2017 Fall Convocation Address by Dr. J Timothy Cloyd
For Such A Time As This!
August 24, 2017
On Sunday, at the orientation worship service, I heard a wonderful story delivered by our own esteemed Dr. Peter Browning – who of course should not be confused with our own truly esteemed and brilliant Dr. Carol Browning!
But Peter relayed a story of seeing a young man in a tee shirt that read “For Such a Time as This!” And of course Peter knew immediately where that tee shirt wisdom came from. He told us about it with a wonderful lesson on Sunday and it inspired me.
It comes from the Book of Esther in the Bible and I think that phrase relates to a question we as a community should be asking of ourselves in this day and age. It is a question we as a faculty, as students, as staff, and as a community should in my view be asking.
You can take this story as an allegory, as a symbolic fiction about the perennial nature of the human condition, or literally, but I think the issue it raises is profound. So taking from Dr. Peter Browning, The Oxford Annotated Bible, other credible sources, and of course google – this is the version I understand.
And students, faculty, and staff, I hope that through my flawed telling of this story we might be able to listen to the transcendent voice inside of all of us and to hear.
The Jews had been taken into slavery by The King of Babylon who ruled an empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia. This King was a brutal man who believed that no other religion, no other viewpoint, no other idea that differed in any way from his own should be expressed or even thought by anyone in the King’s empire.
His main henchman was named Haman and Haman had vowed to destroy for the King, Judaism and kill all Jews, because they dissented from the King’s truth. The King allied with Haman because Haman was wealthy and paid huge sums to the King.
In Hebrew, Haman is often translated as meaning “Noise”, “the noise of the Mob”, or “the Agitator.” Haman was a delusional tyrant who said “truth is what I say it is.” He proclaimed the idea that truth and the law could simply be proclaimed by those in power, or those with enough power, or by the mob.
Later, of course these same ideas brought the Roman Republic to destruction, when the laws, customs, and traditions that governed the Republic were destroyed leaving citizens at the mercy of the Emperor and mob rule.
The death of Haman in the story of Esther is the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Haman serves as a symbol of the death of theological and ideological dictatorship in favor of the belief that the good life should be characterized by a quest for truth - in its broadest sense and applications – no matter where it leads.
The defiance of thought police, the belief in open and civil discourse, and the commitment to challenge the power of the state, the powerful of mob rule became a hallmark quality of Jews (Esther 3:5, Daniel 3:12) and quite a bit later of Christians (ACTS 5:29, REVELATION 13:15). This openness as we know has become the standard that we have at least asserted and believed in --- in the academy and in Western societies since the scientific revolution and this idea is enshrined… however imperfectly in the bill of rights of the constitution of our United States Republic.
On Purim, each time Haman’s name is spoken in the public reading of Esther the Jewish congregation drowns out the voice of the speaker with shouts and noise making toys. This symbolizes that Haman represents the noise of mob rule, of the arbitrary power, the whims the ruler or of the state.
Haman also represents the voice of relativism, the notion that there are no better or worse ways to live a life and that everything is merely a construction of power.
Haman is unreason if you will or the annihilation of free expression, of truth, and of civil discourse replaced by emotion, edict, or groundless passion.
Now back to Esther. She was the niece of Mordecai and Mordecai was an outspoken opponent of Haman and the King. He had been ordered to be executed. But the King favored Esther and promised to grant her any wish. Mordecai sent her a message to go to the king and stand against Haman and his ideas and plans to destroy the Jews.
At first Esther hesitated saying “no one just approaches the king and Haman (the Mob) unless he calls for you and doing so without invitation is a capital offense.” But Mordecai persisted and said “if you keep silent at such a time as this all Jews including your family will be destroyed” and then he said “And who knows whether, or not you have come to this kingdom for such a time as this?”
For such a time as this!
I submit to you this question: “who knows whether or not Drury or you or I or this community have come to this place in at this point in history - in our national and communal history for such a time as this?” You could ask - has Drury come to this place and time for such a time as this? You could ask that. Or We could proclaim. “We have come for such a time as this!”
“For such a time as this?”
