Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morning Joe: Fifty Years and Counting--Part Two

Well, I am sorry. I meant for this to follow more quickly upon the heels of my first entry in this new exploration. But time and the beginning of another academic year intruded and I am just now getting to follow up. I should say that the academic year has begun--actually into the fourth week already!--and has brought its usual supply of old and new challenges. As I have made a practice to share my classes this year, I'll do that now and then get on with "part two":

Rel 320: Spirituality, Character, and Service
EN 95: Writing and Grammar
EN 200: Advanced Composition: Argument
HUM 410: Senior Thesis

And I'm also teaching an adult on line class right now:HUM 310: Faith, Living, and Learning.

So, yes, obviously, I've got a bit of a load. Glutton for punishment? Nope: Glutton for the pleasures of teaching.

Now, back to 50 years ago and to...

Sally Hrdlicka. I want to begin with the story of Sally. I hope it is okay to tell this story; it is mostly about me and a little about her. But it is a crucial story for me. I want to tell this story because it marks an early conversion point for me. Perhaps baptism is the better word. But this moment started my life long journey with the question that has dominated most of my life as a teacher: What is this really all about? I am an English teacher; is that where it begins and ends—or is there something more to all of this? The context for this story is a deep desire to be a good teacher; I really wanted that. To be honest, I also need to say that I wanted to be a popular teacher, too. I think what I meant by popular is liked; I wanted to be liked. And, yes, I know that sometimes those two desires are in conflict with each other. Sometimes I had to choose to be disliked, although in the long run, I think I’ve been liked more often than not.

To be clear, I had no idea what it meant to be a good teacher. Outside of ideas like classroom management, following the adopted curriculum plan, providing well-planned lessons and grading carefully and fairly, nowhere along my journey as a student aspiring to teach did anyone ever suggest to me that good teaching is about more than those kinds of things—in fact, I came to learn that good teaching is often about sacrificing those things. Since teaching is an art more than a craft and a classroom is often more about surprises and serendipity than a well crafted lesson plan, my experience is that the lesson plan is often tossed out the window in favor of something far better and, usually, more important. (At least it is in a constant state of rearrangement.)

What does all of that have to do with Sally? Sally was sophomore student in my first year as a full time teacher; she was blond, with what I thought of as Barbra Streisand looks. I wish I could post a photo of her, but would do so only with permission and since I don't know how to reach her... She was a good student, but my story with Sally is about something more than being a good student. I’ve often wondered what happened to her. I’d like her to know what a life changer she was.

The particular story I want to tell begins on Friday because Friday meant spelling and vocabulary day. The students had a list of words they were to master each week of the year. On those days, I honored the traditional spelling test mode: Say the word, say the word in a sentence, and repeat the word. Wait a short time and move on to the next word. It was an easy day for a teacher. In addition to that, the time-honored process also required that I wander the classroom to discourage cheaters. I remember the admonition to be random in my selection of rows to walk on—and to walk quietly. Always best to walk from the back of the room to the front—I actually was taught that. It felt like a hunting expedition. Stay out of sight and downwind so they neither see nor smell your arrival. I think the idea is that it would be a good thing to catch your prey.

Well, I did that; remember I wanted to be a good teacher. I caught Sally pulling a small cheat sheet out of her left sleeve. And I remember my panic because, honestly, I really hoped to never catch a cheater. Now, the prey was in my sights; do I pull the trigger? At the moment I was about to make her an example, she sensed my presence, turned her face toward me, great tears in her eyes, and silently begged me not to say anything. Please! I can still see her face.

I didn’t pull the trigger. I didn't want to say anything anyway; I’m the hunter who intentionally makes a noise so my prey will escape. (What a horrid metaphor, by the way: “prey.” Student as prey. Sad and even shameful—but it was what I was taught. Oh, no, not explicitly; but it is an apt metaphor.)

I didn’t say anything. We met after class and I asked Sally what that was all about. Tears and tears and real remorse. (She was not a student who cheated after all; I knew that.) “Last night,” she told me, “my parents told my siblings and me that they were getting a divorce—and our lives came undone. I could not think to study and really didn’t remember that today was spelling day until I sat down in class.” Nothing more came of that moment; I mean I left it and reassured her that we would get beyond this. She was grateful.

But I learned something in that moment that never left me. Sally is one of my most important teachers. I learned that there is more going on in the lives of our students than we can possibly know. I learned that the person sitting in front of me has a life outside the classroom—that is, outside of my frame of reference. I learned that I’d better be aware of that fact. A student is a person with a life. With family. With friends. With lovers and spouses and partners. I learned that sometimes I may get a glimpse of that world and when I do I’d better pay attention to it. Because in those moments real teaching happens—or might happen.

I should have known that, right? I mean I’d lived through all those years of schooling and certainly carried my own secrets and struggles with life, but I think I thought I was really the only one. Everyone else seemed to have life figured out and knew how to work it. I didn’t (still working on that as a matter of fact). Sally didn’t see it coming. She was blindsided. She was reeling from the loss of certainty and from the need to figure out how to live in the reality of that lost certainty.

I hope she walked away from that moment feeling cared for and understood; I walked away certain that I’d done exactly the wrong thing and fearful that once the word got out my teaching career would come crashing down around me before I’d reached the end of my first semester.

Beginning that day I began to pay more attention to the connection between life in and out of the classroom. While it would take me years to realize just how important that connection is—and for it to change how I hope and try to be in the classroom—this is the beginning of a journey with students to discover what I eventually came to call relational teaching.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Second Cup: Fifty years and counting….

In 1966 I walked into my first classroom.

Well, technically, I’d been in a classroom of one kind or another ever since I started kindergarten with Miss Allen at Lowell Elementary on S. Flower Street, Santa Ana, California.
At the end of second grade, I moved to Glenn L. Martin Elementary; after sixth grade I moved on to Julia C. Lathrop Junior High School and from there, in 1957, to Santa Ana Senior High School—home of the Saints. I graduated from high school in 1960 and enrolled for the next two years at Santa Ana Junior College—the Dons. In 1962 I enrolled at Warner Pacific College, Portland, Oregon, graduating from there in 1965. On to Cal State at Fullerton and Chico; Anderson College School of Theology, Indiana; and Lewis and Clark, Portland. Back to WPC in 1972 where I served on the faculty and as an administrator for 23 years. In 1995, we moved to Anderson, Indiana, where I joined the teaching church for 15 years. Even during the years working for the national offices of the Church of God, I was involved in teaching at the University and in the life of the church. The reality is that I’ve rarely been out of a classroom—or away from my calling. I’m now (2016) back at WPC and again teaching. On Monday I will walk into AF Gray 11 (once part of the WPC cafeteria) and begin my fiftieth year.

The key word, however, in that first sentence is my. In all of those other too many to count classrooms, the owner was someone else: Miss Allen (Kindergarten); Miss Boyd (third grade); Mrs. Duke (fifth grade), and Mrs. Lilly (sixth grade)—to name my truly influential and unforgettable elementary teachers. No one, really, stands out at Lathrop, which is probably more my fault that theirs. (I had other teachers during that time: at Lathrop Branch Library, there was Miss Leona Calkins, Betty Wimpress, and a few other marvelous librarians; and at church, there was Sister Bessie Peterson, my Sunday school teacher until junior high) and various pastors, but especially the pastor we called Brother Shackleton.)

Until that day in September 1966 when I walked into my classroom at Red Bluff Union High School, the classrooms I was in always belonged to someone else. But I remember this particular day with particular clarity.
(I'm pretty sure that the door just to the left of the "breezeway" in this photo is the door to my classroom.)

I remember a deep sense of achievement when I crossed that literal and liminal threshold. It was a relatively new classroom. One half wall of bookshelves, a desk, and a closet. The windows were transom and there were only two because of air conditioning (for which, in Red Bluff, I was always grateful). Two walls were pretty much covered with blackboard. Yes, we still used chalk. The fourth wall was the window and door wall. There was nothing really remarkable about the room; I think the empty walls were covered with wood paneling and some space for bulletin boards. And, of course, the ubiquitous neon lighting. Oh, yes, and a podium where I leaned and rows of movable desks (that were seldom if ever moved). As plain and utilitarian as it was, that room became sacred, liminal space for me and, sometimes, for my students. I crossed that threshold and said, I think aloud, “Yes, this is it.”
I don’t remember being nervous, although that would come later when the students showed up and I began to doubt that I had anything to offer them. At that moment, however, I was home—this was the place for me to be whomever and whatever I was or was becoming. I was there for five years and, as I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, I think I could have stayed there. I think I could have retired from there, as my friend Dennis Allwardt did.

