Why Am I Here?

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. – Mark 16:15 ESV

For several years now, there has been a television commercial that only airs in August which I have found to be rather humorous. It is for an office supply store advertising their “Back to School Sale.” It features two children trailing behind a shopping cart, dragging their feet with the saddest expressions they could muster. Contrasting their sorrow is their father, who is gleefully dancing around the store, tossing school supplies into the cart as they play the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” In spite of its age, I must admit that I still laugh as much today as the first time I saw it. But to be completely truthful, I can see both sides of that equation.

staples-dad-commercial

As a teacher, I often found myself conflicted in August. Like the parent, I was excited about the promise that comes from a new school year: new classes, new students, improved methods, greater skills, and an enthusiasm that comes from doing what I was called to do. But on the flip side, the start of the school year also meant an end of vacations and the return of early mornings, meetings, and a ten month stretch featuring long days, longer to do lists, short attention spans, and shorter levels of rest and patience. This internal struggle would eventually subside, but it often led to a simple question: Why am I here?

I think at one point or another, every teacher questions their effectiveness. Test scores and student confusion can lead us to frustration and doubt. Many teachers take it personally when their work and sacrifices are lost upon students, parents, administrators and colleagues who would rather heap criticism than shoulder burdens or offer solutions. Long hours, low pay, personal attacks, and a general lack of respect for the profession are just a few of the things that make teachers of every subject and grade level question the logic of serving in a classroom.

So why are we here?

Over my career, I’ve been in dozens of different schools. One school in particular, Spiritus Sanctus Academy, a Catholic elementary school located in Plymouth, Michigan, provided the best answer to the question.  As you walk in the main entrance you will see a sign placed prominently outside of the office which reads…

“Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school.  He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes.  He is the model of its faculty, and the inspiration of its students.”

What a clear and beautiful description of why we are all here. God created us in His image, but our sinfulness created a divide between man and its Creator that can only be closed by the love of the risen Christ. So while we might teach four year olds to read, eight year olds to multiply, and sixteen year olds to do research, we must never forget that our true ministry comes from teaching everyone who enters our rooms, our schools and our presence that peace, joy, forgiveness and love can only come from Jesus.

After all, THAT is why we’re here….

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First Light

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. – Psalm 28:7

If you were to ask me to make a list of all of the things I like most about the Spring, it would be a very long list: the warmth of the sun falling on your back as you work outside, trees loaded with buds that blossom and turn to leaves, tulips filling the yard with color, the first fishing trip of the year, a warm breeze clearing out a house filled with the stale air of months of closed windows. In fact, open windows are probably at the top of my list of the things I like about this time of year.

Except…..

I am not troubled with allergies and I like a cool room for sleeping, so open windows in the spring should be a no-brainer. But nighttime has proven difficult lately when it comes to leaving the windows open. It starts with my neighbors; nice people but they leave for work well before I need to wake up, making them the alarm and my clock merely the snooze button. But even they, along with their two kids and dog, are not the culprits that wreak havoc on my slumber. It’s the birds – starting around 3:30 am. A romantic would share with you how beautiful and quaint it is to be welcomed into the day by the songs of birds. A realist would say it’s the early bird who catches the worm. So what does that make me when I’d like to see those birds shut up until they dive bomb my noisy neighbors and let me get a little more sleep?

Of course, this provides me with the chance to think about things I would have never considered had I been allowed to sleep. Things like: so what time does first light actually occur? I know they can track sunrise because that’s a specific occurrence – the moment the sun appears on the horizon. But first light is far more difficult. Light moves to fill darkness – that’s what it does. So long before the sun appears, light has already entered the sky. And light is a relative term. Some might consider the light to be brighter than others (usually most prevalent at night when the golf opponent you are beating declares it too dark to finish the final hole, thus making it a draw). Truth of the matter is, it is nearly impossible to determine in a universally acceptable way when the light of day first appears.

