[I had a short offering to give last night at the “Re:Orientation” event. I thought I’d put an even shorter version out here for you to see what you think. We were presenting an alternative to what universities usually say during orientation.]
Friday we were going out to 69th St. to buy a birthday present with my 2-year old grandson, who loves to ride El. A nice man got on the train and started talking to him and I ended up talking a little, too. He ended up saying, “I like Obama, but he said he would bring the young people home. And that is not happening. Instead he wants to send more to Afghanistan. “ Like every president, Obama says he wants world peace and then sends 18 year olds, mostly poor ones, to die to protect Citibank and Exxon. No wonder there were well-organized anarchists in Pittsburgh on Friday to represent the angry 18-year-olds. We have more un-kept promises from a new president (who makes a lot of promises!). The future looks like more of the past.
But that is generally not what the University teaches. Long before we go through the college orientation, the institution of “school,” in its many forms, has generally taught that the future will be better and it belongs to the educated. The omnipresent president was telling that to elementary school kids a couple of weeks ago.
Washington University in St. Louis was orienting physically-challenged students this year with this statement. “Work-based learning experiences can help a student make career decisions, network with potential employers, select courses of study, and develop job skills relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of work and study experiences, students can enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation.” That’s a standard statement of common sense in the university world. Of course they gave a shout out to acquiring knowledge and developing personally, but the big reason to go to school is to prepare for your future job, to make yourself into something that is employable. The future is all about getting a job so you better get the education to get the job.
But there is a lot more to education these days than they tell you. It is like this: the real future is about desperately needing a well-paying job to pay off the huge debt you incurred to get the education to get a future.
The Wall Street Journal on Sep 4 had an article about student loan debt. For instance, Zack Leshetz, a 30-year-old lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has $175,000 in student loans from his seven years in college and law school. Lately he has had his eye on the real-estate market. “Everyone says that it’s a great time to buy a house,” he says. But that is not an option right now, thanks to $800 a month in payments—and another chunk of student loans in forbearance, which means payments are halted while interest accrues. “I find myself living paycheck to paycheck.” He has also been engaged since March, but has held off on marriage. “There’s no way I can pay for a dream wedding, or even just a regular wedding,” Mr. Leshetz says. “I feel like I’m putting my entire life on hold.”
This is not all the university segment of “school” says about your future, but this is certainly in there: education is the future – it won’t be cool if you don’t stay in school. But the secret message is that debt is your future – get the education and then become a slave until you pay for it.
I want to present an alternative. Using a university to gain wisdom and skill is fine, but Jesus has a lot more in store for us than university education provides or than we can afford to pay for.
The quote below is part of an account in the Bible in which Jesus and the disciples are talking to a man who has “made it,” so to speak, but who is still intrigued with Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!
[The kingdom of God is where God rules and Jesus is followed]
Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
[The “Eye of the Needle” is a small gate in old Jerusalem that is a challenge to big camels]
Those who heard this asked, (If it is that hard) “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with people is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:24-30
The university makes promises it does not keep. Jesus keeps his promises. But that is not my basic point. Jesus is calling for a basic reorientation.
Your future is taken care of; live your life now. Jesus doesn’t ask you to wait until you get an education to be someone. As you know, education can only be a useful tool in the hands of someone who is someone; it doesn’t make you anything. Jesus makes you someone who can use an education.
You don’t have to wait until you pay off your debts to engage fully in life. If you had to pay off all your debts, financial and spiritual, you’d never get finished, and you would just incur more debt, anyway. Jesus forgives you your debt to him — the heart-debts you owe to God for turning away from him and pursuing education and career like they can save you, or pursuing anything else. He gives you the future free of charge.
We, as the people of God who follow Jesus, organized as Circle of Hope, have never waited for college-age people to grow up before we invite them to show up. They are welcome to be a full part and to own the church. We are not looking for people who have paid off all their debts and come in with no encumbrances of doubt, sin, and other baggage, we can forgive you, too, and let you get on with it. We don’t want anyone to use all their energy on serving a false hope and end up a full-on slave.
We invite you to join us in doing the most important thing you can do in your twenties — even while you are getting an education, or struggling to pay for your apartment or to pay off your debts. You are valuable to God. Together, our resources make a huge difference in God’s hands. This is what we always say — Re-orient with us and see. Come along and be yourself in Christ with us and see.