Tag Archives: “Mount Mercy”

Sisters are Doing it for Themselves


 

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MMU President Laurie Hamen speaks about Sister Shari Sutherland Dec. 12, 2017, in atrium of Busse Library.

When you think of a Catholic nun, what picture comes to your mind? A “penguin outfit” and a strict disciplinarian like from “Blues Brothers?” Or is it something cute but out of place in the modern world like a sister from “Sister Act?”

aa01We had a reception today at Mount Mercy for a complex, intelligent woman who has left her mark on the university. Sister Shari Sutherland is retiring at the end of the year as VP of mission and ministry.

MMU President Laurie Hamen told a little story about Sr. Shari. The then newly minted leader of MMU was to travel with her to Omaha to be presented to a Sisters of Mercy leadership group, and thus got in a car with Sister Shari on a cold winter morning. As they started off, however, they saw someone dressed in scrubs out in the cold. Sister Shari directed Laurie to stop the car and asked, “Where are you going, friend?”

The stranger was headed to HyVee, but didn’t have any money. Sister Shari gave them some of her own, and someone got a ride to the grocery store before a new university president and nun left town.

Of course, when you think of the story, your heart is warmed by the goodness it displays. Then again, it’s also a story of quick decision making, taking risks, facing life with courage and swift action. How typical of a Sister.

I recently read an article that, sadly, as I wrote this I could not find again. But it was a reflection of how the Christian view of Mary, mother of Jesus, is sometimes flawed because we seem to think of her as meek and passive. But in the Gospel, when an angel comes to tell Mary she’ll have a baby, she doesn’t just say, “sure,” she first asks some pointed questions. And when she says “OK, God, we’ll do this,” she says it on her own, without consulting anybody. Sort of like a Sister.

Sisters are doing it for themselves. I’m not sure why Sister Shari’s retirement made me think of Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, but it did. And while I didn’t find the most recent article on Mary that I was thinking of, I did appreciate this similar essay by Father James Martin in Slate.

Sister Shari was an encouraging presence at MMU and also a force to be reckoned with. She has spunk, intelligence, humor and backbone. I felt honored that I rang with her when there was a bell choir and occasionally was blessed by her during Mercy Week ceremonies. She was an early supporter of the idea of a Fall Faculty Series, and one of the hidden movers and shakers that helped that effort take off.

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Photo from event celebrating Sister Shari’s 50th anniversary in Sisters of Mercy.

There was another theme at the retirement reception, too. It doesn’t end here. The mission of the Sisters of Mercy is carried on by those of us who attempt to understand the spirit of Mercy, and who work and teach at a Mercy University.

Sister Shari, you were part of the gas in the tank at MMU. Your smile and grace and humor and strength will be sorely missed. On the other hand, if the baton gets passed, the next runner must run. The university, like the dude, abides. And the best way to honor you Sister Shari, I suppose, is to keep the faith, light the fire, work the mission, teach the students and carry on.

Before that, however, let me pause and say thanks for the help you gave me and all of us at MMU in ways big and small.

And, also, a song that makes me think of both Mary and of you, Sister Shari:

 

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Pope Francis and His Call for “Mercyfying” Hearts


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Dr. Matthew Ashley, University of Notre Dame, speaks at Mount Mercy University’s Chapel of Mercy.

As Dr. Matthew Ashley, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, noted, Pope Francis, a man of peace, has done some violence to the language.

One of the Pope’s favorite words is “Mercy,” and he has called upon Christians to work for “Mercyfying” hearts. “It doesn’t work any better as a gerund in Spanish than it does in English,” Ashley said.

But the idea is important. Mercy, Ashley noted, can be sort of condescendingly granted, as when a professor grudgingly looks the other way when a student has a lame excuse for a late paper. He contrasts this with the way Jesus treated St. Peter.

“Peter was not the brightest bulb in the package,” Ashley said. “He made lots of mistakes.” But, he also accepted God with an open heart, and that gave him the steadfast faith that made Jesus declare him the rock on which the church would be built. The mercy extended to Peter included a call to action. “Jesus was ‘mercifying’ him,” Ashley said. The mercy was not condescending, but rather empowering. And our world desperately needs more such mercy.

“Mercy is probably the one word that characterizes Pope Francis’ papacy,” Ashley said. His presentation, “Pope Francis and the Message of Peace,” was Sept. 19, 2017, in the Chapel of Mercy. I think around 90 people attended the event, which was both the keynote speech for Mercy Week, which celebrates MMU’s Sisters of Mercy heritage, and was part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age.”

Ashley did take one minor, but well-paced, jab at President Trump, noting his threat to annihilate North Korea clearly falls outside of what Catholic teaching would call a “just war.”

