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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

I Have Heard of Your Faithfulness and Your Love, part 2
(This sermon was delivered at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church on August 20, 2006)

(continued from a previous post on Thursday, August, 24)

The Holy Spirit and faithful churches. I had heard of John and Vera Mae Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries. I had heard of Habitat for Humanity and the Christian Community Health Association. I had heard of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, California, Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, and Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. I had heard of the simple way community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. In each case what I had heard of was their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. And I wanted to learn from them and try to use my training to understand how the Holy Spirit was irrupting in all these places to remind the church in the United States of who it is we are following and what it is God is calling us to do and be.

Paul talks about this kind of irruption of the Holy Spirit in verse 17, saying that he prays that God will give the Ephesian churches “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as they come to know this powerful Triune God. What had God been up to in the metropolitan area of Ephesus at the time that Paul wrote the letter? God’s own Spirit had been revealing to these churches the very heart and mind of God, the wisdom that transforms Christians and churches to become more Godlike, more Christlike, more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. How can we know God unless God’s Spirit reveals God to us?

Thanks be to God, that we are not left alone to make our own way and try to find out what life is all about. I don’t mean we aren’t required to work at it and study to show ourselves approved, learning through our work and prayer. But all that effort would be fruitless in the face of a holy and almighty God if God did not first come to us. So Paul is praying that their faithfulness will result in an ever-deepening tutorial by the Holy Spirit.

Seeing with enlightened eyes of the heart, not just the eyes of scientific observation. What would result from that ongoing growth in wisdom, that ongoing revelation of God’s care for the world? Verse 18 says that it will be an enlightening of the eyes of their hearts. They will see not just with the scientific observer’s eyes trying to gather information, but also with enlightened eyes of the heart. Still, they will need to see with those scientific eyes, too, so they will not be deceived by the lies of the principalities and powers.

Most every time the powers make an attack on the rest of us, they make a public relations announcement to explain why what they are doing is really good for us. The world’s largest corporation announced this week that they would put a cap on salaries, in fulfillment of an internal memo earlier this year that predicted that their workers were going to start costing them more money for salaries and benefits now that many workers are staying with their jobs for longer periods, earning raises and increased benefits. But the company announced it by saying that they were doing this to help their workers advance to higher-level jobs. They said salary caps would be an incentive to apply for higher levels of supervisory or management positions.

Now you and I may be gullible sometimes, but we are not stupid. So the longer we spend thinking about this rationale, the more it does not make sense. No wonder the workers are not happy about it. The company has lots and lots of workers at the lower levels. Then there are far fewer jobs at the higher levels. It’s like a pyramid. So the workers see that they will either have to settle for fixed wages eventually or be the one out of five or one out of ten or one out of 100 that gets promoted to a higher level job. The other four, or nine, or ninety-nine, will be stuck. If they want higher wages, they’ll have to find a job somewhere else. And that makes the company happy, because they would much rather hire new low-wage employees to replace the ones who are making better wages and earning better benefits.

So we need to see with the eyes of the scientific observer, to uncover the lies of the powers and see what is being done to the people God loves. That last part of it is also why the scientific observer’s eyes are not enough. We also have to see with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the heart of God who loves all creation.

You and I have driven through or walked by neighborhoods where houses are run down and mostly boarded up. Most of the time people see those neighborhoods as blights, as wastelands, as places where unknown and dangerous things might be going on. If any of you have been in North Philadelphia, in Kensington Heights, for instance, you would have seen an extreme version of that kind of neighborhood. North and South Lawndale in Chicago also has been that kind of neighborhood. Wayne Gordon, the pastor of Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, says that at two times in the history of those neighborhoods, their population reached half a million. But by the 1970s, Lawndale had declined from 500,000 to 100,000 residents. That means there were a lot of boarded up businesses and houses and apartment buildings and churches.

