Friday, August 14, 2015

"murmuring and complaining"

Don't complain.  Instead, state what you need or what can be done about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Odd Thoughts on Sainthood

     Did I say this already?  There is no "saint" in Scripture.  The word "saint" does not appear. It is never singular, only plural--"the saints."
     This is a very freeing realization.  I am not a saint, and neither are you, even though you are a believer and the most committed, patient, loving, and forgiving person on earth. Neither is "St. Paul," regardless of what church history has called him. 
     But Paul and you and I, as believers, are among the saints. 
     According to Scripture, the body of believers is the collection of "saints," those who have been "sanctified" by the blood of Christ (gruesome as that always sounds--and is).  Those who believe in Christ have joined that body of sanctified ones.  It is not by anything we individually have done. (It is grace, not works, that saves us, of course; we know that.) Not a one of us is a saint by ourselves, but together we are those who have been "sainted" by the work of Christ himself.
     That doesn't mean that we don't have good works to do, or that we can "continue in sin that grace may abound."  That is not what I mean.  All I wish to point out is that we are not being exactly biblical when we use "saint" individually.  Paul himself struggled with sin just as much as the rest of us, as his letters make clear.  
     When we get caught up in calling individuals "saint," we can get off the track in at least two ways.  One, we think that these individuals really were perfect (they weren't), and two, thinking that we can never measure up to them, we use them as an excuse for our own mediocrity.
     Instead of cruising down those errant paths, we need to recognize that we, the body of Christ, are in this together.  There is no other saint out there to do the work for us, or to cover for us--only Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith."  And we are--all of us, from Peter to Paul to Mary to Augustine to Jerome, to your favorite Sunday school teacher--His body, a body made saintly by Him.
     The question is not how I can make myself into a saint, but how I can function best as a part of the body.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Joyful Noise

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands..."
     Psalm 100 was commonly memorized when I was a kid, and it's commonly used today among believers, especially those of us who can get aslant of the music sometimes, and among those of us who like to pump the decibels up.
     Yes, do make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
     But please consider this:  when the Hebrews were busy making that noise, where were they? [pause while you think about that].  
     They were not inside the Temple.  They were not inside a tent.  They were not inside a steel-framed auditorium, or even one with acoustical tile.
     They were outside.  Outside.  They may have been in the Temple court, or they may have been in a campsite, on a mountainside, or on the walls of the city.  But they were outside
     The sound went up, to God (at least metaphorically, if not literally).  It did not reverberate on their eardrums a thousand times.  It did not kill cilia in their ear canals.  It did not make them cover their ears, turn off their hearing aids, or run for the lobby.
     I love to sing loud.  I love to praise the Lord with all my being.  But I also want to be a good steward of the many amazing senses He has granted us.  Hearing is a huge gift from God. When worship comes close to damaging our hearing ability, is it "reasonable service"?  
Does the "sacrifice of praise" mean the sacrifice of my hearing ability?
     Worship leaders: consult the science.  If is to be trusted, then most worship time is probably causing hearing damage.  
     What are we going to do about it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Who's "we"?

