Thursday, December 24, 2009

Come Along, Inspector Jesus?

When my youngest son was still quite small, he loved the Advent hymn, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus."  We think he loved it in part because he loved the movie "Inspector Gadget," and he thought the words were "Come Along, Inspector Jesus."  (We had several such mis-hearings of hymns, it turns out.  Another favorite was the second line of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," which my son heard not as "Let me to thy bosom fly" but "Let me chew thy apple pie." I think of apple pie as a gift from God, so I have no problem with this.)

I'm not sure why, but this year I've been more conscious than ever of Advent.  It seems that everywhere I go I hear Christmas music during Advent, which has been striking me like Christmas carols on the fourth of July - a confusion of holidays.  Liturgical calendars have left a shadow-impression of themselves on cultural calendars, but much of their detail has been lost.  Who celebrates Pentecost, for instance?  Yet it used to be one of the most important of Christian holidays.  Christmas and Easter are great gift-giving holidays, but Lent's main appearance seems to be in Mardi Gras.

I don't plan to be a curmudgeon about this, and lament that we've lost the "good old days" of piety and that today's culture is somehow more degenerate than yesterday's.  I'm quite fond of today, actually.  (It's where I live, after all!)  I don't dislike being wished a "Merry Christmas" in Advent any more than I disliked hearing my son sing "Come along, Inspector Jesus!"  (And no, I don't mind being wished "Happy Holidays" either.  Anyone who wants to wish me well on any given day is always welcome to do so!)

But I do think that it's worth revisiting old ideas to see if we've "mis-heard" them.  For myself, it has been a delight to be in Advent this year.  When I've heard Christmas carols (as early as November!) I've tried to think of Advent hymns instead.  The result has been that I've been nurturing the pleasure of expectation and anticipation, and, now that Christmas is upon us, singing those Christmas hymns is going to be a real treat.

However you celebrate these days, whether you distinguish Advent from Christmas and Epiphany, or celebrate Christmas from Hallowe'en to Mardi Gras, or if you just finished celebrating Hanukkah, or are enjoying some other holiday, I wish you all the best that holiday has to offer.  And if you celebrate no holy-days, but are only having some time off, I wish you good rest in that.  And for all of us, I wish us good hearing, joy in mis-hearings, and better ears to hear in the future.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More on Letters of Recommendation and Lying

I've been busy this month with writing letters of recommendation for my students - more than I've ever written before, by a long shot. 

I just submitted one letter using an online form that asked me to rank this student.  I was given four choices for the ranking:
[ ] Best student this year
[ ] Best student in five years
[ ] Not applicable
[ ] Best student in [ ] years

I guess this means that if my student is anything less than "best student in X years" then I'm supposed to say that her/his ranking is "not applicable."  This is the ranking equivalent of fast food drink sizes: do you want big, really big, or enormous?  Is there something wrong with small?  More to the point, is there something wrong with simply having been a good student, one who will flourish in grad school?  How am I supposed to compare my students in this way?  And isn't this inviting me to either lie by making them all "best in show" or damn my student by failing to praise him/her?