Every year, the seminary begins with an opening convocation, and most years, the faculty chooses one of its own to deliver the convocation address. The purpose of the address? Oh, not much: merely to set the tone and theme for the entire academic year. No pressure, right? Well, we’ve had lots of great addresses–we have an amazing faculty–but I have to say, this year’s speaker knocked it out of the park. The title of Mark Oldenburg’s address was “Bridge People,” and as I am confident it will be published in full in the Seminary Ridge Review in the coming year, I just want to make a few comments about it here, because it has really stayed with me; and, in my view, it gave us a wonderful image to shape our future work and conversations.
He began with a quote from his former Confessions professor, which was, more or less: “If you can’t see the relationship between any two things in the universe, you’re in the wrong business.” The point, of course, is that God is deeply and passionately related to every single aspect of creation–and therefore, through God, everything is related to everything else. The whole address was a vivid, beautiful celebration of relationships and relationality, where God cares about everything and everyone: in Mark’s image, every single page of the Sunday newspaper on God’s lap–ads, comics, classified–gets lovingly attended to and read.
Therefore, one way of understanding our call to be stewards of the Word is to be “bridge people”–people who not only see connections, but who can be those connections, spanning chasms and connecting silos, bearing witness to the fact that no one is alone and no one is isolated. We all are connected to God, but sometimes we need a bridge person to remind us; we all are connected to each other, but sometimes we need a bridge person to show us how. The seminary could do much, much worse than be a place where people are trained to build–and to be–bridges; and to be itself a bridge between the church and the world, between humanity and the whole creation, between races, genders, and ages.
Finally, Mark reminded us that it isn’t always easy to be a bridge: it can be lonely with a foot in two different places, and no permanent home in either. And, it can be hard to be a bridge: bridges have to be flexible–they have to be able to move. Chasms constantly are opening in new places, and new bridges have to be built.
There was lots more, too–all of it great (especially the advice from Joseph Sittler to read novels!), and on the whole, an inspiring, challenging beginning to a new school year. I think we are going to be talking about bridges for many months to come.