Posts Tagged ‘ Not Gaming Related ’

The Search

A movie review I wrote way back in August 2013 (with some edits):

I watched The Bothersome Man, an unrated Norwegian film. The film’s protagonist, Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), finds himself in a clean, efficient city after being dropped off by a bus at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. He’s given a job as an accountant, and a clean and efficient apartment which comes fully furnished, to include a wardrobe full of clean, efficient suits. His co-workers are polite and well-groomed.

Andreas’s first clue that something is wrong with this new world happens when he finds himself in the men’s room of a nightclub. An unseen man in a stall laments loudly, sadly that no matter how he drinks he can’t get drunk. He complains that hot chocolate no longer tastes or smells good. Andreas, curious about this sad man, follows him home to where the man lives in a basement apartment.

The movie progresses, and Andreas moves from one scene to the next, becoming more aware that no one around him has any real passion for life. The most common adjective used to describe things is “nice”. Andreas’s girlfriend Anne (Petronella Barker) says he’s nice. He has nice conversations with nice people, usually about the nice things they can buy from nice catalogs. Andreas and his girlfriend have nice furniture. Their meals are nice. When Andreas starts an affair with a lady in his office, she also informs Andreas that he is nice. In fact, he’s just as nice as all her other boyfriends. Even in the most intimate of relationships, one person is just as nice as the next.

Driven to the point of despair, Andreas tries to commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. Not to give too much more of the movie away, but it doesn’t work. He limps out of the tunnel, is picked up by the ubiquitous jump-suited men who patrol the city, and is taken to Anne’s house. He stands there, broken and bleeding, and Anne informs him they have a date to go ride go-carts.

Andreas lives in a utilitarian world, where everyone’s happiness is maximized, but where there is no yearning for the true, the good, or the beautiful. Indeed, expressing such yearning, is met with disapproval. Andreas confesses to his boss that he misses seeing children (for there are no children in a clean, efficient city). The only response Andreas gets is to be quickly ignored, as if he had just said something that no one would ever admit in polite company.

The real world — the world in which at least some things are genuinely and objectively true, good, and/or beautiful — is not a clean, efficient, polite place that can be described by so weak a word as nice. The real world is glorious and tragic and scary and awe-inspiring and depressing and wonderfully full of such a mess of thoughts, sights, sounds, and experiences. The classical liberal arts embrace this apparent chaos, and seek to find the order beneath the mess of contradictions.

I often remind myself, and I remind my students, the search isn’t without hope. Through the proper use of reason, we can discover the true, the good, and the beautiful, and we can at least begin to understand that those three qualities are not always a matter of mere opinion. Some things are truly true, truly good, truly beautiful, and to disagree about those things isn’t to express an opinion. To disagree is to be wrong.

The search for the true, the good, and the beautiful isn’t easy. Many people give up after one too many disappointments. But, I am reminded of the words of a wise man. To paraphrase, those that seek without surrender will eventually find what they’re looking for.

June 23rd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Poetry Is Like a Fist

From December 2012 and posted elsewhere:

Years ago, when my children were somewhere roundabout the 1st and 2nd grades instead of the earlier years of high school, I taught 5th through 8th grade English and reading at Resurrection Catholic School out in east Houston. On the weekends during much of the year, the school’s classrooms were used by the church for the religious education of parish children. Supervision of these children on the weekend often appeared a bit lax judging by the mess left in my classroom for me to clean up many Monday mornings.

During one of these Monday morning clean-ups, I found a spiral notebook in one of the desks. Figuring it might belong to one of my 80-or-so students, I opened it up for identifying information. The name inside was a girl’s but not any of the girls enrolled at Resurrection. She was a high school religious education student. The first page in the notebook had a poem written on it. Since I’m nosy, I read the poem, and then turned the page.

More poetry, and more reading, and then on the fourth or fifth page were these words, which I still remember to this day:

“When I close my arms, I feel you not hugging me.”

I can think of no expression of loss more succinct and yet more packed with meaning than these eleven words.

