Sunday, October 22, 2006

Goin’ Old School…

Last night Greta and I joined our friends Chase and Shalaun for an evening of old school, throwback entertainment. We didn’t play truth or dare and it wasn’t even a random outbreak of hide and go seek. We did, however, go to a drive-in movie.

Here’s how it went down.

We met Chase and Shalaun around 6ish and headed to Ennis. Ennis, for those of you who don’t frequent one stoplight towns, is a one stoplight town well south of civilization. We had been told by our source that this theatre was only an hour away. Funny thing is, when you already live a good 45 minutes north of Dallas and Ennis is another 33 miles south of Big D, the math is difficult to work out. Turns out our source probably never learned how to tell time. We might as well have been driving to Houston.

We arrived in Ennis about 15 minutes before the scheduled showtime. We exited the freeway right by the marquee with the various burned-out lightbulbs and pulled into the drive-in. Apparently there isn’t much to do in Ennis because all 97 people who live there were at the movies with us.

After paying, we pulled into what is, in essence, an open field, and parked the car. We purchased copious amounts of “health food” at the snack bar, which, incidentally is immediately adjacent to the restrooms. Hmm, that might give someone pause. We returned to the car and got our lawn chairs and blankets out and set up behind the GMC Jimmy (which Chase will not allow you to confuse with a Blazer) and got ready for the other real throwback part of the night: a double-feature. Yeah, you read that right. We paid $6 per person and they were going to show us two movies! You can’t beat that deal with a stick!

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the temperature last night was hovering around a muggy 48 degrees. In other words, not exactly ideal weather for two California kids to be sitting outside. The sitting outside lasted for all of one movie. For the second, Greta and I stationed ourselves in the back of the Jimmy, still wrapped in blankets. The sound came from the speaker thingy, but also on a designated radio station, so even sitting in the car, we got the full auditory experience.

We watched Man of the Year (pretty good flick, and not the comedy farce it seems from the previews) and The Guardian (kinda like the Coast Guard version of Top Gun and which I read a pretty funny “review” of here). Good times, really. The first movie didn’t start right on time, which means that, by the time we watched two movies with a 15 minute intermission and then made the trek home, Greta and I climbed into bed at 2:30 this morning.

All in all, a great night. Greta had never been to a drive-in and I hadn’t been to one for I don’t know how long. The last movie I remember seeing from the car was Clash of the Titans (one of my older sister’s favorite memories), and possibly E.T. The whole thing felt very nostalgic, even down to the cheesy cartoon “commercials” between the two shows that basically begged you to buy more candy and soda so that the theatre in the field with the snack bar/restroom combo could continue to operate. Personally, I’d love to go again, although, preferably when the weather is north of freezing.

How about you? What’s one thing you did as a kid that you’d love to be able to do again?

Friday, October 06, 2006

My swell job...

Contrary to what you may have heard—probably from me—I have a job. Now, my job is very different than many other people’s jobs. My job requires me to travel. In fact, I rarely work in the same place twice. My job never makes me work weekends. Can’t work if the office isn’t open. My job requires first-hand knowledge of a plethora of information. The Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, left vs. right. Beginning French, intermediate Spanish, advanced physics. Covered it all. What is this wonderful job, you ask? The glamour career that is substitute teacher.

The best part, by far, of substitute teaching has to be quotes. Kids, and sometimes teenagers, really do say the darndest things. Luckily for the blogosphere, I’ve kept track this year. Here are some of my favorites.

From a day when I was teaching in a middle school class and the students had to work with partners to fill in a blank map of the United States:

A kid pointing to the general Ohio area: “No, that’s not Ohio. Ohio is somewhere over here by California. I know because I saw it on a TV show.”

Beefy kid: “That one’s Kentucky. I know because on the Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials they show the outline of the state.”

A girl pointing to Alaska responding to me telling her that she had incorrectly labeled the state as Mexico: “How is that not Mexico?”

Elementary school consistently provides the good quotes. Por ejemplo:

1st grader: “Do you have a daughter?”
Me: “No.”
1st grader: “I do.”

Me: “What’s in that Ziploc bag?”
4th grader: “Dead bugs. They’re my pets. You don’t have any dead bugs in here, do you?”
Me: “Not that I’ve seen.”

3rd grader talking about someone who isn’t in our class and I’ve never met: “Connor thinks he’s all that. But he’s not. He’s fast, but Sonic the Hedgehog is faster.”

3rd grader asking me a nearly impossible question to answer: “Are you a teacher or are you a substitute?”

Finally, from the “you know it’s going to be a long day” file:

2nd grader the moment she walked in the door in the morning:
Her: “Where’s my teacher?”
Me: “She’s not here today.”
Her: “Well, I don’t want you to be here. You tell her I miss her!”

Yes, this is the life!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Seeing through Asaph's eyes...

I sat in utter surprise yesterday morning.

I tend to read in a very cerebral manner. Maybe that’s a direct result of seminary. Generally, I don’t get too emotionally connected to the words on the page in front of me. Admittedly, sometimes a book just grabs hold and won’t let go until I admit that I have emotions, too. But that’s not the usual course of things. As a result, yesterday morning’s Bible reading time caught me by surprise.

I’ve dedicated part of each Bible reading time to reading through one Psalm and simply meditating on it. Usually “meditating” devolves into something more like, “pondering the Ancient Near Eastern context,” “imagining the plight of David/Asaph/the psalmist,” or “trying to identify disjunctive clauses.” Not proud of that, but that’s truth. Yesterday morning, however, the Psalm shook me like a mom shakes her oversleeping high schooler on SAT day.

Sitting in a quiet high school classroom before any of the students arrived, I opened my Bible to Psalm 73. I have no systematic plan to read through the Psalms, but rather just open to whichever number pops into my head. I know that sounds really sketchy, but my confidence in the Spirit inside of me extends all the way to selecting my Psalm reading. Since there are 150 Psalms, I can see this plan working for a while.

As I sat reading Psalm 73, the phrases and descriptions began to jump off the page and slap me in the face. This Psalm of Asaph concerns his enemies, his God, and his struggles. As I read it, I realized that I came down on both sides of this Psalm. I could be described as wearing pride as my necklace (v. 6). I can also identify with Asaph’s cry that since the wicked prosper (v. 2–12), what good is righteousness (v. 13–14). The turning point for Asaph, however, was his vision in the sanctuary of God (v. 15).

Here comes the inspiration part. After finishing the Psalm, I had an overwhelming urge to write a poem describing my own journey through Asaph’s thoughts. I grabbed a pencil, smiled the whole way and scratched out a poem. When I finished, it seemed to have nothing to do with Psalm 73 and everything to do with Psalm 73 all at the same time. God’s good like that. Here’s to my surprising morning with the Psalms.

Psalm 73
Your glory breaks the horizon,
Casting healing light.
You invite the weary to rest,
The failing to comfort.
Yet I have chosen darkness;
Ebony haze accompanies me.
I tread upon the path to an end I cannot see,
But I will know it.
You pursue me, yet I see you ahead of me.
Left or right, I cannot flee you.
Your face glows, not with rage,
But with concern.
Your breath falls heavy on my forehead,
A medley of wildflowers.
Your arms envelop my withered form,
Rods of iron.
My eyes see, as never before,
The trails of your goodness.
I weep into your shoulder.
I have come home.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oreos, Palmolive and the Kingdom of God...

The other night, we hosted an Open House. More accurately, Greta hosted an Open House. She opened up our home to the 500 students that live in our building. This involved lots of preparation—most notably, 8 batches of Homemade Oreo cookies. I spent part of that day at home since I could only manage to get a half-day substitute teaching job.

