Reflecting on Reflection

I’ve said this all along and believe it even more so now that I’m on the other side of my own attempt at blogging – to blog is a brave thing.

Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano via Compfight cc

A blog asks that I invite you as the reader into my thought process. Not only am I being asked to reflect on the things that I do and why I do them, I am asked to share those things with the world. Reflection requires that I be vulnerable and honest with myself. Reflection via blog ads an extra layer of vulnerability on top of that.

Dr. Stephen D. Brookfield is well known for his work within the field of critical reflection and reflective teaching. My background in education taught me that as a classroom teacher one of the important things that I needed to do after teaching was to take some time to reflect – how did my lesson go? Did the students learn what I intended for them to learn? What should I change the next time I teach these objectives? What worked really well? What completely flopped? But, as you probably are aware, knowing you should do something and actually doing something are two very different things. Since the concept was taught to me in my educational methods classes, reflection has consistently been the thing that I knew I should do, but if I was going to let one thing slide in my lesson planning and teaching that would be it. Brookfield calls this “teaching innocently.” The word innocent makes it sound nice, but the truth is that it’s actually a pretty naive way to approach teaching and life in general.

In this case, to teach – or to work – innocently means that I assume that I’m always in the know about what is going on. It assumes that the things that we do – the way I explain a database search, the way that we organize information, even the objectives that I try to cover in a given class  – always do what we intend for them to do. It sounds like a laissez faire approach to teaching and to life. The truth is that a lack of reflection can lead to ongoing frustration. When we don’t reflect we don’t have a way of understand the whys of when we do well or when we fail. In a sense, teaching innocently or living without reflection keeps us from knowing how to recreate the good and to change the bad.

Now that I have fourteen blogs under my belt, these are a few of the things I’ve been reminded or reconsidered during my semester of reflection -

  1. This blogging thing is harder than it looks. I admit this fact to my bloggers as we begin each semester, but there is nothing like trying to do it yourself to drive home a point. The process of blogging in academia takes a careful balance of guts and discipline – two of which things that I often find myself in limited supply. Writing here is a delicate dance of – This is what I want to say. Can I say that? Does that make any sense? It’s what time?!
  2. The process is worth more than you think. Yeah, yeah, I’m supposed to reflect. I’m in an environment that stimulates me to question the world around me. I knew that reflection was good for me both personally and professionally. I’ve been surprised to find that reflecting on the blog (and weekly the impending deadline) has caused me to be reflective in other areas of my life. Along the lines of what David Splawn pointed out last week, writing a blog means that you are constantly on the look for things to write about. This semester I’ve found myself thinking about classroom experiences, the science of information, and how my faith influences my service as a librarian more than I can remember doing in the past.
  3. We all bring something unique to the table. Having followed this and other blogs like it for quite some time, I kind of already knew this one. Still, this semester has been an excellent reminder of what we can learn from each other. I’m no fan of vulnerability, but the truth is, the more that we are able to share with each other the more that we are able to understand. We have such a diverse body of knowledge on this campus, but it is so easy (and often tempting) to stay  in our own disciplines. This blog has given glimpses into the world of theatre, english, religion, communication, biology,  leadership, kinesiology, and sociology in ways that I would never be able to experience otherwise. I can’t know everything and while I learn from experience, I’d like to learn from your experiences too. Friends, I am grateful for the sharing.
  4. None of us gets it all right all the time. This is where the vulnerability thing really stands out. Engaging in reflection does point out the things that we do well – those are the things we like to talk about. I need to remember what worked and what didn’t. I need to think about why one thing worked with one class and totally fell flat with another group of students. Reflection reminds me that I’m not perfect – it also reminds me that I’m not terrible either.
  5. Not just a job, it’s a calling. Sometimes in the day in and day out we forget. We forget why and for whom we do the things that we do. I’m so immersed in my discipline of information science that I rarely take the opportunity to step back and look at what this library thing looks like from the outside world and how/if it makes the impact that I think it does. Reflection has helped me think about my every day tasks in light of the bigger picture of what I love (and don’t love)  about my profession.
Photo Credit: Gigi Thibodeau via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Gigi Thibodeau via Compfight cc

