Apple trees

I am working on an exhibition called PLU@125:Lutheran Education on the Frontier, which will open later this month at the Nordic Heritage Museum. So I have been learning a lot about Lutheranism generally, and Lutheran education specifically.

The idea behind the exhibition is to get across the uniqueness of PLU, but not in a way that is some PR spin, but rather as a historical and cultural phenomena. When Scandinavian and German Lutherans first came to the United States, they moved to the Midwest, and lived in small rural towns. So here is where it gets interesting. By 1900, there were 15 Lutheran colleges and universities in the Midwest, each one serving its own ethnic and religious base. The liberal Swedes had their college, the conservative Norwegians had theirs, etc.

In the exhibition, I suggest that PLU was established originally on the assumption that the same thing would happen on the West Coast, that it would be a repeat of the Midwest. But that is not how it turned out. Instead to this day, there are only three Lutheran colleges in the West, and only four west of the Mississippi. So we are trying to talk about the unique circumstances that led the university I work at to evolve in a rather different direction than the Midwestern Lutheran institutions of higher learning, and different indeed than the university's founder, a conservative pastor, had foreseen.

One of the inspirations for this exhibition is a quote, which we think is from Martin Luther but was also used by Martin Luther King, Jr. (attestations can be a bit fuzzy post-internet.) Anyhow, the quote goes something like, "Even if I knew the world was going to go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree." What this means, to me at least, is that it is so easy to get caught up in all the drama of life, all the turmoil that spins around us, but we have to stay steadfast to who we are, to the core values that define us. To move forward with an open heart and an open mind, certain as to the inherent dignity of our one and precious life.

I can say there have been times in my life when I have gotten caught up in the drama, and postponed planting any trees, and other times when I have thrown apple seeds around too liberally, or gotten very impatient when a tree didn't grow immediately, and angry if it did grow, but didn't end up producing any fruit. And isn't it the way of the world that we stand next to a certain sapling, upset that it isn't doing exactly what we wanted it do, when if we would just look around a bit, we'd see that another seed we planted, and had neglected in so many ways, was the one that was supposed to take root right from the beginning. As we get older, at least for me, I feel like I see it now with a wisdom and acceptance I did not have before, and a profound gratitude for those apples that do sprout, and grow, and flower, and are beginning, now early in the Fall, to form the stuff of real life.

Some wonder why I am not opening the exhibition at my homebase, the Scandinavian Cultural Center, but this anniversary is a chance to do something really special, something that maximizes all sorts of connections I have with the Nordic Heritage Museum and my alumni have with Seattle, plus bring new people into the dialogue, maybe even boys and girls in the neighborhood near the museum, who have never heard of my university, but now might end up attending PLU. Who knows.

For now though, I am just looking forward to the exhibition opening, and seeing what happens.


Jono said…
Long ago I left the East Coast to attend one of those Midwestern Lutheran colleges. While being wary of what I thought was the math building (It had a big "plus" sign on the top) I drifted away from my Lutheran roots, but still enjoy the rest of the culture, food, and history. That is why I found and follow a number of blogs that relate to those roots and found you when you were still in Iceland.

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