Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodbye, Spock.

I don't do this.  I don't memorialize celebrities.  If there's one thing I refuse to do, it's to hold up a celebrity as a hero. 

That said, I cried today when I found out that Leonard Nimoy had died.  In many ways, Leonard Nimoy has been part of my life longer than many other people I know.  I was a Star Trek fan almost from birth, and I loved Spock. 

As an outcast kid and teenager, too geeky, too smart, too young, it was so easy to empathize with Spock.  No one really understood me, I often felt.  And there were many times when I wished I could shut off all of my emotions and be as coldly logical as our favorite Vulcan. 

As I got older, I started to recognize other things about the character of Spock--in some ways, as I matured, so did Spock (and my understanding of Spock).  My Spock is not the Spock of the television show, but the Spock of the movies, the one who had come to embrace both his human and Vulcan sides, to combine the best of two worlds, into neither of which he truly fit.  He had a dry sense of humor that only those close to him understood, was self-sacrificing and who looked for the good of the many, rather than the good of the one. 

I realize that I'm seemingly memorializing a character, rather than the actor who played him, but for Leonard Nimoy's protestations to the contrary, he was Spock.  And as a friend of mine said earlier today: You can say this about his life; he made many people very happy.  I was one of those people. 

There are few celebrities whose deaths really affected me.  The only other celebrity death I've ever cried for was Mr. Rogers.  Fred Rogers' death was also like the death of an old and dear friend.  They were people I grew up with, and in spite of never having met them, felt close to.  My heart hurts today because Leonard Nimoy is gone, and Planet Earth will never be quite the same.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Living Faithfully: The All-Evangelical Rejects

A friend posted this article today: Young Evangelicals Are Getting High. It deals with the trend of young people leaving the evangelical church and finding themselves in high church traditions, such as the Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, and Lutheran traditions.  He was asking for the opinions of his friends, and as someone who went from an evangelical church to the Episcopal church, I found myself responding to his post. 

My response was somewhat disorganized and rambly, as Facebook comments often tend to be, but this was such a serious discussion, and my life follows this article in so many ways, that I felt my friend deserved a more put-together response.  Hence this entry sharing my own faith story--for everyone.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church.  I was baptized there, frankly without too much of an idea as to what I was doing.  When I was about nine or ten, my family switched churches to an independent, fundamentalist Christian church in town.  At the time, the church was a very small community.  Being a kid, I didn't quite understand what any of the differences were between this evangelical church and the Baptist church I came from, but in an opinion I've held almost ever since, I decided--hey, they believed in Jesus, it must all be okay.

This church grew and grew and grew, until by the time I was in high school, church services were averaging approximately1000 people on Sunday mornings.  The church had built on a huge new sanctuary and a huge new gymnasium.  In a town of about 15,000 people, that's a lot.

While I was in high school, my parents stopped going--not because of choice, but because my mother had grown too sick.  She'd already been banned from attending church during the winter months, because that many people in close environs was asking for trouble when you have an auto-immune disorder.  My father had been a deacon at that church, and my grandfather was an elder.  And right as I started college, I began to become disillusioned with it.

Why I became disillusioned?  Well, there were a lot of reasons, and one of them was that I continually felt like an outcast.  I was a weird kid to begin with, and being homeschooled meant that I didn't have entry into the cliques that existed in the youth group and transferred into the county school system. 

The other thing was that slowly, I was starting to see things that didn't fit with my worldview.  In college, I'd begun to meet lots of new people, who had far-ranging viewpoints, far from my little town.  And what I was hearing in church--not necessarily from the pulpit--didn't fit with what I was learning.  I was attending a church that believed in a strict interpretation of Genesis, that did not allow women to teach co-ed classes past fifth grade, and in which distinct sins were seemingly worse than others.  At the same time, I also saw things happening in this church that made some of this seem hypocritical. 

So I stopped going.  This was not long after 9/11, and I can't say whether that had something to do with it or not, but certainly, there was a long nationwide soul-searching afterwards, and I remember distinctly telling my mother during a car ride that I didn't think I believed any longer in organized religion.  (Some people I knew blamed this shift in my attitude on my attendance at a secular state university.)

That didn't mean I stopped praying or stopped being a Christian.  It just meant that I stopped going to church.  And I was gifted with the discovery of Jan Karon's Mitford books.  They're a series that follows a small-town North Carolina Episcopal priest about his unique little parish.  They are heart-warming, funny, spiritual, and thought-provoking all at once.  So I decided that I would go out to the little Episcopal church in my hometown.

