Category Archives: Education

Money

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. I Timothy 6:6-10 NRSV

Money…Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie… 

[Pink Floyd, MoneyThe Wall, recorded December 1978- November 1979, various studios, released by Harvest and Columbia records in November 1979]

Money itself doesn’t seem to be evil, but what people will do to each other and the world around them to gain it certainly can be. It can be used to accomplish some amazing things – look what the Carter Foundation, Lilly Foundation, and Gates foundation have managed to do for the world. Money bought and distributed mosquito nets to combat malaria,  enabled further study in too many humanities fields to name, and continues to make strides in eradicating disease in the poorest parts of the world. It can also fund hate groups and buy political influence for personal or corporate gain.

Within communities of faith, money has gone both ways. I’ve seen churches use bequests to provide a safety net to the homeless and to keep the nearly homeless from the streets. I’ve seen congregations torn apart over $100,000 or less when members cannot agree on how to spend it. I’ve seen parents with more than enough take advantage of Vacation Bible School scholarship programs, using them as cheap daycare; I’ve seen other congregants give up vacation trips to pay VBS costs for entire families. The money itself doesn’t seem to be point: it’s what people are willing to do with it and for it.

Pink Floyd’s take on money lands squarely in Biblical territory. Greed is the issue, not the money itself. Grasping for it and wanting to keep it at the expense of others is beautifully and succinctly stated in Money. Paired with the images offered in official and non-official videos of the song, the power of money and greed cannot be overlooked – it’s well worth a few minutes on YouTube to check them out.

The downside of greed, the devastation that the love of money brings – these are not just inflicted on the world as unfair labor practices, price gouging, and rigged taxation. The ones who gain from such dealings are also devastated, but not in the same way. There is real spiritual damage done to anyone who grasps at money at the expense of those in greatest need; the soul shrinks and it is impossible to find true satisfaction or contentment from any amount of money. Able to buy any amount and kind of food, the miser starves.

In my last moments on earth, I hope I can look back on what I did with the money I had and see that it did more than put a car in the driveway and an extra jacket in the front hall closet. I hope I scattered some of it far enough afield that it grew into something that nourished the world.

A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, it is enough.

But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. I Timothy 6: 6-10, The Message

 

 

 

 

A different brick in the (ivy covered) wall…

I was going to write on Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall [The Wall, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, recorded 12/1978-11/1979, Harvest/ Columbia records, November, 1979], but some famous, wealthy parents are being charged with paying people to falsify test scores, to admit their non-athletic children as college athletes, and to fake disabilities -all this to get children into their preferred elite schools. The issue with this sometimes ivy covered brick wall isn’t an education that dulls the hearts and minds of its learners: it’s the difficulty of getting past the wall and into the classrooms it surrounds.

Even without cheating, wealth tips the scales in favor of its children. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Wealthy parents give their children educational advantages by living in towns with excellent public schools, enrolling them in private schools, and paying for tutors to improve grades.
  2. Wealthy children can afford to take a “college tour,” visiting several schools and talking with admissions workers: they are aware of the variety of options available and do not need financial aid to attend.
  3. Expensive standardized tests and college application fees aren’t a problem. The students who would need a waiver for the fees are often the ones who don’t know such a thing is available to them.
  4. Parents and other family members have attended college in the past, bringing their own experience in navigating the admissions process to their children’s advantage.
  5. Alumni/ae have helpful connections, and that helps their children gain admission.

 

Some of the disadvantages that lack of money brings:

  1. Schools in poor towns often don’t have the resources to help struggling students navigate the college admissions process. Guidance and connections are limited.
  2. Lack of resources often means lack of awareness of aid offered by top tier schools.
  3. Teachers may discourage bright but poor learners from pursuing an ivy league or other top flight college education.
  4. Taking a campus tour outside the immediate area is too expensive for many students and their families.
  5. Parents who haven’t been to college don’t know how to help their children get through the admissions process.

Wealth has always made getting to the other side of the higher education brick wall easier. Lack of money isn’t just a lack of wealth: it’s a lack of awareness of the possibilities that exist, and often a limited ability to imagine an improvement in life quality through education. While a change in the family bank balance may not be possible, increasing opportunity and awareness is. Public libraries offer free access to computers and resources, and assistance in using them. Learning readiness programs such as Head Start help children achieve future academic success by fostering their development. Mentors can help broaden a young person’s perspective.

Jesus didn’t say everyone would have the same advantages and opportunities; he recognized that the poor struggle in ways that the wealthy do not. But Jesus did realize that taking advantage of the poor by denying them opportunity or by gaming the system in favor of one’s own came at a steep price that no amount of money could equal:

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? (Mark 8:36)

 

Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)

Bill Albritton kindly offered to write on a common expression. In honor of Mardi Gras, here it is…

Laissez les bons temps rouler

As Mardi Gras approaches, I think about this old Cajun French toast: Let the good times roll! A couple of key words here for me are let and roll. It doesn’t say that we have to make these good times happen—we let/allow them to happen. In other words, let’s not get in the way of them. All of our efforting, striving, manufacturing is of no avail and perhaps might even restrict these “good times”. It’s like telling someone You’re not in the mood? Well, get in the mood! Or maybe it’s like trying to be happy?
Did you ever try to stop rolling down a hill as a kid? If it’s a good hill, it’s pretty hard to stop yourself as I recall—and there were very few times I would want to do that, anyway. When you’re on a roll, you just enjoy it. Trying to roll is hard—rolling is easy.
Several books and a song have used Let Go and Let God in their titles. I’m taking this advice seriously this Lenten season—oh, but not too seriously.
[Bill Albritton offers his gifts of writing, teaching, singing, and praying to God, neighbor, church community, and world. I am grateful beyond words.]

Slippery Slope

It’s a slippery slope, my friend. In the literal sense, it’s a heads-up to step carefully on wintry roads, sidewalks, and ski trails. In a philosophical discussion, it’s a caution concerning the tendency to slide from one questionable act or assumption into another, gaining momentum all the way. In Lemony Snicket’s The Slippery Slope, book the tenth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, it’s both.

A slippery slope turns tentative, tiny movements in a particular direction into a glide, a descent, and a velocity that cannot be controlled or stopped. It’s what makes navigating icy on-ramps dangerous and toboggan rides down snowy hills exhilarating. It’s momentum in a particular direction, and what comes of it – joy, pain, kindness, hurt – depends on the direction. Taking a few steps down the wrong path makes taking the next few easier until the ability to turn around is unlikely if not impossible. But the same may be said of taking those very same steps down the right path: baby steps in the right direction can turn into confident strides, then a glide into acts of peace and courage that are transformed into blessings for the world around and the soul within.

Falling in love or a descent into hell: it isn’t the slipperiness of the slope, it’s the direction that makes the determination. I take comfort in knowing that God offers a steadying hand when I need to climb my way out of a descent into darkness. I take courage in knowing that God will help me love beyond my own limits. I am filled with joy knowing the small love I offer will be transformed by God into a blessed forward momentum – steps to strides to glides, perhaps.

 [Library Slide in Winter, photo by Jared Fredrickson]

 

Get a Word in Edgewise

I’ve been in a few situations where I couldn’t get a word in, edgewise or straight on. When it happens, the same choice arises: make the effort to turn a monologue into a conversation or move on to a less forbidding dialogue partner. Whether to stay or go depends on the kind of monologue it is: one that only wants a passive and silent audience, or one that is sincerely seeking a conversation partner, but is having trouble making a connection. The first is a waste of time, the second is worth the effort to get that word in edgewise.

Sometimes, it isn’t a spoken word. Inked words on a page can be almost as one sided, especially when they are difficult to understand. Sometimes, the argument is too dense, an impenetrable hedge with no gate in sight. Sections of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time were like that for me – I understood all the words in the sentences, but couldn’t figure out what they meant strung together. It took me well over a month to get through the book, and a good couple of years before I understood it well enough to ask even the most basic questions about the ideas it contained. Why did I stick with this conversation when lack of understanding made it impossible to get a word in edgewise? I suspected there was something true and deep in Hawking’s printed monologue – something worth the attempt to change it into a conversation. Twenty years later, I felt the same about Sean Carroll’s The Particle at the End of the Universe.

I wonder how many people experience holy scripture of any kind – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. –  as such a torrent of words that no one can get a word in edgewise. Holy writ is meant to be a conversation: it’s the best attempt of people throughout history to offer those who come after them an entry, constructed of words and prayer, into God’s infinite, intimate, loving reality. So get your word in, straight on or edgewise. It’s the conversation of a lifetime, and God eagerly listens for the word we offer.

Easy as Pie…A Piece of Cake…

The Phrase Finder‘s Gary Martin dates (as) easy as pie to the 1800’s, American in origin [www.phrases.org.uk). The easy part isn’t in the making of the pie, but in the ease with which it is enjoyed. He notes that cake is also related to pleasant, easy things – perhaps a commentary on how much dessert is enjoyed?

Being a baker myself, I am usually aware of the effort it took to produce what I eat – I’ve made countless cakes and I’ve witnessed my husband make dozens of pies over the past few years. Restaurant work paid my bills, so I don’t usually take entrees for granted much, either. But these sayings aren’t meant to be taken literally – they wouldn’t be common expressions if they were limited to that. So, I can’t help thinking that most things that are a piece of cake or as easy as pie aren’t worth a whole lot unless someone else invested the time and effort that make them valuable. I may never know who made things go so smoothly for me as to be as easy as pie, but I’m sure I owe him or her a long overdue thank you.

Don’t Blink

Don’t Blink – you just might miss it.