If you haven’t seen that sort of place, maybe you can imagine it. I saw it this year in Lawndale, in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, in Camden, New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, New York. In North Philadelphia there are boarded up, dilapidated, crumbling houses for block after block, mile after mile. Some places have vast stretches of bulldozed lots with a scattering of run-down houses still inhabited by the poor. Other blocks seem completely deserted.
Sister Margaret McKenna saw North Philadelphia with a different set of eyes. She saw run down houses which were the last resort of desperate people. She saw boarded up houses where crack addicts hid and practiced their deadly rituals of self-destruction. So she convinced her Medical Missionary Sisters to buy a small house on a corner for under $10,000 in the late 1980s, and she began to make friends with the addicts. She met a Black Baptist pastor who was working with recovering addicts and joined forces with him to create a plan to help recovering addicts pool their resources to live in community.

The people in this recovery community participate in Bible study, in community service, in life skills training, in sharing their economic resources and housing, in job training, in support groups, in training about alternatives to violence, and they live together as a close-knit neighborhood ought to live. The public lie about North Philadelphia is that it is a lost cause, needs to be bulldozed, is full of criminals, and ought to be redeveloped by speculators who think they can buy it cheap and sell it for a huge profit to professionals. But seeing the truth behind the lies let Sister Margaret and her partners see that the abandoned places and the abandoned people are God’s places and God’s people. She saw Jesus in the homeless addicts, and helped them have a place to stay. The community is called New Jerusalem Laura, a collection of houses and neighbors devoted to seeking and following God. We have to see with enlightened eyes of the heart, and then we have to be faithful.

Not being blinded by eyes of fear. We also can’t just see with the eyes of fear. Fear will blind us to the truth. Fear is the absence of hope, the absence of faith, and the barrier to faithfulness. We live in a time when politicians and business leaders and managers or supervisors are constantly playing on our fears. We have orange alerts and heightened security measures. We can’t trust people with a water bottle or a tube of toothpaste. We hear that pink slips are coming. Advertisements aimed to shake us up tell we need a security system on our cars and our houses. We have to change our passwords on our ATM cards so that people in a far away country will not empty our bank accounts. We have to delete unexpected emails to make sure someone we can’t see or don’t know is not taking over our home or work computers. Fear shuts us up. It makes us stand back. It closes us in.

But Paul says to let the Spirit open the eyes of your heart, transforming them through the wisdom of knowing God. A young preacher who grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans ended up in Brooklyn, New York, and in a pastorate that other ministers told him would be a career-ending job. He pressed on because he felt the call of God, and didn’t let the fear of a ruined career drive his decisions. As he got to know his parishioners, he found that many had left or were not attending because they were afraid to be out in their own neighborhood to go to church. They were afraid to wait for the bus. They were afraid to walk into city parks. They were afraid to drive down city streets. There was no police protection. The neighborhood was under the control of drug dealers and organized crime. They were seeing their world through the eyes of fear, and they had good reason to do so.

Rather than just hand it over to the powers of neglect and harm, Johnny Ray Youngblood and his congregation began to plan for recovering their neighborhood. They confronted drug dealers and criminals. They bought property and got the drug houses and prostitution houses out of their neighborhood. They joined with other churches in an organization like Durham CAN and confronted city hall about police protection, city services, and affordable housing. And before long, the fog of fear was lifting in the sphere of influence of St. Paul Community Baptist Church. They saw through the eyes of the heart, led by the Spirit, and they responded with faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see through the eyes of the heart and not the eyes of fear. We need to see through eyes enlightened by the Spirit of God, and we need to respond with faithfulness.

I could tell similar stories about Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., and the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, or about the Circle Rock Church in Chicago, or about the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. I heard of their faithfulness. They have been made wise by the Spirit who revealed to them the heart of God.

Getting beyond eyes of selfishness. There is another way of seeing that will keep us from doing what God wants us to do. We live in a culture dedicated to looking through the eyes of selfishness. With these eyes, we see people’s problems and say to ourselves, “That’s not my problem.” The world of marketing tempts these eyes by saying, “When was the last time you did something for just you?” Or they say, “You deserve a break today,” even though they said the same thing on that commercial yesterday.

