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College Celebrates 55th Convocation: Photogallery - Convocation Address
Foundation, Vision, and Preparation: the Liberality of a Trinity Education in the Real World
Convocation Address by Brad Breems
Sociology Department, Trinity Christian College
August 28 2013
President Timmermans, Provost Rudenga. Students, former and new. Colleagues fresh and ready. Today we convoke –called together to begin our renewed work together. Though dressed differently, faculty, students, and staff have a common vocation to begin this year before God and with our collegiate purpose defined. In this title, I chose three features of a Christian liberal arts education” Solid foundation: God as God and God revealed. Vision based on a long tradition yet always re-forming. Preparation: gaining knowledge and wisdom; contextualizing; critiquing. Preparation, not regimentation. Done well; not forever. Some think preparation is wasteful, even harmful. Late 19th-Early 20th Century social reformer Jane Addams called preparation a snare. Can we sit and prepare when, in spite of dreams, inequality still flourishes in the United States and certainly in the world? 5,000 shooting deaths in Chicago since 2001; Syria and Egypt in turmoil, with deliberation about U.S. and British involvement occurring today. Ongoing genocide in Darfur. And the globe warms as we continue to use vast amounts of fossil-fuel-power to keep our privileged life. We must be careful to not be seduced and snared by comfortable mere preparation.
Don’t come here, students, to escape the “real world” for a few years, or to merely get ready for reality. We are the real world, too. True, there are different slants of and on reality, but its basis is singular. Our curriculum is designed to authentically integrate us with the Author, the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Origin and Upholder of the web of reality.
A liberal arts institution is different from a professional school, vocational school, technical institute in which specific knowledge is taught more or less by itself. A BA institution embeds such knowledge in the full context of: the visual, written and performing arts; knowledge of mathematics and science; social and psychic awareness; theology and philosophy.
We seek not only to know and do; but to compare, analyze, and critique. Liberality of thought emerges in two ways: first it urges the freedom to think independently. Second, it professes to free all people from the imposition of power, wealth, or tradition by exposure to liberating ideas and options.
Liberation of any sort is ripe for misuse and elitism. After all knowledge is power.
Without a foundation outside the liberal arts themselves, nothing prevents knowledge and cleverness to bypass those people who are burdened and chained to provide the products demanded by the liberal elite.
So who provides a way out of the liberal dilemma of free thought in an unequal world? What can give another model that pursues free thought while wary of creating vastly unequal worlds? It has to be one with a foundation outside of human invention and with a vision for serviceable preparation.
Sounds like a job for the religion of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
This August 28th convocation falls auspiciously on the 50th anniversary of one of this nation’s most significant events: the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
And this is where we turn for today’s featured mode of liberating foundation, vision, and preparation.
Today, I can only focus on the iconic one that bears directly on the theme of the liberality of foundation, vision, and preparation for service.
To show inequality as the distorted, apathetic banality it really is, we turn to the most-known portion of the speech (from among other good ones) associated with that March on Washington.
[Video clip:] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs 12:22-15:05
[“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Martin Luther King Jr.]
Lest this be a distortion, I quote three contextualizing points from the speech:
When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent works of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Was Martin Luther King’s dream unreal because it was a visionary, founded on the Word of God and teachings of Jesus Christ? Was the racism, segregation, political and economic exclusion of the United States of America the real world? And was the counter vision unreal?
This visionary “dream”, built on a foundation of faith, hope, and love, through years of careful preparation – the liberal arts education of people like W.E.B. DuBois, Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, Whitney Young, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King -- bore fruit. But it was not merely the well-rounded formal education – it was a disclosive, critical, experiential, and reasonable view, even without formal education – as in the eloquence of Frederick Douglass, the guts of John Brown, tenacity of Harriet Tubman, or the toughness of Fannie Lou Hamer.
But sometimes more knowledge of wider contexts and more strategic preparation would have driven the point even further if poorly or mis-educated people had not been kept out of political and economic positions. And we applaud the educational achievements of many non-European Americans that led to the assumption of many positions otherwise unattainable, including the U.S. Presidency and many members of state and federal congresses.
Essential to the success of the March on Washington was a firm faith in God and the biblically derived principles of justice propelled and supported many civil rights people and activists. Indeed at the March on Washington, of the 10 people who spoke, six were outspoken Christians, including Patrick O’Boyle, John Lewis, James Farmer, Martin Luther King, Benjamin Mays, and Mathew Ahmann, with two Jewish rabbis, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson who sang and Eva Jessye, who led a Christian choir.
When Martin Luther King uttered his phrase “I have a dream” and echoed it 10 times, was he mouthing what he believed to be a vain illusion? No, he preceded it by heavy references to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and followed it with a nearly identical repletion of the redolent phrase from the hymn; “My Country ’Tis of Thee:” “Let freedom ring!”
And when he said that, he specified the exact places where it rang: New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and California, followed with coy unequivocality by a short list of hot beds of segregation where it did not: Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi …
As the crowd roared and amenned to his “free at last!” he turned and strode off the podium. The very next day, he and others met President Kennedy to lay out their demands. A year later, the Civil Rights Act, two years later, the Voting Rights Act, and three years after that the Fair Housing Act were signed. The real world of yesterday still lived in the minds and actions of opponents, but a new reality, was built on the foundations of vision and preparation.
