Friday, June 09, 2006

TGTG (it's summer)!

It's quiet now on campus.

The students are largely gone; so are the alums whose pursuit of lost youth took them to the bottom of many a keg last weekend, and the proud-lost little families who trailed along behind their graduating seniors through several days of celebratory wevents. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about three months of this--I like the bustle of people moving purposefully toward class and the library (or lunch, a late-morning nap, or whatever)--but for now the stillness is almost palpable and very peaceful. This evening one of the deans is throwing a big TGTG party--short for Thank God They're Gone, a sentiment that resonates with all of us who are still here.

In our office, though, we have two undergraduates working with us this summer, which is creating a more lively atmosphere than we were used to and will certainly keep me on my toes, since I have the primary responsibility for keeping them busy. They are supposed to be working on our online resources, which they can't always do because of continuing glitches that keep us from accessing those resources, which means I have to scramble to find other projects for them. At this rate, they may have wrapped up every project I can think of by the end of the first full week.

The best thing has been watching them delve into understanding what our office is about. It's exciting to see that they are excited by what we do. Very broadly summarized, the work of our office is about encouraging people--the students of our fine university in particular--to use their varied skills and talents to make the world a better place. It's good work, by which I mean not just pleasant (thought it is that) but good in a moral sense, too.

It might seem curious that a secular university would have such an office, but this sort of thing is very trendy in higher education circles just now and the leaders of my educational institution are intensely tuned in to what's in style in the academic world. What I find interesting is the spiritual alignment of the four of us who work in this office. We are all very alike in terms of sharing the same values and passion for justice in the world. Two of us would say our values are shaped by religious faith. Two would say not. The two of us who profess faith come from two different Christian traditions. Yet I would say that each one of us has much more in common with the other three than with many others who would appear on the surface to be more alike.

We don't usually talk much about religion but the subject of faith did come up one day and I mentioned the Presbyterian campus minister who was recently quoted in an article in the student newspaper about the growth of conservative religious groups at the university. Noting that many of those traditions emphasize salvation, he said, "My tradition falls much more in terms of the theological concept of grace; that we are saved not by anything of our own doing or by our own choice, but because of what Christ has done for us ... I'm less concerned as a pastor about the saving of an individual's soul and more about responding to this grace."

Now I know there's a lot of subtle theology going on under that statement and I probably couldn't fall in line with all of it, but I like the idea and I said so. Of course I couldn't come up with the whole quote from memory, so I summarized: "It's not about redemption as much as it's about grace."

I said I thought that meant religion isn't a point system toward heaven as much as it is about being in a relationship, and my faithful colleague (who in fact is Presbyterian) agreed.

I like that idea. The hard part is living up to it.

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