Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas fail

What did you enjoy most about working in the PR office? It’s a traditional question asked of “our” seniors as they prepare to leave the nest.

Ali, a four-year PR veteran who will be student teaching at McComb next semester, said that she most enjoyed decorating the PR house for Christmas. Oops.

See, this is the first year that we didn’t ask the students to set up the Christmas tree as one of their “other duties as assigned.” No stockings or garland hung from the banister. No Creche, candles or greenery on the mantle. The morning before our Christmas luncheon, a colleague did fashion a holiday centerpiece.

Katie, the other student “leaving us” to student teach in Spencerville next semester, decorated my office. It took all of five minutes to set up a mini-Nativity, plop a pre-decorated mini-tree on a shelf and hang one Charlie Brown ornament on my tree wall hanging.

What an epic Christmas fail.

I know what we were thinking. After Thanksgiving, there was just one week of classes followed by finals week. In that short time, there were stories and videos and web updates that HAD to be finished before they left for break.

Maybe it’s just me, but does Christmas sometimes feel like an intrusion? In addition to my normal to-do-list we also have to shop, and wrap, and decorate. And we ought to send out cards and bake cookies. Then we have to go to…

There is a saying that I loved many years ago as a new mom: “quiet down cobwebs...dust go to sleep...I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep!”

What if we’d adapt that same mentality toward Advent? Maybe something like:
Quiet down ‘have-to’s’…
‘Ought-to’s’ go to sleep…
I’m welcoming my Savior as Christmas I’ll keep.

Wishing you all a relaxed, refreshing, very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

Over the past weekend I've heard of three occasions where a random stranger paid another’s bill, twice at a restaurant and once at a gas station.

What a wonderful way to start the holiday season. I don’t know how the benefactor felt, but the recipients were absolutely floored by this random gift, this gift given anonymously with no strings attached.

As I pulled out cash for lunch in The Commons a while back, the student behind me in line ‘swiped’ twice and paid for my lunch. I didn’t know him. Not sure of his motivation, maybe he just didn’t want to wait for the clerk to make change, but I’ll always remember how blessed I felt by his act of generosity.

On Twitter yesterday I started seeing references to #givingTuesday. My initial sarcastic thought, after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – who has anything left to give?

A little research revealed that yesterday was the second annual #givingTuesday, created as a day to “encourage charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.” Interesting idea.

Reading further revealed that comparing giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving 2011 to the first #givingTuesday in 2012, there was a nearly 50 percent increase in online donations to nonprofits through Blackbaud and DonorPerfect, (two popular online donation sites) and #givingTuesday trended on Twitter. Obviously this interesting idea is meeting a human need to support something bigger than ourselves.

While we may have missed the official #givingTuesday of 2013, luckily we don’t need to confine random acts of kindness, or giving, to a certain day. Any day can become a #givingDay.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Over the river and through the woods

…with no place to go

Campus is pretty quiet this day before Thanksgiving. Depending on class schedules, the student exodus began Monday evening, reaching a crescendo Tuesday afternoon. Campus is like a ghost town today.

A few students remain on campus for the extended holiday weekend – residence hall staff, athletes, international and out-of-state students. 

I learned this morning that an alumna has made a tradition of fixing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for those who are not able to be with family – including Bluffton students. Word is that in previous years you have prepared turkey for 40-some people, with others bringing in side dishes to share.

What a special gift you are sharing. What a lesson you are teaching your children. What a way to serve your community.

Thank you

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A dangerous place

Guest post by Dr. Randy Keeler, associate professor of religion

Dr. Randy Keeler
What keeps you going to Israel/Palestine again and again?

I get asked this question often as I head to Israel/Palestine once again in May 2013 with a student group, and then look forward to leading an Alumni and Friends of the University group from Dec. 26, 2014-Jan. 7, 2015. Frankly, my initial response to this question is, “Why wouldn't I?”  I then want to ask, “Who wouldn't want to go?”

My primary initial interest in going to the Holy Lands was sparked by my Christian faith. I wanted to see where Jesus had walked and also where the biblical stories occurred. At the time of my first trip there (1993) I was the campus pastor here at Bluffton and I figured it would enrich my speaking to and interaction with students.

