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Longo Lecture Features Speaker Marilyn McEntyre

Emily Mathe, February 22, 2016
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The 2016 Frank A. and Florine A. Longo Lecture featured celebrated writer and professor Dr. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. Author of over a dozen books, McEntyre teaches medical humanities at UC Davis and the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, and is a frequent lecturer on issues of medicine and literature.

On February 18 PUC’s Scales Chapel filled with students, faculty, and community members eager to hear McEntyre’s presentation. The program began with a special tribute to Dr. Lawrence Longo, PUC alum and sponsor of the lecture series, who passed away on January 5, 2016, in Loma Linda, California. Dr. Longo was a distinguished professor of Physiology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Loma Linda University. PUC President Dr. Heather J. Knight spoke about Dr. Longo’s legacy as a researcher, mentor, teacher, missionary, innovator, and medical historian.

Dr. Longo’s nephew, Kevin Longo, spoke briefly about his uncle and expressed his appreciation of how Dr. Longo’s accomplishments and his status as a distinguished alumnus continues to be honored at PUC. “Writing and being inquisitive were what he was about,” Kevin Longo said of his uncle. He also mentioned Dr. Longo’s passion to see the generation of youth make a difference. One of the pieces of advice he would always give to young people was to “go do great things.”

Following the tribute, English professor Cynthia Westerbeck introduced Dr. McEntyre, making special mention of the poems she has written about art, and how she has used language as a tool to think and teach carefully about faith and knowledge.

After taking the podium, McEntyre introduced her speech as “Peace, Love, and a Few Good Verbs.” She said a well-chosen verb moves the listener or reader beyond conventional awareness, which fits the poet’s job description to: “make strange” things people might not otherwise notice. “If we want to live as conscious and conscientious people of faith, we have to be aware of process,” said McEntyre. She pointed out that verbs are the words documenting this process; they clarify the steps involved in how things happen. She used quotes from writers such as T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas to illustrate how the verb’s effects “ripple” outward, helping us to “cultivate a habit of attentiveness.”

In terms of social and cultural development, McEntyre expressed, language can be a tool for help or for harm. “Truth takes courage,” McEntyre said. “A good verb takes courage. Specificity takes courage.” It takes a strong will to push back against the cultural environment of reductionism and lies in which we must take part. Inside the “propaganda machine,” words are at risk. It becomes easy to bend and twist the truth, not completely destroying it, but perverting it beyond recognition.

 McEntyre quoted author Arundhati Roy, who wrote about how both public and private narratives can colonize us, taking over both our conscience and our consciousness. “Stories enter and change our minds…to read discerningly is to guard ourselves against propaganda,” McEntyre said. In stepping outside of the narratives colonizing us, and by using language mindfully, we can place ourselves in the larger story. “Words well-used invite us back into a broad middle ground,” she stated.

After the lecture and a brief Q&A session, McEntyre was available in the Fireside Room for more questions and a book signing. In addition to the Thursday evening lecture, McEntyre visited several classrooms to speak to PUC students, including future theologians and poets, and led a writing workshop in the Alice Holst Theater.