A STORY FOR TOMORROW: RE-VISIONING THE COLLEGE CHAPLAINCY
Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.
NetVUE Chaplaincy Conference
Atlanta, GA
September 27, 2014

 

Good morning, everyone, and thank you, Beth, for your very kind and generous introduction. I am honored by the invitation of NetVUE and CIC and feel blessed to be able to share some thoughts with you today.

A Life in the Theatre

As you gathered from my biography, I began my career on the stage. From a young age, I felt drawn to that place of pretense, that place where people gather in the dark in the hope that they may discover some truth about themselves and all humanity.

The theatre is a temple of stories where actors, masquerading in a variety of roles, fool us into believing that they are the people they pretend to be, taking us with them on journeys to our darkest places and back, leaving us grateful for the lives we lead. We leave the theatre, silently thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go we” (Martin, 2014).

Helen Hayes, the consummate actress of her generation and a devout Catholic, framed the power of stories this way:

We rely upon the poets, the philosophers, and the playwrights to articulate what most of us can only feel, in joy or sorrow. They illuminate the thoughts for which we only grope; they give us the strength and balm we cannot find in ourselves. Whenever I feel my courage wavering, I rush to them. They give me the wisdom of acceptance, the will and resilience to push on.” (Hayes, 1965)

Or in the words of Mrs. Lovett in the Sondheim musical, “Sweeney Todd,” “I do loves a good story” (Sondheim & Wheeler, 1991).

Knowing full well that my kind have, through the centuries, been scorned by the Church, I understand the risk of beginning this talk with a true story. And yet, I am compelled to share it.

True Stories

A true story.

It was the Tuesday after Easter. Around 5 o’clock. The end of a long day at work. The direct line rang in my office. It was the provost. “Mark,” he said, his voice trembling, “I have some terrible news.”

He proceeded to inform me that one of the University pastors had just been found dead by an apparent suicide. We stayed on the phone together, silent, our minds racing, a jumble of shock and sorrow. I felt like a ship at sea during a storm, anchorless, rudderless, without bearings. And if that was how I was feeling, I could not imagine what my colleagues on the staff of the campus Chapel were experiencing at that very moment. Lord, I prayed, show us the way.

The provost and I could only think of one thing to do. Tell the campus that we would gather together at the Chapel later that evening. We had not yet formed the story we would tell about this death. But we knew the larger narrative that would bring coherence to this incomprehensible act.

And we knew that, throughout the history of Valparaiso University, our students would instinctively be drawn to the Chapel as that place we gather to affirm the story, to come to grips with the incoherent chaos of the world, and to find our way.

In Luce Tua Videmus Lucem, goes the motto at Valparaiso University. Psalm 36:9: “In Thy Light, We See Light” (King James Version).

Another true story.

Just 15 minutes from our campus, on the shores of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, you will find deep sandy beaches and dunes, with waves that rival those on the Atlantic coast. It is the custom at Valparaiso for students to spend afternoons at the Indiana Dunes, swimming and sunning themselves on the beach.

A group of our Saudi students were among those playing at the lake that afternoon of the first week of school — and four of the boys were standing together about 20 yards out, jumping in the waves. All of a sudden, one of the boys, quite athletic and a strong swimmer, jumped in the air with his hands up, shouting. Then he disappeared under the water.

His friends thought he was playing. But he didn’t return to the surface. A rip current had sucked the sand bar from beneath his feet, and he and all the sand were drawn out quickly, silently, deep into the waters of Lake Michigan. The student’s older sister and younger brother were among the group gathered at the lake that day.

As the day wore on and the student’s body did not surface, greater numbers of Saudi students and other international students gathered together at the lake in silent vigil, eager to find his body so that he could be returned home for burial. The need, the urgency, was palpable.

Brian Johnson had just arrived on campus as executive director of campus ministries a few weeks before. Brian, who is an ordained pastor in the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, joined these students as they waited on the shore while teams of police and volunteers searched the coastline. He was with these students the next day as the student’s body was located. He was there with the siblings as they identified his body. He was there as I met with the brother and sister to express the condolences of our community.

Back on campus, the collaborative team in our chaplaincy, Pastors Jim Wetzstein of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the LC-MS, and ELCA Pastor Charlene Cox, ministered to the students. While the campus was reeling from the death of this student, it had no language, no ritual, no tradition, no clear way to come together across Christianity and Islam to grieve as one campus. Yet, the pastors knew that we needed to gather together at the Chapel to make sense of things and to find our way. They decided that we would host a silent vigil.

The students and faculty — Muslim and Christian — gathered quietly and awkwardly in this common space. Pastor Jim asked me to open the gathering as the president of the University, to reflect on the loss of this important member of the community, and to invite those gathered to offer silent prayer, each in his or her own way, and, if they chose, to light candles in remembrance.

We had no roadmap, no experience. We lacked a shared set of beliefs. And yet we knew that it was good to gather together, to grieve together, to show our love and support for one another, and that it was important for everyone, in their own way, to pray for this lost one, and for his family.

The Power of Stories

Stories are powerful things. In our time, we have seen compelling narratives start movements, get people elected to office, topple governments, and change lives. The potential for narrative to effect change has been compounded exponentially in these latter days by the tremendous power of social media to transmit, share, and build both awareness and validation of particular narratives, especially those that bring a sense of logic, order, and comprehensibility to chaotic or unclear situations.

People are increasingly curious about stories, why we tell them, how they work on us consciously and subconsciously. Narrative theorists, who come from a wide range of disciplines from literary studies and linguistics to sociology and cognitive science, “[start] from the assumption that narrative is a basic human strategy for coming to terms with fundamental elements of our experience, such as time, process, and change.” They explore “how stories help people make sense of the world, while also studying how people make sense of stories” (Ohio State University, 2014).

I believe that this sense-making dialectic can inform the roles and positioning of the future chaplaincy in higher education, particularly as we live through the last gasps of modernity in this in-between age we call the post-modern.

Studies in Post-Modernism: Rashomon and Memento

What has the chaplaincy to do with stories? And why is this aspect of the chaplaincy particularly important in the post-modern University?

To begin to answer these questions, let’s return to theatrical convention. To illustrate, I’ll use two examples from the cinema, another theatrical art form that relies primarily on narrative and role-playing to illuminate the human condition.

First, we turn our attention to the work of master Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa and his 1950 film, “Rashomon.” In one of the greatest films of the 20th century, Kurosawa tells the story of the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife through the accounts of four different eyewitness narrators: a bandit, the wife, a wood-cutter, and the ghost of the samurai, all of whom are telling the truth as they see it, all of whom claim a different killer. (Criterion, 2013) Film critic Roger Ebert considers:

The genius of ‘Rashomon’ is that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that they present an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False, because as Kurosawa observes in his autobiography, ‘Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.’

The wonder of ‘Rashomon’ is that while the shadowplay of truth and memory is going on, we are absorbed by what we trust is an unfolding story. The film’s engine is our faith that we’ll get to the bottom of things — even though the woodcutter tells us at the outset he doesn’t understand, and if an eyewitness who has heard the testimony of the other three participants doesn’t understand, why should we expect to? (Ebert, 2002)

At the film’s core, Kurosawa uses “Rashomon” to interrogate the nature of truth.

“Rashomon” introduces a new conceit in the conventions of world cinema: the unreliable narrator. In fact, this concept, called the “Rashomon effect,” illustrates the skepticism of the post-modern perspective, where we have come to conclude that we ought to routinely expect contradictory eyewitness accounts of the same event by different people. Indeed, there is no single truth, no reliable narrative. The modern concept of a logical, rational, coherent narrative is not to be trusted (Heider, 1988).

The second example comes from the 2000 Christopher Nolan film, “Memento.” This film tells two stories about a former insurance investigator named Leonard. Leonard, we learn, has anterograde amnesia and cannot store recent memories, the result of a beating.

