Season 1 - Episode 1: Andrew K. Benton
Andrew K. Benton has served as the seventh president of Pepperdine University since 2000 and continues to lead Pepperdine to prominence among the nation's top universities. A lawyer by training, President Benton regularly teaches courses within the University and is deeply involved in the lives of students—often being called "the students' president."
Sara Barton: Hello, this is Sarah Barton, the University Chaplin at Pepperdine University.
First of all, thank you for listening to a new initiative that we have, a spiritual,
live podcast. One of the goals that we have for this podcast is to bring our community
together around topics that pertain to spiritual life, to faith, to the ways that
we can individually and communally serve God and follow God in this life. And so we
will hear from all kind of people. We'll hear from people who will challenge us in
our faith. We'll hear from people who will comfort us in our faith, who will bring
joy. We will have some hard conversations and ask hard questions. This will be in
dialogue with students and faculty, staff, guests and President Benton, who is our
So thank you for giving this podcast a listen, and it's great to have you with us today.
Sara Barton: Welcome to Pepperdine's spiritual, live podcast, a podcast about how
people in our community along with our friends and guests are finding and joining
God's good work in the world. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find," and I will be
talking to people who are doing just that. Let's get started.
Today my guest is the seventh president of Pepperdine University, Andrew K. Benton, otherwise lovingly known as Andy and lovingly known as AKB. Andy has served in higher education for nearly 45 years even though it did not start out that way. Young Andy Benton in Laurence, Kansas planned on a career as an attorney or probate judge in his hometown and earned a Bachelor's degree in American Studies and then a law degree to prepare for those dreams. But somewhere along the way, Andy found his way into higher education, teaching and administration. President Benton teaches on a regular basis still to this day and is deeply involved in the lives of students. He is active in legal, educational, athletic and community organizations. He has chaired the Board of Directors of the American Counsel on Education and presently serves as the chair of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Add to all this, Andy is a faith leader and spiritual example on Pepperdine's Campus. He is a husband and father and grandfather and a dear son to his parents. And he's God's faithful child. Andy, welcome to the podcast.
Andrew Benton: It is my delight to be with you, Sarah. Thanks for inviting me.
Sara Barton: Is there anything you would like to add to this brief bio that I've given? Anything else we should know about you as we get started?
Andrew Benton: I would say you've been a little too generous. I'm just a regular guy who prays every day and whose life has turned out a whole lot better than he could have ever imagined.
Sara Barton: Aw. I love hearing that. Take me back for just a few minutes. Take me back to your early life. I always love to hear how God was working in people's lives. We don't really realize it when we're young, but then we look back and we realize God was really working. Can you tell me about some of your first spiritual experiences or religious experiences and how does that still stay with you today? What was it like for you as a young person, especially in regard to faith?
Andrew Benton: I've always been very much an individual who never followed anyone's herd. The reason that's relevant is when a lot of my contemporaries were obeying Christ and becoming Christians at younger ages, I resisted that because I wanted to do it on my own terms and in my own time. There was never any question that I would be a Christian and faithful in that way, but I had to do it in my own way and so I did. I think really good for me was the fact that I had early opportunities to be a leader in my high school and in my church and I was given speaking opportunities and for me, speaking is tantamount to honing my thoughts. I like to write my thoughts out and I become stronger and more confirmed, and so that started pretty early in my life, about 14 or 15 and I guess that never stopped.
Sara Barton: Tell me a little bit about that resistance. That's interesting to me.
Kind of that resistance to not go with the crowd when it came to spiritual matters.
What was going on inside as you were knowing I am going to follow God, but I'm not
quite ready. I'll do it in my own time. Do you recall prayers or do you recall conversations
between you and God or between you and your preacher or your parents or any of that?
What was that like?
Andrew Benton: Interesting. I haven't thought about that in a long time. So I had people who were putting peer pressure and church adult leadership pressure on me, but it always felt to me like they were trying to get me to do it for their purposes. Not for my own heart and soul. On the other hand, my parents never pressured me. We were there Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday nights and any other time that the doors-
Sara Barton: That's how it was back in the day.
Andrew Benton: ... were open. That's just how it was back in the day. And my parents had it right. Some of my peers had It wrong, and so I waited until I was good and ready and they sang number seven of the blue book, All things were ready, and I was.
Sara Barton: And you was. You was. You were.
Andrew Benton: I was.
