Sunday, August 28, 2016

Observation on a Day for Writing

Never underestimate the power of a good pen.

Some pens just fit in the hand, flow across the page, and allow creativity to flourish better than others.

I am about to start posting a series of reflections on the gospel of Matthew, in order, and all were originally written by hand. Research suggests that typing and handwriting are not equal in terms of
(a) taking notes and remembering/learning them for later tests, and (b) inspiring divergent and convergent thought (These are Czickzentmihalyi's terms for creative and analytic thought.  I like to believe I write better fiction by pen, but considering how unsuccessful I have been as a novelist, that may be a severe misconception.

On that point, I was looking at some acquaintances whose novels have garnered some awards.  Sigh.  Not to whine, (but I will), I have gotten rather little encouragement about my novels; even ones I have given away I don't think were read.  At best, I have broken even in the money category. Even those who tell me they are very good won't put Amazon reviews up!  (Thank you to all who have, though!)  Most of my colleagues rarely recognize that I have written anything. So, do I keep writing?  Even self-publishing?

Chatting up the customers at the festival

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, I attended a sort of readers/writers festival yesterday. I was not successful in selling books, but I did meet some interesting people and have some out-of-the-ordinary conversations, at least for me, and I’m not talking about the dirty old man who wanted some soft porn.
When I asked people what they read, many of them said “mysteries, thriller, horror, science fiction, gore” and that kind of thing.  That’s out of the box for me, although I am working on the mystery vein.  However, devoting myself deeply to another fiction book has its nonattractive qualities.  I spend too much time alone to dive into another book right now, as much as I want to.
One woman I spoke to was probably in her late 60s.  She was quite voluble so I didn’t get to say much.  She told me about how after 44 years as an engineer and not being the least bit interested in God, that she got “poked” and she, of all people, was a believer now.  A believer in what, though, I had to ask myself.  She started to talk about how she decided to pray to God and address God as “She.”  Her reasoning was that the three major religions are patriarchal and some women do not have good Father figures or relationships with their Fathers and some have been horribly abused by their fathers (which is entirely true), so seeing God as their father is a huge barrier to worshipping or believing in God as a Father (which is also entirely true).  So why not call God “She”? 
Then she got onto the subject of gay marriage, and she mentioned the name of her church, and said that they don’t have a problem with it and neither does she, if people love each other, why shouldn’t they be married, "but my sister doesn’t like it, she’s not there yet."
Then she went off to “talk” to another person.  (maybe “at”).
So, I process this.  Should I have argued about the gender of God and defended His masculinity?  Shouldn’t I have set her straight?  Did I fail as a witness, as I usually do?
Side 1:  If she is a real believer or seeker, at least, she may not be at the point where she has been taught enough with real theological material to see that God chose to reveal Himself as a Father (but I am not sure that translates to masculine in our sense of the word.)  Father meant much more to the Mideastern culture in which the original Scriptures were given than the word means today.  Fathers were involved in their children’s lives in a different way.  Fathers were more than breadwinners.  So the problem is not that the Bible’s concept of Fatherhood of God is mired in the past, but that the present world has tainted true Fatherhood. 
Side 1, continued: Is God She and He?  Some theologians would say so; He exhibits male and female characteristics.  But it’s pretty unambiguous that the Bible only uses “He” to identify God, patriarchal or no. 
Side 1, continued.  If she is a new believer, she, like all of us, have a long way to go.  I have been a believer for decades and have really far to go.  So I can’t really stand in judgment. The crux would be her openness to teaching.  If she is entrenched in a viewpoint of “only the modern, United States, liberal worldview understands reality, and everything else is a myth, half-truth, superstition, unevolved belief” and can’t be open to seeing what the Word really teaches, and rejects it continuously after exposure, well, then that is problematic.
Side 2:  On the other side of this issue is this really odd belief we have in our own fallibility in the modern West.  I find it interesting that we are supposed to respect the cultures of the third or developing world, yet most of those cultures reject gay rights agenda.  How can we be tolerant toward Muslims when they throw gays off of buildings?  The African Anglicans are ready to split from the rest of the church over gay marriage. 
Not to get off on that subject; it did hit me today that if we see a heterosexual couple as married when all they had was a civil ceremony, can we really deny that the gay couple is married if they have had only a civil ceremony?  My point is a bigger one.  Why do we assume that our “evolved,” modern, Western, affluent, media-driven worldview is right.  How can this woman say, “God is a She because the major religions are patriarchal and we have moved past that in our fight for equal rights as women”?  If we hadn’t fought for equal rights, would God still be a He and not a She?  Are our political views and experiences the arbiter of who God is?
The old saying, attributed to Voltaire, was “God made man in His (?) own image, and man returned the favor.”  We apparently figure we get to refine and revise that image, which makes no sense.  If God is God, our up -and down, constantly changing political or cultural views have no impact on His nature, and our arrogance is no better shown than in believing it does. 
And, by the way, God doesn't need me to defend his masculinity or honor.  But he does prefer I be obedient.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Writing Life, revisited