In these two stories, a series of black-and-white sequences tells one story in chronological order, punctuated by a series of color sequences that tells that same story backwards. Through these two stories both we and Leonard piece together the story of who murdered Leonard’s wife. And because of Leonard’s amnesia, he is forced to experience the shock and grief of her death anew with each recollection. As viewers, we spend much of the movie as confused as Leonard, trying to piece together the story from tiny clues doled out to us with each ensuing scene.

LA Times film critic Andy Klein’s detailed explication of the film draws our attention to Leonard’s dialogue early in the script. Leonard says,

Memory’s unreliable … Memory’s not perfect. It’s not even that good. Ask the police; eyewitness testimony is unreliable … Memory can change the shape of a room or the color of a car. It’s an interpretation, not a record. Memories can be changed or distorted, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts. (Klein, 2001)

Klein (2001) calls this “the very heart of the film.” “ ‘Memento’,” he says, “is a movie largely about memory — the ways in which it defines identity, how it’s necessary to determine moral behavior and yet how terribly unreliable it is, despite its crucial role in our experience of the world” (Klein, 2001).

Ultimately, even after repeated viewings, the audience cannot piece together the truth of what it has seen. The revelations don’t add up. Tattoos appear and disappear from Leonard’s chest irrespective of time. We discover sequences we accept as reality that, upon further analysis, appear to be fantasy (Klein, 2001). In the end, as Roger Ebert concludes in his analysis, “Confusion is the state we are intended to be in” (Ebert, 2001).

So, friends, these films capture the prevailing spirit of where we are situated in post-modernity — unable to trust the narrator, unable to trust the story, unable to trust our own perceptions and memory. What a paradox it is to find ourselves satiated with technology, with nearly unlimited access to the accumulated information generated by human beings world-wide, yet more unsure than ever of what sense to make of it or who to believe. Or, in the words of T.S. Eliot,

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. (Eliot, 1963)

The Chaplaincy and Post-Modernism

All of us are grappling with the dying pangs of modernism, or in the words of theologian Robert W. Jenson, “how the world lost its story.” In his essay with that same title, Jenson describes modernism as our belief in a rational, coherent narrative of human progress independent of God. First generated in the Enlightenment, modernity preaches that each of us as individuals and each of our cherished institutions — government, universities, and the Church — contributes to this larger coherent narrative, all of it moving directionally toward a promised and promising tomorrow (Jenson, 1993).

Jenson (1993) argues that, as Nietzsche predicted, modernity’s collapse was inevitable. And while Nietzsche imagined an emergent ‘superman’ arising out of the chaos of nihilism that ensued with the death of modern progress, we find ourselves instead not in the state of absolute freedom Nietzsche imagined, but rather awash in a post-modern sea of skepticism and confusion. We cannot trust our government, or our universities, or the Church. We cannot trust each other, and we cannot even trust ourselves. As Jenson (1993) suggests, it is a world without a story, a world without hope, and a world without promises.

It is from this place of yearning for knowledge, for wisdom, for Truth, for a narrative of hope and promises, that calls for a deeply rooted, muscular, and visionary chaplaincy in our nation’s colleges and universities. To tell the story that needs to be told. To offer terra firma in a sea of negation. So that we might have promises in which we can trust.

I firmly believe that a strong chaplaincy draws its strength from the identity and ethos of its founding religious tradition. A strong chaplaincy is inextricably interwoven with the intellectual, social, and spiritual vitality and development of every student, faculty, and staff member. A strong chaplaincy is the key to both articulating institutional distinction and setting a clear course toward an institution’s most desired future. I also believe that there are new roles for tomorrow’s chaplains to play in university life.

But before I describe those roles to you, let me share one final narrative with you. One I hope you can trust. This is the story of Valparaiso University and the role the chaplaincy has begun to play in our present and future.

