Friday, June 24, 2011

Senior: Sammy Ramsey

The first time I saw Sammy Ramsey, he was wearing a flashy Christian hoodie sweatshirt, his hat was stylishly cocked to the side and he was wearing sunglasses indoors.  I’m pretty sure he had some kind of chain with a  Christian emblem on it, but most memorable for sure was his huge and shining “JESUS” belt buckle.  He was up front at our Real Life meeting singing with the praise band and looking like one fly Jesus loving dude!   

Sam is actually an amazing singer –he’s sung at the Apollo theater, and even tried out to be a guest actor on the t.v. show Glee.  In a few weeks he'll be trying out for American Idol!  With his help, we’ve been able to incorporate black gospel music into our Real Life praise sets.   

Over the years Sammy has served faithfully as a leader in our ministry.  Sam lead musically, but he’s also a gifted communicator, with a great mind as well.  Sam loves God first and foremost, but he also has an incredible passion for science.  He studied entomology and his excitement for  bugs is literally out of this world.  (That's a millipede on his face!!!) 

God has been at work so faithfully throughout all of his life and it was always fun and edifying to hang out and talk with him –his life has truly been an adventure full of great stories and amazing occurrences!  Before Sammy was born, doctors told his mother that she wouldn’t be able to have kids.  I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember that despite the diagnosis, she decided to trust God and pray for children.  In time she had three, Sam has an older brother and an older sister.   Sam went to school in one of the worst high schools in America near Washington D.C.  and yet his love of science motivated him to excel academically.  One year he got to go to England to present  some research (on bugs) at London University, as well as Cambridge and Oxford.    

But science wasn’t always kind to Sam Ramsey.  In high school the foundations of his worldview were rocked by the teachings of Charles Darwin.  Sam loved science –and Charles Darwin’s ideas form much of the bedrock of current scientific theory.   To love science these days usually means you assent fully to all the major tenets of ‘Darwinism’.  But that presented a very personal –as well as spiritual- conflict.    

Did you know that the full title of Darwin’s most famous book is not simply “The Origin of the Species?”  The first thru fifth editions of his books were titled more fully On the origin of the species by the means of natural selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”   In it he says, “one of the strongest evidences for my theory is the existence of living 'primitive races'”. Throughout Darwin’s writing it is implicitly suggested as well as overtly stated that blacks (as well as other indigenous people) are inferior to white people.  One famous part in Darwin’s The Descent of Man says
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world.  At the same time the anthropomorphous (human-like) apes….will no doubt be exterminated.  The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. 


Darwin was asserting that blacks and aboriginal peoples are a race of people who are closer to gorillas –in his supposed evolutionary chain -than Caucasians.  He once wrote I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man; it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal . . . Viewing such a man, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world.”  Darwin went on to speculate that one effect of further civilization would be the extermination of  such “savage races.”  
Sam wrestled honestly with these ideas.   And these weren’t just academic propositions either!  It was real life. Darwin was saying blacks are less evolved, primitive animals who aren’t as smart as whites.    Sam looked around at the test scores of his African-American classmates in his inner-city school –which were very low - and was compelled to ask “is it possible that Darwin is right?”  Given the limited and specific sample, the horrifying possibility that Darwin’s conclusions were accurate pressed upon Sam with awful intensity.  Darwin talked about the way black and aboriginal people looked and compared them to Neanderthals.  As a young adolescent,  sorting thru the confusion, Sam would look in the mirror to wonder and worry that perhaps that was true.    Sam stared into his family and neighborhood and saw dysfunction and pain and feared that in fact they were the inevitable results of biological inferiority.   
Darwin’s ideas couldn’t be ignored, and they sparked in Sammy a desire for truth that lead him to investigate science more thoroughly and to understand the Bible more accurately.   The journey was arduous, and personal but thankfully, thru the scriptures God spoke to Sam and he was able to reclaim his identity as an image bearer of God –a Man created specially and specifically by God for his Glory.   We are not simply biological machines who came into existence by accident, but we are people, men and women created for a purpose.  Standing on the solid rock Sam now seeks to enjoy science in it’s proper place –using it both to understand God’s creation better and as a venue for employing his own God given intellect and gifts.   

Whenever I heard Sam talk about his experiences and past reflections my heart would be wrenched.  In his testimony I could see the schemes of the devil at work, I could see worldly philosophies bringing confusion and destruction to bear upon Sam’s mind.  By God’s grace, Sam emerged a stronger Christian, but his story illustrates the things Satan uses to confuse people, introduce lies lead people astray and blur peoples understanding of our glorious and loving God.   Of course his testimony also points to the power and grace of God who loves to reveal himself rightly to his people.   Sam’s intimate journey thru the guiding theories of the naturalist worldview were and are used by God to bring clarity and depth to Sam’s thinking.  And let me say that many students were able to benefit from the fruits of Sam’s struggle during his time at Cornell.    

While at Cornell Sam lived in the Eco House which is a unique residence hall that caters specifically to science majors.  He lead a weekly discussion there called “Questions in Genesis” which addressed questions relating to science and faith.   I was part of “QIG” with Sammy a couple of years ago and it was extremely helpful and informative for me!   Sam is so knowledgeable in both areas and his enthusiasm enables him to bring the topics to life in a way that is fun and engaging. 

My kids also loved Sam!  A few weeks ago Josiah said “I want Sammy to come to my birthday, so I can have a bug birthday.”  Themes are big deal with kids for their birthday and Sam Ramsey is a big hit in our house because he plays with bugs!  Big bugs, little bugs, nasty bugs and lady bugs.   He came out to the boys preschool twice to bring his pet millipedes (Leeroy 1 and Leeroy2) tarantulas and praying mantises.  He’d pull them out of their cages and hold them and let the kids see them up close.

Sam Ramsey is one of kind and we will miss him a lot next year.  Serving alongside guys like him is one of the main reasons we like being at Cornell!   His plan is to take a year off and work around Washington D.C. and then return to Cornell to get his PhD in entomology.   He’s holding those plans with an open hand, and we are too, but hopefully he’ll be back to spend more time ministering alongside us here at Cornell. 

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