CHRISTMAS morning provides a cherished and rare opportunity to pause from life’s frantic pace and reflect on things that matter most. For those of us who are from the Christian tradition, this day is important because the birth of the Christ child conveys a message of our faith — a message of transformation, redemption, hope and love.
For Christians, the time of Advent before Christmas leads us to reflect on both our beliefs and how the message of Jesus’ birth can transform our lives. As I reflect during this time, I can’t help but consider how the faith of the Seattle Pacific University community was tested this past year, and what it meant to me as president.
On June 5, SPU experienced a tragic loss of a young life. The event brought our faith-based campus into the spotlight. While we experienced pain and anger, as any community injured by such a senseless act would, our understanding of our faith compelled many of us to pray for the victims as well as the person who caused the pain.
We tried to live out the simplicity and complexity of the command to “love our enemy.” Later that week, Jon Meis, one of our students and the young man who disarmed the attacker, stated this idea powerfully: “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.”
How any of us respond to life’s tragedies and sorrows is one way faith can be revealed. I think belief in God can also spur us to help change the world by responding to some of its most pressing problems such as poverty, homelessness and racial injustice.
The circumstances of the Christ child’s birth — that he chose to come to Earth in poverty and humility — are an important message. At SPU, we believe a faithful response to serve and care for the poor is partly reflected in better understanding the issues of homelessness in Seattle. For this reason, we invited Tent City 3, as the organization seeks to provide safe shelter for its encampment, to reside on campus until March. This is not its first stay with us, and we welcomed the tent city in 2012.
As before, we spent the weeks leading up to the arrival seeking to better understand the complexity of homelessness through community education forums, homeless documentary screenings and panel discussions on topics such as veterans and homelessness, affordable housing, youth and advocacy. I want its visit to compel us to work for the greater good and human flourishing.
There is another area of social justice we are thinking deeply about here at SPU. In the midst of the country’s polarization over race, our faith calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. This is a crucial moment when people of faith and the church must help unite our country. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a clear call to cross ethnic, racial and socio-economic boundaries as we share in each other’s stories and bear each other’s burdens.
On Dec. 15, we held an event for Christian congregations and organizations in the Puget Sound region to meet and proclaim our common commitment to the Gospel and how it relates to racial justice in society. From all racial backgrounds, we gathered — united by our faith — to worship, pray, listen, encourage and challenge one another.
While our faith calls for forgiveness and justice, it also calls for universities guided by their Christian faith to give students the tools to influence the world for good. At SPU, professors, students and staff seek to understand and engage a multicultural and complex world inside and outside the classroom.
Through all these endeavors, our hope is that we will graduate people who live a life of service — people who can interpret the cultures of our day and recognize the gaps, inequities and needs in the world. We want to imagine how life could, or should be, and work toward that end, seeking change that brings shalom, human flourishing, wholeness, and harmony.
Certainly, we are far from perfect and we are called daily to more closely follow the example of Jesus Christ and his humble entrance into our world. As I reflect on the events of this past year, I trust that Seattle Pacific University will continue to be a place where we strive to live what we believe, a place where our Christian identity is foundational and formative.
Daniel J. Martin is president of Seattle Pacific University.