Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on "special" classes

Since my post went up last night, there have been numerous comments--one here and a whole string on Facebook.  I have friends and family everywhere on the political spectrum.  Some of whom might agree on one issue and be diametrically opposed on another.  The range of responses shows in the discussion regarding my post.  As long as the discussion is civil, that's what American is all about.  The opportunity to think, discuss, and come to a conclusion based on well reasoned debate and compromise.

Those who have posted may disagree on how high taxes for public education should be.  Those who have posted may disagree on whether public education should focus solely on the ABC's and 123's or on the "ta-ta-ti-ti's" too.  (A reference to music rhythms.)  Those who have posted may debate the role of the public school versus the role of the parent.  Those who have posted may debate the role of the school in teaching a person how to be a good worker or a good citizen or the most well rounded person they can be.  That is fine.  I don't expect everyone to agree.

One thing I hope there is at least consensus on is that children who don't have access to the range of experiences in the "special" classes (gym, library, arts, etc.) don't experience the same richness of life.  Is that a problem?  Again, I am sure there will be debate.  Perhaps, in the same way that we can never provide every medical care service that every person in America could every possibly think is useful (because it would require too many resources), we have to think along the same lines in education.  We can't provide (at the public's expense) every wonderful and amazing opportunity for every student.  There are only limited resources.  The key is to have a rational debate over what is the best way to choose how to make the sacrifices that will affect the children.

And, the main reason I wrote the blog last night was not to be "just one more voice about saving UD arts."  Rather, I was concerned that I hadn't seen anything about saving gym or saving library.  And I think that everything needs to be part of the discussion.

One friend I know from my own elementary school days told me her 12 year old nephew spoke on why all the programs deserve to be saved.  If he keeps up that level of active citizenship in life, I bet he will go far.  At present, whether his voice has any effect on the outcome or not, it is that kind of spirit, that kind of initiative, that kind of proactive citizenship that Upper Darby School District is good at encouraging and informing when it is at its best.  But that requires critical thinking about the whole curriculum and how it affects the whole child.  This is true even when resources are scarce and sacrifices must be made.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Tribute to Some Things I Was Not Known for in Upper Darby

For weeks, if not months, I have been following the saga of some proposed budget cuts in the Upper Darby School district where I grew up.  I had hoped that they were just threatened and the clear heads and calm minds would prevail and resources would be found from somewhere.  But, it is not at all clear that this will happen, and I am beginning to go from just talking about potential implications to wanting to say something about it.

Am I the first?  Well, no.  I am FB friends with many from a year or two ahead of me to as much as seven or eight years behind me (we had a block with kids of all ages when I was in 5th-12th grade).  Many have posted about a petition.  I'm somewhat skeptical of what a petition on FB will do.  However, today my father forwarded an article to me.  You can read it if you click here.  This article was written by  Maria Pantaritis, who, like many at the Highland Park elementary school, got transferred the year that I was in fourth grade.  She was one class behind me and went to Highland Park, Beverly Hills Middle School, and Upper Darby High School just like I did.  She knew Tina Fey, Nora Murphy, (both of whom she mentioned) and many of the same cast of classmates I did all the way through.  Maria mentioned one of my elementary school music teachers, Ms Buynak.  She probably could have mentioned Mr Mackis from middle school as well.  Even Tina Fey was reported to have sent an email about the arts issue.  The memories that all came rushing back finally got me off my butt on this issue.

Because until today I sat on the sideline, it may be too late now.  But, I just signed the petition.

Now, I want to take a moment to comment.  At least one article referred to cuts in gym, library, vocal arts, technology, and foreign language.  The one that most people would associate with me would be library.  I loved library as an elementary school student and my wife always jokes about how much time I spent in East Pattee (now the Paterno wing of the library at Penn State) when we were undergrads.  As someone whose life has been so focused on academics, I bet no one would be surprised that I would stand up and protest cutting library.  I also have had the chance to see what library cuts can do to kids' reading when not much reading goes on in the home and the sheer joy of having some volunteers reopen libraries in several Baltimore City Schools.  It would be a shame to lose what a library can offer elementary school kids.  Thinking big about writing is what has led to this blog.  I know it's not so big, but just the idea that I would want to share my writing comes from reading so much of what other people wrote when I was a kid.

