2017 is starting out just… epic… #not normal

So, in the last 48 hours, I’ve had remarkably encouraging and remarkably disappointing experiences.

First, I attended a challenging and brilliant lecture given by Kirsteen Kim of Leeds Trinity University. Some background regarding the challenge and brilliance of the lecture.

For those unfamiliar, a significant amount of my ministry with InterVarsity involved international student ministry at Fresno State and Rice University. Of the many facets in this cross-cultural ministry, one involved the training and mentoring of American Christians. Often, these devout followers of Jesus were completely unaware of how much of their theological commitments represented the American dream. Yet, one could hardly fault them for their readiness to host and welcome low-English speakers into their homes week after week, befriending I-students, and including them in their lives in ways that demonstrate a generosity and sincerity that cannot be explained as other than a genuine commitment to Jesus.

Kim recognized that often we in the West perceive hospitality as mission. How easy it is to welcome the stranger into our home for a meal and care for them: such behavior and attitudes represent a significant practice throughout the Christian tradition. We care for and seek the welfare, best interests, and offer our love to the guest.

Similarly, migration receives a strong perception as mission. As Jehu Hanciles asserts the consensus perspective, “Every migrant a potential missionary.” And, there is much to support this viewpoint. The sheer volume of migrants from the southern hemisphere who hold the Christian faith deserves better attention from the western church. Moreover, such followers of Jesus merely assume that the proclamation of one’s faith still has validity wherever they may find themselves in the world. Kim did a great job of explaining this phenomenon.

But, she took this a step further. The tricky part involves a pair of pairs that give evidence of cultural commitments that inadvertently displace the gospel. Take the last perspective: The prevailing assumption of myself and my colleagues involves that our students know their culture best. Kim confronts this: How can we demonstrate this? Only by asking questions? Not a bad start, but we cannot confirm that any migrant intends to reproduce or “bring with them” all of their culture with themselves to their new home and relationships. Some may have a variation in how and what they disclose of their faith commitment. My critical realist heart swooned.

But, she took all of this into another pair: Often we perceive hospitality as a binary: the host and the guest. As you might guess, Kim exposed how peoples from the west can preserve unequal power differentials. I observed this all the time in my interactions with Americans with the best of intentions. They deftly kept the I-students from making their own theological conclusions in reading the Bible, settling for “teaching the truth of the Bible.”

Kim proposed a different way of identifying ourselves: what if the Christian also perceived themselves, theologically, as a sojourner? One could look to Abraham, or the early life of Israel, and the early church found in Acts. This proposal for identity allows for a mutuality of learning and serving together, each person, instead of host and guest, contributing to the flourishing of the other and the created order. Furthermore, such a response to grace positions one toward the Holy Spirit in ways that allow for empowerment, healing, and local movements of mission that occur through life in proximity to one’s neighbor.

Suffice it to say, I was deeply moved by this robust description of Christian identity and mission. Kim’s presentation deserves publication, and I hope that happens soon. One of the adjacent ideas that sprouted during her presentation regarded the development of self-awareness of one’s powers. More often than not, most of my white friends have no clue as to their privilege. Merely telling them that they can enter a room, an office, a grocery store: and no one will question their location or their intent, simply bounces off of them. It’s not as though they’ve ever had to consider the question—literally— in their lives.

This matter of self-awareness of one’s powers really benefits from the long game, as it’s rarely the case that anyone can flip the switch and know how much power they possess as a function of their ethnic identity, especially if they are white. Put another way: one of my colleagues in smaller group settings of students will ask aloud, “What’s it like to be white?” Without fail—I’ve observed this several times—the white students will begin a nervous laugh, and then fall into embarrassment. Why? Often, as I later hear, such white students discover the answer to the question involves a scandalous reply: It’s normal. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s my way. They may not utter the answer right away, but they instantly realize the power and privilege that inhere their social location as a function of their dominant ethnicity. Remarkably, when the silence to my colleague’s question has lingered long enough to become awkward, he turns to a Black or Latin/x or Asian student, and asks if they can answer the question. Boom. They already know the answer, and articulate the sense of privilege that white students possess with easily accessible narratives that happened: even the same day, right before the event.

Friends: That just begins to account for ethnicity, this need to develop our self-awareness of power. I haven’t touched gender, or socio-economic status. Or even political identity, i.e., citizenship.