One last anecdote I’ll share before I sign off for the semester (I’ve also been reminded that I’m can be a rather long-winded writer):

Earlier in the semester I ranted about hearing someone on the radio talk about the anatomy of a chicken egg and mistakenly claim that there is an umbilical cord in said chicken egg. If you read that blog, you need to know the rest of the story (cue Paul Harvey). Weeks later I received a letter from Grace, the child I’ve sponsored through Compassion International for six years. Gracie draws me pictures of things she sees around her or things that she is learning in school in each letter that I receive. I kid you not, this last letter that I received had a nicely drawn, correctly labeled diagram of… the parts of a chicken egg. I cannot make this up, people. Through Compassion, Grace is learning valuable life skills that help her understand the world around her. Meanwhile, reflection is helping me find connections in the strangest of places and reminding me of all that I still see through the mirror dimly.

EDP

What I have Learned About Writing from Writing

On the penultimate (What a great word. How often does one get to use that word?) blog for this semester I would like to reflect on the activity of writing from my perspective as a faculty blogger this semester. Before I do, keep in mind the following:

1)      I have taught freshmen writing courses for ten years now, on average of four courses per year. There are things I teach my students in class about writing that I have repeated so many times I am beginning to put myself to sleep.

2)      In my chosen profession I write more pages than the average citizen, along with a book-length dissertation I have written numerous essays, articles, journal entries, emails, and job letters. And, I am expected to maintain a certain level of writing activity. Even if our small, liberal arts university has not adopted the publish-or-die mindset of research institutions, I understand how important writing is to my professional development.

3)      I have spent more than half my life in higher education, as a student (Don’t ask how long I took to complete my doctorate) and as an educator. There have been a lot of teachers and colleagues along the way that have passed on instruction and wisdom about how to be a good writer. I still hear Dr. Ann Hawkins’ voice ringing in my ears every time I put off my writing activity until the next day, “Write early; write often. Write early; write often. Write early; write often.” One of my least favorite professors whose words nag at me like a toothache.

The truth is, though, you cannot grow as a writer unless you force yourself to write on a regular basis, at least weekly, preferably daily.  This is why I chose to take on the task of blogging this semester. I know that, in order to be good at anything it is essential to practice that thing. I regularly employ the analogy of writing to training for an athletic event to remind my students of the importance of practice in the pursuit of quality writing. More than anything, I hope to cultivate the discipline of writing in my own life, and I don’t mean just for my professional life.

So, here are a few things to consider about writing, not from a writing teacher, not from a professor, not from a lifelong student, but from a person who has spent the last 15 weeks writing this blog.

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1.       Never underestimate the importance of approaching writing as a process.

Early in our academic life, we develop some very bad habits, the worst being writing a paper the night before it is due. Even if the peak of our academic career is high school graduation, I will guess that we have all succumbed to this temptation, even though every writing teacher, always, will tell students to allow plenty of time for revision. I admit, a couple of my blog posts were written within 12 hours of submission. I also know that the best blog posts, those that reflect my best work were blog posts I worked on a little bit everyday over the course of the week.  The process must include prewriting—planning, researching, organizing, etc.—drafting, and revising. Leaving one of these steps out can lead to a poor and ineffective writing product.

2.       You must carefully consider what informs and inspires your writing.

First, the subject and content of what you write about is something that you should be thinking about constantly. When I am really invested in a blog post or a paper, I will think about it all the time, especially during down time, as I am lying in bed at night, driving in the car, or watching my kids play outside. I discover new approaches to organization, draft sentences, or anticipate my conclusion, among other things, in those moments when I am not actually sitting down at a computer participating in writing. Those are some of the most valuable moments for drafting a piece of writing.

Second, you must understand that there are ebbs and flows of writing production, based on a number of factors. Sometimes I find inspiration for writing in something I have been thinking about for months. Sometimes it is something that comes to me the week the blog is written. Sometimes inspiration does not come and I must write about something that is simply necessary to my own professional existence or personal thought process. Keep in mind, sometimes writing, even a blog  post, is not about you. It is about the subject, the thing you are writing about. It is good to remain true to your own interests or passions, but sometimes things just need to be written about. For example, the Quran is not my primary field of expertise, but at this point in history, if my students are not exposed to a basic understanding of that text, then I am doing them a disservice. So, I teach it in class, I wrote about it, and I encouraged them to read it.

