by Joanie Butman
The college admissions scandal dominated the news this week. What surprised me most was not that it was a reality, but that it is news at all. Anyone who has been through the process is well aware of the inequities that plague the college admissions system. The only difference in these cases is that the perpetrators crossed a legal boundary. Wealthy parents have been ‘buying’ entrance into elite schools forever. It starts long before college. Making a six or seven-figure ‘donation’ may not be considered a ‘bribe’ legally nor is joining the board, but let’s just call a spade a spade. My own children enjoyed privileges so many others lack – living in an area with excellent schools, access to test prep tutoring and college counseling, along with the ability to finance college and graduating without crippling debt. Whenever my children moaned about life not being fair, I made a point of reminding them that if it were, they’d have a lot less.
Personal connections aren’t illegal but can be pivotal during the admissions process. This type of elitism is not confined to college applications either. Knowing the right people often helps in the job market as well. I remember when my children were entering the work force. They implored me and my husband, “Don’t you have any connections?” “Yes, of course, if you want to be a pastor or a plumber.” Sadly, our ‘peeps’ were unable to make introductions for them in their areas of interest.
As I said, there is nothing new about elitist behavior. It’s innate in a vertical society, and entitlement is as old as man. Even the religious community is plagued with the same imbalances. There was a time you could buy indulgences* for forgiveness of sins in the Catholic church. I suppose purgatory, which I’ve been told has been moved to Cleveland (because you sure can't find it in the Bible), is filled with those whose sin exceeded their wealth. And whose doesn’t? The reason Christ came is because we can’t afford the price of admission into Heaven, which is exactly what Martin Luther asserted in his 95 Theses. We’re saved by grace alone, which transcends all racial and economic boundaries. It’s free for all.
That said, having good spiritual connections does help because Christ is our proxy. Our entrance fee is paid in full once and for all when we come to Him in faith. But then we face the daily choice of surrendering our will to Christ, which is no easy feat. We all have to do the work individually. No one else can tackle our ‘tests’ for us or we’d never learn the difficult but necessary lessons. Regardless, as with so many other things, the human tendency is to seek out shortcuts, or to rely on our own resources whether it be financial as in the early church, or abiding by rules, performing good works or ‘being a good person’ – which could mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask.
A healthy relationship with Christ is the goal, and good spiritual connections help make that goal a reality. Christianity is not a solo endeavor. Fellowship with other believers provides the preparatory curriculum necessary for life – and ultimately, death. Choosing to surround yourself with other Christians who will hold you accountable, encourage you, and carry you at times when you are being ‘tested’ is definitely a wise choice because, as it says in Proverbs 27, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
We are all students in God’s world. Being part of a Christian community is important, but ultimately, we have to invest in the future by putting in the time and effort to build a relationship with Christ now. That process begins with acceptance and surrender. Was it fair that He suffered the ultimate test to ‘get us in?’ No, which is what makes His act of love so personal. Tim Keller eloquently reduces the gospel message in one sentence, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Why not choose to meditate on that one sentence as part of your Lenten observation and let it sink into the deepest recesses of your heart? When you truly understand and believe that message, you’ll be able to appreciate the price that was paid by Christ for our admission into our eternal home. Nothing illegal about that!
*Indulgence: a pardon for certain types of sin. The Catholic Church sold indulgences in the late medieval period, and their sale motivated Martin Luther to present his 95 Theses.