Reflections on Ken Brown
Robert C. Johansen
In my mind’s eye, I can see Ken at the front of the classroom in the Ad building, speaking softly but with feeling about the greatest philosophers and moral leaders in human history. He is talking about what we students called the “really big issues:” What is the meaning of life? What Creative Power made this universe? What shall I do during this brief historical moment while I live on earth? In discussing these questions his eyes sparkled and he radiated a magnetism that drew us closer to him, to each other as students, and to those whom we studied.
Ken was an engaging, demanding, superb teacher of ethics and philosophy. That would have been enough, but he was so much more. He created space in which reason and faith intertwined in lived religion that overflowed into the public square. His heartfelt concern for the victims of war, racism, poverty, and injustice; his deeply personal connection of scholarship with activism; his gentle spirit combined with his unyielding strength on matters of principle; his willingness to face harsh criticism and to pay a personal price for upholding principle; his commitment to nonviolence; his quiet charisma – all these awakened us to the sense that we were part of a moral universe that extended beyond our family, our race, our nation, and our moment in the cosmos. If we chose it, we and the foundations of the world could be aligned, could be one. Ken’s classes and his being changed my life -- and the lives of many.
His quiet faith and strong convictions reassured us. The values he taught – nonviolence, compassion, truth, and integrity -- these anchored us. His vision was a beacon ever pointing toward alternatives to violence and toward building a peaceful, joyful, just global society. And close to home Ken was an exponent for Manchester University’s remaining faithful to its highest calling in peace studies. How deeply he cared for the spirit of the university community!
What will we do now, now that he is not with us in body? We will continue, still guided by that Spirit that Ken manifested. This was and remains, after all, more important than anything else anyway. And he still invites us to understand this Spirit, found in the greatest moral leaders of all time – everyone in this room knows who they are.
May each of us, who grieves over the ending of Ken’s earthly life, channel our grief and our affection for him into deepening our own reverence for all human life.