Thursday, January 19, 2006

That They May Be One

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday. For anyone unfamiliar with the event, you may want to check out something about it on the web. I found a pretty good explanation and history of it here:

http://www.geii.org/background/bh-eng.index.htm

Pope Benedict spoke of the importance of Christian unity in his audience address yesterday. He concluded with greetings to the audience in different languages. In English, he said:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a time when all the Lord's followers are asked to reflect on the tragedy of their divisions and to pray with the Lord "that all might be one… that the world may believe" (cf. John 17:21).

Prayer for Christian unity is the "heart of the ecumenical movement" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8), and is closely linked to conversion of heart and the pursuit of holiness in obedience to God's will. As believers draw closer to the Triune God, they will draw closer to one another and work more readily for the restoration of full communion.

The common prayer of Christians is a powerful means of imploring the grace of unity, since our Lord himself has promised that "if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:19-20).

With gratitude to God for the significant ecumenical progress already made, let us look with hope to the future, and continue our prayers for the unity of all Christians, recognizing that ultimately it is God's gracious gift.

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, and in particular to the groups from Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.”

The short statement is packed with ideas that seem worth reflecting on. But it’s the first paragraph that struck me most. Who can disagree that the magnitude and fervor of division within Christianity is anything but a tragedy, especially in light of Christ’s prayer? Beyond that, Christian unity seems to be an integral part of our mission to evangelize (“that the world may believe”). Division in the church is a scandal to non-believers, and an impediment to effective evangelization. Most serious Christians have likely experienced this in some way.

Every Christian, I hope, will take this week of prayer seriously. The solution isn’t easy or quick, but it begins with our recognizing the problem, and praying sincerely for the light and the grace to help us to move toward the peace and unity Christ wanted for his church.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Coming of The Energy Leeches!

Well, I'm sure that all five of the devoted fans of The Furrow have been on the edges of their seats, waiting in anticipation for this month's issue. Considering the breath-taking cliff-hanger that was the last issue, how couldn't they be?

Fans will recall that last month, their normally unshakable second-grade teacher-hero (me) found himself, defenses down, struggling against the unrelenting onslaught of twenty energy-leeches. Readers were left to wonder: Would their hero survive, or would he become another second-grade teacher casualty? The situation looked grim indeed.

Friday:

The temptation to give in was strong, but the weekend was close. The thought gave me hope. It was enough to stir up the bit of strength that remained within me. Still, many of the devices, such as promised rewards, or threatened recess detentions no longer seemed to have an effect on the now frenzied creatures. What could I do? Then an idea came—one that I thought just might work…

With report cards and parent conferences coming up, I had something to hold against my students. No matter how bad they’ve been throughout the quarter, children believe that everything can be made up for with a couple days’ good behavior. Simply reminding my second-graders of the upcoming events was surprisingly effective in pacifying them. They didn’t attempt to resist this strange new defense. It was enough to survive another day, and to make it to the weekend.

Monday:

Like Samson in the camp of the Philistines, I found that much of my former strength had returned to me. It’s amazing what a weekend can do. With my defenses restored, I was ready to get through the following month.

The last couple weeks have found me fighting to finish report cards, clashing to get through after-school conferences, and battling to survive a Saturday training. It was one of the busiest of times for me in quite a while.

Then it all ended, just like that. I started my vacation today. My only challenge now is figuring out what to do with the four weeks of downtime. Putting up another post here was a good start to what I hope will be a productive (but happy) break.

Next Issue-

Enter: The Sloth!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Spent!

Second-Graders have the superhuman ability to drain an adult’s energy. Second-grade teachers are people who have been granted extraordinary resistance to this power. Few possess such resistance, really, and many who enter the profession soon discover that they do not bear this gift. In the five years that I’ve been a teacher at West Randall, I’ve seen seven teachers leave second-grade. Less than half our team is as it was when I came. Many have fallen, but I am not one of them. I have the gift.

For all their capacity to resist the energy-sucking power of second-graders, though, even the mightiest teachers occasionally find their defenses giving way. It was one of those days for me. My class had me against the ropes. That, and the fact that it’s been a busy week with lots of meetings and testing. Well…

I’m spent!

I feel like I have nothing left to give—not an ounce of energy in my body. If I search deep within me, maybe I’ll find some hidden strength to get me through another day. At least tomorrow is Friday.

