(re)Imagining Fitness

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When you get a sense of how faith fits into a campus, you get a better sense of the community as a whole.[1]

Mary Jacobs is right, understanding how faith fits into a campus community is essential.  Faith’s fit discloses the value that an institution places on educating the whole person, because, as we know, education is not just about the depositing of data.  While education does include the exchange of bits of information, education is more than simply the accumulation of fact upon fact.  If education is anything, it is an exercise in self-transformation to prepare us for world alteration—on grand and modest scales—through gaining insights, data, skills, and techniques.  Education, as it turns out, is fact accumulation.  But it is, also, so much more.  Education’s primary objective is to change us.

Education and faith, it seems, have a lot in common.  After all, isn’t faith but another way of saying change, change from one way of being to another, from one way of seeing the world to another, from one set of loves to another?  The more central the role granted faith the more profound and sacred the transformation possible . . . be our task education or community service or raising a family or balancing a budget.

The denomination that founded YHC—The United Methodist Church—has always intuitively sensed this vital connection between a robust faith and deep, transformative learning.

Nearly three hundred years ago, two young brothers—John and Charles Wesley—and their university friends gathered regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual support at Oxford University.  This self-described “Holy Club” recognized at its inception the indelible connection between intellectual pursuit and spiritual discipline.  For them and ultimately for the church that emerged from that Oxford gathering, one could never be adequately realized without the other, i.e., the pursuit of personal perfection was an integrated intellectual and spiritual endeavor.

So, education is central to the history and ministry of The United Methodist Church.  But, in a creative turn, The United Methodist Church has always understood that faith is central to education because education is about the transformation of the whole self—body, mind, and spirit.  For this transformation to bear the sacred imprint of faith, conversations about meaning and purpose and the Divine should not be marginal or arbitrarily inserted but permeating the ethos of a place, found in its cultural and intellectual DNA.

Colleges and universities emergent out of a faith tradition are naturally well suited to this comfortable comingling of faith with education because of a longstanding commitment to create inclusive and celebrative atmospheres that nurture and support all the faith journeys of students, faculty, and staff.  Such colleges and universities don’t have to be reminded to welcome faith into our conversations, to promote the spiritual as a fundamental interlocutor in efforts at self and world transformation.  Such conversations and promotion, on our best days, are simply part of who we are and how we seek to engage each other, our academic disciplines, and the world around us.

Recently, according to education researcher Arthur Chickering and his colleagues, the rest of the educational world has begun to appreciate what faith-emergent institutions have understood for centuries.  Chickering and his fellow authors observe that “at colleges and universities around the country, an expanding and increasingly vigorous dialogue has begun, centered on examining personal values, meaning, purpose—including religious and spiritual values—as part of the educational experience.”[2]  Education, to be thorough, requires intentional spiritual exploration, the kind of exploration colleges like ours come by naturally.

So, if Chickering and his colleagues are right, then Mary Jacobs was onto much more when she noted that understanding the role of faith on the campus acts as an indicator of the character of a campus community.  Rather, the role of faith, also, acts as a barometer of an institution’s capacity to educate in truly deep and transformative ways.

Have a great week and see you along the way.


[1] Mary Jacobs, “Soul Searching: Students Can Make College Search a Spiritual Journey,” The United Methodist Reporter, March 12, 2010.

[2] Arthur Chickering, et. al., Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education, (John Wiley and Sons, 2006) 2.

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