Two professors and long-time colleagues talk about teaching at EMU

By Don Clymer & Lori Leaman | May 24th, 2016


Professors Lori Leaman ’88 and Don Clymer SEM ’08, senior seminar co-teachers, in animated conversation in Roselawn. (Photo by Jon Styer)

‘You Are Beloved Of God’: Don Clymer


With my colleague Lori Leaman, I teach a required Senior Seminar on the theme of dealing with suffering and loss. In this summative, reflective course, seniors review their faith development, their cross-cultural experience and their vocational calling. I’ve taught this course for nine years, but because I will be retiring after this academic year, this semester was particularly special for those gifts our students shared with us.

Henri Nouwen, prolific Catholic author of books on spirituality, frequently made the case for telling yourself: “You are beloved of God.” Over his short life, Nouwen struggled mightily with believing that he indeed was beloved of God. It was because of sharing from his deepest and darkest self in total vulnerability that he connected with millions of people around the world.

During our final class meeting, we perform a Nouwen-inspired exercise. The students face each other in inside/outside circles, look at each other directly, and state to each other: “You are beloved of God.” They continue moving to several other students around the circle. Then we open it up to anyone. It has a powerful, almost magical effect. There is laughter, hugs and tears.

I have become convinced that our American culture teaches us to be self-loathing. Messages come from everywhere that we are not good-looking enough, not talented enough, not intelligent enough, not wealthy enough, not spiritual enough. We always compare ourselves with those who excel in the areas where we feel lacking; we never look at those who have less in any given category. The result is that we think we can never measure up. The advertising industry is astute in capitalizing on this self-hate by providing us with products that will, according to their pitch, make us all the things that we are not.

The magic of the phrase “You are beloved of God,” as we share it in our class, comes about because it is given freely as a gift. The eyes are a window into the soul, and looking into each other’s eyes while stating this simple phrase goes directly to the soul. Saying these words connects us on a deep level. It helps us to realize that in God’s eyes, we don’t have to measure up to any artificial cultural standard. He loves us as we are.

In a second exercise, we ask the students to reflect on what they learned in the course, and what they will take with them as they graduate. I was overwhelmed with the gift of love expressed in their reflections.

“I learned that I don’t have to fix someone’s pain, that being present with them in silence is enough.”

“I will never forget the phrase ‘hurt people hurt people.’ I am hurt and I now realize how I am hurting others.”

“I became aware of the poison of unforgiveness. I have had to forgive someone who wronged me.”

“I learned that there are many areas in my life that I need to let go. I cannot always be in control.”

“I learned that community and our ‘cloud of witnesses’ is very important in dealing with our pain.”

“I will always remember that I am beloved of God.”

What touched me the most, however, were the statements made about their faith. Nearly a half-dozen students said that they returned to a lost faith through the course. One said that she was afraid to talk about her faith thinking that she would be rejected, but she felt affirmed in her unusual spirituality through the course. Most said that their faith was strengthened, that they wanted to commit to deeper spiritual practices like prayer, Bible study, walks in nature and sitting in silence.

Over the nine years that I have taught this course, there have been many satisfying moments. There have also been ugly moments, perhaps to be expected in a required course. Yet today’s final exercise will forever be etched in my mind as one of the most positive outcomes I have experienced. Thank you, students, for this wonderful gift of love. “You are beloved of God!” 

The “Dangerous” Intersection of Personal and Public Life: Lori Leaman


Why have Don and I continued to volunteer to co-teach what is known in higher education as the dreaded “required course”? The answer for me is simple: teaching at EMU is a fabulously dangerous intersection of my personal and public life.  In other words, at EMU we don’t just teach about our mission in the world – we try to live it.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker and world-renowned writer in education and spirituality, describes the disheartening current state of affairs in many American colleges: “A self-protective split of personhood from practice is encouraged by an academic culture that distrusts personal truth … objective facts are regarded as pure, while subjective feelings are suspect and sullied. Academic culture distrust and devalues inner reality” (1998, pp. 17-19).

Palmer, however, also counters this with a life-changing alternative for teaching, one that Don and I and so many other professors at EMU embrace on a daily basis: “The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.”

Our seniors at EMU have spent hours examining and engaging with the complex and often heartwrenching realities of our world. Yet that’s not enough. Most college students, if they were completely honest, would likely say that naming world problems and learning skills to solve problems just isn’t enough.

When we ignore the bigger questions that loom so large in this world, such as why a just God allows suffering, we may have so-called “solutions,” but we run the risk of losing faith, of losing hope, of losing ourselves. For example, if I teach courses in teacher education but I fail to address my own internal struggles in learning to navigate the issues of racial and socio-economic injustices in our public schools, I don’t reveal the fullness of the skill and personhood demanded by the profession of teaching. I have avoided the dangerous intersection; and my students would know that this should have been an intersection I was willing to cross with them in order for them to have a more successful journey into the profession.

I believe that at EMU, my colleagues and I continue to provide a counter-narrative for hope and healing in this world. Ironically, this likely stems from our willingness to be vulnerable, versus venerable, professors. Our teaching takes us down “dangerous,” but also powerful and sacred roads, in which we are willing to weave life’s biggest questions about God, love, pain, hope and justice in, among, and across our disciplinary expertise. Why? To ensure that we are not only helping these young people to become experts and knowers, but to prevent the tragic split of personhood from their future practice in this world. The world needs their faith, hope and person, not just their “answers.”

Don Clymer SEM ’08, a professor of language and literature, published a version of this essay in December 2015 on his blog “Klymer Klatsch,” (read more at He retired at the end of the spring 2016 semester. Don came to EMU in 2001 as cross-cultural director after teaching at Hesston College and working as director of communications for Virginia Mennonite Conference and Board of Missions. In 2006, he returned to the classroom.

Lori Leaman ’88 is  a professor of education.