Something Brave (or. . . The Performance)

Theatre performance, in its most basic form, requires an actor, a space, and an audience.  Historically speaking, I can’t think of a single deviation from those requirements.  But a good performance requires something more.  Something brave.

It requires vulnerability.

When you step out on that stage, as a performer, you expose yourself to ridicule, critical rants, disapproving looks, and a hundred different authorities on your craft.  It takes a thick skin to smile in the face of the critic and thank them for their input.  Do I believe that all performances should be praised?  Heavens no!  But I do think that there is a tactful way to praise the effort if you cannot praise the result.

Almost, Maine by John Cariani demands raw and honest performances

Almost, Maine, by John Cariani, demands raw and honest performances

One of the most telling paragraphs I’ve ever read about actors in performance is from a textbook on improvisation.  Greg Atkins, in Improv! A Handbook for the Actor, writes:

As an actor you must be aware of everything that is occurring onstage.  You must know your lines, your character, and your blocking.  You must instinctively wait for laughs to die down, find your light, smoke convincingly, make sure the safety is off on the prop gun, and hit your musical notes.  You must check your spacing in the dance number, quick change your costume and your character, maintain your accent, pick up the glass that happened to fall off the table, and be conscious of the other actors as well. (7)

That’s a pretty comprehensive list, though I’m sure anyone who has ever acted in a play could add a number of additional details to that record.  And it can be a ridiculous amount of stress to juggle.  Some people thrive on the stage.  Some buckle under the pressure.  Some know no fear; others must be coaxed onto the boards.

Bold.  Terrified.  Insecure.  Fearless.  All of the above.

Urinetown

The Act I Finale of Urinetown, the Musical by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman

Whatever you are, you must be quick.  Quick thinking.  Quick problem solving.  Quick recovery.  Quick analysis.  Quick inventory.  Quick adjustment.  Quick ad-lib.

And natural.  The audience must never know there was a problem—though the big ones are hard to mask entirely.  Ah, the thrill of live performance!

In our work, we must tap into emotions that we hide in public every day.  On stage, we act in ways that are questionable, admirable, laughable, and even damnable.  But these are the characters we explore.  We work hard to portray them, but they aren’t wholly us.  Just because we examine their choices doesn’t mean we condone them!

The climax of Iphigenia 2.0

The characters make tough choices in the climax of Iphigenia 2.0 by Charles Mee

In our training as actors, there are several different “methods” of learning (not to be confused with The Method made famous by Lee Strasberg).  I’ve always looked askance at any teacher’s declaration that the methodology they teach is the only one that results in success.  And I encourage my students to explore and try different approaches to acting, finding the one that best suits their needs and individuality.  Should it be driven by inner truth or physical action?  Or both?

Are there those I prefer?  Certainly.  I will always encourage my students to read and study Konstantin Stanislavki, Sanford Meisner, Uta Hagen, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau; I will also share with them my personal concerns with the aforementioned Strasberg.

There are classes on emotional realism, movement and dance, voice, Shakespeare, physical technique, improvisation, musical theatre, stage combat, auditioning, the Greeks, commedia dell’arte, and film.  Chances are, if it can be used as a tool or defined as a style, someone somewhere teaches a class on it.

Honestly, I am a huge advocate for taking as many classes as you can because the body and voice are our instruments and they must be in good working order.  You must learn to act with your toes as well as your eyes, with your spine as well as your speech.

But the best instructors for acting are experience and life itself.

A scene from our December 2014 production of Proof by David Auburn

A scene from our December 2014 production of Proof by David Auburn

Experience will teach you how to recover from a costume malfunction, a set change mishap, or an actor’s missed entrance.  It will teach you how to hold for laughter and project your voice.  You’ll find the best routines for memorizing lines and warming up for a show.  Distractions in the house will be dismissed as if they weren’t there at all.  And you’ll gain confidence with the routine of rehearsals and performances.

But life . . . life will school you in a way that deepens your performance to a visceral level.  There are reasons why King Lear and Willy Loman are not played by young men—why Phaedra and Amanda Wingfield are not young women.

Yes, there are those out there with amazing natural abilities who rise to dominance in their teens and twenties.  And those performances will ripen with age, if they stick with the discipline and LEARN.  But, natural ability will only take you so far.  At some point, you have to hone your craft and strengthen your technique.  The value lies in the work.
And I want my students to grow in their craft with each passing year—driven by determination, buoyed by experience, and shaped by life’s difficulties.

So we work hard at this trade called acting.  And if we do a good job, maybe you will walk away with something profound, something new, something provoking, or something stirring after the lights have dimmed.

That’s our hope.  Always.

TEL

You teach???

Ah, the two word question that I have found myself answering for the last four or five years… “You teach?”

I think I first encountered a version of this question as I talked to my sister about my new job here at ETBU in 2011. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I’ll be the Manager of Instruction & Information Services for ETBU.”

Sister: “What do you actually do in that job?”

Me: “Well, a large part of it involves teaching students about information and the library.”

Sister: “Oh no, you’re going to be like that boring library lady that used to come to our college classes.”

That exchange has become a part of my narrative when I venture out to classrooms and introduce myself to students for the first time. I always let them know that one of my goals in any instruction session is to not live up to the “boring library lady” stereotype. I think sometimes I succeed… other times, it may be a toss up!

All that to say, that yes, librarians (especially instruction librarians) teach.

I’ve mentioned before the I tend to acquire random things in my travels. One such trinket is a small, brown paperweight that occupies a space on my desk.

This paperweight has high expectations.

This paperweight has high expectations.

Full disclosure, I purchased this as a reminder for myself when I was still teaching language arts in the middle school classroom. That’s right… you can’t scare me. I taught middle school and I liked it. At the time, I think I probably used this as an encouragement that what I was doing mattered and was somehow to contribution to the world. But today? Some would say that this belongs with my boxes of classroom teacher stuff now that I’m a librarian. While my role has shifted and the “teaching” often happens in a different context, I keep this out to remind myself to reflect on what it is that I’m doing and how it makes an impact on the world around me.

Photo Credit: HAMED MASOUMI via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: HAMED MASOUMI via Compfight cc

To answer the “you teach” question, let me first acknowledge that some of the impetus behind that question stems from a general misunderstanding of the librarian’s role in the 21st century. Back in the day we were the gatekeepers – we had the stuff and you had to come through us to get it. We amassed literal towers of information in areas that were referred to as closed stacks – just in case you didn’t get the picture. Now the gate has been flung wide open and there are even places where the fence is down. Perhaps it is because I’ve only been a librarian in the time that is sometimes called the Information Age, but I am excited about this shift (although, I’ll admit that having the title Official Keeper of Information would be pretty great).

While some seem to think that the Information Age has made librarians obsolete (HA!), the truth of the matter is that if anything, having a librarian there to help you navigate the tidal wave of information is that much more important. The extensive changes in the ways we access information should be giving librarians a more active and vital role within the context of learning and the research process. For today’s student, the research process has gone rogue and is full of moving parts that can simultaneously make it the most accessible and daunting time in our information history.

We librarians used to be the keepers of the information… now we are more like the guides in the information jungle.

When do librarians teach? It seems obvious to say that instruction librarians teach when they are called upon to provide information literacy instruction to students. We generally are asked to teach what we call “one-shot” sessions in which we attempt to provide customized information literacy instruction that will enable the student to make key connections with their own research questions, their discipline’s epistemology, and the specific information landscape for their discipline. But what about the other times that a librarian teaches? Librarians teach one-on-one (sometimes saying the same thing many times a day) with students when they meet with us at the reference desk (or on our chat service, or by text, or by email…). One of the things that I love about this job is that on any given day I could have taught someone something about the information in nursing, business, and biology all in the same day. If I could count the number of one-on-one citation formatting sessions I’ve taught… well, let’s just say the APA and MLA manuals and I are good friends (Turabian and I are still on an acquaintance level in our relationship).

Is it the same as being a classroom teacher? As one who has done both, I’m comfortable with admitting that it is not the same… but it is still teaching. Do I refer to myself as a teacher? Not usually. Despite the misunderstanding of the evolving librarian profession, I still find that the title of librarian fits what I do best.

But do I teach like the world depends on it?

That’s the goal. Maybe not the entire world. But my little corner of it? I hope what I do and how I teach makes an impact on the world. I keep this little brown paperweight on my desk to remind me as I build my lesson plans or meet with a student individually that I believe this to be true – the world depends on the information concepts that we librarians teach. And, hopefully keeping this sentiment in mind as I teach helps me steer clear of becoming “that boring library lady.”

