Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Conclusion of Lost

Many have been discussing the conclusion to Lost over the past few days, so I will toss in some of my impressions. What one saw in the ending, what one took away from it, of course will be highly flavored by what one brought to it. For myself, I am a Christian Univeralist... so my interpretations will run in that vein. I am curious to hear what you saw.

I thouroughly enjoyed the conclusion. As I said on a friend's Facebook status - I am a sucker for a story of redemption and reconcillation.

I had been harboring a general annoyance with Lost over the last year or two. I joked that the writers were just partaking in a great "stream of conciousness" writing experiment. Those who thought the story lines actually had a direction were deluded. I was growing tired of the endless cliffhangers.

Still, I stayed with it because... regardless of all else, these were great stories about the human condition.

In the end, I think I was kind of right. A lot of the questions I had throughout the series about how and why remained unanswered. But that worked for the context of the ending. It turns out that the point of the Island wasn't the Island. It was just the backdrop through which they could work out all of the things in their minds and hearts that needed to be worked out. I think that is how it will be at the end of our time. All of this is just the backdrop and playing field as we work out the struggles in our souls. Paul hinted at this when he said, "Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Or, as Lewis stated in The Great Divorce:

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be, in the end, a very distinct place.

I think the most powerful moments involved Ben in the final scenes. First, when he asks forgiveness of Locke. I choked up. His request of forgiveness and his personal brokeness as he confessed the corruption in his heart that had drove him to murder... was beautiful. It is moments like that which draw me to Christian Universalism. It wasn't until Ben was beyond it that he could truly see it. We see this thought expressed in scripture frequently. Paul states that it is after death that "we shall know fully, even as we are fully known". Jesus asks his Father to forgive humanity because "they don't know what they are doing". Paul persecuted Christ, until the scales fell from his eyes.  Ben truly saw... and when he did, he saw that he needed forgiveness.

I loved how, when each charcter was brought into that timeless knowledge, there was peace. As Julian of Norwich said, "... all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

The second thing I loved is that Ben chose to stay outside. He knew he was not yet ready. There were still areas of his heart that had not been dealt with. This reminded me of the ghosts in CS Lewis' The Great Divorce who had not quite become solid yet. There was still work to be done. I love that message because it is one that I am learning. Growing up Evangelical, I was taught "imputed righteousness" - when God looked at me, he no longer saw me but Jesus - so all is well. However, I always knew intuitively that approach was not dealing with the real trouble going on in my heart. I have rather learned to look at the disciplines of God (both present and future) as a purifier, not a punishment. Ben was not looking to have someone "cover over" his sins... he wanted them dealt with. He wanted to be a new man. He wanted to be born again.

Like all good art, we all saw something different.... and will probably see something new when viewing it again.

Thank you to everyone who made Lost happen.  That was a great story.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Right Theology and Idolatry

I read a great quote today by Donald Miller, thanks to Mason over at New Ways Forward.

"...right theology has become a false idol, and when it’s used as a pacifier to make us feel right rather than redeemed, it breeds arrogance and is bait for an offensive, controlling personality."

A good portion of Christianity today is obsessed with having right theology. If you don't have right theology... you don't have anything. I have been in two conversations recently in which, once the the other person discovered I had "wrong" theology", the person began speaking to me in an evangelistic/witnessing sort of manner. My previous indication of belief and use of scripture now meant nothing... I was then spoken to as if I were a blank slate that was there to be written upon.

When you look at the life of Jesus shown in the Gospels, you see very little theology. Instead, you get a lot of very practical instruction on how to approach life, and how to think and behave toward your fellow human beings.

Instead of heeding those words, we have become the Pharisees 2.0

Jesus suggested to the "right doctrine" people of his day that, perhaps, they were missing the point:

"You diligently study the scriptures because you think by them, you gain eternal life."

Right doctrine only becomes important in a paradigm where some are in and some are out. When fear of rejection by God is removed, we are free to hear "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, forgive, hope, bless, trust, love, serve ...." unhindered and unclouded by threats - or promises of reward. Instead those words have value on their own ... and bring life that no right belief ever can.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Teachers - America's Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy is the story of a boy who is selected to be punished for the misbehaviors of a spoiled Prince.  Since it is forbidden for anyone to lay a hand on the Prince, it is assumed that punishing another child for the Prince's misbehaviors will somehow translate to better behavior on the part of the Prince.


I teach 6th grade at a Title One inner-city school.  As I sat listening to my students' end of the year orchestra performance, I was struck by the contrast with a similar performance I had heard the previous week.  My daughter is also a 6th grade student and, although she is homeschooled, she attends orchestra classes at the the local public school each week.

What struck me was the sharp difference between the proficiency of my students when compared with my daughter's class.  For the most part, the skill level of my students was significantly less.  In fact, a number of my students sat there randomly fingering their instruments, trying to blend in with the scenery.

As I sat there pondering the differences in the two recitals, my mind was drawn back to a conversation I had earlier in the week with one of our district ESL (English as a Second Language) coordinators.  She was asking me what I believed teachers could do to close the gap between our East and West side schools.  Our East side schools are primarily affluent and educated, while our West side schools are mostly poor with minimal education.

I have been in these meetings many times since coming to work for a Title One school. The common theme is that they are looking for some teaching method, some curriculum, some approach the school can take to make this gap disappear. The questioners get frustrated with me because I am always the downer in the conversation.

I tell them the truth.

What they are wanting is a gimmick, some quick fix that we can offer that will make the gap fade away.  However, I always compare it to weight loss.  There are two ways, and only two ways, to truly lose weight - you have to burn off more calories or eat less of them.  Any solution that does not use one of those approaches will end in failure.

As I sat there watching my students play, it was apparent to me where the difference resided and what accounted for the gap in skill level.  Simply stated, it is practice.  I know my daughter practices her violin almost every day.  I know many of my daughter's friends, and they also regularly practice their instruments.  However, the vast majority of my students never pick up their instruments, except during music class. The instruments remain stashed in lockers or in the back of classrooms. Theoretically, it should be apparent to anyone reading this why one group of students is proficient and the other is not.

Still, this obvious reason eludes many people in the public, legislatures, and school district personnel.  They remain convinced that if the music teacher taught differently, or more, or better; that the skill level gap would just fade away.  In my meeting earlier in the week, every time I started to articulate what the students and parents would need to do for the student to be successful, the coordinator would cut me off. I finally said, "What you are looking for is a teaching approach that will work - without requiring that the student actually DO anything!"

That is what it ultimately comes down to.  All of the solutions talked about in the public right now require nothing of the student and family and therefore, like diet gimmicks, will produce no real change.  Let's take a look at them:

  • Getting rid of teacher's unions
  • Firing bad teachers
  • Lengthening the school day/year
  • Changing the curriculum/teaching approach

I submit that the largest reason for the gap between the skill level of my daughter's class and mine is student/family commitment.  Which one of the reasons above would affect that?  Would strangling the Union get the kids to practice more?  Would more lesson time, or a different approach, or a different teacher change that lack of practice outside of class?

Solutions that do not require anything from the student/family WILL end in failure.

Now I am aware that my daughter has a million and one advantages that my students do not tend to have.  However, that does not change the core reason for the difference in performance.  President Obama, our state legislators, or the public in general applying more and more pressure on teachers is not solving anything.  I have only been at my Title One school for 6 years and nearly the entire staff has turned over in that time.  I don't believe teachers shy away from a challenge or high expectations; but being held accountable for things outside your power is draining.  It isn't long before our Title One teachers move to safer schools or out of the profession altogether.... and I KNOW that is not benefiting my students.

I think there are a lot of challenges that need to be addressed in the American public school system. However, making teachers the national whipping boy is keeping us from looking for honest solutions.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Maddow Commentates on Rand Paul

Below is an interesting commentary by Rachel Maddow concering her interview with Rand Paul, who is running for a Kentucky US Senate seat.

Rand is a Republican who comes from a libetarian perspective.  He believes that the portions of our Civil Rights laws that affect businesses should be rolled back.  In short, public institutions should not be allowed to discriminate; but private businesses may.  He declares that he would not support businesses that would discriminate, but they should lose in the market place rather than being forced to capitulate by the government.

I have to say that, on paper, that idea has some merit with me.  I hate the idea of a government body dictating individual morality.

