Notre Dame's Museum of Biodiversity and Moral Leadership

The South Bend Tribune ran a fascinating cover story this week on the Museum of Biodiversity housed on the campus of Notre Dame University. Closed to the public, this climate-controlled museum features a priceless 150-year-old collection of plant specimens from around the globe. The entire herbarium collection is now numbered at 280,000 specimens.  But the goal of the university’s scientists is not simply to enlarge the specimen collection. They are looking for “type” specimens—“the exact specimens the original scientist used to catalog and describe the plant species” (SBT 5-29-13). Each collected “type” specimen is carefully photographed and digitally stored for posterity in a huge online database called Global Plants (on the database website JSTOR) that now has 1.9 million entries. We’re not talking little snapshots, either. Each image, in fact, is 200 megabytes, which means each picture could be enlarged to cover a wall and still be clear. So while the museum is closed to the public, its treasure trove can be examined and admired by online visitors for years to come. The Museum of Biodiversity collection has been expanded now to include animal fossils, vertebrates suspended in jars of formaldehyde and even a large collection of preserved insects. But I wonder—do you suppose we could find the fossil of a moral leader somewhere in that collection? Moral leaders are becoming a rare breed on this terra firma, aren’t they? You remember the “type”—that man, that woman, that young adult or teenager (or even child, for that matter) who was uncommonly known as someone who unflinchingly stood up for conviction. Never mind the numbers of those around them who found it inconvenient to stand up at all, let alone to buck the crowd and have to stand alone. Moral leaders—those individuals who in a committee or on a board or in a classroom or dorm room are unafraid to politely but firmly defend what they are convicted is the right moral course to pursue, irrespective of popular opinion. Moral leaders—are they but a fossil relic from the past anymore? Nobody said moral leaders would ever be in the majority, but history has taught us that even just one of them can shift the tide of humanity and rewrite the narrative of history. Just one. But imagine what more than just one moral leader could do—imagine a band of them on a campus like ours. I imagine God imagines just such a reality. In fact, it really is no imagination at all. He predicts it: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17-18). A band of moral leaders—young and old, men and women “in the last days.” For that reason this summer we in this congregation and on this campus are claiming God’s promise in prayer—“I will do a new thing.” We have put off that prayer for too long. It is high time—for the sake of this university and the world into which God is sending it—for His “new thing” to become a reality on this campus. And so with 76 days until the new school year begins, we are praying for new moral leaders. Would you be willing to join us in this prayer?

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