Saying “No”: The Biggest New Lesson I’ve Learned About Teaching and Life

Good authors develop their themes through various creative processes designed for easy absorption into the reader’s mind.  If my life were a book, and these past few months were the latest chapter,  the author of my story would be trying to show you the tremendous importance of the ability to say the word, “No”.   It seems a small thing and an even smaller word, but it is essential for life.  It is essential for teaching.

My current role in the school that I teach at is Instructional Aide to the Special Education teacher.  This means that I assist students with special needs throughout the day.  Regularly, I go into five or six separate  classrooms to provide whatever service is required.  It is quite the learning opportunity to observe the same students responding to different teachers and their particular styles.  These three months have taught me many invaluable lessons, but chief among them has everything to do with the thing that distinguishes a good teacher from a bad one.  It has to do with classroom management and respect.    The best teachers understand it, and the others either lack the knowledge, or the fortitude to act.  I am referring to the ability to stand firmly by a proclamation of, “No!”

My favorite classrooms to enter are ones in which I know the teacher will maintain order.  If I understand this, surely the students do as well.  And since I also understand that certain classrooms lack the promise of order, students know this as well.  I have witnessed as structured rooms grow more orderly, and I have witnessed as unstructured rooms grow more chaotic.  Certainly, all (at least most) teachers want a peaceful environment in which to educate, but some get swallowed up in ever increasing noise, disrespect, and misbehavior.

Once again, I have seen clearly the difference maker, and it is the boldness to declare how things must be, and the integrity  to see that things operate according to that standard. Students need to know what is expected of them.  Teachers must communicate their expectations very clearly.  Once this standard is established, students then choose to follow or disobey.  If a teacher has failed in this first step, they must either rely entirely on their imposing presence to ensure order in the classroom, or they will find themselves fighting a losing battle as the students experiment with pushing the boundaries of behavior.  If  the structure is established  successfully, which means the teacher has communicated clearly their expectations for work and behavior, the teacher then has only to stand firmly.  When a student breaks from the structure, the teacher either allows it or corrects it.  If students learn that a teacher can’t stick by their “No”, disorder will likely be the result as more students stray from the standard.  Without an adult to hold the line, immaturity triumphs.

Unfortunately, I’m seeing that it is becoming harder for teachers to stand by their “No”.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this.    Could any of you argue me on the point that we as a people are growing weaker in our ability to say “No” to ourselves?  On the one hand we have more conveniences and freedom through technology (iPods, smartphones, social media etc) which encourage greater selfishness by giving us more direct control of how we interact with the world.  On the other hand we have a culture driven by pleasure, materialism, and a growing acceptance of moral relativism.  If we view the world with no moral absolutes, how can we teach children effectively by standing firmly by our “No”?  If we can’t identify a clear standard of right and wrong for ourselves, how do we expect our children to behave?

If the adults can’t say “No”, if the standard isn’t firmly established and maintained, if there’s no one to hold the line, what results can we expect?


On Gay Marriage

On two occasions I have written about abortion (An Inflammatory Issue: Abortion & Speaking for the Victims of Progress).  For each of those postings I took great care to control my emotions and also the language that I used.  It is too easy to slip into a righteous rant, and I wanted my thoughts to shine clearly.  I bring this up because I am now about to dive into another volatile topic: gay marriage.  Truthfully, I have avoided this issue because of how challenging it is to discuss.  This is the hot button issue of our day, exposing our deepest beliefs regarding freedom, morality, religion, family, society, sexuality, and love.  Like abortion, it is an issue that often defines a political position.  And, also like abortion, it defies many attempts to discuss with a cool head.  Though I can’t promise that I won’t offend, I can promise a most sincere effort to proceed with clarity and compassion.  Here we go.

I’m interested in what is behind an opinion, or a value, or a belief.  What is the primary force inside of you and me that shapes our characters and the nature of our thoughts and wills?  To tackle the topic of gay marriage, I think it is most helpful to try to identify the primary forces at work in both parties, for and against.  You may think I am being too ambitious or resorting to too much personal opinion, and perhaps that is the case.  All I ask is that you consider what’s to follow and ask yourself if I’m completely nuts or if I have a leg to stand on.

