Famous Songs You’ve Never Heard #4 – Come Wind

Officialy an ABSOFREAKINLUTELY INCREDIBLE ALBUM YOU MUST OWN NOW.

Full marks for this iteration go to the networks of Radio U, that little radio station that saved my life in grad school and that became a lot more than that, which I still check every now and again just so that I can know Where Music Is Going.

See, musical waypoints were always very easy to find when I was young. I spent almost the entirety of the ages between childhood and 21 hearing new things; going from my parents’ taste in music (on albums, on 8-track, and on the old, old reel-to-reel) to discovering country radio to discovering pop radio to discovering all the possible different formats in between to wondering why I never heard any of the songs that Donnie Simpson played on Video Soul on the radio to discovering this little thing called “college rock” or “alternative” to going to college and being immersed in that to a pair of albums that changed how I thought not just about music, but about life.

Musical waypoints became much more difficult to find after I left college. In fact, for the first few years after I landed in Columbus and I wasn’t around many people with similar musical tastes initially, I found a little bit of static in my listening. Old friends kept up with electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!) and new friends found…electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!). There’s something of a gap in my library between 1993 and 1996, when on a fateful February morning, Radio U came on the air.

Radio U was exactly the radio this not-entirely-mature-but-entirely-too-earnest doctoral student needed in 1996. I loved the rock, and I did listen to CD 101 and 99.7 The Blitz as I moved, but I was still a very young Jesus-seekin’ Christian and I wasn’t getting to Cornerstone Festival after ’93 and I wanted more of that kind of music in my life. Radio U delivered it, and then some.

I’m going to spare you all the waypoints that intervened, except to say that there were more than a few earnest Christian kids in Columbus, Ohio in 1996 who, twenty years on, probably still get a bit emotional when they hear the guitars that open Stavesacre’s “At The Moment”. But I’m always grateful to that station that became this Christian-broadcasting multimedia thing that gave me confidence that Christians weren’t merely interested in making shiny happy music for the masses, but actual art.


Twenty years later, without even thinking that the radio station was twenty years old, while I was figuring out how to make a Roku box work on a TV, I installed a Radio U Roku app.

And I figured I could watch and see what was Most Wanted.

I have no clue what the first song I listened to was. It was kinda pounding and kinda Klingon and I just can’t get behind that sound no matter how much I give it a chance.

Now, the second song…well.

See, there’s a formulaic Christian song structure that I get used to, even in rock styles. That track resists every template. It resists it sonically, and it resists it lyrically. Every time I think I know what I’m about to hear, the song turns left and does something just a TINY bit different.

I enjoy that.

That sticks around for a couple of days and then I can’t get the track out of my mind and in 2016 when you can’t get a track out of your mind you take to the YouTubes.

And…WELL.

Now, there IS a traditional music video for this song, and you should listen to it and watch it and stuff. But that lyric video is unlike anything I have ever seen. And it implants words into my head.



I wrote a short thing about Jimmy Eat World’s “I Will Steal You Back”
and the fight of the last two-plus years – losing an institution, regaining status (for whatever that status means), and vocalizing what is lost. That song spoke to motivation, and to ambition – perhaps a dumb motivation, perhaps a foolhardy ambition, but the hope that I could contribute to change, and that change will be for the better.

So, of course, the very first song on this album has the refrain “Things don’t seem to change; they move in place, they stay the same.” And “People never change; they move in place, they stay the same.” You make the commitment, you take action, and then…nothing.

And then, as the first song dissolves into the second, the finger goes from pointing to other people to pointing at the self.

I was always out in front of it
Waging war against the storms when I felt overwhelmed and withheld
You and I were like a pair of thieves
Stealing from rich and giving to whoever we saw fit
Now you’re over it

I’ve been wrong a thousand different times
But I don’t know, I don’t know this time
You were there through every single lie and crime
What do you think of your son now?

The title of the song is “Birds Will Never Fly”, and the resignation behind the words is VERY heavy. And the doubt.

These are the left turns I hear in the words. Who is he singing to? God? His father on earth? The next lyric is “Wait a minute, I was here for you/Now you’re sick, you’re sick/I’m sick of it too” which frustrates me as much as ANY lyric I’ve heard in forever. I suppose it works both ways; disgust in the human relationship, projecting exasperation in the heavenly relationship. I really don’t know – except the frustration mirrors my own frustration at my own ineptitude.

Frustration isn’t good. It’s a result of not living in the world that isn’t what it can be. But frustration is good in that we have that picture of a better world, and we’re not content, and we’re motivated towards greater things.

The songs that open Move In Place put voice to frustration as beautifully as I have EVER heard from popular music.

And I feel that frustration more and more pointedly by the day. I know I have purpose here (and I have moments where I get, ahem, “clarity” regarding that purpose). But I also know intellectually how hard it is to make the world better, how to encourage people to cooperate. And even with knowing that intellectually, the emotions that surround that reality are heavy.


In the time between when I started writing this and now, I started a new job, learned a new city, moved into a new house (a full month and change after starting the job), and flailed in a new laboratory with experiments that worked sometimes (and they were experiments of my own design so it’s mostly my fault; in fact I’m finishing this while I’m trying to figure out how to salvage one of ’em). It’s felt like nothing’s gone right this fall, and often.

