A student in the natural sciences was updating his resume for a job search. He lamented being told to add a new section and wasn't sure what to include. The new section was to be called "skills."
"Well," I said, "you should start with your ninja skills." Having never seen a ninja movie, I don't actually know what ninja skills are. But I was trying to make the student laugh during a stressful time. It worked.
Afterward, I began thinking about the skills I've observed in our Lutheran Campus Ministry students. In general the University of Chicago is known for theory, not skills. A humorous T-shirt that has been making the rounds for decades reads: "That's all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?" The stereotype of a University of Chicago student doesn't generally include a strong emphasis on practical skills.
But let me tell you about Toby. Toby, a doctoral student in philosophy, is fluent in ancient Greek: the language, the culture and all of the philosophical nuances. But Toby spends his spare time working with SOUL (Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation), protesting against unfair foreclosure practices at bank shareholder meetings, mobilizing members of the church to vote, convincing public officials to take ethical stances. Toby has community organizing skills matched by no one else I've met.
And let me tell you about Vince and Pippa. Vince and Pippa are Divinity School students, each writing a dissertation on the history of Christianity. Whenever we cook dinner to serve to hungry South Siders alongside the Night Ministry's health outreach bus, Vince and Pippa season the chili perfectly — sweet and spicy, delicious.
And let me tell you about Andrew and Michael and Mary Ella. Andrew is an undergraduate studying economics who leads worship Sunday mornings by playing the French horn. Michael just graduated with a degree in biology, and for the last four years he's led a team of torchbearers on a regular rotation. In the fall, Mary Ella will begin her second year as an undergraduate studying Arabic, and we will miss hearing her beautiful voice in worship during the choir's summer break.
Our students have skills: in music and worship leadership, in direct service to our neighbors, in community organizing. Our students also have countless practical skills in their particular areas of study — because, of course, stereotypes and T-shirts don't come close to encompassing the complexity of reality.
That's all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?
In theory, we could say that when we gather before the cross, God's word and God's promise of grace intersect with the particularities of human existence — and our hearts and our neighborhoods are transformed. In theory, we could say that out of the compassion and generosity engendered by our encounters in a sacramental community comes a life that is fuller and deeper. In theory, we could say that at the heart of everything — all of our skills and practices — is God.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers