Monday, August 18, 2014

Glenn Beck Had A Close Brush With Reality

I tuned in to Glenn Beck the other morning on my way to work. I like to occasionally check in to see what topics the conspiracy end of America are frothing over.

On this particular morning, Glenn and his posse were discussing the death of Robin Williams. More specifically, they were having a conversation, laced with incredulity, over all of the folks who believe celebrity deaths come in threes. They stood in awe of people who maintain a belief, though no statistical realities back such a claim, that some cosmic force fates celebrity deaths to occur in sets of the magic number 3.

Glenn went on (here I paraphrase) "These people get all excited when the deaths come in a three and they announce 'SEE! SEE'!!!' but if it is a two, or a one, they are silent. All of the non-threes never make them reflect back that the "3" they are thinking of was just chance happenstance."

I laughed out loud, wondering if Glenn and his cohorts just MIGHT connect the dots. But no, this was not to be the morning.

Glenn and his buddies had a near-reality experience..... but it didn't stick.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Because That Is How Leprechauns Work

My first year of teaching was in a K/1 classroom. For St. Patrick's day, my teaching partner and I painted little green footprints in paths about the room. The children came in, excited that a Leprechaun had visited us. They ran about the room, inspecting the footprints... and then the serious discussions began. Why had a Leprechaun visited us? Did he leave anything? Did he take anything?

Was there REALLY a Leprechaun?

The more orthodox Leprechaun believers quickly jumped on that moment of doubt, explaining that the footprints were a CLEAR indication that a Leprechaun had been through here - the footprints were small AND green after-all.

"But why," one of the younger ones queried, "do the footprints stop over here and then continue over there?"

"Simple," said one of the older ones, taking on an authoritative tone. "The Leprechaun jumped from this point here and landed over there!" His finger traced an imaginary arc from launching point to landing point. He then turned to face the other children, folded his arms, and announced:

"Because that is how Leprechauns work!" _______________________________________________________

Everyday on Facebook, or in blogs, or in real life, I hear people make authoritative claims about various supernatural topics. Like my student, they take on an authoritative tone and begin to explain what God is like, or what will happen after we die, or how prayer functions, etc. Though they have no particular proof of any of their claims, and though their statements tend to contradict the claims of others.... or even reality itself.... They nevertheless, with all of the bravado of my first grader, will fold their arms, look you in the eye and announce:

"Because that is how the supernatural works!"

Monday, August 04, 2014

Halo, American Education, and my son The Terminator

My son is a killing machine.

Most fathers come to this realization after just a few minutes of facing off against their sons in a video game.

I used to be good at video games... admittedly, my video games were made of square blocks, and getting better meant developing more intricate routines as the game moved faster and faster.

I sat down with Jake the other day to play Halo. I am not new to the game. I completed Halo and Halo 2 on the original Xbox. I have played multiple games WITH Jake on the Xbox 360.

But on this day, I thought we should try facing off against each other.

It was a travesty.

For me.

The only survival maneuver I seemed to have available - was keeping away from my son. Within moments of his spotting me, I was terminated.

In an effort to even the playing field, we limited the weapons he could use, and he could not come after me until I had secured some big weapons.

This changed nothing.

Finally, we settled on my having every weapon... he could have a pistol.

For a while, this lengthened the amount of time I would live... but in the end, he wasted me. I could have a Scorpion Battle Tank... and he would take me out with his pistol.

When he slaughtered me enough for one day, he put down his controller and said, "Thanks Dad... I have gotten really good with a pistol today!"

So often in American educational circles, it is assumed that if teachers just taught better, or faster, or more, we could level the playing field of the variance of scores. If student A is scoring better than student B, or if the students of city A or country A are scoring better than the students of city B or country B - there must be some way to tinker our teaching delivery to get more equality. Maybe if we just give student B more...

But understand, my problem with Jacob continually handing my behind to me had NOTHING to do with my knowledge. No amount of instruction was going to change my ability to compete with my son. In the end, no amount of tinkering with the game itself was going to change my ability to compete with my son.

The reason my son beat me today, and would beat me tomorrow and the next day, is because he has had more time on task. He has spent hours, days, weeks, and years on these games that... at this point of my life, I am never going to match.

Sometimes, the reason one student outscores another is nothing more than time on task.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blogging Less

It has been two and a half months since I have written anything for this blog.  I was surprised to see a month go by... and then two...

I have been contemplating the reasons for this. There was a time when I wrote a few articles a week.  But in this past year it seems to have gone from a slow flow, to a drip, to off.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Most of my writing has been about religion

To be honest, that topic is growing old.  I still feel a need to resist religion when it encroaches into politics and the public square in inappropriate ways, but the topic itself for me is becoming boring.  I have tried to go back and read some of the liberal Christian authors I have enjoyed over the years, but within a few paragraphs I hear Stan Marsh's voice in my head - "Don't care, don't care, don't care...".

I have other outlets

A lot of my early blog writing was driven by a need to give voice to all of the questions that were rolling around inside my head.  As much as churches and religious leaders claim to be open to questions, they are not.  They are happy to patiently explain to you where you are wrong, but when you want to take it further... they are done (here is a perfect example).  So, when I wanted to wrestle religious issues... there were few to none in my life whom I could talk to.... so I wrote.

Today, I have a core of friends who are happy and willing to wrestle with any idea.  There were a few of us who started meeting Sunday mornings for coffee (since we did not do church anymore) and we joked that we were having "Coffee Church".  The name stuck and it grew into a regular meeting of Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, liberal theists, and religious folks on the boarders of their denominations.  Voices and thoughts are considered and respected in an arena where the endpoint has not already been pre-determined. I now wrestle these thoughts out with friends over wine and cheese, rather than by myself with a keyboard.

