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the king

The Land, the Voice, the Nation, and the King: A Chronological Retelling of a Classic Narrative

[Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Michaela Bunke. Michaela is a history major and religious studies minor at the U of M who focuses on intellectual and church history. She’s passionate about Europe specifically and how God has been perceived and responded to in the ideological landscapes there. Michaela is the co-founder of Round Table at the U, a student group that engages students in round table discussions on big topics.]

The following is a story about how a small Semitic family became a nation, and how that nation persevered through endless challenges because a voice from the sky promised that there would someday come a great ruler who would turn their nation into an never-ending empire.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

The Land

Four thousand years ago there were about 30 million living people on the earth. Europe and the Americas were almost completely uninhabited. Asia was just starting to see the beginnings of ancient China and ancient India. The majority of the world’s population resided in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Humans had invented papyrus and discovered bronze, but the existence of coins, swords, and glass would not come for another several hundred years.

It was at this time, around the year 2000 BCE, in the city of Ur (present-day Iraq), that a particular Semitic man decided to move his family westward to Canaan, a land with rich soil and gorgeous landscapes that sat on the coast of the Mediterranean. It was well-known that whoever controlled this area, which lay at the intersection of three continents, controlled many of the trade routes from both east and west. However, for unknown reasons, the family was unsuccessful in reaching their destination and settled instead in Haran, a city slightly northeast of Canaan. But the family continued to dream of moving to this fertile land on the sea. To their east were the great empires of the Babylonians and the Persians who were ever at war with each other; to the west was the beautiful, peaceful Land that they longed for.

the voice

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The Voice

After the man grew old and passed away, his son, who was giving up hope on ever calling the Land his home, began to experience a phenomenon that was just as bizarre and stupefying to him as it would be to us today: out of nowhere, without explanation, a voice would come from the sky. This Voice from the Sky spoke in his language. It spoke with authority, but also with gentleness. The Voice began to tell the man that his family would indeed reach Canaan someday, but it would be his descendants that would inhabit the Land. So he trusted the Voice from the Sky and obeyed it in everything it instructed him. His family soon accepted his odd relationship with the Voice, and indeed, when his son, grandson, and great-grandson came of age, it spoke to them as well, promising the same thing.

They trusted the Voice, but they often doubted. Many times, their circumstances made the promise of the Land seem almost farcical. During the lifetime of the man’s great-grandson, a severe famine came over all of Mesopotamia. This famine caused the family to relocate to Egypt, where food was available. There, in Egypt, their offspring multiplied quickly, until the king feared that their greatness in number might threaten the stability of his empire. So around the year 1600 BCE, the Egyptian king made them his slaves, and they became very oppressed.

The Voice from the Sky, however, continued to speak to this people just as it had spoken to their ancestors. It continued to promise that they would soon be freed from the Egyptians, obtain the Land of Canaan, and establish themselves as an autonomous nation.

Sure enough, around 1400 BCE, the people managed to escape into the desert, but as they began toward Canaan, they soon found themselves lost. Yet the Voice continued to speak, guiding them and giving them new laws, rules, and traditions that solidified their identity as a people.

"The Chaldeans Carrying Away the Pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem" (1569) by Philips Galle (Netherlandish, Haarlem 1537–1612 Antwerp); image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Chaldeans Carrying Away the Pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem” (1569) by Philips Galle (Netherlandish, Haarlem 1537–1612 Antwerp); image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Nation

Eventually they arrived in their long-awaited Land and settled there for nearly a thousand years. Just as the Voice from the Sky had predicted, they multiplied greatly in number and became an autonomous Nation. However, they were dwarfed by the great empires that surrounded them. The Voice continued to promise that they would successfully defeat those who attacked them, and indeed, they were largely victorious for centuries despite their small size. In the 8th century BCE, the Roman and Greek Empires began to grow to the west, while their neighbors to the east grew as well—the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Achaemenid Empires.

In the midst of the increasing threats that surrounded the Nation, the people found comfort in the promises that the Voice gave them: someday they would be mightier than all other nations, someday they would plunder their enemies to the east, someday the empires that continually harassed them would be cut off, and the Nation could know that their children and their children’s children would live forever in the Land that was now theirs. All of these promises were wrapped up in one promise in particular that the Voice gave them: someday they would have a king who was mightier than any king Mesopotamia had ever seen. The Nation held onto these promises, but as their enemies grew, so did their doubt.

In the 6th century BCE, an unprecedented tragedy occurred: the Babylonians conquered the Nation and forced them out of their homes in Canaan. Suddenly, they had lost not only the Land, but their culture and traditions were threatened as well. They could no longer worship in their temple or perform their holy ceremonies as they had always done. But the Voice from the Sky told them to be patient; they would soon have a great ruler who would lead them back to the Land and establish their kingdom forever. This promise seemed to be coming true when, in 539 BCE, the Achaemenid Empire under Cyril the Great conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Nation to return to the Land of Canaan and operate relatively autonomously. However, many of them had dispersed throughout the ancient world since their evacuation from the Land, so there was great challenge in reuniting the Nation and reestablishing their culture.

Then another tragedy occurred—one more unprecedented than the first: the Voice ceased to speak. Suddenly, the Nation found themselves back in their own Land, occupied by one foreign empire after the next, struggling to hold onto their culture, their laws, and their sacred traditions, which were being constantly jeopardized—and the Voice provided no answer. The Nation and the Land became victims of continual occupation and exile by other nations, including that of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, and later those of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire. It seemed that the promises had been only utopian fictions.

In the year 63 BCE, the Roman Empire gained control of the Land, and the Nation was given a ruler of their own people, but they were far from autonomous, their culture had been Romanized and Hellenized, and their leaders were growing increasingly political. The people of the Nation wondered if the Voice from the Sky would ever speak again.

the king

The King

In the midst of these dying hopes, around the year 6 BCE, in a small, unpopular town in the north of the Land, a young teenage girl reported that the Voice had spoken to her—the same Voice who had spoken to her ancestors hundreds of years before. She claimed that an angelic being purporting to be a messenger from the Voice had told the girl that she would soon bear a child who would become the long-awaited King promised to them. No one in the Nation believed her.

However, nine months later, as the girl and her husband were journeying from their hometown in the north to a small city just south of Jerusalem, she went into labor. Unable to find better accommodations, she gave birth to the boy in a stable of animals. In this stable, surrounded by cows and horses and bundled up in barn rags, it was this baby boy who would indeed become the most powerful King of the greatest kingdom the world would ever see. But his people would include many more than just those of the Nation, and his territory would include much more than just the Land.

He would not become the type of king that the Nation was expecting. Working as a carpenter and living only thirty-some-odd years, he was executed by the Roman government because of the turbulence he caused among the Nation. But those who would become his people believe that he carried the words of the Voice who had been silent for over 400 years, and they claim that he is still alive, that his kingdom is continuing to grow, and that through him, the Voice is still speaking to those who will listen.

Best books of 2015

The Staff’s Favorite Books of 2015

It’s hard to imagine a MacLaurinCSF staff member who didn’t read constantly and widely. And we’re always happy to recommend the best of what we’ve read! So here, as 2015 draws to a close, are our favorite books of the year.

Caveat lector: I happen to disagree with, for example, many of the ideas Marilynne Robinson argues for in her book of essays, but I nevertheless recommend that book below. I’m sure each of the staff members would say the same thing about one or more of their recommendations. Which is to say that, although these are our favorite books from the year, these books aren’t in any sense recommended or endorsed by MacLaurinCSF as an organization, or even by any other members of the staff. They’re simply each staff member’s favorite books from the year.

What were your favorite books of the year? We’d love to know what we missed—leave a comment below.







  • Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers—This novel, about an obscure writer named Joshua Cohen who meets a bizarre tech tycoon (also named Joshua Cohen) and winds up ghostwriting his autobiography, is a brilliant exploration of both the ethos of Silicon Valley and our obsession with “entrepreneurship.”
  • Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver—Historical fiction about the dawn of the Enlightenment, the birth of calculus and democracy, and much more. The first volume in a mind-bending trilogy by Stephenson.
  • John Lanchester, How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say—And What It Really Means—A brilliant journalist and novelist examines the ways in which language and the economy interact with each other. Lanchester makes a strong case for communication as the fundamental tool of our understanding, and shows how debasing and devaluing our language can have profound, global economic consequences.
  • Scott Cairns, Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems—Beautiful poems by one of our great contemporary poets. Cairns’s poems are simultaneously richly theological and wholly embodied, both fleshy and philosophical.
  • Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows—I had never read this until my daughter received an abridged version. I’ve delighted in it nearly as much as she has, and Toad, Ratty, Mole, and Badger now make frequent appearances in our daily conversations.
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings—Another historical novel, this one about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the complex and brutal historical circumstances that lead to the attempt on “the Singer’s” life. James teaches at Macalester and won this year’s Man Booker Prize
  • Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things—The coach of the great soccer player Pelé once said “If you ask me who the best fullback in Brazil is, I’d say Pelé. If you ask me who the best half-back or winger is, I would say Pelé. He is probably even our best goalkeeper.” (Pelé never played goalie.) Similarly, Marilynne Robinson is our best novelist; she’s our best essayist, as these essays underscore; she’s probably even our best poet (even though she has never published any poetry).

