Students discuss tough theological topics

This semester, theological conversations between students and faculty took place outside of the classroom as part of the Overflow theology project. The discussion series, which culminated April 27 after two preceding meetings, covers topics which are seen as too broad or too difficult to tackle in most classes but are still relevant for students to understand and talk about. The series was first conceptualized last December when theology professors determined that students wanted them to be more involved in discussions on campus, said theology professor Will Kynes, who has been heavily involved with Overflow.

Senior Heidi Biermann has been integral to the success of the series. Although she is a political science major and only a theology minor, she feels the professors in the department deserve to be listened to about different issues that impact Whitworth students daily.

“When people have questions about different issues and current issues, the theology department isn’t where they tend to look for guidance and information and we wanted to change that,” Biermann said.

“The truth is we all love doing that kind of thing,” Kynes said. “We all love interacting with students, we all believe that theology shouldn’t be restricted to the classroom, that theology affects all of life.”

The first discussion dealt with the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian in a secular world?” Professor-led, the meeting was attended by 12 students and featured six professors from the theology department.

After the success of the first discussion meeting, the faculty decided that the following discussions should be student-led, with professors acting more like guiding moderators than lecturers. Biermann and fellow theology minor senior Kevin Glover were asked to take charge and facilitate conversation in future meetings.

Attendance continued to grow during the following to meetings, which discussed the questions, “What does it mean to be a Christian university?” and “Do I have to sell everything? When is a Christian radical enough?”

Ideas for discussion topics were discussed by theology faculty and student leaders Biermann and Glover, collected from other students in the department, and generated by Overflow attendees. Because of the wide variety of students from differing majors and professors from departments other than theology, the ideas discussed were diverse and applicable to many students.

Reactions to the series has been positive and the department plans to continue and expand Overflow meetings next fall.

“Students were definitely piping up, sharing their opinions, sharing their ideas,” Biermann said, about student participation in the discussions.

Next year, the department plans to discuss some possibly controversial topics where students may need more guidance, such as sex and marriage, social justice and what a Christian perspective on environmental conservation might be. They also want to expand the Overflow leadership team so that students of different majors will be represented.

Overflow also offers professors the chance to converse with each other and learn more about their colleagues’ views on certain topics in order to work through them, which is a valuable thing for students to see, Kynes said.

“We think there’s a great value of us getting together, putting our heads together and thinking about how we might be called to pour into various issues that we face in life,” Kynes said.

Biermann hopes that through the Overflow series, students will see that the theology department is a place where meaningful discussions are constantly unfolding and where students can go for advice about the Christian faith.

Courtney Murphy

Staff Writer

Dominican Father speaks about the medieval church

As part of the Medieval and Early Modern Lecture Series, Whitworth hosted Father Augustine Thompson to discuss aspects of Christian religious practice during the medieval period on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18. Thompson is a member of the Dominican Order and a leading scholar on St. Francis of Assisi. The event was attended by faculty from several departments, Whitworth students, and several sisters visiting from a local Dominican order. Thompson, a history professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, has been recently working on research into the religious lives of the laity of medieval Italy, including the Dominican Rite, which is the liturgical practice of the Dominican Order. He spoke and took questions before attending a dinner in his honor, attended by several professors and four Whitworth students. Thompson believes that the contemporary idea of medieval Christian worship is inaccurate, and posits that the relationship between the clergy and laity was one of complexity.

Despite modern assumptions that the laity were separated from the clergy in medieval churches, especially in their ability to comprehend the language of worship service, Thompson believes that the laity were more involved than previously understood and actually influenced the way that Christian worship was shaped. There is a common misconception that the decorative stained glass windows seen in many churches both modern and medieval are usually thought to be instruction tools for a largely illiterate lay population, Thompson said.

“How many here have heard the story that images in medieval churches are the Bibles of the illiterate? Yeah, it’s a common thing,” Thompson said. Have you ever gone into a medieval cathedral or even a modern Catholic church with these fancy stained glass windows? When you look at the windows, do you know what they’re about? You have to know the story in order to read it. The people who look at them may be illiterate, but unless they know the story, the pictures are worthless. We should never underestimate how much Bible knowledge people have.”

Anthony Clark, Ph.D and associate professor of Chinese history, was a coordinator of the event.

“One thing that people assume, especially if they look at orthodox or Catholic liturgical traditions today is they see what they envision to be a very distinct hierarchy between clergy and lay, and what Father Augustine is trying to argue is that is a post-reformation Catholic reaction,” Clark said. “So what scholars today realize, I think, who think about liturgy, is that first, it’s not what we thought it was … we see that the clergy and the lay were more cooperative before the reformation.”

