Ensuring that one can’t be insured

Last month, we dealt up-close-with the broken, ill-conceived system that is supposed to be helping people get health insurance.

N.B.  This is not an advertisement for/against either Democrats or Republicans.  I am philosophically committed to the notion of not being a proponent of any political party or system.  This rather succinct diatribe comes after multiple, personal (non-partisan) experiences of how inept the current health care system can be. 

The Department of Human Services in the state of Arkansas has a seriously disabled ACA-associated arm, we found out.  The end for us came a year after we moved away—and after multiple letters and phone calls over a period of months.  We had moved out of the state, told them so several times, and they repeatedly missed that key fact and were trying to charge us thousands of dollars for insurance for which we could not have qualified if we tried.  Arkansas simply could not get its records straight, and we were eventually told we had a hearing, and we had to retain an attorney who rolled his eyes along with us and shut them up.  One sensical soul at the AR DHS, a foreigner who had a clear head and could communicate realities far better than the native Arkansans we dealt with, finally helped put the matter to rest.  I think Arkansas DHS should pay our legal expenses and have asked for same, so far without response from the appropriate sub-department.

On the other hand, the state of Kansas did its job well, as far as we could tell.  We got a single-coverage medical policy cheaply for a year and a half, but the degree to which Federal red tape and impossible processes were involved was impressive—even to one who starts from a point of skepticism about any government’s or big business’s ability to do much of anything well.

We were informed by letter, smack-dab in the middle of our 2nd year of a policy for our son, that we no longer qualified for that policy.  We had anticipated that we’d have to pay more after a year in order to keep the same plan for our son, but we were renewed, so it came as a shock that were booted out altogether about five months later.  The letter said, and I quote, “You can reapply at any time, but the “anytime” part turned out to be false.  We quickly found that the “Marketplace” (which is fettered, not free) actually prohibited us from applying until after the first policy had expired.  Yes, you read that right.  We had to wait eight more days, on the first day our son would be uninsured, in order to apply.  In other words, it was not possible, within the system provided, to satisfy the requirements of the same system.  This scenario is as illogical as it is frustrating, in case you were wondering.

Upon investigation on the day after the first policy had expired, my wife found that the options available to us began with a policy that (a) cost nine times as much as we had been paying and (b) covered almost nothing.  Specifically, an insured person would have to pay the full price, “out of pocket,” for any service, including prescriptions or doctor visits, until the massive deductible was met.  There were no better options for sale in this marketplace.

Next step:  I went back to my employer’s plans, one of which covers my wife and me.  Currently, we pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay.  This is a non-starter for us.  (I do not lay the blame at the feet of the benefits plan devised by the employer.  In general terms, I would tend to blame corporate greed and medical litigation for the now-insane costs of medical insurance and services.)

Next, I made a couple of calls to local insurance agents.  One didn’t answer.  No message left.  Another referred me to yet another who did sell the type of policy we needed.  I was already thinking about having our son go uninsured and paying the penalty, but, in talking to the next agent, we learned that President Trump’s administration had done away with the penalty.  Okay, that’s good, but we’d still rather have our son insured if we can.  We were then faced with choosing from among 36 three-month policies that feature various combinations of high deductibles, out-of-pocket-maximums, and premiums that were relatively affordable but still 2-5x more than we had been paying.  In our case, we will almost certainly never reap any benefits from this medical insurance unless we have a catastrophic need—an event that would surely bankrupt us, anyway.  We now have to reapply every time the three-month policy expires, to boot.

Now, to put this insurance product in perspective with need and perceived worth.  All three of us have been to a physician for sickness precisely zero (0) times in 18 months.  Our son went to the doc for a free children’s checkup last summer, and I “took advantage” of insurance for physical therapy.  The insurance covered about 40% of the total bill.  Not very good insurance, I would say, but we are blessed with the ability to pay the rest, so it was OK.  Yes, 40% is better than nothing.  I only hope that if any of us is ever hospitalized, the insurance will pay more than 40% of that bill.¹

In going through all this in my mind, I do wonder about the potential benefits of socialized medicine.  I’m not interested in moving to Canada or Europe or wherever they have different systems, but if any of us ever need surgery, I imagine we’ll investigate international travel.  In the meantime, until something breaks, it appears that we’re stuck with paying too much for two “major medical” policies that we’ll likely never use.

¹ I also hope the bills come from one place if services are rendered in one place.  In the case of my physical therapy, I saw an orthopedist, had an X-ray, and had the physical therapy itself in the same building, and separate bills came from three or different offices.  There was a separate fee for the outsourced radiologist “reading,” which could have been accomplished just as well by the orthopedist but had to be sent out to another because of some insurance-related agreement.


Cross-posted: signifiers

Do you think Christianity and nationalism go hand in hand?

For you, is “church” an extension of civic life, merely one of your clubs or organizations?

If your honest answer to either of those questions tends toward “yes,” you might not want to read this from my Kingdom blog.  On the other hand, if you consider yourself able to consider potentially challenging ideas without feeling offense, I hope you will read it.  If you do, please know that, while the ills I describe are pervasive, the examples I use are mere examples.  It could have been any church or Christian group.  Most have issues in this area.