Sara Barton: That's great. I love that because I can picture that scene with the song at the end and that moment when you do make that decision, this is when I will say this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.
Andrew Benton: And I would add [inaudible 00:06:51] outward manifestation of my obedience was important, but my heart had been changed earlier than that and I think once again, through great examples in my own parents and their faithfulness and their parents and all my aunts and uncles. I wouldn't say that it was a forgone conclusion, only that I would do it in my own way and anybody who knew me back then knew that I didn't follow anyone's fixed path. I did it my own way.
Sara Barton: You know, sometimes there are people with these dramatic testimonies. These stories that just were they were far, far from God and then they came to God and it's just these stories that you think, wow that's a story. But sometimes the story is faithful parents took me to church, I was thinking about it, I was on a journey and to me, that's a testimony that needs to be told often. I think that's testifying to God's work in you and in your life and in so many ways.
Andrew Benton: It's just an absolute truth in my life, and it will be true for my brother who ... I became much more of a teacher than a preacher. I spent a lot of time speaking to youth groups and traveling and doing youth conferences. My brother became a pretty good preacher and was a young minister for I would say 17 years. That just wasn't my direction, but I don't know that we have to follow anyone else's mold. I didn't. I did my thing, and he did his.
Sara Barton: Well it's nice to hear about your parents who gave you that freedom to choose and find your own way when it came to all kinds of things. What I'm curious about your vocational decisions. I said a little bit in the introduction you were thinking about being an attorney or a probate judge. You studied all the right things for that career path and ended up on a very different career path. For you, what role did faith play in your vocational decisions? I'm curious. I can remember back in the day as we said already, back in times where if someone was going to be a lawyer, you didn't exactly see that as this faithful calling. Now I could push back on that because I see different things in it, but I'm curious if anyone, how you thought of that? What was the role of faith in deciding to go to law school, to be a judge perhaps? And then after that, I'd like to hear more about what you ended up doing.
Andrew Benton: Well, when I was relatively young, I would say 11 or 12, I was walking down Massachusetts Street in Laurence, Kansas, that's my hometown and still where I find my roots, and my father looked at a man who was walking on the opposite side of street pacing about the same speed that we were walking. And my dad said, "That's the most respected man in our community." And I said, "Well, who is that?" And Dad said, "That's Judge James W. Paddock. He's the county judge, and he is the most respected man in our community." And I thought to myself at that time, I want some of that. And so I never lost that. I never forgot that, and I began to watch Judge Paddock. I got to know his son Jim who is a very good friend of mine.
Andrew Benton: So then I go to college. I'm involved in student politics. What does one do after college? Some of my friends became bankers and accountants. Those are very popular professions. I wanted to go to law school and eventually did.
Sara Barton: And where did you do that?
Andrew Benton: Oklahoma City University. I tell my students today that I wanted to go to law school in the worst way and so I did. I went days, I went nights, I went Saturdays. I went year-round. Finished in a little over two years.
Sara Barton: I've heard Debbie talk about that, about all the things that she did
while you were going to law school.
Andrew Benton: Well she paid my way. I got out of law school owing nothing, and I've been paying her back ever since.
Sara Barton: That sounds like a fair deal.
Andrew Benton: In a very delightful way. We were very much partners in the decision and so I graduate after this very tightened schedule, passed the bar, practiced for four years. Get an opportunity to go to Dallas and practice there and then at the same time I get a call from Pepperdine. David Davenport who later became president and has been one of my best friends ever since said, "Why don't," after reuniting after being apart for a number of years. He said, "Why don't you come represent Pepperdine as it develops a graduate campus and does some other things. Community relations." And I thought what a wonderful adventure. Debbie agreed wholeheartedly that if we were going to do anything as ridiculous as move to California that we should do it early and get it out of our system.
Sara Barton: Yeah. Did that feel really far away?
Andrew Benton: No, it was very frightening, and we had one child at the time. But we quickly learned that we could make new friends. That was a very important lesson and I tell students about that all of the time. That you can't assume that things have to be the way they've always been. And you can be successful in a lot of different environments. And you need to listen to God's call and to your own heart in such things and so we moved to California 34 years ago and found love all over again with people and challenges. I've always been a guy who needed handwork and meaning. Not just handwork not just meaning. I've needed both. I found that. Through every position that I've had at Pepperdine, I've found that and I have worked in the regulatory arena. I've worked in general administration building, a lot of the buildings on campus. I worked in fundraising. I guess we all work in fundraising, don't we? And then I was Executive Vice President for nine years and I often say that I think I was Oz. people didn't know who I was. Who was that man behind the curtain that's pulling these levers and pushing these buzzers and making the bells ring and that's what I did. And nobody knew who I was and others were able to out front.
