Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to Start an Epidemic

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point." I think he should have titled it "How to Start an Epidemic" because he outlines a theory of how social epidemics are started in society, from unnatural suicide rates in Micronesia, the success of Sesame Street to the dramatic drop in crime rate in New York City and implicitly explains how you can start one.

Instead of going into an analysis of the book, I am going to suggest that two types of people read this book: pastors and teachers.

Why Teachers Should Read "The Tipping Point"

When I first started the book, I noticed that one of the rules for what causes a "tipping point" (The point at which a social epidemic occurs in society.) is "The Law of the Few." This rule essentially says that there are certain people in society that work to promote certainideas. These ideas will eventually reach the tipping point and become social epidemics.

There are three types of people: connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors are people who everyone seems to know them. Mavens are people who know everything there is to know about a certain topic. Salesmen are people who are really good at convincing people about an idea.

Teachers, in my opinion, should look at these types of people and see themselves to be like them, in a sense. Certainly, not everyone is a "maven." Yet because of their unique position, teachers have a great place to fulfill these important roles.

Furthermore, this book deals with the issue of why certain ideas tend to "stick" in people's heads and why others don't. That's right up the alley of education, getting ideas to stick in people's heads. If a teacher can apply the concepts in this book, I think his/her students will become better educated. Specifically, the question is "how can I communicate ideas (concepts, skills and content) to students so that they remember them?" I think Gladwell helps answer this question.

Why Pastors Should Read "The Tipping Point"

When I was reading this book, I kept thinking that the person who should read this book is a pastor. A pastor's calling is to disseminate a specific form of information to his congregation and the world. "The Tipping Point" is a book just on that topic. It explains, in a way, why revivals occur and why they don't. It explains why some people listen to you and why some people do not. It explains how society changes, improves or falters. Why wouldn't a pastor want to know more about that?

One might say, "its the Holy Spirit that works in people's hearts. It's not these foreign 'rules' put forward by Gladwell." I don't think that Gladwell is demystifying the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather, I think he is giving an explanation of a way that the Holy Spirit works through to bring about the will of the Father. Furthermore, Paul says "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Gladwell gives pastors a means to better apply Paul's example.

A Possible Objection

One may be suspicious of Gladwell's book because it appears to give an all-encompassing explanation for everything that occurs in society. My response is first, this is not a book explaining everything about society. It is explaining why social epidemics occur. For example: why was Sesame Street such a great success for so long.

Second, Gladwell makes a great point at the end of the book. He says "All of these things [his theory] are expressions of the peculiarities of the human mind and heart, a refutation of the notion that the way we function and communicate and process information is straightforward and transparent. It is not. It is messy and opaque." (pg 257) If anything, read this book so that you acquire a more nuanced and thoughtful understanding of how communication occurs in society, even if you don't agree with the theory. It certainly has helped me think more carefully on how I see society.

p.s. It's not a hard read.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Public Letter to Rob Bell

Dear Rob Bell,

I hope you're having a great day. I like great days. When I was a young child I used to count out how many good days I had. Today was a good day, I used part of it to read your book. I'm so sorry about it. I bet you feel awful about that terrible mistake you made. I know it is hard to admit mistakes. It happens to me all the time, but I think it's really important you tell people about this. A lot of people respect you and listen closely to what you say. I think if you announce it like you did with your latest book, that trippy video, things will be fine. I like those glasses by the way. Mine are just like them, kind of but not really. I have really bad eye sight.

In the video, start out with how your day went and how excited you were about writing out all the notes for your new book in one afternoon People would be excited to hear the story of how your book was written. You could explain how much time you spent that afternoon writing out all those notes and were exited about how big your book was going to be. Then you transition into how you decided to email your notes to someone. I don't know who you were trying to email them to. You should probably say who. Also, figure out a really neat transition, perhaps take off your glasses in one epic shot. Those are sweet glasses. Taking them off will only add attention to them. Once that's all through, tell us what really happened when you sent that email. You accidentally sent your notes to the publisher who thought it was the final book and then published it! That's why everyone is so confused and frustrated.

I realized this when I got about halfway through the book. Giving just one line to "beautiful" or "this age" didn't seem to flow well. I hope you can come clean though. With your glasses, everyone thinks you're cool, and I think people are starting to think I'm cool since I have glasses kind of like yours.

For your actual book, could you please cut out a couple of your jokes. They're not funny. Also, in the section where you allude to you going to an Eminem concert, I would take that out. People might be shocked that you went to one of his concerts. And if you want to leave in all your jokes you can. Please just be careful. Your flippancy might get you in stuck in a theological morass, but theology isn't really the issue in your book at all. Your readers might get side-tracked by your jokes, and that's terrible! I spent about 2 seconds trying to figure out the Kincaid-Dante joke. I could have gotten through a couple more lines in that amount of time. (I'm not sure if I still get it.)

Lastly, I am worried that your actual book might be too long. I think as you expand on these notes, perhaps you should leave out discussing some of these topics, narrow it a bit. I had a philosophy professor suggest to me about writing papers that it is important to "narrow, narrow, narrow your topic. After you think it is narrow enough, narrow it even more." Also, there is no such thing as a stupid question, but there are bad questions. Comb through your notes and think to yourself, "does this question progress my thesis?" I hope this was a good letter, and you enjoyed it. Good luck with your actual book. I'm looking forward to it.

David Pulliam

p.s. Is it okay if I suggest to your future readers not to read your notes and go read "The Weight of Glory" instead? It's free, short and much more uplifting. I mean, all we have right now are your notes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Purposes of Theology

Lately, I have heard people indirectly talk about three different purposes for theology. The first is one of preserving the truth and continuing church tradition. The second is to try to see God better and the last is to enjoy God.

In my personal experience, the reformed tradition of Christian theology consistently promotes the first purpose. Other theological traditions may hold to this view, but reformed people tend to promote this purpose vigorously.

The second view is found in my personal journey with other students at Taylor. In our class discussions and paper writings, I have noticed that we have been clawing at the doors of mystery, looking for the lock and key so we can get in and see more of God.

The last view was opened to me by a friend who explained that because we have the blood of Christ and Christ lives in us, we have nothing to fear when doing theology. Rather, we have so much to enjoy.

These three views of the purpose of theology often try to contradict each other though no logical contradiction exists. There is no contradiction in carrying on the tradition of truth and enjoying truth. Nor is there a contradiction in trying to see God and enjoy God.

Often those who carry these individual purposes add on personal vices that inhibit their ability to appreciate the other two purposes. Those who claim to carry the truth often are afraid of trying to discover new truths that seem, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “puzzling or repellent.” Those who are trying to find that key hole to see God often are frightened of not finding it. They are needlessly weighted down by the anxiety of ignorance. Lastly, those who attempt to think theology is for the enjoyment of God look down on the past. They see tradition as something broken-down and impersonal. The first one is cowardness, the second is depression and the last is “chronological snobbery.” All three of these vices are not fit for God’s holy people and put a veil over the value each purpose has.

These three purposes are complimentary. How can one better enjoy God by digging into the thoughts of the great thinkers of the past? How can you be depressed at not finding more of God when you have already found God? Tradition, enjoyment and searching are three purposes of theology that makes the experience more fulfilling. Underlying each is the fulfillment of part of God’s purpose for man. He wants us to carry on the ideas of those who have gone before us. He wants us to search and discover. He wants us to enjoy him forever.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Westlane Middle School - My School

Westlane Middle School is located in the Washington Township in Indianapolis. Two famous people went to school there. Most recently, it is now the location of my first placement for student teaching in the fall. My second place is at Marantha Christian School in Melbourne Australia. In this post I will providing an outline of the demographics of Westlane Middle School.

The school is 50% African American and 32% white. 8% are Hispanic and 7% are multiracial. Lastly, .8% are Pacific Islander. What I found interesting was that 49% of students had paid lunches and 11% of students have reduced lunches. This means that around 60% of the school come from a lower-socioeconomic background. (This is only an estimate.) 14% of students are in special education and 6% are non-English learners.

Sadly, the school has failed its AYP for the last three years. 65% of students passed the ISTEP but the school was supposed to have 90% pass. Given my experience at my present middle school placement, this will be a tough placement. Middle school students are a handful. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why Christians Should be Concerned about the Burka Ban

On Monday the burka ban was put into place in France. It is the first European country to do so and is a very controversial subject. This NY Times article shows the dislike of the Burka.

I haven't paid very much attention to the Burka ban until I read this article because it helped me realize why Christians should be concerned about this ban. The title of the article says the ban is a victory for "tolerance." I found that to be very odd since the ban is being intolerant to a way of dress. My question, what's next? Will minarets be banned? (Switzerland.) Why not ban the whole religion? What are the boundary lines for religious practices?

Christians may applaud the burka ban since we perceive Islam to be in opposition to Christianity. I find it to be disconcerting for two reasons. First, we have democracies that claim to give people the freedom to be who they want to be yet this ban is obviously saying you can be anything you want to be, just not wearing a burka. Second, there is a disgust not of just Islam that I sense behind this ban, but a distaste for religion in general. Read the end of the NY Times article:
Secularism is taken seriously in French society... Schools are strictly non-faith, and all public bodies must be free of religious influence. As recently as 2007, a public outcry resulted from the disclosure that a senior government minister had sought informal advice from a Catholic priest on matters of policy."
The force behind this law is not an attempt to promote women's rights but a protection of Secularism. I am not going to go into the very complex reasons for the burka and whether it is the suppression of women's rights. This is a complex discussion because Islamic women are being forced to wear burkas and in western society this is unjust, but some women choose to wear the burka for religious reasons.

I think that part of the reason for the burka ban, though some of it may be for the promotion of women's rights, is to suppress religious practice. We ought to be concerned as Christians about such governmental action because there could be laws like that against Christians. This doesn't mean that I support forcing women to wear burkas or be against the burka ban. Rather, Christians ought to be concerned about the underlying reason for the ban and question whether such action could be taken against Christians.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A plea to Teachers

Please never ever do these three things as a teacher:
1. Give a test with 83 questions on it.
2. Give a test with content that:
a. was not discussed in class
b. is random
3. Give a test with wordy questions and answers.

The purpose of a test (or most tests) is to assess or find out if the students know the material. Their grade should reflect the degree they know the information. If a teacher does one of the three things above then they are not fulfilling the purpose of a test and so are not accurately assessing student performance.

Therefore, I plead with teachers to not do the former three things.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Commodification of Women Conference - Shalom

Today I went to the Commodification of Women Conference here at Taylor University. John Stackhouse was the key-note speaker. I thought he had some very good things to say. Right now I have a lot going through my mind regarding the conference. For this post I will develop only one of Stackhouse' thought.

It's the concept of shalom. To develop shalom, according to Stackhouse, is the idea of universal flourishing, everything fulfilling its potential. Because everything is interconnected, the flourishing of one person contributes to the flourishing of another. When you're happy I'm happy.

Stackhouse explained this idea in terms of why he spends so much money on his kids. He's spent enough money on his kids to buy a couple of cars. One may ask why. His response was that he loved them. When they are happy, he's happy. He wants to make them happy.

I was surprised that Stackhouse didn't take this and say "now we need to help women who are in great need," or "women don't have shalom, and we need to empower them." He didn't even use the term, I think, "the commodification of women." Yet, he dealt with the issue squarely. When we attempt to bring about shalom into this world, it is no longer just about us, but "the other." (Those who are not like us, completely different from us.)

I think you can take this theology into many different ways, but one obvious way, for me, was looking at it in terms of the doctrine of Christ's kingdom. As servants of the king, aren't we battling for this universal peace? Don't we want our king to rule a world full of shalom? So when I work to see women as humans and not just objects, I am bringing about shalom, bringing about Christ's kingdom here on earth.

No longer is trying to bring about justice in the world, for the sake of stopping injustice. Its about bringing something very special that God intends for us to enjoy and to increase his dominion here on earth.