Friday, May 30, 2014

Robertsons Revisited

OK, CT had an ad in its margins for a Bible study written by the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty.

Give me a break.  These are the same people who have their names on a brand of wine, on underwear, on camping equipment, on mobile homes, on . . . .

They are Church of Christ, by the way, so that sort of eliminates a lot of believers who would take issue with that denomination's teachings.

What is more disturbing is the commodification and commercialization of Bible study and the failure of people to be able to study the Bible without this stuff.  I want to write a book on how to study the Bible for real people, but only because I think the average person should stay away from this merchandizing.

Facebook Redux and Freedom of Speech

It's very hard not to have a conversation with anyone any more without Facebook coming into it.  As much as I promise myself I will only look at it to check my notifications, I end up scrolling down the newsfeed, and usually wasting time, getting annoyed, shaking  my head at some silliness, and occasionally learning something and being encouraged.

Part of the problem is that I have an ungodly number of "friends" so I see too much stuff.  I could get rid of 75% of them and still have too many. 

Today I defriended or defollowed someone I barely know due to a political post, a straw man argument that just hit me wrong and I said, I don't need this hassle.  I feel guilty and defensive about it.  Why?

Also earlier this week, the daughter of a friend posted a highly disturbing post that sounded suicidal, and then two days later she posted that she was being required to see a psychiatrist by her employer, and she was arguing about the unfairness of it, the judgmentalism of it, and her interlocutors were trying to encourage her but also reason with her.  Her question:  Is there no freedom of speech on social media?

No, because there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech anywhere, in the sense that speech is free of responsibility. Yes, you can say it; but you have to take the consequences, which seems to perplex people today and I don't understand that.  I expect when I post something that people will disagree with me, and they have that right; I do not understand why freedom of speech, of which I am an advocate, almost an activist, is somehow interpreted as freedom from disagreement.

Christianity Today has an article about Dave Ramsey's former employees attacking him on social media; it is an interesting take on the subject.  Inside Higher Ed also has an article about a scholar at UVA, who is himself a libertarian but whose work is used by conservatives (and liberals) for political purposes.  An LBGT group wants his emails revealed under the state's Freedom of Information Act.  That is scary.  We can't take any of this for granted.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dean Spanley

We watched this on NetFlix the other night.  At first I was put out with the idea of reincarnation, but something about it--the actors, I guess--pulled me in to what left me almost teary-eyed.  I have always said I was a sucker for a dog story, even one as preposterous as this one.

In short, Peter O'Toole plays a very hateful old man who makes life miserable for his remaining son, Jeremy Northam, who tries to have a relationship with him.  This is in pre-WW I England.  O'Toole's son was killed in the Boer War and his wife died after that, and he is bitter yet fails to see that his son has lost two loved ones also.  A strange Anglican priest (or dean, not sure of the hierarachy there) comes into their life, and when he drinks a rare, expensive wine procured for Northam by an odd Australian (Bryan Brown), the dean talks about his former life as a dog.  Like I said, way weird. 

O'Toole had a dog as a child who ran off one day with a stray mutt friend and never came back.  His son never came back.  The dean is the dog.  He tells a captivating story of his last day of life running with his friend and how he was shot, although as a dog he didn't know that.  The old man realizes that happened to both his son, returning home from a patrol in South Africa, and to his dog.

My description doesn't do it justice, and it is weird, but it is essentially about grief.  I am upset writing about it, because I lost my brother three years ago, suddenly, and it was a complicated relationship.  I was at his bedside when he died, with my mother. He was unconscious already, so he went to permanent unconsciousness, so to speak.  In October, not to equalize them, we put our dog to sleep in my arms and that was not what I expected.  Both died suddenly due to sudden illnesses and there was nothing to be done for them.  I realized through the movie that I too had conflated them, confused them emotionally, that losing the dog was hard because of losing my brother in so much the same manner, as silly as that might sound. 

My point is that a film can bring up feelings and experiences we don't expect.  I was quite taken aback by it.

Amicable Weirdos

My husband and I will often pick a movie on NetFlix.  He picks good ones that I would pass over.  We watched Night Train to Lisbon the other night, and an Italian film Bread and Tulips a couple of weeks ago.  Also Dean Spanley, which I'll write about elsewhere.

Anyway, in the description to Bread and Tulips, it says that the main character meets a group of amicable weirdos.  We watched the movie based on that phrase, and we've been laughing about it since.  What is an amicable weirdo?  However, I didn't think any of the characters were weirdos.  They were wonderfully human, which is the charm of the film.

I would like to be called an amicable (in the sense of friendly) weirdo.  I am odd; I own that, but I've met very few people who aren't odd.  I am reading the Carnegie Mellon Online Learning Initiative class in Statistical Reasoning (for a data analysis class I am taking this summer) and learning about the null hypothesis.  My null hypothesis is that everyone is odd in their own way, and I haven't reached a signficance level of .05 to make me reject the null hypothesis!  Odd can be good.

Going Against the Grain about an Icon

I expect this post will make some people angry.  Sorry.

Yesterday Maya Angelou died at her home in North Carolina.  I heard an interview with her by Terri Gross, whom I always liked to hear even though her world view rubs me the wrong way (and she really is sycophantic about some celebs she talks to).  It was an old interview, from 1986.  I was driving in the car to do my mother's grocery shopping, after having taken her to the doctor.

Maya Angelou was 86. My mother is 86, and dying; perhaps not soon, but she is going down hill from cancer.  The contrast could not be more startling in my mind

I heard Maya Angelou speak back around 2000 at, as I recall, a SACS conference, and that was a pleasure, although I would have rather SACS charged less for its conferences (which are out of sight) than get high end speakers like Angelou to speak at them.  At any rate, she did show a wisdom of age.  I have taught her poem "My Arkansas" in Intro to lit and read part of her first book in an anthology.  I have seen her on Oprah, who also fawned rather a bit.  I guess Oprah will take her place as whatever it was she represented.

So, Angelou has been an extremely marginal figure in my life, and there's a reason:  I found her more fiction than fact.  Some of the things she claims to have done just don't entirely add up, and to support my argument, I refer to John McWhorter's article in the New Republic.  I have read other of McWhorter's work on language, so I am not randomly picking out writers.  And he is black.  The article is well worth reading as a literary analysis, or more, an analysis of a literary figure.

Angelou (not her real name, by the way) always happened to be in the absolutely right place at the absolutely right time.  However, I will not deny she was a powerful wordsmith and sometimes storyteller; I am just not sure why she was given such credence other than, culturally, she was in the absolutely right place at the absolutely right time to hit the pop literary scene as a black feminist.  But she hardly seems a moral authority (especially having been a pimp and a hooker herself in her younger years).  But I digress, before this sounds like a racist rant, which it is not.

Anyway, I can't help but compare her to my mother, who lived her 86 years quite differently, in service to people she loved rather than in service to an image she created.  And if anyone would accuse me of racism, I could compare her to the millions of loving African American women who have "held up the sky" of our culture.  And I can't help but think of my "friends" on Facebook who posted sweet things about her, having little knowledge of her and none personal.  (I did, too, so I'm being hypocritical here).  And I can't help but think that the world sometimes (often) honors the wrong people, if by the world we say the media, which seems to be the greatest servant of the "world" in the Biblical sense, and the primary purveyor of its messages.

Teaching the Word with Integrity

A friend (in this case rather more of a former colleague) posted this on Facebook.

This is great reading; the comments are better than the original article, because the comments eventually start taking issue with him.  Blogger citing blogger citing bloggers.  Occasionally one would cite a primary source. 

The point:  take the preaching of the Bible dead seriously, and don't use an illustration unless you can verify it, which means in most cases, don't use it.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is (but "probably" is not "definitely").

Note: A reader encouraged me to find and use my voice in blogging.  Thank you!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reflections on Writing my First Murder Mystery

Back in the fall, for some reason I have forgotten, I told the play director at my college that I would write her a play.  She likes to do original work in the fall (it also saves royalties).  My motivations were that I wanted to see if I could do it and thought it might be nice to see the students produce something I wrote.  Of course, it's not like I don't have dozens of others projects.

I worked on it a bit through the school year, getting maybe 25 pages done, but once graduation had passed I knew I had to finish it.  I had fashioned it in my head for six months, and I literally wrote it out of thin air.  I finished the first draft Sunday and sent it to her.

