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by Dr. Stephanie Ellis

Several days ago, I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with the First Lady of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, speaking (in part) about the United States’ relationship with her country. The part of her message that really struck a chord with me was this: She asked the US to continue supporting Afghanistan, but to do so without pity, understanding that the Afghan people (including Afghan women) are a strong, motivated people.

I don’t think many of us know how to do that. And I don’t mean in a foreign policy sort of way. I think that American culture has such a strong focus on independence that we often don’t understand the concept that someone might need or want support, but still not need to be viewed as dependent or made to be dependent.

Consider all the “give support” commercials you can think of. Do starving children and sick puppies and Sarah McLachlan come to mind? Trust me, they do those kinds of commercials because they are the most effective ones at opening pocketbooks.

Can you imagine a commercial that said “The Help-Us-Help-Others organization is functioning well? We have a strong group of volunteers, and the people we serve are strong. Our financial situation is not dire, but adequate. God will meet our basic needs; we don’t have any concern about that. And if we have to change the way function or provide services based on what we have now, that’s also legitimately fine. We will not fall apart if you don’t support us. But it would be nice, and you would be helping, and we and the others who rely on us would benefit. Please donate!”

When you first read that, does it sound a little crazy?! Read it again. And read it again, if you need to. Read it until you realize that almost always true, and it’s still worth helping.

SO, how can we do this better?

How can students support each other better? How can faculty support students, faculty support each other, church members support each other in a way that honors the strength and dignity of the other person, and doesn’t enable them in becoming dependent, while still providing what they need?

Time to VOTE!

by Dr. Stephanie Ellis

When you have concerns about your academic future, who do you go talk to? Your professor, right? Or your advisor? You don’t go to President Sloan!

When you need help or seek change, do you know who implements that? You! You talk to a professor, they talk to their chairs, who talk to their deans, who talk to the Provosts, who talk to President Sloan. And sometimes there’s a committee in there. 🙂

Can I encourage you that more than the US Presidential Election matters? Now that you can vote, I want to challenge you to figure out what matters to you – to YOU – and go find out what the candidates for State Representative, State Board of Education, Congress, Supreme Courts, and Governor say about those things. And then go vote. You may never have the ear of the President of the United States, but you easily might have the ear of your district representative for Congress.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably eligible to vote. But are you registered? The last day to register to vote in the 2014 Elections is Monday, October 6th! You can register to vote here.  And then you can find out all your district voting information (who are my representatives? who are the candidates?) here.  And you can find out where you can go to vote here.

Here at HBU, we want and expect you to be world changers. Start now. Go vote.

What’s in a name?

by Dr. Stephanie Ellis

In this first week of school, as I meet new groups of students, I always go through my roll and ask students their preferred name and how to pronounce it. And it never fails – at least one student will correct a mispronunciation on my part with something like “just call me Jane – it’s easier.” And it never fails – I’m sad about that.

What’s in a name? In a constructivist way of thinking, words are just sounds that people, over time, have given a certain shared meaning. But isn’t a name different? Whether you love yours or hate it, have changed it legally, or go by a nickname – the name you go by is a part of your identity. And it belongs more to YOU than it does to other people. Your name isn’t just a random set of sounds that over time people came to recognize you by, as if others (besides your parents!) have any say in what you ought to be called. This has been YOUR name for some time, and it has more meaning to you than it does to someone else.

I don’t have a traditionally difficult-to-pronounce name, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But when I hear “oh, just call me _____” – I hear a diminishing. Why can’t the burden be on ME to learn to pronounce your name as you do? Why do you need to accommodate me (or anyone) with something so personal?

And God has some thoughts about your name, too …

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
the Lord has forgotten us.”
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
Isaiah 49:14-16

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.
I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
Revelation 3:5

I don’t mind getting out of my ethnocentric head and doing the work of saying your name properly. I want to honor you for exactly who you are and want to be. I don’t want to diminish you.

Multitasking… or not.

If you’re reading this and checking your Facebook, STOP!

