Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hopes and Dreams...

Every so often, I realize that I do not always have an eye on my end-goal. Recently, my friend, Brandon, wrote a post on his blog about thinking about what our hopes and dreams are for our lives. I have been trying to give it some thought. My hopes and dreams fall into a couple different categories:

1) Community: One of my professors at my undergraduate institution wrote a great deal about using communication in a way that promotes shalom. Often "shalom" is translated from the Hebrew simply as "peace," but it connotes so much more. It indicates a peace that is centered on being and living in community with one another. It is not an individualistic peace, as one might imagine the lone philosopher on the mountain might be at peace. It is a peace, together.

I have a dream/hope that no matter where my wife and I end up, we will be able to foster a movement towards the peace of togetherness. We try to do this now by doing the simple things. We get our friends together as much as possible. We make a point to contact and spend time listening to each other and those who we come in contact with. We say, "Come over any time," and mean it.

This might sound simple, but it becomes really hard. This is not just because we have to keep the house relatively neat (Neat is subjective, especially since most of our friends are grad students who are amazed that we actually have a table to eat at.), but we also have to work to overcome the innate cultural and personal belief that people hold that, "They couldn't possibly actually mean for me to just drop by." It also means that we have to resist the temptation to make people coming over always mean something. There doesn't always need to be a reason for having friends over. It is so nice to just sit and talk sometimes or maybe even just watch TV or listen to music together.

Community seems to be a big goal in my faith-work too, as if you could divide it so easily. It seems interesting to me that Jesus really kept this group of people, the disciples, with him that much of the time. There seems to be something there. I was reading the Gospel of St. Mark the other day, and it struck me that there are a number of stories that begin with something like, "As Jesus and the disciples ate...." This means that much of what Jesus gave to them, and they to him, I must suppose, was their presence.

Even at their most frustrating, the disciples were with Jesus. One must imagine that they could not keep up a deep theological conversation at all times for three years. They must have discussed normal things of the day, but this is not a message we hear often from the pulpit on Jesus and culture. However, this is an aspect of culture, and Jesus undoubtably participated in it.

2) Teaching: This is much harder, but a large part of my hopes for the future rest on being able to teach and work with young people. For a time, I was tempted to enter seminary and become a pastor (youth or otherwise), but I could get past the institutional requirements that seminaries place on their students.

Maybe this is a topic for a future post, but I am amazed at how a large quantity of conservatives see public academic institutions as bastions for training unthinking, uncaring liberals, but they do not observe the same trends in their own churches, schools, and seminaries. A friend of mine, who I will not name, had a large number of very choice words about the ways that seminaries prepare the future clergy. He compared it to his experience in law school. It was not encouraged to ask questions about why things were seen as they were. It was emphasized that one must become the best at manipulating the given system rather than working to change it.

Granted, this is a generalization, but looking at seminary websites, I notice a large reliance on words such as "orthodox" and "tradition." To paraphrase a great man, "Three thousand years of history from Moses to Sandy Koufax, you better believe I'm living in the past."

My teaching really aims at giving honor to the past but not, as Walter does, making the mistake that the past is the best that we can do. So often, teachers just mark time. Sure, we are busy all the time, but it is very hard to break out and do something different. Students resist it. Administrations resist it, and institutions resist it. How then can teaching make a difference?

I don't know, yet, but I aim to find out. I'll let you know if I discover anything.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Teaching and other fun things...

I know that it has been a while, but I have been busy. That seems to be a common thread in the blogs of fellow grad students that I run across.

Let's look at Steve's hats currently:

Teaching Assistant: Pop Culture Dept., BGSU
Instructor: Composition II, Owens CC
Doctoral Student: American Culture Studies, BGSU
Representative-at-Large: Graduate Student Senate, BGSU

This does not include my duties and responsibilities as a friend, husband, pet-owner, gardener, or sane person.

This all keeps me on my toes, but it does have certain positives. I don't have much time to get bored. I greatly value my down time, even if it is just working out or sitting in the sauna at the Rec Center. I really have appreciated the little things that my wife does for me.

She has been nice enough to not bug me about my smoking on occaision. She also has been very calming by keeping things in perspective.

This is all to say that when I had a surprise visit from my supervisor to oversee my teaching this morning at Owens, I was bit less-than-thrilled.

Fortunately for me, I had done my prep for my lesson plan, and it was a very simple class to teach. I even had an awesome activity that involved group work and competing for candy. We are studying argumentation in the written form. So today's class on the different varieties of logical fallacies would have been perfect to be observed for.

I had chosen magazine ads that all had logical fallacies in them. After reviewing the general types, we were going to break into 4 or 5 teams that looked through the ads and tried to pick out the various logical faults and why.

Unfortunately for me, I only had 9, out of 19, students show up for class this morning. It is very hard to engage in a lively discussion with 9 kids, half of which have not done the reading.

Granted, this is sorta my job, to inspire and drive the class, but I was a bit tired this morning and missing three of my best and most engaging students. This meant that when I broke them up into three teams of three, it was likely that they would not have the sort of motivation that I had thought Tootsie Roll Pops would inspire.

It all worked out fairly well. I kept the class flowing. A couple kids came up with great examples of fallacies in their experience with arguments. I remembered to bring the class back and review the things we learned and went over the assignments, which impressed my boss.

So, whew! Now, I just need to completely finish fixing my syllabus, grade, and return their last assignment that they turned in. It is good that they are so likable. I don't know what I would do if they were a class full of jerks.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Contemporary Church and the Enlightenment...

I have thought about writing a longer, slower philosophical genealogy, but

that is probably boring and meaningless to my ultimate goal.

Rather, I think I will point out the problems that the Enlightenment has brought to the church in its myriad forms.

1. Literalism and Dictionaries- It seems to me that with the advent of scientific method, there also came an assumption that language could be tested and proven in some sort of quantifiable way.

Therefore, during this same period of time, intellectuals began to compile dictionaries in which the meanings of words and their uses were fixed and regimented.

Most of you can probably see where this would become a problem (or series of problems) in the modern world.

Since people assume that the meaning of language is fixed, they can also assume that their interpretation is Correct. Sure, prior to the reformation, the Church fixed meaning, but there at least was a large quantity of debate about that meaning. We know about this quantity of debate because the loser was usually torured, imprisoned, etc as a result.

This leads to the difficulties today in synthesizing science and religion. If the Bible says "days," then obviously it meant days in the contemporary 24 hour period, regardless of the fact that the twenty-four hour day, with time zones etc, would not be set for centuries. This also does not take into account the possibility of nuance for the original Hebrew source material.

Of course, modern Christians will understand that when I write, "In the days past...," I am not refering to a specific period of time denoted by the revolution of the clock hand, but to suppose that this would be a valid understanding of something in the Holy Bible is absurd to some.

2. Printing, Authorship, and copyright- While I am thrilled that we have movable type, etc, I think that one of the problems that comes with it is the assumption of profit-making and setting a text in some sort of bound and commodified way. We must be able to print a definitive Bible that contains the approved text.

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Therefore, God is the author of the text. Now, what does this mean? Most Christians would not argue that God literally put pen to paper, but it amazes me at how unaware most Christians are about the actual source of the books that we now consider to be part of the Bible. Gasp, you mean Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not actually sit down and write their Gospels? Nope, ladies and gentleman, if you go back and look at an older edition (and I mean much older) of your Bible, you will often read "The Gospel according to St. Matthew as recorded by..."

Does this mean that Matthew is not an accurate testament to the life of Jesus of Nazereth? Nope, not at all, but it might make us pause before we base any major decisions on our understanding of any single passage or word.

I do not mean to impugn the Bible in any way. I believe that it is the Word of God, but I believe that it is the Word of God that has been filtered through the imperfect human authors, translators, and fallible and imprecise language.

This means that it is up to every generation and church to decide what "sexual immorality" is and what to do about the members of their church who practice it.

Lost, or never was, the need to look at the directives in the Bible as directives that must be analyzed in light of other directives.

That is probably enough babbling for now. I would like to talk about the evolution of the Law and contemporary understanding of the role of the Law in the Bible, but we will just have to see. Tah Tah for now!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sin City and Boundless...

Boundless' review of "Sin City"

Sure "Sin City" has a number of flaws, but if anything is puerile, it is the immaturity of the contemporary Christian press. If only they were able to look at any story beyond the surface level of violence, sex, and nudity.

After all, if we made a literal cinematice version of the Bible, it would be infinitely worse than "Sin City". "But," they say," you have to look at the whole. You must look at how God has a plan to get us out of this. Your movie/song/whatever doesn't have that." True, and it never will until we learn to tell meaningful and powerful stories from a Christian perspective that are not also pedantic.

I must note that in general these sorts of reviewers are willing to look at an entirety of the Bible without looking at the entirety of the narrative genres. They look at how the books of the Bible fit together but not how "Sin City" comes from a tradition. It is raising and answering questions of previous narratives.

No, I am not saying that film noir is like the Bible, but we should be able to look at the ways we read these narratives.

We MUST engage in the debate. We must be conversant with the rules and subjects of culture. Otherwise, we are dinosaurs who think that kids still idolize Jimmy Kimmel and that "Sin City" is geared towards 13-15 year old boys.

They see pictures in stories and assume "Childish." I've seen some pretty childish evangelical tracts, but there is no acceptance that these are immature.

I'm going to stop before I blow a gasket.

Love you all! Even authors of Boundless articles.

On a side note, one of my favorite Boundless writers has a great article in this week's edition, on making a house a home w/o buying out Pottery Barn (something that I want to do constantly)

I also have great memories of falling asleep while my parents chatted with friends. Mine played Rook more than Scrabble, but the purpose remained the same.

Exile and Suffering...

I have been thinking a lot recently of the struggle for survival in the Gulf Region, both of them. Between Katrina and the horrible stampede in Iraq, I have had a very hard time maintaining any sort of faith. I began to read the descriptions of men who found themselves in equally trying times, the OT prophets.

I came across this verse as I read my Bible today:

"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope...and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile." Jeremiah 29: 11, 14b

I have been looking through the prophets because I can't but help to look to the solace of the Exiled in Israel and those of New Orleans. This is not to say that God is punishing anyone or anything stupid like that, but it is a reminder of the presence and purpose of God.

Little solace, I know, to those who have lost everything and/or someone, but the alternative is anger and frustration purely for their own sake. I am not a very devout person in many ways, but I cry and pray for those suffering everywhere. How we see and respond to the suffering of others everywhere is the true measure of our ethics.

I think it is horrible tragic that with all of the coverage of the admittedly horrible events in LA, AL, and MS, that we have forgotten the nearly 1000 Iraqi citizens who were killed just by the rumor of a bomber. What has gone even less observed were the dozens and possibly 100s of Iraqis who were poisoned by traditional gifts of sweets and drink given by the road while on pilgrimage.

You can bet that is ONE child was poisoned by Halloween candy, it would be cause for a 60 Minutes investigation.

I just want to cry, go to bed, and not get up for a very long time.

Something positive for a change...

Let me just say upfront that I really do not care for crusades.

This holds equally for THE Crusades as well as those held for more contemporary evangelical means.

That said, I really have begun to appreciate the life and work of Billy Graham. Often in the media, we hear the words, "Evangelical leaders, such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Billy Graham say..."

I understand the perceived need to circle the wagons and to not drive rifts between members of the church, but these four men, as close as they might be theologically, each hold radically different perspectives and methods in directing the future of the Christian church in America and around the world.

The reason that I single out Billy Graham is much the same reason that I used to make fun of him and his movement when I was in sixth grade and forced to watch the horrible films that were put out in the 70s and 80s.

Let me just say in my defense that when you are in bible camp, and you are forced inside because of inclement weather (or one time because everyone got food poisoning), the last thing you really need is to be told that you need to give your life to God.

I mean, the vast majority of the kids who took the effort to work through the memorization of scripture in three or four workbooks already had accepted Christianity, and if after all of that they were not saved, then I doubt that the story of a 50s Korean war vet and his biker friends getting saved would really help the situation.

Now that I have laid out why I bemoaned the Graham Crusade's cinematic enterprised, I must point out that in addition to this, there were quotas in Sunday School and Youth Group every time that a Crusade came through town. We were expected to invite at least one friend with us, whether we had a friend or not. I usually had "conveniently" scheduled an alternative activity on the night when we were to go.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that this is not really the fault of Graham. This was how my churches thought that evangelism was supposed to be done. Billy Graham has a very simple agenda. He wants people to hear about his God and His plan for salvation.

Whether you agree with Graham or not, this mission is simple and admirable. One man would stand in a stadium and tell the gathered people about his experience. In addition to the simplicity of method and message, I must also admire Billy Graham's eagerness to welcome a broad variety of people.

He has met with almost every president in the last fifty years, and some might say that this is purely political. That might be true, but I can tell you that Graham made no bones about meeting with Bill Clinton in the midst of the "Scandal".

In reading Johnny Cash's autobiography, I am amazed at the times when these two very different men, in some ways, would meet and lean on each other for encouragement and support.

I don't see any contemporary mainstream Christian leaders meeting with Brian Welch, lead singer of Korn. (MTV coverage here). Granted I am a little confused by the many directions that Welch has taken since his conversion, but he enthusiatically wants to reach out and touch people. One would think that this would bring connections, but from Welch's website, it looks like he is forming his own group. I don't know whether or not this is because of a conscious choice or a snub, but it seems a shame to not be enthusiastic to connect with Welch, not because he is a celebrity who can help reach youth today but because he is a Christian eager to serve.

We, as a Christian community, need to really stop the craziness, legalism, and divisive politics. So many people, especially in the online/talk radio communities, WASTE so much time debating whether this person or that person is REALLY a Christian.

I would like to know where in the Bible it tells the Church to sit around and pass judgement on each other. Surely, we are supposed to hold each other accountable, but that is clearly a two-way street.

Shit, now I am just getting angry. (Yes, I know that writing "shit" means that I am no longer a Christian in many peoples' eyes.)