Saturday, April 30, 2016

Post 1500: What are We Thankful For?

Every morning, like many, I imagine, I thank God for his mercy, love, and grace.

It occured to me that we do not often thank God for his other traits, if such they are called.

Justice.  Righteousness.  Holiness.  Immutability.  And dare I say, wrath?

In a sense, though, I am not sure why we thank God for being Himself.  That sounds a bit pretentious, or condescending, or unnecessary, at least.  God is not affected by our thanks or lack of it.

And so ends my 1500th post, ready for my ten-year anniversary of this blog Monday.

(I actually took a post down and have done so in the past, so the official count is lower but the real count is higher.)

Snakes on a Plain (and a pole)



This is a lesson I am to teach May 1.  I don’t get to pick my subjects.  The book we are using right now is written by Ed Stetzer for Lifeway, and I like his material.   The book’s theme is the Israelite experience, and the passage is an odd one, and one of the more challenging. 

I hate snakes.  Spiders and bugs do not bother me, even really big ones, but snakes are a totally different matter.  I think we all have a “scared to death by a snake” story.  One was living in the foundation of my house and came out when I was gardening.  I would often find skins in the yard.  I had a student give a speech on his yellow python once—it was in his gym bag and brought it out as a visual aid. I am reminded of Emily Dickson's line about her reaction to a "narrow fellow in the grass"--"zero to the bone."

What is even stranger about this lesson is that one might think that Jesus is comparing  himself to a snake.  Metaphors only have one point of connection and there is only one way in this story that Jesus is comparing himself to a snake. 

What is the first  mention of snake in the Bible?  That is obvious, but the second reference is that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  That is relevant to this lesson.

Numbers 21:4-9. 
Why were the Israelites in this situation?  This is not a story without context.  This is after the refusal to go into the promised land.  This is after some military victors.  Look at the first three verses. 
Why where the Israelites punished?
What was their reaction to the punishment?
What is the remedy really about?

The result is very matter of fact:  They looked, and lived.  This was the result of obedience even when it seems unreasonable. This may seem like idolatry, but they aren’t worshiping it.  The snakes  

II Kings 18:4

For some reasons, the people of Israel kept the image on the pole for 700 years.  Mankind is very good at losing spiritual significance and replacing with objects alone. 

John 3:  The meaning of the story

The fact that he is talking to Nicodemus is the key.  Here is a Jewish man, a Pharisee, proud of his heritage, who is being told to be born again because the first birth was what he needed to be right with God.  Then Jesus brings up the story of the snakes, not one to be proud of as a Jew, a time when they were disobedient, impatient, complaining, and accusing of God. 

Just as the Israelites were to look upon the image of the thing that caused them pain, Nicodemus was told that those who looked at Jesus, who became sin for us even though he didn’t know sin would have eternal life.
Believe:  not about credentials, pedigree, or lifestyle. 

Eternal life is defined in John 17:3.  It is not length of life, but quality.

The term “lifted up” is usually taken to mean the cross, but that is not necessarily the only meaning.  We are to look at Christ on the cross as the sin bearer.  But “lifted up” means exalted. Notice that he says “the Son of Man,” a title from Daniel referring to the Jewish Messiah.

Conclusion:   The sin that they committed was not fleshly one, but impatience.  We don’t think of that as serious, but it could be greatly serious.  In this case, it showed a lack of trust with what God was doing with them.  Sin is serious and like poison infects everything.  We cannot solve our sin problem, and the solution may seem foolishness (and Paul admitted that the cross seemed crazy to the unbelievers) but it is the one that works short term and long term (eternally).

Making decisions

Sometimes you just have to say no.

I will no longer watch Fox News shows, other than Bret Bair or Chris Wallace.  They are so in the tank for Trump it's sickening.

I also will probably not vote for president.  I will vote, just not for one of the two presumptive candidates.  It's a matter of principle.  If Target can open up its bathrooms on principle, I can refuse to vote for candidates I think are lunatics.

I am losing my job come late June, but assuming another one at the same college.  It's all good.  I fought it for a while because I liked the job and the money, but I am embracing it now. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Writer's Dream

As the header on this says, I have written and published five novels, three with a small publisher and two self.  I have probably only sold 100 books altogether, maybe a few more, although I think a lot of people buy used editions.

Tonight I was in charge of an event for adult learner reception event at my college.  A student came up and told me she had read my book and had enjoyed it so much and should have brought it so I could sign it.  I am not sure everyone at the college gets that that is me.  It's a common name.

That made me very happy.  Writers dream of being praised by their readers.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Evangelo-tourism

I am hereby on April 16, 2016, coining this phrase and copyrighting it.  No one can use it without crediting me.

Well, I am kind of kidding, but not really.  I googled it and it doesn't exist.  If there is eco-tourism, now there is evangelo-tourism.  However, my word is derogatory, not something to advocate.

I have long been skeptical about short-term mission trips, and was pleased to hear the following last Saturday on Moody Radio.  Julie Roys had the courage to ask these questions and let her speakers have their say. 
 
http://www.moodyradio.org/Up-for-Debate/2016/2016-04-09-Are-Short-Term-Missions-Effective/ 

To be fair, I went on two mission trips in high school back in the early 1970s, but I would be quick to say that was when it was a rare thing to do, and we worked pretty hard on one of them.  It did enlighten me to missions and I have supported, studied, and written about missions ever since, but I am not on the mission field.

