• Podcast
  • Feb 01 2021

'Behind the Blue': Importance of Honors at a Public Research University

Christian Brady was the first T.W. Lewis Dean of the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky. He temporarily left that post in September 2020 to begin serving as interim dean of UK's College of Arts and Sciences. He is a scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature, and has been a long-time national leader in honors education, coming to UK in 2017 after a 10-year stint as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University.

Brady also recently authored the book, "Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope." It is a Biblical scholar’s poignant examination of grief and grace in the wake of the sudden death of his young son.

On this episode of "Behind the Blue," Brady discusses his book, his scholarship, what he loves about honors education at a public research university and his new administrative role.

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CODY KAISER: Christian MM Brady was the inaugural TW Lewis Dean of the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky. He is a scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature, and has been a long-time national leader in honors education, coming to UK after a 10-year stint as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University.

Brady has recently taken on the administrative role of serving as interim dean of UK's College of Arts and Sciences. Brady also recently authored the book Beautiful and Terrible Things, A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope. It is a biblical scholar's poignant examination of grief and grace in the wake of the sudden death of his young son.

I'm Cody Kaiser with UK Public Relations and Strategic Communications. And I'm joined this week by UK's Chief Information Officer Jay Blanton.

On this episode of Behind the Blue, Brady discusses his book, his scholarship, what he loves about honors education at a public research university, and his new administrative role.

We are happy to be joined on this episode of Behind the Blue by Christian Brady, who was the inaugural TW Lewis Dean of the Lewis Honors College, and is now serving as interim dean of the UK College of Arts and Sciences. Dean Brady, thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: It's a great pleasure. Thank you for having me.

CODY KAISER: One of the first things that we normally do with people is we have them tell us a little bit about how they came to join us here at the university. And you've kind of circled I feel like the Eastern part of the United States a little bit, and some of the places that you've been with your education, and also where you've been, where you've worked. Tell us a little bit about that.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Yeah. From upstate New York down to the Gulf at Tulane University. Well, just in brief, my background was originally I wanted to be a research physician. I was chemistry premed. I tell incoming students the story. And that lasted for about six weeks until calculus. And I realized that we didn't have a good relationship that was going to last.

So that was at Cornell University as an undergrad. And I was really interested in how people interpreted the Bible, so I shifted my interest that direction, and took Modern Hebrew, and then Biblical Hebrew. And that all sort of one foot after another, but not really in an intentional path, led me to Oxford, where I did my doctorate in what's called the Oriental Institute.

And I ended up working on rabbinic literature. Although, I am not Jewish myself. My work ended up being in how the ancient rabbis interpreted the Bible.

Well, then you need to get a job, right? And the job that opened up was as an assistant professor and director of Jewish studies at Tulane University in New Orleans. A guy like Christian was directing Jewish studies for six years at Tulane, made tenure, and then the provost invited me to become the director of honors.

I ended up going from there to be dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State for 10 years. That in turn led to my being contacted by Tim Tracy, then provost at the University of Kentucky as the university was building the new Lewis Honors College. And they wanted to have on the board three deans of existing honors colleges. And Schreyer was considered one of the best in the nation.

And so that was my introduction to the University of Kentucky, actually, it was to be on that planning board. And it was wonderful, great colleagues. And actually, after 10 years as dean at Penn State, I took my first sabbatical-- 19 years of academia, and I'd never have a sabbatical-- and then at the end of the sabbatical year, the provost invited me to apply for the position. And so 2017, I arrived here on campus about three weeks before Lewis Hall opened up to be the inaugural TW Lewis Dean of the Lewis Honors College.

And then over the course of the first year, we hired 10 of our 12 faculty that we would ultimately hire within the Lewis Honors College. We have developed and created the Center for Personal Development, which is a group of five counselors, and then the five academic advisors, and the director of college life.