Andrew Benton: So then I became President and I mean, I don't think there's a better presidency in all of America.
Sara Barton: To get to be President of Pepperdine.
Andrew Benton: Yeah, beats having a real job.
Sara Barton: Well what has it been like? You mentioned that, I'm hearing a little bit of the same young boy, the one who did an independent thing. I'm hearing a bit of that in the story of you and Debbie deciding to do something independent. Move away from family, move somewhere new and do something that involved new ideas, new buildings, new positions and even a new career in many ways from what you had planned on. So I'm hearing that theme of that same young boy doing that's indicative of some of the decisions that you have made. Where was God in that for you? Was there some kind of ... some people hear God very clearly and know this is exactly what I'm supposed to do and sometimes it's more that we look back. How do you make sense of God's call in your life in those vocational choices? I know that we live in a community where vocational choices come up daily I guess for our students. What am I going to do with my life? What will I do? What does God want me to do? What is my calling? As you look back, how was God guiding and directing all of that?
Andrew Benton: My first reaction is to say that it was a full partnership, but that doesn't give God his due or his justice. So He was the senior partner and it was for Him to show me the way. Two things come quickly to mind. First, on February the 2nd of 1984, I packed my law books and my clothing into my car and drove out to California by myself. Debbie and Hailey stayed behind to sell our home. I don't really think I stopped praying for three days. Because I was alone in the car, and there's just so much music that you can listen to and so it was almost constant prayer for three days. Several years later I was doing a bible study, and some parents came with their children that night and the mother of the child referred to conversational prayer which I'd never thought of before as a concept. That's exactly what that was.
Sara Barton: In the car. All that way.
Andrew Benton: In the car, by myself. The lips moving, audible if there were anybody else in the car and I'm sure truckers and a lot of people passing me wondering what's this madman all about.
Sara Barton: Yeah that was back before we would have been talking to someone else through our phones. Yeah.
Andrew Benton: So that's the first something that comes to mind. The other one is that I arrived on the 6th of February, no on the 4th of February and they immediately sent me to Sacramento to lobby three bills. And I'd never lobbied before. I knew the rudiments and so I did. I came back and there were so many nights when I'd come back to the apartment where I was staying and I don't think, God, I'm really not qualified for this. I had no idea what I was getting into. And it was for the first time in my life that I learned to pray on my knees because I was missing Debbie and I was missing Hailey. I was scared to death that for the first time in my life, I might have started something that I couldn't finish. And I've always been about the finish. And so it was very humbling. I was good for me. I learned upon whom I could rely. And I had to rely more heavily on God I think in all of that. So the conversational prayer on the way out, learning the humility that goes along with praying on one's knees to make sense of the day and I still have those moments today, many years later.
Sara Barton: I would guess there have been so many that it would be hard to choose other times in the presidency, while you've been president here that that prayer life was essential. But could you share times when prayer supported you in the job or supported this community together?
Andrew Benton: It would always-
Sara Barton: ... together.
Andrew Benton: It would always be born of the human dynamic. So when faced with a lot of criticism that seemed very unfair, how does one handle it? How does one make sense of it? I think prayer was a big part of the answer. When our son, Chris, had some issues ... I mean, I still pray for Chris every day, and pray for our daughter Hailey and our grandchildren and my marriage and my job and all those things. Every day, early in the morning.
Andrew Benton: But reliant prayer is just of a different genus and of a different experience I think. Is when you just ... I think some of my most, Sarah, I think some of my most articulate prayers are one-word prayers, where I just say the word, "God" and let go. That's probably Andy praying at his best.
Sara Barton: Just "God."
Andrew Benton: Just "God."
Sara Barton: That says so much. It really does. As you know, I love it when you pray.
Andrew Benton: Thank you.
Sara Barton: And I do feel that you have shared a gift of prayer with people in the community. Unseen, when people don't know your praying, but also at important times in our communal life at Pepperdine. I think one of the things that I'd like people that listen to this podcast to know is how central prayer is on this campus. You are not the only pray-er, you know?
Andrew Benton: Thank goodness.
