And I feel fine……

I was going to title this post “It’s the End of the World as We Know It…” – however, I second guessed myself and figured that with the political climate what it is and the obsession with Apocalypse in which our culture is currently immersed, my meaning would be misconstrued.  Also, maybe people are not as familiar with this song as I assume?  In any case, the lyrics keep flitting through my mind as I grade opinion based mini-essay-introductions written by my 7th graders.

…..Perhaps this requires explanation (unless, perhaps you work with 7th graders)

Here is the backstory:

We began this week, our first week back from winter break, by reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” (and watching a short narrated cartoon version of it to help with comprehension).  I know this is a rough place to start for 7th graders just because of the style of the writing, and for my students the language is difficult as well.  However, I have been wanting to read this with them since the beginning of the year when I read a teacher’s back to school blog post about how she begins each year by reading the allegory out loud with her class and then discussing what the classroom will look like (I loved many things about this post, and even printed her thoughtful pledge…).  I loved this idea, but felt that at the beginning of this year, with brand new middle school students, I needed to get to know the students and their abilities a little before throwing Plato into their lives.

While planning this week, I stumbled upon a TED.Ed which also covered the Allegory, and re-purposed this writing prompt for my class:

Using 2 examples, at least one of which should come from Allegory of the Cave, write a mini-Essay which answers this question:

“If people have developed a way of understanding the world that makes them comfortable, does it matter if it’s false? Is there some higher moral duty to expose them to the truth regardless of their own preferences?”

I did not just throw this at them and ask them to write, but gave examples of what this could look like in their own lives, how it related to the allegory and then after a 10 minute quick write/brainstorm, we began to write out an introductory paragraph as a class.

I also created a graphic organizer on which the first box gives room for a “Quick Yes/No, because… ‘ answer, and all of this backstory leads up to the moment that I am reading through these quick answers.

Now, I had expected varied responses from my students:  I had expected that some would not feel that it was their moral duty* to correct false understandings, and I had expected some would feel it was.  I had expected that some students would say yes and no and have varied ideas about situations in which they would feel responsible, and others in which they would not.  I did not expect that the majority of my students would not focus so much on the False vs. True understandings, but instead focus upon the comfort of the people in question.  The majority of my students said they would not feel morally obligated to correct false understandings of the world with a truth known to themselves because the people preferred to believe false ideas and were comfortable and why would they want to make someone uncomfortable?  surely they would want no one to make them uncomfortable so these 7th graders have decided that they will not mess with anyone else’s understandings.  Cue R.E.M here….

These scholar’s complete lack of thought about moral obligations surrounding true or false or even varied understandings of the world, scares me. Part of the reason I teach is to help these students begins to see beyond themselves – to experience a classroom space which allows people from diverse backgrounds to come together, share their stories – listen to other stories and to begin thinking about their place in this large world which requires so much analysis of thought and expression.  I want to help them to become willing listeners who participate in grand discussions about the meaning of life and friendship and school – to engage in politics and community building – to care about others and respect opinions which they do not share.  I forgot how young they are and I often forget how VERY different their 7th grade year is than was my own.  Their understanding of the world is jaded by pictures available to them in little screens.  They focus their goals on individual successes which require little to no effort and can be completed in short time frames.

I understand that part of my student’s ability to feel that it is their job to be truth tellers or not stems from the fact that they are only 12 and 13 and in reality do not feel that they hold much authority over any given people.  They are not yet ready to rock the boat and change anyone’s mind, but I hope by the end of this year they will begin to question their own comfort…

Today I challenged them to think a little deeper.  I returned their introductory paragraphs with some side questions and before going through my general comments about their writing (don’t forget to introduce where your examples come from…..only summarize the part of the story that relates to your opinion, no need to tell the entire Allegory….please please please check your homophones…… and for the 500th time cuz is not an acceptable word in an essay…..), I introduced a poem.  It is poetry Thursday after all and during our WWD time on Thursdays, we discuss/write about poetry.  I introduced a poem written in 1945 by a man who had once supported Hitler, and when he opposed him was placed in a concentration camp:

First They Came For The Jews / Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Before asking them to write about the poem, we discussed what it meant to be a bystander and whether that required any thought about false vs. true understandings of the world. I challenged them to rewrite the poem using people groups that might apply to their own lives – at home, in the community, or out on the blacktop and to write about how bystanders are still in existence and what that might mean to each of them individually. There were a few light bulbs, and if nothing else, they had another example to include in their writing today.

Teaching is exhausting, but I think maybe it’s weeks like this that will end up my favorite.  Challenging unwilling students to become curious scholars – to approach the world from an interested and open-minded perspective and to slowly see them expand their understanding (and I mean s…l….o…w…l…y) of at very least the vastness of culture and thought – is pretty neat.

Maybe it is the end of the world as we know it…..and maybe it’s not quite true that I feel fine, but I’ll keep holding out hope. All of us had to start somewhere.