3.       Writing is primarily an exercise in thinking.

This is the simple truth about writing and the reason why we teach all those dreaded writing classes that students must overcome in their academic journey. You will never learn about anything more than the things that you write about. When we sit and think about a subject enough to write about, it changes us. That’s also why writing is so challenging at times. It is hard work. It’s weightlifting for the brain. But, that is also why writing is so important, so valuable for a true education. I wish my students would understand and embrace that fact. For that matter, I wish our society would embrace that fact. We are slowly losing the oh-so-valuable assumption that writing is a skill that we should embrace and cultivate simply because we are humans.

DS

Christology and the Close-up: God is in the details

I have discussed in previous posts the religious value that film holds. When most audiences strike up conversations about religion and film, our discussions usually begin with recent films like God’s Not Dead, Son of God, or Exodus.  Or, we might also talk about films that are seemingly void of religious content in order to point out the moral and spiritual degradation of our society—The Wolf of Wall Street or Fifty Shades of Grey come to mind.

Yet, these conversations do no justice to the religious potential that film has. Film does not offer viewers a religious experience based primarily on content—moral, religious, or otherwise. The spiritual depth of film lies primarily in the subtle power of the language and conventions of film, the close-up for example.

Let’s take as our case study two Christ-figure characters on nearly opposite ends of the Christological spectrum: Willem Defoe’s Jesus from Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Brandon Routh’s Superman from Brian Singer’s Superman Returns (2006).  Of course, one character represents an adaptation of the New Testament Jesus Christ, while the other is a comic book adaptation of a messianic hero. Both are textbook examples of cinematic Christ-figures. And, as cinematic Christ-figures, Jesus and Superman contribute to the dialogue on Christology. How we depict our messiahs in media speaks volumes about how we view the Christ of our theology.  I argue that the Christological depth of these two characters is found in the subtlety of the films’ close-ups. If we take a quick look at a couple of shots from both films, we will see an important Christological distinction between the two characters that illustrates the true power of film.

First, in the opening sequence of Last Temptation, the film introduces the character of Jesus with a bird’s-eye shot of him lying in a fetal position in the dirt followed by a close-up of his face as he wakes from his disturbing dreams.

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The camera takes the perspective of someone looking down at Jesus. He is wearing earth-tones and literally wallowing in the dust.  The fetal position suggests he is born not from heaven, but from the earth. His hair is disheveled and his face is unshaven. And, the voice-over speaks of torturous visions and self-loathing.

In contrast is one of the early sequences of Superman Returns in which the audience is allowed a peak at Superman’s personal musings, his own thoughts of what it means to be a savior. The camera begins from a perspective of someone looking up at Superman as he floats above the earth. When the camera moves to a close-up of his face it maintains this low-angled perspective. Superman is depicted as the perfect specimen of heroic humanity with his perfectly coiffed hair, his piercing blue-eyes, and his clean-shaven face.

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vlcsnap-2015-03-06-09h22m32s83In these two sequences from two different Christ-figure adaptations the audience is invited to embrace either of two sides of the dual-natured Christ. The Last Temptation invites the spectator to identify with the humanity of Jesus in a way that no other film has done before or since. We are asked to not just assume that Jesus is human because he takes human form, but we are invited to relate to the sniveling, self-loathing, tortured soul of Jesus as he writhes in the dirt. This fact is probably the real reason why the film is so controversial. For, while the dream sequence depicts Jesus getting married and having children, it is the film’s constant and subtle reminder of Jesus’s unabashed humanity that sits so awkwardly with Christians who hold Jesus high as an object of worship and reverence.

Yet, it is the “secular” film of Superman Returns that depicts a Christ-figure that Christians feel more comfortable with. He is a Christ who hovers above us, eagerly waiting to come to our aid because he has the supernatural power to do so. He is good and perfect and above us, both morally and literally.

Last Temptation depicts the humanity of Jesus. Superman Returns depicts the divinity of Christ. And, both films do so, not just in the grandeur of moving-making magic—the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the makeup—or in the totality of the plot, but in the simple and subtle use of the close-up.

