October 13, 2014 / Theology
Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you …
September 26, 2008
Campus Ministries: Breathing Lessons for the “Vertigo of the Great Deeps”
Among the many unusual perils of deep-sea diving is le vertige des grandes profoundeurs, a French phrase meaning “the vertigo of the great deeps.” The phrase communicates the human brain’s response to the serenity of life at the bottom of the sea; as ocean divers reach extreme depths, the peace of their surroundings can lull them into an irrational certainty that breathing without assistance is possible, that their breathing apparatus is an unnecessary accessory, a weighty trinket that does nothing but prevent a clear breath of suboceanic air.
The vertigo of the great deeps is something of a problem in higher education as well. As college students dive ever deeper into the various disciplines of the modern university, they face an overwhelming subconscious impulse to trust solely in reason. To borrow the title from Anne Tyler’s novel, campus ministries at a Christian liberal arts university can provide “breathing lessons” for students as they submerge themselves in study and community life; campus ministries can challenge students to (in the words of desert father Abba Felix) create a space where obedience to God’s truth can be practiced in community. In this way, students at our universities should be challenged to live and breathe in the world as people who embody the disciplinary challenges they reflect upon in lectures, independent studies, and research.
Several misunderstandings have coalesced to create the vertigo of the great deeps in higher education. The first is an image of the university as a commodity. This hedonistic perspective falsely suggests that students should have little or no challenge in their education (“I have paid too much for this education to deserve a C on my exam!”). Another problematic view is the mischaracterization of campus ministries in higher education as an extreme form of in loco parentis (“in the place of parents”), ultimately coddling students rather than challenging them toward a deeper and more robust faith. Finally, films such as Animal House and Old School continue to perpetuate the idea that the university is a playground of extended adolescence, a place where students can mess around until they make it into the real world. This view of university as entertainment rather than education infects many university ministry programs that become mere stage shows for itinerant big name speakers and contemporary Christian bands rather than places of still contemplation, proximity, and intimacy of soul.
One of the challenges campus ministries offers in cooperation within the grand scope of a Christian liberal arts university is its commitment to education as a holistic experience which embodies Jesus’s great command found in Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” As an alum of a Christian liberal arts university, and having been a director of campus ministries for a number of years prior to my move into full-time teaching and research, I stand under the conviction that education is ultimately a holistic engagement where theoria and praxis go hand in hand, convictions of the heart and mind find life in the hands and feet of our students.
Steve Garber1 furthers this holistic vision of Christian higher education in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior during the University Years. Garber proposes three distinctive challenges for connecting belief to behavior during the university years, and these challenges should serve as nexus points for campus ministries and the larger mission of the university: convictions, character, and community.
Garber states that students who make the move from a statement of personal faith toward a life of character-formed action in the world are “taught a worldview which [is] sufficient for the questions and crises of the next twenty years, particularly the challenges of modern consciousness with its implicit secularization and pluralization.”2 It is interesting to read Garber’s statement on the importance of conviction in light of the new world students now inhabit. Fabric of Faithfulness was penned in the late 1990s; it was written before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, before neo-celebrities like Monica Lewinsky and Paris Hilton achieved fame for being famous rather than contributing to the common good, before the Columbine shootings became a primary source for artistic reflection, and before 9/11 transformed our ideas of what constitutes being American, both nationally and globally. These events pose new questions to students as they ground their identity in culture, and universities must provide opportunities for dialogue, not rhetoric; they must point students toward convictions that practically demonstrate how to live in this world. Yet while this new “accelerated generation” may experience different kinds of challenges than students from even a decade ago, the need for conviction—to move beyond indifference and into responsiveness—is still central in the formation of what Dr. David McKenna has termed Christian Scholar Servants.3 Campus ministries play a distinctive, vital role in the Christian liberal arts university by raising up these Christian Scholar Servants and providing opportunities for dialogue and action around the topic of conviction.
