Season 2 - Episode 1: Jim and Joline Gash
Jim Gash (JD '93) began his term as the eighth president and chief executive officer of Pepperdine University on August 1, 2019. The first alumnus to lead Pepperdine as president, Gash has served the University in a professional capacity since 1999. Prior to assuming the presidency, he was the associate dean for strategic planning and external relations at the Pepperdine School of Law, where he provided operational oversight for many signature development initiatives. As a 20-year Pepperdine Law professor, his primary areas of focus included evidence, torts, and international human rights.
Gash holds a bachelor's degree in finance, summa cum laude, from Abilene Christian University and a juris doctor degree, summa cum laude, from the Pepperdine School of Law, where he finished first in his class and served as the editor in chief of the Pepperdine Law Review.
He is married to Joline Gash ('92), and together they have three children, Jessica ('18); Joshua, a Seaver College senior; and Jennifer, a Seaver College sophomore.
Joline holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology from Pepperdine University, where she served as class valedictorian during the 1992 Seaver College commencement ceremony. Since 1999 Joline has served Pepperdine in various ways as a member of the Friends of the Family League, Pepperdine Legacy Partners, Pepperdine Parents Program, and the University Church of Christ. In January 2012 Joline and her family moved to Uganda for six months to participate in the Global Justice Program at the Pepperdine School of Law, where she and her three children served local communities through medical mission projects. From 2015 to 2019 Joline taught courses in biology and marine biology in the natural science department at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, California.
In her role as first lady, Joline is a devoted advocate for students' mental, physical, and spiritual well-being during their pursuit of higher education and works to effectively support the student community in partnership with various University departments, such as the Boone Center for the Family, Campus Ministry, the Counseling Center, Student Affairs, the Student Health Center, and Student Support Services.
Jim Gash: There are a variety of places on the faith journey that students arrive here. Some don't consider themselves to be on a faith journey, others are in the midst of it, but everyone is a child of God and loved by this community.
Sara Barton: Hello, my name is Sara Barton and I am the University Chaplain at Pepperdine
University. Welcome to Pepperdine's Spiritual Life 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, so let's get started.
Sara Barton: Today, my guest is the eighth President of Pepperdine University, Jim Gash, and his wife, Joline Gash. Welcome.
Jim Gash: Thank you, Sara.
Joline Gash: Thank you -
Jim Gash: Good to be here.
Sara Barton: Not only welcome the podcast, but welcome to my living room, welcome into our home and I'm happy to be recording the podcast here and have you in our home as our guests.
Jim Gash: Thanks for your hospitality.
Sara Barton: It's good to have you here. Well, let's do some biography first. I want you to tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of profession, where did you receive your education, and what jobs have you had so far.
Joline Gash: As a student at Pepperdine, I graduated with a degree in biology, and I stayed another year for my teaching credential, and right after that in 1993, I started teaching at Malibu High School just down the road and I did that for the first year. Then, we moved around the country a bit for Jim's profession. I took some time off as well to start a family and stay at home with our children, and in the last five years, I was back in the teaching profession, teaching at Oaks Christian High School in biology and marine biology, but I have retired. Most recently, my new role here at Pepperdine is something I'm looking forward to and being engaged with the community here.
Sara Barton: We're excited to hear about the ways that this is your job, too
Joline Gash: It is, indeed
Sara Barton: A new job for you, too. A new role, and it's going to be exciting to see how you take this on. Okay, so Jim, take us back in your life to other jobs you've had and then to this one, which you've now had for five days as of this recording, right?
Jim Gash: Five days. I'm a veteran. I went to Abilene Christian University for undergrad to study finance and to play football. Following my four and a half years at ACU, I came to Pepperdine Law School and was here from 1990 to 1993, after which I practiced law for a year here in Southern California, then worked for a judge in Houston, Texas, on the Federal Court of Appeals as a law clerk. Then, to D.C. for two years with a firm called Kirkland & Ellis, and then two more years in Los Angeles for the same firm, Kirkland & Ellis before starting to teach here in 1999.
Jim Gash: I left the practice of law to teach. That's what I thought I was going to do for the rest of my career was to teach, but in 2005, I became the Associate Dean for Student Life. It was the law school's first Dean of Students, academic, social, and spiritual life for the law school, and then I was in that role for seven years. I went back to teaching full time and then in 2017, became another administrative position called Associate Dean for Strategic Planning and External Relations. A year ago when President Benton stepped down, the process began of the next President and ultimately I entered that process and here we are.
Sara Barton: Here we are, five days -
Jim Gash: Five days in.
Sara Barton: Five days into being President Gash.
Jim Gash: I've not broken anything yet-
Sara Barton: Good.
Jim Gash: As far as I know.
Sara Barton: Congratulations.
Jim Gash: Thank you.
Sara Barton: We'll be watching. Well, it does sound like you both... both of you have something in common in that you've cared about students for -
Jim Gash: Amen.
Sara Barton: Many, many years, students and education, and so I hear that theme running through your roles and your jobs.
Jim Gash: Absolutely. My parents are both school teachers, and so that was what I saw myself doing someday and I'm glad I've got a chance to do that here.
Sara Barton: Always a part of your life.
Joline Gash: I always looked at teaching as a ministry. Ministering to high school students has been a blessing and now working with undergraduate students and grad students, we feel like it's a ministry, it's a calling.
Sara Barton: Well, I know that you've had... Through all of this while you've been doing all of these jobs, I have seen you hosting so many students in your home as part of that, so all these years you've been working, teaching. I know you've had law school students, especially, in your home.
Jim Gash: For eight years we hosted the law school Bible study in our home, and then our daughter Jennifer last year started hosting what she called Baking Squad.