What were your favorite books of the year? We’d love to know what we missed—leave a comment below.

David Ingold: The Rhythms of Advent: Which Calendar Rules Your Life?

David Ingold on the liturgical calendars of Christmas

[Editor’s note: Today’s guest post comes from David Ingold, one of last year’s Colin MacLaurin Fellows and one of the members of our pilot residential program. David graduated from the U with a degree in mechanical engineering and now works as an engineer.]

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving. After a weekend of gratitude, rest, and maybe homework catch-up, it’s time for the final end-of-semester push.

Seventeen days. 17. Just seventeen days of until the last day of class! So much work to do in less than 3 weeks!! But twenty-four days until the last day of finals. I just need to make it twenty-four more days, and then… pass or fail…the semester will be over!

Even though I’m no longer taking classes, it’s not difficult to remember these end-of-semester thoughts common to students, especially since I live with a bunch of students at the U. In fact, just thinking about how soon the semester is ending makes me feel anxious on their behalf.

But this week marks the onset of something else, something more significant then the arrival of winter break. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a season of eager longing and joyful hope for the arrival of Christ.

For those unfamiliar the practice of Advent, I want to ask a question: Which calendar rules your life?

For students, it is often the Academic Calendar; for much of America, the answer is the Consumer Calendar (which culminates with the Black Friday—Small Business Saturday—Cyber Monday trifecta). But for the church, Christ’s people, we have an alternative available to us: The Liturgical Calendar, a calendar of worship that begins with Advent and peaks at Easter, bringing us through the life of Jesus each year.

"The Nativity" by Antoniazzo Romano (1452-2512)

“The Nativity” by Antoniazzo Romano (1452-2512) (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

It is an easy temptation to put your heart and soul in the results of finals and the hope of vacation. Rather than completely orienting our lives around the pressures of our world, the wisdom from Christian tradition calls us to remember Jesus and orient every part of our life (and year) around him.

In Advent, we join the church around the world in remembering the longing of Israel, God’s people, for the long-expected Savior while in Exile. Though Immanuel, God with Us, has indeed come (which is why we so jollily celebrate 12 liturgical days of Christmas!!) we wait still as ones in exile (1 Peter 1:17). We wait for Christ’s deeper presence in our lives and community, and even more so for Christ’s second coming. But we wait with joyful expectation, for he IS coming!

While Thanksgiving is not part of the liturgical calendar, how fitting that the prelude to Advent is a time for gratitude to God for who God is and all he has done for us. And yesterday evening I enjoyed starting this liturgical year with an Advent Feast, to rejoice and feast together because of our shared hope, and to express our longing for Christ as we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

To aid us as we long for the advent of Jesus more than we long for the advent of vacation or relief after a strenuous Black Friday, I’ll end with an Advent prayer from Henri Nouwen:

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Terror and Fear: Reflections on Christians' Call to Love

Terror & Fear: Reflections on Christians’ Call to Love

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Andy Bramsen, assistant professor in political science at Bethel University. This post originally appeared on Redeemer Journal, the blog of Church of the Redeemer, where Andy serves on the vestry.

As we reflect on the horrific acts of evil in Beirut and Paris that have killed scores and inflicted terror on the people of those cities and beyond, we grieve with them and pray for the Lord’s mercy and comfort. Yet it is all too easy to turn from mourning with the suffering to becoming hardened toward anyone who shares a national, religious, or ethnic identity with the perpetrators. This turn from sorrow to a hatred fueled by fear stems from a natural desire for self-preservation. Sadly, I am already seeing evidence of this in news and social media.

