Overall, though, it was a moving book that certainly had me reflecting on the fragility of my own journey, and the many ways it could have continued down a very different path that where I find myself today. Hopefully such a book would open us up to our shared humanity and make us less likely to use one dimensional categories like “thugs,” and “those people” to define other people. We would all be more compassionate if we identified more deeply with those whose journeys have taken hard and painful turns.
I knew Jannie Swart's witness would have a lasting impact on our seminary. I didn't anticipate how it would challenge me in the classroom.
This past spring semester, I taught the book of Revelation at Faulkner University. Though I teach history at this Christian school in Alabama, this course wasn't primarily about historical interpretations of the text or American apocalyptic movements. It was a biblical exposition of a fascinating piece of literature. Americans have been fascinated with Revelation for a long time.
Anti-feminist sentiment, misbehaving athletes, racist images, and student safety concerns all manifested themselves in one way or another during the 2014–2015 academic year at the University of Mary Washington. Now that the annus horribilis is over, new challenges present themselves. President Rick Hurley recently announced recommendations, including a series of discussions on civility. That’s a good start, but we need to do even more.
Brooks students entered a dated and pretentious room with the feel of an old study. They sat in a circle as they listened to Professor Edward Blum. One lecture illustration was the defaced image of Christ from after the Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The room transformed as Blum’s slide showed the stained-glass window with a hole where the holy face of Christ had been.
“Tell me what a feminist looks like,” the woman at the microphone chanted. Obediently and enthusiastically, we responded, “This is what a feminist looks like.” It was a beautiful, if chilly, April afternoon, and several hundred students, faculty members, and administrators had gathered in front of the University of Mary Washington’s administration building to mourn the murder of Grace Rebecca Mann and celebrate her life.
Brooks School, where I teach, is a traditional elite New England boarding school with roots in the Episcopal tradition. Founded in 1926 and named after Phillips Brooks, a well-regarded Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts, the school defies tradition as it seeks to diversify its faculty and student body. This diversity extends to its spiritual life. Its faculty represents a collection of bright, dedicated, and hardworking people. Like many academic institutions, Brooks began as a single-sex male school, and was slow to become co-educational, which transpired in 1979. New England boarding schools have long held a certain mystique among the American populace, a mystique found in films such as Dead Poets Society and in books such as John Knowles's A Separate Peace.
Many, perhaps most, readers of Then and Now teach in one context or another. The responsibility, joy, and challenge of teaching is paradoxical: it is a complex exercise, and yet the task is simple. Is teaching a calling? Can one learn to be a great teacher, or is teaching a gift with which someone is born? What is the future of teaching, particularly in higher-ed settings? How do we teach students to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with their God?
In To the Lighthouse, two people who don't get along find themselves looking at a bowl of fruit. "Looking together," writes Woolf, "united them."
As a Lilly Fellow, I was compelled by Mark Schwehn's vision of all academic work as the work of teaching, with love at the core of its mission.