First Light

Life offers similar questions. Think about how many things happen in our lives whose beginnings cannot be seen. At what moment did the first cancer cell develop? At what moment did your best friend turn into the love of your life and then when precisely did that love go sour? At what moment was youth replaced with maturity? At what moment did our temper take over, causing us to say and do irreparably damaging things?

Imagine if there was a way to recognize these moments. If so, would we be able to identify them and respond appropriately to them? Unfortunately, we too often see the results or the consequences well after the fact, unable to change course. And perhaps not knowing may be for the better. The knowledge of how something is going to end may alter the way we look at it and diminish the joy we experience along the way. Either way, we aren’t always able to know when those key moments occur. All we can do is respond accordingly; to put our trust in the strength of our God.

Psalm 28:7 directs us to place our trust in God. For some people, this seems foolish – a silly concept better suited for children who can more easily accept the reassurance of an omnipotent deity over a “real” explanation. Others who do believe will put their faith in God, but only when things are going great or when all hope is lost. Now consider living every day fully trusting in the love and strength of God; relying on Him to guide and direct you in every aspect of your daily life. We need not wait for the highs and lows of life to know the peace that comes from following God’s word and relying upon Him. It is available to us 24 hours a day.

Including the early morning hours as the birds help you seek the answers to life’s big questions.

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An Uphill Climb

As a child, I always enjoyed going to the mall with my mom. Now let me immediately admit there were selfish motivations at play. Yes, I held a little bit of hope that she might buy me something (never a guarantee but it happened often enough to make the trip worthwhile).   And yes, it provided the opportunity to avoid staying home with my dad who enjoyed working far more than shopping. I just liked having the chance to get out of the house and go someplace fun.
One of the greatest places at the mall isn’t a store or a restaurant or even the benches reserved for bored husbands and boyfriends. It’s the escalator. Now the older I get, the more I appreciate the up escalator doing the work for me. But as a kid, the down escalator was far more fun. Picture this: a child standing at the bottom of the escalator waiting for it to be empty (and for no store employees or parents to be watching) and suddenly leaping onto the stairs running feverishly up the down escalator trying to reach the top. I’d like to regale you with stories of successfully reaching the top floor, jumping up and down like Rocky with the music playing in the background. Unfortunately, the attempt usually left me only scaling about three to four steps before I gave up or sheepishly rode back down to the sound of an adult giving me a scolding.

Now let’s suppose that I had been given permission to go up the down escalator. What would it take for me to do it? (Assuming I were still a kid. Nowadays it would require a tow rope)

  • Long strides, skipping two and three steps at a time
  • The speed to be able to leap faster than the stairs were descending

And most importantly…..

  • The endurance to keep going without stopping

Down Escalator
The escalator never stops, so if you pause, even for a moment, you’re going backwards. This is called regression and it is a simple truth that applies to so many things in life. Runners who stop running lose their endurance. Weightlifters who are unable to lift for a time lose strength. Athletes aren’t the only ones who face this. Couples who stop communicating are more susceptible to discord. It’s doesn’t even stop with people. A new car rolling off the dealer’s lot today is beginning a backsliding trek in its performance that will eventually land it in a scrap pile. Regression also occurs in learning. Students who stop reading or computing over the summer will lose ground academically in the fall. Knowing this to be true, some parents will take steps to keep their children academically engaged to help prevent the slide while many teachers plan on several weeks of content review to start the new school year.

It’s frustrating to see learners going in reverse, but imagine the frustration of regressing in an area far more important than academics. For too many of us when it comes to living out our faith, we have been going backward since we were confirmed. Maybe we attend church and Bible study regularly during the school year, but what about June, July & August? Pastor’s sermon from a few weeks ago may provide the perfect perspective for the conversation you need to have with that co-worker, but who can remember all of those details?

Peter knew we’d fall back when he gave us this reminder in 2 Peter 1:5-8. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Building a stronger knowledge of the Scriptures and developing a greater level of comfort in living out our faith will not earn us salvation; Jesus did all of that for us. What it can do is help us to better understand God’s word, provide hope as we rely upon it during the difficult times of our lives, and prepare us to be ready to share it so others can experience what you’ve already come to know; the saving love of God. So no matter how many steps we must climb, we can keep going with the assurance that God will give us a strength that will not be exhausted.

But listen to your mom and don’t play on the escalators!

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Merging

You can learn a lot about people by watching them drive their car.  Some people are self-absorbed and drive like they own the road. More laidback drivers cruise at so leisurely a pace you’d swear they were napping behind the wheel. Drivers who constantly change lanes are indecisive, while those who speed are either impulsive, too busy or just poor managers of time.  And while it may be fun to play this game of “Vehicular Psychology,” there truly are some driving patterns that most people know to be true.

Imagine yourself behind the wheel of your car and you are about to merge onto an interstate highway.  What’s going through your mind?

  • Increasing your speed to make sure you are going fast enough to merge into traffic
  • Looking at the road ahead to see if other, slower vehicles may be in your way
  • Checking the first lane to see if it is clear

merging-39400_640 (2)

All of those things are important, but finding the opening in the first lane of traffic is probably the most critical thing on the list.  You need a gap to merge safely.  Sometimes traffic is light and merging is easy.  But when traffic is heavy, you need to gauge where your opening will come and in some cases you must completely rely upon the kindness of a stranger to create the opening for you and unless you have one of those casual cruisers coming along, this may be harder than you’d think.

I don’t have the statistics to back this up, but it seems to me that the vast majority of American drivers consider the space 100 feet in front of their car to be holy ground or a family heirloom passed down for generations.  We’ve spent so much time and energy choosing this perfect location for driving that we feel nobody should dare interfere. “You are welcome to enter the highway anywhere you like…..as long as it’s behind me.”  This thought process will drive you nuts if you’re in the car trying to merge into traffic, but five miles down the road, you will probably do the exact same thing.  “Nobody let me in, so…”

I hope you have no idea what I am talking about, but I suspect you do.

Inclusion behind the wheel is tough.  We aren’t asking for much, just a little space and the opportunity to get into the flow of traffic.  But the challenges of inclusion are not limited to the highway. Students with special needs in a classroom struggle to be included.  New families into a neighborhood aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Christians are also familiar with these issues. Visitors and new members to churches are more likely to return and become active in congregations where they are assimilated into the life of the church. Those who are left to fend for themselves often leave feeling affirmed that churches are cold and unwelcoming places. Christians are also beginning to find their beliefs less accepted by society and a whole, forcing them to choose between living out their faith or sequestering it to fit in with the crowd.

As believers, Paul’s words in Romans 15:5-7 serve as a great reminder for all of us to work together to create these open spaces for one another.  “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (ESV)” This isn’t telling us to immediately accept anything that comes our way in the name of unity. It is telling us to approach every situation in the same way Christ did. Some believers only want to reach out to other believers in ways that are easy and reinforce their common belief. Some non-believers want Christians to accept sin in the name of choice and diversity. Neither approach mirrors Christ. Jesus was intolerant of sin – He didn’t appreciate it, didn’t approve of it, and certainly didn’t endorse it in any way. What He did do, was to reach out to the people, no matter where they were in life and offer them love, compassion, and the truth. Whatever term you choose; inclusion, merging, collaboration, all comes back to that basic concept of harmony.  God calls us to live in harmony with each of us playing our part.  Wherever the road of life takes you today, know that we are all God’s dearly loved children called to live together in one accord.

Or Camry, or Escape or whatever type of car you’re driving….

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For Your Protection

The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. – Psalm 121:7-8

From time to time, God has a way of putting us in places we’d never seen, doing things we’d never imagined for reasons we’ll never fully understand. All we can do is go, work, and learn.

image

Charity Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan is an amazing place. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the building or the neighborhood. Located at the corner of Kelly and Morang on Detroit’s East Side, Charity appears to be your typical, run of the mill, old church that was once teeming with people now suffering through the social ills that plague many inner cities. But thanks to the efforts of Pastor Steve Essenburg and her members, Charity is a safe harbor in the middle of a storm.

