May 26, 2020

I recently finished reading Hilary Mantel’s long-awaited The Mirror and the Light, the final entry in a trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell, the consigliere and fixer for Henry VIII. Cromwell is the son of a blacksmith, a violent and abusive father whom Cromwell flees as a young teenager. Over many years as a soldier, a merchant, and ultimately a self-made lawyer, Cromwell begins to make his presence known at court through his sharp insights and practical wisdom. Those of… Read more

May 23, 2020

Memorial Day is a day for solemn remembrance, a time that this year must also include collective remembrance of the more than 95,000 fellow Americans who have died of Covid-19. Because of required sequestering and isolation, it has not been possible for there to be proper collective grief and mourning for those who have died—let’s make it a point to remember them as part of our Memorial Day thoughts and prayers. Memorial Day is also a day when many Americans… Read more

May 20, 2020

One of the central units in my General Ethics class is titled “Does ethics have anything do to with God?” Although the question of how a good and powerful God—a “perfect” God, in other words—can allow the suffering, violence, and pain that human beings and other living things are subject to in our world is not a question that fits seamlessly on the syllabus of an ethics class, the question always comes up. It’s difficult to avoid the problem of… Read more

May 18, 2020

In preparation for my next book project, a teaching memoir tentatively titled Nice Work If You Can Get It, I have been reviewing dozens of teaching-related posts on this blog from the past several years. This one from 2017 strikes a chord that many people of faith will find familiar these days. By the time this posts, close to 100,000 Americans will have died of Covid-19, with no obvious end in sight. Each of those people were someone’s mother, father, brother,… Read more

May 17, 2020

Under normal circumstances, my college’s Commencement exercises would be taking place this morning, with thousands of family members, friends, well-wishers, and members of the college community packing the arena where the Providence Friars play basketball. Circumstances right now, of course, are anything but normal, so our college President will confer degrees virtually on Zoom to our hundreds of graduates. If I had the opportunity to deliver a commencement address to our graduating seniors, it would be quite different than the… Read more

May 14, 2020

I viewed Martin Doblmeier’s documentary about Dorothy Day, “Revolution of the Heart,” a few days ago. Doblmeier is a graduate of Providence College where I have taught for the past twenty-five years. I use Doblmeier’s documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in class every time I team-teach “Grace, Truth, and Freedom in the Nazi Era” (fourth time this coming spring). Dorothy Day was a radical Catholic Christian. She understood that anarchism, communism, and Christianity have far more in common than many would… Read more

May 12, 2020

During the early weeks of the semester in our “Apocalypse” seminar, my teaching colleague from the English department opened a lecture with a PowerPoint slide containing the famous final lines from T. S. Eliot’s 1925 poem “The Hollow Men,” imagining an unspectacular fizzling out of things rather than something more dramatic. With apologies to Eliot, I imagined that if he had been teaching this semester, he might have ended his poem with a one-word change. This is the way the semester… Read more

May 10, 2020

The New Testament reading in today’s lectionary line-up is the stoning of Stephen from the Book of Acts. This reminds me of a brief conversation I had with a Benedictine monk a decade ago. “Happy Stoning Day!” Brother John said as he greeted me after noon prayer the day after Christmas. December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen, officially designated as the first Christian martyr. Brother John, a guitar-picking, out-of-the-box product of the sixties, is not your typical Benedictine. “I’ve… Read more

May 8, 2020

The final unit in my General Ethics class that ended last week was Gun Violence. We spent the last five 75-minute classes on Zoom reading and discussing contemporary essays from philosophers on the Second Amendment, gun violence, and why all attempts to curb gun violence and mass shootings to date have essentially failed. My students, mostly 20-21-year-old juniors and seniors, were born into and have lived in a world in which gun violence and mass shootings are tragically “normal” occurrences…. Read more

May 5, 2020

In the interdisciplinary program I teach in and used to direct, the first semester faculty have to make many tough choices. Iliad or Odyssey? What texts from the Hebrew Scriptures? The New Testament? What to use from Plato and Aristotle–or, God forbid, Plato or Aristotle? And no less challenging—which of the triumvirate of great Greek tragedians? Usually it is a toss-up between the profundity of Sophocles and the brilliance of Euripides, but for one recent fall semester, my teammate and I opted for the first… Read more

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