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Thursday, July 27, 2006
Tour Guides Rule the World (Part 2)
Finally-- the time has come to deliver on my promise.

You can refresh your memory here with Part 1 in the unfolding saga of the Tour Guides Rule the World postmodernity FARMStrong saga.

We left off last time with some juicy tidbits from the Yale Football Recruiting Camp Official Campus Tour. A couple of more irresistable comments. At one point in the tour we were passing through what is known as the "Old College." The tour guide (a.k.a. Coach) shed some illumination on this fact with this priceless quote, "That's known as the 'Old College' over there. They call it the 'Old College" because it is the old college." Wow!

Now lets get to the Official Visitors Center Yale University Tour. Near the end of the football tour, as the coach was wrapping up all the reasons it was probably not the best idea for football players to join the Skulls secret society should they, in the unlikely scenario, be asked, I broke away and began to make my way to the Official Visitors Center. The next tour was slated for 2:30. I arrived ten minutes early as was directed into a gathering room where a diverse group of people were watching a video monitor showing a short movie on the University. Near the end of the show, after telling us in 50 ways how Yale was the long hidden secret of the universe a voice-over spoke these words,

"Yale is an idea you brought with you from wherever you came. You invent Yale with your own ideas and imagination."

Our tour convened outside the visitors center, which incidentally was housed in the former home of John Pierpont (I think that's his name). Anyhow, as clear as I can tell John Pierpont was one of the early founding type people at Yale. He was a minister and one of those responsible for its distinctive Christian heritage. His home is also one of the oldest residences in New Haven. His religious affiliation received no mention in our tour.

An interesting side-note (again not mentioned in this tour) is the name New Haven was taken from the idea of "New Heaven." The original layout of the city into 9 squared with three Churches in the center was their early effort to build a Kingdom community. Interesting. . . .

Back to the tour. Our guide quickly began to have the group identify where they came from. It turns out our group of about 30 people came from literally all over the world, containing a few prospective students, some tourists and other curious seekers. I quickly gravitated to the front of the group to walk alongside the tour guide to sustain some narrative guidance in between the stops. Our guide was a young Asian woman who was from California, a pre-med student, slated to graduate this May. She expressed early interest in why I was at Yale. "How would I explain this to her," I wrestled in my mind. Could my mouth even utter the words, "Revival and Awakening Conference," to her while keeping a straight face. I mean, I must confess, it seemed a bit ridiculous to me, given her status at Yale, her stature in the group as the guide and given the nature of this official tour. Why did I experience those feelings? It occurs to me that this is how secularism works. It powerfully, albeit quietly, marginalizes religious perspectives. Every perspective is welcomed and accomodated except anything that would resemble a sectarian perspective or really even a distinctive sacred angle on history, culture or society. So I answered her question by framing my purpose at Yale in this fashion, "I am here participating in a "scholarly" conference studying Jonathan Edwards and his influence on one of the early Spiritual Awakenings in this nation which had origins in and around this campus. You know. . . . the Jonathan Edwards of the Jonathan Edwards College here on campus fame." She got this bewildered look on her face like, "You're doing what?" And she actually chuckled as she repeated my words back to me. And honestly. . . . . I chuckled too.

It is ridiculous after all, like something straight off "The Surreal Life." HERE I WAS AT ONE OF THE OLDEST (IN THIS NATION) AND MOST FAMOUS EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN THE WORLD STUDYING ITS INCONTROVERTIBLE CHRISTIAN HERITAGE, HISTORY AND FOUNDING AND FEELING LIKE I WAS THE ONE LOST AND OUT OF PLACE. Almost any other reason under the sun would have seemed legitimate, except this one. Only one word suffices to sum this up: Absurder.

Ivan Illich, upon being asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform. He gave this careful answer: "Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story."

Somewhere along the way, someone started telling a different story.

Ok. Time for lunch. I will stop here, but I promise, Tour Guides Rule the World (Part 3) will come much faster than (Part 2). This gets even jucier. So hang on to your hoes (i.e. farmtools). In the meantime, any insights you harvest along the way are welcome in the comment field. ;-)

Oh yeah-- the photo. This is the Yale University Religious Heritage Official Tour Guide. (a.k.a. "the eager tour guide) He's a Jonathan Edwards scholar who works on campus-- really nice guy. Note the ironic backdrop-- which tells a story of its own.
posted by John David Walt | at 7/27/2006 09:38:00 AM



Anonymous JP said...

Change society by telling an alternative story...that's rich! Look at how society has changed just in the last 2-3 decades. Greed is good in the 80s fuels stock market frenzy in 90s which leads to CEO stealing in 00s. Why? Because media, advertising, friends, pundits and the like all told us that is was okay to want more than what we had, and to get it at whatever cost. They clearly were in opposition to that folk theologian Sheryl Crow who said, "It's not about having what you want, it's wanting what you got."
To link into your worship thoughts a couple of posts ago, "church growth" told us the story that making disciples wasn't really the key, but "getting the unchurched into church." Thus, people aren't "lost, unsaved" but "seekers, pre-christian, etc" When the story is that we are to simply get people TO church or INTO church, thus making them CHURCHED instead of UNchurched, you get churches and worship services you so eloquently rail against. When the story changed from making disciples to "reaching the unchurched," basic marketing takes over.
It's not that surprising to see churches become "the fastest growing church in (name geographic location)." Just because something grows fast or big doesn't mean it's good. Tumors grow big, cancer grows fast.

Anyway back to the Yale thing, I don't doubt you felt awkward trying to tell the tour guide why you were there...you wuz marginalized bro'!
Pic is funny if it weren't so ironically sad!

There's going to be a part 3! Oh man were are lucky to be Farmstrongers!

12:13 PM EDT  
Blogger Omar said...


Is that taken from the George W. Bush school of lexical and syntax formation?

That would make you the Chapel "Decider" working on the "strategery" of the worship services.

Sorry... working through lots of anger right now.

1:32 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

some nice turns there jp-- thanks for taking the analysis onward. so far you are in first place for "FARMer of the Day Award."

As for you-- Mr. Omarhetorician-- steeping in anger. . . . . likening me to your arch foe and chief persecutor. . . . . . go back now and check the link appearing in concert with the word you have chastised me for. you'll love it. we shall let another Arkansan have the last word.

2:19 PM EDT  
Blogger gmw said...

good thoughts, JP. you're point about the 80s greed leading to the CEO issues of the 00s reminds me of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies, which traces four generations of a family from the early 1900s to the 1990s. It begins with a clergyman who succumbs to secularism and stops believing in God. that sets the following generations on an unstable spiritual trajectory that has the fourth one joining a cult in Colorado reminiscient of the Branch Davidians in Waco. This family is not unlike America as a whole over the same period.

I also remember an article in The Economist from this spring on American megachurches and their CEO style approach. Commenting on Willow Creek, they pointed out that the approach was primarily sociologically driven. Then, an interesting observation: "the result of this, predictably, was growth."

We talk about the value of engaging modern disciplines such as sociology, psychology, secular leadership, etc, and in theory it seems alright--engage them, but keep the theological discipline primary. Hard to find the "theory" embodied well.

Finally, regarding the Yale experience, at Asbury, Keisling had us read Charles Malik's A Christian Critique of the University, which tackled the change from American universities' Christian beginnings to their secularism today. An informative read.

12:40 AM EDT  
Anonymous Matt Purmort said...

Edwards wouldn't recognize the institution he was president of, but probably Wesley, Luther and others would be just as appalled of some of the institutions that claim there name or heritage.

10:41 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

guy-- could you give me the link on that economist article-- sounds fascinating. thanks for the engagment. my hunch is that so many of these mega churches will be approaching a moment in the not too distant future where they will require a complete "re-modeling" along lines and categories distinctly theological than psychological and retail. this work will require immense creativity and a completely new approach to pastoral leadership-- one whose vocation sensitizes them to more of the sheep-like qualities of persons rather than the shopper-like tendencies-- leading to a quality of ministry issuing forth from the simplicity of the framework: Do you love me? Feed my sheep.

11:06 AM EDT  
Blogger brandon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:26 PM EDT  
Blogger ap said...

This is just FYI: I have loved the two tour guides posts. I am finding out that blogs are semi-communal places and breaking in to them via commenting is not as easy as one might think.

9:13 AM EDT  
Blogger gmw said...

JD, I'll find the link, or mail you a photocopy. I think I've still got the mag. You know, you see some of the awareness growing recently with Rick Warren confessing his missing the Scripture's emphasis on the poor. I remember him saying something like, "how did I miss this all this time?" We may have ideas about an answer to that question, but more importantly, praise God that an organizational genius is putting his energy and influence into this ministry--what a gift to the body of Christ.

not unlike an issue of Christianity Today from some time in the past year on racial diversity in ministry. Hybels was confessional about his own neglect of this for many years in his ministry at WC (not that we've got much of a finger to point with in terms of our own success--UM's that is). Really admirable to be open and confessional like that. But then a telling explanation implicit in his comments. Something to this effect: "In those early days, I was just so pragmatic about people's eternal destiny, I wasn't thinking about these other things." "Pragmatic" about what? Getting people saved into heaven. The gospel being only/primarily about what happens after we die, not about the coming kingdom of God. From a kingdom of God perspective, one might suggest that pragmatism was a motivator for racial reconciliation and diversity at church. ok, that's plenty of blogging, er, I mean, commenting on your blog for now.

12:02 AM EDT  
Blogger Mark said...

I see nobody has ventured out to comment on how hilarious the "eager tour guide" photo is. Perhaps if you had traversed that tour in sheer bordom and heat exhaustion you may have had as many laughs at that photo as we did.

I was actually suprised at how much ridiculous fun you can have with a camera.

JD- I started my first day at Fox today. The folks here really make me feel at home - lots of laughs. Miss you terribly.


9:14 PM EDT  

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