Wednesday, August 31, 2005


one of the graduate students in my department started a blog for all of us to post intellectual professional things on. So readers of this blog may or may not be interested therein.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Friends in Pages

This morning I visited “Sundays at the Morton” church, but because I gave myself way too much extra time to find it and park, I found myself with half an hour of extra time downtown Athens.  Fortunately, the Morton theatre is across the street from a wonderful coffee shop, so I proceeded to get myself a cup of Earl Grey and settle down at a table and browse the books that lined the windowsill.  In between a number of unfamiliar titles I discovered a stained copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed.  Perfect!  I had never read this book, but heard good things about it, and Lewis’ name in the sea of unfamiliar (and, indeed, in the city of not-very-familiar) was like running into someone you know at an event when you’re expecting to be all alone and awkward about it.

I soon found myself absorbed in Lewis’ writing: conversational, confessional, honest.  Something about Lewis as a writer (how could I not trust someone who lead me through Narnia at age 10?) and the tone of this particular book was just what I needed, even though grief was not particularly on my mind.  The book was companionable, and it felt authentic.

This got me thinking (again) about the way confessional writing works.  It seems mysterious and dangerous and powerful the way reading has the ability to make us feel we know someone we have never met, and the way familiar writing (both in tone and in repeated reading) can give you the sense of hominess, and perhaps intimacy.  I have a friend who reads Traveling Mercies to calm herself down when she’s upset.  What about reading has such a tight hold on our emotions?

This effect seems dangerous too.   I had a conversation with Craig today about blogging creating a strange relationship when you feel you know someone just from reading their blog, but your real relationship isn’t as intimate as your knowledge of that person might suggest.  This has always been an issue with confessional writing, but blogging seems to make it more immediate (and more widely experienced).  How do we, as both readers and writers, embrace the power of confessional writing and avoid the strangeness?  Can we?  Is it worth it anyway?  I guess my continued writing would indicate that I think it is.  But how do we negotiate these issues?

Laity Sunday

I was surfing church websites (like I do) and I learned that the methodist church has a particular week in the year called Laity Sunday. I had never heard of this, but since I knew what Laity was, I had a basic idea, and did some more research to figure out the purpose of Laity Sunday. As far as I can tell, this week gives Methodist Churches extra motivation to allow lay-persons in their congregation to lead worship. The implication, it seems, being that the lay-gifts for worship leadership are perhaps being overlooked on all other Sundays, which bothers me a bit.

Perhaps my reading of a few websites is unfairly generalizing. It could also be that the week is meant to highlight and celebrate the lay-gifts that are already in use in the church. It just seems the reccomendations the previously linked website offers should be implemented more than once a year. "Churches use the gifts of the body to set the worship style." for example. What a great idea! For all the time!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Toiling in Obscurity

Somebody (I forget who) said this to me once about higher education: "you just keep on knowing more and more about less and less until eventually you know absolutely everything about nothing."

I was talking about this issue today with some friends. A few of us expressed concern about specializing within our specific feilds. I, for one, feel a little bit of anxiety about choosing a specific area and then getting that label for the rest of my academic career. As I put it to Becky,
"we're worried about committing to being a ____ scholar for our entire lives." Even for a semester or a few years I feel ill equipped to select a topic to study enough to speak with authority on.

One reassuring thing my dad often reminds me, though, is that just because you do one thing now, it doesn't keep you from working on other stuff in the future, and his scholarship is a prime example. This releives my thesis anxiety a little, but not entirely. It's a daunting task to pick something that will be original and fruitful and interesting and supply me with the minimum number of nervous breakdowns.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I read this Banner-Herald article today about a task force that recently reported on making UGA more rigorous for undergrads. One of the most interesting reccomendations, I thought, was this one:

One of the most important recommendations in the report is the seemingly simple change of adding pluses and minuses to grades, Morehead said. With a plus-minus system, students are more motivated to bring a B up to a B+, even after it's no longer possible to change a B to an A, he explained.

Now, I was sort of surprised when I found out that they didn't have pluses and minuses here in the grading. This article has got me thinking about grades in general, and the way they affect our performance (and self-concept) and what something like a + or - can do to influence perception. Obviously, I am a pretty good student (they don't let just anybody into graduate school) so my perception of grading is different than a lot of other people's. We'll just say I really relate to the part of Traveling Mercies when Anne Lamott writes "I was thirty-five when I discovered that B-plus was a reall good grade."

So what difference does it make in our understanding of performance and evaluation? Would I have slacked more in undergrad if I knew 91% would still get me an A? (not likely, I'm not that math-conscious) Will my students be less motivated to improve if they think there's no way their B could mosey up to a B+ or even an A-? Or do the larger grade divisions make people less aware of grades and more focused on learning (haha.. yeah right)? It seems strange to me that one of the best ways to get UGA students to try harder is to bait them with a + or a -, but if we concede that grades are the primary motivator for students, I think making them a little easier to influence might not hurt.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Church Searching

My lack of recent posting is mainly because I’ve been pretty busy with orientation and stuff here, and although I’ve been thinking a lot, it’s not about the kinds of issues you post about on the internet. At least not the kind I post about on the internet. Issues of identity and personal philosophy and many less esoteric things like navigation and scheduling (my new friend Craig has posted a wonderful reflection about physical and academic navigation, actually).

Here’s a question I’m willing to share and offer for discussion though: what is important to me in a church? This is, obviously, not simply an academic exercise as I leave a church I was very involved in, and already miss after only one Sunday away. But it’s also a chance for me to see some different churches and learn from others and also make some more decisions about who I will be here.

For me, the primary thing is really community. I want to go a place that the members really know each other, love each other, and take care of each other. This is really what kept me coming back to both my other churches, and everything else sort of takes a backseat to a welcoming, thriving community. As a twenty-something single person, I’m interested in a place that has a reasonable community of young single people (not a dating service, mind you, but a community), but also a variety of people in different stages of life. I want a church that is thoughtful about their liturgy – that makes all the pieces of their worship service meaningful, intellectually and emotionally. It's important to me to go to a place that values the contributions of diverse people - regardless of gender, age, social class, gifts, etc. As I've noted before, I'm particularly sensitive to the gender thing. Related to that, I'd like a church that's somewhat socially progressive.

After that there are a few things I would like that are less important and less universal. I want a place that values worship from many traditions and sources. I would like to play improvisational violin with a pretty good worship band. I want deep relationships, but not too much commitment. Someplace near my home would be nice (sorry CP-ers, I won’t commute to GR). But as you can tell from my opening requests, I could end up at some very different types of congregations. Last week I visited a Presbyterian church that I thought was pretty good. This week I’m thinking of trying a church whose website reminds me of Centrepointe’s. Stay tuned, I guess, for how my lofty ideals play out in real life.