Category Archives: Fall 2019

Stepping Into the Bigger Story

By Serena Puang, DC ’22. Serena is majoring in Linguistics.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the goodness of God and faith. I think growing up in church, it was always assumed that we knew and believed in the fundamental goodness of God. We sang hymns about it and repeated it to each other so often that sometimes, I’ll admit, it became kind of like a joke: someone would share an annoyance from their week and punctuate it with “but God is good…all the time”. 

But what does it mean to really believe that God is good especially when your circumstances aren’t? I’ve struggled a lot in previous years with mental health problems, and as a youth counselor and even as a friend, I’ve encountered so many people who have asked me or even begged me to help them understand why a loving God would let them go through this

I don’t have all the answers. While I’ve experienced radical healing by the grace of God, I don’t know why other people don’t always experience the same healing when they come to Him. I don’t know why God blesses some people more than others. I have no idea why some people are born into loving and supportive families while others aren’t. These are questions I wrestle with often, but maybe they aren’t the most pressing ones. At the end of the day, I have no control over these things, and based on my limited life experience, that’s probably a good thing. So the real question is how we should move forward. 

According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is “the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It might seem childlike and anti-intellectual to believe in this way.  As someone who likes approximately zero uncertainty in her life, I can attest that this is very difficult, but God doesn’t call us to blindly follow him with no evidence of his provision/goodness. He’s given us his word which not only points us to the ultimate assurance of his love for us, Jesus’ death on the cross, but also gives us story after story of regular people who had to step out in faith even when it didn’t make sense. He called Abraham to move away from everything and everyone he knew at the ripe old age of 75 (Genesis 12); he brought David into the wilderness when he was one step away from the throne (1 Samuel 19), and he brought Philip away from his ministry in Samaria to speak to the Ethiopian (Acts 8).

In their lives, and in many more, God calls people to walk with him and join into the bigger story he’s telling with humanity, and each time they step out in faith, God provides and shows them that he is worthy of that trust which in turns strengthens their faith. On that foundation, I’ve found myself stepping out in faith in little ways and then bigger ways because each time I do, I become more and more convinced of the fundamental goodness of God.

In the last 20 years, God has never let me down. That’s not to say that everything has been smooth, but I’ve watched as God has thwarted my little plans and invited me to a bigger one, and I can say with confidence that his way was better than I could have imagined. I need constant reminders of that truth. I think faith is daring to hope expectantly that God is good in this instance too, even when you can’t see it and then acting accordingly, and since God is good, he’s faithful to meet us there. 

 

Regarding Answers

By Sharla Moody, BK ’22. Sharla is currently undeclared.

A cup with a hole in the bottom

is held underneath a spigot

by a thirsty beggar who,

blind and weary, cannot drink,

for his cup is empty.

 

And the answers rush past him

too quickly to be caught,

or he chooses not to seize them.

 

How dare we come before You

with anything but our

humble wonder, how dare we

fester in our arrogance and

seek to unwind You.

 

And the frayed strings knit around us

a blanket of grace which

we could never pluck apart.

 

And you, Abba, tuck us into Your

pocket to rest. O Father, forgive us.

A Little More Than Lukewarm

By Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22. Jadan is currently undeclared.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’” – Psalm 118:1-3


There are two women at Yale I very much admire. The first one, whom I’ll refer to as Lucy, arrived on campus just a few months ago. She’s a refreshing presence, one that epitomizes patience, gentleness, and peace that surpasses even the worst of midterm seasons. The second one I’ll refer to as Eileen. She is not the opposite of Lucy, but an alternative. In what I admit is a highly romanticized view, Eileen embodies a tortured, ambiguously Christian scholar. She is weathered by the tensions that arise from the ever-hopeful, God-is-good-all-the-time-and-all-the-time-God-is-good tenets of her lifelong Christian faith and the evil that exists and operates in the world, in her personal life and even, as she has been told since Sunday school, in herself.

What I admire most about Lucy is the way she unabashedly worships the Lord in song. Her hands are up high in the air. She sways and jumps and spins. Her eyes are tightly shut, and for a moment I am convinced that we are no longer listening to the same song. It’s like she’s seeing something I’m not seeing, hearing something I’m not hearing. For her, the universe is blocked out. Nothing in the world, and she knows a lot about the good and bad in it, matters. In this moment, she doesn’t care about a thing, not what is going on outside of the church walls or what she looks like or what she sounds like. She is wholly unbothered because she knows that God has met her in this chorus and will meet her again in the next one. Without a doubt she prays, in between the song transitions, that others, too, could experience the Father like she does.

