Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Joys of Sunday

I would call this post "The Joys of Sabbath" except for the debate surrounding whether Sunday is the "Sabbath" or whether any day is still binding as a day of rest. Whatever...

I went for a walk tonight, partly to clear my head, partly to run an errand. During the walk I was able to reflect on this past week and look forward to this coming one. These walks, rare as they may be, are an integral part of my pattern. Without them, come Monday I am a mess. I'm unfocussed, tired, and disheveled. They are, in a significant way, my recreation--which is significant since they happen on the only day in which Christians get together to worship.

As I was walking, I noticed that I had a joy that I hadn't had before (that's a lot of hads). The houses that I walked by belonged to people I knew, some that I love, and some that I tolerate to the best of my ability. Most of the households that I knew were Christian households. The streets were not empty either; many of those households were walking to an evening service that our church was facilitating. There was only one or two cars that I noticed in the entire trip. Like so many people, some of who I know, most of whom I don't or can't know, this place is home.

Wendell Berry, somewhere in his vast corpus, talks of how farmers on Sundays often walk their lands, not to work them, but to be with them and enjoy them. I have a postage stamp plot of land in my yard, but I often walk around my house to take stock: see what's leaking, what's in need of repair, and what is beautiful and blooming. My walk tonight was similar. I walked my neighborhood and took stock. I realized that my dreams of having a self-sufficient community(ies) here in Beaver Falls may not be the dreams of my neighbors. I know of at least one who's dreams are in big construction in a the big city. I know of others who would do anything to get out of here, for whatever reason. But I also know that many people came to my door this week looking for applications and there was a light in their eyes because they could walk to work. What an exhilirating experience. It opened my eyes to see that this area is in the grips of a faulty business mentality: go where the money is. Maybe some of my neighbors have dreams of elsewhere, where the grass is greener and so are the bills, but others of my neighbors, maybe not articulately, want this place to be their home. More humane, more hospitable, more inhabitable, more coherent and cohesive.

All of this is significant because of the day. Whether or not Sunday should be called "Sabbath" or not, it still is the day of the resurrection. At least part of the resurrection was to give us the ability and responsiblity, through the holy Spirit, to proclaim to our neighbors and neighborhoods that Jesus makes this place more humane, more hospitable, more inhabitable, more coherent and cohesive, more like the home it was always intended to be.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Teacher as Husband: Part I

A fellow teacher and I got into a bit of a row today concerning the way that students act in large-group lecture settings. I was disturbed by a lack of comportment that I saw in a number of students (but, it must be stated, by no means all). A few select students were talking...loudly...and across the room others were sleeping. I brought up to my co-worker that this bothers me. She responded (I'm paraphrasing here to the best of my understanding) that I press the students too much on behavior issues. She said that at their age level they shouldn't be expected to listen for an hour to a lecturer. I disagree with all of this.

We are a culture of sound-bytes and 3:50 radio songs. Our collective cultural attention span is "measured in nanoseconds" (from the movie Baseketball). This is one place that I believe the college must stand against the overarching culture. Education is not Matrix-style plug-in and fill your head sort of stuff. It requires, as I've said before, discipline. At 18-22, when in previous stages of our culture the young would have been married, started their trades, and be raising children, we look for no such thing. Instead, we don't expect them "to listen for an hour to a lecturer" at least respectfully, if not attentively. Indeed, we don't expect our students to do much more than (have their parents) sign our paychecks and our administrators' paychecks. It makes selling snake-oil seem an honorable profession.

However, there is a larger dilemma here. Supposedly, the young come to our classrooms as "adults" or, that insipid phrase, "young adults". My fellow teacher believes that treating them like adults is a must. Granted and agreed with. The way we treat them like adults is the issue. Do we let them do whatever they want to, talk to them if we must, but really let them develop at their own pace (and complain when things don't turn out for the best)? Or, do we expect and require a measure of self-discipline and sacrifice in their lives that betokens what real, outside of the sheltered academic world, adult life is like? I vote for the latter (thanks Jason), even if it means I have to be a hard-nose sometimes.

What, then, is my responsibility in all of this? I realize, at the start, that I am asking for something that I did not ask of myself back at the start of college. So how can I ask it now of others who may not have thought about these things either? I think I have a start to this in an interesting metaphor: the teacher as husband (or husbandman).

