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The internet is a playground for the mind. Every spark and curiosity can find its own rabbit hole for satiation.

I’m back into teaching Gatsby with my students. I get excited because I get to discuss and research Bourdieu, Verben, and other marxist/sociologists with my students through literature. Gatsby is the book to explore and criticize how capitalist America dupes its people into believing that their habits, manners, and consumption reflects their true identity. From Gatsby’s artificial but elevated “old sport” to Myrtle’s trashy Town Tattle (equivalent of a tabloid today) – these are the awkward portrayals of the burros trying to play horses.

I wanted to draw my students in to a discussion about “conspicuous consumption”, or the type of purchasing and flaunting of goods to signal wealth and status. Not surprisingly, according to this slate article,  Blacks and Hispanics spend more of their incomes on “visible goods”, or as Verben would put it, conspicuous consumption. They’ll spend a shit ton of money on Jordans but skimp on healthy food or educational toys.

This went down a further rabbit hole about the cost of shoes.  apparently shoe companies don’t make that much money. But TJ Maxx certainly does. Makes me feel that the economic picture and typical rant against capitalism needs to be a little more nuanced.

 

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Wow, Dallas Willard struck a chord today.

I have searched long and hard for the mechanics of the Cross. How does it work? How does it atone? Why does a man dying on the cross expiate/propitiate my sin? Historical “theories” or metaphors of atonement have been built in response to these historical questions. They take on names such as “substitutionary”, “penal”, and “Christus Victor” – all with special emphases on how the Cross accomplishes the act of ridding us of sin.

They all have their place and help me understand how God’s judgment and mercy are both located on the Cross.

But an overly academic fixation on the mechanics of the Cross leaves us completely befuddled as to why Christ came down in the first place. If it is true that the work of the cross and the supernatural resurrection created the ultimate Deus ex machina moment – wherefore bother learning The Beatitudes, The Sermon on The Mount, the various parables and condemnations? Why not send baby Jesus down, kill him, then resurrect him and not bother about all the teachings about loving your neighbor and our God?

Dallas Willard brings to light this problem in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”. As the church progressed, the church began to emphasize solely the work on the Cross rather than the life of Jesus. He writes:

The church’s understanding of salvation then slowly narrowed down to a mere forgiveness of sins, leading to heaven beyond this life. And Christ’s death came to be regarded as only the merit-supplying means to that forgiveness, not as the point where his life was most fully displayed and triumphant, forever breaking the power of sin over concrete existence. (36)

And later,

The cross act was first narrowly interpreted as mere vicarious suffering and then mistaken for the whole of the redemptive action of God. Christ’s life and teaching were therefore nonessential to the work of redemption and were regarded as just poignant decorations for his cross, since his only saving function was conceived be that of a blood sacrifice to purchase our forgiveness. 

Jesus, then, is the ultimate athlete. His life and teaching culminated in his final act of obedience and grace – the Cross. It is not merely an instrument (though it is that) for our salvation, it is Christ’s ultimate performance of love – which we are all seeking to be and do.

I fantasize a lot. Especially when I grade sh*tty essays at 11pm on a Friday night.

My fantasies are weird. Sometimes they’re sports themed. Sometimes public speaking themed. Other times it’s in church and I’m delivering some sort of tirade or diatribe about how selfish we really are.

I think I must believe this on some level, otherwise I don’t think I would fantasize about these things.

And, yet, after “snapping out” of the dream I breathe in sober air and realize in the majority of these tirades, diatribes, and speeches one can descry a feeble person crying for attention, respect, praise, and ultimately, power. With it, we can transform our fantasies into realities, and bring about some “self actualization”. But even more, a by product of power is self righteousness and a self separation. Power elevates you above others – either through force or rhetoric – and you therefore can judge.

Why does this lust for power reside in me and my fellow man? Why do I want to stand above, but, not among my fellow man? Why is it so important to gain the notoriety, authority, from others and not enjoy the anonymity of an audience member? What is it that you need to establish?

Personally, I guess it must come from my upbringing to an extent. Favored child and son of a very proud Chinese family, I have been fed with a steady diet of praise and affirmation, and, perhaps, without a constant stream of adulation one might figure that something is amiss.

But that’s selfish. This attention-seeking is born from a lack of faith in Jesus, who has given all of his attention, love, and care to us equally and abundantly. He has not poured himself and divided himself equally as if he was a loaf of bread being portioned to paupers, but he is an endless wine that’s given “equally” – that is – everyone can receive it as equals, and not as someone with distinction or no distinction. There is no requirement that needs to be met in order to drink this wine. It is unlimited, therefore it does not need portioning.

I bet that that is why some of us reject it. It is unlimited. It is free. It therefore cannot differentiate me from fellow men. Doesn’t this go against our natural inclination to be different and acknowledge our unique identity? Isn’t this what “taste” truly means? To be able to select, purchase, and adorn ourselves with the various accoutrements and material things means to separate ourselves from each other to build our personal and collective identities (think: the public praise of Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Nike knit socks, custom made cuff links etc.). Doesn’t scarcity of resources therefore lead us to create hierarchical structures that rewards different groups of people and individuals based on their merits, heredity, and utility?

But Jesus is an endless resource, therefore, he is valueless to the person who desires  individuation (simply because individuation is predicated on scarcity) but he is infinitely valuable to the sinner, the parched, the downtrodden, the poor, and the rejected.

I don’t know what I’m saying. I just know that in econ something is valuable if it is rare, and less valuable if it is abundant, but Jesus as a resource is not rare but infinitely abundant and has no limits. Perhaps that is one reason why men reject him.

EFFING TIRED. WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK.

How are teachers also parents? sons? daughters? uncles? aunts? lay members of church? leaders at church? husbands? wives?

…alive???

The fear of taking on any of the aforementioned roles while teaching simultaneously scares the _____________ out of me.

In other news, whenever someone asks me about my job I always respond,

“I LOVE IT”

why might you ask?

“I DON’T KNOW.”

Okay done complaining.

I must remember to rewatch this about systematic reform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuB_B7z0Ngw

The problem is not always people, or lack of motivation, or whatever. It’s the SYSTEM of a downnnn

 

 

okay. I don’t know how else to describe it. My job is challenging, as always. Every aspect of it. The intellectual side – planing, thinking, reading, designing, wording – is still a challenge for me. The human side – managing, coaching, encouraging, disciplining, loving – remains ever a challenge. Sometimes I wonder if I am cut out for this job. I know I can survive…but can I thrive? Can I, as selfish as this sounds, make a difference?

I have to remind myself that teaching isn’t purely a numbers game. Ideally, I’d love to see my students drink Progressivist Kool-Aid and go to college. I’d like to see them become more nerdy and stop obsessing over their phones, football/basketball, or high school fights (overgeneralizing here). I’d like to see the majority of my classes learn to love reading and discover their writing “voice”. I’d like them to score well on standardized tests.

In my 7 years of teaching, including Turkmenistan, I’ve had:

  • 1 student pass an exam to participate in a State Department sponsored exchange program.
  • 1 student graduate from university and become an English teacher.
  • 4 students enter some Turkmen university. All still speak (er..text) English rather well.
  • 2 former freshmen students enter college.
  • And I’m hoping for a slew of other students go on to college next year.

Not bad. Not quite the numbers that any teacher or admin would hope for, but there’s always Henri Nouwen to encourage me:

God rejoices. Not because the problem of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising Him for His goodness. No, God rejoices because one of His children who was lost has been found. What I am called to is to enter into the joy. It is God’s joy, not the joy that the world offers. It is the joy that comes from seeing a child walk home amid all the destruction, devastation, and anguish of the world. It is a hidden joy as inconspicuous as the flute player that Rembrandt painted in the wall above the head of the seated observer.

I have to remember that God loves every individual, and that, while he is the architect and designer of the cosmos and is thus necessarily invested in his creation on a statistically significant scale, he also is the God who paints parables of himself in which he leaves 99 sheep to find the one stray one. This is a God worth knowing.

How Nouwen’s insight about God’s character connects with my less than exemplary teaching stats is not clear. I think I am trying to console myself with dismal numbers by noting that I have made a difference in at least a few students’ individual lives.


Today I read a blog post on the differing perspectives of Muslims and Christians on the Eid-al-adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice. For Muslims, they commemorate Abraham’s obedience to Allah as he was willing to sacrifice his son (Ishmael). His obedience earns him righteousness, so to speak.

