Monday, February 13, 2006

Engaging Education

My wife and I won tickets from a local radio station to go and see Dr. Laura while she was here in Salt Lake. I might disagree with the good doctor on a point or two, but overall we are on the same page. I might be a little more diplomatic in my interactions, but then she only has a minute or two to get to the point.

One story she told is of her son, who at the age of 12 had decided he wanted to quit his martial arts lessons. She told him no. When he had his black belt, then he could quit if he wanted. Her rationale was that at the age of 12, he did not have the foresight to weigh the long term benefits of staying or the detriment of quitting.

I often hear people in education seminars boasting of the effectiveness of a particular program because it is engaging. That kids learn best while having fun and working with their interests.

Of course, being a both/and kind of person, I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment. However it is, as with many either/or arguments, missing some valid and needed alternative thought lines.

For one : If children, or any other learner for that matter, engage only in pursuing their interests... doesn't that narrow the field of their experiences? A child that decides early on that they only like macaroni and cheese at a particular restaurant, may never discover the other wonderful menu items if they do not venture out.

Second: If only engaging items are pursued, the child never learns to appreciate items with deferred gratification. For example, in one of his books, CS Lewis talks about his love of reading Greek poetry in the original Greek.. Prior to that pleasure, he tells of the tedious process he had to go through to learn to read and understand Greek. He did not enjoy that process. It had no pay off of its own. It was certainly not engaging.

Students have always complained about tedious homework. They complain, "When are we ever going to use this?!" Teachers have tried to come up with explanations in the past, but it was always assumed the work needed to be done. Now I find that parents and educators have been swayed. The student is right. They may never use this and besides, it's boring. Let them quit and do something else. If it is fun, it is worthwhile. If it is not.... well, shame on the teacher who would expect a student to do something they do not enjoy doing.

I for one quit trying to justify whether or not a child needed to learn long division or how to reduce a fraction a long time ago. My point is not that they learn these things (though that is a wonderful by-product), but rather that their mind becomes trained and that their will becomes disciplined.

I compare it to physical training. Most exercises that sports professionals go through to prepare for the game have no direct correlation to the game itself. When in real life will a man lift a weight 20 times, stop, and then repeat? The point is not the motion in and of itself but rather to train and strengthen the muscle so that it will be ready when a physical task is presented to it.

Why is it that if you were to present a new concept or idea to me and a 10 year old at the same time that I would grasp it faster... probably much faster. Neither of us have previous experience. The simple answer is that my mind has more training. It has been through the problem solving process more often. I have done the mental push-ups, so I can handle more mental weight.

The path of least resistance is to not stay on top of the kids homework, to make them practice their instrument, or keep to them on a path of completion when they would rather give up. I have often said that children will take that power of control if you give it to them - then resent you for giving it to them.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More than Passions

I was flipping radio stations today, and I heard someone sharing that God will really use us when we discover what our passion is and use it for him. I think this has become a common thought line in a lot of churches and Christian books.

Now I don't necessarily disagree with the overall point but I think, as with much Christian theology, we tend to always put things in either/or language; when in fact, I think God uses a fair amount of both/and.

I used to be on the other end of the "passion" spectrum. I was convinced earlier in my Christian theology that what you were good at or had interest in was the very thing God would NOT use. I thought if I enjoy it, it isn't sacrifice. If I am good at it, it is my power not his. My thinking changed in my early college years. A friend of mine (Rich Kifer) who worked with Detroit Youth for Christ helped me see life from a different angle. A man from my church was killed while witnessing down in Detroit. I was telling Rich that I felt like a loser because this guy had given his life for Christ, while I on the other hand do diddly-squat.

"What are you talking about?" he replied. "You coach bible quiz teams, you chaperone our trips, you do YFC promos, you meet with kids to study do tons of stuff!"

I shrugged, "Yeah, but I like doing that stuff."

He looked at me and laughed, "Dude, you have one twisted view of God!"

I say that to demonstrate the other side of the spectrum, but I believe the man on the radio is no less erroneous.

Take my church for example. There are lots of spots where God can use your passion. Singing, speaking, acting, tech, kids... what do you like to do? There is place where you can use it for God.

However, there are also plenty of things that need to be done around the church that will probably never qualify as someone's passion. Cleaning bathrooms? Emptying leaky garbage? Stacking chairs? Mopping?

I think if we stood around waiting for people who had a passion for these things (in and of themselves) we would probably have a pretty grungy church soon.

Perhaps "passion" can become our excuse. I don't want to do job ______ because it is not my "passion" (not because it is inconvenient, or I feel it is beneath me).

I remember working at a DC/LA conference back in 96 (a big YFC rally). The 8,000 kids would get together in the arena for an hour, and then break into groups of a hundred or so to go off to sessions in conference rooms. Well, my team's job was to get the sound going at the various conference rooms in the different hotels. Staff was spread thin due to various problems that were being worked out the first morning.

With 20 minutes till the kids came, me and two other guys were setting up the sound in two conference rooms. One of the DC coordinators poked his head in and said, "Guys, would you mind getting chairs set up when you're done? We don't have anyone on that for this building". Dave started setting up the hundred chairs that would be needed while Rich and I finished the sound. What is interesting is that the speaker for this break-out session watched the whole exchange - and he continued to watch. For the remaining 15 minutes, he sipped his coffee while we rushed to get ready before the kids came. It seems setting up chairs wasn't his passion.

Rich had a cool insight that evening. He was commenting on 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul is talking about various spiritual gifts. Paul concludes by saying "but eagerly desire the greater gifts". However, Paul never said which gifts were the greater. Rich said that the greater gift is the gift God needs at the moment. The gift God needed to make use of that morning was the gift of service. Therefore, that is the gift we should have desired.

I remember reading about Henri Nouwen. He was a Harvard and Yale divinity professor and authored many books. God called him to work at a home for the physically handicapped and mentally disabled. He said at one point, that it was there that he really was used by God and got close to his heart. He said (I paraphrase here) ' None of these people had any use for me as a professor or an author. My talents were of no use. It was then that God worked THROUGH me".

I believe we limit the potential for God to grow in us and through us when we only offer him our passions. Scripture tells us he wants our weaknesses too!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hell No!

I have really been committing to get back into reading. I just got done with Brian Mclaren's "The Last Word". I am presently reading "Blue Like Jazz" and upon recommendation, shall be taking up "the Sparrow" next.

I highly recommend "The Last Word". If nothing else, it give you a peek into some alternative thoughtlines that exist in the Christian world.

Brian McLaren really challenges the typical evangelical thoughts on and purposes in preaching Hell. I found a letter that I sent out to a bunch of friends about 6 years ago when I first started wrestling with Hell. Here is that letter, and my thoughts at the time:

Hello all,
I have been hit by a new theological trauma that has been giving me the runabout for the past few days, so I thought I would toss it out to you and see what you think.

It all came about the other day when I was listening to talk radio. There was an atheist on there begrudging the whole "see you at the pole" event. He was a usual ranter and party-liner, but one of the callers said something that really threw me.

“It is not so much that I don’t believe in God,” he said. “But I have a hard time believing that a being such as has been described would use violence of the ultimate sort as punishment for non-compliance."

How had I missed that question all these years? We all know the arguments for why “a loving God sends people to Hell,” but in the moment following that question, all of those arguments fell apart for me.

Many of you have read C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. Though the issue of pain is a stumbling block for some, and though it is a struggle to deal with at the time, it can always be brought to near triviality in the scope of eternity. As Paul said in countless different ways in the epistles “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. I wish Lewis had written a book called the Problem of Hell.

Here are the questions that have been rolling in my head the past couple days, which I am having difficulty finding solutions for.

First, there is the finality of it all. If suffering can be used as a tool to develop empathy, correct us, refocus us, cause us to go deeper, then there is an ultimate good to it. In my present paradigm, God can do nothing else. What man (or Satan for that matter) intends for evil, he can always turn it to a good. God can wrench glory from even the direst circumstances.

What then, does Hell provide? There is no ultimate good that can come out of it, because there is no opportunity for redemption. I realize the usual argument would be to say that they had an opportunity to accept salvation, but rejected it. This doesn’t seem to wash with me anymore for three reasons:

Can it truly be said the people who have rejected Christ have a clear understanding of what they are rejecting and what they are accepting in his place? I don’t think so. I don’t think that most Christians have even begun to get a handle on this, let alone someone who has no familiarity with the ways and teachings of God.

IF such a person existed, could they be truly sane?

IF they were sane, is hell a reasonable result?

