Category Archives: Teaching

A Catechism for Western Thought

Below is a catechism that I composed for my Western Thought classes last year.  I’ve worked on it some more and I hope to finish it someday, even if it is for other purposes.  One of the great memories from last years is my 9 AM Tuesday and Thursday class answering the questions with such great enthusiasm that they could be heard all down the hall.  Another moment of “what is

A Catechism for Western Thought

To be memorized and recited by students

The word “catechism” comes from a Greek word which is used in the New Testament to refer to teaching someone in an orderly and systematic way, by word of mouth, in the form of dialogue–question and answer. [1]  Catechisms have been used since early Christianity to teach the core beliefs of the faith.  Some catechisms were composed by individual pastors to teach their congregations the doctrines of the faith, or prepare adults or children to make public professions of faith.  Other catechisms have been adopted by entire branches of the Church as their official teaching, such as in my own denomination, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.      

      The catechism that we will learn this year will consist of the principles of conduct among each other, the virtues that we are inspired to attain by the literature that we study, and statements from that literature.  My reason for doing this is that our primary purpose in education is to become virtuous people.  I hope that through this tool, that I will hold myself accountable to the task of instruction in virtue, and for us in the attainment of virtue.

  1. What are the rules of our class?

The rules of our class are:  Do your work.  Don’t be a jerk. 

2.   What is the fruit of the Spirit?

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[2]

       3.  What are the seven virtues?

Kindness, temperance, love, self-control, humility, diligence, patience.

  1. What are the works of the flesh?

Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

  1. What are the seven deadly sins?

Envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath.

  1. What is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who receives and rests upon Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered in the gospel, and follows Him as Lord and Master.

  1. What do Christians believe?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.  Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead;  He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.

 I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen. 

  1. What is honor?

Honor is the value of a person in his own eyes and in the eyes of his peers. It is his estimation of his own worth and his excellence recognized by society.

  1. What is shame?

Shame is the absence of value of a person in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his peers.  It is his estimate of his own unworthiness and his disgrace recognized by society. 

  1. How does God reveal Himself?

God reveals Himself in general revelation and in special revelation.

  1. What is general revelation?

General revelation is God’s revealing of Himself in creation, nature, and providence.

  1. What is special revelation?

Special revelation is God’s revealing of Himself through His Word and His Son.

  1. What is conscience?

Conscience is the writing of God’s law on peoples’ hearts.

  1. What are the primary motivations for human action?

Honor and shame; fear and power; guilt and righteousness.

  1. What is honor?

Honor is an evaluation of a person’s actions, which determine a person’s worth, his position, or his value in a community.

  1. What is shame?

Shame is a negative evaluation of one’s actions, which undermine a person’s worth, his position, or his value in a community.

17.  What is power?

Power is the ability to act to control or influence people or things in a particular way.

  1. What is fear?

Fear is the terror that arises from the inability to control or influence people or things in a particular way.

  1. How is the fear of God different from servile fear?

The fear of God is the proper state of mind before a being who is altogether righteous, holy, powerful, omnipresent, who made this world, and who governs all his creatures and all their actions.  God has had mercy upon his people in Christ Jesus.  Thus, his children do not fear him from a foreboding of condemnation, but a recognition of his perfect character and his status as Creator and Governor of the universe, and Savior of all his people.

  1. What is righteousness?

Righteousness is conformity to God’s law in all our thoughts, words, and works.

  1. What is guilt?

Guilt is the awakening of the conscience to breaking God’s law in our thoughts, words, and works.

  1. Can human beings become righteous before God by their deeds?

Because we are corrupted in our whole nature through original sin, the corruption of the whole nature, and all actual transgressions, we cannot become morally righteous before God through our own deeds. 

  1. What hope do human beings have, as the Scripture tells us, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord?”[3]

God has provided a righteousness outside of ourselves in the gospel, the righteousness of God, which is from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’[4]

  1. What means has God provided that we might have the righteousness of God by faith?

Faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means through which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.[5]

  1. What was Socrates’ motto?

Know thyself. 

