The Place of Integrity

A life of integrity is developed one decision at a time.  A life that lacks it is developed in the same way.  We inch our way towards what is true and good and right and towards instincts that help us respond in the right way when the pressure is on.  We can also inch our way away from these good things.

Baylor’s deep longing and mission is to send graduates into the world who have integrity.  More than simply knowing and following the rules, becoming a person of integrity involves a deeper quest as Dr. Burleson’s essay has helped us see. It is a quest to become a person who is integrated… whose beliefs emerge from deep searching and that are expressed in ways that are authentic to that person’s true self.

The Place of Perseverance

Perseverance, Dean Vardamann, has reminded us, is a work of great grace. While grades are always looming and mistakes always have consequences and life always seems to be throwing us curve balls… we get “do-overs” even on an academic journey.  Always be willing to begin again and know this… you will have to begin again and again and again.  And while, in the midst of some discouragement, you may not be able to imagine “making it,” you will find second winds, and a third and fourth winds that come to you by sheer grace.

I hope you also heard Dean Vardamann declare that perseverance is a group project.  One way we try to manifest our faith at Baylor is to create an environment that is compassionate and supportive.  We don’t manifest these qualities with perfection but we’re trying and at every turn you will find folks available and ready to walk alongside you during your time with us.  You are not alone and, if you are willing to ask for help, you find encouragement in the tough times and you can accomplish great things at Baylor.

The Place of Temperance

Dr. Tran has prophetically held up a very challenging ethic regarding the way we spend our time and its origins in our faith tradition.  These are ancient teachings and you are probably aware that the Sabbath teaching (rest) has always been resisted… and especially by college students.  And you’re probably aware also that balance seems to be hard for us… and especially hard for college students.  And I’m sure you are aware that temperance, moderation, has not been a long suite for humanity… and especially not for college students.  I hope you’ll also be aware that these virtues and values can be nurtured into any life… even in the life of a college student.  It is not inevitable that your lifestyle while in college be unmanageable or unhealthy. Begin now practicing the virtue of temperance. Self-restraint is essential to healthy life, spiritual maturity, and academic success.

The Place of Attention

“No effort of attention is pointless.” Dr. Davis’s claim (echoing Simone Weil) ought to be encouraging to us all.  Paying attention to anything can help us develop the capacity to pay attention to everything and especially to the things that are most important to us.  Paying attention driving on I35 can help you stay focused on a calculus problem when the time comes.  Not letting my mind wander during a sermon may help me stay focused during a lecture and vice versa.  It’s the same muscle we’re exercising.  And it has to be well exercised and well trained in order to do well in the academic life.  Focusing our attention is nonnegotiable!!!!!

Some of us have an easier time with this than others.  Some of us drift and drift constantly.  I joined DA (Drifters Anonymous) a long time ago. There are plenty of us who find this really challenging, which may be the mark of a creative mind or it may be an indication that we really aren’t intending anything.  We have no aim.  An aim can be a powerful thing.  Having an aim focuses our energy… even creates energy.  Experiment with this and you’ll find it’s true.  Have an aim today and see what happens.

The Place of Generosity

Martin Buber said, “All real living is meeting.”  That’s a bold statement, don’t you think? If it’s true, then to stop meeting, to stop saying hello, is to cease to live. “All real living is meeting.”

That’s a very bold claim but one that our religious forbearers knew to be true.  That’s why welcoming the stranger or the foreigner or the “other” was a sacred duty and a sign that you truly knew God.  It was certainly the generous and just thing to do, to respond to those who were vulnerable and strangers in the land.  But also, it was always assumed that these strangers just might be angels… or messengers from God.  Jesus says this explicitly in Matthew 25 when he says that he was literally present in those who were poor and hungry and in prison and, in general, the “other.”  There were many who were very surprised to hear this because they assumed they knew where God was and what God was doing.  They were mistaken and missed a great gift because of it.

There’s a reason we don’t do Baylor on-line.  It’s because we need the other, the one whose difference prompts us towards growth and towards a better conversation and towards truth and towards the mystery that is often found in the most surprising places. We need folks around us to give us occasion to think with that other “mind” that Dr. Rowatt teaches us about.  Our small reptilian mind sees everything and asks, “Should I run from it, eat it, or mate with it?”  We do have a better mind, though.  I believe it is the “mind of Christ” that does not see differences as something to fear.

Dr. Rowatt has challenged usto work together to make Baylor a place of generosity — a place where people who hold different views than you or I… can come, be heard, be respected, and be affirmed…” This is the challenge of every university and every good student… and also the measure of mature faith.  “Anyone,” Jesus says, “can love those who are like them… even those who don’t know God can do that.”  The yardstick for real faith is found in our capacity to love those who are unlike us.

The Place of Humility

Your generation has been called by some, “Generation Me” or “iGen.”  Jean Twenge has written a book by that title that lots of folks my age are reading and wondering if it’s true.  Are you a “me” generation?  She reminds us that when you were in preschool we taught you to sing (to the tune of Frere Jacques)  “I am special, I am special, look at me, look at me. I am very special, I am very special. Yes I am.  Yes I am.”  I suppose we wanted you to sing this because we were convinced that if you believed it deeply enough you might skip some of the pain we (your parents and teachers) had gone through.  Did it work?

My sense, just from spending lots of time with lots of students (and reading books like the one I mentioned above), is that it really hasn’t worked and you (and your generation) will have to live into a sense of authentic selfhood like we all do and that usually happens after life cuts us down to size a bit.  Life seems to… the world seems to… demand that we begin at a more humble place, a smaller place, where we look out at the world, sigh, and admit, “I’m really, really small.”  Or maybe we look up at the night skies like the Psalmist did and we say with astonishment, “I’m nothing! Who am I that you, God, know me?”  (Ps.  8 )

Dr. Colon suggests this smaller place is a place with which we should become familiar in order to become a learner.  You can only begin to know when you come to know that you don’t know. (Better read that one again… now again… slowly… now out loud.)  Shakespeare probably said it better. “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Jesus said it best in the 9th chapter of John, “Because you think you can see, you’re blind.  If you knew you were blind, you could see.”

Mission and Its Role in Your Academic Journey

Is it odd to think of spirituality as important to the academic life?  Most people don’t associate classrooms, homework, test taking, and paper writing with the spiritual life.  At Baylor however, we think our faith can speak to our education, and that healthy spirituality and learning are deeply connected.  The essays we’re asking you to read explore some of those connections as we consider spiritual values, practices, and dispositions that can have a positive impact on an academic journey.  Our hope is that early on in your time at Baylor you will begin to awaken to these significant connections.

Emily Dickenson wrote, “I dwell in possibility.” We all do.  It’s always true but perhaps never more so than during the college years.  You are setting foot into possibility… right into the thick of it… it’s your new address.  You’ll be dwelling there, in possibility.  Look around! All that possibility is what our new student courses are designed to help you see, embrace, and explore.

Having a mission changes everything because to have a mission means that you will come to care and care in certain ways for certain things.  To have some sense of who you are and what you’re about creates a particular passion in your life, a desire for this particular thing and not that thing, which… is a very freeing thing.  To know who you are and what you’re about changes things.

Dr. Davis has reminded us that Baylor has a mission.  We care about some things and some things in particular, namely impacting the world and the Church.  She went on to describe the impact Baylor’s mission had on her own life and the way her mission seemed to… find her, which seems to be the way it most always happens.  Something “calls” to us.  There is a distinct grace that is yours and it will emerge in your story and provide you with a unique way of serving the world.

Remember Dr. Davis’s challenge, “[K]eep in mind that you are called to live out a life that glorifies God.”  Keep this “in mind.”  Keep this IN YOUR MIND.  You must remain mindful of this and it seems so easy now in these first days.  But staying focused on this mission will be challenging through your college years.  There are lesser aims out there.  But you have a mission.  You are made for something larger.  You really are. Keep this in mind.


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