President’s speech: “This We Believe…”

Opening convocation of the 2007-2008 academic year, delivered by Dr. James E. Brenneman, president of Goshen College, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007 at the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall.

“When I was very young, I had a neighbor who convinced me that if I didn’t hold my breath when I passed a cemetery, I would either die or become “demon possessed.” And I believed him. For a while anyway. I would hold my breath when I passed a cemetery. Kids sometimes believe the darndest things. When I first heard the term “euthanasia,” for example, I believed literally that it meant “Youth in Asia” and told another kid so. And he believed me. As children, we may have once believed in Santa or the tooth fairy or that our toys woke up at night while we slept. For a number of years, every time we did something truly wonderful as a family, like visit my grandparents and cousins in Iowa or ride the incline railway on Lookout Mountain, I was sure that I would simply wake up, and it would turn out to be just a dream. Later, I found out that believing life was but a dream was a thought experiment used in philosophical arguments about what we can or can’t know for sure. What we believe can affect how we live, how we feel about ourselves, how we think or how we understand reality.

As we continue to grow and mature, some of our beliefs fall by the wayside, thankfully. Other beliefs, when thrown up against the wall of life and experience, they stick. A couple of years ago, National Public Radio revived a 1950s radio program called “This I Believe,” originally hosted by the acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. The program invites people from all walks of life to share an essay that describes their core values — those values that guide their daily lives. Last year, three Goshen College students were selected to share their essays on the local NPR station in Elkhart (WVPE-88.1) — David Martinez (a senior communications major), Kathryn Birky (a junior communications major) and Georgette Oduor (a sophomore nursing major). I wish you could have heard their essays. Each one offered profound insight into deeply held values shaped by their family, by personal experience, by nature and by faith.

The values that stick are those tested and proven over time, sort of like proverbs are. Core values bear with them the wisdom of the ages even though we tend to learn them fresh with each new generation. Core values help us make difficult decisions, select majors, choose where to live or work, raise a child — and the possibilities are endless. Core values can even help us find common ground with someone with whom we disagree. Core values determine our tastes, our way of life, our entertainment, our social, political and religious interactions.

Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted that if progress on matters of race or war or justice was ever to made, if we ever hoped to move forward from where we are to where God wants us to be, then he said “We got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind.” He said, “That’s the only way that we will be able to make of our world a better world.”

At Goshen College, we have some “mighty precious values” that have stood the test of time. These core values have been tested and tried for millennia. In turn, they have been refined during the last 113-year history of Goshen College. We believe that these precious values can help us make our world a better world. We believe that it would be a noble achievement, indeed, for every Goshen College student, faculty, and staff person to rediscover these mighty precious values for ourselves each school year and every year for the rest of our lives.

This we believe . . . We are a Christ-centered college. We believe that Christ’s life and teaching and his death and resurrection provides a perspective for our lives. Christ is the center that gives meaning to all our values. Christ offers a supreme example of how God desires for us to live. We believe that through Christ we find merciful forgiveness and an invitation to a daily, personal walk with God. We believe Christ meant what he said when he boiled all of the great values in life to just two basic core values. We believe when he said: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We celebrate all those who claim Christ to be divine Lord and Savior of their lives. We celebrate also those who choose to live out the values that Christ taught and lived, wherever your spiritual home resides.
This we believe. . .We are passionate learners. We hope you literally fall in love with learning. What area of study brings you bliss or joy? What readings, writings, what analysis, disciplines, what test tubes or experience shout out to you to “Par-tee?” As one person once said about discovering your passion: “What gets your toes tappin’, your mouth rappin’ and your whole heart flappin’? Listen to your life. Discover what it is. What is it you are being called to do? Encourage each other to seek truth where it leads you. We believe that GC is the launching pad for a journey of life-long learning. J.L. Burkholder, president of GC when I was a student, expresses the power of this core value beautifully. He said, “The greatest single value of a liberal arts education,” he says, “is to have something to think about the rest of one’s days.”

This we believe . . . that we are servant leaders. “We believe servant-leadership is reflected perfectly in the life of Jesus Christ.” Rather than claim his divine prerogatives, Christ humbled himself, set aside his self-interest, his dreams and hopes for the interests, and dreams and hopes of others. Homer Simpson knows this value well, at least once. He stated it so well. He said, “I guess I’ll have to give up my hopes and dreams and settle for being a decent husband and father.” Homer, that’s good enough. In service, Jesus led the world and can still lead the world through you. So, imagine yourselves as future leaders in science, industry, medicine, education, sports and the arts. Imagine yourselves as Nobel Prize winners, as best-selling authors, as diplomats, as world-changers as protesters. But also contemplate using those gifts to serve the weak, the powerless, the poor, the prisoner, the infirm, the world’s children. Stay true to our motto: “Culture for Service.”

This we believe. . . that we are compassionate peacemakers. We believe that God intends for all of humanity to live in peace and work for peace through peaceful means. Let us be compassionate toward all those caught up in violence and warfare, be he or she victim, protester, soldier, or president. Let us pray for our enemies and ourselves, that we may be able to do as Christ invites us to do — to love our enemies. Whatever profession you choose, wage peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew. 5:9).

This we believe. . . that we are global citizens. Goshen College this year was listed 23 out of more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States as among the very best in international education. You cannot escape this deeply held core value; it is the one that most radically changes the lives of most students who have come through these doors. We believe that a truly Christian liberal arts education in the 21st century must prepare students like yourselves to live, work, and relate across cultures period. We at Goshen College believe we can cross any cultural divide if we put our mind to it.

In short, we believe we are Christ-centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens. May we have the courage to integrate these values with our actions for the common good and so bring honor to God and to our alma mater. May that be so. Thank you.”