Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Break

Campus is quiet. The students have now all gone on Christmas Break, glad to be out of here. Classes won’t resume until Jan 23rd, so this year we have six weeks off! During this time I plan to catch up on work, have some down time, and spend a lot of time with my wife and daughter. You might not hear much from me. The quiet is a nice change to the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Of course, since my wife runs a Daycare and has seven little children that she minds, I’m the one saddled with running errands such as mailing Christmas cards and presents, and buying more presents etc. Escaping to Rockhurst is a nice outlet.

This afternoon the A&S faculty have a Christmas celebration, so that’ll be nice. And then this Friday night is the President’s Christmas dinner. My wife always loves attending that. Hopefully, we won’t be having an ice storm—something KC is noted for. We just had one yesterday.

Well I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And a Happy Hanukkah and Cool Kwanza and whatever else you might celebrate.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NEH Fellowship Awarded

One of my colleagues, Dr. Craig R. Prentiss Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, was just awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for 2008-2009. The NEH usually receives about 1500 applications every year and they grant about 12%. In other words, it’s a really big deal to receive an NEH Fellowship and be nationally recognized. This means Dr. Prentiss will have the whole academic year off so that he can focus solely on research and writing.

Here's what he has to say about his project in his own words. The manuscript is tentatively entitled Religion and African American Theatre, 1858-1945.

“My book will contend that plays have been a vital site for conveying and contesting various theological perspectives within African American communities. Plays can be understood as many things, but if we look at plays as arguments—arguments for what the world is or what the world should be—we find black playwrights before World War II actively struggling with the issue of religion’s role in forming black identity. The central questions my research addresses include: What happens when we take seriously the religious dialogue and imagery in plays written by black authors as imparting information about the playwrights’ own religious ideologies? How did these vernacular theologies expressed in plays reflect the tenets of larger theological (and anti-theological) camps within African American culture and reveal the common themes as well as fissures dividing them? In what ways did the social divisions among African Americans, especially along the lines of class and gender, manifest themselves in the way religion was portrayed on stage? What impact did these portrayals of religion have on those who watched and read the plays?”

So huge kudos (!) to my colleague whose expertise in is modern religious studies. And watch the bookstands . . . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wrapping Papers

Well it’s that joyous season of the academic year when papers are due- blah blah blah, bah humbug. Students grumble and feel pressured and harried even though many of us professors tell them from day one when the papers are due. I even provide an on-line list of possible research topics, model outlines, writing guidelines about style and citation and plagiarism etc. I also offer to go over to the library and help students find information; some take me up on it, but many don’t. I even offer to read rough drafts a week in advance—you can imagine how many of those I receive. Is this guy nuts or what!

Christmas is the season for cramming everything in: food, parties, plays, concerts, more parties and socials, carrolling, Christmas shopping, so why not cramming in research papers as well? It’s the one season of the academic year I get to do theatrics—standing on top of the desk to get everyone’s attention and making explicitly sure students don’t use the on-line version of the Catholic Encyclopedia from 1918, that is NOT the New Catholic Encyclopedia from 2003 that they need to use as one resource. I also rail at them about Wikipedia not being a valid academic resource. I likewise lovingly “snarl” at them about plagiarism and how I have an almost photographic memory and keep electronic copies of papers to check for plagiarism and do internet searches as well. Bottom line, it’s the one time of year I get to play the part of Scrooge so that when Winter Break does come around they really enjoy it and celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever they wish or don’t wish. Unbeknownst to them, I’m really providing a service: by making something so “painful” and dour that they’ll later experience pleasure and contentment.

But every now and then there’s that bright student who shines like the Star the Wise Men followed who is excited about their research topic and comes in ahead of time and bounces things off me and then eagerly awaits to see how I receive their research project that they’re so proud of. And thus I receive small Christmas gifts in advance and this makes my job worthwhile and gratifying. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ahnentafel What?

Well it’s Tuesday and tomorrow RU is out for Thanksgiving Break, so I thought I better get this out today.