  1. How does John Calvin expand on Socrates’ wisdom in the Institutes?

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.[6]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]http://www.reformedspokane.org/Doctrine_pages/Doctrine_Intro/Doctrine_Intro_pages/Catechism.html

[2] Gal. 5:19-21

[3] Heb. 12:14

[4] Romans 1:17

[5] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 85.

[6]  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 1:1.1 accessed August 15, 2018. https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/calvin-institutes-christianity/book1/

 

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In Retrospect: First Day of Classes

9780226470498For the first time in over a decade, I will not be teaching Homer to tenth grade students.  In leaving my teaching job, I will miss my students the most.  Teaching them, talking with them, listening and giving guidance, and hanging out with them has been the bulk of my work.  In remembrance of my students, I’m posting an article that I wrote last year called “Can Virtue Be Taught.”

Can Virtue Be Taught?

As I write this, another academic year looms ahead.  Instead of sleeping late, taking naps, going to the gym, and travelling, I’m now spending my time on creating welcome letters, updating supply lists, adjusting assignment sheets, and answering emails from parents who want to ensure that their “little darlings” are adequately prepared for their first foray into PEP.  I’ve taught long enough so that if all I did was change the dates of the assignment sheets from previous years, I would have coherent lesson plans for each class, and nobody would ever know the difference.  A decade is a long time to teach the same class with the same books.  It’s almost as long as my students have been alive!  But this begs the question:  Why?  Why assign readings from texts that are three thousand years old?  Why assign weekly study questions on the reading material?  What’s the point of writing essays, taking tests, or even coming together for class?  Certainly, the writers at Spark Notes have done an adequate job of summarizing the texts we read, performing literary analyses, and bringing out the important themes of the texts that we read.  Perhaps they do a better job than any of us will.  So, what is it that brings us together each class day to discuss these texts?  Surely people have read these texts and mined the depths of them over the last millennia so that we have nothing to add that has not already been written by someone else.

Some peruse the multitude of readings assigned at Providence Extension Program (PEP) and conclude that we are trying to fill the heads of our students with facts.  Again, if this were the case, would not the memorization of Spark Notes be a more efficient strategy to accomplish this end?  Why waste the time that it takes to read Homer, Plato, Virgil, or Augustine?  Why come to class to discuss these works, if this is our goal?

A number of parents enroll their children in PEP desiring that their offspring be well read and well rounded, chiefly to compete well for college admissions and scholarships.  Others desire for their children to earn “high school credits,” whatever that means.  To be sure, there are as many reasons for enrolling at PEP as there are families who enroll.

One reason that I never hear for requiring students to complete the lists of readings and assignments is for the student to acquire virtue.  There may be several reasons why this goal rarely comes up in conversations.  First, we read mostly non-Christian authors who arrive at different conclusions about the “permanent things” such as God, man, the problem of evil, the purpose of life, government, and ethics than the Scripture teaches.  That is, that the ancient writers may disagree with the Biblical writers on what constitutes virtue and vice. This objection is fair enough.  But when one compares what Homer, Virgil, Euripedes, and Sophocles illuminate as virtuous actions through their characters and actions, one easily recognizes virtue and vice.  One sees what the Apostle called, “the law written on their hearts,” even though these writers did not have access to the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 2:15).

It may be that the most consistent objection to the idea that the purpose of education is to acquire virtue is a spiritual objection.  The argument is expressed something like this:  The Bible teaches that apart from Christ, no good thing dwells in us.  Therefore, to attempt to teach virtue apart from the gospel is at best, ineffective, and at worst, to substitute moralism for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  In other words, people will become self-satisfied with their own performance, or that they will despair of acquiring any goodness whatsoever. What we may infer from this argument is that to teach virtue apart from the gospel is to put our ladder up against the wrong wall.  Once we arrive at the top, we find that we have arrived on the roof of the wrong building.  According to this line of reasoning, apart from regeneration, virtue will not take hold.  So, this makes instruction in virtue a waste of time until the new birth takes place.