Sara Barton: You pray. Yeah, you lead, but we experience times of prayer, we come
together for prayer, we ... I can't think of meetings I've been in that didn't start
with prayer. Almost every meeting. Many of our faculty start class with prayer. Our
students. Oh, my goodness, I love to hear our students pray.
What role do you feel like that has had, even just recently for us, in some of our crises? Prayer, our faith? How has that ... what have you noticed of that in the last few weeks?
Andrew Benton: Well, how proud I am that this is a praying community. That we're not
so caught up in our practices and procedures and manuals and graduate degrees that
we don't humble ourselves and say, "We simply can't do this without you, God." I insist
on interviewing every tenure-track faculty candidate, and at some point in the 45-minute
interview, 30 to 45 minute interview, I will say something to the effect, "Well, Sarah,
I've read this beautiful statement that you've written about your support for the
university's mission, but please put that aside and just talk to me about that."
What I'm looking for is sincerity. I'm looking for, not just somebody who's written a good answer in response to a test question. But I'm looking for someone who is going to bring that faith into the classroom, which should inform the classroom in dealing with stressful times. Which should inform the classroom in efforts at unity. Which should enable the community to come together instantly and be of one mind and one heart.
Regardless of one's confession of faith, prayer is central. Prayer is central. And so it's communal and it's enabling. It's ennobling. It's always encouraging. It is absolutely the right thing to do in times of mountaintop experiences, but at least as much and probably more so when we walk through the valley of the shadow of Death.
Sara Barton: Yeah. When we have those moments where we don't know what else to do
except pray, "God." We turn and we just pray, "God, be with us in the challenges that
we face." I know that we're mentoring students who are watching. We're supporting
them, we're with them, they teach us just like we teach them, but together we are,
as a community, doing something that will make sense for the rest of life.
I do know, though, we both know, that there is a lot of religious cynicism in our world today. It's not just from young people, it's from many people, are experiencing religious cynicism. Maybe they discuss deconstruction of faith and they're going through something where they feel their faith is being deconstructed, brought back to it's very ... You're really looking at those very central things that you just need to go back and look at and say, "Do I believe these things or not?"
Have you ever experienced times like that, of deconstruction, you might call it, or religious cynicism, and if so, what did you do to get through moments, days, times, seasons like that?
Andrew Benton: I probably experienced more of that than I am able to acknowledge,
because it does not move me. People who know me even a little bit know that I'm not
... I don't bend to that. In Washington, I'm doing the closing remarks at our annual
meeting as I hand the gavel to the next chairman of the NAICU, and the remarks that
I'm going to speak on, the topic, the sufficiency of Christ. Which is going to surprise
some people. But you know, good on 'em, as the Aussies saw. Good on 'em. So we're
gonna talk about that. Christ is enough. Which, when I offered a prayer at Elaina's
memorial service, that was a theme for me, that Christ is always enough.
I'm just not troubled by that. I would say, as another has said, that Heaven has always been my plan A, I don't have a plan B. So we're just gonna work off Plan A.
Sara Barton: What do you do when you encounter people, then, who are going through a time like that? How do we lead in a community where we know many people are experiencing ... you know, in my job, that I discuss and talk with students and we get together with them at Veritas Club and we ask the hard questions. What has that been like? How have you encountered moments like that through the years? Do you think there's more questioning like that now than there was 20 years ago? Or is it always, that's just something some people have to go through in their faith?
Andrew Benton: See, I think there's more questioning today and I think that's really
a good thing. I think that our students, today, are developing their own faith, their
own confession of faith. Their faith may look a lot like their mothers' and their
fathers' and their grandparents', but it is their own faith. I think that is a faith
that is more likely to stand the test of time, if it's your own faith.
The questioning and the challenging, when I run into it, is not troubling to me. I encourage it. I respond to it by asking questions, and by trying to get them to articulate what their thinking is. I think, one night after one of our devotionals at the Brock House, an individual came out to me as gay. So what do you do with that? So we talked about it for a while and I asked him a lot of questions. And I ended by saying, "May I pray for you? And will you pray for me?" And so we did. And there's a binding that goes soul-to-soul, relationship-to-relationship, human being to human being when you do pray for one another. It's like ... I've just made a promise about you and the rest of your life.
I just think prayer is so powerful. It doesn't mean that we don't need to go out and be obedient by using our skills to the best of our ability. But it is definitely a ... I dunno. It's great energy for me to do what I think is the right thing.
