Home > President Emeritus Robinson >
Whitworth College Fall 2002 Convocation Address
Sept. 4, 2002
One of the most joyous interests of the Robinson family
is our love of art. Our three children had made many trips to the Chicago
Art Institute before they made their first trip to the zoo. Actually,
we never told them about the zoo. They had looked at Monet and Van Gogh
before looking at their first orangutan. A couple of days ago I counted
47 books of paintings and sculptures in our living room, and most of them
represent the permanent collections from art museums we have visited.
We love art.
Particularly during the Renaissance, my favorite period, artists would occasionally choose people of significance
to paint or sculpt into their creations. They might have painted in the
face of their benefactor appearing as Zeus or Adonis, for example. The
famed Medici family of Florence can be found in many of the great works
from the late 15th and 16th centuries. Sometimes, a rival would be painted
into the picture as some kind of dunce. Even Michelangelo did that. And,
as you might expect, artists painted themselves into their pictures. My
favorite painting by Raphael, which, by the way, does not include cute
little angels, is entitled "The School of Athens." Artistically
and historically it is a great work. In the center of this Vatican painting
you will find Plato and Aristotle engaged in conversation. Plato is pointing
up, and Aristotle is pointing down, as all of you Core 250 veterans would
expect. Also occupying the great hall of learning are Socrates, Pythagoras,
Euclid, Ptolemy, Heraclites, and other celebrated early Greeks. And there,
off to the right, stands Raphael himself as if to say, "Learning
continues through the ages. Great ideas did not end with these great thinkers."
This morning I would like to urge you students to paint
yourselves into the pictures of all that you study. What would you have written from Walden's Pond? How would you have responded as an intellectual during China's Cultural Revolution?
What would you have been thinking on the
beaches of Normandy? What would you have
done on a Detroit bus if you were told to move to the back because of
your skin color? We often speak of empathy as a way to improve our interpersonal
relations, but I would like to suggest empathy - painting yourselves into
the picture -- as a way to learn, and to
learn more deeply about yourselves and the events you examine.
In the few minutes remaining of our time at this convocation,
I would like to share with you what I discovered when I painted myself
into the picture of Nazi Germany that was so much more than a picture for Eva Lassman. I have asked myself two questions. First, how could I
have survived the unspeakable oppression suffered by the Jews under Hitler's
evil crusade? Second, what would have kept me from joining the German
Christians who supported Hitler and even participated in the attempted
genocide of an entire people?
Before answering these two questions, I pray that my
efforts to paint myself into these pictures will not trivialize the enormity
of what faced the Jews or the Christian church. It is very easy for me
to recite lessons learned from the safety of this auditorium more than
a half century after the fact.
My answer to the question of how I would survive is
more emotional than intellectual. Two years ago my family and I walked
through the clockmaker's home, just outside of Amsterdam, in which
Corrie Ten Boom's family hid Jewish people and sympathizers from
their bloodthirsty pursuers. Can you imagine it, literally running for
your life, having done absolutely nothing wrong? When Bonnie, the children
and I were shown the hiding place, I was at once horrified, moved, inspired
and heart-broken. Paint yourself into the picture. You're huddling
behind a tiny false wall with five other people for days. What kept these
people alive, what kept them silent and motionless, what kept their relatives
in Daschau and Auschwitz even wanting to live? I don't really know
the answer to this question. Maybe it differed from person to person.
But I know what the answer is when I paint myself into the picture. I
would not have endured because of a survival instinct, I would not have
endured because I am in good physical condition, I would not have endured
because of my iron will. If I survived, it is only hope that would have
kept me going when every message within me was telling me to give up.
The hope of being again with my loved ones and the hope that even in wretched
circumstances God cares for me would have been the only way I could have
Isaiah was right when he said, "Without a vision,
the people perish..." What is your vision? Do you have hope? What
are the dreams that propel you? When everything in your life is telling
you to give up, what will keep you going? What is your hope? This fall
our theatre department will perform "The Sound of Music." It
is a production far more about the power of hope than the sound of music.
I challenge you this morning to know your hope and to paint your vision.
Rare is the person who exceeds the specifications of his or her vision.
And please do one more thing. Paint yourself into the picture of those
in despair, the mother whose only hope is to find the next meal for her
baby. Consider painting her, and there are millions of her, into the picture
of hope you paint for yourself. Is there room in your picture for more
than just you?
The other question, "What would have kept me from
joining the German Christians who supported Hitler?" is very different
from the first one. As far as my physical well-being is concerned, it
is a drastically smaller issue than what faced Eva Lassman and the Jews.
As far as my soul is concerned, it is a huge issue. This past summer I
read Jim Waller's book that asks, "Why do ordinary people
commit acts of extraordinary evil?" I agree with Jim's conclusion
that in the presence of certain factors, we are all capable of huge evil.