The presentation was laced with quotes from Pope Francis, and it couldn’t have been a starker contrast between the leader of the Catholic Church and the President of the United States. Trump delights in cheap insults like “rocket man” while he dangerously plays with unthinkable violence. Pope Francis insists in seeing connections between violence between people and violence to the Earth and condemning violence in all its forms.

When Trump jokes, it is with inappropriate and violent memes. When Francis jokes, it makes you think.

Anyway, the speech tonight was the second one in the Chapel of Mercy for the fall series. One week ago, writer Tim Wise spoke on “The Great White Hoax: Racism, Divide-and-Conquer, and the Politics of Trumpism.” He speech, as well as being in the fall series, was part of English Program’s Visiting Writer series.

Wise said that Trump must be understood as fitting in to a long narrative in America, of the powerful invocation of ancient racial fears that have always infected our politics. He noted that in American politics, “nostalgia is a sacrament,” although the memory is often not clear.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Of the two speakers, Wise drew a much larger crowd and was much more animated. Still, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Ashley’s presentation tonight.

One thread that unites them, I suppose, is that both speeches are part of Mount Mercy’s ongoing mission to have provocative and revealing public conversations on matters that concern us all. That, to me, is vital to who we are, and a key reason we recently started having these fall series

Ashley concluded his speech by noting “the university” is a key institution that should help the culture by imagining and working towards “another possible world.”

Taken together, the two contrasting evenings felt like highlights of this fall’s series—but the series continues and there is plenty of good material yet to come. Stay tuned and check MMU’s web site—Dr. David Klope, associate professor of communication, is up next in the series on Monday.

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Sober Optimists Erected Government Guardrails


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Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science, speaks Aug. 29 at Mount Mercy.

The 2017 Fall Faculty Series is underway! Called “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age,” this year’s Mount Mercy University series started Tuesday night with an introductory presentation by Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science.

Barrett surveyed key points about our democratic republic—including that the founders were fairly sober about what they were doing. They recognized democracy is a fragile form of government, subject to the potential of internal divisions tearing the experiment apart.

So they introduced balanced powers between branches of government, and a complex federal system that balances interests between states.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

It is, Barrett noted, far from perfect. But perfection and the pursuit of the perfect ideal is dangerous in politics, which must be a messy business of give-and-take. So the United States was not so much designed to be the ideal, but rather to avoid the dangers of democracy. In effect, we were designed to be OK when we are divided. The founders aimed to put guardrails on our national political roadway.

“Democracy is fragile,” he noted. “Our government was designed to minimize the chance of bad outcomes.”

Of course, at various time in our history, we’ve come close to a bad outcome. A Civil War that consumed 600,000 lives (in a country of 30 million—imagine a war consuming 6 million lives today to be of the same scale) was one of those times.

And the Civil War is worth noting today, Barrett said, because our level of political division is again almost at that level.

A chilling thought, indeed. But he did offer some hope. The key, he said, is for us to commit to continued communication with those who disagree with us.

And he made, I think, an excellent point. We need people to express disagreement with us—whoever “we” are. Without vigorous opposition, any political viewpoint can become blind dogma whose rationale is forgotten. It is the need to defend our ideas in debate that keeps us in touch with the reasons why we have a particular point of view.

In that spirit, I thought the questions at the end were a highlight of the event. The start, I hope, of an ongoing, engaging conversation.

The series had an interesting start. Betty Cherry Heritage Hall was packed for the session—there were 72 chairs, and a handful of people standing in back, so the crowd was around 80 people. It was encouraging that they were a mix of young and old. I saw a high school senior I know there, along with many university students, faculty members and people from the community. There seemed to be a lot of elderly in the crowd—which, honestly, doesn’t surprise me too much, since I think older members of our citizenry are often the most politically engaged.

Maybe it takes a lifetime to learn that politics matters.

Anyway, I enjoyed the first session—and enjoyed seeing English Professor Dr. Joy Ochs start it off as the new series coordinator.

I hope you can join us for future sessions. I speak next week about “Fake News and the Free Press.” For more information see the MMU web site.

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Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


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My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

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Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.

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It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.

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At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.

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Hello, Goodbye—Ceremony Season at MMU


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Every party needs cake! I was hoping to time it so I got in line to grab a corner piece. I didn’t quite get the job done, but there was one corner left and Bill cut it for me. Way to go, Bill-Karen!

It was an afternoon of transitions, in each end of the spectrum.

Three long-time MMU professors retired this year, and their reception was held in the library. After that, the Mount Mercy Enactus team presented its report on the year in Flaherty Community Room.

I was going from the culminations of careers, to young people just about to embark on theirs. It’s getting close to the end of the semester, and more transitions are coming. It’s the season of starts and finishes, of beginnings and denouements.

We are watching as Ronald Feldt, psychology; Katryn Coulter, business; and Charlotte Martin, religious studies, move on. They are important faculty members—Ron a former faculty chair, and Charlotte and Kathryn who could sometimes help faculty chair’s hair turn grey. They will be missed.

