Community, Faith, and Justice

Colin Whitehead, Hope College, 2017

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I joined the Emmaus Scholars Program.  My initial motivation for joining was to mature spiritually.  The Emmaus Program did this for me by providing me with a daily rhythm of prayer and and feeding my intellectual curiosity as a Christian History and Theology major.  Yet there were two aspects of the program that surprised me: the importance of Christian community, and the link between faith and justice.

I have been involved in the Emmaus Scholars Program in various capacities over the last three years, and time and time again I have heard my fellow Emmaus Scholars say how they had been craving an intentional Christian community at Hope before joining Emmaus.  Thanks to them, I now realize how important community is to the Christian life.  It’s never just “me and God”.  We are part of the Body of Christ, a reality that connects us and signifies that we are dependent upon each other.  The communal aspect of Christianity is a guideline, maybe even a “rule”, that I now reflect upon often as I study theology and live out my faith practically.

It’s never just “me and God”.  We are part of the Body of Christ, a reality that connects us and signifies that we are dependent upon each other

Prior to my participation in the Emmaus Scholars classes, my understanding of the word justice was bland with abstract implications.  Justice is a term that is thrown around often, and in many different contexts.  However, the Emmaus Scholars Program helped me to see that the role of faith is not just about orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy.  People of faith must care about the injustices that go on in this world because God cares about these matters.  Sometimes we can limit the scope of the Christian life to salvation.  We become so preoccupied with what’s to come that we fail to be present in what’s going on around us.  If we reduce the implications of faith to the future alone, then what kind of defense are we left with to argue for creation care, and proper treatment of inmates, and caring for the poor?  While my understanding of the relationship between faith and justice still has much room to develop, it is now an active part of my thought process.  The Emmaus Scholars Program has shaped my interests, concerns, and the opportunities that I am pursuing going forward now that I am a Hope graduate.

Finding God’s Kingdom in Community

Corinne Qualkinbush, Hope College, 2019

As I reflect back on my year as an Emmaus Scholar, the biggest thing I carry with me is the relationships I built through the community. As a group we often joked that we never would have met or interacted with each other had we not done the program. Although this seems extreme, I see a lot of truth to the statement. Each of us in the program came from different majors, extracurricular activities, and student groups, and it’s unlikely that we would have gotten to know each other and connected had we not done the program. I love that I am now connected to people from all over campus, and have built relationships with people that think, act and believe differently than I do. We’ve wrestled with challenging topics, but through it all sought to glorify God through loving one another and I hope to continue investing in these relationships in the years to come.

I love that I am now connected to people from all over campus, and have built relationships with people that think, act and believe differently than I do

Not only did Emmaus connect me to a group of students on Hope’s campus, but it also connected me to members of the community that are seeking God’s wholeness in their lives and the lives in their community. We talked deeply with them about how they have arrived at the spot they are now, and also how they see their vocation and calling changing throughout their life. I loved meeting these people, enjoying delicious food and laughing over things that connect us together. In the program we often talk about how sharing a meal around a table is often foundational to building a community. When we gather at the table and break bread together, we look across the table and see not only a fellow human but a fellow child of God, made in His image and likeness. It’s around this table that we can see Jesus and can further seek His Kingdom and work of redemption on Earth together.

When we gather at the table and break bread together, we look across the table and see not only a fellow human but a fellow child of God, made in His image and likeness

It’s all that I have learned and experienced through the Emmaus Program that has made me desire to continue with the program and further journey alongside the incoming Emmaus Scholars. I hope to carry into this next year an openness to all the things God is doing through the program and all the beauty of Him we will experience together.

Sold Out for Justice

Nathaniel Nelson, Hope College, 2017

Growing up in an evangelical Christian home, I became familiar with church doctrine and discourse from a young age…I developed a strong sense of the importance and value of faith, and an intrinsic understanding of the need to care about and work towards justice. However, in my mind, the two worlds were separate. Only through the Emmaus Scholars Program, during my sophomore year at Hope College, was I able to truly wed the ideas of faith and justice in practical, incarnational ways of living theology. Emmaus gave me language and real life examples of powerful Christian communities completely sold out for the cause of justice in this world…The Emmaus Scholars Program is a beacon of true orthodoxy put to practice.

