Standard finals week prayer request

From the Moveable Type blog, April 24, 2007.

Pray for me.

Pray for my students.

Pray for everybody who is dealing with unacceptable, unexplainable loss – and for the next two weeks, is getting on with academic work anyway.

And pray for those people even if they aren’t at Virginia Tech.

One Virginia Tech question

From the Moveable Type blog, April 18, 2007. Edited to fix linkrot; thank God for Google’s cache.

There’s one thing that stands out in all of the profiles of Cho Seung Hui – the fact that this was a student who was miserable, disturbed, and within himself. His writings for classes were clear hints of the damage he could do, and how little he would care about those he hurt. The faculty who taught him were quite aware that something was deeply wrong, but those who were able to muster up the sense/courage to talk to him and offer help were systematically shunned.

What the heck do you do if you’re Nikki Giovanni?

Cho (whose full name is pronounced joh sung-wee) appears first to have alarmed the noted Virginia Tech poet Nikki Giovanni in a creative writing class in fall 2005, Giovanni said.

Cho took pictures of fellow students during class and wrote about death, she said in an interview. “Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely. None of us were comfortable with that,” she said.

The students once recited their poems in class. “It was like, ‘What are you trying to say here?’ It was more sinister,” she said.

Days later, seven of Giovanni’s 70 or so students showed up for a class. She asked them why the others didn’t show up and was told that they were afraid of Cho.

“Once I realized my class was scared, I knew I had to do something,” she said.

She approached Cho and told him that he needed to change the type of poems he was writing or drop her class. Giovanni said Cho declined to leave and said, “You can’t make me.”

What do you do if you’re Lucinda Roy?

Giovanni said she appealed to Roy, who then taught Cho one-on-one. Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

Roy said she warned school officials. “I was determined that people were going to take notice,” Roy said. “I felt I’d said to so many people, ‘Please, will you look at this young man?’ ”

Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

“I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people,” Roy said. “I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.”

What do you do if you’re a professor, you genuinely care, you want to see your student get to a healthy place in life, and you’re shut off at every turn?

Of course, it’s still early days, and there’s still a lot of journalism yet to be done and a lot of story yet to be told. But I can’t help but feel like Virginia Tech comes off looking very good here. Giovanni and Roy come off as caring, compassionate professors that you wouldn’t expect to find at a larger school. There are others who have been written about who don’t come off quite so well in the stories, but only under the influence of Cho’s strange (and, in most cases, belligerent) behavior.

He simply didn’t want to be helped. What do you do? What can you do?

This is going to be the reason another generation of kids are watched and forced into counseling or suspended from school simply for WRITING about killing or about suicide. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that good people who are at wit’s end over this – and about the epidemic of senseless violence we’ve fallen into – are going to be desperate to do something.

I have no answers, only the rant.

(It occurs me that I’ve just taken a nice swath of time that was otherwise going to be used for not sounding like an idiot in class and spent it pounding out notes on the keyboard – and that has been happening more than a bit lately, first harvesting old stuff I’ve written, and now writing new stuff. I’m afraid something significant has been going on here, and – monkeys who own me aside – the theme of the writing on the front page of this blog speaks to what I’ve seen going on around me lately, and how much it concerns me.)

(UPDATE: Heh. Eric Burns was thinking a lot of the same things last night.)

Pray for Virginia Tech

From the Moveable Type blog, April 16, 2007.  Edited to fix linkrot; I can’t find a link to the Collegiate Times front page from April 17 anymore, and no longer even keeps an archive on their reporting on the day. But their reporting is still quality ten years on, and it’s worth a handy DuckDuckGo link.


Dean Dad has already weighed in, and his take is worthwhile.

(UPDATE: When good work is done in bad times, it’s worth pointing it out. Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, got quality stuff for their edition today; the obvious interest overwhelmed the paper’s website, so trying to hit up the newspaper site bounces to, which is the parent publishing company for a host of campus newspapers. Check out the front page of their paper today – it’s IMPRESSIVE layout.

But the winner for a painful, brutal synopsis of the day and our feelings comes from Mike Harden, who writes for the Columbus Dispatch:

We are a bilingual people. We speak English and violence.

