02 April 2009

Meridian Street Shorts

Teaching idioms. A while back I praised the book The Gift of the Stranger. In a paper I wrote for a conference at the New Humanitarian Institute, but delivered in my absence because we were back in the USA, I tried to say a bit about how this book helped shape some of my teaching.
The authors challenge instructors to clarify (1) the motivation of foreign language instruction; and (2) the whole-life influence they desire to have on their students. Often foreign language instruction is marketed as a way to be a more effective businessperson, persuader, tourist, connoisseur--all ways of enhancing the learner with little regard for the value of the target culture, or even for the value of the learner to the target culture. Smith and Carvill ask us to consider, instead, what kind of people our students will become, and what kind of relationship with the target culture we are preparing them for. They advocate helping our students become “gracious hosts” and “sensitive strangers,” with “spacious hearts” capable of recognizing boundaries and differences as well as our essential common humanity.
read more....

Relating to the Bible: honesty, pain, and guilt. Not long ago I sat with a circle of evangelical Friends who were telling each other about their relationship with the Bible. Almost nobody in this circle of about ten people, most of whom had a lifetime of church experience, had a serene relationship with the book. One frequent theme was knowing that the Bible was important, and therefore feeling guilty that it was not an important part of daily life. Another overlapping theme: former diligence replaced at some point by current neglect. One person said, helpfully, that he had learned that when people say, "The Bible says," he knows that this really means, "I interpret the Bible as saying...." Some people had been on the receiving end of judgmental applications of Scripture. Others simply didn't know what to make of God's apparent cruelty and ruthlessness--for example, in the books of Joshua and Judges.

A couple of people simply confessed that their eyes tended to slide over the words and they had a hard time retaining the material. For me as an adult convert, the Bible is the community-ratified story of my family, a source of endless fascination simply as documents, aside from their inspired origins and equally inspired process of compilation. As I've said before, the Bible itself does not require us to treat it as magic. In their own way, those famous verses of Paul are as servant-spirited as they are powerful: "... Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother's milk! There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us." (from 2 Timothy 3:14-17, The Message.)

I was grateful for the honesty of these participants. The session challenged me to think about what might be required of those who love the Bible to provide fresh access to its treasures, while DEcreasing the factors leading to these frequent neglect/guilt cycles.

Voracious consumers. President Barack Obama was put in a nearly impossible position on the G-20 world stage: expected to demonstrate leadership without dominating, to defer without abdicating, to inspire modestly. I think he succeeded. I was particularly grateful for a challenge from Obama that is directed as much to us as to those internationally who have a dysfunctional love/hate relationship with us: the USA isn't likely to return to its "voracious consumer" role in the world economy. (And he might have added, "nor should it.") I hope that "stimulus" money that goes into health and education and better energy stewardship wears new patterns into our global economy, so that the planet can simply find a more sustainable metabolism rate.

Unfortunately, it's not just the booms and busts of consumer appetites that threaten global stability. We're going to need significant amounts of energy and resources in the foreseeable future, whatever near-term changes we succeed in making. How do we find new patterns of trade that recognize the moral and ecological poverty of the petroleum chess game being waged ferociously even as the G-20 leaders politely say goodbye to each other? Will there ever be a G-20-style table where the resource-rich and the resource-hungry lay their cards out, recognize that ANY unfair configuration lays the basis for future conflict, and make honest and transparent bargains?

Ordinary citizens may feel relatively powerless, but we ought to beat a constant drum for honesty. Among Russians, for example, nothing inspires more cynicism (in my experience) than the claim that the USA only desires to spread freedom and democracy. All a Russian observer needs to do is look at which countries in the world flagrantly violate their citizens' rights without fear of American reaction, and what resources those countries supply to the USA. I only hope that President Obama's performance in the last couple of days signals a new era of candor. If it does, he'll need all our prayers.
Righteous links.
  • No More Hummer Nation . . . wishes Maureen Dowd.
  • American Religious Identification Survey, 2008 version: plenty of fascinating details to poke around in. And here's a Russian news story about the survey; if you don't read Russian, look anyway to see the photo they chose to head the story. (Thanks to Sasha Gorbenko for tipping me off.) I can't help wondering if that choice of photo reflects an assumption about American spirituality!
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation testifies before the U.S. Congress; see site for link to the testimony presented by Bridget Moix--a graceful, succinct document.
  • Friendly Circle--Cincinnati publishes Mary Kay's eloquent plea to stop obsessing on our Quaker diversity and other well-worn domestic agendas and start asking what's on God's agenda??? This is a highly inadequate summary--please read for yourself.
  • open source theology offers a thoughtful critique of Richard Rohr's attempt (video provided) to describe a growing consensus in the emerging church movement.
  • Thanks to DVDs borrowed from Luke, I'm catching up with a year and a half of Battlestar Galactica, hoping that I find an episode or two worth using in class so that I can justify this amount of happy video escapism. This article helped me believe I'm engaging in worthwhile cultural/theological reflection.
  • To end: one more eloquent reminder of the stakes involved in our worldwide economic "reboot." And a theological reflection: who really counts?

Charlie Musselwhite's question: "Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?"

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