Joline Gash: Baking Squad is a lot of fun. The kids -
Sara Barton: I've seen it on Instagram.
Joline Gash: So much fun. The students would come into our kitchen every other Monday and bake and it was just really fun to be a part of their lives and get to know them.
Sara Barton: I loved it because I've even voted on what they would cook. Other people can cook on what they might bake that night.
Joline Gash: That's right, and they really stick to it. Whatever the vote is, they will do it. They do a vote -
Sara Barton: They do it.
Joline Gash: And then they cook. Well, I -
Jim Gash: I enjoy the proceeds.
Joline Gash: And you get to eat. You get to eat the good stuff.
Sara Barton: Well, this is The Spiritual Life Podcast, so what I'd like to do, thank you for sharing about your lives, your jobs, but I really want to hear about your spiritual lives. It's not I guess usual in your biography that you go into your spiritual life and tell your faith story, but I'd like to hear that from both of you. Joline, if you'd just go first, tell us who you are spiritually.
Joline Gash: Sure. Well, I grew up in a Christian home. I attended a Church of Christ in Northern California since I was a newborn, and continued on in my faith development and learning more about the Bible and God. As a teenager, I was baptized when I was 14, and I continued to learn more and develop my faith through my youth group. As I went off to college, it was a really good experience for me. I started at Abilene Christian and transferred into Pepperdine, so I was going very far from home and I had a choice, whether I wanted to keep going to church or whether I wanted to sleep in on a Sunday.
Joline Gash: I was thankful for a community of students that encouraged me to continue on going to church. I wanted to anyway, but it was just nice that I had a group of friends that we could go to church together, and so that was really important to me to continue my faith development in college and beyond. Once we came to Pepperdine, we started attending the campus church and we haven't really left. We've just -
Sara Barton: You're still there -
Joline Gash: Stuck around. We're still there and so we feel like the church is our family.
Sara Barton: I'm hearing an ACU theme here, so you were there a while, a transfer. By the way, I think that's a great perspective to bring to the university because we have so many transfer students, and they'll be able to see you as a role model. It does take something, it takes a unique person to transfer and to get involved.
Joline Gash: I felt it was a real blessing for me to experience Abilene Christian University and Pepperdine University both, and there was some other students who were transferring as well. I felt very welcomed here at Pepperdine as soon as I arrived and it was no problem in the transition for me, so I appreciate that.
Sara Barton: When you look back on your life and your spiritual life growing up, how did you see God showing up along the way? I hear you saying, "I was baptized, I had a Christian home." Maybe were there moments... do you recall moments where God seemed real? Where Jesus was central to your life?
Joline Gash: Yes, for sure. I felt like God was always with me no matter what was happening in our family life or things with friends growing up. I knew that God was always present and I had role models that showed that to me through my church family and family members that were also Christians that could continue to help me... just remind me that God is always with me. I never felt like he left me, and so I always felt His presence with me.
Sara Barton: That's so good. I love hearing your story. Okay, Jim, so tell us your spiritual life story.
Jim Gash: My spiritual life story begins before I was born. It began at Pepperdine in early 1960s where my Dad met my Mom and fell in love with her and fell in love with The Lord and that kind of set their relationship off on a really fresh excitement for walking their faith. Grew up in a family that was very serious about our faith. I never really can look back at a time and see where I struggled with whether I believed in God or whether I trusted God. There were times when I questioned God.
Jim Gash: Got baptized as Joline did in my early teens going to the Sonoma Avenue Church of Christ, then through ACU, went immediately into a community where faith practice and faith integration into life was part of the fabric of where I was and that was one of the reasons why when I was looking at law school, I wanted to look at Pepperdine because that was another aspect. I wanted to be in the community where it was valued and where it was modeled, and so my time at Pepperdine was very spiritually nourishing as well, and as Joline said, we traveled a little bit, but we always seem to be drawn back to Malibu, and particularly the university, the Church of Christ on campus.
Sara Barton: I know you have both been really involved at the university church. If you just want to comment on that for a little bit because it's been a big part of your faith journey together.
Joline Gash: That's right. Well, when we came back to Los Angeles after living in Texas and then Washington, D.C., coming back to L.A., we had already started our family and so we got plugged in immediately with the children's ministry here. One of the things that Jim and I have enjoyed doing when our children were young was teaching Bible class together. We chose to go into that ministry as a team and so it wasn't just that I was teaching class, but Jim was with me and we developed the curriculum together. It was a really fun... We just enjoyed being together and we were able to teach our children and many other children and so it's been a lot of fun. In fact, one of the incoming freshman was one of our students in class, so we've seen this-
Jim Gash: Two of them.
Joline Gash: At least two, that's right.
Sara Barton: They were... you taught them when they were little, when they were little kids -
Joline Gash: We taught them when they were really little here at Pepperdine and been a blessing to watch these kids grow and to know that we've been part of their spiritual development we hope and that we get to see them here as students at Pepperdine, it's just a special bond. I think it's really unique to our community. Not a lot of people get that experience.
Sara Barton: That longtime presence in a community is so important when we think about watching kids grow up, and sometimes when you're in church you make commitments. "I will help raise these children." I don't know if you've ever done that, but we will together raise these kids and so it's good -
Joline Gash: That's right.
Sara Barton: To hear that. It's good to hear that lived out.
Jim Gash: Then, we hosted what was then called a family life group, essentially what's now called house groups. We did that for quite a few years before we started hosting the Bible study on Wednesday nights for the law students, and then in 2011 or so is when I became one of the shepherds of the university church and did that for the last eight years, up until last month.
Sara Barton: Until this new role came into your life -
Jim Gash: New role, yeah.
Sara Barton: It's going to be a bit busy.
Jim Gash: I expect that to be the case.
Sara Barton: That will be the case. Well, thank you both for your service in all those ways at the church. As a member there, I really appreciate it. I know a lot of people have benefited from that. This is going back just a little bit, but I do have a question we skipped over a bit. How did you two meet? When did you meet? We skipped that in there, so was it here? Was it there?
Jim Gash: Yeah, let me start. My first memory of Joline was the day she was baptized. She was 14, I was 17. At that point, I was not particularly interested in 14-year-olds, but she was just... I just saw the emotion that was pouring out of her and just like, "Wow, this is really meaningful to her." We didn't start dating for a few more years later than that, but that's my memory of her, so we met at church.
Sara Barton: Your first memory, was that... were you at the same... You mentioned different churches, or was it this specific camp or something?
Joline Gash: We were at the same church by that time. My family had moved to the area where Jim's family was attending church, so we were both at the Sonoma Avenue Church of Christ. I remember Jim in youth group. My first impressions of Jim were that he was a bit immature, but-
Jim Gash: Just a bit.
Joline Gash: Just a bit -
Sara Barton: So are a lot of 16- and -
Joline Gash: He was more -
Sara Barton: 17-year-old boys sometimes.
Joline Gash: That's right. I could see that he was serious about his faith, but that he had this sense of humor and kind of enjoyed a bit being the entertainment in class. I just watched him kind of from afar and watched him grow. I guess I was a little more mature than he was at that time, but once he kind of grew up a little bit, then I was interested in him and just waited for the right opportunity when we were a good age and we could start dating so we did.
Sara Barton: That was in college? Or-
Jim Gash: Well -
Sara Barton: In high school?
Jim Gash: She wrote me a letter while I was at ACU and she was finishing up high school, and so we started out as pen pals, and then we started dating -
Sara Barton: That's so sweet ]-
Jim Gash: Over the summer, and then she came and joined me at ACU. Once the romance began, nothing interrupted it.
Joline Gash: We just knew.
Sara Barton: You knew from that time?
Joline Gash: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim Gash: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sara Barton: That's very sweet. It's also kind of a sweet California story because a Church of Christ in California, your lives were overlapping and you met each other. I had no idea that's how you met and how well it would fit in with our spiritual life story because it was at that day of baptism. That's really beautiful.
Sara Barton: Well, the audience for this podcast is the Pepperdine community. I guess if other people are listening in, we want them to feel very welcome, but we have our five schools as you know. We have so many students at our schools. We have alumni, we have faculty, staff, administration, and through this podcast we really hope to bring everyone together around conversations and let the whole university listen in on conversations like this one.
Sara Barton: Jim, I'll just ask you, five days in, I know you've had a lot of time to think about it, but what are your hopes and dreams as you begin this month as you the new President of Pepperdine?
Jim Gash: Well, there are quite a few hopes and dreams. In terms of the spiritual life is that there would be a deeper sense of unity in this campus, there would be more intentionality in worshiping together, that we would spend a lot of time praying together, that people who come to Pepperdine who already know and love The Lord will be strengthened in their walk. For those who are in the process of determining where their faith journey is taking them, that they would be shown what it looks like to be a community that honors God and walks in faith. For those who are not on a faith journey, that they would leave here knowing what it looks like for those other people to be Christians and to walk their faith so that at some point if they feel a seed being planted that it will have some fertile soil to grow in.
Sara Barton: I like what you said about knowing that we would pray together and worship together more often. I hear all kinds of I guess wonderings about that and why that has been difficult to bring everyone together at Pepperdine at different times. Some people say it's just the mountain, to get everyone to walk to the same place at the same time, or it's the lack of easy access to go park somewhere and have it. What do you think are some of the challenges? To what we know, all of us, from being here is that there are so many people who care about the faith mission of Pepperdine and want to be together for prayer. What do you think are some of our big challenges?
Jim Gash: Well, I think you have named several of them. I think there's not a central place that is necessarily associated with the spiritual life, but also easy to get to. Stauffer Chapel, it might be the obvious place. It's at the relative bottom of the hill. There's a busyness in our lives and an assumption that, "Well, we do a lot of spiritual things together in various pockets. Why would we need to get together as a full body?" I also think that there's just some potential for intentionality. One of the first things, well, the first thing I did, I woke up on August 1st and my Chief of Staff, Danny DeWalt, and I spent a half hour on our knees in my office, and then at 6 o'clock... 5:30 to 6, Tim Perrin, Steve Potts, Danny and I walked all of the campus athletic facilities and prayed from 6 to 6:45.
Jim Gash: At 7:30, we had several of the senior vice presidents in my office praying together. At 8 o'clock, it was the entire presidential suite praying together, and then at 9 o'clock, we started with each of the senior vice presidents praying one on one in their offices. The first thing we're doing on inauguration week is we're starting off with a time of prayer and worship. That signaling and that intentionality I think is going to be part of it, but we'll also be looking creatively at spaces. One of the things that we're going to try and do isn't necessarily a spiritual journey is to create a central gathering place in this university for recreation, for athletics, and for worship, and that's one of the big projects that we're looking at. Right now, in fact, I just came from a meeting about that.
Sara Barton: Thank you for sharing that with us. That's one of the things that people don't know unless we let them know that people are praying continually for our students, for the work that we do here. Thanks for sharing it and thanks for doing it on your very first day. Also, thanks for being hospitable that day. It was a really fun... Hospitality is also I think just a Christian practice and you were so hospitable the first day. For those on the podcast who don't know, the President's office and suite was open so everyone could go see some of the renovations that you've made or a few new things, but mainly to see that you're the kind of of President we can talk to. Just reflect on that a bit, both of you. What was that day like to have several hundred people?
Jim Gash: Yeah, well, it was about 4 or 500 people that came by. It was so much fun. One of the things that we wanted to make sure is everyone wore name tags as well so people could see each other and, "Oh, who are you?" Learn where they work, but the idea was to say accessibility is really important. Relationships are the most important thing and leadership, and so that was what we wanted to do was try and start with the relationships. It was helpful for them to meet some of the new members of the leadership team, Danny DeWalt and Tim Perrin as well, and just to get a sense of... demystify something, some part of that office that's kind of behind a door where you got to go through a receptionist and to see what matters. The first thing we put up was someone praying. When you walk in, there's a student praying -
Sara Barton: I noticed that -
Jim Gash: Or worshiping, and we wanted to set that tone for who we are, and then the quote from George Pepperdine that, "What we do will be successful if it's guided by the Hand of God." That's a big quote on the wall as you come in.
Sara Barton: I loved all the student pictures. It was like taking a tour of Pepperdine through pictures, so I saw worship and faith. Pictures that depict faith being important and then I saw pictures of IP, I saw students from all of our different schools. Students are definitely highlighted.
Jim Gash: Absolutely. They're the reason we're here and the most important thing that we do.
Sara Barton: I love those. What was that like for you, Joline, that day?
Joline Gash: It was a really fun community day. You could just sense all of the excitement and everybody was just happy to be together and I think that's a wonderful way to start because we really do want to build community and like Jim said, you just want to open up that door and let people know that they're welcome. Jim is very approachable and his whole team is approachable, and so I think it was fun for the community to spend that time together and start off on the right foot. There was a lot of energy that day.
Sara Barton: It was so loud that I couldn't hear the people I was... You felt like, "Am I on the fourth floor in the President's office? Or am I at a party on a Friday night?" It was a little bit loud at times.
Jim Gash: There was a lot of food and that's going to be a theme. A lot of food and we did a lot of baking in advance of that as well.
Sara Barton: That's right. Did you all bake the cookies?
Jim Gash: We did -
Joline Gash: Yeah.
Sara Barton: I heard the rumor that-
Joline Gash: Oh yes.
Sara Barton: You baked the cookies.
Joline Gash: Jim loves baking chocolate chip cookies and so he has kind of been known for that, and we did a lot of that for our Bible studies at our home. He just wanted to share that with the community. I think you made over 300 cookies.
Jim Gash: 360.
Sara Barton: That was a nice touch. That was a really nice touch. I enjoyed it. Well, what prayers can we join you in praying for our community? What prayers are important to you? People will listen to this and... What can we be praying? We'll be praying for you, by the way-
Joline Gash: Thank you.
Sara Barton: But what can we join you in praying?
Joline Gash: We are really praying for unity on the campus with the students and the faculty and the staff and everyone that comes on this campus that they would feel that. They would see that we are unified. Whether or not we all agree on everything, which we don't, that we would have that unity. That's something Jesus said, that they will know us by our love for one another. That's right. That would be our prayer is for unity on our campus.
Jim Gash: I'll add to that courage. There's going to be difficult decisions ahead. There's going to be deep breath and, "Can we afford to do this?" Balanced with, "Can we afford not to do this?" The biggest focus will be on preparing our students to be leaders. That will include strengthening them while they are here, and part of that is the mental strength, the psychological, the resilience. Part of that is the intellectual strength, their academic rigor, and part of it is the spiritual strength, and that's going to be leading toward kind of further global engagement as an institution. That will take some courage and some deliberate intentionality of, "We're going to do this as an institution", but together in a unified way.
Sara Barton: Thank you for those. Well, we'll definitely be praying those. Thank you for sharing those requests with us. Well, Joline, I want to ask you, what are you most excited to work on, especially in these first months and in this first year? I know you still have a lot to learn, but what are you most excited about?
Joline Gash: I am really excited about focusing on our students and their health and wellness specifically, so I've spent some time this summer meeting with as many folks as I could in the areas of physical health, mental health, and spiritual health of our students and finding out what's happening on campus. How can I be supportive? What can I do to get involved? Really started making those relationships, building those bonds with our staff and faculty and student leaders who are working on those projects so that I'm really looking forward to getting plugged in. You might see me in a costume at our Stick-Or-Treat when the flu shots are being given out. Hopefully, you'll just see me around campus involved in as many ways as I can be.
Sara Barton: As you were meeting with different people, were you... You've had students who were... your kids have been students here, so you're probably well aware of many of the initiatives, but was there something that stood out to you where you thought, "Wow, I didn't know Pepperdine was doing that but I'd really love to get involved"? Was there anything along those lines?
Joline Gash: Yes. I didn't know about SWAB, which is our Student Wellness Advisory Board. I didn't realize that we have students who were active and they are participating in the education of their classmates in all of these areas of health and wellness, and so I was very excited to get to go to one of their meetings and meet their leadership. I've promised them that I will be their biggest fan and I will help support them in whatever ways that I can. That was one thing that was exciting, and then also when I was meeting with Connie Horton, she started talking about our new resilience program that will be launched soon.
Sara Barton: We are all so excited about it. I can't wait for the community to hear more.
Joline Gash: Right, so that's something that I'm really looking forward to and I'll be involved in one of our convocations that we'll have specifically talking about that program, and so that will be in September. That's coming soon so we're really looking forward to helping students just really be their complete whole selves, so that they can fulfill their purpose and they can study here on campus and be fully engaged, but they can only do that if they have that support that they need in all areas, physical, mental, and spiritual.
