Tag Archives: literature

Having fun teaching

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I’m posing with my colleague Kathy Payton.

Why not enjoy teaching? Once a year, the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica holds Spirit Week, every day a new costume theme. Actually, I have all the creativity of a spore, so I usually opt out and wear my normal clothes.

I enjoy bringing motivated kids to the aha! moment. I teach English (literature, syntax and writing) and Spanish. I’m a believer in making things accessible, of focusing on the simplest understanding first and then taking complications that broaden understanding.

Literature is not just art. It is also psychology and helps students empathize with their fellow human, as well as learn not to make the mistakes of engaging protagonists.

Down with the grammarians! They have made it too difficult for too long! We need simple explanations for students. Students can learn syntax!

When it comes to writing, I believe thinking comes first, structure second. I challenge students to take controversial opinions and defend it with passion. You get a low grade with me in you’re Captain Obvious.

Well, then Spanish. I love to explain the why-the-heck of all idiosyncrasies of morphology and grammar. Languages are fascinating, funny and bizarre.

And we do all this in a Christian environment. What could be more fun?

 

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How do you make poetry relevant?

black-hawkCannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

charge-of-the-light-brigade-header1The assignment was The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson, but the students’ eyes were going dry with boredom at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. Vain were my pleas to see the danger, to feel the passion, to live the moment. So what do I do? I showed the students Black Hawk Down, which retells the death of 18 deaths and 73 wounded among Rangers and Delta Force operators in Somalia in 1993. Deprived of heavier armored vehicles by a Clinton administration who deemed them “too high profile,” American soldiers were overrun when things started going wrong: Todd Blackburn missed the rope on the drop in, two helicopters were shot down. Throughout the afternoon and night, the U.S. tried to evacuate the wounded and rescue the surrounded. Flower children never do well commanding armies.

Tennyson’s tributes the brave British soldiers who charged — to their deaths — in the Battle of Balaclava against the Russians in 1854 that showed similar incompetent leadership resulting in extraordinary courage and needless death.

You can take your fantasy Star Wars. I’ll take reality; it’s far more exciting.

Don’t be a Lilliputian

lilliputiansWe can be so small. Jonathan Swift satirizes the politicians of his day by making parallels called Lilliputians, six-inch high mini humans, who benefiting from Gulliver’s help in a war, order Gulliver to annihilate their enemies. Gulliver demurs, and the Lilliputian king orders his eyes out for treason.

Even though he’s only six inches tall, his ego is gargantuan.

Not forgiving is being small. Being full of yourself is being small. Narcissists are small. Don’t be small (I’m talking to myself).

English nerd here

I’m gearing up for my literature class, so excuse the grammar joke.

Guilt is not so easy

scarlet-letter

Image thanks to https://www.enotes.com.

Just because Hester Prynne unclasps her scarlet letter and flings it away doesn’t mean disposing of guilt is so easy.

As a symbol of the difficulty of working through guilt, Pearl the brat demands her mother put the fabric “A” back on her dress. On one level, the infant simply can’t accept a disruption in her mother’s appearance. But on another level, for Pearl, the letter is like a wedding ring, and casting it off is tantamount to breaking worse her already broken family.

If all you come away with in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book is stones to throw at repressive religion, I respectfully suggest you’re not delving past a superficial reading of The Scarlet Letter. That is only one of the themes. Hawthorne’s genius explores the intricacies and complexities of the human psyche, and you’re settling for gold dust and missing the mother load.

scarlet-letter-hester-pearlTo be sure, Hawthorne rains his pen down on failed religion. Arthur Dimmesdale flogs himself and performs excessive good works yet cannot find peace. His understanding of Jesus is deficient. A Christian is neither saved by piety nor charity; he is saved simply by Christ’s forgiveness, which Dimmesdale is blind to.

The book is full of ironies because Dimmesdale’s brokenness makes him the town’s favorite minister. This is eminently keen insight. If you have never suffered, you can’t have compassion on your fellows when ministering the word.

Hester Prynne herself, after her one sin of passion, likewise constrains herself to a rigorous life of charity. She dresses the drabbest colors and constricts her luxurious mane of hair to the insides of a bonnet.

After seven years of suffering, the pair meet in the forest and scheme to run away together back to England. Suddenly, sunshine pours in on them and the feel the exhilarating release of nearly a decade of pressure, scrutiny and condemnation.

It’s a good plan — except that they see themselves a sinners for doing it. Pearl is only the first to ruin it. She insists with a temper tantrum that her mother restore the letter to its rightful place. Then Roger Chillingworth, the evil avenger, completes the fatal stroke by booking passage on the same ship.

In traditional Greek fashion, the story must end as a tragedy. Hawthorne is sounding the dark regions of the human conscious, not writing a treatise on salvation. Nevertheless, the message emerges that only grace, only forgiveness in Jesus, can heal the heart. Religion never works — only relationship with Jesus.

The traditional spin on this book is that society is to blame for oppressing these free spirits. If you want to read the book that way, go ahead. But I can’t help but see deeper. You can’t just throw away guilt so easily. You and I need to come to Christ and be healed of our sin. Restoration works, not repression.

The world is too much with us

The world is too much with us
William Wordsworth complains that consumerism distracts us from enjoying the simple beauties of nature. Basically, he says he’d rather go to hell than miss drinking in the intoxicating beauty surrounding him on a lea and on the shore. While there is a certain idolatry in nature, I concur that we wears ourselves out getting. Today people eschew our national parks but “like” and comment on photoshopped  instagram pictures from them. Personally, I see in nature the glories of God, the manifestation of His artistic genius. When I get the chance to get away, I commune with God. I go to church, but I also feel a natural temple is God’s sanctuary.

Here is his sonnet:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.