To be perfectly honest, abstractions like "education" and "integrity" could not have been further from my mind as my parents’ packed minivan rolled into the Ashton parking lot in the fall of 1998. This was not a time for contemplation, but rather the beginning of an adventure. For the next several months I was more likely to be concerned with abstractions like "girls" and "Gwinn." A time and a place for everything under the sun.
Looking back, I can’t very well discern when the transition took place. But somewhere in the midst of Dick’s and "roomies," I began to think about what it was that led me to this place. I thought about my freshman year at the University of Montana, and the sense I once had that my education could mean so much more than what I had experienced there. Maybe it was Providence (or an attractive Web site) that finally lured me to the base of Queen Anne hill in Seattle. Whatever it was, I found myself for the first time in a place where words like "education" and "integrity" became descriptions of a process, a transformation taking place in the very heart of the thing called "me."
Here’s a thought: becoming truly educated means forming integrity. Integrity occurs when the many pieces of our lives are brought together to form one whole person. This means our beliefs, values, life stories, and the knowledge we gain about the way our world works. It also means that my inward life matches up with my outward life. To have integrity is to find the proper place for all these elements within myself. It’s so much more than just "not lying" — but it is that too.
This may come as a shock to some, but SPU is not a vocational college. We don’t gather in a place like this only to learn skills, or to prepare for a career. We do those things along the way, but hopefully we do much more. SPU is one of those strange inventions called a "liberal arts university," and thank God for that. This means that students come to this place not only to learn a trade, but to become broadly educated in many different disciplines. Thus, requirements like theology, foreign language or fine arts. Right from the beginning, this place is set up to aid us in the formation of integrity, helping students expand their own souls to the point where many aspects of life and world can find their home in us.
There are many liberal arts schools to choose from, but SPU is not just one of many. This particular university is called "Christian," and it takes that designation seriously. All educational institutions expect that students will gain new knowledge and will find ways to understand that knowledge in their own personal contexts. At SPU we take a critical next step: we seek to integrate our lives and the knowledge we gain with something bigger than ourselves. We find ourselves in a Story that began long before we arrived on the pages of history, and will continue — a world without end. We recognize ourselves as part of a great drama featuring the God of the universe and his beloved creation. We are set free to use our knowledge and the skills we acquire to participate in the restoration of all things, the redemption of a suffering world. This is integrity of the highest order: the integration of everything from the smallest subatomic particle to the brushstroke of the artist, to the great mission of Creator God.
To live an educated Christian life is to move intentionally and forcefully in the direction of integrity. In places like this we find the space and the courage to ask the necessary questions along the way. How does our knowledge of the natural world fit into the portrait painted by the Christian scriptures? How do the metaphysical poets inform my daily life of devotion? Can the struggles of a nation like South Africa help to shape my own political choices? Every new fact I encounter poses the question again: can this too be integrated into my experience of God and the world? As long as I am willing to wrestle with these questions, I press forward toward education and personal integrity.
My own journey of education/integration led me through bachelors’ degrees in biology and biochemistry, and eventually into the realm of philosophical theology in graduate school. Now I find that I’ve been lured back to the base of Queen Anne hill, the only difference being that this time around I know exactly why I’m here. I think I’ve found a place where wholeness is celebrated, and it’s a place I want to be. We don’t always know how best to achieve this kind of wholeness, but at least we’re surrounded by people who care enough to try.
From the very beginning I have experienced Seattle Pacific University as a great adventure. At first my sense of adventure was limited and immature. But as I continue along this path I see more clearly that something else is going on here. We’re on a quest for integrity — wholeness — and I suspect that it just might change me (and the world).
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Title: A place to explore and celebrate integrity | Author: Bob Zurinsky | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2005-11-30 | Internal ID: 4739