I was reflecting recently that this August marks the 10-year anniversary of the month that I started college. I still remember that August: packing up my parents’ car and driving from Kansas City to Wheaton, IL., shopping at Target for dorm room necessities, attending the Wheaton College orientation week activities, meeting people for the first time who would become my best friends. In many ways those days were the turning point in my life, the beginning of my intellectual and spiritual coming of age. When I look back on who I was in those days and who I am now, I see so much change. So many lessons. I’m sure people can relate.
The following are 10 things that I’ve learned in the decade since I began my college journey. It’s been a wonderful ride, and I thank God for everything he’s shown me.
Christianity is big. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned since beginning college is that Christianity is much bigger than the Middle-American, suburban evangelicalism of my upbringing. A lot of this lesson has come from traveling throughout the country and abroad, seeing different cultural expressions of Christianity, worshipping with people in other cultures and traditions (I even attended an Episcopal church one summer after college… gasp!) What an amazing thing it has been, to have an enlarged, enlivened conception of the faith tradition I’m a part of… Something that’s far bigger, grander, and more gloriously diverse than I ever knew before college.
The local church is a precious thing. Perhaps because I took it for granted growing up, and then got a little lazy about it in college (why go to church if the college you go to is practically a church?), the re-learning of the preciousness of the local church has been a huge thing for me. When you’re in a new place, with few friends around and not a lot of community (a scenario I’ve experienced more than once in the last 10 years), the local church is a godsend. But more than that, it’s something that offers rhythms of worship, rest, quietness and connection to the larger body of Christ.
Reading for pleasure is awesome. In college and grad school—and high school before that—reading was mostly for school. Everything I read was because I had to. But over the years I’ve come to value the importance of reading for pleasure… Reading not just to check off a list, but to edify myself and learn about something new. A few years ago I started allotting a few hours every Sunday to go to a coffeeshop and read something completely unnecessary. It’s harder than I thought it would be, but those Sunday reading times have been so precious and growing for me.
Christians can believe in evolution and/or be Democrats. Strange as it seems to my present self, my high school self would have had serious doubts about the faith of a Christian who was a Darwinist and/or Democrat. Needless to say, a combination of collegiate education, secular grad school, and just living life with friends of solid faith who voted for Obama has led me to a more moderate understanding of these things.
Most Christians don’t even know what a Calvinist is. When you grow up in the Christian bubble, go to the “Christian Harvard” for college, and regularly attend esoteric theological conferences, it’s easy to forget that most Christians in the world don’t live in an insular faith-based bubble. Through experiences at a secular grad school, and in getting to know Christians in L.A. who had not had the luxury of theological training, I came to understand that the life of following Christ doesn’t have to feel like a term paper. It’s a vibrant, emotional, real-life thing that transforms us and directs our lives, regardless of whether we consider ourselves infralapsarian or supralapsarian on the question of predestination.
Alcohol is best sipped slowly. In my twenties, I experienced the typical evangelical-who-went-to-a-Christian-college journey of discovering alcohol. And it was a wonderful thing. I discovered that a good beer with a good friend is one of God’s most generous gifts. But along the way—and after one or two unfortunate experiences of over-indulgence—I discovered that alcohol is good only in moderation, and it’s best when sipped slowly. Nothing beats a slowly consumed glass of scotch on the patio of the Ritz-Carlton in Miami, or a glass of wine (or two) that lasts for a couple hours over dinner with someone you love.
The entertainment industry is stressful. For a while I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. I went to film school at UCLA and got a graduate degree, did an internship at Focus Features, and tried my hand at screenwriting, short-film making, etc. But over time I came to see that the entertainment industry was far too hectic, too cutthroat, too stressful for me. I like things slow, deliberate, measured, thoughtful. So I turned into a writer.
N.T. Wright is heroic. I don’t think any one person has been more significant on my faith journey over the last ten years than N.T. Wright. I’ve read about 10 of his books (currently trying my hand at Jesus and the Victory of God) and even attended the Wheaton Theology Conference dedicated to his work. Wright is a figure of astounding intellect who also happens to be devoted to Christ and the church. And he’s a phenomenal writer with an uncanny gift at injecting big-picture excitement into a biblical, evangelical, mission-oriented faith.
Technology is a mixed bag. In college I became something of a Luddite—hyper skeptical about most new technologies (especially such abominations as the then-nascent Facebook). In graduate school (media studies) I towed this line less aggressively, but also began to see how simplistic was the so-called technical-determinism assessment. Over the years I’ve tempered my Luddite ways and tried to approach the thinking and writing about technology with more nuance, understanding that technological ecosystems are as complex as any other, and invariably contain both good and bad things within them.
Christians can learn a lot from heathens. Essentially this is the whole common grace awakening… realizing that, contrary to some of my former sacred-secular dichotomy impulses, there is the possibility of discovering truth and experiencing grace in almost anything. Over the last ten years I’ve been grown intellectually and spiritually by many people of belief, but also by many artists, poets, musicians, and intellectuals who do not share my beliefs. What we do share—and here’s the real lesson—is a sincere hope of discovery, epiphany, connection and enlightenment about the existence we all share.