Saturday, August 30, 2014

Students Live in a Dream World

If you had asked me, 15 years ago, what it took to be successful in school, I would have given a quick, one-word answer: intelligence.  If you are smart, you will do well in school.  If you are less smart, you will struggle.  Simple enough.  Of course, you'd hear people claim that, actually, really smart folks tend to struggle in school.  "They are too bored," they say.  I always thought that was a big load of crock.  If a person is so smart, how come they aren't smart enough to come to class and do their homework?  This stuff isn't rocket science, you know.   In a lot of ways, I still feel a bit like that, but now I also see things a little differently.  Unfortunately, success in both school and life depends much more on mundane life skills, as opposed to some kind of raw talent, than I ever used to imagine.  What do I mean by mundane life skills?  Things like punctuality, organization, responsibility, respect for authority figures, determination, hard work, and the like.  These skills, which I always believed to be self-evident common sense truths (and still do to a certain degree), apparently don't dawn on a great number of average community college students (which might explain why they are at community college rather than a private university).  Sadly, these students have been done a disservice over the years because apparently no teacher, coach, parent, employer, or pastor taught them these basic life skills.  So they continue to operate in a dream world where they barely pass community college (or don't pass) and, I would venture to guess, find it difficult to achieve much success in their jobs.

Here are a few of the funniest stories I've accumulated along the way.  I suppose in some regards they aren't funny, but, if you knew these students, you wouldn't feel terribly sorry for half of them.  It can be quite difficult to wake people up from their self-absorbed dream worlds.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Academic Challenges to Reading the Bible

I am a Christian pastor who also happens to teach as an adjunct at my local community college.  Each semester I am given the chance to teach a class on the Bible as a great work of literature.  What a wonderful opportunity!  However, this opportunity comes with a few stipulations.  I have to teach from an objective and academic perspective.  I can't use the classroom to try to proselytize or recruit students for my congregation (of course, they can on their own initiative ask to visit).  I also don't get to pick my own textbook.  I have to live with this one chosen by my department.  Other than that, I am actually given a lot of freedom.  So I do my best to comply with the school's requests, but I also have the freedom to teach the class "my way."  Playing nice and honoring these guidelines actually gets me invited back each semester, and sometimes I am offered additional world religion courses.  I say this because I think some Christian students have a hard time grasping tactful compromise.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Acts 8:30-31: The Need for Good Bible Teachers

So Philip ran up to it [the chariot] and heard him [the Ethiopian eunuch] reading the prophet Isaiah.  He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"  He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"  And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him (Acts 8:30-31 NRSV).
A few semesters back I had a challenging student.  She was a young woman who knew her Bible quite well (or maybe we should say that she was well-versed in her particular theological interpretation of the Bible), and she was notably devoted to her faith.  She wore full-length skirts every day and remarked in class once about not watching television at home.  So she was both knowledgeable and pious (others would say legalistic, but that is a different discussion).  Either before or after class, she liked to stop me and chat for a few minutes about a Bible verse or tell me about her pastor's message from the previous Sunday.  Our cordial relationship quickly went south, though, when I talked about the Christian doctrine of Trinity one day in class.  See, this young woman belonged to a Oneness Pentecostal denomination.  Her denomination taught that the doctrine of the Trinity was a manmade tradition added over time to the beliefs of Christianity.  So that day she stayed after class to ask some questions about the Trinity (or at least that's what I initially thought was happening).  I tried my best to explain the belief to her and tried to show her Scriptures that pointed in that direction.  But, as I found out, she wasn't staying after class to learn or have her questions answered.  She was staying to argue.  This was an opportunity to convert the professor (ironically, I try my best not to impose my beliefs on students but often times students try to impose their beliefs on me).  Once I realized what was happening, I became irritated.  I cut the conversation off after a laborious 50 minutes.  I actually had to go to my next class.  The student, however, was not content with letting the conversation go.  Over the weekend, she starting sending me a string of emails with Bible verses and theological assertions.  She kept tossing around statements like, "Jesus is God."  And, "God's name is Jesus."  She pummeled me with red-lettered verses: "I and the Father are one."  I emailed back and clarified myself.  Growing frustrated, I told her she was free to believe however she wanted, but she needed to know that her position was an extreme minority within global and historic Christianity.  If she was right, the vast majority of her brothers and sisters in Christ were wrong.  I told her to ponder that.  Obviously that statement provoked her.  The final email she sent me was equally provocative.  She claimed that the Bible was an easy document to understand.  If one just had faith and the guidance of the Spirit, one could understand the truths contained therein.  You don't have to have academic degrees or credentials to understand the Bible.  You don't have to be some kind of professor or scholar; you just need to be a person of faith.  The implication was obvious.  She by faith understood the truth.  I, the academic type, was blinded to the truth by my intellectualism.  I sent her one more email.  In this email I told her I would no longer speak with her about this particular subject.  That was the end of it.  She didn't speak to me much the rest of the semester.  At the end, she got an "A" and moved on.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ecclesiology: The Red-Headed Stepchild

