Friday, February 25, 2011

I Will Slash You With My Light Saber, Evil Sith

  Sorry for the lack of updates over the past week.  Its been nothing short of exhausting these last few days and I haven't really had time for anything but student teaching.  I know this is naive but I thought going into it that it was going to be a breeze.  What I have found has been quite the opposite. I'm not complaining.  I'm merely expressing my feelings toward the thing that takes up most of my time lately.  Conclusion: Teaching = Great; Student Teaching = Suck.
     To help counter these feelings of negativity I have decided to take up cycling.  Why?  Because I hate running.  Seriously, what could be worse than running for the sake of running?  Nothing.  In everything I do I try my best to subscribe to the philosophy of real-life Fonzie, Roland Gorchnick.  He says, "The number one rule to being cool is to never run anywhere.  Ever.  If you are really cool, whatever you are running to can wait for you."  What better advice could be given?  I mean, just last night I was working at the ol' Coffee Shop and there went some dumb college students running by and let me tell you, they were not cool, no sir.  If you need more convincing, think of this.  Would you ever see Lou Reed running?  I imagine not (even if he did have a song called Run Run Run).  You know who did run?  Bruce Springsteen ran when he played the Super Bowl Half Time Show a couple of years ago, and if you saw the results of it you know that he went hobbling all the way back to the Steel Mill.

     Now it is time to become honest with you.  The real reason that I'm not going to run is that my sister is a runner already and the bar is just too high.  Plus, Hazel has recently informed me that there is some level of sibling rivalry between George and myself.  I don't buy into this, but the evidence goes something like this...

        George: "Wa Wa Wa Wa Wa"

        Me: "I don't want a  baby sister"

         Me:  "Oooooh, George can paint.  bla bla bla"

         George:  "Oooooh, Mister Strange can talk.  Everyone likes Mister Strange.  bla bla bla"

          Me: "Oooooh, George runs.  I'm going to bike. bla bla bla"

There you have it.  The sibling rivalry of the Strange siblings according to Hazel.  On the subject of the Strange siblings, I really miss George.  The team of the older Stranges is estranged.  Absence doesn't necessarily make the heart grow fonder, but it does make communication a lot harder.  George, I hope you are having a great time on Mars and if you want a cd from me, I'm going to need a souvenir of Mars from you.  You know what I want and I expect you to bring one to me. No excuses.

      All of this thinking about the older Strange siblings got me thinking about the younger Strange siblings as well.  They are a very special pair who, whether they know it or not, both have me wrapped around their fingers.  If Hazel wants sibling rivalry etc. here is a fictional sample of one of their typical conversations as I hear them from my end of the phone:
        Bess:  Curious George,*  lets go play outside/play lego starwars/ mess with each other/ leave each other alone/ignore each other.

        Curious George: I will slash you with my light saber evil Sith.

All of this is to say, I have decided to start cycling so please, stay toward the middle of the lane when you see me on the road.  Thank you.

*Yes, I have a sister named George and a brother named Curious George. If you find this odd, talk to our parents who had sole responsibility for naming us when we were born.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hazel Would

 Last night I was free of work. Brilliant.  I worked very hard while at the school so that I wouldn't have to bring work home.  The only question left to me when I got  home was what to do with all of that free time.  The whole world seemed open to me.  After all, I had the whole night to do whatever my heart desired.  So, what did I do with all of that time, you ask?  I watched American Idol.  Would I normally watch American Idol?  No, but Hazel would.

   Let me tell you about Hazel and myself. I watch films and read books that make me think about life, the universe, and everything.  Hazel watches movies and reads books that make her warm and feel happy.  I listen to music that has the immediate effect of turning away new listeners.  Hazel listens to Justin Bieber and the soundtracks to Glee (I tried.  I swear I did, but I still don't get Glee).  What must this relationship be like between two people with such divergent interests, you may again ask yourself.  Let me tell you.  It could not be more perfect.

My dear sister (we'll call this one George) commented recently that hearts are naturally cold and that ears are naturally deaf.  This is true, but it is not how they were meant to be.  Our hearts were created to be warm and our ears were given to us to hear God's calling to us in the Garden to come and walk with Him.  I believe our whole lives are spent, successfully or unsuccessfully, in an attempt to warm our hearts and awaken our deaf ears. It reminds me of the house that Hazel and I lived in during our first two years of marriage.  This house (almost more of a cottage) was in what could perhaps be the most picturesque setting imaginable for a newly wed couple with one person still in college.  It was awesome.  It was hemmed in by woods, hills, and two tiny creeks toward the back, side, and front of the house.  During the summer time it was the sort of cozy place that would put you to sleep instantly when you came home from work because it was so relaxing.  During the winter however, it was cold.  All of the elements that made the house so beautiful during the spring and summer combined (with a lack of insulation) to make this house the coldest house on earth.  We would walk in during the day and see our breath in the air in front of our faces.  Scientists will tell  you that heat rises, but I can tell you that it seemed as if the cold rose constantly through the floor boards.  And all that Hazel and I had was a tiny space heater.  We longed, and I mean longed for warmth to the point that (and certain readers may remember this) we would sit directly in front of the space heater (which kind of burns, in case you didn't know) just to get warm.