To stand between the whims of the national security state, the edicts of those in power who claim there is no truth, and the rule of the mobs who shout people down and are assured of their own righteousness and truth. To stand between those who would espouse hate, racial or religious supremacy, white supremacists, and intolerance and those who would choose violence to destroy the other instead of entering into engaged thoughtful discourse and peaceful action and resistance.
For such a time as this!
We must affirm free speech and the importance of listening even when we do not agree with each other or find the another’s views reprehensible, and to believe that open discourse and peaceful action is the answer to creating a better, more diverse, and tolerant society.
We must protect a space here in this place that holds out the idea that there may be a multiplicity of modes of knowing a truth or the truth. In this academic community we must hold out the notion that we may be wrong – wrong about our conclusions or about the truth… And affirm the idea that it is possible that the whole truth may be something that cannot be fully or completely known by any one person or in our lifetimes.
We must defend this precious space against those who would destroy it through intolerance, hate, and bigotry. We must learn and teach humility.
Not that this will heal all that divides us, there is indeed evil in the world driven by racism, religious intolerance, and a thousand forms of petty hate. Or by real injuries and pain caused by others that has turned into resentment, hate, and a drive for revenge at any cost. There are those indeed who reject peaceful engagement and discourse and who are dedicated to killing and destruction.
But in defending a space for peaceful resistance and civil discourse we may hope to discover a place where what unites us will be greater than what divides us. This was the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For such a time as this!
This is our history, the story of Drury University …… whose abolitionists founders hoped to find a place of peace and to create a space to heal the divide that was the civil war in Bloody Missouri.
1873 was not a great time to start a college. The country was divided and still at war with itself. Just 8 years earlier Bloody Bill Anderson and Bill Quantrill had led a band that terrorized and murdered Union Loyalists and African American civilians all over central and southern Missouri. They led the Centralia Massacre in Orrick Missouri killing hundreds of civilians.
Classes begin at Drury University on September 25, 1873. Then in October the New York stock market crashed triggering the Panic of 1873 which lead to a world-wide depression that lasted until 1879. In Iowa in 1873, Jesse James and the James-Younger gang pulled off the first successful train robbery in the United States killing many. The United States government took steps toward censorship and against free speech passing the Comstock Act, making it illegal to send anything deemed by the State as "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" through the mail. Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer began his attempt to annihilate the Sioux near a small river in Montana.
It was a bad time. A hard time. But Drury University was here then and is now.
For such a time as this!
Of course it was not all bad. It never really is …is it? .. I mean Levi Strauss received a patent in 1873 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Later to be called blue jeans! And The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in Hillsboro, Ohio. But as I have discovered that movement to stop the consumption of alcohol really never made it to Springfield Missouri!
For such a time as this!
The intent of Drury and the Drury Spirit has always been about attempting to bridge divides – our faculty have always been the ones who have held this spirit high and defended the core of Drury. I want to thank this great faculty for this courageous tradition in this part of the world. You carry this core today!
This community and the Drury faculty have tried to bridge divides in our community, in our state, in our nation and yes even in the academy between disciplines, between students, and in our curriculum.
This is from the Articles of Association that formed this school penned by Dr. Morrison on March 26, 1873
“Our aim in establishing the said Drury college is to afford to youth of both sexes ample facilities for instruction and discipline in those arts and sciences, a knowledge of which constitutes what is commonly known as a "liberal education" by always maintaining in said college as comprehensive a course of study and as high a standard of instruction and scholarship as prevail in other American colleges of the first rank, and at the same time to train youth in the high morality of the Christian religion.”
I want to focus on two phases in this quote. A Liberal Education and A Comprehensive Course of Study.
A Liberal Education then, as now, does not refer to a political philosophy. e.g. Liberal. It pertains to freedom. It refers to an education deemed essential for a free people to know in order that they might have understanding, humility and to actively participate in civic life, contributing toward the advancement of the good for one’s life and for society.
Students. In truth it may not be your major that makes the biggest difference in your life. It is learning to solve problems, to think analytically and critically, to write and speak effectively, to solve puzzles, to work in teams, to see the world through someone else’s eyes – This is what this great faculty – your mentors will teach you no matter your major! Training and adapting will go on for the rest of your life, but it is learning how to learn that lasts a lifetime. That is liberal learning. Or if you would rather call it …. Education for a well lived life or An Education for the Whole Person, that is fine too.
