Friday, November 21, 2014

Teach your children/parents well

   Here at the University of Denver, the fall quarter is over (except for those poor faculty members who are still grading exams/papers!).  Yesterday was the last day of finals, and the campus was feeling pretty deserted.  Now we are on to Inter-term classes, workshops, trainings, holiday luncheons . . . six weeks (give or take) of a different pace.  But the last couple of weeks were tense, with students hurrying to get papers in, studying done, exams taken, and res hall rooms cleaned out (no food allowed over break!), etc.
     What those students are NOT doing is lining up outside of my office.  And this seems to surprise some folks, as I often am asked, at this time of year, "Well, I suppose this is your busy time??" And I can honestly answer that, in over twenty years of campus work, I've NEVER had a student come to me during the last couple of weeks of a term because of academic anxiety.  And I'm not alone in my experience, as conversations with colleagues confirm.  And that makes me wonder . . .
      It makes me wonder about the idea(s) of God/spirituality that are behind the question.  The same question is NEVER asked of me in the middle of a term . . . i.e., in a less "stressful" time.
  So, is there an underlying assumption that God/religion is just there to get you out of a fix?  Is that what the questioner was taught?  Perhaps, but it hasn't generated more foot traffic to my office.  Or, more generously, is there a belief that a chaplain or spiritual counselor would be able to lend a sympathetic ear during stressful times.  Of these two possibilities, I certainly prefer the latter, but the absence of a line outside chaplains' offices would suggest that that particular belief was not necessarily passed on to the last couple of generations.

     I would hope that today's students haven't being taught that religion/spirituality is a sort of "fire insurance", only to be cashed in when the going gets rough.  Perhaps, given the way "religion" plays out in the "culture wars", many may have been taught (or have learned) that it can useless (at the least) or pretty hurtful (at the most).   On the other hand, I fear that many haven't been taught that there is compassion and empathy to found in religiously-motivated listeners during the hard patches of life.
      I know many students (as well as their parents or other older adults) who don't believe those first two negative lessons about religion, and who DO believe the last positive lesson.  They've been taught well.  I think they know that their religious convictions ARE a support during the hard times, but not only then -- that those same convictions provide a context within which to understand the good times, as well as to provide motivation to support others.  They stop by my office from time to time.

      Clearly, there's still a lot of learning and unlearning to do, even when the academic quarters end . . . and we're all teachers all the time.  I can't help but close with the famous song of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, "Teach your children well":

You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of the tender years, can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well, their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix,the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.*

Let's feed folks on our dreams!



*Written by Graham Nash, Lyrics from

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