I’m sitting in the green room (the room a speaker uses to prepare for a speech or performance) just after Francis Collins finished a phenomenal presentation on the compatibility of faith and science.
. If you’re impatient you can see one of a similar presentation at MIT last year.
Our venue, Memorial Auditorium, seats 1,700. Our overflow room, Bishop Auditorium, seats 324. We had to open five additional classrooms. I’m confident we had at least 2,000 people turn out, but a police officer providing security was bold enough to suggest that the real total was 2,300.
My favorite part of the event? Looking at the program and seeing six lines.
Welcome: Lisa Ooi
PhD student, Chemical & Systems Biology
Introduction: Professor William Newsome
Chair, Stanford Department of Neurobiology the last house on the left online
Lecture: Dr. Francis Collins
Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
Those six lines sum up the whole event brilliantly — many very bright scientists see no necessary conflict between science and Christianity.
Oh — if you’ve been following my blog for a long time, you might remember Lisa Ooi’s name. She’s a longtime Chi Alphan who actually lived with Paula and I for a brief season. She did a great job and we’re very proud of her.
My second‐favorite part of the event? Him showing the clip of himself being grilled by Stephen Colbert. Funny stuff.
Big thanks to Chi Alpha’s co‐sponsors InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship blues brothers 2000 divx online (the real driving force for this event), the Catholic Community at Stanford, and the Veritas Forum divx push
. We could never have pulled off an event of this scale alone. A big special thanks to Amy Chambers and Kyle Heath who shouldered a ridiculous amount of the administrative details, to Pete Sommer for raising a lot of money to make this happen, to Kyle Pubols and Andrea Romero for running microphones during the q & a so very well, to the many students who helped route people to overflow rooms on an instant’s notice, and to Lena Ho, Xianne Leiong, Hilary Dyer, Isaac Penny, and all those who sat through lengthy meetings to plan this whole thing. Oh, and Dr. Bill Newsome did a tremendous job. And thanks to the Office for Religious Life and Dean Scotty McLennan for giving us permission to go for it.
Finally, a special thanks to Clare Kasemset who did a great job on the planning side but fell ill at the last minute and was unable to make it to the event. Hope you enjoy the video, Clare. Get well soon.
I’ll try to get some photos and more thoughts online later. Right now I need to focus on getting ready to preach a sermonic perspective on the same themes tomorrow night. I’ve got some big shoes to fill.
is this weekend, and I’m in charge. So for the last few days I’ve been bombarded with phone calls or urgent emails relating to some minor crisis about the event. It reached a fever pitch yesterday when I received a message about every ten minutes (or so it seemed).
That’s not a big deal — it’s what you sign on for when you agree to direct a retreat or conference.
However, I also had to preach last night.
Being interrupted every ten minutes does not lend itself to robust sermon preparation. I’m very particular about my sermon preparation routine. I like to research my topic thoroughly, write out what I intend to say word for word, and then rehearse it (at least once, preferably twice). When speaking in the evening, I usually manuscript in the morning and rehearse in the afternoon. That didn’t happen yesterday.
The bottom line is that I walked into last night’s meeting less prepared for a sermon than I have been in years. I felt certain that the message was going to be a flop.
While delivering it, I felt as though I was fumbling for words and rambling incoherently.
But at the end of the evening, one student prayed to receive Christ and another prayed to rededicate herself to Christ.
It was a humbling reminder that it’s not about me and my preparation; it’s about God using broken vessels to achieve His will.
Yesterday we were giving away free homemade chocolate‐chip cookies on White Plaza, and we got all sorts of wonderful reactions. My favorite was from a master’s student in engineering who grabbed a cookie and then looked at the poster next to the cookie pile.
download barbie of swan lake movie . If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Collins coordinated the Human Genome Project that decoded human DNA. He’s also a follower of Christ.