Recently, I shared these words with my students as an example of what good writing can accomplish. There’s an entire story packed into that one sentence. Who is gone? Why are they gone? How long have they been gone? Was the loss the result of a death, a break-up, a divorce? Do these words not reflect the experience of anyone who has ever lost someone they’ve loved?

Not too long ago, one of the people I follow on Google+ was complaining about his daughter’s poetry homework. I understood some of his frustration since he was having to read Maya Angelou, who I am convinced is overrated as a poet. He expressed his opinion that poetry is horrible, and on this point I disagree.

Horrible poetry is horrible. Great poetry — such as what I found on that one page of that misplaced spiral notebook — is something else entirely. Great poetry opens another person’s heart and soul to the reader, and invites the reader to share in the poet’s experiences. Great poetry even demands that the reader do so. As Calvin Hernton explained, poetry can be like a fist beating against my ear.

June 14th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

On Mercy & Charity

From way back in November of 2012:

This month, our focus virtue has been charity. An important precondition of charity is mercy.

Nowadays, in our do-whatever-you-please postmodern world, it seems as if many people have done mercy’s reputation some damage. Too often, mercy is mistaken for either weakness or for letting those who do wrong get away unpunished. Neither of these views is accurate. Mercy is not weakness or coddling, but instead it is the use of strength rightly ordered toward the genuine good of another.

Ancient Christian tradition speaks about works of mercy, dividing these into two categories, the corporal and the spiritual. Among the former are acts such as feeding the hungry; the latter includes my vocation, instructing the ignorant. Notice the first, feeding the hungry, is a common goal of charitable organizations today. Television commercials display wide-eyed, impoverished children while the voice-over asks us for a few dollars a day. We are assured that our charitable contributions will be used to help those children be fed, clothed, housed, et cetera. The organization intends to provoke mercy which in turn compels me to give my money to the cause.

My ability to give that money, to communicate what I’ve learned to others, or to mow a lawn for someone not fit enough to do it himself are all forms of strength. Money, knowledge, and physical health can be powerful, and all three can be used for selfish ends. I could tell my daughter Adrienne that we don’t have the money for violin lessons, and then spend that money on things I want. I can use my knowledge to manipulate others, and once upon a time I was strong enough and fast enough to use my body to intimidate, steal, or harm. Any of these activities would be a use of a strength, but in a disordered manner.

To avoid these and other abuses of my various strengths, I must ensure that my actions are rightly ordered. Mercy assists me in doing this. I recognize the weaknesses of others, such as Adrienne’s lack of an income, and I apply my strength to give the other person what they truly need. Much of the time, this means I do things that are beneficial to the other, such as paying for those violin lessons. Other times, however, mercy demands that I act in ways that may appear punitive. A student who refuses to complete his lessons rejects both my mercy and his own genuine good. If I am to be a responsible teacher, mercy and charity both demand that I devise ways to encourage the student to embrace what is truly in his best interest. Those ways may involve the temporary removal of some privilege, such as recess time, or enlisting the assistance of parental pressure. The student may not perceive these sorts of actions as merciful and charitable, but a failure of perception does not alter reality.

Merciful action is often difficult. It requires time, effort, and self-control to surrender the advantages of my strengths in order to meet the needs of others. The opposites of mercy, cruelty and neglect, do not make these sorts of demands. They are instead the easy way out, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why the world is the way it is.

At the same time, reflection on the nature of mercy and the resulting demands of charity that flow from mercy point the way to a better world. Not that any amount of mercy or charity on my part will make the world perfect or make life fair. As I’ve told my students more than once, life isn’t fair, and it’s never going to be fair, but that’s no excuse for us to not do what we can.

As Calvin Coolidge observed, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

June 2nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Obedience of Faith

Also from September 2012, represented here with a few edits.

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus writes about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, to be specific). In the original Greek, that phrase has the same structure as the English phrase “the city of Houston.” In other words, faith is another name for obedience. Obedience and faith are synonymous.

The theological implications of this synonymous relationship are beyond the scope of this modest blog. I’m not a preacher or a theologian. I’m just a teacher in a small, classical education charter school. Nevertheless, the equivalence between obedience and faith drawn by Paul is instructive.

One of a teacher’s more challenging tasks is keeping a room full of kids on-task, relatively quiet, and exhibiting an acceptable level of politeness. With a score children in a too-small room, each student with his or her own wonderful personality and foibles, this is often easier typed than done. Youthful enthusiasm doesn’t seem to easily tolerate the expectations of public education, which often must seem more like a full-time job than a wonder-filled journey of discovery. My students’ school day runs from about 8:00 a.m. to about 3:15 p.m., Monday through Friday, with about an hour-long break for recess and/or lunch. That’s almost eight hours a day, five days a week, mostly spent in classrooms with the same 19 other people.

Is it any wonder nerves can get a bit frazzled?

In my experience, discipline problems are more prevalent in the earlier weeks of school. I’ve often wondered why, and recently I think I’ve hit on at least part of the answer, which brings us back to the equivalence between obedience and faith. I ask my students to do a variety of things all day long. Many of those things can seem daunting. Write a paragraph about how Latin adjectives and Latin nouns must agree in terms of gender. Sit still and be quiet while I rave about D. H. Lawrence’s use of alliteration. Read the next chapter of Don Quixote. Et cetera.

When a student fails to follow these sorts of instructions, that lack of obedience may indicate a lack of faith. But a lack of faith in what? Well, most likely, the lack of faith is in me as a teacher. If I’ve not earned a student’s trust, it only makes sense that that student may be more inclined to disobey my instructions. The disobedience could also point out that the student lacks faith in his or her own abilities.

If I am to expect obedience from my students (which I do expect), I must earn my students’ faith, their trust. I must respect them while demanding excellence and while encouraging them to demand the same from themselves.

May 16th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Blindness of Love?

From September 2012:

Last Friday, 21 September, we had our weekly Socratic discussion. Often, these class discussions are the high point of my week as a teacher. Best of all, the students enjoy them. They get a chance to talk about some important topics in a safe environment where the expectation is that everyone will be listened to and respected. For each discussion, I select a topic relevant in some way to the literature we’ve read that week. Our topic for 21 September was this: “Love is blind.”

This expression has been floating around the English language for a few centuries. Often, I pointed out to my students, expressions take on the appearance of truth after they’ve been used for a long time by a lot of people. Part of what we try to do with classical education is examine ideas that perhaps too often go unquestioned. With this in mind, I asked my students, “What does it mean to say, ‘Love is blind’?”

Hands shot up, and most of my students did a great job abiding by our class rules for discussions: only one person gets to talk at a time, everyone listens to every speaker, we get to speak in the order in which our names enter the queue, et cetera. The students not only offered their individual answers, but also responded to each other. After several minutes (and a few detours chasing off-topic rabbits), a few recurring ideas became evident. Among these ideas, the students reached a consensus that when one is genuinely in love with another person, then one sees good qualities in that person that others might not be aware of.

Next, I posed a hypothetical question to my students: If I went to downtown Houston during lunch hour with two pictures, one of my wife Katrina and one of Scarlett Johansson, and showed the pictures to strangers, who would most people say was the more beautiful? The students admitted (somewhat cautiously perhaps) that most strangers would pick Ms. Johansson.

“But,” I said, “in my opinion my wife is the more beautiful. Mrs. Chance is more beautiful than Scarlett Johansson. Why would I think this?”

More conversation ensued, and the students determined that I’d answer that way because I love my wife, and I see more than just what she looks like. I see my wife’s heart, as one student put it.

“So,” I said, “with all that we’ve said in mind, is it true that love is blind?”

None of the students agreed that the expression was true. Through their own examination of the expression, my students concluded that the opposite is true. They concluded that love isn’t blind, but rather that love sees with better vision.

April 25th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »