Friday, May 27, 2011

Sunday mornings at church and my friend Gus.

Sunday mornings are difficult for me. In between two jobs I usually only get a couple of hours of sleep before heading off to church. Thankfully I teach a class of young men, 7th and 8th graders, whose energy and enthusiasm keep me awake. If I had to go to an adult class, I am sure I would be quickly asleep. This would be a distraction since I snore loudly.

On Sunday mornings we do not have Sunday school. Apparently attaching the word school to anything immediately makes what it is attached to dull. Old School is boring, one-room-schoolhouse is quaint, school of fish is all wet, and Sunday school is dry. Our youth pastor, who is an intelligent, industrious, imaginative, and innovative chap, has labeled our Sunday morning activities Sunday Small Groups (SSG). I think, “Great Gangs of Glamorous Guys and Girls that Give it up for God” has a much nicer ring and when shortened to G7 is even easier to spell than SSG.

One of the rules in my SSG class is that whatever important stuff is shared in the class stays in the class. If you continue reading, you will find some important stuff. I got the permission to share this stuff, provided I changed the young man’s name. So I did, he is now August Flopière BooKnee. If you say that with a French accent, it sounds very proud and has a certain appeal to it. In fact if you say it with most any accent it has a nice ring to it. August Flopière BooKnee. However, since it is a rather long name I will nickname him Gus.

The youth pastor starts the morning’s festivities with a rousing, yet thoughtful, examination of scripture. When he finishes, we break into our small classes and the teachers ask the students a bunch of questions. I ask these questions since I do not have all the answers, although I have been told I am supposed to be asking them to get the students to think.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of class as is my custom, I asked the students how their weeks were.

“Ok, I mowed the lawn.”

“I watched the food channel.”

“I went on a covert mission for the CIA.” (Yes, I didn’t make that up, that was truly the comment made.)

“I had five baseball games, they were all cancelled.”

Gus added, “School, soccer, sleep, and eat.” Gus is a young man concerned with conservation; conserving energy, natural resources, and apparently words.

 After each scholar had a chance to share the activities of their week, we delved into the questions. I was so tired this particular morning, I could string words together to make a coherent sentence. I struggled with the topic of peer pressure. Trying to highlight that peer pressure could be a good thing, provided it pressured their friends to be better people. As I babbled along, and asked questions like, “Have any of you ever done something that you felt guilty about?” I noticed Gus’ expression change, subtly and after a few moments he reached behind him, into the deepest parts of the couch cushions and pulled out a Bible, which he handed to his neighbor. The neighbor exclaimed, “That’s where my Bible went!”

Two hours of sleep, stumbling through the lesson, and this distraction, my brain wasn’t working very well.  (Beloved would tell you it never does.)

So I inquired of Gus, “You took that from your neighbor?”


“You are giving it back because of the lesson?”

“Yep.” He replied again, looking sheepish, but still conserving words against a possible shortage.

I laughed, he laughed, the neighbor (who even though he was a little put out by the temporary loss of his Word) laughed. Eventually the entire class laughed.

When the laughter subsided, I looked at my notes for the next question and quickly realized no matter what I said or did, Gus had taught the class better with one simple act than I could have with a hundred of well thought out questions or a million well thought out statements. So, I said the one thing every student wants to hear.

“Class dismissed.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Congratulations James Tate, you are going to the Prom.

Congratulations are in order for James Tate. His school administration has decided he can attend the prom. You have probably heard the story already, but if not you can find it here. ( ). Since this article, his school has relented and is allowing him to attend the Prom.

But, that isn’t why congratulations are in order for Mr. Tate. Congratulations are in order because he stood up to bureaucracy and celebrated distinctiveness. Schools are temples of bureaucracy. Young people herded down corridors, into pens, where they sit for a predetermined number of minutes as they are force fed facts and knowledge. After the proscribed number of minutes, a bell rings and instruction is over, regardless of whether learning is done, or even if it had begun. The students are being prepared for the great world beyond the school, the world of standardized tests. 

In the midst of all this standardization, Mr. Tate did the worst thing imaginable. He was creative. He made his date for the prom feel special and unique. He did not text her, he did not twit her, he did not facebook her, he (along with three friends) posted on the school’s wall, literally, with large cardboard letters. “SONALI RODRIGUES WILL YOU GO TO THE PROM WITH ME? HMU –TATE”

Immediately the bureaucrats were stunned and threatened. A subject student had escaped and was now going ‘individual’.  Individuality threatens the very precise control over large crowds of subjects students and bureaucrats sense of power. Please do not get the impression that bureaucracy is all bad, I am sure there are some positive and productive aspects of bureaucracy. I would take the space to list them here, but I cannot think of any.

The school suspended Mr. Tate for his infraction of the individuality policy. The statement made to the public indicated that Mr. Tate had trespassed on school property and his actions were dangerous and “gosh durn, somebuddy cudda gotten hurted.”

It is quite apparent that not one bureaucrat from that school has bothered to observe the student parking lot at dismissal time. Hypnotized hoards of subjects students exit the building, their mind numbed with thoughts of Pythagoras, the Marshall Plan, and visions of participles dangling in their heads. They get into their vehicles and the rush of freedom fills their blood. The roar of engines coming to life fills the air and it is a drag race to the exit. It is my observation that the male students engage in this escape behavior too.

Therefore, despite bureaucratic pressure to maintain mediocrity, inhibit individuality, and support the status quo, the school has relented and allowed James Tate to attend the prom.  Therefore, we congratulate Mr. Tate, not because he can go to the prom, but because he stood up for creativity, he was not afraid to step outside the box celebrate his date’s individuality. He decided Ms. Rodrigues was special and deserved to be asked to the prom in a memorable way. The moment he and his friends acted on his plan he won. 

Congratulations Mr. Tate. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is it worth more than its value?

I love watching the “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS. I am always amazed at the doo-dads or goo-gaws that have been gathering dust in someone’s attic until they decide to bring them to a taping of the show and have them appraised. The appraiser usually asks something like, “Where did you find this grungy piece of chipped china?”

The guest usually responds along the lines, “My great Aunt Martha bought it at an Estate sale for the former butler to President Lincoln’s personal secretary’s gardener.”

The appraiser then asks, “How much did she pay for it?”

“Oh not much, I think she told me she bought it and a set of tea towels for a dollar. She really wanted the tea towels, but this piece of china was an impulse purchase.”

“Well, I have good news for you.” The appraiser responds, “This is a genuine china cup, from china. It dates back to a long time ago and if it were to come to auction today, I expect it would sell for a king’s ransom.”
At which the guest usually responds with “Oh heavenly days”, or “Holy Mackerel” or some other PBS appropriate exclamation of great excitement.

I wish I had a goo-gaw like that hanging around my attic. I have been up there and it is empty. Even if I did find something I thought was valuable the appraiser would tell me, “This is known as a faux china cup. It’s not worth the clay it is made from.”

That is my luck. To hold on to something because someday it might be valuable, only to find out it has no value and even worse, worthless.

When my grandfather died, I held on to some of his things; a harmonica, a doorknob, and a pair of tin shears.
Grampa played the harmonica and now Eldest plays a little bit too. Of the three items, the harmonica probably is worth the least, but to me it has immense value. I think of Grampa when Eldest plays it and it reminds me of how important family was to Grampa and how important it is to me.

When I took that clearance doorknob, I thought that it might come in handy someday. I think Grampa thought the same thing when he purchased it from Sears. It appeared to be at least ten years old and was still in the box. I could almost hear him say, “I might need a new doorknob someday.” And I thought the same thing. The key being someday, since Beloved and I were living in our first apartment and had no immediate plans to buy a house. I gave that doorknob away, to a family member who actually needed a doorknob. Even after he passed on, Grampa still looked out for family.

Lastly, those tin shears. I love the word shears. I think the only person I have ever heard use the word shears was Grampa. At home we had scissors, not Grampa, he had paper shears. They looked exactly like the scissors we had at home, but they were special—they were shears. Grampa worked for a company that made dentist chairs. He used those shears at work to cut metal to be formed into the outer skin of those chairs and the pedestal that supported the light. It is interesting that Middlest wants to be a dentist. She must have gotten her love of dentistry from her Great-Grampa.

After we bought a house, I was replacing some metal flashing around our front door. I completely forgot about Grampa’s tin shears. When I bought the flashing, I also purchased a pair of gee-wiz-rubber-handled-state of the art tin snips. Those things were worthless! After cutting myself trying to trim the flashing, I had a flash of inspiration and remembered the tin shears. At almost 15 inches long, weighing in at close to a bazillion pounds, these bad boys could scare sheet metal into submission. I brought them out and within a few moments had the flashing in shear terror.

Yep, none of those things may have been particularly valuable, but their worth was immeasurable.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Littlest turns thirteen today.

I have three daughters, Eldest, Middlest, and Littlest; today Littlest turns thirteen. Please feel free to insert emotionally charged ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ now. Thank you.

I must disclose that Littlest is no longer the littlest. She is taller than her sisters are.  Apparently, while the rest of the family sleeps, she grows. This probably explains why she hates getting up in the morning. Instead of resting, she has spent the entire night engaged in getting taller. One particular morning she seemed to have grown an exceptional amount the previous night and I observed, “Littlest, I think you grew another foot over night.”

She looked down and said, “Nope Dad, I still only have two of them.”

Littlest has always been a strong willed child. When she was an infant, we laid a baby gate across the stairs because they were too wide for the gate to fasten correctly. For Eldest and Middlest this deterred them from crawling upstairs. Not for strong willed Littlest. She got that fiery glint in her eye and she tugged and grunted and grunted and tugged on that gate until it was out of the way. Then she crawled upstairs and explored.

She explored freely, crawling from room to room, investigating as only an infant can do. When she had concluded her exploring, she would stop at the top of the stairs and grunt. If I did not respond quick enough she would grunt louder and longer, as if to say, “Hey you large person with hairy face and lush head of hair, come and get me down. I may be persistent and strong willed, but I am not dumb. I am not crawling down these stairs without parental supervision and assistance.”

This strong streak worries me now that she has entered the notorious age of being a teenager. Littlest still loves to investigate and explore. She examines every situation and rule for any possible loophole. Her school, like every other school, does not allow cell phone use during the school day. This rule is an open invitation for her to test the theoretical loopholes. Her mind eagerly works through the potential situations when a student could legally use a cell phone at school. “What if there was a fire?”

“They have fire alarms.”
“What if we lost electricity?”
“Why would you call me? I can’t fix it.”
“What if a Mongol horde descended upon the school?”
“Littlest, they would never do that. They would be terrified of the TSA pat-down process at the border, and the crack team of security guards will keep you safe. Besides, you don’t have a cell phone.”
This observation quieted her for exactly a few milliseconds. Then she got that fiery look in her eye and said, “But if I did…..”