Monday, January 31, 2005

A Prayer to Start the Week

Since I started this blogging thing, a lot of my day dreaming has been spent wondering what I should make of this site.

Should I use the blog to keep family and friends up-to-date with what's going on in my life? Should this be about God and Scripture and church and history and all things religious (the sorts of things I focus on)? Should it be the "Extra" edition of the church bulletin for the congregation where I preach?

For now, I've decided that it's likely going to be a hodge podge of all of the above, and maybe more. But there's one commitment that I'm making today: I plan to post a prayer to start the work week every Monday. If no one else sees and prays it, I will. If someone else prays along with me, all the better.

For the first several Mondays, I'll pray some prayers of Augustine. Born in 354, Augustinus Aurelius rejected Christian orthodoxy in his youth. But in his later years, he embraced the faith of his mother, Monica, and of the mentor who baptized him, Ambrose of Milan. From there, Augustine eventually returned to his homeland of North Africa, established a monastery, became the Bishop of Hippo, and served that diocese for thirty-four years until his death in 430.

To be sure, Augustine never rejected what I see as an unhealthy dualism. Nevertheless, he's rightly regarded as one of the greatest Christian thinkers ever.

Augustine rarely composed a prayer for public reading or personal use. Instead, his prayers are found scattered throughout his many writings on Scripture and the theological questions of his day. Evidently, Augustine frequently came to that point where speaking about God and the things of God naturally led him to speak to God. Like this . . .

"O God, you know our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Let us be free from all anxious thoughts for tomorrow; make us content with your good gifts; and confirm our faith, that as we seek your kingdom, you will not deny us any good thing."

For we ask through Christ the Lord, Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Our Trip to Ski Sundown

Both Michele and I had our children with us last weekend. We'd been looking forward to it for a long time.

JP Conway, the youth minister at the Manchester Church of Christ, planned a ski trip to the Okemo resort up in Vermont. From what I can gather, Okemo's one of the bigger and better places to ski in New England. And the Bellizzis and the Richardsons were ready for it.

All week long, the local weather forecasts mentioned the possibility of big time snow on Saturday. We thought, "Great! Fresh powder." But by Friday afternoon, we all realized that true blizzard conditions would start up sometime after lunch on Saturday. And there we'd be, two states away from home.

So I was relieved when JP called Friday night to say we'd still be skiing, only closer. The group wound up going to Ski Sundown in New Hartford, Connecticut. It was only about 45 minutes from home and turned out to be a great place. Not too crowed. Family friendly. Well run. It was a great alternative.

And now for the ski report:

A gifted athlete, Rebecca discovered that snow boarding doesn't come easy, even for people like her. But she earned an A for effort and also for braving the bitter cold for long stretches.

Chloe also found that the first-time snow boarding experiences are often less than sublime, especially if you do a lot of hanging out in the lodge. Not even that rainbow-colored hat could turn her into an instant pro.

A true first-timer, Aubrey did great on skis. Sometimes too great. Just about the time that she'd reach 70 mph, the thought would occur: "Okay now, how do I stop?"

Ben is part of a school club that goes to a local resort for a few hours every Friday night this month. He's terrific on his snow board.

A skier, my wonderful wife Michele didn't fall once . . . . for the same reason that a turtle rarely trips. When you're going that slow, it's easy to eliminate mistakes. But then again, you don't go very far very fast.

I had a good day of skiing. But I did fall. Once. And, of course, Michele was there to see the whole thing. As we got to that point where you come off the chair lift and stand on your skis, . . . well, something went terribly wrong. I'm still not exactly sure what happened. Basically, I didn't make it from the sitting to the standing position. Anyway, at that point the only thing I could think of was taking the trip down the mountain sitting on the chair lift, explaining to all the people going up why I was still there. No sooner did that thought flash through my mind than I realized that the ground was moving away from me. So, with terra firma getting farther and farther away, I jumped, . . . landed on my skis, . . . and went straight back. "No time to react to the pain," I thought. "Here comes the next chair, loaded with skiers. You've got to get out of the way!" Thankfully, I did. I don't fall often, but when I do I make sure it's a good one.

As the early afternoon rolled around, snow was starting to fall. Within an hour, you couldn't see the top of the mountain. By that night, true blizzard conditions prevailed. Next morning, we woke up to over a foot of beautiful snow.

Ski Sundown, we'll be back. Thanks, JP, for planning the trip.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Caveats and Disclaimers

Upon re-reading my most recent post I thought, "Sounds callous and dismissive." So here's my follow-up. Maybe I can explain where some of this is coming from.

You see, I live with a public elementary school teacher. And though I've never seen her at work, I'm convinced she's a terrific educator. In fact, I'd go so far to say that her students are downright fortunate to have her.

But it's not easy. With pressure to raise scores on standardized tests, mixed with a pledge to leave no child behind, combined with constant-but-unnecessary disruptions, the job is close to impossible.

It's the "constant-but-unnecessary disruptions" part that gets to me. Because of the presence of a handful of unruly kids in our schools, the majority--well-behaved and teachable--often has to settle for an atmosphere where instead of learning, they merely cope.

And it's worse than a lot of people imagine. Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear a story about how "Jimmy" once again assaulted "Kevin," turned over his desk and threw his chair. What's more, because the offender knows that the school security guards as well as the teacher can respond with little more than passive restraint, there's not much to slow him down.

In the wake of the most-recent, predictable assault, "Jimmy" may or may not be suspended. It seems that, increasingly, with pressure on the schools to reduce suspensions and raise the rate of attendance, he won't be. Instead, the teacher, who because of the threat of litigation could do little more than send the class out into the safety of the hallway, winds up getting grilled about her "classroom management" techniques. "What might we change in order to make such outbursts less likely?" as though any fault lies with the teacher.

At some point, every teacher thinks, "It's not fair that most of my students have to settle for mediocrity, because one or two of them routinely ruin the learning environment." The current administration has mandated that there be "No Child Left Behind." But wouldn't it be better to issue a mandate that our schools "Teach." And wouldn't it be better if we added the promise that anytime administrators took tough measures against "violent and multiple" offenders, they'd be trusted and backed?

That's the way I see it.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Get Smart

I couldn't help noticing the irony of two articles that appear in today's New York Times.

"Gotbaum Says City Is Failing to Remove Violent Students" (by Elissa Gootman) reports the findings of a New York City public advocate. It turns out that "multiple and violent offenders" were still walking the hallways in 11 of the 12 City schools examined.

Skip to the second article. "Bush Urges Rigorous High School Testing" (by Anne E. Kornblut) heralds the President's recent call to expand the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, it seems, we're going to spend an additional $1.5 billion to ensure that high school students stop lagging in the areas of math and science.

I wonder. Could the presence of "multiple and violent offenders" in the classroom have anything to do with the under-achievement of students?

Most schools don't need more money. What's lacking is the political will to tell the kids who cause chaos, "Until you learn to control yourselves, get out!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Frankly Speaking"

I can't accept the blame or take the credit for the name of my blog. It all goes back to one Ben Flatt.

A preacher with a flair for names and titles, Ben once suggested that I should call my regular column in the church bulletin "Frankly Speaking." It struck me that anyone with a name like Ben Flatt (been flat?) would understand names, titles, etc. about as well as anyone. (For years Ben had written a column under the title "B-Flatt Notes"). So I went with his suggestion and never looked back.

I can't claim to always speak "in an open, honest, and direct manner" (Oxford's primary definition of "frankly"). But I try, especially when it's important to speak that way.

Oh, and Ben? And his wife, Judy? Some of the best people I've ever known.