Returning to my historical observation above, through Bible reading and an explicit attentiveness to how one moves through the West as a function of gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, I began to imagine the Holy Spirit might generate painful but fruitful ways to prune back our western privilege from life as “hosts.” Such identities have a unique way of sustaining privilege, but a relocated identity in Christ as a sojourning follower of Jesus allows for one to receive the power from the Holy Spirit to set aside that culturally and socially conferred advantage. Again, Kim’s lecture was excellent, and if I catch that it gets published, I’ll link to here.

However, following the lecture, I learned of power employed to suppress and to threaten: all coming from, unfortunately, from Christians. Following the Kim lecture, I observed some paternalistic comments made about women in the academy that made me pause. The comments occurred in the flow of a public meeting, and I wondered, “How do people get away with these statements?” Then, I received an earful from some of my female colleagues who also heard the comments, and I realized that those comments landed with so much more offensive power than I had realized. I imagine I have an upcoming conversation with at least one of the offenders in the near future about such egregious statements; it won’t be easy (see preceding conversation about power differentials and “hosts”) but I’m sure it needs to happen: because too much of Christian leadership these days really relies upon social location instead of pneumatology.

Also, even within InterVarsity, I observed some remarkable uses of power in the last 48 hours that made me wonder about the ongoing decay of western evangelicalism. One colleague has received…how shall I say this?…ominous prospects of termination. Others find that the absence of many of our colleagues at our triennial national staff conference is, of course, due to their disagreement with either the new theological statement on human sexuality and the roll-out of the employment policy related to the statement: and we miss their presence and ministry.

Adjacent to the statement and the new policy stand Black colleagues and friends on InterVarsity staff, for whom the presence of Michelle Higgins and her dynamic message at Urbana signaled a new day for InterVarsity: and this remains an unfulfilled symbol for them and their students. The palpable sense of anger and disappointment emerges from a displacement of the movement of the Holy Spirit at Urbana to attend to the roll-out of the new policy. The levels of trust continue to lower, and morale proceeds to descend among staff of color who wonder if the movement to preach Christ crucified for our sins and to call for justice will ever received the same kind of energies and funding that the statement and the new policy received.

The serendipitous lecture of Kim still rings in my ears and in my heart: the sojourner as Christian identity, and for mission.

So, 2017 has started, and much of it is the same as 2016: epic, in its peculiar inattentiveness to personal power and privilege. But it is not normal.

 

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Keeping the Faith Among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: For the Parents (Part 2)

I had a draft written about 3 weeks ago on this topic, and then the agonizing death of college freshman Mike Brown of Ferguson, MO, took place. I decided to pause, watch, and listen to what followed from Brown’s death. It will seem like a small matter here, but I trust by the end here, it will have some greater importance for parents of Asian American freshmen: namely, that Mike Brown was a college freshman. So, I have revised the topic.

The vulnerabilities of new students entering the university are many. Of course, nothing that happened in Brown’s death involved his campus, or the campus police. But, what of your children–adult children–and their early experience on campus? What kinds of conversations can you host with them, as you move in, unpack, and assist in the transition to classes beginning and the formation of their faith commitment?

I’m describing in this series some of the early discoveries I’ve made in my research so far. I’m attempting to describe how freshmen/first-year, Asian American students keep their faith in that first year of university life. Of course, most the background of this study emerges from a well known phenomena of Christian students of all ethnicities entering the university and abandoning their faith. I’ve taken up the question on the other side, so to speak: Why are some students keeping their faith, and how do they go about this, given their experiences of living in dorms, getting introduced to new ideas from their academics, and from their participation in extracurricular groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship?

In case you’re just joining the series, you can return here and here for some of the preceding discussion, but I would want you to know a couple of personal matters. For one, I am one of the multiethnic people you’ve always heard about (Asian-Hispanic-Anglo), and am married to a Chinese American woman: and we have a couple of great adult children. So, the research topic is close to home. The other personal matter is that I belong to the campus staff of InterVarsity; I’ve served for the most part among international students for 20 years. I’ve seen this abandonment of the faith up close, done by both domestic and international students who are freshmen, and beyond. This research really moves from observing what is taking place on campus to how such decisions to sustain one’s faith are made; I’m also aware that the experience of freshmen leaving their faith occurs in universities throughout the world (unfortunately), not just in North America.

At the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, and at the bottom of life: Your child is just like you: They will live in such a way to fulfill what matters most to them. That is an obvious statement, but needs to be kept in front of us more often.

