Sunday, October 22, 2006

Analytical thinking?

The Episcopal Church of Reconciliation, which I attend, started a new adult education class this morning. The course is entitled, "Following Jesus: Vocation, Discernment, and Discipleship in the Letters of Paul" and is being taught by a pair of very reputable ordained ministers, Jane Patterson and John Lewis, who also happen to be Greek scholars. That makes this course very attractive and the first class was well attended. One of the really cool things I get to look forward to is that when Jane & John start quoting scripture they don't just quote from some version that is presently in publication. They actually go back to a reliable Greek text and translate from scratch. So what we get isn't homogenized. They also show us the usage of certain key words which helps us focus on the intended meaning that might otherwise be lost in the many layers of translation the Christian Bible has gone through.

Today they started with a discussion of what was actually happening in scripture when it was being created. Debate was talked about a lot. It was pointed out that when debate happened in the times of Jesus it wasn't over belief but over practice. We kicked off this discussion by trying to define what inerrant means. We could easily define God as inerrant. However you see him, God's perfect. Inerrancy isn't so clear cut with scripture which has been written, lost, found, copied, translated and argued over many, many times. Then we talked about what we recognized as the characteristics of Pharisees. Pharisees are basically legal experts in how to interpret scriptural law. Do you know a lawyer who isn't good at debate? I certainly don't. Maybe by now you can see where they were headed with this.

What followed next was the question, "Who is "right" amidst contradictory views, all attributed to Jesus." Somewhere in the middle of our discussion, on what Paul meant when he labeled people false brothers and even labeled Peter and Barnabas behavioral hypocrites, the definition of orthodoxy and heresy was given. Originally there was no orthodoxy, which means "right glory/praise", or heresy, which means "choice". The matter of "right" belief evolved into or became a distorted concern unique to Christianity. I liked what was pointed out next. "Our tradition is one of vitriolic debates over practice and the debates are among those who share much in common."

This strikes close to home for me. I came to faith in a nondenominational church that was determined to stay nondenominational because of their belief that, "Denominations divide the body of Christ." It's true. Most of our many Christian denominations exist today because of differences over how to practice. These differences don't make any of the churches more or less faithful but we treat each other as if it does. If you look on a broader canvas at the major faiths you might find that this still holds true. I don't know enough about the various faiths to argue about this, nor do I want to argue. I'm frankly tired of arguments that belittle others and don't make a bit of difference in whether they are going to heaven or not. I learned early in my walk that I can say I love a church or a person and want to help them grow but I can't really do that until I have joined them and made their concerns my own. So here I am sitting happily in an Episcopal church and working hard to make their growth reflect my belief in the worthiness of all mankind and their inherent right to worship as they wish. Based on where we have gone so far, I'm really looking forward to the rest of this course of study.

Am I immune to arguing? Not hardly! In the middle of all of the discussions one of our members declared, pertaining to the idea of absolute laws, that you couldn't make a circle into a square. So help me God, I thought of a way to do it. I didn't argue the point with him. The class needed to move on. But I wanted to. My theory was that when you look at a circle it is basically a continuous line surrounding a specific amount of space that is in a certain shape. What would happen if you started pushing that line out of shape closer and closer to the traditional square? If you did that and then pinned down the corners you might indeed have turned a circle into a square. Would it make a bit of difference? I don't really think so. It would still be a line enclosing a specific area of space and only the shape would have changed. Its purpose wouldn't have.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

On being a friend...

Friends have come and gone in my life. There's a sense of longing when I hear people talk about holding onto friends forever. Those kinds of relationships are blessings. When you keep friends for life you get to watch them grow and change as they experience it. Often, you change with them. When people pass out of your life, depending on how close you were, something goes missing. It can be as simple as good company and memories of conversations shared or as important as knowing that someone who helped you grow, or maybe you helped them, is gone from your life.

A while back, my church was having a small group discussion on what it meant to be a friend as Jesus had been. This was surrounding the story where Jesus tells the apostles that he had been their friend as the Father had been his by laying out his plans and life for them to see. At the time I was frustrated with having few friends in my church and had said so to the body in general. There was, however, one person who had recently made a difference in my life.

We weren't friends in the traditional sense. It was more of an acquaintance in that we had been attending the same church for 3 years. When this person's actions in church created a change in my relationship with God, I decided that I should start acting like a friend but didn't know how. We barely knew each other. When we tried to talk the conversation was either horribly stilted or inane and not conducive to getting to know one another better. About this time he started pulling away from the church and heading towards life someplace else. So even as I was imagining a new friendship I was losing the opportunity. It occurred to me that if there was one thing I could do before he left it was to let him know that he had made a difference in someone's life.

I really didn't know what else I could or should do. Isn't knowing that you've done some good one of the things people want to know before they die? At least that is what I've been led to believe. I don't think I was being very imaginative at the time. It is frustrating seeing a potential friendship go before it has come. Anyway, I ended up trying to tell him. It didn't quite get the reaction I had hoped for but it did seem to please him. Did it make us friends? Not exactly. It might have opened a door for the future but we aren't bosom buddies or anything like that.

Since then I've gotten more creative in my being a friend efforts. When I get the chance, which isn't often these days, I ask how he is doing and what his plans are. He has been added to my prayer list. I let him know he is there and that his concerns are going from my mouth to God's ears. While all of that hasn't made for closeness it has opened the door to communication and provided the opportunity to do so on occasion. More importantly, I know that in some way I am hopefully returning the good he did with some of my own.

Recently when Lynn Johnston, who writes For Better or For Worse, put a story line in her comic strip that helped me through a difficult time I found a way to let her know. It wasn't exactly easy to do. I had to use the "ask a question" feature on the FAQ part of her website. It's kind of sad when public attention causes a person to need to insulate themselves from people who really like them for what they do. I don't expect a letter in reply although that'd be nice, but I feel better for having done it. In the same way, I returned the favor of being thoughtful when a coworker had been caring and gone out of her way in a gracious manner towards me.

My friend, Susan , says that she places the label "friend" on people who treat her well. If they don't then they aren't friends. This is a very realistic and practical attitude towards defining friendship. No one should have to put up with friends who treat them badly. I'll go one step further. Your friends should make you feel valued. Hopefully, you make them feel the same way. Some of the ways that my friends make me feel valued is by putting up with my not catching their jokes, not understanding when they are talking about something that is not within my realm of experience so that I don't immediately commiserate, and my getting distracted in the middle of their talking and popping in with a subject of my own which has little or nothing to do with whatever the conversation was about. They accept me for who and what I am, faults and all.

Another way that my friends help me is by teaching me their sense of humor. Humor is so unique and personal a perspective that it can be really enlightening when you see it in action. It can also be educational. There were occasional jokes told at home when I was a kid but most of them I learned at school. It wasn't over the dinner table. My grandparents weren't into joking either although they had wonderful senses of fun and humor. I've learned about humor from books, TV shows with comedians, my ex, friends, and now my students and web pages. The lessons haven't always gone smoothly. When I focus on subject matter I often miss their humor and my friends stop and explain it to me. Anger was such a serious matter at my home as a child that it was a real shock when a friend yelled at me and was joking the whole time. It was the same when another friend insulted me and expected me to catch the joke.

It took me a while to realize the gift they were giving me. They expected me to understand that they thought well of me and that the insult that was the joke was to be understood as not how they saw me. They saw me as strong and confident and not the kind of person who would be devastated by being insulted casually. It was eye opening when I finally realized that. They were delighted when I made tentative efforts to return the compliment. I'm not good at it yet but I'm getting better. More importantly I'm getting stronger; and because I am stronger in my self-view, when someone actually does insult me, I no longer fall apart. So to the friends who have taught me humor...Thank you!

If you are reading this and have something to add on how to be a friend or how friends help you grow or make a difference in your life I hope you will take the opportunity to share. Friends are too valuable to lose and when one does go I hope you or I have left them with the knowledge that they were gold and had value in our lives.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Comics and Comfort

In an earlier post, Comics and Ritual, I mentioned reading comic strips to start my day. Usually it's 3 of my favorites: For Better or For Worse, Rose is Rose, and Luann. Lately, For Better or For Worse has been putting out a story in which Jim, the grandfather of the family, has had a stroke and how it is affecting everyone. This isn't a cheerful subject for a comic strip to write about but, one of the things I like about For Better or For Worse is that it gives me insights into family dynamics, feelings, and how these can interact. The story line today was about how April, the granddaughter who is still at home, was worrying about her grandfather all day while she was in school. She was constantly seeing pictures of him in her head. The closing frame expressed, in the loveliest way, how simple a prayer can be. And how meaningful.

If you've been keeping up with this blog then you'll know that my best friend, deby, recently passed on. Today's comic went a long way towards making me feel better about missing her so much and remembering her a lot. Knowing that my remembering her echoes the thoughts of her friends and family, and that these thoughts don't go unheard, is also very comforting. Spiritual reminders like this are another reason I choose to make a ritual of reading the funnies. Plus I keep learning from them and that makes me feel good too. To read today's comic on the official web page go here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Small Pleasures

This is going to sound awfully silly but, I have just discovered the joys of color transparencies. Tomorrow I am giving a lesson on climate to a group of 4th graders. During the lesson we will be discussing weather, natural resources such as rivers and other water sources, elevation, landforms and industry. When looking for the definition of climate it surprised me to find that it was weather over a period of 30 years. So I went looking for a weather database. I found one and was delighted with all the different types of information I could gather from it. Then, because we are looking at the different regions of Texas I went looking for a map which showed them. I found wonderfully colorful maps of Texas showing all kinds of stuff. So I printed a couple to see how they looked on paper...and promptly decided they would look cool on an overhead projector. So I made copies of no less than 4 different maps all of them in color and a copy of one data chart so that I could show the kids how to pull the information we needed from it. Now I am ready to go and in glowing greens, blues, yellows and browns. I even have some pinks and grays thrown in somewhere. (g)

So what are the maps I'm taking into the classroom going to show?
1) the Texas River Basins and streams, bayous, and coastline,
2) the 7 different travel regions of Texas - these are similar to the geographic regions
3) the natural regions as well as the river basins and such.
4) the precipitation in Texas.

When I get this all put up there for the kids we will discuss them and have tons of fun as I turn two of them into imaginary rain gauges so that we can measure the rain in Texas. We will research our regions by looking up the data for one city in each region. We will then compare the weather of these areas and discuss what it might be like to live and work there. Hopefully all of this color and make believe will hold their attention long enough for the ideas to sink in. And I get graded on this so I want to do my best.

Another small pleasure today was the purchase of a microcassette recorder. I need to record a student reading to me so that was the excuse for this purchase. I figured that later I could use it for recording class lectures at college. In reality I just liked the idea of going small instead of borrowing one of those shoebox sized ones from the library. So now I get to go armed with technology and some really cool looking maps. Who said there was no fun in teaching?

From Grace to Chaos

Yesterday I officiated at the performance of Morning Prayer. That is a pleasant time for me because it is solitary and gives me much needed, and often neglected, time with God. As it turns out I really needed that time. Some of it was spent in prayers for others but some was spent asking for healing for me. I'm still hurting over the loss of my friend.

When I was through with Morning Prayer I thought the day would go well. Instead it was almost total chaos. The teacher in charge had a meeting to attend so she left 3 aids in charge of the classroom. During that hour and a half we had: 2 students who hurt each other's feelings and thus weren't cooperating with each other in loud angry voices, one student who just totally refused to cooperate with the aid's requests and left the room twice without permission to go wandering the halls thus requiring an aid (me) to leave the others in charge and go following him around to be sure he didn't run off the campus, yet another student was so late from a quick trip to the restroom that she was given a "tardy" thus destroying her perfect record (they get rewards for this) and later that day she made a rude hand sign to another student and was put on report by the teachers who caught her in the act, and to top it all off I got to watch eight 8th graders retake a history test which they had all done poorly on and the administrator of this test gave them the answers as he was reading the questions to them. Now where is the education in that? Heck, where is the plan?

Saving grace? When the teacher got back and heard what had happened she went on discipline mode and had a long talk with the kids. The end result is that they are assigned the homework of writing letters of apology to each aid. I was pleased to hear the lecture. The apology letter makes me squirm almost as much as Susan's evening made her uncomfortable.

