(The UCU Standard – Monday, September 29, 2014)
MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ The problem with university life is that it can bypass your heart and feed your mind directly with foolish notions about the work world, namely that some grand career will make you a personally large being.
“Hey, look at me! I have this job now. It’s who I am!”
And maybe you’ll win much of that war that’s so well-known around the world, that is the war to get ahead.
This is a material world, after all, and it’s natural to chase a good job and a nice home and car and food in the fridge and, sure, a satisfying relationship, those old, earthy lures of, for lack of better descriptions, money, sex and power.
But the world is full of people who work and even scheme hard for all this, people who wrap their identity in their career while neglecting other important things.
And in the end they often wind up disillusioned and driven and exhausted, maybe even ruthless and exploitive, full of one conflict or another.
This is because these gains are sometimes hopeless substitutes for what any of us really want, that is to become more fully human and to discover our deeper selfhood.
This means, among other things, discovering your capacity to give. And receive. It means knowing how to fully forgive. And, likewise, it means knowing your own great need for forgiveness.
Being fully human also means – now that you’re an adult – heading into this tottering world with the simple goal to leave it some day after you’ve taken more pain onto yourself than you’ve dished out to others.
This war for our humanity, our souls, really, is a very different sort of war from that war to get ahead. But it’s what God, more than anything, wants for us.
The other misguided notion that universities, especially faith-based schools, might even non-purposefully fill your head with is the opposite idea, that there’s something hopelessly wrong with the material world, that it’s better, somehow more holy, to deny the physical and live more of so-called ‘spiritual life.’
This is why some people are, as the saying goes, so heavenly-minded they’re no earthly good.
The incarnation, God wrapping himself in flesh and bone and blood, says something different. It says our material world is good. Very good. So good and blessed that the Creator himself became part of it.
True, since the Garden, this world is fallen. You don’t need to look far to see this. And, true, this world pales to the world that is still to come. That’s the hope of believers through the ages.
But the Scriptures also tell us that just like God wrapped himself in human form, tomorrow’s perfect heaven will somehow wrap itself in a vestige of today’s sick earth.
This is why the resurrected Christ didn’t appear as some ghost from some ether-world, but as a new man with a new body similar to what we already know, so much that he even cooked and ate that fish breakfast on the beach with his friends.
Other religions have other views. Our physical world is to be minimized, even denied. Christianity says no, what is plain and everyday and even broken is given to us for important reasons.
The good news, then, is that studying so much of what makes up this university– art, literature, music, business, science, law and the list goes on – is as spiritual as studying theology. It’s all a form of gardening, that is cultivating our world and renewing culture. Gardening, after all, is that first job given in Eden.
This is also why even the most menial tasks – and menial workers – have great value. This must be what Christ meant when he said, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”