Tuesday, December 26, 2006

At Urbana '06!

Monique and I arrived today in St. Louis for Urbana '06, InterVarsity's triennial student missions conference. Check out www.urbana.org for more information about the conference and visit the information page for Open for Business, a completely new track designed for graduate students. Please pray that God blesses the delegates and staff during the next several days. We're looking forward to what God will do in this place.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Student Profile: Roger Jackson

GCF Profile – Roger Jackson, 12/21/06

1. Tell us about your life. Are you married? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan at 11:57PM on October 27, 1977 to my parents, Roger & Carolyn Jackson. My older sister by about six years, Danell, and I grew up in a small farming town in the thumb region of Michigan named Imlay City. My father was a journeyman tool-n-die maker (and worked 40-60hr weeks) and my mother was a homemaker until I was age 10. My sister graduated as salutatorian of her 1990 graduation class from Imlay City High School and was given a full-ride academic scholarship to attend Central Michigan University, well that was until CMU revoked it because my parents “made too much money.” To this day my sister has only achieved her associates degree as she has had to work full-time while going to school to get as far as she has to date. On 12/02/90, my dad had the first of two heart-attacks in a two month period of time. Our family naturally became a trauma family overnight and spent the next four years in recovery. In July 1991, our family moved out to Mesa, AZ where we lived for 14 months (in hopes that the climate would speed my dad’s recovery and it did) and where I was nearly strangled to death in gym class by gang-wannabes. In September 1992, we moved back to Mt. Clemens, Michigan and lived with my grandparents for about two months. The State of Michigan, who had promised to finish my dad’s vocational retraining, reneged and told him instead that our family was “better off with him dead than alive.” The State of Ohio on the other hand agreed to take his case on, so we moved to Findlay, Ohio, where I began attending Findlay High School (this my 3rd high school in a three month period of time). At this point, my life was empty of reliable friends and devoid of joy. Life was cold, dark, empty, and I was hanging on my last straw. But, once again God showed Himself faithful to our family and to me. [Note: I grew up in the Church and accepted Christ as Savior at age 10 and was baptized at age 16. It was at age 10 that God gave me Bill Gaither’s song, “Because He Lives”, which became one of my anchors through the years above and since.] It was by His Grace and providential care that our family was slowly healed over the next several years. He surrounded me with a community of faith from within FHS from the very day I stepped in the door, a community of faith and friendships that would sustain me to the end of high school. Throughout high school, I was active in both membership and leadership positions in Student Council, National Honor Society, and the Mock Trial team. I was an honors student, who graduated 8th in my 1996 graduation class. Desiring a strongly Christian and intellectually stimulating academic environment, I attended Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) where I was pre-med and graduated with a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Biochemistry in 2000. From here, I moved to Nashville, TN to attend Vanderbilt University. I am currently single, but I am looking forward to what God has in store for my life as I start a new journey in life as I am now completing my Ph.D.

2. Tell us about your education. Where, when, and in what have you done coursework?

Attended Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) where I was in the pre-med program and graduated with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Biochemistry in 2000. I have since attended Vanderbilt University where I have been pursuing a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology.

3. Tell us about your faith journey. How did you come to faith in Christ, and how has your faith been strengthened/challenged by your academic calling?

I grew up in a Christian family and in the church and accepted Christ as Savior and Lord at age 10. At age 16, I was baptized at First Baptist Church (in Findlay, Ohio). I am currently a member of First Baptist Nashville, where I am part of the Joshua Sunday School Class and serve in the Sanctuary Choir.

My faith has been strengthened by my academic calling in biology by first had observation of the intricacies of beauty, design, and care found throughout all of nature from the very grand scape of the cosmos to the infinitesimal size of the atom). To study biology for me has been learning about my Heavenly Father and thinking his thoughts or observing His work after him.

More strikingly, however, it has been by academic calling in biology that has challenged my faith severely. First, it was my perception that I was being called into medicine that led to my three struggle and “being frozen in place” during undergrad. On one hand, I was sure that He wanted to use me in medicine as a doctor otherwise why would He have allowed the things in my family’s life to happen with regard to our personal family trauma and then dealing with and caring for my close family friends, my grandparents, and some of my mom’s aunts and uncles with cancer. On the other hand, God kept shutting doors to my exploration of medicine and ultimately I did not have the support needed to make it through medical school successfully (and hence part of the reason why I came to graduate school instead). Second, my faith is challenged by being in a scientific environment in which most people are not Christians—atheists, agnostics, non-practicing Catholics, people representing all the cultures and religions of the world. My challenge as a graduate student is to be Christian in my walk, actions, and worldview in a world that outright rejects Christ and to hold up Truth and Love as my operating standards.

4. Tell us about your involvement with GCF. How has GCF encouraged you in both your faith and your academic calling?

I have been a member of GCF since I started graduate school in the fall of 2000. (I first learned of GCF when I came for my interview and happened to meet several members on that trip.) I have since served GCF in many leadership capacities including President (2001-2003), Core Leadership Team (2003-Present), and as Treasurer (2004-Present).

For me, GCF has been the following:

- A home away from home – a caring community of faith and friends who have been part of my Nashville “family” in addition to those from my local church.

- A place where the realities and weighty issues of academic life and Christian faith can be conversed openly and without fear – a safe “harbor” and also a place where “iron sharpens iron.”

- A source of graduate student mentors, whose guidance and helpful advice have made my journey through graduate school easier than it would have been if I had to have gone down this often challenging, frustrating, lonely, and isolating path alone. And a place where I could be used as a mentor to those who have come to grad school following me.

