- Written by Margaret Bernhart
“Let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will not mine.” cried Jesus. These words were echoed the morning of September 11th as I watched the news stations relay photos and estimates of innocent lives lost to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. How does one describe such a heinous crime? Evil played his hand, yet redemption reminds us that our Nation has lost its fear of evil. Will the vilest of acts awaken the slumbering giant of freedom, lulled to sleep by prosperity and success, prodding her to remember the author of murder and the capacity of the depraved human heart? Auschwitz and Dachau are vivid memories of the witnesses of evil–the gas chambers and Hitler’s regime–but mere stories to the majority of our population. Philosophers remind us that history repeats itself to those who don’t remember the past.
Yet, amid the destruction and slaughter, arises beauty–God’s image engraved on mankind. Reports flash across our screens of courageous hostages aboard airplanes bound for destruction, heroically struggling undaunted by terrorists, knowing their fate, and yet willing to protect others on the ground from a similar doom. Working valiantly and facing mortal danger, firefighters risked their lives to find survivors trapped among the twisted steel and rubble of the twin Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Estimates are that over 200 of New York’s finest have paid the ultimate price for preserving the lives of others.
Laid deep in the soul of mankind is the imprint of nobility’s longings that resonate from the throne of the Creator. Theologians have termed God’s image upon our souls “dignity” and what misses the mark of God’s glory, “depravity.” Our deep longings are reminders of God. G. K. Chesterton viewed our dilemma as if we had been shipwrecked on a desert island. Fallen humanity was likened to a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure scattered about. The artifacts are from a civilization that he faintly remembers. In search for meaning, he recovers each relic–a compass, some gold coins and various pieces of fine clothing–and tries to ascertain their significance. The natural wonders of this world, and the attributes of love, joy, faith, hope, valor (dignity),–all bear traces of their original design, but each is subject to perversion and misinterpretation (depravity) from humanity’s amnesia. Yet we wander this earth, says Chesterton, with “vague and vast impressions that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.”
Tragedy sharpens the focus of what was once obscured by the cataract of fallen humanity. Monotony, boredom and addictions are the symptoms of soul deadness. As Sir William Wallace in the movie “Braveheart” exclaimed, “Every man dies, but not every man lives.” Sacred to being given the privilege to walk this earth, is the opportunity to be emotionally alive and available to all life has to offer. Suffering is the gift least desired, but instrumental in delivering us from our numbed existence, while exposing our deepest longings–reminders of another home. The Apostle Peter writes: “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:9-11).”
So do we pray to be delivered from suffering or to have the grace to embrace the call to come alive and be transformed into the likeness of Christ? We must awaken from our slumber, remembering who we are and to live lovingly and courageously in marriages, friendship and in this world. C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” And Gabriel Marcel noted, “Hope is memory of the future.” Our deepest longings are memory of our eternal roots and the hope that we were made for something other than what we now experience–heaven.
Evident in the recent tragedies, was the noble character of image-bearers, who sacrificed for others, loved strangers, protected the helpless, hated evil, and desired justice–qualities reminiscent of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, God’s unconditional love, His defense of the orphan and widows, His holy hatred of evil and judgement’s final demise of the Evil One. How sad that it takes tragedy to allow us to see God’s redemptive story in the rescuing heroes, juxtaposed with evil’s darkness. “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children… (Rom 8:22-23).” Let the tragedy remind us from whence we came, who we are, for whom we were made to worship and to not grow weary in the battles, knowing victory is assured as a far better home awaits us.
Mars Hill Graduate School
Strolling down the narrow main street of Bothell, Washington, late one chilly afternoon, I came across an upscale women’s clothing store and decided to go inside for a much needed diversion. I had slipped out of class early as I was succumbing to synapse overload and body fatigue from a grueling 12-hour a day intensive schedule of classes. Now mind you, I was having the time of my life taking courses from Mars Hill Graduate School and sitting under the tutelage of some of my favorite professors who write about psychotherapy from a Christian world view. But for sanity’s sake, I needed a break from so much glory. Entering the small boutique, I could tell the fine clothes exceeded my financial means. Yet I ventured in anyway to touch and smell the exquisite fabrics and survey the styles for the coming fall season. I guess it was the cool evenings in Bothell, situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains outside of Seattle, that caused me to entertain the idea of trying on a leather coat. As I moved toward the rack of leather apparel prominently displayed on the middle of the store, my eye caught a dangling tag. I was startled at the price as it was twice what I had assumed, even for a trendy store of this kind. Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted someone who appeared to be a sales lady, circling her prey like a hungry shark. I looked up and casually greeted her as she told me about the items on sale, none of which were winter coats. She asked if I would like to try on a leather jacket and I quickly told her I was just browsing. She seemed gracious and kind, and so I struck up a conversation as I wasn’t going to be doing any real shopping. I told her I was a bit chilled and it felt good coming inside. She looked at me puzzled and said, “You must not be from around here.” I said, “Actually, you’re right, I’m from Florida.” She laughed and said she had a married son and grandchildren in West Palm and loved visiting them there. She asked me what brought me to Bothell and I told her I was taking some courses at Mars Hill Graduate School. She had not heard of the school and wanted to know what I was learning. I told her that I was a psychotherapist and that we were being taught how to connect with the culture so as to better understand and communicate with those who come for counseling. I wondered if stating my vocation would either frighten her away or possibly take the conversation to a less superficial level. She seemed intrigued, her interest