Saturday, January 21, 2017

Teaching General Education Courses

I’ve come to enjoy maturing into how I teach “Gen. Ed.” (General Education) courses for the University. 

This involves “Intro” Introduction courses to subject areas.  Primarily for me this means the course I most routinely teach titled “Old Testament Literature and Life.”  (On occasion I’ll teach New Testament Literature and Life and I’ve taught Christian Faith and Life too – all required for learners at my Christian University.  Note the progression of titles to courses – and the idea that the Christian Life emerges from the study of the both Testaments.)

General Education courses are, in some ways, the easiest courses to teach - while also being the hardest courses to teach. 

The courses are easy to teach as they cannot go into “enough depth” to “really” get into the issues of any particular book of the Bible.  There is not enough time to engage with depth the wellspring of data in many passages in every book of the Bible, let alone the breadth and scope of “critical” studies that engage all of the archaeology, textual history, cultural awareness and the like. 

Winsome. That is what I want most for the Intro Courses that I teach.  Attractive. Open. Charming. Winning. Sweet. Approachable. Delightful.

I want the courses to be appealing and interesting, engaging and deliberate.  I want the reading to be challenging and comprehensive, without being extraneous or overboard.  I certainly do not want the course to be boring or dull, tedious or tendentious. 

I’ve told learners that I teach, and pastors that I am training that I never use the phrase and do not buy into the idea of “being the Devil’s advocate.”  However one might interpret that as a simple expression, the notion of it embraces that idea that someone is partnering in league with the most diabolical force in the world for the sake of causing discursive frustration. I am not for that, ever. 

While I am open to engage multiple ideas and pathways for interpretation, I always seek to insure  for myself and with learners the perspective of the faith tradition.   I embrace my Christian identity, following Jesus as revealed in Scripture, as God is fully revealed in the entire testimony of Scripture.  For me, this has included the Church of the Nazarene and positions I hold within the Church of the Nazarene, though it has not limited my study of other perspectives within Christianity, nor other religious traditions, nor other social-political ways of thinking.    

I did not teach a General Education Introduction course in the last semester so I had a nice “break."

As I prepare for the first day and first weeks of Old Testament Literature and Life to begin in a few days, I’m excited. 

I’ve only made a few minor revisions to the planned course course work for this new semester.  We’ll be using the same textbook that has been the intentional choice of our entire department, Discovering the Bible, published by our Denominational publisher, and thus fully consistent with our theological perspectives.  It’s a good text.  [No “Intro” textbook is perfect, as I might note in another blog entry later.] 

As I head into this new semester, I’m excited to have another opportunity to “refine my skill” at teaching.  I plan to do the best I can at the basic features – showing up on time and being available to learners during the class hour and outside of class.  Some of the learners in my class will have no familiarity with the Bible. 

I hope to invite them to see the God Scripture and the people of God in Scripture to be “persons” they can “relate to” and discern for understanding their personal life journey.  I will introduce non-acquainted students and those who have had years of “Sunday School” and home-family Bible teaching to explore together key themes in the story of Scripture – primarily an emphasis I see that ties the Exodus, Exile and Easter together in the reality of Becoming Priestly Kingdom and Holy Nation, partnering in the work of announcing the reality that the  Kingdom of God is now available (particular passages in Exodus and Matthew frame this idea for me, though I believe the ideas permeate passages across the Canon of Scripture). 

I will do my best to be honest with Scripture, authentic with what I understand God’s work to have been in Scripture and in my own experience.  We’ll have time to talk about what we can “know for certain” about the historical tradition of Scripture while talking about how Scripture (and the God of  Scripture) has shaped the experience of many believers over more than three millennia. 

My hope is that if the course content, reading, library research work, group study, creative engagement coheres, each learner will end the course with a greater sense of their own identity in the larger purpose of God’s faithful work in the world which continues to involve us. 

My personal prayer – and prayer for my family – has long been:  “Lord, help us to be people who are faithful and honest, kind and true, gracious and generous, people who reflect and embody the life of God’s Kingdom.”  I hope the work of teaching the “Intro” course will welcome people into the potential that they might reflect and embody the ideal of God’s Kingdom individually and collectively, for the sake of all Creation.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Psalms Reading

Some "new to me" textbooks for my Psalms and Wisdom Literature course.

It's nice to have new options to explore for teaching.  I always learn when reading and am so thankful for good books to read!

Psalms by the Day by Alec Motyer is a lovely new translation, commentary and devotional for the Psalms.  It will prove impractical for course use - as I would have to require learners to "rush" through a textbook that is designed to be used more reflectively and over a longer period of time.  The translation, textual commentary, and notes throughout were excellent.  In fact, I myself "sped" through the text as I was reading for the sake of gleaning new insight.  This is a text I may have to come back and use "Day by Day" more devotionally on it's 73 day reading preset plan!

Gordon Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed is a nearly perfect text for introducing the Psalms within a Christian context.  This may be one of the "best" texts I've found to carefully, faithfully and with insight introduce emerging Bible scholars to the scholarly opinions (and consensus where applicable) on the Psalms, while being sensitive to issues of deep faith, too.  For example, Wenham makes clear that he was personally jolted to learn in his early University education that the Psalms were not about the Messiah, only to come to a fuller realization over time and his study that the Psalms were about the role and category of kings and coming messiah, without having to be precisely predictive of all events in the life of Jesus.  While he begins his chapter on "Reading the Psalms Messianically" noting his "shock and consternation" (82) at what he was first being taught in the Academy, he later writes, "I am inclined to think that originally many of these psalms were not understood messianically.  I do jib at Augustine's reading of 'I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me' as propecy of the resurrection.' A straight-forward historical interpretation of the psalmist's testimony to God's continuing protection seems adequate to me in this case.  But that is not to say that a historical interpretation is the last word" (99-100), before going on to say more about his understanding of sensus plenior.  A solid, easy, and quite brief resource.

I had pieced through portions of two texts by Glenn Pemberton in the past - both Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (published 2012) and then After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again (2014.)  These texts were both easy and hard for me to review, as it is impossible for me to be unbiased.  Glenn is a personal friend, someone I hold in high regard for the caliber of his integrity, the credibility of his scholarship, the kindness of his personhood, and the depth of his pastoral care.  He and I began our Ph.D. program of study together in the mid 1990s and I have many regrets about not learning more from him and with him when we had more time to be together (though, we didn't have that much time with personal, family, work, academic lives - and that was the problem).  Additionally, as Pemberton notes in his writing, he has dealt with pain in his life - most specifically as he narrates relational issues, the loss of his home to a fire, and debilitating pain that has (only recently) forced his full-disability from teaching, which he loves and does with great skill.  As for the texts - they were both excellent.  I valued Glenn's ability to narrate his own story, woven in with excellent scholarship and quality prose.  Because of the way I (currently) teach my Psalms and Wisdom Literature course, I won't be using the textbooks as textbooks.  I do not believe my learners will spend enough time reading the textbook, in the small amount of 2 weeks we spend "intentionally" on lament in the course of study.  I lament this reality.  I may look to developing a pastoral care class with a department colleague in Theology and/or Psychology, where we used these texts with other texts on pastoral care, grief, loss, depression, addiction - to engage human loss in the midst of a Theocentric discernment of Creation and all the "mire" of life's complexity (Psalm 40 comes to mind!).  Glenn's scholarship and story will inform students in the classroom or the layperson at home, especially for those dealing with life's complexity.  In addition to deep reading that touched me, I'm thankful for the depth of friendship, collegiality and kindness I know in the author of these two books.  Glenn is a model Christian Scholar in every way.

The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology by O. Palmer Robertson. Keeping in mind that this blog is really more personal - a true "web log" of my thoughts and reactions - and not intended as a professionally focused "marketing" strategy of my "brand identity" here - my comments will be brief for a lengthy textbook.   I would direct "my" readers to a more full review at a blog I read, and, from which I became aware of this book in the first place back in January of 2016:   My two cents on the book were that "it felt like a reach" and "it was too long" in its suggestion that the "flow of the psalms is from "Confrontation to Consummation."  Perhaps it was because the "labels" fit too neatly into a nice whole, when a problem with the book of Psalms is the fact that the coherence of them, from start to finish in the Canonical shape is disputed and clearly lacks any simple, single and obvious frame from those who had the earliest hands in shaping the order of the books.  That being the case, I still found the book to be insightful and I enjoyed the idea of Robertson's notion that there exists a flow to the Psalms!  I tend to agree that the Psalms DO flow from start to finish - there are opening and closing elements the Book, and there five book imbedded structure in ancient copies we have of Psalms demonstrate there was intentionality to the shaping of the books.  I simply am not sure that the "neat" "system" Robertson offers is accurate.  Noting that, his suggestion is faithful within Christian identity and the book was well worth reading and I believe, would be of great value to many readers, and will inform some of my teaching in a lecture or two (as I will present Robertson's work), even as I will not adopt this as a textbook for course use.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Unbelievable! "Perfect" Instructor Review!

For every course I've ever taught the age-old adage has been true, "You can't please all the people all the time." 