I have needed the first half of Move In Place. A lot. And I have a series of songs that are now waypoints to me, in same way I’ve gotten waypoints for other times in my life.

It’s reassuring, y’know? I’m nearly 45 years old. I’m in all likelihood over halfway through my life. And I can still find rock songs that speak to my season and that revitalize me.

And I need that song that laments how people never change to transition itself – into a song that speaks to a thing that remains the same.

Thanks to the men of Come Wind for the soundtrack to a new era in my life.

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Songs for Sunday Morning, Year 2

I completed a full year of Songs for Sunday Morning back in March, and I think I only missed one Sunday early on in the process. If you want to check up on me, you can see that archive of links for yourself.

I’ve kept up the discipline without updating the link archive, so I’ll actually transition this to a new page. The rules remain the same: the target is a reflective song appropriate for the day, regardless of whether it’s modern music, old-school CCM or Jesus Music, or a pop song that I’ve coopted for spiritual purposes. The post will be made on Facebook and Twitter every Sunday morning, with the #forSundaymorning hashtag (so you can search for ’em too!), and links to the songs will be stored here.

I expect you’ll find in this list hints of my year of transition in what I’ve selected, too.

Carrying on…

November 16, 2014: Big Head Todd and the Monsters – “Resignation Superman”
November 9, 2014: Randy Stonehill – “Keep Me Runnin'”
November 2, 2014: Anberlin – “Breathe”
October 26, 2014: Phil Wickham – “This Is Amazing Grace”
October 19, 2014: Stavesacre – “At The Moment”
October 12, 2014: Andrew Osenga – “No Heart Beats Alone”
October 5, 2014: Charlie Peacock – “How The Work Gets Done”
September 28, 2014: Rich Mullins – “While The Nations Rage”
September 21, 2014: The Choir – “Mercy Will Prevail”
September 14, 2014: Josh Garrels – “The Resistance”
September 7, 2014: Rosanne Cash – “What We Really Want”
August 31, 2014: Hillsong UNITED – “From The Inside Out”
August 24, 2014: Idle Cure – “So Many Faces”
August 17, 2014: Propaganda – “Excellent”
August 10, 2014: The Hooters – “All You Zombies”
August 3, 2014: Rick Elias – “Stripped”
July 27, 2014: (total collapse, deliberate disappearance and hiding, forgot to seed the buffer)
July 20, 2014: Michael Card – “Who Can Abide?”
July 13, 2014: Mr. Mister – “Healing Waters”
July 6, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Land of My Sojourn”
June 29, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Into The Glorious”
June 22, 2014: Daniel Amos – “If You Want To”
June 15, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Sing Along”
June 8, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Brother’s Keeper”
June 1, 2014: Five Iron Frenzy – “Every New Day”
May 25, 2014:  Ralph Stanley featuring Judy and David Marshall – “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More”
May 18, 2014:  Steven Curtis Chapman – “The Great Adventure”
May 11, 2014:  Sixpence None The Richer – “Sister, Mother”
May 4, 2014:  John Farnham – “You’re The Voice”
April 27, 2014:  Vigilantes of Love – “Resplendent”
April 20, 2014:  Matthew Ward – “Easter Song”
April 18, 2014 (Good Friday): Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
April 13, 2014:  The Choir – “Merciful Eyes”
April 6, 2014:  Andrew Osenga – “Until You Provide”

Others’ songs, with link to relevant tweet:

November 16, 2014, Derek Hale: Andrew Peterson – “After All These Years”

Songs for Sunday Morning

As I have gotten the Buffer set up for my social media, one of the things that I’ve started trying to make a habit is a song post every Sunday morning that is reflective.  It might be a modern worship song, it might be an old Jesus-music piece, or it might come out of God-haunted left field.  But it’s something I’m going to try to make work.

Social media is lousy at archiving, though, so I will try to keep an archive around here.

