Saturday, September 29, 2012

Faith and Artistic Expression - Is "Christian" Synonymous with "Family Friendly"?

Just saw a post for a Christian film festival.  Here's what it said:  
Committed to the highest quality productions in the film industry, The San Diego Christian Film Festival is trying to Change the Face of Film with better stories, exceptional productions, and family friendly movies for the entire world to watch.
(The emphasis on "family friendly" is mine.)

I couldn't help wondering why a Christian film was assumed to be family friendly.  The Bible is filled with violence, and even sex, polygamy and incest.  The Christian story has plenty of room for the dark side.  When we start thinking "Christian" means "whitewashed," I think we've missed something.  The crucifixion, for example, is not family friendly (i.e. I can bring my children).  Wrestling the dark side of human nature, facing down your greatest temptations, aren't necessarily family friendly topics.  But they are, in my opinion, Christian topics.

This bothers me, this implicit assumption of what Christian art or literature may encompass.  It is small.  Narrowing.  The Christianity I learned about was predicated on the notion that human beings are, by nature, flawed, imperfect and incapable of living up to the level of purity required by God.  Part of what makes the gospel powerful is the idea that God came down and lived as a human being, with all the doubt and longing and darkness and grief and misery that implies, thereby creating a bridge between us humans, fallible and flawed creatures, and the divine.  So, an artistic exploration of Christian faith should allow for an exploration of those flaws, imperfections, ugliness.  

If you want a "family friendly" film festival, call it that.  It is, after all, one view of the role of art - to depict something beautiful and transcendent towards which we might strive.  But it's not the only view of art.  The Christianity I know is not necessarily synonymous with "family friendly."  And that's not a bad thing.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Setting Goals That Work

Every day in my class, we talk about our goals for the day.  I've learned to guide my students in identifying goals they can control, as opposed to goals that others control.  For example, they may want the class to get a whole class award.  But they can't control the whole class.  They can only control their own choices.  So a goal of completing their work or staying on task is a more useful goal.

A recent comment on my other blog, Writer's Wavelength, got me thinking about this.  The commenter posted that her goal in writing a novel wasn't to get published but to finish the novel.  This makes sense.  There's a lot of factors involved in getting published that you can't control.  But you can control whether you finish your novel (barring unforeseen acts of God, as they say).

Setting goals that work means thinking about what you want or hope for and then identifying the parts of it that you have the power to control.  That way, you set goals that you have the power to achieve regardless of external forces.  I may want to get published or find an agent or get a job, but I am not the publisher or the agent or the one who makes the hiring decision.  So my goals need to be the parts I control - writing every day, finishing tasks, putting together a strong resume, making contacts.

Some of this sounds very mundane and practical, but there's a larger philosophical element in play.  "You can do anything you want if you just work hard enough" is a lie.  However, even if life is full of stuff outside your control, you still have some power.  You can do things to set yourself up for success.  As the Tao says, do your work and then step back.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Going Outside My Comfort Zone Means to Me

About 5 years ago, I paddled with a dragon boat team for the first time.  I am not an athlete.  I have never been an athlete.  In fact, I was often the kid picked last in team sports.  I tried out for the swim team once and had to quit because I just couldn't keep up.  But I joined a dragon boat team, in part to bond with my fellow teachers, in part to get regular exercise.  But a big piece of me decided I should try this new thing because I was scared to do it, because it was WAY outside my comfort zone.  It was in another country entirely.  The terrified-and-full-of-negative-associations country.

I'm not good at going outside my comfort zone.  I don't do well with change.  I'm anxious in new social situations.  I struggle when things are outside my control.  So why, oh why, would I deliberately do this?  Because every day in my classroom, I am asking students to do that very thing.  I am asking kids who struggle with reading to read and kids who struggle with math to do math and kids who are terrified to speak in public to get up in front of a room of their peers and share what they think.  If I am going to ask them to commit these acts of courage, I need to remember what that means and how that feels.

I had a great time at my first dragon boat practice and it's gone on to become a true source of joy and confidence and personal growth.  But I'm still absolutely terrified of the competitive part.  When we begin getting ready for a race, fear and anxiety grip me in intensely physical ways.  My heart races.  I have trouble breathing.  The moisture leaves my mouth and my muscles turn to jelly.

In that moment, I think of my students.  I think of a student I'm worried about.  I think of a student who faces that kind of fear when they sit down with a book or they have to take a test.  I think of the student for whom getting up and going into the world is an act of courage.  Or the student who battles to control anger or wild emotions.  Or the one who is miraculously able to giggle and to learn in spite of the worst possible realities awaiting them at home. And I tell myself, if that student can come to school and learn and try and laugh, then I can face this race and put my paddle in the water and keep paddling.

Then, the race becomes a kind of prayer.  It's my spirit declaring to that kid's spirit that I believe in their courage and it inspires me.  Every stroke of my paddle becomes a reminder that if I will ask my students to brave the country beyond the comfort zone, I must be willing to go there myself.  It is a declaration of my faith in determination, perseverance and resiliency.