Must…carry…on…


Will our not-so-friendly-neighborhood teacher survive?

Or will the hordes of energy-leeches finally do him in?

Find out in the next issue of The Furrow!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

News from School

The second grade team sort of decided I should be team leader this year. I still can’t figure out how, but I told them I’d accept anyway, under one condition—I get to wear a special hat to team meetings. I’ve yet to buy the hat. Maybe those of you who read this blog can offer some suggestions as to what sort of hat it should be.

Anyway, the real perk for the job is that I get a small stipend. The duties entail: organizing part of the agenda for the second grade team-level meeting (on the second Wednesday of each month), attending an extra “grade-level chairperson” meeting at the end of the month, and basically acting as a liaison between the second-grade teachers and the principal. So far, I’m enjoying the new role. I really like helping out my co-workers, and I get along well with everyone on our team. They’re a nice group of folks.

Our principal, Mr. Martin, is a real people-person—very easy to talk to. And I’m finding out we have a lot in common. For example, he’s a new dad. He and his wife had their first child(a son) about the same time we had Lucy. Mr. Martin plays guitar (and several other instruments to boot). Nick and I jammed with him one afternoon—a surreal experience ‘dat. A couple weeks ago, I found out he also played D&D as a kid. It came up in passing and, well, I didn’t mention that I’d also played. Maybe if it comes up again…

In today’s meeting, we received some exciting news regarding the state test results this year. Our second grade made its growth target in both language arts and math. We were the only grade level at our school to have made target growth in both areas (the other grade levels also progressed, but not enough to have made the very high target growth mark for this year). It was quite an achievement for our team, and we were thrilled. Sheesh, sometimes you just need that sort of news to keep motivated (though it sets a very high standard for us to maintain for this year, for sure).

Hm…

Other than that, I’ve been playing guitar quite a bit during my spare-time (which I seem to have had more of than usual). I’m starting to learn the straight minor scale (as opposed to the minor pentatonic scale). I’ve been trying to improve my backwards sweep-picking, and toying with hybrid-picking. I’ve also been practicing a lot of songs. You can really learn a lot by just playing songs you hear on the radio. Audacity is, among other things, a great tool for learning to play songs from a CD. I use it to record a portion of a song I’m trying to learn, slow it down to a speed that’s manageable to play, and repeat the part several times so that I can practice playing it over and over. Once I get it down at a slow speed, I just speed it up a bit, continuing to do so until I can play it at normal speed (which doesn’t always happen). Still, it’s fun, and a great way to learn.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Parents' Night Out

Melissa and I went to see Los Lonely Boys last night at the Greek Theater in Hollywood. It's the first rock concert we've been to together. Melissa ordered the tickets months ago for our anniversary. My parents watched the kids for us, and off we went.

The guitar player for Los Lonely Boys, Henry Garza, is a real wiz--a perfect hybrid of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana. In fact, each of the brothers is a talented instrumentalist. Their vocal harmonies are also impeccable. It's an amazing thing to watch only three guys produce such great music. Needless to say, the concert was a real treat. We both enjoyed it a ton. If you haven't heard of Los Lonely Boys, check them out online either at their website www.loslonelyboys.org, or at Amazon.com.

I had hoped to obtain seats for another concert this weekend. John Mayer will be playing at the House of Blues in September. Tickets went on sale Saturday morning at 10:00 at the incredible price of only $38. I logged on to purchase them at 10:07, and they were already sold out. Melissa logged onto E-Bay this morning and announced, "Well, now I know where all the tickets went." 73 scalpers were selling the tickets they had obtained the previous day. Prices ranged from $120-$180. I can't believe people do things like that...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Retreat!

Retreat! That’s right, escape from the cares of the world, and head for the hills for some quiet, reflective time. Monday evening through Thursday afternoon found me retreating to beautiful Thomas Aquinas College, in the quiet hills above the town of Santa Paula, in Ventura County. Most of the students of the college were already gone for the summer, and the campus was pretty empty except for perhaps a couple dozen workers and students who cared for the plants and facilities, and prepared the meals. I wasn’t roughing-it by any stretch of the imagination. Everything was gorgeous, the rooms were comfortable, and the meals were tasty. The size of our group was unusually small this time (due largely to the fact that this particular retreat was held in the middle of the week). In addition to a priest, and a lay person who helped see to the events of each day, only four of us were in attendance during the majority of the stay.

