Category Archives: Great Conversation

This category discusses great works (text, art, theorem) along with their great questions and ideas.

How Shall I Live Well?

One big question we are asking in the Enduring Questions & Ideas curriculum is How Shall I Live? But perhaps the real question for most of us is “How shall I live well?” In our current culture and society, we often equate health with wellness. We see this in the question “How are you today?” In truth, few people are ever inquiring about your health or well-being. It is more of a throw away greeting of “Hello.” If you were to receive an answer to that question, it usually is something on the order of “I’m good” or “I’m OK.” Heaven forbid if one were to respond with “Well, I was just diagnosed with (insert your physical or emotional disease here).” Continue reading How Shall I Live Well?

Goodness: Beyond Beneficial

Concordia University’s Enduring Questions & Ideas (Q&I) curriculum looks at the big questions of life through the context of the liberal arts and in the foundation of a Christian understanding of the world. The questions of “What is good?”, “What is true?”, and “What is beautiful?” are at the heart of the first year Q&I courses that students take in Core Biology, Core Theology, Core Philosophy, and, my subject area, Core Mathematics.

Of those three questions, the one that seems to be the most difficult for students to grasp (and for faculty to teach towards) is the question of goodness. Continue reading Goodness: Beyond Beneficial

Make Freedom Great Again

“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” –John 8:36

The American narrative never strays too far from the word “freedom,” does it? I would wager that most people, when asked what makes America special or extraordinary, would venture a response replete with references to freedom, liberty, individual rights, and good old fashioned baseball. But are these deeply held principles of modern democracy in concert with the type of life-changing freedom Jesus offers in the Gospels? Continue reading Make Freedom Great Again

Seneca’s Call to Live Well

Seneca (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) is my favorite thinker studied in Core Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. Alas, he also comes at the end of the semester, and I rarely have a chance to marinate in his work for as long as I’d like. Seneca isn’t just concerned with bare concepts; he’s interested in how ideas help us cope with this complex and sometimes maddening world. He also tells students (and professors) to remember to live while they have the chance. We read selections from his Epistles on Virtue and Vice, including a letter entitled, “On the True Joy which Comes from Philosophy (XXIII).” His epistle’s closing line is memorable:

“Some men only begin to live when it is time for them to leave off living. And if this seems surprising to you, I shall add that which will surprise you still more: Some men have left off living before they have begun. Farewell.”

So, how does Seneca think we should live? Continue reading Seneca’s Call to Live Well

Who Speaks for Freedom?

Solzhenitsyn as a Gulag labor camp prisoner
Solzhenitsyn as a gulag labor camp prisoner

As the combined Core English 202 and Core History 202 class wrapped up last spring at Concordia University Irvine, one of the students suggested that it would have been useful to have had an underpinning question for the course, something to guide our investigations.  I suggested, “What is freedom?” and, as we all pondered that possibility, heads began to nod around the classroom.  It soon became apparent that many of the texts we had covered had indeed asked this question, from many angles and with a variety of answers. Continue reading Who Speaks for Freedom?

Why Art? Music, History, and Faith through the Eyes of Heinrich Schütz

Heinrich Schütz by Christoph Spetner
Heinrich Schütz by Christoph Spetner

In Concordia University Irvine’s Enduring Questions and Ideas (Q&I) curriculum, students take coursework that seeks to engage with big questions: What is Truth? What Does It Mean to be Human? How Shall I Live? As a member of the music faculty, I am frequently called to engage with the question of Why Art?

In the spirit of this question, this essay examines a setting of Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) by the seventeenth-century Lutheran composer Heinrich Schütz, which was composed and published in the midst of the near-apocalyptic warfare and social upheaval of the Thirty Years’ War. The perspectives of historical, musical, and theological inquiry provide a glimpse into the circumstances that Schütz faced while composing this piece, and offer many parallels to modern day experiences and anxieties. Continue reading Why Art? Music, History, and Faith through the Eyes of Heinrich Schütz

Crossing the Threshold with Three Words of Wisdom

Macbeth at the Battle of Dunsinane by John Martin
Macbeth at the Battle of Dunsinane by John Martin

Good afternoon. Thank you President Krueger, Trustees and Regents, my friends and colleagues the Concordia faculty and staff, our university family and friends, and you, the class of 2017—thank you for the opportunity to share some words of encouragement on this beautiful day. A very important day for you, in particular, a threshold moment.

Earlier this semester, before I received the invitation to deliver this address, I began a new line of research focusing on the metaphysical importance of thresholds in William Shakespeare’s plays, particularly in Macbeth. Macbeth, like many of Shakespeare’s great tragic characters, has a moment of clarity before he makes a very bad decision that sends his life into a tragic spiral. Continue reading Crossing the Threshold with Three Words of Wisdom

Codependency Is Not Solidarity

Huckleberry-FinnMark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn presents the nuanced issues of slavery, honor, and bravery through the eyes of a young boy entering manhood to mirror the young nation’s own understanding of these complex issues. Huck’s initial act of independence thereby establishes his identity portrayed to the audience as an independent American spirit able to conquer the horrors of oppression. Continue reading Codependency Is Not Solidarity