It’s true. It’s true.)

You can’t touch my monkey (well, okay, EllaMinnow can)

From the Moveable Type blog, April 15, 2007.  Honestly, this post is kind of embarrassing.  However, when I get too embarrassed, I read Brant’s original again, and I laugh, and then I read the comments on that post, and then I laugh harder, and this is a part of my history and I have to own it.

Oh, and by the way, one time I finally did achieve a kick beyond the Monkey Village, of over 5000 Monkey Meters.

Brant Hansen posts, and I quote directly:

It’s not every day I get to personally beat you at something.

In bygone days, travel money and logistics would be involved.  I’d have to physically come to your hometown — which reeks, by the way — in order to garner the inevitable total victory over you, your family, and all that you hold dear.

But these are heady days, thanks to technology. Just click on this link, and get outkicked by my monkey.

That’s right. My monkey will own you.

Such is your destiny, now writ:  You will be owned, and – oh yes! — you will be owned by an animated monkey.

It’s not a glamorous destiny, but at least has the charm of being yours.

(HT to the now vanquished monkey of J-Caparoon.)

It’s fun, plus, it’s FREE for Kamp Krusty readers!

You know, I must confess, it IS a great deal of fun.

Especially now that our man Brant’s monkey has now, himself, been vanquished.

To quote the great Ariel Mazzarelli: Bite me, envious ones.

(UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long – Brant has vanquished me right back, as his link clearly shows. There will be monkey smackdown now. I guarantee it.)

(UPDATE UPDATE: Well, there’s monkey smackdown, but not by me. If you dare, check out the standard that some poster on Brant’s blog by the name of EllaMinnow has set. It is, truly, impressive. If you desire a more reasonable standard, however, here’s the current DrChuck personal best.)

“If only love is done, it is enough”

Text of Shorter College chapel message from April 10th. Many, many thanks to David Roland and Andy McKenzie for support, pre-reading, and sounding-board type takes. All bible quotations are NIV.

There’s a lot of topics that ran through my head as I was dealing with the prospect of giving a message here. What has sat front and center for the past couple of weeks has been some kind of take on being a Christian and doing science, since there’s a little bit of uniqueness I have to offer there. And there’s a lot I could say about the craft of teaching in the context of Christianity as well.

One of the things that I keep in my teaching portfolio is a philosophy of Christian education that I wrote when I was first considering applying for a position at Shorter, and I was trying to figure out why in the world I might want a job at a Christian college in the first place. For whatever reason, I made the decision to build the statement around Matthew 22:37-40, which is Jesus’ familiar statement of the Law. You know it well: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” My argument went something like this: Those of us in academia who claim the name of Jesus Christ need to be more diligent in loving God with our minds, because whatever gifts we have received to understand humanity and understand nature come from God. And, whatever we might decide “Christian education” is, Christian education must somehow involve demonstrating love to the students who come to learn from us. They must, in some fashion, become our neighbors.

I’ve been going back over that statement, thinking that, in all honesty, it’s a bit lame, and I could probably do a bit better with it, and dig a bit deeper theologically. I don’t know if all of my faculty peers are like that, but I am.

Over the end of the last week, though, this message wrote itself.

The text of Scripture that I’ve come back to, both in my quiet times (as rare as they’ve been lately) and in my preparation for today, has been 1 John 3:11-23, which contains so many of the themes of John’s teaching during the later stages of his life. John writes:

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

Now, hold on to that text for a moment while I go over my Good Friday.

My pastor at Chapel Hill United Methodist keeps a blog. (He dubs himself Chill Pastor. It’s a long story.) He keeps it pretty well tied in to what he’s talking about in church, with a few pop culture observations as well; he loves to tie in pop songs, and music videos in particular, to his teaching. (After all, we are the MTV generation.) And his wife and daughter have started up their own blogs as well, to put down random thoughts here and there. I’ve dubbed them BlogFamily.

On Friday, while I was trying to get some odd work done in what should have been the peace of no-students-around-day, I came across this post from Bryan’s wife Paige. It started like this:

“Destiny, a friend of my daughter, Laine, committed suicide last night…”

I can’t get used to reading words like that. I just can’t. There’s no way. Ever since I was old enough to realize what suicide was I haven’t been able to understand what exactly puts somebody in a place where they are so desperate to just check out of life and shatter everybody around them.

Reading the words of Paige’s post, and Laine’s after that, didn’t get any easier. They were laden in grief, and they were angry. They were tales of rumors, of taunts, of “good kids” showing aggression towards somebody who wasn’t like them – pretty much every horror story I’ve ever imagined about girls in middle school and high school. And that haunts me more than a little bit.

But something else haunts me as well. With graduation around the corner, it’s coming up on one year since we learned that Shadow Robinson had taken her own life. That was the first time a student of mine had committed suicide, and given Shadow’s outgoing personality, bright face and marvelous laugh, I never saw it coming. Perhaps I should have learned to see deeper than the surface with her, or perhaps if I had tried I wouldn’t have been allowed in. I’ll never know.

All I know is, when Shadow committed suicide, those nice, trite words about demonstrating love to my students and not treating them as soulless automatons that sit in my teaching philosophy rang very hollow. I can’t imagine how many people who had responsibility for Destiny’s education are dealing with the same kinds of feelings of guilt and question of “what if…?” right now.

So John’s challenge hits hard. Verses 14 and 15 “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” When we get around to thinking that the New Testament is full of grace, that the New Testament lets us off the hook if we’ll just try to live a half-decent life and Jesus is just some band-aid to patch together our brokenness, we come across writing like that and we’re reminded that Jesus’ message is hard. John had no understanding for somebody who demonstrated hate, even someone who saw themselves as a “good person.” The challenge is to demonstrate that we are worthy of Christ’s example, by giving of ourselves completely to our neighbors – to the point where we “lay down our lives for our brothers.”

And we do that because Christ laid down his life for us – and if we truly believe that the resurrection really happened, then there’s all kinds of power that God has made evident to us. Surely he’d lend us a little bit of that power for us to be able to overcome the human pettiness we have and be able to take this moment and love our neighbors in it, wouldn’t he?

If this is true, then why do I have so much trouble showing that kind of love? “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

Is my conscience bothering me? I need to love more. And I don’t need to just run my mouth about loving more. I don’t need to tell somebody that I love them and then go on as if nothing is different. I need to change. I need to give up of my time. I need to shut down my concern with my position, my income, my reputation, and give that time to my neighbor.

It’s pointless to dwell on what has happened in the past, and why it happened, because we have one another now, and the single best weapon we have against our consciences flaring up on us is to take advantage of this time and love now. Can I say I’ve loved the people around me on this campus in a way to shut down my conscience, and to rest in confidence that God is pleased with how I’ve treated others? Not really. Lord, PLEASE forgive me. I repent. But what does it mean to repent? It means I’m living different now – it means I have to live different now. I move forward and I love now.

I wrote four years ago, somewhat absent-mindedly, this for that philosophy of education I was talking about earlier: “Christian education, however we define it, must be terribly incomplete without demonstrating love to the students who come to learn from us. We avoid lording our academic position over our students and making unreasonable demands or unfair assessments of them. We treat our students not as soulless automatons whose worth is determined by how well they do or don’t complete their work, but as people starting a path that we completed not so long ago, who are struggling with many of the same things we struggled with as students.”

And if you are one of my students, to be true to my obligations that I’ve made to God, I really owe you nothing less than that.

Well, maybe it wasn’t so lame.

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

The ancient writer Jerome tells a story about John, towards the end of his life. John was frail enough that he had helpers to carry him into the synagogues, where believers were gathering to hear this teaching of one of the patriarchs. And all the teaching John would do would be this: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.” And a few people would get annoyed at this – and I can imagine I would too. After all, this guy was one of the twelve who spent his time with Jesus, and here he is, old and senile, just muttering “Love one another.” But when John was challenged on this – “Teacher, don’t you have anything else for us?” – John had only this to say:

“What else is there? If only love is done, it is enough.”