UD and Richard Wilbur – Humility and Poetry

Katie Davern, senior at the University of Dallas, recently wrote an article about Richard Wilbur’s relationship with the school. She talked to several alums (including me!) who had studied Wilbur and written to him, and included our perspectives. She does such a great job.

I will always treasure the letter Richard Wilbur wrote in response to me.

Dr. Roper, one of my English professors, says of Wilbur: “What’s really wonderful is that the really warm, generous spirit you see in the poems is confirmed in the man” (Davern).

So true.

If you’re interested, go check out the article on the University News website!

“UDers enjoy a special connection to famous poet” by Katie Davern

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Richard Wilbur source: jackrichardsmith.com

 

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More on The Church

Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave quite the interview on 60 minutes.

Here is one of the most interesting parts:

In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS that producers said took more than a year for them to persuade him to do, O’Malley seemed troubled by reporter Norah O’Donnell’s question as to whether the exclusion of women from the Church hierarchy was “immoral.”

O’Malley paused, then said, “Christ would never ask us to do something immoral. It’s a matter of vocation and what God has given to us.”

“Not everyone needs to be ordained to have an important role in the life of the Church,” he said. “Women run Catholic charities, Catholic schools …. They have other very important roles. A priest can’t be a mother. The tradition in the Church is that we ordain men.

“If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests,” O’Malley said. “But Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.”

Source: The Deacon’s Bench

I think O’Malley’s words perfectly reflect what I was trying to express in my last post.

Although some conservatives may be alarmed by his honesty – “I’d love to have women priests” – his view is actually a really beautiful example of faithfulness, and really expresses a view of the Church as a divine institution – not made or controlled by us.

We may like a lot of things to be different. And certainly there are many things we not only have the ability to change but the responsibility to change in the Church — starting, of course, with our own hearts.

But Cardinal O’Malley reminds us that the Church belongs to Christ. And we cannot manipulate what He has given us as revealed doctrine, even with the best of intentions.

A friend of mine, noting the rather somber tone at the end of my last post, reminded me of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s words at his final General Audience that seem particularly relevant to this discussion:

I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

Source: Vatican News

I think Pope Benedict has it right.

I encourage you to read (or reread) the entire text of his last General Audience.

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“Christ Asleep in His Boat” by Jules Joseph Meynier source: fineartamerica.com

 

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The Church: Two Views

I’ve had a lot of interesting (and sometimes intense) conversations of late about the Synod, the Church’s teaching on moral (usually sexual) matters. Shouldn’t the Church allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion? When is the Church going to allow women to become priests? How can the Church say gay people can’t get married when we all know they cannot help who they are and how they feel? Isn’t Natural Family Planning really, at bottom, another form of contraception?

And it has become clear to me that the real issue, the real question, goes much deeper than many people suppose.

These questions of doctrine really, at the deepest level, boil down to a single question:

What is the Church?

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source: Boston.com

The more “liberal” (I’m sorry for the useful but loaded political term) people tend to believe that lots of Church teachings should change. They believe this because they believe these teachings are not only outdated, but also wrong. For them, the Church changing its teaching would be a sign that those old men in the Vatican were finally listening to the Holy Spirit. Doctrine changing would not be at all catastrophic to their view of what the Church is.

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source: usatoday.com

The more “conservative” people, on the other hand, believe that Church teaching should not change because it cannot be changed. It helps that many of them also happen to agree with a lot of these teachings anyway, and wouldn’t want to see them changed even if they *could* be. For them, the Church changing its teaching would be a sign that… well… the Church is not the Church. In other words, doctrine changing would be catastrophic to their view of what the Church is.

Liberal Catholics and Conservative Catholics continually talk past one another because they are operating under completely different definitions of the Church.

Liberal Catholics think of the Church as a huge group of people, followers of Christ, who are shepherded, taught and sometimes oppressed by the hierarchy. The hierarchy are men who can make mistakes – sometimes big mistakes, even about doctrine. History, culture, and sin can cloud human judgment. According to this view, changing Church teaching on marriage, communion, the priesthood, etc. would be a sign that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the Church. Welcoming as many people as possible into the group of Christ’s followers is kind of the idea. Doctrine changing is a big deal only in the sense that the Church would finally be catching up with the times.

Accordingly, many liberal theologians try to find instances in history in which Church teaching has changed in the past, in order to prove that since it has happened before, there is no good reason why it should not happen again. (Eg: They usually cite teachings like limbo, the infusion of the human soul after conception, the Assumption, etc. as examples of important teachings that have changed.)

Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, think of the Church as a divine institution. It consists of people – sinners and saints a like – but it also has a mysterious divine element - The Holy Spirit – which works through it in very specific ways. Doctrine is therefore something that cannot change because it is safeguarded by the Holy Spirit (and established by God). Human beings did not make up the doctrine, and therefore they have no power to change it.

Accordingly, many conservative theologians go to great lengths to prove that although doctrine has developed (Newman) it has not changed – the apple tree grows stronger and taller and wider and more fruitful, but it doesn’t decide one day to turn into an oak tree instead. They emphasize the distinction between a discipline (a practice that can be changed with no theological catastrophe – e.g.: married priests) and a doctrine (a divine teaching that, if it were changed, would call the whole nature of the Church into question – e.g.: women priests).

At bottom, that’s why lots of people have been freaking out about the Synod.

Some liberals are hoping Church teaching might finally change under Pope Francis. They see this as a step toward justice and a movement of the Spirit. Finally, the Church they belong to will no longer be so embarrassingly judgmental. The Church will catch up with the times.

Some conservatives are afraid Church teaching just might change under Pope Francis. And if so, what then? “To whom shall we go?” The gates of hell will have prevailed, despite what Christ said. And then we shall know that the Holy Spirit, despite what we had hoped, had never really been guiding the Church to begin with.

Other conservatives are afraid that although Church teaching will not change because “the gates of hell cannot prevail against it”, that there still may be catastrophic schism in the Church because bishops will fall into teaching heresy. That has certainly happened before. The Arian heresy involved all sorts of confusion, and at one point a huge number of bishops taught it as doctrine. You think the Church is divided now? Just wait, they say.

So when Catholics argue about moral teachings of the Church, what’s really going on is a battle over the nature of the Church itself. Can her teaching change, or can it not?

And if it does, is the Church what she claims to be at all?

 

Further reading:

On Heretical Popes by Father James Schall

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Thoughts While Drowning

While I am drowning under piles of paper, I’d like to direct you to an article our principal emailed to us today.

Here is the link:

http://www.naesp.org/resources-principal-marchapril-2012/ten-teen-eliminating-d-2

And the citation:

“Eliminating the D” by Tracey Severns in Principal, March/April 2012 (Vol. 91, #4, p. 44-45), http://www.naesp.org

Now our principal has not fully endorsed the ideas expressed in this article, but he thought they would give us all some things to think about.

I think he is right, and I am very glad he sent it. In fact, although I support most of what the article is claiming, I am now re-thinking some ideas I had previously taken for granted.

But since, while drowning, one has little time to come up with more than desperate fleeting thoughts, I’ll give you my unformed impressions of key parts of the article:

I LOVED this:

My first challenge was to dispel the notion that students had the “right to fail.” Previously, teachers believed that it was their job to teach and the students’ responsibility to learn. This belief needed to be replaced by an uncompromising commitment to student success. (Sevens)

I could relate to this. Any teacher can:

My research suggested that students seemed to fail due to one or a combination of three factors— attitude (students who were able but not willing), ability (students who were willing but unable), and attendance (students who didn’t come to school). We created a plan specifically designed to address each contributing factor and communicated it to parents, students, and teachers by posting it on the website and distributing it to all constituencies. (Ibid)

I wasn’t so sure about this one:

[...] all students have an opportunity to submit missed homework assignments the next day for partial credit and receive up to three days to retake a failed assessment for a maximum score of 70 percent. Teachers initially did not like this idea, but they came to see the benefit of providing students with multiple opportunities to learn and to demonstrate their achievement. They accepted the philosophy that because we want students to learn and the assignments are worthy, then we shouldn’t accept zeros or walk away from students who didn’t learn. (Ibid, emphasis added)

So you have to create even more assessments than usual? Like, at least twice as many so that the kids who fail the first one can take the second one?

Because taking the SAME English test after failing it the first time would not really demonstrate any real learning. It would only demonstrate that the kid is smart enough to ask his friend for the answers.

Moreover, it’s unclear to me whether or not the article is advocating that “zeros” be never given (read: earned) on an assignment that is not an assessment. What does it mean that “we never accept zeros”? Surely, they ought not to be ‘acceptable’ to the students or the teacher in the ethical sense, but sometimes students really do earn them. As in, that is the only just grade to give.

So, at this school, do students have until the end of the semester? So teachers have to accept work that was due back in August in November and December and grade it then? Uh… no way.

Recently, a parent of one of my students became enraged when she realized that her son had earned a zero because I do not accept late minor homework assignments (like, the little 10 point ones I give almost every day). “My son is not a zero!”

No, but a late minor homework assignment is, as I made abundantly clear in the beginning of the year on page two of the syllabus.

Well, anyway. Please read the whole article and tell me what you think. I’m running out of air and I need to save it for grading papers.

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The Matthean Effect

At the very end of the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), Jesus gives a very enigmatic explanation:

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but to him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)

This has always bothered me.

It hardly seems fair.

Don’t we want Jesus to say — and doesn’t He usually say — something like “For to everyone who has, what he has will be shared with others; and as for him who has not, he will be given even more“?

I mean, isn’t that the sort of thing “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and the other Beatitudes illustrate? And isn’t Jesus always telling us to help the poor (the  ones who “have not”)?

Turns out, Jesus’ words perfectly describe high school students and how they learn. To those who have, more will be given. But for those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.

I just finished grading a whole pile of reading quizzes. Over the weekend, I had my kids read this great article by Dr. Mark Lowery (from UD!) entitled “Myth Become Fact” as a way to help them with the answer that exceeds the question.

This article simplifies C. S. Lewis’ more complex essay, which shows how Christianity is BOTH mythological AND true. Basicially, the thesis is this:

Myth and Christianity are not, therefore, antagonistic to each other. Various myths exist either as anticipations of Christianity or as echoes of Christianity. (Lowery)

We have been learning about reading strategies, annotating, etc. I thought this article wouldn’t be too hard for them.

But, alas.

An alarming number of them couldn’t even pick out the main idea.

I mean, some of them definitely did. There were several perfect scores on the quiz.

However, some of the kids did not read the article at all. My village atheist may have read it, but if he did, he did it with such a closed mind that he was able to honestly claim “Having Christianity be a foreshadow in myths in ridiculously insane. [...] I chose to ignore answer b [the quote above] because it is a stupid thought – everything and anything can have something wrong” (Student A, “Reading Quiz”).

Sigh.

But even worse, some of the kids clearly tried to read the article but still had no clue what it was saying. Some of them thought Dr. Lowery is an atheist. Others believed he was showing that all religions are equally true. There was even one girl who thought the article was talking about how Joel Olsteen converted to Christianity.

I’m serious.

And I know that when I give back these quizzes, some of the kids will be confirmed in their view that English class is too hard, or the article was far beyond their reading level, or what’s the point in trying anyway, or that they are always going to fail.

It’s the Matthean effect.

To my kids who read, who try, who want to learn — in other words, who “have” something already — they can get something more out of my class. They get excited by these ideas. They push themselves harder. They learn.

To my kids who don’t read, don’t try (or don’t know how to try), who don’t want to learn – in other words, who “have not” — they seem to lose, and keep losing. They get discouraged, then bored. They blame the article. They blame me. They blame school. They give up. Because who cares, anyway. Mythology is stupid. And so is reading.

I want to help them. But I don’t know how.

I am baffled sometimes by their ignorance. I’m not trying to say that in a judgmental way. I’m trying to describe this sense of bewilderment I feel when I read what some of them write on these reading quizzes.

And I do know that in the end, a large part of all this lies within the mysterious realm of their freedom. My students can come and ask for extra help – or not. They can do the reading – or not. They can develop a growth mindset – or not.

Luigi Guissani, in a different context, has words that seem to nevertheless apply. He even quotes the passage of the Gospel which describes “the Matthean effect”:

For God tends to give value to the position our freedom has already assumed. God seconds a decision our freedom has already made and forces it to reveal more clearly what it is willing to do. When one’s freedom is disinclined, when it adopts a closed attitude, everything that happens encourages it to close itself even more and vice-versa. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but to him who has not, even what he has will be taken away’ (Matthew 25:29).” (Guissani, At the Origin of the Christian Claim 71)

Thoughts?

