Here Come the Alumni!

Summit Semester Jesse Childress 2016This weekend something terrible happened. Or at least, that’s what it sounded like from downstairs when fifteen people started screaming their faces off on the floor above. But in fact what was happening was far from tragic. A dozen alumni — students from Summit Semesters past — had just arrived at the lodge, and were being greeted with perhaps too much enthusiasm. This past weekend was Alumni Weekend, and twenty students from past years returned, for a short time, to share in our time at Summit Semester. Despite the anticipation leading up to the weekend, none of the current students really knew what to expect from the alumni’s arrival.

The current students’ initial reactions to the incoming alumni varied greatly. Some current students, like me, already knew some of the new arrivals and so greeted them with great excitement. However, many of the students who didn’t know any of the alumni weren’t exactly excited to have twenty strangers invading the already sometimes cramped-feeling lodge. But the majority of the students found themselves thoroughly enjoying the guests, who introduced new energy and excitement into our games of volleyball and nights of swing dancing. This injection of vitality was much needed, because in the past six weeks our games of volleyball and our dances have been few and far between, and without too much enthusiasm. There were also plenty of relationships built and good conversations had this weekend. Tears were shed, prayers said, and encouragement given, all enlivening our hope for our time here at Semester and afterwards. But beyond all this, something subtler yet more powerful was happening. As trivial as it might seem, I think the presence of the alumni allowed us as a community to have the most fun together that we have had all semester, and this was perhaps the best thing that anyone could have done for us.

Joe Rigney speaks of fun as “the melody line of joy,” and when considered in this way, having fun together and enjoying one another’s company may be far less trivial than it seems. That melody invites us into something far deeper, a harmonic texture of joy that is sometimes hard to access and hard to understand apart from that melody. As a community, I think we will be able to live better, fuller lives together because we’ve seen and experienced the fun, and the even deeper joy, brought by the alumni. In being here, they invited us to enjoy each other more and love one another better. More implicitly, but hopefully not too abstrusely, their invitation was also to pursue our academics and work more wholeheartedly, to become whole people by pursuing Christ fully in everything we do. In a very real sense, the joy of the Lord is our strength, as it is that which gives us the desire and the will to pursue Christ in all that we do. Apart from a sense of Christ’s joy, the things we do on this earth, menial and meaningful alike, slowly sink into drudgery and eventually into an unbearable hell. Perhaps in the last six weeks there have been times we have slipped out of pitch and introduced discord into Christ’s song, but this weekend we were reminded of what that song is supposed to sound like.

Between vigorous games of volleyball and long nights of dancing, my body hurts more than it has all semester, but my heart is more full than it has been all semester. My heart is full not just from reunion with old alumni friends, but because of the increased depth that their presence has brought to the relationships of the students. The tender strains of divine music heard distinctly in the lives of the alumni have reminded us that we have not been left destitute, and that we have a future hope that Christ calls us to live in right now. Bonhoeffer was right when he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” but when Christ calls a man he also calls him to truly live, and this was displayed beautifully by the alumni. These dear friends, old and new, have walked in from the past to open a door to the future, inviting us into something better, something richer, inviting us to indulge in the melody of fun and bathe in the vivid depth of the harmonies of Christ’s joy.

Jesse Childress, former staffer at Summit California, comes from Sherman, Texas. Jesse has a number of interests, ranging from music to writing to engineering, that are all rooted in the desire to love and live well. When home, he enjoys musical theater, swimming, reading great literature, working with children, and leading small groups at his church. Around the lodge he can usually be found having quality conversations, playing volleyball, reading, sipping tea, or singing. Jesse has considered pursuing both Music Education and Engineering, but is open to the Lord’s direction for what is next.