The nature of the Christian University

March 8. Reception at 6:45; lecture begins at 7:00 pm. John Brown University, Simmons Great Hall.

This Thursday I have the privilege of presenting at JBU, invited by my friend Ken Hahn, as part of their biannual lecture series “Christian Discourses in Science & Mathematics.” The presentation is motivated by my understanding of the “Reconstructed Natural Theology” of Thomas F. Torrance – not apologetics in the sense of proving theology by means of science, but rather a searching out of how the sciences and other disciplines relate to one another in light of Christian Trinitarian theology. My title is “Galileo’s World and the nature of the (Christian) University.” A more accurate title might be “Historical explorations toward an onto-relational theory of disciplines.” Hopefully that will make more sense by the end of the presentation!

Here you can download a pdf of the slides, with presenter notes (revised March 7, although I still need to shave off another 10 minutes or so from what is given here):

Here’s the abstract:

ABSTRACT: Any model of Christian education as the integration of faith and learning requires some kind of understanding of the relations between disciplines. In this presentation, we will reflect upon some implications for the Christian university arising from the world of Galileo. What particular aspects of the culture of early modern Florence sparked the creative discoveries and transformations we associate with Galileo and his Tuscan contemporaries? What examples might they offer us, both positive and negative, for the connections between disciplines? Galileo’s world illustrates how sparks of creativity arise from certain kinds of interdisciplinary relations and not from others. Healthy traditions promote connections between disciplines that spark creative transformations. We will try to discern how an ideal of mutual service between academic disciplines lies at the heart of a Christian intellectual community. In a Christian education, the disciplines each look upon one another as better than themselves in search of natural, organic, and creative connections.

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Flaming Oaks star party

At a star party last night, 13 central-Oklahoma amateur astronomers treated residents of the Flaming Oaks neighborhood to beautiful views of the universe from our own front yard. We traced the constellations of the Winter Hexagon and the circumpolar stars. We enjoyed telescopic views of the Pleiades, the Owl Cluster and the Beehive Cluster, among others, including the Great Nebula in the sword of Orion the Hunter. What a privilege and joy to live in east Norman where the skies are dark enough to see the Milky Way!

Peter Khor pointed his telescope to the Great Orion Nebula, and displayed this view of the Great Orion Nebula on an attached Mallincam screen.

Great Orion Nebula, as seen last night in Flaming Oaks.
Great Orion Nebula, as seen last night in Flaming Oaks.

What a memorable evening these astronomers gave us! Thanks to all of you for devoting an evening to sharing your love of the night sky with us. We particularly thank 6 of Eileen G.’s students from the Norman North High School Astronomy Club. They were joined by Nick Lazzaro from the Ten Acre Observatory and Odyssey Astronomy Club, among others.

Indoors, there were stars as well — adorning the varieties of cookies many FOHA neighbors brought! We enjoyed them over friendly conversations, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. A special thanks to Joyce McBee and DeeAnne Lyon for lots of help organizing and setting up. And thanks to Eris J., a Brownie Girl Scout, for setting up a display where we could purchase our own Girl Scout cookies!

Eileen G. led us in a dramatic reading of There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars, a children’s story about keeping the sky dark. She then shared information about full cut-off light fixtures, easily obtained from Lowes or Home Depot, which keep light directed toward the ground where it is needed, instead of throwing it up into the air where it creates glare and unnecessary skyglow.

Eileen G. and Nick Lazzaro explaining the use of full cut-off light fixtures.
Eileen G. and Nick Lazzaro explaining the use of full cut-off light fixtures.

To learn more about preserving our dark skies by using full cut-off light fixtures, check out these sources:

I encourage everyone who lives in east Norman to choose only full cut-off light fixtures for your outdoor lighting.

For obvious reasons, we took no photographs of people outside at the telescopes. But indoors, there were many activities as well to occupy us when we wanted to socialize, warm up, and enjoy refreshments…

Constellation cards
Constellation cards.

Constellation coloring pages
Constellation coloring pages.

Constellation Station board game
Constellation Station board game.

Star clocks - tell time by the Big Dipper
Star clocks – tell time by the Big Dipper.

Books and leaflets
Assorted books and leaflets.

Star charts and astronomy events.
Star charts and astronomy events. Cf. Night Sky Planner, Postcards from the Universe, and Star Atlas Stories.

Constellation children's books
Constellation children’s books.

