When that happens … college ministry will be a place where we have the courage and freedom to ask the biggest questions and imagine the existence of those beyond our own tribe (so that we) complement cogito ergo sum with amo ergo sum, challenging us to love as well as think.
By Nathan D. Wilson
In her May 30 Newsweek column (“Life of the Closed Mind”), Anna Quindlen stated that since 9/11/2001, the United States has become a country that has effectively taught its young people “the terrible example of closed minds.” She focused especially on those young people in the midst of university commencements – most of whom began their university careers in September 2001.
Quindlen quoted Lee Bollinger, Columbia University president, to wit: “To learn to ask: ‘Is that true? Maybe there’s something to what she just said. Let me think about it. That’s interesting. Maybe I should change my mind. I changed my mind’.” Then asked Quindlen with passion: “When is the last time you can honestly remember a public dialogue, or even a private conversation, that followed that useful course?”
Probably not recently; no, these days, life both in and outside the academy appears increasingly defined by the development of like-minded enclaves within which academics isolate themselves from other truth claims and insulate themselves from others who might challenge their fundamentals. These enclaves exist in conservative safe harbors just as they do in liberal ivory towers as cozy havens for those convinced of their own beliefs to the point of berating the beliefs of others.
And yet, if there is any setting where new ideas should be tried on for size and otherness should be encountered, it is the college setting. The college years should be full of learning everything possible, figuring out how to save the world, working hard and playing harder.
Enter the important role and responsibility of college ministry. In the midst of an academic community, university ministers are ideally positioned to prod others to deeper engagement of issues that matter; they can, and should, encourage, even challenge, others to ask more honestly how we should respond to the world in which we live. Rather than tell students, faculty and staff what to think, university ministers can challenge others to consider how (that is, by what standards and methods) they make sense of the relationship of self, world and faith.
When that happens, college ministry will fill this important gap of which Quindlen wrote because university ministry will be a place where we have the courage and freedom to ask the biggest questions and imagine the existence of those beyond our own tribe. This courage, freedom and imagination might just give rise to compassion, which might, in turn, help us complement cogito ergo sum with amo ergo sum, challenging us to love as well as think.
At its best, college ministry is about helping students form their beliefs while learning from the truths in other beliefs. At its best, college ministry is open-minded and opening minds.
The Reverend Nathan D. Wilson is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org