Students, faculty, staff, and community members heard about true abundance from Acting President Dr. N. Bradley Christie Sept. 12 at Erskine College and Theological Seminary’s Formal Opening Convocation in the Due West ARP Church. [Watch the video]
“You have the opportunity while you study here not to despise instruction, to learn, to experience even the beginning of wisdom,” he told college and seminary students. “You have the opportunity at Erskine to become rich toward God.”
In keeping with his practice of beginning with a poem, Christie, who has taught English at Erskine since 1991, read a humorous verse about the Secret Seven society, whose members had constructed a large numeral seven of red balloons and hung it from the balcony.
Shifting into a more serious mode, Christie read an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”: “We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”
Christie’s address was based on Jesus’ story of ‘the rich fool’ in the Gospel of Luke, a parable Jesus presents after he has declined to mediate an inheritance dispute, with words of refusal that sound somewhat harsh.
“Man,” Jesus says, “Who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”
Christie noted that rabbis in Jesus’ day “interpreted not only religious and ceremonial laws but criminal and civil law as well,” so settling a property question between two brothers would not have been unusual.
“But Jesus won’t always help,” Christie said.
Quoting Patrick J. Willson, pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Christie described the younger brother who begs Jesus to “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” as a “man who is not here.” Instead, “he is the property his brother has kept from him; this man is the land, is the house, is the car, is his jewelry, is his stuff, his things.”
The rest of the story in Luke’s gospel, which consists of Jesus’ warning about covetousness and the parable of the rich fool, suggests that the brother pleading for Jesus’ intervention “is T.S. Eliot’s hollow man, headpiece filled with straw,” Christie said.
At the center of the parable is a farmer who decides to store his bumper crop by building bigger barns, then plans to take his ease.
“Listen to the rich farmer,” Christie said. “‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? … I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
“Do you hear him saying in his heart, ‘There is no God?’ Do you hear him mistaking his things for the real treasure? He is a fool. Just as God names him. ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of [stuff]—who gets it?'”
Christie likened the rich farmer of the parable to the younger son eager for his inheritance.
“He is another hollow man, with only himself to think and converse with. He has no community but only himself with whom to rest and enjoy what remains of life. He is utterly alone, because he is another human-shaped void,” Christie said.
“‘Fool!’ God said to him. ‘Man,’ Jesus said to the younger brother. And in the Greek only a couple of letters differ between these words. I think there’s a visual and verbal pun here, like the difference between ‘dude’ and ‘dud’—clever but with a deadly point.”
The ‘rich fool’ is not foolish because of his riches, Christie continued, since God provided the land and its harvest; nor is he foolish for wanting to build bigger barns—Joseph did the same in Egypt.
“He is foolish because of his misplaced priorities, his misguided sense of the real treasure in which life consists. He is foolish because he is not rich toward God,” Christie said.
Against the bad news proclaimed by our culture, the message that you are the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the school you attend, Jesus asserts that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his posessions.”
Once more quoting Willson, Christie said, “Jesus will not assist us [in] becoming less than human,” and added, “Students, neither will Erskine. Our historic commitment to the liberal arts attests to that. We’re not about developing only parts of people. Part-person flourishing doesn’t even make sense. Whole-person flourishing demands a curriculum that only begins with knowledge and drives toward wisdom.”
Christie urged students “to consider that you are men and women—more than mere things or consumers of things, including the things you are learning—that you are created in God’s own image—that you are his treasure, that he takes his pleasure in you,” and said of Erskine’s academic approach, “You will be guided through a curriculum that only begins with knowledge but urges you also to pursue passion and to seek wisdom.”
In addition to his long tenure as professor of English and current duties as acting president, Christie serves as senior vice president for academic affairs. Click here to view a video of the full address.
The Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, gave the invocation and benediction. He also offered a prayer for the 177th year of the seminary and the 175th year of the college.
The Erskine Choraleers, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Mark A. Nabholz, presented a choral anthem, and Associate Professor of Music Dr. J. Brooks Kuykendall served as organist.