Sara Barton: Yeah, it's certainly a conversation starter. That's what prayer is, rather
than a conversation ender. What I heard you, in that story, sharing, was continuing
a conversation with a student, with God, instead of ending a conversation. I know
that some people might think that at a Christian university we can't ask really hard
questions. But I've noticed how open we are in this community to facing hard questions
together, in the talking about it. I can think of times when we've gathered and really
wrestled with things. Over politics. Over every question that can be asked. We're
not afraid of it.
So I know some of that's your leadership, some of that is the people who work here. Some of it is our students. We have good question-askers. Can you think of any students through the years ... who is a student that has taught you something in faith in these years? Is there a student or students, can you remember who you thought, "Wow, I just learned something I didn't know about God or about faith"?
Andrew Benton: I think, without naming names, I think of a young woman who, I think was the product of two very loving parents, who taught her to be actively faithful. She would frequently sit with me at my table in the cafeteria over the dish room.
Sara Barton: I'll clarify that for the listeners, that you often choose the same seat in the cafeteria. It's near the ... what did you call it? The dish ... ?
Andrew Benton: The dish room.
Sara Barton: The dish room. Yeah.
Andrew Benton: Because they can't get by me. There's no place else where I can sit in the cafeteria where students can't evade me if they're inclined to evade me.
Sara Barton: I've sometimes wondered why you picked that spot, but that makes sense.
Andrew Benton: That's it. If they give me a sideways look then I'll slide in a, like I did many times today, "How are your finals going? What are your plans for next week?" Just to-
Sara Barton: It's also the lost-and-found table, which is kind of ironic, perhaps [crosstalk 00:28:58]
Andrew Benton: There is some irony there.
Sara Barton: -that all the lost-and-found items are on that same table.
Andrew Benton: Yeah. Maybe some human beings too.
Sara Barton: Yeah, yep.
Andrew Benton: Yeah, she impressed me with how surrounded she was in her life with
her faith and thinking about Christ and him as a brother. That taught me a closeness.
I am ... one-on-one, God and Andy. It comes pretty easily. But I'm not a very emotional
worshiper. I'm in the moment, but I'm not a very emotive person in that regard. And
she taught me the value of that, and I will not forget that. She's gone on to live
a life of service that is truly exemplary. I think early decisions she made were very
good for her.
I'm being a bit evasive, but I'm also protecting confidentiality, so ...
Sara Barton: Yeah. I think that's good. Well, I know that when we work with young
people, their faith can be really inspiring. It can lead us as we lead them, it can
challenge us as we challenge them. That's one of the fun ... that's one reason I love
the jobs that we have and the fun that we get to have with these new young people
who show up every semester.
Can you think of anything in your faith practice or your religious practice now that 20 years ago you would have thought, "Oh my goodness. I would not ... that would not be a part of my life." Maybe something that, because you've been at Pepperdine, has become secondhand. Or something that you're used to that would have surprised Andy who was driving out from Oklahoma?
Andrew Benton: Well. I've had a couple of experiences where I sit down with an adult
colleague, say a coach or a faculty member on the tenure track, and something I wouldn't
have done 20 years ago, I will do today, is I will say something like, "So Lauren,
tell me about your faith journey?" And sometimes Lauren will say to me, "Can you ask
me that?" And I will say, "I just did. Tell me about your faith journey."
I've had one instance where, it wasn't a Lauren, it was a Jim, and Jim said, "You know, I really don't have one." And I had began to engage him on that and he eventually became a Christian and is very active today. Now, I take no credit for that. But I do think I might have asked the right question at the right time.
Sara Barton: But back, maybe 20 years ago-
Andrew Benton: 20 years ago.
Sara Barton: -that would have been a fearful conversation to bring up, or awkward
Andrew Benton: Not fearful, but I think I might not have been as comfortable in my own skin then, as I am today. I humorously say, "What are they gonna do, fire me?"
Sara Barton: That's true. Or when your at the meeting in DC that you described, what are they gonna do?
Andrew Benton: Well, I'm gonna tell them some stories that I hope makes that come to life for them. I know they're all going to be expecting me to talk about the death of Elaina and the fires. I probably will make some reference to that, but that's not really the origin of that particular theme, the sufficiency of Christ. It is that we look for in life things on which we can rely that will never fail us, and that would be an example of something that never fails.
Sara Barton: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It sounds like that has been with you a long time. That's not something new, this sufficiency of Christ. I hear that in your story and what you've been sharing so far. That's not new. Where did that come from?
Andrew Benton: I think dark moments where I didn't know where else to turn. Like I
said, I've always been a plan A sort of a guy, but how did I make sense of my father's
passing even though he was ... up in years and had lived a good life? He died. How
do I make sense of that? How do I work with my mother in her sorrow. How do I model,
as my brother and I conducted that funeral service, for people in our community who
knew us as people of faith, but not much about that faith.
I think that's a great story to tell. I think when we've had difficulty, that's always my default position, is I can take calculated risks because Christ is always sufficient. I try to do everything in good faith and so far it's worked out okay, I think.
Sara Barton: So far. Yeah, that's good. I like hearing that. Is there something in
the Bible, then. Churches of Christ that we come from, Churches of Christ are people
who know, study the Bible. Is there ... what role has the Bible played in your faith
as a young person but also now.
I love it, actually, that we have the Bible on the stained glass in the chapel, I love that. I think it ...
Andrew Benton: The Tree of Life, is what that's called. The Tree of Life.
Sara Barton: Oh, is it? I didn't know that.
Andrew Benton: That's the official title of it.
Sara Barton: Of the ... just the very central part or the entire ... ? Do you know, the ... ?
Andrew Benton: I knew the husband and wife who put that stained glass together. He told me it was entitled The Tree of Life. I think it was the word of God in the middle and then everything else emanates out from that.
Sara Barton: Oh, I love that. I didn't know that.
Andrew Benton: One hundred and twenty-eight different colors. About 25 different workmen and women, assembling on the ground while this gentleman's wife stood on top of the roof of their garage and directed them. Putting it together. And it became the largest expanse of stained glass in southern California for many, many, many years.
Sara Barton: The Tree of Life. I love that.
Andrew Benton: That's where it comes from, yep.
Sara Barton: That Bible says so much to me when I'm there because I love the story of the Bible. Of course I believe the story points to God, to God's work through Christ who is sufficient, to the power of the Holy Spirit. There's something about that that I can see in it. But the Bible, for you, what role does the Bible play in your faith? Are you a student of the Bible, are you ... do you read the Bible regularly?
Andrew Benton: I camp on every grace passage that I can find.
Sara Barton: Those are your favorites?
Andrew Benton: I desperately need Romans, in the eight chapter. I think ... no, I
... the Bible is a frequent companion and as I've mentioned once, I think it's the
... is a frequent companion, and as I've mentioned once, and I think this is the last time I'm going to say anything about it but when my son, our son, had some difficulty, the silver lining was that other parents would come to me and try to debrief, try to download, and I would point to them Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child the way that we would go, and when he's old he will not depart.", to give them hope that the current challenges are not the end, that there's always hope, and then because I live, and sometimes in a world of calamity, I'm deeply touched by the passage, "Be still and know that I am God." I sometimes pray, "God, thank you for being God so that I don't have to be." I have no obligation to be God in my life or anybody else's. I get to be the beneficiary for the fact that I have God in my life.
Sara Barton: Yeah. Well, I appreciate that you've brought up what happened with Chris. I think that any time we talk about the spiritual life we have to talk about hard things. There's no way to talk about spiritual life and only talk about joy, or only talk about when everything works out the way that somebody might want things to work out. How do you feel like the hard things of life, all of them, have contributed to make you a stronger person of faith? You talked about your fathers funeral. I know you've mentioned to me though you'd like to go visit your mom in the nursing home. She's declining, and ailing, so how has all that ... you said Christ is sufficient. Day to day, how does that get you through the day when sometimes life is hard? I say that because I know that students are asking me questions like this, how do you get through something hard?
Andrew Benton: I deal with it straight up. I just got back from visiting my mother.
Sara Barton: You told me you were going to, yeah.
Andrew Benton: Yeah, I was there the last two days, and I left Oklahoma at 1:45 a.m.
your time, getting back to the office a little after 8:00 this morning, and yeah,
I had a great time with my mother. She has full on dementia, did she know what I was
saying to her? I don't know, but I believe, I always believe that she does. This time
I went with a message to tell her how much ... how grateful I am that she introduced
me to music in my life, and demanded that I take piano lessons, and when the day finally
came that I said, "Mom, I think it's time for me to move on.", and she didn't resist,
she let me move on, but as soon as she let me move on, back to sort of quintessential
me, then I started practicing like a crazy man.
