Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas? Already? And why do you ask me theological questions?

We are on a Christmas decorating binge here on campus. We figure that Christmas is our holiday, so we should absolutely celebrate it to the utmost. I've scrounged my house and bought out Walgreens, but the learning center is decorated with a tree, my Christmas village, and strings of extra lights. My office sports a little tree, and my bookcases and door are adorned with lighted garlands. The candle warmer has a Christmas-smelling candle perfuming the air, and Christmas music is on my iPod.

It's good to remember that in the midst of budget cuts, finals, and deadlines, Christ should still be pre-eminent in our thinking. A student came to me yesterday to ask my thoughts on John 1:1-5. This was a bit of a surprise, since I am the English prof. and not one of the great theological minds around here. Fortunately, I've been studying the book of John so I had some thoughts to share with him.

One overwhelming thought I've had is just how difficult life was for Jesus. He epitomized the "No good deed goes unpunished" philosophy; every time he performed a miracle, critics questioned him. Most of the time they were willing to accept what Christ did, but they questioned everything else: his authority, his training, his lineage, and even his timing. I have been struck by just how bleak Christ's day-to-day life was, but yet he still chose to endure life on earth to save the very humans who constantly criticized and persecuted him.

So, as we endure minor hardships, let us not complain that our lunch prices have gone up or we have to work a little harder. What we face is trivial compared to Christ's trials, and even if our lives were smooth, they would still not compare to what awaits us.

Here's to celebrating Christ's coming!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am soooo ready for Thanksgiving. All those freshmen: they're just as disillusioned as I predicted. They're also demanding, maddening--and sweet. Dealing with them on a daily basis is exhausting, but it is, indeed, a labor of love.

This afternoon I will give my Comp. I class the task of selecting at least 5 "little" things they are grateful for. I got this idea from Joe Holleman's column in today's Post-Dispatch about things he enjoys. So, for the record, here's my list:
  1. iPods: Music customizable to your own tastes. I know it's selfish, but I can have whatever music fits my mood, with none of the stuff that irritates me, like distorted electric guitars, commercials, and singers who can't carry a tune.
  2. Tea: It makes everything better. It soothes, warms, and flavors most of my early mornings and late afternoons.
  3. Wireless internet: How did our family communicate before instant messaging? It's pretty amusing to see 3 or 4 people in our family room, all typing to one another on laptops. Sad, isn't it? But convenient, too.
  4. Friends who know when you need prayer: Thank God for their tender hearts.
  5. Freshly tuned pianos: They make me want to practice. And the highs sound like bells--delicious!
  6. Scented candles: I really should have been Catholic, with my love for candles and incense. I don't know of a more homey feel to a place than a good smell.
  7. Fall leaves: Even if they're squished all over wet streets, I am constantly amazed that God used such an imagination in creating all the variations in pigments.
  8. Students who smile when they serve your lunch: Even if lunch ticket prices are going up 150% next week, just seeing happy faces makes cafeteria food feel like a banquet.
  9. Quiet offices: Solitude helps me think.
  10. Dogs on my lap: Nothing like unconditional love, at least when they leave each other alone. As we move along toward winter, doggies on the lap also keep you warm.

Have a super holiday, and make your own list.

Friday, August 17, 2007

10, 9, 8, 7, ...

It's almost here--freshmen move-in day. Oh, yes, we are excited, but the excitement is tinged with sadness because we know what's coming. We know the disillusionment when the realization sets in that college is still school, not 24/7 church camp. We know some students will show up in pink undies and T-shirts because they were trying to save money doing the laundry. They will find out that dorm food is not the all-you-can-eat gourmet fare they were expecting, nor is the cooking as good as Mom's. They will face learning to live with someone from another family with different ways, they'll get unexpectedly poor grades, they'll have disappointing love relationships, and they'll feel the loneliness of being without family in a new place.

We feel, also, for the parents. At our house, we've been through this 3 times, with 1 more to go. We know now that when kids move to college, you never quite get them back. Sure, they'll come home, but it will be as young adults with their own values--not the semi-obedient children who left. And the child who left will never again think of your house as his home--it's a cherished place to visit. Yes, most of the time, this good-bye is The Big One. And it's long anticipated. Once, college was "someday," then "next year," then "next month," and now, "tomorrow." You wonder if you've taught all the right things.

And in good measure, college success is determined by what went on 10 years before. Did he learn responsibility? How about delayed gratification? Is he frugal with his money? Can he hold his tongue? Self-discipline is essential; students without it struggle until this vital lesson is learned.

So we, the staff at college, wait. Tomorrow afternoon the dorms will be filled, the good-byes will be said, and the baby birds will fly (or be pushed) out of the nest. And it's OK--it's as it should be. For all of us, the separation had to happen in order for us to finish growing up. So--

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1--Here we go!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Solitude

In the summer we have a book discussion group at church that meets once a month. One of the ministers chooses a book, we read it, and then meet for lunch and conversation. Each year has a theme--this year's is spiritual development. So we've read A Mind for God by James Emery White and Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. Both books are really enlightening, but Sacred Pathways was surprising.

Thomas explained (finally) why some worship experiences leave some worshippers flat and unsatisfied. God has created them to worship him in ways that are unique to the person. He offers several "spiritual temperaments" along with suggestions on how your own temperament can be used to draw you closer to God--or not, if you succumb to temptations peculiar to it.

I had expected to fit the intellectual temperament, which I did. No surprise there, since I love to read, study, and discuss ideas. The tendency to fixate on small truths and argue the fine points of scripture fits too. What was surprising was that I scored almost as high on asceticism. Honestly, I am almost never alone--till now. My new office is in the basement of the college, and not many people venture down here unless they have an appointment. So I can work on my own, in the quiet. Amazing how much I love it.

So if I retreat to my own corner and close the door, I'm not sleeping--I'm worshipping!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Computers Are Our Friends

I have been reminded all day of how much I would like to be a Luddite. I have just endured the fourth computer glitch in the last 6 hours--one of which I spent at dinner! The latest one will require a phone call to the company that runs the testing software we use, but that's a problem for tomorrow. I really don't have it in me this evening to call up a machine and talk to a person in Bangalore (best case) or yet another computer (by far the worst case scenario).

To be fair, some things are simpler with computers. It's easy to revise a document--assuming the server hasn't crashed and taken the latest draft of said document with it. Documents on computers are more secure--provided that the password you have been provided actually lets you unlock your file. And you can make nifty placards with word processing software and clip art; it would be lovely if the printer recognized your terminal's log-in and printed the sign.

I think I will leave the computer alone the rest of the evening. I'm off to enjoy a really low-tech academic tool--the book.

Y'all have a good evening. May all your glitches be minor ones.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Trinkets: The Rant

Vacation is over, at least for the time being. Four days are not really long enough to forget the stresses of daily life, but better than nothing. If you go to a tourist spot, though, four days are surely sufficient to contemplate how many ways people have to sell you what you don't want. From billboards to promises of free money if you will just come see a timeshare, one is constantly enticed by glittering junk.

What is behind the urge to acquire still more things? Is it the desire to display our wealth by having more toys than our friends? Will having more stuff make us feel more secure? Yes, T-shirts with cute sayings may catch our eye, but would we really wear them enough to justify their purchase? (And will the messages written across our chests be so embarrassing that we won't wear them outside our houses?) Our refrigerators can only sport just so many magnets, and our present keychains are working fine, thank you. We'd like to think that we can join the jet-setters who own more than one house, but the house we have takes up most of our time and a goodly portion of our salary. We certainly don't need more, and much of the time we don't even want it after we have it.

This tendency to accumulate material possessions has led to a veritable explosion of storage businesses, so we can stash what we have bought but cannot accommodate in our houses. After 50+ years of living, I have come to the realization that unused items create clutter--both in our houses and in our minds. I am no longer feeling guilty about not supporting the American economy if I don't buy something. I've resolved only to buy things I like and will use. Maybe then my kids won't have to sort through the detritus of stuff I've left behind to find the meaningful.

Here's to letting go of the trivial--or not buying it in the first place.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Notes from a Vacation

It's good to take vacations. Getting away from one's normal routine tends to put daily life into some sort of perspective, especially when you look out your window at mountains that have been here for thousands, if not millions, of years. Spring springing helps, too. So a few questions:
  1. Why does everyone in a tourist town feel the need to eat at the same time? It's as though some celestial alarm clock went off and signaled the Universal Hunger Alarm.
  2. Is there some universal company that controls all businesses in all tourist spots? You may find really neat handcrafted whats-its, and then find "Made in China" stamped on the bottom. And just down the street you can find many more just like them.
  3. Why do ladies of a certain age in resort towns show an affinity for embroidered flashy clothing? When I reach the age of having to wear gold shoes and embroidered sweaters and sequined tops, all at the same time, please send me to my reserved room in Dr. Happy's Home for the Pleasantly Demented.
  4. Why, when people are on vacation, do they find an uncontrollable urge to play miniature golf and drive go-karts?
  5. Does anyone really wear the soft-porn T-shirts so easily found in tourist traps?
  6. Why does the phrase "country gravy" set mouths watering? Would "city gravy" be as tantalizing?

I love vacations. The best ones end with us wishing they would last for just one more day.