Sara Barton: This makes me think about resilience. It makes me think about you and your lives you've shared and been blessed with. A wonderful faith story, both of you. I just love hearing about your faith, but I would like to know, what kind of adversity have you faced in your spiritual lives? That makes me think of resilience. You have built resilience, faith resilience, spiritual resilience, other kinds of resilience I'm sure as well. It's all intertwined in a holistic way, but what is adversity you have faced in your faith? How did you get through that? One of the things that in my work as a chaplain that I've learned about is that it is inevitable that students will have spiritual struggle, especially in college, especially at this age. Spiritual struggle is a real experience, so we can expect it. How have you struggled spiritually? How did you get through those things?
Jim Gash: Well, I guess I would say that I have been fortunate in that I don't think I've ever gone through a crisis of faith, but as I said earlier, I've gone through periods of questioning. I was very involved in competitive sports from the time I could walk. Little know fact, I for a while held a world record for a five-year-old in pole vault-
Sara Barton: Oh my goodness-
Jim Gash: Because my family started-
Sara Barton: That's hilarious.
Jim Gash: Early and so over my life, sports was a huge part of that. I also was cursed not very good knees, and so I've had 11 knee operations over the years and it seemed like every time things were starting to look promising, I would have an injury and then, "Why God?" As a 12-year-old or an 18-year-old, those seem minor compared to some of the things other people have gone through, but those were times when I thought, "Okay, Your will is better than mine. I've got plans for myself and here's my plans. I want to do this and I want to do this and I want to do this. Now that this has happened, I can't do one of those things." The immediate reaction is like, "God, I thought we had some sort of deal", and then it's a, "Well, you know what? Your plans are better than mine."
Jim Gash: Talking about in a more recent context, there was a time when I thought I might be the next dean of the law school several years ago. That was a disappointment that I went through and just thought, "You know what? Actually, God, Your plans are better than mine. I have no idea what Your plans are and I'd be happy to teach the rest of my life." It turns out His plans were different and in that it was not yet. "I've got something else for you." Here we are.
Sara Barton: Both of those I think are important for the community, first, as I've sat with student athletes, they tell stories similar to what you have shared. That when they get an injury, it's their identity that they're struggling with as they've built so much identity around their being an athlete, but it's also their scholarships and that can be a big faith crisis. I think that's not something small. That's huge.
Jim Gash: One thing that I go back to when things don't go the way that I anticipated, particularly when my work in the developing world is, is asking myself the question that I feel like God is asking me right then. "Do you trust Me? Do you trust Me?" The answer is always yes, but the instinct is, "Yes, but this is the way we were going to do it. We were going to do it my way." It's like, "You know what? Lord, I trust you. I trust you." That's the question that, again, I just keep coming back to. "Do you trust Me?" It's also a question I ask quite a bit when I speak around the country at various places is encouraging people to take a step back and say, "I trust You, Lord. Your ways, your plans are better than mine, even in disappointment."
Sara Barton: I hope we can arrange a time for you to speak with the student athlete convocation because that's a great message for them -
Jim Gash: I'd love to.
Sara Barton: Of trust, too. That would be great, and then your other challenge that you brought up, going for a job or a promotion or something that doesn't end up working out, we face that-
Jim Gash: We do.
Sara Barton: And in our community, people at Pepperdine face that. People who have wanted a certain position and don't get it and then you keep in living in that community around people and I think we need to talk about that more, so I appreciate you bringing it up.
Jim Gash: Failure is the best teacher and failure is more of a development or a direction rather than a failure. "I tried for this and I didn't win." When you're in competitive sports, you lose a lot and the question is, how do you react after you lose? Are you going to continue to get back up and keep fighting and keep trying, keep training? Or are you going to shrink back? That's a lesson that I hope to be involved in over the years at Pepperdine is to help students understand that setbacks are not dead ends. They're just detours.
Sara Barton: Thank you. Okay, Joline, so adversities.
Joline Gash: As I said, I did grow up in a Christian home, but my childhood was rather challenging. My parents divorced when I was eight years old, and so then I was raised by a single mother. My siblings and I were with that situation for about four years, and then my Mom met a wonderful Christian man who was also raising his children, and they were married when I was 12 and so blended family.
Sara Barton: Blended family.
Joline Gash: From a broken family to a blended family, and we had seven kids, from ages 12 to 21 living under the same roof.
Sara Barton: The Brady Bunch.
Joline Gash: We were. They called us The Brady Bunch, and we kind of were. We had a lot of good times, we had a lot of sibling fighting. You can imagine you had the whole pecking order figured out in your own family, and then you put two families together and you have to kind of rearrange the pecking order. Well, I did know that I was the bottom because I was the youngest of the seven, and so I kind of had to make my way and make my voice heard during that time. That was definitely a challenge for me. It was a challenge to get to church at times because my Mom, especially as a single mom, she was working really hard trying to support us. She was having her own crisis of faith and so the way I cog through that was I had neighbors and I had church family members who would make sure that I did get to church. I had wonderful mentors.
Joline Gash: I remember our minister's wife had an afterschool girls club that she started, and so I had wonderful older girls and younger girls in this group with me. Ellen Shields was my mentor. She really helped us to develop as young women in the church, and so I continued to see her. Occasionally she comes for the Bible lectures here at Pepperdine and that's just something I always look forward to is seeing her and I always tell her how much I appreciate what she did for me as a young girl. I credit her with my faith development. Through all of those ups and downs in my family life, the church family was always there fort me and I knew that and that's one of the reasons I just felt that God was so present with me because He didn't abandon me. He brought people alongside me to take care of me sometimes when my parents weren't really able to do that for me.
