The 1st Annual Capitalism for a Christmas Campaign Press Release–featured in The Free Press

4 12 2007

Rochester College Student Organization Sponsors 1st Annual “Capitalism for a Christmas” Campaign

 Rochester Hill, MI—December 3—Calling their event, “The Capitalism for a Christmas Campaign,” on December 1 a small group from Rochester College’s Student Action Diversity Committee (SADC) and Student Government, went to Birch Run Outlet Mall in Birch Run, Michigan to participate in a charitable shopping trip for children with incarcerated parents.picture-3.jpg

            Each person who attended the trip donated $10 in order to purchase gifts for the children. The group was able to raise roughly $200 to spend as part of Prison Fellowship Ministry’s Angel Tree program.

            Senior Calvin Moore, student leader for the SADC volunteered with the Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program several years ago at his church. The church took a small group of guys to Birch Run the first Saturday in December to purchase gifts for kids whose parents are imprisoned.

            “I’d always wanted to do something like that again and I’m really glad that people at Rochester College were willing to support this kind of ministry. Jesus talks about ministering to ‘the least of these.’ This was a chance for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to innocent children through the giving of gifts,” said Moore.

Arriving at Birch Run Outlet Mall a little after 10 a.m., the group began canvassing several stores to find the perfect gifts for the children. They were able to buy brand new winter clothing from GAP Kids and a large bag of toys and games from KB Toy Store. Afterwards, they gathered together to enjoy the fruits of their labor at Tony’s Restaurant.

“It was a great experience,” comments Terrill Hall, the College’s dean of Student Life, “I enjoyed driving the group and it was a great way for me to get to know some students that I do not get to see everyday.  It was also a great opportunity for Student Government to partner with SADC to make a difference in the lives of children and their families.  I hope that we will do it again next year and have enough people to fill RC’s big red bus.”picture-8.jpg

Amanda Robinson, a member of SADC echoes Halls sentiments. “I was so excited about the chance to do something like this. I love kids and it broke my heart to think of anyone going without gifts at Christmas, especially children. Somewhere, little kids get to have a happy holiday because total strangers thought of them. And even if we never get to meet them and let them know who we are and give them hugs, it feels good to know that we’ve been part of helping out our fellow man.”

Prison Fellowship Ministries, founded by former Nixon aide Chuck Colson in 1976, is comprised of Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families and BreakPoint, which equips Christians to live out their faith in the culture. Prison Fellowship Ministries has programs in correctional facilities in all 50 U.S. states and 110 countries worldwide, more than 20,000 partner churches in the United States, some 50,000 volunteers throughout the United States, some 300 U.S. staff, with an annual budget of approximately $50 million for its U.S. ministries. For more information about Prison Fellowship Ministries and their Christmas programs check their website at www.angeltree.org.

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An Interview with “the eBay atheist,” Hemant Mehta

27 10 2007

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Continuing to prepare for our upcoming panel discussion, “LOST: a candid discussion with those outside the church about those inside the church,” I recently had the distinct pleasure of getting to ask some of our questions of atheist Hemant Mehta. Mehta received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the “eBay Atheist.” His blog can be read at Friendlyatheist.com and his book “I Sold My Soul on eBay” (WaterBrook Press) is now in bookstores everywhere. He currently works as a high school Math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.

 

 

First off, I’d just like to thank you for being willing to take the time to answer some questions for us. Something I’d like to know is when you say, “I’m an atheist,” what do you mean? What is the core understanding or assumption behind your beliefs/non-beliefs?

It means I do not believe in God or Gods or the supernatural. I believe the scientific method and empirical observations are the best methods we have to find the truth, whatever it may be. So far, that truth has not found any evidence that God or the supernatural exist.

Okay. So, there’s no God in your belief system. Where does humanity derive its morality, then? Do you believe mankind is able to be moral without a belief in God? Why or why not?

We derive morality from our society and our evolutionary upbringing. We cannot survive as a species without helping each other out.

Most people come to the understanding on their own (without God) that we should all do what makes us happy as long as we don’t stop anyone else from doing the same.

I think Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg said it best: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Those are very interesting beliefs about morality. Most people would just assume, “Oh. Atheist, huh? You’re just a morally bankrupt person.” I think your perspective helps dispel that idea a bit. What are your thoughts/beliefs about the historical/spiritual Jesus Christ and responses to his claims about himself?

From what I’ve read, I do believe he existed, though I don’t know if every story about his was actually about Jesus or an amalgamation of several different people. He seemed like a revolutionary guy, even though I have some problems with him (his patience with his followers, his dealings with his own family, etc.). And, of course, I don’t think there was anything truly divine about him. But he is a role model for everyone in many other ways. Anyone who can stand up against the status quo is someone we should admire.

What have been your experiences with Christians/the Church (the good, the bad, and the ugly)?

I occasionally get emails that are disturbing to read from Christians who want no conversation with me. They just want to do a “drive-by praying” and then walk away. I don’t get a lot of hate mail, though…

On the other hand, there are many Christians I’ve met who have praised my book and my approach. They say they appreciate someone who speaks honestly about what churches are doing wrong — they wish they could say it but that’s not always possible. They believe that separation of church and state is a good idea and they’re not putting a bulls-eye-of-conversion on my chest every time they see me. They enjoy the dialogue that arises between atheists and Christians and they want to see the church focusing more on community service than “saving souls at any cost.”

Atheists would have very little reason to complain if more Christians were like the latter group. To the best of my understanding, that latter group is closer to following Jesus, anyway.

I think it is a difficult balance to strike. On the one hand you have this vision of Jesus reaching out and helping the poor and downtrodden in society (community service)…on the other hand Christians have clear mandates given to tell others about what it is we believe about Jesus (saving souls at any cost). I think its really hard for many Christians to remember that while we can get out there and help the community, despite our best efforts, it is always up to God to save a soul. That being said, what do you find most attractive about the Church? Least attractive? Indifferent about?

Any church that encourages faith at the expense of critical thinking is going to be ignored (and should be ignored) by people like me. When churches use their money and power to help everyone, they stand to gain the respect of many people outside their faith. [However] When churches use the Bible as justification for their ignorant, hateful beliefs, they’re doing themselves a disservice. It’ll just bring more people to the “atheist side.” That’s why atheists love seeing someone like James Dobson or Pat Robertson in positions of power. They help us. I’m shocked Christians support guys like them instead of people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Jim Wallis.

Ha! You and I think a lot alike on that one. I know many Christians who don’t feel well-represented by the Dobsons and Robertsons of the world. Many are dissatisfied with the “business-as-usual/highly politicized” version of Christianity we are often attacked for. People like Bell, McLaren, and Wallis are definitely new and exciting voices for the younger evangelicals.

One last question. As a Christian, if Jesus’ bones were found the jig would be up for Christianity and we would be forced to change our minds about what we believe. What, if anything, could change your mind from what you believe now to what Christians believe?

I said in my book it would take an actual, literal miracle. Since writing that, I’ve gotten far too many emails from people explaining their “miracle” stories to me. It was easy to explain their “miracle” in natural terms, though. I’m getting to the point where I’m not sure anything would change my mind.

Even if I don’t believe in God, Christians could very easily change my mind about their image. Right now, it’s all too easy to pigeonhole Christians into the conservative/Republican/anti-gay/anti-women bunch. When you hear a Christian speaking out against bigotry and for science, it’s a wake-up call to anyone who thinks Christians are monolithic in their thinking.

Thanks so much for being so candid with us, Hemant. I think you hit the nail on the head on a lot of different things you said and the Church needs to be willing to hear those things. We might not agree on the ultimate question of God and Jesus, but I think Christians will benefit greatly from some of the things you’ve helped make us aware of.

Photo courtesy of The Chicago Reader





underwater: a conversation about water baptism–C. E’Jon Moore’s reflections

11 09 2007

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So, the first House of God Sessions event has come and gone. Admittedly, I’m no closer to making up my mind on the subject of baptism. That’s not to say none of our panelists were convincing. Quite the contrary. I thought each of them said many things of great weight.

As I expected, a lot of people sided with whoever they already believed like. If I could pick a perspective I was most impressed with, however, it would have to be the position of the Salvationist—which stymies me, because I couldn’t agree with their position less. But, there was something about Cherri Hobbins’ willingness to even be here. Coming in, she had to have known it was going to be like throwing herself to the lions (a fact she even alluded to during our morning session). But, she got me thinking. What is the efficacy of baptism?

Salvationists find no efficacy (effectiveness, usefulness, worth, value) in the practice of baptism or communion. They believe that Jesus Christ is the sacrament. While I do not agree with the Salvationist position that either practice is optional nor do I agree with the [classic] Church of Christ position that baptism is necessarily subsequent with/integral to salvation, there is something to be said for viewing Christ as the sacrament.

When I take communion, Christ is present—whether symbolically or bodily (depending on where you fall on the Protestant/Catholic spectrum). In that sense, he is the sacrament. When I enter the waters of baptism in obedience to his command to do so, he is present. In that sense, he is the sacrament.

