  When he talks about ending poverty, he is talking specifically about extreme poverty.  This is not a kind of poverty that exists in America; America has relative poverty, not extreme poverty. Extreme poverty exists where people have almost no access to reliable food, clean water, modern medicine, education, transportation, etc.  In extreme poverty, such that which exists in many parts of subsaharan Africa, people have almost no chance of getting themselves out.  Jeff Sachs believes we have the resources to end this kind of extreme poverty, and he explains the problem and a solution (which he says can be accomplished in about 20 years) in this book.  Perhaps it is a little too optimistic, but I enjoyed the book because Sachs does believe something needs to be done, and that something can be done.  He knows it wouldn’t be easy and that there is no simple solution, but he thinks that with patience and effort, extreme poverty can be ended.

Ethics
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This was the book Bonhoeffer thought of as his most important, however, he was not able to finish it.  Reading it is often like reading unfinished thoughts.  There are large and wonderful sections, but they lack connection.  Still, it was a great and thought provoking book. His major themes are that Christian Ethics are not about becoming the judges between right and wrong or good and evil.  Trying to determine our own set of judgements inevitably falls short and leads to Phariseeism.  This was also the origin of the fall, where Eve desired to know good and evil.  Rather, Christian ethics is about becoming reconciled to God and his will, since only God’s will is what is good.  In other words, God is the judge, and following God’s will is what we need to do.  Now this is not the same as simply saying that there is no such thing as right and wrong or that we can’t claim to know it.   What he is saying is that, as we listen to God through his Word, we let his Word be the judge and we simply follow that.  We will, in a sense, make judgements, and stive for what is right, but only as those listening to the judge, not as people who want to become the judge.  The other major theme is that God’s will is not separate from the world, but takes place in the world.  A Christian ethic must engage the world, not withdraw from it.  God created us human, and wants us to live human lives.  There were sections and chapters of this book that were so good and insightful, that I immediately reread them. Continue reading

Fifteen Mile Hike To Nowhere (And Then Back Again)

Hello everyone!  I just got back from a village visit!  A few months before I arrived in Madagascar, a group of people from an aid organization came and brought big blue water-tanks to villages surrounding the town of Andranovory.  Back in November, I went to help set them up, and I knew at the end of that trip that I would need to come back for some follow-up to make sure everything was running well with the tanks.  Things were alright in general, and we had a great time!

Hey look! That's me in a village!

I will make one note to anyone wanting to give aid to foreign countries.  Giving to a poor country is not easy and perhaps takes more work than giving to a more developed country.  Even something simple is not simple to give.  If you go to a third world country to bring something like water-collection tanks, please be sure you finish the job.  For example, please provide everything the villagers might need in order to get the tanks, or whatever you are bringing, in working order.  Please provide enough gutters and enough tin roofing to make the tanks worthwhile before you go back home.  While it is good to allow the native people to take some agency in the project, if you wonder, “Why don’t they set it up on their own?” they would probably reply with their own questions: “How do you plan on us doing this?  What lumber and bricks do you imagine we have?  What extra gutters do you imagine we can buy, and with what money do you imagine we can buy it?  Should we use a hammer and nails?  What hammer?  What nails?  We farm corn, not tin roofs and hardware.”

A part of me sort of thinks, better to bring one water tank and set it up really well, then to bring twenty water tanks that might struggle to fulfill their purpose all their lives because the gutters are held on by rusty pieces of wire that the villagers were able to find.  I will say that regardless of these thoughts, the villagers and I are very thankful for what has been provided.  It would be silly to receive the tanks and then just say, “No thanks,” as though we weren’t grateful.  I’m just giving a reminder that giving cross culturally can be quite difficult, and perhaps if you can it is good to let generosity go just a bit further so the job gets 100% complete, as opposed to 85% complete.  I think everyone would be more satisfied.

And now some pictures! Continue reading

Nature Pictures Including Lemurs!

We had a chance to go out to an Arboretum the other day.  Being out of the city, there were bunches of animals, and since we had a guide, we were actually able to find them.  Here are some pictures which include mouse lemurs.

Here is the taxi I took to get there.  That isn’t a detergent bottle.  That is the fuel tank.

A fly catcher. Continue reading

Cultural Differences: Sleeping

There is a phrase everyone should know when they are traveling abroad: “It’s not wrong, it’s different.”  That because when going to another culture, some things will seem so very out of place, and sometimes just plain wrong.  While some things are actually wrong, others are really just a matter of custom, even if they seem incredibly unreasonable.  The Word of God is super helpful at determining the two.

This post is an effort to help explain what it is like to be in a very different place like Madagascar.  I’ll give one example with a story.

I had been in Madagascar for two weeks when I got the chance to go on a trip to the small town of Betioky to share the gospel, and I went with about thirty other Malagasy people.  We didn’t have money for a hotel, but the town let us stay in two classrooms at the school since their classes were on holiday.  So the first night, I went to the classroom where I and about fifteen other men were going to be spending the night.  All the seats had been removed from the classroom, so the whole floor was available as sleeping space.  I had prepared myself mentally for spending the night on the cement floor, and when I got in the room, I found a nice cozy unclaimed corner-spot.  I got my blanket out and had my fleece jacket arranged nicely as a pillow.

But there was one thing I did not understand.  From my perspective, things should have looked something like this in the room:

All sleeping peacefully

But then I heard a voice, and turning around, I realized that things looked like this…

"It's not wrong, it's different. It's not wrong, it's different. It's not wrong, it...

Why in the world would I want to sleep all isolated in the corner as though I thought they were all gross and dirty?  Why wouldn’t I be thrilled that Victor and Crescend had saved me a spot between them on a 4 ft. x 6 ft. straw mat?  Isn’t it much easier to sleep shoulder to shoulder instead of cold and alone?

I reluctantly picked up my blanket and my fleece-jacket-pillow, and got into their nice little sleeping arrangement.  It took me a while to get to sleep.

I think this would strike some Americans as odd.  So might the fact that, on a recent trip to the capital Antananarivo, the Bishop was assigned a twin bed to share with his Malagasy translator.

In Pierre’s house there are five people using one bunk bed and a double.  Either he and his wife or his two sons are sharing a spot on the bunk bed.

A part of all this might also stem from the fact that many other cultures outside the United States practice cosleeping (that’s an official anthropology term, not one I made up) which is where newborn babies sleep in the bed with their mother and keep sleeping there until another baby is born, at which point the older child might move to another bed in the room.  Often at that point, the father might move to the bed with the older child so that child does not have to sleep alone.  This is especially helpful for newborns because it lets the baby breastfeed whenever it needs to and the mother often barely wakes up or perhaps does not wake up at all.  You might think that is strange and backward.  They would call you a cruel and unloving parent since you try to force your child to sleep in their own bed and (gasp!) in their own room.  They would wonder why you don’t like your baby.

Maybe all these things seem totally normal to you.  If not, just remember: it’s not wrong, it’s different.