Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dualistic Thinking Leads to Raising the Ante'

I have been devouring Richard Rohr's "Everything Belongs". It has been giving me new directions to try, since various aspects of my faith historically direct me to places I no longer find to be helpful.

One of the primary issues he deals with is how Western dualistic thinking has permeated most of the religious faiths we have grown up with. By dualistic, he means putting everything in an either/or context. We do not see things as they are... we see things as WE are. This leads to self deception. I touched on this thought in a previous post on digital thinking. Since an item needs to be pushed in to one of two camps (either/or), this prevents us from seeing it with its true gradients.

I saw this played out in real life this weekend. The University of Utah and BYU have a football rivalry. In most cases, it is all in good fun. I have two neighbors who are absolutely entertaining in the shenanigans they will pull on each other. However, after BYU won yesterday's game, the quarterback of BYU had some sharp words for his opponents:

"I don't like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans, I hate everything. .... I think the whole university, their fans, and their organization is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year, and they did a whole bunch of nasty things, and I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

Now, I know nothing about either of these teams, and even less about football. However, one does not need to be into sports to recognize us/them, either/or, dualistic thinking. Perhaps he has legitimate gripes with individuals who are U of U fans... but the WHOLE university?

Here he presents the Achilles Heel of dualism. Blame and anger are shotgunned across the board. People whom he does not know and has never met become the targets of his insults. Dualistic thinking often gets presented by its defenders as being logical and rational. I would submit that its real appeal is that it requires less effort and plays completely to our egos.

This reminded me of a scene from MASH. After a long night of treating burn victims, the doctors and a visiting general go to the mess tent for coffee. Over the radio, a communist announcer accuses their MASH unit, and specifically Hawkeye, of war crimes. She accuses Hawkeye of conducting experiments on prisoners.

General: You know, that really roasts my butt! Why don't we put out some propaganda of our own?

BJ: Like what General?

General: Like those burn victims... why don't we say they were firebombed by the enemy because they cooperated with us?

Hawkeye: Why should we say that?

General: Because it is a very effective weapon Pierce. Every time they put out something, we should put out something worse!

Hawkeye: So they lie and then we lie... where does it end?

General: Hmmm... maybe you're right, but it still steams me.

Hawkeye: Steams me too, but it's gotta stop somewhere.

(MASH Season 5 Episode 15 - 38 Across)

Anger, spite, violence, gossip, envy, greed, insults, lies.... we all get hit with these at one time or another. How do we respond?

Let it stop with us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Say NO to More School! - Teacher Perspective

Last month, I wrote a commentary about President Obama's thoughts that we, as a nation, should consider lengthening our school day and year. I spoke from a parent's perspective, since I have two elementary age children.

Now I want to look at it from a teacher's point of view. I have been teaching elementary school for 18 years and have taught to the very wealthy and the very poor. I am against adding time to our day and year. I truly feel there would be nothing to be gained by increasing our children's time in school. TIME is not really our issue. Most time in school is not being used efficiently; so to add more inefficiently used time will not provide any real growth.

In order for a student to progress at a good pace, I believe they need three things:
  1. A teacher who is competent in the subject matter
  2. Pre-requisite skills for the learning that is taking place
  3. A commitment by the student and/or parent(s) to learn the material
Most school reform movements will address my first item, but you will NEVER hear anything about the other two. Worse yet, most school reform believes that changing the structure of the day, or the curriculum, or how we house children, or how we assess or deliver instruction will be the key. I have watched for 19 years as legislators, districts, and school boards have tweaked these items... it never delivers.

The reality is, most teachers are competent to teach their class. As much as the anti-unionists would have us believe there are scores of clock-punching lazy teachers being protected by unions, it simply isn't the case... and teachers are certainly not what is driving the condition of our schools.

I believe our largest failing pertains to pre-requisite skills. The truth is that up to two-thirds of the students in a given classroom do not belong there. The subject matter is simply too advanced or too easy for the student.

