As we start to wrap up the academic year, we’re not only saying good bye to the stress we’ve been experiencing, the residence halls we’ve been living in, and our senior buddies, but we also have to say goodbye to a few retiring professors. One of these professors is the Reverend Kapp Johnson, who teaches in the School of Management and Department of Religion. Reverend Kapp Johnson has been teaching at Cal Lutheran since August 2004; he’s made a huge impact in the School of Management with his class Theology and Business Ethics, which I personally had the opportunity to take before he leaves us this year. As a professor who genuinely cares about his students and their quality of education and life, Professor Johnson will be greatly missed.
Her Campus at Cal Lutheran: What first attracted you to Cal Lutheran?
Kapp Johnson:I think because of its relationship to the church, I had pastored for 22 years and was always interested in the ministries of the church, the organizations of the church. So when it was said that CLU wanted someone in their Management program to teach ethics. The Dean was speaking to Bonnie and mentioned that they were looking for someone for the School of Management and that’s really where it all started. I started in August of 2004 and I created Theology and Business Ethics in 2006.
HCCLU: What were you doing before teaching at Cal Lutheran?
KJ: I was pastoring a church. Law was always on the side; I practiced law but I never practiced at full time.
HCCLU: What was that like?
KJ: For law, you can pick and choose what you want to do, so I chose what interested me. I had a degree in business, so I would work with business including mortgage banking firms. I’ve always been interested in the academic side of law so I really enjoy law in motion, which means I would do that in appellate work. Because I worked with people, I also did wills and trust work.
HCCLU: What’s one of the most important life lessons you’ve learned?
KJ: Not to take ourselves too seriously. Life sometimes infringes on us in ways that we can’t imagine and we’re not the center of the universe. At the same time, love covers a multitude of sin and frailties and flaws and that we are fundamentally flawed so we have to live by grace and faith. We need to care about and for others; putting God at the center of our lives is critically important.
HCCLU: You’ve worked at Cal Lutheran for so long, have you seen a growth in the university?
KJ: It’s changed quite a bit just because we all change and students change and society changes and culture changes. There’s been a lot of change, not dramatically but incrementally. I also teach in the graduate program, the MBA program, and I’ve seen that change in graduate students over time, which is just part of life. Change is maybe the one thing we can always count on. It’s grown certainly in size, it’s grown in its footprint. It’s fun to have one foot in the older days and the other foot in the new days.
HCCLU: Is there a significant difference in the old and new days and what you see among the students and faculty?
KJ: Certainly in the faculty there is a significant difference, we’re having a change over. You’re having a change over from older, longer term faculty to younger faculty. That just creates this normal, cultural change of the institution and all institutions do that. When I first arrived, there were people who had been here for 30-35 years and that’s slowly going away. As you get new faculty, they bring their gifts and their skills and their perspectives and that changes culture. As far as students are concerned, I haven’t seen a big jump in students other than students are now far less dependent upon the old ways of doing things. Earlier students I saw were still in between, they semi-read the newspaper and they semi-use email. But with today’s students, those forms of communicating are gone.
HCCLU: Have you learned from your students at all?
KJ: Absolutely because students bring perspective and they bring their own gifts that they have when they look at something and through their eyes and their life experiences and they’re own intellectual skills. Every class, I learn something.
HCCLU: What are some of your favorite memories here at Cal Lutheran?
KJ: In a general sort of way, the relationship with students and relationship with colleagues, just good people and great friends. Good working environment, you can’t take for granted the quality of your work environment and Cal Lutheran has a high quality working environment. If I look at events, I’ve been a regular chapel goer, I think chapel has played an important role in the things that I enjoy and flourish in. I love sports and a football mentor and part of the football team was really pleasant and enjoyable and going and watching athletes play, some of them are in my classes…That kind of community sense that reminds you why being here is a good thing and enjoying that. I think for many years we participate in the Scandinavian Festival and those traditions are very much a part of our family traditions, so being able to celebrate those traditions has always been a very fond memory.
HCCLU: You’re also a faculty advisor, what has it been like to watch your students to grow from the first time you meet in their first year to the last time you meet before they graduate?
KJ: Fantastic, one of the fun things in freshman seminar is that I say to my students, “four years from now, we’ll be advising you for your last semester and you will sit there and we’ll look at each other and you’ll say ‘is it really already time? Did it really go that fast?’” and I’ve always had that conversation four years later, with all of them. To watch them grow and mature and become young men and young women who are confident, articulate. Men and women that you don’t hesitate to unleash them to the world and say “yeah, here they come.” Watching that and what’s really special is talking to the parents, in the beginning, as they’re dropping off their child then talking to the parents at graduation about their child again and seeing their own sense of gratitude to the university and the joy that they share. In between those bookends is the every day relationship, the high levels of trust, talking not just about classes but about life and decisions and aspirations and to help them explore that is a wonderful gift. It’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life.
HCCLU: When you first started teaching at Cal Lutheran is this where you thought you would end up?
KJ: As a pastor, I’ve been a part of that already. The question was, how did the pastoral skills work their way out in a nonpastoral setting. I got to focus on my own intellectual and academic interests as opposed to just a pastoral model. So the answer is no, not really. I was mostly focusing on creating a class that’s not been done before. When I go around to conferences and talk to faculty or deans in management programs, they’re really intrigued with theology and business ethics and the truth of the matter is a lot of them are Christians but a lot of them don’t know how would that ever work in my place. When you start something from scratch, it’s learning as you go. So you asked, what have I learned from students. Part of what I’ve learned from students is the whole development of theology and business ethics and I’ve learned how to do that from them. I was just sharing with some friends of mine that one of the things about teaching is that you like to teach a class again because you learn from the last class. That happens all the time. Theology and business ethics was always a work in process, kind of like a painting that you work on and go back to and continue that cycle. And now where I’m at right now, the painting is done. So what happens for me now is I go into being able to do more writing.
