26 September 2007

What I've been reading

Because some of you may be interested in this, and because it is an important part of my domestic intellectual life, I am including a brief list of books recently read. Some I chose for myself, others I read for work, and still others made their way into my hands. This is not exhaustive, but it covers most of what I have actually finished since I last posted about books. Of course, there are always at least 5-10 more in-progress on my bedside table or on my desk. So here is the latest installment:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: I am currently reading this with an 11th grade class. They have an extreme distaste for it: not enough action, who wants to read the diary of some crazy girl who won't talk, it has nothing to do with my life, etc. and they are only on page 30. I read to the end to see how I could arouse some interest in them. We will see how it goes. I do recommend it. The writing is strong and the main character has moments when she is truly compelling.

A Grief Observed by C S Lewis: Lewis hasn't made it to my bedside or purse in awhile, he is usually shuffled off for some undiscovered author. This book is short, rich and excellent in true Lewis style. I don't know why I didn't read it earlier in life--perhaps I would not have been able to truly hear what he had to say.

Poetics by Aristotle: This book is one of those classics that people refer to all the time, especially in literary circles, that I felt I needed to read. Aside from the references to Greek plays that I have never read or seen, I thought it was interesting. Aristotle points out the obvious, which seems to have escaped many modern writers, outlining the necessity for consistency in voice, character and style. He also addresses other problematic issues like audience attention span and the tools that lesser poets (and writers) use to hide their lack of skill or story. Reading this didn't change much about me or my writing, but it did encourage me that I am not wacked out when it comes to my need for consistency, veracity and continuity even in my entertainment. And I feel educated;-)

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: A classic book about a mentally retarded man who undergoes surgery to make him smarter. He rapidly becomes a genius, only to equally rapidly decline back into retardation. I am reading this with two of my classes and I find the story compelling. There is a lot of room for discussion and I hope that my students are getting something out of it. In one group we are reading out loud and this makes it a little awkward when Charlie, the protagonist, talks about pooping in his pants as a child or about being in love with his adult education teacher. We are managing, and in the meantime, we have interesting conversations. For many of my students I realize that a lot of it is over their heads, and they may want to read it again in a few years when they know more of life.

I will try to post more about my reading on a regular basis.

Been Thinkin'

I don't write often on this blog. Definitely not as often as I think of things to say, but I wanted to post this quote as a reminder of some of the important things that we don't think about but which should inform every moment of our living:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

24 September 2007

My New Job

I started a new job last week, which is a major answer to prayer. After wrestling internally (and externally) with the idea of teaching and all the stress and emotional involvement it requires, and being lovingly kicked in the pants by dear friends and family members, I accepted a part-time teaching position at the Perspectives Charter School at their South Loop campus. I work 4 days a week as a Reading Enrichment Instructor, working primarily with students in grades 9-11 with one class of 6th graders. It pays $17 an hour and I work between 20-25 hrs a week. This is not quite enough to cover all my expenses and allow me to pay all of my debt off, so I am looking for an additional part time job. However, it is an excellent position for me and uses my gifts and abilities very effectively.

Basically, I lead something that loosely resembles a structured reading circle. I have students in small groups for an entire class period. The class is titled “Enrichment” and is focused on building their reading and study skills. It is a brand new program this year and this means that I have a lot of freedom in how I structure and run my groups. Some of my students are working on building basic reading skills through a program called Read Naturally. They all read and discuss and write. Currently we are working through reading level appropriate novels in each group. When those are finished the groups will move to non-fiction and study skills and the year will close with another set of fiction reading.

The school atmosphere is very disciplined and college-prep focused. I appreciate the support that the teachers have to maintain discipline and hold their students to high standards. Many of my students are at the lowest reading levels in their class but thus far I have had quite a bit of success getting them to work hard and even the most problematic ones listen to me. My supervisor Kate told me that she thought I would be successful because I had a good balance of “toughness” and sense of humor. Working with high school students can be challenging, so both are necessary every period.

The other really cool thing about this job is that the Perspectives Charter School has 3 campuses and has been expanding hugely every year since they started (in 1997). Because they are a charter school they are allowed to have a small percentage of their full-time teachers that are uncertified. This means that it may be possible for me to go on to full-time teaching if a position opens up, without having to go back to get a Masters degree in education. I am excited about the potential and about all that I am learning working almost full-time as an educator. I need to go, but I will try to write more soon.

Humble Orthodoxy

My blog should have been updated 20 times since I last wrote, but none of them have appeared. Now, I feel compelled to get as much out as possible and it is so random that I am going to post each item separately, even if they do all go out in one day. I welcome your comments and dialogue. Some of these things are interesting, some possibly controversial, all pretty close to my heart and on my mind of late.

And this one comes first. There is a great article on the New Attitude blog that explains humble orthodoxy and I encourage you to read it. What is the role of humble orthodoxy in my life? Is it something that I practice? How important is it? What does it look like?

These questions swirl around in my mind and deserve more attention than they are getting.

What does it look like? Well I feel this article answers that question best.

How important is it? That one seems obvious to me. It is VERY important that I practice it in my own life, and I feel that it is very important if one is going to interact frequently and caringly with non-Christians and Christians alike.

Is it something that I practice? This is where the questions immediately become more complex. Most of the time I would have to say no. My grasp on orthodoxy has been challenged a great deal in the last 6 months if not the last 4 years! Many things that I thought I understood now feel foreign, the Bible that I read and love seems overwhelmingly complex and in all of this I feel uncertain about where to turn or what to pursue. Don’t get me wrong. My relationship with God is going strong and I attend a wonderful, Bible-believing, truth-telling church where I am building relationships with other strong Christians. But in my personal study and quiet time, I feel like I barely scratch the surface, as if I am missing so much richness and I am not exactly sure how to get there. I have contemplated getting some commentaries, but which ones? I have looked into various Bible studies but they seem to be too simplistic or to general. My own study seems rather banal, and I don’t seem to go very deep, especially with passages that are very familiar. And humility? That has never been one of my strong points! I work to practice that in my daily life but there are times that I wonder if my humility has more to do with not caring (and therefore letting things slide off my back, rather than reacting and controlling) than it really does with genuine God-given true understanding of who I am and who the people around me are in light of God’s grace. This is probably something that I will never grasp but I think the questioning is valuable.

Finally, what is the role of humble orthodoxy in my life? This should be obvious, but I am not so sure. Intellectually I can assent to all the valuable roles that humility, orthodoxy, and humble orthodoxy play in relationships, decisions, etc. Making the transition from head knowledge to heart action is always difficult and with this issue has been especially so.

I welcome any of your thoughts on this.

03 September 2007

The Jeff Wall Exhibit

My few faithful readers are a due a new installment and something besides a narcissistic rambling, so I decided to write about a recent cultural experience.

The Art Institute has free evenings from 5-9 Thursday and Friday all summer. Well, there are posters all over the city for the Jeff Wall retrospective that they have been running and I was intrigued. Friday night I made it in for about an hour before I had to catch the bus to small group.

First, one should never go to a public exhibit on a free evening on a holiday weekend. One is bound to run into MANY unappreciative tourists who seem bent on viewing as many objets d'art in the shortest time possible, whilst commenting on the general lack of excitement such a viewing incurs.

Second, it is always valuable to find an exhibit that will place viewing benches in front of artwork that you are actually interested in meditating on as an escape from the trampling hordes.

Third, one should remember that, no matter how much longer one dawdles in front of said artwork, attempting to escape the press, the hordes will invariable run one down, hence the rapid pace people make through such exhibits.

In all honesty, it wasn't really that bad. I was just kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to get down there sooner, since I live a whopping 1.5 miles from the Art Institute--a straight shot north up Michigan from the apartment.

Jeff Wall is an amazing artist. I read in one of the catalogs that he only creates about 5 images a year... not much for a photographer and a risky proposition for an artist at any time. But those 5 images are intense, to say the least. The link to the Art Institute website does not begin to give you an understanding of his artwork. I am including a few links that give a slightly better sense, but even they hardly do justice. His pictures are printed on film and mounted over a lightbox, basically huge transparencies, and almost without exception they are large and imposing.

Here are links to a few of my favorite images:
A Sudden Gust of Wind
The Invisible Man
Some Beans and Octopus

There were other images that I would have including if good links were available. If you are in the Chicago area before the end of the month, I encourage you to take a look at the exhibit. Thursday evenings are still free and the exhibit is free.

I wanted to make some philosophical reflections on Wall's artwork, but I hardly know where to begin. Photography is an interesting medium. There is a feeling of reality, authenticity in photography that makes you think you are seeing the truth. A moment, caught in time, lies suspended before you in the gallery. Wall's work often looks spontaneous and dramatic, as if he had the magic touch and just saw the moment as it happened. Reading a bit about him, however, revealed that he was the master of manipulating the image; that he spent countless hours digitally blending 100s of images to create one masterwork. No wonder he only did 5 pieces a year!

One that I did not include in the list is called A Flooded Grave. I could not find a good link for it, so this one will have to be adequate. It is an image of a recently dug grave that is filled with a plethora of sealife. The setting is so mundane that the appearance of a grave full of starfish and anemones seems reasonable, until you take the time to think about it. In each image there was the opportunity to think about the complex machinations that were necessary to create a seemingly natural moment. This sounds so flat on the page, but it was a very rich experience.

The Jeff Wall exhibit reminded me yet again of why I am so interested in art and why I wish I were a much more skilled contributor. Excellent art provokes a thoughtfulness and contemplation that is not generally available in the world I live in on a daily basis. I need to take more time out to meditate on them. It might prompt something really beautiful in my life.

Isn't it amazing that we belong to a Creator God who would pour so much ability into His frail creations that we might begin to act and work in His image as creators as well?