March 30, 2014: Jesus Culture – “You Won’t Relent”
March 23, 2014: The Echoing Green – “The Story Of Our Lives”
March 16, 2014: Kate Campbell – “10,000 Lures”
March 9, 2014: Michael Card – “Know You In The Know”/”Could It Be”
March 2, 2014: The Prayer Chain – “Some Love”
February 23, 2014: Jars of Clay – “Worlds Apart”
February 16, 2014: Mark Heard – “Satellite Sky”
February 9, 2014: Charlie Hall – “King of Heaven (Isaiah 61)”
February 2, 2014: The Violet Burning – “Rise Like the Lion”
January 26, 2014: All Sons and Daughters – “Wake Up”
January 19, 2014: The Classic Crime – “Salt In The Snow”
January 12, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Peace (A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square)”
January 5, 2014: Somethin’ Else – “We Three Kings”
December 29, 2013: Lincoln Brewster – “Everlasting God”
December 22, 2013: Florence Baptist Temple Little Gospel Quartet – “Christmas Carols”
December 15, 2013: Rich Mullins – comments on Christianity
December 8, 2013: U2 – “Magnificent”
December 1, 2013: Hillsong Chapel – “Hosanna”
November 24, 2013: Lacey Sturm – “Mercy Tree”
November 17, 2013: Hillsong United – “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”
November 10, 2013: Charlie Peacock – “Psalm 51”
November 3, 2013: The Violet Burning – “There Is Nowhere Else”
October 27, 2013: Whiteheart – “Unchain”
October 20, 2013: Christy Nockels – “Healing Is In Your Hands”
October 13, 2013: Michael Card – “Come To The Table”
October 6, 2013: Stavesacre – “Keep Waiting”
September 29, 2013: Michael W. Smith – “Restless Heart”
September 22, 2013: Mark Heard – “Tip Of My Tongue”
September 15, 2013: Rich Mullins – “Hold Me Jesus”
September 8, 2013: Phil Keaggy/Glass Harp – “Do Lord”
September 1, 2013: Kim Walker-Smith/Jesus Culture – “Rooftops”
August 25, 2013: Richard Page – “Kyrie”
August 18, 2013: Katrina Barclay – “New” (no link currently live)
August 11, 2013: Hillsong – “With Everything”
August 4, 2013: Randy Stonehill – “Your Love Broke Through”
July 28, 2013: Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled”
July 21, 2013: Sixpence None The Richer – “Melody of You”
July 14, 2013: Vineyard Music – “Dwell”
July 7, 2013: Kim Walker-Smith/Jesus Culture – “Walk With Me”
June 30, 2013:  Resurrection Band – “Every Time It Rains”
June 23, 2013:  Rich Mullins – “Save Me”
June 16, 2013:  Extreme – “Our Father”
May 26, 2013:  Julie Miller, David Mullen, and Gene Eugene – “Forgive Us”
May 19, 2013:  Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant – “Lead Me On”
May 12, 2013:  All Sons and Daughters – “Brokenness Aside”
May 5, 2013:  Chris Tomlin – “God Of This City”
April 28, 2013:  Christy Nockels – “Waiting Here For You”
April 21, 2013:  Rich Mullins – “I See You / Step By Step”
April 7, 2013:  Chris Quilala/Jesus Culture – “Your Love Never Fails”
March 31, 2013:  Rich Mullins – “52:10”
March 29, 2013 (Good Friday):  Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Facebook status rant, May 5, 2013

On Friday, I heard a commencement address at the old place. It was a very standard address for a Southern Baptist institution, a very standard exposition of the Gospel from that point of view, but it was surprisingly hopeless. The thing I’ve heard repeatedly, after the fact, was how much it was focused on how hopeless the world was, how dangerous the days ahead were, how miserable of shape that we are in without Jesus. There was just a bad taste on the day as a result.

All of the above might be true, but it feels like an incredibly incomplete story.

Last night, I heard a baccalaureate address at the new place. It was a call to reconciliation, with the parable of the prodigal son as the text. It was a picture of God, standing before us with arms outstretched, waiting to receive us as the father was waiting without judgement for his long-lost son. It was a pitch-perfect reflection as we await today’s sending out of graduates into the world.

If we have anything to offer as Christians, it is the hope of this resurrection of Christ – the ultimate triumph of life over death – as power to “grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days”, as Harry Fosdick once wrote. The resurrection isn’t merely “fire insurance” to get Christians out of hell – or the hell they’re currently living in. It’s actual power for the here and now, through the Holy Spirit, to cast out darkness around us and allow light to shine in.

I simply can’t abide any longer people telling me a situation is hopeless – whether that situation is in my yard, in my vocation, in my country, or in the world. If Jesus Christ is who he said he was, no situation is ever hopeless. Period.

So: for Sunday morning, and for graduation.
Because greater things are yet to come,
and greater things are still to be done in this city.

Facebook status rant, December 14, 2012

So, apparently unspeakable tragedy happened in Connecticut today. I’m not going to belittle it; it’s historic in its magnitude, and the fallout will be happening for a very long time.

But I don’t GET it. I was with 30 middle schoolers this afternoon, for one last time in this month-and-a-half long program we’ve been doing (and that I’ve been shilling for the company). I got to play “random question!” with them, and go to all kind of scientific and silly and philosophical and ridiculous ideas with them like you can only get from a group of middle schoolers. I got to thank their parents for getting to work with them, and encourage them going forward. I was loud, madcap, passionate, all that.

I’m trying to put together in my head how the one thing could happen when I experience a completely different thing. I can’t get there.

I’ve hit a point in life where I only know how to do one thing, and that’s fly around everywhere I can as wildly as I can explaining as many things as I can while being as positive as I can and affirming everyone that I can. I don’t expect appreciation for that, or even want it. Honestly, the excitement in a kid as a thing makes sense to them for the first time, or as they feel freedom to ask weird and wonderful questions for the first time – that is its own reward.

But if I can encourage those of you who care to read these thoughts somehow, it is this way: the Golden Rule still matters. Giving to others the way you would like for people to be giving to you still WORKS. Think about that, and ACT on that. Instead of another complaint on Facebook about another way in which this world is sad and broken and over, make the world better. Go. Do.

Facebook status rant, April 4, 2012

To be a Christian and to be an academic is the only life path I could have possibly taken, and I am grateful for the experiences I have had and what they have made me. But there are seasons in this life that are overwhelmingly stressful, and if you think you know the costs that people bear, the incredible work poured in, and the risk that faculty take in the name of integrity, not knowing whether the arrow aimed at you is coming from the right or the left…until you’ve lived this out, you don’t know a blame thing.

