Sunday, May 30, 2004

Class, repeat after me

0 comment(s)
As an ESL teacher, I have a chance, now and then, to brush up on my English grammar. One term that's rattled in my head for the last few weeks is "phrasal verb." A phrasal verb, as you might surmise, is a verb that goes with some other particular word (usu. preposition, maybe noun). For example, "take out" is a phrasal verb with at least three quickly recognizable meanings: 1) take out the garbage, 2) take out a pretty girl, and 3) take out a loan.

With phrasal verbs on the brain, I realized I may have coined a new pair of them here in Taiwan: "get off of bed" and "get on bed". (Yes, I know "get off" has another meaning, but let's keep ahead of it for now, shall we?) Most people say they "get out of bed" or "get into bed" at such and such a time. Not I. I haven't gotten into or out of bed for almost ten months, in fact. I can't get out of bed because I can't get in to bed. I've gotten off of bed every morning here because I've gotten on it every night before.

But how? Why? Because my bed is not a bed. My bed, as I deign to still honor it, is a two-inch thick mat made of thin horizontal bamboo shafts on one side (for summer) and the other side being covered with puny padding (for winter). Truth be told, my bed is only a glorified section of the floor. I get on this special patch of floor each night and then get off of it a few hours later. Some days I'm chipper and alert; other darker days I guess I just woke up on the wrong side of the floor.

I am a dog

1 comment(s)
I am a dog. Writing is a flea. When it bites, I have to scratch. Once I get that itch to write, I'm done for. It could be five minutes before I have to go to work. I'll write to the bitter end. It could be two hours after when I said, with a yawn, I should go to bed. I'll write till sunrise. Now, I don't feel as bad about scratching my flea bites as I do about my scratching my book-buying itch. But in either case, people usually try to assuage my conscience, pointing out that buying books is a pretty good "addiciton," compared to others, and that if I'm a writer by nature, I should pursue my talent. Maybe so. I feel okay -- until the next flea bite leaves me hungover.

For my health's sake, I'm glad the flea doesn't bite all the time. I asked myself today: what is my muse? What sets me off to write? Some people use a disicplined schedule. Some people need a special room. Some people rely on music. My flea seems to bite at random. And he seems to bound away just as unexpectedly. Although, as I think back, he (she?) does chomp more feverishly at night. Maybe I'm just a nocturnal scribbler. Cake says Satan is its motor. Maybe the moon is my muse.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Transplant 1

0 comment(s)
I posted the following on my other blog first. But it's time to get some furniture up in this new blog wid a kwikness! Enjoy.

Well, isn't that conveeeeenient...!

I recently finished Matt Ridley’s fairly popular The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Perennial 1993). Ridley is, true to the reviews, witty and lucid. But, as much as I wanted the book to be a riveting tour of Darwinian evolutionary biology (no term of which is redundant), the book was actually kind of monotonous. I won’t, can’t, go into details now, but suffice it to say I found many of Ridley’s conjectures forced and simplistic. In fact, whenever I read Darwinian theory, I can’t help but imagine a thinktank of anxious, sweaty comic book writers wringing their smooth hands trying to figure out how X ends up in Y with Z. Sure, their explanations “work" -- but they sure can be hokey and well-isn't-that-convenient at times.

Predictably enough for a nontheist, Ridley is plagued by the inescapability of references to “plan," “will," “purpose," etc. in nature. The more Ridley discussed the interrelated intricacy of nature, the more I thought of God putting all things in order. The grandeur of nature working together, even in some pretty brutal ways, is precisely the point of the doctrine of divine creation. Telling me more about will do little to shake my faith in God’s creative wisdom; quite the opposite. As much as Ridley might liked to have bucked our benign assumptions about nature, his effort was rather tiresome for me, since I already believe in the fallenness -- the selfish competitiveness -- of this world. Evolutionary biology is for the 21st century what journalism has been for prior centuries: a relentless expose of original sin at all levels of life. Is that doctrine really that hard to believe?

It was interesting to note how Ridley often made telling concessions about the arbitrariness of sexual selection -- almost as if something, or Someone, pairs up species and mates for its, or His, own mysterious reasons. I also noted more than once Ridley’s inadvertent descriptions of the (exasperatingly clear) uniqueness of humans in some regards.

