Monday, March 26, 2007

My Brother-In-Law

Mentioning my brother-in-law in the last post makes me want to introduce him to my readers. He also reads this, so I have to not embellish too much. People often think we're brothers, on account of the fact that we're both thin and wear the same haircut (the flattop). But he's far more interesting than me. He was born hydrocephalic--a condition in which cerebral fluid accumulates and causes the brain to swell. The treatment is a plastic shunt implanted in the skull that pumps off the fluid. He also is asthmatic, and allergic to pretty much everything. So, you'd guess he probably can't do much. You'd be wrong. He is a black belt in two different martial arts and also runs ultra-marathons (ultra distance BEGINS at 50k, which is 31 miles). He's also a good husband, a good dad, and a Christian minister. He specializes in visiting the sick in the hospital, since he's had so much experience being there.

Everybody should have a friend like him--a guy with whom you are evenly matched in every activity (except the martial arts, of course--he'd kick my butt in a fair fight. I did, however, break his nose once, but that was playing basketball). Whether basketball, pool, poker, or a "relaxed" run on vacation together, if we played any game 100 times, it would come down to a 50-50 tiebreaker and an all-out war on that one.

This weekend I gave him a call to invite him to our track meet (we ran high school track together 20 years ago, so he's one of my few friends who really understands the subtleties of the sport). He couldn't come, because he was on his way to a martial arts tournament out of town. My sister had told him he couldn't spar, since he just had brain surgery (shunt replacement) a couple of weeks ago. He took 3rd in the black belt division in the "forms" competition. Some people make excuses why they can't do things. Others overcome, and in doing so, inspire. I am thankful that my sister managed to marry one of the good guys.

(A footnote: I'm only saying all these nice things about him so he won't give me too hard a time over my round flattop.)

Barber Loyalty

I went to get a haircut today. This is not surprising, as I get my hair cut about every three weeks. If I had the time and the money, I'd go every 10 to 14 days. You see, I wear a flattop--a circa 1955 flattop, high and tight. And by week three, my flattop goes from flat to fluffy. I really don't like fluffy. This haircut was a must-do; I've worked past the barbershop's closing time for weeks, plus I worked Saturday, so the fluffy look was starting to get to me. But, there was a problem. Today was Monday, and my barber is off Mondays. Now, I take barber loyalty very seriously. In the 37 years I have had hair (that first one I was a cue ball), I probably have been inside less than 10 barbershops. Since I've had a choice in the matter, I could count 'em on one hand. And since I've had the flattop, I've gone to two barbershops--exactly one each in two different cities. When I moved back to my hometown, I asked a cadet from the local military school who did his flattop, and that was that. In my opinion, a man cheating on his barber is akin to cheating on his wife. So there is no option for a different shop. but on the rare occasions, like today, when Monday is the only day I can get in, and I'm fluffy, I'm in a predicament. You see, I picked my barber because he gives a good flattop. Period. Turns out, he's a good guy, too. That's a bonus. But if he were any thing short of an axe-murderer (seeing as how he's around my neck area with a razor every three weeks), I'd probably still use him. It used to be that when my regular guy, Bubba (yep, that's his name), was out, I'd use Miss Debra, one chair over. It took a little longer, and the quality was just a little off, but only my brother-in-law (who also wears a flattop and also uses Bubba) could tell. I'd run into him him a week or so later, his eyes would linger for just a second, and he'd say, "Monday, huh?" But Debra wasn't bad. Sadly, Miss Debra had a stroke a while back and retired. Now the only other guy in the shop who supposedly can cut a flattop is Roger. Now, Roger is a great guy, and a good barber. He used to have his own shop, and now he's semi-retired and rents the end chair from Bubba. He's slower than Christmas, but he gives a decent haircut. My middle son has decided that Roger is HIS barber, like Bubba is mine. I can respect that--the boy is growing up with barber loyalty. BUT... Roger's flattops are kinda round. A flattop without corners is basically just a buzz, and that's what I've got. Oh, well--at least it's no longer fluffy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Random Thoughts Provoked by John Edwards

If you've read my previous posts on John Edwards, you know I don't care much for him as a candidate. As I have written before, it befuddles me that he is one of the Democrats' "big 3" candidates. I keep trying to find something nice to say about him, and keep falling short. The best I can come up with is, if I really believed he cared as much about poor people as he says he does, that would improve my opinion of him (although we would still differ on policy specifics, but that's by no means a test of character). That all said, I felt for him this morning when the news came out that his wife has cancer, or rather, that her previously diagnosed cancer is incurable. I'm sure that somewhere out on the web somewhere, there's some jerk speculating about what this means to the Edwards campaign. It's worth remembering, that all these public figures are actual flesh-and-blood people, too. (Yes, even George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney! Maybe even Kobe Bryant!) No matter whether you are a pro athlete, a movie star, a politician, or just a schoolteacher, there are people in your life with whom you are entertwined. Those people, by their actions, their lack of action, their health, the choices they make--they can make their loved ones feel a million different emotions. Things like our health we can't help. But whether we like it or not, we effect people. My heart (and a brief prayer) go out to the Edwards family.

On another, barely related note. The Edwards story led my wife to a summary of what the Edwards' children are up to. I was unaware that they had a son who died at age 16 (he would be maybe 27 now) in a car crash. I don't know why some people seem to have more tragedies than others. I have a great aunt who has borne more than any human being should ever have to, in my opinion. Of course, my opinion is worthless on this topic. (I think it was my mom who told me that opinions are like armpits--we all have a couple, and most of 'em stink.) But when you try to philosophize why God allows some folks to have cancer, or bury children, or bear and raise babies with disabilities, or otherwise deal with stuff that I have never thus far had to do, it's a tough one. I know that we live in a world polluted by the consequences of sin and the fall. And I recall that once Jesus was asked about a man born blind, "who sinned, this man or his parents?" His answer was illuminating: "Neither. He was born this way that you might glorify God." (sorry, too lazy to pull out book, chapter, and verse--that's the Coach Sal Revised Version.) Then he healed the man, and sure enough, the people who saw gave the glory to God. I remember only one line of the Presbyterian chatechism I learned as a pre-teen: "What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to worship God and to glorify him." I certainly hope and pray that if ever I am in a position of suffering, that my response will bring glory to God.

Okay, last one, and I'm done. That same Edwards article said he has a daughter in Harvard Law School. Maybe I'm just a jerk, but among my first thoughts when I heard that was, "really? Wonder if she got in on her own, or if her dad being JE helped?" Seems to me that's the problem (well, ONE problem) with preferences of all sorts. You never REALLY know how good you were. President Bush did Yale undergrad and Harvard business school. But "everybody knows" his dad's name got him in. Or did it? Or did it help him once he was in? My best student ever is at Yale. I would bet a gazillion bucks he was good enough to get in on his own merits. But his dad was a legacy, so we'll never really know. And I teach at a wonderful private school, but I am also an alumnus of that school. I'll never be 100% sure whether I could have beaten out all the other applicants for my job had I not been "connected." That's not to say that I'd rather not have had the opportunity, or that this isn't how the world has always worked. Since I've already been philosophical once this post, I'll just posit that once again, that's a consequence of our fallen human nature. I sure am glad that God is more just than we are.

Wait, one more: maybe I take back one thing about that last line. I do expect God to give me preferential treatment far better than I deserve. Turns out, I'm a friend of His Son. It's not what you know, it's Who you know!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Nerd Alert

Apologies ahead of time. I'm going to lapse into what a math-teacher friend of mine calls "geek-speak." You know, the kind of talk that demonstrates that I really did get the inside joke in an episode of Star Trek, or that I really did play Dungeons and Dragons (both of which are 100% true). Today's nod to nerd-dom: comic books. Like most kids, I had some. Unlike most, I collected them until my 20s. Just recently, I finally passed what's left of the collection along to a nephew. And I didn't collect them because they would eventually be worth money--I was into the stories. As an aside, that's why I LOVE the recent resurgence of comic movies, from Superman Returns, to Batman Begins, to Spidey, X-Men, and even Ghost Rider. They finally have the ability to do the special effects to do justice to how I always dreamed those guys would look in live-action. Well, a favorite of mine bit the dust this week. I haven't seen the comic yet (and by now it will be an expensive item, so I likely won't), but the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed this week on the death of Captain America. I always liked Cap. As the article points out, he has been used to reflect the cultural and political sentiments of the comic writers all too often, but I never minded that. What was cool about Cap was that, like Superman (my favorite), he remained, at least through my youth, a throwback to the notion of heroism born in the "greatest generation." In the 1960s (the "silver age" of comics), The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Hulk, who eventually got cut from the team) found a block of ice in the ocean that contained a perfectly healthy and preserved Captain America, presumed killed in the 40s. Cap lead the Avengers throughout my young adulthood, and the running theme was that he was always out of place, or rather, out of his time. Although physically young enough to still kick butt, he was the wise old guy who reminded brash, young, more-super-powered heroes than himself what a real hero acts like. The older I get, and as I continue to work with kids, I know the feeling of being "out of time." Whether it's my clothes, my flattop, or the music I listen to, I'm becoming just as much an anachronism as he was. My values are also increasingly dated. But like Superman and Captain America, I know that the world changes, but Truth doesn't. They killed Superman off, too. He's back now. And Cap, he's been dead once before. He won't be gone that long this time. You can't keep a genuine hero down.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Thoughts on a Funeral

We buried my last great-uncle last week. It was a nice funeral, as funerals go. I'm not a fan of the whole genre. I know there are folks who get up and read the obits every day, but until I'm a bit older and go through the "funeral phase," I think I'll skip that (you know, there's the "everybody's getting married" phase, then the "baby shower phase," then the "all my friends are having vasectomies" phase. Someday, I hear, you go to lots of funerals). The whole process brought out several thoughts, some sad, some poignant, some just random.
1. Nobody's family is really normal. Mine is no exception. But it's a really good family.
2. There will be more of these, I'm afraid. Of my Grandmother's twelve siblings, only three are left, and none of them were well enough to attend, including my uncle's widow.
3. World War II veterans are rapidly becoming ancient history. My uncle dropped out of high school to join the army after Pearl Harbor, making him one of the youngest veterans of that war. He was 82. In my generation, everybody knew a WWII veteran; my kids will likely never remember meeting one.
4. "Taps" is the coolest song ever. If you don't get chills when a military color guard plays Taps and folds the flag, there's something wrong.
5. If you live long enough, no matter how great a guy you were or how popular you were, it's a small funeral, because your friends are dead, too.
6. Funerals for committed Christians are joyous. My uncle was notoriously stubborn about faith for the vast majority of his life. A couple of years ago, right around age 80, he came in from mowing the grass and told my aunt, "let's call the preacher. I think it's time for me to get baptized." That story made the whole day a joy.
7. Everybody should have a crusty old uncle who calls them a silly nickname. When you're 13 or so, you think it's really dumb, but now it's very cool.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Ordering Your Private World, Week 8

Wisdom & Knowledge, Part 1 (Chapter 8)

“The ordering of our private world cannot take place without strong mental endurance and the intellectual growth this endurance produces….People whose minds are not strengthened for endurance are by no means always unintelligent. They simply have never stopped to think that the use of the mind for the purpose of growth is a necessary part of a God-pleasing life-style.” (p. 90)

Some of us may have gotten by on natural talent or ability for some time. But by our mid-30s, many of us have reached a point where endurance and discipline matter at least as much. This is especially true in the mental area.

Amusement = function without thought (a=without, muse=thought). Functioning without thought leads to disorder in the private world.

“Like others, I am convinced that Christians ought to be the strongest, broadest, most creative thinkers in the world….In Christ there is a foundation of truth that ought to make our ideas, our analysis of things, and our innovations among the most powerful of the age. But because there is an essential laziness and internal disorganization in many Christian lives, this is not always the case. We are forfeiting one of the great gifts God provided through Christ.” (pp. 93-94)

“Thinking is a great work. It is best done with a mind that has trained and is in shape just as competitive running is done with a body that has trained and is in shape. The best kind of thinking is accomplished when it is done in the context of reverence for God’s kingly reign over all creation. It is sad to see great thinking and artistic work accomplished by men and women who have no interest in uncovering knowledge of the Creator.” (p. 97)

Romans 12:1-2
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. [2] And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Cor. 10:5
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,

1 Cor. 2:16
For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Matthew 22:34-38
But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. [35] And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, [36] "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" [37] And He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' [38] "This is the great and foremost commandment.