Being able to make connections to the biblical stories has proved invaluable. To see the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his time in ministry adds perspective to any and all of the stories that are referenced as being from there.

To spend time in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem helps me to envision Jesus’ life from his birth until his death. Even 2,000 years later, with all the modernization and commercialism of that region, one can still gain a sense of “what it must have been like.” I never tire of visiting the Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem), the Church of the Annunciation (Nazareth) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem). In some way, each time I am in those places it feels as if I am meeting Jesus for the first time again.

Understanding the Jewish experience has been a significant outcome of my visits as well. Seeing modern Israel, visiting Yad Veshem (Israel’s holocaust museum), and climbing up to Masada where the Jewish resistance in the late 7th decade of the first century took place, helps me to appreciate what the Jewish people have had to persevere through over the years as a people. Of course, it’s always fun to float in the Dead Sea, and even though I do not always do it when I visit, it is always fun to watch others experience it for the first time!

But perhaps the most endearing experience of the trip for me is visiting our Palestinian brothers and sisters I have had the privilege of making friends with on my various trips. Getting to know the struggles of the Palestinian people has given me a new perspective on the political situation in the region and helped me to have a more informed perspective on the Palestinian history and culture. The Palestinian people are the “living stones” in that region faithfully following Christ in the midst of very difficult conditions.

But, you may ask, “Is it dangerous?” I've been asked that question often also, but the best way I know of answering that question is to say the following:  I've never felt myself in any physical danger, but I am always in danger of changing my worldview when I go. So, in that sense, perhaps it is dangerous for me. Every time I go, my views of the world get expanded a bit more. I like, or should I say need, that kind of danger.

As long as I am able and have the opportunity I will continue to go back, and each time I go back I experience something new.

Randy will share more about his previous trips to Israel/Palestine and answer questions about the alumni tour during an information meeting Dec. 2 on campus and online.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A welcome reprieve

Dameer Relford tickles the ivories in Mosiman Hall. 
About a month ago, I was asked to take an action photo of one of Bluffon’s music students. As he was a pianist, I asked him to play something. He had no music. No warning this request was coming. But Oh My Word - the sound that filled Gilliom Room. I’ll admit to taking a few more photos than were needed just so he wouldn’t stop playing.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the Bluffton volleyball team play in the HCAC tournament finals. It was so amazing to watch the teamwork, the individual effort, the encouragement when things went awry and the celebration for a job done well.

Isn’t it curious how live performances – whether it’s theatre, music or athletics – whether it’s a formal event or an impromptu performance – tends to draw people together?

For a while we are transported to another place, away from the stuff that’s going on in our lives. We get a reprieve from the dirty dishes, the bills, the empty gas tank, the too-long to-do list and become part of this magical shared experience.

People who take their seat as individuals collectively become the audience. And the audience breaks into spontaneous laughter, applause, smiles, cheers.

Then when it’s over and the audience again becomes a group of individuals, burdens are somewhat lighter for having shared the experience as an audience participating in a performance.

Holiday opportunities on campus:

  • Gospel Choir fall concert, 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, Yoder
  • Concert Band: “A Holiday Celebration,” 7:30 p.m., Nov. 25, Yoder 
  • Nine Lessons and Carols Christmas Concert, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 3, Yoder - tickets required
  • Handel’s Messiah, 4 p.m., Dec. 8, Founders
  • Women’s basketball, Bluffton Holiday Tournament, Dec. 28-29, Sommer
  • Men’s basketball, McDonald’s Holiday Tournament, Dec. 29-30, Sommer

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A new generation

Mom (or Dad) rocks a sweet newborn baby, humming the Alma Mater as a lullaby, “Bluffton College, How we love thee. Ever true to thee we’ll be…

While I personally chose a different lullaby, my infant son often sported the little Bluffton t-shirt sent by the alumni office when he was born. (As determining the correct t-shirt size became problematic, newborn children of alumni now receive a stuffed animal - a Beaver, of course.)

There are many opportunities to introduce your children and grandchildren to Bluffton University.

Alumni are welcome - even encouraged - to bring children to May Day. For the past several years, brightly colored blankets have been laid on the ground around the May Pole, with children invited to enjoy the best seats for watching the May Pole Dance. And just last year, a Toddler Trot and Half-Mile Family Fun Run was added to the May Day Four-Mile Run/Walk.

