Thursday, May 31, 2007


OK, I admit it: I'm sitting here watching the 2007 national spelling bee LIVE! And I don't see myself turning away from it anytime soon.

A kid just got the word punaise. He asked for the definition, which is bedbug, i.e. punaise is another word for a bedbug. When the announce said the word, he said "Oh my gosh!" When he got the definition, he said "I'd like bedbug better." When he spelled the word correctly, he asked "Really?" You gotta love these kids.

Another kid got the word pelorus, which is a navigational tool (I totally would have spelled it polaris). The kid asked for the etymology and received the answer "unknown." No help there. Or in the low voiceover, "Unless she happened to have studied this word, she just really isn't getting any clues here." She misspelled it.

I also love the ABC/ESPN sports commentary on the whole thing, the soft voiceover with things like "As he approaches the mike, you can see that he's a first-timer here, but the confidence will come over time." We also get the little bios of these kids, completely parallel to world champion athletes. It's really kind of cool. In a geeky kind of way.

I also love that most of them, when they get a word wrong and are given the correct spelling, say "thank you." It's probably mostly training, but it's so respectful and nice.

Did you know that cilice is a fancy word for hair shirt? Or a genizah is a storeroom in a synagogue for damaged or defective books and other sacred artifacts? Any takers for bewusstseinslage?

OK, it's down to the last one. He has to spell one last word correctly to win. He got serrefine, which means a small forceps for clamping a blood vessel. It was pretty clear that knew it as soon as he heard the word. He nailed it. He's the champion, and the trophy is bigger than he is. Evan O'Dorney from California. Congratulations, Evan!

One final note, because I know that some of my readers are interested in such things: he's homeschooled. And he's the third homeschooler to win the national spelling bee.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sin and the Spirit

This morning at church, I found myself sitting with some friends. During the Our Father (that's the Lord's Prayer, for any of you Protestants reading), their very sweet 5 year old daughter turned to me with what must have been a conspiratorial delight. The thing is, it came off more as something of a gleeful malice. Taking delight in the hissy-ness of the word, she grinned her evil grin and simply said, "Tresssssspassssssessssss!" That's trespasses for those of you who can't read hissy-ness, and sins or debts for those of you who need a Protestant translation.

It certainly brought to mind Augustine: I was in love with ruin, with my own decay ... my sin was loathsome, and I loved it. Nothing like seeing a five year old seeming to delight in the concept of sin to remind you how messed up we all are.

Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth. Enkindle in us your holy spirit, that we might love righteousness and reject sin, love one another and reject the riches and seductions of this world.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Being, Time, and Doggie Poop

Heidigger Taylor Cooldog, a permanent member of the Coolclan, has temporarily taken up residence with me. So has Sweetheart, the gerbil. But this post is more about Digger. Perhaps it is a failure of imagination on my part, but it just seems to me that dogs are more fun than gerbils, and far less likely to pee in your hand.

Digger is an interesting addition to my life. The children of my friends are in love with Digger and are already lobbying for me either to refuse to give him back or to replace him with a dog of my own immediately. I've loved having him as an excuse to walk my neighborhood. We've met more neighbors together in the last 10 days than I've met all year on my own. And, in a somewhat mixed adventure, Digger (chick magnet that he is) got us invited to a college party with a couple of my former students. We just stopped in for a minute to say hi, but I think Digger was the life of the party.

Now, I'm not given to the existential questions, really. But it is an interesting thing to realize that you are one of two beings connected by a leash and to wonder just a little bit why you get to be the one who holds the leash rather than having it around your neck. Of course, any sense of superiority that earns you quickly disappears once you find yourself picking up the excrement of the being at the other end of the leash. One does begin to wonder who is in charge here.

It has been fun having Digger here. I'll miss him when he goes. I may have to start looking for the perfect medium-sized low-shed dog for me soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blessed are the blahblahblah

There are so many great moments when you give oral finals. Like the student who responded to a question about how Mary embodies the theological virtues with "Well, that would be so awkward--to get pregnant when you're a virgin. You would have to have some major faith to get you through that!"

But I think my favorite was the student who responded to the question about how Matthew's gospel asks the Christian community to balance the call to moral righteousness and the call to forgiveness. She looked me right in the eye and said, "Well, what you have to understand is that, in Matthew's gospel, moral righteousness is so important. But then, also, nothing is more important than forgiveness. So, the most important thing is to balance both." Seriously, she looked at me like she just reported that she cured cancer. I decided to mercifully give her a prompt: "Are there any specific texts that might help us figure out that balance?" She paused, then said, "Well, I think the whole part about blessed are the blahblahblah, because that shows that God blesses and forgives the people who ... well, pretty much everyone."

Indeed, blessed are the blahblahblah, for theirs is the kingdom of a vague, unspecified god, who suggests (but certainly would never demand) that they develop whatever virtues seem appropriate to them. Rejoice and be glad!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Keg Party!!!

Yes, I went to a keg party last night. But let me be clear: not with MY students.

It really was quite innocent. I was walking home from work and as I passed my next door neighbors' house, there were a bunch of guys on the porch. Matt, the one that I've had several conversations with throughout the year, called out that they were celebrating: he and one other guy from the house were graduating. He offered me a beer. I stepped up onto the porch and accepted. He introduced me to a few of the other guys. We chatted for several minutes and watched the rest of the party play beer pong.

Now, did I mention this was about 7pm and there was loud music coming from the Jeep parked in the driveway between our two houses? I was thinking throughout the conversation of nice ways to say things like "Do you think this can be over by a decent hour?" and "Can you guys (1) pick up any trash that blows into my yard and (2) stop driving through my backyard?" (The last one is a long story, but we did cover that one.)

All of a sudden, a neighbor, who is also a colleague of mine, appeared at the steps. She was ... well, let's choose words like direct and clear and then a few like passionate and animated. She let them know that the music would be reduced significantly right then and would be completely inaudible by 10pm or she would call the cops.

Weirdest thing: she didn't acknowledge me at all. She either assumed she would not know anyone there and so didn't look and didn't see me. OR she recognized me before she approached and chose very consciously to ignore me. It's very strange not to know which one.

It's also, of course, very mild and innocent, but somehow secretly thrilling to wonder what my students would think if I told them that I went to a keg party last night.

And, by the way, I spent the rest of the evening with some friends and came home after 11. All was quiet. There are real benefits to having neighbors like that, whether she saw me or not.