So it's been a lot of fun. I didn't obviously intend to be coming to the University of Kentucky. I was just sort of lending my experience to help UK build a great Honors College, and then it's been just such a tremendous privilege to help turn it into reality.

JAY BLANTON: Well, you were asked to apply, but what was attractive to you about the university? Was it the idea just building something new?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Well, exactly. I never looked to become an administrator. I think most academic administrators don't go and get a doctorate in an obscure field with the idea of being in management.

But having now been a dean for a decade, and been in administration, usually, you kind of move on to different kinds of responsibilities. And it was such a unique and exciting opportunity to be building on what I already knew, and to have such great support from the provost, the president, and the donor to be able to put into practice actually a lot of the things that I had thought for the past decade if only I were starting from scratch. And so we had a chance to do that. It was very exciting.

Plus I just had been so impressed with the colleagues that I had met here, and the community that's been built. I absolutely-- even the geography and the topography of Kentucky here, I absolutely love it. And there's also a lot to be said about the land-grant mission. I actually have more of a private background in many ways in terms of the schools that I went to, but my father was from central Texas. And I went to public schools prior to college.

I just love the ethos that we have at a land-grant university. Our students come in with a strong work ethic. Our alumni, they're happy to support this university.

But they also see everybody rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on it. There's a sense of privilege that comes from purpose, and intentionality, and hard work. I absolutely love that. And I see that in spades here, and happy to be Kentucky blue.

CODY KAISER: Talking about the Lewis Honors College, for people who are listening who might not have an awareness, or might not really have a full kind of background on everything, who might think, well, we've had an honors program. Maybe it's gone through changes. Talk about kind of the history of the Lewis Honors College. Obviously, the name has come to us more recently. What does it mean for the university to have this college?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Well, if I may, Cody, I'll go back. The history of honors in the United States really began post-war as GIs came back, having seen Oxford and Cambridge, and some of the German universities, which were obviously in turmoil. But they saw what could happen with these great universities that were being funded both privately, but publicly.

And states were seeing a brain drain. The University of Texas had one of the first programs called Texas Plan 2. They still have that awkward name.

But these programs, these honors programs, and later colleges were developed to keep the best and brightest in the state, so that they wouldn't go off to the Northeast, to the Ivy Leagues, and what have you.

And so University of Kentucky has decades long honors program experience. It has tended to be fairly small. So you can have a lot of individual attention on the students, which is fantastic. But it does mean that a lot of students who could benefit don't necessarily have that.

Mr. Lewis himself had resettled out into Arizona, and had seen Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University really flourish, and keep lots of students in Arizona who otherwise might have not gone, say, to the California schools. And he wanted to invest in the University of Kentucky, his alma mater, and in the commonwealth, to see our students would be able to remain in the commonwealth, and yet get this world-class education.

Now, that education is built upon the foundation of the strengths of our faculty in all the other colleges at the university. So we have students who are part of every college and every discipline here at the University of Kentucky. The dozen lectures that we now have in Lewis, they're focused on helping shape our students in that first year, giving that really strong, intentional contact right at the beginning of their academic career, as well as some particular areas of interest that Mr. Lewis endowed.

But we're building upon that strength of honors, and building at Kentucky, and building upon the strength of our faculty that we have here at the university. So it's all enhanced and additive. And we have a very particular mission. The mission of the Lewis Honors College is to better the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the world, to help students explore their purpose, develop intellectually, and lead with integrity.

So purpose, intellect, integrity, it's what's inscribed on our medallion, which is another fun thing. I got to design that with an artist, part of building a new program. But it is a true and sincere commitment. We are looking at working with each individual student as they find their purpose. They develop intellectually, learn to engage, and then through them, our commonwealth, and our country, and our world truly will be built and transformed, as will all of the different programs at the university.

So our students, as I said, reflect all the different colleges, engineering, ag, arts and sciences. And we have honor students in each and all of them. And it really is very additive. It's one of these examples of a rising tide lifting all boats.