But, for Christians, Paul’s reinterpretation of this Jewish story emphasizes Abraham’s faith that led to his credited righteousness (Romans 4). Abraham’s belief, not his action, merited him righteousness.

Now, for Christians, a faith in the perfect Lamb of God results in eternal righteousness that does not fade or need continual sacrifice. For Muslims, however, Muslims must continue to sacrifice for atonement of their sins. Well, that’s according to the blog post anyways. I don’t know how accurate of a statement that is because Eid Al Adha is a commemoration, not quite a sacrificial offering. Nonetheless, the distinction remains – obedience = righteousness for Muslims while faith=righteousness for Christians.

 

Thank God I have friends who can tell me the truth.

Today I sat down with one of my more disruptive students during lunch to discuss his behavior in my class. Without even much prodding, he readily admitted that his behavior and antics were not creating a calm environment. He even stated those things without me having to do much prompting. His behavior changed completely the next period – he rose his hand, participated actively, and was alive in class.

If it weren’t for my faithful friend who proofread my letter to my students, then I would have used the same guilt-inducing, somewhat mean-spirited tactics that my own mother used on me. My friend gently reminded me what “works” with students (hint: it’s not your hurt feelings) and that the ultimate goal of discipline and “pep” talk is an objective standard of fairness, not vindication or even relationship repair. You don’t have control over whether a student wants to build a relationship with you or not, but you do have a right to judge whether an action or a word abides by the social contract.

Rereading my letter today, I now realize how much of my mother is speaking through me. My mother loved me dearly, but she had very little control over her tongue. She often used sharp words and called me “weak” or “scared” especially when I failed at something. She judged people quickly and even dared to state their insecurities without reservation. They were sometimes very unkind judgments. In my letter, I resorted to similar words thinking that could cow my students into submission as my own mother did. I did not stop to think about how that made me feel when my mother spit such venom, and failed to extend that empathy to my own students under such vindictive scrutiny. It is true then, that we become our parents without our even knowing it. I have used the same guilt inducing, venomous talk that my mother often used when she was upset with us or with others.

She still loved us, however. And from the same mouth came both curses and blessings.

To provide some context for this post, this past week I have been reeling from and feeding off of my own anger because my students have been driving me to the edge.I’ve stayed late at school giving imaginary, expletive-laden, Jim Harbaugh-like pep talks. I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs, cowing my students into fear and trembling. In reality, only one particular class, my 5th period, have created a hostile and unsafe environment for students and for me. The students in the rest of my periods are angels. I mean, really, they’ve done everything I’ve asked and more. That’s probably because I teach mostly ELLs from different countries, and they haven’t yet assimilated the whininess and general apathy of American teenage culture.

Anyways, going to bed. Glad I had some time to write.

Ironic that I’m posting this on my blog? Yup.

This article in the Atlantic confirms all our worst suspicions about teens and social media:

increased screen time on social media leads to depression for teens. 

Here’s one quote that provides a reason why this is so:

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.

The article makes me want to throw my phone at the wall and snap my laptop in half. I certainly am much more happier spending time with folks in person and reading books on paper. If only I knew how to make time…

Things are hard.

I want to think more clearly about the choices I’m making, and the words I’m using. It takes time and discipline and lots of trial and error to be mature and complete, says James, so I have to learn how to be patient with myself.

Today I read a lot on the internet. Jumping from webpages about Donator Advised Funds, to tithing, to Francis Chan’s radical living, to a sola fideist’s critique of Chan’s Crazy Love as being too extreme, which led me to search up quotes from Alan Jacob’s Original Sin, but ended up leading me to a review of his book

It’s just too much information. I’m trying to formulate a question to help direct my search. Francis Chan appeals to me because he has done some radical things in life that I admire and desire to emulate: he donates 90% of his money, he steps down from a glittering pulpit, his instinct tells him to go small and live uncomfortably rather than just go home. Are these things mired in guilt? When I hear him talk about tithing in the church, he will denounce moral compulsion as a motivator. And yet, in his other sermons he is afraid of, for lack of a better term for now, “Big Business” Christianity where the parking lots are full, the people eager adulators, and the money flows fast. In one of the Francis Chan fan site blogs they relate a story about how Francis Chan decided to downsize his church:

He tells the story of a gang member who converted, but stopped going to church after a while. Asked why, he said: “When I was baptized, I thought that was going to be being jumped into the gang where it’s like 24/7 they’re my family, because I didn’t know it was just somewhere we attend on Sundays.”

Chan commented: “That makes me so sick that the gangs are a better picture of family than the church of Jesus Christ. I can’t live with that.”

Well, I got to go help dad clean stuff up and set up things for mom’s tea party. More later. But the question I find myself asking – what does the belief in Jesus do to us psychologically, and thus, manifest itself in our decisions? For me, I identify with Chan more than any one – not only because he’s asian, but because I find myself nodding my head when I read these blogs about him. I sense that our Christianity is too businessey, too bland, too comfortable, too rich, too much like a place to have a few polite minutes of conversation rather than a “family”. When he says something like “I can’t live with [a stultifying and mundane Christianity]”, I hear a sense of frustration with how the world is. Or maybe I hear a sense of guilt. Maybe it’s my own frustration with the world and guilt that reverberates while reading those words.

Well, then – if we are saved by faith alone (sola fide), then why do I – and people like Chan – still experience a sense of guilt?

After a long discussion about how I feel like teaching is a Sisyphian task, I run across a poem by Emily Dickinson while researching diagnostic tests for my English Language Learners. And it is strangely liberating.

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

Emily Dickinson1830 – 1886

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

the teacher did not rise again because he stayed late at work again. Tomorrow is the third day of school, and I am exhausted and genuinely fear that I will not wake at the usual 5:45am to go to the gym. I’ve done it for a good 2 weeks going on 3, so I hope I can just keep it up. I’ve lost at least 4 pounds as well, so I’ve got to keep it up.

I keep trying to convince myself that I love this job.

I do, but I’m being worn down these days. Too many responsibilities. Too many needs. Too many poor kids with absent parents causing problems in my classroom. Too many emotions. Too many new teachers. Too many students. Too many chairs in the classroom.

Too few serious students. Too few parents involved in their kids’ education. Too few copiers. Too few working printers. Too few books. I can’t even tell if this is grammatically correct right now because I am exhausted.

A student’s warmth can glow in you for a while. Just being around the kids one cannot help but warm yourself by their energy and hope. Many of them feign cynical, but they all carry secret desires and goals. They’re too young to not have any fantasies.

While the youth are ignorant of the trials to come, the “mature” and “seasoned” adults grow dim and cynical. It’s not their fault. Adults experience failure, disappointment, and loss in their careers and their relationships and their families.  Their youthful dreams remain in the ether, and their realities remain stubbornly grounded.


I read Mark Lilla’s op-ed piece on how the democrats can revamp their party by relinquishing identity politics and refocusing on a message that appeals to a wider swath of Americans. He acknowledges diversity’s role in making America, well, more diverse than their European or Asian counterparts. On the other hand, he also warns against celebrating too much “difference” as that dangerously undermines the unity of American identity and culture, which will break the solidarity of common people. He quips that while celebrating difference may sound like good “moral pedagogy”, ultimately will spell disaster for politics in an “ideological age”.

Why? Because if you focus on LGBT, Latinos, Asians, African Americans, then you will inevitably leave out the biggest contender in the room: whites. By choosing to focus on diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, Other groups, one must necessarily neglect still other groups and the systems of government.

Lilla offers an interesting observation of the last election: “Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns”
Source: The End of Identity Liberalism

Identity politics is primarily about outrage. Outrage at systemic injustice. Outrage at whatever ceiling. Outrage at the white dude.

In other words, outrage transforms into dehumanization of the other Other, or the so called oppressor. Trump won because he tricked fellow poor whites into believing that immigrants are the problem, therefore, we can still snub our noses at poor whites because they’re morally unsound.

Well, Charlottesville definitely seemed to justify such snubbery. However, as my roommate reminded me once, such feel-good snubbery will not do much in the way of healing our nation. I think Paolo Freire said as much when he said that the oppressed usually take on the tactics and attitudes of their oppressors, which further produces more dehumanization and violence.

Okay, enough for the day.