Church signs and signifiers   (revised & expanded 2/15 – 2/19)

Were they serious?

The crisis of ministry

Unprompted, our son prayed one Sunday for us to find a church home, because, and I quote, “I’m getting pretty tired of going everywhere all the time.”  We feel your pain, son.  Well, not exactly the same way, but we do feel it.

I can think of at least five churches (some connection exists in four of them) in which I have felt a significant level of interest.  Unfortunately, I also experience a lack of ability to minister within them.  There is little “chemistry” with the majority of the people in each of these groups.  The scenario constitutes an inner sense of uselessness:  I feel that I would be unable to “minister” there.  In my own tiny world, this is something of a crisis.

There was a time when I was more likely and equipped to reach to the under-served, the underprivileged, the down and out.  One time, I almost got done in by helping the down and out . . . .  I let an acquaintance borrow Picture of 1977 Dodge Colt, exterior, gallery_worthymy old car while I was out of town on vacation, and when I returned, I discovered that he not only had had an accident but had also left illegal drugs in my car!  On several occasions, people have needed temporary places to stay.  Those friends were not in the same category, really, but still, they were in life-places of need, and I was capable of ministering to a few needs . . . so I did just that.  Then.

When I consider my life situations right now, it is abundantly clear why I am not as inclined to get involved.  I have my hands full taking care of myself.  (This sounds awfully selfish, doesn’t it?  One friend who knows a fair amount about me recently suggested that I must take care of myself.  Popular self-help malarkey aside, there is some truth to the notion of not being able to do much for others unless you are OK yourself. I probably need to listen to those with insight into my scenario.)

Back to the churches—and my disinclination to minister within them.

  1. Church #1 is composed of about 15 or 20 people, about three of which seem educated.  Those three are more or less disorganized and show too laissez-faire an approach for my taste.  Several others seem to have come from places in life that I can’t seem to connect with or help with.
  2. Church #2, where leadership is much more overt and capable, has a somewhat similar clientele.  Probably half of the 60 or 70 folks seem very “other” to me.  (I can think of five couples/families to which the above description does not apply.  There is a serious doctrinal disconnect with at least one of those, depending on the day.)  To be quite frank, I don’t recall ever having heard such a fine, well-conceived mini-lesson at the immersion of a new believer ever (not in Restoration Movement churches or anywhere else).  Sadly, there is evidence that two more of the families with which I could have shared chemistry have decided to skip by me, rather than the other way around.  This church recently put forward an opportunity to get involved with re-integrating prisoners into local society.  This notion sounded like something very worthwhile.  I am just not sure whether I, as an “at-large” Christian who knows several folks at this church, could be involved.  There is also a looming sense of “I don’t have the wherewithal anymore, anyway.”  (See above paragraph on “taking care of myself.”)
  3. Church #3 carries the moniker “biker church.”  Now, many of my readers who knew me only a dozen or more years ago might have a difficult time seeing me as a motorcycle enthusiast, & I’m not a crazy or obsessed one by any stretch, but I do enjoy short rides and have owned four motorcycles in my life.¹  Anyway, the Bluffs Biker Church already has a pretty good thing going, and its leader/teacher does not need any help from me to continue what he is doing.  Nor would I have as good a manner of ministering to the unique clientele as he does.
  4. Church #4 is a more traditionally formed one.  It meets in a modest, well-apportioned building about 35 minutes from us.  We found a couple of arm’s-length connections.  This is a reasonable group that uses a rotation of traveling public teachers.  While there can be benefit in this structure, and while we have appreciated some of the presentations on some levels, it differently perpetuates the preacher-centric mentality.  This setup, along with a permeating sense that this church is staid and set in its ways, combine to limit the possibilities for me to minister there.  Eventually, perhaps I could be one of the teachers, but I am not at all sure that I’d actually be ministering to anyone if I were.  Even my ability to lead worship in song would sort of fall on deaf ears there, if you know what I mean.
  5. Church #5, just visited a second time after an initially split impression more than a year ago, still puts me in two minds.  On the one hand, I like the personality of the group as I walk in, and there are two leaders besides the recognized pastor—unusual in such a small group.  I was even oddly impressed with the simple, unassuming music (over which no one was embarrassed—they were all participating).  The problem here is not the potential chemistry with the “people in the pews” with with the current preacher-pastor, who has a sort-of irritable manner.  He has seemed persistently, mildly annoyed and punchy both times.  He’s also more wordy than he should be.  Something about the group’s “look and feel,” despite the apparent normalcy and pleasant diversity of the people, makes me feel I’d be intruding.  Or travailing.  Or simply wasting my time and theirs.

Maybe it’s just me.

After a year-long wait, we did begin an intensive study in our home last fall.  This is my primary place of “ministry” right now, I suppose.  As I type those words, the thoughts of Will Campbell about so-called ministry echo in my head.  He believed that the very idea of “ministry” tends toward arrogance—as though I can do something better than you.  Despite being better equipped and more experienced in teaching than anyone else in the group, I wonder if I truly do “minister” or not.

