Cheerful Grading

November 24, 2010

You can have fun at work, though sometimes you have to discover or invent ways to enjoy it. Most of the time I love teaching. Slogging through swamps overflowing with student papers, however, often makes it hard to walk cheerfully. When I offer colleagues the chance to grade some of my papers, their smiles and smirks confirm that grading is not their greatest joy either.

Probably with unintended kindness, students help amuse me during those lonely hours grading by making humorous mistakes in their papers. Now I don’t urge students to make mistakes just to entertain me. I even remind them that computer spell-checkers miss errors that good human proofreading will catch.

Some routine mistakes don’t amuse me, like confusing “it’s” with “its,” “their” and “there” or “they’re,” or “altar” and “alter.” Sometimes I still smile at common misspellings like “wondering” (I suppose they did) in the “dessert” and women “baring” babies. But I most like new and informative errors to liven up my reading. So I welcomed the sentence that began, “As surly as the god of Beersheba lives….” I had known that the Babylonian god who sent the great flood was dangerous when peeved, but now learned that Abraham and his heirs had to keep an eye out for their neighbors’ surly god. In the same paper I also learned that Beersheba had a “southern boarder,” who, I suppose, wanted grits every morning.

When we study Ecclesiastes we consider its teaching on the frailty of life. One student paper carefully explored “the frivolity of existence,” perhaps more in the spirit of Ecclesiastes than I had anticipated.

Faculty often enjoy bragging on student errors, almost in the spirit of “can you top this?” An Old Testament colleague relished telling me how, in describing one of the theories about how ancient Israel came to control Canaan, a student’s paper repeatedly referred to the “pheasant revolt.” Still another told the delight one of his students had in learning more about the growth of the Church. She finally understood, she said, that “the Holy Spirit had fallen on both the Jews and the Genitals.”

Top that.


Amazing Fans

November 15, 2010

I hesitate to pass along their messages, but thought I should tell you that my spam fans love this blog, except for a few cranks. With the gazillions of sites now active, it amazes me that so many spam fans tell me that this is one of their favorites. Elton Trueblood used to urge his students to take up the ministry of writing because through it they could serve people they would never meet. That’s proved true for me, but, really, I had no idea!

I’ll soon post something on the joys of grading. A tsunami of grading has slowed me down, and I’m doing research with colleagues to see if they can help me remember what the joys of grading are. I have a lot of notes, but sure could use a couple of grace days.


The Untrained Palate

November 1, 2010

Descriptions of coffee blends and roasts often baffle me. My hometown boasts some great coffee shops, and I love the coffee. But the descriptions on the coffees hint that I’ve entered a mysterious, sophisticated, maybe even dangerous world. They say things like (I am not making this up):

“chewey body, sweet yams, fennel, celery and a sweet licorice aroma”

“toasted almonds, cedar, tropical fruit , heavy and long-lasting body” (I have one of those.)

“rich, citric, starfruit, winey, full body, fruity, caramel, lime, rhubarb, lemon, very balanced”

“pleasant garden earthiness, herby tea-like profile, cucumber, heirloom tomato and jasmine”

When I ask baristas about these puzzling descriptions and say that to me it just tastes like great coffee, they seldom laugh (drat!). Instead, they smile sympathetically and explain that I need a “trained palate.” Sometimes they’ll even brag on a local coffee hero, a champion roastmaster who can taste the fennel, starfruit, and yams better than anybody. (I do like him and his coffees.) Frankly, I’m not sure I could endure palate training, and we don’t have a Palate Palace nearby to practice palate tai chi or bulk up your palate pectorals.

I’ve decided I might better sharpen my pen than my palate. I missed the classes about writing names for paint and wallpaper, but this might launch a new career. I’ve just begun, but I’ll share a sample and even some insider tips about how you can get in on this burgeoning market.

I’m working on teaser words like “sun-dried” or “free-range beans.” I’m also working on a description that honors the history of coffee, something like “Ancient Ethiopian” or a trendier “Get Your Goat.” This is for coffee that comes from the very highlands where goats and their goatherds first discovered and got a buzz from coffee. How about something like: “Venerable Ethiopian: boney-bodied, rich and earthy; hints of bamba root and faint aroma of vintage goatherd.” Please don’t swipe this from me; one of the local shops might want to buy it.

However, you can make descriptions of your own using an almost mad-libs approach. Choose words from the categories below, add your own, and mix to create trained-palate word power.

Body: round, svelte, chunky, buff, wimpy, elvish…

Balance: off-balance, teetering, precariously balanced, delicate…

Fruit and nuts: guava, kiwi, mango, pomegranate, beer nuts, cashew…

Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, rutabaga, artichoke…

Assorted flavors: anise, Caribbean jerk, balsa, chicory, jalapeno…

Subtle words: hint, lingering, touch, faint aroma of…

Method: gently roasted, braised, pan-fried, air-popped, nuked…

When you hit it big, let me know. I’d love to cheer your success. We could do coffee.


Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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