Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rahab Results

This morning, I have good news to report: I made 95 out of 100 points possible on my Rahab paper! I am so relieved. Although I had worked hard on it, I am aware of all the ways it might not have been what my professor wanted.

On Monday, November 29, I turned in my Rahab paper. Part of that submission process is a plagiarism check, where my paper is compared to all sorts of databases. The student gets the report too, and can resubmit if changes are necessary.

The software flagged some of the material I quoted, which isn't unusual, and I knew I had documented correctly, so I wasn't worried about that. I did wonder why it didn't flag all my quoted material. It also flagged this sentence, "Why did Rahab take the Israelites in for the night?" It saw my words as a match to this original source: "Why did Rahab protect the Israelites"; I don't see these as close at all, and certainly not an idea that one would plagiarize.

I fretted a bit and wondered if I should write to my professor. Having seen numerous originality reports myself on the teacher side, I knew that I wouldn't worry about this "match." I decided that writing to my professor might be more problematic than not. Plus, when I clicked through to see the original source material that was contained in a blog post, I couldn't even find the words that the software had found.

I continued to check my grades, even though I knew it would take some time for my teacher to do all that grading. As I was checking, I worried that I didn't revise enough. We had been told that if we didn't revise the earlier parts of the project, the two papers we'd already turned in, we'd get a significantly lower grade. I worried that I revised out the parts that my professor had liked. I worried that my paper was too long, a page and a half over the 7 page limit.

And is often the case with me, I thought of new ways of saying what I had already said, ways of strengthening connections that I hadn't done. It's interesting to see this process work in my brain, especially after decades of teaching Composition and the writing process. We are never finished with a draft--there are always ways it could be improved.

The feedback I got was good, and I don't disagree with anything my professor said about the content. It's hard to do what she wants in 7 pages, but she has a solid rationale behind making us limit ourselves. She points out that the majority of us are training to do exegesis so that we can deliver a powerful sermon, and nobody wants to hear us blather on and on. We need to find the point and come to it quickly and powerfully. She's not wrong.

I am glad to be done with this Rahab paper. I still have writing to finish, and I'm glad to have gotten some encouragement with this paper grade. Now, onward to finish the rest--I'm in the home stretch!

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

Today, all over Europe, the gift-giving season begins. I had a friend in grad school who celebrated Saint Nicholas Day by having each family member open one present on the night of Dec. 6. It was the first I had heard of the feast day, but I was enchanted.

Still, I don't do much with this feast day--if I had children or gift-giving friends, I might, but most years, I simply pause to remember the historical origins of the saint and the day.

In different years, I might have spent some time looking at my own Santa objects. One year, my step-mom in law and my father in law gave me these as Christmas presents:

They're actually cookie presses, and the Santa figures are the handles of the press. I've never used them as a cookie press, but I love them as decorations that are faithful to the European country of origin.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

Through the centuries, the image of Saint Nicholas has morphed into Santa Claus, but as with many modern customs, one doesn't have to dig far to find the ancient root.

I don't have as many Santa images in my Christmas decorations. Here's my favorite Santa ornament:

I picked it up in May of 1994 or so. I was visiting my parents, and I went with them on a trip to Pennsylvania where my dad was attending a conference. I picked this ornament up in a gift shop that had baskets of ornaments on sale. I love that it uses twine as joints to hold Santa together.

In the past decade, I've been on the lookout for more modern Saint Nicholas images. A few years ago, one of my friends posted this photo of her Santa display to her Facebook page:

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

This year, I have a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin's wife:

In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school--the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.

The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.

In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don't have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

First Saturday in Advent

I am reading posts about people's holiday ramblings:  craft fairs, breweries, cookie exchanges.  While my life is not quite as glamorous, let me record what the first Saturday in December held for me yesterday:

--I went for a walk early in the morning.  I am noticing pelicans around North Lake, which I've never seen before.  Have some of them set up a homestead?

--I was grumpy for a variety of reasons.  Happily, I was able to talk to my spouse and strategize.  This morning, I am less grumpy.

--I tried to set up a photo that captures my Advent/holiday frame of mind:

--I had a Zoom call with my quilt group.  Should I still call us a quilt group?  That's how I think about us, so I will continue.  It was good to catch up, even though not much has changed for any of us.  There's a tiredness that I'm sensing, a tiredness born of this pandemic, about the fact that we're all working in higher ed at the end of a semester, and about the Zoom call itself.  Or maybe it's just me that has a weariness borne out of a semester of looking at more screens than usual, with my virtual classes that I'm taking for seminary.

--I got off that call and then had another Zoom call with my small group for my certificate in spiritual direction program.  This time the primary purpose for the call was to check in before our in-person intensive in January.  With this new variant, we may not be meeting in person.  Sigh.