I was trying to think what to write about and I thought I’d weave together my last two blogs: the one on alluding to genealogy and the other about globalization. Growing up in our household Thanksgiving was always a big feast and my maternal grandmother would recount how her ancestor John Howland fell off the Mayflower and was rescued, later becoming a prominent Pilgrim Father. Ever since being a boy, I’ve had a fascination with Family History but only in recent years has it developed into a full blown historical study.

So what’s an Ahnentafel? It’s a pedigree chart. Pretty simple. But I’d like to talk about my ancestry as an example of DIVERSITY. In my Family Tree are some pretty interesting characters. For starters, there are the Pilgrims. Some of their descendants married Presbyterians, who later married into Quaker lines from the founding Quaker colonies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. One of my ancestors, Martin Kendig, was the one who founded the Mennonite colony in Lancaster, PA helping people escape persecution in Europe. In my Family Tree I also have Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox. I even have an ancestor who was part of the original group called “Millenial Dawnists” out of which the Jehovah’s Witnesses evolved. So you can see my Family Tree is filled with lots of religious history. (If you go WAY back through my mother’s line some are canonized saints in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox churches. Unfortunately, I can only take my father’s ancestry back to the late 1700s.)
So, when you look at my Ahnentafel you’ll see that there are some very diverse branches on that tree. And that’s life. Life is filled with rich diversity. That makes us who we are, our stories. May you have a great Thanksgiving Holiday and celebrate the diversity and richness of your family!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This past September the Board of Trustees approved seven learning goals that had been formulated by the Rockhurst Community the previous year. One of these goals concerns globalization. Here’s an excerpt of what was approved by the Board:

“Through our mission of learning, leadership, and service in the Jesuit tradition, Rockhurst University cultivates a learning and living environment that encourages cura personalis, care and development of the whole person, through reflection and discernment. Within that environment, Rockhurst creates an integrative experience for students to develop skills, competencies, and values in these seven areas:”

It then lists the seven, the third of which is:
International and Cultural Understanding: The appreciation of cultural differences and commonalities, and the ability to interact with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the world.”

Thus yesterday afternoon the Faculty Senate unanimously approved the motion: “To endorse the addition of a Global Proficiency to the core curriculum.” I serve on the Core Implementation Committee and we’ll meet tomorrow to address the proposal (and most probably approve it since it arises out of a long process of faculty input). The Faculty as a whole will then need to vote on the issue at the general University Faculty Assembly.

While this might appear as boring stuff, I thought I’d let you see how things work here at Rockhurst. The faculty get involved! Due to our Jesuit mission we believe that we must address the contemporary world and prepare students to live and excel in the global environment with a set of values. To quote from John Donne, an English 17th century poet, “No man is an island.” This is far truer in the 21st century of the World Wide Web and instant media coverage etc. We no longer are merely citizens of our own country, but we are global citizens with a responsibility involving compassion and justice on several fronts: economic, political, moral etc. As a Catholic university we’re also grounded in the teachings of Jesus regarding one’s neighbor. Global awareness also engages us in ecological responsibility and sets the foundation for space exploration and settlement. There needs to be respect for and celebration of the richness of diversity in life (which by its very nature means maintaining differences in a healthy and life-giving manner.)

So the bottom line is Rockhurst is taking steps to equip its students with a vision and ability to live and excel in the global world, not only of the present, but of the future as well. I'm a member of the College of Arts & Sciences and here's our Mission Statement: "Grounded in the Jesuit and Catholic traditions of liberal arts education, the College of Arts and Sciences engages learners in building a foundation of values, integrated knowledge, critical analysis, and personal reflection that prepares graduates to become compassionate, just, and globally aware leaders in a diverse and changing world." This is what we're about at Rockhurst!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Where Did I Come From?

Kids eventually pose that question. College applications ask about your background and your parents. Historians address the same issue from a broader perspective. Evolutionary scientists tackle it from a different angle. And theologians take yet another approach. But everyone eventually gets around to the same basic question: Where did I come from? Its related to the question about meaning and purpose.

Apart from the birds and the bees (and I’m not talking about ornithologists and apiologists), there’s also the matter of your Family Tree, the field genealogists love to research. I’m am amateur genealogist, that is to say I am not licensed; but I have published six articles, one of which is in the scholarly journal: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. (Some of my ancestors came over on the Mayflower.)

