Friday, October 29, 2010

What is Truth?

The following story is not TRUE. It never happened. The author is rumored to be a backslidden, atheist wanna-be who hates puppies. There is no point in reading this untrue tale.

Jesus looked over the crowd and concluded his story by saying “The Father’s love for both of his children was beyond their imagination, but their need to be privileged kept them from seeing it.” He paused to allow his words to penetrate the multitudes.

A man toward the front was raising his hand. “You in the sheepskin,” Jesus called out, “Do you have a question?”

The man stood and brushed the dust from his cloak. “Yes, I am wondering if that story is true.”

Is it true?” Jesus responded quizzically.

Yeah,” the man continued, “Did it really happen?”

Well,” Jesus countered, “that really wasn’t the point I…

Jesus was cut off by two men who leaped to their feet angrily, “Of course it is true!!” the bigger of the two shouted, “Do you think Jesus would LIE to us!? What kind of follower are you!?

Jesus tried to step in, “Folks, you are missing the point! I want you to understand that …

Again, Jesus was interrupted, this time by a woman shouting from the side of the crowd, “I want some clarification! You keep talking about the rich landowner, but that area has barren since the time of our forefathers. Are you making this story up?!!!

Jesus tried to get a word in, but the crowd was out of control now. Arguments flew back and forth between those who thought everything Jesus said could be proven as true, and those who abandoned his words as worthless. Jesus and his disciples watched as the crowd began to angrily separate themselves according to the opposing views.

As the volume increased, Peter approached Jesus. “Don’t get discouraged Master. I thought it was a great story!

Yeah,” John added, “It had never occurred to me to envision God as a Father.”

Jesus nodded and smiled at his disciples. Then he looked out over crowd, which was nearly coming to blows.

Well boys,” Jesus said, “We might as well head back to Jerusalem. Something tells me that argument is going to go on for a while.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We Love Questions, but.....

And we break
And we burn
And we turn it inside out
To take it back
To the start
And through the rise

and falling apart
We discover who we are


I think for questions to truly be questions, they have to be open-ended. They must have the freedom to lead to any conclusion.

However, in most religious circles, freedom is the last thing we want people to have in regard to their questions. Questions are fine.... as long as the arrival to a particular answer is guaranteed. One toe may be dipped in the water, but the other foot must be firmly planted on shore.

Often, the only time religions want deep, meaningful questions asked is when they are being directed at other religions. I read a local Evangelical blog whose writers are dedicated to converting Mormons out of Mormonism. They continually challenge Mormons to question their most cherished beliefs, to look at rational arguments, and to "consider" the evidence. In short, they ask Mormons to do with a sincere effort that which they would never truly do themselves.

It is common among the religiously minded to assume they have dealt with the questions, because they have read their apologist's responses. A Christian reading Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ does not qualify as having dealt with the questions. :)

Unfortunately, much religious questioning has all the sincerity and depth of the following comment, which was made to me by someone who is concerned about the direction my life is taking:

"I do not believe it is wrong to have questions - as long as those questions do not let you stray from your beliefs."

That about says it all.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Age Instead of Readiness

The following RSA video is excellent!  Particularly because the speaker touches on a drum I have been banging for years, but no one else seems to care about.

In our public schools, we teach children according to their age rather than what skill they are prepared to acquire next. This is something that negatively impacts schools in poor areas more so than in wealthy areas. When I previously taught in a wealthy area, I might have 3 to 7 kids who were not on "grade-level". So in an affluent area, putting kids in classes according to age works more often than it doesn't. For those who are below grade level, there are usually resources made available to that 20% who are struggling.

In poorer areas, it is not uncommon to go into a classroom where few, if any, children are on grade level. In my case, children who are reading and operating at a "3rd grade level" are given 6th grade texts, 6th grade assessments, and 6th grade instruction. When those "3rd grade level" students fail at 6th grade level assessments, the public and politicians demand higher "standards" and the firing of bad teachers.

