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One final word

This is my last blog as executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, and T. S. Eliot was right: “. . . the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The painting pictured above has been in my ATS office almost the entire time I have served this organization. My predecessor, James Waits, thought that the newly constructed ATS offices should have art and in 1991 arranged for a gallery to bring a range of paintings and prints to the office. Staff members were given the opportunity to choose something for their offices, and of all the art the gallery made available for viewing, this painting spoke to me and has continued speaking to me across these many years. As I leave, I want to tell you why.

This painting makes discernible form and shape by straight lines, some of which continue to a conclusion and others of which fade or blur or disappear altogether before the line reaches a termination point. Straight lines are important in education, accreditation, and the study of value-laden theological disciplines. Some issues and practices in our work are straight: they are right and true and beautiful.

But straight lines are not all there is to education, accreditation, or theological studies. Education needs open spaces. Accreditation involves professional judgment that transcends the straight boundary lines. Theology has mystery at the heart of its truth. For me, the artfulness of this painting is its combination of straight lines, blurred lines, and disappearing lines that, together, provide coherence, shape, and form. Good theological education involves ambiguity and surety; good education involves structure and openness; good accreditation involves attending to normative standards and professional judgment in the application of those standards.

The artist likely painted this picture for beauty’s sake, and my interpretation is an imposition of meaning on something intended for the meaning of beauty alone. Perhaps the artist will forgive my meaning-making, but that is what theological educators do for a living. Straight lines alone create rigidity, and in the end, rigidity cannot contain reality. Blurred lines alone, or no lines at all, create openness, but openness without boundaries is vacuous. When straight, blurred, and disappearing lines are present, form emerges, reality is depicted, and meaning can emerge.

I began my service with this painting, and its meaning has only deepened. I see things in it now that I did not see almost three decades ago. Life entails encountering and reflection, then reframing meaning and reencountering, then reflection and new understanding—“. . . the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The exploration with this painting will not cease. With my gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the ATS Board of Directors, the painting will go with me when I leave next week—a gift with considerable meaning.

Meet the Author


As the poet-philosopher reminds us, and I paraphrase, when a person with whom one has shared part of one's vocation and journey departs, I try not to grieve; "For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain." Thank you, Dan, for allowing us to share this important journey and vocation for the healing of our many worlds.

Grateful for your faithfulness to our theological schools Dan. May God continue to raise up those who will make a difference in ministry as you have.

Dan, It was a privilege and a joy to work with you as part of the Luce Fellowships. All best in your "vita nuova." Peter

Dan Aleshire has been a great leader for theological education for nearly two decades. He brought thoughtful, effective leadership to the ATS. I appreciated his guidance and support and his leadership style during all of those years. All of us who value quality theological education honor his service and support to the institutions we served during his tenure.

Thanks, Dan, for your faithful leadership, friendship, and eloquence. Your painting and commentary bring to mind Psalm 16:6
"The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
yea, I have a goodly heritage."
Wishing you every joy and blessing in retirement and hoping our paths will continue to cross regularly!

Of all of the people I have never met, You are the most respected.
Peace, Robert

Congratulations to you, old friend, as you come to the conclusion of your long and remarkably productive service to Theological Education. I had the privilege of working with all your predecessors from Jesse Ziegler to yourself and I can say without hesitation that your leadership was exceptional. I am honored to have known you. I hope your retirement years are as enjoyable as mine have been. May the God whom you have served so well continue to shower His blessings on you, all whom you love, and all your future endeavors. Fondly, Fred Hofheinz

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Many blessings to you and your family as you take leave of your devoted service to A.T.S.

Ever since I first met you at a meeting in February of 2014, I have been grateful for your kindness and your gentlemanly and Spirit-guided approach to your work.

I, along with our Byzantine Catholic Seminary family, have come to a place of feeling very supported by A.T.S.

We are grateful to you for being the face of an association that has inspired constant growth at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary.

With warmest regards and prayers,

Fr. Robert Pipta

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