Friday, December 31, 2004

Sobriety on the Eve of New Year 2005

I've been thinking quite a bit about the incredible suffering caused by the recent tsunami in Asia. Numbers like 140,000 dead don't mean much to me, as I don't understand what that means. But when I hear tragic individual stories about parents clutching their kids only to have the force of the water strip the kids away, that's something that completely terrifies me. I just donated some some money to the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and I hope it can help someone and do a bit of good.

Happy New Year to all. I'm hoping next year will be more peaceful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Walmart Gift Cards and Relatives

As a family we decided about a year ago to boycott Walmart and Sam's Club because we feel it represents the worst parts of our capitalist society. The employees are underpaid, it dictates prices, and its predatory and ruthless business practices remind me of the Borg from Star Trek. Anyway, Kalypso and Gilgamesh each received a $25 dollar Walmart gift card from my father this year for Christmas. First, it represents how little our family knows about us. I feel so marginalized and misunderstood when I'm visiting family. By the way, several in-laws really disturbed me this Christmas season in Omaha with their horribly racist statements. One example will suffice: "(N word)s in don't pay taxes." It was easy to say goodbye to these sorts of relatives in Omaha. Second, back to Walmart. Today Kalypso and I went to Walmart to try to exchange the cards for cash. I explained my personal views about Walmart and why we felt it was necessary to boycott the store, and while the employee agreed that Walmart employees were not treated well, she said that company policy was that you had to purchase something there. So, what to do? If we don't use the cards Walmart wins bigtime. So we can either use them as gifts, or give them to people who shop there. I'm desperate on what to do with these cards and would appreciate any advice. I would very much like to exhange the two cards for 50 dollars worth of aid to go to Asia after the tsunami.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Better to Give than to Receive

For the official record of Xmas 04:

Gifts given: Godzilla action figures (including Mothra larva), batman superman track race cars, tons of Harry Potter stuff for Barkus (a Mardi Gras parade for dogs), Cajun alligator ornament, Poe Book, 9/11 report book, John Stewart's America book, christmas pin made out of fish scales, Cajun in your pocket, Poe action figure, fleur de lis tile, digital camera, Incredibles video game, Rudolph stickers, and flower vase, plus some other crap I can't remember.

Gifts received: a bag of pistachios and a metal cross blessed by a priest in Columbus named Father Joe.

I shouldn't forget about the 16 hour car ride from New Orleans to Omaha with two kids and two dogs, and the gift of staying at relatives' houses. Plus, in just under three hours we get to spend the rest of the day at Therese's fundamentalist cousin's house. Next year I am totally boycotting Christmas and will celebrate Festivus instead. I'll go shopping for an aluminum pole tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pedablogy-How My Students Changed the World This Semester

This semester I had my students pick a problem in the world and implement a project to fix it. Then on top of that, they had to blog 2000 words per week about specific issues related to the class and their project. I am very happy with the results, and I honestly feel that the world really is a better place because of this project. Many students did a great job on this, and I thought about posting links to the entries of all those who received an A. Some students educated the public about HIV/AIDS, others worked with battered women, or tried to lower college tuition, some sought to increase political awareness. One student even tried and succeeded to increase critical thinking in the area. Part of this project involved writing letters. Several students wrote to Dr Francis, the president of our university, and I know that he was impressed with several of these letters and even met with a couple of students about their plan to fix a problem. In the end the students became better writers, and learned that changing the world is difficult, but with determination it is possible. I also think they saw the connection between biblical authors trying to change their own worlds in antiquity and the student projects. But in the end I thought it best if I only post one link to the project of one remarkable student. This student recognized the problem of poor education in New Orleans, and in association with the Chemistry Club here at Xavier, implemented a Saturday program with local Junior Highs to teach science to 8th graders in an effort to improve their test scores on a standardized text known as LEAP. It was one of many great projects, and it was such a treat to read their reflections. It gives me hope for the future of this country and the world, something I desperately needed.

Letter to my Theology 1120 Students

It’s over, and Hallelujah! I am just about to turn in my grades. Yes, even some professors celebrate the end of the semester. I wanted to take a few minutes and reflect on the past semester.

First let me thank all of you for a really great Fall 04 semester, at least as far as I am concerned. In retrospect I really feel good about the work we all accomplished. I know that many of you think that the course was ridiculously difficult, and that the blog project to improve the world was a waste of time. Most students did a very good and impressive job, and there were about 15 students who blew me away with the scope of their project. I honestly feel that the world really is a better place because of all of your work. Some students did great projects but had a hard time keeping up with the writing, while a few did a great job with the writing but really didn’t do too much to improve the world. In any event, the expectations for that assignment were awesome, and hopefully the rest of your academic endeavors here at Xavier will seem easy because of this. If you kept up with the blog assignments, you wrote 2000 words per week for 15 weeks. That in itself is amazing. I hope you also learned that it is difficult to change the world. I still feel that by and large the world is a pretty bad place and I see injustice and suffering all around. But I hope in your lives you will work hard to create change for the better whenever you get a chance. I’m a big fan of Gandhi’s quotation “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Remember when we read in Amos 3 that Israel, because of divine election, had greater responsibility than the nations around it. Similarly, I believe that you as future Xavier University graduates have a greater responsibility to improve the world. I expect great things from you.

A few students commented that the final exam was too difficult. I want to point out that one student scored 100 on the exam, and many scored in the 90s. Unfortunately for me, there were several scores in the 50s, and I don’t feel like I was able to motivate those students into doing the work necessary for a higher grade.

The movies turned out excellent. I’ll work on editing these over the break, and will post them in early January. Check back then to my homepage and there will be a link to them.

In closing, I think the students here are what makes Xavier so special. Thanks for your hard work, perseverance, maturity, and friendship. Have a nice holiday, remember there is more to life than money, and feel free to stop by or drop me an email now and then. Just don’t send me those stupid chain letters about Jesus.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Thanks Louis

I'm working on this website called Bibledudes. In it we have a section about Alexander the Greak and Hellenism, where a donkey asks why they didn't call Hellenism Greekenism instead. Some brilliant and helpful person named Louis emailed me the following about the BibleDudes website:

Regarding your stupid comment why didn't they call it Greekenism: THATS BECAUSE THE GREEKS CALL THEMSELVES HELLENES YOU IGNORANT BASTARD!

I emailed Louis back saying:

Gee thanks for clearing that up Louis. Great knowing you're such an erudite resource. We'll be sure to run future drafts by you to avoid such stupidity. Thanks again, and keep sharing your vast knowledge with the world wide web.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

On a Chalkboard in the Administration Building

I saw this when I was walking to my office. Sort of sums of modern university education in many ways, and shows that personal responsibility is dead.

Burn Out

I just got back from a walk across campus, and everyone looks very burnt out. With finals starting tomorrow, and grades due soon after that, it has been rough and the heavy work load will continue. But it seems everyone is extra depressed. I spoke briefly about this with a colleague, who thought it might be due to our new schedule, which only gives us three weeks off for Christmas break. It will go by very fast. One of those weeks for me will be in Omaha visiting relatives. That leaves very little time to get all the other things finished, such as publishing, preparing the new syllabi, and finishing up various loose ends. I think I need a cheap boat, so that once every few months I could just go hang out in the water with my dogs and kids and just relax a bit. Maybe I'd bring along some beer too.

Choppers and Catholicism

Yesterday was the last day of class for my TTh sections of Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies. We were reviewing the semester, and I should say that the classroom is a really cool room, perhaps too cool. It's on the fifth floor of the library building with huge window offering a great view of the New Orleans downtown area. Tough competition for my lectures. But all through class yesterday these giant military helicopters kept flying over, and it made teaching nearly impossible due to the noise and the visual distraction. My students said there is a military base nearby New Orleans, and that they were probably Marine helicopters training pilots and crews. I told the students how every Palestinian and Israeli could distinguish between the sounds of news helicopters and military helicopters. It reminded me of times I spent in the Middle East, and how unsettling it is to see signs of warfare and be so immune and apathetic to it. It also made me think about how I work at a Catholic institution, and how many would like to see the Theology dept. represent this Catholicity. But I also feel that the university as a whole should think about these things, and do some reflection. Perhaps in the end being Catholic might mean that we shouldn't let military recruiters come onto campus to recruit our students, or accept large grants from the military to work on weapons. Anyway, just some thoughts as I get ready for final exams on Thursday and Friday.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Inscriptifact, ASOR, and SBL

I've had a few days to reflect on the two meetings I attended in San Antonio: The American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature. I think the best paper I heard was by Jodi Magness, who laid out a brilliant systematic argument about why the James Ossuary, even if the inscription is ancient, could not have belonged to the famous James the Brother of Jesus. She said this information will soon be published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, and I look forward to reading it. What I liked about her paper is that she combined archaeological and historical information to make her point, and much of my research and publications have sought to do the same.

Also, at the meeting I learned about Inscriptifact. It is an amazing tool produced by the West Semitic Research Project. The database contains photographs of some of the most famous ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. For example, one can read the Ahiram sarcophagus inscription or the Copper Scroll with lighting in different directions. If you are interested in this extremely valuable resource, go here and apply for a username and password.

Finally, both conferences took place near the Alamo. As I walked past it I ofen reflected on the similarities between the Alamo and Masada. Israelis use to and still look to the story of Masada as parallel to their own modern state. Many have reinterpreted the story of Masada as a tale of bravery against opression. But that's not what happened there. Back in the first century Masada was inhabited by some crazy zealots, and Josephus' account is much more literature than history. Later, Yadin's excavations there made heroes of these people, and they even gave a state burial to the bones of what were likely Roman soldiers. It is a classic example of manipulating the past to suit your own modern political agenda. People in the US also mythologized the Alamo. In reality, the battle had a great deal to do with Mexico just outlawing slavery, the illegal seizure of land by the US, and many other issues, instead of some screwed up tail about these righteous men making a stand. "Killed him a bear, when he was only three" Yeah, right . . . But I did buy a fake Davey Crocket coonskin cap for my kids. They love it.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


I'm sleepy. It's about an hour since I left the turkey table. This year, I am thankful for many things:
Therese, my beloved partner in life.
Kalypso, whom I love more every day.
Gilgamesh, who is funny and fearless.
My parents, who sacrificed so much for me.
For the health of all of my family.
And I am even thankful for our two dogs, Kochise and Mosey, even though they drink out of the toilet.
I am thankful that I get to teach for a living.
I am thankful that we get to live in such a fun city, New Orleans. And it is almost Mardi Gras.
I am thankful that we live in an old crooked house.
I am thankful that I like my colleagues in the Theology department at Xavier.
I am thankful for other people at Xavier, especially those whom I work with in CAT.
I am thankful that Therese took the dogs and the kids for a walk, and my bed is so close. I'm off for a nap.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Touchdown Jesus!

I just found something that was both funny and disturbing. There are statues for sale at a Catholic Internet Site that depict Jesus doing some pretty bizarre things.

First, we have this gem:

I'm worried about the fate of that poor kid who is trying to tackle Jesus. I'm sure hell is full of youngsters who did far less than tackle the Son of God. But that's not all. Check this one out:

Jesus is quite a bit older than those two kids, and probably should share a bit more because he is so tall. I would want Jesus on my team. It seems he can really handle the ball. But also it seems that Jesus only plays hoops with the white kids in suburbia.

The bigger problem is the relationship between Christianity and sports in this country. Remember when Reggie White, an ordained minister, great football player, but no so brilliant, said in reference to white people: "You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature, and you know how to tap into money." Maybe that is the problem, and the source of the Jesus sports statues. But I'm white, and I never dreamed of tapping into money by selling Jesus sports statues for $19.99. I guess with all of my debt and bills, I need to reexamine my white heritage. Maybe, just maybe, I'm not white, which explains my debt.

I do wish that I could watch a football game without all these atheletes bringing God and Jesus into the equation. Quit praying after touchdowns and quit pointing up towards heaven. God does not care who wins football games. If so, then start blaming God for all the dropped passes, and all the losses. You never hear someone who just broke a leg blame Jesus for the injury.

Christianity and sports were not always an unhealthy mix. From what I've read about the founding of the YMCA in the mid 19th century, it was done with noble intentions, to improve the lives of people in some pretty rough social conditions. Maybe it was hypocritical and a farce, but I miss the days when atheletes were presented as moral role models. I think we need more idols who are not selfish, and who act to improve the worlds in which we are living.

Remember the Alamo (and some dull acronyms)

Tomorrow early in the morning I'll get into my 92 red tercel and drive 543 miles to San Antonio Texas. Why? Because it is that time of year again, when boring people like me come to one place to talk about such fascinating things as red slip burnished pottery and the waw-consecutive. I'm a member of ASOR (the American Schools of Oriental Research) and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) and they hold their national meetings over the next couple of days. They used to be joined, but due to financial reasons they split, and now ASOR is typically Thursday-Saturday, and SBL Saturday-Tuesday. I prefer ASOR, because I get to see many of my dearest friends. THese are people I lived with at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, and also people I excavated with over the years. It is a much smaller meeting and more fun. SBL, on the other hand, is huge. The book display is much better though. I've heard that maybe ASOR and SBL will join together again, especially now that SBL is breaking from AAR (American Academy of Religion). I've never been to San Antonio, and I'm looking forward to drinking a giant margaritta and of course, seeing the Alamo. I find this whole Texas cult to be amusing, though of course proud Texans don't feel that way. By the way, I took off my Kerry bumpersticker on the Tercel. I want to make it home alive and without traffic fines just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Vanity in Academic Mug Shots

I have an upcoming publication about beer in the ancient Near coming out in Near Eastern Archaeology. I need to send them a short bio and a mug shot. For the past six or seven years, I've always used this shot, taken at the Albright by my friend Tristan Barako.

But now I'm older, fatter, grayer, blinder, etc. I decided it was time to update my academic picture, because I don't look like the above picture anymore. So this morning Therese took this picture of me, sporting the new red sweater vest I got at Thrift City yesterday during their half price sale.

I remember many times in my career meeting people in my profession and being shocked at how old they were. This is because in their publications they use pictures taken up to 30 years ago, when they still had hair and were in graduate school. Incidentally, it took about 300 shots on the digital camera before we got one that was even remotely passable by my standards. That is to say, it took a lot of work to make me look even this good. I'd better be nicer to Therese and not quit my day job.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

One Week of Walking

Today marks the one week anniversary of my decision to leave my beloved red 92 Tercel behind and walk to work. Also, today was the first day that it was raining. I'm in my office now, with a big box of tissues, because I think I'm getting a cold. Therese and I have talked about returning to bygone days when we were a one car family. Monday my daughter Kalypso walked home with me. Therese has a class here at Xavier, and so we trade off Kalypso, and I get Gilgamesh from the school near our house. While we were walking home Kalypso and I talked about our country's dependency on oil. After the 25 minute walk home, Kalypso decided she no longer wanted a Hummer. We compromised. Now she wants a Jaguar.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Words of Encouragement from Another Blogger

I just received a very nice email from someone that read in part as follows:

I am a Presbyterian Pastor of a five church parish in SW Oklahoma. I've been at this for 26 years now. I love what you are doing to teach the Bible and how faith and life are really one word. I read many of the Blogs of your students about how they would change the world. Tell them Keep on! Because with energy enthusiam imagination and LOVE they really can...each one of them.

That was very nice, and I'll show it to my students. Thus far, towards the end of the semester, I feel that more of my students are on board with this improve the world blog project. I think this is in part because I share with them things that I am personally doing to improve the world, such as voter registration, and more recently walking to work and writing a book about Jesus' message of tolerance. So I think that now some of them better understand my intent with the project. We'll see, and I'll be anxious to read their final evaluations at the semester's end.

Re: the letter I received, the person who wrote it has a blog as well. I found their posts to be inspirational. It reminded me that I could never emotionally cope with being a priest or a pastor. They have to deal with the roller coaster of life, such as getting people through the grief involved with loss. The joyous parts of life I could deal with, such as weddings and child birth. Sometimes it is much easier to deal with my specialty, the ancient Near East, because it happened such a long time ago in a far away place.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Tolerance and Objectivity

I think lately my posts haven't been so objective, or tolerant of the opinions of just over half of the people in this country. I'm sorry. It has been a very difficult few days for me. In fact the Democrat loss in 2000 was easier for me, as I could focus my frustration and anger on Katherine Harris and five Supreme Court Judges. Now, the people have spoken, votes were counted, and it didn't turn out the way I thought it would, or the way that I hoped. I am going to cope with this by taking some action that I feel will make the world a better place. From now on, I will no longer drive to work. Instead, I'll walk or bike. It's just under two miles, and I feel this country's dependency on oil is a problem. Will me not driving my 92 Tercel make that big of an impact? No, but maybe I'll sleep better at night. And besides, I'm fat, so the exercise can only help. Second, I am writing a book with my friend Mark Gstohl about the Bible and US history. I feel that education is a great way to improve the world, and I want to bring back the idea of Jesus and tolerance into the mainstream, rather than the current misguided belief that Christianity somehow teaches intolerance. So readers, if my blogs of intolerance and non objectivity bothered you, sorry about that. I'll try to be a kinder, gentler, and more tolerant blogger in the future. Did you hear that Santa?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Words That Helped Me Through This Horrible Day

Wow, today sucked. I was on the verge of tears several times, especially when my students were doing group work and I noticed on the web that Kerry conceded, and I told them. I use so much humor in the classroom they didn't believe me at first. We were covering the Beatitudes today, and it was instructive to talk about Jesus' message and how it is mostly polar opposite of what the Christian Coalition is claiming. I've decided to do something about it, to take action. I'm planning a popular book to educate people about the real Jesus and not Pat Robertson's and Ralph Reed's version. To get through this difficult day, I found comfort in the words of the following:

Martin Luther King Jr's closing words during his speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (April 4, 1967) by the way, I was 68 days old at that time In this speech I found many parallels to the Iraq war.

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Off'ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

Al Franken posted this entry on his blog
Anytime you lose like this, there’s a certain amount of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking and woulda-coulda-shoulda. I have no regrets myself, but as I look back at Kerry’s campaign, there are a couple of points where, if he had it all to do over again, I think he should have done it differently.

For example, in the first debate, Kerry announced that he would put our national security decisions in the hands of France. He said very explicitly that we would have to pass a global test before using force. I think a lot of us watching at the time thought that that was a mistake.

Also, of course, the flip-flops, especially those about Iraq. Voting, as you know, for the war, then against it, for it, then against it having, as Sean Hannity said, literally 80 different positions. I wish he could have chosen one position and stuck with it.

