ADVERSITY AS A PATHWAY TO NEW POSSIBILITIES
By Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D.
Central Seminary Interim President
Provost & Dean of the Seminary
Professor of Christian Heritage
What did the Hebrew people in the Exodus narratives anticipate when they finally gained release from the servitude they had suffered for generations in Egypt? Apparently, their expectations did not include additional challenges, difficulties, and threats. The idealized “land of promise” was imagined to be a place of safety, ease, and comfort, as well as a place to be quickly attained. Military threats, hunger, thirst, and unending days of wandering were not presented as components of the rescue package Moses had advocated back in Egypt. Yet, the adversities endured during the years of desert wandering transformed a shabby community of Egypt’s underclass into a People of God.
When I began my own faith journey, I had a rather structured vision of how my vocational life would unfold. While I did envision occasional difficulties, I never imagined major vocational shifts, being subject to criticisms and misunderstandings, and certainly no periods of being caught between jobs. Yet, the adversity of unexpected challenges during the journey, together with periods of ambiguity and struggles related to an unknown future, became the significant milestones of my faith development and proved to be the most transforming seasons of my life.
As an academic and faith community, Central Seminary has been led for 120 years by a mission — an agreed articulation of why we exist and what we seek to do. Our 2019-2024 Strategic Plan makes no mention of pandemics, stay-at-home orders, financial crisis, virtual commencement programs, Zoom board meetings, underemployed students, and travel restrictions. Yet, even as Central’s board, faculty, staff, students, and administrators have been challenged by the unexpected, we have gained new perspectives on God’s activity in the world, the qualities that constitute true community, what it means to serve God and one another amid unknown and unpredictable circumstances, gratitude for the things usually taken for granted, and the grit to stay the course amid uncertainties and hardships until a firmer position of strength can be found.
Thus far 2020 has been unpleasant in many ways. Prospects for the months immediately ahead may not be better. However, amid this unpleasantness are seeds of opportunity for your future individually as well as for our collective future as Central Seminary. Possibilities exist for new and unique learning under these circumstances. More than ever we find the guidance we need in our mission, values, and goals. Through them we discover the paths that lead us to more secure foundations. Present adversities open our awareness to new opportunities. They will enable us to build better and more relevant learning programs that prepare leaders to know God, shape church, and serve humanity and all of creation.