Athletics, Music, and the Performing Arts - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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President's Desk
September 24, 2015

Athletics, Music, and the Performing Arts

The Corporation established by the Charter of Geneva College “is formed for religious, educational, charitable, cultural, scientific, and research purposes.” As part of its cultural purpose, Geneva sponsors a robust athletic, music, and performing arts program alongside its classroom instruction. Geneva does not require its students to play in its large band, sing in its traveling chorus, act in a play, or take part in a sport, but it encourages them to do so, and provides ample opportunities.

The connection between mathematics and music is ancient. Music was part of one ancient Liberal Arts curriculum, the “Quadrivium.” Arithmetic was number in itself, Geometry was number in space, Music was number in time, and Astronomy was number in time and space. The Bible itself expects everyone to sing praise to God: it exhorts believers to bring “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name (Hebrews 13:16).” Untrained people often prefer to be mere spectators of music performed by professionals, but everyone can learn how to sing. One of the challenges that the Protestant Reformers faced was encouraging and requiring whole congregations to join in singing -- a challenge Geneva faces in its chapel program.

Athletic contests, unlike music, were not part of ancient Liberal Arts education or the Christian humanist classical tradition. But athletics belong at a Christian Liberal Arts College, especially today. Paul views racing and boxing as good analogies for the self-denial and single-mindedness of the Christian life (I Corinthians 9:26). Sports competitions live the truth that we are body and soul, not souls trapped in bodies, as ancient and modern gnostic heresies hold. Each person’s identity is inseparable from his body and its lifetime of use. Jesus’ hands and feet still bear the marks of the nails that held him to his cross, and at our deaths our bodies “being still united to Christ do rest in the grave until the Resurrection (WSC Q. 37).” In athletics, as in music, mind and body work together in a way that cannot be replaced or even approached by book learning or classroom study. As our bodies run, jump, collide, throw, and hit in athletic contests, we run, jump, collide, throw, and hit. The body is not something alien or different from the real person.

The point of a game, of course, is to win! The Apostle Paul uses both training and the goal of winning sports’ contests to describe the Christian life.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly (I Corinthians 9:24-26)….

There is a special human pleasure found in striving with others, according to the rules, to prevail over an opponent. Sports are fun! To win, an athlete trains, learns perseverance, obeys a coach, and sacrifices for a team. Athletes learn just how hard they can work. On the fields of Geneva, players make friends for life, and there some have met Christ. Winning attracts favorable attention from alumni, prospective students, and the Beaver Valley: it shows, “They do things well there.” Local media regularly report sports results because people are interested in them. It is important for Geneva to foster winning sports programs.

In a band or chorus or stage play, students learn many of the same lessons as in sports: obedience to a director, discipline, and self-sacrifice. Like athletics, music involves the body, the body singing, playing a musical instrument, or moving and speaking on a stage. Minds and bodies act as the unity God made them to be. And like Geneva’s sports program, its music programs bring it before the public eye.

Ancient and modern Gnostics view the human body as a malleable tool of the soul (or mind, or personality), to be changed if so desired to suit a person’s preferences or “true identity.” The Bible teaches that God made Man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him, and it was very good. The separation of soul and body at death is both punishment and tragedy. In athletics and the performing arts, participants show respect for the body, with proper diet, rest, exercise, and repair. Gnostics think of the body as a mere tool, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy: bodily sex brings pleasure, so any limitation on those pleasures is oppressive; the female body can become pregnant, so intervene when a pregnancy is inconvenient and abort the baby; bodies become old and painful, so intervene and kill the infirm at their “request;” people with perfectly healthy bodies don’t like them, so intervene with surgery.

Sports and the performing arts reveal the truth that our bodies define us significantly. We cannot do or be anything we like. Sopranos cannot sing bass, but they can sing soprano; small men cannot play competitive football, but they can run races. How stupid and perverse it would be surgically to turn the soprano into a bass, or to give growth hormones to the small man to make him a tackle! Athletics and music teach students in a concrete way what the classroom cannot teach, that body and soul together make a person, and what belongs to the body and what belongs to the soul is often hard to tell. In today’s world, sports and music live the truth: God created us body and soul, both good and to be used and cared for to His glory.

About a decade ago, Geneva wisely changed its athletic program to become an NCAA Division III school. Division III schools have bigger squads, more athletic instruction, and greater opportunity for most athletes than scholarship Division I or Division II schools. Furthermore, their athletes are more likely to stick with their school if they drop their sport than at Division I or II schools. About a third of Geneva students play a sport!

One final point: sometimes the eye may despise the foot, and the finger may not understand the ear, but all are necessary to the body. Likewise in a college, Faculty may sometimes complain that sports are “overemphasized.” That can certainly happen, but it should be remembered that athletic and music opportunities help to recruit and retain students. In its goal to be a Christian institution of higher education that furthers cultural aims, Geneva rightly maintains a strong athletic, music, and performing arts program. 

 

Dr. William Edgar, Interim President


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