- 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. Larry Papenfuss, Athletic Director
Oct. 5, 2011
Larry Papenfuss, Ph.D.
Theme: Spirit Changing
Title: Complicated Open
Hymn: All Are Welcome vs. 1 and 4
In keeping with this month’s chapel theme of Spirit Changing, I’ve taken the title for my homily today from a phrase by Joseph Sittler, “complicated open”. And, I would like to share how three recent events have caused me to reflect on my Lutheran Liberal Arts Education experience.
The first event has to do with my son, Luke, beginning his senior year in high school. He is being bombarded by colleges seeking to enroll him, and as is typical with many seniors, he views college as the stepping stone to a career. But because he is interested in a major dealing with computer security, there are few Christian liberal arts college options (. . . and I might add -- even fewer where we can apply our tuition exchange). At one point, he brought to my attention that Rasmussen College has a cyber security major!!! . . . Ouch! How do I explain to him the difference in college experiences, and more specifically, the benefits of a liberal arts education? . . . What do we propose to provide with a Lutheran liberal arts education that he cannot get at other institutions? And, more importantly, how do I communicate that value in a way that resonates with an 18 year old. Even for someone steeped in the Lutheran Liberal Arts tradition, this has presented a challenge.
The second event occurred about a month ago when I received a couple of politically motivated email forwards from my brother. One email was written by a decorated WWII veteran. It criticized the President. Labeled him as unpatriotic and anti-Christian, and accused him of subverting the United States by secretly supporting terrorism and Muslims. Whether you agree with the President’s politics or not, it was the underlying racism veiled in patriotism and Christianity, that bothered me --- My initial reaction was to think of Sinclair Lewis’ famous quote from the 1930’s that said when fascism comes to America it will be “wrapped in a flag and carrying a bible.”
The second email supposedly written by a California teacher, criticized the free lunch program while denigrating immigrants and the poor. Again, “we” hard-working Americans were being taken advantage of by “those” illegal, free-loading, Latinos.
The content of these emails caused me to question our different cultural and educational experiences (he being nearly a generation older and educated in a state university). Why were the underlying messages in these emails so offensive to me but seemingly invisible to him? Was he not able to separate criticism from bigotry, to see the complexity in problems, to analyze both sides of an argument, to not accept simplistic answers (especially those veiled in racism) ------ in short, to be a critical thinker?
The third event was the invitation by President Craft to participate in a campus wide-discussion of what it means for Concordia to be a liberal arts college. As a preface to this conversation, he has encouraged us to read William Cronon’s article titled Only Connect. I was first exposed to this article several years ago as a member of the Principia faculty. Principia was the predecessor of the Inquiry Seminars and served as a first year introduction to the liberal arts.
Rather than define a liberal education by courses or requirements, Cronon wisely chooses to focus on the personal qualities that he believes embody liberally educated people. Qualities like: being a good listener, reading, speaking well, writing clearly, being able to solve problems, respecting rigor as a way to truth, practicing humility, tolerance and self-criticism, knowing how to get things done, and empowering people. He states that it is really an education that frees us from our lack of understanding and challenges us not to accept easy answers.
Cronon explains that the word liberal as used in describing liberal education draws from its root meanings of freedom and growth and should not be confused with political liberalism. He also rightly points out that with freedom comes responsibility to the community. Cronon states, and I quote “In the end, it turns out that liberty is not about thinking or saying or doing whatever we want. It is about exercising our freedom in such a way as to make a difference in the world and make a difference for more than just ourselves.” end quote. . . In other words, liberal education connects us to one another.
Lutheran theologian Darrell Jodock, in his article The Lutheran Tradition and the Liberal Arts College: How Are They Related?, echoes these sentiments when he says, quote: “The objective is not merely to “meet the needs of students” or to “help them achieve their own goals”; the objective is to set them free . . .free from and free for “. “Free from prejudice and misplaced loyalties and free for service, wise decision making, community leadership, and responsible living.” end quote.
When I was a child,
I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
It is not easy for us to see the ways in which we are held captive by our unchallenged ways of thinking. We have to be confronted –sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently. And at Concordia that is done by thoughtful people concerned about who we will become. They nudge us to transcend our own self-interest, make it hard for us to accept uninformed answers, and push us to look beyond “me” and to empathize with others. This was the Incurvatus in seof Augustine and Luther, the danger of being “curved in” or focused on ourselves. And, it is no easy task. I, for one, continue to struggle with it, but my education reminds me to guard against being too selfish.
The transformative nature of this type of education is generally not immediately apparent, nor is it seen as necessary, by most 18 year olds. In fact, we may not recognize the value until we are able to view the freedom and growth in retrospect.
