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Featuring guest Christy Hemphill

Christy Hemphill | A Cockatoo Among Kittens

On today’s episode, Christy Hemphill shares with us her experience as a Bible translator working in a remote community in Mexico, the important work she has done with us on the INTEGRATE curriculum supplement and the Forum, and how her experience homeschooling her kids has helped her navigate faith with her children.


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On today’s episode, Christy Hemphill shares with us her experience as a Bible translator working in a remote community in Mexico, the important work she has done with us on the INTEGRATE curriculum supplement and the Forum, and how her experience homeschooling her kids has helped her navigate faith with her children.

Description

For those of us who have worked at BioLogos or spent any time on our forum, the name Christy Hemphill is quite familiar. As a collaborator on the BioLogos school curriculum project, INTEGRATE, and a long-time moderator on the forum, her work has been a blessing in our community. We realized, however, that still far too few of us have heard the poignant insight and testimony she brings to her work with us. On today’s episode, Christy shares with us her experience as a Bible translator working in a remote community in Mexico, the important work she has done with us on INTEGRATE and the Forum, and how her experience homeschooling her kids has helped her navigate faith with her children.

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Hemphill:

I just recommend to people, when you read the Bible, read the Bible. And delight in its truth the way you delight in the relationship with the God it’s revealing. So when I would read Genesis in the children’s Bible with my kids, we think about, oh, isn’t it amazing that God created all these beautiful things? Let’s go look at something beautiful. Isn’t it amazing that God created all this food that tastes so good? Let’s really enjoy this juicy grape. And just trying to say, how do we be? How do we teach our kids to be worshipers and to be grateful people who dwell in a creation that’s good. and that’s the kind of instruction I think that their souls need, in that kind of concrete phase that they’re in. And then later, as they start asking questions about other things, you can bring up the more detailed things.

Hi, my name is Christy Hemphill, I work for SIL, which is an organization that does language development and assists local teams in the translation of scriptures.

Stump: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

Christy Hemphill is well known to the inner circle of BioLogos. She plays an integral role in moderating the BioLogos forum and she’s a part of the team working on Integrate, a biology curriculum supplement. We’ll talk about both of those roles in the interview, but we start by hearing about Christy’s day job, which is as a professional linguist, working on a Bible translation, living in the remote hills of Mexico, working out the intricacies of culture and language. 

Speaking across a language and cultural divide is one thing, but Christy’s work on Integrate and her years homeschooling her children has also given her insight into how to speak to children about tricky theological issues. For that part of the conversation, we bring our producer Colin to the microphone for some immediate application. Colin has young children himself, and he talks to Christy about walking the thin line between simplicity and complexity when answering a child’s questions about origins, the Bible, and the nature of God. 

This is a fun one. Let’s get to the conversation. 

Interview Part One

Stump:

Hi, Christy. We’re very glad to be talking to you in this format. Welcome to the podcast.

Hemphill:

Thank you, Jim. It’s fun to talk to you outside of a Google Doc. I feel like we don’t get to hear each other’s voices very often. 

Stump: 

You have put in a lot of hours on behalf of BioLogos. And those are primarily behind the scenes on Google Docs and such, but we thought it would be fun to bring you out here in… Do you say in front of the scenes? Does that metaphor still work?

Hemphill: 

On the stage maybe? The theater?

Stump:

We’ll show you off a little for everybody a bit. But before we talk about your BioLgos work, I want to start with other parts of your life, your day job as it were . So maybe give us a little autobiography. Where’d you come from? What are you interested in? What does your normal life look like?

Hemphill:  

Okay, sure. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. And I had a very idyllic functional childhood that has no interesting or dramatic stories in it, other than very happy things. It’s funny because my mom recently has taken some classes at Moody on spiritual formation. And so she got it in her head that I probably have these woundings from how I was raised that I should process. And so she was asking me, how have you been wounded by your childhood. I remember when I was a junior in high school, I went to visit the Art Institute of Chicago because I was thinking about attending there. I was a very competent illustrator and painter. And I realized when I was touring, that I was not an artist. And this campus was full, it was the mid 90s, it was full of people in like flannel and combat boots in black lipstick, who stayed up till three in the morning listening to indie rock, and painting violent pictures about the way that the objectification of women ruined souls. And I was like, I am not an artist, I have no angst, my childhood has not prepared me to rage against anything. So I ended up instead, going to the school where good Christian kids with very high GPAs and good SAT scores go, which is Wheaton College. And I listened to Jars of Clay, and wrote about theology of culture and went to bed at a decent time.

Stump:

Did you grow up in an evangelical faith community too?

Hemphill: 

Yeah, I was a child of evangelicalism, Focus on the Family on the radio and went to summer camp and youth group and very much… I think a lot of people right now are feeling very scarred by that background. But I did not, I don’t have all these negative associations with it. Like some people who are pouring their troubles out on Twitter these days have. So I was homeschooled, actually, too, but not in the Fundy denim dress, you know, 15 children kind of way just in a regular educational option kind of way. And I had a very positive experience being homeschooled. My mom was very, she really liked the idea of us pursuing our interests. And so you know, I had a microscope and I had a rock collection. And we would go out and collect wild flowers and use field guides. And I read all the books in the library in the children’s section. And it was a very good time for sort of just stimulating an interest in learning. And then I went to public school in sixth grade. And that was not a negative experience, either. 

