Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dark Side of Homeschooling

A recent article in the Washington Post addresses Virginia's religious exemption law for homeschooling. Under the law, families claiming religious exemption may home-school their children with no input or oversight from the state.

Anything goes.

First let me make clear that I am not opposed to home schooling. My wife home schooled our children for a number of years and they received an excellent education. They hit the ground running when they returned to a traditional school environment. If done right, it can be an excellent option.

However, I think there is a dark side to home schooling, and I believe it most often occurs when the motivation is religious rather than academic. Many homeschooling association seminars sound more like a Glenn Beck radio program than a discussion of educational instruction.  Fear and paranoia are the main course.

Behind this is a fear of what public schools are teaching our children. You can hear the tone when Clarence Powell, father of the home schooling family featured in the Post story, sums up his reasoning for home schooling his children:

“I think it’s important that parents have a role in instilling in their children a world view that does not exclude God.  It’s a sacred honor to be able to home-educate your children and instill in them values in a way that’s consistent with your faith.”
There is an assumption that there is a "worldview" taught in public schools that is going to be harmful to their child's view of their god, so teaching at home becomes a safeguard to keeping children in the faith. Academics and education no longer sit in the driver's seat for schooling considerations - faith protection does.

I liken this to religious people I have known who rush into marriages, or consider faith compatibility sufficient for marriage - because they believe if you put off marriage too long you might slip up and have sex before marriage... and that would be the worst thing imaginable.  Better to live in a dysfunctional marriage than risk doing the deed before the vows.

In the same way, these types of home-shoolers live in fear of their children being corrupted by "secular humanism." It is not that they have no academic concerns, but those pale in comparison to their fear of folks outside their faith. Better the child get a substandard education than risk being subjected to ideas contrary to their religion.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching. I spent most of those years as a man of faith. I lost track of how many times various Christians would corner me, wanting to hear the inside scoop from one of their own about what the "public schools were really up to!" These Christians always left the conversation with me feeling disappointed, because I had no exciting stories to tell of back-room meetings with secular humanist teachers plotting the overthrow of Christian America.  No, I only knew of all my teacher friends who came from varied walks of life united under a common goal of giving children a good education.

I now realize that I passed up a wonderful financial opportunity. If I had been more savvy, I would have winked back at those people, looked conspiratorially to my left and right, and said, "Shhhh.... don't tell anyone, but here is what is REALLY going on..." Oh, I would have speaking engagements and book deals being thrown at me by nearly every conservative Christian media market out there. I could have become an expert contributor on Fox News panel discussions!

Sigh... opportunities missed. :(

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Facebook Faith # 24 Millennial Article Part 2

I wrote a post yesterday about the article by Rachel Held Evans that is making the rounds on Facebook and the blogosphere. In it she suggests that a lot of the millennial generation are leaving church due to the way the church presents itself. Some people are sharing the article because they think she raises some valid points, others to demonstrate an example of the heresy infesting the church.

I saw one such example after one of my friends posted her article. "Lenny" commented:
So she basically wants Christians to stop being Christians... she needs to leave the Church and be happy in doing so.
I don't always agree with Rachel, but I like her.... and I can't stand small minded remarks that are no better than static. I replied:
No Lenny, she just has a different spin on what Christianity entails. I do not find it all that different, it seems to be the same item in more pleasant packaging. However, I always find comments like yours interesting, as you want to eject your own simply because of a difference in window dressing... no wonder there are over 30,000 different versions of Christianity... you all can't stand each other, and yet you talk as if love was a market you have a corner on.
I always give a level of credit to good souls like Rachel who somehow remain hopeful in a faith that often seems dominated with Lennys. The Lenny attitude reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon I once saw (I looked but could not find it). In it, Lucy and her girlfriends are creating an invitation list for a birthday party. They start out listing who they are NOT going to invite and realize they are having more fun with that list. One of the girls comments:
 It's a lot more fun not inviting people than it is inviting them!
Rachel needs to add that attitude as another reason why many Millennials are leaving or eschewing Christianity.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Facebook Faith #23 - Why Millennials Are REALLY Leaving the Church

An article written by Rachel Held Evans for CNN is making the rounds on Facebook right now.  In it Rachel addresses "Why Millennials Are Leaving Church".  I think the title is a little of a misnomer because Rachel actually addresses two things - why Christian millennials are leaving churches and also why non-Christian millennials aren't coming. I don't know if she intended to write about the Christian millennial experience only, but she often seems to be referring to millennials in the general sense. That being the case, I think she is fairly spot on with the first point, but I don't think she can imagine why she is incorrect on the second.

I often hear from Christian friends and relatives something like, "I don't always like what is happening in the church either, and I may at times be disappointed by the people in it, but I don't understand why you needed to leave. Why not stay and fight for the changes you think need to happen?" This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of why many are leaving the church or never bother coming in the first place. It is not any kind of disaffection, disappointment, or hurt.... they simply don't believe it. However, this is a hard concept for a believer to try to imagine. Belief sits at the fulcrum of their identity and ethos, so they have a difficult time imagining it not being there. For example, she says in the article:
"We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers."
but then she goes on to say:
"Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus."
So, as much as she may bristle at pre-packaged answers, she still expects those answers will fall within her established paradigm. To the non-believer, a pre-packaged answer... and an answer that is expected to fall within a certain framework, are essentially the same thing.  At the end of the day, millennials of all stripes will probably fail to see a difference between what Rachel is offering, and what is offered by the church leaders she critiques.

From my perspective, what all of these young, hip, liberally minded Christians are missing is that there is no revival coming; there is no big movement similar to previous historical times that saw an upsurge in Christian fidelity. At this point, religion is noticing the first symptoms of what, in the end, will be a terminal diagnosis. The coming generations will see less and less people coming out of childhood with a default belief. Having not been indoctrinated with religion as a child, few will pick up the practice in their adult years. Within the next couple of generations, religion will exist as nothing more than small pockets of cult groups.

The patient is not going to recover. At this point, we have to start considering Hospice care - how to make the patient's last days as peaceful and painless as possible.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Michigan Trip 2013

This summer we made the trek back to Michigan, the land of my birth.

We started our journey with a series of delays at the SLC airport... which caused us to hang around there for about 5 hours.  My friend Kory was kind enough to work his afternoon around our ever-changing flight schedule.

Because our flight was delayed in SLC, we missed our Midway connection.  We spent the night sleeping in airport chairs.  It was freezing.  I am never cold, and it was freezing.  Jake was fortunate enough to have his robe.

Our first night we had dinner at my in-laws.  My brother in law, Lee, is one of the world's great story tellers.

Wine in the grocery store is a luxury we do not have in Utah.

My brother and his sons came up from Kentucky.  The cousins enjoy a game of spoons.

My mom loves to play baseball with her grandchildren.

My brother Matt won big at Chuck E Cheese.

Walking on the path that used to be railroad tracks behind my folk's house.

Matt and I Skyping with our brother Steve in Hong Kong.

We met up with Mary Lee's cousins.

Both sides of the family at Henry Ford Museum.

My Dad and my son.

My Mom-in-law's birthday (my daughter made the cake... which is actually watermelon inside)


Sorry gals... the guys are winning....

Two of my best friends... who really need to make a Utah run...

Our friends from the ol' neighborhood in Macomb.  Such wonderful people!

Wrestling with Dyson!

We stopped at the Badlands on the drive home.

and Mary Lee wanted her picture with this dinosaur....

A last stop at Mt. Rushmore before heading home....

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Helping Hand

Amidst a contrasting beauty, our world at times seems smothered with tragedy.  I have a neighbor who three years ago was diagnosed with a malignant skin melanoma in a mole behind his ear. No one wants a cancer diagnosis, but as they go this was minor.  The doctors took care of it and he continued with his schooling to become a nurse anesthetist.

However, last October he awoke in the night to a searing headache.  They took him to the ER where they discovered the cancer had come back and a sizable tumor had developed in his brain. Worse, the cancer had spread to his lungs; Stage 4.

In the past few years I have learned more about cancer than I care to know, as various friends have been harmed or taken by cancer.  Stage 4 is the one you don't get to walk away from.

My neighbor Mike, his wife, and their three little ones are trying to enjoy what time they have left together. However, school debt and growing medical bills burden them with worry. Some folks in the neighborhood are sponsoring a 5k to help raise some funds.

Another neighbor has started a GoFundMe site to help alleviate some of this family's struggles. The power of the internet lies with, not a few doing much, but many hands assisting. This blog gets one to three thousand reads a month.  I don't make a habit of passing the offering plate, but if the readers here would consider skipping a Starbucks run and donating 5 dollars (or more), we could help give this newly created project a jumpstart.

Take a moment to go to the site, watch the video (much of which was shot in the park behind my house), and please donate.  If you could link this to any of your social media, that would also be appreciated. Thanks everyone!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why Pacific Rim Worked

One of the pleasant movie surprises this summer has been Pacific Rim. When I first saw the trailer a few months back, I rolled my eyes.  It looked like a mash up of Transformers and GI Joe - neither of which were worth more than a Netflix view.  Godzilla like monsters attack coastal cities and we fight back with giant robots, piloted by guys who yell and high five each other every few minutes.  Sigh.... I already had my allotment of building crashes during Man of Steel.

Fortunately, a few friends saw it and recommended it highly. So we got a group of guys together and hit the theater. It turned out to be a very, very good summer action popcorn flick. In fact, I liked it better than either Man of Steel of Iron Man 3 - which I find interesting. I have been pondering why, and here is what I have come up with so far.

First - Pacific Rim was believable.  WHHHAAAA?? you say.  It was believeable.... not within our world, but in its own.  It stayed consistent within the rules it had set up.  Whereas there were times in Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel that things struck me as being absurd.  It was like those movies were violating the physics they had set up within a game and it made things look odd and stand out in a non-complementary way.  I think this happens when a director or storyteller wants to do something in a particular scene, but they don't take care to see if it violates any parameters they had set up in other scenes (e.g. R2 sprouting rockets in Episode II).

Second - It had great pacing. I remember when I was in the play Into The Woods last year, our director was specific about pacing.  He once said something along the lines of "This is a long show and we need to keep the story in constant flow. I don't want to give anyone reason to start thumbing through the program." I've noticed pacing a lot in plays and movies since he said that. I was keenly aware that if I got up to go to the bathroom during Pacific Rim, I was going to miss something.

Third - I felt like I knew the characters.  They were all engaging and fun to watch.  Both IM3 and MOS had numerous characters who appeared to simply be along for the ride.

I am sure I will think of some more things later, but that is what comes to mind presently. Somehow this movie about Hong Kong-smashing monsters fighting giant robots was good enough for a round 2 today with my son.

I have to add one more item that PR did that I hope comic movies take heed of in the future. The first 10 minutes filled you in on all of the backstory you would need. Having laid a quick foundation, they moved ahead to the story they wanted to tell.

With all of the reboots we will face with various comic properties in the decades come, I think we would all be better served if we started to skip the origin story or maybe just set up a quick 10 minute recap, then move on to a story we HAVEN'T heard. Batman and Spiderman have both done origins twice now, it is territory we do not need need to retrace. Let's just take it as read that we know the general framework and approach it James Bond style. There have been 20+ Bond flicks and we all just move on.

That's my opinion, what's yours?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hide A Bluetooth Speaker

Since getting a Galaxy Nexus smartphone last fall, I have become somewhat Bluetooth obsessed.  I bought an adapter for my car that plays audio from my phone to my radio. I have a great pair of Bluetooth headphones that I use when walking. I got an adapter so any Bluetooth object can play through my main stereo or out to my backyard speakers. Well, I found another use today.

When I cook or clean in the kitchen, I like to listen to something - books, music, lectures, movies... whatever. I have had varied solutions to this over the years, but I am always looking for a more efficient system. Like the designers of the old Palm Pilot OS, I strive to accomplish a task in as few steps as possible.

My original solution was to keep a pair of old computer speakers housed within a drawer in the kitchen to take out when needed. I also tried USB powered speakers that would hook directly to a laptop. A few months ago, I found a USB charged, golf ball sized, speaker which worked nicely. All of these had drawbacks - too cumbersome, limited to laptops, lost in the land of missing dryer socks. Even my new Bluetooth headset required the burdensome task of finding it.

Now I believe I have come upon the final solution.  Amazon had the Bluetooth speaker pictured above on sale for 15 bucks.  It is a little smaller than a baseball, and I placed it behind some decorative vines above the cabinet. This speaker is unmoving, out of sight, constantly powered, and can be tapped by pretty much every audio device I own. The sound level is plenty loud for the kitchen, if a bit thin (hey, it was 15 bucks).

