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Archive for September, 2008

Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever not in a time of transition. Transition for school, teaching, relationships, writing, friendships, living, being, and just every part of my life. Transition seems to be about change. It’s about moving from one thing or place to the next. Life is transition.

I know people who thrive off of transition. They love change. They love something new and exciting. When things seem to get monotonous, they change something in order to, well, feel alive. But I’m guessing here. I used to be like this. I used to love change and the excitement and possibility of doing something I hadn’t done before. Of learning something new and adjusting to something unexpected. But I don’t think I’m like that anymore. Call it getting older or whatever you want. I don’t think it has anything to do with getting older. I think it has everything to do with getting tired and finding something you really like to do.

I’m tired of transition. I’m tired to adjusting to new things. But maybe I’m just tired. I do, however, wonder if part of my personal transition to my anti-transitional self has to do with knowing what I’d like to do.

My love for change, for transition, came from a desire to figure out what I wanted to do in life. At least I think it was. I’m always skeptical of people who try to project their present situation on past motives but I’m going to violate my own rule right now. I loved trying new things. I’ve had the oddest collection of jobs in the world, in high school and college. One summer I even taught myself how to play clarinet on my lunch break. I love just trying things. I still love trying things but only for entertainment, not in an attempt to try to figure out what I want to do in life, although the clarinet fits the entertainment category. I can’t help but think my love of change helped me figure things out. Try things. To see what I like and despise.

But now I know what I want to do. Well, it’s not so much that I know what I want to do but I know what I like to do. I like to write and teach and that’s what I’m doing. My problem is that now change gets in the way of those things. I’m trying to get time to write, time to prepare for my classes, and provide detailed comments to my students but things just seem to get in the way. I feel like a really old person right now. Wishing I had more time. Wishing that I could get to the things that I love. But I find myself putting together furniture, like I did today. Although, I must admit that I’m really liking my new deck chair. It sure beats the 5 year old, cracked $7 plastic chair I used to sit in.

I guess that gets me to the point that it’s not that all these other things I have to do are bad or unnecessary or unworthy, simply that the things I want to do with all my heart get pushed aside for the things I have to do right now. And sometimes I resent those things. I wish that I could say that I loved doing everything necessary to live, but I don’t. I don’t like ironing or vacuuming or cleaning or unpacking or making a list of things I need to buy. I just don’t like it. I know people who like that stuff but I just don’t get it. That’s ok. I’m glad we’re different people. I do like cooking. That relaxes me.

Transition is a tricky thing, so much possibility and anxiety wrapped up in the uncertainty of what lies ahead. I don’t know what will come. I’m applying for a few jobs right now, in states were I’d love to be. I hope that I get one of these jobs but the chances are slim. I seem to only want specific kinds of transitions that bring me closer to what I want my life to be. I guess that’s the difference between Jeff in his college era and Jeff now. I know what I want but now it’s trying to figure out how to get there. That’s the funny thing with transition, it’s never complete. And I’m glad. Sometimes.

I’m sitting in my newly assembled chair, watching a car drive by, wondering when I will get a chance to do the things I love to do. Then I remember, I’m doing it right now. I’m writing. This blog is a release for me. It gives me a chance to reflect and think about my small part of the world and my life. And you’re reading this, which makes me happy.

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The 2008 U.S. Presidential race is upon us, whether we want to recognize it or not. I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to write about politics in this blog, but I’m going to anyway. I hope you don’t see whatever posts written here, both now and in the future, as a slam against a particular political party with whom you may or may not identify. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? We read what we agree with, further entrenching our hatred for the other side, regardless of who that side might be. If you don’t like what I write about politics that seems to give some people cause for ignoring everything else said, as if somehow I am morally and intellectually tainted.

Let me start out by sharing a little story about my great great aunt Vilma. Vilma, like most of my uncles and aunts on that side of the family, are democrats and people of faith. Also, it’s important to know that my dad’s side of the family are republicans and people of faith. So, as you can imagine, this made for some interesting family situations. Well, many years ago, prior to my dad’s car accident, he and my mother were visiting family in Colorado and aunt Vilma was there. It was 1972, Nixon versus McGovern, and my aunt Vilma said, “Well, if we could just reach the republicans with the gospel …” Evidently, my mother immediately elbowed my father and said, “not a word” or something like that. Well, my mom is probably reading this right now and can correct me, as if she needed that excuse.

I’ve heard a similar attitude from republicans, which became abundantly apparent two years ago when one of my students at Indiana University stayed after class to call me a godless atheist because I said Fox News is biased. Fast forward to today, where I taught my class on persuasion at this midwestern all-male college. Today we read a few things written by the most prominent 20th century American rhetorician, Kenneth Burke. To paraphrase Burke: Our worldview makes us hop around. Yes, he was talking literally about hopping. What a hilarious mental image but profound nonetheless because, whether we all like it or not, we all have a worldview, an ideology if you will permit me to use that word, that guides our decisions and our general orientation to life and living. That worldview, while it may share similarities with our friends, is different and grounded in our experiences, knowledge, and beliefs. It guides us. It compels us to hop in certain directions, whether we realize it or not.

So, I am a student, producer, and consumer of rhetoric. I’m a rhetorician who believes that what we say and how we say it cannot be separated from our action. In other words, the way we say something compels us to act in certain ways. I could provide examples but I think you might understand. So, for my aunt Vilma and my student, their worldview compelled them to believe that it’s not possible for the “other side” to be people of faith. Their worldview made them hop around in such a way that the possibility couldn’t exist for brothers and sisters in Christ to hold a divergent political position. To me, this is sad.

Now, go back to the last couple of weeks with the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Despite the obvious lies of both candidates about their opponents position (check out: factcheck.org), Christians on both sides of the political spectrum seem to ignore them. Yes, I called them liars because that’s exactly what they are. Yet, we seem to turn a blind eye to the lies of our candidate of choice, pointing to the other side as worse. I became absolutely disgusted when I heard a former Southern Baptist pastor, Mike Huckabee, and the now GOP VP candidate and so-called christian, Sarah Palin (among others including McCain), telling America that Obama/Biden will raise taxes on working Americans. It made me livid because that is the biggest lie of them all. So, if they are that comfortable as liars, what does it say about the way we hop?

Our worldview compels us to hop around in different directions, confirming what we want to believe because then we aren’t forced with the difficulty of reflection. We agree with pundits who paint our political rivals as wanting to destroy America, making it easy for us not to listen actively to the differences in policy but the buzz words that we’ve been told are code words for the destruction of America. We think that because someone talks like us they have our interests in mind. We have traded our political power as democratic citizens for the road of political consumerism. We consume what we want without facing the reality that we could be wrong. We lack reflection and humility.

When I disagree with someone I always ask myself what kind of evidence it would take for me to be convinced otherwise. In my most honest moments I confess that nothing will change my mind. And this is when I realize that I’m hopping around, as I imagine citizens in Nazi Germany did, without reflection and full of contempt for everyone who was not like them.

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