Friday, September 23, 2011

Who's Zoomin' Who

1 Chronicles 12:32

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
32 Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do...

Dearly Beloved, we gather here to say our goodbyes. Here she lies. No one knew her worth...
Issachar's Loft was a place. A good place. But it's not a place anymore.This post is irrelevant. And poingiant at the same time. When I wrote this article, I'd hoped that the words would produce the impact necessary to move institutions to change. To save a place. No one took the article. Nothing changed. Bureaucratic wheels turned. And "The IL" was casualty.  But, even though Issachar's Loft has, for all practical purposes, vanished, the "Loft," is an idea. And Ideas are bulletproof...I mean bureacrat proof...I mean resilant.

   In the 21st century western world, the Christian church is not known for its social permeability. Choosing to be a culture within a culture. It has created fascimilies of popular culture. With Christian Music, Christian Literature, and a host of other Christian subsets, the church has tried to innoculate itself from worldly influence. This had, inadvertantly, led to the removal of the "Christian" voice from social discourse in many arenas. In many cases, the Christian College epitomizes this insular tendency.

   At Messiah College in Grantham, PA, however, there are several, concentrated efforts to equip students for the meaningful dialogue with the world at large.

   One of the instutions encouraging open dialogue is Issachar's Loft. A fixture of the student programs, Issachar's Loft serves two major functions. One being, to facillitate team building events for groups on and off campus, providing activities and debriefings to foster the interpersonal dynamic best suited for positive team development. The other is, Issachar's Loft serves as a place for students to hear Christianity from different perspectives, to express their own observations on faith and discuss ways to give their faith legs. But importantly, if not most importantly, Issachar's Loft is a place where students can be exposed to, respond to, and learn from cultural offerings.

   In its weekly meeting, "Who's Zoomin' Who," students are encouraged to be mindful of who is influencing whom. Are you making a concious impact on the surrounding culture? Or are you being blindly influenced by the world?

   Treating topics ranging from violence in athletics, to political shifts in N. Africa, to Oprah giving away cars on her show, "WZW" tries to encourage students to engage the wide world and develop a "uniquely Christian worldview." A discussion may look like this. After viewing a movie, or some part thereof, together, the group examines the work in terms of the "Creation Narrative" (Creation, Fall, and Redemption). Looking at the film as story, students and staff reflect on characters, setting, and basic plot. "What story elements, if any, reflect the pure creation, full of hope and possibility?" The Fall being a significant part of the creation narrative is also a major peice of the puzzle. Reflections on the characters that show the fall, its pain, its evil, its hopelessness are a part of the narrative. How are they a part of the story? Last, "What life is reclaimed by redemption?" "How is the pain of rebirth fealt?" "Is there sacrifice for redemption? When? By whom? For whom?""Does the story even end in redemption?" This is a taste of the questions which are mulled over in relation to whatever story or piece of culture being shared.

  What of the artists behind the works? You ask. The artist's word is explored with a healthy fervor as well. What is the artist/ writer/ director saying about life? How does the artist use symbols and representation to tie the world he or she has created, to "the real world?" Is the artist selling a specific view on life? Why? Why? Why? Questions like these are encouraged and discussed by attendees in a safe environment.

     More than just a place of scholarly adaptation, The Loft's environment is crafted for warmth. Where friendships can be made and allowed to develop. A pseudo round setup of couches, beanbag chairs, and floor sitters, allows those assembled to see and be seen, as people share thoughts and feelings. The "passing of the peace" is a time during which people can greet each other. Visitors are welcomed, no by the embarassment of standing alone, but by warm smiles and hugs. And concluding the meeting? Freshly baked cookies, prepared by the Facillitation Team.

   As I said in the openning, Issachar's Loft as it was known no longer exists. Big wheels keep on turnin'. But having a place to think, engage, grow and act with encouragement was one of the most important parts of the four years I spent at Messiah College. 
   But, do not mourn the loss. What I hope you get from this post is the search. Finding a place in which you feel so safe, you can hold your spirituality with an open hand and look at it as the individual pieces and parts, and continually try to make it better, is worth the quest. 
One chooses what one wants to believe. But belief is not an option. Everyone believes something. 
   But, belief without knowledge is dogma. 
     Pop the hood, and see what makes it run.