Have other teachers experienced this? What do you do?

CaravaggioContarelli

I originally discovered “the Matthean effect” idea in my Childhood Development class at Notre Dame. I think the following article coins the term (APA citation format):

Sameroff, A. (2010) A unified theory of development: A dialectic integration of nature and nurture. Child Development, 81, 6-28.

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When the Answer Exceeds the Question

I was so excited to begin Unit 2 with my kids today.

We have finally (!) wrapped up our unit on essay writing (although of course I’ll make them continually write essays all year long) and are ready to begin a unit on mythology.

Last year, I got two weeks into the Mythology Unit before I realized that most of my kids can’t read.

Well, they can sound out letters on a page. They can read tweets and Facebook statuses and text messages.

Some of them can even read Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and Nicholas Sparks.

But ask them to tackle something hefty and meaningful, and all of a sudden, it’s “This is boring” and “I don’t get it” and “Why can’t Shakespeare talk normal?” and “I give up.”

So yeah. They don’t know how to really read.

imagesTherefore I’ve decided, this year, to spend Unit 2 teaching them. The Unit is entitled, simply: “Mythology and Reading Strategies.”

So we started class with a bell work on “Explain the word ‘myth’ in your own words” and a discussion on how our modern (mis)understanding says that myths are basically “made-up stories”. Myths are untrue – which is why we have shows like “Mythbusters.”

And then we read an excerpt from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in which she blows our modern conceptions to smithereens and defines myth very differently: myth is a type of “early science” (Hamilton, Mythology 10). It is an attempt to answer inescapable human questions: Where did we come from? Why is there suffering? How did the universe begin?

Of course, today, as I pointed out, science tries to answer these questions too. Where did we come from? Evolution. Why is there suffering? Psychology. (Well, anyway, psychology is the branch of science that largely tries to tackle that question.) How did the universe begin? The big bang. Et cetera.

So, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th period seemed to be pretty interested in all this. And then 6th period came in – my biggest class, and the class that has the largest number of struggling students.

Let me briefly inform you about how my 6th hour struggled with simple directions today, to give you some context for the real point of this blog entry:

Me: “Okay, today our table of contents is going to look a little bit different. Please write down our new Unit Title and objective…”

Student 1: “Wait, what? Where do I write this?”

Me: Raises hand as a reminder.

Student 1, raising hand: “I don’t get it. Where do I write this?”

Students 2, 3, 4, annoyed: “She said in the Table of Contents, Bryan!!”

Student 5: “Wait, Ms. Shea, I… [ raises hand, continues talking ]”

Me: “Jacob, please raise your hand.”

Student 5: Raises hand. Waits for me to call on him. Then: “Ms. Shea, where do I put the date?”

Student 6: “Yeah, aren’t we supposed to…”

Me: Raises hand to remind student 6 to please shut up.

Student 6: Raises hand.

Me: “Yes, Amy?”

Student 6: “Aren’t we supposed to put ’2.1′ somewhere? Like, next to the thing? I’m so confused!” Panics.

Me, Employing Attention Procedure: “Everyone back to me please in 3… 2… 1… slant. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen. I know these directions are a little bit different than usual. Please just copy down the unit title and the objective. Do not worry about the date or the number.”

Student 5: “But…!”

Me: Shakes head, hand to lips, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Student 1: Raises hand.

Me: Shakes head again, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Class: Finally begins to write down Unit Title and Unit Objective. Some hands still flutter into the air. Ms. Shea shakes her head, points at the smart board, and considers whether or not she should get a new job.

(Shea, “Classroom Struggles” vol. 358)

You get the idea.

Basically, by the time we got around to discussing Edith Hamilton’s definition of myth, after going to the library and checking out our books, we only had a few minutes left in class. I was feeling very frustrated and confused, because I was wondering what had possessed these kids today, and why they had forgotten every single procedure I had taught them and rehearsed with them over and over again at the beginning of the year.

Well, I guess we’ll just practice more on Monday.

As the Chaos drew to a close, one student in the back of the room raised his hand as the rest of his peers labored to finish writing down Hamilton’s definition of myth.

“Yes, Ryan?” I said.