The Valpo Story

Located in Northwest Indiana, just an hour outside of Chicago, Valparaiso University, or “Valpo” as it is colloquially known, occupies an unusual position among faith-based institutions. Founded by the Methodists in 1859 as Valparaiso Male and Female College, it flourished briefly and then floundered during and after the American Civil War. Next, bought by entrepreneur Henry Baker Brown in the 1870s and converted into a proprietary school, Valpo’s second iteration focused on a highly practical educational experience. The campus swelled to 5,000 students and, because of its extraordinary size and energy, was known in its day as the “Harvard of the West.” After Brown’s death, the campus fell into decay and bankruptcy.

It had two suitors bidding for its ownership in 1925 — a group of Fort Wayne businessmen who were members of the LCMS, the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod; the other group was the Ku Klux Klan. The Lutherans won the bid, and Valpo’s modern era began in 1925. Yet, unlike other Lutheran institutions of its day, the founders of Valparaiso University chose to keep it independent of any church body, invited Lutherans of all stripes into its learning community, and strove mightily to keep itself fully Lutheran in identity and practice.

In its early Lutheran years, Valpo weathered significant challenges — the Great Depression and World War II, when enrollment dropped to only a few hundred women. After World War II, the campus swelled with large numbers of Lutherans, particularly due to the efforts of the charismatic and eloquent President O.P. Kretzmann, a luminary in the LCMS, whose vision to build a “University under the Cross,” a place where “Athens and Jerusalem meet,” was compelling for Lutheran families at that time.

Kretzmann’s crowning achievement was the construction of the Chapel of the Resurrection in 1959, still the largest collegiate Chapel in North America and recognized as one of the 50 most beautiful college chapels in the world. At its dedication, Kretzmann challenged future presidents with words that still echo strongly on our campus today. He said,

This Chapel was to be a monument to Jesus Christ. It was to say that we, so late in time, still cling to the God of Grace, Redemption, and Sanctification. It was to tell the world of our continuing need for the eternal … sure that our laboratories and libraries, our classrooms and dormitories, were not enough. So, if at some dim and distant time we might have here a faculty, students, and administration who no longer believe in the purposes of this Chapel, it will still be necessary for them to come to terms with what this Chapel represents. They can never quite get away from this silent witness to our faith (Kretzmann, 1969).

Soon after my arrival at Valpo, I observed that the Chapel, that architectural centerpiece of the campus, was largely isolated from the life of the University. A place of ritual and tradition, with an extraordinary wealth of liturgical experience and musical talent, the Chapel faced dwindling attendance and little relevance to the lives of the majority of the students, faculty, and staff, who by then were not Lutheran.

In addition, the University found itself at the nexus of a deepening theological and social conflict between the two largest bodies of Lutheranism in America — the LCMS and the ELCA. As the rift between these bodies widened on issues like the ecumenism and the ordination of women, gays, and lesbians, Valpo found itself in continuing firestorms as it attempted to operate as its own “synod,” a hybrid of the two bodies in polity and practice. Valpo became adept at navigating this conflicted terrain, as considerable psychic energy and political goodwill had been expended in navigating these theological and cultural wars between the Lutheran left and right for more than three decades.

Through a broad-based visioning process, we conceived of a new positioning for the Lutheran identity of Valparaiso University, moving from a model of hospitality (a University for Lutherans inviting others into community) to one of constitution (a Lutheran University constituted by people from many backgrounds and beliefs). We concluded the process with this vision statement for our future Lutheran identity:

Valparaiso University will be a distinguished Lutheran community of learning constituted by people of many and various beliefs and backgrounds in dialogue with one another in common pursuit of truth.
This vision gave us a new story to tell about Valparaiso University; one more aligned with its current body of students, faculty, and staff; one that would position the University to lead and serve future generations of increasingly diverse students through the post-modern age.

