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Ivory Thoughts

Ivory is what all mammalian teeth are made of. The word itself traces its roots back to the ancient Egyptian word for elephant, as that has historically been the primary source of commercial ivory.

This brings to mind all sorts of witticisms when one thinks of the ivory tower (a group of people long in the tooth; dead but ornamental, a place where knowledge is chewed, ground down, etc.).

Looking at scholarship from this perspective can give us something to chew on. We take the wonders of nature, the mystery of human behaviour and dissect them, examining from every angle, and then regurgitating it in an arcane language devoid of life.

But, if you ask any of us, that is not why we do scholarship, and we are generally horrified to see it described this way. Most of us get into our research to explore, savor, and share the treasures hidden therein.

Yet, often we get our heads so deep we forget to come out and appreciate the big picture and see how the part we’ve colored in can add to the beauty of the real world. Our models and theories become the reality for us, and they lose their life.

This week while I taught, my parents drove two hours to the Bastrop fires and spent 3 days at the shelters helping and comforting the shell shocked and the newly homeless.

Watching what is happening and hearing the stories from my folks remind me not to let all of life be reduced to mere academic exercise. If the ivory tower exists separately from the living organism of humanity, then we fail to sustain that organism, and become a dead ornament gathering dust and taking up space.


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