Monday, January 25, 2016

English Teacher Musings

- I posted a meme on FB a while back that has a bunch of words misspelled -- errors like "could of" instead of "could've," that kind of thing. One of my friends LOL'd it and commented that for me to read that must be like someone with perfect pitch listening to a tone-deaf person sing. Oh, my goodness . . . nailed it.

- Speaking of memes, my husband and I were just commenting on that word yesterday: meme. What a weird word it is. Wondering where in the world it came from. Amazed that it has suddenly become such a commonly used term when it seemed to come out of nowhere a couple years ago.

- And not only is a texting term like "LOL" common in everyday usage anymore, but I just used it as a verb. Language evolution is fascinating.

- And speaking of language evolution, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the word "whom" is just going to fade away in the next hundred years or so. Someday, people will read literature and documents from our time and react to the word "whom" the way we react to the word "thou." What does that mean? Why did people talk so weird back then? Old English -- pah.

- I rarely get to choose the literature I teach in my English classes, and I've decided I don't really want that responsibility. Do you know how much literature there is out there? Good, meaningful, influential, classic literature? A whole heck of a lot. Even though I'm given the curriculum to teach at my school, I get to choose what my homeschooled daughter reads for English, and sometimes it's overwhelming. I want her to read everything.

- "Theme" is one of the story elements that I teach in my literature classes, and the definition we give for it is "the statement about life that an author wants to convey in his/her story." Only that's not entirely accurate . . . because sometimes the theme isn't necessarily a statement. It's just a topic. The story addresses the theme of "conformity," but the author may not be making a clear statement about that topic as much as just wanting us to think more about it. And sometimes an author writes something with no particular "theme" in mind at all -- just writing a good story. Nevertheless, if it is a good story, we readers find a theme. Because this is one of the aspects of our being made in the image of God -- this ability and need to search for meaning.

- I emphasized (with italics) the modifier good with regards to a story. Not all stories are good. And by that, I don't mean that not all stories are entertaining or enjoyable. Those factors are a matter of personal preference, really. But I think we can come up with criteria for what makes a story good, or at least better than another. I don't know what that definition is . . . but I heard one a while back that I thought was a good start to the conversation anyway: good stories, even if they are fictional stories, are TRUE. They express truth. They show us truth. Even if that truth is the ugliness of reality.

- Good stories must have some universal appeal about them, too. Something that rings true in all people, whatever culture they come from.

- An old friend once talked about a play (and therefore, a story) having value if there is a redemptive quality to it. I like that, too.

- When I taught public school twenty-some years ago, every year, I had some smart aleck kid who would declare that literature can mean anything you want it to mean. This declaration usually came sometime in January or February, which was handy because it would be cold enough for me to have my winter coat in the classroom. I would ask my students what color my coat was. Some would say green, some blue, some greenish-blue, some blueish-green, some teal, some aqua . . . we even sometimes discussed how next to a blue wall it would look more green and next to a green wall it would look more blue. I explained to them that any of those answers could be correct, depending on your perspective, your background, your prior knowledge and vocabulary . . .

But if anyone said my coat was hot pink, that was WRONG. Just because there may be more than one acceptable answer to a question doesn't mean any answer is acceptable.

And yes, that shut the smart alecks up, believe it or not. I should've kept that coat just for those purposes. Too many smart alecks in our world need shutting up.

Monday, January 18, 2016

On Elections, Prayer, and William Wilberforce

My Iowa friends have been posting pictures of themselves meeting presidential candidates. 'Tis the season.

It was quite an experience living in the Hawkeye state for the 2012 caucuses. Candidates were everywhere. We simply stopped answering the phone because we got pre-recorded calls from one campaign or another all day long. By the last week, I was erasing 10-12 messages from our voicemail every night -- including the occasional one that sounded suspiciously like it might have been the actual candidate on the phone and made me kind of wish I'd picked up the receiver and asked the man a few questions.

Despite such annoyances, I liked being in Iowa for a presidential election. Frankly, it was the only time I've ever felt like my vote mattered much, like it might actually make a difference in things. But I think I'm grateful not to be there this year because I have no bloody clue who I would vote for.

I hate elections. Admittedly, I would probably hate any alternative even more; they are a necessary evil in a free society, which is where I want to live. But the process of choosing people to represent us in the government has become such an unsavory one. I despair of our being able to elect an intelligent, capable, and moral person to national office unless it just happens by accident.

For Christmas, I got Eric Metaxas' book Amazing Grace about the life of William Wilberforce, the man behind the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. Great book. Great, great book. Highly recommended.

Interesting thing about Wilberforce: he didn't become a believer until after he was pretty well established in the House of Commons. In fact, the man who eventually became the nation's moral compass was something of a moral mess when he was elected to Parliament. And it sounds like he couldn't have been elected if he had been otherwise. Parliament was so corrupt at the time, Wilberforce pretty much had to buy his way into office.

Once he met Jesus and his life turned around, he was convinced he would need to resign, that remaining in his elected position would have to be inconsistent with his new convictions. It was John Newton (former slave ship captain and author of the lyrics to the famous hymn "Amazing Grace") who convinced him that he needed to stay where he was -- that perhaps God had brought him to this place "for such a time as this." And the rest is world-changing history.

Reading about Wilberforce convicted me in so many ways. But it also changed my approach to and my attitude about elections and government.

As I said, I despair of our electing a righteous person to the office of president -- rightly or wrongly, that's where I'm at. I fear the the election process has become such that it requires things of our potential leaders that make them decidedly less than righteous, moral, or ethical.

But Wilberforce's story reminds me that God isn't hampered by that fact. God is in the life-changing business, and our elected officials are not beyond His reach. If God can change an 18th century British Parliamentarian and use him in such a mighty way, He can certainly do that with a 21st century American president.

So while I will still vote my conscience this year, hoping for a candidate that has the moral direction I want in a leader, I will not be discouraged at my lack of choices or my apparent impotence in the matter. I am not impotent. I am a pray-er. And God still uses pray-ers to move the world, perhaps even by moving the moral compasses of the ungodly people in power.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year??

And so, it's a new year.

Actually, I'm reminded that the idea that a brand new year starts on the date we designate as January 1st is very manufactured. Other cultures and peoples have their new years starting on different dates. I suspect there may be cultures that make no recognition of the beginning of a new yearly cycle at all.

Nevertheless, it's a new year, the time when people decide to fix what's wrong with themselves.

I got way too much wrong with myself to fix in a year. Pshaw. Fuhget dat.

Our Sunday School teacher Aaron (I very much like our Sunday School teacher Aaron, by the way) encouraged us this morning to think of our New Year Resolutions list not as a "to-do" list, but as a "to-be" list. Of course, the distinction is minor, considering that being anything different requires doing some things different . . . however, I still like the distinction.

What is on my "to-be" list for 2016?

In 2016, I want to be healthy.

In 2016, I want to be productive.

In 2016, I want to be physically and emotionally present with the people I love.

But one goal that is NOT on my 2016 to-be list is to be happy. I'm not saying I want to be unhappy. Rather, I have learned as I've gotten old that when I aim for happy, I get nothing. Momentary elation, if I'm lucky, but I quickly fall back into drab melancholy. Happiness is not a goal; happiness is a by-product.

And it's not a by-product of being healthy or productive or present with the people I love . . . because I've been all of those things at various times in my life and was often still miserable deep-down, if I was honest with myself. The only times I can say I was every truly happy – or a better word would be joyful – is those fleeting moments when I accomplished the last thing on my to-be list.

In 2016, I want to be intimate with God.

As often as possible. As deeply as possible. Everything else that means anything or that satisfies my soul flows from that. So, I wish the same for the rest of you. Happy God-Filled New Year!