Friday, December 22, 2006

A Timely Decision

I guess you’ve heard by now.  Time magazine has named me it’s “Person of the Year.”  You too.  I wonder how many conversations that one has generated.  

Jay Leno quipped that Time should at least give all of us one free copy (which, looking back on it now, seems strangely and doubly ironic since it appears that all of the magazine’s content is free on the web).  

I wondered if it was a scene where everyone on the committee was way behind on Christmas shopping and they all needed to get out of there.  “You!” said someone recalling the ethos of those 1970s smiley faces.  “The Person of the Year is ‘You’!”  

Where was this idea coming from?   So I read the editorial.  Turns out, there’s a fair and reasoned explanation.  According to Richard Stengel, the Time choice was based on the facts . . .

“that individuals are changing the nature of the information age, that the creators and consumers of user-generated content are transforming art and politics and commerce, that they are the engaged citizens of a new digital democracy.  From user-generated images of Baghdad strife and the London Underground bombing to the macaca moment that might have altered the midterm elections to the hundreds of thousands of individual outpourings of hope and poetry and self-absorption, this new global nervous system is changing the way we perceive the world. And the consequences of it all are both hard to know and impossible to overestimate.”

Several months ago, I wondered in a post here if blogging was part of a real revolution, or if it was more like the CB radio of yesteryear.  I’m much closer to a good answer now.  But, then, what would you expect from Time’s “Person of the Year”?

I hope you have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Musical Movements

Music has always done things to me. For one thing, certain melodies and chord progressions have the ability to make me feel sad, undone even. Sometimes I cry, even if the lyrics that go along with the music aren’t all that sad.

I can still remember when I was very young, sometimes the congregation where my family worshipped would begin singing one of a handful of hymns that never failed to melt me. Before they’d sung the second or third line, I would burst into tears, stricken by the melodies or the harmonies or whatever it was that I heard.

What I’m describing has stayed with me through the years. But these days, it’s not so much the church songs. More often, it’s popular music and some classical pieces that blow me away.

For example, one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard is Pink Floyd's “Us and Them." If I happen to listen to it from beginning to end, the song never fails to send me into this glassy-eyed funk, with me loving it all the while. If I’m listening to it on the radio, and “Funkville” isn't where I want to go, then I have to switch stations. Immediately.

Ecstatic music also does things to me, like make me happily manic or manically happy. . . . Something like that. Some songs, especially when the volume’s cranked, make me sweat. When I’m having this sort of experience with music, I’m sure that my heart rate is much higher than normal. I could mention several songs here. But in the interests of not looking too much like a complete Philistine, I’ll simply say that most of those titles would be found in that section of your local record store labeled “Head Banging!”

When I was still in grade school I used to think that no one else had my sort of relationship with music. Who else was blubbering in church? I imagined that I was the only one who knew what I knew. As long as that illusion lasted, it was never a burden, like being the only kid who sees dead people. Instead, it was like a secret that I just kept to myself.

As time went on and my world got a little larger I realized, of course, that without it being exactly the same other people did know what I knew. Music did things to them too.

As I grew up spiritually, I came to recognize music as one the greatest things God ever gave us; both the capacity and all of the good reasons to sing and make music in our hearts. Isn’t is sweet?

And now, a few of my current favorites in sometimes-strange categories:

1. Favorite Traditional Christmas Song: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

2. Favorite Traditional Hymn: “Love Divine” by Charles Wesley. The beginning of the stanza, “Finish then thy new creation . . .” is one of those tear jerkers for me.

3. Favorite Hymn I Really Don’t Know, but Have Heard a Time or Two: “Ancient Words” (by Michael W. Smith?) This one is something special. If a congregation sings it well right before the preacher stands up they’re guaranteed to get a better sermon.

4. Favorite Communion Song: “We Saw Thee Not” Tune by the Restoration Movement’s own “Singing Evangelist,” Knowles Shaw. My ears are older than the rest of me. Can you tell?

5. Favorite Movie Soundtrack: “The Sting.” Some of the best Ragtime ever.

6. Favorite Recorded Groove: Steely Dan’s, “Peg.” Exquisite guitar solo too. If you don’t feel five degrees cooler when you hear this song, check for a pulse.

7. Favorite Solo Album by Someone Who Previously Got Famous with a Band: Steely Dan front man Donald Fagen’s “The Night Fly.” (People who sell speakers for a living should be paying commissions for their use of this one).

8. Favorite Mostly-Unacknowledged Power Trio from Yesteryear: Triumph.

So, what does music do with you? Any favorite songs? Bands? Forgotten tunes? Memorable experiences with music? Let’s hear it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some Plans for Next Year

I’m making big plans for 2007. If all goes according to schedule, I’ll be taking trips to Connecticut (my daughter’s graduation), Colorado (family get-together) and California (professional meeting).

By virtue of my job, I get to visit and teach at a lot of churches in the Texas panhandle. If anything, I’ll be doing even more of that next year. One speaking gig I’m especially looking forward to is October’s “Friends Day” at the Comanche Trail Church of Christ here in Amarillo.

Starting in the fall, the Religion Department is hoping to offer two semesters of “Elementary Biblical Hebrew” at Amarillo College. I just hope my Hebrew holds up well till then.

And I’ll be reading. Here are some of the books, and a little bit about why:

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

I bought a copy of this book as soon as it came out. I heard about it on this radio talk show and was intrigued. It’s still sitting there on the shelf. Meanwhile, folks have been raving about it.

For me, reading fiction is sort of like waxing my car. I’m not drawn to it, and don’t do it very often. But once I get started, I like it and always feel like it was time well spent.

Michele’s constantly goofing on me because I rarely read fiction. She sees it the way I see non-fiction. Why would someone want to read the other? She’s been known to read some slightly-racy stories. So for those book debates that she usually wins, I’m fond of a standard retort in which I ask her about “Love’s Luscious Lust.” (Disclaimer: If there is such a title, Michele hasn’t read it. . . . I think).

A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, by Roger S. Gottlieb

Several years ago, I got lost and found myself at the intersection of Christianity and conservation. Not that I’m much of an activist. I’m not. But I did use a little of my preaching-teaching time to put environmental issues in a theological frame (as opposed to a radicalized political frame). I want to read this book because it’s advertised as the “first comprehensive account of religious environmentalism.” Ooooh. (That other sound you hear is Michele scoffing in the background).

Evil and the Justice of God, by N. T. Wright.

I first met Tom Wright back in 1991. At a session on Romans during the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, the two people who sat down on either side of me were him and Gordon Fee. I felt like a dime between two silver dollars.

Anyway, when Wright delivered the Schaffer Lectures at Yale in 1996, the Divinity School and Religion Department were places where people like Wayne Meeks and Abe Malherbe would have had a lot more to say about Paul than Jesus. However, if others in New Haven had been lecturing about Jesus, I dare say it wouldn’t have been the sort of thing that Wright delivering.

On top of all that, he concluded his third and final lecture with something like an altar call for academicians. I thought I was dreaming and kept waiting for someone to stand up and say, “Hal-le-LU-jah!”

To his credit, and in his funny sort of way, Leander Keck followed Wright at the lectern and said, “Finally, someone who thinks that Jesus stood in a tradition.” (Remember the Jesus Seminar?) If ever there was an academic tour de force, Wright’s lectures at Yale were it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Someone has said that Wright writes faster than most of us read. I’m doing my best to keep up.

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker J. Palmer

This one came out in the 1990s and established a good reputation for itself. Not long after it was first published, several of the faculty at a community college where I was an adjunct were reading the book and having regular get-togethers to discuss it. It was all the rage, and I’ve been interested in it ever since. It’s past time for me to read this one.

So where are you going next year? (If you get to go overseas, I’ll probably post your comment. But I don’t want to hear too much). Any gotta-read books?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Making the Grade

We’re nearing the end of finals week at Amarillo College.  That’s right.  Between now and the beginning of 2007, I have no more classes to teach, no more papers to read, no more tests to give, etc.

On the other hand, I do have final grades to figure and turn in, syllabi to revise (and, in some cases, produce), a bunch of administrative chores to do, a report to write, etc.  So don’t be too jealous.

Speaking of grades, one of the hardest things for me to do is to finally give that “F” to the student who deserves nothing better.  When I had to face that for the first time, I was lamenting about it to one of my mentors, Jerry Klein.  He’s one of the former directors of this Bible Chair, and he always has a good response to my questions.  

So there I was, fretting over assigning Fs, when Jerry said:  “Frank, years ago I concluded that for some students making an F is part of the educational process.”  Since then, I’ve repeated that one more than once.  But I’m still thankful that a huge majority of my students score anywhere from A to C.  It’s hard to see someone stumbling through the school of hard knocks.

So, if you had to give yourself a grade for 2006, what would it be?  What was your last F in life?  Did it serve an educational purpose for you?  Any recent As?