JAY BLANTON: For folks who may remember the old honors program at the University of Kentucky, what would be different to them if they kind of landed in Lewis Honors College? What would they see from the student experience in that first year or that second year or throughout their matriculation?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Jay, I think you could give us the background. If I'm not mistaken, you were an honors graduate yourself of the earlier program.

JAY BLANTON: They let me in on the sly. It was long time ago.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Well, the very first thing one would see is literally visually see is Lewis Hall. We have an honors quad made up of four different halls-- Lewis, Donovan, Johnson, and Haggin, which I know alumni pronounced Haggin.

But within-- most of that is residential, but in Lewis Hall, we have our office space, as well as four classrooms. And the point is that there is a communal experience right there immediately. We have academic advisors for honors students in addition to their collegiate academic advisors. And then helping our students explore their purpose, that's the mission of the Center for Personal Development. So there are five additional counselors there.

So the first things our students really experience through recruitment, orientation into their first semester is this very strong attention. Now, of course, we want all of our students at the University of Kentucky to have as much of that experience as we can. It's just not always scalable up to an incoming class of 5,500, say, or 6,000.

So we're taking in 500 to 600 first-year students in honors, 10% roughly. And we really focus in on that. So that's the first. It's the social engagement. It's feeling at home.

As I tell students and parents, in the decision-making process, you have to feel comfortable and welcome, or you're not going to take advantage. You could have the best opportunities around you, but if you don't want to do anything but stay in your room by yourself, then you're never going to experience that. You're never going to take advantage of all the resources that are around you.

I mean, you could look out your window and have some beautiful vista. But if you don't open the curtains, you'll never see that.

So we build on the social. We build on that personal engagement interaction. And then with the faculty, there's a core course, the foundation seminar, that they all have to take. And the foundation course is on epistemology. What is truth and knowledge? And how do we know it?

We're recording this the day after President Biden's inauguration. And President Biden, really, he talked in his speech about the importance of everybody understanding and having a set of common facts, and that we can disagree, but that we should do so around these truths. And that's very much what we're working to do in these classes.

I won't be surprised in the least if our lecturers are bringing out President Biden's speech, not to promote any particular candidate, but to say, what does this mean? How do we disagree while still coalescing around what are facts? And then how do we look at the impacts?

Actually, unfortunately, COVID crisis is a brilliant example that we're already using with our students. You don't have just scientists who help answer this kind of a problem. You need politicians. You need social scientists. You need economists. You need epidemiologists. You need general practitioners.

And our students are going to go and be all of those things. And so really helping them see from day one they can find their purpose. And it will be an exploration. It'll take a life. But these interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary skills of thinking and intellectual engagement, not just internally, but with one another serves as the foundation for their entire academic career, and then as they go out into the world.

JAY BLANTON: Is that what-- it made me-- that makes me think, Dean, about the whole argument that is going on right now, or discussion that's going around about the utility of education, and the practical nature of education. It seems to me you're making an argument for the importance of an honors education in the context of a liberal arts education, and why that's important in a modern economy, in a modern world. Is that sort of what you see that Lewis brings to the table in particular?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Absolutely. I mean, what we're doing here is we're taking students-- we're providing an opportunity for the students who seek it out to take that broad liberal arts background or foundation that we often talk about, and really sort of amp it up.

And I should say the value of this is understood and reflected across all disciplines. This is why not everybody is aware, but colleges of engineering, colleges of business, we're all accredited in their individual areas. And the accrediting bodies, even for business and engineering, also recognize the importance of having these diversified credits and foundational courses in freshman and sophomore year. And that's why-- and so that's what the Honors College is building upon.

Now, I will add a lot of honors programs and colleges historically have been about purely the grades, purely about, you're going to be an engineer, so you're the top engineer with the top grades, and so forth. The Lewis Honors College is much broader. Our admissions process, for example, is holistic.