Those were hugely formative years. I came to be comfortable there. I became increasingly at home. I began a life long pilgrimage as a teacher, thinker about teaching and learning, and a discoverer of the joy and terror of teaching. Living into my calling. Many years later I read this by Parker Palmer—

Vocation at its deepest level is not, “Oh, boy, do I want to go to this strange place where I have to learn a new way of life and where no one, including me, understands what I’m doing.” Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling. (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, p. 25)

And I thought, “Yes, this is it.” I cannot conceive of my life out of the context of teaching and learning and helping others learn and teach. At times my courage has failed me and anyone who has ever read this blog or talked with me about teaching knows that I often feel like a failure—and a fraud. Yet, when I think about giving up and walking away, my knees quake, my heart constricts, and tears form. Teaching is one of those professions in which the doing and the being are one. Yes, I am a human being but my essence and my expression of my essence is summed up in this one word—Teacher.

My idea of what a teacher is has changed over the years and certainly my sense of what a teacher does has changed over the years. I’ve always tried to pay attention to my teacher-friends and teacher-colleagues; I’ve always tried to pay attention to my students—what concerns them, what they are seeking, and what they are hoping. And, in light of paying attention, I’ve tried always to ask, “How, then, shall I live?” “How, then, shall I teach?” “How, then, shall I connect and relate?” I’ve always tried to ask, “What is it about what I’m doing that matters most—and how can I do it better?”

Over the next several entries, I’m going to attempt to think “out loud” about what I’ve learned—or think I have—as I’ve stood before and walked alongside those questions, my students, and my colleagues. I’m not sure why I’m offering this in my blog—I know that I think better when I write it. Perhaps a discussion will develop, although I have no real hopes for that because my blog just sort of hangs out there and none to few have ever responded; in fact, this blog is really my personal effort to tentatively answer those questions for myself. I do not presume to have anything to teach anyone else about teaching; the only presumption I have is that I might provide a kind of model or direction for how to live into and out of a vocation—any vocation, really—but teaching in particular.

No order to this; it’s randomly developed and written…. From time to time there will b a poem or two—some new and some old (because the old seem to fit again in this new context).

So, then, the question is “What have I learned?” Beginning with the next entry, I’ll introduce you to the first of my student/teachers—Sally Hrdlicka.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Second cup: Hope, faith, and dancing in the dark

Not that anyone has been pounding on my virtual door begging for my take on life and politics, but I have been silent about the state of our world, now more clearly defined by the word Orlando. I have been silent for mostly good reasons—I have not had much to add to conversation and certainly did not want to add to the irrationality, polarization, and politicizing of our current reality (perhaps realities). I have "liked" a few things on Facebook and have felt my heart beat in rhythm with Ben Irwin’s articulate outrage and several other voices who are equally articulate and thoughtful—and often recoiled from and sometimes shut down (i.e., unfriended) the voices of anger and hate directed at victims and the president.

Yet, now, here I am writing to post on Facebook. Why? I’ve been struggling with an idea that will not go away and, finally, sat down recently with a friend at Starbucks and asked, “As dark as these days seem—and are—and without any desire to take away the pain, anger, shock, or bravery of people in response (and I certainly do not want to diminish it), I wonder if we are not in one of those times that Thomas Cahill calls “hinges of history?”

We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage—almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recounting of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstances….

"[a time when] everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether. But the great gift givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied, more beautiful and strong than the one they found." (Cahill, Thomas. (1995). How the Irish saved civilization. New York: Doubleday)

Here we are, perhaps, in one of those times. The hate is very strong and the fear often feels stronger. We are all struggling to understand how we came to recite such a growing litany of places and names where hate lashed out and claimed lives and destinies. I know I am. I find myself fighting against—as I hope all of us would—the fear in my own heart. The fear in my own heart that makes we want to run away and hide even as I know there never has been and never will be such a place to hide—“No hiding place down here.” This fear that makes me angry enough to want to inflict pain somewhere. I hate that I have to sit on the couch with my great-grandson as I once sat on the couch with my son during another war and attempt to explain why people want to hurt each other so badly.

I have to make myself watch the evening news, listen to NPR, and read The Oregonian because I’d rather pretend that my little bubble will protect me—even as I grow anxious; anxious every night when I double check the locks on our doors; anxious nearly every time I walk into a classroom, have a difficult conversation with a student, or walk out of my night class into a dark and empty parking lot. Anxious that nearly every time I am in church, at least once, I think about Charleston and how vulnerable we are. "No hiding place"—but oh how I wish there were.

Resistance is a term that is usually associated with unfair governmental practice: the French underground resisted the Vichy Government as the Polish underground resisted both the German and Russian war machines and governments. After Rick Blaine and Captain Louis Renault sent Ilsa and Victor to safety, they marched out to join the Resistance. The civil population resisting the government. Resistance also means a refusal to comply. I resist and I refuse and J’accuse!

I must practice another kind of resistance. I must resist my desire to avoid; I must not run from the darkness; I must not yield to it; I must not give ground to any hate monger who asserts his or her “biblical” conviction or second amendment right or wall building plan or “better than anyone else” rhetoric. However deeply I may fear the stranger, I must resist my desire to run from the stranger. I must work to turn strangers into friends. I must try to see through and beyond the strange and unfamiliar and faithfully maintain that not all is as it is presented on the news. I must even understand that there are reasons why others hate my country and, by extension, me. I must try to understand and live out of my conviction that “love is love” and that I am called to love God and love others without condition.

I must keep my eyes open, tuned to the eyes of God, to see where despair butterflies into hope and hope into faith and faith into action. “Hope is believing in God’s future now. Faith is dancing to it”—this quotation, a beautifully calligraphed aphorism was given to us by some very dear friends; it hangs in our dining room, impossible to miss.

I want to dance.

Even though this is a time when it is hard to conceive of light at the end of the tunnel let alone to actually see that light, I am wondering if, maybe, something more is going on. I remind myself of the time when our country in conflict with itself almost came permanent divided; the times when we found “strange fruit” hanging from our trees; the times when we thought the country was about to fall apart, again, over race; all of the times when the best and brightest of our youth marched off to war never to return—or never to return whole; the times when the water cannons were brought out and turned on those who said can’t we be better than this; the time when our own were killed by our own on college campuses.

Sometimes it feels to me that what I should ask is what Yeats asked in “The Second Coming”: “What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” I know the dangers of romanticizing and the risk of trivializing—but is it possible that we are living in one of those times when we will look back and see another kind of story altogether. A time when we again discover our better selves and repent and change our ways?

I am thinking of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., summarizing Theodore Parker:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I keep thinking we are better than this. And I remind myself that we used to call the Middle Ages dark because we couldn’t see beyond plagues and fears to the real and emerging brilliance of that time. I remind myself that there was a time when the early Christians had every reason to expect to be destroyed, even while God was at work calling faithful Jesus followers to something more and greater. I remind myself that as dark as it may be—and as it has been—we discover that we are better than we thought we were.

We discovered that we can be better when we owned again our own values. A statue in a harbor still sings, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" From time to time it surprises me to realize that my father was an immigrant and that on his side, I’m a first generation American. True, my father came from England through Canada at a different time; still, he was an immigrant who chose to become an American and stood, like so many other thousands, and pledged allegiance.

Shall we now build walls and say "Go home, stay away, we don’t need you"? Shall we turn away from those who have always given us new hope, new vision, and new purpose (not to mention new good food)? No, I don’t think so. I want to affirm hope and faith and the promise of our own lives—and our lives together. I want to appeal to our better selves. I want to call us to remember our own stories and our own story. I want to remind us that the journey is often hard and always demands courage (heart strength), but that we need to be on the right side of history—the side Martin Luther King was moving on when he called us to remember that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The side of history described by Jesus when he told us "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the gentle, the hungry for the right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers..." (Matt 5:3-9 REB).

Monday, February 8, 2016

First cup: Thinking about saints or Saints I have Known

Saturday I attended the memorial for Sharon Skaggs and listened to friends and family share their warmest memories about their friend and mother. She was a remarkable woman. I worked with and around her for 15 years through the last days of the old national regime, through the challenges and disappointments of the transition to the new, into the strange new world of Church of God Ministries. She was a remarkable woman. We all struggled with these changes, some more than others. I think we all worried about what was going on and whether or not we would find a home in this brave new world that was rich with disenchantment, hope, and irony; I know most of us worried whether or not there would be a welcome mat—would there be a place for me and will I want it.