A husband cares for and tends to his charges, whether they be a wife and family or plants/animals. I will, for the sake of clarity, stay with the plant metaphor. A good husbandman cares for the plants by creating a shaloming environment for them: he facilitates a place suitable for proper, healthy, and abundant growth. This requires many things, as any plant-lover will tell you. More to the point of the incident above, though, some plants require stakes tied to them so they can grow strong (hopefully eventually strong enough to support themselves), some require pruning--even extensively between seasons, and some require to be weeded out. The last two, for what are obvious reasons to me, are the hardest. Pruning is hard work that oftentimes seems to damage the plant more than help it...and sometimes this is the case. Other times, though, that extensive pruning can produce beautiful and productive plants that do well what they were created to do. It is a risk that every teacher takes and each time with each student is a gamble. The difficult part for the Christian professor, though, is that you are pruning someone for whom Christ died, at least potentially. That is a humbling thought and one filled with a good sort of terror. This, I think, is part of the reason that colleges have so much trouble with teachers who are committed only to research or some aspect other than teaching (not to say that the other aspects, research especially, are not important, but if you are hired as a teacher, then that should prioritize things for you). Pruning, unfortunately, can sometimes kill a plant too. I had a student in the last couple of years who was bright and did good work. I graded him as his work demanded, but still encouraged him concerning his talents and his improvement over the course of the course. However, at the end, he dropped out of school. He said he couldn't "cut it". On my own end, I thought that to be nonsense: he was a fine student with a bright future. Whatever all the factors that went into his decision, I can't help but think that the class he had with me was one of them. The forest lost a good tree that day, but I am happy to say that he is contented with where he is at now.

The last on the list of husbandly duties that I've brought up today is by far the one that requires most care. Pruning is a delicate art, to be sure, but its consequences can be wonderful. Weeding, however, always is initially destructive. At least, that is, to the plant being weeded. How do we judge which plants to weed though? We don't want to make the wrong choice, because this student may be one for whom Christ died. Academic weeding, that is, weeding students out based on ability to handle the work, is one way of doing it. However, this also is fraught with perils. What about remedial work? Do we reject that right out? What about learning disabilities or family/life issues? What about burnout of otherwise good students? What about growth in maturity and competence? If, however, no weeding is to take place, the structure of the university will have to change. It would either have to cater to the lowest common denominator or become a place where learning could take place without the pressure (economic or social) to do it in four/five years.

A husband's work is hard and full of dangers to both the husband and the husbanded. May God grant us grace to do the work and be worked upon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quick Thoughts

1. The official BiFC&T site is up and running, although still heavily under construction. Check it out, especially if you have an RSS feed! (If the site is capable of that...)

2. Daniel 7 a possible background piece to Philippians 2? "One like the son of man"//"coming in the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man", the exaltation/kingship motifs found in both passages, etc.

3. Ezekiel 37-40ish the background of I Corinthians 12-14? The resurrected bodies of Israel being animated by the Spirit//The "body of Christ" being given Spiritual gifts, the Temple of the Lord being eschatologically rebuilt//Paul's metaphor of Christians being the "Temple of the Holy Spirit"//Jesus as the New Temple, etc.

That's all for tonight!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fathers and Sons

In this month's issue of First Things there is an article by R.R. Reno called "The Return of the Fathers" (unfortunately not online). It deals with many things, but the main gist of the article is about how patristic studies (study of the Church Fathers) is resurging in all Christian traditions and what it and they can teach us today. My own history of the Fathers is a little different...

I am at heart a sceptic. I love tradition, I say, but at heart I am your classical Protestant: I fear what tradition can do and so I avoid traditional tradition. I even avoid much Reformed tradition just because it is tradition. In some ways, I treat tradition academically: I love it until it affects me. At that point I chafe and squirm and become very quiet, lest I upset the keepers of the tradition.

Part of this was occasioned by my limited study of Church history. I read, in a well-regarded history, that the Church Fathers adopted "Logos Christology" because of the resonances it had with Greek philosophy. Being at that point a nascent Van Tillian/Dooyeweerdian, I was beginning to grow uneasy with all things Greek (and I still am that way). How could I reconcile this "pagan" orthodoxy with the Bible, I thought? In good scholarly fashion, then, I have dutifully ignored and despised the Church Fathers, losing respect for any writer that uses them in their arguments (after all, I thought, they used those absolutely goofy allegorical arguments!), and steadily separating me from over 2000 years of history and continuity in the development of my religion.

However, due to an unfortunate incident in which my theological doubts were flouted in front of my academic chair (without my consent, nonetheless), I decided that the time has finally come. I can no longer ignore or despise these vast repositories of wisdom and faith--not for myself or for my students. I can no longer despise what I do not know, even if they have made mistakes along the way that may have set our mutual religion off track (as if I haven't!).