Anyway, this guy just stared at the poster for about a minute, befuddlement sprawled across his face. He looked at the picture of Collins on the cover of Nature magazine. He read his scientific credentials. And then he read the topic of the lecture again. Then he sort of murmured, “Wait. This can’t be right. This doesn’t make any sense.”
So we explained that yes, Francis Collins really is one of the world’s leading geneticists. And yes, he really does believe in Jesus. And he’s going to be talking about it Stanford.
The student said he’d be there, and I hope he does show up. He seemed quite earnest. There are a lot of students on campus who don’t allow themselves to consider God seriously because they assume that science and faith are by definition opposed to one another. We hope that by showing them a world‐class scientist who loves God we can dispel some of that prejudice.
I love this job.
Chi Alpha @ Stanford officer Aaron Polhamus was just awarded a Rhodes Scholarship
(see page 10 of the document). That means he gets 2 or 3 years to study at Oxford — fully subsidized. The Stanford Daily has a brief write‐up
on it which quotes Aaron at some length.
Being a Rhodes Scholar is a big deal — some notable recipients of the award include Bill Clinton, Wesley Clark (the general turned politician), Robert Reich, Daniel Boorstin (the historian), physicist Brian Greene (yeah, the one who writes the cool books about science), George Stephanopoulos, current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and scads of congressman and senators. Oh, plus Kris Kristofferson (really).
So congrats, Aaron!
It was lots of fun. During the interview he shared a helpful metaphor about his crisis of faith as a young adult. “It’s like my baby teeth. They had to go so my permanent teeth could come in. Something similar happened with my faith. I needed to move from a child’s faith to an adult faith, but what I got in the end was something better and more enduring.”
Anyway, afterwards we were able to talk briefly and I asked him about applying the principles of his professional life to ministry. How would a d.school person approach improving the experience of a regular or a guest at a ministry function?
We only talked briefly, but one tidbit he shared really struck me. “When we’re doing feedback we find it helpful to have people restrict themselves to three types of statements: ‘I like…’, ‘I wish…’, and ‘We should try…’. For example, ‘I liked it when you talked about x, I wish you had spent more time on that and less on this other point.’ It forces feedback to be more personal and also pushes it in a constructive direction.”
I think we’ll experiment with that and see how it works out for us. It sounds promising.
Anyway, I hope you find his comments as interesting and helpful as I did.
As a Christian minister, I apologize to the campus community for for my well‐meaning but misguided brothers who bore the signs on White Plaza yesterday.
You recall them, no doubt. They bore such charming slogans as “The sin and the sinner go straight to hell together,” and “Warning: Fornicators, Drunkards, Thieves, Adulterers, God Haters, Liars, HOMOSEXUALS — JUDGMENT.”
I know you find it hard to believe, but they were under the impression that they were acting with kindness and even love. They were trying to tell you something important in the best way they could think of.
Unfortunately, their method undermined their message.
To them, and to all the sign‐bearers scattered across the campuses of America, I direct the next few remarks.
I know you are doing your best to honor God, but when you bring such signs onto campus and provoke students you are not accomplishing your goal.
In fact, I suspect that a careful consideration of the Bible will lead you to rethink your actions.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV
Gentleness and respect may have been your aspiration, but the messages on the signs belied your intent. You may not understand why, but people found your messages extremely disrepectful. Respect is measured by the recipient, so if an entire community tells you that you are acting in a way that they find offensive and insulting then you must take them at their word and rethink the way that you communicate your message.
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5–6, NRSV
My brothers, I humbly suggest that you acted with a great lack of wisdom, as anyone who has spent time ministering on the college campus could have told you. Indeed, we would have made the point with great fervor. Something like this happens once or twice every year and it always detracts from the work of God on campus — I have never once seen it help.
If you doubt the effects of your visit, I direct you to the unofficial Stanford blog’s perspective on your actions.