The Riley Creek Festival is an annual celebration of spring, organized by several student organizations, with many activities for children, including the Rubber Duck Race down the Riley, face-paintings, inflatables, crafts and more.

The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center of Bluffton University is all about children. It is a favorite destination for school field trips to learn about peace and cross-cultural understanding. It’s also a library where children, parents and teachers can check out books and other resources.

You have done much to introduce your child to Bluffton. Bluffton wants to thank you by offering an Alumni Grant to all new students who are children or grandchildren of alumni, beginning in fall 2014.

"...Loyalty and deep devotion, Joyously we offer thee."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Let us never forget

Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks), discreet cobblestone memorials embedded into the sidewalks outside establishments owned by Jews in Germany before the Holocaust, serve as reminders that “this may never happen again.”

Marion Blumenthal Lazan was just 4 years old on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) – the night in November 1938 when Nazis broke windows in Jewish owned homes, businesses and synagogues. She was 9 years old when held, along with her family, in the Bergen-Belsen German concentration camp.

By her mannerisms it was obvious that her story was not easy to tell. Yet she acknowledged how important it was that she tell it to us, that we hear a first-person account of the atrocities rather than read about it in a book or watch a documentary.

I’ve heard it said that we are just a generation away from the farm and from Christianity. That it takes just one generation to not pass on the lessons learned from living on the farm and being involved in the church… One generation for those lessons to be lost for all future generations.

In the United States, only four states require that the Holocaust be taught in school. Four states. No wonder there are people who believe that the Holocaust is a hoax – that it never really happened. In Germany, according to Mrs. Lazan, all schools are required to teach it.

It is a painful story. It’s so hard to fathom that people would actually treat other people like that. It’s easy to understand why one would prefer to say it never happened instead of acknowledging it as part of our global history, learning from it so that this may never happen again. To any group. Ever.

>>> Forum review
>>> Mrs. Lazan's web site

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Political correctness run amuk?

"Words have power."

Guy Jones, co-founder of the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans, spoke about the power of words in yesterday’s Forum. I think we sometimes get so caught up in being so careful with our words, being so politically correct, that it gets in the way of clear communication.

Case in point: Yesterday I received an emailed news release from another organization announcing the replacement of its president. "The Board...has unanimously decided to transition... from the position of president." Really? Transition from the position? Please.

But then there are other times.

There has been much made in recent years and months about various sports teams known as “Redskins.” PollyAnna here always thought that this was just another example of political correctness run amuk. You know the Sunday School song: “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His site. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Red skinned… Redskins.

Jones, a Hunkpapa Lakota, told the origin of that word. I had no idea…

There was a time when hunters and trappers would be paid for animal skins, for beaver skins, for coon skins, for red skins… The price was higher for female red skins, lower for child red skins. Certain body parts needed to be brought in along with the scalp in order to receive the correct “pay.”

He is correct to ask how one can honestly say we are honoring Native Americans by retaining the Redskin moniker once you know the word’s origin.

Words have so much power.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Words of wisdom

Things I would tell my 20-year old self.
  • The grass isn’t always greener…
  • Don’t be in such a hurry…
  • Invest as much in platonic friendships as you do romantic relationships…
  • Embrace opportunities…
  • Being seen as one of the “smart kids” isn’t a bad thing…
  • Push yourself - don’t just slide by…
  • Choose wisely…
  • Learn to say no when necessary…
  • Make time to take care of yourself…
Wonder if these are the same things my 60-year old self would say to me now?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
1905 Bluffton football team
This quote from MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 50 years ago came to mind as I drove in to work last Tuesday. Later in the day, Professor Perry Bush and six students from his African-American history class were going to present at Forum about race relations throughout Bluffton University’s history. I thought it might make for a good blog topic.

And it was a good presentation – the panel shared the good, the bad and the ugly from Bluffton’s history. More >>>

Stories were told of high points in Bluffton’s history.

Guest panelist, alumnus Ron Lora, told of the football team’s bus stopping at a buffet in Northern Kentucky as they were coming home from a tournament game in the mid-1950s. When it became apparent that the restaurant manager was not going to allow the African-American members of the team to eat, the entire team left their trays and got back on the bus without eating.