Stump:

So keep the story going from Wheaton, then.

Hemphill:

I go to Wheaton. I couldn’t decide what to study because I really love learning and I like everything and so I decided to pick the class that was easiest for me to be my major, which was French and so I was a French major. It’s been completely useless to me in life. But I enjoyed studying and reading French literature.

Stump:

Completely useless? That’s not what a good liberal arts education is supposed to be, it’s all about utility, right?

Hemphill:

The liberal arts education was wonderful, the French major was just pure enrichment. I can recite some Baudelaire poetry for you, if you’d like. My advisor told me, you’re not gonna be able to really do much with a French major so you should pick up a Spanish minor. And I was also an education major. And so I did, and the Spanish minor has come in very useful in life. And I ended up being a teacher, after… I got married out of college, graduated, well graduated first then got married. And then I taught in an inner city High School, for a little while, Spanish. I hated that. And so I went and got a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, which is an applied linguistics degree. And I loved linguistics. And so that’s kind of how I got on the linguistics track in life. It wasn’t really in my undergrad, it was in grad school.

Stump:

And you now live full time in Mexico doing that sort of work. So how did that come about?

Hemphill:

Yes, yes, well, I met my husband at Wheaton. Wheaton has these missions, conferences, where they bring in representatives from all these different organizations and talk about what’s going on around the world. And he was a Spanish major. And so we both like languages, and we were… He was a Bible major too and so he’d studied some Greek. And we talked with, we weren’t dating at the time, but we ended up both going to this session where there was this Wyckliffe translator who was working with a community that lived in Chicago, there were enough members of this community in a single apartment complex, that he was working with them to produce a Bible, a New Testament translation, because the country they were from, you weren’t allowed to go to very easily. And so we both ended up staying after the like presentation and kind of picking this guy’s brain. And he was so fascinating. And I think I got put on the list of girls to maybe ask out sometime in the future because of that conversation.

Stump:

He had a list?

Hemphill: 

Yes, yes, well. That’s another story.

Stump:

And how’d you end up in Mexico? I think that’s what I asked earlier, but we got a little sidetracked there.

Hemphill:

So we got married. And we were interested in doing Bible translation. But my husband needed to serve four years in the Army to pay for college. And I’m kind of hardcore in some ways, like, I can sleep wherever and I will eat whatever you put in front of me. But I knew that I wasn’t going to be having babies in the jungle and washing their diapers in a river. And I just wasn’t that hardcore. I wanted to be by my mom and have a grocery store nearby. And so I said, Look, if we’re going to, like, go off on some kind of world adventure, I want to crank out the babies first. And then we can do it when they’re out of diapers. And so that was sort of our deal. So when he got out of the army, three children and three and a half years. Then when the youngest was about two, we’re like, okay, are we doing this? Are we gonna sell our house and move to another country? And we decided it was kind of like, we were going to do it now where we weren’t going to do it. So we joined Wycliffe and we went to Dallas to get some training, to get a master’s degree in Bible translation. And so we did the first part of that. And then we went down to Mexico, my church had to focus on Mexico at the time, which is what pushed us in that direction. And we both spoke Spanish. So that was one less step we would have to do is learn the national language. So it just kind of seemed like it made sense. So we headed there in 2012. And we work in Guerrero, which is in southern Mexico. And a lot of people don’t understand how, like, why would many Mexicans need a Bible translation? Obviously, there’s plenty of translations in Spanish. And what people forget is that Mexico is a colonial country, just like the United States. And when the Spanish came over from Europe, there were already many, many cultures and people groups living in the territory that they conquered. So we work with an indigenous community, we work with four different translations that are in related varieties of a language family called Me’phaa. And they have a team of 10 translators that are working on these New Testaments to provide their community with the scriptures in their own language. Not everyone is fluent in Spanish, many people are not… Reading in Spanish is difficult for them. So it’s something that is needed. And there’s been an A team, they’re working on it for several decades, and we’re sort of the B team helping the four teams finish up. So hopefully, in the next five years or so at least a couple of them will be done and ready to publish and be used in the churches. And we’re excited about that.

Stump:

My wife and I lived in West Africa for a year. And on the hilltop right next to us was a translating team that was working on an Old Testament translation for the language of Kuranko, if I remember correctly, but I remember talking to them about some of the issues of translating into into these languages that often have very different contexts and even different words that can’t really be translated. For example, I remember them talking about the verse in Isaiah that says though your sins are as scarlet they shall be white as snow. There is no word for snow. And I think they ended up saying something like, as white as pounded yams or something like that. Are there any interesting sorts of stories like that for the translation you’re working in, that are particular challenges of communicating these concepts into the language?