Please pray for us. All of us, regardless of where we work. I am so thankful for the career I have, because I am seeing anew how quickly it could go away.

Facebook status rant, October 27, 2011

I gave this talk nearly a year ago. I am incredibly sad tonight over this simple fact: I did not love Shorter University enough to stay. There are so many of you that, if there was a way, I’d be back in my office at Shorter tonight and I would be listening to everything you had to say; God knows you’ve had enough to say to me this week, through Facebook and text and what have you.

Above and beyond everything else I am praying for peace and understanding between students, faculty, alumni, administration and board. I long for all of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ to be able to share that common ground, extend liberty in all of the non-essentials, and love one another in our every act.

(ed note after the fact: that very prayer has been repeated publicly so many times since, and privately infinitely more)

Worship

Originally written on March 2, 2008. Worth a repost today because I got the chance to sing worship songs in front of the general populace for the first time in several years, and I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed it. With thanks to everyone involved in worship at Connect Rome for putting this “mini choir” together…

I hit a strange point in my Christian life very early on, when I started going to a Vineyard church in graduate school. Every young Christian believes that we’ve going to grow up in the faith forever, and that getting to know God is going to be absolutely wonderful all the time, and is completely mystified when he begins to run into roadblocks and starts to struggle to find people going through the same thing as him, and starts to gradually but surely feel alone – without even God beside him.

And obviously, when I say “he” I really mean “me.”

Many people who know me also know that this was also the time my Usenet geekdom was at its peak; several people know me BECAUSE this was the time of my life when my Usenet geekdom was at its peak. And going through some really sweet stuff over the past month brought back to mind an old rec.music.christian thread about worship music – and the exchange between me and a guy named Michael Straight.

My complaint in that thread boiled down to this:

my question, to all the praise and worship types, and to vineyard types in particular, is this: what is the purpose, the vision, or whatever, of those who write vineyard worship music? obviously, the ultimate purpose is to provide songs to worship the Lord with. but a lot of the songs elicit personal responses…to pick examples that i’m familiar with, “light the fire” really doesn’t strike me as a worship song at all, but a prayer. (in my mind, at least, there is a SIGNIFICANT difference.) the chorus of “his banner over me” has a line about “we can feel the love of God in this place” (that may not be quite right) which, i feel, is lying to God if you don’t feel the love of God in that place. stuff like that. what’s the point of putting lines reflecting human emotions that one may or may not feel into a worship song that’s supposed to glorify God?

i realize those who write worship songs for the vineyard aren’t the only people guilty of this, but vineyard songs are the ones that strike me as having this characteristic most often.

Michael came back with an absolutely gracious response, one of the kindest and sweetest in my long and distinguished history of Usenet bickering, that clobbered me between the eyeballs:

I’m not a Vinyard member, but I went to one of their kinship groups in college and really enjoyed their music. I guess that one could take the attitude that “if I’m not glad to be singing, it’s hypocracy to sing a song that says I am” or whatever the emotion is that the song in question talks about. But I always kind of took those songs as a reminder that, no matter how down I might be about life, at rock bottom I do have something to be happy about and it’s not hypocracy to be legitimately upset at the bad things happening in my life but also taking some time to celebrate and be happy about what God has done.

Its sort of like my attitude about communion. Someone who comes from a tradition that takes communion infrequently asked me once if I refrain from taking communion some Sundays when my heart isn’t right (refering to Paul’s admonition in 1Corinthians). I told her that, yes I have refrained once or twice, but I usually see communion as a time to get right with God, not something I can only participate in after I’ve gotten my life together.

The same goes for worship. There’s an old hymn with the line “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices.” If you’re not happy, if you’re not feeling good about God’s love, it’s worth some effort to try to be happy and feel good about these things. Sorrow and pain are legitimate emotions to bring to God, but I think sometimes it’s good to make an effort to realize and be glad about who God is and what he’s done for us.

All that is to say that, for me, I took those songs as expressing what I ought to feel, what I’d like to feel, and what I frequently did feel when I let myself think about who God is and how much I owe him and how it’s just right to get excited about him, no matter what’s going on in my life.

I honestly wanted to rip Michael to shreds for that post, because I didn’t like the idea of pretending to be happy when everybody around me was pretending to be happy and all you fakes can just go away now because I’m the guy here who has the REAL problems and the REAL struggles and there’s no way you can tell me that what I’m going through doesn’t deserve a hearing…

…but as I read and re-read Michael’s words, I began to see that he wasn’t talking about any of that. He point-blank said that “sorrow and pain are legitimate emotions to bring to God”, but he was proposing something else as well – that it wasn’t right to DELIBERATELY CHOOSE to remain in those emotions. God is worthy to be praised. God is worthy to be glorified. God is worthy to have me get over my own stupid self if my own stupid self is getting in the way of him doing his thing.

If you don’t feel the words “we can feel the love of God in this place”, then SEEK to feel them. God’s love is worth it.