Garber goes on to note that students who make the shift from belief to behavior are most often those who “met a teacher who incarnated the worldview which they were coming to consciously identify as their own, and in and through that relationship they saw that it was possible to reside within that worldview themselves.”4 In short, Garber advocates what Stanley Hauerwas in A Community of Character and Sharon Daloz Parks in The Critical Years: Young Adults and the Search for Meaning, Faith and Commitment argue: character is something that is modeled actively in the lives of staff and faculty before and with students, not merely as a reasoned ethical construct.5
The final and foundational strand of Garber’s triad is community. As he states, students in his study were more likely to bridge the gap from belief to behavior when they made choices regarding their lived worldview “in the company of mutually committed folk who provided a network of stimulation and support which showed that the ideas could be coherent across the whole of life.”6 In some ways this is the most obvious yet elusive strand in Garber’s triad. The first degree-granting universities in Europe were founded in the medieval period—the University of Bologna (1088), the University of Paris (c. 1150, later associated with the Sorbonne), the University of Oxford (1167), and the University of Cambridge (1209) were some of the earliest universities—and were greatly influenced by the monastic communities of early Christendom and the Madrasah communities in Islamic Spain as cloistered collectives of scholars closed off from the everyday world of the commoner. Today, most modern universities celebrate not a cloistering of access to knowledge, but a radical openness to and conversation with the culture that surrounds them. This has its heritage in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German tradition, and is termed the Humboldtian model, after Wilhelm von Humboldt, and based on theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher’s notions of freedom and feeling amid community as marks of Christian piety.7 Rather than walls defining the places of higher education, wide-open paths now lead to large quads and lecture halls with seating for the masses, thereby asserting the egalitarian ideals of contemporary higher education: these are places for open discussion and debate that are akin to the Aeropagus of Saint Paul’s debate with the Athenians in Acts 17. This open aspect of the modern university creates a challenge for Christian universities in regard to faith formation and raises the role of discernment—how do we determine what is right and just before God when the sacred and profane have equal access? The challenges of what constitute the core of the Christian message are contested all the more as the community opens more to the culture. Garber does not argue for a return to cloistering, by any means, but for developing intentional covenant relationships amid the culture. This believing in and practicing of community within the larger community of the university will enable students to move into the world with more confidence and an appreciation for faith formation as a continual communal task among covenant relations. This ability to catalyze and support covenant relationships during the university years is a distinct role that campus ministries has played on Christian and non-Christian campuses for years. As philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff has made clear in his essay “The Project of a Christian University in a Postmodern Culture,” it is only when gathered communities of committed Christians join together in the practice of the faith that the Gospel is made known to both the believer and the culture:
Thus Christian critics do not just say to their society, “This is what the Bible says” and let it go at that. Ethical critics are not missionaries, nor even Barthian preachers. Their ethical perceptions and convictions are formed and informed by the Scriptures. But they proceed by interpreting the practices, desires, motivations, and convictions of the members of their society, searching and acknowledgement of the principles they believe correct.8
More than large programs that encourage passive spectatorship on the sidelines of culture, campus ministries’ core mandate as the ministerial foundation of the university is to provoke intentional relationships of depth and accountability grounded in the ministry of Jesus and to encourage contextual communities of care during the university years so that students seek opportunities for “interpreting the practices, desires, motivations, and convictions of the members of their society, searching and acknowledgement of the principles they believe correct.” Karl Barth makes the point that without a believing community enacted and supported, theology itself is not possible:
