Tag Archives: college

Two Ways to Get Home

By Bradley Yam, Saybrook ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush and will be for some time before the cold wipes them out, leaving new eggs to hatch in the spring. This is the sound of a new academic year beginning: things living, things thriving, things dying, things starting again. College is a place filled with worry enough, especially for bright-eyed newcomers to the hallowed halls of the Academy. Those among them who have faith often carry an added burden: the fear of losing it.

The initial excitement and glittering celebration at admission is dampened by the first relative to say with a genuinely concerned expression, “Ah, but you will still go to Church right?” Or perhaps “Be careful and only take classes in Math and Engineering.” They only mean well, but their abashed tone tells you that they might secretly have regrets about encouraging you to apply in the first place. Then might come an awkward conversation with your pastor, perhaps a youth pastor, a young man who found the trial of college terrifying and is now trying his best to gird you properly for doubt inevitable without being the cause of it himself.

The truth is that many such small things foment a fear of the foreign. This is a sign of the more worrying tendency for churches to isolate themselves—from disagreement, from controversy, and often from both traditional and contemporary context. The end result is that Christian communities can become disconnected from the cultures they exist within. We should be salt and light in the world, existing in tension with the culture of the day. Instead, we have become in some respects a navel-gazing in-group, obsessed with an idealized version of the past.

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there, said G.K. Chesterton. I add that the home you keep is quite different from the one you find. One would never be able to point a stranger back to a home they had never left. Chesterton continues: the other way is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place. I am suggesting that this is the necessary walk of faith for the young Christian today. The world is coming to us faster that we can go out to it. We can no longer afford to stay at home, especially if we have already gone off to college!

The walk (or way) may be narrow, but it sure is not straightforward or the same for every person. Here are some universal encouragements.

(1) Practice your faith like you practice an instrument or a sport, even if you don’t entirely understand it. In fact, practice it precisely because you don’t entirely understand it. Faith is less a feeling and more a discipline. You can be open about your uncertainties. Faith is also not a set of propositions, but a lived reality, and you should feel freedom to question the propositions that are merely the descriptors and not the foundation of faith. You may question Newton’s equations, but not the falling apple that strikes you on the head.

(2) Understand your context, even if your faith is in the transcendent. We are (helplessly, as much as I hate to say it), social and temporal beings. Thus, our faith is socialized and cultured according to the times. But this faith is supposed to be in an unchanging, transcendent God—is this a paradox? Perhaps, but I prefer the word mystery. “We have this treasure in jars of clay”(2 Cor. 4-7). Our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Transcendent himself, deigned to become contextualized, temporal, physical—incarnate. In this,he shows us that the transcendent shines not apart from but through the contextual. Understanding our own context, the traditions that have shaped us, and how we are markedly different from others who have arrived at this same place allow us to discern this truth faithfully.

(3) We ought not shy away from deconstruction. We can do it better. In order to be faithful, Christians have always deconstructed the world around them, seeing past the glitter and the gold through to what lies beneath. What is the world pursuing, what are you most tempted to pursue? Fame? Money? Acclaim? A successful deconstruction is one that allows you to see better, to see what truly matters. C.S. Lewis said that if you see through everything, then everything is transparent. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. Strive to see what is of ultimate worth and value.

(4) Find a community of faith that practices consistently. Two is better than one, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken, says the Ecclesiaster. This is because the practice of our faith is a communal practice, like a team sport. Of course, the practice of faith as a community is infinitely more complex, difficult, and fraught with risk than any sport, but also infinitely more worthwhile, magical, and life-giving than any individual practice of faith can hope to be.

(5) Engage vigorously with difference. There is no lack of lines to be drawn in our world, and there are many voices insisting that you may not empathize or understand across the boundaries of your specific religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, what have you. Discourse is embattled. So be all the more brave and courageous in the face of censure, since you are seeking to love and understand. In doing so, your faith will be challenged to be valid in the diversity of experiences you will encounter. This is surely a good thing.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush now. I must go do the dishes and take the laundry out and decide on classes—most of which are not Math or Engineering. I must remember to pray before I go to bed, and next week I will go to church and bible study. For now, the incessant chirping reminds me that I have come to find home.

