The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Valparaiso University

The Believe Me book tour rolled through my old stomping grounds on Tuesday night.  I taught at Valparaiso University from 2000-2002 as a Lilly Fellow in the Humanities and the Arts.  Here is the first house we lived in:

Valpo House

268 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

Then we had a sewer back-up in Spring 2001 and moved a few doors down to this house:

Valpo House 2

260 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

I am thankful to Joe Creech, Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program, and Joe Goss, Assistant Program Director, for inviting me back to Valpo to speak about the book.  I had dinner with five impressive Lilly Fellows and we had a spirited discussion about public scholarship, evangelicalism, Trump, and church-related colleges and universities.  Thanks to Ashleigh Elser, Daniel Silliman, Jason Gehrke, Christine Hedlin, and Cassandra Painter for the conversation.  If you have a job opening at your college or university you need to give these young scholars a serious look.

Rather than a traditional book talk, Daniel Silliman, a historian of American religion, interviewed me.  Jared Burkholder, a historian at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, was present and blogged about the event here.

Silliman and Fea

And thanks to Ashleigh Elser for the kind introduction.

Earlier in the day, I spent an hour or so in the Linwood House, the former Valparaiso University president’s home and the building that houses the Lilly Fellows Program. A lot has changed in the house, but the living room, the place where the Lilly Fellows and their mentors gather together each week to talk about faith, higher education, and academic vocation, looks relatively the same as it did eighteen years ago:

Linwood

The Linwood House

I also found a bookshelf full of books written by former Lilly Fellows.  If you look closely at the pics, you will see books by historians Mary Beth Connolly, Kathy Sprows Cummings, Lisa Deam, Darren Dochuk, Robert Elder, Andrew Finstuen, Matthew Hedstrom, Paul Harvey, Mary Henold, Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, Louis Nelson, James Kennedy, Matthew Lundin, John McGreevy, Peter Mercer-Taylor, James Skillen, and Stephanie Yuhl.

Valpo Shelf 9

Valpo Book 4

Valpo Book 5

Valpo 3

Valpo Shelf 8

Valpo 7

Valpo Book 6

It was great to see so many old friends and make some new friends in Valpo this week!

Susan VanZanten is the New Dean of Christ College at Valparaiso University

VanZantenAn excellent choice.  Congratulations Susan!

From the Christ College Facebook page:

Congratulations to Susan VanZanten Ph.D, Christ College’s next, and first female, Dean!

Professor VanZanten previously served as professor of English and interim co-chair of the languages, cultures, and linguistics department at Seattle Pacific University.

Professor VanZanten’s area of expertise is African literature, American literature, and literary criticism and she is currently a senior mentor in the Lilly Graduate Fellows program.

We extend a warm welcome to Professor VanZanten, and congratulate her on her new position, effective July 1st 2018.

In Valparaiso for a Conference Honoring Mark Schwehn’s "Exiles from Eden"

This weekend I am back in my old stomping grounds at Valparaiso University.  I was a post-doctoral fellow here from 2000-2002 as part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.  I have been back to Valparaiso a couple of times since I left for Messiah College in 2002, but it has been a while since my last visit.  I know a lot of things in Valparaiso, Indiana have changed over the years, but a lot remains the same.  For example, I am in the same hotel that I stayed in during my Lilly Fellows interview.  I also rode the infamous Coach USA bus from O’Hare airport to Portage–just like I used to do twelve years ago (It is still a terrible trip). The last time I rode this bus I was on the last leg of my journey home after interviewing for my current position at Messiah College.

I am here for a Lilly Fellows Program reunion conference focused on the legacy of Mark Schwehn’s book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America (Oxford, 1994).  So many of us have been influenced by this book and a lot of us decided to devote ourselves to church-related higher education as a result of reading it.

I am off to a picnic tonight, but the real academic conference starts tomorrow.  Speakers include Dorothy Bass, Stephanie Paulsell, Caryn Riswold, Matt Lundin, Caroline Simon, Julie Straight, Tal Howard, Bob Elder, Heath White, Matt Hedstrom, Mark Schwehn, Craig Dykstra, Michel Beaty, Thomas Hibbs, Patrick Byrne, Mary Strey, Scott Huelin, Michael Cartwright, Susan VanZanten, Arlin Migliazzo, Jane Kelley Rodeheffer, and Mel Piehl.

I hope to do some blogging and Tweeting this weekend.  A Twitter hashtag has already been established: #lfpexiles  Stay tuned.

Remembering Alan Bloom

Alan Bloom doing what he did best

On Thursday we lost one of the good guys.

Alan Bloom was the chair of Valparaiso University’s History Department. He was an inspiring college teacher and scholar of homelessness, a gym rat, a fellow New Jerseyan, a community member, an activist, a mentor, a husband and father, and a friend to so many of us. I am well aware that there are students and former students, colleagues, and friends who knew Alan Bloom much, much better than I did, but after learning about his death I felt compelled to write.

We developed a friendship over the course of my two years (2000-2002) in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and Arts.  I only saw Alan a few times since then, but we kept in touch via e-mail and Facebook.  Just the other day I was giving him a hard time about his efforts to avoid eating all the family Halloween candy before October 31st.

When I heard that he died my gut wrenched, my heart broke, and I felt like someone punched me in the face.  The fact that I felt this way is a testimony to Alan’s capacity for friendship.  I only got to hang out with him for two years, but it always felt like we were lifelong buddies.  I am sure Alan made a lot of people feel this way.