The worst chapter -- as I’ve heard is standard fare for Ridley’s books -- was the last. There, Ridley stumbles back and forth over himself trying to make evolutionary sense of the “point" of human intellect. Every other evolutionary pressure we can hypothesize as producing intellect in humans was also present for other species. Why then did this ungainly gift of intellect emerge only in humans?

To reply it was merely a biological accident, an indissoluble just-so story, misses the heart of the problem human reason poses for the Darwinian theory of evolution. According to that theory, all of -- and, crucially, only -- what we see today is a direct result of natural selection by way of mutation + adaptation + evolutionary pressures. That is, we have what we have because what came before us needed to develop it in the face of biological pressures. But the riddle is why we, and we almost exclusively, have an intellect which exceeds any and every imaginable antecedent biological pressure.

Darwinism says nature is parsimonious, stingy; it will provide only what is needed to advance life forms. Imagine Darwin’s nature as a paranoid man covered in odd gadgets and random machine parts. Anyone can come to him for some help with a problem, but it’s up to that person to survive -- or, more importantly, reproduce -- with the help of those gadgets. If you need to open a bottle of wine, nature might give you a shard of metal and a string. He certainly won’t give you a whole corkscrew. “Here, um, try this thing. See if, uh, you can make anything good," mumbles Darwin’s nature, then shuffles off like a psychotic Santa. The problem with human intellect is that its presence is like nature having given one species a whole refrigerator when all it needed was a doorstop. “Thanks, nature," says the hapless Homo sapiens, “but what am I gonna do with this thing? It’s way more than I need." The human intellect evolved (to absurdly advanced levels, no less) before it needed to, and that’s very unsettling for Darwinists. Shucks, it's almost like human reason done got stuck onto a hominid species from somewheres else. I reckon that's a might peculiar.

Ridley’s only solution to this, as of 1993, is that intellect was just an ornate side-effect of a more fundamental development in humans to attract as many mates as possible. (Well, isn't that convenient?) If you can seem witty, and, more than that, can manipulate a possible reproductive partner with your hyperactive intellect, then your hyperactive intellect will pass to more progeny and hyperactive intellects will, in turn, become more widespread. Pete and repeat.

Aside from the difficulty that this scenario requires the target partner also have an intellect advanced enough to respond to intellectual efforts, it’s quite hard to see how the huge surplus of our mental abilities would arise from an evolutionary pressure, which, as I alluded to above, every other species faces: luring mates. Chimps use every means they have to seduce each other, but they sure as Hades don’t compose poetry to do it. Why do we have so much more upstairs when everything else in life uses so much less to accomplish the same things downstairs? In the end, I just realized, a biological explanation of the human intellect slides nicely into the massive corral of evidence for the strong anthropic principle (i.e., that the universe was fine-tuned for human life).

At any rate, I wanted to set to paper an intriguing idea I just came across tonight, care of Edward T. Oakes, S.J. Oakes made a ten-minute reply ( to a professor’s talk at a symposium on the brain, mind and emergentism ( I was most impressed by how manfully Oakes embraced Darwinism and turned it toward the glory of God. To make his point, Oakes adopted an idea from Daniel Dennett, a leading Darwinian philosopher (and pretty snazzy cognitive researcher, to boot). He quoted at length from Dennett’s quite popular Darwin’s Dangerous Idea about “reverse engineering" (RE). RE is the idea that we can infer from a present biological (or mechanical) artifact about the antecedent conditions in which that artifact existed. Dennett’s example is a bird’s wing. In very simple terms, aliens could examine the wing and infer (based on the bone structure and density, feathers, wingspan, etc.) that the wing functioned in an environment of such and such viscosity, up to such and such heights, etc. The heuristic (or, learning) point is that we can learn about an environment by, so to speak, looking in the mirror of an environment’s furniture. The biological point is that something could emerge into an environment only if the environment had room for it, or let it come in. In rather Whiteheadian terms of "process," Oakes mentioned there is an organic interdpendence between a habitat and its inhabitants. A world without an atmosphere simply would not tolerate the emergence of winged creatures, at least as we know them.

Fair enough. But then Oakes made a very exciting move. Basically he asked, “What can we reverse engineer, or infer, about the world based on the presence of human minds?" Just as the bird’s wing requires air into which it can emerge, or in which it can function, so the artifact of present human minds presuppose a kind of “mental air" (props to Oakes) into which mind could emerge. This is basically a Darwinian way of saying minds presuppose Mind (or some kind of enduring “mentalhood" in the world).

Oakes's little insight reaffirms for me the idea that “all truth is God’s truth." I’m not bothered for theological reasons whether Darwinism is a valid theory. I’m bothered more by the many, and increasingly many, scientific and philosophical flaws in Darwinism. If it turns out Darwinism is basically accurate and does shed light on Creation, well and good. But the key question, as with all supposedly “self-interpreting" scientific evidence, is, “Okay, so now where do we go?" We know about the human genome; now what about the other stuff?

Transplant 2

0 comment(s)
I originally posted the following on my other blog (see left sidebar link). But I wanted to add a few extra thoughts to it in this, my new sanctuary of expression. (The Verbarium?)

A writer’s caveat...

Most of us little scribblers are intensely self-conscious, which is also why many writers are so intensely shy about their work. A writer’s confession: I was really hoping to get some feedback about my writings I posted here. I hate to sound wheedling and needy -- but, well, I’m a writer, so I'm wheedling and needy. Humor me or don’t humor; I figured I should be honest.

Speaking of being honest, as some of you know, I’ve put my foot in my (or someone else’s) mouth a few times on this blog. The delicate issue is finding and respecting the boundary between private and public communication. The fundamental problem is that I have a different --apparently very different -- view of the social world. I’ve heard about unspoken rules and common courtesy, but then my eyes start to glaze over and I lose the bead. I guess I have very little skill (or patience?) for separating politeness from inane, insincere human custom. I don’t so much like chit chat. Not only is it usually shallow, but its whole point is to be shallow. Chit chat is what we modern humans invented to keep at a safe distance form anyone else. Chit chat is hypocrisy because it is a sustained effort to feign interest in someone you’re merely checking the meter on. But of course, you can’t just completely do away with chit chat; that would be so rude. Even I have to play the game, and I do --with a grimace.

The same goes for phone etiquette. I hate the hoops we hold up on each end of the receiver to control the pace and content of a phone call. “Well, I’ll let you go." Do people seriously mean this when they say it? You only let someone go if they ask to leave. “I’ll let you go" is a coy way of saying “I want to go." I’ve been tempted more times than I can count simply to say on the phone, “Um, I don’t want to talk anymore, but I’ll talk to you later." Or, “Hey, can we stop talking for now, this conversation is going nowhere?" But you can’t just say that; that would be so rude.

What’s my point? I have little tolerance for banal etiquette. I prefer honesty more than almost any other virtue. Honesty is not simply a clear transmission of information. Honesty is one of the highest forms of intimacy. Adam and Eve lived, for a time, as naked as the bees. They touched each other and they weren’t ashamed to do so. They were honest at every level of their beings. But then they sinned; and now we have chit chat.

Honesty is intimacy, and for me, my blog is a very intimate place. But apparently I can be too honest. I can be too intimate. All I can say in my defense is that that is what writers do. Writers are traditionally such recluses because they must save themselves for the intimacy of honesty. They hide themselves to reveal themselves. They cloak themselves in ink and paper to bare themselves. They keep secrets to keep no secrets.

Secrets. Keeping secrets. That’s one of the hottest buttons in a writer’s life. Most people have a “PRIVATE" file in which they rather quickly file countless experiences and thoughts as “their own." A conversation between friends is a shared experience, so it’s PRIVATE. The general assumption in most people’s minds is that, unless someone explicitly says, “This is on the record," then something is off the record. Most people’s hands cup around life and hoard it away for safekeeping. But writers by nature -- or at least by profession -- almost perversely toss what’s in the hand into the wind. It’s puzzling for a writer to share something only with another person.

But, unfortunately, I’ve learned from painful firsthand experience how uncomfortable it is for some, perhaps most, people to see what they thought was a private or intimate matter sprayed all over a blog. I feel bad for breaking faith; but I feel just as bad for feeling stifled about matters I can only dimly see as a private affair. I guess I have a cynical suspicion that privacy is too often a codeword for insincerity or cowardice.

And when I think of cowardice I think of the suburbs. And I don’t like most suburbs. Most suburbs are whitewashed tombs. Most suburbs are covered cesspools of private sin. Suburban lives are as smoothly and as continually smoothed over as the prim streets cutting through them. The only places I like less than suburbs are gated communities, human-sized Petri dishes of affluence and indifference. You can live in the suburbs for a decade and never know your neighbor. Certainly you could do the same thing in the inner city -- but it would be a lot harder to pull off. In the inner city, you see other people’s laundry hanging out to dry. You hear other people’s lives cutting through walls and alleys. You smell other people’s dinner cooking creeping from window to window. But in the suburbs you see your neighbor only when he wants you to see him; you hear him only when he talks to you; you smell his food only when he invites you over. The suburbs are safe because they are boring. You’d have to live in them for a long time to know why you don’t want to live in them for a long time.

I don’t want my blog to be a suburb. I want my blog to be a place where I want to smell other people’s meals, hear other people’s gripes, see other people’s laundry fluttering each week. I don’t do well in the suburbs; but some people are pretty fond happy in them. I don’t do well with assumed boundaries; but some people thrive on them. I invite you all to crash here whenever you want, to smell my meals, to see my laundry, to vent here -- even if that venting is a request for less openness.

Now I can only imagine how some of you are taking what I’m saying. “Doesn’t he just get it that there’s a line?" Well, no, I don’t just get it. That’s the rub. It is a genuine Christian struggle for me to learn to respect -- by faith -- the fact that not everyone is as garrulous or as direct as I am about most things. As I’ve said before and as I say now, I never write a word on this blog, or anywhere else, with a malicious, manipulative intent. I’m just trying to be honest. It’s genuinely hard for me to see “the line." Not that I’m utterly, or still less, willfully, blind to it. Believe it or not, I’ve kept quite a lot off-blog out of respect for privacy. But, as I like to say, perfection is a thankless job. The problem isn’t the majority of life that I keep off-blog; it’s those few dastardly details that do slip onto the screen.

Maybe it’s paranoia, maybe it’s learning to understand other people’s boundaries, maybe it’s learning to read my audience -- whatever it is, I have a heightened fear these days of stepping on people’s toes (and I don’t just mean on this blog). “Can I mention this?" “Is this too personal?" “Is this private?" Of course, the trouble is that, when the suburban citizen in me is done hemming and hawing, the urban writer in me all but doesn’t care whether something is off-limits. As I said, it’s an honest struggle. For whatever reason, I only dimly care that I sometimes seem offensive. It’s more than a verbal quirk that the opposite of being offensive is being defensive.

I’m enough of a coward in most of my life; writing is the one place I feel I can really stand up. I’m also so socially awkward -- despite how it might look to some of you; writing is the one place I feel I can stretch out and flow. If I had my way, truth be told, I’d take most things onto this blog. Let there be light. Come, let us reason together.

When I write, I don’t expect you to agree with me.I don’t expect you to like what I say. Nor do I expect you to like how I say it. I don’t expect you to tell all. But I do expect you to get in may face if you want to. I love hearing from you. All I ask is for grace. I may seem cocksure and snotty; but ‘snot true. I’m a leaf on the wind. Please just give me the grace to err, to say too much or too little, and then God will give me the grace to grow.

I realize, to my chagrin, that what said might portray me as a selfish, careless confidence breaker. But no: confidentiality is one of my highest priorities. Once I understand something is meant to stay between me and someone else, there it stays. All I'm trying to explain is how insensitive I am to the assumed confidentiality of most interactions. Your secret's safe with me. ;)

Friday, May 28, 2004

I like to touch books

0 comment(s)
If you know me, you know what I mean. If you don't, fear not, your eyebrows will descend soon enough. I've often seriously considered going into the publishing biz. is my porn. I spend hours upon hours (not to mention many dollars) jumping from book to book. It's an almost unmatched way to increase your awareness of what intellectual currents are on the rise. You also hear the responses of "real people."

Liking books as I do -- sometimes, I must admit with shame, to the point of idolatry -- I now and then follow the best sellers and latest "literary phenomena." Case in point: Dan Brown's orgiastically celebrated The Da Vinci Code (DVC). Suffice it to say, Brown's book is one of those rare books accurately called a runaway bestseller. It's so popular in fact, it's popularity is self-perpetuating. As we learned with the approach of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, commercial and media controversy can usurp the objective merits of a piece of entertainment and generate more praise or scorn than a work would have ever otherwise received. DVC is fast becoming a social meme, a glitzy sign of the times. At this point, many people are paying more for the allure of being seen with the book than for the book itself.

Of course, paying more for the allure of owning DVC than for the book's merits isn't too tall a feat. There really isn't much middle ground to stand on with DVC. People either love it or they hate it. Those that love it, even if in the attenuated, modern sense of "love," defend the book as "thought-provoking," "well researched," "entertaining," "convincing," "intriguing," "believable," and the like. The sad fact of the matter, however, is that the book is, both from an academic and a literary perspective, none of those things. As one writer put it, the plot is a clunky pretense for Brown to pontificate, via his polymath protagonist, about, well, whatever Brown would like to hear himself say. People rush from location to location -- and then talk and talk and talk for pages about pseudo-intellectual "what if?" stories.

More than this, the book does aim, despite Brown's veneer of matter-of-fact scholarship, to be controversial. Brown repeatedly follows facts beyond where they take us, more than once even turning his back on them completely in his adoration of the long-repressed "sacred feminine." Brown pulls few punches about the supposedly dominant political and financial agenda of the Catholic Church in inventing doctrines. For example, according to Brown, the deity of Christ was "invented" in AD 325 at the Council of Nicea for political and mysoginistic reasons. Yes. Sure. Indeed. And Al Gore invented the Internet there too.

This isn't simply a matter of Brown picking on the Catholic Church. Numerous Evangelical Protestant authors have also critiqued DVC. I read on one blog that, in Brown's defense, he wasn't trying to start an "anti-Catholic revolution." Relax, O uptight Bible thumper. It's just a book; it's just good fiction; it just makes you think. If only that were the case. If only DVC were indeed just one thing or another. But the problem is that Brown himself is shifty about the nature of his book. Is it "just a good yarn" or is it "just the facts"? Brown is hard-pressed to give a straight answer. In one interview, he'll tout DVC as a work of first-rate, cutting-edge scholarship. Then, in another setting, he'll backpedal a bit and wonder why oh why "some people" are getting so worked up about a clearly fictional novel. But Brown should be kind enough to realize his book is a clearly fictional novel, and should be called that. As it stands, it's a market soup sandwich, an intellectual hermaphrodite. Hence, I suppose, its popularity.

Now, let me admit unabashedly from the outset: No, I have not read the book. I've wanted to get a copy, but I guess my timing's been off at the few English book stores here in Taichung. With this fatal secret out in the open let me pose a well known question to catch the other shoe before it drops: "How can you hate Brussels sprouts if you've never tried them?" You can't judge a book by its cover -- or its public reception. Right? Well, no actually, that's wrong.

This so-called "Brussels sprout fallacy" is off the mark for two reasons. First, we can and do judge books by their covers all the time. Any serious bibliophile will, like Agatha Christie's unassuming Hercule Poirot, be able to tell more about a book by glancing at it than some people get from reading the whole thing. Author, publisher, cover art, reviewers and their review excerpts, quality of paper, font size and several other details all tell a tale even many casual book buyers can understand. Would you really be confused about the difference in quality and content by looking at the artsy, matte cover of a Vintage International book in one hand and a pulpy mass-print Ballantine sci fi book in the other? You don't touch Vintage if you want sci fi; and you don't touch Ballantine if you want ex-patriot Canadian gay literature. No, you don't judge a book completely by its cover, but you do use it as a guideline. The same can be said about DVC. We judge -- size up -- items all the time on the basis of public reception. Most kids know they hate Brussels sprouts because every other kid hates them, regardless what ma and grandpa say every night at dinner. (It doesn't help the matter that children's taste buds are more sensitive than adults' and seniors', since then every ounce of bitter ruffaginess stands out like a potato chip shard in your throat.)

Keep in mind I'm not relying solely on the public's commercial reception of DVC -- otherwise I'd have snapped up a copy like everyone else and stayed with the this year's literary in-crowd. This is not a popular decision for me; it's an intellectual dispute. I've read a fair amount of focused, academic critiques of DVC, from numerous authors of different backgrounds, to realize history and logic deeply undercut the paper-thin respectability of DVC. This, then, is the second reason the Brussels sprout fallacy is wrong: unless you're a vegan, books are not exactly like vegetables. Vegetables don't make historical and theological claims about the world. Books do (or, at least, people do so in them). As a kid I might have been wrong about Brussels sprouts (now, in fact, one of my favorite foods), but I was definitely not wrong there were three bowls of porridge before Goldie Locks. If vegetables could be analyzed like books -- with criteria for texture, ease of digestion, nutrition, the layering of flavors, etc. -- then I would have a chance to accept or reject Brussels sprouts before my first bite. Unlike vegetables, you can tastes books before reading them. DVC can be, and has been, analyzed by competent critics and it has been found wanting. I've read enough from DVC to know it has infinitely less going for it than Brussels sprouts. Once I do get around to reading it, I'll be well prepared to take it with a healthy sprinkle of salt.

I've joined in the anti-DVC campaign for two reasons. First, blatant historical and theological errors bug me, greatly. I'm a bit of an intellectual, so, despite my own admitted errors and blind spots, the facts matter to me, greatly. Popular efforts to use (and abuse) history and Christian theology deserve to be lambasted apart from any religious aims. There are intellectual standards I think even our decadent society needs to honor.

Second, I know firsthand that DVC is damaging the faith of many Christians. Certainly, facing challenges to our faith is healthy for Christians. But I, like many others, refuse to face them lying down. I don't know if it's more depressing or more absurd that DVC is actually the basis for some Christians turning tail on Christ and His Church. But we must stem the tide of popular heresy; we must speak the truth in love.

Let me leave you with a few links to illustrate what I mean about DVC, to put it bluntly, getting its ass handed to it.


"Breaking The Da Vinci Code"

So the divine Jesus and infallible Word emerged out of a fourth-century power-play? Get real.

By Collin Hansen | posted 11/07/2003


Part 1 of Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel's lengthy rebuttal in Envoy Magazine.


Part 2 of the Envoy rebuttal.


A briefer critique by Brian Onken from the Christian Research Institute.


An entire online symposium of numerous book-length critiques of DVC!


[from Aug. 3 New York Times -- EBB]

Does 'The Da Vinci Code' Crack Leonardo?


[Bruce Boucher is the (presumably non-Christian) curator of European decorative arts and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and the author of ``Andrea Palladio: The Architect in His Time.'' -- EBB]

Why I love teaching in Taiwan

0 comment(s)
Although I got to bed at 3:30 AM or so, and woke up at about 6:30 AM, I have had a great day. I've been praying more. I'm excited about this summer and I feel more secure about the coming year. I'm also very stoked about my new blog and the nigh infinite leaps in HTML savvy I've made since yesterday. I do feel an inner fatigue lurking and slowly rising, but so far I've stayed ahead of it.

My three Viator classes today went remarkably smoothly. This was a huge relief after such an inexplicably grueling week of teaching. Today the students were docile and I had a good sense of what I wanted to teach them, where I wanted us to go. Wonder of wonders, I used my noise control reed only a smidgeon in one class.

The hits kept coming when I went to teach at Chongde. I decided rather spontaneously not to do the usual work with Amazing Stories. Instead I decided to tell -- not read -- my dear students Jesus' parable of the lost son (lost sons?). Before narrating I taught them a few key words: parable, sin, forgiveness, party, etc. I had fun telling it and they were fairly rapt.

I stopped where Jesus leaves us: uncertain whether the older son goes in to celebrate or stays outside sulking. I then explained the deeper meaning of this parable: we are the sons, God is the father. We have abandoned Him for His gifts; we keep ourselves from Him out of contempt for His scandalous mercy. We are far from God, but by and through and with Jesus we can and will be brought near, to rejoice with God -- and all other repentant younger brothers -- forever.

Then I asked my students to discuss two questions in small groups. First, did the older son go in? Second, if you were him, would you go in -- would you go back to God? At the end of class, we took a poll for each question. The results? 19 to 1 the son would stay outside. 14 of 6 would have gone back in (and presumably would be willing to return to the Father). I encouraged them to consider where they'd like to live, both now and forever. With the resentful older brother, outside and as alone as a polished stone? Or with the hapless younger brother, inside, embraced in a love that none shall ever fully grasp? (Different words, mind you, but the same idea. ;) )

I love teaching here for many reasons. Depending where and whom I teach, I'm a celebrity (of sorts). That's nice, as far as it goes. But even better, I can share the Gospel with people for whom such concepts as total human sin and total divine mercy may be truly novel. The best -- or, I suppose, sweetest -- part of teaching today was walking from group to group, asking each student what the older brother did, and why; what they would do, and why. To see their innocent, young faces set so intently on such serious matters -- it was as riveting as it was humbling.

At this point, I can imagine some of my non-Christian peers and coworkers would see such a lesson as a cheap means to religious ends. But since my students inarguably heard and used English, what is the problem? This is not some slippery matter of the means justifying the ends, or vice versa. (As if declaring God's love for all people needed justification.) The means of (good) teaching are themselves the ends of teaching. Teaching is like cutting: the essence, the achieved aim, of cutting is not to reach the cutting board, nor to use only a certain kind of knife, but to cut. Cutting, from a strict philosophical perspective, does not mean a thing is cut clean through; teaching does not mean students learned. Cutting subsists in the act of cutting as totally as teaching subsists in the act of teaching. Teaching, at least in the immediate context of each lesson, does not derive its value from how or what or how much the students really and totally learn (a mysterious idea in itself, total comprehension).

Teaching is valuable because it is an effort to expand people's minds and hearts. Insofar as I did that today, and aim to do that in every class, what does it matter to a fairminded, non-religious teacher what I teach? As a Christian, I have my own reasons to object to certain lesson material. But leaving aside such stale, exclusive, prudish, Christian narrowmindedness, what does it matter what I teach? If propagandizing helpless, "non-Western" -- what a baffling distinction that term is for anyone with a sense of the ceaseless biological and historical intra-permeability of the human race -- if deluding students with arcane, imperialistic dogmatism is so reprehensible, would it be better to teach them about pornography and incest and torture methods? "No, of course not," someone objects, rolling their eyes. "Don't be so melodramatic. Just teach a straightforward lesson with normal, neutral material." Pardon my big pointy white hat, but I'm afraid from here in the dunce's corner I don't know what "neutral material" means. Nothing is neutral. I mean that literally. Literally only Nothing is neutral; Everything Else, and every other thing, is decidedly partisan. Nothing can be Anything because it is not Something. Something cannot be Nothing, but only Something or Something Else. Things know exactly where they stand. A book is a book, not faceless "neutral material." A spoon is a spoon, not amorphous "neutral material." You can not, by definition, teach, think, say, write, do, or be "nothing in particular." Everything that is, is particular. Each lesson is what it is; and if the lesson cuts through a student, it succeeds. If the lesson happens to be made of the golden iron of the Gospel and also cuts, it succeeds all the more.

God, forgive us, we the familiarized.
God, forgive us, we the well aware.
God, forgive us, we the glib spiritualists.
God, forgive us, the equally glib hedonists.
God, forgive us, Your sons and daughters, inside and outside Your joyous house.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tweaky tweakerton...

0 comment(s)
I'm still trying to work the kinks out in my new, cushier blog. Blogger has its own (so far annoying) idiosyncracies I'm having to... adjust to, but the biggest and most satisfying change is that now any reader can leave a comment.

I'm also learning HTML to make intra- and extra-page anchor jumps. The Holy Grail of blogging, IMHO. This first link should go to the end of this page. And this link next should go to a specific point on my Xanga blog in due time.

Thanks to the help of these pages and coworker, I think I'm on my way.

Now, a few things you should know about Haloscan.

1) You can insert a few emoticons and do some basic HTML. To find those options, click on the ? just above the comment text box. To underline, type < u> and < / u >. To set italics, type < i > and < / i > to become and. (Hm, "I and I"... very reggae.) To set bold, type < b> and < / b> to be bold. To post a hidden link, (say, "happy" for your blog) type < a href=""> happy < /a > and it will be very happy. The key is < a > and < / a >. In every case, leave no space between the <, /, or >.

2) Until I decide to pay for this service, there is a 1000 character limit on each comment you make. All that means is that you'll need to post the 1000+Xth characters again as a new comment (i.e., "cont."). You can't undo or change comments, but you could ask me to. Also, over time, it will gradually reduce the comment count on each thread. Something about archive space. I've seen a thread go from 98 to 73 to 34 within days. They'll still be there if you open the thread, but they just don't show up on the external counter. And then they're gone in deep archives. (I could be wrong about this.)

3) Once you enter your info, it will remain the same unless you change it. I'll also have a record of your IP address. So theoreticaly I could tell when you are commenting frmo work and home or from someone else's PC. I could also block you; or delete or tamper with your comments. Not to be Orwellian or anything. I'm just lettin you know what's what.

4) It can be twitchy. Such is life.

5) It's great fun. It's a "real time" way to interact and keep up. I love watching a thread grow and move.

Well, kids, have at it.


Now, where were we?

Moving isn't so bad...

1 comment(s)

I decided to get a new blog. I have always been annoyed by Xanga's frontpage space restrictions and by the Xanga-only strait jacket they put on comments. I won't abandon Rocketagent. Maybe I'll use each one for different purposes.

As always, stay tuned for more...