Monday, February 11, 2008

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
-- Ecclesiastes 6:11
Man, I did it again. I opened up my history notes -- carefully crafted to fill but not overfill the given time -- and I expanded on them. As a result I got all off schedule and ended up pushing aside everything I know about good delivery, instead scrambling to get in as much as I could in the time that remained.

The class walked still walked away blessed, I hope, and probably believing me to be really smart and knowledgeable and hard working, but how much better it would be if I did not act as if I had to tell them everything I know? How can that not come across as arrogant?

You would think that after delivering this lecture 50+ times, I would be wise to this trap, this tendency, but it seems to happen each February when I teach it for the first time of the year. I think it's because I know too much. It's not like I'm brilliant, but every year I pick up another story or two that seems like it would fit. And you can't add something to an already-full plate without taking something else away. That's where I run into trouble. I've got too much good material!

This particular lesson covers the history of the expansion of Christianity in its first 15 centuries. I have two hours to teach it. So last night I was only up to the fifth century, instead of the tenth, when we took our mid-class break. What a scramble to get through a thousand years in the second hour!

The great thing about Perspectives is that it usually involves giving the same talk two or three nights in a row. The second night is always smoother. So, maybe tonight I will be able to refrain from adding back in some of the facts and stories I've ruthlessly tried to cut out.

Today was a delightfully restful day. Stayed in bed until almost 9:00 am, hung out with the B. family, and went with them to visit the grandparents who still live on the land their ancestors homesteaded on. My own relatives wanted to visit with me tomorrow or the next day but I'm doubtful it will work out since I am car-less and they are nearly three hours away. I could have planned this better, but with so much going on I had a hard time anticipating that.

So, unless I'm traversing the state, I'll just pretend this is a weekend and keep taking it easy -- putting in a couple hours on work stuff but not pushing too hard.

Pray for my Thursday lecture though: Most of it is still not written (that's what I should be doing right now...) This time it's the history of the expansion of Islam, a quite different perspective from what I'm teaching here in the Midwest. Karen Armstrong strikes just about the right tone for this in her book Islam: A Short History, so I'll use her work as my foundation. Good stuff. Oh, I know conservatives would consider her soft on Islam - I've heard she calls herself a 'freelance monotheist' - but for this purpose, she's just right.

Here's my introduction:
There is a statement in lesson 1 in your text which is significant for this lesson as well: “To understand Islam we need to look at the world through a different lens.”

Now, I don’t know how much you know or think about world history – a pretty big topic – but to really get where Muslims are coming from and understand the tensions we see in the world today we’ll need to look at some parts of history that, as Westerners, we may know little about -- as well as to look at some of the events we are quite familiar with and to consider the possibility that there may be other ways to interpret them.

To the extent we can do that, it will help us see the world from an Islamic point of view and to relate to Muslims with understanding and compassion.


TomWebb said...

You could sound even more intelligent by a little at the end about the position the remaining presidential candidates take on the Muslim world. Elicit prayer for God to give us a wise leader who will take us forward in the increasing complexities of shifting powers and a growing focus on the Middle East tensions.

Dean Smith said...

Maybe you've grown too comfortable with the material and think you have more mastery over it than you actually do.

I am to give a 40-min talk Friday night on 'Our Ecological Footprint.' I made up an outline which I figured would take an hour to do. Then I cut it in half. I'll bet I go over or have to leave out a whole lot. It's a tradeoff between being responsive to your audience and watching the clock.

Brrr. It's cold and windy tonight. The boat is rockin' and rollin'.

Marti said...

Re, talking politics at an EWI class? I'm reluctant to do that. And I couldn't say what the candidates' positions are vis-a-vis the Muslim world. Though I should be prepared to answer questions that may come up, such as this one: "Isn't Obama a Muslim?"

Dad - you're right, the tradeoff often has to do with responsiveness to the group. Watching the clock is an important part of the deal I have with those who invite me to come - so is covering the assigned material - but it has a cost. If I was not using PowerPoint and notetaking handouts the flexing would be a bit easier.

For what it's worth, the Monday night class went much better than the Sunday one. I cut out half my introduction, and a number of the asides I'm fond of, and ended up folding in quite a bit about China. It worked.

It's cold here in Indy, too. I'm looking forward to my day in SoCal on the way home - 71 degrees when last I checked.

It's very cold in parts of Central Asia just now. Taj'stan is rationing electricity. And this just in from Tu'stan - the gov't is raising gas prices eightfold. From $.08/gallon to $.60/gallon! Life is tough all over, huh?

Marti said...

LATER - Re: Politics, if anyone reads this now-old post. Tom's comments got me thinking about what could or should be said about current world politics and policies vis-a-vis Islam. I didn't really have the time to research and speak about it, but a topic that would have been very appropriate to address in my lecture (and did come up in questions) was the role oil wealth has played in Islam's current patterns of expansion. Not that I know the answer, but it would have been worth exploring.

I had braced myself for questions about Barack Obama being a Muslim. But nobody asked. Maybe these guys are a bit more enlightened. He's not a Muslim, and never has been, but the rumors persist. Two really nice people at my church, both of whom I am pretty sure get their views of the world from conservative talk radio, have mentioned Barack's "Muslim background" as if it was a matter of fact. For more info, google this; Snopes has a pretty good account of the accusations and the evidence in this matter.

I'm torn between anger about people's ignorance and defensiveness about the Islamic world view. Why would it be a problem if he DID have ties to Islam? Why is it that so many Christians seem to think out country ought to have to have a Christian president, but if we can't, secular humanism is not so bad, whereas Islam would be terrible? I would think they would rather have a person of faith, but I guess not.