A tale of two universities

I live in Hillsborough, a little town just about equidistant between Durham, where Duke University calls home, and Chapel Hill, where UNC-Chapel Hill (aka “Carolina”) calls home. While these two schools have a national sports reputation, it’s their local influence I’d like to think about for a minute.

I’m just a casual observer, of course, but I find the communities around both schools very fascinating. Both schools have outstanding academic reputation, athletic reputations and prestigious alumni. But what are they doing for the areas right around them?

Well, you have Duke. It’s in Durham, NC, which has a tough reputation as a fairly violent and often poor city. To be fair, right around the university, home prices are pretty high and the neighborhoods are nice. I, for one, love to run the Al Buehler Cross Country course that goes around the golf course near the school. But as a larger community, it seems that the Duke influence has been minimal.

Even if you stretch out the influence beyond the immediate ZIP code, I’m always surprised when I run into a Duke alum outside of the great Raleigh-Durham area–partly because they are a pretty elite bunch and often because they are usually high paid or high profile people. In my experience, the Duke influence is strong, but focused.

Then, you have UNC-Chapel Hill. It’s in Chapel Hill, NC, which has the enviable position of having some of the highest property values in the entire state. While the city and it’s surrounding county (Orange) isn’t devoid of crime or poverty, its schools, city & county services and infrastructure, is top-notch (full disclosure: I live in Orange and enjoy many of these benefits … and pay the taxes that make them possible).

But what’s more, UNC-Chapel Hill also is something of “the people’s” school. I’ve met Carolina alum in all sorts of places and in all sorts of professions–teachers, executives, writers, athletes, politicians, homemakers, doctors, dentists, statisticians and more. While the school does a good job of remaining an elite institution of learning, it seems it also has somehow democratized higher learning too.

Plus, while both schools have incredible sports histories (particularly in basketball), you find Carolina fans all over the place, while a few Duke fans pop up from time-to-time. Full disclosure, I’m a Wake Forest fan (Go Deacs!) and also enjoy seeing Carolina lose.

So what?

Well I think our churches often take on the Duke role–serving some particular elite group that seems to serve our needs. Whether that’s the cultured set, a particular race of people or even the “hard core” true believers. Most churches will find enough of their target demographic to sustain themselves for some period of time. But it seems that we’re missing a huge opportunity to do what the church is supposed to do: make a real difference in the lives around us.

It seems that if we really do have the hope of the world (Jesus Christ) and we’re doing what He told us to do (tell people about Him, Matthew 28:18-20), then those places where churches pop up should be the most out-reaching and most life-altering places on the planet. You shouldn’t be able to live near a church and not be affected by it … even if you don’t go to their services.

Sadly, you can literally live next door to one (I live within walking distance of two!) and never feel their presence beyond the odd (it must be to those who don’t go) gathering that happens 1-3 times each week when the parking lots fill up with cars.

Shouldn’t  communities be improved around churches? Shouldn’t the sick, the poor, the afflicted, the hurting and the needy be helped by churches? Shouldn’t the wealthy, the poor, the liberal, the conservative, the saint, the sinner, the religions and the irreligious be sought out by the church?

I’m not saying that we have to bend the church to the standards of those around us–look at my example with Carolina, they certainly don’t lower academic standards (ok … there was the thing with the student athletes. But other than that!). But I am saying there ought to be real, lasting imprint that the church makes on everyone that comes close enough.

Unfortunately, too many churches are content being a Duke, super high standards, high cost of admission and completely comfortable having a minimal impact on those that live nearby.


Book review: Risky Gospel

There’s a kind of preaching I don’t hear very much, but I’m always energized by. Very few preachers do it well … but it’s really surprising given the radical nature of the Gospel & of Jesus Himself.This is the kind of preaching that inspires you to do something difficult, but meaningful.

A lot of preaching puts you on a guilt trip. Even more preaching excites you about the life to come. Other preaching bores you to death and puts you to sleep. And too much preaching just confuses. But given that Jesus is calling us to suffer, to become fools for Him, to turn our backs on everything we know, I’m amazed at how little we’re really challenged to just do something out of the ordinary.

That’s exactly the reason I really liked this book. It was fun to read, challenging to implement and engaging with the hard, cold (often mundane) realities of life. This is the kind of “Christian Living” / “Spiritual Growth” book you like to read and we really need more of.

The fact is I think we’re all wired to do something great, build something useful and even do something risky. Strachan latches onto that and runs with it. By the end, you are really wanted to take your Christianity out of the garage and see what it can do! The good news is that this is exactly what God challenges us to do in His word.

For better or worse, this book basically hits on one note. True, it’s applied to various aspects of life: from family to work to community life. But don’t expect to dig deep on a range of theological issues or be set on a long-term theological journey. Strachan is simple, to the point and blunt … all without being simplistic or dumbed-down. But sometimes, one point is all you need, and you need to hit it hard.

If you’re any sort of a reader at all, you’ll burn through this in no time. I think the real long-term usefulness will be as a group study, particularly with young people. I know my son will be getting my copy to read.

Good stuff. Worth your time.

It should be noted that I got a free, no-strings-attached copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Risky Gospel

Good reading for all ages