The Movie that Shaped My View of the World

Image from iMDb

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, is a book that changed the way I viewed the world.

First Monday in October (1981) is a movie that shaped, if not my view of the world, at least my position on all issues surrounding Freedom of Speech.

Apparently, it isn’t a very good movie.  The Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score for First Monday in October is 46% (there is no Critics Consensus).

I don’t remember if Walter Matthau was brilliant as Supreme Court Justice Daniel Snow.   Nor do I if Jill Clayburn was any good at her portrayal of the presidential appointee to the Supreme court.

I just remember one scene.

And it has stuck with me for almost 40 years.  And, given the way the world has changed in the last few years, I think about it almost daily.

It was a single conversation that makes this movie memorable for me.

But here is what I remember:

The Supreme Court needs to decide what the law says about an obscene movie.  Liberal Justice Daniel Snow (Matthau) refuses to go to a screening of the movie.  He says it is immaterial to how he intends to vote.  Newly appointed, conservative, justice Ruth Loomis (Clayburn), insists that Snow must watch the film in order to decide if it ought to be protected under the tenets of Freedom of Speech.

Snow knows how he will vote regardless of how bad the content is–he will not limit Freedom of Speech.

Going into the film, I think my view would have been similar to that of Loomis; I came out agreeing with Snow.  And I still do.  I think Freedom of Speech is foundational to our culture.  If pornographers are free to express their material, then I am allowed to express my opinions too.

It’s another world today.  The roles seem to have been reversed.  It’s not just conservatives who want to limit free speech.  People on the extreme liberal end of the spectrum seem to be quite willing to silence the speech of any who disagree with them–even fellow liberal extremists who express a different flavour of liberal extremism.  And it feels as if the willingness to suppress, not just voice, but thought itself is moving in from the extreme.

Interestingly, conservative are now joining moderate liberals in the defense of free speech, but this support seems to be quite selective.

What disturbs me is that dialogue is being stifled–quite unapologetically.

I don’t know if we will ever go back to having conversations and arguments about what we believe, all the while allowing that the other has the right to say what they will.  I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Pastors Must Read Fiction

Trixieliko / Pixabay

Recently, I heard a pastor admit from the pulpit that he didn’t read fiction–I’ve heard this before.  These confessions are not usually necessary for it is usually apparent from their sermons.

I have heard the reasons.  Some don’t read because they see reading fiction was a frivolous endeavor, even a dangerous one.  Others, because they have no time.  After you read the Bible and the theology texts, blogs, and all those books on Christian living, there isn’t any time for fiction.  Some don’t read fiction because, “Well, it just isn’t my thing.”

I perused several articles in which other pastors exhort their colleagues to read fiction.  These articles offer some very good reasons for pastors to read fiction, but they didn’t give the most important reasons, which I will save for last.

It’s Relaxing

Reading a novel is relaxing, and pastors should find time to relax.  Reading The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson is a great read, but it’s a book for the beach.  I’m not arguing that pastors read more beach books, although it couldn’t hurt.

Get Out of Yourself

We all live narrow lives and look at the world with a fairly limited vision.  I am a white, North American male who was born in the early 1960s.  I look at the world through these lenses.  I was never sexually abused.  I don’t know what it is like to be an immigrant or a tanner in India. I don’t have autism or a brother with schizophrenia.

When you read good fiction, you are immersed in the reality of these things.  Can you see how imaginatively understanding these things would make one a better pastor?

Experience the Beauty and the Power of Language

Good art, be it visual arts, music, or fiction, is good because it is rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by creative human beings. Art isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and what he initially declared.  When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to other human beings, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.”

Good Fiction is True

Good fiction challenges us where we need challenging: In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner says fiction “helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest to us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.”  If Gardner is right, and I think he is, what human being, let alone pastor, wouldn’t benefit from the reading of good fiction.

As poetry is “the art of saying what cannot be said” (Alan Watts), narrative attempts to explain the inexplicable.  You can’t deal with ideas like Good, Sin, Death, Sacrifice, Grace, Love, Redemption, etc. propositionally.  Only narrative is up to the task.  A sermon delving into topics like these needs the support of a mind that has been broadened and deepened by fiction, which has taken the preacher to an understanding beyond personal experience and theology.

If you can't read fiction, then you can't read the Bible. Click To Tweet

You can’t read the Bible if you can’t read fiction.

These are all great reasons for pastors to read fiction, but there are still more compelling reasons.

The Bible is a collection of all sorts of literary genres, and all of these are ancient expressions of these genres.  Ideally, you’d need to read all sorts of ancient texts, in their original languages, just to begin to get a sense of how to read the biblical text.  There are people who can read these texts this way, and we can read their books and articles, but our access to the original texts is indirect.  We need direct engagement with texts in general in order to understand the role of the reader–a role that involves far more than our mind, but our heart and soul and imagination as well.

The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe.

Russell Moore

The Bible is not simply a text that we mine in order to extract nuggets of truth.

It’s not an encyclopedia, and it shouldn’t be read as one.

The skills one needs to read the Bible are the same skills one develops when one reads good fiction.

The skills one must develop in order to read the Bible are the same skills one develops when one reads good fiction.Click To Tweet

Many North American Christians are still under the influence of Modernism.   We tend to equate truth with fact.  We think that for the Bible to be true, it must be factual.  This gets us into all sorts of problems with our interpretation of the Bible.  We will reject the intended meaning of a text when we reject the very mode in which the text was intended to be read.

Most pastors know that the Bible is not anything like an encyclopedia, but we have been so steeped in Modern thinking for so long that it is sometimes a struggle to step out of a rationalist reading of the Bible, and reading a steady diet of theology reinforces this error.

The pastor who reads theology, but not fiction, is like a biology lecturer, who has dissected a thousand of frogs, and keeps dozens in his lab, but hasn’t studied them in the field.  He knows so much, but his understanding of frogs is incomplete.

How can we reset our default settings–our idolatrous, Modern settings–so we can better read the Bible?

Read good fiction.

Reading fiction will develop the understanding that the opposite of fiction is fact, not truth.

The opposite of fiction is fact, not truth.Click To Tweet

Many sermons can be preached effectively by a pastor who doesn’t read fiction, but there certain times when a broader reading list would greatly improve what we hear from the pulpit.  And occasionally, it will protect the speaker from coming off sounding silly.

Recommendations:

What should I read?

Read from the “top 100 books you must read before you die” list.  Read from the best books of 2020, or 2019.  And read old books.  C. S. Lewis explains why.

OK, so here are some recommendations.

My favourite book of all-time is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  It’s funny and profound.  I’ve written about why this book is so essential for Christians to read in a series of posts.  But read the book before you read the posts.  It’s far better, and less propositional.

Any and all of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor.  Pick up one of her collections like Everything that Rises Must Converge.  O’Connor takes a hard and critical look at Christianity in a Modern context, and she also reintroduces readers to God’s Grace despite ourselves.

If I were ever stranded on a desert island, and I couldn’t take the Bible, I would take The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  It doesn’t replace the Bible, because it isn’t the inspired word of God, but it contains so many of the essential Biblical themes and truths, that it might sustain me until I get rescued.

1984 by George Orwell is one of the best books of the 20th Century.  Everyone should read it.  It’s brilliantly written is is as relevant today as it was in 1984, and 1949 when it when it was published.

Watership Down by Richard Adams is about rabbits, but it’s also about human nature, faith, trust, and leadership.  And another thousand things.  This one is great on Audible, read by Ralph Cosham.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry takes the reader to India in the 1950s.  You might not be interested in India in the 1950s.  It doesn’t matter.  The book is very well written and you become invested very quickly.  If nothing else, it exercises our empathy, helping us to step in the shoes of others who live in very different circumstances.

You’ve heard of the problem of evil, the strongest challenge to the Christian God.  Like all of his work, The Road by Cormac McCarthy is about the problem of good.  This is a dark novel, but the distant glimmer of light and hope argues that life must be about more than suffering and death.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  This one is a doozy.  It’s monstrous.  (Read this hilarious article about “How to Read Infinite Jest.“).  This book rivals A Prayer for Owen Meany for my all-time favourite book.    But if you are not a fan of fiction just yet, hold off for a year or 10.

The good news is there are thousands more.  You’d find a lot more recommendations in the comment section if this blog had a huge following, but there might be one or two there as well.

Happy Reading!

Pandemic Lessons

A friend of mine sent me a video in which Dennis Pranger of Prager U, addresses the graduating class of 2020 on what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught them about life.

The address is called Graduation 2020: The COVID Class

Early on in the address, he characterizes our unique times, not with reference to the contagious and potentially deadly disease that has swept across the globe, but as a time when “healthy people, and people living in free societies, have been confined to their homes.”

This take on our current situation is central to Pranger’s message which is taken up in his third point.  His first two points are spot on and part of my motivation to write this post is to pass on these astute observations and wise words.

Pranger U is a conservative American organization that creates videos on various political, economic, and philosophical topics.   There are a lot of Christians who like what Pranger has to say but being conservative and being Christian are not the same thing.  This is born out in Pranger’s third lesson to the COVID Class.

Lesson 1: Life is Hard, Unfair, and Unpredictable.

Your life is very easy.   In the developed West, all our lives are easy compared to those in other parts of the world.  We have easy access to food.  Clothing and shelter are not much of a problem for the vast majority of  North Americans.  We are healthy and have a lot of leisure time and a plethora of entertainment options.  We can easily get the idea that this is normal.  It’s not.

Covid-19 and its effects begin to help us to sense how hard life is, “and that understanding equips you to deal much better with life’s challenges, which are inevitable.”

Pranger’s right.  To walk into life from high school expecting the world to be easy, fair, and predictable will lead to disappointment and bitterness.  This is a valuable lesson.

Lesson 2: Always be Grateful

Pranger says that “gratitude is probably the most important trait you can have because it is the source of both happiness and goodness.”

I don’t necessarily agree that gratitude is the source of goodness, but I agree with his premise and that grateful people are happier than resentful people.   We have so much to be grateful for but, ironically, we tend to be ungrateful in our culture. This may be because we are continuously barraged with advertising and social media that teaches us we don’t have enough or are not good enough.

If Covid-19 has helped you to appreciate what you have both materially and relationally, then allow that lesson to colour and shape your life.  This is an incredibly valuable lesson.

Lesson 3: Freedom is Fragile–Very Fragile

Lesson 3 is the main point of Pranger’s video.  And, from a biblical perspective, I think he’s way off here.  Pranger tells graduates:

The ease with which most Americans acquiesced to the removal of many of their most basic rights . . . should take your breath away.  At the very least it should make you realize how easily any government can take away people’s most elementary freedoms.

Pranger is critical of the extent to which some jurisdictions restricted contact in their reaction to the virus.  In some states where there was very little infection people were told to stay home anyway.  I am not going to argue with Pranger on these particulars–he may be right.  Some governments may have overreacted–we won’t really know what the correct degree of response should have been until all this is over.  (Since this video was released, numbers suggest that the response of many American states did not go far enough.)

Judging from the graphics in the video, America’s most basic rights are freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to wear a hardhat.  These are the rights that he claims we have been so breathtakingly surrendered to governments.

In reality, the only fundamental right that we surrendered, temporarily, was freedom of assembly.  This has some immediate effect on freedom of religion and the economic (hardhat) freedoms of many citizens.

But wasn’t it a good idea to suspend the freedom to assemble in large groups?  Are Americans supposed to hold onto these rights under any and all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, potentially fatal virus, not the exact circumstance in which this right ought to be quickly surrendered?  I can’t even come up with an analogy to drive this point home.  No analogy is clearer than the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Isn't it a good idea to suspend our freedom to assemble? Are we to demand these rights under all circumstances? Is not a highly contagious, fatal virus, the exact circumstance in which to surrender this right? Isn't this biblical? Click To Tweet

Would Pranger have us ignore the quarantine and gather anyway?  Take guns into government buildings and demand our rights to assemble?  To defiantly not wear a mask as the new symbol of personal freedom?

