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When Words (including these) Aren’t Enough

To someone that has lost a loved one in the service of our country, I can only imagine that a Memorial Day social media post may seem a paltry effort to offer thanks and honor for that ultimate sacrifice. 

I know each person that does so, including me, does so in good faith in an attempt to honor our fallen soldiers. But I admit it feels unworthy. 

It may even be seen as a trite and simplistic way for those of us that has not endured that pain to assuage the ‘guilt’ we feel as we enjoy a day off. While those that have winced as three volley salutes were fired, and cried tears over flag-draped caskets, have to bear another day remembering the lives that they can no longer share a happy memory with, we that enjoy that blood-bought freedom can blithely post an American flag on social media and go about our merry way to our BBQ’s and beach days. 

No, a social media post or American flag cannot provide the proper honor. Nor can a parade. Nor a monument. 

Lincoln knew this when he wrote the words, “We cannot consecrate – we cannot dedicate – we cannot hallow this ground” as he attempted to speak words of honor on a battlefield where thousands paid an ultimate sacrifice for lives they would never see, and captives they would never know were freed. 

The only legitimate way to honor a person that has given up everything to serve a cause is to dedicate my life to that same cause. 

One can only judge whether I have honored those that have fallen by the fruits of the life I live, that their service allows me to live. 

Only if I stand boldly for the ideals they died for in the face of criticism and accusation; only if my children are taught that our rights are not given by decree or political whim, but ordained by divine Providence and protected only by the diligence of the citizen and the soldier; and only if I choose to make the song “God Bless America” more than lip-service, but rather work tirelessly in my daily life to make sure America is a land God would desire to bless, can I truly say that I honor those that gave their lives in battles both foreign, and domestic. 

And so, my Memorial Day tribute does not start, or end, with this post. It is only a reminder to myself of what it means to honor those that gave all. 

Lincoln states this better than I ever could. 

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

The words aren’t enough. But to those that have lost a loved one in the service of our country, I pray that our lives demonstrate in some small way the level of gratitude we feel towards you and the sacrifice your dear one made for us.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Wisest Day of the Year

 

I recently caught the flu. It was a miserable few days of aches and pains, sleepless nights and myriad medicines. Image

It was not improved by the well meaning but constant barrage of tips and advice from both family and perfect strangers on the best ways to combat this illness. It seems when we see someone trying to fight through something, we all become experts on that topic.

Such it is with the coming of a new year.

At the end of the year, everyone becomes a poet, a scholar, a historian, an alliterative genius. Even prophetic gifts are bestowed on those that haven’t read a passage from Isaiah since last Easter. We all seem to gain perspective and wisdom, and we can’t wait to share it. Just one glance at your Facebook or Twitter feed today is all the evidence you need. 

It certainly isn’t a bad thing to be reflective. But I wonder why we feel this urge to become wise and reflective from one 24 hour period to the next.  It’s common knowledge that most of our resolutions and revelations will be forgotten in a few weeks, yet we feel we must make some assessment of the past and a declaration for the future. It almost feels wrong not to do so. 

I believe God gave us a desire to know and share the wisdom that time provides us. We are innately aware of the principles of Ecclesiastes – “To everything there is a season” – and of Psalm 90:12, where Moses opines on our mortality, then asks God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. Every human being understands that as time passes we are supposed to gain wisdom from our lives’ experience on how to live better. 

The problem is that time was never supposed to be our only teacher. 

As we were originally created, we were supposed to live eternally. Sin made that eternity a promise we would have to wait for. God saw that we didn’t learn what we needed to learn in our chance with eternity, so He gave us a tutor – time. Eternity is no longer an unbroken reality for us, but Ecclesiastes also states that ‘God set eternity in our hearts’. So, we know we are supposed to have an eternal view of life, yet we are cornered into a finite, time – based view of our reality. Now, like any  patient but frustrated tutor , Time tries to teach us what we could have learned from the Father directly, simply by listening to Him. 

Even with this gracious gift of wisdom, we then make another costly mistake, which makes all the pithy sayings and New Year’s declarations sound hollow. We make Time our ultimate teacher, and forget the Creator of time. Sure, we number our days, but we forget that Moses started the verse as a request to God to  “TEACH US”.  We apply our hearts to our OWN wisdom, and not His. That’s why I feel all the words we hear seem to fade quickly, with no staying power. We are lost in a swirl of good wishes, ideas, and hopes for every season that have nothing to do with our eternal destiny, because we traded out the wisdom of the Father for the temporary wisdom of a calendar and life experience. 

Times and seasons become our new idols, and the creator of Time is lost in the shuffle of grand expectations that, in the light of eternity, really don’t matter very much. 

I’m not knocking speaking good words over a season or a new year. I’m simply reminding myself that if I don’t acknowledge God’s command over my life and the times of my life, all my New Year’s declarations are just a crutch that will fail me just like any other earthly source of encouragement. 

If I don’t remember to worship the God of the season, then the season becomes my god. 

So as we read all the great things that we expect from 2014, just take a deep breath and realize that God doesn’t stress out during a earthly calendar page turn. What happens in the next year won’t be a surprise to Him, and therefore you can relax if you don’t have a witty promise to repeat, or a new revelation to declare over the year. If you are are a follower of Jesus, you can be content with the words He said as he left earth approximately 1,981 years ago. 

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  

I think “always” includes 2014. That makes it a Happy New Year. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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An Accidental Thank You to a Veteran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It speaks to my inflated sense of importance that I was worried about what I would post on Facebook for Veteran’s Day.

As if a few pithy comments on social media could be an adequate display of gratitude to those who have given their lives over to the defense of our country. Not to dismiss those that have done so today, but I felt especially incapable of finding proper words to convey my respect for our armed forces. Perhaps my inability is due to my clear realization that I could never do what a soldier does. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I simply can’t process the idea of pushing myself to the point of surrendering my will to a command structure that requires such extreme sacrifice. I don’t say this as a dishonorable thing, but as a high compliment to those that forge deep allegiance to the cause of freedom, to the point that they cast aside their own self-hood to complete the duty assigned to them, whatever it may be.

So my day continued with no social media thank you regarding our veterans, up until the afternoon.  I teach piano students on Mondays in my home. At 5:30 one of my newest students, an older gentlemen I’ll call Mr. V, came in. It was his second lesson today. Mr. V loves the blues. He has gnarled, thick fingers that barely fit within the keys, yet he can handle some soulful piano licks, and understands a lot of music theory. He told me that his finger injuries prevented him from playing guitar as he used to, so he picked up the piano instead.

In today’s lesson, he picked my brain about all sorts of music and piano concepts, and the hour literally flew by as we tried out different blues and jazz chords, and shared stories about our favorite musicians. I honestly could work with him for hours because of his genuine enthusiasm and willingness to learn. As the lesson ended, he mentioned coming to one of my performances. He said he would be in the area the day before, as he had a VA appointment.

I remembered seeing a military insignia on a hat he wore last week. Hadn’t really paid attention before.

I quickly took the opportunity to say thank you to him for his service, and wished him a Happy Veteran’s Day as he got into his big white van. He smiled back and told me, “Thanks. There’s nothing else I would have liked to spend my Veteran’s Day doing.”

Day. Made.

I don’t have any weapons training. The closest I’ll ever get to a battlefield is to visit a Civil War memorial site. I can’t travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other overseas theater to personally assist in the fight that our military wages to maintain our security.

All I have is a little knowledge of music and a piano.

Which for one veteran, was all he wanted. So I think I know what to post on my Facebook wall now.

Thank you, Mr. V, and all your brothers and sisters that have served and continue to serve. Such as I have, I will continue to offer you in gratitude. Because you give all that you have. 

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Patriotism, Uncategorized

 

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A Gift That Lasts

Every year, it seems we begin the holiday season earlier and earlier. At the time of this writing, mid-October, some are already lining up their shopping lists and scheduling their celebrations. Many of the gifts given at these celebrations will end up on dusty shelves and forgotten in toy boxes before the year is over. However, some gifts keep on giving.

The pillow below was given to me years ago by a sweet-spirited saint, Florence Holloway. Having met her when I was a young minister of music, she was one of the choir members that had been there since the church started, and one of those church mothers that you could honestly say “never spoke an unkind word”.  But her most unique talent was her gift of giving. She spent hours and days looking for the perfect gift, and during events everyone would look forward to the thoughtful items she would give to her friends and family. It was obvious that she chose them with love and care, in a way that said to you, “This is why you are special.” ImageClearly, that’s how I felt when she gave me this little pillow with the saying “There’s a special place in Heaven for musicians.”

Sister Holloway has since passed on to receive the greatest gift one can receive. But her little gift has continued to remind me that my gift as a musician has a purpose. For years now since then, during every morning prayer, I’ve knelt on this pillow. It reminds me that faith I possess was not discovered by me. It was a gift forged by the prayers of my forefathers and foremothers. I remember that the dear saints before me handed down some principles that support me in my weakest times.  And I’m encouraged, as Paul encouraged Timothy, to stir up the gift within me as I honor those that planted the gift in me.

Today, my gift to my descendants may not be as tangible as a pillow under their knees, but it’s just as important to pass on the knowledge that they are unique, that they have purpose, and that God has a special place in heaven for them. That’s a gift that will outlast every holiday season, and will sustain them long after we have moved on.

I hope to leave a legacy that my children can kneel upon.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in legacy, Uncategorized

 

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The “Career Track” Trap

The ad leapt off the page and activated my D.A.S. (Daddy Alert System.)

Sometimes we lose focus in educating our kids by focusing on the wrong thing.

Sometimes we lose focus in educating our kids by focusing on the wrong thing.

“Latin Tutors can earn $80 – 90,000 in private academies.”

“Finally!” I said to myself as I read over the article explaining how the tutoring field had exploded in recent years, as parents look more and more to private educational options. Finally, I had concrete evidence I could use to support my belief that Latin was a useful skill for my teenagers in our classical home school program. Of course, Latin isn’t the first foreign language of choice in business or academic circles, but now I could at least show my kids how this ‘dead’ language could be lucrative. Never mind all the times I had reminded them how Latin appears in medicine, law, etc. –  all fields that usually command a hefty salary. Explaining the benefits of this course with the “it strengthens your mind” mantra seemed ineffective. Rather, I wanted to use the more palatable argument, “You can make a lot of money.”

And then I realized – I had fallen into the “learning is for the purpose of a career / salary / achieving the American dream ” trap again.

I’m guessing that many home school and public school parents, while outwardly preaching that education is its own reward, privately think that the primary reason to introduce a subject is to advance their child’s career options. We see certain subjects as marking a path across a mythical treasure map, and each math, science, or computer course leads to the “X”, which signifies the perfect career for our kids. I’m reminded of the technical college commercial in which a middle-aged man describes his life as ‘perfect’ since graduating with a technology degree. Apparently the boat, big house, and smiling family in the advertisement are all due to his getting the ‘right kind’ of career education.

But this view does not take into account the real aim of education, which is stated in Dorothy Sayers’ essay ,The Lost Tools of Learning  as simply “to teach men how to learn for themselves”.  To take courses and classes simply to get a good job does not help a child become a better person, but only a better worker – someone who can use their skills in a certain field that may one day be obsolete. Clearly, a “Career Track Education” was not an answer for the thousands of workers that have had to change careers two, three, four or five times in a lifetime. Why prepare a child solely for a career that will likely change in a few short years?

Instead of falling into the ‘career track’ trap, I have to remind myself, even as a home school parent, that the studies my children undertake are not (just) a path to a career; they are, more importantly, a path to character, discipline, and a deeply embedded love of learning. To be a lover of learning is to be fully engaged in life and humanity, and that is something no “career track” education can teach. While I can certainly guide my kids into the necessary courses to help them succeed in their chosen field, I most importantly want them to be successful people, not simply successful employees. Getting my kids into lucrative careers will not ensure their happiness, but building their discipline, depth of understanding and wisdom will go a long way in ensuring that my children will have successful lives, and hopefully great careers that they love.

Maybe my children will not become Latin teachers at Princeton, nor mathematics professors at MIT, nor any other profession that I would imagine as the perfect fit for their training. But they will have the freedom to walk into their calling and eventual vocation because they have learned how to learn. That’s worth more than any salary a corporation can provide.

What is the purpose of the subjects and courses that your child studies? How do you respond when your children ask you, “Why do I have to learn this?”

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in education

 

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Our Wired Family – A Retrospective Repost about Technology

At least the First Family and my family have one thing in common.

I came across this post as I was reviewing my former Blogger site posts. Written 5 years ago, it’s quite funny to see how the language of technology changes so fast (Myspace? PDA?). We had just discovered Twitter, and the iPhone was still an untested, risky move for Apple.  But it is also interesting to see how what worried me about the effects of our internet age on our kids, is even more applicable today. After reading the book “Imagining the Kingdom” by James K.A. Smith, I’m more and more aware of how these tools have changed our view of the world. Are we the masters of technology, or has technology mastered us? A fair question for all parents as we raise the first Internet generation. I feel we should consider how much technology has changed the way we think, as we think about how to manage its effect in our children’s lives. 

In any case, I hope you enjoy this little look back into our past. Besides, I believe, in internet circles, Thursdays are traditionally called “Throwback Thursday”, so it seems appropriate.   The original post is here

“I think it was today, when I received an audio chat invitation from my 11 year old, Marcus, from inside my house, that I realized it had happened. We have officially become totally wired.

Each member of the family now has their own laptop. Miki and I have become Twitter, Facebook and My Space addicts (with My Space now a distant third for me – just too much stuff to keep up with.) I’ve been going through PDA withdrawal now for three days since my iPod touch went missing. Marcus does Virtual School through the web. Naomi turns in assignments to me through Home-school-inc.com, and messages me even when she’s only 10 steps away. Christopher rarely detaches his Blackjack from his fingers for fear losing contact with the phone will signal an early social demise.

Not that I will start pining for the days of tin cans and string being the most advanced communication system available. It would be hypocritical in the least for me to blame my kids for being enthralled by their gadgets when their father practically lives on them. It is simply striking how naturally the digital lifestyle fits them, when some of this technology – Google Maps, audio and video chatting, GPS, etc. – barely existed when they were born.

One topic I am sincerely interested in studying with the kids is how all this technology works. I mean, really – how does my voice show up in a little device a thousand miles away, instantaneously? What kind of electromagnetic energy allows for transmissions from a satellite to my TV dish? And, probably most important, how many people still understand the underpinnings of our digital infrastructure? Is there a self-sustaining brain trust of the finest scientists teaching the next generation of collegiate technocrats? Or, like our economic meltdown, is it simply a house of cards constructed by behemoth companies that no longer understand the depth or complexity of the systems they constructed to support all these technologies? And can we, as consumers of the digital world, continue to be ignorant of how much these systems run our daily lives?

All this puzzles me as I twitter, blog, Skype, and text my way into that same technology driven connection between my closest friends and my most interesting strangers. The connections that this digital lifestyle creates also gives me pause. When did our lives become so fragmented that the only way we feel connected is by placing our thoughts, one moment at a time, on this tapestry of consciousnesses known as Twitter? I’ve quickly become very interested in seeing people’s entries (“Tweets” for the uninitiated), as they give me a glimpse into how other people get through the day. Perhaps it’s because each of us feel like no one else really sees us, anymore. The effort to say, “my thoughts, my feelings matter” has been the single driving force behind the advance of the social media tech boom. When people feel disenfranchised from government, or family, or country in a tangible sense, who else is there to turn to but the blogger across the country that is willing to read your complaints and compliments, that seems to have more in common with you than the neighbor that’s been across the street for years, but still doesn’t know your name?

By no means do I mean to imply that bloggers or Twitterers have no physical or social connections outside of the web. Far from it. I do think it is indicative of our current state that we now feel more connected with [those] who are with us ideologically than who are around us physically. Both my wife and I have been struck by the feeling that many times those around us are simply acquaintances, but not really friends. The hardest part is determining whether it is the fear of rejection by our peers that drives us to connect to our web connections – because they choose to come to us, and [therefore experience] its instant validation. There’s no pain of getting to know you, of sharing my intimate feelings before acceptance. There’s a click, and a reading of a 120 character bio, some common tag words, and we’re linked. Linked in a way that is both entrancing and, perhaps, unrealistic. But only time will tell if our new Internet personalities end up enhancing or diminishing our ability to connect eye to eye, face to face, voice to voice, instead of Voice to Voice Over Internet Protocol.

I must go now though. My cell phone needs charging, my online planner is in need of updating, and online bills must be paid. Maybe I’ll unplug one of these weekends and show I’m able to give up all the wiredness, quit cold turkey. Surely I’m not addicted to the point that I can’t do a non-digital day. You’ll see.

Well, after I buy a new iPod Touch, that is.”

Question: How do you deal with the continual ‘wiring’ of your children’s lives through the internet and its tools?

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Culture

 

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Back to (Home) School: Learning at the Speed of Life

It’s about this time every year. These conversations begin to bounce around my home. And I’m never ready.

“When are we going to get the books?”

“What time do we have to get up?”

“How many papers do I have to write this year?”

“Are all the forms filled out?”

Despite our flexible family learning lifestyle, in which we try to encourage a year round environment of learning, we are like many homeschoolers in that we use a standard scholastic calendar, where most of our educational activities occur between August and April / May.

In other words, our preparation for school doesn’t really vary that much from our traditional school counterparts. We have to prepare our family to enter a new season of life and learning, make schedule adjustments, renew previously established routines, and re-focus on academics.  Getting our family out of the more lazy and relaxed summer tempo takes a considerable effort. Just the mention of waking up earlier causes the rolling of eyes to begin anew in our teenagers.

So we can empathize with the millions of parents besieged by the back-to-school craze. But we also have less school-induced stress than the average family. I’m grateful that we’re still in control of our kid’s schedule. Not worrying about clothes, lunches, or bus schedules as our traditional schooling friends might. School supplies determined by our own needs. Not fretting over which classroom / home-room our kids will be assigned to. My kids knowing they will see their friends because, well, we take them to see their friends whenever we want.  Their school year looks less like being thrust into an externally constructed schedule and more like adopting a more academically focused routine in their daily lives, one that still allows them to be flexible and responsible with their time.

One of my friends at church has a daughter entering kindergarten this year. He shared with me his concern about the new school routine they would have to adopt.  As a leader in our ministry, he and his wife are often required to stay late at church, which means the family gets home late.  He is concerned that having to rush his daughter to school every morning will negatively affect her focus and temperament through the rest of the day. This is one of the reasons I value homeschooling – because it allows us to be disciplined when we need to with schedules, but also to know when we have to let our kids be kids and release them from the tyranny of the calendar.

Life demands different tempos and routines from us throughout the year. Although we follow prescribed calendars in our organizations, churches, and workplaces, we as parents have to be sensitive enough to know when to buck the trend and let our families adopt the pace that works for them. Whether it means an impromptu weekend out of town, a dinner date for just the parents while the kids are babysat, or just a couple of minutes in a busy day to unplug and unwind as a family, the tempo of learning is most effective when it is running within the speed limits of life.

As the year approaches, I’ll continue to feel a little anxious. I won’t get every book we need on time. We’ll have attitude adjustments and mammoth misunderstandings. And they will still be moments when we feel like there’s just not enough time for everything. But we’ll jump into this school year with the understanding that we are the drivers of this educational process. As we drive the highway of home-schooling, we’ll keep to the speed limits that our lifestyle suggests. If traffic speeds up, and the wheels start to spin out of control, we won’t hesitate to pull over and take a pit stop, so that our academic progress is never prioritized at the expense of our family’s peace of mind.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Family

 

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