Inauguration of Dr. Craft
- Dr. William J. Craft Inaugural Address
- John Ydstie '74: Seminar Introduction
- Dr. John Churchill: Seminar Presentation
- Dr. Susan O'Shaughnessy: Response to Dr. Churchill
- Dr. Earl Lewis '78: Seminar Presentation
- Dr. Linda Johnson: Response to Dr. Lewis
- Speaker Biographies
- Introduction of the Forum on Faith and Life
- Inaugural Chapel Sermon
- Dr. Jacqueline Bussie Biography
- Rev. Renee Splichal Larson Biography
Introduction of the Forum on Faith and Life
Dr. Jacqueline Bussie
Director of the Forum on Faith and Life and Associate Professor of Religion
When you watch CNN and the evening news, do you find yourself filled with longing for something more? When you look at the world in which we find ourselves, are you sometimes filled with a soul-felt longing for a world that is better and otherwise than what we have now?
If so, you are not alone. During the first half of this year, the provost and the president had me on a listening tour, both on campus and well beyond it – in our churches, in our communities, in other colleges and universities across the nation, and no matter where I was, I asked everyone the same two questions. What do you long for, spiritually, religiously? And how can the Forum on Faith and Life best serve your community and that longing? And what was interesting was that no matter where I traveled on behalf of the Forum, no matter who I was talking to – whether it was an ELCA pastor living in a FEMA trailer in Minot, or a religion professor in Kenya whom I met at an international conference, or a student in my “Problem of Evil” class this semester, the same colored threads kept running through their answers. Everywhere I went, people yearned for three vivid threads to be woven more often into the tapestry of their life: More time. More community. More respect and agape.
1) More time. The people I met expressed a deep longing for more time to do some go-down-deep soul work. They, like me, long for more time for reflection and the examined life. People expressed to me a longing to carve time out of their lives to slow down and reflect together on the things that really matter. Questions like: What is my life for? Who am I called to be, and where am I most needed? What is God up to in the world? Why do we suffer, so much and so long? Where is hope to be found? In a word, the people I met want more time to tend to the garden that is their faith. In that, perhaps they are just like you.
2) More community. People expressed the desire to have more of an authentic connection to one another, to not live lives of such isolation. To spend more time with the people they love and admire, and never stop learning from them. To make new friends. To be around people who are truly present, not checking their cellphone and their watch every five minutes.
3) More respect and agape. Across the board, I kept hearing that not only do people want to talk together to share their stories, they want to be listened to with respect, care, agape and civility. We long for authentic dialogue, and not the endless debate of contemporary politics and C-SPAN. Many young people in particular, I find, are down-to-their-marrow weary of the endless stream of hate, conflict and division we are bequeathing to them. Differences matter and they are important, but when did we start buying into the destructive myth that differences must divide and divorce us one from another? Is it not possible both to celebrate our God-given uniqueness, and also to seek what we hold in common? In the words of national ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, the God of the gospel calls us to be stewards of unity within diversity in a culture that confuses unity with uniformity. People yearn so deeply to be heard and understood. Understanding is not the same thing as agreement, and yet we conflate the two. Most of us don’t always need to be agreed with, but all of us want to be understood. Christ calls us to love our enemies, yet in our polarized, fist-pounding culture, we no longer even talk to those with whom we disagree. We all think we know how to listen, but genuine listening, especially across difference, takes work and practice. As I wrote in a recent publication, we all think listening comes naturally to us, like breathing, when really listening is more like swimming, learning not to breathe at the right time. (“Reconciled Diversity: Reflections on Our Calling to Embrace Our Religious Neighbors,” by Jacqueline Bussie, Intersections, Number 33, Spring 2011, 30-35).
So what is the Forum on Faith and Life? In short, it is a humble answer to this bold collective longing – to live more, to be more, connect, love, and listen more and, in short, mend this fractured world. For who will do it, if not us?
Formally stated, the Forum on Faith and Life, an expression of the college mission, has a threefold purpose that grows out of our three shared longings. First, the Forum on Faith and Life gathers people together from all walks of life and provides a space for thoughtful and informed reflection on all issues of ultimacy, including faith, life, justice, meaning, ethics, vocation, theology, service, hope, mystery, spirituality and peace-building. Second, the Forum on Faith and Life fosters a deeper, more compassionate understanding of one another and our life together, in defiance of traditional boundaries and stereotypes that all too often hinder authentic relationship. And third, in order to achieve that understanding, the Forum creates exciting local and global opportunities to serve and encounter the intrafaith and interfaith neighbor. Directing the Forum on Faith and Life matches my life’s mission more than I ever dreamed possible; for I have always been a Christian who is filled with longing for a more compassionate world. I am a theologian who longs for the academy to have more of a relationship with the church, and I am a lifelong Lutheran who longs for the Lutheran church as a whole to have a greater connection to the world and other faith communities.
