Dec 31, 2016

The Tenth Annual Inspirations List: 2016

In a year marked by division, dissension, and disillusion, my heroes were those that stood out for  their strength of character.  They are not a flashy bunch, not inclined to grand gestures or loud pronouncements.  But they are bedrock. Now more than ever we need heroes like these.  Heroes who echo Christ in their kindness, gentleness, humility, joy, generosity, patience, and self-discipline.

This years' heroes are seven men and nine women. They include a trio of young people, a wonderful couple, and a beautiful family.  Most I know personally, but one hero I met only once briefly, and another I've only seen from a distance flanked by secret service and surrounded by an adoring crowd as he gave his stump speech. Yet another hero, was a close friend who I saw every day, but now have seen only once in the past twenty years or so.  And for the second time in ten years of Heroes and Inspirations, I honor someone posthumously.  

There are some unique family connections this year. Father, Mike Wimberly, and son Aaron Wimberly,  are both nominated individually. And Shirley Benton is nominated the year after her daughter, Valerie, made the list.  Between these two ladies, the Wimberlys, and the Proutys it's clear that heroism is a family affair!  I also, for the first time have a hero with back to back nominations.  Way to go, Anastasia!

Together, all of these incredible people have blessed my life this year.  I'm excited to share them with you:

The Prouty Family: Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, Joey
Brianna Raymond, Aaron Wimberly, & El-Ryck Kendrick
Michael Wimberly
Beth Michaels
Shirley Benton
Albert & Anastasia Bailey
Pamela Foard Jansen
Barack Obama

Alex, Marga, Genna, Asher, Eva, & Joey Prouty
I'm inspired by their gentle kindness

The Proutys are more than merely nice.  Alex, Marga and their children have a kindness and gentleness that is evident in their words and actions, but goes beyond that.  It is who they are. I've always known Alex and Marga were amazing people, so I guess I shouldn't  be surprised that they produced amazing children as well. During our stay with them in the fall of 2015 and again when they came to Ohio for the Xenia Marathon in April, I was so charmed and so grateful for the warmth they extended to our boys. The Prouty kids are genuinely interested and interesting, and unfailingly polite. I remember Skyping with the Prouty family for the first time and being amazed that their kids sat through the entire conversation and seemed genuinely curious about us.  And when we arrived at their home in Michigan, the kids were waiting in the yard to welcome us.  Once inside, their son Asher and I immediately got into a fascinating conversation, very similar to the types of conversations I used to have with his dad in our younger days. The children are not prone to violence, mean talk, or teasing which  we often write off as "normal" among kids of a certain age. They are confident without being cocky or disrespectful. Alex and Marga hold all of these traits themselves, so it's clear the apples have not fallen far. The entire family is an absolute joy to be around.  Theirs is a house where kindness rules, and being with them you can't help feeling right at home.

Brianna Raymond, El-Ryck Kendrick, & Aaron Wimberly
I am inspired by their appreciation

I can't do my job well if I'm worried about whether I'm liked.  But it sure does feel good to be appreciated.  I've had many students through the years have been an unknowing encouragement through their positive attitude and appreciation for me.  But these three have been that blessing most recently.  Aaron and El-Ryck were part of that very special class of 2012.  Though it's been four years since they left my classroom, these young men regularly remind me of why I love my  job.  Aaron always has a smile for me and I always enjoy his occasional stops by my classroom to visit.  El-Ryck still calls me up at the end of every summer to see if I need help with heavy lifting in setting up my classroom for the year.  Brianna was unique in that I felt this positive regard even while she was my student. Her bright smile, shining personality, and frequent expressions of appreciation made so many days easier for me.  Whenever I'm inclined to think that all my best efforts have fallen flat and that I've not managed to make a dent, much less a difference, these kids remind me that I'm doing all right.  Brianna, El-Ryck, and Aaron inspire me anew to keep doing and being the best I can.

Michael Wimberly
I am inspired by his solid character

Calm. Dependable. Good-natured. Wise.  Ask me to describe Mike Wimberly and those are the words that come to mind.  Over the years I've had the good pleasure of interacting with Mr. Wimberly as I taught his two children, and worked under the leadership of his wife, Angie, our school board chair.  Now that Aaron and Alisa are in high school I don't see Mike quite so often but whenever I do, it's always a pleasure.  In a world where negative stereotypes of black men abound, especially when it comes to the roles of husband and father, Mike explodes those stereotypes.  Furthermore, he is not the exception to the rule when it comes to black men.  I would like to argue--and I'm sure that he would agree--that he is merely representative of the many black men who stand strong, who stand in the gap, who are men of character and integrity, who are men of honor.  I could have named dozens of men just like Mike in my church who defy the categories the media and racist culture would place them in.  But I chose Mike, because I know him best, and can attest that he is the kind of man I aspire to be. You might say I want to be like Mike.

Beth Michaels
I am inspired by her choice to live

She lived right up until she didn't live any more.  I hope I might live fully as Beth seemed to. Most would have said she was dying, that she was losing her battle with cancer. But as we read Beth's Facebook posts and updates, she didn't sound at all like a woman resigned.  She was positive, upbeat, full of life.  And it wasn't just social media posturing. At her memorial we heard more stories of how she had encouraged and blessed even her caregivers during treatment. As I watched from afar Beth joyfully raging against the dying of the light, I was inspired to take stock of how I approached each day.  For in truth, all of us are, in a way, terminal.  Some, like Beth, have been told the time left is definitively short. But the rest of us live each day not knowing if it is our last or if we have months, years, or decades to go.  My goal is to do, each day, what Beth seemed to do right up to her last: Live.