There is a lot I’ve had to be angry about as 2007 has turned into 2008. Instead of deliberately running away from God, though, as I really was trying to do in my younger self, I have begun to seek out God’s love in less obvious places, in people I wouldn’t ordinarily be in contact with, and focus on God instead of my anger. One of those less obvious places turns into worship with astonishing regularity these days, and it’s really sweet.

And we sang a song on Friday night that I haven’t been able to stop singing all day.

And – wouldn’t you know it – it’s a Vineyard song. And it’s one that plays more like a prayer than as a worship song – not that the difference is that big of a deal anyway.

It’s 14 years late – but thanks, Michael, for bringing the word. I still hear it, and I still need to hear it.

(Permalink for – shock, horror! – a worship video.)

(And, on January 30, 2011, a double bonus permalink for – double shock, double horror! – another worship video.)

Edited on 8 March 2014 to fix linkrot for re-linking on social media.

“Will you love your campus?”

Presented at Baptist Campus Ministries Refuge (large group) meeting at Shorter University, Thursday 11 November. Thanks to Derek Hale for the invite. Credit to Paul Tokunaga for the original inspiration 20 years previous. For that matter, credit to RCF people who opened their arms to me 20 years ago this year, at the point when I needed to be reached out to the most.
And, for the record, I was told to arrive at BCM at 7:30 PM.

There have been a multitude of people telling me this week that they were looking forward to hearing me talk at BCM tonight. I have looked at them quizzically, and muttered to them “well, I suppose I better write something for BCM, then.”

I wasn’t kidding. I would like for the record to show that I started typing stuff for this talk at 6:34 PM tonight.

I hear that the issue at hand is peace, and I suppose I ought to say something relevant. The default book for me to go to for these things is Romans, and a useful text for these things would be Romans 12:9-21. So I’m going there; you can turn there with me.

But let me tell you about a guy named Paul Tokunaga first.

I’m an old InterVarsity punk. I was in a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship where I went to college (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, on the outskirts of bee-yoo-tee-full Terre Haute, Indiana [Readers who know Terre Haute know that this was a joke. This probably isn’t the most peaceable footnote to write, but while Terre Haute is many wonderful things, and was many wonderful things to me for four years, “beautiful” isn’t one of them]) between the point where I received saving faith in Christ in 1990 and 1993. One of the first things heard about when I joined our InterVarsity chapter was a missions conference at the University of Illinois called Urbana ’90. It took place over Christmas break.

For those Rose-Hulman students who were local, the trip to Urbana was short. I was from north Florida. No way I was going to Urbana.

But the guys who went came back hyped up, and they heard a lot of things that blew them out of the water, but one of those things was a message from this guy Paul Tokunaga, which blew them out of the water so much they bought a video of the talk and showed it one night at our large group, which looks a lot like you guys look now.

Paul Tokunaga is now the Vice-President and Director of Strategic Ministries for the whole of InterVarsity, and he’s done a metric ton in Asian-American ministries and toolkits for campus ministry leaders who aren’t white, middle class punks like I was. But he was one of the speakers on the Urbana ’90 program, and he was talking about his own college experience, which was back in 1971, which is the year I was BORN, so it’s ancient history for me and I don’t know what it is for you.

And this is a time when students were not only skeptical of everything going on in society around them, but they were out-and-out hostile, and on many campuses they would demonstrate and would sit in the administration building and there might even be violence if the students didn’t see exactly how things were changing to make it better for them. This is the era of Vietnam, remember. Not only did this group of students feel like the adults had it in for them, they had the body-bags coming home to prove it.

So this is the time Paul Tokunaga is talking about when he says these words about his sophomore year at California Polytechnic State University – and believe me, if I had the video of this talk, I’d show it to you, because it killed me hearing it. Imagine I’m a nervous Japanese-American instead of a nervous Pearson, as I read this.

I had converted from Buddhism to Christianity as a senior in high school. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year at Cal Poly that I really started to fall in love with God and with the campus. That year, God grabbed my heart, gripped it tight, and yanked hard. The turning point was one bright sunny afternoon. University Union, courtyard, upper deck. I was catching some rays between classes, just minding my own business. Down below, a chaotic, political demonstration was taking place, and as I watched, “Lord, these are sheep, lots of them, they need a shepherd. They need you.” As I thought what it was like to be a student, without the hope of Jesus Christ, I began to cry. It wasn’t religion that I was crying over. I had been raised on the moral teachings of the Buddha. It was for forgiveness for their sin. It was for the power to forgive other people. It was love, true love, for the unlovable, and I was crying for their souls. “Lord, can you, will you love the campus through me?”

I was involved in the InterVarsity fellowship, and there were some awfully nice folk in that group of about 60 or 70. But in terms of being a force to be reckoned with on campus, we were pretty harmless. Then several of us naive underclassmen, Billy, Alexis, Pam, Mark, and others, caught a vision, and the vision was that God sent his only Son to live and die for Cal Poly. We wanted more than anything, more than great GPAs, more than a stunning resume, more than a mate to marry, even more than a winning division II football team, we wanted to see Cal Poly, the whole campus, wrestle with the greatness of Jesus Christ. We wanted to reduce the population of hell and we wanted to increase the population of heaven. We wanted Cal Poly to look like the kingdom of God.

