Faith Matters: So (college) freshmen, you are finally here

Connecting with a local house of worship is one of the things faith leaders said they wished they had done when they were freshmen. Here's Rabbi Andy Koren at Temple Emanuel, which draws college students from across the Triad.

So, I wrote this nearly a decade ago, asking spiritual leaders from the Triad to look back at their college experiences and what they wished they had known back then. This is the best of that advice (some positions have changed).

"I had the opportunity to take classes with world-class scholars in college but didn't take the initiative to meet them personally," says Rabbi Eliezer Havivi, formerly of Beth David Synagogue, who earned his undergraduate at Queens College, a branch of the City University of New York. "I later wished that I had pushed myself a little harder — to go up to them after class or see them in their offices."

He learned to do that in graduate school and later rabbinical school.

"And I found professors who were willing to take a personal interest in me and help me grow in my own learning," Havivi says. "One of our classic texts teaches: 'The bashful student does not learn.' Whether bashful or, um, just unmotivated, that's a good lesson."

Keep your mind clear

There's nothing wrong with being open to new experiences and new ideas and this wider world, says Max Carter, then campus ministries director at Guilford College and a Ball State University graduate. But it's even more important not to get lost.

"When I began college 60 miles away from my small farming community in Indiana, it was like I had been dropped off on another planet," Carter says. "As I often tell my students, I not only lived through the '60s, I can remember them, since I didn't do drugs."

Carter connected early with other Quakers to stay grounded.

"Folks were going down in flames experimenting with mind-altering substances," Carter says. "My Quaker faith, which teaches that it is of paramount importance to keep the mind clear, as God communicates directly to each person, and we'd darn well better be clear-headed when she chooses to talk, saw me through unscathed."

Young people get so much advice, some of it conflicting, says the Rev. Julie Peeples of Congregational United Church of Christ, who graduated from Furman University in 1979.

"And honestly, the young people I know are much wiser than I was at that age. I often feel I am learning from them," Peeples says. "My hope is they'll trust that deep, inner wisdom, because that is one of the ways God speaks to us.

"And as always, I hope my daughter will remember to call her mother."

Remember who you are

At an impromptu gathering of high school students and their parents at the altar of Providence Baptist Church one Sunday, the late Rev. Howard Chubbs and others in the congregation admonished the young people there to not to forget their "home training."

"Don't ever forget who you are," he told them. "Whatever you do reflects upon your family, as well as you."

And the "everybody does it" line?

"When I went to school, everybody drank but me," says Chubbs, who earned his first degree from Tennessee State University in 1957. "As a result, there were parties and things that I didn't get invited to — but I found out that wasn't the end of the world."

Choose smart habits

But choices — like those photos on social media — can linger.

"Habits formed in college tend to stay with us," says the Rev. Michael Usey, a Baylor University graduate and the pastor at College Park Baptist Church. "Our personalities are more malleable during these years than they will be again. Many of the vices that are considered necessary for college life are easy to put on and hell to take off. They become marbleized into our personality, growing as we mature, so they are not easy to extract."

At Baylor, for example, Usey ran in the early mornings with his friend Greg.

"He could kick my tail running, with his long legs, and not even breathe hard," Usey says. "He would talk about theology or women or both, while I wheezed, trying to keep up."

After running road races with Usey, Greg would light up a cigarette and have lung capacity to spare. At 50, Greg' was still a good friend and a minister, and smoker — but couldn't run like he used to, and his lungs weregreatly diminished, Usey says. Like most people who smoke, Usey says, his friend wishes he'd never started. It's the same for all his Baylor roommates who dipped Copenhagen.

"I'm the furthest thing from a prude. There is a great goodness to life that God has given us that is meant to be enjoyed, including alcohol and sex," Usey says. "However, many destructive habits — like abusing alcohol, dipping smokeless, smoking cigs or weed, cruising porn, etc. — began in our college years, when they were considered hip, long before they started to scab over."

Avoid the herd

The pressure to fit in is often more self-inflicted than not, recalls Chris Hardy, the former leadership development pastor at Westover Church, who earned a degree at Berry College in Rome, Ga.

Hardy recalls the time he went to work in the school's business office because all his friends worked there. He was miserable.

