Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stories of Faith and Power

Hilary Sherratt ’12 is a Pike Scholar and student writer for the Office of College Communications. She shares her experience listening to President Lindsay talk with honor students in a personal reflection for Notes Along the Way.
It was easy to hear the voices coming from the Chairman’s Room as I walked into the Ken Olsen Science Center. I heard students greeting professors and chatting about their upcoming research projects. They were the voices of my classmates and those I have grown closest to in the course of my time at Gordon College—students from the A. J. Gordon Scholars program, the Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) cohort and the later cohorts of the JAF program. We took our seats in long, neat rows and Dr. Tal Howard introduced Gordon's President, D. Michael Lindsay, who would be speaking with us about his research on leadership, and how power and faith are defined and understood in our culture. 

President Lindsay began by tracing the history of the definition of power, from Max Weber’s definition of power as domination over an antagonist, to Michel Foucault’s idea that power exists in the web of social relationships. Finally, President Lindsay offered a third definition: Power emerges, and we engage it in different parts of our lives as we participate in different institutions and organizations. 
But then, as he turned in the lecture from asking what power is to asking how faith informs power, President Lindsay also shifted from talking about theories to telling stories. He told us about CEOs, former presidential appointees, deans of significant research universities, and how each of their lives illustrate the relational nature of power. As he talked, he drew us into the stories, reminding us that power is not exercised well through playing a game, but rather through serving others. 

“You have to want it not for yourself, but for others,” he told us. “You have to want to leave behind something better than the way you found it.” The people President Lindsay interviewed for his own research have that gift of leadership and a desire to leave something better than they found it. As he told the stories, I looked around at my classmates. Theirs are stories I hope to follow after I graduate from Gordon. The people listening to President Lindsay are leaders at Gordon, working to leave this place more excellent than when they arrived. 

President Lindsay was in his element teaching. From his warm tone of voice to his thoughtful definitions of terms and his energy in talking about what leadership, power and faith have to do with each other, we all heard not only a lesson about faith and power, but also one about the love of learning. It was a unique opportunity to see President Lindsay in such a different role from the one he normally plays. 

I realized, too, as he answered questions about humility and ambition and how we can be reflective while occupying positions of power, that the most important part of Gordon for me has been these kinds of gatherings. These momentsthe community of learners coming together to ask a particular question, and able to ask each other as well as our professorshave shaped my thinking more than any particular reading or course. It has been the conversations we have here that have shaped me as a student. I love learning at Gordon because I love the people I learn with, and the questions we ask together. President Lindsay’s talk was a reminder not only of how power emerges through relationships, or how to serve for the common good, but also of the privilege it is to learn alongside my peers.

Photo: Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay

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