But it is not just about the library.

I wasn't known for my art.  I was the geeky kid who made a paramecium for my pressed copper project in middle school.  I was the one who got a very minor part in Annie Get Your Gun.  And I was the one who despite taking piano lessons for six years never got that good and left all signs of participation in music other than the piano lessons behind after eighth grade.  But, I've turned into the one who loves to play electric bass in the church worship band.  Who has written a number of songs over the years.  Nothing earth shattering but good stuff.  And I just enjoy it.  Where did it all start?  Elementary school.  A small group of us sang "O Ladybug, now come, and stand..."  as some of the first third graders ever to sing in the school's spring program.  I remember one girl sand Tomorrow from Annie (I think).  It was all good.  And while I gave it up and then came back to it, so many kids saw if through.  If the foundation had not been set, what would have happened to all of them?

As for gym, well, I was not much of an athlete in elementary school.  I remember often getting picked toward the end for kickball teams, although I swear it had as much to do with the plaid Toughskins I was forced to wear (here is a reasonable image) as with my sports ability.  Nevertheless, our gym teacher also ran a gymnastic club.  And I played soccer on the middle school team before switching over to track.  While I left the track behind for almost two decades after high school, I came back to it.  (And, as one colleague tells me, with a vengeance).  I have also watched two of my sons try lacrosse and tried a bit of golf myself.  Why?  Because I at least tried everything in elementary school.  I was encouraged to. I was given a chance to.  And where would I be without it?  Where would anyone who is participating in a lifelong sport be without elementary school gym?

As for foreign language?  I never mastered any.  But the experience with French occasionally pays off and did give me some confidence for learning a bit of Swahili at one point.  And, as my graduate school advisor points out--math and economics has its own language which is foreign to most.  The concept of mastering a new method of communication is critical.  Not having that in middle school would be a serious loss.

Technology?  Well, it depends on what technology means these days.  Having "shop" as we called it back in the day was critical for me.  Especially print shop.  I learned a lot about how to set type which has helped me think about how to design some things since then.  And computers are critical.  It's not knowing how to use Word (or Blogger) that has mattered most to me, but how to program the thing.  And it dates all the way back to the TRS-80's in the room just to the side of the cafeteria at Beverly Hills, where a couple friends and I programmed a stock simulator game for the 1920's unit in eighth grade.

So, I was and still am known mostly for academics.  But without technology, gym, art, and foreign language, my life experience would have been a lot different. I'd say, not nearly as rich.  The blog even brings together the technology, the library/writing, the athletics (as it is about physical and spiritual well being), and the art of layout.

I would hate to see kids anywhere not have those opportunities.  I would especially hate to see kids miss out on arts, physical education, and more  in a school district with an incredible legacy of its art programs with many on its Wall of Fame who either specialized in their art or for whom art and athletics was an integral part of their full lives.

Do I have any easy solutions for the money to fund these?  No.  But it doesn't stop me from making a plea to the power that be to try to find a way to come up with the funds to avoid losing these programs.  The outcomes are too precious for too many to just toss them aside.  

Quick follow-up

While I didn't say so explicitly, all the lessons I thought about on Sunday after my two races could apply to just about any aspect of life.  Projects at work.  Projects at home.  Interpersonal relationships.  Parenting.  There are countless ways in which I may have to rethink or reprioritize what I want to do.  There may be countless ways in which things don't turn out quite the way I had intended.  Countless ways in which I may have to change.  God's way and my way don't always match on anything.  The goal is always (in athletics or anything else) to search out God's way.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bib 451: Jonah 4:5 and the rest of 1 Chapter

So, today I actually participated in two races.  The first was a 5K race in which my 12 year old got second in his age group.  I am (and all the rest of my Back on My Feet teammates and our whole family all are) so proud of him.  That was the race at 7:30 this morning.  For me, it was a nice jog, but it was already hot and humid.  So, when I ran the race I was really planning to run at 8:30 (after a brief rest), I had a race that was okay but not quite what I had hoped for.  My bib number in the second race (my race) was 451.  Maybe, this is stretching the intent of my bib number to Bible verse linkage, but I found that Jonah 4:5 and the rest of 1 chapter (I've used the 4:5 and 1) really does help me to put today in perspective a bit.

Taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition, the verses follow:
5 Jonah then left the city for a place to the east of it, where he built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.  6 Then the LORD God provided a gourd plant. And when it grew up over Jonah’s head, giving shade that relieved him of any discomfort, Jonah was greatly delighted with the plant.  7 But the next morning at dawn God provided a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  8 And when the sun arose, God provided a scorching east wind; and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head till he became faint. Then he wished for death, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.”  10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished.  11 And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?”
In the entire book of Jonah, the prophet almost always seems to have a different view of what should be happening than God does.  The end of the book of Jonah (which these verses represent) are no exception.  In particular, this is a set of verses about things definitely not turning out the way someone expects.  Today's race was not what I expected.  I could like a whole host of reasons why not.  The heat. Recent tiredness.  Putting on a few pounds since my best races this spring.  Still the hamstring, although that really wasn't an issue today.  Having at least jogged the 5K before the 10K.  But, when all is said and done, it could just be that it wasn't my day.  I knew that at some point I could not continue to run consecutive personal bests.  And given how lightly I'd taken the last three weeks (since the hamstring strain), I really had now idea what to expect going in.  

A the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah challenges God and asks why he can't be angry.  God points out that Jonah is concerned about something that was an unexpected gift while God is concerned about something that is much more important.  In many ways, I can also see that in today's race.  Maybe today was not supposed to be about me.  Maybe today was mostly supposed to be about Joshua.  Maybe Joshua--as a developing almost teenager whose faith is still in much more of a formational stage--needs much more of God's attention than I do.  And, maybe I had begun to take the gift of the speed I was given, the desire I was given, and the opportunities I have been given for granted.  Perhaps today's outcome was just right in the eyes of God--getting me to refocus so that I can continue to work on my running.  I can use my running to improve myself and to contribute to others.  And by working with Joshua for all 30 minutes and 24 seconds from when we passed the starting line to when we crossed the finish line, I did exactly what I was supposed to accomplish today--even if it wasn't exactly what I had planned

The key is to remember that God's plans are often bigger and always more important than my plans and it is his will that should be done, not mine.  A bit of a tangent at this point, but it often seems to come back to the serenity prayer.   

Thinking about walking before a run (Is 30: 18-21)

So, since we got our new dog, China, from the SPCA, I've taken her on six walks.  We are going to try to make sure that she gets walks of varying lengths at least three times per day.  The walks are fun and brisk and remind me of the joy of walking and the joy, particularly, of walking with a strong and relatively young dog.  Before I go for my run this morning (jogging a 5K race with my 12 year old and running a 10K at my own pace on a steamy Sunday morning), I've been thinking about walking.  Why?  Well, I do a lot of running.  I use my running to get me thinking about the Bible and about my beliefs and actions (today I have two bib numbers as I am running two races!).  But, at the end of the day, there are very few Bible stories that I can think of with any focus on running--with the possible exception of Peter running to Jesus's empty tomb on Easter morning.  However, there are plenty of references to walking in the way of the Lord.  A quick search led me to one: Isaiah 30:18-21 (as usual from the New American Bible Revised Edition):

Truly, the LORD is waiting to be gracious to you,
truly, he shall rise to show you mercy;
For the LORD is a God of justice:
happy are all who wait for him!

Yes, people of Zion, dwelling in Jerusalem,
you shall no longer weep;
He will be most gracious to you when you cry out;
as soon as he hears he will answer you.

The Lord will give you bread in adversity
and water in affliction.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,

And your ears shall hear a word behind you:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or the left.

Of course, this was about the future of Zion.  Verse 18 reflects patience.  We haven't had to have too much patience with our new dog (since we figured out what she likes to eat).  But all new family members require some patience.  And all relationships (with dogs or people) require patience.

We wept when our old dog passed.  I won't necessarily go so far as to say that God led us to this dog, but we were surprised that no one else had taken her.  A young couple even looked at her while we were there and chose not to take her home.  We feel that God has certainly answered our call for knowing when the time was right and then the animal was right.  