While sitting at home that morning, I looked up and thought, “The dishes really need to be done before tonight.” So I did them. Not much forethought or schedule clearing. Simply saw something that needed to get done, something I could do, and did it. The point of telling this story is not to toot my own horn, but rather to share an interesting conviction I had about the whole episode.

While washing the dishes, listening to Coldplay, I had a very real sense that I was serving my wife. I knew that the dishes had to get done and that Greta sure didn’t have time to do them, but I did. This felt like service. I also had a very real sense that I don’t live the rest of my life this way.

Before I “serve” God—whether through the local church or anywhere else—I often feel I need to check my schedule, insure that the opportunity fits my “gifts,” and, even then, that I won’t be too committed. Why doesn’t my service to God feel as natural, spontaneous and automatic as my response to a sinkful of dirty dishes?

Perhaps, somewhere inside, I misunderstand service. As I do the dishes, I imagine and look forward to Greta coming home, her eyes lighting up and her giving me kisses and telling me how thankful she is that I took the time to do the dishes. As I serve God, I imagine the time I could be spending at home, watching television, studying or doing whatever “I want to do.” Therein lies the problem. My heart is not well tuned to the rhythms of true service.

Such instances tell me that poor motivations inspire me (the praise of others, immediate gratification) and that ultimate motivations (the praise of heaven, lasting joy) seem somehow hollow and unfulfilling. I have a hunch that if I simply threw myself into serving God more often without checking my list to make sure that I’m “available,” my motivations would begin to change. Maybe there really is some truth behind the idea of giving your life away in order to find it.

I know as well as anyone that many ministry opportunities can quickly turn into taxing, soul-sucking endeavors that take and take while giving little, if anything, in return. Thing is, that doesn’t mean that these things don’t need to be done anyway. Believe me, I’m no advocate of simply slaving away for some worthless cause, but we serve a Benevolent Master here. And yet, I continually approach His job openings like a junior high boy approaches a shower.

It is my hope that I will begin to think of serving God the same way I think of doing the dishes. See something that needs to be done and do it, with little thought of motivations and rewards. I have an inkling that such a lifestyle may prove to be its own reward.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The weekend that Benji realized he's useless, much like the Red Sox bullpen...

Recently, my wife has been occupied. This time of year is busier for a hall director than any other time of year. She’s been in hall director training, training her new staff, preparing for opening the hall, and attending welcome week events. Basically, everything was crazy leading up to last Sunday when 400 students moved in to our hall. Since Sunday, she’s had events each night that were mandatory for her to attend. So, basically, I’ve spent the last few weeks as a housing orphan. And, during that time I’ve realized a few things.

First, I hate when my wife is gone. I have never really enjoyed “alone time,” so these weeks always try my limits. While spending so much time alone has allowed me to get plenty of homework and advance work done, it has also made me ready for this whole thing to be over soon. Thankfully, the Yanks and Sux played a five game series over the weekend. Four of the games were on the telly box, so I got close to my fill. If not for that, I would have left the house five times a day to check the mail just so I could be around people.

Second, when Greta’s really gone—like she was for an overnight retreat a couple of weeks ago—I don’t even know how to function. For example, I don’t know what to eat. If she doesn’t leave leftovers in the fridge, clearly labeled and in microwave-ready containers, I’m lost. Similarly, I don’t know when to go to bed. She leaves for a night and I usually end up watching replays of old sporting events—like the 1991 World Series or something else completely random—on ESPN until 2am or something.

Third, when she’s busy, we run out of groceries. How that situation—which I’m told happens on a near monthly basis—gets rectified is somewhat unclear to me. I do know that we don’t own any farm animals that can help us in such situations, but beyond that I’m lost.

Ultimately, this has made me realize two things: that I am useless without my wife and that I really like it this way.

Speaking of the Yankees, the weekend was one big five-game sweep of a joyfest. Even when they made me stay up until 12:30 one night, they rewarded my steadfastness with an extra-innings win. This is why my devotion continues. They always reward it. This team looks good, and at the right time, too. The playoffs aren’t far off and the Yanks look built for October success. Who couldn’t make room for a 27th World Series trophy?

If you're hungry for more Yankees talk (and who wouldn't be?), cruise over to this website I recently discovered. It’s called Bleeding Pinstripes and pretty much could have been written by my twin separated at birth, if, of course, that twin grew up in NYC and loves the Yankees which really would be the only logical outcome if there was, indeed, a twin separated at birth thing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New friends and an update...

I’m happy to welcome two new friends to the inner blog circle.

Both of them, Tim and Jay, are friends from the theological institution that consistently takes our money.

Tim’s blog is a fun assortment of thoughts on theology, life and things he’s going through/ contemplating. His current post is fantastic and well worth interacting with.

Jay’s blog is entirely theological. He posts many of his seminary papers and invites feedback and comments.

You’ll find both of these homies represented in the links section.

As for me, summer school is almost over. I have enjoyed the lighter load now that Hebrew is over (although I loved Hebrew), and only have one class left to focus on. It ends by Tuesday (since it’s my online class, I’m hoping to finish over the next couple of days). Tomorrow I start substitute teaching again, so that should produce some fun stories before long.

I can’t believe I’ve gone most of the summer without any kind of in-depth discussion of my beloved Yankees. That will change soon. Maybe Scott’s example inspired me. Maybe I’m just high on the intoxicating elixir that is a 3 game lead in mid-August. Either way, the discussion is coming soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Books are good for the soul...

So, I got double-tagged by this blog chain letter type thing (Greta and Jacob). Fun times, I say. But, then I started thinking about the experience of being double-tagged. Does this mean that the second tag negates the first? I know that you can’t triple-stamp a double-stamp, but I’m not sure if you can double-tag a single-tag. Then, I thought, “What if rather than negating the first tag, a second tag actually reinforces it? Does this mean I have to type in bold?” (I actually thought about this for a while.) I concluded that a second tag does, indeed, reinforce, not negate. So, here’s my book blog, the reinforced edition.

1. One book that changed your life: Writing the Natural Way by Gabrielle Lusser Rico. The book itself was pretty good, but the situation in which I read and interacted with it—my Creative Writing class at DTS—has been one of the more life changing things I’ve ever done. I took the class in order to do something I thought I might enjoy. Turns out I found something I was meant to do.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire/Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Love the little wizard!

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Baseball Encyclopedia. Who could ever get tired of reading that?

4. One book that made you laugh: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson. Funny dude! Not only made me laugh, it also made me want to move to the woods in the northeast. Weird, I know.

5. One book that made you cry: I honestly can’t think of any that fit this one. It’s either because I’m reading the wrong kinds of books or because I’m a shell of a man completely devoid of compassion and sensitivity. Probably the latter.

6. One book that you wish had been written: Making Texas More Like California in Six Easy Steps

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons or Faithful by Stephen King or anything else on the topic of the event that must not be named.

8. One book you’re currently reading: None, really. But I recently finished Psychology, Theology and Spirituality by Mark McMinn, The Search for Significance by Robert McGee, From Exegesis to Exposition by Robert Chisholm, Introducing Biblical Hebrew by Allen Ross and The Summer That Seminary Killed My Husband by Greta Bruneel.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. I’m not a huge fan of Edwards the linguist (too wordy) but I love Edwards the theologian and figure I should at least read the magnum opus.