And, if the interviews I’ve had so far with Asian American freshmen could be broadly applied: You may not know what matters most to your child. Of course, some parents are exceptions, and there is an interesting possibility here…

…Namely: That you’ve had a conversation in which you listened and your child did all the talking. That is the exception. I am not saying that those parents who listened agreed with what their child had to say. Far from it.

Rather, the few students I interviewed who had parents who listened to them, these students also had a pretty calm, secure sense of their faith in Jesus.

So, there’s my suggestion to empower your freshman/adult child: When you go out together this week or next, ask your daughter or son, if you can stop somewhere for a shaved ice/coffee/boba, and ask them, “If you had the chance to study anything at the university, what would it be?”

Then, no matter what comes out of their mouth next: Listen. Pray silently. Welcome their answers, and refrain from critiquing or commenting on those answers: even if you agree with your child…

I have a disposition: That we want our children to know that we love them, and of course, we demonstrate this by making sure that they have clothing, food, a home, and the resources they need for becoming a successful student.

What they also need is the kind of demonstration of love that cares about their social and emotional lives as well.

For some reading this, please don’t confuse what I am saying as, “You need to hug your children and tell them ‘I love you.’” That is not what I am saying. Listening carefully without criticism, even to the expressions of dreams and aspirations you disagree with, will inform your child of your affection for them.

Enjoy your time of listening.

Prayer for Freshmen: Thursdays, 8:55 AM

It occurred to me that I should include you in my weekly routine. Namely, every Thursday at 8:55 AM, I pause to pray for freshmen students, campus ministers, pastors, and universities.

I pray at 8:55 AM on Thursdays for a variety of motivations. It’s just before the top of the hour, and right about now is when work and life become animated for me. It’s also just before the weekend, and for a huge chunk of first-year students, of all the things they could reflect on, they consider what they’ll do with their weekend and who they’ll do it with: on Thursdays.

So, some intercession for wisdom and risk-taking that contributes to their present as well as their future makes it into my prayers.

But, the prayer that always makes it into my intercession is this:

How are we communicating the Gospel among freshmen?

Obviously, that prayer opens me up to all kinds of input, and that is good, given my research topic. And, that prayer alerts me to how and what freshmen students hear, how they respond, and how they interpret the Gospel engaging their present aims and future goals.

My Facebook feed is blowing up right now with announcements and prayer requests from my InterVarsity colleagues and students preparing for New Student Outreach, just a scant 3 weeks away from the start of classes at many universities in North America. I am full of joy for them, and pray the Lord grants them the fullness of his Holy Spirit as they proclaim that one name by which we are saved. (Acts 4:12)

Here’s my invitation: Please join me on Thursdays at 8:55 AM, wherever you are in the world, and pray for freshmen, perhaps your daughter or son, and for the campus and those who serve there, and this prayer in particular: “How are we communicating the Gospel among freshmen?

Keeping the Faith Among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: For the Parents (Part 1)

First off: Congratulations! Your daughter or son is heading off to the university. You should be feeling proud! Keep in mind the great privilege your children have received: less than 7% of the world’s population has a university education. Just getting admitted confers a unique status to your child in this world.

Sure, but does it pay? The next 4 to 5 years will go by in a heartbeat: and upon graduation, your adult child will potentially earn more than 70% over their lifetime than any of their classmates who graduated from high school without a college degree.

So, even if they did not get admitted to (or will attend) the university you wanted for them, your child–your adult child–will likely have a prosperous future before them. And, I would like to believe, that includes sustaining and growing their faith in Christ. More on that in a moment.

In case you’ve read this far and it was missed: I’m a PhD student in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary: My research topic is about how Asian American first-year students make decisions that impact their faith commitment. I am just concluding a pilot study among freshmen (or first-year) students.

As you can tell from my family name, I have an Asian heritage–far more diffused, and I will explain why later–and my wife is Chinese: we were both born in California. I also serve with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and for the last 20 years, the majority of my ministry has been among international students and in churches among Asian Americans. While I bring academic rigor to my research, I also have a stake in what I learn; my children have graduated from different universities, and their faith commitments are intact, but quite distinct from my own.

And that leads to what is next for you: When it comes to what matters most to your child, when it comes what they care about most, or when it comes to their dreams for the future: I am pretty sure from just my pilot study: They haven’t told you.

