Meet my kitty Winnie!


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Sin and self-reflection


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Dear friends,

I’ve been pondering “sin.”  Now, stay with me here …

There are many ways to define the word, but the one that resonates most with me is “a thought or action that threatens one’s connection to God.”


We are told that God is love, and that love is patient and kind, that love rejoices in justice and our community with one another.  We’re aware of all the thoughts and actions that divide our community, that foster injustice, that devolve into hate – but we hesitate to call those “sin.”

Instead, we say that we’re divided, that we disagree, that we live in a polarized world.  And the problem seems too big for any one of us to solve.


It’s discouraging to reflect on the size of the gap between us, the scale of the hatred.  It’s easy to despair at the hugeness of it all.  How can I contribute to the solution?

I can strive to put things right in my own life – to take the log out of my own eye to better see the speck in my brother’s eye.  I need to reflect on myself, and to check myself when I have those thoughts or engage in those actions that make me part of the wider problem.  I have to check my own anger, my rage, my prejudice, my hate.  I need to repair my relationship with God.

And I have to believe that if each of us did this, kindness would reach critical mass, and peace would come on earth.

Let’s reflect today.





I’m sorry that’s happening to you. I care.


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Dear friends,

It’s hard to know what to say when someone is hurting.  We want to acknowledge their unhappiness, and offer support, but how?  Platitudes can feel insincere – phrases like “You got this!” or “Let go and let God” can ring empty when someone we love is suffering.  Sending a picture of a peaceful meadow with an inspirational saying feels too shallow, too trite.  We don’t want to make it worse, but we want to honor their pain.


It’s ok to say, “I don’t know what to say.”  To say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting, and I wish I could help, but I don’t know how.”  To realize that people aren’t always asking for a solution, but perhaps a listening ear, or someone to dry their tears, even if we can’t “fix” their problems.

We often ask, “Is there anything I can do?” and our friend says no.  That might ease our conscience and make us feel as if we’ve done all we can.  But instead of asking the question, we could offer something specific – “I’d like to bring you dinner this week.  What night would work best for you?”  Our friend might still say no, not wanting to impose, but we can assure them it’s an open offer if they change their mind.

We can also follow up.  Many acquaintances will say “Sorry to hear that, I’ll keep you in my thoughts” – but it’s rare that anyone will check back after a few days, a week, a month.  It takes time to process a life challenge, a loss, and our needs will change along the way.  The friend who checks in with us from time to time … that’s the friend who feels sincere, genuine.

An inspirational quote, a Bible verse, an encouraging meme … these can be offered with the best of intentions.  But perhaps the most authentic way to help is to just say, “I care.  I’m here.  I’m thinking about you.”  And then follow up.




Life update – May 31, 2018



Hello my friends,

It’s the last day of the month, so it’s time for a life update!

My dissertation is finished at long last!  I defended in December and did all the rounds of revisions.  Waiting on my Ph.D. diploma in the mail.

My application for tenure has gone up the chain and been approved at all levels, so I will be a tenured professor starting in the fall semester.

I’m currently teaching two summer classes, which will be done at the end of June.

As I write this, I’m taking a break from writing my first book.  I signed a contract with a publisher back in November, and the manuscript is due in about 10 days, so I’m soldiering away on that.

I haven’t had a chance to take a vacation yet, but am hoping to do so in July!

Please keep in touch and let me know how your summer is going!




A fresh wind is blowing


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Dear friends,

This past Saturday, Prince Harry married Meghan Markle.  And Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the birth of the Christian faith.

Both of these events were surrounded by metaphors of wind, breath, and fresh air.

fresh air

In the Christian tradition, God created the first human by breathing life into that which was lifeless.  And when the Holy Spirit came upon believers, she came in the form of wind and tongues of fire, breathing new life into a community that could have been tempted to give up on the future.  Breath, wind, life.

In the same way, many of us look forward to spring.  Here in Michigan, the winters are long, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can throw open our windows, air our homes, “spring clean” our lives.  There’s nothing like the feel, and smell, of those early breezes that clear our minds to make room for the fresh and new.

