The Necessary Nomads
The uncanny warmth this winter makes me long for the sight of my breath in the cold biting air. Perhaps I will soon be rewarded for my wishes. Upon taking the trash out, I got a wonderful glimpse of the low ceiling of threadbare stratus clouds racing past the moon in a steading wind like a clipper ship - and I recalled how to feel the earth moving beneath me. January is not two hours old, and she is racing in to take her place as December waves a farewell and her lighthearted trappings trail after her. Let us hope the changing of the moon will bring a deep-seated chill to give us further thankfulness for every steaming cup of tea on morning porch.
I fear that I must write about a deficit that goes sometime unseen in the Church. It is not that this is my albatross to bear. I'm glad to tell you, but I don't particularly feel 'worthy' to do so. I tell you because I've been a person on the bad end of the bargain. I can't describe you how frustrating it is to see churches treat college students as 'Them'. I suppose it is the burden of a college town. To be inundated with a torrent of young, keen, foolhardy, eager minds as regular as clockwork, and again to be bereft of them so suddenly every six months creates its own queer set of dilemmas, especially since the roster changes constantly. But to the credit of local parts of the Body, churches often set up programs and 'College & Career' classes and hold special meetings for college students (and the often aloof 'Career' folks). This is a great effort, but the feeling between the lines still is in danger of 'Us and Them'.
The problem with reaching out to a group as 'Them' is that is fails to see the imminent worth in people. The effort of 'Us' to reach out to 'Them' fails to acknowledge that 'They' might have as much or more to contribute to 'Us' as we do to them - and this in a very immediate and intimate sense. I'm not talking about musical styles or ceremony. I'm talking more about the relational connection between people that we sense when we don't see ourselves above others in any way. Indeed, seeing ourselves as inferior often has better results than pure egalitarianism - since this can still emphasize the 'take' in a give-and-take relationship. This can, theologically, go much further. Piper talks about the love of the other being joy for the self. But I don't really have the desire to go there now, and Piper does a better job than I would.
I would suggest, first and foremost, an attitude (not a program) of mentorship. While not all these transient teens are going to seek out a deep, challenging relationship with a mature Christian, the older students are nearing the waterfall at the edge of their microcosmic world in the school they've attended (and the 'Career' people or 'Singles' are already over it). They (did I say we?) need a mooring point in that area beyond their parents. The attitude of the local church body should not assume that the students are going to leave and never return after four years or so. While this is true on the whole, that approach doesn't see the student as Part of the Church. It sees the student as someThing that needs addressing, like a four-year cut that needs a band-aid.
We don't know what God has planned for us. Any assumptions about ourselves or others as to the future and "moving to this or that town and [doing] business there" assume a knowledge that is not permitted us.