Christmas. Break.

1gradingAs the semester draws to its end, the mind of the college professor naturally draws to that most unenviable of tasks: grading everything.  All those assignments.  What once seemed liked such a good idea now returns to haunt us, like ghosts of Christmas past that forever want our future to look just like our present: a pile of papers (electronic or otherwise) with no end.

In the midst of this and (hopefully) the well-deserved holiday break which will follow, I’ll be taking a step away from regular writing until at least the new year.

For now, enjoy one of my favorite “Christmas songs,” courtesy of Youtube…


Who Is That Unmasked Man?

star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-poster1-610x903Today marks the online release of the teaser trailer for the upcoming film Star Trek Into Darkness.  Before today, some of the only official word was this:

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

We’ve known for a while that Benedict Cumberbatch (terrific in the BBC’s Sherlock) would be playing the as-yet-unnamed villain.  Now we have a trailer to see him in action:

The only problem is, who is he?  From the trailer he’s not recognizably any one character from the Star Trek universe we now.  We know that he is “back” and that he wants “vengeance,” but what more?  He seems to be wearing a Starfleet uniform at one point, but that could simply be a red herring.

Some possibilities:

  • Gary Mitchell:  A favored Internet theory, it seems.  Mitchell appeared in a single episode of the old Trek as one of Kirk’s good friends accidentallygary imbued with ultimate power…and consequently corrupted ultimately.  In many ways a “normal” man in the midst of a complicated transformation and emotional struggle.  Cumberbatch as Mitchell would fit this well.  Even so, he doesn’t exactly appear omnipotent here…
  • Charlie X: A young man from an episode of the Original Series also imbued with semi-omnipotent powers.  The Mitchell problem applies.
  • Khan:  That’s right, Khan.  KHAAAAAANNNN!!!  Shatner’s great nemesis from the 1960s episode “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  If that is Cumberbatch making that superhuman jump in the trailer, he could well be the kind of genetically engineered villain that fits Khan’s mold.  But he doesn’t look that bulky.  And Khan is Ricardo Montalban, isn’t he?4162010103910AM_khan
  • Garth of Izar: Possibly a longshot, but one that I’ve seen tossed around.  Garth was a Starfleet Admiral who went insane and was locked away.  His insanity or perceived need for vengeance could be what motivates the character in this film.
  • Nero reborn:  Though the first movie’s villain falls into a black hole at the end of Star Trek, this is, after all, the same franchise that famouslyLrg-1021-star-trek-movie-nero brought Spock back from the dead.  How Eric Bana turned into Benedict Cumberbatch?  Well now, that’s anybody’s guess.
  • Someone New: It is quite possible that Abrams and company have simply decided to create a new character rather than pay undue homage to the past.  If they do so compellingly, I’m all for it.  I simply hope, however, that they do not feel the need to always have a similar villain in every Trek film they make.  Star Trek is not always about such standoffs (remember Star Trek IV?), and the filmmakers would be wise to remember this.

So, fellow Trekkies, who is this Benedict Cumberbatch antagonist?  Someone I’ve mentioned, or another character from the series’ pantheon?  I await your thoughts.

Citizen Soul

MV5BMTQ2Mjc1MDQwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzUyOTUyMg@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_This morning I was asked to speak to a select group of students for a breakfast session on the topic of “the Christian as citizen.”  I’m just coming back from that meeting now, and hope that my thoughts were helpful for them.

In brief, I walked through two initial options for citizenry in the Christian sphere: 1) full-fledged Constantinian direct political action, engagement, and politicking (with all the messy confusions, compromises, and conflations involved), and 2) a retreat from the world as represented by early monasticism.  Though both images are overdrawn, I used them to represent the false dichotomy presented to many evangelicals today:Battling-Demon-Rum-Pegram-Thomas-R-9781566632096 super-political involvement or disgusted and pietistic withdrawal.

I encouraged them to think about a third way of deep involvement for reform and service within the spheres of our own influence, and played with the idea of 19th century evangelicalism as a possible model.  I also provided them some thoughts about Christian living from blogger Rachel Held Evans and a fascinating recent article from Christianity Today about the possibilities of working for the “common good.”

Can we be Christian in the public sphere without being unChristian?  Can we be political without being “political?”  I left them with these and other thoughts at the end of our brief breakfast meeting.  I concluded with an excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus, a 2nd century Christian apologetic text:

“To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world…the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.  Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together.”The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

The Tree of Plagiarism

gita6We Christians often like to say that all sins are equal in the eyes of God.  In a certain judicial sense, I suppose that’s true.  Yet qualitatively our sins carry a vastly different set of weights to them.  Lying versus mass murder?  Pride versus betrayal?  Breaking the Sabbath versus cheating on your spouse?  These might be “equal,” but we certainly know which ones have greater consequence and have larger effect.

In the academic world there is no greater sin, I think, than that of plagiarism.  The willful adoption of someone else’s work as your own is such a betrayal of the intellectual enterprise that it disrupts the whole idea of education.  It shows an utter lack of respect or understanding regarding what the whole process of learning is about.  Sad to say, all of us in the world of teaching see it happen from time to time.

In the past week or so, I have unfortunately encountered three different examples of plagiarism in my students’ work.  Though I cannot be sure that each of them did so with such intent, it seems hard to believe that they did not realize at least something improper about copying word-for-word from the Internet.integrity

It is frustrating, because I believe that 1) students should clearly realize how wrong this is (and therefore stop) and 2) they should be smarter than this.  Do they think I am not going to be able to figure out that they didn’t write something that was clearly written by someone else?  That I can’t simply Google key phrases and be directed right to the place from which they’ve stolen significant parts of their assignment?  And if it is from Wikipedia?  All the more shameful.

Plagiarizing on a Bible paper?  In a ministry class?  These things make even less sense to me…and sadden me all the same.  It takes some effort and, frankly, guts to be so brazen.  If students would only use such chutzpah to write their own words, things would be much better.  I often tell students that if they write something–ANYTHING–they are likely to get at least a “50” on their work…and that’s a lot better than the “0” they get if they are caught cheating.  At least a bad paper you write yourself leaves you with your dignity and self-respect.

Girl, at table, having trouble studyingPlagiarism is disappointing and frustrating to see…and in our digital age it is hard to get away with it.  Between the forces of Google and the power of software applications like Turnitin, students should simply know better.  Plus, guess what?  I have a PhD.  I’m fairly clever.  If you steal things from Wikipedia, I’ll figure it out.  If your writing takes a bizarre turn in the middle of the semester, I’ll know.  If you and your roommate submit the same paper?  My software will flag it immediately.  Between my own academic sense and the help of the computer age, I’m pretty good at detecting these things.

If you’re thinking of plagiarizing, don’t.  If you’ve run out of time for an assignment, just hand in something.  Anything.  But make sure it is in your own words.  And if you can’t get by in college without stealing other people’s work, you need to change your ways now…or come to the realization that you probably don’t belong here in the first place.

That is all.

Word. God. Beauty.

220px-Bradstreet_first_editionI’m teaching Biblical Interpretation this semester, and as part of the course am walking the students through the different genres of literature in the Scriptures.  Last week we talked a little bit about poetry.  As I shared with them some of my thoughts about the value of such word art, I was reminded how deeply attuned I feel to the non-prosaic.  How much such forms of communication are able to express in such beautiful ways.  When it comes to books of the Bible, for instance, Jeremiah and the Psalms just speak to my soul.

Most of the time, my love of the poetic finds the fulfillment of its affection in the world of music.  There, well-written lyrics together with intriguing melodies have the ability to transform and transport me.  Songs that trade in mystery and paint with the brush of wonder and emotion are my lot.  Most of the time, the more straightforward their words, the less meaningful.

Three artists that exemplify what I mean:

  1. U2:  Anyone who knows me is aware that (like many) I’ve been a fan of Bono and theu2-3 boys for a long time.  Their catalog is replete with words, phrases, and musical genius that can transcend the mundane.  Yes, they do sing about “Sexy Boots.”  But even then they’re not really talking about boots, are they?  There’s a lot I could say, but for now a lyrical example from the song “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” will suffice: “I remember/When we could sleep on stones/Now we lie together/In whispers and moans/When I was all messed up/And I had opera in my head/Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed.”  What does that mean?  I don’t know…but I love it.
  2. Sufjan Stevens:  He’s been around for a few years now, and like most people I first became aware of him after his 2005 album Illinois.  His lyrics are dense and often rather theological, and his penchant for musical experimentation can at times yield fascinating results.  To give you an idea of his style, the following are three of his catalogue that I find particularly meaningful:  “To Be Alone With You“–ostensibly a song sungdcc07abee09b28c8f22328611dfc0e1e95516a57 between two lovers that ends up being a meditation on God’s love as seen through the Atonement; “Silver and Gold“–a song from one of his Christmas albums that posits, I think, the meaninglessness of all our seeking after the riches of the world (I have since found out that he didn’t actually write this one but instead covers the Johnny Marks tune…but it is still amazing); lastly, “Casimir Pulaski Day“–a hard song to describe, except to say that it is about loss, grief, and questions for the Almighty.  It is a song of faith even as it is about the way life calls it into question.  For me…it may be a perfect song.

  3. Gungor:  I know that the name sounds like a techo-dinosaur band, but Michael Gungor’s group is among the best of “Christian” music out there right now.  Their recent album “Ghosts Upon the Earth” literally blew me away as they led me and fellow listeners through the music of Creation and Redemption.  Listen to the opening song of the album, “Let There Be,” with a Bible opened to the first chapter of Genesis.  I challenge you not to be moved by what you hear.

As a person of faith, having the gift of poetry and blessing of music is something for which I will be forever thankful.

What poetry and/or music similarly fires your soul?