Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just Let Me Enjoy Science for a Bit.....

My friend Kim spoke last night at the homeschool Mother's Night Out about teaching science.  I have a confession to make: I hate teaching science.  Another confession:  I hated learning science . . . which may relate to why I hate teaching science.  My girls don't enjoy science either . . . which may relate to my distaste for teaching science.  But probably not; they're both like me -- they're more History and English gals.  History and English deal with stuff in my brain; Science deals with stuff in my hands.  I'm not as good with stuff in my hands as with stuff in my brain.

But a couple weeks ago, my youngest and I finished a unit on Astronomy, and it was probably my favorite science unit we've done.  My one guilt trip about it is that we only did one experiment.  But then, it's astronomy -- not a lot of experimenting a middle schooler can do on outer space.  The experiments were always my least favorite part of science, which I know sounds crazy because that's usually what people enjoy the most.  But my experiments inevitably fail.

Case in point: in high school Chemistry, the teacher told us if we wanted an A or B for the second semester, we had to stay after class one day and do an extra experiment.  He gave us a test tube with a mystery substance in it.  We had to figure out what the substance was and how much of it there was.  The amount of the substance we figured out by weighing the test tube, dumping the stuff out, weighing the empty test tube, and then subtracting.  Easy as pie, yes?  Every time I did this experiment (and I stayed and did it six or seven times, mind you), the empty test tube weighed more than the full test tube.  I even had Mr. Judd walk through it with me step by step, and he couldn't figure out what I did wrong.  At least he acted like he couldn't.  He joked about my having discovered a negative weight, and I couldn't tell if he was mocking me or not.  In any case, I took my C -- my only C in high school -- C for Chemistry, which I hate.

But back to this Astronomy unit.  I found a wonderful free website:  You can create a "bubble web" to organize information.  So we checked out piles of kids' astronomy books, read them, and created a big bubble web organizing all the information about the life stage of a star, the definition of a planet, the zodiac signs, the NASA space programs, the astronomers from the middle ages . . . honestly, we loved it!  I think this fit the way Kiddo's and my brains work -- the left-brained stuff. 

We also read a science fiction book, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, to pull it all together.  And we looked up video of the space shuttle explosion and audio of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast.  And we watched Apollo 13.  And when the play is over, we're going to the science museum in Des Moines where they have a Mars exhibit going on right now.  Loved.  This.  Unit.

But only one experiment.  Somebody tell me that's okay -- because I'm enjoying science right now, and I don't want to let go of that yet.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Election Frustration

I can’t wait for this election to be over.  If only that meant the division and rancor would end, too, but it won’t.  It will probably just get worse.
I’ve tried hard lately to just keep my darn mouth shut about stuff.  I don’t think anyone is listening anymore anyway.  Most people have their minds made up who they’re voting for, and if they don’t, they’re ignoring the rhetoric because it’s all so ugly.   It’s one thing when we disagree; it’s another thing when we’re just trying to knock someone else down, whatever it takes, and be the last one standing.  That’s uncalled for and should be called out.
A few things I can’t let get by today:
- I seriously doubt that Obama needs to be held responsible for the Benghazi attacks.  The confusion of comments by administration officials afterwards – that he may need to take some responsibility for.  But if so, I expect it was an effort to downplay the event for political purposes and not a cover-up of some terrible conspiracy.  Tragedies happen in every administration.  Obama’s people have prevented many other tragedies before this.
- The guy in Indiana who made the rape/pregnancy/God’s will comment was (frankly, like it or not) stating a pretty standard Christian view.  Not every Christian believes it, but there is NOTHING unusual or terrible about believing that God could have stopped a woman from getting pregnant if He wanted to and didn’t because He wants that baby to be born.  There are scads of people alive out there whose conceptions were the result of a rape and who are making powerful, positive impacts on society.  You don’t have to agree with the man.  You can protest if he intends to promote policy forcing others to live by his beliefs (I’d probably protest with you).  But on a personal note, as a Christian, I refuse to apologize for the statement he made.  I think he’s right.
- On another personal note, I’m tired of every Obama critic on the planet being called a racist.  Racism is a very ugly charge, and it is one that should only be made when it can be made with certainty because it is almost impossible for the innocent accused to prove their innocence.  There are racists of every political persuasion and of every race. I may be underestimating the number of people out there who see Obama’s color as an issue, but I’m quite sure that the left-wingers are overestimating it.  There’s plenty to criticize that has nothing to do with the color of his skin – race doesn’t have to be an issue.  I doubt there are many left in the undecided camp who care that Obama is black.  If they cared that much, they wouldn’t be undecided.
You wanna know the worst part?  I’m betting that we won’t know who won on election night.  I’m betting this will be like 2000, when the counting and re-counting goes on for days.  Good grief.  It’s enough to drive one to the bottle.  Because unfortunately, it really can’t be ignored, people – this election really does matter.

