We’ve reached Reading Week. Yes, that’s right. We get a whole week off for Columbus Day next week. (It seems the more you pay to go to school, the less you actually have to attend class.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately in these past weeks about Yale Divinity School’s location. Its founders intentionally put the school on the highest point in New Haven to be a sort of “light to the nations.” This is problematic, not least because some of us have to bike up that hill every single day and don’t care for it one bit.
But more than that, I wonder what this positioning represents. It certainly separates us from the rest of the Yale campus that is largely down among the rest of the city of New Haven. That’s kind of annoying if you want to take a class in another school or visit a professor or go the gym or do any number of things that would mark you out as a typically Yale student and New Haven resident.
But I think the biggest problem I have with our location is that it represents a certain separation from the world, as if we are saying, “We are different than the rest of you. We need to be apart from you.” That’s an attitude that is characteristic of the academic life but it’s not an attitude that should be characteristic of the Christian life. As I’ve written in the past, Christian mission is about incarnation. Incarnation requires a willingness to come down from that lofty place and get into the real world. It’s hard to do that when you’re up on a hill.
This is the tension that I think has most characterized my first few weeks at Yale Divinity School between the high and lofty and academic view of faith – the 35,000-foot view, if you will – and the incarnational and low living of faith. Having spent the last four years on this latter, lower level – sea level, perhaps – it has been a difficult adjustment.
A professor mentioned the other day that the Divinity School has traditionally been the school or department at Yale that has had the least engagement and involvement with New Haven. There are a lot of reasons for this, no doubt, but many I imagine stem from this: when you begin by putting yourself on a hill, how are you supposed to be engaged?