benediction

Bloged in education, seasons, traveling by rod Monday May 7, 2007

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.

benediction

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snapshots

Bloged in art, cognition, education by rod Thursday December 7, 2006

A while back, I posted about humility found in true artists. My statement ultimately, was that artistry is dependent on humility. Humility is the single attribute found consistently among artists. This is in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom concerning folks with an artistic temperament. Numerous books have been written to help understand artists, but the profile given in the books is precisely not consistent with a true artist. We’ve come to think of artists as high maintenance, extroverted, egocentric, megalomaniacs. I do know several high maintenance, extroverted, egocentric, megalomaniacs, but none of the artists I know are any of those things. The problem is that we’ve too broadly applied the term artist. But I’ve said all this before, I’m repeating myself redundantly.

I thought about this all again today when I read a comment on my photo of last night’s moon rising over our house. The comment said, “His beauty leaves me breathless…” I began to think about being left breathless by beauty that can’t be comprehended. We try to capture that beauty and fail. But the embraced failure could possibly be the definitive factor in art. Perhaps every work of art contains an ellipsis. There is more than could be captured, contained, or understood. The purpose of this meager representation is merely to cause you to ponder what is there, but couldn’t be captured. This work is a glass through which we see dimly, but piques contemplation and hope for what can’t be seen and provides clues to the greater picture.
The striving of an artist to capture the beauty of God is doomed to failure. This is a very humbling endeavor. Artists are constantly reminded of their limitations. Artists have the ability to create a box with an open lid and show us what it can’t contain.
I believe this is why the written Revelation is so full of poetry. God can’t be contained in profiles and information. The complete and adequate revelation shows us how incomplete our understanding, and inadequate our language.
Sadly though, (and I’m know I’m restating again) it seems as if the poetry and art has been dissected and explained to the point that it no longer serves to point to something more, but rather it becomes the very box to contain God. This causes the opposite of humility. We become arrogant when we think we’ve got it all figured out.
If a painting, or photo, or piece of music claims to represent the beauty of God, rather than celebrate what it can’t be, it is not art.
Perhaps this is why there is such a danger in our theology. We see it as a study, and study is academic, and so we learn but don’t see. When our learning ceases to make us aware that there is so much we don’t know we lose humility. We create boxes that are almost always smaller than ourselves.

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commencement 06

Bloged in education, life by rod Sunday May 21, 2006

Another school year accomplished. Another class commences. Graduation was this morning, and for the first time, at least since I’ve been around, it was scheduled to be outdoors at 8:30am. Allison and I were sitting out on the deck with a fire under a crystal clear starry sky at midnight. But lo and behold, when morning comes, the clouds blow in and the storm arrives. As I drove up the road toward campus and slowed behind the graduation traffic, the rain was so hard that the wipers couldn’t clear the windshield. The bolts of lightning were simultaneous with the claps of thunder, and were continues. Bolts were staying lit for seconds rather than merely flashing. The looked like neon with a short circuit. I smiled at the irony of a first attempt squelched by weather, and then I thought about how many graduation ceremonies that I’ve attended where a few thousand people sit under ominous clouds in uncomfortable bleachers waiting for someone to decide if they will move the festivities or not. As often as not, it seems easier to stay put than to move, so the decision is made to chance it under the ominous clouds. Also as often as not, a few minutes into the festivities the clouds decide to dump their loads leave everyone regretting their decision, and soaked and scrambling.
So when the rain came this morning, everyone was saying, “I prayed for good weather, what’s this all about?” Of course, I, always the eternal optimist, realized that the prayer was answered, and that we could have all been sitting on the field wondering when the sky opened up. Instead, before there could be any debate, a decision was handed down and we all survived the commencement ceremony dry and happy.
By the time the ceremony was over, the sky was blue, the clouds had emptied and the sun shone it’s mild warmth on a crowd of smiling commencers and their families.

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what’s it all about?

