Clouds of Unknowing

Tal HowardIn a short article published in the June 17th issue of Commonweal magazine, associate professor of history Tal Howard reflected upon the recent succession of tornadoes in the South and Midwest, chasing answers to the questions of theodicy that these devastating storms often leave in their paths. An excerpt is included below; to read the entire article, follow this link to the Commonweal website.

“Those hit by the recent tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and across the South and Midwest will not have the luxury of remembering only close calls. They have to reckon with the thing itself: in places, a more-than-half-mile-wide path of complete destruction. “I’ve never seen devastation like this,” President Barack Obama said during his visit to my hometown. Looking at the magnitude of the devastation in Tuscaloosa or in Joplin, Missouri, one senses what it must have felt like to emerge from the rubble of a bombed German city at the end of World War II.

Unlike last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (where Tuscaloosans like to vacation), this tragedy comes not from the stupidity of man, but from the hand of nature. And unlike hurricanes, which arrive gradually and affect a wide area, tornadoes are localized, sudden, and furious. For that reason, I’ve often thought they raise questions of theodicy in a particularly acute manner. Why was my house leveled, while my neighbor’s stands? Why did the tornado’s path come down Fifteenth Street and not Lurleen Wallace Boulevard? Why did the Angel of Death visit here and not there, now and not then?”

Asia Meets Abraham

Marv WilsonOn June 14th and 15th, Ockenga professor of biblical and theological studies Marv Wilson offered a presentation on “Zionistic Ideologies” at the 3rd Annual National Evangelical-Jewish Conversation in Washington DC at B’nai Brith International. The conference brings together various evangelical and Jewish leaders committed to building deeper understanding between evangelicals and Jews and to furthering mutual cooperation between both communities.

This summer, Marv also published a large study and discussion guide for a new two hour television documentary entitled “The Asian & Abrahamic Religions.” The documentary is currently playing on numerous public television stations across America, with several PBS stations here in New England among the first to carry it. The documentary introduces and explores the Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism), their emergence and influence on American society, and how their beliefs and practices find both similarities and differences when viewed in relation to the Abrahamic faiths, namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Using the thirty thematic segments of the documentary, Marv created hundreds of discussion questions within the Study Guide that tie directly to the scenes and scholarly commentary of the production. In this work he also included a lengthy rationale for the importance of interreligious understanding to the broad disciplines of social studies and the humanities. Marv was assisted in this project by biblical studies major and recent Gordon graduate, Kevin Capel ‘11. Production of this Asian and Abrahamic religions project was supported in part by the Henry R. Luce Foundation, which also graciously gifted copies of the documentary and the Study Guide to every theological seminary in America.

Royal Probabilities

Veatch_Michael_2008_11_21_01_51_15From July 6-8, 2011, Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics, will travel to the 16th INFORMS Applied Probability Society Conference which will take place at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), in Stockholm, Sweden.

The conference focuses on applications of probability to stochastic systems arising in operations research, computer networks, biology and finance.

The title of Mike’s paper and talk is Approximate Linear Programming for Average Cost Markov Decision Processes.” Here’s what he says about it: “My talk has applications to scheduling manufacturing systems and telephone call centers. In principle, these complex systems can be optimized to minimize congestion, but the control problem is intractable, so we study approximations.”

Distinguished Faculty Awards, 2010-2011

tedwood_2006_10_05_12_37_04On Saturday, May 21, at Gordon’s 119th Commencement ceremony, provost Mark Sargent recognized professor of economics and business Ted Wood and associate professor of linguistics and classics Graeme Bird as this year’s recipients of the Distinguished Faculty Awards. The Distinguished Faculty Awards are given annually to one senior and one junior full-time faculty member in recognition of excellence in teaching, substantial scholarly and professional achievement, and notable service to the Gordon community. GraemeBird_2008_08_15_11_27_30Upon being nominated by the faculty and members of the graduating class, the final recipients of the award are chosen by a committee comprised of Distinguished Faculty Award winners from the previous three years and the provost.

To view the provost’s remarks for each recipient, use the following links for Senior Distinguished Faculty award winner Ted Wood and Junior Distinguished Faculty Award winner Graeme Bird.

Ketcham Recognized for Excellence in Teaching

Ketcham_Sharon_2008_11_19_02_50_371_2009_09_16_05_14_04Sharon Ketcham, assistant professor of Christian ministries, was honored as the fourth recipient of the Marv Wilson Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities. Established in 2006 through a generous donation from alum Betsy Gage Pea ’79, the Marv Wilson Award recognizes annually one faculty member from the Humanities Division or the Department of History “whose teaching exemplifies excellence in the classroom, a deep commitment to inspiring students to realize the ideals of careful scholarship in their own work, and the integration of the Christian faith and learning in the Humanities.”