Perhaps I should simply be content in little connections here and there:

  • showing someone that I remember something about a past tragedy in his life
  • intentionally verbalizing, in the presence of an acquaintance of unknown or affiliation or belief structure, that I distinguish between worthwhile Christian books and patently dogmatic ones that serve the denominational interests as opposed to God’s interests
  • expressing sincere sympathy when, in the course of my job, I meet or talk with people who are undergoing hard times

Those are such tiny, tiny things, but could they be viewed as ministering?  (Potentially, I suppose.)

¹  The present bike is the best fit for me, and it is an added nicety, that no helmet is required in my state; plus, a child (with helmet) is allowed to ride on the back.  So, Jedd loves riding with me.

The crisis of introversion

Bible study, score study, thought and planning—all these are done with a view toward helping groups of people later.  I prepare for the purpose of helping others.  The helping activities appear inherently somewhat extroverted, but the preparation activities are mostly rather introverted.  I often do my clearest-headed thinking while walking or driving alone.  Even work-related memos sometimes need quiescent thought before dissemination, so I’ve been known to repair to a different chair or to ponder important writings in the quiet hour before anyone else arises, before such things are finalized.

What if I have so few opportunities that the introverted, energized time ends with no purpose in sight—or with frustrating roadblocks?  If the introverted activities do not have an outlet, they are forced back into themselves, and the whole enterprise become preparation for nothing, really.  This, at times, is my crisis.

I know a woman who seems even more introverted by nature than I am.  This woman is my mother.  She has seasons of rather intense lesson preparation for a class full of women.  Her need for silence and focus is like my own.  Can she, and can I, be pleasing to God even in our introverted times of preparation, of thinking, of dreaming and wondering?  Or do the times of sharing in groups present the only fulfillment?

In the next post, I’ll discuss—in some detail with respect to church groups where I feel no real opportunity—what I experience as a “crisis of “ministry.”

Cross-posted: on human machinations

This post is from one of my other blogs, Subjects of the Kingdom:

Human machinations

That post deals relatively briefly with human ways and means, over against what I see as more lasting concerns of those interested in God’s reign.  The jumping-off point is 1Kings chapters 1 and 2, and I quote from Will Campbell, too.

Find more from Will Campbell here:  MLK, Jr. Day: A Tribute to Will Campbell

Technology and instruction (2 of 2)–online conducting??

The notion of skepticism about technology in educational endeavors (see here for part 1) serves as a segue to the sharing of something I’d written two years ago to a fellow ensemble instrumentalist.

A person of multiple talents, my interlocutor is a fine instrumentalist and a devoted father.  He is employed in a computer technology field, and I perceived that he was knowledgeable within that general field.  More to the point, this man was substantially younger than I, and he immediately showed himself to be of a different generational mindset regarding technology.  (I’d say he is something of a GenXer with Millennial leanings whereas I am an older “mutt” who has at least equal affinity with prior generations.)

To set the stage:  we were riding in a carpool, and I had opened a can of worms too late—when we were almost done with our second hour-long ride, after one of the typically frustrating (for me) rehearsals.  I had recently read a job posting for a college conducting/teaching position, and this one Image result for batonemphasized technology-based instruction more explicitly than any I had seen.  It manifest the assumption that the teaching of conducting would be technology-dependent and technology-focused.  No matter the credentials or general intellect of the VP or Dean who made such a determination, I will say unequivocally that the mind that conceives of an entirely online conducting degree is a mind that does not comprehend conducting.  One could say the same thing about online degrees in other physically based vocations.  Conducting education may be well enhanced by technologies, and even entire courses could be based on technology, but a conducting program may not legitimately be borne entirely on technological wings.  The very idea of a distance-learning conducting degree program is flat-out ridiculous.  Here is how the interview for a such a graduate should  go:  “Your master’s in conducting was an online degree?  (Or, you learned how to cut hair or how to be a chef or how to counsel abused women entirely on a computer screen?)  Thank you for your time.  Next candidate, please.”

I would assert that distance learning scenarios will rarely if ever prove more effective than classrooms and other real-life (or should I say counter-virtual these days?) venues.  I suppose some students might do fairly well studying accounting, actuarial science or literature online, but vocations based in physicality are especially dependent on real-life learning. 

Back to my conversation with this trumpet-playing musician-computer-technologist.  I had opened it in an admittedly biased manner, and he reacted as though I needed to be shown the light.  “Technology is the way everything is heading,” he said, instructing me along these lines (I imagine) because I was than a dozen years his senior.  So I reacted back, and I regretted it a bit, and I wrote him a letter a few days later.  My introduction was half a page long, apologizing relationally for the tension I’d created through my timing and manner.  I stand firm on the substance of the disagreement, though.  Here is the non-personal portion of that letter that pertains, both philosophically and practically, to technology and education:

My basic presupposition is that, no matter how the world is heading, there are some areas that should not be given entirely over to technologically based education.  These areas would include cosmetology, surgery, and conducting.  The physicality of the necessary skills demands that the lion’s share of the training be hands-on with the real materials—not behind a screen, a joystick, or a set of headphones.

