Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A vicious affliction...

Yesterday was the first day of my second year of seminary. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be done in 3 years. So, with more than 40 units under my belt at this point, you’d think I was used to the way things went. But yesterday was a little different.

See, for the first time in my seminary education, I had the experience that most people associate with first year, first day. I’d heard it was a malady so vicious that it even breaks down the third floor library-dwellers, the ones whose eyes can’t decide if they should be reading right to left or left to right, who gesture during every conversation as though it was their senior sermon, who quote Calvin and Luther when asked about high-speed internet. I had the most dreaded of seminary experiences. I had syllabus shock. Looking at the syllabi I collected yesterday, with Greek being the most vile offender, I was convinced it wasn't possible. This is the very definition of syllabus shock.

It’s a very formidable opponent, one that some can never overcome. (We hear rumors of students “transferring,” a process somewhat like being deported, as I understand it.) It leaves you convinced that “these people [professors] have lost their minds,” “there isn’t enough time in the week,” “I guess I’ll have to give up showering and sleeping.” You become certain that every professor congregated for the faculty summit before the year began and the theme was “The Destruction of the Student: Developing a Plan.”

So, I got in the car after Greek yesterday, firmly convinced that I was destined to fail seminary, becoming one of the cautionary stories that first-year students hear at orientation. “This place isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be ready to make sacrifices, and if you’re not, well, let me tell you a story…”

Funny thing, though. By the time I got home, and talked to my wife a bit (typically the best medicine), things didn’t look so bad anymore. I began to realize that I had gotten through a year already, and had begun to think I’d done it on my own. But, in truth, there’s no way I’d done it on my own. God’s grace was sufficient for last year, and it will be again for this year. I began to realize that through my eyes and on my own strength, yeah, those syllabi are outrageous, but I can’t look at them with my own eyes and wouldn’t dare rely on my own strength. His power is made perfect in my weakness, which is good because I’ve got plenty of weakness. I’ve decided that I will make it through this semester, and the next three, but only if I rely on His strength and power. As soon as I start relying on my own strength, the author of the cautionary tale can pick up his pen.

So, things look better today. I’m still not excited about Greek, but it’s not going to be my undoing, and that’s good enough to get me through today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some homework. And, yes, I have already showered.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Things you hear when substitute teaching...

This week I substitute taught at 7 different schools in 5 days. Substitute teaching is rather entertaining, really. All kinds of crazy stuff happens when a stranger is in charge of the classroom. For example:

Here in Texas, each morning the students start off saying the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the Pledge to the Texas flag. Seriously. There is a Pledge to the Texas flag. I'm not making this up. How could I? These people are a bit crazy.

One of the best parts of substitute teaching is the inevitable, "How old are you?" guessing game. When you're in your late 20's and still get stopped by high school teachers asking where your hall pass is (really happened this week), this game takes on a whole new dimension. In one class, one student insisted that I was 18, while another said, "No, stupid, he's in his late 30's." Sigh.

One of the best sub jobs to get is anything that says High School "PE/Health" because that probably means that the teacher is a coach. See, here in Texas, coaches are people of some significance and their schedules reflect that. For example, on Monday I subbed for a coach whose first block class was athletics (more commonly known as morning football practice). That was nice because he was there for that block and I got to read in the teacher's lounge. His second and third block classes were what is known as "Academic Support" but you and I might call "study hall." That involved sitting at a table, taking role and more reading. Then in fourth block, he had a free "planning" period, or a "Benji gets to go home early" period. You can see why this schedule is so desireable. I hear stories of bloodshed while potential subs fought over such jobs.

The other day I was in a high school physics class and a student asked if he could go to the restroom. According to policy, I asked where his agenda was, so I could initial it. He brought it to me, and I wrote my initials, "BB." Upon looking at my initials, this young scholar said, "That's pimpin'!" As I reflected on his comment, I tried to imagine either of the two letters I had just written strolling through urban sprawl wearing platform boots, gold chains and polyester pants. Suffice it to say that I had trouble conjuring the image. Now, two letter P's, that's a different story.

For my last sub story...I was in a freshman English class the other day. I was giving a 10 minute quiz, and told the students to be silent. As you can imagine, there was some significant struggle with this. After reiterating the need for silence, and writing down the offenders names like I was asked to do by the regular teacher, it got quiet for a moment. Until...One student said, "Hey, it's really quiet in here. Could you put on some music or something?" With a rather incredulous look on my face I said, "No." He said, "Well, then will you whistle or something?" Seriously. I was asked to whistle because it was too quiet during a quiz. Dude's on his way to a premium coach's schedule.

Unrelated: My wife's crazy funny. She just makes me laugh all the time. This is pertinent because she's back in my life after a crazy time of RLT. I love spending time with her. She's just so much fun! My favorite is when she acts angry, even though she's not, and then says the most ridiculous things in her angry voice. This is actually happening right now and the intermittent laughter is really affecting my ability to type. Even four years in, we goof around like dating teenagers. Good times. The best part of my week for sure.

Word of the day: trammel, n, "something impeding activity, progress or freedom" Try substituting this word for the more mundane "block." As in, "Man, I've got writer's trammel," "Could you pass me the sun trammel?" "That running back throws a heck of a trammel," or "There's a giant squirrel carcass trammeling the road ahead."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Back to work...

Sorry the blog hasn't been updated lately; I've been hard at work as the best substitute teacher in North Texas. I'll update over the weekend though with stories and such.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Books and baseball...

A couple of months ago I started creating an inventory list of all of the books we own. Although this may sound completely anal, there was a really good reason for starting this project: I had purchased a book for school that I already owned but didn't realize it. Not fun to waste money when you're in seminary. This project got me thinking: Is there really a better gift than a good book? Seriously, most of these books that I'm cataloguing were gifts, and they've served me well. So, next time you're stuck for a gift for someone, head to Recycled Books. Too much good stuff not to have something you can use.

Another thing I noticed: If you want to publish a theology book, you’d better be pretty comfortable going by your initials.

Who knew that the Colorado installation of Shawn Chacon was like pre-spider-bite Peter Parker? All of a sudden, he puts on that Yankee uniform and turns into Nolan Ryan. We'll take it, thank you. And if anyone knows where that spider that bit him crawled to, there's a line of guys waiting to be bitten. Guys named Brown, Pavano, Wright, Embree...

The effects of seminary: I've got a break in my class schedule, and won't start until the 30th. So, what did I do? I checked out books at the library to fill the time! Really. And I plan to actually read them. My high school English teachers would be shocked.

The Yanks won today. The Royals won't. The Royals have lost 19 straight games. That's a lot. In fact, the record for most consecutive losses is 21, and they are putting that mark in some serious jeopardy. Not only are they playing the A's, who are winning a lot right now, but the Royals winning is exactly what the Yankees need to happen, so of course it won't.

I watched the Yankees-White Sox game today, some of the Little League World Series, and am currently watching the Rangers-Devil Rays. Some would say I have an addiction, but that's just not true. I can quit anytime I want, as long as it's between November and March.

An amazing baseball-related development: apparently there is a grassroots effort to bring back the San Francisco Giants mascot, the Crazy Crab. (Clink on the link that says "Scott on Sports and More" if you want to read more about this.) This got me thinking. How difficult would it be to start a grassroots campaign to send the Rangers' "Captain" mascot to the glue factory?

There was really no point to this post, which, if you're still reading you already figured out. So, congratulations. You've just invested irreplacable minutes of your life in the inconsequential minutia that rolls through my mind on a typical Saturday. (I actually opened the dictionary and looked up how to spell minutia, and then, in the height of irony, I had to log back in because I noticed I'd still spelled it wrong. Gotta love that Stan State education.)

Word of the day: dastard, n. coward, a person who acts treacherously. Call a friend that next time you're tempted to say "You're such a chicken." Not only will you sound more refined, but watching their head snap around because they think you just cursed at them is like double the fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Gospel of Yankee...

The picture is of the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps not what you'd been led to believe, but trust me, that's what it looks like.

Today a friend of mine called and made a confession. He said that over the course of the last year or so he'd realized that he's something of a Yankee fan. Not his primary allegiance, admittedly, but after his team of choice, it was the Bronx Bombers. This is something I wish for all people. That one day every person would wake to realize the beauty of loving the Yankees, and feel foolish for taking so long to see the truth. This is one of my missions in life, to bring the Gospel of Yankee to the masses.

Not sure what my seminary professors would think of that. Very sure I'll probably never get a job at a church in Boston after this post (not sure that I'd want one). Although, with God's sense of humor, it could be that the only church that wants me is in Beantown. Hmm...the cost of discipleship, I guess.

Still flying solo during RLT. Not too bad, though, I've had plenty to occupy my days this time around. I've been slogging my way through some course work I had to finish up for a class that I took a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed the class, Sanctification and Ecclesiology. The post-class reading has been much less engaging than the lectures, though.

