Column by Thomas M. Becker
Here we are at the final weekend of the 2014 Chautauqua season. Chautauquans have been returning to their communities for a couple of weeks now as school begins for children, college for young adults, artistic seasons resume for conservatories, theaters and symphonies; in short, life resumes.
Many refer to Chautauqua as a kind of Utopia, an island of civility, beauty, learning and community that somehow avoids the grimier realities of what we experience in “normal” life. And while I understand those observations, I would quickly add that we were never intended to actually be an expression of the utopian movement. Rather, this institution was born of the progressive movement; expressing the belief that by applying ourselves to lifelong learning and embracing the moral imperatives of societal living we could, over time, help create a more just, compassionate and equal society. Thus, the Institution was engineered with certain humility in its expression. We end our programming each year so that the experiences of Chautauqua can find purchase in the conduct of lives outside this physical space. Chautauqua is not an alternative to your life. It is a resource to the continual improvement of the way you live your life.
We are more aware of Chautauqua as a training ground for artists and religious professionals. These participants come to the grounds in the structure of a training program. They face a rigorous pedagogy and performance schedule. We witness their training and revel in their performance, exhibition, publication, oratory and ministry.
A friend recently spoke to me of how the Chautauqua experience extends beyond the time and geography of the season into the lives of people who attend. She talked about the ripples in a pond and how they continue to flow outward. I found myself thinking about how the ripples never occur unless some force breaks the surface and finds some depth. We are offered here an opportunity to acquire new ideas, points of view, expression, insight, awareness, concern. That acquisition breaks the surface of our lives and introduces the possibility of extended impact into the lives of our co-workers, friends, family, and our social, artistic and spiritual communities.
So, I hope that, whatever amount of time you have spent at Chautauqua this summer season, it has fed you, refreshed you and made an impact on your heart, mind and soul. And I hope you are motivated to share these experiences and commitments with others.
We’ll see you next year.