There would be no theology if there were not a community obligated in a special way to the witness of its word. Its central problem is posed for theology not in an empty space but by the community’s ministry, and this is the problem that constitutes theology as a science next to other sciences. If one disregards its origin in the ministry of the community, then all of its problems would lose their theological character, if they had not become ephemeral already, and they would be consigned to the area of general and especially historical arts and letters [. . . .] In the ministry of theology, the community tests all that it does on the basis of the criterion given by its commission, ultimately and finally in the light of the word of its Lord and Commissioner.9
Overall, a compelling vision for campus ministries within the greater concerns of the university has never been more necessary. Faculty and staff who participate actively in the opportunities afforded by campus ministries discover that this nexus point of theoria and praxis continues to provide contextual and embodied reminders for students amid the vertigo of the great deeps. In my past role as the Director for the Centre of Advanced Studies in Christian Ministry and Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, I was reminded firsthand of the unique opportunities our students and faculty have in the community of a Christian university. British universities have diminished the role of Student Life overall in comparison to their American counterparts, and Campus Ministries (or as it is referred to in the U.K., “the Chaplaincy”) in particular tends to be outsourced to neighboring parish priests and ministers. In short, the British universities provide no active attempt to engage students’ academic formation with their spiritual development. Conversely, my experiences as a student, campus ministry director, and now faculty member at a Christian liberal arts university in the United States have continually offered a foundation from which to ask questions of ultimate concern while living and moving within a context of support that both challenges and yet simultaneously nurtures my spiritual growth and the growth of those around me. I am reminded of Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who, upon winning the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for literature, made the following comments in his acceptance speech assessing the dawn of the twenty-first century, a century that will be the inheritance of our current undergraduates:
This [current generation is immersed in a] relentless cult of novelty, with its assertion that art need not be good or pure, just so long as it is new, newer, and newer still, conceals an unyielding and long-sustained attempt to undermine, ridicule and uproot all moral precepts. There is no God, there is no truth, the universe is chaotic, all is relative, “the world as text,” a text any postmodernist is willing to compose. How clamorous it all is, but also—how helpless.10
There is always the temptation in higher education, even in Christian liberal arts education, to see these educational vectors of conviction, character, and community as secondary to the academic task, particularly where funding issues are concerned, and to do so only further actualizes Solzhenitsyn’s cultural assessment. But the vision of a holistic education that calls out and challenges a new generation of students as Christian Scholar Servants is one that sees the mission and vision of what is exemplified in the integration of campus ministries with the larger educational concerns of the Christian university as central to the task of breathing well amid the vertigo of the great deeps.
A Vision for Campus Ministries in the Twenty-First Century
The tide has turned from the days where campus ministries were merely an extension of the parish ministry of the local university church. Where the campus ministry programs at a Christian liberal arts university once only provided a supplement to the ongoing ministries of the parish church, the reverse is now more frequently the case. An increasing number of students are seeing the engagement with fellow students, faculty, and staff within the context of campus ministry programs as the primary source for their spiritual development as young adults. Additionally, given the sharp rise in the number of nominally Christian students attending Christian liberal arts colleges and universities, it is paramount that the priorities of campus ministries be expanded. And at the dawn of the twenty-first century, campus ministries within Christian higher education seem to have four important opportunities to spark students out of a complacent, fixed self-identification toward a renewing, Christ-centered/praxis-centered horizon: these movements are from technological isolation toward real-life intimacy, from passive ethics toward engaged citizenship, from occupational drive toward radical vocational abandonment, and from racial ignorance and isolation toward true racial reconciliation through honesty, humility, and hard work.