* (side note: never use the word duty in a writing prompt, I should know better)

 

A New Year

Happy Holidays and New Year to you all.  It has been a lovely, and much needed, break from school and work for my family and I hope that whatever this season has held for you, that it has been somewhat wonderful.  It’s so easy to be distracted and disappointed in our daily slog – so easy to wish for something different and to jealously browse our friend’s perfectly projected lives and believe they live a more enchanted and fulfilling life than our own. I challenge you to instead be grateful in your own life this year as I attempt to be grateful in mine. We can hold each other accountable, ok? I know that I personally find it much easier to complain about the little things in my daily life rather than be thankful and happy about the other little and often big things. It feels like insecurity – as though I should not be happy for it would be an apathetic and immodest emotion to convey lest I be speaking to someone who does not share in my excitement of life.  Shall we attempt to be comfortable in our own skin as a resolution?

I resolve to be like Eustace (of Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader), to allow the dragon hide to be peeled away and to become comfortable in my own skin. Brave even and ready to redirect my understanding of self in order to better understand the world and the people with whom I live.

Things I will remember:

  • Eustace was a dragon for a good long time before he came to recognize his strengths and weaknesses and to face them rather than hide or become defensive.  I will not be too hard on myself when I fall back into old patterns, but attempt to simply pick up again and move toward thankfulness.
  • It takes practice to become good at anything – practice to improve, to learn, to grow.  I love what my 8 year old always says (sayings which I give full credit to her teacher, but may steal for my own classroom): “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes Progress” – that is all I can hope for I think – progress toward what I hope to be, what I hope to become.
  • Peeling away skin – especially dragon skin – was not possible without the help of a divine Lion. I am not an island unto myself – I must be willing to seek support  of friends, family, and to look for guidance and grace from God in order to change anything in my daily habits.

What does it look like, in daily action, to be resolutely comfortable in my own skin?  To me, I think it just means actively looking for things for which to be thankful and happy rather than complaining.  It means that I stop apologizing for being me, for having my thoughts and feelings; and instead I choose to just be me.

Perhaps you already are comfortable in your own skin, perhaps you are more often happy and thankful than complaining and wishing to be different – tell me your secrets!

GK Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, claims that “the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. Taken semi out of context, but meaningful nonetheless, I think that I have become this “modern revolutionist”, an infinite skeptic who constantly questions my own choices, my life in general.  By doing this, I undermine my own good intentions and create a space in which I no longer feel that I’ve done any good and have furthermore highlighted for all of my peers the insecurities I recognize and perhaps they too will now call in to question my intentions.  I want to attempt to bury the skeptic in happiness, so much so that any real call for skepticism will first be perceived with a loving heart and a willingness to negotiate..

I realize that this post has possibly a more casual tone, but I’d like to recognize that by typing to the world at large through this digital voice that I know I am being received by other people.  Real people, in their homes, or jobs, or on their cell phones in their cars. I tend to read blog posts and consider the author a detached voice – someone far superior to little-old-me the reader, and I’d just like to say, that in this case (and probably if you’re reading this, you already know it), there is no superiority no writer/reader hierarchy- we all carry the condition of humanity and all the brokenness and beauty it entails.

What are your resolutions?

 

When Stories Collide

Remembering long forgotten lanes;

Reliving a lunatic past.

The streets are the same, and the soft summer breeze

Carries memories mean to last.

Drowning in darkness

The world falls

Muffled in black velvet and glittering stars

Barely visible in the electronic glow.

A doomed future

A prophesied apocalypse – human folly.

Time stands still.

Tires keep turning, street lamps flicker –

Logically light saving, energy efficient bulbs illuminate a chunk of pavement.

Flashback.

Lamps lit by stilt walkers whose long extended legs assist kerosene fire

While children and dogs find

The familiar oddities intriguing enough

To attempt a playful assault:

Swing around, run around

Will he fall over?

And the wooden poles move slowly – intentionally –

Still stands Time.

bump,bump – bump, bump

The earthquake safe structure

Headlights glaring –

And once again the darkness is held off,

These lights – imposing their fluorescent glow –

All meant to illuminate the world;

To ward off portents and fill the daily darkness with unnatural light.

These will now suffice

Until the Sun forgets to shine

and Time stands still.

My favorite dream


It is an odd coincidence…maybe correlation? – that in all of my favorite stories, most common dreams, and every plan I’ve ever made for the future, I picture dirt roads, red brick buildings broken with age but standing sturdy against the elements, warm fires built within. Old Victorian ranch houses with wrap around screened in porches, and always a cool breeze. A rocking chair creaking on old white washed wood. A well-used swing swaying from a long established tree – well loved and not forgotten. I picture long dry wheat grass and grazing animals in twilight paintings of the horizon. My stories, dreams, and plans are always centered on what seems to be an idyllic past – not my own, of course, but one which took place long before I was born, or possibly never happened at all. Perhaps based on the stories I’ve read, stories of someone else’s idyllic place – well loved and not forgotten.

