On April 3, more than 350 Samford employees, students, alumni and guests gathered in Leslie S. Wright Fine Arts Center for the seventh annual Tom and Marla Corts Distinguished Author Series. The series is presented by Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education.
This year’s guest, prolific Christian author Philip Yancey, discussed “Two Themes that Haunt Me.” The crowd chuckled when Yancey confessed he shared this title as the topic for the lecture before actually deciding on two themes.
“But it was not hard to find what those two themes were,” said Yancey. “I have written a lot of books and almost all of them circle around two themes, the theme of suffering and the theme of grace.”
Yancey has written more than 25 books, including Where Is God When It Hurts, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? and Disappointment with God.
“Suffering is something that every one of us deals with or will deal with at some time in life,” said Yancey. “Grace is something that is key to the faith of a Christian.”
Grace was something Yancey said he heard often growing up in the church; however, he felt it was not something he experienced. Since then, he says has been on a quest to “find the answers to the questions of suffering and what really is grace.”
The absence of grace and the need for it is not something new. Yancey reminded listeners of how people with leprosy were treated in biblical times.
“In Jesus’ day, the whole society worked on the contamination principle: pure and impure,” said Yancey, “but Jesus turned that all upside down.”
“When Jesus touched a person with leprosy, he didn’t get leprosy; the person with leprosy got healed. When he touched a corpse, he wasn’t contaminated, and the person who was dead was resurrected,” he said. In a world where people who were different were turned away, Jesus instituted a new rule: a rule of grace.
Today’s society is pulled apart by topics like race, war, politics and religion. “We are surrounded by a divided world, and the only way I can see that we can bridge the gap is by showing a different way, showing grace,” said Yancey.
The church is supposed to extend grace even during the times when it doesn’t make sense, Yancey explained. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Christians are called to stay behind, care for others and show a different way. If we extended the same grace that Christ showed the church, imagine what the world could look like, he said.
According to Yancey, a world with grace looks like Jong-rak Lee, who has been taking in orphans via a baby box he attached to the side of his church. It looks like the victims of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting who chose to forgive and stand together singing “Amazing Grace.” Grace looks like the army colonel who founded Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.
“Our job as believers is to show people the upside down, irrational response that stands out in a world of un-grace,” said Yancey, “and to do so in a way that awakens a thirst in people who might not even know they are thirsty.”
Yancey concluded the lecture by pressing that God could do it all himself but instead has chosen us to demonstrate grace, to be different and show the world a different way.
Through the support of generous donors, all Samford students received a ticket to ensure they would have the opportunity to attend. “Through the proceeds of this special event, we strive to enhance the experience for our education students as they continue to pursue their calling,” said Sheri Ransome, advancement officer for Orlean Beeson School of Education. The event also provides endowment support for the school.
Sponsors for this year’s series included the Thomas E. and Marla Haas Corts Endowment; Percy Cook Ratliff Endowment; McGriff, Seibels, & Williams Inc.; Skin Diagnostics Group PC; Unus Foundation; and Mr. and Mrs. Hobart Grooms Jr.
The Tom and Marla Corts Distinguished Authors Series is named for Samford’s 17th president and his wife. In 2011, the series was launched to recognize their invaluable leadership to Samford University, the community and the cause of literacy.
“It is our privilege to honor the legacy of Dr. and Mrs. Corts, and we are grateful for their generous investments in education,” said Ransome.
Over the years, the Distinguished Authors Series has brought a diverse group of authors to Samford. Previous guests include Parker J. Palmer, Laura Bush, Wes Moore, Garrison Keillor, Wendell Berry and Greg Mortenson.
Sara Roman is marketing and communication coordinator for Orlean Beeson School of Education.