“Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.’ As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.” (Luke 5:10–11 CEB)
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time observing and listening as a few of FPU’s undergraduate students presented their research projects in a symposium hosted by our psychology department. One experimental project in particular caught my attention: the students were testing the hypothesis that exposure to ominous ideas and themes would predispose study participants to be more fearful and hesitant when asked to place their hands in a covered box with unknown contents. One set of participants listened to foreboding, negative messages while another set of participants listened to joyful, optimistic reports. The student researchers then timed how long it would take for participants to respond to the invitation to put a hand in the “mystery box.” The result? Statistically speaking, participants who had heard negative messages took almost twice as long (just under 7 seconds) to test the mystery box as those who heard positive messages (3.8 seconds) prior to the invitation. Conclusion: fear is a powerful (de-) motivator!
The community we call Fresno Pacific University does its work in a context where we hear a broad and bewildering array of voices and perspectives. On any given day we can be bombarded by global and national political news reports, new expressions of culture wars, reminders of systemic intractable social issues in our Valley and the ever-present challenges for the enterprise we call higher education. Potentially fear-inducing stuff! In our learning community, the convergence of these “foreboding, negative messages” can easily produce a stale and stifling environment where hesitation trumps creativity and recycled habits win out over innovation. We may well feel as though reaching our hands out into the unknown simply isn’t worth the risk. However, especially at this time of the year, we have first-hand access to a different set of narratives and reports. In just under a week’s time, hundreds of new FPU graduates will re-enter communities, workplaces and spheres of influence where their belief in the transformative power of God’s kingdom will be both tested and vindicated. We will bear witness to their achievements and potential; we will pray that God’s spirit enlivens their efforts with creativity and hope for a better world.
These are the “joyful, optimistic reports” that can shape our collective imagination as we celebrate graduation in this Advent season and look forward to the new horizon of 2019. Taking a cue from our psychology students we might ask: If we believe these good reports all around us, what creative and innovative pathways might we be able to put our hands to in the coming year?