Archive for December, 2004

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

December 13, 2004

I am amazed at the eagerness with which some attack the very things they depend on. I know individuals who will argue until they are blue in the face that rationality is based on a purely illusory construction, and that real knowledge can never be reached. As a consequence, they argue, no one should ever contend that their view over any issue is necessarily the right view because such knowledge is impossible. Everybody just has their own “community” with its own set of values, and truth apparently is a product of those communities, so that there is no real right or wrong. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

What gets me is the disdain and condescension with which the same individuals will then chide you for not agreeing with them on this issue. They ask you, How can you be so antequated? How can you hold to such an exclusivistic frame of mind? What right have you to claim that you know the truth about this issue or that? How dare you! You must be from a red state!

I wonder if it ever occurs to these guys that if they were to be consistent in their inclusivism, their relativism, then they would have to make room for me and my exclusivism, my absolutism. The one thing that relativists cannot tolerate is intolerance. Absolutism is absolutely, always, and unarguably false. Even though real truth and falsity are just illusory. And no one person can claim to know any better than any other. Except maybe the relativist. Aaarrrggh! Wake up and smell the hypocrisy!

More often than not, such platitudes (uttered by those eschewing platitudes) are offered by young men and women who love to attack the wealthy and successful for being wealthy and successful. People with resources are necessarily evil because of their resourcefulness. The ironic thing is that those righteously indignant individuals have never considered to what extent their own education (which taught them to think this way) has been subsidized one way or another through the wealth of the wealthy. In fact, one way or another, their very livelihood is dependent on the resourcefulness of the resourceful. But they trek merrily along, crusading against the hand that feeds them, like one on a quest for truth, justice, and well, any other way than whatever is American. Except that the only truth they can argue for sure is that truth either doesn’t exist or it is unknowable. Except maybe to them, or at least their college professors.

Which brings me to the Christian protester. I happen to be one, in a sense. But I protest those things which are contrary to the standard that is held before me. Man cannot live by bread alone, but lives instead by the revelation of God’s mind to him. Man is sustained by the speaking of God. This implies that a.) such speech is possible and can be perceived by Man, and that b.) Man is at least enabled by God to receive this self-disclosure and can live by it. I live by this rule and believe that I can know the mind of God. Little else would give me peace in this crazy world we’re in. So wherever I find men living contrary to that which God has said, sure I will protest. Even if it means running into the house of God and turning over tables and chasing out salesmen with a whip. What goes on in there matters to me too much to sit idly by and say, Oh well, that’s just “their path.”

But when someone turns around and begins to distance himself or herself from the very disclosure of God’s mind upon which he or she depends, there’s just nowhere good to go. You can only go downhill from there. Take a moral issue, for example. Just pick one. What does the Bible say about it? And I don’t mean what does your Sunday School teacher or favorite author say the Bible says about it. I also dont’ mean go find a single proof text to cling to and oversimplify the issue. I mean what does the Bible, taken in its entirety and taking into consideration its natural inherent diversity over centuries of its development, say about that issue? Once you have responsibly worked to the bottom of that, then hold on to what you find there. That’s bedrock. You can live on that.

Men were not meant to live in water, they were meant to live on land. An appreciation for the complexity of most moral and social issues is a good thing, and not enough people have it (certainly not enough Christians). But there is a bottom line somewhere, and you can find that line in God’s disclosure of Himself to you. We have a revealed faith, one that does not depend on what social mores or norms are hip at the current time. Don’t turn around and say that the very thing that gives you knowledge of the transendent mind of God cannot be trusted simply because it was written a long time ago, by specific communities. Dont’ bite the hand that feeds you. You’ll end up starving in the end.

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How can they ALL be ADHD?!

December 8, 2004

Man, I gotta tell ya. I teach middle schoolers, and I believe most teachers agree that 14 year-olds are the most difficult age to teach, bar none. But there’s something else here. Many of my students are so ADD that they can’t even follow the plot of a 90 minute action movie. I’m not even sure they can keep attentive through an entire 30-second commercial. To get right down to it, I don’t believe that the problem here is that they need a clinical diagnosis and medication. There’s something more pervasive than a handful of children with special needs.

