Saturday, April 19, 2014

Some good in this world worth fighting for

This quote from The Two Towers by J R R Tolkien seemed too good to pass up for reflection.

As it is almost Easter, I want to make a radical suggestion - that it is as much original good as original sin that motivates the cross. The Christian message says that humanity is estranged from God, and God in Jesus reconciles us with himself. The need for reconciliation is tied to some idea of human sin, and often a Fall in some Augustinian sense (after Augustine of Hippo). But what of the "end behold, it was very good" of Genesis 1? If there was nothing good in creation, would God have bothered to die for it? The idea of total depravity means all areas of life are affected by sin, not that all people are as evil as they can be.

So it seems to me, on the cross, God fights for what is good in the world - what echoes his own creative character, what still bears his image. And so it is for this sort of good we fight.

We fight against corporations and policies that don't have the good of creation in mind, we resist its destruction because of its own value in itself, because of the impact on people that a denuded creation makes, and because the creation bears God's own stamp.

We fight for justice for the poor and oppressed because of the good in them, the image of God. We fight for proper treatment, fair pay, access to education and the ability to earn an income, right to asylum. We try and level the playing field of access so that people might achieve their potential if they so choose.

We fight for peace, to avoid war, to ban weapons that do horrific damage to civilians like nuclear weapons, land mine, chemical and biological weapons. There is still much good in this world worth fighting for.

Our weapons are letter writing, protests, marches, boycotts, votes, prayers, sermons, books, tracts. As a Christian I cannot raise my hand against someone or do them harm. But there is much else I can do. I acknowledge the need to restrain evil, am thankful for police and armed forces. Killing is a sin; sometimes one that is made difficult to avoid. I do not vilify those who have to make those decisions in real time, but always pray and fight for peace that they do not have to make those decisions.

We fight for and end to the need to fight, until he who died to end all violence returns.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Creationism, evolution and authorship

I see with some disappointment that a theological institution in the US has made a public statement about Young Earth Creationism. While I recognise that many faithful Christian people hold such a position, I can't see this as helpful or the natural reading. Furthermore, too often this is linked with an unhealthy attitude toward science, including climate change science - which is dangerous the closer we approach the point of no turning back from very damaging change.

It seems to me that there are two equal and opposite errors when approaching the bible as a Christian. Both are about authorship. The first is to assume that the bible is merely a human book; our reflections about God. In this case we are left with no real guide, no retrievable significance for lives beyond a 'flea fart in a hurricane' (Australian writer Philip Adams) - something the new atheists point out. For a Christian, this is theological Liberalism and promotes a grab bag of ideas when it suits us.

The opposite error is to deny that humans wrote the bible, which is the reaction of Fundamentalism. This denies any shaping by context, any similarities in stories that might point to the real purpose of texts (e.g. Genesis 1 as the dedication of a temple cosmos, teaching a theology of who created not a science of how), all for fear of Liberalism from above.

One thing I admire about the work of John Walton and Peter Enns is the keeping together of the tension that in theory Christians hold - that the bible is book human and divine - but doing so in practice. This allows God to speak in a human world, and for us to have to both understand an ancient world and listen for God's voice in that. This means we can hear his voice today as well, maybe even in an evolving world, a world of a changing climate. Sometimes that means an evolving theology to keep up, even with a fixed text.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ideological fundamentalism vs liminality

On the weekend I heard a sermon that had me thinking about all sorts of things. The idea of liminality is that we can be stuck in a time of ambiguity, an inbetweenness where we are not sure where we are. The Wikipedia piece referred specifically to ritual, but one could apply this to the confusion over western industrial society and the looming threat of climate change, the loss of a job, spouse, etc. It's the nature of life out of routine, familairity and comfort.

It seems to me that the certainty seeking of fundamentalisms of all stripes ignores the liminal nature of much of life, leading to the premature closure of dialogue. This is not to say all things are open ended or that nothing is given. For example, the liminality of climate change is such that while the fact that we are changing climate is consensus science, how we shift gears is unclear, what life will look like if we do or don't etc.

Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says "you have heard it said ... but I say to you" is not as closed as you might think. While Mark records Jesus' hearers saying that he didn't teach like the Rabbis but as one who taught with authority, his sayings were still pithy and aphoristic. It is as if the final authority is here, but like the Rabbis, we are to continue to ask, question, dialogue, etc. What does it mean to pluck out one's eye, to love God and love neighbour as self in a rapidly changing world where things both personally and societal can fall apart?

Fundamentalisms might close off the conversations, liberalisms reject any answer but "we all have our own answers", and somewhere in the middle we are guided by what we know and by somesort of faith (religious or otherwise) that takes us into the unknown that is the future.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fill to empty - hearts and minds

I had a thought the other day (actually I had several though few worth sharing). I read. I learn. I think. I pray. To what end do I accumulate knowledge, hopefully some wisdom, reflect on the love of God I see in Jesus?

If you fill a cup of coffee, you do so to empty it, i.e. to drink it. If you fill up a petrol (gas for my US friends) tank, it is so the tank will empty as you drive your car. Sometimes we fill to empty.

I read and think to write and speak. I learn so I can teach or help others to learn. Ideas generate more ideas so that problems may be solved, lives enriched. I teach because others have taught me.

I learn about love so that I may love. I don't back in what I see as the love of God in Jesus so as I can have a 'private religious experience' but live a public faith expressed in acts of love and service. I love because God first loved me.

Be filled, so that you might be empty.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Accessibility made easy

Changes in government policy in Australia mean that accessibility is a priority. Developing lots of online material with videos, this means I'm spending a lot of my time producing closed captions! Almost sick of the sound of my own voice.

I've been using the captions option on YouTube. Sometimes the automatic captions are worth editing, but often times it is easier to start from scratch. If you've recorded with a script you can cut and paste it straight into the video transcript window. Otherwise, the video play pauses while you are typing and has a 5 second rewind which is useful. You can then download the script file and reattach with software like Handbreak which is Freeware.

I think it is important, whether you are producing internal course material of stuff you want others to watch on YouTube to not exclude the hearing impaired. Once you've done it a few times it becomes just another part of the production process.

Friday, October 11, 2013

#mooc fatigue

#mooc fatigue

Ok, so I confess. I have it. #mooc fatigue (I'm using the hash tag in the title so it makes the right Twitter stream, and in the body of the blog because I can, lol). MOOCs have been the new poster child of education and we've all run to it because it's opened a Pandora's box (in both positive and negative senses) of education. I've been like the proverbial child in the proverbial candy (lolly for us Australians) store. There have been heaps of courses I've enrolled in and heaps I've then had to unenroll in because I knew I didn't have time. Then there are the MOOCs I am behind in, and the things I typically don't bother with like forums.

Life get's busy!

There are many ways to pull this apart. When I was at uni or studying my ugrad theology degree, I worked tirelessly. I didn't have a wife, child, career and side projects so it was easy. I had face to face time (mots important), marks that mattered and a course I was paying for (which came out in tax). MOOCs are an icing on the cake in a busy life. Even when there are courses I am doing at work for professional development, I'm not 100% committed.

Unengaging pedagogy

I really do think much of it comes from either too little human contact (videoed lectures) or too much (forums that make real dialogue very hard). I've found Twitter and Facebook more useful since they are scaled down, but then mostly only for one MOOC. When I'm already familiar with the material and just trying to pick up new bits and pieces I don't even bother with the assessment tasks. That said, I think the peer review model has worked quite well, and I've received very thoughtful feedback, and tried to give the same.

For me then, apart from time pressures and mixed motivation, it is the genuine lack of pedagogical innovation largely present in these courses (with a couple of exceptions - Creativity, Innovation and Change and E-learning and Digital Cultures) and the M - Massive that makes it hard to commit to everyone I want to learn about. In all honesty, some of it would simply be better as a book. It's information overload in a same but different way.

That said, being spoken to by an expert I enjoy, and if I could get over my Social Media driven ADHD then I would take more in. Doing a MOOC can be an opportunity to learn to learn again through new media, slowing things down to a pace slower than the next 100 tweets that come through my feed. But it takes effort.


I suspect this whole issue is behind the new movement to run smaller, selective MOOCs that are more engaging. Massive is great insofar as many people can get access, but if there could be a move to form smaller communities - with or without a tutor - then elearning would shift back from being just about access to really being about learning in community. Until then many of us will have to be more selective, more intentional and work hard at making personal as well as intellectual connections.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Passion and intellect

Last night I led a biblestudy on the Great Commission, which is the command to make disciples in the name of the triune God. My opening question is something I think is more broadly related to life in general, and teaching in particular.

One of the things about having a religious faith is that it is meant to be accompanied by an enthusiasm - a lukewarm faith is no faith at all. After all, if one believes in something very important, then surely one is motivated by that belief, inspired and impassioned. Of course, faith without understanding is also potentially disastrous. The longer end of Mark's gospel for example features mention of snake handling, but this ending is not understood as being original. Imagine in faith handling poisonous snakes and dying, thinking all along such behaviour was prescriptive rather than (at best) descriptive. Faith is not blind, neither is it uniformed.

The relationship of the Great Commission to life in general is this, we share with people what we are passionate about, and what we know about. Teachers should be content matter experts, but they should also care about their topic. As a teacher, I try to inject passion and emotion into my teacher. Teaching meteorology to me is important because it serves a public good, and the atmosphere is fascinating. When I teach about climate change, it isn't simply because I find the science fascinating (though I do, 4.5 billion years of change, development and now our impacts) but because of its moral significance I teach with a sense of urgency. None of this is apart from a careful study of the science.

And this isn't just about ideas. When I teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I actually love the sport and love to share techniques that I use.

More than this, and subsequent to my thinking last night - wanting to share knowledge, ideas, techniques whatever can't simply be about me, how smart am I? How gifted a communicator am I? I struggle at times when people praise my presentations, especially the more important, urgent or spiritual - since I want people to change and take on the ideas, not be distracted by me per se. If someone comments on how smart I am, does that mean I've failed to be clear and understandable? If we have something to share with passion (what we love) and intellect (what we understand) then we also really have to want others to understand and share out passion - we love them as well.

So what do you value in life, what is important to you? Do you share it with students, friends, colleagues? If you are well informed, thoughtful AND passionate AND care about people, you will be a good teacher.