Kerry’s decision to ban the Bible. That was a huge mistake, especially in very Christian areas. That might have gone over fine in atheist communities, but it cost him big everywhere else.

And then proposing a health care system that would impose an enormous federal bureaucracy and give medical decisions to paper-pushers in Washington, and in France.

And going back to Vietnam, the way he lied about what happened, inflicted those wounds on himself to get those medals, and then threw them out; I think that was a mistake. Of course, that was a mistake that he made back then, decades ago. But he could have been more honest about it now.

A lot of people talk about Bush’s record, and what he might do in the next term, but what this really comes down to is character. And ceding your doctor’s authority to France, and the flip-flops, and shooting himself in the leg to win a medal; I guess those things just overcame the awful, failed presidency of George W. Bush.

You know I wouldn’t mind losing an election if it were an honest disagreement, based on facts, over values and policy. But that’s not what happened. A large majority of Bush supporters went to the polls believing things that were false. For example, any of the above. They believed lies about Kerry, and they believed lies about Iraq, and they believed lies about Bush.

We’re not going to heal this country as long as we have a president who won't be accountable, who won’t tell the truth, who is willing to campaign with a vicious dishonesty that is unprecedented.

After Barry Goldwater was crushed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the right decided to take a long view. They poured literally billions of dollars into creating the right-wing infrastructure that dominates our politics today. They built up the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, and now Fox News Channel and many other organizations, above and below the radar. Though they won the White House in 1968, it took them thirty years to reach their ascendancy in 1964.

Our side just started. Air America went on the air seven months ago. Normally, incumbent presidents either win by a landslide or lose by a landslide, and a year or two ago, people thought it would be an overwhelming Bush victory. It wasn’t. For an incumbent wartime president, this was a close race. And we’ve created a movement to take this country back. Even though we didn’t do it this time, I believe that we will still do it.

The other side wants us to get demoralized, but we are going to fight. We are going to fight every step of the way.

Round two starts now.

Third, This helped a bitTragic Gaiety by Bart Everson
It doesn’t take a genius to discern that, even though the election results are not official yet, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention rending of garments and beating of breasts, amongst those who voted for Kerry and those who despise the Bush administration.

But that’s absolutely the wrong attitude!

Yes, the results of this election seem overwhelmingly negative, with conservatives sweeping into office and anti-gay measures passing everywhere. But tough times call for courage, not despair. Suck it up, people.

Now is not the time to weep and bemoan the state of affairs in our country. Instead, it is all the more necessary that we adopt an attitude of tragic gaiety. We need to be brave. We need to laugh in the face of doom.

We need to look square into the face of what our country is becoming, and redouble our resolve to change it. And we need to be joyful, relishing the task ahead of us, or we’ll just burn out.

Remember, voting is a basic duty in an alleged democracy, but it is really the least of our duties, and one of the least effective ways to make real change, given the system we have. We are not going to vote our way out this mess.

Today is the International Peace Holiday, a good time to reflect on what we can do to make our world a better place. Locally, some people are gathering at Lee Circle from 3-6 p.m. for “public art, public expression, public dissent, public fellowship in a public space.”

Do whatever you need to do, but do it with celebratory anger. Show ‘em a fist and a smile.

Finally, my favorite, Cassandra's words from Agamemnon (remember, Cassandra was cursed with the gift of understanding the future but nobody was able to understand her)

Home cursed of God! Bear witness unto me,
Ye visioned woes within-
The blood-stained hands of them that smite their kin-
The strangling noose, and, spattered o'er
With human blood, the reeking floor!

Ah! can the ghostly guidance fail,
Whereby my prophet-soul is onwards led?
Look! for their flesh the spectre-children wail,
Their sodden limbs on which their father fed!

God! 'tis another crime-
Worse than the storied woe of olden time,
Cureless, abhorred, that one is plotting here-
A shaming death, for those that should be dear
Alas! and far away, in foreign land,
He that should help doth stand!

O wretch, O purpose fell!
Thou for thy wedded lord
The cleansing wave hast poured-
A treacherous welcome
How the sequel tell?
Too soon 'twill come, too soon, for now, even now,
She smites him, blow on blow!

God! a new sight! a net, a snare of hell,
Set by her hand--herself a snare more fell
A wedded wife, she slays her lord,
Helped by another hand!
Ye powers, whose hate
Of Atreus' home no blood can satiate,
Raise the wild cry above the sacrifice abhorred!

Away, away--keep him away--
The monarch of the herd, the pasture's pride,
Far from his mate! In treach'rous wrath,
Muffling his swarthy horns, with secret scathe
She gores his fenceless side! Hark ! in the brimming bath,
The heavy plash--the dying cry--
Hark--in the laver--hark, he falls by treachery!

Ah well-a-day! the cup of agony,
Whereof I chant, foams with a draught for me
Ah lord, ah leader, thou hast led me here--
Was't but to die with thee whose doom is near?

Ah for thy fate, O shrill-voiced nightingale!
Some solace for thy woes did Heaven afford,
Clothed thee with soft brown plumes, and life apart from wail--
But for my death is edged the double-biting sword!

Woe, Paris, woe on thee! thy bridal joy
Was death and fire upon thy race and Troy!
And woe for thee, Scamander's flood!
Beside thy banks, O river fair,
I grew in tender nursing care
From childhood unto maidenhood!
Now not by thine, but by Cocytus' stream
And Acheron's banks shall ring my boding scream.

Woe for my city, woe for Ilion's fall!
Father, how oft with sanguine stain
Streamed on thine altar-stone the blood of cattle, slain
That heaven might guard our wall!
But all was shed in vain.
Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,
And I--ah burning heart!--shall soon lie low as well.


The election was very disappointing to me. I'm crushed. I don't just live in my neighborhood insulated from the world, getting my $200 child tax credits and spending more on everything else. I travel quite a bit, working in places like Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. I fully understand how horrible this administration has been towards the planet, and I honestly feel that big business and its oligarchs are the only real winner here. All the talk and hope about youths turning out in droves didn't materialize. The huge voter turnout failed to help Kerry. The left lost seats in the Senate, Daschle lost, the first time that a minority leader didn't win reelection in a very long time. Here in Louisiana to everyone's surprise Vitter became the first Republican Senator ever. The only bright spot was Obama's win in Illinois. The Democrats in the House lost many seats, thanks in part to the illegal redistricting of states such as Texas. It seems the major force driving so many people to vote was not security or the economy, but instead "morality and values." This also materialized in all the ban same sex marriage amendments in 11 states. I'm curious how many people came to the polls based on this issue alone, and if it was put on the ballots mostly to help reelect George W. Bush. So what do I do now?

There is so much misinformation going around. Three out of four Bush supporters believe that stockpiles of WMDs were found in Iraq by inspectors, and that Sadam Hussein planned 9/11. I teach courses related to the Bible and biblical studies. I see this as very valuable in this day and age when the vast majority of the people who voted Republican believe that Jesus would support their agenda. They are obviously not reading the New Testament. I am so amazed that these people could claim to read and embrace the Gospels and come away thinking it means we should engage in preemptive warfare, that all people should not have access to health care, that people making more than $200,000 a year deserve tax breaks. Jesus would never fight for the pharmaceutical companies at the expense of affordible drugs. Jesus used to hang out with the poor, and even prostitutes and tax collectors. Instead of passing amendments of hatred, I feel Jesus would have emphasized love. And Jesus would not have fought for the rights of people to own semi-automatic fire arms. Just a hunch.

It seems Jesus has been hijacked by some biggotted hate mongers like Jerry Falwell. This administration has been unprecidented in its invokation of Jesus. I wish the president would spend less time praying and more time reading a newspaper now and then. So many job losses, a bad economy, an unjust war, people believing that the country is on the wrong track, and still Bush wins the popular vote. The stupid "flip flop" mantra worked, which doesn't speak highly of people's abilities to discern. As a Bible scholar and educator, I believe I do a great job in my classes teaching students how to go to the primary text and read with a critical eye. I've written popular books and websites focussed on examining exactly what the Bible says, especially in context. But it doesn't seem to be enough. I need to start thinking more outside of the box. I need to work harder to help others to see that Jesus was neither a Democrat or a Republican, but a first century Jewish man in Palestine who changed the world with his remarkable message and sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Uh Oh

Earlier today I was cautiously optimistic. Exit polls looked good for Kerry. It's now 10:20, and Florida and Ohio don't look so good right now. Plus, to make it more surreal, my neigbor's house has this very loud alarm blasting repeatedly in my ear. It went off about 5:30 and has been blaring ever since.