Even a reading nook
Even a reading nook!

Time now for a thin mint cookie… Did you know Girl Scouts now sell gluten-free cookies? Mmmmm.

Finally, to become familiar with the stars of winter (or any season), I recommend Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights. Raymo’s sky chart for January 1st features the Winter Hexagon:

Winter Hexagon, Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights

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Historic Star Atlas Stories

On Thursday this week, it was a delight and an honor, with Brent Purkaple, to kick off the OU Department of Astronomy’s year-long series of monthly lectures, “Postcards from the Universe.” Brent and I delivered a presentation on constellations and the interweaving of science and art, entitled Historic Star Atlas Stories. That link contains an outline with links to further information on each of the historical sources; a downloadable pdf of the slides; and a video (although the video quality does little justice to the more than 230 richly-illustrated slides).

I think it went well. All comments we received were positive, but any naysayers would not be the ones to give us feedback. The auditorium was virtually full. It was a wonderful cross-section of the community. Lots of high school students, but lots of adults and families with kids as well. And educators.

The Lunar Sooners, Eileen G.’s students, Nick Lazzaro, and some OKC Astro Club folks all put on a great show outside – beginning with taking us all out before the lecture to watch the International Space Station pass overhead at 6:53 pm. The consensus among the skywatch leaders seemed to be that about 50 people lingered for telescope viewing after the presentation. One of our goals in kicking off the Postcards series was to create in everyone the desire to participate in the post-lecture skywatches throughout the year.

More than 20 made it up to the Library Exhibit Hall as well — and lingered right up until closing at 10 pm.

The best part of the evening was the opportunity to present Anna Todd’s story, Hoot the Owl. Here’s the backstory. So far as I’m concerned, that’s the one of the best things that happened in 2017 related to our exhibits. To top it off, Stacey (the educator who made it possible) was present in person to hear the audience give a round of spontaneous applause after Hoot the Owl was read aloud.

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Middle Earth astronomy: A primer

These three resources will introduce you to the constellations and starlore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth:

Why not hold a special “Astronomy of Middle Earth” themed skywatch? It would also make an ideal way to cap off a Feast of Middle Earth.

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Hoot the Owl – the backstory

(Cross-posted from my professional blog, Lynx Open Ed; please link, cite or tweet it there)

We believe that educational outreach is at the center of our exhibitions, so nothing could have excited us more than a letter we received last November when Stacey Stevenson told us the story of “Hoot the Owl.” A children’s book, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began, was written and illustrated this past Fall by Anna Todd, a 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, located in El Reno, Oklahoma. Hoot the Owl is not one of the 88 official constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union, but it’s my new favorite constellation! You can read the book and learn the backstory below. As you will see, the story of Hoot the Owl is a specific, concrete example of how knowledge of the stars enhances our lives today.

Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site:
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.

Here’s the story behind the story:

Stacey has been participating in the NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) which is led by Dorinda Risenhoover, the NASA OSGC Education Coordinator.*

Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit.
Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit in the Exhibit Hall.

We so admire Dorinda’s leadership and vision for supporting educators in this state, and appreciate her decision to bring the participating educators to OU Libraries for an all-day workshop, which we held for them last September, to introduce them to open educational resources (OERs) developed for the Galileo’s World exhibit.

Stacey at the OU Libraries workshop last September.
Stacey (far right) at the September workshop.
Left to right: Sharon Scott, Rashid Troupe, Stacey Stevenson.

I wish for any future grandchildren I might have that they will have teachers like Stacey and the other educators in this mentorship! NASA OSGC’s Mission To Planet Earth and the Galileo’s World workshop begin the story of how Anna came to create “Hoot the Owl.” On Nov 7, 2017, Stacey wrote us to explain the rest of the story:

Dr. Magruder,

Good evening! I hope this email finds you well.

I would like to share a story of early inspiration with you. I have been tutoring a 2nd grader in reading for my Diagnostics in Reading course. We have read over 50 books since we started working together. From the beginning I told her to keep in mind, as we read, that she would be writing her very own book at the end of the semester. I told her to consider the subject matter of the books we read and the illustrations as well.

Early into the semester we read Fancy Nancy Sees the Stars. The book is a level 1 reader and it explains planetariums and constellations so early readers can understand. When we were finished, she was fascinated by the idea of constellations. That night I put together several of the materials that were given to me during the HOS [workshop on] Galileo’s World. I also bookmarked a few of the pages from your site as well. The next time we met I had checked out a few more children’s books on constellations, brought my HOS materials and my laptop. She was in awe, absolutely consumed by the idea of constellations. She was able to comprehend that the pictures were not actually in the sky but “imaginary, for my heart to see but not my eyes”, those are her words. We read the captions connected to the images on the materials you handed out and on the website. After a few meetings of reading only about constellations and stars, she decided to write her book about a constellation. She decided to make up and create a story as to how the constellation came to be. The story is absolutely fantastic and she has told her teacher, her family, and her classmates all about constellations and some of the stories she has been able to remember.

I really want to thank you. I was struggling to find a subject for her to really connect with, to give her the desire to read. To her, reading was boring. She had no heart for it and did not enjoy it. She enjoys reading now. She says, “The more I practice reading, the more I will be able to read about the sky when I am older and can understand the biggest words of all”.

I have mailed you a copy of her book. I hope you enjoy the newest constellation “Hoot the Owl”.

Thank you always,
Anastasia “Stacey” Stevenson

What a story “Hoot the Owl” is! Such drama! What a plot, what a flow, how colorful! Anna wrote with amazing creativity! And to think Anna caught her love for reading from Stacey’s intervention — educators make such a huge difference in young students’ lives. Generations from now there will be ever-enduring effects from what an educator does with just one student this very semester. Maybe Anna, and her fellow students, will write many books… teach astronomy or literature or reading… or go to Mars.

As for now, in the 2nd grade, Anna wears beautiful bows, and looks great in pink!

Anna Todd with book
Anna Todd with her book

Anna Todd with sweater
Even Anna’s sweater expresses her love of the stars!

Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson
Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson

Congratulations to Anna and all of her fellow students at Rose Witcher Elementary School! We’re sure her principal, Mrs. Tiffany Patrick, and all the teachers are quite proud and super-excited about her new book.

An original, laminated copy of Hoot the Owl has been placed in the Marilyn B. Ogilvie Exploration Room. The Exploration Room is part of the OU Libraries’ Exhibit Hall on the 5th floor, where the Galileo’s World Reprise exhibit continues. Here, alongside other books in the Exploration Room, children who visit Galileo’s World can read Anna’s story, right where they might sit down to color their own constellation pages and imagine their own stories of the stars.

We are grateful to be able to share Hoot the Owl in both our on-site and off-site educational programs, and to share it in the Lynx Open Ed website. We think many other young children will be inspired by reading Hoot the Owl. We also think many educators will be encouraged by its example to encourage their students to write their own constellation stories. Hoot the Owl also has been placed in the ShareOK repository of the University to guarantee that it will remain available in perpetuity.

Stacey’s story of working with Anna encapsulates perfectly what I mean when I tell myself that without educational outreach, exhibits wouldn’t be worth doing. The story of Stacey and Anna is what makes the time and effort we pour into exhibits worthwhile. This story illustrates the kind of impact that can occur when libraries work with educators through exhibitions. Hoot the Owl is going to be one of my favorite constellation stories of all time! 🙂

We’re grateful to Anna Todd and her family, and to Stacey Stevenson, for giving us full permission to share Anna’s book, this story-behind-the-story, and these photographs with you. Anna’s book is published with a Creative Commons license to share-alike, for non-commercial purposes, with attribution (CC-by-sa-nc).

Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site:
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and Illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.

* MORE ON MTPE: The NASA OSGC Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission To Planet Earth is designed to empower pre-service educators from each of our eight affiliate universities (OU, OSU, SNU, ECU, Langston, Cameron, SWOSU, SEOSU) as STEM educators through a year of unique and hands-on STEM institutes, engagements, VIP NASA center tours, and more! Participants network with NASA educators, researchers, scientists, museum curators, and other leading STEM-related experts while utilizing the latest iPad technology. At the end of their year-long mentorship with NASA OSGC, the end goal is that each participant graduates the program with a passion and motivation to seek any and all opportunities in order to empower our next generation of STEM thinkers and doers through aerospace education as they begin to influence young minds in their own classrooms.

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White chickens

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I have loved this poem by William Carlos Williams since I first encountered it, long, long ago, in my teenage years. (Thank you to Ms. Bullock, my patient English teacher who introduced it to me in a creative writing course.)