Alan was the first friend I made at Valparaiso outside of the folks involved with the Lilly Fellows Program. We hit it off immediately.  We were both New Jersey natives making our way in the small midwestern city of Valparaiso, Indiana.  At the start, our conversations revolved around the Jersey Shore, skeeball, and Garden State high school basketball.  A few years later, when I had an essay published in the Journal of American History, the first congratulatory e-mail I received was from Alan. “Congrats on the article,” he wrote, “always glad to see a situation where a Jersey kid makes good.”

We were both at the start of our careers.  Alan was finishing his Ph.D at Duke and I had just finished at Stony Brook.  We were both students of early America. (I am so sorry I will not get to read Alan’s book on homelessness in 19th-century Chicago).  We both loved to teach history and in this sense we shared the same calling.  We met regularly to talk about how to be more effective in the classroom.  Those long conversations were among the highlights of my two years at Valpo. Twelve years later I still think about them, asking myself “What would Bloom do?”  Alan’s students loved him and he loved them back.

Harry Danning
We also bonded over sports and sports history.  As a New York sports fan I was ecstatic when Alan asked me to help him interview Harry Danning, a major league baseball player who played for the New York Giants in the 1930s. Danning lived in Valparaiso (he died a couple of years after we interviewed him) and his family wanted us to talk to him on tape about his experiences as one of the first Jewish-Americans in the major leagues. (Alan was Jewish, so I know that the interview meant a lot to him).  It was a fun couple of hours as Danning told us story after story about life with the Giants, catching for the great Carl Hubbell, and the persecution he suffered because of his religion.  I will never forget that afternoon.

Alan and I spent a lot of time on the basketball court during those two years.  He was a pretty good point guard.  I have seen few pick-up players drive to the basket with such intensity and reckless abandon.  Most of the time he either got fouled and/or ended up on the floor, but it was fun to watch.  We used to laugh at how old we were (we were only in our mid-30s) as we got run off the court by Valpo students in one intramural game after another.  Every year Alan organized a Habitat for Humanity charity basketball game between the Valpo students and the faculty. This was only a small part of his commitment to social justice in his adopted home town.  I still have the hilarious e-mails Alan sent me in his attempt get me to come back to Valpo for the 2003 Habitat game despite the fact that I was now teaching at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. (He said he would try to hit up Mark Schwehn for some “travel funds.”)

I will never forget the last conversation we had during my two-year stint as a Lilly Fellow.  It was a hot and sunny morning on McIntyre Court and my family and I were directing the movers who were packing-up our belongings for our trip to Pennsylvania.  Alan and Colleen stopped by with a parting gift.  It was an old Budweiser beer “Contributions to Great Taste” newspaper ad that they had found at a flea market.  It

featured a picture of Thomas Jefferson sitting at a table with some other founding fathers twirling spaghetti on a spoon.  Under the picture, in bold letters, it read “Our Third President Was Our First Spaghetti Maker.” The ad went on to explain how Jefferson was responsible for introducing spaghetti to America.  It was the perfect gift.  Colleen and Alan always got a kick out of the fact that I was a working-class Italian kid from Jersey who studied colonial America. (An odd combination in academia).  A few years later I framed the ad and it now sits above the desk in my home office, a constant reminder of Alan’s (and Colleen’s) thoughtfulness.  It now means even more to me.

I never got to see Alan in action as a father, but I heard he was great.  Colleen and the boys are in my prayers.  I know the Valparaiso University community is reflecting God’s love in their care for them.

Alan, you will be missed.,  You left too early, man. Way too early.  Thanks for being my friend.  My life is richer for having known you.  Rest in peace.

Exiles from Eden: The Blog

I just returned home from Chicago where I attended the Spring board meeting of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts. During the course of the meeting I was reminded once again of the organization’s excellent blog “Exiles from Eden.” If you are interested in church-related higher education, Christian intellectual life, or faith and the academic vocation I would strongly encourage you to keep regular tabs on what is happening at this blog.

Here is what it’s all about:

Exiles from Eden takes its name from the book of the same title by Mark Schwehn. In that book, Schwehn suggests that church-related colleges and universities offer a unique opportunity to be creative places of interaction among the values and challenges connected to teaching and scholarship in modern colleges and universities. He, and we, suggest that the pursuit of what matters most to undergraduates, graduates, and those who work in higher learning (church-related or not) is enriched by engaging ideas and practices arising from the Christian tradition. We hope that this blog will be a forum for such engagement. 

Exiles from Eden is sponsored and managed by the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts, founded in 1991 to strengthen the quality and shape the character of church-related institutions of higher learning and headquartered at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.  Exiles from Eden is not, however, a mouthpiece for the Lilly Fellows Program, and as such the views and opinions therein do necessarily express the views of the Lilly Fellows Program, its Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellows, Valparaiso University, or the schools that comprise the Lilly Fellows Program National Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities.

Valpo Nostalgia, Historical Thinking, and Bob Elder’s US History Survey Course

This morning I Skyped with Bob Elder‘s U.S. History survey course at Valparaiso University.  As many of you know, I taught at Valparaiso from 2000-2002 as a Lilly Fellow  Post-Doctoral Fellow, so I felt a bit nostalgic seeing Bob in action with his class.  (When I taught at Valpo my classroom was located in the dingy basement of Christ College.  It was nice to see Bob in a very modern-style computer classroom filled with new technology).

Bob’s class had just finished Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  After a few questions from Bob, the students had a chance to grill me.  My favorite question came from a student who wanted to know where David Barton got all of his historical documents.  I said that I had no idea, but I would like to see the collection some day.  Of course I also used this question to remind the students that just because a person owns documents and shows them at public talks does not mean he or she is a “historian.”  History requires more than quoting and displaying–it requires interpretation and the application of the 5cs of historical thinking.

David Barton and his documents

Thanks to Bob Elder for the invitation.  It was good to be “back” at Valpo!