When I opened my copy of Foreign Affairs yesterday I discovered yet another article about ISIS. Yet this one is far less insightful into why ISIS is so appealing to those running to it and is such a threat to the rest of the world. In fact, this is a pretty secular approach which, as I have stated earlier, is not so helpful because this is a movement driven by belief. Indeed, this article is the typical kind of piece that I had thought of earlier when I stated that to ignore belief is to fail to understand. If you can only read one, scroll down a couple of posts and read that one. If you have time for both, the article is HERE.
Category Archives: shifts
In the last few months I have read a fair bit about Islam and its origins.
Last week I Tweeted that secular commentators couldn’t accurately portray movements which are based on strong belief. I asserted that belief is necessary to truly understand the power of belief. Oh, sure one can observe and draw conclusions, but to really get the power of belief one must have first experienced belief.
Those thoughts were on the heels of a lot of commentary on ISIS and the controversy over Obama’s ill-conceived notions and statements about ISIS and extremism at a conference last week.
All of this was happening just after the publication and subsequent much talked about article “What ISIS Really Wants.”
Based on the thousand or so pages I’ve read on Islam, its origins and how to interact with Muslims, this article should be required reading for those persons advising Obama or any other leaders who see the need to “engage” ISIS.
If the author of this article fits the secular, unbelieving model I referred to earlier, then I must retract my earlier assertion, because, based on my very limited knowledge, he certainly understands and articulates this issue with clarity.
Read the article HERE.
Today, according to American calendar sequence, is the final sequential date in my lifetime.
This is (I think) the final set of my thoughts on this saga. This story is now like a rain soaked flooded river that is carrying trees and all kinds of debris and descruttion. The problems with the magazine, the writer and the reported victim now are serving to distract from the bigger problems. These bigger problems are what need to be addressed by leaders whose work, actions and policy decisions have impact on the safety and well being of young people.
At the Board of Visitors meeting immediately after the story broke, both quick action and pause were called for. It would appear that the school president chose to develop an action plan. Granted, much of that action has been to have consultations, but in her address that I have posted on this blog (just scroll down) she outline some very practical and positive steps: more police partnership, more counselling resources, and a review of policies. From this keyboard, it looks like she is on the right track. She is addressing the symptoms of the problem as best she can. She can do little to address the disease. The disease is a culture that is falling apart before our very eyes.
Indeed, at so many levels, this saga is like a veritable kaleidoscope manifesting cultural flaws. The more this story gets turned, the more we see the flaws in our culture. It has shined an international spotlight on the way the university wrestles with all the aspects of rape (I would suggest that this is true at every American college at one level or another). It has cast a spotlight on the Greek culture, where out-of-control 18-22 year olds live virtually unsupervised and are usually looked upon with “tisk-tisk” or worse, “boys will be boys,” and “say nothing until my lawyer gets there.” It has cast a spotlight on poor journalistic practices at a national magazine (did none of us consider the source?). And now the competition is having a field day tearing the story up and the reported victim was ‘outed’ last night on Twitter and her life is coming into the spotlight.
I could go on, but won’t, because the real problem now, as this story unravels, is that leaders (now that their feet are out of the fire) will be distracted. There are systemic problems brought up in the story that need to be addressed. All deans at all colleges need to be asking “What are the ways that we are not serving our student body in this case?” But they can only treat the symptoms of a greater cultural disease.
I’ve said it before, college presidents and boards of visitors don’t change culture. Culture is changed one person at a time. And the only way to affect real change to cultures is done as God changes hearts. This is why Jesus came. This is why we followers of Jesus celebrate Christmas. He came. God with us. Emmanuel.
So the leaders of the university need to press on with needed reforms. But one reform I would suggest is that leaders of the university take a fresh look at the way they treat Christian ministries to the university. Rather than putting roadblocks in front of these ministries, who seek to bring the life changing good news of Jesus, the university could realize that these volunteers may be their greatest ally. For this life changing good news of Jesus is the only real means to change hearts and therefore cultures.
Finally, I would suggest that the leaders of churches take a long hard look at the way they have abdicated their responsibility to take the gospel across town (admittedly a cross cultural endeavor) to the university. Yes, there need to be people specifically called to the university community. But I suggest that the senior pastors get together with the leaders of the university ministers and say “How can we partner with you? What can our churches do to help you as you bring the gospel to this community?”
