Monthly Archives: December 2008

By any measure – unattractive (A Christmas poem)

poem-wordle-1

Emptying self?
Forsaking family?
Losing our life to gain it?
Why do you ask such hard things, Lord?

How do we figure out needs and wants in a Wal-Mart world?
What sort of foolishness is loving enemies and forgiving 70 times 7?
How do we market teaching this in our schools?

How can we see what you want us to see?
Both delighting in ecstasy and bearing brokenness as you modeled for us,
We are simultaneously overloaded and underfed,
Trading the moments of our days for time on screens,
Avoiding the times of loneliness, searching and longing,
Opting instead for hours of mind-numbing activity.

Are we ready to give up our control in a glutted and indulgent society?
Are we lamenting the brokenness we see?
Are we hungry for you, Lord?

Your “good news” asks too much,
It is not attractive or popular,
It makes us a peculiar people, definitely “not cool”
“Be not afraid” you have told us again and again,
Yet as much as we run into dead ends of our own making,
We are reluctant to give up much of our imaginary control of our lives,
Teach us Lord to “cry from the heart and laugh from the belly”* with our world.

We are truly awed at your incarnation – your birth was most unattractive,
Creator of all encapsulated in an uninitiated virgin delivering a bloody birth in a barn.
You have turned our world upside down,
Give us hearts and minds to truly see you,
To reflect on your beauty,
To live and teach your unattractive ways.

You are “the good news to all who would believe. . .”
The foolishness that must be gained by all who would truly live.

*Phrase borrowed from Richard Rohr in Everything Belongs.

Graphic created via Wordle.

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Truth, grace, and teenagers

stockxpertcom_id27616841_jpg_a6d1ec0151545b5e9774234f12079b1e(Post contributed by Nathan Siebenga, Vice Principal of Student Life at Hamilton District High School, Hamilton, Ontario – thanks Nathan for sharing!)

Three grade 10 boys leave campus property to go and get some treats at the “Hasty Market”. Running a little late on their way back to school, they come across two garbage bags of leaves. One boy thinks nothing of the bags as he is more worried about the trouble for being late. Another wonders where the leaves came from originally. The last boy has an idea. “Hey, let’s take these to school and fill the downstairs bathroom with them!”

“Huh?” says the one boy. “What … ah, okay, whatever?” says the other.

Now motivated and marching faster, the boys take the bags of leaves back to school. Being late for the first afternoon class meant there were very few people in the hallway, so they slipped in the side door avoiding the main-office. Once in the bathroom, they emptied the bags everywhere leaving it with a different smell. With hearts pounding, the boys got rid of the garbage bags above the ceiling tiles and prepared their get away. They peer down both hallways to see that the coast is clear and then proceed to step out into the hall. They enter the main office with their veins coursing with adrenaline. Trying to keep straight faces they ask for late slips. Warily the receptionist behind the counter asks, “What happened?” “We had to leave” one of the boys says, putting the other two into stitches. The receptionist hands out the 3 late slips and ponders the event by making a mental note.

Minutes later a distraught student comes into the office to share with reception that there are leaves all over the bathroom. “Did you hear that, Mr. VanPrincin?” the receptionist calls to the Vice Principal of Students, who was already eagerly standing with nobility in the doorway of his office. After some inquiry by the vice principal the receptionist shares the earlier interaction with the three lads who “had to leave” and their response to this. Mr. VanPrinicin assures the receptionist and the distraught young lad that he will take care of it from here.

Later that day, Mr. VanPrincin calls down the three boys to his office and we all know what happens next. Or do we?

In this time of advent we often read the Christmas story. The Gospel of John articulates how Christ is the Word and how the Word became flesh and he was full of Grace and Truth. Restorative Justice* is a philosophical approach to discipline that is a shift from traditional punitive responses to misdemeanors and discipline cases. In a world that is pushing towards “zero tolerance” for any misconduct at school, restorative justice suggests a shift in this thinking. The shift of restorative justice does not exclude individuals, but rather includes, and surrounds, the involved parties with their community in a process that looks at the harm that was caused. Its focus is on the needs of the victim and the offender as a way of making the community right again.

This philosophical shift for discipline in schools is right. It is not easy and there are obstacles, but it is right. It is right because at the heart of restorative practices is the pursuit of Truth while offering Grace.

*For more information on the Restorative Justice approach see this article or head to this website.

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Needs versus wants

needs-and-wantsI sincerely hope that one of the good things that we can learn from our recent economic distress is a recommitment to stewardship and charity. There are an increasing number of articles that deal with doing more with less (and gasp!), even self-denial. Self-denial sounds heretical in the Wall Street Journal of all places, doesn’t it?  I remain convinced that one of the very best “essential questions” we can plant in our students’ minds for their lifetime is: What is the difference between needs and wants?

One of the joys of Thanksgiving and Christmas is the opportunity for reflection and thoughtful gift giving. I recently was struck by the contrasts presented in two different articles on giving. In a preview blurb about Christian Smith’s new book, Passing the Plate, I read these words: “Far from the 10 percent of one’s income that tithing requires, American Christians’ financial giving typically amounts, by some measures, to less than one percent of annual earnings. And a startling one out of five self-identified Christians gives nothing at all.”

On the other hand I heard myself saying “Oh, cool” when I opened the newspaper (Grand Rapids Press, 12.3.08) to an article about Manny Pacquaio, a boxer and leading light heavyweight contender from the Phillipines, who gives away his prize winnings by distributing food and cash all hours of the day and night outside of his home. After growing up in poverty, Pacquaio, a devout Catholic, states: “The best thing in life is what you can do for other people in this world” and goes on to say: “What I want to teach them is how to pray, to believe in God, to be with God.”

What a privilege to be in jobs where we can teach children the true difference between needs and wants, and train their hearts and minds to respond to a world in need!

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The big tube to nowhere

9192_6546The latest news from this past year involving our great North American pastime:

  • Wondering how many more times we need to be reminded about the switch from analog to digital before February? One would think that something really important, such as Jesus’ return was happening, as often as we have been reminded! The latest in awareness building techniques: scrolling “Important Announcement” banners at the bottom of the TV screen with this earth-shaking reminder.
  • Gotta’ have it all the time and in all places: free public restrooms operated by the Charmin toilet paper company in Times Square during the upcoming Christmas season will have flat screen TV’s. Charmin promises “tourists will feel like kings before making their royal flushes.” (Associated Press, GR Press, 11.28.08)
  • Unhappy people watch more TV – up to an extra 5.6 hours per week compared to happier people, who spend more time socializing, reading, and participating in religious activities, according to a study of 40,000 people aged 18 to 64. Lead study author and sociologist John Robinson from the University of Maryland states: “It could be that watching television makes you unhappy, but there is also the question of whether people who are unhappy turn to television as a way to ward off their unhappiness.” (Donna St. George, Washington Post as quoted in G.R. Press, 11.28.08)
  • Children who watched more than 3 hours of television per day between ages 5 and 11 had more attention problems as teenagers, as noted by a long-term study of over 1,000 children in New Zealand and published in Pediatrics journal. (Washington Post, as cited in Grand Rapids Press, 11.13.07)
  • Boys’ (ages 8-18) use of time – 6.5 hours per day with media; therefore boys spend about 45.5 hours a week total – more than a full time job! (Boys Should be Boys by Meg Meeker, M.D.)
  • Alarming statistic that likely hasn’t improved: the top TV show choice among kids 9-12 in 2005 was . . . Desperate Housewives –  “a “satire” in which suicide is glorified and slutty married women commit adultery with their gardeners . . . (this show) continues to be one of the current top rated shows that make a complete mockery of the sanctity of marriage.” (As quoted from: http://www.nykola.com)
  • A three-year Rand Corporation study is the first of its kind to link sexy TV shows and teen pregnancy.
  • Media use may impact sleep quantity and quality of  children – see this link.
  • Our addiction to media consumption: 9.5 hours a day: TV – 3 hours, Internet – 90 minutes, radio – 30 minutes, radio – 2.5 hours, recorded music – 85 minutes, magazines – 15 minutes, reading a book – 3 minutes. (Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer.) Obviously the book reading figure is disconcerting. To quote Mark Twain on book reading: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
  • An encouraging sign: parents are setting greater restrictions on TV watching and reading more to kids than in 1994, according to the 2004 U.S. census. For 3-5 year olds, 68% had TV watching rules, 71% of 6-11 year olds, and 47% of 12-17 year olds. (Grand Rapids Press, 11.1.07) Of course one could argue that the content of TV has also deteriorated in ten years, thus making it an easier choice. Also one could wonder why 100% of kids don’t have TV watching rules, especially at the younger ages.
  • In a study released December 2, 2008 by the National Institutes of Health and Yale University, researchers found that 80% of all studies done on media since 1980 show a negative connection between health and media use. Reviewed were studies that measured media effects on obesity, tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, low academic achievement and ADHD.

How much more evidence do we need before we start changing our habits? There is increasing evidence that kids want to spend more time with parents, but some parents seem intent on making other choices. Do we lack the will, the spiritual discipline to limit TV? Is TV consuming our souls and contributing to sucking the life out of us?

(Feel free to copy all or part of this post to send on to parents in a newsletter – just please acknowledge the source.)

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