Monday, May 25, 2009

Bold rest

As soon as my classwork, undergraduate grading, and brother’s graduation were out of the way, I took off on a much-needed vacation, my first break from schoolwork since I started my program two years ago (a near-break at least... I had to bring one small piece of work). I drove across the state of Virginia last week, visiting friends and family scattered in various towns from the mountains to the coast.
  • I enjoyed dear friends and their growing collection of fianc├ęs, spouses, and children.
  • I watched about eight different movies.
  • I had a picnic where the James River meets the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • I drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • I went to mass in downtown Lynchburg and had dinner with a priest afterwards.
  • I salsa danced on the outdoor patio of a Peruvian restaurant with an old friend.
  • I listened to a friend read a children’s book aloud against the music of the evening rain while I smoked my pipe.
  • I let myself buy two new CDs.
  • I painted three different watercolor paintings.
  • I walked a mile barefoot along railroad tracks.
  • I took a nap beside the James River.
  • I got a tour of a soon-to-be-renovated 100-year-old theater.
  • I took my grandmother out for dinner and breakfast.
  • I let my cousins take me out for some nocturnal festivities at their favorite bar, succeeding at being on the winning team of the arcade game and at managing the drinks they bought me without a hangover the next day.
  • I played a round of Frisbee golf.
  • I ate seafood at a restaurant on the beach.
  • I stuck my toes in the ocean.
  • I marveled at the stars over the darkness of the no-man’s-land on the way home.
My first name means “industrious,” and some have suggested that I am aptly named; at my high school graduation one of my teachers lauded me as a “doer.” Very rarely do I let myself enjoy moments without the need to be productive. Even when I try to reserve Sunday as a day without schoolwork, I manage to keep myself otherwise occupied with different kinds of tasks, normally with the justification that they have a spiritual or relational telos. But like the research for a graduate school paper, the work of life is infinite, and as long as there is life left there are tasks to fill it up.

My middle name happens to mean “grace.” Last week was a bold (for me) seizure of grace for the doer, grace to love the world and the people that God gives us like wrapped presents which require our attention to unwrap. The God who set up Sabbaths of days and weeks and years, who gave Sabbaths to his people and their slaves and their animals and even their land, is by no means stingy to us. This is true cause for Jubilee; it is the Gospel, and it is good news to a doer like me.

Indeed, I don’t mean to take Scripture too far out of context, but it is interesting to me that the author of Hebrews connects the new covenant God makes in Christ to rest. The climax of history has come, “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (Heb. 4:1), and “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Heb 4:11), the author exhorts us. For me, it is a bold exhortation.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Undergraduate pontifications

My brain is fried from the end-of-semester grading, and I don't know how long it will take to get it back. But in the mean time, for the benefit of those in blogger-land who are not my facebook friends and thereby did not have the chance to read my frequent venting during my recent 34-hour grading marathon, I thought I'd post some highlights. They even fit into the theme of my listening blog!

[Throughout history,] High school English teachers have instructed their students to begin papers with broad, sweeping statements about humanity. These unsupportable claims torture college professors and TAs who try to make the students realize that they have not done enough research on any topic "from the dawn of time" to begin a paper with those words (I have indeed begun many a paper that way in my foolish youth). Maybe we academics hate those statements so much because we know some of our own little pontifications (even mine!) are equally precocious, even if they are more subtle.

So, without further ado, here are my favorite undergraduate pontifications from this semester:
  • "Learning is what life is all about." Dear student, if you have indeed managed to learn what life is all about at such a young age, you should probably write about it. But not in your analysis of Sherman Alexie's novel.
  • "Vonnegut poses a quote, and it is taken from the bible. 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to always tell the difference.'" Oh dear. Well, it does have the word "God" in it, and I'm sure the word "God" is in the Bible...
  • "War will always exist on Earth because there will always be a struggle for power and for land, and because of that it will always be debated and scrutinized." At least Vonnegut and Alexie may both agree with the student's opening prophesies for the future potential for war on earth. But his analysis of their novels certainly cannot prove such a declaration.
And my favorite opening line:
  • "It is not often that human sexuality is a major theme in fiction writings." Hm.
God forgive all our little precocious pontifications. God forgive mine.