One of the things that Reno brings up in the article is how Irenaeus could name his teachers in succession down to the apostles. This is a very ancient and respected technique of "degreeing" that parallels, and in many ways surpasses, our way of granting degrees to undergrads. Do we do it based on the legacy of knowledge passed on? No, we do it by State decree. The much more Jewish way, since the "apostolic succession" model has significance tie-ins with rabbinic styles, does not guarantee that the knowledge will be right, but it does guarantee that some responsibility will have to be taken over the knowledge. This isn't a big lecture hall full of ultimately faceless students, but a one to one meeting of the minds (in a teacher-student, father-son proverbs-like format) that has consequences for both lives: reputations, future of the teaching heritage, and the communion of saints.

First on the list: Athansius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Story of BiFC&T

Thanks to Gideon Strauss, my wife was asking to write a brief history of BiFC&T for the magazine Comment. I may be biased, but I think the article is fantasgreat. You can find it here. Go Bethany!

On another note, today was the exact opposite sort of day from the "College and Maturity" post. Today was a day that was good, and shaloming, to be a teacher. My class and I had, I think, the best discussion yet. All of the students were engaged and many of them participated in a good, rousing discussion of culture, religion, and truth. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Due to Keith's blog I got reconnected to reading Derek Melleby's blog about college transition. He has a provocative study linked here that substantiates some of my last post. The top ten list is worth the look, if nothing else. Plus, think about Keith's latest entry that speaks of how we prepare our students ecclesially to fail in college at the things that really matter. If we start off wrong, I can't help but wonder how we can even hope that things will turn out all right. As one of my least favorite philosophers (Richard Rorty) put it:
It seems to me if you’re not [moral] by the time you’re eighteen, it’s probably too late. I don’t think that sociopaths who enter the university are corrigible by any measures that the academy might adopt. If the family, the community, the church, and the like, haven’t made you a relatively decent member of society, haven’t given you a conscience that stops you from cheating the customers, administering date rape drugs, or doing a lot of things we hope our eighteen year olds won’t do, the university won’t either. The academy can’t take on the job of straightening you out, of creating the conscience that the rest of the culture didn’t manage to produce during your first eighteen years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College and Maturity

I would almost feel criminal to say this: the collegiate system that we have in place today is not working. I would feel criminal because I am stealing your time. Everyone involved in higher education knows that this is true to some degree or another. Part of the issue, I think, is that colleges don't know what they are to be about. They want to be all things to all students. Think of the gradiose promises made (not always explicitly): jobs, money, a spouse (or a lot of sex, at least), "education", beauty, self-fulfillment, and maturity. The last one, I think, is the most devious (no way I spelled that right). When students get out of college, we consider them "adults." From my own experience and from the way I see many students acting (not all, mind you) this is just not the case. We are graduating students who cannot discerningly read, argue anything past ad hominems (once again disregard spelling), or spell. Nor do we graduate disciplined people able to handle their affairs without state, church, or further familial assistance (the vast amounts of debt money required to become "adults" doesn't help either). The funny thing is that they just spent 3-7 years in a discipline.

Part of this, of course, is the students' responsibility. If you are at college, or are going to college, you need to consider how you are using your time. I did not use mine wisely at college, better than some I'd like to think, but that is not for me to decide. One of the questions that unfortunately gets posed too late at the institution I teach for is: why are you here at college? Many, of course, would say to get a job or a better job. For some, this will happen: if you major in business, engineering, or go do graduate work in the sciences. Getting a job isn't a bad thing by any means and jobs in other fields are to be found, but you'd better distance yourself from your contemporaries if you hope to actually get a good job. That extra time not spent in class (a typical week has 144 hours in it, plus a day of rest--typical class time is 15-20 hours, not exactly strenuous) could better be spent doing something like writing trenchant movie or music reviews that get you noticed by people in the field. Both of these gentlemen are an inspiration to me from their hard work at cultural discernment and criticism, something I am woefully inadequate at.

In other words, book learning and sitting half awake in a lecture can only get you so far. There comes a day of reckoning when all that "learning" comes to call: when you need to move out and move on. Your professors can't learn this stuff for you, nor should you rely on them to spoon feed it to you. If you aren't in the library reading up on as much outside information concerning your discipline as you can, you are putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Those that like to (somewhat elitistly, it is for sure) think of themselves as the "best and the brightest" act like it: they work hard for it.

