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Messy life; choose rest

7 Dec

Is there a correlation between desiring control and living with the illusion that life can be measured and ordered?

Recently in a couple of areas of life I’ve experienced the damaging effects of this tightly held perspective: enslavement, frustration and discontent.

Call it law versus grace.

The illusion looks like this:

  • If I follow the rules, then I should get the desired outcome

Or to put it another way:

  • Effort in = product out

I teach French.  To human beings. Recently I woke up to the fact that I had moved back to a outcome-based method of planning activities for my classes.  We all want to see results. But what I had forgotten was that I was working with human beings and not machines.

Language learning is messy because language is complex and the way the brain learns is not linear. Instead it’s multi-dimensional.  It doesn’t work to teach rules and practice them.  You almost have to approach language from inside out, by living it as though it is a living and organic thing (which it is) and not something to be impersonally dissected and then reassembled.

At last month’s ACTFL conference I was helped hearing Dr. Stephen Krashen once again. In the course of 2 workshops, he repeatedly explained how normal it is for students to acquire language in fits and starts, NOT necessarily sequentially, but even moving backwards at times reassured me.

Why should I be surprised?  Isn’t parenting similar? Or growth in Christlikeness? What works in all three of these arenas,

  • language learning (mother tongue AND subsequent languages)
  • raising children
  • Christian sanctification

is continuous, personal and compelling input.

For my French classes, students will acquire proficiency in the language if I keep up the comprehensible input in novel and compelling ways

For raising children it’s a matter of constant training, tailored to the circumstances and needs of each individual child.

For growth in holiness, it’s daily feeding on the Good News of Christ and the cross so I can SEE Christ.  For the Bible teaches that we become what we behold.

And isn’t that true about how our children turn out? If they SEE parents modeling a life of offering grace to one another, won’t that example and vision rub off on them?

And in my classroom, to the degree my students hear and understand language, won’t the mental symbol in their brains grow clearer, so that what comes out of their mouths is more and more accurate?

So my question to myself is this:

Can I live with messiness, with chaos knowing that over time, clarity will come?

A Sally Breedlove line nails this idea for me: “Rest is allowing the present to be imperfect.” 

My sons are now adults and I can’t go back and redo parenting.  But I am still teaching, and growing as a Christian.  So as long as I have breath and energy, I want to be known and experienced as a joyful French teacher and a happy Christian.

My new syllogism:

If I accept that acquiring language and Christian character are messy endeavors, then I can be at rest as I pursue those ends.

 

 

What’s behind your worrying?

20 Jul

Mr Worry  If you’re anything like me, you worry or angst occasionally (or often!)

Knowing why we do or think anything is useful.

If we are practicing the art of worrying, it must be because we hold some principles to be true and valid.  What are these presuppositions that ground our habit?  If I am worrying, then it must because I believe that:

  • I control my life (or in ‘Christianspeak’ – I am lord of my life.)
  • I know what is best for me and for others.
  • I need circumstances to be a certain way for me to feel okay, content or at peace.
  • I have the skill, knowledge and resources at hand to meet my needs.
  • Worry is effective at changing people and circumstances.

Why do you get anxious?

Improbable does not equal false

30 Dec

At this time of year Christians around the world celebrate the miracle of the birth and appearance in human form of the invisible, immaterial, spirit Father and Creator of all that is.  God showing up as a man, one of us, is astounding and very improbable.  But that doesn’t make it untrue.

Here’s my premise:

Surprising and unpredictable events happen

Don’t you find it curious that we accept some ‘blow-your-mind’ facts with nary a ripple?

pyramids

Think about the technological skill necessary to build the pyramids or create Stonehenge, for example.  I’m amazed that so-called primitive groups of people organized themselves effectively and applied mathematical principles with such results.

Or what about those puzzling Fibonacci numbers that seem to be at the center of our orderly universe?  I’m not a math person, but just reading some of the examples on this page below make me exclaim, “How can that be?”

Stranger and more intriguing than you think

So why do I bring the improbable up?  Because I was reading about how the Holy Spirit kept the murdered and mutilated Jesus Christ from decaying once He was declared dead.  ALL bodies start to decay when blood ceases to flow.  But Jesus left the tomb two days after being placed behind a sealed and guarded rock.  More than 500 people saw him and no one exclaimed at decomposition.   Some even touched him and watched him eat, two very physical things that require a normal body.

