Friday, April 14, 2017

Good, Holy, Blessed Friday 2017

When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God.  All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to thy blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all. 

I was blessed today to attend a Good Friday service at my church at noon; the pastor, Micah Fries, preached the cross to our edification, our emotional uplift, our encouragement. 

Focus on Isaiah 53:3-6:

3. He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A Review

I finally had the time to take two or three hours off to see this film.  I had hesitated because life has been too full, because of the "gay" controversy, and because I don't like to support Disney unless there is a really good reason.  I came across another reason yesterday;  I paid 8.50 to see it at a matinee.  Ridiculous.  It will be a while before I do that again.  I like the experience of a big screen, darkened theater, even the trailers, but not that much.

I went because the animated version in the early '90s is my favorite Disney cartoon by far and because I saw  a traveling Broadway version a few years ago at the Memorial Auditorium in Chattanooga and because the Jean Renoir version from the '40s is spectacular.  I have a special fondness for the story.

After seeing the '90s cartoon version, I was pleased that this was a Disney product that did not have the message "believe in yourself" but "give of yourself for the good of others." 

After seeing the stage version, I was struck by how spiritual the story is; the curse on the prince is also a curse on the servants; the curse means their real identity is hidden; the curse is lifted by selfless love.  

Luke Evans is quite good as Gaston.  Probably the best of the performances.
It was nice to see Kevin Kline.  I have always liked him as a performer.  He's underused, but I like him. 
The singing and music was good, and the opening scenes in the village and in the tavern are fun.

The additional backstory worked for me. The servants take some responsibility for allowing the prince to be so selfish.   The death of Belle's mother is explained.

LeFou turns "good" in the end when he sees how extreme Gaston is; that's a flaw in Gaston though, because he is  unremittingly evil throughout.  If he were that evil he would have just ravaged Belle and not bothered to marry her decently.  

Not so positives. 

Dan Stevens, whom we all fell in love with as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey and who probably was the main reason people watched that show, does very little in the film as far as visually on screen.  He looks goofy at the beginning (in makeup as a late 17th century French prince dancing at a multiracial ball all of women guests) and goofy at the end when he's "back to normal."  His voice is good but maybe was put through a synthesizer.

Emma Watson was ok.  She lacked something, energy, charm, I don't know. She's cute.

I am not sure if the theme is love or "adventure and fearlessness."  Belle is more about her fearlessness to stand up to the Beast and the situation then about her love and sacrifice.   Is there more than this provincial life?  Is she being rewarded in the end for her devotion or for her pluckiness and spunk for leaving the town?  I wasn't entirely sure.  I think they tried to work it both ways to make her a more modern heroine and not just a girl who loves her father. 

Real negatives:
The CGI is awful, especially for some of the beast's movements.  Seriously, Disney couldn't do better than that?

The scenery, especially the French town, looks about as real as the cartoon did.  It reminds me of the World Showcase at Epcot.  Too idealized.

The "Be Our Guest" sequence  was seizure inducing.  It lost charm by being too much.

OK, am I going to put the "gay" part here as a negative?  A child would not even notice those parts; to me they were just creepy and added nothing.  There was no male-on-male kiss.  There was some touching, some looks.  The Wardrobe attacks the townspeople by dressing three of the men in wigs and dresses, and one of them likes it. "Go be free to be you," The wardrobe says to the alleged cross dresser.

I told a colleague how much I loved Beauty and the Beast and she mocked me by saying it's about Stockholm Syndrome.  Actually, that really isn't a thing, and it's not the point of the story.  I am not sorry I saw it, but I won't sit through it again.  I'll watch the cartoon if I feel the need to immerse myself in such a love story.

Retitled: Pray for Egypt

Another Isis Attack

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The First Temptation of Jesus

I am approaching this lesson from Matthew 4 as an interactive one.  Here is the sheet I am using. 
There are three accounts of this incident in Jesus’ life. 
 Matthew 4:1-11
Mark 1:12-13
Luke 4:1-13

They have similarities and differences.
What are the differences on the surface? 

Matthew and Luke have a different order
Some slight wording and detail differences
Mark does not include the temptations, but mentions the wild beasts. 

Matthew 4:1-11: Answer these questions with a partner.

