Love Is the Greatest Gift

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Everyone loves gifts. We get excited at the prospect of opening a present from our friends and family. However, not everyone can receive a brand new car, jewellery or a gift card to a favorite restaurant for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. These holidays that include the act of gift-giving only come once a year. However, there is a present which you can both give and receive throughout the year: love.

Love is quite possibly the purest and most innocent virtue. The simple dictionary definition of love is “an intense feeling of affection for someone or something.” The feeling of loving someone or being loved is the most precious. Just looking at a mother and her child, or even at the adoring way in which pets sometimes look at their owners, we can see the love that we all have for one another. Love is one of the strongest feelings humans have. It can motivate us to do our best or to be our best selves. It is never the wrong time or place to love someone, or to be loved. 

Love is more than just a feeling, though. Love is also an action, which we express in our everyday lives. Showing love for someone is more powerful than simply saying, “I love you.” You cannot expect others to give their love to you without giving love to them in return. Love should be reciprocated. We tend to think that love is associated with romance or family. However, love does not always have to be romantic or familial. Love does not have to be specific, either. You can even love people you don’t know. This may seem odd to show love for people you don’t know, but it can happen everyday. To love others is to put others before yourself. Being selfless, helping others, or simply giving someone a compliment are all acts of love. 

Because we never truly know what those around us are suffering, it is important to always show our love for others. A simple “How are you today?” or a hug can seriously make a difference in someone’s day. To people whom you may not even know, a compliment on their appearance or question about their day can lighten the burden of sadness or even change their mood completely. Even when you are feeling bad yourself, you should always show someone love. Having a bad day is not an excuse to be rude to others. Kindness is love in its most basic form. Everyone should be treated with love: hence, the saying goes, “treat others as you wish to be treated.” 

Love is a universal message that, deep down, everyone knows regardless of background. Love transcends religion, race, and politics because we all know what it is and how we ought to express our love for one another in our own, unique ways. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is I Corinthians 13:13, which says,“now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love is the greatest gift because faith and hope depend on love. You cannot be faithful or hopeful without love. I truly believe that if everyone shows love, then this is the start for a better tomorrow. Love can change the world, whether only the status of relationships or of an entire civilization. Love is the greatest gift because it is timeless, simple and priceless. Not everyone can afford to give tangible gifts, but we can afford to give our love to others. Opening a tangible gift can be pretty exciting, but nothing can overpower the gift of opening your heart to others.

My Last Vespers

Rohan—an old friend, raised Hindu, now not-so-much—leaned over to me at our sophomore year Vespers and said, “This is aggressively Christian.” 

“It’s a Christian ceremony, bro,” said Lutfi, older friend, former roommate, raised Muslim, still Muslim.

Chappy, my roommate, a Hebrew glyph on his necklace, deflected to a lesser conflict: “Ecclesiastical and jazz are the only two acceptable types of Christmas music.” He cut himself off once the next hymn began and resumed once the echo of the organ faded.

Vespers, the oldest Trinity tradition, it is also one of the few traditions here whose history doesn’t disappoint. Unlike the curse of stepping on the seal, for example, the student government didn’t invent Vespers in 2004. Because it’s the only religious tradition Trinity has kept, it doesn’t take much digging to understand that Vespers has been around a long time. 

The challenge for Trinity of late (the past few decades) has been keeping Vespers in a time when our world doesn’t want faith to grow beyond culture. Instead of treating religion as a search for our Creator and His purpose for us, it’s tidier and easier for us to see faith as a cultural expression of identity, a subject of anthropological dissection.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hearkening back to some supposed better time when everybody who attended Vespers believed the same thing. It’s a safe bet that such a time doesn’t exist, even when Trinity’s student body was all Presbyterian; every Vespers has probably heard at least one choir singer who doesn’t believe the lyrics.

Chappy’s phone vibrated. It was Rohan, group-texting us: “We going to Oakmont after this?” Was it even a matter of debate? Hot cider and President Anderson’s piano. Of course we were.

“So let’s skip this last song,” he suggested.

None of us stood.

The difference today is one of attitude toward faith. Even to an atheist, faith can be real, even if only as a concept. It stops seeming real once we treat it as a collection of cultural customs instead of a mysterious journey heavenward.

To some extent, all universities that aren’t seminaries have to treat religion that way. We avoid attachment to our subjects of study. During class, Trinity’s attitude toward faith is generous but studious, distant, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes critical, always experimental, always confident that Lakota Shamanism or Judaism or Pentecostalism are small, contained samples on a petri dish, and then it’s onto macro or organic chemistry with a bright blue sky and a smile and the world at rest with reason in charge.