God always provides for my family.  

And, while we are usually the one directing the dog when we are walking rather than the dog directing us, there is definitely a sense of rightness about the whole thing.  A sense that this is where the Lord wants us to be.  A sense that this is part of our family's mission. And a sense of waiting to see what this new relationship with a dog brings to us.  

And regardless, the mere act of walking and thinking about my relationship with God along the way, is a reminder that I should always seek to walk in the way of the Lord.  I hope to be able to say, "This is the way" and I am walking in it every day.  I don't always succeed but walking a lot more over the past three days has reminded me of how important it is to try.  Parenthetically, maybe I am a bit more of a kinetic learner than I ever thought.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Much less than six degrees in Baltimore

When I thought up the concept for today's entry, I searched for how long it had been since the movie "Six Degrees of Separation" was released.  Much to my surprise, that movie came out in 1993.  I could not believe it had been almost 20 years since the movie (and even longer since the play).  In any case, sometimes it seems hard to believe that I could be separated by just six degrees from everyone in the world.  What this week has helped to demonstrate is that the "world" of Baltimore is certainly much smaller than that in many ways.  And, while I am not sure whether that is "good, bad, or otherwise" it is interesting.  While I believe in free will and not predestination, I do believe that God plays some mystical role in creating opportunities and the mosaic of people I know represents an incredibly interesting result of that patchwork of opportunities.

For example, just yesterday, I attended the university's main commencement for the first time in my sixteen years as a faculty member.  As I was processing in, the faculty marshal seated in the front row was trying to get my attention.  The faculty marshal was a fellow runner whom I had first met when I was familiarizing myself with the Baltimore 10 Miler course almost a year before.  We had met in person only a handful of times, but he picked me out despite my academic regalia.  I am sure I will see him again--he is running the Baltimore 10 Miler again.  What does it mean?  I don't know but it was very interesting.

On stage during commencement, I was seated next to a woman from the School of Nursing.  She asked me abou the pronunciation of one of the Nursing graduates.  I recognized the first name and was pondering the last name.  It was only later that I realized the last name belonged to someone I've run with numerous times.  The reason I failed to recognize the fact at first is that we know each other almost strictly by first name.  There were over 150 undergraduate nurses who completed the program this year. Of all the ones my academic colleague could have pointed out, why that one?

My academic colleague had a daughter who graduated from the School of Public Health this year. I also had a role to play at that ceremony and had met up with her daughter for the first time in months as she was seated on the end of a row I invited to stand and proceed to the stage.

My fellow runner had just become Facebook friends with a Canadian physician who took my health economics class last October to December.  I had not seen the Canadian physician since December, but met up with her during graduation and got back in touch to congratulate her.

The nurse/runner went to the same undergraduate college as an MPH student whom I had mentored for her capstone project and an MHS student whom I will mentor when he becomes a PhD student in the fall.  The latter two had been introduced through a mutual faculty acquaintance.

At a recent conference, the MPH student mentioned in the paragraph above had a chance to present a paper we had worked on together.  There, she met the last student with whom I had written a published paper as well as a medical student who will be coming to the MPH program at Johns Hopkins for the next academic year and who would be interested in working with me.  I can anticipated that this might lead to another "generation" of a student whose work will lead to a publishable paper.

While I have met and mentored many students from the Philadelphia area this is the first year I met a student from my own high school.  The connections to the Philadelphia area are quite strong.  And when the School of Public Health recently published an article about the group I run with (see the mention of the nursing student above), a staff member in my department asked where I grew up as she thought the local paper might be interested.  Well, I grew up outside Philadelphia.  The MPH student I am still mentoring who was also mentioned in the article in the School's magazine also grew up outside Philadelphia.  And the organization for which I run as a volunteer and for which she runs as a volunteer and works for directly is headquartered in Philadelphia.  As a result, we are thinking that this might be a perfect opportunity for some more publicity.

I met a person at my chiropractor's office this week for the first time.  I had heard about her last year as she ran her first marathon (in  Philadelphia).  It turns out that she went to the same college as the MPH student I mentioned in the last paragraph as well as being the roommate of the woman who had run the Sunday School program at my church for the last two years.