The journey was difficult for everyone, but I think no agency had greater challenges than what was once called the Board of Foreign Missions, now Global Strategies. A pioneering agency of the church, it carried the distinctive teachings of the Church of God reformation movement into the uttermost parts of the earth. A remarkable history. A remarkable story. Not without error and not without floundering along the way—still, an amazing story of vision and true grit.

I think I’ve known a lot of saints in my day. I’m going to name a few even though I know that most of them would get angry at this designation—even though once upon a time we in the Church of God used to call ourselves “The Saints.” Yet, here they are, some living still and some part of the cloud of witnesses: my pastor Al Shackleton; my dean and friend, Tom Smith; my boss and friend, Sherrill Hayes, and his boss and our friend, Don Courtney. My professor Irene Caldwell; my mentor, dean, and, at times, pastor, Milo Chapman; my friend and pastor, Jay Barber; and many another friend and colleague at WPC, AU, Park Place Church, and Church of God Ministries. Oh, I could name many more. I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with saints in my life.

Cursed? Well, we tend to idealize saints, don’t we? We tend to enshrine them in stained glass, build monuments, and name buildings. But my experience also says that saints have rough edges, sharp elbows, and deep, deep commitments that are often visionary and in the service of those commitments and vision can be fierce and dogged and uncompromising. Saints can be very, very difficult to work and live with.

Which brings me back to Sharon. I heard her described Saturday as a saint—which is what got this rumination going—and I would tend to agree with that. But only if we scrape away the stained glass and the haloes and remember that all saints were humans—really seriously human, being transformed by the call of God on their lives, and focused on living into and through that call. Someone, I think, said that a saints are persons who live on fire, gloriously open to God, which, I think, makes them difficult and wonderful. That’s Sharon. I worked with her for 15 of those difficult years I wrote about earlier, leaving the soon to be forsaken halls before she did. At first, three halls separated us—she was in the Outreach hall and I in Resource hall. As time went on and we all kept trying to figure out how to make this new thing work, our halls came closer together and increasingly there were opportunities to see her at work and to work with her. She was all of the characteristics we heard about in the eulogies—funny, kind, compassionate; she did have a great laugh, although I have to say that we didn’t hear it often in that building. She was also the best friend a missionary ever had; if it’s possible for one person to do this, she had their backs, individually and collectively. That’s where the real saintliness came in: She was determined and uncompromising and tough when it came to the life and needs and times of the field missionary. I had the opportunity to sit at some tables with her and I saw that compassion in full color—and I saw the uncompromising tough and determined woman. And I’m grateful that she was there. As her son-in-law, Patrick remind us Saturday, it seemed at times that the whole enterprise of global missions was at risk. I’m pretty confident when I say that Sharon would have done her work for nothing if she understood that was necessary for missionaries in the field to do their work.

The church would be well-served by more such difficult saints.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Following up....

NOTE: The following was published March 1980) in the Warner Pacific College News; its title is "The liberating arts: A Christian view."


A good deal of dissatisfaction is being expressed over the state of education in the United States. Various pleas appear in the media for us to get “back to the basics.” When this appeal is made with regard to our elementary public schools usually what is meant is a return to the three R’s. When this appeal is made at the college level it frequently has to do with that type of education which is commonly referred to as the “liberal arts.” It is with this latter concept that I wish to deal.

The phrase “liberal arts” is not a theological term.
It is not a matter of putting “liberalism” over against “conservatism” or “fundamentalism.” Rather it is a term which refers to that body of knowledge which helps the individual understand him [or her] self, his [or her] world, and his [or her] relationships. In a real sense then, “liberal arts” are to be viewed as liberating the individual from ignorance and superstition.

On occasion a further distinction is affirmed or implied. The Bible college curriculum is placed in contradiction to the liberal arts curriculum. Of course, a Bible college may say that the only worthwhile subject to be studied is that which relates directly to the Bible. Such an extreme position is rarely taken. Rather, it is agreed that the Christian needs to know him [or her] self and his [or her] world. [All need] to be liberated from ignorance and superstition. At this point the Bible College and the Christian liberal arts college which maintains a strong emphasis upon biblical and theological studies are very similar.

Warner Pacific has historically maintained a liberal arts program that offers a full program in biblical studies as well as the “liberal arts.” The fact is, we refuse to admit that such a distinction is valid. To be properly educated a person must know scripture, [and] a college that leaves out religion is offering a grossly imbalanced program.