But at Vespers, once the lights dim and the candle flame trickles one by one through the chapel, the sun-washed world of the campus in daytime disappears. Maybe it’s the quietening allure of flame, the same kind of silence that falls around campfires and hearths. Whatever forces are at work, one moment passes each year in Parker Chapel in which the campus rests in the knowledge that something important has happened. It feels real.

Obviously it’s not unanimous. People whisper. Ringtones echo. Somebody makes a joke, somebody else laughs, somebody shushes. But the atmosphere is different. The whispers and ringtones and jokes feel like interruptions instead of expected background noise.

“Come on. Y’all can’t even understand this song without the program. Shit’s in Latin.”

“So? It’s beautiful anyway,” Chappy said.

For students and faculty and all those who live their lives by the Trinity academic calendar, Vespers is like the annual equivalent of the moment between going to bed and falling asleep. It means the end of things for a while. It’s the downbeat in a yearlong rhythm, the start and finish line, when you can’t help but think about all the things that have happened since the last time the lights went down. This year is my last time arriving early but still too late and sitting in the high back rows below the trumpet pipes and spilling candle wax on my boots in the dark and leaning forward to hear the harpist and trying to sing along to the hymns. It makes me think of the last beat, the last time I rounded the starting line, and how much has come and gone since then: sneaking into the sanctuary to play the harpsichord they had left for some concert, kneeling at the stone benches in the chapel garden, leaving the chapel after Vespers to breathe fog in the cold December air and play “Silent Night” on banjo at Dean Tuttle’s house and “O Tannenbaum” on piano at President Anderson’s the next year (both men more patient with me than I deserve), leftover cider and unfrozen taquitos at somebody’s house on Oakmont, string lights and handbells and bundled children tugging elderly hands.

We don’t come to Vespers for the short sermons. The swell of the organ, the choir singing lyrics we don’t understand, the harp trilling soft and almost indiscernible, the candles flickering as night falls–that’s why every seat is taken at Parker Chapel by 6pm. Even to those for whom the good tidings of great joy stir no feeling, the beauty of Vespers can make the coming of Christmas seem real.

Easter Service Recommendations

Easter is less than a week away. As we ponder Christ being welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, only to be put to death less than a week later, we’re going to be thinking about how to celebrate Easter, if we haven’t already.

Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian year – it’s the chief day we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. But, in the middle of the semester, and with only a three day weekend, it can be hard for those who aren’t from Texas to make it home to spend this day with their families (perhaps Trinity should give us more time off for Easter next year). For those of you who aren’t able to make it home for Easter, or are choosing to stay for another reason, I asked our staff and friends of our staff to write short descriptions of just a few of their Churches and what they’re doing for Easter. If you don’t know where you’re going yet, we hope this list can help you!

St. Anastasia the Great Martyr Byzantine Catholic Community – Luke Ayers

St. Anastasia is a small community of Byzantine rite Catholics that meets at the old St. Stephen’s Church on South Zarzamora. Show up for Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. This is probably the most welcoming Church I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m sure you’ll feel just as home your first time as I did.”

Calvary Temple Assemblies of God – Isaiah Mitchell

“I go to Calvary Temple Assemblies of God on O’Connor Road. At 12:30, right after their morning service, they’re having an Easter picnic. Bring a lawn chair and some food and meet the friendliest people in the world.”

Our Lady of the Atonement – Angelique Lopez

I love my parish, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church (OLA), because of the amount of reverence shown at each Mass, the beautiful architecture and imagery, and its traditional use of the Anglican rite. For Easter, OLA has something called “The Great Vigil of Easter” where the night before Easter a solemn vigil is held. The congregation lights their candles from the Paschal candle, a burning sign of the presence of the resurrected Christ. Everything is dark until the candles are lit, and it’s truly beautiful to see. The Great Vigil of Easter is perhaps the most theologically important service of the Church Year.”

One theme you might have noticed in these recommendations is that we all love the people at our Churches, and you’re sure to be welcomed there. Have a blessed Easter!

Editor’s Note: We may update this post with more staff recommendations, so check back!

Photo: Byzantine Christian icon of the Resurrection. Read about the symbolism here.

Bob Fu of ChinaAid Speaks to YCT about Christianity, Communism

Tuesday, March 19, Trinity University’s Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) hosted Bob Fu. Fu is the founder and president of ChinaAid, a non-profit, Christian-based organization that advocates for human rights and religious freedom in China. ChinaAid gives financial and moral support to Christian Chinese families who have been persecuted by the Chinese government. His main goal is for Chinese Christians and other religious groups to express their religion with ease and without persecution from the Chinese government.

To begin his speech, Fu gave a short backstory about his earlier life and how ChinaAid came to be founded. While attending university in Beijing, he participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student and intellectuals demonstrations. During which Fu and his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Heidi, converted to Christianity. Soon after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he was imprisoned in China for identifying as a Christian. It was these incidents in his life that highlight his history of fighting for freedom and democracy in China.

Bob Fu is not the only one to have been imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Even today, many Chinese Christians are being imprisoned for their faith. In fact, one who expresses his or her faith is considered a political dissident, which can warrant imprisonment.

“Hearing that from the point of view of someone who grew up under a regime like China was shocking,” said Daniel Mitchell, a junior at Trinity University.

However, it is not only Chinese Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. “One to three million Muslims are being put into concentration camps by the Communist Party,” explained Fu.

The Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic minority from Xinjiang province, are being torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fu further explained that the amount of Christians in China actually grew after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He predicts that there will be over 200 million Christians in China within the next 20 to 30 years.

“It was interesting to see Fu’s predictions of the numbers regarding the amount of future Chinese Christians,” said Ian Kavanagh, a senior at Trinity University who worked at ChinaAid this past summer.

Fu is optimistic about the growth of the amount of Christians in China, he predicted there will soon be more than 200 million Chinese Christians. “Sooner or later, they [Chinese government] will realize that imprisoning these Christians will not be a sustainable policy,” he said.

Fu believes that imprisoning people for their faith will eventually become unsustainable because Chinese prisons “will not able to hold every single Christian in China.”

Even though religious persecution continues in China, Bob Fu will not give up. Today, he continues as president of ChinaAid to advocate for religious freedom and basic human rights in China. ChinaAid continues to support persecuted families in need and educating those who are not familiar with this issue.

Photo courtesy YCT.

Chivalry and Service with InterVarsity

On Feb. 23, the ladies of the Trinity University chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship put on an event called “Second Breakfast”, where they cooked breakfast as a way of repaying the men of InterVarsity for hosting their annual Evening of Elegance earlier in the month.

These events represent an important counter-cultural drive by young Christians at Trinity to promote the happiness of others above the desires of the self, and to give more to the world than they take from it. This was accomplished by promoting the virtues of chivalry and service. As our society grows in its drive to emphasize individualism above all else, we have left behind these important and mutually beneficial ideals in favor of self-servitude. Too many people refuse to accept help, because we have been told over and over that we can depend on no one but ourselves. This is a symptom of a society that has lost its purpose, and is blind to the love that can be shared in Jesus’ name by serving and being served.

In few words, Evening of Elegance was an event put on by male members of InterVarsity and their friends to serve the women of InterVarsity and of Trinity at large. Every element of the remarkable evening, including rides, food, decorations and entertainment, was coordinated so that the women didn’t have to contribute any of their own efforts. With joyous smiles, the men ran about that small church building to wait on the women hand-and-foot all night long. From the perspective of a female attendee, the excitement and foresight put into this event was astounding, especially by college-age males.

As a part of InterVarsity’s leadership team, I spoke with many people about the events, both before and after they occurred. It was part of my job to invite people from outside of InterVarsity and to explain the overarching purpose of the events. A good number of the people I spoke with, particularly those from outside of InterVarsity, were surprised at the mere premise of Evening of Elegance. They simply could not fathom that so many college boys would enthusiastically band together and devote their time to putting on a well-coordinated event that wasn’t for themselves. It was baffling to them that these men would expect nothing in return, and were excited to serve others simply out of the goodness of their hearts.

For those who aren’t involved in InterVarsity, the purpose of Evening of Elegance might seem unclear, and the event itself might seem puzzling. This is perhaps because it interestingly constitutes a partial reversal of traditionally perceived gender roles, wherein the men are acting almost as care providers. Second Breakfast, conversely, is a willing conformity to gender stereotypes, for which women use their skills and passions to provide meals to others, taking their own food as an afterthought.

Rather, its members are acknowledging and respecting the differences between the sexes and the roles they play in the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

With Evening of Elegance, InterVarsity isn’t arguing against gender roles, and it isn’t affirming them with Second Breakfast either. Rather, its members are acknowledging and respecting the differences between the sexes and the roles they play in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The goal is to make the experience unique and unforgettable, by demonstrating the love of God in unique and exciting ways to people who may not see it in action that often.

The distinct separation of the genders might make some uncomfortable, as modern society teaches us that there are no inherent differences between men and women, and that their activities ought not be seperate. Why should only men serve only women at Evening of Elegance? At Second Breakfast, why are women doing all the work? These are questions that are asked if one is attempting to fit the events into some preconceived picture of what the world looks like. This picture lacks in the virtue of service and promotes poor gender relations. The selfless care and love shown through Evening of Elegance and Second Breakfast cannot be justified using arguments coming from our present culture.

The prioritization of selfless acts of service is a virtue that is quickly dying out with a generation that increasingly prioritizes self-comfort over the well-being of others. However, Trinity students were able to not only place others above themselves through these events, but to do so joyfully and without being asked. The idea that anyone would dedicate so much of their time and resources solely to bring joy to others is not a common one. This is the self-sacrificial love of Jesus working in the real world.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Farnsworth.

CSG Hosts First Thomistic Institute Lecture

On Feb. 11, Trinity University’s Catholic Student Group (CSG) hosted Fr. Isaac Morales to give a lecture titled “What Has the Historical Jesus To Do With the Church’s Christ?”. Morales is a Catholic priest in the Dominican Order and a Biblical scholar who obtained his PhD in New Testament from Duke University.

The topic of Morales’ lecture was in response to historical studies of Jesus that sometimes lead Christians astray from their faith. In his lecture, Morales focused on explaining how learning about Jesus from a historical perspective can reveal and highlight the Christ of the Church.

Morales discussed the presuppositions in modern historical Jesus scholarship. The first presupposition arose during the Enlightenment when the idea of naturalism became popular and is the idea that miracles cannot exist and, therefore, Jesus’ miracles did not exist. Morales says this is the basis of how scholars approach Jesus today: if miracles do not happen, then the evangelists that wrote the Gospels made them up, and if the evangelists made up the miracles, they could have made up any parts of the Gospels. So, scholars take on the job of analyzing the Gospels and deciphering what actually happened and what did not.

Morales explained that people losing their faith after learning of minute discrepancies between the Gospels is a result of not taking a nuanced enough approach. For example, each of the Gospels gives an account of the Last Supper, however, each account varies just slightly from the other. Morales explained that the authors had no way to record their experiences directly, so they could only give the gist of the event. Furthermore, while recounting events, each of the four authors shapes the significance of the events. Morales suggests that we analyze and compare the specific themes, rather than the specific details.

Morales outlined the arguments we have for Jesus’ baptism by John, that Jesus has twelve disciples, that the miracles happened and Jesus’ preaching on the kingdom of God. Morales cited many Old Testament passages, the majority from the book of Isaiah, that prophesied what Jesus would do on Earth. “All of these different aspects of Jesus’s ministry – the baptism, choosing 12, the miracles, preaching about the kingdom – they all point to the fulfillment of these prophetic hopes,” said Morales.

Morales directly answered the titular question throughout his speech. “The bottom line for me is that historical Jesus studies has an important place in the intellectual life in coming to know Jesus, but it has a very limited role from the perspective of the Christian faith,” he said.

“If the Jesus of history is not something like what the Gospels say he was like, then Christianity is a sham,” Morales said. The historical Jesus serves an apologetic purpose; understanding that the Jesus of the Bible can be proven through historical scholarship is important, but for the purpose of backing up the faith that Christians already have.

Morales closed his lecture explaining that we do not encounter the Jesus of the Bible through historical reconstructions, but through “the authoritative texts written by his disciples and the sacrificial meal that he left us on the night before he was betrayed.”

Alex Jacobs, events coordinator for CSG, saw great value in the event. “Trinity can gain the understanding that an intellectual understanding of Jesus does not lead one to skepticism but rather leads them to faith,” said Jacobs.

CSG will be hosting another lecture through the Thomistic Institute with Dr. Alexander Pruss of Baylor University addressing the question “Does God exist?” The lecture is Monday, March 4 at 7 pm in Northrup Hall 040.

Photo by Maddie D’iorio.

InterVarsity Hosts “Evening of Elegance”

On Saturday, Feb. 9, InterVarsity, a nondenominational Christian fellowship group on Trinity’s campus, hosted their annual event, “Evening of Elegance.” The event is hosted each year by the men of InterVarsity and put on for the women, as a way of serving and caring for them. The event asks each person attending to dress nicely, with men wearing suits and women wearing a dress or slacks. The men of InterVarsity planned this event far in advance to make sure it runs smoothly and successfully.