Royal wedding

On Saturday, a bride and groom said their vows.  An ordinary life event in many ways, except this was a first: A “senior” member of the royal family chose a bride who is American, biracial, and a divorcee – a bride that, even a generation ago, he would have been forbidden to marry.  If you watched the ceremony, you could see the love these two have for one another.  Love won out (love always wins in the end), and these two are a fresh breeze blowing through an ancient institution.  I expect they are going to do great things and have an extraordinary life together.

The sermon at their wedding service was preached by an African-American who was born in Chicago, educated at Yale, and began his career in the American south.  The reaction shots of the British, Anglican congregation were telling.  This was not the type of sermon – or preacher – they were accustomed to.  Some looked uncomfortable, others looked amused, but a fresh breeze was blowing through that ancient church that day.


Let’s pray for a fresh wind to blow through our lives, our country, and our culture –  a wind that will sweep out old hatreds and prejudice, and give us the breath of life.



PS – If you missed Bishop Curry’s sermon, you can find it here.  It’s a fresh breeze.

Teacher tales: The “grade grubbers”

Dear friends,

Ask your professor friends, and most will agree: the moment you post final grades for the semester, the deluge of emails begins.  Students will beg you to “round up” their grades, forgive undone assignments, or create an extra credit opportunity after the semester has ended.  They’ll try to play “let’s make a deal.”  Some faculty call these students “grade grubbers.”

Nobody I know likes receiving these emails.

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Most educators (at least the ones I know) find it disheartening when students think of grades as a commodity.  To us – to me – your grade reflects your mastery of the course material.  A semester’s worth of course material cannot be understood and mastered in one “cram session” for an exam.  It takes time, thought, and study.  It takes engagement throughout the semester.

Students will argue that “I worked really hard” (this often means “I pulled an all-nighter before the exam.”)  But hard work, in and of itself, doesn’t lead to rewards – it’s the results that count.  I could work really hard learning to play the mandolin, or to speak Russian, but it doesn’t guarantee I’d achieve proficiency.  Similarly, I may take a course where my best effort results in a “C.”


Students will argue that the professor should “round up” their final grade (even though I explicitly state in my syllabus that I won’t do this).  I explain that in a 1000-point course, each percentage equals 10 points … so if you are 2% off the next higher grade, you’re 20 points off.  Since exam questions are worth 2 points each, that’s 10 exam questions.  You’re telling me you deserve the same grade as the person next to you who got 10 more questions correct than you did.  Sorry, but no.

Students will argue that they should get an extra credit opportunity at the last minute, or even after the semester has ended.  Often, these students did not complete all of the assigned work, which was designed to demonstrate their mastery of the course material.  Now they are asking me to create and grade a special, additional assignment,  Sorry, but no.  Also, I don’t believe that a student should be able to pass a class on “extra credit.”


We tend to blame the students for these behaviors, but there’s a larger problem, a cultural problem:  Grades (teaching, learning) are seen as commodities that can be bought or traded for, and students also see them as a ticket to a good future.  Not the learning the grade represents, but the grade itself.  When students beg for these grade increases, they often use the appeal that their future chances will be hindered if they don’t pass the course – never mind that passing the course means mastering the material.

Where do they get this idea that grades are paramount?  It’s built into the K-12 system, into our cultural attitude toward goals and rewards, and into our sense of self-worth.

What can we do?


I’m only one person, and I may be working against years of conditioning, but I try to help my students think differently about grades.  First, a grade is not a reflection of your worth as a person (I’ll never be a virtuoso on the mandolin, but it doesn’t mean I’m deficient as a human being).  Second, a hard-earned “B” is something to be proud of, if it represents your best work in that subject matter.  And third, there is value in the process of learning, whatever the outcome.  Life is most fulfilling if you enter the world with a curious mind.

In the end, I understand why professors hate “grade grubbing” – but I also understand why students are motivated to do it.  We’re at an impasse where neither party wants to concede, and both think the other is being unfair.  As the ones in a position of power, we can enforce rules and policies with compassion, while we suggest new ways of thinking about the role of grades in the educational process.

And to my students:  I believe in you.