This is what endows movies with such potential for providing powerful religious and spiritual experiences: the cinematic progression of images that are able to express things that simple words cannot.

The renowned film critic, Andre Bazin states in one of his early essays that, “The cinema has always been interested in God.” For Bazin, that means that the most successful depiction of religious matter in cinema are films that do not overtly attempt to represent the divine, but those that deal with the psychological and moral aspects of faith instead. In other words, it is not the direct and manifest depiction of divinity that resonates favorably with audiences, but the more indirect and metaphorical approach of simple film conventions, like the close-up.

So, next time you are watching a movie and feel your heart tugging you into a moment of religious reverie, take a close look to notice the subtlety, the small things on the screen and revel in the real magic of movies.

DS

 

Providence and my Fancy Watch

At an early age I was taught about the providence of God. One of the first verses my mother had me memorize was Romans 8:28—“And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). Knowing that God has good plan for our lives is one of the simple aspects of faith we begin to teach our children.

So, when did I forget the simple, yet oh-so-important, concept of providence?

whole world in his handsAt what point during my “grown-up” time on planet earth did I stop believing that God has a good plan for my life, that he cares about all the little day-to-day things that concern my attention?

I am not sure, but I did forget.

I became aware of this fact this past August when my wife and I moved to Marshall.

It all began the day I lost my watch.

Now, the watch in question is not your ordinary Timex from Target. It is special. It is valuable because of it price—at least 15 times more than I have ever spent on a watch—and because of its origin—it was a gift from my wife’s parents on the day I completed my PhD.

It is the kind of watch that I have always wanted, but would never buy for myself. It is the kind of watch that says that I am a real grown-up, serious about telling time. It is the kind of watch I imagine passing down to my son (which one, I haven’t decided).

So, sometime during the dark hours of our first night in our new home, my watch was quietly removed from the console of my unlocked car in our driveway. It was devastating. I knew that it would be a long time before I could afford another watch like that. I knew that I could also never replace its significance as a gift. I was disappointed, to say the least.

We did all the things you are supposed to do—called the police, asked the neighbors if they saw anything, visited pawn shops, reported the theft to the insurance company—and there seemed to be no hope of ever finding the watch.

After word got around to the neighbors, my colleagues at work, and my family members I remember repeatedly hearing the same phrase from several people, “Oh, I will pray that you find it.”

That phrase, even though I am a God-fearing, Jesus-following, Providence-believing Christian, seemed ridiculous to me.

My educated, grown-up mind told me that it was gone, either sold for easy cash or it had become a permanent part of the wardrobe of the thief that took it. How would prayer miraculously bring the watch back to me? The possibility that God would convince the thief to bring it back or somehow keep it safe in the pawn shop until I arrived to get ti was not just unlikely; it seemed an impossibility to me.

It also seemed absurd to think that God, who must concern himself with all the troubles in the world—starvation in North Korea, wars in the Middle East, poverty in the city where I live, or the plight of small children suffering under unimaginable oppression and abuse—would be concerned in the least bit with a stolen watch.

I told my wife after hearing the “I will pray you will find it” phrase from one individual that I did not want God to give one thought to my watch. It seemed downright selfish to even imagine that God should care about one silly watch, just because it meant a lot to me and I asked him for it. I told her that I would not even pray for God to give my watch back.

But, I prayed it nonetheless. The watch means a great deal to me, and I wanted it back.

The ironic thing is the timing of the missing watch. You see, my wife and I had spent the better part of two years trying to find God’s plan for us. As I neared the completion of my degree we sought out God’s will for us on a daily basis, constantly fretting about where I would get a permanent job, where we would settle.

At the very moment in which we finally found a home, I lost the watch and was not just convinced that I would not find it; I was also convinced that it was too small a thing for God to be concerned with.

The lost watch represented my own questions about the nature of God’s plan for my life. Does God really care about the plan for my life? Does he even care about the little things, like a lost watch?

This lost watch was a synecdoche for my lost soul. That’s a fancy word we English professors use when a small part of something stands in for or represents the whole.

If I really believe that God did not care about my watch, then how could I believe that God did care about the direction of my life?