We get so wrapped up in what someone said that hurt our feelings that we sit and mope and don’t even think about what we could be doing for someone with real problems. It reminds me of a poster I saw many years ago that said, “A refugee would love to have your problems.” Don’t you think people in Southern Lebanon might like to have your problems? Wouldn’t people in Darfur love to have your problems? Wouldn’t people sleeping on Durham’s streets tonight love to have my problems?

In San Francisco, California, I visited Grace Fellowship Community Church and the ministry partner they founded, Grace Urban Ministries. They are a Presbyterian congregation in the urban core of San Francisco. Founded in 1983 out of a mother church in Chinatown, they first began to minister in a suburban part of San Francisco. Their church included many Chinese Americans as well as some European Americans, ministering in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the United States. Of course, Chinese Americans could be justified in pulling back from European Americans because of the history of mistreatment of Chinese workers in the U. S. But rather than self-centered eyes, they were looking through enlightened eyes of the heart and willing to seek reconciliation.

This church could have done like so many other churches in this country do. It could have settled into suburban life and waited to relocate if the community changed. But a decade after their founding, instead of moving away from the poor, Grace Fellowship Community Church relocated into the midst of the city where the needs of the poor were at their door.
Even after moving to a poorer neighborhood, they could have hired a few people to do the work and just showed up for preaching. We don’t know anyone who just shows up for preaching, now, do we? But instead they made a strong covenant of accountability to be involved in weekly Bible study, worship, and ministry. When Grace Fellowship has a churchwide retreat to pray and plan and cast a vision, over 90% of their members attend. They have as many at weekday Bible study as they have on Sunday for worship. Seeing with enlightened eyes of the heart, not with self-centered eyes, lets them demonstrate faithfulness as a real people of God with love for all the saints. We need to see with those kinds of eyes, and be faithful.

Hope and power when churches are faithful. Paul says in the next verse that enlightened eyes will see hope. It’s so easy for us to come to church and shout and get a charge, or even to quietly meditate in worship and gain strength, but then we leave to face the world with resignation that nothing is ever going to be different. We can cry out that we believe in God, but then say there is no point in trying to change the system.

Well I’m here today to say that our faith in God must be matched by our faithfulness in God. I have seen in this past year the amazing results of faithfulness. Prisoners are leaving their past of trouble and failure to become community leaders. Addicts are making themselves accountable to others and leaving behind their addictions. Doctors are turning down the big salaries they could have to serve at moderate wages in church-based community clinics. Blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians are putting aside their differences to worship together, to minister together, to recognize one another’s beauty and blessedness in the eyes of God. Faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ changes things. Seeing those changes is the seedbed of our hope.

Paul goes on in verse 19 to point out that we who are faithful can find out about the “immeasurable greatness” of God’s power. That power raised Jesus from the dead and seated him on the throne as Lord of heaven and earth. That power helped a few farming preachers and laypeople in Americus, Georgia, come up with a plan to use Christian moral practices to bring an end to poverty housing. That power led a church in Dallas to respond so quickly and effectively to Hurricane Katrina that the city of Dallas came to that Baptist church for guidance on how to set up their Katrina relief program. That power helped a rag-tag group of everyday folks in North Philadelphia to confront city government and the powers of the official church, even to the point of going to jail. They won a victory to keep housing for thirty homeless families. And that power of God led the judge to release them from jail because a young man explained to him that they were standing up for the homeless because Jesus was himself a homeless man.

And Paul says that the power of God has given Jesus authority above every rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name in this age and the age to come. Yes, in the age to come, and yes, in this age. God’s power is greater than the U. S. President and Congress, greater than city hall or the county commission. God’s power is greater than big oil companies and multinational textile firms. God’s power is greater than Google and Microsoft and AOL. God’s power is greater than MTV and BET and Disney and Time-Warner. God’s power is greater than crack or methamphetamines or white lightning. God’s power is greater than the pornography industry, the banking industry, or the fashion industry.

All of those pretenders for power are under Christ’s feet. Ephesians says all this is put under Christ’s feet, making him the head over all things. He is the top of the heap, the one where the buck stops, the Supreme Leader.

