Sunday, February 19, 2017

Books, books, books.

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood.  The concept of Moral Injury and the need for Soul Repair is not new - though the labels are new and our discernment of the true ruptures is only newly beginning to be discerned.  What happens to women and men who serve in war is no longer labeled just "shell-shock" as some temporary experience, new considerations are given to how war leaves behind morally injured humans that emerge from complex situations of conflict.  This data and these stories should help us re-think our patterns and practices of militarized violence.

Fields of Blood:  Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong.  Karen's a compelling author of significant magnitude, weaving vast amounts of data/history together.  A book I'll need to re-read for various aspects of learning from diverse religions that I had studied, though do not know as well as Armstrong has portrayed. I learned and have yet more to learn from this text.  Here is a better, full review from the New York Times.

Writing My Wrongs:  Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor.  An easy read with good narrative on a complicated life story.  Originally James White now Shaka, he writes to tell his story and implicates his own journey and the complex prison system.  Revealing in so many ways, troubling.  Rated-R for sure.  I'm thankful for reading the story and yet still feel the fracture(s) of the life he lived, the murder he caused, and the brokenness of "the system" of incarceration.

Courage and Defiance: Spies, Saboteurs, & Survivors in WWII Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson.  Of course I engage stories related to the Shoah (the Holocaust).  This collection of stories is testimony to those who stood in the face of overwhelming domination to work for a world of solidarity.

I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bears Journey for Justice by Joe Starita.  I will re-read this book.  When I think about "what we did" to push out the indigenous persons who lived on this continent before the "white man" arrived, I will remember this story and grieve.  A powerful story that forces me to ponder the privilege of my skin and the horrors of our forefathers who mistreated the integrity of vast number of indigenous persons on the continent of North America.

The Color of Grace: How One Woman's Brokenness Brought Healing & Hope to Child Survivors of War by Bethany Haley Williams.  A powerful story of compassion enacted.  Love made real.  Reads like a journal, though it is Bethany's story.

Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry by Jeffery A Lieberman.  I wish I could have read this book as part of my Masters course in Psychopathology many years ago.  It gives a compelling review of how the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual became a reality, along with some narrative and biographical complexity to its history.  A great read.

He Wins, She Wins by Willard F. Harley.  Always trying to tool up resources for working with others.  This book was helpful with a win-win model and always insuring big commitments in life have buy-in from each spouse.  A good read for working through and sharing life with a loved one.

The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be by Mark Nepo.  I'm not too into the books that suggest an inward journey of self-revelation that is somehow "the" way of coming to know ones-self.  And yet, we all need good "inner-work" to think, to pause, to reflect.  Honestly, I probably read this book too quickly to celebrate it the way others have! :(

Dataclysm:  Who We Are (When We Think No One is Looking) by Christian Rudder. Human behavior meets the internet.  What we can learn about humans based on what they post (do) online  Fascinating.

Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psycotherapy by Irvin Yalom.  Ten stories, well written, of Yalom's work with persons dealing with their existence.  Yalom has never disappointed.

The Way of the Wise: Simple Truths for Living Well by Kevin Leman.  A reflection on wisdom from the book of Proverbs.  Stories and anecdotes to "warm the soul" and cause readers to reflect on life and value - and God.

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick.  In truth, I knew Benedict Arnold only as a "traitor" to the American cause . . . and that's it!  I know much more know.  Great history, well written.

Ruthless:  Scientology, My Son David Miscavige & Me by Ronald Miscavige.  Scientology fascinates me - as a movement untethered to anything - and yet it has a following.  It's fascinating to me.  I think it will last into the next century or two . . . or more.  I'm not sure we can ever know "the truth" about those inside, and I'm not sure I can trust this report, though I sense there is more truth than fiction in the account rendered here.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Change the World.  A kids book, so not much to read, though I'm thankful for books like this that tell stories that we all should read.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.  I read this in 2016, then again in 2017.  I found it fascinating.  We know so little about so many indigenous persons from history.  And they may have been much more fascinating and ingenious than we have previously thought possible.

Why We Work by Barry Schwartz.  Not much more than the TED talk.  Do work that feeds your soul.

Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct and the Rise of Los Angeles by Les Standiford.  I marvel at the feats of engineers and civic bands of workers and the politics behind taxation and money to have created the big cities in the world.  This story follows the journey of water and how channelling it - and navigating all the complexities involved with it - made Los Angeles a reality.  I learned much.  I found the story fascinating.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.  I found the narrative of this historical journey to be enthralling.  I simply can't imagine having the "gumption" and "nerve" to do what these men did . . . and to have survived.  The planning, the danger . . . wow.