As a first year college student, my world view was considerably different than it is now. I had yet to begin to really think for myself. My early world view had been shaped by my family of origin and my community. My parents had grown up during the “great depression” (not the one in the 80’s but the “big one” beginning with the crash of ‘29). My parents were German Lutherans and members of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church which as some of you know, is one of the most theologically and socially conservative branches of Lutheranism. Neither of my parents completed high school and yet my father became a very successful small business owner and strong advocate of education. Hard work was the key to his success, and he believed that the success of others, . . . including the poor, was dependent on their effort. Community service was important - my father served on the church council and the local school board. My mother was our church organist. She lost a brother in WWII, and a second brother was a POW for 18 months before he escaped near the end of the war. Faith and flag were revered in our home . . . as were Paul Harvey, John Wayne, Lawrence Welk, and our baseball heroes.
Our community was very homogeneous. The first person of color in my hometown was an African-American two years younger than I who was adopted by white parents in the early 70’s. No one was openly gay, there was no Title IX, civil rights protestors were “unruly” and Viet Nam war protestors were unpatriotic.
I was the baby of the family, a good student and blessed with a love for reading and a good educational system. In high school, I was challenged but not as much as I would be in college. After graduation, I went to a Lutheran Liberal Arts College in Iowa (that other one whose name I forget!).
My first class was Economics and was taught by a Milton Friedman free-market advocate. Fifteen minutes later I was in Freshman Studies with a Lutheran pastor who had been arrested for protesting nuclear arms proliferation. Soon my head was swimming with new ideas. I met and became friends with a Black teammate from the projects in south Chicago. I learned about the working poor who despite their best efforts, had difficulty breaking through the circumstances that kept them impoverished. I discovered “other” Lutherans who thought differently than Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and I interacted with classmates of other faiths who believed much as I did.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned to read and think more critically. What was the argument being presented, by whom, in what context, for what purpose? Was it a logical argument? What would be the counterargument? I found that real problems generally don’t have simple or easy answers. Some of my attitudes changed, others were strengthened, but all were challenged. I read and wrote and gradually my world expanded.
This exposure to liberal arts education laid the foundation for how I would continue to learn and grow throughout my life. Leaving college and moving to a different part of the country, I became a minority. Now I was the “them” in a culture where Hispanics and Native Americans were the insiders. I took a leadership role in a five year bible study program in the church and I married a PK. I was forced to defend my ideology and my theology with those who had more conservative views, and with those who had more liberal views, than my own. I began to see the more radical Jesus who in the My theology began to inform my understanding of what it means to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Ephesians texts “preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders” and who is “using us all --- irrespective of how we got here --- in what he is building”.
At Concordia as a faculty member, I was blessed to be a co-inquirer with my students and be exposed to more important ideas, books, lectures, discussions, and travel experiences. I led a faculty workshop to the White Earth reservation with a Native American friend. I discussed meditation and worship with a Buddhist monk. I scratched my head over how far to acknowledge the historical Jesus of Crossan and Borg. I travelled abroad with the Spiritual Heritage Seminar sponsored by the Dovre Center. I participated in a sexuality study through Campus Ministry that not only supported my acceptance of homosexuality but expanded it. As Jodock explains, “Such an education endeavors to wean students (and their teachers) from their comfortable uncritical allegiance to societal assumptions and to entice them into both an intense curiosity regarding the worlds beyond their own experience and an intense desire to make their corner of the globe a better place in which to live.”
And so in conclusion, I return to Joseph Sittler’s assertion that Lutheran Liberal Arts seeks to “complicate lives open”. My education consistently presented challenges to ways of thinking that I had too easily accepted and it forced me to examine new ideas, alternative views, and different experiences. Whether or not my views changed, the result of this type of education was a sharpening, or honing of the mind, that in turn led to a deeper understanding of truth and a clearer focus on my purpose in life.
So what do I tell my son, my brother, and President Craft? . . . I tell them that a liberal arts education helps God make me better fit to serve His kingdom. It frees me from my own self-centeredness and connects me to others. Ultimately, that it leads me to a higher sense of calling and a more fulfilling life.
But I haven’t arrived yet, it is an on-going journey. In Luther’s word’s:
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness,
Not health but healing,
Not being but becoming
Not rest but exercise,
We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it,
The process is not yet finished but it is going on,
This is not the end but it is the road,
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.
Defense of all the articles, 1521
So be thankful and open to the opportunity to experience the Spirit Changing your life. It is after all, the purpose of Lutheran Liberal Arts Education.
Soli Deo Gloria
P.S. Luke – Please go to a Lutheran Liberal Arts College!!!