If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Mark 6:11, NRSV
And this, to me, is the clincher. Jesus told his disciples to move on when people didn’t want to listen. And that’s the model we see throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul. Paul, contrary to his reputation, was very canny and was a master at non‐intrusive evangelism. He sought to preach in places where people expected to hear preaching. He went to synagogues, philosophical venues, and lecture halls and talked to people who were ready to listen.
And so while I applaud your intentions, I beg you to rethink your evangelistic strategy and see if there is not a wiser way to engage students with the claims of Christ.
And to the campus community I reiterate my apology. They meant well, but they acted in a way that caused many of you to have a lower opinion of Christ and His followers than you did before.
Earlier today I was reading an article about Einstein’s religious views and I was struck by the following comment: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
If your perception of Christ is shaped largely by the sign‐bearers and others like them, then I urge you to look at Jesus yourself. Read the gospels and ask around in your dorm. I promise that you will find some Christ‐followers who would love nothing more than to have a respectful conversation with you and help you to see why Jesus is still worshiped after these many years and across these many miles.
As most of you were completely unaware, yesterday was Pi Day.
If the reference is confusing to you, yesterday was March 14. This date can be written 3/14, and 314 are the first three digits of the infinitely‐long number pi.
Anyway, I made a reference to Pi Day at the beginning of my message last night and I asked offhandedly if anyone in the audience had pi memorized out to any significant length — more than 10 digits.
At first I didn’t see any hands, but then I noticed that everyone was pointing at someone just out of my field of vision. I turned and John Sillcox (pictured here) had his hand raised.
“John, how many digits do you have pi memorized out to?”
“For real? You know the first 100 digits of pi?”
I was pretty floored. I had thought MAYBE someone would know the first 10 or 25 digits.
“You know that I have no choice but to call you up here and have you recite them.”
After some cajoling he agreed and began reciting the numbers. One of the graphics I had for pi day happened to display the first several hundred numbers and so we projected the graphic behind him while he rattled them off. His recall was perfect.
Here’s the bit that I found most interesting about the entire experience: the response of the audience. This is the sort of geeky thing that normally only I would find cool. But at Stanford, such displays get a different response. Our Chi Alpha group went wild. One of our rugby players got up and began bowing to John, crying “We’re not worthy!”
So yeah. That’s what Pi Day at Chi Alpha is like. At least at Stanford.
For the record, my texts were Exodus 3:14 and Philippians 3:14. 🙂
I was in the Stanford Bookstore today when I happened to see a book called Stanford Spirit. I noticed it was a compilation of essays by current Stanford students, so I picked it up to see if any were by people I knew — and one of our Chi Alphans has a contribution!
You can download a digital copy for free at
http://www.lulu.com/content/382219 — look for the chapter by Maribel Diaz.
In addition, Lisa Ooi just had her debut publication in Cell (yes, THAT Cell) with the stirring “A Rapid, Reversible, and Tunable Method to Regulate Protein Function in Living Cells Using Synthetic Small Molecules”
Congratulations to them both.
As someone raised Episcopalian I tend to feel sorrow whenever I read about the Episcopal church in the news. The global Anglican communion is doing okay, but the American denomination has really jumped the tracks since I was born.
In case you haven’t heard, the Episcopal Church in America just elected its first female primate ever — Katharine Jefferts Schori. That’s not the source of my sorrow — I firmly believe in the ministry of women (as does my denomination).
Here’s where the sorrow comes in: she’s apparently an advocate of ordaining openly gay priests and bishops. So her election was sort of a slap in the face to the worldwide Anglican communion, a significant portion of which seems prepared to write Ichabod over the door of the Episcopalian church.
After the usual sigh that escapes my lips when seeing the Episcopal church in the headlines, one detail leapt out at me: Bishop Schori graduated with a degree in biology from Stanford in 1974. Thanks to purgatorio for putting that information where it caught my eye.
Those darn Stanford alumni–they just keep showing up in the news. Sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, but always making a difference.