In fact, some are keeping it under wraps from you for a variety of reasons, experiences, and perceived outcomes. I don’t think that is a surprise to most parents: namely, that our young adult children have a private, inner life that they do not disclose to anyone except– possibly– those for whom they trust will contribute toward the fulfillment of what matters most to them.

Plenty of the first-year students that I’ve met inform me that you want them to become a doctor or an engineer. So, they are studying some major that will contribute toward that goal. Some of those same students really do want to become doctors and engineers! Awesome! And many are doing this, in part because they trust you, and in part because they don’t want to disappoint you.

But, flowing from their interests and faith in Christ, if given the opportunity to serve the poor directly (and not by way of graduating from medical school, etc.) or to become an artist: they would do that in a heartbeat. Here’s where this post gets a little tangled.

As you already know, lots of Asian families put “family first.” Collective matters receive a higher priority than individual concerns. In contrast, when living in North America, much of the social and cultural items, like education, place a higher value on the forming of the individual.

So, while you (and I) were encouraging and empowering our children to perform well in school, the school took that posture our children brought in from us; they attempted to mold it so our children would live with making their individual concerns the highest priorities for their lives. This is a tension that many of us have with our children: They hear at home, “Do what is best for the family,” and that is picked up by good-intentioned educators who articulate and practice: “Do what is best for yourself.”

So, in case your child ever came home and announced, “I want to become an artist”, and went on about that: and you silenced them or ignored them: in part, their announcement was energized over a short amount of time by their experience in school. And it really doesn’t matter if your child attended a private or a public school in North America.

This happened to an friend from East Asia, not long after migrating with his family to the US: He announced, “I want to become an artist,” and his mother’s response was swift: You will either become a doctor or a dentist. End of discussion. And it was…in more ways than one.

He furtively continued to paint, hiding his brushes and paints from his mother, always washing his hands scrupulously to remove any residue of paint, secretly taking art classes in high school and college, always avoiding detection from his mother. He graduated from dental school, and developed a thriving practice. Having disclosed what matters most to his fiancee, he married and they bought a home: and their garage has never had a car inside it and it has always been a studio. His wife loves his art: and for good reason: he’s an excellent painter. His mother has never made a critical comment about his painting to my knowledge. But, it was never the way my friend ever wanted to live, having to keep secret– from his Christian mother– what mattered most to him.

Obviously, my friend’s experience is a unique example of someone who knows his ultimate concern, and orients his life toward the fulfillment of what matters most to him.

Now, I mention this, not because I already know that your child has some ultimate concern that they are hiding from you. They might be hiding it from you, assuming they even know what it is, or hiding a collection of ultimate concerns. Rather, I mention the story for you to be aware that my friend made this discovery of painting in his elementary school in North America, and in part, the tenacity of his commitment to paint was strengthened within a North American educational context that values and supports becoming a unique individual.

Our children–no matter what our family’s cultural history may be–routinely encounter this kind of “hidden curriculum” within their schools and extra-curricular groups. Our children make decisions rather quickly about how they will participate, inasmuch they already know that we want them to succeed. Yet, some of the commitments and the momentum of their participation would never get endorsed by us at home. They are doing this, by and large, by themselves.

And this individuation gets affirmed to the extreme in the university. This affirmation can work in some peculiar ways upon the faith of our adult children, both developing and denying their faith commitment, but certainly encouraging and empowering their ultimate concerns.

But, make no mistake: plenty of the first-year students want their faith and their ultimate concerns to meet up in the world, or “to make a difference” in the name of Christ.

What should we do, as parents, even if our adult child doesn’t know their ultimate concerns? There are no “silver bullets”, no formulas for which we “add water and stir,” no weekend seminars to repair and heal broken (or incomplete) relationships. I will make some suggestions in my next post about the days ahead: that days precede the day you assist your child with moving into their university residence hall.

Meanwhile, please pray for yourself and your adult child. Plenty of parents make the abrupt discovery that their former high school student is moving out of the home to the university, and is unlikely to ever become a permanent resident again: that discovery can be tough on the heart. Pray for your adult child to be and become wise regarding how they live into what matters most to them. Pray that you and your adult child will continue to follow Jesus, albeit in some new ways apart from each other. Thank God for the great privilege your adult child has received in even being admitted to any college or university. Pray that their faith in Christ and their ultimate concerns will meet in the development of skills and competencies to participate in the mission of God.