I participated (for 2.5 hours) today in the First Chattanooga Readers and Writers Fair.  I appreciate the city running this.  It was supposed to run til 3, and is still going on as I write this, but I could no longer bear mid-90s in the direct sun.  But I did meet some interesting folks.

I shared a space with a young man and his daughter; he and his wife homeschool their five children, go to a PCA church, and were very pleasant.  They have children's books and were smart enough to have an area for children to color.

Me, I borrow a table from a friend, made a poster, set up my books and sat in a lawn chair.  I chatted up customers and sold one book, but I also directed them to cheaper copies on Amazon, so maybe that will build good will. 

My favorite (not) visitor to my table was an old guy who, when I asked him what he was interested in, said, "Do you have anything smutty?"  Who says "smutty" nowadays.  I also met an older woman who, I think, responded to God recently but had a lot of misconceptions.  I am reminded of the story of the man healed from blindness who first saw men as trees walking.  Even conversion can't get our worldview straight instantaneously; it might take years, which is the whole point of growth.

I saw some writer friends and colleagues.  I got some business cards related to my real job.  I saw the mayor of Chattanooga (there is just something about politicians in a crowd). 

So, despite selling just one book, it wasn't a waste and I'm glad I went, but I'm exhausted now from the heat.  I do these things about once a year.  Writing requires a huge chunk of time marketing, which I just can't do.  I do hope I get "discovered" sometime. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Salt of the Earth

I am reading slowly through the gospels, trying to look with new eyes at what Jesus said without defaulting to the party-line interpretations that recast him and his teachings to fit prevailing orthodoxies.  Usually this means watering down what he says to make it more palatable, or to make it fit a doctrine of pure grace without obedience, or to make him look like a cool guy, or to eliminate the first century Jewishness.  Good try.

"You are the salt of the earth."  I have heard many interpretations of this: salt transforms society, salt gives flavor, salt preserves, etc.  I don't think the first century audience needed all this, and it misses the point, "If salt loses its taste, what good is it?"  Sure, I guess you could still use it to melt ice, but that was hardly a problem for his audience, and considering Roman soldiers were at times paid in salt (therefore, our word salary), melting ice with it would seem pretty wasteful.  We wouldn't throw dollar bills on the ground, unless . . . the saltiness was gone, or the value of the currency was gone.

What matters is our distinct flavor and chemical composition that gives that flavor.  What matters is that we are different.  When we lose our difference, we lose our value.  When we believers are like everyone else, we are no longer salty.  This is a teaching about being who you are and not succumbing to sameness.

Of course, we get into discussions of what differences matter.  I don't think it's that easy.  They all matter; our beliefs, our world views, our approaches to people, our behavior, our attitudes.  But since salt is always a positive thing, we should, I believe focus on what is positive and builds the kingdom and relationships.  The fruit of the Spirit, the armor of God, the love of I Corinthians 13, the "be-attitudes" of Matthew 5.

Barna has an article on its website about research the Group did on attitudes of Americans toward what is extremism in religious behavior. Things such as praying before meals is considered by some extremist.  Good grief.  Today is the day to be extreme and not let fear of being called extreme deter us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympics 2016

The horse jumping was on the tv at the doctor's office this morning.  It occurred to me that even if the rider gets the medal, the horse has done all the work.

Monday, August 15, 2016


This blogging software tells bloggers what were the referring sites.   Not sure what that means, since several of them are nasty porn sites.  I've learned not to click those links.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The myth of the strong (black) woman

Please read this interview with an African American theologian and sociologist.  Very insightful.

It has caused me a lot of pause because while I do believe it is an unrecognized and deep problem for that community, it happens in white and Latino communities, too.  I am living it right now, and talking to God about it.  A lot of responsibilities from family and work, have been thrown on me, and I can't pretend that I am equal to them.  At least not all of them all the time.  At least not any of them most of the time.

