Recently when I was working out at a fitness center there were three young women on the machines across from me. Since the student athletics from Ancilla University work out there, I asked what sports they played. Two were on the soccer team and one played volleyball. What caught my attention was the accent of one young lady. She said she was from the northwest part of England.
It is not unusual to find persons from other countries on college sports teams. The Purdue women’s basketball team has two players from Canada, one from England, and one from the Senegal. The men’s basketball team has a player from the Netherlands. They represent a part of the diversity that can be found at institutions of higher education.
In talking about the negative aspects of tribalism as it infects the American culture today, Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue, in his May 2018 commencement address saw the diversity that exists on many college campuses a resource to combat the charged climate in which we find ourselves. Daniels told the graduating students, “Here, you have lived in daily close contact with people of all faces, races and places. If you kept your ears open, you heard viewpoints very different from you own, in an environment that safeguards the right for every such viewpoint to be heard. You heard arguments that made sense, and some that were absurd. And you became better at telling which was which. And, no matter how addicted you were to your smartphone, you experience the fulfillment that only life in a genuine community can furnish.”
Daniels challenged the graduates to take this perspective from their university experience into whatever avenue life might take them. I am always amazed how in a small town like Plymouth or the other towns in which I have lived in Indiana, you can find a hint of the rich flavor of backgrounds that is to be found on a college campus. The trick is to have the ears to hear and the eyes to see beyond the boundaries of one’s normal experience. I would never have known there is a young woman from England playing on the Ancilla soccer team if I had not asked what sports the women played!
It was a diverse group of people who came to hear Jesus speak and heal. For what we know in the gospels they came from all strata of society. Many of them came for healing, for themselves or for loved ones. Jesus broke down the barriers among the groups of His day and provided a safe environment where they could interact and come to know each other. They represented the genuine community of which Daniels spoke.
I look back with fondness to my college days. I liked them so much that I went on to get three more degrees after my days at Purdue. If truth be told, I could have been a student for life. One of the reasons is the atmosphere on a college campus breaks down barriers and has the potential to introduce one to a variety of ideas, persons, value systems and world views. During my second year at Perkins School of Theology, the student who won the award for the best systematic paper came from a Baptist evangelical background. His paper was graded by a process theology professor and a professor who was a disciple of Rudolf Bultmann. The award-winning paper did not represent the views of either of those grading the paper. But the student had done it well and won. Perkins was an example of a genuine community such as described by Daniels.