We began immediately to re-position the Chapel for this new vision. First, I appointed as University provost Mark Schwehn, a beloved alumnus from the O.P. Kretzmann era, 30-year Valpo faculty member, former dean of Valpo’s honors college — Christ College, author of “Exiles from Eden” and co-editor of “Leading Lives that Matter.” We then changed the reporting structure of the Chapel from the Office of the President to the Provost’s Office. This was done to enable us to both redefine and re-energize the efforts of the Chapel and to bring the Chapel’s work into the center of conversations about the student experience. We hired a female ELCA pastor as a third University Pastor alongside two long-serving LCMS pastors. Provost Schwehn then convened a Task Force to examine the future of campus ministries at Valpo.

Here are a few of the key governing principles that framed the Task Force’s work. They are germane to our consideration of the future chaplaincy.

  • Valparaiso is a University, not a church.
  • Because it is a Lutheran University, Valparaiso shall continue to give pre-eminent place to the Lutheran tradition, as manifest both in the LCMS and the ELCA, in its worship life and in many other activities that minister to the spiritual lives of students.
  • Because it is a community of learning constituted by people of all faiths, Valparaiso shall minister to the spiritual needs of all students, including those of non-Christian faiths, in providing for their worship life and in supporting many other activities that address the spiritual lives of students.
  • Because it is a University, Valparaiso seeks the truth and may credibly strive to achieve the unity of truth as seen in the light of the Truth.
  • Because it is not a church, Valparaiso, though it should long for and worship in the hope of Christian unity of faith and action, may not credibly strive to achieve unity of ecclesial practice.

You can see, with these principles, a positioning of the chaplaincy at a nexus of the University and the Church, writ large, at the nexus of Christianity and other world religions, at the nexus of Lutheranism and other expressions of Christian faith, at the nexus of the various expressions of Lutheranism, and vitally connected to our quest for truth as continually revealed by our Creator, always illuminated by the larger narrative of Truth that we are called to proclaim.

Operating continually at the nexus of these oftentimes competing and contradictory forces is a difficult task. The chaplaincy must engage us in some of the most vexing problems and vital conversations we must have across cultures, societies, and nations, conversations about the story which binds us together and offers us a promise we can trust, about how we will live together in community even when our differences may be irreconcilable. And in these difficult and chaotic times, it is perhaps the most important task we undertake. Because lives are at stake. And our world is at stake.

Too Many Hats?

If this is the future of the chaplaincy, as I believe it is, then it is time for us to write a new script for the Story, with important roles for our chaplains to play. Even as I say this, I am reminded of that wonderful 1980 production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.” The play ran for 8 ½ hours and its 150 or so characters were played by a small troupe of actors endlessly changing roles.

Surely, that’s what it must feel like being a chaplain today. You are called upon to play so many roles: preaching the gospel, orchestrating worship, offering pastoral support and counseling, promoting social justice, engaging students in community service, fostering leadership, educating students in church polity and practice. I know from personal experience that playing many roles can be exhausting work, especially when you try to play each role with equal vigor and intensity.

When I transitioned from acting to directing plays, I came to understand that the art of direction — from the staging of the actors, to the colors of the costumes and the intensity of the lighting — was meant to focus the audience’s attention on what was most important at any given moment of the play. This ensured that the story would be told clearly and coherently the audience so that they might make sense of it for themselves and for their living in the world.

In your several roles as chaplains, you face a similar task. How might you best tell the story, God’s story, for those who have come to you to make sense of the chaos around them? My tools were the story, the actors, the costumes, the lighting, and the stage. Your tools are the Story; your selves and your particular gifts; the physical chapel; and the world. You must choose how to best use these tools to focus the attention of those around you so that the Story, that singular and all-encompassing Story, is conveyed in a way that enables students, faculty, and staff to make sense of the Story and use the Story to navigate and participate in the world.

Earlier, I alluded to the complex roles of the modern chaplaincy: preacher, teacher, servant, advocate, change-agent, leader. Yet, if we think of the post-modern dilemma, these roles seem inadequate for the task before us. Perhaps it is time for us to reconceive the roles of the chaplaincy. To that end, I suggest four strategic roles the chaplaincy might play in our institutions.

