November 12, 2003

It's true. I am going to blog something this morning!

A new piece from Andrew Sullivan describes an America of growing acrimony between the left and the right of the Culture Wars:

... the gulf between liberals and conservatives, broadly speaking, or between Bush-supporters and Bush-haters, between young and old, between South and North, has rarely been as profound or as bitter than now. The fact that the United States is also at the beginning of a long war against Islamo-fascism makes the divisions more acrimonious and emotionally fraught. You feel at times, in many conversations and interactions, caught between two magnetic poles, whose cultural power is so strong that maintaining any position in between them becomes harder and harder.
I want to write about this because the bitter Zeitgeist Sullivan describes is infecting the tenor of campus disputation among students here at Westmont. The current issue is homosexuality. Lately the pages of The Horizon, our student newspaper, have been filling with conservatives and liberals arguing the same old positions in the same old ways that you can find them argued on the airwaves. At the superficial level, this looks good: Finally a vibrant debate! The campus cares! We are coming out of our bubble and into the real world! We have something to talk about now! But I am not proud of it, not proud at all. Every new volley brings the quarrel down another level, drowning out the nuanced thoughts that might redeem it and discouraging the thoughtful ones who might offer them.

I wish I could just say, "We're better than this," but obviously we are not. I know we are capable of being better than this. That is what a college is here to offer: The conditions and the training to be better than we are. And we do offer this at Westmont. But when we mistake a capacity for an achievement, promise turns into false assurance. And then we plateau, even decline.

A campus of free and faithful inquiry is a fragile thing in a world such as ours. It prospers best when everyone takes the responsibility seriously to know what is required to maintain it, and then to do the hard work of living up to the task. When this doesn't happen, the business of the college still continues, and plenty of transformation still happens. But not the amazing stuff. Not the stuff of wonder. Not the stuff I have seen happen here before. Not the stuff I wish I saw happening now.

"You are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?" (1 Cor. 3:3).
Right now the cycle is vicious: Why spend hours crafting a careful argument when many have already tuned out of the discussion, and when demagogues will probably create a straw-man out of your argument anyway? Why throw good money after bad? Let 'em yell. Better to work on that research paper.

This is profoundly discouraging. The investments of time, money, and effort we are all making to be here are considerable. To squander them by just reproducing the visceral reactions and vituperative atmosphere that demoniate "beyond the Westmont bubble" is not just a lost opportunity; it is not just a shame; it is a sin. It is something we will be held accountable for: "To whom much is given, much is required."

I know voices are speaking wisdom on this issue. This afternoon we are having a faculty exchange (which I will probably miss because of office hours! drat!) at which the discussion will ascend to the level fitting for a Christian college.

I also know this particular round will blow over. One of the happy aspects of college life is that when a semester comes to an end, whatever cycle of rhetorical violence we are locked into ebbs with it. January will bring a new opportunity to start afresh.

Yet if time rather than healing ends the exchange, the damage will remain done.

Better, far better, to stop it now. Why not call the offenders to repentance today, offer forgiveness and restoration today, accept the healing that comes with renewed fellowship, and begin again immediately? That would tell a story both the left and the right in this society – and in our churches – seem to have forgotten how to tell.

Can we do that? Please?

10:13 AM

November 10, 2003

I am having little to say lately here on the blog, but that doesn't mean I'm quiet all the time. Here is a sermon on King Solomon I delivered yesterday at Montecito Covenant Church. (Adobe Acrobat.)

The day before I spoke at a panel on campus to the parents of first-year students, describing what we do in general education classes. The only thing on-line is my outline.

A Christian group at UCSB has invited me to come this weekend and speak on what it means to profess Christian faith in a world of many religions. Check back this weekend if you are interested; you never know what might appear.

Of course all this means the pile of ungraded papers is growing and growing....

Blessings on y'all.

9:47 PM

November 2, 2003

Long time no blog. I've been busy and tired from moving back into the Westmont life, but I think I am also going through a season of having less to say, or at least less of a desire to say it this way.

The previous post sounded ominous, but I didn't mean it to be. Things are going well.

While my family was trying to trick-or-treat in the pouring Santa Barbara rain (a godsend for a burning state, so we're not complaining), I was at Baylor University speaking on "Education as Mission." Interested in reading? Here you go (Adobe Acrobat required).

A few weeks earlier, a colleague and I visited Westmont's urban program campus in San Francisco, where we spoke autobiographically on the challenge of believing in unfamiliar contexts. My talk was entitled "Running in Circles: Painful Adventures in Christian Culture Crossing" (Adobe Acrobat required).

If there is a lesson in these titles, it is that these last few months have been spent listening and learning as much as writing and teaching. Good times!

Coming soon: A sermon, to be delivered at Montecito Covenant Church next week, on Solomon.

2:18 PM


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