The Fear Factor

I went to an academic conference over the summer.  Several of the speakers zeroed in on an area of research that is finally getting some traction.  The question they addressed concerned student success in college.  One survey, taken at the Community College of Baltimore, discovered two primary reasons students drop out of school—They are overwhelmed by life problems.  Or they are overwhelmed by affective issues, mostly centered around “fear, anxiety, and a suspicion that they are just not college material.”

In other words, ability is usually not the problem.  Life is. The fear factor is.

So, how do we help these students?  The suggestions given are common-sense ones—“Create a safe atmosphere” in the classroom.  Find a balance between “flexibility” and “tough love”—between “compassion” and “firmness” (a lot harder than it might sound).  Implement “confidence-building experiences” early on in the semester.

And be aware of mindsets—because students will have “fixed mindsets” or “growth mindsets.”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that a fixed mindset is “the belief that intelligence is fixed [which] dampens students’ motivation to learn, makes them afraid of effort, and makes them want to quit after a setback.”

So when classes get hard, students give up.  Because when they struggle, Dweck says, they “feel dumb.”

Do I have students who have this mindset?  Of course.  But my confession is this: Sometimes I have the same mindset.

I fear failure.  And in my profession, where performance is evaluated and measured each semester, I often feel like I’m not measuring up.  And when I struggle, I feel dumb.  This doesn’t motivate me to be better.  It discourages me and makes me want to give up.

I guess the question is this: How do we establish growth mindsets?  How do we establish the belief that just because something is challenging and causes us to struggle, this is not a reflection of our intelligence or ability?

I’m pretty sure that most of the speakers at the conference did not embrace a Christian world view.  If there is such a thing as grace, I learned, it is merely a human grace we extend to each other.  And as teachers, we know the expectations of gracious teaching.  Help students to realize their potential and to be true to themselves.   Encourage.  Uplift.  Reinforce.  Reaffirm.  We do this because we care about them.  But we do this too because we care about retention, and we must always be looking for ways to keep students from dropping out.

But is this all there is to teaching?  Just getting students to finish college and get jobs so we not only identify them as successful but ourselves, as well?

I worry a lot about leaving God out of this equation.

Do I care for my students? Yes.  Do I want them to graduate?  Yes.  Do I want them to get good jobs?  Yes.  But. . . .

If this is all we are about as educators, we only address part of the need.  Because each one of us has a soul.  And souls don’t have expiration dates, like milk.  We will all live forever.

I take education seriously.  But I take eternity much more seriously.

I admit to my students that college is a big thing.  But it is not the whole thing.  God has opened this door of opportunity for you, I tell them, so seize it.  Work hard and be successful, not to bring honor to yourself, but to bring glory to God.

And when they get scared.  When they start to struggle.  When the challenges seem insurmountable.  I remind them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.  Trust Him, I say.  Lean on Him.  Because He is real and He is relevant.

I work hard in the classroom.  I take the material seriously.  But I am also serious about modeling a life that glorifies God, the author of grace.  If they don’t see that life in me, I have failed.  Measure me all you want.  Evaluate me all you want.  But I have a greater judge.  And when I stand before Him, I hope I hear these words—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want that for me. I want that for you.  I want that for my students.  Because that is true success.  

SC

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

Called to Teach: What Does That Mean?

6712120241_749fa986d8_oA call to teach.. what exactly does it mean? I feel as if I am not going to answer this question with justice. However, I will attempt to answer this question without spending too much time evaluating if my answer is “good enough”.

I believe you do not have to be super religious to understand that some people just “know” they are called to a certain profession. I have had wonderful non-religious/non-spiritual people in my life that were great teachers. I have also had wonderful religious/spiritual people that were also great teachers.

My call to teach is as much of a responsibility as it is a gift. I am not naturally gifted with teaching abilities, but I have to work on my teaching techniques on a daily basis. It is my responsibility to grow in knowledge and ability as I continue on my own journey as a teacher. Earning a PhD taught me that the more I know, the more I realize I still have much more to learn. Just like “ministering” is a never-ending job … “teaching” is a never-ending task as well. I find comfort and satisfaction when my students learn, and I feel discomfort when it doesn’t happen. I find joy in learning new ways to teach, and learning new knowledge to teach.

I have learned the most (as a teacher and a student) from being in an uncomfortable… sometimes even a challenging place. It wasn’t always fun… it wasn’t always pleasant… But I learned and I grew from the experience. Those experiences have shaped me into who I am today. One of the challenging parts of my job is making a safe environment for students to feel that challenge… that uncomfortable place that gives them the “nudge” to learn.

