By Dr Ryan Messmore
THERE we were in the maternity ward awaiting the birth of our first son.
My wife, Karin, grimaced in pain as another contraction began.
That was my cue. I pressed “play” on my laptop computer and turned the screen toward her.
Surprised and a bit confused, she watched a 60-second video of one of our graduate students engaged in a strenuous activity – for example, lifting weights.
Each time she began another contraction, I played another video.
One showed a different student pushing a golf cart after its battery died; the next revealed students vigorously pumping air into bicycle tyres.
In each video the students yell out encouragements to Karin like “keep going” and “you can do it”.
I’m not sure this is how Karin imagined her first labour playing out, but she appreciated the thought behind it.
Earlier that semester I taught classes on Christian community and bearing one another’s burdens.
Although the students knew they wouldn’t be present physically during Karin’s labour – and they couldn’t bear that actual burden – they wanted to demonstrate their support in the next-best way.
When Karin was called upon to start “pushing”, she would know that they were pushing something as well, and cheering her on throughout the process.
When St Paul instructs the early church to “bear one another’s burdens”, the word he uses is allelon, meaning “one another, mutually, reciprocally”.
The word occurs 100 times in the New Testament, including “welcome one another” (Romans 15:7), “forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13), and “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
This suggests that Christian discipleship is inescapably tied to relationships with others.
Following Christ has direct implications for how we treat one another. In short, the Christian life is life together – it is intrinsically communal.
We shouldn’t be surprised about this, for we are made in the image of a God whose very nature is community – God’s life is life together among Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When Mary gave birth to Jesus, she delivered into the world not merely an individual human son, but the second person of the Trinity.
His named is called Emmanuel, “God with us”. This means that the life together that exists within the triune Godhead became available to us in Jesus. What an awe-inspiring Christmas gift!
Communities of learning
The communal nature of the Christian life should have significant implications for higher educational institutions, especially those that are motivated by and teach about a Christian worldview.
This year Brisbane saw the birth of a new Christ-centred, tertiary liberal arts institute that takes the theme of community seriously.
The Millis Institute believes that transformational learning occurs amidst life together.
Peers turning to one another to ask questions or share insights.
Faculty members eating meals together and inviting students into their conversations. Staff and students worshipping side-by-side.
These practices flourish amongst a community of learning, where people spend time face-to-face with one another, inside and outside the classroom.
It’s primarily through cultivating such relationships that students develop the trust necessary to follow where teachers lead – i.e. to focus on what teachers ask them to focus on and to love what they encourage them to love.
A central practice for cultivating community is eating together.
Tomorrow, December 21, as part of Christian Heritage College’s “Next Steps” night, the Millis Institute will offer potential students not only guidance on pathway options but also a free cup of pizza soup. Details are available at www.millis.edu.au.
This week let us all remember the ultimate Christmas gift: life together with God, made possible by the one who guides our steps, bears our burdens, and welcomes us into his divine family.
Dr Ryan Messmore is the director of the Millis Institute Brisbane. Before moving to Brisbane, Dr Messmore served as president of Campion College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Sydney. He received his bachelor’s degree in public policy and religion from Duke University. He holds master’s degrees in theology and Christian ethics from Duke Divinity School and Cambridge University. He received his doctorate in political theology from Oxford University.