[IMAGE: Pacific Lutheran Scene]
W I N T E R     1 9 9 6


What's in a Middle Name?

Imagine a colorful quilt, one with bright patches of fabric lovingly stitched together by many hands. It's strong. It's warm. It's been passed down from generation to generation. Some days it's a magic carpet that soars through the sky propelled by a child's imagination. On another day, the quilt wards off the bone-chilling cold of a winter's night.

Lutheranism is a quilt of many colors. It's large enough to wrap around everyone and it's as freeing as a magic carpet ride.

The following patchwork essay is a quilt of ideas, feelings, impressions and personal beliefs about Pacific Lutheran University's middle name.


"Pacific" says where we are. "University" says what we are. "Lutheran" says who we are. The word Lutheran gives us our heritage, our commitment to God, our sense of being and our service to others.



In a world where people are on the move and often without a sense of permanence, it is exciting to be connected to a place that has strong ground in the middle. Lutheran in the middle means there is a special story to tell and a wonderful gift to be claimed.



After two years at PLU, and especially after participating in last summer's ELCA-sponsored "Vocation of the Lutheran College" conference at Augsburg College, I have become more aware of what Lutheranism is and how it is, or might be, embodied at PLU.

Luther and Lutheranism, as I understand them, offer an academic institution like PLU more than a basis for theological reflection. They also offer a dynamic model of inquiry - of radical questioning - that, if embraced, can only strengthen PLU's growing reputation for academic excellence. It is perhaps because I am not Lutheran and because of my research interests (I teach Spanish, Latin America literature and Latino studies) that the intellectual legacy of the Lutheran faith tradition captures my imagination. The tradition encourages inquiry and exploration. These in turn yield a space or spaces for the challenge of, for example, a Latin American perspective or a feminist perspective. The promise of this kind of inclusiveness combined with an understanding that the life of the mind is part and parcel of the faith journey (if there is a faith journey) and not anathema to it, finally, have eased any qualms I may have had about teaching in a church-affiliated university.



Ten marks of a Lutheran college

What makes our ELCA institutions of higher learning authentically Lutheran? We concluded that there were at least 10 characteristics (not in order of importance) that our Lutheran schools share:

  1. Educating the whole person - body, mind and spirit.
  2. Providing tools for critical inquiry.
  3. Contributing to a strong sense of community.
  4. Encouraging diversity and welcoming all voices to be in dialogue.
  5. Affirming our Lutheran identity and tradition.
  6. Instilling in students a sense of calling: a vocation of service to God and others.
  7. Offering a gospel orientation that is both self affirming and world affirming.
  8. Focusing on the human condition.
  9. Teaching with a global perspective.
  10. Believing that religion (issues of faith and values) is a part of a complete liberal arts education.

Answers from a conference for faculty from the 28 ELCA colleges and universities held in August at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, compiled by Rev. Richard Rouse, PLU director of church relations.


As in most western family names, the last, or surname, places one in a particular family: PLU is a university as opposed to a college, a health spa or a fast food outlet. The first name sets one apart from others with similar last names: brothers and sisters rarely have the same first name (George Foreman's sons all named George excluded). The middle name tends to convey an admiration or respect for the past, often reflected by use of the middle name to recall an important former family member. Here, the "Lutheran" in Pacific Lutheran University proudly shows the respect the founders had for our Lutheran traditions, heritage and glory.



I was a little frightened about my daughter going off to college, but because of this school's middle name, I felt a little better, because I believed there would be values in that institution that I understood and shared and could trust.

I knew the approach of Lutherans to education and learning and truth, which meant there would be no quick answers to life's greatest questions, a freedom to explore truth and a value on good scholarship.

I knew in that middle name there was a respect and care for the individual and I surely wanted to have that security.



As a reporter at KPLU, it's not uncommon for me to be asked about the relationship between our radio station and our university. Some think we must be a religious broadcaster, or that we at least report news from "a Lutheran perspective." While we are not a religious radio station - we're one of the country's leading National Public Radio stations, both in news and jazz, with a professional staff of about 30 - the middle name of "Lutheran" is an important description of what we do. Just as Pacific Lutheran University strives to serve its community through excellence, we at KPLU do the same. Our station, just like our university, serves more than an exclusively Lutheran community. Each of us, however, through our pursuit of our own missions, strives to bring to our work some very "Lutheran" principles: integrity, purpose, inquisitiveness, honesty, balance and moral value. Although I am not a Lutheran, I believe our shared Lutheran heritage enriches our lives and our place in this world by requiring that we bring to our shared work and to our individual lives a strong sense of meaning and an equally strong sense of relevance.



