Back to School and Back to Blogging

In the words of The Cars, “Hello, hello again.”

I hope you had a good Summer of 2016. I did. Even though I wrote in my last post that I planned to post here during the summer, it turns out that this didn’t happen.

Turns out that during the summer I wasn’t in a writing mode, but more of a reading mood. You see I really enjoy reading novels, but unfortunately doing this is often one of my lowest priorities during the school year. So I caught up with a vengeance by reading, Lovecraft Country, Underground Airlines, Before the Fall, The Selloutand a couple of David Baldacci books as well (because I heard him speak at the Columbus Library  in June.)

Full classes begin for us on Wednesday, so I’m in full back to school mode and thinking about how and what I’m going to teach this school year. I don’t have a list of new back to school ideas. Instead, please see what I posted this time last year by clicking here, here, here, here and also here. Also, I encourage you to check out what Jared has to share over at his The Religion Teacher site.

So, I’ll wrap this reintroduction up by inviting you to check out the Sunday lectionary gospel which I’ll post before each school week. And I have a new week-daily feature which I’ll be introducing very soon.

May Christ bless you during this school year of 2016-2017!

Sun(Fun)day Night – U.S. Presidential Candidates as Shakespeare Characters

Happy May! I hope that it has been a fun day for you on this Sunday.

Just a quick post tonight as I still have much to do before bedtime.

With the recent celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death  , I thought it would be fun to share this clever article observing a connection between each of the U.S. presidential candidates (current and withdrawn) and familiar characters from Shakespeare’s great works.

I won’t spoil the fun for you by listing any of the connections here. I will say that discovering which character Donald Trump connects to is well worth the read!

Have a great week!

Friday FaithPost: Scapegoating, Mimetic Theory and Another View of Atonement

OK, so the title of this post doesn’t roll off of the tongue very well. And you may be asking: Why should I read about atonement? How does it relate to scapegoating? Or even “What is atonement?

From a Christian theological perspective, atonement refers to how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reconciled our sins. The “bumper sticker” version of this is “Jesus saves.” Many, if not nearly all, Christians, when thinking about how Jesus saves, adopt a transactional or legalistic view of this process.

Substitutionary Atonement is a general term for this view. The logic supporting it can be summarized:

+ Human sin, both Original Sin and the myriad individual sin flowing from it, offends God’s sense of justice.

+ This justice demands payment or punishment commensurate with the offense committed against God.

+ Since human sin is so massive, there is no amount punishment or ransom humans can endure or offer which can appease God’s justice.

+ Only God’s son – both human and divine – can take upon himself human sin. When he endures the violence of brutal punishment and sacrificially sheds his blood as a stand-in for humans (a substitute) God’s justice is served. And through this sacrifice, God and humanity are reconciled.

A very popular narrative representation of this view of atonement is in C.S. Lewis’ beloved and allegorical “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Edmond betrays his siblings to the evil character. Even though he is forgiven for this by the Christ-like Aslan, the satanic witch cites the foundational justice of the land which requires traitors to become subject to destruction at her hands.Instead,  Aslan takes the witch’s violence himself, thus saving Edmond. And in doing so, an even “deeper magic” come into effect to restore him to life and energize all to defeat evil.

Another bumper sticker sized statement flows from this view of the mechanics of atonement – “Jesus Died For Your Sins.” Adherents of this perspective often emphasize how much Jesus suffered before and on the cross. A correlation is drawn between the magnitude of sin committed by humanity and the amount of pain Jesus endured as a direct consequence. The not infrequently stated: “Your sins drove a nail in to Jesus” is the harsh conclusion of this belief.

The question at the heart of this view of atonement is: “Did God the Father need (or want) Jesus to die in order to save humanity from sin and death?” Certainly Jesus died a violent death at the hands of the Romans. But, did God want/need this? If the answer is “yes,” then violence and the resulting salvation proclaimed by Christianity is sanctified and glorified. The implications cut right to the heart of Christian ethics. Although Jesus lived a life proclaiming peace, if God the Father needs/wants the blood of his son for appeasement, then violence trumps peace as the core characteristic of God’s nature. And consequently, Christians may be justified in similarly using “righteous” violence.

