Saturday, July 26, 2008

Creepy and Satisfying

I, like many people, have had enough of Obama the Rock Star. This website says it all.
http://obamamessiah.blogspot.com

Of course, the website is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and I am not implying that all Obama supporters are ready-to-drink-the koolaid types. I can understand, to some extent, why some are sincerely behind him. But the public statements made by many, especially celebrities, are just plain creepy.

To be fair, his ability to communicate something, anything at all, conveys to people that he will listen to them, and being listened to is one of the most important human psychological needs. What good is having a voice if no one listens? I guess I am too cynical to believe everyone will be listened to equally; in fact, some groups won't be listened to at all. Those with a prolife position will definitely not be heeded. There are many others who won't be either.

A second human need is to accomplish something. I painted a bedroom yesterday that should have been painted four years ago. It looks so good, but that's a lot of work. I am also planning to finish the first draft of my second novel. I hope this one will be more emotionally satisfying for readers than my first one will be.

And thankfully, we in North Georgia are getting rain this week. Thank the Lord for all His blessings.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Political opinions

Yesterday someone implied I was negative. HMMMM. Occupational hazard and probably temperament, but I don't think I'd be as healthy and stable as I am under the circumstances (I live with a person suffering from chronic depression) if I were negative. I am analytical. Ha! My recently published novel (that was a shameless and shameful plug) deals with all the subjects you're not supposed to talk about in polite conversation--religion, politics, rape, and abortion. And it's dark.

Anyway, it's hard not to be negative about this presidential race.

First, McCain. He really doesn't seem to be working very hard. The people who are potentially going to vote for him need to be courted. The Republican party has laid down and died since the primaries. Why aren't we registering voters? Why aren't we making a big, honking deal about what Obama is going to do to this country? It may a the lesser of two evils (I don't think so), but the more evil candidate is a lot more evil than the less evil one.

Second, Obama. I have tried to be diplomatic about Obama. It's great a half-black (and let's be honest here, he's white as much as black and he proves that race is a social construct in many ways) candidate is doing so well. He is a good father, faithful to his wife, more honorable than many politicians, etc. I don't think he'll exploit his children for the race. I can have some sympathy for him as far as the church issue went. All that said, he's a politician, and when it comes to politics, he is no less or more unethical than others. His recent turnarounds were egregious pandering to the center; I am shocked by them. Everyone can add nuances to their positions, that is growth; he has totally switched. What strikes me is the calculatedness of it all; he had every intention, in my opinion, of changing after the primaries, because anyone with a brain would know he couldn't get elected by the majority of America with his record and his positions.

Third, the media. The fact that Obama's recent trip to the middle East was taken with a congressional delegation was not reported; pictures of Obama show Obama alone, not with others. The fact that three anchors followed him is outrageous. Here I have to agree with Sean Hannity, with whom I often disagree--this is the year journalism, at least television journalism, died. CNN recently had two programs on Obama in one night, one of them explicitly disproving myths about him.

Fourth, the negativity. I know it's tough for a lot of people, but the American definition of tough is not a realistic definition of tough. Families' having to cut out cable television because money is tight is not a sign of the apocalypse. We are spoiled and any reduction in the level of our spoilage is seen as deprivation. The other day I heard Gore say, "I can't think of a time when things have been as bad as they are now." And this is from a man who wanted to be president? I could name plenty of times things were worse. I find it interesting that oil has dropped $20.00 a barrel in the last few days. It's never going to be $2.00 a gallon again, but why should it be? How else are we going to get serious about alternative energy sources?

Americans do need to stop whining, except those who have truly done the right thing, worked hard, paid their bills, and are suffering. There are many of these people and our whining about things that don't matter drowns out the pleas for help of those who really need it, just like the media coverage of rock star Obama drowns out the debate over real issues.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Reviews

Because I am a college professor, I read a lot. Probably much more than the average person, at least a book a week. I have to rotate what I read, and usually I am reading four or five books at a time. I read from categories of fiction for fun, literary fiction, spiritual/philosophical help, teaching and learning, and professional reading (communication or humanities). Below are some reviews/comments on my most recent reading in these categories.
1. Fiction for fun. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. I picked this book up only because it is set in the town I live in, Ringgold, Georgia. It's hard not to read a book about where you live. The setting is early 1970s, more or less (she makes some mistakes on this; at one point the characters are talking about President Carter, which would be hard to do in 1971). It's .... cute. Sometimes you know who she is talking about (the identity of a prominent dairy farming family is obvious to us locals) and always where she is talking about. But great literature, it ain't.
2. Literary fiction. Well, my own book fits here, I hope, and I read the proofs twice. I think it's a good read, but it's not fiction for fun. However, I am also reading House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Her voice is one of a very dry wit. I can't tell if Wharton likes Lily Bart or not; she seems to hold her at a distance; Lily's inability to think past her extravagant lifestyle and thus her need for a rich husband is definitely something Ms. Wharton dislikes. Yet she also portrays Lily as not really able to change her situation life, to be trapped in her social standing. Although written only 100 years ago, I can see how much the language and our standards for fiction have changed. This book and the one in mentioned above are on different ends of the spectrum, miles apart.
3. In terms of spiritual/philosophical help (this category includes anything I would read for my Bible teaching), I'm reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. It's something I need to read; it's not fun, rather preachy, and it commits the error of using Bible passages out of context to support their thesis, but all of us people pleasers need to be shaken out of our stupors. As a friend in our mentoring group this morning says, if someone else has problems with the boundaries you chose, it is his/her problem, not yours.
4. Teaching and Learning. The best book I've read lately in this realm is The Critically Reflective Teacher. Brookfield really made me re-evaluate my whole career as a teacher; it's a life-changing book for me. However, I was disappointed when I reached the last few chapters and found he was dependent on Frankfurt School ideology; I hadn't picked up on that early on. I feel that he is saying, "If you want to be a good teacher who really looks at what you do in the classroom in a clear-eyed, truthful way, you have to buy into this neoMarxist nonsense." And I cringe. But I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater (what a horrid cliche). It's worth reading for any college teacher as long as you don't take the last few chapters seriously.
On a more practical note, McKeachie's Teaching Tips is a helpful guide to any new college professor.
5. In terms of communication, I've read several books this summer on Business--a good book on Drucker and one by him, The Practice of Management, Top-Down, The World is Flat, etc.--to include on my Business Communication course's reading list. Those usually have one or two ideas and a huge amount of verbiage. In fact, I'm having a hard time even remembering all the titles I've looked at!
Someone said recently, or I read, that if you have read three books on a subject you are an expert. As a person who lives and works in an academic realm even if I don't call myself an academic, that is nonsense. Unfortunately, I do feel better informed than most people, and it probably shows, for which I apologize.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Encouragement

Encouragement is the virtue all Christians must practice. Why? Because fear (de-couragement) is so common and because discouragement is so devastating. Everyone needs encouragement. All of us can provide encouragement, with little effort but with a lot of consciousness-raising.

Acts gives us a portrait of a world-class encourager, Barnabas, son of consolation. I love this character. He pops up in the book of Acts (and in the epistles) at various times. He doesn't preach; he doesn't perform signs and wonders (at least we are not given specific examples of his doing so); he doesn't have a formal role of pastor, apostle, prophet, or elder. He is an encourager. From studying Acts 11, 13 and 14, I see Barnabas showing his traits as an encourager in the following ways.
1. An encourager can be anybody, but he/she accepts his/her role and abilities. Paul did the heavy lifting, it would seem. And Barnabas was okay with that. One did not work more than the other; if Paul received more of the punishment, it was probably because he was the more vocal of the two, the more confrontational. Barnabas wasn't a confronter; he was a consoler.
2. An encourager looks for ways to meet needs or for connecting people who have needs with those who meet them (doesn’t meet them him/herself). 11:25, 11:28. In fact, this seems to be Barnabas main talent. He brought Saul to the church in Antioch; he brought the offering from the Antioch church to the starving Jerusalem church; he brought Mark in to assist Saul.
3. An encourager practices spiritual disciplines, gets his/her encouragement from the Lord and others when necessary, and takes time to refresh. (14:28) They fasted and prayed before leaving on the first missionary journey.
4. An encourager has patience (11:26). How long did they stay and work with the different churches they started? As long as it took. Luke is close-mouthed about the length of these periods, but we can assume they weren't just a couple of months.
5. An encourager places appropriate trust in another and expresses the trust in real ways (loyalty). 12:25, 13:13, 15:39. Follow these verses to learn the story of Mark. I do not believe we can conclude that Paul was right and Barnabas was wrong; I think that goes along with the heresy that everything Paul did was right. (In my thinking, Paul gave in to the Judaizers at two points instead of taking a stand.) If Paul has to be right in all his actions because he wrote Scripture, then Peter would, too, and we know that's not true. None of this deification of Paul for me. Barnbas was vindicated in I Timothy 4--Paul asked for Timothy to bring John Mark at the end of his life.
6. An encourager is flexible and ready for things the Lord brings into his/her path.
7. An encourager is BOLD (en-couraged) when he/she needs to be. You can’t give away what you don’t have.
8. An encourager must have an inward stability in times of crisis and opposition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breakthrough

I now hold my first novel in my hot little hands. It's hard to believe--ten years of work actually paid off in something. Of course, it would be good if someone reads it, but at least a very skillful and credible editor liked it a great deal and felt it was worth publishing.

I also live outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, and we learned yesterday that Volkswagen is going to build a plant here. That is extremely good news for the economy here.