Trinity Christian College, 2013. Not the drama and significance of a pivotal moment in American history, but we have the urgent mandate of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to make our work count.
The books we read, the ideas we toss about, develop, support, or refute. Those are real. Yes, it is true that when you make a business plan – or a lesson-, treatment-, concert-, or urban plan in a classroom, it does not have the same immediate result as when you employ it in an investment firm, city planning department, hospital, concert hall, police force or school, but it is of the same piece with work that will rise or fall with the market, neighborhood, heart rate, crime rate, or classroom learning. This time of foundational, envisioning preparation is reality too.
Do we believe that the only real world is outside of academic reach? No! We do not!
We do not because so much of what passes for reality is pseudo-real, hyperreal, surreal, unreal and it takes true vision – not merely liberal thought – to critically expose those illusions.
Let me give a brief explanation, as a Christian of a Christian view of humanity. With our larger brains we humans developed symbol systems and language and to have enough intelligence to be able to actually apprehend the Creator as divine, as Logos/The Word and the giver of symbol and word by which to reveal a divine existence beyond this creation and who is its Origin. The empirics by which we know this Logos, revealed as Yahweh, are of another order and we know it primarily by faith.
Deep Christian study of God’s Word in the Bible and creation – with the occasional direct revelations of the Creator – is rewarded by coming to know something of the laws of the universe.
We note that God did not reveal in the form of merely physical or biotic creatures but as a transcendent being who, in the fullness of time, incarnated and dwelled among us, changing the way we act. But also the way we think, feel, and relate to God – no longer as children of Israel, but sons and daughters of the Most High. This God, in Christ and by the ongoing reality of the very Spirit of God – calls us to walk in the divine way. In the Spirit, God calls us to know the laws of the universe as directly, empirically as we can.
As culture, itself, evolves, we participate with God in forming human-based structures such as relationships, alliances, and eventually religion, society and all their institutions, norms, laws, and obligations.
Here, our relation to God becomes especially important because God has revealed words and principles by which we are to norm our relation to the creation, each other, and to God.
Christian sociologist David Lyon gives us the term here: critical integration – integrating a believing faith in God and divine power with the ideas and methods of science to empirically learn about the world – about reality. The academy – Trinity, for example – and researching professors, like those honorably dressed folks here, have an eminent role. Through place and time, benevolent and repressive regimes, capitalist and collectivist economies, the academy has been a thread of human intelligence that has stayed the course – a source and repository of human knowledge. (To acknowledge that, we dress like this, lest we forget.)
Such critical integration it is vital to the kind of perspective Trinity offers. Here we urge you to be moral, but more: We take our faith in God as Origin, Saviour, and Spirit-Power and Presence into the world. From that perspective, we study number and order; energy and force; physics and materiality, life and biotic components; sensitivity, feeling, and mentality; logical order and knowledge; creativity and making; symbol, nuance, and meaning-cognition; sociality, mutual regard and patterns of association; knowledge and stewardship of resources; allusiveness and imaginativity; justice, fairness, and authoritative law; morality, respect, and trustfulness; faith, worship, spirituality, openness to divinity, and confession.
From the simplest evidence of reality – number and space,
through the existence of things and life,
and through our human abilities to form culture and product,
to the most complex of all reality – the belief in God, in divine power, and that which we cannot fully comprehend but can only believe,
– this college teaches us that all things hold together under the mighty power of God, whom we must always seek to know intellectually and with our whole beings, with whom we work cooperatively, stewardly, and faithfully, and who both has made and continues to eternally and progressively make this world. Here, in these halls, you learn the depth and abstraction of facts – facts that you perhaps will never learn as deeply, comprehensively, and integrally as you learn them in the reality of this world.
And you learn to integrate your knowledge and action into a perspective, as I alluded above.
Because God is;
because God creates, upholds, and continues to create;
because God posits laws by which this universe operates;
because we humans live in this universe
and because we apprehend, interpret, and work inventively with or against it;
because we have the power of rationality and live creatively to form culture, its products and societies
– because of all that, we do well to remain in intimate and willing touch with God, so that we may live long in the land the Lord our God gives us.
Before I conclude, let me say that both the vision-dream of Martin Luther King and of Trinity Christian College do not always come to fruition. Large swaths of inequality linger long after King gave his speech. They linger today!
Therefore, in order that these two narratives that I have compared today on the basis of their common use of Foundation-Vision-Preparation do not remain separate, let me say this. We at Trinity, living as we do in the real world --must continue to struggle for greater acceptance and development of ethnic diversity here on this campus, finding ways to bridge gaps and open friendships, partnerships, and scholarships by which our Christian vision can continue to coalesce with a legacy like Dr. King’s. Beyond our walls and our times as students here, let our minds and action be bent toward a nation in which not only technical legal freedom rings, but our hearts also ring with common opportunities, the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts and the love of our neighbors in our actions.
This real world is God’s world and we are at our best in its service when we take up a vocation – a calling within that world, always seeking to resonate with the divinely given laws of reality, sensitive to the creation particularly because we are open to the Creator, whose very Spirit we know, feel, and with whom we commune.
May we the students, faculty, staff, and administers of Trinity Christian College, always be authentic to our Author and authority. And may we, be “full of all joy and peace as we trust in God so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.” (Romans 15:13)
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