Wednesday, October 01, 2014


This is the talk I gave in our college chapel service this week. Actually, it was more of a piano recital, and I've left out the narration for that part, but the following is the "meat" of the service:

I’ve had some fun with you the last week or two as you tried to pin me down on what, exactly, I meant when I said that my off-limits topic was “old.” 

Did I mean old traditions, old songs, or perhaps old people?

Yes.  All of those.

The American church, like the rest of America, has a problem with old.  New is where it’s at.  We like new buildings, new programs, new music, new instruments, new clothing, new—just name it.  Old is yesterday, outdated, obsolete—and boring.

I consulted that venerable source of academic information, Wikipedia, to get an idea of what old is.  Type in “Old” and this is what you get:

Old age or, by extension, someone or something that has endured and become comfortable or widely familiar.

endured and become comfortable or widely familiar.  That sounds pretty good.  Enduring—that means something that lasts, is well-made or functional.  We all like to be comfortable.  Familiar—that’s good, too; you could say that old is in our comfort zone.  Not a bad thing.

So—what is old, when it comes to people?  Wikipedia gives this less-than-comforting definition:  Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle.

It goes on to define old age as beginning anywhere from age 50 to about 70.  As nearly as I can figure, old age is anyone 20 years older than your current age.  To you, old age might begin at 40; to me, 70 doesn’t seem very old anymore.

However we define “old,” there are a lot of old people, and there will be more of them.  It is estimated that nearly 1 in 6 Americans (17% for those who like numbers) will be over age 65 in 2020.  By 2050, the number of people over age 65 will be about double the number of preschoolers.  Clearly, old is the wave of the future.

What does the Bible have to say about old people? 

In Leviticus 19:32, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people, “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

Proverbs tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (20:29), and “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old”(23:32). 

In the New Testament, Paul tells Timothy not to “rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,  older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1Tim. 5:1-2)

Older people were to be respected, listened to, and well-treated.

How should we do this in the modern church?
  • ·      First, recognize that older adults exist.  According to the 2010 census, roughly 18.5% of Americans are age 60 and older.  To put this in perspective, just under 21% are ages 15-29.
  • ·      Importantly, know that older adults still need Jesus.  While most people come to the Lord in their youth, older adults are a fertile mission field.
  • ·      Recognize that older adults make valuable contributions to ministry.  The Pew Research Center says that a large percentage of older adults consider their faith an important part of their lives.  More than ¾ of older adults report praying daily.  In addition, those older people are paying for those programs near and dear to your heart.  As our chapel offerings have shown, it's not you!
  • ·      Recognize that older adults do have some significant issues which will affect participation in worship services. 

o   Hearing declines, and most adults wish to protect what they have left.  So buy a good sound meter and use it, especially for the treble. (Reducing the overall volume level will protect your own hearing as well.)
o   Bodies hurt, and standing for long periods of time (such as during music portions of the service) is painful.  Give permission for people to worship and sing in any posture they like, not just standing.
o   Eyesight declines, especially in low-light situations.  If you want people over 40 to read anything, turn on the lights.

  • ·      Realize that a significant portion of your congregation is not your age, and begin to include songs and other worship elements that will appeal to people who do not, and never will, listen to Christian music radio or Pandora.  In the words (a paraphrase) of Ben Merold, if your worship service contains only what appeals to you, then you are only ministering to people just like you—your age, your race, and your musical tastes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Life Lessons from Piano Practice


I recently bought a new piano.  It's not an ordinary piano--those who have played it say it's the best one they have ever played.  It's certainly the best one I've ever played, but it is absolutely unforgiving in its action.  If you play a note, that note will be heard.  You can't fudge by bending your finger quickly back to the right note; if the key was pressed, there will be a sound.  Consequently, I practice.  A lot.  And a lot of practice has made me a much better pianist.

      As a teacher of study skills, I'd like to draw an analogy from piano practice to study.

Efficiency matters.  When I play the piano, I try, of course, to hit all the right notes at the right time.  When mistakes occur, they often are the result of an improper fingering used a couple of notes prior to the mistake.  Using good fingering minimizes those mistakes.  The best fingering is often the pattern that minimizes jumps and turns, making the movements more efficient.

