We are all connected
A sculpture overlooks the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College.
By Rebecca Bergman
We are connected with other people and places in ways unlike any previous generation.
In my few months as the new president of Gustavus Adolphus College, one of 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA. I have discovered that these connections, which encompass the college, church, and all of creation, manifest themselves regularly through fact, faith and function.
Emerging technologies have created a world of round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones and instant communication via social media on the Internet. This ability to communicate instantaneously around the world is beyond the wildest dreams of our most forward-thinking ancestors. These technologies have removed virtually all boundaries to our personal connections as we are linked through various events and endeavors to all corners of the globe. Whether it is a sporting event like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters, the people of the world are now instantly connected in ways that they have never been before.
In even deeper ways, we are interrelated by a global economy that has intricately intertwined communities that are thousands of miles apart. Materials mined in Africa are taken to Europe where products are manufactured with components that are produced in Asia, and then these products are sold in the North American market by people from Latin America. We are now a global village sharing technology and information that allow us to produce and share goods and services in a manner that was not remotely possible even 20 years ago.
The Latin root for religion, “re-ligare,” means to “re-connect,” and Lutherans affirm that God’s grace allows us to be in communion with God through faith and in turn calls us to gather with one another and all of creation in a faithful way. In other words, our faith does not replace the facts of our connections but lets us examine these connections and, in turn, offer resources to discern our relationships and our vocations in the midst of them. Through faith we are free to deepen our particular identities and, because of it, we are more able to listen, learn and cooperate alongside those who connect with religion in diverse ways.
By faith, we are joined together in the church, because the church is ultimately about being connected. Lutherans view the church as “catholic,” from the Greek word “catholikos,” meaning general or universal. As a result, to be catholikos is to be a connected church, the communion of saints, a collection of both saints and sinners that goes backward and forward in time with an impact upon everyone.
So what does all of this mean for a college president? In a manner similar to a congregation, a college campus is often tempted to focus solely upon what takes place in its immediate surroundings. However, like a healthy congregation, a college related to the church is consistently reminded of its connections with all people in every part of the world. As we are connected by fact and faith in this way, we at church-related colleges are called to function in ways that match our values and mission. The result is that one of my roles as college president at Gustavus Adolphus College is to ensure that all who connect with our college are empowered to reach their full potential and encouraged to work toward a just and peaceful world.
In joining fact and faith, our academic curriculum encourages connection, and our campus community consists of people from diverse backgrounds who seek to respect and affirm the dignity of all people. We offer students with high aspirations and promise a liberal arts education of recognized excellence, provided by faculty who embody the highest standards of teaching and scholarship. We work to prepare students to deal with the multifaceted and continually evolving landscape of learning and life and we seek to pair educational tradition and innovation, promoting an open exchange of ideas and the personal pursuit of learning.
As the college, church, and all of creation are connected, the purpose of a church-related college is realized in developing in its students a capacity and passion for lifelong learning and preparing them for fulfilling lives of leadership and service. We believe this is the best possible way to embrace our various connections, examine them, and be free to function for the sake of all with whom we are connected.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Rebecca Bergman is the new president of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., one of 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA.