Saturday, July 17, 2004

College is what you make of it
This is an article I recently wrote for my church's newspaper, having been asked to write about my experience at a Christian college.
When I was considering and visiting Christian schools, I did so biased by three common assumptions; it took nearly the entire four years of my college career for me to conclude that not only were these false assumptions, but in all three cases, the exact opposite is true. I will dispel each of these common assumptions below, using them as a three-point outline to this article, as any good son of a preacher man would.

First, and most prevalent of the misconceptions of Christian colleges, is the thought that because a college hires only Christian faculty and staff, it means that they are therefore a second-rate academic institution. It is sad that this is so widely believed because it reflects what so many–the world, primarily, but Christians included–believe about Christians. Somehow people have come to believe that Christians are less fit for or will be never be as successful in their professions because of their faith. They believe a Christian lawyer or businessman cannot be as "successful" because he does not dedicate himself entirely to his work, but instead serves Christ first.

This attitude carries over into how people view a Christian school. I remember how hard I found it to tell people that I was only considering Christian schools when my friends were talking of Princeton and Bucknell or popular state schools. I let myself slip into the very way of thinking that I have described above. Granted, there are some limitations to attending a small Christian school, but almost all of them are linked to financial resources, not quality of faculty. I cannot imagine a more competent and able staff of professors than the one I sat under at Geneva. Not only are the vast majority of professors decorated with doctorates, but all also profess Christ as Lord and seek to model Him in and out of the classroom–something much more valuable than anything framed and hanging in their office.

There is a second misconception that is closely tied to the first. It is the thought that attending a Christian college means a student will be less prepared for life in the "real," secular world. On the contrary, I would argue that a Christian school can prepare you much better than can a state school (note the emphasis on can, not will). The assumption is that spending four years on a Christian campus is to live life in a sterile bubble world, and that graduates from this incubator go through culture shock after graduation.

After reading a pamphlet or visiting a Christian college, it is easy to get the impression that such a place as a shelter from all things worldly and sinful. The truth is that no campus is a bubble, and in contrast to the shock theory, discussion and debate over current events and pop culture will thrive on a healthy Christian campus. Cable TV, the internet, and the weekend movie night will still give Joe and Jane Student more than their share of the "outside world." Even if a student doesn’t move far from home to go to school, the college years are still a significant time of establishing one’s own identity, comparing the life experiences of others with one’s own, and the testing of one’s most personal beliefs. A Christian college is a unique opportunity for a Christian student to have a period of transition between the safety of the nest to the wilderness of the "real" world.

The analogy can be made to training a rookie boxer to fight. Someone new to boxing needs to learn what it feels like to be punched in the face, but to train him to be a successful fighter, a coach would need to teach him defensive and offensive technique. It would do the rookie no good to have someone pound him in the head every day, teaching him to defend. A boxer needs to learn to defend and attack to be able to win the fight. A Christian school can be an effective fight coach in this way. A student will learn of the evils in the world, and he or she will take jabs to the face–hopefully much fewer than would be received at a state school. But a good Christian school will teach their students how to fight back and how to live as Christians, "in the world, but not of the world."

Third, spending any part of your academic career on a Christian campus does not mean your sanctification and spiritual growth will occur through osmosis. It may seem obvious, but it needs to be realized that not everyone who is accepted to a Christian school is a Christian and not even every Christian comes from a reformed Presbyterian background. There are just as many, if not more, bad influences and spiritual dangers for every benefit to be found. They are perhaps even more dangerous because they aren’t obvious and external (read: their residences don’t have Greek letters above them). Complacency, a judgmental spirit, pride, even a callousness to the Gospel–the list goes on. A student’s four years at college are four years that cannot be expected to be coasted through at a Christian school. The advantages are there--they are distinct, they are wonderful resources--but they need to be sought out. A student needs to take an active role in the development of his or her faith and not assume that weekly chapel and Bible survey classes will equip him or her to fight the devil. Let me say it again: do not choose a Christian school and expect to coast through your spiritual walk.

I could (and still may, someday) write pages on the choice to attend a Christian college. It can be a great decision, and I would recommend it to most anyone. If I leave the reader with anything, let it be this: College is what you make of it, regardless of your school’s statement of faith or lack thereof. There is tremendous potential to make time at a Christian college the best four years of your life, but there are dangers and it is not for everyone.

Monday, July 05, 2004

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing..."

By then I had decided I wasn’t going to leave the mountain with the ring still in my pocket, but unfortunately I still hadn’t thought up a backup plan. The intruding couple with the cloves cigarettes obviously wasn’t going anywhere, either, so we couldn’t just wait around for the lookout point to be ours alone again. I steered us to a nearby park bench.

I had tried to play it cool and stall for some time until we could have the lookout to ourselves again. I whispered, “Maybe they’re just stopping by for a quick look and they’ll leave soon. Let’s just wait and see.” Wait we did and soon saw that the cloves couple showed no signs of moving on. In fact, it seemed that they might even have plans to spend the nite. Not only did this guy show his lady friend the view of the New York City skyline to the far left, but he started pointing out the most insignificant sights imaginable. He pointed to some spotlights and started telling stories about his high school football glory days. He pointed to the town pool and started telling stories about every summer he had ever spent there. Apparently, this guy was a local and there was apparently no limit to the sights he could point out nor the stories he could tell about them. He was obviously there for the long haul. In the meantime, Becca and I played with the binocular things that you put the quarters into, waiting a few feet away for this guy to shut up and leave. We looked at the skyline and we tried to look at the moon, but we couldn’t stall enough–the cloves cigarettes couple just wasn’t going to leave.

We had kinda just stared at each other when they walked up, neither of us sure what to do. Becca would later tell me that it was at that moment that she realized what I was about to do, although in the moment she never let on. There we were on Washington Rock, caught in mid-embrace, me interrupted in mid-proposal, my left hand in my pocket, Becca wearing a smile as bright and wide as the moon, my own face torn between muted frustration and mild panic.

Two sentences away! I couldn’t believe it! I had carefully woven a seamless web of woo and had been blessed with a classic moment–the silent starlit nite, the sparkling city lights, the magic of the moon, and the sweeping ambiance of a lookout point at nite. It was all there--the ring, the girl, the boy, the magic–and it was going to happen. I had climbed the ladder and had walked to the end of the metaphorical diving board. I had taken the drop step, bent at the knees, and was ready to dive in. The mood was right, her eyes were sparkling, her smile growing wider and brighter as she began to realize why we had trudged all the way up here (I was going to ask her to marry me!) if I could just get the words out. My left hand strayed to its pocket for the ring box while my mouth poured out what my heart could not contain.

We had waited so patiently for our turn at the lookout point, and now seemingly all for naught. Keeping the lookout in view but remaining far enough away from the crowd to retain some privacy, we had enjoyed some ScottandBecca time for a while before we secured the lookout point. I had started to work the conversation toward things of romance because I had wanted to set the mood and direct the conversation so that at the moment the lookout was ours we could stroll over to the lookout point, take in the view, and become fianc├ęs.

But the park had been crawling with cops when we found our way through the woods. My stomach bungeed to the pavement when I saw all the people still at the park and the two or three cops who were trying to move them out. We were too late. The park had closed at 9 and it was already past 9.30. Becca and I had already had a run-in with police at a state park the summer before and I didn’t want to have a repeat of “So what were you two kids doing in the woods after dark?” and “Are you here with this guy willingly, ma’am?” to ruin the nite. I didn’t have a backup plan and we were already piqued for adventure, so I led us into the park through a side entrance and waited for the coast to be clear. Despite my best efforts, there is little to thwart romance more than having to look over one’s shoulder for cops. Add that to the list of reasons not to live in the city.

It was just when Becca had reached the point where she couldn’t squeeze my arm any more tightly and just a little while after I had run out of positive spins to put on the situation when we made it through the woods, leaving the maniac drivers, the rabid deer, and what seemed to be the longest stretch of unlit pavement in North America behind us. “Here we are, my dear--Washington Rock State Park.” I had mentioned the park to her before, but she had never been. This was the second-to-last and second-best surprise I had planned for the nite. We had finally made it and I had in mind that I was going to propose to Rebecca Rose Roszel before we left.