These kids (and I mean the majority of the class) seem to have a basic and deep-rooted inability to focus on anything at all. Reading with them is a complete joke. Things are hard enough due to there miniscule vocabulary. But these kids, who have somehow passed SEVEN prior grades in elementary and middle school, can’t seem to follow a simple analogy, or properly label a part of speech, much less grasp a plot or character development in a simple story. Reading aloud stumps them completely, but following along while somebody else reads (no matter how good their inflection) seems so far above most of them that it seems like a complete waste of time. Now imagine assigning them a reading assignment. WHATEVER!

Okay, so you get that I’m exasperated. But this problem undergirds every subject I teach. It’s not enough that I already feel like I have to put on a red nose and big shoes and dance around while I lecture. Whenever I assign a reading assignment, followed by review questions, they read the questions only, scan for keywords in their reading assignment, then write whatever the first few words are that follow and assume they’ve done the assignment. They absorb not one iota of the chapter. Then when I review them for their test, they complain that they’ve never heard this stuff before. For cryin out loud! Okay. Enough of that for a bit.

Teaching seems like it’s getting harder each year. While I should be getting better and better each year, I feel instead like the crop of students is getting dumb and dumberer. I am forced to choose between two unattractive options: 1. Dumb down what I am teaching them so that they only get a small fraction of what I believe they need to know in order to succeed in college and in life, or 2. Fail half the class in an effort to “keep the bar raised” where it should be. Oy!

Teachers just don’t get paid enough, ya know? My salary is approximately half of what my family needs to cover current expenses. Unless this situation changes sometime, We’ve got us a pretty screwed up future for our country. That’s just my opinion, of course.

Why Christmas is so great, and so awful . . .

December 6, 2004

Have you noticed that most people either hate Christmas or else they love it? It’s either a time of great joy and anticipation or else deep sorrow and dread. I’ve got a guess as to why that is.

I think that the historical significance of Christmas destines it to always be either the aroma of life or else the smell of death to most everyone. Even though the holiday has been almost buried completely under layer upon layer of myth, folklore, marginally relevant symbols, and retail megahype, from somewhere underneath the surface there shines some kind of light from another place.

Listen to the songs. Even the ones not about Jesus are for some reason filled with hope. There is a distinctive ring of happiness and excitement, whatever the reason, in almost all of those songs. But why? And where else in this day and age are you likely to find something having that effect on the moods of people even though covered with a pile of flippant distractions? What else under our current culture’s interpretation of life would afford us some reason for hope? Christmas speaks of hope and promise, and grace.

Which is why, paradoxically, Christmas is so depressing to so many. When everything inside you tells you that this should be a perfect time, full of joy, but that joy is thwarted by something, it only makes it worse that everything around you seems to say that you should be having a merry time. Nothing makes you feel worse than feeling depressed when everyone around you is having a blast (or at least pretending to be). Every misfortune becomes more tragic at a time when everything is supposed to be fantastic. Now at the risk of pouring salt on a wound, I’d like to tell you a couple (or three) reasons why I love Christmas.

We learned that God can come in the flesh. In fact, Mary’s revelation was only the beginning. She was unique in that she was chosen to carry the Savior of the world in her womb, but we are called to know what it’s like to carry him in our own selves as well. It is no less an incredible thing to find out that you are “favored among many” yourself. God is still here in flesh, but now it’s yours and mine.

Another reason I love it is because of the music itself. I mean even the notes. Just listen to the beauty inspired by this season. Men and women have been moved to express things by this event like none other. What other moment could inspire the Hallelujah chorus? Or Jesu, Joy of Men’s Desiring? Or O Holy Night? Or What Child is This? Something larger than life is cracking through our pitiful little mortal beings when those notes are sounded, I’m sure of it.

One more thing. How about a season that makes us leave work for several days and travel all the way back to our families of origin in order to celebrate just being together again? What else in our culture causes so many to do this? No matter how little you’ve spoken to your Mom, you’ll be home for Christmas, or else you’ll agonize over wishing you could be. I think that’s fantastic.

Life’s too short to chase shiny things

December 5, 2004

Allow me to give you a piece of advice, grasshopper. Life’s too short to chase shiny things. By shiny things I mean the things you think you want: a big house, a nice car, nice clothes, white teeth, six-pack abs, bling-bling, or the latest gadget. I’ve got news for you: it gets old. Whatever it is, it will break, or rust, or just lose its appeal in a short matter of time. Maybe it’s less tangible, like the best job, or some coveted social status, whatever. It’s not going to do for you what you think it will do. Let me illustrate.

I know a millionare. He’s over forty and still good-looking. He’s got a perfect smile, a winsome personality, good hair, two or three gigantic houses, several hunting camps, and who knows what else. He’s married to one of the most beautiful women you’ll ever meet and has four of the most physically perfect children a person could ask for. He’s also a deacon at a megachurch. And last I checked, his wife was asking for a divorce. In fact, if I recall the details, they have quite a miserable tug of war going on right now.

I also know another guy. He makes such a puny salary that last year he had to sign his kids up for Medicaid. He doesn’t own many nice things. He can’t afford to take his wife to really nice restaurants or on vacations . . . in fact he doesn’t really make enough to afford the babysitting required to take her out much. Which reminds me: He has three of the most beautiful, intelligent, entertaining little girls you’ll ever meet, and a wife who can set him straight with one glance from her piercing blue eyes. And you know what? He’s really happy. I mean he’s contented with life at a deep, deep level. Aside from wishing he was four inches thinner around the waist, this guy has a level of satisfaction with life that most guys just dream about.

What I’m trying to say is that you can really enjoy a life that is invested in things that matter. Why pour hour upon hour, week after week, serving extra time on business objectives or some other chimera when you might have someone (or several someones) to whom you are the greatest hero in the world . . . just by being around. One of my favorite movie moments is the one in Frequency (starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid) once the main character gets his dad back. He has restored to himself a fortress of strength that will change his life forever. That’s what a dad (or mom) can do for a child. I can imagine few more worthwhile adventures than that one.

Do you realize that everything you work at day after day could be gone in a flash? Even your own life is little more than a vapor on this tiny little planet. Like I said, Life’s just too short to chase shiny things. They really don’t do it for you, anyway. Find something bigger than yourself to worry about. You’ll be way better off.

Coincidentally, after I wrote this I came across this article from a financial advisor online. Check it out.

Busy Dad starts blog with "spare time."

December 1, 2004

What does a thirty-ish dad with three small kids, a wife, and a job do with his non-existent free time? Start a blog, of course! Why not?

What interests me with the whole blog phenomenon is the fact that people from every corner of the globe, from multiple slices of society, choose to post their deepest thoughts and mental ramblings onto a completely public forum. Now some guy in Bangladesh can see into my inner soul. But do I need that? Does HE need that? What makes this a worthwhile activity for people with lives, families, jobs, and hobbies?

We must be very lonely. Why else would hundreds of thousands of people spend hours each week reading about what concert a teenager in Milwaukee just went to, and who she kissed? Or why allow yourself to be dragged into the mental chaos of some 45 year-old man’s midlife crisis? We must be very, very lonely.

If Tom Hanks’ character on “Cast Away” felt the need to personify a volley ball while stranded on a desert island, I figure millions of people around the globe feel the need to spill their guts to complete strangers on the other side of a glowing computer screen. Interesting.

So why not wade into the pool? I’m game. Fact is, I’ve got a thing or two to say, anyway. People sitting across from me at the lunch table may not be that interested in what I have to say, but you might. And of course, if you don’t like what I have to say, you’re just a click away from turning me off. Now that’s a pretty cool concept. If only real conversation worked that way . . .

Until next time.