Fall 2010 Opening Convocation - September 1st

Our Path, Your Path, His Path

David Alexander, President

 

Good morning!  It is with a sense of newness, joy and anticipation that we gather together to begin this the 97th year of Northwest Nazarene University.  On behalf of the entire NNU Community, I say welcome! 

I welcome those of you who are members of the Class of 2012 and 2013, and in particular this years graduating class the Class of 2011.  May this be a fulfilling year for you at NNU.  I would also like to welcome all our new students, both those transferring to NNU and our freshmen, members of the Class of 2014. Would all the new students please stand?  Welcome! 

In addition to new and returning students, I hope you will join me in welcoming new members to this academy of learners, our professors.  These gifted, committed individuals join over 100 scholars-disciples poised to lead and guide you in your academic pursuits.  Please join me in welcoming your teacher-mentors, the NNU faculty, both returning and new.  One final, special welcome, to our new chief academic officer, NNUs new Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Burton Webb.  Welcome! 

Now to the matter of the morning, allow me to share a poem with you:

 

The Road Not Taken

            by Robert Frost

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could,

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Choices.  This is a poem about choices.  A path taken, and road left behind.  My remarks today are about choices.  Choices are important.  Our choices shape us.  Stacked one upon the other, the sum of this simple exercise of will, creates the mosaic that is you and me.  Today, in the most basic of terms I want to explore:

            Who we areas a university,

            Who you areas individuals,

            And how NNU and you converge in our choices. 

Said another way, I want to examine the path we are taking based upon the choices we are making.  Therefore, let us consider:

            The path NNU has chosen,

            The path that you are choosing,

            And how these two paths intersect. 

I am well aware of the fact that you have made a choice to come to Northwest Nazarene University.  College freshmen are, if anything, shoppers.  Youve weighed options, considered fit and sought programs that align with your aspirations; and finally, you made your choice.  By the way, Im glad you chose NNU!

But did you know that universities make choices too?  Thats right, there are over 4,100 colleges and universities in the United States of America.  And all 4,100 of these colleges and universities have made choices to be a university of a particular kind. (Neuhaus)  1,800 of them are private four-year institutions.  900 of them were faith-based schools at the time of their founding.  Yet now, many of those have lost their faith roots, so much so that there are now fewer than 400 universities in the U.S. that explicitly call themselves Christian. 

WHO WE ARE

You see, in addition to your choosing, we choose too.  Let me describe for you who we arethe path of Northwest Nazarene Universitys choosing.

Northwest Nazarene University comes from the heart of the church; said another way, the university is an instrument of the church.   The church chose to establish NNU in 1913; it is an educational expression of the Church of the Nazarene.   Across the years we have continued to choose to stay true to our place in Christian orthodoxy; we are an institution organized around the principles, beliefs and practices of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. 

Yes, universities, like people, must choose and continue choosing.  Richard John Neuhaus said it well, institutions have souls that reflect the souls of those who brought them into being with a definite intention and reflect the souls of those who keep faith with, and build upon, that intention.  A university born . . . from the heart of the Church must decide, and then decide again every day, whether or not to keep faith with the Church of Jesus Christ. (Neuhaus) 

I am here to declare to you this day that Northwest Nazarene University was founded upon our belief in and relationship with the One Triune GodFather, Son and Holy Spirit.  To this day, we seek to continue building our lives and the practices of the University upon the Kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus.  This is who we choose to be.  This is who we strive to be. 

Who we are is captured concisely in our Mission & Values statement:

 

Northwest Nazarene University

Mission

The mission of Northwest Nazarene University is the transformation of the whole person.  Centered in Jesus Christ, the NNU education instills habits of heart, soul, mind and strength to enable each student to become Gods creative and redemptive agent in the world.

Values

Transformation         Truth

Community                 Service

 

Our mission and values guide us in choosing to order and organize ourselves in particular ways.  We have a particular interpretation and understanding of what the ancient Greeks called the paideiathe education of the whole person.   The NNU educational experience is unique to this university; it includes and excludes certain things to provide what we think best shapes and nurtures the institution and the individual. 

WHO YOU ARE

Now, let us turn our attention from who and what the university is to you and who you are.  Certainly, each of you is an amalgam of the choices you and your family have made and the path you have taken across the years.  Yet not only are you the sum of these choices, you now stand at a crossroads of tremendous significance.  Today, at this convocation, we celebrate and initiate this new stage in your lifes journey, the college path. 

There are majors to be declared, plans to be laid, skills to be mastered, knowledge to be pursued and friendships to be made.  The opportunities that lie before you right now underscore the fact that life is filled with choices. 

