A Balancing Act or a New Show

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March 3, 2013

My impression of Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo was a college trying to keep its identity as a Christian college on a growing campus with increasing diversity. They seem to be doing a good job of balancing and finding integrity in the shifting realities, and they're not the only Christian higher education institutes to be dealing with this question of identity.

How do we respond to the shifts in higher education? Do we value Christian education? Mennonite education? If so, how do we keep hold of our identity while including and truly welcoming diverse student and faculty to the educational community?

Two responses that I've seen:
 
One response is to open up. Christian universities do not need all Christian faculty and students to be Christian in values and identity. This allows everyone to benefit from quality Christian education and brings in many different perspectives onto the campus. A potential challenge? It's hard to avoid to seem apologetic for being Christian while also being careful to respect others' religious views and not seem pushy. Some see it as finding the "fine line" between being too Christian and not enough.
 
Response number two is to institutionalize identity. Build it onto the hiring practices and admission protocol that at least a certain number of people must be Christian (or Mennonite!). This ensures a "critical mass" of those who personally claim the identity that the school claims. The challenges? The dynamics of "group think" which hold people to the majority or dominant perspective and leave little room for creative alternatives. "Group think" makes the dominant way seem right, instead of listening to diverse voices that can bring in constructive ideas and helpful ways of dealing with past unhealthy organizational patterns.
 
So is there another way? Something other than thinking in terms of "fine lines" or "balancing acts"? What other metaphors could be used besides these dichotomous ones? What about Jesus' examples of yeast in dough? Members of a body? Vines and fig trees? Fields and seeds? None of these metaphors is limited to an either / or framework. Perhaps thinking of more organic examples, as Jesus did, could help release us from fear, embrace difference, and be rooted deeply in Christ at the same time. 
 
Root deeply. Branch out. Small presence and transformation of the whole. Unimportant parts and members of the whole body. Scattered around and producing 100-fold harvest.
 
These are the metaphors we're given -- not either / or -- so perhaps we can explore living into them as wet think about Christian education in the future. What would it look like, exactly? I'm not sure, but shifting our metaphors can help us move from the balancing act to a whole new show.
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