At the Movies

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley with the Hollywood Hills as a backdrop. So the terrain in Westerns always looked familiar—whatever the plot, whoever the stars.

My Christian parents were against “going to the movies.” This seemed “worldly” to them. But I did watch movies on TV. Classics like The Thin Man, Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind were rich fare for the imagination.

Years later, a stay at the L’Abri study center in Switzerland fostered a view that was less “Christ against Culture” and was more “Let’s engage and analyze the culture and form our own Christian response.” 

Knowledge of God and of Ourselves

We are delighted to be coming to the end of a significant, three-year grant project serving the U. C. Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union student communities, which was funded by the Lilly Endowment and friends of New College Berkeley, and to be on the verge of a new three-year season of well-supported ministry directed toward students!

The grants have enabled us to offer group spiritual direction, led by excellent spiritual directors, to undergraduate and graduate students. As far as we know, this is a pioneering work of spiritual formation with university students. We’re grateful for the experience, wisdom, enthusiasm, and capacity for improvisation that our spiritual directors have brought to this ministry, and they are Jill Boyce, Katarina Stenstedt, Naisa Wong, and Daeseop Yi. I, too, have led a spiritual direction group with law students at the university, and doing so has been invigorating for us all!

A Tender Hope

“This is what we want to do, and sometimes we are able to do it – just to say to Thee, Father, here am I. My life as it is at the depth I give to Thee. And I want Thee to hold it so that it is no longer my life to do with in accordance with my whims, my impulses, my desires, or even my needs, but to take my life and to hold it until it takes on Thy character, Thy mind, Thy purposes. If Thou wilt do this and if Thou wilt help me to do this, then I can be in myself what is truest and surest in me. And this, O God, is all, all, all.”

-Howard Thurman, an excerpt from “The Sustainer of Life” in The Centering Moment, 111. 


Changed Conditions Ahead

After a recent session with my spiritual director, I decided to take the long way home, to have time to think and unwind, so I explored some Sonoma County roads I hadn’t gone down before. I took a road that wound past dairy farms with Holsteins grazing on lush green grass, and past apple orchards in their full-blooming glory. Then I took a more familiar road, the one that climbs up out of Occidental, towards the ocean. I know this road, so it evoked memories of many trips over the past decades. In fact, just when I was thinking that this road feels like an old friend, I came upon a huge yellow caution sign:

"Jane Austen's Prayers: A Personal Journey"

At one point during the 40th anniversary celebration of New College Berkeley last fall, those attending were invited to call out Bible passages in which the number forty is significant, one of them being the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. I recently read in the Lenten devotional God for Us, that the forty days of Lent echo this time period. A process of self-examination and repentance, familiar to us in the season of Lent, is evident in the three prayers Jane Austen (1775-1817) composed for her family’s devotions.

Honoring Earl Palmer & Following God in a Windy Place

In the mid-Seventies when my husband Steve and I came to Berkeley, the one word of advice we received from all of our Christian friends was, “Go to Earl Palmer’s church!” and some added, “The church that looks like a Pizza Hut.”

Steve and I were not Presbyterians then, but have been so ever since. Earl’s preaching shaped us and our sons. Forty years ago when we moved to Berkeley, Earl was captivated by the vision a young scholar of ethics, David Gill, had for a school where Christians could take graduate-level classes about Christian faith. Earl brought the Reformed tradition’s commitment to the “priesthood of all believers” and much encouragement to David’s shaping of New College Berkeley. In the 40 years since New College’s founding (including the 25 years since Earl left the Berkeley pulpit), he has taught for us every year, on subjects ranging from biblical books, such as Romans, Revelation, John, Acts, James, and this year on the Psalms; on New Testament themes of love and encouragement; and on great people of the faith, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis. We have soaked it in and will continue to do so! On Saturday April 7th, Earl will offer a seminar on The Gospel of John!

