Pay to Play? How to Honor the Artists in our Midst

In Shorter University on November 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Dorothy Sayers, an American author, once suggested that the first demand religion makes upon the carpenter is not that he should refrain from drunkenness or other disorderly conduct, but rather that he should make good tables. As a divine image-bearer, the carpenter displays the creative wonders of God when he exercises his talent. He does so, not out of duty, but for the sheer joy of the task. He is like the runner in the iconic film Chariots of Fire, who proclaims “I believe God made me for a purpose…and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”  Not everyone can create good tables. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, skill, and talent to produce something that is both useful and beautiful to behold. For some, it is a vocational calling, a role for which they are divinely equipped. We see evidence of this in the story of the construction of the tabernacle, after God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Describing the artisans who were to work on the tabernacle, God declares to Moses “I have filled [them] with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in workmanship, to design artistic works…and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:3-4, 6).

The Church has a long history of honoring the artists in their midst. Artists create and produce works that invoke all of our sensibilities and stir our souls in ways that few others can. They seem finely attuned to God’s creative powers. They bring glory to God in our churches, communities, and culture through their unique contributions. We honor these individuals when we enjoy and respect their work. Even if we may not enjoy their work, we still honor them by showing their work its proper respect. We dishonor our artists when we enjoy but do not respect their work. Respecting an artist’s work requires that we enjoy it within its proper context and limitations. Artists publish their work in a variety of settings, both public and private, for a myriad of purposes. While an artist might make their music freely available to others for general use or promotional purposes, they typically must receive compensation in order to support their creative expression. Technology has made it easier for artists to share their work with us. However, it has also made it easier for artists to be exploited and their products to be consumed without respect for their intellectual and creative rights.

In less than one decade since peer to peer file sharing was first introduced (Napster), music sales in the United States dropped by forty-seven percent, from 14.6 to 7.7 billion dollars, according to estimates by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Today, less than thirty-seven percent of music acquired by consumers was legally purchased. Approximately one quarter of all internet traffic is composed of illegal downloads of of music and film (www.riaa.org). The typical response to these facts is usually less than kind, as there is little sympathy for the struggling music mogul who can only afford the gently-used Lamborghini. Studies have demonstrated, however, that it is not simply the rich who are affected by digital theft. An estimated 70,000 record industry-related jobs are lost per year, accounting for nearly 2.7 billion dollars in wages and a loss of 422 million dollars in tax revenue (www.ipi.org).  While the economic impact of digital theft is obvious, the cultural consequences are more subtle. Artists who are not compensated fairly for their work may not be able to continue exploring the depths of their creativity, thereby enriching the culture through their creative contributions, without adequate financial support.

The cost of digital theft has hit colleges and universities particularly hard as the record industry has pushed back against illegal downloading. A former Boston University student was recently ordered to pay $675,000 in fines for songs that he had illegal downloaded. The student unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that the fine amount (which average between $750 and $150,000 per violation) was unconstitutionally excessive. His case is one of many examples in a campaign launched by RIAA to aggressively pursue individual users, especially college students, for damages in court (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/03/15/sherman). In light of such action, it is essential that college students know and understand what behavior constitutes digital theft.

Common forms of digital theft include, but are not limited to the following:

–          Burning a duplicate copy of a legally purchased compact disc or digital recording (such as an MP3) for a friend or family member.

–          “Ripping” another person’s compact disc or downloading songs from a personal media device onto your own computer.

–          Uploading songs to a personal media device from someone else’s computer.

–          Uploading songs to your computer from someone else’s iTunes library.

–          Uploading or downloading copyrighted music to and from the internet via file sharing (with the exception of pay-per-use sites).