What about you?Do you teach like the world depends on it?

EDP

Some Things We Don’t Get to Know

One of the first sentences that I learned to string together was apparently, “I can’t know that,” when I didn’t know something. I can know that I said that because many family members and people who knew me then like to remind me of this fact. It may have been cute toddler babble then, but I can’t don’t know… I’m starting to think that I was on to something. While “can’t” might not be completely accurate, I’m convinced that there are some things that we just don’t get to know.

Early in my career as a teacher I realized that while I worked hard to assess what my students were learning, there were some things that I would not be able to witness them achieve beyond the context of my classroom. Anyone who has taught for more than a year knows that once the students leave your classroom, you often never know where they are going to end up or even what, if any, impact you have made on their lives.

Some things we just don’t get to know.

"George Washington Carver c1910" by not listed - Tuskegee University Archives/Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington Carver c1910” by not listed – Tuskegee University Archives/Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This past weekend I spent some time thumbing through my third and fourth grade yearbooks. I was on the hunt for the first name of my third grade teacher, Ms. Hoskins. Unfortunately, the yearbook editors only listed the adults in the yearbook by Mr., Mrs., or Miss so-and-so. The information hunt continues.

I was searching for Ms. Hoskins’ first name because I was preparing for the reading that I will present at the upcoming annual African American Read-In event later this month. I’ve selected a few poems from a collection by Marilyn Nelson titled Carver: a life in poems. The Ms. Hoskins connection comes in because she is the first person that I remember telling me about the contributions of African American scientist Dr. George Washington Carver. I can remember being fascinated by Carver’s story and amazed at how his innovations had shaped the world I lived in. Ms. Hoskins was the first person to teach me about her alma mater, the Tuskegee Institute, and told stories of the incredible accomplishments of its graduates. She made an impact on my life in that third grade classroom. Here I am over two decades later recalling the things that she taught me about the world. And I wonder… does she have any idea that I remember what she taught me?

Some things we just don’t get to know.

Fast forward to early in my career as a librarian. I was working the reference desk one afternoon when the phone rang. We were well into the Google era and so we didn’t really get a lot of genuine reference questions via the phone. One that day, though, someone needed the assistance of a reference librarian. The exchange went something like this:

Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

“Reference desk. This is Elizabeth, how may I help you?”

“I need to know what the gestation period is for an elephant.”

“Okay. Just a moment and I’ll look up that information for you.” (meanwhile, I’m… Googling the gestation period of an elephant. Yes, sometimes we use Google too.)

“The gestation period of an elephant generally lasts 20-22 months depending on the species.” (I also would have told her the source that I used)

“That’s what I needed to know. Thank you.” (Click)

What just happened here? Did I just help in determining the due date for an elephant? The caller gave me no information about why she needed the information. Was she using this information for a purpose other than satisfying her curiosity? What made her think to contact the local librarian for this information in the age of the internet?

Some things we just don’t get to know.

Today I often experience this phenomenon of not knowing when I help a student with a research project or speak to an entire class. Many of my interactions with students are boiled down to somewhere between a 3-minute online chats and a 50-minute one-shot instruction session. Knowing the nature of the job does make me more intentional about forming relationships with students when I am able. Still, there will always be the fact that I don’t see the end results in much of my work. I get them started on their research, but rarely see the final paper. I teach them about the ethical use of information, but I don’t get to see how that plays out for them in practice. As teachers (and teacher librarians) we usually don’t get to see the rest of the story. We plant seeds that we may never have the opportunity to see harvested.

Some things we just don’t get to know…

…And yet, the older I get the more I find that I’m okay with some of the not knowing. 

Admitting that I’m comfortable not knowing something in this world where we pride ourselves in knowing things seems a little risky. After all, I’m a librarian. I’m supposed to be excited about knowing things. And I am… most of the time. I used to think that the uncomfortable thing was not knowing the answer; that was until I got to things that I just flat can’t figure out – things I can’t know.

The Apostle Paul wraps up his well-known writings on love to the Corinthians with a discussion on things that we don’t get to know… yet.