Yet we have to be careful about carrying on about Jesus’ being the boss, because we read in the Gospels how he leads. He’s not like earthly, worldly leaders. He leads with love. He leads with service. He leads with faithfulness. That is the kind of supervisor I want. That is the one I want making decisions that will affect my life.

And Paul says there is a reason Christ has been made the head of all things. It was not just to have a title. It was not to throw his weight around and show everyone he is in charge. Verse 22 says he was put over all things “for the church.” God’s power over all other powers is for the church. We can’t be just sitting around saying, “God, go fix it up for me.” God has given us this power. Are our eyes enlightened? Can we see what God wants us to do? Do we have wisdom taught by the Holy Spirit? If so, then faithfulness is what we must show. Faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and love toward all the saints—that is what Paul had heard about. And now he is saying keep on that path, knowing that God’s almighty power has been given through Christ for the church.

If that is not clear enough, the final verse brings it home. The church is the body of Christ. We are Christ in the world. Our faithfulness must show Christ to the world. Our love must be Christ’s love for the world. Our view of the people must be Christ’s view of the people. Our care for the addict, the homeless, the heartbroken, the oppressed, the poor, must be Christ’s care for them, as he told us when he said the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Jubilee year of the Lord. We are Christ’s body. Not just a thinking mind, but a working body. We can’t settle for hearing some preaching and then taking that for all we are supposed to do. We have to be the body of Christ moving in the world, shaking things up, caring for people, making changes. It can be done because all power is in him. Paul says the church, the body of Christ, has the fullness of him who fills all in all. We are the bearers, the carriers, the hands and feet and mouths and strong backs of what Jesus is doing. Do we know it? Do we believe it? Are we going to be faithful to it?

Amen.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Have Heard of Your Faithfulness and Your Love, part 1
(This sermon was delivered at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church on August 20, 2006)

It is a blessing to be here today. I always feel the weight of my task when I step into this pulpit and remember who is usually standing here, and I remember how you have welcomed me into this family as one of your own.

Over the past year, some of you have probably wondered at times where I have been. You have seen Everly and my children, but you don’t see much of me. Well I have not been “sleeping in” on Sundays. And I have not started a new career as an itinerant firebrand preacher, hopping from church to church. I have been being a professor, traveling to do research.

Many of you heard that I had received grant funding and was allowed to take a sabbatical for the 2005-2006 academic year. My approach to research involved selecting a diverse sample of churches and church-related ministries which were doing an exemplary job of being involved in their communities, neighborhoods, towns, or cities, and even some working on a national and international scale, bringing transformation through their service.

The idea for this research began to grow back in the year 2000 when I started reading about the Voice of Calvary Church in Jackson, MS, about its ministries, and its leaders, in particular a couple named John and Vera Mae Perkins. So this year I have been visiting church and ministry leaders across the country, interviewing them about their work, how they understand the Bible and theology, and how they teach others to see the work of the church as they see it.

It has been an enriching year, filled with both the frustrations of trying to learn to work with the budget and finance systems of the university as well as the joys of conversing with people whose lives and work are often inspiring. Yesterday I started back to teaching after a year of doing other things. Now I must try to make the most of what I have learned, bringing it into my classroom teaching. It also means I will not be gone as often on weekends, since I’m teaching three courses every Saturday.

I’ve been telling you about this just now for a couple of reasons. The first one is that I wanted you to know that I have not been just skipping out or drifting away from Mt. Level. The second reason is that this passage speaks to the reasons for my research. In verse 15, the apostle says to the church people in and around Ephesus, “I have heard of your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.” Well, that is how I went about contacting people to interview last year. I had heard of their faithfulness and love, so I wanted to know how they came to be such beacons of the gospel. And I say thanks to the Wabash Center in Indiana, who sent me the funds to travel, and to Shaw University, who let me have the time to do it.

In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul has been hearing some news about their churches, and it prompted him to write about some things on his mind. He has heard of their faithfulness to Jesus.

Digression on faithfulness. Some of you may be looking at your Bibles and saying to yourselves, “My translation says ‘faith in the Lord Jesus,’ but he keeps saying ‘faithfulness.’ I wonder what translation he is using.” I’ll have to admit that I am using the Broadway Non-Standard Version. And it is a non-standard version because there are some problems in going from Greek to English that are only recently being noticed and acknowledged by scholars, theologians, and church leaders.

The word “faith” had a richer range of meanings in late middle English of the era of King James’s translation committee of the early 1600s. We can still find the residue of this richness in the language of contracts and agreements. We talk about a “good faith agreement.” That would be an agreement that we can count on someone to stand by. A good faith agreement means not only that each party trusts the other one to carry through on the agreement. It also means that each party has pledged to be faithful, to show fidelity, to the other party. It is a pledge of faithfulness.

When there is a negotiation going on in law or contracts, all parties of the negotiation are expected to be saying what they mean and meaning what they say. That is called bargaining “in good faith.” When someone seems to be pretending or “posing” in a negotiation, things break down. They are said to be negotiating “in bad faith.” Good faith negotiation is a promise to be faithful. Bad faith negotiation means people are being untrustworthy, leading to unfaithfulness.

Our everyday use of the word “faith” has really lost that kind of understanding. It’s a long story to explain why, but in my study it is related to the corruption of moral convictions in a culture which praised the God of Jesus Christ while enslaving God’s children from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and wherever else they could be found. It involved praising the virtues of freedom while enslaving and abusing the bodies of millions. By my reading of the news about working conditions in factories that bring us our shirts, shoes, pants, dresses, computers, toys, auto parts, and more, it still has not ended. But I’m not going to develop that idea today.

What I’m trying to explain is that there have been some changes in language in the modern era, the historical period Cornel West has at times called the era of European World Domination. Those changes reflect a conceptual separation of the mind from the body as if the mind is higher and greater, almost disconnected from the body. In the culture of the modern Western world, sometimes called modernity, we claim to respect human rights and the dignity of the person at the same time that we calculate people’s value in terms of dollars.

Companies use language as a pretense of dignifying their workers, calling minimum-wage employees “associates,” “partners,” and “team members” when they are by all appearances common laborers who have little or no job security who could easily be laid off when jobs are shipped overseas to sweatshops. But again, I can’t go down that path today. The mental gift of an elevated title is supposed to make them stop thinking about the bills they can’t pay and the illness for which they can’t afford to get treatment. The mind is given priority over the body in this kind of language. People are pushed to try to think themselves out of the real conditions in which their bodies exist and suffer.

So what does that have to do with translating “faith” and “faithfulness?” The word “faith” has more and more come to mean, in our use of it, something we do with our minds, but not necessarily with our whole selves, with our bodies, too. We say the word “believe,” which comes from a medieval word for making a mutual commitment to serve and protect one another, but for us it means mostly a thought that we have about someone or something. “I believe,” for us, means, “I think it powerfully or with strong feeling.” But it usually stays a mental act for us. “Faith,” in our way of talking, is about something inward, not about what we do.

Now I know I’m stating this strongly to make my point, but if you look at what most church people say and do in relation to the words “faith” and “believe,” which are the ways English Bibles usually translate the Greek noun pistis or the Greek verb pisteuo, then I think you will see what I mean. “Faith,” for people in our modern culture, is something we do in our heads or our hearts and not with our legs, hands, wallets, or possessions.

So the Broadway Non-Standard Version of the Bible is my experiment with substituting one less common English translation of a Greek word for the more common one. It is an attempt to practice thinking in a way that makes note of a difference between modern English and ancient Greek or even Hebrew. Our English language has two different nouns, “faith” and “faithfulness,” and two different verbs, “believe” and “be faithful.” One Greek word or one Hebrew word encompasses the meaning of both--just one noun says both, and just one verb says both. So I’m trying to awaken myself, and others, to what is missing when we read these English translations. So if it says “faith,” I’m going to try substituting “faithful.” If it says “believe,” I’m going to try substituting “be faithful.”