The retreat was put on by Opus Dei, a Catholic organization whose primary work is the education and spiritual direction of lay people (there are no monks in the real Opus Dei, unlike in the Opus Dei that is a fabrication of Dan Brown). Anyone who wants to learn about Opus Dei ought to check out their website http://www.opusdei.org/

I’ve never been let down at a retreat, or any other function put on by Opus Dei. They’ve always served to strengthen, enlighten, and convict me. At this retreat, we had times of prayer and adoration, several wonderful talks, times of silence for quiet reflection or spiritual reading, Stations of the Cross, and, of course, Mass. More than usual, I was moved by the beauty of Stations of the Cross this week. For those who haven’t heard of them, The Stations of the Cross are a series of 14 pictures depicting the Passion of Christ (The time of His sentencing through his execution and burial). Normally, a reflection is read at each station, and a short series of prayers is made. This spiritual tool has long proven useful for any Christian who wants to reflect on this core event in the life of Christ.

For anyone who hasn’t been on a retreat in a while, I highly recommend going. I went on one last year, and have made it a point to get to one yearly. Each of us needs, I think, time to be refreshed—to forget the cares of the world and to immerse ourselves in God. Melissa will also be making a retreat, sometime around November.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

What a Night!

Wow! Thursday was something. I played guitar in my biggest performance to date. In fact, aside from fumbling through some chords in the background of some camp songs with my friend, Chris, and a time I did the same for my guitar teacher (all about a dozen years ago), it was my only performance to date.

Three of us performed a rockin' version of "Bye-Bye Love" by the Everly Brothers (A 50's theme was chosen for the night). My buddy and fellow second grade teacher, Nick Glab, played saxophone. Kesley Morgan, a third grade teacher, sang. Yours truly played guitar, of course. Nick and Kesley have both been playing since their youth, and are quite talented. Kesley gets paid up to $500/night to sing. I knew I could count on them to do well, which helped. I hoped that I wouldn't let them down, either.

I had originally thought the turnout for Thursday night's performance would be over a thousand. Fewer teachers participated than I thought, and we only had an audience of about 500. But 500 is a lot of people! From the front, where we were staged, we could see the crowd stretched out across the grass field, settled atop blankets and lawn chairs. Temperatures neared triple-digit in Fontana on Thursday, and the heat lingered into the early evening (we went on at about 6:45 P.M.)

Set up for our song began following a reading of a Shel Silverstien poem by a fourth grade class--Most of the performances were done by classes, and ours was the only rock number done with instruments. At first, we had trouble connecting my guitar and effects pedal into the amp. I was afraid we wouldn't get it to work. After a few minutes, the right adjustment was made, and the sound of a chord blasted through the amp. It sounded so loud to me! I've never played that amped up before. But the crowd cheered. It was pretty cool.

We had decided to start the number with sort of a slow bluesy feel. Nick did a little sax intro. Kesley belted out the vocals, and I moseyed through the chords in a leisurely way. To this point, I felt relatively relaxed. I was even grooving and kind of looking cool. Then came time for the song to rock. Before the second verse and chorus, I had to pump out a rockin' little guitar strum. I got so nervous, everything went white. All the little tricks I had for keeping my head straight disappeared. Fortunately, I'd practiced the song hundreds of times, and my hands did everything they were supposed to do. It rocked!

The whole song sounded great. My favorite part was when my buddy Nick took a sax solo. He sounded awesome, and I tried to help him out by really jamming on the rhythm on that part (played it really vigorously, with lots of cool scratching). It was fun while it lasted, but a tremendous relief when it was over.

So I survived my first performance. I'm sure now that it won't be my last. Mostly I felt nervous. But if you could take away that nervous feeling, all that was left was the sheer joy of what it feels to be a rock star. Certainly the kids around campus thought I was a rock star. Of course, for them I could have done no wrong. Yeah, I got a little taste of what it's like, and it was fun!

Other than the rock song, Mr. Glab and I organized a cute little song and motion performance of "What a Wonderful World It Would Be" by Sam Cooke, performed by our students. We also danced with eight other teachers in a performance of the Grease song "Summer Nights." They all turned out great. It was quite a night!

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