Saturday, March 29, 2008

there is no joy in mudville

stanford goes down like mitt romney in the republican presidential nomination race -- fast, hard, and definitively. and they took me with them in my ncaa bracket group.

the only thing left to say: go golden state warriors!

Friday, March 28, 2008

march madness!

in response to the invitation of my friend j, i decided to fill out my bracket for this year's ncaa basketball tournament. my group is a bunch of stanford friends, along with their spouses and children. i noted when i filled out the bracket that there was a $5 million prize for anyone who managed to predict the entire tournament correctly -- and i thought to myself, wouldn't it be amazing if i somehow won that?

the thought didn't last long. i quickly found myself in 12th place -- in a group of 12 players (we also included the baseline bracket for a total of 13). my predictive prowess was lower than everyone's kids and even the friend who chose all of her teams based on the mascots! good thing i haven't tried to make a living as a professional gambler...

so what exactly happened? well, i chose pac-10 teams as some of my upset specials, picking usc and oregon to go to the final 8. both were eliminated in the first round. so much for pac-10 dominance. duke, a #2 seed that i had going all the way to the final four, was also upset in the first round. my midwest bracket was a disaster, as i missed on 4 of the 8 games in the first round; i might have done better flipping a coin! to sum up: i wasted no time in demonstrating my knowledge of ncaa basketball!

the one redeeming feature of my bracket: stanford is still in the tournament. if, somehow, they manage to win the whole thing, i vault to the top of my group's standings, and in the words of our group commissioner, "blow everyone away." not surprisingly, i'm rooting hard for the good guys!

Monday, March 24, 2008

on the upswing

there are some seasons when the family news all seems good. this is one of those seasons.
  • b returned from dc as a ron brown scholar. it's a great honor, an excellent networking opportunity for the future, and a handsome chunk of change to help with her considerable educational costs. her next assignment: coaching a youth soccer team.
  • n is dancing again, now at evergreen city ballet. it'll take a while for her to round back into shape, but she's happy. dancing is good for her soul.
  • i met some new folks at the bridge worship service this past sunday -- our first-ever on resurrection sunday -- and a number of them are not-yet-believers.
  • my mom and dad are coming up for their first visit with us in the pnw at the end of this week.
  • montreal international student ministry volunteers j and e are preparing for their wedding -- and m and i get to help.
  • we went shopping today and picked out some cute gifts for baby s' gotcha day. what a great occasion to celebrate!
we give thanks to you, o God, we give thanks!
for your wondrous works declare that your name is near.
(psalm 75:1)

Friday, March 21, 2008

a more perfect union?

it was a masterful speech. senator and presidential hopeful barack obama, responding to criticisms of his mentor's incendiary racial and political remarks (from the pulpit, no less), elected not to do the typical political renunciation, then hope the whole thing would blow over. instead, he tackled head on, the issue of race in his presidential candidacy and in america for the first time in this campaign. there were no speech writers here; he wrote the whole thing himself. if you haven't heard it in its entirety, it's worth the nearly 40 minutes to listen to the whole thing; the first sound bites i found on the web were much too short (1-3 minutes!) to get a real sense of what he actually said. you can hear it by clicking here. (if you prefer to read along, you can find the transcript here. but i do recommend hearing the speech as opposed to merely reading it.)

of course, reaction has varied tremendously. some have lauded the address as one of the great speeches ever given on the subject of race in america; others have seen it as a slick dodge of personal responsibility or a lame excusing of abhorrent, racist and anti-american statements. i thought time magazine provided a more nuanced set of responses than many commentators.

my goal here is not to evaluate obama or his speech, but to reflect on what the tremendous range of reactions tells us about ourselves. extreme forms of post-modernism argue that there is no intrinsic meaning in a text, that interpretations are really a function of the worldview and agenda of the interpretive communities out of which they arise. simply stated, it's not the words but our own experiences and assumptions that we keep reading into or over the words. i've never been persuaded of that claim, but watching the reaction to obama's address does give some credence to the theory. at the very least, the social location of the hearer makes a huge difference when one is searching for meaning. there is no view from nowhere. we can say all we want that we are just focusing on the words or the ideas, but the reality is that we are always evaluating them against some set of presuppositions and convictions we consider self-evident -- too often without being aware of it.

i suppose that none of this should be a huge surprise. of course people are shaped by their experiences and what they've been taught. of course it affects the way they hear, and probably even whether or not they can hear certain things. but is it ever possible to transcend our own assumptions and worldview? hearing the reactions to this speech, one wonders.

to some, wright's remarks are so obviously anti-patriotic, so anti-american, so overtly racist... what does it say about barack obama that he was able to listen to such a man for 20 years? what does it mean that he is unwilling to disown the man even now (though he has admittedly tried to distance himself from the offending remarks)? this is the spiritual leader he chose, not just for himself, but for his daughters? these folk find the comparison of wright to obama's white grandmother both disturbing and distasteful. what did she ever do to merit getting thrown under the bus in a political speech?

to others, wright's remarks so obviously carry the ring of truth that it's hard to believe anyone would challenge their essential veracity. okay, so he makes his point in a colorful, even harsh, way -- but it's a harsh truth. besides, if you listen to the context of the remarks (both culturally and within each of his sermons), you find his outbursts in the midst of a greater call to love one's enemies the way that Jesus does. that obama feels the need to distance himself from wright or his remarks is a sad commentary on a society that is simply unwilling to hear the un-sugarcoated truth. these folk hear the reference to obama's grandmother as the humble recognition that people are complex beings, and that even the best ones, the ones who have loved us the most, have their flat sides. to renounce all such people would leave us completely alone in the world -- and worse, turns a blind eye to the obvious good that is mixed in with the less-than-perfect attitudes, words, and actions that all of us carry.

is it any wonder that the world is so often cast in terms of white and black? so many people can't help but see it that way, given the differences in upbringing and experience. not surprisingly, they can't even agree on the problem, much less the solution.

but what does that mean for me as a chinese-american man who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in suburban dallas, who is married to a black woman and has biracial children, who pastors a predominantly asian american church which hopes to have effective service and witness to a multi-ethnic community? can we ever learn to see the world through someone else's eyes, someone else's experience, so that we can find common ground and common cause with them? what could make such a thing possible?

do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
but with humility of mind
let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;

do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.

have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

who, although he existed in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.

and being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.

therefore also God highly exalted him,

and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bow,

of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(philippians 2:3-11)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

criminalizing homeschoolers

please tell me that they're kidding.

an appellate court judge has issued a broad ruling declaring homeschooling illegal in the state of california, unless the teaching parent is a credentialed teacher. you can read about it here.

i am a product of california public schools through grade 12 (mostly in the pre-proposition 13 era) and was well-served there. i know and love some excellent public school teachers, not the least of whom are my mother-in-law and a number of our former students.

still, there are lots of reasons why i object to the ruling:
  • i don't like the government telling parents how to raise their children. the government hasn't done so well at the tasks for which it ought to be responsible, much less trying to force a one-size-fits-all education solution on families. and this in a case that was supposed to be about child abuse!
  • the public educational system is a virtual monopoly (especially for those of us with modest means) which too often serves the needs of the government and teachers, rather than students and parents. anything that limits the options of families is not welcome, in my view.
  • i'm a big believer in homeschooling. it's not right for every family, but in general, i think it a positive thing when parents take more responsibility for their children's education and commit more time and energy investing in their kids.
  • many of you know that m and i homeschooled our two daughters through 5th and 7th grades, and we think they've turned out pretty well (in spite of our lack of the proper credentialing!). the homeschooling families that we've been associated with have, for the most part, seen similar results.
  • i would think the bottom line of educational quality is not teacher credentialing, but the academic performance of students. perhaps predictably, a study conducted by national home education research institute in 1997 revealed that the average homeschool student outperformed her public school peers by 30-37 percentile points across all subjects. interestingly, the study also showed that the performance gaps between minorities and genders common in public schools were virtually non-existent among the homeschool students who took the tests.
  • finally, the ruling is strangely inconsistent. private school teachers don't need to be credentialed to teach whole classrooms of children; why should a parent need a credential to teach their own? should the business person or attorney who teaches a class at the local college also have to receive an educational credential?
overall, this ruling feels like a ham-handed solution in search of a problem. by all means, confront specific cases of abuse -- and leave everyone else alone.