      On student papers, I'm frequently asking "Who's 'we'?" The options are more than my student writers realize when they carelessly throw the word around.  Is it "we" of the class (and I do tell them to consider the class as the audience, so that does resolve it if they are following instructions)? 
     Sometimes it's "we humans," which is pretty clear and inclusive. Sometimes it cracks me up because it's clearly "we men" or "we women," omitting at least half of their readership.  Often it's "we who live on campus," forgetting the third who commute.
     Sometimes it's a subconscious racial identification, with white, brown, or black in mind.  That one always worries me. (Reminds me of the time I quit reading a particular novel because I reached a paragraph about fifty pages into the thing when the race of one character was suddenly mentioned, irrelevantly, when no other racial identities had been mentioned and race was not an issue in the story; I'm a pretty critical reader, I guess, but "we writers" ought to be more awake.)  It's the old Lone Ranger joke, "What do you mean 'we,' kimosabe?" (How is it spelled--need to google that.)
      Much of the time it is "we Americans," and that one, too, disturbs me (see the blog on competition).  "We Americans" is a good one when the subject is how the US can best help the rest of the world, but not when it's how this nation ought to be afraid of some outside threat, or how this nation can defeat, overcome, or otherwise win in some international competition.
      Any of these uses of "we" may be needed at times, in various contexts.  But "we" needs to be clear.  Let "us" (writers) not be guilty of unwarranted assumptions about our readers.
       But the point that most disturbs me is how little of the time the "we" is us Christians, the Church.  Why do "we believers in Jesus" so often think more about what "we Americans" are doing, or "we men" or "we women" are doing, than about what the Church is doing? I've actually sat in Sunday school classes where the discussion ranged more around what "we Americans" ought to be frightened of than around what "we the Church" ought to be doing to correct the town's or the world's ills.
      "We here at DCC" are a Christian college, so in fact the phrase "we as Christians" does occur rather frequently in student writing.  I wish it occurred more often (though I can get tired of "we as"--just say "Christians," or whatever else is clear).  When "we" stretch our "we-ness" to be "we the Church," no longer are we fighting for rights or hegemony or attention.  Instead we start seeing things from the more universal perspective, insofar as that is possible for "us people."  We start thinking about becoming more like Jesus--humbler, kinder, more patient, loving, and trustworthy.  If "we Christians" will do this, not only will we learn to be unafraid, but also we'll see the world start to pay attention to what "we've" been trying to tell it for centuries.
      I'd like to see us Christians be clear about our default "we"--"We the people of the body of Christ, in order to form a more perfect universe..."

Friday, November 22, 2013


Competition--what's the point?  Nationally I mean.

I'm so tired of newscasts that talk about the competition that the US is in with other nations. "We're behind in math and science scores." "We're behind in trade balances." "We're ahead in Olympic golds." "We're behind in the production of ..." And now Obama is trailing Putin in international polls.

Who declared that nations exist to compete with one another?

Just because the US has been "No. 1" in this or that doesn't mean that that is the goal of existence.

But those who have been No. 1 usually fall into that trap. We've arrived, and now we have to stay there. King of the Mountain--it's a children's game. But whom do they learn it from? From their parents, from their culture, from the nature of things (survival of the fittest and all that).

Evolutionary theory implies that it all is a battle of species--a battle, a competition, for survival.

Maybe that's all wrong.

Maybe survival is a gift, and our responsibility in it all is to share the gift, to help others survive.

The TV show Survivor epitomizes the problem in our competitive outlook. The goal is to defeat everyone else and be the lone survivor. Great. Now I'm alone on my desert island. Good TV, perhaps, but a horrible approach to life.

How about (and public TV has tried some like these) Surviving, in which the premise is that we are all in this together, so how can we best work together to help all of us survive? Our foreign-aid policy at least attempts to exemplify an outward-looking attitude (whether it is is another question).

How about a newscast that begins, "Today the US advanced a step in helping provide the world with well-qualified compassionate scientists who will help us all"?   

Why can't the first "we" in our minds be the human race?

Plagiarism: The Overlooked Skill [an exercise in irony for the take-a-stand essay assignment] ]

            These days it’s Wikipedia or  When I was in junior high, eons ago, it was World Book Encyclopedia.  We learn this skill early, and it’s time we learned how valuable it is.  Plagiarism can serve us well throughout college and life, regardless of the career we choose. 

            The word “plagiarism” has been around in English since 1621, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.[1]  The idea that stealing someone else’s creation is wrong is that old in English history.  Its etymology goes back to late Latin, also according to the OED, when it meant “kidnapping,” certainly the worst kind of creation-snatching.  So the concept is as old as the hills, to use a saying whose origin I don’t want to look up but which Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says means “very old indeed” and which the OED tells me is found first in 1898 in a source called Tit-Bits.[2]  Plagiarism has been bugging us for nearly five hundred years.

