Albert Raboteau moved me to tears the first time I heard him speak. My tears were borne of overflowing admiration, regret, conviction, sympathy, and solidarity, all prompted by a talk on “African American Slaves, Christianity, and the Mystery of Suffering.”
In our nation’s ongoing reckoning with evils past and present, I’ve thought often of Al, a man whose father a white man murdered in 1940s Mississippi, who suffered the injustices of segregation, and who could not receive communion in his church until white parishioners had been served first. In his spiritual autobiography, A Sorrowful Joy
, he writes:
Christianity is a religion of suffering. The suffering of Christ and of the martyrs is at the center of the Christian tradition and suffering grounds the Christian to the suffering of the world. As the old slaves knew, suffering can’t be evaded, it is a mark of the authenticity of faith. The primary example of suffering Christianity in this country was the experience of African-American slaves.
More personally, with a life of experience as an African-American behind him, he reflects:
. . . I realize now that all my life a community of love has surrounded me, even when I did not see it. How often we don’t see the moments of love. The pain, the injustice, the abuse, and the evil—passing on generation after generation—blind us. But if we search, we can see that our compassion conveys God’s love. It is through us, if we permit it, that God reaches out to heal our wounds. And it is through our love for one another that he transforms our sadness into joy.
Kimberly Patton suggests, “Perhaps no other contemporary scholar has with such unblinking vision realized the paradox of the African-American experience: it is a history not only
of terrible injustice, not only
of powerlessness and heart-searing wrong, but, just as importantly, it is also
a chronicle of the ancient mystery of sanctification through the very instrument of suffering, the outrage of oppression.” His theology of the cross, “whereby death itself is vanquished through the mystery of divine grace,” enables him to hold together sorrow and joy, loss and victory, mistreatment and reconciliation. As Patton observes, “It does not deny the evil of slavery nor of the Crucifixion itself, but instead finds the light of bright victory in a narrative of what others have often represented as utter defeat.”
Al Raboteau’s work reflects learning—and even more a life—shaped by biblical imagination and liturgical formation. His sorrowful joy deserves our solidarity, for like him, we cannot avoid suffering, but we can receive and offer Christian grace that makes “life in a minor key” beautiful.
On a more mundane note, please give attention to the following items of interest:
• Congratulations to Phil Donnelly
, professor of literature in the Great Texts Program, who joins Todd Buras
, associate professor and chair of philosophy in A&S, as co-principal investigator on a $100,000 NEH grant awarded last week. Disputatio and the Pursuit of Wisdom in the Humanities
will culminate in a 2021 Summer Seminar for high school teachers. The project elevates the disputatio
as a means of educating for well-reasoned, respectful civil discourse and the serious pursuit of wisdom. That truth, beauty, goodness—and other things like love, honor, and happiness—are contested ideas does not mean they are untethered from publicly available reason-giving and prudent judgment. Well done, Phil and Todd!
• Join me in gratitude for colleagues whose college-level committee service supports our success. In the year ahead, our Curriculum Committee
includes Paul Carron
, Julia Hejduk
, and Melinda Nielsen
. Our Research Leave and Faculty Awards
Committee is comprised of Lynne Hinojosa
, Chuck McDaniel
, and Rob Miner
. The B.Phil. Task Force
carries on its work with service from Candi Cann
, Elizabeth Corey
, Julia Hejduk
, Jeff Hunt
, Scott Moore
, and Melanie Nogalski
. The HC is well served by these colleagues on their respective committees. Three other committees will contribute to the HC’s work in the year ahead. I’ll highlight them in my next Update.
• A handful of ambitious, bright undergraduates will extend the HC’s resources through reconfigured student work positions in the Dean’s Office. I’m pleased to introduce them in advance of their return for fall classes and I hope you’ll soon see the fruit of their labor. They include Sophie Cope
, assistant for student recruitment; Lauren Jarvis
, assistant for special events; Noelle Mitchell
, assistant for alumni and donor engagement; and Eliana Stromberg
, assistant for marketing and communications.
• Two-thirds of our tenured faculty responded to a recent call to review and potentially endorse a new tenure standards document. Responses were unanimously favorable. I appreciate a number of helpful comments and questions along the way. The next step will be a provost-level review of our proposed tenure standards document. Provided it meets with approval from Pat Neff Hall, we’ll have a clear and current set of standards in place for the tenure-track hires we hope to make in coming years.
• With work on the HC’s tenure standards document concluding, we have been asked to give attention to our standards for promotion to full professor. In addition to the desirability of well-defined guidance, the University has a new BU-PP 702 Promotion for Tenured Faculty policy in the works, accompanied by a related procedures document. The forthcoming University policy and procedures documents anticipate the availability of the HC’s yet-to-be drafted standards document. Later this month, a committee will be formed to begin work on this project.
• The end of July also ends a chapter of much-appreciated leadership from Jennifer Good
, associate professor of German, in her role as director of the University Scholars Program. With responsibilities as division director for German and Russian in A&S’s department of Modern Languages and Cultures, Jennifer will continue to be great advocate and partner for us. We truly appreciate your years of service to UNSC, Jennifer, and we look forward to new forms of collaboration with you.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689