Similar to how eagles teach their young to fly, I view learning as a passaging in life for students to be successful in life and “take flight”. For example, at a certain point the mother eagle will “nudge” its baby out of the nest. Before the baby eagle hits the ground, the mother eagle will fly down and catch them.  They continue to do this until the baby eagle learns to spread its wings and fly. The point is that if we don’t nudge them … they will never be able to become who they were meant to be… or be able to do what they were meant to do.

It is my responsibility … my calling to help students spread their wings. Their future depends on me fulfilling my call to teach. Sometimes, I wish that I got an email, text message, or music playing in my ear every time one of my students catches wind under their wings….. it would make me feel better about pushing them out of the nest so often.

(read more about eagles learning to fly here: http://www.prophetic.net/eagles.htm )

The Chasm, part 2: The People of the Chasm

In my last post, I lamented the wide chasm that separates the church and the “academy” (biblical scholars and their scholarship), a separation I have noticed since the beginning of my theological education and that I am consistently reminded of as I teach New Testament to college students in the Bible belt. In an attempt to transform my fruitless complaints into conversation, I want to use my next couple of posts delve deeper into the chasm and discuss the people who contribute to the chasm, the problems or symptoms that result from the chasm, and the possible solutions we can work toward to eliminate the chasm.

The People of the Chasm:

Are you kidding me?

Group #1: “PLAIN SENSE” CHRISTIANS

These are the devout believers in local churches who can quote Bible verses (out of context), list the books of the New Testament in order, and proof-text better than an inspirational greeting card company. Although many in this group truly desire to understand what the Bible says, they know (or care) little about the literary themes and historical contexts of the Bible, the major doctrines of Christianity, the principles behind responsible biblical interpretation, or even the overarching “big story” the Scriptures are telling. Often, individuals in this group become confident that their interpretation is the only right interpretation of scripture, that their reading, the “literal” or “plain sense” reading, is the only way to read the Bible. This group is suspicious and even fearful of theological education, telling young ministers things like, “Don’t go off to seminary unless you want to lose your faith!,” or, “You do not need anything but a Bible and the Spirit to interpret God’s Word.” Of course, I affirm that the Holy Spirit can speak to any reader of Scripture, regardless of their education or background; however, we all need to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is sometimes a hard task and we would all do it better if we did it as a well-equipped, well-informed body of Christ rather than individuals who confuse Bible knowledge with Bible understanding. When we fail to grasp the complex beauty and depth of the biblical literature, reducing it instead to folksy advice and empty platitudes, the true message of Gospel can be obscured or misapplied in a way that hurts others.

Group #2: OUT-OF-TOUCH INTELLECTUALS:

These are the well-educated Bible scholars who have studied the Scriptures for decades, have a good grasp of its background and content, and have the skills necessary to do responsible biblical interpretation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this group spends little time teaching people in the churches what they know, instead choosing to write specialist books on specialist topics with specialist vocabulary that no one in a typical church would ever want to read, even if they could. This group is on the other side of the chasm from group #1, although occasionally a few of its members will lay bricks to start the bridge to the other side (the scholar-pastors).

Bible Scholars

Group #3: PROBLEMATIC PASTORS

These are the pastors, both educated and uneducated, who do not take the time to prepare themselves and their people for the challenge of reading and applying the Bible. Pastors could be the largest part of the construction crew to build a bridge over the chasm, but many instead contribute to it. Some do not realize how much time it takes to study and compose a biblically-sound sermon. Some cannot accept that although the Spirit does speak, hearing the Spirit well takes time, thought, and preparation. Some were not properly trained in biblical interpretation, so may need to humble themselves and seek more education. Whatever the problem might be, it is not a solely personal problem because it affects the people in the church who trust and rely on the exegesis and wisdom of their preachers. Although it is true that pastoring is a hard, time-consuming job with high demands, it must be so because the people in group #1 need to be guided to participate in the chasm solution instead of being part of the problem. We who are pastors and teachers must strive for excellence because people depend on us.

OTHER GROUPS?

Have I missed any groups that contribute to the chasm? I would like to hear from you. Leave a Comment.

NEXT WEEK…the problems the chasm creates in our church and society.

21st Century Cowboy

Before I thought about being a doctor or an archeologist, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I found my first pair of cowboy boots under the Christmas tree when I was six.  They were black.  The shafts were turquoise.  Loved those boots.