We didn’t have a blueprint, or any king of grand scheme. We started right where we lived, literally. We shared with our roommates our popcorn poppers, our sweaters, our letter jackets, we also tried to be good listeners and compassionate friends. We studied with classmates, and when it seemed right, we explained the relationship between Jesus and business ethics, Jesus and animal husbandry, Jesus and theater. We were involved in all kinds of campus groups. Some of us joined Tomo Dachi Kai, the Japanese club. Guess who? And we challenged segments of the campus with racial injustice issues that rang true with the gospel.

Six of us became writers and editors for the newspaper, the Mustang Daily. We helped build honest journalism into the fabric of the paper, and in return we were given incredible freedom to report from a Christian perspective. The Lord was growing our fellowship in size and in boldness, and we could join with the apostle Paul when he said, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. Our identity was now in the Lord. He, not letter jackets, was giving us our identity and worth. “Lord,” we asked, “how can we love Cal Poly even more?”

The fall of my sophomore year I met with the college president. These were violent times on California campuses. “Sir, I’m a Christian, and I’m committed to non violence and peace on campus. If there’s anything I can do to protect Cal Poly, feel free to call.”

Several months later on a Sunday afternoon I was working hard on a nap. It was the eve of a potentially violent major campus rally. It was Mayday 1971. It was the day in our history when the radicals of our country were committed to shutting down our entire country. “Paul, this is the president. About that rally on Thursday, I’m scared. What do you think I should do?”

Is this a dream? Wait a minute, I thought. You’re the college president. You’re supposed to have the answers. I am just a sophomore. The president asked for the Christians, not the National Guard, to protect his campus. If we said yes to the college president, we were putting our lives in danger. But we had gone too far. By that point, we were victims of love. We loved Cal Poly too much to turn our backs on our campus. No longer was the campus our adversary. It had become our friend. And we had become its lover.

Thursday came. We were ready. The auditorium was jammed with over a thousand students. There I was, aisle seat, third row, leaning, ready to lurch forward to grab the mic as soon as the radical leader yelled, “Let’s tear apart the administration building.” Oh, Lord! Pudgy, Japanese Americans with thick glasses and acne. We don’t usually do these kinds of things. But, if you’re in it, I’m in.

Our biggest guys were ready to block the exits. More importantly, over a thousand fellow Christian students throughout California were praying for us. By the end of the meeting, Tom Hayden, who is generally a rousing speaker, had literally put some students to sleep. Our God Reigns.

Paul Tokunaga went on to talk about how much that time transformed him and how, as he moved from random sophomore swept up in a genuine movement of God to a junior and senior moving towards excellence in a vocation God kept reminding him of that vision, and how much he would love that campus. I’ll link this talk on Facebook. Read the whole thing. The punch line at the end still kills me.

But the question at the end is what haunts me, and what I hope will haunt you, because it’s so important. What will your legacy be to your college? What will you be remembered for after you’re gone? Jesus loves your campus. Will you love your campus? Jesus died for your campus. Will you die for your campus?

Will you love your campus?

Romans 12:9-21, and I use the New English Translation for these things:

Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

“Live in harmony with one another.” “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” That sounds easy enough. But the instructions for how to do that surround the commandment, and what do they have in common?

They involve giving ourselves up.

It’s not just living with one another, but being devoted to one another. All I can think of when I hear devotion is my grandparents who lived in Palmetto who would wake up so early every morning, often at the same time, and who would share breakfast together, and talk together, and then open the Bible and the Upper Room devotional book together and read it and pray together. They smiled so often. They were so kind to people. And they were kind to one another first, and they started each day in devotion first and foremost.

Is our commitment to the people we live around that deep? How often does an obnoxious noise interrupt your sleep – or, if you’re taking a sophomore science course, your study? Do you remember that person is your brother or sister? When you get interrupted by a person with a problem, do you give them that time that they need, or do you consider it a burden? Do we rejoice in hope? Do we endure in suffering? Sure, we pray for people when they show us a need – but do we persist in prayer?

“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.” First, Paul would show up here and insist to us that we don’t have a clue what that statement means, and if you doubt then read Paul going off on the Corinth church in 2 Corinthians 10-12. Paul knew from persecution, and Paul did practice showing mercy to the people who would throw him in prison. What do we put up with here that even approaches that?

And when we do walk into a situation that’s unfair to us, do we practice showing grace even in those circumstances? How many professors have you talked about behind their backs lately? (And if you think those of us who are faculty are innocent here, you think way too highly of us.) Do we thank God that we have the ability to give over time in our life for learning and thinking, and do we thank those who are providing here for us, or do we curse the small difficulties? And if we curse the small difficulties, then how do we expect to manage the big ones?

“Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.” It’s tempting to put people in classes here and call one group that’s not like us lowly, while everybody who looks like us is haughty. Who is in your circle of friends? Do you reach out across social groups on campus, or do you remain in your own little clique?

There are absolutely amazing people on this campus who nobody knows about, because they don’t naturally reach out to people who don’t look like them and people who don’t look like them don’t reach out. If Jesus Christ died for this campus, he died for this whole campus, not just the people in your dorm or the people who play your sport or the people in your major. Do you act that way? Or do you keep to yourself? (And again, I’m pointing the finger at myself here too; how often do you see a science professor outside of Rome Hall?)