Knowing where we come from gives us a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. Thanksgiving and several religious holidays are right around the corner when families gather together to renew ties and celebrate relationships. This is a perfect opportunity for you to ask your grandparents about where they came from, and not just about dates and place of birth and marriage, but family stories as well. Ask them what they remember about their parents and grandparents and write the stuff down, or better yet burn it. Believe me, you’ll bring a twinkle to their eye and they’ll feel you genuinely care about them and their life story. And once you get a snap shot into their life experiences it’ll make history class, etc so much more interesting. And when you have kids one day, you’ll be able to pass on the living heritage.

So why am I going on about genealogy? Because family history fosters a sense of belonging and enables you to understand family dynamics. “Where do I come from?” is a question centered around identity, connections, and purpose. At Rockhurst we strive to foster a sense of belonging to a community, a new family as it were. People need a sense of connectedness and rootedness. Tap into your own family roots. By being at Rockhurst you can tap into four hundred fifty years of a Jesuit tradition grounded in Catholic roots that go WAY back. Even if you don’t come to Rockhurst, ask your grandparents about their lives and memories and record the info so you can one day pass it on.

I’m a theology proff so bear with me just a bit. In the Gospel of Luke it records Jesus’ genealogy and it takes him back all the way to Adam. It then calls Adam, “son of God.” Jesus’ Family Tree is stressing relationships and rootedness in God. But Luke purposely recorded Jesus as the seventy-seventh descendant. In other words, he was the perfection of what it means to come from God and be in a relationship with God. At Rockhurst you’ll get an education that focuses on the whole person: body, soul, and spirit; an education that enables you not only to answer on multiple levels for your self: Where did I come from? but also Where am I going?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Speaking in Tongues and Other Rad Stuff

Like I mentioned before, students are pre-registering for Spring classes. One of the things I’m really excited about is how quickly my course TH 3130 Introduction to New Testament Greek filled up. Why? Because it’s a theology course that integrates language into it.

The Foreign Languages classes are filling up as well.

In my class we actually learn the Koine Greek spoken by some of the Apostles, the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. We learn how to conjugate verbs in various tenses as well as decline nouns and adjectives. The Greek is elementary, but enough so that we can appreciate the nuances of the language and how these effect the meaning of passages. The course heavily emphasizes the theological meaning of the NT and issues about translation and interpretation, as well as canon of the Scripture.

At RU we have a fantastic Department of Classical and Modern Languages. The Chair, Rocío De la Rosa Duncan, comes from Mexico and María Luísa Fernández Martínez hails from Spain. While M. Kathleen Madigan who teaches French was born in the US, she was a Fulbright scholar who spent a year in Senegal. She has just created a new French course: Senegalese Literature and Culture. They have lots of exciting course offerings. We also have adjuncts who are highly qualified who teach French and Spanish as well as on occasion offer German, Latin, and even Japanese.

Having a foreign language under your belt is a great marketing tool in the global society. It opens up all sorts of opportunities in education, health care, business, social work, pastoral care, and the sciences, just to name a few. As the world becomes more and more globally interconnected, being multilingual will be a great asset not only in the workplace but also empower one to understand and appreciate other cultures.

Majors in History, English as well as Theology/Religious Studies must take two semesters of a foreign language at a college level. Philosophy majors are also strongly encouraged to take a language. Our newly revamped Global Studies major now requires at least four semesters of a foreign language.
And before I forget to mention it, we have a really strong Study Abroad Program, even for those who don’t know a foreign language. But if you do, it’s an awesome opportunity to immerse yourself in that language and culture.

Being bilingual is totally rad!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Will the Rats Win?

It’s hard to say the one thing I like most about Rockhurst, but one of the top things is that it is people oriented. While there is the “institution” and some necessary “bureaucracy,” the underlying drive behind everything being done comes from part of our mission: “transforming lives in the Jesuit tradition.”