orchard

In this world of stories written about post-apocalyptic futures I find myself wondering how to build a sturdy structure for my own dreams. I begin with a sturdy structure for green beans, and research how to harvest carrots and lettuce before they are eaten by voracious slugs and skunks. My scythe put to use in a fallow land with plans for future harvests to feed my family a sword made to prepare the present rather than protect against a poverty stricken, putrifyingly fantastical end. I worry less about the end of the world and instead about the sustaining of such an already pillaged place. Distracted by the noise – the electric waves of information connecting each person to the next – the gas and electric cars carrying people to destinations determined by necessity – work for the sake of artificial wealth which only requires continued labor. A difficult and painful labor whose hours draw out so as to mimic life itself – a life-labor – a painful pushing forward to complete each unwanted task in order to obtain what? In an individually focused society, for what greater good does this work contribute? For what flourishing do we sacrifice these moments? A sacrifice so enmeshed in small struggles that the daily liturgy of life is blurred – the desires blended with labor put forth as necessity without any explanation of purpose, of end goal. Endeavors might never be achieved if the goal is a moving target – a never ending tower of glass ceilings to break and grand aspirations to be achieved. What does contentment look like?

I look beyond my small plot and I wonder where the fawns are hiding in the forests; and I close my eyes and hear the fluttering fairy wings as the pixies play in the twilight – never seen, never known – always expected. My post-apocalyptic future looks a bit like Narnia, with some shades of Hogwarts and Rivendale thrown in – Zombies be damned, I will prance with the pixies in a Neverland re-made – in which the old are old, the young, young and our lives lived fully to the flourishing of all – Pirates long lost amongst the stars in their search for grandeur, they found grace and joined the jolly jamboree – all debts and sins forgiven – in a country I call home.img_6097

 

 

Days and Days

Twilight approaches
The clouds seem close in the muggy air, but the warmth of the day confuses my sense of the weather. Will the rain fall or will the clouds tease us once again? -this eternal drought continuing into another week – internalizing.

The geese are honking far off, and the lone lawn mower has kept up his constant  growl nearly non-stop today – sun up and now it seems beyond sun down.

A day to remember the dead, followed near by a day to remember and honor the living and the dead of a certain vocation – and in between a nation in self-proclaimed turmoil or celebration, depending on to whom you speak.

Tirelessly beating, each of us, our own drum – an off-beat cacophony creating a familiar song, a dance we are still learning to step; a march we cling to in order to complete a journey we have no words to hope for

– a lifetime of effort – a lifetime of struggle –

The drum beats quicken, heart beats – joy buried so deep we forget to breathe in and out of it – an inspiration necessary to life – An inhalation we feel impossible –

and the sun will rise in the morning- Grace in the morning dew, a clearness in the foggy gray light  – a restless season – an acedia strewn story, longing to be untold – longing instead to wait and watch and gather close to the Grace in the morning dew.

Imperceptible unevenness

The black top shines against the gray and cloudy backdrop.

Misty rain falling softly, kissing cold cheeks and unprotected heads.

Puddles form slow and steady – revealing the otherwise imperceptible unevenness of the basketball court

Flooding the ground, making paths for splashing feet.

Puddles highlight the flaws which sunshine and heat hide so perfectly.

Smiling faces enjoy the clouds caress and call out across the space.

The laughter of childhood momentarily covering the discomfort that comes at cold night.

The scraping reality of exposure to the elements during damp and sleepless nights;

A damp which does not dry.

Sunshine comforts cold realities

Like a calm before a dreary, depressing storm,

Discomfort and fear are  currently covered by the imperceptible unevenness of their smiles.

Thoughts and Psalms

I’ve been thinking about creating a separate blog lately – about the fact that my blog tends to traverse three easily separated realms of my life:  school, family, religion – but the thing is – I want to live with these as things that are all part of me as a whole person. These aspects of my life overlap and grow together – informing my understanding of the world, my place in it, and my ability to sustain this life – and so I sort of rail against the idea of separating these things into different blogs.

I want and intend to write in a space that reflects my life experiences – not in any certain realm, but as a sum total of how I am becoming who I am.  Hopefully it is a place where my words might inspire conversations and not imply that I am unwilling to discuss my thoughts – So, my fair warning is this:  Please don’t interpret my words as fully me – but parts of the whole of my current thought processes and feel free to (I would love for you to) engage in the discussion and thoughts.

So, without further ado….from my Sunday sermon inspired ramblings.  Psalm 1 – Sept. 4, 2016

Wind blown,

Waves of grain.

The harvest upon us

Solstice wanes.

Magnetically, we-

Are pulled closer.

The equinox upon us,

Drawn.

Our faces burned

By the souls blowing

In the breeze-

A fiery baptism.

Our tears a sacrifice

His life – death – unrecognized.

Our fingers claw

Attempting to carry the chaff;

Collect the wandering grain –

But it’s godlessness alludes our grasp,

And our tears

Though sacrificial

Reflect our selfish nature –

And hopeless hopes bear fruit.

Forgotten love, lived

Fully – overflows

And out of the chaff, blown

Wide to foreign lands –

The barren lands  –

New life begins

And brings with it’s fresh

Young growth

The waters of Grace

Once again

Poured freely

Reviving the cracked earth.