The popular liberal position on gay marriage is that it’s good, natural, and nobody’s business.  They see society as advancing in tolerance, freedom, and reason as more states legalize same-sex marriage.  Legalized gay marriage is viewed as a victory for progress.  Furthermore, those who oppose this movement are viewed as having out of touch beliefs that are largely informed by outdated values.  Many who oppose gay marriage are influenced by their religions.  Those influenced by religion are in large part viewed as religious fundamentalists, which means they interpret their holy book literally.  Each of the three major world religions condemn homosexual lifestyles, so the opposition either takes a more liberal stance on their religion (allowing for the acceptance of homosexual behavior) or they dig in their heels and quote their ancient texts.  Many liberals are critical of conservative Christians especially, calling them bigots, homophobes, and haters.  Society as a whole is growing more tolerant of gays and gay marriage, and this is good for those people who have lived in fear of judgment.  There are many cases of teen suicide related to bullying, and many of these are hate crimes linked to anti-gay sentiments.   Accepting same-sex marriage paves the way for gays to live more freely and securely in a society that is just now shaking off its puritanical roots.

If you represent the position I just described, please feel free to critique or condemn what I just wrote.  I’m sure there are elements I am missing or glossing over.  I’m attempting to sum up a position that isn’t my own so it would be better if someone who supports gay marriage had input.

The popular conservative position is that gay marriage is bad, unnatural, and nobody’s business.  They believe that family is the foundation of society and marriage is the foundation of family.  Many conservatives are informed by traditional values, which are informed by religious values.  They point to a long history of civilization, but mainly to the short history of America for evidence of the time-tested legitimacy for heterosexual marriage.  They view their opponents as possessing a worldly morality, that is one formed by the trends and passions of modern society.  These liberals are governed by their own passions and desire for personal freedom, and pay no respect to a higher standard of right and wrong.  Freedom is their god, and they recklessly sacrifice traditional values on its altar.  To many conservative Christians, liberals who favor gay marriage are attempting to redefine marriage and pass legislation that will shift our society’s standards further away from the standards of God and traditional American values.

Once again I am fitting these beliefs into a nutshell.  There’s much more to say on both sides of the issue.  But for now I want to leave them be and move onto my own beliefs on this matter.


I ask myself, what is the role of the Christian church in shaping America’s policies?  It is one thing to view a particular way of life as sinful, but it is another to influence secular society by fighting for political power.  Should Christians be able to speak about their critical views on homosexual behavior, absolutely.  This wouldn’t be America if people couldn’t express their beliefs openly.  Open expression doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  It just means that the government doesn’t snuff it out of the public square.  I think all reasonable people can agree that civil discourse on this and any other issue is essential.

Regarding the political fight to shape legislation, or to prevent legislation, I am less confident about my role.  It is one thing to establish a common morality within the church, and it is another to try to establish one in the world.

Is it our place to fight for the highest seats of power?  Is it our place to expect the same way of life from those who don’t know Jesus Christ? I think it is damaging for people to treat America like a church, as if everyone used to be Christian and we just have to knock some sense into them.  I see many people like myself dreading the changes in society as if society is meant to reflect the status of the Christian church.  Society as a whole is a part of the world, and even though we live in it and shape it, we can’t look to it like we would look to the body of Christ.  The church is called to be set apart from the ways of the world.  What happens when the church judges someone outside of it as if that person were a member?  Is that what Jesus wants us to do?  Or does he ask us to live for Him and model a righteous life?  Maybe then we would appear as bright lights to a dark world.

To sum up my position,,,

I believe that those on both sides of the gay marriage issue should speak openly and courageously.  We as Americans shape the world around us based on our values.  Christians like myself should vote for those people who most closely reflect their values just as anyone else should.  But when society shifts further away from biblical values, Christians are not meant to panic and dread as if the church itself were crumbling.  The church is a people set apart, and cannot demand of the world that it live in submission to its principles.  That doesn’t mean that we curl into a ball and die.  It simply means that we expect one thing from the church and another from society.  Since Americans have the freedom to shape their government, and as a result their society as a whole, every individual also shares in the responsibility of the result.  For that reason religious and non-religious alike should take an active role in politics.  But the Christian doesn’t look to a worldly nation for his or her spiritual affirmation.  They look to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ.

