The air was thick and heavy, weighing down the room like a fog. It was an exceptionally warm, spring day, and the air conditioning was working well. A little too well. I shivered slightly, but tried not to let it show. I couldn’t believe what was happening. She was sitting on the other side of the desk, her blue eyes awaiting an answer. I thought I saw a sly smile on her lips, but it wasn’t there. I only hoped it was. I looked again to the ceiling to avoid her gaze. Then my eyes scanned the photo-lined walls of my office, the rich, dark wood trim, and the shelf of books and knick-knacks from my assorted travels.
When I finished scanning the room she was still staring at me and I was no closer to an answer. How did she turn this around? It started with a fairly routine non-disciplinary meeting, if those can be routine. Tracy was having a problem with the Lifestyle Statement, and under the college’s non-disciplinary policy if she came to us we wouldn’t take any disciplinary action. It was a way of helping the students help themselves, and we didn’t have to play dictator. In my past twelve years in this position I’ve hosted a number of these meetings. None of them could really be described as routine, but compared to this, well, anything would be routine.
It started with her boyfriend. These things always do. To make matters worse he isn’t a Christian. When will these kids learn? They all think they know a better way to interpret “do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Anyway, they were basically pushing the limits physically–the same story I usually hear. I started counseling her about purity of thought and mind and when I asked her how she felt about that–that’s when things started twisting.
“But I do feel pure,” she had answered, very slowly and deliberately. It was as if she was discovering the fact as she stated it. I balked at this statement, seeing the typical misguided love syndrome. But she didn’t waver. She went on talking in this far off voice about the love they felt. After a while I had no choice but to go for the throat. I asked her about her boyfriend’s lack of faith. She plainly told me she wasn’t out to evangelize him, which was something I don’t ordinarily hear. For most people that’s the first reason they’ll give for dating a non-Christian. She said her boyfriend Damon would only see Christ through her loving friendship. She said if she tried to preach to him, he wouldn’t listen. It would only turn him away. She told me how she longed for him to become a Christian, but she understood that it wasn’t something she could force on him. She could only standby and wait for him to come to terms with the vivid grace apparent in her life. She said she would always accept him as he was, just like Christ had accepted her.
Those were brave words. This was all coming from a college girl who had done some serious thinking. I was beginning to formulate a course of action from there when she twisted the meeting even more. She began attacking the Lifestyle Statement itself. Perhaps ‘attack’ is a strong word. But she began probing that issue. And then finally she came to problem, an apparent contradiction inherent in the Lifestyle Statement.
“The statement says that I’m to be sexually pure, which I feel I am, although I can tell you disagree. It seems most people on this campus understand this rule, and don’t have much of a problem accepting it. Apparently I’m one of the few with a problem. But what bothers me is what else the statement says. The next item says I’m supposed to reject materialism.” She stopped there, allowing it to soak in. She didn’t bother to explain it, she just let the contradiction wash over me, and that’s where she is now, still waiting for an answer.
Materialism. When we had the faculty meeting about the Lifestyle Statement this was the one point nobody argued about. The other stipulations of the Lifestyle Statement touched off heated discussions about what was actually meant and how Christians were supposed to act in such matters. But when it came to rejecting materialism we all agreed that it was obvious and moved on. But I was now realizing that we didn’t have a clue what it meant, and most of us wanted to keep it that way.
I kept thinking of the cars I passed in the parking lot. The dorm rooms I’d seen, cluttered with computers, stereos, TVs, VCRs–even DVD players. I looked around my own office and the expensive mahogany trim. This was one statement I didn’t have an answer for, and Tracy knew it.
After a long, uncomfortable silence I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my desk, and spoke, “Tracy, you don’t really have a problem with your boyfriend, do you? You’re more interested in addressing this… materialism issue, aren’t you?” I didn’t intend to, but I sounded very sinister. In a way I felt dirty.
“Mr. Johnson, I don’t have a problem with anything Damon and I are doing. I have a problem with what I signed my name to uphold. I’m trying to show Damon Christ, and I can’t do that if I’m not being true. The way I interpret the Lifestyle Statement, there’s nothing wrong with what Damon and I are doing. But I understand that there’s very few on this campus who understand the Lifestyle Statement that way. But the way I understand the part about materialism also seems to be profoundly different from the way anybody else sees it. And I just want to know who’s standard I’m supposed to follow.” She finished and lowered her head, almost as if she expected me to be enraged.
Again I leaned back in my chair for a while and finally asked her if we could continue this later. I needed time to think and I couldn’t do it with her eyes boring into me like that. She thanked me for giving of my time and I nodded politely and closed the door behind her. I heard her speaking to my secretary and then silence.
My eyes again scanned the room, but I found it was full of more questions. Finally my eyes paused on a framed photograph of a missionary friend from El Salvador. It was a picture of a poor Salvadorian child sitting on a stump. In a scrawled print were the words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”