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Fall Edition
Volume 99, Number 2

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Lecture on The Kite Runner challenges students' reaction to faith differences

Professor George Pickens urges students to consider inter-faith dialogue

President Phipps:  Good evening and welcome to Messiah College’s fourth annual common reading lecture. I want to particularly welcome members of our extended community, faculty and co-curricular educators, and most of all first-year students at Messiah College.  We are so glad you’re here. 


I want all of you to know that Messiah’s common reading program is designed as an essential component of the college’s first-year experience program. As a result of our shared reading together we’ve been having a lot of meaningful and spirited conversations. This year the college selected The Kite Runner as our common text.  All incoming first-year students along with their faculty and co-curricular educators were asked to read this critically acclaimed best-seller which tells a riveting tale about the bonds of friendship and the universal need for redemption. 

Tracking an unlikely friendship of two boys from different socioeconomic backgrounds through challenging personal and political crises in Afghanistan, The Kite Runner examines tensions surrounding race and ethnicity, war and peace, and individual and community needs.  The novel’s strong depictions of brutality, violence, and guilt are balanced by powerful portrayals of forgiveness and redemption.  This memorable literary text evokes themes that are central to the human condition.  This text challenges us to think critically, and empathically, about people and cultures that are both different and similar to our own. 

George Pickens, associate professor of global ministries
George Pickens, associate professor of global ministries

Tonight at this lecture we are privileged to hear from Dr. George Pickens, associate professor of global ministries, who will help us gain insight into engaging faith differences in a positive manner. 

Dr. Pickens’ research has embraced the topics of world Christianity, Islam, and Messiology, and his current scholarly interests focuses on the Muslim-Christian encounters in West Africa. Along with his family, he has lived and taught in Nairobi, Kenya, and Abujon, Ivory Coast.  I am very grateful for Dr. Pickens’s work, his witness, and his presence in our community. 

Reading this common text as a college community has been a thought-provoking experience for us, and I know this evening that we’ll be further challenged by the perspectives our speaker will share with us.  Please extend a warm and hospitable greeting to Dr. George Pickens. 

George Pickens:  Thank you, President Phipps. 

Tonight I want to take my personal opportunity to welcome all of you first-year students to Messiah College.  If your first-year seminar groups are anything like mine, you have had lively conversations, you have gotten to know each other better, and we have begun the year well. 

I do want to recognize my group, group number 14, “the Power of One,” who are here on the front.  And I just want you to know that during the question and answer period that follows if things start to get out of hand you’ll have to answer to them.  OK?  So they’re here.  I also want to acknowledge my wife, Debbie, who is here tonight.  I appreciate her being here. 

Some of you may be wondering, like I have, why I am talking to you about this particular book.  I am not Khaled Husseini.  I am not a scholar of contemporary fiction.  And some, including myself, have wondered what might I say about this book that would be worthy of us spending this time together.  But as those who invited me to speak began to clarify exactly what they had in mind for the evening, I became very excited about the opportunity to talk with you.  Because what we have in mind for this evening is to take a theme from the book and try to connect it with the rest of our lives.  You’ve read the book, you’ve discussed the book, and I think the task for us tonight is to try to connect that book, now, to the rest of your lives, going beyond the book. . . .  How might this book connect with our lives here at Messiah in the years that are to come — and beyond?

And so what we want to do is identify one theme that emerges from the book and try to see how Amir’s experience in the book, how his experience particularly with differences, might relate to our lives. So, I am here to talk about the book, in a sense, but mostly I’m here to talk about my passion and my convictions about a particular theme that is woven throughout the book, one that I think is essential for all of us to engage in our years here at Messiah and even beyond. . . .

"What does it mean for us to try to engage in a positive way people who have different beliefs than we do, people who hold these beliefs with the same deep-seated, passionate conviction that we do?"

Tonight there are many themes that I could have identified, but one that is very close to my heart and one I think that clearly emerges from the book, is the need for us to learn to engage differences in a very healthy, positive, and ultimately enlarging way.  We can see this in the book, and we’ll talk about that more specifically in a moment, but I think learning to engage differences — people who are different than you and I — in positive ways is a necessary discipline for us in our time. 

During your time at Messiah you’re going to have opportunities to talk about engaging other types of human diversity.  You will have opportunities to talk about racial diversity, ethnic diversity, and other differences in the human family.  And all of those are incredibly important, and all of those are necessary, but tonight I wanted to focus on another area of difference that is close to my experience, my convictions, and my work as a teacher.  I want to talk specifically with you about how we might be able to manage theological and religious differences.  In other words, what does it mean for us to try to engage in a positive way people who have different beliefs than we do, people who hold these beliefs with the same deep-seated, passionate conviction that we do?

How can we engage them in positive and healthy ways?  It’s incredibly difficult to do.  Tonight I want to help (I hope) us to do that in a more positive way.  So tonight what I have in mind is not so much an academic lecture. . . .  What I guess I wanted to talk with you more is a presentation that might be closer to a testimony, something that comes from my heart, that is deep-seated in my convictions and my experience.  Now, while it’s not meant to be heady tonight, I do hope that it is grounded in scholarship. . . .

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