We at Warner wish to go a step further. We also wish to put into daily practice what is being learned. Consequently our students are involved, as required by various majors, in off-campus activities such as internship, field experiences, practicum, student teaching assignments, field observation, week-long counseling positions with Outdoor Schools, and long term relationships with both public and private agencies and churches. This gives the student an opportunity to experience real work situations as well as to come to grips with his or her Christian witness in a world gone seriously wrong.

Thus we affirm that human beings are whole, not parts, and that we seek the truth of God wherever it may be found. God’s truth is found in the most profound of [human] attempts to understand him [or her] self, his [or her] world,his [or her] relationships and his [or her] God. We wish to be a community actively in pursuit of such truth, even as we know God’s love preserves us.

Several years back, the college choir had as its theme song a great choral work expressing the role of the Christian liberal arts college:

"God’s Son has made me free
From Satan’s tyranny
From fear of death, and bonds of sin
From all that plagues my soul within.
God’s Son has made me free."

The faculty and staff of Warner see themselves as agents in that continuous liberation through the open and honest exploration of the many sources of [human] knowledge, including that of revelation from God. With the human must come the divine. In Christ and with Christ, in the context of Christian education, the humanizing arts become what they are meant to be: not just liberal arts, but the liberating arts.

The Truth shall make you free.

SECOND CUP: Thinking about Christian higher education

Disclaimer: The following is the result of some of my reflections about what is going on in Christian higher education today. I have been involved in this endeavor in one way or another since I started at Warner Pacific College as an instructor in Language Arts Education—and have served there in a variety of roles and responsibilities; so I claim some expertise in that area. However, I am not a church historian, although I read in the field and count a few such historians in my friendship circle. But I claim no particular formal credentials in that area—nor do I want any of my friends who have formally or informally over the years of thinking about church and college to be blamed for what follows. This reflects some thinking about what’s going on and about where I am; certainly, I invite any one who wants to join in this discussion to do so.

WARNER PACIFIC COLLEGE is not an evangelical school—and therein lies its charm and its freedom.

In the last score or more years, evangelical as a descriptive and identifying term has grown looser and broader and, finally, less helpful and, sadly, often divisive. It’s become a term used widely as synonymous with conservative (sometimes, fundamental) Protestant Christianity. In the current political process, evangelical is also recognized or utilized as a term for a particular voting block. Evangelicalism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, which, most of us know, grew as a reaction to corruption in the church, and, as the reformers saw it, the triumph of reason and tradition over revelation. It intended to be a reassertion of a biblically based faith.

Under the banner of “sola scriptura,” the growing protesting church began to grind out a series of doctrines and dogma intended to clarify what the Bible actually said. These clarifications became creeds and the creeds became more defining (and perhaps more restrictive) of what a particular brand of Protestantism understood the scripture to teach. That brand was, often, held up as Truth. Increasingly, persons were asked, then required, to sign on to a Creed, thus establishing their credentials as Christians. Being a Christian was more about believing right things—right knowing—than right living or engaging in serious, personal, prayerful devotional study.

During that reformation, another group emerged, generally lumped together under the rubric of “Pietist.” Seen as a more radical group, these persons reasserted a number of practices and convictions intended to restore greater personal connectivity and responsibility for truth in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A key summary of this new/old approach is found in Spener’s Pia Desideria (“Pious Yearnings”).

In brief these are (From the Archives: The Pia Desideria (Pious Desires); The Manifesto of Pietism):

1. A more serious attempt to spread the Word of God. Pastors should preach from the entire Bible and Christians should meet in small groups to study the Bible.

2. The … doctrine of the priesthood of all believers should receive a new emphasis. The differences between the laity and clergy should be minimized.

3. More attention should be given to the cultivation of individual spiritual life. Love for God and man [sic] should take priority over theological disputes. Knowledge is secondary to practice.

4. Truth is not established in disputes but through repentance and a holy life.

5. Candidates for the ministry should be “true Christians.” Their training should include small groups for devotional life and personal Bible study.

6. Sermons should not show the preacher’s erudition, but attempt to edify believers and produce the effects of faith.

The Church of God reformation movement, part of the holiness revival of the 19th Century, had a radical perspective on living out of this understanding of scripture and truth.