--My spouse and I went to the grocery store to get a few provisions:  wine, broccoli, and powdered sugar.  As we walked back, my spouse carrying the 2 wine bags, me carrying broccoli and powdered sugar which I didn't have them put in a bag.  I wondered if people saw us and said, "What recipe are they making?"

--We got back and strung lights on the top rail of our balcony railing.  We plugged them in and played Yahtzee on the balcony to enjoy the lights.

--I also strung some fairy lights on the giant poinsettia:

--We came in and had some cheese and crackers to go with our wine.  The broccoli is for today's late lunch/early dinner of turkey tetrazzini and baked sweet potatoes.  The powdered sugar was just in case we wanted to make Christmas cookies with powdered sugar frosting.  

--We watched some stand up comedy on TV, and I did some sketching.  This morning, I was delighted by the sketch that I did:

--I went to bed super early, at 7.  I hadn't gotten good sleep from Friday night to Saturday morning, so I was glad for a chance to catch up.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Saturday Snippets: The Life of a College Administrator, Post-Thanksgiving Week

Finally--the day in the week where I do not wish it was a week ago.  The long car ride home is never part of my favorite memories.  The past week has been a gentle re-entry week for the most part.  Let me make a list so that I remember:

--This year, my school has a different quarter system, so for part of the past week, we were between quarters.  On Monday, we had no students, so it was the gentlest way to return to work after Thanksgiving, with only a few people on campus working on final grades.

--We had workers show up on Thursday to move a huge lobby desk and construct a wall, to create a new office.  It wasn't as noisy as it could have been, but it did contribute to a sense of chaos since we only got notice that they were coming an hour before they showed up.

--My favorite part of the week may have been Thursday morning when I went to restock the student treat basket (granola bars and peanut butter crackers) and the student food pantry with a grant from Thrivent.  I like having a wide variety of food on hand for students who are experiencing an assortment of food issues.  I like the subtle message of care that it imparts.

--I did get my Rahab paper done.  Now on to the next papers, the last ones for my seminary classes!

--My grading for my online classes never seems to end, but soon it will.  That thought both fills me with hope and despair.

--We took down the autumn decorations, but we don't have much in the way of holiday decorations for the public spaces.  We got those on Friday, and they're a series of strange stars and snowflakes that need to be unfolded and hung from the ceiling.  I'm not sure we'll get around to that.  We are a campus of women who are not as young as we once were, and we don't need to be climbing on ladders for decorations that will need to be taken down in a few weeks.  

--The woman from a different campus who brought us our decorations acknowledged the complexity of the stars and snowflakes advised me to "make it a team effort."  What team exactly?

--Having said that, let me stress that I am lucky to have great colleagues on campus, people whom I really enjoy seeing every day.  But almost all of them are there to teach, which they do, which doesn't leave much time for decorating or doing any of the other more serious tasks of a campus.

--Here is one of my favorite memories of the week:

--I bought this giant poinsettia to help a colleague's child raise funds for marching band.  I confess that the cheesecake that arrived before Thanksgiving was a much more tasty way to support the children of a colleague.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

All the Ways We Bleed

This morning, I continue to be tired, but it's a good tired, born of good classes, work on final papers, and pleasant days at the office getting the tasks of a campus done.  Let me just record some reflections that I don't want to lose, reflections that probably don't hang together as a cohesive essay but are worth capturing nonetheless.

--I'm listening to Terry Gross interviewing Dave Grohl, whom I've always loved.  What a delight.  He's self taught, so his approach to creativity and music gives hope to people like me who don't have lots of time to learn music theory.  He talks about how he approaches the guitar as if each string is a drum in a drum kit.  Fascinating!  And he's got his guitar with him to demonstrate what he's talking about.

--The other night, I was listening to my New Testament teacher talking about crucifixion and resurrection, while my spouse was in the other room watching this strange vampire movie.  It had the bad cinematography of a cheap 70's movie:  grainy with awful sound quality.  The plot:  boy meets girl in a bar, and they have sex, and oh dear, she might be a vampire.  There's a middle-aged male detective, that squat kind of man who populates so many movies.  He will never be able to attract a nubile vampire girl into his bed, and so he's out to decimate all their joy.

--I spent the end of Thanksgiving week-end looking at the 4 crucifixion stories in the gospels.  On Sunday, I sat in church, and thought about Jesus being both God and human.  I wondered how the story would have turned out if Christ had behaved differently.  I am not a person who subscribes to the theory of substitutionary atonement, the idea that Christ must be crucified to appease a God who needs that sacrifice so that humans can be saved.  Crucifixion was a capital punishment reserved by Romans for enemies of the state, so clearly, Jesus was doing something to put him on a collision course with the occupying force/imperial army.  What if Jesus had been a different person?  What if there had been no crucifixion?  How would we understand God?  How would history have been different?

--I wrote this in for a seminary assignment, but I realized it was taking me in a different direction, that while it was interesting, wasn't within the scope of the assignment:    "Could there have been a means of salvation that didn’t involve crucifixion if Jesus had behaved differently?  I believe in a universe that is rooted in free will, in which nothing is pre-determined.  If I truly believe in a universe rooted in free will, does this mean that God can’t be omniscient?"

--For the record, I don't believe that God is omniscient.  If we believe in free will, then God can't be omniscient.  And yes, I know all the ways that people try to say that we can have both free will and an omniscient God, but I don't agree.

--In the not too distant past, I'd have been burned as a heretic.  I am OK with that.

--Speaking of witches, it's also strange to be thinking about fleshly issues like vampires and crucifixion while the Supreme Court may get rid of Roe v. Wade.  I was thinking about my time in the 80's, when I was very careful with birth control since I lived in South Carolina where abortion was only legal in the first trimester.  I was thinking about all the ways women used to try to have abortions and how glad I was that abortion was safe and legal, even as I hoped never to need one.  I'm thinking about all the tender parts of the body, all the ways we bleed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tired and Weary

We are at the time of the week where I am wishing that it was last week or two weeks ago, when I could enjoy Thanksgiving all over again, not the day itself, but also the anticipation of the day. While at the same time I am trying not to wish that it was two weeks ago, trying not to wish that I would not be wishful this way.  I wish I could just live in the moment, but that personality trait is not mine.  I try to train myself, but it's a hard discipline for me.

Part of my longing is rooted in the fact that my favorite time of year is from mid-September until early December 25, or some years Jan. 1-6.  And the week after Thanksgiving finds me wrestling with the knowledge that my favorite time of year will soon come crashing to a close.

Part of me wants to go even further back, back to early September when I was first relaxing into seminary classes, realizing that I could indeed do this, and that the classes would be as fascinating as I hoped they would be.

And much of what I'm feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Andrew and the Implications for Modern Life

Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew, one of the disciples of Jesus. I think of him as a background disciple--he doesn't get a starring role in many of the stories in the Gospels. Still, I could argue that this background disciple is more important than some of the more foreground disciples. What can we learn from the life of this saint?

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t even know about Simon Peter, one of the most famous disciples, if not for Andrew. Andrew followed John the Baptist, and John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the true Messiah. Andrew believed, and Andrew brought his brother to see what he had seen. Andrew is remembered as the first disciple.

He doesn't stop with his brother--he brings all of his family members into the fold. It's important to remember that these were the early days of the ministry of Jesus, when Jesus might have seemed like just another wack-a-do preacher--the villages of first century Rome were full of such types. Yet Andrew believed and helped others to see what he saw.

What 21st century movements need our belief and our energy?

I also think about the sibling relationships here. What does Andrew think about Simon Peter, who quickly moves into the spotlight? Is Andrew content to stay in the background?

We know from the passage in Matthew that begins with Matthew 20:20, that there is competition to be Christ’s favorite. We see the mother of James and John who argues for her sons’ importance. We see the other disciples who become angry at the actions of this mother. I extrapolate to imagine that there’s much jockeying for position amongst the disciples.

Christ never loses an opportunity to remind us that he’s come to give us a different model of success. Again and again, he dismisses the importance that the world attaches to riches, to status, to a good reputation. Again and again, Jesus instructs us that the last will be first. Jesus tells us that the way to gain prestige with God is to serve.

Most of us live in a world where the idea of serving others is disparaged. We live in a world that needs more of our service. We have a lot to learn from Andrew.

By working in the background, by serving, Andrew helps make manifest one of the most famous miracles. In John’s Gospel, Andrew is the one who tells Jesus about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish, and thus helps make possible the miraculous feeding. If you ask people about the miracles of Jesus, this stretching of food is one that they are likely to remember. Very few miracle stories are found in more than one Gospel. The feeding of the crowd makes it into several.

Andrew was the kind of disciple we could use more of in this world. Even if we don't believe in the mission of the church, many of us are engaged in activities that need a kind of discipleship: we teach, we create, we parent, we care for a wide variety of people.

On this day when we celebrate the life of the first disciple, let us consider our own discipleship. Are we focused on the right tasks or are we hoping that our activities bring us glory? How can we help usher in the miracles that our world needs? Who needs to hear the good news as only we can tell it?

As we consider the larger world, we might also think about the efforts of those first disciples. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day and the anniversary of Rosa Parks' refusal to move from her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955. Both are good occasions to consider how far we've come--and how far we still have to go.

Our world faces a variety of struggles for freedom, and we may not have much guidance from our leaders. The life of Andrew and the rest of the disciples shows how much we can do if we have a small but dedicated group of people by our side. Today is a good day to think about who those people are for each of us and how we can care for those relationships as we care for the larger world.