Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Hard Words. But True

January 8, 2022

If you are responsible for raising children right now, read this. Or read it if you know someone responsible for raising children. If you take your Biblical Christian faith seriously and need to guide young people towards their future, ready it. It’s blunt. And maybe bluntness is something we need a bit more these days.

Law and Guilt

January 4, 2022

I don’t keep in touch with many folks from my high school days. A handful of close friends tenuously held together by intentional and not-so-intentional mini-reunions is about it. But I have another friend that has done an incredible job of keeping in touch over the years, and taking the opportunity to get together for lunch or dinner whenever we found ourselves in similar parts of the country. So it was that we were meeting the following day, Thursday, for lunch at a Mexican restaurant she suggested.

She asked me to choose a place to eat initially. I opted for a small Mexican restaurant nearby. I’d never been there but the reviews were good and the place looked pretty authentic, as opposed to the more Americanized places. But she nixed the idea because of Covid considerations. She wanted to sit outdoors, which was fine by me.

Then the night before she sent a short e-mail. Her daughter back in South Carlonia tested positive for Covid, and my friend had obviously spent a lot of time around her in the days before her trip to Arizona. My friend didn’t have any symptoms but wanted to warn me in case I preferred to cancel. I didn’t, and we met as planned.

There were tears in her eyes as we sat across the table from each other. Tears of frustration and anger and fear. We did everything right. And yet her daughter had Covid. My friend’s husband had tested negative, but still the great fearful illness had infiltrated their careful defenses. Their double-dose vaccinations. Their isolating. Their fastidiousness in wearing masks. Her daughter had tearfully asked on the phone the night before if her mother was angry with her that she got sick. My friend was angry, but not with her daughter. She was angry with all the people who hadn’t been careful. Hadn’t vaccinated. Hadn’t isolated. Hadn’t insisted on masks everywhere.

Though she didn’t say it, she was angry with me, as I fit into those categories. And in the carefully constructed Covid mythology, if you followed the rules and did what you were supposed to, you could avoid the virus. Except for those people. The people who for whatever reason opted not to follow every twist and turn, scientific, political, social, calculated or arbitrary, designed to keep people safe. Healthy.

It was a striking conversation. My heart went out to her. And I gently reminded her that there are no guarantees in life. That doing all the right things might be a very good idea, but certainly could not ensure a perfectly predictable outcome. She knew this to be true, and yet she couldn’t get past the anger and fear that the efforts she and her family had made, the sacrifices they had made, were not enough to protect them.

So this article struck a chord with me, and does a better job than I might in explaining the theological metaphors illuminated in this very un-theological Covid crisis. It’s worth a read.

It isn’t that trying to do the right thing is wrong. It’s just that in this very fallible and sinfully broken world, there is no clear, perfect right thing. Nothing we can hold onto and cling to as justification for ourselves, as protection for ourselves. Nothing outside of us, nothing inside of us. Only Christ can do this for us. Can promise us to be enough. And that requires us to let go of whatever we’re clutching to and cling to him instead, acknowledging in that action our terrifying frailty and the transient and brief nature of our mortal lives.

Following the French

December 31, 2021

I could have sworn I blogged some years ago about an initiative with some French grocery stores to sell ugly produce at lower prices. This based on the reality that only a portion of produce grown is able to be sold to grocery stores, who generally want perfect fruits and vegetables which will appeal to consumers. Those less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables often end up rotting with no buyers available. However, I wasn’t able to find either that post or any related online material about the program. Hopefully it’s still going!

But the French are continuing to re-evaluate how to be environmentally friendly in the grocery store, this time banning plastic packaging. I’ve been amazed (and depressed) that despite alleged concerns over the environment and trash here in the US, disposable products continue to be created and marketed – a triumph over alleged convenience over any sort of ecological or environmental conscious. The example that sticks in my mind is commercials for single-use disposable plastic cutting boards.

Attempting to reduce the production of single-use plastics and the ongoing creation of trash bound for landfills ought to be a common-sense topic for those who truly believe human beings are behind climate change. It ought to make sense in general, regardless of your views on the origins of climate change. Less trash is good, and reminding people of the financial as well as environmental benefits of reusing and reducing is something we all could use.

Might even make a good resolution for the new year!

Fear and Science

December 17, 2021

As another example of how nearly every media source – including science-based sources – utilizes fear to capture our attention, I offer this gem from National Geographic:

The Universe Is Expanding Faster Than It Should Be

Say what?

No, if the universe is expanding it is expanding at whatever rate it expands at. But the headline makes it sound like there’s a problem – a danger even! Oh my, what are we to do about this? How are we to face this potential nightmare on top of Covid and the general decay of our culture and society?

Sheesh.

The headline should read something along the lines of:

Current Scientific Models Inaccurate In Predicting Universal Rate of Expansion

The problem isn’t the universe, the problem is our scientific models are not accurate or complete. It isn’t that the universe is misbehaving somehow, but rather our knowledge is incomplete. That would allow people to sleep better at night, and remind us that as wonderful as science can be, it is not perfect or complete.

But I suppose that sort of statement is fear-inducing to folks who place their sense of well-being in scientific certainty and accuracy.

Problematic Cuteness

December 16, 2021

I’m not immune to cuteness. Certainly there’s no lack of it available on the Internet. Perhaps you watched this little video as well. Cuteness a-plenty. And the first few times I watched it I chuckled. He is, certainly as the headline captures, a cheeky lad.

But then I kept thinking about it. And little by little I viewed it less than cute and more as problematic.

This isn’t a kid’s spontaneous exuberance. This isn’t a burst of spontaneity. This was planned. And I’m pretty positive the kid didn’t plan it all on his own.

There’s no hesitation. No uncertainty. No getting star-struck by the size of the arena or the lights. No wavering when being pursued. There’s an accomplice – assisting in either distraction or perhaps as an extra pair of hands to grab the ball initially or pass off to at the last minute. This was a pretty well-orchestrated heist.

And on its own there’s still a certain cuteness to it. It’s just a one-off event, after all. It’s not like they don’t have more game balls. But what does it teach us? What if it wasn’t a one-off but this happened in games and matches everywhere, all the time? I mean, beyond the fact that at some point the game balls would become more worthless because everybody already had one, what would this bring us to? The assumption that games should be regularly interrupted by the shenanigans of fans? What if they started swiping other things instead of just game balls?

All of this sounds pretty Grinch-y, but it just points out to me the double-standard we continue to create for young folks and reinforce in older folks. On the one hand we desperately want people to play by the rules and be good neighbors and co-workers and citizens and fans. On the other hand, we actively applaud those who flout the rules. This sets up an eventual collapse of order. You can’t tell kids in school to obey the rules and then act shocked when they don’t obey them because they’re being rewarded for breaking the rules.

Additionally there’s the sticky wicket of not being able to differentiate between which rules are acceptable to be broken and those that must not be broken. It’s ok to steal game balls but not ok to shoot up schools. Seems like a no-brainer, but obviously people are struggling with that differentiation. Or it’s ok to steal game balls but it’s not ok to default on legal and financial obligations you’ve sworn to uphold.

In which case you get articles like this (warning – profanity ahead) not explicitly telling people not to default on their student loans, but warning them there could be long-term repercussions beyond just freeing up short-term cash flow. Since they weren’t equipped by our massive and impressive educational system to realize that there are repercussions sometimes in going to college, and that loans need to be repaid. Obviously we can’t have everyone defaulting on their loans, can we? Even if they defaulters are cute. And yet when you break free morality and virtue from any comprehensive mooring, what else should you expect? If there isn’t a larger narrative wherein morals and virtue play important roles, why just pretend they’re important if you really believe there’s nothing bigger or greater than the moment or the span of this short life?

Kids aren’t stupid. They figure out pretty quickly that rules are arbitrary. And this further reinforces the larger cultural narrative that nothing has any real meaning anyway. We’re all just cosmic burps, accidents of gasses and molecules with no past greater than human desire and no future beyond the wall of death and no greater value in between than what we can beg, borrow or steal. We sit around and wring our hands about why the kids aren’t all right. More likely we just don’t want to acknowledge what we’re lacking. Contextualization. Meaning. Purpose. Not pretend stuff we make up for ourselves, but something rock-solid that carries us from the dawn of creation to the eternity after our deaths. Nothing short of this kind of meta-narrative can bear the weight of our personal disappointments and losses in this life, the voluntary (or involuntary) restraint of our desires and rages.

I’d have much preferred the cheeky lad to be met by parents who made him give the ball back, but I’m betting the parents are likely the ones who helped him plan it. Either actively with their presence or through their absence during his planning with others. It would ultimately have been not only cute but also important to have a morality and virtue greater than cuteness showcased. And I can quietly hope that actually happened. But you’re certainly not likely to see it filmed and going viral on the Internet.

The rod and reproof bring wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7

Swallowed by the Cracks

November 17, 2021

(Still a great jam all these years later.)

Unsurprisingly, being fully vaccinated (whether with Johnson & Johnson’s single shot or the two-shot program required for other vaccines) is likely going to be redefined to insist on at least an initial (and I believe eventually annual at least) booster shots. In other words, I don’t think it will be long before immunized or vaccinated status is a rolling status dependent on mandatory updates. Failure to stay up to date on boosters will kick someone into the legal status of unvaccinated.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the actual science of the vaccines and the changing understanding of how they work and more specifically, how long they work. If antibody generation wanes considerably after six months, only through additional boosters can the population hope to be protected long enough – by our current methods – for the virus to wane in prevalence and strength. Of course, since the vaccines only reduce your odds of infection and reduce the effects of infection, the virus may never really subside, a reality countries around the world are coming to grips with as they transition from pandemic footing to trying to manage the situation as endemic and ongoing, like the flu.

In the meantime, the reality of an even bigger problem will likely garner little more than passing notice by lawmakers and citizens alike. Indeed, as more and more states decriminalize not only marijuana but cocaine (and potentially other drugs), the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to skyrocket. Just in the last 20 years we’ve surpassed the number of Covid deaths (if my math is mostly correct). That may seem like a long time but this year we just surpassed 100,000 diagnosed deaths by drug overdose, up from only 20,000 a year just 20 years ago. At this rate the potential death rate for drug overdoses could rival Covid deaths, with no magic vaccine available to slow it down.

Musicians and other celebrities continue to pass away at young ages but the role of prescription medications as contributing causes of death is ignored. Regardless of whether someone kicks the habit or not drug abuse can cause permanent damage, damage that shortens a person’s likely lifespan. Yet we continue to allow the glorification of drug use even as it continues to strangle young people at an alarming and growing rate.

What a waste. When we emerge from our government and media inflicted Covid paranoia (at least I hope people emerge!) will we rally to destroy this larger and far longer-term enemy in our midst? Or will we continue to demand increasing laxness regarding the issue of drugs in general, further contributing to mixed messages to our impressionable youth?

I was a kid when the war on drugs began, long-overdue at that point and really just at the beginning of the epidemic of harder drug use as a widespread issue. The deaths in this war far eclipse the deaths of all of our military ventures in the last 40 years and Covid – probably combined. Maybe we won’t properly start caring about it until our ICUs are overwhelmed. Then again most overdoses aren’t caught in time to attempt medical treatment so I guess that conveniently won’t be a problem.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the cemeteries to fill up and the environmentalists to get pissed off before we recognize that legalizing for tax benefits drugs that are killing our children is not good public policy. We seem far more willing to protect the environment than our children.

Watching Netflix

October 13, 2021

I’ve watched very little Dave Chappelle. A few YouTube clips at most. I don’t have a feel for his comedic style or where he might be coming from in life. The little I know about him is just that – little. So I don’t have opinions or perspectives on the controversial material that has thrust him into the spotlight again. Opinions and perspectives expressed in comedic observations, but which directly conflict with or challenge the prevailing championing of transgender issues.

This has earned him the ire of those who once felt he was on their side. A small group of Netflix employees have demanded Netflix remove the show. Netflix has thus far refused to do so, claiming it supports the creative license of content producers, and noting that Chappelle’s work as a whole has been some of the most widely viewed material Netflix has produced. No official word on whether this latest offering from Chappelle, entitled The Closer, follows in that lucrative and widely viewed path.

Personally, I wonder what Chappelle is up to. Either he’s boldly taking a stance contrary to the currently dominant vocal minority, or he’s orchestrating a larger-scale comedic event, where he’ll reveal at some point down the line how he was trolling those folks who cheered his countercultural stance. In the long run, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.