Keeping the Faith among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: Introduction

In a few weeks, a variety of media sources will cite and speculate about the class of 2018. The first-year students entering the North American universities will have some unique characteristics based upon their collective birthdays located in 1996. Pundits, professors, and parents will ramble and rant about this class. The optimism of high school graduation speeches from the spring will be tempered with economic realities, majors that lead to employment following graduation, and a subtle change in perspective that moves from GPA to starting salaries.

So, count this post as an early start. And, in case we haven’t met: Glad you’re here! And, if this was missed: I’m a PhD student in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary: My research topic is about how Asian American first-year students make decisions that impact their faith commitment. The first-year experience is often perceived outside the university as a threat to the faith commitment of incoming undergraduates. Lots of hand-wringing by parents, youth pastors, family, and friends: the freshman may lose her/his faith in that first-year of university life.

But: Let me pause right here. When I first drafted this post, the world was going to hell in a hand basket: Some unidentified people shot a Malaysian passenger jet from the sky a couple of weeks ago; Israel and Hamas are attacking each other in Gaza with no end in sight; Hong Kong is flailing from continued and increasing harassment from Beijing, as the former British colony resists suppression of their intent for universal suffrage and for democratic leadership that comes without exclusive vetting by Beijing; Children from Honduras and Guatemala travel in packs without their parents to the US to escape violence in their homes: Only to be resisted by ‘Mericans who claim our nation cannot receive them in all of their vulnerability. And, it’s only getting worse.

So, this post–and those to follow– might read as a bit disconnected from the reality that our TV’s and social media link up to our lives. I hope it won’t be separated. Indeed, latent to all that follows is that responsible participation in the mission of God (missio Dei) can and should involve disciplined imagination, learning, and praxis. Faith and higher education can be linked up to participate in the healing, reconciliation, and renewal of the world that Jesus Christ is presently and eternally enacting as you read this. Getting a college education and developing your faith is not the only way to go into God’s mission: but, that is another topic for another day. Meanwhile, the erosion and abandonment of faith during the college years by young adults, especially in the first year, has generated its fair share of anxiety.

And, it’s not as though that anxiety is unwarranted or without merit. Plenty of books have been published on the realities. Some well-funded and tightly focused ministries have taken aim at this phenomenon. I’m also on the campus staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: welcoming freshmen into our fellowships is a big deal. InterVarsity belongs to a consortium of ministries aiming to assist that transition from high school to college with the student’s faith intact, and it includes ministries who serve high school students to those who serve university students.

So: “Why do this research if others have already done surveys, published, and other ministries–including yours–have taken up the task of reaching freshmen?” That is a good and fair question.

For one, Asian Americans are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in the North American Christianity. Yes, yes: Latino Pentecostals are and will be the largest Christian ethnic group in North America: the fastest growing ethnic groups in North American Christianity are among the Koreans and the Chinese: and those are just the East Asian Americans. South Asian American Christianity is exploding as well. Why? More in another post. Keeping up with a culturally dynamic group of young adults with regard to their faith cannot be energized by presuming certain static categories or stereotypes will endure from generation to generation: such as the transmission of Confucian values, filial piety, or the myth of the model minority. Far too often, how Asian Americans of the Christian faith interact and persist in their faith has not adequately described how they engage with their social and cultural contexts: and vice-versa.

Another answer to the question above: There is a remarkably small amount of research conducted on Asian American religion, and an even smaller amount on Asian American Christianity. That reality keeps expanding and deepening, improving monthly, and we’re all the better for it as a result. Nonetheless, there is a lot of room for contribution and understanding.

And, in that regard, especially among evangelicals, understanding the complexity of ethnicity and faith in North America continues to expand and deepen, and yet remains tangled and somewhat elusive. As you might expect, I am discovering the burgeoning literature on migration, ethnic origins, and faith in North America, and that nexus is generating discussions that are coming to profitable boil.

Finally, and most importantly, I intend to name and describe the mechanisms that underly the decisions that first-year students make, and consequently, how those decisions are enacted and subsequently influence how freshmen enact their faith. This goes to the bottom for me in more ways than one. We really benefit from The Barna Group, Pew Research, and others: their results reveals the tendencies and patterns that many late adolescents and young adults have with respect to their faith.

Those regularities, however, do not describe how decisions get made, and how the social and cultural surroundings interact with these young adults and their faith commitment: instead, hearing of someone who has abandoned the faith by the end of their first year in the university, slogans and quick diagnoses are forwarded.

