A Message From Our President
By T. L. Shelton
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
And the one who waters will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25
When I took this job, or, rather, accepted this position, it was with the understanding that I would not be responsible for any scholarly work. I was, and am, an administrator, and my gifts do not include those of scholarly expression and composition. In other words, I hate to write.
Since this school was resurrected by writers, I felt safe in assuming that I would not be called upon to write much or to contribute to the college’s several, excellent publications. But, as everyone here at the college is well aware, life sometimes surprises us. None of us would have ever believed that there would be a college in Saint Albans in 2014, much less that we would be a part of it and even more that its influence would be worldwide through the work of its faculty as they write and publish.
I am writing this, not because I have been compelled or extorted into doing so. Heck, I’m not even asking for money. What happened was this: in my reading (even though I don’t write much, I do read extensively – this should be some comfort to the trustees) I came across a few paragraphs that so perfectly and completely set out and explain the founding principles of the new Shelton College that I just had to say something about it.
The title of the book is Playing God. That sounds sacrilegious at first, but the book is anything but that. It’s written by Andy Crouch, who is an Episcopalian and the editor of the magazine, Christianity Today. The book is outstanding and full of other wisdom that I won’t have room for here, so pick a copy up for yourself.
The subject of the book is power. He starts with the premise that humanity was created to exercise power. To have dominion over the fields and forests, the flocks and the teeming fishes in the sea. Of course, we’ve messed it up, and history is full of examples of the misuse of power and the dire consequences that result.
Nonetheless, Crouch argues, we humans are made to exercise power – to create, to produce and to influence. To the extent we are prevented from doing these things, or at least attempting them, we are frustrated and bored. That, in itself, is so close to the primary motivation for the new college that it would justify the president who hates to write to start knocking out a few paragraphs. Let me first say that I am right with Mr. Crouch in this first proposition. Human beings are not happy – they are not actualized – if they cannot in some way create. I’m not a poet or painter, but it is true of me, nonetheless. I am at my best and feel most alive when I am able to organize and bring people together around ideas and goals. That’s how I create and that is what the trustees here have given me another chance to do in this second career of mine. Moreover, in the few months this college has been up and running again, I have seen this truth borne out over and over in the lives of those who bring their varied expertise to our table.
So. Good enough. But, still, not my reason for writing. What was even more striking to me, and even closer to home here in Shelton College, is the notion that power is not a zero-sum game. That is, I do not gain power by making sure that others have less of it. In fact, my power – my ability to create, produce and influence – is multiplied when the power and influence of others around me is increased. In fact, if any individual is ever to make full use of his abilities or to know the full extent of his powers, he is inevitably at the mercy of those around him who in many ways will know him better that he knows himself. Crouch says that power of which the individual is unaware is “perilous and wasted.” He offers this remedy:
None of us can map our power [abilities] for ourselves. We need one another to fill out our maps, to point out the resources we have of which we are unaware, and to warn us when we are at risk of misusing something we don’t even know we have.
How many times I have seen that very thing happen in our midst here this first year together. There are novels and poems being written, paintings being painted, music being played. All of it might have happened anyway, in some form or another, but the point is that the books and poems are better now than they would otherwise have been. They are making their way into the community and into the world now in ways that would not have happened before. It is almost miraculous. How can this happen? Crouch explains:
Such mapping requires trust, because drawing the map itself is an exercise in power that can be used well or abused. Trust can coexist with confrontation and critique, but only when it is undergirded by a confidence that we are for each other – allies in one another’s flourishing, cultivating and creating – rather than using our insights into one another’s power to win our own game.
I don’t know, really, what I can add to that. Only to say that it is exactly the spirit that now prevails here at this lovely little school. I will do my part to see that it stays that way. The results from such a continued alliance will undoubtedly be overwhelming.