Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Slogging Through

Years ago I promised myself that I would try to slow down a little. I believe that was just before I turned 30. For the most part I have not succeeded very well in this quest, although changing my teaching load from English to Latin cut a lot of the correcting, especially of essays and other non-objective blather.

The past couple weeks have been inordinately busy. We have been aggressively house-shopping, reading scripts for the fall play, entertaining relatives, having birthday parties for Evan and Aidan, teaching adult classes at church, teaching the regular class load at Berean, finishing summer outdoor services work, and delivering a two-session Christian worldview seminar. Oh yeah, and I hit a deer with the Corolla about a week and a half ago.

The play I finally picked was _Illinois Pete_, which I think will do well for our cast and school community. It is a mystery/adventure/comedy set in a girls' private school. We are performing, Lord willing, on November 21 and 22, so set aside some time on your calendar! Friday will be an evening performance and Saturday, a matinee.

My high school leadership team this year is just stellar!! I'm really excited about the kids involved and the variety of talents that they will bring to the drama program. We started off our rehearsal (first rehearsal) yesterday with a discussion of 1 Cor. 12:12-26. I just asked one question: How does this passage apply to a drama program? The answers I received were terrific. They really got it.

Some of you readers may remember a sermon I preached last fall about two apple trees in my front yard. One was lush, green, and gorgeous, but completely without fruit. The other was almost dead, but had one good-sized branch absolutely loaded with apples. I made the application to our lives as believers, talking about how we may look nice, but if there's no fruit, how useful are we to the kingdom of God? In contrast, the scars of time and sin may be all over us, but if we bear fruit, we demonstrate that we have received grace and are beautiful in God's sight.

Both apple trees have experienced changes since I preached this message. The old, uneven, hideous tree fell over in a windstorm this summer. The green part remained green while the tree lay on the ground for several weeks. It was an interesting testimony to staying connected to the source of strength through any circumstances. I finally cut it up and put in in the barn.

The other apple tree, Evan noticed a few days ago, had produced fruit. Two apples. Two large, gorgeous apples about 20 feet off the ground. We got an extension ladder, put it against the branches of the tree, and Evan climbed to the top and harvested the fruit. Not am I thankful for a tree that listened to my preaching (!), but I also celebrated having a wise and courageous son who truly will be like a tree planted by streams of water.

If you would like a meditation on the financial crisis in the U.S. today, read Psalm 60 and reflect on it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Old One Hundredth

According to the blogger tracker thinger, this is my one hundredth post. It reminded me of a hymn tune title simply known in the old Lutheran hymnal as "Old Hundredth."

So I have enjoyed blogging. There's been plenty of activity, but it seems so cyclical to me that I don't know if any of it will be of interest to you. How's that for confidence?

I have chosen the play for this fall. We're doing _Illinois Pete_ by Dan Somebodyorother. I think it will fit my potential cast well and showcase their talents. Casting starts tomorrow, meaning it will be a busy day.

We lost one of the houses we were shooting at (bank decided to work with another offer) and so we put in an offer on a different property. I am somewhat encouraged and somewhat ambivalent. If we get this property, we will be near the top of what we should pay for a house, but we'll get lots of bedrooms, a solid house, a double garage, and a full, fenced one-acre lot. Greg submitted the offer to the seller's agent today (or at least I assume he did).

I made a fire tonight in our fire pit and quizzed my boys on theology. They are pretty good amateur theologians, except Toby thinks that there are three gods in one person. I also began to teach them how to pray for each other. It was good.

My wife is packing everything in sight. I believe this should be called "unnesting". I am not a natural packer and cannot bring myself to start something like that early. That, and I am exhausted a lot of the time.

The new glasses from Shopko are quite nice. Turns out you don't need the high index plastic for $3 million after all.

I'm going to go sit in my green chair now and dream of eternal life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Comment on Business Ethics

I have been dealing with an inordinate number of business people lately. Most of them are decent folk who care about their clients, but some contemporary business practices make me angry. I'm going to shed a little light on one in hopes that these kinds of business practices will be shamed into going away.

My frustration concerns eyeglasses. In the spring of 2006, I had an eye exam and bought a pair of glasses from Shopko south. I went there because the eye doctor had been recommended to me. He turned out to be a great opthalmologist, and I was very pleased with the glasses. However, I had an accident with a ladder this summer that led to the weakening of the glasses. A few days ago when I was working at the computer, I adjusted the glasses and the bows snapped off completely.

So I took the pieces and went back to Shopko south. Here is what I discovered:

1) Since the prescription was over two years old, they could not make me a new pair of glasses.

2) Since the frame is now outdated (two years old!) they could not order me a new frame and put the lenses in that frame.

3) They were unable to locate any match bows or in fact any bows that would even replace the broken ones so the glasses would stay on my face.

4) The technician lost one of my broken bows in her attempt to find a match for it.

So, because I liked the doctor, I scheduled another eye exam. I was told that the eye exam would be covered by our insurance, so I didn't worry about it. When I was already in the exam room, the doctor asked me if I would like an exam for contact lenses as well. I said that I assumed they were one and the same. "No," he said. "It's apples and oranges."

