Friday, April 16, 2010

Now that my employer knows . . .

I found out about this a few weeks back and believe I have all the details in order - so allowed SNU to announce - I get to be a Visting Faculty member at Oxford!!!!

SNU's Dr. Marty Michelson to be Visiting Faculty at Oxford, NEH Summer Institute

Southern Nazarene University’s Professor Marty Alan Michelson, Ph.D has been selected to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in conjunction with Oxford University, Oxford, England. He will work specifically with the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies for five weeks in July and August 2010. His status will be that of Visiting Faculty, enabling him privileged access to Oxford's Bodleian library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe.

The summer institute title is: “Representations of the ‘Other’: Jews in Medieval Christendom” With other faculty members from the U.S., Michelson will explore constructions of Jewish identity in medieval Christian society. The collaborative team of distinguished scholars will examine the experience of “otherness” especially through the disciplines of history, philosophy, canon law, and art history.

Dr. Michelson learned about the possibility for this study opportunity based on information provided to him by the NEH through the School of Theology and Ministry Chair, Hal Cauthron, Ph.D. Michelson had an interest to study in the program for a variety of reasons. He has studied with and worked with Jewish scholars for several years, primarily through his coursework toward his Doctorate in Philosophy.

“My awareness of Jewish discrimination was first discerned in stories and history from the Bible. I later studied the 19th and 20th century issues of ‘otherness’ for Jews connected to the Shoah. I applied to this program to expand my awareness of Jewish issues and to learn about historical events leading to the expulsion of Jews. I hope to better discern how religious communities identify and exclude ‘the other’ not just from an historical perspective, but for modern practices of peacemaking that Jesus calls us to embody,” said Michelson.

The study will focus upon the increasingly frequent demonization of Jews in twelfth and thirteenth-century with particular attention to the experience of Jewish communities in medieval England.

“I trust the historical study will be informative. Additionally, I hope there will be creative ways to apply the history lessons to modern practices that are transformative – enabling people to embrace others instead of excluding them - in our world today,” stated Michelson. “I have not been in England since my graduation ceremonies from the University of Manchester in 2007. I look forward to the opportunity for an enriching and invigorating summer experience in the mild climate of the historically and culturally rich city of Oxford.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sgt. Peppers, Ozzy, Gospels, Discipleship, Freakonomics and more.

My high school English teacher made us study the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” album as a form of literature. I do not remember precisely how he justified it. I remember thinking he was a “hippie.” But, in truth, it is one of the fewer very specific things I remember learning bout and studying in high school. Perhaps a lesson for me as an educator for the experiential aspects of multi-disciplinary and diverse forms of educating others. Because, I do remember much of what we learned about the album and the time period and the lyrics (what was and what was not “behind” their meaning.) I remember in particular our teacher noting how funny it was that there were all kinds of things read into and fabricated from this first “concept” album to emerge in the world of music.

With that being said, it was a delight to read With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper by George Martin. Since George signed the Beatles and stuck with them through their rise in popularity, he certainly has the first hand experience to describe what the album was like – how and why songs were shaped and created as they were. I truly enjoyed this read. Among minor facts that I learned about the Beatles along the way - I also had to reconsider things about the music industry itself that I had, I suppose, just taken for granted. Like for example, the fact that these were genuinely made on “albums” and they had a limited number of working sound tracks that could simultaneously be incorporated into the album itself – unlike newer technologies that allow for many more layers of tracks. And, one minor thing about the book that was interesting. “Penny Lane.” I have heard this song so many times in my life – and until I read the book, I always thought of Penny Lane as a person who was being addressed in the song. So that the descriptions of the area were given “to” Penny Lane. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I realized while reading that, naturally, Penny Lane is an actual Lane – a street that was and is a real street (I believe in Liverpool.). I point this out because I learned this – but also because it notes the simple way by which we carry erroneous assumptions about small items around. Certainly not a major issue for life’s development – but an example in my own life of having mis-heard and misunderstood something – that I can now better understand as a result of having better information and an informed perspective.

I read as well, and I’m not sure I’m proud to announce this, but, nonetheless – I picked it up and read it. . . . I Am Ozzy. While I am not a fan of heavy metal music precisely, I did have a stint of being into “Christian Heavy Metal” as a teenager. And, while I think the average review of the average “rock star” is the same – (just watch VH1’s Behind the Music - the same scenario plays out. Nobody becomes somebody, uses too much of some addictive substance and makes reckless decisions along the way and either (a) tanks out completely or (b) somehow rises above.) --- there is something about Ozzy that is intriguing. The book is rife with curse words – but it resonates with how he himself tells his story. Raised in a home where his only options were to become a factory worker like his father – at an early age, Ozzy turns to petty (or large) theft. I’m not going to lie when I say the descriptions of his own decisions, as narrated, made me laugh out loud. But, overall, the book and his story represents the characteristic rise and fall of any star . . . but, for Ozzy, with a redemption of sorts (not in soteriological terms) brought about due to family influences and a kind of longevity that just worked for him. The guy has sold over 100 million records. Think about the cash he’s accumulated – and he’s dyslexic and, what is more, primarily sought to pursue a good time for himself – and in so doing he’s made an incredible cash living for his family. It’s an interesting world we live in when a person can so uniquely speak and interpret their voice of many in their generation as to be affirmed in the ways Ozzy has been affirmed.

Bart Ehrman was an evangelical who came to read and study the Bible who is now an agnostic and perhaps atheist. But, in truth, he reads and presents the Bible reasonably and without, in my opinion, what I would consider a negative bias against believers who read the Bible as believers. In Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) Ehrman reviews, in truth, what is taught at most seminaries and schools in the U.S. (at least based on my experience with professors from the Society of Biblical Literature, colleagues and professors who taught me.) Ehrman’s work is non confessional in its orientation – and not the way I understand the Bible within the frame of the confessions of faith I make about God and God’s work in the world. But, he’s not wrong and his book is honest and, in my opinion, he writes well. All of his books have a conversational presentation to them that I think reads easily and communicates clearly. I hope to write as clearly. Ehrman takes the work of scholarship and truly makes it accessible – and does so in a way that opens perspectives without being bombastic or arrogant.

In past years I’ve read Mitch Alboms’ Tuesday’s with Morrie and The Five People you Meet in Heaven so I picked up Have a Little Faith: A True Story. The book connects two primary persons in Albom’s life – the Rabbi (Reb) of his childhood (and entire life) and the life of Henry, a former addict and drug dealer who runs an inner city church in Detroit. In the story, Albom has been asked to write the eulogy for his Reb and he takes eight years of his life to get to know the Reb for this purpose – though he has known the Reb his entire life. Along the way he decides to be more generous and works to help others, including the pastor he helps in Detroit. It’s a nice story of faith and growth and loving one another.

In many ways, I could narrate stories about peoples lives that I have encountered - because I have similar stories in my life as Albom has had – with the downtrodden and the affluent. But, the fact is – to this point in my life, I have not figured out how to capture a story and weave the parts of it together like Albom has done. I do not ever *expect* that I will be able to do it as he has done – but I want to get better at it. I’m not sure if I’m naturally gifted to tell a story like some people are – (my wife is better at narrating stories than I am – I tend to cut to the punch line and want to move on) – but I need to learn how to tell stories better. I really do. There have been so many unique circumstances and life events I have encountered and I would love to share those stories with others. Perhaps I need to start another blog or personal writing project where I begin practicing the “art” of learning to tell (and write) a good story. But, alas, there are so many things to be done!

I liked Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. In fact, I liked it so much that I have proposed and plan to present on it for pastors in a few months. The book offers compelling ways to think about the way the future is being formed and what we can do as persons to “make the future.” I did not think the book was “perfect” but compelling – and I do not think it is the role of the church to hijack popular teaching on leadership and “retrovert it” to fit the church. But, I did think there were key observations about the world outlined in this text, that have reality and consequence for how any leader in any institution thinks about leading.

Johansen explains that in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), leaders must learn new skills in order to make a better future including:
1) Maker instinct (leaders approach their leadership with commitment of a
job and energy of a passionate hobby)
2) Clarity (leaders being clear about what they are making but flexible about
how it gets made)
3) Dilemma Flipping (turning problems that can't be solved into opportunities)
4) Immersive Learning (learning by doing)
5) Bio-empathy (understand, respect and learn from nature)
6) Constructive depolarization (calming tense situations and bringing people
from divergent cultures towards constructive engagement)
7) Quiet transparency (ability to be open and authentic about what matters
to you without self-promotion)
8) Rapid Prototyping (ability to create early versions of innovations)
9) Smart mob organizing (creating, engaging and nurturing social networks)
10)Commons creating
I’ll glean more from it later – as I teach and “translate” it to pastors later. I hope, in my own life of leadership, to better discern the keen insight of Bob Johansen for my own work as a person, professional, professor, pastor, and leader in advancing the Eupan Global Initiative.

I enjoyed SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I enjoyed their former book, Freakonomics so I picked up this for an evening read. While there are certainly facts to be gleaned from their research and data, what makes their book enjoyable and worth a review is the unique means by which they make interesting and odd connections in life. The book is filled with data – and the data can be the stuff of life that we learn – but it is not the data itself that makes the book interesting – it is the anecdotal and curious means by which Levitt and Dubner co-relate their data. Sometimes trivial – and not a sociological textbook – as a series of studies in various sociological experiences, the book challenges us to rethink what we know (or think we know) and how and why we know it. Several chapters were more trivial than others – but I still found the entire text to be an enjoyable connection and co-relation cross-pollination of “facts” and figures.