Some of this comes from a record of competence.  Some from an unhealthy sense of wanting to be in control.  Some from an even unhealthier belief that I have to live this way to be needed and that is only how I have any value, or worse, somehow God is going to be impressed by this behavior.

I know I am not the only woman, white or otherwise, who feels this way; I just don't think all of them are as self-aware (my only virtue in this regard).  We can feel trapped by all the responsibilities.

Our new pastor this morning said, "If you haven't figured it out by now, let me tell you, there is no such thing as a normal person.  We all have our own special kind of crazy."  I imagine some of the church members were offended by it, but it's just plain true. Doing the same thing over and over expected a different result is one of those types of crazy!

What is Prayer For?

The question should probably be, "Who is prayer for."

I heard a clip of a Christian programming on what should have been a doctrinally evangelical program, where the guest was talking about her centering prayer.  That got under my skin.  I do not pretend to know that much about mystical exercises and contemplative practices.  Some of it is attractive, but there is one primary problem for me.  These things seem to be very self-gratifying.

Who is prayer for? God?  Well, it should glorify Him, but He doesn't need your prayers.  Oneself?  Of course, we need prayer, but it seems that the request of the prayer should be the focus rather than the methodology of the prayer.  Others?  I think an argument could be made from Scripture that prayer is supposed to be first intercessory, as a ministry to others.

Centering prayer focuses on emptying of the mind, and that is never good.  What virtue can come from an empty mind?  We were given minds to think about something, not to empty them. 

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Education: Lighting a fire?

My Franklin Covey planner's quote for the day is "Education is not the filling of a pail.  It is the lighting of a fire."

I like the quote.  It looks good on a poster or a Franklin Covey planner.

Academics by nature don't accept things on face value, at least I was not trained to, so I am scrutinizing this.  It is by William Butler Yeats, a great poet (I used one of his in my first novel) but I don't know if he ever taught.  There's a big difference between making pronouncements about education and actually teaching day-in, day-out.

Paolo Freire took up this theme with the idea of the banking model of education, which I call the tea pitcher model (I live in the South, but it's not sweet tea).  We of course don't just pour knowledge into students' heads. They do construct some knowledge themselves, but not without access to what has come before, which, well, was poured in.

No model or quote or metaphor can encompass everything about learning and teaching.

Sometimes the only fire we light is one under the students to get serious about their studies or they won't pass the class! Sometimes it is a fire of self-awareness and self-efficacy--they are capable, but learning is hard work and not always fun but still worth the effort.  Sometimes we light a fire so they can see beyond their previous boundaries.  Sometimes we light a fire to destroy some of the old wrong ideas or prejudices or misinformation so that new knowledge can grow. 

Fire can be destructive or useful.    

Can a DNA test be wrong?

This is admittedly one of those title I use to get attention and maybe traffic, but it's a legitimate question here on a hot day in August in North Georgia that has me lethargic and sleepy.

I did a DNA test through one of the supposedly reputable companies that does this.  I won't name it, but it wasn't, which I am told is run through the Mormons, who have massive geneaology banks so their members can be baptized for their dead relatives (one of the oddest doctrines I can imagine). 

I have posted the picture I got back of my ethnic origins. 

This was quite a shock to me.  The British Isles, not so much; I figured it would be more.  The third of my DNA coming from Scandinavia is a big surprise, but some Scots people have Scandinavian ancestry, so only the amount surprises me.  But no German.  No native American (that's another story, I understand, and many people's DNA doesn't show the Native American.)  But 1/8 Italian or Greek or Spanish (or possibly Jewish?).  That would be the equivalent of one of my great grandparents being from there, and nothing has ever been said in my family about such a thing.

Either someone in my family three generations back was lying about something, or this test is way off.  One of the four great grandmothers was fooling around with an Italian guy, or someone was an immigrant in disguise.  I don't know anything about my father's mother, so maybe that's it.  But it's really weird.

Either I need to do a lot of research, or get my brother to take one to see if it comes up with the same thing (might try a different company), or let the mystery remain how 13% of my background is from a place I never expected. 

I would be interested in comments here.  The company I used can get me in touch with relatives, but I am reluctant to start talking with people who are supposedly second cousins but I have never heard of them. 

Beatitude Reflections

I am reading the book of Matthew and journaling everyday; perhaps I will share some here.  I have been in the Beatitudes this week, trying to read them as they are, not as I have been told to read them.  I think that is the best way to approach the gospels:  experience them afresh without all the baggage of past preaching that tries to explain away what Jesus did and said rather than explain it.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

The key behind it is that we will be comforted.  We are not blessed because we mourn (although maybe sometimes we are) but because we will be comforted.  The blessing is not inherent in mourning, but in what living with Jesus as king of one’s life provides in mourning.

