The man dubbed President Obama’s pastor, Joshua DuBois, said Monday night he is dismayed that Americans turn to God to resolve “infinitesimally small” questions not worthy of the Almighty.“If there is one gnawing sadness I have about the contemporary state of religion in America,” DuBois said, “it is that instead of seeking God’s name for the big things, the nearly impossible things, the things that stretch faith nearly to the breaking point, that require a strong God, far too often we make God do the infinitesimally small.”God used to get called on for higher causes, but not now, DuBois said, because people are afraid he won’t show up. DuBois said people have to take a leap of faith and risk failure on their own. He delivered the annual Noble Lecture, titled “Approaching the Ledge: Why America Needs a Crisis of Faith — and Why, in Order to Save Religion, We Must Be Willing to Let It Die.”DuBois was special assistant to Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships until early last year. He also is author of “The President’s Devotional,” a new collection of 365 inspiring daily prayers and poems that he had sent to the president. He is now a weekly religion columnist for “The Daily Beast.”DuBois said people should invoke God’s name when confronting seemingly intractable concerns, such as race relations, same-sex marriage, and raising from 32 percent the number of people with no religious affiliation.“Today, our courageous moral leaders seek God’s intervention for chicken sandwiches and contraceptive pills and whether the movie ‘Noah’ is an accurate depiction of the Arc,” said DuBois, citing conservative Christians. Liberals, too, “play it safe,” he said. At political gatherings, “The Bible has been replaced by ‘The Chomsky Reader.’” Progressive churches, which led the Civil Rights Movement, “have lost their ability to introduce a broken world to the healing grace of God.”Progressive churches “don’t think beyond a single tweet, rally, or meeting,” and since the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, black churches “have not coordinated a response to ‘stand your ground’” laws on firearms, he said.DuBois also didn’t spare those who filled the Memorial Church’s pews.“We’ve made God small, crying out to God for our personal comforts and pleasures,” he said. “A great majority of our religious discourse is built around pedestrian requests. ‘Oh, God, Give me a promotion, multiply my bank account.’”DuBois told three stories meant to demonstrate how people in crisis can be rewarded when they “approach the ledge” and ask for God’s help.In the Book of Kings, Ahab and Elijah duel to see whether Baal or God is more powerful. Ahab’s prophets unsuccessfully call on their gods to accept Ahab’s sacrifice, but Elijah’s call to God to have his sacrifice accepted is answered with fire from the sky.In Montgomery, Ala., in 1957, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. overcame threats to his family and continued his role leading the Civil Rights struggle. “He said, ‘God be real now, or don’t be real at all.’”Then, there was DuBois’ mother’s story. DuBois was raised in Cambridge by a single parent who never let poverty deprive her son of a happy childhood. Their VW Beetle had a hole in the floor she called a “reverse sun-roof.” For his birthday, they sprayed each other at the self-serve car wash.“I remember thinking, ‘I wish other moms were that cool,’ ” DuBois said.But unknown to DuBois, his mother lived in despair, dogged by bills and landlords. One night, in the bed they shared in their small apartment, she considered suicide, he said. She asked God for “one last chance.”“She walked right up to that ledge and demanded that the power of God call on her that very moment,” DuBois said. “My mother said she felt a physical presence on her shoulder so firm it startled her, so she knew we would be OK. Instead of her ending it all, it was a beginning, and she was determined to fight on.”Not everyone who asks for God’s help will get it, and that’s OK, he said. Jesus asked for God’s help on the cross, and still died, but he was resurrected.“Even if we fall for a little while, after a great and righteous leap, we will soar into the eternal,” DuBois said. “Even if we walk right up to the ledge and hit the ground, your very imprint will be a masterpiece, and you will be restored like Christ.”The Noble series was established by Nannie Yulee Noble in 1898, to discuss important themes in Christian thought. It is dedicated to the memory of her husband, William Belden Noble, a student at Harvard Divinity School who died while preparing for a ministry career. Past lecturers have included Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey Cox.Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, moderated.
Agriculture — Georgia’s top industry — was featured prominently this week at stops on the University of Georgia Griffin and Tifton campuses during the university’s annual New Faculty Tour.The tour, which introduces new UGA faculty members to economic mainstays throughout the state during a five-day trip, visited the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (FoodPIC) at UGA-Griffin on Wednesday. On Thursday, the tour stopped at UGA-Tifton, where faculty visited the energy-efficient Future Farmstead home and learned about peanut breeding and dairy research.“We are very happy the New Faculty Tour made a stop at the Griffin campus this year,” said Lew Hunnicutt, assistant provost and UGA-Griffin director. “They had a great tour and a great meal, and I think they left impressed with what we offer at the Griffin campus.”FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey led the group through the center, where UGA faculty members help food entrepreneurs with product development, packaging, food safety, consumer acceptance and marketing. FoodPIC personnel have worked on improved drying technologies for Georgia’s rabbiteye blueberries, frozen desserts made with Georgia-grown fruits and a grain-based milk beverage that’s now being produced in California.Kealey also reflected on his time on the New Faculty Tour two years ago.“It was the best week I could’ve spent getting to know what happens in Georgia and who the economic leaders in our state are,” Kealey said. “I know this week will benefit these new faculty the same way it did for me.”In terms of Georgia agricultural production, which totaled $13.8 billion in farm gate value in 2015, UGA-Tifton is an important stop on the tour every year, said Joe West, assistant dean for UGA-Tifton.“What makes Georgia agriculture unique is its diversity,” West said. “Multiple commodities dominate the agricultural landscape, and I’m glad we are able to showcase a few of those.”At UGA-Tifton, the group toured the Future Farmstead, an energy-efficient home, and learned about the technology behind it from UGA scientist Craig Kvien. UGA precision agriculture specialist George Vellidis talked to the tour group about water resource management, specifically irrigation efficiency. Corley Holbrook, U.S. Department of Agriculture supervisory research geneticist, and Juliet Chu, UGA research professional, discussed how genetics can increase peanut yields.As is the case every year, a visit to the campus dairy was the highlight of Thursday morning. Tour participants fed the calves and learned about dairy research from UGA animal and dairy scientists John Bernard and Sha Tao.“It is important for these new faculty members to learn about the importance of agriculture to the state and the many ways the University of Georgia is helping Georgia farmers sustain their operations,” said UGA Interim Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Laura Meadows. “Most of the faculty members on the tour are new to Georgia, many are new to the South, and they need to understand the major drivers of the economy here.”The UGA-Tifton and UGA-Griffin stops are two of almost 20 Georgia locations that the tour will visit by week’s end. Other stops included the Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega and Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville on Monday; the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta on Tuesday; and the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins and Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth on Wednesday.Following the stop in Tifton, the New Faculty Tour schedule included visits to the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross; Gulfstream Aerospace, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and Wormsloe Historic Site in Savannah; Georgia Ports Authority in Garden City; and Washington County, where new faculty learned about the Archway Partnership, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the kaolin industry.The UGA New Faculty Tour started in 1977. In 40 years, more than 1,400 UGA faculty have gone on the tour, which has been held for all but seven years since its inception. Tours were canceled in 1991, 2003, 2004, and from 2009 to 2012 due to budget constraints.The tour is coordinated by the UGA Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and is made possible by major support from the UGA Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. The tour also receives support from the UGA Alumni Association and numerous other units and university supporters.