“We were not civil rights activists,” said Lora. “We were just teammates.”

Stories were told of low points in Bluffton’s history. As one student told of an especially ugly racial incident on campus in the late-1990s she said with amazement, “This happened in our lifetime.”

As Perry spoke at the faculty/staff luncheon, he reminded us that Bluffton students are all coming from differing backgrounds. It takes just one student coming from a biased background to cause a lot of hurt. It’s then up to the rest of us to say “That is not acceptable here.”

How long will it take until we achieve King’s dream? When will be all be judged by the content of our character - not by the color of our skin, or the bumps on our chest, or the religion we practice, or to whom we are sexually attracted – but by who we are? Will we ever see the need fade away for the extremely-wordy EOE (Equal Opportunity Employer) statement to be published?

When asked why the student panel did not include any students of color, Perry responded that every member of his African-American history class is required to complete a project of their choice. He offered the opportunity to all of his students to present with him at Forum. “These six expressed interest. I wasn't going to twist anybody’s arm.”

I’m thinking that’s a good step toward equality.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Would I?

Sometimes I wonder what type of alumna I’d be if I didn’t work at Bluffton. One thing for sure – I would not have just called myself an alumna.

But would I be engaged? Would I be on the web site checking out the latest news, or would I only think about Bluffton when the magazine arrives in the mail? Would I then read the magazine cover to cover, or just skim alumnotes from “my years.” Would I “like” Bluffton University on Facebook? Would I come back to campus for May Day, Homecoming, etc.?

It’s really hard to tell. While memories of my days as a student on this campus are fairly positive, life goes on and I doubt Bluffton would be first and foremost in my mind as I went about my days – that is if I wasn’t also a Bluffton staff member.

I’m sure I’d notice and smile when seeing a Bluffton dam shirt on a waitress at Texas Roadhouse (as I did last Saturday night.) I might hear rumors about what’s happening on campus. But most likely I’d be disconnected.

Bluffton alumni relations office has started a program to reconnect with alumni where they are – in their hometown, in their place of business. It’s called “Bluffton on the Road” and there is no agenda other than to connect and to share information about what’s new at Bluffton.

Over the next year or so, Bluffton administrators, faculty and/or staff members plan to meet with small groups of alumni across the Midwest. The purpose is to answer questions… What’s happening at Bluffton now? I’ve heard… is that true? And to provide information about plans and hopes for Bluffton’s future.

It all started quietly last spring. Just a simple reception for Bluffton alumni who happen to be employees at Marathon headquarters in Findlay, Ohio. Those in attendance enjoyed light refreshments and conversation with Bluffton President Jim Harder.

Since then the Bluffton on the Road (gatherings for alumni living in a certain vicinity) and Bluffton @ Work (receptions for alumni working for a certain business) programs have gained momentum. Since April, nearly 150 people have gathered for Bluffton events. We’ve been to Lima, to eastern Pennsylvania, to Parma, Ohio (near Cleveland), to Archbold, Ohio. Plans are being made for gatherings in Lancaster, Pa., in Kansas and Florida, in Columbus and Pittsburgh, and more. 

Here is your chance to reconnect with your alma mater, to gather with fellow alumni. Be watching for Bluffton on the Road to be coming near you. Announcements will be on the bluffton.edu web, on Facebook; with invitations sent via email and US mail. And if you are interested in hosting an event, contact Julia Szabo, director of alumni relations.

If you happen to live near Hesston, Kan., your Bluffton on the Road event has morphed into a full Alumni Weekend in Kansas complete with an opportunity for you to sing with the Bluffton University Gospel Choir. Make reservations by Oct. 7 to purchase music.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Missed opportunities…

Forum is Bluffton University’s weekly gathering of students, faculty and staff for interdisciplinary discovery and conversation.

"These speakers sound great” said a student assistant while posting the fall semester Forum schedule online. “Too bad I’ve already taken all my Forums.” 

Not to worry – I did point out that one can attend Forum presentations even if you don’t “need to” for credit. (A few years ago, an “arts & lecture credit” was added, requiring  students to attend so many Forum and other cultural events on campus in order to graduate.)