The Statue of Responsibility

France gave the United States of America the Statue of Liberty, says Pranger, “because America, more than any other country, symbolized Liberty.”

The problem is, the American emphasis on Liberty has become unbalanced.  Someone forgot to give America the necessary and complementary statue–The Statue of Responsibility.

The Statue of Responsibility was the vision of psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl.

Frankl is right when he says:

“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl is saying that without responsibility, freedom will degenerate into mere license–doing whatever you want.

In a practical sense, we practice freedom in balance with responsibility all the time.  We have the freedom to drive, but this is balanced with the responsibility to adhere to traffic laws.  We have freedom of speech, but we balance this with the responsibility to not yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

But now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people adamantly resist the curbing of dangerous behavior for the public good.  And the more we see this resistance, the higher climb the numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

What is going on here?

The Idolatry of Freedom

Tim Keller describes idolatry as making a good thing into an ultimate thing.  Freedom is a good thing.  But when it takes the place of God as the ultimate thing, it becomes a cruel deity that demands sacrifice–human sacrifice.

Both liberals and conservatives have a problem with idolatry. They both worship Freedom and are willing to make human sacrifices to this cruel deity. The only difference is the particular victims they respectively place on Freedom's firey altars.Click To Tweet

Both the Old and New Testaments are consistent in saying that God is God, and he created all good things.  The Bible tells us not to worship these good things.  He also created human beings in his image, making human beings are more valuable than any good thing–more valuable than money, beauty, fame, power, America, the flag, or freedom.

The Bible teaches that we obey governments unless their laws come into conflict with God’s law.  Quarantines and social distancing are not contrary to God’s law, they are merely contrary to the law of our false god.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks, quarantines, and social distancing save lives–this becomes more and more clear every passing day.  To refuse to wear facemasks, and defy quarantines and social distancing mandates, is to choose freedom and the economy over human life.  It’s to choose a good thing (freedom) over the image (humanity) of the ultimate thing (God).

If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.

If we don't worship God, we will worship something else. In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy. In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.Click To Tweet

Ironically, the numbers seem to indicate that those jurisdictions that most faithfully complied with quarantines and social distancing regulations, will be the jurisdictions that most quickly restore freedoms of assembly and recover economically.

But this is not why I reject Denis Pranger’s third lesson.  I reject it because it is unbiblical.

I’d like to replace it with my own.

My Lesson #3: It’s Not Just About You

The global pandemic and the quarantine reminded you that it’s not all about you.  Lots of people will tell you that there is nothing more important than your individual freedom.  This is a tenet of our society.  It’s the only thing that liberals and conservatives agree on, albeit in different directions.

You hear it from the college kids on the Florida beaches and the conservative radio hosts and bloggers:  “If I’m willing to risk catching Covid-19, I can do what I want.  It’s my life.”

A friend of mine has a university-aged daughter who works at Starbucks and lives in their home.  He also has several sets of older parents who he is taking care of, since they are vulnerable and, consequently, are taking the quarantine seriously.  The daughter’s co-workers ignore social distancing protocols.  They like to party with friends.   Because they are not worried about catching the virus, they believe they can ignore the protocols.  They are free to choose risky behaviour if willing to take the consequences.

They are not vulnerable.  They correctly assess the risk to be minimal.  Why should they give up their freedom?

The answer is, they have a responsibility to others.  They have to protect themselves from the virus so that they don’t pass it onto my friend’s daughter, so she doesn’t pass it onto her parents, and her grandparents.

Freedom is a good thing.  But it’s not the ultimate thing.  Your life is interconnected with those of many others.  You can’t always do whatever you want because you are responsible for other lives.

My objection to Pranger’s third lesson is rooted in my faith.  Christians are to love God and love our neighbour.  In our current context, we love our neighbour by limiting movement, social distancing, wearing a mask in public.  It is not possible to love both Jesus and Freedom as ultimate things.  One must give way.  One results in human flourishing, the other results in human sacrifice.