 

Following Jesus from Cradle to College

by Bella Gamboa, JE ’22

Veggie Tales, C. S. Lewis, and a familiarity with the most repeated pieces of Biblical advice: they all become moments of connection between people who grew up in a Christian home. There’s a certain feeling of familiarity when someone else also knows the words to “Barbara Manatee” or has memorized Bible verses for Sunday school. Such connections are frequent when growing up as most people who attended youth group in high school had Christian families. Even many Christians I’ve met in college come from a Christian home. But I have always felt different toward those (mostly adults) who came to Christianity later in life, generally independent from (or even in spite of) their families. I envied their radical experiences of God that led them to give their lives over to being followers of Jesus, Christians.

When  growing up, I would regularly re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, and C. S. Lewis has always been one of my favorite people. I’ve attended church for as long as I can remember. I have listened to Christian rock music for so long that I can mark the progression of the genre from the radio to Spotify. For my entire life, my family has prayed together before we go to bed (and even since I moved away, my dad will pray with me when I call home). As a result, Christianity has become like a deeply ingrained habit, as natural as brushing my teeth twice daily— my faith is inextricable from my childhood and upbringing, and Christianity has shaped my perception of the world and my own life.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. […] I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith

I struggle with Christianity’s pervasive influence on me. I am careful to actively practice Christian faith and not just passively receive of a sort of cultural faith — I ask questions, debate, read, consciously choose to attend youth group, read the Bible and pray. Any one of these things, or all of them, could easily be lost if I stop making an effort. most of my peers from high school weren’t giving up Friday evenings and their Sundays to go to church or youth group. I also feel moments where I would rather just go to sleep than read the Bible and pray. But even as I continue to do all these things, I sometimes felt resentful of what appeared to be my lack of agency in my faith, and often I was envious of others’ stories of conversion.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. No matter what struggles they faced in their faith, they had that moment to turn to and consider, to comfort them; I had nothing of the kind. I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith, which I had continued to maintain but without the same sense of intimacy with God I had enjoyed earlier in my childhood. Although I decided in high school to honestly reckon with my faith, to determine that I would myself (not as my parents’ daughter or member of my youth group or baptized child) practice Christianity, I had a nagging sense that my decision was inevitable because of how growing up Christian has shaped me. Was my faith legitimate, or as legitimate as that of those who converted later in life?

Recently the meaning of the word “practice” (as in practicing Christianity) has become clearer to me and eliminated my envy towards those who did not grow up in a Christian home. That moment of conversion I so envied in others’ testimonies is not the crux of what it means to be a Christian. As Jesus says, “‘If anyone would come after [Him], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Him]’” (Luke 9:23). Even after one makes the great choice to be Christian and follow Jesus, one must make countless other, smaller, everyday decisions in the lifelong process of following Him. Christianity is not about a momentary acceptance of Jesus as Redeemer, but rather an ongoing effort to actively follow God and, to use St. Augustine’s word, cleave to Him. Gaining a better understanding of the “daily” nature of faith has both comforted me and strengthened my relationship with God. It has been the most obvious facet of my increasing spiritual adulthood.

But in Christianity, adulthood cannot simply be a matter of maturity and wisdom. Jesus clearly has a special love and esteem for children, so Christian adulthood must in some ways resemble a return to childhood. Children are able to love quite quickly and completely (a three-year-old once called me her “friend” after a five minute conversation), and we are called to “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Children are used to surrendering control to their elders, because they understand that adults are better equipped to navigate life. Similarly, we must learn to relinquish control over our lives to God, which is not a simple or easy task, but a necessary one. Finally, there’s a childlike sense of wonder that finds extraordinary things which older people often don’t even consider; we should try to nurture such a wonder in our lives, because it helps us to better understand the glory of God as reflected in His creation.

While entering and growing in adulthood, let us consider what to retain from childhood and how to change and grow up as we continue to walk with God in faithfulness for every small decision, each day.