Satan first tempts Jesus to _____________________________________________. 

This is a temptation about
The body           Possessions      To test God’s word    Taking power

Satan then tempts Jesus to _______________________________________________________,

This is a temptation to
Fulfill his own desires        Take a shortcut to the cross      Test God’s word         

In this temptation and the first, what are the first seven words of what Satan says to Jesus?  _____________________________________________________________________________.

Why do you think those seven words are important to understanding this passage?

What happened in Matthew 3:17 that is important to understanding the temptation of Jesus?

Satan’s third temptation is to _____________________________________________________.

This appeals to the human need for
Power and recognition              Relationships                  Safety and security

How does Satan lie in this passage? Check all that apply (3 are correct).
  • o   He claims to have power he does not have.
  • o   He says Jesus shouldn’t be hungry if He is the Son of God.
  • o   He uses the Scriptures out of context.
  • o   He promises outcomes that he does not control or have authority to give.
  • o   He says Jesus doesn’t have any power.
Jesus answers Satan three times with scripture.  Where do those Scriptures come from in the Old Testament? (use the notes in your Bible)

Application:  This passage has meaning for us in terms of theology/Christology, understanding temptation, and dealing with sin. 
1.     Jesus’ identity as the Son of God has just been confirmed at His baptism, and Satan is mocking it and using it against Him.
2.     Could Jesus sin?
a.     Differences of opinion; a paradox.
b.     Not a real temptation if He couldn’t sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
c.      If He could sin, how could He be holy Son of God?
3.  Luke says in 4:13 “Satan departed him until a more opportune time.”  What was that time?

Why is this important?

How is that other temptation like this one?  Physical extremity, three times the disciples “abandoned him” so he was alone, the angels ministered to him (Luke 22:43)

4.     4.  Some scholars emphasize that this temptation is related to the temptation of Adam and the testings of Israel in the desert journey.  How?
5.     5.  Satan uses our physical and emotional weakness against us.

6.     6.  40 Days is symbolic in the Bible of temptation and testing, for example ________________________________________________________________________________.

7.     Satan attacks our faith with lies and misapplications of the Bible (wrong ideas, such as that our lives should be perfect, we should not face trials, etc., “If you are a child of God, why are you ….. [weak, sinning, not fulfilled, struggling, lonely]”)

8.     What takeaways do you see for dealing with the temptations of Satan?

Know and use Scripture correctly.
Know when you are weak and open to temptation.
Don’t expect not to be tempted. 
Realize that some temptation is from our circumstances and internal needs and personality, not necessarily Satan.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 13:34

At this point Jesus is using parables and Matthew says it is to fulfill a prophecy in the Psalms. While God reveals truth, he doesn’t reveal it on our terms. That is a core theological truth, I am afraid. The Great Commission does not seek to please or make acceptance easy for the audience a al times. “I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”  We moderns may think we are smart enough to figure these out, but just because Jesus utters them (in parables or directly) doesn’t mean they are automatically understood. He does explain two of them to the disciples in private, and thus for us; the multitude would thus hear it later, after the cross.  

I am absorbed in the method as well as the message.  We are told to use stories to communicate like Jesus did, but his stories or object lessons were not always crystal clear.  Other times they were.  The ones about the birds in the trees and the leaven perplex me.  I was taught they mean evil will come into the kingdom, as does the parable of the tares and wheat, but the tares and wheat are about how the kingdom exists in this world and that they will be separated in the end.  The kingdom is not evil or does not contain evil, but is planted in a world where evil exists.  In the case of the birds, perhaps it’s about the size of the kingdom being so large.  As to the leaven, I don’t know.  Instead of the evil of leaven being found in the kingdom, perhaps it means that the leaven of the kingdom will permeate the world.  Leaven is not always bad.  They ate leaven at times, so it couldn’t be bad all the time, as we are often taught. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 13