We’re a student focused university. While I enjoy being in the classroom, perhaps the most gratifying side of student engagement is when it’s one on one. Lots of students drop by my office, whether for extra help on something they didn’t quite understand in class, or a regular Honors Option meeting, or someone popping in to talk on a more personal level about something going on. (Some even poke their heads in between classes just to chew the fat.) I really enjoy the personal interaction that gets beyond the academic and “theoretical” side of things. Of course in the classroom I always have to maintain an academic presence even while trying to foster subjective interaction with the material, but when it’s all said and done if none of what I’m saying translates into real life, What’s the purpose of it all in the first place?

Rockhurst is about transforming lives. It’s a two way street, many times filled with intersections, and thus choices. As an instructor, I present information and try to open the student up to other perspectives and possibilities. As a teacher, I foster learning where the student reflects, analyzes and applies the information, or even discovers new information and perspectives. To quote Socrates, “The unreflected life isn’t worth living.” Sure I can stumble through life in a daze and go from party to party and be zoned out, or I can walk along a path and notice my surroundings and reflect upon them. Or even better yet, I can run with a goal in focus striving for the finish line and along the way kick up a lot dust in the faces of people who are mere bystanders in life. I can either burn up the track or just sit around and get burned in the sun. Rockhurst is about running the race of life with gusto and getting out of the rat race of life that is meaningless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Advising--That Time of Year

Well this week I’m busy meeting with advisees. I have six new freshman advisees this year. Several are in the Honors Program. In a nut shell, the Honors Program takes regular course offerings and ramps them up intellectually and requires more course work. This enables the students to engage the subject matter more deeply than they would in the regular classroom setting. I periodically teach an Honors section of TH 1000 Christianity I: Foundations and do Honors Options with individuals in my other classes that want this level of engagement.

Anyhow, I’m meeting with my Honors Advisees who because of the program they’re in, get to pre-register for classes at the same time Seniors do, thus before everybody else. At Rockhurst we emphasize the Liberal Arts Education—this is foundational. Every student in the whole university, no matter what your eventual major, must fulfill what are called Core Requirements. The Core consists of three proficiencies: Written Communication, Oral Communication, and Mathematics; as well as Seven Modes (the Liberal Arts): Artistic, Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Theological, Scientific-Causal, & Scientific-Relational. We at Rockhurst believe that by taking 52 hours in the Core (give or take depending on which courses you actually choose), this Rock Solid foundation prepares you to function well and serve in society as a well-balanced and well-rounded person. The Core is about transforming lives.

For information on the Core click here:

For info re: the Honors Program:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Recent Hawk Sighting

Well tomorrow is the first day of Fall Break so I thought I better get this out. Just when the first costumed mascot appeared, seems to be a bit of a mystery. The first pic is of the Hawk with my daughter last week, and rumor has it that the Hawk is as sweet as sugar. But who knows who really inhabits the inside of the Hawk at sporting events? The second is a pretty freaky one of the Hawk taken from the 1980 Yearbook (top right). Get a load of that costume! You’ve come a long way baby! (Thank God)

Of course the Hawk had to make an appearance at Rockhurst Day! But just who IS this Hawk? The identity of the person inside the costume is usually a secret. The Hawk never speaks so as to give away who’s inside. But some pretty solid sources claim that the Hawk has been portrayed by gals as well as guys.

But why is the Hawk Rockhurst’s mascot? Rockhurst College was founded in 1910 (obviously a big centennial celebration is already in the plans), but it wasn’t until March 1927 that the Rockhurst athletes landed on a name. Up until then the athletic teams--we had football back then--were simply referred to as the “Blue and White” (our school colors), the “Southsiders” (Rockhurst was on the south side of Kansas City), or the “Irish” (because a lot of Irish Catholics attended the college and many Jesuits were Irish as were the coaches Mason, Ryan, and Halpin).