However, we are happily inconsistent on this point.  Parents pray with and for their children, and teach them to pray before a child makes a verbal profession of faith in Christ.  Such parents want their children to see prayer as the natural activity of the Christian, and to build habits and encourage in their children the delight of communion with God.  Prayer works, not only as a discipline for those who are self-professed believers, but it inculcates the mentality of dependence on God. The habit of prayer brings about the desire to know God and enjoy communion with Him.  In praying, we recognize and acknowledge that we are dependent on God for our every need.  As we pray, we build the habit of prayer, and we trust that through the due use of the ordinary means of grace, that God will save and sanctify our children, not because these actions accrue merit with Him, but from His promise that He will bring all into His sheep fold all who are appointed to eternal life.

All education is necessarily moral.  No matter what a teacher or curriculum intends to teach, something is taught.  If a teacher in the classroom of a secular school does not mention the name of God for the duration of an entire school year, something is being taught about God, despite the efforts to maintain neutrality in matters of faith.  When a Christian school tacks on Bible verses to areas of study with no apparent connection, something about the Bible is being taught.

James K. A. Smith has written several books about what he calls “cultural liturgies.”  Some of his more important insights are, first, virtue is “more caught than taught,” and second, virtue is acquired as a habit.  Through continuous practice, one grows to prefer the good to the bad, the genuine to the counterfeit, and truth to falsehood.  While disciplines, including studies, consist of outward acts, performing these acts changes us from the inside out.  One of the most frequently heard examples of this is the person who takes up running who perceives herself as unathletic. At first, she loathes the activity. She may have fallen victim to a sedentary lifestyle for which even a fast walk is a ‘big ask.”  Perhaps her experience with running is that it was punishment for dropping fly balls at softball practice.  Or, she’s self-conscious about how she looks in Spandex, and feels defeated about having to walk every quarter mile.  But she perseveres, and soon begins to feel better, to have more energy and confidence.  She becomes liberated from being concerned about how she looks in Spandex.  Along the way, her loathing of exercise is transformed into enjoyment.  How did this happen?  She dragged herself out the door, day by day, and persevered until running became a habit that not only brought about physical benefits, but transformed her attitude about exercise, and ultimately, her self-image.

Virtue is cultivated by habit.  Through training and repetition, one learns to love what is good, and true, and beautiful.  While stories aren’t written as morality place, they take us into worlds where we experience truth, beauty, and goodness.  J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantasy adventure story.  But in his story, Tolkien shows us heroism, friendship, courage, manliness, self-sacrifice, and the power of love to destroy hatred and evil.  Tolkien shows us what is good, and this goodness resonates with our spirit in such a way that we would desire such goodness to be part of our lives.

So while literary analysis, philosophical argument, and Biblical apologetics will be the bulk of what we do in class, these activities are tools.  These disciplines are instruments to prod us to acquire virtue, to learn to love what is good.  The Apostle Paul admonishes us in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”  We are to train ourselves in the truth, in goodness, in righteousness, to hate what is evil and love what is good.

If I achieve any success this year, you will be different from your peers.  The relativism and privatization of faith and morality gives the impression that virtue is unnecessary for human flourishing.  The monetization of every form of public space — from Google to Facebook to Twitter to YouTube and even the credit card swiping machines at the grocery store imparts the lesson that we are first and foremost consumers, and that our happiness does not consist in acquiring virtue, but in consuming goods and services.  The connection that we make from the monetization of public discourse to education is that education is consumption.  Texts are consumed to pass on information that can be regurgitated on tests or in essay.  In this way of thinking, we become what we buy.

However, this perception of the human being as primarily a being who consumes misses the mark.  The educational version of this is to see people only as “thinking things,” containers who hold information.  In this view, the job of the educator is to fill the container of the “thinking thing” with facts and information.

Writing in the fourth century AD, St. Augustine spoke of sin as “disordered loves.”  Because of the Fall of Man and indwelling sin, we love the wrong things, or we love the right things but not in Biblical proportions.  We are told to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but our self-love predominates over every object of our love.  We love the gifts of God’s creation more than the Giver.

Augustine’s message is, “you are what you love.”  We love, not simply with our emotions, but as the Apostle John writes, “in deed and in truth.”  It is my hope that we will not only see how our loves are disordered, but how we can rightly order our loves for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.

