When I start essays or reflections, I often try to look up the word or words I attempt to center my writing around. With Stephen Garber's book The Fabric Of Faithfulness, one of the obvious words is praxis. Using Google as my dictionary, I found some unique definitions of the word (including that praxis is one of the moons around the Klingon home planet of Qu'noS). In a general sense, praxis is defined as taking an idea and translating it into action – in other words, putting your money where your mouth is. However, when taken from a more educational framework (which is most often the framework we must work in as campus ministers), praxis can be defined as such:
Praxis is a complex activity by which individuals create culture and society, and become critically conscious human beings. Praxis comprises a cycle of action-reflection-action… Characteristics of praxis include self-determination (as opposed to coercion), intentionality (as opposed to reaction), creativity (as opposed to homogeneity), and rationality (as opposed to chance).
In this definition, there is a greater sense of looking at one's actions critically, and interpreting them through the lens of one's worldview to determine appropriate actions. However, it is often difficult to find a consistent worldview in light of the many shifting movements in contemporary culture. Even with things as simple as drinking alcohol underage, depending on the place, the situation, or the people one's with can critically influence their praxis. It is in this space where we, as campus ministers, can find our highest calling.
In the cycle of action-reflection-action, we often find ourselves in the reflection stage of our student's lives. This is just not simply happenstance, but rather stemming from, as Garber puts it “a moral imperative – with all the pleasures and pains implicit in that decision.” This means that we often are at the crossroads of major decisions – perhaps we speak into a student's life about how they approach their classwork when after a test they studied for and failed, they have no desire to study any more. Maybe we help someone who's struggling with a relationship by listening, asking questions, and guiding them through rough waters. Maybe we let students disappoint us, and love them anyway.
What matters the most is our willingness to be along side and be community members to our students, allowing them to find answers on their own, with help from us along the way. By giving them the opportunity to see life through our worldview and encourage them to make it their own, we enable them to walk down a path where they can grow alone, but be guided with help – in many ways creating a self-determinate process.
This reminds me a lot of my work as a resident director. While I cannot always be in each of my student's lives at all times, what I can do is model a worldview and encourage students to enter into it as they seek their own ways of doing things – whether that's conversations, or programming I create. My goal is to have students develop praxis for living each time I enter my building. And while at times it works better than others, being there is most the battle. By allowing students space, but providing a model for life, we are able to help students reflect and gain a praxis which can change the world.