Earlier this week we shared the video footage of the Inauguration ceremony for Dr. Craig Detweiler, The Seattle School’s third President. Here, we’re featuring the Charge to the President by Dr. Roy Barsness, Professor of Counseling Psychology (you can see the video here). In his charge,“The Third at the Edge of the Salish Sea,” Dr. Barsness exhorts Dr. Detweiler to lead The Seattle School in remembering, restoring, and reimagining, and in that, we believe that his words offer a charge to us all.

The Seattle School’s Founding President Dr. Dan Allender in his book, Leading with a Limp, states,

“my character is a superb fit for a startup, edgy, academic world, but I would be a trapezoid peg in a round hole if I were to try and teach or administrate in a traditional academic world.”

Twenty-one years ago, our first President gathered a group of like-minded people and moved to the edge of the Salish Sea, to one of the most edgy, educated, innovative cities in our country.

They dreamed big, took personal and professional risks, and acted like fools for the sake of the Gospel. They wanted to challenge the numbness of our own Christian traditions, in search for a new narrative that defies the oppressions and injustices within our societies, and to work with the traumas within our own stories that hinder us from full engagement in our God-given lives.

Dr. Allender once asked our dear friend and New Testament professor Stanley Grenz, who left us and this earth far too early, “Why don’t others take these risks?” Dr. Grenz replied, “Because other seminaries don’t hire fools to be the President!”

What a difference fools can make!

Our second President, Dr. Keith Anderson, understood this foolishness and placed his mark on this institution with his insistence on maintaining the edge by charting an alternative consciousness, representative of the Christian message.

In the wake of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville last year—a rally he referred to as a “blatant and vile display of racism and anti-Semitism”—Dr. Anderson reminded us who we were by recounting,

foundational to our education at The Seattle School is that we seek to sustain curiosity in the midst of differences, discourse in contested conversations, listening when we want to walk away, offering a table in the very presence of those with whom we strongly disagree, and embodying a spirituality of our own repentance even as we call it forth from others.

The DNA in this institution, Dr. Detweiler, is filled with fools, edgy faculty, staff, and students who are stirred up by hurts, pains, oppressions, traumas, and injustices. People who yearn to be participants in the energizing story of the Incarnate Christ. We are psychologists and ministers standing in solidarity with those in the margins and immersing ourselves in the traumas of those who seek our counsel, recognizing that transformation takes place in our points of surrender and vulnerability.

I believe, Dr. Detweiler, that those on the search committee and the Board of Trustees knew this to be also true of you. They knew of your willingness to leave the security of what you know—to know more. To let your creative imagination imagine anew.

And now here you are, our third President. May I say, perhaps, our third fool.

The Third in psychology refers to a psychic space that interrupts complementarities, sameness, exclusiveness in an attempt to create and imagine new configurations, adjustments, a place to breathe, to think more creatively and spontaneously. The Third is always grounded and discovered through relationship.

The Third in theology is understood as the Triune God and in specific, the Holy Spirit, who gives breath and breadth. The Spirit who disrupts our labored minds drawn to binaries, certainties, power, and invites us into risky, mysterious places empowering us (as we read in our collective statement of faith) to resist systemic powers that strike against justice, peace, and equity in our world. The Third is also grounded in the complexity and beauty of the holy relationship of the Trinity.

The Seattle School is now all grown-up. It is 21 years old. We are now legitimate, accredited, recognized—we are a part of the norm. We are impressive! We are adults. But we know how easy it is for adults to slip into arrogance, defensiveness, and power grabs. So we must be careful to remember our “ground,” that is, where we have come from, as we faithfully continue to dream big and be imagineers of the next.

“We must be careful to remember where we have come from as we faithfully continue to dream big and be imagineers of the next.”

The Puget Sound was officially renamed the Salish Sea in 2009. Why? Because someone remembered.

They remembered the First Nations people—the very first inhabitants of this incredible place that several million now call home. Biologist Bert Webber along with 70 First Nation Tribes sought to rename one of the world’s largest, biologically diverse and rich inland seas—not simply to rename and honor the past, but to ensure the sustainability and future of their culture and the fragile ecosystem of the sea.

Remembering the past orders the future.

This is also demonstrated in our ancient ritual of the Holy Eucharist, where we gather at the table to remember, to confess, to restore. It is food for the journey. But we don’t remain at the table, for to do so would be gluttonous. To remain would be to escape the realities of our lives and others and to ignore our participation in being Christ’s presence in our world. No, the cleared table serves as a vantage point and signals us to get up and go.

Your task, Dr. Detweiler, as the Third at this non-traditional academic institution, is to encourage us to sit and to get up. To gather us to remember, to confess, and to restore, and then to go on to live on the edge, foolishly imagining and implementing Christ’s Kingdom here on earth.

As we go forth, help us remember our groundedness.

Keep us as wide-eyed as those foolish founders who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Be our Third—that one who is restless and impatient with the norm, the existing state of affairs, the easy, the expected. Be our Third who ignites our imaginations and our passions, that Third that breaks up our places of stuckness standing in the way of being fully alive.

For we know that the glory of God is the human person fully alive!

I wish to assure you that you will not be alone, for you will joined by a group of other fools who believe we exist to make a difference, here on the edge of the Salish Sea.

Thank you.