We might, however, be blessed in mourning.  First it means we have someone close enough to mourn over when we lose them. We have enough sensitivity of spirit to do so, a sensitivity I fear is being lost with an increasingly narcissistic generation (and I don’t mean millenials) and the everyday presence of news reports of mass killings somewhere at home and abroad.  For Jesus’ audience, mourning was a common experience because people were likely to die from medical conditions or die younger or even from political reasons.  They also had a stronger sense of community and family and a weaker sense of (if any) individualism and isolation. 

However, the emphasis here is being comforted, so we must ask what about the kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing in comforts those who mourn? 

  1. long-term view
  2. he cares
  3. community who cares
  4. he mourns too

I saw in my Bible that I had put the words “over sin” over the word “mourn.” (why do we feel the need to add words to the text?)  There seems no reason to add that, really.  Mourning is ultimately mourning over sin anyway; if there were no sin there would be no mourning.

However, we live in an age where mourning is feared; we are supposed to “move on,” which makes those who mourn longer feel like freaks who need therapy.  Let’s not move on so quickly.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Yes, I watched Stranger Things on Netflix

And loved it.

I realize it was a mashup of a lot of '80s movies and such that I do and don't remember, but they are put together uniquely and it works. I was hooked, and watched it when I was on vacation.  I don't binge watch, but did view it all in four or five days.  I even got choked up at one part.  Bravo, whoever you are that did it.

Being slightly connected to the Georgia Film Academy, though, I did notice that it was filmed in Jackson, Georgia, which is southeast of Atlanta, and it was obvious to me because of the magnolia trees, which you aren't going to see in Indiana.  Also the the overabundance of privet.  They did manage not to show any kudzu, though.  

The myth of nontraditional learners in colleges and universities

Hopefully this isn't behind a password, because it's the best thing I've read on higher education practice in a long time.

Today is the last Friday I am off due to our college's "no Friday in summer" policy.  I am glad for it, because it was a rough week. But I was doing some errands and went to the bank.  One of my former students (I have thousands of those) works there and came up while I was dealing with an account issue.  I recognized him and was trying to do my "Oh, let me remember you" game and I had to be reminded of his name, and it was only a year ago.

He is having a hard time getting the classes he needs to fit around his work schedule due to our college's behindness to online courses. I agreed with him.  Online classes are not the panacea for "nontraditionals" (or post-traditionals as the commenters suggest) but they do have advantages.  There are lots and lots of ways colleges can serve these folks better.  A person is only 18-22 for 4 years, but they are adults for 40 or more. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Is It Really My Christian Responsibility to Vote?

This is a serious question.

I'd like a serious answer in the comments.

Obviously, there are not Scriptures that say to vote.  There are ones that say pay your taxes, pray for the leaders, and obey the laws of government.  All my life I have heard that it is part of our Christian responsibility to vote, but I've yet to hear a compelling argument for situations when I have no good choices.

Now, I am clearly playing devil's advocate here (wish there was a better term for that). Let's call it the loyal opposition.  I intend to vote and get my little Georgia peach sticker, which I always wear with pride.  The only elections I miss at the Boynton precinct are the ones that sneak up on you, the run-offs for county water commissioner. 

However, I don't think a person should be shamed for not voting.  And a lot of Christian celebrities are doing that.  As I've stated before, I understand the extreme antipathy toward Clinton.  But I also am concerned that some evangelical leaders want to get invited to the White House again for their own ego's sake more than for the love of the kingdom.

So, I will vote for the senator, the congressional representative, the referenda.  And then I'll get to the big kahuna on the ballot. 

I've read article after article about the ethics of this election.  I found Wayne Grudem's to be a rehash of what I already heard and read, and was unconvinced that Trump is a morally good choice.  I would say it is not a morally bad choice, and that's the best I can do.

What bothers me is the number of people who are going to vote for Trump because he's not Hillary but who would not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon.  That boggles my mind.  Romney was probably the most qualified candidate for president we have had in my lifetime. I proudly voted for him because he is a morally good choice, though his theology is a problem. 

In fact, anyone who would vote for Trump now but not Romney in 2012 is a hypocrite and has no critical thinking ability.

Now have I made anyone mad? 

Why hasn't Trump shown his tax returns? 

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...