So, what will you choose?  Upon what path will you trod?  Does it matter to you?  Is there a better way for you?  I want to make you aware of something that might surprise you.  We believe we are privileged to have a role and a voice in the choices you will be making over the next few years of your life.  Listen again to the NNU Mission.

 

Northwest Nazarene University

Mission

The mission of Northwest Nazarene University is the transformation of the whole person.  Centered in Jesus Christ, the NNU education instills habits of heart, soul, mind and strength to enable each student to become Gods creative and redemptive agent in the world.

Values

Transformation         Truth

Community                 Service

 

As you see displayed here, we believe in transformation.  It is our purpose and intent to engage and affect all domains of your lifeintellectual, social, physical and spiritualthis is what we mean when we say, we are committed to the transformation of the whole person.  You see, if we say to you that we intend to be a part of your transformation, providing you with an understanding of and habits for living life well, it is predicated upon the presupposition that we have gained an awareness of the nature of humankind and how life is to be lived.  We seek to walk with you and guide you into a proper sense of self, to know the life well-lived.   

You may say, You dont know me, how can you guide me?  And youre right.  We are just getting to know you.  But in another sense you are known.  We know your frame, for you are like us, and we are like the generations that have gone on before us, and in that living and that learning there has been amassed a body of knowledge and understanding that allows us to say,  This is who you are.  This is the nature of humankind.  This is life, as it was intended; this is life in its fallen state.  You see, we do know your frame.

Consider this diagram of the fundamental components of who you are: 

HeartMindStrengthRelationsSoul

These domains, these dimensions, are the fabric of you and me.  You are more than a unique blend of DeoxyriboNucleic Acid  (DNA).  We intend to provide you with an understanding of and the habits for a life well-lived.  We want you to seek to understand and embrace the paideiathe education of the whole person.  (Here, I am indebted to Dallas Willard for this overview of personhood.) 

Let us examine these human dimensions for a moment, and see the wonder of what our nature encompasses.

 

  • Your Heartthere is a unique center within the human that we often call the heartits synonyms are the spirit, or the will.  The heart of the human is the center from which our component parts owe their proper functioning.  With our heart we exercise our will, our power to initiate, to create, to choose.  Our heart guides our habits and patterns of choice in such a way that they reflect who we are.
  • Your Mindlinked to, but separate from your heart, is your mind; this remarkable capacity you have to thinkto reason, grasp, imagine and craft.  Not only do you think with your mindyou also feelyou consider and interact with all you come in contact with.  It is your mind that is often thought of as the primary human capacity and function you bring to the college experience.
  • Your BodyYour StrengthWe dont live by sheer will, thought or feeling; part of the essence that forms the self and interacts with the physical world is our bodyour strength.  With it we live and interact with each other.  We are wise to realize that our bodies have a series of needs and appetites, each with their own proper place and function.  Yet, we must learn to master our physical nature; realize our needs and appetites can take over, turning needs into wants, governing our mind and our heart. (Perhaps youve heard of someone being ruled by their appetites.)
  • Your RelationsAll these human dimensions find proper exercise in relationship.  We are connected beings, linked to the otherto both God and fellow humanity.  We livetogether.
  • Your SoulThe soul is the dimension of the person that interrelates all of the other dimensions so that they form one life. (Willard) Your soul is you, it is your most profound dimension.  It is that remarkable essence of you, often operating without your conscious supervision. 

We believe that all these interrelating dimensions should be a part of the NNU educational experience.   Each dimension can and should be shaped by habits of the heart, soul, mind and strength, learned and practiced with the goal of achieving full personhood.  To that end we will help you glimpse the goal, work out the path toward it, and develop the habits which you will need to practice if you are going to tread that path. (Wright) 

Not only do we claim to know your naturewe want to engage you in the quest for something that lies outside of you.  Truth. 

One of the primary components of education is the pursuit of truth.  Here at NNU you will explore knowledge, the wonder of Gods creative activity, the story of human civilization and achievements in the arts, sciences and professionsall in the pursuit of what is noble and pure and good and beautiful and true. 

Why am I taking the time to review the basic blueprint of the nature of humankind?  Because I want you to understand that we think college is more than a set of skills and tables and data.  We invite you to participate in the journey of seeking to become the person you were truly intended to be.   We hope you have come here because you have chosen the path of transformation. 

Please understand that the transformation we seek for ourselves and for you is not of our own crafting, it is a transformation of Gods design.  The nature of the human being which I just shared with you is not something that randomly emerged from the primordial ooze.  You and I are fearfully and wonderfully made in a particular way by an almighty, omnipotent God.  And this God, the Creator of all things, has fashioned and formed us to be in intimate relationship with Him, by revealing Himself to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.  All the dimensions of who you are, find their proper place and meaning in Jesus Christ.  He invites us to choose to follow Him.  

You see, ultimately, we believe that Jesus is the truth incarnate; therefore, we organize ourselves around Christ and pursue Him in every dimension of our lives and the life of the university. 

YOU & NNUUNITED IN GOD

And this is where our paths converge.  Who NNU is and who you are come together in the person and presence of Jesus Christ made available to us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  

Allow me to illustrate with this famous exchange: 

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the discussion. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, Of all the commandments, which is the most important?

Jesus replied, The most important commandment is this: Hear, O Israel!  The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these. 

The teacher of religious law replied, Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.  And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbors as myself.  This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.

Realizing this mans understanding, Jesus said to him, You are not far from the Kingdom of God.  Mark 12: 2834 

I mentioned earlier that the Greeks called the education of the whole person paideia.  Yet this passage from the Gospel of Mark is even better, it is the Hebrew shema from Deuteronomy, Jesus restates the two great commandments in this compact encounter.  Our quest as a university, your quest as individuals who have chosen this university, is to become fully integrated human beings, living in the manner and relationships intended by God outlined in this passage.  

MindHeartStrengthRelationsSoulGod 

We desire for you to live life as God intended it to be lived, to invite Him to occupy the place that God alone can rightfully occupy.  God must become our center, our source.  All of us, individually and collectively live life well when we are properly oriented toward God in love, toward ourselves in love, and toward our neighbor in love. 

Ironically, no matter how hard we teach, or how hard you try, the transformative call to become new creatures cannot be answered on our own.  Ultimately, the transformation of which we speak is not of human initiation.  It requires human participation and understanding, but it is God who initiates and His grace that enables. 

We believe that the transformation we seek for ourselves and for you occurs in community. At the center of the learning community that is NNUis Jesus Christthe center and source of our lives as a University and as individual disciples.  God has brought you to this learning community, this community of faith, to learn to walk with us on the path that leads to life in His Kingdomthe Kingdom of God.  

Consider the NNU Mission with me once again: 

 

Northwest Nazarene University

Mission

The mission of Northwest Nazarene University is the transformation of the whole person.  Centered in Jesus Christ, the NNU education instills habits of heart, soul, mind and strength to enable each student to become Gods creative and redemptive agent in the world.

Values

Transformation         Truth

Community                 Service

 

This is a potent statement.  Not only because it proclaims our intent to work for your transformation, but because it aims at another level of transformationthe transformation of the world.  In choosing to come to NNU we want you to consider and come to understand what it means to become Gods creative and redemptive agents in the world. 

Consider once again the choices you have made and that path you have taken.  Let me ask you, are you interested in looking down a path with the possibility of pursuing a calling, a vocation, a discipline, with the intent of serving God?  Do you plan to walk with God in such an intimate way that all you do and all you are is done as an act of love for Him.   You see, God is calling us to serve Him by giving ourselves away on His behalfto become Gods creative and redemptive agents in the worldthis is our spiritual service of worship. 

So this day, at the start of this academic year, I challenge you to take inventory of your situation and make the NNU Mission & Values your own.  As you plan, set goals, adopt values and form friendships, may you do so as one who has chosen to pursue godly transformation and the path of kingdom purpose.

I earnestly believe that if you approach your college years from the perspective and posture encapsulated in the NNU Mission, you will have a more fulfilling college experience and a more worthwhile life.  I want to engage us all in a campus-wide challengeto commit our mission & values statement to memory.   When you leave this convocation, you will be handed a card with the NNU Mission & Values printed on it.  Memorize it, and when you see me walking across campus, stop me, or perhaps Ill stop you, say it from memory and I will give you $5.

I know its cheesy, but its worth it.  I think it will highlight who we are as a university, who you are as individual students and reinforce the covenant we make with God and each other this day.  You see, God knows, God sees us examining the pathways the lie before us, and He gently invites us to find our proper place and purpose upon the pathway that leads to Jesus Christ. 

Remember this stanza of the poem?

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

What will you choose?

Which path will you take?

May you not only learn the NNU mission, may you choose to live the NNU mission.

My hope and prayer is that you will take the road less traveled by and choose to walk on the path of transformation with God and with us.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  Life Together.  San Francisco: Harper, 1954.

Neuhaus, Richard John. "A University of a Particular Kind," First Things, 2007

Willard, Dallas.  Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.  Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002.

Wright, N.T.  After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperOne, 2010.