I have also made a mental breakthrough this summer about teaching, perhaps from reading the book Boundaries and perhaps from all the constructivist theory I've been trying to digest. The students must take responsibility for their own learning, which includes reading the materials outside of class. My job is accountability. I really do think that could be my new mantra. I plan on lecturing a lot less but scaffolding a lot more. I plan on holding them to the "two hours of studying for ever hour in class" and give them time to implement that. I plan to give my juniors more say over what and how they want to learn, as long as certain goals for which I am responsible are met.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mentoring

I am attending a Bible study at church on mentoring. It involves a better-than-average book and some good discussion. I don't know if we will all end up being mentors, but it's food for thought. Many more women should be in the group, and I am only there because my summer teaching schedule allows it, for which I am glad.

Mentoring can be a lifestyle, I think, more than just a role, a short-term position, or a "relationship" (one of our most overused words). I don't think a mentoring partnership can be forced or really assigned either. Deep calls to deep, iron sharpens iron. Praying for a mentoree to be led to you might be more effective and efficient than being assigned one. There's a serendipity to these things, and at the same time there is proactivity.

The main question is, however, should I mentor? Being outwardly someone older, wiser, more advanced on the Christian path (as if it were linear and not always looping back on itself) should qualify one, but it's not that easy. A person needs time, patience, humility, and a flexibility. You can be a mature Christian and not have a version of these qualities that meshes with a younger person. And that is the question for me--can I mesh with someone? Will it be forced, mechanical? I can identify problems I would have in mentoring more easily than I can see my strengths in it. That may be a bad sign, or it may be a sign of realism.

In reference to the above comment about "relationship," the word has become a cliche to me. "Develop a relationship with Jesus" is such an egregious one that I plan to write a book about it. One, it sounds like we are the important, initiating ones in the two-some; second, it lowers the cosmic dimensions of our conversion to a series of dates; third, Biblical relationship are unique and all based on the absolute inequality of the sinner and savior. "I am in a relationship" is an excuse, not a description of someone's life status. It's a generic, anemic substitute for courtship the same way partnership stands in for marriage, supposedly.

Mentoring is important to teaching. The only problem is a teacher cannot mentor 150 students a semester. One can only mentor a handful of people over a period of time, if that many. The person one mentors should be a former student, not someone currently in class, because that could lead to ethical problems and accusations of favoritism (something I would resent as a student). And opposite sex mentoring should be done very, very carefully. Mentoring is not, however, "reproducing oneself." That's another cliche. The world doesn't need two copies of anybody. Unfortunately too many people want a clone; that's creepy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Patriotism and the 4th and Death and Cell Phones

The two candidates have weighed in on patriotism.
http://news.yahoo.com/page/parade/patriotism/obama http://news.yahoo.com/page/parade/patriotism/mccain

Both have good sentiments. I will not compare. As Dr. Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," but he was only half right. To be a true patriot is to live the selfless life, to put one's self interest aside or cast it aside altogther for others to live in freedom and in a better country.

For Christians, the country comes after Christ and thus is in its right place. Putting it first would skew everything and justify a lot of behavior that should not be justified. The most patriotic people now are the Christians; I would lay money on the proposition that those who are serving in the military now are more proportionately religious believers than in the country as a whole. This is not to say nonChristians are by nature are nonpatriotic; of course not. It only means that balanced patriotism is part and parcel of true Christian faith.

Today we buried a dear friend. The funeral was short; it would have been nice for people to have been able to share memories. Her sweet elderly husband is devastated and it will be the responsibility of friends to check up on him and encourage him but we cannot make it better or his loss "go away." These days must be endured. We have no choice. We can say euphemistic things but loneliness is loneliness. I'm sure the five stages of grief was a helpful book but it is so misinterpreted by those who never read it that we would be better off without the ideas it has spawned. Grief is nothing but a circular, overlapping process, not a linear one, and recogizing one is in a particular step doesn't guarantee progression. "Moving on" has got to be the worst cliche. How many hasty remarriages have resulted from it? How many bad decisions about money?

I also wonder why people can't dress anymore. The clothes people wear to funerals--like a sporting event! And cell phones going off--is nothing sacred!? Twenty years from now we'll look back on this era of cell phone bondage and wonder why we were so enamored of a toy like that. I think the two most frequently said things into cell phones are "What are you doing?" and "Where are you?" A woman was in the stall next to me at Cracker Barrel today answering those questions, and she of course answered them truthfully.

The parts of this incoherent post share a commonality: my experiences on the day before the 4th of July, what I call the middle day of the year (I think it really is the middle day). We are living in an interesting time; I do not share all the pessimism of others because I believe in God and because I have studied history and know there were worse, much worse, times in the past. All we have to do is be countercultural, not an easy task but not an impossible one. And counterculturalism may be the best form of patriotism and Christian service around.

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...