class | Meandering
in a bottle | "Dr.
Lorenzo" | Ross
. . . Robyn Ross
Prof. Ron Flowers took home the University's highest teaching award this
fall because, as one student put it, he brings "trust, vulnerability and
open communication" to his classes, not because he has to, but because
it's who he is.
WHITE lines spell "Buddha" on the green board, an emphatic arrow hanging
over the word focuses attention on the "h."
the 'h,' " says the chalk holder, a snowy-haired gentleman whose clear
and sturdy voice belies the 33 years this coat-and-tie-clad academician
and pastor has tackled the two conversational forbiddens -- religion and
"It is to
be noted that all educated persons put the 'h' in Buddha," he tells the
students. Today's lesson is much deeper than this almost elementary exercise.
But gently illuminating the sometimes-not-so-obvious but oh-so-important
points is one of Religion Prof. Ron Flowers' hallmarks of excellence --
and a big reason why Flowers received the 1998 Chancellor's Award for
Distinguished Teaching, the highest honor TCU grants its top faculty.
honor flabbergasted the popular teacher and nationally known expert on
Constitutional church and state issues so much that he was unable to address
the hundreds gathered at Fall Convocation when the award was announced.
know what I do that grabs people," he said later, sitting in his bright
blue office, the one many have come to know as a welcoming place of wisdom.
"All I know is that I try to do what I do the best I can. And whatever
enthusiasm I might convey about the task at hand is contagious at least
to some people. Technique-wise, I don't have any magic explanation of
to conventional wisdom, Flowers shouldn't be so effective. Relying on
straight lecture for most of his classes, referring to yellowed, patched-together
wall maps, he should be putting students to sleep.
Flowers is imbuing in yet another generation the beauty and depth of religious
worship around the world.
what I want to impart is the idea that religion deserves the same kind
of hard-headed attention and analysis that other academic disciplines
deserve," he said. "Or to say it differently, an unexamined faith is likely
to be a weak faith."
enough, students who spent as many as four years with Flowers exploring
religion and its place in their own lives seldom have a clue about his.
Steve Green, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State in Washington, D.C., (a national organization Flowers is heavily
involved with), "blames" Flowers for "what I do and what I am."
for anyone to have a discussion on religion without revealing their own
ideological bent," he said. "But it wasn't until years later that I understood
where he stood on this issue."
growing up in a Tulsa, Okla., home where "the church was taken seriously,"
Flowers' decision while at TCU to join the ministry came as a surprise
to his family, and to himself.
say I had any great conversion experience or climactic call or anything;
it just seemed to be the thing I wanted to do with my life," he said.
two degrees from Vanderbilt University and subsequently spending two years
as a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister in Kentucky, Flowers
realized he wanted his service to move beyond the pulpit. By 1964 he was
at the University of Iowa working on a PhD. He credits two TCU professors,
George Fowler, now deceased, and Ambrose Edens, who still teaches here,
for influencing that decision.
"I saw these
people as fascinating folks doing something they liked to do," he said.
"And early on I conceived teaching as ministry also. So when I decided
to leave the pastorate, I didn't think I was giving up the ministry."
understands that, to some, teaching a student about Islam or Buddhism
isn't exactly consistent with a traditional Christian view of ministry.
it is in the sense that I help students understand that although not all
people believe the same way, religion is concerned with the issue of trying
to deal with the conditions of human frailty and human aspirations. Buddhists
do that in their own way, the same as Christians do or Hindus do," he
said. "So I define ministry here broadly, but nonetheless I have always
thought of what I do here at TCU as being in that category."
Teaching. Only difference is a couple of letters. Or maybe only the type
of seats the congregation sits in.
student Patrice Wheeler '84 was in a near-fatal auto accident, doctors
told her she would never be able to learn again. But Flowers came to visit,
and when she finally headed back to school, her first seat was in one
of Flowers' desks.
a personal interest in reacquainting me with academia," she said. "He
shared his time, interest and patience in helping motivate me to continue
my education." Wheeler went on to complete a graduate education and is
now a speech instructor at Tarrant County Junior College. "While I was
merely a research assistant and asked to teach a course, I was advised
to emulate my best instructor," she said. "For me that is and will always
be Dr. Flowers."
and enthusiasm are the magic in his teaching, organization and clarity
of presentation are his deck of cards. It starts with a brief outline
scratched on the board, a road map for the lesson, and usually ends with
some cliff-hanging comment about what's to come.
an instructor for his methodical and organized teaching style may not
sound very inspiring, his students all agree there's real value in knowing
where you're going.
Matthew Rosine '98 said Flowers' natural storytelling quality "engages
my attention and stirs within my mind images and inner dialogue.
to hear him tell about frontier preachers like Charles Finney and Barton
Stone, while watching his eyes grow wide and hearing his voice thunder
like a tree-stump revivalist," he said.
just laughs at such praise. "Teaching is an unpredictable enterprise,"
he said. "Although I always know what I'm going to do when I go to class,
I never know how people are going to receive it."
what keeps him going, waiting to see which students will light up when
a concept moves out of their notes and into their lives.
is a dangerous thing. It will always challenge you to learn, grow and
change." Those words are permanently stamped in Christopher Rose's mind.
They are parting advice Flowers offered the religion senior (one of those
who lit up) each time he left the "master teacher's" office. It was there
that Rose was encouraged to explore "religion as an expression of the
reflect the character and compassion of a teacher who has been thoroughly
committed to enhancing my study and enriching my life," Rose said. Many
have come to know themselves better as they sat in that wise blue office,
the one brimming with books and mementos. And on a recent day, a rather
ghoulish green head with a transparent skull, on loan from his son. Shake
it and bats flit about the brain.
treasure tickles the likable professor who doesn't take himself too seriously.
Which may be why the students do. Rosine says Flowers was always willing
to talk about life and his own human trials and foibles.
adds, Flowers doesn't do that in order to be a concerned educator.
that because he is Ron Flowers, and there is no other way for him to teach."