I also resist fight (a futile fight, I know) the apparently irresistible inclination for those in enterprise-level authority to move quickly, and often with only shallow thought, toward technology as “savior” when they don’t know what else to do.  This syndrome among one institution’s administrators, I would assert, is why that institution is entertaining the idea of an entirely online conducting master’s degree.  It may be cheaper to do certain things online, but that doesn’t make it wiser, and some things may not be viable at all online.

I’ve always been tech-capable and tech-involved.  I like and use many technologies every day.  None of this is about disavowing technology; it’s about being honest about some of its limitations.  Technology can obviously be a great support, but it is not itself the content for most of us, and it does not always represent the best direction for instruction.

The point that certain education gurus and deans of instruction and vice presidents for academic affairs and provosts need to hear, and hear well, is this:  technology is a tool to be used in the service of teaching students.  Technology is a means, not an end; the degree to which it becomes the focus of curricula and disciplines other than technology itself is the degree to which it is being misused.  Technology may be used effectively—or it may be used simply for the sake of using it, which is a futile endeavor, devoid of meaning.  In a remote region (including two in which I’ve taught), there might be no other way to give a student contact with a credentialed private voice or trumpet teacher.  Applied music might in those cases be taught via a Wifi connection and a tablet-sized screen, but not very effectively.  Such methods are not optimal; they are concessions to geography.  And conducting instruction, while it might be enhanced by a few cool technologies available these days, is also better in person.  (Some readers might be interested in this account of the use of Google Glass in conducting.  I have heard this very fine conductor and cutting-edge professor speak and have observed her ensemble leadership.  I’ll attest to the fact that she would acknowledge that Google Glass use wasn’t quite what she’d envisioned in all respects.  Note the limitations mentioned under the YouTube video image.)

Again, the very idea of an online conducting degree is as ludicrous—although obviously not as medically consequential as an online brain surgery credential.  Sure, technological tools can be amazing and should be used, where possible, and where they can enhance education.  Imaging technologies can be revelatory for medical students and veteran physicians, and also for conducting students, but never should those tools be the only platforms from which the skills are deployed and assimilated.  In conducting, as in hair cutting and lawn care, one does the thing in real life with real people, and there are real implications in real air with real sound.  One cannot learn the implications of preparatory gestures or profligate beat-division on a screen or by listening and gesturing and having a laser-based device plot and graph the gestures.  Learning the discipline and skill of conducting must be directly tied to musicians (persons) and the sounds they make.

Currently, in one worker’s non-academic position, she uses a few technologies.  She is limited by a backward computer technology framework and a seriously lacking application that make her a prisoner to embarrassingly outdated visuals, comatose response times, and the lack of basic functionality.  This scenario nearly daily gives her frustrations.  (People care about technology, including when it is bad.)  When technology that should be serving the content or core process does not do what it should, or does it poorly, we should acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes!  An elephant is in the room!  We should also aim to estimate properly the contribution of technology to the thing, i.e., neither overestimating nor underestimating what technology does, and this point ties back to the assertion that technology must be seen as the means, not the end in itself.

I strenuously resist the notion that major, enterprise-wide decisions should be driven by shallow estimations of the worth of certain technologies—or worse, by unilateral or under-informed prognostications about various, ephemeral technologies.  The programmers should be more attentive to function and to the work (and learning) of real people.  The Cram flashcard app helps me learn Greek vocabulary, but its scope is limited.  My GPS screen and a mobile map can be helpful, but the perspective is tiny.  I’m more agile with full-size screens and keyboards, so I will nearly always choose a computer over a mobile app if both are accessible, but there is place for both.  Whatever the technology under consideration, it is important not to remove (inadvertently or otherwise) functionalities that people use effectively, in favor of some cool, cutting-edge glitz that is less functional.²  Do Millennials trust mobile devices and apps and internet-based financial infrastructures more than going to the bank or talking to a financial advisor.  Millennials have my sympathies, and I do love the convenience of my apps for certain things, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily think young programmers or workers possess foresight or wisdom.  Sometimes, technology is neither here nor there.  Sometimes it’s just gadgetry without longevity or improved function.

For my part, I hope the next life begins before banks and traditional colleges fade away.  More and more, colleges and universities, because of financial pressures, are moving toward part-time, adjunct instructors who teach mostly online courses on a part-time basis.  It’s a cheaper way to offer courses of instruction.  As long as there are more and more layers of management and administrivia, that trend will continue.  I’m not a fan of the tenure idea or the process, but I do think there should be fewer managers and program directors and assistant deans, making way for more full-time faculty members who teach students around tables, in classrooms, and in studios and offices.  And I am available to present to academic deans on the ridiculous enterprise of online conducting degrees!  I will do this for the first five institutions who pay my expenses!

It will continue to be important for deans and provosts and academic VPs—and, dare I say it, H/R people and educators and teachers’ unions—to give prominence to education and learning, more than to technology as an end in itself.

¹ I have tended to gloss over H/R-infused boilerplate language, knowing first-hand how H/R folks can sometimes commandeer such communication vehicles as job postings from the academic departments they are supposedly serving.

² I am a witness to reversions or loss of capability in, for example, Google Drive, the editor in WordPress, AirDroid, Microsoft Word (don’t get me started about how WordPerfect was a better word processor that lost our to marketing giant Microsoft), Media Player, sound file conversion software, and even Windows Task Manager.  And that’s just off the top of my head.

Technology and instruction (1 of 2)

With regard to technology in education, I am becoming more skeptical¹ . . . an admission that in itself would likely cause Millennials to become skeptical!

Skepticism does not preclude engagement and even enthusiasm.  I am involved in a distance learning enterprise—a high-quality, exceptionally focused one through which learning occurs and goals are reached (and I’m not just saying that because its founder and chief teacher will likely see these words).  The existence of online education does not confirm its superiority, though; it merely means there are additional possibilities these days.

I consider that distance and online learning are concessions—nods to the global, mobile society in which much of the world lives.  Programs of instruction can now be offered online and can enjoy successes.  Many of us can now take advantage of educational opportunities when we don’t live close enough to the instructor(s) to learn face to face.  I would suggest that most teachers would prefer, if they could, to be able to look into students’ eyes than into a screen.  They’d rather speak into air and ears than into a sterile mic attached to a camera, all while wearing headphones.²  Sure, good teachers will often use appropriate technologies in the classrooms, but most teachers and most students will prefer the ambient sounds of voices than the glitches and limitations of GoToMeeting connections with people in multiple locations—people who cannot all experience the same facial expressions and mannerisms of the one who is talking at a given time.

Several years ago, when presented with an opportunity, I jumped on board with a pilot group that was learning and experimenting with online course delivery.  I do not regret that for a minute.  I will also tell you that the means had not been researched or developed enough, and the technology failed about as much as it succeeded as I attempted to teach a few brave, intelligent, committed souls.  I called the course “Musical Topoi, Character, and Gesture:  Studies in 18C-19C Instrumental Literature.”  In hindsight, I’d say it was quasi-successful in that people learned things, but those things could have been learned better in a studio setting.³  The teaching method (hybrid/online) was experimental and was also a concession to the fact that the four students were in different locations during the summer.  I do think it’s important to be able to use things that are available, if they make sense.  But I continue to find that education is best (read more likely to result in learning) when it occurs face to face, with live visuals and aurals.  Sure, some of those sights and sounds may employ technologies.  Technology-based educational opportunities can prove to be real blessings, but rarely will distance learning scenarios prove more effective than classrooms, living rooms, and even coffee shops and restaurants.

I think now of another friend who is also more tech-savvy than I, at least in some areas, and this one’s perspectives and energies are more given to traditional church ministry.  How does he conceive of and exploit technology in his setting?  Many other readers and their friends could be considered, as well.  My own interests in Christian circles tend toward the smaller-scale and the more informal.  In other words, I think “small group” and “living room” more than “church sanctuary,” and even in my home, I sometimes use the internet and Google Drive and my own reasonably sized smart TV.  (Far better to use a tablet with a bluetooth speaker in my living room, I say, than to roll out a portable pulpit.  I kid you not:  I actually experienced that in someone else’s home church setting once.)  Established, brick-and-mortar church groups I’ve visited recently include two that use technology well.  One of them is the best example of timely song-slide changes in recent memory (you have to change to the next slide before the moment the new words are to be sung, or else it’s too late for people to breathe and sing!).  Another used video clips well and did not amplify the sound too much.  In both cases I’m thinking of, the technology did in fact seem to serve the purpose, and that is obviously a good thing.

Many of us care about teaching well.  We use technologies that aid in communicating about God—and even to God, all for what we earnestly think are God’s purposes.  Where technologies assist, and where they are not cost-prohibitive, many of us will naturally be predisposed to their effective use.  I’m interested, though, in distinguishing between using technology and letting it use us.  Maybe you have also seen that the means can sometimes become the end.  Is a pastor or preacher a better one merely because he gets on a particular technology bandwagon?Image result for online pastor

I am not only skeptical about financial-services technology that Millennials trust (see here for the precursor).  I suspect few there are who understand technologies’ fragile bone structures or their vulnerable circulatory or nervous systems; I myself know little more about financial technologies than the fact that risks to functionality and information security exist.  I am also cautious about the assumption that computer-based education, whether in the secular or sacred realm, is viable.  Note that I did not say computer-based education and technologically driven methods are not, or cannot be, valuable.  What I challenge is the presumptive approach that makes new/cool technologies the goal.  “Let’s use this technology,” some church growth person will say, “because it will appeal to the Millennials.”  That motivation, taken at face value, is shallow.  Likewise, I challenge the assumption that online education in academic is viable merely because it is modern technology-based.

The notion of skepticism about technology provides my segue to something I’d written two years ago to another ensemble instrumentalist.  (Please see the next/final installment in a couple of days.)