So what is the remaining Forum line-up that caught this student’s interest?
  • Race and Ethnicity at Bluffton University
    Dr. Perry Bush
    Bluffton’s institutional historian explains the role of race and ethnicity in Bluffton’s history. (Oct. 1)

  • Keeney Peace Lecture
    On Poetry and History

    Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate
    Trethewey discusses poetry and reads from her volumes of poems, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard. (Oct. 15)

  • Who Said I’m an Indian?
    Guy Jones, Miami Valley Council for Native Americans
    The author of Lessons from Tutle Island, a Hunkpapa Lakota and full-blood member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, asks how we are defined by culture and race and by the names we give to God. (Oct. 22)

  • Four Perfect Pebbles – My Holocaust Story – A Message of Perseverance, Determination, Faith and Hope
    Marion Blumenthal Lazan
    The author of Four Perfect Pebbles recalls her family’s life during the Holcaust, from before Kristallnacht to imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps and eventually liberation. (Oct. 29)

  • Being Muslim in Post-9/11 America
    Julia Shearson, Cleveland Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Ohio
    Shearson discusses her conversion from Catholicism to Islam and describes the challenging national climate faced by American Muslims. (Nov. 5)

  • Spiritual Life Week
    Proving God’s Will
    Justin Romine, Keystone Project Summer Internship
    Romine describes the conflict between being conformed to the world and being transformed by the renewing of the mind. (Nov. 12)

  • On Becoming an Insult Pacifist
    Dr. William Irvine, Wright State University
    Irvine reports on his experiments with “insult pacifism” – responding to insults with silence or self-deprecating humor. (Nov. 19)

  • Making Peace from Pandora to Palestine
    Sr. Paulette Schroeder, Sisters of St. Francis
    Schroeder, a Christian Peacemaker Teams reservist, describes her efforts to build a grassroots culture of peace in small Midwestern towns and in the West Bank city of Hebron. (Nov. 26)

  • Plus presentations by students reporting on their spring 2013 cross-cultural experiences (Sept. 24) and the music department Christmas Festival (Dec. 3).
Do you notice a theme in the topics? In recent years, there has been an attempt to bring Forum speakers on campus to support the year’s Civic Engagement Theme. This year’s theme is “Race and Ethnicity in America: Celebration, Struggle, Opportunity.” 

Speakers early in the academic year will help us name and celebrate progress in race relations. The middle of the year will highlight the continuing struggles, while the end of the year will challenge us to embrace the opportunities.

Join us for “interdisciplinary discovery.” Forum presentations are free, open to the public and typically held at 11 a.m. Tuesday mornings in Founders Hall. 

And you don't have to need academic credit to attend.

>>> campus events calendar

Monday, September 9, 2013

What did you learn today?

Imagine sitting at the supper table, when the question is asked “what did you learn today?”

Not what homework do you have to do? Or how did you do on that test/report/presentation? But ‘what did you learn?’

Interesting differentiation. How would our society, our schools, be different if we focused on learning rather than on to-do-lists and grades?

I recently read a first-person essay about a grandfather who would always ask everyone who joined him for the evening meal – “What did you learn today?” The family would then learn from each other and enjoy a lively discussion about a wide range of topics.

This year, Bluffton faculty is suspending the typical faculty governance work to focus as a group on Student Learning and Engagement. Rather than discussing curriculum changes, new majors and/or classes; faculty meetings will be a discussion of the common reading of “What the Best College Teachers Do.” 

Professors will then be challenged to select one class to incorporate some new/different techniques as a ‘lab.’ Changes could be as simple as required one-on-one office visits to discuss projects, or as dramatic as a different presentation style - all with the goal of increasing student learning and engagement.

What did you learn today? It will be a new way to look at education for many of us. Similar to the way counting blessings at the end of the day helps one be aware of the blessings which may otherwise go unnoticed.

I can just imagine sitting down with my family now and asking “what did you learn today?” Let’s just say crickets would be chirping. I also imagine if this was a family tradition, I could see my 12-year-old self being excited to share and discuss some new-to-me nugget of knowledge, or see my 40-some-year-old self being excited to hear and discuss some new-to-them nugget of knowledge with my nieces and nephew.

So… What did you learn today?