But the idea is that the best engineers, the best scientists are not just the very best in that particular niche, but they can take that, and extrapolate out, and engage more broadly with the community around them, and really see the impact and value that their particular research and work can have across the world, across the community experience.

CODY KAISER: In addition to your administrative roles, you also teach. You currently teach as well. Why is that important for you to continue to teach?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Well, it was really great last semester to get back in the classroom. I certainly didn't expect it to be in a time of COVID the way it was. And I will confess, while I had been teaching my last eight years at Penn State, it had been in leadership and leadership development. And that was really enjoyable. It was an extension of what we did in honors, but it was a broader program called the Presidential Leadership Academy.

But it gave me that opportunity to sit down with students, and talk about the challenges that I was finding as a dean. The president of the university also taught the course. So the two of us would sit there and talk about real-life problems. And then we'd listen to these students who might or might not be at the top of an organizational chart in their fraternity, or sorority, or what have you. But they were still dealing with similar personality issues, free speech challenges, for example, often coming up.

Last semester, I got to go back into the classroom in my own field, which is ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature, biblical literature and so forth. And one of the great things at a state secular university about teaching something like this-- in my case, I was looking at the books of Ruth and Esther. So my last fully academic book was on the Aramaic version of Ruth, called Targum Ruth.

But this group of 14 women-- as it happened, all of the people who took the class were women-- each one of them came from very different backgrounds, some from incredibly faithful Christian backgrounds. One came from a traditional Jewish background. And some from no real religious background at all. But reading these texts, they would often read themselves into it.

And we sat there, and we looked at in close detail what did the biblical text itself originally say, when might it have been written. It's one of the things that we don't know exactly when most of these texts were written, why it might have been written in the first place.

And then how have people over the centuries understood this and seen themselves in it? And what is it that allows these texts to continue to have such power for so many different and diverse communities around the world and throughout history? That's what's so fun about the material that I teach.

And sometimes it gets a little controversial. And I first taught a class called Jewishness of Jesus the year that Mel Gibson's movie came out. And I was director of Jewish Studies at Tulane. My name is Christian, and I was teaching this. And it registered on the local news.

But it's also really important, because these are-- it'd be like teaching a constitutional class today, probably, right? These are foundational documents for so many members of our community. And let's explore them together. Let's look at what they really say, and what they reveal about the historical context about our own context.

So most of all, though-- I should have led with this, where you began your question-- why is it important? It's important to be with the students. One of the things I've always loved about being in honors is more so, frankly than most of my colleagues who are deans, I get to work with students every single day. And that is a real, real joy for me.

CODY KAISER: I love that idea that-- just going back on what you were talking about earlier, about your experience, your background, working on rabbinical interpretation, and just thinking about how that probably informs and gives you material to work with, and how students interpret information that is given in this present day. And I think that's just a great kind of encompassing thing there.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: And unless you've actually explored rabbinic Judaism, it's more true than you might realize, because rabbinic interpretation of the Bible is extremely fluid and broad. So it can be everything from simply, the Bible says that Ruth was a Moabite. She came from this enemy nation of Moab. That's what it said. To, well, but you know, she was-- she clearly-- she was David's great grandmother. So she must have come from some royal lineage. So suddenly it pops up in rabbinic literature that she is the daughter of King Eglon of Moab.

And other later medieval rabbinic texts, in Hebrew, the letters equal numbers. And so they'll have something called gematria, where you take a word, and you say how much the value is. There was-- back when I was doing my doctorate, there was a book called The Bible Code that tried to read all the biblical texts based upon gematria, and how it pulled together, and that it was predicting current events in the 1990s.

And it actually does really help open up for us not just, if you happen to come from a faithful Christian or Jewish background, a gentle re-examining of, why do I think the Bible says this? But to look again, and say-- and again, I'll bring it to the Constitution, because the Constitution has been in conversation quite a lot lately in our country.

That is a text that is sacred to our country. How are we reading it? Are we-- this debate occurs around the justices on the Supreme Court. Are they originalists? That is are they concerned with the original intent in the late 18th century, or are they people who view it as a living and breathing document that can be updated and changed? I mean, all of these are similar kinds of skills of interrogation, of questioning ourselves, our convictions, how we read and interpret the material around us that can help us understand ourselves better.

One final example I use when I teach the Jesus class is you have four canonical Gospels, and then the fifth extracanonical that's most widely known as the Gospel of Thomas. And usually what I do-- I will admit the last time I taught the course was, frankly, before everybody was on the internet. And we still had paper and newspapers.

But I would take a current story. And I'd pull the LA Times, which historically comes from a more conservative perspective, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Washington Times, and the same story. And I'd have my students read all four coming from four particular kinds of perspectives.

And then we would say, what can we know with relative certainty actually happened? What can we discern about the author's perspective on those events or on those people? And so forth.

So again, it's the kinds of skills-- and our faculty do in this foundational seminar. These skills of how to read and how to engage with data, with material around us so that we can better understand what is truth.

How do we look at the statistics around mask wearing and its success for combating COVID? What do we know about these infection rates? There is truth in the statement that the more you test, the more infections you're going to find. So do we throw it out? How do we work with it? How do we then make policy based upon it?

So these are the most foundational things. And just to broaden it out again, Rudy Buchheit, for example, our dean of engineering is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent folks I get to sit and talk with. He absolutely engages and understands this. And it's not any disciplinary specific kind of skill and trait that one needs to develop. We just each enter it from our particular discipline.

JAY BLANTON: What was the in-person experience like last semester in the middle of a pandemic?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: It was really interesting. And I frequently would poll, have a discussion with my students about this. For most of them, it was their only in-person class. We were socially distanced. We kept our masks on. But we were all in one classroom. And it wasn't too bad.

For me, the biggest challenge, honestly, was I couldn't see their faces. And I just really struggled to identify-- I knew the person sitting, who would always sit in the back left. I knew the name, and what they were engaging with. But then when we did a Zoom, which we did a couple of times, it was so great to actually see their faces. And it did bring home to me that just because we're doing something virtually at a time through the Zoom, for a discussion-based class, that's not necessarily such a detriment.

But being in person built community in a way that it's not unachievable, through the online classes. And I say that because I think it's really important for folks to understand when done well, and our faculty are doing it well, an online course with contemporary video technology can really-- and I've been teaching on my book with people around the country. It can build the kind of community and the quality of that educational experience can be just as strong.

But you go to a residential college to be residential, to be in the same room with folks, to engage, to have the small chatter that happens ahead of time about-- one student, I remember, she wore Chucks all the time. And I've been wearing Chuck since 1978. So we were talking about her shoes. And those kind of real relationship building, it's valuable. So it was really interesting for me to see firsthand both what was working, what wasn't working, the value of the Zoom engagement.

I'll tell you, interestingly enough, our students, their advising sessions, we've had fewer-- and this is both true in Lewis and the College of Arts and Sciences-- hardly any advising sessions have been missed in Lewis. And they've been so productive because the student and the faculty, the advisor, they had their screens in front of them. They're on Zoom, but they could share the screen. They could look at their schedule, and say, OK, if we switch you into this section, this is what it does.

And I think it's-- this isn't what you all asked me and where we started this portion of the conversation. I think-- but I do think that there are some real values, positive values, that we're learning from this experience, that I think we can roll out for our students as we move forward. We've talked for a decade and a half, two decades now about so-called digital natives. I mean, I'm glad we've gotten rid of the term. It's a misnomer in lots of ways.

But our students are growing up with these technologies. The older faculty, we may not be so used to or comfortable. But for our students, it's not a problem.

And so we will never lose the residential value of what we have. We need to do that. I cannot wait to get back. Lewis Honors College, we always did Late Night with the Dean as part of orientation. I do a David Letterman-style show. I come out. I do a monologue. We have a band.

