Educational Plans for the semester


I decided I’m going to wait until the 2nd 8 weeks of the semester to enroll in my classes at Tulsa Community College (I don’t have the money to enroll right now), but for my own learning I will be doing two side projects for the next few months.

The first is that I’m going to be taking an online Cherokee language class from the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma. (btw, here’s a story from the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper that tells about the classes and the teacher). The class is I’m taking is the first of three levels of classes. I’ve tried learning Cherokee before (both with books and with tapes) but have struggled to really get a grasp of how the grammar works. Hopefully the online class will be better.

I really am looking forward to the class. Cherokee is such a beautiful language (it has an almost melodic quality to me) and it will be so good to learn the language so that maybe I can pass it down to my children (assuming I have some) someday.

As for the other project, I’m trying to read through the Bible this year. I’ve read through the Bible once before (back in 2001) but I feel like I’ve changed so much in my faith since then that I need to reread it from the context I’m operating from now.

Done with the semester


I finally got my grades back from the two classes I’m taking at Tulsa Community College. I’m ok with what I got for a grade in the class (most likely a B in both Old Testament and in Eastern Religion — I had a shot for an A, but blew it when it came to getting all of the weekly assignments done in time), but I’m hoping to do better next semester.

As for the experience of online learning goes, it went better than I thought. I liked the mostly self-directed nature of the class, and enjoyed the text book readings (particularly for the Eastern Religions class), but it was really a struggle to keep up with the required message board assignments. I definitely do not think that online learning is the best deal for everybody, or even for most people, but as an option I really appreciated the chance to take these classes with my crazy schedule.

Update on my classes at TCC


I haven’t talked much about my TCC classes lately, so here’s a quick update.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the semester, and thus far have really enjoyed my classes but also have been surprised how much time has been involved in staying up with the classes. The Old Testament class has mostly focused on a literary/historical approach. There is some new ground being covered, but mostly it is review of what I had in my course work at ICC (now Austin Graduate School of Theology), howeve I don’t mind it since I feel like I’m getting more out of the material this second go-round, mostly because I’m more open now to exploring the Documentary Hypothesis (the idea that the Torah was written not by Moses, but rather was compiled from 4 textual traditions — for the most part, the most popular theory by Biblical scholars on the textual origins of the Torah) and the insights it sheds on understanding the Biblical text.

For the Eastern Religions survey course, we thus far have covered the Hindu and Sikh traditions, and now are moving into studying Jainism and Buddhism. The Hindu studies were very new to me (I’ve read lots on Buddhism and Taoism, but not so much on other Eastern religions) and I was struck by the monotheistic nature of Hinduism (the many Gods of Hinduism are in fact seen by Hindus as being only the manifestations of the one Godhead, much like Christians see the parts of the Trinity as being parts of the single Godhead). I also really came to understand the writings of the American Transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau, et. al) on a much deeper level as they were very much shaped by the Hindu ideas about the Brahman (the transcendant and divine ground of all existence, or God, depending on how you want to describe it) and the Atman (the individual soul).

Well anyway the work of the classes has been pretty consuming. So far though I’m doing ok in both classes and the first round of tests went much better than expected.

Here are some pictures I took of the neighborhood around the TCC metro campus in downtown Tulsa where I went to take my first test last weekend…

My LTE to the TCC student newspaper


Here’s a letter to the editor I submitted to the Tulsa Community College student newspaper, The TCC Connection:

Dear editor,

I am writing in response to the Sept. 13th issue’s series of articles “One Bad Scene.”

I thought this was a college newspaper, but instead what I see is something that would have made a great ABC after school special back in the 80’s.

Let’s see, you have the cautionary tale by Kyle S. Steenveld about the TCC student busted for dealing marijuana (with little question of the real tragedy, that this student is facing these harsh consequences not because of drugs but because of drug laws), the sidebar by Jennie Lloyd about the dangers of drugs (without any sense of balance to discuss the health benefits of the moderate consumption of alcohol and marijuana), or the preachy “stories” by Ralena Pinson-Gantz and Toni Hill about the dangers of inhalants and tobacco.

Come on folks, you can do better than this. Instead of being a propaganda tool for the modern police-state, instead why don’t you answer the real questions…

1. Why is marijuana illegal?

2. What possible justification is there for the barring of federal financial aid to students who are busted for drug “crimes”?

3. Why have Americans allowed the Bill of Right’s 4th Amendment to be trashed in the drug war?

4. Why is it that over 70% of those incarcerated for drug “crimes” are Black or Hispanic? (see )

The truth is that the real danger we face is not drugs, but drug laws. If students want to join the fight to end oppression and restore freedom, I would encourage folks to contact the Oklahoma Drug Policy Forum ( Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (

James M. Branum
TCC Distance Learning student (Religious Studies major)

The start of classes at TCC


This is an update to an earlier post.

Well I had my first day of classes at TCC yesterday. Of course, class days is a kinda a fluid concept when you are taking distance learning classes, because what we do is basically do our reading and then post responses to discussion questions on the discussion boards of the class website (there is a total of 150 points available for the discussion board participation, and then 100 points for each of 3 tests, with a total of 450 points being possible).

So far it is fun, but a bit frustrating too as most of my classmates haven’t posted anything yet (my OT class I think has 18 students, and my eastern religions class has 30 some students, but so far both classes have only had myself and one other student posting so far).

As for the discussion questions, here are the ones we’re talking about right now…

For the OT Class – “Given that there are different lists of Biblical books (canons), do you have any ideas on how to chose which list to accept?”

For the Eastern Religions Class – “Discuss the concept of Karma. Do you think this concept adequately deals with the fact that the World seems unjust?”

For the first question, my response (paraphrased here) is that one can accept biblical books for different purposes: communal, personal and scholastic; and that each of these purposes may yield a different response.

For the second question, my response (again paraphrased), is that karma seems to be a good descriptive concept (i.e. describing how the world works) but is not a good prescriptive concept, at least when it refers to what happens to the do-ers of deeds (since bad stuff happens to good folks and vice-versa).

I’m going back to college… again


Well I guess I’m now officially a professional student because I’ve decided to start back in college this fall and work on another degree.

I’ll be a Religious Studies major at Tulsa Community College, but since my B.A. is in Bible (with a Christian Ministry emphasis), I’m hoping to put together a degree track to earn an Associates degree that focuses primarily on an inter-faith/comparative religion perspective.

So for this semester I’ll be taking two classes…

REL 1213 – Religions of the World: The Eastern Tradition

(I) 3 Credits
A survey of Oriental religious heritage of India, Japan, China, and others. Some of the specific religions examined are Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Lecture 3 hours. No Laboratory.

REL 2113 – Old Testament
(H) 3 Credits
English translation of the Hebrew scriptures (Christian Old Testament) with emphasis upon historical background, critical analysis, and theological interpretations. In addition, it will be shown how themes from these scriptures have been used in various forms of literature.
Lecture 3 hours. No Laboratory.

Both classes will be distance learning classes, and as I understand it I’ll watch the lectures online, correspond with the professor by email on assignments, and then take the tests on campus in Tulsa.

I’m very excited about both classes. The OT class will be a great review of what I learned as an undergrad in Austin, but also should cover some new ground with the literary emphasis. As for the Eastern religions class, I’m super-stoked about it because I’ve been studying Buddhism & Taoism for the last few years but know only a little bit about Hinduism and also would love the chance to have to engage in these topics in a more disciplined way than just casual reading.

But beyond the academics, I must admit that half the reason I’m taking these classes is to get the student loan deferment. As long I take at least a half-time load and make decent grades, I can push off my student loan payments for awhile longer, which is a mighty good thing.