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Furthering the discussion

A response to ‘Chapel: a letter from a concerned student’

By Malaina Yoder | Contributor

I’m grateful for the opinions expressed in last week’s article “Chapel: a letter from a concerned student.” When we disagree, we have a tendency to dismiss people and leave conversation instead of pressing in to make things better. The author chose to engage with chapel content and principles. I greatly appreciate that. I should say that I’m not associated with the chapel program and that I’m writing out of my own interactions with chapel. I believe I use portions of last week’s article in context, true to the spirit in which they were written.

  1. On the meta-chapel: “. . . isolated anecdotes do not constitute quality discussion of something as vital as chapel.”

I can agree that if the purpose of the experience-sharing was to do a self-audit, then it wasn’t effective. However, the purpose wasn’t intended to be a comprehensive view of student opinion on chapel, but rather to display a variety of ways that people interact with chapel. In my opinion, this was accomplished.

  1. On the seven guiding principles: “It is unproductive to affirm a guiding principle when the principle is undefined.”

After going back and listening to the chapel, I must admit I was confused by the critique. I thought both importance and general methodology were explained. Perhaps the author found the broad nature frustrating, but I found it liberating. Because students come from a wide variety of spiritual backgrounds, it is beautiful that we offer different ways of exploring values like “scripture engagement.” I actually wish we could explore more forms of expression in chapel.

  1. On chapel topics: “It is my unconfirmed suspicion that we are discussing only what is politically convenient to discuss: that is, the social issues du jour.”

I have two problems with this idea. The first is that I’ve noticed people from many different perspectives feel as if chapel is biased against them. They cannot all be right. It would be interesting to study the topics presented over the course of a year. It seems that we have selective memories.

On the other hand, I have a friend who empathized with last week’s article because she feels as if the topics she’s struggling with are ignored. I appreciate her openness in sharing this, and I would encourage anyone who feels that way to reach out to Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh and tell him what’s important to them.

In addition, the social issues addressed go against the grain at Taylor, not with it. Coordinators get backlash from students, parents, faculty, alumni and others who are concerned. Taylor University is largely isolated in a Christian subculture with students from similar experiences. Not talking about these issues would be an easy way out and wouldn’t end division. Whether or not we agree or disagree with the agenda of a social issue, we should talk about it. That’s what chapel accomplishes when they bring controversial speakers.

  1. On chapel theme: “With the exception of Reverend Nirup Alphonse, no one has discussed what Christian community is.”

    (Photograph provided by Jim Garringer)

    (Photograph provided by Jim Garringer)

The theme, cultivating Christian community, is being addressed. Community is a tired word at Taylor. It’s a bit like saying “chair” so many times the word ceases to carry any meaning. From what I understand, the hope of this year’s chapel is to dig into many aspects of community, which is a broad topic encompassing many issues. It does take personal application though. Maybe it would be helpful for someone to explain before or after speakers to help synthesize the information and connect it back to the theme. Maybe we as college students are capable of doing that.

  1. On a specific social issue: “Critical race theory is still discussed with greater frequency than any other topic, and with only vague connections to ‘community.’”

Conversations on race are inextricably connected to cultivating Christian community. I’m by no means an expert on critical race theology, and I’ve lived exclusively in predominantly white areas. I don’t intimately know all of the pain that comes from racial divides in and outside of our churches.

I do know that cultivation is a tearing up of dry earth and plowing it under. It makes a mess so that air and water work its way into the soil. We need to continually discuss critical race theory, not to create division, but to engage the pain that already exists.

If we don’t talk about it, our church will be defined by anger, suppression, avoidance and fear. If we don’t acknowledge issues that already exist, we cannot walk with each other in mutual pain. Critical race theory is crucial to cultivating Christian community and our conversation around it can be a model for how we talk about other divisive issues.

The solution is not to go back to bed. I’ve often heard that someone doesn’t like chapel, so they don’t go. It excludes them from a conversation that needs their voice, their disagreement. The value of chapel is not a specific ideology; it’s that all of our ideologies are present. We’re choosing to worship with one another, listen together and engage the content. I thank the concerned student for doing just that.

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