Saturday, October 22, 2011


Lately, I have been thinking how apt a metaphor photography is for the Christian life.

Weird topic? Yes, it's mostly inspired by the fact that I feel like I need to update a blog and I have pictures I want to post. But, despite this unusual origin, there really is a connection between good photography and the Christian life.

 Photography

Photography teaches us believers to notice Christ, to search out His light and allow this light to illuminate our day-to-day lives.

The key to good photographs is light. Fundamentally, the right amount of light (exposure) must be let in for the right amount of time (shutter speed). But exposure and shutter speed are just the science of photography. The art goes far beyond measurements of light. The artist is careful not only to choose how much light to use but also to choose the right kind of light. Very few photos taken at high noon, when the light is at its most glaring, come out well (unless the photographer is aiming for a glaring effect), but many, many photos taken in the late afternoon, when the light is a warm glow, come out well.



(By the way, I'm not the only one noticing this. Even Pioneer Woman has posts about photography and light. In fact, her articles are sort of an inspiration for this one.)

Even once the photographer has found the correct kind of light, she must actually use the light well. It does not do to simply point a camera at a well-lit leaf or person facing into the sun. The popular technique of facing people towards the sun, so the camera is pointing away from the sun, is backwards: The full sun on people's faces is a harsh, too-bright effect. Much better to wait until the light has dimmed in the last few hours of daylight. Or to use what is called backlighting, where the light is positioned behind the subject and so creates a sort of halo around the head:





My professional secret as a photographer is yours now. Lucky thing that it's not much of a secret. But unless you're planning on heading to Target and purchasing a DSLR camera, this information is not much use to you. What is most important of all, then, is the connection between photography and the life of the believer.


Application

Just as only good light illuminates a photo well, so only good light illuminates life well. Many, many "lights" of truth exist in our world, ranging from hard science to complicated philosophy. Although the lesser light of philosophy need not be dismissed entirely, it is imperative that we look in life as in photography for the best source of light: in life, the Light of Life Himself, Jesus Christ. He says, "I am the Light of the world," true illumination for us beyond every other lesser light we use. In Him alone will the world make sense.


A man in a dark room may know that there is a light and still refuse to flip the switch. Likewise, we may know that Christ is Light and still refuse to let Him illumine our own lives. Or we may misuse His illumination, twisting what we know about Christ or manipulating his Body the Church for our own ends. We must not do this. We must instead know Christ as He is, the perfect Word of God, the clear sharp Light of Life. Just as the key to a photograph is light used correctly, so the key to life is Christ the Light used correctly. I am not saying that life will work out perfectly if we look to Christ for illumination. I am only saying this: Whatever hardships (spiritual or physical) we encounter, Christ the Light illuminating our lives will make the day-to-day beautiful.

Eliot writes in "Little Gidding" of a flash of sunlight that suddenly illuminated the winter of his life, a "brief" flash that gave way to "midwinter" a moment later but nonetheless left behind it a "pentecostal fire" - the fire of Christ. Eliot was not, as far as I know, a photographer, but this is a true photographer's approach to the spiritual life: the desire for the Light of God to illumine our own life and make it beautiful.



Monday, October 10, 2011

It's a bright, warm day today (try 80 F, a true Indian summer day), and I've taken advantage of the Columbus Day holiday and no classes to camp out at the local coffee shop. On my right is a tall mug of coffee, which should get me through this post - the long-anticipated post about Introverts in the Church.

Probably many of you have never heard of Introverts in the Church. Neither had I, until I found it on a friend's bookshelf in Spain.




Introverts in the Church, written by Adam McHugh, challenges extroverted American Christianity, recommending that introverts cultivate their unique gifts and use these gifts to contribute effectively to their church. McHugh speaks out against the overemphasis on action (as opposed to contemplation) in the church, pointing out that "[t]he implicit thought is that the mark of true, progressing discipleship is participation in an increasing number of activities." (91). Not everybody is comfortable with such intense activity, so introverts (defined as people who gain energy from solitude) are excluded from a church that stresses activity so greatly.

The first correction McHugh recommends is restoration for the introvert, which comes as introverts recognize their "gravity and contemplativeness" (147) as a gift and cultivate that gift by scheduling times of contemplation into their schedule. The second correction he recommends is for introverts to become involved in their church as introverts, sharing their greater "longing for depth" (69) with fellow believers in Christ. Although McHugh spells out specific contributions introverts can make, it is not my goal to share these specifics with you. What I want to do is share with you what I, as an introvert myself, gained from the reading and so what these ideas look like in the so-called "real world".




Reassurance
The realization that it's okay for introverts "do ministry" differently than extroverts brings a sense of relief and peace. Extroverts tend to "do ministry" through limitless energy, a boundless sense of humour (something picked up unconsciously from Hollywood), and a huge group of acquaintances, but not introverts, who prefer having a few super-close relationships. McHugh acknowledges, "One of the things I've accepted is that I will impact fewer people than extroverted pastors" (155), but he implies that we introverts also have the opportunity to impact these few people more deeply.

Here at school, I have watched as some teachers eat lunch with a new group of students every day, while others (whom I know to be introverted) pair up with students one-on-one over the plastic lunch trays. Sure, this second group of teachers does not get to know as many students as the first group, but surely the private discussions, even over food brimming with cooking grease, produces deep and lasting fruit. Many students speak highly of this second class, pointing out that these teachers, despite an apparently aloof exterior, are genuinely interested in their students. What McHugh's book does is legitimize this kind of ministry: No longer is there any need to force ourselves to get to know a huge group of people; it's okay to develop deep, meaningful relationships with just a few.

Directions
Even for the introvert who is no longer trying to "do ministry" like an extrovert, discovering what her contributions should look like can be a challenge. If we cannot contribute to confrontational evangelism on an airplane at 30,000 feet, for instance, what can we do?

McHugh suggests several possibilities, the most important of which is to impart our own tendency for internal processing and contemplation to a world that tends to avoid contemplation. "We [Americans] have become alarmingly dependent on . . . advertising, mass appeal [and] technology . . . as the basis for our choices and actions," he writes. "People in our culture need models of self-reflection, leaders who will teach them how to look inward and evaluate their motivations and choices" (151). I am still in the middle of figuring out how "teach[ing people] to look inward" looks in the middle of a class on comma usage, but I find the idea itself inspiring.

My freshmen year of college, my RA was (I believe) an introvert; her room devotions were not so much prepared speeches rattled off without pause but shared reflections, spoken contemplations with frequent pauses as she searched for just the right word. Her thoughtful study taught me to think deeply and interpret God's Word accurately, a model that I hope to pass on to my own students now.

Challenge
If McHugh recommends healthy patterns of life and ministry for introverts, he also refuses to allow them to "play 'the introvert card'" (136).

As someone who prefers to turn on Stargate instead of taking the effort to spend time with people, this final point was particularly important for me. Although (as McHugh points out), the effort in people-time is truly effort for introverts, this does not make such time any less important. McHugh writes that "[w]e who follow a crucified Messiah know that love will sometimes compel us to willingly choose things that make us uncomfortable, to surrender our rights for the blessing of others" (63). The point of embracing introverted tendencies is not solely to bless ourselves, to take care of ourselves (though taking of ourselves is important too); the point is to use these introverted gifts to bless others, to encourage them towards deeper, more contemplative thought and ultimately a closer walk with Christ.

That's all I'm gonna say. Read the book. If you're an extrovert, McHugh will help you understand people who are different than you in your family or in your church. If you (like me) are an introvert, the book helps you (in a way that the contemporary extroverted church does not) to navigate ministry and life in general, to stay healthy yourself and to contribute to the spiritual lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So, last time I posted I said I might have a review of Introverts in the Church for you. Not gonna happen. Not today, at least. Maybe next week, I will steal the book back from my cousin, buckle down and write the review.



Recently, though, I haven't buckled down to much else besides school stuff, so guess what? Another post about school today! How exciting!! (And here I've been teaching my students not to use excessive exclamation points).

Confession: I envy the teachers who have limitless resources at their beck and call. I envy them because I have been stuck in a bright orange walk-in closet as my classroom (this was at my State U); this horror boasted an ancient projector and five pieces of broken chalk. In a classroom like that, is an interesting class even possible, or is everybody breathing too much chalk dust to make it even tolerable?

Not much I can do about the painful colour scheme, of course (short of lugging paint cans and rollers into the classroom in the dead of night). Nor can I simply make money for resources appear in the budget. But there are a few free resources, many of which I've used (or seen used) in the last couple of weeks here:

Jokes . . . and more Jokes

I learned something from my students today: Apparently, I rely on jokes a lot. All my Composition students had presentations due today, debating whether entertainment and TV had any role in education. The last group stood up and announced that in true Ms. VB style, they were going to begin with a joke - some poorly-punctuated excuses that parents wrote for their kids. In fact, these excuses:

Sally won't be in school a week from friday. We have to attend her funeral.
Please exkuce lisa for being absent she was sick and i had her shot.
My son is under a doctor's care and should not take PE today. Please execute him.

I learned about jokes a few years back, when I was first learning to teach. A teaching book I read reminded me that unfortunately, most students are not geeky like me and therefore not automatically passionate about thesis statements and conclusions. Everybody likes a joke. Tell one at the beginning of class, it gets people's attention; at the end of a discussion, it lightens the mood (and sometimes the tension).

It's just icing on the cake when a student turns around and tells me a joke.

Pop Culture

I discovered that most of my guy students - yes, the guys - are actually Mulan fans. My Intro to English class is in the middle of writing a Personal Narrative story, and to help them understand the idea of conflict and climax, I played a song from Mulan for them. They cheered - then groaned as I turned it off every thirty seconds to analyze the story in it.

Never have I had a pop culture reference work quite so well, though I have played MASH clips for students before (they didn't get the point of that one) and played a selection from the film Amazing Grace for my students (again, too esoteric). I think here of the famous formula for teaching languages: i +1. Little by little and not all at once should the students' knowledge be built up; if I have to use a prop of Mulan for just a little bit, then so be it. Next semester this class will all be reading Bonhoeffer.

Celebrating Weird Holidays

A week or so back, I celebrated 'Talk Like a Pirate' day with my class. I walked into class wearing full pirate gear (or at least as close as I could approximate using the contents of my closet, and a shirt that I stole from my cousin). There is no intellectual point to Talking Like a Pirate, or celebrating any other random holiday. It's just fun. I've learned that October 6 is 'Mad Hatter Day', so perhaps if I can dredge up a weird but cheap hat, I will celebrate that holiday as well.




Be Your Own Guest Speaker

This one is a recent favourite. Unfortunately, English does not lend itself to field trips or guest speakers the way that history or science does. We cannot visit the Museum of the Comma, nor invite a veteran from Fragments to come speak with class. What we can do, however, is take on some of these roles ourselves.

Last week I asked my students to read "Appointment with Love", by S.I. Kishor. Like the Mulan song, this story was intended to help them understand the parts of a story better. Instead of having students inspect the story (this takes forever and can result in sketchy answers), I invited Kishor herself in to tell us about the story. I left the classroom for thirty seconds and came back with my hand clapped to my back, my voice as gravely as I could make it, and the endearing term "young man" or "woman" for all my students. My "guest speaker" turned out to be a wonderful variation on a lecture: I got to talk to them about what they should learn from the story, but we as a class had far more fun than had I simply droned on as in the ordinary lecture.




Reflections

By no means am I a great teacher. I worry periodically that I am spending too much time entertaining my students, not enough educating them. Then when I don't make class interesting, I worry that I'm not being entertaining enough. And trust me, I am far too lazy to invent these resources for every class; some classes all we do is work through the examples. But I do believe that some entertainment plays a vital role in the classroom.

None of these resources are intellectual at all. There is nothing particularly challenging about dressing up like a pirate, nor about playing a clip from a Disney cartoon movie that rewrites history and Chinese culture without compunction. But what these resources lack in intellectual benefit, they make up for in emotional benefit: Fun activities in class reassure our students that we teachers are real people too, that we do not live in a closet at the top of the Ivory Tower, and ultimately that we can be trusted to instruct them well and to carefully and respectfully answer their questions. Fun activities, in other words, build trust - an attitude very much needed in a successful classroom.




Next time, I promise (fingers crossed): Introverts in the Church