This summer I did some reading in David Ford’s book The Shape of Life, and near the end of the book in a chapter entitled “Shaping Time and Energy,” I came across a conversation that struck close to the work of people like you—people widely recognized to be campus leaders.
Ford spoke of how St. Paul was out of his mind with excitement about something called “new creation.” Paul scrabbles around for adequate language for this mystery and ends up using gift language. But strangely, the gift terminology comes out in institutional terms. We tend to think of Paul as either a public debater as a distributor of first-century email blasts or as an interpersonal convert-maker. That is, we imagine him behind a lectern or sitting knee-to-knee with a skeptic. But no less than these other callings, Paul was a churchman. He was in deep in institutional life, as a small business owner, as a tent-maker, as an urban church-planter, as a networker, and (that most laden of terms today) a community organizer. Accordingly, his word choice for new creation comes off very material, a very monetary, very business-focused. An English word that comes close to Paul’s language is the term exchange. Disconcertingly, Paul describes new creation, in Ford’s fine phrase, as “an exchange that generates further exchanges”—more and more occasions for people to be exchangers. Paul says God likes this kind of happy exchange especially when carried about cheerful givers.
Few of us find it easy to be cheerful about institutional exchanges. Internal reporting. Budget management. Committee minutes. Parliamentary Procedure. And yet the Triune God not only celebrates the self-giving that makes up such work, this God actually creates more and more and more such exchanges to carry out! God’s gift produces more and more work for God’s people to do.
Does that sound a little grim? Ford notes, “We find ourselves in some institutions without any, or much, choice; others we join voluntarily. All require work if they are to be begun and sustained…” Oh, really? That’s hardly what Robert’s Rules calls a point of information!
But you know, Paul did see this as good news, as gospel, in fact He just couldn’t manage to be grim about getting more institutional work. He saw these labors as following a Genesis pattern—after the Sabbath rest of God and creation, the humans are put to satisfying, fulfilling work in the garden. Similarly, we today as beneficiaries of God’s Sabbath, God’s gift of new creational exchange, are positioned to do a great deal of work. (I’m feeling the need for cautionary notes for those already given to over-working, but one can’t say everything in a single post.)
Ford fleshes this out a bit when he says,
“[P]art of our vision of life should be found in answering questions such as the following…. How can our particular gifts help to build up and, if necessary, reform worthwhile institutions? How might our institutional creativity and service be developed? How do the various institutions to which we belong relate to God’s purposes of peace, justice, freedom, goodness, truth, and love? How might we show gratitude to God for institutions and those who work for them, and pray for them faithfully”?
Good questions to mull over. But let me also ask you: what do you think about describe yourself as a shepherd of the exchanges of this campus? It seems like a good way to talk about your work as student leaders: a part of what you do, a significantly overlooked part of what you do, is to care for our insitutional life. Be alive to God’s pleasure right here in the turns and twists of this community’s life.