I Voted

I voted today. The polls here in Louisiana opened at 6 AM, Therese, Gilgamesh, Kalypso and I got there about 5:50. The line was already pretty long. Therese voted first while I watched the kids. We vote at a local elementary school, which is a huge improvement over the first place we voted when we moved here. It was a coregated steel shack on the side of one of our neighbor's houses. Amazing. While Therese voted, Kalypso and Gil played with some hotwheels on a big map of the US. Kalypso and GIl drove their cars from Louisiana to Nebraska, where their grandparents and aunts and uncles live. They sort of think Nebraska is the greatest thing ever, mostly because they always get gifts when they are there for Christmas, and because they get so much love and attention. So while Therese was voting, Gilgamesh said "Abu, I have to go potty." The poll workers wouldn't let us use the school restrooms, so I walked Gil around the corner where he could pee in semi privacy. Of course he can't pee without pulling his pants and underware all the way down around his ankles. Louisiana is a pretty prudish place, and we got several negative stares as people walked by on their way to vote. But in the end, Gilgamesh emptied his bladder gloriously oblivious to social condemnation of public nudity, Therese emerged, and I was able to then stand in line to vote. The two people in front of me weren't on the list, which is disturbing. One had a mailed voter registration card so she was able to vote, but I'm not sure what became of the other. I sure hope she was able to vote. A poll opened, I voted, it took about 30 seconds in the booth because I knew the ballot very well. Then I pushed the vote button, the machine went "Bleblebleeeeppppp!" It was a great way to start the day. I'm a pretty pessimistic guy, but at the moment I have some optimism. Even despite what the courts determined in Ohio, I still think Kerry will come through on this, and I have some slight hope about the senate.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Pornography and a Public Blog

Something interesting and unexpected is going on with my Theology 1120 blog project. Yesterday when I got in my office I had a phone message to call the Vice President of Student Services here on campus. I did, and he said that a student of my Theology 1120 course had come to his office complaining that I had sent the student an email that asked them to visit a very graphic pornography site. "Wow" I said, puzzled by all this. He said it was sent by "A Bible Log." Well, a day later, it turns out that someone in the world posted a comment on the student's blog entry that was a link to a pornographic site. When people post comments, it automatically emails the student who posted the entry. So the student gets this email from someone known as, with the subject [Theology 1120 Blog] Comment: "The Bible" that has a link to a porn site. The student apparently didn't understand this, and when they got an email that said something about Theology 1120, they assumed that it was from me. So I spent the morning explaining to this university administrator that I of course didn't send the email, that we have this blog project, blog is an online journal=weblog, that it is public and people can post to it. All the while imagine how embarassing this was for me. First, I'm curious who all the 1,624 people are that got addresses before adult-free 1625. Second, anonymity seems to bring out the worst in people. So, I still want to keep the blog public and let anyone who wants to post a comment, but now I need to have my students go in and delete the inappropriate stuff. Is that what we've come to? Leaving porn links on blog entries? I know exactly what will happen now. So, funny anonymous readers, go ahead and put a comment with a link to pornography on this entry. I'll do my best to delete them. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Living in Red, Voting Blue

First let me say that I’m not sure this blog is the proper forum for my political views, and I have always made somewhat of an effort to keep my own personal opinions regarding politics (and even religion) out of the classroom. I will on occasion in class pose questions related to politics, or make analogies between events in the ancient Near East and the Bible to modern political issues. For example, both Bill Clinton and now Bill O’Reilly come up when we discuss the Ten Commandments, and I at times compare Akhenaton’s moral/religious certainty as well as his public isolation in Akhetaten Egypt with the policies of George W. Bush and his frequent escapes to his ranch in Crawford Texas. I try to be fair, and funny, and interesting, and when students ask me about my political affiliations, or who I will vote for, I tend to say that the classroom is not the place for me to talk about my personal views, but if they are curious, they can ask me in my office and I’ll tell them.

And so, back to this blog. I have at times in the past posted entries related to politics, and then deleted them a day later when I reflected on the issue and decided to keep this blog restricted to matters involving teaching. But now the most important election of my lifetime, an election that will have profound ramifications in the entire world, is a mere seven days away and the very different candidates are in a statistical dead heat. Most of the voters in this country are not informed on the issues. Most people still believe that Sadam Hussein had something to do with the planning of 9/11. Most people believe that Islam is a religion that has at its fundamental core a desire to destroy America and all of its values. Most people don’t agree with the president and feel we are going in the wrong direction but they like his moral certainty, sort of like supporting men who don’t ask for directions. Over the weekend I saw a T-shirt with an eagle on it, and it had the following text: “Listen world: either respect these colors or change your flag!” How did we come to this? I was upset four years ago, and still believe that a small group of oligarchs, including five Supreme Court justices with political motives, stole the election from the American people. I felt and continue to feel disenfranchised. But I, like many people, felt that Bush 43 had so little support that his agenda would be modest and he would make an effort, like he did in Texas (I heard), to unify and not divide. I found all of his "Bushisms" amusing, and so I felt I’d laugh for four years and then the world would move on. But it didn’t work out that way.

Traveling abroad, even though US foreign policy was harming the world and has been for years, especially the Middle East, I at least had the excuse that the American people did not elect this administration, that they stole it, and that I like most American people wanted to improve the world. I find myself longing for the days when this country was run by people like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41. I hated their policies, but at least they listened, made informed decisions, and compromised when necessary. They didn’t boast about how non-intellectual they were, nor did they wear their religion on their sleeve. They had a greater understanding of the world. I fear that this administration, especially George W., sees the world in binary terms, does not understand nuance, and acts repeatedly without studying an issue simply because he is confident that Jesus is behind him. Well, as a Bible scholar I can say flat out that Jesus never would have advocated an invasion of Iraq. Jesus would not have even wanted a war in Afghanistan. I believe that Jesus would have been a big fan of the UN. The current administration is so top heavy that the decisions are made first, and then the “facts” are spun to find support for their decision. I, as a citizen of the world, am terrified at the prospect of four more years of this group. Preemptive wars, the very real possibility of a draft, the privatization of social security, the reduction of civil liberties, the increased isolation of the U.S., and ever increasing hatred around the world of my country and its citizens. I don’t feel safe.

So I’m voting for John Kerry. Bush’s bid for reelection focuses solely on painting Kerry as weak, not on Bush’s record for the past four years. I don’t agree with all of Kerry’s positions. I know people who feel that this is selling out, because he doesn’t reflect ALL of my opinions on the issues. Four years ago I voted for Nader. I understand that the two party system is flawed, and the electoral college does not work. I live in Louisiana, a red state with 9 electoral votes, with current polling estimates of Bush 50%, Kerry 32%. So why not vote for a third candidate when this state is clearly going red? I don’t believe this election will be over November 2. I believe that I owe it to the world to do my part to make sure that even if Bush wins fairly or otherwise, that nationwide the other candidate had more popular support. I don’t feel Kerry will bring peace to the Middle East, because the key issue is the question of the Palestinians and Israel. Neither candidate will address this sufficiently. But I feel that the chances that we will invade Iran are much less with Kerry in office. I believe that many issues that desperately need reform such as education, the economy, and health care will be better in the hands of Kerry. So for me it is not a perfect vote, and if it were McCain, Powell, or Giuliani running against Kerry, and I lived in a red state, I would probably vote third party. But not this year. Not with the stakes so high.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

1120 Blog Purpose Manifesto

The following has to do with a 2000 word per week blog assignment for my Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies Course. The actual postings from students can be seen here.

Before I get all preachy, first let’s revisit what I wrote initially in the criteria and purpose section of the blog:

Several biblical authors and subjects sought to improve dramatically the worlds in which they lived. Similarly, this project asks you to make the world a better place by identifying a problem and implementing a solution. Along the way, you will reflect on how various biblical and non-biblical authors have addressed similar issues. Additionally, in keeping with course goals, this project seeks to improve your ability to think critically and to improve your writing. Your blogs (an abbreviation for web logs) will provide a published documentation of your thoughts, efforts, and means by which you personally improved the world.

I want this Blog “manifesto” to clarify my purpose. The course is called Introduction to Biblical Studies. So, some of you have asked, what on earth does working to better the world and then having to write about it have to do with the course? Let’s look at some concrete biblical examples from this week’s reading. The prophet Hosea tried to get the people of Israel to change their ways before their destruction in 721 BCE. To symbolize Israel’s religious infidelity, he married a prostitute, and when she cheated on him, Hosea forgave her and took her back. While I’m not asking any of you to marry a prostitute, I am asking you to think deeply about what Hosea was doing. He identified a problem in the world, settled on a project to help fix the problem, and then he (or one of his scribes) wrote about it. He wasn’t living passively in his world, and he wasn’t writing for you 2,700 years later. He was angry with injustice and evil and tried to take action. Then let’s look at the case of Jeremiah. He didn’t sit in the proverbial “Ivory Tower” and passively watch as morality in Jerusalem declined and his country eventually fell to the Babylonian army. Instead, he got angry and tried to change the world. I asked you to read Jeremiah 20, in which we read how much Jeremiah suffered to right the wrongs that he saw in his world, and then he wrote about it, trying to change the world for the better. Trust me when I say that all of us put together, volunteering our time and energy and writing 2000 words per week, don’t even come close to the level of suffering that Jeremiah endured to improve his world. Later in the semester we’ll look at Jesus, who I consider to be the best example in history of a person who tried to improve the world through action. We could sit in the classroom all semester and read the New Testament, and think about What Would Jesus Do? But my understanding of Jesus’ message is not to memorize facts, figures, dates and quotations, but to engage the world—to make a real effort to improve our lives, to fight for the exploited, and to right wrongs globally. So, these are my thoughts about what your blog projects have to do with biblical studies. I hope that through the course of the semester you’ll reflect on this.

Additionally, if nothing else, these projects will make you better writers. I could talk all semester about pronouns and subject-verb agreement, but in my experience the way you become a better writer is by writing. So I asked that you compose 2000 words per week throughout the semester. Also, I should add that these projects fit well with Xavier’s mission statement, which says “The ultimate purpose of the University is the promotion of a more just and humane society.” And that is just what we are doing with our projects.

