Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Be Careful

I was reading the chapter six in my stats textbook which is an introduction to probability. I didn’t think I needed an introduction to this word having been a teacher and a mother for more than 20 years:

Mom, can my friend spend the night?


Teacher, if it stops raining can we go out for recess?


See what I mean? I have used the word well over the years. My life experience caused me to approach the practice problems in the back of the chapter with unusual confidence; until I saw question number three:

3. What is the probability of selecting a score greater than 45 from a positively skewed distribution with M=40 and SD=10?

The question itself is more of that stats gobbled-gook that I happily ignore but it was the warning after the question that caught my eye:

(be careful.)

The author of my stats text does not have to worry. I am doing my best to be careful in that class.

In my Bible reading for today I found the following verse that has its own warning:

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:13

Because our God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, we can be careful to rend our hearts and not our garments. The stats question was a trick question but God does not trick. He doesn’t want actors who make a show of repentance; tearing clothes and dramatically vowing to repent only to proceed to repeat previous behavior. He wants us to rend our hearts. He wants us to expose ourselves to Him. He wants us to be vulnerable to His love and grace. Then we can feel His abounding love.

I have some good friends sitting in a hospital family room making decisions about a loved one’s care. The statements of probability they hear from the doctor are not good. Their hearts are exposed to their God and they are vulnerable to His love and grace. The decisions they will make are serious and real and so they are being careful.

They are a large and loving family. Their father is being tended to by doctors and nurses and their mother gathers with her daughters and sons. They have each other and this is no small thing: together they pray for their husband, father and grandfather. Together they explain to their children what is happening and together they share their strong faith. Together they work and plan and and sigh and cry as new news from the doctor brings new decisions to be made.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12: 1-3

They are not alone. This family forms a cloud of witnesses around their husband and father and their friends gather around them in prayer. Hovering above, around and in, this circle of children of God is their heavenly father loving and caring for them. This verse does not tell them to “be careful.” It tells them to throw off their coats and run. It tells them to do this with their eyes fixed on Jesus. He knows how they feel, He knows what they need to do, and He runs the race with them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How does the universe conspire

I had the joy of 20 plus years in a job where I was required to share my faith in everything I did or said. Now I find myself in a school where I am strongly discouraged from expressing myself from the core of my being. My faith expressions have to be compartmentalized into a cordoned off area of my brain. I must look for new ways to express parts of my philosophy that have been a great influence on what I have said and come to believe. Sometimes it is impossible to rewrite the answers to suit a secular world. How do I reword something that begins “I am a precious child of God . . .?”

I was working through an assignment for my seminar class when I came across a question that began: “How does the universe conspire . . .?” I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I am not a student of the universe. I know God made it but I wasn’t there to know if He did it quietly or accompanied Himself with a big bang. I know the universe is huge, much bigger than what my puny brain can imagine. I hear that it is always expanding, but then again, it might be contracting. However, I have never been able to assign human characteristics to the universe. Does it really conspire? Can it even think, much less plan and orchestrate our futures? More importantly, why am I seemingly studying astrology in my Psychology seminar class?

I know that I am guaranteed freedom of speech in the classes I take. I have the right to answer that question by asserting that my Heavenly Father plans my life, but I also know that assigning god-like characteristics to my God’s creation will be somehow better accepted. What I don’t understand is why this is true. If Humanists want a world without my God then why do they keep creating gods out of their world or the people who live in it?

Guess what? Mother Nature isn’t a mother and she doesn’t conspire either! Although, it has not escaped my notice that I have had to work for every major snow and ice storm this year, so I am not so sure about the weather. It definitely seems to be conspiring against me. This week will be the test. Yesterday, after church, someone walked off with my coat. If the temperatures drop below freezing I might have proof that the weather is out to get me. I’ll keep you updated.

It fascinates me how we as humans live a life that is so insecure that we conspire to create a god while simultaneously denying the God who does exist. We have a God who is all powerful, complete, all-knowing, benevolent and deeply interested in every aspect of our lives. Yet, we set Him aside and work to create some other supreme and mysterious being who guides our puny lives. I used to wonder why the Israelites would set aside God to worship a chunk of gold in the shape of a cow but I see evidence of this same behavior all around me. More importantly I see evidence of that behavior in my life.

The calf – a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces the calf of Samaria. They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. Hosea 8:6-7

Whenever I think I am responsible for my talents and the opportunities I find to use them - I create a golden calf. Whenever I worry over my life decisions - I give that calf a place of honor in my heart. Whenever I am sure that the world needs me to fix things - I kneel down and worship the idol I have put into my own heart. If I wonder why secular humanists create gods out of the universe and why scientists create gods out of nature, then I must ask myself, someone who ought to know better, why I create false gods too.

My God is powerful and all knowing and He can and does orchestrate His will in spite of me and not because of me. It is a true blessing in my life when He uses me to accomplish His will. It is not the weather or the universe that conspire either for me or against me. It is my God who loves me unconditionally.

Abba, Father, Amen.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Job 38: 4-7

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beating the system

One thing that I have lost in the process of leaving teaching to become a student, is the sense of community. I don’t have people I see on a daily basis who become an important part of my life because of our care for each other, because of our sharing of joys and sorrows and humorous moments. I haven’t lost any friends; in fact I have made some new ones, but I have lost the fellowship of a regular group of people. My friends and acquaintances change with the semester. It is a new way of being a friend.

One such friend and I meet on a weekly basis. We do not have class together but we both wait for our next class in an empty room. I share my cookies (my class is a 3 hour late night class that requires a snack for survival) and he shares his confession. He is an undergrad and I am obviously old enough to be his mother but not related enough to hold him accountable for what he confesses. It can get interesting.

The other week he told me about a scheme he has for passing mastery tests for a class he is taking. These tests are offered on computer and the students need to keep taking the tests until they have demonstrated “mastery” via a minimum score. My friend has found a way around the built in safeguards. He takes the test and marks each multiple choice question with an “a.” The computer then tells him what he got wrong and he takes the test again and marks all of those answers with a “b.” After repeating this procedure four times he has achieved a 100% score without reading any questions. Given the fact that I teach an undergraduate test and assessment class, and due to my many years working in early childhood I harbor a particular distrust for this kind of assessment, I had the best laugh I have experienced in years.

I enjoy talking with him, but let’s just say I am glad I am not his mother or his professor. The teacher in me wanted to suggest that he just read the questions and possibly learn something; however, he went on to confess that the only book he has read in the last four years was one he reluctantly read to combat boredom when he spent 2 days in jail. Somehow I didn’t think that my suggestion would be helpful.

Any parent or teacher finds this kind of story familiar. We all know people who will go to great lengths to avoid what they need to do to learn or even to get on with life. We have used familiar phrases like “quit complaining and get it done!” or “if you put half the effort into the task that you put into the avoidance of it you would be done by now.” My dad used to sum it all up in “girl, you’d cut off your nose to spite your face.” A phrase he used with me almost as often as “you’d lose your head if it weren’t attached.” I was an interesting, troubled child.

As a student I have assignments I do not want to do because I know at a gut level that they will not work with my learning style. I hate busy work; I hate papers written only to please the professor. When I am learning I create my own busy work and I learn best when I am allowed some choice in what to include in my writing or project. However, I am a mature (read: old) student and I buckle down and do the work, useless as it may be. I suppose this is why, as a teacher, I prefer to work with adult students to help them design a project that shows me what they have learned. It is a time consuming way to teach, but hopefully an effective method.

I have been thinking about the mastery quiz story and giggling over it for a week or so. The fact that it replays itself in my head suggests I have something to learn from it besides: don’t give mastery tests to students who really, really don’t like to read. Since my father assures me that I have a long history of “cutting off my nose to spite my face” I suspect I have aspects of this syndrome in my faith life. I can’t identify the issue quite yet; I am still mulling over it all in my head. However, I bet it has to do with some issue that I needlessly fight over and over; one of those “bang your head against the wall” situations. I am the rat in the maze that refuses to learn that I need to turn LEFT to get the cheese. I am just certain that I am RIGHT.

As a teacher I make mistakes all the time. As my Teacher, God never makes a mistake. The lessons He has for me are always what I need to learn about my faith and my relationship with Him. If I am struggling with an issue it is not because God has given me the wrong assignment. It is most likely because I am trying to beat the system, I am trying to get out of the lesson, I am complaining about the time and effort instead of just following His will or because I am certain that I am right.

If I could just stop struggling, complaining, insisting, whining and trying to wiggle out of things, then maybe I could manage to just be still and know that He is God.

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Psalm 34:8-11