Wondering what Bluetooth solution I haven't thought of yet.....

There it sits


Saturday, July 13, 2013

What Does It Mean To Believe In God?

"I just couldn't in good conscience vote for a person who doesn't believe in God."
Contact was a great movie and an even better book. In it, the author Carl Sagan does a particularly adept and wonderful job addressing the human investment in belief.
If you are not acquainted with the book or movie, here is the gist - the atheist scientist Ellie Arroway discovers an alien message that contains directions to build an interstellar spaceship. In the movie, she develops a tentative romance with the President's religious advisor, Palmer Joss. Palmer is part of the team that selects who will ride in the single seat spacecraft. Palmer does not select Arroway and this is part of the conversation that follows:
ELLIE ARROWAY - Why did you do it?
PALMER JOSS - Our job was to select someone to speak for everybody. And I just couldn't in good conscience vote for a person who doesn't believe in God. Someone who honestly thinks the other ninety five percent of us suffer from some form of mass delusion.
ELLIE ARROWAY - I told the truth up there. And Drumlin told you exactly what you wanted to hear.
Two things catch me about their exchange. First, Palmer makes a common religious move here regarding belief. He speaks as if only atheists believe religious people are deluded. In reality, most religious people are of the opinion that anyone holding to a religious belief other than theirs is deluded. Belief is not the monolith that Palmer implies.

Second, Arroway makes the point that she is being punished for being honest; she sees no reason to believe in God, and says so. Dr. Drumlin's belief in God is one of convenience. He knows the right words to say to set the believer's mind at ease, but his belief does not go much deeper than that.

This reality makes me ponder what we mean when we speak of belief in God. We seem to have a sliding scale in terms of what we believe, and we also have varied motivations as to why. When entering into these discussions, we almost need to set the ground rules of what God we are talking about. Here are the four gods I primarily hear about: (for the following, I am going to speak mostly in terms of American Christian, since these are the waters I swim in).

This is the God of the team player; the God of the Tribe. If you believe in anything other than this God, you are doomed. This is the God of Franklin Graham, Michelle Bachmann, and the Religious Right.

God - God Lite 
This god is similar on paper to the god of the Religious Right, but with lots more wiggle room. He has calmed down a bit since the old days, and most of what was said of him during that time was misreported. Nowadays he is all about the love! A lot of religious young people fall into this camp. They loudly proclaim their allegiance to god, but they also want their gay friends to get married and they have started voting democrat. There is a lot of movement between this group and the group above. There are plenty of folks out there who want their God to look more loving, but still want to keep Hell stoked for said homosexuals and democrats.

god - god of The Secret 
This god is very airy and hard to pin down. It is more like a set of laws of the universe. How you think, believe, and visualize your reality is very important. This is the god of Wayne Dyer, Benny Hinn, and Oprah Winfrey.

god - The Watchmaker 
Some people believe that a Force brought the Universe into existence, but does not intervene. Like Jefferson, they believe he wound the watch and it now runs on its own.

Amidst these varied definitions of god, there is also the WHY to be considered. For folks like Dr. Drumlin, belief in God is just a point to be acquiesced in order to move along in this world. For others, it is an insurance policy, or a security blanket, or a belonging mechanism, or a learned fear, or a dear hope. The gods worshiped and the motivations are as varied as the people clinging to them.

So the next time someone tells you they believe in god, you may want to ask for a clarification.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Facebook Faith # 22 - Invisible, Undetectable, and Not There

"Ya got me... I am just making this $#!^ up!"
In our world, where hundreds of things distract us from God, we have to intentionally and consistently remind ourselves of Him.
~ Francis Chan

A friend posted this quote by Christian author and pastor, Francis Chan. Francis is right... and I would add constantly to his list. Francis travels in evangelical circles, and if there is one thing evangelicals do... it is to endlessly remind each other how present their invisible god is.

This mantra lifestyle makes sense. If you don't fill the gap of silence, emptiness, and the general non-interaction of this deity, the believer might start to notice that there is no fundamental difference between the behavior of THEIR god, and the behavior of all the OTHER gods of this world whom they are convinced do not exist.

To me, they all look exactly the same...
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