Response Magizine Online Logo : Seattle Pacific University

Response Winter 2009

From the President






My Response

Letters to the Editor

From the Editor



Response Home

Up the Yangtze Movie review

Up the Yangtze Movie review

New Movie Review:
Up the Yangtze
Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | From the President

Something Surely Doesn’t Love a Wall

Reconciliation is the essential work of the Christian university for our day

Eaton chats with students on a study break
“Not for a second can we conclude that the culture is teaching this desire to take down walls. That has to come from somewhere else. Something must engage the culture in order to come to this conclusion.”
Why should a university take so seriously the work of reconciliation? At Seattle Pacific University, we seek to define, as one of our signature commitments, what it means to be a place that models grace-filled community and practices radical reconciliation. Why? What is this all about? Why should a university be so concerned about such matters? Believe me, such a conviction is not always the goal of the university of our day.

There are so many places we can locate the profound need for reconciliation, and for being grace-filled, and for aspiring to live in genuine community. Following a contentious political season, for example, our nation seems to yearn for some kind of healing. We have elected a new U.S. president whom we are about to inaugurate. Remarkably and wonderfully, and for the first time, the people of America reached out beyond race and chose a talented, hopeful African American as our national leader. I regard this as an historic moment in American history, an event for us to lift up and celebrate with great joy.

And yet, as in any election, our differences on important matters were not resolved in the voting booth. Huge numbers of people voted for another political outcome, and our national debate on the issues will continue, as it should. But the question on the minds of most Americans is whether we can reach across our political and ideological divide, whether we can in fact come together in some measure of reconciliation to solve the massive problems we face.

But it is not just political or economic issues we are talking about. There is so much dividedness all around us, all the way from unspeakable acts of racial hatred, to the violence of clashing religions or cultures across the globe, even to the emotional walls that get created within our families, among our colleagues at work, in our churches, in our communities. We all live with the evidence of broken trust, and we all know the enormous temptation to resign ourselves to a world of walls and dividedness.

And when we are stuck in positions of broken trust, wounded dignity, rejection, or anger, who makes the first move? And here’s the critical question for us at a great Christian university: Does the culture in which we live teach us how to forgive or to ask forgiveness?

Reconciliation is hard and essential work, and the tools of reconciliation are not lying around for us to pick up easily and use. In fact, we are often given the tools to separate and divide, to inflict pain rather than reconcile, to protect our own territory, our own vulnerability. Sometimes the work of the university is devoted to dividing rather than reconciling.

Can a university change the world? That’s our question at Seattle Pacific University, and we believe at our very core that practicing reconciliation — by modeling community ourselves, by searching for the models of reconciliation throughout history, by digging deep into our guiding text, our holy Scriptures — is the work of a university that seeks to change the world. Resignation and bitterness will not do. We must and do have something to say on this critical subject.

Robert Frost once said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. …” Something there is “that wants it down.” He is advised by his neighbor, in his little farming village in New England, that “good fences make good neighbors,” but the poet is suspicious, convinced the world would be a better place without the walls that divide and separate. He is convinced that something, somewhere deep within us, does not like to put up walls. Something deep down wants the walls down, wants reconciliation, wants human community.

But not for a second can we conclude that the culture is teaching this wisdom and this desire to take down walls. That has to come from somewhere else. Something must engage the culture in order to come to this conclusion. The culture teaches us to put up those walls, to protect ourselves, to guard our own vulnerability, to inflict diminishment on others out of our own anger or arrogance.

Where, then, do we turn to learn the competencies of reconciliation? As a Christian university, we must turn to our Christian story, in particular to the teaching of our Scriptures at the heart of our story. Our Scriptures are relentless on this topic. And our Christian story as it has been lived best throughout history models such a commitment to reconciliation. The mandates to respond to broken trust and to provide the tools to address that brokenness are found in the deepest roots of our story.

I think of Paul’s teaching on this topic. What are the essentials behind reconciliation? Paul says, first of all, “don’t think too highly of yourselves.” Well, there’s a tough lesson to begin with. Yes, he says, there is no room for arrogance here. Respect and honor the gifts of others. There is no other way. Treat each other, no matter your differences, with dignity. “Let love of the Christian community show itself in mutual affection,” Paul says. “Esteem others more highly than yourself.”

Paul then gives us perhaps the most difficult challenge: “Call down blessings on your persecutors — blessings, not curses. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in agreement with one another. Do not be proud, but be ready to mix with humble people. Do not keep thinking how wise you are.” And then he concludes with this strong admonition: “If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.”

This is what we want to teach and learn at Seattle Pacific. Through the guidance of John Perkins and Tali Hairston in SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation; the leadership of Stephen Newby for campus worship; the instruction of our theology faculty, who open up for us the Scriptures on the biblical tradition of reconciliation; the teaching of our faculty in various disciplines; and the modeling of grace-filled community we all seek so earnestly to do on our campus — the Christian university has much to offer for our students and to the broader culture about reconciliation.

I am so proud of our students, faculty, and staff who engaged in dialogue and debate during the recent election. They talked across their differences, modeled the democratic process in action, and showed respect for others with whom they disagreed. This says something about the health of our community at Seattle Pacific. From the depths of our commitment to reconciliation on this campus, we must always continue to aspire toward something better, something with the walls down, something where good people join together for the tough work ahead.

This is a task we must tackle. This is an aspiration we must reach for. This is the essential work of the Christian university for our day.

—By Philip W. Eaton

Return to top
Back to From the President Home

President Highlights

Something Surely Doesn’t Love a Wall
Why should a university take so seriously the work of reconciliation?

The President’s Portfolio
President Eaton’s recent writing and speaking engagements guided by SPU’s five signatures.