You need to party together. You need that social engagement. But it may well be that advising our students through Zoom is the best way to get the students what they need, and to get them to pay attention, and to enter into that moment.

So I think we're going to go through a period of separating the wheat from the chaff, and seeing-- to borrow a biblical allusion-- and see which are the practices that we want to keep, and then which we want to just set aside.

JAY BLANTON: Now, you alluded to this, but you currently are serving as the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well. The search is going on for a new dean there. And that's where your faculty appointment is, too. So you've got a good deal of familiarity with that college. So going from Lewis Honors College, which is a small, relatively small program--

CHRISTIAN BRADY: It's very small.

JAY BLANTON: Very small program, 500-600-- to the largest college on campus of several thousand, what's that transition like? And what have you been focused on your time as interim dean?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Well, it's been very interesting. First, to give a sense of scale, on the one hand, Lewis has about 2,200 students in it. But there are only a dozen lecturers who report to the associate dean, and then the dean within the college. So it's very small, and very tight knit in that sense. All the faculty and staff are on the same hallway right there together.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, we've got nearly 500 faculty alone. I think it's about 900 graduate students, and 6,000-plus-- right, Jay-- undergraduate students. So it is. It's the largest college on campus.

It has been a great experience. It's been a humbling experience, certainly. It is my background. It's my field. I have always joked about the fact that those of us in liberal arts and arts and sciences, there's a particular culture of, shall we say, debate and disputation that is part and parcel of who we are. So when we have a chairs meeting or a faculty meeting, I've got to leave plenty of elbow room for discussion, and to let folks walk through and work through what issues we're addressing.

But it is such a great faculty that we have here at the University of Kentucky. The diversity that my predecessor has managed to bring in in terms of our faculty. The Commonwealth Institute of Black Studies, which has been stood up-- the president has recently put a quarter of a million dollars into it.

There really is-- so much-- our sciences are doing so many great and wonderful things. I love the fact that I've gotten-- I've been taken out on tours of all the different facilities that we have, from the axolotl colonies, these fairly salamander things, out to-- I can't even remember the acronym of it, but where Vinny Cassone has all his songbirds for the research. And I love that diversity.

I'm a dilettante, I suppose. I wanted to be a scientist. I still love science and technology. Not where my expertise lies. But I get to be able to support our psychologists, sociologists, chemists, biologists, historians, literary scholars. So I just absolutely love that. And they're wonderful, wonderful people deeply committed to our students.

And transition is always a difficult time. And part of my role has been to sort of shepherd folks, as it were, to give-- as I said, give space. When you have a change in leadership, even in the most celebratory and best of times, there's a bit of a grieving sort of process that one goes through as you transition into new leadership. And so that's been my honor to be able to help walk people through this and help them through the process.

So it's been a great experience for me. It's been challenging. But that's the nature of any good job. It should be stretching you, and pushing you, at least in my opinion. Someday I may get to the point where I want the job where I just get up, and have a cup of coffee, and sit at a computer, and write, and take a nap, and write, and go to bed. But not today.

JAY BLANTON: Not today.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: I may still take the nap.

JAY BLANTON: I hear you. I hear you. Those are important.

I want to be mindful of your time, and so I want to get to a personal thing. You have a new book out, Beautiful and Terrible Things, A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope. And I know it is both a study, but also a very personal book for you. Could you talk to us a little bit about the book, and what its genesis is, and what you hope to do with it.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: Absolutely. Well, the immediate genesis in many ways was the death of our son eight years ago.

But I'll take a step further back. My academic work, my doctorate was on the rabbinic interpretation of the Book of Lamentations. These are five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. And I was looking at the Targum, this Aramaic version. And so I spent about 15 years looking at both Jewish and Christian responses to catastrophe and lament, everything from 6th century BCE Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem through the Roman destruction through the Holocaust, pogroms, crusades.

