But neither do we want to rob you of your anxiety about life.
And that, dear students, is the paradox that many professors in Christian higher education live with 24/7…by choice.
We do NOT go into Christian higher education for the money or the prestige, but because we desire to teach in a place where faith, knowledge and the crushingly complex realities of the world (whether explosions in the Middle-East, AIDS in Africa, rampant consumerism at home or sexual abuse in one’s own family) intersect meaningfully.
I have chosen to pursue that desire at Eastern, not because it is an incubator where we can all be kept safe and warm and protected from cold realities “out there,” nor because it is a monolithic structure of denominational purity (too late for that one), but because, at its best, Eastern is an agora where the faithful can show and exchange their best wares.
I have learned about the dangers to indigenous peoples of oil drilling in northern Alaska from concerned students and faculty. I, an American Baptist, have learned the richness of liturgy from Catholic students and faculty and the richness of holy silence from Quaker students and faculty. Most days I feel quite blessed.
I am also blessed to be adjunct faculty at the Oregon Extension. Every year when spring commencement is over, I hop on a plane and head out to an old logging camp in the mountains above Ashland, Oregon, where I participate with students from Calvin and Gordon and Messiah and Eastern and Hope, etc., in a Women’s Studies May Term.
Given a situation where faculty and students live in close proximity, eat together, laugh (a lot) together, hike together, worship together and read stacks of books together, the agoric dialogue intensifies. And oh, the sheer luxury of having more than one professor in the classroom!
Here I can teach Toni Morrison with a biblical hermeneuticist, a Mennonite poet and a woman who knows more about feminist theory than I will ever know in the same room, engaging with me and the students in open exchange.
And now for the caution: When real dialogue is taking place, surprising and frightening things can happen. New ideas jostle with old ones. Relationships are called into question. God takes on new dimensions. Tranquility is broken, which can be exciting and scary at the same time.
And the invitation: When you are starting to feel as if you are in an intellectual/theological wind tunnel, go to talk with your professors! There are a couple of things you can count on: We love God (which is why we are teaching in a Christian setting), we care about you (which is why we teach) and while we may not want to keep you safe from your anxiety, we want very much to create a safe space for your anxiety.
Your development is our job, and we love it. But dialogue is always made up of more than one voice. Keep the lines open.