Tag Archives: APU

Transition

Earlier today, Gretchen and I stood up in front of the church and announced that I would be stepping down from my position as Worship Leader at Christ Community Church.

A Little History

About 9 years ago, I was the worship leader for a small church plant in the Inland Empire. It was not a good experience. The leadership was not supportive, our relationship with the pastor was demeaning, and when we left we shook the dust off our feet. I had no place to go, no obvious means of income, but we had to get gone.

We bounced around for a few months, moved to Burbank, and then out of nowhere I got an email from Doug Scholten, the pastor at CCC. Their worship leader had left with two weeks notice, and Doug was scrambling to find an interim who could hold down the gig for a month or so while they looked for someone to take the position. We met, it went well, and I agreed to cover the gap. Mother’s Day of 2003 was my first Sunday at the church.

As they looked at candidates for the position, they asked me if I was interested. I kept saying no – I wasn’t interested in a church gig, I didn’t want to get back into that mess.

After 6 months, Gretchen and I realized that we did, actually, really want to be there. The people were warm and welcoming, the position was well-defined and well-suited to my abilities. More than that, Doug was the kind of pastor that all church musicians hope for. He respected music and the arts, was willing to try new things, and was able to step back and allow me to do my job. I submitted my resume, and they hired me as the Worship Leader.

Some Highlights

In my first year at CCC, Doug asked me to preach. It was the first time I had been asked to preach anywhere. It was an overwhelming and awe-filling experience, and one that I came to both dread and relish.

We have a seasonal choir at CCC, but most of the choir lit wasn’t appropriate for our group. I started writing and arranging music for our choir, and as I’m sitting here looking at my scores folder, over 8 years I’ve written or arranged 30 pieces of choral music for this choir. There’s nothing quite like the relentless necessity of Christmas and Easter to force you to build a catalog of work!

Good Friday has become a tradition of experiential risk-taking for us. One year we created an immersive environment with 30 laptops projecting photos and videos, and live-blogging stations for people to record their reactions. Last year we booked a string quartet to play a meditative concert of challenging contemporary music. The path from “What if we …” to “Let’s try it!” was well-worn.

A few years ago, we added a Classic service at 8am on Sunday mornings. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but it has become the perfect way to start the out the Sunday haul. Instead of jumping right in to running charts, setting tech, rehearsing the band, I get to start the day by sitting quietly and playing through two hymns with a small congregation. It’s a brief meditation for me, and has become one of my favorite things.

In the time I’ve been at CCC, we’ve had about 12 students from APU come through and play with the team, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for much longer. It’s been a place where some of the things we talk about in class can be worked out very practically, like a “lab” extension to the lectures.

Both of our children were born and then dedicated at CCC. I love that we gather around and lay hands on new parents, commissioning them to the ministry of parenthood.

The Transition

In the last few years, Gretchen and I have been feeling a strong pull to find a local church. We love many things about CCC, but the drive is 45 minutes on Sunday morning, and an hour and a half during rush hour. The time and distance mean that we can’t be part of the community of Christ Community Church. Our kids can’t be in the children’s choir, Gretchen and I can’t be in small groups or make it out to social functions.

We believe in the mission of the church. We believe that it has the power to change lives and communities. That power, though, is worked out through the relationships within the church, and between the church and those in the community around it. If you’re only present for Sunday morning, if you are forced by time and distance to stand one step removed from the other people in the congregation, then you might be “going” to church, but it is impossible to participate in the transforming power of church. You can’t serve the mission. You can’t be served by the mission.

So, we starting praying and looking for a chance to make the transition to a local church.

The Road Ahead

February 27th will be our last Sunday, after which I will step down from my position as worship leader. March 6th I’ll begin leading a small early morning chapel service at a large church in the Irvine area. It’s a traditional music service, with piano and organ, along with the occasional string quartet and guest soloists. It’s early in the morning, and so I’ll be home in time for us to find a 10:30 service at a local church, where we can attend together as a family.

There are many things we will miss from the last 8 years, but there are also some things we’re looking forward to.

We’re looking forward to sitting together during a worship service.

We’re looking forward to attending a small group or bible study together.

I’m looking forward to being that guy every worship leader dreams of, who walks up after the service and says “Hey, I’d love to sub on the worship team sometime if you need someone to cover keyboards,” and then can actually play!

I’m looking forward to a smaller scope of responsibility, to a simpler service. I’m looking forward to Easter and Christmas being seasons of joy, instead of dread.

The seed that was planted with the hymn service at our church has blossomed. I’m looking forward to playing music from the deep and rich tradition of the church.

I’m looking forward to volunteering for things … or, saying “no” to things!

Leaving Well

There are so few times in Church when we are able to leave well. It seems like most transitions happen because the church is unhappy, or there is conflict with the leadership, or character issues, or because someone leaves for a better gig, or more money, or … anyway, we as a church have a bad history of ending ministries well.

This is a good transition. Hard, but good. We are leaving a healthy ministry behind, we are leaving with the blessing and goodwill of the congregation, and we are leaving for the best of reasons.

This is a good thing.

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Working on the opener for the big APU Celebrate Christmas concert. It’s going to be a big epic choir & orchestra setting of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, building up into a new anthem that I just finished last night. I’m kind of loving this.

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Sing, ye Christmas Choirs
Ring, ye wild bells ring while darkness flees

Sing the Light of Heav’n
Sing of peace o’er all the earth while darkness flees,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Ring out Christmas bells
Ring out songs of joy for God has come

O Son of Israel
O Zion’s Daughter, sing! our God has come

Brightest of Adam’s wandering sons
Joined with the light of the holy one,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Faculty Awards, Round 2

Remember this, from last year?

I got nominated again this year. It’s for the “THE TEACHING EXCELLENCE AND CAMPUS LEADERSHIP AWARD”. There are 5 faculty members nominated each year.

Cross your fingers. If I win, we’ll throw a shindig at the Lee joint to celebrate and blow through that cash prize.

Beat It

It’s the end of the year, time again for student projects. This was done by my Production Techniques class. Everything you hear, all of the instruments, the recording, the mix, everything was done by our students. It was arranged and produced by Sean Beck.

VOLUME UP!

Beat It

This is what we do!

Professionals, Again

I spent yesterday editing down the tutorial video from the Our Father, Vindicate recording session with our very own Mr. Zack Mathers (so expect some swearing in the comments). For those of you who do not eagerly memorize every detail of my life with rapt attention and a pavlovian frenzy, I wrote a song, wanted to do a big recording session of the song, and the only way I could afford to do it was by getting a grant to fund the demo. To do that, we had to engage in some mild academic trickery, and tell them that the whole purpose of the recording session was to make an instructional video for students.

So, Zack brought some cameras along, recorded the whole session, and yesterday we editing all of that down into a 10-minute tutorial on how to record large-ensemble composer demos with no money down and only 8 singers.

I know I’ve said this before, but yesterday was another reminder: I am always shocked when people I know, people who are just, like, my people, friends, drinkin’ buddies, when they also turn out to be stone-cold awesome at what they do. I felt the same way the first time Aly edited something I had written (the proposal for this same grant, by the way). I felt the same way when June brought down a painting for my office. I felt the same way when other florists started ripping off Gretchen’s work and claiming it as their own (a true indicator of awesomeness). It’s been the same with Cory, Chad, Rosy, almost everybody (hey Bobby).

It’s always fun to get to see people who are your friends as they are perceived by their clients, and to realize that the reason they do what they do is because they do what they do. They didn’t just hang a shingle, they became professionals.

New Notes

I took a risk yesterday, and it paid off in a huge way.

I met with the Dean of the school of music, and we negotiated a big shift in my responsibilities in the School of Music. I am stepping down from my role as Director of Small Groups, and taking on the role of Staff Composer. A big chunk of my job from now on will be to compose new music and do some arranging for the ensembles in our school. In the last year, I’ve had several ensemble directors come ask me to write or arrange something, and I’ve had to say no to some of them because of the time constraints, and because they didn’t have room in their individual budgets to pay for new music. This solves both problems in one glorious swoop. I now get to say “yes!”, they get to have new things written specifically for them, I have time to do it, and they don’t have to decide between paying for new music or paying for scholarships (or whatever else they spend money on).

I have loved my role at APU since day one, and I didn’t think it was possible for it to get even better, but this is like a dream come true.

Our Father, Vindicate – Finished!

On May 28th, 2008, I jotted down the first few notes of Our Father, Vindicate. I stared with the melodic theme (E – D#, F# – D#), and the sound of that flat 6 suspension in bar 26. One year and one month ago today.

