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I watched this animated film, The Breadwinner, which follows the hardships and challenges of  an Afghan girl who dresses and acts as a boy to help her family survive without her Taliban-imprisoned father. It’s a gorgeous film that deserves much more attention than Coco or any other animated film of 2017. Even though set in the dusty, violent, and repressive city of Kabul, the film’s depictions of family sacrifice warm the heart in the midst of the terror and nonsensical violence. The depth of the story is matched by the awesome colorful art that allows us to view such tragedy from the remove of a cartoon and the innocent perspective of a child. Intermingled within the story is another folk tale of a boy who stands up to a dangerous Elephant King, the story of which is also depicted in a playful claymation-like animation.

I don’t have the capacity now to reflect deeply on this short film, but I just wanted to write it down to remember it. Perhaps one day I’ll buy the film and show it to my students or give it to my Afghan kids.

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I helped throw a bachelor party for a close friend this weekend. As far as bachelor parties go, this has been a rather tame affair as we rented an airbnb apartment next to ATT park which overlooked the caltrain depot. No adventurous hikes, or adrenaline-inducing activities – just hanging out with old friends, playing cards and video games with the the hum of the latest playoff game buzzing in the background.

We are all old friends (I’ve known most of these guys since college) and of course, as all reunions go,  30+ year old men transform into cursing, smack-talking, 15 year juvenile delinquents. Old friends have a way of doing that, and it’s nice. It brings us back to the old days when we were a little more carefree, a lot more naive, and therefore, a lot more child like (and childish).

Our diet reflects the nature of this sort of trip: with the exception of one classy prime rib dinner, we’ve been subsisting off of: beer, champagne, chips, cookies, peanut butter filled pretzels, more chips, pizza, eggs, coffee, bananas, and yet more chips. I bought an apple this morning to preserve some decency but soon the afternoon gave way to more of the same comfort junk of our youth.

I haven’t had a weekend like this in a long while, and I haven’t realized how much I miss this sort of time. That is, specifically, I miss the unplanned time of just lolling around and making ridiculous but meaningless jokes with friends. In these past not-so-sacred 24 hours, I’m not hounded by the need to perform for others or to be productive. I’m just passing through the open space and time, and, when I have a moment to myself, watching the spray of rain aimlessly falling into the San Francisco skyline from our apartment window.

Brief 3rd edition 1994

From the section Religious Revival

“President Eisenhower also repeatedly promoted a patriotic crusade to bring Americans back to God. “Recognition of the Supreme Being,” he declared, “is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism. Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life.” Not to be outdone in professing piety, Congress in 1954 added the phrase “one nation under God” to the pledge of allegiance. The following year it made the statemnt “In God We Trust” mandatory on all American currency.” – p. 847

By far the best salesman of this gospel of reassuring ‘good news’ was the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, the impresario of ‘positive thinking’ and feel-good theology. No speaker was more in demand during the 1950s, and no writer was more widely read. Peale’s book The power of Positive Thinking (1952) was a phenomenal bestseller throughout the decade – and for good reason. It offered a simple ‘how to’ course in personal happiness. “Flush out all depressing, negative, and tired thoughts,’ Peale advised. “start thinking faith, enthusiasm, and joy.’ By following this simple formula for success, he pledged, the reader could become “a more popular, esteemed, and well-liked individual.” – p. 847

From the section Neo Orthodoxy

But was it too simple?

“…’They cannot be taken seriously by responsible religious or secular people,’ he warned in 1955, ‘because they do not come to terms with the basic collective problems of our atomic age, and because the peace which they seek to inculcate is rather too simple and neat.’ True peace, Niebuhr insisted, entailed the reality of pain, a pain “caused by love and responsibility’ for the well-being of the entire human race, rather than to be solely concerned with one’s tortured self. Self-love, he reminded smug aAmericans, was the very basis of sin.” -p. 848

Which is worse?

A concrete problem that plagues you on a regular basis? Something you can research and works for progress or solution of the problem?

OR

A general malaise, a discontentment with life the origin of which resists definition and therefore any solution to the problem?

How do you teach your will to exercise self control and restraint in this digital age? The phone is an addiction, a magnet, a force that constantly whispers “do something!” We are more efficient and clever with our time, but I don’t know if we’ve gained more time. I’ve gotten more facts and knowledge, but hardly any wisdom.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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!