These are just a few examples of interesting crossings and all of these have occurred just in last couple of weeks.  What does it mean?  I don't know.  What I do know is that these opportunities are almost all tied to running.  Life has not been "perfect" by any means since I started running again back in 2006 and got seriously going in 2009.  But this tangled web of interaction is just amazing and it suggests to me that things are coming together and pointing in a certain direction for a reason.  What is that reason?  I don't know.  All I know for sure is that the grace of God has led me to something good and I believe that continuing to run and continuing to try to do good and to help others through running is part of what I am here to do.  

New Life

Yesterday my wife and I decided not to wait so long to get a new dog.  We brought home what the SPCA called a shepherd/chow-chow mix.

What do I already know this dog will teach us?

(1) Unconditional love--she definitely shows it
(2) Patience--as we figure out how to get her to bark a little more to let us know she wants to go out (without barking all the time for no reason) and what she wants to eat
(3) Balancing responsibility--as we add dog walking back onto our to do list
(4) Peace--which this dog seems to feel at almost all times even though she was coming from a shelter

I'm sure we'll be abel to teach her a few things, too.  It just demonstrates the very cool interchange between people and animals. And, after the former student's passing this week, I am very happy to be happily celebrating new life in the continuing week of contrasts.

Praise God!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rob Base, Matthew 25:1-13, and a Busy Week

If we played a game of free word associations, I'm not 100% sure what song would come to most people's minds if I said, "Rob Base," but I suspect that "Joy and Pain" might be near the top of the list.  I don't often quote Rob Base in the blog, but the lyrics of Joy and Pain make me think of contrasts.  This has been quite a week of contrasts.

On Monday, I found out a graduate of the PhD program with which I am most closely affiliated had been killed in a horrible car accident on Sunday morning.  Throughout the week since then, I have been finding out about how many people I know either knew her better than I had been aware of or were "one level of connection" away from her and still had heard incredible things about her.  Her loss is an incredible loss to many.  The only good that I can see that might come out of it is (possibly) getting people to make a contribution in her memory.

On Tuesday, I got to meet the sister of a beloved colleague who passed away (also suddenly and unexpectedly but of natural causes) last year.  She was at the honors and award ceremony that our school holds each year to meet the first recipient of the scholarship named after her sister and with criteria for choosing the recipient that reflect her sister's interests.  After the awards ceremony I had a sobering conversation with a fellow faculty member remembering the former student I mentioned above.

Today was the graduation ceremony for the school of public health.  An incredibly happy day to celebrate students who just completed the studies and their work.

Joy and sorrow going back and forth all week long.  And finding ways to seek joy despite the sorrow.  When a friend from Back on My Feet did not show up this morning and had not responded to an email yesterday, I reached out.  Not that I expect every email to be answered quickly and everyone in BoMF to make every run.  And, not that I imagined that something very bad had happened.  But after having all the emotions surrounding two colleagues' passing (even if one was a year ago the memories all came back as we celebrated her memory), I just had to reach out.  It turns out that my friend was just catching up on email and had not felt well this morning, but it was good to know that for sure.

So, with all this about contrasts, why do I think of Matthew 25:1-13?  Well, that is the story of the ten virgins. They were waiting for the bridegroom.  Five had brought oil.  Five had not.  The five who did not went out looking for some but the groom came back while they were out and they got locked out.  The lesson was to stay awake as we know neither the day nor the hour.  The sudden passing of two wonderful, full of life, amazing colleagues within 16 months of each other is a reminder that "we don't know the hour."  We should stay awake.  In the Bible, it is about staying awake with respect to our relationship with God.  But it carries over to the rest of life and we should stay awake to the importance and fragility of our relationships with others.  And cherish every moment of them.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Keeping "the comfortable" comfortable

Early today, I saw a post from a friend.  All the posted was "Psalm 100 :)"  I had to look it up--I don't know most of the Psalms off the top of my head.  I want to blog about that.  But when I went to 5:30 mass to play today it was uncomfortably hot in the church (despite the fact that the church has air conditioning that we paid a lot to have updated or maintained in capital renovations in the past five years) and the priest said the quickest mass he has ever said.  However, his short (and for him, I'd say VERY short) homily was right on point.  He commented that the Catholic church seemed to have become focused on keeping the comfortable [being] comfortable.  In other words--make sure the congregation keeps coming in.  Don't challenge them too much.  Don't ask too much of them.  And don't focus so much on the needs of the poor.

In fact, he referred us to today's Baltimore Sun main editorial.  It does not seem to be online yet or I'd post a link.  In short, it focuses on the installation of the new Baltimore Archbishop that just occurred.  It points out how integral he has been to efforts to "keep the faith from going too secular".  Nothing wrong with that.  However, it also pointed out the importance of the Catholic church (and by extension Christianity in general) as a religion that has focused on social justice issues and helping the poor.  We can debate how they should be helped and how to encourage self-sufficiency, but charity is a common feature.  The Sun is concerned about whether and how the church will respond to those needs or whether it will focus on other issues that may be important but that do nothing to relieve the "cry of the poor".  Fr. Sam reflected on that in his homily--but rather than lecturing the congregation just left it at that for us to ponder.

Well, I can say that I see at least some Catholic Charity money in action every day I run with Christopher's Place. It is a Catholic Charity facility.  And it, along with Back on My Feet, encourages self-sufficiency among the men there once they get their lives in order.  Of course, that is just a small part of the need and a small part of what Catholic Charities is doing locally.  Key is--the Catholic church is certainly doing something.

However, I can see (to a degree) where the Sun and Fr. Sam are coming from.  The Sun mentions issues like cutting programs that would help the poor to achieve self-sufficiency, capital punishment, and others that might catch the attention of a church interested in social justice.  What I see even in St. Pius is something I raised years ago at a little discussion group with Fr. Sam but I didn't use the same words he did.  While I much prefer the music 40 More Days (the worship band) plays in terms of style when comparing it with  the other "contemporary" choir, the one thing we seemed to get more of with the older choir was songs that challenged us--"The Lord hears the cry of the poor/Blessed by the poor". Or other songs that focus on the Beatitudes.  Many more examples of songs of struggle rather than songs of praise. Many more songs that challenge us that I feel in the more upbeat music that is played at 5:30 mass where I play.  It bugs me because it seems to miss the point.

And yet, since I have few other musical outlets, I am happy to be along for the ride on the music and I don't challenge.  Instead, I try to hear and respond to the cry of the poort, but don't focus so much on pulling others along through the church.  Is that right?  Probably not.  Is it all I have time for?  Unfortunately,  yes.  What will I do about if in the future?  I'm really not sure.

But it makes me think.  As it should.  And the spiritual challenges on following my faith are things that I'll continue to ponder and blog about moving ahead.  As I try, in my own mind, to bring together social justice issues with all the other things that I do in the name of Jesus Christ.  Being thankful for God's grace is one thing.  Living it to the limit is QUITE another. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

409 Days Between Reflections on Talents

This is the last entry related to my running of the first Sole of the City 10K in Baltimore. Those who have read this blog for a while may recall that on April 25, I discussed Luke's version of the story of servants being given coins. One did nothing and was not rewarded. I had reflected on Matthew's version of the story earlier. In fact, it was exactly 409 days earlier. As I thought about the fact that I had reflected on both, it lead to my last numerical "tie in" with the race. I chose verses Job 40:9 and Psalms 40:9.

First, Job:

"Have you an arm like that of God, or can you thunder with a voice like his?"

Simple--reminder that I am nothing compared to God. I must try to live like God's Son, Jesus. I must try to emulate his loving, his caring, his sinless nature. But no matter how fast I run. No matter how much I write. No matter how many classes I teach. No matter how many committees I serve on. No matter how many years I teach Sunday school. No matter how long I play with the worship band at church. I am still very, very small compared with God. And that focusing on God's will is the way to go.

Now, Psalms:

"I delight to do your will, my God; your law is in my inner being!"

One last reminder, that God is in charge--or at least should be in charge in my life. My moral compass. My guide in the wilderness of modern life. The one whose way I hunger for. One last reminder that God should be my focus--when I run, during Lent, today, every day.

Can't wait to see where my next run takes me spiritually and in my Bible study.  I suppose I could reflect a bit on Operation Oliver.  And then I have three more events in the next month.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bib Number 806--linking me up to Psalm 80 verse 6

Psalm 80 verse 6 in the New American Bible Revised Edition reads:

"You have fed them the bread of tears,
made them drink tears in great measure."

A footnote says that the "them" could be replaced by "us"  Either way--it is a stern warning not to turn your back on God.  That could be interpreted as "don't live your whole life as if God didn't matter".  It could be "don't let your life slide and forget about God for a while."  Or, following up on Fr. Sam's comment from Sunday and the verses form yesterday, "don't spend some of your time worrying a lot about God and then other times acting as if he had no role in your life whatsoever."

It is interesting to me that I chose the verses from Isaiah that I wrote about yesterday and the verse from Psalms that I wrote about today, long before Fr. Sam's homily on Sunday.  I am just getting around to writing about these now even though the 10K that inspired them was nearly a month ago now.

It is another sign that I should always be vigilant.  Alway be seeking God's grace.  Always, always, always. Not just sometimes.  Not just occasionally.  Not just during some seasons of the year.  All seasons.  All times.  All days.  God is always there.  God should always be my strength.  Lent should be an extension and expansion of that expression--not a totally separate time that is the source of a lot of focus that I then look away and catch up on other things.

God calls me every day.

I hope to live up to that call every day.

Tomorrow will be the last day of blogging with numbers inspired by the 10K.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Bible Verse for my 43:22.3 from my 10K several weeks ago

When I ran a 43:22.3 several weeks ago, in the tradition I have now developed, I turned to the Bible to find some meaning in the numbers. Or, more accurately, I used the numbers to guide me to something interesting in the Bible--as a way to get closer to God. I could use nearly anything as inspiration for how to get closer, but I've been using my bib numbers or race times for more than 18 months now.

This one was a bit of a challenge, but I settled on Isaiah 43:22 and the next three verses. Form the New American Bible, Revised Edition, we read:

"22Yet you did not call upon me, Jacob,
for you grew weary of me, Israel.

23 You did not bring me sheep for your burnt offerings,
nor honor me with your sacrifices.
I did not exact from you the service of offerings,
nor weary you for frankincense.

24You did not buy me sweet cane,
nor did you fill me with the fat of your sacrifices;
Instead, you burdened me with your sins,
wearied me with your crimes.

25It is I, I, who wipe out,
for my own sake, your offenses;
your sins I remember no more."

This is Isaiah's prophesy--that Israel would tire of God. I may have felt drawn to finally write this down as I continued to reflect, at least in the back of my mind, on the fact that so much time was spent preparing for Easter in the Lenten season, that I have not taken the time to celebrate and to continue to celebrate the importance of the mystery of the Resurrection. Of course the crucifixion is critical to the Catholic faith. But the crucifixion would be a sad ending while the Resurrection is a joyful and glorious ending. Yes, as Fr. Sam reminded the congregation is it just the beginning.

And I should not forget or grow weary of God and simply burden him with the things I do wrong after Easter but I should remember him. For, as verse 25 in the text above reminds us, it is only through God's mercy that we are forgiven. He does not have to forgive us. It is His choice to forgive those who are truly contrite.

Of course, I strive not to need forgiveness in the first place, but I am only human. However, in my humanity, I should hunger for God's grace and presence and seek the fulfillment of time spent focusing on Him in order to receive the gifts of forgiveness.

