newthingsold

The wise man is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things both new and old.

Month: March, 2014

Life.

In my English 12 B class, the students are completing a project to address the big picture questions, “What does it mean to live a good life?”, and “In life, what is of value and what is meaningless?”  An acquaintance’s mother passed away this week and I attended the viewing yesterday.  Someone I know attempted suicide this week.  A student opened up about self-harm and anxiety issues.  I’ve been thinking a lot about life this week.

Life is… a grace, temporary, fleeting, the beginning, the end, squandered by the young, hoarded by the old.

Life is… a mystery, difficult, relationships, best lived with others, a gift, precious, fragile, meaningful, meaningless.

Life is… (perhaps) the one thing of which we cannot get enough, the one thing all living people definitely have in common, a challenge, not guaranteed to any except those who have it.

Life is.. about what I see in front of me (and what I don’t), what I experience, a cycle, about (im)balance.

Life is… I have no idea what life is.

 

How you would complete this sentence: Life is” ___________.” ?

 

 

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Am I the “Old Man?”

As a reflective blogging assignment, I posed an open-ended question to my Advanced Composition students (one of the most enjoyable and fun groups of students I’ve ever had on a class roster) which asked them to consider how the experiences they have encountered in life share a similarity or similarities with Santiago, the old man in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  After posing the question to them, I started thinking about the same idea.  If I could pick out commonality between the old man and me, it would be how isolationist my profession really is.

The narration in The Old Man and the Sea focuses either on Santiago’s thoughts or on the narrator’s play-by-play of Santiago’s actions.  Despite the presence of “the boy,” the story isolates itself to focus on Santiago.  Through the joyful moments and the weary, sad ones, any emotion we experience is directly connected to Santiago.  His job would be easier if he had others to work with, but in the end all he has is himself.

Sometimes life is like that.  As a teacher, my job would be so much easier if I could do things like divide my professional responsibilities to an entire group.  In a way I can through common prep group supports and critical feedback about project ideas, but in the end, delivering lessons, grading papers, record keeping, and a myriad of other responsibilities are mine solely.

The way to avoid the trap of letting my job separate me is to purposefully reach out to others, to recognize the fact just because there are many things which I need to do on my own doesn’t mean I am doing this job on my own.  It gets so easy to not involve others in my daily life because of all the time I spend on the individual activities, but I have been the happiest in my profession when others have been involved…even if it’s just to talk about evening plans.  Santiago yearns to experience this reality, as he looks to talk to the boy about baseball.

I am Santiago.  The classroom is my boat.  The school is la mar.  My profession requires much individual work and attention, but like a buddy on a fishing vessel, my job also allows space for others to work alongside me.  And it’s those moments that are the best for me.

Nick, I apologize.

I have a (former) friend named Nick.  He is not former because we had a falling out; although, goodness knows I did my share to try to cause a falling out.  I call him “former” because we just don’t talk or see each other at all anymore.  As I have been reading and reflecting on this week’s selections in Atheism for Lent, my mind went back to Nick.

Nick and I were an example of friends who didn’t see eye to eye on anything back in the day.  He was gay; I said he was going to hell for it unless he repented.  He said he was an atheist; I said he was going to hell for it unless he repented.  He endorsed wide-scale drinking; I said he was…well, you get the idea.  The thing I always went back to was, “Faith in God makes way more sense than not believing.  Why can’t you understand that?!?”

Reading from Hume this week brought to mind Nick because of a life lesson I have experienced personally the last couple years: belief in God is not logical; the best word to describe it is probably irrational. Perhaps.  To the natural world, faith is foolishness;  empty, angry, fundamentalist debates do nothing more than raise blood pressure.

As I am growing older and looking at things from more sides than my narrow minded one, it has been disheartening to understand how air-loose my airtight apologetic arguments are.  Is this what getting older is all about, undoing all the answers a person thinks he or she knows and trading it for vagueries and wrestling?

Take a moment and use this reflective starter.  Fill in the blanks for yourself:  “I used to think ________________________, but now I think ______________________.”  For me, it’s: I used to think that I had God all figured out, but now I think that I was just trying to play God and got called out on it.  I used to think that grace meant telling everyone that they could have it if they repented, but now I think that grace is already there and that’s why it’s called grace (grace isn’t dependent upon repentance).  I used to think that Jesus wanted the perfect, but now I think that Jesus loves everyone (especially since he loves me).  I used to think that holiness is what mattered most, but now I think that my definition of holiness was off.  Nick, I apologize.

Typical marital conversation.

Last night my wife and I were driving home and she made a comment to me (she had made it before and I didn’t remember her saying it).  I laughed and acknowledged that her comment was funny.  Then she reminded me that she had told me this once before; I told her I never remember having heard her say that.  Then she drops the line: “I am now convinced that you just don’t listen.”

I have one of two options, and neither of them are winners:

1.  I say, “You’re right, I don’t.”  This is a problematic response because if I say that, then it simultaneously affirms and disproves what she said.  If I don’t listen, then that would explain why I didn’t hear the story the first time I hear it.  But by saying, “You’re right, I don’t”, I am actually proving that I do listen because I am responding to the thing she just said out loud.

2.  I say, “Yes, I do.”  This acknowledges that I listen because I am hearing the words that she says, but reveals a potentially deeper problem.  Either my memory/perceptions are dodgy; or I have become lax at taking the things my wife says to heart.  Which is not the case (unless it’s about money or home renovation; two things I know that as a married couple we have to talk about but I don’t enjoy talking about).