When I had to play somebody else's music you could barely get me to do 45 minutes a day much less 60, but when I started playing my music I'd go two three hours to the point that she would ask me to stop. Music changed my life, because as a fundamentally shy person music was always the way that I would bridge the gap to other human beings, and sometimes other musicians. My mother and I sometimes speak without speaking, and I know exactly ... I think I know what she's thinking.
Sara Barton: Do you sing with her? Are you a singer?
Andrew Benton: Sometimes I do. Oh yeah, absolutely. She had a beautiful soprano voice, and I was a reedy tenor. No, I remember singing four part harmony. My father was a song leader. My brother's still a very good vocalist. I know that my mother yearns to be with my father, and my father in his own way yearns to be with mom, and my mother hasn't seen her father since he died when she was about 17 years of age, so I never knew my mothers father, but somehow the sweetness of all of that coming together at some point sustains her, I know, even in her dementia, and me in my dementia probably.
Sara Barton: I don't know about that. It sounds like you mention music there, what role does music play in your faith? You spoke about that jus a little bit, is there a song that especially connects you with God that is ... you've said already you're not a really emotional person, so I'll just poke you just a little bit and say, is there music that brings out that emotion in you?
Andrew Benton: I'm probably happiest when I am alone with a piano, and able to play what I want to play as gently or as boisterously as I want to play. Debbie used to say that I could always tell what kind of a day Andy had based on the kind of music he was playing. So, even though I'm of the acapella tradition and always will be, on Sunday mornings I still like to play.
Sara Barton: Mm-hmm (affirmative), you like to play?
Andrew Benton: Just gets me in the mood for that, and sometimes I will take hymns and adjust them into something that is even more meaningful.
Sara Barton: Do you ever play in the chapel, on that piano in the chapel?
Andrew Benton: I don't think I have.
Sara Barton: Students pull it out and play like you're describing, and then people just sort of ... it's kind of a newer experience we've seen in the last few years, they'll go and just play. Some sing and play, and some will just play, and something about that music filling that space is moving in a spiritual way. There's something about that expression. Even after we had found out about losing Elena we had the chapel open just with musicians playing, and we found out how much that had connected with so many people. There's something about music and prayer.
Andrew Benton: I default ... I play a little guitar, and I frequently default to a song that our pulpit minister, who is one of my fathers best friends, taught us in youth group and it's, "If I live well, praise the Lord. If I die well, praise the Lord. If I live or die, my only cry will be Jesus in me, praise the Lord.", and you can play that in beautiful minor keys, and so I mean, I have pieces I like to play, not really for anyone else, but just for me in my own devotion.
Sara Barton: Just for you, in the car alone.
Andrew Benton: Yes.
Sara Barton: Sometimes now that's the only time we get in this world, this busy world, being alone in a car is one of the only times we can just sing to our hearts content, as a bad singer or a good singer. At least you're a good singer. I'm a bad singer. It's the only place that it happens, but there's something freeing about that just to be with God in these individual moments.
Andrew Benton: I mean, it is true, you need space. I mean, I love car trips. I've done my route 66 trip several times, and that's ... I always take music with me, but I seldom use it. I just generally ... it's just peace, and the songs of the road.
Sara Barton: Well, you've talked about these quiet ... these times of connecting with God, and your prayer life, and you've said you're this individual, what is communal spiritually with you? What fills you in a communal sense when it comes to your spiritual life?
Andrew Benton: Well-formed devotional thoughts. Personal evocative prayer. Great singing, and as I mentioned I'm an acapella sort of a guy, and there's nothing quite like good four part harmony, and quartets, and octets, and I love good music of all kinds.
Sara Barton: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I like that too. I like music. I think another one for me is the Lord's Supper, just to do that alone is very different from when we're together, and the thoughts that come with it are well presented and thought out, I love that. Before we close our conversation today, I want to practice something that people of faith have done for centuries, read our sacred texts, read some of the bible together and ask God to lead and guide us through this word, and see what word from God we might hear from Isaiah 58. I'm actually going to pray, and then read the scripture, and then I just want to see what we learned from this passage. Let's pray.
Sara Barton: God, we are grateful for your word. We are grateful for the ways that you move in our lives, in moments of great joy, and in moments of adversity. As we come to this passage in Isaiah we confess we are busy people, and so we look to your word to guide and lead us as we share this together, even on a podcast today. In Jesus name. Amen.
