The Necessity of Reflection

There are many surprising truths I have learned in my semester of blogging—that vulnerability is powerful, that online community can be Bashawtangible and unifying, that bloggers are often on the front lines in the war against injustice and ignorance (and are sometimes the most blatant promoters of injustice and ignorance).

But the greatest thing blogging has taught me is the necessity of reflection.

Reflection is necessary for self-understanding and societal awareness—As human beings living in an age of hyper-technology, we tend to think we are more connected to people and ourselves than we have ever been. We believe that watching 24-hour news, following the latest YouTube trends, and posting our daily activities and random emotions on Facebook make us experts on people, connections, and ourselves. But, in reality, we are less aware of our own feelings and problems and blind to the needs of others because we do not take the time to think, reflect, and write. We fill our heads with the opinions of others and never stop to consider how we feel about those opinions, never process the changes in the world and the changes in our hearts. Reflection is the antidote to ignorance of self and society.

Reflection is necessary for teaching—Since I have only been a full-time professor for two-years , I am clearly not an expert educator. Every day, I make mistakes in my teaching. In academia, however, there is an unwritten rule of “fake it until you make it” (even if you never actually “make it”). We think that in order for students and other teachers to respect us and listen to us, we have be experts, to always be right, to never show weakness. And so we fake knowledge and good teaching until we forget that we are faking and begin to believe that we do know everything. And that makes it hard to know our faults, hard to listen to others, and hard to learn and grow as teachers.

Robert Frost had it right when he wrote, “I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.” Reflecting and talking about myself and my teaching this semester (however narcissistic it may sound), opened my eyes to the areas in which I needed to grow. As I shared these areas for improvement in my blog, I was teaching others. And, beautifully and ironically, what I taught to others was always what I most needed to learn.

Reflection is necessary for faith—It is quite popular these days to talk about faith as a journey. This is far more than a trendy illustration; the idea originally comes from the Bible. In Scripture, we can follow the stories of people of faith, from Abraham to Esther and Levi to Paul, and see that faithful living requires forward movement and a purposed destination.

Faith is moving forward—moving away from the old self and its desires and moving toward the new self, the new kingdom, a new calling. And movement forward does not occur without a radical change in perspective and situation. Abraham’s faith required a geographical shift of epic proportions. Esther’s faith demanded death-defying courage and commitment. Levi’s faith forced a career transfer, from tax-collecting to disciple-making. Paul’s faith necessitated a name change and initiated one of the most significant life transformations in all of history. Faith compels us to change. But we cannot change, cannot move forward, if we do not know who we are and where we are now.

So, reflection is necessary for faith because reflection is necessary for change.

The greatest truth I have learned from blogging is that reflection is what moves us forward; it gives us the tools and time to understand ourselves and our society; it unveils our faults, our inadequacies, and our need for improvement; it forces us to not just have faith but to do faith; it motivates us to follow God’s call, to reform (re-form!) our hearts, and transform, not just our lives, but our world.

 

jgb

The Next Seven Years

Last spring break I read a book that changed my perspective about students, and myself. It is called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell.

outliers1

We are all an element of our circumstances. Our lives are shaped by the advantages and disadvantages we encounter.

It seems as if we can look back on our past and point out the bad decisions or all the things that maybe didn’t go to our advantage. I see students making bad decisions weekly and sometimes daily. These decisions lead to sometimes lifelong heartache and struggle.

I want to encourage you today to make the sacrifices needed today so that you can have the opportunities tomorrow.

I want to share a little bit of my journey as a ETBU student to a current ETBU Assistant Professor.

When I reflect on my life story, I can’t help but notice how many situations allowed me to have an advantage. For example, I was 1 of only 8 people that were allowed to take dual credit college courses at my high school. We were the first group in the history of the high school to have access to this opportunity. When I came to college, I had 12 college credit hours completed. This allowed me to graduate early. Since I knew I could graduate early, I realized I could take courses over the summer and graduate even earlier. I graduated from ETBU in 5 semesters or 2.5 years.  I then got a Graduate Teaching assistant position and moved into an apartment across from UNT. A year into my Master’s, I got the opportunity to be a House Director at one of the Sorority houses. I was then able to stay somewhere rent free, get paid to live/work, and still keep my job teaching at UNT. I was able to pay for most of my Masters  & PhD degree out of pocket. During my PhD program at Texas Woman’s University, I had 2-3 other part-time adjunct teaching jobs at other universities (in addition to being a Graduate Teaching Assistant at TWU).  I successfully defended my dissertation in Aug. 2012.

