Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My Neighbor, Chris

Chris Erdman used to live next door to me. Then he sold his house and moved. Now he lives two houses away on the opposite side. The weird thing is that I don't talk to him now as much as I used to because of that one house separating us. But when I do, it is pure joy.

Chris is the minister at University Presbyterian, the church around the corner from College. He is a terrific family man (he literally wrote the book on family...no seriously, I've read it), a deep thinker, a theologian, a great speaker, and an all-around cool guy. He loves the Old Testament. But he also loves The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. So you can see why we get along.

On Sunday morning he was driving home right behind me. We got out of our cars and chatted for 20 minutes or so, deconstructing our sermons together, the reaction to them, and talking about the movement of the Spirit. I have learned everything I know about the unity of the church during the past year and a half, and it has all come from my Emmaus walk and from Chris.

Last night we talked music for the first time. He had just seen U2 in concert (his first concert ever) and wanted to share the experience. He gave me chills as he told me how they ended the show singing "Psalm 40" with 25,000 people singing along, praising God whether they knew it or not. We talked about their latest CD--which I love go out and buy it right now run don't walk--and how spiritual it is. For crying out loud, the last song is entitled "Yahweh." Kind of hard to miss the meaning. Then I brought up the new Green Day CD and found out he was crazy about it. We talked about the language (raunchy but not gratuitous) and the message. It's such a Godsend to find someone who is so on the same wavelength.

Lisa and I have been so blessed with the people got put in our neighborhood. Today, I'm just particularly grateful for Chris.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Post Something New!

Last week was incredibly busy and this week promises to be even moreso as the AP Calculus test sneaks up on us next Tuesday. By the way, God is giving me a little reward for all my hard work. On May 3, the same day the kids take that test and our intense preparation reaches a conclusion, the new Star Wars soundtrack hits the stores. Yes, that's right, my final bit of John Williams "Force" music. I remain convinced that when I roam the streets of heaven for the first time, that's the theme I'll hear.

I struggled last week with a number of things. The message for Sunday wasn't coming easily. Satan was all OVER me and I was giving him some pretty good handholds. Work was frustrating as I had to combine AP prep with state testing. And the 3 visits to the doctor just added to all the fun. Yesterday morning I felt unprepared, tired, and hurt. I knew enough to pray and found Grace Pendleton in my "quiet place." We prayed together and I felt prepared to preach. Then Sandra grabbed me and had Tim McIntosh and Arthur Wint pray over me and I felt the pain and weariness partially disappear. The group prayer before service began got me a little further. I continued in prayer from the pew until it was time to speak and, of course, by then I was whole. He is amazing, He is faithful, He is powerful, and His word will get out in SPITE of us. God is good. God is good. God is good.

Ashley sang a solo during the invitation yesterday and just wiped Lisa and I out. Sandra's original plan was for her to sing that in between the message and the invitation, but I asked her to wait so that I would actually be able to speak during the invitation. It's crazy how proud both Lisa and I are of those kids. Their parents and their God have worked wonders with them. I pray that James can emulate his cousins as he grows up. He went to the rodeo with his Grammie yesterday and came home so incredibly happy. He just ran around the house like a wild child. Lisa has been working like crazy the past few weeks and doing great things with her job. That has left James and I a lot of time together and we've really enjoyed it. The best part has been introducing him to Dr. Seuss. He got a boxful of Seuss books for his birthday and he just loves them. He sits through even the long ones and wants to read them again when we finish. So far "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" is his favorite...mainly, I think, because he enjoys saying "oobleck."

After church yesterday Lisa and I (as we were James-less) had some sushi and went home to rest. We watched the Angels beat the A's 1-0...Lisa watched almost the whole game with me and I love that. It was a good day. This week, we play the hated Yankees. The Angels vs. The Evil Empire. Light side vs. Dark side. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


From The Message in the Bottle by Walker Percy:

"Why do more people commit suicide in San Francisco, the most beautiful city in America, than in any other city? (In Europe, the suicide capital is Salzburg, Austria.)
Why was it that Jean-Paul Sartre, sitting in a French cafe writing Nausea, which is about the absurdity of human existence and the nausea of life in the twentieth century--why was he the happiest man in France at the time?
Why is it that a man riding a good commuter train from Larchmont to New York, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving wife and family, good job, who enjoys unprecedented 'cultural and recreational facilities,' often feels bad without knowing why?"

Despair, ennui, lack of purpose...call it what you will, it seldom arises from harsh circumstances. The truly bad times tend to bring about anger and defiance, but seldom despair. That comes from having everything you want and realizing that it isn't enough.

Praise God for His infinite and present gifts...for His abundant love and guiding Spirit...for purpose and service and life everlasting!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Papa, Part II

There was Tolkien, a few seats away from Amy Tan. Across from me sat Ernest Hemingway. To his right was Dostoevsky. To his left was, well, Dostoevsky. They each stood in turn and told us a bit about themselves. Papa held an empty liquor bottle and swaggeringly declared that he was quite sure we'd already heard of him. The Dostoevsky's talked about their exile in Siberia and spent a good deal of time arguing over which one of them was the REAL Fyodor. Two hours of pasta, authors, and chatting with students absolutely flew by.

It's always refreshing talking to students outside the classroom. For one thing, religion is no longer off limits. I talked to an Indian student of mine, Mandeep, about Dostoevsky's conversion to Christianity. And I chatted with Dostoevsky #2 and her mother (yes, both Fyodor's were female) about Philip Yancey and his love for the Russian author. Our host, AP lit teacher Cheryl Catanzarite, came over at one point and talked to a mom about how wonderful her daughter is and how she appreciates her open faith and her Christian spirit. How nice to be able to share who we really are.

I've been more open this year about my work for the church. I've treated it as simply sharing what's important to me with my classes. It's led to better relationships and great conversation. It's unfortunate to still feel as though I'm walking on eggshells, but freeing too. I've written before about learning many things from my 4-year-old son...but I never forget that high school students have a lot to teach me too.

Monday, April 18, 2005


I'm going to meet Ernest Hemingway tonight.

The AP Lit class is trying something new this year. Each student researched a single author and read his or her major works. Tonight they are holding a dinner and attending AS the author they have learned about. They each got to choose a Sunnyside teacher as their guest and my host, Ben Thornbury, chose Hemingway. What they DON'T know is that we are going to ask them a number of questions about their life and writings and then grade them on their answers and performance. They've been getting ready for this all year so it should be interesting. Ben's a great kid so I won't give him too hard a time, but I doubt I'll go easy on the boy either.

We're also allowed to chat with the other authors present, so I'm looking forward to spending some time with Homer and Tolkien tonight. My job has some cool perks.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Luxuries of Creation

I have done this exercise in several different classes for many years. The metatheme is gratitude and the specific question is, "What did God create that He didn't have to?" It's fascinating to then just sit back and be the recorder. The answers always start coming very slowly as people try to think about creation in a new way. Somebody usually suggests family and friends, you know, the usual suspects in a gratitude discussion. Next, somebody throws something out jokingly, like "football." And I write it down. Eventually, they get into it and the answers come fast and furious. And that's when the class really starts imagining the world the way it could have been.

Even in His infinite creativity, God could have given us a world in shades of gray. We never would have known the difference. Yet He chose to create color. We could have lived in a world of noises. Instead, God made music. We didn't have to have thunderstorms but there they are. And how about laughter? The taste of food? Waterfalls?

Once you get started, it's hard to stop. And you will see the world, experience the world, in a whole new way for days on end. That's one of the reasons I like to teach this particular lesson so often. It improves my gratitude for quite some time.

So I've listed a few. What else?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Good News/Bad News

One of the all-time great punchlines: "The good news is, there IS baseball in Heaven. The bad news is, you're pitching tomorrow."

Sometimes you don't even need the setup.

We're a week into the season and I've already been reminded many times why I love this game so much. And, yes, before you ask, I DO thank God for baseball from time to time. It's one of many things He didn't have to create (Abner WHO? GOD invented baseball!), but He did anyway. A partial list of those things is a blog for another time.

Yesterday, the Angels tied the game against the Rangers with a homer in the top of the 9th and won it with a homer in the top of the 10th. De-mor-a-liz-ing. Heh heh. Here is a list of things I've seen in just the first week of the season:

The come-from-behind victory.
The 3-hit shutout.
The cycle.
The 3-run error (committed by A-Rod...again...heh heh).
The 3-hitter/4-pitch save.
The chip-in on 16 (okay, that was the Masters, but WOW!)
The grand salami.
Striking out the side.
The triple. No explanation, I just LOVE triples. Way better than home runs.
The foul ball caught in the cap.
The screaming liner off the head (I know, I'm sick).

I should probably stop there. But not before I quote Mike Cope who said, "Rooting for the Yankees is not consistent with following Jesus." Man, he knows his stuff.

By the way, I'm not kidding about God creating baseball. He didn't have to make us competitive, to make us enjoy sport. It's what I call a "luxury of creation" and it ranks right up there with music and color. Makes you wonder...if He made this world so enjoyable for us, what will the next one be like???

Monday, April 11, 2005

Conviction vs. Condemnation

Losing our guilt. I just can't believe how clear Fausto made the whole thing in his lesson yesterday. He took a concept that we want to make so difficult and made it clear as day. And I wanted to write a few things down so I could go back and look at it later...the next time I shackle myself with the chain of guilt.

God CONVICTS us of our sin. He says, "That's wrong. Don't do that. Here, do this instead. It's better anyway." God is always about what we ARE...never about what we're NOT. But Satan CONDEMNS us. And we let him. He tells us the big lies: "You're no good. Just look at yourself. Sinning all the time. You should be ashamed." Or this one: "You can't stop sinning. But neither can anyone else. And your sin isn't any worse than theirs. In fact, it's better than most. Don't worry about it so much." So Satan works on us according to our own personality. Which is more effective? Telling me that my sin makes me awful? Or telling me that my sin isn't anything to really worry about?

God makes it clear. Sin is wrong. Period. But there is LIFE after sin. Jesus dealt with our sin for us. The longer we dwell on it, the more time we waste getting on with our lives. When I think about sin and guilt, it becomes so obvious to me that God is life and Satan is death.

Thanks, Fausto, for reminding us of that. And for making it so clear.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Spartacus Revisited

Quite often in the brave new world of public education, a student's cell phone will go off during class. This almost always happens when my back is turned or I'm on the other side of the room. Then, when I turn around, there are 5 or 6 students who look at me with great sincerity and say, "That was mine," "No, that was mine," "It was really mine, Mr. Thurman."

I actually kind of admire how kids tend to stick up for each other. Nothing brings high school students together like banding against a common enemy; in this case, me.

The spiritual correlation is pretty obvious. If we stuck up for each other every time Satan went after one of us, he wouldn't have a chance. He's a shrewd little sniper, picking us off one by one. It's his only chance, really. He knows he has no hope of taking us down as a church. After all, the gates of hell can't stand against us...and let us never forget that when Jesus said that, He put us on offense.

So, two things. First of all, we need to TELL each other when we are being attacked. This requires being aware of the attack, and being willing to bring it to the attention of others. And this requires revealing our secret sins. After all, the enemy knows us and he knows our weaknesses. And secondly, we need to be willing to come together as one. We need to come together in encouragement, in comfort, in physical closeness, and above all, in prayer.

"There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is OVER all and THROUGH all and IN all."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


The Angels are perfect so far this year. Bad Vlad had a HR and a double and K-Rod pitched a perfect 9th for his first save as the official closer. Beat Texas. Thought you'd want to know.

Toot Toot

That's what my mom always says when somebody is tooting their own horn. "Toot toot."

The school newspaper at Sunnyside is called the Wildcat Word. The issue coming out this week is going to have an article about me. I haven't read it yet so I can't comment on it except to say how good it makes me feel to have the students want to do a feature on me. I'm blessed with some amazing kids and one of the fringe benefits of having all Algebra II and Calculus students is that you get all the Newspaper Editors and Rally Commissioners and Student Body Presidents, etc. in your class. So these kids who have more of a voice will speak out about the teachers they love (and hate). It's wonderful to be loved back.

