Our Children

Our 14-year old Maya was confirmed this past weekend, a significant rite of passage in our Lutheran Christian tradition, the time when you claim your baptismal promise (made for you as an infant) as your own.  It was another moment for Abigail and me how much parenting our children is more and more about letting go.  I return to this beautiful poem by Kahlil Gibran to understand how and why.

 

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Saving the Best for Last

My 105-year old Grandma Edna died in March after a remarkably long life. Our family reunion at her funeral in tiny Rio, Wisconsin was a celebration of her witness to the power of family and faith.  Grandma has asked me ten years ago to preach at her funeral and it was a privilege to bring the Word to those gathered to mourn our loss and celebrate her life.

Scripture: John 2: 1-11

“So, let’s get this out there right off the bat.  When we remember Grandma, often the first things to come to mind are the donuts, the sugar cookies, and the lefse.  Food to feed our bodies and our souls.

Oh, and then there was her steel-trap memory and mind – she could recite birthdays for great grandchildren when I sometimes have trouble remembering my own. A memory that reflected her love for what was so important to her – her family, sons Jerome, Erwin and Dennis, and all of us who knew her as Grandma and Great Grandma and even Great Great Grandma.

And oh, by the way, Grandma was a faithful member of this congregation for her entire adult life and seldom missed a Sunday service wherever she was even when she needed to tune in electronically.  Grandma loved Jesus and the community gathered in his name.

And, of course, she did live to 105 years old, witnessing first hand remarkable events and transformative trends in our world that most of us must read about in textbooks. Grandma was wise in the ways of the world.

The extraordinary life of an ordinary woman – mother, wife, sister, grandmother, great grandmother, great-great grandmother, friend, and citizen – who loved her family and loved her Lord.

So why, you might ask, on this day when we gather to celebrate Grandma’s life and mourn the fact that she is no longer among us, have I chosen a gospel story about a wedding? A good question that takes us deep in the familiar story of Jesus’s first miracle at Cana – a story that features another remarkable woman who loved her family and her Lord.  I want us to pay attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the role she plays in the story of the wedding miracle.

As an aside, I visited the purported site of this miracle a couple of years ago during a trip to Israel and was struck by how out of the way, down narrow alleys, in the midst of an ancient neighborhood, it was.  Not a grand place at all, and here was where his ministry began – here is the ordinary setting for an extraordinary event.  Imagine then, Jesus and his mother, Mary, in the midst of this family celebration…

I’m sure we all recognize the broad outlines of the miracle story.  At the beginning, Jesus is with his mother and disciples at the wedding, when the wine gives out.  The story ends with this surprising act as Jesus turns water into fine wine.

It’s the interactions that happen in the middle of the story that I want to focus on.  It’s Mary who comes to Jesus with news that the wine has run out. And Jesus’s reply is where I want to pause: “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always heard this reply as a rebuke of Mary.  Go away, Mom, this is not my problem – I’m all about bigger and better things.

But I want to suggest that there is a deeper and more nuanced meaning to Jesus’s response.  Mary does not make a request, she simply states a fact – there is no more wine.  Jesus responds with a question that gets at the heart of his entire ministry – a question that proclaims the truth that we are inextricably bound up with each other.  What concern should we have for each other? Jesus points to the fact that to be concerned is to be truly human.

And the interesting thing is that Mary seems to get it.  Instead of responding with some sort of moral argument for why Jesus should be concerned, she turns to the servants and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them.  She understands that the concern Jesus has for the needs of others demands obedience, not arguments.

This, I think, is what Grandma also understood about what it meant to live a faithful life in the world.  Grandma loved Jesus and she lived as a disciple called to obey and walk as a child of God. And she followed her call in all of the ordinary ways she loved us – in the donuts and sugar cookies, in caring for us for a lifetime, in remembering even to the end important days in our lives, in her active engagement with her faith community, in being a good neighbor.

