Vision has been on my mind. Not that I need new glasses; I mean vision as that which motivates from within—based on hopes, dreams, ideas, failures, gifts, ability, circumstances, beliefs and faith. Vision based on imagination, on conversation with others, on time spent alone, time spent listening and being challenged by new ideas. Courage to listen to ideas not one’s own, and then not skipping the step of wrapping it all in the scriptural concept of the still, small voice of the Divine.
What leads to vision or from vision? What comes first I’ve been pondering that of late-a kind of chicken and egg thing. Does vision guide us in our daily life and work; do we create a vision or do we participate in one? In the work we do-for example-my work here at the seminary-what is the vision that guides me and is it connected to the vision of the seminary? In some ways, the previous question is easy to answer-of course-this is after all a seminary, and a reformed one at that. And by definition then, as a seminary, it is always vision, which guides the institution. (And if you don’t like the vision, then go where there is a vision that suits or create your own private one, or a group one of your own ideology.) This last sentence, the one in parentheses, just because it is in parentheses, is not to be skipped over as an afterthought. I have purposefully written it that way because it is too easy to place this notion as an incidental afterthought. And it is all too easy to draw sweeping generalizations about our own conclusions—that is, creating our own version of the vision over and over and over. We attribute a lack of vision to: individualism, or a lack of Christian-based ethics (and our idea of what they are often constructing our own idols of what and why), or to culture or some sort of “other”. Vision is not at all about sweeping generalizations, not about taking even that most common of scriptural references, particularly the one about where-there-is-no-vision-the-people-parish one and applying it to any and every circumstance either as a negative for what we don’t agree with or as a positive in support of our well-developed vision.
This leads me to wonder about the whole notion of “a vision statement.” This is the stuff of hundreds of minutes of work by corporations, and institutions of all sorts. Many are quite clever, and quite good. Able to be grasped by most people; applied to any circumstance—lipstick, cars, higher education, the meaning of life, faith and belief, vocation and career. How did this come to be: the history of the vision statement and its link to vision as a concept and as a guiding rubric for decision making, one in which we mix up our shades of lipstick and car models with the guiding rubric of the heart and soul and mind? One in which the dollar sign serves as the ultimate in vision making and aim?
I feel bereft at times because vision is a precious word and center for the living of life. I and the value of religion have been co-opted. I do not want this co-opting to continue both personally and in the work I do and in the institution with whom I work.
One of the most sung hymns is “Be Thou My Vision,” not only because it sings well, rather because it captures the intent of the human desire for whatever might be purposeful for each of us and for all of us—“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.” My heart-the inner, center, motivating site of feeling, of intellect, of experience, of hope, of forgiveness, of renewal. It is my heart and your heart, any institution’s heart, any gathered community’s heart. Heart is the site of seemingly impossible transformation. It is the beginning place of vision and its renewal.
Susan Kendall, Ph.D.
Director, Doctor of Ministry Program