But this idea fails for me when executed practically.  We have ALREADY SEEN the result of businesses being allowed to dictate personal choice in this.  It ends up forcing minorities into an underclass.  This is where most libertarianism drops the ball.  In trumpeting individualism, they tend to ignore the collective consequences of the choices made by those individuals. We do not simply have individual morality, we have a collective/national morality.  It seems to me, the only way pure libertarianism can play out is if one takes the S.S. Minnow to Gilligan's Island - and then off the other castaways.

300,000,000 people cannot simply do their own thing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sometimes Atheists Have The Best Ecclesiology

I read Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy a while ago. Pullman is an atheist who made religion the adversary in this series. His latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, is a fictional biography of the life of Christ (He would probably say that is the case of the gospels as well). I will eventually get around to reading this because I think Pullman is brilliant and very insightful.

What I wanted to share was the prayer he wrote for the character of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane:

"Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that my church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That is should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow 'Get out, you don't belong here?' Does the tree say to the hungry man 'This fruit is not for you?' Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?"

It is a shame that so much of Christianity seems determined to demonize anyone who is not in our fold. We view the "other" as someone to be converted, conquered, or closed off. We believe they have nothing to offer, so we lecture but seldom listen.

A prophetic voice has spoken; but do we have ears to hear?

HT: Experimental Theology

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Daughter Is Not One To Accept Pat Answers

So as we were driving home from seeing "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (which we enjoyed), Kathryn (12) made the following observations about a song that was playing. My MP3 player had pulled up "The Plagues" from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack. In the song, written by Stephen Schwartz, Moses and Pharaoh are arguing about the release of the Israelites. Following the song, the angel of Death descends upon Egypt.

"It really wasn't Moses or Pharaoh was it Dad?" my daughter announced from the back seat. "It was God.... Even if there were some bad people, lots of innocent people were killed who had no idea what was going on."

"Yep," I responded.

"It would be like if he killed all the firstborn in Salt Lake.... mostly innocent people would die. God was basically killing innocent people to get Pharaoh to do what he wanted."

We drove in silence for a moment.

"Dad.... How is that different from any other bad leader I have learned about in history?"

A few more moments of silence...

"So what do you do with that?" I asked.

"Well," Kathryn said thoughtfully. "It seems to me that either that story isn't accurate.... or God struggles to do the right thing just as much as we do."

I am not sure what my daughter's faith, or lack thereof, will look like one day. One thing I am sure of is that the pre-packaged answers supplied by most religious institutions will not last long under her scrutiny.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Primary Source of America's Education Woes

"truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror" ~ V

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some Thoughts On Franklin Graham

Pastor Michael Danner has posted a question over at his blog concerning Franklin Graham.  Franklin, son of Billy, was recently uninvited from attending the festivities at the National Day of Prayer at the Pentagon.  I have indicated that government involvement in a National Day of Prayer is out of line in any case, but that is beside the point.  Michael wonders what Christianity thinks of some recent comments by Franklin.  Are they accurate?  Are they a good thing?

Franklin said:

"(In the United States) we see everyday our rights being eroded. Just a little at a time, but its happening. Everyday. So let’s preach while we can. Let’s stand up and holler ‘Jesus Christ! King of Kings, Lord of Lords!’to the top of our voice... The secularists are going to get ticked off, the news media’s going to hate it. I don’t know, maybe the people in the White House are going to be mad. But you know what, I don’t care. Because God has called us to take the Gospel -- His Gospel, the power of God and His Salvation -- unto the ends of the Earth.”

In his blog, Michael responds:

"My take is Franklin is someone who is enamored with Christendom, sees it waining and is throwing a “temper tantrum” of sorts."

I couldn't agree more.  I think a lot of Christendom has fallen into a state of fear and paranoia, where pretty much anyone not on the team is out to get them.

I listened to Franklin being interviewed on Fox News, and his rhetoric there followed the tone of the quote above.  He stoked the notion that Christianity is in a competition with Islam, and he feels slighted if any religion other than Christianity gets a positive moment in the national spotlight.  I can't imagine he could partake in any inter-faith dialog.

Here is the
link to the interview.

I know a lot of Christians would not appreciate that I am critiquing Franklin Graham.  The argument would probably be that, even if I am right, Graham has led countless souls to Christ.  But that is where I would disagree.  If people are being converted to an apprehensive, fearful, angry, and suspicious religion... then I would argue that they did not convert to Christ.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Mother of Studies

Yesterday, we signed up our children for Kumon math.  It is a Japanese-founded after school program that involves lots of worksheets and repetition.  This, when I was in college for teaching, was how we were told not to encourage a child to learn.  We called such exercises "drill and kill".

This is an example of Western dualism.  Things tend to be either/or.  Seeing some error in the "drill and kill" approach, America's schools jumped to the other end of the spectrum where everything was student driven, discovery, open-ended.

So as to not be dualistic, let me be clear - those things are not bad.  They are a vital part of learning.  However, by perceiving repetition (practice) as dull, boring, mind-numbing, non-creative; we have pulled out a key foundational point that makes deeper learning possible.

During the Kumon presentation, the instructor explained that the program is based on systematic progression.  A child achieves mastery of one level before they move on to the next.  She explained, "To move a child on to algebra when his numeration skills are not second nature is pointless."

I almost screamed, "Amen Sister!!"

In our rejection of a "Drill and Kill" approach, we have consigned myriads of students to a limp skill base, yet we push them into higher and higher academics, regardless of their weak foundation.

I am learning lines for the part of Oberon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream.  To do so I will need to go over these lines countless times.  To go on stage without these lines being second nature would be.... pointless.

No one is saying that the learning of lines isn't a little dry.  It is often the case in life that we must do the foundational (and perhaps boring) work before the joy of the performance can be experienced.  We can enjoy a concert pianist, but may be unaware of the infinite amount of "drill and kill" that occurred prior to the concert.

We do our children a dis-service by allowing them to bypass the repetitive practice that will bring proficiency.

An ex-nun I used to teach with would often quote an old Latin proverb:

repetitio est mater studiorum

Repetition is the mother of studies.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Brian McLaren Town Hall Forum

"If we, every Sunday, deploy people into the world who are being sent out to love their neighbors as themselves - that's really good news for Muslims, it's really good news for Buddhists, it's great news for atheists.  But if we send out people who are just out for themselves, or out for their religion, out for their political party.... well, we know where that leads.  That's what we have now.  

This for me is a great moment of great opportunity, a great opportunity for a new kind of faith."

~ Brian McLaren speaking at a Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis.  Listen here.

A topic Brian talked about in this audio, which resonated with me, is the issue of identity.  So often in Christianity, people partaking in other religions is seen as a threat to Christian identity.  They are "other" who must be assimilated or marginalized.  This attitude has caused many people of conscience to leave the Christian faith or radically reduce their own identity.  Brian suggests a third way (similar to Samir Selmanovic in It's Really All About God) in which Christians can be secure in their traditions yet not see others as a threat or target for conversion.

I know the typical response is "But that is our calling - convert people."  I used to believe this too, but over time it became apparent to me that maintaining this viewpoint made it completely impossible to truly love those around me - and loving those around me is my higher calling.  I think sometimes we have to pray like Meister Eckert, "God, save me from God."

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I Excuse Myself From The National Day of Prayer

I am a Christian, but I often feel that title is fairly meaningless.  What seems to get most Christians stirred up either means nothing, or is offensive to me.

Take The National Day of Prayer.  I could not disagree more highly with my fellow Christians on this issue.  To me, the government not establishing or preventing the free exercise of religion could not be in more stark contrast to the concept of a National Day of Prayer.  If  the government does not establish or prevent, then it is passive. It is non-involved.  As much as it can, it seeks to stay out.  The only active part government should be playing in religion is its avoidance.

In the end, I think National Prayer Day is all about control.  It is about the Christian community asserting itself as the alpha-male.  In the wild, you will see animals engage in certain behaviors or acts of violence to solidify their role of dominance within the group.  The goal is to get the others to submit.

However, this in not the way of Christ.  The example set for us is not to be served, but to serve.

In my 26 years as a Christian, I have never had my free exercise of religion abridged.  I can pray pretty much anytime and in any way.  In that, the government has done exactly what it is supposed to do - nothing.

So, my Christian brother and sisters, I implore you:  lay down your need to control, let go of your perceived rights, be a gracious neighbor - take a pass on the National Day of Prayer.
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