Thursday, December 11, 2008

What About Me?

When my wife and I first took our children to Disney World years ago, I experienced a moment of parental genius. When we arrived at the first park, we all stopped to set the ground rules for the day: no running, stay within eye shot, and this little gem, make sure everyone else has a great time. I was quite pleased with myself, but then the kids simply got caught up in the intensity that is Disney.

I have been very busy lately because a number of the programs that I coordinate at school are overlapping. I am finding over the past few days that I have to deal with a lot of people and am finding that no one seems to be concerned if anyone else is having a good time.

Well, I had an epiphany of sorts this morning. I notice many of our culture’s metaphors are about a big payoff—of course, our economic life is literally about that. Whether it is working hard at family life, at the job, even working at our relationship with God, it’s all about a big payoff for the pains that we must go through now. What if we changed the metaphor, or at least looked at the same metaphor from a different perspective? Let’s just say that this is the payoff. We are living it today. What ever happens today is just such a gift that I am having a great time.

I don’t intend to demean those who are struggling through life, but I suspect we all have our pains—I have yet to meet a single soul who did not experience some hardship in life. But I do intend to ask, why not turn around and look at life from another direction? You’ll get a different point of view about everything. I am going to do that today. And if you want to do it too, I think that would be cool. And if you do choose to do it, that would mean that you would be having a great time. And since we would be having such a great time today, let’s share that. Let’s just say that the main rule for today is to make sure that one other person in our lives has a great time today. You can choose anyone to be the recipient. Good luck, and have a great day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If This is Progress, Then...

Now I know why old people feel scared. I’m feeling scared. We used to laugh at the old saying, “Just when I learned how to play the game, they changed all the rules.” At some point, however, rules change so drastically, that the new set of rules is really frightening. Now I suspect rules have been changing at the same pace for as long as rules have been changing, but we old guys have seen so many rule changes that we get to the point where we have seen enough.

What are these rules? As best I can tell, rules are based on a society’s values. Those values change and adjust over the years and only those with long memories can think back far enough to realize the drastic changes that have occurred over a lifetime.

I hit one of those points recently as my newspaper editors (I am faculty advisor for our school newspaper, The Harriton Banner) and I have been dealing with the issue of stress in schools and the so-called “study drugs.” Our last issue covered the school reaction to our report that study drugs were being used in our school and our next issue will cover parental reaction to that article. During one of our editorial meetings, we were trying to size up the different kinds of parental reactions that might be identifiable. One of my editors said that she was convinced that stress in school came mainly from parents who look to give their own kids a leg up on other students. When we see a student taking too many classes, being involved in too many programs, and in too many sports, it is likely that the parents are behind such a drive. It does not, then, take a huge logical jump to conclude that parents might be OK (explicitly or implicitly) with their kids taking these study drugs.

The room was silent.

Then The New York Times reported that parents are having their young children genetically tested to find out what sport they might be good at. Yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a group of scientist are concluding that taking study drugs is OK, and it can be a benefit to both individual and society.

As a young man, I might have said, “What the …?” Today I am scared. I am scared of the value being advanced here. I am scared at the hyper-competitive society in which I live. I am scared that this is just too much. Is there any going back?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

One Wound; One Place; One LIfe

This morning I was thinking about Thomas and his plight, not so much a failure in faith because he refused to believe in God or Christ. Thomas' plight--and the ultimate source of a powerful conversion--was that he could not, perhaps refused to, look at that empty space within himself. He refused to accept his own holy wound because he could not accept Jesus' holy wound. The break down in faith was that he was unable to see that his wound and Jesus' wound were one and the same. When he finally placed his hands into the wounds of Jesus, he was placing his hands in his own wounds, and they became holy. He accepted them. It is the place where--as Richard Rohr suggests--God resides, where we meet God; and we are one. And the holy wound becomes the place of real life.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Killing in God's Name: Get in Line

Why do we kill in the name of God?

I suppose we have done enough study of history to know how it works, the politics, the mechanics and logistics of killing in the name of God. But the deeper question as to why we do it always remains unanswered. This is, I believe, because we suffer from a heavy dose of blame and denial. “You people did this!” “No, it can’t possible be,” we say and think. “These attackers don’t really represent ____________ (fill in the blank with the name of any religion).”

When the attackers flew planes into the World Trade Center, they were praying. They believed they were doing God’s work. And our well meaning cries of support for our Muslim brothers and sisters, who would never think of doing such a thing, are not so much cries of support as they are a kind of denial. We have isolated the enemy and he is not I. Well, if there is anything that should tie us together it is our belief in God. When one acts in the name of God, we all do. It does not matter which religion; It does not matter if the act is good or bad, we are all involved.

Now it seems that the attacks in Mumbai have similar origins as our 9/11. And the blaming and denials are beginning. Yet we cannot deny a world where we produce people so sure that they know what God wants that they would kill, literally or emotionally, in His name.