 

Advice for Young Teachers

I am currently reading I, Claudius (1934) by Robert Graves.  I watched the miniseries on PBS in 1976–I was fascinated by the story then, and I am loving it again.

This time though, I am a teacher.  And this passage from early in the book encapsulated my evolution as a teacher.  If I have any advice for young teachers it is here:

Athenodorus told me, the very first day of his tutorship, that he proposed to teach me not facts which I could pick up anywhere for myself, but the proper presentation of facts. And this he did.

One day, for example, he asked me, kindly enough, why I was so excited: I seemed unable to concentrate on my task. I told him that I had just seen a huge draft of recruits parading on Mars Field under Augustus’s inspection before being sent off to Germany, where war had recently broken out again.

“Well,” said Athenodorus, still in the same kindly voice, “since this is so much on your mind that you can’t appreciate the beauties of Hesiod, Hesiod can wait until to-morrow. After all, he’s waited seven hundred years or more, so he won’t grudge us another day. And meanwhile, suppose you were to sit down and take your tablets and write me a letter, a short account of all that you saw on Mars Field; as if I had been five years absent from Rome and you were sending me a letter across the sea, say to my home in Tarsus. That would keep your restless hands employed and be good practice too.”

So I gladly scribbled away on the wax, and then we read the letter through for faults of spelling and composition. I was forced to admit that I had told both too little and too much, and had also put my facts in the wrong order.

The passage describing the lamentations of the mothers and sweethearts of the young soldiers, and how the crowd rushed to the bridgehead for a final cheer of the departing column, should have come last, not first. And I need not have mentioned that the cavalry had horses: people took that for granted. And I had twice put in the incident of Augustus’s charger stumbling: once was enough if the horse only stumbled once. And what Postumus had told me, as we were going home, about the religious practices of the Jews, was interesting, but did not belong here because the recruits were Italians, not Jews. Besides, at Tarsus he would probably have more opportunities of studying Jewish customs than Postumus had at Rome.

On the other hand I had not mentioned several things that he would have been interested to hear — how many recruits there were in the parade, how far advanced their military training was, to what garrison town they were being sent, whether they looked glad or sorry to go, what Augustus said to them in his speech.

There it is.

That’s how you teach if you want students to learn anything beyond the next test.

 

Green with Envy

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

Why is envy green?  

Envy eats vipers and the poison of her victuals accumulates and concentrates in her body till her skin erupts in green, festering blisters. 

I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses with coffee this morning.  Ovid was a Roman poet and this work is considered his magnum opus.  Anyway, in book 2 there is this incredible description of Envy.  Minerva is super mad at Aglauros, so she goes to Envy to ask her to curse Agrauros with a touch.   

[Minerva] Then sought out Envy in her dark abode,

Defil’d with ropy gore and clots of blood:

Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies,

In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies,

Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light

Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.

 

Directly to the cave her course she steer’d;

Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d;

The gates flew open, and the fiend appear’d.

 

A pois’nous morsel in her teeth she chew’d,

And gorg’d the flesh of vipers for her food.

Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye;

The hideous monster, rising heavily,

Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,

And left her mangled offals on the place.

 

Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,

She fetch’d a groan at such a chearful sight.

 

Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye

In foul distorted glances turn’d awry;

A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d,

And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast;

Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue,

In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.

 

She never smiles but when the wretched weep,

Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep,

Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,

She pines and sickens at another’s joy;

Foe to her self, distressing and distrest,

She bears her own tormentor in her breast.

                                                                    –2.760-782

The Greeks and the Romans had a penchant for personifying emotions and ideas.  Personification is a figure of speech were objects and ideas are given human qualities or are represented in human form.  Ovid takes the human emotion, envy, and makes it into a person–Envy.

What attracted me to this representation of Envy is that it struck me as true.  I’ve seen this creature before, not only in others but in myself as well.  It will do us well to look take a careful look at her in order to know the effects of her touch.  