My heroes were Roy Rogers and John Wayne.  The Lone Ranger too.  Something about the horses they rode.  Something about the wide open spaces.  Something about the cattle, and the campfire and the chuck wagon and sleeping under a night sky full of stars.   And, of course, there was always the struggle between good and evil.

It was pretty clear back then.  The good guys and bad guys were easy to tell apart.

One of my favorite movies is Tombstone.  And my favorite scene is when Wyatt Earp and his two brothers along with Doc Holiday are walking down that dusty street side by side.  They’re headed for the OK Corral.  And bad guys are waiting for them.

Is there gonna be a fight?  You bet.  But are the good guys gonna win?   Of course.

I miss the old Westerns where the bad guys wore black hats and the music always let you know when trouble was coming.

Real life can be much more complicated.  But I remind my students that – just like in an old western – there are still things worth fighting for – things worth standing for.

Jesus – and His message of redemption and sacrifice and love – is one of those things.  I cling to this doctrinal truth – that Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins, so I could become His child – a child of the King.  And because He died for me, I take up my cross and follow Him.  I die to myself so that I can become more and more like Jesus – so that I can wrap my arms around more and more of Him every day.

As a teacher, I want my students to succeed academically.  I want them to work hard.  I want them to understand that by entering into the life of the university, they have become members of a vibrant academic community.

But, within this community, I want them to find a place where they can grow spiritually.  I want them to know that faith and learning can coexist – that all knowledge is a gift from God.  Daniel and his three friends in Babylon realized this when God gave them “an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the age” (1:17).  And when Paul celebrates the vastness of God in Romans, he lifts his voice and sings, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (11:33).

Ultimately, I tell my students, the most important choice we will ever make is what we choose to believe to be true about God.  Is He good?  Is he loving?  Is he relevant?

This is why I teach at a Christ-centered university.  This is why strive to integrate my faith with my discipline.  And even though I’m a teacher, I guess I still fancy myself a cowboy, walking down a dangerous dusty street.  Armed with the power of God.  Shattering darkness.  Shedding light.  Sharing Jesus. 

Some dreams die hard I guess.  Which is why I’ll always own a pair of cowboy boots.

Real Live Prof

Here is something I try to do every semester:

When I am thinking about the class before the semester, I wonder about how this particular class should impact my faith and the student’s faith as well. I then prayerfully pick a “Semester Verse” which tries to encompass this oncoming collision.  This semester I am teaching two sections of Introduction to Sociology. One of the things we try to do as sociologists is to look at problems and issues from other perspectives. (As a point of interest, I would suggest that this is one of the most difficult things for us to do. For example, it seems so right for me to look at all things from my perspective: white, male, middle class, employed, married, Baptist, father of three, educated, Texan, middle aged-professor at a Baptist university, person.) Romans 12 This semester I chose Romans 12:1-2 as a semester verse mainly for verse 2, which urges us to “no longer conform to the pattern of this world”.  Early in the semester I suggest that it is extremely hard to notice the pattern of this world and even harder to go against it. How many times have you walked into a store to buy one item and walked out with multiple bags of things of things you did not even know you needed? Partially this phenomenon can be blamed on your cell phone and your spouse and kids, but some of it is subtle but effective advertising that you never consciously hear. (Last year, Wal-Mart played the Old Spice whistle every few minutes as I shopped there. Before I realized it, I had tried all versions of their Body Wash. I settled on “Swagger”, but I am a little worried because new scents are coming out all of the time). Just like below-the-radar-advertising, the world’s pattern of thinking and acting are foisted upon us as normal and preferable at almost every turn. An example would be how society’s attitude about premarital sex has changed in the last several decades from taboo to celebrated and expected behavior that “youngsters” are supposed to go through on their way to finding true love. Even marriages are referred to as “starter” marriages where individuals learn to live with another on an intimate level, and then pull out when they have discovered what they really need and want in a committed relationship.  Hopefully, no kids, no harm, no foul and both are wiser and aware of what it takes to make themselves supremely happy.

As a way to keep the integration of faith and learning alive during the semester, you might ask the class again about the verse as you review for the exams. Next week, before the first exam I will ask the intro class, “How does Culture (Chapter 2), ‘conform us to the pattern of this world?’” A follow-up question will be, “Why is it so hard to ‘transform our minds’ in our American culture?”

Real Live Prof

005I will accept the challenge of chronicling my take on the integration of faith and learning. The process begins with faith and living, and did for me as a teenager in Richardson, Texas. I had become a committed follower of Jesus and I had to learn what it meant to be a believer and student. The early stages for me were immersed in a legalistic regimen of “do’s” (go to church, have a quiet time, etc), and “don’ts” (don’t drink, don’t do drugs, and avoid all things sexual). A strength of legalism is that it does not require deep thinking. One simply refers to their list to see which category a particular behavior falls under. This phase lasted me through college. When I got to seminary, I made new friends who were more into license than legalism, and as such, were happy to drink and party and still manage to love Jesus with a clear conscience. My personal pendulum of living and learning swung their way, for a short while. Granted, it was fun, but not spiritually satisfying. I married two years after seminary, and even as we started dating, I could tell that I had left my new friends’ freedom, and had moved back toward a broader, central place between the two extremes.

After our marriage, Diana and I started going to the University of North Texas together. She finished a Master’s Degree, and I started a Ph.D. in sociology. I think of this short (11 year!!) period as the time that I got the “unintended consequences” education (a sociological theory by Merton). I was studying sociology, which was new to me, but I was also learning about technology (post punch card, pre- PC and email when I started). Suddenly, I was taking classes with “those” people (gays, Lesbians, feminists, liberals, atheists, Democrats, etc) that I had never been around and was taught to fear and avoid in my previously conservative education. Again, I was faced with the integration of faith and learning and being a Christian in front of people who were openly hostile towards all conservatives, but especially evangelicals. I now believe melding faith and learning is a lifelong pursuit. The scenery may change, but we are called to live our faith out loud.

For instance, I was teaching my Sociological Theory class last Spring about Mead’s theory of the generalized other. Simply stated, we base much of our decision-making on what other people think we should do. As an example, I showed a photo of my car, a 2004 Nissan Pathfinder with 224,000 miles on the odometer. The theory suggests that we buy cars based on what our peers think is appropriate for us to drive. Next, I showed a picture of a Toyota FJ Cruiser. I asked the class if I could buy this vehicle. They assured me it would be fine. I then showed them a picture of a VW Beetle Convertible, which was turquoise green. It is my dream car, but they said they would never “allow” me to buy such a car. (peer pressure at my age?) I then confessed that I was actually happy with the Pathfinder because it was the way God was blessing me right now…no payments, virtually trouble- free, and when things have gone wrong, I was able to fix it myself. I think our meta-story comes through to the students as we teach, so I try to be very deliberate and show God as the foundation of my story.

2013 IFR Grant: Meet our writers

Congratulations to the five members of the ETBU faculty who received grant funding through the Intersection for Faith & Reflection Grant offered by the CECS. We look forward to your contributions to this blog in the coming months as we examine the relationship between reflection and our faith.

Read more about the Faith & Reflection Project…

CECS-Scholar-Winners39

Dr. Mark Miller, Dr. Catherine Cone, Dr. Jennifer Bashaw, & Dr. Laci McRee
(also receiving grant funds is Dr. Stan Coppinger – not pictured)

 

The Intersection: Where Faith & Scholarship Collide

Greetings! Welcome to The Intersection — the online space for the Center for Excellence in Christian Scholarship (CECS) and ETBU. In support of the CECS Vision, The Intersection provides an outlet for the ongoing discussion centered around the question of what it means to “create and participate in scholarship that embraces a Christian worldview without compromising in the pursuit of scientific truth and intellectual inquiry” (CECS Vision Statement). Our hope is that this blog will become a place for scholars to reflect and share their ideas on the issues of our day.

The idea for The Intersection came from a series of grants that have been offered by the CECS in recent years. The first, 2012′s The Intersection of Faith & Discpline, explored the connection between faith and academic disciplines by requiring the grant recipients to “design an instructional model for examining the intersection of faith, disciple and application outside the classroom and/or outside the regular limitations of classroom discourse” (IFD Grant 2012). In Spring 2013, 5 grant recipients have been selected to participate in The Intersection of Faith & Reflection. These recipients will be asked to begin posting weekly to this blog as they reflect on their faith, their disciplines, and their classroom experience. To learn more about the IFR Grant and view profiles, go to Faith & Reflection Project. These bloggers will be the trailblazers for our blog and establish a framework for future postings.

We’re glad you’ve found us and hope you’ll make an effort to follow along as we begin our blogging journey. Have questions? comments? suggestions? Write to us at cecs[at]etbu.edu or post a comment below.

With great anticipation for the future,

The Intersection team