Loving God, Loving Self: Faith & Culture 2013

WILMORE, Ky. — This year’s “Faith and Culture” lecture series at Asbury University explored the calling of Christians to engage the world for the sake of God’s kingdom by reaching out to people of other faiths and ethnicities. Events included Chapel on Wednesday and Friday with talk-back sessions in the Gray Room, a discussion with Dr. Chuck Gobin and Dr. Carey Ruiz on the “awkward moments” of intercultural engagement, and a panel discussion in the Student Center.

Dr. Sherry Brown '82 Dean, center, conversed with students over lunch.
Dr. Sherry Brown '82 Dean, center, conversed with students over lunch.

Dr. Sherry Brown ’82 Dean led Monday’s Chapel, sharing her own testimony, her experiences of the faithfulness of God and lessons she has learned about engaging people of other faiths in culturally appropriate ways.

“It’s very important for us to know the difference between our religious traditions and the heritage we have in Christ,” she said. “It’s God’s word that forms a new culture in the life of the believer.”

Dean shared some of the lessons she has learned in reaching out to the Muslim community in Dallas, stressing the importance of authenticity, listening and respect. She told students that in order to build relationships with others, they must have a relationship with God.

“God says you are to love him with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind, with everything in you, and you are commanded to love your neighbor as yourself,” she said. “But you can’t do that unless you have experienced Christ’s deep, abiding, redeeming love.”

Wednesday night’s discussion with Gobin and Ruiz explored some of the “awkward moments” that arise in cross-cultural interactions. Both Gobin and Ruiz shared some of their experiences which had led to increased cultural understanding, and they presented students with ways to begin thinking through similar issues for themselves.

Junior Taylor West says that the discussion, and especially the interaction, helped her better understand cross-cultural engagement.

“It helped being in groups, just getting to hear different perspectives and piece it all together,” she said. “You actually got to think through it, instead of just hearing someone give you information.”

On Thursday night, a panel discussion was held in the Student Center, featuring the following speakers:

  • Morgan Irish, a student filmmaker who produced and directed a documentary called “Racism in the Church”
  • Rebecca Mathews, Resident Director of Kresge Dormitory
  • Father Norman Fischer, parish priest at St. Peter Claver Church in Lexington, Ky.
  • Dr. Chuck Gutenson, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Medine Keener, staff member at Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Justin Barringer, outreach pastor at Embrace Church

Father Norman Fischer sang and spoke during Chapel.
Father Norman Fischer sang and spoke during Chapel.

Topics ranged from identifying the not-so-obvious signs of racism to ministering to other faiths in a pluralistic society.

“We need to focus less on our similarities and focus on our differences and work through them,” Barringer said. “Even Catholic/Protestant — you’re working in your framework, and I’m working in my framework, but how do we work together and give witness to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead? I would hate to be ‘color blind’ and not see the beauty of our differences, but I would also hate to live in a world where we can’t approach those differences in a productive way, especially for those of us who claim the name of Christ.”

In Friday’s Chapel, Fischer spoke about the importance of listening in bridging the gaps between cultural and religious points of view.

“Once we start to hear each other, then we can have a relationship,” he said. “And once we begin to hear each other and have a relationship, then we can start to have these shared experiences, and then when we realize that these experiences are shared, similarly or sort of differently, then we can start to move things together — even shared obstacles.”

Fischer reminded students that the Christian’s calling to be “salt and light” requires a deliberate inclusiveness.

Dewayne Smithers, a spoken-word artist, rapped his testimony and performed an interactive poem with the student body.
Dewayne Smithers, a spoken-word artist, rapped his testimony and performed an interactive poem with the student body.

“Jesus calls us to come out of ourselves and repent of ways in which we may have shut the door on someone deliberately or unknowingly, or closed ourselves off from being the agent of God, the ambassador of God’s reconciliation,” Fischer said. 

Part of following Jesus, Fischer says, is moving out of our comfortable removal from difficult situations and loving those who are hard to love.

“When we ask ‘who is our neighbor,’ we should also ask, ‘who isn’t our neighbor,’” Fischer said. “Who is the first person who comes to your mind that you can’t embrace because you’re afraid, or because you haven’t forgiven them, or because you’ve judged them?”

Junior Elijah Friedeman appreciated the emphasis on religious diversity in this year’s “Faith and Culture” series.

“I enjoyed having a Catholic priest come and speak, because it emphasized the point that not only is ethnic diversity important, but also religious diversity” he said. “Although Catholics are Christians too, it was neat to have that experience hearing from a theological tradition that’s far different from what most of have experienced.”

--By Joel Sams '15

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