There was a luncheon today that was special too. Each quarter, kids who are either doing well academically or showing great improvement are invited to a luncheon. Then they get to invite a staff member who has helped them succeed. So today there was such a thing as a free lunch. While we eat, each student--some of them painfully shy, some of them still learning to speak English--stands up and explains why they chose who they chose. If this was a church event, the tears would flow freely. At school we tend to try to keep things together more. For the record, Aaron said he chose me because I've helped him alot and I like Guns and Roses.

So I'm just thinking about that feast we're all going to be invited to someday. When we get some seriously special recognition that we don't even deserve. And how much God wants to stand up and brag on us and show how much He loves us.

Toot toot.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Praying Like A Four-Year-Old

James has discovered some new and unusual uses for prayer.

When we put him to bed at night he always wants to pray first. Often he uses this time as a day-extender. To wit: "...and thank you for my clock, and thank you for my Mickey Mouse drawing, and thank you for...umm...my clock..." Etc.

Sometimes he uses prayer to make a point. One night recently he was throwing a fit about which sheets Lisa put on his bed. He didn't want his Spider-Man sheets but that's what he was getting. He gets very upset about these things when he is very tired. So he prayed, "Thank you for Mommy, thank you for Daddy, thank you I be nice to Tabby (that's a standard), and thank you I don't want my Spider-Man sheets, and thank you..." See? Just throwing it in, seeing if anyone's listening.

Sometimes there's a little chastisement in his prayer. Sunday night, Mom and Rich came over to watch baseball. Rich was there to watch baseball and so James played with Mom most of the night. All of us gathered around his bed for prayers. "Thank you for Mommy, thank you for Daddy, thank you I be nice to Tabby, thank you for Grandma, thank you for Uncle Richard, thank you Uncle Richard not playing with me, thank you Grandma playing with me, ..."

He cracks us up, but sometimes we wonder if he's cracking God up. I think he probably is. Listening to his prayers gives me two thoughts about my own prayer life. There are times when my own prayers sound like an indictment of others, including God Himself. When I put myself above other people, even above God--and admit it, we all do it sometimes--my prayers lose focus and the motives behind them become all wrong. But I also believe that our prayers could loosen up sometimes, that God wants to hear OUR voice, not the voice we think HE wants to hear. We've come a long way from the "guide, guard, and direct us down the uneven pathways of life" prayers that I grew up hearing. I seldom hear a "Thee" or a "Thou" in public prayer anymore. But I really believe that my prayers are the best when they are from the heart, when it is just Steve talking to God.

So I don't correct James very often. I just let him keep on teaching me.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Opening Day, Baby!!!

I would be remiss if I did not post an entry on this, the grandest day of the year. It's Opening Day, BABY!!!

The Yankees just pasted the Red Sox tonight. I'm sure revenge is sweet, but I'm also sure it's going to take them more than one game to get over losing that 3-0 lead last year. Still, the Yankees look like a much better team than the Sox this year. I think Boston had better hope for the Wild Card again.

My favorite part of the game was when Tino Martinez came to the plate late in the game with the Yanks way ahead. The fans went nuts...started chanting "Tino! Tino! Tino!" Those Yankee fans are loyal to those they love. If they DON'T love you though, look out.

I love this game.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Good News/Bad News

The school district passed down its solution to the budget crisis today. It looks like the teachers are going to pay the price again. We knew it would be bad but this is worse than anyone expected. Our health benefits are being cut in half! That amounts to over $400 less a month we'll be seeing now. Lisa and I have been making a lot of cuts lately, but it looks like pre-school is pretty much a thing of the past now for James. Plus, I'll be having to teach summer school and Lisa will probably pick up some extra work. I'm pretty sure we'll have to sell the house too. Fortunately, there are a lot of low-rent apartments right around my school. Sandra and Lex have said that we can have Ashley's room after she goes to college. We'll probably be buying a lot more lottery tickets from now on. We've hit 2 out of 6 quite a few times so we figure any day now....

Isn't God great??? He packed so many extra things into His creation. I love that He created (most of) us with a sense of humor!

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