            It’s high time[3] that we ditched this silly attachment to an out-moded principle that only slows us down and gets in the way of our enjoying life.  Plagiarism brings huge advantages to both teachers and students alike.  It’s time we recognized these and quit worrying about “giving credit where credit is due,” a phrase which not even the internet gives a clue to the first use of.  I mean, just think how much time you could have saved if I hadn’t bother to credit all these sources here or distract you with all these silly footnotes.

            Teachers should be the first to hop on this bandwagon.[4]  Plagiarism makes the teacher’s work so much easier!  As soon as those smoothly flowing phrases emerge in the student’s paper and the plagiarism light starts blinking in the teacher’s mind, with a click or two on the internet, the teacher’s work is done.  No need to waste time reading the work and belaboring the content, style, and mechanics.  Just fling that zero on it, and move on to the next.  What a time-saver!  The more students who rely on plagiarism, the smaller the workload becomes. 

As plagiarism gets more widely accepted, a new grading system will have to be devised.  Instead of giving zeroes, the teacher can begin awarding high grades to those who find the best work on the topic and the highest grades to those who find work that best fits the student’s personality and skill and thus is hardest to detect. Let’s encourage the skills that will help our students the most.  Skillful use of plagiarism is surely going to lead to the greatest success in life.

Of course, there is a danger here for the teacher, suggested by the word “detect.”   Teachers are curious by nature, and detection of plagiarism can become a pastime of its own, a cat-and-mouse game.  The teacher needs to realize that hours can get frittered away in uncovering every source that the amateur plagiarist has used.  While these hours can be fun—the piling up of those “Aha!” moments that are so rewarding—the teacher needs to be wary of addiction to the discovery process.  There may be other pastimes that the teacher would enjoy more—china painting or rugby, perhaps—or other family members that they maybe should be spending some time with.  The wise teacher will not become addicted to the discovery of plagiarism.  The wise teacher, in fact, may be able to make even better use of this skill.  There may be a career in law enforcement, private-eye work, or even the writing of detective fiction; vocational options abound for the astute teacher who is tired of record keeping, faculty meetings, and cell phones in class.

In the mean time, before that new career can be realized, there is a further advantage for the teacher.  If all work is well plagiarized, the teacher need not be bothered by developing any sort of relationship with the student. Since the student’s own personality, interests, and needs can be totally concealed in the plagiarized work, there is no getting to know students individually, no being weighed down by hopes for them or by fears that they cannot write a complete sentence of their own.  It’s a great emotional and moral burden off the teacher.  Teacher and student can agree to leave each other alone.  The student can still get a grade, and the teacher, a paycheck.

Benefits for the student are enormous, as well, at every level of their college education.  Freshmen clearly need plagiarism.  Freshman year is packed with so many important endeavors—sports, music, social events, games, movies, and various addictions—any way that the freshman can save time and effort is bound to reap benefits.  Instead of eight hours spent on a paper that will probably still have some errors in it, twenty minutes can be spent finding a ready-made paper whose errors the student is not even responsible for.  What a saving in time and responsibility!  The student can get right back to racking up fifty more kills on Call of Duty.  Moreover, freshman classes are all those general ones that don’t relate to any major, so it doesn’t really matter that the freshman isn’t learning anything.

Similarly, sophomores aren’t into many major classes yet, so learning is not really a big deal.  Sophomores also are dealing with the let-down after freshman year, the notorious “sophomore slump,” so they often do not have the emotional strength to be doing much.  Too drained to get out of bed, much less think, the sophomore needs help to make it to junior year.  After all, if one does not make it through sophomore year, how will one graduate?  In view of this, sophomores really have no other option than plagiarism.  Papers must be turned in, after all; something is better than nothing.

In junior and senior years, the major is now a main part of one’s curriculum, so now is the time to learn the tricks that pertain to one’s career field. One might think that this means that plagiarism must be laid aside.  How foolish!  Now is the time to perfect plagiarism in one’s own field.  Now is the time to start preparing for a lifetime of relying on the best minds in the field.    What are the key reference works and the key online sources that will save hours of reading?  As Sparknotes is to the English major, so must there be similar sources for psychology, education, business, and even Bible. Seize the day.  The work has already been done for us.  Citing sources will only lead people to think we don’t know what we’re talking about.

The senior Bible major, moreover, needs to be ready for senior sermon.  With just a little searching, the senior can find excellent sermons by the great preachers throughout history—Whitefield, Spurgeon, Donne, Brooks, Graham.  With just a few changes to update the wording, the sermon can sound fresh and original, and most of the audience has probably never read any of them anyway, so the senior is good to go.  This method is also a great time-saver when the senior is besieged with worries about the future: with huge life decisions looming, the senior doesn’t need to be bogged down in the present, worrying about a detail like a senior sermon.

Furthermore, this method is great practice for heading into ministry.  Sites like icanpreach4ru.dum can save a ton of hours of thinking. Once settled at a local congregation, the novice preacher can line up six years’ worth of sermons with just a few clicks.  What a saving of time and thought!  Moreover, when meeting up for coffee with members of the congregation, the preacher won’t be tempted to get into ideas that the parishioners don’t really want to hear about anyway because there will be no ideas in mind.

Not only do Bible majors reap these benefits but also every other major.[5]  Worship arts majors needn’t ever write an original song.  Everything that’s needed is online.  And churches are the last places that want anything fresh and new; just sing the same old songs over and over, and everyone will be happy.  The worship leader can then spend much more time in prayer or guitar practice.  

Missions majors, too: when you’re overwhelmed with the details of getting moved and settled into the ministry in a new culture, you don’t have time to prepare original teaching materials that fit the culture you’ve moved to.   Just take some stuff along that worked for Grandmother’s generation.  It’ll probably work just fine. 

Education majors can clearly benefit from plagiarism.  Isn’t education merely a matter of passing on what other people have already figured out? It doesn’t matter who thought up the ideas, just that the content get passed along.  The students will think the teacher is much smarter if the teacher appears to be the source of the ideas, not some old dead guy whose name the class has never heard.  Education often includes coaching, of course, and coaches too can win a lot more games by always stealing plays from others.  The coach who relies on original plays will soon be known for that style of play, making the patterns predictable.  And thinking up new plays every game is certainly going to be exhausting. Think of the advantage the coach has who steals from a different coach for every game.

Psychology majors?  Since psychology is about reading what is in other people’s minds, about listening to their woes, isn’t it better if the psychologist’s own mind is not cluttered up with original ideas?  How much better to have one’s own mind totally clear in order to listen well to the counselee. 

It’s almost foolish to bring up the usefulness of plagiarism to business majors.  Plagiarism is a form of stealing.  Duh.  What else is a business person going to do in life? Undergraduate school is thus the perfect place to dull one’s conscience and become skilled in the essentials of one’s trade.

Some readers may be thinking, what is so hard about citing your sources, since you have to take the time to find them?  These readers are clearly missing the point.  Not only is citing a time-consuming activity that kills the effectiveness by making the work sound or look like an academic treatise that nobody wants to read or hear, but also it undercuts the whole purpose.  Isn’t the purpose in all of writing and speaking to appear smart?  If sources are cited all the time, it’s they that will seem smart, not me.  Isn’t this all about me?

Dr. Hahlen likes to quote Coach John Wooden, formerly of UCLA, who says, “Don’t learn the tricks of the trade; learn the trade.”  Well, consider this, Coach Wooden: if the tricks of the trade are learned well in college, just watch what we’ll be able to pull off in real life.






[1] I thought about not telling you how I know that, but then you might think I’m old enough to have been around then, when it was probably general knowledge.
[2] Margaret Drabble’s edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature says Tit-Bits was “a popular weekly magazine, founded in 1818 by G. Newnes” and running until 1984.
[3] The OED says this phrase was first used in that sense in 1393(!).
[4] First used in that sense in 1899, in a letter of Teddy Roosevelt’s, according to the OED.
[5] Covered here are only the majors that DCC offers; however, the thoughtful reader should be able to apply the same logic to any major.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


For every jerk there's a fool.