It might be that the parable of the sower is a picture of what he teaches them from Isaiah.  Some will not hear in Israel.  Some will follow and be receptive for a while but not truly internalize the whole of the gospel, and some will be seduced by the cares of the world and persecution.  But many will stay with him, and grow.  The first church was mostly Jewish; we forget hat, but the leaders of Judaism were against it.  Eventually the Gentiles outnumbered them, and then over they decades some anti-semitic elements came in.  I think it was mostly Constantine and the growth of Catholicism in terms of a state church.  One of the reasons we don’t celebrate Easter on Passover (as we should) is that Constantine didn’t want the Christian holy day to be conflated with the Jewish one.  (I’m sure there are books on this.)
The passage in Isaiah and its use here is a problem passage to me, in our modern sense of the ideal pure democracy of the gospel.  Does everyone have equal access to the gospel and equal ability to respond?  The Bible seems to contradict itself on this.  We don’t get access to the knowledge of who is able to accept, but all are invited.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Myth of Easy

Having recently finished leading a (small) book group with colleagues on Mindset by Carol Dweck, I have a few thoughts--well, more than a few, but I'll just share the most useful, in my thinking.

First, I would recommend the work of Angela Duckworth and David Yeager.  This video on YouTube is a good start: 

This is one of many you could find (Angela has done Ted Talks and is the "grit" lady) but I think this one combines them in a coherent way.  I heard David Yeager speak at AASCU last year and he has a lot to say to serious college teachers.  By serious college teachers I mean those who really want to attain student learning outcomes and are willing to set aside ego and biases to achieve that goal.

My major take away from Mindset: the myth of easy.

Learning is supposed to be fun, right?  And everyone can be whatever they want to be, right?  And everyone should have great self-esteem on the basis of just being, right?  Without having actually achieved anything, right?

Self-worth and self-esteem are two different things, by the way, and from a theological standpoint the first comes from the IMAGO DEI.  I mean, where else would it come from?  The other narrative is that we are biological products of natural selection anyway,  with no intelligence behind that selection other than the process itself.

Self-esteem needs a basis.  And that gets into the myth of easy.

If learning is easy, then it can't be hard.  If learning is hard, than I must not be good at something.  If I am not naturally good at something, there is no reason for me to spend time on it.

Math is hard.  Biology is hard.  Learning to write cogently is hard.  Because they are hard, I must not be good at them, because they would come easily to me if I were good at it.  So, I shouldn't have to do it.

Anyone who has taught difficult classes to freshmen (Writing, Public speaking, algebra, biology, a foreign language) has heard some variation on this.  Since I teach the first two, especially public speaking, I hear versions of it quite a bit.

The fault lies in the presupposition that LEARNING IS EASY.  It is not. It was never intended to be easy and is in fact not, not from a psychological, biological, or social standpoint.

Duckworth points out that learning comes from powering through (that's the grit) periods of confusion.  Without the confusion, there has been no learning because it's already known.  This parallels Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, which I think is an important theoretical perspective.

We need to stop portraying learning, at any age, as easy.  It is hard and it's hardness has nothing to do with one's ability to do it or its value.

I am reminded of the research about people who believe in soul mates having more divorces.  Your soul mate is not supposed to present any challenges or problems in the marriage.  If there is a problem, the person is not your soulmate; you made a mistake, so you must divorce that person and go find the real soulmate.  This is the plot of almost every Hollywood rom-com, where the protagonists are in relationships with others but break up  to be with the right ones. The "break up' partner is always clearly flawed in some way and the "right one" is always perfect, unflawed.

The point is that since love with your soulmate (a strange concept, really), see here is supposed to be easy and not hard, it's just right to jump ship than to work through relationship problems like an adult.

Years ago my husband wanted to get into snow skiing.  I learned it.  It was hard.  I did get to a minimal proficiency.  There was some enjoyment in it, but not really.  I mean seriously--it's cold, the boots are painful, the likelihood of injury is high, and it's darn expensive.  So, ultimately, despite the learning, I don't ski any more and don't plan to, especially the way my back is now (which may have gotten bad from the skiing).  Learning is not easy.

Now, in terms of the Mindset book, we decided in the group that it was too black and white, that it portrayed people as either being in a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.  This is way simplistic.  I think it's a range, and it's contextual/situational, and it's a tendency rather than an "always reaction."  I may have a growth mindset and have failure set backs but find that resiliency after a period of time.  I may be growth about somethings and fixed about others.  I may be 75% growth and 25% fixed.  Life is not as simple as this book portrays.

If I know anything, life is complicated.  And the myth of easy doesn't help.

Good, Holy, Blessed Friday 2017

When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. F...