It means grace, the kind we receive and the kind we offer.

I took 10 years to understand this, because I was raised Lutheran in small-town Indiana among second-generation Germans. My raising had as much to do with grace as a hog does with a Bible. In consequence, as an adult I avoided churches, preachers and organized religions with all the vigor of David Hume who once wrote, "At its inception our holy Christian religion was attended by miracles, and to this day cannot be believed without one." Lutheranism, together with all other Christian religions, seemed not Christian, but a mere retelling of the Old Testament; the retelling covered with a coating of saccharin.

Religion did not teach me to avoid God. It taught me to avoid preachers.

By the time I arrived at PLU 11 years ago, God and I were in agreement. I understood the gift of grace which truly does offer a peace that passes all understanding. I understood giving the gift of grace, because that happens often enough in classrooms.

I had yet to learn that religion operates on levels beyond dogma, and that great value lies in the spirit of congregations.

PLU was a congregation of the religious, irreligious and undecided; but a congregation nonetheless. It held religious tenets as one reason for its existence, and education as a primary reason. It lived, for me, as a small and exceedingly precious world in the midst of chaos. No teacher, any where at any time, was ever gifted with a greater sense of purpose by the simple fact of surroundings.

I actually enjoyed the noise of planes from McChord. In the classroom, while waiting for the sound of jets to move away, I'd take great pleasure in knowing we were all doing our jobs. The folks flying the planes worked on behalf of their belief of protecting the nation. I worked on behalf of my belief in protecting the nation. Yin and Yang, the Yogi and the Commissar, the Old Testament and Jesus: the notion of the balance of opposites began to make sense.

It made sense because of the power of congregation as expressed at PLU. That power is roughly the same as the power once owned by the extended family. When I arrived, faculty, students, administrators and staff would have been amazed to find themselves treated other than family. As in most extended families there was bickering. A few folks were in need of an extended family's grace. They needed to learn of unmerited assistance as they went through periods of growth. "Home," Robert Frost wrote, "is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Grace is one mark of a university, or should be. It's a mark that far exceeds any call for tolerance. It's also a mark of a religion wisely used; a recognition that religion is only a vehicle ridden toward understanding, and not parked. As PLU moves into another century, I hope it retains the possibility of expressing and receiving grace. That hope may seem old-fashioned, but I promise it will never seem obsolete.



Lutherans are inclusive. Although our forefathers came mostly from the northern European cultures we have grown and Lutheran now means all people of the earth.



In many families a middle name is usually a family name, something you can look at and find your heritage, where you come from. With Lutheran as Pacific Lutheran University's middle name, PLU is distinguished from other universities, shown in a connection with a large family, the Lutheran church, and given identity.

As an alumna of PLU, I consider myself part of the heritage and the family of the middle name Lutheran and I wear the name with pride and privilege.



The time in which we live needs church-related universities, and in particular, a Lutheran vision of the partnership between university and church.

The relationship between university and church is not given, as the history of most private universities underscores. Founded by denominations, the majority gave up the link and took the secular route of academic and ecclesiastical freedom.

What is desperately needed today is a distinct kind of education that asks the ultimate questions of meaning and purpose and searches for values and truths by which to live.

PLU's liberating education searches for what is the true, the honorable, the just, what is excellent and worthy of praise (to paraphrase St. Paul, Phil. 4:8-9). It can help free us from prejudice, from narrow-mindedness, from self-interest, and open one's eyes to the fullness of God's creation. Reason and human experience have much to contribute.

But let it be said that the university is not the church, a reality sometimes misunderstood even by supporters. So we do not strive to be a Bob Jones or Oral Roberts or a Wheaton, nor even a Bible institute. At the same time, we are not a state school nor do we want to become a university severed from its roots in the church. Rather, our vision of a university of the church sees it as a unique place where the interplay of faith and reason, the sacred and secular, the reign of God and the created order find mutual conversation.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Pilgrim's comments were excerpted from a speech he gave at PLU's fall Pastor's Brunch. For a complete copy, contact Church Relations at 206-535-7423.


Table of Contents

Scene Home
Previous Article | Next Article

Source: Pacific Lutheran Scene, Winter 1996
Edited by: Janet Prichard, Senior Editor (prichajd@plu.edu)
Maintained by: Webmaster (webmaster@plu.edu).
Last Update: 12/17/96