A few minutes ago, I just finished the final mix of the recording. It’s such a huge feeling of accomplishment to see this thing come together, and to have something solid in hand, something people can hear and respond to. I’ve loved writing this piece, I’ve hated it at times, I’ve put more hours into it than anything I’ve ever done, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a musician because of doing it. I’m glad it’s behind me, but I’m very glad to have done it.

So, here it is.

Our Father, Vindicate
By Michael A. Lee
our-father-vindicate.mp3

Downlod the chart: Our Father, Vindicate.

The vocalists are, in order of part from top to bottom:
Anthony Maglione
Brent Froelich
David Loucks
Jessie Bullock
Kyle Campbell
David Kress
Lucas Short
Phil Nash

Additional vocals by Michael Lee, and Harold Clousing.

Bearing Witness

Being a faculty member at graduation is a strange experience. You feel a little bit like a prop in someone else’s play. We line up, don our caps and gowns, march onto the field, and then, we do nothing. We watch. We lend whatever meager gravity we have to the occasion. Some faculty members skip, but I go every year, to sit and bear witness.

It’s strange because, for the graduates, it’s their graduation, their one walk across the stage, their one handshake with the President of the University, their one capstone to a 4 year sojourner. For us, though, it happens every May. There are usually one or two students that you have special connection with, a handful that you recognize but can’t quite remember because they switched majors after taking your class, but the day passes, and then you take a breath and start thinking about the fall semester.

This year was different for me. This year, I watched a dozen students walk across the platform that I feel especially connected to. I had them as freshman, they toured in my small group, we played together in concerts, and I had them again in my Senior Seminar course. I watched them grow and change. I saw them in the act of becoming.

I wish you could meet these students. They are thoughtful and curious, and already carry inside of them that indefatigable burden of identity, of being musicians. They are dissatisfied with their own limitations, and moreover, they are disciplined and relentless in overcoming them. When they pick up their instruments, their considerable technical ability is placed in service to their musicianship. They are artists, and scholars, and they embrace the particular obligations of both.

Phil Shackleton sat next to me during the ceremony, and I think he sensed what I was thinking – he must have been thinking something similar. He said, “You see a group of students like this leave the school, and you think you’ll never see students like this again. But you will, they are coming up, we just don’t know them yet. It moves in waves.” I have no doubt that he’s right; he has seen this same cycle enough times to know.

But I haven’t. I started teaching at APU in as an adjunct in 2002, and became a professor in 2005. That was 4 years ago. These are my students. The first group that all came through my freshman course when I was the only one teaching it. They are the first-fruits of my idealized hope for what this school could become in the lives of young musicians.

In my more morose moments, I think that the best thing we’ve done as a school is manage not to ruin these students. We’ve allowed whatever they already had inside of them to survive, even to flourish. Maybe we’ve done more than that, but I’m sure that I am not the impartial witness to say what.

I know this; these students, these particular students, have made me a better teacher. They have pushed me to think more deeply about the subjects I’m teaching, to be more engaged with them in their learning. They have allowed me to open up my life to them in ways that might help them see their own path with greater clarity. They have helped me form a better understanding of my own place in this place.

I was proud to stand witness today, to be a passing figure in their pageant. I look forward, with great anticipation, to whatever these fine men and women set their minds to next.

classof2009

APU School of Music, 1999 vs 2009

Today was a mid-year faculty retreat for the APU School of Music. A major part of the retreat was developing concrete goals for the next 5 years, how we wanted to see our program grow and change as we move forward. To prepare us for that, we looked at a similar list of goals that was set by the faculty in Spring of 2000, and how those goals had been met. The goals for 2000 were based on data from the 1999 school year, which gave us a great perspective on how the School of Music has changed in these last 10 years.