And here is the lesson for us in this story – here is the vocational challenge for faithful people.  The gift of faith from our gracious God carries with it both Mary’s statement that the wine is gone and the response Jesus gave to his mother: “What is this to you and me?”

Roman Catholic theologian Michael Buckley challenges us with this lesson for our contemporary lives in the world.

“Those parents who watch their children grow up without education, without much hope for a better life…they have no wine.  The millions of aged, hidden away in our cities or in dreadful convalescent homes…they have no wine.  The despised or feared or uneducated, whose lives are terrorized by the violence on our streets…they have no wine.  Women demeaned and threatened by violence and their disproportionate level of financial insecurity…they have no wine.”

Jesus calls all of us to grapple with what concern this is to you and me, to recognize our common human experience, and to get to work as those called to follow him.  Obedience, not arguments.

I love how this story is told at the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, because from here – from this claim that being concerned is at the heart of the life of faith – we then are offered lesson after lesson of what Jesus calls us to be and do.  We are called to heal the sick, to free the imprisoned, to feed the hungry, to comfort the heartbroken, to fight for peace and justice for all God’s creation.

What Grandma taught us in the example of her life is that a calling to follow Jesus is not simply a personal possession, unencumbered by the demands of others, an upwardly mobile life trajectory.  She taught us to be concerned – for ourselves, for each other, for our neighbors, for the world.

The message we faithful must proclaim for all to hear is that your vocation, your calling, is never separated from the needs and aspirations of the families and communities and organizations and neighborhoods in which we live and work.  Grandma spent 105 years living out the call she knew to be faithful.  Like her journey of love and peace and grace, our callings are an obedient response to those who have no wine, because we are called by our Lord to be concerned.  No arguments, follow Jesus.  We affirm the fact that at the core of our lives together in the world, our gracious and loving God intends for us to love each other as God loves us, to be concerned for each other as our God is concerned for us.

And here’s the cool thing about all of this as we return to our gospel story.  Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, to draw some out and take it to the chief steward, who then exclaims to the bridegroom: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The story ends with this powerful lesson.  For those who follow Jesus, for those who are called to be concerned and do God’s work in the world – for those like Grandma, faithful to the end – the best, the very best, is yet to come – “one last surprise” as hymnwriter John Ylvisaker proclaims. The very best.  Thanks be to God for Grandma Edna, for all those who are concerned, for the great cloud of witnesses to God’s gracious and loving presence in our lives.  And God’s people proclaim together: Amen!”

Lenten Chapel Homily, Mark 1: 9-15

“God is good,” murmured the Imam as he stepped to the microphone, to which we people of diverse faiths and experiences responded in our hearts, “Yes, God is good, and this is not what our God intends for us.”
The occasion was a neighborhood meeting in 2008 following the murder of Ahmednur Ali, one of our Augsburg students – a young Somali-American who broke up a fight while he was tutoring children at the local community center and was gunned down outside the center.  The meeting was to address safety concerns in the aftermath of the shooting, and we all experienced first-hand the wrenching emotional impact of this shooting on our lives together.  Though we intended to talk about more security cameras and heightened safety patrols, instead we listened to urgent longing for community.  Instead of hearts breaking apart, the Imam broke our hearts open to a new path forward.  In that spirit, our community came together to rededicate itself to the well-being of our neighbors – yes, to more security cameras and personnel, but even more urgently to finding common purpose in the health, safety and well-being of our neighbors and neighborhood.  God is good, indeed.

 
Here, in these first days of our Lenten journey, it can be difficult to affirm that God is good. Horrific school shootings, polarized wrangling over the fate of immigrants, abusive behavior that traumatizes victims – you can make your own list of the many ways in which evil rears its ugly head again and again.

 
And even in the arc of the Lenten season, bookended (as we read this morning) by Jesus being cast out in the wilderness and tempted by Satan and on Good Friday by the shame and pain of Jesus’ death on the cross.  Where is the good in that?  God is good?  What evidence is there for that claim?  Recall that we don’t even use the word “Alleluia” during Lent, surely a sign that good is subsumed by the temptation and shame and pain and ashes of our human condition.

 
And yet we faithful disciples – with all our own frailties and doubts and sins – must murmur together, even in this season of penitence, “God is good, and this is not what our God intends for us and for the world.”
I think the writer of the Gospel of Mark understood this challenge for God’s faithful people.  Mark’s spare telling of the story of Jesus’s baptism in the River Jordan and his being cast out into the wilderness – as opposed to the much more detailed accounts in Matthew and Luke – makes the point that there is an order in God’s mind to how God’s faithful people shall live in the world.  First, we are baptized – as Jesus was – named and claimed as God’s beloved child. And then, and only then, are we sent as God’s children into the wilderness of the world, to face the inevitable temptations and tensions, to be tended by angels and to be equipped to do God’s work in the world.  God is good and therefore we live as those marked by God’s goodness.

 
I have found further insights into this tension between God’s goodness and the brokenness of the human condition from theologian Miroslav Volf (who teaches at Yale University). Volf, in a series of essays in Christian Century, argues that humans tend to equate good and evil as two forces fighting for power and authority in our lives.  Volf claims that this is a false equivalency:  “The goodness of creation—its continuation in Adam and Eve coming together and opening up the world to the experience of new generations—is more basic than the reality of sin and evil.”  For the faithful, we believe that in creation God put an original and abiding goodness in our souls and in our baptisms that goodness is renewed.  In other words, God is good and all that God intends for God’s people is, according to Volf, is “a reality more basic than lives twisted by sins committed and endured.”

 
Here is how that insight of the fundamental goodness of God shaped my perspective on the murder of Nur Ali ten years ago and since…

 
Ten years ago, someone broke the commandment, “You shall not murder,” and now I know why God gave Moses the great gift of these commandments. Offered in a specific context to the Israelites, God spoke these commandments directly to God’s people so that they might know that they were chosen, that God loved them, that God wanted them to flourish.  And in following the commandments, the Israelites would live into God’s will, God’s reign, God’s intentions for God’s people.

 
With a nod to our own faith tradition, Martin Luther also is helpful here in his explanation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” when he says: This means, “we are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way.”  Simple and yet so remarkably helpful.  To kill someone is about much more than the sinful act of murder – the law covers the murderer – it is about our neighbors and our neighborhood.  It is about the pain and fear and injustice – it also is about the compassion and consolation and remembering.  It is about God in our midst, equipping the baptized, allowing us to go on, keeping us strong even when we don’t believe we can go on because we are sad and desperate and frightened.  The commandments are about a loving God with us.  God is good – and the commandments tell us so.  A remarkable gift.

 
And it is God’s gift that I was firmly focused on as I led a mourning community in the midst of an anxious and frightened neighborhood.  Someone broke a commandment and we lived in the aftermath.  It is clear to me that God does not give us commandments primarily to convict the sinner – we all get that, we’re broken, we don’t live up to the rules, we struggle to hold it all together.  God gives us commandments so that we might know the sort of lives God intends for us to live together.  God gives us commandments so that we might know that God is good – and live as if it were so.

 
This is what I hold dearly on my Lenten journey. As those named and claimed in our baptisms – pronounced beloved of God – we are called to witness to the good news: God is good – as Jesus traverses the wilderness with its wild beasts and healing angels. God is good – as Jesus hangs on the cross, inviting the criminals at his side and the relatives at his feet to be with him in paradise.  God is good – as school communities grieve lives taken violently and too soon.  God is good – as we all seek to rebuild the contours of a civil society.  God is good – as we experience together broken commandments and promises.

 
God is good – “repent, and believe in the good news,” Jesus proclaimed after his baptism, for God’s reign is at hand, on earth as in heaven. Amen.”

 

Seeing Things Whole

Shortly after I arrived at Augsburg, I was introduced to the “Seeing things whole” (STW) model of organizational dynamics.  Almost twelve years later, STW is based at Augsburg and we are finding ways to share the model with colleagues across our various networks.  I wrote the following piece back in 2007 and stand by its good insights that have shaped my leadership at Augsburg.  For more on STW, visit our website at www.augsburg.edu/seeingthingswhole.

