Re-Orienting: Community, Care, Courage
New Student Orientation 2022
The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith
with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
James Baldwin, Nothing Personal
Greetings, Union Friends and Colleagues,
This year we were looking for a theme that could serve as a grounding statement not just for the three days of orientation, but for the year to come; not just for the new students, but for all who make up the Union community.
Many of us have had much re-orienting to do: from things as they had been, to online studies during the outbreak of Covid, and now back to in person classes, rituals, and meals. Getting oriented again and again seems to be a lifelong, continuous practice that helps us recall who we are, where we are going, and how we want to live. Our incoming students, especially, are doing a significant amount of re-orienting as they step into a new season of their lives.
At Union, much of our way-finding is shaped by both our remarkable legacy, and our present community. Even as we learn to do this better, we know what caring for self, for one another, and the Earth can look like. It is about being compassionate, honest, just, tending to the whole. We want to keep this spirit as a permanent leitmotif of our orientation, rather than it becoming an exhausting “information dump,” something that many orientations are infamous for. Our True North is liberation, and good theology in both word and in deed is what becomes the wind in our sails. We may lose focus at times, but there is always space and grace to re-orient.
Many thinkers we encounter while studying at Union have profound things to offer in this ongoing re-orientation. James Baldwin, a key figure for many of us, wrote movingly about reorientation and self-creation, particularly in his essay Nothing Personal. Therein, he remarks that a person has two selves: one provisional and perpetually invented, and “the undiscoverable self which always has the power to blow the provisional self to bits.” We must constantly remake the provisional self out of stories, ideals, virtues, and vices.
The work of seminarians is to attune ourselves deeply to the question of what is available, and what needs to be created, so that we can build dynamic, grounded personal and collective selves.
We have worked to create an introduction to life at Union Theological Seminary which will reorient us to these questions in a communal, caring, and courageous spirit. Thank you for joining us in this work!
Nastia Khlopina (MDiv ‘23) and Ben Heaney (MDiv ‘23)
last updated 8/28/2022