Fixed to the south wall of my office is a distinguished flying cross and above it the Crucifix of Christ, which trumps any human awards and which is, then, symbolically the most excellent Distinguished Flying Cross, a signifier of the Gospel narrative. Hanging to the right of the Crucifix is Da Vinci’s sketch of a flying machine (ca. 1490). It seems like a dream now, flying those olive drab helicopters (Vietnam 1969) real flying machines, which were for Da Vinci, almost five hundred years earlier, only an idea on the interior screen of imagination, before the actual invention. Da Vinci’s amazing ideas proved the ability of the human mind to conceive and create wonders, which could be used for good or ill purposes. I attended college on the G.I. bill majoring in English and American literature and then studied Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. I served as a pastor in Jacksonville, Florida, before moving with my family to Bethany Lutheran College. Here I finished my graduate studies in rhetoric and, most recently, was the recipient of the Erling M. Bolstad Chair in Contemporary Culture and Christianity. In this capacity I intend to help create among faculty and students a thoughtful awareness and fitting response to cultural influences upon Christianity, within the framework of the Confessional Lutheran tradition of Faith.
Evoking Marshall Mcluhan’s aphorism, many live their lives as if driven forward but navigating while looking backward through a rear-view mirror. Some seem stuck in a version of 1977 Star Wars’ religion, where the fictional character Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, says to Luke Skywalker, “Luke, trust your feelings.” Many have pointed to George Barna’s studies of today’s American, who is taught “Above all, ‘Trust your feelings to guide you’” (Horton, 2008, p. 32). When, years ago, I was looking for a doctoral dissertation topic I noted that most studied “persuasion” in terms of words, but all around people showed that they “acted” and engaged in some “change of mind” not on the basis of reason and words but often times emotional and material, non-verbal factors, including smell. The wrong kind of “fragrance” could “turn off” attention to the words someone was speaking to you. I spent several weeks in Halifax Nova Scotia studying how the city’s court rooms, dentists and doctors offices, schools, museums, churches were subject to a city-wide scent-free movement, with hundreds of buildings marked with “Scent-Free” signs. That study led to the question of how non-verbal elements, like “feelings” work “rhetorically,” changing people’s minds by an “illogic of emotion.” Much of politics and religion, today, functions not on the level of right reason but unthinking sentiment, a retrieval of the “If it feels good do it!” philosophy of Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: “trust your feelings!” While feelings are an important part of being human, they are not a reliable gauge for thinking about the truth claims of religion, theology, philosophy, politics or any other subject. Emotion is important, but the Christian mandate is to love God with heart soul and mind. My courses seek to build a critical perspective in students toward culture and its influence on Christianity and their thinking. My purpose is to develop an anti-environmental mind-frame, as did Marshall McLuhan, who as a public intellectual challenged the thinking of his day about formal cause, i.e., media & cultural effect.