Let unconquerable gladness dwell amid unprecedented times
We are living in unprecedented times. No doubt about that. Elkhart County, home of Goshen College, was described in The New York Times several months ago as “the white-hot epicenter of the economic downturn.” That is not a distinction about which our county wishes to boast.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented faith, which poses a paradox for all believers in God’s divine providence. Retired Admiral James Stockdale, who endured eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he learned while in prison that one must “never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that might be.” Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, called such conviction the “Stockdale Paradox.”
Long before there was the Stockdale Paradox, there was the Jesus Paradox: that ability to confront the brutal facts of reality even while tenaciously holding on to the faith that he would, you will, we will, ultimately prevail. As direct with his disciples as he was about his impending brutal death (Mark 8:31-38), Jesus offered a reality check based upon the promise of a coming resurrection. As people of faith, new hope, new possibilities, new opportunities are always potentially ready to be born again into our lives, no matter what our circumstances.
Goshen College has lived through unprecedented economic times before – some in the distant past, some more recently. Such experiences have offered unprecedented opportunities to come together, to re-imagine new and unprecedented futures for Goshen College based on a strong, faithful foundation. This past year, we have worked hard and worked together in sacrificial ways to remain among the top 13 Christian colleges and universities and in the top quartile of all colleges and universities ranked for financial stability, despite a nearly 40 percent drop in the value of our endowment.
What matters most these days at Goshen College? To use such unprecedented times, however difficult, to challenge ourselves to become far more than we have ever been. We are positioning ourselves to press further and reach higher – not to settle for anything less than the most we can achieve. We are undertaking an unprecedented realignment from top to bottom, inside and out, around our core values as they guide our curriculum transformation, student learning outcomes, hiring and tenure process, orientation of new employees and board development. Even our new unprecedented marketing efforts are bearing exciting fruit as we boldly invite prospective students to come to Goshen College – a place to study, learn and serve; a place to discover peace with God, with others and themselves; a place where “healing the world, peace by peace” is a calling, a vocation of lasting joy whatever their major or chosen profession. As you read this, we are welcoming the largest incoming class in 27 years!
I am full of gratitude for the great blessings that God has given Goshen College; indeed, blessings given to all the colleges and universities of the Mennonite church, blessings we gladly share with the church and the world. I am grateful for the many ways alumni, donors, students, faculty, staff live out the Jesus Paradox of confronting reality in all its challenges, yet refusing to have it confine your hopes, your generosity, your vision for a more flourishing future.
In the post-Depression years, on the wall of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Oval Office, a motto in seeming paradox to the times read: “Let unconquerable gladness dwell.” Such a slogan without context might have sounded like another Pollyannaish political cliché. However, the line is set within a prayer from the Episcopal Prayer book which invites a depth of faith, hope and conviction that remains truly prayer-worthy for each of us today:
“O God, Author of the world’s joy, Bearer of the world’s pain; At the heart of all our trouble and sorrow let unconquerable gladness dwell; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Dr. James E. Brenneman
President of Goshen College