 

 

 

Moving to Houston

church pic    After twelve years of living in Jacksonville and serving the Lord at Providence Extension Program and Ortega Presbyterian Church, Amy and I are starting on a new adventure.We are moving to Houston, where I have been called as an Associate Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church.  So far, they have already lined up many preaching and teaching opportunities for me.  We are excited about beginning this new chapter in our lives, but we have made many dear friends here, and have had the privilege of being involved in the lives of many students, parents,  teachers, and church members.  We’re looking forward to serving the congregation at Covenant.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to write and post on a more regular basis while serving in this next calling.

I’ve Surfaced Again!

Le_Morte_d__Arthur_by_ThorleifrTwo months to the day since I last blogged, here I am again.  After beginning the year with so many challenging goals, reality is creeping in, which brings the realization that some adjustments are in order.  I’m currently thinking through what those adjustments will look like.

So, in the last two months, I’ve taken on another composition and literature class.  We’re reading Le Morte D’ Arthur, which I hadn’t even read before, much less taught it.  In one way, it’s kind of difficult to connect with knighthood, the age of chivalry, and the quest paradigm.  However, Malory is forthright about the failures of both Arthur and the knights.  The Round Table is a community that aspires to live a virtuous life.  The inability of the knights to live up to their ideals doesn’t invalidate the ideals.  Rather, it shows that these are worthy of striving for.  I’m also teaching journalistic writing, which is something I’ve never done before.  I’m enjoying both the content and the students very much!

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Catechism of the Catholic Church

catechism-of-the-catholic-church-200I woke up thinking through Plato’s view of the human body today.  This will come up next week when I teach Books IV and V of the Republic.  Expecting some associations with and attempted slanders of the Roman Catholic view of marriage and physical relations in marriage, I read up in The Catechism of the Catholic Church  on marriage and the expression of marital love to confirm that the Roman Church is not Neo-Platonic in her conception of the physical body.  The degree in which the Catechism is not Neo-Platonic in its view of the human body, marital love, and the gift of children is rather astonishing. Plus, I experienced the added bonus of reaching the beautifully written and theologically informative document that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is.   If only we had something like this as Protestants!
We do have the Westminster Larger Catechism, Baxter’s A Christian Directory, and the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Institutes that are somewhat comparable in scope.  However, the Reformers wrote catechisms for every generation and even sometimes the faithful in their own churches.  Alas, I think it was David Wells who said, “our is not a creed-making age”.  If this is an accurate observation it makes the Catechism of the Catholic Church an even more amazing achievement. It seems to me that this is the one theological work of the 20th century that future generations will see as a “classic.”
The Catechism covers not only issues of personal belief and conduct, but also social issues such as just war, birth control, abortion, etc.  and is so beautifully written.  I probably should put it on the reading list for this summer.
The structure of the Catechism is the same as most Reformation era catechisms.  The first part contains “what we are to believe concerning God.”  The second part contains “what duties God requires of us.”  Another way to summarize the Catechism is that it has three sections:  The Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  All of the Reformation catechisms except the Westminster are organized around these three symbols of the faith:  what to believe, how to live, and how to pray.
I haven’t been able to read much in it.  But from what I’ve read, I highly recommend it for both Protestants and Catholics.  Protestants will find much more common ground with our separated brethren than many would expect, and where there are differences, It behooves both Protestants and Catholics to be informed about what those differences are and be able to accurately understand and express those differences.
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Latin iii, Depth of Teaching, and Shared Inquiry

