To Care and Not to Care

In T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” he offers a prayer for us sinners struggling in the world, and one of his specific prayers reads: “Teach us to care and not to care.” As one ministering on a campus full of high-achieving students, this paradox keeps me grounded.

On the one hand, Harvard students live lives focused on the future. They keep a break-neck pace, and they’re all incredibly gifted. They will leave Harvard, and shape the future of our culture. Even now they tend to think about their involvements as investments – items to be weighed by opportunity-costs. As a ministry of the gospel, we want to equip and encourage them to bring the gospel to bear in their current and future endeavors. We want them to care, and to care in the way that Christ cares!

On the other hand, Harvard students can easily buy into a narrative that is not only potentially misguided in life, but also spiritually toxic. That narrative begins with the mythology of merit – the belief that you are what you do. Your value as a person derives from your accomplishments. This narrative has no place for limitations or contingencies, for failure, or for the Providence of God. It is has no place for an identity forged by another – namely, Christ. That narrative ends with a mythology of access – the belief that when you achieve enough you will enter into ever more wonderful benefits. Those benefits may be material or social, but the hope is always that you will move to some new plain. This portion of the narrative has no place for the mundane aspects of life, and feeds on an inherent elitism. It has no place for the spiritual-leveling of the church. We do not want them to care about this narrative – but to care about who their identity in Christ with the church.

The challenge of college ministry everywhere – but especially at high-achieving universities – is to teach this paradox: “To care and not to care.” Pray for student to learn a different animating narrative that overwhelms that self-driven narrative – the Christian story that really is more beautiful, powerful, compelling than any other! But pray that it will animate them to care in an even more powerful way!

Jeremy M. Mullen, Campus Minister at Harvard University
October 31, 2016 • 610-691-0988 • 631 Fourth Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18018