When I paint myself into the picture and ask, "What
would have kept me from following Hitler's perverted nationalism?"
I know the answer, which, by the way is easier to recite than to live.
I am confident that had I been faithful to my
world view, I would have protested, along with the Confessing Church
of Germany, rather than join those who supported Hitler. Let me tell you
the key to a world view that has integrity, one that would have placed
me in Martin Niemoeller's Confessing Church. It is this: Never
follow a principle, even a noble principle, at the expense of a higher
principle. The principle of obeying the government, rendering
unto Caesar what is Caesar's, is a good principle. It is a biblical principle.
But for many of us here today, obeying God is a higher principle. Your
world view is worthless if you allow lesser principles to violate your
highest principles. Furthermore, your lesser principles will ultimately
overthrow the place of your highest principles, and you'll end up with
a new world view, and it will be a perverted one. If, for example, you
hold to the very good principle that we should celebrate and enjoy life,
but have as a higher principle the fundamental dignity and respect of
all people, then you will never allow yourself to gain pleasure at the
expense of others. When we are unfaithful to our highest principles, no
matter how justifiable our unfaithfulness might be, we become intellectual
adulterers. And it is intellectual adultery that silences our conscience,
paving the way for moral adultery in ways that go far beyond sexual activity.
Christians who hate…either violate their Christian
world view or they have perverted it to the point of it no longer being
Christian. This was true of the German Christians who supported acts of
genocide. It is true of Christians who hate Muslims today. In a Christian
world view, and in an Eva Lassman world view, hating others is always
wrong. It is wrong for Jews to hate Palestinians and it is wrong for Palestinians
to hate Jews. They may hate the acts of wrong doing, but hating each other
is a cancer that will only destroy.
It's a lot easier for me to brag about what my
world view would have been than to let it rule me today. Many issues are
confusing. I am currently trying to understand how the possibility of
attacking Iraq fits my world view. I know it is a very complex issue and
I don't want to accommodate my world view by trying to reduce it
into something simple. But I do know this, no matter what my government
does or does not do, I must be faithful to my highest principles. My temptation
will be to let my emotions, rather than my world view, determine my reaction
to any decision. On faculty retreat, Leonard Oakland showed a clip of
The Godfather. I had not seen the movie since 1972. When the clip started
I realized that I remembered only one theme from the movie -- the
son who let his environment to overthrow the highest principles in his
world view. He needed the strength of Joseph who could have followed the
lesser principle of obeying his master's wife and sleeping with
her, but instead ran in favor of the higher principle of loyalty to his
master and to God.
As you paint yourself into the picture of Nazi Germany
or any other picture, I implore you to ask what you would do if you are
truly faithful to your highest principles. I hope your answer is faithfulness
to God and all of God's creation.
Well, I close today's convocation with two benedictions.
Eva, to you, Whitworth is so honored to have honored you. We asked ourselves
whether we should alter our convocation today out of respect to you, Rabbi
Issakson, and our guests. We answered the question by asking ourselves
whether we would want you to make changes at the Synagogue if we were
there as your guests, and we surely would not. I hope you feel the love
and respect of our community. While you wait for the Messiah and while
we wait for His return, may the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
pour out his shalom on our lives together in this community.
And to you students, I pray God's rich blessing
on you this semester. May all of you rise to new levels of integrity,
may all of you keep before you a vision and hope that inspires you to
endure, and may those of you who are Christians allow the love, peace
and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to dominate your world view and be
at the center of your hope. God be with you all. Amen.
Following is the prayer that Terry McGonigal read for
[Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
Prayers for Fellow-Prisoners
O God, early in the morning I cry to
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.
O heavenly Father,
I praise and thank you
For the peace of the night;
I praise and thank you for this new day;
I praise and thank you for all your goodness
and faithfulness throughout my life.
You have granted me many blessings;
Now let me also accept what is hard
from your hand.
You will lay on me no more
than I can bear.
You make all things work together for good
for your children.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
and in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man's troubles;
You abide with me
when all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is your will that I should know you
and turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow;
O Holy Spirit,
Give me faith that will protect me
from despair, from passions, and from vice;
Give me such love for God and men
as will blot out all hatred and bitterness;
Give me the hope that will deliver me
from fear and faint-heartedness.
O holy and merciful God,
my Creator and Redeemer,
my Judge and Saviour,
You know me and all that I do.
You hate and punish evil without respect of persons
in this world and the next;
You forgive the sins of those
who sincerely pray for forgiveness;
You love goodness, and reward it on this earth
with a clear conscience,
and, in the world to come,
with a crown of righteousness.
I remember in you presence all my loved
my fellow-prisoners, and all who in this house
perform their hard service;
Lord have mercy.
Restore me to liberty,
and enable me so to live now
that I may answer before you and before men.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.