Ben tells me that a few words of personal introduction are in order, both to introduce myself (since up to this point Iâ€™ve been a stranger to the blogosphere) and hopefully to contextualize some of what Iâ€™ll write over the next couple of weeks.
I should say at the outset that Iâ€™m quite pleased to be here. Iâ€™m particularly honored to be invited by Ben Huff, who has been a close friend during my seven years here in South Bend, Indiana. Those of you who read the virtual Ben Huff know his incisive mind and profound thoughtfulness about all things moral, ethical, and spiritual. Those of us who know him in person are blessed with his warmth, wit, laughter, loyalty, compassion, deep integrity, and friendship in its truest forms. He is one of the deepest and most endearing people I know. I was also fortunate to be in South Bend during Adam Greenwoodâ€™s all-too-brief (and all-too-full) three years here. We had many a late-night chat that often ended with me thinking that there is no one in this world who drives me crazier but also inspires and teaches me more than Adam. I probably just drove him crazy.
Notre Dame has been my home for several years now, first as a graduate student in American history and now as a guy with a Ph.D. who is hanging around trying to figure out what the rest of his life will look like. When I came here I said I would stay until the football team wins a national championship. I’m still here.
The best thing about South Bend has been meeting and marrying one Melissa De Leon. The first thing my mom said when I told her I was going to Notre Dame was, â€œNotre Dame? How are you going to find a good Mormon girl there?â€? It took a circuitous route, but the short answer is that Providence is alive and well, and it helped me immensely to be in a ward where there were very few other single men to vie for an attractive and accomplished womanâ€™s attention and ultimately affection. At the end of this month we celebrate our 18-month anniversaryâ€¦yes, weâ€™re still in the counting-months stage.
Professionally, I study race, religion, and violence. I donâ€™t think the question, â€œWhy canâ€™t we all just get along?â€? is as silly as it sounds. Like President Hinckley in his most recent address in priesthood session, I just have a hard time figuring out why people are so ugly to one another. Many people donâ€™t like studying violence because itâ€™s depressing. Peaceable by nature, I think Iâ€™m able to study racism, bigotry, and violenceâ€”the darkness in human historyâ€”because Iâ€™m quite confident in the power of the light of Christ to guide me, and us, back. I suppose Iâ€™m a bit naÃ¯ve.
Finally, when I was at the MHA conference a couple weeks ago, I looked around and thought to myself, â€œThis is where I belong. These are my people.â€? I always feel like a bit of an interloper in the broader academic world, not because anyone has told me I donâ€™t belong, but because Iâ€™m not always sure I want to fully belongâ€”but then again, perhaps it is only sanity to feel like a stranger in a strange land when the land is indeed strange. My experience is that most academics–even, or especially, the religious ones–think that Mormonism is ridiculous and that Mormons are fascinating. I take both as compliments (although it took me a while to sort out the first part). Iâ€™ve never had the seemingly requisite crisis of faith and/or identity, simply a series of rediscoveries of what Mormonism is that never cease to surprise, delight, and madden me, often in ways that I canâ€™t distinguish between the three.