Forward, Outward, Onward

Now and then my husband and I find ourselves wanting to revisit films that linger in memory to refresh if not entirely recreate the inspiration or pleasure they once offered.  One on my list as 2018 begins is the 2000 film Pay it Forward.  In that story, as many will recall, a disheartened teacher challenges his students to devise and carry out a creative philanthropic project.  A twelve-year-old boy takes on the assignment with elfin imagination:  Upending the common wisdom of “paying back” what you owe, he sets out to discover what might happen if, instead, one were to pay it forward to someone else.  So if someone does you a favor, you might do a similar favor for a third party, moving the original kindness along into widening circles of influence.  

Advent Greetings!

Dear Friends,

Advent greetings! Usually we send a Thanksgiving card to you, but we’ve been sending out notes of Thanksgiving for months now as we’ve celebrated New College Berkeley’s 40th anniversary. We continue to celebrate and to be thankful. 

Some Christian traditions—like the Eastern Orthodox and the Celtic—observe a 40 day season of Advent which encompasses our time of Thanksgiving in the US. It’s a penitential season, like the 40 days of Lent before Easter, in which the faithful fast and pray while cleansing their hearts for the feast day of Christmas.

BENEDICTION for New College Berkeley's 40th Anniversary

In this month of American Thanksgiving, we give thanks to God in the words of these prayers offered on the occasion of New College Berkeley’s 40th Anniversary.

O God, we pause in our journey of 40 years at New College Berkeley to thank you for accompanying us along the way and for inspiring these visionary founders, leaders, supporters, and students to make this a special place of learning and discipleship. Our work is not done, but we pause to recognize that this has been an enterprise built upon deep and abiding faith in you.

Celebrating 40 Years of Ministry

My wife, Siggie, and I had the pleasure of serving as co-chairs for the New College Berkeley 40th Anniversary celebration. Thanks to the many people who helped make this event such a success!

Photographs from the evening are here. A slideshow of NCB’s history is here

I’ve talked to several people who attended and they were without exception impressed with the gala event. The venue at Scott’s on Jack London Square was delightful, the table settings were gorgeous and the staff was attentive and efficient. People loved the food, and the way they served over 220 people all at once is beyond me. Attendees said they were excited to be part of this celebration and pleased to see people from many different periods in NCB’s history.

Above All, Trust in the Slow Work of God

By God’s amazing, slow, and steady grace, the community of New College Berkeley celebrates our 40th anniversary this year! In April 1977, David Gill and Ginny Hearn drove to Sacramento and filed the incorporating documents for this new school in Berkeley, the culmination of years of visionary and strategic work by David, Earl Palmer, and others. For forty years this ministry has been fostered and fortified by a large community of faculty, staff, trustees, and program participants as it’s navigated the changes of history and culture.

As our fall programs begin in Berkeley and around the Greater Bay Area, we rejoice and we remember.

Film Helps

  By some reckonings, only eleven countries in the world are currently “conflict-free.” Everywhere else civil war, rampant gang killings, foreign invasions, or oppressive police states threaten citizens’ lives. In many war zones, most of the victims are children (half of the 100,000 civilian casualties in the recent battle for Mosul, for instance); they die not just of the violence perpetrated around them, but of diseases caused by contamination where water and sewage systems have been destroyed, or by political sanctions that make medication and emergency services widely unavailable. We hear the word “war” so often, it is hard to sustain either the moral outrage or the lively compassion it ought to awaken in us.

God's Light of Hope and Love

"The light in your home has changed so much since we first got together last fall,” observed one of the graduate students at our final gathering for group spiritual direction. The living room was flooded with a soft evening light, which lingered in the space. I was surprised that this engineering graduate student would notice such a thing, and yet it seemed to reflect the increasing attentiveness to God’s presence each of the students had experienced over the months of our gatherings. Within the complexity of their studies, issues on campus, issues amongst the Christian student groups, and issues in the greater world, there was a growing sense of abiding in Jesus’ love over the months. Yes, it was the light in a home’s living room, but—more importantly—the Light of the Loving God in our midst was aglow.