So I went from… freshman year at ETBU as a student in Aug. 2004… to Assistant Professor (ABD) at ETBU in Aug. 2011. I was motivated. God gave me the desire to work hard and to take advantage of every opportunity.

I do not apologize for being young. I have worked hard to get here. I still have a lot of work to do.. God is still shaping me.

When reading the book “Outliers,” I noticed how our good and bad decisions take a toll on the direction of our life. It is easy for me to write the paragraph above and leave out all the failures I encountered along that 7 year journey. But the important thing is… I got where I wanted to go. I didn’t stop or give up when I encountered those difficulties.

So when you encounter your next “failure” or “difficulty”… remember that this is a journey… not a sprint… not a race won by only one path…

I don’t know exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the next 7 years. But I hope I look back on this time in my life and can see how God was shaping me for what is ahead.

LM

A Woman Called to Ministry

As a child, I sat in the pew of a typical Southern Baptist church, hearing strong male voices reading the Scripture, leading the hymns, preaching the Word.  As a teenager, I began to notice that those male voices were never broken by lighter female intonations, that the godly women who taught me in Sunday School never prayed, much less preached, in the vast holiness of the sanctuary.  I began to look around me and realize that everyone looked alike; the black children with whom I went to school never darkened the doors of our church.  I did not understand then why my church seemed so segregated, so exclusionary.  After going to seminary and hearing similar testimonies of the Southern Baptist students around me helped me realize that my church was not the only institution holding desperately to the patriarchy of the past, living out the perfect fifties sitcom within its hallowed walls.  Yet I still could not figure out why, when the world around them had changed and grown, progressing ahead of much of the oppression of the past, so many churches had remained frozen in a time when white men ruled society, government, and especially church.

Having been reared in a loving, Christian home, I came to know Christ at an early age, earlier even than seems possible to me now.  I heard about Jesus from my kindergarten Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Foster. She talked about Jesus’ love and about the sin of humanity and though I probably did not understand everything she told me, I remember feeling both gratitude for God’s love and remorse at being a sinner. I have a clear memory of kneeling by my bed one night—I could not have been more than five years old—and crying, asking Jesus to forgive me. It is actually the first clear memory I have from my childhood. As I look back on it now I understand how remarkable it was that God reached out and showed me love as a small child and that I embraced that love even before I could read the Bible. I consider it an immeasurable blessing that God has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Since I grew up in an army family, we moved several times before settling in Fort Hood, Texas, the largest military base in the world. It was there that I made my faith in God public, during Vacation Bible School at Memorial Baptist Church of Killeen, TX, and I was baptized at that church in 1987 at the age of ten. Church was always a part of my life, so much so that I often tell people that the church raised me. I have always loved hearing and reading Bible stories, even as a teenager, and the Baptist churches that I attended in adolescence helped plant in me a love for the teachings of the Bible and a desire to know more and understand more about God.  I think I always felt a persistent tug toward ministry in the church. When I led Bible study groups and went on Mission trips during high school I sensed that God had gifted me in the areas of teaching and ministry. However, because the Southern Baptist tradition does not embrace the equal gifting of men and women, I never knew exactly where I would fit in ministry. The options that were open to me—children’s ministry or missions work—never clicked as the calling God had for me.

