Monday, May 29, 2006

Confronting Job

For the next three months in Sunday Bible study, we are facing off with Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. And I thought Ezekiel would be a challenge. The Lifeway study helps are a starting place; at least they limit me as to what I'm supposed to try to cover. But my goodness! These books confront the most existential problems of life--massive human suffering on a personal level, depression and despair, and eroticism.

Job is the first one. I get to "Job feared God" and that's about as far as I get. My first lesson should be a Biblical definition of what it means to fear God. None of this "reverential awe" stuff. Job feared God. The ancient world had good reason to. Apparently we do not, despite the tsunami and the recent earthquake in Indonesia over the weekend and then let's not even talk about Katrina. Not that God is nature, but that God controls nature, and we can only prepare and run, we can't change it or "improve it." Medical technology has improved but the human body is still the human body it was 3,000 years ago. (Considering the overwhelming amount of obesity nowadays, and not just in the U.S., maybe the human body is less healthy or at least adaptable than it was 3,000 years ago.)

Of course, you bring up fearing God in a Southern Baptist or any other kind of evangelical church nowadays and we all get antsy. We're not supposed to fear God, because Jesus is nice. Fearing God will make us legalistic clones. Fearing God leads us to all kinds of psychological pathologies. We'll be like the Muslims, for goodness' sake! But I think we'll find the word fear a lot more times in the Bible than we want to admit. Sure, love is in there more than fear, and maybe not so much fear in the New Testament as the Old, but it's there. We are post-Enlightenment, so much of nature can be explained outside of providence; we're postmodern, so certainly we can't take one cultural definition of God more seriously than another, now can we?

So my lesson is going to be about the two key words in Job. Fear and curse. You either fear God or curse Him when life hits the fan. Curse is for tomorrow's blog.

I like this blogging thing. I have learned to compose through my fingertips and not through cursive. The cursive seems like a wasted step now, which I hate to admit. As conservative as I am socially, and as much as I curse cell phone usage, I use as much technology as possible. I don't even mind voice mail (press 1 for ...) at businesses. Better that than being put on hold.

As for my "journey toward the doctorate," my biggest "fears" if you can still call them that still revolve around driving to Atlanta. I wish the campus were not in downtown! And I wish the classes didn't get out so late! But I've walked all over London by myself late at night, so I can do this; I plan to travel very light, no purse, just some cash and one card in my underwear and my driver's license.

I am reading Mayhew's "The New Public". It's ok. He's verbose and unnecessarily complicated. The ideas he is presenting are not that complex, but he couches them in words that are supposed to make them seem so. I think this will be a common discovery in doctoral work. I have to get used to reading this kind of academic discourse more quickly, since I won't have massive amounts of leisure to read these books. I plan to not go in the summers for now so I can read up and recuperate.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunday, May 29

This is a typical Sunday for me, which means church, home by 11:15, lunch, read the paper, take a nap, do personal visits or study, take a nap. My son goes to his job and I take it easy. He is out of school now, and plans not to overexert himself this summer, and I can accept that. He is taking the SAT and ACT in the next two weeks, will have to read four or five books for AP English, is supposed to help his dad with projects, must work on his golf game, and will work about 30 hours a week. So why I can't I be happy with that? What is it about my generation that thinks children have to be so busy all the time? That will come.

I wrote a novel and sent it to two Christian clearinghouses. I would like to hope something will come of it--I gave them enough money. My desire to write fiction is keen, and probably the thing I would like to do more than anything, but it's not practical to pin one's dreams on it. I have five or six viable ideas. The Ph.D. work looms up before me and threatens to control me; I don't realistically know how difficult and time-consuming this will be. It's a journey with a sketchy road map.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On distractions and devotions

The topic of the day is Mary of Bethany. This the Mary who sat and listened to Jesus, the Mary who confronted Jesus about Lazarus' death, the Mary who wiped Jesus feet with her hair and an incredibly expensive oily perfume. We know a lot about her for a woman in the Bible, and poor Martha has suffered from comparison to her sister. Was this true all her life? Was Mary the prettier, sweeter one by nature, putting Martha in a position to have to take charge, get things done, and by contrast seem like a grump? Who was older? Were both unmarried all their lives, or widows? So we really don't know a great deal about her, and I'm not sure it matters. The stories are not there to reveal her character, but to advance the story of the gospel. Real people though Biblical characters are, they are foils to an extent.

Mary's devotion was profound, and the two stories (Luke 10, John 12) have one thing in common. Mary is criticized for devotion, and Jesus tells the critics to back off, in so many words. How many times has one group of Christians criticized the devotional excesses (in their thinking) of another group? We don't have a right to do so. I have a right to my own level of devotion, even if you think I could spend the money or time in some other way. That seems to be the clear teaching here. How are we to emulate Mary? By not being held back by the actual or potential criticism of others when it comes to faith choices.

Sure, we can overdo it. I don't think we're in much danger of that. There's such a thing as self-preservation! We're far more likely to balk at truly expressing ourselves to Christ in freedom than we are to giving too much.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On non-prodigals and busy women

My handwriting is so bad any more that the blog method might be much better for journaling. Since I doubt seriously anyone will ever read this, I feel secure in my privacy. In studying for my Bible class (read Sunday School) lesson, I read Luke 10, the end of it, and turned over to Luke 15. Martha and the older son are the brunt of a lot of unfair and I would say bad preaching. We do not have to denigrate the responsible to glorify God's grace. When Jesus spoke to Martha, it was with all kindness. None of this "You wicked woman, get your priorities straight and your heart right," stuff we hear in sermons trying to get the audience to have their daily devotions. That misses the whole point of the context. Martha was doing what was expected, and Mary was not. She is not condemned for that. She is just gently encouraged not to be troubled about the temporal, and to realize that the kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing may just turn some typical expectations on their heads.

The same happens with the older son in the prodigal (which I always hasten to mention means wasteful, not wayward) son. This is another story that turns the expected order on its head. But even though the older son represents the Pharisees, good Jews, and even though the older son's words are pretty petulant, to say the least, the words of the father are gentle. "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."

We can glorify grace and the love of the Heavenly Father without making the older son such a blackguard. He has done nothing wrong, and it does no good to act like he had some dark ulterior motive in staying faithful. He almost gets turned into some villain, or at best a whiny loser. He has seen how the younger son broke his father's heart; he has lived with the tears, the worries. I have always thought they were half-brothers, with different mothers ("this son of yours.") I identify with the older son far more than I ever will with the younger, but that doesn't mean I reject or fail to understand grace. We all experience grace differently, I think.

I'm working on a longer essay on this subject, because the younger sons, for all their repentance, have massive baggage they bring with them.

I say this because I've been in a position (driving late at night) to heard John MacArthur preaching on Luke 15, and while I consider him an excellent preacher, he has gone a little overboard in condemning the older son, like a lot of preachers. Many of the Pharisees crucified Christ, but many of them came to Him as well. Being a moral person who towed the line and lived responsibly doesn't preclude one from grace; in fact, that person might be more conscious of right and wrong and more open to conviction. Of course, he or she could also be incredibly self-righteous. We never hear the rest of the prodigal son story, and that's why it's such great literature. We get to mull over it and figure it out for ourselves.

Preachers--and I've heard thousands of them--say a lot of garbage in the quest to be interesting and get people down the aisle. Mine does not, I can say, thankfully, but many do. They overstate the case by a mile. For example, I've heard sermons about "burning your bridges." That is the worst thing you can do, if it means cutting off relationships or ridding oneself of means of support. Only if it means repentance does it make sense. I often hear preachers trying to get me to live a way I know they don't. My pastor has a boat, so I take it with a grain of salt when he talks about making financial sacrifices.

Jesus knows we live in this world. He knows our frame. He gives us a break, although we rarely give each other one.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beginning a journey

In late August I will begin Ph.D. work at Georgia State University. My degree, when earned, will be in public communication, which is a morphing of the old speech communication degree. Starting doctoral work at 50 has its pros and cons. Pros: I'm a lot more worldly-wise than I was in my 20s, a lot more tech savvy than in my 30s, and a lot less pretentious than I was in my 40s. Earning a Ph.D., I know at this age, won't make me smarter or better or "eliter" than anybody else; it will just open professional doors that have been closed up to now. Other pros: More financial stable, my son is almost grown (he'll be almost 18 when I get started, which was the reason I waited until now--I wasn't going to put his upbringing behind my professional goals), a husband that stays home anyway and will take care of the house; more well read in general. I also have an excellent job that will be there when I finish and a boss that will work with me, I think one reason being that no one here has a doctorate in communication. The cons: not as much energy as I had twenty years ago, and sometimes my brain doesn't work as fast. It takes longer for words and names to get to the top where speech comes out. Other con: son is going to college, so we'll be living frugally for the next five years. After that, perhaps some travel. Major con: commuting to Atlanta, with a fluid (volatile) price of gas, offset by our ownership of a Civic (best investment my husband ever made!)

I am going to use this blog as a journal of Ph.D. work. Perhaps it will be publishable in later years, as a guide for someone in my position. Maybe not. Perhaps it will just be cathartic.

In fall 2006 I will be taking three classes. One is a one-hour seminar that really involves no outside work, or so I have been told. One is called "Theories of the Public," and since I had met the professor on my exploration visit to GSU in fall 2004, I emailed him about what would be good to read, and he told me the names of the texts. I am reading them before class starts. They are not exactly potboilers; I would call them sociological views of rhetoric. Learning (again) to read this highly abstract kind of material will be good for me, as long as it doesn't affect my writing style--I didn't get an M.A. in writing to learn to write that stiff, verbose academic style that seems to take far more space than it needs to to say something relatively simple . The other class I may take (haven't registered yet) is Communication Pedagogy, which I have been told is not too difficult. Since I have taught for 28 years, I will probably have to bite my tongue on a weekly basis.

Any class is only 16 weeks. I can do anything for 16 weeks. Whether I can spend four to six years (I hope that's all) of my life in this endeavor is still negotiable.

I sincerely hope that at my age I will not allow myself to become a victim of doctoral studies. I certainly trust (God) that I will stay centered and normal but will become a legitimate scholar because of this experience. Not that scholarship per se is my goal; the real goal is administration and more money and perhaps a move to the private sector or mission field. That is yet to be seen. Since I do not believe in retirement (until well into my 70s when work becomes impractical), I plan to use the Ph.D. for all it's worth.

This morning in NPR there was a story of Miss Hazel, who at 89 is still teaching English at a high school in Lakeland, FL. What wisdom. She is retiring but has had three job offers. You go, girl. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5421344

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reflections on a Georgia May evening

As a college professor, I enjoy the end of final exams as much as the students do. My husband and I are both sitting at laptops, hooked up by a wireless router, surfing and blogging (in my case). I have decided to start using the blog as it was intended, and I hope that others can start to come to it.

My real name is Barbara Tucker; I was feeling guilty about the Glenda Boone persona.

Now the question becomes, how do I get other people to come (and care about coming) to my blog? If I don't go to another, why should they come to mine?

Netflix

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