One of my maxims is that “good teaching comes out of depth.”  If a teacher knows his subject deeply and the particulars that he wants to teach for the day, he can make it interesting, provocative, connect it with other areas of the lives of his students.  In other words, if I’ve read Plato’s Republic eight or nine times, I’m able to teach it out of the depth that comes along with that experience, as well as what I’ve gained from reading other things about Plato and the republic.  It’s helpful, even indispensable to be able to see how the parts relate to the whole and the whole to the parts, and how the Republic relates to later works of philosophy.  To the contrary, if a teacher is still trying to master his subject, his teaching is going to be the source of a great amount of confusion.  Last night, I was thinking about this in relation to the shared inquiry approach to teaching.
This tends to be the traditional approach to teaching.  How does shared inquiry fit into this, when a teacher is a learner along with the students.  The teacher is a facilitator, guiding the students through the discipline of study, asking questions and engaging the material. For example, I’m learning Latin III right along with my students.  I’m far from being sure that this is the idea method, but it does have its strengths.  I’m able to identify with their roadblocks and weaknesses.  I get the joy of discovery along with my students.  The students end up doing most of the work in the class instead of the teacher.
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In terms of colleges, St; John’s College is exclusively devoted to shared inquiry as well as a handful of of others.  A poetry specialist might be teaching Newton’s Pricnicipia Matehatica, or science person may teach Aristotle’s Politics.So, while I’m not on shaky ground since others do this, I’n trying to figure out what the advantages are, if any.  However, to provide an education better than the one I received,  I have to branch out and challenge myself to be able to teach it in a worthwhile manner.
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Schtick

Having taken over teaching two classes in the middle of the school year, I’ve been thinking a lot about schtick lately, both in writing and in teaching. What I mean by this the individuality or persona a person brings to their craft and how they practice it.  I don’t mean this in the sense of being a poseur, but it’s second nature to incorporate some aspect of our repertoire of content, body language, personality, humor, communication style, vocabulary, depth of engagement with audience, and delivery, and leave others out for any given audience,  “Schtick” may not be the exact word, but it’s in the semantic range.  I’ve known that for the classes I’ve taught this entire school year, my schtick seems to work well most of the time.   But in taking over two new classes, I m wary of assuming that past results will predict future outcomes.

My theory is the same goes for developing a writing voice.  It seems that you sort of “fake it ’till you make it.  A writer continues to expand his repertoire, hone his style, and venture out into new territory until he gets an idea of what seems to work, and then proceeds to future hone his craft.  It’s interesting that as I listen to writers speak about their craft, they don’t seem to find that their eighth or tenth book is any easier than the first book.  One still must do the research, writing, revising, and editing under a deadline, and hopefully, work to the point of diminishing returns rather than beyond it.

What thoughts do you have about “schtick”?  How have you been able to personalize your schtick to become an effective communicator?

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Philosophical Method, Plato, and St. Thomas Aquinas

I introduced my tenth graders to Plato’s Republic on Monday.  The Republic dives right into a demonstration of philosophical method that can be hard to follow for the uninitiated.  So today, we did a class exercise in philosophical method and attempted to define justice, attempting to give them the experience of engaging in and experiencing a philosophical discussion.  Our exercise was a success in both Western Thought classes today.  I have two more sections of that class tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes.
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Plato (or Socrates) tends to ask questions and not arrive at a final answer.  So in preparation for this exercise, I read just a  tiny bit of St. Thomas Aquinas on justice in Summa Theologica, II:II, Q. 58, A. 1.  My daughter gave me Peter Kreeft’s Summa of the Summa for Christmas last year, and over this past summer, I was able to make some headway in it.
 St. Thomas makes me remember that  “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).  The Summa is an intellectual tour de force.  From what I can tell, the Summa may be the high water mark of the Christian church in both philosophy and theology.  I feel a little bit of a guilty pleasure in writing this, because I’m a convinced Protestant.
The reason why I find St. Thomas so beautiful and edifying is his philosophical method.  St. Thomas begins to form a definition of a concept by assembling the best points of the arguments of his ideological opponents, interprets theses arguments in the most charitable and best light toward his opponents to build an ideological fortress that looks unassailable.  And in every article that I’ve read of the Summa, he demolishes the ideological fortress of the ideas of his opponents to build his definition
 The style, the majesty, the meticulous thinking of St. Thomas, and his humility shine through to make the Summa a beautiful thing.  I’ll have to read Lombard’s Sentences, which was Thomas’ model, to see how much they are alike.  But talk about “copyrighting your faults”!  Here is this ponderous, methodical style that Thomas has, which many people would believe to be a great liability (I’m not sure about back in his day, but it certainly is in ours!).  Yet, Thomas trademarked it, and became the “Dr. Angelicus” of the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed, in many ways, of all of Christendom.  
The Summa is theological manual, a catechetical tool, to instruct people in the faith.  But above all, I see its beauty.  The beauty of expressing complex ideas in methodical way, of closing off all of the possible doors and windows that Thomas’ ideological opponents may be able to escape through, and doing this so modestly, without a hint of pompousness or unctuousness.  The beauty of breaking down complex ideas and making them simple is the gift of the teacher.  Every time I read in the Summa, I marvel at what a gifted teacher God has given the Church in St. Thomas, and how much can be learned from him.  
What have you read lately that has given you a new appreciation for the beauty of words aptly spoken?  I’d love to hear from you!
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Copyright Your Faults

