Monday, September 28, 2009

William Safire's rules for writing

In memory of William Safire, I'm reposting his famous rules for writing:

  • Remember to never split an infinitive.
  • The passive voice should never be used.
  • Do not put statements in the negative form.
  • Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  • Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  • If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  • A writer must not shift your point of view.
  • And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  • Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  • Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more, to their antecedents.
  • Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  • If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  • Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  • Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  • Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  • Always pick on the correct idiom.
  • The adverb always follows the verb.
  • Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
  • Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  • Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  • Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  • Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kids don't walk because parents drive

Our sons usually take the bus to and from school, but last week my wife and I picked our older son up at the end of the school day for an event. Ellen said that we should get there about ten, fifteen minutes early to get a good place in line; otherwise we'd have to wait a long time to get out. I thought that was odd, but we did, and we were the third car in line. Pretty soon there were several dozen cars lined up behind us, clogging up the parking lot. I said to Ellen, "I don't remember so many parents picking up their kids like this when I was in elementary school. Everybody walked or took the bus."

Well, a recent New York Times article describes how kids no longer walk to school because parents usually drive them. A major factor: fear of abduction, heightened again by the Jaycee Dugard case. As a result, parents sit with their kids in cars at the end of driveways before the bus comes, and parents drive kids to school two blocks away. But those fears seem to be vastly disproportionate. The article reports that about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, while 250,000 kids are injured in car accidents. Which is the greater danger - walking or driving?

Also: In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose from 20 percent to 55 percent. More than half! No wonder my kids' buses seem so empty.

The result? Kids don't get as much exercise, there's more traffic clogging school areas (with the increased risk of car accidents) and we use way more gas than we used to. Protective parents don't let kids play unsupervised, even in their own neighborhoods. And kids lose out on certain aspects of unstructured, exploratory play.

It seems to have become a cultural expectation that kids should not walk alone. The article mentions a 10-year-old who was walking to soccer practice (about a mile), and people who saw him walking alone called 911. A policeman picked him up, drove him the rest of the way, and reprimanded the mother.

I think this article highlights how much commuter culture has shaped our modern practices. The geography of our neighborhoods, especially in the suburbs, is designed for cars, so our default setting is to drive everywhere. We don't even think of walking anymore. Now it has become a countercultural act to let our kids to walk to school.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kids and race awareness, and why parents don't talk about it

The cover story of this week's issue of Newsweek is "See Baby Discriminate: Kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color. What's a parent to do?" The article highlights that kids are aware of racial differences far earlier than most parents think, and parents generally don't know how to talk about them. Some key points:

- While most parents think of themselves as multicultural and colorblind, their kids pick up on unspoken racial attitudes. When asked "Do your parents like black people?" 14 percent said, "No, my parents don't like black people" and 38 percent said "I don't know."

- Parents avoid talking about race because they don't know what to say and are worried about saying the wrong thing. Parents worry that calling attention to race, even with a positive statement ("It's wonderful that a black person can be president") still encourages a child to see divisions within society.

- In a 2007 study of 17,000 families with kindergartners, nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of white parents never or almost never talk about race.

- Kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism. Four- and five-year-olds randomly given red and blue T-shirts didn't segregate by behavior, but when asked which color team was better or might win a race, they chose their own color. When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they'd answer, "All of us." Asked how many Blues were nice, they'd answer, "Some."

- Three-year-olds shown pictures of other kids were asked to choose whom they'd like to have as friends. 86 percent of white kids picked whites. At ages 5 and 6, the kids were asked to sort cards into two piles however they wanted. Only 16 percent sorted by gender; 68 percent sorted by race.

- Researchers have found that the more diverse the environment, the more kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity, and the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.

- In junior high and high school, kids in diverse schools experience two completely contrasting situations: many students have a friend of another race, but more kids just like to hang with their own.

- The odds of a white high-schooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8 percent. 85 percent of black kids' best friends are also black.

- Parents are generally very comfortable talking about gender stereotypes ("Mommies can be doctors just like daddies"), and this can be a model for how parents talk about race.

This article was quite insightful and thought-provoking, and it reminded me of times like when my older son mentioned classmate who was "dark," and I didn't know quite how to explain terminology like "black" or "African American." Because our kids are biracial, we have occasion to talk about ethnic identity and cultural distinctives. When at buffet restaurants with self-serve ice cream machines, we've used the analogy of the twist cone - there's vanilla, there's chocolate, and there's both. It's hard to tell how much they understand or care at this point, but we're working on it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Deep Church

I blogged awhile ago about what emergents and neo-Calvinists have in common, and I wondered if Christians from different wings could meet together and learn from each other. Well, IVP just published a book that aims to do just that. Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by church planter and pastor Jim Belcher is now in print (PDFs of the introduction and first chapter are available for free). Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

This book is written for those who are caught in between. They are unhappy with the present state of the evangelical church but are not sure where to turn for an answer. They like some of what the emerging and traditional camps offer, but they are not completely at ease with either. The public conflict makes this anxiety worse, and these people don’t know who to trust or believe. What if both are off target? Is there a third option, a via media? I believe there is a third way. It is what C. S. Lewis called “the Deep Church.” Deep church is a term taken from Lewis’s 1952 letter to the Church Times in which he defended supernatural revelation against the modernist movement. He wrote, “Perhaps the trouble is that as supernaturalists, whether ‘Low’ or ‘High’ Church, thus taken together, they lack a name. May I suggest ‘Deep Church’; or, if that fails in humility, Baxter’s ‘mere Christians?’ ”

Second, this book is written for those on the outside who want to understand the debate. They are new to the conversation and want to understand what all the fuss is about. They have heard of the emerging church but have no idea what the term stands for or what it is advocating. The whole conversation seems foreign and is outside their church reality. Why is this debate important? How does it affect their church world? Should it concern them? This book will explain the contours of the conversation, what the emerging church is and desires, and why it has created such a strong pushback from the traditional church.

Third, this book is written for seminarians, those who are attempting to work out their ecclesiology—their theological view of the church, its purpose, structure and goals. Seminary is a great time to test inherited beliefs, dig deeper and then slowly work out in greater depth biblical convictions about ministry. This book lays out the options, the two sides of the debate, so seminarians can get a handle on what they believe Christianity and the church is all about.

Finally, this book is for pastors who have been in the ministry for a while and have begun to question how ministry is practiced in their context. Many pastors who reach this midlife ministry crisis end up burning out and even leaving the ministry. I don’t want to see this happen. Some pastors are disillusioned with aspects of evangelicalism. They are searching for pastoral models that can refire their ministry, their calling and their church. Though they may not know how to achieve it, they know they want a deep church, one that is profoundly meaningful to them and their community, and brings glory to God. This book is for them.