Bloged in apprenticeship, education by rod Saturday December 4, 2004

When I was in grad school I played in dozens of masterclasses. A masterclass consists of a public lesson in which a student performs for a master teacher and the audience, and then the teacher gives him/her a lesson based on what he has just heard. It is really a good opportunity to play in these classes. Often it is a quite famous, revered, or magnificent player who is playing the role of master teacher, and to get a lesson from such a person is a rare treat. Combined with that is the performance opportunity that is extra helpful because added to the normal audience induced stress is the fact that you’re sitting on stage being scrutinized by a professional, respected, master of the instrument. Over time though, I began to notice a few consistent things about masterclasses. Though not always, often, the class seemed to be more about the teacher than the student. Often it was quite obvious that the teacher was not equipped to notice what was missing from a student’s performance, but would merely observe what the student WAS doing and suggest that he do that. The student, no doubt, would think to himself, “but I thought I was doing that already, or at least I was aware of it and was trying.” But the audience wouldn’t be so tuned in to the student’s performance until the teacher began to point things out. So the teacher would make his suggestion (that the student was already doing) and the student would play the passage with the supposed goal of incorporating what the teacher had just suggested. Because the student had already been doing it, he was quite successful in doing it again at the request of the teacher. But this time it had been brought to the attention of the audience who now thought that the teacher had just extracted brilliant artistry from a struggling, undirected student. This would go on for 45 minutes and the student would leave the stage as the audience cheered for the teacher and his uncanny ability to find the diamond beneath a pile of rocks.
Other teachers would not even be able to notice what the students WERE doing, and so would simply mask their inability to help by talking about themselves, or dropping names of famous guys as “friends”, or playing fancy passages while having a casual conversation with the audience while the student sat patiently beside him onstage. I was once in the audience when my friend gave a dazzling performance of the prelude from Bach’s “Prelude, fugue and allegro”, BWV, 998. The teacher took most of his lesson time talking about how odd it was that not only was he a black classical guitarist (how often do you see that?) But he was a left-handed black classical guitarist. Take a good look, you may never see this combination again.
But I digress.
Probably one of the most common uninformed mistakes I heard teachers make in these classes, was to make a statement, especially of technical philosophy, that was just not good for the lesser developed students in the audience. These statements were usually completely different from what students were hearing week after week from their regular teachers. The students struggled along a slow, steep path and then heard this “completely different” statement from this famous guy. Surely this must be the secret that has eluded me. “It’s the prayer of Jabez, but for guitar. I’ve been doing it all wrong, led down the wrong path, wasting my time, but now I can focus my efforts on something that will make a difference.” What everyone involved could fail to realize is that no matter how true it might have been for the teacher, who had been playing for decades and was obviously in a different league than the student, that didn’t make it true for the student who was struggling to play in tune and keep a steady tempo, and not damage his hands in the process.
When we find ourselves in a place where other people would like to be, it is very easy to just invite them to be there too, but not bother to show them how to get there. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place and have no idea how to tell someone else to get there. Sometimes we remember how we got here, but upon arrival begin to lose some of the humility that brought us here and immediately reckon that we could have gotten here by a different route. So we go about telling people about the different route, rather than the one we took ourselves. Consequently, folks who look to us for directions, never get there. Sometimes we enjoy the elevated, revered, elite feeling we have being where other people want to be, and so we intentionally give them bogus directions to keep ourselves above or beyond them.
I used to be very suspect of people who give bad directions to a place they claimed to have been or claimed to be. I would hear the bad directions and think, obviously they’ve never been there, or they’d know that you can’t get there by those directions.
Once, a famous recording artist visited our school and gave a concert. During lunch with a member of our community, it was discovered that this famous recording artist had been a music major in college. The famous recording artist was asked how this course of study had helped prepare for this career. You already guessed the answer. “Not at all,” was the reply. My initial response to hearing this was, “what kind of arrogance allows someone to study something for four years, go into a career directly connected to that course of study, and then say it did nothing to help them?” What student can assess how badly they sang out-of-tune, or how bad their sense of rhythm was, etc. four years ago? It is so easy to view yourself where you are and assume that you have always been there and obviously you didn’t need the people who thought they’d helped you arrive.
But my second response was to all the current or potential music students who thought they were preparing for the same career as this famous recording artist. The artist has arrived and didn’t need the training that she received, I, then, will not waste my time on such pursuits. Bad directions. Followers don’t arrive.
I’ve heard Christians teaching methodological approaches to spiritual growth, salvation, effective leadership, etc. I suspected the reality of their own spirituality because of the misguided way they try to lead others to that place. Often after I get to know them, I see that they are for real, but that they’ve just confused the path they took. In sincerity, they’ve tried to codify a method to a mystery that has no method. They’ve tried to make relationship into something you can have by following some rules, or saying some words, doing some things, or going some places. Probably because once they themselves had a relationship, they began to follow some rules and say some words and do some things and go some places. But those weren’t what began the relationship. And they’ve forgotten. The sad thing is that the next generation follows the method and having never had the relationship, don’t recognize that it is missing. They must think, “I did everything right, so this must be it.” The bad directions get perpetuated and nobody ever gets there because they don’t know where they’re going. The directions have become the point and the destination has been lost.

those who can

Bloged in community, education, life by rod Thursday May 13, 2004

Well, we’re almost there. Papers, projects, and exams are trickling in and tomorrow afternoon there will be nothing left but the gradin’. I had a really hard semester back in the fall of ‘96 when I filled a sabbatical hole as well as my own responsibilities. The last week of the semester found me kicked and spending all my time at the hospital having tests run. This semester has been just as busy, nay, busier. More students, more committees, church responsibilities, a third wee one. But the stress of it all, tough as it is, doesn’t stick as much as it used to. What’s the difference? Age? Wisdom? I doubt it, especially the latter. Perspective? Priorities?
I think it is the students. They give. Well, maybe that is where wisdom and perspective on my part, play a role. Maybe the students have always given, I just had to learn to receive. That’s certainly a viable explanation. But in the past I always came to the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the semester, drained. Spent. Now I usually come to the end exhausted, but filled. Hopeful. Heard. It is much easier to recover from physical and emotional exhaustion than from drained emptiness.
Surely teaching and learning are supposed to be shared by both the teacher and the learner. When it doesn’t work this way, the teacher merely dispenses and the student merely gathers. When it works the way it should, the teacher learns and the student teaches and we all grow smarter and wiser and more effective.
Teaching is an art. Like all the arts, there are people who are not artists attempting to participate, but those who make a difference and for a whom a difference is made, are artists. What could be more creative than painting pictures of abstract concepts in the mind of a student? What could be more rewarding than seeing understanding take shape like a statue by adding knowledge to knowledge or stripping away extraneous goo.

An artist can’t speak of what he doesn’t know, but through his art, he can ask questions that will allow the observer to grow toward more than either one understands. A teacher can’t teach a student more than he knows, but he can teach a student to learn so that the possibilities are limitless. A teacher can’t lead the student past where he is himself, but he can send the student beyond. Pride can sabotage this power of the teacher, but as with all art, both teacher and learner are empowered in humility.

So as we reach the semester end, a big thank you to my students. You teach me well. I pray that I’ve given you a little something in return.
Much obliged.