“We don’t know everything, and our prophecies are not complete. But what is perfect will someday appear, and what isn’t perfect will then disappear. When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know  everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.” 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 CEV

There are still so many things that I don’t get to know. Does Ms. Hoskins know that what she taught to a poofy-haired, snaggletoothed third grader has influenced what I will share with the ETBU community later this month? Highly unlikely. What in the world was that elephant phone call about? Beyond satisfying idol curiosity, I have no idea. What stuck in the mind of the student who sat on the third row of the class that I taught two weeks ago? I haven’t reviewed my assessment data, and so at this point I can only hope.

Let’s take it up a notch. Why do bad things happen? For that matter, why do good things happen? Does what I do help his kingdom come? What is God like? Well, as Paul says, I do have a fuzzy picture. I guess the comforting thing is that while I don’t get to know some things now, God knows them, and hopefully there’s a big YET at the end of some of things I just don’t get to know.

EDP

Composition and Coffee beans: How owning a coffeeshop made me a better professor

PaperFew here in East Texas are aware that when I held an assistant professor position at a sister university I owned a small coffeeshop in downtown Plainview, TX. My wife and I had a grand idea to purchase and remodel a mid-century diner to take on new life as a gourmet coffee shop and local hang-out. Just as she was finishing her bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech we purchased the building, completed renovations, and opened in time for a new school year. I would maintain my full-time teaching job while she ran the family business.

Two months later a small hiccup left me running a new business fulltime, teaching a full load, and my wife at home with severe morning sickness that left her bed-ridden. Her aversion to strong smells—coffee being her least favorite—forced me to actually strip down and jump in the shower before I was allowed to greet her from a long day at both jobs.  So, I became the sole proprietor while my wife took on the equally challenging task of a mother to one, and then a year later, two children. Even though those six years number among the most challenging years of my life, I learned a number of important things that have made me a better equipped college professor.

Now, there are a few obvious elements of owning a coffeeshop that may well serve an English professor. The endless supply of fresh and delicious coffee left me with all the energy I needed for late night grading and early morning classes. The proximity to the lives of students who frequented my shop and were employed as baristas allowed me a unique role in educating and training them in and out of the classroom. And, my position as a small-business owner allowed me a unique perspective by which to teach my freshmen students the ins-and-outs of professional writing.

Yet, the most valuable thing I learned from owning a coffeeshop is something that is more profound, but less obvious.  It is a lesson that plays a critical role in my approach to teaching at a small, faith-based university.

When my wife and I first opened our shop, we, like most independent coffeeshop owners at that time, found our inspiration from Starbucks, the world famous coffee purveyor that introduced the American public to Italian-styled coffee drinks like the espresso and the cappuccino. We set our menu options and our prices to reflect our similarity with the chain. We were proud when customers compared us in a positive way to the coffee giant. And, even while we strived to create products that were superior in quality, we knew that we owed a great debt of gratitude to the big guys for every dollar put in our cash register.

However, over the course of our six years in the business things changed drastically, not just in our coffeeshop, but in independent coffeeshops around the nation.  These coffeeshops adopted what has become known as the “third wave.”

latte artThe “third wave” approach to artisanal coffee is characterized by promoting sustainable growing practices, purchasing beans directly from farmers—a practice that pays fair prices and cuts out the middle-man—and pursuing careful roasting methods that enhance flavor without burning the coffee (Most third wave coffee is lightly roasted).  It is also associated with alternative brewing methods, like the pour-over, that celebrate the inherent uniqueness of each coffee variety. Baristas began pouring latte art and talking about the specific flavor qualities of single-origin beans—beans from a specific lot of an individual estate rather than beans from a given nation, like Columbia.

Small coffeeshops took on practices that not only produced the best product but were healthy for the local and global community. And, those small, independent shops are really the only places capable of providing that level of quality and that amount of positive community interaction.

Small, independent shops that embraced the “third wave” approach have become so numerous and popular that the large corporations are now trying to emulate them. Starbucks now has pour over coffee and serves a “blonde” roast. Chick-Fil-A now serves coffee that is advertised as purchased directly from small, family farms. And, latte art now makes regular appearances in Hollywood blockbusters and on the packaging of grocery store creamers.

So, as a professor at a small, faith-based university, this observation is the most important thing I have learned from the coffee business. It is the observation that a group of purposeful, highly-trained and creative individuals that dedicate themselves to their craft can operate a successful venture and provide a valuable and satisfactory service to its proprietors in ways that challenge the establishment. What if the small, faith-based university could approach education in the same way that independent coffeeshops approach coffee?