Hemphill:

Oh yeah, it comes up all the time and things you wouldn’t think of. The first book we worked on was Jonah. And so we live in very, very steep mountains. When it rains, all the water fills up the arroyos [streams] and runs down the mountain. So there’s no standing water, there’s no rivers, there’s no lakes. And so there’s no word for boat. 

Stump:

No word for boat? 

Hemphill: 

No word for boat. Most people, I mean, some people travel, it’s not like they never get out. But a lot of people have never been very far from where they grew up. And so they’ve never even seen a large body of water, they’ve seen puddles, and rushing streams down the mountain. So this was really difficult. And they didn’t want… So there’s a word in Spanish, barco. And they have a pronunciation in Me’phaa it’s obarcu. And they were like, we’ll just use the Spanish word, you know, borrowed into your language. But they didn’t want to do that, they wanted to use an authentic phrase from their own language. And so they ended up saying something like, the large piece of wood that floats on the face of the water is the word for boat. But if you look at how many times the word boat or ship gets translated, and then there’s actually several different words, you know, there’s he took a boat to one place, and then he took a ship somewhere else. And so they’re like, so then they have the extra big boat.

Stump:

A really big piece of extra big piece of wood that floats on the face of the water. 

Hemphill: 

So there’s things like that, there’s things like wine, there are no grapes. Most people have never seen grapes, they don’t drink wine. They drink beer, and mezcal, that’s their concept of alcohol. And so translating something like wine, you can’t even say grape juice, because there’s no word for grapes. So you do come across things. And then people don’t realize just how very, very different languages are. I think people get into using different tools to kind of compare English and Greek and the New Testament, but Greek is an Indo-European language, as is English. So even though it feels very different, we still have very similar conceptual frames. Yeah we’re Western civilization, we’ve inherited a lot of Greek patterns of thought. Whereas in some of these Mesoamerican languages, like there’s very few abstract nouns, which makes Paul very difficult. And you have just some overlaps in the language that don’t that don’t work, because they phrase their thoughts in with very different constructions. And so that’s kind of interesting to look at the back translation and see how it turned out.

Stump:  

Yeah. So there’s sometimes this distinction that’s made between translations and paraphrases of Scripture, right? The NIV, or the NRSV, versus the Living Bible or the Message, is that a helpful distinction? Or does that start to break down in these kinds of situations? Or where’s the line between those?

Hemphill:

Well, I think the American consumer, the Bible consumer public, is very convinced that literal translations are a feature. And the community of translators would actually think that’s bonkers. And so there’s this idea kind of in common thinking that the closer you are to the original text, the more words you can get to match up, the better of a translation it is. That’s not really true. Because languages, words are just labels we put on our concepts, and no concepts are exactly the same from one culture to another culture from one physical location to another physical location. And so you can’t just find equivalent labels in other languages because they trigger different concepts even if they are similar. So when we’re talking about translation, we’re trying to say okay, what is the meaning that the original text communicates? And then how do we help people construct that same meaning or close meaning in their own language? And different translations have different philosophies about how, like you mentioned the changing the snow to pounded yams, like how domesticating we call it, you’re going to be to communicate the meaning or how much you’re going to leave the the text to be a foreign text that kind of needs some help to be understood. Different people have different perspectives on what you should do. We try to work with what the community wants. So some communities want the scripture translation to be very close to a prestige… Like in Mexico the Reina Valera is sort of like the KJV is in English. It’s sort of a prestige historical translation that’s used in many, many churches. And so they don’t want their indigenous language translations to be too far off from what they understand the Reina Valera to be communicating. So yeah, translation as a whole, I feel like in my life, it really made me hold a lot more loosely to some of the things I believed about what the Bible does and what we can expect of it. Because you just realize how limiting our languages in our cultures are in what we can understand from someone else.

Stump: 

Yeah, we’ll get to talk a bit about that in just a minute. Let’s finish up this section of your work and life in the remote hills of Mexico with what are the biggest challenges you face in your life and work there? And what are the most rewarding parts of that work and life?

Hemphill:

Okay, well, I want to give you a picture for this. So if you go to YouTube, and you type in, cockatoo meows like a cat, you get this video. It’s got 11 million views. And it’s this cockatoo. He sounds exactly like a cat. And there’s maybe three kittens, and the cockatoo goes up to the kittens and meows in their faces. And the cats don’t know what to do with this. And they just kind of like back away slowly, or they run away, or they just stare at the cockatoo. And I feel like this is a metaphor for my life. That I am trying so hard to meow in so many different contexts with cats, and I am a cockatoo. Living cross culturally, that’s what it’s like. You try to fit in, you try to speak the way the people around you speak, but you always have feathers and not fur. And I felt that way when I was teaching in the inner city, I felt that way as a homeschooler, as a not super conservative Christian in very conservative Christian homeschooling missionary communities, I often feel like a cockatoo among cats. Even on BioLogos when I, come sit at the science table, my liberal arts self. Like I can speak science with you people. 

Stump:

Your French Major doesn’t go very far?

Hemphill:

Exactly. But anyway I’m gonna try, I’m gonna meow you guys. And someday you’re gonna accept me as one of your own. 

Stump:

So that’s the challenging part. What’s the rewarding part?

Hemphill:

Yeah, the rewarding part is I feel like I have a story for my life where I’ve done some hard things that matter, and I’m not gonna look back and feel like I didn’t accept an adventure or didn’t step out of my suburban comfort zone. I’ve done it, I’ve made some efforts to kind of, in the talk of the day, lay down my privilege and be an advocate and an ally of people who are marginalized, who are just disadvantaged in a lot of ways. And I’ve done what I can to try to help with that in ways that I think are just and righteous. I feel validated when I look at the last 10 years. I do look at the ceiling, sometimes when I’m sleeping in our house in Zoquitlán, which is the mountains. It’s just bare concrete, and there’s spiders, and sometimes I just lay in bed and I’m like, What am I doing here? I’m not a cat. And I just have to kind of come back to, really feel like I was obedient to what I was called to. And I really feel like I have learned and grown in the ways that I was supposed to learn and grow through the various stretching experiences of it all.

Stump:

So what’s the connection then between your work and life in these remote hills in Mexico and your involvement with BioLogos and I mean this connection, both in terms of conceptually in your mind that it made sense for you to bring these two worlds together, but then also in terms of the actual things that… How did it actually happen that you got involved with us?

Hemphill:

A lot of people think it’s not related at all. They’re like you’re in missions and BioLogos deals with science. And that’s true. But BioLogos also deals with the Bible a lot. And so I started reading white papers on BioLogos, back when the website was launched, because I was very…

Stump:

That you just stumbled upon?

Hemphill:

I read about it in Christianity Today, there was a little blurb that Francis Collins’ organization is starting this website. And I went to it, and I downloaded papers, and I had them on my Kindle. And I would read them in waiting rooms and stuff. And the things I was interested in were about, how does God speak through human words? And how do we make meaning out of this ancient text? And how does the ancient Near Eastern culture inform our understanding? And how do we impose all of our own modern Western ideas onto a text when it’s not really warranted? And these are the exact same questions that we ask as translators when we’re trying to contextualize the Bible in a minority culture and help people understand the meaning to the ancient audience so that they can communicate the meaning to their audience. And so they’re very much the same kinds of questions I’ve been thinking about in my coursework, and in my work, and so it wasn’t a huge disconnect. And then the reason I got involved was when we first were in Mexico, we did not have internet in our home. And it was very isolating. I mean, my husband was the only English speaker I would interact with who was an adult and for weeks at a time sometimes And I am a delightful person in small doses, but we live and work very closely and spend a lot of time together. And you need other people. My Myers Briggs personality type is debater, so I find it very entertaining to argue about things. And that is not so good for marriage if you only have one person. At one point I got this stick that you would stick in the USB that would give you a couple hours of internet access. I couldn’t get Facebook to load on it, because the internet was so bad. And I could barely download my emails, but for some reason, the BioLogos forum and the homeschool forums because they’re low, I don’t know, it was very text based. It seemed if I clicked refresh enough times, I could get them to come up. So I had been on the forum, like way, way back. I checked it out like September 2014, because your wife Chris asked me to participate in a book club, when I was in a place where I had good internet. So then I left and came back to where I lived, where I had no internet. And I was just isolated, I needed somebody to talk to besides my husband, who was exhausted by me. I could get the forum to come up. I would have my little theological discussions with whatever people were hanging out there. It was kind of a good outlet for me. Then at some point, Brad Kramer, who was running the forum, he’s like, how about I just give you some moderator buttons, and you can help me out with this. So I ended up being a moderator. And then I never left. I looked it up, I now have 66 days worth of reading forum topics.

Stump:

That’s how much of your life you spent on there. 

Hemphill:

Yes, yeah. 

Stump:

So sometimes on the midroll for these podcast episodes, we have somebody tell all our listeners about the BioLogos forum. How do you describe what the forum is when, say, one of your friends or family members finds out that you’ve spent 60 days of your life as a forum moderator and they ask what is that exactly? 

Hemphill:

It’s like a weird cross between social media and classes is how I feel. Because the software is far better than Facebook or Twitter for actually having an intelligent conversation with back and forth where you interact with what people say. So you have very high level discussions going on. And the people who tend to participate are just much more knowledgeable in general. We always have some interesting characters show up. But in general, the people who participate are very well read people with expertise in certain areas. And so I just found the conversations to be the best place on the planet to have a good discussion about something I was thinking about. And I am an external processor, which means I don’t really always know what I think or feel about something until I explain it to somebody. So it’s just very helpful for me, even just in my own spiritual life and my own, like thought development to have people to converse with about some really deep things. Some really, I mean, sometimes very academic kind of things to bounce off, like, I’m reading this book, and you know, what do you think about this idea? And so that’s sort of what drew me in. And most of the people who know me, you know, they get it. And they understand that they would rather have the people on the forum, you listening to all my deep brain wanderings that have to suffer through it themselves. So they’re happy to send me off there.

Stump:

So when I started at BioLogos back in 2013, as the content editor, the forum was under my jurisdiction, and about the first significant decision I made was to end it. So I don’t know if you were around by then. But I wrote this blog post saying, we’re going to discontinue the forum in a week, because it was dominated by just this handful of people commenting, it was too labor intensive to keep going and looked around these other websites, nobody else had one of these. And you could kind of see why. And so I said, let’s just stop. So I put this out and was really surprised by the response from our readers, which was impassioned and unanimous in saying that I just made a colossal mistake. And after reading a bunch of those responses, two days later, we reversed the decision, and have kept it going ever since then, can you… With the help of you and several other people that spend a fair bit of time on there. Can you give a sort of defense or an apology for the forum? Why is it a good thing for an organization like us to maintain something like that? 

Hemphill:

Yeah, well, it is one of the few places on the internet left that does what it does, because you know, NPR shut down their comment boards, Christianity Today shut down their comment boards. And part of the problem is because you actually need human beings interacting, and you know, regulating it, so it doesn’t become a big, you know, place where people dump spam and abuse one another. So it is work intensive, but I feel like the value is that there just aren’t that many places where you can get what it offers. There’s a regular on the forum, who’s agnostic, he’s not a Christian. And he stumbled on BioLogos. Someone had mentioned it on an atheist forum. And he came over and he’s like, I am so tired of the atheist forum. It’s just full of hostile people. And so I’m gonna, you know, discuss things over here. And he loves it. He’s one of our biggest evangelists for come talk over here with these kind Christians who read books and have intelligent conversations. And so I think that it’s not just this kind of niche, very strange Christian who is interested only in origins, and likes to argue about what the meaning of the word yom is in Genesis, whether it’s literal, 24 hours, or… It’s not just that kind of person who’s found a sort of community. 

Stump:

There are those kinds of people, to be fair.

Hemphill:

There are those kinds of people. But I think a lot of the people who come by kind of regularly, just appreciate that it’s a community of people who are thinking. It’s very diverse, but there’s a critical mass of people who are thinking along the same lines, and they can get feedback from a perspective that they trust. And like a lot of people I think, right now, in this moment in evangelicalism, or however evangelical adjacent you feel, if you want to use the label, people are kind of looking around them and saying, who are my people? I don’t feel like I fit in the way I used to, or I don’t really know where my community is, the people around me don’t want to talk about the things that I’m most interested in processing. And so I think the forum for a lot of people has been that safer place than their real life communities, where they can talk about things they’re wondering about, they can bring up their doubts, they can kind of maybe be more honest about the questions they have, and find a bunch of people who are also sort of walking that same question journey, and be encouraged that it doesn’t all like lead to losing your faith and throwing in the towel on everything. That a lot of people are processing this in a healthy, constructive way that leaves them in a better place than when they started. I think that is what a lot of people enjoy being part of.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hi listeners. On this podcast we hear a lot of stories of young people who consider leaving the church because of the tensions they find between science and faith. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why we developed Integrate, a teaching resource, designed for classroom teachers and home educators. It seeks to equip the next generation of Christian leaders to be faithful, informed, and gracious voices engaging with the hard questions raised by science. To learn more just go to biologos.org/integrate. Alright, back to the conversation. 

Interview Part Two

Stump:

Another of the projects you’ve gotten involved with at BioLogos is Integrate, the biology curriculum supplement, which is aimed primarily at homeschoolers and Christian Schools. We talked to another of the Integrate people, April Cordero, back in Episode 29, on the podcast, but can you give us a little update of where things stand now with that project?

Hemphill:

Yes, I feel like every time we talk about it, we’re always almost finished. And I think maybe, maybe this time, we really are almost finished. It’s been a huge project. And I just want to say it is one of the things I’m most proud of that I’ve been involved in. That this team that I’ve had the opportunity to work on has, there’s just the best people, the best team where everyone kind of pulled their weight and had something to offer and I really feel like what we have… It’s like childbirth, you know, what we have labored to bring into this world is really something that I’m proud of. We have 15 units that not all of them are available for sale, but they’re coming out soon. 

Stump:

And some of them are available now. 

Hemphill:

Yes, you can find it through the BioLogos website. And the idea was, people kept asking BioLogos, we see that there’s this young earth kind of focused curriculum for Christian Schools and homeschoolers. But where’s the evolutionary creationist curriculum that we can use because we don’t want to use these materials that are kind of very, very geared toward promoting young earth creationism. And so we talked through some with parents and educators and we came to the conclusion, we don’t need, like a textbook of evolutionary creationism, because the science part is just science. And there are good, solid science curriculums out there. But what people wanted was a supplement to that that would help them answer some of these faith science, ethics, theology, philosophy—questions that science raises—from a solid Christian perspective, and would help them kind of bring up some of these conversations on the edge of the intersection of faith and science with their students. So we have 15 unit studies on different topics. And the goal is to bring in some of the science content, but also bring in some theology, bring in some Bible study, bring in some ethical questions that are being raised by these new technologies, new discoveries, and really give students a chance to sort of process how do we think about these things in light of our values as Christians, in light of our commitments, in light of what we believe the Bible teaches. It’s a resource guide for parents and teachers. And I think a lot of people here know BioLogos and they think it’s all about evolution and creation. And it really isn’t. We have a unit on fossils, a unit on evolution, and then a unit on human evolution. But the rest of the curriculum is other things. So we talk about creation care and conservation and things like DNA testing, and just things that maybe you haven’t thought of as a faith science intersection issue. And so I really think that teachers and students, even if they aren’t coming from the BioLogos perspective, are really going to find things in the curriculum that are useful to them as they just try to equip their students to see science as a Christian vocation to see the importance of having Christian voices at the table as our societies are making these important decisions.