In college, I began to feel that God was leading me to study the Bible in a more formal way; I thought that God was calling me to go to seminary. Some of my fellow students at our Christian college heard that I was considering going to seminary, and they decided it was their duty to remind me that seminary was a place to train pastors, and since women could not be pastors, there was no reason for me to go. It is difficult to point to the most significant spiritual event in my life, because my life has been a continuous series of spiritual events through which God has slowly and adeptly molded me, but I think that the moment I was told that God did not want me to be a minister was a huge moment for me. I heard the words and I understood how the men who spoke them could read the Bible that way, but I sensed something was wrong with their interpretation of the Scriptures. I was sure that the Holy Spirit had spoken to me and called me into the ministry and was prodding me to go to seminary and even though that calling did not seem to be compatible with what Scripture said, I was going to follow the Spirit and work out what the Bible said about that along the way.

In seminary, I began to read the Bible for the overarching story that it told about God and humanity. I learned that the way I had been taught to read the Bible—merely picking out verses here and there and piecing them together into an unorganized system of belief—did a great disservice to the message of the Bible. There was a bigger idea behind the stories and principles of the Bible that was greater than the sum of their varied parts. God loves us. We live in rebellion. God sent Jesus to bring us into a close, communicative relationship with the Triune God. God has gifted people for many different works of love and service. The Holy Spirit helps us learn about those gifts. And finally, God calls the most unlikely people. Regardless of whether Paul said women should not have authority over men or should keep silent, the bigger message of the Bible was that in Christ, there is no male or female, and God used women to do all kinds of ministry during Jesus’ life on earth and in the earliest years of the Christian church.  I knew that God wanted to use me to do whatever it was that the Holy Spirit led me to do. And though I was scared because I knew it would not be easy, I was ready to go where the Spirit led and do what God would call me to do.

God revealed the call on my life slowly but purposefully. The people who had the most influence on my spiritual journey were my religion professors.  Though I learned much from the ministers under whom I grew up, the Christians who truly modeled a servant lifestyle and the sacrifice and love of Christ were my professors.  They gave tirelessly of themselves in order to teach others how to interpret and appreciate the Bible then, in their spare time, they prayed, comforted, and encouraged their students in all of their life challenges. It is their influence that awakened in me the desire to teach and preach.  My worldview was shaped because of how they taught me to read the Bible.  I have come to understand through their instruction that the Christianity that Jesus initiated is a lifestyle of love and sacrifice, not a list of rules that exclude people who do not follow them from the kingdom. Now I believe God wants me to do for others as my professors did for me…teach people how to read and interpret the Bible so that they can carry out the purposes of God in this world faithfully and completely.

My Journey as a Professor

I did not set out to be a professor. I actually never considered the thought of being a professor… ever. I wanted to be a lawyer or a counselor because I thought that those professions actually helped people. However, as soon as my first semester in college, I realized that professors can change lives (for better or worse). A few professors influenced me in such a way that I wanted to be that person for other students.

I remember my first semester of teaching at the college level. I was in my first semester of graduate school and working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of North Texas. I was only teaching swimming, but it was the first time I got to see student success (and failure). I realized that I could help people achieve their dreams of learning how to swim. Although this was a small glimpse into the future… I found that I enjoyed helping people achieve their goal.

Looking back, those times were so much easier… and many times I wish being a professor was as easy as teaching someone to swim. Currently, I teach students how to be successful in their given profession and ultimately their life. If they are successful in their chosen profession, they can get a job that will not only allow them to build a comfortable life, but allow them to influence others in positive way (the worst part of this statement is that the opposite is also true…). So when I walk into the classroom, I seek to impact future generations through the process of learning in the classroom daily.

This is not an easy task or burden to carry. I am not successful every day with every interaction, but I strive to be. I am thankful for the professors that saw potential in me, and gave me the extra help when needed. Being a professor is not about being the easiest, the hardest, the meanest, or the nicest. It’s about expanding knowledge, building confidence, and increasing ability in students.

When I look to my mentors, I see qualities in each person I want adopt. My mentors are not perfect. Their journeys (highs and lows) have shaped each of them into who they are today. As I know I am not perfect, I pray that God will continue to teach me and mold me into the professor he desires me to be.

Who I am: teacher, learner, pastor, mom

photo (2)The first thing you need to know about me is that I am not your typical Religion professor.

I do not scratch my beard thoughtfully as I discuss soteriology with my esteemed colleagues. In fact, I do not have a beard and I hope I never will.

