Monthly Archives: January 2014

Thought for Thursday

It’s going to be an interesting semester.

One of my classes is attended by a student who is secure in his knowledge that he is correct in all his opinions (much like this gentleman from last term).  He has the unique characteristic, however, of failing to see nuance in language; he thinks that “pretty” means exactly the same thing as “beautiful” and “stunning” and “breathtaking” and “gorgeous.”  I told him on Tuesday that one of his tasks for the term is to either learn to appreciate nuanced language or, failing that, to recognize that pretty much everyone else DOES see distinctions in tone and term, and to respond accordingly.

We had it out today over something the President said in his State of the Union address; that there are “no American troops in Iraq.”  My outspoken, opinionated student is also a combat veteran, and stated unequivocally that this was A LIE.  That led us to a discussion about what constitutes a “troop” – his definition was ANY military personnel, while the rest of the class understood the term to mean a member of the military who’s actively engaged in combat (though, to be fair, the President did not say “there are no COMBAT troops in Iraq”).  It IS true that there ARE military personnel in Iraq, but it is also true that there are no COMBAT troops in that county; if we’re going by my student’s definition of a “troop,” then we’re at war in every country in which we have a guarded embassy.

After the class was over, another student stopped me to express dismay at how this conversation went down – and to complement me for maintaining my cool throughout.  I told him that it’s easy to be cool when I’m confident of my facts and in control of the language we’re using to describe those facts.  He admitted that this was going to be both his favorite class and the one where he’s likely to struggle the most; he’s fine with having energetic conversations, but not so fine dealing with people who refuse to admit when they’re on shaky factual or rhetorical ground.

My opinion boy also parroted the far-right line that the President is “breaking the law” and “going against the Constitution” when he announced on Tuesday that he’d be issuing some executive orders.  When I asked him to produce evidence that this behavior is either illegal OR unconstitutional, he blathered for a bit about nothing that made any sense to me.  I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I DO know that executive orders have been issued by literally EVERY president we’ve EVER had, and that precedent is often a basis for legality, but I’m going to spend a little energy doing some research.  I can pretty much guarantee that opinion boy won’t do that.



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Thought for Thursday

So, yesterday was my birthday, right?   A friend of mine posted this image of MLK yesterday, and I commented that I’ve always been delighted by the happy accident of my sharing a birthday with Brother Martin.


A little later, my friend came back and said this:  Actually, Chili; I do believe that you share a lot more than a birthday with that great man.

That kind of set me off this morning, and I found myself sitting behind my computer in tears.

I don’t feel like I’m doing NEARLY enough with all the energy I have to share.  I don’t feel like I’m doing anything meaningful; despite Mrs. Dingo’s loving reminder that, as teachers, we do meaningful work every single day, I don’t feel like my work lately has meant much to anyone, especially (and perhaps most importantly) to me.

I continue to put myself out there in search of work that will resonate with my need to work for justice and compassion.  I’m trying to make connections to people who work in the kind of positions I envision myself working –  I’ve been in touch with the NARAL Pro-Choice people and am going to have coffee in a few weeks with a family friend who is a former state senator – but, as happened pretty much all of last year, I’m being very kindly told by everyone I ask that there’s simply nothing available.

What I REALLY want – my ideal situation – would be to find work in a supportive, progressive, ethical high school (I’m SO jealous of Carson, who’s totally landed in the PERFECT spot for him.  His professional life is exactly right, and I’m not proud to say that, for as much as I adore the man, I kind of hate him a little for that).  The problem is that I’m not sure such a thing exists; at least, not in my neighborhood, and working as an adjunct really isn’t cutting it.

I met with my advisor yesterday and we decided that I’d do the independent study for my post-grad certificate on the processes of opening a school, and on the best practices and research into what makes education truly meaningful and effective.  I have no illusions that I’ll actually be able to OPEN that school, but at least I’ll be getting a better idea of what needs to happen.  I’m tired of my children coming home from their public high school and complaining that they learn more from our dinner table discussions than they do in their English, History, Current Events, Film Studies, and American Government classes combined.  If nothing more, maybe I can use the work and research I do this semester to become a consultant and effect a little bit of change in our current shitty system.

The long and short of this, though, is that I don’t feel like I do share much more than a birthday with Brother Martin.  I have the energy, I have the (com)passion, and I have the drive to make big changes but, at the moment, I don’t have the outlet for any of it.  I’m not living up to my potential right now, and it’s frustrating the ever loving hell out of me.


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So THAT’S What an Atheist Looks Like!

My dear friend and esteemed colleague Carson is running a winter term class he’s calling American Jesus.  In it, he and his students are investigating the meaning of the Christ figure in American social, spiritual, political, and psychological life.  He’s got an impressive reading list and has lined up a number of really influential scholars to speak to his class.

For reasons that pass my understanding, he included me in that list.

I know; I can’t believe it either.  Next to theologians and published authors, he invited me to come to his class this morning to speak to the students from the perspective of an atheist.  I was humbled and honored and really, really excited.

The room was full of men – I was the only female in the class – and I gather that the students spanned the high school age range.  Carson hasn’t polled his students about their personal religious affiliations yet (which I think was a brilliant move on his part), but it was pretty easy for me to pick out who the more devout Christians were.  Regardless, they were attentive and respectful and really, really curious.

I was asked about my childhood and upbringing (“if you weren’t Catholic or Jewish, you lived in my house“) and about whether or not I’d ever gone to church regularly (“I attended a Baptist congregation for a little while when I was about 7 or so; my beloved babysitter’s father was the minister“).  I was asked about why I reject the Bible and I tried my best to explain to the students that I don’t hold the Bible in any higher esteem than I hold any stories humans tell each other (though I didn’t say that I actually hold it in LOWER esteem because of how often and for how long it’s been used by those who follow it to beat, belittle, and alienate those who don’t).

I did my best to keep politics out of it, though it didn’t take long for the students to bring politics up; I think I’d been asked three or four questions before someone asked me about how strongly I felt about separating Church and State.  I thought it was PROFOUNDLY interesting, though, that one of the students tried to use the ACA as an example of why it’s okay to compel others to follow a particular religious tradition.  His argument was that if the government can force us to participate in a program (health insurance) against our will, why can’t religions force us to participate against our will, as well?  Why do we submit to one kind of coercion but not the other?  Even though the student’s premise is deeply flawed (who gets to decide which faith tradition gets implemented?), that led to a pretty lengthy conversation about the difference between civic life and religious life, the things that we do and do not agree to as members of a particular society, and the responsibilities we accept or deny for one another in those societies.  I made the very clear distinction between civil and religious marriage earlier in the class – my marriage has exactly nothing to do with God or the Church; it is a contract between my husband and me on one level and my husband, me, and the State on another – and I tried to make that distinction in this part of the discussion, as well, but I think this line of argumentation was my least effective.

We talked about my rejection of the notion of a Christ figure (and certainly my rejection of the necessity of accepting such a figure as a prerequisite for morality) and we talked about how I am not the least bit threatened by the idea that my elder daughter occasionally attends a youth group with one of her friends.  I almost wish I’d made a bigger deal about that point, actually; while I am perfectly comfortable with Punk’s going to these youth group affairs and affirm with absolute certainty her right to explore and make decisions for herself, I’m certain that the same would likely not be the case for religious parents of children who want to investigate the traditions and practices of those outside their faith structures.  I wish I’d asked the students why they thought that was; why I would not be threatened by my daughter’s decision to pursue a faith tradition but religious parents often see their children’s rejection (or even questioning) of their faith as a dire threat (one that sometimes results in a break-up of the family and children being turned out of the home: fully 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ who have been rejected by their families.  Christian love, indeed).

All in all, was a wholly satisfying experience for me to spend the time with him and his students.  I really hope I get to do it again.


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Nearly Wordless Wednesday

This cracked me up.

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