Now it seems like a boatload of money is spent on these trips, and frugal cheapskate that I am, I don't see much ROI.  The people who do the heavy duty research don't see it either.  It's bad for budgets, bad for the missionaries, and bad for the nationals.

However, I also don't think that the answer to a good idea gone bad is to throw out the idea.  It's sor of like lecturing in college teaching--bad lecturing is ineffective, good lecturing is effective, in certain ways, so calls to eschew all lecturing is fruitless.

The answer is to find out where it went wrong and redeem it.  What could be done to short-term missions to improve the ROI?  What are the best models and practices.  Who is doing it right in a way that empowers the church all over?  

Soft Skills in the Workplace and Higher Education: A Manifesto and Rant

Extremely interesting article here on how employers want soft skills.

https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2016/04/15/what-employers-really-need-from-recent-grads-soft-skills?WT.mc_id=Email|Daily+Briefing+Headline|DBA|DB|Apr-15-2016|||||&elq_cid=1732171&x_id=003C000001ocYBxIAM

This is no surprise to me after 36 years in higher education.  But what bothers me is the term "soft skills."  Talk about a misnomer.

  If they are necessary, how could they be "soft," which implies "nice to have to sort of cushion the blow, but not really vital?"  Please.

Empathy, leadership, goal-setting and execution, collaboration, writing, oral communication skills, cross-cultural awareness and competencies--these are soft?  Are these easier to teach and learn than technical skills?

I heard a joke from a prof (female) at Georgia Tech.  "How do you tell an extroverted engineer from an introverted engineer?   The extroverted one looks at your shoes when talking to you."  Ha, ha.  Kind of sad, really.

Are the soft skills just personality-based?  I do not think so.  Anyone who has taught communication skills, the so-called "soft skills" for a long time believes you can teach them to anyone (although he/she won't be Mr./Ms. Charismatic, just competent), but it takes time.  It is hard and takes a desire from the learner.  Yes, some of us are just born with them in a larger measure, or have life experiences that inculcate them, but everyone can improve, despite one's Meyers-Briggs delineation.

When I hear a student, a senior especially, is too shy to give a presentation such as at a research conference, I lack empathy, not because I don't understand but because the student is giving into a fear and choosing to be unemployable.  Professors in higher education should not facilitate this kind of "giving in" and should ask, demand more of their students.   

Thoughts on Higher Ed while Coming up on Ten-Year Anniversary of this blog

I started this blog in April of 2006, but I started it with a false name and my first three or four posts were just experimental and I should probably delete them now.  On May 2 I admitted to my real name and started blogging in earnest.  Therefore, I consider May 2 the beginning, and I will be blogging regularly up until then, on themes of higher education, communication, arts, and Christian thought in order to get to an even 1500 posts in ten years.

I try to make this blog a sort of direction point, by posting ideas and links to other things.  I hope it is provocative and not just a place for me to rant, although I do that, too, especially about "the Donald."

What I don't do well is the visual part.  I did post photos of Emily Dickinson's home in 2013.  That is important, I realize, to bringing in traffic.

I was able to attend a conference on higher education issues this week, and will be attending one next week in South Carolina.  This is my field.  Hot topics are OERs, CBE, first and second year transitions, and high impact pedagogies.  As with any field, acronyms abound.

OER means open educational resources, which essentially means open copyright (Creative Commons is a wonderful organization), low-cost textbooks and ancillaries.  I am working on research related to that, since the real impact of them is not known yet and anyone wanting to know should read work by Hilton and Robinson.

 CBE is Competency-based education, which may or may not be a MOOC rebound.  MOOCs have not gone away (I took one last summer on film noir, and it was quite good), nor will CBE, but the investment needed to start and maintain them may discourage wide acceptance.  I like the concept but it's a hard sell to typical faculty.

Second year transitions is big as a theme because colleges are losing students in the second year; the students come back for the fall of sophomore year but get lost.  I think this is due to life issues, money, inadequate academic progress, and not getting into selective programs.

High impact pedagogies are a list of ten things all colleges should be doing and that have shown to increase graduation.  They are supported and advocated by the AAC&U and can be found on their website. 

Dalton State, of which I am a proud member, is concerned about all of these except maybe the CBE right now, although the University System of Georgia is looking into it.

What is apparent is that with the democratization of higher ed (more access), the needs for supports go up.  Access used to be the buzzword.  Now it's completion.

I think one of the wisest things (and most supported by evidence) was by John Gardner, "It doesn't matter how much socialization and fun the students are having in the first year.  If they aren't passing their classes, they aren't successful and aren't going to graduate."  Higher education is about academics; student life activities, while important and potentially supportive of curriculum, is not the main thing.

The challenge is to retain rigor and high standards and bring the students up to them, not lower the standards to the students, which is the easier thing to do.  Most students are unprepared for college, if not academically then socially or psychologically.  The number of students on psychotropic meds is astounding.   Higher education is getting the problems of P-12 pushed up to its level.

How to Fight November

I realized a few years ago that when the time changed in the November it began a four-month battle for me. Well, I should say seven weeks, r...