By Dr. Gabriele Strohschen
Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2005 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Strohschen, Gabriele. "The Three Objects: From Questions to Commitments." Quest 93.5 (SEPTERMBER-OCTOBER 2005):186-187
To form a nucleus of universal brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color
To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science
To explore the unexplained laws of nature and the latent powers in man
A child of survivors of World War II, I grew up in an environment that held more questions than answers. Mine was a child's world that saw the aftermath of violence and hate. I saw parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts struggle with physical and psychological damage—saw them struggle against hegemonic oppression imposed by individuals and countries with ethnocentric and expansionist goals.
Once, my family members had been children or young adults who simply accepted what they were taught. They followed their leaders. They had swallowed their country's propaganda without asking questions. They did not question its greed for power, its quest for forced territorial acquisition, its desire for riches, its need for self-aggrandizement, or the self-righteousness of its leaders. They did not think deeply about matters that were, after all, the province of the government—until circumstances finally forced them to do so. The horrors of war, their own imprisonment, and the facts that emerged after the fall of the Third Reich brought them questions that they continue to deal with in their adult years.
As a child in 1950s' Germany, I, too, lived with these questions. They shaped my beliefs and values. My family—most German families—lived in poverty in a post-war and cold-war world. Around us we witnessed assassinations, political unrest, the building of walls, and the division of the world into East and West. In school, I learned about the atrocities of war in a matter-of-fact, historical context. We children learned what our elders had created. But we also began to question truth.
Coming of age during the era of revolts and protests in Europe and abroad (i.e. the 1960's), I witnessed the leadership of individuals who risked, and often lost, their lives in the pursuit of peace and love for humankind. My heroes were Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, and far less famous local figures like Ms. Rapp and Mr. Geiger. Ms. Rapp was a Lutheran social worker who led my Girl Scout troop, not an easy task given our rebelliousness and her physical restrictions due to childhood polio. Mr. Geiger was the minister of the church I attended. He had lost his left arm in a war injury.
Ms. Rapp and Mr. Geiger spoke of peace, compassion, and lifelong learning as the ways to make an impact on our world. They made sure their actions matched their words. In this way, they instilled in us a sense of urgency about creating community by, with, and for others. Most importantly, perhaps, they continued to question. They encouraged us to do what we wanted to do anyway: question authority for authority's sake. My memory of their work still beckons me to look beneath surfaces. It reminds me that multiple realities exist.
My early experiences fostered an intuitive pursuit of truth, but when I found the Theosophical Society I also found a way to express my feelings—through the three objects of the Theosophical Society:
- To from a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color
- To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science
- To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
I remember first reading those words in 1994, when I had moved to Wheaton and was pursuing doctoral studies in education at Northern Illinois University. One day as I was driving by the Theosophical Society headquarters in Wheaton, I noticed that the Society's street address, 1926 (Main Street), was the same as my father's birth year. I decided to pull in the drive and visit. Entering the front offices, I met a kind woman named Edith—which is my middle name. These colliding coincidences startled me, but they were more than matched by something else, something deeper. Looking around, I confided, "Edith, this place has a feeling of familiarity to me."
"Of course, it has," she said. "You've come home."
Edith was right. Over time, I joined a study group in Chicago and met many others who also had "come home."
As I began my career in this country, my convictions remained firmly grounded in respect and love for my fellow and sister human beings. I did not discard what I'd been implicitly taught by my family and community, nor what I'd been explicitly taught by Ms. Rapp and Mr. Geiger. When I began my work in adult education, I pledged to study and learn with others in ways that support going forth in community, each of us sharing the gifts we are given. The three objects of Theosophy, which put into words the origins of my educational credo, were essential to my scholarship, my community service, my teaching, and my work at the university. They continue to be essential to this day.
Today, I am regarded as an expert and a leader in my field. I do not—will not— see myself that way. I know I am simply one of God's children, put on earth to learn with others to make ours a world we can live in, mindfully, peacefully, and imbued with spirit. It can be risky in the rather political environment of the academy to state professional and educational goals in the context of personal development. However, I do not see life as dichotomized into personal and vocational categories. I see my life and work as an interdependent way of being, with passion and compassion.
My own teaching and learning is shaped by the belief in interdependency of everyone in this world, and this is strengthened by the study of theosophy. If we are to create a "better world" for everyone, then our critically examined values must form the foundation from which we act and serve. If I am to contribute in any particular setting, I'd better be open to learning with—and from—peers and students as well as colleagues and "superiors." I must continue to be open to growth. Therefore, I have an obligation to myself to engage in reflection, research, study, and dialogue with my sister and fellow human beings. The three objects of the Theosophical Society keep me grounded. They provide the standard against which I measure my scholarship, my community service, my teaching and learning—and my personal growth.
Dr. Gabriele Strohschen is Assistant Professor and Director for the Graduate Programs for the School for New Learning at DePaul University in Chicago. She also works closely with community-based organizations serving women and immigrants in the Latino communities of Chicago.