Thursday, September 04, 2008

My New Hero(ine)

I watched Sarah Palin's speech last night at the RNC. I usually abhor political speeches; they're generally badly delivered, cliche-ridden propaganda pieces, and I flatly don't trust any politician to tell the truth. Maybe Palin didn't tell the truth either, and her speech had its share of old jokes and awkward pauses, but I like her. She has strength of character.

Since she was named as the VP nominee, Palin and her family have undergone nothing short of persecution. The media made sure we knew about every possible flaw: pregnant daughter, violent ex-relatives, her husband's 22-year-old DUI, special needs son. Oh--she also goes to church and urges graduates to pray for the country's leaders! The audacity! When the media begins to comment on the candidate's dress, hairstyle, and "twangy" voice, you can be sure of one thing: they are afraid of her. Since they can't find any substantive failings, media pundits resort to personal attacks.

Through all of the attacks disguised as reporting, Palin stood tall. She treated the media barbs with all the respect they deserved: she ignored them. She upheld her family, including the pregnant daughter and her gutsy soon-to-be son-in-law, and then got down to the business of making her potential boss look good. She fulfilled the traditional attack dog role of VP with well-placed barbs, all the funnier because she pointed out the truth.

The sexist attacks on Sarah Palin anger me. I, too, came of age in an era where women's roles were changing. Growing up, I thought my life would be a stay-at-home mom, not because I wanted it, but because that's what women did. I am grateful that we can now have whatever career suits us, provided we are willing to make the sacrifices. I resent deeply the intimation that Palin cannot raise her children properly without being at home. No one asks whether or not Obama or Biden should seek office because it might take time away from the kids. Palen's husband seems to be supportive and ready for a role reversal. His opinion of her running is the only one that matters.

In the words of a famous book, "Go, Sarah, go. Run, Sarah, run. Win, win, Sarah."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Emails, IV's, and a Logic Exercise

We got the coolest email yesterday from our son and his wife.  He had recorded their latest doctor's visit on his iPhone, and sent us a recording of our grandchild's heartbeat.  In the background you can hear the doctor explaining which heartbeat belonged to Mom and which to the baby.  My daughter-in-law is only about 11 weeks pregnant, but the doctor says very plainly, "And the faster one is the baby's."

Our admissions director at the college is also about 11 weeks pregnant.  She's having a bad time, and came to work over the weekend dragging an IV to keep her hydrated and fed.  Even though she feels ill most of the time, she smiles when she speaks of "the baby," and says, dreamily, "It will all be worth it."

Notice:  both babies (embryos, fetuses, buns in the oven, etc.) are babies.  Not just to their mothers, but to everyone around them--including the doctors.  Both young mothers have endured unpleasantness.  Pregnancy is neither easy nor romantic.

That got me thinking.  Last week the Obama/McCain town hall debate asked when a child was entitled to full rights.  McCain answered definitively, "at conception."  Obama waffled and said something about that being above his pay grade.  For someone who wishes to be the most powerful person in the world, he should know that there will be no one above his pay grade, so it is his duty to make up his mind.  I fear what he was trying to avoid saying was that human rights are to be reserved for the convenient, the wanted, and the perfect.  To acknowledge that view would be to acknowledge that he doesn't really believe in human rights at all, if the one needing the rights would cost time or money.  To Obama, "All men are created equal," but apparently there is debate either about what constitutes a human, or when, exactly, creation of said human has reached enough maturity to be deemed complete.  Such uncertainty about definitions ultimately leads to no definition at all.  The age at which one becomes eligible for rights could be redefined at will, so any given characteristic could mean that one was not really human.  Such was the logic that allowed the Holocaust.

Obama needs to go hear a few ultrasounds.

Here's to welcoming new babies--born and unborn!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Renewable Energy

The lights went out at church today, midway through the 3rd service.  We had just finished one set of songs, and we were about to begin another, more worshipful set, when there was the "pop" of electrical gadgetry suddenly silenced.  We were left with only the dim lighting of emergency lights--several hundred people with no sound system and no video screens.  In a church the size of ours, you come to depend on technology for sound, lighting, and climate control, but there would be no modern conveniences today.  The worship leader shifted gears in midstream, and I was glad my parents taught me to memorize hymns (both words and music).  Instead of our carefully practiced worship set with band accompaniment, we had just one singer, one piano, and a congregation relying on long-remembered hymns like "Amazing Grace."