One additional reason for using the word faithful here in Ephesians chapter 1 has to do with reading the whole passage in context. We can’t just lift a few words or a verse out of the Bible and assume it will stand alone and convey its truest sense. If we look to the very first verse of the letter to the Ephesians, the translators of the King James Version and other more recent versions refer to the “saints that are in Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Now it does not mean that just because faithful shows up in one verse I have to change to it in another verse. But it does give some indication that the faithfulness of the people in the churches around and in Ephesus is what Paul is talking about as he starts this letter.

That was a long digression, but it is key to understanding the rest of what I want to say. Paul had heard some things. Here many years later, I’m not the same as the great Apostle, but I had also heard some things. God has blessed me with the opportunity to go investigate what I have heard and to learn from it.

[I'll post the rest of this sermon tomorrow.]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This morning I heard an interview on Morning Edition about immigrants living in England. In particular it discussed the difficulties faced by third-world Muslims who come to England for the prosperity, not realizing that modern free market capitalism has a flip side. The "freedom" of the modern world is the freedom to choose the products that the powerful and wealthy want to sell to the masses. It is the freedom to choose an image from among the ones being pimped by music companies, television stations, or fashion promoters.

The person being interviewed was Hanif Kureishi, an author and screenwriter and a son of an immigrant. He wrote the film, My Son, the Fanatic, about the reasons some poor Muslim immigrants in the north of England are drawn to rebel against Western culture. For instance, the immigrant's son in the film, a young adult on his way to a potentially promising career, has reached a point of turning away from English culture and ways. He feels compelled to throw away his music and his worldly goods, insisting he would never raise children in England.

Kureishi remarks about the character, “He feels that his father is being absorbed into the West, and therefore the father and the Muslim community are becoming other, are losing their identity. They’ve lost the path. They’ve lost their heritage. They’ve lost their history.”

A very telling line from the film was selected and quoted by the interviewer, Renee Montagne: “They say integrate, but they live in pornography and filth. This place is soaked in sex.”

While it may be an insightful look at the reasons so much resentment exists against the US and the UK, I am more interested in some comments which shed light on structural issues of Western society which most non-immigrants are generally blind to. I'm referring to the issues around the results of the kind of centrifugal force of false freedom that tears apart communities and families, all in the name of individual choices.

Here are Kureishi's remarks in response to Montagne's selection of that quotation.

It’s to do with the shock of the West. If you come from a Muslim third-world country and you come to the West, there is a terrible vertigo that affects people which is to do with the sexuality, the decadence, the drug taking, the broken families, and so on. Of course this is the obverse of the capitalism which we so love and admire and want. And it is also something we democrats often forget to explain to the poor and dispossessed, that there is a lot of other stuff that comes with democracy. And it's very hard for these families and for the people who come from these places to swallow. And they are not prepared for that kind of family disintegration.


This destructive power of capitalism is generally ignored because it can be hidden from the middle class in many cases. But Frontline documentaries such as The Lost Children of Rockdale County and The Merchants of Cool help to point out the way this sort of disintegrative power of capitalism undermines the forms of community which help to sustain people and provide a way to see a purpose for living beyond self-satisfaction at the smorgasbord of entertainment, what Collins and Skover called a "pornutopia" in The Death of Discourse. Sadly, most people who call themselves Christians in the West cannot see that the forces tearing their families and lives apart are the very flip side of the structures of economic life in the West.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm writing a boring introduction to this blog, so read on if you need some help falling asleep. This site is an experiment in two ways. I am trying out a suggestion from a recent faculty seminar, when we were told that blog sites make a good way to do asynchronous class discussions because they are simple to use and present a better user interface than some bulletin board sites. The other experiment is to see if this mode of writing might facilitate my writing in general. The hardest part of academic research is the discipline to set aside time for writing. Perhaps I can put some fragments down in this setting that will help me work on the larger projects that I keep putting off.

My primary audience will be students in my classes, but others are welcome to post, too. I will moderate all outside posts to try to keep the discussion focused on matters relevant to the courses at hand, but I hope that other interested parties may actually strengthen the discussion (keep it brief, please) by shedding light on points of view which differ from what I have written.
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