Among evangelical Protestants, too little attention has been paid to the doctrine of the church-- what it really means to be Christ's body in and for the world (Howard A. Snyder, The Community of the King).
Earlier this year I read a couple minor news stories involving mega-church pastors, stories that probably went under the radar for most folks.  Both stories have continued to stick with me because of one intriguing commonality: utilitarian logic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Bum with the Guitar

I parked my green commuter bike next to a rusted old black bike rack.  Nearby sat a bum on a park bench, strumming a cheap acoustic guitar.  His melodies were barely discernible over the ambient noise of the lunch hour traffic.  Try not to make eye contact, I thought.  Avoidance-- the great urban defense mechanism.  If I acknowledge this man’s presence, he will just ask me for money, I rationalized.  A gentle voice speaking inside: “Don’t ignore this man.”  I turned to the man and smiled.  “I’ll watch your bike for you,” he said.  Later I returned and the man was still there, playing his guitar and guarding my bike.  An unexpected conversation.  The man played a simple gospel song for me.  Be careful of tuning out the world, I learned.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Hindu and the Christian

Two great thinkers walked through the woods together.  For awhile they were silent.  Enjoying the presence of one another, listening to the sounds of nature, and watching the world around them.  The Hindu was the first to break the silence.  “As I observe that which surrounds me, I see God everywhere.  I see God in the plants.  I see God in the animals.  And I see God in you, my friend.”  The Christian smiled; he had been thinking something similar.  “I agree,” he said.  “Everywhere I see the fingerprints of the Creator, especially in you and me.  In us I see the image of the Creator, and I feel in my bones that the life coursing through my veins is a life breathed into me by my Maker.”  The Hindu nodded in response and the two walked further, once again falling into silent reflection.  The next time the Christian broke the silence.  “As I observe the world around me, I see that in God we live and move and have our being.”  The Hindu smiled; he had been thinking something similar.  “Yes,” the Hindu replied.  “I see that too, and, as I reflect, I give the name Brahman to God and the name Atman to the life I have in myself.”  The two continued to walk together in quiet meditation until they came to a fork in the road.  The Hindu gestured to the left.  “Let us go this way, my friend.  As I look down this path, I see that not only are we made in God’s image, but we are God.  All is one.  Atman and Brahman are one.”  The smiled disappeared from the Christian’s face.  He looked at the path on the right.  “I’m sorry, my friend, but I can walk with you no further.”  The Christian wished the Hindu well, shook his hand, and quickly disappeared down the path that led to the right.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Merry Robin

A spring robin sang merrily in a majestic old oak tree.  Her breast shone brightly in the noonday sun.  She worked carefully on building her nest.  A well-placed stick.  A beak full of pine needles.  A bit of a vine.  All knit together into a home for her soon-to-be laid eggs.  Below on the forest floor a woodsman worked with an axe.  The old oak tree was attractive to him as well.  In the strong and tall limbs, the woodsman saw a rocking chair and a bookshelf.  Whistling along with the merry robin, the woodsman swung the heavy axe with power and strength.  Up above, the robin continued to follow her maternal instincts, ignorant of the reality below.