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!