I know from many of your midterm evaluations and comments on your blog entries that you feel that you can’t really improve the world because “what good seriously can a 19 year old do?” I fight apathy every day of my life, and it is difficult. But I would add that none of us are capable of seeing all of the ramifications of our actions. If just one of these 120 projects even slightly improves the world, then it will be worth it as far as I’m concerned. I think back on the people that made a real difference in my life. Some of them I don’t even know their names. They were role models who I encountered briefly, and they have no idea who I am or that they impacted my life, but through their efforts they made me a better person. I believe that the world is rapidly becoming a more unjust and cruel place. Never in my lifetime have I seen such greed, corruption, and moral relativism. But rather than throwing in the towel and giving up, I want to do something about it. I love my job as a university teacher, and feel that empowering students with the ability to be critical thinkers is in the end the best use of my life. You should be able to analyze information and think on a higher level than the sound bites and misinformation that we see more and more. But I also want you to not simply think critically and theorize about what ought to be done. I want you to do it.

So, that’s my motivation, and that is the best I can do at the moment to explain my rationale for this project. If you have any thoughts about it, or questions, or suggestions, I would love to hear from you in the comments section below. You can either identify yourself or be anonymous.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Blog Evaluation Survival and Why Laptop Computers are Like Cowboy's Horses

Oh man that was a rough weekend. I read every single posting on my students' blog, and evaluated them. Many were behind in the postings, but overall I was impressed with what my students came up with. Again, they picked a problem in the world and this semester they are trying to fix it. Some are addressing AIDS, some abuse, some illiteracy, some the high cost of pharmaceuticals, some environment, some political and news ignorance. One student is even trying to increase critical thinking here on campus. I wanted desperately, while my mind was still focused on these postings, to put together a summary web page and load it on the server. BUT, I have this temporary loan computer with only a few of my files. My REAL computer has been missing for the past week, as the disk player is broken. Anyway, so I have all these lists about what to do when my real computer is back. Almost all of my files are backed up on an external hard drive, so I'm not freaking out about that. But, the files are all over the place and I know from personal experience life is simpler with files on one computer, not two. Over time computers become so personalized. My calendar, years of email, all sorts of stuff about my life are on that beloved 15" Powerbook G4 of mine. I spend more time with it than I do with my kids probably. I know that's sad. Anyway, that G4 of mine, I call it Thoth (after the Egyptian deity of scribes/learning), and Thoth has been very loyal to me over the past year and a half. I liken my relationship to Thoth to a cowboy's relationship to his horse. Not that I'm saying if I jumped out my window while bad guys were shooting at me that Thoth would be below to catch me and we would ride off together guns a blazing. But, I know that with Thoth I could give the bad guys' email addresses to all those friends in Africa who have all this money and just want a place to get it out of the country. But now, darn it, Thoth is sick, and I wish my buddy all the best. Godspead little Thoth!

Friday, October 15, 2004

48 Hours of Blog Evaluation-God Help Me!

Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. So I asked my 110 students this semester to write 2000 words per week and post it on a course blog. They did, and now that midterm grades are due next week, this weekend I will spend virtually every waking hour evaluating each students work. I think I'll divide the grades into two categories. One grade will be for the project that they came up with to improve the world. I'll be grading this section on the scope and duration of the solution that they came up with, and give them feedback on ways that I think their project could be improved. Secondly, I will give another grade based on the quality of writing and their effort, that is to say if a student posted each week 2000 words to the blog, and by and large avoided grammatical mistakes, than I'll give this section an A. I'm not sure yet how I'll grade the section if they are missing postings. We'll see. Anyway, while you blog readers are out enjoying the weekend, which by the way should be great weather in New Orleans, think of poor me, reading, reading, evaluating, and reading. I just figured out that 110 students multiplied by 2000 words is 220,000 words x 8 weeks = 1,760,000 words. I'll let you know later about some of the best projects.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Midterm Evaluations

After attending a workshop by CAT (Center for the Advancement of Teaching), I decided to try midsemester evaluations. I did these years ago and found them to be a valuable resource. I put my evaluation on blackboard. It has 10 questions and the students rate me with a number as well as getting a chance to provide feedback in essay format. After the students give me their feedback I will respond. I think it gives me and the students a chance mid-semester to look again at the course objectives and for me to better explain teaching my methods.

Friday, October 08, 2004

1st Impressions and Syllabi

Today in the course portfolio working group we discussed syllabi. I brought up something that I heard at a Wabash seminar, that students make up their minds about professors in the first 15 minutes or so. One of the Wabash seminar leaders, Professor Keith Naylor, informed me that he never spends the first day of class going over the syllabus. I found that idea very intriguing. I’m bored out of my mind reading the syllabus to the students, the students are bored, some even insulted (justifiably in my mind). So this year I skipped the syllabus entirely, and started the first class reading as a group Lamentations and discussing what happened in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and how this was the most important event in the Hebrew Bible as far as I was concerned. I simply let them know how to access my syllabus online (my website and blackboard). I also have them post the first week on their course blogs their thoughts about my course commitments and whether or not they can meet these goals. That reserves class time for more important things in my mind. This way, I hit the ground running and let the students know that I very much want to make the most out of every minute of class time. I was very happy with the way this worked out and will continue this practice. Students mentioned in their blogs how surprised they were with this method of teaching, but in the end I think it worked very well.

Letter from Former Student

I just got an email from a former student thanking me for being their teacher a few years ago. They are now a chemist by the way. In her letter she said:
"Dr. Homan, u helped me to restore a part of my life that I had turned a way from my last few years at Xavier. U made me read the bible for class. This assignment helped me get my spiritual life together, which allowed me to fix other aspects of my life and find happiness."
That was nice. Every now and then I take some time and write letters to people who have influenced my life. Only I spell Bible with a capital B and write out You. God, I'm so freaking anal retentive!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Better Than Me: Motivate?!?
My Intro to Biblical Studies exams are challenging because of the amount of material that they cover. I try to come up with a balance between basic biblical literacy and critical thinking. While I still require research papers and now I have students blog 2000 words per week, I find for the biblical literacy portion the standard exam format with identifications works well. I also have a critical essay section as well as a section called “Who Says to Whom in What Book of the Bible.” Yesterday I graded the first exam for two sections, and many scored in the 40-60 range unfortunately. I’m not motivating these students it would seem. But one student scored a 97, which I found to be pretty amazing. I was never that focused as an undergraduate. She was very well prepared, and obviously had put a great deal of work into studying. I wish more of my students could be so motivated. I’m curious about ways beyond grades that I could find to motivate students to work hard. Having students think I am funny, nice, pleasant, demanding with very high expectations: none of this seems to be working. My best teachers always made me want to work harder, and I was so afraid of letting them down by turning in inferior work. I want to be that kind of teacher. It’s difficult in a core class, in that about 3/100 are theology majors, and most of the others resent that they have to take two theology courses. They are especially upset that I ask them to do so much work. So beyond demanding so much work, I want to find ways to make the students motivated to do well in my course. Any ideas?

Monday, September 27, 2004

My Teaching Philosophy
Over the weekend, as part of this course portfolio workshop in which I am participating, I revised my Teaching Philosophy. It now reads as follows:

“You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Talking Serpent in Gen 3:4-5 (ca. a very very long time ago)

I was always troubled by God’s harsh response to Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden. But, given the choice between immortality and knowledge, I’m eternally grateful to Adam, Eve, and even the snake for initiating the process of eye-opening experiences. As one who teaches topics related to the Bible, ancient Near Eastern history, and archaeology, I am both proud and honored, and I take my vocation as a learning facilitator very seriously.

The Bible has been read by more people and has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. Yet, for all its popularity, the Bible is probably the least understood book in the world. Teaching courses pertaining to the Bible allows me to make this influential and amazing work understandable and accessible to non-experts. Many of my publications and projects, such as The Bible for Dummies and BibleDudes ( were written in the attempt to reach this goal. I work hard both in the classroom and outside of it to passionately share my expertise in these important topics.

When others, especially former students, look back on my life, I want to be remembered as a good teacher. Good teachers create effective learning environments, they convey their enthusiasm for the topic, and they are capable of envisioning where the student’s potential will take them instead of focusing on where the student’s ability currently or previously resides. They are respectful, but they also set their expectations high and demand excellence. Good teachers value feedback and are accessible, friendly, and collegial. They are role models. Good teachers want to improve the world, and try even in the most difficult of times to be optimistic. They are honest and feel comfortable in the limits of their expertise. They even say “I don’t know.” I believe that teaching is more than a job, it is a vocation, a life-long journey that emphasizes the very best aspects of humanity. When I can contribute to a student’s eye-opening experience--when I can stand back and survey the classroom as the people are being empowered with the ability to think critically, that is a substantially rich and gratifying reward indeed.

In the classroom, I used to employ a standard lecture format, but I found this didn’t work effectively for me as a teacher. During the past five years I have increasingly incorporated a variety of additional methods. While I continue to lecture at times, I also show many still and moving digital images along with audio clips to spark interest and enhance overall retention and comprehension. I include several student projects in the semester, and have found that these can be entertaining and excellent pedagogical tools. I try very hard to be entertaining in the classroom. Most recently, I have explored teaching methods involving technology in order to facilitate learning. Thus, I helped students develop websites that apply critical methods to the Torah. Last semester I created with my students several digital movies that focused on prophecy as well as the Enuma Elish, and then I put these movies online. This semester I am experimenting by having students post 2000 word entries per week on a blog regarding a project that they came up with that relates to biblical studies and improves the world. For more than a year I have kept a blog about teaching Bible, ancient Near Eastern history, and archaeology, and have received a great deal of feedback from both students and fellow educators.

I want to be a better teacher. I have grown from my successes and failures in my capacity to educate myself and others. I know that in time I will be a different teacher from the one that I am now. I’m not exactly sure what these differences will be precisely, but I will cherish the journey.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is the Scholarship of Teaching Scholarship? Or Alternatively: To
CAT or Not To CAT?

At Xavier we have this academic institute called CAT, which stands for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. I am a big fan of this resource, especially the people who work there. I remember my first days at Xavier, before the semester started, trying very hard to get classrooms set up with projectors and sound systems. The director of CAT was extremely helpful in enabling me to use some of their classrooms. Since then, I have taken advantage of many of CAT’s resources. I’ve attended their workshops, and even given a couple myself. When I had to print a camera ready copy of a book that I wrote, I used a printer owned and operated by CAT. I’ve used their facilities to digitize movies, and I’ve used their financial resources through grants to get software and a digital movie camera that I use often. I have worked closely with Bart on a number of projects, including a website called BibleDudes. I use Bart as a resource several times a semester, and he has been extremely helpful. I also worked with Gayna on a couple of projects, and she has been helpful as well. Currently I’m in a Course Portfolio Working group sponsored by CAT. In this group we reflect on teaching and our classes. I have no doubts at all that CAT helps me to be a better teacher.

However, around campus I have heard from many people that I shouldn’t invest so much time and energy in CAT projects. I have heard and notice that there is a wide gap between those who do CAT and those who don’t, and those who do are in the minority. I have heard that my time would be much better spent on so-called “real” research instead of this scholarship of teaching stuff. Maybe it is good advice. With the vast amounts of time that I have invested in creating BibleDudes, for example, I could have easily written and published two academic books. While I have continued to publish in academic peer-reviewed journals, and see the importance of continuing to do so, much of my work lately has focused on making the difficult topic of biblical studies accessible to my students. Thus, I wrote The Bible for Dummies with my students in mind. However, many people in academia see that publication as a joke. But to my students, they are really impressed with this publication, and could care less about the academic books and articles I have written. So, in some ways I am a better teacher for having authored The Bible for Dummies.

The fact is that I have a limited amount of time, and have to be intelligent about how I spend it. I’m sold that the scholarship of teaching is very valuable scholarship. I need to learn from others ways to improve my teaching. Just last week I had some students present a Bible Mystery that answered why Michelangelo’s statue of Moses depicts him with horns on his head. They clearly presented to the class their answer, and it was entertaining and informative. I asked the students if they all understood, they unanimously said yes, and then I randomly called on them to answer the same question. It wasn’t until the 9th student I called on that he/she could articulate the answer. The students and me were all shocked at how hard teaching is. So I realize that teaching is extremely difficult, and that I need to continuously seek out better ways to convey material. I realize that training students to think critically is much more important than memorizing lists. I also will continue to work with CAT, and do my best to let others know that the scholarship of teaching is valuable scholarship.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Some Thoughts From An Internet-Addicted Teacher and A Recommendation to My University
Hurricane Ivan, even though it largely spared New Orleans, has hindered my effectiveness as a teacher. This is because my classes are dependant on the internet, especially blackboard as well as a site that I have set up on a server run by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. School was cancelled all last week, and the internet was down campus wide at Xavier from Tuesday morning until Friday. This meant I could not send or receive e-mail, which mattered a great deal to me because this is the main way that I communicate with friends and family who were worried, and also how I regularly communicate with editors, publishers, and other professional contacts. This meant I could not check to see on Xavier’s home page whether or not classes would resume Thursday or Friday. This meant I could not receive emails from students asking for clarification or help. This meant that I couldn’t post messages on blackboard about the revised schedule. I think it was Friday evening that the servers came back to life, and I was able to communicate via email to many students (about 40). Several of them commented that they wanted to use the time that school was cancelled to get caught up on their blogs, but the server was down and this prohibited them. Several students evacuated Tuesday and wanted to know if we had classes Friday. Several wanted help with a paper that is due soon, and clarification about the schedule. Blackboard is still down and it is really hurting my classes. Students typically in their emails said they went to blackboard to see announcements, or guidelines for the paper assignment, and couldn’t because the server was down, then they emailed me. I don’t know why the servers went down, perhaps the university felt that the area might flood and they shut off the computers. I very much hope that ITC (information technology center) at Xavier takes a moment and plans for future events such as this. If they could have had one person assigned to come to the university and reset the servers so that they functioned properly, this time that we had off from the hurricane could have been very productive for me and my students. Instead, we lost a lot of momentum and will have to spend much of my class time Monday and Tuesday talking about schedules and administrative issues. Technology could have helped me be a good teacher even with the school being closed this past week, but, it didn’t work, and I wished it would have. So do my students.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Ivan the Horrible
Xavier will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. I applaud the administration for making this decision, especially as they did it before NOPS, Tulane, and Loyola. It was the right decision in my opinion and showed real leadership. In the past, students complained that Xavier lagged in making hard decisions such as this. I heard students today saying that they were praying that Ivan hit New Orleans. They must really really hate school. Ivan is a pretty huge storm at this point. I am hoping for the best. Either way, I'm staying home with the dogs. Therese will decide tomorrow whether or not she will be leaving with the kids.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Voting and Voting Registration
It turns out that a link to voter registration on my web page inspired the office of University Relations to put the same link in the electronic newsletter that they sent out last week. That makes me feel good. My friend Bart, who let me know about the above link, points out that "If voting changed anything, it would be illegal." He is advocating electoral reform, because this winner take all system of the electoral college and the two party system does not give us a voice. He says "We vote because it's our civic duty. Plus, if you don't vote, you sacrifice bitching rights for the next four years. Of course, your vote matters more in local races, so I hope you won't neglect our Sept. 18th election."

Good advice.
Future Leaders, Bad Attitudes, and Editing Blogs

Many of the journals that my theology 1120 students are keeping online say some pretty negative things about me and this whole project (this blogging project is here).

Interestingly, one student's blog received the following comment from an anonymous viewer:

"I stumbled on this site and am enjoying it. Seems spelling and grammar are kind of a problem with your students. Also seems they are very angry about having to write and think. I wish they would take both the writing and the thinking seriously. These blogs are really scaring me. Seems that many of your future “leaders” have pretty bad attitudes. I’m going to keep an eye on this. I hope in the end they will learn something from the exercise. It looks like a good idea to me. It’s very eye-opening to see how angry your students get when they are asked to do work!"

I sent the students blog and this comment to a few colleagues. One mentioned "Ouch! Are you going to talk about this with your student(s)? Not sure that I disagree with the comments--I didn't read the whole blog, but is displaying student work to the WWW a potentially bad thing?" I too agree with the comments, and feel that we should be honest about the entire enterprise. It highlights and makes public the poor writing skills of our students. The majority of my students are sophomores or freshmen. I've found the maturity level and writing ability goes way up by the time they are juniors and seniors. But, instead of focusing on the negative, check out this excellent blog from a first year freshman.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Hearing Voices
A few weeks ago, I posted the following notice on the announcements section of Blackboard:
I want you to vote. It doesn't matter if it's Democrat, Republican, Green, Peace and Freedom, or whatever. Just vote, especially November 2. All this semester I'll bring to class forms if you are interested in voting in Louisiana. They are simple to fill out, and I'll mail them for you saving you 37 cents. I think it takes 30 days to process in Louisiana, giving you plenty of time to be all set for Nov 2. If you are registered in other states, please consider voting absentee. I can help you figure out how to vote absentee if you would like.
I thought long and hard about this issue. It seems like your vote only counts in the presidential election this year if you live in a swing state, and in some cases, live in a swing county. But it seems like it is one of the few ways to express our opinion that we have left. I live in a country that thinks we are headed in the wrong direction, but prefers someone who sees all issues in a binary fashion. That is to say, even if leaders are making the wrong decisions, the fact that leaders don't see nuances or waiver is appealing to voters. This depresses me, and while I'm close to being apathetic I still try. More important, perhaps, is to try to instill in youth today the idea that their voice can be heard by voting. Thus far I've had two students fill out registration forms and I've mailed them in.
I think I could be severely depressed come November. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Salary and Respect
Before class yesterday, a student was commenting that several teachers in Mississippi quit teaching and started to work at a casino she works at because they made more money. The students seemed shocked that serving drinks or changing money at a casino was worth more to our society than educating 3rd graders. The student said she made $43000 a year at the casino. I told the class that I was paid less money than that by the university I teach at. Their jaws dropped. I tried to explain to them that nobody becomes a professor because they want to get rich. Being a professor is a lot of work, and the rewards are great, but they don't come in paychecks. I explained that I made enough to live off. I don't need fancy cars (I drive a 92 Toyota Tercel) or fancy anything, in fact, everything I am wearing right now came from a thrift store. Anyway, I think the students reacted not by looking up to me and feeling how awesome it was that I was sacrificing to make the world a better place. Instead, I think they respect me less now that they know that. Sort of like they are going to make much more money than me so how can I be justified in asking them to work so hard.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Why I Love My Job Reason Number 5007: Time is a thief
I've been thinking a great deal lately about time. It started this summer while doing archaeology at Tel Zeitah with Ron Tappy. He commented that time is a thief. He is correct. Time takes away our loved ones, our cities, all the things we value, Time steals them all. Time is a real downer. I hate time, though I am obsessed with being on time oddly enough. However, when I conduct history, archaeology, and theology, I am taking things back that time stole. I help others to remember things that happened, and it must upset time that I'm doing this. Some people help those that are sick, and save a life here or there. I help entire civilizations to be remembered, immortalizing them in a way.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Let Students Register
The theology department has been leading an effort to change the registration system at Xavier. Currently students have to go to an "advisor" who enrolls them during registration. We want to change this so students can register themselves. Currently these advisors are making many mistakes and putting students in the wrong classes. Moreover, this will free up everyone's time. Students won't have to stand in line at their advisor's door, and this will give faculty more time to do real advising about careers and material instead of simply putting numbers in a computer. Win win situation. Hallelujah!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Center for Undergraduate Research and Sundays
There is this new office here at Xavier called the Center for Undergraduate Research (CUR) headed by Dr. Mary Crowe. It seems like a great asset, and Dr. Crowe seems like a great person to run the office. In the past I’ve tried at times to include students in my research. It’s a great thing, but it can be much more work at times instead of just doing work by myself. Anyway, CUR has some new funding opportunities for new proposals. It isn’t much money but it is better than a sharp stick in the eye, as one of my teachers used to say. I want to propose some project with me and one of our majors Roy DuBose. The problem is trying to pick a topic that will help Roy and get me a publication. I am interested in doing more research with residue analysis. Roy’s most recent research has focused on the ark of the covenant. Anyway, this weekend I need to finish an article on source criticism for Bible Review. Then, I need to pick a topic for the CUR proposal. Also, we decided to make Sunday house day. SO every Sunday we pick a project and work on the house. Last weekend I put Polyurethane on the brick fireplaces. This weekend I think we will paint the molding we just put up. Anyway, that means I need to get much more done on Saturdays, because I won’t be in the offfice. I’m very pleased with how blogging is going so far. I’ve got some great students, at least that is my first impression.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pedablogically Improving the World
I'm trying something new this semester. I set up a fairly massive blogging site for all four sections of my Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies Course. The site can be seen at here.

