Class President Paul Knudson's Letter to 1960 AA Classmates

Augustana Academy Alumni Page

Paul Knudson's Letter to Classmates (1960),

July 22, 2000

Dear Classmates,

This morning, as I woke up, a few devotional thoughts flashed through my mind that I decided I wanted to share with you. Being with you and some of the faculty and staff that were so much a part of our lives brought these thoughts to mind.

Forty years ago at our graduation service we sang these words as part of our class hymn.

Make me a captive, Lord,

And then I shall be free;

Force me to render up my sword,

And I shall conqueror be.

I sink in life's alarms

When by myself I stand;

Imprison me within thine arms,

And strong shall be my hand.

The images of this hymn are bold ones. They sound possibly too bold. "Make me a captive...force me...imprison me." Yet over the years I have come back to this hymn over and over again. I cannot imagine anything we need more than for our Lord Jesus Christ to take us captive, to imprison us in his arms. To be at one with him is to be given a freedom, a power for love that can be found no where else.

There really is no human analogy for the freeing power of being captive to the love of our Lord. One experience I remember distinctly, however, could help us grasp how fulfilling, how much joy comes from this relationship.

A number of us had the very special joy of singing in the Augustana Academy Choir under the direction of Clifton Madsen. To sing in that choir was indeed to sing "under" the direction of this man. Maybe it was different for some of you, but I never would have conceived of this man as my buddy. I stood in awe of him, and I with you had my eyes fixed on him when we sang in practice or in concert. We gave up what many would call freedom for the privilege of being held captive by Madsen's direction.

Some of you may recall the time we sang at a veterans hospital out in the Black Hills. I recall it being a place where the men had mental problems. Anyway, during one of the numbers some of these guys were captivated by the beauty of you young women and started carrying on to distract you. They accomplished this with a few, and the eyes of some from the choir left Madsen and were drawn to these characters in the front row. It was clear that Dr. Madsen became very upset, and as I recall we all sung in a kind of fear and trembling the rest of that number. During a break he told us how discombobulated he became and didn't hardly know where he was.

For me it was a special moment in my life. He may have been too harsh on those who were the "offenders." It was next to impossible for any of us not to be distracted. Yet in our "freedom" to look away from him, we lost the freedom of singing as an ensemble of voices directed by a master. Now, as I listen to high school choirs and see students looking here and there, I long for them to have the experience some of us were privileged to have--captive to a director to whom at that moment we belonged. Through this man many of us were drawn to our Beautiful Savior. We have come to rejoice that this One, Jesus, has imprisoned us within His arms. Held by him we have been strengthened at least in some small measure to reflect his love.

One other thought came to mind in this regard, as I had a brief conversation with Harlen Norem and LeRoy Iseminger. Duing our senior year we had a religion class I'll never forget. It turns out it was LeRoy Isemger who was teaching us. In the class he asked us this question or one like it. "If there was no heaven and no hell, would you be a Christian?" I'll never forget our answers and the debate we had with him that day. As I recall, most if not all of us said that we would not be a Christian if there were no heaven or hell.

We may have tried to argue that if this were the case the Bible would be false and, therefore, we would have our faith undermined. I believe looking back on it, however, that the real reason was this. Without the fear of hell we who were living under so many rules and restrictions would have kicked up our heels and "raised a little hell." We'd have let our hormones take over more than they already had and gone wild.

For us Christianity was a bit like a prison with high walls keeping us in line. We may have known in part that we needed boundaries. There is protection in having clear limits and having consequences thast flow naturally upon us when we disregard the protection offered by God's law.

Nevertheless, I look back on that hour with considerable sadness, because I believe many of us then were living under the law in a manner that was not so helpful. Some among us got hit by the law in a way that did not necessarily lead to life. Oh, how I wish many more of us could have heard LeRoy's plea that day for us to be held by our Lord Jesus, be smitten by His love, captured in our hearts by His love. Our class hymn had it right. "Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free." To be a Christian is not to live in fear of hell if we are on the loose. To be a Christian is to know the joy of being forced off the throne and living in the marvelous freedom of being Christ's own, living with Him in His kingdom. To be under Him is to be in the hand of the Master. With Him directing our lives we sing with a beauty and harmony that many who hear and see it will be drawn to.

Each of us probably looks back on our years with very different emotions. Our memories may well relate to some of the dynamics I've spoken of here.

My prayer for us all is that forty years later we can sing with a joy from deep within:

Make me a captive, Lord,

And then I shall be free;

Force me to render up my sword,

And I shall conqueror be.

I sink in life's alarms

When by myself I stand.

Imprison me within thine arms,

And strong shall be my hand.

With love, your classmate, Paul Knudson

Note: It has taken me too long to republish this letter after writing to Paul and receiving his permission. The letter struck me to the heart five years ago, particularly because I had felt that song was so meaningful as our class hymn (I even made a Year 2000 AA calendar in tribute to Marian Heide's mother with the song as part of the theme).

How did this hymn get chosen by us? I vaguely recall being in a meeting of three or four classmates (Joy Stime was one of them, though why I was there, I have no idea except maybe I was filling in for Martha Knutson who wasn't able to attend), and we decided on the class flower (choice of a white or a red rose, and we chose red) and, I think, the hymn, after considering several choices which probably included "A Mighty Fortress is our God."

How did we know the great significance it would have years afterwards we rather casually and hurriedly made our decisions?

I may have imagined I was a signatory part of the choices, but that is my memory, and it is too late to improve it. I do thank Paul for his sincere sharing with us all his memories and reflections--the law and freedom, Jesus Christ and what He means (or could mean) to us. I trust this will bless many who deliberately or accidentally come upon this page. You don't have to be a member of our 1960 class at a now defunct Christian academy called Augustana to be blessed or affected or influenced to the good. You just have to be open to a real blessing.

Though the school no longer functions, the legacy was real and rich, and its repercussions are truly eternal (even more so than the vainglorious monuments and statues you may point to as the pride of our cities).

Old AA! Like a parent so taken advantage of and even neglected, you sank back into the shadows, unwanted and turned out of our lives, though you freely gave us what many of us hold most precious now. I am so sorry you couldn't survive into the 21st century--but your enduring worth has! I'm still living on, as in the B.B. King classic blues song, but the "thrill" is definitely not gone away for good.

I'll never be free from your spell, and I wouldn't want to be!

AA produced this wonderful response and letter, did it not? I have also just lately received another classmate's letter, opening his life to me and spiritual journey he has travelled the last forty years!

Again, thank you, dear Paul. You loved us enough to write to all of us, opening your soul to us, and I love you in return by sharing this with anyone who wishes a true touch from a loving Lord and Savior, Jesus. And may heaven breathe on us, as Christ breathed on his disciples!--Editor, Ronald Ginther (Class of 1960, Augustana Academy Centennial Class)

The remaining verses of the hymn, "Make Me a Captive, Lord"

My heart is weak and poor

Until it master find;

It has no spring of action sure,

It varies with the wind;

It cannot freely move

Until thou has wrought its chain;

Enslave it with thy matchless love,

And deathless it shall reign.

My power is faint and low

Till I have learned to serve;

It lacks the needed fire to glow,

It lacks the breeze to nerve.

It cannot drive the world

Until itself be driven;

Its flag can only be unfurled

When Thou shalt breathe from heaven.

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