From technological isolation toward real-life intimacy:
As demonstrated by the Summer 2004 issue of the Christian Scholar’s Review, technology remains a central question for most universities.11 However, the question of how Christian students, faculty, and staff create community with the acceleration of technological change remains a relatively silent area of reflection for campus ministries. The promise that technology would somehow draw humanity closer together is beginning to show its shadow-side in this generation of university students. This sense of estrangement and isolation in an accelerated culture and what comes from this malaise is illustrated in the recent reimagining of the Columbine shootings as award-winning movies and novels—Michael Moore’s Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine, Gus van Sant’s Palm d’ Or award at the Cannes Film Festival for Elephant, and the Booker Prize for Best Novel in 2003 for DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. The provision of tools and encouragement for overcoming this sense of isolation and moving toward intimacy is an important calling. In our world of microwave-speed and internet instant messaging, there is a challenge for higher education to question the supposed safety of technology as a surrogate for embodied trust and real relationships. As Jacques Ellul prophetically states:
Technique [as technology] has become a reality in itself, self-sufficient, with its special laws and its own determinations. Let us not deceive ourselves on this point [. . .] Technique tolerates no judgment from without and accepts no limitation [. . .] The power and autonomy of technique are so well secured that it, in its turn, has become the judge of what is moral, the creator of a new morality. Thus, it plays the role of creator of a new civilization as well.12
This theme is picked up a few years later by Marshall McLuhan in his seminal book on the media entitled The Medium is the Massage; McLuhan insists that we cannot understand the technological nature of today’s culture from the outside as a “viewer” from an objective space. Instead, we can only comprehend how the electronic age “works us over” if we “recreate the experience” in depth. He makes this point with regard to mass media:
All media work us over completely. They are so persuasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the message. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the way media work as environments.13
Part of the re-creation of this technological experience during the university years is to provide a larger and more compelling vision than technological isolation, a vision of life that in a technological age is grounded in a deeper call toward the twinned intimacy with God and humanity. In active response to life as isolated acceleration, campus ministries within Christian higher education has before it the challenge of the intimate Incarnation, to take up the sacramental mandate put forward by Christ in Luke 22:19 (“do this in remembrance of me”), to be about the business of re-membering and calling the dismembered and isolated of the community to a place of table fellowship in real time and with real people.
From passive ethics toward engaged citizenship:
The question of engaged citizenship (that is, engagement with government agencies and programs) continues to be an important aspect of American higher education and yet it remains a small area of reflection for most campus ministry programs outside of voter awareness and registration. Although service opportunities remain ever present, and short- and long-term mission programs are the cornerstone to many campus ministries, becoming actively involved as a citizen requires renewed imagination in most universities.
Indeed, Western culture has lightning-fast access to data concerning the lives and deaths of every culture on the planet, yet never has active engagement in response to such data been so low—take, for example, what we see flashing across our blog sites, cable channels, and PDA downloads. Some say that we in the West despair that the needs of the world are so large—the Aids epidemic in Malawi alone claiming over one thousand children per month and statistically pointing to the eradication of an entire generation, not to mention the staggering statistics of HIV-positive adults in many African countries—that responsiveness is seen as simply inconsequential against the seemingly astronomical epidemic at hand. The utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill—work toward the greatest good for the great number in a manner that minimizes personal and communal cost—haunts our steps and directs our paths as individuals and a body politic. In many ways, higher education need to own up to their share of the blame in forming a generation of indifferent or ethically immobilized young adults. The drive to create the modern university as a place where knowledge is a commodity that can be acquired as quickly and painlessly as possible—the world’s largest online university, the University of Phoenix, had a recent advertisement offering “a valued education without personal cost” that illustrates this point—as opposed to a place of responsibility (“let them who have ears hear”) that provokes, and ultimately demands, a life lived with great intentionality toward those who are our “neighbors”14 should be a serious calling for the Christian liberal arts university.
Having worked in the United Kingdom for six years, I have observed that the growing trend in U.K. and European universities is to embrace a deeply utilitarian model for education which perpetuates a situational ethic as an outcome in most disciplines—the outcome of ethics will shift as the context shifts—so that education is about objective theory upon possible scenarios rather than active engagement in real time, real place, real life. Conversely, the Christian ethic should point one’s life toward an active engagement in the world, not merely a theoretical reflection upon it. Christian liberal arts universities have had a long heritage in challenging the learning community to engage the world both locally and globally in real time and in real places. Indeed, calling students toward a life of active and engaged citizenship in the world is a timely vocation.
In a 2003 issue of the literary magazine Granta, which was dedicated to how America is perceived overseas, they reprinted the commencement address offered by New York Times columnist Chris Hedges to Rockford College in Illinois with his later reflections on the events that transpired. In this address, made shortly after 9/11, Hedges reflected on 9/11 as a means to show the difference between true friendship and what he termed comradeship:
Think back on the days after the attacks on 9/11. Suddenly we no longer felt alone; we connected with strangers, even with people we did not like. We felt we belonged, that we were somehow wrapped in the embrace of the nation, the community. In short, we no longer felt alienated [. . . .] The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why, after war, we fall into despair.15
Indeed, although as comrades we may find common ground in the midst of adversity and a willingness to unify despite difference, Hedges illustrates that this is not necessarily deep and abiding friendship. As he goes on to summarize:
In friendship there is a deepening of our sense of self. We become, through the friend, more aware of who we are and what we are about [. . . .] In comradeship, the kind that comes with patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause—a common purpose. In comradeship there are no demands on the self [. . . .] Comradeship allows us to escape the demands on the self that is part of friendship.16
It is interesting to note that when Hedge gave his speech, the students in attendance shouted and booed him off the stage for his observations—some even tried to unplug his microphone. Administrators did nothing. In fact, they ultimately wrote an open letter to parents apologizing for inviting him and stating that “education at Rockford is never intended to offend.”17
If we are to challenge a generation of engaged citizens, we as educators who proclaim a gospel of liberation need to accept the responsibility that not all of our students will be comforted by a call to responsibility in the world. This is a challenge I wholeheartedly see as central to the task of campus ministries with the Christian liberal arts university in the twenty-first century. What it means to be concerned and active citizens in our country and globally aware of our faith should move beyond election-year hype and pervade our campus discussions as a distinct part of our worship and praise.
From occupational drive toward radical vocational abandonment:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s pointed question in his book Ethics is foundational in the developing mission of campus ministries within Christian higher education and a central question to keep in front of our students given the weight of response that is required: “What is the place and what are the limits of my responsibility in the world?”18 According to Bonhoeffer, it is the call of Christ that gives us our place, and therefore, our responsibility, in the world. Vocation over and above occupation is the answer to Bonhoeffer’s question.
Taking up Bonhoeffer’s challenge, we have a freedom to abandon ourselves to a calling to be in and for the world through our calling to be in relationship with God and with our neighbor. This freedom in relationship, as the image of God, means the freedom of the individual in relationship to be called beyond choosing a career per se. One of the things I have been impressed by in my relationship with Seattle Pacific University through the years is the way the Career Development Center works together with University Ministries and the Perkins Center in taking the understanding of career development as a deeply vocational development, and that freedom to choose one’s career is ultimately a freedom for service to and for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For Bonhoeffer, this freedom found in one’s calling is a freedom in relationship within community and is hammered out through service in real and concrete life. As Bonhoeffer makes clear, in this belonging to God and neighbor as our primary vocation, we are freed to follow God’s call with and through the various occupations we are prepared for.
From racial ignorance and isolation toward true racial reconciliation through honesty, humility, and hard work:
Bonhoeffer notes that “since all persons are created unique, even in the community of love the tension between wills is not abolished. This means that conflict as such is not the consequence of the fall, but arises on the basis of the common love for God.”19 One of the most pressing questions before Christian universities today is the question surrounding racial reconciliation. In a survey of campus ministries staff across the country, The Ivy Jungle, a national organization dedicated to supporting college ministries, noted that 77 percent of respondents to their 2003 survey identified themselves as white compared to more than 90 percent of their respondents in 2001.20 Although the percentage shows some improvement in acknowledging the lack of diversity as noted by the most recent surveys, the face of campus ministry in America is certainly a white one. Cheryl Sanders, Professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University Divinity School, makes the following assertion with regard to the importance of reconciliation surrounding the issue of racial and ethnic diversity in higher education:
The ministry of Jesus Christ is meaningless without reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation is our collective commitment to overcome the barriers that divide and alienate people from each other by the healing power of love and unity that flows from the Spirit of God. The New Testament accounts of how Jesus ministered at the margins of his society provide a strong foundation for teaching, modeling and promoting reconciliation both in the academy and the church [. . . .] The ministry of reconciliation is fundamental to the Christian faith. It is no accident that the Spirit chose an international, multi-cultural gathering of believers in Jerusalem as the setting for the Pentecost outpouring, whose testimony was that “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Pentecost is God’s remedy for disunity. Many languages, many colors, many cultures, but one testimony of one God.21
I have become increasingly convinced that campus ministries within the mission of Christian higher education can and should provide a return to an embodied framing of the traditional four-fold marks of the church as “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” with a particular emphasis on “one.”