Sara Barton: I love it when we can tell stories like that because I think we do have a lot of students how either have come from families with divorce, or sometimes our students' parents are going through divorce while they are here and we are those... Did you say Ellen Shields?
Joline Gash: Yes.
Sara Barton: We are the Ellen Shields in their life during times like that. We never want to be judgmental of what they're going through, but we want to embrace them.
Joline Gash: That's right. I really do have a heart. I see that, and when I was a school teacher, my students that their parents were going through divorce, I really felt for them because I knew what that felt like. Everybody's family situation is different, of course, and how students react to divorce is different, but I knew how I felt and I knew that I wanted to be that adult in their lives that they could come to if things were kind of rough at home, that they could come to me if they needed support.
Sara Barton: Well, tell me a little bit about your education story in that. I think I remember hearing that of all those kids, you were the first one to go to Pepperdine.
Joline Gash: That's right. For sure, I was the first in my family to graduate from college and-
Sara Barton: The youngest one.
Joline Gash: I was the youngest. Because we had such a large family and because of the situation we were in, my parents had told me, "If you want to go to college, you'll need to figure out a way to pay for that yourself. We just really can't afford that." I just worked really hard in school and was determined that I would get scholarships and that you know how some students count on athletics to get scholarships, I was counting on my academic record and my service record to get a scholarship. I never thought I could afford Pepperdine, but God opened the doors and it wasn't a straight path. There was the detour and there was this and that, but I finally made it to Pepperdine.
Joline Gash: Once I did, I just absolutely loved my time here and thrived and loved every minute of being in the classroom. Never skipped class. I didn't want to skip because I just wanted to be there. I loved my professors and-
Sara Barton: Who were some of your professors, especially that maybe are still here that Pepperdine people would know, that were really influential for you?
Joline Gash: In my science program, Steve Davis was absolutely my favorite professor, and it was just because he was so humble. He was so knowledgeable yet so humble and he was so good in the classroom. If he didn't know an answer, he would admit, "I don't know the answer to that, but I'm going to look into that", and he would and he would come back and give us an answer. We trusted him. We felt like he was very transparent and he would have us into his home, and so his wife Janet was very hospitable and would cook meals for us and we spent a lot of time in their home. Then, it was a bonus that I got to go to church with them. During my time as a student and -
Sara Barton: You still do?
Joline Gash: I still go to church with Steve and Janet Davis, and as a mother of young children, they had a Bible study in their home and I would bring our kids to Bible class here on campus on a Wednesday night and I would go to Steve and Janet's home and study the Bible with them. For me, it's just been a wonderful experience getting to be with Steve and Janet Davis. Then, in my education program, one of my favorite professors was Claudette Wilson, and Claudette is still one of my favorite people here at church.
Joline Gash: I just love that I still get to spend time with Claudette and with John and what I've learned from both of them over the years. That Bible study that had been at Steve and Janet Davis' house moved to John and Claudette Wilson's house at one point, and so we continued studying and worshiping together. I think that's a unique situation that as a college student, my favorite professors that I was at church with are still in my life, and so they've been really big mentors for me.
Sara Barton: That is unique. They must be really proud of you all and thankful they got to be a part of your lives. Well, I want to move on to the Sudreau Global Justice Program because I know most people who know you know that that's been a big part of your life. We know of the documentary that was made, Remand, but just for those listening in, could you tell us about the role of that program in especially your spiritual lives? This wasn't just a professional side program or resume builder or a chance to be on a documentary. I know you, that it wasn't that, so what was it? How did you get into that? What is it now? Help us understand.
Jim Gash: It was a complete detour in our lives that we did not see coming. It was a student-driven desire for them to get involved in the developing world while I was the law school Dean of Students. They invited me to join them as they continued to go deeper, particularly into Uganda, and so my first trip was in January of '10, and I was confident that this was going to be my one and done. This was going to be my voluntourism trip where I could show my wife and show my kids and show my God that I could take a step of faith. "I can do this mission thing, too, it's not just for other people." I was not intending ever to go again. I had never gone on a mission trip as a kid growing up. I had a lot of excuses, most of them revolved around sports and finances, but really it was more probably fear based and, "That's for the missionaries."
Jim Gash: Then, everything changes when you go over there and you see... particularly for us, we saw kids in dire need who were perhaps stronger in their faith in many ways than we were because they were in prison without any hope, but they were relying on God and they were worshiping together and they were singing songs to us about their faith. Then, over time, it became something that I just said to my family, "I feel like God is calling us to move to Africa, to try and assist them." That was not something that I wanted or something that I was looking for, and the reaction wasn't exactly warm at the beginning
Sara Barton: Were you surprised?
Joline Gash: We were very surprised because I had been happy for a couple of years just supporting Jim and going to Africa and I would hold down the fort at home and it was really exciting and I was so proud of him for the work he was doing, but I felt like my work was still at home. When Jim came up with this idea that our family would move to Africa, I was very hesitant. It was definitely a shock and it took me quite a while to come to terms with that and to trust that that was what God was calling me to do, and so we prayed about it and over time, I watched God open every door that needed to open in order for us to go to Africa and bring the family. It turned out to be the best thing we could have ever done. For our children, it's been very transformative. For us, just building that trust with God. Like Jim said, God was asking, "Do you trust Me?" When we finally said, "Okay, yes, we trust You, we will go", it changed everything.