Just fill in the name of the religion and the name of the crime; the sentence would be the same. If one kills in the name of God, we all have, and we have to figure out how to stop doing that. We are all people and we are all in this together, so we all need to take responsibility.

I pray to God that I see, especially during Advent, in my own life, how I am intolerant of others. I firmly believe that a world can be changed by attitudes and those attitudes start at home. I further pray that a deeper understanding and Love for my fellow men and women replaces this exposed intolerance.

Maybe that’s a start. Or maybe I’m just a crackpot.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Of George Costanza and Scapegoats

In the spirit of awareness being the best defense against the ills of a slightly askew society, my wife and I had a discussion recently, brief but fun, about the stresses that our society puts on men and women. My wife admitted that women tend to feel jealousy toward other women who they perceive to be better looking and asked if men felt the same. I said no, but admitted that men feel jealousy toward other men who they perceived to have more status. We had a good chuckle, although a nervous one, and peered at each other with that “not I” look.

My mind shot into overdrive, and I got to thinking about George Costanza, that hapless character on the sitcom Seinfeld. Why George? You see, George is a wildly popular character among men; any man who is quoting Seinfeld is usually quoting George. His popularity is found in our realization that George is our scapegoat, that beast that carries all of the sins of a society. Men will scream in delight each time George fails because when it comes down to it, without George, we believe that we would all look like losers.

This little comedic rumination got me thinking even more about gender roles in our society and our tendency to scapegoat. The down side, of course, is that scapegoats prevent us from taking responsibility for ourselves, our actions, our beliefs and the outcomes of those actions and beliefs. This way, we live by outward appearances instead of living by our beliefs. Instead of scapegoats, then, we need to look for role models.

There are many great role models out there, for us men those who have rejected status and power as the center of our lives, for women, I suppose, those who have rejected being objectified by a commercial society. Logic, of course, dictates that these role models are not likely to be famous, but are likely to be our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our teachers, and our mentors, men and women who live lives in glorious anonymity. They show us that there is a better way to live.

I feel as if I am rejecting part of what it means to be a man when saying all of this. But that is the point. That nervous look my wife and I gave to each other after admitting the pressures on both of us is very real. The influence of our environment is so very powerful and constant. The best that I can say is what I said in the beginning: In the spirit or awareness…

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanks, Ted. I'll Pass That On.

I think that I scared my students, and believe me I didn’t want to. I teach a class called Foundations of American Education at the local community college. It’s what we old teachers used to call Education 101. This is the basic introduction to what it means to be a teacher. In September, I told my students the goals of the class. My first goal was to not scare anyone away from the profession. But I added that there would be some challenges that they would need to face as preparing teachers. Challenges should not be confused with scare tactics, I said.

Last night I handed back research papers. There were a lot of D’s. My young future teachers really struggle with writing! I asked how many of them read regularly. Only 20% said they did. I began to sweat. I didn’t prepare a lesson on the value and necessity of reading for all people, let alone teachers. But we did talk and discuss the issue, and there seems to be a problem that they all have in common.

No one ever taught them to love reading, to value reading. They were all told that they couldn’t write, but no one really took the time to teach them. These perspectives are those of the students and are certainly not burdened with any sense of personal responsibility, but the message is a common one: no one ever told me that I could read and write; no one ever believed in me.

How does one share one’s love of language? This love never came naturally for me; I really had to work at it. I did, however, have one professor that helped me in not so obvious ways: Ted McCrorie. He loved literature, and he was a poet. Was he responsible for my own path into language and education? It’s not that simple. What Ted did for me was to believe in me; in fact, on some days I thought he even liked me.

You see, I am and was a lucky man. I got into college because I was an athlete. I’m not so sure that I would have gotten into this particular college without that. You see, when I graduated from high school, I couldn’t read (the irony was thick, the English teacher said with a flair for the cliché). Oh I had decoding skills and a good sight vocabulary but put two words together and it meant nothing to me. I would have scored 0 on any fluency test. A psychologist told me later on that I probably have a mild case of some kind of dyslexia. Ted McCrorie knew my little secret, but never let on that he knew. After tests he would call me to his office to get “clarification” on some of the things I had written. He would laugh and tell me that my handwriting was so bad that he couldn’t read what I had written. In reality, he was allowing me to re-take my essay tests in oral form. We had an unspoken agreement. Ted would assess me in this manner—buying me time—and I would use that time to improve my language skills. Ted gave me what I try to give my own students: time, many chances, and belief that I was actually trying to improve myself. And that’s what I did.

I am allowing my students to revise their papers. I hope that I didn’t scare them. I hope that they believe in themselves and have the feeling that I believe in them. These students will make the best teachers if they get through because they will always remember the struggles that students go through, because they are going through that now.