The honesty Lucy exemplifies in her worship is the same for which I admire Eileen in her wrestling. Eileen sees and articulates injustice and corruption, with a keen ability to suss them out of the spaces that claim to actively fight against them. She has no interest in preserving her present way of thinking: what she is seeing, what she is hearing, should inform her thoughts, not the other way around. She runs about campus and the city doing her best to put light into dark places. Her heart loves the world and yearns with a holy desire to see it bettered. She has no time, energy, or want to put on airs of deep inner peace and contentment. And while she has known the Lord for most of her life—and, I am convinced, still loves Him—she angrily shakes her fist. Right now, she is frantically flitting back and forth between what she understands of the world and the promises she has understood God to have made. They seem incompatible. He seems unbelievable. And with many doubts she cries and wonders why God hasn’t made His presence known in all the places, public and personal, that most need Him.

These women represent two states in which I’ve lived through my walk thus far. Watching Lucy is almost like looking at a reflection of myself when I first fell for Christ, back when I woke up each day hell-bent on bringing Heaven down to Earth, when I actively sought ways to sneak Jesus’s name into casual conversation, when I jumped in the air and thanked God that a friend agreed to go to church with me. Eileen is at once a reminder of myself before Christ–a bit beaten down by circumstances in which she was raised that seemed at odds with the supposed goodwill of God for her life–and of myself whenever I learn about circumstances that are far worse than those of my childhood–an all-too-common occurrence. I was, and sometimes still am, dizzied by theological explanations for why my loving God must or chooses to allow evil’s presence. And at times, I fancied disbelief a far easier conviction to hold than belief in a good, or at least all-powerful, God.

I know that for a while I’ve been floating in between these two states. The things I am learning about the world are often disheartening, but disbelief is not an option in my reach. Christ has captured me, and I still love Him. I can see where Heaven touches Earth. I perceive small, quick moments of His presence and catch glimpses of His workings. But the novelty–what I can only irreverently describe as a sweet honeymoon phase–seems to have passed, and in place of what was once a roaring fire for God is a small but ever-burning flame. I usually go through the day content. I am easily grateful for the smallest things. But I don’t exactly jump for joy like I did before. And the dull ache accompanying that fact intensifies when I speak with Lucy who, though her walk has been life long, shares her experiences as if they were all brand new. When that happens, I want to shut my eyes to everything and get back to the days when I worshiped like Lucy does. But then I don’t, because that self (though I’m sure Lucy does) never addressed the important questions that Eileen and I do now. And I am once again stuck in between wanting a blind faith and wanting to be released to skepticism.

God, through a few conversations about quiet and charismatic worship, about seeing and believing, about settled faith and disenchantment, met me again. I will spare the details–though if you ask me about them, I’ll tell you–but the bottom line is that this Thanksgiving I have been moved to be thankful for my faith, which on any normal day feels just a little bit above lukewarm. I could and should pray for more, sure. I think we all should continue to pray for visceral joy of our salvation, pray to properly feel the gravity of the great love let on by the death of Jesus Christ, pray for patience as we await the full merge of Heaven and Earth. But, though I am not jumping out of the joy of my salvation, I can still see its beauty. I can still remember it. I hold fast to it, and I know He holds fast to me. He has blessed me with a small, weary yet persistent hope, one that anticipates leaving this gray, slightly-above-lukewarm state of faith for a blinded faith unblinded, a questioning faith satisfied, a state I haven’t known but in which I’m sure Lucy and others like her live. And until then, that hope, however small, is something to be thankful for.


“Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” – Psalm 118:4-5

Engaging with a Forked Up Society: “The Good Place” vs “Civil Disobedience”

By Ben Colon-Emeric, Timothy Dwight ’22. Ben is majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

NOTE: The following article contains spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of NBC’s The Good Place.

 There’s a lot of talk around the Yale campus about being “complicit.” The idea is that if you put money into a system that is participating in immoral actions, you are engaging in immoral actions. The protests about Yale divesting its endowment from various investment groups, for example, often use this language of being “complicit.” The problem this raises in a deeply interconnected society is where to draw the line: are we complicit in immorality simply by participating in society? One exploration of this question comes in the NBC show “The Good Place,” which examines how to make moral decisions in the interconnected modern world. A much earlier attempt to address the problem of perpetuating a broken system came from Henry David Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience,” who discussed how to deal with a government that supported immoral practices. These two works show the two ways of dealing with a sinful world: engagement, or detachment.

Thoreau published “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 to a morally divided nation. The Mexican American War had ended the year before, with the U.S. claiming large swaths of the West in a somewhat lopsided treaty with Mexico. Of even greater moral significance to Thoreau was slavery, which the federal government still supported. Thoreau had every reason to feel his government did not represent his morality. He asks, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?” His disgust with the government’s support of slavery leads him to swear off government altogether, starting his essay with the provocative statement “’That government is best which governs not at all.’” Clearly, Thoreau believes that when government is unjust, it is best to detach oneself from it entirely rather than attempt to reform it. He decries those who would stay with their broken government while describing a night he spent in jail for refusing to pay poll tax, saying “If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.” Thoreau believes that if you support a system guilty of immorality, you too are guilty of that immorality.