Learning What True Discipleship Looks Like

Christin Bothe, Hope College, 2017

It’s my final semester at Hope, and I’ve been spending time reflecting on the overall quality of my educational experience here. As a high school senior choosing Hope College, I had no clue what a Christian, liberal-arts education might mean for me and my future…The community I found in the Emmaus Scholars Program was what helped me begin to answer this question…It was through my time in Emmaus that I had the chance to see my classroom discussions actually leave the classroom.

It was through my time in Emmaus that I had the chance to see my classroom discussions actually leave the classroom.

It was a deep and true kind of learning experience—one that changes who you believe yourself to be in light of God’s love…As an Emmaus Scholar I cried with my roommate as she thought about the many years she suppressed the tension that accompanies her black skin…I wrote and listened to poems that another housemate and I shared as we tried to create something beautiful out of injustice. I read scripture with a friend who thinks about these issues very differently than I do…To put it simply, Emmaus has taught me what true discipleship looks like.

To put it simply, Emmaus has taught me what true discipleship looks like

It’s hard. It means little things, like sharing your milk; and it means big things, like committing to love people who are different from me. I didn’t know how beautiful and rich that kind of commitment could be. I would not be the woman I am today without the formation that the Emmaus Scholars Program provided for me. It is truly the model that bridges education and discipleship. Following Christ is counter-cultural and inconvenient—so is this program. What a treasure that we have here at Hope.

Learning to Hope

Natalie Brown, Hope College, 2017

My year in the Emmaus Scholars Program gave me hope—hope in the Church, hope in millennials, and even hope in myself. As an African American female I’ve spent much of my life feeling the weight of brokenness in regards to race relations. My year in the Emmaus Scholars Program gave me hope by exposing the injustice that so often tries to creep inside and hide within the framework of our lives, but it did not leave me there; rather, it further exposed the truth, love, and righteous heart of God that calls for change from myself, others, and the world around me. Emmaus gave me people to dive into this truth with—people to challenge me, encourage me, and grow with me. As cliché as it may sound, I am a different person because of Emmaus and I hope it continues to thrive and change the lives of others in the years to come.

A Simple Truth

Christin Bothe, Emmaus Scholar, 2015-2016

If you want me to put it simply, the biggest lesson I’ve learned, or had reaffirmed, through this last semester is as follows: It isn’t about me. No matter how much encouragement I may get from professors, or how many opportunities I get presented with, or how many people need my help, it doesn’t change the reality of my existence. The truth is sweet, simple and yet horribly hard to cling to. The truth is that I was put on this earth to “worship God and enjoy Him forever,” to sacrifice my hands and feet so that they might be used to glorify a purpose much greater than one I could muster up on my own. 1 And when my life enters into that framework, it is hard to avoid the implications it has on my interactions with the ideas of vocation, community, and shalom. Life looks quite different when God’s causes are cast as the vision statement – the ways I will spend my time change, the people I look to spend that time with change, and the standards I have for these relationships change.

In regards to vocation, God has been at work sowing seeds in my heart to flee from the path I had always assumed I was destined to. Sure, I genuinely believe that we need Christians everywhere – we need them in our private prep schools, we need them in our government, and we need them in our public businesses. We need them to have credibility and a voice and integrity, and we need them to have their eyes fixed on the places and people that they often won’t have time to be with themselves. However, I believe these are the very people the Lord has called to be my kingdom building partners, because of the voice they might project on behalf of the people I hope to serve alongside. Boesek and DeYoung, in Radical Reconciliation, helped me put words to these developing desires when they wrote:

“Reconciliation emerges from the margins and not from the centers of political or religious power.”2

At first I had taken their words as a call for us all to flee to the forgotten inner cities, the run-down rural areas, and the war-torn villages on the other side of the world; and, frankly, I was a little confused when I spoke with friends who felt called to pockets of political power and influence. Before too long, the Lord graciously unveiled a larger story to me. In this story, there are people who enter into these seemingly hopeless places, but then work with those in different spheres to usher in a fuller, more wholesome redemption. These people I dream of serving some day are exactly the people who will save me. They will save me from wandering towards purposes of my own, they will save me from knowing God’s power only from my own worldview, and the will remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

