Running with the Hounds
There was a knock at the door of my
friendís room. A tall, gangly fellow appeared clad in a T-shirt and
paint-stained jeans. The most memorable feature of all was his wide,
incredibly joyous grin. I was introduced to Professor Joseph Sittler. I
was incredulous. A professor who called on students in the dorm? And for
the purpose of meeting a studentís visitor from the outside world? A
theologian in such informal dress?
I stumbled over my awe and my surprise
for a few awkward minutes. Professor Sittler was too gracious to notice.
And then the conversation took flight: mutual regard for a professor
both of us had studied under, Shakespeare, my studies in art history,
his experience in Florence, the relationship of the arts to the faith,
the encouragement of my future in ministerial studies....
Later he graciously responded to an
invitation to speak to all fifteen members of the Lutheran Student
Association at the University of Chicago. He talked to us as we sat
around the table after one of those, you know, student suppers. It was
These episodes are mentioned in order to
suggest that in them Joe Sittler demonstrated several virtues common to
campus ministry: a genuine concern for students ó and for his studentsí
friends; an uncondescending sense of collegiality; a gift of counseling
based on a willingness to share and to give; a willingness to be
available ó even to the point of calling on students!
Other people tell similar stories, I am
sure, to illustrate his guiding influence and to exemplify ways in which
they learned from him something of the conduct of the Christian in the
I think his personal impact and
inspiration has been his most important gift to us. But, of course, we
have gained a great deal more. He has invited people to learn that
academic discourse can also be doxological and that precision in
language is a holy obligation. The vigor and imagination contained in
his speech and his writing demonstrates ó in an inimitable way ó how the
medium should be appropriate to the message. He has shown the loving
care with which the Word as well as the earth should be treated in
thought, speech, and action. Overleaping usual homiletical doggerel, he
reintroduces us to the beauty of strong images of great poetry.
Most of all, however, it is his manner:
the terse expression in word and action of a sober humility mixed with
high hilarity before the awesome truth of Godís provision for us in all
that Jesus Christ means.
It is appropriate to pay tribute to him
as a teacher, a counselor, a model, a friend. While other communities
may claim Joe Sittler as their own legitimately and more intimately than
we, this tribute is entered in the record to assert that generations of
us in campus ministry, too, claim him and love him.
Donald F. Hetzler
Executive Secretary of Associated Church Press Director of National
Lutheran Campus Ministry (1968-1976)
Running with the Hounds