During my time in Scotland, I served on the National Board of Mission for the Church of Scotland in relation to Urban Priority Areas (UPAs) in west Scotland. One of our long-term foci had been the reconciliation of communities within UPAs that have had an influx of asylum seekers relocating to the area from throughout Africa and Eastern Europe. Glasgow itself has the largest per capita of asylum seeker relocation in all of the United Kingdom, including the immigration of six thousand people in just six months in 2003. In a UPA-parish in the Sighthill area of Glasgow that was experiencing severe economic and racial tension between the first-generation Asian and Scots populations, we watched as within one year the primary language spoken in the neighborhood shifted from English to Farsi. Glasgow is a city where racial and sectarian violence are a part of everyday life in many areas, and Sighthill is no exception. Orange marches22 occur on a regular basis, and the street violence between Catholics and Protestants on the “glorious 12th” (the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne on July 12) at times rivals that of Belfast across the Irish Sea. Our leadership team worked on a number of different programs in conjunction with the Centre for Advanced Study in Christian Ministry at the University of Glasgow where I was on faculty. Our goal was to pilot some large-scale efforts aimed at diversity education across sectarian barriers that were deeply racial, religious, and economic in nature. But much of the work is more basic and more profound—creating a diverse and hospitable community means overcoming fears and mistrust of those who are “other” than what is assumed to be normative and that means creating a new language of being that is inclusive and welcoming. As part of my work with the University of Glasgow, I brought students to these UPAs to encounter community members and to hear the challenges of forging community amid diversity. One of my students remarked, “This is the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of my education pulled together.” What continually startled me in comments like this was how novel it was for students in the United Kingdom to be in a situation with a faculty member outside a classroom setting and creating a space where ministry was binding itself to education reflection. This unique space where students, staff, and faculty can gather together as fellow sojourners in authentic community is the right space for reconciliation to begin.
What is acknowledged is that reconciliation is not possible without an honest assessment of the economic and racial divides that occur not only in the neighborhoods that surround our campuses, but the divides that continue to exist within our universities. This is a discussion uniquely suited for campus ministry programs given the biblical mandates that ground their sense of mission in reconciliation and humility. It is through grace alone that this gift of community amid diversity is made possible through Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this point clear in Life Together:
But without Christ we also would not know our brother [or sister], nor could we come to him [or her]. The way is blocked by own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother [and sister]. Now Christians can live with one another in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only by way of Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together. To eternity he remains the one Mediator [. . .] Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us [. . . .] I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us recedes, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.23
Lastly, cultivating a welcoming and supportive environment for diverse populations takes hard work. When I served on the Board of Directors for New Horizons in Seattle, an inner-city outreach program that works with homeless teen prostitutes, I was amazed at the basic message case workers communicated over and over again: “They don’t have to listen to us—we have to earn the right to be heard by these teens. Programs and techniques are fine, but it is a theology of presence that makes the difference in the long run.” Having graduated from Garfield, an inner-city high school in Seattle, and having seen the neighborhoods of the Central District torn up in racial and economic violence over the years, I can testify that the persistent presence of inner city churches have made a profound difference. They have an impact because they don’t buy into racial and economic reconciliation as a quick fix but as long-term obedience in the same direction.
If Christian liberal arts colleges and universities are to continue the important task of encouraging a welcoming, supportive environment for diverse populations, campus ministry programs and other university initiatives need further support and reflection. Ultimately, this is a communal task that must be honest in its past failures, humble in its acknowledgement that the university community is incomplete as long as there are those who are excluded from communion either overtly or through ignorance, and passionate in its hard work so that it earns the right to be heard by the diverse communities God calls to us. As the old saying goes, “No one cares how much we know until they know how much we care.” Perhaps this is a good place to start.
As I conclude this essay, a new generation of students is flooding the campuses of our universities. Parents outside my window are tearfully unloading boxes of clothes and keepsakes that will adorn dorm rooms, students are returning from the bookstores with fresh textbooks and T-shirts emblazoned with the mascot of our university, and faculty are putting the finishing touches on syllabi in preparation for this new crop of eager minds and passionate hearts. Every fall term I am reminded of another college student whose story is perhaps the backdrop to this essay and my drive to emphasize the place that faith formation should continue to hold as a core concern in our educational enterprise. As someone deeply formed by the power of story, this scholarly focus begins with a “once upon a time.”
While working as Director of Campus Ministries at Seattle Pacific University in 1994, I spent the Christmas break meeting with base community churches in Guatemala through contacts in the Presbyterian Church (USA). One evening I was journaling in a café in Antigua and discovered a used bookshelf filled with English paperbacks. One of the books was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s bildungsroman This Side of Paradise. This decidedly “American” novel seemed completely out of place in this ancient city, but I picked it up and began to read; I couldn’t put it down. As I reached the end of the book, I came to these final words where the protagonist Amory Blaine returns to his alma mater Princeton University after his life has fallen apart. Amory stands in the middle of this grand university campus and muses the following:
Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a reverie of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken [. . .]24
As Amory reflects on these insights, the novel ends with these words:
There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth—yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams [. . .] And he could not tell why the struggle was worthwhile, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed [. . .] he stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.
“I know myself,” he cried, “but that is all.”25
I closed the book and was stunned. Have the manifold disciplines of the academy only led us to produce graduates who “know thyself”? Isn’t there something more to being a person than mere self-awareness? What comes after “but that is all?” In that regard I formally began my scholarly reflections on the nature of subjectivity and identity formation, considerations which have framed my intellectual and ministerial vocation for over the past decade.
As this next generation of students come to our campuses and seek meaning of depth and breadth, it is the charge of the Gospel to provoke this generation beyond “I know myself but that is all” and into a repose with a faith that is otherwise than self and an embrace of the dictum found in Galatians 2: 20: “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” These are the breathing lessons campus ministries has before it as a new generation struggles to be born anew.
2. Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior during the University Years (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 37.
3. David McKenna has served as president at a number of institutions of Christian higher education, including Seattle Pacific University and Asbury Theological Seminary. McKenna framed the notion of a well-rounded student with these three descriptors, Christian Scholar Servant, and saw the role of the university president as framed by an accountability to these outcomes. See his discussion in “Administration as Ministry,” in A Celebration of Ministry: Essays in Honor of Frank Bateman Stanger, ed. Kenneth Cain Kinghorn (Wilmore, KY: Francis Asbury Publishing Company Inc., 1982), 72-79.
4. Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness, 38.
5. See Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) and Sharon Daloz Parks, The Critical Years: Young Adults and the Search for Meaning, Faith, and Commitment (San Francisco: Harpercollins, 1991).
6. Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness, 38.
7. In his early essay on human freedom (Über die Freiheit), Schleiermacher abandoned the idea of transcendental freedom in favor of a more limited notion of freedom that was ultimately grounded in the religious response to the infinite whole as it reveals itself in finite reality. Understanding and developing these limits denotes the boundaries of community. In contrast to Kant, Schleiermacher turned to the empirical experience of the moral agent. Schleiermacher argued against Kant that action is always determined by our strongest desire. He argued that all human action is moved by instincts or impulses, but that does not mean that reason is impotent in its deliberations about choices. He claimed that there is a properly moral impulse within the actual life experience of the empirical self and that this moral impulse competes with other impulses in the deliberations of the agent to become the incentive of action. Schleiermacher therefore claimed that the originating cause of moral action lies within the empirical self rather than outside of it. With this early critique of Kant’s idea of transcendental freedom, Schleiermacher brought together what Kant had previously argued—namely, the nexus of sensible inclinations and moral duty—by making the moral impulse one of the affective desires that can determine a moral act. In short, Schleiermacher did not deny the moral law but rather claimed that the law is given through the sentient experience of the self and must be interpreted by it through affective emotions and the actions provoked by them that carry us into community. For Schleiermacher, the ethical life is a free process of Bildung—the German notion of “formation” that was employed readily by Goethe—and the education of a moral agent was understood as individuals working with other individuals toward moral ends and purposes. In this way, the necessity of the communitas becomes paramount. Although Schleiermacher ultimately argues for the self-actualization of the moral agent, the importance of communities is certainly key to his understanding of human freedom.
8. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The Project of a Christian University in a Postmodern Culture,” in Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education, ed. Clarence W. Joldersma and Gloria Goris Stronks (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 131.
9. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, rev. ed. (London: T. & T. Clark Publishers, 2004), part 3, 2nd half, par. 72, 1007. Cited by Darrell L. Guder, “From Mission and Theology to Missional Theology” in The Inaugural Lecture of Darrell L. Guder as Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, December 4, 2002. www.ptsem.edu/guder.
10. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Relentless Cult of Novelty and How It Wrecked the Century,” New York Times Book Review, February 7, 1993, 17.
11. See Christian Scholar’s Review, Volume XXXIII, Number 4 (Summer 2004)Theme Issue: E-Learning and Christian Higher Education. http://www.csreview.org/XXXIII4/.
12. Jacques Ellul, The Technology Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 134.
13. Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, ed. Quentin Fiore (New York: Bantam, 1967), 26. McLuhan also predicts the work of writers such as Jean Baudrillard in that he also discusses how the current cultural environment in the West is a “technological sensorium” whereby everything is technologically mediated.
14. In this word, one can perhaps hear echoes of ethicists such as Emmanuel Levinas in Otherwise than Being and theologians like Miroslav Volf in , thinkers who have called for persons to face their neighbor in a repose that demands the active acknowledgment of our personal and corporate calling into the world. Levinas and Volf call for us to go beyond ethics, beyond ethical reflection, and to make a move of radical commitment to the needs we see in the world.
15. Chris Hedges, “Commencement Address to Rockford College,” in Granta 84, Winter 2003 (London: Granta), 32.
16. Hedges, 33. Emphasis added.
17. Hedges, 33
18. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1955), 254.
19. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Communion of Saints (Sanctorum Communio) (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 41.
20. The Ivy Jungle, “The State of Campus Ministry” http://www.ivyjungle.org/genericpage/displaypage.aspx?guid=6E181B64-8F79-4CD0-A8E9-AA71B441605C.
21. Cheryl Sanders, Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth and the Poor (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997) 92, 98. Emphasis added.
22. Orange Marches are parades held annually by members of the Orange Order, a Protestant nationalist organization, during the summer in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Members of the Orange Order march through the streets of neighborhoods to assert the rights of Protestants over and against Catholics. These typically build up to the 12th of July celebrations that mark Prince William of Orange’s victory over King James II, a Catholic monarch, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Although the term “Orange march” is widely used in the media, the Order prefers terms such as “walk” or “demonstration.” See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/4241058.stm.
23. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 23, 25–26. Emphasis added.
24. F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (New York: Scribner, 1920, 1960), 282.
25. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 282.
Jeff Keuss is professor of Christian ministry, theology, and culture at Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of A Poetics of Jesus, The Sacred and Profane: Current Demands in Hermeneutics, and Freedom of the Self: Kenosis, Cultural Identity, and Mission at the Crossroads. Keuss is the co-chair of the Paul Ricoeur Consultation for the American Academy of Religion and serves on the editorial board for the journal Literature and Theology (Oxford University Press). When he is not blogging at Theology Kung Fu (http://senseijfk.wordpress.com/), he is often playing Scrabble with his wife and losing horribly.