While staffers and interns scrambled behind the scenes to find enough candles to shed light on the minister's Bible, the minister relied on his memory of the Word.  There was quiet in our building as all concentrated on hearing one voice in a place built for a thousand people.  Once in a while you could hear a baby's cry, but mostly what you heard was the silence of people straining to hear a godly man proclaim his next-to-last sermon after 60 years of preaching.

In the dim silence, God began to work.  People sang old familiar words with their hearts.  Though no one asked the congregation to stand, many stood, raised their hands, and worshiped.  At the end of the service, many came to ask for prayer.  Communion time was the most meaningful in recent memory.  At the conclusion of the service, people were reluctant to leave and stayed in their seats, praying.  The lights came on as we were dismissed, but the church was slow to empty.

All in all, this power outage made heavenly power visible.

Here's to darkness that reveals the light--the true source of renewable energy.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Incurable Optimism

Tuesday I parked my car in the supermarket parking lot and noticed the car in the next space. It had clearly seen better days. It was dinged, dented, rusted, and old; one of its fenders didn't match the rest of the car. This car was in such bad shape that the owner didn't even feel the need to roll up its windows and lock it. Nevertheless, optimism reigned in the heart of its driver. Swinging proudly from the rearview mirror was an air freshener--New Car scent!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual Disciplines

Yesterday our beloved minister announced that he had taken a bit of grief over his statement last week that he feels some Christians give too much weight to the issue of spiritual gifts and not enough to the fruits of the Spirit. As a participant (victim?) of a couple of spiritual gifts inventories and the professor of students who take these same checklists, I see our preacher's point. Some students are dismayed to think that they might not be spiritually gifted. Others quickly become puffed up and attempt to use their gift (forcibly, if necessary). They are much like a toddler in one of those battery-powered cars--he thinks he's driving, but he's not.

I've had people tell me that I should pay attention to them on certain matters because these topics fall under the purview of their spiritual gift. Sometimes I pay attention, but often, I don't. Why? Because spiritual gifts are only as good as the spiritual maturity of the person with the gift. Spiritual gifts, like any other gift, can indeed be misused. If the "gifted" Christian is relying on his perception of his "gift" and not studying what God says, more often than not, the gift will be misused. Without knowledge of what God thinks about good and evil, the "Discerner" might substitute his own judgment, informed by popular culture rather than scripture. Yes, one might have the gift of evangelism, but without a good grounding in the word, the "Evangelist" is just about as reliable as the used car salesman down the block.

So how do we know whose spiritual gift to trust? Look at the person's fruits! Is he joyful, good, loving, kind, peaceful, gentle, patient, faithful, and above all, self-controlled? If not, do not trust his gifts. The person who is truly controlled by God cannot help but show his maturity by his actions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Back to the (almost) normal

The dear husband and I have returned from our short foray to the Land of the Thousand Putt-Putts. We managed to spend an entire 3-day vacation in Branson avoiding musical shows. We thought of going to see Noah, but the TV clip I saw dissuaded me; I just don't think Noah would do a hoe-down while taking a break from ark-building. And if he did, he probably wouldn't have thought it would be worth nearly $50 a person to see it! Somehow, Noah: the Musical just doesn't seem to treat the destruction of the world with the sorrow it deserves, even if people seem to rave about the show.

We fulfilled one of the items on my bucket list--we rode the Ducks. The ride was every bit as hokey as you'd expect, but I picked up some interesting tidbits of local history I hadn't learned in my many, many visits to southwestern Missouri, and I don't think I'd ever been on Table Rock Lake. We made good use of our camera. Shopping on Branson Landing was fun, too, and a deceptive way to get exercise and sunshine.

But mostly, we relaxed. Hubby read, and I knitted--all without being interrupted a single time by the telephone. I can remember wishing that my parents would do something--anything!--on vacation besides sit and read their stash of magazines, but now there is nothing quite as appealing as quiet reading time. We sat on the deck of our bed and breakfast, looked out at Lake Taneycomo below us, and listened to the birds and the distant bells at the College of the Ozarks. We brewed coffee in our room and snacked on whatever we wanted (Honey Nut Cheerios mix and pretzels). We took our time coming home, taking nearly all day to make a 4 1/2-hour trip.

