The Life of the College Professor

movie-critic-kid-01Another busy day today, I’m afraid.  Committee work, teaching, grading, a faculty meeting, and all the other sorts of things that occupy a professor’s time.  Plus: tonight I’ve been invited by some of the students to be a judge for the student Film Festival.  she-needs-to-sort-out-her-priorities-professor-mcgonagall-32750137-500-560

I assume the “films” will be on the order of short videos, and I of course have no real experience with the technical aspects of such undertaking, but I look forward to it.  When time does allow, one of the exciting things about being a college professor is simply getting to know one’s students.  They come in all kinds, surely…but if I didn’t like them, I would wonder why I got into this in the first place!

Depending on how it all transpires, I’ll report back tomorrow on the results of the cinematic experiences I’m about to undergo.  Let me know if you have any pointers…

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A Child’s Treasury of Links

238068A busy day awaits, so in lieu of a full post, some fun links to occupy your time.  Enjoy the excitement!

1.  A site selling classy and artistically rendered prints based on 1960s Star Trek episodes.  Did I buy any?  I’ll never tell.ST_EP_28_QMX

2.  In addition to all the other bacon-flavored products out there, apparently there’s even bacon syrup.  This would make for fascinating (and disgusting) soda!

3.  No two snowflakes may look alike, but apparently they can be awfully similar!  Take a look at this collection of strangers that look like twins.  (P.S.  I think they’re mostly French-Canadians, which may have something to do with it.)

4.  Lastly, a recent study shows that 25% of Americans believe that God influences who wins at sports.

Until tomorrow, then, adieu!

Life, Liberty, and Property?

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, only in time of a war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

thirdamendmentOur occasional series on constitutional amendments has now brought us to the Third.  Much less controversial in our present day than either of the previous, its principles seem almost quaint by comparison.  If memory serves, the law was passed in reaction to the “quartering” practices of the our nation’s former British overlords. It’s that simple.

Though not regularly discussed today, the Third Amendment like its two earlier counterparts helps codify the importance of personal boundaries and freedom inviolable by any authority.  No longer could any government–220px-Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800especially the Americans’ brand new one–run roughshod over the personal property of United States citizens.

The Third Amendment restores a Lockean sense of “property” as one of our fundamental rights after it had been rhetorically elided by Thomas Jefferson in his peaean to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.  We mostly take this right for granted in modern America, yet have this amendment and its freedom-based thinking to thank for it.  Though like all amendments it has faced various levels of interpretation over time, this seems to to the basis for requiring search warrants and even standing on the porch with a shotgun yelling “get off my property!”

And, of course, there’s nothing more truly American than that.

Downton Reality (SPOILERS)

DowntonAbbey2There’s been some criticism of the BBC show Downton Abbey for being a bit of a soap opera.  I agree in some ways, especially when contrived plots (the deus ex machina of both money troubles and solutions, a legal drama over a man being framed for murder, and an excessively drawn out romance) can sometimes fill up space.  In sum, however, I feel that the central theme of the show remains sound: tradition versus “progress.”  As a seriously acted and interesting reflection on living lives in a changing and ever-more-alien world, it both resonates with the American experience of the early 21st century and many individuals families in these uncertain times.

Further, even at its most dramatic the show can remain quite groundedleft_at_altar in an realistic depiction of its characters and historical period.  Consider, for instance, the recently jilting of Lady Edith at the altar.  Though certainly played for emotion, the way we regular watchers have gotten to know her over the past 2 seasons made the her loss all the more weighty.  Her emerging life as a “modern woman” fits well with the times, as does the awareness that so many young men her age were lost in the Great War.

And there there’s last night’s heartbreaking episode.  Quite unexpectedly, the Grantham’s youngest daughter Sybil died following childbirth.  The death scene was painful to watch, as all the family gathered helplessly as her young life convulsively ebbed before their very eyes.  Such a death seems rather unlikely to us in our world of modern medicine, but in some parts of the world today and throughout the downton-abbey-s3e4-dowager-countess-in-morning-x-400overwhelmingly majority of human history, birth and death often mingled together in similarly unfortunate–and sudden–ways.  The way the family began to mourn following her passing was hard to watch…but it was authentically honest about the human emotions  contained in such a loss.  Most devastating was a scene when the aged Dowager Countess–normally witty and cantankerous–walked slowly down a hallway carrying the emotional weight of Sybil’s loss together with all those experienced over her long years.

It is moments–and times–like these that make Downton more than just a soap opera.  At its best, it is a picture of human life in all its contingency…and for all the honesty about our complex and broken world that involves, I appreciate it.

Union with God in the Everyday

monksIn the third and final session of a recent young adults’ retreat, I tried to move our discussion from the “sacred” to the “secular” by talking about the ways in which communion with God’s Spirit would work in the everyday.  A typical stereotype of those who value deep spiritual experiences is that they are rather otherworldly and can fail to take any action in the outside world.  Yet, rightly considered, this is not the purpose or direction intended for a life lived in the Spirit.

I think here of Grant Wacker’s landmark study of early Pentecostal belief 978-0-674-01128-1-frontcoverand practice, Heaven Below.  Within, he notes that Spirit-filled believers exhibited both piety and pragmatism in their Christian lives.  Piety in the sense that they were deeply attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Pragmatism in  that they knew how the world worked and the demands of the present day.  They might be up all night at a prayer meeting speaking in tongues…but when 9am came they’d be on time for work.

Though I’m not sure it is what Wacker intends, my personal derivation of this combination of piety and pragmatism is helpful for understanding the role the Holy Spirit ought to play in our daily lives.  The powerful experiences that come with God’s presence are therefore to be valued, but not merely by themselves.  Instead, they are integral and foundational: by definition, the very base of all we do.  Being in communion with God does not keep such experience all for itself in disconnected contemplation, but rather exists in activated Christian living.

il_fullxfull.312900134I cannot help but think here of the “fruit of Spirit” (Galatians 5: 22-23): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  I recall the gifts of the Spirit listed in the Scripture, both the profound and seemingly mundane.  I recognize as well that these lists need not be exhaustive but are perhaps illustrative of the various ways that God’s Spirit can motivate us and work through us.

Practical Christian living in communion with the Spirit of God that is in Christ means maintaining a heart disciplined to listening and willing to act.  It is a Christian life that takes serious the words of Christ in Luke 4 at least as much as the tongues of fire in Acts 2.  Perhaps even more.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

(Luke 4:14-21, NIV)

Union with God: Weird

X-Files_generique_logo_saison_9In the second session of our Spirit-focused young adults’ retreat, I turned the tables on my initial theme.  Instead of highlighting the ways in which the search for union or communion with God was a natural desire for human beings, I reflected a bit on the ways in which the results and experiences entailed by such encounters can be anything but ordinary.

Weird, even.

Experiences of such closeness with the Divine can lead to such unpredictable and spontaneous results on our part, I think, because of great differences between the persons involved. One is us: finite, mortal, bound by space and time.  The Other: God Almighty, immortal, invisible, all-powerful, and transcendent.  To imagine that any meeting between unequal would not involve the lesser party (us) prayer-servicebeing completely overwhelmed is harder to believe, I think, than that such a moment would be “normal.”

To be sure, each person’s temperament is a bit different…and each of us outwardly respond to stimuli (spiritual, emotional, and otherwise) a bit differently.  That’s one of the reasons why some of us are Roman Catholics, others Pentecostals, and still others Presbyterians.  This does not negate the fact, however, that “God showing up” in one’s life is a powerful moment.  Just look at the examples provided by Scripture.

cane3During this session, we ended with a time of prayer in which I encouraged those gathered to ask God to “pour out His Spirit” upon them.  To seek the giftings God might have for them.  No jazzy worship band.  No overplayed emotional heart-strings.  Just a call to for us the finite to seek an encounter with God the Infinite.  I asked them to do so in boldness, even if they had no definite notions of what such a mystical encounter had to look like for them.  I told them to have no fear of doing something “wrong.”  Neither closemindedness nor weirdness for the sake of weirdness were welcome here.

Later I had them share in small groups about the experience…in the process hopefully encouraging them to be open to such sometimes times of com(union) with God in the future.

Union With God: Not Weird

image_series_guest_speakersA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at a young adults’ retreat.  The topic of the weekend concerned the place and role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian believer.  Because the sponsoring church body was Pentecostal, the implications of such spiritual matters were both ever-present and a bit daunting.

In the first session, I did my best to demystify the idea of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer.  Hoping to help many of those present move beyond past prejudices or presuppositions, I beganprayer with a basic definition of terms.  Following this I shared a bit of my own story vis-a-vis Pentecost, hoping in the process to sympathize with their concerns and, perhaps, put a face to such ideas.  I reminded those gathered that the idea of spiritual union with the divine is nothing new in the history of human religion, and is indeed a very natural search in our fallen world.

Because I’m an historian, I walked through a very brief history of the Church’s experiences with the Holy Spirit before moving on to the evening’s challenge.  That night I invited the group to spend time in prayer…but not, as per usual, for any need in particular.  Not for any specific Charley_Pride_-_Did_You_Think_to_Praymanifestation of the Spirit’s work.  Not for each other.  Not for the miraculous.  Just conversation with God and listening for his response.  I encouraged them to take the time to meditate–by themselves–and simply commune with God.

Openness to God’s presence and existing deeply in that relationship were my goals for the evening. As a group of young adults who had either little awareness of such things or a history of over-Pentecostal emphasis on matters Spirit-ual, they needed time to merely be with God.  Such free-form time with the Lord  is foundational, and I hope that it was beneficial to those gathered.  If in the midst of all of this they were able to understand how normal (or non-weird) such times of union or communion with God really are, I feel that we passed an important milestone.