Saturday, March 08, 2008

Assorted notes and things

Economic woes

All right, so news outlets are talking about a recession. To an extent, I have material security from the recession, since my job is not only in high demand, but my salary is controlled by the diocese--not the school. But knowing what I know, for example, about teachers receiving higher raises than other employees, motivates me toward more liberality on behalf of the school.

Recessions have never affected me materially as long as I have grown up. Either family or church--even now--have always insulated me from the terror of being jobless when there's no job market, of being unable to afford food, home, or transportation. They're never good news, but in my present position it is easy for me to say: well, we've had 'em before, and we've always survived.

We were in recession the last time the country elected a democractic president; I suspect that history will repeat itself here. As far as whether democrats or republicans are better for the economy, who is to say? Both parties take credit for economic booms, even if those booms happen during democratic administrations. Regardless of whose policies are responsible for economic recovery, I would like to think that a democratic president--as the next will likely be--means good tidings for the next 5-10 years.

In the meantime, I need to be more conscious of my giving and see if I can't expand it a little bit, to make up for the losses of others.

Car buying

I will never work with salespeople again.

Some might be better than others, but they are all bad. The defining characteristic is not whether one dealership is valiant and another unscrupulous, but simply the bare fact that the man or woman behind the desk does not get paid if you do not buy the car. As long as that is true, you can trust nothing. Salespeople do not bend the truth; they tell lies. They do not persuade; they deceive. Buying from a salesperson is by definition buying blind.

Human language itself is radically transformed the moment that one steps into a car lot. All rules of human communication are thrown out the window. There is no vestige of polite society left; all that remains is pure ideology. There is one rule: you will sign a contract, or you will not. The salesperson has one task, and that is to remove your freedom to say no; you have one task, and that is to keep your freedom. The salesperson will tell you that this is not the case; and if you believe him or her, you will have lost most of your freedom.

Never forget that, in a car lot, all human interactions are a virtual reality. Nothing is ever said or done out of kindness or generosity. Nothing is ever said or done out of respect or caring. Not even promises of honesty or integrity--these are the most common market-speak of all. The car lot is a chess board, and if you forget that it is a chess board, you are already checkmated. The best way to win is not to play.


I continue to use and admire Linux on my Eee PC. I recently installed an applet that will tile windows the same way that Windows does, when you right-click on an app in the title bar and select "Tile Vertically." The only obstacle to perfect usability right now is that I have not succeeded in getting my school's grading software to work reliably yet. It hangs at startup. I believe the problem is the latest version of Wine (a program that runs Windows apps).

My school may soon start asking the question of whether to upgrade to Windows Vista computers. Our librarian--and de facto technology person--asked me "what is this Linux I keep hearing about?" and I answered honestly that, though it has advantages, it requires someone who at least knows how to configure a system, and those are not easy to find. One of my short-term pipe-dreams is to do work for my school as an on-campus technology consultant. If the school was planning a serious upgrade within the next year, obviously my advice would be to stay away from Vista like the plague. We only just bought a series of HP workstations for our computer lab, and they don't even have the muscle to play YouTube videos or PowerPoint presentations--Vista would cccrrraaawwwlll.

At the same time, Linux would not be possible for this school. We are too locked-in to our Microsoft Exchange server to change platforms like that. So I guess I will have to be satisfied with Ubuntu for myself and, occasionally, to preach that word to those who ask.


Yesterday, this diocese had its annual youth gathering, and I was impressed with the effort and the production value of the whole affair, if not with the cooperation of students. It's easy to be completely negative about these things, but I give it a C, which is passing in my book.

One of the presenters spoke at length about God--surprise--and suggested that God loves us enough to save us from ourselves. He told us what one of his mentors told him: "Continue to let Jesus ruin your life."

That spoke to me, because I recently made several mistakes in grading papers that made me fear I would be terminated outright for gross incompetence. This fear left me feeling very existential and wondering what I would do if I was asked not to return after Monday.

I am inclined to be a negative thinker, and one of my defense mechanisms, if you can call it that, is to reconcile myself to the worst possibility before engaging a problem. I dwelled for two days on what my reaction would be if I were fired. The temptation would be to pitch myself headlong into despair: I cause more harm than I am worth; I bring nothing but irritation and more work to the people around me; I need to disappear.

God often manifests himself in these moments, and sometimes he reminds me of the things that are common sense, but easy to forget:
  • God has never been angry at someone for failing.
  • God has never abandoned me, but at every loss has carried me though to joy and purpose at the other end.
  • If I was fired, and fired justly, it says only that that I am not presently suitable for a particular position, at a particular school at this particular time. Saints and geniuses have suffered far worse worldly disgraces. It would be terrifically short-sighted for me to be sad at such a minor setback.

In some sense, these thoughts left me very open to the message that I should "let Jesus ruin my life"--not to suggest that my getting fired would be the result of anything but my own incompetence, but rather to accept the results of those mistakes, whatever they were, and to move on to the next stage of my life, begging for the guidance of grace once again.

I was not able to continue being a seminarian, on the way to priesthood. All right. Perhaps, not even a teacher. All right again. Am I to be upset that I join the ranks of the world who would not be great priests or great teachers? Those billions of people, who raise families, who serve, who fix, who feed, who clean, who consult, who build, who rule, and who all love--are they so less dignified that I would be sad to join them? Such arrogance, if it were true. Yet I remember the saying relayed to me by one of the Dominican sisters in the city--the only true failure is not to be a saint; which is to say, not to love. And this is a liberating gospel.

Now, I have been given assurances from long-time members of my school community that my mistakes have not placed me in danger of termination--if I move to fix them, of course. And so my fears may have been exaggerated. But the ordeal saved my soul, again, by bringing me back to God, love, and the dignity of the beloved (Nouwen's word), those things which no one can take away.

Failure is not a reason to be sad. Praise the Lord.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

"I was not able to continue being a seminarian, on the way to priesthood. . . . Perhaps, not even a teacher. . . . Failure is not a reason to be sad. Praise the Lord."

(How do you like my judicious use of quoting [would it pass muster in an academic setting? Hmm...])?

You sell yourself short in what you have been able or not able to do.

You were able to discern that priesthood is not what God is calling you pursue at this time in your life. You have been able to procure for yourself a reliable and worthy job as a teach of the young. Most importantly, you have not lost your drive to continue seeking the ideal in all that you do - perhaps one of the most inspiring things one can see in a friend.

- Jacob Maurer

"'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.'"
- Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)