On Virtue and Practice
At the end of this academic year, Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass will retire after long careers of leadership and service in both academy and church. Mark Schwehn has served as Professor of Humanities, Dean of Christ College, Project Director of the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts, and—most recently—Provost of Valparaiso University. Dorothy Bass, after teaching church history at Chicago Theological Seminary for ten years, became Director of the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith. While this list of titles is impressive, no such list can adequately convey the true nature or extent of their service. Through their scholarship and lives, Mark and Dorothy have helped so many of us recognize how we might discern and respond to our callings in the world. As colleagues, teachers, mentors, and friends, they have guided us to a better understanding of what it means to be members of a community of learning where the pursuit of truth is shaped by the virtues and practices of the Christian tradition. In this Special Edition of The Cresset, our writers reflect on all of Mark and Dorothy’s contributions, but they center their reflections here on three books that they have written.
Mark’s Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America (Oxford University Press, 1993) is among the most important books on Christian higher education to be published in recent years. In it, he presents a meticulously researched history of the emergence of the modern research university, a history that demonstrates how a task once considered central to the academic vocation—the formation of moral character—was gradually eclipsed by the mandate to produce new knowledge. Mark argues that since the academic enterprise depends on certain virtues—including humility, faith, self-sacrifice, and charity—those who follow this vocation today must recover the notion that it is best pursued within communities of learning in which such virtues are practiced and cultivated.
Dorothy’s Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Jossey-Bass, 1997) is a book that has been profoundly influential in both the academy and the church. It presents twelve essays on Christian practices, things that Christians do together in response to the presence of God among us. The collection gave new direction to scholarly thinking about the relationship between spirituality and the creaturely needs we experience every day; it also furthered the work of the Valparaiso Project, an effort to provide resources that religious congregations could use to revitalize their own practices.
Together Mark and Dorothy edited Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (Eerdmans, 2006), a wide-ranging collection of texts that explores many of the most basic questions that confront us when we take the time to ponder how we are living our lives. This collection of readings that both challenge and inspire has been adopted for use in courses at universities across the country.
Also in this Special Edition are contributions from Mark and Dorothy’s family. In the center of the issue, we include four of Kaethe Schwehn’s Tanka poems. The Biblical characters that are the subject of each poem are included in the details from John August Swanson’s A Visit that are printed in the backgrounds. At the end of the issue, you will find two essays written by John Schwehn and Martha Schwehn Bardwell in which they reflect on the process of discovering their own callings in life.
Whatever the vocation to which we are called, the prolonged effort to live lives of meaning and integrity will require virtue, and these virtues will be absent in us if we lack practices through which we might learn them. Humility, faith, self-sacrifice, and charity. Those of us who have come to know Mark and Dorothy have been fortunate to have two such fine models of these virtues to inspire us in our practice.