I do not sport a tweed jacket, well-worn, with patches on the elbow and thick, tortoise-shell glasses. Usually, I rock (what I like to think are) trendy, youngish-looking dresses and contact lenses.

I do not spend hours in the library, pouring over dusty theology books, and meticulously planning my contribution to academia. I actually prefer to read vampire novels and Entertainment Weekly magazine (because, after all, knowing about pop culture helps me make a contribution to my student’s lives, right?)

In short, I have little in common with the stereotype of a Bible professor.

Who I am is a wife and mother of three young boys who sometimes has to clean up kid vomit on her way out the door to her 8:00 class (thankfully, this week my husband finished the clean-up so I would not be late!).

Who I am is an ordained, female Baptist pastor, which in this neck of the woods is an anomaly (anathema?) and some would even say an oxymoron. [sidenote: I may be oxymoronic in many ways but being a Baptist woman in ministry is not one of them! This subject will crop up in later blog posts, I assure you]

Who I am is an interpreter (and lover!) of the Bible who learns as much from her students as she teaches. I am the same kind of teacher as I am a learner—I prefer creative projects and group discussion instead of lecture soliloquies and structured outlines. I believe active and creative participation in the classroom implants seeds of knowledge into students (or maybe I should call them learners?) that will take root and grow rather than bounce off hard ground.

Who I am is a fledgling professor who wants to become better at teaching the Bible effectively and intentionally, with passion and grace.

Since I have been a student for four times (!!!) as long as I have been a teacher, much of what I know about teaching I learned from my amazing professors (shout out to Dr. Rosalie Beck and Dr. Roger Olson!). What these teachers have modeled for me is that the strength of a teacher’s character is as important as the strength of a teacher’s content.

With this in mind, I offer a prayer we teachers can pray as we begin a new year:

Lord, help me to be humble, so my teaching will be malleable;
Lord, help me to be creative, so my teaching will be memorable;
Lord, help me to be purposeful, so my teaching will be meaningful; and,
Lord, help me to be transparent, so my teaching will be a message. AMEN

In this blog, I will be recounting the ins and outs (and ups and downs!) of teaching the Bible to the millennial generation in this place God has placed me…East Texas. I hope you can learn from my troubles and my triumphs and I invite you to leave comments along the way so I can learn from yours.

Why Biology?

Why Biology?

By our very nature all humans are born scientists.  Most of us get so beaten down by the public school systems that we lose our love for learning and exploring.

I never lost that first love.

As a toddler I was forever bringing bugs, lizards, snakes and small mammals into the house to show Mom.  She was terrified of critters but being the great mother that she was she kept an assortment of jars nearby in which to keep my latest critter.  The rule was that all critters had to be loosed at sunset so they could go home for supper.

The Christmas I was 12 I received a microscope and biology kit.  My brother received a chemistry kit.  I traded him my baton (a fantastic sword) for his chemistry kit and thus began my whole-hearted love affair with the natural sciences.  I looked at everything I could under that microscope.  Finally I went to Mom and asked to look at human blood.  She pricked herself with a sewing needle and we made several blood slides.  I was forever hooked on the biology aspect of science.  Many years later I learned that Mom was terrified of needles and her own blood.  What a LOVE!  Mom encouraged me to pursue my dreams.  Dad cheered me on toward my goals.  They were phenomenal in their encouragement and support.  My path was fraught with many obstacles but perseverance is one of my spiritual gifts.  God has blessed me with ETBU and the ability to pursue teaching biology in a Christ-centered atmosphere.  I pray that I am a model for young, Christian scientists.  I pray I give them a safe place to ask questions without being ridiculed for their faith.

There are two ways to know God…through His word and through His works.  Both are equally important.  God expects us to be thoughtful, as Christ was thoughtful, about every aspect of our lives.  We need to think critically about our beliefs, spiritual and scientific, and be able to defend them.  I want to explore critical thinking and how it applies to the various aspects of our live in this blog.  Please feel free to send feedback.

HERE WE GO!                      — jcc