But as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not to fear but to love. We are called not to focus on our own interests, but to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, as we would serve Christ Himself. If we are serious about being Christ followers, we must take seriously the command He gave to His disciples: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

Part of taking up our cross involves loving and caring for all in need as we have opportunity to do so, remembering that the needy are our neighbors, whether or not they seem safe. And as we do so, we remember that our Lord chose not the path of safety, but the way of the cross.

So today I challenge us to reflect anew on what it means to live out the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

2015-11-09 design thinking blog 2

Shaped: Design Thinking, Desire, and Engineering

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Katie Hazlewood, a junior mechanical engineering student and one of this year’s Colin MacLaurin Fellows. Her post is the second in a series of reflections on design thinking as a connection between our faith and our callings. The first, by MacLaurin alumnus Nathan Trulsen, connects design thinking and business.

As described in Nathan’s article, design thinking is a human-centered, purpose-oriented way of thinking. Instead of budget, profit, or competition being the end goal, design thinking makes this goal centered around the desires of people.

In engineering firms that produce a product for a customer/client, this way of thinking should be in place for each product that is designed, prototyped and sold. In practice, this would mean putting the person (the client) before anything else, including cost and time. This is easy to agree with, but undoubtedly harder to practice. A balance must be created inside of this way of thinking. Projects must still meet budgets and deadlines so that overall productivity can increase. I believe that having design thinking embedded in the way these requirements are met is what makes the difference. If each new problem arising in product development was handled with a primary focus on the clients’ desires instead of the time or effort required to fix it, the end product may look a lot better, and clients may be more satisfied with their products in the end.

In broad terms, engineering focuses first on how things work, and secondly on how to make them better (more efficient, cheaper, and of higher quality). But how do these twin emphases relate to faith? If put in the context of design thinking, an instinctive analogy can be made. Just as engineers constantly look for ways to improve upon the current processes, Christians look for ways to restore and renew both people and the world we currently live in. In both scenarios, something broken is being restored. In the case of an engineer, this comes into play when troubleshooting and problem-solving occur: a broken process or product must be restored to its original state. For the case of Christians, this looks like spreading the gospel with the hope that broken, fallen people can start to be renewed to their original and pure created state.

Design thinking comes into this analogy when we look at how the restoring happens in each scenario. In engineering, this shift happens in the move from restoring processes to get the biggest profit to restoring processes to meet the original desires of the client. This shift focuses on the motive behind the engineer’s work. As Christians, we were given the Great Commission to go and make disciples, and to teach them the ways of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). This call to restore people is present and being completed because it is the desire of the Lord, not for our own selfish purposes. Again, this comes down to the motive behind our actions. In each case, the desires of people and the Lord are the end goal.

Design thinking can and should be applied widely, in many different fields. As a Christian engineer, I must seek to see the desires of people before other requirements or compensations. Through this, I must do the work the Lord has called me to, and seek to restore both people and processes according to God’s greater purposes and desires.

Nancy Nordenson on finding true leisure with Josef Pieper

Finding True Leisure: A Guest Post by Nancy Nordenson

[Editor’s note: Today’s post is an excerpt of a new book about work and vocation: Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy Nordenson (Kalos Press). Finding Livelihood takes a creative nonfiction approach to exploring the multiple, often conflicting, calls we experience and must navigate. Nancy will be speaking at our Fridays @ 4 event this Friday, November 6.]

When you look at the face of a worker, wrote Josef Pieper, what you see is effort and stress becoming permanently etched. I’ve been reading and re-reading Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture for a book group called “Sophia,” because like the Greeks, this group seeks wisdom. I think it’s true what is said, that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. It’s also true that when you set your mind on a search, posit a question, you can’t help but start seeing clues.

Years before, someone whose opinion I respect recommended the book, and in a spirit of dutiful response, I checked it out of my local library. The book was small with a worn gold hardcover, no dust jacket, and yellowed pages. Copyright 1952. I had flipped from page to page, dipping here and there into the dense writing. I’ll skip it, I thought. To read this book would take too much time in a schedule filled with too much work. I already knew what it said, didn’t I? That it was in periods of leisure, among people who could afford leisure, that the extras that pushed society forward arose. The discoveries of geometry and calculus came about from men with time on their hands, not from men laboring deep down in a mine. The exquisite textiles that now hang in museums were woven by hands not otherwise occupied stirring gruel. I knew these pieces of history. It wasn’t hard to extrapolate the principle to the present. The book was as good as read without completing a single full paragraph. I returned the book to the library long before its due date.