In an inner-city environment, such as I teach in now, the subject matter is too advanced. But in American schools we have a "ready-or-not, here-you-go" view of class advancement. Whether or not a student has the skills in place to move on... we move them on. Students are placed by age, rather than what skill they are ready to acquire. I have used this example before, but it would be like if I wanted to switch careers and decided to go to medical school. The registrar at the University looks at me and says, "Well, normally we would put you on a pre-med schedule to get in your sciences.... but if we did that, you would be in class with a bunch of twenty year-olds. You look like you are about 40, so why don't we put you in 2nd year medical school ... that way you would be in with classmates closer to your own age." To be on a class track that I am completely unprepared for could not be more demoralizing.

Consider also what it would be like for the professor, trying to teach surgical skills to folks who failed Biology 101 or couldn't stand the sight of blood... along with students who were ready to move on to their next year of medical school. Does that sound chaotic and wrong? In my class I have an even spread of Harry Potter readers, down to See Spot Run. My students are expected to be taught, and later tested on, the division/conversion/and reduction of mixed numbers - yet many struggle to add 13 and 7 in their head.

Anti public education folks will often point to studies that show that our students do worse the longer they are in the system. I believe this is because of our determination to advance kids by their age rather than their readiness.

I believe this also has a negative effect on my third category - student commitment. The longer a student, who is not ready, gets pushed to higher and higher levels... the more their commitment wanes. This of course brings out the misbehavior that is more and more prevalent in our classrooms. How frustrating it is to be pushed on to the next level, when you felt completely helpless in the previous one.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we approach education in our schools. Simply lengthening the time in a bad system will only increase everyone's level of frustration.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quotes From Articles I Have Read Recently #8

I have this gadget on the side of my blog that lists blog articles that I have shared within my Google Reader. However, it is things like Google Reader that keep people from actually going to blogs anymore. A lot of folks are probably like me and only go to the actual blog if they are going to comment. So I have a feeling that my list of articles I have read recently doesn't get seen much. So I am going to try to be more diligent in creating lists like this, with quotes, so I can add some traffic to these articles I enjoyed.

And yet, when I joined the blogging world I discovered there were a lot of people out there like me, trying to find a spiritual worldview that makes sense to them. It is in that spirit that I have tried to help articulate Christian Universalism, as expressed by the CUA, as a comprehensive spiritual paradigm that goes beyond-far beyond-simply rejecting belief in Hell. I see Christian Universalism as a new alternative to both traditional, conservative, orthodox religion and the many forms of liberal religions that surround us today. Those of us disillusioned with traditional religion often find that our alternatives aren’t particularly appealing: “Rational” religions that have been stripped of any real spirituality; liberal political activism that invokes religion when convenient; and the New Age movement, which offers plenty of spirituality but has forgotten that real spirituality is not indulging ourselves. For those of us who feel spiritually homeless, with no labels to describe our beliefs, no one we can relate to, and nowhere to go, I am happy to announce that it need not be this way. This is where Christian Universalism enters the picture. The Christian Universalist

I don’t know what I believe. That’s kind of a relief, actually, as it’s taken me about seven years to say. Since my fundamentalist upbringing never left a lot of room for doubt, I spent a lot of time bottling up the truth, which was that I no longer knew what capital-T Truth was. Admitting this to myself was difficult enough, but I also found myself faced with a somehow more daunting dilemma: how do I continue to function honestly in the Christian community without people I love rejecting me or—worse—worrying about me? Each time I would come close to exposing the true nature of my (un)belief, I could think only of a time when I had been kept up at night in anguish over a lost soul. What did I do now that that lost soul was me? Emerging Toward Something Redeeming

Increasingly I see the church as an organization for the spiritually immature. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this in an elitist way, thinking I am better than others. I am not. However, the traditional church seems to be like a body of children vying for the approval of a heavenly parent. Also, it is engaged in a medieval attempt at the manipulation of the divine, for their benefit. I see the church increasingly retreating into unreality. Reflections

I love how Whitman absorbs and identifies with all of humanity. Male and female, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor. Whitman, to use his words, embraces multitudes. And I want to embrace multitudes. Whitman embodies what the theologian Miroslav Volf calls a "catholic personality," making space within the self to accommodate others. And I think that is often missing in religious people. We fail to make space in our hearts and minds for other people. Experimental Theology

The funny thing about religious dogmatism is the lack of unanimity among those dogmatists who proclaim the certainty of their own pet belief system. Dogmatism is good, we are told--but of course, my dogmatism is right and yours is wrong. How this serves as an argument for the absolute knowability of God is anyone's guess. Mystical Seeker

It's always struck me as rather odd that there is a field within Christianity called "apologetics." Perhaps the clearest definition of apologetics is, "The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines." I think of it more as trying to prop up the dubious.

After all, if something is true should that truth be not hard to see? Certainly there are some things where that is not the case. One that springs to mind is scientific truths. There is nothing about truths in physics that is at all self-evident to me. Shouldn't theology be different? Why do we need a whole "department" that spends all its time defending declared truth? May I suggest it's because such "truths" are really little more than WAGs (wild-assed guesses)?

If a truth is a truth it doesn't need anyone to defend it. Gravity is a truth. If you don't believe it, jump off a bridge and I promise you will be convinced. There are certain things in the spiritual arena that are relatively easy to verify and/or experience as well. The truth is that apologetics isn't concerned with truth at all, but rather with propping up arguments and theories. Why do these things need propping up? The need propping up because in what they declare they go too far. They go to far because those who propose them are essentially insecure. In the name of honesty, apologetics should be called "argumentation." A Real Bishop's Reality

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Total Depravity is Depraved

One of the most self serving doctrines that man has ever created is "Total Depravity". It is the idea that man is born into a state in which he cannot do anything that is good. Goodness only comes when one has crossed over into Christianity. This doctrine was popularized by a 16th century preacher named John Calvin, and it is the cornerstone doctrine of many Christians today.

Last week, a local Pastor wrote an article for the Salt Lake Tribune extoling the virtues of Total Depravity. His motivation was an advertising campaign that was launched by Athiests in New York. Ads were placed in the subways that stated, "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"

As a Christian, I believe that the fascination most of my fellow believers have with Calvin's doctrine is driven by a desire to control. Total depravity gives the user a trump card (in their mind) whereby they can be better than everyone else around them... without, in fact, being better.

This is why many Christians react to campaigns like the Athiests in New York created. The ad spotlights goodness, rather than doctrine, and puts the Christian and the Athiest on an even playing field. The Christian does not like to lose their trump card, so they loudly insist that everyone play by their rules.

I can quote scripture with the best of them, and I know that many Christians reading this are pulling out their favorite scriptures to justify their pet postition. I already know them, so put away your Gideons. As with most "scriptural" positions, an easy scriptural rebuttal can be made.

Rather than scripture fencing, I would like to look at fruit (what actions result from positions) John Calvin is held in high esteem by many Christians. Yet he did not really do anything worth emulating. He created doctrines that gave Christians power over people... little else. Cities where Calvin's doctrines reigned were oppressive. Calvin had a man arrested for disagreeing with him. Convicted of heresy, Michael Severetus was burned at the stake. Calvin thought that was a bit extreme... he would have preferred a mere beheading.

Could any of us picture Ghandi calling for somone's death for holding a different position? Of course not! He was too GOOD a man for us to even imagine such a thing.

To me, that is where Total Depravity falls apart. It renders words like good, bad, right and wrong completely meaningless. Instead, it simply seeks to elevate a particular people group.

I do not believe the teachings of Jesus line up with a doctrine that causes us to render human goodness meaningless.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Annie Opens this Friday!

This Friday, the South Jordan Community Theater production of Annie will hit the stage. My daughter is the orphan Tessie, and I will be singing and dancing in the Hooverville scene (got Man 2 lines there also), various Warbucks mansion scenes, NYC, and playing the soundman in the radio scene.

It occured to me the other night while doing a sound check, as I was singing out a few lines from the stage, the strange twists and turns my life has taken these past few years. My politics & faith have taken a sharp Left turn, I am live in Utah after being a life long Michigander, and I have been in 3 musicals this past year (never did theater before) ... heck, I even sang a solo in one of them!

Curious to see what is going to happen next....

Before You Start Your Christmas Shopping

I can "Consume" with the best of em'. So before the shopping season starts, I sit down with my family to watch "What Would Jesus Buy", produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), and the Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping. It is a comedic look at America's obsession with buying things. In our country, we are encouraged to buy products to bring happiness and to fight terrorism. Our cycle of working more, to buy more, to live less - is the best in the world!

Do your part to help forestall the shopocalypse, watch this movie!

Here is the preview:

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

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