It was a few days ago when I spent a few days in Langley, British Columbia, at a symposium on spiritual formation among Christian colleges and universities. We ended about noon on a Saturday, and my Biola colleagues had a plane to catch to L.A. But my plans were different. I had a ferry to catch because I had my breath to catch.
You see, a few weeks earlier Paula and I were talking about stress and pace. She told me plainly and quite tenderly that it might be good for me to take some time this summer and get away, on my own, for my soul to be refreshed.
Knowing I would be in British Columbia for this conference, and having a few days open on the other side, I began to work on a plan. A friend of mine told me about a place called Rivendell, a Tolkien Middle-earth reference that means “deep valley of the cleft.” He said it was a ferry ride from the British Columbia coast and was set atop a hill on an island. Austere rooms in a home high in the woods overlooking the Deep Bay waters, no agenda. This is where I would go.
I bought my ferry ticket and, after grabbing a quick chicken sandwich and iced tea, followed the signs to Waiting Room A. The ferry would be leaving in 20 minutes.
The room was half full. Sitting in front of me were two young college-aged boys, tattoo-free and kind looking, stuffed backpacks as their ottomans. I watched as an older man walked up to the two boys. I had noticed this man earlier, assuming he was a musician as he carried a guitar case and a smaller case. He must have heard them talking, for this man — 70 or so — with a beard and hair as white as the shirt itself asked the boys a question: “What part of Germany are you from?”
The younger looking boy said, “Vee come from Haamburg.” The man was genuinely interested. “What are you doing here?”
“Vee are in Canada for six months traveling to see your country.” The man and the boys kept talking, but I missed the next part of the conversation as I took a sip of my iced tea and checked my ferry ticket. But then I saw one of the boys ask the man with the white beard a question, “Vould you mind if I played your guitar?”
The man smiled and said, “You go right ahead,” as he helped the German boy open the case. The boy from Hamburg began to strum some chords and play a simple, basic melody on that guitar, borrowed from the old man with the beard as white as his freshly laundered shirt.
What happened next caught me by surprise. As the boy kept strumming his triad of chords the man with the white hair opened his other case, and he pulled out a fiddle and bow. The German boy didn’t notice, but kept playing his chords on the borrowed folk guitar. The man sat down beside the boy in Waiting Room A and bounced that bow a few times on his fiddle’s strings, listening carefully until he landed on the same key. Once he did, beauty began.
In the now crowded waiting room, this old fiddler and this late teenage boy blended their strings in music. As they did, more than a few observers stopped talking, gently nudging their companions and motioning to the boy and the man. Passengers down the row craned their necks to see what others were watching, where the music was coming from. Conversations quieted, and I saw a few tapping their feet or patting their knee to the rhythms of the man and the boy, whose names I’ll never know.
Waiting Room A had unexpectedly become a concert hall as these two strangers, separated by a generation, played music side by side without any common bonds, except for their strings and love of music. They spoke different languages, their nationalities an ocean apart. But as that accomplished fiddler played, that boy got into it! He came alive.
Suddenly, he fingered those basic chords with more confidence and boldness and flair, casting glances at the man for his approval. And the improvising fiddler who came alongside the boy accompanied in a way that made the ordinary guitar sound so much fuller, so much richer.
As I thought about the man with the white beard and blue-jeaned boy from Germany, I thought about what we do well at Biola and especially the role of faculty. In a few weeks this campus will come to life with dare I say a record number of students. They will come here like the boy from Germany, with their gifts and eagerness to experience a new place and continue their journey. They will have raw talents and incredible potential.
And these students will begin asking our faculty, “Can I play your guitar?” That is, “I want to glean something that you have which is more than I have.” But little do they know that our faculty are not content merely with students playing their guitars. They’re going to reach into their other case and pull out a fiddle, taking them to a much higher place then they could have ever imagined when they entered Waiting Room A, Biola University.
This is where I marvel at our faculty’s gifts and generosity. They will do far more for these students then they could ever expect. When students see in our faculty so much more of what they had imagined, the simple chords they know are going to become dynamic with rich harmonies and syncopations, and they’ll learn their songs in many keys.
Why? Because the faculty of Biola have taken the role of the fiddler when all these students expected was to play a guitar.
The faculty of Biola are the fiddlers for these students, provoking them to deeper levels of thought and higher understandings of God. They will fiddle alongside these students as they model transparency and appropriate vulnerability before them, helping to see more of who they can be as they learn from their mountains and your valleys. They will fiddle alongside them as they help them see how gifted they are and how much they can yet develop, even in the few years here. They will fiddle alongside them as they advise them on career and graduate school decisions, as they counsel them on relationships and through their challenges. They will fiddle alongside them as they help them see how biblical integration works horizontally among the disciplines and how integration works vertically between their mind and their soul, as they help them see telescopically the potential they have for service of others in service of Christ.
And as our faculty do what they do best through their expertise as social scientists, hard scientists, mathematicians and philosophers and literary types, educators and business theorists, psychologists and theologians, cross-cultural scholars, artists and yes, musicians … they become the highly-skilled fiddlers, accompanists on students’ journeys from playing basic chords to flourishing as skilled and thoughtful musicians, for the glory of God.
Barry H. Corey is president of Biola University. Visit his office online or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. And if you’re still looking for some good reading material after browsing through Biola Magazine’s Ultimate Summer Reading List, be sure to check out some of his picks:
- Favorite Book of the Past Few Years: A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
- Book Every Christian Should Read: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- Best Book for the Beach: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
- Book I’m Currently Reading: Atticus by Ron Hansen
- Best Book for a Discussion Group: What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
- Book Everyone Keeps Telling Me I Should Read, but Haven’t: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin