Dr. Mary Poplin: From Claremont to Calcutta and Back

Well good afternoon everybody. This is Mr. You’ve Got a Friend in Me, Dick Staub, thanking you for joining me on this fine, beautiful day. Well, our next guest is a professor of education, she is Dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University, which is a very, very prestigious, renowned, elite university. And in her own telling of it in the materials that I was advanced, after years of searching the “spiritual net,” she became a Christian in 1993, and is a person who now seeks to integrate her faith in all of life including her work, including a trip that she took to Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity in 1996. We’re going to look forward to a very interesting conversation of the journey of Dr. Mary Poplin.

Q. And it’s wonderful to have you with us.
A. Thank you, it’s good to be here.

Q. And a small world. I was telling you that Stan Mattson had told me about you just about probably six to eight weeks ago.
A. Yes, that’s right.

Q. And the next thing you know, here you are.
A. Yeah.

Q. Talk about your background, the home in which you were raised, kind of as a kid. What was the religious tabloid?
A. All right. I was raised in Wichita Falls, Texas. We went to the Presbyterian, the Methodist church actually there. And I-I’m not sure I really heard the gospel. Mostly we went to Sunday school. My dad always made sure that we went to Sunday school. But about the age of 16 or so I found church very boring. I stopped going.

Q. Really.
A. Yeah. And pretty much walked away from Christianity for a long time after that.

Q. Now, were there friends of yours that were kind of devout and wondering what’s wrong with you? Or was there an active youth group and you weren’t really that engaged?
A. No. The church didn’t have a very active youth group and, actually, I didn’t have very many friends. In fact, I can’t think of anybody who was really what I’d call devout.

Q. Yeah, which is interesting because when people think of Texas ¢€œ
A. Uh-huh.

Q. ¢€œ they think, well, everybody there is kind of culturally Christian.
A. Right.

Q. And-and really pretty hyped up about it from time to time.
A. I think that’s true in a lot of parts of Texas, but it wasn’t in my house.

Q. Okay. So now at 16 you kind of walk away from it. You’re not that interested. You find it boring.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. And what happens next in your journey?
A. Well, then I go to college and I go to graduate school and I never really think about it except that I begin to be intrigued by other spiritual kinds of things. I remember in graduate school I tried Transcendental Meditation. I’d gotten involved in the Feminist Movement even in Wichita Falls. I’d gotten involved in the anti-war movement. I then got involved in Transcendental Meditation in graduate school.

Q. Now, what years would this have been?
A. This would have been about ’70¢â‚¬¦ I went to college in ’69, started the summer of ’69 to ’71 or so. Went to graduate school from ’75 to ’78.

Q. Okay. So-so you’re right there at kind of the front edge of the Feminist Movement.
A. Right.

Q. What was feminism like when you were engaging it? What attracted you to it?
A. Um, I think I liked some¢â‚¬¦ I had a friend who was involved in it.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I sort of hung out with her. And you know, we did strange things like protests that Mr. Benson was going to speak in Wichita Falls, and Senator Benson, that he wasn’t going to speak to women. You know, things like that.

Q. Okay.
A. It was exciting. I think in some ways my life was involved in getting out of boredom, kind of an escape from boredom.

Q. Yeah, okay.
A. So that was one.

Q. Now what was it that attracted you to the educational track, to being an educator, to studying education?
A. Uh-huh. I think I always wanted to be a teacher. Even as a kid we used to play school at my house. My mother had been a teacher. My dad sort of¢â‚¬¦ My dad and my mom had sort of decided we were all four, we’re all girls, were going to go to college and become teachers, and pretty much we did that track for a little while anyway.

Q. Now, you ended up doing work in special ed.
A. I did. I worked with the handicapped.

Q. And what was it that attracted you to that?
A. Um, in high school I helped a blind student and a deaf student. And I was attracted to that. And I became part of an organization at that time called Teens Aid the Retarded. And we used to have parties for adult mentally retarded people who lived at the state institution. And I don’t know, I just was attracted to it.

Q. Has it been fair to say then that you were kind of a tender-hearted person?
A. I guess so. I don’t think of myself that way, but I think other people do sometimes.

Q. Really. Yeah, okay. Because I’ve done¢â‚¬¦ I have a brother who had, was born with brain damage ¢€œ or it happened when he was born ¢€œ and has cerebral palsy. And my experience in that arena is that most people are there and involved either because they’ve been personally touched by it or because they do have a certain kind of caring spirit and-and determined spirit to help the¢â‚¬¦ Maybe it’s driven by a sense of justice, or a desire for equality, or whatever it is, but they tend to be pretty motivated emotionally around something.
A. Yeah, right. I guess the reason I don’t say that is I have a lot of friends who are more like feeling-type people and I’m more of a thinking-type person.

Q. Yeah.
A. But yeah, I usually think about these issues of justice.

Q. So you go to graduate school in education and you’re heading down this academic track now.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. And is this satisfying?
A. It is. I enjoyed it. I never thought I would end up in the university, teaching in the university. No, I had just gone for a Master’s degree at the University of Texas.

Q. Okay.
A. And the professor said, Why don’t you stay on for your Ph.D.? And I said, Sure, why not?

Q. So you became a feminist because you had a friend.
A. Yeah.

Q. You became a Ph.D. because somebody said, Why don’t you do it? You’re a thinking person, but you’re surrounded by people who are thinking things through for you and telling you what you ought to do next. So you get in the doctoral program, and do you find this engaging? Is this not boring?
A. No, it was not boring. It was very interesting. And there were people from different places, people who have different ideas. We had a pretty fun little group of graduate students.

Q. Now, do you begin now to have a kind of a self-identification of yourself as potentially an academic?
A. Yes.

Q. Somebody that’s going to work theoretically and try to do practical application of theory, but nevertheless you’re getting into this groove now.
A. Right.

Q. You can see that as a path and as a track.
A. I can see it as a path and a track.

Q. Okay. So what happens after you get your Ph.D.?
A. I briefly taught at the University of Kansas, and then I was in a special education department ¢€œ and here comes the boredom thing again ¢€œ I was in a¢â‚¬¦ I was getting bored in special education because I was in a large faculty in special education and it was like we were not doing anything new.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I saw this position open at Claremont where they were looking for a special educator, but none of the other people were special educators.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I thought, well that would be exciting.

Q. Yeah. You’d be kind of unique and different. And bring something to it.
A. Yeah. And also I would hear other people talk. You know, when you go to lunch you’re not talking about special ed, you’re talking about other things.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay.
A. And I was attracted by that.

Q. And what year was that?
A. That was 1981.

Q. 1981. And what was Claremont like intellectually/culturally at that time?
A. They had never tenured a woman.

Q. Yeah.
A. That was interesting. And it was-it was very invigorating intellectually. I mean, Claremont is a place that ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ you know, has a lot of things going on. And the faculty is small enough that you don’t just talk to educators, you¢â‚¬¦ We had what we called a faculty lunch table. And I would sit there and there’d be English professors, political science professors, and it was very¢â‚¬¦ It broadened my world tremendously.

Q. Now, you’ve experimented with Transcendental Meditation as a student.
A. Right.

Q. Had anything been going on during your kind of on-going academic preparation up to Claremont? Or¢â‚¬¦
A. No. When I got to Claremont, though, California is full of spiritual options.

Q. It’s a veritable smorgasbord is available.
A. It is, it is.

Q. Yeah.
A. So then I got involved some with the Zen Buddhism, feminist theology.

I’ll tell you what. We’re going to pick up there when we come back. If you’re just joining us we’re visiting with Dr. Mary Poplin. She is Professor of Education and Dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont University, and a person who describes herself as having had a radical conversion. And in a minute we’ll find out how Zen Buddhism and feminist ideology end up moving somebody closer to Jesus. It’s an interesting journey. Dr. Mary Poplin is our guest. We’ll be back with more right after this. Don’t go away.


Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. Mary Poplin. Where we left off, she had transported herself from Texas to southern California, to Claremont, where she described the religious environment, the spiritual environment of southern California as offering virtually every possibility, and more.

Q. And starting a new position, starting a new venture in her life in a lot of ways, and spirituality becomes one of them.
A. Right.

Q. Now, how does that even become one of them? Why is it that you got a new job, you got a new challenge ¢€œ
A. Right.

Q. ¢€œ you’re in an invigorating place. What’s going on in-in-in Mary Poplin that she’s feeling that she’s looking for something? How would you describe what was going on inside of you at the time?
A. Well, I think there was¢â‚¬¦ I think, in retrospect, although I didn’t know it at the time, there was a lot of kind of emptiness. There was a hole somewhere that wasn’t filled.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And I was doing pretty well intellectually, but it wasn’t enough or something.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so, you know, I was searching. You know, I even went to like the engineers that would have sessions where they would bend spoons with their mind. I mean, I was really pretty far out there.

Q. Really, okay.
A. And I was increasingly depressed as an individual. I suffered with depression.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And I seemed to be able to hold the academic side together, but personally I just wasn’t¢â‚¬¦

Q. Really.
A. I knew something was missing.

Q. Yeah. Now, what was it at that point that was off-putting about Christianity? In other words, you had been raised in a Christian home, and now you’re out doing Zen and going to see if you can bend spoons through mental telepathy. And you’re into, you know, kind of anything except what was familiar and what you knew. What was it about Christianity that was a non-starter for you, in your mind, at least?
A. In my mind. In my mind I had accepted what I had been told by the university, that Christianity was oppressive. You know, I was working in the area of liberation, you know, education of the poor, education of people of color, and so I just accepted that what I’d been told. Christianity was terrible for women. You know, it never occurred to me to actually like look around the world and see where women were the freest and note that, gee, those were countries that were dominated by Christianity. But I didn’t think that way.

Q. How pervasive was that anti-Christian bias in your education as you were going through the system?
A. I’d say, I would say in probably 50 percent of my education people would say negative things about Christianity.

Q. Were people ever saying positive things? Or were¢â‚¬¦
A. No. I never heard¢â‚¬¦ I never had a professor who said anything positive.

Q. Because you and I were both at the C.S. Lewis event in Cal-Berkeley and the issue was religious expression. And the perception that you got is that you’re pretty free to express virtually anything except a kind of Judeo-Christian worldview.
A. Exactly.

Q. So you kind of bought the line. What is it that makes you¢â‚¬¦ Well, what happens that moves you towards a different and more compelling view of Christianity?
A. Okay. I think one of the main things is I had a graduate student who I knew lived his life differently. And he is Native American. And, first of all, he prayed for me for eight years. And he would kind of keep in touch. And he would say irritating things like, If you ever want to do anything with your spiritual life, I’d like to help you. That was irritating because I thought I was doing plenty with my spiritual life. You know, I was bending spoons.

Q. I’m bending spoons and stuff. I mean, what do you want?
A. Exactly. What more?

Q. Does it get any more meaningful than this?
A. And the other thing, and the more distressing thing, is he would ask me questions like, Do you believe in evil? And I would realize that I couldn’t answer the question consistently.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. Now, since I was moving rapidly toward post-modernism, you know, I could sort of get rid of that problem because, you know, just choose your language community. One day you believe in evil and the next minute you don’t. But then he would ask really irritating questions. If I said I didn’t believe in evil he would say things like, Well, was Hitler evil?

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And you know, things that bothered me intellectually. Then he had worked at our university on a sabbatical he had. He was now a professor, and for a year. And when he left I had a dream actually. I was still, you know, felt kind of empty and confused. And in the dream I’m in a long line of people suspended in a night air. We’re all in the same gray robes. I can’t see the beginning of the line because it’s snaking around so long. I can’t even see the end of the line, it just kind of disappears. But that’s how long¢â‚¬¦ The line just seemed eternal on both ends. And all of a sudden I realized ¢€œ and we’re not talking to each other, we’re just in single file ¢€œ I realized that off to my right there’s something going on. And I look and it’s just like Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. It’s in color, which I’ve never before had a dream in color. And it is¢â‚¬¦ But the difference is it’s live. They’re still sitting out, like I’m sure they didn’t sit in the Last Supper, but they’re sitting out facing us. But Jesus is not at the table with them. He’s standing greeting us in line. And when I looked at Jesus I knew who he¢â‚¬¦ I mean, I knew immediately what I was seeing. And I couldn’t even look at him, but for a second. I knelt¢â‚¬¦ I fell down to his feet and started weeping. And the only way I can describe the feeling I had in the dream is that I could sense every cell in my body and I felt shame. Just total shame in every cell in my body. So in the dream then he grabs my shoulders and I feel total peace, like I had never felt before in my life. And then I woke up and I was actually physically crying. So I go to the phone and I call this gentleman, and I say ¢€œ and I did not know, he had never told me he was a Christian¢â‚¬¦

Q. Really.
A. Never. And that was good.

Q. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
A. Because I probably wouldn’t have called him. But anyway, I called him and said, I think I need to talk to you about my spiritual life. And he said ¢€œ he lives in San Diego and I’m in Los Angeles ¢€œ he said, Well, let’s meet for dinner. He named a restaurant in Dana Point, in between the cities, and we met there. And he said to me, Why do you think you have to do something with your spiritual life now? And out of my mouth came something I’d never thought about. I said to him, I have some black thing in my chest.

Q. Wow.
A. And I don’t know what it is. And he just nodded. I had told him the dream. I said, What do I do? And he said, Well, do you have a Bible? And I said, Well, no. I don’t think so. I had one when I was a kid, but I don’t know where it is. And he said¢â‚¬¦ Well anyway, he made sure I had one before we split up that night. And I¢â‚¬¦ He said to me, Well, you could read five Psalms a day and one book of Proverbs. And I thought, well okay, I’m going to do it. I mean, I’m really going to do this this time. And then he said casually, after we had bought the Bible and we’re getting into our individual cars, he said, And since Jesus was the one in your dream, you might even read the New Testament. And that’s how casual he was about that.

Q. Hm.
A. So then I began to read them and we began to meet in a town in between our cities for breakfast or something about once a week. And he would say, How’s the reading going? And I would always say the same thing, I would say, I hate the Psalms but I love the Proverbs.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And I was reading the New Testament a little bit. And he’d say, Well, why do you hate the Psalms? And I said, Because David’s always telling God to kill his enemies.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And dash their children to stones, and that’s not a nice thing. So he would just nod and he would just say, Well, can you keep reading them? And I said, Yes. And then along about¢â‚¬¦ Okay, that was November, November to January. And then in January my mother wanted to go to North Carolina to where she had grown up. And we went to this little church, Methodist church, not because she was religious, she just wanted to see her friends. And we got there and I was really moved to just go up to the altar and give my life to the Lord.

Well, I’ll tell you what. We’re going to pick up right there when we come back. A good time and a not so good time to stop the story, but we’ll hear more of Dr. Mary Poplin’s journey right after this. It’s an amazing story. She’s Professor of Education, Dean of School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Stay there, we’ll be right back.


Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And we’re talking with Dr. Mary Poplin. She’s the Dean at the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. She, kind of raised in a nominally Methodist home as a kid, got bored with the whole religious thing at 16, headed off on an educational path in which a good deal of negativity was conveyed about Christianity, oppressor of women, uncaring for the poor, the basic cause of the world’s problem-type thinking, which she was accepting but still finding something missing in her life, which took her off in little adventures in Zen Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation and spoon bending, and virtually anything other than like actually pursuing Jesus. But it turns out that Jesus was pursuing her, and showed up in a dream at the Last Supper and greeted her as a guest and she felt shame. She’d had a friend, a Native American, who’d been talking to her and saying things like, If you ever want to talk about your spiritual life, let me know, but had never let on that he was a Christian. And even after Mary told him the story, didn’t say that he was a Christian, didn’t lead her in a prayer, didn’t pull out a four-laws booklet. He basically told her to start reading the Bible, including the gospels.

Q. And now you show up in church with your mom ¢€œ
A. Yes.

Q. ¢€œ which she wanted to do just for social reasons. And now her daughter, who ought to know better, has-has gone forward to receive Christ. What was that day like? And how did it make a difference?
A. It wasn’t even an altar call. You know, the Methodists don’t really do altar calls.

Q. Yeah.
A. So it was a communion call.

Q. Yeah.
A. And the guy said, you know, you don’t have to be a member of the church to take communion, you don’t have to be a member of any church. You just have to believe that Jesus Christ lived, that he died for your sins, and you have to want him in your life. And when he said that, I was just so powerfully moved that I actually mentally thought, even if a tornado rips through this building, I’m going to get that communion.

Q. Really.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. I want him in my life ¢€œ
A. Yeah.

Q. ¢€œ is what you were saying.
A. Yeah, that was it. And when I got to the altar¢â‚¬¦

Q. Had you taken communion since high school?
A. No. And when I got to the altar, you know, I had never seen really an altar call so I didn’t, this was just kind of wonder-aged, so I took the communion and I didn’t even listen to the guy. All I did was I knelt down and I said, Please come and get me. Please come and get me. Please come and get me. And when I took the communion and I said that, I felt free. I felt like tons of things had been lifted off of me. And I began to have an insatiable desire to read the Bible.

Q. Wow.
A. And then not long after that I was involved in an incident that you could only say displayed evil. And that night when I opened up the Psalms, I understood. It was just like I had immediate revelation. It was almost like scales falling from your eyes?

Q. Wow.
A. I understood that evil existed, I had no question about it, and I understood that it was in me.

Q. You’re really describing as a person who’s intellectually oriented and intellectually rigorous, who-who finds that the truth comes in a back door. And that is really what happened to C.S. Lewis, too. I mean, C.S. Lewis was rigorously intellectual, but then was surprised by joy.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. I mean, something happened to him. And there’s that kind of interesting mix, holistic mix in Jesus of mind and heart and soul ¢€œ
A. Exactly.

Q. ¢€œ and the whole person.
A. Exactly.

Q. And it all began to get engaged.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. So now, when do you come out of the closet to people that-that you’ve made this decision? I mean, at Claremont, I mean, this is like-this is like a really big deal.
A. Yeah, really. Yeah, I always tell people I was Rahab at Claremont and they loved me, and now I’m the leper at the country club. I mean, you know, if you’re going to become anything at the university you should become Buddhist, if you want to be popular.

Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. Well, I started going to things. I went to a Benedictine monastery and I begin to hear them talk about Jesus so informally, and it really bothered me. I couldn’t even say his name at first hardly.

Q. Yeah.
A. But fortunately, I had a sabbatical coming up. So that August I left. And I had a year-long sabbatical because I had done administration.

Q. And this is when you went to¢â‚¬¦
A. No, I went to Mother Teresa’s like a couple years later at another sabbatical that I had saved up.

Q. Okay.
A. But because I had done administration. So during that sabbatical I just, the Lord just¢â‚¬¦ I lived in Texas, where I’d gone to graduate school in Austin. So people just came to me. The Lord just sent people who were Catholics, people who were Baptists, Episcopals, Fundamentalists, anybody. But the one thing they did all have in common, Pentecostals, they all believed the Bible. And I had this insatiable desire to read and understand it, so I read it and read it and read it, and I’d listen to it as I walked around the lake there. And then I was led at the end, toward the end of the sabbatical to copy the New Testament, the Psalms and Proverbs. This is¢â‚¬¦ And I believe I know why. There’s this passage in Romans 1 that says that people who, that God is obvious to everyone and people who deny him, their foolish mind becomes darkened. And though they think themselves wise they’re actually foolish. That was me. That is the perfect scripture to describe me. But the scriptures began to heal my mind so I could actually think again.

Q. So they had you copy them out longhand?
A. Yeah. Nobody told me to do it. I mean, I believe the Lord had me do it.

Q. You just started doing it.
A. Yeah. I started doing it ¢€œ

Q. Wow.
A. ¢€œ and I just copied it every day for eight months until I was done. Thank goodness it wasn’t the Old Testament, I guess.

Q. Amazing.
A. I’d still be doing it.

Q. So you did the whole¢â‚¬¦
A. The whole New Testament and the Psalms and Proverbs. And I could honestly, I could feel things in my mind changing.

Q. Have you seen the movie Luther?
A. No, not yet.

Q. There’s this interesting thing where Martin Luther is doing his translation into German and he has this experience where, as he’s writing things, he’s having this whole different understanding.
A. Wow.

Q. That just in the process of going verse by verse.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. Now, at what¢â‚¬¦ There’s a lot of story here and we’re going to run out of time so I want to get a few more things here. When did the Native American tell you that he was a Christian?
A. Dear… I began to realize he was a Christian because when I started talking about Jesus he could actually talk, he would also say that. But actually I don’t know if he’s ever just said to me, I’m a Christian.

Q. He’s an interesting study. I would love to come back to him some time. But now, how did you end up at Mother Teresa’s, and how did that radicalize you?
A. Okay. I saw a film in this monastery of Mother Teresa’s. And she said her work wasn’t social work, it was religious work. And I knew my work was social work.

Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, basically. And I just kept feeling I had to know this, I had to intellectually understand the difference.

Q. Yes.
A. And the only way I could do that is to work there.

Q. Okay.
A. So I wrote her a letter, had a sabbatical coming up. Said, Can I come? She said, Yes. So I went there and worked for a little over two months. And I would work from 5:30 in the morning, where we started with mass, ¢â‚¬Ëœtil about 1:00 in the afternoon. I worked primarily with sick babies.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then I would go to the room I rented in the afternoon and I would study the scriptures and I would try to figure out, you know, what’s going on here.

