The late great comedian George Carlin was a master of the oxymoron—two seemingly incongruous concepts or words that, used together, have actual meaning. For example, Carlin once observed, “Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?” Also, “If you ate pasta and antipasta, would you still be hungry?” (Think for a moment about this one.) These attributed Carlinisms demonstrated that we often take for granted certain meanings of the words that we use.
I think the nature of chapel at a Christian university can be a bit of an oxymoron, especially when we discuss (or even debate) whether it should be voluntary or required. Many Christian colleges and universities require chapel attendance, sometimes as many as five times a week. Some evaluate spiritual formation by chapel attendance. I also know students who chose Eastern University in part because of our voluntary chapel policy.
But a voluntary chapel policy does not suggest that it should not be “required.” There are many voluntary things required of us each day (e.g., observing traffic and civic laws, loving our neighbor, etc.). The gnawing question remains: Are voluntary opportunities seen differently than required ones? Or put another way: Do voluntary opportunities inherently seem to have less value to us than required ones?
This is not to suggest that chapel is a sacred cow. Not at all. And we believe that it should remain voluntary. As matter of fact, chapel is just one of a myriad of opportunities for spiritual formation (the classroom being primary). But do we view chapel—and, for that matter, other voluntary programs—differently because it is not required? Perhaps we could begin to reflect on its oxymoronic nature—as a “voluntary requirement.”