Where do you work?
I am the Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement at Ursinus College. I direct the Bonner Leader Program and teach in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department.
What social justice issues does your ministry/organization address? How do you address them?
Students in the Bonner Program are passionate about the need for greater social justice. Our students are exposed to social inequality, as they commit to working intensively with non-profit community agencies that address social needs. They serve in our local communities at food distribution centers, after-school programs, environmental organizations, a local prison, and many more. The Bonners also spend a lot of time reflecting on their service and thinking about social change. Over time, many of them come to realize that their weekly service commitments often fail to address the root causes of the social problems they have encountered in the community.
I have created the Peace and Social Justice Studies minor and co-direct the Joseph Melrose Center for Global Civic Engagement. These curricular and co-curricular initiatives enable students to make connections between the academic knowledge they gain in their classes and the social problems they encounter as members of the local and global community.
What inspired or led you to do the work you do?
I think the deepest inspiration for my work has come from my belief that all of us are children of God and that all of us lead interconnected lives. To quote my hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” This is a profoundly religious insight.
Were you engaged with this or other social justice issues while you were in college or before you went to seminary?
To be honest, I was only minimally engaged in social justice issues before Divinity School. It was at Harvard Divinity School that I began to understand the deep connections between social justice and my own Christian faith. I remember sleeping outside in Harvard Yard with my fellow Div. School students to express solidarity with the Harvard janitors in their fight for a living wage. I also explored other religious traditions in depth for the first time, such as Buddhism and Judaism, and realized that what profoundly unites these disparate traditions is a fundamental commitment to human flourishing.
Why did you decide to go to seminary?
I went to Divinity School because I wanted to learn more about how we as a society think about and seek to bring about the common good. I was a Politics major in college but found myself attracted to the normative dimensions of politics. I also find it endlessly fascinating to think about religion and its effect on our political discourse.
How did your friends/family respond to your decision to go to seminary?
My grandmother always said that she thought I’d be a Christian pastor one day. Well, that didn’t exactly happen, although I do have ten years of theological education.
What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get where you are today?
I’m a first generation college student from a working class home. Growing up, I didn’t even know what it meant to go to graduate school! At the same time, I’m also conscious of my privilege as a straight white male in our society, so I don’t think it’s really fair of me to dwell on my obstacles.
Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job"?
One of the highest compliments I ever received was from someone who described my work with students as “Christian’s ministry.” I truly feel called to the “ministry” of student development. I love helping students discover their own sense of vocation through a combination of their academic study and their work in our communities. According to my late friend and former Ursinus president Bobby Fong, liberal education ought to be about soul-making. The education of the mind, while important, is not sufficient; the heart must also be educated if we are to form the soul properly. And the heart is educated once students are forced to confront the realities of those who find themselves in different circumstances than they are. Educators must find a way for their students to enter into the worlds of others and should understand such work as a fundamental responsibility of teaching.
Where did you go to college? Seminary? Were there any professors or other people who were important to you during your time at either place?
I have been blessed with so many incredible mentors, both as an undergraduate at Ursinus College and at Harvard Divinity School. The people that changed my life took an interest in me beyond the classroom experience. They always had time for me, they supported me, and sometimes they didn’t allow me to get away with sloppy thinking.