Psychology Today Article Recognizes Crossing Member

Leigh Shaffer, a member here at The Crossing, was the subject of a recent article in Psychology Today. It begins this way:

Dr. Leigh Shaffer is a dear friend and colleague whose health has not been good lately. He has borne his illness as he has conducted himself throughout his life, with much grace, humility, and dignity. I wanted to take this opportunity to write a note of gratitude for my time with Leigh, as he has been an inspiration to me.

Leigh is an academic. He spent many years as a professor of psychology before moving to Columbia with his wife Barbara. He is also a committed Christian, having participated in various teaching and ministry roles throughout his life. Both of these aspects of Leigh’s life feature prominently in the article, which was authored by George Mason psychology professor Gregg Henriques. In reading Henriques’ “letter of deep appreciation” for his friend, I was struck by a handful of things that can teach and encourage us:

Humility is attractive. 

Henriques writes that he reached out to Leigh for professional reasons and “encountered one of the most humble, likeable, and knowledgeable individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.” Self-promotion may attract attention, but others-centered humility fosters genuine admiration.

Professional excellence produces respect, which in turn creates opportunities for the gospel.

After being impressed with Leigh’s intellectual insights and collaborating with him professionally by phone and email, Henriques eventually met Leigh in person:

My first in-person encounter with Leigh was very memorable. We met at an APA convention, as we were doing a symposium…. After we met in person for a bit, he said something that would open up my horizons. “You don’t know this about me, Gregg, but I am an Evangelical Christian.”

I must admit I was surprised. (As I am sure most people know, most academic psychologists who explore evolutionary reasons for religion are not Evangelicals). “Seriously?” I said. “That is fascinating. I need to understand this more.”

Christians shouldn’t work hard and pursue excellence merely to provide opportunities for the gospel. They’re called to serve to Christ in that way regardless of who notices. Still, God can and often does use such work to open doors to substantial conversations, as they did in Leigh’s case.

Respectful, ongoing personal relationships usually make a bigger impact than isolated conversations.

Henriques mentions his correspondence with Leigh:

A series of letters, totaling 50 single space pages, back and forth between a skeptic and a believer. I learned about Biblical exegesis, clarified exactly the difference between an Evangelical and Fundamentalist, and ended up reading the New Testament more carefully than ever, as I explored the deep messages it was communicating via Leigh’s tutelage. Leigh gave me the full freedom to press my skepticism and articulate why I had a hard time accepting some of Evangelical claims. It was all done with trust and respect and honor for the integrity of the process of seeking out the true and the good. I deeply believe we need more of these kinds of exchanges—thoughtful intellectual spaces opened up between worldviews. Leigh was a wonderful guide, and I developed a profound appreciation for the sophistication and devotion with which Leigh simultaneously held together a scientific psychological and an Evangelical view of the world. It was a most edifying encounter.

And again:

When I gave him family updates, he was always both deeply kind and sincere in his replies. When my friend and colleague Harriet Cobb died by suicide, I was deeply touched and supported by Leigh’s personal sentiments, both for me and Harriet and her family.

While not everyone can manage the extensive correspondence that Leigh did in this case, his consistent willingness to pursue a relationship with kindness and respect is model we can all follow.

Lives are legacies. 

Only very few individuals achieve a lasting historical presence, or even a brief season of fame. But because our lives intertwine so significantly with those around us—family, friends, coworkers, etc.—they are an opportunity to create a significant Christ-honoring legacy. Of course, that’s never done perfectly, and it constantly requires grace. But with his grace, God can and does do wonderful things through our everyday lives, as evidenced by one last quote from Henriques about Leigh:

In this polarizing, confusing time that is fraught with hostility and clashes between ideological visions about how the world is and what we should do, my deep appreciation for Leigh Shaffer only grows. His capacity to think deeply about the world and to engage it both scientifically and spiritually is inspiring.

Most of all, he embodies the universal best that humankind has to offer. He has lived a life of deep wisdom, humility, and kindness, and I will be forever grateful for our time together and for what he has taught me.

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