OPINION: Let’s start fall 2021 as agents of hope
This guest op-ed was written by Dr. Greg Jones.
Jones is president of Belmont University.
The banners shout it all over campus: “Welcome to Belmont!” I want to repeat that greeting, warmly welcoming each of you, whether as a grad student, returning undergrad, new freshman or transfer. I’m a new Bruin myself, having begun my role as this university’s president on June 1. I have met with many students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni over the past three months, and those conversations have revealed again and again how special Belmont is to everyone connected to this campus.
It’s not a surprise to me. I was drawn to Belmont because I could easily see the strength of the institution and feel the distinct spirit of this community. If you’ve heard me speak or watched any of my videos this summer, you know I want to build on that strength and amplify that spirit. My prayer is for Belmont to be a place where we Let Hope Abound in all we say and do.
It’s a tall order coming off several years that have been defined by multiple pandemics and destructive polarization. Yet, I believe hope is exactly what we need, and exactly what we can offer a hurting world as we aim to reweave the social fabric. How can we begin to Let Hope Abound? With the advent of this academic year together, I’d like us all to adopt practices I believe will help us be agents of hope on campus and in our sphere of influence.
First, let’s practice hospitality. We must be a community intent on welcoming one another with the love of God. A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion was announced last year as its own strategic priority as part of our Vision 2025 efforts. That’s a vital step for Belmont as an institution, and it’s equally — if not more — important for each of us as individuals to reckon with how a history of racial injustice has impacted our culture and the biases we carry today.
Our hospitality must also extend beyond racial and ethnic boundaries. For us to be a place known for its welcoming and inclusive spirit, we need to see every individual as made in the image of God and worthy of honor and respect. This is true regardless of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political party or any of the other qualifiers that all too often divide communities into “us” and “them.” Here, we are all Belmont and all beloved children of God.
Second, let’s be good listeners. For us to fully engage with one another in hopeful and helpful ways, we must be able to listen well. I’m reminded of a lesson Christian scholar and educator David Smith taught students in his German class. He pointed out how frequently people talk about a desire to speak another language. He writes, “It is as if we instinctively think of the languages of others as additional media in which we can assert our own agendas … The way we talk about the languages of others seems to make them more about us than about our neighbor.”
His argument reminds us that part of the beauty of learning another language comes from the voices it opens us up to hear. Sometimes the language we need to learn isn’t a different tongue or dialect. Often, it’s simply listening more closely and seeking to understand what our roommate, our professor, our co-worker, our friends are saying. We must first hear the melodies before we can learn to sing the harmonies that make a chorus truly extraordinary.
Finally, let’s lead with grace. You are joining a small town of more than 10,000 students, faculty and staff, and each one brings unique histories, experiences and perspectives. We should expect differences, and we should welcome varying points of view as another opportunity to learn. We will certainly encounter individuals with whom we disagree, whether we’re discussing masks and vaccines or politics and faith. To be Christ-centered means we’re always in a discerning posture, seeking to understand and engage with one another in a gracious manner and with a humble heart.
Many of you have heard me speak of my delight in a Belmont T-shirt I once saw that communicated a profound message in four short words: “Love God. Love Neighbor.” In practicing hospitality, listening well and offering grace to one another, we are living out that simple yet important command and taking significant steps to being an agent of hope for all to see.