In studying, doing the same thing over and over again won’t profit you much if you are using methods that don’t work.  For instance, if you’re a kinesthetic learner, reading something over and over won’t work well—you need to write.  If you have to put the tribes of Israel in their proper places on a map, studying the names of the tribal leaders will not be much help on the test.  It's important to choose study methods that are not only appropriate for your learning style, but are appropriate for the type of learning you have to do.

     “Seat time” matters, too.  While efficient practice helps, putting in the effort eventually gets me the results I want.  Playing something perfectly one time is fine—but playing it perfectly several times in a row lets me concentrate on the smallest details.  Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours-to-be-an-expert rule may not be perfectly true, but it's hard to be an expert if I work only 30 minutes at a time.

When studying, you have to spend enough time to not only learn the material, but to store it properly in long-term memory, and then practice retrieving it.  This might involve answering questions, solving problems, or thinking about applications, but retrieval requires time and effort.  Lots of students think that when homework is done, study is over.  The reality is that homework is just the beginning of the learning process.

Pay attention to how each segment relates to the whole.  Good musicianship requires that melodic lines not only have the correct notes played with the correct rhythm, but they also must “say” something.  Repeated passages need to be analyzed to see if the general direction is louder or softer, and each phrase must contribute to the overall mood. The difference between a good amateur and a professional musician is not how accurately the notes are played, but how each note is played.

Learning isolated facts may get you good grades on a multiple choice test, but those facts won’t help you become a professional unless you can see how each bit of information fits together.  When you learned to read, you may have learned the sound of each letter, but until you could combine those sounds into words and words into sentences that you could understand and discuss, you did not really know how to read.  Facts, in and of themselves, are useless; integration and application of those facts into your knowledge of the subject will show that you have truly learned.

Doing boring work often makes exciting work easier.  Piano students practice scales, arpeggios, and other exercises over and over again until those skills are automatic.  The work is repetitious and dull, and most musicians dread exercise time. I am certainly not fond of it.  However, music is made up of lots of scales, arpeggios, and other patterns.  When I see a scale I know well in a piece of music, I can just play it; no need to go back and work out the fingering.  Learning those little boring bits makes learning new pieces much quicker—I just access whatever pattern I need.

Working pages of algebra problems or laboring over vocabulary words is not fun.  However, when you begin to use algebra to solve an interesting problem, or you’re able to read a difficult but interesting book containing those vocabulary words, the drudgery will pay off.  Teachers have a hard time answering those “when will I ever use this” questions, but when the background knowledge is there for an exciting project, the boring labor suddenly becomes useful.

Review often.  If I practice a song until it’s performance ready, then put it away for a year (or even a month), I will need to relearn it before it’s ready for anyone else to hear.  The relearning curve will be much shorter, but it will still be there.  Without frequent review, my repertoire will consist only of the last song I learned.

In academia, many students are content to do the current assignment, hand it in, and forget about it.  They assume that the material, once learned, will always be accessible.  Then the test comes, those students are in for a nasty surprise.  While assignments may give you the impetus to learn something the first time, reviewing the information once a week will dramatically cut study time for the next test, improve test performance, and will keep the retrieval path open so that what you’ve learned is ready for use.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Advice to Our Government

As sequestration is looming, I have one bit of advice to all who might have a part in solving the problem:


The President and everyone in Congress is to blame, as are we, for demanding that government should do what we should do for ourselves.  We Americans are not children, needing someone to tell us what is best to do with our money, our bodies, and ultimately, our lives.

Sequestration would lop off about 2.5% of the increase in the federal budget, hardly enough to cause the End of the World as We Know It.  The problem comes because the President and the congressional leadership came to an agreement that was tantamount to blackmail:  slash spending OR ELSE we will slash it, in a way sure to be painful.  The agreement will cause much more pain than necessary by weakening our defense and suddenly firing thousands of necessary workers.  None of this is necessary; 2.5% of the increase is NOT a huge sacrifice; actually, it's not a sacrifice at all.

I've grown tired of watching politicians point fingers back and forth like children caught fighting on the playground.  "You cut first!"  "No, you!"  Sorry, folks.  We all are aware that trying to fix blame on someone else is just your attempt to avoid your own punishment.  So I must repeat, like the good mom I am:


Since no one in Washington seems to have the courage--or the good sense--to fix their mistake, here is the grown-up way to remedy it:

  • Every department head is to decide how to cut his/her budget 2.5%. It is up to them to decide how to make their division function on less money, whether that is letting people go, reducing lunch breaks, or not ordering paper clips, staplers, and new computers.
  • Politicians are to stay out of the process, except for slashing their own budgets 2.5%.  No fair telling anyone else how to cut expenditures; take care of your own problem.  
  • Mr. President, this solution includes you.  Slash your own budget 2.5%. Take one less vacation and tell Michelle and the girls to have a "stay-cation" like the rest of us.  
Cutting spending is never pleasant.  It requires self-discipline--and self-respect.  If spending needs to be cut, it's because circumstances have changed, or because self-control in purchasing has not been exercised.  Both of these conditions have occurred in the management of our national fiscal affairs.  So let's all take our medicine like grown-ups and solve the problem.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

First Day

As I shook off the last remnants of sleep this morning, I heard the school bus go down the street, scavenging for any highschooler unlucky enough to have neither a driver’s license and a car nor a friend willing to pick him up.  It’s the first day of school.

Just the sound of the bus can conjure up the feelings of anticipation when, as children on the first day of school, we realized that we had come one more step closer to paradise—that day when we would be adults and school was out for us forever.  We would be free to do what we wanted, with no one ordering us around, no homework, and we wouldn’t be confined to a desk seven hours a day.  We had no idea that we were one step closer to the ultimate disillusionment:  adulthood would never be as carefree or unrestricted as any childhood day of summer vacation.  But we didn’t know that then.  We looked forward to seeing friends, finding our new classroom, and finally opening that new box of crayons.

Now I teach young people on the cusp of adulthood.  In a couple of weeks, they’ll leave their parents and homes, and move into our dorms.  They will look forward to studying the field they’ve chosen, making lifelong friends, and perhaps finding that one true love.  It will be their first taste of what adulthood will be like, and it will be a shock.  Yes, there will be parties, but there will also be laundry.  Yes, there are no enforced bedtimes, but there will be 7:15 classes.  Yes, there will be freedom to go out for Taco Bell every night, but such indulgences will cost precious spending money, and Mom’s not around to hand out  a twenty. 

For now, let’s just revel in the remembered smell of pencil shavings, sweeping compound, sweaty children, and chalk dust.  Good luck on the first day of school; may it really be all you’ve dreamed.

I bought myself a new box of crayons.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

In the 45 minutes before the next class. . .

here is my November list of small things I am thankful for:
  • the alum that just walked through my door to pick up his yearbook. His compliments to our school have put a smile on my face that won't be fading anytime soon. Interesting--he was not one of my students.
  • the ability to be creative. I love teaching, but my real creativity comes out when I work in the arts.
  • my cleaning person. When I go home this evening, my house will be spotless, so I can concentrate on being with my husband and preparing for guests this weekend. I won't be frazzled by having to make sure the house passes the white glove inspection.
  • facebook. While facebook may make our lives too transparent, it has given us the ability to stay in contact with people we don't see regularly--but would like to.
  • my iPod. It has to be on my list of those unnecessary possessions I would hate to live without. Right now, Brahms is playing in my office.
  • interruptions. Since I obviously can't prevent them, I'll try to enjoy them. One of the reasons God gave us the church was so that we would be connected not just to Him, but to each other. Every interruption is a chance to connect with another person, usually a brother or sister in Christ.
  • ears that work. For most of the last month, my ears have been plugged up, so my hearing has been distorted. I am appreciating being able to hear with clarity.
  • new friends--and old ones. New friends are always exciting, since there is so much to find out about the other person. Old friends know you and your flaws. There is no awkwardness, since your flaws are already known, and you have the joy of a shared history.
  • the Coffeepot of Consolation (the Keurig machine in my office). Sheldon Cooper might joke about offering a hot beverage to someone who is depressed, but being able to be hospitable in a small way is a great joy. There are not many more pleasurable activities than sharing tea (or coffee, or hot chocolate, or chai, or--you get the idea) with someone along with a conversation. It's even better when there's a little leftover Halloween candy in the drawer.
May you all find small things that enrich your life.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Path Back

I have not always been a good money manager. If it weren´t for my husband, who is good at money, and the radio advice of Dave Ramsey, I'd be far worse off than I am. But through hard work and discipline, I can say that the family funds are pretty healthy right now. Discipline is not pleasant; our culture preaches the value of immediate gratification, and credit cards make purchasing our "wants" now all too easy. Eventually, though, the day of reckoning will come, and the hard choices have to be made--and they will be even more painful since we have become used to living beyond our means.

If a household is spending more than it takes in, there are really only two choices: cut spending or increase income. Digging out of the financial hole will be quicker if you do both methods at once, but even with a second job, you're in for an austere time. Instead of eating steak, it will be Aldi's brand Chicken Noodle soup, with generic peanut butter on no-name bread. No eating out, no vacations, no new clothes, no luxuries until the bills are caught up.

With this in mind, I would remind our elected officials--who have been spending like teenagers with a new credit card, paid for by Daddy--that the bills will come due. Our national debt is disgraceful and dangerous to our security, and we must mend our ways. Unfortunately, this means cutting spending and/or increasing revenue. Since no one in Washington seems to grasp this concept and put forth a plan, here is mine:

Immediately chop the budget of all departments 10%, across the board. (Note that 10% is in today's budget, not the expected increase in the budget.) Each department head decides where the 10% comes from, whether to lay off employees, reduce salaries, or turn off the air conditioning.
Eliminate pension benefits for all federal employees under age 45. They will have the ability to use IRAs just like the rest of us. Pensions for those between 45-55 will be only 1/2 the current amount. Those over 55 will receive whatever pensions they have today.
No new federal programs--for anything--unless a federal program is eliminated, and the savings must meet or exceed the cost of the new program.
Every wage earner must pay federal income tax, with a new minimum tax rate of 5%. When all pay, fewer people will clamor for benefits paid for by others.
Every federal worker must contribute, out of pocket, to his/her own health insurance plan.
Pensions for congresspeople, and senators will be prorated, based on 20 years of service. Anything less gets a smaller pension--just like the rest of the working world. Their pensions will also be subject to the pension rule above: if you're under 45, you don't get one.
Forget "prevailing wage" rules. Contracts go to the lowest bidder, and if that means carpenters made $25/hour instead of $30, so be it. We can no longer afford "Cadillac" payouts.

This is obviously not a complete plan, but it is, at least, a start. As I tell my English students, it's easier to revise something that exists, so get something down on paper and go from there.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Life Right Now

Reading: churched: one kid's journey toward God despite a holy mess, by Matthew Paul Turner. This is a gift from my daughter and son-in-law, who know I enjoy funny books about religion. So far, it's sarcastic--and depressing. The idea that some of us have to come to love God in spite of our church is just sad. But the writer's style is enough to keep me reading, even though I don't really want to see myself or my church in what he writes.

Enjoying: The Daily Audio Bible, read by Brian Hardin. This is strangely addicting. I've read the Bible over and over, but this is really the first time I've heard it. Free podcast, available on iTunes. Check it out.

Hearing: The Priests. They have a couple of albums out now, both of which I have. 3 guys, singing sacred music, most of it classical.

Drinking: Celestial Seasonings English Breakfast Tea, from Professor Perrey's Coffeepot of Consolation. This may be the only coffeepot with its own facebook group.

Planning: Meaningful assignments for the fall semester of Reading, English Comp. I, and College Study Skills.

Knitting: a shawl of variegated pink silk and gray sparkly mohair, and a baby blanket of blue acrylic that I wish I liked better than I do.

Forgetting: Lunch, again. Sigh.

Wishing: for vacation time. Maybe the end of July?