Contributed by Andrew Cole and Jack Rudnick, Jr., Ed.D.
The world is in the throes of freefall change. Uncontrollable ups and downs in the economy, environmental variables, and other emotional family dynamics can trigger anxieties and unsettledness. Remaining grounded in a set of foundational values can help hinge a secure, even-keeled demeanor and keep us anchored to these values with an ability to pivot, avoid compromise of values, and roll with the flow.
This article describes the evolution, background, and context of DiscussMORE that includes an overview of a selected foundational text and values grounding the series. A focus on the process of linking selected values hope and joy to the Thomas More University values will illustrate the attempt to further evangelize and grow the existing culture of inclusivity on campus.
Critical thinking served as the theme of the inaugural Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) approximately seven years ago. Under the direction of Joe Christensen, Ph.D., with strong assistance from other faculty members and staff, including John Ernst, Ph.D. Under Christensen’s leadership, this QEP established a strong foundation for learning across all dimensions of the campus. Critical thinking has since become a platform and standard for academic planning and assessment; and it can be credited for catalyzing the DiscussMORE series.
An intentionality to expand the reach of Campus Ministry toward even broader inclusivity and diversity led to Andrew Cole, director of campus ministry, and professor Jack Rudnick, Jr.’s pilot to launch this initiative. The first session was held outside in the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel amphitheater and has since been moved to a virtual platform in order to reach more persons who are interested in sharing their gifts and talents to support the values of Thomas More as outlined by the University’s leadership.
DiscussMORE evolved from a book read by Cole that inspired the discussion forums. One of the series’ goals is to provide a forum that fosters evangelization and supports the mission of Thomas More’s Campus Ministry. Cole has woven this forum into his department’s strategic plan. This plan includes promoting an inclusive and wide-reaching net for further cultivation and growth of the campus ministry activities. These activities currently include the Agape Latte series, Lunch with Padre, Annual Multicultural Prayer Service, and various small prayer groups and Bible studies.
After reviewing the book, Rudnick, who teaches in the departments of business administration and accountancy, recognized a dimension of elements in the book that rang the critical thinking bell of relevance that aligned nicely with the values explicitly woven into the Thomas More vision, mission, and values. Vision, mission, and values are included in academic activities that he and others in the College of Business integrate into their curricula and impart this learning objective as pivotal for success in the world of leadership and management in business/nonprofit sectors. A plan was approved to launch DiscussMORE in Fall 2020.
DiscussMORE Theme for Academic Year 2020-21
Catholic priest Timothy Byerley’s book that inspired Cole to initiate the series, “Maria Esperanza and the Grace of Betania,” serves as the discussions’ foundation. Betania is a farm located in Venezuela and the setting for the book. It is considered a holy ground that is the place of the personal religious encounters for the devout Maria. Byerley captures Esperanza’s witness to a religious conversion that includes a core set of six values that he refers to as elements. He reports how Esperanza perceives how these elements are used to help achieve God’s plan for healing the family and society. The six elements identified in the book are hope, joy, humility, balance, family life, and evangelization. These served as the catalyst for the DiscussMORE series that was launched this fall on the Thomas More campus—in both on ground and virtual formats.
The meetings begin with a traditional Catholic prayer to the Holy Spirit and a review of the purpose of the sharing opportunity to offer various personal perspectives on values. The group would then share how these affect the participants, and “discuss more” deeply about the amplification of the session themes. Two of the selected elements that have been discussed, hope and joy, illustrate how the sessions have unfolded thus far.
The Elements of Hope and Joy
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best (dictionary.com, 2020). Our patron, Saint Thomas More, defended the truth in his beliefs in the hope that he would be rewarded eternal life. We hope for happiness, prosperity, and safety for our family, friends, and those with whom we work. It was noted that in Romans 8:24-25, “…but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what we already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
Discussion during the reflection session centered around the following reflection questions: “Drawing on your own experiences, what does hope mean for you? What in your life has stirred up a desire for hope?” and “If you have ever had your hopes crushed, what caused this to happen, what restored and gave you new hope, and did you learn anything from the crushing experience(s)?”
The concept of joy was established as a feature of the spirituality embodied in the life of Maria Betania. Contentment and happiness are experienced when we are in possession of something good.
The discussion was framed with research from the book as well as noteworthy figures in the religious field including Saint Frances de Sales, Billy Graham, Saint Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and Saint James the Apostle.
When we possess the ultimate good, joy resounds in our emotions. It is a construct illustrated when we consider the promise of heaven, encounter the mercy of God, and when touched by God’s healing love. We encounter joy in prayer, in a paradoxical form when we are experiencing pain and suffering, and when we celebrate love with others.
Joy rests on the glory of service to the Lord. There is an infinite tenderness of everything in Him through our relational communication. This construct is not something that is taken for granted nor received passively, but is nourished through prayer and an intentional striving. “Always be joyful” is a hallmark of spirituality and happiness.
What people say about joy
Frances DeSales: “Joy can be revived in sadness through Holy Communion and Confession to resist sadness and anxiety.”
Saint Mother Teresa: “Joy is a net of love in which you catch souls”.
Billy Graham: “Joy has all but disappeared from our dictionary. WE have confused joy with happiness. We have come to believe that joy is found in pleasure, security, and prosperity.”
Apostle James: “Joy depends on God. Happiness depends on circumstances. Count all joy when you fall into various trials.”
Pope Saint Francis: “Everything is Joy. The one who gives us joy is the holy spirit.”
Mother Teresa: “The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness avoids suffering and joy endures suffering in hope.”
Thomas More Values
Alignment with these selected noteworthy figures with a discussion on items excerpted from the Thomas More values statement included the following: faith, Christian love, academic freedom, witness to God’s treatment of individuals, qualities that attract the reality of the kingdom of God to our world, knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge, to open the mystery of reality and truth, and respect for each person (unique talents, self-awareness, self-fulfillment, and freedom together with tolerance and compassion for their weaknesses and limitations).
During the joy session, participants offered their interpretations of joy and happiness that led to a lively discussion on a distinction between the two constructs. Further resources and ideas were contributed for additional reflection by attendees, which demonstrates the value of group conversation and diversity of viewpoints for consideration.
Discussion and DiscussMORE Plans
Campus Ministry is continuing to broaden an existing inclusivity as it seeks to provide community—especially now in challenging times when science appropriately dictates that all engage in prudent physical distancing measures. DiscussMORE is a means of bringing people together to complement other Thomas More discussion forums (e.g. Crucial Conversations) currently taking place on campus.
DiscussMORE serves as a forum that is intended to bring those interested into a community for discussion, collaborating, reflecting, growing, and sharing. One of the most important skills we can share with one another is the product of our collective critical thinking.
Biblical figure, Matthew, in 5:15 of his Gospel urges us to “Let your light shine” before others. Entrepreneurs and scientists also contribute a perspective that underscores the inclusiveness in not hiding talents. Benjamin Franklin urged others to “Hide not your talents. They for use were made.” Albert Einstein shared that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and forgotten the gift.”
Kindness and decent values are not solely religious or spiritual. The universality of the Thomas More values is intended to be shared. Rudnick offered that now more than ever people need to be aware of opportunities that creatively seek to offer communities in this period of isolation and openly share a perspective that aligns with Thomas More’s Catholic and “catholic” (i.e., universal) values. He also added that critical thinking is important for faculty members to model the way for our students as critical thinking is a top quality (and current skills gap) sought by employers and graduate programs.
Faculty members and staff can avail themselves of these and other opportunities to build up the campus with their contributions. DiscussMORE provides one among several forums offered. Thomas More values will continue to be the underpinning foundation of future DiscussMORE sessions that spark critical thinking amidst the reflections shared.
Future dates in 2021 for the DiscussMORE series include Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 26, and April 30, from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., location to be determined. To confirm a date or for additional information about DiscussMORE, contact Andrew Cole at email@example.com or Jack Rudnick at firstname.lastname@example.org.