This year’s Gotham Class of 2016 recently participated in their mid-year retreat, providing an opportunity to take an in-depth look at their own hearts to recognize the reality of the brokenness beneath our motivations for work. Through teaching, reflection, discussion, and prayer, the fellows reflected on the power of the gospel necessary to put to death these idols as Christ’s death, resurrection, and glory powerfully transform why we do what we do. The following is a reflection from one of this year’s fellows, Wilbur Yen.
“Doing anything fun this weekend?” my co-workers asked innocently. I did not know how to answer. There are certain suspicions that arise when people hear that you will be attending a Christian “death retreat.” “Not much, going to Jersey,” I responded quickly.
My wife and I arrived that night in Princeton and were happy to find that indeed, the rest of our Gotham Fellowship cohort had arrived. At least we’d be facing the weekend together with people who we had grown close to over the past four months in the program. We hugged, exchanged stories about the holidays, and discussed the legitimacy of Star Wars conspiracy theories over pizza delivery late into the night.
The next morning, we met Patric, our leader who would march us into this certain death. “It’s a Whole Lot Worse Than You Think” was the first line of the table of contents in our retreat booklet. The subtitle: “Sin, Sharks, and Com-plex Networks.” “Here we go,” I thought.
Growing up in a Christian home, the concept of sin was not foreign. The common ones: don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal; along with culture-specific ones: don’t drink, don’t wear jeans to church, don’t let the Bible touch the floor and a multitude of others; were engrained early on and accompanied by a sense of guilt and punishment if I missed the mark. Even so, I learned, adapted, and could “pass” as a good Christian if I put my mind to it.
What was different and remarkable about the way we approached the topic of sin that weekend was that the discussion forced me to do the hard work of looking beyond simple behavioral and cognitive modification and straight at what lies beneath it all — my insecurities.
As a professing Christian, it was humbling to see how much I still operated out of not trusting in the sufficiency and goodness of one I call God. Through the use of personal examples, Patric walked us through the process of identifying deep-rooted issues through everyday, mundane situations, and how to understand the transformative reality of the gospel in the midst of them.
Left to myself, processing these issues would no doubt have led to a sense of despair. Thankfully, I was grouped with other men that weekend who sat through the same difficult sessions. Though we represented a diverse group of professions — healthcare, social enterprise, theater, startups, venture capital, academia, and church ministry — we identified with the same human struggles of inordinate desire for approval, worth, and control in our everyday work.
Sharing our moral failures with others can often be unpleasant, anxiety ridden, and painful. “Fun” wouldn’t be the word I would use to describe the weekend. However, the title of “Death Retreat” would not tell the whole story either. As with many things we’ve been learning in Gotham, new life can sometimes only come out of death.
Reflecting on the weekend, I am filled with wonder and gratitude that God extends his invitation to heal to a community of such brokenness.
Applications are open for the 2016-17 Gotham Fellowship class through March 31.