I was welcomed immediately.  Everyone knew everyone (and in a small town, most of them already knew me, even if the reverse was not true).  I was probably the youngest person there who wasn't in the kids' programs, but they very kindly took me under their wing.  One thing I distinctly remember was one of the members telling me that Episcopalians did their churching on three principles--Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.   This was comforting to me.  Scripture was the basis of everything, but no one was asking you to stop believing in scientific proof and evidence.  I would venture to guess that most Episcopalians agree with the theory of evolution, and it's not incompatible with the church teaching.

I should also point out that I joined the Episcopal church not long after the schism within the church over the ordination of gay bishops.  There were still quite a few hurt feelings here and there about it, but one thing I saw was a church healing and forgiving one another.  There are so few churches that can survive that kind of schism, much less survive with the kind of forgiveness I saw.  The inclusivity of the church helped draw me.  The forgiveness helped keep me.

When I moved to a nearby town, I started attending an Episcopal church in that town.  The church building was fairly new--the church was a mission church, meaning that it was supported more by the diocese than under its own power.  It was very small, but I loved it.  When I moved to Tennessee, Dear Husband and I attended a large Episcopal church in town when we attended--we didn't often, because that church was rather large and sometimes difficult to acclimatize to.  There wasn't a lot of choice at the time, though.  The smaller church in Murfreesboro, when I visited, had perhaps five people, as many of them had disappeared during the schism. We have since moved to Texas and found a wonderful church. It's larger, but works very hard to ensure a community. 

As I've thought about it, contrasting the Episcopal church with the evangelical church I came from, there are some distinct differences.  The first is corporate worship.  The Episcopal church looks at worship as a community, participatory activity.  Now, many churches would insist that they, too, have a participatory worship, but what I mean by this is that everyone sings.  There is no worship team standing up in front with PowerPoint projections and microphones.  Instead (if available), there's a choir, and everyone uses the hymnal. 

I remember people in the evangelical church insisting that you had to change up the music, and the service order, to keep people from becoming complacent, but I think there's something to be said for familiarity.  When things are changing all the time, your focus is instead on the changes, rather than on the content.  It's much easier to pay attention to the words of songs that you know. 

Prayers in the Episcopal church are almost always corporate.  We speak our prayers together, affirm our faith together, and recite the Nicene Creed together, rather than sitting and listening to one person bless communion and the offering.  And it's incredibly comforting to know that everyone in an Episcopal or Anglican church are praying the same, or very similar prayers, focusing on the same texts, and using the same hymnal.  It's called the Book of Common Prayer for a reason!

There's also something to be said for the high formality of a high church.  I'm not saying that I haven't attended church in blue jeans before--I have.  But there's also something valuable about taking the time to dress up for church to take things seriously.  Worship should be taken seriously, rather than watched as a spectacle or concert. 

The Episcopal church has also, for me, been much more inclusive.  Women are welcome to serve as priests or bishops--the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church is a woman.  Those of all races are welcome, as are those of all sexual orientation.  Divorce, while something to be avoided, is not something to whisper about behind church bulletins.  I've seen the opposite at the evangelical church I attended.  I've also seen a lot more community involvement out of the Episcopal church, particularly here.  Many community outreach programs are supported by the church--fund-raising is not done for the church and for the church alone.  Even community events--like the Martin Luther King Day parade, take place at the church.

I also can't ignore this.  For a long time, I saw the evangelical church I was attending become at odds with Christ's message to love one another.  I mean this in this way: I saw a lot of political viewpoints that were not engaging in Christ's love.  For example, abortion was completely and utterly out of the question.  At the same time, a young, unmarried mother was somewhat ostracized for the error of her ways.  This is just one example among many.  I don't mean to accuse one political viewpoint of this--but this was something that I observed that I found to be problematic. 

There's also much less of the hellfire and brimstone in the Episcopal church.  The message in the Episcopal church is one of love, not punishment, and you will not, in fact, be consigned to perdition for not aligning perfectly with the church's viewpoint.  In fact, if the Episcopal church had a single motto, it would Christ's command to love one another.  

This has not been much less long-winded than the comment I left on my friend's Facebook, but I hope it helps people understand why I left the evangelical church for the high church, and why I am an ever devoted Episcopalian.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Week 2.something. Whatever

This week has been...interesting, partly in ways that I can't discuss, but suffice it to say, I was very glad when this weekend rolled around.

But let's see.  Monday, my new computer came!  We bought a new Surface Pro 3 for me to use, and it's already been really helpful, particularly with grading, and I've been able to do things with it that I wasn't able to do anymore on my laptop, which has been really wonderful. 

Tuesday, we got a call from H&R Block that said the IRS had rejected our return, and would we come back in this weekend?  Cue mild panic, though everything I read online said that this usually happened because of a small clerical error.  Fortunately, that was the case for us--it was because our tax preparer had not done the ACA paperwork correctly in our taxes, but that may be what happens when you have a 900 year old woman prepare your taxes.  However, all is well, the IRS has accepted it, and we are, in fact, getting money back--not as much as we might have, since we did have to pay back some of our ACA subsidy from when we bought insurance on the exchange (and then subsequently found new jobs that pay a lot better than the old ones), but we are getting money back, and we didn't have to pay through the nose for health insurance last year, so life is pretty good there.

Wednesday, my British Lit class asked me why Margery Kempe cried so much (I had no answer for them on that one).  That afternoon, I lost my temper with my 1302 classes, because neither section came prepared, and even those who were prepared weren't going to talk. So both sections got sent home early, but in order to ensure that getting out of class was not a treat, they all got extra homework assigned.  That said, Thursday, my 1301 classes did their summary and response peer review, and they did fantastically.  I thought that my 1301 classes might not be the most engaged ones, but last week, they were certainly doing better than the 1302 classes.  I'm rather looking forward to a discussion of rhetoric and advertising with my 1301 classes on Tuesday, as I think that will be fun.

Saturday night, Dear Husband brought me home flowers.  :)  He's a sweetheart. 

I'll be honest and admit that I've spent quite a bit of time this weekend playing around with my new computer (including reloading Minecraft on it, which it runs exceedingly well).  Not that I don't have other things that I can (or probably should) be doing, but why not?  (If I've also beaten all the Sudoku and Mahjong challenges on my computer for February thus far, that's also my business.)

There's really not much else to tell.  Keep an eye on this space, though--next week, I should have some exciting news to share. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Week 2.4 - Happy Valentine's Day!

So, yeah, Valentine's Day was yesterday, but I'm rather still celebrating because this should be the last blog entry I write on this laptop, which is continuing to slowly fall apart.  My new Surface Pro 3 should be here this week.  We finally decided to go ahead and get it, as things are really getting desperate in the computer department here.  I'm not entirely certain that I'll be able to get a full post out, to be real honest.  Even my travel mouse, which I've been using since the trackpad broke, is starting to die on me.  In comparison, I feel like the steak that I bought my husband doesn't really compare, though he did seem awfully happy with it last night.

In true romantic fashion, we spent our day yesterday running errands (which was a mistake, traffic was awful).  We stopped in at the Corpus flea market and I was at least comforted by the knowledge that no matter where you go, white trash is always the same.  The flea market itself was disappointing.  Then in an incredible gesture of romantic feeling, we went and got our taxes done.  Because our income went up, we had to pay back a small amount of our subsidy for the health insurance we purchased on the exchange last year, but that was completely okay, and we still ended up with some money back!  What's more, we are officially no longer under the poverty line, and that feels pretty darn good.

I had a horrible experience Thursday afternoon with the insurance company.  I had some tests done that got sent to a lab that was out of my network--which I had no idea, the doctor's office had their own lab.  Naturally, I got the explanation of benefits, and freaked out when I thought we were going to be on the hook for some $8000!!  What followed was a series of calls to the insurance company--I talked to a very kind woman who sent them back requesting a renegotiation--then to the doctor's office, who gave me the phone number of the lab's financial services.  Then I talked to a very nice woman there who assured me not to worry--those prices were just what they charged the insurance company.  When they got the final numbers back from the insurance company, they would send me a bill that was adjusted and charged me just $25 per test.  That was a huge relief.

