Posts Tagged ‘college’

yes and no

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days … (from Deuteronomy 30)

Tonight in our campus ministry fellowship we discussed the idea of discernment, but with a twist.

Usually when we’re in a discernment or decision-making process, we ask open-ended questions: “What does God want me to do?”  “What is the Spirit trying to say to me?”  “What should I do?” (or even, “Why aren’t my prayers being answered?”)

Those are great questions, but maybe not always the best questions to be asking.  Sometimes a question can be too big.

So we started with two words, Yes and No.  We talked about how we say “yes” and “no” in the transition from high school student to college student to college graduate.  Along the way we outlined a discernment process that I just had to write about, because I think it’s great (open-source theology!)  By the way, keeping up spiritual disciplines (prayer, Christian fellowship, Scripture reading) is a given at all points in this journey.

Here’s the process we outlined:

1.  Begin with a very general question that you can answer with a yes or a no.  For example, a sixteen-year-old might ask, “Do I want to attend college at some point in the future?”  Those who were present tonight, by virtue of being college students, had answered “yes” to this question even if they hadn’t realized it.

2. Apply filters to this general concept:  filters of time, money, goals, personal values, or any other filter that’s important to you.  One student talked about wanting to join the military at some point in his life, but not wanting the environment of a military college.  So within his overall “Yes” to a college education, he ended up saying no to the military college and yes to the Reserves.

3.  Realize that you might spin in circles for a while, when you are in between steps in the process.  Some students talked about being so excited to attend college, but then spending some time trying out different majors or different groups of friends.  The trying-out phase was a little frustrating, but important for getting to the next step.

4.  Whittle down the number of “yes” answers into something manageable.  The students talked about making choices of how to spend their time while in college, and that fact that they have had to let some things go.

5.  Think about a “yes” within a “no.”  For example, a musically gifted student talked about the decision to say “no” to a degree in music while saying “yes” to music as a hobby and a source of personal enjoyment.

6.  Finally, evaluate your decision in terms of how it affirms life.  To the best of your ability, think of how this decision affirms you as a child of God, with all the gifts God has given you.  Even if your decision may result in some temporary stress, does it ultimately build up the life that God gave you?  To borrow a phrase from John McCall, a missionary in Taiwan, does your decision rest within “the divine yes”?

What do you think?

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empty space

Earlier this summer a friend sent me this aerial photo from Afghanistan.  It shows an empty space.  Years ago, folks carved a gigantic statue of the Buddha out of the rock of this mountain, and the statue (and others like it) stood silently through years of human history and all the good and bad that humans do.  In 2001, however, the Taliban decided the statues had to go, and dynamited them.  Thus the empty space.

imagine if someone did this to Mount Rushmore...

Aside from the issues of religious tolerance, human rights, and cultural preservation, this photo brings up a ton of questions for me about spirituality and religious expression.

First and foremost, don’t you feel a sense of grief when you look at this picture?  Regardless of your personal beliefs, does it not hurt to see evidence of humans trampling all over one another, and leaving open wounds in bodies as well as landscapes?

Second, this picture made me think about empty spaces I see in my own environment.  Some of them are tangible, like places that were flooded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and never rebuilt.  Some of them are intangible, like the spiritual empty spaces I encounter as a pastor:  places in people’s lives where there is an unresolved loss, an unfilled longing, or even an open wound.  Sometimes as a pastor I get to see empty spaces that people have brought upon themselves.  When you get to those places you are in a type of sacred space (maybe you could call it a “decision space,”) such as Moses encountered at the burning bush.  The empty spaces call out for some kind of action, even if just to remain empty for a while.  I read somewhere that efforts are underway to re-sculpt the statues, but for now the empty spaces have a lot to say on their own.

Third, I think about my job that’s coming up in a few weeks, to create some kind of sacred space for college students as they begin a new academic year.  As always, I selfishly enjoy having a large group of students, and hope that God sees fit to send the students we contacted at orientation our way!  More than that, I am always in prayer at this time of year over how to juggle truth, tolerance, idolatry, and emptiness as I work with these great folks.

I’ve noticed along the way that some people choose one of these three options when working with college students:

1.  Present Christian faith as rock-solid, written in stone, unchanging as the mountains into which we carve statues. But that’s not telling the truth.  Indeed, God is solid, the rock on which we can build a foundation (see Matthew 7:24-27.)  Yet our relationship with God, as individuals and as a church, changes.  I think we can say with authority that faith is not the mountain, but that it can move one (see Matthew 17:20-21.)

2.  Tear down everything students have been taught, using intellectual dynamite if needed. This also strikes me as dishonest.  The world’s best ideas are products of a complex process that involves tinkering, debating, critiquing, researching, and sometimes even poaching.  Perhaps some students need to have a rigorous initiation into the practice of thinking as an adult.  But I haven’t met anyone yet who developed a strong intellect and solid moral character via intellectual annihilation.

3.  Don’t say anything, and let folks figure it out for themselves. Also not a good option.  After all, why are college students even in school, if not for some guidance on how to get a life?  And if professors or RA’s or campus ministers truly believe the students are putting their faith in the wrong things, how can they be silent?

So I’ve got a lot of space to work with.  What are you doing with yours?