I don’t ever doubt THAT ‘unnatural, out of the ordinary’ fact, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  So that got me thinking about some other one-off events recorded by the Old Testament, like –

  • sandals not wearing out during the 40 years of wilderness wandering (Deut 29:5)
  • Jonah’s safety during the several days he spent in a big fish (Jonah 1:17)

There are far more ‘stranger than fiction’ documented actualities that defy any rational explanation we can offer. A willingness to live with the unexplainable helps.

The next time you encounter a partial skeptic about anything, ask him what lies behind his doubts? See if you can get at his reasons, his general principle.  If he mentions what causes him to balk at accepting something out of the ordinary, then maybe by your questions you can lead him to doubt HIS doubts about everything needing an explanation that makes sense to him.

Why improbable events are more commonplace than you think

Do beliefs and knowledge differ?

23 Dec

Non-theistic person: – “Belief is different from knowledge.  Beliefs deal in faith and feelings and knowledge deals in facts and truth.”

 

Facts

Is this categorization by a typical atheist correct?  One often hears about the Fact/Feeling divide.  The assertion postulates that there are objective facts like:

  • Most climate change is man-made
  • Life begins when a fetus is viable outside of the womb

and there are subjective feelings like:

  • Parenting is my most important job

Some assumptions that often are embedded in this description of the way of the world are:

  1. Only facts are universals and can be determined to be true or false
  2. One shouldn’t argue over the subjective, for that lies in the realm of personal opinion and preference
  3. Beliefs and values are part of the subjective feeling realm
  4. Faith is a belief and needs to be private
  5. Facts are measurable and therefore indisputable

But those assumptions don’t always hold water.  Values and beliefs are wedded to facts and together the two undergird and guide ALL of our actions.  There is no clean divide or separation so that one can say, “These people’s actions are guided solely by facts, whereas those folks over there base their actions solely on beliefs.”

  • Let’s take origins.  If one starts from the position that only the material realm exists, that there is nothing transcendent, that is a statement of belief.  It takes FAITH to hold onto that viewpoint. It’s accepted a priori, not proven.
  • Consider climate change. For projections about the future, one must place faith in one’s assumptions that go into the computer model.
  • Turning to the belief in a personal, transcendent God. One must trust the reliability of the eyewitness accounts written in the Torah, that is the Old Testament if one is Jewish or the entire Bible if one is Christian or the Koran if one is Muslim.
  • Implementing an exercise program. A committed man or woman must value a more fit body AND place their faith in the specific details of the regimen to lead them to the promised results.

Logical Joes and Janes must not accept this False Dichotomy or separation. Reasonable (that is, supported by reasons) faith and values are based on facts that one holds to be true and reliable.  I put my faith in Jesus’ claims because I hold as a proven fact that His death and resurrection did take place in time and history.  Thus, the historical events prove His claim to be God is to be trusted.

Explanations and discussions take time.  Our sound-byte culture often doesn’t allow for more than quick assertive jabs.  Logical and careful argument building take time to craft and digest.  How about a campaign for SLOW THINKING à la organic and whole foods movement?

slow food

 

 

 

 

Watch out for sound byte – type thinking

2 Dec

Combat/combat……..Life/life………the Dead/the dead…….ISRAEL/Israel…..the Church/the church

Distinctions

We often fail to make distinctions and conflate multiple senses of a word into one.  This is called the Fallacy of Equivocation.  We commit these either out of ignorance or deliberately to confuse.

Kids are masters at the ‘art’ of equivocation or their other favorite technique, the fallacy aptly name, ‘Distinction without a Difference.’ You remember doing that yourself, right?  When you’d be called out by a parent for violating a house law.

“I wasn’t jumping up and down upstairs, I was only alternating my feet rapidly and firmly on the floor!”

But today, let’s focus on words that are analogous, but can mask intentions.  I thought about this listening to Mr. Obama defend his decision to send in some special forces soldiers who have ‘engaged in combat’.  He was being accused of contradicting his policy of NO MORE COMBAT TROOPS in Afghanistan.

That’s when it occurred to me that there is an explicit, all-out policy of ‘Combat’ as well as the kind of ‘combat’ that takes place when soldiers come under fire and defend themselves.  Given the difference between the two, we have the responsibility to pause to consider the surrounding circumstances and the speaker’s intentions.

What about the term, ‘Israel’?  Does this name refer to only one group of people, Jews from the Middle Eastern country?   Again, we have to consider different contexts.  At the simplest level, Israel IS a country. But that appellation also refers to the group of people who have been given a saving faith in Jesus. Paul, divinely inspired, writes in Romans 11:26, “….all Israel will be saved.”   One must take the time and…..

think before one parses out which concept Israel refers to – the literal or the metaphorical.

What about Life and life?  Again, one is literal (are you breathing?) and one could refer to a state of enthusiasm and ‘joie de vivre’ or even ‘eternal life’ in a Christian context.

And what about Jesus who challenges his hearers with this command, “Let the dead bury the dead!”  What are the two senses in which He employs this term?  The spiritually dead and the physically dead.

And finally the Church – well, we have the church building proper, the collective of worshippers, whether actual Christian or not and then all those who are referred to as the ‘true’ church, who belong to Jesus and will be with Him forever.

These examples might seem too obvious to even write about, but in today’s climate, I find myself often exasperated at how often people tear into others with a, “But he SAID…..” without having the courtesy to give someone the intellectual benefit of the doubt and actually ASK for clarification.

May we who claim to be logical practice courteous and respectful discourse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal practices what she preaches – sometimes!

18 Mar

Progress!  I actually followed through with a response that I advocate!  Talking with a gal from church after the service, I sought clarification in her response to a question I posed BEFORE advancing the conversation.

It was a simple query. “Did you enjoy the sermon?”  Her reply surprised me. “Yes, but I find I have to be open-minded and have faith.”

In the past, I have come to understand that when someone asserts that we must not settle on a position, but remain ‘open-minded’, that they are actually employing a euphemism to mean, “No view is right or wrong!”

Without fail, upon sensing a dissenting worldview, my retort has bristled with a bit of TONE.  And worse, I have immediately lobbed MY point of view on the topic back to my conversational partner.

This time, maybe due to the ‘holy space’ we found ourselves in having come from worshipping God, I posed the simple but VERY helpful question, “What do you mean by ‘open-minded’?”

clarification

Her explanation took me by surprise.  “I have to work hard to pay attention and carefully follow what is being preached.  I tend to drift off otherwise!”

This dear older gal wasn’t using the term ‘open-minded’ to mean anything other than ‘distracted’!

Whew!  ‘Thank you, Father!’ my spirit uttered as I continued the conversation.  It turns out that she found the sermon to be just as rich and nourishing as I had.

I am SO glad I paused and solicited further meaning.

Logical Gal and a better “S-word”

11 Mar

Netanyahu

Words matter!  They have the power to build up and also to destroy.  Just think back to childhood when you were taunted by another child’s belittling epithets!

But words and pithy slogans also carry power to mobilize people.  Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu when appealing to Congress, adroitly wielded 2 such words.  Referring to Iran, the Israeli Prime Minister announced that the nuclear plan proposed FOR her by Western allies poses a ‘threat’. What kind of threat?  Here’s where contrasting word choice brought clarity in 5 seconds.

“a threat to Israel’s survival as opposed to a threat to America’s security”

Those terms (in bold) frame differing assertions. Hence, two different ‘S-words’ carry divergent presuppositions.

Let’s look at some potential presuppositions that America and Israel might employ to ground foreign policy decisions, assumptions built into their assertions.

The United States:

  • Risks to our country’s security come in various forms
  • All security risks are not equal
  • Security risks require prioritizing and subsequent assigning to different decision-making bodies for evaluation (i.e. White House, Congress, the military, the market place…)
  • Response resources are limited; therefore, some security risks might have to be tolerated for a period of time or indefinitely

Israel:

  • Risks to our country’s survival come primarily from nuclear-armed neighbors
  • If Israel does not survive as a nation, than all other problems are moot
  • Prioritization of national resources must be driven by our country’s ability to remain viable and survive as a sovereign nation-state

Do you see the force of rhetoric, of which word choice is a tool, to tap into presuppositions, which in turn drive actions?

May we all, from private individuals to public officials, take our words seriously as a resource, a gift and a responsibility.