Stump:

Talk a little bit about the reception of this so far, because I think one of the things we wondered about at the beginning is, what kind of market would there be, would there be enough people out there who were interested in this kind of a supplement in the Christian school and homeschooling market. Because I think lots of people have probably a caricature in their minds of what homeschoolers are like, and whether they would even listen to someone like BioLogos on a topic like that. So talk a little bit more broadly about the market more broadly, the kind of people that are interested in this, maybe the motivations that people have for homeschooling, or sending their kids to a Christian School, which aren’t always fitting the stereotypes that we have in mind. And then just some of the early returns of what you’ve heard from people who have tried out some of these units or what they’re finding—some of that kind of thing.

Hemphill:

I think there are a lot of ideas people have from maybe homeschoolers they know. And the demographics of who is homeschooling has changed. It’s changed because people in the church and the culture have changed. So not everyone’s homeschooling because they want to kind of create their own alternate culture and really shelter their children from public school. Some people are doing it because their children have anxiety issues, or were being bullied in school, or with the whole pandemic you have a whole other set of reasons why people are pulling their kids out of school and considering homeschooling. Some school districts are just not that great for education. And so parents are like, well, what other educational options if you can’t afford private school tuition, maybe homeschooling is an option. So there are a lot of people homeschooling now and there are a lot of resources that make it possible for parents to homeschool outside of some of these maybe more stereotypical super conservative or super hippie or whatever it is, you think of… 

Stump:

Or people living in Mexico…

Hemphill:

Yes, expatriates living in other countries. And I think of the generation maybe behind me, so my kids are in high school in eighth grade now, but the the generation coming up with kids that are now in elementary school, then those children of evangelicalism, many of them, who are homeschooled themselves, they want to do things different than what their parents maybe did with them, but they’re not exactly sure how. So I think we’re offering an option for homeschoolers who don’t want to engage with science the way that it was presented to them as Christian kids in the church, but really feel like, having a totally secular, whatever that means, perspective isn’t going to serve their goals well, either. So, we are trying to give people tools that don’t come with some of the sort of cultural baggage that you get from a lot of other Christian resources, where everything kind of becomes politicized. We’re just trying to say, here’s the science, here’s the Bible, the Christian thought that goes along with it. And you know, you open up those spaces with your kids, and emphasize the tradition or the values that are important to you as a Christian. We’re not going to try to indoctrinate your children for you, like you have to teach them. But we’re gonna give you tools to do that well and thoughtfully, and in interaction with what scholars are saying.

Stump: 

Good. So how are some of these diverse groups responding to what Integrate has produced so far? It’s okay to brag a little bit here.

Hemphill: 

Our pilot teachers have been really positive, we’ve gotten really good feedback, we’ve also made a lot of changes based on the feedback. So we’re constantly trying to improve it to meet the needs of the classroom teachers and the homeschool teachers a little better. What people appreciate is what they keep saying is how we have such good conversations when we use this, it really helps me draw out what my teenagers, what my students are thinking and really helps them put their thoughts into more solid form and communicate where their tensions are. And I think that with young people today, one of the criticisms that they have of the church is that there just isn’t space for processing questions, there isn’t space for having doubts. There isn’t space for figuring out your own identity and how you fit in. And so we’re trying to hear that.

Stump:

I’ve seen that point correlated specifically to people who grew up in the church, but then left the faith, because they said they never had a chance to ask those kinds of questions. So if this does nothing but provide those kinds of spaces, I’d say that’s a pretty huge win.

Hemphill:

Yes. And we are trying to do more asking of good questions and presenting options for beginning a path toward an answer than presenting answers. And I know that’s scary for some people, because we do want to point our young people towards answers. We don’t want to just leave them with questions and tear down everything they think and not give them tools to build something in its place. So we are pointing towards answers. But we’re not trying to say we have everything all figured out. And here’s what you need to think, kids. I think that’s what a lot of people are responding to very positively is just the chance, even a lot of adults didn’t think about these things in their own education. And it’s good for them to have the resource and the chance to process and understand a good solid scientific foundation, that they’re actually dealing with real facts. And then they’re processing them in light of what our historical Christian teachings have been, what our values are. I think too a lot of times we get caught up in this idea of well, there’s a Bible verse for everything and that’s the important part. That the point of the Bible is to shape us and form us into the kinds of Christians we’re supposed to be. So we’ve tried to incorporate the Bible into the curriculum less in terms of well, we’re talking about genetic testing, what Bible verse could possibly relate? And more be like, the Bible has a lot to say about wisdom, and we need wisdom in deciding how to use these technologies. So how can we really internalize what the Bible teaches us about being wise people and then apply wisdom to this question, and I really think that focus is appreciated by the people who’ve kind of been burned out on this idea that incorporating the Bible or integrating faith means providing a proof text for your position.