Now, here for the book group was a newer edition, softcover with bright white pages. After reading it cover to cover, I realized my assumptions about it and its concepts of leisure had been all wrong. Pieper, a twentieth century German philosopher, published this book in 1948 after having first delivered portions of it as two lectures in 1947, just after the end of World War II. He wasn’t concerned with shoring up an eroding cultural foundation by advancing geometry and calculus or filling museums with textiles or tools of scientific discovery. Neither did he care about Caribbean cruises and hammocks and umbrella drinks, or rounds of golf or dinner for four at eight. Here was a man pleading with a world of people whose noses were to the grindstone rebuilding businesses, homes, and lives destroyed by the war. Eyes on the job, all hands on deck, preached the day’s motivational speakers, betting on productivity and utility to calm the turbulence. In contrast, Pieper pleaded: “pierce the canopy” that work forms over your life and transcend “the work-a-day world.” Allow “the totality of existing things to come into play: God and the World,” he wrote.

Why this message, this urgency?

To be human.

Start in the world and go up, urged Pieper. True leisure is “a condition of the soul.” True leisure is stillness, contemplation, passivity, receptivity, celebration, worship, wonder, mystery, and grace. A Sabbath intervention. These are words I can wrap myself in and relax with. Find, grab hold of, hang on to, defend to the last, this reflective posture, I tell myself, and you find the canopy’s needed spear.

[This is an excerpt of a chapter from Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy J. Nordenson, Kalos Press, 2015. Used with permission.]

Nancy Nordenson is a freelance medical writer and also the author of Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure (Kalos Press, 2015), a contemplative exploration of the split calls that comprise a working life. Nancy lives in Minneapolis; she blogs at

Shaped: Design Thinking, Desire, and Knowledge

Shaped: Design Thinking, Desire, and Knowledge in Business Innovation

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Nathan Trulsen, a management consultant at Accenture, where he focuses on healthcare innovation and strategy. He is an alumnus of the Carlson School of Management and active member of the MacLaurinCSF community, which has helped shape his understanding of the Christian calling to business and economics. Opinions are his own and not those of his employer, Accenture.

MacLaurinCSF’s 2015-16 annual theme, “Desire & Knowledge,” is well-timed, as just this month Harvard Business Review declared, “Design thinking comes of age.” There is a deep analogy between design thinking and desire and knowledge: just as universities have prized a knowledge based on fact and reason, business managers have valued risk analysis, labor and capital efficiency over risk taking, empathy, and emotion.

But design thinking—prioritizing the emotional and imaginative side of being human—seeks to put creativity in the center seat of business strategy, owning up to the reality that desire and knowledge are more connected than largely acknowledged. As a Christian who seeks to give glory to God through my work, I am delighted that design thinking provides a more human approach to understanding innovation. And design thinking also highlights the need for moral formation so that we, all who aim to create value for customers, can serve their best, instead of their worst, desires.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a method for innovation and problem solving that involves deeper, pre-cognitive approaches to creativity, for which it has also earned the term “human-centered design.” Take the following diagram from the design firm IDEO:

ideo innovation

Whereas traditional business innovation often focuses on balancing engineering and finances in order to create functional utility for consumers, design thinking focuses first on what customers desire in order to create emotional value. Each design firm and corporation will highlight their unique process for getting here, but key recurring themes in design thinking are:

  • Putting humans first — When faced with the task of create a new product or service, the first step is observing how the customer experiences the current way of doing things. Without relying on the user to explain or quantify their thoughts, designers gain a deep, hands-on understanding of what moves people. Contrast this ethnographic approach to traditional business school training, where the best practice is for managers to use quantitative market statistics as knowledge.
  • Creative brainstorming — Solutions are brainstormed freely and creatively, allowing team members to take the solution in any direction. Collaboration and flat power structures are important here, since any team member may have the solution. More and more businesses are dispensing with hierarchical organization of power in an attempt to foster collaboration.
  • Prototyping solutions — After gathering as many solutions as possible, start rapidly creating models. Build physical replicas if possible, or, if you’re creating a service, create storyboards of how a consumer will experience the solution. Run these half-made solutions by the customer to get a sense for whether you’re going in the right direction. This sounds like extra work to managers who take a unidirectional view of work: define the problem, come up with a solution, and present the solution.