Eventually, I was calmly resigned to the fact that the watch was lost forever. I was not mad at God. I was just certain that sometimes bad things happen; we move on. It wasn’t God’s fault because it really shouldn’t be any of his concern.

fancy watchWell, as you can see from the picture, that is not the end of the story. One evening, several months later a neighbor came to our house and brought the watch to me. She had found it inside the bushes in front of her house less than a block away from our home. It seems that the thief had a change of heart for whatever reason and tossed the watch away. It lay there gathering dust for months, not a scratch on it.

I have spent a lot of time trying to answer the questions that come to mind when I think about the loss and miraculous return of my fancy watch. Why was it taken? Why did the thief not keep it? Why did several months pass before I found it?

I can’t help but imagine all the tiny little events that happened to ensure that the watch was returned to me. If the thief had understood its true value or completed his/her malevolent plans, it would never have been left behind. If it had fallen outside the bush, it could have been gobbled up by a lawn implement or found by someone else. If my neighbor had not been one of those people who said, “I will pray you get your watch back,” she might not have remembered that it belonged to me.

But, none of those things happened. What did happen is that God saw fit to return the watch to me. And I am grateful.

The best thing about the watch, though, is not how well it tells time. The best thing is that when I look at the time, I am reminded that God does indeed care about my life, even the little things.

DS

Is there a Happily Ever After, Daddy?

One night while putting my kids to bed I opted to tell them a story, rather than read them a story. The difference is subtle. When I read them a story, I read the words on the page and show them the pictures illustrating the narration.

When I tell them a story, I put into my own words a given story, usually a fairy tale or bible story, from my own memory. No pictures illustrate the narration, but for some reason they love it. Maybe it is the sound effects I add or the fact that every time I tell a given story it is a little different from the last.

Whatever the case, they now prefer stories I tell more than stories out of a book. Just between you and me, I am beginning to run out of stories.

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One of our favorites is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  I admit, my version probably does not remain entirely faithful to the classic tale—Goldilocks eats pancakes or oatmeal, not porridge (What is porridge anyway?).

Yet, just like the original, in the end the Bear family discovers Goldilocks asleep in their home.

I honestly don’t know what is supposed to come after that, but to contemporize the story I used to say that the Bears call the police and have her arrested for trespassing. Perhaps that is not the best ending for small children, so now I narrate that the Bears unite Goldilocks with her parents who have been desperately looking for their daughter lost in the woods.

In order to capture the meaning of a story about a lost girl who finds safety and aid under the hospitality of strangers, I end the story with something like, “And Goldilocks returned home safely to her family who had a party because she was safe and well.”

Last week after concluding the story, my daughter asks me, “Did they not live happily ever after, Daddy?”

Now, anyone who lives with small children in the 21st century understands how my five-year-old daughter has been so indoctrinated with Disney fairy tales that she just assumes that every story is supposed to end with, “And they lived happily ever after.”

But, how should I answer that question?

Not wanting to verbalize all the thoughts that went through my head without thinking about the best answer, I answered her with a quick, “That’s not how this story ends, but she and her family were happy to be together again. Good night, I love you.”

Lame, right?

Ever since she asked, I can’t get that question out of my head. I sense I may have missed one of those important moments, a moment where I have an opportunity to teach my child something about the way the world works. Or, about the true meaning of happiness. Or, about anything of value instead of just trying to get her to go to sleep as quickly as possible.

But now that I have had a few days to think about it, I have a couple of responses.

My first response to her question comes from my framework as a literature professor. I read and teach stories for a living, and anyone who has ever sat in my class knows none of the stories I teach end with “happily ever after.” In fact, most stories in any recognized academic canon of literature do not end happily at all. So, my first answer could have been, “No, a lot of stories don’t end with happily ever after. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

My next thought was much like my first. As a “grown-up” pushing 40 I am well aware of the way life goes. I considered answering with, “Nope. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Thankfully, I had the wherewithal not to verbalize either of those responses. I sense that a father should not pass on to his child such a cynical view of life at the ripe age of five.

The side of me that prevented me from giving my first two answers, though, is not simply ruled by common sense. It is that part of me most influenced by my faith.

