Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Comforting?

March 10, 2020

Hopefully it’s comforting to know – as you’re paying off your student loan fees decades after you graduated from college – that part of your debt likely made it possible for student athletes to receive scholarships so they wouldn’t have to graduate with student loan debt.

Maybe there should be an arrangement whereby this is tracked better,  so that athletes that graduate – or don’t graduate but leave college early to sign on with professional teams – pay back their scholarship monies, and appropriate amounts can be refunded to each student who attended during that athlete’s time at the school.  Or perhaps it could just be applied to outstanding student loan debt on a per student basis?

Otherwise, non-athlete students are paying for athletes to attend school for free in hopes of receiving high salaries as professional athletes.  Which sure doesn’t seem very fair to me!

 

 

Perspective

February 1, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in China is now a public health crisis in the United States.  I’m going to assume that what this essentially means is people traveling to and from China will now be subject to mandatory testing, evaluation, and/or quarantine to ensure they are not infected with the virus.  I can’t believe how much of my news feed seems dedicated to the terror of this new viral outbreak, and I can only imagine how much fear is being created by non-stop news reports in other media.

Some perspective.  There have been six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US so far.  Or more technically, six cases traced in some way to the current outbreak in China, which is where the virus was first identified as a new form of coronavirus.  There is a family of coronaviruses we already know about.  This is just a new one.

Six cases in the US and no deaths so far.

In China there are believed to be 11,000 cases of this particular coronavirus with a total of 200 deaths attributed to it.   In fact, by and large, this coronavirus is not a lethal one except in cases of complications.  But numbers cause people to panic.  One in 55 cases of the coronavirus in China have resulted in fatalities.

By point of comparison, the Centers for Disease Control released statistics on the influenza rates in the US.  Interesting details:

  • They estimate 19 million flu cases in the US alone during the 2019-2020 flu season so far
  • There have been 180,000 hospitalizations for flu-related issues in the US thus far this season
  • There have been 10,000 deaths associated with the flu  in the US thus far this season

The relationship of the flu virus to fatalities seems like a tricky one to me.  For instance, this news story highlighted the tragic and unexpected eath of a 34-year old woman from the flu.  However it also notes she had an undiagnosed pre-existing condition that contributed to the flu virus being fatal for her.  No mention of what that condition was, but it sounds to me like it wasn’t just “the flu” that killed her.

I wonder how many of the coronavirus fatalities were due not exclusively to the virus itself but to complicating factors that aren’t included or noted in the statistics?

To break down the numbers:

  • Roughly 1 in 17 people in the US get the flu – far more prevalent than the coronavirus thus far
  • Of those who do get the flu, only one in 10,000 dies from it (or  from complications associated with it, as noted above)

The CDC itself admits this flu season is pretty typical both in terms of the number of flu infections (both diagnosed and estimated) as well as the number of deaths resulting from it.  They claim there is no reliable data yet to determine whether the flu shot has been efficacious this season, but they claim the flu shot is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications.   I’m not sure how they can make such a blanket statement, but there you go.  They also note that the major flu strains identified so far this season are all susceptible to FDA-approved antivirals.  Which means if you get the flu, it’s likely you will be greatly helped by an antiviral prescription.

There is no vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus or any of  it’s previously identified relatives.  Overwhelmingly if you get it, you’ll get flu-like symptoms that will go away with no long-term residual effects.  No more than an ordinary cold or flu, at least.

Try not to panic.  Especially if you aren’t traveling to China or spending time with sick people who have.  Turn the TV off and go outside for a breath of fresh air.  It will do you more good than digesting hours of panicked updates on the coronavirus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need and Demand

January 15, 2020

This is an inspiring article talking about changes in the way restaurants handle excess food.  Instead of just throwing it away, there are a variety of organizations created to help them repurpose it without excess cost (man hours, etc.) to themselves.

But I found the most interesting – and least explored – aspect of the article occurred in the first two paragraphs.  A baker wanting to donate excess bread to a homeless woman’s shelter or even directly to homeless people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row discovered nobody wanted it.  Which to my mind says that hunger may not be the major issue for some of these people.

I’m all for repurposing food and helping to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.  And I believe there are hungry people who need it.   But what if that’s not the case?  At least not on the scale we imagine it to be?  In a patchwork of city, state, and national programs to assist in providing money for food, and in addition to countless non-profits and churches that also seek to help the hungry, is the nature of the problem changing?  Is hunger less of an issue for some people – like the homeless – than we imagine it to be?  Does this indicate a change in the homeless culture itself?

