Last night I had the first session of my summer online course. Like every other first day of class, there was the energy and excitement of a new group of students, the restlessness of making sure I had everything ready and prepared. The only difference was that students weren’t sitting right in front of me, but in a chat room. And like face-to-face classes, some students entered the chat room early, some came late, some needed to be nudged to join in during the chat. The nervous chatter of students meeting students; “is the professor joining us for this chat?, do you know what we are supposed to do; have you seen the syllabus?”
This is my third year teaching an online summer school course and I have discovered a couple of things. One, chat discussions can foster a sense of community that is vital to the learning environment and can be every bit as good, if not better, than traditional teaching formats. Secondly, if you want students to show up, you need to schedule way past my bedtime. So here I sat; late in the evening engaged in a lively online discussion about how we read and understand the Bible. We talked about their experiences with tithing, charismatic gifts, practicing the Sabbath. It was an energetic conversation; students had many comments and questions with no prodding from me. I simply sat back in the hour-long conversation and let them chat. At the end of the hour, several of the students noted how much they had enjoyed the opportunity to talk about these issues with people who had different experiences. One student noted that these kinds of conversations “help us to gain other perspectives,” another said, “it helps us to strengthen our views. It’s good to hear from people who have experienced and understand things differently” And that got me to thinking about a recent conversation I had.
A few weeks back I met another professor from a Christian liberal arts university not unlike the one where I teach. As teaching types do, we talked about our schools, our research, and our students. It was a lively conversation, and since our schools were in the same geographical region, we decided to meet again. We exchanged e-mails and set a time. In my follow-up e-mail, I mentioned this blog that my two colleagues and I were doing and sent him the link. In his reply to me, he mentioned that he thought we needed to talk about the issue of ‘roles of women’ in ministry. “Uh oh, I thought, he’s read my blog.” And shortly thereafter, he e-mailed that he needed to cancel our lunch, and there has been no subsequent response to reschedule. It wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last, when another Christian refuses to be in relationship with me because of my views on women in ministry. If I am honest, I have also made similar decisions to disassociate with Christians who don’t think like I do. And that got me to thinking about the Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 13 – the love chapter – is often read at wedding ceremonies. This passage, though, wasn’t written to couples getting married, but to a church community that struggled to love and respect each other in the midst of their diversity. Corinth was a thriving port city in the days of Paul’s letter, with people from a variety of different cultures and cultural backgrounds. The house churches in and around Corinth reflected the diversity of the city. Paul begins his first letter to them with the admonition to stop fighting: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. (1:10). And it is in his discussion with them about how to find unity of spirit in their differences, that he gives them this beautiful passage in chapter 13:
Love is patient, Love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
May it be so.