Monday, January 11, 2010

The Christian Roommates

I can still remember my first day of college, and how uneasy I was meeting the guy that I’d be sharing a tiny room with all year long. His name was Gary, and as it turned out, we were night and day—that is he was Mr. Nighttime and I was Mr. Goodmorning. By the end of the year Gary and I were the only two guys on our floor who were still living together. We weren’t great friends, but we managed.

John Updike tells a story (The Christian Roommates) about two Christian roommates that were night and day. Orson Ziegler was the pride of his home town in South Dakota. He came to Harvard with all the right credentials—great grades, high IQ, athletic physique, and leadership successes at school and in his church. And he was sure that he was going to be a doctor just like his Dad. Henry Palamountain was also very bright, bright enough to be accepted at Harvard. The similarities between these two young men really end right there.

Henry was inquisitive, mischievous, spiritually eclectic, and socially peculiar. You’ll have to read the story sometime, because the delight of Updike’s writing is in the details and descriptions. If there is a “lesson” in this story, and I’m not sure that Updike really wrote this story to teach a lesson, it is this: the perfectly planned life can isolate a student from genuine engagement and personal growth. Ziegler had already decided what kind of person he was going to be, and nothing that he encountered during his college years really challenged or changed him. He was as judgmental and certain and driven when he left college as he was when he arrived. He had many opportunities to explore and to discuss things with his strange roommate Henry and others, but he preferred to keep his distance from unusual ideas and unusual people.

Much of the learning that you will encounter during the college years won’t come in the classroom. It will take place as you discuss things with your roommate and friends, as you encounter other cultures and customs, as you invest in a service project or a church youth group, and as you show grace to unusual people. Learning isn’t confined to the classroom and it isn’t simply acquired through hard work. Learning is as wide as life, and at times it takes place as we play and serve and wonder.

--Donald Opitz


drownthehero18 said...

The story is awesome and i did pick up a lesson as i read along. Im a senior in high school and its good to have a heads up about my post high school years. I like the insight on the story, very nicely written.

kybux said...

Just finished reading the story, and I haven't decided whether it's a favorite. Nonetheless, it is well-written and the detail is excellent--very enjoyable. And I agree, there is some truth to the story: the experiences I had with my roommate freshman year were frustrating at times (i.e. wakinging up at 3 a.m. to a figure stumbling around the room, poorly attempting to keep quiet; a ridiculous amount of passive agresive behavior; etc.) but very helpful in learning to tolerate and, ultimately, live in a society full of different people. I think, however, that Updike was also alluding to the fact that there are two types of "Christians": those people that seek out every opportunity to serve others and follow Christ(Hub) and the type that concern themselves so much with how well others are serving that they themselves loose what it means to follow Christ (Orson). Just some thoughts, and nice post by the way.