- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Pamela Jolicoeur, the late President of the CollegeTom Schlotterback Installation
April 23, 2010
The set of readings for today is from the lectionary for this coming Sunday. All of them are rooted in a metaphor which is a very familiar one and is why this Sunday in the church year is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Its anchor text, Psalm 23 is the oldest in the set and is one of the most memorized texts from Bible.
There is no question that the Good Shepherd offers one of the most powerful, and comforting, metaphors we have for God. We have the image of God who guides, provides for, and protects us and the image of ourselves as sheep who want for nothing and are shielded from all the dangers that surround us. It has a winsome charm (except, I suspect, for people who really know what sheep are like). It’s a lovely bucolic watercolor image designed to comfort us – kind of a “lullaby.” But it also carries the burden of the familiar and as such doesn’t necessarily challenge us.
One of its problems, it seems to me today as I look out at the late teens and early twenty-somethings gathered here, is that it runs up against your sensibilities. Those of you who are students have had – for the most part – everything you need. That is, you have not had much experience with deprivation or want. You may be on the verge of a modern version of it as our standards for what is sufficient (and therefore of what deprivation consists of) have been raised to unsustainable levels. And you may, in this time of painful discovery of the limits of debt, be more than a little apprehensive about how you will provide for yourself. But we are not talking serious state of want here, so it may be hard to understand the need to rely on the Good Shepherd to provide –to understand the kind of radical dependence on God that is suggested here.
We have also most definitely not been preparing you to be sheep. You of the millennial generation, we learned last fall, have an attitude toward life and the world that isn’t particularly “sheepish.” Yes, you are very interested in connecting with and being accepted by your peers, but you are not so sure you want the vulnerability of being fully known. And, yes, you have developed a troubling tendency to delay your full entry to adulthood. But when you get there, you expect to stand out and succeed. As millenials, you have received a lot of messages about how talented and special you are, so you have acquired a sense of entitlement that carries over to your expectations in the workplace. You expect to be able to shape your jobs to fit your lives. So the bottom line is that being sheep, “in the fullness of their animal existence,” probably doesn’t work for you as a model for the modern Christian, or any other kind, of human life.
Thankfully, the Gospel text from John has Jesus himself complicating the metaphor a bit. He helps us tune into the darker themes in the psalm by reminding us that there are real threats out there and that not all the sheep will follow the right path. So maybe we still need a shepherd’s guidance, even if we’re not sheep.
One reason that parables and metaphors work – or don’t – is that they help us see a deeper truth in the lives we lead. But to really encounter that truth we must often tune into the deeper paradoxes of life. In fact, the truth of life as we experience it is paradoxical. It is almost never a clear cut either-or thing. That’s part of the reason that growing into a mature human being is not a simple process. It is often a struggle, and it takes some of us a really long time to accomplish.
In our society, middle class American youth, and increasingly middle class youth around the world, rarely experience deprivation or want, and they certainly do not want to be viewed as one of the flock. Life is all possibility, you have unique gifts, there are no limits. But deep down, even at the peak of your sense of possibility, you are aware of your limitations and needs. We all long to be fully known, to be connected, to be protected and comforted. We long to hear the Shepherd’s voice – the Shepherd who, it turns out, has a great deal more allowance for our humanity than we typically allow each other or ourselves.
The truth of the Gospel is also profoundly paradoxical. I have a friend who grasps this and conveys it more powerfully than anyone I know – maybe because it was not something he drank in his Sunday school “kool aid” and could take for granted. Richard Hughes was raised in the South in a quasi fundamentalist religious tradition. He encountered Luther early on when he was in graduate school at the University of Iowa but he went on to a career in higher education within his own tradition (he spent most of his years at Pepperdine). In spite of that, he remains to this day and is proud to call himself a “closet” Lutheran.
In his book How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind, Richard speaks to us as a scholarly community when he says that if we wish to nurture or become first rate scholars or leaders who are genuinely thoughtful and reflective, we must embrace our own sheepishness. Well, he doesn’t exactly put it that way, but what he does say is that:
“We must take upon ourselves the ambiguity that inevitably defines the human situation. We must embrace our finitude and be quick to acknowledge our very deep-seated limitations. And we must develop paradoxical ways of thinking and living so that we can listen for deep and lasting truths in opposing points of view.”
That is no small task for us as a college of the Lutheran Church in the year 2010. We aren’t hearing much in the pervasive media these days about ambiguity or paradox, let alone that the truth might be found there. And we have no shortage of critics who are ready to judge us as more or less Christian on the basis of their particular interpretation of what that means.
For my friend Richard, the ultimate paradox is the central message of the Gospel, captured for him in the words of Martin Luther which are a perfect refrain for this Easter season: “We say, in the midst of life we die. God answers, no, in the midst of death we live.”
Richard has had two very scary brushes with mortality, so those words hold more powerful meaning for him than for most of us. And they inspire him to live a life of radical gratitude to God for the gift of life itself, to engage in acts of grace, and to inspire his students to have a comparable sense of gratitude and service.
That is what we hope we are doing at Concordia College – not producing sheep, but nurturing scholars and leaders who can listen for deep and lasting truths in opposing points of view and instilling in our students the desire to live lives of gratitude for the gift we have all received by serving their brothers and sisters in the human community.
So, as we revel in the promise of Easter, reflected in the new life we see all around us, let us recommit ourselves as members of the Concordia College Corporation and community to grounding our action in our radical faith and trust in God but also to engaging our minds to discern and make right choices.
And let us welcome into our community a new shepherd who is schooled in the paradox of the Gospel; whose skills have been refined in the crucibles of parenthood, friendship, and parish ministry; and who brings fresh energy to finding and tending our flock.
Pamela M. Jolicoeur