What did spring from this conversation for me was that obedience is important. All of the panelists agreed on that point. All arguments of how one hermeneutically understands how that obedience is to be interpreted, obedience to Christ was constantly stressed as proof positive that one is not only a believer, but a disciple. So, when all is said and done, I now realize a bit more how much my obedience to Christ is tied intimately to how I love him.





Internal Makeover

27 08 2007

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A few of us recently took part in helping out with a home makeover for a needy family orchestrated by Paradox Church and Roseville Family Resource Network. It was a day filled with friends, family, and total strangers working together to help out a needy family.

Paradox is “kinda” my home church. I’m more of a “member-at-large.” It’s quite the trek to get there on Sundays from Rochester College, so I get there when I can and occasionally record video for them when they need it. The home makeover was one of those times. One of the members of Paradox Church, Paul Dykstra asked me to come down and record the event for them. I was free that day, so  my girlfriend Amanda (another SADC member) and I drove down and helped out. People were painting rooms, putting in a playscape, building a bricked-in back patio, laying sod on the front lawn, planting new trees, putting in a new driveway, and a host of other activities.

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Walking around the site, shooting the work zones, interviewing people, and just generally getting footage of anything interesting proved to be a lot of fun. Panera Bread of Roseville had made it a point to come out and serve breakfast to all of those who showed up to lend a hand. A Girl Scouts troop showed up–along with people from area churches–because they read about the event in the local newspaper. Neighbors moved cars off the street and into their driveways or offered their driveways as parking space so workers wouldn’t have to walk 1/2 a mile to the work site.

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It got me thinking. Why don’t I do things like this more? What would it take to help a needy family in the Rochester area? We’ve all seen the TV show, Extreme Home Makeover on ABC. It brings tears to all of our eyes. (Of course, I’m not sure flat screen TVs and football fields in the back yard fix the financial situation that many of the needy on the show are experiencing.) All excuses of being busy, poor college students aside, what could we be doing to help those who are even worse off than we are?

Personally, I’m looking into several opportunities to help others right now. If I’m going to do it, I want to really commit to it. Whether I commit to serving the poor in Cass Park (which, in all honesty, terrifies me), folding clothes at the local food/clothing bank, or tutoring students in the Pontiac school district, I want to make sure they have my whole heart, not just one trying to assuage guilty feelings.

I applaud Paradox and the Roseville Family Resource Network for being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. I hope to do the same.





organizational fairs and other sundry items…

23 08 2007

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So, the 2007 Organizational Fair has come and gone. It went better than expected. The Student Action Diversity Committee tends to be an organization that defies description. We’re clearly focused on three specific areas–fostering racial diversity, fostering socio-economic diversity, and fostering diversity across Christian traditions. We’ve got several programs that attest to the this fact. But, trying to describe what we do and the impact it has on the student body and the surrounding community is not something that can be done [properly] at an event where we’re competing with social clubs and free ice cream from Coldstone. Much of what the SADC does needs to be experienced firsthand.

Despite misgivings about presenting ourselves amidst the clamor of competing voices, we were able to make a number of good connections. Some people seemed nominally interested in what we were about. Others seemed to just “get” what we are trying to accomplish here at Rochester College.

And that is the thing that fascinates me about the SADC. Liz Shelton, Paul Gilbert, and I had several conversations with people about who we are and what we do–conversations with people who otherwise would not cross our paths were we not involved in a group striving for diversity. Let’s admit it, Rochester College, like any other school, has its cliques. You’ve got your athletes, your pretty people, your nerdy people, your overweight people, your Christians, and your not-so-Christians. Yet, this past weekend, as a ministry that strives to embrace the creativity of a God who has chosen to make each of us unique, I was able to have conversations with people in each of these camps. I spoke with a female soccer player who is interested in having her family come in and teach students how to salsa dance during Hispanic Heritage Month. I spoke with a young man who is going into ministry, but has never thought about who God might be calling him to speak to. I spoke with a young lady who really isn’t all that sure about the “whole Jesus thing” yet, but is attracted to the idea of interacting with a group of individuals who are not like herself. I spoke with black people, white people, Hispanic people, rich people, poor people–all in a 3 hour span of time.

Will they all join the SADC in what we’re doing here at Rochester College? Maybe. Maybe not. But, there are people who Jesus is bringing into the path of our ministry and into my life personally who will be affected by and come into relationship with people who they never would have thought they’d come into relationship with. So, whether 3 or 300 people join the SADC this year, lives will be changed and kingdom work will be accomplished.

Alright, I’m going to grab some Coldstone.