I am blessed to play a small role in this. As lead teacher of iCan – an after school program run in partnership between LSEM and Charity, I am helping provide the children of Charity something they can’t find anywhere else in Detroit: Lutheran Education. We provide homework help, enrichment, and activities in a learning environment centered in Christ. It’s a safe place for the kids, but recently Charity offered a different kind of sanctuary.

A loud banging on the back door took me away from 5th grade math help. As I opened the door, I saw a woman nearly in hysterics. She was wearing a heavy black coat and a stocking cap with the word “Sexy” spelled out in sequins. It was false advertising to say the least. I couldn’t begin to guess her age – everything about her seemed haggard: unkempt clothing, missing teeth, and eyes filled with equal parts of fear and fatigue. “Please let me in,” she begged, “I’ve just been robbed.” It was at this moment I noticed her hand – sliced open and bleeding. Apparently she had her purse stolen and in the fray her hand was cut. I quickly scanned the area outside the door and seeing nobody else nearby, I asked her to come in.” I had no sooner closed the door behind her and she was leaning against me, seeking comfort. I put an arm around her and led her to a bench outside of Pastor’s office.

As all of this is going on, my school administrator’s brain was racing, playing out the scenarios I might be facing and the steps I needed to take to care for this unexpected visitor and the children in my care. Pastor and my teaching assistant were both on the other side of the church with the students, so I wasn’t immediately fearful, but I knew I needed two things to happen: I needed to get the kids to the classroom as far away from this bench as possible, and I needed Pastor to come help. I saw my assistant Denise in the church so I quickly yet quietly told her what was happening, asked her to tend to the kids and above all please get Pastor Steve.

I quickly returned to the woman and noticed she hadn’t calmed down. She’d actually gotten more upset and by the time Pastor arrived she was saying how she needed to come to Jesus. Pastor immediately took command of the situation. He asked her if she needed him to call 9-1-1. She declined, saying she had gotten what she deserved. She went on to share that she had actually left her children at home while she went out to turn a trick so she could afford to buy them food. Her would be business partner turned the tables on her by attacking her and stealing her purse. Now she had nothing and knowing that this was God’s punishment for her sin, she was merely wanting a place to wash her hand and to come to Jesus.

If my administrative mind had been racing before, it suddenly hit overdrive! I immediately began assessing and reassessing the potential threat this was posing for the students. I never questioned the decision to let her in, but I was truly thankful that Pastor was there. He never showed a moment of worry or panic. Instead, he calmly reminded her that she was fortunate that God was with her and saved her from something far worse. He calmed her with his words, prayed for her, and invited her to also consider the church a place where she could return to build a life in Christ for her and her children. She thanked him as she went into the office to clean her wound. Pastor and I stood in the hall, looking at each other. I think he was trying to gauge my response to this just as much as I was gauging his. We both found our answers in one simple statement.

Me: “This is definitely a first for me.”

Pastor answered, but never spoke a word. He simply gave me a look – a raising of the eye to indicate this was far from his first (or last) encounter of this nature. Our visitor emerged from the office more composed, thanked us and left. Neither Pastor Essenburg nor I have seen her since.

I can honestly say I was never scared for my safety in this situation. I knew I had done enough to reasonably assess the risk and made the right choices to help keep me and my students safe. After all, as an educator that was my chief concern in all of this. It wasn’t until my drive home that I realized just how naive I had been. The things I had felt so good about protecting from were the very things that they live with every day of their lives. Last spring, a man driving about a mile east of Charity was pulled from his car after being in an accident and was beaten severely. Last fall, as I was helping that same fifth grade boy with math, a four year old girl was shot and killed within blocks of our classroom. I may have protected them from the woman in the church, but she was their neighbor. Every night at 6:00 pm I send these boys and girls home to loving families surrounded by the sins of a bleak and desperate society. So what protection am I actually giving?