Let me put this even more starkly. It’s so easy to feel like, just because we’re on a Baptist campus and it’s understood that Jesus Christ is in the mission statement of the institution, that there’s no need to reach out to people and there’s no need to show Jesus Christ day in and day out. But I will tell you I know people who have been here and who have left this place broken-hearted at how these Christians act and how much they never want to be like what they found at Shorter. That’s a hard truth to bring to the table, but it is there.

And in that truth is a challenge to us: if Jesus Christ died for this campus, if he died for the people on this campus, and if he calls us to be his hands and his feet, then we are to be the ones who love this campus and prove to those people that Christians are people far beyond the cold, the intolerant, the unloving.

It’s 7:25 PM, and I need to get downstairs. But as I’m finishing this up, a song called “In The Light” by Charlie Peacock comes up. You’ve probably heard the song, but recorded by some jokers called DC Talk. Charlie Peacock’s bridge is a little bit different than the Christian-radio version, and it’s hilarious that it comes on right now:

Is there such a thing as a man of peace?
If there is, then a man of peace I want to be
I will need your help if I am ever to be that
If I’m to lay down, to lay down, to lay down
Then I’ll lay my life for my brothers and sisters
I will need your help
Jesus, I need your light forever shining bright

That light is the light of the world, and it’s what we were commanded to show. Do you remember the Sermon on the Mount? “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

Paul Tokunaga’s words still haunt me. I heard them so long ago, and they have never left – when I think about where I’ve been and what I’ve become, much of the genesis of that transformation was hearing those words. I pray they haunt you as well.

What will your legacy be to your college? What will you be remembered for after you’re gone? Jesus loves your campus. Will you love your campus? Jesus died for your campus. Will you die for your campus?


Revised on 4 August 2015 to add a link to video of Tokunaga’s talk – and a thousand thanks to Intervarsity twentyonehundred for making it freely available. I’m not even kidding, I may have shed a tear of joy seeing it again.

Something resembling a testimony

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, June 10, 2009.

Originally written for a new friend of mine, Josh Roberts, who pastors a little thing called Connect Rome that I’ve been enchanted by for the past couple of months. It’s a church that meets in a bar. And I’ve been attending it. I’ll sit back and allow the shock to subside before I continue.

A couple of weeks ago he threw some questions at me that were part of a project called “You Asked For It” – Josh is getting six messages for six Sundays out of questions he was asked by people who’ve been attending. He e-mailed me the rejects…ahem, the “leftovers”…and asked if I could handle any of them.

Apropos of nothing, I’d been bothered more and more by how horribly people around me had been acting and how this had nothing to do with how people at a Christian college should act – and how easily I could throw myself into that mix. I got mad and frustrated enough that I sat down at computer keyboard and just typed furiously. I then looked at the list of questions again, and realized I’d mostly answered one of them.

Later, I reconnected with an old friend on Facebook (surprise, surprise) and started catching up, and as part of the catching up she gave me the very standard here’s-where-Jesus-changed-my-life schpiel. I think I moaned back that I didn’t have anything resembling a testimony that wouldn’t put people to sleep or bore them out of their skull, since it wasn’t a dramatic event or a single life-changing moment I could point to.

But the more I go back over this, the more that this really feels like that very type of testimony. I don’t know if it qualifies as dramatic or not. Regardless, it’s mine.

Why is it easier for some people to accept the story of Christ than others?

I have really found myself, over the past several weeks, taking a lot of stock in what has led me to this point. I’m careening now towards 20 years of my life knowing Jesus Christ as a personal Lord and Savior, and while I’ve resisted using that particular language for a large swath of my life because I know the baggage it carries, this relationship with Jesus is very real and very tangible, and it has informed an awful lot of decisions I’ve made in my life that have brought me here.

Why do I believe in Jesus? Why did I give my life over to Him in the first place, and what has kept me believing that this crazy story about a man who also just happened to be totally God, and who got executed for crimes he didn’t do and then turned around and came back to life? I mean, what makes that real?

Thinking about this has led me to a really stunning revelation for me. I’m frequently frustrated talking to students of mine here, and people in this community broadly, about Jesus. Rome is a church-laden town. I work with Christians of many fairly conservative stripes, as do many of you. Christianity is all around us. And it really seems, day in and day out, that if you don’t buy in to Jesus and you want evidence that Jesus isn’t terribly real, all you have to do is look at the the pastors and church leaders in Rome, the Christians you work with, the very state of Christianity in northwest Georgia, and you’ve got all the evidence you need. Gossip spread everywhere, people at one another’s throats, churches that are cold and unwelcoming, lives that show no evidence at all of a sovereign and powerful God, just stories and legends that may have had weight 2000 years ago – or even 100 years ago – but are worthless and useless in our modern time.

My job has me working for a Christian institution, under a mission that’s all about the Lordship of Jesus Christ even over education, engaged day in and day out with Southern Baptists who have the same basic insight into the Gospel that I do. (Honestly? Best job I’ve ever had, and it’s not even close. There aren’t too many places in the United States where I could do the things I do, teach the way I teach, and still have the opportunities to advance that I’ve had. It fits me to a tee. But…) Day in and day out, I see people, in the name of Jesus Christ, treat other people like absolute garbage. Student vs. student, student vs. faculty, faculty vs. faculty, and administration vs. … well, everybody. I see the command to love one another trashed. I see the bitterness and the resentment and the raw, unadulterated inability to just get over it.