In “The Hazard of Modern Poetry,” Erich Heller wrote about the challenge writers face in a culture where there is no common idiom, no shared symbolism, by which they might convey meaning intelligibly. In such a world, it’s a special treasure to recognize a moment of real communication when an experience of shared meaning through art takes place. I recall an instance of this, when my mentor, Marilyn, with joyous glee, once recited the entirety of Williams’ poem at my mere mention of “white chickens.” Of course, it’s a wiser or more courteous practice to avoid making allusions that are mere speaking in tongues, without an interpretation being present, but yesterday I forgot and blurted out something about how such and such might happen depending on the white chickens.

Oops. I had no intention to speak without edification. But thankfully, as it turned out, I then had the pleasure of sharing the poem, and then interpreting it with words that went something like this:

I have always loved that poem for the way it implies that everything depends on small ordinary things that might not even be noticed. So, yes, weather, but also a whole number of factors that we do not even know and cannot foresee. So my reference to “white chickens” could simply have been stated as “other unknown factors.”

I have also loved the poem for how its form reinforces its content. The line breaks cause me to slow down. In much of life, I just plow through as fast as I can. When reading a newspaper or website, I can adopt the same tendency to just skim for the gist or to read simply for bits of information. Each line break in the poem shouts a firm caution against that. The slower pace the line breaks prompt, repetitively, reinforces the call of the poem to attend to the ordinary, to the significance of the small things that are often overlooked, i.e., the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens.

We need poetry for many reasons. For me, this poem will always exemplify several of them. If Heller is right, it is not merely poetry that we hazard, but our very lives. So much depends…

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Loss of a good friend

Governor's passing

Related posts (with pictures of Governor):

Governor in my office
Dad on Governor, in my office.

Governor in my office

Governor on mug
One of my favorite mugs shows Governor and me with Susanna riding one of the halflingers.

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How Yellowstone came to us this Christmas

As a family, we go to Wyoming to experience the mountains and wilderness. Our family roots are there, and we come away refreshed.

On Christmas day Dad and I were pulling the kids on sleds. Suddenly Hannah shouted “eagles!,” pointing to the sky. I jumped out of the truck in time to see two magnificent bald eagles directly overhead. Their wing spans seemed immense. They appeared to be no higher than the top of the horse barn. They had been flying close together despite the enormous speed, calling back and forth with constant cries. Suddenly, in mid-flight almost directly over us, they clasped talons and cartwheeled.  It was over in an instant. They flew off over the pond and into the trees just to our northwest.

Bald eagles in flight

There were no bald eagles in northern Missouri when I was growing up. This is what we go to Yellowstone for. But this year the wilderness came to us. What grace the wildness is, which the eagles brought across the continent to where we are. We went home for Christmas, and came away refreshed.


Christmas day was Piper’s first-ever experience of snow!  She’s running along with the sledders, wondering what the strange humans are up to.








The snow greeted us our first morning home; it had fallen overnight. With sub-zero temperatures, the white Christmas lasted until we left for Oklahoma on the 11th day.

Cold spell:  minus 16 degrees

Photos by Laura – thanks!  And how in the world did you manage to catch that first one, of the eagles in flight?  (For more of Piper, and a short clip of the eagles, see the video at the end of Laura’s post.)



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Lynx Open Ed

This past year, Brent Purkaple established the Lynx Open Ed website ( This digital humanities project focuses on the creation and distribution of exhibit-related Open Educational Resources (OERs) based on scholarship in the history of science and collaborative engagement with educators. The website was significantly enhanced by incorporating an updated version of the Galileo’s World Exhibit Guide (formerly available only in iBook format). OERs were field-tested and further refined in a Galileo’s World freshman course during the Fall semester. Check out the following sections of the website:

Then explore the website using the navigational menus, and follow us at twitter: @lynx_open_ed

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T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, Boston

On November 17, 2017, Brent Purkaple and I were in Boston for the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion, to give a report at the T. F. Torrance Fellowship annual meeting. The report presented our plan, approved by the Board, for revamping the Fellowship website in 2018. And it announced our preparation of a Torrance bibliography that will serve as a research tool sponsored by the Fellowship.

Kerry Magruder, Brent Purkaple, Gary Deddo, eds., T. F. Torrance Bibliography Project (The T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, 2017 and ongoing).


The bibliography project is undertaken on behalf of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship (Gary Deddo, TFTTF Co-Vice President). In the next few months a preliminary version of the bibliography will become available online; details will be posted at

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