When I was younger I didn’t leave my hometown much. I had approximately 150 relatives living in a 20-minute radius of my house, so there wasn’t really a practical reason to venture off. The older folks told me that there wasn’t much to see beyond Kentucky anyway. I mean, you could leave Kentucky, but why would you ever want to? Those sentiments were wrapped more in resignation than truth, I’ve come to learn, but I was sold as a youth.
I was the first in my family to attend college, and even then, I chose to remain within 100 miles of home. I made the trip every weekend, back and forth, and still managed to pass my classes. But I failed in another area that I’ve truly come to regret. In those formative years, I missed the opportunity to expand my sense of community and learn from experience. Oh I don’t regret the investment of time and relationship with my family; I just left them too late.
One of the things I have envied with my wife is the attachment she continues to hold to her university. Andree is a proper southern woman, but was formally educated in the Northeast at Penn State University. She went there to fulfill a dream of majoring in French and International business. Her research showed (she actually did research on where she would go to college. Astounding!) that PSU was one of the strongest schools for this major, and she was hooked. Leaving her parents, Andree had to find an entirely different group of friends at school. She actually lived in State College, Pennsylvania. She immersed herself in the school culture, pledged a sorority, got involved in campus ministry, and LOVED attending the football games (the Nittany Lions play at home in Beaver Stadium—which gave me a foot in the door when I went to dating her!).
I loved hearing about all of the traditions that went along with going to that school, even though I’d never heard of it. One of the things that struck me was how loyal the students remain to the school. She told me of how their motto “We are Penn State!” could be seen and heard everywhere. In the stadium on game day, one side of the place would yell “WE ARE!” and the other side would reply “PENN STATE!” They would complete this enthusiastic exercise after three exchanges with one side yelling “Thank You!” and the other returning with “You’re Welcome!”
I personally suffer my lack of identity with a college. I went to schools in both Kentucky and Texas but remain emotionally detached from them. In addition to the small community where I was raised, I’ve always felt most closely aligned with the people and the local churches I’ve served. My attachment, by profession as much as passion, is to the local church. And yet, I think that I’m deeply envious (and troubled) of how people express much more of an identity with their school than they do their church. Jesus said that the very gates of hell would not prevent an assault from His church. We are that church. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. We are His church. How can I suffer the regrets of attachment to schools and sports teams when the opportunity to celebrate my attachment to Jesus and His church is available on a daily basis—certainly a weekly one? Christ and His church is where my deepest loyalties dwell. If you’re like me, you have to tweak your perspective on this regularly. You feel me? We are. The church. Thank you!