It’s funny, or maybe it isn’t, how my new understanding of vocation has already intersected with my new understanding of community and shalom. In reexamining the meaning of vocation, I find that I am, indeed, called to a life of community and shalom. This community is what weaves together work for the Kingdom, and it is exactly what this work for the Kingdom creates. As I am called to seek God’s vision and not my own, I am reminded of the paradox presented in Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This piece of Scripture has been used in many contexts, but I can’t help but to think of how it might apply to this question of community: If I have been gifted with nimble hands and quick feet, should I not used them to run to the back of the pack and help move them forward, instead of running far ahead and getting lost? I might think I am sacrificing so much of myself, but truly I am gaining everything by embracing a life of being “last.” Because when I am reminded of God’s purposes and shed my own, He reminds me that He is making all things new, He is molding us together for a life of equality, and that means that my privilege is, in fact, just as unjust as their oppression. It is in community with different cultures, different classes, different ages, different generations, that we find Christ and we find the path to becoming His body, His bride – His purpose for us. It is in this union, that those below me and those above me will unite to remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

And all of this talk leads me to Shalom. All of this journeying leads us to a peace we’ve never known, an equality that we’ve never understood, and a life we were created for. Christ has entered into our brokenness so that we might have hope for a fully redeemed, fully renewed, fully reconciled life with him and with each other. A life where the rich and the poor, the thief and the hero, the lion and the lamb, will not just co-exist but will, together, be nestled into our God’s great love and grace.

This life will not come easy, for “peace is always the fruit of justice, which is attained only through suffering and sacrifice,” but oh, will this life be worth it. 3 This suffering and sacrifice, and the joy it produces will, once again, remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

 

Photo credit: “https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)

  1. A. W. Tozer, and James L. Snyder, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2009), 28.
  2. Allan Boesak, and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2012), 155.
  3. Orlando E. Costas, Christ outside the Gate: Mission beyond Christendom (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1982), 32.

Common Objects of Love

Emma Donahoe, Emmaus Scholars, 2015-2016

Approximately one year ago, 12 freshmen and sophomores made the decision to apply for a program with a focus on community. One month later, these individuals, mostly strangers, met for the first time for dessert. Six months later they moved into two cottages and began their year as Emmaus Scholars. We are now at the halfway point of that journey. Our lives together have been shaped by several common objects of love which bind us together as a community.

During our Fall Break retreat we discussed the concepts of calling and vocation in the context of the Christian faith. Dr. Mark Husbands, the director of the program said that, “Our primary calling is to a person” 1. In the context of the Christian faith, this person is Jesus Christ. In our community, each individual is striving to live into that calling in light of our individual gifts. This is also highlighted in Romans:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others [Romans 12:4-5 NIV].

Though we are uniquely different, we are all called to the same person which provides us with a new communal identity.

From our obedience to our calling to Jesus comes our love for others. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus continually commands his followers to love one another.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends [John 15:12-13 ESV].

This is a concept that our community has committed to this year. In our individualistic society, community is about surrounding yourself with people who can do things for you. In the Christian sense, this is reversed because of the love that God has shown us. Community becomes a necessary expression of God’s love for us as we strive to show God’s love to those around us. A community in this sense is now about what we can do for others.

Lastly, our love for justice is the final love that has formed us as a community. This also stems from our calling to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent a majority of his ministry with thequartet of the vulnerable: the widows, orphans, prisoners, and the foreigners, guiding them towards the ultimate goal of shalom or flourishing in every aspect of life. As followers of Jesus,we must participate in the work that the Holy Spirit is doing today. In Micah, our requirements as Christians are clearly explained:

He has told you, O man what is good; and what does theLord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God [Micah 6:8 ESV].

As a community formed through a shared calling, we go out into the world to pursue shalom in all areas of life. The Emmaus community is still young.

We have much to learn in the coming semester about each other and how our God given gifts fit into the work of the Holy Spirit in our world. The newness of our community will begin to wear off, and we will have to truly learn how to lay down our lives for each other. Our pursuit of shalom will at times falter, as the pressures of our culture encourage us to take the easy path. However, we are guided by our common love and are not alone:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them [Matthew 22:37-40].

For more information on this topic of communities, read Oliver O’Donovan’s Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Dr. Mark Husbands, “Lecture: Vocation, Calling and Community”. Fall Emmaus Retreat – Honey Rock Camp, WI, October 2015

Community is about Choices

Natalie Brown, Emmaus Scholar, 2015-2016

I began this semester with a lot of “new”… a new room, a new house, and mostly new people to live with. I unpacked my bags and slowly settled in with the underlying understanding of living into “intentional Christian community”. Intentional is a word that often gets tossed around like candy at a place like Hope College, but what does it really mean? What does it really look like? Prior to this year I felt that I understood the importance of true community; what I lacked, however, was the fundamental understanding of the importance of Christ-centered community to the Christian faith. This semester I have witnessed the transformative power of Christ-centered community and I think that what it boils down to is choices…intentional choices.

We live in a society that offers a multitude of choices, and one that leaves each individual to make their own decisions. We pick our colleges based on what suits us best, we order our coffee with two shots of “this” and a removal of “that” because we can, and I think many times we do the same with the people in our lives. We choose to befriend those who look like us, think like us and act like us…the people that make life the easiest and most fun for us. I don’t think that true Christian community lacks these choices, but rather I think it refocuses them back on Christ. Christ-centered community calls us to love Christ first which then affects our decisions and actions.

Over the course of this semester. I have spent a lot of time with people I originally did not know. We each were faced with a choice. As a community we chose to love each other, we chose to be honest and vulnerable, we chose to serve each other, and we did it all because of our common love for Christ. Living in intentional Christian community has taught me that doing life together is what God intended for His people.

In Genesis 2:18 we see this clearly displayed. Adam had beautiful scenery and wild animals surrounding him to take care of, yet when it was all said and done God still said that it was not good for him to be alone and gave him Eve. I think this exemplifies life as God intended it to be, working together in the fullness of the presence of God

This semester has entertained many nights of warm drinks and deep conversations. Conversations that have gone beyond majors and minors or the components of one’s day, but rather they dig deeper calling out the truths in one’s life. In these conversations, I have witnessed an inadvertent expression of vocation. Through community others are able to witness and call out the talents that they see displayed in us, perhaps the ones that we might not even see in ourselves. In Christ-centered community our differences do not ostracize us, but rather they bring us closer together. I believe that within Christian community we find that calling is not as scary of a topic as we often make it seem. Rather we find that as followers of Christ we each live with the same vocation to love God and serve Him first and our gifts and talents are just another means to live that out

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jewsor Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

In community, I believe we also find a clearer image of shalom. I have found that the advancement of shalom is the hope we have in Jesus. In Christ-centered community, we are able to witness an extension of Christ’s all things new initiative (cf. Revelation 21:5). Shalom invites us into life as God intended. In Acts, we are given a clearer picture of this type of living.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrectionof the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35).

The early church in Acts displayed the type of life that I believe Christ calls us into. In the end, I believe that community is less about synchronized schedules and shared social interests, instead it is a group of people making intentional choices to love God and love each other.

Photo Credit: “Unsplash | Free High Resolution Photos.” https://unsplash.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&keyword=family&button=.

Battlegrounds

Emily Anderson, Emmaus Scholar, 2015-2016

Lines are drawn in the sand, banners unfurled, swords sharpened, and words prepared. Two sides organize themselves to collide in a fierce fight until the bitter end, where one side will come out the victor and the other will walk away to nurse their wounds. A house divided
cannot stand, but again, and again housemates find themselves engaging in angry wordplay and passive aggressive notes to gain the upper hand. The battlefield is left strewn with broken trust, hurt feelings, and torn friendships. All over some dirty dishes.

But not at the Emmaus house.

Pens are scribbling, hands flashing up, eyes rolling when the owner is looked over. Minds are racing:“Am I going to prove myself today? Will I be good enough today? Will the teacher like me today? Am I getting the grade I need today?” The competition runs high, and after tests and papers are handed back, there’s a flurry of whispered voices: “What did you get?” Who has time to learn or ask questions when there are professor recommendations, grades, and scholarships to be earned? The comparison game is on the clock, and no one ever wins. This battlefield is covered in anxiety, jealousy, and resignation. Everything that is done is done to outdo the person sitting next to them.

But not in the Emmaus class.