radical reversal

Bloged in apprenticeship, education by rod Monday May 3, 2004

A few weeks ago I began to notice a drastic change in one of my students. I blogged about it, but decided not to post it. I worry about expressing the observed growth of humility, because it may sound like a suggestion of previous arrogance. In fact, the shift that I observed was from the desire for humility to actually being humbled.
The ramifications of true humility impact all areas of life. One becomes more sympathetic, understanding, teachable. This particular student was learning faster, responding differently, and even playing better. I told him that I sensed a change in him. He told me that he had realized some things lately that had really changed his outlook. What he said will sound obvious and old to some of us, because it is something that we have learned and live by. To others of us, this will sound obvious and old because it is something that we’ve always heard. But when we actually learn it and live by it, it will be all new again. An aha moment.
“I will never be able to figure out the ways of God”, he told me. “If I try to make myself look good, help people to see my talent, speak highly of myself and try to lift myself up, I will always be humiliated. But if I am humble, others will lift me up and encourage me.”
Well, of course. This is what Jesus taught practically every time he opened his mouth. The last shall be first. Even the Son of Man came to serve. Paul recognized this paradox in Jesus when he told us to model Him who being very nature God, did not try to grasp equality with God. He made Himself nothing and put on a servant’s nature. Jesus’ servanthood was turned into Lordship. His humility became glory. All through obedience to His Father.
Of course it’s a matter of heart. Jesus knows our hearts. Even people can usually discern false humility. So of course it is no good to feign humility in order to be lifted up. Some call this “fishing”. Motives are all wrong. Self-centered. Selfish. It’s amazing how confusing this can be. It’s amazing how we can get it all completely backward and try to behave rightly for totally wrong reasons. I have seen many Christian marriage videos and books that are entirely designed to teach you how to behave toward your spouse so that you can get what you want. How many times have I heard someone encourage kindness by explaining that it makes one feel good about him self. Jesus warns us of wrong motivations. It seems He offers us the choice between being rewarded now and being rewarded later. Evidently later is much better.
The real thing happens when one is motivated to humility by an honest understanding of him self. It is when someone is motivated to kindness by compassion and love rather than desire for reciprocation. It seems he will get it only if it’s not what he is after.
So I guess all these thoughts have been spurred by the response to my desire to encourage. I try to encourage Chris and then ride all day on the return strokes. In my heart of hearts, that is not what I was looking for. I was looking to comfort. BUT, I can sure imagine the temptation next time to anticipate the volley. Wow, what a fine line between feeling encouraged because someone else has been encouraged, and encouraging to be encouraged. Yes, it is the function and purpose of community that we are each comforted and encouraged by one another. Purely, this is a result of a community of selfless people under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, caring for the needs of one another. Just another one of those things we’ve got to learn from the Master.

artarchetypes

Bloged in apprenticeship, art, church, education, metaphor by rod Thursday April 8, 2004

What is the difference between having the things you do serve a purpose and having the things you do be your purpose? Sometimes I wonder if the number one habit of highly successful people is not to imitate other highly successful people. Usually success comes from having a goal and assuring that everything you do is geared toward accomplishing the goal. The goal of the imitator is often to imitate what someone else is doing rather than why he is doing it. The terminality of this is to attempt to accomplish the by-product of a purpose. I’ll skip the stupid metaphor I thought of for this.

These are the true profiles of the artist and the imitator. Therefore, the profile of the misunderstood artist is shown in the differences between the artist and the imposter. This difference is so missed and misunderstood that the imposter is often deemed successful by having achieved the by-product. The worst part is that he will never achieve the real success of his model because he erroneously believes he’s already accomplished it.
So the artist is driven to express and create. The true artist, as he is creating, will be satisfied no more or less by the financial reward gained by his art. He may be more or less hungry, but he can’t be satisfied by something different from that which he set out to do. To be satisfied by money or fame or be frustrated by lack of it, is to prove that it was goal in the first place. Many will imitate the financially rewarded artist in order to gain the rewards rather than to create the art. It is this generation that finds frustration or confidence in something less than its models.

Every day there are true artists who have been swallowed up by the machine stepping back giving up highly financially successful careers because their art is threatened or compromised. On the other hand, everyday there are those whose audience has lost interest in their trendy, target demographic spawned drivel so they’ve become financially frustrated. Ironically, it is the latter group who are seen as the frustrated artists.

Like religious zealotry that can’t be understood by people who mistake it for politics, art can’t be understood by people who mistake it for industry. But perhaps the more frustrating thing is when people mistake industry for art. When this happens, so-called artists themselves are consumers and the audience provides for their consumption.
This is a profoundly perverted misappropriation. The “high maintenance” artist is a profound misnomer; for artists are not driven by external demand. The lack of external motivation and the the lack of need for positive feedback, make humility ubiquitous among the greatest artists. This trait is so widespread among artists that it may be difficult to tell if it is a prerequisite for artistry or if artistry begets humility.

Metaphorically speaking, that is.

being there

Bloged in apprenticeship, community, education by rod Saturday March 20, 2004

It has been a week of strokes for me. Tough, busy schedule, no time to think, but around every corner, an encouraging word. Some of them, just average words of appreciation or thanks; others were over-the-top, embarrassing, strength-providing, humility-challenging speeches. I’ve messed up a few times and still received strokes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about them. Well, just one. One of my students missed his lesson on Thursday. (that, by the way, was a stroke from God, because I wouldn’t have been able to prepare for another responsibility without that extra time.) So he asked if I could squeeze him in on Friday. I tried, but there was no time. I taught straight through the day. He wanted to wanted to make sure things were right so that he could practice during spring break, so I told him I’d come in this morning (Saturday, the first day of spring break) and give him a lesson. I OVER slept. Right through his lesson, right through the morning until the kids came and woke me at 1:15pm. When I rolled out, I found a voice mail from my student. I called him back and rode over to school and gave him a lesson. When we finished, I grabbed my helmet and followed him out of my office. He said, don’t you have to stay and do something? No, why? You came over here just for me? Well, yes? Man! That’s why all the students say this school has the best faculty on the planet! They really do care! Can you believe that? I overslept, missed his lesson, kept him waiting all day, and still get counted among the best faculty on the planet.
So I thought I could share that one because it sure had nothing to do with me, except my failures. It just happened today. Every day this week held something like that, some, much more extravagant. Each one had in common with the others, that they came as the result of nothing I could do, nothing I can really take credit for. Just being, being available, sharing, listening.
Its not always what you think that figures into the worth of what you do. You may be an accountant, garbage collector, machinist, nurse, landscaper, or a guitar and theory teacher, but the difference you make may have nothing to do with what you think it does. But just go on thinking its about what you think it is. If you really knew, you might screw it up.

get your education sans degree

Bloged in apprenticeship, education by rod Wednesday March 10, 2004

Having applied to graduate school, and sent in a cassette tape as a preliminary audition, I received a phone call from my future teacher to tell me that I had been recommended for acceptance. He also told me, “just because you are accepted into the masters program doesn’t mean you are good enough to graduate.” I remember thinking that was the strangest comment I’d ever heard. Why would I want to spend 3 years, and thousands of dollars if I were already good enough to graduate? Once my first semester was underway, it became clear from whence that statement had come. Grad school was full of people who had come with no intention on learning anything, or rather, thought they already knew everything and they were just going through the motions to get the diploma to prove it. Most, however, never made it to graduation.
When I was about to graduate from college, my most trusted mentor was talking with me about what I planned to do. I mentioned maybe working on a masters. When I told him what I eventually planned, he said, why go to grad school then? You can do that quite adequately without the time and expense. Maybe later you can do that. I heard that same advice given to a student just a few days ago. It was good advice. Not everyone needs a grad degree. Furthermore, not everyone needs a college degree.
I hope I can make a few comments here that will show the other side of the coin of yesterday’s blog. My feelings aren’t that formal higher ed is the cat’s meow. Some of us need that to fulfill what we’ve been called to do. Other’s of us don’t need that to fulfill what we’ve been called to do.
My rant is in completely changing what something is, but continuing to call it the same thing. I’ve blogged this many times from various perspectives, in various contexts and guises. This is as bad as changing the name of something and believing that we’ve actually created something new.
There’s also the point that formal education and diplomas don’t make one intelligent and lack of formal education and diplomas don’t indicate a lack of intelligence. Just before I graduated the last time, I was visiting with my old music theory teacher who was also just finishing his terminal degree. I made a comment about my feeble intelligence potential and he encouragingly remarked that my ability to have done this must have meant something. I responded by saying, “if there is one thing that I’ve learned in grad school, its that intelligence and advance degrees have very little to do with one another.” “Well, that is true,” he agreed.
I know folks with no diplomas at all who know more about most things than I will ever learn. Even about the very things that I studied for years. But I don’t know anyone who knows more than me that didn’t learn it from someone else. And anyone with the least bit of intelligence will recognize these people’s knowledge, experience, ability, efficiency and know-how, with out a piece of paper to tell them about it.