Jim Gash: Let's put this in perspective. We were going for six months and only for six months. We weren't like moving there like some people in this room for an indefinite period of time, having kids while we were there. It was a small step of faith, but it was a big one for us just from the context that we had been in previously, and as Joline said, it was just a lot of God telling us that we needed to trust Him, and ultimately -
Sara Barton: Interrupting your kids' education, they were out of school for that time -
Jim Gash: They were out of school for six months, really nine months because it included the summer and it was just -
Joline Gash: Well, they were able to do some homeschooling and online schooling, but it definitely interrupted their flow of their education. They had to integrate back to their school once they returned-
Sara Barton: Socially, all those things -
Joline Gash: Socially, friend groups change over six months, and you really find out who your real friends are when you leave for a trip like that for six months. People say, "Oh, we'll FaceTime or we'll"... then you find out they don't really... kind of out of sight, out of mind unfortunately, and for our kids, they found out how their true friends were and they really appreciated those friends that did stick with them through those six months and really did keep in touch with them.
Sara Barton: You got involved, you ended up getting so involved that you moved there for enough time to see things on the ground. You really got to see what it's like there. How has God shown up for you in the lives of Ugandan people? Including justices and also including the children that you've been... We hear that, children who are in prison and that's hard for us to wrap our minds around, but what has that been like just for your faith?
Jim Gash: Just to watch, as I mentioned earlier, the faith of these kids and the country leaders that have come to Pepperdine, close to a hundred of them now have been here and about 10 will be here for the inauguration. One of them will be participating in the inauguration itself, and just the requirement that we continue to put our faith in God as this unfolds and to watch them trust in God and take hold of their justice system and make all of the changes that they've made as we try to assist them as they decide, what is it that they want to do and we just come along side them and say, "Here are some resources, here are some ideas, but you guys are leading", and they've done that.
Sara Barton: Then, you also get to see Pepperdine School of Law students take that leap of faith as well. It's a -
Jim Gash: Yeah, it's -
Sara Barton: It's a leap of faith for them to try it out.
Jim Gash: It is transformative for the students because the students go for nine weeks over the summer, about a dozen or so to Uganda every year and some to Rwanda and some to Ghana and some to Indonesia and some to India as this has expanded. For them to be transformed as well, not just in their worldview but in their reliance on God because it's not easy to just step off a plane into a foreign setting in a judicial system that you don't know and understand and try to be of assistance.
Sara Barton: Great. Well, as you know, Pepperdine seeks to balance academics and Christian mission. You've been a part of this for many years now. Experienced it yourselves and led with it, but it's not an easy balance. It's hard. Could you reflect on the importance of both of those goals, rigorous academic and Christian environment? How will you continue to find that balance?
Jim Gash: There's a lot of metaphors that have been used, a scale or a ladder. To me, they're intertwined. Excellence in faith and excellence in academics are inseparable, so it's not, "Do we choose which of those two?" It's like choosing between a glass of water, that's just one thing. For us, watching institutions over time that have separated and then valued one over the other have created different camps along the way. You've got these kind of really regional Christian colleges that are more Bible colleges or particular types of faith being the paramount focus of the institution, then you've got a whole bunch of other schools that used to be faith-based institutions that felt like that was a drag on their upward ascension, and that's just on the case of Pepperdine nor will it be the case as long as I have the reins. Those are going to be together.
Jim Gash: Excellence in both of those leads to a life of leadership at the highest levels, and this country, this world needs those who are leading to have a firm grounding in faith and in really the principles of Jesus and the Gospel. What we're trying to do is prepare people to lead in the world by excellent, rigorous academics with a deep spiritual commitment.
Sara Barton: Well, as you know, Pepperdine is a Christian university, but we have always from day one welcomed people who are not Christians, so what would you say to our students who are not Christians who are coming here?
Jim Gash: I would say, "Welcome", and we will continue to welcome them. As I mentioned earlier, there are a variety of places on the faith journey that students arrive here. Some don't consider themselves to be on a faith journey, others are in the midst of it, but everyone is a child of God and loved by this community and will be respected and treated with dignity and inclusion in ways that they hopefully haven't experienced like they're going to experience here. That there's not multiple classes of citizens, there students and members of the community. One community where everyone is an integral part. Everyone is a necessary member of this community.
Sara Barton: Pepperdine is doing something unique in this area in that we don't require a signed statement of faith for our faculty, staff, or students. Many Christian universities do require that, and so it is a delicate balance, something that is important. Do you want to reflect any on why we don't have a signed statement of faith?
Jim Gash: Yeah. I think there's multiple reasons why we don't have one. One is just the heritage of the Churches of Christ as a non-creedal institution, that we don't want to say, "This is what you have to believe." We can all look at the Bible, the same passage and come up with different views and that's okay. That's part of it. Another thing is we want to embrace the entire community and the culture and say, "You are all welcome here." It's not, "If you believe X or if you engage in Y practices or if you have had Z background you are welcome here." Everyone is welcome here.
Jim Gash: Now, while you're here, you're going to know who we are. You're going to know what matters to us, and part of the importance of us maintaining our Christian identity is being led by people who care deeply about that because you're only as strong as your people. While we will welcome people from different faiths or not on a faith journey, we will be led by men and women who know who they are, they love The Lord, and are on that faith journey because that's how you retain the identity is to be closely tied to those who are walking that journey. Again, that means we've got room for everyone.
Sara Barton: Thank you. Well, I want to do something that we've been doing on this podcast and it's a practice people of faith have done together for centuries and a practice that you know in Churches of Christ that we have highly valued, and that is just to read God's Word together and seek guidance. We believe God's Word speaks to us today, and so I'm going to pray and then read a short passage and I just want to hear, how do you hear this passage informing our search for God? We are people seeking God, so how does this passage inform that? Let's pray.
Jim Gash: Great.
Sara Barton: God, we thank You for your Word. We thank You that even on a podcast, we can seek You through Your Word, we can listen to You. We want You to speak on this podcast in addition to the things that we offer or say about You, and so we hear the reading of Your Word. Amen.