At first glance, “The Good Place” may seem to concur with Thoreau’s indictment of humanity. In Season 3, the characters discover that no one has made it into the Good Place for hundreds of years. One human on Earth, Doug Forcett, had a vision of the Good Place and spent his entire life earning the maximum number of points he could, but was still far below the minimum. The reason for this barrier of entry is the interconnectedness of society. Buying a tomato earns negative points because the money spent funds farms that use pesticides and put carbon in the atmosphere. This is precisely the viewpoint advocated by Thoreau, where it is a sin to participate in a sinful society even when the sin is beyond your personal control. But this is where Thoreau and “The Good Place” creator Mike Schur diverge. Rather than accept the broken systems of the world as proof that humans themselves are broken, the main characters fight to prove that participating in a society that does bad things does not make you a bad person. The argument of “The Good Place” is that we are so interconnected, being complicit is inescapable, therefore it is not truly sinful.

The Christian is called to see the beauty of God in the world and to denounce the ugliness that is present there. As Christians, how do we engage with a society that is frequently unjust or downright evil? While there is much to admire in Thoreau’s moral consistency, the underlying motivation seems selfish. Thoreau believes that he has no mandate to help others, as he says, “I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society” and, more severely, “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” This seems like an inhumane, not to mention un-Christian response to the problem. “The Good Place” seems to have a more compassionate response, promoting participation in society and arguing that we do have a duty to help others. The problem with the approach promoted by “The Good Place” is that it utterly discards the idea of being complicit, deciding that complicitness is not reflective of a person’s actual goodness. This also seems wrong, as I think there is a point at which being complicit is sinful. If I held stock in Monsanto back when they were making Agent Orange, I feel I could be justly reprimanded for being complicit. 

I think that to live as a Christian in an interconnected world, the correct response is somewhere between Thoreau and “The Good Place.” I should recognize the sin in the world, but I should not disconnect myself from the world or ignore the role I am playing in society’s sins. Thoreau was right that we should, whenever possible, take our support away from immoral systems. Like the characters in “The Good Place,” I should work to be a good member of society, improving my community, instead of abandoning it, even when society is a little forking crazy.

Be Thou My Vision: A Reflection

By Bella Gamboa, Jonathan Edwards ’22. Bella in majoring in Humanities.

Even in times when I feel farthest from God, hymns have had a singular ability to remind me of who He is and of his presence. The value of song has clear Biblical precedent, particularly in the Psalms (which themselves were designed to be sung!). The psalmist frequently presents song as an imperative part of a relationship with God, such as in Psalm 98:4-5: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” Praise to God overflows in song, and so singing also reminds us of who we are in Him and how we ought to relate to Him. With all that in mind, what follows is a brief meditation on several verses from one of my favorite hymns, “Be Thou My Vision.”

 

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart 

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art 

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night 

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light 

 

God’s presence at the center of one’s life is essential to the Christian life; He is not to be kept on the periphery, relevant only at certain times or in certain spheres, but He is intended to always be central. He ought to be primary in our sight, what we see and look to above all. And when God occupies His appropriate place in our lives, He, in His overwhelming greatness and perfection, is sufficient for us and our needs. This verse recalls Paul, who said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). God is incomprehensibly, indescribably superior to anything else.

 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word 

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord 

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son 

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one 

 

As undergraduates, we seem to endlessly pursue knowledge; whether compelled or enthused, we accrue information and skills in various classes, extracurriculars, and conversations with our peers. And knowledge is certainly valuable, but we must be careful to put the quest for it in context — the Bible makes a distinction between different sorts of wisdom or knowledge. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus thanks God that “‘[He has] hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” Here, Jesus refers to the inability of his learned, worldly wise contemporaries, like the Pharisees, to appreciate who He is, while children can grasp it. Yalies certainly occupy a position similar to that of “‘the wise and understanding’” — we know a great deal about coding, or carbon compounds, or Caravaggio. But true, Godly wisdom does not lie in these things, as “Be Thou My Vision” reminds us; indeed, David might call the wise of Matthew fools, for the “fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). God himself is our wisdom. Knowing him provides deeper, truer fulfillment and wisdom than knowing all the material for any course. Furthermore, we have the opportunity for continual companionship with God, as he is our Father, and, through the Holy Spirit, he dwells within us. This continual presence enables God to be our vision and our wisdom, for he is unwaveringly present.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise 

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always 

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart 

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

 

This verse is somewhat intimidating to me — I certainly value and hang onto the praise of my professors and peers, and could hardly say that I treat it as if it is “empty.” But, as with Paul in Philippians, the hymn’s dismissal of earthly standards, of wealth and repute, are not arbitrary or melancholy. These are not inherently bad things, but they are so insignificant because God is so much greater. When He is first in our hearts and central in our sight, we have no need for worldly, and almost inevitably disappointing, means of raising ourselves up. 

