President Brenneman opens spring semester with a call for sound choices in life


President James E. Brenneman welcomed the campus back for the spring semester on Jan. 11 during his opening chapel and urged the campus community to “choose life,” he said. “That’s what we need to do in 2008. Let us try to make decisions that bring us and others life, not death.”
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GOSHEN, Ind. — Goshen College President James E. Brenneman welcomed students, faculty and staff back to campus for the spring semester with a call to make wise choices when facing key life decisions and recognizing the need for faith and prayer.“It very well could be that today, right here, right now, some of you are at just such a crossroads,” Brenneman said during his Jan. 11 opening chapel for the spring semester in the college’s Church-Chapel. “Many of you have choices before you — majors, careers, relationships, faith — and some of you are at one of those choice points of destiny… so it’s important that we open ourselves up to God, who promises to be with us and is present in all conceivable universes. It’s important to open up to God through ‘the art and science’ of prayer, just in case, this is the day, the hour, the moment.”

The service included a Scripture reading which formed the basis for Brenneman’s sermon — Deuteronomy 30:15-20 — as well as music by Goshen College students with piano accompaniment by President Brenneman’s spouse, Terri Plank Brenneman.

Campus Pastor Bob Yoder set the stage for the sermon by expressing the hope that the Holy Spirit would enter the lives of those on campus and help nurture a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Even though people have very busy lives, Yoder said they should seek quiet moments to reflect and to discover God’s influence.

In his sermon, Brenneman said that January traditionally is a time for looking backward and looking ahead to a new year filled with new possibilities and opportunities and new choices — some big, some small and some full of consequences.

The president asked members of the campus community to imagine themselves as atoms traveling at the speed of light on a path of time stretching into the past and into the future on parallel lines that sometimes intersect in parallel universes.

“Such a thought experiment may sound like science fiction, but it’s not; it’s science,” Brenneman said, referring to the journey of atoms, which are pulsating light particles (called quanta), traveling in parallel universes. The tiny moments in time and space, when the vibrating quanta leap from one parallel universe to the other, are known as “choice points,” he said.

“The choice point is like a little tiny bridge making it possible to begin in one lane and change course to experience the outcome of a whole new pathway. I like to think of the parallel universes of atoms as a small metaphor for the large-scale experience of life as we sometimes experience it,” Brenneman said. “The difference of what future life lane you and I experience is determined by what choices you and I make at strategic, almost imperceptible, atom-like, moments in our lives.”

Many life choices are inconsequential, such as our choice of “Wheaties over Corn flakes, Adidas over Nike, boxers over briefs,” Brenneman said, eliciting laughter.

“However, every now and then, our choices, some big and some little happen in the instant, the moment, when our possible futures converge occupying the same space and time. The choice we make at those moments may in fact be leaps midstream into a whole new future for us, for good or not … and sometimes the less traveled choices we make in those moments make all the difference in the universe.”

Key choices by people — some conscious decisions and some simple mistakes — have turned out to be turning points in world history and individual lives.

For example, Brenneman said that he and his wife, Terri, left Goshen College and decided to move to California for two years of graduate school, but ended up staying 26 years. “Our whole lives were radically altered by a prayerful choice at a particular moment in space and time. Without knowing it, we leapt across the overlap between two possible parallel universes each with potential different outcomes. What an effect it had on us, preparing us for a return to Goshen College we never anticipated.”

Drawing upon the admonition that Moses offered his fellow wanderers in the desert of Sinai in the Deuteronomy passage, Brenneman urged the campus community to “choose life. That’s what we need to do in 2008. Let us try to make decisions that bring us and others life, not death.”

Brenneman also recommended seeking moments of stillness to listen for God.

“Find that deep and quiet place within you. Listen to that deepest part of who you are, who God made you to be and try to make choices in keeping with that inner life-giving compass — conscience, divine voice, the voices of our teachers or parents or Scripture,” he said. “Such quiet listening opens us to God’s guidance, a God who knows our possible futures. Such quiet listening along with life-giving actions may help to create the experience, the miracle, really, of leaping into a world in which our healing, our hopes unfold before us, where we experience salvation and renewal more fully, where life is forever altered for the better.”

Brenneman concluded by calling for immediate good choices “not tomorrow, not three hours from now, but today, right here, right now at this precise moment in time and space … I’d ask that you not miss out on the possible opportunity to welcome God’s invitation to cross over into a whole new future of healing and hope.”

After the sermon, Assistant Campus Minister Tamara Shantz welcomed students to come forward to take and eat a grape — a New Year’s tradition in Spain and Puerto Rico that symbolizes a fresh start in life. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff members came forward in prayer to pick out and eat a green seedless grape.

—By Richard R. Aguirre

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.

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Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.

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