    I think the reasonableness of hell is really hard for me to grasp. However rebellious or hideous a man may be; is hell a good solution? Eternal torture beyond measure?…forever?…. for the choices of eighty mortal years? When I sit down and consider that eternal destiny, I start to wonder.

    Also, what would the reason be for such an extreme punishment? (And this is the ultimate extreme). I have trouble reconciling it with the character of God, as I understand it. Is this vindictiveness? Getting even? What possible motive could God have? Holiness alone does not seem to be enough. Holiness says sin cannot be in God’s presence. Hell is an eternity beyond a mere removal from God’s proximity.

    Another curious point- what would motivate God to think up such a place in any case? He teaches me the proper way to think in Philippians. Hell could not come into that thought line. How does one, in line with goodness, contemplate the torture of his creatures?

    I have started a casual study of scripture at this point, and have gotten few answers. The Bible has a lot to say about sending people there, but little reason why… other than they are sinners. This always leads me back to my list of questions.

    Anyway, these have been my thoughts the past couple of days. Romans 11 says to ‘consider therefore, the kindness and sternness of God.” I am troubled considering that sternness.
    Feel free to respond, or not, at your leisure.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Love God, Love his Children

    Whom does the heart of God desire to dwell with?
    People who bear his name, but despise their fellow men created in his image?
    Or people who purport to have no interest in Him, but love their fellow men?

    I try to think of this from my view as a Father.

    A friend has affection for me, but despises my children?
    An aquaintance has no interest in me, but loves on my children?

    Whom would I prefer in my house?


    Train Them!

    It says in Hebrews 12:
    No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
    I read that scripture countless times back when I was a Bible Quizzer. At the time I took it to mean that the discipline God gives me will probably not be fun, but will be for my good. It was a hopeful passage.

    I read it entirely different nowadays. Flip it around. Read it from the discipliner's point of view. Being a parent the past 8 years gives me a new perspective.

    No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful... a teachable moment in the life of my child is presented, but I don't feel like dealing with it... I would rather fiddle on the computer, or watch TV, or continue my conversation. To stop and address the situation will take time... this is painful.

    Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. If I take the time to parent now... to fulfill my responsibility, I will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace.

    I write this with some trepidation, because I am a heading into boasting territory. But I will boast with a purpose.

    My wife and I have great kids!

    We often get compliments on their behavior, but I will occasionally hear something to the effect of, "Yes, but you have naturally compliant children."

    I want to shout "NO!" This has not come without cost! My wife and I think about, consider, and discuss our parenting. We plan for how we will deal with situations. We read. We study. We observe and consult with successful parents. We observe unsuccessful parents to note what we want to avoid doing. We are very conscientious of our parenting. We take time to parent. We both would say that it is the single most important thing we do in our lives. The behavior of our children (or sometimes lack thereof) is NOT an accident.

    Perhaps it is because I teach for a living that I am always looking for teachable moments.

    The other day I carved a turkey and set aside the wishbone. I told my 4 year old son and my seven year old daughter about the game of the wishbone. I debated not mentioning the wishbone to them because my son is very sensitive and I knew he was going to lose.

    No, I told myself, he is old enough to learn to lose properly.

    Each child grabbed an end... made the wish... snap.... and my son's lip tightened, his foot slammed the floor, and frustrated tears began to well up in his eyes.

    "Jacob...., no".

    I sat down in front of Jacob and took both of his hands in mine.

    "Jacob, I love you... please look at my eyes (I never discipline without eye contact). My son, you lost just now and I know you are frustrated because you wanted to win. There are times you win and times you lose. When you lose, you may not stomp your feet and cry. That is not right. Everyone loses sometimes don't they? When you lose... be happy for the person who won... and do you know what the right thing to do would be? (with his lips puckered he shakes his head)... you go over to the person who won and shake their hand like this (shake) and say 'Congratulations'. Do you think you could do that?"

    My son nodded, took a final sniff, and walked over to my daughter and took her hand, "Congratulations Kaki" (his nickname for her). She replied with a thank you and a hug. Then they went off to play.

    Now I by no means think that this will be the last time Jacob pouts and cries when he loses; but he will be taught each time that is not appropriate and will be shown what is appropriate. Perhaps someday soon, he will fly in that area on his own.

    Until then, my wife and I will be looking for teachable moments, because we want that harvest of righteousness and peace... for ourselves and our children.
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