I'm not sure why this assignment embarrasses me. The students are certainly going to think about what they have done when they write it. It is a good learning activity. The aids are definitely entitled to the apologies. Maybe this is my old "could I have done things differently and better" alert system raising its head. When I watched the student who roamed the halls walk into our Spec. Ed. Clerk's office and talk to her and a teacher I watched compassion in practice. They recognized he was having a bad day. They tried to joke him out of it. I guess I was too far along to have seen it till it was shown to me. That makes me feel so guilty because all of my career as a teacher I am going to run into kids who are having bad days. One of my jobs is going to be to teach them how to handle that kind of thing. I don't think I did very well yesterday.

The day closed better than I hoped for after that. A teacher friend gave me the needed transparency film thus saving me a trip to the store. I have written a letter of sympathy to the teacher who was in the meeting because during her lecture to the students she mentioned having a friend who was probably going to lose a family member to illness. This was the same teacher who went out of her way to write me a sympathy card earlier. I want to show her the same care and consideration she showed me. And so I grow even as I struggle. Are we back to Grace? Not quite, but we are getting there. Now if only I could think of a way to teach my students what I learned from yesterday, which is that even when you are struggling with not having done well in areas that matter you can still find some places to redeem yourself.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Prayers for the Anglican rosary

My friend JSD has posted about her discovery of praying through the use of the Anglican rosary. It is a lovely way to pray. I was given a set when I went through my Cursillo. Mine wasn't as fancy as JSD's were but they are filled with sentiment. I promised some of the prayers that came with mine so here they are:

Prayer of Oblation
Cross: And here I offer and present to you, O Lord, myself, my soul, and body, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to you.
Invitatory: Accept, O Lord, my offering.
Cruciform: All from you, O Lord, and all for you.
Weeks: I give of all the days and hours of my life.
I give of my strengths and of my weaknesses.
I give of my talents.
I give of my treasure, the work of my hands.
I give of my joys and of my sorrows.
I give from the places of darkness within me as well as from the places of light.
I give of my whole self, holding back nothing.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Cross: For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh from the Father.
Invitatory: Thank you, God, for the many gifts you have bestowed on me.
Cruciform: I give you thanks, O Lord.
Weeks: For the beauty of all creation - for earth and sky and sea.
For home and family, friends and loved ones.
For work to do and for time to rest and play.
For food and drink and all the bounty of the earth.
For the freedoms that I enjoy.
For the gift of health and for the patience and strength to bear weaknesses.
For the examples of the saints of God now and in the past.

A Prayer based on the Hymn of St. Patrick
Cross: I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

Invitatory: I bind this day to me forever,
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation.
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Cruciform: Christ be with me.

Weeks: Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Cross: Amen

A Litany for Lent
Cross: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Invitatory: You desire truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Cruciform: O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.

Weeks: Cleanse me and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out my transgressions.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore me to the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Cross (last time): Amen

Making connections with others a.k.a. networking

Yesterday I met my pet's future veterinarian. This nice young man, who just started his practice, used to be my rector's neighbor and was at our "Blessing of the Animals" service. While talking to him I asked where he got his degree from. His reply, "Texas A&M." The man is an Aggie. Yes! I say that proudly because I have a brother-in-law and sister who are Aggies. I also have many friends who are Aggies.

Aggies have a great tradition of going back to their alma mater every year or so and renewing friendships they have made while attending there. My brother-in-law graduated in the 80's and still goes back each year for football games and to see his buddies. What I've learned from watching my Aggie friends do this year after year is, "No one networks like the Aggies." This is part of what makes Texas A&M a great school. This is community at it's finest. It is not only good community but good business.

There are lots of excellent and well known colleges out there. Many of them have reputations that guarantee an open door and a high salary if you can legally put their name on your resume. The people I know from some of them are all brilliant at what they do. If I had the grades and money to get into these fine schools I would be proud to do so. But Texas A&M is a state supported college so it doesn't cost a fortune to attend and you don't have to be at the head of your graduating class to enroll. So, if you want to make life long friends and get a good degree in one of the fields that Texas A&M teaches, please consider going there.

My pet's future vet eagerly took down my brother-in-law's name and promised to look him up the next time the school had a veterinarian gathering. I've no doubt they will find one another somehow. Afterall, they are Aggies.