Monday, May 14, 2012
Pietas and a Christian University
Missouri sorta owns (well, owned) Valparaiso University. There is the big story of the businessmen who rescued the school and reshaped it into one of the finest Lutheran institutions of higher learning in the world. That is what it was. It is still probably considered a great school but I can hardly call it Lutheran anymore. It nods to the heritage called Lutheran but the seats in the huge chapel sit empty most days and the center of the university is not faith -- at least not a faith recognizable to the giants who once roamed there. I think of the glory days of O. P Kretzmann and of the vibrant and vivid picture of a university in which the chapel cast the largest shadow over the campus, its students and its curriculum.
Missouri is a favorite whipping boy of many currently on campus (even some who call Missouri home). There are those who love to pick and prod at the LCMS as if it were a joke. In reality, Valpo has become a Lutheran joke which is not funny at all and so very sad, indeed. The current President is ELCA, they have an ELCA chaplainette (as well as a Missouri guy) and nobody mines the Missouri connection except to get money from aging donors who have in mind the glory days of this institution and its proud churchly character and connection.
So it was with great comfort I read Gilbert Meilaender's reminiscence of growing up Missouri on the pages of the Cresset. Meilaender looms large in the field of those seriously Lutheran, concerned with serious ethics, and, yet, curiously alone among the faculty as a Missourian who does not trash his parentage. Gilbert Meilaender is the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and a prolific and winsome author and speaker who has the ability to make ethics actually interesting and exciting. I wish we had more like Meilaender at Valpo. I wish the seats in the chapel were full regularly. I wish Lutheranism were front and center, without apology, in this once great institution. Well, I wish for a lot of things... You read his article and tell me it is not moving...
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Thank you so much for bring Valparaiso University into focus. (Full disclosure: I'm a Valpo grad Class of 1966 and a member of the National Council of the College of Arts and Sciences -- and a member of Our Savior Lutheran Church LCMS in Arlington VA.)
It deserves to be there for many of the reasons you mention. In particular Valpo struggles to define its identity in a world where its student body is far more diverse than it ever was while I was a student there. If there are fewer students in Chapel in part it is because there are fewer Lutherans at Valpo than in my days there.
But you raise a broader point. I'd ask that you read http://thecresset.org/2011/Advent/Niedner_A2011.html as a plea for Valpo to become (or return to being) a place where we can seek understanding about what it means to be Lutheran in today's world. It fits nicely with at least what I understand Gilbert Meilaender to be saying in his exceptional piece. For Valpo to become what Niedner say he wishes (and Meilaendar mourns we have lost) requires Valpo to become more Lutheran. That requires Missouri to decide it has an interest in that objective.
I won't take sides over whether Missouri left Valpo or Valpo left Missouri but the LCMS no longer owns Valpo -- nor should it. Rather Missouri ought to be finding some ways to make its voice heard in the necessary debate (and no better place to have this than Valpo) over what it means to be Lutheran.
There are those who argue that Missouri should remove its "Missouri guy" from the chapel because the Chapel Dean (at least that is how we used to refer to that person if my memory serves) is a woman -- I don't see how that helps. Rather we ought to be moving toward finding more ways to get Missouri involved in Valpo.
One last comment: President Mark Heckler was recently in the Washington DC to meet with alumni. I continue to impressed with how serious he is about defining Valpo's future as a Lutheran university in what are difficult and challenging times. Missouri needs to find ways to be part of that engagement with President Heckler.
PS. We were blessed yesterday to have Pastor Ron Fink as our preacher. He is such a blessing!
Rich wrote: "Rather Missouri ought to be finding some ways to make its voice heard in the necessary debate (and no better place to have this than Valpo) over what it means to be Lutheran."
I respond: Why bother. Valpo is not going to abandon its ELCA theology anytime soon. Why should anyone within the LCMS waste time and energy on trying to change an institution that has absolutely zero interest in changing? It is time to move on.
The ELCA is no longer Lutheran, so it should surprise no one that Valpo is also struggling with what it means to be a Lutheran.
How many Lutheran converts can be found among the diverse population at Valpo or at any of the Concordias?
My guess would be no one.
Why should any Christian university in the USA continue to exist if they do not aggressively promote Christian values?
"The current President is ELCA, they have an ELCA chaplainette (as well as a Missouri guy) and nobody mines the Missouri connection except to get money from aging donors who have in mind the glory days of this institution and its proud churchly character and connection."
Yup, give us money and students, LCMS!
The well-off grandmas who fondly remember Valpo and who give generously are dying off. No one with money and/or institutional loyalty is replacing them.
Of course high tuition and crippling student loan payments do not encourage "giving back" to the alma mater anytime soon:
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