The Chaplain as Narrator

Particularly in these times of suspicion and confusion, the chaplaincy is called to be the reliable narrator for our institutions and our constituents. To do so requires a deep understanding of the institution’s history, its ethos, its culture, its most enduring stories — those which capture and affirm those deeply held beliefs and values that draw people to it and keep them connected with it over the decades and generations. This is the institutional narrative.

This narrative, however, must be told as part of a larger story, the larger Story of our creation, of our living, of our dying, and of what lies beyond. This Story is the Truth, that ultimate Light on all of our University shields, that illuminates the many pathways we individually pursue in our quest for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

The chaplaincy must seek to tell the institution’s story as coherent and consonant within this larger story. Not two plots intertwined. Not even as a sub-plot, but rather, the story of our institutions as full and unique and enduring expressions of the Story manifest in this time and this place. The institutional story must be authentic and inspirational. It must speak across generations. It must be taught. It must be recited routinely, especially by those chief story tellers — the president and the trustees. And it must continue to evolve even while remaining grounded in history and experience.

Our institutions rely on you to be that trusted narrator, to know the institution both past and present, to imagine its future, and to weave a seamless and persuasive narrative that calls us into our studies, into our work and into the world as our most excellent selves, all for the glory of God.

The Chaplain as Interlocutor

It was in the American minstrel shows of the 19th century that the role of the interlocutor was born. While this form of racist entertainment thankfully has died away, the concept of the interlocutor has survived and represents an important role for tomorrow’s chaplaincy. In the minstrel show, the interlocutor was the person in the middle of the line of performers. The interlocutor was, at times, the emcee, at other times, he engaged the performers on either end of the line in banter, urging them on, cajoling them, pushing the performers toward excellence, setting the tempo, whipping up the crowd and bringing them to rest.

Unlike the minstrel shows of the past, that line of performers is diverse and often at odds. The line extends from the far right to the far left. It is filled with a wide variety of faith traditions and expressions — from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and cru to gatherings of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, from the Chinese Bible study group and the peer ministers, to the secular humanists and atheists — many backgrounds and beliefs.

The Chaplain as interlocutor seeks to make music with these folks, to find the harmonies that allow them to perform in concert with one another. There must be good-natured bantering back and forth, sometimes cajoling, other times praising and supporting. Sometimes the crowd needs whipped up, other times it must be brought to rest. And the interlocutor must accomplish all this without ever seizing the baton or trying to conduct. For the interlocutor, you see, is just one musician in the line, but one who has earned their trust, one who knows them well, is attuned to the individual gifts each brings to the music, and who knows when and how to feature them and when to match them, and when to soften them. The authority to do so can only be earned, and the chaplain’s only baton is gentle persuasion and the permission to exercise it.

The Chaplain as Interrogator

Someone has to ask the big questions, the hard questions.

Because the future Chaplaincy serves as the institution’s narrator, and is its trusted interlocutor, chaplains are situated to question those institutional decisions, policies, and practices that tell another story, one that comes in conflict with the institution’s narrative and its place within the larger Story, decisions which seem out of tune with the music being played on the line.

Interrogator is a particularly important role for future chaplains, as many of our institutions grapple to find a sustainable business model. Under such economic pressure and demands by our trustees and parents to reduce costs and accelerate change, institutions may make decisions contrary to the University’s narrative or upsetting to the delicate balance of backgrounds and beliefs underpinning its culture. If no one is asking questions like, “why are we pursuing this course?” “What might this mean for our identity?” “If this is who we are, what we stand for — if this is our institutional history and our story — then how might we best evolve the institution while remaining true to our identity, our mission, and our best selves?” If no one is asking questions like these, then institutions will most assuredly lose their way. This ought to be a role for our chaplains to play as we evolve our institutions.

To ask hard questions in difficult times, the chaplain as Interrogator must have a seat at the table. Presidents ought to identify and welcome a person with this charge onto the senior team as a full participant in these kinds of conversations. While the Chaplaincy may not perform the role of Interrogator at every institution, I have found this role of the chaplaincy to be of increasing importance for Valparaiso University. For this reason, at Valpo, the Chaplaincy has a seat at the table.