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Of course there were speeches. I thought one of the best lines was from Kathryn, who noted she has no specific plans, but wants to do what she loves to do, which “isnt’ grading.”

Ron noted that one of his plans is spend time at Half Price Books “where all the cool people hang out.” Since we frequent that store with our grandchildren, I guess that makes it official. We’re cool.

Charlotte, a cat lover, noted that cats seem to spell done “D-U-N” and declared “make it D-U-N” at the end of her remarks.

“We’re not quite D-U-N yet,” noted Provost Dr. Jan Handler before giving gifts to the retirees and noting that after graduation they will be emeritus faculty members.

One of the nice things about this annual event is seeing all who come back to MMU—Will and Jay and David and John and Chuck and Bulane. It’s quite a party.

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And then, after the handshakes and cake, then came Enactus—scrubbed youth shining with pride as they report on service projects completed by the business club. It was another nice program, and the club did a lot this year.

So, best of luck to all team members at the national Enactus competition in Kansas City right after graduation. And best of luck to all emeritus professors—hope I see you again before next year’s reception.

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Series: What Makes the Muskrat Guard His Musk?


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The 2017 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy will be interesting for several reasons.

One is that it’s the first series that I won’t coordinate. That role is being taken over by Dr. Joy Ochs, current faculty chair. She’s already setting up planning meetings.

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Inscription near Rohde Family Plaza. Mercy words.

Another is that it has a theme that could lend itself to many interesting directions. The theme is “courageous compassion.”

It takes some guts to go where mercy is needed, I think. In troubled times, the courage to care is an important human attribute.

So, I’ll enjoy watching this series. Joy already claims I still have to attend all the events—something about covering the series with Facebook photos and my blog. I’ll do my best—in any case, it still won’t be as time consuming as series that I did coordinate.

I feel pretty good about passing on this baton. For one thing, I think it’s healthy for MMU’s faculty to have someone else lead this effort. It makes it less one man’s crazy idea and more of an institutional thing, a tradition that “we” do.

For another, I have lots of faith in Dr. Ochs. She’s going to push to make this an interesting, compelling, series. I’m excited to see what she and other faculty members come up with.

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The Bottom Line? It’s Complicated, but Good


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Dr. Amyan Amer, associate professor of economics at Mount Mercy University, speaking Nov. 15 on the economics of immigration.

So, is immigration a net plus or minus for our economy?

It depends on who you ask and what you’re asking about. There is no single, simple answer.

“It’s complicated,” said Dr. Ayman Amer, associate professor of economics, who spoke Nov. 15, 2016 as part of the Mount Mercy University series on immigration. “You can’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to what?”

Still, after an extensive analysis of the many winners and losers, both in the U.S.A. and other countries, I think Ayman reached a conclusion about this country.

“GDP is my proof,” he said near the end of the presentation. “Two hundred years of GDP growth.” The U.S.A. has become the richest nation in the world partly due to the dreams, desires, energies and aspirations of her immigrant peoples.

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Two faces in the audience.

And, Ayman said, it makes a big difference where you start and stop your analysis. For example, if you are talking about immigrants themselves, their net economic impact seems to be either a wash or slightly positive. There are many who benefit and many who do not—for example, because of how taxes work and what the different levels of government pay for, the immigration population is a net plus to the federal government, but a drag on the state and local fiscal picture.

That’s the tax question, not net economic impact. As Ayman said, most analysis seem to indicate that immigrants themselves don’t have a huge economic impact one way or another—but that’s ignoring an important reality.

image-of-logo-colorYou also need to consider the next generation. The children of immigrants are parented by driven, motivated people who came across the world to make a new home and a better life—for their children. Those children tend to inherit their parent’s drive to work hard and succeed—and that first American generation is more educated than their parents or the population as whole, less likely to use social services than their parents or the population as a whole.

If you expand the analysis beyond the immigrants themselves to that first American generation raised by immigrations, it’s much harder to argue that America isn’t much richer due to the “teeming masses” that have been welcomed to these shores.

I felt that Ayman gave a very careful, balanced analysis. But he finished with poetic lines that cre carved in the base of the Statue of Liberty and an image of that statue. It was a fitting way to end. The bottom line may be complicated, but I think it’s still accurate to say that the U.S.A. has greatly benefited, and continues to benefit, from immigration. They don’t come here to take our jobs, they come here to build lives, and that life-building process grows our economy, and our culture.

And that’s to our benefit. As we argue over the right balance in our immigration policies, that’s a key point to keep in mind.

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Dr. Amer answers questions–final slide was fitting, showed Statue of Liberty. He noted that immigration is more than an economics question, and is important from an ethical point of view. An immigration from Egypt himself, Dr. Ayman Amer is an example of how this country benefits from immigration.

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