Actually, Bart Everson in CAT helped me set it up, as the technological knowhow was beyond my current capabilities. I'm asking students to blog 2000 words per week in response to weekly questions that I have posted. I believe this will help them become better writers. Also, a theme in the blogs is in relationship to a project they implement to improve the world. You can read more about why I'm doing this here. That site also lists my criteria for grading these projects/blogs. I'm pretty enthusiastic about it at this point. In the end I think I will have a massive record of blogs that will directly relate to Xavier's mission statement, which reads as follows:

Xavier University of Louisiana is Catholic and historically Black. The ultimate purpose of the University is the promotion of a more just and humane society. To this end, Xavier prepares its students to assume roles of leadership and service in society. This preparation takes place in a pluralistic teaching and learning environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.

I'm a big fan of that mission statement. Anyway, the first blog has just been posted and unfortunately it wasn't so uplifting. Most of it consisted of ramblings about why 2000 words was way too much to expect. Even so, I think in the end it will be great pedagogical tool. Bart and I coined the term "pedablogical," pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Fall Semester Schedule Blues
Yesterday was the first day of classes for the Fall 04 Semester. It's the beginning of my fourth year at Xavier. Time has really gone by quickly. To be honest, I'm sort of starting off the semester with a bad attitude. I left for the summer to do archaeology thinking my schedule for the Fall would be the best ever. I was going to teach all four of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursday. That would have given me some much needed time to write. While in Israel I received an email from our department chair saying that the vice president let her know that I could not do that. I sent a long email explaining why I needed the schedule, but to no avail. They said nobody here at Xavier has a schedule like that, though I have personally found several who do. I believe that if the chair would have intervened and asked to give it a try because she thought it was a good idea it could have worked. Anyway, it reinforced my belief that students come first here at Xavier, whereas I would prefer a system where my needs are weighed equally to the needs of some incoming Freshman. Freshmen are important to me, as are Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. I would just like my voice to be heard and have more of a say in determining my schedule

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Death in Jerusalem
I'm in Jerusalem, at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, waiting anxiously until August 4th when I get to fly home. I've been gone too long. June 1 I went to a conference for a week in Indiana, and was home for a few hours, then flew to Jerusalem where I supervised on an excavation for a month and a half. Then I spent a week in Egypt, traveling around and taking pictures. Now I'm back in Israel. I phoned Therese and she said that Gilgamesh asked the other day if I died. I need to remember two things: two months is way too long to be gone from family, and that if I am going to travel around, it is much better to do it before the excavation. I was very homesick when volunteers on the dig got on the van to drive to the airport for home and I still had three weeks. Plus I am exhausted, and a bit ill, from the hectic schedule I had in Egypt. Anyway, I can't wait to get home. Things will be crazy busy when I get back. I have a couple of articles to finish and a pretty huge teaching load. So, Gilgamesh, I'm not dead, but about to be resurrected.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Get off my back, dear daughter
My daughter Kalypso, spending the summer in Omaha, just emailed me and let me know that I haven't blogged for some time now. This is apparently in response to my pointing out that her blog has not been a center of much activity as of late. Well, here are my thoughts about teaching at the moment: I'm tired. I get up at 4 AM to do archaeology, it is windy, hot, and there is a whole bunch of paperwork to do in my position as square supervisor on an archaeological dig. Tomorrow we fine grid a floor for flotation samples, and I'll need to get caught up on some closed loci. What does this have to do with teaching? It makes me miss the classroom I guess. Was that enough Kalypso?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Jerusalem and the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research
I arrived in Israel on Wednesday, slept quite a bit, and now it is Thursday night. I've been able to use the library here to put my hands on a few articles I've needed. I also spent the day tracking down an Egyptian visa, as I'll be visiting Egypt in late July. I miss having a good library in New Orleans. Tomorrow I need to finish getting some electronic things and finish up some research, and then Saturday morning I'll head to Kibbutz Galon where the dig is headquartered. It is depressing to be at the Albright where so many of my friends are here, just completing or recently completed their PhDs, and do not have jobs. They are living year to year with various fellowships. That life is hard, as I know from experience. It is good to be back in Jerusalem. It feels like home. I am looking forward to getting back into the field.

Friday, June 04, 2004

I'm in Crawfordsville Indiana for a weeklong seminar/workshop for junior faculty who teach religion. It is being run by the Wabash Center, and thus far into it (about half way) it has been very productive. We've explored vocation and I've received many good ideas about how to be a better and more effective teacher. The staff is great, but I think the best part of the workshop has been sharing stories with other people in similar situations. Also there is a huge range of differences at different schools. Some teach a load of 2/3 and get the third year off (paid) to do research. I on the other hand, teach 4/4 and get no time off. That was sort of depressing. But going over university mission statements, I think the mission of Xavier fits me better than any other mission statement I heard today. I've been trying to read in my offtime several articles and books that deal with effectively using technology to teach. I've also been pretty tired, especially today. I'm sleeping more than at home. I think that I was just overly tired with the end of semester stuff and tying up lose ends before this workshop and digging at Zeitah this summer. I miss my children and wife. Kalypso luckily is at an age where she can email me. That is always a highlight of my day, reading her emails.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Crunch Time
I just got two emails that said the same thing: "Not a lot of thought lately huh Mikey?" They were signed "Anonymous." I get these emails when people post comments to my blogs. So Mr/Ms. Anonymous, sorry to have let you down. Anyway, I've been crazy busy trying to get several writing projects and grant applications finished before I go to Indiana June 1 and then to the Middle East a week later. I did get my student evaluations back. Three of my four sections thought very highly of me, but my 8AM section of Prophets and Prophecy gave me the lowest evaluations I have ever received. They said I knew the material but had a problem communicating assignments to them and didn't communicate effectively. For these two categories, my scores were in the 2 range, with 3 being "good" and 2 being "fair." Anyway, that was a section from hell, and you can read about it in my previous blogs. I did learn quite a bit about teaching from that section, especially how to not let bad situations escalate. Now, Anonymous, sorry I can't write more, but I need to get back to my other projects.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I added a comments section to my blogs.
Teaching With Pictures
Yesterday on NPR a psychologist was talking about why the pictures of abuse from Abu Ghraib prison evoked much more emotion than words. He said that in terms of evolution humans have only recently been able to read words, but pictures have always been able to speak to what we consider reality. Even though photographs are not reality, they appear closer to our world. Even more so moving images with sound, as this mirrors our daily experience. As horrible as the Abu Ghraib incidents are, I see a connection between images evoking verisimilitude and my teaching. I have always thought that instead of reading about Jerusalem, for example, students learn much better by seeing pictures. They are more engaged and the images speak to the student's perception of reality.