And if I’m not careful, I see it in myself, in how I treat others, and if I start pointing that finger at others, fingers would come pointing right back at me.

And – again, if I’m honest – I see friends at other institutions, and stories from other outposts of Christian higher education, that are a thousand times worse and uglier than any story I could tell about my experience. This problem isn’t a problem with any one workplace, or any one city. It’s a problem with all of us.

What makes this so stunning is that, nearly 20 years ago, I went to college in Terre Haute, Indiana, absolutely desperate to break any ties with Christianity and make myself a brilliant and logical scientist and engineer, free of any superstitions or any fake god to limit the possibilities in my world. College was going to be my ultimate freedom – not to party hearty and pick up women and live the college life (although if I could get over my geek nature and live that life, that would be a nice side benefit) but to free my thinking. I could follow new heroes of mine like Kurt Vonnegut and e.e. cummings into a mindset where all the stupid traditional lessons from mom and dad and sunday school teacher were broken and I could truly be open-minded – where I could truly figure out what open-minded actually MEANT.

And what completely blindsided me was actually living out that first year trying to figure out what way of living life would actually work, and finding the brainiacs and free-thinkers at Rose-Hulman, and figuring out very quickly that I hated all of them. Just hated them. They were jerks, and not only did they want nothing to do with me, they didn’t want anything to do with anyone who didn’t fit in their own, neat circle. And there were the guys who pledged fraternities (and I have to clarify “social fraternities” for reasons that will become clear shortly), who were perfectly willing to be your friend over beers and parties. But I tried one dorm party and had a perfectly miserable experience with alcohol, and the moment I started saying “no, thanks” to the booze I found pretty uniform rejection from that crew.

The people who reached out to me and who showed me compassion were the people that ultimately informed my way of thinking. The people who actually treated me with kindness were the people I listened to.

I found myself lining up pretty effectively with a service fraternity called Alpha Phi Omega, figured out that a lot of the old Scouting ideals in that group lined up with my own idealistic nature, and it was very straightforward to pledge what turned out to be a very different sort of fraternity, and find a great deal of fulfillment learning to “be a leader, be a friend, be of service”. That was the type of thing I went to college to do.

One of the guys in APhiO decided that I was worth a great deal of time and investment, for whatever reason. I mean, REALLY decided. (I wonder after the fact if he wasn’t in need of a friend himself, and if I had listened to him at one point and he decided that I was going to be faithful. The friendship has lasted, that’s for sure.) There was a Bible study that met in this guy’s room, and halfway through my freshman year he decided that I needed to be in that Bible study. Through forcible dragging out of my dorm room, if necessary.

What stunned me then – and, 20 years on, what stuns me even more – is how RIGHT the relationships were between the people in that Bible study. How much they cared for me, and not just because “hey he doesn’t believe this Jesus stuff”, but because I was a person and I was worth something because of my humanity. Honestly, at that point I’d called everything into question all over again, because there was so much I had counted on that hadn’t gone right. I wasn’t tearing up my classes like I thought I would, I had already changed my major once and I was needing a serious GPA win in Winter ’91 if I was going to avoid changing majors again, and we’ve already established that all the free-thinkers I was going to hook up with free-think with were complete jerks who wanted nothing to do with anybody who wasn’t already them.

And these Christians were nothing like the Christians I had encountered growing up…which, now that I think about it, remind me a bit of the Christians that I get complaints about around here, the Christians who don’t act the slightest bit the way that Jesus did and who don’t show any evidence in their lives that God is real and can change their lives. These Christians lived it, day-in and day-out, and they shared Jesus with me without mentioning any four spiritual laws or any need for a relationship or any sort of hard sell. They believed what Jesus said, and even if they didn’t do everything perfect all the time (and several didn’t even come close), they were honest about it and still welcomed me in with all my flaws.

This is long before I actually began to seriously consider all of the deep theological issues in the Bible, or before I began to work towards reconciling the science I had loved all my life (and that I began to realize was beyond mere love, it was a real and holy calling) with the faith that so many said it wouldn’t reconcile with, or before I really made it an intellectual faith. This was me figuring out what unconditional love looked like, and being completely blindsided by it.

So: “Why is it easier for some people to accept the story of Christ than others?” Because those people have actually seen what the love of Christ looks like, and have had to respond to it. If the church around those people is dead, if it’s full of gossip, if the people tear one another down instead of sacrificing themselves for one another, then somebody watching that group will say “there’s nothing real to that Jesus they claim.” When we act like the words of Jesus mean something, and being perfect as our Father is perfect is something that can actually be done, and we show that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength by loving our neighbor as ourselves, we should never be surprised when God breaks through and people are changed.

Postscript in 2013:  Connect Rome is now Connect City Church, and has their campus on U.S. 27 between Rome and Summerville, GA.  If you are ever in Northwest Georgia, go see them some Sunday morning.  They’re great people, and I miss them.