"Life is short. I want to live it well."
                                         -- Switchfoot

Shirley Benton
I'm inspired by her joyful generosity

She radiates joy.  Shirley Benton has seen her share of sorrow in recent years but I have been moved and inspired by her peaceful, joyous soul and her generous spirit towards everyone she meets.  Her generosity isn't measured in dollars per se--though I don't doubt she is generous in that way too--but she is generous with her time, generous with her good will.  As the chair of the board for the  pre-school where my youngest son goes to school I've seen her handle the most demanding of circumstances with grace and patience.  She, along with a small coterie of other ladies, generously donates her time to provide lunch supervision at our school so that we teachers can have a short respite in our teaching responsibilities. I have never seen her complain. If she has an ugly word to say or a piece of idle gossip to pass along, I can't envision  it.  Every time I'm around her I feel valued and appreciated. I suppose it's no surprise that her daughter made this list last year, and now she appears.  It would seem that she has passed her generous heart on to her children (and grandchildren) as well!

Pamela Foard Jansen
I'm inspired by her commitment to fitness

I'm running to keep up with her.  The last time I saw Pamela in person was back in 2011 when we were both running in the Disney Princess Marathon.  I guess I must have found out via Facebook but we managed to meet up briefly in the starting line corrals before the race, and then again after the race.  She was in a higher starting position than I was--it's common practice in the big races to have the fastest runners start first.  I could pretend that this was just because I was running with a group that had trained at a slower pace than I typically ran.  But the truth is that based on the average time for her wave and her finish time, it's unlikely I could have kept up with her.  Neither of us were particularly athletic in high school, where we were very close friends.  We discovered running independently as adults, and I've always admired her running accomplishments.  A little more than three weeks ago Pamela set the pace for a new level of physical fitness for me, when she challenged me to participate in the 22-Day Pushup Challenge.  Once again she was already out in front, already five days into the challenge.  I accepted the challenge and it became the catalyst for a broader commitment to exercise beyond just running.  I'd been feeling the need to diversify my exercise. It turns out Pamela was the just the motivation I needed to make it happen.  I'm pretty sure she's still ahead of me when it comes to fitness, and I may never catch up to her.  But in the process, I'll go farther and do  more than I otherwise would have.

Barack Obama
I'm inspired by his leadership

His term may be over but he still gets my vote. It saddens me that some may find the President's place on this list controversial or "divisive."  I understand that some people see a version of this man that I personally find unrecognizable.  But I can't pretend that President Barack Obama hasn't inspired me more than perhaps any public servant in my lifetime.  His calm demeanor, his personal character, and his belief that it's possible to find common ground with even the staunchest opponents all resonate with me.  There are those who say he was angry, but I found him to be one of the coolest heads in politics.  People said he was divisive, but these days even gentle support for the concerns of black America is interpreted as rabble-rousing, and I found his addressing of racial issues to be incisive yet tactful. Some said he was too liberal, others said he wasn't progressive enough.  I found his center-left approach appealing and refreshing in an age of hyper-partisan politics.  There are those who endured the eight years of his presidency, blaming whatever bad happened on him and imagining what good might have been achieved under a different administration.  I tend not to blame presidents for troubles or credit them for good times. And no president is perfect. I haven''t agreed with his every decision.  Still, what inspires me about President Obama is the grace and humility with which he handled the most powerful office in the land.  I may not hold his power, but I think if I can manage to lead in my classroom the way President Obama has led this country these past eight years,  I'll be doing pretty well.

Albert & Anastasia Bailey
I'm inspired by their welcoming friendship

You would never have guessed they were new in town.  Their house was packed and they seemed to know everyone.  For us, it was such a blessing to be among friends.  It might not seem like much, to have folks over to your house on a winter Sabbath afternoon for good food, and fellowship.  Or to invite a a group of people for a hike at local park. Or plan a spur-of-the-moment play-date for the kids at some new, interesting spot in downtown Columbus.  But those kind of gestures meant the world to us when we first moved to Columbus and  didn't know anyone. Even though they'd lived in Columbus for even less time than we had,  Albert and Anastasia Bailey reached out to us and welcomed us into their world. It was through them that we met many of the people we now call friends here in Columbus.  They were the tent poles of our social world.  The people that met up at the Bailey house came from all walks of life--the  one thing they we all had  in common was our friendship with the Bailey family.  Albert and Anastasia both recognize that hospitality is an important spiritual gift, one often neglected in our busy, heavily social yet highly unconnected society.  They seemed to understand that there's no such thing as virtual hospitality--it has to be practiced in person.  Now that they've moved away, all of us, the friends they gathered, are left trying to figure out who will hold up the tent they pitched.  Meanwhile, in New Jersey I gather their mission continues, to reach out a welcoming hand of friendship to all they come in contact with.

Dec 25, 2016


Everybody loves our veterans.  You might not be particularly enthused about our nations foreign policy or military engagements but every one understands its  not the soldiers fault.  They simply do the job they've signed on to do.  And we are all very proud and we are all very grateful for their service.

But we are  all also somewhat distant from our soldiers.  We kind of have this vague notion that they are out there, somewhere dangerous and foreign, representing and defending our country.   We are too often unaware of what our soldiers  are facing.  I don't think this lack of awareness is intentional.  For one,  the clear-cut wars of old seem to be a thing for the history books.  From Korea on our, all of our wars have been asymmetrical in nature--wars not against another nation-state, but against an ideology--Communism early on, and terror, more recently.  There hasn't been a clear cut enemy that we could all unite against and clearly defeat.   Also, after Vietnam, ours has been all-volunteer army.  The ordinary citizen no longer has reason to feel "that soldier could be me. "  The modern soldier is like a police-officer or fire fighter, a man or woman working in his or her chosen field, rather than a citizen soldier plucked from civilian life and placed on the front lines of battle,.  All of this adds to our sense of disconnection from those who serve in our military.  We are blithely unaware of what they are doing or the sacrifices they are called upon to make.

We tend to think of those sacrifices as that which ends in a flag-draped casket and solemn graveside service.  But I sometimes wonder if there is an even higher price to pay for those who come home physically alive but wounded in body and spirit.  It would be presumptuous of me to speak with any kind of authority on what these men and women go through.  But I think it's important even if I don't  understand what they've been through to be aware, to look for ways to serve those who served us, to give back to those who have given so much.  Some will sneer that doing push-ups doesn't help anyone--and they are right.  But if over the past  22 days I've prompted anyone to do something: to give money, to reach out to a veteran they know, then it hasn't been "just doing push-ups."  Let the people most annoyed by another internet challenge fad be the first to make a real difference by donating their time or resources.  My goal hasn't been to make you do push-ups, my goal has been to draw attention to an issue, that will hopefully spark you to action.