Battlefields are everywhere. They show up in friendships, classrooms, apartments, and relationships. They can be overwhelming and draining, and also they are kept a secret. No one wants to admit their weaknesses, their losses on these battlefields, and no one wants to parade their victories and show the wounds they still sustained in battle. Once the battle is played out, it goes into the dark, just a memory and a weight on the relationships that remain after the fact. They don’t come up during prayer request time or in conversation with your RA; they just live on silently.

But not in the Emmaus house.

I’m not claiming that there are never fights, people never have differing opinions whether or not you can take their milk without asking, or people don’t worry about grades. I am saying that there is a different center to the community in the Emmaus house and lifestyle. In Emmaus, we strive to keep Christ at the center of our relationships and to put each other first. We try to be intentional, love each other well, and support one another throughout life. We aren’t a bunch of individuals who happen to live and take classes together. We are a group brought and bound together by our faith in God and a commitment to follow and build community around Him.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! – Psalm 133:1

We are all on the same side. We are working together to face the temptations to get angry or be selfish to change them into constructive ways to build relationships. The battlefields aren’t memorials of our anger against each other, but instead reminders of our brokenness and how God can work through even our fights to create community.We do not rely on our own goodness or friendship to help us create a good place to live; in fact, most of us didn’t even know each other before joining Emmaus. We try to rely on God and His provision, as well as prayerfully coming together and intentionally keeping Christ as our motivator and mediator. So when a disagreement comes up about the dishes, it’s not about fighting to make sure that dishes are instantaneously washed. It’s about fighting for peace and health for the community. This means real and true struggles are brought up during prayer, questions are not scoffed at in class, and forgiveness and grace abounds. God has given us a community where freedom and love overflow, where people can thrive, where people can seek shalom, where battlefields aren’t hidden, where battlegrounds find peace in the light of Christ.

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Just Love

Savanah Stewart, Emmaus Scholar 2015-2016

Think of a moment of injustice. Now think of a moment of pain. Are they similar? Do they remind you of one another? When you love a person, you want them to succeed, to thrive and be joyful. You want the person to be treated well: “love seeks to promote the well-being of another, but love also sees to it that the worth of the other is respected.” [1]  To love someone means to recognize her worth and value them. Therefore, when we are called to love our neighbor, we are to recognize the value they have.

Certain words are “buzzwords” in the English language. Whenever someone says them, we automatically throw our defenses up and are cautious in what we say. Topics like race, segregation, Jim Crow, urban education, etc. tend to be uncomfortable for whites in the room. Since we as a society have a long history of not loving people justly, then it must be inferred that we do not know how to love people in a just and uplifting manner. In Leviticus, Moses instructs his people on how to treat their neighbor. The commands given represent a just love, love that respects the worth of the other person and recognizes their value. This commandment is reinforced in the New Testament when Jesus tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. But when we fail to do so, we begin to see the poor and the needy fall through the cracks of society.

Wolterstorff talks about love without having a paternalistic outlook. When we view the poor and needy as people who can’t function on their own or need us as caretakers, we do not honor their worth. We take away the humanity of those we force to rely on us. Wolterstorff gives the example of the apartheid in South Africa to warn us against forcing dependence on people. So then, how are we to love people while still respecting them? Wolterstorff offers the word ‘care’, as in to care about someone, not just for someone. It isn’t always easy to care about someone. In fact, it can be very hard to care for the downtrodden and bitter. They have seen the worst life can offer and come out of it scarred and angry. And rightly so. As Christians, we are called to love and rejoice in one another. We are called to protect and nourish the sick, hungry, and needy. If we are to exemplify Christ, then we are to go out among the masses, find the ones who are broken, and heal them – not with the mentality that we are blessing them with our presence in a paternalistic sense, but rather that we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Loving justly means loving a person and caring for their needs as though they were a beloved brother. This is a sacrificial love that demands justice for the overlooked.

We cannot ignore Jesus’ call to love our neighbors. Jesus advocated daily for the needy. If we profess to be followers of Jesus, then we need to do the same.

There are four people in the photo above. But notice how one seems invisible. When was the last time you walked by a homeless person on the street and ignored them?Did you just show them love, or did you show them just love?

 

[1] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Justice and Love” Journey Toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South, (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2013).

Photo Credit.