While nowhere in the Bible does the phrase “happily ever after” appear, there are some important aspects of the Biblical narrative that embody the values of the fairytale ending. The fairytale ending is not merely about happiness; it reflects the simple hope that we can experience all of the best things life has to offer—love, well-being, health, personal success, and the full realization of our individual role in our community.

Therefore, what is the Garden of Eden if not the original plan for happily ever after? And what is heaven if not the ultimate realization of happily ever after? And, we can’t ignore the 28th verse of the 8th chapter of Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

If we can say anything about the Biblical perspective on “happily ever after” it is this: God’s original intent and ultimate hope for mankind is to experience all of the perfection that he created for us. In understanding Romans 8:28 and knowing what our Father has in store for his followers in afterlife, we can say that God intends a “happily ever after” for all of us.

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Furthermore, if I am completely honest with myself, I still believe in fairy tales.

Certainly, I am a cynical grown-up and a critical thinking academic. But, when I think of the joy and fulfillment I find in my marriage, in raising my children, in going to work everyday, and in the pursuit of my faith, I am convinced that if there is a “happily ever after,” then I am living it.  And, I most definitely hope that what I model in my roles as father and husband demonstrates “happily ever after” to my children.

Yes, life does not work out how we plan. Yes, there is a lot of everyday-stuff-of-life that makes us unhappy. Yes, we all experience loss and regret. Yet, those things don’t prevent me from believing in God’s great plan for all of us, that he wants “happily ever after” for all of us.

So, next time my daughter asks me whether they lived “happily ever after” my answer will just be, “Yes, they did.”

DS

 

The Frosty Road

Our campus verse for this year is Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Always acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.

I memorized that verse so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. I used to have these book marks in my Bible when I was 5 or 6, and that verse was on one of them.

I used to read it when I got bored in church…

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Today, for whatever reason, while thinking about that verse and what it means especially for us right now, a campus in search of a new president, I also thought of the famous Robert Frost poem.

So, while considering this verse in my new favorite translation style, the New Living Translation:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

I decided to reread one of my favorite poems…

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

All of a sudden, something (God, or the Holy Spirit, or my 6th grade Sunday School teacher) hit me!

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Obviously, the two roads are the roads of good and bad… faith and sin… trusting God or trusting ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am often sorry I can’t travel both. Try one out for a while, then rewind and do it all over again? If there weren’t any consequences? That sounds pretty nice sometimes, don’t you think?

Don’t we all most times take the road of sin for as long as we can until it grows in on us, fills up with undergrowth, and we have to turn back towards the light of God? Only to look back and realize we NEVER want to go down that road again?!

God’s road and the path to salvation are sometimes not the most popular. Here at ETBU we do a good job of making those roads seem well traveled and easy, but the truth is that they aren’t. Unfortunately, God’s road is often the road less traveled by, but as Frost says, taking that road often “makes all the difference.”

AML

The Truth is Out There

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www.CGPGrey.com

A few days ago we had an interesting discussion in my Communication Studies Research Methods class (at least I thought it was interesting!)

We were talking about epistemology: what counts as knowledge, how do we know what we know.

Photo Credit: David T Jones via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: David T Jones via Compfight cc

Some people think that observing people counts as knowing; some think that you can’t know something that isn’t measurable; others think that unless you can prove it, it’s not true.

This is a big debate in research methods of all kinds, but especially in Communication Studies. So, naturally, we talked about it in class!

But then I started asking questions of the students.

“How do you know what you know about God?” “Can you believe things have to be proven and still be a Christian?” “If you think observation is knowledge, how can you observe God?”

They had puzzled looks on their faces and took my questions as rhetorical.

The questions continued in my head.

How can I think that each individual experiences each situation uniquely if I know there is only one true God? I think there are multiple truths out there, but I certainly don’t think there are multiple gods. Is it ok if we all read the same verse but come to different understandings? Does that make someone wrong?

I’ve thought these things many times before. Especially in grad school when we were continually pushed to find our place in the Research Methods world.

What do you think counts as knowledge? What do you think counts as truth?

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Photo Credit: romana klee via Compfight cc

Before ETBU, I have always been part of secular schools where we DO NOT talk about God. Especially in the classroom. So I never got to really hear anyone else’s take on the issue. And I still have questions.