“As part of our transition work between my first and second year at Augsburg, we have become engaged with the work of an organization called “Seeing Things Whole” (STW) (www.seeingthingswhole.org), which was founded at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, in partnership with the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  Seeing Things Whole provides an organizational framework for planning and problem solving that is grounded in a compelling and evocative theology of institutions.

The groundwork for the program is found in an essay entitled Toward a Theology of Institutions (Greenleaf Center, 2003, by David Specht, with Richard Broholm).  The authors extend Robert Greenleaf’s call for a servant-leadership perspective on organizational life that could be relevant to any type of institution – secular or religious.  The results are engaging and practical, tangibly grounded in organizational life and clearly informed by theological perspective.  Here is the background…

There are five theological premises for those who would hold organizations in trust:

  • Institutions are part of God’s order
  • God loves institutions
  • Institutions are living systems
  • Institutions are called and gifted, they are fallen, and they are capable of being redeemed
  • Faithfulness in institutional life is predicated upon the recognition and management of multiple bottom lines

Within this theological framework, there are three dimensions of organizational life that are interdependent:

  • The identity dimension, primarily concerned with healing, wholeness and the well being of the gathered life of the organization. This dimension primarily involves those who work for an organization.  This dimension is preoccupied with how the organization structures the character and quality of its gathered life, how it creates an environment that reflects its core values, and how it draws members of its workforce toward their fullest potential.  If this dimension is healthy, the organization will be values-based; populated with workers who resonate with its values; illustrating organizational values through its private and public lives; and self-reflective about the links between values and work.

 

  • The purpose dimension, primarily focused outward with a compelling vision and the corollary critique that recognizes dissonance between the “is” and the “ought.” This dimension primarily involves those who interface with an organization from its external environment – customers, clients, suppliers, competitors, and the natural and human communities in some way affected by the organization. This dimension is preoccupied with the clarity of mission and vision, the processes by which goods and services are produced or offered, marketing, and service to the individuals and communities it engages.  If this dimension is healthy and faithful, the organization will have a mission that serves real needs in the world; accountability to the world for advancing its mission; and a commitment to service that empowers others and makes them less dependent on the organization.

 

  • The stewardship dimension, primarily focused on leadership that serves, empowers, facilitates and persuades. This dimension primarily involves management, owners and trustees.  This dimension is preoccupied with how the organization secures and uses its various resources (people, funds, etc.) in order to sustain its viability while balancing the needs of its stakeholders and the wider community.  If this dimension is healthy, the organization will make decisions and take action with confidence in the long-term sustainable future of all stakeholders; its governance will be inclusive; and structures and systems will evolve to sustain the capacity of the organization to use its unique gifts in service to the world.

 

Within and between these dimensions of organizational life, STW allows institutions to understand and practice their work with a perspective of wholeness and interrelatedness.  Organizational dilemmas, then, become opportunities for stakeholders of the organization to hold its needs in trust.  There are additional lenses within each of the dimensions (see the website for more information) that help organizations gain a deeper understanding of their critical issues and potential ways to respond.

Here at Augsburg, we have used the STW framework to think about the transition between the first year of my presidency full of promise and energy and the continuing work that we must do to sustain the mission-grounded energy and momentum even as we address pressing and sometimes contentious issues.  The gathered life of Augsburg, then, is held in trust as we focus on this transition.  Through the STW process, we focused attention through a specific lens – governance.  Our leading question was “How to hold our organization in trust, balancing contending interests that grow from mission, vision and core commitments?”  Our responses to that question ranged from provocative claims about power to assumptions about contending interests to issues of distrust and mistrust to strategies related to communication and participation.  We walked away from our conversation with a clearer understanding of our central issue and some concrete ways of responding.  Reflective practice, at its best!”

By Another Way

This was my first chapel homily of the new year.

Scripture: Matthew 2: 11-12 (KJV)

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver (From “The Summer Day”)

I love the fantastical story of the Wise Ones, who travel from afar to find the Christ Child.  Found only in Matthew’s gospel, the story is mysterious, cryptic, magical – and probably not true.  But who cares, because it is a story – like all good fiction – that draws us to a larger truth.  And I think that this larger truth is found in the two verses we heard from the story this morning: they find the child and his mother; they bow down in reverence; and then, directed by the Divine, set off by “another way.”

I am struck at the dawn of this Epiphany season, this time after Christmas when we mark the ways in which the gospel is proclaimed to the entire world, what it means for all of God’s faithful people to set off “by another way” now that we too have seen the Christ Child and been changed forever.

As Pastor Dave shared with us in yesterday’s chapel homily, this Epiphany season is a fitting time for us to answer poet Mary Oliver’s piercing question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  But I want to back up a few lines in her poem to explore why the question itself is important. As she writes, “I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields…Tell me, what else should I have done?” There is the question that haunts me this Epiphany.  What else should I have done?  What else shall I do now that God has entered human history in the person of a child, now that the Word has become flesh and dwelled among us, now that we have been changed forever by God’s loving and gracious act?  What else?

What else should I have done?  What does it mean for God’s faithful people to travel – at God’s invitation and direction – by another way?

First, we confess – Early in December, our annual Advent Vespers services began with this powerful prayer, crafted by Keith Watkins:

“Prayer of Confession” by Keith Watkins

God, we confess that ours is still a world in which Herod seems to rule:

The powerful are revered, the visions of the wise are ignored, the poor are afflicted, and the innocents are killed.

You show that salvation comes in the vulnerability of a child, yet we hunger for the “security” of walls.

You teach us that freedom comes in loving service, yet we trample on others in our efforts to be “free.”

Forgive us, God, when we look to the palace instead of the stable, when we heed politicians more than prophets.

Renew us with the spirit of Bethlehem, that we may be better prepared for your coming.

Amen.

Ours is a world that reveres power, that ignores wisdom, that afflicts the poor, that kills the innocents.  We are people who seek salvation in walling ourselves off from each other. We are a people who seek to get ahead by climbing over the vulnerable in our midst.  We long for palaces and other signs of wealth instead of the humble and ordinary ways in which God’s will is done.  We put our faith in human promises when prophets proclaim another way. We ignore the question that the Christ Child puts to each of us – what else should I do to live as God intends?

And then confident of God’s faithful promise of forgiveness and reconciliation, we move forward by another way.  Perhaps we listen to the call of prophets like African-American theologian Howard Thurman, who wrote this call to action:

“Now the Work of Christmas Begins”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Or perhaps our way forward – what we will do with our one wild and precious life – is to see the world with new eyes this Epiphany.

  • To say Yes when the world says No – did you know that research shows that it takes five affirming comments to overcome one critical word?  How will you say yes to your friends and neighbors, to those you disagree with, to the strangers in our midst, to the most vulnerable in our community, so that your affirming words might lift their hearts and bodies and spirits?
  • To seek abundance in a world marked by the cynicism of scarcity – do we understand that abundance is much more about how we overcome the fear and anxiety of having to share what we have than it is about having more?  There is plenty to go around – thanks be to God  – so how will we marshal the courage and imagination and resolve to share it wisely with all God’s creation?
  • To be beacons of hope and joy in a world filled with fear and darkness – recall that wonderful line from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.” Epiphany calls us to be the light of the world – to recognize that in all of its brokenness, all of its cracks, the world so needs the light of hope and joy that shines through us.

How about instead of New Year’s resolutions, our task as God’s faithful people this Epiphany season is to renew our baptismal promises – to explore what else shall I do, to seek another way home, to know that God in Christ Jesus has comes into our midst so that all of the world might be redeemed by God’s loving grace and our faithful service.  May it be so.