- A support network of people who truly understand what you are going through in the world of academia and where being brothers and sisters in Christ takes real form tangibly and intangibly depending upon the need.

- A community of faith (students and staff) which continuously kept me filled with the Word and stretched me in my capacity as a Christian leader and in my reliance upon God with each and every step along the way.

5. If, based on your journey in faith and academia, you could tell the Church one thing, what would it be?

There is incredible joy and blessing to be obtained by active engagement of the scriptures (rather than simple engagement of the status quo) and by being willing to truly be a body of Christ through the good times and as we share the burdens of each others struggles.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Help in Prayer

I've often struggled to put into words how Christian liturgy has helped me in my spiritual life. I'm usually talking to people who are suspcious of anything liturgical becuase they are scared of the "cold" and the "dead." I found the following passage from N.T. Wright's Simply Christian (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006: 164-166) very helpful for me both in articulating my own experience and attempting to speak to others about the situation. It is from his chapter on prayer.

Help is at hand not least in those who have trodden the path ahead of us. Part of our difficulty here is that we moderns are so anxious to do things our own way, so concerened that if we get help from anyone else our prayer won't be "authentic" and come from our own heart, that we are instantly suspcious about using anyone else's prayers. We are like someone who doesn't feel she's properly dressed unless she has personally designed and made all her own clothes; or like someone who feels it's artificial to drive a car he hasn't built all by himself. We are hamstrung by the long legacy of the Romantic movement on the one hand, and Existentialism on the other, producing the idea that things are authentic only if they come spontaneously, unbidden, from the depths of our hearts.

Frankly, as Jesus pointed out, there's a lot that comes from the depths of our hearts which may be authentic but isn't very pretty. One good breath of fresh air from the down-to-earth world of first-century Judaism is enough to blow away the smog of the self-absorbed (and ultimately proud) quest for "authenticity" of that kind. When Jesus's followers asked him to teach them to pray, he didn't tell them to divide into focus groups and look deep within their own hearts. He didn't begin by getting them to think slowly through their life experiences to discover what types of personality each of them had, to spend time getting in touch with their buried feelings. He and they both understood the question they had asked: they wanted, and needed, a form of words which they could learn and use. That's what John the Baptist had given to his followers. Other Jewish teachers had done the same. That's what Jesus did, too, giving his disciples the prayer we began with at the start of this chapter [the Lord's Prayer], which remains at the heart of all Christian prayer.

But notice the point. There's nothing wrong with having a form of words composed by somebody else. Indeed, there's probably something wrong with not using such a form. Some Christians, some of the time, can sustain a life of prayer entirely out of their own internal resources, just as there are hardy mountaineers (I've met one) who can walk the Scottish highlands in their bare feet. But most of us need boots; not because we don't want to do the walking ourselves, but because we do.

This plea, it will be obvious, is aimed in one particular direction: at the growing number of Christians in many countries who, without realizing it, are absorbing an element of late modern culture (the Romantic-plus-Existentialist mixture I mentioned a moment ago) as though it were Christianity itself. To them I want to say: there is nothing wrong, nothing sub-Christian, nothing to do with "works-righteousness," about using words, set forms, prayers, and sequences of prayer written by other people in other centuries. Indeed, the idea that I must always find my own words, that I must generate my own devotion from scratch every morning, that unless I think of new words I must be spiritually lazy or deficient--that has the all-too-familiar sign of human pride, of "doing it my way": of, yes, works-righteousness. Good liturgy--other people's prayers, whether for corporate or individual use--can be, should be, a sign and means of grace, an occasion of humility (accepting that somone else has said, better than I can, what I deeply want to express) and gratitude. How many times have I been grateful, faced with nightfalls both metaphorical and literal, for the old Anglican prayer which runs,

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;
and by thy great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers this night;
for the love of thy only Son,
our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I didn't write it, but whoever did has my undying gratitude. It's just what I wanted.

Sometimes I just say, "The Prayer Book [Book of Common Prayer] saved my prayer life." For me the liturgy of the church has proven more than something I wanted; it is something I very deeply needed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Party!

The day before Advent started, GCF got together for its annual Christmas party. This year, we had lots of food, fellowship, lessons, and carols.

As I grow in understanding of the history of Christ's church and its celebrations, I appreciate Advent more and more. It starts the four Sundays before Christmas and is a time of preparation. Preparation for what? For Christmas, of course, but not only Christmas. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ's first Advent as a baby in a manger, but the assigned Scripture readings for Advent also remind us to prepare for Christ's second Advent as King and Judge. Advent is a penitential season, like Lent, and even uses the same deep purple as Lent in its celebrations.

Another thing that's interesting is that the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calendar year. That's right, first Sunday of Advent is New Year's Day! (I guess that made our Advent-eve party a New Year's Eve party!) For millenia, Christians have lived on a different calendar than the rest of the world, a calendar that revolves not around equinoxes or Roman deities, but around the coming, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. By living according to this calendar, Christians have the opportunity to yearly retrace Jesus' steps as they grow as his disciples. How amazing!

That's why I was so pleased to have our Christmas party capped by a service of lessons and carols. We read from Scripture starting in Genesis, winding through the prophets, and ending with the announcement to Mary. God's story of redemption in Christ is amazing, and I am so happy to share in it with you, with the grad students and faculty at Vanderbilt, and with all who watch and wait for His return.

Merry Christmas.