Thursday, May 31, 2007

Calcfest 2007!

Cecil wrote recently about his observations of 17-year-old young men at his son's birthday party. Last night, I had a similar opportunity as 25 17-and 18-year-old Calculus students descended upon my house for CALCFEST 2007!

This is the third time we've hosted the Calc kids at the end of the school year. We've found that if you put out enough pizza, soda, cookies, and games, that everything else pretty much takes care of itself. All you have to do is join in the fun. And watch 'em go.

As Cecil noted, cell phones and iPods are the order of the day. But think about it. When you were that age, if you could have brought all of your music and all of your friends with you wherever you go, you would have too. Right? So ring tones are constant and there are a dozen different songs playing at once.

And if you have any video games, they will find them.

James was in heaven. 25 new playmates all at once. He showed off his room, his trophies, his...stuff. And, as always, they were great about letting him join in all the fun. James gravitated towards the girls. One in particular had him gabbing uncontrollably. I'm sure it was just the tiniest taste of what's to come. Fathers of boys, I will be needing your advice in the years ahead and, from the looks of things, sooner rather than later.

Outside of the classroom, kids are more themselves. They are more willing to talk freely and it's quite obvious who is with whom. It's a little sad that, just as they are about to graduate and learn their way towards changing the world, I first get a glimpse of who they really are.

After 7 pizzas, two bags of chips, 7 bottles of soda, cookies galore, one group game, two rounds of Scattergories, untold sessions of Madden Football, and assorted groupings of cards and Pictionary, I finally chased the last group out. I love the end of the school year and I look forward to summer as much as anybody, more than most. But I will always have those kids whom I hate to see leave. It's great to be able to have a sendoff for them. Even if I did lose at Scattergories. Twice.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Broom, please.

May I just take a moment to say how much I love...



...sweeping the Yankees?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Almost anybody involved in ministry for any length of time has experienced burnout. College is going through a rash of it right now and, for once, I'm not one of the "burn-ees." I started teaching a series on Sunday and it's the first time in over a year that I've taught class. I'm excited about the summer pulpit curriculum and the Shepherding Group classes that will be aligned with it. No, the burnout I'm currently suffering from is everybody else's.

Okay, not everybody. That's an absolute and, as an old English-teacher buddy of mine used to say, "I never use absolutes." Still, there are a lot of people at College who are just plain tired.

During Monday's Worship Committee meeting, we talked about the possibility of having a class on Wednesday night tie into our Sunday curriculum. The problem is that there won't be anyone to teach the children on Wednesday night, so the only people that could attend would be those without kids or those who could make other arrangements for their kids. As of Sunday, there were exactly two people signed up to teach the children's classes on Sunday morning during the coming quarter. And, after making 50 phone calls to find people to help with VBS, my hard-working wife had one...yes one...helper.

This isn't a slam on College folks. They work harder than any group I know. In fact, during last year's VBS we came very close to a one-to-one ratio of workers to kids. Nearly 150 people were helping, and that's from a congregation that has dwindled into the 300's.

No, the problem isn't attitude or dedication or elbow grease. The problem is numbers. The dwindling size of the church is catching up to us. We have a far higher percentage of involved members than any church I know, but those same people can't keep doing all the work. They need others to step up. Or, ideally, we need new blood. Sadly, College isn't attracting much of that, hasn't for some time, and has struggled to hold on to the few new folks who find their way to us.

Our summer series is about prayer and I trust that our church will devote itself to the topic and the practice. We need prayer now more than ever. Prayer for growth. Prayer for creativity. Prayer for missional attitudes. Prayer for perseverance and patience. Prayer for open minds and hearts.

I have some ideas about why our numbers are so low and about how to increase them. But a blog is a very public place, isn't it? And I would hate to offend people I love dearly. But, of course, if anybody were to ask me, y'know, one-on-one, I'd be happy to share. And, as always, I covet prayer on our behalf.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aquarium Pictures

The picture from my last post was taken from the Official Monterey Bay Aquarium Website. I went through about fifteen until I found that one. It was the first picture that I deemed "blog-worthy." I think the pictures Lisa took are better. What do you think?

OK, I'll admit that I took one of them. Can you guess which?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


On Saturday, we drove to Monterey. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and I could actually smell the ocean. I'm still filing all of these wonderful scents under "Don't Take It For Granted." We walked down Cannery Row to the Aquarium, arriving around lunchtime. James' eyes were wide as we walked through the jellyfish exhibit. He had lots of questions about them, mostly having to do with their stingers. I realized that all of James' knowledge about marine life comes from "Finding Nemo."