Here's an organization, Disabled American Veterans, that  I'm lending my support to  I invite you to do the same, or find another reputable organization you can get involved with that is working to support our veterans.

Dec 24, 2016

Falling Short

So I'm in to the final third of the my second 30-Day Challenge.  So far, I've failed to meet two challenges and a third is looking daunting.  But I'm still glad I tried.

Here's the update:

1. Under Budget. I blasted through the last of my budget this week buying ingredients for a fantastic Mexican spread for the family--homemade salsa, and guacamole, fajitas, tacos with all the fixing, Spanish rice, and enchiladas.  Now granted, I have some extra money because of the refund of our airline tickets when our flight was cancelled, so I now have a source from which to replenish my budget.  But to me that doesn't count as staying under budget.

2.  Read. I have purchased the book The Goldfinch and began reading this week.  It's a lot bigger than I imagined, and at least so far the time to read has been less than I thought.  If  Donna Tartt is as good as I remember the reading should go quickly. Then again one of the blurbs on the back praised the book as Dickensian, which would not imply a quick read.  We will see.

3. Write.  I missed  two days--this past Sunday, when we ended up driving all afternoon and all night to get to Florida, and again this past Thursday when the time just got away from me. The truth is I missed a day during the November 30-Day writing challenge--also due to travel--but because I had specific writing prompts, I just "caught up" later.  Without the prompts, a day missed is a day missed.  I'm finding this month's 30 days more difficult though.  The prompts made it easy.  Without them, I tend to forget until just before bedtime that I'm "supposed to write."  Many days I don't "feel like" writing.  But I still value the discipline, and even though I missed a day, I still feel successful because writing is now a regular part of my life.

4. Rest.  My phone and laptop free Sabbaths have been good. I've gone four Sabbaths now without social media and e-mail and it's been nice.  I have found, at least the past two Sabbaths that I've gotten "busy" with other things and haven't noticed the restfulness of the break from the internet as much.  I think this challenge will become a regular practice in my life after the 30 days are over.

5. Push-ups.  I'm at day 21 today and have one day left to go.  Monday was really the only day where I struggled to finish, due a new stance I tried. I definitely want to continue doing push-ups once this challenge is over.

Dec 13, 2016

Third Person: "One for All"

This is the last in a series of very short pieces of Christmas fiction that I did several years ago.  I held off on publishing this one for awhile.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it seemed a little dark for the season.  ()Though now that I think about it, none of the stories are exactly warm with comfort and joy. ) But I've decided to go ahead and post it now.  It is dark.  But there's light at the end, I think.  

You can click on the links to read the companion pieces from 2012: "Did You  Hear What I Heard?", "First Served", and "Wanted: One Good Shepherd"  To be honest, I'm kind of proud of them!

This is not what I signed up for. I expected to fight and kill men; but this?  This. . .

But my job is to follow orders, not to question them.  So I did as I was commanded.  That is my job. And if I am to have the kind of career that I want to have in the military I must follow orders.  Eventually if all goes as planned, I will someday be a commander in the Roman army, a centurion, perhaps and I will give the orders.  Then, I can assure you, I will not order the death of the defenseless, I will not preside over the execution of the innocent.

What I wish is that we could have found him.  So many could have been spared if we'd only know where to find him, if we'd only known where to look.  One town is too broad a net, it allows for too much. . .collateral damage.  Yes, that's the word we use.  It makes what we do seem defensible, at least to those who give the orders.  For those of us who have to live with what we have done it provides as much comfort as a baby blanket provides protection from a sword--a flimsy shield.

Somewhere, the child lives, of this I'm sure.  Will he be a threat to the throne? I doubt it.  But if we had found him.   It haunts me every time I shut my eyes, this idea. One life for the many. One cut down so that all the others could live.

Dec 11, 2016

Time Together

"Daddy are we going to have our Time Together?"

For the past few years, this has been the question from my boys whenever there is a change in our daily routine--when we've come home late or have been traveling.  Usually, the answer is a grudging yes. Invariably I have list of things to do that could easily take me into the early morning hours and I am itching to get started.  But before I can do that, there must be: Time Together.

They don't mean time together, which might include cleaning his room or washing the car together.  They don't even mean me reading a story to them. They mean Time Together and this has a very specific meaning.  Time Together, which is always 15 or 20 minutes before bed is when we play (even if we play together earlier in the day that doesn't count as Time Together--it has to be before bedtime).  With Elijah, most of the time we are playing the inscrutable games of childhood, stories involving his stuffed animals or his My Little Pony collection,  which I often have a hard time following.  It can be very frustrating trying to make sense out of and keep up with a nonsensical game.  With Ezra, we'll play similarly opaque games with his Hot Wheels cars, do jigsaw puzzles, or color. I've tried suggesting activities that I might enjoy more (like the above mentioned reading them a story) but these ideas rarely meet their criteria for Time Together (one exception is that both boys are more than willing to count watching videos or playing Farmville or other games together on our devices, but in the end I think we all sense that this isn't really true Time Together).

Elijah has had Time Together for years now, but Ezra has only become involved in the last year or so.  On most nights, the goal is that I have Time Together with one son while the other is reading with their Mom, and then we switch.  Elijah prefers this as Ezra doesn't play the games the way Elijah likes.  On occasion, if Babs is away in the evening, or she is unable to be with the other child for some reason, both sons have their Time Together at the same time.  Ezra likes this, although he often wants to do his own thing so I ended up literally doing two different activities with the boys at the same time--solving a jigsaw while at the same time solving a mystery with the Ponies, and both boys getting annoyed if they feel I'm not paying proper attention to their activity.

From our Time Together tonight, December 11, 2016. Usually we are in their bedroom but for someone reason they wanted to come out to the living room.  Maybe it was the tree?

Elijah as usual calling the shots on what's happening during our play in Time Together. Couple of things to note here:  We do not have a My Little Pony (or MLP as we refer to it around here) theme for our Christmas tree (though Elijah would love that).  In fact we put up the tree last Sunday but haven't gotten around to decorating it.  The ponies in the tree were part of the game which involved some sort of building of high-rise rooms according to Elijah. You may also note that we are now the only family left in America that does not yet have a flat-screen TV.  The old 1-Ton TV has never stopped working and I can't bring myself to go spend money to replace a TV that works. We don't use the VCR on top of the TV. It's just sitting there, unconnected.

Honestly, while I love being with my sons, Time Together can be a little stressful.

Time Together fell away for awhile when Elijah started first grade.  Elijah was staying up later, While his little brother was being put to bed, he did his homework, and then had cozy time with his Mom while I spend valuable time on my school work--planning for the next day and entering grades.  There wasn't really time for Time Together, and he voiced no complaint.  But  I found I'd begun to miss that Time.  So, one night while Barbara was in the boys' room with Ezra, I called Elijah over to the living room for some Time Together.  His eyes lit up with joy.  He raced to his room to gather an armful of stuffed animals so the playing could begin.  His happiness was undeniable; our Time Together was back! And so it's been more or less a part of our schedule again since.

I guess I realized that our Time Together is limited.  There will come a day that they'll lose interest in that kind of Time. While playing together brings them so much joy, I feel I can't afford to miss a single minute of our Time Together.

And what's true of Elijah, Ezra and me, is true for all those we love.  It's important to have that Time Together.

Dec 8, 2016

The Face of Jesus

 A few weeks ago I came across this article about describing how forensic anthropologists have determined what Jesus looked like. 

Initially, instinctively, I almost recoiled at the picture.  He was just so. . .ordinary looking.  And why did they make Him have that kind of "deer-in-headlights" look?  Couldn't they have done more to make him look wise rather than a bit flummoxed? Couldn't they have had him smiling at least, made Him look more inviting? Where was the charisma? Where was the charm?

And then I remembered: "He had no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised and we held Him in low esteem" Isaiah 53:2-3

And I realized:  Never mind the science, this may be the most Biblically accurate picture of Jesus we've ever seen.  As I continued to study the picture, I was struck by the extent to which we have sought to remake Christ not even in our own image, but in the image of our idols.  Even after he came, lived a peasants life and died a criminal's death, we still want a conquering hero, a good-looking man that reflects the pinnacle of our cultural values.  That idolatry becomes so lodged in our faith, that it becomes almost sacred. But this picture. . .this picture demands that we see Jesus as he declared Himself to be rather than what we would wish him to be.

I was also reminded anew through this picture, that Jesus truly became a human being.  That somewhat blank gaze is that of a real man.  Someone who got tired, hungry, distracted, dazed.  And I was able imagine that face laughing, crying, angry, and at peace. I imagined how one could sense divinity not in his charismatic mug, but shining through his ordinary face. More than any of the cute little Baby Jesuses that we see in Nativity scenes this time of year, in this picture I saw the Incarnation.

Finally, I was awed and humbled and amazed by the familiar Gospel story,

Read the article in Popular Mechanics for details on how they developed this image.  Despite certain caveats, I think you'll find the science seems pretty sound.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace"

Dec 6, 2016


I just thought I'd post an update on my challenges for this month, a list that has now grown to five!

1. Under Budget:  Not good. I'm down to $143 left for my share of the monthly food budget and it's only December 6. There's a potluck on Sabbath so that will save some (but I still have to come up with something for Saturday night since we won't have leftovers). Babs picked up some groceries for me tonight so our budgets got mixed, so I'm not sure how much I spent.  I can't fairly charge it all to her budget.  This is just a tough month.  But I'm going to keep trying.

2. Read.  Haven't gotten my book yet, but truthfully I'm not really planning to start reading until we go on break.

3.  Rest.  This past Sabbath was my first electronic-free Sabbath.  It wasn't too bad.  I definitely felt a little withdrawal on Friday  night when the sun set.  I was surprised by how much I'd come to rely on "checking my phone" every few minutes.  But overall I acclimatized quickly.  After all, this is a habit that I've only had for literally five years, since I got my first Galaxy SII.  I found that being off my devices made me more attentive to my family. Babs definitely noticed and appreciated how "present" I was.  I went to bed a lot earlier than I would normally have on Friday night (though I didn't get up any earlier--I guess I was wiped out from the week).  I also found that I did spend more time in spiritual contemplation. It's not like I was in deep Bible study or anything like that. But often on Sabbath afternoons I'll plan to read AFM's Frontiers magazine.  So I'll lie down on the couch, with my phone and my magazine.  I'll start scrolling through Facebook and either fall asleep, or not, but either way  never get around to reading the magazine. This time I was able to read some great articles--the stories of Adventist Frontier Mission's frontline missionaries always feed my soul.

Finally when the sun set Sabbath evening, to my surprise, I didn't feel the need to immediately jump on my phone.  The challenge will continue next Sabbath.

4. Write Now.  I have written every day since December 1st.  I wrote in my journal Friday night, worked on my book entry for my blog Saturday night, worked on my gun entry Sunday night, and worked on the Point of Impact reboot last night.  That last one is coming along nicely. I've sketched out the action on the first two acts of the play.  I'll do the other two next Monday and then I'll be ready to start writing dialogue!

5. Mission 22.  My friend Pamela added this to my challenge list when she asked me to do 22 push-ups for 22 days to raise awareness for veteran suicide.  I'm enjoying the challenge though it's not yet easy for me.  And I'm proud to do my small part to draw attention to the plight of so many of our vets who pay the highest price in the service of our country--even when they make it back home. Each day I remember these men and women and pray for them. But as one website points out awareness is only valuable if it leads to meaningful action. I hope that this challenge will actually encourage people to seek ways to help our soldiers, through educating themselves and supporting organizations such as this one that help our veterans.  That's what I'm trying to do along with my daily 22.  Several of my former classmates and former students have served or are currently serving in the armed forces. I'm proud of them, and I want to do what I can to support them and their comrades in arms that have sacrificed so much.

