Changing the Rules: Being Religious at Work & Play

This post leads up to a link: this link. But it’s a short lead-up, so go ahead and read me first!

Once, my young son went off to my sister’s for a couple of days and a night. They played some baseball, some tag, some handful of your usual backyard games. When I picked him up, my sister’s children said to me, “Hey, we figured out what the ‘J’ stands for in his name” (J is his middle initial.) I gamely asked, “What does it stand for?”

“Je-changin’ the rules!” they cried, cracking up together.

Every child goes through it, and it’s tempting for everyone. When the game doesn’t seem to be going our way, we want to change the rules in our favor. Eventually, we learn that when we give in and try to change the rules, we aren’t playing tag, or baseball, or much of anything anymore: nothing is getting done except us rehearsing our tired, unchanging, irrelevant apologetics. We are rightly told by others to play ball or go home: everyone else trying to get something done, and done well.

This lesson is good practice, because not every activity with rules is a game. People who are “je-changin’” the rules in the workplace aren’t called “bad sports.” They are called “corner-cutters,” “scammers,” or “perjurers,” the “recently fired.” Depending on the consequences, they may be called “manslaughterers,” or “perpetrators of negligent homicide”: that well-meaning fool with the bewildered look on his face getting dragged off at the end of Law and Order, his wake of surviving victims sobbing helplessly on the edge of the screen.

James McGrath has a good post on the impulse—common among Christian newcomers to religious studies but also considered by some to be found in higher places—to be “je-changin’ the rules” in the workplaces of scientific and historical inquiry. “Christian baseball”? By all means, have a look.

[A little later: Art has a related discussion going on: does “theology” fail to be ethical in a way that “religious studies” succeeds?]

A Game: “Roman Candle”

I made up this teaching game while washing dishes one night. Tell me what you think, and what happens if you use in in class.

The name of the game is “Roman Candle.” Roman Candle is a fast-paced game of courage and skill, and is played for bragging rights (and probably a few participation points). The game can be used as a time-filler, lasting as few as five minutes, or as exam preparation with games lasting as many as 15-20 minutes. If possible, it should be introduced early in the term, so that the rules are learned and the game can be played on short notice or spontaneously.

The game begins when one student agrees to be the first Roman Candle. A second student volunteers to “light the fuse.” The fuse-lighter shouts out a figure or topic relating to a critical issue (“Priestly writer!” “Ezra!” “722 B.C.E.!” More challenging examples might be “Outline of Deuteronomy!” “The genre Novella!” “Double redaction of the DtrH!”). The Roman Candle then has sixty seconds to rattle off, as coherently as possible, as much information as she can on that figure or topic. For broader topics, the challenge will be to get as much out there as possible before running out of time (selecting priorities). For narrower topics, the challenge will be to fill the time with relevant connections to other figures or topics (creative synthesis).

Immediately after that Roman Candle is finished, her fuse-lighter becomes the next Roman Candle. So, it takes courage to be a fuse-lighter! The game goes on until the professor says that it is time to stop. The last fuse-lighter is now “on deck” to start whenever the class plays again.

If the Roman Candle has nothing to say on the figure or topic picked by the fuse-lighter, she may say, “Another!” The fuse-lighter will offer a second figure or topic. The Roman Candle may say “Another!” a second time, but then must choose from among the three topics at her disposal.

If the Roman Candle threatens to “sputter out” before her sixty seconds are up, any students may “lob crackers”: toss one- or two-word hints to help the Roman Candle keep it going.

If no student will volunteer to be a fuse-lighter, then the Roman Candle may select a topic or figure from a hat kept by the professor. Then, she may select for herself the next Roman Candle!

After the game, the professor should plan a few minutes to correct any misunderstandings and to take questions of clarification. For the purposes of this game, questions about the exam are not permitted (how many essays? how much are IDs worth?); for this game, all questions must be about the subject matter.

Suggestions for revision or for variants? Other teaching games?

Let’s Play Woo: Hebrew and Physics

I have reason to take things easy this week, so let’s keep it light. Here is a YouTube video that I have designated as woo: it includes the trappings and language of reasoned argument, but uses various smoke and mirrors to dupe the gullible with that sweet-tasting, pseudoscientific woo.

Use the comments to play! Find as many problems as you can with the claims made by the video. Go for the details. Find more than your friends and taunt them with your bragging rights. Have fun!

Think broadly: not just about the Hebrew, but logic and fallacy, scientific inquiry, and so on.

Without further ado: