Sunday, October 18, 2009

Alumni Speech: 10/18/2009

Good morning, my name is Jess Samples and I am a Senior International Studies Major.

Last fall, I stopped out at Taylor. I transferred to the University of Virginia in order to enroll in a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. I flew to the Bahamas on August 28th and embarked on a remarkable journey. I proceeded to live on a ship for 4 months, traveling to Brazil, across the Atlantic Ocean to Namibia and South Africa, then to India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Japan, across the Pacific Ocean to Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal and back to Miami Florida on December 14th. I visited a total of ten countries and took class on the ship along with 700 peers from an amalgamation of universities across the country. My professors were all from either Stanford or the University of Virginia.

My journey took me down dirt roads on horseback, it rocked me to sleep in hammocks late into the evening, challenged me to understand violence: from slavery, atomic bombs and HIV to the abandoned, neglected, scorned and forgotten. My journey shook me, it woke me up to sunrises at sea, to the lightness of the ship on the ocean: like my burdens in Jesus' hands. To the futility of life. To white consciousness. my journey took me on reckless rickshaws, quiet catamarans, hurried bullet trains and secluded subways through the hidden cu chi tunnels and the starry Namib Desert, through apartheid and it's remnants, the flooded streets of Ha Noi, the Great Wall, and endless tea fields in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. It taught me the brevity of life: as we lost a precious and dear friend in Hong Kong.

When I first came home, I was overwhelmed. My parents and dear friends were incredible: teaching me patience and gentleness. I cam back to Taylor absolutely distraught. I felt like it was a mistake to wake up for 4 months, asking Jesus to borrow his eyes. I was not meant to see what he sees. The Pain, emptiness and want that I saw, all juxtaposed against those who have plenty, who are known, who are not in need, was all overbearing. But then He told me a story: the precious and powerful story of when he healed the paralytic. He reminded me of how He did it, "Remember? I said, 'Your sins are forgiven' and then, so they would know my authority to do so, I made him to stand'". He gave me His eyes gain, this time not for clarity of sight; but rather, perspective. Jesus Christ is my living and powerful Savior who saved me first from my sin, and now is working on healing me of its effects.

So, I have let Him lead the remainder of this dance: Semester at Sea was incredible, but when Kurt Leswing died in Hong Kong, all the University of Virginia had to offer was its academics. No hope offered, no truth or light to be made evident. The bombastic shipmates who blamed the Christian God for colonization and slavery (and most other suffering in the World) were broken, and too hopeless or perhaps stubborn to allow Jesus to meet them where they were.

But at Taylor, God has supplied some answers, in His time. He has taught me through Dr. Corduan, to learn wisdom and moral instruction and to discern wise counsel. Jesus has taught me through Dr. Lay and Steve Austin, that it does not work to keep humbling myself, that I must cease to seek information bias, and desire a heart that pleads for Jesus to correct me when I am wrong. Through Dr. Seeman: I've learned the beauty of conviction: that he cannot hardly speak truth without it affecting him. Jesus has taught me through my peers here at Taylor, to pursue knowledge insomuch as I am first pursuing the Lord, to not be afraid to learn trust or love through the risk of attempting them in the strength of Christ.

I realized months after I returned from my voyage, that "my journey" was really Jesus. He took me down those dirt roads on horseback, taught me of violence on both macro and personal levels. He rocked me to sleep in hammocks late into the evening in Salvador. He enlightened me on the brevity of life, of cognitive and affective empathy and that in the beginning, was Father, Son and Spirit: in the beginning was love and relationship. Love and relationship have been at the beginning through the Trinity, and I am not invited into this dance, invited to accept as well as offer this love and to accept as well as enter into this relationship.

Thank you Lord,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Building Castles In The Air

I feel like I am a living dichotomy.


A year ago today, I would have told you that it was us. That God has enabled his people to complete his mission, and to bring his kingdom. Heck, he even taught us how to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”. However, I have found myself in a different place this year.