The Deep Cover of Envy

Envy’s dwelling is hidden in a “deep vale.”  

The vice, envy, is also hidden.  Envy is different than the other deadly sins.  It is fairly easy to see Wrath and Gluttony, and we aren’t all that embarrassed by them.  Some, like Greed and Pride, are even celebrated in our culture–even Lust is celebrated today.  But not Envy.  We don’t want any one to see our envy.  To show envy we’d be admitting that we feel inferior.  Envy is so petty.  We know it’s petty, and we are embarrassed by it. 

Envy personified in hidden away in a dark and “gloomy dungeon” where the air is stagnant; it is “dismal and cold.” 

The Envy is Poison

Envy gorges on “the flesh of vipers.”  Her appetites are both glutenous and foul.  Her heavy rising suggests she is not wasting away, but this is poisoned food.  The toxins from the vipers feeds her malice which bubbles in “greenness o’er her canker’d breast.”    

As with the diet of Envy personified, the emotion of envy is nourishing as well–we take a small comfort in the misery of others.  But this comfort is toxic.  The one who envies is in the hideous state of being eaten while eating.

Shakespeare and Ovid are on the same page here:

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

                                                             Othello–Shakespeare

Envy is Different

All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner.  Not so with envy.  Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.  You can’t enjoy your beauty, wealth, strength, intelligence because someone else is more beautiful, richer, stronger, or smarter.  

Envy enjoys nothing–she doesn’t enjoy her food; she doesn’t enjoy the beauty of her visitor; she never even enjoys the pleasure of taking a little nap once in a while.

All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner. Not so with envy. Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.Click To Tweet

Minerva’s Commission

Envy is immortal, but what happens when she touches you?

Minerva commands Envy to destroy Aglauros, and she does so with a touch.  Here’s what happens:

To execute Minerva’s dire command,
She stroak’d the virgin with her canker’d hand,
Then prickly thorns into her breast convey’d,
That stung to madness the devoted maid:
Her subtle venom still improves the smart,
Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.

To make the work more sure, a scene she drew,
And plac’d before the dreaming virgin’s view
Her sister’s marriage, and her glorious fate:
Th’ imaginary bride appears in state;
The bride-groom with unwonted beauty glows:

For envy magnifies what-e’er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pin’d away
In tears all night, in darkness all the day;
Consum’d like ice, that just begins to run,
When feebly smitten by the distant sun;
Or like unwholsome weeds, that set on fire
Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire.

Argros is destroyed by envy of her sister’s marriage–something one would hope would make her happy.  Instead, because of envy, she pines away. Melts like ice on a sunny day.  Burns up like dry grass in a fire.

Dealing With Envy

Worship of God takes care of envy.  By this, I do not necessarily mean singing praise and worship songs in church.

Experience of God’s love and grace erases envy.   Where do you experience these things?  Songs?  Maybe you do.  I don’t.  

I get it from Word and Sacrament. 

But let me focus briefly on the sacrament of communion.  In The Lord’s Supper, Christ extends his hand to us and gives us the sacrifice of his body and blood.  His death erases my sin and brings me into the family of the Heavenly Father.  Nothing is required of me except to accept the offer of this incredible gift.  I get so much, for so little.   

In the light of the overwhelming Grace of God, how can I be harbour resentment for someone is smarter, or more beautiful, or more wealthy than I am?

The Importance of Routines (In the Time of Pandemic)

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I have had students tell me that they are not feeling all that motivated to do school.  Some of these students are “attending” their classes from their beds.

My carefully edited response to this is, “Don’t do that.”

Get up.  Shower even.  Get dressed.  Have a work place.  And get to work.

I have found routines to be very helpful in getting my work done–and not just school work.  Routines during the time of the pandemic are essential.

I think we are made for routines–throughout human history, our lives have been patterned by the seasons.   We picked berries in summer and killed salmon in the fall.  Then we planted in the spring and harvested in the early autumn and killed pigs in the winter.  We had festivals and ceremonies to commemorate these annual occurrences.  In the Old Testament, God established a pattern of worship that celebrated his providence and holiness and the Christian Church established a calendar that would teach the people the story of God’s faithfulness.

Things are different today, at least before the pandemic; we can get berries, salmon and pork year-round.  Air conditioners and furnaces keep us at a steady 21 degrees Celsius through all seasons.   And the pattern of our worship calendar is down to, basically, two annual events–Christmas and Easter.

We were made for daily patterns too.  Wake up, shower, eat a quick breakfast, go to school, class-break-class-lunch-class-break-class-home, watch something, eat dinner, homework, friends, bed.  Or something like that.

Then came the coronavirus.  Covid-19 with its social distancing and quarantines has messed up our annual patterns–we didn’t go anyplace for Spring Break.  It messes up Airband and Sportsday, and Grad.  This is very disappointing, but the effect of the disruption of our daily patterns can be even more significant.

We sleep and when we wake up we spend our time on a screen, either for school or for fun.  Without a more robust routine, the day can devolve into a featureless morass of sedentary listlessness.

Wake up when you wake up–lay around in bed until you feel like getting up–grab a granola bar as you walk past the kitchen to the couch–watch three screens at the same time till you don’t feel like it anymore–then do it some more because there is nothing else to do–heat and eat a frozen thing–return to screens and maybe fall asleep–take 5 minutes do something your mother asked you to do–back to the screens…

This can mess you up bad.

Creating a daily routine can have important mental health benefits, and by creating one, you can make room for the important things in life.  I found that having to create a new routine has helped me refocus.

Here are my suggestions for routines:

  1. Set an alarm, or at least get up when you wake up.
  2. Sit still, without a screen, while you drink the hot beverage of your choice.
  3. Be deliberate about all your meals.  Fry an egg or make a sandwich.
  4. Do devotions.
  5. Set aside time to produce something–don’t just consume.
  6. Set aside time where you do something your mom or dad wants you to do–and give it the time it needs to do it well.  Inform your parents of this plan so they don’t randomly ask you to do little things all day.  But be open to helping whenever needed of course.
  7. Do something physical every day–I go hiking up “My Mountain.”
  8. Don’t fill up your free time with screens–read a book!!

Some students have a difficult time with school under the current circumstances.  Motivation is only one of the struggles they are experiencing, but it’s a big one.  This is something akin to what many experience when they move out of the house or start their first year of university.  The motivation doesn’t come from employers or professors.  It’s got to come from within.

For grade 12s, this is a lesson that was going to have to be learned in September.  You’ve just got a jump on it compared to other years.

How to Wake Up Well

Here is the message I delivered to our school’s chapel today:

Click on this link: How to Wake Up Well

 

Survey Shows that Christians are Less Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading and watching The Walking Dead it’s that the Zombie Apocalypse is filled with life-and-death moral decisions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created conditions in which hospitals have had to make difficult decisions–life-and-death, moral decisions–about who gets a ventilator and who does not.

There are two ways to go in this.

Either you give them to the patients in the most need at the moment, or you give them to patients most likely to recover.   If you go the first route, more people will die, if you take the second path, you are denying treatment to people who need it.

A recent Pew Research Center discovered that religious people tend to say we should give the life-giving treatment to the people who need it most.  And the less religious folks lean toward the more utilitarian–give it to those most likely to recover.

Pew survey shows that Christians are less likely to survive the zombie apocalypse. Click To Tweet

When zombies lurch through our streets, the life-and-death, moral decisions increase–it’s like you need to make one every 20 minutes or so.

Zombie narratives are about these moral dilemmas.  Actually, they are about the difficulty and the necessity of making a practical decision–no matter how hard it is, and it’s usually agonizing.

The research by the Pew Research Center shows us that religious people will not necessarily take the practical path.  With the increase in the number of deadly decisions that need to be made during the zombie infestation, consistently taking the non-utilitarian route will result in the death of more people.

Would anything be gained by the less practical approach?  More people would likely die, but society would be built on the idea that those who are sick or old would receive the care that they need.   That foundation is worth considering.

