I entered this semester done with Wheaton College. I was done fighting for friendships when so many people whom I would have considered close friends had abandoned me. I was done fighting my way through hundreds of pages of reading that never seemed to end. I was done with runny noses, hacking coughs, eight layers of clothing, and endless snow. I was done scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and seeing arrogance, drama, and contempt. Above all, I was done with evangelical Christianity–done with this strange culture, where sex both terrifies and obsesses us, where such things as chapel skips and Prez Ball music become crucial moral issues, and where we claim absolute, objective truth based on our personal, subjective experiences with a first-century Palestinian Jew who allegedly said some wise stuff.
Beloved, if I’ve learned anything this semester, it’s that we must be tender with one another. Indeed, we must fight to stay tender-hearted. We must lay ourselves open to hurt and wickedness and sin.
The temptation–I know it, it’s strong–is to return the ticket. “No thanks, Wheaton College. I’m not interested in what you have to give me. I’m not interested in hurting anymore. I’m not interested in homophobic fruit-slinging; I’m not interested in sexist shower-spying. I’m not interested in racist skits. I’m not interested in social media show-downs. I’m not interested in newspaper-thieving and journalistic sensationalism. I’m done.”
Beloved, stay interested. Stay here. Stay hurt. Stay human–heavy, hard, and heart-rending though that be.
That wise, first-century Palestinian Jew whom we all seem to think we know best once told a story about a fig tree. “As soon as a branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things, you know that He is here, at the very gates.”
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to imagine the growth of any trees in this long, grey, empty Midwestern winter–and a tender, fruitful fig tree is almost beyond comprehension. But, beloved, this is what we are called to: tenderness beyond comprehension.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It would be easier for me to put on a sundress, straw hat, and embrace the snowy earth beneath our feet than to keep my heart open to a community that has hurt me and so many whom I love. But that first-century Palenstinian Jew promised he’d be here if we did. And considering how confused we all are about what he says and how who loves and who he is, it would help a lot to have him back.
Summer is near, Wheaton. The end is near. He is near. As a second-semester senior, I think I feel more keenly than many the terror of that nearness. Until then, stay tender with me, my beloved, fruitful, fig tree of a college.
“Truly, I say unto you, this generation will not pass away until these things take place.”