Sunday, February 27, 2011

Heated Responses to Rob Bell

The truth is, the further I get from the Christian community, the more satisfying life is. There are a number of reasons for this, but case in point presently is the weekend ho-ha over Rob Bell.

A video was released by Rob this weekend promoting his new book - Love Wins. It addresses the idea that maybe much of Christianity has been looking at eternity through a very pessimistic scope and that, perhaps, St. Paul was right when he said that Love gets the final word.

Blogs and Tweets began to spring up by Pastors and Theologians condemning Bell. Rob was in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter Saturday.

Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years. One of the skills we have yet to get any kind of a handle on is how to deal with disagreements like adults.

Someone holds a different view?

Off w’their head!

This attitude comes from thinking God is going down a checklist of what you believe as of primary importance. One misplaced belief… and it results in an eternity of torture!

With a view of god like that, I guess one can't blame the more conservative wing of Christianity for being paranoid and a wee’ bit jumpy. Navigating life for such Christians is like being a long-tailed cat in a world full of rocking chairs.

I would suspect that Rob Bell is offering an alternative view with this new book.... a way out of this theological bondage.

The vitriolic rhetoric he has already received is testament to how much people love their chains.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Hoc Signo Vinces

I saw this ad on the sidebar of my Facebook page today:

It made me think of the video I posted a few days ago, where one Christian pastor was explaining his reasoning in welcoming his Muslim neighbors to use their church building; whereas another Christian was completely opposed to this gesture.

In the one view, Christianity is in competition with anyone not in our religion. The goal is to dominate. It follows the vision of Constantine - in hoc signo vinces "In this sign conquer!" Under this view, the notion of "loving your enemies" is either ignored as an impossible idealism, or its meaning is transformed into a justification for aggression - the most loving thing I can do for my enemy is conquer them. In the end, this view does not believe that "Love Never Fails", but rather God will need to gain victory the same way man always has - destroy your enemies.

The pastor who welcomed his Muslim neighbors, on the contrary, believes in the path of love. He believes that victory does not come through shedding the blood of your enemies, but through shedding your own - sacrificing one's self, rather than sacrificing the "other". He recognizes that the way of the Divine will often run counter to our more protective instincts. Rather than defending against the "other", he chose to welcome a neighbor.

I think Christianity did a significant paradigm shift under Constantine. In many ways, we are still trying to use Christ to conquer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rob Bell : Love Wins

This video got me geared up to get this book when it comes out next month (I haven't read anything by Rob Bell yet). The message of the universal, unconditional love of God is breathing new life into people everywhere. However, the vast majority of Christianity is in line with the person who wrote the note in the video... and I am sure they are going to have lots of "notes" to write about Rob Bell. :)

HT: New Ways Forward

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Masks We Wear

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything. ~ Tyler Durden

From a recent Salt Lake Tribune:

The public doesn’t get it. My party lacks ideas. Activists are too shrill.

Those are not things you normally hear from a politician.

But in the past few months, they’ve all come from the mouth of three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, who in losing his re-election bid in May seemingly won a consolation prize: freedom of speech.

“The Republican Party is short on ideas,” Bennett, a Republican, told NBC News recently. “They’re very long on slogans right now, but they’re short on ideas.”

Now that Bob Bennett has nothing to lose, he is free to speak; to tell us how he really feels, how he really thinks. What if he said these things while in office?

They would have crucified him.

There is a lot of talk these days about truth and integrity. We claim to want it; but do we really?

Politics is full of it... the double-speak... it is a given that we have all accepted. It is known that what a politician says during the campaign is not what he or she will do when in office.

If you travel in church circles, you will meet people who are trained in double-speak. They are thinking and living one thing, but feel obligated to state another. Behind closed doors, their marriage may be a wreck... but to the public, they present a good front - it is expected if you want good standing in the church. They will say and sing words they do not believe, or are at least dubious about, but will keep these musings to themselves lest they be dis-fellowshipped or marginalized.

Beyond that, they may be so well trained in double-speak, they are not aware that they do it. They utter inconsistencies within the same breath without blinking. Contrary statements do not disturb them.

I was having a conversation with a Christian woman once. She was telling me about her fear of secularism, her fear of disease, her fear of poverty, etc. Everything she mentioned was something that gave her dread.

"Wow," I said. "That is a lot of fear to live under."

She looked at me with an offended and perturbed eye. "I am not fearful!" she replied in an icy tone. "Fear is from the Evil One, and I do not allow fear to have a foothold in my life."

Double speak.

I remember being challenged over a decade ago at the Cornerstone music festival. Glenn Kaizer was preaching about double-mindedness. He defined it as having multiple "selves"; that who you are and what you say depends on who you are with. He said that he was feeling more at peace as he brought his multiple "selves" into one "self"; even if that meant he seemed less ideal to some.

In the past few years, I have started giving voice to questions that have haunted me. I have let go of things that no longer make sense. I am attempting to dig out various facades that I erected over time.

This has made me less ideal to some... but it is giving me more peace.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Cost of Faith?

There are a number of things I find fascinating about the above video. For one, it is a perfect example of what happens when you live in a religious echo chamber. I am sure that many of the caller's points seemed perfectly airtight when stating them amongst fellow believers on Sunday.... but quickly fell apart under the most simple scrutiny.

I also love the natural good cop/bad cop format the hosts take on. The gentleman on the right is often gracious as he tries to walk the caller through a linear thought-line - while the guy on the left can hardly contain his exasperation with the illogical pronouncements of the caller. I laughed out-loud multiple times.

Though there is a lot of material here (and perhaps folks might want to talk about other bits in the comment section), I want to focus on a piece that was brought up toward the end which is also a "hobby-horse" of mine - the relationship destroying nature of exclusivist theology.

The host is spot-on when he points out that there is a natural tendency within religion to assume that anyone outside of your group is in some way bad or morally hobbled. I was nervous getting my first "secular" job as a teen. I was convinced that all of my fellow employees would hate me because I was a Christian. It was a life lesson to find out they were friendly and more accepting than most of the Christians I knew.

It was too bad they were all going to Hell.

This attitude isn't confined to the young. I spoke with a Christian who was hiring recently. He discovered his two potential employees were both Christians. "It gave me a peace in my spirit," he said, "to know that regardless of who I hired, I was going to get a good employee." Because of their Christian status, it was assumed they were "good". So non-Christians, by implication, would at best be suspect.

I think Hell lies at the root of this (the caller threatened the hosts with Hell before hardly saying hello). Since most of the world is going to Hell, many Christians have resolved themselves to trying convert who they can while keeping themselves untainted. The world is doomed.

I was at a church one Sunday where the Pastor was mocking the "peacemakers" in our world. "There ain't gonna be any peace in this world," the pastor shouted while bouncing on the front of his toes, "until the Prince of Peace returns!!!"

Let's just hunker down until Jesus gets back....

Another Pastor said to me recently "Not even Jesus can redeem this world. He can only redeem those who believe and are washed in his blood."

Well, I guess that's it for THEM then.

Even the Governor of Alabama felt the need to announce to his fellow citizens that any non-Christians are "not my brother".

With this underlying attitude of separation, it is of no surprise that many religious folks like to keep people who are not in their group at arms length. As I question various aspects of my faith, I have had folks jettisoning my friendship left and right. Six "men of the cloth" have cut ties with me in the past year and a number of the laity as well. Whatever I have might be catching. A few tossed in a hell warning on their way out. :) (for my good, of course)

In the end, the caller from the video is afraid. He is afraid when he sees a Christian abandon his faith. He fears that it could happen to him. He fears that listening to anything outside the echo chamber could taint him. He could stop believing. Then the God he "loves" will reject him and torture him for eternity.

So, in a sense, you can see why he needs to put his fingers in his ears. You can understand why he must maintain superficial relationships with outsiders. It makes sense that he feels safe at church functions, meetings, and potlucks. There are scary possibilities outside.

He could burn FOREVER! That fear, to him, is real!

What a world we might have if the religious could believe that Perfect Love casts out fear!

Monday, February 14, 2011

National Math Core

Utah has decided to hop on board with the Common Core State Standard Initiative. This is a drive by many of the states to develop a common core for our national standards, as opposed to the cores which presently  vary from state to state. This is not a federal initiative, but that doesn't stop my local state senator, Chris Buttars, from declaring it a socialist plot.