A local school district is facing financial challenges (of course).  One of the proposed solutions is to scale back the free breakfasts the schools offer to any student who wants one, to just those students who are verified as needing it.  I’m sure the breakfasts were made available to every student in order to eliminate the stigma of a breakfast only available to the verifiably destitute.  When I was growing up it was a stigma to not be fed at school, because the school lunches cost money and my family could only afford to send me with a packed  lunch.  Now the situation seems to be reversed?

I’m curious about why the shelter said no to the bread, and why the homeless themselves weren’t interested.  I’m sure the shelter can only use so much bread on a daily basis, but again, if people are dealing with hunger at the levels often touted in our media, it’s hard to imagine them passing up free food.

Unless they’ve discovered a better option.  In which case, we should be paying attention to that shift to make sure that unused food gets to those who actually need it.

Cheap Peace

January 14, 2020

A great little read here on a critic of how the mindfulness movement has been co-opted by corporate interests.  I find it interesting how mindfulness is always introduced as an alternative.  But an alternative for what?  I’m sure drugs and other chemical therapies are here meant, but I’d also argue prayer and Christian faith being displaced as other means for dealing with difficult things in life.

This article also helps highlight a confusion many  Christians (and non-Christians) likely have – which is that meditation and mindfulness are essentially Christian ideals and practices as well.  I maintain they aren’t.  There are similarities  of course, but the practice of meditation and mindfulness comes from Buddhism, which has a very different understanding of the individual in the context of larger reality than Christianity.

Christians pray.  Meditation in the Christian faith is not understood (historically) as an emptying of the self but rather as focused on some specific thing – Scripture, for instance.  And of course Buddhism centers around a non-personal ultimate power or force as opposed to Christianity’s very, very personal Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Mindfulness and meditation is not neutral, as the article makes clear.  In order to try and present it as such it was necessary to try and blur, obscure, or remove these connections, but at that point it begins to become something very different, something which can be manipulated by large interests.

The article points to mindfulness’ entry into therapeutic treatment at the end of the 70’s and early 80’s, but it entered our cultural awareness almost 20 years earlier through the missionary work of celebrities and artists like the Beatles.  It took time to erase or hide those explicit, religious, Eastern connections for adoption by doctors and therapists and educators, but that was always the goal.

The reality is that what we believe about ourselves and reality matters.  After 30+ years of therapeutic mindfulness, studies as a whole continue to show us ever more increasingly woefully unable to deal with reality.  Moments of silence in schools are not a sense of one’s place in the cosmos as the creation of a loving God with not just a past and a present but a very long and bright future.

As a therapy, mindfulness seems to be failing.  And until our culture is able to see this and accept it and look further back for a reason why things are so different today than they were 70 years ago, we aren’t going to start healing.  If we are indeed creatures – creations rather than accidents of chance – we need a proper grounding in a relationship with our Creator, and nothing short of this can provide the healing our culture is so desperately crying out for.

Audiophora

January 6, 2020

What sort of new challenges for the new year?  That’s the question I try to ask myself.  What can I contribute to my own growth as well as reaching others with the Gospel in some respect?  For a long time I’ve resisted the trend of jumping online in terms of uploading worship services or sermons to YouTube or other social media.  I’ve long maintained that for an Internet audience, content needs to be created specifically for such an audience.  What I preach on Sunday morning is to my congregation.  It won’t necessarily translate universally (nor should it, I argue).

But it’s also obvious that online resources are a logical thing to do.  What I lack is both technical assistance towards this end or partners in any other sense of the word.  I’d like to do something with people, but that’s not necessarily something I can dictate.

So I’m putting together a light-weight recording studio upstairs at church, and will begin doing short audio recordings suitable for an online audience.  As I’ve considered this, I’ve come up with an idea to go along with it – audiophora.org.  I’ve registered the domain name but haven’t started setting up the site yet, so don’t bother trying to find it  :-)

The idea is that it would be an indexed collection of short (3-minutes or less is what I have in mind) audio files.  Some of it would be definitional in nature  – theological terms and concepts with concise definitions.  Each entry would in turn be cross-indexed with other terms, verses, etc. that come up as part of that definition.  So if I do an entry on salvation, say, then it would be cross referenced to other concepts brought up in the definition of salvation but not themselves defined there (like savior, sin, etc.).

All of this should be searchable as well as hyperlinked, so people can either find something precise or follow the rabbit-hole of hyperlinks as long as their heart desires.

Perhaps there will be full-scale studies here as well, but also broken down into bite size pieces.  Maybe one verse at a time, with a larger file entry for an entire chapter as well, or even an entire book.  I’m open to suggestions, and it would be fun to collaborate with other folks who would like to contribute, either in terms of words, concepts, etc. they would like defined, or who might even want to contribute their own audio  explanations of certain things.

Ah, but that name, tho – audiophora.com.

It’s a combination of audio and adiaphora.  Audio because, well, duh, they’re sound recordings.  Adiaphora is a philosophical and theological term which has come to mean something that isn’t either explictly commanded or forbidden.  So what color carpet should a church have?  That’s adiaphora – there’s wiggle room to make decisions.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t good things to consider, but it means the  answer isn’t a forgone conclusion via Scripture.

I’ll start setting things up in the next week or so and then do some trial recordings.  I’ll be eager for feedback and input if you’re so inclined.

Leading and Serving

October 31, 2019

The last six months have been interesting for our Sunday evening open house.  Two of our core  members moved away last April to pursue further studies across country.  Another of our early regulars will be leaving at the end of the year.  We’ve wondered how these departures would impact who showed up.

We’ve noticed a marked uptick in attendance by friends of our children.  We now regularly have a teen-aged Russian guy coming by to game with our kids (and enjoy taunting us with his predilection for eating everything with ranch dressing).  Others have been coming as well, but he’s our regular.  And with him, on an increasingly regular basis, comes his mother, a recently naturalized Russian.  She has become closer friends with my wife over the last year or more.

Two weeks ago we got into a religious discussion.  We invited her to join a new Bible study I am leading at my congregation.  But with her busy schedule between work and school, she hasn’t had time.  But she’s clearly interested.  So we started talking about how to get the ‘big picture’ of Scripture.  Then she asked for help for a scholarship program in her graduate work.  We talked about the difference between how the world (and business schools) talk about leadership and how Jesus and the Bible talk about leadership.  We talked about the difficulty of maintaining humility in a world that essentially values pride as a necessary qualification for leadership.

I shared with her Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45, and showed her how Jesus made this teaching tangible in John 13:1-17.   And I talked about God as the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership and commitment to others in John 3:16.  We talked about the challenges and limitations of applying these truths in a business setting as a CEO or CFO or COO.  There, service to other is defined in terms of shareholders and perhaps clients/customers.  Commitment and service to others is often seen as a means to another end, like profitability, or employee retention/attraction.  We talked about how hard it is as broken, sinful people, to stay focused on serving others when the point of an MBA program is essentially the promise of skills necessary to make one successful in business leadership, and many people desire those skills and positions not for serving others but for pride, greed, etc.

All of this discussion with someone who is not Christian, but recognizes a universal need to have  some greater, deeper calling outside of yourself.

Christians should have a lot to say on this topic of servanthood and leadership but we all too easily are like James and John, confusing the standards and benefits of the world for the standards of the kingdom of heaven.  We can shake our heads and laugh condescendingly in at these two chuckleheads in Mark 10, but we share their assumptions, even though we have Jesus’ teaching and example in hindsight where they didn’t!

We talk about servant leadership, but we really mean doing things the way we want, presuming others are best served with our ideas until we quit bothering to listen.  We talk about serving but we often times mean ruling, dictating, demanding, forcing if necessary.  In the interest of higher ideals, to be certain, but reliant very heavily on the tools of the worldly leadership trade.  Tools that authorities have always kept on hand to ensure things run the way they want them to.

We don’t talk about servant leadership the way Jesus demonstrated it.  We don’t mean leadership that washes filthy feet.  We don’t talk about leadership that allows itself to be maligned.  We don’t mean leadership that suffers being called a liar and a thief.  We don’t mean leadership that leads by patience, day in and day out, year after year.  We don’t mean leadership willing to die for others rather than seek personal  protection or glory.  We hold these things lightly.  We see them as signs of weakness.

Just like the Jews did.  Just like the Romans did as they mocked Jesus with a fake royal robe and crown before leading him away to die.  What leader would suffer such a fate?  Isn’t it the mark of a true leader to avoid such shame, such failure?.  A leader who does things these ways, the way the kingdom of heaven does them, is no leader in our world today.  We don’t trust it if we see it.  We don’t respect it if we encounter it.

Challenging realities to face for someone who aspires to leadership, whether in the corporate world on in the church, which all too often prefers to borrow corporate principles rather than stick to Biblical ones.  Because it isn’t easy.  It isn’t perfect.  None of us have the perfect wisdom and insight of Jesus, and so have to make do the best we can with what we have.

I look forward to future conversations, and marvel how God the Holy Spirit continues to foster these possibilities.

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

Here’s a fascinating image gallery of anti-Christian propaganda posters produced during the time of the Soviet Union.  Hopefully it isn’t lost that some of the same caricatures of religion as backwards compared to the progressive movement of the State are being utilized today.

In our own country.

 

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.

Jesus the Veggie

September 27, 2019

Our kids grew up with Veggie Tales.  More than anything, they grew up with the music of Veggie Tales.  The Silly Songs with Larry segment of these shows was often the highlight for all of us.  We had CDs of these songs, and on a six-month road trip a decade ago, these were the soundtrack to our drives through the United States.  Even today, now that our kids are teenagers, they will randomly put on some of these silly songs, and we’re all singing along together in no time.

The videos were creative  and good – for what they were.  The first time I heard a criticism of Veggie Tales was in Seminary, where a professor and other students were criticizing them for substituting morality for the Gospel.  Of course, that’s the case.  Children were exhorted to proper behavior (based on Biblical definitions of these things, of course).  Bible stories retold in the world of talking vegetables always had a moral to the story, something that would address in some respect the letter from a child that started the installment off and provided the overarching theme.  No, Veggie Tales was not pushing the Gospel, but I’d argue that pushing a Biblical morality was fine in and of itself.

So long as that’s not the only exposure to the Bible and the Christian faith and church that kids ever received!  It would be silly to criticize an appetizer for not being a full-course dinner.  It isn’t intended to be.

Nearly a decade ago, Veggie Tales‘ creator, Phil Vischer, rocked many people’s world when he criticized his own creation for teaching moralism rather than the Gospel, the center of the Christian faith.  He acknowledged that inadvertently, Veggie Tales taught kids how to behave but without any context in a larger Biblical framework of sin and salvation and most importantly, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God.  While each episode would end with the familiar line God made you special, and He loves you very much! it wouldn’t provide any further depth in understanding what all of that meant, not just here and now but for eternity.  If Bible stories are nothing but ancient morality plays, you can’t blame kids (or parents) for not seeing a necessity or a connection to repentance and atonement and salvation.  I’m sure many parents were just glad to have their kids occupied with something wholesome for 30 minutes!

The inimitable Gene Veith has blogged on an update to this long saga, as Vischer plans to return to Veggie Tales with a vow to make them more Gospel centered.  That’s fantastic, especially if he can keep the same wit and humor and warmth that made those whacky vegetables lovable.  The full article Veith refers to can be read here.

Towards the end of his post, Veith offers some concerns and caveats about how the new effort might or might not be able to accomplish its goal.  He worries about how the Gospel can be conveyed with vegetables.  I imagine that missionaries could provide some amazing stories of how they have related the Gospel to people using an  astounding variety of metaphors and other tools to bridge from the world of their hearers to the Biblical world.

Vischer and Veith agree that Jesus should not be portrayed as a vegetable in the new series.  I disagree.  Is it weird?  Well, of course!  But is it weird within the context of Veggie Tales?  I don’t think so.  Veggie Tales creates an alternate world where vegetables can talk and hop around.  It’s a world that intersects our own (the old episodes started out on a kitchen counter, which seems a bit macabre if you think about it!), but also reflects our own but with vegetables instead of human beings.  In such an alternate world, to portray Jesus as anything other than a vegetable would be even more weird!  After all, if Jesus came to be one of us, actually incarnate as a human being, then in an alternate vegetable world, Jesus would have to become a vegetable to keep the depth and meaning the same.

And ultimately, I think Veith’s concerns are more valid if the assumption is Veggie Tales will be the only exposure to Jesus and  the Bible a child ever gets.  While this might be the case, that someone just picks up the CDs or streams the shows because they think it’s harmless, I would imagine that an explicitly Gospel-centered reincarnation will appeal mostly to Christian families.  And if so, they ought to know – or be explicitly reminded – that these shows can’t and shouldn’t substitute for weekly worship, or praying as a family, or talking out loud as a family about how faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God affects who we are and what we do and the decisions we make in our own world, rather than just a make-believe  vegetable world.  Parents (or grandparents) should never expect Veggie Tales to be a full course meal when it’s really only an appetizer.  A wonderful and delicious and appealing appetizer, to be sure.

Even if it is made out of vegetables.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.