But in 1927, the coaches decided to have a five week campaign asking suggestions for a permanent name. Three hundred some monikers were submitted with nearly every type of bird and beast nominated. John Cauley, a college freshman, and Donald Rossner, a high school student, both submitted the winning name Hawks. (Originally, Rockhurst College and High School were very closely aligned; the High School was on the same property until 1962.) From March 23, 1927 forward, Rockhurst College (now University) athletes have been known as the Hawks and those at the High School--the Hawklets (young Hawks). For a timeline of Rockhurst History click here and on “Rockhurst Traditions” in the bookmark.
Any alums out there reading this, Do you have any older pictures of the Hawk or know when the Mascot first appeared? Love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Great Opportunities thru RU

One of the opportunities I have as a professor is to mentor someone during the summer if s/he is awarded a Deans’ Research Fellowship. This past summer I worked with one of our theology majors, Luciano Garofalo, aka Looch, who had received the fellowship based on his proposal and previous academic performance. I had been researching a particular theological aspect of the earliest Greek commentary on the Book of Revelation. The commentary is pretty rare and was just translated into English last year. (I teach a course on the Book of Revelation and its some pretty wild stuff and a fun class.) Anyhow, so Looch decided to work on the same commentary and deal with numerology, the symbolic meaning of numbers. Of course, the Book of Revelation is known for 666, the mark of the beast, and sets of seven. (Looch the Beast is pictured above.)

We had fun meeting; Looch did his research and wrote up an article with the goal of getting it published. I read his draft and he did some outstanding work. With a few suggestions and corrections, we sent it off to the same journal in which my article was going to appear. Last week we just heard from the editor who said, “The article is very scholarly, informative, and very interesting.” It’s going to be published next year along side mine! What the real kicker is, this journal, The Patristic and Byzantine Review, is a multi-lingual high-brow international scholarly journal and tough to get into. So huge congrats to Looch!!! Awesome!

Being at Rockhurst opens up all sorts of opportunities. Three of my former students landed once in a life time summer internships. To read about their amazing opportunuties, click on this link.
Way to go, Nikki, Sarah, and Jo!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kickin' It

Rockhurst Day is right around the corner! It's a great time to come out and have fun, support the Hawks! and meet up with friends. Here's a pic of my wife and daughter two years ago with the Hawk. You just gotta love the Hawk! Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it back to campus until around 7:00 just before the guys start their soccer match (or football as the Brits say--my wife's from London). But Rockhurst Day kicks off earlier with a mini-parade, baby race, and other activities, and women's soccer. Come on out and I'll see ya there. I'm hoping to track down the Hawk and get another photo.

Oh, and there's fireworks at half time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

RU Graduation

Here's a pic of me and my daughter at one of Rockhurst's Commencement ceremonies. Unfortunately, my lovely wife wasn't in this pic, but you'll get to see her later sometime. Rockhurst graduation is a festive event involving a Baccalaureate Mass followed by refreshments and then the general Commencement the following day. My favorite is Baccalaureate since its more festive and interpersonal. But the whole weekend is a great time for students, family, friends, and professors to celebrate the student's achievements.

Rockhurst Doesn't Taser Those Who Ask Questions

No matter what question you ask, I won't taser you. I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. This is the heart of university life. This is what academic freedom is all about. Of course, we need to act like civilized human beings when we engage one another in conversation. I'm an Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Rockhurst University, and we don't taser students for asking spirited questions, even questions which might appear off the wall to some, or challenging a status quo interpretation.

In my field when talking about God and the meaning of life and "all that stuff," we wrestle with deep questions charged with energy. Personal beliefs, opinions, doubts etc are respected as we explore in an academic fashion the meaning of religion, various models about God, the Christian faith and other faiths. Our two primary courses, TH 1000 Christianity I: Foundations and TH 3000 Christianity II: Development that all RU students must take, challenge the student to think critically about various belief systems and presuppositions while explaining the fundamental core beliefs of Christianity. In the area of theology and religion, while scientific methods are employed from history, anthropology, and psychology (to name a few), the area of God boils down to faith. As a professor I try to enhance the learning process regarding faith and relationship to God (a Higher Power or whatever model you have), while at the same time we try to objectively analyze through reason our myriad perceptions and beliefs about God.

So no matter what questions you ask, I won't taser you. And I believe the true God won't zap you either for being honest with yourself and others as you ponder the reality of the Divine, and if God even does exist at all. God doesn't taser us for asking questions.