Q. Yeah.
A. Well, I hadn’t realized how radicalized I had become until I went back to the university after that experience. And I would begin to prepare my classes to teach in September and I would start to weep. I would just start to automatically weep. And I’m not a weeper, I’m not really an emotional kind of person. And I wouldn’t even have an emotion about it. It’s very strange to describe, but I would just start to weep. As I would prepare for class I’d get myself together, go to class, things would be fine. Next time I tried to do class it would be the same way. That happened for about two months, through September/October. Then I was invited to speak at a school administrator’s meeting up north. And that’s when¢â‚¬¦ The women’s school administrators invited me to speak about Mother Teresa at a breakfast. And I got up and I made my talk about my experience at Mother Teresa’s. And a woman in the back stood up during the question and answer session and said, Did you have any trouble coming back from Mother Teresa’s? And I started to weep again.

We’re going to pick up there with some concluding comments. Here’s some good news, though. She actually is writing a book about this. So we don’t know what the title is going to be yet, but I’ll keep you posted because when it comes out, it’s going to be-it’s going to be a must-read. It was¢â‚¬¦ There was a working title, Meaning and Mysteries, Learning from the Life of Mother Teresa, but it’s heading some other direction now. But we’ll keep you posted. Our guest is Dr. Mary Poplin. She’s Dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We’ll be right back. Stay there.


What an amazing story we’re hearing, Dr. Mary Poplin. You know, when Jesus does something in our life he really wants to do it completely and radically. And-and it’s about leaving comfort zones. You know, C.S. Lewis said, If I wanted comfort I could get that in a bottle of Port. If you want comfort, you don’t go to Jesus, because that’s not the place to go for comfort because he’s going to take you places you didn’t plan on going. And for Mary Poplin, one of the places she didn’t plan on going was weeping in front of a group of academics.

Q. Yeah. But what is happening really? What was really going on in all that?
A. At that moment the Lord showed me. And because I was so stunned that he finally showed me why I was weeping, I just blurted it out in front of this group.

Q. Yeah. And what did you say?
A. And I said, You know, I have now seen radical, or the real Christianity lived. I know what it is. I totally believe it. And now, when I go to prepare my class I know that I’m teaching something else. And I feel like a liar.

Q. Wow.
A. Yeah. So when I realized what it was there was a sense of relief.

Q. Feel like a liar how?
A. Because I was teaching only secular theories and I wasn’t-I wasn’t telling the students what I would call the whole truth about poverty, about how you work with the, you know, about Christ. About, you know¢â‚¬¦ Christianity is the most challenging¢â‚¬¦ I mean, if I just talk about it intellectually, it’s the most challenging thing there is. And yet it has no place at the intellectual table. And so I began to struggle, okay, I had prayed to the Lord to take me out of Claremont. He hadn’t done it. And I needed to learn how to stay there. I needed to learn how to integrate¢â‚¬¦

Q. Wow. How would you describe some of what you’re learning about staying there, about-about how you do this integrative work?
A. Uh-huh. There’s multiple levels of it, but I would say the first thing that I started to do as¢â‚¬¦ Well, initially my first response was to think that all secular theories were false. And they’re not.

Q. Right.
A. They’re only partially false. Because evil cannot create anything, so evil can’t create a philosophy.

Q. Right.
A. And it wouldn’t stand if it were all false.

Q. Right.
A. So what I began to do is to try, is to actually develop a class, this was just an optional class that students can take on Judeo-Christian thought and education, and we’d take a philosophy or theory that’s impacted education and we’d line out its principles, and then we’d line out the scripture that either matches or doesn’t match with it ¢€œ

Q. Hm, interesting.
A. ¢€œ so we can see where it works and where it doesn’t work. So that was one place. The other place is I began to try to take the intellectual problems that I care about, like the education of poverty, and think of how Jesus, what would the mind of Christ, how would Jesus have approached this issue in terms of what’s going on here? Why is it¢â‚¬¦ Why are we making no progress here?