A growing number of theologians are showing how the exact opposite is true – Jesus died as a result of sin, specifically the foundational human sin of scapegoating.  God didn’t need/desire this violence, but allowed it, in order to turn it inside out through the resurrection of the innocent, scapegoated victim.

Perhaps the most prominent American Catholic theologian, Bishop Robert Barron, has  been speaking more and more about the theology of non-violent atonement. Read or watch below Bishop Barron’s high praise for recently deceased sociologist and theologian Rene Girard who wrote extensively about mimetic theory and scapegoating.

Bishop Barron concludes about Girard:

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

Girard also informs the excellent work of The Raven Foundation who offer this video mission statement:

I appreciate the dedicated work of the Raven team who frequently post commentary pointing out the many ways scapegoating happens all around us. Two thought-provoking, recent posts to check out are:

“Zootopia” How to Make the World a Better Place

“Spotlight” on Children

A bonus third post, my favorite one, also referencing a movie:

My Daughter, the Star Wars myth and Jesus – How to Defeat Evil

So, why did I spend time with this long post today? First of all, a week from now, on Good Friday, I hope this post and Girard’s powerful way of re-understanding how atonement happens allow you to experience the cross in a deeper, more profound way.  Next, as the violence, especially religiously justified acts, increases in the world, Christians must look at the root of our theology to critique how it may support God-ordained violence. Finally,  a deeper understanding of mimetic dynamics, the subsequent scapegoating and its ancient social power should lead all people of faith to prophetically expose this mechanism in order to defuse its seductive power.

 

 

 

Sun(Fun)day Night: Lots O’ Links on the Future of Tech

It’s another Sunday night and if you’re like me – YOU DON’T HAVE SCHOOL TOMORROW! Sorry to “shout” there, but it’s always nice to enjoy a Sunday night without the preoccupation of having to prepare to teach on Monday morning.

Rather than just offer one funny  or thought-provoking Sun(Fun)day Night link, I’m offering a whole list of them. I’ve been saving these up and now seems like as good a time as any to share them here.

Enjoy these links and take a look into the crystal ball to see the future of technology:

“Mechanical Trees Become ‘Power Plants’ When They Sway in the Breeze”

“3D Touch Opens a New Dimension of User Interaction”

“Battery Research Claims 10x Gain”

“This Samsung Patent Lets Smartwatches Recognize You by Your Veins”

“Insane Ways of Making Energy You May Not Know”

“The Mobile Phone of the Future Will Be Planted in Your Head”

“Dissolvable Devices Keep Tabs on The Brain”

“Autonomous Robots are Changing the Way We Build and Move Products Around the World”

“Hop, Skip, Drive: Uber, But For Kids”

“Scientists Can Now Predict Intelligence From Brain Activity”

“Fiction’s Newest Frontier: Literary Geocaching”

“Wearable Sensors Could Translate Sign Language Into English”

“New Foam Batteries Promise Fast Charging, Higher Capacity”

“Artificially Intelligent Software is Replacing the Textbook and Reshaping American Education”

“How Your Device Knows Your Life Through Images”

“Meet Kangaroo: A $99 Windows 10 Desktop PC as Small as a Smartphone”

“You Are Your Smartphone”

“Do Robots Need a Human-Like Sense of Touch”

“This Guy Wants Us to Commute in Autonomous On-Demand Pods” 

“Why Hearables May Be the Next Big Thing in Tech”

“Mind Controlled Robot Suits Help the Paralyzed Move Again”

“Salt-Based Batteries Could Make Your Next Mobile Device Cheaper and Greener”

“7 Unexpected Virtual Reality Use Cases”

“Microsoft’s 2016 Predictions: Expect the Year of Machine Aided Wit”

“Yahoo Labs Develops Biometric Authentication Method for Touchscreens”

“2016 Will Be the Year Wearables Disappear”

“Google Testing a Feature to Eliminate the Password”

“Future of Messaging Apps Spells the End of Google as We Know It”

“OrCam’s MyMe Wearable Will Watch and Decode the World For You”

 

 

A Song and A Band to Know – “Apple Pie” by Flannel Graph

Having a subscription to Spotify has completely changed the way I listen to music. Obviously, I haven’t bought a CD in a long time and I can stream music from my smartphone, iPad, and/or any internet-connected desktop.  In a broader way, it’s allowed me to diversify what I listen to. No longer do I listen to the same album over and over again – like I did with whatever exciting new CD  (or cassette tape before that) I bought.  Instead, I do much more exploring of genres I like  rather than just playing bands or singers with whom I am already familiar. 

A still very “Indy” duo I found recently via Spotify is Flannel Graph. According to the rather limited info about them on the web (no Wikipedia page yet – I just checked) it’s a young woman singer and young guy guitar player both of whom are from a small town in Montana. By far their most popular song on Spotify is “Five Foot Three” with about 197,500 plays so far. It’s a cute song about how the singer is “small, but mighty” with a video worth watching.

It seems that while Flannel Graph are not explicitly a Christian band (as this word doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on their home page), biblical stories inform a number of their songs. Their first full album is entitled “Ribs of Adam” and it contains a few songs with clear connections to the Bible. This focus is even more apparent on their 2013 EP “Five Foot Three” which includes a thoughtful reimagining of Psalm 23 entitled Saints Out of Sailors. 

The song to know, which I find simultaneously clever, creative and moving, is Apple Pie – a modern adaptation of the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke’s gospel. The lyrics are poetic and the pairing with the playful, folksy melody is inspired. 

 Apple Pie

by Flannel Graph

I told my dad I didn’t love him anymore 
And I grabbed all the cash 

And I ran and slammed the door 

And I spent it like 

Yea, I spent it like a movie star 

Yea, I spent it right 

I spent it right in all bars 

And I was so hungry 

So thirsty 

The ladies, they adored me 

And the men all wished to be me 

They burned with all their jealousy 

I had everything that a man like me should buy 

And I lived like a King in America with Apple Pie 

But my heart was small 

And my world was smaller than before 

And my fence was tall 

To keep out the people who were wanting more 

I knew a girl 

Oh, Katie was her name 

She was quite the whirlwind 

And she wanted to state my claim 

And she said 

Oh baby 

Oh maybe 

You and me could get married 

And we’ll settle down and bury all the warrants in our history 

But all the party lights went out 

And I was left alone 

And the amount of money that I had 

Was the amount of love I was shown 

And I had nothing 

Oh nothing 

Yea, I had nothing 

Yea, I had nothing 

No 

But I had something 

Oh, I had something 

Oh something 

Oh, I had something 

Oh, I had something 

Oh, I had something 

Oh, I had something 

Somebody 

So I gathered up all of my pride 

And I hitchhiked to a town where my dignity had died 

And he was waiting 

Yea, he was waiting 

And he ran and kissed me

I love the last line. That’s the heart of the parable, right?

In the spirit of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m planning on playing this for my students when we talk about grace, forgiveness, mercy – especially during the upcoming season of Lent.  Perhaps you might as well? 
 

An App to Know – Curiosity.com

After hearing the announcement/ad for Curiosity.com numerous times on NPR, I finally got around to checking it out and down loading the iOS app.

I’m not going to say much about it here, because I emphatically encourage you to click the link above and check it out yourself.

As a passionate learner (which hopefully every teacher is), I like the set of five interesting links it gives me every day. An example from the last few days is above. And here’s a few more:

Curiosity-1

When you click on the image, it takes you here:

Curiosity-5

Here’s one more pair of examples:

Curiosity-2

Curiosity-6

What are you waiting for? Visit Curiosity.com and get learning!

 

Sun(Fun)day Early Morning – Vending Machines for Short Stories

Although it’s not actually Sunday early morning yet, I have a few interesting items I hope to post on this pre-Post-Holiday Return Day. I figure we all need a bit of extra levity as we complete everything we planned to do over the long weekend.

How did you do with your Thanksgiving Reading? I resumed reading a novel (which I started a while ago) – The Bone Clocks – which was one of the top fiction picks of 2014. We’ll see how I do staying with it over the packed next three weeks before mid-terms and then Christmas Break.

I also started reading a short story collection by one of my favorite fantasy authors – Jeff Vandermeer – who wrote the mind-bogglingly singular and creepy Southern Reach trilogy. For obvious reasons, I find that reading a 15 to 20 minute short story is more manageable during my busy days and evenings.

What about reading a one, three, or five minute short story? And how about one that I could quickly print out as I prepared for a daily commute? What if it came out of a vending style machine?

Hand it to the French for creating an actual device to do all of this. Open Culture brought this to my attention and you can learn more about it via this short clip:

Interested in some of the details about how they pull this off? Open Culture tells us:

The Short Édition vending machines, currently only available in eight locations in Grenoble, France, draw from a database of 600 stories chosen by the community atShort Édition’s website, which counts 1,100 authors as members. Presumably, all these stories are in French.

While new, the machines have gathered enough media attention to attract inquiries from Italy and the United States. So look out, you might find one in your area soon.

As the title of the Open Culture post observes – it’s far better to feed your mind with short fiction than your body with empty junk food.

Thanksgiving Reading?

Back in the day when the best way to watch movies at home was to schlep to the video store, I worked in one of those now nearly extinct stores. The busiest days of the year for rentals were the day before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Apparently, turkey and a movie (as you fall asleep on the couch) was a special, annual treat.

Now, with so many ways to stream movies, TV and more entertainment whenever and wherever you want, I wonder if turkey then a watching a movie from your love seat is still part of many people’s plans. Might the ubiquitous RedBox machines see lines and shortages today?

While my family and I are planning on the special treat of going out to a movie tomorrow after dinner, I’m not looking forward to watching anything over the long weekend. Rather, I have some books ready to be read during these holidays I’m not grading or preparing for class.

If you’re like me, here’s some lists which may help guide your selections:

50 Super Smart Books for Everyone on Your List

We Read All 20 National Book Award Nominees for 2015 – Here’s What We Thought

Top 10 Books: The Girard Option of Interdisciplinary Influence

100 Novels All Kids Should Read Before Leaving High School

(Here’s the Top Ten from this list)

1 Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (free eBook, Audiobook & study resources)

2 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (free eBook)

3 Animal Farm, by George Orwell (free eBook)

4 Lord Of The Flies, by William Golding (Amazon)

5 Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck (Amazon)

6 The Harry Potter series, by J K Rowling (Amazon)

7 A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (free eBook)

8 The Catcher In The Rye, by J D Salinger (Amazon)

9 Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (free eBook)

10 Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen (free eBook)

OR: The 100 Best Novels Written in English

Here are the Best Books from 2015 So Far (in August)

Black Girls Matter: A YA Reading List

All the Most Thrilling Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming this Fall

You Must Read These Five Books Which Will Totally Transform Your Classroom

And if you read any of these books, will you be able to talk about it with colleagues via an on-line book club?

Regardless of what you read, will you choose it by its cover? If so, here’s some fascinating research on that very topic.

Or maybe you’d like to read this short story composed entirely of 5,000 “tag lines” from movies.

Would this be fiction or non? If the former, reading it can actually transform the functioning of your brain.

Maybe you’d like to read not an ebook on your tablet, but an interactive, digital book. Here’s 10 of the best of this emerging genre.

Or perhaps you’ll tell stories at the dinner table. Research shows that it makes kids voracious readers!

And after dinner, maybe watch a TED Talk or two:

10 of Our Favorite Literary TED Talks from 2015

Finally, perhaps the weather will be nice and you’ll take a walk, bring your smart phone and stream free audio books or listen to any of these 25 Outstanding Podcasts for Readers

 

 

Friday FunLink 2: The Simpsons Do Poe’s Raven

I found another video that I may show to some of my classes today to celebrate the coming three days in the church. It pairs well with the other videos I’m showing. And I think it would be particularly great for English classes to use too.

Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

Halloween Things – Top 10 Fears, Bible and Horror Movies, Activities

OK, so it’s not an elegant title, but I hope it’s a descriptive one.

First, the Washington Post published a story and infographic (above) which shows what scares Americans these days. BOO – It’s not a monster under your bed — IT’S THE GOVERNMENT!!!

The always interesting religious and spiritual blog aggregator Patheos, has two thoughtful article worth spending a few minutes reading:

“Are Horror Films C(c)atholic?”

“Thinking Inside the Box: How Modern Horror Movies Echo the Scary Stories of the Bible”

And, for fun (especially for the younger set):

26 Halloween Sites for Your Students