How inarticulate was Moses?

We were reading Stephen’s final speech before he was killed. He was explaining the history of his people, building a defense for his actions.  And in the process, he was talking about Moses.

The story is pretty familiar if you’ve read Exodus or watched “The Ten Commandments.” Moses is born to a Jewish couple, is put near the river to die, because of Egyptian law, is rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and is raised in the court.

And then Stephen says,  Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.

A couple of us were surprised by this characterization. When Moses is describing himself to God, he says, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

It could be that Stephen has his story wrong. He was, after all, standing in court. But it is possible that Moses was wrong.

This statement is in the middle of a conversation that God is having with Moses about going to Egypt and telling the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. In every turn of the conversation, Moses provides reasons for not being the message carrier. He’s arguing with God. And then he makes this claim about not being articulate.

As I was writing, I thought, “I wonder whether there is anything about Egyptian rhetoric?” I used to be a rhetorical scholar. I ask questions like that. And so I quickly found an article: “Ancient Egyptian Rhetoric in the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

It seems that there were rules of discourse at  the time which valued restraint in speech. Moses’ claim to be slow of speech, wold have made him eloquent, not kept him from eloquence.

I have to think about this. More on Monday.

But in the meantime, you may be more eloquent than you admit to God.

Reflecting on grading.

(First published October 9, 2014. )

IMG_1758I hate grading. It’s the part of teaching that made college classroom teaching somewhat easy to leave a couple decades ago. As a student, I didn’t like the random feel of grading. It may have been because I always did the work at the last minute and hoped to slide by. As a prof, I didn’t like giving students bad news. It’s the problem of being a pleaser.

But I’m teaching again. I realized that as much as I don’t like grading, I do like coaching, suggesting, prodding, asking “what if”, asking “what about”, encouraging, and editing.  So what can remove my struggle with grading?

Here are three things. There are probably more.

Make the assignments matter.

When I ask people to interview someone and write a report about it, the most important part of the assignment isn’t me looking at the paper, it’s the process of conversation and reflection. I’m forcing them to engage with someone about a concept or a role. And then I’m forcing them to reflect on the conversation. Even if I never looked at the paper, the assignment creates a setting for change.

Make the requirements clear.

If students know what they are supposed to do, how many pages or words to write, how many references to cite, how many interviews to conduct, what kinds of samples to collect, then I can say, “you knew and chose to do otherwise.”

Offer examples of what I expect

I can give sample papers. I can point to people who model the kind of thinking and writing that I am looking for. I can tell stories about what successful completion looks like.

So why am I telling you this? Philosophical therapy on my part for one. But the other morning I read James saying, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” And it’s in the practice that change comes. Not just repeating the reading, but doing what it says.

If I help people engage–with concepts, with scripture, with God–valuable learning will happen. And grading will be less random.

Consider the lilies.

1509257_10153317837797008_796073388637867216_nThere’s an iris outside my window, six feet away from the iris in my eye. Actually, there are four stems, with several buds and blossoms on each. They are iris color. Purplish, violetish, iris.

Just to my right, their left, are coral bells. They are coral color. Between us, close to the screen, are the tiny buds of day lilies. They will explode with orange.

Jesus was talking to the disciples one day, making a point about how worry doesn’t provide anything, and how God does provide. “Observe how the flowers of the field grow,” he says. And then he talks about how beautiful they are without the capacity to choose their clothing. All the intention for their color comes from outside them, from God.

We read it as an argument, a metaphor moving toward a point. Our commitment to skimming, our consumption of words, gives us this push. as does our labeling these words as part of the Sermon on the Mount. A sermon is an argument more than a reflection. A cognitive process. A driving toward a point.

But if we were listening to these words, on a hillside, how quickly would Jesus move from the invitation to observe to the point? Isn’t it possible that he was inviting the listeners to stop and observe? And that he left time? 

“Observe how the flowers of the field grow,” he said. And sat for awhile in silence. Observing. Noticing the flowers that were around. And perhaps, for the members of his audience who were completely consumed by worry about what to wear and what to eat, this was the first time they had been invited to observe. To notice. To understand that when we spend less time worrying we have more time to observe. The iris. Right outside the window.

First day of summer

It’s not, you know. Today isn’t the first day of summer. It’s just a Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day (US). The day after remembering that people died for us.

For us, though we didn’t ask them to. For us, though they may not have been that intentional. For us, though they may not have agreed with what they were doing.

But on some morning, somewhere in the world, a person got up and then died before the day was over. In our name. Most of the people who die for other people aren’t trying to be heroic or make a statement. They are fulfilling a sense of responsibility.

That truth doesn’t have to intentionally shape our lives. We can live as if that person never died. But if their life had value, it means that their death gives our life value.

So what are the ways that we can shape our lives, that we can live with intention, in response to someone’s death giving value to our life?

We can resolve to  live the life they gave up. Not, perhaps, by picking up the to-do list that they left behind. But certainly to live a life of sacrifice and responsibility. To bring meaning, perhaps, to whatever there may have been about their death that was senseless. To take whatever words they may have said about the reason for their life and death, to take whatever example they may have offered, and to live that life.

This is true whether the person who died was a soldier from northern Minnesota who died following exposure to tests in New Mexico or a soldier killed from a bomb in a jeep or a God who put on a uniform of flesh and walked among humans.

A summer lived after understanding death on our behalf could be the most remarkable summer ever.


Dr Lee Warren watched this kind of dying every day. His story is powerful: No Place to Hide

An armistice is not peace.


This post was first published Memorial Day 2009. Since then, Kim Jong Il has died, as has my dad. Andrew is working in social media. And there still isn’t peace in North Korea or many other parts of the world. We still need to wage peace.


tweets from itswanny about north koreaEarlier this week, Andrew (@itsswanny) began following the news about the earthquake in North Korea. He was watching @breakingnews, a news feed that serves the twitter community. They reported an earthquake in North Korea. It was clear very quickly, to @breakingnews, to @itsswanny, and to many other people that this wasn’t a normal earthquake.

Andrew’s interest was triggered by his interest in showing the value of non-traditional news organizations in reporting breaking news. It likely wasn’t triggered by a personal connection, though he knows that there is a very personal connection to the actions in Korea.

My dad spent a couple years of his life in Korea, and the rest of his life being affected by that experience. He watched friends die, holding at least one during those last moments. Because of his role in the military, he was aware of horrible things that happened to many people on many sides of that conflict. He was seriously wounded. Memorial Day has never been an abstract concept for him.

He didn’t talk much about his experiences. I remember only three short conversations. I did, however, do some reading to understand better what had happened.  (The book I read, among others, was The Korean War by Max Hastings. I have it here on my shelf.)

At times, Dad referred to the fact that it wasn’t an officially declared war. It was called a “police action” by President Truman. For not being a war, Dad thought, there was a lot that looked like war.

The fighting ended in 1953 with an armistice, a truce. The line that was drawn when the fighting stopped wasn’t far from the where the line had been when the fighting started.  The battleline had moved far south and north and south on the peninsula before stopping.

There was a lot of fighting and destruction and death for no apparent purpose, and no apparent peace.

That’s been troubling me all week.

Two generations have reached adulthood since my dad was nearly killed in a war that wasn’t a war that ended without peace.

How often, I ave been thinking, do we move to avoidance rather than peace? How often are we willing to accept a suspension of conflict rather than waging peace? How often do the agreements that seem to cover over something lead to trouble for the generations that follow?

At this point, there is nothing Dad can do about this unresolved, reboiling conflict, though I am sure he prays. At this point, Andrew’s interest is more in the reportage than the resolution of the real-world conflict. (Though you can see from the picture that he was involved in his own peacemaking police action just before the earthquake on the other side of the world.)

At this point, I don’t know what I can do. About the tension between nations, that is.

About highlighting the need to wage peace, however, I can start to do something.

Starting with mentioning it.