Friday, January 2, 2009

from the archives: universities

I've spent my life around universities. Even now, we can see one from our back fence. Here's a post inspired by my gratitude to God for universities.

I love universities.

I love the long, echoing corridors, the book-lined offices, and the ridiculously steep lecture theatres. I love the lawns and paved areas spotted with students chatting, eating lunch, reading, or kissing. I love the beautiful old stone buildings, and the funky modern ones, with their round windows and lime-green fittings.

I love university libraries. I love working in the far, dim recesses of the library, where the silence is broken only by the rustle of turning pages. I love the eye-boggling microfilm screen, filled with tiny, wavering, impossible-to-read words. I love the dark shelves devoted to journals, where you pull a cord to turn the lights on, only to have them turn off half way through searching for that elusive article...leaving you imagining someone creeping up behind.

I loved visiting my father's university as a child. White concrete stairs led to his office, with its linoleum floor and sunny window, smelling of ink and paper. A glass cabinet near the building's entrance displayed crystals in a mind-boggling array of colours and shapes, from magenta fuzz to silver cubes: some glowed mysteriously under ultra-violet light. Outside the door, my brother and I played on the huge rocks which dotted the lawn, pretending they hid buttons which produced any food and drink we desired.

I love to walk and pray amongst the ancient red river gums which grow in the university near our home. I love to sit at our back window and watch the rising sun reflect from the university building's curved walls, tawny orange tiles glowing against the deep velvet blue of the sky. I even love the car park lights shining like stars brought to earth, glinting through the trees behind our house at night.

I love the feeling of intellectual discovery which hangs over a university, the sense that great ideas are taught in the shabby lecture theatres, and wonderful discoveries made in the laboratories and libraries.

I love students, their enthusiasm, idealism and readiness to learn.

Of course, this is only half the picture. Students don't usually go to uni to pursue intellectual discovery: they go to get academic recognition, or a ticket to a more prestigious and better paid job. In one philosophy class I attended, the Christian doctrine of sin was openly mocked and attacked. I was also exposed to pornography publically displayed without warning (twice!) by lecturers who took great delight in shattering our innocence.

But I feel immensely privileged that Steve and I work with uni students. We enjoy helping students to find their way through the bewildering moral and intellectual climate at uni, to teach them about a true knowledge which lasts forever, and to encourage them to live for someone outside themselves.

Meanwhile, I get to hang around universities for the rest of my life.


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