We Are Westmont 2012
Our community here at Westmont is made up of a wide array of different experiences, backgrounds, and identities. This session is geared at taking a deeper glimpse within our community to reflect on who we are as a Westmont community. The goals of this session are to encourage awareness about student diversity, to encourage students to be themselves, and to own their stories. We hope to spark conversations around tough issues like race, gender, faith, and history.
Name: Matt Shiney
Major: Econ/Business & Political Science
My name is Matthew Shiney. I am going to be a senior this coming school year and I’m excited to share a small piece of my story that started right when I graduated high school. I was an outspoken Atheist. I was opposed to religion in general, but specifically Christianity. I had this idea that Christians were judgmental and hypocritical, besides the fact that I only knew one true believer at the time (who happened to be one of my closest friends). I thought Christianity was illogical and idealistic. My mind was sealed off from any outside ideas. I enjoyed drinking and partying with friends. So why would I come to Westmont? I had heard about this tiny college in the hills of Montecito on the day that I graduated from high school because my high school track coach was worried that the junior college I was intent on going to was going to cut back on its athletic spending. He knew the Westmont coaching staff and set me up with them. I fell in love with the location, Coach Smelley and the people that I came across. They were so friendly! Maybe these Christians weren’t half bad.
I committed to Westmont in July of 2009. I did not know what to expect. I was excited to go off to college, sure, but at the same time, unbelievably nervous. I had an entirely different worldview than these people, I thought. How will I fit in? Will they accept me? My ego told me that I was a fantastic person, but the fact that I thought the whole Jesus business was a bunch of hooey made me worry that I would be judged. At first, I decided that I would pretend to be a Christian. I would just lay low and not really say much about religion and my views on it. I even bought a necklace with Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on it in an attempt to fit in. After the first few days, I realized that would not be possible. I am a very opinionated and upfront person naturally; there would be no way that I could hide my true beliefs that long.
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I was incredibly intimidated by the amount of Christianity I was being bombarded with. Everyone was praying, worshipping and talking about Jesus ALL THE TIME. I had to take classes just on Christianity. It was quite overwhelming. It was like I was on another planet. The worst part about it was that I felt like I could not speak my mind. That finally changed during the second class of Telford Work’s “Introduction to Christian Doctrine” class. Dr. Work asked the class, “Do you think the Bible loses credibility due to it being written thousands of years ago?” My heart started racing. “YES!” I wanted to scream out from the back of the class. Instead, I raised my hand and politely said, “Yes, I think it does.” Right when I opened my mouth, I could see thirty of my classmates turned around staring at me. Everyone was stunned. What have I done? I honestly do not remember what happened after that because I was so terrified. I’m pretty sure people were cool about it, at least outwardly. At the same time, it was like a boulder being lifted off of my shoulders. I felt comfortable speaking my mind again.
The Westmont community was incredibly open to me. My friends, teammates, coaches, professors and classmates were enthusiastic about hearing my worldview. This softened my heart towards Christianity and I was able to open my mind a bit. I was comfortable going to professors, particularly Dr. Jesse Covington and Dr. Work to ask them questions about their faith and what Christianity was about. I would have theological arguments with friends. Some tenants of Christianity were becoming very attractive to me, but I could not get passed certain aspects.
I was still an atheist going into my sophomore year. Slowly, but surely my mind was opening up. I started seeking the truth, instead of looking for evidence to back up my already-held beliefs. My friends and professors were holding my hand in the quest for truth, trying to make Christianity accessible to me. In the fall of 2010, I believed that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, but it did not change my life. I looked at it as a fact, but nothing else. In the spring of 2011, Dr. Covington gave me a book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller in order to help me answer some questions I had. Going into the book, I expected to learn some things and hear a handful of good arguments. By the end of the book, my soul was saved. Part 2 of the book on the reasons for faith were instrumental in explaining to me what exactly the resurrection, grace, and the trinity mean to me. It blew me away. I finally got it. I was saved! Despite my wretchedness, Jesus gives me grace for nothing in return. I changed my partying lifestyle, which brought me closer to my friends, improved my academic performance and let me reach my full potential as an athlete. During the 2012 Track season, I was an All-American in the 800 Meter after coming just short twice before and getting suspended from the eventual 4th place Distance Medley Relay team in 2011 for drinking during the season.
I could not have done this without the acceptance of the Westmont community. They did not make me an outsider, though I may have done my best to make myself one at times. The love they poured on me during my whole conversion process was a main factor for me in coming to Christ. I learned how to have an open mind and I was able to receive salvation. I could never repay the people that walked with me on my journey.
Keeping an open mind and seeking the truth are some things that I have learned at Westmont that have literally changed my life. It is wise to keep your voice down during arguments and listen to the other side. You might end up saving a nonbeliever. If someone is doubtful of Christianity or even outright hostile towards it, responding with condemnation and judgment is not a proper reflection of Christianity. This can go beyond discussions of faith. Christ is about love towards all and we should display that love during disagreements. We are all broken. We will have our disagreements. We all have our demons that haunt us from the past. But what matters is we are Westmont, a diverse community of people bound together by their love for each other. You may feel alone at times, but the community around you will put their arms around you and cry with you if you open up to them. Do not be afraid to be who you are.