WARNER PACIFIC COLLEGE, an agency of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), is not an evangelical school because it is rooted in the Church of God Reformation Movement that not only condemned creeds and refused to establish its own (other than scripture), but also affirmed the possibility that there is more truth to be found. This Movement disparaged and denounced denominationalism and, therefore, creedalism; it affirmed that the Holy Spirit will and does make scripture plain—and motivates us to live out of those affirmations. There are beliefs that this movement affirms as true, but I won’t go into those in this blog; however, they are understood as affirmations that do not bind the believer and, frankly, for better and worse, have changed over the years. But more than “right beliefs,” this movement emphasizes “right living.” Whatever else it might be, our understanding of holiness is that we have a deep commitment and a high expectation to live in, out of, and open to the all truth, as revealed by the Holy Spirit through scripture, and we do not, in fact, own the truth but rather are owned by it. We live in between times and are called to live with integrity as kingdom dwellers.

(Even Wikipedia: “One of [this movement's] more distinctive features is that there is no formal membership, since the movement believes that true biblical salvation, which will result in a life free from sin, makes one a member. Similarly, there is no formal creed other than the Bible. Accordingly, there is much official room for diversity and theological dialogue, even though the movement's culture is strongly rooted in Wesleyan holiness theology.” [My emphasis]

Of course, the Church of God (Anderson, IN) has roots in more than one plot (e.g. Anabaptist and Wesleyan); but they are strong in Pietism, which emphasizes how we live in the world more than what we believe in or about the world. So, we often avoid the boxes that not only define but also constrict and result in inquisitions of one kind or another. (Not that we have escaped such purges entirely but given the non legislative power of our assembly, they seem best defined as efforts to clarify and affirm rather than legislate and convict.) Instead we desire to live well out of an understanding of holiness that connects our understanding of truth/Truth as how we live in the world—free in the Spirit and open to the possibilities resulting from a creative and surprising God. This sometimes makes us seem without a center, and we grow uncomfortable with that, leading to a flurry of resolutions and efforts to more clearly define ourselves.

But there is a center and it is powerful; rather than limiting it is liberating because it believes God is at work in the world in ways and with others that we cannot even imagine. These roots make it (or should make it) possible for a school like WPC to avoid the kind of “creedal correctness” that schools in the evangelical tradition (like Wheaton, much in the news of late) struggle with; they also provide us with a more robust and “liberal/liberating” conversation. WPC defines itself as a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college. The term Christ-centered (rather than Christian) is an intentional choice that invites the kind of questions the answers to which are often assumed to be explicit in the term Christian.

Christ-centered, as a center, provides the ground to which all else is tied but not in a legalistic or creedal sense rather in a dialogical sense in the same sense that the people asked who is this son of man (John 12:34)? Further questions emerge about how is Jesus the center of what we do, how we live, how we think, and how we teach and learn? Rather than stand before some creedal definition of the truth, we stand before this Jesus and ask, as the demoniac asked, what have you to do with me (Luke 8:27-29)? Whatever else Jesus is, he is a living question demanding an answer; it is a personal answer and a communal answer, which we stand before, eager to understand.

Rooted, then, in a tradition that invites us into relationship with a living Jesus, in pursuit of the truth that will make us free, we are both freed and bound to faithfully live and learn in a context of love, mutual respect, and honesty. It is what makes it possible for a faculty member to sit with neighbors of other faiths and engage in conversations in and out of the classroom that explore similarities and differences but keeps open channels for relationship and mutual growth. It is what makes it possible for a faculty or staff member to sit with students struggling with their faith and not feel compelled to convert or convict or condemn but join them on a journey of faith that is freeing and engaging for both. It is what makes possible the porosity of our classroom walls, allowing students and faculty to move out into the world to engage to understand world so that we might better talk with it, change it and be changed by it (rather than run from, hide from, bunker down). It is what makes it possible for the College to be a safe place for students of all backgrounds, identities, paths, orientations, and ethnicities, and “creeds” to sit together, talk together, and grow together.

Because we believe God is at work, the Spirit is at work, in all these conversations and together the Truth that makes us free is revealed.

This is not new; I am not the first to call our collective attention to this. In March 1980, in the pages of Warner Pacific College News, Dr. Milo Chapman, then president, wrote about this reality in his time and in his language. I will post that in my next blog.