A Cruise Ship . . . and a Classroom

I’ve just returned from a cruise up the Inside Passage of British Columbia to the Panhandle of Alaska. Professors can’t afford a cruise on this luxurious line (Silversea), so it has been my privilege to work for my passage by serving as a lecturer on board one of their ships–last summer and again this summer.

To my delight, I have found the many of the passengers on board these ships to be keenly interested in the nexus of history, politics, geography, and wildlife I discuss in my talks. (I have lectured on “How Alaska Became American,” “How the Mounties Tamed the Gold Rush,” and “Welcome to Canada: A Very Small Country with a Very Big Backyard.”) Out of a few hundred on board (these are relatively small cruise ships), a hundred or so attended each talk and many more told me they watched the lectures via the closed-circuit broadcast on the ship’s television.

One guest, a Harvard graduate and former college professor who made his fortune running an electronics company, engaged me in a couple of conversations about the implications of oil, natural gas, and even water pipelines snaking down from Alaska to points south. Another, a businessman from New York now residing in Atlanta, was fascinated by how the Alaska Purchase not only advanced American “Manifest Destiny” but thus provoked the Canadian Fathers of Confederation to get busy to organize a country while they still could. (The Alaska Purchase not coincidentially coincides with the founding of Canada: 1867.) Still another, an Englishwoman with a background in both higher education and business, was intrigued as I briefly discussed Canadian culture in terms of pragmatism and individualism, and particularly “religion à la carte”—a trend she recognized in her own country but had not previously had an occasion to discuss.

Three cheers, then, for a cruise line that does not devote all its entertainment budget to casinos, nightclub acts, and shopping. Three cheers for any institution in our society that refuses to dumb everything down and caters instead to the genuine curiosity many people do have about the world, past, present, and future. And three cheers for any ship that will take aboard a humble academician and give him and his companion (last year my beloved spouse; this year our beloved firstborn celebrating his B.A.) a very pleasant trip in exchange for some lectures on, of all things, history, politics, geography, and wildlife.

0 Responses to “A Cruise Ship . . . and a Classroom”

  1. Andrew Gleddiesmith

    Any chance of you taking your favourite Irish student?

  2. Jake Belder

    Very interesting! While I enjoyed a similar cruise along the coast of B.C. and up into Alaska in 2005, I think I would’ve enjoyed these sorts of lectures far more than the entertainment and glitz of the cruise I took (although in my defense, I spent most of the time sitting on one of the deckchairs awed at the grandeur of God’s creation).

  3. Lindsay

    This is my first year of teaching Physical Science and Biology in Little Rock, Arkansas. Your lectures sound so intriguing. I am connected through regent college by my Austrian friend, Claudia, who is a student at Regent. I am a native Alaskan from the Aleutian Peninsula. I would love to do the same thing you did with my father, who is an Aleut fisherman. How can I do this? I would love to take my father whom I am thankful for my rich heritage of being an Aleut and my mother, who is also a native American, Cherokee. Blessings as you begin a new school year!

  4. poserorprophet

    Ah, Regent — while one prof is out protesting the labour conditions on cruise ships, another prof is lecturing on a cruise ship — a fascinating place.

    As for me, I’m heading to the Yukon in a couple of weeks to do some serious writing. No cruises, but I am staying at a hotel in Dawson City with a saloon where you can do a shot that has a dead man’s toe in it (for real!). Not quite the same as listening to one of your lectures, but I’ll find a way to survive.

  5. John Stackhouse

    Labour conditions were pretty good for me on the ship….

    Anyhow, thanks for your double-edged greetings, Dan. I hope you do some serious THESIS writing while you’re in Dawson. And try to keep the dead men’s toe-shots to a minimum, eh?

    As for Lindsay’s question, I really don’t know how they hire people for these things. I got connected with Silversea through a third party, and the only other lecturers I’ve met have either been celebrities (such as the woman on board last year’s cruise who has won the Iditarod several times) or full-time staffers. But you sound like you’d be a fascinating person to hear!

  6. poserorprophet

    Yes, thesis writing is what I have in mind. I’m hoping to finish the first couple of hundred pages.

  7. Preston

    I doubt that they have lecturers speak on the dangers of gluttony (a sin I committed for seven solid days when I went on my last cruise). It seems you had a great time.

  8. Henry Cullihall

    Hey Jon,
    I guess there’s nothing like spending your gifts with the poor, the lame and the sick.


  9. John Stackhouse

    Brother Henry,

    Others would put your point differently, I trust, but you raise a valid concern: Does Jesus care about rich people? Does God care about the education of the wealthy? Do we have any responsibility to interact, even just socialize, with the powerful and successful? Is anyone supposed to minister to those who are not poor, lame, or sick?

    Well, what would Jesus do? He certainly wouldn’t have had supper at the homes of wealthy people. He certainly wouldn’t have allowed any powerful people, such as Nicodemus, to take up time he could have spent with the weak and the poor. He certainly wouldn’t have attracted disciples rich enough to support his apostles out of their own means.

    Or perhaps the grace of God is for everyone. Perhaps education is for everyone. Perhaps linking up with rich people through common interests and the blessings of a wealthy society might be used somehow to increase shalom in the world (so Michael Lindsay’s study, Faith in the Halls of Power).

    Let’s not reduce our work in the world to a slogan or catchphrase, much less wield such oversimplifications as clubs on each other, Brother Henry. There’s a whole Bible’s worth of teaching about how God’s people are to be in the world in order to fulfill God’s purposes in the (whole) world.


Comments are closed.