Jim Gash: Amen.
Joline Gash: Amen.
Sara Barton: This is from Matthew Chapter 5. "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to him. Then, He began to speak and taught them saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'"
Sara Barton: The sermon goes on from there, but I'll stop at that point. By the way, with a group of faculty and staff, I got to stand in one of those places near the Sea of Galilee that it's guest, Jesus, gave a speech like this, and so just in reading it, I'm picturing that land and the very places where Jesus walked and taught. What about you? What does this passage tell you about what it's like to seek God?
Joline Gash: I think this passage really shows us the Heart of God. He is a God of compassion and mercy, and He is the God who sees us. He sees us when we're mourning. He sees us when we need comfort and when we need to be uplifted, and so that really shows me God's Heart. One of the parts that really stands out to me here is the, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God", and that's my hope and prayer for Pepperdine is that we will be those peacemakers and we will encourage our students to develop those skills to be peacemakers, whether it's in their dorm or in their classroom. When they go out in the world and they serve as part of their international programs, in their houses, around that the world, that they would be the peacemakers and that would develop that unity that we're seeking here.
Sara Barton: Our world needs peacemakers, as we -
Jim Gash: You think?
Sara Barton: See, you know we are experiencing so much violence and so much polarization and so many problems in our world. There have always been problems in the world, we know that, but we need peacemakers, so I appreciate that. What about you, Jim?
Jim Gash: What stuck out to me was the, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." If you look at the Bible, there is a lot of overlap between justice and righteousness and kind of used often synonymously, or at least that's what it seems to me, and that's part of what I have tried to focus on through my legal training and through my work in the developing world is to try to figure out where there is injustice and trying to assist those locally in providing justice because our God is a God of justice. He uses us and -
Joline Gash: We have to be people of justice if we're -
Jim Gash: We do -
Joline Gash: About this God -
Jim Gash: And there's a lot of adjectives that are often used to accompany justice. I think that justice can stand on its own. Sure, there's different pockets of it. Global Justice is something I've been involved in, but there's quite a bit of other forms of justice in this world that I hope Pepperdine will embrace as a calling to try and deliver justice wherever it sees injustice.
Sara Barton: Wow, thank you both for reflecting on this passage today and during this season, Season 2 of our podcast, we'll be asking all of the guests to reflect on this same passage, which is something that we feel like over time will guide and lead us. We'll be hearing from others on this as well.
Jim Gash: One other thing I'll add to this that struck me is that those who are blessed in this are not the ones who are in power or are wealthy or who have the right families. They are people who are just calling out to God, and I think that that's a reminder that even those who are in power that this is a call to serve those who aren't, and I think that that's a good reminder for us.
Sara Barton: And to learn from them, as I know you've done in your work in Uganda. Henry is someone you know well. Henry has taught you-
Jim Gash: He has.
Sara Barton: As you have taught and served him.
Jim Gash: One of the prisoners I met on the first day that I was in Uganda that has been an important part of my life for these last nine and a half years since then, and we're still in touch every week, but to watch him go from a position of being reliant on God for anything and everything because he was in a prison with no power and no electricity and no water and no hope. To see him continuing to call out to God and now he's almost done with medical school and he continues to call out to God in the same way.
Sara Barton: He hasn't forgotten what it means to be blessed.
Jim Gash: He has not.
Sara Barton: He hasn't.
Jim Gash: He has not.
Sara Barton: As we come to this time as we're ending, I want to go back to something that you mentioned at the very beginning and it came up throughout and that is the emphasis that you've placed on unity and how much you want to contribute to building unity at Pepperdine. How can the people who are listening to the podcast join you in that goal? How can we get involved in being unity makers with you?
Joline Gash: I think that one of the best ways to be unified is to get to know people, and it's hard to do that when you're sitting in your office all day and you're doing your work, which is a good thing and valuable, but if you don't know the people around you, it's a little bit lonely, and so I would encourage people to just ask a colleague to lunch. If you're uncomfortable doing it face to face, send them an email and just say, "Hey, could we get lunch sometime just to get to know you?"
Joline Gash: That's one of the things I've enjoyed most about my summer is having lunch meetings with so many people on campus. I didn't want to talk business, I wanted to just hear their story, and so when you hear someone's story and why they're at Pepperdine and what's important to them, you feel that bond. I think that would be one way that people... A practical thing that you could do is just invite someone to go to lunch with you and get to know them and hear their story.
Sara Barton: Thank you. That's wonderful. Jim?
Jim Gash: Well, as we started off my first day, just come uninvited. We invited people into the President's office and people came. We were inviting people to a prayer service to begin the year. We would love for people to come. President's briefings will be once a month, come. The athletic and artistic endeavors, come and be a part of the community. One of the things we're going to try and do is, as I said, is to create more spaces for people to be involved in community. Not just being with each other, but getting to know each other.
Jim Gash: As Joline said, it's easy to say, "Tell me your story", and then people will tell you who they are, but it's also important to engage in benevolent assumptions about people that are doing things you don't like or disagree with and having candid conversations and assuming that there's a good reason, a non-ill will-based reason for people engaging in whatever they're doing. Assuming the best about other people is a unifying aspect.
Sara Barton: Benevolent assumptions seems like a really good way to end the podcast about spiritual life because to grow in our spiritual lives, that is I think even a practice that we have benevolent assumptions about one another. I like it that as we're coming to the close of this conversation, we're able to go out with something practical that people can do. Get to know each other as a community, assume the best in each other, and join in on this great work that we have to do together. It's an honor and it's a blessing to get to do it, and I thank both of you for coming to talk about your spiritual lives today and talk about how we can all join in with you.
Jim Gash: For sure -