IMG_0184As I left Pittsburgh yesterday, I decided to leave slowly, lingering through some of its neighborhoods on my way back to Virginia– so I got off the parkway, and drove through Oakland one more time, stopping near the Cathedral of Learning.

For several years I worked and studied here, entering into the PhD years of my life. They were so very busy, so very full, and there were moments along the way when I seriously thought of stopping. Someone has to have compelling reasons to jump through all the hoops required.

But along the way of those years, I began imagining a lecture series for that part of the city: where the University of Pittsburgh meets Carnegie-Mellon University meets the city’s major research hospitals meets the city’s major museums. Simply said, it is the educational and cultural center of the city.

As I was studying the connection between knowledge and responsibility— what I later termed “the formation of moral meaning” —I decided to call the series, “Knowing & Doing: Crucial Questions for the Modern University.” Built on the conviction that there is a responsibility built into the very act of knowing, that knowledge implies responsibility, I argued that the modern university had misread its vocation, offering “passports to privilege” instead. Much more could be said, and was.

And because the most beautiful building in the neighborhood was the Heinz Chapel, and in some more historic moment was designed for the purpose of a sustained and serious conversation about transcendence and truth in the university community, we chose it as the setting for the series.

J.I. Packer inaugurated the lectures, and offered a remarkably rich, thoughtful and engaging vision of the truest reasons for being a university. And over the next few years we asked other good people to weigh in, offering their own insights into the nature and meaning of higher education, each one focused on knowledge and its responsibility. Os Guinness and John Perkins, John Stott and Nigel Goodwin, James Sire and Alden Hathaway, all gave their gifts to the universities and the city.

Perhaps as might be expected, Stott drew the largest crowd, filling the chapel with eager people from all over Pittsburgh. Years later, I still remember what he said, and how it sounded. He was a wonderfully gifted man, and the world is smaller after his death. On every continent, in every culture, he is missed.

He began with Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, so very skillfully drawing on the rich pedagogical vision at the heart of the novel, saying so clearly in the way he used words over the long years of his life, “But a mind without a heart is nothing.”

In many ways that series, and the years it represents in my life, continue to run through who I am and what I do. Most every week I draw that vision of knowing and doing into what I teach, wherever I am. In its own way, it is the very heart of all I speak and write; in fact it is the core of the book, Visions of Vocation. To anyone who wants to know what the book is about, I will always simply say, “The book has a question from beginning to end: what will we do with what we know?”

Knowing and doing… still a crucial question, for universities and for everyone everywhere.


Image: Ben Gray, “Speak Your Mind” via Flikr

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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