I want to talk to you about multitasking. Nat Geo, of all places, recently brought the issue to light in a brief article on their website, see it here:

We live in a multitasking culture, right? We all need to juggle multiple things at once, don’t we? That’s just the nature of life these days. But I think maybe what we really want is to get more done in less time, right? So I want to tell you how to accomplish that, and the answer isn’t multitasking.


Well, that’s not true, is it? Certainly you can breathe and type at the same time! Certainly you can walk and talk at the same time! Certainly you can take an exam while you nervously tap your foot or twist your hair or chew on your pen!
Your brain (and thus, your body) can do two types of things: conscious and automatic. A conscious process is one that needs you to actively receive and manipulate and respond to information. Like writing a paper, or talking to a friend, or reading an exam. An automatic process is one that your brain basically takes care of for you, in the background. Like breathing, or walking a familiar path, or nervously tapping your foot.

You can do more than one automatic process at a time, and thank goodness! Your brain, in the background, is always doing the things that need to be done to keep you alive, at least. You can also combine automatic and conscious processes – like chewing gum (automatic) while reading this blog (conscious).

The trouble is, you CAN’T do more than one conscious process at a time. You can’t add 345 + 619 at the same time as you read the rest of this sentence. And it’s not about your eyes being occupied! You can’t even add 3 + 6 at the same time you read this sentence. If you were paying close attention to yourself just then, you’ll realize that you stopped – just for a tiny moment – to come up with the answer “9” before you finished reading. That’s what “multitasking” really is – it’s attention switching.

Every time you switch between writing your paper and checking your Facebook, you lose a little bit of time. You also lose a little bit of your “flow.” You have to switch out of academic zone into friend zone, actually take the time to read the post (or send a text, or update twitter, or just see what “dinged” in your email), and then you have to switch your attention back to the paper and get your brain back in academic gear. And hands down, study after study after study finds that you are more productive when you do one thing at a time. So go where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (YES! TURN IT OFF! ALL THE WAY OFF!), and put on something like Antisocial (Mac) or Cold Turkey (PC) so you won’t be disturbed by your Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just do it for 40-60 minutes. Then take a break. Stop studying or writing that paper. Actually pay attention to Facebook or Twitter or your roommate or text your mom back.

Just make sure you have the self discipline to go back to studying at some point!

Science, the truth, and the Truth

By Dr. Stephanie Ellis

Recently, Discover Magazine had a blog post titled “’Is Psychology a Science?’ Is the Wrong Question.” (you can read it here: Despite being skeptical about psychology (one of the loves of my heart!), it makes some very good points, chief among them…

“There is no special ‘scientific method’ that sets ‘science’ apart. Different branches of science use different methods to uncover the truth.
Theoretical physics, organic chemistry, and evolutionary biology have nothing in common beyond the fact that they study something. And nor should they.”

But it does something even more remarkable – it begins talking about the search for “truth.” As Christians in higher education, this is a particularly important issue for us. We are in the business of finding and teaching truth, and of understanding it in the light of the Truth of God. The post makes one more point –

“a better question to ask of psychology is: “is it true?” – or rather “how true is it?” Few fields are 100% true or false.”

If you’re familiar with inferential statistics, you’ll know what I mean when I say that truth as we know it is about 95% likely not to be random chance. Rational truth (determining truth through logical argument) starts out simple and clear and progressively gets more convoluted as more data appears, until someone resets the whole mess with a paradigm shift. And empirical truth (learning through experiencing with the senses) is by definition filtered through the nervous system, giving rise to the creepy questions like “Is anything really true, or are we in the Matrix?”

But underneath is the idea that there is a REAL truth about science. There really ARE fundamental laws of physics operating in the universe, even if we have to keep revising how we understand them as we see farther into the universe. There really ARE basic building blocks to life, even if we have to give new names to “new” particles as we dig deeper and uncover them. There really IS something behind the experience of consciousness, even though we have barely a clue what it might be.

The Truth is 100% true and it’s been there all along. It’s not 100% well-translated. It’s not 100% well-understood. It’s certainly not 100% agreed upon by all seekers. We just have to keep using all the methods we can to uncover it, and remember that the Lord is the Author of all that’s true in science, and beyond.

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