School has been relatively humdrum.  We're entering into the slog of the semester, but unlike the fall, we will have a nice break in it with spring break in about a month, which Dear Husband and I are looking forward to quite a bit, as we plan on coming back to Kentucky for a visit.  My British Lit class have decided that they rather dislike Chaucer--they've had a horrible time trying to work through Middle English, and I have a feeling that next week is not going to be much better, as we're doing more Middle English, but then we'll transition into Early Modern English literature, and things ought to get a bit easier for them.  My 1302 students turned in their food narratives, which I really should be grading this weekend, but without a working mouse, that's going to be difficult.  They turned them in last Wednesday, and I try to have things back to my students within a week of receiving them, so I will still have a few days this week to grade at work and get them back to my students.  Then my 1301 students have assignments due on Tuesday, so this week is likely to be grading all the way through.

It's rather warm here--we went out to the beach yesterday.  Naturally, this week is supposed to be the first time in years that Middle Tennessee gets any significant amount of snow.  This offends me greatly, but I blame what DH refers to as his "winter weather shield."  (It's not entirely effective--we've gotten snowed in when we were in Kentucky before.)

I don't think we have any plans for today.  I'd meant to grade, but again, I'm slightly surprised that I've been able to get through this blog post.  So--

I hear the ice cream truck.  It is February.  This is an affront to nature.  I give up.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Week 2.3 - Siiiiiick

This week has been problematic at times.  I ended up getting sick Monday afternoon and having to go home early.  Tuesday morning, I was still feeling bad, but I got up, intending to go, teach my classes, cancel my office hours and come home.

Naturally, that was when I locked myself out of the house.

I had to wait half an hour for Dear Husband to make it back across town to let me in, all while standing out in the cold and the wet.  By the time he got there, there was no way I was going to make it to class on time.  So I called the office and cancelled my classes on Tuesday.

By Wednesday, I felt pretty good, but Thursday afternoon, the ick came back, and I've been dealing with it ever since.  It's not been pleasant.  You can always tell when someone is feeling bad at my house too, because Ding, who normally doesn't give anyone the time of day, decides she needs to mother you.  The left is Sunday night-I was sick then too--and right is yesterday.

Being sick has made me a bit of a grump.  I've been cranky and forgetful and downright pitiful.

Despite having to cancel classes this week, things have gone pretty well at school.  My British Lit class is amazing--we were having a discussion about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on Wednesday morning, and one of my students asked a question.  I opened my mouth to answer, when one of my other students began bouncing up and down.  "Oh, I know this!  I read about it yesterday."  Not only is my British Lit class actually enjoying their reading--they're doing their own research to learn more about it!  I'm just astonished.  I know I certainly didn't do that as an undergraduate.  And they got excited about Beowulf!  (I can hear my mother wondering what's wrong with them.)  No one gets excited about Beowulf except medievalists, and even then, I think it can be hit or miss.

We're doing Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales this week.  I told them to read what was in the book, but to also try to find a modern-day English version to go along with it.  Middle English is hard for me to read too, and I know that's probably going to get me kicked out of the English club or something, but most of my students aren't English majors, for one thing, so I don't see a whole lot of reason to make them slog through Middle English.  Those that are English majors are almost assuredly going to have another chance to take a whack at Chaucer, and as I've been working with them on understanding the changes between Old English, Middle English, and Modern English, I think that I'm hitting the high points they really need to know.  I'll be more comfortable with my teaching when we get up to Milton and beyond, as the long 18th century is one of my specialties.

Meanwhile, my 1302 students did their peer review over their food narratives.  I have enjoyed that so much.  They read quite a few examples of food narratives--basically, essays that told the story of a food that was important in the life of the author--and they're trying out writing these kinds of essays themselves.  Peer review went fantastically.  It's so amazing how even just talking about food can get people to come together.  My 1302 classes are really meshing together, and what I've seen of the food narratives have been really wonderful.  Some of them have been downright hysterical.

My 1301 classes, on the other hand, are definitely going to be the challenges this semester.  A few classroom management problems have cropped up that I'm trying to nip in the bud, and I've not been thrilled with the quality of work I've seen thus far.  Time to go back to my lesson plans and figure out what I can do to make them a little more accessible.

I've also been doing a fair amount of stressing this week over my computer.  My laptop has already been having problems--DH had to replace the power something or other in it several weeks ago, which was a horrible ordeal.  Now the mouse touchpad has stopped working.  Meanwhile, DH discovered that the plastic holding one of the lid hinges together is cracked, so I'm having to be very careful opening and shutting it.

At the same time, my desktop is six years old and still running Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer even supports.  So in looking at everything, it's probably time for me to get a new computer.

Naturally, I'm hesitant.  I'm always hesitant when it comes to the possibility of spending a lot of money on something, but even more so at the moment, as we know we have some unavoidable expenses coming up before much longer.  My laptop will hold out for a bit longer--though I'm not sure how long.  We've been looking at some replacement options, and have started trying to figure out if I just need a stopgap for the time being, or if we should go ahead and make the investment and get something that will replace both my laptop and desktop at the same time.  It's a conundrum.

Also adding to my frustration this week has been the fact that I've been trying to find a primary care physician for the last two weeks.  I don't know what it is about doctor's offices in Corpus Christi, but they really don't seem to care to 1) answer the phone or 2) call you back.  Heaven forbid you had an emergency.  I don't know how you'd get in.  I gave the two offices I called until Friday, and when I didn't get a call from them, I'm now just going to start going through the list of primary care physicians provided by my insurance and hoping one of them will answer the phone.

I should also point out that I have the greatest BFF ever.  I'd ordered a couple of things with my Amazon gift certificate for Christmas, blithely using my account, and not Shane's, which we usually use because he has the Amazon Prime account, and waited for it to arrive.

Only it didn't.  And after several days, I finally got online to discover...I'd had it all shipped to our old house in Murfreesboro.  *facepalm*  Fortunately, Snarky Writer went over there, the new people who live there still had the package, and they gave it to her and she sent it on here.  It had some new crochet afghan books--well, new might be stretching it.  They're some crochet afghan books that I'd had before but lost during the 2010 flood, and one in particular, I'd really wanted to replace.

I think that's all the news this week.  DH is upstairs still asleep.  He was having insomnia problems last night, so he's sleeping late this morning, but I think I hear him beginning to stir.  The fact that he's slept through a morning of Bergie announcing his conquering of the catnip mouse is kind of astonishing in and of itself.  Hopefully, we can get out a bit today.  It's in the low 70s in South Texas today, and while that means it's probably a little too cool out at the beach, it's too pretty to waste a day like today inside.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Week 2.2 - Guuuuuuuh.

I have not been sleeping well, for a variety of reasons, but last night it had to do partly with a couple of drunk-ass idiots who were celebrating the Pats win at 3:00 am outside our house.  It also had to do with the gale that came through last night, which was whistling badly past the house.

I'm still mad about the game (cheaters should never win), but not nearly as mad as I was about the commercials.  Dear Nationwide: if I had been in the market for new insurance, a commercial about child death would not incline me in your direction!  Furthermore, if I'd had Nationwide, I'd be looking for a new insurance company.  How on earth did that get approved?

In this week's news, the doc put me on new medication--thyroid medication.  It's not very far off normal, but enough that I am now taking Synthroid every day, just like my daddy.

I've selected my class for this summer.  I was hoping for a full load, but by the time I got there, there was only one class left.  (I am incredibly grateful to some of my colleagues, esp. KL for leaving me at least the one class!)  So I'll be teaching Mexican-American lit this summer, which gives me a little bit of pause, as I've never taught it before, but I will gather syllabi from others and get a good look at what they're doing and go from there.  I think it will be a class where I learn as much from my students as they learn from me--if not more.

That said, I've got some good classes this semester.  They're with it and working hard so far.  My Brit Lit class had some fantastic discussions about Beowulf last week (hush, Mom, I know you hate it).  I was really thrilled.

That said, some people should really learn not to argue with me about syllabus policies.  They're set out at the beginning of the semester, they're there in the syllabus, which everyone has access to, and if you don't like it, feel free to drop the class.  (Can you tell that my patience is wearing thin?)

In the meantime, I've got to drum up some enthusiasm--or at least motivation--to keep working.  I've got things to do today, and honestly, I don't want to do any of them, but the show must go on.  Dear Husband and I drove in separately today so I can go pay rent when I get off work.

We got the final (I hope) bill from the hospital for DH's trip to the ER over Thanksgiving.  $300 for a 'supervising' doctor he never saw (and that's what we're paying for it, not the entire amount).  Fortunately, this month, DH came off my insurance and went on his own, which means there was an extra $300 in my paycheck.  This has also been a blessing because I'm not entirely unconvinced that we're not going to have to buy a new washing machine before too much longer.

But the week was fairly uneventful, all told.  Uneventful works for me, though.