Me? Very Little.

God? All of the above?

Psalm 121 offers reminders of the safety and protection we receive as God’s dearly loved creation. In fact, God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of all mankind so that we may believe in Him. My job at Charity is to teach my students more about the world, but more importantly about the One who created, redeemed, and sanctifies the world. In doing so, the promises that God makes to His children are now being shared with students who truly need to hear them. God knows the dangers they face everyday. God knows how to calm their fears and give them the peace that comes from the sure knowledge that God is with them, keeping His promises to them every day of their lives.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7

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An Election Carol

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose – Romans 8:28

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

election-box

T’was the day after voting on Facebook and Twitter,
Some people are gloating while others are bitter.

Some see the election as a positive trend
While others lament our society’s end.

The boasting and grumbling will get pretty bad,
In my mind it’s worse than political ads.

So keep some perspective, and please don’t forget
That God’s still in charge and He’s not finished yet.

The Bible extols us: be strong and not scared,
For wherever we go, God is already there.

In Him, all things work together for good
And align with His purposes, just as they should.

So win, lose or draw, God still has a plan,
To give hope and a future to every man.

Stay strong in the Lord, His love knows no end.
We’ll need it in two years when we go vote again.

 

Image credit:  http://www.theforgivenessfoundation.org/index.php/40-news/general/2498-go-vote-on-election-day

 

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Amiracle

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” – Psalm 107:28-30

I left work on Thursday, October 16, 2014 in a bit of a hurry. My wife Linda had suggested we go out to dinner and after a long week I was excited at the prospects of a date night. It had been a typical day at Charity Lutheran Church in Detroit. My assistant Denise Sanders and I had tutored about ten students from 3:00 to 6:00 pm while Pastor Essenburg busied himself cutting dozens and dozens of small PVC pipes (it seemed odd at the time, but I figured he had a reason).

I pulled out of the parking lot of Charity, turning left to travel southwest on Kelly Road. Detroit has picked up rain every day this week, leaving a small pond of standing water on the road in front of Denby High School. Having dodged “Lake Denby,” I hit the speed dial on my phone and prepared to talk to my wife as I made my way home.

Moments later, I came to the corner of Kelly and Hayes. As I approached the angled intersection, I noticed that southbound traffic was crawling. My first inclination was to find another route; I had passed a construction zone on Hayes as I drove to Charity, so I assumed that there was a backup due to orange barrels or a power outage. But as I waited at the light, I noticed the right lane was moving better than the left, so with no better option I made the turn.

Once I was around the corner I immediately understood the backup. To my left, there were cars parked along the side of the road, in every driveway and even in the aforementioned left lane. There were also three vans from local television stations parked alongside half a dozen scattered Detroit police cruisers. One block down the road I saw that Mogul Street was blocked off with yellow tape. A throng of stunned onlookers were taking in the scene as several people I assumed to be detectives were talking beyond the tape. I described what I was seeing to Linda who began to check the TV and Internet for information. A few moments later, Linda read to me this story she found online.

Four people had been shot. One of the four, a 3 year-old girl named Amiracle Williams had died at the hospital from a gunshot wound to the chest. As she read on, Linda explained that the first shooting had occurred at Denby High School. From there, the suspects traveled to this neighborhood south of the school. Denby High – just across the parking lot from where I had been helping children not much older than Amiracle learn how to form letters and multiply numbers.

I went about the rest of my evening as previously planned; a nice dinner and a wonderful conversation with Linda, followed by a little work while emptying the DVR. My mind, however, kept flashing back to the events of the day. I considered the close proximity to my classroom, but thought much more about Amiracle. Thursday October 16, 2014 should have been nothing more than a typical day of play and discovery. Now it will be the end date on her headstone. But even more pressing than all of that was the question; was October 16, 2014 the day she ran into the arms of Jesus? I pray that it was, but while my ministry was working to make a difference in that community, I didn’t know Amiracle.