Ketcham, who is completing her seventh year of service at the College, received the award in front of her peers at a May 4th faculty meeting. In presenting the award, department chair Roger Green drew attention to Sharon’s work in developing the College’s new Core course in Christian Theology: “You have worked closely with your colleagues in the course, inspiring them in their contributions, and have provided an invaluable experience for the students taking this course as the pilot course for what is to come in the future.  You have constantly encouraged students in the course to understand their own theological assumptions against Scriptural standards and the traditional teachings of the Church.”

Easter in the Ruins

corinthbemaandacrocorinthtb011601091_2011_04_25_05_58_23As Provost at Gordon, Dr. Mark Sargent often has the opportunity to travel for various purposes and responsibilities he has in his role as a leader in higher education. On a recent accreditation team visit, he went to Greece. This essay is his response to visiting that land:

In early spring the scarlet poppies of Greece fill the cracks of the marble ruins. They crop up alongside the dust of tourist paths, and mix with the thistles in the open grasslands, not so much in clusters but in scattered blossoms, like drops of blood sprinkled over the fields.

When I visited Ancient Corinth some ten days ago there were a few poppies growing between the rust-colored stones of the Bema, or the public rostrum, where the Apostle Paul appeared in 51 A.D. before a Roman tribunal, accused of “persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” The proconsul—brother of the philosopher Seneca—dismissed the charge even before the defendant had an occasion to speak. This was, after all, an intramural quarrel, weighty perhaps for the poor Jewish community but irrelevant to the edicts of Rome . . .

Feeding Five Thousand

Hunt_Steve_2008_11_19_02_49_281_2009_09_16_05_12_42Congratulations to Steven Hunt, associate professor of biblical studies, for the release of his new book: Rewriting the Feeding of Five Thousand: John 6.1-15 as a Test Case for Johannine Dependence on the Synoptic Gospels in Studies in Biblical Literature, vol. 125, ed. by Hemchand Gossai (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).

From the publisher:Rewriting the Feeding of Five Thousand reveals the connection between John and the Synoptics with a focus on John 6.1-15. Statistical analyses establish the percentages of verbal and word order agreement between John 6.1-15 and the Synoptic parallels. An analysis of contextual agreements between the narratives in John and the Synoptics facilitates observing the percentage of agreement between them on a verse-by-verse basis, the average percentage of agreement between them, and the average percentage of agreement between them when Johannine material without parallel in the Synoptics is excluded from the data. Furthermore, this book analyzes the Matthean and Lukan redaction of Mark in their versions of the feeding of the five thousand and their influence on the Johannine narrative, as well as how John’s narrative can be understood as a thorough rewriting of the Synoptic accounts.”

Kingdom Undone

Miller_Jeffrey_2008_11_21_03_02_36From April 11-17, professor of theatre arts Jeffrey S. Miller will be in the Twin Cities area for a production workshop on a new musical entitled Kingdom Undone. Still in development, Kingdom Undone represents the largest venture to date for the Theater for the Thirsty, a small theater company based out of Minnesota. Working with theater colleagues and a few of his former students on a staged reading of the musical, Jeff will help to put the final touches on the production before a demo recording scheduled for May of this year. In an announcement on their website in December, the play’s creators described the musical as follows:

“This project is bigger than anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve written a rough draft, had a few informal readings and are currently underway with writing the music. We aim to create a show with the theatricality, humor and contemporary feel of Godspell, along with the drama, depth and passion of Les Mis– and it all centers on the story of the passion week of Jesus.”

March Madness and the Beauty of Mathematics

stout_2011_03_29_03_08_36Who knew college basketball could inspire the beauty of a mathematics challenge? Dick Stout, professor of math, that’s who. Read his recent Faith + Ideas= column:

“It’s time for March Madness, that round of college basketball games that never seems to end, but (thankfully) signals the end of winter and the coming of spring. For faithful fans—like me—it can also be an emotional roller coaster where our team plays an inspired game one night, but loses the next on a last-second basket. And the drama is heightened by the fact that if a team loses, it goes home. No second chances. A season has ended.

But even amidst all the emotion of the sport and the drama of the competition, something else emerges: an interesting mathematical problem. At the heart of the tournament is a basic question upon which the madness depends: How many games must be played to determine a winner?”

Read his entire column here: