Introducing Mark Sargent (and a pitch for the Liberal Arts – on 11.18.16)

When they said unto me, “Mark Sargent is coming,” I said unto myself, Nice.

Then they said unto me, “The entire Bible department is at a conference: you have to introduce him.”

But don’t we want one of them at this moment?
-Like Mark Cannister: “Humanities aaaaaaand Mark Sargent, reunited and it feels so good, aha ha ha ha ha…”
-or Sharon Ketcham: “Pastoral care IS imagination, right? So is relationship??? Right?”
-or Marv: ♫ “Hiney matov. Our Father Abraham traveled from Ur. Our speaker Mark Sargent traveled from… wherever…” (Canister: Aha ha ha ha ha…)
-or Ted Hildebrandt: “OK, ok, you guys!—you and Mark Sargent are so, really Imaginative—ok—I just know Jerusalem, ok?” (Canister: Ah! Aha ha ha ha ha…)

Well, they’re not here.
So.
Here’s mine.

For 16 years as provost at Gordon, Mark—hang on, when I was a student here I had no idea what a provost was: let me tell you it’s the chief academic officer, the person responsible for stuff that isn’t fundraising, student life or budget—so, stuff like curriculum, extra curricular programs, faculty, accreditation—OK?

—And Mark Sarg—hang on, when I was a student I had no clue what accreditation was: it’s the establishment of an insti-blah-blah just kidding.

So: Mark Sargent was our academic leader from The Year You Were Born to The Year You Got Your License. (And in The Year You Were Two, he hired me, which was good for me, but maybe not… so good… for you…)

I wouldn’t think it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a provost: all those constituencies to please, intellectuals so passionate about their bailiwicks, lots of moving parts—plenty of room for friction.

But Mark was good at negotiating all that.

—Probably because he was a literary guy. He himself had come into the academy in the humanities, as a literature prof, and like all lit profs he’d learned to value multiple perspectives, and to evaluate contending claims—and how to employ words “to their best advantage.”

And this served Gordon well: though always, at heart, a book lover, Mark here championed
-the sciences, backing green chemistry before it became the usual thing,
-and the social sciences, broadening the scope of The Center for Faith and Inquiry and JAF,
-and education, bolstering our graduate Education programs,
-and the fine arts, endorsing life drawing and medieval mystery plays and difficult films.

By all of which I mean: he was championing the Liberal Arts.

Speaking of film, early on, Mark launched the Provost’s Film Series here, and during his tenure he caused-to-be-shown more than 120 films, by my count, each preceded by some provocative prose of his (maybe provocative is the wrong word)—and then followed by some thought-provoking discussion. (For CL&W credit.)

When he left to be Westmont’s Provost in his home state, I realized that he’d also done a ton of writing here—not just scholarly articles, but personalized pieces, to introduce new faculty, or roast departing ones, to offer congratulations on new babies or birthdays or anniversaries or attained degrees, to celebrate excellent teaching, and to memorialize the passing of dear colleagues.

Often, a friend of mine was heard to say, “Mark Sargent always writes things we wish we could have written.” Too true. Come to think of it, I wish he had written this introduction.

And now I’m nearly done with mine, except to add this: that I came to rely on the integrity with which he did his job—and to admire his “seemingly effortless artfulness, and playfulness,” to quote another colleague.

Earlier, I was hyperbolizing about great literature being one secret to his success. Hey now: great literature (and film) does train the imagination, strengthen the moral imagination, and thereby help us work out, with God’s guidance, a life that is worth leading.

Today I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear speak to us on “Lives of Imagination” than Dr. Mark Sargent. Please join me in welcoming him back to Gordon.

-Thanks JL for the artwork.

Toast for Norm & Jean

I first met Norm Jones in 1985 when I was two years old.
Could I have the PowerPoint, please?—thanks.

As you can see, he was heavily bearded with a thick—oh, no PowerPoint? Well, here he is, use him as a visual aid—he was heavily bearded, with a thick black beard.

At that time he was directing a Gordon production of “Mornings at Seven Old People Played by Kids in Heavy Makeup”—for which he single-handedly built a set that was the home of Marvin Wilson during the entire run.
Exaggerating.
He used two hands—please…

“Marv” is an “OT” “prof” who thought the theatre was a “lecture hall”—and who enjoyed sweeping up Norm’s sawdust before class. “He Ne Ma Tov…”

Anyway, what really counts is that Norm had a full beard in 2nd grade, and a full moustache in 3rd —as saints of old and Norm himself have often told.
Not bragging exactly…

In the first play we worked on together, a three-hander, he played a drunk criminal but who hugged boys. What a stretch.
At the end of the play, Norm’s character staggered in and died onstage. [pause]
So, here’s to you, Norm+Jean!…

Kidding. It was a daunting death scene to rehearse. During one run-thru, when we got to that scene, it was just too much… So as he said his lines, Norm began taking masking tape—and putting it on his face.

Here’s how it went:
Norm: “What happened?” *puts tape on face* “I hear women crying.” *tape* “Everyone’s tiptoeing around.” *tape*

And so my buddy Philip and I grabbed rolls (the set was built completely of masking tape) —and we began:

One of Us: “Pop, Sonny’s dead.” *tape*

Norm: [exhale] “Wh*en?”

One of Us: “This morning.” *tape* “Tataglia got him at the toll booth.”*tape*

All through the heartrending scene we were *donning* masking tape masks.

Norm: *tape* “I want you to use all your power, and all your skill…”*tape*

And by the time Norm died he had a fantastically grotesque Death Mask, so complete that he could barely talk.

Norm (with real difficulty): “I know a dead-end kid*tape* …when I see one.” *ta…* [dead]

One of Us: “Now cracks a noble heart.” *tape* —ostensibly weeping, but only just, JUST managing not to shriek into laughter.

Which turned a run-of-the-mill-thru into a gem, to carry for as long as we have pockets, with a luminescence to navigate by.

And that’s a thing we love about Norm, his savoring of things and meals and moments—and not them only, but also the qualities of people, and their quirks, and their little excellences.

Here I speak for many of Norm’s students and friends who have found their love of songs or words or play bolstered by his own, and who found his relishing of their strengths winsome and irresistible. Many of us have taken courage from his example and his encouraging us, and have dared into careers in the poorly-paying arts.

“Savoring” is another word for “loving”—and today we all savor the fact that he’s met a love to answer and equal his own. Jean, we needn’t have traveled with you to London and Edinburgh to know that you, too, are one who pauses to appreciate a shawl on a shoulder, or a certain light on a spoon or castle spire: your paintings show us, for one.

Norm loves that about you; you are his heart’s delight, his pearl of infinite price, with a luminescence to navigate by.

-Here’s to Norm and Jean, nine years wed this month (January, 2016).