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Honestly, I couldn’t finish reading it. It was not that it was bad – it just read like many stories that I have read of hope and compassion that overcome trouble and pain in many places in the world. I think, in that sense, what turned me off to the book after starting was the fact that I know many other person show hve been working to effect positive change in our world – who have not received the benefit and extensive resources and thereby the “success” that Mortenson has experienced. It seems as though his first book was such a “hit” that it landed him not only the capital but the social capital to do what he is now doing. While I did finish skimming through the book – and do value what he has done and what he is doing – I guess I walk away from the book more frustrated with our world than with Mortenson or this text. Mortenson is doing great things – effecting significant change that is for the benefit of many! Super! Really. Super! But, why is it that people only respond to one area or one section of the world’s needs when they are “told about them” in a book or movie? Certainly I have my own answers and knowledge to answer this question myself – but in many ways I genuinely do not understand why it is that we as a culture (at least American, though likely in the world) still embrace the myths of redemptive violence and scarcity. We do not have to chose retaliation and there is enough to resource our world – if only we would stop fighting over what we don’t have, mimetically desiring our rivals.

Politics of Discipleship, The: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens (The Church and Postmodern Culture) by Graham Ward

It was my privilege to have Graham Ward as an advisor and editor on my doctoral dissertation while I completed my work at the University of Manchester. I did not have enough personal time with Dr. Ward as I would have liked. I doubt he remembers me (personally) in any significant way though he would (I hope) remember my dissertation since he provided ample insight and clarification to the work I completed with respect to the use of Rene Girard and Girardian Theory. Graham, for me, fit the image of at least one stereotype of British men, and perhaps a stereotype of British academics – rather straight-forward and “emotionless” in our conversation and work together – very business and matter of fact about the areas I needed to address and clarify in my work. He provided ample advice (his editorial notes on my paper documents prove that point!!)

That being the case, reading his Politics of Discipleship demonstrates that while he may not have had much personal time for me – he clearly has time to think about and clarify perspectives in written texts! Compared to some of the leisure reading I’ve done of late, this book was not a page burner – perhaps in part because it is dense – but in part because what he articulates seems so fundamentally correct. Discipleship is not just about personal and independent choices, but is rooted in a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a “polis.”

I will come back to Graham – both here and in my own life. I don’t have the text in front of me as I write today – and it is too dense to describe apart from solid citation. But, I would note that the one thing I do have difficulty with in Graham’s work is the lack of clear practices and lifestyle choices or habits that effect the kind of ideological concern that he so thoughtfully addresses.

Friday, April 09, 2010

So proud of a student I've mentored!

A wonderful student I've had the opportunity to teach followed through with a fellowship opportunity I informed her about - and got it! I am so proud.

I so wish I would have had mentors in my life earlier and more specifically who would have pointed me in directions like this! Of course I have wonderful opportunities now that I seek out - and I want to be a model for students to know they can research and network in their lives toward academic, professional and evangelical acclaim!

Here's what I wrote for our campus news:

SNU Alumnus Jean-Marie Hill selected for exclusive training in Washington D.C. to end Hunger

Rev. Jim McDonald, Managing Director for Bread for the World announced that Jean-Marie Hill has been selected from a pool of over 450 applicants to be one of only 75 chosen to become a Bread for the World Hunger Justic Leader. Rev. McDonald expressed to Jean Marie, “We are moved by your passion, faith, and commitment and are eager to have you more deeply involved in our work to urge our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.”

Jean Marie will receive a 100% scholarship to travel to Washington D.C. and participate in advocacy training while there. Bread for the World’s Hunger Justice leaders program brings together the best and brightest 20 to 30 year old advocates from around the country.

Jean Marie will partner with Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. By changing policies, programs and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist, Bread for the World provides help and opportunity for communities.

Jean-Marie will engage in several activities during her June, 2010 travel to Washington D.C. including:

· Gaining skills in advocacy, team-building, and community organizing.

· Connecting with like-minded young leaders from across the United States.

· Exploring the Biblical foundations of faith and justice.

· Speaking out on Capitol Hill by visiting members of Congress.

· Shared worship and prayer, and, a commitment to return to her local community to lead advocacy efforts to end hunger with Bread for the World.

Dr. Marty Alan Michelson from SNU School of Theology and Ministry notes about Jean-Marie that Jean-Marie is “one of the brightest and most engaged students I have had the opportunity to teach. She is already advancing the Good News of God’s Kingdom and I have no doubt this opportunity will better equip her to expand her effectiveness as a minister in God’s efforts in our world!”

Tropical Disease and Tropical Medicine

I had opportunity today to hike for a few hours with a group of persons from the U.S. that I know from my family's life history. While here in Costa Rica studying, we were delighted to discover that a few houses away at the hotel in the valley - the Savegre Hotel - Darrell Marks, retired professor of physics (and astro physics) from Northwest Nazarene University - is here birding with his family. Darrell taught both of my brothers, and my one sister, in Physics classes.

As I spent the morning out in the cloud forest with them, I joked that he and I are both scholars who have studied the "high" sciences - he in astrophysics and myself in "heavenly" theological pursuits. What a delight to spend the morning appreciate the beauty of the rain forest - viewing a few quetzals while we were out! It give me a greater ability to appreciate the natural beauty of this gorgeous valley when I'm here with other people. David Hille is such a calm, steady, good "guide" for pointing out and naming the beauty of various species while here.

Along the way I had the opportunity - with the students that are here - to read two books that I certainly would not have picked up without the keen recommendation of a faculty colleague who required the students here to read two books - one about a a doctor who left Wisconsin to become a doctor in a remote area of the Amazon. La Doctora: An American Doctor in the Amazon was a great read. I learned about the people she has encountered, her real canoe carved by hand from a single tree - and the various ways she has encountered unique and specific situations where she has provided medical aid to persons in the amazon - both locals and tourists. It was an insightful way to view the life of another person - in first person record. If I had something to offer to some place in the "middle of nowhere" and knew I could survive by moving there. I would do it. I would do it in one place after another, year after year - attempting to experience all that life would afford to me.

A separate book that I did not read in its entirety, but I did read significant portions of, had to do with tropical diseases and how they shape the life situations of people - millions of people. Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases is written by Jewish author and medical specialist Peter Hotez. I note his Jewish identity only because in the final chapter of the book he makes specific reference to his Jewish identity and the need for the world to be more Just - to advance Justice. I learned so much when I read the book - admittedly, since I'm reading for fun and not for study like the students - I didn't have to try to track all the minutiae of important details regarding how rabies or the hookworm or snail viruses are spread! But I was still fascinated with the various and manifold descriptions of the microscopic means by which these micro-organisms have maximized their own life - by preying upon human life! Somewhat disgusting . . . but fascinating all the same. One worm works its way through the digestive system and then comes out as an excretion in the soles of the foot - being released back into water where it starts its life cycle all over again. (Jimmy Carter's agency has done much to help with this worm - the Guinea Worm.)

Anyway - what was most compelling about Hotez work is the appeal he makes in his final chapter for one of the best forms the American (specifically U.S. Policy based) government could help people and have the greatest effect on international based political work and advocacy for others is by working to do more to eradicate the forgotten diseases to aid persons - millions of them, throughout the world. I have to admit, I found Hotez case compelling! A means by which the good could be advanced for the all! I hope to help students think about what they can do for the cause of others in line with Hotez perspectives. Compelling.

Great days here in the Cloud Forest. Good students. Good experiences. Unique meals, conversations, flora, fauna. Life is good. I am blessed.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Picking up lizards in Costa Rica

One day soon I must catch up on several books that I have read in the past few weeks - but I thought I would offer a few reflections on the experiences of my last few days.

I'm in Costa Rica at Southern Nazarene University's Field Station located in the Cloud Forest. It's actually quite a nice location and much more than a simple "hut" in the forest. There are two full-time directors for the program here and this year, 10 students from two colleges in the U.S. here doing different forms of study and research.

Yesterday I went out with two different students on the trails and around the river that runs through this particular valley. Each of the students is doing study on lizards, though in different capacities. One is doing a study related to how lizards might find their location based on UV light and the other is doing an analysis of the body temperature of lizards with respect to their daily habits of sitting in the sun, etc.

I am not much of a lizard person. Of course, I could say much more impressively that I am not much of a herpetologist! But, I learned much from the students and from the experiences I had on this morning. I think the most "marvelous" thing that I took away from our time together had to do with the agility and dexterity and "speed" of the lizards - and that with respect to their nimble "fingers and toes." (Okay, I admit, I do not know the correct terminology for their "digits" - and my students are not here right now to inform me!) The "fingers and toes" of the 3-6 inch lizards were incredibly small and narrow - tiny in fact. They are thicker than a strand of hair - but thinner than a toothpick - and they are distinctly spindly.

And yet, in side these tiny digits are uniquely crafted bones and muscles that respond to the surges of lizard brain activity that can cause the lizard to accelerate over rocky or tree or brushy debris in its quick "dart" for food or in its rapid retreat from the student's "noose" to catch it.

Amazing animals that are just a small part of the Creators vastly complex and wonderful creation.

A good day.