In our opening chapel, I spoke on the topic, “God’s Kingdom, the World, and the Houghton Bubble.” I wanted to remind our community of three things as we began our semester together. First, I reminded them that we are called to Houghton not, ultimately, to get away from the world but so that we can more reflectively and intentionally prepare to be in the world—as creative and redemptive agents of God’s purposes.
Second, I reminded my listeners that Houghton has always been vibrantly connected to the larger world, as remote as it may seem on the map. Our alumni serve in 66 countries. Over 50% of our faculty have studied or worked overseas. Our current students come from over 30 countries of the world. Truly, we are a global learning and worshipping community. We can choose to be in a bubble here at Houghton—but it is a choice. And it is a choice people can make anywhere on the globe, not just here at Houghton.
Third, I reminded them that the issue of being “in” or “out” of the world is not so much a place on the map as a condition of the heart. In the opening convocation, I spoke of earlier Houghton days when we sought to keep the “world” or “worldliness” out of Houghton by adopting certain patterns of behavior—some of which we would smile at today. (In my student days, for instance, the women were not supposed to wear blue jeans until after 5 o’clock and only in the residences. This policy did open up even while I was here!) We may even feel smug that we are not as “legalistic” as those of earlier days. However, we do have our own set of contemporary challenges with the “world”—most of which are not susceptible to external rules. How do we keep our personal technology from becoming a tyrannical addiction rather than a useful tool? How do we remember the gift of Sabbath when our society treats every day the same? How do we fight the self-centeredness and the desire for more “stuff” that drives so much advertising?
Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the Headquarters of the Eastern Territory of the Salvation Army in West Nyack, New York. I was reminded of the many Houghton alumni who have come from this tradition and gone back into the world to serve with distinction all around the world. I was deeply moved by the global scope of the Salvation Army’s work today and the large vision of the Gospel they bring with them. I could not help thinking of the ways in which the Army helps its members to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. The uniforms, the clear guidelines about the accumulation of material goods, the commitment to obey orders about where one serves—all work toward that purpose. For a few moments, I was even tempted to be envious of the clarity this discipline brings. But as I thought more, I am sure those who are in that tradition know better than the rest of us where the “world” attempts to seep into even that distinguished Christian tradition. There are, ultimately, no shortcuts to becoming Kingdom people from the inside out.
As we gather here in Houghton to begin another academic year—seeking to be “rendered usable” for God’s global and loving purposes—we think of all those in the larger Houghton community who continue on the trajectory of lifelong learning for which our Houghton education attempted to prepare us. May we together come to understand more completely what it means for us to be “in” the world as God’s creative and redemptive agents and to have a large vision of God’s global purposes—but without the “worldly” entanglements that rob us of the freedom and joy that God intends for his people.
Grace and Peace to you today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976