It’s a Person

I miss the not-even-close-to-highbrow Thursday night "must see TV." Specifically, I miss <i>Friends</i>. I watched every episode for ten years, and I miss it. I miss how absurd it was -- I miss the impossible way these twenty-somethings with absolutely no expendable cash lived in what had to be a zillion-dollar apartment in the Village - I miss the improbable Mozart-opera-esque ways they found to sneak around and do ridiculous things and meet bizarre people - I miss the way every conflict and every trauma was neatly wrapped up at the end of the half-hour, or in some cases, resolved at the beginning of the next season. So I watch <i>Friends</i> in reruns now, and the title of my remarks today, -- "<i>It's a Person</i>" - comes from a very old episode from the first season. The episode, entitled "The One With the Birth," focuses on the birth of Ross and Carol's son, Ben. It is, of course, also filled with all sorts of silly and ironic little blunders (it is a sit-com, after all), but it finally comes together at the moment of Ben's birth, when, completely overcome with emotion, Ross stammers not "it's a boy," or "it's a girl," but "look& look& it's a <i>person</i>." Remember, friends, this is Ross we're talking about, so you know that despite his Ph.D. in paleontology, he's not really the sharpest tool in the shed. Still, his proclamation "it's a <i>person</i>" is perhaps the most profound thing he could have said about his son at that moment - a moment filled with all the promise, all the possibilities, all the potential for Ben's life. What do you think your parents said at your birth? I know you were there, but I suspect you don't remember. If you don't know, ask them. <i>I guarantee they remember</i>. I would hazard a guess that even if they didn't use the same language Ross used - "it's a <i>person</i>" - undoubtedly they were feeling some of the same wonder and amazement and promise of your personhood. Questions, I'm sure, about how you were going to achieve your personhood - how you were going to fulfill that potential for becoming a <i>complete</i> person. It's outlined in the hymnic piece found in <i>Philippians</i>, chapter 2 - from the Revised Standard Version -- "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus; who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." <i>Christ as a human person</i>. Wrap your brain around that - <i>Christ as a human person</i>. Do we understand what that means? Christ as a human person, in human form, humbled, and in the likeness of men. This is the whole issue, isn't it? This leads to my point today: <i>what is a person</i>? What does it mean to be a <i>person</i>? And ultimately, how does one go about <i>becoming a person</i>? I'd like to offer a few ideas - a few elements - that factor in when discussing the notion of <i>person</i>. I suggest that to be a <i>person</i>, one needs emotion, knowledge, inquisitiveness, empathy, and perhaps most importantly, community. First, a <i>person</i> is about emotion. British novelist Arnold Bennett said, "There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its emotional force, it is not ours." (<i>The Journals of Arnold Bennett</i>, entry for March 18, 1897). Have there been emotional moments during your acquisition of knowledge at OBU? How have these moments contributed to your experience? I absolutely believe you felt some strong emotion when you got that first Nat Sci test back, whether positive or negative& . But were you surprised by this first foray into basic celestial phenomena and how these phenomena were viewed by ancient civilizations? Perhaps the emotional force of your surprise helped you turn this knowledge into your own. Have you felt emotions during the last four years you didn't know you had? Has the truth of the material in some courses been so startling to you that you didn't know what to do? On a more personal note -- Did you fall in love while you were here? Build a friendship and taste happiness? Lose love? Lose a friend? Did your personhood grow through emotion? In <i>The Idea of A Christian College</i> (Eerdmans, 1975), Arthur Holmes suggests three features essential to the development of a person: He says that first, a person must be a "reflective, thinking being," and argues that this involves an ability to see things in relationship - to "organize ideas into an ordered whole& and to work toward a unified understanding." In your time at OBU you have hopefully learned to organize ideas and information - maybe even ideas and information that made you uncomfortable or uneasy. However, my colleagues and I have not tried to give you all the information. It just isn't possible for us to teach you everything about everything - erroneously presupposing, of course, that we actually know everything about everything. Instead, we have tried to teach you to ask questions. Good questions. Relevant questions. Interesting questions. Hard questions. All the questions. In asking the questions, we've confronted you with information that is difficult, and at times, intricate and multifaceted. Some questions you might have faced during your time here: How did the earth begin? When is art good? What does "postmodernism" actually mean? Why does the mouse on a Mac only have one button and a PC mouse has two? Why isn't there any consistency to how one conjugates German verbs? <i>Why is Britney popular?</i> How can I make a contribution? What is my place in the world? What is the nature of God? If you learn to ask the questions, the information will come, and if you ask the questions well, the information will come in a way that helps you continue in your path toward becoming a reflective, thinking <i>person</i>. The late Dr. James Hurley, former OBU professor of biology, summed up the issue of asking questions this way: "I want to beg you as much as I can to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your hearts, and to try to love <i>the questions themselves</i>... The point is to live the questions now, and perhaps you will then gradually live along someday into the answers." The epigraph to the fourth movement of Beethoven's F-major string quartet, opus 135, asks one of the composer's favorite questions. He asked it frequently in other venues, but the scribbling in the score of the F-major quartet is perhaps the most famous: "<i>Muss es sein? Es muss sein.</i>" Translation -- "<i>Must it be? It must be.</i>" Beethoven took nothing for granted, accepted nothing easily, and continued to ask questions all the way to his death in 1827. In fact, the subtitle of the fourth movement of this quartet is, in translation, "The Decision Taken with Difficulty." It could just as easily have been called "The Question Answered with Difficulty." One of the most complete persons I have had the privilege of knowing - and indeed, one of the great question-askers - passed away recently. Dr. Gary Chancellor, professor of French and German, proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible to ask questions and illuminate not only yourself, but others with those questions. A few years ago, when the last <i>Star Wars </i>film was released, my husband and I thought we'd run out to the mall and see an afternoon showing of it. Sitting in the theatre when we arrived was Dr. Chancellor, who had just seen the previous showing. We had a brief, but glorious, illuminating, and thought-provoking conversation about Darth Vader. Dr. Chancellor noted that in the musical score for the film, composer John Williams used the "darth vader theme" we all know so well, but used it in retrograde every time young (and still relatively innocent) Anakin Skywalker was on the screen. I remember very vividly how Dr. Chancellor asked if we knew what our musical themes were - and how those themes would change and evolve over the course of our lives, essentially becoming ever-shifting musical questions. Asking questions is rarely easy. However, just because your time at OBU has come to an end does not mean you are granted leave to stop asking questions. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. Equipped with your degree, you are now required to continue asking the questions - even to <i>improve</i> at asking questions. Failure to do so diminishes the value of your degree, your university, your community, and your <i>intellectual personhood</i>. Holmes's second point concerning <i>personhood</i> suggests that a person is a "valuing being." Certainly you have had the opportunity during your study to learn to place value, and in doing so you've investigated the criteria through which value can be placed. French nineteenth century novelist Gustave Flaubert said "Everything depends on the value we give to things. Our values make morality and virtue" (<i>Pens