Anyone seeking only a degree but not education will not learn from any experience, even a classroom or apprenticeship format.
And I’ll let an excerpt from mitchizmo’s comment from yesterday sum it all up:

Anyone truly seeking education can learn from any experience including these online degree programs. These people learn daily, from all experiences. Anyone who tries to put his/her head knowledge to use, will have to have a community to refine that knowledge. You may play all of the notes in the chord, but how do you know others like the sound unless they tell you so?

get your degree sans education

Bloged in apprenticeship, education by rod Tuesday March 9, 2004

When I started blogging, I had my own passionate goo, by which I was motivated to consistency. My goo is not necessarily your goo. So as I’ve continued, readers’ feedback, &tc, have broadened my topics and refocused my efforts on things that are on the minds of those in my sphere, as is evidenced by feedback.
Many days I’ll want to write about something that’s on my mind and then I’ll think, no, no one else will care about that. As if someone else might care about ANYthing I had say. So be ready to see some more Rod’s Rants dealing with observations, passions, & aggravation that may be unique to this angry young(?) man.
That said, I shall now embark on a rant du jour, complete with tangents and digressions.
Every day I get spam (lots of it) that seems to fall into only a few categories. Products that will enhance my love life, attempts to lure me to inappropriate entertainment, meet exciting singles in my area, and get rich quick schemes are by far the most common. But there is this other everyday stuff that amazes me. These are mailings telling me how to get my online degree without even leaving my chair. I’m amazed by this education perversion stuff. No, I’m not talking just about online scams and fake diplomas. It seems that the phrase “College Education” is no longer apt. Is college becoming a four-year post high school trade school? Is college attendance only meant to prepare one for specific career? If this is true, then why are we so hard on ball players who want to leave college early to go pro? Are they the only ones who need education that doesn’t directly relate to their career? Why should they have to sacrifice $700,000 potential in their senior year of college while they run the risk of injury and nothing afterward to finish a degree in rec. therapy or hotel management? Why can’t they come back after they’ve gone out there and done what it is that they already do at a professional level?
The degree has replaced education as the motivator for attending college.
“We’ll generously award credit for your previous life experience.” Colleges and Universities are becoming the Wizard who comes out from behind the curtain to award a medal for something that you already had.
In my own circles, I hear justification such as, “we’re providing an education for people who don’t have the time or can’t leave their jobs to attend college.” Education? No. We’re providing credit for people who don’t have the time or can’t leave their jobs to attend college. We stop educating and simply dispense information. It’s darn cheap too. Don’t have to hire faculty, don’t have to print materials. Just scan in handouts and exams from Spring, 1992 and upload.
Then we stop dispensing information and simply award credit for information you already have. Design your own degree based on your previous experiences.
Well then, why does all this bother me so badly? Community.
Every course I took during school (boy that was an old curmudgeon statement) was held in a classroom with a teacher and other students. We discussed, interacted, analyzed, and argued. We ate lunch together, went to concerts and lectures together, and studied together. We learned from one another and raised the standard for one another. Even now, I learn things from my students every day. I better understand my own material from their grappling with it. I see things from a fresh perspective. I have no problem with the occasional distance ed, or extension course, but to base one’s college career apart from the college? What a long way we’ve come from the early higher education models.
I am afraid of a world that runs on theory. Where each fresh generation has been trained by someone’s bulleted outline of the 50 things he did to get where he is.
My philosophy of education is that it is supposed to make you feel stupid. The more educated you are the more you realize you don’t know. Awarding credit based on how smart you already are flies in the face of my philosophy. Where is the chance to realize your stupidity? Learning from a screen and researching from search engine flies in the face of community that allows iron to sharpen iron, and wisdom to rub off on humility.
But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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