The greatest disadvantage that our collegiate system is forcing on students is the idea of "talent." True, some people seem more created for the sciences. All that means is that the "non-gifted" student needs to work harder and smarter at it--and then tell their future employers or future customers or future whatevers about it! If our students knew that the key to getting ahead academically is to burn the midnight oil, then we would see some truly gifted (albeit tired) students. It wouldn't hurt, however, if when they are having trouble, they came to their professors or classmates that have gone before them for help. So many students labor in a rigid isolation that keeps them from seeing how communities pass on and enhance learning. So little work in the world is done in a vacuum, except vacuum mechanics 101.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Local sustainable agriculture project

From The New Farm, a near-by college is trying some interesting sustainable things with brewpubs! Find it here. Next time I'm up in the Slippery Rock area, I'll have to stop by.

Why is it that the Christian colleges aren't taking up the call to develop healthy agricultural options a la Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson? Why is it that I live in a heavily agricultural and industrial area, but neither agricultural sciences/arts or industrial sciences/arts are taught there?


Friday, October 06, 2006

Extra Special BiFC&T Update! (take 2)

The video had to be taken down because whenever someone loaded the page, it would start. Since I want to blog about other things every once and awhile, I opted to take it down and replace it with this. Enjoy!

Opening date announcement coming soon...

And now for something completely different...

The ultimate Theonomy poster.

hat tip to Purgatorio

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Pornographic Mind

I remember reading somewhere that the business of pornography is based off of customer dissatisfaction. In a lot of ways, our modern way-of-being-in-the-world is based on that same sort of discontent. Aside from the stereotypical materialism critiques, which end up being entirely too caricatured (pardon the spelling), the use of visual and auditory images in our advertising and commercials (yes, Virginia, there is a difference) ends up producing the same sort of discontent. However, this problem is endemic to the human condition: we are born and die discontentedly.

The question is what sort of discontent, wintered or not, should we have? Is it, as Augustine puts it, that we have no rest until we find our rest in God? If so, what exactly does it mean to "rest in God"? Does it mean to have our pie-in-the-sky salvation, which has no earthly effect or affection? Is it a mystical release from this too sullied world into the beautific vision of God? The only way to solve the problem of discontent in that instance (and I'm not arguing that that is what Augustine thought, I really have no idea) is to die and "shuffle off this mortal coil." This seems similar to something that C.S. Lewis is supposed to have said about the human discontent. Something about how we long for another world, for heaven as it were.

This isn't the sort of discontent that I think is right or wise. It tends to forsake this oh-so material world for the ethereal, the mystical, the mumbo jumbo. It leaves this world to the pornographers, whose vision of the good life is something much more "material" and ultimately leads to social hell on earth. If we Christians view escape from this world as our joy and calling, we share the same mind as the pornographers, to see the world go to hell for our pleasure. We share the responsibility, we share the judgement.

The most important (and least pornographic) phrase in Scripture dealing with our discontent is this: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Greek text has it, in my mind, more emphatically: as in heaven even upon the earth. Heaven and earth, as can be seen in Genesis 1, are separated ontologically. Heaven and earth, as can be seen in Genesis 3, are separated ethically. Our discontent arises from this disjunction--the human person longs for the ethical unity between heaven and earth, for things to be the way they should, for wrongs to be righted, justice maintained, and peace (shalom) to fill all kinds of relationships. The Christian longing isn't to leave earth for heaven, but that heaven might break forth over the earth, unifying and transforming it in the process, what Paul calls 'reconciliation'.

When we think of the 'good life', the standard of what we think "heaven on earth" might be like is expressed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Craft and Humanness

One of the things I realized from my upper-middle class background was the dehumanizing effects that come from separating our lives neatly (ala Sim City) into industrial, commercial, and residential zones. I really like living above a coffeeshop and next to a pharmacy, apart from the fact that they both carry drugs, albeit legal.

An issue that I have had to deal with throughout my whole life has been that of craftsmanship. My father is a whittler, so he is a craftsman, but he never wants to make money off of it. My mother is a sew-er, so she is a craftswomen, but always does it for gifts. Neither of them have made their living as craftsmen. There is a detectable bias in my family against making your money that way, even though (or maybe because) they came from craft-centered families. I remember how disappointed my mom was when I said I wanted to learn carpentry--she just couldn't understand why a 'smart' kid like me would want to learn that. I couldn't support a family on a carpenter's wages, she told me, as if I was completely jettisoning my academic guild training (the discipline of which she didn't fiscally care for either, it might be added). Possibly these are corrolary reasons as to why I'm not much of a carpenter (and, oddly enough, not much of an academic either).

I've been oddly drawn, again and again, to the trades and crafts. There is a sense of autocracy (self-rule) that comes with being able to cook your own food, maintain (and even sometimes improve) your own house/car/whatever, help your neighbors with skill, and save on paying some high-flautin' professional to come bale you out (although that is still necessary sometimes). That contrarian, decentralist independence has always appealed to me. It also gives you a measure of control against salesmen, who are always telling me that my life is not (and cannot be) good enough, because I do not use whatever ultimately disposable and culturally insignificant product they are hocking.

I read an article yesterday that really jazzed me up concerning this periennial topic again. It can be found here, called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Also, Wendell Berry wrote an essay a long time ago that has always been a comfort and a joy to read, called The Joy of Sales Resistance, although I do not like the formatting that they use for the essay. The first article, especially, does a good job of speaking how craftsmanship is exactly what we want in science: a good hard look at things that goes beyond just what will make it sell to a deeper intimacy with all Creation, although he wouldn't use those words.

Monday, October 02, 2006

BiFC&T Update

Remember it is pronounced "BiFCAT".

Well, construction proceeds apace. I wasn't able to get anything done on the house this weekend, due to a nasty bug I picked up somewhere (I blame the schools...). However, today our storage wall is being constructed, where we will have first class merchandise for you to buy, related, of course, to coffee and tea.

Tonight consists of me frantically trying to finish a doorway's drywall (not going to be finished, I can tell you that!) and tacking 5 inch baseboard back onto the walls in preparation for...refinishing the floors! The dust is supposed to start tomorrow, although I think that some more drywally type stuff will have to happen beforehand. My wife and I are considering a hotel for the week, or, to put it more accurately, my wife and my baby are considering a hotel and my dog and I are considering lung cancer.

Theoretically, this Thursday we will pick up our pastry case, so that our beloved customers can have such treats as danishes, kolaches, bagels, quiches, pies, etc. along with their favorite quasi-adult beverages (coffee has never been real popular with the under 15 crowd).

We got some samples this week from Choice Teas in the loose leaf varieties. The hardest thing will be to get Americans to try and have tea the way it should be: loose! They like it any which way but loose. Paradigm shifts take time.

More next week!

Update later in the day: I started the finishing on the drywall, but the mud is taking a lot longer to dry than I thought. No baseboard tacked up, whenever I wanted to do it the baby was asleep. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reflections a Decade In

I became a Christian in September of 1994, 12 years ago (sorry about the misnomer in the title). Today's sermon and Keith's blog got me thinking about where I'm at a dozen years later.

Life is certainly different...

...although not completely in good ways.

When I was a new Christian, I was totally assured. I knew what I believed and had reasons why. It wasn't until I got my first hit of exegetical theology that I started to doubt things and test things and fret over my status (a) as a orthodox church member (b) as a Christian. My first experience was in a Sunday School class in an Omaha CMA church, where the teacher (whose name I cannot recall) told us that the story of Balaam in Numbers was the first time in history one ass spoke to another. The next week, for reasons I couldn't understand at the time, he apologized for his remarks. He also introduced me to eschatology, which was, as he put it, the study of "S"s. The eschatology was dispensational premillennialism, which I held from 1994 till about 1998, when I became a postmillennialist for a short period, and then in 1999 through 2002 I was a "full" preterist. All of these positions (except for the last, but its status changes in ecclesial circles everyday) are considered orthodox. I studied and "approved" them all, until my faith in preterism was shaken by a combination of anti-dualist Dutch theology and NT Wright's work on the resurrection. Now I find it hard to say anything at any time. This isn't even going into my deeper, more intense, more painful Christological studies which have been with me ever since I picked up a small book by Wright (quite by Calvinist chance) called "The Challenge of Jesus".

There are many days in which I want to say "I love the Lord Jesus and that is all that matters." But I always need another hit, another high followed by depressing lows. Some days I can ignore the impulses totally; most days I find myself doing lines of Psalms. But I find everyday that this love-hate relationship with theology and the Bible often clouds the real issues: am I a more God-glorifying Christian now than I was when I first started? Or are those cymbals and gongs going off in the background? If I know every jot and tittle of the Scriptures, but ignore my neighbor, am I really loving God? But how can I truly love my neighbor without first knowing the Scriptures?

One of my friends who is Eastern Orthodox was shown me that many E.O. prayers have the phrase "Lord have mercy" interspersed throughout. I find myself using that phrase more and more each day.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.