Making Connections between Academic Knowledge, Experiential Learning, Faith, and Vocation

As part of our Quality Enhancement Plan, we at Lee University have set ourselves the task of showing how to make connections between academic knowledge, experiential learning, faith, and vocation in our courses.  This is a bit daunting.  Here are some initial, tentative thoughts as I try to sort through this complex web of ideas.

Since the QEP seems to assume that faith played out in vocation is foundational, I will try to start there and then work toward relating academic knowledge, as gained through experiential learning (application), back to faith and vocation.  If you don’t care to see how I relate all our creative work back to Genesis, you might want to skip the beginning.  (Of course, you might want to skip the whole thing, and I would not be offended to know that you had.)

When God shaped the world, as described in Genesis, he designated one part of the world a “garden,” something set apart from the land all around it.  What set it apart is the thoughtful ordering of that parcel of land.  There is both functionality and beauty in gardens.  There is food, but there are also flowers.  After designing this garden for Adam’s good, God handed it over to Adam to tend it.  He gave Adam dominion over it and over the whole world.  God gave Adam the job of shaping the garden and filling it with plants as he saw fit, even as God himself had taken the earth in a state of formlessness (“Now the earth was formless and void”) and then shaped and filled it.  Adam was given a task that God had modeled for him, both in his creation of the world and in his creation of this garden.

Made in God’s image, Adam and we, his offspring, are creative shapers of the world around us.  As musicians, we shape and fill the air with sounds.  Like a gardener choosing the layout of his or her garden plots and picking flowers to put in them, a musician shapes the contours of his or her music (into phrases, maybe) and picks the sounds to use (the timbres, chord qualities, textures, and so on).  Our creative work in shaping music, might take the form of composing or improvising, but it might also take the form of shaping the dynamics, the timing, and the articulations of melodies passed down to us through sound or through score.  The performer who reads from a score shapes the music as he or she calls it into being in performance or, as a conductor, calls it forth from an ensemble.

The sum of all our music making is musical culture.  As musicians, we are culture makers and shapers.  To make music in service to God and for his glory is to contribute to God’s redemptive project in this world.  He takes people dead in sin, breathes life into them by his Spirit’s presence, and then begins fashioning us into the image of his Son.  We become restored image-bearers.  These acts of creation are no less amazing than the creative work described Genesis.  “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come.”  We engage in redemptive service when we, animated by God’s Spirit, live to his glory, bringing beauty where there was the stink of death.  “Has God called you to speak?  Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.”  Has God called you to make music?  Then make music as though God himself were performing through you.  “Has he called you to serve others?  Then do it with all the strength and energy that he supplies.”  He gives us gifts for this purpose: to serve one another for his glory.  Therefore we in whom his Spirit lives should use the musical gifts he has given with all his “strength and energy.”  We look to create music in order to serve others for his glory, not to look good in front of others.  We focus on creating beauty in response to his glory, not on exalting our own image before other men and women.  They are his gifts; without him we can do nothing.  We take back beauty from the alter of self and give it as an offering to God and as a gift to others.  That is redemptive service.

How does one do that in a theory course?  By encouraging students to appreciate and create beauty, and recognize it all (including our ability to appreciate and create) as a gift from God.  We give students opportunities to revel in great music, to understand and enjoy that music.  We take time to hear and analyze, to perform music they are working on, and to think about how we might better shape that music in performance.  We give them opportunities to compose, to write and revise until they have created something of beauty.  And then we give them opportunities to perform their music.  This might be in front of their peers or in front of other audiences, but in this way music becomes a gift to others.

We have been considering what it means to make integrative syllabi.  In so far as we show the students in our theory course why they should care about studying and creating music, and how their work in that theory class relates to future endeavors they might pursue, we have accomplished the goals of an integrative syllabus.  When we assign activities in which students apply what they are learning to creative projects and allow them to share their work with others, we give them opportunities to experience the thrill of offering their gifts and skills to others for the glory of God.  Maybe our syllabi already articulate this, but we can make improvements wherever they do not do so or where they can be made to do so more clearly.  The new QEP has the potential to focus our attention on the application of academic knowledge in our courses, and it encourages us to make explicit how that application models ways in which our students might use that knowledge in the future to serve others and glorify God.

Well, there.  I finally got back to the QEP.  Sorry for the length of this missive.

Best wishes,
Austin

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