Because life is a series of edits

Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Bonding with Barry

In Politics on October 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Anybody watch Obama’s infomercial Wednesday night? It was a whole family kind of deal at our house. I thought it was well-done and engaging, and Obama was as eloquent as ever.

I really like Obama as a person (or perhaps more accurately, as a personality), and marvel at how someone to whom I so enjoy listening is also someone with whom I so strongly disagree (more on the “how than the “what,” though that wouldn’t be true for all issues).

I think we could be friends, Barry and me. We’d disagree, but we could be friends.


Is the Unexamined Friend Not Worth Friending?

In Friends, Internet, Technology, Thought on October 26, 2008 at 8:37 pm

About six months ago, I reached the point where the people whom Facebook thought I might know were ones I didn’t. This bothered me then, and still does now.

According to Facebook, I have 369 “friends.” Yes, yes, I know most of these people, but I only really know a handful of them. My overall list ranges from old high school classmates to high school students I now have in class; in between are a few friends from college, several others from years in Colorado, a bunch of seminary folks, a few acquaintances from church, and various and sundry individuals who I’ve never met but still felt guilty about not “approving” them when their friend request came in.

One could call it “forced friendship” – like what a shotgun wedding must feel like (minus any responsibility and, well, the shotgun) – but it’s really neither (forced or friendship). The sooner we come to understand this, the better we might realize that we are the ones to blame for our superficial idea of what being a friend means.

I used to not approve requests from people I didn’t know – at least not without a quick message back asking how we knew each other. I stopped doing this as it seemed too snobbish, but I’m not sure the alternative has any more integrity. Is it better to seem accessible to people you have no reason or plan to engage with, or do you say “thanks, but no thanks” on the front end, perhaps coming off a little precocious at the beginning, but at least authentic to actual reality?

For most of us, our teleology tends to have everything to do with the value of Facebook (or any other social network on the Internet, for that matter), but it seems there should be a more humanity-valuing principle and approach to the dilemma than just a utilitarian/egoistic tendency regarding it. Where’s Socrates when we need him?

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus accept all Facebook friend requests, or would he only accept ones from those he chose? The analogy breaks down from a theological perspective (at least from a Calvinist systematic), as only those whom Jesus initially chose would choose to add him as a friend anyway, so never mind.

Forget the question of stealing bread to feed your family; never mind the ethical intricacies of mercy killing and war. To accept Facebook friend requests or not – and then whether to secretly “unfriend” later – this is what this ethics teacher wonders.

(Note: For another take on the topic, try “The Facebook Commandments” at Slate).

“Just” Words?

In Church, Thought on October 22, 2008 at 7:22 am

We’ve had quite a discussion on the topic of, well, discussion, specifically that of teenagers and their misuse of “like,” “kinda,” “sorta,” etc. To clarify, the point I feel needs reiterating is that we are not trying to nit-pick kids’ language to death at the expense of being able to speak into their lives; rather, we are trying to care about who they are (and are becoming) as a whole person, which requires caring about their language as well.

When does giving grace enable bad behavior? Answer: when truth is removed from the equation. The truth is that our students (and our culture) do not value – nor are held accountable for – properly expressing themselves anymore. No one’s trying to be mean in addressing the issue here, but we are trying to be intentional. Believe it or not, the kids don’t seem to resent it; if anything, I’ve had a few thank me for challenging them on it (probably – and unfortunately – because they don’t get it from other sources).

Now for another can of worms: a perceptive reader (who asked to remain anonymous) sent me an email with this thought:

“Perhaps the overuse (assuming there is some legitimate use) of ‘just’ in public prayer is a religion-based subcategory of this lamentable feature of our vernacular.”

Anybody want to weigh in? Is there something to be addressed here, or do we in the Church “just” leave it alone?

Oxymoron of the Month

In Nature, Pop Culture on October 21, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Over lunch today, I was flipping through the September 2008 issue of National Geographic when I came across the Explorers-in-Residence Program. Hmmm.

Famous, Like, Speeches in Teenspeak History

In Education, Thought, Westminster on October 20, 2008 at 7:45 am

A few of my fellow teachers and I are on a crusade against the misuse of the words “like,” “sorta,” and “kinda.” The goal of “The Movement,” as we are calling it, is to combat what historian David McCullough calls “verbal diarrhea” in one’s conversations. We think of ourselves as fiber for the teenage vernacular.

Last week, we were interviewed by the school paper regarding our cause. As teachers who desire to show as well as tell, we thought it might be a good idea to suggest what famous speeches of the past might sound like in teenspeak. Below is the short list we submitted (feel free to add your own in the comments):

  • “I, like, think, therefore, I am…sorta.” Descartes
  • “Blessed are, like, the meek, for they will kinda inherit the earth.” Jesus of Nazareth
  • “The only thing we have to fear, kinda, is like, fear itself.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • “I kinda have a dream, sorta.” Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “Mr. Gorbachev, like, tear down this wall.” Ronald Reagan
  • “The, like, only thing I can kinda offer is, like, blood, sweat, toil, and, like, tears.” Winston Churchill
I’ll let you know what comes about as a result of our efforts…and if our students still speak to us in the hallways.

A Call for Links

In Internet, Thought on October 19, 2008 at 4:56 pm

In light of the results of last week’s poll (still going on), I’m wondering if any of you would kindly recommend the one non-news, non-political, non-anything-but-cultural/media link you cannot live without. I’d like to add a few to my bookmarks.

Take a Poll That Doesn’t Have Anything to Do with Politics

In Internet, Writing on October 16, 2008 at 6:46 am

I don’t know if you’ve been polled yet this election year (I haven’t), but I do know they’re a lot more fun to answer when you have more than two options from which to pick. That said, I offer my very first Second Drafts poll, in which I ask for your feedback as to what you like/want to read when you stop by here. The poll is painless, you can only vote once, and I won’t see who votes what. So, take ten seconds, consider the options, cast your vote, and check the results. I’m interested in what you say. Thanks.


Walking the Line Between Loss and Hope

In Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Young Ones on October 15, 2008 at 11:39 am

You may not know it (I didn’t), but on July 27th of 2005, Congress proclaimed October 15th Stillbirth Remembrance Day, also sometimes called Stillbirth and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Though you might not know it, today is a hard day for many.

It may sound like a gigantic exaggeration, but almost every couple Megan and I know has experienced the pain of losing a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. Almost every one. Several have lost multiple babies interspersed between having multiple healthy ones; others are still trying to have their first after losing those once conceived.

For whatever reason, we have never experienced this kind of loss. We’ve had some scary moments – our first-born had serious surgery when she was four after a lung collapsed because of pneumonia; our third-born came out blue from having the cord wrapped around her neck during the end of her delivery – but we’ve never lost a child through miscarriage, stillborn birth, or SIDS. This, of course, has nothing to do with us, just as losing a child has nothing to do with those parents who have.

Though I use the language because it’s familiar in our vernacular, I’m no fan of the phrase “losing a child” or of the word “miscarriage,” as both imply blame that is wrongly placed on expectant parents. The idea that a pregnant woman has “lost” or “miscarried” a baby implies she once had total and complete power to keep and carry it to term. Which of our female friends misused that power during her pregnancy? None. Which of our male friends was party to such misuse? Not one.

For those who want to cast blame, our biology – or more accurately, our fallen biology – is the culprit, not God. God does not cause loss; God restores. God is not evil; God is good. For those who have recently lost a child or are still struggling with pain from years ago, Romans 8:28 (despite the cheeseball greeting cards misapplying the verse to any and every audience) offers hope to soothe heartache:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

The Scriptures tell us that even in the loss of a child, God somehow brings good out of the worst of pain; even when he is often blamed for it, he is at work redeeming these most heart-breaking experiences brought on by the sin of our representative parents, Adam and Eve. We lose our children because we lost our true humanity; each of us is fallen from the glory of perfection in which our parents were first made.

My friend and ethics co-teacher, Larry Hughes, and his wife lost their second child to stillbirth. They named him Sean and had a memorial service in his honor. This morning, I asked Larry what his thoughts were on that day and how he processed the grief he and Nancy felt years ago. He said this:

“To my mind, a key Scripture passage is David’s response when Bathsheba loses their child in 2 Samuel 12. Because of David’s many psalms reflecting his belief of being with God always, I think the response ‘…he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped…I will go to him, but he will not return to me‘ is encouraging not only theologically but personally. I think and believe that this, when coupled with the character of God, reassures those who lose their children in childbirth, SIDS, abortions, or in whatever way, that God does indeed take those on to Glory.”

David speaks of going to his son in heaven, but recognizes his son will not return to him on earth. He resigns himself to this reality (as evidenced later in chapter 12), but not before having resigned himself to the hope of reunion with his child. The Scripture is a bittersweet but beautiful passage of promise, one that records both David’s loss as well as his hope.

Many couples we know have gone through this same double-resignation. Our role as those who support believing parents in their grief should not be to rush them through the pursuit of the second (resigning themselves to the fact), nor to question the legitimacy of the first (resigning themselves to hope of a reunion). It’s a fine line to walk, but maybe there’s a couple who needs you to try with them today.

Harry Potter for Presbyterians

In Books, Church, Seminary, Theologians on October 11, 2008 at 7:35 am

The Reformed folk of the world (among others) are gearing up for the release of the new ESV Study Bible on Wednesday. Around these parts (especially if you’re a seminary student), it’s going to be insane. I think of it as Harry Potter for Presbyterians.

This past Thursday, when I arrived at Covenant’s bookstore to work my afternoon shift, I saw 25 unopened orange, white, and black boxes in the back, just waiting to be “received” (the term we use for the process of entering new books into the system before putting them on the shelves). Thinking it might be a good idea to go ahead and process the new ESVs, I giddily asked my boss, Nick, if I could open a box, to which he responded that we’re not supposed to open them until Tuesday.

What!? Wait until Tuesday!? It’s not like we’re going to give away the story! Sigh.

Respecting Nick’s wishes, I received some other boxes of books, periodically glancing through the door to the back and trying to figure out how to get my grubby hands on one of the new Bibles without Nick knowing. I could open a box, take a look, and then re-tape it (unfortunately, our tape is clear and their tape was white); I could open a box and say it was already opened (presumably by Dave, my co-worker who worked the morning shift), but Nick would never believe me (and Dave would never do that).

Nothing like questionable employee integrity at a bookstore that espouses a Christian worldview (or the fact that I teach Ethics for a living at a Christian high school) for irony.

I resisted two hours of temptation on Thursday and survived, but I’ve got another two-hour shift on Monday that will surely test my mettle. Thankfully, I work Tuesday afternoon, so I’ll finally get one (free for employees!) without having to deal with the hundreds of PCAers the next morning who will have camped out that night dressed as their favorite Bible character to be first in line to get their own personal copy.

I’m guessing I’ll miss the bulk of those sitting on the floor frantically reading while they wait to check out, not to mention Nick dressed up like Moses, holding out a copy of the ESV in each hand. I’ll probably also miss all the squeals of surprise at the 200-plus full-color maps and the gasps of joy at the 20,000 notes written by “a team of 95 outstanding evangelical Bible scholars and teachers,” including several of my professors from Covenant.

Indeed, by my Thursday afternoon shift, the store will probably be completely ravaged from the events of the day before, and it will fall to me to deal with all the empty boxes and jostled books. I’ll work my shift knowing that folks will probably still be cuddled up with their new ESV Bibles, refusing to come out of their apartments and homes until they read the book cover to cover. As I’m shelving whatever few copies remain from our massive 25-box order, I’ll smile at the thought of dozens more readers accessing the ESV’s special online resources, reliving the Bible in a kind of digital glory.

It will be a magical day. J.K. Rowling would be proud. And, I think, God will be pleased.

Anybody getting an ESV on Wednesday?

The Problem with Neo-Conservativism

In Politics on October 10, 2008 at 11:32 am

David Brooks hits the nail on the head as to what’s wrong with the neo-conservatism of the past decade (and why John McCain is going to lose the election in November):

“Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.”

I’m not trying to simplify this election into one big class warfare; the Republicans are already doing it. Who have McCain’s “scare” ads targeted this fall? The under-educated audiences who will be afraid of them. Who is Sarah Palin recruiting to send her to Washington? The “Joe Sixpacks” and “hockey moms” of America.

“What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect. Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.”

Sure, I like the idea of so-called “normal” (or “more normal”) people going to Washington on our behalf, but has conservatism come to this kind of intellectual-less existence? If so, let’s vote and get the election over (though I think it’s over already).

Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat, populism can only go so far.

It’s the ideas, stupid.

Cleaning the World, One Door at a Time

In Family, Marriage on October 4, 2008 at 1:58 pm

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

It’s a beautiful weekend here in the Lou, and we’re taking full advantage of it…by staying in the house and doing some Fall cleaning. Between the bookstore and assorted weekend plans, it’s been so long since I’ve been home for an entire weekend that I’m having to pinch myself at how wonderful it feels.

We’ve worked hard this morning – doing tons of laundry, cleaning bathrooms, fixing a dishwasher, and conducting our seasonal toy audit. We’re now taking a break for lunch and, in between trips to Goodwill this afternoon, will spend most of our time in the basement picking up and putting stuff away (it’s a mess down there). If we really get ambitious, we might even tackle the attic because we’re nuts like that.

I love days like this – it’s what at least one Saturday a season needs to be for us to stay on top of things. For better or worse, Megan and I each have a fierce “manic” side to our personalities that kicks in when necessary; unfortunately, landing on that same page of “necessary” at the same time rarely happens, which can be frustrating for both of us in dealing with each other.

Today, however, has been a day of synchronicity, and we’ve gained strength from each other’s mania; mine tends to manifest itself in a obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic way, while hers tends toward a more what’s-in-front-of-me-now, just-get-it-done focus. Thankfully, we made a “big picture” list last night, so we’re not getting bogged down in the details, but instead are making some serious progress on the house.

We’re around this afternoon, so feel free to stop by and check our progress…just bring your own cleaning supplies.

Back to work…

Thoughts from 4 Miles Away

In Places & Spaces, Politics on October 3, 2008 at 6:01 am

It takes me about 12 minutes to drive from our house to Washington University, so it was semi-surreal watching the Vice-Presidential debate held here in St. Louis Thursday night. I thought both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin did well, but would give a slight edge to Palin for holding her own (though little more) on the issues and for better connecting personally with the viewer. Biden seemed much more distant and on the defensive (at least in the first half of the debate – he kicked it in toward the end), which seemed to play well to Palin’s “pit bull” personality.

The frustrating thing about national debates for me is that FactCheck can’t keep up in real-time as to the factuality of what each candidate is saying at every level of detail. While I consider myself a fairly informed citizen, I don’t have time to sift through and memorize voting records. Facts aside, both candidates (Palin especially) came off too “politician-y” in dodging some questions, but when you consider all that they had to cover without making any major gaffes, I suppose that’s to be expected.

That’s my two cents. What did you think?

It’s Up

In Arts, Friends, Internet on October 2, 2008 at 7:28 am

I’m still figuring out the color changes in CSS (anybody know how to do this easily and without purchasing an upgrade for WordPress?), but kudos to Kent Needler for coming up with such a cool new header for Second Drafts.