Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What - who - how

As I continue this job/grad school application process, I am becoming more and more convinced that all of life is about who, not what you know. Unfortunately, I am naturally better at the "what."

On one hand, it seems unfair. Why bother getting good grades, high test scores, a strong resume, or racking up the leadership roles if none of it matters? Well, maybe because doing these things involves the same kind of character traits that forming relationships requires: dedication, patience, self-confidence, and high standards.

On the other hand, maybe it's not so unfair. Creating relationships and networking is not easy, especially if you are truly creating relationships, not just starting a collection of business cards. Maybe good grades and test scores actually are the slacker's route.

I'm not without people skills. In fact, especially in professional settings, I would say I can do fairly well. Informal settings are a little tougher, but I can hold my own. It's simply not my forte.

So now my question is how? For me, at least, throwing aside the achievement focus and becoming an extrovert are not options. Instead, I wonder how to transfer the skills I develop in one area into creating more real, beneficial, and lasting connections.

In a sentence, how do I become more than a piece of paper?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Last of the Mohicans." Now back to the 800-page "Brothers Karamazov." Also re-reading "Perelandra" by C.S. Lewis. Another wedding next weekend, and still no news about jobs. Starting to lay out schedule for grad school applications this fall.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reflections in/on the word pool

Yesterday, I was getting ready to go to a Bible study, so I was looking up commentaries on a passage in the NT. One of the most helpful sites was Precept Austin, which contains notes from a variety of commentators.

I like the site because it presents each section of text in the original language, then discusses the potential translations of each phrase.

As I go deeper into study, it is frustrating to find the discrepancies in Bible translation. Some, like Bart Ehrman of UNC-Chapel Hill, take these discrepancies as proof of the unreliability of the Bible. I read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus last fall, and reached a different conclusion. To me, the amazing thing is how much of the Bible remains consistent, after several thousand years and thousands of hands touching it along the way.

Nonetheless, translation is a potential concern. It amazes me how much difference the small words, the prepositions and conjunctions, can make. See discussion of 1 Peter 3:18-22 for an example.

Using sites like Precept Austin, it is interesting to look at the Greek words. I plan to learn basic Greek at some point so that I can reach a deeper understanding. However, the presence of multiple translations can also be a gift, not just a curse.

In creative writing, we learn about creating word and thought clusters, allowing our minds to follow a chain of random associations. My favorite thing to do is reverse the process, looking at the cluster and figuring out what associations created it.

The same thing applies to multiple translations. If you study several versions in direct comparison, you begin to see a common thread. By looking at the pool of words translators have used, it is easier to see the Greek or Hebrew concept they were trying to embody.

I guess it's sort of like trying to use human concepts of time and space to capture the infinite. "Now we see in a mirror dimly..." (1 Cor. 13:12).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Internet problems this week, preventing longer blog posts. Almost halfway done with "Last of the Mohicans." Went to a wedding this weekend - sore feet after almost 3 hours of dancing. No new news on jobs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: God's Harvard

For mainstream America, there is the Ivy League. For conservative Christians, and especially homeschoolers, there is Patrick Henry College, what Washington Post religion writer Hanna Rosin has termed, “God’s Harvard.” Rosin’s 2007 book is the result of a two-year, in-depth study of this small, private college in Virginia.

Patrick Henry College was founded by Christian lawyer and activist Michael Farris. The school’s stated goal is to transform America by placing highly qualified students in the highest offices in the land. During the year and a half that Rosin spent at the school, students, faculty, and administration wrestled to define and redefine how that mission would be acted out.

In the years since the school’s inception, PHC students have earned a reputation as hardworking, diligent, and determined individuals who are welcomed at internships and jobs on Capitol Hill. Activists at heart, the students are heavily involved in campus and local and national politics. A large percentage brings perfect SAT scores to the quest to defend Christian conservatism on a national level.

But the statistics are not what interested Rosin. Instead, God’s Harvard is about the individuals who comprise the PHC student body and community, affirming—and challenging—its codes. For example…

…Derek is a freshman and an idealist whose grand goals for political activism are tempered by losses in state campaigns.
…Elisa is a high-powered woman whose love of politics comes in conflict with PHC cultural expectations for women and her own desire to be a wife and mother.
…Farahn is a dancer, a rebel by PHC standards. A self-proclaimed “Christian nihilist,” she struggles to find a place in the community.
…Daniel is an aspiring filmmaker, whose pursuit of quality and desire to infiltrate Hollywood set him at odds with the more conservative PHC families.
…Nathan and Chris are roommates who are set at odds by a policy that requires students to inform the administration about their peers’ misconduct.
…Jennifer Gruenke is a biology professor and baraminologist who, along with her colleagues, walks a line between intellectual inquiry and theological certainty.
…Bob Stacey is a much-beloved political philosophy professor who is driven away from the college by his loyalty to the liberal arts and Socratic methods of learning.

These and other individuals provide the framework for God’s Harvard. As glowing reviews on the cover indicate, Rosin’s research is extensive and thorough. The characters are indeed real people; however, their portraits are not randomly grouped. Each one points to some aspect of Rosin’s premise.

“Is there a future for the evangelical college?” one of the PHC professors asks. A pervasive tone of skepticism and irony suggests that for Rosin, the answer is “no.” The gap between the intellectual and the political and the deeply religious is simply too deep.

In her eyes, the only way to bridge that gap is to compromise one set of values or the other.

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Wuthering Heights." Also read "God's Harvard" by Hanna Rosin - review forthcoming. Now back to "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Last of the Mohicans." No more updates on jobs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two Million Minutes

While researching for my job, I came across a recent documentary (2007) called "2 Million Minutes" that compares high school experiences in the United States, China, and India. The results, according to a recent Business Week article by one of the American interviewees, are not encouraging.

Out of curiosity, I took the documentary website's "Third World Challenge," a series of tests that tenth graders in India must pass to progress to eleventh grade (the title is in mockery of a Harvard professor who dismissed the documentary on the grounds of the "third world" countries it compared).

I achieved a poor score in geography; average scores on math, history, chemistry, and physics; a good score in biology; and an excellent score in English grammar (whew!). I'm not sure what the test really demonstrated, other than my inability to retain the formulas and facts I once learned.

However, an earlier Business Week article reached a different conclusion: we need to "compete on our strengths, not theirs." Our strengths apparently include our "well-balanced" and "well-rounded" students. I wonder if that's a valid substitute for "well-educated"...

Reform, according to this writer, involves creating a culture in which science and technology are valued. In other words, replace "computer geek" and "science nerd" with more complimentary terms.

The question he was appropriately led to ask--but not answer--was, why are we not excited about academics, especially technology and science? Why are these career fields unpopular among teens?

I think the answer has a lot to do with the American "celebrity complex." Movie stars, American Idol winners, athletes, and even a few politicians are the glamorous in our society. These are the ones we want to emulate.

Until we tone down our obsession with Hollywood and its counterparts, it will be difficult to supplant the sorority with the academic honor society.

This still leaves a bigger question: can this be changed? If so, how?

Because after all, surely our strengths are closer to the broad-based flexibility of a liberal arts education than to the ability to stand in line for three days to appear on a reality show.

...I think I am a columnist at heart.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Now reading "Wuthering Heights," by Bronte. Seriously wondering if the 400+ pages of "Last of the Mohicans" are worth the effort. Applied to a job at Pearson NY. Now back to business as usual after a lovely 3-day weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! Enjoy the fireworks! ...and the watermelon seeds, and the crowds, and the hamburgers, and the ketchup on your favorite shirt, and everything else that makes the holiday special.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: Falling Man

Imagine riding on a train in New York City after 9-11. As you cross an elevated trestle, you see a man standing on the rails. The next instant, you see his falling body as he plunges over the side.

Would you press your nose to the window, reach for your cell phone, or just sit there, reliving images of other falling people, framed by smoke and the trembling shadows of the two towers?

What you don't see is that he snaps up short a few feet below the platform, caught by a rudimentary safety harness. It is an act, performed citywide, that has earned him the name "The Falling Man."

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo, is not primarily about the stunts of the fictional David Janiak, the Falling Man. Instead, it chronicles the attempts of a few New Yorkers to make sense of September 11.

The book opens on a man named Keith, who escapes onto the street minutes before the collapse of the first tower. In his confusion, he returns to his estranged wife, Lianne, and his son, Justin. Unable to go back to life as usual, Keith travels extensively, playing poker, something he shared with his lost friends.

Justin has been deeply affected by the hush surrounding the facts about 9-11. Using binoculars, Justin watches the sky for the return of "Bill Lawton," the mystical man who was responsible.

Lianne works with dementia patients, encouraging them to write as a form of therapy. As the members of her group wrestle with God, justice, and anger, she tries to do the same. She is haunted by the image of the Falling Man and what he represents.

Lianne's mother, Nina, is an art historian and avowed rationalist. Nina is in a relationship with Martin, whose explanations for September 11 are concrete and academic: economics, politics, and history. Yet somehow they always end up talking about God.

Subtle, seemingly unrelated incidents capture the numbness and confusion that characterized the days after 9-11. On the wall of Nina's apartment are two still life paintings. Natura morta is the Italian title. At one point, Lianne compares the people in the room to a still life - natura morta in the wake of 9-11. "It's about mortality, isn't it?" Nina says. "Being human," Lianne says.

Keith struggles throughout the book to face his brush with death and mortality. His wrestling is mirrored in flashbacks to the preparations of one of the 9-11 hijackers. When the hijacker completes his mission at the end, the crash of the plane leads to the closing scene of the book, in which Keith finally relives what actually happened before he emerged onto the street.

Despite its realistic feel, "Falling Man" is a novel, and DeLillo encourages readers to recognize it as such. In a moment of self-mockery, Keith revisits his apartment to gather his things. Inside, he pauses, saying, "In the movie version, someone would be in the building, an emotionally damaged woman or a homeless man, and there would be dialogue and close-ups."

What about in the novel version?

For DeLillo, the meeting point of reality and illusion is central. In conversation with the one living member of his poker set, Keith sits in front of a hotel waterfall. "Did you ever look at that waterfall?" he asks, "Are you able to convince yourself you're looking at water, real water, and not some special effect?" Terry replies, "I don't think about it. It's not something we're supposed to think about."

Like Keith and the waterfall, the characters in "Falling Man" struggle to think about the unthinkable, to separate Bin Laden from the mystical Bill Lawton, and to find their way back to the towers to try to understand.

The raw emotion created by the Falling Man will not let them forget.

When David Janiak dies, Lianne reads a series of press clippings about his life. In the process, she finds pictures of the real people who leaped from the World Trade Center on September 11. Lianne remembers witnessing one of Janiak's falls. She thinks, "That nameless body coming down, this was hers to record and absorb." Her words can refer to both sets of images.

For Keith, Justin, and the real people of whom they are shadows, the task is the same: to record, to absorb, and to remember.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Welcome to July. Hit level 50 in Free Rice. Finished reading "Speak Rwanda" and "Falling Man." Now reading "The Last of the Mohicans." "Brothers Karamazov" is currently in limbo. Another rejection, this one from Bethany House. Watched "Ben Hur" on television last night - all 4 hours of it.