The true cultivation of minds in a University happens not in fenced-off fields, but is sown where those coming from distant walks of life find their paths cross, and is enlivened by the bracing winds of cross-fertilization. "A cultivation of minds to what end?", one might ask. The Foundation Stone of the University of Southern California laid in 1879, proclaims that this cultivation is pursuit "dedicated to the search for and dissemination of Truth;to Freedom of Thought and discussion; to intelligent, unbiased analysis of the forces that have shaped the past and will mold the future, to the development of Manhood and Womanhood for Christian service and loyal citizenship". 'Christian' here is treated as synonymous with noble and the culturally contingent choice of the word is unsurprising, considering that the word 'Arya' is a synonym for 'noble' too in many Indian languages, while elsewhere in the world the same word carries alienating racial connotations. What does it mean to be 'Christian' or for that matter to be noble, what does the Cross stand for and what do the symbols that move millions move them towards, are questions which perpetually seek revisiting and whose answers need to be perennially re-imagined. An apt and recent instance of the commitment of the University to promote 'intelligent, unbiased analysis of the forces' that move us as individuals and societies, is the ongoing art exhibition entitled "The Serpent and the Cross" conducted by the Office of Religious Life.
The call for student submissions for this event was addressed to "All USC students of any or no religious backgrounds", who were invited to, "
While the Romans employed the Cross to devastating effect as an instrument of repression, the early Christians re-imagined and recast it as a symbol of redemption. The contemporary crises we confront as individuals and societies demand a re-imagination of redemption, that is meaningful only if begun with a re-imagination of suffering. By re-imagining our suffering we might find meaning in it, which in itself is a redemption from despair, according to the counsel of Dr. Viktor Frankl who says "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice." In the words of Albert Einstein, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.", and we can take it to mean that a redemption from our present suffering will continue to evade our imagination if it is limited by age-old convention and prejudice, and has the chance of occurring to us only if we dare to re-imagine the commonplace, what we were once numbed to. To imagine anew, needs a change from begrudging numbness to a sprightly innocence, like a childhood that is not reminiscent but relived. Peeping from behind the lines of artistry and the layers of allusions in the exhibits is a welcome childlikeness, where no pebble is just a pebble, no twig is just a twig and no cross is just a cross. "Lawyers I suppose were children once.", says the epigraph of 'To Kill a Mockingbird". So were pastors. So were grad students.