Teaching in the Pandemic (3)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We’ve just completed the first week of school in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It went very well.  I think that the majority of students were ready for it and are happy to be connected to the school again. That’s my first observation.

A Few Observations

  1. I’m putting in just as much time I would have during normal school.   In order to have effective online schooling one needs to communicate with students and their parents.  Every Friday, we post the general outline of the objectives and activities for each of our classes.  This is very helpful for both parents and students, but it takes time to create it.  Most of my communication with individual students during normal operations would be a quick conversation before or after class.  Now I have to compose an email or a message.  Then there is the production of learning materials–I’m making videos and creating documents that would not be necessary if we were in the presence of each other.  A lot of this work is important, even when there isn’t a pandemic–now it’s essential.
  2. Students are, by and large, happy to be at school.  They’ve told me so.  They like having something to do besides watch TV, play video games and argue with their siblings.  The felt like they wanted to be “doing something productive.”  They like the connection to, not just friends, but acquaintances and even teachers.  I don’t think they necessarily appreciated what they have at school, despite the homework.
  3. We’ve shifted from content to competencies.   This is the direction that the government has been moving education so it might accelerate some teachers’ shift to the new paradigm. You can’t lecture very well in this mode of teaching; you can’t expect students to sit passively and learn content for a test, if for no other reason than the test is no longer secure.  In this learning environment, students can be more active, doing the work of learning, while the teachers provide feedback on their work and create resources for the next steps in developing essential competencies.  Active students learn more than passive students.
  4. Speaking of competencies.  Students are having to become more competent at producing, revising, communicating and collaborating in digital environments.  It’s amazing what kids have had to learn out of necessity.   Many of these skills will be necessary for future learning and careers.
  5. Students are learning more self-discipline.  At least, if they aren’t learning it, the effects will be significant.  I can tell when a student has arrived into the digital classroom, but once they are there, I can’t tell very well if they are engaged, or even if they are in the room.  I can assign work and tell them I expect them to be working on this for the next 30 minutes, but I can’t tell that they are.  If they need to knuckle down, it’s just their knuckles.  It’s up to them. Until now, many have been reliant on others to do that work.  I think this is great. Some have told me that this is hard–to be self-disciplined.
  6. From where I am sitting, student learning has not been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at all.

 

Teaching in the Time of Pandemic (2)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more relaxing spring break than this year.  We didn’t go anywhere, or do anything.  We left the house once a week trips to the grocery store. That’s it.  Consequently, it was the longest spring break I’ve ever experienced.  By the end, I was so relaxed.

Then came the week just past.

Teachers got the marching orders.  We got schedules for classes and the list of expectations.  We went to work researching, planning and creating resources.

I loved what I was doing.  One of my favourite things about being a teacher is linking content to students to skills, in other words, I like planning.  And then trying to figure out how to optimize the technology to do it.  So I happily dug into the work.

By Friday, I could barely stand.  My back was seized up from my hips to my neck.

I hadn’t really paid any attention to my body–my mind was completely engaged, and it expected the body to do it’s bit; it just couldn’t keep up.

Reflecting on it, it was a combination of stress and too much sitting at the computer.

But I have sat at the computer for days without these effects.  Just two weeks ago, my gaming buddies and I met online for our bi-annual Game Weekend LAN Party.  It was supposed to be in Seattle, but we cancelled of course–so we worked out a four-day schedule of gaming, and went at it.  By the end of it all, my back was the same as when we started–it was like jelly.

So I figure it’s not just sitting.  It must also be the stress.

And when I teach in “real life” there is some stress as well, but then I walk and stand all day long.  All last week, I just sat.

It would have been a good idea to get away from the computer this weekend, but that wasn’t possible.  So I sat in front of the computer for two more days.  I got up every once and a while and I think that helped.  I’ve been stretching some.  So it’s not as bad as it was.

Here I am, sitting at the computer, awaiting my first virtual class.

If you have any suggestions as to how to get the back loosened up, and then keep it that way.  Let me know.

 

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