¹ If I had spelled “skeptical” “sceptical,” would the British-aware think I was a different sort of mix of conundrums than I am?  Would my little essay here be pigeonholed differently by readers—or by technological algorithms that “feed” the post through social media sites and search engines?  I’m irked by the very notion of an algorithm that makes decisions for me, and I would say Facebook feeds me the “right” things less than half the time.

² As I am finalizing this post, and after I inserted those last words, I recalled with pleasure the teaching experience I had on Sunday evening.  My experience testifies to what I just wrote.  I’d used technology in teaching the week before, and I’d sat in a fine online class the previous day.  Technology can and should be used in this day and age.  Can you even imagine a professor worth his salt sitting in his office teaching to a computer while the students are sitting in a classroom down the hall, watching him on a big screen?   The point is that, if given a choice, teachers will probably choose face to face.

³ As I was finishing the draft of this essay on Jan. 11, I asked my 8-year-old son what he thought it would be easier to learn on a computer:

  1. Spelling words
  2. Word problems in math
  3. Conducting
  4. Surgery

He thought for a moment and decided in favor of #2.  I would have chosen #1, but he has had good experience with #2, and he might be right.  Anyway, he recognizes that #3 and #4 would not be easy to learn on a screen.

MLK, Jr. Day: A Tribute to Will Campbell

This blogpost was conceived a week or two ago and has been created and produced entirely on this day, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  If you are short on time, perhaps you can at least mine a few nuggets from the quotes below.

Serendipitously, today, my son and I listened to an old cassette tape while driving in a truck of about the same age.  The recorded music was from Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center, and the lead song was what I’d call a differently patriotic one:  “America, Spread Your Golden Wings.”[1]  Sometime before the song’s final chorus, three significant America quotes of American history are included as an interlude:

  1. The moon landing
  2. JFK’s “Ask not …”
  3. The quintessential Martin Luther King “ have a dream …” quote

I myself have never had much interest in Martin Luther King, Jr.  For one thing, I have been conditioned to be biased against just about anyone in the limelight.  That aside, I must admit that the lyrics and music of the above-mentioned song, along with the interweaving of these often-heard, spoken moments in American history, combined to inspire even me.  King’s words are without doubt memorable, influential, and inspirational.  To date, his now-50-year-old attempts to influence this country toward breaking down racial walls has not had enough impact.  The Civil Rights causes that King so ardently championed have been left with unfinished work.  Another voice along these same lines was that of Will D. Campbell.

Image result for will campbell
Will D. Campbell (1924-2013)

In my reading on topics related to the two kingdoms, political and eternal, I have hung on an item in my possession (thanks to noted author Lee Camp)—a compilation of selected Campbell writings, edited by Richard Goode.  I had not heard of Campbell before 2016, and perhaps you haven’t, either.  Allow me to introduce you to him.

Will Campbell was a preacher in Louisiana for two years before taking a “religious life” post at the University of Mississippi from 1954 to 1956.  He was forced to leave that position because of his participation in the Civil Rights Movement.  He later served as a race relations consultant for the National Council of Churches in New York, and he is said to have worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Following are excerpts from blurbs found on the back cover of the book:

Campbell still has much to teach us all.  Quirky and courageous, Christian and contrarian, his life of love and labor on behalf of civil rights—and plain civility to those in need—deserves a wider hearing…

In this remarkable collection, Will Campbell unmasks the powers-that-be, envisions on alternative order, and calls Christians to radical practices of resistance and reconciliation.  The witness and these pages will call forth many adjectives:  “Unrealistic!”  “Outrageous!” “Scandalous!”  . . .  Most often, however, another word is best:  Gospel.  Unsettling and essential reading for contemporary Christians.

If I myself had said the above, I would hope that most of my readers would respect the opinions somewhat.  The fact that the blurb writers hail from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Duke Divinity School, respectively, will give the comments added weight.

Particularly appropriate on this day, the following words would perhaps encapsulate Campbell’s indictment of Christian whites in the South:

The pattern we have seen develop in the Civil Rights struggle has been somewhat as follows:  Negroes have grown tired of unfreedom.  They have done something about it.  In not one case has the leadership in the significant developments been furnished by whites.  In Montgomery, Birmingham, Philadelphia, always it has been Negroes who have initiated the action.  That, in the Christian understanding, is not as it should have been (bear another’s burdens)….  Neither individual man nor society has been redeemed to the point where we are our brother’s keeper or advocate very much of the time.  (177)

It seems to me that the voice of Will Campbell is one that should be heard not only on this particular day but also, more generally and broadly, by all Christians in our age.  Editor-compiler Goode comments, “Campbell incarnates the radical iconoclastic vocation of standing in contraposition to society, naming and smashing the racial, economic, and political idols that seduce and delude.”  (back cover)   “Professing disciples,” says Campbell, “must live an irrepressible conflict against the principalities and powers …  that divide and dehumanize.” (vii)  “Rather than crafting savvy strategies and public policies, . . . Campbell counsels, ‘”Be reconciled!'” (back cover)   I don’t trust that “social” problems can really be solved in this life, but in their spiritual aspects, such problems as racism will be eased, in small corners, by individuals acting like Jesus rather than through political solutions.

