Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"An Open Letter to Will Lightfoot"

Below is a letter I sent out to a good friend when he was looking at grad schools back in 2003. I thought publishing this here on the blog might offer some better insight into my previous post about this season of convergence here in Holland Michigan at Hope College. I also thought about it because my friend Tyler has asked about it and I know several other students and recent graduates who are considering Regent College.

I want to make a note about my use of rhetoric here: sometimes being caustic helps a writer get his or her point across. I fear that some of my exaggerated expression in this "Open Letter" might lead some people to have skewed ideas about Regent. If anything, it reveals how I was fighting to make sense of my life at that time and exposes more about me than Regent. So, for the record I decided to complete a full Master's degree, their MCS in Independent Studies. You can definitely find some rigorous academics at Regent, but there are many students there from many walks of life who are interested in many things other than getting straight A's--which is refreshing. Oh, and it is very difficult to take Old and New Testament surveys on your own via audio lectures. So, beware!

"An Open Letter to Will Lightfoot" 1/18/03

I heard a rumor that you are still considering Regent as an option for your postgraduate studies. I was out for a walk today by the water and was feeling all sorts of joy about my being here, and I thought of you and thought of what I would say to you about Regent after completing a semester and a few summer courses. I think what I am about to say is more for my benefit though. I am trying to nail my thoughts down and take a position on this season of my life and publishing these thoughts to you will make it official: Jesus has been generous to me by bringing me here.

I will say this: come here not to do academic work but to study. Stay for only a year. Settle for earning a diploma. Work your hardest to get A’s so that they will look good on your transcript if you decide to apply to other schools where academics are the only thing provided. Don’t let career goals in academics rob you of the opportunity to learn real things.

If you chose to stay for only one year, don’t take the two survey courses of the Old Testament and New Testament while here. You can take those classes in the summer over a two-week period, or you can finish them in an audio correspondence format later.

Come here if there is restlessness in your soul about who you are, what the Church is and how you fit into the world. Take classes and read the books and write the papers that will help you answer your most personal questions.

Come here without the expectation of making friends. Come with a willingness to risk on community…or better yet, pursue communion with strangers and be patient. Wait to discover how they are really your brothers and sisters.

Come and sleep in on Sunday mornings and then and hang out at Starbucks even though it is a corporation. They have consistently good coffee, good music and comfortable chairs. Chances are you might want a job at Starbucks someday. I heard they pay $10 an hour and have good benefits. Graduate students need to keep their eyes open for good part time work.

At least visit churches if only to remind yourself how much you love the church.

See if you can shake the false guilt of missing church, then go and make it a discipline.

Hang out with girls—befriend them. Try not to think of everyone of them as a possible wife. Think of each of them as something that your guy friends are not: sweet, beautiful and good listeners. Each one of them will be a blessing.

Read constantly. Read in the morning with coffee. Read in the afternoon with coffee. Read after dinner with coffee, and stop to take naps and play the guitar. Read when you are falling asleep, but find a book that you are not assigned to read like a novel or something on the history of jazz.

Admit to yourself that you probably won’t read like this when you leave. Don’t worry about the reading you won’t do later. Take advantage of the crappy weather and lack of friends. Stay inside and read now. When the weather breaks you can wrap yourself in a blanket and read down by the water.

Read the Bible every morning and don’t worry about it when you don’t. Read it like you are a beginner every time. Read it out loud and know that you might not remember it later in the afternoon.

Pray after you read the Bible. I am not exactly sure what this means. I thought I did this morning, but I already forgot. I think I’ll have to give it another try tomorrow morning.

Make sure you come with lots of good music or at least some extra money to buy new CDs. Music is cheap here and there is a great independent store about ten minutes from Regent. Find people at Regent who are obsessed with music and learn from their taste.

Listen to each song as if it was the best worship song you’ve ever heard in your life. If you can’t do that then don’t listen to that song. Skip it and go on to the next one.

Make sure you have a good number of worship songs memorized that your friends have written. Playing them will help you enter the presence of God, and it will also help you feel like you still live near those friends.

Put pictures of your friends on your computer’s screen saver so that it scrolls through them like a slide show. Leave the monitor on all night while you sleep and maybe you will dream that you are hanging out with them.

Take walks and try to love jogging. Go outside in the rain and in the fog and get wet. Exercise and being outside will be the best anti-depressant.

Come here to study and ask questions and realize that you are studying while you sleep and while you walk or jog, while you listen to music and play your guitar, while you try to commune with other people and with God and nature. Realize that intelligence is often wasted in the classroom because the classroom like the church often keeps you from being honest about what your real questions are. Intelligence without honesty is stupid. I’d rather just be honest. The good classroom will only help push you farther than you might have gone by yourself. Without it most of us will never know what we are capable of.

Do all of this one day at a time leisurely. Think of it as training on how to live one day well. Forget all that carpe diem crap. You can’t enjoy having to cram the “best” into every day. Sucking the marrow out of life can be very wearying. Realize the “best” is only how miserably you will fail at pursuing Jesus everyday. Accept your spiritual weakness. The best you will ever be arises out of how well you know that God doesn’t care that your efforts to pursue him really stink. We will always be beginners.

Oh, and make sure you read works by Colin Gunton, Martin Buber, W.H. Auden, George Steiner, Richard Neihbur, Micheal O’Siadhail, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Kathaleen Norris, Annie Dillard, Fredrick Beuchner, Mary Oliver, Alan Jacobs, Roger Lundin, Thomas Merton, Leslie Newbegin, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Jeremy Begbie, Scott Cairns, Lionel Basney, Chiam Potok, Eugene Peterson, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Phillip Yancey, Walker Percy, Jarslov Pelikan, Alexander Schmemann…oh, did I mention Colin Gunton…jeepers what have I been doing without a Trinitarian understanding of God?

If you come here it might not feel very important while you are here. It probably won’t be exciting unless you make it exciting and search your heart for the right questions.
Many people at Regent have been hurt by the church. Don’t be surprised by their questions. Try and find a roommate like mine who visibly loves Jesus, who will eagerly drag his guitar out to play worship songs with you.

Peace to you. I will be praying about your last semester. Let me know if I can be of any help in your decision making process. I don’t know if this was helpful for you, but it sure was for me!

1 comment:

Travis said...

Ah, Josh. I laughed (I assume this has the to be the effect at parts here!??) when you talked about coffee and reading -- all day. I've done this and had visions of it. Maybe it's some collectively unconscious intellectual dream we all share.

And the paragraph about music was great. I'm gonna try that one when I drive home this afternoon.