10. Now tag five people: How about three? R. Jeff, Bittner, and Leani. I was going to put Derek Jeter in my list of three, but since he won't respond to my e-mails and repeated phone calls anymore, I figured I should let it go.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It’s a tough time to be a man…

While walking through the library at The Dallas Theological Seminary, I stopped cold in my tracks. There, winking up at me from the section devoted to periodicals and journals, was one of my worst fears confirmed.

The cover story of New Man magazine—which claims to be “America’s #1 Christian Men’s Magazine”—was about something called “Edge-tosterone.” A brief glance at the table of contents revealed that the main article dealt with why men were created to take risks and why it’s Scriptural for them to do so. Seriously, I hate this kind of crap.

I blame almost all of this on John Eldredge. Now, I know that there are those who have benefited from his books The Sacred Romance, Wild at Heart and Captivating (which he co-wrote with his wife, Staci). And that’s great that God has used those books to minister to so many people. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept the whole message uncritically.

The gist of my issue with Mr. Eldredge and the article in New Man is this: what they’re peddling is not really true. Nothing too major, just, you know, truth. Each of these works calls men to be “what God intended” and then uses sketchy methods of interpreting the Bible to show what that looks like.

To wit, in Wild at Heart, Eldredge claims that the first man was born in the wilderness and, as a result, all men long to be back where things are wild. That cannot be shown from Scripture. Also, all men want a woman to rescue, a mission to complete and a pint of Guinness to finish off the day. (Alright, that last one I made up, but it’s pretty much the message.) They look for these things in life and when they don’t find them, they substitute other things and become miserable shells of their ideal selves. Disturbingly, Eldredge seems to find far more inspiration from Hollywood than Jerusalem and models his “ideal man” less after the Suffering Servant Messiah and more after the blood-spilling William Wallace and Maximus Decimus Meridius (Commander of the armies of the north, general of the Felix legion, and loyal servant of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Yeah, I saw it.)

New Man seems to buy into the same concept, talking about the feminization of the church (the feminized church, apparently, is notable for its long messages, singing and emotional aspects), the need for churches to play up Jesus’ angry side as much as His loving side and man’s inherent need for risk. The article places the blame for risk-adverse men squarely on the church and calls men to rise above and become tough and rugged. Like Eldredge, New Man seems to be drawing a picture of manhood that is firmly rooted in the world around us and less in the Word before us. To top off the frustration, New Man shows the promised Scriptural support of its “risk-taking man” paradigm with exactly zero quotations from Scripture. Yeah, less than one. I looked closely.

The reason this makes me so angry is because it’s so wrong. I’m not at all against men finding God’s plan for their life, but I am against reading it into a script we wished we’d starred in. I prefer to read it in the pages of Scripture. The pages that call me to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). The pages that call me to consider the example of Jesus, not only when He drove out the money changers in zeal for the house of the Lord, but also when He “took the form of a servant” and “humbled Himself” to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-11). Perhaps those who want to re-write the paradigm of manhood have yet to learn to be content with servanthood.

This was one of Paul’s points for Christian marriage—another arena in which the He-Man Christianity Club wants to beat us into submission—in Ephesians 5. Husbands are called to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis mine). Paul goes on to point out that Christ showed His love for the church by giving Himself up for her. Perhaps that’s what a man was “meant to be”: one who willingly lays down his life for others. Not in some super-heroic, Hollywood ideal, “I’ll dive and take a bullet for you” type of way, but in the simple, daily living out of life. Open her car door. Turn off SportsCenter and talk to her about her day. Take her by the hand and go for a walk. Do the dishes before she can. Then ask her what kind of a spiritual leader you’re being.

I looked everywhere for the verse that said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples: If you have a hunger for risk and a desire to piss off cliffs.” I also didn’t find “self-fulfilling adventure” in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit. The truth is we are called to be many things, kind as well as bold, servants as well as leaders. We ought to be searching for a wholistic approach to being God’s image bearers, not an unnecessarily and dangerously one-sided approach. Unfortunately, our so-called experts aren’t helping.

Let’s call men to follow the Savior’s plan for their life, not Hollywood’s. Whether that takes them into the wilderness or daily to their knees is not mine to say.

As for me, I would be better off with a stronger desire to serve others and a more humble estimation of myself. As it is, I’m already too fixated on my being supreme. When I struggle with that most, it’s not helpful for me to picture myself as some great face-painted, blood-soaked warrior. Jesus is the one returning to conquer, not me. Instead, I need to fall to my knees and ask God to conform me into the image of His Son, stripping away the impurities and making me into a vessel fit for His use. After all, I am nothing but a jar of clay and God is free to shape me into whatever form He finds most useful. And I simply pray He is pleased with me even if I never carry a sword or climb the face of Everest.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My summer of shalom...

It’s an interesting thing, my life. That sounds a bit hubristic, I know, but hang in there.

When I started on this magical mystery tour of the wide world of theology back in fall 2004, I had no idea what I didn’t know or how I was going to ever know it. Now, almost two full years later I have the peaceful, easy feeling that comes from knowing how much I don’t know and not feeling compelled to have to know it. There is a sense of peace that comes with some self-awareness. And I am feeling peace this summer like rarely, if ever, before.

I’m currently taking Hebrew (a beautiful language that should be required learning for anyone with any wild idea of understanding the clean pages of their Bible), Gospels and next Monday I start Biblical Counseling. Two years ago, or even one year ago, that sentence would have given me a slight twitching above my right ear. But not this summer. Perhaps it’s a product of growing maturity, although anyone who knows me well could attest that that’s not it. I actually think it has to do with grace.

This summer, in the midst of all that is required of me by the Institution, Greta and I took a three-week vacation (although that was prior to class), we traveled to Liberal, Kansas to spend a fun weekend with my brother who’s playing baseball up there for the summer, I’ve gotten ahead on all my homework, I’ve read a non-seminary book (sensitive types shouldn’t click that link). Other than some nights of not getting enough sleep—which was due to staying up late and reading the Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named—this summer has been quite an experience of shalom (which I now know how to write). This all points inarguably to God’s grace. God has seen fit to give me peace in the midst of productivity this summer, and I am deeply thankful.

Last summer, after my first full year at school, I was dry. I felt like I had just run a marathon, only to arrive at the finish line and have someone say, “Great job! You’re a third of the way!” My first year was tough. Then the second year came and was better, but still taxing, which led me to conclude that my kamikaze summer might just end me. But God has seen fit not to crush my dry bones but to set them dancing instead. This summer has been a gift of pure grace.

Again, allow me reiterate: this has little, if anything, to do with me and some swell time management skills I’ve developed. It has everything to do with God just giving me a sense of contentment with where life is and with what I’ve got going on.

I have no great way to end this, but I just thought I’d throw out some praise.

With all that said, my peace apparently doesn’t extend to nighttime. My dear wife says I’ve been sleepwalking more than ever. I can’t usually remember, so for me the peace rolls on. For her on the other hand…

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father figures...

Happy Father’s Day!

Today I want to celebrate the three fathers who have helped to mold me.

My father is an example I would love to live up to. The man who taught me how to throw a baseball also taught me about the necessity of hard work. The man who showed me how to read a box score also showed me how to love a woman with everything you have. The man who insisted that we balance my checkbook also insisted that the first check be written to the church. The man who disciplined me with a heavy hand also loved me through his unending quest to provide. The man who finds joy in giving his free time to other people’s 10 to 12-year olds also showed me how to find joy in laying down my life in service to others. My father makes me proud to be his son.

My father-in-law is an example I would love to live up to. The man who goes to baseball games simply because I like them has shown me much about valuing others. The man who gives me books I need (and tries to give me plenty that I don’t) has shown me much about unbridled generosity. The man who adores his daughters like none other has taught me much about the pricelessness of the woman who married me. The man who immediately called me “son” has taught me much about acceptance. The man who maintains his practical faith has shown me much about what it means to seek after Christ. My father-in-law makes me proud to be his son.

I am blessed by these two men. They have taught me innumerable other things as well; the list above is simply a sampling. I am privileged to be their son. But my third Father has taught me just as much, if not more.

My heavenly Father is an example I would love to live up to. The Father who has allowed me to live despite my consistent failings has taught me much about patience. The Father who corrects my mistakes through loving and gentle rebuke has taught me much about the nature of discipline. The Father who has forgotten my sins has taught me much about mercy. The Father who has made me a co-heir in the family has taught me much about my value. The Father who alone is worthy of all glory has taught me much about humility. The Father who clothed me with the righteousness of Christ has taught me much about providing for needs. The Father who has given His Spirit to indwell me has taught me much about guidance. The Father who gave His Son for me has taught me much about real love.

I know that for some of you, today may not bring up too many memories worth celebrating, and I hurt for you. I am willing to share my third Father with you. He will parent you as no fallen, broken man can. He will show you unending, unswerving and unfailing love. He will give you everything you need so that you may bring Him glory. He will guide you into all righteousness for His name’s sake. He will make you into the person you were intended to be. My Father in heaven wants to parent you, too.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

Sunday, June 04, 2006


On May 17, we set out for a seventeen day vacation that would take us to California via the Grand Canyon. Here are some reflections, thoughts and random memories:

-I don’t usually use this space as an advice column, but indulge me for a moment. If you leave Denton, TX, driving a car that gets roughly 32 mpg and are headed to Amarillo, TX, you had best leave with a FULL tank of gas. If you have a “nearly” full tank, or even an “almost” full tank, you’re in for a very nervous 20 minutes just south of Amarillo. After the “low gas” indicator chimes for the second time — yeah, who knew it could even chime twice — your wife will notice that you’re staring intently at the horizon, gripping the steering wheel tightly, and alternating phrases under your breath like, “@#!%,” and “Maybe the people who abandoned that farm left some gas in that rusted tractor.” Ultimately, you will end up taking the first southern exit in Amarillo and groveling in the gravel at the most well-placed Texaco in North Texas, swearing that you will never again let the tank get below half-full, or even three-quarters full. She may forgive you before Albuquerque, but why chance it?

-We stopped by the Grand Canyon on our way west. Great fun. We rode a shuttle bus out to a place on the South Rim called Hermit’s Rest and then hiked the Rim Trail back 8.5 miles. Neither of us had ever been there and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d love to go back someday. For someone who isn’t fond of dirt and bugs, that’s saying something.

-In Kingman, AZ, we stopped at a gas station. That in and of itself is nothing spectacular, but at that gas station I saw a very interesting man. He was standing outside of the convenience store, next to the ice machine. He had a suitcase at his feet and wore a shirt that said, “Cleveland.” I realize that it was an Indians baseball shirt, but it looked more like he was a hitchhiker with a permanent destination emblazoned on his chest. On our return trip through Kingman, he was gone from the gas station. I could just imagine him waiting there, disappointment mounting, as myriad travelers speed by. Then, one blessed day, a truck driver saunters over and says the magic phrase, “I’m goin’ to Cleveland.” Delighted, our weary traveler grabs his suitcase and begins dreaming of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, seeing a Browns game in person and maybe, just maybe, meeting Drew Carey at a deli.

-Speaking of hitchhikers, I saw more hitchhikers in Arizona than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I have a theory about why: it’s hotter than hell in Arizona. (I realize I can’t empirically prove the preceding statement, but you’ll have to take my word for it.) I’m sure that most people in Arizona—even in the beautiful mountainous area near Flagstaff—spend most of their days planning an escape. My brother lives in Arizona, which is hard for me to imagine. What isn’t hard for me to imagine is him showing up at my parents’ doorstep someday soon and turning to wave goodbye to the family of seven in the station wagon that happened to be goin’ his way.

-California is, without any doubt, the greatest state in the country. Even the desert on the western side of the California-Arizona border is better than that on the eastern side. While in the Golden State, we saw desert, beach, and mountains. It was like our own personal “best of” tour. We also had a bit of a baby tour. Lots of our friends have new or recent babies, so we got to see them all. We also got to meet our new nephew, Seth, who is tons of fun. He’s only two months old, so we had only seen pictures. He likes Greta and me; we make him laugh and smile. I’ve also been told that Seth has my ears, which simply means that mine now, at 28 years old, are exactly the same size as his at 2 months.

-Biggest city we passed through: Los Angeles, CA (population: 3,694,820). Smallest town we passed through: Estelline, TX (population: 168). The second category was close. We also drove through Lemon Cove, CA which boasts a population of 198.

-Interstates, freeways and state routes: I 35 (TX), 380 (TX), 278 (TX), I 40 (TX, NM, AZ, CA), 58 (CA), 14 (CA), I 5 (CA), 126 (CA), 101 (CA), 99 (CA), 180 (CA), 198 (CA). When you get on I 40 east in Barstow, California, there is a sign there that says “Wilmington, NC 2,554 miles.” I imagine that this sign is put there to give hope to anyone who finds themselves in Barstow. I also imagine that there is no sign in Wilmington that says “Barstow, CA 2,554 miles.” Otherwise, people would be getting off the freeway in droves.

-We left Stockton, CA on Friday, June 2. A mere 26 hours later we pulled in to the University of North Texas. It was good to go home, but it’s also good to be home.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Voices have been silent...

We’re currently enjoying a much-needed vacation in California. We’ve done all kinds of eating, sleeping, eating, playing with infants, and eating. I’ve got plenty of stories about the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest and driving across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but they’ll have to await our return. Just typing this much has made me ready for a nap by the beach.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Big news...

I’m happy to report that everyone’s favorite minor league catcher, Wally Rosa, has earned hisself a promotion! (See “A Weekend in ‘Bama” below) That’s right, only in the wacky world of minor league baseball can a man be rewarded for hitting .111 in 18 at bats at AA. The reward? A trip to AAA Charlotte. Someone was making Knight moves and Wally was the happy beneficiary. Wally has greeted his good fortune by picking up right where he left off, but not quite. He’s gone a cool 0 for 10 in five games for the Knights, with one strikeout, no walks, and one very mysterious stolen base. (In my baseball career, I found it very difficult to steal bases if you’re never on base, which I never was. I also found it very difficult to steal bases because I wasn’t fast. I once misread a sign, thought the coach was giving me the steal sign, and got thrown out by 8 to 10 feet. Turns out he was giving me the “For the love of God, you’ve never been on base, don't get such a large lead, you’re going to get picked off, put your left foot on the bag and hopefully this guy hits a homerun and doesn’t lap you on his homerun trot” sign. I think I got mixed up when he went ear-belt-hat.) So, keep up the good work faithful citizens of blogdom. Your goodwill got Wally a promotion—honestly, looking at his stats, what else could explain it—so why stop now? Let’s get this man in Chicago by the end of the season!

P.S. Happy Bono's birthday! Celebrate appropriately, with a pint of Guinness and a donation to DATA.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A random return...

