"When the spine of identity is weak everything is a threat."
This is one of my favourite quotes from the work of James Fowler around faith development. It speaks profoundly to the theme of relationships that is our focus in this issue of TYNDALE. In a time where healthy conversation and dialogue seems so difficult to find and where diversity can create anxiety all around us, the challenge is to learn how to effectively and purposefully live differently in those realities.
Fowler writes about it this way: "When the spine of identity is well established, I can dialogue with anyone. When the spine of identity is weak, everything is a threat."
This should make sense to people of faith: We who root our faithfulness in Christ. Paul for example picks this idea up in Colossians. For two and a half chapters he unpacks the profound and life-changing reality of who Christ is, what he came to do and the implications in our own life. Then in chapter 3 verse 12 he synthesizes its reality in the beginning of his discussion of community and what it looks like to those who are "in Christ".
"Therefore," he says, "because you are chosen, holy and dearly loved." From those profound words speaking a magnificent truth, he then unpacks a community life made up of "bearing with, forgiving, serving and loving." It really is that simple, rooted in Christ, secured and grounded, we live into relationships — not in fear but in confident engagement. The relational nature of Christian faith is inescapable.
At Tyndale we take this seriously. It is part of our focus on student development. The intellectual knowledge of the university and seminary experience is only a part of the Tyndale experience. Character and faith development are framed within the community experience.
In a recent National Skills Standards Council study, students were asked about the quality of relationships with peers, faculty and Tyndale administrative staff. The results were amazing. Consistently in both first year students and fourth year students we scored well above the Canadian average for universities.
Good relational ability can be taught, but it is best caught. Modeled by others, people see what healthy relationships might look like. It is important to remember that.