As a professor at ETBU I know that if we embrace the best practices of education we can provide the highest standard of education to our students. But we must also ask ourselves what we can do better. How can we best utilize our role as a small school that has a high teacher/student ratio to provide better small-group instruction? How can we push the educational envelope in fresh and meaningful ways to provide students with a quality of education that they can’t get at one of the big guys? In what ways can we use our model to train our students and give them hands-on experience for service to both the local and global community? How can we make the small university education cool again?

DS

Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!

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

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

Watch this Video : http://youtu.be/8H48vMYu1J0

Hillsong United – Oceans (Where my feet may fail)

” Spirit Lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Whenever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

in the presence of the Savior

I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine”

This past Sunday I was introduced to this praise and worship song. I remember thinking back to lifeguard training. We would tread water for 20 minutes straight with our hands above the water in-order to get our lifeguard certification. We started with 5 minutes, then we trained for 10 minutes. Eventually, we mastered 20 minutes. This skill was required and needed for life saving purposes. If I was drowning, I would want a lifeguard that could tread for as long as needed.

This reflective process has taught me that we set standards, we prepare our students for what we know they will need, and we implement strategies to help them succeed. But in reality, we can only prepare them for so much. So much more learning must take place through life experiences and outside of class assessment.

At this time in the semester, I see many of the students treading water with their head just above water. I challenge my students to cherish these moments. Let God use these moments to prepare them for the road of life ahead. To one day be the leader that is teaching others. My hope is that these moments they share at this university will help them to dig deeper in their faith. My hope is that God will take the moments and use them to draw closer to him.

My challenge to myself is the same. I am in my own journey of “treading water” and I know God is going to lead me to a deeper place in my faith. He is going to stretch my abilities and give me the ‘required skills needed’ to make a difference.***


Podcast Update

I have been tracking the progress of the students viewing the podcast prior to class. Six out of 16 students are viewing the chapter podcast prior to or after class.  In addition, the same 6 are completing all assignments whereas the other 10 are just not. Conclusions: if students do not turn in assignments, they are also not likely to read, listen to the podcasts, or come prepared to class.

In order to increase in-class participation, I started posting the discussion questions from the podcast/reading materials the day prior to class and individually assigning them to a question. Most everyone in class shows up with the answer for their question. This has helped in-class discussion and has given the more introverted students time to prepare to speak in-front of other students. It has also facilitated deeper discussion when the student are prepared to talk about the topics.

Although this process has not been perfect or easy, the process has provided opportunities for students to be responsible and mature learners. These opportunities are crucial for developing critical thinking in higher education.

In summary, I will continue to provide opportunities that facilitate in-class discussion and develops critical thinking opportunities. Today it may involve a podcast, tomorrow it may involve video conferencing or some other type of teaching method.

-LM

Top Ten ways to avoid misreading and misleading

Teaching is a difficult and risky business.Bashaw

Of course there is great joy involved in exposing students to new facts, interesting discoveries, and life-altering truths. But when all is said and done, when students leave your class armed with knowledge that may fuel their actions and guide their thoughts for years to come, the scary question lingers, “Was my teaching true?”

James is quite aware of the difficult nature of teaching when he warns in James 3:1-2:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

I imagine that James could have been thinking about his own position of leadership in the Jerusalem church, aware that he had made mistakes in his teaching and his example. Despite the wisdom he showed during the Jerusalem Council in recognizing God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15), he also realized his example (both the good and bad parts) affected many early Christ-followers. If he struggled with the practical acceptance of Gentiles in the church, his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would see that and be affected.

James’ warning about the dangers of teaching is especially appropriate for those of us who teach biblical truths–the pastor in the pulpit, the Bible study leader, the Christian blogger, the Scriptures professor, or any teacher who integrates faith and biblical teaching into her discipline.

Because it is so easy for us to misread and mislead.

It happens to the best of us. All you have to do is follow the blog posts on Facebook to realize that well-meaning and well-respected teachers of the Bible regularly misrepresent what the Bible actually teaches. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who helps Christians manage their finances, has recently been criticized because his “biblical principles” of money management contradict the biblical message about wealth and poverty. Infamous Famous pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has ignited so many blog and article wars with his controversial teaching (especially regarding the subject of women in the Bible and the Church) that a Google search for “Mark Driscoll AND wrong” turns up over a million hits. Even teachers and pastors who have some important, helpful things to say sometimes fall into the trap of irresponsibly interpreting Scripture. And for some reason, it is the bad readings of Scripture that always seem to spread faster and farther than the accurate ones.

So we must be careful teachers of Scripture. It is difficult to interpret the Bible responsibly  and faithfully but we who teach the Bible must take that task seriously and try to minimize misreading and misleading as best we can. In my ongoing quest to become a responsible interpreter and teacher of the Bible, I have learned some important lessons (mostly the hard way!) about reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible.

Here are my top ten ways to avoid misreading the Bible and misleading others:

1) Know yourself. It is important to be aware of your own biases and preconceived ideas when you interpret Scripture. Everyone comes to the Bible with prejudices, formed by nationality, economic status, ethnicity, families of origin, church tradition, experiences, etc. Being aware of these biases helps to curb assumptions and forces an interpreter to consider that his or her view may be pre-formed rather than based on Scripture.

2) Read a passage in its literary context. When someone studies a verse or a passage it is important to read the verses and paragraphs before and after that passage to understand what is going on. The best practice is to also be aware of the message of an entire book so that it is easier to understand the purpose of an individual passage in the overarching story or letter. [as a side note it is also helpful to know the genres of the Bible and read according to genre]

2) Know the history. Interpreting a passage well requires knowledge of the social and historical context in which that text was written. For example, it is important to know that Revelation was written in a first-century Greco-Roman context and that the first readers of the book were experiencing persecution and were being tempted to worship the emperor rather than God. Such information helps us make better sense of the emphasis on worshiping God, the images of judgment for persecutors, and the firm warnings to repent.

3) Be aware that  all translation involves interpretation. Most words in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures do not have exact counterparts in English. For this reason, many translations of words and concepts are close but not perfect interpretations. It is dangerous to base a belief or teaching on one word (say the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23) when our word for head in English has many connotations that the Greek did not have.

4) Recognize the distance between the world of the Bible and our world. When reading ancient literature like the Bible it is important to ask, “What did this mean to them?” and then gauge what differences exist between the world of the Bible and our world. This one of the most foundational skills required in biblical interpretation. A great resource that focuses on finding the meaning of a biblical text in “their” world before interpreting it in “our” world is Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. All biblical interpreters should read a book (or books!) on practical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) before attempting to teach the Bible in a formal setting.

5) Know the whole story. Reading the Bible should not be like eating at a buffet. We don’t get to choose what to accept and what not to accept. The Bible is like a many-course meal, with each part served in preparation for the next. We have to read the whole story, know the whole message, in order to fully appreciate and understand the individual parts.

6) Be open to being wrong. Given that every interpreter has preconceived ideas about the Bible, and given that there is always more to learn about the history and literature of the ancient world, it is vital that we resist becoming dogmatic about our interpretations. Even the most brilliant of theologians and most devoted of pastors change their minds about Scripture as they study more and live more.

7) Read the opinions of Christians who disagree with you. There is great value in listening to and reading interpreters who differ from you. If you are an evangelical conservative, make it a practice to read the works of liberal theologians or Catholic scholars. If you are a Baptist preacher, listen to sermons from Pentecostal pastors and Episcopalian priests. If you are an egalitarian, read complementarians (no matter how angry they may make you!). If you are a Calvinist, read Arminians. Willingness to learn from others has no down side. Such practice can show you new ways to look at a passage, help you strengthen your own views, or open your mind to a new perspective or a new truth.

8) Use words like “probably” and “likely” instead of “definitely” and “without a doubt.” In light of #6 and #7, it is a good idea for teachers to keep their language open to possibility. First, it lets students know that interpreting the Bible well is a process, one that will not end until we no longer see through a glass darkly. Second, in the age of blogs and podcasts, what you teach may be on record for ever; it is always better to leave room for growth and change rather than creating a situation in which you may have to blatantly contradict yourself in ten years.

9) Read other literature. Read ancient literature and Victorian novels and contemporary fiction and poetry and essays and biographies. Read other literature because it makes you a better reader and interpreter of the Bible, which contains some of the most complex and beautiful literature in history.