Friday, October 26, 2012

God's Agenda and My Agenda

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. (Heb 11:20-22)

I'm a bit stymied by this section of the famous faith chapter.  This refers to three of the fathers of Israel and how they spoke, in faith, about things to come in the future.  The fatherly blessings here were not of the popish "bless you, my child" nature.  They were specific words concerning their child's nature and future -- they were almost predictions.  And, of course, Joseph telling everyone that they would return to the land of Abraham was certainly a bit of prophecy.

I've always assumed that these were just special men whom God gifted for the moment in that regard.  And I am not so gifted.  But Hebrews says they spoke these words not from a special anointing from the Spirit, but from their faith -- and holds them up as an example to us all.  So, there must be something to glean from this.

In my nightly reading, I've started a book about the life of George Mueller.  This is a 15th century man who opened an orphan house (and eventually four more) to care for orphans, yes, but even more specifically, he says, to serve as a testimony to the community of how God always provides for his children (that's us) when we trust in him.  Mueller's places relied entirely on donations, and other than an annual report to make known how the money was being spent (for transparency purposes), he never solicited funds.  He simply trusted that God would make available what was needed when it was needed.

One story I've heard (but haven't read yet in this book) is how one time, there was no food left for the evening meal and no money left to buy any food.  Mueller got the children and the workers all seated at the empty table and began to say grace . . . because he assumed, in faith, that God would not allow these children to go hungry.  As they were praying, they heard a knock on the door -- someone coming with food donations, exactly what they needed for dinner.  And this kind of thing happened pretty consistently in his ministry.

So, these stories about Mueller and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph make me wonder: how can you become this confident that you know the will of God?  How did Isaac know that Esau would serve his brother and then throw that yoke from his neck?  How did Joseph know that Abraham's family would return to Palestine?  How did George Mueller know that God didn't intend for his orphans to fast that particular evening?  I always think I could pray and act with more confidence if I knew for sure what God's will is in a particular situation.

But I keep coming back to this: I already do know so much of God's will that I don't act on.  Why don't I start there?

I'm also hanging on some words of George Mueller's today, in our never-ending job hunt.  He said he always started his prayers with a complete surrendering of his own will and agenda.  He never came to the throne asking for direction from God until he knew that in his own heart, he was absolutely, completely, perfectly willing to do ANYTHING that God might be about to ask of him.

I suppose when your own agenda is out of the way, it's probably easier to see God's agenda clearly.  Duh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When Charity Gets Toxic

Our church's current small group curriculum encourages us to choose a service project to do together.  They call it our "Micah 6:8" project -- an activity to fulfill "what the Lord requires of us: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God."  Our group started talking about the holidays coming up and how there are always service projects associated with that -- the Operation Christmas Child boxes at church, giving Thanksgiving dinners to needy families, etc.

But this brought to mind a story I read in a book recently (Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton -- excellent, excellent book).  The author moved into an inner-city Atlanta neighborhood where he hoped to have a positive impact.  On Christmas Eve, he was a guest in a family's home when a group of jolly strangers came by laden with gifts for the children of the house -- a church group doing their holiday service project.  The kids were thrilled, the mother was cautiously gracious, and the father . . . the father disappeared out the back door for the rest of the evening.  The man realized while watching the scene that, although this church group had the best of intentions, they had thoroughly shamed this father.

The next year, the author ensured that his home church changed their Christmas gift-giving program.  People donated toys for needy kids, but they were stocked in a "toy pantry" where the parents of those needy kids could come purchase them for nickels on the dollar.  This allowed the fathers of the community the dignity of being able to purchase their own children's Christmas presents.

They also shut down their food pantry and worked with the families who were using it to help them start their own food co-op.  The needy families took ownership of and responsibility for the enterprise themselves and ended up able to provide for their own food needs.

Lupton says, "contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do not: empower those being served, engender healthy cross-cultural relationships, improve local quality of life, relieve poverty, change the lives of participants, or increase support for long-term mission work.  Contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do: weaken those being served, foster dishonest relationships, errode recipients' work ethic, and deepen dependency."  One-way giving should be limited to emergency relief situations, he says.  Beyond that, we should focus on rehabilitation and development of families and communities to make them self-supporting again. 

And he emphasizes that this requires long-term involvement and relationships.  Lawrence Mead's book From Prophecy to Charity says something similar.  The chronically poor, Mead says, stay poor because they have become isolated from community and the standards that society expects of us all.  Drawing them back into community is critical.  Lupton's book shows how most churches' attempts at "service" and "missions" and charity these days have very little effect on the lives of those we try to help -- they are all about making the church member feel good about himself because he gave a couple hours this weekend to the poor.  No long-term involvement.  No relationships.

Thus my earlier post concerning the welfare system.  Is it necessary?  Yes, probably.  But we need to give up this notion that increasing government programs for the needy makes us a compassionate society.  It does not.  It makes us a lazy, cold, distant society.  People pontificate all the time about what the welfare system does to the people receiving the money, making them more dependent and all -- I'm just as concerned about what it does to the rest of us.  It allows us to distance ourselves completely from them.  The government is taking care of them.  I don't even have to hear the pitch for donations -- my "donations" are required of me through taxes.

It allows us to go on with our comfortable lives thinking we're somehow indirectly helping people.  When we are not.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"If Good Friends Were Easy to Find...."

My daughter has been badly mistreated lately by some of her friends.  They weren’t necessarily being malicious, just thoughtless, immature, and stupid.  They had no idea how rotten they were.  Even now, after many explanations from her, they still don’t get what they did wrong.
She has decided that they will just never get it and has let it go.  She understands them better now (actually, she understood them before – she said she really should have seen this coming), and she has a wall of protection up.  They’re friends again, kind of, but it’s not quite the same.  And she’s content with that.
I’m not.  Frankly, I’m concerned about these girls.  When I look at the thoughts and beliefs that ultimately must have prompted this behavior from them, I see fertile ground for much greater wrongs.  I see a self-absorption and attitude toward relationships that, unchecked, will lead them to greater abuse or make them vulnerable to being abused themselves.  And the fact that they can’t even see the wrong when it’s pointed out to them worries me even more.
My daughter is convinced they will never understand.  I insist that they MUST understand.  And I don’t know which of us is the wiser.  I could certainly be over-reacting – a mother bear with a wounded cub tends to do that.    
My other daughter has been having friend issues, too.  (Actually, I’ve been wondering if God isn’t allowing all this to make the girls more ready to move when it’s time.)  It’s very distressing to me.  Teenage girls need good friends so badly.  I was bemoaning it all in the car driving the eldest to school this morning.
“Well, if good friends were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth so much,” she shrugged.
I stared at her, thinking that was pretty profound for a 16-year-old at 7:45am on a Monday morning.  “Did you just think of that yourself?”
She wrinkled her forehead.  “I dunno . . . I may have read it somewhere . . . “
Reading’s good, too.  I’ll take that.  (Even though she probably read it on Facebook, which doesn’t really count…)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Abraham and Aslan and Wrestling

By faith Abraham, when tested  by God, offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned."  Abraham reasoned that God could raise him from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead.  (Heb 11:17-19)

I've been kind of dreading discussing this section of the chapter, because I have nonbelieving friends for whom I know this story is a stumbling block.  It's not my intention today to give an apologetic for the episode in Biblical history -- I simply want to address what it teaches me about faith.

My daughter is in a community theater production of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" this weekend. Pondering this passage last night brought to mind a scene from the old BBC film version of that book.  Aslan has just come to life again after being killed on the stone table in the place of Edmund, the traitor.  He is explaining to the girls who witnessed his sacrifice about the deeper magic that the White Witch didn't know which caused the laws of death to be reversed when an innocent voluntarily died for a traitor.

The BBC then inserts a couple lines that are not C.S. Lewis'.  Lucy says something to the effect of, "So, you knew!  You knew you'd be alive again -- and you just let us suffer in our sorrow."

Aslan replies, "Well, I knew about the old, deep magic . . . but it had never been tested."

Two important things I get from this, related to the Hebrews passage.  One, as I keep coming back to in these faith portraits, faith requires action.  Faith that is "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see" is only activated and legitimized when it is acted on.

Second, Jesus needed faith.  Now, I'm sure I have some Christian friends who will squirm at this idea and have plenty of arguments to make against it.  And that's fine -- they may be right.  It's not clear scriptural dogma.  But I don't think it's inconsistent with scriptural teaching, either.

Earlier in Hebrews, it tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way we were but never sinned.  If that's so, then the most significant temptation I face in life is not money, or power, or food, or sex . . . it is unbelief.  I'm tempted to look at what God says in his word and say, "Yeah, that's sounds nice, but it just can't be.  It's a pretty story, but it's not reality."  And if I'm tempted to walk away from the most difficult words of God, and if Jesus was tempted in every way I am . . . well, it makes sense that this atoning sacrifice business would be where that would kick in.

Yes, Jesus was God, but he was also fully human.  And being human means doubting.  Doubting is not sin.  Doubting is a temptation to disbelief, a temptation that Jesus received in its greatest power and overcame.  He wrestled over it to the point of sweating blood, but he believed God.  I'm sure Abraham also wrestled with this command from God, but he ultimately believed, too.  Believed that God is God.

The name Israel means "God wrestler", and it was an honor for Jacob when God gave him that name.  God invites wrestling from us.  He'd rather engage and wrestle with us than have us stand to the side just looking at him -- whether that's with a look of blatant contempt ("You can't possibly be a loving, just God if you expect this . . . ") or a look of angelic disingenuity ("Me, doubt?  Oh, no, Lord!  I'm MUCH too good to ever doubt you.").  Wrestling with God is how you find out who God is, and how you learn that you can have faith in him.

There is something comforting in knowing that God doesn't require any more of me than he did of his son, his own human self.  Just faith.  Simple faith.  Simple . . . but not easy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Three Tips for Being Heard in an Election Year

It's that time again, when civility is thrown to the wind for the sake of getting your party into power.  I HATE politics -- but I find the governing of our country to be so important that I can't just ignore the distasteful process that gets those who govern in place.  And neither should you.  So allow me, in all humility (because I have failed at every one of these at one time or another), to offer some tips for how to ensure that your political discourse for the next month or so is productive.

1) Treat your opponent with respect -- whether or not you think they deserve your respect.  This is not about who they are; it's about who YOU are.  A rude person does not earn anybody's ear.

Note that this has to do as much with your tone as with your ideas.  (And yes, you do have a "tone of voice" when typing online.) Consider the difference between, "How could you possibly believe that?!?" and "Can you explain to me the reasoning behind what you're saying?"  The first assumes your opponent is an idiot with no good reason for believing what they believe.  The second assumes they have a reason -- you just don't understand it.  (And if they don't have a good reason for their beliefs, they'll reveal that in their own remarks -- let them hang themselves with their own rope rather than you attempting to be their hangman.)

It is all the better if you can do this with sincerity -- if you can honestly respect the people you disagree with.  But even if you're faking it, fake it.  It's called manners, and it's what earns you the right to speak in our society.

2) Assume that you are probably dead wrong about something.  Because you probably are.  Nobody has a complete grasp on truth, or has all the facts, or is immune to their own personal biases.  If your words and your tone make it clear that you believe you know it all, you immediately reveal yourself as someone who has little grasp on reality and whose opinion should NEVER be trusted.

A corollary to this is to go into a discussion with the goal of learning.  Your purpose is to understand your opponent's point of view -- both so that you can more effectively explain where he is wrong and ALSO so you can more clearly see where he is right and you are wrong.  Only when the goal is finding truth and not crushing the opposition do we have any hope of actually getting somewhere.

3) Address your opponent at his best.  Let's say the Morningside College's badminton team beat the badminton team from the University of Kansas.  If Morningside then started bragging on their athletic superiority over KU, we would all laugh.  Seriously?  Let's play some hoops, boys.

Systematically knocking off the petty, minor points at the periphery of the other side's argument may make you feel good, but it makes you look either afraid to address the serious stuff or too stupid to understand what the serious stuff is.  Passing around amusing slams about Big Bird's eminent demise under a change of administration may prompt all of those agree with you slap you on the back for your wit and wisdom . . . but those who disagree with you have NO reason to take you seriously.  Don't major on the minors -- you only show yourself to be not yet ready for the majors.

Of course, this is all assuming that you want to be taken seriously.  That you want to have productive discourse with the other side.  That you want the country to move forward with some semblance of agreement on the direction we're moving.  Fact is, you might not.  Some of us simply want the personal satisfaction and public accolades of momentarily looking right, whether we're right or not.

If that's you, well, then, by all means -- continue as before.  The rest of us will find ways to avoid you for the next month.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thief Development

Went to bed meditating on an old scripture and woke up with some new insight (new for me, anyway).

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something productive with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  (Eph 4:28)

This is part of the old self/new self contrasting section in Ephesians, and it seems to identify three groups of people.  Working backwards in the passage, the first group is the needy.  These are the people who are not able to meet their own needs through work.  There are several specific types of people put in this category in Biblical times:  orphans (who had no parents to provide for them), widows (who had no husband to provide for them, in a time when few opportunities were available for women to provide for themselves), and the disabled (the lame, blind, diseased and so forth who were not able or allowed to work).

The second group of people here are the workers.  And notice that, of course, this is the expectation, the default -- that you will do something productive with your own hands.  And notice that there is also the expectation, the default, that you will share what you earn from your work with the needy.  This is an instruction given to born-again believers (again, the old self/new self contrast).  Giving to the needy is not optional.

And then there's a third group: the thieves.  They are not workers -- they don't do something productive with their own hands to provide for themselves; they simply take things from those who do.  They are also not the needy -- those unable to provide for themselves and voluntarily supported by those who do.  These words are spoken to believers, and the instruction is that those believers who have been stealing -- who have been getting by on other people's work -- must stop that and start working so they can help the genuinely needy.

Now, here's the political hot button question this implies:  when you look at today's various welfare recipients in America, which category are they in?

The fact is that the majority of them are, in fact, the needy.  They are either unable to work to provide for themselves, or the work they get is not enough to provide for themselves.  But it is also a fact that there are some receiving welfare who are thieves -- they could provide for themselves, but they choose, instead, to simply take what others have earned for their own support.  The basic fault in the welfare system is its real inability to distinguish the needy from the thief -- and its tendency to turn the former into the latter.

In my opinion, the reason the welfare system has this tendency to create thieves is because of how it separates the worker from the needy.  When the giving relationship is close and intimate, it is one that builds up both the giver and the recipient.  The recipient sees someone believing in him enough to sacrifice his own hard-earned wages to give him a hand-up . . . he feels personal responsibility to the giver to use that sacrifice well.  The giver sees the recipient as someone worthy of compassion and not contempt . . . he has a stake in the recipient's well-being . . . and he comes to see his financial resources not as a reward from God for him to indulge in, but as a tool given by God to use in the world. 

I've experienced this relationship myself.  It is the ideal, obviously.  But it is an ideal rendered impossible when giving becomes an impersonal, distant obligation/entitlement relationship as it does in the welfare system.  I'm not going to try to argue that the welfare system should be eliminated (as if that would even be possible now).  But I will argue that any additional effort to meet the needs of the needy (those without healthcare, perhaps?) through an impersonal, distant obligation/entitlement relationship (Obamacare, anyone?) is not the way to go.  The last thing we need is another institutional method for thief-development.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Review: A Picture Book for the Grown-Ups

Take a look at the cover of this book to the right.  Is it not adorable?  Would you not just love to buy this for an adorable little girl in your life and cuddle up to read it with her in a rocking chair?

If you did that, I fear that your adorable little girl might become rather restless and bored.  That's because while George E. Edenfield's Would You Read Me to Sleep is a big beautiful picture book apparently intended for reading to a young child (that's who picture books are for, yes?), the content of the story is really geared more toward grown-ups.

For one thing, there is a lot of extended description of scenes which a picture-book age child will probably not have the patience to follow.  For another thing, the climactic moment that the story is building to is the death of an old man and his entrance into heaven -- not exactly the kind of story little ones usually dig.

Even more, the story is told mostly from the point of view of the father -- watching his daughter grow up, enjoying his final moments with his grown daughter reading to him, worrying about what will happen to her when he is gone.  These are not thoughts or emotions that a child can relate to.

Now, I didn't have an adorable little girl to cuddle with while reading this, so I can't give a direct testimonial to its appeal to that generation.  It's possible that the lovely pictures will be enough to entrance her into enjoying the story.  (Although some of the pictures are lovelier than others.  The adults aren't rendered as well as the children.  In particular, the depiction of Jesus is very odd-looking.)

Nevertheless, the fact remains that this story speaks to adults.  A sentimental, sweet story that will likely move the heart of the grandparent in the rocking chair while hopefully calming the child in his lap.

Disclosure:  I received this book free from in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sarah: Standing on the Promises

And by faith, even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had given the promise.  (Hebrews 11)
An impossible thing, to bear a child when you are past childbearing age.  Laughable, even.  But Sarah was given that promise and (after laughing for a moment), she considered the one who gave that promise faithful.
After reading this, I wondered, what’s something that would be a similarly impossible promise given to me?  How about . . . I’m going to become a published author and before 2020, I’ll sell more books than J.K. Rowling.  Yeah, that’s pretty darn far-fetched.  But what if I were promised that – and what if I considered him faithful who had given the promise?  What would I do differently if I considered him faithful than I would do if I considered him flaky?
Well, I suppose I might be tempted to try to make the promise happen myself (Sarah did that, too resulting in Ishmael, ancestor of the Arab people – thank you, Sarah, for the conflict in the Middle East).  But the one significant thing I would do is keep writing.  I wouldn’t feel as discouraged on days when the well runs dry, or when people don’t like what I’ve written, or when no one seems to be reading at all.
Now, granted, Sarah had the advantage of having an outright spoken promise from the Almighty; not many of us are so privileged.  But that doesn’t let us off the hook, because we have been given MANY promises already that we don’t bank on.  Let’s start with a practical one:
Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  Luke 6:38
How many of us give of our money and possessions as if we considered him faithful who gave this promise?  Or this related one:
And the same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Jesus Christ.  Philippians 4:19
If believers really considered the one who gave this promise faithful, wouldn’t worrying become extinct among us? God tells us “Do not fear” over 300 times in His word – why do we continue to fear?  And folks, these barely scratch the surface of the big, fat, hairy, bold promises God has given us.
I’ve come to realize that I have a choice.  I can continue to live as an American cultural Christian with a wimpy faith that makes me comfortable and just kinda suffices . . . usually.  Or I can get bold and genuinely consider Him faithful who has given the promises.  I may crash and burn . . . or I may end up like Sarah with descendants as numerous as stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lemon Appreciation

“Depression over the centuries has often led to spiritual breakthrough, as God turns our wondering about what’s wrong into a search for what’s right."

This quote I recently read gave me pause, as I am one who has struggled with various forms of depression over the years.  I am quite familiar with how God can redeem even the worst things in our lives -- that "in all things, God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8). 

He can even work good in the ugly places we put ourselves in through our own screw-ups, once we repent and put it all in his hands again.  I remember studying the book of Joel many years ago.  God had sent a plague of locusts on the Israelites because of their tremendous sin, but once they repented and returned to him, he said, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..."   A friend of mine at the time was clinging to that phrase with a vengeance . . . and I've clung to it myself over the years.

But the earlier quote came from an article talking about research on the physiological nature of depression and the possibility of eliminating it.  The author considers: "What if a pharmaceutical adjustment provides the temporary fix so that the individual doesn’t get the benefits of depression?"  The BENEFITS of depression.  Wow, there's a loaded idea.  There are BENEFITS to the painful and difficult situations God allows in our lives.  Not just that God redeems them, makes lemons out of lemonade . . . but that the lemonade was the goal in the first place, and lemons were required to get there.  What if we eliminate the hard stuff in our lives and lose everything good they had to offer?

What if advanced technology eases the workload of daily life so much that we no longer get the benefits of hard work?

What if the increased accessibility of instant entertainment on television, laptop, cell phone means we no longer get the benefits of boredom?

What if all-encompassing social connectivity serves to deprive us of the benefits of loneliness?

And now here's the place this takes me that will get some people up in arms:  the "social justice gospel" folks are all about helping the needy and the oppressed -- and by all means, I support that.  Jesus and all of scripture clearly teach this, just as they teach us to comfort the depressed.  But is it possible that we rush to remove the lemons from people's lives when what God really has in mind is for us to help them squeeze those lemons into lemonade?

I mean, the purpose of life here on earth is not ease or comfort or shallow, temporary "happiness"  -- the goal is God.  And God forbid we tear up the rocky path that leads to Him and replace it with a smooth highway that leads to nowhere.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vote Yes for Teachers

We were in Chicago over the weekend for my nephew's wedding and drove through the town of Galena, Illinois on the way back.  The most lovely little town!!  Beautiful old historic buildings . . . I wanted to move into the bed and breakfast and spend a week.  I saw a couple signs as we drove through that were encouraging the locals to vote yes for Galena schools.  The schools want money for something or other, apparently.

As we continued our long drive, I considered what the money was likely to be used for.  A new building.  Updating an old building.  Technology.  A football stadium.  That's usually what the schools promote when they want more money -- a capital investment.  Something immediately visible to the consumer.

But it made me think of a quote I just read from Bill Bennett, former education secretary:

“The research on this is fascinating: there’s a ton.  It’s not class size.  It’s certainly not facilities.  It’s not technology.  It’s the quality of the adult in front of the classroom.  The research is clear; you are much better off in a bad school with a good  teacher than a supposedly really good school with a bad teacher.  If you take kids from the 50th percentile in the third grade, and you give them a teacher everyone regards as excellent, in two years they’ll be at the 85 percentile.  You give them a teacher everyone regards as not very good, in two years they’ll be in the 35th percentile.”
I wonder if a school district told its constituents that they wanted more money strictly to spend on teachers -- to attract better quality teachers, to train its current teachers, to pay the legal costs of getting rid of bad teachers -- never mind the old facilities, forget about the athletics programs, worry later about a computer lab . . . I wonder how well that would go over.  Unfortunately, I don't think it would go over well. 

And frankly, if I were living in the district, I would be a bit skeptical, too.  I would be skeptical that they would be able to recognize a quality teacher when they saw one to hire.  I would be skeptical that the teachers they train would have any motivation to improve rather than continue in the safe entropy of what they've always done.  I would be skeptical of the administration having the guts to actually identify bad teachers and root them out.  All that is much harder to do than it is to buy a batch of shiny new computers to show off to the parents.

But that's the stuff that would actually make a difference.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Talking Like a Teenager

Being the language buff that I am, I’m fascinated by the terminology that teenagers are using these days to describe relationships.  It’s a very relevant topic for me, because conversations with my eldest daughter are almost incomprehensible without a good understanding of the current lingo.
For example, when I was in school and a person started a relationship with another person that qualified as a “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationship, we would say that they were “going together”.  Now, even then, when I considered it much, I thought that was an odd way to phrase it.  But that was the term.  A boy would ask a girl, “You wanna go with me?” and she knew exactly what that meant.
Today, however, a couple in such a situation is said to be “going out” -- even back when they were far too young to be dating.  Suzy is going out with Johnny.  Roderick is going out with Elmira.  The first few times my daughter said something like that, I was confused because “going out” to me, in that context, simply means that they are going to go out on a date – there may or may not be any long-term sense of commitment involved there, but best to assume not. 
Monkey facepalm.  Love it.
But oh, no – it is apparently not acceptable with teenagers these days to go on even one date with someone without assuming an implied commitment there.  There is no such thing as casual dating – or going on a date with, say, Suzy this Friday and Elmira next Friday, just because you have some interest in both girls and want to get to know each of them better to see who you might like to pursue a more committed relationship with.  No, no – such a person is a player.
(Now, “player” – I like that term.  Although apparently, it is only used to describe a boy.  A girl who behaves in this way is a “slut” – or less pejoratively, a “flirt” – or on occasion, a “girl player”.  But I digress.)
I haven’t decided how I feel about this new attitude toward dating.  If it meant that they were avoiding going on “dates” and just trying to get to know each other through friendships before making commitments, I would be quite happy with that.  But instead, it seems that they are jumping into committed dating relationships as an effort to get to know someone – only to get to know them and find out that they don’t like them – and so they’re constantly pairing up and breaking up.  No.  Not good.
And then there’s talking.  This is the pre-dating stage that we, in my day, just called “flirting”.  Suzy and Johnny aren’t going out yet, but they’re talking.  Let me tell you, this term opens the door to some ridiculous dialogues.  “Roderick was talking to Elmira.”  “Roderick and Elmira were talking?”  “Yeah, about how Elmira and Julio are talking.”   “Wait – who’s talking?”  “Elmira and Julio.”  “But you just said Roderick and Elmira were talking.”  “No, not talking.  Just talking.” 
*SIGH*  Facepalm.  SMH.  (Yep.  Got the lingo down.)


Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: Confrontational Politics

Most of us realize that politics in America is nothing more than a game – a game to get more power and influence and knock your opponents out of positions of the same.  An ugly game, at that.  In his book Confrontational Politics, former California senator Bill Richardson gives us a thorough run-down of how the game is played.  Creating a perception of popular support.  Organizing and leveraging the power of ideological minorities.  Manipulating people’s hot buttons.  Seeking out conflict in an effort to advance political goals.  It is a fascinating little primer on how to make things happen in America.
Here’s the catch: Bill Richardson is a right-winger and very much so.  He is founder of an organization called Gun Owners of America; that should give you a clue.  (In fact, Nordskog published this book on behalf of the Gun Owners Foundation.)  Richardson openly demonizes left-wingers in this book and makes no apologies for that.  The ugly, manipulative, confrontational political tactics he describes he specifically attributes to left-wing politicians.  His purpose for writing the book, he says, is to educate the good guys on his side in the tactics of the opposition and encourage them to start fighting fire with fire.
If you’re an extreme right-winger, you’ll probably love this book.  If you’re a liberal, you probably won’t get through the first chapter before you hurl it into the fireplace.  If you’re one like me, who hopes desperately for center ground, productive discourse, and genuine progress . . . well, you’ll probably walk away from the book enlightened but discouraged at where we have come to as a society.

If I’ve piqued your interest, you can purchase the book from Nordskog Publishing here.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Being an Open Book

"Guileless”.  There’s a word you don’t hear much on Main Street.  (Main Street?  Who lives life on Main Street anymore?  The next great social media phenomenon should be called “Main Street Earth,” because that’s what it ends up being.  But I digress.)
I came across that word the other day and looked it up for my personal edification.  Devoid of guile (which is ‘sly or cunning intelligence’); innocent and without deception.  That definition immediately brings to mind my youngest.  She has always been one to just put herself out there.  She is who she is, and that’s that.  I remember her preschool teacher comparing her to her older sister: “Your oldest is so quiet and shy, but this one has no inhibitions OF ANY KIND.”
Now, she has reined herself in a bit lately – thanks to pre-teen hormones and a year of trial-by-fire in the public schools.  But she’s still the closest I can think of to a guileless person.  And that’s good, because it is a wonderful quality to be guileless, to be genuine, to be real.
That has been one of my goals in my adult years:  to be more genuine.  With everyone.  I mean, what good does it really do to have people like you when you know that the you they are liking is just a fa├žade?   I got very tired of that. 
In particular, I try to be genuine with God.  Really, what point is there to be otherwise?  As if he doesn’t know the real you.  I pray: Lord, I really want to quit this particular bad behavior . . . well, no, actually I don't.  The truth is, I LOVE doing that.  It feels good.  It comforts and soothes my ruffled feathers.  I know you say you have better things for me if I give that up . . . and you KNOW how I want to believe that . . . but deep down, I really don’t.  I believe it, and then I don’t.  I want to change, and I don’t want to change.  I’m a mess, God!  Good grief, what are you going to do with me??
You wanna know the real me?  I’m a selfish little snit.  I’m lazy. And boring.  I’m a hopeless sugar-and-carb addict.  I have very little fashion sense.  I get lost in my thoughts and wish I could stay there and forget about the world around me. I'm arrogant; I think I'm smarter than I am. An intellectual snob.  I get grand ideas for how to fix the world and then don’t have the courage to tell them to anyone, much less actually put them into action.  I take criticism too personally.  I think I know everything – and then I think I know nothing.  I think more highly of myself than I ought to think – and then I think I’m a worthless piece of humanity and want to crawl under the covers and never see the light of day.  Frankly, I’m a bloody mess. 
And I’m grateful every day for the people who love me anyway -- especially God who I find, to my great wonder, hasn’t just been tolerant of my weaknesses all this time . . . he’s been working on them.  All because I stopped pretending they weren’t there.