Archives For college

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1. Good neighbors on the crowded margins
Kent Annan (@kentannan), whose work I’ve discussed here and here, wrote this month’s cover story for CT on the New Friars who are serving incarnationally in some of the world’s most difficult slums:

The New Friars don’t seem to merit high-profile attention. Their efforts to alleviate poverty are small next to the work of many missionary and nonprofit groups and the problems they address. Yet we do well to listen to the New Friars, because of the way they themselves are listening to God and neighbor, to suffering and hope on the crowded margins of society. They address vital questions about missions today, and about how all Christians might practice our vocations with sacrifice, devotion, and hope. I knew some of these missionaries. I had read books by others. I had experimented with similar ideals in my own life. So I was eager to see their ideas in action. What better time to do so than over the weekend marking the culmination of Jesus’ life?

2. Architecture and the common good
An insightful half-hour (or so) interview with architect David Greusel (@lesuerg) from the good folks at Cardus. Greusel specializes in designing places where people gather publicly, and he has some great thoughts here on why architecture matters.

3. Go with God
Stanley Hauerwas wrote a letter a few autumns ago to incoming college freshmen who are Christians. It is long, rambling, and wonderful – for college students and for all of us:

You are a Christian. This means you cannot go to college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you’ve earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. Christians need jobs just like anybody else, but the years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.

4. Religion at its best and worst
Chris Seiple (@CSeiple), the president of the Institute for Global Engagement, raises some important questions about the role religion has played in the conflict in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, and the extent to which faith groups could be part of the solution – if given the chance:

If religion is a part of the problem, can it be a part of the solution? Can the best of faith defeat the worst of religion? Can practical, multi-faith peace-building efforts and standing structures pre-empt religiously motivated violence? … Are peaceful faith-based organizations prepared to engage in the diplomatic realm of states, and are state diplomats prepared to not only receive, but also proactively engage such possibilities?

5. Giving
A surprisingly heartfelt three minute spot from Thai telecommunications conglomerate True that’s been making the rounds.

[Image: Word Made Flesh via Facebook]

Two weeks ago I shared some thoughts from Steven Garber’s book The Fabric of Faithfulness about the importance of connecting belief and behavior, especially during the college years. Developing a coherent worldview that makes sense of life, finding a mentor, and participating in community, he says, are three key factors in preparing college graduates not just to get a job that “pays the bills” but to be prepared to live well.

Today I turn to a closely related book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… And Rethinking Faith (Baker) by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and co-author, with Gabe Lyons, of the much-talked about book unChristian.

Kinnaman states the problem clearly:

More than half of all Christian teens and twentysomethings leave active involvement in church.

Here’s the book trailer:

When I was graduating high school and starting college I found myself at a crossroads. I looked around at our church of a couple hundred members and saw just about no young adults who had stuck around. Some had gone off to college elsewhere, but like many others I was staying in the area and would be commuting to a state university in the fall. I never did any formal research, but it seemed to me at the time that I had one of three options: (1) stay put and either join my parents in their Sunday school class or pretend I was still part of youth group; (2) find a new church; or (3) drop out altogether.

The third option didn’t appeal to me, and while staying put is a good move for some people, I decided it was best to find a new church. And I did. I found a large church in the area that had a young adult ministry, with some who had grown up in that church, others who hadn’t really experienced church before, and others like me who transferred. I was part of that church for a decade — for a while as part of the ministry staff — until I moved away last fall.

I’m grateful to have found a church community that provided some stability and helped me and so many others to grow spiritually during the tumultuous twenties. I know that finding a church like that is far from inevitable, and I’m grateful.

Kinnaman is careful not to pinpoint the blame for the alarming drop-out rate on anyone in particular, but he does share what young adults have repeatedly said when his team interviewed them. Basically, this: you lost me.

We’re living in a time of “compressed social, cultural, and technological change,” he writes, and churches must do more to figure out how to adapt while remaining faithful to scripture and mission. Of course, in many cases, one’s decision to leave a church has more to do with that person than with the church, but all too often, the church has failed to give young people good reasons to stick around.

In Kinnaman’s research, the most common complaints are that churches are seen as overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive and doubtless. He unpacks each of these themes chapter by chapter, and it seems to me he does so graciously and with nuance. And he suggests shifts churches can make to do their part not to lose this generation of church kids. The recommended shifts are good ones, I think, though not necessarily predictable at first glance.

Rather than seeking to protect teens and young adults from “the world,” churches can become communities of discernment. To counter the view that church is shallow, boring, or irrelevant to our lives, he suggests an emphasis on apprenticeship. For the many who struggle to reconcile science with faith, churches can draw upon the biblical theme of stewardship. Rather than simply focusing on repressing human desires, churches can affirm deep, healthy relationships. While some claims of Christianity are indeed exclusive, we’re called to love and embrace everyone as people made in the image of God. And finally, while airtight apologetics sometimes leave little room for those with doubts, there is something irreplaceable about becoming doers of the word together.

Young adults leaving church isn’t all new, and as always, many who leave may eventually wander back on their own, one way or another. But it would be a whole lot better if churches took seriously these factors that seem to be pushing church kids away, and do what we can to give them meaningful reasons to stick around.

I’m grateful for those who are giving a lot of attention to theologies of faith and work, and the importance of vocation. The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture is one good example. For those wrestling through questions of science and faith, I think of The Colossian Forum. And for those frustrated that churches seem unwilling to grapple with tough questions and those with doubts, I’m encouraged by Antioch Church’s Redux, affirming that it is good to ask questions.

I know there are pastors, parents, church leaders, students, and all kinds of others all over the country and all around the world who are committed to young adults and their spiritual journeys. If that’s you, thank you.

If you’re one who feels that the church has lost you, I’m sorry. But please don’t give up. We need you.