It was at that moment I knew I would write about this, but for some odd reason I decided to go to bed, get up early and write about it in the morning. So this morning, Friday, October 17, I woke up ahead of the alarm and began to check messages prior to writing this post. As I skimmed Facebook, I discovered a post from the Michigan District – LCMS that blew my mind.

Charity Facebook

Am I suggesting that God knew what would be happening prior to the events of the day? Am I saying that He used Seth Hinz at the District office, convincing him to send out this message on the same day tragedy would strike the very community Charity is working to save? Am I claiming that the prayers lifted for this ministry by unknowing believers from across the state helped keep it safe yesterday with danger only yards away? Did those same prayers for the community also have the power to have kept others safe and possibly brought the love of Christ into the lives of the people involved in the tragedy?

In a word, yes.

Thank you for the dedicated prayer warriors who lift up ministers, teachers, ministries and communities every day. You may never know the impact you have upon the people you support, but God does. His will is done with or without our speaking it, but your faithful support brings encouragement that makes the work that needs to be done possible. So join me in praising God for His blessings, or as Paul instructed the Romans, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Continue to lift up the family of Amiracle Williams and everyone impacted by her senseless killing. Also keep Charity Lutheran and Pastor Steve Essenburg in your prayers in the coming days. Having seen the crosses on the lawn in the picture, his peculiar project suddenly made sobering sense.

Because now he has one more cross to make…

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The Powerful Play Goes On

Back during my younger years, I wasn’t much of a reader. In fact, I only read four books when I was a kid. I always thought reading was passive. I had places to go and things to do. Even in school, I was always smart enough to get by without reading the texts. This helped develop a motto: “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your baloney.”

My crowning under-achievement in this area came in college when a friend and I embarked upon writing papers for a Shakespeare class we were taking. My friend, who we will call Peter (because that is his name), chose to write about the mystical elements in the forests of several of Shakespeare’s comedies. He worked diligently on this paper for weeks. I remember standing with him in an office supply store for thirty minutes as he looked for the perfect report cover for his paper. He finally selected something in a pale green with slanted vertical lines that depicted an abstract view of the forests he had written about. His report was done at least a week before the due date, allowing for numerous revisions and improvements before it would be turned in with much pomp and fanfare.

I took a slightly different approach.

My topic was a compare and contrast of three motion picture depictions of the character of Hamlet. The day before the paper was due, I watched the videos and after a short nap, I pulled an all-nighter, finished the paper during the time that the class was meeting. After printing it on a dot-matrix printer with an extremely faded ribbon (that’s like low ink for the younger crowd), I slammed a staple into the top left corner of the document, popped a baseball cap on my head and got to class five minutes before it ended but four minutes and fifty-nine seconds before the paper was due.

Some time later, Peter and I had the opportunity to travel with this professor and a group of people to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada to watch a Shakespearean play. As we got into a car, the professor returned our papers. Peter nearly ripped his beautiful cover off to get to his comments and the grade. He paused for a moment as he read each point offered by the professor and felt a tinge of disappointment when he saw the letter “B” at the bottom. I can’t put into words what he felt when he looked at me with my paper flipped back on the staple and a large letter “A” staring him in the face.

He is bitter to this day but has made great strides in therapy.

I tell you this to highlight the importance of watching movies. Once Peter learned this, we got along swimmingly. In fact, one of our favorites was the 1989 Peter Weir film, Dead Poets Society. It’s the inspiring story of Mr. John Keating, a teacher played by Robin Williams who gets fired from a teaching job for no good reason (total fiction – we all know that NEVER happens). In the movie, Mr. Keating brings his unconventional methods of teaching English to a New England boarding school. He is not a good fit for the institution, but he manages to make a connection with several students who learn to seize the days of their lives through the Latin phrase, “Carpe Diem.” I had used a few clips of the film to highlight effective and ineffective teaching in a Foundations of Education course I used to teach, but I hadn’t seen the entire film since sitting in Peter’s dorm room over twenty years ago. But recently I recorded the movie to watch with my high school son who reads much more than me but still likes a good film. That’s when I stumbled back upon one of my all-time favorite movie lines.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Or for those of you who’d rather hear the dramatic delivery, or who share my “love” of reading, here’s a YouTube link to the movie clip.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=R_zsMwCOoEs