How to Judge Movies

I’ve seen many movies.  I’ve seen too many movies.  It is impossible for me to justify how much time I’ve spent watching them.  It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something.  Well, I don’t think I’m quite there but I’m close enough to claim some authority on the subject of film.  For today’s purpose I will write on the subject of judging the quality of a movie: a topic I have pondered much.

Do you believe movies, or any form of art, can be judged objectively?  Can two people with entirely different tastes watch the same film and agree upon the value of its content and structure?   Or are they entirely at the mercy of their individual interpretations, feelings, and opinions?  Could it be both?

When I watch a movie many things occur inside of my head.  I become a part of the viewing experience and allow myself to be subject to the unfolding drama.  Perhaps I am deeply moved, or maybe I am irritated.  One or more characters might resonate with me, and I feel connected.  Inversely, I may not feel any connection to either the story or the characters.  The movie does nothing to reach me, and I walk away unaffected.  All of these reactions have to do with my personal experience with the film.  This is one of two ways that we can judge a movie, and this is likely the way that most people judge them.

The second type of judgement is more detached and objective.  Objectivity is best exemplified, in my opinion, in math.  2+2=4 no matter what any crackpot philosopher says.  When you plug a concrete value into a concrete equation you get a concrete result.  If I challenged the answer of 4 in the equation of 2+2 I would be either a fool, an intelligent fool, or a brilliant fool.  No quantity of words and abstract explanations could change the answer. It is accepted as truth.  So can a film be objectively good, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it?

An artist is an intentional and purposeful being.  Even those artists who say they are making something strange and undefinable operate due to some knowable motivation.  Consider the Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life.  I have heard that even he doesn’t have the words or knowledge to describe what it all means.  And one could argue that any good piece of art can’t be easily defined.  Even so, he understood that to make a movie he needed a plot and some characters.  He needed a setting and some themes.  It is clear in watching that grace and truth are themes, as well as life and death.  The conclusions of the film are abstract, but it doesn’t take away from the necessary and concrete pieces that all stories must contain.  You must have character, plot, setting, theme, and a structure that serves them all.  Tree of Life was nominated for best picture because it can be judged along the same lines as The Artist.  They are very different in content and effect, but the academy understood that both were masterfully constructed by artists who understand the core makeup of a good film.  Movies must follow the rules of good storytelling, and for that reason they can be judged objectively.

Think of a house.  It has been designed by a master architect.  The woodwork has been crafted by a master carpenter.  The plumbing has been installed by a master plumber.  This house is designed to stand and function properly.  It serves the purpose of a house.  No one intentionally builds a house to have leaky pipes.  Now, you might love this house.  You think the layout suits your tastes and needs.  The color scheme is fantastic.  The tiled bathroom seems to call out your name.  Then again, you might not like this house at all.  It’s too big, or too small.  Maybe you don’t like the neighbors.  The house is well-built, but it just doesn’t feel right for you.  It is the same with a movie.  It could be well put together, following the crucial building blocks of a good story, but you don’t find yourself captivated by it.  You don’t  want to spend much time living inside of it because it doesn’t speak to you.  Of course another scenario might be that the movie isn’t well put together, like a house that’s falling apart, but you find some special charm about it that makes you want to stay a while.  A movie can be objectively bad, but subjectively satisfying.  Face/Off and Independence Day come to mind for me.

I hope this has cleared things up for you.  This is how I judge movies; on two levels.  I think it allows for much freedom, to like a bad film and to dislike a good one.  It also distinguishes between the realms of the heart and the mind without putting up a wall between them. So whether a movie touches your heart, your mind, or both, take some time to admire the fine craftsmanship.

Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted

This is the Assassin’s Creed. 