The designers of the world say design thinking isn’t new—and they’re right. What’s new is trying to take their creativity and human-centered practices and replicate them in other areas of society. IDEO was one of the first product-design firms that popularized design concepts for businesses. One hospital tasked IDEO with reducing the number of children that had to be sedated before having an MRI. So they designed a pirate-themed MRI machine and trained the MRI technicians to treat the scan as a pirate ship experience. The percentage of children needing to be anesthetized, previously at 80%, dropped precipitously and patient satisfaction went up to 90%. Traditional business innovation started with the technology and built an MRI machine. Design thinking started with patients and asked how they could enjoy an MRI scan.

Design thinking is especially helpful in an environment of rapid change, where it gives whole organizations, whether businesses or governments, a way to create new possibilities instead of being confined to analyzing and refining old ways of doing things. For example, design thinking has taken on an increasing role in moving the American health system from one organized around disjointed care and administration to one that focuses on increasing patients’ health and financial well being. Traditional health-insurance companies add social media, online chats, and web portals as service options alongside their call centers without providing access to cheaper and better care.

Enter Oscar Health, a startup insurance company in New York and New Jersey that wants to create health insurance that is “simple, intuitive, and human.” They give their members a seamless interface with descriptions of bills and procedures in plain English and access to cheaper, convenient health services. That’s only the tip of the iceberg for healthcare.

Why stop at creating public good? At Stanford, design thinking has moved beyond solving economic and social problems to solving the biggest personal life questions. Ainsley O’Connell’s analysis of Stanford’s “Design your Life” class is particularly telling. One student who took this class came away saying:

It really helped me understand what the concept of vocation was. [ . . . ] I had thought of it either as a narrowly religious concept or for a specific job. But it’s this feeling that I have true agency over my work, because I know what I stand for and I have tools to fix the things that I encounter in my life.

“Design your Life,” launched in 2010, has a waitlist of attendants as students seek the tools to discern what’s next after college. O’Connell even suggests that this class is filling the void created when Christian theology and moral formation were removed from campuses in the mid-20th century. On whether this class was created to address that void, course co-creator Bill Burnett says, “Design doesn’t speak to ethics and spirituality and all those things, but they work within its frameworks. Our only bias is, hey, we can make the future better.”

The running themes in design thinking are creativity, empathy, experimentation, and learning by doing. Making design kinetic—observing people, creating models—requires designers to be viscerally in the world in a way that reminds me of Christian author James K.A. Smith’s description of practical knowledge in his Cultural Liturgies trilogy. Smith leans heavily on anthropology to show that people are loving beings as well as thinking beings. Experiencing the world through our senses creates a knowledge that is often more convincing than disembodied ideas are.

There are two key takeaways for Christians to consider:

  1. There is cause for celebration. For the business person who views their work as part of God’s creation mandate to cultivate the world, design thinking is a welcomed movement. By putting humans first, design thinking allows us to build businesses around the purpose of “creating a customer,” as Peter Drucker famously said in 1953. With its focus on brainstorming and experimentation, design thinking also allows us to “employ the whole man,” for “this approach focuses on man as a moral and a social creature, and asks how work should be organized to fit his qualities as a person.” In a digital age in which machines have become more “intelligent,” performing cognitive tasks once thought untouchable (driving cars, walking across uneven floors, constructing sentences), design thinking helps us simplify the noise of technology and asks what it means to be human. Design approaches in business make this human-centered vision of work a reality.
  2. The moral formation by which our desires are shaped takes on renewed importance. People have never lost their nature as moral animals, but just as academia separated desire and knowledge, the market has been conceived as unfeeling and value-neutral. While economists teach that markets are amoral, every good marketer knows that products sell better when the product is worshiped. As our universities and markets recover the language of desire, we must be aware of how desires are formed and to what extent we are asking our customers to desire created things over the Creator. Pope John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, wisely noted that “a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed,” for “of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality.”

