My Weekend with Christian Graduate Students from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz

Graduate Students listening to a lecture on having "Confidence in Complexity"
Small group discussion

At my age (26), Christian “retreats” seem far less frequent or, maybe, less memorable as they’d been when I was a teenager.  This last weekend, I had one of those “it’s so great to be alive” retreat experiences much like when I was younger.  Those who’ve gone to retreats know what I’m talking about, and if you are a Christian, who’s never gone on a retreat, you should.  For people who aren’t Christian, I really don’t know how I’d explain to you what it’s like.  Maybe I’d say something like this…

Conference Center

Last weekend, we went to a conference-center like location in the Santa Cruz mountains for 3 days with PhD and Masters students from Stanford, Berkeley, and UCSC.  It was a great networking opportunity where we were broken into small groups to discuss issues on faith, spirituality, and our vocation.  All of us, in addition to professing the same faith, are working towards becoming (leading) experts in our respective areas, such as: Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Biology, International Relations… etc.  In addition to lectures and discussion, we had a lot of relaxing, reflection time, and casual conversations.  The main speaker, Josh McPaul, had the challenge of speaking to some of the most analytical students in the world and did it so well (There’s going to be at least one more post just on the important points he made that weekend.)  A more formal version of this would be InterVarsity’s Following Christ Conference.

Instead of telling you about the great discussions and lecture content I’ve left with, I wanted to describe the off-schedule and, perhaps, most valuable times I shared with these fellow researchers: the sharing of research, sharing of books, and sharing of music.

Conversations about Research and Life

Talking about life and research

It’s great to be around a group of strangers and not only share similar vocation, but also similar fundamental beliefs about the universe.  I often find myself being such a character when among strangers, but it’s more likely that when I get the opportunity to be whoever I want, I choose to be myself, as opposed to the person who tries to fit in every other day.  I even introduced myself to others that I’m either really quiet and disinterested or I’m energetic and curious.  So, if I talk to you, it is because I want to, and if I don’t talk to you, it’s because I have nothing to say.  To which, one guy responds, “man, I hope you talk to me.”… Haha.

It’s funny, how knowing that you have so little time together makes you more willing to be yourself.  As a result, not only was there great conversations about research and video games, but also about growing up in our respective countries and how we came to be “Christian.”

I brought 4 Copies of Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution” with Me

Unwinding and reflecting

That weekend, we talked about famous authors, researchers, and Christians, of which, my three favorites are: Shane Claiborne, Francis Collins, and N. T. Wright.  Prior to the retreat, I had ordered 10 copies of Claiborne’s book.  For whatever reason, I grabbed 4 copies with me (with an implicit intention to give them away to random people).  This was a lot like the concept from the “tampon exchange“, but with books instead.  Within most of the books, I wrote something like: “From: Sherol… Take Care!”  This way, maybe they’ll read the book, learn something important, and remember me.  Similarly, in my careful decisions as to who I gave books to, I will always remember them.

Why I Bring My Saxophone Everywhere

Amazing spontaneous jam session and prayer

So, it’s not uncommon, that for no apparent reason, I bring my saxophone with me just in case there’s a chance of a spontaneous jam session.  It becomes a mission of mine to find people to come to my anticipated jam session.  For lack of a better description, I’ve grown up listening to the Chris Tomlin style “white” music for most of my Christian life, and it wasn’t until mid-college that I first heard Kirk Franklin and similar “black” gospel music.  To be honest, in Santa Cruz, there isn’t a whole lot of gospel music.  So, you can imagine how excited I was to meet Felix (and others) who had selections of gospel music on their ipods.  I met Felix the second night and in a conversation about music, found out that he just started playing saxophone 2 weeks ago.  Hah!… well, I quickly went to Bekah’s car to get my ax and we went off to jam.

Eventually, 5 of us got together and jammed until 2 am.  This amazing evening trumps everything else from the weekend.  I mean, the lessons were great, don’t get me wrong (and I even had a great conversation with the main speaker), but being able to share this sort of music from such different cultural points of view was Christianity in the most beautiful of application.  That’s why I love music, because it speaks a language that translates into all backgrounds, circumstances, and cultural upbringings.  Maybe worship means more to me when it steps outside the bounds of tradition and becomes foreign or uncomfortably fresh.

We were from different upbringings: Kenyan, Taiwanese-Canadian, Taiwanese-American, Caucasian-American, and Cantonese.  Felix and I shared gospel music with the others (who didn’t really know much about that sort of music).   Ethan and Kimmy shared a Chinese song.  Everyone knew the worship standards.  We even played some jazz.  Talk about a diverse night of music.

Afterwards, we just prayed.  I nominated the oldest, Ethan, who was also worship leader for the first half of the retreat to pray.  It was late, but he made all of us pray, and it was AWESOME!  I feel that times like this, where we aren’t following a schedule to be the most real of any sort of fellowship.  The truth is, we may never see each other again, but I love them so much.   It’s as if, in one evening, they now know me better than so many people I see everyday.  We are gonna bring plenty of jams for next year’s Grad Winter Retreat.

As for the rest of you: get ready for a music-sharing jam session for the Delaware ReClaiM conference in August.  Start preparing your songs 🙂

Felix, Chemical Engineer from Stanford, listens to Shane&Shane on my XPS, while Matt (former Shane&Shane groupie) talks about music.

10 thoughts on “My Weekend with Christian Graduate Students from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz

  1. nice blog, enjoyed reading it. you’ll definitely see us again, we’re always here, just come up 😉 I’ll take a look at learning “The Answer” when I have the chance. but I checked out some of the others songs by Shane and Shane and saw the amazing triple strumming the guy does, I think I want to learn that now…

  2. @Ethan,

    Hey!!! I know I know. Kimmy said I sound emo, but the point is that it doesn’t take much to spend meaningful time together. Maybe we could all afford to live in the moment more 🙂

    Also, I wanted to note that I have hit all three categories of “christian, culture, and career” in one post.

  3. Its been too long since my last late night jam session. Although I was at brew haha the other day and saw a flyer for a weekly open jam session at a restaurant/bar here in DE! Hopefully I’ll check it out soon.

  4. Sherol!

    You’re amazing! When can I see you again?? Are you coming down to Palo Alto some time soon or should I start planning a trip to Santa Cruz?

    P.S. – I love how you start with “at my age”. You should have brought your walker and your cane to the retreat! 😛

    P.P.S. – The sax is coming along great. I can now play a full 2 octaves! 😀

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