Although Thompson’s discussion focused on the relationship between laity and clergy, he also touched on several other aspects of life as a medieval Christian. Senior Joanna Szabo, who attended the event for her British Renaissance class, found “The thing that was most interesting was when [Thompson] was talking about choir music of the period when they found that a lot of the liturgy wasn’t handwritten, but was stenciled so that the music would be exactly the same … it was interesting that before the printing press they found ways of mass printing.”

Bringing events like this to Whitworth helps to expand the common ground of a variety of religious traditions.

“Someone else said this after Father Augustine’s talk, Catholics and Protestants tend to forget that we have a common heritage … [but] if we just walk back in history, we Protestants and we Catholics, we’re going to end up in the same church with the same people. So in this era where we’re trying to be ecumenical, speakers like him actually, I think, bring us together if we’re paying attention, less than they demonstrate our differences,” Clark said of the importance of these events at Whitworth.

“[This event] had really interesting information that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access too … that’s what liberal arts is, doing things outside of one track,” Szabo said.

Thompson’s books are available on, and the recording of his speech will be made available on Whitworth’s website.


Kelli Hennessey

Staff Writer

Alumnus lectures on the philosophies of happiness

Whitworth alumnus Stephen T. Davis presented the lecture “Happiness in Life: Epictetus and Christianity” last Thursday night in the Robinson Teaching Theatre. The audience of students, faculty and community members listened close as Davis said that the secret to happiness lies not in ambition and achievement, but in changing the way one’s mind reacts to the external world.

Junior Anneliese Immel was deep in thought after the presentation.

“The philosophy of happiness that he presented—as a shift in the way of thinking—was not surprising to me,” Immel said. “What was surprising is that I know and believe in the concept, but I don’t live my life that way.”

“Everybody wants to be happy,” Davis said.

Davis is a professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in California, and a Whitworth alumnus. He majored in philosophy and history at Whitworth, and later received both the distinguished alumnus award and an honorary doctorate from Whitworth.

“If you follow the usual theory of how to be happy, happiness runs through your fingers like water,” Davis said.

Davis says that the modern equation for happiness has to do with trying to fulfill as many wants and desires as possible while trying to avoid as many undesirable things as possible, in the hope that this will make bring happiness. He says that the fallacy of this recipe is that it assumes that people will be satisfied when they achieve their wants and desires.

“Human desire is insatiable,” Davis said.

Davis says that as one achieves a goal that he or she thought would bring happiness, one instantly begins thinking of the next goal that will bring happiness, but happiness never comes.

Davis gave a brief history of the philosopher Epictetus and provided the premise of his philosophy. He said that Epictetus believed that the internal world inside the mind can be moral or immoral and that it is the only thing a person can control. He said that the external world, the things that happen are fated, beyond control, and are neither moral nor immoral.

Davis iterated that the bulk of Epictetus’s philosophy is stoicism. A stoic trains oneself to live a life of reason and accept the world as it is and as it comes. Those who think that stoicism and achievement are mutually exclusive are wrong, he said.

A stoic can work to achieve an external goal, such as getting into the Stanford MBA program, if three conditions are set. They must realize that internal goals are more important than external goals, that external goals will not make you happy, and that you should not allow failure to achieve an external goal to disturb your internal goal of tranquility.

Davis disagrees with Epictetus on two levels. First, he believes that there should be more distinction between how much people are in control or not in control of situations. Second, he disagrees with Epictetus’s approach to loss and suffering.

Epictetus says that death along with everything else, isn’t bad because it has no moral and that you shouldn’t mourn the death of a loved one, because it is out of your control. Consequently, Epictetus says that you should pretend to mourn another’s loss, but not actually mourn, because another’s sorrow is of no concern to you. Davis disagrees and argues that some things in the external world do have morals and are truly bad.

Davis said that Epictetus’s philosophy of stoicism relates to Christianity, but that they have basic differences. Stoicism values self-sufficiency and personal happiness, assumes that the external world is morally neutral, and doesn’t require a social ethic.

On the contrary, Christianity values doing things through God and community and honoring God in one’s life, believes that there are morally good and morally bad occurrences, and requires a social ethic.

Davis said that even though the Bible has little to say about happiness, that the Christian value of joy, which is arguably more important, is presented often.

Despite these differences, Davis believes that with adhering to Christianity placed first, before stoicism, that stoicism can be a useful tool for Christians.

President Beck Taylor attended the lecture and was pleased with the results.

“This was a good example of integrating faith and learning,” Taylor said. “It’s great to see him (Davis) embodying Whitworth as an alum.”

In summation, Davis said, “So far as joy in life is concerned, stoic philosophy is good, but Christianity is better.”

Emily Goodell

Staff Writer

Gospel choir explodes into a new year of musical worship

Tanner Scholten | Photographer Students and community members alike filled the Seeley G. Mudd Chapel on Feb. 13 for a multicultural celebration of singing, dancing and worshiping. Gospel Explosion, now in its 18th year, was started by Coordinator for Ministry and Multicultural Affairs Stephaine Nobles-Beans.

