by Bill Boerman-Cornell and Neil Okuley
During a 2005 commencement address, author David Foster Wallace pleaded with the graduates of Kenyon College to be aware of and do battle with what he called our “default setting.” He argued that our default setting is thoroughly self-focused, preventing us from truly being able to see and connect with those around us. This setting guides our day-to-day choices unless we make a conscious decision to challenge our thinking.
David Foster Wallace probably did not realize that he was paraphrasing Romans 12:3 wherein Paul instructs followers of Christ “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (ESV). Teachers and students at Christian schools have an incredible opportunity to practice this command every day. Thinking soberly in community is hard enough but can become even more challenging when cultural diversity is a factor.
Over the last few years, we have been working on starting Unity Christian Academy (UCA), a new Christian high school in South Holland, Illinois. South Holland is an anomaly in Chicagoland, reflecting wide socioeconomic, racial, and ecumenical diversity. In starting UCA, we seek to build a flourishing community not despite diversity but because of it. Trying to bring different communities, cultures, and traditions together is hard work. Different ways of worshiping, fellowshipping, and even speaking about faith presents a great deal of potential for misunderstanding, even when we are united by belief in the same God and savior. So why should we bother?
While it has been an exciting opportunity for us to have the chance to design a school from the ground up, working to connect our school to a multitude of diverse communities has taught us some things. While we certainly do not consider ourselves experts and while we humbly recognize that we have a lot to learn, here are ten lessons we have learned so far.
- Community through faith. We are learning to trust in God’s leadership. Early on in developing our school we became convinced that God was calling two particular people to be our head-of-school and our academic dean. While we were delighted when one of those people accepted that call, the other did not and we were deeply disappointed. Why had God led us along and let us down? It can be hard to trust during such circumstances, but it is utterly necessary to do so.
- Community through learning. We have learned that there is much we do not yet know about bringing communities together. But we have also learned that with patience, humility, and prayer we don’t have to wait until we have all the answers to form a community. Instead, we can be a community that collaboratively learns how to be a community.
- Community through distributed involvement. We have learned that it can be hard to see our school from the perspective of an outsider. Whether we are looking for a new principal or someone to run the concessions stand during ball games, we tend to look toward people we already trust and know. Operating on our default setting, we are liable to pass over members of our communities who are well suited for a particular job or are excited about service. It is much harder to take a leap of faith and empower new members of the community through hiring and service opportunities. As a board, faculty, and administration, we need to reflect on the process we follow to fill positions and ask ourselves if it will result in new community members getting involved. Communities flourish when new members get involved.
This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to Christian Educators Journal.