So I figured I probably needed the contact lens exam and said sure, go ahead. He never said a word about a separate charge for the contact lens exam. I learned about that when I visited the technician/sales clerk at the optical register. He explained that the glasses exam was covered, but the lens one was not.

Then we went on to choosing glasses. I picked a frame and began to ask questions about lenses. The tech told me that we'd get high-index lenses because of my prescription. I asked if there were any other lenses available. I practically had to drag out of the technician the other types of lenses and the prices of them. He had just assumed he would choose the most expensive product for me.

I submit that these business practices, besides being shoddy and perhaps borderline dishonest, are also insensitive to the poor. So is the rule that requires an eyeglass prescription less than two years old to have a pair of glasses made. It is yet another example of regulation not helping but hindering the low income.

I have politely kept my mouth shut for a long time. However, I am about to that age where I am tired of sitting quietly and politely. Nothing changes unless people of faith and ethics speak clearly about the issues that affect our lives and our society.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Quiet Saturday

School has started with a vengeance. That doesn't mean it's been bad, just intense. The Latin instruction to give, the new kids to catch up, the unmotivated kids to frighten, the chapel music to prepare, the lunch meetings to lead, and the parents to befuddle... I mean, to inform. On top of all this, the house really does seem to be mostly sold (go, Jay and Emily!!) and so we're house-hunting with real intentionality. We went out with Greg last evening again and looked at a couple. While I still do think it is a buyer's market, it is getting tighter again. The incredible deals at the bottom of the heap are perhaps not quite as incredible anymore. But I continue to hold out hope that God will bring us something amazing (or at least adequate).

So I had fully intended to spend a little time at home this morning and then look at properties again in the afternoon. But Tara thought that was an unnecessary endeavor ("Why should you waste all that gas to drive into town when I'm already here?") so I stayed home with all of my boys. We had a very quiet day.

Around 9:30 we loaded up trash and headed to the dump. Except for a steady drizzle falling while we recycled, it was quite uneventful. The boys played Legos a lot and helped out with this or that when asked. And I plowed through significant amounts of paperwork and administrivia while taking care of three fellers under age 8.

Tara came home about mid-afternoon from the garage sale and we renewed the discussion about houses, children, fall classes starting tomorrow at church, and real estate agents who either do or don't accomplish much at all.

As I was putting the boys to bed tonight, a hymn that I had learned early in my childhood came back to me. I'm going to type the lyrics for you here, partly because they are beautiful, and partly because I'm proud that my brain has held them largely without use for more than 25 years. I think my mother used to sing this simple hymn without provocation. She sang a lot until the cancer got into her vocal cords and made it difficult to sing without coughing. I still grieve. I'm sorry. Here it is.

Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
To keep His statutes still;
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
To know and do His will.

Order my footsteps by Thy word
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear.

Make me to walk in Thy commands
'Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my head or heart or hands
Offend against my God.

I may have mixed around the order of the verses or a word here or there, but I think I got the gist of it. It's funny how I can celebrate the present while simultaneously grieving the loss of how things used to be. See Ezra 3:12.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Revisiting My Childhood

Most of the memories that I can drag out of my childhood would be pretty unremarkable, but I have enjoyed revisiting some of them lately in the form of my son's new reading interest.

Evan came home from school stoked about Encyclopedia Brown stories. It seems that his teacher reads the class an Encyclopedia Brown mystery every day just before dismissal. The students listen to the mystery and then try to guess the solution.

This created a nice connection between Evan and me because I also read Encyclopedia Brown stories as a boy and I actually remember most of the stories, but not most of the solutions. So Evan reads me the story as we drive to or from school, and I try to figure out the mysteries. Most of the time I still get them wrong, but at least we're having fun together.

I'm trying to get Evan to blog about his experiences with literature.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Brief Comments on Media, Movies, and Me

It is Friday evening. You can tell my life is a thriller because I have time to blog.

First, a word about thrills. I am not a thrill-seeking personality and am really quite content with the fact that pretty much nothing thrilling happened today. Nothing disastrous happened either, so I have been given the gift of one more day.

Uncle Roy is still in the hospital, having had a nasty run towards gallbladder surgery. He had the surgery yesterday, but since there was infection involved and other nasty internal symptoms, I don't think he's quite out of the woods yet. The boys are learning to not just like Uncle Roy but pray for Uncle Roy.

I began to teach Evan and Aidan about the ACTS of prayer this evening. They both looked at me dumbfounded when we talked about confessing sins. They figured that they'd done confessing a long time ago and that there was no continuing need for contrition/repentence in the life of a believer. Wow.

Tara finally watched the end of _A Prairie Home Companion_ with me tonight. I like most of the folk music and great talent that appears across its regular, real stage. In the movie version, they've created fictional sisters, Rhonda and Yolanda Johnson who sing about their Minnesota home and the love of their mother, aunts, and uncles. With these two they created a pretty effective balance of comedic and dramatic. So I sit there with the tears slaloming down my face, not bothered in the least by them because I know the themes they sing about so well: the love of the earlier generations, the joy on my mother's face when I'd play the organ for her, the realization that the earlier generations, and indeed our own generation, won't be on this earth forever. And the most tragic of all: I did not recognize those days as good days, or did not recognize what was especially good in them. We should have stockpiled more than $1.27 gasoline.

I finished reading Alan Jacobs' masterful biography of C.S. Lewis a few days ago. The book in entitled _The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis_. As you may have guessed, I have read quite a bit about Lewis, his friendships, the Inklings, and his lectures, but I gained a new perspective on Lewis from Jacobs. A brilliant and unusual man, Lewis was also haunted by the same frustrations that plague all thinking people. One might not hold up all of Lewis' life as the example to follow, but I think I still rightly regard him as a hero. There is plenty to admire and imitate. Definitely a superior read... thank you, Everett. I'm always in your debt.

Scripture writers sometimes petition the Lord, "Remember not the sins of my youth." That is probably because they were gross and glaring, even to the eye of sinful man. I think the sins of middle age are much more insidious. If a sin of youth is akin to a man swinging an axe and destroying a board, a sin of middle age induced rot into the board so that it becomes soft, soggy, and just as worthless over a long period of time.

Apathy is one such sin. I can see how middle aged persons will struggle against this with all their being. I don't know if burn-out is a sin, but I see it all over myself. I have been doing the same types of work and ministry for well over a decade. I have no edge left. I'm really kind of surprised that the kids keep listening, but they do. I have to remind myself that while I may have said this 1,228 times, for at least a few out of the 155 that I taught this week, it was the first time they heard it.

It is this same resolve that keeps us preaching and living the gospel. I may have heard it thousands of times, but someone is hearing it today for the very first time. Someone today understood that sin is whatever is inconsistent with God's character. Someone received full and free forgiveness from a merciful Savior.

And Some-Glorious-One smiled, and all heaven with Him.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sick of Being Sick

I was extremely healthy all summer. I might have endured one or two days where I didn't feel the best, but generally I was the strongest and most robust I have been in my whole life. The 30s are better in lots of ways than the preceding decades. Especially childhood. I did not enjoy childhood very much, not because I had bad parents, but because my childhood self knew that I was destined for adulthood. I was poorly wired for childhood.

For the past many days, indeed, I think since inservice began, I have been sick with one thing or another. Fall allergies, fevers, headaches, aching spine (thought I had bone cancer yesterday), weakness, collapsing into my ugly green chair when I get home, unable to stir for at least a half hour. Illness frustrates me. I would do, give my best, but I cannot. The attempt to do, which I frequently try, sometimes makes me more unable than ever, and I collapse in a pile, breathing heavily with heart throbbing and lungs heaving.

But I think the saddest part of illness (especially as I age) is the loss of joy or zest for living. I find that as a sick person I don't care at all except from the perspective that if I don't keep pushing as hard as I possibly can, all my responsibilities will pile up on themselves and ferment, leaving an aura of rotting muck to sort out after the illness ends.

My wife is a very talented lady, especially when comes the practical and managerial. I respect her a great deal. I rely on her ability to keep it running when I am not well. And I entrust myself to the goodness of my faithful Creator, who will surely fix me if He wants to.

May the joy of the Lord be your strength today.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Back to School -- That's the Rule!!

You bet we're back! I survived my 14th (!) inservice as well as the first three days of school. I have to say that I really have a manageable load this year. For the first time in my career I have no homeroom and no lunch duty. I miss the homeroom, but nobody misses lunch duty!

I will be teaching Latin to grades 5-10 again with only a few minor changes. One change is that the fifth graders are a very small double class, so I can teach all 25of them together. All we had to do was add one desk to my classroom, and presto, all fifth graders fit. They were absolutely adorable! At the beginning of the class, I asked them to introduce themselves, first and last name, tell about brothers and sisters, and something fun or interesting from summer. One little girl stood up and said the following:

"I'm [first name last name], I have [can't remember how many sibs -- I was too busy learning names], and I was diagnosed with Crohn's this summer." And then she sat down as though she'd just told us she had gone to Grand Teton National Park or something.

And you just want to cry. Is she even 11?

Our chapel and overriding theme this year at [impressive classical school] is mercy: mercy for those who've caused problems or offense, mercy on those who don't fit in as easily, mercy for those who aren't keeping up or succeeding well in their studies. I thought it was a beautiful theme and a necessary one for this school at this point in our history.

Physically I didn't feel all too well during the first week of school, but I was able to teach all my classes. I feel much better today.

Summer business continues on into the fall as well. We have about three jobs to finish and then the resulting paperwork. I could have turned them down, but I have a terrible time saying no to anything, especially things that bring in extra income. But I've drawn the line, I guess, and turned down an interior painting job for this September already.

Our house is almost sold. I guess Jay and Emily's house is one inspection away from being sold, so that's how far ours is from sold also. Tara and I are now actively seeking houses. We found about three leads to track. The difficult part is that we look at house-buying so differently. Tara wants a house that proclaims, "Move right in! I'm ready for you."

I want a house that gasps, "Help! Previous owners did not love me or maintain me properly. I'd make a great home for you if you're willing to rescue me."

Some prepare. We repair. We go house-hunting on Tuesday.