HCCLU: What has it been like knowing this is your last semester at Cal Lutheran? Do you find yourself looking around saying, ‘wow this is it’?
KJ: One of my colleagues asked them same question and my answer is still the same: no, I don’t. To a certain extent I don’t and the reason why is because I’ll have plenty of time to think about it in Montana. There is a sense of loss and it’s not that I’m afraid of looking at loss and dealing with loss but I’ve also learned in dealing with death and in the book of Ecclesiastes it says “there’s a time to mourn.” My time for mourning is going to be later. I feel it when I realize the patterns are changing: the bookstore isn’t asking for my fall book selections, there’s nothing in the class schedule. What’s been a pattern for all these years has just stopped and that’s jarring in some ways. I’m certainly giving thanks to my friends, I’m having last meals with friends in the area. I’m having that kind of closure. It’s a little ambiguous, I’ve been in California for 43 years and to make that shift is a big jump.
HCCLU: What’s something you hope your students take away from your class?
KJ: I hope I’ve come across as caring and that caring matters. I say to couples when they’re arguing, “do you want to be right or do you want to be loved?” In the end, our relationships are really important and how do we nourish that and help them grow. I also really hope that they think about their business, their work, and what their purpose is and how are they going to accomplish that purpose. I really hope that those who have taken my classes and who have worked with me understand that ultimately what drives life and what drives our organizations is a deep sense of purpose and that purpose is for the sake of the other. In the end, it’s how do we add joy and happiness to other peoples’ lives.
HCCLU: Have you ever struggled with finding that purpose?
KJ: It’s always in Christ, at the end of the day it’s always in Christ. So what that means is, it’s always an adventure. But it’s an adventure that I don’t walk alone. It’s an adventure that I walk with my Lord. So I’ve done a lot of funerals and I’ve thought about my own funeral and I’m thinking I want a picture that’s thrown up on a screen or wall of Jesus walking on a beach at sunset with a little boy holding his hand, the little boy would be me.
HCCLU: What would you say to anyone who struggles with understanding that purpose is a journey you have to walk with God?
KJ: First, I would try to make it clear that they are not a prize to be won, that I’m there for them and to work through and walk through it with them. I don’t have the answer, I just have the questions and if you want to have that type of dialogue we’ll see where your questions lead. God is always an option and people are either at a point in their life where they can see it or they can’t. But at some point we come to a point in our life where we have to decide, that existential moment. But also remember that doesn’t mean we only get one shot. Life is about those existential moments and if there is a resistance to God and if they’re willing to be honest and explore it, then why and what are the points of resistance. But to not do it in a cognitive sense, but to look at it from an existential point. My own sense of being and my own sense of place in the world and what is it that holds me tight. Whatever it is that holds us tight is what gives us peace and comfort and we all need that. So where do I find my peace and comfort. One of the things Luther talks about in the Large Catechism is the First Commandment and what does it mean to have a God. He says God is the thing we run to in every time of need, wherever we find comfort, that is our God. Not philosophical, not even theological, but very existential. So then part of the conversation can be where do you find comfort and why does that give you comfort. Is that something that is lasting?
HCCLU: Do you have a favorite quote or a motto that you live by?
KJ: I’d never thought about that, but I would have to say it’s that image of walking on the beach holding Jesus’ hand. There’s a deep sense of trust that drives my life and with that trust and that relationship comes with a deep sense of confidence. So I can venture out and I can take risks, but at the same time I’m never alone, I’m never abandoned. I really do view that imagery as what grounds my life.
HCCLU:What is one piece of advice that you would give to students?
KJ: Do your best.
HCCLU: Do you think we struggle with that?
KJ: Yes and for very good reason. There’s all sorts of invitations not to, to get distracted. Not because one turns around and says they won’t do their best. What happens is I end up not doing my best because I was distracted by other things. An example is my nephew, he’s the middle nephew. In high school he was okay, a nice kid but he wasn’t winning any prizes. He goes off to a community college in Montana and one day he calls me and says he’s going to transfer into a university and he says “Uncle Kapp, I think I want to go into landscape architecture. What advice do you have for me?” And I told him that you have to treat your schoolwork like that’s why you’re there, that’s important. He goes to Montana State to be with his older brother and lives off campus. I told him never to study at home, study on campus. Never play until your studying is done. You have to have that discipline. And he did it and it was amazing, he graduated with highest honors in a highly technical field. His faculty thinks he walks on water, I do too, he gets scholarships from around the country for masters degree. He’d call me sometimes and talk about how one class is killing me and I’d tell him to hang in there, you’re doing all right. He would stay until 1 or 2 in the morning. The upshot is his brother left and he was so crestfallen. He told me that he said no to parties and to having fun so he could go to parties and have fun with his brother eventually. But I reminded him that you didn’t do it so you could party later on, you did it so you can be in a position to excel in life.That’s my advice, there’s a time and place to have fun while you’re in school, absolutely. But just know when that time is and don’t confuse them. Do your best because your best is what the world needs.
HCCLU: For anyone reading this article, your previous students, colleagues, your current students, anyone, what’s something you would tell them?
KJ: The same thing I say at the end of every class: thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. Thank you for listening to me, thank you for putting up with me, thank you for disagreeing, thank you for agreeing. Thank you for what you contributed to my life, all my students are a part of me. That’s a precious gift and they will always be in my thoughts and prayers and remembrances and reflections. So I have a really deep sense of gratitude and understand that with all of life, there’s a time to move on and that’s okay. I’m moving on with a deep sense of joy and thankfulness.
Photos courtesy of HCCLU Graphic Designer Julianne Wilson-Sanchez