This semester I am teaching Theological Anthropology, an online class with an enrollment of 50 undergraduates. The goal of the course is to explore what it means to be truly human in relation to God and other people. Taking a cue from the classic Rock-Paper-Scissors game, for the first assignment I decided to substitute the term humanity for scissors. Rock, paper, scissors became rock, tree, human. Students were required to post three responses to this question: Why are you happy to be a human being and not a rock or a tree or any other entity? Here is a flavor of their answers.
The typical male response was concise and practical:
“I am glad I am a human being because (1) I can dispel boredom by playing internet games, (2) I can root for my favorite team, and (3) I can create and enjoy delicious food combinations. Rocks, plants or any other animal on the globe cannot do these things and we can. Being a human is it.”
The typical female response tended to be more relational:
“There are many reasons why I am glad that I am a human being and not some other entity. One is that I have free will. I can think, make choices and act without restraints. Before I did this assignment, I never realized how much I value being a human being with free will. This is something I never thought too much about. I enjoy my freedom to navigate my life and determine how my future ends up. Although life can spin some unexpected curve balls and throw a person off, we are still able to determine most of what happens to us. Another reason I'm happy I'm human is because I can leave an imprint on the world and on my family. What I mean by this is that whatever I decide to do with my life, when it's all over there will be an effect I leave behind, whether it's a big effect or a minor one. Finally, as a human being, I believe it is important to have a connection with God through religion. I value that connection in my life now more than I ever realized before.”
Professors may confess that we learn as much from our students as they learn from us and from one another. When I finished reading these posts from our 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-old young adults, I realized how much they are incorporating the ideals handed down from their family, their educators and their faith. True, they may be spending an inordinate amount of time thumbing text messages on their smart phones. But this doesn't mean they are not listening and absorbing the values that older generations hold dear. While they may often appear aloof, our youth are far more attentive than any pillar, plant, or pet on the planet. Thank God.
For Holy Homework: Let's place a stone (this can be as handy as a quartz ring from a jewelry box) and a greenery (this can be a single herbal leaf from a seasoning bottle on the spice rack) in the center of the kitchen table. Then, let's sit quietly for a few minutes observing these symbols of rock and tree and ask ourselves the question: What makes us happiest that we are human, rather than any other entity on earth, especially in terms of our relationship with God and others?
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