What does matter, and what we should all be watching for carefully, is whether Netflix caves to that strident but very, very small minority of voices within the company insisting Chappelle’s show should be removed because it conflicts with their personal opinions and ideologies. The rest of Hollywood appears to have mostly caved to such voices long ago, and set about dutifully creating content that supports and encourages the sorts of lifestyles and world views championed by this minority. Upcoming new releases include a son-of-Superman comic line where the titular character is bisexual. Another includes a reboot of the awful 80’s horror franchise Child’s Play, this time serialized on cable channels and involving the main character (other than Chucky) just figuring out he’s gay.

Certainly there are a few voices like Chappelle’s willing to challenge this tidal wave of gender confusing material aimed squarely at children and adolescents ill-equipped to make healthy sense of it. But those voices are few and far between, or at least sparsely covered. When they are covered countering opinions overwhelm the actual material the article is allegedly about.

How ironic that those who champion inclusivity and diversity are adamant that any voice out of step with their own ideologies should be silenced. That was one of their complaints when other voices were reflecting or directing our cultural opinions.

What’s at stake here is creative license, to be certain. The reality is that approval and assent to gender and sex redefinitions is nowhere near unanimous. The minority of liberal voices seeks to create the appearance that their views and ideas (which are always in flux) are the majority view. If contrary material is made available to the public and is commercially successful it will demonstrate this is not the case, threatening the control these voices now exercise.

I commend Netflix. Not for their ideology necessarily, but for being a company instead of an ideological power. Their job is to create content and earn money for doing so. The market determines whether they continue to produce certain kinds of content. I don’t personally like slasher films like Child’s Play, nor am I much of a fan of most comedians today, Chappelle included. The question is whether people should determine what is produced by spending their money on it, or whether companies should determine what people like by only producing a certain kind of material.

So far the latter approach is holding sway, and I believe history will judge that trend harshly – both as a business model as well as a sociological movement. In the meantime, be aware of what your kids and grand-kids are watching, and don’t be surprised if they come to some conclusions about the world and right and wrong that are starkly different from your understandings and beliefs.

Back to School

August 10, 2021

It’s that time of year again. For so many years as a student, as a teacher, or as someone involved in campus ministry (sometimes all three at once!) my year was more defined by the ebb and flow of the American academic year. August and September always seem like starting months – more so than January.

This is a good article whether you’re a Christian student headed to school (really of any grade, adjusted for age-appropriateness of course), or the parent/grandparent/concerned friend or relative of a student.

Of course, these suggestions are all things that should already be going on in the life of every person of faith. If these habits and practices and skills haven’t already begun to be owned by the time college rolls around, it’s going to be a hard time for a student to pick them up. Although this article is aimed at Catholic students, the same ideas hold true for Christians of any stripe. Know who you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going, who created and redeemed you, who abides with you constantly. Don’t expect to have an answer to every objection or criticism leveled at the Bible or the Church or your faith personally. But know that you’re likely to encounter objections and criticisms, or assumptions that you can continue to consider yourself a Christian if you don’t actually believe the Bible.

Book Review – I Believe

June 29, 2021

I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed by Alister McGrath

The first book I finished in preparation to teach on the Apostles’ Creed is this one. Alister McGrath is a well-known theologian who comes from a different Christian tradition than mine – one of the reasons I wanted to read his take on the Apostles’ Creed. I know he and I differ on some rather fundamental issues but I was curious how he would deal with the Creed. Overall, he deals with it very, very well.

He notes early on that one’s view of the Creed is tied to one’s view of Scripture. Since the Creed simply summarizes core aspects of Biblical revelation, if one dismisses the Bible as just the work of human authors or unreliable in the process of copying and translation, one is not going to be terribly excited about the Creed, and will likely dismiss all or parts of it out of hand. However if one takes Scripture seriously, as Christians have for the past two thousand years, then the Creed will be a handy way of boiling down the core matters that define whether one is a Christian or not.

This is important.

Anyone can call themselves a Christian. But for 2000 years the basic litmus test for such an assertion is whether or not they believe everything the Creed states. Not because the Creed is inspired in any way, but because the Creed is anchored firmly in Scripture and Scripture is the defining source for Christian faith. You can call yourself a Christian all you want, but if you deny any elements of the Creed, you are dismantling a very integrated theology and world-view, one that Christians for thousands of years have insisted cannot be dismantled. It is either accepted in entirety, or it cannot stand up to sustained critical examination.

With this in mind, it’s interesting that McGrath is able to assert wholeheartedly the opening description of God the Father – Maker of Heaven and Earth. If he is an ardent supporter or defender of theistic evolution, he doesn’t go into it here. He rightly maintains that God is the creator of all things but skirts the issue of whether the Biblical description of a seven-day creation is literal or possibly metaphorical. Some might argue that such an issue is tangential and unrelated to the generic statement of God as maker of heaven and earth. However as McGrath notes elsewhere in this book, to discount the miraculous in one part of Scripture throws a wrench into maintaining support for the miraculous elsewhere. And while I don’t doubt McGrath would argue theistic evolution is not denying God’s miraculous creative role, there are many Christians (myself included) who disagree with him.

This is a good introductory exploration of the Creed. Each chapter takes up one of the twelve faith statements. McGrath first explains all of the relevant parts of the statement at hand. He then returns to address how the ideas play out today. To affirm that God is the Father is one thing, but if it is to be more than an intellectual assent, it should have some interplay with how we live our lives if we believe it to be true, and McGrath does respectable work at connecting those dots.

At just over 100 pages in length (plus a bibliography and some helpful notes for those who want to use the book for small group study) it’s not exhaustive by any means. But it’s a good reminder (perhaps to those in McGrath’s Reformed stream of Christianity) that the Creeds are very helpful and good, and should be greatly esteemed.

The Other Antibodies?

May 18, 2021

According to the World Health Organization, over 32 million Americans have had COVID. That’s about 20% of the total number of Americans who have received both one vaccine installment and about 25% of the total who have received both installments. It’s a sizable group of people.

Although reliable data has been hard to come by from the beginning, data seems to demonstrate that both those infected with COVID and those receiving vaccinations generate antibodies which are supposed to provide protection against severe COVID symptoms, possibly protection against mild symptoms, and possibly protection against re-infection. Not only that, a recent study suggests that these antibodies gradually disappear from people at about the same rate regardless of whether the person had COVID or was vaccinated against it.

So I find it fascinating that while a major media push continues to urge people to get their vaccinations (both doses) and criticizes anyone who is reluctant or uninterested, there is absolutely no data available for how people who have had COVID may alter their social distancing and mask wearing, particularly in light of the Center for Disease Control’s recent proclamations that fully immunized people can dispense with both masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor situations. The CDC site says nothing about whether people who have had COVID can similarly do without masks and social distancing. Perusing the CDC site, you’d be hard pressed to know that 32 million Americans have had COVID, have recovered from it, and have the same antibodies and therefore presumably protections the vaccines are supposed to create.

Information is hard to come by. Some reports make it sound as though the vaccines provide better protection than actually getting COVID, which seems counterintuitive to me but admittedly I’m not an immunologist. There are a lot of TV news snippets that address this topic, and given the short amount of time involved there aren’t any good references to support the assertions.

I was excited to find this article from MIT on the topic, however they assert that it’s possible to get re-infected after you’ve had COVID, implying that this doesn’t happen with vaccinated people. However there have certainly been more than a few anecdotal reports of people still getting COVID after getting both doses of the vaccine. The article references this CDC page, but the information here reads strangely to me as well. Experts are uncertain how long any of the antibodies and immunities last, whether from having COVID or from getting the vaccines, because everything was rushed so quickly they didn’t have time to do longer term testing – something this page at least acknowledges to some degree, while still insisting that despite a general lack of knowledge and understanding, you should still get vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID.

At the very least it would be nice to see more discussion on this. Whether from COVID or from vaccines, it seems pretty certain the antibodies created and maintained after fighting off the infection don’t last forever, and probably aren’t reliably around in adequate numbers as soon as six to nine months after infection/vaccination. Which means that in addition to pressuring people to get their first round of vaccinations, they’re going to need to start ramping up a campaign to encourage people to come back in for a booster. Or two. It will be interesting to see how well this is received, as people begin to realize they’re expected (or perhaps even required!) to receive at least one if not two annual boosters to maintain their antibody levels. Will the emphasis on getting flu shots every year make the idea of an annual COVID booster more palatable? For how long? Are we moving towards a general expectation (or requirement) that everyone come in for a shot every year containing whatever new things are believed to protect us?

Curiouser and curiouser.