Fortunately for me, I went with a third option which worked out well to my wife’s accusation:

“What’d you say?”

The False Title of “Christian” Education

Full disclosure:  I am a (try my best) Jesus-following Christian, as well as a public educator and teacher’s union co-president.  So perhaps take this with a grain of salt.

As a part of the Church, I take issue with the label Christian being applied to every facet of life.  If “Christian” is applied to music, the tune better be from the Psalms and follow a typical Middle Eastern scale and musical progression since that is what Jesus would have sung.  If it is Christian clothing, it better be one piece, pullover, and long enough to reach one’s ankles.  Another thing that has me fired up as of late is the idea of “Christian” education, where well-meaning individuals who may or may not realize the impact that major corporations are having on the people who discuss education.

This evening, on my way home from my second job I was listening to the radio and ended up listening to Cynthia Tobias on Focus on the Family’s radio program.  It took approximately three minutes for me to get fired up to the point of yelling at the steering wheel and (paying homage to my Pentecostal upbringing) rebuking the Spirit of Slap which I wanted to invoke.  Let me address the titular issue and then the meat-and-potatoes issues.

To attach the label “Christian” to education means the educators are teach tinghe children to be specifically like Jesus (love one another, miracles, etc.).  Jesus didn’t do calculus, study micro-biology, and he definitely did not read the book of James; it wasn’t written when he was in school.  To label an education as Christian is false; any parent who would be satisfied with their child receiving this style of education is not fit to have children.

When advocates of school choice endorse “Christian” schools, what they are encouraging parents is the idea of letting the school train the child.  This concept has worked well for public schools, believe me.  Because clearly the students who have behavior issues are a byproduct of the unwholesome atmosphere of the public school, and not from the broken, unhealthy home environments from which they come.  The Bible places the emphasis on parents taking responsibility for being the moral compass for the children (Proverbs 22:6 if you don’t believe me).  To place children in a school like this because of the moral education the child will receive is a cop out; parents need to take the responsibility for the education.

When these school-choice talking heads use the word “Christian,” they are only using it as a stand-in for saying the word “charter” twice in one sentence.  The Bible calls for followers of Christ to be in the world but not of it (Romans 12:2); parents who intentionally place their children into an environment that segregates them from the “evils of the world” deserve every bit of rebellion they will face when their children grow up and wise up.  I grew up with friends in private “Christian” schools; they are no better off today morally, spiritually, educationally, or professionally than any of my friends who attended public school with me.

As I grow older, I begin to dislike the label “Christian” more and more because of how it is falsely applied to many situations.  I am a public school teacher, Children’s Church volunteer, and I am proud of the things in which I am involved.  Advocates of “Christian” schools need to consider what they are advocating and why they are advocating it.

An Evening with Peter Rollins Through the Teacher’s Lens

“War is not conflict; it is the inability to have conflict.”  Peter Rollins, an Irish theologian and philosopher from Ireland with a PhD in post-modern theory from the Queen’s University in Belfast, has had plenty of experience with this notion that he introduced at the beginning of an hour and a half speaking engagement he did in Plymouth, IN at Trinity United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 23.  Peter’s work focuses on authenticity in interactions with others, communication, and creating a space for people to explore fear, doubts, and identities.  These same concepts are things which I can see directly apply to the classroom.

Referring to the quote at the beginning of this reflection, Peter used this to first discuss how people interact with each other when disagreements occur.  The four ways are: Consumption (persuading the other person to agree with you), Vomiting (rejecting the person because they do not agree with you), Toleration (putting up with the person even though they must be wrong), and Shared Agreement (getting along but ignoring the “elephant in the room”).  These four approaches appear in the group project setting all the time.  Peter encouraged a fifth way, where the person instead views him or herself through the other person’s eyes, opening themselves up to being viewed at as strange, weird, or wrong.  Encouraging this approach is another and probably the most effective avenue for people in groups to work together.

The next big idea Pete discussed was the idea that people need to embrace the idea of being imbeciles.  Using the antiquated medical terminology of the 19th century, Peter explained that an imbecile is an individual with an IQ between 21 and 50.  The imbecile has the cognitive ability to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, but does not necessarily accept either as such.  “Imbecile” comes from the root “becile” which means “walking stick used for assistance in walking,” and the prefix “im” which means “without.”  While not encouraging people to abdicate their IQ’s, Peter encouraged the idea of leading others to becoming imbeciles.  This means identifying the tensions between right and wrong and wrestling with them to determine the appropriate course of action for each event in life, not automatically making assumed decisions.  As teachers, we need to be pushing students to “walk through life with a limp,” continually assessing their own situations and thinking critically to find right answer for each circumstance.

The last part, which Peter aimed directly at the Church, can still be applied to the classroom setting.  Peter encouraged the Church to stop making it a place for people to have “dark nights of the soul with the lights on,” but to make it a place where people don’t have to repress their identities and can work fully through their stuff.  The classroom should be the same environment; it should be on where students should feel safe to be able to explore the stuff they feel like society wants them to suppress in order to become better, well-rounded human beings.

A good thinker and teacher is a person whose work has many uses and applications.  Peter Rollins is one of those.  This was a valuable event, and anyone who has the chance should see him at some point.