At the heart of the matter is a difficult question- is downloading or copying music and other forms of media that you have not paid for stealing? For the Christian, we might even go a step further and ask if we are willfully engaging in sin. While the answer to these questions may initially seem fairly straight-forward, the context in which they find themselves is often quite muddy, which can make them difficult to answer. Rapidly changing forms of technology seem to encourage digital theft and students often find it increasingly difficult to identify the harm inherent in their actions. Some objections are fairly common and easily rebutted. The fallacy of the argument is obvious, and the motivation appears to be a desire to continue downloading with as minimal demand upon the conscience as possible. A few examples of such objections include such statements as “record companies already make billions of dollars per year…I’m just one person…don’t the artists benefit from the free publicity…they know we’re going to download the music illegally if they put it on the internet, besides, if they really cared about illegal downloads why would they make it so easy to do?”

Other objections are more sincere and represent the complexity of living in a technology-saturated culture. Students struggle to understand why they cannot share a song that they have legally purchased. University networks and technologies such as home-sharing on iTunes seem to encourage students to share music with one another. Creative products are also very different than most other tangible products. I “own” a CD that I legally purchase. I am free to listen to it wherever I choose…whether my home, office, vehicle, etc. I can even gift it to a friend, if I choose. While I may own the physical disc, what I do not own are the rights to the content. When I purchase a CD, DVD, or MP3, I have essentially purchased the “right to use” the content under certain mutually agreeable conditions…namely that I will not duplicate it for anything other than personal, private use. “Sharing” digital music online is also very different than sharing a physical product. When I share a compact disc with a friend, I no longer possess the ability to enjoy that music (provided that I have not made copies for myself). My “right” to use the content of that disc has essentially been transferred to the person I have loaned it to. As long as they have the disc, they alone possess the rights to enjoy its content. Digital media, however, can be shared in such a way that both parties can enjoy the content of a legally purchased disc that may have only been purchased by one party. Understanding how to navigate such situations is an important skill that college students must learn.

While technology and copyright laws have become exceedingly complex, they can be best summarized in this: one must pay to play. Learning how to use media and technology is an immensely important part of the educational process. Understanding how our actions affect others in a body politic is part of learning what it means to become fully human. Our culture is enriched by the contributions of artists. We provide incentive and support for them to continue creating when we legally purchasing and enjoy their products. The Apostle Paul gives us timely advice when he exhorts his readers to “love one another, outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). The artists in our midst honor us by sharing their gifts. Let us find ways to love them, continuously outdoing them in showing honor, by cheerfully supporting their giftedness.

For more information on the harm of illegal downloading and how to protect yourself from legal action, please visit: http://www.campusdownloading.com/.


Ministry and Learning in Residence Life

In Shorter University on August 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm


Recently, I was asked to write an article considering the future of residence life, particularly within the Christian context where many of us serve. After considering some of the various “hot topics” currently facing residence life professionals, I felt it would be worth addressing the growing tension between ministry and learning approaches in residence life. I understand that much has been written about this subject in recent years. My intention is not to build upon what has already been stated, but rather to enliven the current conversation by sharing my own attempts to reconcile these two viewpoints.

My focus in college was spent preparing for a lifetime of Christian service and ministry. Upon graduation, I accepted a position as an associate pastor at a small church plant in the Midwest working with their youth and worship teams. My experience in church ministry was not unlike many of my fellow graduates. However, when I finally departed church ministry, as many of my fellow graduates had done, it was not for some other vocation but rather a different venue of ministry. In those final months in church ministry, I wrestled with a passage of scripture that seemed to suggest a radically different paradigm for ministry. Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, shared that “because we loved you, we decided to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8, NIV). In this passage Paul describes his special relationship with the Christians of Thessalonica, one in which he shares both the gospel—as he had done in many other churches in the region—and also a common life together. This verse served as a catalyst for my burgeoning interest in what some described as an “incarnational” model for ministry. I had a deep desire to be fully immersed within the community I was called to serve. After some reflection, particularly about my experiences with life in community during my college years, I decided to pursue a new career in residence life.