Stump:

Well, there’s one more topic that’s kind of related to this, to teaching your kids at home. There is one more topic that I wanted to talk to you about, which is one that, whether you homeschool or not, all parents face at some time. And that’s how to talk to kids about issues related to origins. And you wrote an article for the BioLogos website a few months ago about this, drawing from your own experience, giving some general do’s and don’ts. And I think it’s really helpful. We’ll link to that in the show notes. But I’d like to probe it a little bit more here. But my kids are grown, and I’m afraid whatever I did with them, the damage is already done, like your mom saying to you must have scarred them somehow. But Colin is in the thick of this right now at his house. So let’s pull him out from behind the controls and get him in on this conversation. Hey, Colin, are you here?

Hoogerwerf:

I’m here. Hi, Christy. 

Hemphill:

Hi.

Hoogerwerf:

So my kids are currently three years old and four months, and my four month old hasn’t started asking really hard questions yet. But recently, my three year old has clearly been trying to comprehend God. And one of the things I’ve learned from my time at BioLogos, is that hard questions often deserve a lot of nuance. There’s times when a three year old is just looking for a simple answer. Are there some points at which it’s appropriate or necessary to give answers that might not be correct only because it’s too simple?

Hemphill:

That’s a good question. And I think it relates not only to God, but with everything with kids. How you have to really listen to the question they’re asking, and not give them more answer than they’re actually asking for. One way I thought about it—my analogy is, when your three year old asks you how babies are made, they don’t need a lecture about the intricacies and nuances of human sexuality, and the current situation is destroying the institution of marriage. They just need to know that babies grow in mommy’s tummies, something like that. And so I think if you kind of think of that parallel, that we teach kids about reproduction in stages, we answer the questions as they understand things, and as they become curious, and as they need to know. Origins is the same thing. Like for me, I had the children’s Bibles, and you read the stories about the six days of creation, and they’re presented in a very straightforward manner. And so sometimes people would talk to me and they’re like, well, do you explain to your four year old that it wasn’t really maybe seven days? And I say, no, you just tell the story. That’s what you’re reading. They aren’t asking about evolutionary history and how it fits in with the six days of creation. So just like, let the story speak. And I think that one thing I was kind of convicted on, it actually came up in one of the podcasts you did earlier with Alister McGrath. He was talking about narrative apologetics, I think he called it, and how we often feel the need, instead of telling the story to explain the story. I think, especially with children, sometimes we just need to tell the story and leave the explaining for when they ask for explanations. So I just recommend to people, when you read the Bible, read the Bible. And delight in its truth the way you delight in the relationship with the God it’s revealing. So when I would read Genesis in the children’s Bible with my kids, we think about, oh, isn’t it amazing that God created all these beautiful things? Let’s go look at something beautiful. Isn’t it amazing that God created all this food that tastes so good, let’s really enjoy this juicy grape. Just trying to say like, how do we be? How do we teach our kids to be worshipers and to be grateful people who dwell in a creation that’s good. That’s the kind of instruction I think that their souls need, in that kind of concrete phase that they’re in. And then later, as they start asking questions about other things you can bring up the more detailed things.

Hoogerwerf:

So here’s an example that’s maybe less about biblical interpretation and more theological but the other night my son Micah asked my wife in bed. Do you know God? And I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would answer that. Because I worry that simply just saying, Yeah, I know God, makes him think that God is some guy that we meet with in secret and keep away. Because isn’t that what Micah thinks when we say I know this person? And I’m not sure how to say what kind of relationship that is, in ways that would make sense to him and be at least approximately correct?

Hemphill:

Yeah, I would say, we need to give kids more credit for what they’re able to imagine. And so, you should say, Yeah, I know God, and God knows me. And then how do you know that you’d have to draw on your own experience? Like, where do you feel you meet God? Where do you feel you experience God? And I think sharing those kind of things, about how we experience God in our own lives, like when we worship through a song, or when we see something outside. I think different people have different ways of connecting to God. And sharing those spiritual experiences with our kids is something that can give their own imaginations and their own kind of growing ability to relate to God as a person. Something to sort of aspire to. But I was always amazed talking to my own kids, how they have their own experiences with God, I think God loves kids. Jesus loves the little children, you know. And so I think, when you communicate to them, that God is real, and his love is real, and his protection is real in his care for us each day, is real, they internalize that so concretely, and they experience it themselves. And so, yeah, I think the more we can share what’s true about our relationship with God, the better off our kids are, just seeing it lived out.