I’m happy to be back. This semester has been, shall we say, demanding. Now, I’m glad to report, it’s over. Pretty much. One easy final and a little bit of reading to go. The big thing is that my beast of a paper is finished. I spent a stunning number of hours researching and writing for my 19 page single-spaced, 105 footnote opus. I feel lighter now. I’m not, actually any lighter because I’ve been planted on my butt writing a paper for the last week, but I feel lighter. So, that’s a pleasant deception.

Recently, while reading through Writer’s Digest, I saw a poll. Apparently, some number cruncher guy measured “The Most Literate Cities in America.” He took into account number of booksellers, level of educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation and periodical publications for each of the 69 largest cities in the country. Here’s the fascinating part: the bottom city on the list? Stockton, California, or a place I affectionately refer to as “home.” Yup, my hometown. So, basically, the fact that I can write any entries at all in this space, and that anyone I knew before the age of 22 can read them, is pretty much miraculous. Maybe this helps explain why the comments from the Stockton contingent are sparse.

Also, in other news, my wife is stellar. She has been reaping the rewards of her dedication lately. For example, she was honored by the RAs at University of North Texas as the Most Supportive Hall Director, followed closely by her bosses voting her the Most Outstanding Hall Director. She's a star.

She’s also wicked funny. Check out this bathtub brainstorm on her blog. Contribute if you can. Laugh as much as you like. But, by all means, vote for your favorite. We will have no more of the voyeurs!

That’s all for today. I have to ease my way back in. Can’t rush these things.

But, before I go, it’s the return of Word of the Day!

Word of the Day:

bloviate (blow-vee-ate), verb, to speak or write in a boastful manner

How ironic that the word actually sounds like that which it defines! Stunning! Bonus that it sounds vaguely like some sort of gastrinal issue that effects millions of elderly white males during their golf games in Florida. Also, it sounds like a really run together description of what someone drinking carrot juice does when they hear a funny joke. As you can see, the word has unlimited potential.

Yes, folks, it’s good to be back.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A weekend in Bama...

We spent the weekend in Alabama. We had decided to use our Easter break to visit Greta’s sister, Nancy, who lives in Birmingham. Here are some highlights and some lowlights of our trip to Alabama and all places in between.

-For my birthday, a few weeks ago, Nancy sent me a t-shirt that simply says “Alabama” across the chest. This is the “officially licensed apparel” of the University of Alabama. I was stoked. I even saved it so that the first wearing of the shirt would take place while we were in ‘Bama. Alabama is football crazy and a pretty divided state. Alabama and Auburn are each in the state and the allegiances people have to one or the other run deep and often back through a number of generations. The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers do not play well together. This is all back story so that you can properly understand what follows.

While spending a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in the Birmingham Zoo, Greta, Nancy and I were enjoying the animals. I was proudly sporting my Alabama t-shirt. We had just left the alligator swamp and were bound for the primates when this old man—probably in his 70’s—walked by. As he passed us he looked at me and yelled, “Roll Tide!” This was the single greatest moment of my time at the zoo. This old man, otherwise calm and cool, just couldn’t resist the opportunity to commiserate with a fellow ‘Bama Backer. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’m a UCLA fan from California. He’s better off not knowing.

-We attended a Southern Baptist Easter service. Another new experience for me. The music was great and the message was well crafted. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience, but I was disappointed that there was only one altar call and no potluck.

-We got to visit Nancy at work. She works at the American Village, just outside of Birmingham. She serves as a historic interpreter and the queen of all stitching for this endeavor in which 18th century Boston has been recreated. School children from all over the greater Birmingham area come to learn about the causes of the Revolutionary War and the characteristics of the colonists who dared to separate from the Crown. We had a great time sitting in a recreation of the Old North Church as Nancy delivered a secret spy message. I thought about turning her in to General Gage, but then realized that such an act might lead to the spread of cricket in the States. Out of a deep love for my fellow Americans, I sat still.

-We attended a Birmingham Barons baseball game on Sunday night. If you’ve never gone to a minor league baseball game, you’re missing out. We sat on the lower level for $8 a piece and have fun trying to catch t-shirts, Frisbees and other such objects that were tossed into the crowd between innings. The players all play hard, knowing that their ticket to AAA depends on it. I even adopted a player into my heart—Wally Rosa, catcher for the Barons, who, as best I can tell, still doesn’t have a hit this season. This must change! If you think about it, send Wally some good mental vibes. His season depends on you!

-On the drive home, we decided that we were going to eat at a Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. This proved problematic as there are, and we can firmly attest to this, no Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. restaurants anywhere along I-20 through Mississippi or Louisiana. We saw myriad Wendy’s and McDonald’s, but when you’ve got your heart set on Carl’s, how can you settle? Settle we did not. And a mere five hours after first mentioning our hunger and our desire for Famous Stars, we pulled in to Carl’s Jr. in Van, Texas. Good things do indeed come to those who wait. Like indigestion from eating a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, onion rings, criss-cut fries and two root beers.

-Alabama is a very pretty state. The green hills and plentiful countryside remind me of a painting I saw in Los Angeles once. Louisiana and Mississippi, however, not pretty. And since they rudely stand in the way of anyone wanting to travel from Texas to Alabama, we were forced to endure them. These two states are tied in the “Most Disgusting Bathrooms in the Known World” contest that I initiated while on this trip. Who would have thought that filthy, disgusting and smoke-filled gas stations would have filthy, disgusting and smoke-filled bathrooms. Probably not coincidentally, my wife is sick today.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Crunch time...

This part of the semester always kills me. At this time last year I was uttering curse words about Greek (Seriously, you can ask my friend Tim). We have entered crunch time.

Crunch time comes with its own set of rules. To wit:

-During crunch time, professors who you previously considered normal will suddenly increase the amount of reading expected for a typical week. You must face this trial with silence. So much as a whimper and the load will increase.

-During crunch time, you may forget to take part in valuable activities such as bathing. Make sure that you surround yourself with people who have strong stomachs and won’t hesitate to point out your stench.

-During crunch time, all of the books you need will be checked out of the library. If you are lucky, you might be able to locate the gaps in the system where the books you need typically reside. At this point a whimper is acceptable, but you must whimper quietly. You are, after all, in the library.

-During crunch time, you will learn to survive on 2 hours of sleep, feel “somewhat awake” with 3, write a paper on 4, and feel “positively chipper” with 5.

-During crunch time, the people in your classes just aren’t that funny anymore. (Unless I’m in your class, then I’m still funny. Right? Anyone?)

-During crunch time, you will consistently struggle through the following train of thought: “Before I forget, I really need to…um…curse word! What did I need to do?”

-During crunch time, eating becomes a timed event. You must not dally long at the table. Remember, each bite of sandwich = one less quarter-page of a paper you could be finishing.

-During crunch time, instead of having time to read, write and study, you will find your weekends unexpectedly filled with things like changing bike tires, chopping down redwoods and brokering peace between Yankees and Red Sox fans. Granted, these things may never happen during the rest of the year, but we’re dealing with crunch time here.

I hope that you all may negotiate the tricky waters of crunch time with grace and peace. Rest assured, this too shall pass…just in time for summer school.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My sports odyssey...

Since Saturday, I've embarked upon a bit of a sports odyssey. The journey has been marked by joy, pride, frustration and some deep sadness. I want you to journey with me.


Never been prouder.

Lots of fun, a little suburned and disappointed with the results.
Sad. Deeply sad.
Excitement. (What a way to start things off!)

Hopeful. (On the Nor-Cal side, of course.)

Thanks for journeying with me. Looking back, it's been a good run. It also may explain why I have so much homework that must get finished TODAY.

Friday, March 24, 2006

There's no crying in basketball...

***This post is sports-centric, I know, but read through because I want your feedback.***

A wise person once said, “Tears are a sign of life.” If that’s true, then Adam Morrison is really alive.

Nobody east of the Rockies was more excited about UCLA’s victory last night than I was. (Nobody was more angry, either, when the realization washed over them that the Texas Longhorns game would be on the television instead of the Bruins.) I was able to follow the game on the computer, living and, mostly, dying with each Gonzaga basket. And there were plenty of them. In fact, halfway through the game I got a voice mail from my brother who called the Bruins’ effort a “travesty” but encouraged me to stay the course. It was that bad. And I felt bad. But, then…

UCLA made it a game in the second half, cutting into the lead early and then hanging around. In the final three minutes, things just got ridiculous. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Bruins began forcing turnovers and hitting shots that just refused to fall in the first half. Which led us to this sequence: Morrison received an inbounds pass with nineteen seconds left, was effectively covered and threw a pass across the court to teammate J.P. Batista. UCLA succeeded in stealing the ball and hitting a layup to take the lead. That was at eight seconds. Gonzaga inbounded the ball, but had it stripped again and UCLA fell on it with two seconds left. The Bruins had been down by as many as 17 and were trailing by 9 with three minutes left, but now found themselves in the lead, 72-71. And that’s when Adam Morrison proved his heart was beating.

You may know Morrison as the man with the ugliest mustache in college sports. Perhaps it’s the silly late-70s socks that catch your attention. What I noticed at that moment, with two seconds left, was that he was crying. Yes, tears. Crying before the game was even over. It only precipitated (no pun intended) the flood that would come after the game went final and Morrison collapsed at center court with his jersey pulled over his head. His shoulders were heaving and I couldn’t help but feel a little badly for him. Here was the nation’s leading scorer reduced to a puddle. His team lost, and he was overcome.

So, here’s the thing: A friend told me that today on the sports radio Morrison was raked over the coals for crying before the game was over. And for crying after the game was over. Apparently, there’s no crying in basketball. When I pseudo-defended Morrison—I said I had no problem with the post-game “our season is over” tears, but was not really down with the in-game, “we’re now down by one point with two seconds left” tears—my friend even hated on the post-game flow.

So, I put it to you: What do you do with an athlete that cries after or during a loss? Do you prefer your stars to be emotionless? Is it only okay to cry after a win? Why do we need our stars to play dry?

If you need to see it for yourself before you weigh in, go to CBS Sportsline and click on UCLA: Unbelievable!

Fire away. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The return to Guam...

Although it may appear otherwise, I haven’t actually forgotten that I claimed this part of the internet for myself. Rather, like most Americans and Guam, I just haven’t paid much attention to it lately. Then this morning it came up to me with a sad look and said, “I’d love to spend some time with you again.” I was hooked.

Since I posted last…

School has been slightly crazy. The defining adjective of the semester would have to be “constant.” After a “new,” a “tiresome” and an “invigorating,” I guess it was time for a “constant.” I’m happy to report, though, that I am still on track to graduate in May ’07, have my thesis topic all picked out and some preliminary research underway and am pretty excited about my fall schedule. Also great news: 7 weeks until summer.

The United States of America lost in the World Baseball Classic. In fact, they didn’t even make it to the finals, in which Japan beat Cuba. Not sure how to evaluate this yet. In a way it may be good for the long-term outlook of the WBC that someone other than the US won. I was kind of worried that other countries would just write it off completely if it turned into a US-fest. Now, in three years, everyone will be gunning for Japan. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) On the other hand, this is our game! Who invited these guys?

Went to St. Louis over spring break for an amazing mission trip working with World Impact. I was so thoroughly impressed with the organization, the people and their heart for the poor. Our team did really well, too, so that was a huge relief for Greta and I. Co-leading a trip was really good for us.

The beloved UCLA Bruins are in the Sweet 16. I really think they have a legitimate shot at beating the mustached-one and his minions. (I know, I think the Bruins have a legitimate shot at winning the title every year. But this year is different because I’m less delusional.)

My dear, committed wife has signed up for her first half-marathon. She’s been working really hard and is excited about seeing all her training pay off. I couldn’t be prouder and can’t wait to kiss her sweaty forehead after she crosses the finish line.

Oh, yeah, I may be getting something published…Stay tuned.

(P.S. If you’ve been checking this site regularly, you deserve some sort of award for faithfulness.)

(P.S.S. Today I was watching a spring training baseball game during my free period while I was subbing. One of the commentators said the following, “When you got a bunch of new guys, it takes time to get used to their different personalities, different styles, different aggressivenesses.” Uh huh, aggressivenesses. Good stuff you’d only hear on ESPN at 1 in the afternoon.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

News from Subland...

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. Things have been a bit crazy.

Today I subbed in a middle school math class. In lieu of a math assignment, the students had to write a three paragraph essay (if something of only three paragraphs can be called that) about a recent project they finished. Apparently, this project involved taking pictures. If I gathered the snippets of info correctly, I believe they were supposed to take pictures of basic geometric shapes around them and then create an album.

The teacher’s directions were really clear. First paragraph – Describe your project. Tell what you did. Use lots of details. Second paragraph – Describe making your project. Who helped you, what materials did you use, where did you get the materials, how long did it take? Third paragraph – Write three things you learned about yourself during this project.

Now, this doesn’t seem too tough. In fact, most students finished in about ten minutes and had thirty-five left to do something quiet at their desk. Then there were a handful of other students. For them, it wasn’t as easy. A couple students took almost the entire forty-five minutes to write their three paragraph opus. I worked really hard to keep the students who had finished quiet so that the others, who were clearly struggling, could finish.

I noticed one boy in particular. He had come in quietly, sat right down and worked the entire class. I was feeling badly for him that the other students, who had finished far more quickly, were talking and making it tough for him to finish. I was pretty hard on the talkers. I was this boy’s personal academic savior.

Only three minutes before the day was over, he handed in his essay. Yes! I had done it! I had vanquished the forces of noisiness and rescued this poor academic peasant from their clutches just in time to save his precious essay.

As he laid it on the desk, I smiled at him. Then I glanced down to see the marvel that had so consumed him. As follows, with all spelling, punctuation and paragraph divisions intact:

“I made a crapy project. Mine was messed up. My project has a green cover.

I did my project on the last day. I took all the pictures on the last day. I used my cousins construction paper.

I learned nothing. I hated the project. I have a A.D.D. so I can’t listen.”

This is the child I defended. This is the future of America.

I feel defeated.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Celebrating the holy day...

As we wait on the brink of America’s most revered holiday, I would like to take this opportunity to express my thankfulness to the Football Fairy.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Football Fairy. That’s perfectly reasonable as you probably have yet to become a true convert. For those who follow football religiously (as if there was any other way to do so), the Football Fairy is a benevolent, if slightly overweight, fellow.

He is the subject of much myth and lore, any number of songs and even a misty-eyed poem or two. Some tell of his leaving footballs, chips and queso to followers on Super Bowl Day.

The Football Fairy is such a profound part of everything that makes tomorrow great, that it is difficult to believe when people say, “I don’t believe in the Football Fairy.” Apologetics is for another time, for today’s message is not polemic, but celebratory in nature.

In honor of the world’s greatest legendary figure, I would like to share with you a little piece I have created entitled “The Night Before 40.”

T’was the night before 40, and all through Detroit,
Coaches were scheming for holes to exploit.
The logos were painted in the end zones with care,
And the smell of Budweiser hung thick in the air.
Most players were nestled, in their king-size beds,
While visions of touchdown dances played in their heads.
But Big Ben, watching film of the Seahawks once more,
Was taking good notes on Seattle’s front four,
When out on Ford Field there arose such a clatter,
He jumped from his chair to see what was the matter.
Away down the tunnel he flew like a flash,
As if he was running the 40-yard dash.
The light on the chalk of the fifty-yard line,
Foreshadowed the coming of someone divine.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But an overweight man, in each hand a cold beer.
With a look on his face that was joyful and merry,
Ben knew in a moment, “It’s the Football Fairy!”
The Fairy, surrounded by men of great fame,
Whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Elway, now, Namath, Montana and Starr,
Now, Staubach, now, Brady, like the MVPs that you are.
To the top of the aisle, up to row double-Z,
Run like you’re chased by a hungry DE.”
Like Mike Vick in the face of an oncoming rush,
They blew past Big Ben, with a still-focused hush.
To the top row of the venue, the QBs they flew,
Leaving just the Fairy, with his job to do.
Then from the rafters, Ben heard a song start,
And though cheesy, they sang it with all of their heart.
With “Are You Ready for Some Football” filling the dome,
The Fairy walked the sidelines, both visitor and home.
He was dressed in a jersey — Payton’s 32 —
No cap, but a fedora, a fan through and through.
With a huge bag of pork rinds tucked under his arm,
He looked like a vender, but with plenty more charm.
His eyes they were shifting, like he’d picked up a blitz,
His cheeks they were bulging from too many Ritz,
His mouth had been frozen in a strange Hines Ward smile,
And it looked like he sure hadn't shaved in some while.
'Round his neck hung a whistle, from his days as a ref,
Too much time in the Black Hole had left him part deaf.
He had a broad face and a brat-enhanced belly
Big Ben had a feeling this Fairy was smelly.
The picture of fandom, except for two things,
From his back portruded a pair of huge wings.
A wink of an eye, a hand signal or two,
He was changing the play, this much Big Ben knew.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Sprinkling dust with a satisfied smirk.
When his job was all through, and both sidelines blessed,
He gave a signal to the still-singing rest.
They gathered around him, crowding close in a huddle,
Then out of the building they shot like a shuttle.
Big Ben heard him exclaim, as skyward they hurled,
“Enjoy the game; I’m going to Disney World!”

I hope that this season finds you well as you celebrate the magical gifts that the Football Fairy bestows upon those who love him. May your day tomorrow be filled with wonder, much scoring and plenty of funny commercials.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sub trauma...

If my socks look red, it’s because I spent the day with the ankle biters. I subbed at an elementary school. An entire elementary school. The teachers had meetings all day, but in shifts, so I subbed to cover their shifts. By the end of the day I had spent time in 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st grades, Kindergarten and as a lunch room monitor/meanie. Pretty much, not fun. However, luckily my ears and eyes were open to catch some of the following nuggets of greatness:

Completely unsolicited comment from a 3rd grade student: “Today in my lunch I have fruit. An orange and apple. And for drink I have juice. Mostly fruit. No sandwich.”
Me: “Uh, cool.”

Another 3rd grader was supposed to be working on her Thomas Edison crossword puzzle, but instead was speaking to another student in Spanish, hoping to get away with not working. This led to the following exchange:
Me: “Melanie, por que estas hablando? No necesitas hablar ahora, necesitas trabajar. Tienes mucha para hacer. Pero siempre habla, habla, habla. No mas hablando!”
Her: “You talk Spanish?”

Today was “Career Dress-Up Day,” complete with a parade of occupations through the hallways at the end of the day. At this point I was in the kindergarten class. When it came time for all the dressed-up children to go prepare for the parade, one plain-clothes child got in line. I asked what she was doing, and she said, “I’m a teacher.” I let her go.

Another one of those kindergarteners was impeccably dressed in a suit, shirt and tie. I noticed early in class that he continually bossed the other children around. Later, I was told that he had dressed as the President of the United States. Classic.

The moment I walked into the kindergarten class, this happened:
Boy: “Do you know my name?”
Me: “No.”
Boy: “It starts with an ‘n.’”
Me: “Still don’t know it.”
At this point he ran over and got a box of his work with NATHAN printed on it and said, “Can you read this?”
Me: “Yeah, it says Nathan.”
Immediately every other child started yelling: “Do you know my name?”
Me: “Listen! I don’t know any of your names!”
I didn't attempt to learn them either.

While we waited in the hallway, just before going into the cafeteria, one 2nd grader repeatedly asked me, “Do you have a burr?” I kept asking him what he meant and he kept saying, “In your hair. Do you have a burr?” Eventually, the kid next to him said, “You don’t make sense.” And that was that.

After lunch:
2nd grade boy: “Katie called me a maniac.”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
Him: “Katie called me a maniac.”
Me: “Yeah, I heard you. I said I was sorry.”
Apparently he was looking for something else from me, because he looked pretty dejected when he got back in line.

At least 5 times today: “Hey! You cutted me!” Good times with bad English.

A day like this is priceless. At least that’s what the district must think because the price they put on it was far too low.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Deeply committed...

I woke up this morning thankful to have slept in. Today is a day off, for my wife and me both. We needed it after working the Dallas Bridal Show all weekend. But today’s day off isn’t just another holiday, as far as I am concerned. Today is different.

A few years ago, my wife and I went on a vacation that deeply impacted me; we went to the South. This vacation left big imprints on me like no other trip really has. We started in Atlanta. While there we did some of the regular ol’ tourist stuff like took in a Braves game (where we saw Greg Maddux pitch) and toured the Margaret Mitchell house (where she wrote Gone With the Wind). But the unplanned part of our trip was to swing by Sweet Auburn. This is the name of the historically black section of town. This part of our trip was unplanned because we didn’t even know it existed until we got there. But are we ever glad we got there.

Sweet Auburn is where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. It’s where Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where Dr. King and his father, Daddy King, did their preaching, still stands. It’s where the Center for Nonviolent Social Change, established by Coretta Scott King, operates. This trip through Sweet Auburn showed us the lasting legacy of one of the neighborhood’s finest sons. It confronted us California kids with the ugly truth of rampant racism in a way that we had never seen. It showed us the beauty of diversity. Sweet Auburn was indeed sweet for us. But our vacation wasn’t over.

In Birmingham, we visited the Civil Rights Institute and were confronted by more of the same. On display in this museum were images of senseless brutality, ugly bigotry and a history of which none should be proud. I can honestly say that during that trip I was deeply ashamed to be white. Birmingham and Sweet Auburn produced in me a deep affection for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I know the man wasn’t perfect. None is. But he was a man of courage, conviction, and, perhaps most admirable, commitment. While reading the instructions to nonviolent protesters that Dr. King had drafted, I knew I couldn’t have followed them. Things such as, “Speak quietly and respectfully to any who persecute you,” or “If struck, spit on, or assaulted, do not retaliate,” seem nearly impossible, and yet the world saw them work in the 60’s. Why such tension? How can such a high calling that it almost seems impossible to carry out such instructions and yet such a noble response that it almost seems impossible for it not to work be one and the same? Because Dr. King drew them from the highest of all sources: Christ Himself.

Dr. King consistently applied the teachings of Christ as found in the Sermon on the Mount when directing the nonviolent social change movement. He took seriously teachings such as, “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you,” and “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Also what the Apostle Paul wrote seems to have affected his methodology: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

So, what happens when someone lives life with a radical commitment to truth, justice and loving one’s enemies? Evil is exposed, righteousness is celebrated and, ultimately, societies are changed. I pray that I may be a man of such dedication to truth and to righteousness that I won’t rest until justice flows down like mighty waters.

Today, take the time to celebrate the life of a man who was not only courageous and convinced, but also committed. Talk to your children about what happens when you live life with a deep commitment to righteous convictions. Point to Dr. King’s example. And, of course, take time to celebrate the Source of Dr. King’s courage, conviction and commitment. I think Dr. King would want it that way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kids these days...

I just returned from substitute teaching. Today was elementary school P.E. And I’m concerned. The day went fine, but, when combined with my previous experience teaching this same subject for this same grade level, I have observed some things that concern me. Here they are in no particular order. (Warning: Some generalizations ahead. These may not all apply in every given case, but they ring true in many cases.)

Kids are fat. I realize there is a difference between baby fat and being truly fat. I get that. What I don’t get is how parents can let their children become enormous by the age of 9. Who is overseeing their eating habits? Roseanne? This does not bode well for the future. In an already over-medicated society we are raising up a generation who may be at more risk for health problems than any in the past.

Kids cheat. This you may greet with a bit of a chuckle, but I’m serious. I know that some form of cheating has existed forever. But this feels and looks different to me. This is unlike the innocent, “I’ll only try this because I know my friends will call me out on it” kind of stuff that my friends and I used to pull. This is more ingrained. They cheat when they feel like they can’t win by the rules. And, from what I can gather, they don’t seem to think twice about it. This does not bode well for their future, in any arena of life. What will they become? Prisoners? Professional wrestlers? Home run hitters?

Kids don’t play. I’m relatively sure that most children have an after-school itinerary that contains significantly more time playing video games than actual games. Now, I’m not a video game hater; in fact, I wish I had more time to play mine. But there have to be limits. Remember the movie The Sandlot, where the group of neighborhood kids played baseball in the empty lot everyday during the summer? That would never happen anymore. Kids would rather sit staring at a television screen, exercising only their thumbs, than get out, see some scenery and use major muscle groups. Parents, kick your kids outside for an occasional afternoon of real-life activity. It really won’t kill them.

Kids don’t try. I can’t even recall the number of times that I heard a child say today, “I can’t do this.” And usually that proclamation came flying out of their mouths before they had even attempted anything. Granted, today’s tumbling stuff might not be for everyone, but they never even gave it a shot before concluding that it was impossible. I think we need to do some serious methodology review and see how we can convince them that trying is worth just as much as succeeding. (I’m not advocating taking away things like dodgeball where you are “singled-out” as a failure if you don’t perform. In fact, I believe I’m advocating the opposite and mandating that people at least attempt to perform before they single themselves out as failures.)

Kids make excuses. Today this was illustrated to me by way of contrast. In one class, one girl swore she couldn’t participate in the exercises because she wasn’t “feeling well.” In fact, this girl was crying because the other teacher had told her she had to participate. For those of you that may be thinking, “She may have really been sick,” just consider that she wasn’t too sick to do the cartwheels, only the somersaults, the crab walks and the handstands. In the same exact class as this young complaining girl was another young girl who apparently had been born without a right hand. Yet, she did everything we asked, and seemed to have lots of fun doing it. Talk about someone who could legitimately ask to be excused from handstands! But she didn’t ask to be excused from anything, and made it a point to give her best. No more excuses. If you’ve got all of your limbs, were able to get out of bed and haven’t recently seen a doctor, get in there and play.

I thought I’d share these things with the blog community. I'm not trying to indict all parents. I'm just pointing out some of what I saw. Frankly, I don’t know the answer to all of these ills, but I do know one thing. If these things don’t get fixed soon, we’re getting the crap kicked out of us in the 2016 Olympics.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

After the holidaze...

It's been quite some time since my last post. In fact, it was Christmas Day, which seems like a distant memory. The primary reason that I haven't posted has to do with an intricate conspiracy among two women in my life. Those two women are my mother and my mother-in-law.

They each decided that it would be okay to feed me unnecessarily large portions of food over the holidays. At every meal. This meant that by the time New Year's Eve rolled around my fingers were so fat that I could only type in four letter blocks like thyg or mknj. Now that I have escaped from the clutches of these two women bent on ruining my typing ability, I can blog again.

Some random thoughts and then a little something I wrote over the break before the food conspiracy had its way with my digits:

Rose Bowl thoughts: Last night's Rose Bowl was amazing. Not sure that I'm ready to call it the best game of all time like some people I heard on TV and radio today, but it was great watching. Now, I'm not particularly a fan of that large university in Austin, but I'd rather swallow razor blades than root for SC, so I was quite satisfied with the results. Vince Young is ridiculous. Can't say much more than that.

College Bowl thoughts: Didn't do so well on my college bowl picks for my mother-in-law this year. Finished 13-15. Not pretty. I guess next year I'll have to spend a little more time studying the passing efficiency ratings of the guys in the MPC Computers Bowl.

Traveling thoughts: Parents, please. The rest of us are begging. Never let your 8 to 10-year old children fly alone. Even if it is just from Houston to Dallas. The cuteness factor quickly wears off and the bags of candy that they've been consuming since they got through the metal detector don't. I just kept looking around hoping someone would bring the child some turkey and red wine. So, please don't do that to us. Related to that...please don't ever change your child's diaper in the seat. It's really gross. And if you must, do it discreetly. Nothing is worse than drawing attention to the already completely unnecessary act. And whatever happens, under no circumstances should your ever look at your bare-bottomed child and, loudly enough so that ground control can hear you, say to your child, "Your poop smells just like your daddy's!"

That's about all for now. But I'll leave you with a short theological thought. The following was composed pre-eating crisis, on 12-23. Hope you enjoy.

The Greatest Test of Love...
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” -Matthew 5:44

I once read that this particular teaching of Christ stands out among non-believers as the most distinctive tenet of the Christian faith. I have read this portion of the Sermon on the Mount numerous times. I have heard sermons on it in “big church.” I’ve even taught on it in youth group before. So, I got this down, right? Know this one inside and out? One would think.

Wednesday morning my faith in action was put to the test like never before. Here's what happened:

The Yankees signed Johnny Damon.

Some of you may be laughing at this point, but my initial reaction was something other than laughter. In fact, when I heard it from Regis (yes, Regis broke the news to me), I was not happy. At all. In fact, I raged out loud.

I have spent the last three years convinced that Johnny Damon is an idiot, and not in the “we’re members of the Red Sox and so we do crazy things” kind of way. But like a real, low-IQ kind of way. I had made up songs about him that shouldn’t be reproduced in cyberspace. I had yelled, “I hate Johnny Damon” every time that they had showed his disgustingly hairy, unshaven self on the television. Johnny Damon joining the Yankees is similar to Sherman deciding that he would like to help Atlanta rebuild. This man met every definition of enemy. And now he wore pinstripes?!

Then I got in the shower and started to think. The following things popped into my mind: Johnny Damon is fast, hits leadoff and fills a big void in centerfield. (Now Jeter can hit in the 2-hole again, a much better fit, I say.) His signing will anger Red Sox Nation like nothing in recent memory which is always a bonus. He’ll have to get a haircut in order to meet the Yankees dress code, and in a sweeping gesture of kindness that naturally accompanies anyone associated with the Yankees, will probably donate his shorn locks to children undergoing cancer treatment.

Pretty much, I think I love this guy! Wow, that was easier than I thought!