One of the best parts about RLT, besides the free dinners the first weekend, is that you never know when the windows are going to be darkened and a crazy-fun game of flashlight tag is going to break out in the old Clarkville. Good times. During flashlight tag I always feel like some sort of spy or something, then I feel dumb for feeling that, then I feel like I don't care that I feel dumb, because I'm a spy and that's just the way it is, and if I can't accept that about myself then maybe I shouldn't be friends with me!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

From chaos to quiet...

On the left is my wife, the real star of the show, with my older sister in San Luis Obispo, CA.

So, my brother's gone now. My parents ate the Hotwire money because he needed to get home to Cali. I took him to the airport this morning, dropped him off around 5:15. In the course of his 5 days in Denton, he figured out the next two years of his life. He accepted an offer to Arizona State University. No money at the front end, but he has been assured some will be freed up by the time that the second semester, and baseball season, rolls around. It was great to have him here. I love spending time with my family.

My wife's gone now, too. Training her staff started today and lasts until next Sunday (21st). She's got plenty to do in the next 8 days; she'll be spending pretty much all day, every day with her staff until training ends and students move in. Last year, this was the worst part of the year for me. I really don't like being by myself, so it was tough to have her gone all day and to not know anyone else. This year should be better; I feel like I'm part of the family here in the hall. Her staff is great, which is a reflection of great leadership.

My wife is the best. She keeps me motivated, keeps me doing the things I need to do (like working out), keeps me thinking deeper than I would on my own. I do love my family, and my wife is the gem. When she's gone and working a crazy schedule like this one, I'm always reminded of just how irreplaceable she is in my life. Nothing else makes me as happy, as whole. It's good to be part of "us."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Swept up in the whirlwind...

Since I posted last...

My brother's team lost their Monday morning game in Wichita, and they were done. That's fine, he felt ready to be home in Cali for a while. Oh, wait a minute on that. Apparently a Hotwire round-trip is more permanent than Polident. So, his flight that was scheduled to leave Wichita on the afternoon of Monday, the 15th, still leaves on the afternoon of Monday the 15th, no matter what. So, after a sterling 7 days in Wichita, (in which he pitched all of 1 inning, allowed no hits, no walks, and struck out 2) his options pretty much were spend a week in Wichita, waiting, or...

We got home to Denton about dinner time on Monday night. Since then, it's been nothing but a flurry of cell phone activity. He's trying to switch schools for the fall, so that he can play baseball at a NCAA Division I school instead of the NAIA school he signed with last fall. Pretty crazy, when baseball coaches from literally all over the country call your cell phone out of the blue. The clincher is the money (isn't it always?). He'd be giving up a pretty nice scholarship if he left the NAIA school, so the money has to be right from anyone else. So, far, the money's not right, but the offers seem to be getting a little better. Thing is that playing D-I ball is a great opportunity, and would set him up well when he starts coaching, which is his ultimate goal.

Yesterday, I took him to a school in the area where he walked in and introduced himself, laid his credentials out on the line and got a little tour of their facility, a phone number to call and made an impression. Must have, because he got a call from a coach last night with some questions. Today, he's throwing for another area school, who has already said that they're prepared to make a financial offer (rumor is they need pitching bad), but not the best place to be school and people-wise. So, we'll see how all that goes. Interesting thing is that most of these schools start classes in the next 2 or 3 weeks, so the time frame is tight, to say the least.

The short version? I've been swept up into the whirlwind of college sports recruiting, become the sounding board for ideas and suggestions, become the driver, become the voice of reason (I hope). We're just praying for clarity, patience, peace and doors that open REALLY wide.

Oh, yeah, I've still got papers to write and books to read in the next 8 days. Fun.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wichita update...

This is a picture of the mandatory post-game kneel in which coaches impart timeless wisdom after tough losses. I mean truly timeless stuff like, "Well, we came up a little short today, boys." Or, "This is a tough loss to swallow." Perhaps the empathetic, "This hurts me, too." Rarely have I experienced a post-game kneel which included something along the lines of, "Well, boys, to be honest, this is all my fault. I left Jenkins in there too long because I was scared to make a move that would make me look bad. How's that for irony? On top of that, in the second inning, I held up a runner at third even though the ball was rolling around the base of the outfield wall because for a moment I started thinking about where to get some bar-be-cue after the game and when I came to and realized I had no idea what was happening, I figured the smart thing to do was to play it safe. So, uh, sorry 'bout that."

Well, it's now day three of the Wichita experience and there are three things I know for sure. First, I'm getting old. The last two nights I've stayed up until 11:30 and midnight, respectively, having been at baseball games. This morning I'm so tired it's ridiculous. I've even had three cups of coffee (if the stuff they offer in lower-end hotel rooms can really bear that title), and I still feel like I should take a nap. Secondly, as much as I love baseball (I think it's pretty evident), going to games that end around midnight, watching a team on which you only really know one person, and that one person doesn't even play, is kind of a let down. I enjoyed watching the game full of non-descript college players, but it just wasn't a seminal experience. Thirdly, some people should never be allowed in public.

Yesterday, I heard a fan loudly berate the scoreboard operator in what, I'm sure, he thought was good fun. But to the rest of us he sounded like an overbearing idiot who just needed to go home. I also heard a father behind me constantly riding his 7ish year old daughter, saying, "Just sit still and watch the game." It was relatively evident that she had no intention of watching the game, but she gave it a good try. Any time anything happened that drew an audience response, she asked, very sweetly, "Daddy, what happened?" To which his typical response was something along the lines of, "Just be quiet. Stop talking and watch the game." Soon the whole family was in on it, saying things like, "I'd give her a hundred dollars if she'd shut up for just 20 minutes." Pretty rough. I was so irritated by the apparent lack of compassion that I had to say something, About the sixth inning, I turned around and said, "Sir, maybe if you just gave her some attention, kindly answered her questions and didn't respond to her request for an ice cream by telling her that you weren't buying anything else that night at the very same moment that you finished paying the beer man, she would sit still." It was a moment of rare boldness and straightforwardness that I really wished had come all the way out of my mouth instead of getting stuck on pause in my brain, which is what actually happened. Or perhaps it's better that way.

My brother's team lost last night. They play this morning at 10:30, and with another loss, they're eliminated. They play the aforementioned Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks and face a pitcher from Taiwan who held my brother's summer team in Alaska hitless through 8 innings. So, it should be interesting.

More to come, perhaps from at home in Denton.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Things you hear in Wichita...

Here at the NBC World Series, I've heard all kinds of interesting tidbits and such that I'd love to pass along. Here are some highlights...

From generally oversized coaches who seem to have their positions due to some sort of nepotism:
Meaningless blabber. Stuff like: "Okay, now big spot here." Like the batter needs to be reminded of that. Or, another favorite comes when the count is 3 balls and 2 strikes on the hitter: "C'mon now, base hit or ball four." Since the only other option left to that batter is to make an out, that would seem to go without saying.

From the rather rotund man whose belly made it seem as though Jeff Gordon was driving a limo across his NASCAR shirt:
"Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? Not me, I've only seen it on TV. It was built a long time ago." One of my favorites! This guy was good for a couple of quotes about Arizona; how he'd never been there, but seen it on TV (repeated at least twice), how he loved westerns, how Tombstone was set in Arizona, how Tombstone was about gun fighters who fought with guns. Good stuff.

From the mother who is far too interested in a free t-shirt to pay attention to trivialities like family harmony:
"Hey, quit complaining! Just go back to sleep and share the pillow with your sister!" As part of the tournament, they're doing a contest-type thing called "Baseball Around the Clock." As the title denotes, there is, literally, baseball all day and night. These people in the contest are trying to attend 17 straight games over the course of 56 hours. During each game a cuckoo-clock sound plays over the PA system, and the participants have something like 5 or 10 minutes to check in. Rumor has it that there's a t-shirt waiting for those who stay the course. 3 crazy things about this: first, at any given time, during any given game, there are people sprawled out sleeping throughout the stadium. On the bleachers, on blankets on the ground, wherever they can catch some shut eye and be within range of the cuckoo sound. Secondly, I'm thinking that if these people spent some of those 56 hours working instead of trapped at a minor-league baseball stadium, they could buy their own t-shirt. Thirdly, 56 hours of ballpark food. 'Nough said.

From the public adress announcer laboring on a hot Sunday morning in the Bible Belt:
"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. In just a few minutes the nondenominational church service will begin in the Budweiser Pavilion." Good times! The best part was crowd reaction, which ranged from, "Did he say church service was in the Budweiser Pavilion?" to "That's my kind of church!" While I admire their attempts to provide a legitimate worship-going experience for the Sunday morning contingent, it does raise some interesting questions about how they celebrate communion. Somehow, beer nuts and Bud Light don't seem to parallel the body and the blood.

I'm having a blast here. The games are being played at the Royals' AA minor-league team's field. My brother and I went to a game this morning. The game was scheduled to start at 8am, but when we arrived, we found out that the 3am game (literally, around the clock) hadn't started until 5:30am, so everything had been delayed. We watched the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, Alaska, 49th State of the Union, Land of the Midnight Sun soundly defeat the Las Vegas Desert Devils. (Okay, so their name is really only the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, but even that is a bit much.) My brother's team, the Havasu Heat, plays tonight at "7:30." We'll see about that.

That's all for now. He's taking a nap and I should be reading. Pictures from tonight's game should be here soon. Maybe post-game tonight or first thing tomorrow.

P.S. It's hot here.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Aloha, from Wichita! This morning I left Denton and was in Wichita, KS in time to have lunch with my brother. We live in a very beautiful country, folks! Oklahoma, much to the chagrin of her rather uppity neighbors to the south among whom I live, is very beautiful. The hills and plains dotted with red dirt riverbeds are worth seeing. I just had to smile as I arrived in Kansas and could see, I'm pretty sure, to at least Minnesota from the state line. The purpose of this blog entry, however, is something else.

There is something seriously therapeutic about driving across 3 states in one morning. Yesterday morning I finished one of the best classes I've had in school and was feeling really good about life in general. Then, while driving home, I talked to my older sister and got some really troubling news about some common friends of ours. I was so distressed. In fact, I was completely angry, sad and mystified all at once.

I got home and wanted to pray for these friends but was just so frustrated that every time I started, I wasn't even sure what to say. All I know is that, for one of the very few times in my life, I was mourning with those who mourn, and it sucks. I didn't feel better afterwards, which, I suppose, is the point. I'm sure they don't feel so great right now either. To really feel the pain when someone is hurting is a biblical command, I know, but not one I'm particularly good at. I tend to gloss over pain, mine and others', and put on a false, heroic front. I was convicted in my soul this week at school, when my professor was talking about "mourn with those who mourn," and said, "When a part of the body hurts and we don't feel it, it's called leprosy, and it's really bad." I thought then, "I don't know that I really mourn with those who mourn." I can't really say that now, and I'm glad. As much as yesterday afternoon sucked, I have a faint and foggy idea of what my sin must put Christ through and I hate that I do that to Him.

So, I'll continue to try to stumble my way through something resembling prayer for my friends and hope that God is honored by it. Above all, though, I want to continue to feel for them, to feel deeply what they're going through. I want to be grieved in my spirit, and to remember the feeling for a very long time to come.

On a much happier note, I'm in Wichita for the weekend to watch the National Baseball Congress World Series. My brother is here playing for the Havasu (AZ) Heat. I hadn't seen him since Christmas, and any stretch of time that provides for 2 tattoos is too long not to have seen one another. Should be great to hang out with him, watch plenty of college-level baseball and be away on a bit of a retreat. I'll try to update each day with Wichita stories and hopefully some pictures, too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Craving community...

This last week I battled some serious blahs. I just didn't feel "right." Not sick, mind you, just not "right." Kind of down and sad. I wasn't sure why, per se, until Sunday night. While deep in conversation at Taco Bell (like you could have any other kind over a Soft Taco Supreme), my wife just nailed it. "Are you lonely?" Hmm, hadn't honestly thought of that, but, yeah, that sounds about right. I told her that I missed California, missed my seminary friends, missed my family, etc, etc. "I just think I'm craving community," I said.

Funny thing, community. I know there are people who can get drained by being around others for too long, I'm just not one of those people. I love being with other people. Having conversations that matter, being encouraged by them, empathizing with them, all of it is good, in my book.

God said that it wasn't good for the man to be alone. Funny thing is that most church folks I know would say that having a personal, intimate, one-on-one relationship with God is the height of spirituality. Apparently God disagreed. When the man had that in the garden, God said he was alone and it wasn't good. I feel that. I really hate being alone. I need others. Without other people around me I become a less-desirable version of myself. Others kick my butt when I need it (often), pick me up when I'm down (sometimes), and generally encourage me to be better than I am (always need that).

And you know who's best at this? My wife. She just knows. Doesn't take long for her to diagnose, either. Just knows. I like it that way. Saves me the trouble of putting up a false, heroic front. She knows I need her and she likes to be needed. I see a bit of what God had in mind when He said it wasn't good for the man to be alone. I see it everyday and I love it. So, since she's gone for the evening, this is an appropriate post for the blog. Tonight, this is my community. You'll have to forgive me tomorrow night, however, when I completely ignore this community and turn my attention back to her.