Stump:

What stage are you at with your kids now in having these kinds of kinds of conversations, When does it cross the threshold into not just telling stories, but trying to explain stories?

Hemphill:

I feel like I’m at the best part, because my kids are now 16, 14, and 13. And so especially the older ones, I can give them a book that I think is interesting, and say, hey, read it, let’s talk about it. And they are able to engage with adult-like thought on any number of issues. And I think what we spend a lot of time talking about is not so much their personal questions and processing. But this idea of how other people are thinking differently and how do you have conversations with your friends or your teachers or your just peers about some of these topics. Because my kids spend a lot of time in communities that are probably more of the young earth, conservative evangelical communities, than they spend with public school students, so they feel alone sometimes in their perspectives. And so it’s good for them to sort of process through, okay, this is what I think but how do I explain it to somebody else? Or how do I understand how they see it differently? And so we have a lot of those kinds of conversations.

Hoogerwerf:

We hear a lot from young people who have been maybe kind of enamored with the simple, tidy answers that they’ve gotten, maybe from those kinds of communities. Any tips on how to raise our kids so that they are the kind of people who will do the kind of searching that is maybe messy and hard, but has a lot of fullness that comes out of it?

Hemphill:

Yeah, I mean, I think everyone is different and people have a different tolerance for ambiguity. And I’m a very high ambiguity-tolerant person. So probably my kids are frustrated with me, and that I very rarely have answers for them. And I always like, Oh, that’s such a good question. Let’s think about that for a while. Oh, I wonder, you know, that makes me think of this other question. And so I don’t know that my children come to me for answers ever. But I also think that we have to be careful not to assume that our kids’ questions are going to be the same as our questions. If we grew up in one kind of framework, and we’re raising our kids in a different one, then the questions they have are going to be different. So I’ve really had to listen hard sometimes when my kids are asking me things, because I hear the question I would have asked, coming from a totally different place. And I’m not really listening to what they’re actually asking because they’re coming from a different place where a lot of the assumptions have never been what my assumptions were. So yeah, I think it doesn’t scar your children to say, I don’t know, or that’s a really good question, I wonder the same thing. Or what are you gonna do with that question? And just keep the conversation going. And just kind of release yourself from this idea that parents have to have answers. We don’t. Because if you don’t give them the answers, they figure stuff out.

Stump:

Well, to keep the theme going in my questions, what’s been the biggest challenge and the most rewarding aspect of homeschooling your kids?

Hemphill:

I feel like because you spend so much time with them, you end up with so many shared experiences that you can draw on in your relationship. So one of the things I hear from friends of mine who don’t homeschool is, I hardly even see my kids these days. And sometimes I wish I saw my kids less. But we have so many, we’ve so much common ground, we’ve read so many books together and cried over the dogs that died. And we have so many different places we’ve gone together and learn things and we just have a lot of just shared history, that then makes us feel closer as people. And for them to their siblings, I think that they’re closer than other siblings are, just because they have done a lot of things together. And they have so many of their inside jokes, and so many of their stories that they like to reminisce about together. And so I think that’s been the biggest benefit, just kind of the bonding that happens when you have a shared life experience.

Stump:

And the challenge?

Hemphill:

Well, the challenge, I think for me is, because I didn’t get into homeschooling for some sort of ideological reason. I think if I was working in the United States, I probably would have sent my kids to school. But because of where we lived, it really was the only educational option. I was a public school teacher, I have a lot of public school teachers in my family, and I value education. And I don’t think that the schools are all failing and doing a terrible job. I think they offer things sometimes that can’t really be recreated in a homeschooling environment. So I think the challenge is just trying to make sure that my kids actually get a good education and have the chance to have peers and have the chance to have some healthy competition and kind of know where they stand and in the world and not just have a super confined existence that’s only our home. That’s been harder living cross culturally and living in a very rural area, but we’re trying to make it happen. The Internet’s amazing for that.

Stump:  

Well, I think our time has passed. This has all been very interesting, but we need to send Colin back to the controls to edit this into an episode. Need to let you get back to homeschooling your kids and writing the Integrate curriculum, translating the Bible and monitoring our forum. I hope nothing bad happened on the Forum while you were gone and here with us.

Hemphill:

Plenty of other playground monitors with whistles. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Stump: 

Thanks so much for talking, Christy.

Hemphill:

Thank you very much.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

The BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed on the ancestral land of the Anishinaabe people.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening.


Featured guest

Christy Hemphill

Christy Hemphill

Christy Hemphill and her husband Aaron work as linguistic consultants on a minority language Scripture translation project in southern Mexico, where she homeschools her three children. Prior to her work in Mexico, she worked as an educator for eight years in various contexts including high school, museum education, college, and adult education. Christy has a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics/TESOL from Old Dominion University, and a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics/Bible Translation from the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics at Dallas International University. Christy serves on the curriculum development team for BioLogos Integrate and on the BioLogos Advisory Council. She has also served as a moderator on the BioLogos discussion forum since 2015, and you can often find her there sharing her pursuit of good biblical exegesis and good science with anyone who wants to join in.

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