In theory, I think we need a common set of standards. For one thing, it would help us make more objective judgments when comparing results state to state. As anyone who has moved from out East to Utah can tell you, Utah schools are just.... easier.

In our ever more mobile society, a common core would help students transition after a move. Students would be able to hit the ground running.

Also, at the moment, most states are getting Texas and California's hand-me-downs. Textbook publishers design their programs for Texas and/or California... and then tweek them for the rest of us.

Unfortunately (and here I will bang my usual drum) we will still have our central problem of poor placement.

What I propose is this- make school years into trimesters. Then, for example, divide the Math core into 30 sections. So "first grade" would consist of 1a, 1b, 1c. Each section would require that you "pass" to go on to the next section. Students needing to repeat a section would have the opportunity to do so. If a student wanted to "test out" of the next section, they would have that opportunity as well. In this way students could move through the system at a pace that targets their learning and motivational edge; rather than being consigned to math classes that are too hard or easy for an entire year - or worse, their entire pre-college academic career.

This would also give summer school real purpose! Summer could be used to catch-up, get ahead, or be spent in leisure.... real choice would be available.

The core would be completed by most during their 10th grade year. Those who needed more time would be able to stretch the core out over 12 years. Those with the core complete on or before 10th would have the opportunity to choose more advanced math or applied math courses.

Presently, once our new math core is in place (I will be piloting it next year), it will still contain that deadly Achilles Heel. When deciding where to place students along the core, we will use the most blunt and dull measure we have at our disposal:

"How old are you?"

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Poor Placement

People often think that because I am a public school teacher, I would defend public schools. This is not the case. However, I think most of the complaints made by politicians and the public miss the mark. These errors are bi-partisan.

I have written before about our biggest failing in the public schools - that we place students according to age, rather than ability, interest, and pre-requisite skills. On this point I would like to offer the following example using my Dad and me.

My Dad has amazing talent in construction and mechanical work. He can fix or build pretty much anything. Like most boys, I did not appreciate this while growing up; but as I got older, my appreciation grew. I remember once, not long after I moved out, stopping by for a visit. As I walked in, I found an enormous hole in the side of the house. My dad had ripped out the sliding glass door by the back porch and was installing a glass wall and French door combination. He said "hi", while scribbling some notes.

"Dad, when did you learn to do this?" I asked; overwhelmed with how impossible this task would be for me.

"Ummmm...", he uttered as he surveyed his work over his glasses, "Actually.... I've never done this before."

No instructions, no book.  To my Dad, the next steps were self evident.  This all made sense to him.

I understand this because I am that way with computers and electronics.  I don't need a book or the directions, just give me a little time and I'll get it.

My Dad and I are both terrible at each other's strengths.  I can't swing a hammer without being a danger to myself and others.  My Dad keeps directions handy for copying and pasting text from one document to another.

So my Dad and I trade off skill sets. When I am back in Michigan, I tweak his computer and home theater. When he is in Utah, he helps me with some home project I have been dreading.

I know, I know... I am getting the better end of that exchange!

So how does this relate to school?


Let's say my Dad and I go to "construction school". Because we are both males, it makes sense to the school to put us in the same class. Due to our vast ability differences, there will be one of three results. They will:

  • Teach at a level and speed useful to my Dad, and leave me completely befuddled.
  • Teach at a level and speed useful to me, and leave my Dad completely bored.
  • Teach at a happy medium, and be of no use to either of us.

That is where most schools find themselves.  Effectively serving very thin slices of the population, while most students are befuddled or bored.

This is one of the primary reasons inner-city schools struggle more. Improper placement is more damaging in classes that have a wider range of abilities. When I taught in a 5th grade suburban school, most of my students were within a grade-level of "5th" grade material. Now I teach 6th grade at an inner-city school where few of my students can grasp "6th" grade material. My students range pretty evenly in ability from "5th" grade to "kindergarten".

But hey! They are 12! Who cares about ability, pre-requisites, and interest! Let's teach em' all the same thing, at the same pace!

When that doesn't work.... well, the politicians know where the real problem is......

Friday, February 04, 2011

Compare The Two

In the following video, one of the Representatives in the Utah legislature talks about some proposed bills he has lined up to discriminate against anyone who does not hold to his idea of a family.

Compare that to 19 year old Zach Wahls, who speaks to the Iowa legislature about his family.

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