For many of us the college years are an especially formative time, shaping who we become as people and pointing us in the direction of a career. That is, at least theoretically. Each of us have different kinds of college experiences, of course, shaped by our own choices and priorities as well as by factors beyond our control.

I started college in the fall of 2001 at a state university as a business major because I thought that was as good a way as any to ensure I’d have a job when I graduated. And I chose the management concentration because as an eighteen year old I thought managing people sounded better than being managed. Halfway through my freshman year I’d come to hate it and had terrible grades, so I switched over to the major with the fewest math requirements.

Somehow it hasn’t all turned out terribly, which I attribute solely to God’s grace, but I do wonder how my college years would have been different had I made life-altering decisions based on even better questions than how to avoid math requirements — for instance, questions about the nature of the world, and God’s relationship to it and to me and to everyone else, and how a college education may actually be a gift to be stewarded for God’s glory and to be used for loving our neighbors.

I hadn’t heard of Steven Garber yet, but I wish I had. His book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP) came highly recommended, and now I see why. Garber currently leads The Washington Institute in DC, “a place to explore common grace for the common good.”

In working with students over many years, Garber noticed that the university setting is often an environment that allows room for private beliefs and opinions, but it isn’t comfortable with affirmations of public truths, especially ones clearly connected to private, and deeply held, beliefs. Therefore, those students seeking integration of their deepest beliefs with the realities of the world around them are often frustrated, and at times they face a crisis of identity or even a crisis of faith. When integration is thwarted, dis-integrated cynics are born.

Garber’s work has been an effort to give students a vision, as the subtitle puts it, for weaving belief and behavior together into a fabric of faithfulness. Higher education isn’t to be used simply as a ticket to privilege, but, rooted in our deepest beliefs, a means of serving others, of seeking the common good.

How does one come through college prepared for a life with belief and behavior woven together?

He has found three crucial factors:

Over the course of hours of listening to people who still believe in the vision of a coherent faith, one that meaningfully connects personal disciplines with public duties, again and again I saw that they were people (1) who had formed a worldview sufficient for the challenges of the modern world, (2) who had found a teacher who incarnated that worldview and (3) who had forged friendships with folk whose common life was embedded in that worldview. There were no exceptions.

I think the wisdom in prioritizing those three things speaks for itself, but Garber illustrates it much more fully in the book, and he does so largely through different people’s vocational stories and by asking the big questions that only we can answer for ourselves.

Garber includes a quote from Jacques Ellul, the French philosopher and theologian, on the importance of working these things out while we’re young, before it’s too late:

You must take sides earlier — when you can actually make choices, when you have many paths opening at your feet, before the weight of necessity overwhelms you.

Though I wish I’d known about this book during college, I’m glad to know about it now, on the other side of both college and grad school, still working on figuring out the particulars of my vocation and how I could best steward it to serve the common good. Needless to say I highly recommend the book for everyone, but especially for those in their college years, or for those who interact with college students, whether as parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, or friends.

Weaving together belief and behavior is an ongoing process as we seek to be faithful in all areas of life, and Garber has given us some clues to point us in the right direction.

Develop a worldview. Find a mentor. Be in community.

[Photo credit: luna13.com; this is a Guatemalan woman weaving a traditional piece of fabric, which I think serves as a beautiful picture of what this sort of "fabric of faithfulness" represents. Check out WeavingWomen.org, an organization the photographer founded "in partnership with indigenous Mayan women to preserve traditional, sustainable weaving arts in Guatemala."]

I admit it: I like conferences. I’ve been to a variety of them during college, grad school, and at various times in between, and I’ve almost always had a great time. I’ve recently seen promos or otherwise heard about four upcoming conferences in particular that strike me as awesome, though it sadly looks doubtful that I’d be able to attend any of them. I offer them here anyway as a sort of public service announcement. If you’re at all connected to the field of community development, whether domestically or abroad, and are inspired and/or informed in your work by your Christian faith, these four events look simply fantastic.

1. CCDA National Conference
Christian Community Development Association
Oct 12-16, Indianapolis

Each year, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) National Conference draws over 3,000 people from around the world to share in best practices of Christian Community Development. Experts and scholars teach workshops around relevant themes. Practitioners find support in networking with others facing similar challenges. Advocates bring attention to issues affecting people at the grassroots. And provocative speakers challenge our assumptions about what it means to embody Christ’s love to the poor in our communities.

2. Spiritual Metrics Conference
Eastern University
Oct 21-22, St. Davids, PA

What is Spiritual Metrics? How Do You Measure Impact? Why Now? We’ve heard it all before … “We’re not quite sure if and how to measure whether our programs are having the kind of spiritual impact we’d like to see…” and so we are creating a space where we can explore, prayerfully and in detail, the theological and practical dimensions of measuring spiritual impact.

3. Developing Excellence Forum
Accord Network
Nov 15-17, Baltimore

Don’t miss this chance to shape the future of relief and development: Join one of these five summits [Transformational Development, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, MicroEnterprise Development, Advocacy, and Gifts-in-Kind] and be ready to network, collaborate, and assist in the developments of Principles of Excellence in that arena.

4. The Justice Conference
World Relief & Kilns College
Feb 24-25, Portland

The Justice Conference 2012 is the second annual international gathering of advocates, activists, artists, professors, professionals, prophets, pastors, students and stay-at-home moms working to restore the fabric of justice. For some it means speaking. For others it means singing. For some it means going. For others it means giving. For all, it means living with mercy and love. You are invited to come weave your voice and gifts into the conversation. Join us, and discover that in the garment of justice, your love is an irreplaceable thread.

And as a bonus, Calvin College’s Faith and International Development Conference, which will likely happen next February, will certainly be a goodie too, though details won’t be released until next month.