pad and pen

If you’ve read my posts, you’ll know that I love it when writers preach the Gospel without realizing it. That’s because God places His love throughout creation – even in the pages of a movie script. Keating’s statement begins by searching for the reasons we read and write poetry. He concludes with the basic human connection to love. The Scriptures are not only filled with verses that explain the source of love is God, but they also tell us clearly that God IS love. We read and write poetry to express in our own meager ways those things God has done and continues to do for us daily.

Keating next quotes Whitman to demonstrate the lost nature of a life without poetry – without love. A life among the faithless and foolish is unfulfilling. So with that established, Keating offers an answer for the students to consider.

“That the powerful play goes on and you might contribute a verse.”

This sounds impressive and to some it might be daunting, but consider it within the proper perspective. The story of life in the heavens and on the earth is not ours to write. We are neither the author nor the owner of our lives. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” My choices don’t simply affect me and nobody else. The things I have said and done over the course of my life have left an indelible impression on the lives of thousands, many of whom I will never know. That’s because God takes the verse I contribute and in spite of its imperfections turns it into something more beautiful than any poem ever penned.

What will your verse be?

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________ Bless America

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. – Proverbs 4:1

When I was four years old my family took a vacation to visit relatives in Colorado. Being very young, I don’t remember all of the details of the trip, but I do remember an interesting exchange I had with my father while swimming. We went to a beach on a lake. Like many public beaches, there was an area roped off for swimming. The ropes marked areas of shallow water, deeper water, and the waters that were off-limits. Being at an age where I wanted to show everyone just how big I was, I told my dad that I wanted to swim out to touch the rope at the edge of the swimming area. With his consent we swam out together, although a more accurate way to describe it would be he held onto me as we swam out toward the rope.

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If I were to see that same swimming area today, I would probably be disappointed by how short a distance I actually went, but as a four year old it felt like I had swum a mile. What I do know was that as I approached the rope the water had become deep enough for me to be unable to touch the bottom without being in way over my head. Thankfully that didn’t matter as my father’s arms were keeping me safely on the surface of the water. We finally reached the rope where I victoriously took possession of my prize. I was pleased, but not satisfied. Wanting to show everyone just how big I was and believing that the rope would support me, I looked at my father and said, “Okay, you can let go now.”

I’ll let you guess what he did, but here’s a hint: I’m still alive.

Fathers have an uncanny ability to know what to do, even when their children do not. It’s not hard for me to imagine what would have happened to me had I insisted on doing it my way without his intervention. I am thankful that he ignored my protests and safely returned me to the shore.

Because I can clearly see the benefit of following the direction of my father, it is not difficult to draw the comparison between my earthly father and my heavenly Father. God has given his children many instructions for life; directions for us to follow that will offer us safety, prosperity, and blessings. On the surface it seems simple, do what He says and things will work out. But like most things in life, people have a knack for complication. Like a four year old, we think we can do it on our own. We claim to be capable of doing things on our own. We bristle at the thought of anyone or anything taking credit for our accomplishments and will fight if in some small way we feel something is infringing upon or rights.

It’s basic human nature I suppose. We don’t like it when someone tells us what to do. We feel we are capable of making our own decisions and doing things our own way. But when making any decision, the decision maker must be fully prepared to deal with the full brunt of the consequences that come with the decision. It’s has nothing to do with our rights and everything to do with either subjecting ourselves to the wisdom of others or having the means to pay the full price for the choice. Had I been given my way, my life would have ended many years ago in a lake in Colorado. Knowing better, my dad took away my choice and I am the better for it.