And what of Concordia’s mission? How does the Forum help us fulfill Concordia’s mission? Concordia’s mission statement is “to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.” Have we heard this so many times that its bravado is lost on us? Think about what I just said … not many school’s mission statements start with the world. The thing I love best about Concordia is this wildly audacious, shout-it-from-the-mountain-top insistence that the real goal of a college education is to prepare young people to do what? To go out and change the world. Talk about aiming high! Just yesterday in class, in a theology seminar offered by the Forum on Faith and Life called the “Problem of Evil,” I had a student say these words in her final presentation: “When I went through middle school, I felt there was nothing I could do. I was from Grand Forks, N.D., the middle of nowhere. Friends would return from travels telling how people would question if North Dakota was even part of the states or a part of Canada. I didn’t matter. I couldn’t matter. My dreams of changing the world I kept to myself for fear of being laughed at. Being in this class has helped wake me up from society’s coma and see I am not the only one who wants to change the world. … This entire class has been a hope meditation for me. I can now see that I’m not the only person who, as Alice Walker (stated it in our course reading) ‘Everything I would like other people to be for me, I want to be for them.’ I stand with some of the brightest minds I’ll ever meet and we’re not afraid to hold hands as we tear down walls … together.” The theme of our whole core curriculum is BREW: becoming responsibly engaged with the world. Engaged with the world, influence the affairs of the world, make the world into something better and broader than it was before they arrived and filled it with their dreams and hopes. The emphasis here at Concordia is always about making the world into that more for which we collectively long. And here at Concordia, we understand that process has to begin with making ourselves more as well.
By now I am sure and I hope you are wondering, what concretely, on the ground is the Forum doing to achieve this mission?
This year the Forum on Faith and Life has traveled to many places, and it has done this because, in a very real sense, the Forum is all of you. The word forum means any place where people gather for open and public discussion. The Forum is an ongoing conversation where we all talk to each other, not an institute where someone talks at us. It’s also not a center that stays put. No, The Forum moves because the people of God are on the move, and so is their hope. This year, for example, Concordia College’s Forum on Faith and Life traveled to Ensenada, Mexico, leading students on a Justice Journey where we served the poor of that community by teaching English and breaking ground for a new community kitchen for single moms. The Forum traveled to Bemidji, Minnesota, when five ELCA pastors called me and said, “Jacqueline, when our parishioners come to ask us about Islam and its relationship to Christianity, we don’t know what to tell them, and we long to give them answers beyond media sound bites.” And so the Forum found itself in a packed house in Bemidji, and I found myself giving a five-hour workshop answering thoughtful questions Christians have about Islam. The Forum traveled to Williston to learn about the oil patch and the great spiritual and socio-economic needs there. The Forum traveled with the Rev. Tom Schlotterback, the director of Vocation and Church Leadership, and the Advancement Office to a flooded and broken Minot, and discovered that the people there were longing for music and, thus, was born the Flood of Love concert where The Concordia Orchestra went to Minot, bringing financial and spiritual healing for the deluged town. The Forum traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, as four students and myself formed a Concordia delegation that was one of 50 schools nationwide to be accepted to the Interfaith Leadership Institute at Emory University, hosted by the award-winning author Eboo Patel, who will visit our campus in the fall. Just last week the Forum crossed the Atlantic to Assisi, Italy, to a global conference on ecumenism – meaning how Christians might better dialogue with one another – where I presented a paper to the world about the ELCA’s best practices and theological groundings for ecumenism, things I have learned by serving on the national ELCA-United Methodist Church Full Communion committee for the last three years. The Forum headed south to our North Carolina sister school Lenoir-Rhyne University, where I delivered the annual theology lecture on how people of faith use laughter in their lives to resist evil and oppression. The Forum walked two minutes down the road to Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead and the Fargo ELCA pastor’s conference, both just two minutes down the road, where I have shared with both clergy and laity my vision for a Theology of Hope and Spiritual Sustainability, and both of those groups shared with me the sources of hope in their own lives.
All that being said, the three young people who are here with me this morning will share perhaps the most important work of the Forum – that which happens right here in the minds and hearts of Concordia students. So without further ado, let me introduce you to three incredible young people who WILL change the world. I can promise you that, because they already are changing it. Please welcome Mary Beenken, Blake MacKenzie and Anastasia Young. Thank you.