(If you’re going to play this game someday, read no further.  This is full of spoilers)

Assassin’s Creed is a popular video game series avaliable on XBox 360.  I recently completed the second game in the series, and I must say that it is very good.  It takes place in 15th century Italy, and follows the journey of a young man who quickly unravels an incredible conspiracy.  In short, humans are the byproduct of an advanced alien race that made us by manipulating ape DNA.  We were originally made to serve them, but there was a revolt and “Adam and Eve” stole a piece of technology called a “Piece of Eden”.  This technology, resembling a golden apple, has the power to manipulate people and basically rule the world.  Powerful Christians have used the technology to convince the world to believe in Jesus Christ  as a means of controlling the masses.  A group of freedom fighters, an Order of Assassins who know the truth, have stood against them for centuries.  The main character in the game actually kills the Pope, who is portrayed as the most evil and power hungry villain in the entire story.  That’s the story in a nutshell. 

Believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about how offensive that story is to the name of Jesus Christ, or the men and women throughout history who have sacrificed everything in the name of their faith in Him.  No, I’m not. 

 This is what I’m going to talk about. 

That disclaimer appears at the beginning of the game.  It is meant to put you at ease since the game could offend your beliefs.  The point is to assure you that no one group of people or religion is behind what you’re about to experience.  Everyone believes something different, so don’t you fret about what’s coming.  In a sense, they are capturing the essence of the Assassin’s Creed itself, which reads “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted.”  Since we are not holding to one truth (we all believe different truths) we are allowed to say and do whatever we want.  Isn’t that interesting? 

Here’s the problem. 

Any project or creative work of any significance is governed by something beyond those who work on it.  There is an overarching purpose, or a core philosophy binding the work together.  For instance, George Orwell had something in mind about human nature and politics when he wrote Animal Farm.  The workers in a condom factory may not believe in birth control, but they are helping to create an end-product with the purpose of preventing pregnancy.   A liberal actor may play a part in a movie that expresses conservative values.  No matter who works on something like a movie or a video game, they are getting behind a certain type of worldview.  Purpose is needed to bring various random purposes together, or else the creative product would have no significant value.  Even if the point was to express that there were no truths, that is a work governed by a particular purpose, and an expression of a greater truth.  There’s no escaping it.  It is not legitimate to say that people of different faiths worked on this project, so it doesn’t mean anything.  It simply means that those behind the creation aren’t being honest about what governs their creative processes. 

Artists interpret the world and shape their work, which in turn shapes the world.  Never let anyone tell you that art isn’t important.  Art is of supreme importance because it has the power to reveal and skew the truth of our reality. 

Don’t be fooled by the lie of relativism.

Pet Owners and Their Skewed Perception of Cleanliness

This may be my cutest and most controversial post to date.

I believe that in general, or, to put it another way, in large part, pet owners have learned to live at a level of cleanliness that is below the majority of non-pet owners.  They have allowed animals to walk on their carpets, sleep in their beds, and shed hair like Sampson with a crush.  For today’s discussion I am focusing on the two main types of pets, cats and dogs.  So if you have fish or a turtle, you can just sit back without a care in your clean chair.

Here is a real-life story that should serve to illustrate my point.  I won’t mention any names.

I knew someone who had a dog.  This dog was beloved and treated as a member of the family.  I cared for this dog, even though he seemed to want to kill me every time I saw him.  He had heart, and I believe we had an understanding.  Anyway, this dog was allowed to rest on one of the couches in the living room.

The lady of the house believed in cleanliness.  She hired a maid to come by the house once a week to vacuum, dust, and generally keep the place sparkling.  I will say that the house has always been kept in good order.  But they had a dog.  And this dog had hair.

One day the lady of the house noticed that I was not sitting on the couch.  She asked me about it.  I responded that I noticed the couch was loaded with dog hair, and I didn’t want it to get all over my clothes.  She appeared shocked and troubled by this.  How could a house devoted to cleanliness have a piece of furniture too dirty to sit on comfortably?  The answer is a skewed perception of cleanliness.

If someone lives on or near a farm with cows, chances are they will eventually develop a greater tolerance to the smell of manure.  A passerby will get punched in the nose by the odor, but those subjected to the smells on a daily basis will grow increasingly numb to it.  It’s incredible what human beings can adapt to.

When you take a furry animal into your home, you are accepting a decreased level of cleanliness.  Fur (or hair, or any thin strands of animal) will cling to everything.  You might fight the good fight with dusters and vacuums, but in the end you will lose.  Hair will continue to poke into the fibers, and dander will float around until it enters your nostrils.  Eventually, constant exposure and love for your pet will blind you from the unclean reality.  Your tolerance for filth will increase out of necessity.

Your perception becomes skewed.

And people won’t want to sit on your couches.


An Unreasonable Belief in Equality: The Longstanding Tyranny of Religious Influence

The Declaration of Independence has something written in it that sounds a lot like it was tainted by religious ideas.  Here is the section.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.- Declaration of Independence 

I’m not going to use the Founding Fathers to prove to you that this is a Christian nation.   Glenn Beck ruined that argument for all of us. What I want to do here is look at this idea of equality.  What is it based on, and why do we believe in it today?

If I pick apart that snippet of the Declaration it reads like something that you probably wouldn’t find in a modern government document.  That part about a Creator being self-evident stands out to me.  Would our leaders write something so bold and offensive today?  Wouldn’t the network news channels be all over that, showing various negative responses from those who believe in the separation of church and state and who fear that our government officials are being brainwashed by religious beliefs?  Wouldn’t there be a call for reason over religious bias? No?  Yes?  Maybe?

It is self-evident that the Creator (God.  Accidental evolution has nothing to do with creation) made all people equal.   The people created by God are equal.  Alrighty.  What about the people who weren’t created?  Are they equal too?  Let’s explore.

To say that people are equal in relation to God is to recognize a quality of God and not people.  It says more about God to say that we are equal than it does about us.  In this way, we are equal because we are all under God’s authority and God’s law.  We all have the divine spark, the breath of life, the spirit given by God.  Under God we are all in equal need of God for life and purpose.  In relation to God our physical differences take a back seat, and we see ourselves as God sees us… as spiritual beings.  Equality makes sense in relation to God because it is a reasonable consequence of a belief in God.  If God is God, we are equal in our dependence on Him and we share an equal place in the Universe as His creation.  Where I get confused is why the reasonable non-believers believe in equality.

A popular saying among those who don’t believe in any divine creator is, “Show me the proof.”  Very well.  Now let me ask you to show me the proof that we are all equal.  Show me the evidence for equality.  How does your reason lead you to believe in such a faith-based idea?

Will you say that the government told you it was true?  Did the Constitution tell you it is so?  Has society beat it into your brain that all men and women are equal in the eyes of the state?  Did your parents tell you?  Why do you believe in equality when there is so little evidence for it?  Is it because it feels nice to say that we are all brothers and sisters?  Be careful, you’re starting to sound like a believer.

Open your eyes to the world around you.

Physically, people are far from equal.  Some are taller and stronger, and some are weak and sickly.  There are those whose brains don’t work so well, and those who understand calculus without much trouble.  Some don’t seem to be able to lose weight and some can just eat whatever they want and stay skinny.  You’ve got Mr. Muscles and Mr. Skinandbones living side by side believing they are equal.  Yet, clearly we are not equal in the physical realm.

Socially there isn’t much equality either.  You’ve got rich people and poor people.  You’ve got white-collar and blue-collar workers.  Some have millions and some live on the streets.  Certain groups of people experience  regular racial discrimination.  You’ve got the Haves and the Have Nots.  Where’s the proof that we are equal?  Don’t look to society for evidence.

So what are you basing this unfounded belief on?  Are we all equal in some abstract deep sense?   You believe in everyone’s right to happiness and a good life.  I’m no better than you and you are no better than me.  This sounds great, but where is it coming from?  Is it the belief that we are all just animals that came out of the ocean?  Once again, if that’s the case why base your belief on anything more than the  physical reality?  Why do you shun God because you can’t see or touch Him and then accept blindly something as  intangible as perfect equality?