At around 6 pm, the women were asked to arrive at the Witt Center, so that the men could provide them rides to the event venue, as the women were not told where they were going. Once at the venue, it was revealed that the event was hosted inside a small church about fifteen minutes away from campus.

The evening was filled with a three-course meal, music, socializing with friends and more. About twenty women attended the event, and we given the chance to sit back and relax while the men provided entertainment by performing various talents, including improvisation, jazz music and acting out skits. The main goal of the evening was to deliver fun and exciting entertainment for the women of Intervarsity.

“Evening of Elegance is a fun-filled event where we [men] can put on an amazing show of talent. It means sharing a love for joy, happiness, and Jesus to the women of InterVarsity,” Trace Glorioso, a sophomore in InterVarsity, said.

The men wanted to show love for the women in InterVarsity by preparing meals and entertainment for them. The love for women manifests Jesus’s love through friendship and appreciation, says Kailey Ghent, prayer and events coordinator for InterVarsity.

“Jesus’s love was characterized by service, spending quality time in conversation, and showing everyone that they matter,” said Ghent, explaining how showing love for women can also show Jesus’s love for all of his children.

Danielle Couch, a senior in InterVarsity, added that the service provided by the men “makes us ladies feel loved and served and honored just like Jesus shows his love for us.”

A night of friendship, community, and service all tie back to InterVarsity’s main purpose of showing love for everyone and demonstrating Jesus’s love.

Review: VeggieTales in the House

Those who grew up in a Christian home are likely to be familiar with VeggieTales. It’s hard to forget the clever banter between Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, not to mention that catchy theme song. Though the first episodes of VeggieTales came out in the early 90s, they still have a strong presence in pop culture. The show was absolutely revolutionary in the world of computer animation, as it was some of the first widely released media to fully utilize the animation format. The stories were simple and enjoyable for parents and children alike, effectively teaching biblical lessons in an entertaining way without succumbing to the common immaturity of children’s animated shows.

However, starting in 2014, the online streaming service Netflix has rebooted the series, adopting updated animation and a new storytelling format, altering its ongoing legacy in an arguably negative way. The new series is called VeggieTales: In the House, and it follows the familiar veggies’ antics as they navigate life in the kitchen. Four seasons are available on Netflix, and each episode consists of two separate ten-minute stories. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this format, but I am more concerned with the framing of the individual episodes.

The original show constructed each episode in the context of a lesson or a Bible passage. A question is presented at the start of the episode, which addresses the audience directly, allowing them to feel as if they took part in the action. By the end the issue would be resolved in a biblical context, cementing the lesson and the Bible verse as the primary takeaway. These new episodes begin with no such lesson. In fact, the first half of each is quite indistinguishable from any other kid’s show on the air, as the veggies merely stumble upon the eventual lesson, making it seem secondary to the goofy story of the episode. This is quite unfortunate as it compromises the intended purpose of the original show. However, In the House does always directly present a Bible verse to supplement the message of the episode.

Additionally, many of the elements that made the original VeggieTales so special compared to other television shows have been lost in the effort to creating product with more mass appeal. In the House uses many of the characters from the original show, but stripped of their distinctive characteristics and roles. The humor is immature, and quite far removed from the intelligent jokes so prevalent in the early episodes. The show is a constant barrage to the senses, as every moment is filled with some loud sound effect or bit of physical humor. The same thing that can be said about most any animated show made for younger audiences today. In the House plays perfectly to the short attention span that so many children have in this age of technology.

Taken on its own, In the House is not necessarily a horrible kids’ show. It is quite average in that sense. However, it is so far removed from the original beloved show that the two have no need to be connected. The only similarities between the two shows are the characters and the underlying lessons taught by each episode. The franchise sold out, so to speak, and this will only get worse, as the original creator of VeggieTales and voice of Bob the Tomato, Phil Vischer, will be leaving the Netflix series going forward. This is a common pattern seen in the rebooted series that Netflix creates. They cheapen beloved characters and stories for some sort of modern mass appeal. Though some may enjoy Netflix’ products such as the new VeggieTales series on their own, the new shows do not hold a candle to the original beloved episodes. They are much too dissimilar in their formats, humor, and motivations—and in my opinion, should not be associated or compared with one another.