From My Desk to Yours

From My Desk to Yours: Truth and Reconciliation

ULS President’s Newsletter | Summer Term 2018-19

Volume I, Issue 4

July 18, 2018, marked what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, and I found myself reflecting on this great man who exemplifies so much of Christian teaching — who truly lived out his long life as a “child of God.” Of course, he is known primarily for his anti-apartheid work in South Africa, fighting nonviolently for social justice, civil rights and equal treatment under the law for South Africa’s Native African majority. But in mulling over his legacy on this anniversary, and so close to the anniversary of United Lutheran Seminary’s birth by the coming together of its two parent seminaries on July 1, I found myself concluding that what Nelson Mandela truly represents for Christians is the deep community, the radical hospitality, to which we are called and which we need to develop more fully to make this consolidation a success.

I feel a profound personal and familial connection to Nelson Mandela because of a few experiences that contributed greatly to my understanding of Mandela and the meaning of his faith. In 1994, my wife Dorothy was present for dinner with Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the celebration of the end of government-enforced apartheid in South Africa, a new birth of independence for the majority. Nelson Mandela was 95 when he died in 2013. In the spring of 2015, Dorothy returned to South Africa, and this time I went her with as a member of a study group from Minnesota which spent two weeks visiting school and university officials and friends in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. We visited the prison cell where Mandela was held for 27 years, and spent time touring the town of his birth and the home where he lived. Seeing those places — places where he was subjected to appalling penalties merely for striving for freedom for himself and for his people — makes it all the more remarkable for me that he was able to put aside his rancor at his and his people’s treatment.

Mandela was s a man of strong faith and strength of spirit which must have allowed him to survive the more than 20 years in prison, and certainly provided the foundation of trust and love of others that led to his concept of “truth and reconciliation” — a means of forming a single, harmonious community out of the country then riven by animosity rooted in the race-based injustices of the apartheid period — as a pillar of his term as President of South Africa.

In a 2008 speech in Kliptown in the vast apartheid-era ghetto of Soweto, Mandela said, “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of,” a precept also expressed in Matthew 22:39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We at ULS can learn from Mandela’s South African experience as we strive to form our own community. The ULS community celebrated our first year as one seminary July 1. The two campuses began operating as a united institution July 1, 2017. Throughout the next year, we will celebrate the union of two grand Lutheran educational institutions and the 346 years of combined heritage they represent. We all recognize, however, that building a new community out of two separate entities is not without challenges.

In any new community joining groups, there may be friction, even animosity. This was certainly true for Mandela’s South Africa, and the first year of our new existence has proven to be one of many challenges — albeit in less dramatic and less harmful ways for us than for the Republic of South Africa. Some of our actions have caused pain, but often the trials we face as a community help us to deepen communal ties as we stand side-by-side with others in the often boggy ground of change, recognizing our own role and acknowledging the role of our new neighbors in the challenges; in the uncertainty, in the injustice. This kind of honesty, of vulnerability and deep, self-emptying love, is what made Mandela and Tutu’s truth and reconciliation commissions work, and our commitment to a similar attitude as ULS works to become a community of love will go a long way to healing our fractures, our bruised feelings, our uncertainties, our sense that justice may not have been done.

This is not the struggle of ULS alone, however. In some ways, we, as a global polity, are facing the disintegration of authentic community. Our societal, familial, cultural dependence on loving communities has been replaced around the world by shallow imposters. We replace love for family, for community, for shared culture, for the values of compassion and self-sacrifice, with the idolatry of money and objects; of celebrity and tribe; of self over neighbor; and we are aided and abetted by media and technology that cater to our worst impulses. Compare our more isolated, guarded society to the “greatest generation,” that weathered together economic collapse, the fight against fascism, and the Cold War. The U.S. of that time generally trusted more, worked together more, shared more than we do today, despite some glaring social justice deficits in that time. In his “Life Together,” Dietrich Bonhoffer — another Christian who was forced to deal with the fracturing of community — wrote, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” This is a lesson we seemed to know intuitively in this country in the past, but which the current population appears to have forgotten. 

So what are we at ULS to do that brings about authentic community? There are a ton of answers to this question, but three come to mind immediately as I think about the ULS community. 

Engage — It’s hard to engage. It takes effort and a certain submerging of one’s ego to get it right. We must put aside, as Paul would have it (Romans 8:13), the jealousies, resentments, grudges, prejudices of our “flesh” — our imperfect, sinful selves — so that we may live together in the spirit of love and peace.

Forgive — Forgiveness is two parts: Admitting I am a sinner, and no better than the other I am forgiving; And recognizing that I must learn to forgive as Christ has forgiven me. Sharing with each other our sins and our forgiveness as one body of believers, when appropriate, is a powerful spiritual experience, sharing lamentation, repentance and forgiveness with each other.

Serve and worship together—The more we do to serve society and worship God together, the more we will strengthen communal bonds. The seminary experience and theological education give us the opportunity to practice all three. 

As we navigate these uncharted waters together, let us remember what the Apostle Paul wrote almost 2,000 years ago to the congregations in Corinth about Christian unity when they were challenged by divisions. Paul noted that we are members of the same body of Christ, “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor. 12:25-26) Creating community together serves us as an institution and as individuals. Paul reminds us our unity also serves God.

Loving, merciful God, help us forge a new unity in your name, that strengthens us in your mission for us, to bring your Kingdom to this Earth as it is in heaven. Help us share your love with all the members of this important institution and with the world, to spread your Gospel in our words and in our deeds. In the name of your son, our savior Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Richard Green
Interim President

Significant Events & Updates

  • Participated in the UTICA Annual Planning Meeting
  • Met with several current and former administrators
  • Visited with a student and a few faculty members
  • Had a great conversation with a program manager from a regional family foundation regarding future financial opportunities.
  • Along with Dr. deForest and Dean Sebastian, met with senior administrators from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Hosted a planning retreat with members of the President’s Council.