Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Nice Pair



This is a great matching pair. My wife bought the journal for me as a graduation present (along with some really nice books - a combined Homer volume and the complete Chronicles of Narnia, in cool blue hardbacks), and it hasn't gotten the love and use it needs. I'm almost done with my current medium sized Moleskine (which I use for taking notes in church and writing down little fragments of poetry), and I think I'll use this instead. It's just a hair taller and skinnier than the Bible (the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, which is excellent), and they fit together well.

I've linked to both on Amazon below, but the notebook is much much cheaper at Barnes and Nobel. Good leather (at least to my unschooled eyes and hands), and a smyth sewn, refillable journal insert. I haven't used it enough to get it to lay open of itself, but I think with some time, abuse, and a little oiling, I think it'll do the trick nicely. I also need to put a ribbon in there, as well as add a third ribbon to my Bible.





Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adoption

Here are some links related to adoption that you might be interested in.

My wife and I are adopting through the state, and our homestudy was approved a few days ago! Praise the Lord!

I wrote a little article on the theology (or doctrine) of adoption on my Hubpages account (another venue for writing to get a little extra cash - emphasis on little).

The orphan ministry at our church is also in the process of starting a closet to help those families who are adopting or fostering. We are very excited about this as we are a young ministry, and look forward to having something tangible to do. Please pray for this ministry to raise awareness in Clemson Presbyterian Church about the call on Christians to care for orphans.

Enjoy. The Great Tradition posts will return later on this week, I promise.

Conor

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Used Bookstore

I love McClure's bookstore, Clemson's used book shop. It is only a few minutes from our house, and I always find something awesome to bring home.

Even better, they have a great kid's section. My daughter and I go there all the time (on our dates). She gets a book or two, and daddy gets a book or two. I've been blessed with a daughter who loves to read. How could it get any better?

The last trip was last week. I think we'll probably go this Friday, too (I have that day off!). Here was the haul from last week.


This week, who knows? They had some volumes of the Great Books series, but I don't want to piece it out. I daresay I could find something in the poetry section (Eliot, perhaps?), or some new Tolkien? But what I'd really like is Lewis's space trilogy (they only have the second) and Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative.

I'll let you know what we come away with.

Conor

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wordle

Wordle is a pretty cool program. If you've never used it before, you can copy and paste text into a box, and the site will arrange the text into word clouds based on frequency.

Here is an example, with the first sixteen verses of John:


I think that's pretty cool.

But a really cool thing you can do is enter a blog address/feed, and it will analyze all the text. So here is the word-cloud for this blog:

Well, it kind of makes me feel good that "good" and "things" are two of the biggest. Anyways, I like it.

Try it out. I did one with "The Allegory of the Cave" that turned out really well too, but I didn't save it. I have it up in my classroom, though.

Conor

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Great Tradition: Aristotle on Music

This will be a quick post, because this has been a very busy week.

I don't necessarily agree with Aristotle on the way he views music, particularly the moral judgements that he imposes on aspects of music that I don't think merit such judgements. For instance, he says of the flute (one of the instruments that I use to play Irish Traditional Music), that "the flute is not an instrument which has a good moral effect; it is too exciting." (64-65 in The Great Tradition)

But I do agree that music has a number of benefits, the most important being the appreciation of beautiful things. While Aristotle and I don't agree on what constitutes beautiful music, we do agree that early education in music will help children in a transfer of criteria to other things. For instance, if they know a song is beautiful because it fulfills the criteria, they can know how to judge a poem for beauty. Certainly the criteria will be different, but learning to use criteria is important.

Another benefit is the relaxation that Aristotle mentions. And here is where I'll drop a quick plug. If you find yourself in need of rest and relaxation this weekend, come to McGee's Pub in Anderson, South Carolina to see my play with Emerald Road, a traditional Irish group.

I will also say that I was able to rest and relax while watching Danu this past Thursday. They are real deal, born in Ireland musicians, and they did a really great job. If you would like to check them out, they are on iTunes.

P.S. - Emerald Road is also on iTunes

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GK Chesterton on Heresy

I started going through GK Chesterton's Heretics last night, and found it hilarious and brilliant. My first real exposure to Chesterton was reading about his debate with a prominent atheist, in which he claimed that the shadows of Christ throughout the ages not only do not prove the falsity of the Christian claim, but that they definitively do prove the truth. Great stuff.

Anyways, here are a few passages that jumped out at me.

"...but will any one say that there are any men stronger than those men of old who were dominated by their philosophy and steeped in their religion? Whether bondage be better than freedom may be discussed. But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it will be difficult for any one to deny."
And

"Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion."

I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Socratic Method

I read an interesting article last week about Socrates and his influence on the modern academic institution. Or perhaps I should say, his lack of influence, at least at the present time. It was a commentary on the news that several professors had been fired or denied tenure based on the fact that they used a Socratic method of teaching.

Perhaps the reason there is push-back against this style of teaching is that there are fewer tangibles, both in preparation and in evaluation. The teacher isn't going to give the student a study guide that has the answers to all the test questions, mostly because the evaluation isn't going to be a multiple choice or short answer test. I know that in high school I felt most comfortable with a test (AP Psych, eg) when there was a sheet that listed everything I had to remember. I felt very uncomfortable with my AP Lit exam, when I would have to write an extemporaneous essay on a text that I might never have read. I had to analyze a passage from The Onion for my exam. I had never even heard of it before that (though I return often, now).

For my high school classes, where most of the evaluations are based on analysis, I give them some questions they might want to ask, and what they might want to answer, but it is up to them to find the answers. I think this is a good method for those who possess the abilities to gather and assess information (the Rhetoric stage, for example).

I try to do the same when analyzing texts as a class. I know what I think the poem or story means, and so I ask questions to lead them to that (or their own) interpretation. I am no longer a postmodernist when it comes to literature, and I believe there is such a thing as authorial intent (and that it deserves consideration), but I'm not such a formalist to think that there is only one right meaning. Everyone has their own schemata or framework through which they understand the things they experience. I try to get the students to come to their own understanding of a poem.

I have a long way to go to get to a good understanding and application of the Socratic method in my teaching. I don't abide long pauses well, for example, and that gets me into trouble, specifically the giving-them-the-answer kind.

But it is heartening that I work in a place, and under an administrator that cherishes the Socratic method. The first time he observed me he advised me to let the pauses sit for even longer.



I tried to come up with an appropriately Socratic question with which to end this post, but could not. Like I say, a long way to go.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Tradition: Isocrates, Part I

I'v decided to try and make this a once or twice a week post, since it takes up a good amount of time. I am reading from the book every day, however, and am now going through Aristotle's Politics.

As I stated in an earlier post, I'm intending to break up the Isocrates into at least two parts, as I greatly enjoyed his selections, and have quite a bit to say.

This post will be on the selection from the Panathenaicus, which deals with the proper things to study for 1) young men, and 2) older men. He discusses different things - geometry, astronomy, eristic dialogues (debating for the sake of argument), and other arts (such as painting or music), why it is proper that young men should study those things, and how much they should study them.

It seems like these things were disparaged in this time, as inferior to dialogue. Isocrates says that these things are good to study for a time, if for no other reason than to keep the young people from other things (idle hands, and all that). He says "...that even if this learning can accomplish no other good, at any rate it keeps the young out of many other things which are harmful." Socrates says much the same thing in the selection from Xenophon, though he commended study of astronomy for the useful end of being able to find your position by heavenly bodies, and geometry for the useful end of being able to measure out a plot of property. So it seems that utility is to be reserved for the lesser arts, whereas dialogue should be pursued for its own end.

But back to Isocrates. He goes on to say that it is improper for study of these arts and sciences to continue past a certain point, for the reason that those who attain a mastery in those subjects do so to the detriment of their ability to speak, reason, and behave well.

This brings to my mind a quote from Edward Newhouse's short story "Debut Recital," in which the piano teacher is describing the performer's temperament, and what it takes to be a great performer. She says "Most performing musicians are not nice at all. They are, if you like, brats." I'm sure we have all known the type: a virtuoso from childhood, who not only is able to perform difficult pieces, but to compose them as well, and yet, take them away from their instrument, and you can't be sure they know how to tie their own shoes. They have been so absorbed in music (or whatever it is they are geniuses at) that they have forgotten - or were never taught - the basic skills in life. I can certainly see the appeal in desiring your child to be one of the "great ones" in something, but if it harms them intellectually and socially, is it worth it? I suppose every parent must answer that for themselves.

In opposition to this extremity (or eccentricity), Isocrates gives a brilliant four point description of the truly educated (or well rounded, if you like) man.

Whom, then, do I call educated, since I exclude the arts and sciences and specialties? First, those who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgement which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action; next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all with whom they associate, tolerating easily and good-naturedly what is unpleasant or offensive in others and being themselves as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as it is possible to be; furthermore, those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not unduly overcome by their misfortunes, bearing up under them bravely and in a manner worthy of our common nature; finally, and most important of all, those who are not spoiled by successes and do not desert their true selves and become arrogant, but hold their ground steadfastly as intelligent men, not rejoicing in the good things which have come to them through chance rather than in those which through their own nature and intelligence are theirs from their birth. Those who have a character which is in accord, not with one of these things, but with all of them—these, I contend, are wise and complete men, possessed of all the virtues.
Brilliant and impossible, as I'm sure you can see. I was reading through this passage while giving my daughter a bath one weekday evening, and could remember a thousand ways I had transgressed against these points. And this is only the law of a man!

I summed these points up as such in the margin:

1. Do the right thing at the right time.
2. Be good natured to all, and bear one another (their burdens and their annoying tendencies)
3. Experience your emotions, but in a controlled manner.
4. Do not be over proud of things that God as given to you as a good gift, as it did not originate in yourself.

Strict rule for anyone, especially a middle and high school teacher, and especially the second point.

Next up is the selection from the Antidosis, which was awesome.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Great Tradition: Xenophon


Today's post is my thoughts on the entry on Xenophon, in The Great Tradition. The excerpt is from The Memorabilia, and is taken from Book IV.

I greatly enjoyed Xenophon's account of how Socrates interacted with those he thought of as inferior in intellect, or, more likely, those who thought themselves superior in intellect but who were actually much less so, like poor young Euthydemus. 

But the part that most stuck with me, even after looking through the text again, and reading my marked passages and the notes that accompanied them, was this passage, where Socrates is deploring the thought of some that true knowledge is an easy thing to come by.

Soc. Is it not surprising that people anxious to learn to play the harp or the flute, or to ride, or to become proficient in any like accomplishment, are not content to work unremittingly in private by themselves at whatever it is in which they desire to excel, but they must sit at the feet of the best-esteemed teachers, doing all things and enduring all things for the sake of following the judgment of those teachers in everything, as though they themselves could not otherwise become famous; whereas, among those who aspire to become eminent politically as orators and statesmen, there are some who cannot see why they should not be able to do all that politics demand, at a moment's notice, by inspiration as it were, without any preliminary pains or preparations whatever? And yet it would appear that the latter concerns must be more difficult of achievement than the former, in proportion as there are more competitors in the field but fewer who reach the goal of their ambition, which is as much as to say that a more sustained effort of attention is needed on the part of those who embark upon the sea of politics than is elsewhere called for. (page 31 in The Great Tradition)
There are two main things that this makes me think of, and as it often is with me these days, one deals with the temporal, and one with the eternal. 

To the temporal first, then. This reminds me of the underlying attitudes of some of my students. They think that school should be easier. They think that the essay I've asked them to write is too hard. And they are hard essays. Even the middle schoolers write analyses of texts (my eighth graders analyzed a Psalm from both literary and spiritual perspectives). But that is how proficiency is achieved: practice. And just as an Olympic weightlifter doesn't dink around with the puny weights that I struggle against, because he has mastered them, but takes more, and still more, they have to be always challenging their abilities. 

Now, one thing I am not saying here is that I am one of the "best-esteemed teachers," or even that my methods are the best that they could be. Even in seven months of teaching I have learned more about which methods work and which do not than in my four year teaching track. And God willing, I will be able to continue learning such for the rest of my career. 

*

The eternal view that this quote brings me to is this: It recalls to me the times my heart rebells against the leading of the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate teacher (or counsellor, John 14:16). And how much more difficult is it to be holy, the way that God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), than to succeed in politics, or speaking well, or anything else? The same way that Euthydemus sought to rely on his books to bring him wisdom, I seek to rely on my own works to bring me into holiness, when only the sanctifying work of the Spirit will do.

Yes, sanctification will be painful at times, and hard. But we are called to be like Jesus in "doing all things and enduring all things for the sake of following the judgment of those teachers in everything." Jesus followed His teacher even unto death, shame, and separation from His eternal Father. And do I balk at having to give up some hobby or material possession that has become an idol in my heart? As the writer of Hebrews says, of me as much as of anyone, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)

*

I very much enjoyed Xenophon, and am glad to have made his acquaintance. It does make me chuckle that such a rebel would be revered by (political) conservatives. I suppose he seceded himself from Athens to Sparta.

Next is Isocrates, who is turning out to be an enjoyable handful. I might have two posts on him. One on the first two excerpts, and one on his Antidosis.

Adoption

If you haven't yet read through my family's adoption blog, it might interest you to know that my wife and I are in the process of adopting through the state (DSS). We are waiting to be approved, and then will have to wait to be placed. So unfortunately, the flurry of activity is over, and now it is on to the slow wait.

We have also been involved in starting an Orphan Ministry at our church (Clemson Presbyterian Church). The ministry is having its first meeting to raise awareness in our congregation and the surrounding community about the plight of orphans in the United States and around the world, and what we as Christians can do about it.

If you are going to be in the Upstate South Carolina area tomorrow, please consider joining us. We will have a panel of speakers giving their personal experiences with adoption and fostering, and time for discussion and questions as well (details below).

Here is a little thing I wrote detailing the meeting, and why people should consider coming. I gave this as an announcement in church a few weeks ago, but I will post it here.





In his book Reclaiming Adoption, Dan Cruver, the co-founder and president of Together for Adoption, quotes John Piper as saying “Adoption is bigger than the universe.” 

How’s that for a lead in? He goes on to explain that the reason for this is “Because the eternal communion of our triune God is behind, beneath, beside, and above the universe and is the ultimate reason and cause for our adoption.” Adoption was before the universe was, and adoption is part of the purpose for the universe - to bring God the most glory.

Ephesians 5:1 says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” and caring for orphans is no exception. Dr. David Garner, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in speaking of this, says “Imitating our Father is truly a form of worship, and the decision to adopt a child is a crisp Xerox of our Father’s love for us.”

We can see our call as Christians to care for orphans in James 1:27, which says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Now, we understand that not everyone will be called upon personally to adopt or foster a child, but there are many other ways that you personally, and that we as a church can be involved in caring for orphans and fulfilling our call from God. 

If you are curious about ways that you can help in caring for orphans, whether it be through adoption, fostering, or supporting the families who are adopting and fostering, or finding other ways to support orphan care, please consider coming to the Orphan Ministry’s Awareness meeting, which will be held on March 2nd, from 9 AM to 11 AM. We will have a panel of speakers who will give their personal experiences with fostering and adoption. We will also have a discussion on the theology of adoption, and the philosophy and purpose of the Orphan ministry. Anyone who attends will be able to ask questions of the panel of speakers, as well as give suggestions on how you would like this young ministry to serve you. So this meeting is not just for those considering orphan care, or those currently in the process. It is also for those who have adopted or fostered. We need your experience and expertise to help us help you and others like you. 

We will have child care for children up to 5th grade, but please please let Carling know soon, so she can be prepared with sitters. We will have snacks and coffee as well, and resources for you to take home and pray over.

We would be honored if you would join us for this meeting, to come alongside us in helping Clemson Presbyterian Church and its members fulfill the call from God to care for the fatherless, as He has cared for us.

If you have any questions about the ministry, or the meeting, please come talk to Carling or me, or to Carolyn and Ralph Bolding, or Dena Rapp. Thank you very much.


Thanks for reading. Please consider praying for us as a ministry, as we seek to answer this call.

Conor