Written by Halie Miller; Media by Kelsey Kuethe.
How qualified I am to critique the concept after only two semesters is yet to be seen, but looking back at my journal afforded me more than enough material to address on my Christian college experience.
I’ve made a sort of habit out of journaling my thoughts, and this school year, I recorded my first impressions thusly; “My experience to this point? I am entirely out of place.” Although born and raised Christian, I didn’t understand how much of an adjustment it would be to go from a secular college experience to a religious one. I had become accustomed to making my own decisions regarding everything from health to spirituality in the year I’d been away from home, so attending a school which sought to impose more regulation and definition on me than I deemed entirely necessary was defiantly challenging. However, I continue into the next month writing, “I clearly see faults, but I’m trying and succeeding in seeing positives, too.”
“I look at the complicated, tangled web that was my life and think it’s beyond comprehension how God was working the whole time and I didn’t see it,” I write. A few days later I note, “I hope I get out of chapel. I wouldn’t even mind going sometimes; I just don’t want to be forced.” Like any experience, Christian college education has its ups and downs. I appreciate how being submerged in a Christian environment brings your faith to the forefront of your thoughts, causing you to contemplate your life through an entirely different lens. “We have talked about the Bible, talked about God, and prayed in every class today.” On the other hand, I despise how bringing that faith into prominence makes your views subject to the seeming dismissal of others. “I’m not entirely radical,” I write, “but compared to the general campus population, I may seem so.”
I quickly make a list of “Things Never to Say at Greenville College” which includes, “Christians are not always morally superior to Non-Christians,” and “The book about gay penguins was ‘cute.’” Over the next few weeks, my journal receives a plethora of “I want to go home” and “I have no desire to be here” statements, but also lists four meaningful Bible verses that find their way into my contemplation: Matthew 5:14, Psalms 121:1, 1 Peter 5:7 (my Confirmation verse), and John 10:27-28.
I’m writing about my faith, what I’ve been taught in the past and what I feel I’m wanted here to learn. I’m also writing about how I’m a black sheep, scared to voice my opinions because I don’t think they are valued. The next list my journal holds is of questions to ask a Methodist minister. For one thing, I knew I had to be misunderstanding the doctrine of Christian Perfection. For another, did I rightly understand that Methodists believe the Bible may contain human error and thus contradict itself?
“Sometimes I want to fight [for my beliefs] and sometimes I want to run,” I write. “Do I start with the theology, or on the subject of personal liberties?” At a point some months into my first semester, I begin writing “letters to the college” never meant to be read (all of which would lead up to a later Papyrus article, “Being Honest about Chapel”), but I feel such confliction. There’s so much God wants me to do, I realize, and because of my Christian College experiences, “so many ideas just won’t leave me alone. Do I want to live this way? Can I do all the things I feel God is right now calling me to do and still go to school?” So much of the world needs a helping hand; so many people need someone to evangelize Jesus’s love for them by example. I’m exposed to issues I hadn’t considered along with those I had, receiving messages that both inspire and disturb me. “We are all bastards,” the chapel speaker says (and I record), “but God loves us anyway.” The content of this sermon really bothers me. “Hearing this hurts me.”
It’s a particularly hard day when I write, “I WANT TO BE IN A SCHOOL WHERE IT’S OKAY TO CURSE, WHERE IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, WHERE IT’S OKAY TO BE GAY, WHERE PEOPLE ARE APPRECIATED AS PEOPLE AND NO–” The rest of the sentiment is scratched out in pencil. The time of this entry is my lowest point. I like being in an environment where people can (even if they shouldn’t) make “bad choices.” I’m not going to unlawfully drink, do drugs, or have premarital sex, but I’m attending a school where a Christian lifestyle is prescribed rather than chosen, and that is hard for me. “Christianity isn’t about rules,” I write, but about faith, dedication, and choice.
The first semester ends, Winter break rejuvenates, and I return. My life continues on much the same, but before the feelings of last semester can fully rear themselves, I decide to force the change I need. I vow not to quiet all the things I’m feeling, knowing I won’t endure a Christian college education if I do. I take all those “Letters to Greenville” and turn them into something of which I am both terrified and proud. “At some point between Thursday and Saturday,” I scribble, “my chapel article will hit the Internet.”
Once I’ve made my feelings known, I begin to relax. I avoid chapel in favor of reading my Bible and doing homework. I absorb all I can from a COR 102 trip and keep considering God. I enjoy my Introduction to Christian Thought and Life class, contemplate doctrine, and I hear what God is telling me personally in His Scriptures. I’m no longer reluctant to voice myself for fear of others’ criticism. I find balance, and can now look at my experience objectively.
“Sometimes I feel ashamed of the things I say,” my journal includes, “but I never feel ashamed of the things I write. You can always be honest with yourself, even if the way you feel changes in an instant, because you are you, and you needn’t fear your own misunderstanding.”
There is, I insist, no wrong or right answer to faith or Christianity, only basic truth and strong opinion. The most important thing and that which is critical to instill in students is something I was recently told by one of my professors. All truth, he said, wherever it is found, comes from God. Truth is God, and religious opinion expounded as truth has no right place in education. It is, however, a consequence of an entirely flawed, abet Christian, population. Likewise, while Christian colleges are well within their rights to enforce stricter conduct codes than secular institutions, they cannot govern the most important area, religion. Spiritually, they can only guide in truth’s pursuit.
We don’t risk these consequences in secular settings, but we give up something far more precious. I ask myself truly, had I not been in a Christian educational setting, would I have learned so much about myself, my faith, and the Lord? Would I have felt the need to challenge not my faith but its components? In interacting and forming friendships with others of different faiths (or lack thereof), we challenge our Christian conviction, but in interacting with Christians whose views are radically different, we challenge our Christian understandings. If undertaken respectfully, it’s a beautiful responsibility we owe to God and to ourselves.
The Christian college experience has a lot of possibilities. It can be both profoundly negative and positive simultaneously. It is never the Divine that is flawed, however, only man. A culmination of impression and misunderstanding can never detract from the real benefit of spiritual exploration in a setting which seeks to encourage our pursuit of God in truth.