“So, Ms. Shea. I don’t mean to be contrary or anything, but I’m just wondering.”

“Go ahead, Ryan,” I said, hopeful that possibly some real thinking had been provoked by this debacle of a lesson.

“We’re saying that all myths – like the Greek gods and stuff – are ways to explain mysteries in nature. But we know that the Greek gods aren’t real. So… um… how do we know that Christianity isn’t just another myth?”

My 6th hour class, being what it is, let out a loud and scandalized “Ohhhhhhhh!”

I smiled, trying to hide my inner panic. It was a great question. Ryan actually had done some real thinking, and I was proud of him. But the bell was about to ring. There was so much to say. I mean, people have written books on that very question. But there was no time.

“Everyone,” I said, “Let’s give snaps to Ryan for asking a great question. Ryan -” I looked at him directly, as the class applauded him, “- that is a wonderful question and I’m so glad you asked. We will be tackling that question during this unit. Make sure you bring it up again on Monday.”

Another hand shot up in the air, this time from our village atheist. Let’s call him Thomas.

Encouraged by Ryan’s success, he asked innocently, “So, Ms. Shea, since now we know all those other myths have been proven false, won’t there be a time in the future when our science and our Christianity is proven false?”

My 6th hour, being what it is, delightedly chanted “Ohhhhhhhhh!” and “You can’t say that Thomas!” and “He’s so right!” and “Shhhhh! What’s she gonna say?”

“Everybody, back to me please in 3, 2, and 1… Thank you.” A hush fell on the room. All eyes were on me.

I glanced at the clock. The second hand had almost reached twelve.

“Thomas, you have asked a very good question too. We have to confront these questions in this unit…”

The bell rang.

Too late.

The thing is, Ryan’s question would take volumes to answer. And I am afraid that if I tried to answer it in front of that class (who, you remember, struggles with copying down unit titles), I would only confuse most of them more. But if I do not address the question at all with them, those that bother to think about it might believe there is no answer, or that I don’t care to give it, or whatever.

Thomas’ question comes from a slightly different place and more likely demonstrates more misunderstandings than it generates. Still, it should be addressed fairly.

I feel like handing Ryan a copy of At the Origin of the Christian Claim by Father Guissani and giving Thomas Mere Christianity by Lewis.

Ironically, both of these books are far above their reading levels right now.

But I guess I have planned to teach them reading strategies during this unit…

Eliade, as quoted by Guisanni, says, “In the archaic world the myth alone is real. It tells of manifestations of the only indubitable reality – the sacred” (Guissani, At the Origins of the Christian Claim 23).

Julien Ries, quoted in the same book, observes that “A myth is a story which is true, sacred, and exemplary, which has a specific meaning and which entails repetition[...]” (Ibid).

C. S. Lewis says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The Old Myth of the dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history” (“Myth Become Fact”).

And further:

Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. . . . We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight . . . (Ibid, 67)

carav10

“Doubting Thomas” by Caravaggio

 

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One of the “Pedants”

I’m probably one of the “pedants” Stephen Fry so articulately criticizes.

I’ll admit, my favorite error in high school and college, and one I still commit frequently, is the “split infinitive.” And part of me agrees that language ought to be played with and enjoyed. Or to playfully be enjoyed.

See what I did there?

But I also think there’s sort of a deconstructionist, nothing-really-has-meaning, there-are-no-rules flavor underlying his comments that is both seductive and untrue.

Yes, language does change according to convention. And perhaps there is no such thing as “correctness” as the grammar nazis conceive of it.

But what’s truly amazing is that all languages DO have a certain order, a certain logic and sense to them. You know, kind of like buildings do. Yes, we made them up, so we imposed order on blocks and stones and “worse than senseless things” — but the reason the Pyramids of Giza and Hadrian’s Wall are still standing is because these structures we made up also adhere to the mysterious logic of physics. I would argue the reason language holds up is very similar – because it adheres to a certain logic of the world, of reality.

And it’s the mark of a humble and educated person to try to learn and adhere to that logic. If you break the rules for the sake of creativity and newness, fine – but you should be aware that you are breaking them – as Picasso was aware, and Shakespeare, other great artists.

Otherwise, you’re just a little kid throwing paint or words at a wall, hoping it sticks.

Some people call that art, but I certainly don’t.

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