Laws and policies don’t change hearts. Broken laws and policies just point to hearts that are in need of reform from the inside out. Jesus came, died, and rose again for said change in hearts. That is how culture is changed.
This Washington Post article gives a bit of background to the UVA rape story and its author. Click here.
Scroll down 2 or 4 posts to see my thoughts.
My next post on the subject will be thinking about what leaders can learn from this tragedy.
This is my second post on learning from the saga taking place up the street at the University of Virginia. But remember this is NOT just about UVa, it is about colleges all across the country. These posts are based on the Rolling Stone article and for the purposes of these thoughts and questions, the article is being treated as an accurate portrayal of the events. My objective with these posts is to engage us in thinking about our culture and our reaction to it.
These events depict a severe cultural problem. As I study culture, I am convinced that they are changed neither by university presidents nor legislative bodies. Culture is changed one person at a time. Indeed, like disciple making, intentional culture change happens not so much from a pulpit but across the table of conversation. I say that with the full understanding that implicit culture change is happening all around us through TV, film, video games, Fb, etc, etc, etc. My hope is that through considering the various aspects of this tragic story – one aspect at a time, as I see them – we can each see ways to engage in positive culture change, one person at a time. Finally, let me preface this by saying that my comments and questions do not mean that I think that the persons described here are typical of all college students. But neither would I consider them exceptions. All of us can learn, whether we are 18, 38 or 58, from these events because like it or not we are all part of a culture.
There are a multitude of different relationships in this article. The one I have chosen for this post is that among ‘friends.’ Near the beginning of the article, after the crime, the victim had regained consciousness on the floor in the room where the atrocity was committed. She left the frat house and called for help. When the people she called found her they wanted to know what happened. The Rolling Stone description picks up here:
“Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. ‘We have to get her to the hospital,’ Randall said.
Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. ‘Is that such a good idea?’ she recalls Cindy asking. ‘Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.’ Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: ‘She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.’ 
Now, please pause and consider the reasoning:
“Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.”
“since he [Andy] and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through”
“we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
The debate began with the question of if they should take her to the hospital after she was raped.
Their prevailing concern, as portrayed in the article, appears to be for a continuing social life including membership in a fraternal organization.
Friendship lost. Social life won.
This way of thinking by these students was not learned at UVa, there wasn’t time. If they were all ‘1st years,’ in September, they were about 90 days out of high school, probably 18 years old. They came to UVa with this mindset. Why?
I invested 16 mostly wonderful years teaching high school seniors. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people of this age group about issues of life. On numerous occasions we would discuss why people go to college. A prevailing reasoning was: go to the right school to get the right job to make enough (or a lot) of money to… fill in the blank. We’re all familiar with the business networks that exist and are, at least partial, motivation for joining a fraternal organization. These networks are part of the deal. I have to believe that many, if not all, of these factors were in that back of their minds as this discussion ensued. Again, this thought pattern was not learned when they got to Charlottesville, indeed the desire to succeed, because of being a UVa grad certainly drives the decision of many students to apply to the university. Just yesterday the Washington Post put a story on one of its blogs that UVa is among the best schools in the country for mid career earnings in both Engineering and Social Sciences. These students come to UVa to build their future. They have worked hard to get in and are working hard to get ahead. But… at what cost?
The thinking behind this decision had already been developed back home in ‘Where-evers-burg.’ They are the product of a culture. What are we learning from our culture about relationships?
My question for all of us: what are the ways that we can instill in young people (and ourselves) the desire to put the needs of people above our desire (or need) for success?
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – Jesus (John 15:13 ESV) Not long after saying this Jesus was killed, was buried, and rose from the dead – for us.
He provided us with help that we could not provide for ourselves in our natural, fallen state. In Him, we can be changed into people who are becoming more like Him. In His strength we can put others first. In him, we can become the people who love people, by putting ourselves, our social life, even our success aside to put someone else first. We should be thinking about our culture and the ways that we can change it, one heart, one person, one life at a time.
Today, the UVa Board met in an emergency session. In part 3 I wish to express some thoughts about leadership and the role of school administrations and their boards in protecting the young people they attract to their schools and then how they handle incidents like this.