I really do enjoy using my racing numbers as inspiration for Bible readings and then finding ways to tie it into life. It is almost always incredibly revealing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating that Christ is Risen

I don't usually write two entries in one day.  I just have a quick idea for another entry and I'll count this as tomorrow's.  At mass today, Father Sam Lupico commented on how today is the last Sunday that we celebrate the Easter season--in other words the last Sunday that we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and being with his disciples until the Ascension.  He commented on how the celebration of Jesus's rising seems to come and go on Easter Sunday itself.  He contrasted this with his experience in at least one Greek Orthodox church in which they were still greeting each other with "Jesus is risen" even this week.  I thought about this observation and my blog.  I spent a lot of time preparing for Easter and then have left it behind.  Part of the reason is the simple fact that I have needed to return to some other things that didn't occur as I spent a lot of time working on the blog each day of the Lenten season.  But, I have felt compelled to get back to it.  I miss the focus on my spirituality.  I don't know if other's share this issue--that so much effort is spent preparing for Easter that once it is here it is hard to keep up the celebration.  But Father Sam made the point that the joy of the Resurrection should continue.  So, I will probably write shorter entries, but my goal will be to get back to more entries.  More entries that force me to bring my spiritual health back into focus as much as my physical health all year long.  

My Take on the Yin and the Yang of Motherhood

On Mother's Day, it is only fitting that I should write a brief blog entry to honor mothers.  What comes to mind when I think of mothers?  I call it the yin and the yang of motherhood and the reason for them both.

First, the effort of bringing life into the world.  Mothers are the ones whose job it is to carry the life from the time of conception to the time of birth.  Mothers are the ones who have the biggest job on the day of the child's birth.  Not that there is not a lot of room for important help along the way.  Help with the preparation and help with the birth.  Of course there is.  But the mothers are the ones with the biggest role.  The starring role, if you will.  And the most challenging role.

Second, unconditional love.  Not necessarily unconditional support.  Not necessarily unconditionally thinking that their children are always right.  But unconditional love.  The kind of love that says, "I'll always be there for you.  Even if you mess up.  I might yell.  I might rant and rave.  I might be worried, anxious, mad, and even seething--but ultimately I am still your mother and, when I calm down and get my composure, I'll still love you.  And the only reason that I get so worried, anxious, made and even seething, is that I care so much about what happens to you."  The kind of love that always seeks the best, but accepts whatever comes with the child and makes the best of it.  The kind of love that takes a very careful balance to encourage everything good while still letting the child be himself or herself.

Third, ferocity.  Why ferocity, you may ask?  It is the ferocity of protecting their children when their children are threatened.  Unconditional love is what I think of when the kid is the one messing up.  Ferocity is what I think of when the kid is being messed with.  And while unconditional love sometimes occurs despite a lot of screaming and yelling, ferocity can occur without screaming and yelling.  Sometimes mothers make their points best by just staring someone down or otherwise using non-verbal communication.

So, it is the combination of unconditional love and ferocity the things that can be most important when the kid messes up or is messed with that I see as the yin and the yang of motherhood.  And both come because the mother has so much of herself, so much of her time so much of the core of her very being invested in her children.

My wife certainly exhibits all three of these.  Sometimes the kids don't see it.  Sometimes I don't see it--in the heat of an argument about what may be best for our children.  But, at the end of the day it is what motherhood is all about.   

Friday, May 11, 2012

Honoring a Mentor

It has been a while since my last entry.  I feel the need to write something, and I have just a short note to share tonight.

Yesterday, I flew out to Detroit Metro and was picked up by a colleague at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.  After meetings at the School for a couple hours, I attended a dinner and symposium that honored my graduate school adviser and two other senior faculty who are all retiring from the program where I did my PhD work this year.

On Thursday, at the dinner, it was just a nice time.  Today, I had been asked to speak about something in my area of professional expertise.  So, of course, I talked about cost-effectiveness.  But I, as did many other speakers, took the opportunity to say something about my relationship with the three honorees.  I pointed out how good a mentor my adviser had been and how when a student thanks me for the time I give to him or to her, I always reflect back on what my adviser did for me.  I got a bit choked up as I realized just how important my adviser had been to me and how it is saddening to think that no more students will have the advantage of working with my adviser in the future.  I was very pleased to be able to honor my adviser in public.

At the Thursday dinner someone who spoke about another of the honorees had mentioned that he could not hope to pay back what he had gotten from his adviser.  I came to grips with that long ago.  And when I did, I decided that the only thing to do was to make sure that my professional conduct toward my advisees mimics my adviser's as closely as possible.  I hope to live up to that.  Many students have told me that I have.  I am fortunate to have such honest students.  I hope that people might join me to celebrate my retirement in a similar manner some day.