It is a murder mystery-farce-parody.  It parodies a lot of Agatha Christie tropes, and it pays homage to old screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s that usually starred Cary Grant.  One person is rather violently murdered but he is a bad guy killed by another bad guy; we can't have someone we care about murdered, but the "detective" tries to pin it on three innocent people who have some embarrassing secrets.  It is corny. I am not that good at one liners, so some of the comedy might be forced.  It also uses a lot of Southern cliches.  It is meant to be fun and entertaining, which is not what I normally write. 

Plays, like poetry, put certain constraints on the writer.  I only have one set (to save money, and I really don't like sitting through set changes), so everything has to take place in one place.  I like a lot of physical action on a stage.  Everything must be revealed through dialogue, and that makes for awkward dialogue sometimes.  The writer must also deal with pacing.  Something can't happen too fast; things need time to psychologically or at least conversationally happen in the characters. 

Everything takes longer than it takes, is a favorite adage of mine, and the play took longer than I wanted to spend writing it, and I have no idea how long the play is, performance-wise.  That is another constraint of playwriting--performance time.  A play can't go on five hours (well, some do, but not this kind!) That never matters to a novelist.  You write until it works. 

The story behind this play came from a couple of images:  a body hanging in a window with a knife in his back, and a girl getting married who couldn't get off her cell phone.  I also added in the idea of identity theft.  I think all creative writing starts with an image like that, or a combination, or maybe a phrase, a line. 

There are a lot of people writing novels today, and "indie" publishing; I will be writing an ebook on writing ebooks this summer myself.  Most are probably just readable, not great.  When I think how many people are writing novels, and how many people are blogging, I am not sure why I keep doing it.  I have 30 ideas for blog posts but something keeps holding me back from publishing them, something that is saying, "do you have any more to offer the world than your opinions?"  If a blog post can't add to knowledge or inspire, should I put it up, should I waste my time on it?  That is plaguing me right now, but that plague will be overcome and I'll get back into daily posting. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reflections on Love and Song of Solomon

These were my notes for a lesson on Song of Solomon last week.   I post these because perhaps they can help someone.

I should say here that I am a conservative evangelical with a high view of Scripture, but not always the party line view.  I believe it should be interpreted in its grammatical-historical context.  I am not strict on eschatologically but very strict on others, especially when it's a question of syncretism, dualism, or modalism.
There are two basic interpretations to Song of Solomon:
(a)    More or less true story in poetic form about one of Solomon’s love affairs, celebrating the beauty of the man-woman romantic, filial (friendship, affection), and sexual relationship.
(b)   Allegorical about God and Israel or God and the church
If it’s the first one, why is it in the Bible?  Was this just another conquest for him, or something earlier in his life.  Solomon is in the story, because of references to kingship.  Some have interpreted it as a love triangle; she has a true love but Solomon is pursuing her and tempting her.  She is a natural woman, not a member of the courtly world.

So, why would all this talk of sexuality be in the Bible?

If it’s the second one, about a spiritual relationship, why so much sexual talk?

I lean toward some version of the first one, but I think the quarterly really oversimplifies.  I don’t believe in reading the Bible allegorically.  Perhaps, like Ecclesiastes, it is about how Solomon, who has everything, wants a simpler and more faithful life.

What it does teach is that the physical body is to be enjoyed, not hated.  It is anti-dualism and anti-gnosticism. 

Additionally, God’s covenant name is not mentioned directly. 

All that said, I’m going to build on the concept of love. 
8:6-7:  Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised. 
Poetically, this is saying that love beats out death, physical catastrophe, and material possessions.

The Hebrew word for love here is not complex like the Greek words.  It just means affection, and Strong’s concordance says “in a good or bad way.”  Another website translates it as

Top of Form
to love, like, adore, desire, be fond of , to fall in love, be loved, liked, to cause to love
Bottom of Form

How is love as strong as death?

Is jealousy a good or bad thing?

If I asked you to define yourself, you would probably list nouns and adjectives.  Would you use verbs, actions?  Maybe.  Theologians and Bible students describe God with lists of adjectives, usually, and one of those is God is love (I John 4:7)  or God is loving.  But I want to turn it around.  Instead of trying to define God by using the word love, we should define the word love by understanding God.  

Let’s turn to I John 4:7 ff.  I John combines three pillars of the Christian life:  love, doctrinal truth, and obedience, and they are not to be separated
1.      Love is an attribute of God; therefore, it is to be taken seriously and not thought of lightly
2.      It is not a feeling but neither is it divorced from feeling.  Emotional is part of it, but not the totality of it.  If there is no feeling, it’s just duty.  If it’s all feeling, there’s no stability.  Huma emotion is grounded in our bodies as well as our minds.  The ancient world used the phrase “bowels of mercy,” which sound funny to us, but think about it.  When we are moved emotionally it’s not just our heart that has sensations, but other parts.  I was thinking about my two students this week and my heart was compressed but so were my nerve endings and my stomach.  I was nauseous, for example. 
3.      It is about the other person, not us—sort of.  It is about the long-term good of the other person as well as our own (love your neighbor as yourself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)
4.      Love is the surest sign of our Christian faith. 
5.      Love is something we grow  into.  II Peter 1:5-8
6.      Love is an action and virtue fulfilled in us by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6)
7.      Love is stronger than the negative forces of our world—fear (I John 4;18). 
8.      Love determines acts of charity.  I John 3:16.
9.      Love is eternal. 
10.  Love gives meaning to our actions.  I Corinthians 13.  This is a soft pillow to rest on, it’s a measuring stick for when we use the word “love,” but it is more.  It is about life in the body.  Let’s look at it.
a.       Context:  Previous chapter
b.      Verses 1-3:  age of worship, age of knowledge, age of causes.  Where does love fit into it?
c.       Verses 4-7.  Actions, not qualities
d.      8-10.  Love is the eternal quality of the universe because God is love.
e.       11-2. The incomplete nature of how we live now.
f.       13-14:1:  Reframe your thinking to see love as the characteristic of God that binds it all together.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Iron Lady should be called the Irony Lady

Last night my husband wanted to watch a movie on NetFlix so we chose The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep, having heard it was good.  What was good about it was Streep's performance, of course, and some of the other acting.  That is about all I can say for it. 

Anecdote:  A colleague, whose father teaches at Oxford, has her doctorate from Oxford, and taught there as well, told me that when she was growing up, Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister and that told her that women could do anything and were not constrained in their potential success by being a woman.  Ironically, Thatcher would not have held to the political views of feminists.  She got where she was because she bypassed those ideologies and ways of being and faced the world of men head on.  She didn't let her womanhood become an issue when she saw bigger problems for her country.  She was PM of the country, no her sex. 

All the movie did was make me a bit angry and make me want to read a real bio of her.  Where did her staunch conservatism come from?  How did she view feminism and other such issues?  How did her education at Oxford affect her?  How did the class divisions influence her?  This movie does not address any of this; it is a fiction, largely.  Quite disappointing, and rather a waste of two hours of my life I won't get back and could have spent much better, probably reading a good biography of her.

I often show in one of my classes a video clip of her debating in Parliament.  It's quite funny; she was more than capable of using the invective and heckling that are part of that system.  When I finish this doctorate I will have time to read biographies that really explore this person, who changed history despite how this movie portrayed her as a doddering old woman.  My husband pointed out that at the beginning she told her young husband, "I won't be satisfied washing the tea cups" and the last scene is of her washing the tea cup.  A not-so-subtle statement, perhaps, from the director that her life was meaningless? 

Dangers and Hazards of Being a College Instructor

In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Petersen writes about an encounter with a Red Cross bloodmobile worker who asked him, "Do you engage in hazardous work?"  Petersen, a Presbyterian pastor, answered yes.  The worker looked up at him, saw his clerical collar (this must have been a while back; it's hard to believe anyone would wear those anymore) and smiled.  "I don't mean that kind of hazardous."

This story resonated with me a great deal in reference to my research.  According to various websites, such as this one,, being a college professor is one of the least stressful and most rewarding jobs in the country.

This is an interesting assertion.  I do find it rewarding and less stressful than say, an emergency room nurse, and I have often said that during training nurses are given some kind of pill to make them not hurry just because there is an emergency.  They couldn't be running around everywhere.  But to say that being a college professor is nonstressful and nonhazardous is to miss the daily life of the profession.

It is stressful in the following ways:
1.  the bar for success keeps changing; the external demands keep getting higher. 
2.  The pay is not nearly as good as people think, considering the level of education needed.  The source above says the median pay is less than $63,000; remember, that is median, not average.
3.  the demands of students keep changing
4.  Sometimes we are asked to be peacemakers, mediators, counsellors, administrators, and other jobs which we have not been educated for.  I had two experience within a week where two students in the same class faced me with incredible, insurmountable personal problems.
5.  The politics and backstabbing can overtake collegiality.
6.  You can lose your job at any time if not tenured.  If tenured, you are still subject to budget cuts.  Tenure in higher education is not what people think it is.

So, no, it is not physically stressful, and there are many rewards, but the research I am doing is showing me that the emotional and personal and intellectual demands can be quite daunting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lord, Deliver us from virtuous women!

I could be accused of writing provocative titles on these blogs.  I wish my novel titles had more salacious titles; maybe I would sell more.  Rape and Its Aftermath would be a good title for them. 

My computer has an adware thing that is driving me crazy.  I will go get it fixed tomorrow.  I am writing a play, a parlor mystery.  It is a different kind of writing for me.  All dialogue, same setting.  It is a bit derivative, borrowing from The Philadelphia Story, Keeping Up Appearances, and Agatha Christie.  It is also a comedy, which means the murder victim is a bad guy.  Some might say it is in bad taste.

Anyway, back to my title.  Fortunately, our pastor did not preach on Proverbs 31 on Sunday.  I am sure his wife would have disabused him of that if it had been his plan.  He gave a much better sermon based on post-resurrection appearances of Christ.  However, the Sunday School (we call them life groups now) was on Proverbs 31.  What a cliche.

If anybody thinks the Proverbs 31 woman is real, think again.  She is an ideal.  This is poetry, wisdom literature.  Remember, Proverbs talks about the woman wisdom crying in the street--not meant to be literal.  But . . . a woman of virtue does have certain key characteristics.  She is a good steward of resources (not a shopaholic), socially concerned and charitable, emotionally supportive of her family and husband, in awe of God, biblically literate, and has a strong work ethic.  We can be virtuous women and still get a good night's sleep, which, if we take Proverbs 31 literally, this woman does not. 

Women do not need to be browbeat with their inadequacies.  They need to get off of focusing on their inadequacies in the first place, and rest in God's grace.  True, there are lots of lazy women.  I know a few, but I know a whole lot more who are overworked and not allowed to be, just do. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Do You Pray?

Having been a Christian for four decades, I have heard many sermons on prayer.  Most of them were meant to be guilt-inducing, I think.  How many times have I heard that John Wesley got up and prayed at 3:00 in the morning?  I wish preachers would understand that what John Wesley did in his prayer life has no impact on us.

This is not to say that we should pray less.  Prayerlessness is our great sin; perhaps I should say the wrong kind of prayer is our sin.  A study of the Bible shows that the way we pray is pretty off base. We pray for God to intervene in the past because we did stupid things and don't want to face the consequences.  We pray for extremely self-centered things for our own convenience. 

What verb describes our prayers?
Cajole - Come on, God, you said ....
Demand  - we take boldness seriously!
Plead -  Please, please, please let me win the lottery
Bargain - If you do this, I'll do this
Bug - I know I've prayed for this for thirty years, but here I am agai
Fantasize - God, I'd really like to be two inches taller and fifty pounds lighter
Adore - Here I am to worship
Talk - Dear Friend and Father
Ask - Please grant what I need according to the word
Listen - I hear

Instead of treating prayer like a marathon, or trial, or a contest, why not treat it as a ministry, a source of help to others?  People like me are quite enamored of our own ability to do; someday I will not have that.  Let us see prayer as a doing for others.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

The World's Oldest Living Doctoral Candidate

This evening I am returning to blogging, having reached two milestones:  the end of the school year, and the passing of my second critical milestone in my doctoral program, meaning that I am ABD and admitted to candidacy.  That really just means more work, and soon. 

While I doubt that my claim to be the world's oldest living doctoral candidate cannot be substantiated, I doubt there are very many older than me.  One other woman in my program is older, but she's not in candidacy, not yet (but will be).   I am sure there are doctoral students somewhere in the U.S. in their sixties, but heaven knows why. 

I used to say, having not gone through it, that doctoral work was jumping through hoops.  Maybe, but they are high hoops with flames around them.  And in the case of an action research dissertation, they keep moving and getting bigger and smaller at the same time.

I have three months of not having to get up for class at 8:00.  What a blessing.  I also have a long list of projects to be completed, and a number of personal commitments to attend to on a regular basis. I have a list of twenty blog topics to pursue.  I hope to write spiritual helpful things.

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...