What this has translated to is an insistence that, even more, we teach what is required at our grade level.... whether the child is ready or not. For example, according to my pacing map for the year, I need to presently be teaching the addition and subtraction of mixed numbers and improper fractions.  Now if you can remember how that works, there are about a dozen pre-requisite skills that need to be in place in order to be able to learn and practice this skill. The vast majority of my students have less than half of those pre-requisite skills in place. I believe even the casual observer would recognize that there is no point in going ahead with this instruction for most of my students; yet I do. I am required to.  It would take weeks, perhaps months, of backtracking (assuming the students were willing) to fill in the gaps that exist in order to get my students ready to learn the addition and subtraction of mixed numbers and improper fractions. This is time I will not get. We will plug along... and then I will carry the blame in the public eye when most of my students fail at this skill on their exit test.

Research shows that there is a narrow learning curve just ahead of where a student presently resides. For example, out of 100 words of text, most students need to understand at least 95 to maintain interest and comprehension. To go much further out than that will take most students to a "frustration level"; at which point they will disengage from the learning process. Larger and larger portions of our children are being taught at a frustration level rather than an instructional level because of our insistence on placing children according to age.

So why do we continue on this road? I think change is hard, and it costs money. For the most part, America seems more inclined to pay for clean-up at the end rather than prevention at the beginning.  I also believe that our win/lose mentality hobbles us. We tend to think of education as a completely linear event; it is a race to be completed. So we begin to use competitive words like ahead and behind. To be "behind" others is bad, and to be "ahead" is good. What the student actually "needs" becomes secondary.

This leads to mindsets that do not want to address things as they are. I was at a meeting to discuss why Title-One schools like mine are behind. When I raised the issues I have addressed here, the presenter looked at me and said "So, you want to put poor kids on a track that will leave them behind?!" Ultimately, the presenter is content to have a student spend years in academic frustration, so that no child is left "behind".

The reality is that 12 year old children have vast differences in ability and readiness that occur for many reasons. Some are innate. Children are different. Some students will gravitate toward the abstract, while others long for the concrete. One enjoys the symmetry of numbers, while another prefers the lilt of poetry. Those inclinations affect their engagement and commitment to a subject.

Beyond that is the item no one seems to want to talk about - what is going on at home? It is a simple fact that, on average, a child who is read to and reads from his earliest ages is going to be ready to advance earlier and faster than a child who does not pick up a book until his first day of kindergarten. The students of parents who go over homework and are aware of what is happening in their child's education are going to be more successful overall than students left to their own devices.

Amid the mass variety of circumstance, desire, and inclination - we stick them all in the same classroom because of how old they are.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soularize in a Box 2

I occasionally have done some book reviews for the message boards over on  Basically, I get a free book, they get a review from me.  I don't know if I will do anymore though because the past few books I felt were more like critiques, and I have found I don't much care for critiquing someone's writing.

However, with this last run I did get something I felt I could "promote".  The Ooze sponsored a conference a few years back and have made the audio and video available.  There are a total of 20 talks in all under Soularize in a Box 2.  What I like about the way they have packaged it is that you get a DVD with all of the MP3s and then a dvd full of the same talks in a portable media player format (youtube quality).  Usually when I get the CDs or DVDs from a conference, I have to rip everything so I can take it with me.  Tedious.  These fine folks have already done all that work.

Here are the seminars:

N.T. Wright - The Kingdom of God, Paul's Engagement of the Hellenistic World, Salvation
Rita Brock  - Paradise: A Historical Perspective, Saving Paradise, The Story of God's Garden
Brennen Manning - Abba Father, We are Called to the Healing Ministry
Richard Rohr - Christian Transformation, Non-Dualistic Thinking, The Practice of Meditation (2 Parts)
Frank Viola - Narrative Ecclesiology
Michael Dowd - Thank God for Evolution
Jim Palmer - Divine Nobodies
Mark Scandrette - Living in the Ways of the Kingdom
Garth Higgins - Spirituality in Film
Spencer Burke - Retail Christianity or Wholesale Love?
Plus two round table discussions.

I guess they usually sell it for 40, but I was sent a coupon code to offer "vb50" which will take it down to $20.

For me, the talks by Richard Rohr alone make it worth it.  Plus I love N.T. Wright, I discovered I liked a lot of what Frank Viola has to say, the talk on evolution was eye opening, and I enjoyed the discussion of spirituality and film.  I am still working through the rest of it.

The coupon is supposedly good until the end of the year, so if you are into any of these speakers, I think it is a pretty good deal.  You can purchase it at :

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bookshelf Part 2

Following up on last week's Bookshelf post (now with clearer pictures) -

I had the day off today, so I went down to the annual Salt Lake City Library book sale.  The bad news was that this was one of the last days of sale (everything has already been picked over), the good news was that I got everything even cheaper.  I think I still managed to get some decent books because the majority of the population around here (that might buy Christian theology) are either Mormon or VERY conservative evangelical.... neither of which would typically grab the books that would be of interest to me.

It is a bit like an Easter Egg hunt - digging through the piles of stuff I don't recognize - hoping to spot a name or a title I want.  Glancing through a few unknowns that sound interesting.  The emotions ranging from "Meh... I'll try that for a quarter" ... to uttering "No $***" in the religion isle because I found a like-new Marcus Borg.

At one point, a gentleman was drifting into my isle and I felt myself get a little territorial.    I clutched my books tighter and gave him the evil eye.  In his arms he had books by Joyce Meyer and Tim Lahaye.  Whew!  No danger there.  Then he looks up and down my stack of books and shakes his head.  I could see he was debating whether to give me a lecture, which would most likely be dripping in Christianese.  Fortunately for me, his economic sense won out and he went back to his searching; I was in no mood to be evangelized with cliche's and single syllable words.

Before leaving, I drifted through the LDS section, just in case there was any Robert Millet in there. Nope.  But wedged in between some copies of "The Work and the Glory" was a book co-authored by Borg and Crossan.  My ecumenical nature had struck pay-dirt!

So what did I get?

Total Surrender - Mother Teresa
Words to Love By - Mother Teresa
Beyond Theology - Alan Watts
Who Killed Jesus? - Dominic Crossan
The First Christmas - Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg
The God We Never Knew - Marcus Borg
Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time - Marcus Borg
Resurrection - John Shelby Spong
Why Christianity Must Change or Die - John Shelby Spong
The Power Of Now - Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
Reading Judas - Elaine Pagels
The Sign of Jonas - Thomas Merton
Soul Survivor - Philip Yancey
The Road Less Traveled and Beyond - M. Scott Peck
Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott
Religious Literacy - Stephen Prothero
Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire - Deepak Chopra
Letter to a Christian Nation - Sam Harris
The Death and Life of Michael Servetus -Roland Bainton
Failing America's Faithful - Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Freedom in Exile - The Dalai Lama
How then shall we live? - Wayne Muller
The 5 People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

All of these are spread out in front of me, and it feels like Christmas morning.

Total spent: $9

Adding to my library: Priceless

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Parents - Be Careful With Your Words

I am a parent of two. I have also been working with kids for 20+ years. I even spent a lot of my early years as a kid myself.

Here is my observation: Teens and children often reflect the rhetoric they hear at home in an exaggerated way. Kids reflect their parents' views. However, because of their youth, the usage of their parents' views tend to be represented in very stark terms.  Often without realization, a child can become a bully. They do not think of themselves as a bully, they are simply executing what they perceive the home attitude to be. Convinced of the rightness of their home view, any opposing view can be put-down and mistreated. The bully at school is being empowered by the attitudes and words of the parents.

So parents - are your words gracious or judgmental? Excluding or embracing? Tolerant or snide? How do you feel about other Religions? Ethnicity? Social status? Your attitudes will be reflected and amplified in your children.

Kids are killing themselves over the things being said and done to them by their peers.  If it is going to stop, parents have to start taking a look at what kind of foundations they are laying at home.

The offhanded, gay-disparaging comment you make becomes a weapon in your child's hands.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homosexuality and The Church

What is one to make of what is going on in religious circles concerning homosexuality? In many ways, what is occurring is culture shock. In the past, churches were simply able to state their position and everyone capitulated.  It was a smaller world then.

But as many within the Catholic church began to discover a few years back while dealing with reports of pedophiles in the priesthood, the public is no longer just accepting the word of religious institutions. The public wants reasons, justifications, and explanations. Why should we believe you?  Why should we trust you? Why should we care what your book or  your leaders say?


Like a poorly prepared parent, religious institutions and their adherents often come back with a frustrated, "Because we said so!!!"

The time when such a flimsy response was adequate has passed.

I understand when religious people feel an injunction by God not to be homosexual - i.e. they believe the bible says not to, and so they may not. I once held that position myself. That is fine for a personal choice and perhaps as a constraint within one's religion; but why should anyone else be forced or pressured into abiding by the moral constraints of a religion they don't adhere to, when the violations of those moral constraints do no harm to others? Hassidic Jews may feel bound to obey Kosher laws, but it would be inappropriate for them to insist on legislation requiring it of others. I often hear Christians who fear that "Sharia Law" might be pushed into America by Islam, but I fail to see how Christians pushing the particulars of their book into our laws is any different.

I have heard many times in the past week (this is a big issue here in Utah at the moment) that those opposing homosexuality are just adhering to their morals. I would like to make a distinction here. Objecting to homosexuality, I believe, cannot be a universal moral. It is a religious conviction. I think for something to be considered a universal moral, and not merely a religious position, it has to be amenable to all faiths... and those without a faith. The bible says murder is wrong (although it acts it out more as a guideline than a rule) but I could also make a non-religious arguement as to why it is good for humanity to follow that position. On the contrary, I have yet to hear a valid argument against homosexuality that did not come back to a religious point and/or that individual's personal "ick" factor with homosexuality.

I have no sympathy for people using religious arguments to mask their own distaste and abhorrence for homosexuality. They are no different than the folks 50 years ago who used the bible to try to justify making people of color into second class citizens.

However, I do have some sympathy for folks who feel they have no alternatives due to their interpretation of their religious texts. Fine, you can choose to remain heterosexual or deny your homosexuality as needed; but please, do not feel you can step into the space of another and dictate their life according to your desires.

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's on Your Bookshelf?

My wife has noted my tendency to go immediately to the bookshelf any time I enter a new friend's home. I maintain that you can tell a lot about a person by what they read.

The idea of this blog was inspired by my blogging friend Eruesso over at A God-Sized Puzzle.

I presently have three books out from the library. I just finished Losing My Religion (excellent), am in the middle of Me of little Faith, and I hope to get to the Dali Lama before my time runs out.

I am enjoying Me of Little Faith immensely. I love hearing Black's commentary on Faith.  I have been drawn lately to hear what people have to say about God when they do not feel bound by their religious group to give the "right" answer.

The various pics of my bookshelves cover most of what I have.  Some of those shelves are two deep, and I wasn't motivated to pull all the books down... the pics give a good flavor.

What isn't depicted, for the most part, is fiction (usually science fiction). I got rid of much of my collection when I moved to Utah from Michigan. We downsized on the house, so we needed to trim down. However, the theology and comics stayed.

The authors who have influenced my life most in the past couple of years have been Brian Mclaren, Richard Rohr, Thich Nhat Hanh, Philip Gulley, and Marcus Borg.  Brian because he gave space for me to address how I saw Christ and God, Hanh for challenging me on the path of love, Rohr for helping me see the third way, Borg for giving me permission to take the Bible seriously but not literally, and Gulley for expanding my idea of God and officially converting me to Universalism.

So I highly recommend:

A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian Mclaren
Everything Belongs - Richard Rohr
Teachings on Love - Thich Nhat Hanh
If Grace is True - Phillip Gulley
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time - Marcus Borg

I also have to mention No Greater Love by Mother Teresa. My wife and I did this book as a small group with our church a number of years ago. It had a profound effect on how we view the world and each other.

I will probably think of books later that escape me at the moment; but how about you?

What are you reading?
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