Mindfulness by Ellen J Langer.  I think I need to audio-read this book in snippets - when I'm out doing other things.  It's an old book - and the reviews on it are good.  I think I would do better to audioread it like a podcast, than to "plow through it" as I do with many books.  I want to come back to this one.

American Girls:  Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.  I'm still trying to figure out my girls - now late teenagers.  This book has helped me, and yet, I'm still perplexed by what we've experienced with our girls.  I have no doubt that the extremes of screen time, always being online, and access to dis-embodied texts and pornography are radically reshaping our teens - boys and girls - and our future will be framed in worse ways as a result of much of it.  It scares me.

Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World by Harold Kushner.  I read Kushner's Why Bad Things Happen to God People a long time ago.  If I were to sit down with this book and that book, side-by-side, I'm not sure that I would have learned much more.  There was nothing in the book that seemed compelling to me.  Nothing extraordinary, though I am sure some tidbits would be meaningful to some persons, here and there.


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Grief work - hard & rewarding

Being with people as they grieve is hard work.  

Yet, rewarding.

Life is complex.

Love people.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A guest in our home . . . and I am deeply troubled.


A student from my first semester of full-time teaching is staying in our home tonight.

What a joy to welcome him into our home!

He was raised in Tulsa, the son of a preacher.  He trained for ministry and for most of the past 18 years he's been a pastor in Texas.  The past several years he has pastored a large, historic Baptist church in Dallas.

In the past year, I have seen him almost every week. He has started a new church in Oklahoma City that worships on Saturday and our family has worshipped with this new church nearly every weekend.  

He's a trusted friend. I love him.  

Since it was the first time he had any reason to stay overnight in our home, in the last minutes before he went off to the bedroom, we had to configure some plans for the morning on who is going where, when and how at what time - with our family routines and when we drive off to work and school.

Our guest will be leaving our home earlier than us in the morning to go to the gym, and then, will need to come back into our home after we depart, to gather his belongings and carry-on with his day.

He said to me, "Dr. Michelson, how am I going to get back in?" 

I was standing in the room of our house with the back-sliding glass door and I immediately walked to the door and said:  "I'll just leave this unlocked and you can come back in right here" as I unlocked the door to insure I did not forget in the morning.

Without a single break in the conversation - not even for a second - he said directly and without joking, in a declarative way: "Dr. Michelson!!!  A Black man walking around the back of your property and coming in your back door . . . and you don't think one of your neighbors will shoot me?" 

For a second it caught me off guard, but I quickly realized he was correct.

After a moment's hesitation, I planned for him to use my garage door opener, and pull his car in garage when he returned. I assured him he'd be fine on his return as  the garage door would shut behind his car and no one would see him enter our home.

Minutes later I headed off to bed myself.

I lay in bed for several minutes - and have arisen to type these words.  I just can't get this problem out of my head.

It troubles me deeply.

My friend . . .  a person I trust, care about, and love - and a person I know loves me - was not just aware that he had to be mindful (and afraid!) to visit my home "unattended" - he was INSTANTLY aware of it.

He didn't take a minute to say:  "You know, Dr. Michelson, I was thinking . . . "  

He didn't take even ten seconds to question my back-sliding-glass-door plan.  

He INSTANTLY "knew" it was a bad idea for a black man to be coming around the back of a house, in my neighborhood, entering through the back door.

It troubles me.

We've had numerous college students and high-school teens - largely friends of our own children - come in the back door of our home on many occasions!  We've come home on many occasions to one-or-another set of friends waiting on our porch, walking in-or-out of our home, lugging furniture or music equipment in and out for various "parties" or "gigs."  

We've had several former students "live with us" for a week or two, or for weeks of the summer.  

On no single occasion did any of them question their safety or fear being seen as a trespasser as they entered the front door, back door, or garage door of our property.

And yet a friend I care about as deeply as any of these others, who is Black, processed in milliseconds the "threat" that he might pose to some person's perception that he did not belong in my home . . . and he instantly knew to be wary of the threat.  

The fact that he has to live processing this as a threat, and that is runs so deeply in his thinking that it was an instant awareness for him . . .  makes me deeply, deeply, sad.

And I can't sleep as I think about it.

It troubles me deeply in many ways.

I don't want my friend, nor his wife, nor his children to feel unsafe because of the color of their skin.

I don't want anyone to feel unsafe because of the color of their skin.

Toward eupan ~

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

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:  www.mydigitalseminary.com   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.