Gun Thoughts

I did not "grow up around" guns, but some of my best friends did, and thanks to them I've had the opportunity to try shooting all kinds of guns--handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles, and yes even the so-called assault rifles, including the AR-15.  When I was in high school, we used to go out in the country and shoot at targets.  I remember particularly the fun we had demolishing our Spanish II textbook when the class was over, as well as a teddy  bear my friend's ex-girlfriend had given him.

I had a good time.  I'll admit I wasn't the most proficient shooter and didn't always handle my friends' weapons with the caution and respect they deserve--I was young and careless in the way of adolescents.  But I own that, and wouldn't consider making my stance on the issue of guns dependent upon my own lack of ability or judgement.

I spent a good portion of this past summer listening, thinking, and researching this issue. Then I began drafting the ideas for this post.  Finally, I let this blog lie dormant all through the fall before picking it up again this week and fleshing it out.  I've made it a point to really try to understand where people who see things differently than me are coming from.  I've read a lot, watched video screeds advocating one position or another.  I studied the data, and I have to say  I'm skeptical of "data." It's very difficult to get accurate information, because unless you really look into the raw data, most of the time the information you are being given is being "spun" to promote a specific point of view. I think most of us would do well to start challenging our own beliefs and looking at "data" that supports our point of view more skeptically. The more "honest" your source is about it's position on the issue the more doubtful you should be of the accuracy of its data.

I'm finding that most of the facts, or more accurately, what I assumed to be factual, in my support for gun control were called into question by close examination of the data. At the same time, the converse assumptions made by my pro-gun friends didn't prove to have more factual support. either. Both sides have tended to "cherry-pick" the data that supports their point of view.

So where do I end up?  I've boiled the issue down to two conclusions that cover where I stand on the contentious issue of guns in America.

1. I believe in the second amendment. Gun control advocates should start defending the second amendment not "attacking" it. My pro-gun friends tend to focus on the "right to keep and bear arms." Almost forgotten is the first part of the amendment, "a well-regulated militia." I believe there is no downside to increased regulation, even if does not mean fewer guns. Surely, if we require drivers to have license, we could ask the same of a gun owner. Guns, like their predecessors, the bow and arrow, the sword, the spear, are weapons.  In other words they are specifically designed for killing--animals a lot of the time, but also people when the need arises.  Cars, knives, fertilizer, can be used for killing but weren't designed for solely for that purpose.  Further guns are more efficient at killing than swords or spears.  That's why we're using them far more than the weapons that came before them.  High levels of regulation and training should be a must.

2.The problem isn't (entirely) the presence of guns. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  This is a standard argument of the pro-gun camp, and you know what, after a lot of reflection, I've to come to accept the truth of it. To a point, anyway. I still feel fewer guns would mean fewer gun deaths, and in my perfect world, that's what I would prefer.  But I am convinced that the biggest problem in our country is not so much with the number of guns, but with our nation's gun culture.  Gun culture is entrenched in American culture. It's an integral part of our self-image as a nation It can't be legislated away. The bottom line for me is that it's never been about the criminals. Gun-rights supporters are correct that criminals will get their hands on guns regardless of the laws (though if we're being honest, easier availability of guns for law-abiding citizens logically makes it easier for criminals, especially low-level criminals to get access to guns. It stands to reason that if an environment where getting guns is extraordinarily difficult, only the most organized and deeply involved criminals would have the connections to the black market or whatever to get the weapons). It's the law-abiding citizens that worry me. Because many times, especially in these mass shooting events, the shooter was a law abiding citizen right up until the point where he or she wasn't one anymore. My stance on gun control has been what it is for 23 years now because of one scary Saturday night in the summer of 1993 that could have been been Sunday morning headlines but for the grace of God and some incredibly fortuitous timing.

(And here I realize the futility of convincing anyone with this line of argument. No non-criminal gun owner wants to consider himself or herself as a possible danger.)

In conclusion: Because I support the second amendment, I will continue to support so called "common-sense" legislation that raises the standard for gun ownership in this country, even as I believe that marginal laws will bring about marginal results, due in large part to our national gun culture. I do think change is possible though. What I would hope for is a gradual change in the our cultural self-image, similar to what is happening with not smoking and acceptance of homosexuality, where more and more people freely choose to go without guns, not because they are compelled by law but because they simply don't have the desire.

My Choice
Given my view on the issue it's not hard to predict my personal decision for my family: I choose not to own a gun.

The likelihood that I can prevent death in my home with a gun,I believe, is statistically outweighed by the likelihood that the presence of a gun in my home could lead to a death. For me, buying a gun to protect my family against home invasion is akin to refusing to fly for fear of a plane crash, but getting in my car and driving on the freeways every day. It's making a choice based on a fear of a highly unlikely event and choosing to take a chance on something that is far more likely to happen. I have to drive the freeways. But I don't have to own a gun and for me, the small chance that I'll need one isn't worth the possible price.

Dec 3, 2016

My Best Books

When I first started this blog, it began with the word "A few days."  Then after delaying publication for awhile, I changed it to start with "A few months."  Now, at last ready to post, I begin with:

A few years ago my friend (and parent of two former students) Elizabeth Towns posted a request for people's list of their top ten favorite books.  I thought about it and dashed off a list of ten on my phone's ColorNote app within an hour of seeing Elizabeth's post.  I had planned to comment on her post, but never got around to transferring the list.

In the meantime,I've come to realize that there's some commentary that I'd like to add that would be longer than appropriate in a comment on a months old Facebook post.

I've always been a voracious reader, since I was a child and would read until my head hurt and I'd wake from fevered jumbled dreams of all the stories I'd be consuming in great literary gulps.

But I've never been inclined to own many books.  I typically read a book once and that's it.  There are a few that I'd read again (even though most I haven't).  The following ten books definitely meet that criteria:

The Top Ten

10.  Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Life Time by Mark Halperin

This book was an absolutely fascinating read.  It's one of the few non-fiction book I've ever read that I couldn't put down.  I particularly enjoyed the window into the non-public personas of these very public figures.

9.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I first read Joy Luck during Christmas break of my freshman year of college.  I guess it was just lying around the house.  I loved the multiple perspectives of the eight key characters (four mother-daughter pairs) and appreciated how Tan managed to draw those many stories together around a central theme and plot line.  I taught this book for years as 9th grade literature teacher and so have read it many times.

8.  Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder

This is another book that was a staple of my freshman students' reading list. I was encouraged to read Among Schoolchildren by my favorite English professor in college, Dr. Georgina Hill.  She knew I was contemplating a career in teaching and thought I'd find it illuminating.  I did. Kidder follows fifth grade teacher Christine Zajac for a school year and chronicles the challenges and joys of her experience. This book, now over 25 years old, is as timely as ever. More than any other book I've read, Among Schoolchildren, accurately captures the experience of being a teacher.

7.  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I read The Poisonwood Bible only once but it really stuck with me. It tells the story of a family of Baptist missionaries led by the severe and fanatical Nathan Price as they struggle to make a life in the Belgian Congo.  The story follows the four daughters as they grow up and deal with the consequences of their father's decisions.  I read the Poisonwood Bible while a missionary myself and found it a compelling cautionary tale of the damage that religious zealotry can do.  At the time I was also listening to Live's early 90's album Mental Jewelry and I found it to be the perfect "soundtrack" to the book, with even specific songs coincidentally seeming to match specific stories in the book.

6.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History was the first "contemporary" adult novel I ever read. My friend Carissa Berard (now Cotta) introduced me to the book, and while I feel like I now need to read it again to really speak on it's quality, I know that at the time I found it gripping, the characters compelling and complex.  It's on the list because I've never forgotten it.

5.  The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

During my freshman year of high school I somehow came into possession of a box-full of faux-leatherbound classics.  "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and "The Count of Monte Cristo"--maybe a dozen all together, plus a small collection of old detective stories (Agatha Christie and similar authors).  In the same way that I typically make it my goal to read Time magazine cover to cover each week, I decided that I would take up the task of reading every book in the collection.  Many were good of course--I guess that's how they became Great Books--but my favorite was The Egyptian.  I'm not sure how it ended up in the collection as it's not a book you typically hear much about, but it was fascinating--a sprawling epic.  I felt like I learned so much about ancient Egyptian history and culture, particularly the true story of ancient Egypt's brief flirtation with monotheism under the rule of the eccentric pharaoh Akenaten .  He single handedly tried to dismantle the polythesistic worship centered around the god Amen and replace it with sole devotion to the god of the sun's disc, Aten.  Famous names from ancient Egypt like Nerfirtiti (Akenaten's queen) and King "Tut" Tutakhenamen (Akhenaten's successor) all make appearances and come to life vividly.

4. U2 at the End of the World by Bill Flanagan

As I've shared on this blog, U2 are one of the few artists I am a personal fan of (as opposed to merely a fan of their work).  For a fan, this book detailing U2's journey during the critical years of their musical reinvention culminating in the Achtung Baby album and ensuing Zoo TV world tour, is a page-turner.  Speaking as fan, I the book helped me understand and admire the band more than any other source.  Even for a non-fans, I think readers will find this book immensely readable and hard to put down as Flanagan in short, punchy chapters illuminates what it's like to be members of the biggest band in the world trying to balance their faith, artistic integrity, family and personal commitments with the demands of stardom.

3.  No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green by Melody Green

This was another book that I had my freshmen read during my years  teaching 9th grade English. It's not on anybody's canon, but I liked to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction on my reading list, and I wanted a biography.  This book has captured me since I first read it in the summer of  1996, on the recommendation of my friend Clari Worley.  I've read it probably a dozen times since and I never tired of it.  This true story of one remarkably gifted man's search for God and his passionate devotion once He found Him has never failed to move and inspire me.

2.  A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

I first read this book sometime in 1998, either right before or right after we moved to Saipan.  It was like no other book I'd ever read.  Funny, insightful, deep, and deeply moving. It had a strong spiritual heart and some striking Christian symbolism, yet it was definitely not intended to be a Christian novel.  It was too edgy, too irreverent to ever fit that category (something I was reminded of when, having forgotten some of the more NSFC [Not Suitable For Church] moments in the novel, I introduced it to my first freshman literature class.  The students loved it as much as I did, but I knew it probably wouldn't be wise to keep teaching the book).  Maybe that's part of why I love the book--because it defies easy categorization and oversimplification.  I eventually read most of Irving's other books and they were good too, but none as good as A Prayer for Owen Meaney.  I haven't read the book in many years, and I'm not even sure where my copy is.  But it still officially holds the title of my Favorite Book.

1. Steps to Christ by Ellen White

This little book takes the number one spot, because it has been a touchstone of my life for many years now.  Next to the Bible, it has probably had a strongest impact on my spiritual life.  It outlines in the simplest term what it takes to come to know Jesus and enter into a saving, vibrant relationship with him.  Ellen White gets kind of a bad rap among my generation--many of us have been beaten over the head by her little red (and now little read) books growing up and find her intimidating.  But this book carries none of the "Testimonies to the Church" type counsel that can cause such consternation.  It is a simple, clear, affecting guide to knowing Jesus.  There are so many beautiful passages that make it so clear that knowing Jesus is a freeing, joyful experience. I've made it a habit to share the book (in small doses, as the 19th century language can be a little dense) with my students every other year for morning worship.  One of my goals is to help my students come to know Christ, and I can think of no better guide.

Honorable Mention: The Krakauer Effect

Jon Krakuer's books have a way of troubling my soul--in a good way I think.  This trio:

Into the Thin Air, a riveting first-person account of the disaster on the slopes of Mt. Everest in 1996 that took the lives of eight climbers.

Under the Banner of Heaven, a story of the consequences of a faith so blind that it turns violent.  This book probably shook my faith  more than anything I've ever read, but ultimately left it stronger in the end. (You can read how going through the struggle inspired me to see Abraham and Isaac in a whole new way in this very old post on my now mostly defunct Faith Journey's blog.

 and Into the Wild, a fascinating investigation into the wandering life and strange death of Chris Mcandless in the Alaskan wilderness. (You can read my review from my definitely defunct blog Maycock Media Mix here--I think the links till works.  I learned after a few years I barely have time for one blog much less three or four!)

 All three books will get under your skin, make you think, and challenge you. I highly recommend them.

Dec 1, 2016

Write Now

Maybe it's a little too soon to say this, but I think this past month has been revolutionary for me.  The 30-Day Writing Challenge really did jump start my writing again.  Now that I've been writing every day for a month, I don't want to stop!  I take such pleasure in putting words and sentences and paragraphs together to say something unique and meaningful, to express myself.  Writing daily, I've become more aware of my writing habits--some of which aren't so great--and I've been taking steps to improve my writing.

I've also been reminded that writing while often a pleasure, is also just as often a discipline. I'll never finish anything of consequence if I only write "when I feel inspired."  I learned that back in 2008 when I finally finished the novel I'd been tinkering with for the previous four years. It took me six weeks. But I wrote, whether I wanted to or not, for 4 to 6 hours, every single day (Ah, the days before kids when such feats were possible). During this past month it was like that again.  Not writing was not an option.

I now feel optimistic about my various writing endeavors.  I think I'll be able to get back to posting at least once, maybe twice a week on my blog.  One of the things that held me back for the past few years, was the need to write the perfect, utterly original and insightful blog post. My ideas for entries always seemed overwhelming and I never felt like I had time to actually create those posts. During this past month, I realized that the important thing is to write, not to get it perfect.  I'm also working on a play for a new drama ministry my colleague Wayna and I have started. It's a reboot of Point of Impact, the play I co-wrote with Galvin Guerrero over 14 years ago. I sat down to start sketching out some ideas this past Monday and ended up writing for over an hour!  There's still a lot of work to do, and I know it won't be easy, but I'm excited. Last, I feel like I'm getting closer to beginning work on my second book, one that will tell the story of the hardest and best year of my life--my ten months as a student missionary in Chuuk. For a long time I've felt this is a story that needs to be told, and I think it's about time I got to work on it.

So here's the deal: I'm moving directly into a second 30 day writing challenge.  This one won't be a blogging challenge. Instead my focus will be to do some sort of writing every single day for the month of December (I'm giving myself one day "off" so it's still 30 days. I haven't decided what day that will be or if I'll even take it.).  I will be maintaining that  one or two entries a week.  I think it's important to make finishing something a necessity.  Otherwise you can end of up tinkering with one sentence for 15 minutes and tell yourself that you "wrote" today.  That's fine occasionally, but if it becomes a habit, you've started fooling yourself.  Requiring a finished product regularly keeps me honest.  I'll be working on the play for sure, as I want to have it done before our drama group returns from our holiday break in January.  I'll be continuing to work on some longer blog entries--ones that can't be finished in a single day.  And on Friday nights when I'm taking a break from my laptop, I will write in my pen and paper journal (now in it's 49th volume!).

Whatever I work on though, the goal will be to write. Now.

Nov 30, 2016


I do love to plan.  And I was all set to run through a laundry list of things I want to get done in the month of December.  But just now I realized I want to set some real goals for myself--some challenges, similar to the one I'm completing this evening with my final entry in the 30-Day Writing Challenge.  I want to do more than just check things off my list.  I want to accomplish  something.

So here they are three goals I have for the next 30 days.

Stay under budget:
The single biggest challenge to our budget is our grocery bill.  We consistently overspend on food, more than on anything else.  So my goal is to find myself under my food budget at the end of the next 30 days.  This will be difficult, particularly because I am starting out behind. My new budget for the month of December begins on Friday, and I've already spent some of it. On top of that, I'm cooking for the next 3 Sabbaths and those are always expensive because I like to make special dishes that often require more or more expensive ingredients. I'm sure I'll  also be contributing to the holiday cooking when we're at my mom's in Florida and that can add up too, especially since I'll be cooking for a crowd!  Babs and I split our food budget, so I won't force her into the challenge. This will only apply to my portion of the food budget, not too our household as whole.  But I promise not to "cheat" by asking Barbara to buy things for me on her budget.

Read a book.
I love to read, but it's hard to find the time. This last vacation I really didn't read as much as I would have liked. So over the next 30 days, I'd like to challenge myself to read a whole book.  If my time wasn't at such a premium this would be no challenge at all.  But I don't think I've read a whole book this entire year so far.  I'm hoping to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Her novel The Secret History was the first "real" contemporary novel I ever read, so I think it would be appropriate and rewarding to read her Pulitzer prize-winning latest novel.  But if I can't get a hold of that book (I'd prefer not to buy it), then I'll find something else.

In an earlier entry I talked about how I feel like I could have a richer, more relaxing Sabbath experience if I stayed off my phone (or laptop) during those 24 hours.  So I've decided to challenge myself to take a break from all phone related activities (other than making or receiving calls or texts--imagine only doing that with a phone. Weird, right?) from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I'll do the same with my laptop (though I will preserve our traditional Sabbath afternoon Skype sessions with my family in Florida).  I'm not sure how I'll feel.  Will I be counting the minutes until sundown like I did as a kid so that I can get back online? Or will I relish the break from constant connectivity?  We shall see.

I'm kind of like this whole concept of challenges.  Let's see how it goes!

Nov 29, 2016

Keeping Counsel

Something people often misunderstand about you:

This is something, ironically, that only those who know me pretty well would misunderstand.  Those who only know me casually would be blithely unaware of it.  And those who are the absolute closest to me--my immediate family, my wife, my closest and oldest friends don't misunderstand me.  It's the middle group of people that know me pretty well (but not intimately) that I often feel misunderstand me.

I think people may believe I'm insincere sometimes.  I think this comes about for two reasons.  First, I don't like conflict and don't see any point in engaging in conflict unless I feel that the conflict will bring about some positive and effective change.  I think this is rare.  Most times if you air your grievances with someone, all it does is create more bad feelings (This is distinct, in my mind from working through differences with someone  with whom you have a close and trusting relationship).  I'm convinced that most people won't be "told" and don't benefit from being "set straight."  So I generally don't engage in "telling it like it is."  (I unpacked that in a  blog entry several years ago in an entry entitled "Straight Talk About Telling it Like It Is.")

Second, I tend to look for common ground.  So if I disagree with some aspect of a persons behavior or ideas, I will disregard that and look for areas where I can agree.  I try to see things from others'  point of view, and I usually find a perspective that I can understand and appreciate. So I choose to focus on that common ground.  One positive result of this approach is that I find I like most people.  I honestly can't think of anyone that I truly hate even though I know and interact with some very difficult people.  In most cases, it's possible to find something to like and appreciate in almost anyone.

People will sometimes ask me: if you disagree with X on topic A, why don't you tell them? Or if you don't like Y's behavior or attitude, why don't you let them know?  My answer is "What good would it do?" and "Well I don't disagree or dislike everything about Person X or Y, so since confronting them about what I don't like would serve no other purpose then to indulge my own sense of righteousness, why not focus on what I do agree with or like."  I think this often comes across as being "fake" or insincere. But I think if we're honest, I'm only different in style, not substance from most people in this regard.  Rare is the person that truly doesn't care about the outcome of their social interactions or regularly unloads whatever negative thoughts they might have to and about everyone they know.

And if you really don't care if your interactions are productive or not and are only too happy to let everyone know everything you think, I'm not particularly impressed.

Not that I'd tell you that, of course.

Nov 28, 2016


5 Things that Make You Laugh Out Loud:

Humor is a funny thing (pun intended). What one person finds hilarious, another doesn't see the humor in. I don't know how funny you'll find these things. I know they get me laughing every time..

1. Overheard (Chuuk Edition). When we were student missionaries in Chuuk, J and I started jotting done funny things that our students, colleagues, and even each other said. We called it "Overheard" and to this day, if J and I sit down and run through the pages of quotes we collected, we will be ROFL. A sampling:

Several of the funniest lines were when our students disapproved of our disciplinary actions:

"Don't you know how to love people?"--one of the students to my colleague Mikal Clark when he was taking down the volleyball net and they didn't want him to.

"Give! You will give to So Young!"-one of my fifth graders demanding I return a toy to her classmate that my colleague had confiscated.

"Where's the man? We will kill him."--another fifth grade girl joins they fray, speaking about the colleague who took the toy.

"I will not go and play.  I will stay in your house."--the original fifth grader now refusing to leave our house after I wouldn't return the toy.

"Mr. Maycock, can I wait until the flavor goes away?"--my high school senior Lisy on being told to get rid of her chewing gum.

"Mr. Carlos, are you tired of teaching?"-J's student Joylyn after seeing him get upset at some other students.

My failed attempt at building "self-esteem":

Me: "O.K. What good qualities do you have?"
Student: "Warning. . .Detention"

One student's take on salvation:

"I don't know if God choose you, but I think you're a good boy."--One of my fifth graders inviting a classmate to go to heaven with him, as written in his Bible notebook.

Willy "Big Will" Hawthorne was a fount of witty banter.  Will was a student missionary from Walla Walla and our high school science teacher.. A good chunk of our "Overheard" entries were one-liners from Willie:

"I trust in God for protection, but I also believe re-bar works well."--Willy commenting on a situation in which a student had physically assaulted one of our teachers. Gallows humor was not uncommon during that year.

"We're right behind you. You're out front and we're protected." -Willy to Mr. Lacayan, the acting principal while our principal was off-island.

"If I eat all my junk food now, I won't be tempted by it."--Willy

"Today went really well for being a bad day."--Willy

"Don't put yourself down, Sean.  Give us the opportunity!'--Willy

2. Humor about the Teacher Life:

I've always been one for gallows humor. I like being able to laugh at the stresses, failures and frustrations of my profession. Sometimes, laughing is how you get through the hard times.

Here are two of my favorites (Be forewarned, the first one has some strong language):

3. My Children

These boys of mine crack me up all the time. Unfortunately, I don't have a handy little collection of all the funny things they've said over the years. Maybe I should start compiling! But those two crazy kids are some of the most consistent sources of laughter in my daily life.

4. Synonyms, especially slang, especially for slightly inappropriate words like "drunk". I haven't really had a good belly laugh over synonyms in awhile but when I was a kid my brother and I would look up these synonyms and laugh until our sides hurt. Language nerds, I know. It's particularly funny when you read them one right after the other.
Herewith, synonyms for drunk:

Another example of this sort synonyms list is the song "Shake Your Euphemism" by the Blue Man Group. I laughed so hard when they performed this at their show in Chicago this past spring. I mean whoever heard of referring to your rear end as "your life's work"?   LMAO (Pun intended). Click here to read the lyrics, which are essentially one long list of euphemisms for. . .well, you know,

5. Things I Know I Cannot Laugh at.
As a teacher there are times when you know you cannot laugh. A students has done wrong and they must be dealt with. You are stern, stone-faced: This is absolutely unacceptable behavior. And all of a sudden you're overcome by giggles as you reflect on this so wrong thing the child has done. You start coughing a lot, looking in the other direction and staring hard at the wall, willing yourself not to so much as crack as smile. But the harder you try, the more your body trembles with barely contained hilarity. The last time this happened, I think I was successful in hiding my inappropriate mirth from the student who was being reprimanded. But when I shared the story with my colleagues at lunch, and with my wife that night I could barely get through it without collapsing in a fit of laughter. Even now, all it takes is remembering one word of the incident and I literally start to laugh out loud.  It was just plain wrong. (And funny, too. . .).