Nobles-Beans, who is better known around campus as “Mama Beans,” started the event to “bring the local community and Whitworth community together for a time of fellowship, praise, and worship.”

Gospel Explosion began with a prayer from Nobles-Beans and several high-energy worship songs. Then, Whitworth’s own Exceptional Praise Gospel Choir sang “Soon and Very Soon” and “Wade,” a gospel favorite.

The Exceptional Praise Gospel Choir is in its eighth year, led by junior Elizabeth Porter. A speech and communications major, Porter has been involved in the choir since her freshman year, after hearing about it from a former Act Six Scholar.

The choir was originally started by an Act Six Scholar who wanted connect with local congregations and expose the Whitworth campus to a new kind of worship, Porter said.

Porter was involved in choir programs in high school, but for the most part her music experience comes from gospel choir, which she has led for the last two years.

“For me, my freshman year, it was a safe haven,” Porter said. For Porter, gospel choir is a place she can feel most comfortable, have fun, laugh and look forward to every week.

The gospel choir in the past has traveled to Washington State University to sing, and periodically partners with local churches such as Holy Family and Calvary Chapel. They also sometimes sing in chapel on Tuesdays and Thursdays and attend other gospel events, Porter said.

The choir members come from a variety of backgrounds, and many have not had any previous musical training or experience. There is no musical requirement to join gospel choir, only a desire to worship.

“I’m big on working with people who don’t have a musical background; they’re there for the right reason,” Porter said.

Porter is unsure whether she will continue music after she graduates, but she wants to pass leadership of gospel choir down to a student who is dedicated and passionate about worship.

“It brings people together,” Porter said.

Tanner Scholten | Photographer

After Whitworth’s choir performed several individuals danced, sang, and recited poetry. Groups from around the area, such as the Spokane Community Gospel Choir and a worship band that sang in both English and Spanish, also performed.

Freshman Andrew Peacock was one of the many Whitworth students who attended the event and had a positive experience.

“It was really cool to see a community that I thought was underrepresented come out and shine,” Peacock said.

Peacock had been to a gospel worship event before, and enjoyed the sense of authenticity he felt during gospel worship.

“There was nothing that people were holding back,” Peacock said.

Nobles-Beans is enthusiastic about the event and is expecting it to be even larger next year.

“It continues to grow; it’s never been small. The crowds get larger and larger,” Nobles-Beans said.

The Exceptional Praise Gospel Choir meets and rehearses Sunday nights from 6:30-8 in the chapel.


Courtney Murphy

Staff Writer

Wisdom talks deal with vocation

“A vocation should be something where you wake up every day and are happy to pursue,” said Jann Leppien, associate professor of the Whitworth school of education. That is just one of the topics of conversation that rises from Wednesday Wisdom, a weekly meeting that takes place in the Crow’s Nest (upstairs in the dining hall extension) at noon.

The purpose of the meetings is to further integrate faculty with students. One faculty member each week is at the meetings and he/she tells the story about his/her life in an informal setting.

History Professor Dale Soden champions the event. He described the time as a way to get inside the mind of the faculty and get to know them better. Not only does the time allow for students to get to know faculty on a more personal level, but is also allows students to ask questions about a field or vocation, as well as get exposed to stories they never would have heard elsewhere.

On Wednesday Oct. 15, the host was associate professor and Margo Long Chair of the education department Jann Leppien. Leppien is in her second year at Whitworth. She specializes in the education of gifted and talented students.

The students who were present were able to hear Leppien talk about her life and how she got to be at Whitworth. Leppien originally was planning on being an engineer, but when she was an assistant for a chemistry class, she found out that she enjoyed teaching.

Later on in her career as a teacher, she met a young boy who was incredibly gifted at mathematics. At 4 years old, he was at the pre-calculus level for math. Wanting to help that boy, Leppien started to learn about specialized education, which she later got her doctorate in.

That led her to teaching abroad in Ethiopia as well as being a professor back in the states.

“You don’t have to find something you are good at, but something that you love,” Leppien said. “You can work on getting good at something.”

Those types of stories are shared every week.

“I was trying to find joy in things because I was so worried about unrealistic expectations in my career field,” Soden said about choosing to pursue history as a career.

Conversations between Whitworth faculty and students are one of the foundational distinctions between Whitworth and other universities, and meetings like this make it a possibility to get to know faculty for everyone, regardless of major or grade.

In the next couple of weeks, the speakers will be Rod Sandberg, Dale Hammond, Vange Ocasio, Jim Edwards, Beth Abbey and Mark Killian.

Jacob Millay

Staff Writer