She really didn’t have faith to begin with.” “His faith was always weak.” “Her/His parents didn’t really trust in the Lord to begin with.” “Her youth pastor always had a shaky theology.” Or: “The youth pastor graduated from ________ seminary…” Or: “He fell into the wrong crowd.” “She had an atheist/Marxist/Darwinian professor in her first year.

Or, my favorite: “It’s a Lordship issue.

As if that explained anything. And those slogans are so common as to rarely bring any objection or resistance from among parents, youth pastors, university faculty, or campus ministers. Such responses hide not only why the students apparently have left their faith, but also self-generate absolution for responsibility for such an outcome. (Preview: Assuming some responsibility is OK, but is often located in the wrong contexts.)

Well, I don’t intend to research those responses. Having said that, and the context that generated those responses: I’m taking up the question from the other side: Why do some first-year, Asian American students keep their faith? Missiologically, the question resides as a subset of those wondering, “Who will participate in the missio Dei?”

So, in the next few posts, I’ll make some proposals for everyone, but each one will be focused upon a specific group of people: parents, youth pastors and others on the “clergy-side” of ministry, faculty, and even my colleagues in campus ministry. Although the ethnicity of the students I am investigating are Asian American, my sense is that what is emerging may have application for other ethnic groups. That sense will need some elaboration, and recovery of particular histories, but for now:

Pray for the peace of Christ to prevail in the world. It’s not as though weird, strange, and violent events have never taken place simultaneously in the world before: It’s just that the need is great, in the present, for the people of the Christian faith to both rely upon the received traditions in spiritual disciplines and to practice those traditions in order to announce peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: that need is now part of the context of the mission we live in.

New Discoveries on Personal Power: New Students Coming to Campus & Our Response

Last week and this week, thousands of first-year students are getting dropped off by their parents at their new dormitory, in anticipation of beginning classes that will lead to earning a bachelor’s degree. Having served as a campus minister, I’ve observed my fair share of tearful good-byes, most of which are shed by the parents, and the students feign sincere comfort for their parents during the farewell. Once the parents depart/drive away, the students turn a 180, and in some cases, sprint, toward their new companions in the dormitory: and the dream of and the question of what to do with their new and unrestrained power is now realized…

So, if you’re a parent, an auntie, an uncle, a grandparent, a youth worker, a pastor, or an affectionate lay leader who knows a young woman or young man heading off to the university: perhaps you’ll be surprised by what follows, but know that I won’t diminish the realities that exist on campus. So, let’s get to those first.

Everything you’ve heard about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll is true. Also true: professors with an axe to grind against Christianity and Christian students. (Although, it should be quickly added: those faculty have, at best, limited influence, and I will explain why below.) Unrestrained access to degrading pornography and divergent politics: also true. Late nights wasted and late nights wasted: both true. Discovery of new truths that contradict and confront “what we’ve been taught”: true. Also true: Cute, attractive, and intelligent women and men who are repugnant. Unattractive, intelligent women and men who are friendly. Women and men of different ethnicities, different cultures, different religions, and different political nations: who are unexpectedly cute, attractive, and intelligent: and civil, peaceable people. People who think differently from “us”: but turn out to be civil and friendly. People who think just like “us” but repel everyone with their lack of civility and abundance of antagonism. All true: and more. And I haven’t even cited reading lists, expected classes, and degree requirements.

And, I would suggest that rather than fear such social phenomena, you routinely peform at least three actions:

1) Pray for your student to increasingly know that they are loved by Jesus. Plenty of the above can be and is threatening to you and me: imagine what it must be like for your student, who perhaps has less life experience than we do, less experience in making mistakes and even less accumulated wisdom from such mistakes…that they would go about their days, in a decidedly cross-cultural context, without others they know and trust, knowing that they are loved by Jesus: that is perhaps the greatest experience they can have- one of the Holy Spirit- while becoming responsible students and adults simultaneously in the university.

2) Practice listening in an open-ended fashion to your student. This is where you may need some prayer and some need to call upon the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit!!! The first time you hear about some words/thoughts/activities you do not approve of that your student reports to you- often they are testing you, by the way- the immediate, unfiltered response can be one of criticism…no?

Instead, do your best to recapitulate what you heard to your student, and such includes trying to keep from yelling into the phone. (Trust me: I’ve been there.) In this complex movement from adolescence to adulthood, listening will empower your student in ways that often in the university they are not receiving. And such ways I am thinking of here regard the gracious love of Jesus.