So now, we begin the slippery slope to Christmas. School starts in 4 weeks, and there won't be a moment's peace until finals. I love the (organized) chaos of school, but I really needed this past week.

So here's to quiet--just not too much of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where's the ACME Catalog?

I miss Bugs Bunny. My brother and I spent many a childhood Saturday morning watching such classic shows as The Three Stooges (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk), Yogi Bear (where looking for an unattended picnic was a way of life), Mighty Mouse (Here he comes to save the day!), and my personal favorite, Bugs Bunny. I now realize we were learning some dangerous lessons:
  • Idiocy should be rewarded with a bop on the head.
  • Picnic food is good, and meant to be enjoyed occasionally--even if it is fried or loaded with mayonnaise.
  • Villains should be quickly dispatched, preferably with an uppercut.
  • Anvils and explosives are useful for temporarily dispatching one's enemies.

When our sons were small, Looney Tunes remained a part of our Saturday mornings. I let the kids think watching cartoons was their idea. Now I know I was teaching them the wrong values.

This past Saturday morning, I was working in my Stamp Dungeon and turned on my 5-inch TV for some background noise and maybe a couple of nostalgic laughs. I quickly realized that children's TV has changed a lot in the 10 years or so since I last tuned in. After skipping the infomercial on CBS (no sales resistance), I found what passes for preteen entertainment on another channel.

The first program featured live actors in a variation of Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney's "Let's have a show!" movies. The stars were producing a weekly cable show featuring crafts kids could make. The obvious theme of the show was saving money--but not for the traditional reasons: college fund, new bicycle, iPod, etc. Kids are now supposed to save money to send to the Cause of the Week, in this case victims of a tornado. Saving money for oneself was laughingly ridiculed.

The next program was animated, and I eagerly waited to see the villain's nefarious plans backfire. I must be hopelessly out-of-date. There was no clear villain, just a disagreement between characters which was solved with a negotiation session. Boring, boring, boring. This program taught that conflict is bad, compromise is good, and Negotiation Makes Everyone a Winner. At the end of my hour of kiddy TV, I felt like I'd been to church and heard only the sermon on the sin of Greed. Preachy, preachy, preachy.

After reflection, I came to a conclusion about these politically correct propaganda pieces: they are misleading, and therefore, wrong. First, it is not wrong to save money for your own purposes. It's not wrong to give your savings away, either, but you should not be compelled to "share." To be fair, the little girl in the show was following her heart in giving away her money, but the message of the show was clearly in favor of always giving away your surplus.

Secondly, there are some situations where compromise is just not possible because the issues are too important and involve moral principles. Negotiation is dandy for times when you don't agree on how to spend Friday night or which restaurant to patronize. But on issues like abortion vs. carrying the child, only one result can be chosen. And if some miscreant tries to do me harm, I'm not negotiating. Instead, I'm reaching for the nearest anvil (probably my purse) and bopping him on the head (or softer tissue more within the reach of my height-challenged arms), rather than trying to convince him of a win/win position: instead of killing me, he could get what he wants by doing me grievous bodily harm.

We do our children no favors by constantly indoctrinating them with this drivel. Baby Boomers grew up with cartoon violence, and most of us don't order explosives from ACME catalogs. We learned to share when we are faced with a compelling need, and we do, on occasion, negotiate and compromise. All the same, I think I'll stock up on Looney Tunes DVDs for my grandkids.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Random Observations

  • I saw a dead armadillo on the road near my house this morning. I didn’t think they were supposed to come this far north because our winters are too cold for them to survive. Two possibilities: global warming is to blame (but this year is colder than last) or armadillos don’t read maps very well.

  • If you want to raise your blood pressure, watch The Baby Borrowers. This show attempts to convince teenagers wanting “real life” to start sooner rather than later that waiting might not be a good idea. The show gives pairs of teens real babies and real jobs for a couple of days. After a few days, the babies are given back to their parents and are replaced by toddlers, then teens, then elderly parents.

    Weirdly, the girls are the ones who are gung-ho to start families, but the boys do a better job of holding their “families” together. A couple of the girls really needed to be taken aside—before their 5th birthday--and told they were not princesses. But alas, their mommies never disillusioned them, and real life doesn’t allow a great deal of time for pedestal-sitting. These bratty babes really made me want to reach out and touch them—with my pink hairbrush! This show is a Scared Straight for prosti-tots and makes me remember just how difficult it was to take care of small children.

  • I’m fighting my inner Momzilla with wedding plans. A trip through Michael’s wedding supply aisle plants all sorts of ideas in the mind of a future MOBs (Mother of Bride). Exactly when did goodie bags for wedding guests become a necessity? Do adults really think that just because others receive presents, everyone needs a gift or we’ll damage precious psyches? And are regular M&Ms OK for the favors, or must we order special ones custom imprinted with the initials of the newly-nupted couple? Please, save me from trying to stencil “Amy & B.J.: in love forever” on the aisle cloth!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Empty Nest

There was a brouhaha over my head this morning as I took my walk. As I left the driveway, I heard a commotion just up the street, cutting into my “happy time” with my iPod. Birdsong is the normal accompaniment to any stroll in our neighborhood, usually enhancing my prerecorded music. But what I heard was not birdsong. The starlings were clearly in an uproar.

I looked up to see a flock of starlings chasing a larger bird from the yard of #12 to the oak tree of #15. The oak leaves shook with the turmoil, and then the chase was on again, this time toward the woods. No doubt the larger bird, which could have been a small hawk, had absconded with a young starling. The flock, alerted too late, could only give chase and voice its outrage. By the time the avian army arrived, the brief battle was probably over. All the birds could do was give chase and hope the predator would relinquish its grip so the victim could have a decent birdie burial.

As I walked past the Oak Tree of Certain Death on my next lap around the circle, I realized that even the mourning chirps had ceased. There was no sign of the battle that had raged just a few minutes before.

I could draw lots of lessons from this tragic scene, but somehow the forlorn chirping of the starlings after the lost battle reminded me that my own empty nest looms on the horizon. However, my nest will not empty tragically. In 14 months, give or take 1 or 2, the last two of our kids will leave home. Daughter #1 will move out on her own (I’m resisting comparing the young man in her life to the hawk), and we’ll help Daughter #2 explore the wonders of college dormitory living. Am I sad? A little, but such is the natural order of things. Soon after the girls leave, their dad and I will find our new normal, and life will go on. Actually, we’re looking forward to it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Now, on to summer!

My daughter has now finished her college education and is in the process of moving back home for an indefinite stay. Because she's an engineer, she had multiple job offers and chose one close to home. Her graduation ceremony offered some interesting contrasts with ceremonies at other institutions, particularly the one where I teach. Here, graduations are mostly dignified ceremonies, with lots of prayers and a sermon. No one would dream of writing anything on his cap, and no one could see it anyway; we don't have to use bleachers to seat the crowd. Graduates sedately process in, receive their diplomas, shake hands, process out, and go eat cake in the cafeteria. (Cafeteria food will, indeed, harm the waistline.)

At the public university my daughter attended, the circus music the wind ensemble played provided our first clue as to what sort of ceremony she would have. The graduates processed in, more or less in orderly fashion, but students in the ROTC programs wore combat helmets instead of mortarboards, and the new mining engineers wore mining headgear. The nuclear engineers had attached yellow paper with the radiation symbol to the tops of their mortarboards, and a few students had creatively embellished the tops of their caps for the pleasure (or mortification) of the viewing audience. The faculty followed the graduates in, but apparently graduation attendance is not mandatory for faculty, since there were only a few faculty members present.

The chancellor spoke the usual greetings with unusual poise, considering the beach balls that were volleyed about by his soon-to-be former students. The balls were quickly followed by a large inflatable sheep baa-ing her way over the heads of the graduates. My dear daughter, who was raised to respect formal occasions, managed to get her hands on the inflatable toys and deflate them. The sheep suffered a laryngectomy before her deflation (and yes, the sheep was female; it had been purchased at a Store of Ill Repute.) Eventually, speakers spoke, graduates were recognized, diploma covers were handed out, pictures were taken, goodbyes were said.

But for both groups of graduates, the hard part awaits. Book learning may be over, but the education is really just beginning. Former scholars will discover that much of what they need to know is not contained in books and must be learned on the job, where bosses will control the next paycheck. New friends will be necessary, for the friends of the last four or five years have scattered. Real life will begin, without the comfort of knowing that unpleasant tasks are only 16 weeks long. Many will find that adulthood is fraught more with responsibilities than pleasures. This last revelation will be a surprise, but not entirely an unpleasant one.