Q. Yeah.
A. So I took, for example¢â‚¬¦ Do you want me to go on with the example?

Q. Sure, please.
A. The example of the poor in education. And I began to realize that in the university we were doing all these social justice things, often Marxist critical theory kinds of things, and I was teaching that. I had been for probably ten years. And but we weren’t making really any progress with the poor. They were still not learning to read, not learning to do mathematics, they weren’t getting into better jobs. And then you have the public policy makers who are all doing accountability things. You know, testing and things like that. The accountability people don’t talk about social justice, the social justice people totally reject the accountability movement. And then I began to realize that that’s exactly what the Lord has always told us would happen. That this was a manifestation of how evil works to keep human beings from making progress in areas like this. And then I began to notice that year as I read the scriptures, that eight times in the scriptures we’re told to turn neither to the left nor the right.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And you could actually classify those two issues, accountability and social justice, as left and right kinds of things.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. And so what happens is you get¢â‚¬¦ Powers and principalities cause people to battle between social justice and accountability, when in reality we will never make any progress towards social justice until we combine those two things. And so that’s sort of my new, you know, intellectual task is to try to get that done.

Q. And how is that being received within the academic community? First of all, by peers?
A. Uh-huh. Well, our program has decided to make a stand there. I mean, we have decided to do that. But in general, in the university it’s not well-received because they don’t really want to deal with issues of accountability in any serious way. You know, university faculty tend to be rebellious, myself included. And so we¢â‚¬¦ It’s not well-received in the university right now. In fact, if¢â‚¬¦ I just went to a conference in Washington DC, and it’s for the accountability movement. I mean, you could probably have put all the university professors around a small table. And they were all, most of the people there, I’d say 70 percent of them were educators of color from the schools who know that all the things we’ve done haven’t worked.

Q. Wow. How is this change in your life being received by students?
A. Actually, the students are pretty interesting. Students are curious intellectually. They tend to be fairly open. None of the courses at Claremont are required, so no one has to be in my class.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. Certainly they know, it’s pretty well-known I’m a Christian. There was a little¢â‚¬¦ There was a huge revolt when I first took over the directorship of the teacher-ed program again after having not done it for five years. And we even had to have plain-clothes security guards. And about half-way through the revolt the ringleader said, We hate this Christian stuff. And I said, What Christian stuff? Because I had not made anybody ¢€œ I mean, I wasn’t even teaching the group, I was directing the program. And I’d not had anybody read anything Christian. And I said, What Christian stuff? And she couldn’t answer. And at that point some of the other students in the room kind of got the idea. And a young African American woman just took up for me and said, I’m not putting up with this anymore. I see where you’re coming from. And the whole place broke up after that.

Q. Wow. So-so what are you learning about the nature of your calling as you understand it right now?
A. Okay. Several levels. I mean, personally, I really need to understand the mind of Christ and how it works. And that I’ve got to get through scripture, I think. I mean, I believe that it is revealed in scripture. The struggle is to bring the Christian worldview back to the intellectual table. That’s really what it is all about. Like the conference we were at at Berkeley. Christians don’t have a place at the intellectual table. If you say something about a Christian response or a Christian construct about an issue in the university, you can just feel the walls go up and just, you know, ice in the room.

Q. Yeah.
A. That does not happen with any other worldview.

Q. Idea. Yeah, yeah.
A. No, not any other ideology. So that is¢â‚¬¦ And it’s dangerous. I mean, even intellectually I think it’s dangerous for a country or a group of intellectual institutions like universities to actually say, There is one worldview we’re not going to deal with.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. It just diminishes the whole thing. And I think it’s why we’re not making a lot of progress. And then on the other hand, you know, I think a lot of Christian colleges aren’t doing it either. You know, they have chapel and then they have maybe a required Bible class.

Q. Non-integrated.
A. Yeah. But it doesn’t go into the science class or the history class or anything else.

Q. Right. Right, right, right.
A. I think we’ve got to integrate it.

Q. So you’re feeling the level of calling around being involved in that kind of work.
A. Exactly. Mother Teresa used to say, You have to find your own Calcutta. And you know, when I came back and I had had this crisis of starting to weep when I put the classes together I thought, well, there it goes. I found my own Calcutta.

Q. Man. Claremont, My Calcutta. That’s the title of the book. I see it. Claremont is my Calcutta. That’s probably not going to go over real well at Claremont, but¢â‚¬¦

Folks, we’ve just scratched the surface of an amazing journey. Dr. Mary Poplin has been our guest. She’s the Dean of the School of Educational Studies, Claremont Graduate University. She wouldn’t mind at all if right ever, wherever you are right now, you just stopped and said a word of prayer for her because she’s engaged in important stuff and she is not going to do it alone. And we’re community and she’s part of our community. We’re going to be back with more of The Dick Staub Show coming up right after this. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in December 8, 2003 by | No Comments »

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