Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grief and Birth

I’ve been trying to figure out if, and if so how, I should add my voice to the many speaking out regarding the proposed name change for Philadelphia Biblical University that was announced this week. On the one hand, everyone is hearing my voice, because I’ve been a part of the team crafting emails, blog posts, and responses to comments “from the University.” On the other hand, no one is hearing my voice because none of that is going out under my name, and it is the official language.

But at the same time, I’ve been realizing that the official language is what is coming out of my mouth when I’m talking to people or coming through my fingertips when I’m typing, and I’ve been trying to figure out if that’s just because it’s familiar language or if it’s because I really think these things.

You see, while the bulk of the population only heard about this potential name change this week, I heard about the possibility of it last fall, and learned the actual name over a month ago. I’m well ahead on my processing from many others, and I didn’t document how I felt when I first heard. (Silly me, I have a rule about that at work – “Always put it in writing as a follow-up for reference, even if you had the conversation.” – but I don’t follow it very well).

I do remember one of my first thought being, “Ugh, that will be a ton of work.” Really, I think that thought overshadowed others for quite some time. But that ton of work, while still looming, has taken on a new meaning since my boss, Lisa, died after a brief illness a couple of weeks ago. She was so excited about this prospect, and she was so concerned when she was in the hospital that we would lose momentum on the progress made. Now that she’s gone, the work isn’t quite the burden that it seemed it would be. Instead, it’s a memorial to her, a stone I’m setting up in her memory to remind me of who she was and of how to move forward, taking in all the things she taught me.

So this week, when the announcement was made, the social media-verse exploded into action. We’ve been watching, responding where appropriate, and trying to take what people are saying with consideration and grace.

But the ones that have hit me hardest are the many folks who are questioning if this is the beginning of the end of all things when it comes to the centrality of scripture as the core of all that PBU does. Sometimes what they say is hurtful because, to me, it implies that they think we’re lying. I’m realizing that people may not really pay any attention to the things I’ve crafted that arrive in their mailbox on a regular basis. (I do know that I really shouldn’t take it personally, of course). Or, if they do pay attention, they seem to think that changing the title of an institution negates everything that has been said, over and over again, for the past three (well, more, but three that I’ve been involved with) years. There are times when I want to just yell, “We are still a biblical university! That will not change! Haven’t you seen us recommit to that as the nature of who we are in every issue of the magazine, every letter we’ve sent, every page on the website? Do you think that pulling the description from our title and instead allowing us to use it as a descriptor (you know, the way it’s built, being an adjective and all) means that everything we’ve said for the past three [or 12] years is a lie?”

In writing with an alumna from the days of PCB when my parents went there (when it was located at 1800 Arch Street), I finally found something new to say that is mine, something that really encapsulates how I feel about what’s going on, the changes that are taking place, and prospects for the future. I’ve adapted it for this space.

I grew up surrounded by 1800 Arch Street-ers and I grew up hearing the stories of those days. As a lover of all things historical, I am glad that that is where "my" university's roots go. And "my" university (I graduated in 2003) was also a very different place than today's institution. Not as different as the 1800 Arch days were, but different. I look back at my experience and I realize that I saw the very beginning of the birth-pangs of the changes that have taken place the past twelve years. I feel as though the past three years that I've been on staff have been the tail end of the birthing and that we are now poised to begin a new life; like a child from a parent, still the same blood, DNA, and genetic code, but an individual in his own right.

So I am praying for this University, no matter what the name ends up being. Because like any child there is absolutely the risk of losing the Way, no matter how much he says his identity is that of his parents, but we need our "parents" - those who've gone before as alumni, faculty, friends - to support us and help us to take new steps in this new world, challenging us to remain strong in our commitments, our core values, and our central focus on Christ and His Word.

That focus and foundation isn't changing, even with a new name. And if it were to start to do so in my lifetime, I would rise up and tell the story of what is happening now, pointing to the figurative stones that are being set up right now as we approach this Board decision and saying, "We are founded on the Word of God. That is our very DNA. On the day when we changed this name we chose 'Cairn' because it gave us a marker to point to and say, 'Look at what God has done. Walk in His Way.'"

And I will teach the next generation about these things, because my biblical university education taught me to do so (when I studied Deuteronomy 6 and 2 Timothy 2 J).

In the past two weeks in my department at PBU we've had a death and a birth. And while we're still grieving the loss of Lisa, our VP for Communications and Marketing, we're also rejoicing in the healthy delivery of Sierra, daughter to my friend Jodi, who worked in our department and now is the Assistant to the President.

I hear the grief in the loss of the "old PCB/PBU", but I also hear in my mind the cries of a prospective newborn "Cairn University."

They're lusty cries, healthy ones, and I can't help but rejoice in the prospects and opportunities new life brings.


  1. Outstanding perspective -- articulate and thoughtful . Thanks for sharing. Gail

  2. I'm so thankful for *your* thoughts on this. Even though this is still fresh for us, I've wondered a time or two what your perspective is, especially given your heritage in the history of the school. I want to address something in particular, though, because I feel like it applies to me:

    "But the ones that have hit me hardest are the many folks who are questioning if this is the beginning of the end of all things when it comes to the centrality of scripture as the core of all that PBU does. Sometimes what they say is hurtful because, to me, it implies that they think we’re lying."