and sincerity was an invitation. The conversation continued and I listened as she shared about being of Italian descent and how she was strongly rooted in a love for family. Distress showed on her face, as she conveyed her pain over teenagers and youngsters who have so little support in our society. Many come from single-parent homes and are raised as latchkey kids. Few have mentors and role models, she lamented. Knowing her own life had been very different and the envy of many, she shared how enriching and rewarding her own marriage had been. As well, she was close her grown children and had been able to be with them when they came home from school. Then she looked at me and said, “It’s a shame that some counselors don’t esteem marriage. Do you do marriage counseling?” I said, ” Yes, much of my practice is counseling couples, but I’m probably unusual as therapists go.” She asked why and I told her that I was a believer in a God who esteemed marriage and family and that kids were wired to need the nurturing of both parents. I went on to say that living in this broken world meant the sad realities she had previously described, but that God wanted to reveal Himself as both mother and father to kids and adults who felt orphaned and alone, so they could learn how to be sons and daughters. Her eyes got big and she said, I didn’t know people like you existed and you’re so normal. I chuckled and said some would disagree with your evaluation of how normal I am. Reaching out she embraced me with the warmest of hugs, and said, “If I ever needed counseling I would come see you. Too bad you don’t live in Seattle.” I told her that Mars Hill Graduate School has some wonderful therapists in whose approach she could trust. As the conversation came to a close, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Are you a believer?” Her face lit up, and she enthusiastically responded, “Yes, and you have made my day.” I thanked her and turned to leave, admiring the black leather coat one more time, as I left the shop. How bizarre and paradoxical that the lusts of the heart can be mere instruments of divine appointments in the hands of God. That black leather coat lured me to a most refreshing exchange–a sharing of life–with a stranger. Wandering back up main street, I wondered if that conversation might have been aborted without the sensitivity and skills that I had learned from Dan Allender and the other professors at Mars Hill Graduate School. This unique institute of higher learning was recently written up in The Washington Times and the following excerpts are taken from that interview.
The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology
BOTHELL, Wash. — It’s a region of universities, the birthplace of grunge rock, Microsoft and Starbucks coffee and a Shangri-La for bicycle enthusiasts and mountain climbers.
It’s also a center for free thought. In recent years, Washington has polled as the nation’s most pro-choice and least-churched state. Urbane and trendy, it has attracted an unusual seminary devoted to raising church leaders to pastor the nation’s young, bored and restless.
Mars Hill Graduate School is the new home for an unusual theological experiment founded by a group of evangelical Christian counselors and psychologists seeking to create a new breed of clergy and church worker. The premise of the school is that ministers must be students of American culture, must learn to speak its language and learn to listen.
“Christians have forgotten how to dialogue,” says Dan Allender, the 49-year-old president of the seminary, which sits in a business park in the Seattle suburb of Bothell. “It’s hard to engage a human heart if you don’t know how to listen. The Gospel is not a product like a Hoover vacuum.”
And what is the culture talking about? Anger and sexuality, for starters; two topics most churches are not comfortable talking about.
“The things you don’t hear about in church are the things that ache in people’s lives,” he says. “The Gospel gets lost in ’50s American blandness.”
“What we find in Seattle is, although it’s a liberal city, people are very much in conversation here,” says Kim Hutchins, publisher of the 5,000-circulation journal and a commercial real estate lawyer. “There’s a huge web of community activism centered on dialogue.”
That is also why founders of the seminary chose the name “Mars Hill” as their logo. Mars Hill is the English translation of the Aeropagus, the hill in Athens mentioned in Acts 17, where the Apostle Paul argued the case for Christianity with Greek skeptics 2,000 years ago.
Seattle is also more indicative of a pop culture that changes every four years, compared with a Christian culture that turns over every 40 years.
“Our students aren’t afraid of engaging with people who believe differently,” says Heather Webb, a professor of counseling and theology. “Somewhere in our evangelical subculture, we think we have to convict others of sin whereas it is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
“Our core constituency began in the counseling office, so we know what’s going on out there,” Mr. Hutchins says. “There’s a large segment of folks out there who are young, curious and hungry, but they have never been part of a church.”
“There is a sense among evangelicals that Christianity has become boring,” Mrs. Webb says. “In our fear of being too sensual, sexual or violent, we have stopped being passionate.
“People are asking: ‘Will you be honest? Will you have integrity in such a way that I know your God is real?'”
Unlike Paul, the Mars Hill folks are short on dogma and long on storytelling and hanging out at one of Seattle’s many off-beat movie houses, coffee shops and bookstores. There are no temples of Artemis present, but there is the Sunday evening Compline service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, the one place in town where Christians and New Agers gather to listen to medieval liturgy set to Gregorian-style chant.
“You can’t reach a culture unless you love it,” says Mr. Allender, who regularly chats up passengers on the daily ferry rides from his home on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound to downtown Seattle.
“What people on the ferry see of Christianity is its superficiality. We hate movies, theater, music, but we never go to see them. We’ve become a culture of ‘no.’
“What we ask people to do in grad school is to face the darkness of their own hearts. America has not lost its rage against sin, but it has lost its sorrow over the depth of sin,” he says.
So the seminary chases its students out into the world, and, like Paul, to learn how to express appreciation for the culture before interpreting it, critiquing it and offering an alternative. Mr. Hutchins, for instance, hosts a monthly potluck and film showing at his home for unchurched neighbors. Mr. Allender zips about town on a BMW motorcycle.
“We want to return people,” Mr. Allender says, “to know how radical and wild the Bible is.”
August 3, 2001, CULTURE, ET CETERA, Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES