". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Church, Same Cantor

On August 19 my husband was installed as Minister of Music and Worship at a new church. We have been welcomed more warmly than we could have ever anticipated and are seeing with greater clarity each week why God has called him to this place at this time in his professional life. Still, it has been hard to say goodbye to our former church home. We were there for almost thirteen years. During that time we made many dear friends and my husband did much to develop a rich, liturgical, singing piety. In the wake of our departure we have had countless people from our former church reach out to say how much they are going to miss having us in their midst. I have been most touched upon hearing from both young people and their parents about how much my husband's teaching has meant to them in the recent and more distant past. Just a few days ago Phillip received a note from one of his singers in last year's junior high choir. The note read simply, "Alleluia! I'm still in choir. For you, Cantor." When you read something like that you grieve anew for those you have had to leave behind.

But then you see something like this. Another group of children in another place who, just like those we left behind, have a song to sing and need someone to help them sing it. The video below was taken during warm-up for church this morning. It is typical of my husband's approach to working with children: demanding, accepting only the best, but always doing so with a sense of joy and fun. (Former choir members, young and old, will recognize Phillip's "Russian piano teacher" persona.) I told Phillip a few weeks ago that I know that he will be a blessing to all the children with whom he is currently working but that I believe that somewhere among them is a child, maybe more than one, who particularly needs a teacher like him right now, and that is in part why the Lord as called him here.

These children are fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. They have been singing for their new choir director for about a month now. Aren't they sounding beautiful?

"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" - J. S. Bach from Cheryl on Vimeo.

And Then Again, Some Are

A few days ago I posted about friendship. It's a topic I have written about before that for various reasons has lately come back into focus. One of those reasons is something that happened last weekend. One of my oldest friends, a best friend from my junior high days, found me on Facebook. We only went to the same school for three years--sixth, seventh, and eighth grades--before I moved again. But when we met we immediately connected and even though we lost touch somewhere along the way I have never forgotten her. I have looked for her over the years on Facebook but couldn't find her under her maiden name. I am so glad she was able to find me!

We have spent the last week catching up on each other's lives and recalling the past. I don't know why, but I have never seemed to have a very good memory when it comes to past events, even extremely significant ones. Some months ago my husband showed me on Facebook a photograph of a church sanctuary. He smiled broadly, waiting for my reaction. He didn't get the one he was anticipating. "Nice church," I said. It turned out it was the church we got married in. Sigh. I felt so bad (but in my defense, we moved shortly after marriage and have not been back to that church since then).

Anyway, my long lost junior high friend--her name is Kathy--has blessed me with so many memories this week. A few I don't personally recall, but others I do now that she has prodded them loose. We have had fun remembering . . . .

Having a fan club devoted to filling scrapbooks with pictures and clippings about our favorite stars (mine was Barbra Streisand).

Going camping with my parents.

Signing up to play doubles tennis and losing horribly in the first round of the tournament (we were so very bad and the "coach" offered us no instruction at all but focused entirely on those who already knew how to play).

Performing in the school talent show. Kathy sang with several of our other friends and I played piano. What song did we do? "Sing" by The Carpenters.

Visiting our English teacher's home on the spur of the moment and having her invite us in and cook for us. Something that could have only happened in the 1970's in a small Texas town.

A few days ago I got this note from Kathy:

We will keep in touch. You were my very first friend growing up. You never judged me because we were so poor. So many happy childhood memories because of you and your family. I still remember the first time I invited you over to spend the night. We cooked steak and became best friends. I still have a recipe you wrote out for strawberry shortcake on a recipe card. I don't think we made it, though. I remember all your Archie comics we would read at your house and we would write short stories and we loved English and our English teacher Mrs. Powell and we even ate at her house once . . . . Life sure was a lot simpler back then. . . . I sure did enjoy listening to you play the piano and your concerts we would go to in Austin. I remember my favorite was at your house and I would bug you to play "The Sting" . . . . When I come for a visit I will bring that recipe!

I wrote back to Kathy that the not judging works both ways. My father was a good man but he was an alcoholic and when he drank, his behavior and language were very harsh. I remember frequently feeling embarrassed when my friends were around to see it. Kathy told me she remembered that but also remembered all the things my dad did for us and the places he took us. 

Kathy, I can't possibly express what a blessing you have been to me this week. The title of my last post was "Friends are Friends Forever . . . Not." But this week I was reminded again that some friends are indeed  forever. They may fade for a time, but when you least expect it, they come back and bless you all over again! More and more I am understanding that God gives us the friends we need when we need them. Our calling is to be thankful in this as in all things. "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21) 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friends are Friends Forever . . . Not

Online friendship sometimes gets a bad rap. People have legitimate concerns about it. It's harder to maintain a friendship when you don't see the other person for long periods of time. You sometimes wonder if you really know that other person as well as you think you do. Would you like each other as much if you saw one another on a daily basis? And yet one thing about online friendship is that if someone continues hanging around, reading your emails, responding back, interacting with you on social media, occasionally even making an effort to get together in person, you kind of start to think that maybe he or she really does care about you. Because if he doesn't, dropping you is a mere click of the mouse away. Flesh and blood people, on the other hand, are kind of stuck with you. If you work with a person, live in the same neighborhood, go to church together, etc., you don't have much choice but to put up with him or her. So you learn to get along. Sometimes you even get along really well. But when contact is required rather than optional you don't really ever know what the other person thinks of you. You may think you do, but you don't--not until such time as that person has a choice of whether to continue the relationship or not. And I suppose that's a good thing. We all do what we must to get along, and we can't be bosom buddies with everyone we come into contact with on a daily basis. Some relationships are for a lifetime; others are only for a season. But sometimes there are people in your life that you come to think of as friends who, it turns out, were just being polite, putting up with you until they didn't have to anymore. And that is disappointing to learn.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We Love Fred

Have you ever met Fred? In case the answer is no, here he is. Reader, Fred. Fred, Reader.

Fred is the star of the Life of Fred math series, created by Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D. We just started Life of Fred elementary math this year. Even though Evan has already had some math study, knows much of his times tables and would be ready to take on a traditional third grade math book, we are following the recommendation to start at the beginning of Life of Fred. We would not want to miss a single page of either Fred's story or the rich cultural associations that are included at every turn. In just the first book (LOF elementary math is a 10-book program), in addition to adding numbers up to 7, telling time on the hour, counting by fives and hundreds, and learning about degrees Fahrenheit, circles, ellipses, squares, rectangles, triangles, basic algebra and set theory, we have learned about--

The days of the week
Alphabetical order
How to spell February
Deciduous v. evergreen trees
The painter Domenico Fetti
The meaning of a.m. (ante meridiem)
The fact that the reindeer names "Donner and Blitzen" mean "thunder and lightning" in German
The Greek alphabet
The phrase "Noli turbare circulos meos" (Latin for "Don't mess with my circles").
Good manners
United States geography, including Kansas, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean
The Titanic
Herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores
How some chess pieces move
What a Table of Contents is
The Wizard of Oz

This math curriculum is an English teacher's dream. It doesn't get much better. The math is there, sprinkled throughout the story, but it doesn't feel like math. At the end of each chapter is a "Your turn to play" box where the child/teacher review what has been presented. But it really does feel like play, not work. And the cultural literacy and life instruction are invaluable.

We are almost done with "Apples" and ready to start "Butterflies" (the names of the first ten books proceed alphabetically from "A" to "J"). The pace is about one book per month. By the end of the tenth book we will be doing decimals, exponents, fractions and prime numbers. I'm actually looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means

Have you ever noticed that there are certain phrases that have a completely different meaning from what they claim to be communicating? A few examples: 

"Not to change the subject . . . ." I'm about to change the subject.

"I hate to tell you this . . . ." I can't wait to tell you this.

"I promise I won't judge you." You are about to be judged.

"Nothing wrong with that." Here's what's wrong with that.

"No offense . . . ." Get ready to be offended.

"It's not personal." I don't like you.

"I have nothing against him." I don't like him.

"It's your call." You're about to make the wrong decision.

"I was only kidding." You are hypersensitive.

"We wish you the best in your future endeavors." Good riddance.

Can you think of any more?

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Regular Guy?

I have been pondering this for a while. In my life I have known quite a few men "of the cloth" (pastors, priests, preachers, etc.). With many of them I have observed a certain quality that I find it difficult to put my finger on.  I have seen it in both priests (I used to be Roman Catholic) and Lutheran pastors as well as ministers from other denominations. For lack of a better word, they are "pastoral." There is something that is just a little different about them, something that sets them apart from the rest of us. Again, it is hard to define and describe, but some of the qualities that come to mind are thoughtfulness, quietness, dignity, caring, kindness, peacefulness, gentleness, serenity, self-control and calm. In short, they are Christ-like. I am probably going to get raked over the coals for saying this, but I also appreciate pastors/priests who in their own demonstration of propriety and decorum make  "regular" people want to behave better than they otherwise might. In the same way that I as a parent try not to let my children see me sin (even though I do sin) because I don't want my sin to lead them astray, I appreciate pastors who set a good example with regard to their use of language and their choices in entertainment, dress, behavior, etc. I think men who are charged with standing in for Christ in the worship service often carry some of that aura of holiness into their everyday lives, and I think that is a good thing.

At the same time, I understand that pastors are sinners like the rest of us. Believe me, I understand. But it seems that there are some pastors who, in their effort to warn us about the worthlessness of our own good deeds, go out of their way to put the baser aspects of their humanity on display. Similarly, there are some lay people who go out of their way to encourage pastors in this anti-pietism crusade. This doesn't make sense to me. Does not Paul himself call the overseer to a higher standard of behavior than those he oversees?

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

I take the statements that the overseer should be "respectable" and "well thought of by outsiders" to be a call for him to adhere to a high enough standard of speech and behavior that he will not confuse, offend, or lead astray one of his sheep or miss the opportunity to minister to someone in need. In my opinion, then, a pastor should not use foul language. He should not tell dirty jokes or use racial slurs. He should use good manners and exhibit modesty in his behavior and moderation in his lifestyle. He should be humble and act like a gentleman, not drawing excessive attention to himself. These are all things I try to do in my own life so as to set a good example for my children; I think my pastor, and pastors in general, should make the same effort for us their sheep. I realize that pastors fail as we all do. But we will all fail less often if we make the effort to begin with.

One final thought. I find it puzzling that sometimes the same people who promote the "Pastors are sinners like the rest of us so don't expect them to behave any better or differently" mantra are the very same people who will blindly follow a pastor simply because he is the pastor and he cannot possibly be at fault. This seems to me a disconnect. If the pastor is a sinner like the next guy, isn't it possible that he has actually somewhere along the way made a mistake or committed a sin? And if so, shouldn't he have that sin pointed out so that he can be brought to repentance and forgiveness like anyone else? And isn't doing so actually a good and positive thing for him (and his sheep) if it leads to a recognition of sin and a change in behavior going forward?

I guess what I am trying to say is that while I realize the man in the clerical suit is a sinful human being, I also look to him as a father figure and teacher, one who has been called to high and holy purpose, and as a result I hope and expect of him certain attributes and behaviors that I don't necessarily expect of the person sitting next to me in the pew. I also hope and expect that when he sins, which he surely does, he does not hide behind his office but readily acknowledges his failings and in so doing models the humility with which we should each approach the cross of our crucified Christ.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Only in Our Family

Lunch today. True story.

"Caitlin, wouldn't it be cool to have a tongue that glowed in the dark?"

Teenage girl considers. Then . . .

"Would I be able to turn it on and off?"

Eight-year-old considers. Then . . .


Teenage girl considers again, then nods.

"Yeah, pretty cool."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

But for the Grace

Yesterday Evan and I had our community children's choir rehearsal (he is one of the singers; I am the piano accompanist). I had some concern about how Evan would handle this experience (he himself expressed great trepidation about it), but he is doing great! Go figure--I guess maturity really does increase with years. ;-) It helps that the choir director is a highly experienced elementary music teacher who obviously loves children and who is a pro at planning a rehearsal that is varied and engaging. It also helps that my 8-year-old is an extrovert who craves the emotional energy of interacting with other children, so choir is a huge dose of his recommended weekly allowance of humanity.

A couple of things happened yesterday that reminded me anew of how blessed we are to live the life we are living and to be able to homeschool our children. This was only the second rehearsal of the year. Before it even got started, the choir director and I both noticed that the little boy sitting next to Evan was crying. Big crocodile tears, sniffles, red eyes, the whole bit. My colleague went to the child and talked with him and tried to comfort him. It seemed she made a little progress but a short time later I looked back at the child and he was crying as hard as before. I went over to him and suggested that he take a break, go to the back of the room, sit by the parent attendant for a little while and maybe get a drink of water or go to the bathroom, coming back to rehearsal when he felt better. He looked at me with big, sad eyes and said, "I miss my mom." :-( I told him his mom would be back for him soon. He did take me up on my suggestion and after a little break came back to rehearsal, but the tears continued off and on for the rest of the hour-long practice. I felt so sorry for that little boy who had probably been at school all day long and was already exhausted and wanted nothing more than the comfort of home and family for the rest of the day.

Later, after rehearsal, I chatted outside with the choir director and traffic parent for a few minutes. As I watched Evan run around on the grass with other children waiting for their parents, I joked about how much my isolated, homeschooled child enjoyed this weekly social time. The traffic mom suddenly perked up.

"You homeschool?" Yes, we do. "How long have you done that?" Since my oldest, a college sophomore, was in second grade. "And you did it all along?" Why, yes, we did. The woman's face expressed deep longing. "I wish we could homeschool. We had [her son] in private school for a while but now that we have two more children we can't afford it anymore. I work from home during the day and have another job a few nights a week and I just feel like I don't have enough time with my children, you know?" Yes, I said. I know. Being with our kids is probably the number one reason we homeschool. "I would really love to do it," she said. "I just don't know if I can." I told her she could certainly do as good a job as any school--that schools don't have it figured out any more than we as parents do. And most important, she would be able to spend more time with her children.

About that time some child somewhere needed to be told to not do whatever stupid, life-threatening thing he was doing. Our conversation ended, but I told her to let me know if she had any more questions about homeschooling.

I thank God that as I write this blog post my youngest child is in the same room with me, giggling about the Calvin & Hobbes strip that he read last night. There, but for the grace of God, goes a sad, little boy with tear-stained cheeks, surrounded by strangers, longing for his mommy to put her arms around him. And here by the grace of God sits a mommy who can give those hugs whenever they're needed, and who, truth be told, needs them herself as much as or more than he does. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Never Gonna Stop Till Everybody's Groovin'"

One of the things I want to do with Evan in our home school this year is to help him learn and appreciate the documents, symbols, and songs that are an important part of being an American citizen. Today before devotion we spent some time discussing the Pledge of Allegiance, going through it line by line and analyzing the meaning. When we got to the last line, "With liberty and justice for all," I asked Evan what "liberty" is. He wasn't sure but wanted to try to come up with the answer, so Caitlin and I offered some clues. I told him that there is a synonym for liberty that starts with the letter "f." Then Caitlin said that it is the state of being able to do what you want to do without having limitations put on you (I am paraphrasing--she said it in slightly different words). Evan immediately lit up with what he thought had to be the right answer: "FUN!"

You have to admit, he does have a point. :-)