Be not conformed to this world; be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2
Yesterday afternoon I went to a dedication of a stain glass window in memorial of Ron Stutzman. Ron was my adviser in the Sociology and Anthropology department during my four years at Goshen (Ind.) College. He died in the fall of 2003 after a short struggle with cancer a few months after I graduated. Ron’s son Ben, who designed the stain glass piece, told us that Romans 12:2 was the password on Ron’s computer when he died. It also clearly shaped the way he lived his life.
I came to Goshen College to study sociology. I had begun to learn about the injustice in the world and I saw sociology as a way to better understand society and find ways to change it. At Goshen College the sociology and anthropology department’s are together, so I ended up with Ron as my adviser. He gently encouraged me towards taking a number of anthropology courses.
One of the key ideas I remember from Ron’s classes is the ethnographic method, a systematic way of asking questions that helps anthropologists understand a group of people they are studying. For me, these course taught me the art of answering questions and the importance of listening. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as going off to protest global injustice or organizing sit-ins, but over the years I’ve realized that it is just as important.
I often joke that my liberal arts education hasn’t gotten me anywhere and that my marketable skills are ones I never took classes. But the the truth is that the skills I learned in anthropology come into play every time I have a conversation with someone. Ron gave me simple tools that help me to better understand the people around me and the way they understand the world.
Ron also modeled a humility grounded in an anthropologist’s awareness of the elusiveness of truth. He lived for a number of years in Ecuador and was keenly aware of the web of meaning that we all construct based in our cultural context. It has taken me years to fully understand what this means, but I’ve come to deeply appreciate the importance of holding our truths lightly as we interact with those around us. Especially when working in cross-cultural contexts like Christian Peacemaker Teams.
But Ron was by no means a man of inaction. He taught us that renewing our minds in ways that do not conform to this world has implications beyond personal transformation. For our senior seminar he had us read Jesus and Politics. For him, this was a key lens for understanding what it meant to be a Christian doing anthropology.
Celeste Kennel-Shank, a friend of mine and 2004 Goshen College graduate, traveled with Ron to Colombia for Teaching Theology Abroad in May of 2003. She says:
Traveling to Colombia with Ron in May 2003 made a lasting impact on my faith. His commitment to challenging students to remember Mennonites being persecuted in other countries made both the history and core values of Anabaptist faith more alive in my mind. I was glad I could attend the commemorative service at Goshen Saturday and hope the windows help generations in the Goshen community to remember Ron.”
Ron’s practice of anthropology and his teaching brought together humility, passion for justice and commitment to Anabaptism. As I grow older I know that I will continue to discover new ways that Ron’s practice and vision have impacted my life.
Ron, you are missed.