Is there a Christian way to research? (Click to Tweet)

Is there a satanic way?

My Research Methods students know that I am a qualitative researcher –  I am more interested in individuals’ unique experiences and perspectives than I am in finding the mean and standard deviation of an experience.

Simply put, I’d rather know what something means to you than how you feel about it on a scale of 1-7.

It’s easy to say that I’d like to know your personal faith story – because I would! And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with different ideas about different verses. As long as they’re not too different…

The place where I get stuck is reconciling these two beliefs:

1. I believe in One. True. God. And that His son came to earth to die on the cross for our sins. No question. No perspective. Just truth.

2. I believe everyone socially creates their own reality through communication and that everyone’s experience is their own truth.

Contradictory? Maybe… I don’t think so, but I can’t explain why.

Do any of you struggle with questions like these? Have you come up with any conclusions?

I come back to James 1:5 -

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

Thoughts?
AML

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

Thankful

When you ask a professor to reflect on and blog about her experiences in the classroom, expect there to be a bunch of grousing about students’Bashaw laziness and lack of commitment, and some lamenting about the moral decline of civilization, as seen in the youth of America.

And maybe I have done a fair amount of complaining as I have pondered the intersection of faith, teaching, students, and society this semester.

However, as I reflect on my job as an educator-counselor-learner-mentor-pastor-motivational speaker, there is much more for which I am thankful.

  • I am thankful that God has allowed me to work in a career that demands constant learning, that challenges me to get better and know more every day;
  • I am thankful for the privilege and challenge of teaching the Bible, in its messiness and glory, and for the opportunity to communicate my love for Scripture with my students.
  • I am thankful for daily deadlines (and I also curse this!), that I must keep on top of things and strive for excellence not just for my own improvement but for the education of others.
  • I am thankful for the constant interaction with young people, which forces me to learn how to tweet, compels me to learn new colloquialisms (that’s ill!), and keeps me in touch with the challenges and contributions of this up-and-coming generation.
  • I am thankful for flexibility of my classroom, that my teaching need not fit into a rubric or someone else’s expectation. I can lecture or use pod casts or facilitate discussion or show youtube clips or encourage journaling or sing songs or have confession time, depending on what best communicates a particular subject to my students at a particular time.
  • I am thankful for the teamwork involved in a university setting, that professors and administrators and maintenance crew and IT and cafeteria workers and student workers and resident directors all work together for one noble goal–to provide the best education for our students.
  • And I am thankful for my students: students who are trusting enough to listen and learn, who are brave enough to show vulnerability in the classroom, who are caring enough to support their peers in their needs, who are committed enough to be leaders even in their young age, who are strong enough to overcome all the challenges they face in their personal and private lives in order to remain committed to education and to their faith in the midst of a distracting, discouraging, sometimes dream-crushing world.

For all these things, and all these people, I am truly thankful.

jgb

Collegiality

// Collegiality:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

One of the best lessons I have learned through this reflection process is to learn from others. Other professors in my department and outside of my department have extended wisdom, and support at times when I needed it.

I used to think that I encountered “unique” issues and situations. I have learned through this reflection experience that we can learn a lot from talking to each other.

It is not weakness to seek others for advice… it is wise to seek those who have the experience and knowledge.

This past week I was approached by a student about a moral/ethical question. I gave her advice, but I could see that it was difficult for her to take the advice because of her current life experiences (don’t worry it wasn’t anything bad or life threatening… it was minor and won’t really make a difference one way or another).  But, the best thing about this encounter is that I saw myself in her. I saw that sometimes I ask advice from more experienced faculty, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding that advice.

I grew a lot from this encounter. It showed me that I can learn a lot from others if I just take the time to understand that my colleagues have that advice to offer. I understand that I am in my own growth process as a professor and that it may be at a different place than other people. AND that’s okay…

I can see myself maturing as a person and as a professional. I don’t do things the same way I did my first year of teaching. In five years, I probably won’t teach the same way I am teaching now. There is nothing wrong with what I am doing now but I hope to learn and to grow.

I am grateful that I am surrounded by co-workers that work together. I hope to continue to grow from using a collaborative approach to evaluate my actions a professor. I plan to be that peer or mentor support to future faculty.

We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other.

lm