     Life is cold, the world is painful, and it all just serves to make us more keenly aware of our desire for warmth that can only come from Christ who has been made a perfect intercessor because he is a priest forever.  When seen through that lens, even pain  (and it seems like the Strange family has had plenty of it over the last year) becomes another brilliant reminder of the love of Christ.  Seriously, and I wish that I had thought of  this years ago, what sharper reminder of our need for Christ than the pain of absence.  Even death, which is a curse, becomes instead for us a blessing because it introduces us to a new life hereafter and reminds us of our life here now.

What does this all have to do with Hazel?  She is a space heater.  Where I am cold, Hazel is warm. Hazel brings light and goodness to the world.  I see Christ daily, because I see Hazel.  She feels Christ's love where I often have a head knowledge of it.  Hazel is the heart of our home. She makes me praise God everyday even when I want to curse the world.  So let me tell you about Hazel.  She is incredible.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Fortune Inside My Head

  Every morning I leave my apartment to head to the school just as the sun is beginning to rise over the hills around the ol' duplex.  And every morning I pray, "Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.  Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen." I have prayed these words from the Book of Common Prayer every day for the last few months. One might think that such repetition would dull the thought and meaning behind the words.  In my case, one would be wrong.  The constant repetition has served to enhance the fervor with which I pray.  I have always been one of those who sporadically prays for things.  I have always been pretty vigilant about praying consistently, but I have never been consistent in what I pray.  When I pray "Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you" it takes on more meaning than my other, more random prayers, because I'm not just praying, "let my soul rise up to meet you today."  What I'm really praying  is "Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you today, just as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that."  This prayer has become such a part of my daily routine that it is not just a today thing.  It is a life thing.  Its "Let my life be yours everyday and may I always bring glory to you!"  This is probably clear as mud. What I'm beginning to realize, for maybe the first time fully, is that I have always had such a day-to-day faith that I never realized what a daily faith would look like.  I've spent so much of my time living step by step (which is good and necessary and we should have our eyes on the present) but I neglected the fact that life does not begin and end from day to day, it is constant.  We have to look at each day as a day to continue to seek God and glorify Him, rather than just a way to start fresh.  The work that we begin one day must continue the next. So, when I pray my morning prayer, I'm praising God for the continuous work that He does and not only the new work that He is beginning (as wonderful as that work can be). 
  With all of this in mind, (there is one of my favorite mid-paper lines) the beginning of my day serves as a stark contrast with the way that I feel that the rest of my day goes.  Maybe its just that I'm a new student-teacher, or maybe you can identify with this too, but Jeff Tweedy summed up the way I feel about my days and myself lately. 

Forgive me if I quote too much, but Jeff Tweedy's lyrics have a way of summing up my moods.  This is what a favorite band should do, you  know?  They should be like a best friend-the one you go to when things are great and when things are down.  Thats what Wilco is, musically, for me.  Now to the reason that I'm writing...

"There's a fortune inside your head/ But all you touch turns to lead/ You think you might just crawl back in bed/ With that fortune  inside  your head"
  And there you have it, folks.  My thoughts every morning as I get in my car and head to work, and my thoughts every afternoon when i leave it. I praise God every day, and every day I seek to, through the passing of knowledge and understanding, equip my students to find God themselves.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to corrupt them or be a secret agent for Jesus like certain institutions of higher education have tried to influence me to do.  I believe that all truth is God's truth and if the students can find truth, hopefully, they can eventually find God.   However, every time I try to instruct them (with the "fortune inside my head") it falls flat (all I "touch turns to lead") and I feel like the knowledge that I have of history, government, and God gets flushed due to my seeming inability to communicate it effectively to a class full of students.  I know they "have a God-shaped hole" (another Wilco reference), but I don't know how to help them fill it.  Romans 10:14 says, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"  I would like to ask, how do they learn if they refuse to hear and if they refuse to understand? If my students refuse to hear it, can the truth still affect them?  Can the message of truth still be effective even if the messenger is not? I fall so much when I'm trying to stand up right.  So far, my own deficiencies have been both disturbing and a nice reminder of the goodness of Christ and his supremacy over our weaknesses. With this I will leave you with the words of T.S. Eliot and a reminder that everything will work out because its pizza night at the Strange house and "you still love rock and roll" (yet another Wilco reference from the same song).

   If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

American Aquarium Drinkers

It is in human nature that we are created to learn. We learn from everything. In every event, observation, experience, sight, and sound, we are continuously learning. We learn like we breathe. In the song I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, by Wilco, Jeff Tweedy begins by singing, “I am an American aquarium drinker” (Tweedy, 2000). Though it seems pretty obvious that this is at the least an allusion to alcoholism, if we take the phrase out of context (yes I know, this is one of the 7 undeadly sins) there is plenty of truth that we can glean from it. Fish breathe water, which is the stuff they swim in. They take everything from around them and suck it in. Similarly, everything around us teaches us something. We are, essentially, “American aquarium drinkers” in that everything, from “truth, justice, and the American way,” to the music that we listen to and the people with which we converse, teaches us something. With this in mind, what if all the people we talk to are like us? What if they are all self absorbed asses? Food for thought.

Soaking up, integrating, synthesizing, and storing up knowledge for our present and future good is as natural to us as breathing in air to our lungs. We can't help but do it. It is both a conscious, (i.e. studying for a test), and an unconscious (i.e. reading a billboard while driving) action of our minds. It is also one of our deepest needs. According to Miles Stanford, in his book The Green Letters, “Now it so happens that God’s basic ingredient for growth is need. Without personal needs, we would get nowhere in our Christian life. The reason our Father creates and allows needs in our lives is to turn us from all that is outside of Christ, centering us in Him alone. ‘Not I but Christ’” (Stanford, 1975). We, as humans, are like sponges with a need for soaking in from all that we touch. It is through this that we create, explore, and search for ultimate meaning and ultimately look for knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Like a sponge, when squeezed, when pressed to action, thought, or deed, what comes out but that which we have breathed in, absorbed, and learned. Learning is not an option. With this in mind, it becomes clear how important what we learn is. Proverbs 1:5 says, Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (NIV). Deuteronomy 4:10 says, “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children" (NIV). Still again, Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (NIV). We may not be able to filter out everything that we would or should, but we can decide on the knowledge on which we focus our learning.

In her notes on Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand makes the statement, “Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it’s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to is not (and cannot be) the primary concern of any other human being” (Rand, 1957). I would disagree with this on a number of levels. First off, while we agree that man has free will, we can also see that he cannot be either good or evil. Man is fallen and sinful. The proof of this lies in passages such as Ephesians 2:3, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (NIV), and Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (NIV). W see here that man is sinful and fallen as explained in Scripture. Christians will, probably, also disagree with her assertion that man is responsible for decisions only to himself. Like Father Zossima says in The Brothers Karamazov, "We are all responsible to all, for all." There are other parts of this statement that we could disagree with as well, but we will agree with the central meaning that each person has a choice. A person must decide, as Joshua said in the book of Joshua, “whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 KJV). It is the nature of learning that we must make a choice to see the truth and when we see the truth to act on it. "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked the sum out for themselves." (Kierkegaard, 1992)

Oh the joys of Student Teaching

I, like Aladdin, have entered a whole new world. Except my whole new world has nothing to do with seducing my girlfriend with a super cool magic carpet. No, this whole new world that I have enterered into is the wonderful world of public education. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, it is amusing. I have heard various theories on who built the pyramids (none of them including aliens, mind you) ranging from the Greeks, to the Romans, to somebody back then. I have also heard it speculated that the Articles of Confederation failed due to the colonial inability to pay off their war debt from World War II (or was it the Civil War? Yeah, thats it, the Civil War). All of this has, at various times made me want to A) laugh hysterically, B) cry hysterically, or C) curl up in the fetal position and continue with A or B.

Let me say, I realize that these are students who don't know the above facts from history, and that's ok because it is my job as the teacher to show them the truth. I know this, so don't think that I am just whining because kids these days don't know Luther Martin from Martin Luther (do you?). I'm not. I'm honored to have the opportunity to teach them. With that in mind, it saddens me how lacking their understanding is of the basic foundations of society. It's not that they don't know that disturbs me. What disturbs me is that they have been brought up to not know. We as a society have become so narcissistic and entertainment focused that we neglect to teach the coming generations the lasting principles that have made us great. We now teach students to let success come to them and focus on making money rather than teaching them to pursue success and focus on working hard. What is the cure? I don't know. I'm just a student-teacher, but I'll tell you one thing. I'm going to find out.