So one more chapter ends, and another can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The End

The last final has been given, and the papers are almost all graded, except for the obligatory student who "forgot" to bring his final paper to the final (10% late penalty). It's getting quiet around here again, so it's time to reflect on how the year went.
  • Some students don't belong in college, and those were pretty much the ones we had doubts about last August. Note for next year: if the admissions team questions whether or not to admit a student, deny admission. That would have saved us grief and wasted time trying to rescue those who don't yet want to be rescued.
  • Some students will pleasantly surprise you. Kids you thought were unlikeable will turn out to be your favorites. Some kids who initially look unprepared may be the most motivated kids you teach.
  • Cafeteria food will make you fat. Bring your lunch.
  • Choose teaching assistants wisely. They can develop romances with your daughter and hang around long after the year is over (and we're happy about that!)
  • Listen to advice. That means advices from colleagues, superiors, and your students. Even poor students may have valuable insights on what would motivate them and what might make you a better teacher.
  • Buy plenty of tea. Nothing is as good for a kid whose girlfriend has just ditched him as a cup of tea and a listening ear.
  • Thank the Lord for small victories, because they will add up to big ones.

I will miss graduation this year because my own daughter is graduating from college. The first night class I had here will get their associate's degrees. I am proud of them, because they had been denied admission until I could teach remedial classes for them. Most of them have remained, and they've done well.

So here's to next week full of meetings and then a summer of quiet with time for reading and writing. Y'all keep safe, and we'll be ready for August!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One Tough Week

My week started with an every-ten-year visit from the college's accrediting association. We have worked hard over the last 9 months on the self-study to make sure that we found everything that might need improvement on our campus, from increasing graduation rates to equalizing teaching loads. While the validation team was cordial to us, we all know that the immediate future of our institution depends on the findings. We had several instructions for the first part of the week--stay in our offices, be ready to answer questions, and dress up. For months, I had planned to do a dance of joy around noon on Wednesday as I glimpsed the taillights of the van taking the validation team back to the airport, eagerly anticipate being able to go to work Thursday in jeans and a polo shirt.

Instead, suddenly the validation team's importance faded. My husband phoned just as I was ready to walk out the door to work on Wednesday morning with the news that a friend had died. He was one of my husband's running buddies, our pastoral care minister, and the son of our dearly loved, elderly senior minister. Mike just dropped dead while trying to get a little exercise on the treadmill. And no, this was not a case of an old, out-of-shape guy pushing himself. Mike was in pretty good shape and exercised regularly.

When anyone close to you dies, you tend to become philosophical. You are especially philosophical when the newly departed is close to your own age. So I began to wonder how I would spend my last day. Mike didn't have the luxury of choosing how he would end his life; nor will I. He got up Tuesday, went to the office and was apparently more himself than he usually was--a real cut-up. He joked with the staff and threw things (probably candy) at the secretaries. He went home, ate a good dinner, made some hospital calls, ate some more, then went downstairs to exercise. Then he met Jesus.

I'm not sure how I would choose to spend my last day. Probably I would choose to do just what Mike did: go to work, spend time with my family, take a little time for myself. Mike had an ordinary day. From all reports, an exceptionally good ordinary day. Then it turned out to be the best day of his life--he realized his reward.

The rest of the week for the rest of us meant that we dealt with the aftermath. There is a pretty big hole in our lives, but a much bigger hole in the lives of our friends. The funeral service was sad, but funny--just like Mike. I played the piano and a couple of Mike's friends sang. They were great to play for, and I hope Mike would have liked it (I surely did!). Our church pulled together and functioned like the family it is supposed to be. Everyone took extra care of everyone else. The building was full of people hugging, finally remembering to tell each other how much they are loved. It was beautiful.

The weekend church services had been arranged for some time. A guest preacher had been invited, the sermon topic and special music chosen. God, of course, foreknew that our large church family would be in desperate need of hope and comfort, and the guest preacher just felt led--a month ago--to prepare a sermon on heaven. He was marvelous, just what we needed. So after a tough week, this one has started off pretty well.

Here's to ordinary days. And--I love you.