Christian Engineering Education Conference

Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23-25, 2004

Observations on Entering the Kettle

Gary Spivey
George Fox University

An oft told parable relates how a frog, when dropped in a kettle of hot water, will instantly jump out. But if you drop that frog in a kettle of cold water, and slowly heat it up, the frog will not be aware of the gradual change in its environment and will die in the kettle. I had formerly limited the kettle analogy to the broad concepts of the “worldly culture” alluded to by pastors who use this imagery. Then, after completing educational experience at major state universities and a fifteen year career in industry, I decided to enter upon a career as a professor at a small, Christian, liberal arts university. This change has been quite a shock to my system, but unlike the clever frog, I did not immediately jump out. This experience alerted me to the fact that the kettles in which we live are much smaller and more distinctive than I had previously thought. Furthermore, it is quite likely that the environment of these kettles may be gradually changing, and the results of these changes might place my very existence in jeopardy.

In having my eyes opened to this new culture, I have made quite a few observations about how this kettle seems quite different from the others in which I have previously existed. These observations include aspects about the people who make up this institution, the purpose and mission of the institution, and the operation of the institution. For example, I have been stunned by the diversity of this small group of white, American, Christians. This diversity has profound effects on the mission of the University, as well as the communities of the students and faculty in ways that I did not expect. We have factions, battlegrounds, independent agendas, differing personality traits, insightful viewpoints, and all of these wildly different from what I have experienced in “other kettles.”

I suppose the greatest kettle analogy comes from an observation about my purpose in being here. When I left industry to come to this University, I took my four children away from both sets of grandparents and took a significant reduction in salary. I did this as I felt that the Lord was calling us to serve his purposes here (and I still do). Many others at this institution feel as I do that this is a ministry. There are however, people I have met who consider this, in varying degrees, a job. I have little patience with these people. I pray that I never become one. However, I feel that this is the strongest aspect of the kettle – the part that could actually kill me if left in here long enough. How do I prevent my livelihood and sense of career fulfillment from usurping the purposes for which Christ called me here? It appears that it is going to be very easy for me to just "show up and do my job." In fact, I have heard myself making similar statements. I have begun adapting. This frightens me.

It is not my purpose in this paper to set about an agenda for change. As a first year faculty, I think that it would be naïve of me to assume that I not only have the answers, but that I can even adequately determine the questions. This paper simply purports to put down many of my observations about this culture and to ask myself to what degree I want to reject, embrace, or engage these elements. I reserve the right to change my opinions in the future (which may be seen as adapting to the kettle).
Finally, I would like to stimulate dialog amongst other engineers who have gone through this process and ask them where they find that they have rejected, embraced, or engaged this culture – and to what degree these actions were intentional. It may very well be my Lord is asking me to be like the frog and to die in a number of areas – that these observations might indicate not what is imbalanced with this institution, but what is imbalanced in me and in the other kettles in which I have existed.
Please forbear me any grievances you might have against my questioning of ideas or institutions that you might hold dear. It is my desire that we all come together in unity for the cause of Christ. It is my hope that this conversation might help us to do so together.

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