Avoid the herd mentality, he says.

"After several months of sitting in front of a computer scanning documents, I realized I was not cut out for work in the business office," Hardy says. "Not long after, I accepted an opportunity to work in admissions and serve as a host for visitors and guide for prospective students. This was a perfect match, and I ended up loving it."

"I falsely believed the approval of others forged my identity," he says. "In reality, my friends accepted me as Chris."

As you continue to discover who you are, says the Rev. Natalie McLean, the chaplain at Bennett College, you develop a level of comfort and composure in being one of unique and intentional design. "Each of us is 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' " McLean says, quoting from Psalm 139:14, King James Version.

Be courageous enough to reach out to those who are not a part of the "inner circle" and celebrate the differences in others, McLean says.

"We have to like who we are first," McLean says. "When others see our confidence, they will either choose to associate with us or find another friend. And we have to accept their choice. We, too, make decisions about friends and associates. From someone else's perspective, we may be a part of the "popular crowd."

Link up with a local mosque, temple, church or other house of worship.

"So, there's somebody calling them, checking up on them, saying, 'Is everything OK?'" said the Rev. Kymira Callaway, then the associate minister at East White Oak Baptist Church, overseeing a college ministry there known as The Tribe.

"It's for them to have a place to belong to while they are here."

Find your passion

This is the time when passion should fuel your choices, such as choosing classes or even a major, says McLean.

"Passion provides vision, inspiration and courage," says McLean, who earned a biology degree at Bennett when she knew in her heart she was to become a minister. "Experience and training prepare us for gainful employment, but without passion, our work is 'just a job.' "

Treat college as a nine-hour workday

"If you weren't in school, you'd have to get a job doing something!" said the Rev. Stephen Crotts, of The Carolina Study Center. " And your job would certainly require eight or nine hours of your time!

"So go to class, sit on the front row, look interested, ask questions. Take good notes. The professor will read the signals that you're there for the same reason he is — to teach and to learn. And it will help his attitude when he grades your papers."

And you will have temptations.

"The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, 'No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to men," Crotts said. "God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but will with the temptation offer a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.'

"So here I am walking out the door with this girl. I know this sort of behavior we have in mind is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. I know it's not going to help me get where I want to go in life. So where's my 'way of escape' 1 Corinthians 10:13 talks about?

"There on the wall was a poster of Mexico. I'd just been there the summer before on a missions project. So I said, 'Look! Mexico City!' She said, 'Have you been there?' 'Yes,' I said, 'this past summer.' 'I'm a Spanish major,' she went on. 'What took you to Mexico?' 'I was there doing Christian mission work,' I confessed. And we ended up sitting in a Pizza Hut talking about life and Christ.

"And before the year was out, Brenda had become a Christian." 

But have fun

It's still OK to have fun, says the Rev. Monica A. Coleman, a former Bennett College religion professor who is now an associate professor of constructive theology and African American religions near Los Angeles.

"There's nothing sinful about partying," she says. "Just keep it clean, sober and stay up until the early church service the next morning."

THE BONUS

Rabbi Fred Guttman's Ten Commandments for Success as a College Freshman. Guttman is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel:

1. Try to be nonjudgmental when meeting new people, especially those who are different from you ethnically, religiously, culturally, etc.

2. Realize that you are on your own. Organize your time well. No one will tell you when to study and when to play.

3. Try to find your passion and follow it. What really motivates you? In what courses do you seem to do the best?

4. Call your parents frequently, especially if they are paying your cell phone bill— and even if they are not. We love to hear from you and will try not to be too nosy.

5. When you visit your parents on break, spend time with them. Do not come home, drop off your dirty laundry and go out with your friends. Mom and Dad need "face time" with you.

6. Find your religious community at college and become a part of it.

7. Keep in touch with your pastor, rabbi, imam, etc. We, too, would love an occasional e-mail, call or visit when you are on break.

8. Become involved in some sort of volunteer work that will help someone else. College should not be just about you. Through the act of giving to others, you will feel more alive and a greater sense of purpose.

9. Be grateful for this opportunity and do not waste it.

10. Prayer is always a good activity, and not just before tests!

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Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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