I was soon hired as a resident director at a small, Mennonite college in Kansas. During that first year, I quickly discovered that ministering within a community of learners would involve more than simply attending to the physical and spiritual needs of students, but to their academic and intellectual needs as well. The following year, our department adopted an orientation theme from the popular Saint Irenaeus quote, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” The lessons from the previous year made more sense as I began seeing students as whole persons. As a student, I remember viewing education primarily as the intellectual preparation necessary for a life of spiritual service. I saw education primarily as a means to another end, as a four-year rehearsal for something else that God had prepared. My experience that year in residence life taught me that education isn’t a rehearsal for another stage, but rather a grand production of its own. Learning is the primary vocation of the college student and the chief means by which they glorify God with their lives. This would have significant implications for how I viewed my own responsibilities and my role as a minister and educator among students.

In recent years, there has been a growing tension among Christian colleges between what can be described as “ministry” vs. “learning” approaches to student development. The subject has been a source of both formal and informal conversations among practitioners. Documents such as the Student Learning Imperative (ACPA, 1994) and books such as David Guthrie’s (1997) Student Affairs Reconsidered, called for student learning to be at the center of every division within the academic institution, including student development and residence life programs. Those who embody a learning approach contend that student development professionals must diligently take this admonition to heart. They affirm the relevance of this mandate for the Christian college, noting that the chief product of our model of education is a Christian worldview, and assert that student development professionals make key contributions to a whole-person education and the development of a Christian mind. Student development professionals who follow a ministry approach have expressed concerns that a learning orientation to the profession will cause us to lose our distinct Christian “voice.” Some have suggested that by adopting the common language of the academy, our unique contributions to higher education will be marginalized, accentuating greater acceptance and credibility within the profession over faithfulness to our distinct mission. Others feel that a ministry approach more accurately characterizes their vocational calling, from which they derive a deep sense of purpose and meaning, and feel that a learning orientation might diminish the significance of that calling.

Stephen Beers (2008) describes a number of different models for the integration of faith and learning. In the “separate authorities” model, he describes a view of faith and learning as “two separate entities existing side by side much like the parallel tracks of a train” (p. 57). Applying this analogy to our current conversation, I imagine that some view ministry and learning approaches as traveling along paths heading in opposite directions of one another, with distinctly different destinations in mind. Others might see these “tracks” as traveling alongside one another, perhaps even complementing one another from time to time, but never really intersecting. I wonder if it is possible that these tracks might actually be more compatible than we’ve previously thought. Perhaps one way we might discover how compatible these tracks are is to seek their points of intersection. What are the ways in which learning coincides with ministry and ministry with learning? At my current institution, for example, we have abandoned our fragmented model of educational programming in the residence halls (that strangely demarcate educational programming from the rest of what happens in the halls) in favor of a more holistic model that intentionally weaves together social, educational, and spiritual components. Another example may be our student conduct systems. Learning proponents would describe the chief purpose of student discipline as education. Ministry proponents might describe the purpose of student discipline as a means of demonstrating pastoral care for the student, affirming Bonhoeffer’s (1978) notion that “nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian back from the path of sin” (p. 107). I am grateful to have worked with many residence life professionals who wisely recognize the validity and compatibility of both of these approaches, applying both in their interactions with students.

A colleague once asked me to describe the difference between “redemptive” vs. “punitive” models for student conduct administration. I suggested that many of the practices of both models will look remarkably similar, though having entirely different ends. For example, a father may discipline his son out of his love for him, his desire to see him thrive, or to turn him from the path of destruction. Another father might discipline his son out of frustration, because he (the father) lacks self control and discipline. While the methodology may look identical, the child perceives and understands the difference and will likely be formed in markedly different ways according to each end. Likewise, the practice of a learning approach in residence life may look similar for both the Christian and non-Christian alike. However, we must not doubt that our students can perceive the difference between our ends and those of our secular colleagues. While we may adopt common practices and language, the fact that our practice both begins and ends in Christ will forever render us distinct. We can rest assured that our work will still be infused with meaning and purpose as we seek to serve Christ faithfully in the field of residence life and student development. As we look toward the future of residence life at our institutions, I anticipate that learning and ministry approaches will no longer be viewed as separate tracks with different destinations in mind. Rather, I envision that residence life professionals will increasingly begin to view their contributions to student learning as both a legitimate means of serving Christ and His Kingdom and as their primary vocational calling. I look forward to the day when residence life professionals are broadly regarded within their institutions as both ministers and educators, as the future of Christian higher education will certainly require both.


American College Personnel Association. (1994). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Washington, DC: Author.

Beers, S. (2008). The soul of a Christian university: A field guide for educators. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press.

Bonhoeffer, D. (1978). Life together. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

Guthrie, D. (1997). Student affairs reconsidered: A Christian view of the profession and its contexts.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Originally published in Koinonia, Winter 2010 Edition. A publication of the Association for Christians in Student Development.

How Shall We Judge?

In Shorter University on July 17, 2012 at 2:43 am

A few months ago, I published an article entitled “Shorter University and the Trouble with Tolerance,” which examined the public discourse related to the faith statement and lifestyle agreement at Shorter University. A graduate of Shorter, now attending law school, recently responded to my article, concerned that her alma mater was condemning others, contrary to Jesus’ commandment not to judge. I suggested that, as a law student, it may interest her to examine the use of the word “condemn” from a legal perspective. Seldom is the word used to describe a person who has been sentenced to a fine, community service, or a moderate prison term. Rather, it seems the word is typically reserved for those who have been “condemned” to a life of imprisonment or execution, the most severe sanctions a state can impose. This raises interesting questions, such as how might have Jesus used words such as judge or condemn and what implications would this have for his followers? To be clear, etymology should not be mistaken for theology, but perhaps examining how our culture understands (or misunderstands) the words of Jesus could prove useful.

A common example in Scripture is the Pericope Adulterae, or the story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11). Interestingly, while this may be one of the most quoted passages in Scripture, it is commonly disputed by biblical scholars and likely was not part of the original text. Authenticity aside, few other passages have shaped the American understanding of Jesus more than this story. It tells of religious leaders who brought a woman caught in the very act of adultery to Jesus. They asked if she should be stoned, in accordance with their law, hoping to ensnare Jesus in an ethical trap. Jesus replied by asserting that “he who is without sin should cast the first stone.” One by one, from the oldest to youngest, each man departed until only Jesus and the woman remained. Jesus asked the woman, “has no one condemned you” [italics added for emphasis], to which she replied “no one.” The final verse of this passage is rich with nuance and meaning. Jesus then said to the woman “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

A plain reading of the text suggests that Jesus’ use of the word “condemn” closely resembles the aforementioned description, that is to say, none of the woman’s accusers chose to execute her. The text does not suggest that he neglected to judge her behavior as sinful. Rather, he acknowledged the sinfulness of her behavior and instructed her to change. Several other passages describe Jesus’ remarkable ability to both directly and winsomely confront sin, including his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and the immoral woman who washed his feet in Luke 7. Conversely, the contemporary understanding, heavily influenced by the new tolerance (see my previous article), seemingly perceives any effort to describe a particular behavior as sinful as a call to take up stones.

Paul the Apostle would later instruct Corinthian believers to judge their fellow members (1 Cor. 5:12-13). He explains that, while God will judge the unbeliever, it is the responsibility of the church to confront sin within its membership. The notion of church discipline is a difficult one. It has sadly been practiced in ways that are selfish and unloving far too often. However, it is the responsibility of the church. It may be fair to say that a church that does not judge its membership (albeit, patiently and graciously) is not a church. It may be a community-gathering place, a platform for philanthropy and civic engagement, or a catalyst for change and social justice. It may function as a performing arts center, relief agency, or community-building organization. It may be any number of good things- but without the careful discernment of fellow believers rightly judging those within its membership and holding one another accountable, it is not a church.

Perhaps this explains some of the public reaction to the documents at Shorter. In a cultural milieu where everyone is considered the master of his or her own morality, when efforts to describe a particular behavior as sinful are perceived as a visceral condemnation of a person’s humanity, and where even the church cannot hold its own membership accountable to its shared values, an educational institution that informs its practices with a traditional view of these passages will be deemed intolerable. My hope is that Shorter University, as they remain steadfast in their belief and practices, will be able to spur on a more robust and multi-dimensional understanding of the Christ, his church, and our relationship to one another as fellow believers.