Sara Barton: Isaiah 58 says, "If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the lord honorable; if you honor it not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride up on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Sara Barton: So, how does this passage inform our search for God, we are people seeking God, looking for God, you're a man seeking and looking for God and joining God, what does this passage say to you today?
Andrew Benton: It reminds me ... I think there are a lot of people who preach and talk grace, you heard me say that just a moment ago, but we don't talk a lot about obedience, and that's some of the debt that we pay for grace. So, I don't think in many respects that God asks very much of us in comparison with what he's given and he does for us. So, honor the sabbath, don't trample it with your own will and way, and honor God, and we only soar in that relationship. I appreciated your prayer and it's dependence upon God, but I think a passage like that gives the chance to examine our lives and say, "Are we being obedient? Can we do better?" Fortunately grace gives us the opportunity to do better, to get it right, and we all ought to be striving daily to try to get it right, one way or the other, get it right.
Sara Barton: Obedience to this is so hard in our busy lives. What is sabbath like for you? How do you ... where do you find rest in a job like you've had for these last ... is it going to be 18, 19 years?
Andrew Benton: 19.
Sara Barton: 19 years.
Andrew Benton: Lord willing if the creek doesn't rise, as they say.
Sara Barton: Right. Well, has sabbath been there? Is it a routine? I'm sure it doesn't look like it did in the time of the Hebrew people in this passage, but what does that even look like for somebody with a job like yours?
Andrew Benton: I'm in control in my job to the extent that a human being is in control. So, I've never felt that I had to walk away from the sabbath in order to keep everyone happy, and successful. So, that's a ... any Christian college president who says they're compromising in that way maybe isn't working hard enough in humble my opinion. So, Sunday is Sunday, but 5:00 a.m. is every morning for me, and that's my prayer time, so I have a little sabbath rest every morning that gives me the courage and it helps me ... I mean, I know my day and what's going to challenge me that day. It may be a speaking assignment, it may be a prayer or memorial service, it may be getting on a plane and delivering some hard news in Washington D.C., I don't know, but I pray about it every day. It always gives me the courage. I never conclude that time of prayer without feeling emboldened to do what I need to do, and I think when we leave worship services on Sunday's we ought to leave humbled but emboldened to do what we have to do.
Sara Barton: A lot of people wouldn't think that getting up at 5:00 a.m. sounds like any kind of rest. How is that ... I'm with you, but how is that a life of the promises of sabbath rest?
Andrew Benton: Because it lacks distraction. Nobody calls me at 5:00 a.m. If I boot up my computer and tackle email that's a self inflicted wound. Nobody makes me respond to them at 5:00 a.m. They may want it, but I'm totally in control of that time of day, and being in control and in the company of God, that's sabbath rest.
Sara Barton: That's sabbath rest, and the promises of sabbath too are that there will be enough time left in the day to do the things that come, and in the week, and in our lives, and it appears to me that God has given you energy for this hard work, and so I appreciate your moments of sabbath.
Sara Barton: Well Andy, in light of some of these things that we've talked about, I would love for people who listen to the podcast to be able to take something tangible with them. Is there anything you can think of for a student who's listening, an employee who tunes in, someone from our L.A. campus who's able to hear what we're talking about, is there anything tangible you would like for them to take from this podcast, and from our conversation?
Andrew Benton: It's consistent, and constant, but not anything we've discussed specifically, but when I have the opportunity to hire someone, one of the things that I'm always looking for is their ability to deliver bad news well, because anyone can be a champion at passing out praise and so forth, but it's the person who can say, "Let's go for a walk, we need to talk.", that I really prize because I know there are people who can be very, very helpful in the battle. So, I would say one thing that I would hope in this theme of the sufficiency of Christ is that people would learn as they have to make a hard decision, have to give someone difficult news to take a moment before they go to do that, and let go and let God, [crosstalk 00:51:54] and let it flow, and be authentic and real, and don't write it down. Just let God be present, and let him flow through you. I think you'll do a better job.
Sara Barton: Andy, our time is coming to an end, I feel like we could just keep talking all afternoon, but I trust that we covered the topics that we needed to cover. I am thankful for the time you spent with us, the way that you shared openly, and it will be my prayer that this podcast will bring our community closer together for people who are right here on campus with, and for our students as they seek to grow and learn about God.
Andrew Benton: I hope so too, and thanks again for inviting me.
Sara Barton: Yep, I've loved it.