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. In 1999, we had 142 undergraduates, and 7 graduate students. In 2009, we have 250 undergraduates, 70 graduates, and 15 artist certificate students.
  2. In 1999, we had 43 total faculty, 16 full-time, 19 adjunct, and 8 private professionals (those are professional musicians who run on-campus teaching studios). In 2009, we have 96 total faculty, 27 full-time, 39 adjunct, and 20 private professionals.
  3. In 1999, four full-time faculty had terminal degrees (PhD or similar). In 2009, 14 full-time faculty have terminal degrees, and 5 are in process.
  4. In 1999, the MIDI lab was crammed into an unused storeroom under the back staircase. In 2009, we have a 12-seat teaching lab, with fully integrated media (projection, speakers, screen sharing, Logic, Sibelius, Finale, Pro Tools, etc.)
  5. In 1999, we had 4 choirs: UCO, Bel Canto, Male Choral, and Oratorio. In 2009, we’ve added to that a Gospel Choir, Chamber Singers, and Vocal Jazz ensembles.
  6. In 1999, we did not have a Symphony Orchestra (we had a chamber orchestra that hired outside professionals to cover vacant instruments). In 2009, we have a thriving Symphony Orchestra that recently gave the North American debut of a symphony by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Yup, we did it before the LA Phil did it.
  7. In 1999, we had one jazz band that was not fully instrumented. In 2009, we have 2 jazz bands with full instrumentation, and multiple jazz lab ensembles teaching improvisation.
  8. In 1999, we had no ongoing service activity for our local community. In 2009, the Azusa Conservatory offers free and subsidized lessons to 60 local children, taught by APU students. I think this is one of the most outstanding things we do. A few years ago, I heard a 9-year-old boy whose single-mother speaks only Spanish, who goes to an elementary school that is failing on every level, and he played excerpts from a Bach violin concerto. This boy’s life had been fundamentally altered by the conservatory program. It brought tears to my eyes.
  9. In 1999, we only offered a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2009, we offer a Bachelor of Music degree in Performance, and in the next year we’ll be adding them in Church Music and Commercial Music (the BA is a liberal arts degree, the BMus is a professional degree with a higher concentration of courses in music, and more credibility in the professional world).
  10. In 1999, we offered nothing for commercial music. In 2009, we have 75 students studying in the Commercial Music degree program, making it the fastest growing degree in our school.
  11. In 1999, we were not sending ensembles internationally to perform and record. The last time a large ensemble had toured outside of North America was 1992. In 2009, we’ve sent every ensemble on an international tour in the past 7 years, including tours to Armenia, Romania, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Korea, and Italy.
  12. In 1999, we offered no senior thesis course. In 2009, we have a dedicated Senior Seminar in Music Ethics.
  13. In 1999, we offered no artist certificate program. In 2009, we have 15 students in that program, where they study technique and literature in their instrument intensively and exclusively for a year. Students studying piano and strings in this program place and win at international competitions regularly.
  14. In 1999, we offered no graduate scholarships. In 2009, we award almost a quarter of a million dollars a year in graduate scholarships.
  15. In 1999, we didn’t offered a graduate degree in composition. In 2009, we have our first class of students working toward a Master of Music in Composition.
  16. In 1999, our program was accredited only as part of our university, not independently. In 2009, we have full accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Music. In a very rare move for the NASM, they bypassed the normal provisional membership stage, and inducted us as full members at our first application.
  17. In 1999, we offered no international study for music students. In 2009, we just welcomed back our first group of students from Heidelberg, Germany, where they studied for a semester. We are one of the only Schools of Music in North America to offer this kind of opportunity, where students go internationally for a semester in a program designed specifically for music, study with local instructors, perform in local ensembles, and learn about the history and culture of the place from resident scholars. We heard the report back from those students this morning, and they uniformly agreed that it was a life-changing experience.

I hope that I never take for granted the blessing I’ve been given, to teach at a place like this. It’s wonderful to look at this list, and to think, “I was part of this, I got to help build this into what it has become.” I can look at this list and see specific things that I had a hand in. It’s humbling to think that I have a part in this, and more than a little overwhelming to realize the awesome responsibility that comes from shaping the future of the program.

God is at work in our little corner of the world. Today was a great reminder of that.

10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

As sung by the APU Men’s Choir. Sorry this link will only work if you have a facebook account, but it is so amazing, it might be worth signing up just to hear it. We saw this concert live twice, and got a little weepy both times.

UPDATED: Here’s the same thing, now hosted on YouTube for all to hear.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

100, 101, 101, 100, 99, 98, 99, 100

Well, the results are in. I’m never going back to the old way of teaching.

I’ve just finished grading Intro to Music Tech mid-term exams from the inaugural class of the new “Joy First, Theory Second” teaching method. The results were … staggering.

First, a little orientation. In this exam, the students walk into the room, I hand them a piece of music that looks like this:

They have 60 minutes to reproduce everything on the page, exactly as it appears, using Logic Pro notation software. Any of you who have tried to get Logic to spit out a basic worship chart can appreciate just how difficult some of the things on this page are. After 60 minutes, they email me a PDF file of their work.

In previous semesters, the average grade on this exam is about a 76%. This semester, the average grade was a 95%. I had one entire section (the best section, you guys know who you are) that averaged 100% – AVERAGED!! The lowest grade in the class was like a 94, and everyone else nailed it, including the extra credit.

Alex Wen, my impossibly awesome TA, deserves a huge chunk of the credit. He grades most of the projects leading up to the exam, and his corrections are very pointed, and help the students figure out how to correct their errors.

We also made a pretty substantial shift in the level of training for the lab techs, and made them more readily accountible and accessible in the lab, to help students with their projects.

Finally, this is a pretty unique group of students coming through the class. They are almost all freshmen, and they are very much on the ball. The next few years in the School of Music are going to be fun, if this crew is any indication.

When you add all of those factors up, whatever remainder there is between that and the outstanding test scores, I’m chalking up to the shift in teaching method. I love how effective it is in getting students deep into the content, and meeting them with instruction at their point of interest.

Next semester, I’m going to find a way to adapt this philosophy to my other courses, and better integrate it into the second half of my Intro to Music Tech course. I’m hopeful.

Joy first, theory second.

Do It First, Then We’ll Talk

This semester marks a pretty radical shift in my teaching. I’m adopting two new philosophies for each of my courses, rearranging lecture content and schedules, changing project parameters, all around two new principles.

The first is simple. I’ve made it a goal to never “lecture” for more than 20 minutes at a time. At the 20 minute mark, I stop, and we do something else. Either a class discussion, or a small project, or a break, something else. I’ve been on a steady diet of TED talks for the past 12 months, and I’ve been trying to capture the power of that strict time limit, the intensity of a well-crafted 20 minutes. I think it represents the upper limit of my students’ attention span, and rather than fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace it and use it to my advantage.

The second principle is more fundamental, and for me much more difficult. Most of the time, my thinking moves from principle to extrapolation. Once I learn the structure of MIDI messages, I can then move on to figure out how you might use them to deliver different kinds of musical information, how you might edit or filter them, a whole host of ideas can follow out of understanding that underlying principle. I organized my classes along similar lines, first teaching all of the core principles of a field of study, and then putting them into practice in the back half of the semester with projects. The result was that I bored my students to death in the first 6 weeks of the semester, bombarding with stuff that I knew was important, but that they really didn’t care much about.

I’m flipping that around this semester. I’m following a “do first, understand later” plan. In music technology, that means getting students to record and mix something the very first week, before they have any clue what they’re doing, and waiting until November before we even start getting into vocabulary, graphing, any of the more technical parts of the course. In Music & Ethics, it means pushing case studies to the front, and systematic moral philosophy to the back end.

I’m hoping that two things happen. First, I’m hoping to make some students more comfortable with unstructured progress, the ability to learn how to function with uncertainty. I’m coming to believe more and more that this is a critical skill to success in life, and something that they have not learned well to this point in their schooling. The skill used to figure out how to record a song with a piece of software without knowing “how it works” is the same skill set that they will later use to plan a semester of music classes, or produce a recording, the same skill set that will let them survive their first year of professional life, when they don’t know how anything works. The ability to jump into something with only a vague sense of how it works, and to emerge successful, is on the top tier of necessary skills for the professional musician.

My second hope is that it will spark a series of questions, that it will ignite curiosity in the students, and that the back half of the course, the systematic, academic, vocabulary and principles part of the course will become a series of answers to questions that they actually want to know the answer to. Instead of saying “this is a continuous controller message, here’s how it’s structured, memorize this, it’ll be on the test,” it will become “on those projects you’ve been working on, you kept using the mod wheel to change the sounds in interesting ways, here’s what you did, this is why it worked, here’s how you can use it to do other cool things, because it’s structured in this way.”

Basically, I’m trying to trick my students into being curious about the things that I think they should know.

I’m interested to hear from those of you who are teachers, in any capacity. What do you think about these ideas? Any of you go through big upheavals in how you view learning, based on your own experiences? Am I being hopelessly optimistic that these changes will make a difference in how my students learn?

Why Be Virtuous?

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

As part of the Music and Ethics class, I post something on the course blog each week for the students to read, consider, and then comment on. This is the first of the blog assignments, and I thought it would be interesting to post it here as well, for you folks to interact with:

Blog Assignment #1: Why Be Virtuous?
In class today, I gave you Plato’s view on the interaction between virtue and the human soul, and how a life lived excellently must mean a life lived with virtue. Plato’s is not the only view on the matter, of course. There are other views, by other smart people, on the meaning and purpose of virtue.

Let’s start off the blog assignments by reacting to a few of those perspectives. Here are four statements on reasons to be virtuous. They aren’t quotes, they are my own paraphrases of the views held by different philosophers:

  1. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of the nature of the human soul – we were created to be virtuous, and we do damage to our own nature, our own souls, if we deceive others and act with cruelty.” (Plato)
  2. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of God’s decree – He commands us to do certain things and not to do certain other things, and out of either love or fear, we ought to obey his commands.” (William of Ockham)
  3. “The best reason to be virtuous is the force of social pressure – if you are dishonest and cruel to others, society will shun you, and your capacity to enjoy life will be diminished.” (Ayn Rand)
  4. “The best reason to be virtuous is for the cause of greater social good – society as a whole is better off when people are honest and compassionate toward one another.” (Peter Singer)

There are certainly more options than the ones I’ve presented (include the option to say we shouldn’t be virtuous!), but let’s start with these. Which of the four statements above seems the most true to you? This isn’t a survey, don’t just jot down your answer; give us a little insight into why you think your option is the best choice.

Next in series: Ayana and the Sacred Song

Seasonal Affective Reordering

I love these kids.

These bright eyed recruits, fresh to the craft, newly minted and unpolished, these old and young all-at-once, these boundless excesses of energy, not yet stunted by perspective.

They are as unafraid of questions as any group I’ve ever seen, setting their frame-of-reference up against everything new and ready to see it changed and stretched and grown. They are wolves, and every new thing is their prey. Knowledge, experience, fear, wonder, they hunt it down with precision and abandon.

I sit down to eat with one of them, and hear confession. They are uncertain, and afraid, but they are undaunted. They are ill-at-ease with their received faith, with simplicity and steps and a church reduced to social gatherings, and are looking for some way of meshing old truths with the complexity of the world as they are coming into it. This is the very meaning of courage, to me, to lay aside old comforts in order to take up greater things.

UCO rehearsal campIn these days before the start of classes, there is the luxury of unhurried time, and a kind of egalitarianism. I am not yet their Professor, they are not yet at the mercy of my gradebook, and we can talk freely. We can be friends, for a few days more, and we can talk about ideas and their consequences. I think sometimes that I get to do my best teaching in these last few days of summer, when the campus is full of eager students, and my time is unbounded by lectures and grading.

I love this place, and these kids, and my place here with them.

Academic Cynicism

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a website where professors can anonymously bitch about their students, their administration, their colleagues, their facilities, their parking spaces …

It was funny at first, and a little cathartic. Then, after reading through more and more of the site, the cynicism started to get to me. It was post after post of profs talking about how apathetic and sarcastic their students are (where do we think they learned it?), about the sense of entitlement that students have these days, how dense they are, blah blah blah.

I know that sites like this are a caricature; nobody has a great day of teaching, or a meaningful interaction with students, and thinks, “I should bitch about this on my favorite anonymous professor blog.” You get people reacting to their most frustrating experiences of the semester.

Still, it reminded me again of something I’ve often thought: I have no desire to be a part of academia at large. If my position at APU goes away for some reason (like, if they find a dead body in my office. Or a copy of ‘Generous Orthodoxy’), I probably won’t even bother looking for a similar position somewhere else. I’m not all that interested in being a professor – I’m very interested in doing what I’m doing here, at this place.

I love our students. They are, for the most part, optimistic and intellectually curious. When we bump into each other outside of class, they want to have conversations about ideas; how cool is that?

I love the faculty that I get to work with. They have that critical mix of high intelligence and pragmatism; they are interested in what actually works, not in what theoretically should work (you have to spend a little time at academic conferences in order to appreciate how rare that is).

I respect my departmental leadership. The Dean is a political monster, able to bob and weave with the best of them, but he uses it to protect his faculty from administrative interference, and to advocate for student learning. His authority doesn’t just come from his position, it comes from his ability in the field. He can deliver. He’s a musician, who also happens to be adept at the politics of administration.

They give me the proper tools to teach my subject matter. I teach a technology class. Every 3 years, they rebuild my teaching lab from the ground up with the latest technology. Getting the right software for the job is rarely a fight. We have our turf wars with the IT guys, but it hasn’t yet inhibited the teaching environment.

I dunno. Maybe if you check back 10 years from now, I’ll be bitter and jaded and will spend every moment complaining. But not now.

Maybe it’s the two bottles of wine that I polished off over lunch while writing this, but I’m feeling blessed.