The 2016 Frank A. and Florine A. Longo Lecture featuredcelebrated writer and professor Dr. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. Author of over adozen books, McEntyre teaches medical humanities at UC Davis and the UCBerkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, and is a frequent lecturer on issues ofmedicine and literature.
On February 18 PUC’s Scales Chapel filled with students,faculty, and community members eager to hear McEntyre’s presentation. Theprogram began with a special tribute to Dr. Lawrence Longo, PUC alum andsponsor of the lecture series, who passed away on January 5, 2016, in LomaLinda, California. Dr. Longo was a distinguished professor of Physiology, and Obstetricsand Gynecology at Loma Linda University. PUC President Dr. Heather J. Knightspoke 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 uncleand expressed his appreciation of how Dr. Longo’s accomplishments and hisstatus as a distinguished alumnus continues to be honored at PUC. “Writing andbeing inquisitive were what he was about,” Kevin Longo said of his uncle. Healso mentioned Dr. Longo’s passion to see the generation of youth make adifference. One of the pieces of advice he would always give to young peoplewas to “go do great things.”
Following the tribute, English professor Cynthia Westerbeckintroduced Dr. McEntyre, making special mention of the poems she has writtenabout art, and how she has used language as a tool to think and teach carefullyabout faith and knowledge.
After taking the podium, McEntyre introduced her speech as “Peace, Love, and a Few Good Verbs.” Shesaid a well-chosen verb moves the listener or reader beyond conventionalawareness, which fits the poet’s job description to: “make strange” thingspeople might not otherwise notice. “If we want to live as conscious andconscientious people of faith, we have to be aware of process,” said McEntyre.She pointed out that verbs are the words documenting this process; they clarifythe steps involved in how things happen. She used quotes from writers such asT.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, McEntyreexpressed, language can be a tool for help or for harm. “Truth takes courage,”McEntyre said. “A good verb takes courage. Specificity takes courage.” It takesa strong will to push back against the cultural environment of reductionism andlies in which we must take part. Inside the “propaganda machine,” words are atrisk. It becomes easy to bend and twist the truth, not completely destroyingit, but perverting it beyond recognition.
McEntyre quoted author Arundhati Roy, who wrote about howboth public and private narratives can colonize us, taking over both ourconscience and our consciousness. “Stories enter and change our minds…to readdiscerningly is to guard ourselves against propaganda,” McEntyre said. Instepping outside of the narratives colonizing us, and by using languagemindfully, we can place ourselves in the larger story. “Words well-used inviteus back into a broad middle ground,” she stated.
After the lecture and a brief Q&A session, McEntyre wasavailable in the Fireside Room for more questions and a book signing. Inaddition to the Thursday evening lecture, McEntyre visited several classroomsto speak to PUC students, including future theologians and poets, and led awriting workshop in the Alice Holst Theater.