Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Zombie

The family gathered on Christmas Eve. Those in their 30s talked of vampires and zombies — the latest craze. No one mentioned the birth in Bethlehem.

The conversation turned to encounters with spiders, ants and snakes. No one mentioned Jesus of Nazareth.

I was quiet, numbed by the banter, the stories and the weight of my years. With the Christmas tree glittering in the next room and the fire crackling in the fireplace, I too did not think of the child in the manger.

So we passed the evening disconnected from Christmas and its meaning. As I pulled the covers up around me after everyone had gone home, a restless unease settled on me. The discomfort was beyond Christmas and banter about creepy insects and corpses that stalk the streets. It was much bigger — about being, not about worrying or thinking.

Finally, I concluded I was much too tired to deal with the enormity. I surrendered to a place beyond words, and there, in the silence of the void, I sighed and fell asleep.

It was only on this morning of Christmas Day that I began to connect the frivolity and seeming meaninglessness of the night before with Jesus and his teachings. Zombies and vampire are about transformation, even resurrection, gone horribly wrong. The world of these creatures is one without hope. Are the myths, which are so much in vogue, a warning? Are they a wake-up call, just as the message of Jesus was? Can we be led to love by zombies, vampires as well as by Jesus' teachings?

Are these stories, whether horrible or hopeful, ways of making us aware before it is too late?

The Christian mythology, fabricated years after Jesus’ death, also sought to direct and, yes, strike fear in our hearts. Vampires and zombies emerged from societies aware of, even steeped in what Jesus taught and what others mythologized about his life.

It seems odd yet worthwhile to ask: Was Jesus a kind of zombie with a difference when he reappeared after death?

Finally, I asked myself on this Christmas morning before we open the gifts, who would we be without this searingly honest itinerant teacher who spread his truth two thousand years ago?

Who would I be?

And you?

How is the world different today because of this birth in the manger? How is this very moment different because of Jesus?

Who is Jesus to us? Does he, like all others we encounter, become part of us, and how has that inward spirit changed us?

Indeed, Quakers, of whom I am one, believe in such an “indwelling spirit,” the Christ within. Would we hold such a belief, would we experience it, without that birth in Bethlehem so long ago?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Money for an out-dated "schools" paradigm

Portland Public Schools is placing a $548 million bond measure on the May ballot. If approved by the voters, the money will be used largely for capital construction of new or expanded schools.

Question: Why would PPS want to spend a half billion dollars on bricks and mortar in this internet age? The money will simply be propping up an out-moded paradigm, one built on school-based education.

Certainly we can spend education money more wisely in today’s world.

Rows of desks, schedules of one-hour "modules," and long bus rides are at odds with the world students know and the nature of the times. Outside the school (and often in it), students are immersed in a private place defined by rapid-fire communication.

It’s haphazard “learning” through dizzying dexterity and hand-held computers.

Logically, education should tap into those communication devices and networks, which, like television before them, are the greatest teaching tools yet invented.

And yet, as it was for television, the question is what are those little “smart” devices teaching?

Right now, as far as needed education is concerned, not a lot.

What could they be teaching? It would take a lot less than $548 million to find out and get started restructuring education to fit the findings.

As for bricks-and-mortar schools, let’s make them into community learning centers. One of the “courses” would have the kids teach the rest of us how to use technology. We could teach them how to use it constructively.

Imagine the creativity that would be unleashed if we ended this now ever-growing technological generation gap.

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