A ballerina, a pastor and a grocery store cashier walked into a classroom… ORU professors use their life experience to impart wisdom and relate class content to real world scenarios every day.
Professor of Dance Performance, Hope Ely, performed “The Nutcracker” around the country as a soloist with the Tulsa Ballet before teaching ballet classes at ORU.
“Sometimes there were mishaps,” Ely said, recalling a time when a stagehand pulled the wrong rope and dropped a bag of snow right in the middle of the show. “Our dancers portraying the butler and the maids quickly had to sweep all that off the stage. You had to stay in character.”
Ely enjoyed the thrill of performing even through the unknown challenges awaiting on any given night in live theatre.
“In each town, several of us would have to teach the local children the parts of the mice, toy soldiers, angels and baby clowns,” Ely said. “We would do this a couple of hours before the show. Kids cried, forgot what they were supposed to do, waved at mom and dad, wouldn’t leave the stage and had accidents in their costumes. It was never boring.”
Dancing professionally provided Ely with the opportunity to travel and live her dream. She learned the importance of expecting and enjoying change.
“I am adaptable,” Ely said, recalling her many performances. “I let them [her students] know even if they are exhausted and think they can’t do it, that yes, they can.”
“You smile, and once you are out there on stage, it is a magical world. You could be performing for a few people or thousands, but you are also dancing for yourself and God. The feeling of euphoria so outweighs the aches and pains you might have.”
Before teaching at ORU as the Professor of Theological and Historical Studies, Eric Newberg (above) was heavily involved in urban ministry as a pastor.
“Where I really cut my teeth on urban ministry was my first church, fresh out of seminary. That was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the north side, which is a very depressed neighborhood,” Newberg said. “I was associate pastor, and so I did a lot of the community outreach type stuff. I had so many unbelievable experiences in that community.”
Newberg provided a food bank for the community through his church.
“Every Saturday from then on, I went out and collected food at produce markets and grocery stores and brought it to the church,” Newberg said. “My wife grew up on a farm, and she’s really good at working with food. She would clean everything up and lay it out in the basement of the church and our people would come by and take whatever they needed.”
Newberg also began a prison ministry. He would take church members to visit with loved ones in prison every Thursday.
“This was the highlight of my week. I loved it,” Newberg said. “I would come home refreshed from my time there. Carol [his wife] would say to me, ‘One thing I don’t understand, you come home from a board meeting and you’re all depressed and tired. You come home from that prison ministry, and you’re full of energy.’”
As a professor, Newberg remembers his time in urban ministry as a lesson in connecting with people. He relates these experiences to teaching by connecting with his students and telling them stories of the things God did while he was a pastor.
William Lyons, assistant professor of Hebrew and Old Testament studies, worked in a neighborhood supermarket before making his way through college.
“I had a great boss there because you worked very hard and you didn’t mess around when it was time to work,” Lyons said. “But he would also let us have snowball fights from the ice making machine in the middle of the summer. You’d come walking across a big stack of toilet paper boxes and all of a sudden a snowball would come flying right at you.”
Lyons laughed as he remembered snowball and rotten vegetable fights; he always brought an extra shirt to work just in case.
“I learned the importance of hard work but healthy play as well,” Lyons said. “I think that’s one of the reasons ORU is really attractive to me. It’s seeking a balance between hard study and healthy play. It is vital in the Christian life. I think we burn ourselves out, young people, older people, we burn ourselves out if we don’t have healthy rest.”
This concept of hard study and healthy play is what Lyons calls “muscular Christianity.”
“‘I’m going to play hard, I’m going to beat you in the game I play. Then we are going to sit down, and we’re going to eat together, pray together and when something painful happens, we’re going to cry together. And we’re going to go right back playing games,’” Lyons said.
The result of applying what they know has allowed these educators to bring real life to the classroom, and they all agree it’s the most invaluable thing they offer their students every day.
A ballerina, a pastor and a grocery store cashier walk into their classrooms…