3) I want you to reflect upon the resurrection with me for a moment. Is the resurrection only about God’s victory over death for you and me, that proves we are forgiven of our sins through the death of God’s Son? Or is it the unique event in history, of which there is no other parallel except the creation of the world, and further confirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ? God addresses us in such a unique event so as to welcome our participation into his reign, and participate in a new life- yes, with our sins forgiven- that contributes to God’s mission throughout creation: a new creation. And this is where your student comes in.

There’s nothing special per se about the university. However, it is a unique social context in which students begin making decisions with real, unrestrained power. To be sure, they likely depend upon Mom and Dad (and others); but that experience of dependency becomes inverted and diminished. It’s not lost on me that many college graduates do move back home: but the experience of making one’s own decisions, to pursue what Margaret Archer calls “personal projects of ultimate concern”, and enacting such decisions into some kind of mission will continue to happen in some continuity with the college experience. So, we need to be aware of this fresh, inexperienced use of power. And, be wise about when you jump in with advice about how to use such power: it’s not just the university that is new, but all of creation.

Which brings me to the caricatures of “flaming, Marxist professors who eat Christian freshmen for snacks in their lectures.” As is true of so many people, students will decide how much power from the above faculty member will constrain and enable them. It’s not about the power of the faculty member, draping his/her will over the student, even if they ultimately report course grades to the registrar. It’s really about the student deciding to what degree their power will activate the power of the faculty member. Ditto sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, and all of the other items I listed above.

Plenty of people will argue against that perspective: but, there’s too much experience and reporting by college freshmen building up for that perspective: that in the midst of seeking fulfillment of their personal projects of ultimate concern, students will make choices about how to appropriate the powers of others and social structures (like coursework) as constraints and enablements. This also includes decisions regarding dating, friendships, selection of a major for a degree, voluntary student organizations, and more.

And what we can pray for is that our students will increasingly know they are loved, listened to, and begin the life-long exploration of participating within the new creation that has Jesus as Lord. Such an exploration will be performed imperfectly and fallibly; such an exploration will include decisions made faithfully and with the endowed power that God grants to all of his creatures made in his image. And, for so many of the freshmen students arriving this week on campuses throughout the US, this exploration begins in earnest with the fresh discovery of new and unrestrained power. Pray that they will follow Jesus as they use such power in coordination with his mission throughout the new creation: the same Jesus…

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:6-11

Urgent Prayer Requested for Vanderbilt University

I wanted to invite your prayers for the campus community at Vanderbilt University. Tonight (Tuesday, 1/31/2012), the administration will be hosting a town hall meeting to address the campus regarding its non-discrimination policy. I noticed that the guests welcomed are students, faculty, and staff of the university; you should expect law enforcement to be out in force as well…

(A bit of humor to inject here: a parallel event is being hosted on campus at the same time titled, “Education Nation Panel“. If you’re looking for an event discussing education in Tennessee & the USA, with little or no law enforcement present, and want a free book: this event is for you…)

But: back to the topic at hand: The back-story here, is that, more than a year ago, a Christian fraternity expelled one of its own when that man admitted to being gay.

This explusion catalyzed several administrative moves, including reviews of the constitutions of all student groups. The end result was the de-certifications of three (or four?) Christian student groups, for whom the student leadership would be expected to subscribe to the particular beliefs, creeds, and religious convictions of the student group.

The expectation that students would be required to hold such beliefs in order to become leaders in the respective student groups was considered discriminatory by the university.

As you might expect, this kind of reasoning has been savaged from inside and outside of Tennessee…

I’ll leave you with a few links from various sources, but I would invite you to pray. My sense is that we can read opinion pages and get stirred up- and insofar as that cultivates an increased exercise of prayer- so be it. But, if not, then:
•     Pray now for the Chancellor, the other administrators, students, alumni, campus ministers (of all religious commitments) to host a passionate and reasoned conversation with one another.
•    Pray as well for the Christian groups on campus that have been officially de-certified: that their identity will increasingly be in Jesus, and not a function of university recognition per se.
•    Pray as well that the Christian students would pursue in love the administrators, faculty, and fellows students for whom this policy is perceived as an important corrective to discrimination: this would be a tough one, but entirely coherent with the call of Jesus to love your enemies.

Prayer Requested from InterVarsity

Editorial from Vandy Hustler

Op-Ed Piece in Vandy Hustler by Tish

Op-Ed Piece from George Will