Campbell was at times what might today be called an “advocate for the African-American,” yet his notion of reconciliation was so radical that he even went so far, on a humanitarian basis, to champion whites who perpetrated deeply violent, terroristic acts on blacks.  He advocated, for instance, for one KKK member and for a law enforcement officer who was wrongly acquitted of a crime against blacks in the Deep South.  After certain civil rights were legally obtained for black Americans, Campbell “came to believe that American society was substituting rednecks as the new, preferred ‘least of these’ group.  Campbell cast his lot with them, seeking to illustrate reconciliation with these ostracized sisters and brothers.” (31)  I wonder what Campbell would perceive of the last decade or so.  I suspect it would not be one group that would receive his attention.

Truly, at least based on my cursory reading of Campbell in the last year, he would have been an advocate for any [insert group name here] Lives Matter movement, including the All Lives Matter one.  Each life is important, he would say, and all may be reconciled in Christ.  Yet he was tough on the Christian establishment.  For instance, he referred to Nashville, near which he lived in later life, as a very religious city.  “Seven hundred and eighty church houses.  But religion is a dangerous thing.”  (77)  “Campbell calls for disciples to give their lives in irrepressible resistance against all principalities and powers that would impede or deny our reconciliation in Christ—an unrelenting prophetic challenge leveled especially at institutional churches, as well as Christian colleges and universities.”  (back cover)

In my view, Campbell correctly calls out the religious establishment, endowing its collective identity with a tongue-in-cheek label, the “Steeples.”  He sometimes worked under a Steeple himself, but rarely did he appear to be most effective there.  Insofar as Goode has accurately represented Campbell (and I have every reason to believe the depiction is on the money), I would affiliate with his characterization of Campbell here:

He opposes the presumption that the only way the church can effectively suppress racism is either to align itself with humanitarian agencies and more stringently apply the wisdom of social science, or to acquire political power and more rigorously enforce U.S. constitutional law.  Both approaches, he says, are pagan insofar as they trust politics and or social science rather than the gospel.  (89)

The next quotation does not necessarily support MLK Jr day, but it serves to set up the succeeding one.

I agree that the Christian faith can be changed at many points that would make it more to my liking, more easily acceptable, more in keeping with my culture and my way of life; but the question we must always ask is “Is it Christian when we have finished with it?”  (93)

It is in that vein of deep challenge to the church Steeples (establishment groups) that Campbell pins white racist churchmen’s ears to the wall—those who in certain Deep South white churches of the 50s and beyond are blind to their racism.  The problem is not with those who would say, “We don’t care what God thinks, we want segregation and will have it forever.”  In that event, there would be some hope.  Instead, what Campbell suggests racist Christians actually said was, “We want segregation because it is God’s will.”  His stinging rejoinder:  “to deny God in the name of God is heresy.”  (93)

My growing affinity for Campbell has to do with his iconoclasm and his transparent honesty, no matter what.  He is rough around the edges and offensive at points, but I love when he says things like this (from a 1987 address titled “Values and Hazards of Theological Preaching”):

I don’t like the word ministry.  It is arrogant, presumptuous, condescending, maybe even imperialistic.  I don’t have a ministry.  I have a life.  (123)

In the course of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, Campbell had queried whether we (meaning Christians in general) assume the kingdom of God would be pretty much like the kingdom of Caesar.  (xi)  Philosophical challenges to the Religious Right and fundamentalist-Christian America do tend to draw me in, so I am all ears when Campbell calls out Christians for mixing God and political goals.  In a late chapter in the book, editor Goode aptly called 1968 “a pivotal year in US political history.”  That year, which was of course the year of King’s assassination, Campbell and the editor of the journal Katallagete dedicated an issue to assessing the faith many Christians place in the democratic process.  Although it would have been appropriate for me to review and or analyze that essay on this day, I will have to defer that until another time.  I will be intently interested in what this courageous man said 40 years ago about the failings of the political system in attaining to the brotherhood of man.

For more on Will Campbell, you might begin at his the Wikipedia page here.  Another interesting read would be found in the transcript of an “oral history” interview here.

[1] On both the first and tenth anniversaries of 9/11, in Kansas and western New York, respectively, I redeployed that very song in music ceremonies.

Of 1.6-liter engines, V10 4WDs, theology, and biblical studies

A great start to the morning includes another statement of reliance on what is written.  The following Q&A led an interview found here:
Interviewer: What led you into biblical studies, and in particular, Pauline studies, in the first place?
Seyoon Kim:  When I embarked on my post-graduate theological studies, I was aspiring to become a systematic theologian. During the first year of preparatory reading for it, I realized that to become a good systematician, I had to be well grounded on biblical foundation.  So I decided to do my doctoral work in biblical studies, and chose Pauline studies, thinking that it would prepare me the best for my eventual systematic theological work (but I have not been able to “advance” to it!)

