My eclectic reading practices were recently rewarded by Antonia Arslan’s Skylark Farm
, a first novel described by one reviewer as “heartbreaking . . . powerfully unflinching . . . like [an Armenian] Schindler’s List
.” A work of historical fiction intimately connected with her own family story, Arslan explores the twentieth-century’s first genocide, in which appalling terror was visited upon the Armenian Christian minority then living in the Ottoman Empire.
A lyrical timbre runs throughout Skylark Farm
, punctuated by elegiac reveries, courageous defiance of evil, and unexpected forms of solidarity with the suffering. In lifting up a few small figures overrun by events played out on a world stage, Arslan humanizes a tragedy which—with 1.5 million dead by the end—needs the focused attention her book provides. It’s a novel well worth reading and I commend it to you for reading as time and interest allow.
The story Arslan tells, with its heart-wrenching and inspiring details, also invites introspection. I especially find myself wrestling with two difficulties.
First, I feel heightened ambivalence about Turkey, the modern nation-state that succeeded the Ottoman Empire. Over the last decade, I have reveled in gracious hospitality from Turks on several summer study abroad trips. Yet particularly in Izmir, a thriving modern city and the home of dear friends, one walks streets haunted by the persecution, deportation, and slaughter of the Armenians whose story Arslan relates. (Another book I recently read—Smyrna, September 1922: The American Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide
—puts the Turks in similarly difficult light.) Despite recognition around the world of atrocities permitted and committed by leaders of what became the Republic of Turkey, official acknowledgement by Turkey of this manifest evil has never occurred. I understand that one cannot change one’s past, much less one’s great-grandfather’s past, but one can mourn and repent.
Second, I wonder about tragedies we have inherited as part of our own legacy, be it in connection with Baylor, Waco, Texas, or America. Whose stories of despair and suffering in the face of violence in our lands remain yet to be told? To what extent are we complicit in them through disinterest or willful ignorance? And as Christians, how should we understand this teaching of Scripture: “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation”? These are hard and important questions to which I do not have full answers.
Where’s the good news, you may ask? By the time I next write in this forum, the season of Advent will be here; the Christ to whom Advent points us is the essence of all good news we can possibly have. “O come, O come, Emmanuel, / And ransom captive Israel, / That mourns in lonely exile here, / Until the Son of God appear.” In those and the following lines of a great hymn of exultant expectation, we anticipate the Lord’s resolution and restoration of all loss that lies beyond our power to mend. No better news than that!
Please take note of the following matters of interest within the life of our community:
• Recruitment of next year’s entering class is underway, and tremendous cooperative effort is needed in representing the HC effectively. For all those reviewing applications to our academic programs, assisting with Distinguished Scholars Day(s), hosting Invitation to Excellence students, or selecting Getterman Scholars, be assured of my heartfelt gratitude. (Getterman Scholars are especially on my mind; thirteen blessed souls are currently winnowing 435 applications for this top scholarship.) Our efforts make a valuable contribution to the University’s overall recruitment. Closer to home, our work enables the HC to bring exceptional educational opportunities to high-achieving students, thereby fulfilling our special part within Baylor’s Christian mission.
• Congratulations to David Jeffrey
, distinguished professor emeritus of literature and humanities in the Honors Program, on the publication of Real Characters: A Tip of the Hat to Nonconformity
(Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020). Whether relating personal encounters of academic luminaries such as D.W. Robinson, Jr. and Philip Larkin, or of plain folk of modest education but great common sense, David presents portraits of eccentricity that save us from the same-old, same-old of a highly corporatized, commodified world. In telling stories of others, we also learn much about David’s own life, one in which little people in little places receive his Christian regard and understanding, no less than the great.
• Eileen Bentsen
, Librarian for the Honors College, notes that for the spring semester, the Baylor Libraries will continue the suspension of physical item reserves. Due to extensive quarantine periods needed for any circulating physical items—a minimum of three days, per recent published research—there is no feasible way to make physical items available for course reserves. More information can be found here
. In addition, Eileen welcomes faculty to contact her for help in obtaining digital copies of the works or alternative works, in lieu of print works you would normally place on course reserves.
• Let me remind you of an end-of-semester panel discussion for faculty and staff on Wednesday, November 18 from 11:00-12:00, featuring President Linda Livingstone
, Provost Nancy Brickhouse
, Chief Business Officer Brett Dalton
, and Chief Human Resources Officer Cheryl Gochis
. Fall in Review, Anticipating 2021
will address our COVID-19 response, spring semester plans, and other matters of general interest. Log-in details will be provided by email on Wednesday morning.
• The following afternoon—Thursday, November 19, from 3:00-4:30 p.m.—the Faculty Senate in partnership with the Provost’s Office will host Overcoming Challenges in Multimodal Teaching
, moderated by Senate Chair Matt Cordon
. I join Provost Nancy Brickhouse in encouraging your participation in a program that promises to bring practical help and encouragement as we wrap up the fall semester and think toward the spring semester.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689