Friday, May 07, 2004

A Mensch
A student turned in a paper today, well after the final grades were due. She just called and asked if I got the paper. I said I did but would not be able to change the grade. She said, "Oh, I know that Dr. Homan. It's just that I didn't want you to think that I was the kind of student that didn't keep promises, as I promised you earlier I would turn in a paper." Things like this make me proud to be a teacher. She is a graduating senior. I'm sure she has a million things going on regarding graduation tomorrow, so I'm impressed she took the considerable time necessary to write the paper. Now I've got to run home and dress up like someone in Henry VIII's court. By the way, Mark Gstohl when dressed up with all the academic attire looks quite a bit like Henry VIII.
Grades, Graduation, and Losing Scholarships
It has been a long semester. I turned in grades three days ago. Tonight is Baccalaureate and tomorrow is graduation. I had one student, a graduating senior, get a D in my class. The D in and of itself was enough to graduate, as he/she is not a Theology major. However, his/her gpa is 1.84, and he/she needed a 2.0 to graduate. This student did OK on papers, perhaps at the C level, but on exams they scored abysmally. The problem was the student only came to class about five times. The student came to my office on Monday and we spoke at length in circles. The student's final score was below the D range, but because of the paper scores I was willing to give them a D. But I couldn't give them a C. The student wanted me to give them an extra assignment, such as another extra credit paper so that they could graduate. The student tried to make the argument personal, claiming that I didn't understand how hard his/her life was, and he/she decided that the grade was not about performance in my class but based on whether or not I liked students. After quite some time we went together to my department chair. The student restated their case, and the chair tried to explain that it was too late and that the grades reflected work. I later met with the chair of the student's department. I found out the student's mom is coming in for graduation. Also, the student needed to get Bs in all of his courses to achieve a 2.0, and they got Cs in at least one other course. Anyway, all of this weighed heavily on me. This semester I also met with several students who claimed that I more or less was responsible for them losing their scholarships. They needed B averages to keep them, and the C or D in my course meant they could no longer attend college. I think if they would have put as much effort into studying for exams and writing papers as they did figuring out ways to escape personal responsibility, they could have scored in the B range. One of these students was one of my favorites. This student just called from Atlanta and asked if I could write a letter to the scholarship board explaining what happened. They were doing well until the final exam and paper, which dropped their overall score to a 77. I agreed to write the letter, about how and why the student impressed me, and what happened with their grade. I sure hope they can keep their scholarship. But I wish they would have worked just a bit harder earlier. My colleagues tell me that instructors at Xavier routinely raise grades for such students. There seems to be some idea floating around that students can do mediocre work and then at the end beg for extra credit or grade raises. I wish this practice would stop, as I see it as a disservice to the students. It also cheapens the value of a Xavier degree and the value of the grades for students whose work earned the grade.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Grades Due Tomorrow
Mercifully, this semester is coming to an end. Grades are due tomorrow. In retrospect, I had way too much due at the end of the semester. I had students turn in their final papers at the time of the final exam. Grading the exams and papers for 110 students about killed me. In the future I need to have the papers be due much earlier. Also, I've had several students share with me their life stories of hardship and why they feel I ought to give them a higher grade. Many students tell you about how they'll lose their scholarships if you don't give them a B. I think there might be several professors here at Xavier that change grades based on things like this. I'm not one of them, and I wish the students would have done more earlier instead of putting me in that position. I will be happy to finally turn the grades in tomorrow. This Saturday is graduation, and I have my funny outfit that they make me wear. I really need some free time in May to finish several projects in the works. Especially the atlas. Then in early June I'm at Wabash and after 12 hours at home, I'm off to dig at Tel Zeitah and travel around Egypt. Then home for about two weeks and then school starts. Ugh. I love teaching and will enjoy digging and exploring this summer, but I need a break. I'm exploring grant opportunities to get some release time to write. I would love to get a Fulbright. I'll explore this in more detail.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Blogging next semester in Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies
I feel using student blogs this semester helped the course overall. However, I want to tailor a blogsite to my class. I think I want a homepage for the course in which students must blog weekly about how they are proceeding on a course project. I would like them to be able to post comments on other blogs. I would like to be able to rate the blogs by most viewed and also be able to personally pick a blog each week for the other students to view. I would like for there to a section for course project, which will be how to improve the world, and also they could blog definitions for terms.I would like students to be able to click on other student's names and be able to read their blogs. I would also like a dropbox for assignments. The technology for this is beyond me at this point, so i'll ask Bart Everson for help. So what does that make in the end? A section where they must blog weekly updates on their improve the world project. A section on terms where they give definitions. And finally a section where they can post thoughts on the course. I think that for the readings in the course I'll have them write out answers to the questions and bring these to each class. Sorry trees. I'll ask Bart if he thinks there is a way around this.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Many Thoughts on My Course Prophets and Prophecy After A Semester of Heaven and Hell
By and large I am happy with the way the course turned out. This was my first time teaching it. Even though the university’s official evaluation forms are kept in some secret vault until the final grades are turned in, I’ve read the comments on my personal evaluation forms (that are anonymous) and also for a recent assignment I had students blog their thoughts about the course and how they thought I should teach it in the future. So I have some idea about how students felt regarding the semester.
First I need to address what might be called the Cain Abel syndrome, as this is what troubled me the most and in the future will improve my teaching I hope. My 9 AM section was the best section I’ve ever had, and I will very much miss the discussions we had. We worked on a very high level with erudition and enthusiasm. There were a few personalities in there that made for excellent group dynamics. Just about everything went fantastically. However, my 8 AM section was the worst I have ever had by far. Same class material, but 180 degree different results. There was organized resistance to just about everything I did in the class. Much of this had to do with an argument we had about my high expectations with the first paper assignment. The main thing I learned is that it is a terrible idea to argue with students in class. I suppose most teachers know this, but I had some utopian understanding that further communication would bring this student to realize that though I set the bar high the paper was going to be very good for their education. That day I should have said to the student that raised the issue “I’m sorry you are having difficulty with your paper. I feel we’ve spent adequate class time going over this previously, and if you have any questions I encourage you to email me or visit during office hours.” If he/she continued, I should have asked them to leave. Through the course of the semester I had several students in that section repeatedly voice how they would teach the course. This mostly reflected that they thought the course would be a Bible study about the biblical prophets. I had one student say on the evaluation forms that I did not respect Christian students. This was the same student that felt my critique of Mel Gibson’s Passion movie was equivalent to criticizing Christians. Anyway, I hope that student later in life will find a teacher who can open his/her mind, as I wasn’t the one for sure. Many 8AM students wished I would have done more to silence the disgruntled students, as they were distracting and created a poor learning environment. I should have, and am sorry I didn’t. In the very least I should have separated the disrespectful group so they didn’t sit near each other, and I should have asked students who were not being respectful of my class to leave and meet with student services before being allowed to attend. This was the same section that had a student complain to the Dean that I said Biology majors were stupid after I really said that I was surprised that Biology majors I’ve been told are the most intelligent majors we have, so I can’t believe they’re the ones having the most difficulty with this assignment. A student in class said they hadn’t written a book report since the 5th grade, and I said great, I’m sure they pull it off, and then some student told the Dean that I said Xavier students couldn’t write on a 5th grade level. After the Dean called me about this complaint, I apologized to the class in a written statement (it’s on an earlier blog) about how I had great respect for Biology majors. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have apologized because I didn’t say anything out of line. I also wish the students would come to me first if they have a problem, and if it can’t be resolved they should go to the chair. The Dean in my opinion might have asked the students first if they have brought this up with the instructor before taking on the roles of judge and jury. Anyway, I’m quite glad that section will be finished. I spoke with my chair and others about this section through the course of the semester. Some good feedback included that I should work on keeping the border between faculty and students in place. So, I’ve finished signing my emails to students Michael and started using Dr. Homan. Probably a good idea. Seems like democracy in the classroom worked just find as long as students remembered it wasn’t exactly a democracy. So, in addition to all the negative stuff above about how I would improve the class by being more of a hardass, some other good ideas from me and students include:
1. Take one lecture towards the end and discuss Nostradamus and other more recent so-called prophets.
2. Do one more group project, perhaps have groups of three present a 5 minute skit on each of the Minor Prophets. The movies they did in group projects worked out great.
3. Blog less but more meaningfully. Instead of blogging before every class, once a week would be better. They could blog about upcoming papers. I’m still exploring ways to get students to do the reading.
4. Reduce Former Prophets material into one week.
5. Start off with Jeremiah in much detail and then explore ANE prophecy, then come back to biblical prophets.
6. It wasn’t enough for some students to discuss paper guidelines in class. Even though I have an extensive website about what I expect from papers, I need on the syllabus to be more specific about each paper.
7. I need more problem based learning assignments. I should come up with something similar to Bible Mysteries that I use in my Intro to Biblical Studies course.
8. I need to find better books. Some students loved David’s Secret Demons, some hated it. Those that hated it were divided between a couple fundamentalists who felt Halpern should not question biblical history. Others felt it was too difficult to understand. I loved the book, and thought it exemplified critical thinking and biblical studies very well, but if it reached only some students is it worth keeping it in the class. Perhaps it would be better suited for a class on David, or on the Monarchy, or something like that. I also did not like the book Meet the Prophets very much. Prophets and Prophecy in the ANE could be reduced to a few representative sections. We should have read Wen Amon in its entirety. One week on Prophecy in the ANE would be adequate.
9. Turn the last paper, about making the world a better place, into a bigger part of the grade and have them start earlier on it. Maybe their blog could be about this, and have weekly entries on how it is going. I’ll know more about this when I read their papers on this topic.