    Rest assured, I *do* very much pay attention to those things that arrive in my mailbox and my inbox (although my hard copy of PBU Today has stopped arriving...). Yet, if I am being honest with the way I feel, I vacillate between one of two options: (1) we are being paid lip service in true political smooth-talking fashion, or (2) there is no *intention* of being less biblical. As for the latter, I see no other explanation than a lessening of an emphasis upon the Bible courses: the faculty on staff, the restructuring of curriculum, the reduced Bible credits -- these things make it such that I no longer recommend as the premiere Bible school that even I attended. As for the former, I believe that it's true only to the extent that these changes I feel as though are a part of a long-term plan to reshape the image of the university, but are released piecemeal to soften the blow. I think of the frog in tepid water that is brought to a slow boil.

    I'm still processing through this. It's still new to me. Posts like this continue to help me process. So thank you! =)

  3. Davey - Thanks for your response. Know that in writing that statement I had no particular individual in mind, but rather the general feeling I'm getting from many individuals who are crying "doom!"

    I thank you for paying attention to the things that arrive in your mailbox and inbox. I have no idea why your hard copy of the magazine has stopped arriving, but I'm going to look into that at work today. I want you to get it, especially the next issue.

    I want to address your two options. I read this last night and thought, I know what I want to say, but I should sleep on it to be sure. I hope I can say this as graciously as you've shared your thoughts.

    Option 1: Political smooth-talking. Hey, I'll give you the fact that Todd Williams is a masterful presenter. But if I've learned anything about him working 4 doors down for the past 3 years it is this - he never says a word he does not mean. He never speaks without serious consideration, he never makes decisions without significant prayer, and he does not lie. He says to students on a regular basis, "I will tell you everything I am able to tell you. If there is something I do not tell you, it is because I can't or I shouldn't."

    But I also want to point out that none of this process (from the revised mission statement, to the restructured curriculum, to the degree requirement change, to the proposal for a name change) has taken place under his impetus alone. The Board of Trustees has been walking with or directing every step of the process. This is a Board that is made up of 23 men and women with years of experience, many alumni, many whose parents were members of the Board or the faculty, who are wise, cautious, and prayerful. Todd Williams is only one member of the Board. Things do not move by his will.

    I can't say whether this is all the culmination of some nefarious plan (okay, I know you didn't say nefarious, but that was the picture that came to my mind) to slowly dole out changes over the course of seven years so that no one would notice. But I will say that over 12 years ago a decision was made by another President and another Board of Trustees (some still there) to pursue University status with the State of PA and to become a biblical university. So yes, there was a plan to reshape the image of the institution - but it started there: to brand ourselves as a new entity, a biblical university, not a Bible college, not a Christian liberal arts school, but something that hasn't really been seen before, a university with diverse and rigorous academics in which all study and knowledge and life is founded in the Word of God. But that's been stated all the way along, and particularly in the past three years, so I think the frog in water analogy lacks, because the frog doesn't have anyone announcing to him what is happening.

    Option 2: There is no intention of being less biblical. In what I've said above, this is my stance and my understanding from the Board, from Dr. Williams, from the Administration and the faculty. You'll note I didn't put my word "intention" in italics. I truly believe the statement above is sound and true.

    And this is where I am asking for prayer and support, because yes, there is the risk that by removing a title, or changing curriculum, this institution could move away from its foundation (though I would also note that could happen without a change in curriculum or title). And so rather than condemning the institution, I want to stand with them in this exciting future and be one who holds fast, has a voice, points to the cairn and says, "Walk in the Way of God's Word" for years to come.

    (Cont. below)

  4. My analogy of new birth and parenting fails me at this point, because this institution is not a baby or a toddler whose hand needs to be slapped with a firm, "no!" when he does something wrong. No, this is Daniel in 20 years or so, when you have no legal authority over him but you're still his parent, and he is making decisions on his own in which you have the choice to support him and continue to speak words of guidance into his life, or to cut him off entirely and let him go in the wind.

    As regards the changes you list in the Bible requirements, etc., yes, students who attend today get a different education than you or I did. But here's the thing: I think it's better. Our education was almost entirely what we made of it. If we didn't want to see how our Bible classes impacted all of life and learning then we could walk out of Bible class and turn off that part of our brains and head off to lunch or music class or English or Science. I'm not saying you and I did that, but take a moment and think through whether some of your peers did - I know mine did.

    For today's student, that is almost impossible. There are students who might try to live like that, but they don't last long at PBU. The students are challenged in every course, on the playing field, in the performance hall, in chapel, at lunch, talking with their friends or their faculty, to integrate every aspect of their biblical study with every aspect of everything they do. They are challenged to think for themselves, they are taught how to learn, they are given the tools with which to study and interpret Scripture, and then they are asked, "Okay, how now do you live?"

    I'm not saying that our education was a bad one, I loved my Bible classes. But I look at what I got then and I realize that my time in the Honors Program is what stands out to me the most. That was where the study of scripture came rubbing up against life and challenged me to be, and live, and think, and do life biblically. And then I look around PBU these days and I realize that all students are offered that every single day. And I talk to them and I realize that most of them are doing it - and I can't help but get excited about how God is going to use them in ministry, in the work force, in service, and in all of life.

  5. Carrie--

    This helps a lot in thinking through it! It has put more flesh on the bones of this structure that I'm seeing. The one line that struck me is that PBU wants to blaze a new trail between being a Bible college and a liberal arts university. I can understand that, because that's what I feel I received during my time there. I suppose my issue is -- does "Cairn" easily and immediately identify that purpose? Regardless, thank you! =)


  6. Carrie,

    I read Dave Mackey's post and wondered when I would see yours. :-) Thank you for your perspective, I like the analogy.


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