The End

Well, I’m back in America now. Everything as far as my travel back to the United States could not have been smoother. Being back in America is a bit overwhelming, but I am excited for what God has in store for this next season of my life.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been keeping up with my time in Madagascar, and who have been praying for me over the last several months.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers or how amazing it was to see God at work in Madagascar and in my own life.  So much of that, I know, was through the help of your prayers. I have not gotten to see too many people since I have been back, but hopefully I will find a time to see you soon, and I can answer any questions you might have about my time in Madagascar.

On another note, this is the end of this particular blog.  Though I enjoy blogging, this one was more about Madagascar, so if I want to blog more, I will probably start a different one.  I’m not sure, however, whether or not Arkansas will provide as many interesting things to write about.  I’ll have to wait and find out.

I can’t think of a better way to do this so…

The End

 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
   How unsearchable his judgments,
   and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
   that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
   To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

My Top 10 Reasons Why I Like Downline

I’ve already posted short versions of these on Twitter, but I figured I would expand them a bit on my blog.  Last year, I went through the Emerging Leader program of Downline Ministries in Memphis Tennesee.  I went in not really knowing what I would think about it, and I came out absolutely having loved it.  I would recommend it to almost anyone who is recent college graduate who wants to grow in their walk with Christ, no matter what field they plan on going into.  At the bottom of the post is a video about the program.  And now, here are my Top 10 Reasons why I like the Emerging Leaders Program.

10: MEMPHIS. I never thought I’d miss Memphis more than Nashville as a city, but I do. God’s working there is great ways, and I think that is the main reason I find it so exciting.  Obviously, Memphis has a reputation for not being a great city.  There is crime and racial tension and education problems, but when I lived there, the atmosphere was thick with hope.  People in Memphis want to redeem Memphis, and I think that made it a very exciting place to live.  Thus, a plus of the EL program is that it takes place in Memphis.

9: IT IS NOT OVER-PROGRAMMED: I have heard of some ministries like Downline that can become so focused on programming and classes that they don’t allow people in the program time to really live out what they are learning.  Downline strives not to do this.  I would estimate that I spent an average of 8 hours a week in actual Downline activities like class and my small group.  That isn’t a lot.  Additionally, Downline makes those activities at the strangest times, like 6am, specifically so it doesn’t interfere with other things.  Downline doesnt want to stick you in a classroom for a year and THEN send you out.  They want Emerging Leaders to be able to have a part-time job and to volunteer where they want to give their time and to actually form relationships with people around them.  Emerging Leaders are busy, but they are busy with what they want to be busy with, whether that be their job or their church or their favorite non-profit or some other thing they are passionate about.

8: IT MAKES YOU “PUT YOUR BIG BOY PANTS ON”. I stole that phrase from Jamie Trussell, one of the leaders of the Emerging Leaders program.  EL isnt there to produce immature 20-somethings.  It isn’t the military, but they do expect you to go to class.  They expect you to be financially responsible.  They expect you to prioritize responsibilities over sports and video games.  They expect you to be able to wake up and go to sleep at normal hours and thus get to places on time.  It’s less about rules that Downline creates and more about an atmosphere that treats Emerging Leaders like they are adults.

7: GREAT TEACHERS: The main aspect of the programming that does exist, is the classes.  Thankfully, they are great classes.  Downline has recruited some top notch teachers to go through lessons about Discipleship and the Bible.  I would say the goal of these classes is much more about life impact than filling one’s head with lots of information.  Downline brings in teachers from all over Memphis and few from other parts of the country. You might not love them all, and they have a variety of teaching styles, but that is a good thing.  I learned more because I was seeing these from several different perspectives.

6: DISCIPLESHIP. This is sort of the main theme of Downline, and more than any other place I have been it tends to become a reality through Downline.  The leaders model what it means to make disciples, they teach how to do it, and expect the people in the program to do it.  Honestly, the biggest perspective shift I had during my time in the Emerging Leader program was regarding my understanding of Discipleship and what makes effective ministry.  The Emerging Leader program is especially good because it sets you up with someone who will disciple you.