            On my voyage last semester, I was struck with something called, ‘white consciousness’. I was in South Africa in an Art Museum during Heritage weekend. I remember it well. I had been stunned by the beautiful marriage of art and societal issues in this culture. Apartheid had its influence, and it was more than just a legislative influence. I remember walking past a statue which absolutely struck me. It was a statue of an African man’s face, a black statue. He had a white cloth draped over his head, and was holding the edge of it in his hand, in a contemplative manner. This is when white consciousness struck me.

      Never before had I seen a statue of an African man. In fact, almost every statue I have ever seen was generally a man, and one of European decent (other than the one I mention now, and one of Stalin I saw in Vietnam later that month). I could not believe it. How could I have never seen an elated figure in society, to the point of being molded into a statue, that was of African origin?

     Suddenly, my error was ever before me. I can quote 1 Corinthians 7:17 to you on any day, at any given time. But I realized as my voyage went on, how much I have missed it. Ever since I became a Christian, I have wanted to better someone else’s life. I have honestly wished I was poor at times, or of some other descent. I have coveted the poor and their few material possessions. I have hated myself for being incapable of relating, and for trying to relate when I clearly cannot. God slowly began to reveal the truth of a verse such as 1 Corinthians 7:17 to me: I am white, and I am privileged, and I do have an education, and I do love God, and I do love others, and I do want his kingdom to come.

       I should not have to reject who I have been created as, in order to love God and love others well. I should use my whiteness, and my privilege, and God’s heart in me to do more for the people of this world, and to bring His love to them. God corrected my compassion to be less of a disservice to me, and allowed me to remember that he already was the sacrifice: that I do not have to be. I sacrifice, not by denying my identity, but by founding that identity upon the Godhead.

      Now, I see that juxtaposition of the white cloth draped over the black man, and I feel it. It affects me and I am moved. I feel it in my life. As I sift through the Bible yet again, for not merely half truths, but for whole truths. When a year ago, I would wish to live in an almost socialist way, I now study the Word, and I do not see God condemning all people of private property rights. However, I see him warning them against any heartfelt connection to their property. This sense of idolatry works its way into both extremes in the sense of which I am speaking. One could be defined by the material possessions one procures and arrogant as he or she consumes ignorant of ethics or morals in a free-market capitalist society believing God to bring his Kingdom in His time, in His way therefore lessening the responsibility of His people. One could be instead,  be so caught up in social justice and giving all one has to the poor in an attempt to bring God’s Kingdom as his children, and easily fall into Adam and Eve’s trap becoming his or her own God, in a self-gratifying manner, and perhaps even a self-identifying manner. Either extreme is to fall short of the main point in my own perspective.

            Today in Chapel, Dr. MacDonald from Scotland summed it up well. Our exclusive passion should be God himself. Not ministry, not fellowship, not gifts. Simply God. Shane Caliborne also said it well, as he spoke tonight at Taylor. As we loosen our ties to our material possessions, we do begin to consume less and share more. The Gospel is then capable of its truest form: both vertical (personal) and horizontal (corporate).

            I have to end with a touch of my own story. I have a friend who lived on a ship with me last semester. She was kind of a free spirit. I remember getting so frustrated sometimes, because she always wanted to share with everyone. She felt like she was being hospitable, when someone felt comfortable coming into her room, and taking whatever they want that was hers. That aggravated me. She would ask me for my things too. I thought, “no way jose, you are not going to just give me things so you can take mine, I don’t think so”. As the semester continued, I realized how unimportant her material possessions were to her. Her heart was for the Lord, so those things would come and go, and she would not be worried. I saw her ability to trust God himself. Not just the church, or her prayer partner or something, but God to be her protector and provider, and that he would provide through her.


I’m not suggesting a hate toward those who serve the poor by any means. I  am encouraging the use of education while staying grounded in humanity of all kinds.


May you choose to trust God by giving away your extra cloak this week. May you feed him, and clothe him as you do so to the least of these this very week. May we use our identities regardless of status, for the further growth of His kingdom, and for the least of these.