Thursday, April 08, 2004

Collegiate Christian Consumerism

Part 2

The university system treats the student like hybrid adults on a mule team driven by a force unseen, much larger and imposing its will from the outside. That's why I love these young adults. I am called to them. You see, I abide in the glamorous transportation industry as a mass transit professional (read, bus driver) to these 16,000 Miami University students. I deliberately chose this job so that I could be around them in a unique way. I see them throw up their alcohol on my bus, after a night of having paid homage to Budweiser, the patron god of Oxford/Miami. I hear their conversations about their one-night stands. They race me half-naked on the street, ON FOOT. I have them arrested when they pass out on my bus for 2 ½ rounds and they won’t respond to me. I watch as their BMW’s and Hummers cut me off at the corner when I have the right of way and I get the finger. I watch the sorority girls’ dads try to pick up their girlfriends in local bars on parent’s weekend. I shudder at the skimpiness of the girls’ clothing choices in 50 degree weather when there have been over a dozen reported sexual assaults so far this year. I see and hear them cry alone in their cars, hunkered down in their seats in the back of the bus, hoping I don’t see. But I do. I see them fall on the ice and bust their tails. I see them rain-soaked to the bone waiting for my 36,000 pound behemoth of warmth. They love me then but hate me when I am pulling away from a stop hoping for a space in front of them.

I revel in the incredible politeness of their “thank-you’s” and “have a good day's.” They are bright, eager, motivated, energetic and just trying to find their place in the grand scheme of things. Their identities are relatively unformed, their experiences limited and their potential unleavened. They are who they are and that’s why I love them.
But as I look in their eyes, there is a vacuous hollow there. It seems to me that few of them are really “here.” In other words, they are on the way to something else, somewhere else. I wonder how many are towing the line of gaining the collegiate experience and the sheepskin it’s wrapped in and then off to the next experience. These moments in their lives seem like so many stones in a creek as they skip across them just to get to the other side, avoiding the stream of life altogether. We are told to acquire, amass, to “get” and we don’t know how to just “be” because no one is in any one place for very long. They are on their way to the next big stage. This by-product is betrayed by how we talk about this life stage.

“Just wait till you get in the ‘real world,’” we joke. What is it about this world at any point for these young adults that IS NOT real?

Unfortunately, this philosophy is reinforced by some churches and campus ministries. As a whole, we aren’t making disciples who are qualitatively and scandalously (Rom. 9:33; Gal. 5:11; 1 Pet. 2:8) counter-cultural enough, communally-connected enough and peculiarly-approachable enough. We’re just too peculiar to approach for all the wrong reasons (from a lost person’s perspective). We’ve become bottom-line feeding, marketing savvy Gospel-pushers on the ready to close the deal. We are sensation-seeking connoisseurs in the collegiate religious experience economy. Relationally, we are spread too thin, vagabonds floating from faith community to faith community in the name of seeing what’s right “for me” while masking a relational insecurity and a self-imposed, tenuous Kingdom-mindedness that ultimately benefits no one.

Some of us have become junkies on the campus ministry circuit without a tribe to truly call our own. Some would hail our tendency toward multiple communities as a truly postmodern goodness, allowing one to partake in all the best the people of God have to offer and even in the name of Christian unity. I think it’s heresy. Churches (“mine” included) are partly to blame because of implicit jealousy at the overt numerical success of some campus ministries. Campus ministries are partly to blame because they essentially function as churches but they're more inclined to deny it. Nevertheless, campus ministries/parachurch organizations have obviously stepped in to fill the void that the mainline church has ignored. But I feel we’re still amiss.