No one is perfect.  Teaching is a "learned art" in my experience.  I've told others who are new to teaching:
About the 5th time I teach a course, I finally think that I have it 'right.'  The 1st time I teach a course I align it well, but still have to configure details and assignments and the 'logic' and 'flow' of the course with learner input and feedback after the course ends! The 2nd and 3rd time to teach the course involves revision from previous iterations of the course. The 4th time, the course typically runs well and by the 5th time, the course flows orderly and with good focus.  It takes years to develop and sustain a 'good' course! [Later changes are often 'forced' when a better textbook emerges or new learning software necessitates a revision to the platform and course features.]
I receive largely favorable reviews in courses I teach.  Most of the review include plots of numbers, though I often received helpful constructive feedback in comments from learners.  This feedback, especially the written engaged sentences from learners, is important.  Even as I have some courses I teach "year after year" ('Intro' courses), I often develop new teaching strategies, look for better ways to engage a textbook or use a new textbook, "play" with different ways to get learners to engage in the classroom or in their work/civic/church environments, and incorporate new discoveries/scholarship from journal articles, international news, academic published reports, or recent archaeological discoveries. With new technology, courses can be revised with various options in each new Learning Management Software or new "app."

Even as I try my best - offering appropriate and timely feedback, engaging with learners, making myself available online, in the office, or providing my mobile phone to learners, there are some learners that do not "like" something about the course or about "the instructor" - me.

I've been teaching in the college classroom in ancillary ways for more than 25 years with my first fully assigned course, professional paid Adjunct Professor opportunity in the 1993-1994 year, 24 years ago.

For the first time in any course I've taught, teaching adjunct for the Church of the Nazarene's Bible College, *every* one of the learners gave me a "5" (highest category) review.

I think it impossible this will ever happen again - so I'm archiving this!


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

I pedal and give thanks.

I pedal my bike to work most days.

I try to pedal for local errands, too.  Once a bike is set up with the correct "saddle-bags" or panniers, it's quite easy to transport a few "backpacks" worth of library books, office items, or groceries.

In the cold the past few days - at freezing point temperatures most days -  I pondered what people might think as they drive past me.

No doubt people think, "I'm glad I don't have to be riding!"  Or, "It's too cold for a bike."  Or, "Sure glad I own a car!"  (Some persons have said nearly as much to me when they see me gearing up with jacket, gloves and my bike helmet!)

As I pedaled yesterday - to the YMCA for my routine one-mile swim and then to help a friend with a job that needed two able-bodied persons to lift some items - I thought about pedaling and driving, swimming and lifting.

I realized:  I would rather have my health to pedal, than the wealth to own a vehicle. 

Thankfully, I have both. In fact, I may have more cash as I intentionally sold "my" vehicle nearly 10 months ago to "force" my intentional daily biking - saving me insurance, gasoline, maintenance on the good vehicle I owned.

I don't desire to be destitute, of course.  And yet, I'm very, very, very, very, very thankful for being as able-bodied and capable as I am.

I pedal and give thanks!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tom Oden, a mentor to my life, deceased

I received word on December 8th that a mentor in my life had ceased to live in this world,  Rev. Dr. Tomas C. Oden.

I've had the privilege to work with Tom the past several years in a few projects in Oklahoma City, connected to the Museum of the Bible.

When he would meet new people, he looked into their eyes, asked about their lives, paid attention to their stories and remembered them the next time he saw them.  These new people - on top of the thousands of people he knew over decades and in various regions of the world - became people he cared for.

I witnessed his endearing, gracious, pastoral care for others.

It was remarkable to me the way he looked at people and cared for them.  25 earlier in my life (1990-1991), I had read one of Dr. Oden's contributions to the pastoral and academic world, his book, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry.  It was in 2012, 2013, and through this year that I witnessed his deep care for persons lived out in his life not just on the pages of his books!

I had wanted my students to drive a few miles to Tom's home to meet him this semester.  I arranged tentative plans for the meeting with Tom's personal assistant. That meeting never came to pass as I got too busy with too many other semester projects.  Now I'm deeply sad for myself and for all future students of Pastoral and Christian Theology.

Several years ago our son was featured in the local newspaper.  This past year, Tom hired our son to work on a technology project for him.  (As an octogenarian, Tom was working on an App for the iPhone!)  When I shared with Tom that our son could help him on the project, Tom said, "Oh! Is this your son that I read about in the paper a few years ago!?!?"  Where I had forgotten the event, Tom remembered the news, and our son! He cared so much for people!

He was a consummate scholar, pastor, theologian and a friend.

I've just read his A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir.  Finishing it now, after his passing, makes me wish yet more that I wish I had made time to be with him.  He signed his copy to me, "with gratitude and admiration."  Even though I had nothing to offer him, I do believe he was grateful for our friendship and I do believe he admired me.  I deeply admired him, and in truth admire him yet more now in his passing.  His work inspires me to be more like him in how I live my life, even if I'll never match his oeuvre.

I've taken the time, too, to re-read his Pastoral Theology in these past days.  And, I anticipate I'll make an effort in early 2017 to read several other books he published that, due to my focus in Biblical Studies, I never took time to read.

For those who might read him in the future, I want to add my note of testimony to his life's legacy. He was a man who embodied the theology he published.

My life is changed for the better for having known Tom.