The Chaplain as Sherpa

The Sherpa people, as you likely know, are an ethnic group in the most mountainous region of Nepal. They are renowned mountaineers, particularly for their abilities to guide climbers safely over the difficult terrain of the Himalayas. When I describe the Chaplaincy as strong, muscular, and visceral, I think of the Nepali Sherpa, who, despite their modest stature and build, are deceivingly powerful physically with extraordinary endurance. I would trust my life with them. Why? Because they know the way, they adapt to wildly unpredictable and often dangerous conditions. They know when it is best to forge ahead, or when it is time to turn back from our quest for the summit or when to pitch a tent and spend the night. Sherpa are people you can count on when the going gets rough.

The Chaplain as Sherpa plays this role in many ways: as pastoral counselor and mentor, in the vocational discernment process for students, in the formation process for faculty and staff, and in the institutional discernment process in the midst of unprecedented change. Chaplains know that helping someone in crisis or discovering one’s calling takes a steady, experienced, and patient guide. Chaplains can help faculty and staff to either see themselves as key contributors to the larger institutional narrative or to help them discern a better institutional fit. So, as our colleges and universities continue to be buffeted by rapidly changing and sometimes dangerous conditions, and our students, faculty and staff fall victim to the vagaries of the world, we look to the Sherpa to keep us on the path and to help us find our way forward. And in these latter days, many will entrust their lives to you.

Conclusion

These roles of Narrator, Interlocutor, Interrogator, and Sherpa seem, to me, more strategic descriptors of the primary work of the college Chaplaincy in our time. The story has not changed, but the script is new, our roles have adapted, and we are called to use the familiar tools available to us in new and profoundly important ways.

The modern world may have lost its story, but we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to tell the old, old story anew. And as chaplains at our nation’s colleges and universities, you have an extraordinary contribution to make in helping our institutions craft a clear, coherent, compelling story to guide us, both as individuals and as communities of learning, through the darkness of our times.

Even as I close these remarks and we prepare to depart, I share with you a final memory — a reliable one, I hope. When I think of stories, I am inevitably drawn back to my childhood of Little Golden Books and Tarzan movies, of Sunday School and all the Bible stories I learned from such dedicated and wonderful teachers, and to the hymns I learned, standing in pew with my mom and dad and grandparents, who sang loudly and usually in harmony, even if a little off-key. Even today, when I sing these hymns, I recall with longing, the safety and security of that pew and my parents, even as my spirit is lifted by the blessed assurance that there is, indeed, a story I can count on and pass on. Here is one apropos of this morning. You are welcome to join me.

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.

I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true;

It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.

I love to tell the story,

‘Twill be my theme in glory

To tell the old, old story

Of Jesus and his love. (Fisher & Hankey, 1866)

Friends, faith is still possible, trust is still possible in these times. We count on you to tell the story, to urge us to sing together, and to guide us through the uncertain terrain. May God richly bless you in your vocations of leadership and service and may you be sustained and fulfilled in the increasingly important roles you will play now and in the future.

Thank you and Godspeed as you journey home.

 

 

References

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http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-rashomon-1950

Eliot, T.S. (1963). Collected Poems 1909-1960. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.

Fischer, W.G. (Text), & Hankey, K. (Music). (1866) I love to tell the story. In

Evangelical Lutheran Worship. (2006). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.

Hayes, H. (1965). A gift for joy. Lanham, MD: M. Evans & Co.

Heider, K. G. (1988). The Rashomon effect: When ethnographers disagree.

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Jenson, R. (1993, October). How the world lost its story. First Things. Retrieved

from: http://www.firstthings.com/article/1993/10/002-how-the-world-

lost-its-story

Klein, A. (2001, June 28). Everything you wanted to know about ‘Memento’.

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Event Details
September 27, 2014
NetVUE Chaplaincy Conference