The walk through the woods had been anything but a casual stroll. I had known the park closed at 9 and I figured there would be cops kicking people out, so I had reasoned that it would be best to park down the road a ways and then walk to the park, slip in unnoticed, and make our way to the lookout. That had all worked according to plan. It was the idea of the walk up the road to the park that had lacked foresight. Every of the dozen times I had driven by Washington Rock State Park before that nite, I had done so in the middle of the day, when the woods are not creepy and scary, the roads are well-lit, and the last thing on the minds of the drivers of all the cars that use the road is to drive recklessly and cause couples to dive off the road to avoid being hit.

“The nite is still young,” I had reminded her as we pulled out of O’Connor’s. “Why don’t we see another of the sites here in Watchung before we leave? We’ll probably never be out this way again together, you know.” She had been agreeable, so I had turned onto Washington Rock Road. I had driven most of the way up the hill and had parked the truck on a dead-end street in a new residential development a quarter mile down the hill from the park. She had put on a hoodie and we had started to walk hand-in-hand through the woods, the memory of our worst dinner to date already starting to fade.

I don’t even want to talk about dinner. Sixty bunks for a creaky old booth, a cut of inferior London Broil for me and a platter of chewy sirloin tips for her. I had been worried that it was going to put a damper on the nite and the mood wouldn’t have been right for what I had in mind later, but I had no backup plan, and it was going to have to be tonite.

“Let’s go for dinner at O’Connor’s,” I had suggested slyly. By then she had caught on that all these “suggestions” had been planned out in advance and I think she might have started to suspect that I was up to something.

There really wasn’t much to show her at the office. Everyone had already left for the nite, so the place was locked up. The grand tour of the Whitestone Associates, Inc. office building ended up being no more than a drive around the parking lot. But Becca had seemed glad to see it, regardless.

“Hey, look at this exit sign. Watchung is right here off of I-78. Did you know that?” I had toyed with her, playfully. She had rolled her eyes and seemed pleased that I didn’t intend to drive straight home. We had been in a rush to get out of Newark airport and had both been hoping for some ScottandBecca time before we found ourselves back in Hackettstown. I had that all planned out.

Holy long engagement story, Batman. This has gone on way too long. Let’s skip to the Reader’s Digest version for a quick recap and wrap-up:

Becca had spent nine days in Colorado visiting her mom. I spent those nine days shopping for an engagement ring and visiting a particular dairy farm at 4am to ask a certain Mr. Roszel for his blessing on my intended proposal to his daughter.

When the nine days were up, I picked Becca up at Newark Airport. Instead of going straight home, I decided to welcome her back to the east coast with a few surprises. I got off at the Watchung, NJ exit on the way back from Newark to show her where I work and take her to dinner at this Irish pub and steak house called O’Connor’s. I had been there for lunch once on St. Patrick’s Day and had had the best corn beef sandwich ever, but the dinner we shared that nite left much to be desired.

After dinner, I nonchalantly drove us most of the way up the Watchung “Mountain” and walked Becca to the Washington Rock State Park, where there is a view of the Manhattan skyline and beautiful (read: urban sprawl) northeast Jersey. Before we made it to the park, though, we had to walk through this dark bit of woods that is controlled by deer gangs and maniac drivers. Becca was half-afraid for her life and I was mostly afraid of the mood not being right once we reached the park.

Reach the park we did but then had to wait ten minutes before we could have the lookout to ourselves. After the dreadful walk and the long wait, we finally had Washington Rock to ourselves. We moved in, we saw the city lights, commented on the moon, the stars, the beautiful weather, yada yada. I drew her close, looked into her eyes, poured my heart out, reached for the ring, but was interrupted at the last second by another couple who came out of nowhere and figured that since it’s a public park they had just as much right to be there as we did. This is true, but it was frustrating, to say the least.

Not wanting to leave the park with the ring in my pocket, I made our way to a park bench and sat Becca down, trying to maintain the mood. Some quick-thinking and smooth-talking got me to where I felt comfortable getting off the bench and onto one knee in front of my girl. I drew out the ring, found the words to say, and asked Rebecca Rose Roszel to be my wife. She said “of course,” she threw her arms around my neck, we hugged, we kissed, and we tried to look at the ring but it was too dark.

The first time she got a good look at the ring was under the dome light of my truck when we made it back through the less-scary-this-time woods. I started telling her all that I had been doing the past nine days and she teared up when I told her about asking her dad. We made it back to Hackettstown and started the process of telling everyone our news, starting with my family and then making a whole slew of phone calls the next day.

So now you know...

...the rest of the story.