21 Nov Engaging our Subjects in conversations: Relationship builders
‘Engaging our subjects’ – it seems like a far-off idea. Juggling between classes, exams, assignments, social life, campus drama, extra-curriculars is challenging enough! We don’t want to add onto the plateful of activities. Let me ease your burden – engaging is not an added activity on your plate. Rather it is a thread that binds all the existing activities together. ‘To engage’ is to engross, interest, enthrall, attract and appeal the University through the word of God displayed in various levels of our life.
University is a place where we bring our own perspectives to bear on those of others, while also opening and finetuning our own perspective. It’s a place of open dialogue and open mind. The idea is to walk an extra mile understanding the standpoint of another person, another faith, another perspective – without placing ourselves on a higher moral or intellectual ground. It cannot begin without a relationship. No one will feel open to dialogue unless they feel valued or heard or even understood.
The Latin Phrase “Coram Deo” means living ALL of life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. It means that we remove the segregations of sacred and secular. That we acknowledge the work of God in our university or classroom, as much as in our fellowships. Not just in the spirit, but putting our minds to work for the Kingdom of God. Not only to form Bible groups, but representing God through our subjects, through our research, through our dialogue.
We can bring to the university theological and ethical dimensions, therefore we as Christians can become valuable to the university. We are breeding the love and compassion of Christ.
We are affirming what the university should stand for – for the celebration of beauty, for justice, where curiosity is cultivated in each of us, creativity is celebrated in every experiment or activity, in every new piece of idea.
All of which – can be done in a classroom, in a gym, in a dorm room or a campus canteen, even virtually or in person. The only pre-requisite is to place people or a person above the subject matter. To create an environment and a platform, where even the shy or hesitant feel safe to share their opinion. Where every participant feels valued and heard. Building a relationship of mutual discovery about issues that excite them, and knowing how they perceive them.
We have all seen the opposite of this. Hot debates / arguments take a higher ground, where people are torn apart, and so are friendships. Sadly, many times such debates are initiated and led by Christ followers. Here the debate is won or lost at the cost of a person. We forget the very truth that our friend(s) are created in the image of God, as much as ourselves. The question is, are we building the kingdom of God? where love and mercy are our companions. Or are we building a kingdom of human intellect where screaming, manipulating, attractive vocabulary or lofty ideas are placed above love for people.
Many people believe ‘engaging’ is only for intellectuals. But not so! Jesus was engaging the mind in a not so simple conversation about water, with the Samaritan woman. Some might recognize her intelligence, but she was not an intellectual or a research scholar by any University definition. But the conversation is certainly not one sided. She had some important questions to raise and Jesus addressed those. Jesus raises some questions too and it made her ponder. There was no superiority displayed.
Many times, by the use of loud voice, lofty words and modulation, we might have silenced a simple but truthful idea or a person. Like the Pharisees, we get caught up in the paraphernalia rather than the truth. So much so, that when Jesus – the long-awaited Messiah did appear, they refused to accept him. Simply because he was not anything they had expected him to be. Are we doing the same in our campuses? Are we placing the idea of truth as more important than the truth itself?
We need to break the idea of what ‘engaging in the campus’ needs to look like. We need to be trendsetters, where we redefine the exchange of ideas and the platform to do so. We need to strip ourselves of our pedestals and microphones (big words, loud voices, modulations etc.) and step down and share a meal or a glass of water with the Samaritan woman.
Our challenge is not only to win souls but to save minds. If Jesus is indeed the Lord of the University, then those who submit to His Lordship have a distinctive voice to bring to all these traditions of discourse. The way we read and interact with the Bible should be different. But the same applies to how we interact with a fellow human or how we interact with our subject / research. All of our work, whether in ministry or in classroom or in workplace is for the kingdom of God. Let us never treat it less than. Let us not place one higher than the other.
There is a systemic decline in the meaningful relationships in UESI across the nation. We are running with targets or agenda even in simple conversations. We find it impossible to have a natural conversation without it having an end-result. We find it extremely difficult to listen, to slow down, to process the information. Engaging is a journey. We cannot drag people or forcefully feed our ideas. We need to build our relationship on common ground.
Our focus should be to have courage to bring our faith to bear upon our research, our teaching and commitments in the academia on a daily basis. The way we see our subjects as created by God, and working for God’s world will change the way we approach it. And how we engage with our subject with our peers, our professors, our seniors and even inter-disciplinary groups is crucial to engaging the campus. At the same time, conversing will require a posture of humility, encouragement, patience, mutuality and respect. Which cannot be done without depending on God.
Here our attitude is tested – How we perceive our subject. Do we see our subject as the study of God’s creation? Do we see it as passionately created by our Savior? Do we see it applied in his created world directly or indirectly? Or are we passing years in the University dragging our feet and waiting to get by? Is my approach in the way I discuss my subject opening eyes towards a loving creator? Is it raising questions about ethics and morality in the procedures?
Here our integrity is tested – not just in ways we honestly engage in our subject and work hard towards our goal. But also, how passionate we are to train and shape mindsets in the specific disciplines. How courageous we are to raise questions about unjust practices within the discipline? How eager are we to point out the systemic failures within the discipline? Are my conversations causing a re-reading of the Bible and a re-reading of the subject?
And finally, if we have healthy relationships with our peers, we might work together towards bringing justice in our discipline, breaking new grounds. It all starts with valuing not just our profession but people as individuals and unique. Putting relationships over subject matters. It may also lead us to discover new truths which we might have overlooked. It may lead us to collaborate with peers from various faiths and represent Christ on larger canvas.
Gracy David is working as a Program Officer in Jal Bhagirathi Foundation in Jaipur. She is passionate to work for Water sustainability in India. She has completed her Masters in Sustainable Architecture. She was previously working as an Asst. Professor in the Dept. of Architecture in SVVV, Indore.