God is our creator, our strength and our source. He provides for us everything we need to live full lives that maximize the blessings He alone can provide. Unfortunately, more and more people reject that notion and feel that they possess the skills and abilities to fully manage their lives. Some compromise the role that God plays in their lives, minimizing Him to be little more than a fairy tale. Other dismiss the notion of God’s very existence with some taking it so far as to mock and ridicule Christians as simpletons and bigots who hypocritically seek to steal the joy of others.

I am frustrated by this for many reasons, but instead of drawing a line in the sand and pick a fight I will choose to follow God’s example and continue to show love to those who disagree. God has not chosen to abandon us. The forgiveness and salvation that comes through the sacrifice of Christ is still as relevant and available to us today as it was 2,000 years ago. Because His offer still stands, I too will continue to seek His will so that I might demonstrate the fullness of the blessings that come through living a life according to God’s will.

Photo Credit: http://lakegastontoday.net/index162.htm

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Nowhere Else to Go

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

As a student of history and as a leader, I have long admired Abraham Lincoln. He was an extraordinary yet common man whose accomplishments deserve every bit of the credit he has received. One quote of his has long stuck with me; a reminder of what to do when the world seems to be crashing down – an all too common occurrence for Lincoln. “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” We’ve all been there from time to time.

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December 12, 2012 was one of those days that most people remember for the novelty of the date: 12/12/12. Any novelty the day possessed wore off for me early that afternoon as I sat working in my office. It was the Wednesday of finals week at Concordia, Ann Arbor. I had a few hours to get some grading done while I waited for an afternoon faculty meeting. Dr. Uden, the dean from the school of education at Concordia Wisconsin, was in town for the end of the semester. He scheduled a brief meeting with me for that afternoon. I sat in my office awaiting his arrival. He was late – a trademark of every meeting he held with us at CUAA. But I didn’t mind – I understood his overbooked schedule and I had plenty of work to do as I waited. He finally arrived, apologized for being late and got right to the point.

We appreciate the work you have done for the university, but it has been decided that the university will not be renewing your contract.

To type this even now brings back the wave of emotions that hit me in that moment. I had never been fired before, so I found myself trying to wrap my mind around what was happening. I had done my job to the best of my abilities. I had never received a negative review from anyone who had observed me. The only explanation I was given was that I had never taught in a high school setting. My twelve years of experience as a middle school teacher (considered secondary by both the state of Michigan and Wisconsin) didn’t matter. My experience and performance in the position didn’t matter. A nearly twenty year relationship with my alma mater didn’t matter. I didn’t matter.

Since that day, I have done my best to look forward to what God has in store for me, all the while keeping up a front that would not lead others to believe that anything was wrong – that the merger of CUAA with CUW was going fine and that the future was nothing but bright. Maybe it is, but I’ve learned that some lights only illuminate those things at which they’re pointed. I have kept quiet, trusting in two basic truths.

1. CUW spent a great deal of money to acquire CUAA, so they can hire whomever they want to do my job.
2. My trust is in the Lord. He is my hope, my strength and my future.

Over the past several months, I have searched to find what God has in store for me as I leave CUAA. Dozens of applications have led to only a handful of interviews and no job offers. So as I come to the end of my contract with no job and no strong leads, I once again must turn to the one and only place I can find reassurance for a very uncertain future. Moving forward, I find comfort in the words of Christ spoken in John 14:27.

On first glance, the promise of peace and the directive to not be afraid stands out. But what strikes a chord with me most is the sentence in between – “Not as the world gives do I give you.” By worldly standards, I can make a strong case for having been mistreated. Those closest to me can attest that I have had ups and downs that have left me puzzled and angry. But in spite of what I may perceive when comparing my situation with that of others, Christ reminds me that my situation is unique because His love for me is unique and deep enough to see me through this desert to the place He is leading. Until then, I will put my trust in Him.

Where else do I have to go?

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln

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