Community, not conformity

As I walked into Paresky Saturday morning to pray in solidarity with the Muslim Ephs, I was overcome by the beautiful call to prayer of the former Muslim chaplain, Bilal Ansari. To have Baxter Hall filled with Muslim, Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning was nothing less than sacred. It reminded me that despite the dissension that arises within community life at Williams – among sports teams, student groups and, most evidently to me, faith communities – tolerance isn’t good enough. It is a difficult task to address faith life at Williams. So difficult that I won’t begin to try. What I will try to do is address a key issue that has been on my mind for the last few months in regards to living as a Christian at Williams.

As those who know me can attest, I am passionate about my faith. But this is also a passion that I bring to all aspects of my life – and this is where I get in trouble. There is a stigma associated with being a Christian that once you convert, everything changes. Many of you have a picture of what this looks like: All of a sudden your earthly pleasures (such as having a beer on the weekend or goofing off with your teammates) have to be completely re-oriented. Your desires become only those that have been sanctioned, your pleasures found only through fervent prayer, study of the Bible and all the other aspects of typical Christian conformity. Over my last three years here, I have been deeply involved in the Christian community as a leader for the athletes’ Bible study and as an altar server at student mass. I have come to profoundly appreciate what it means for my Catholic faith to inform the way I choose to live. But in committing to this lifestyle, I am reminded daily that living a life of faith cannot become so rigid that I lose the freedom I first found when I converted at 18. It was the fragility of my human condition that drew me to faith then, and it is the same fragility that sustains me now. That said, some of the greatest blessings of my time at Williams have been late-night conversations with entrymates, teammates and friends that often ensue after having a couple drinks. I have a tendency to swear and get rowdy with the guys. I obsess over academics and how much weight is on the bar in the weight room. These are undeniable facets of myself, but ones that do not need to exist in opposition to my identity as a professing Catholic.

My love for God cannot exist apart from my love for people. One of the dangers of faith communities (or any community) is the perceived or forced need for conformity. This generates a sense of insularity that not only excommunicates those whose lifestyles and beliefs do not perfectly align with the community’s, but also creates dissension. Conformity is destructive to the larger sense of community on campus. The very nature of Christianity is to love those who are different from us, and to meet people where they’re at – however they choose to live their lives. This is exactly what is prevented in Christian insularity. It is an injustice to call ourselves Christians if we are not willing to step outside of our comfort zones marked out by tolerance and move toward a more active acceptance of the Williams community and the world. Tolerance is not enough. Our faith must inform our humanity, not detach us from it. Our faith must lead us to see the common goodness and beauty found in all people, regardless of differing upbringings, races, genders, beliefs and values. It is by actively loving each other in light of these differences, as opposed to merely tolerating each other, that our various faiths may grow and be perfected.

The prayer service on Saturday brought me a deep feeling of consolation, giving me hope for the future of faith life at Williams. It painted a picture of the ability for faith groups to step out of their comfort zones and actively welcome people for who they are, instead of dismissing people whose lifestyles stray from their own accepted model of faith. Actively welcoming, accepting and loving those who choose to live differently than we do enhances the beauty of the community. We all sit at the banquet in celebration of our humanity, each of us bringing something different to the table. If we all brought the same thing, we would run the risk of seeing the universe from only one very limited perspective. How enriching it is to dine with those who offer differing viewpoints.

We can no longer condemn those that think and live differently than we do. This is the beauty of the liberal arts education, and we must take advantage of it. Through my last three years I have learned that I can hold onto my strong beliefs and still hold hands with those that believe, think and feel differently. Tolerance isn’t good enough. We must try to do better – we must try to lovingly accept those who are different than us. For it is in loving the soul of another that we are connected in the divinity of our shared humanity.   

Dylan Griswold ’15 is a chemistry major from Monson, Mass.  He lives on Spring Street.

  • Diane Dunn

    These words so eloquently written from the insight and introspection of this young man are powerful. They speak to the simple lesson we all would do well to practice in ourselves and instill in the raising of our children. Truly our world would be a better place if we graciously embrace our communities and “lovingly accept those who are different than us”. I am proud to call this young man my nephew. Thank you, Dylan, for the thought, the prayer and the time you took to put this observation and reality of our world into this impactful essay. Love, Auntie Di

  • Ann Griswold

    Dylan, If only the whole world would attest to conformity we wouldn’t,t be in the MESS it,s in now. God bless you and the beliefs you hold close. Grammy