We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Aquarium Restaurant. Fish and chips always taste better when you eat them by the Pacific Ocean. Then it was time to really focus on all the exhibits. James spent a little time at every window before asking what was next. He had a great time looking at octopi and crabs and penguins and otters and sharks and rays and fish of every shape and size. He had at least as much fun, if not more, pressing all the buttons and pulling all the levers at the many interactive displays. James is, in every way, a 6-year-old boy.

The focus of the day seemed to be Petting The Stingrays. Since learning that we were going to the Aquarium, James had talked about Petting The Stingrays about 45 times a day. On the drive to Monterey, he brought it up 8 or 9 times. And, of course, when we finally got to the spot where you can Pet The Stingrays, the stingrays (which were actually batrays) were having none of it. They were huddled in a corner, apparently tired of being petted. James took it pretty well and we promised to go back and try again before we left. We had to go back twice before the rays were in a petting mood, but he did finally get his hand on one. Triumph!

It was a wonderful day. Sunday had its own high point as we got to see The African Children's Choir one last time. They did a short program at a Community Church in Monterey and we stuck around long enough for one more hug from our girls. Marjory and Travisan were glad to see us. Travi asked if they were going to see us again, and why not since we seemed to have been following them everywhere. But we had to tell her that this was probably it. That made us sad but we were so grateful that God put us in the same place and we told them that we would always think of them and be praying for them. And who knows? God may have one or two more surprises for us all.

Sometimes I feel like I have to look hard for God's blessings. But this weekend they were obvious and plentiful. I felt the warmth of His sun and was awed by the size of the ocean. I saw His beauty and creativity in the creatures of the sea. I was blessed by His surprises when I got to enjoy the songs and hugs of the choir again. And I was so grateful for my loving family as we shared time together.

"May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and
earth. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has
given to man."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I Don't Have An Accent

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Teaching the Test

I did my student teaching in a nearby school district that is famous for having a single academic goal for all its students: performing well on the state test. Comprehension, excitement for the subject matter, depth & breadth, knowing students' names...all of these were secondary to being ready for the state test. All department exams were coordinated and presented to look like those year-end exams and it was hammered home at every opportunity.

Needless to say, that district leads all surrounding districts in performance on state tests. And, over the years, families have fled our district to go where they perceived the teaching to be better. Thus Fresno Unified has lost its best students in a vicious cycle of epic proportions.

I wouldn't last a day in that district.

In fact, I interviewed for a job there about 20 years ago. After a three-hour interview, during which I spoke probably 100 words while the principal pontificated on "The Spartan Philosophy," I called the district office and withdrew my application. We got along about as well as Batman and the Joker. And, yes, I am the Joker in that analogy.

AP classes are a little different. Passing the test is the point of the class. The test is where students earn college credit. So, sure, we have fun along the way and I color outside the lines from time to time...but I do my best to make sure my kids pass that test. At least I'm not as bad as one of my nephew's AP teachers, who gives so much homework and is so demanding that his students hate his class (and, yeah, him)...all in an effort to have them ready to take three (count 'em, 3!) AP tests. The man should be both drawn and quartered. Perhaps eighthed.

Judging from the looks of them yesterday, I don't think many of my kids passed. But that's okay too. I encourage all of my Calculus students to retake the class in college. It's an easy "A" for most of them and the depth of their comprehension becomes far greater. So, whether or not they passed that monster of a test, they all learned a great deal, worked hard, and can now breathe a sigh of relief and start getting ready for college.

Here's the thing though. It's not just school districts and overly ambitious AP teachers that are guilty of teaching the test. We've done it, and still do it, in the church as well. I remember being in many a Sunday School class where I would have sworn there was going to be a test at the end of it. And I have known plenty of people who live their lives, and treat others, as though there was going to be one whopper of an exam just outside the pearly gates.

St. Peter: "Ooooooooooohhhhh, that's too bad, Mr. Jones. The answer we were looking for on Question #113 was 'transignification' not 'transubstantiation.' Eternal damnation awaits."

Last night, we drove to Madera to see The African Children's Choir perform. Yes, we got smiles and waves and hugs from our girls. Travisan even seemed distracted a couple of times on stage as she looked out to be sure we were watching her. It was such a great joy to get to see them again. While we were there, Ray, the bus driver, told us that they were going to be in Monterey Saturday and Sunday. Since we were already headed there...James has an appointment with some otters at the Aquarium...we may just get to see them one more time. God is good.

Why the digression? Because the church we met there was raw. It was obvious that most of the people there didn't know how to "do church" right. It was noisy, the kids were running everywhere, the men in charge of the collection got up at the wrong time and actually shouted instructions back and forth at each other while the choir was singing.

It was wonderful.

