I think it sounds a bit like a computer game or an Indiana Jones film, but in actual fact ‘Temples and Towers’ is an exercise I made up when thinking through the culture we live in and the universities we are placed in as the people of God. I’ve ended up using this exercise on the road with bunches of student leaders as a way to become more aware of the fact that no ground is neutral in this world.
Your city, your campus, your social group has an effect on you and is communicating and representing something. It can be something of God. It can also be something that conflicts with the ways of God’s kingdom. It’s definitely not neutral though, we cannot assume we are unaffected by where we are and what we live in. As the people of God the question isn’t, ‘does my uni culture have an effect on me and how I live for Jesus?’ the question is, ‘what effect is this culture having on me and how am I representing Jesus in it?’
When you explore throughout the Bible the significance of cities (high concentrations of people living in an area… like a campus for instance…) you realise quickly that God has a lot to say about cities and their significance. Put very simply, cities end up falling into two opposing camps in the bible. Either we see a city built by human hands, in rebellion and a place of evil, where humans elevate themselves to the position of God. The city of Babylon falls into this category, where the tower of Babel was built explicitly by humans to create an identity for themselves separate to God, the highest point over the city:
Genesis 11: 4 “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
And so we have our 'towers' part of the exercise. Where in your university and city are there things in your culture that are built separate to anything that glorifies God? Where are the towers that try to stand for something that clashes with the kingdom of God? Towers of pride, towers of money being the ultimate goal, towers of poverty, towers of prejudice.
The other kind of city we come across in scripture is God’s ultimate plan and vision for humanity’s home. A garden-city, the New Jerusalem, a place of streams and trees and walls and gates, a flourishing civilisation where God rules and the whole thing is built in partnership between God and his people for his glory. In 1 Kings 14 we see humanity attempting this vision with God in the establishing of Jerusalem as the home of the presence of God. In 2 Samuel 5 we see the highest point of this God-city being the place the temple is built, on mount Zion. Worship and glory to God is put pride of place. Temples.
Where in your university do you see things in the culture that reflect something of the heart of God and the way of his Kingdom? What can you celebrate and see thrive in your city as it isn’t clashing with our faith but is actually something we want to encourage? Temples of generosity and inclusivity, temples of hope and social conscience, environmental awareness and integrity?
I’d have to write another blog or a whole paper to go into the fact we are the people of God called to be exiles in Babylon who work for the good of our city and to see it flourish, even though it isn’t the ‘New Jerusalem’(Jeremiah 28-29). But for now, how about start by writing down on a big sheet of paper everything about your uni city and your university culture that you notice. What it’s known for, the stats, the trends, the stereotypical students there, its strengths and weakness. All of the things that form this ground we live on. And then go through and mark which things stand out as ‘temples’, which stand out as ‘towers’, and where do you find the two in ‘tension’ because it could go either way?
My prayer is we become culture-aware, campus-aware and presence-of-God-aware in the place our two feet are, where we have been put by God to represent Jesus and bring his kingdom.