5: WORLD FOCUS. Downline cares about the world and wants you to care too. They have several partnerships all over the world with churches and organizations and Downline sends short term teams all over the place.  Though not everyone is called to be a missionary, having a world-focus helps keep everything we do wherever we are in perspective.  But who knows? You might end up in Madagascar.

4: CHURCH. I think this is actually a huge and great thing about the Emerging Leaders program.  Downline is a para-church.  It exists to help churches, not to take the place of them or to keep people too busy to serve in their churches.  Better than any organization I have seen, Downline does this, trying to partner with and unite churches in Memphis.  And Memphis has a whole host of great churches.  I personally was a part of Fellowship Bible Church in Memphis, and I honestly felt like I was able to be more involved with Fellowship Memphis because I was in Downline, not less involved.  The leaders of the EL program want to help plug people into churches.

3: LOVES YOUR PASSION. I have already talked about this a bit, but one of the best things about Downline is that it is there to serve people from all walks of life.  There are dentists, and doctors, and lawyers, and engineers, and educators, and all sorts of people who go through Downline.  The Emerging Leaders program does everything it can to help people understand that you do not need to be in full-time ministry to serve Christ.  If you love cooking, Jesus loves that and wants you to be a chef…for Jesus!  And Downline can help you do that.

2: COMMUNITY. One of the best parts of the Emerging Leaders program is that Downline sets up housing.  Emerging Leaders live with four or five other Emerging Leaders.  When I entered the program, I didn’t know anyone else, and I don’t know if I would have picked everyone I ended up living with based on first impressions.  But that is what made it such a great experience.  I had a very different background and personality than the other five guys I lived with, but I learned a ton from living with them and spending time with them.  Downline does not force the Emerging Leaders to hang out.  There aren’t scheduled community events.  But the potential is there for incredible community.  The Christian life was meant to be lived in fellowship with other believers, and Downline gives the opportunity for that to happen.

1: JAMIE TRUSSELL.  The picture says it all.

Vanderbilt: The Town Hall Meeting

The following is a highlight video from the town hall meeting.  I didn’t make it, and I realize it is a bit intense as far as the music choice and captions go.  I also realized that narrowing a 3 hour long meeting down to 6 minutes creates some obvious bias, since it is showing what these people think are the worst moments of the meeting.  However, I would also say that, the things said in the video were actually said.  If I hear about another 6 minute video in favor of the other side of the argument, I’ll put it in alongside this video.

My personal favorite quote is the statement where the administrator says, “I’m Catholic.  What if my faith beliefs guided all the decisions I make on a given day?”  The students reply, “They should.”

I think that sums up the vastly different way the administration and many students are wanting to approach faith.

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.”

Tweets

Yesterday, in an effort to stay a bit more connected to family and friends and also in an effort to better communicate what life is like in Madagascar, I decided to get a twitter account: @ryanbrazile.  At first I thought it would save me some time since writing a tweet is much shorter than writing a blog, but perhaps it will take up all my time now since there are so many interesting tweets out there to read.  Only time will tell.

Regardless, it will probably mean I blog a bit less.  You can see my tweets over on the right side of the blog, or just go there yourself: @ryanbrazile

Bible Reading

I’m not really one to make many new years resolutions, but I am one who has found having goals and a plan very helpful when it comes to Bible Reading.  Some wise person somewhere, although I can’t exactly remember who, once said that most people fail to pray and read the Bible because they simply didn’t plan to.  I don’t have anything really new to say about this topic except to point you to a very comprehensive blog post by Justin Taylor that discusses pretty much every Bible reading plan imaginable if you are interested.

Also, I would say that Bible reading is best done in the context of relationships, and even personal Bible reading can be helped when you are reading the same things in fellowship with other people.  So if anyone would like to, I am going to give the plan developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne a try this year, although I’m probably just going to read the first two readings for each day (which would be the New Testament, the Psalms, and a big chunk of the Old Testament).  If you’d like to try this with me, let me know!

That’s all.  Happy New Year everyone!