And so when our son Mack died on New Year's Eve 2012, it was a blood infection. I always-- you mention New Year's Eve, people assume a car accident, or something. It just came out of the blue. It was a blood infection. It looked like a flu. And within about 36 hours, he was gone.

When that happened, I was about as theologically prepared as anyone can be, which is to say not very much. It's devastating. And in response-- so I've mentioned I'm not Jewish, but I'm also a Christian. So it's not just not being Jewish. I'm a faithful Christian. And many of my friends and relatives are pastors, and also members of various Christian communities. And they offered comfort and encouragement, or what they thought was comfort and encouragement.

And often, I knew that not only did I think from an academic perspective it wasn't terribly accurate, but I also knew it wasn't necessarily comforting. So my friends coming from a Presbyterian or Calvinist background would say, well, God took Mack for a reason, that God took our son, and God needed Mack, and things like that.

Well, I understood where it was coming from, and the love that was intended. But for a lot of people to hear that in their moment of deep grief, that's anything but encouraging. And in fact, it vilifies God for them. It sets God up as this monger who takes away the people they love the most.

And so this was my response. I wanted to both engage with the biblical text. I came out of an evangelical background, where scripture was extremely authoritative. But also to come out of that into the lived experience as well. And so that's what I try to walk through there.

And the title, Beautiful and Terrible Things, comes from a Frederick Buechner quote, a novelist and theologian. And he's talking about the world. And I could quote the whole thing, but I won't.

But the short of it is he said this is God speaking to the person, saying, "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I will be with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you." And so that's where it comes from, because that's the world we live in. Beautiful and terrible things happen.

We have just an amazing community around us. We have wonderful people who love and support us at the University of Kentucky, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in our own particular faith communities. And they're not immune from the terrible. They're not immune from the shootings, or the disease, or the accidents. And so this is very much intended to be a pastoral work, too, a caring work to try and help folks navigate those most difficult of times.

JAY BLANTON: What's been the reception to the book so far? I know you're teaching it some. And you're talking about some. What's been the reception to that?

CHRISTIAN BRADY: I've been really humbled by the number of folks who have said they've found it to be helpful for them. Some of my friends who are more theologically minded come at me with picking at a few theological questions here and there. And I relish those. I enjoy them.

There's actually one chapter of the book that nobody has really taken me on with, which I would like to wrestle with with some folks. But no, I've been really humbled that it seems to be meeting a need for those who they want to remain-- they have their faith. They want to remain in the faith, but they're finding some of the more, shall I say, simplistic approaches to what we call in theology theodicy, the justice of God, when we see this injustice in the world. They want a better understanding of that nuance. And so folks seem to be responding.

I'm very sensitive, Jay. And I need to say this. We are a state university, a public university. And while a lot of our students, and faculty, and staff come from a faithful background, not everybody does. But this has also been a community where we embrace everyone for where they're coming from. And I've been grateful for that support because this is personal. This comes out of who I am, as well as my academic work.

But there are commonalities of our experience. We learned yesterday-- well, let's just say we've had this year several students who through tragic circumstances have passed away. And I've been able to be present with their families. And I've done that over the years. It's sadly all too common.

But I will say I don't think God took Mack for this reason, but there is an authenticity when I can share with them that my son is no longer with me, just as your son is no longer with you. And we can get through this. And it won't be OK, but there will be a tomorrow. And we celebrate and remember them by being there tomorrow, to talk about them tomorrow, and to share their joys and their loves with people tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

CODY KAISER: Christian Brady has been our guest on Behind the Blue. Dean Brady, we want to thank you so much for your time, and such a genuinely rich conversation. I greatly appreciate it.

Good luck with the book. It sounds like you've gotten great feedback already. And good luck with your work with both the Lewis Honors College and the UK College of Arts and Sciences. And have a great spring semester.

CHRISTIAN BRADY: You, too. Thank you all so much.

JAY BLANTON: Thank you, Dean.