Standing Alongside Our Somali Community

Our hearts are broken by the tragedy in Mogadishu this weekend, as we walk alongside all those who are grieving. The attacks were the deadliest in decades and have affected communities around the globe, on our campus, and in our own neighborhood.  

This evening, Augsburg’s Campus Ministry and Muslim Student Association will offer a space for reflection and healing from 5 to 6 p.m. in Hoversten Chapel. All are invited for prayer, followed by fellowship and Somali tea. In addition, Jummah (Friday Prayer) will be extended to include prayers for Mogadishu. It will be held from 1:30 to 2:30pm in Hoversten Chapel.

We stand with all our students, alumni, staff, faculty, and neighbors who have lost loved ones during this time of grief and sorrow.

Supporting DACA Students and Our Nation

Over the Labor Day weekend, I received numerous communications from higher education leaders across the nation, calling on us to urge our elected representatives and policymakers to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and to pursue legislation to create more lasting solutions. Augsburg stands firmly in support of these efforts.

Throughout its nearly 150-year history, Augsburg has always engaged and taught the “students right in front of us.” In the early years, these students were from Norwegian immigrant populations. Over the decades, Augsburg has grown to serve a shifting profile of students of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

In the past 15 years we have had the privilege to meet the so-called “Dreamers,” remarkable young people who grew up in this country because their parents moved here to seek a better life. Our undocumented and DACA students have astounded us with their intellect, their work ethic and perseverance, and their service to our communities.

Since 2012, our DACA students have been able to enhance their education through work and study abroad opportunities — vital educational experiences not available to them before DACA was created. A decision now to curtail DACA would rob these innocent young people of their opportunity for education — a promise we have made to them — and it would rob our country of a generation of immigrant children who, like previous generations of immigrants before them, promise to make our country ever stronger and more vibrant.

We stand with our students, and we offer our resources to advocate for their education and their lives in this country. Our nation will only be strengthened by their talents and by our ability to create a positive, long-term policy solution to support them.

Paul C. Pribbenow

 

Resources for students:

Augsburg Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Campus Climate and Advisory Team

Services for Undocumented Students

The Fierce Urgency of Now: A Call to the Community

Note: Augsburg President Paul C. Pribbenow issued a statement to the Augsburg community on August 17, 2017, in response to recent events in the United State and the world. His statement is below.

Paul C. PribbenowDear Members of the Augsburg Community,

Events in our country and around the world during the past several months have reminded us that the spectre of fear and prejudice and bigotry are very much present in our common lives. Whether it is violence in the name of white supremacy, rhetoric demonizing immigrants and refugees, policies discriminating against those of various sexual and gender identities, or the general rancor and polarization in our political discourse – all of this illustrates the need for citizens to come together with courage and resolve to fight back, to stand with love against hate and prejudice, to seek opportunities for genuine conversation and common purpose.

The Augsburg community is by no means immune from the dynamics of this volatile social situation. At the same time, however, dedicated and principled work over the past decade by faculty, staff and students has positioned Augsburg to be a model for how a community can navigate the throes of shifting demographics, progressive social mores and the polarizing fear and anxiety that characterize our public lives.  In fact, it is precisely because of Augsburg’s faith, academic and civic traditions that we are poised to show a way forward in the 21st century.

And now is the time for us to lead. As inspiration for the work we must pursue as a community, I have returned to the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in his 1963 speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, said “(W)e are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Now is the time for urgent reflection and action.

King’s words were prescient:

“…our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform the world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood (sic). Together we must learn to live as (siblings) or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”

In particular, I am struck by Dr. King’s insistence that “…we are challenged to work all over the world with unshakeable determination to wipe out the last vestiges of racism.” Here, fifty years later, we must return to this very challenge, to what King called the need to celebrate our “world house,” comprising black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu – to which we might add, liberal and conservative, urban and rural, straight and gay and more.

