September 8, 2015

What Do You Want to Bring About in this World?

            Quite a buzz surrounds David Brooks’ fine book The Road to Character.   The author senses that something has radically shifted in our culture over the last 40-50 years, and self-advancement far outstrips self-effacement.  He concludes that the psychotherapeutic focus on self-esteem has rendered an ethos of the “Big Me, which neglects the common good.  Brooks is attempting nothing less than recovery of what he calls “an older moral ecology.”

            Sounding a bit like St. Augustine on sin, Dorothy Day on spiritual discipline, and Reinhold Niebuhr on “moral realism,” Brooks is calling contemporary persons to useful virtue, entailing humility, sacrifice, vocation, and passionate love.  He is rightly suspicious of the generic commencement address that exhorts graduates to “find their passion.”  Rather, he suggests following the insights of Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and Austrian neurologist, to allow suffering to guide our thinking and pay attention to what life requires of us.

            Wisdom is an essential companion on the road to character.  Proverbs personifies her with these words:
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the square she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?  How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:20-22)
Wisdom is both gift of God and fruit of keen discernment.  Wisdom can be gained in the marketplace if one pays attention, and the knowledge that comes from above is not absent even there.

Reid, Robert, 1862-1929. Wisdom Mural, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            I saw a short segment over the weekend on the “oldest woman on Wall Street.”  Now over a hundred, she has worked there well over fifty years.  The interviewer asked her how she had been successful with her firm, gaining the enduring trust of her clients.  She responded with, “I have been extremely conservative, seeking to be wise with investments.”  Giving priority to their concerns has ensured her own success.  Her labor has contributed to the interests of others in a significant way.
            Learners come to seminary—and faculty members remain there—because they desire to be useful to God’s larger purpose in this world.  They believe that Gospel values of peace, justice, friendship, sacrifice, and mercy are instruments of grace.  They also trust that God has called them to help relieve great suffering in this world.  Together, faculty and students forge a vision for what they want to bring about in this world. 
            A theological school remembers what God requires, and it does not shrink back from the truth of the human condition. A seminary can be an outpost for God’s mission, surveying the horizon so that it might meet a rising need in the church. 

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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