He alone is our Father, our Treasure, and our King, and He is eternally deserving of our song — let us join as the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

Inclusivity in Worship

By Anthony Hejduk, Pauli Murray ’20. Anthony is majoring in Philosophy.

What does it mean for a worship space to be inclusive? Or more generally, what does it mean for a Christian community to be? As the Church across the world grapples with declining membership and increased fragmentation, especially in the West, this question is on the forefront, maybe more so now than ever before. But what is inclusion? And whom is it for? It seems to me that there are a few different senses by which one can understand inclusion. For brevity’s sake, I’ll limit myself to discussing three of them: ideological inclusion, experiential inclusion, and dispositional inclusion. 

Ideological inclusion in worship is the idea that a service should encompass as many different beliefs as possible, and should not make statements which would exclude different belief systems. This is the kind of inclusivity in worship which might be sought after in a Unitarian church. Regardless of the individual beliefs that one holds, the worship service will be geared towards allowing a general kind of religious expression that does not require specific beliefs to be fruitful. While this might be sought in worship services for other religions or worship service analogues, like baccalaureates or certain kinds of weddings or funerals, it seems that this cannot truly be present in authentic Christian worship. True, there is real value in minimizing the importance of certain political, economic, or nationalistic beliefs in worship, to the extent that division is not created in the body of Christ. But the belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead and through His sacrifice we may be justified before God, must be present and conveyed in Christian worship if it is to truly be worship in the Christian sense. As exclusive as beliefs like this might be, and as uncomfortable as they might make worship services for those who do not hold them, they are non-negotiable for members of the Christian faith. The other forms of inclusion, however, are not so simple, and may legitimately divide honest members of the Christian community. 

Experiential inclusion in worship is the idea that a service should require no background in that specific worship practice to participate. There would be no kind of assumed knowledge present about things like memorized prayers, specific actions like kneeling at specific times, or other aspects present in a formal liturgy. Many protestant churches more or less achieve this, as they require little to no background to participate, and if there is specialized knowledge, it is usually minimized or in some way explicitly broadcasted (worship lyrics being put on a tv, for example). Discussions of inclusivity often focus on this issue, and not without reason. The idea that newcomers might find a worship space to be a confusing and unwelcome place is a natural concern, and making genuine efforts to alleviate this is laudable. 

Dispositional inclusion is the most complicated of these terms, and it refers, broadly, to the ability of a worship service to include members with broadest reach of natural reactions to and tendencies for specific kinds of worship. The easiest way to understand this concept is to look at what might violate this kind of inclusion. Worship that expects a kind of reaction from the congregation to be legitimate, anywhere from raising one’s arms and swaying to speaking in tongues, prizes a kind of dispositional reaction to stimuli and a certain expression of this reaction. Worship that likewise expects a mere silent reaction when some would want to make their praise clear and vocal also excludes, albeit in a different manner. 

Putting ideological inclusion aside, is there a kind of worship that is experientially inclusive, dispositionally inclusive, and still fruitful? For me, a high church service conducted in an ancient language is the extreme between complete dispositional inclusion and experiential exclusion, such as a Latin or Greek Orthodox mass. Nothing is required from the congregation in worship except attention and prayer; the only participation in worship is the communal embrace of God or reception of the Eucharist, none of which requires a specific reaction for inclusion. Hypothetically, members from all over the world, with no common language, class, culture, or even reactive disposition, could worship together in this manner. On the other end of the spectrum is a worship service that is essentially reactive and participatory, with worship music and altar calls that are geared towards new members, no formal prayers that would require prior knowledge, and an atmosphere that closely mimics common experience, like lectures or concerts. 

While I think that a medium can be found between these two extremes, I would caution too zealous of an approach from the side of what is usually meant by inclusivity, experiential inclusivity. The idea that these high church worship services can be made enjoyable and fruitful by moving to a more engaging and participatory worship style might be true for people with generally similar natural dispositions to the same style of worship, but as soon as one is prized, those who naturally react in a different way would be excluded. And as a service becomes less formal, it becomes less universal as well: Catholics can genuinely worship in any Catholic church in the nation, and in many cases, the world, with only a basic familiarity with the mass, thanks to its universal formality. A church that seeks to include new members by removing formal aspects of liturgy ignores the specific kind of new member outreach that a formal, geographically inclusive, that is, universal, liturgy provides.