The Augsburg community is a microcosm of “the world house.” It is our rare and compelling call to live as a people united by ecumenical loyalties, called to illustrate for all to see how love for one another, what Dr. King called “the supreme unifying principle” claimed by all great world religions, might be the path forward in a world torn to its very core by the forces of hatred, prejudice and violence. The time is now.

Faithfully yours,

Paul C. Pribbenow

A University Embracing “Both/And”

A photo of proud members of the Class of 2017!
Proud members of the Class of 2017!

I am writing these notes on Commencement weekend when we have just sent the final graduates of Augsburg College into the world, full of promise and aspiration – as has been the case for almost 150 years.  As you will read in this issue of Augsburg Now, the change of our name to Augsburg University will become official in September and we will welcome the first class on Labor Day weekend.  We are busy preparing for this exciting new era for Augsburg!

For some, the name change may reflect a break with Augsburg’s past.  For others, perhaps this is a welcome acceptance of the need to embrace the future.  For the Augsburg community, however, the change is a remarkable opportunity to re-present Augsburg to the world – to tell a story that is about an abiding mission and identity shaped by faith, academic and civic values, and at the same time to point to innovative and urgently needed responses to our dynamic environment.  In other words, this change is about the pivot from “either/or” to “both/and.”  This is about embracing the best of past, present and future.  This is about Augsburg University.

The almost 1000 new Auggies who commenced into the world this spring reflect in their achievements and aspirations the foundation for embracing this change.

Across both undergraduate and graduate programs, the class of 2017 achieved academic excellence of the highest order, excellence that defines a university.  National and international honors for scholarship and service; exemplary undergraduate research that equips students for graduate work and professional opportunities; innovative community-building that strengthens democratic engagement; and a commitment to equity in education that promises to change the world.

At the same time, our newest graduates reflect the diversity that we expect in a university – diversity of ethnicity, thinking, life experience, identity and ability – diversity not for its own sake but for the promise of a more robust, healthy and just world.  As I watched our diverse graduates cross the stage, I could not help but be filled with hope in our future leaders who already have learned to navigate difference in ways that unite rather than divide.

In a final way, these newest Augsburg graduates offer a perhaps counter-cultural lesson about what makes for a great university.  Though some imagine a university as big and bureaucratic and faceless, Augsburg has a vision to be a new kind of student-centered, urban university – small to our students and big for the world.  The sense of community was palpable in our commencement ceremonies as graduates cheered each other and celebrated the relationships they have forged at Augsburg, life-long relationships that engendered achievement and success.  And propelled by those relationships, our graduates will indeed be “big for the world,” as they live Augsburg’s mission as “informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers and responsible leaders.”

Here’s to the power of “both/and” and the promise of Augsburg University!’

Lives that Speak

Paul C. Pribbenow
Augsburg College President Paul C. Pribbenow

Here is an excerpt from my Honors Convocation address this spring.

The title for my address this afternoon is a play on a meaningful Quaker saying, “Let your life speak.”  In his book of the same title, educator and honorary Auggie Parker Palmer recounts his own vocational journey.  Initially he interpreted “Let your life speak” to mean find the most inspiring causes and individuals in the world and seek to be like them.  But after many epic fails at that pursuit, he instead comes to know that “Let your life speak” means to listen to your own values and gifts and passions so that yours might be the life you were intended to live – not someone else’s.  And therein is the turn I want to make in my remarks to you on this special occasion.  Even as we gather here today to honor and celebrate you, I want to boldly proclaim that each of you has lived here among us with a life that has spoken loud and clear with exceptional intellect, hard work, and moral passion in the classroom, on campus, in the neighborhood and around the world.  You honor us with your lives that speak.

So, what lessons have we learned from your lives that will continue to shape Augsburg into the future?  I trust others gathered here will share why they believe you deserve to be honored, but here are four lessons I’ve gained from your good work here.