So in this community we embrace education for a well lived life – for the whole person. And it is the staff overall, in student life, in enrollment, in CCPS, in academic affairs, in physical plant, in athletics, in the business office and in all areas and this great faculty who will shape your life in every encounter you have with them.
And yet we are also committed to a comprehensive course of study.
A Comprehensive Course of Study for the 21st Century. Today in an evolving and rapidly changing world we know that we must also guarantee that our students develop requisite technical skills and professional competencies. No matter your major or discipline I know you faculty members care about each student and our students know you will provide them know how and the mastery of skills whether, or not those are quantitative, technological, economic, scientific, or creative design solutions. Students are offered the opportunity to engage with real problems through a Drury education. We are now looking to find new and innovative ways to teach the combination of these two critical sides of a well-rounded education for all of our students to be able to signal to the world and the market the mastery of these technical skills and professional competencies and well as the qualities of an education for the whole person.
I have used the phrase Virtue and Virtuosity to describe these two interrelated and equally important sides of the equation of the Drury difference in learning in today's world.
For such a time as this!
Finally, I want to ask your help with something. I am vexed and torn over an issue that is dividing our country, has led to violence, to murder, and a rise of racists hatred and conflict between us - that of course is the issue of confederate monuments, monuments to the founders of our Republic, names of parks, schools, roads, lakes, names on school and university buildings and even images on our US currency.
I do not want to see history erased as has happened in totalitarian societies. I do not want to stop reading Aristotle or Plato or hundreds of other historical writers and thinkers. But no one wants a monument to Adolf Hitler, or other genocidal tyrants.
I need the help of this thoughtful community in civil discourse to sort through this issue for myself and I sure I am not alone. And I hope we can take this discussion on.
Perhaps there is a way of listening to each other and finding a solution. A way of acknowledging human sin and frailty. A way of acknowledging the horrible things in our past and our own tragedy while celebrating the great things about our history and of historical human fallen figures without playing into the hands of those who would use such images and monuments to celebrate hate. Perhaps we can find forgiveness, let go of resentment, and to follow the words of Albert Camus and not divide our worlds into groups instead of looking at individual people. Perhaps as Camus said to divide the world into victims who are the pure and executioners who are the unredeemable and evil lead to endless violence.
I have had experiences with this issue long before it can into national consciousness. In the 1960’s while I was growing up on the Navajo Reservation the federal government put a monument up to Kit Carson near Shiprock, New Mexico – a Navajo holy place. I remember the anger and humiliation of the Navajo people over this after what Carson had done to them.
I was in Forest Park in Memphis when African Americans were expressing their anger and disgust over the statue of Nathan Bedford Forest. Forest owned the slave markets of Memphis before the Civil War and during the Civil War ordered the summary execution of all captured black soldiers and all of their officers.
Now I will have to confess that as president of Drury I have recently developed my own monument problem!!! Over at the Presidential Garden! I can tell you I do not fall into the category of the people of whom Jesus spoke when he said “blessed are the pure of heart!”
But my experience with this issue I have to say, being a Tennessean, is even more complicated. One side of my family fought for the Union and the other for the Confederacy. In addition, my great ancestor was Governor John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. They called Sevier “Little John the Indian Killer.” And I have stood next to his statue in the Tennessee capital many times. I am not proud of what he did to Native Americans, but I am proud of the fact that he “pistol whipped” Andrew Jackson - twice.
In addition, I have been to see the statue of Col. Cyrus Sugg my great great grandfather at the Chickamauga Battlefield who lead the 50th Tennessee Confederate Infantry and was killed at Missionary Ridge. I am not proud of the fact that he owned slaves or what he fought for and died for there at Missionary Ridge. I have also been to Shiloh and Stone’s River where my family members’ names who died there fighting for the United States are on Union Monuments.
I do not know the right answer! But I do know you our smart students and you our wise faculty can help me sort through this issue.
For such a time as this!
But in the end I would like to remind us of what happens to all monuments – because as the Greeks say Hubris then Nemesis
Here are the words of Shelly
“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
For such a time as this!