To my current and former students: I think it is important that you know what teaching at Shorter University has meant to me. In our time together over the last six years, I have watched you come into the "Introduction to Biblical Literature" class with equal parts zeal, fear, and curiosity. At every step you thought critically, conversed articulately, and demonstrated a willingness to engage the Biblical narrative with your hearts, souls, and minds. It has been a privilege and honor to build relationships with you and to watch, as my greatest mentor and former Shorter professor says, "the familiar become unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar."
To my classmates and fellow alumni of Shorter University: We sit poised at a crucial time. We find our alma mater led away from the homeland of faith and dialogue into the exile of a land governed only by dogma and certainty. There are many among us content to hang our harps by those trees in defiance. This loss has been hard, but we have borne it out as followers of Jesus, one well acquainted with sorrows, one whose own rejected, despised, and condemned him and rendered him anathema to their particular understanding of God's world. Perhaps this was because he called out what was true, noble, and good, because he, as I and so many others, sat with music majors and education majors, pre-med students and homosexual ministry majors, and found in them a reflection of God's own image. Jesus' parables had as their lone narrative thread the radical assertion that those who claimed to know God were often the first excluded from the new Kingdom that God was (and still is) building. We may sing a dirge for the beloved community we once knew, but we must commit our steps to envisioning the wideness of God's mercy. We are the fortunate ones. We are the bearers of the great hope and legacy modeled for us at Shorter. Our best response will not be protest or condemnation but a legacy of Shorter graduates who sow love, nurture peace, and model grace -- so much so that when the heirs of this current age go forth into the world, they are called to account for the bigotry and narrowness they espouse.
To my professors: I must say that whatever good is in us was sown in love and service by you. We're a reflection of those who invested and believed in us -- not by convincing us of anything directly, but by forcing us to never settle for easy answers. You pressed on, nurturing faith, incubating hope, and believing that there was enough image of God in each of us to truly change the world. Political and theological arguments will come and go, but the impact of gifted, called, inspired teachers will echo across time and continents.
To the current faculty and administration of Shorter University: My prayers are sincerely with you. They are first with the compassionate, gifted men and women who are now called by their own faith and conviction to lie and pledge something they don't believe to keep a job. I pray for the administrative assistant and the admissions counselor, who have been torn between the doctrinal demands of their job and loving their own child. I pray for that child, who already fears condemnation, and who may never fully live into the person God created them to be, because it could cost their mother or father their livelihood. Jesus said to bless my enemies and pray for those who would persecute me. For this reason I will pray for Dr. Dowless and the incoming faculty of Shorter University. I will pray for a kind of holy anxiety and restlessness. I pray that you might know beautiful followers of Jesus who challenge your assumptions. I pray for you to nurture faith, not certainty. I pray that when your chest swells when you talk about transforming lives for Christ, you might be painfully aware that Christ is on the street -- with the abuser and the abused, the addicts and the hurting -- far from the songs and Amens you proclaim from the Hill of Shorter. Most of all, I pray that all of this might cause you to reconsider your "lifestyle" statement, choosing instead to follow the One who said all the Law and the Prophets hang on love for self and love for neighbor. And I pray that those who can't change things might find the courage to leave behind the certainty that masquerades as faith and depart into the world to love and to serve.
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