Banners are shouting all over campus, “Welcome to Belmont! I want to repeat that greeting, warmly welcoming each of you, whether as a graduate student, returning undergrad, new freshman, or transfer. I myself am a new Bruin, having started my role as president of this university on June 1st. I have met many students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni over the past three months, and these conversations have revealed again and again how much Belmont caters to everyone connected to this campus.
This is no surprise to me. I was drawn to Belmont because I could easily see the strength of the institution and feel the distinct spirit of this community. If you’ve heard me speak or watched any of my videos this summer, you know I want to build on that strength and amplify that spirit. My prayer is that Belmont will be a place where we let hope abound in everything we say and do.
It’s a daunting challenge that comes from several years that have been defined by multiple pandemics and destructive polarization. Yet I believe that hope is exactly what we need, and exactly what we can offer a suffering world as we aim to reweave the social fabric. How can we begin to let hope abound? With the advent of this academic year together, I would like us all to adopt practices that I believe will help us be agents of hope on campus and in our sphere of influence.
First, let’s practice hospitality. We must be a community determined to welcome one another with the love of God. A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion was announced last year as its own strategic priority as part of our Vision 2025 efforts. It is a vital step for Belmont as an institution, and it is equally – if not more – important for each of us as individuals to consider the impact a story of racial injustice has on our culture and the prejudices we carry today.
Our hospitality must also extend beyond racial and ethnic boundaries. For us to be a place known for its welcoming and inclusive spirit, we must see each individual as being made in the image of God and worthy of honor and respect. This is true regardless of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political party or any other qualifier that too often divides communities into “us” and “them”. Here we are all Belmont and all beloved children of God.
Second, let’s be good listeners. In order for us to fully engage with each other in an optimistic and useful way, we must be able to listen well. I remember a lesson Christian scholar and educator David Smith taught students in his German class. He pointed out how often people talk about a desire speak another language. He writes: “It is as if we instinctively view the languages of others as additional media in which we can assert our own agendas… The way we speak of the languages of others seems to make them speak more of us than of our neighbor.
Her argument reminds us that part of the beauty of learning another language comes from the voices it opens up for us to hear. Sometimes the language we have to learn is not a different language or dialect. Often it’s just a matter of listening more closely and trying to understand what our roommate, our teacher, our colleague, our friends are saying. We have to hear the melodies first before we can learn to sing the harmonies that make a choir truly extraordinary.
Finally, let’s lead with Grace. You join a small town of over 10,000 students, faculty and staff, and each brings unique stories, experiences and perspectives. We should expect differences and we should welcome different points of view as another opportunity to learn. We will certainly meet people we disagree with, whether we are discussing masks and vaccines or politics and faith. Being Christ-centered means that we are always in a posture of discernment, seeking to understand and engage with one another in a gracious way and with a humble heart.
Many of you have heard me speak of my joy in a Belmont T-shirt I once saw that communicated a deep message in four short words: “Love God. Neighbor love. By practicing hospitality, listening well and offering grace to one another, we live this simple but important commandment and take significant steps to be an agent of hope in the eyes of all.
This editorial was written by guest author Dr Greg Jones.
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