Here were people that were not raised in the church. Their passion for Christ came from a very real acknowledgment of their salvation. The words overheard before the performance were not "redemption" and "sanctification" but "praise" and "sobriety." Here was a place where people knew what it was like to be lost and, better, what it was like to be found. If St. Peter gave them a scantron sheet, they would bubble in a happy face and turn it back in.

The real test is in how we treat people like this, in how we see them. Are they distractions that keep us from what we consider the "real work" of the kingdom? Or are they the kingdom? Just where does the love of God end? The more time I spend in the Word, the more time I spend in the world, the more time I spend with the church...the whole church...the more I realize how much I have to learn. And how much people like those I met last night have to teach me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Anxiety! Pressure!

Actually "AP" stands for Advanced Placement. But today it's more like "Ack! Panic!"

Tomorrow is the AP test for Calculus. We've been working towards this all year. All of my kids are doing their last minute preparation.

Yesterday I received an e-mail that my course syllabus for next year was not approved and will have to be revised.

This morning I received an e-mail that I must attend a "mandatory" 7-day training session. I have my choice of doing it over the next two weeks, thus missing class time, or during summer. The surgery put my classes way behind schedule so doing it during the school year is not an option. And giving up two weeks of a busy two-month summer doesn't exactly float my boat either.

In all of my Anxiety and Panic, my Algebra II classes have been woefully neglected. I need to type up an exam for them by tomorrow.

I can't wait to sit down, relax, and utter an "Ahhhhhh.... Phew!"

Friday, May 04, 2007

Gettin' My Spidey On

Spider-Man 3 opens today, heralding the beginning of the 2007 Summer Movie Season. Sure, there's a lot to look forward to this year, especially if you loves you some sequels. Spidey, Shrek, Pirates, Potter...Ocean's 13...FF 2...Evan Almighty...Die Hard IV...Bourne Ultimatum. Even the "non-sequels" have well-known histories (a Simpsons movie??). Not much in the way of originality on the way.

Precious little next year too. And yet here I stand, on the precipice of my beloved Summer Movie Season, looking forward to 2008!

After all, that's when "Iron Man" hits the screens!

And he's not alone. If it's superheroes you like, then 2008 has far more to offer you than 2007. How about Wolverine on his own? (And dozens of Hugh Jackman lovin' women folk just swooned) Or Wonder Woman? Another try for the Hulk, starting from scratch, thank goodness? Or Christian Bale back as Batman? Yeah, not bad.

And it's not just about supertypes. There's also Steve Carrell as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of Control in "Get Smart." Or Daniel Craig's second go-around as Bond. Or yet another Potter movie, this time adapting a book I actually enjoyed.

But let's be honest. there are really only two reasons that I'm so much more eager for '08 movies than '07 movies.


What with "BSG" off the air until 2008 and only three more episodes of "Lost" until the same year, maybe I should just find me a nice hibernation chamber somewhere and rent this summer's movies when I get out. Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Death of Isaac

"Abraham" by Bruce Feiler is subtitled "A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths." Feiler does a good job (at least, so far) of portraying the traditions and beliefs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in regards to Abraham. There is a great deal that is similar. And some startling differences.

The story of Abraham's offering of Isaac is central to the story in all three faiths. But questions abound as traditions grow and change. The account seems straightforward. God calls Abraham to sacrifice his "only" son (a description I've always found interesting because, after all, Isaac wasn't his only son). Abraham goes so far as to bind Isaac and pick up the knife. An angel stops the sacrifice and God provides a ram as a substitute for the son. Is there intent on Abraham's part to go through with it, or is he sure that God will stay his hand? Is Abraham actually testing God? What is Isaac's part in this? It's doubtful that he was a young boy. Some commentators put him in his thirties, some at 33 (!). This story is full of questions. But here are some from other traditions that I never considered.

Did Isaac die? One tradition holds that Abraham went through with the sacrifice and Isaac returned from death. Remarkably, it was the Jews who provided this theory. Even more remarkably, they held that Isaac was dead for three days before coming back! How much of this was a result of the Jewish leaders trying to wrest back a faith that they felt was being usurped by upstart Christians? Odd though that by making Isaac even more of a prefigurement of Christ, the Jews put forth a story that strengthened Jesus' messianic claim.

Here's an even further stretch: Was it Ishmael who was offered up rather than Isaac? This is (predictably) a claim put forth by Muslims and the support for it is found exclusively in their stories passed down through generations, changing as they go. Before we scoff too loudly at this though, we must consider how many of our Biblical interpretations have solidified in such a way.

If nothing else, these questions make us look at the story again and ask our own questions. And, as always, they make us think about what the story has to say to us. Do we have the faith of Abraham?

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