In my time at Hendrix College, I had the opportunity to take several classes from Dr. Jay McDaniel. When I took his World Religions course, I became fascinated by that subject, and appreciated the many opportunities he brought to my college experience to delve further into Buddhism in particular. At the time, I was a History major, and from my first semester in college was primed to find out more about the Eastern religions. I took two semesters of the History of China in that department, and came back to Dr. McDaniel to take an upper level Buddhism course, and even had the chance to meet and meditate with Renzai Zen Master Keido Fukushima. Dr. McDaniel had brought him to Hendrix because the two were personal friends, and during one sitting, I asked the teacher about some strange visions I was having during meditation (the cushions people were sitting on in the row in front of me seemed to be breathing). He laughed and talked about the mind’s ability to distract itself, and how as a student he used to watch John Wayne movies on the back of his eyelids as he was supposed to be meditating.
I remember a conversation Dr. McDaniel and I had one time walking across campus. I can’t remember what I was blathering on about, but he just stopped me and said, “I think you really love ideas.” Though I thought the words were complimentary (because they were true about me, and I thought that was one of my best personality traits) something about the way he said it left me wondering if it was a compliment. Later, as I became more aware of the importance of action substantiating one’s ideas, I think I better understood his point.
Though Dr. McDaniel wasn’t interested in flattering me, he was interested in building my confidence. Once, I came to him with the idea of doing an independent study on the “Theology of Star Wars.” We had watched “The Power of Myth,” Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell, and I had been intrigued by the exploration of the Star Wars series. He told me he thought it was a subject that others would be interested in as well, and suggested that he sponsor the class, and that he and another student and I would develop the syllabus, and then the other student and I would lead the discussions each week. It was awesome. For a finale, the students and Dr. McDaniel all went to see “The Phantom Menace” on opening night. We loved participating in and analyzing the whole “cultural environment,” and with the exception of Jar-Jar Binks, for which there is no explanation whatsoever, the movie provoked a lot of new discussion.
Dr. McDaniel also introduced me to Process Theology. He had learned from Dr. John Cobb at Claremont School of Theology and then Claremont Graduate School, and that led me to consider Claremont as a seminary destination when I received the call into ministry as well. In a wonderful circle of academic pursuit, I had the opportunity to not only take a class from Dr. John Cobb, but to take the class with Dr. Cobb, as he was a co-teacher and participant in a summer term class I took at CST. (Not only that, we were martial arts partners in learning Akido. Yes—I would re-direct an 80 year old man’s momentum in such a way that he landed on the ground. And he would do the same to me!) Also—Dr. McDaniel’s scholarly interest in ecological theology led to my own interest in that field. Several of his books (listed on the bio) are written on the subject of our engagement of non-human creation, and I really look forward to what he might bring as a lecture this Sunday. I hope you’ll join me—it is a great pleasure for me to be able to hear another lecture by Dr. McDaniel as our 7th in the Mildred Strokey and Blanche Miller Lecture Series—I assure you that it will be worth your own time and attention!