First, you’ve shown me over and over again how intellect and experience cannot be separated.  You embody the 20th century educational philosopher John Dewey’s idea that education is not preparation for real life, it is real life.  I was with a group of our students in 2014 at our campus site in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  We spent a couple of days visiting various sites – a bathing suit factory made possible by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an indigenous village where the residents lived with unhealthy and unjust conditions.  These were long and stressful days, full of experiences that challenged our hearts and senses and minds.  And I’ll never forget the moment as we were about to leave the village after a wrenching and exhausting day when one of our students asked for reflection time.  And even though a few of us groaned in our weariness, she didn’t want to leave the experience she had just had – as difficult as it had been – without seeking to understand, to reflect upon, to integrate into her own thinking what she had just seen and done.  This integration of theory and practice that is at the heart of an Augsburg education is not something to be taken for granted.  I visit lots of other colleges and universities in my work, and students often comment that they feel “under a bubble” while in school there.  There is no Augsburg bubble and we have you to thank for showing us what it means to be what MIT professor, Donald Schön, has called, “reflective practitioners,” those who practice the art of linking reflection and experience in every aspect of your life.

You’ve also taught me how to love this place.  The pride you have in this college and its place in the heart of the city is tangible in your spirit and t-shirts and good work to make this college and neighborhood even stronger.  From the time you first arrived for SOAR and were assigned to a neighborhood, you have been stewards of this place in myriad ways.  You have settled here and taken good care of what has been entrusted to us on this campus and in our neighborhood.  There are tangible results of your stewardship of this place in a Campus Cupboard to meet the needs of your fellow students, in your engagement on behalf of lives that matter, in more and more attention to our carbon footprint, and the care you have taken to create a safer and more vibrant neighborhood.  The novelist Wallace Stegner once wrote that the American psyche is in tension between what he calls “the boomers,” those who go into a place, use it up and then leave – and “the stickers,” those who settle in a place and work to renew it and make it better.  You have taught me again the importance of “sticking,” of staying and settling in. At Augsburg, we accompany and settle alongside our neighbors.  We pursue education in this place, equipping each other for lives of meaning and purpose.  We welcome each other in this place, sustaining a community of hospitality and mutual respect.  We love and are faithful to this place that has been our home for almost 145 years.

And you’ve taught me not to be afraid of the other, the stranger.  We live in a world of fear and violence and separation.  We too often marginalize the stranger, retreating to what the late sociologist Robert Bellah called “our lifestyle enclaves,” mingling with those with whom we share culture and skin color and income status, trying to find safety away from the uncomfortable, the unknown.  But, of course – as you have taught us well – retreating doesn’t work because the world only becomes more dangerous and polarized and frightened.  Here at Augsburg you have lived into a community of hospitality and justice that embraces otherness and difference, that faces the tensions and complexities of diverse perspectives and experiences, that seeks to engage what political theorist Michael Walzer calls a “thick” sense of life together, not trying to minimalize our differences but calling them into dialogue and mutuality.  Your class has been at the heart of this good work here at Augsburg and you’ve challenged all of us to face our privilege and biases and fears – and some days we get it right, on others we have so much more to learn – as we embrace the richness of life together in this remarkable community.  The late priest Henri Nouwen described our aspirations this way:

Hospitality is the creation of free space where a stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer space where change can take place ….The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and find themselves free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free to leave and follow their own vocations.

Finally, you’ve taught me to hope.  For more than 35 years, I have worked at colleges and for all of the messiness that often passes for daily life on a campus, I come back each and every day because of the hope you inspire in all of us.  It is hope despite the evidence on many days.  When His Holiness, the Dalai Lama was with us in 2014 at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, someone asked him a question about how he could continue to follow his path toward peace when the world was so violent and there was little evidence of a way forward.  His response was quick – “What choice do I have?  If I meditate on pessimism, I will die.  If I meditate on optimism, I will live.” It is not a naïve hope that you teach us – just wish for it and all will be well with the world.  No, you are well-educated individuals, fully aware of the complexities and uncertainties of life in the world – in society, in our environment, in the cosmos even!  And yet you hope and you get to work and good things happen.  In this way you honor the world you will surely change – as you have changed us in this college.