I make this point because I fear weak belief.  A weak belief can be easily altered or tossed out.  If you are basing your belief on something that is abstract and “deep”, or simply taught to you by your government, what happens when the belief is challenged by some hard external pressure, or even the government itself?  When the Nazi’s took control of Germany, they did a great job of convincing the people of inequality.   Were the Jews equal to the Germans at that place and at that time?  Yes? No? Maybe?

Tell me, why?

Side Note:  My friend, Curtis Entenmann has decided to start his own blog in which he intends to respond to my wild conservative Christian ideas.  I will also be responding to him.  We will be posting links to each other’s blogs from time to time so I really think you should check it out.  It should be interesting to see two people with many opposing views reacting and challenging each other.    His blog is just starting out, but very soon he is sure to have many posts.   Here is the link to  Curt’s Blog.  I’m willing to bet he will say something about this last post in a few days.

My Beef With Food Network

I hate Bobby Flay.  Does that seem harsh?  I put him in the same category as Ashton Kutcher and John Mayer, which I call “People Who Make My Blood Boil”.  The list is short, but still far too long.  Excuse me while I collect myself.

Food Network wasn’t always what it is today.  In the beginning, it was something far different, and far better.  Just starting out, Food Network was like the new kid on the block.  It was reserved, humble, and had all sorts of heart.  Back then, Alton Brown was a hidden jewel, Iron Chef was in Japanese, and the most annoying show was Emeril Live.  They had a lot to prove, and there was no room for arrogance.

My family used to turn to Food Network for helpful cooking tips and priceless entertainment.  As I said, Alton Brown was a hidden jewel with his quirky show, Good Eats.  His show was the perfect balance of fun and instruction.  My father regularly turned to him as his food guru.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “Well, Alton Brown says to…”   Many a Saturday night, my family and I watched the original Iron Chef.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out.  It is truly a spectacle.  There are cooking “battles”, theme ingredients, and some of the worst voice overs since Godzilla vs. Mothra.  We often found ourselves laughing to the point of tears.  And I even had a favorite chef to root for, Chen Kenichi!

Don't Let That Sweet Face Fool You!

Food Network had a heart, and back then it felt like it belonged to us.  These were our shows, and these people were our people.  Even when Rachel Ray annoyed me with her chipper personality and asinine sayings like, “EVOO Extra virgin olive oil”, at least she was ours, and at least she was harmless and not an uber-celebrity like she is now.  Heck, I could even look past Emeril’s  “bams!” and the off-putting sight of grown men cheering at the word “garlic”.  I understood that the network as a whole had their act together, and like one burnt potato chip in a large bag I wasn’t going to let a few people sour me against the rest.

That was then.

You know, I can pinpoint the exact moment in which the Food Network began to take a turn for the worse.  A while back, the original Japanese Iron Chef joined up with them to make a special featuring Bobby Flay.  They would have a “battle” and it would be a ratings super-storm.  Well, they had their battle, and it looked like everything would be just fine.  That is, until…

Start watching at 3:20

When Bobby Flay jumped up on that cutting board, he unapologetically offended the sacred tradition of his opponent.  He “raised the roof” of his arrogance and ushered in a new era for the Food Network.

Food Network now has reality shows, like The Next Food Network Star, and Extreme Chef.   These shows are stressful, and a far cry from the relaxed kitchen settings of what we are used to.  They go for forced drama, and certainly lack the heart that made Food Network what it is.  But even more offensive than these is the Americanized version of Iron Chef.   It has replaced the classic show, and you can no longer find it in their current roster.  It also lacks the heart and charm of the original since it has all of the intensity and none of the personality.  I find it painful to watch.  I can’t stand to see Bobby Flay as the star of this monstrosity.  And speaking of Bobby Flay, I have to mention his show, Throwdown, which is pretty much him trying to beat people at what they do for a living.  You make good cookies in your simple bakery?  Well, I’m a jackass so I’m going to try to do what you do even better.  I’m boiling.

Sure, Food Network still has plenty of fine programming.  Unwrapped is a personal favorite, and I get a kick out of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.  But Alton Brown is known by everyone, and Rachel Ray has her own talk show.  It’s now too popular for its own good, and like a band that you used to love before they made it big, has sold out in the name of fame and profit.