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Universities and Challenging Economics

2015 March 12
by Mike

We all know that many universities have been stressed since the economic downturn of 2008. Many face declining enrollment, high debt, deferred maintenance, and inadequate endowments.

But shockwaves went through the university academic world recently when Sweet Briar College announced that it will shut its doors at the end of this academic year. Despite an endowment of around $90 million, they recognized that they were headed the wrong way.

Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar College

Paul G. Rice, the chairman of the board, said he knew some would question their decision. But he responded: “We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations. People will carve up what’s left—and it will not be orderly, nor fair.”

One person commented about the closing of this 700-student college: “As higher education analyst Kenny Rogers once remarked, ‘You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.'”

It’s a challenging time to be at the helm of any university; but I’m thinking especially of the challenges of those schools associated with Churches of Christ. Imagine the challenge of maintaining student enrollment and raising funds among a group that is in long, slow decline.

Here are the current (2013) endowments as listed on Wikipedia or on the US News & World Report university website:

Pepperdine – $716 million
Abilene Christian – $331 million
Harding – $105 million
Lipscomb – $62 million
Oklahoma Christian – $59 million
Freed-Hardeman – $43 million
Faulkner – $15 million (2012)
Lubbock Christian – $14 million
York – $10 million
Ohio Valley – $1.4 million
Rochester College – not listed
Southwestern Christian – not listed

Historically, these universities—along with amazing campus ministries at many other schools—have been so important to Churches of Christ. But the challenges facing them are huge! (Keep in mind that these aren’t the only numbers that matter when predicting future viability. E.g., endowment-per-student is probably more important than endowment size itself.)

This is the place in a blog where a solution would be really nice. Of course, this is above my pay grade. But given the challenges facing universities everywhere, it would be good to invest prayer, encouragement, and $$ in their work.

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Invitation to the 2015 Pepperdine Bible Lectures

2015 February 3
by Mike

Moses: Drawn From the Garage

2014 December 12
by Mike

Beware: sentimental reflections to follow. You’ve been warned.

He came to us in our grief. Grief over the loss of our daughter, our nephew, and—on a much different level, of course—our beloved dog.

I say “he came to us.” I stepped out to our garage for my morning run in 2001, shortly before 9/11, and there was a puppy in the garage. It was clear that he was wounded. Abandoned, I guess. He was hungry and thirsty.

I brought him in thinking, “We’ve got to call the animal shelter and tell them he’s here.” The reaction of my eight-year-old son was different. “He’s our dog!!” He explained to me that he’d been praying for a new dog and God brought one.

So rather than create an early faith crisis (life has plenty of time for those I’ve learned), we claimed the puppy. A mutt. Eventually, a big mutt. Best we can tell a mixture of boxer and shepherd with who knows what else thrown in.

Chris’s friend Emily suggested we name him Moses, since he was “drawn from” the garage. (If the biblical reference alludes you, check Exodus 2:10.)

Before long, Moses became my running companion until I returned from Africa with a weird virus that struck my muscular system and kept me from running for a couple years. By the time I recovered fully, he was untrained and way too strong to jog beside me. But he was our loyal pet.

He watched over Chris as he recovered after a horrible wreck. He paroled the back yard during my many trips out of town. He even had a cameo role in a silly video we shot—adding his voice as I “sang the classics.”
Chris and Moses . . . April 2011
Today we had to put Moses down. Too weak to face another winter. Too much pain. It was the right thing to do, confirmed by our trusted vet, Dr. Mark.

So today, as the epic movie about another Moses opens “in theaters everywhere,” I’d like to say to Pope Francis: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Catholic.” Or at least I’d like to thank him for hinting to a small child who’d just lost his dog that perhaps it’s true: all dogs go to heaven.

Who knows? (That’s my response to many things about God’s future.)

But today I find some comfort in the thought. And I give thanks for this loyal pet.

Launching a Ministry for Families With Special Needs Kids

2014 October 28
by Mike

Psalm 1 – Read by Landon Saunders

2014 September 30
by Mike

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Psalm 150 – Read by Landon Saunders

2014 September 4
by Mike

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Randy Harris: Idiot’s Guide to Theology (PBL 2014 Class)

2014 May 21
by Mike

“Owning Up to Our Baptismal Vows”

2014 May 16
by Mike

Jarrod Robinson speaking on Galatians 3 at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures â?? part of the theme, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.”

What’s a Woman to Do?

2014 May 16
by Mike

This is Jeff Childers debating Jeff Childers in a late night session at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Twenty Easters

2014 April 18
by Mike

My journey with Easter has come in three stages:

Stage One: We don’t celebrate Easter. I was raised in a tradition that (barely) tolerated bunnies, eggs, and jelly beans. But not the rest of Easter. The reason? “Because the Bible doesn’t mention Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week.” The first sentence now strikes me—as one who sees Easter at the very center of the Bible’s story (even if it isn’t called that until later)—as funny. The Bible doesn’t mention Easter in the same way that the Chronicles of Narnia don’t mention Aslan. But honestly, I still have a deep appreciation for the second reason, for we are, indeed, the people of the resurrection. (Those who grew up in this tradition can appreciate the humor of someone’s “Hitler Easter video.”)

used by permission

used by permission


Stage Two: It’s ok to celebrate Easter. Yes, it was ok. Freeing, even. But just “ok.” Because as a person who often dwells in mystery and puzzlement, I found this to often be the church at its most “full solar spirituality” (to borrow from Barbara Brown Taylor). Extra assemblies! Bring in the visitors! Banish death! Promise healing, health, and forgiveness! Easter has a way of bringing out the kind of triumphalism that made the Apostle Paul queazy.

Stage Three: I can’t live without Easter.

This is my twentieth Easter since Megan died. For the first fifteen years, we held a small gathering of family and friends at her grave at sunrise on Easter morning. We read 1 Corinthians 15, listened to a song or two, exchanged Megan stories, and prayed. Marana Tha. For the last several years, I haven’t been in town on Easter Sunday, but different rituals continue. This morning, my three-year-old granddaughter and I visited the grave of the aunt she never knew, leaving Easter lilies and enjoying the beauty surrounding us.

Through the years, I’ve spoken and written a lot about Megan. I hope it hasn’t been just to work through my own grief. I’ve always had others in mind: those who have buried loved ones, those who live in fear, those who have failed big time, those who are suffering, those who don’t yet feel “strong at the broken places” (Hemingway). So “Megan” stories have been about an actual, loving, mentally-disabled child who died when she was ten. But they’ve also been metaphors for a larger human experience of brokenness and loss.

Does time help? Oh, yes. But it doesn’t remove all the pain. I’ve written before about a buddy of mine, a physician, who saw an 84-year-old patient and asked how she was doing. “I’m a bit sad today,” she said. “It’s the anniversary of my daughter’s death.” He immediately imagined what it must have been like for her to lose her adult daughter. He wondered if this daughter had her own children and perhaps grandchildren.

“I’m so sorry. How long ago did she pass away?”

“Sixty-two years ago,” the woman replied.

We grievers are so thankful for time, for friends, for memories, and for unpredicted joys.

But the real key is hope. And that’s what Easter is all about. It declares that God’s glorious future has broken into this world through the resurrection of Jesus. It announces the invasion of God’s kingdom of love and justice. While it doesn’t promise that all illnesses will be cured or that all depressions will be removed, it does offer a vision of the future that is secure. God will wipe away all tears.

As I wrote in Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me about Life

“The resurrection of Christ is terribly relevant for those who’ve been victims of injustice. For those who’ve been gutted by rejection or betrayal. For those who’ve faced every day with pain—of whatever sort. Or for those who’ve stood on a wind-kissed hill to pay final respects to a spouse, a child, or a friend.

with Ellie, Good Friday 2014

with Ellie, Good Friday 2014


“‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ said Jesus. Either he is or he isn’t. It depends on what happened that weekend in Palestine. For those like me who believe that he was raised by his Father, there is wild hope. Suffering and death do not have the final word. A day is coming when pain, failed relationships, bitterness, depression, and death will be put behind us. Jurgen Moltmann had it right: ‘God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.’ That’s the outrageous joy called Easter!

“‘It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive,’ Luke Timothy Johnson puts it baldly. ‘The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this: Do we think he is dead or alive?’

“What we believe about that question makes all the difference in the world.”