So on one hand, we have design thinking and its method for creating experiences that resonate with our innermost being. Its use of empathy and experimentation employ the desires God imbued in us that swim below the surface of our rational action. On the other hand, we are left asking which stories and experiences will swoop in to form the moral imagination to which human-centered design caters. IDEO co-founder Dave Kelley looks to science fiction authors for inspiration. The Christian story, rich with imagery of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, is a forward-looking story of hope that transforms our desires so that we worship the Creator instead of created things. I am excited for this year’s conversations about desire and knowledge as I seek to understand human-centered design in a way that provides goods, services, and a life consonant with the Kingdom of God.

healthcare as a Christian vocation

Healthcare as a Christian Vocation: Announcing our new series of healthcare-focused retreats

We are excited to announce a new opportunity for Christian students preparing for healthcare professions.

Through a collaboration among the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Association, the Coptic Medical Association of North America, and MacLaurinCSF, we are offering a series of retreats designed to encourage Christian formation of grad/professional students in healthcare fields.

Students training in healthcare fields at public universities like the University of Minnesota receive first-rate educations in their specialties. But given the secular nature of public higher education, Christian students receive little or no support for understanding how their faith affects their work in healthcare.

To remedy this, we’re launching a rotating series of four overnight retreats—one offered each semester—so that students in medical, dental, pharmacy, and related programs can gain a Christian vision for their healthcare professions.

The first of these retreats will focus on the topic “Healthcare as a Christian Vocation.” Together we’ll seek to understand why our work in healthcare is not just a career, but a Christian calling—a vocation. We’ll cover the general theological concept of vocation and explore deeply and practically what vocation entails in the healthcare fields. The retreat will feature sessions and discussions led by local practicing physicians on topics such as:

  • the theology of vocation
  • the idols of the healthcare professions
  • healthcare as mission

The retreat will take place November 20-21 at a retreat center in Montgomery, MN. Registration costs $25, and includes four meals and lodging, as well as a copy of Timothy Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

We will distribute a few short readings to all participants in advance, encouraging them to read and discuss these selections beforehand, so that we can all gain the most out of our time together on the retreat.

What to expect on the retreat:

  • learning together about vocation through presentations and small group discussions
  • conversation and fellowship with other students and practitioners in a variety of healthcare fields
  • time for quiet reflection on the kingdom significance of your work
  • prayer and worship together

To register for this retreat, please complete this Google form and pay online through MacLaurinCSF (select “Healthcare Retreat”). Retreat registration is now closed. If you have questions or would still like to register, email Andrew Hansen, Program Director at MacLaurinCSF.

shaping a digital world

New Fall Reading Group on Faith, Culture, and Technology

We’re excited to announce a new fall reading group that is getting started next week. Led by computer science PhD student Michael Tetzlaff, the group will be reading and discussing Shaping a Digital World by Derek Schuurman.

The study group will meet in Keller Hall and is cosponsored by MacLaurinCSF and Graduate Christian Fellowship. Their first meeting will be next Tuesday, October 6 at 1:30pm in Keller 4-131. Feel free to bring your lunch.

Here’s the description of the book from

Digital technology has become a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Our increasingly fast-paced world seems more and more remote from the world narrated in Scripture. But despite its pervasiveness, there remains a dearth of theological reflection about computer technology and what it means to live as a faithful Christian in a digitally-saturated society. In this thoughtful and timely book, Derek Schuurman provides a brief theology of technology, rooted in the Reformed tradition and oriented around the grand themes of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. He combines a concise, accessible style with penetrating cultural and theological analysis. Building on the work of Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, and drawing from a wide range of Reformed thinkers, Schuurman situates computer technology within the big picture of the biblical story. Technology is not neutral, but neither is there an exclusively “Christian” form of technological production and use. Instead, Schuurman guides us to see the digital world as part of God’s good creation, fallen yet redeemable according to the law of God. Responsibly used, technology can become an integral part of God’s shalom for the earth.

2015 Oscar Best Picture Nominees

Birdman, Boyhood, Budapest: What do this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees tell us about American culture?

This fall’s talk on what the Oscar nominees tell us about ourselves is coming up quickly. If you want to catch up on your nominees or you’re thinking about watching one or two of the films, here are links to the trailers:

Our speaker Drew Trotter said that his talk will feature Birdman and Boyhood most prominently.

American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, and Selma will be discussed quite a bit, too.

And, even though all the nominees will at least be mentioned, the final three won’t be focused on to the same degree, though you’re welcome to bring them up in the Q & A:

Drew also chats regularly with Faith Radio’s Neil Stavem. You can listen to their past conversations here.

Which Best Picture nominees have you seen this year? What did you think of them? What sorts of topics and themes come to mind when you think about the films you’ve seen recently?