Oddly enough, my first introduction to “biblical studies” was a negative one.  (When a school or institute is called the “School of Biblical Studies,” abbreviatory jokes can be made.)  Yet I know of no more apt moniker, and biblical studies as an academic field must continue to enjoy a respected place.¹  I started to say that it should have a berth “quite distinct from” theology and ministry, but I actually don’t believe that.  My wish might be better stated like this:  biblical studies² should be recognized as a foundational discipline for faith-related academic inquiry, constituting the stage on which theology, church history, ministry, and religious philosophy play out.

Dr. Kim appears to have used the word “advance” with a wink.  I would grant that theological thought is “advanced,” in that it makes judgments and synthesizes.  Here, I think of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which for me was Knowledge – Comprehension – Application – Analysis – Synthesis – Evaluation.  (See current info here and here.)  I  think I learned and comprehended that model fairly well as a young college student, and I have applied at least the lower end of it throughout life.  In other words, I don’t know that I have analyzed, synthesized, evaluated all that much.  At any rate, I would grant that those who think more philosophically and theologically often have advanced minds.  My brain is a 4-cylinder, 1.6L Ford Escort, whereas theirs are V10 fuel-injected V10s Ford F250s with 4WD.  (Or maybe Ford Excursions with bells and whistles inside?)

I’m content to drive along trustworthy, relatively flat paths with my little engine.  I think those big ol’ vehicles can get themselves into deep mud and crevasses as they attempt to climb hills and traverse rugged terrain while watching movies with their on-board Wifi.  The windows can get all covered up with mud, and the drivers have a hard time seeing the path, though.  So keep me in the text along with Dr. Kim, and save me from “advanced” theological machinations unless they are inextricably tied to the texts.  Theological pursuits may be rewarding, but most of our minds (certainly not mine) can’t handle them very often, and I think we’re all probably safer on level ground.

¹ It is difficult to respect the theology department of a supposedly Christian institution of higher learning when it offers courses in church history and philosophy but not a single course in New Testament Greek.

² Within “biblical studies” we might include (but not be limited to) manuscript investigation, rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, text criticism, studies in Hebrew prophetic genres and Hebrew poetry, studies in the literary nature of the gospels, Pauline studies, and, of course, studies of ancient scripture languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Technology and Millennials

Within the context of a finance/banking and technology perspective, a new friend cites industry authorities.  With good statistical reasons, he believes that Millennials

  • prefer phone apps over traditional banking with “tellers”
  • trust “FinTech” companies over banks for most consumer-oriented financial purposes

I’m sure my friend is right, yet I question the wisdom, scope, and longevity of some of the enterprises in which Millennials are apparently placing their trust.  My ruminations have continued about generational technology preferences and general inclinations.  I don’t keep in mind the year-boundaries that are used to delineate between the “Baby Boom” and “GenX” and “GenY”/Millennial generational groupings, so I get foggy, but of this I am sure:  there will always be exceptions within the groups.

Based on age, my friend would be classed as a Millennial, but he is thoughtful and intelligent, a unique set of experiences in the world, so I imagine that he would be somewhat an exception himself, defying any label “Millennial” at points.

As for myself, sometimes, I am kind of an “old soul” who harks back to the values of minds and spirits of the long-ago past.  In some respects, I share the opinions and worldviews of those 5-10 years older than I, or even of my parents’ generation.  In other spheres, I am an impatient whippersnapper who wants desperately to move past silly traditions and pointless machinations.  In all, I long for substance and actual value over form.  Perhaps I am a quasi-postmodernist-1/3-Boomer-1/3-GenXer with a few GenY traits (who experiences deep angst about being labeled at all).

It’s no surprise that Millennials will gravitate to phone apps.  As for me, I see the apps’ shortcomings and inefficiencies, as compared to desktop computers and even in-person banking.  Are all Millennials so oriented?  I must admit that I wonder about those individuals who don’t own printed Bibles and who never see more than a tiny screen’s worth of scripture text at a time.  Yes, I use a Bible phone app, and I greatly appreciate its capabilities.  I like running Bible software on my computer even more, because it allows me to see more and to use it in other dimensions and formats.  It simply must be admitted that seeing only 3-4 verses at a time on a tiny phone screen will have ramifications, including limiting one’s contextual awareness.

I also wonder frequently about the interpersonal connectedness of anyone—Millennial or otherwise—

  • whose neck and hand are permanently locked into the look-at-my phone position
  • whose quick first impulse is to go to the mobile device for answers

Could it be that non-high-tech sources are better for some things in life?

I remember two very fine students who were the only two (that I knew) without their own cell phones.  I remember each of the students as very having very strong character, and as being spiritually sensitive, service-oriented people.  One was particularly focused and engaged as a student, and they were both dedicated to their studies and to people.  I can see each of their faces as if it were yesterday, and it has been five years since I last saw them.

Now, I would strongly suspect each of those students has one or more mobile devices at this point, but my point is that those Millennials were really okay without devices then.  I’d say their whole selves were at the time wonderfully unfettered by phonedom, and they were none the worse for it.  Quite possibly, they were better off, not having all the technologies their peers had.

In the next post I’ll deal with technology in instruction, touching on “distance learning.”