Laziness and time

My family has moved into a time of life where I seem to have less free time than I used to (somehow this seems counter intuitive).  When I have a free hour, I would usually rather catch up on a show or read... or call some friends and open a bottle of wine.  In addition, a fleeting thought can be shared quickly on Facebook... and probably get more response.  People do not read or respond to blogs like they used to, so the desire to invest in a post is less.

So how bout' you... has your reading or writing of blogs decreased?  To what do you attribute it?  Do you think this is a growing trend?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review - Frank Schaeffer: Why I am an Atheist who Believes in God

I am an Atheist.

It is hard to put a date on when that happened. After decades in the Christian faith, it is a little fuzzy to try to pinpoint where amid my years of liberalizing Christianity, to broad Theism and Agnosticism, finally settled into Atheism.

During those transition years, I read a few books and articles by Frank and enjoyed catching him on various TV and radio interviews. Though I felt he might be overly harsh at times, I could completely relate to his religious upbringing and his rejection and critique of American Evangelicalism.

Now that I am on the Atheistic side of the theism divide, I found his new book title to be intriguing. For the most part, I am happy to be out of church life; but I know and have met Atheists who wish they could still keep a foot in religious waters or they HAVE to due to family constraints. Was Frank now an Atheist who still liked religious teachings and hoped for an after-life? If so, what has been his experience navigating between these worlds?

That is not what I found. Frank is still very fixed in his theism and the use of Atheism in the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Let me state upfront that I like Frank. He is an honest writer. His desires, hangups, contradictions, frustrations, and passions are all laid out in this book. He is an engaging wordsmith and there would probably be little difference between reading the book and sitting down with him at the pub for a beer.

When he writes of his thoughts and experiences, he gives you the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no pretense in his writing. One thing age and experience have obviously bestowed upon him is honesty.

When Frank was telling of his former and present religious experiences, he had me. Pages flew by.

However, as an Atheist, I kept getting hit by buckets of cold water. Frank sets forth a proposition in his book and it is this: Religious Fundamentalism sits on one side of his religious sweet spot, and Atheism sits on the other. Atheism is simply the co-evil twin of religious fundamentalism. He occasionally tries to back pedal from that premise and give some Atheists some credit; but it is clear Atheism brings to Frank a frustrated eye-roll.

Which makes me wonder what prompted the use of the term Atheist in his title. He may be a theist who wavers on his opinion of who or what god is. He may be unclear as to whether humanity survives beyond the point of death, but none of those questions have anything to do with Atheism.

Again and again, Frank went after Atheists throughout the book. That itself was not a problem. If we merely disagreed on conclusions, that would have been fine. However, each time seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of the Atheist perspective... and I found myself giving a frustrated eye-roll.

I tried to give grace on those passages. I can't be too frustrated with Frank for not understanding the Atheist perspective... he is not an Atheist. Every commentary he gives on Atheism is made from within the theist framework. It is like the theist lives on a planet Atheists have left. When we look in our rear-view mirror, we now see that planet as one pinpoint of light among a myriad of others... but the theist still references our position as if we are looking at their sky.

So do I recommend the book? Yes, I enjoyed it. If you are a liberal Christian or SBNR, you will probably love it. If, like me, you are an Atheist who came from a conservative religious background there is probably a lot here for you to enjoy... and you will get a good peek into how liberal Christianity tends to view Atheism. I have heard authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren echo similar sentiments.

I highlighted and noted a lot in this book, both in frustration and agreement... and occasionally just because I wanted to mull over a thought again later. In the end, isn't that what a good book should cause you to do?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kathryn is 16!

Kathryn at 5 and 16
Every dad remembers holding his little baby girl and at some point thinking, "Someday, she will be 16..." You hear older fathers tell you how quickly the years pass, but you shrug it off... it all seems so far away.

Then here you are, the little girl that you used to toss up on your shoulders is now looking eye to eye with you as she talks about high school, dances, cars, jobs, and boys.

Here we are....

I find myself wanting to "circle the wagons" (as a friend of mine said); I can count on one hand the years we have left as our little family under the same roof. I want to make all of our moments count and I want to minimize things that take away from family time.

I can understand why parents and teens sometimes struggle. Her world is expanding and broadening with every passing day... I am trying really hard not to be overwhelmed while part of mine is nearing an end.

I think the trick is always to enjoy the stage you are in... to be present. They are precious when you carry them on your shoulders. They are precious when you first take them to school. They are precious when they go on their first date, get their first apartment, blossom in their career, walk down the aisle.

My baby is 16 and she is so precious!

Happy Birthday Kathryn!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Movie Review: Amazing Spiderman 2

What a mess!

All I could think throughout the movie was.... what a mess!

Spoilers ahead... this is only for folks who equally want to complain about this movie.

I felt the first movie was rushed. Sony had to get the ball rolling or surrender all those merchandising rights and it felt like a movie that was thrown together.  However, I was hoping for round 2, Spider-man would find his footing.

No such luck... I actually think this movie was worse than the first. Here is my list of gripes:

  • Opening scene was overly long and in the end pointless... 
  • I knew in the first fight scene that they were setting up the Rhino, and he was a detestable moron.  Really, you are going to entrust that suit to that guy?
  • Every character, from Electro to Aunt May, was riddled with angst... but it ALL seemed so contrived.
  • The setup clues for Peter to find his Dad's train were ridiculous... and finding the train was even more ridiculous.
  • I just could not get into Electro... almost every word he uttered grated on my nerves.
  • There was no sense of development to the Green Goblin... and he just looked and acted like someone who showed up late for the party and was not sure why he had been invited.
  • The only characters who had any chemistry in this movie were Peter and Gwen... and they did nothing with it.

What did you think?
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