It fascinates me to listen to people who are good at their craft and passionate about it.  I’ve posted about Dan Carlin and Hardmainpic_hh-1core History before.  His interview on The Tim Ferriss Show is an excellent conversation that really gets at the intersection his passion for his craft and his proficiency at it. Dan Carlin is a podcaster who has excellent content and practically flawless delivery.  One of points that I took away from this conversation is his line, “copyright your faults.”  In other words, don’t spend all your time trying to fix your weaknesses but be yourself, and use the actual weakness into a strength.

I found it interesting that he didn’t say, “work on flawless delivery,” and even goes into some flaws that have been pointed out to him with his delivery.  Rather than trying to change those, they have become a part of who he is, and given him a distinctive voice.

The phrase “copyright your faults” really captures the idea of not trying to conquer your weaknesses but  to strengthen your strengths and make your weaknesses part of your individuality better than anything else I’ve heard.  Rather than flat out imitating someone who have been an influence on me, I’ll be more effective in the long run by building on my skills and abilities and cultivating my own style.

In my own setting, as a teacher, there are probably as many ways to bring about good learning outcomes as there are teachers.  If I care about what I’m teaching enough and I care about the material enough, I can usually find a way to connect students with the material.  There’s usually a human interest element that may be behind or beyond the text that we are studying.  I really want to connect this to my students to broaden their interests and to continue the process that was begun with me in high school, when I first encountered teachers who were passionate about their craft and good at it.

What are you learning about being passionate about your craft and being proficient at it?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Organic Growth and Development in Writing

I was listening to an episode of a podcast called “The Tim Ferriss Show” last week  Tim was interviewing Dan Carlin of “Hardcore History.”  The excellence of Dan’s preparation, delivery, and subject matter is fascinating.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you check this podcast out.  He explores the “why’s and the “what ifs” in a way that really grabs you and provokes you to think.  He’s also terrific at making connections with different events and movements taking place at the same time, as well as events and movements that preceded and influence each story he covers.
What interests me about the segment that I heard though, was his theory of how our work and art evolves and becomes what it is over time..  An example he used was “Seinfeld.”  Mr. Carlin said, “go back and watch the first five episodes of Seinfeld.”  He goes on to talk about how the “Seinfeldness” of “Seinfeld” evolved over the course of the show.  The quirkiness and uniqueness of Seinfeld wasn’t a given at the start of the show.  There was organic development within the cast, the writers, and the audience that made “Seinfeld” distinctive.  He went on to apply this insight to any long-term artistic project.
My takeaway from this is that with any long-term creative project, we must have a key concept and a plan. But we must also expect the project to organically incorporate elements that we do not foresee, and once momentum is created, to taken on a life of its own.
This gives me a great deal of encouragement in teaching, writing, and in my pastoral role in the church.  I’m blessed to have been providentially dumped into a great organization that has allowed me to make the most of my abilities and given me the freedom to do this and enjoy it.  Once I’d been at Providence Extension Program for a while, it felt like I should have been doing this all along.  Yet, my teaching eight years down the road has organically grown as I’ve achieved greater command my subject matter to teach out of depth rather than last-minute preparation.  I’ve grown in my ability to create classes as learning communities, in such a way that even if I teach the same prep four times in a week, that each experience of that material is remarkably different.
My hope is that I will persevere in my writing, in such a way that the same kind of organic development will happen, that I will be able to develop discrete concepts within the unity of personality and interests, and express them in an inviting and compelling way.
What examples of organic growth and development have you seen in your writing?  I’d love to hear from you!
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