I used to say this about New Durham, the town I called home for almost a decade. It’s that blinking yellow light on Route 11, a couple of miles before you get to the Alton traffic circle, just below the southern edge of Winnepesaukee. Lots of trees, a lake, scattered ponds, and a brown raised ranch five miles from town center that kept me and my family warm and dry. A beach on Chalk pond and a canoe to paddle every inch of it, snow and ice for sledding and skating, and stars scattered through the deep blue sky every season of the year were waiting outside the door. Inside, the people I loved and laughed with. Back then, I didn’t know how fast those days and years would pass into other days, years, and places.

I have loved every place I’ve lived, and I’ve loved every stage of life. Each brought gifts and heartache – the unique contour and blessing of my life’s particulars. I wouldn’t go back, trading what is and will be for what was, but time’s passing has changed the meaning of don’t blink since that yellow light marked my home town and my teen years. Now it means something like this:

My life is one among billions, a small flicker lasting for such a short time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a holy, crazy, blessed one-of-a-kind gift. It’s the same for every single life – yours, mine, and everyone else’s. If I’m too busy fussing about what isn’t perfect, I will miss it just as surely as a blink of an eye at the wrong time sends me right past that yellow light without a clue that it marks a place called home.

God, give me eyes to see this fragile, broken, beloved life that is your gift to me. May I see everyone and everything else as you do: beloved. Amen.

Common Expressions…

They are everywhere – on mugs and posters, in novels, and spoken by morning show hosts. These common expressions pepper our conversations. We hand them down to our children and toss them back and forth with neighbors and strangers alike. Some are almost universally understood, others only known within a particular region. I thought it might be fun to give them a second look…

Bang A Uey 

It’s New Englandese (specifically, Boston area) for make a U-turn, turn around. I use it on occasion and hear others use it every so often – but only in New England or from New Englanders who’ve moved elsewhere. It even showed up in the GPS vocabulary when the TomTom “Boston Driver” voice was activated. It’s what I have to do when I’m heading in the opposite direction from where I need to go.

Bang a Uey. Turn around. I can’t and won’t do this unless I know and admit that I’m going in exactly the wrong direction. To get where I want to be, I have to do an about-face, turn the wheel and put the destination in front of the dashboard rather than in the rearview mirror. There’s no easier way to make the necessary change of direction.

When I have to do this in the larger sense, bang a Uey can be said in just one word: repent.

Ants

Go to the ant, you lazybones, consider its ways and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior. Proverbs 6:6-11 NRSV

 

There’s a big difference between being a good worker and a workaholic, and that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle these days. Either work all the time to further a career and amass wealth or be a shiftless weight on society. If a few biblical words are thrown into the mix to encourage hard work to avoid the fires of eternal damnation, this either/or reality has a lot more power. Suddenly, God’s love and personal worth are tied to unceasing work.

There’s a space somewhere between spending every waking minute working or thinking about work and spending all day sitting on the couch in a bathrobe binge watching movies and playing online Scrabble. The mind, heart, and soul need free time and the chance to work hard. After all, who says ants don’t stop long enough to see the beauty of the world on their way to work?

Personification

[Wisdom] will save you from the way of evil, from those who speak perversely, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil; those whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.

You will be saved from the loose woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the partner of her youth and forgets her sacred covenant; for her way leads down to death, and her paths to the shades; those who go to her never come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.

Therefore walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just. For the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.  Proverbs 2:12-22, NRSV

[NRSV, The Discipleship Study Bible, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008]

In a footnote on this passage, Kathleen Farmer makes the case that the path leading to wrongdoing is personified as “the loose woman,” the counterpart to the path of Wisdom also personified as a woman. The path to life and the path to death are both depicted as beautiful women who do their best to influence the hearts and minds of young men. Choosing one of these women is really choosing a lifestyle, a direction for life; it’s temptation in a larger sense, not just in an immediate wow-is-she-good-looking sense.

Things being personified as women is not a new thing: ships, airplanes, cars, countries, and bodies of water are often “shes,” and the allure they hold is sensual and strong. The Muses are the various Art pursuits embodied as women and portrayed on countless buildings, in untold paintings, and dancing through both poetry and prose. Ideals as well as objects are often identified as gendered, and very often that gender is female. Things that attract and lure, fostering or jeopardizing life, have feminine pronouns; things that rule (e.g. Zeus) or hold direct power (Lord, King, etc) are very often personified as male. Why is that?

There are university departments dedicated to this question, and in the past few decades gender has become a major factor in public dialogue and in political life. Some feel the whole thing has been blown out of proportion, some feel that there isn’t nearly enough attention paid to it. Strong emotions are involved either way. One thing is very clear: the language we use and the images we associate with them are powerful. Deep levels are involved, some running below conscious thought.

Wisdom as a virtuous woman and Folly as a loose one may be appealing or offensive personifications, but I do think they get at an important truth: there’s a lot more to choosing a life path than reasoned assent. Where the feet go commits body as well as mind and soul. Choose well.