10) Pray daily and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:26, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” If the apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, who were immersed in his teaching and love and truth, if even these were going to need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them, don’t you think we lowly teachers of Scripture need it too?

jgb

 

 

 

Personal refection

 

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Reflecting on this past semester, I have concluded that I am very critical of myself.

I hold myself and my students to a high standard.

Although this might be frustrating at times, at the end of the day, critiquing myself is what has allowed me to make progress. Having others critique me is also helpful.

This year I am apart of a Teaching and Learning group. Part of this process is getting other faculty to observe a class, and then talk about areas of improvement.

So far in this process, I have gained confidence in my teaching methods. I have learned what other people do in their class, and I have had the opportunity to ask the “tough” questions. My peer group is comprised of three co-workers that I admire for one reason or another. They all have different teaching styles, they all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they all have different on-going issues.

This process has been a lifesaver as a newer faculty. It has allowed me to conceptualize my experience in a different way. Drawing from all the experiences of my teaching and learning group, I have been able to learn and grow from getting to know them.

I plan to continue to critique and improve myself as a professor: to learn from others who have more experience or different experiences than myself; to be secure enough in my teaching to not be wavered by one experience, but sensitive enough to know when to change; to be kind to myself throughout the process; and to be reflective enough to enjoy the journey.

I am thankful God has lead me to this profession. I will do my due diligence to be a good steward of the resources and responsibility that has been given to me.

lm

Real Live Prof

In sociology, our “Big 3” theories are Conflict Theory, Functionalism, and Symbolic InteractiBig 3onism. We use each of these as frameworks to analyze “everything.” Sociologists think they have helpful insight about all things, including society, institutions, and global inequality, all the way down to small groups, families, and our interactions with vending machines. Symbolic Interaction itself has a sub-theory called Labeling.

Labeling theory suggests that we receive labels from significant people, including peers, in our lives as we are growing up. They are like giant bumper stickers slapped on our foreheads. Every time we look in the mirror or think about ourselves, or snap a “selfie”, we see the label. I always ask my students to imagine the biggest kid in 2nd grade sitting down at lunch across from the smallest kid in 2nd grade. The small kid’s mom is concerned her boy will not grow up fast enough, and so she packs extra Twinkies in his lunchbox. The biggest kid’s mom is concerned her boy is already too big, so she packs him carrots and celery instead of dessert.

One day, the big kid looks at the little kid and his Twinkies, and says, “I love Twinkies”.

The little kid hears this and fearfully shoves them across the table and tells the big kid, “Here, take mine!”

The big kid takes them and enjoys them. Both kids just got labeled: Bully and Wimp. The big kid soon learns his size and burgeoning reputation can help him get all the Twinkies he could want while the little kid soon understands that he must supply whatever the big kid wants.

Another thing about labels that I always try to include in my lectures is that negative labels stick best. I often ask my students to try and recall some negative label that their parents or teachers gave them. It is amazing how the pain and shame of a careless or mean word uttered by an authoritative person can easily flood back in on us as we so easily remember those words from years and even decades ago. I can tell my daughters every morning how beautiful, sweet and smart they are and it will barely stick. I can say one time in a lifetime that they are ugly, sour or stupid and they will remember those words forever.

The power of a label comes from believing uncritically that the labeler knew what they were talking about. As soon as we do the labeled behavior, we hear the labeler say, “See? I told you that you were_________.” Eventually, we live “down” to their labels and agree with them.

So, imagine my surprise as I went to Senior Chapel last week and was greeted by a person passing out colored markers. He had written negative labels on his arms. As the program began, I was amazed to hear person after person talk about their labels that had been stuck on them: porn addict, drug abuser, judgmental, masturbator, etc. As they talked about their labels, a common thread began to emerge. They said that only as they confronted the labels and their own sin and asked God for healing, forgiveness and recovery, did the labels begin to come off. This is the key point I always make with my Loser Selfieclasses: the only way labels ever come off is with the grace of God. It is the very rare person who takes the negative label as a challenge and says to their critic, “You think I am loser? I will show you and become a winner!” 

As we were entering chapel, we were offered pens as a way to remind us to get real, honest and even transparent with each other about our labels. I happened to be sitting by two students during the Senior Chapel and when they heard we should write labels on ourselves, they got excited. They offered to write labels on me…ouch!