Friday, January 30, 2009

substitute teaching

I recently posted about my numerous jobs over the past 18 months. Each job has given me added perspective to life and the world. Substitute teaching high school English is the most enjoyable. I concur with the proverb that teachers learn much more than their students. An admired writer, Keith Law (check out "The Dish" in my suggested links) and these high school students has moved me to read more literature. I have been a bit narrow in my reading over the past several years--reading mostly sociology of religion, geography, or my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, Raymond Carver and Douglas Coupland.

Thanks to my students and their teachers for my continued thought about To Kill A Mockingbird and the poem The Unknown Citizen. I appreciate positive endeavors that continue to inspire thought. Each of these pieces inspire my thoughts today and continue to do so. I loved English in high school--it was probably my best subject outside of journalism. But I did not read nearly as much as I should have. I have never be a prolific reader--sitting still is not my gift. I don't bring extensive knowledge of literature as a substitute teacher, but I can help build a quick bridge between the English readings and daily life. I have learned in ministry how much good stories and their context speaks truth and wisdom to life. Though not an English scholar, my weekly task of connecting truth in literature to daily life has allowed me to connect with both the congregations I serve and the students in South Dakota high schools.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

jumping the shark and television indulgence

Anyone looking for anything higher than low/middle brow entertainment discussion should skip this post.

When my dear wife and I were in our pre-married life, she used to hang out with my youngest brother while he was in college on occasion. He didn't have a car, so they would get to know each other better by taking a trip to the local grocery store. My brother had a pretty tight schedule, so groceries took a back seat to all kinds of television shows. I want to say 90210, but I think that was my other brother's guilty pleasure. I never thought to arrange my life to television shows, but I've found certain shows to be enjoyable discussing with my family and friends. Especially when the topics surrounding ministry seem so overly serious at times.

After a long week, Thursday is like our Friday in the ministry. My dear wife and I watch Grey's Anatomy and ER. I had thought ER Jumped The Shark (JTS) several seasons ago, but the last two years the show has rallied. Much more interesting characters--even some plausible story lines and dialogue. Grey's Anatomy--JTS. The whole talking to a dead guy thing for Izzy Stevens might have been interesting for an episode or two--but this has gone on for several episodes. She had better be schizophrenic soon or I'm done. The thing is, there's nothing better for me on a Thursday night than snuggling up with my dear wife and turning my brain off--I always hope there's going to be something good on the tube that day.

I am currently teaching confirmation for the first time in about 4 years. I enjoy it, because I don't always have to do it. Confirmation is supposedly a top reason why some pastors leave the ministry. I like using TV clips or movies as illustrations for lessons I'm teaching--it is one way I can build connections with my students. I ask kids what they are watching--and I try picking up a show or two, a movie or two in order to learn a little about their media diet. I picked up a real guilty pleasure with the OC, and now I've tried "House" at the behest of my latest confirmation class. OC deserved an A-minus, House is probably a B.

Most of the shows I watch are for social connection, not because I necessarily think they are quality productions. I would place 4 shows on a list that do not require a social connection to watch--my personal favorites:

Daily Show
Colbert Report (though my 2 year old asks to watch him with me--in addition to calling him "Colbert," she also calls him "Bartlett Pears (a Colbert joke).")
Big Love
Friday Night Lights

Thank you, Hulu, for providing me access to 3 out of 4 of these shows. Thanks, brother, for passing on Hulu to me. And sorry, sucka, to my brother in Canuckville, who can't access Hulu. As far as I am concerned, the only drawback to living in Canada--no Hulu.

Gram's birthday

Today is my Gram's 86th birthday. A day to give thanks for her life and how it fits into the family tree.

I have thought a lot about my grandparents lately because throughout my day I often reflect from where my parenting skills come. I watch movies in my head, recalling the relationships that make me who I am. I live a split-screen broadcast: I watch how my life was crafted and watch the lives of my daughters being shaped as I contribute. Sometimes I cringe, hearing my voice weighted by generations as I address my children. Most of the time I look at the smiles on my girls' faces that come doing the simple things of the day--a request while I juggle dishes and laundry: "Daddy, Head...please? Thanks!" During those smiles I appreciate the vocation of my Gram and Mom--all the days they spent keeping a house and connecting with their children. It's what they loved doing. They still love that connection with children as I watch them spend time with my girls. I never really imagined I would share that vocation. Though all parents parent, regardless of where they work, I am at home most days, caring for the household--my wife and girls. I would guess they never imagined that life for their son/grandson. Here I am.

For years my Gram and I have talked about many things. When I still lived with my parents, those discussions came over games of Yahtzee and Gin Rummy, a Mariners' game, practicing putting, preparing for a holiday, a few songs on the player piano, a trip to see the latest Disney movie, a trip to see the Freedom Train, or a trip to Nordstrom, to name a few. We would talk about all the places Gram and Granddad had travelled, my sporting events, friends, baseball--whatever. With Granddad, the conversations might read like an editorial section of a newspaper. With Gram--more like the Life section. We would talk about almost anything. And she'd tell me stories about family members I had never met (Great Grandmother Alice, Aunt Bob, etc.)--trying to brings parts of the family tree to life I could not see. One thing about Gram, she always listened.

There's a stereotype about how grandparents "spoil" their grandchildren. I do not believe in this stereotype. Spoiled children (and adults) are people who think they can get what they want whenever they want it. I think it would be rare for a grandparent to spoil a child, unless they were doing most of the child rearing. I was not spoiled by my grandparents. There was a lot to share and a lot to learn. I remember my mother and her siblings being aghast on occasion for the things I was willing to talk about with my grandparents, especially Gram. I think it's easy and tempting to think that grandchildren and grandparents will have similar relationships to parents and children. These relationships are not the same. I don't know a parent out there who wouldn't do a few things different in raising their children if they had the opportunity. If age is blessed with wisdom, I think many grandparents learn the benefit of listening and treasuring the moment that they have with the gift that is a child; I think they end up doing a better job of listening to their grandchildren than they did as parents. I could tell that Gram had gained wisdom in some of the stories she shared of her childhood and her days parenting young children. This is wisdom I have missed the most as I live several hundred miles away from her. That wisdom is more difficult to tap. But if I go into that split-screen broadcast while I eat a meal with my daughters, I see my Gram with her children on one screen, and see another screen eating with Gram, Granddad and me--flank steak, some slaw (maybe with some shrimp), a Gai's roll, blessed with a prayer I will never forget:

We thank thee for our daily bread.
Let also, Lord, our souls be fed.
O Bread of Life, from day to day,
sustain us on our homeward way.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moved toward odd jobs

After numerous and frequent childcare providers with our first child and moving in that direction for the second, we determined we needed our own hope and change. I would quit full time ministry work outside the home and attempt to lend stability to our children. We confronted days shuffling between two and three providers thinking "this can't be good." Though not a rebel or a party animal, I am not a poster boy for stability, either. My employment status shift to home life was never an obligation to an idealized nuclear family--obviously not--or I wouldn't be the one at home. I think my spouse and I are pragmatists (a tired word--probably soon to be removed from my lexicon) and the arrangement was a good intersection of ideals and short-term sanity.

Spending most of my days at home, I have taken brief forays into compensated work. In less than 18 months I have:

Delivered newspapers
Custodial work
Substitute High School English Teacher
Part-time ministry

The part-time ministry deal has varied widely demographically for the Midwest. One congregation worshiped in a mall in a small city. The other congregation has men who come to worship in cowboy boots and hats, and flannel shirts. I have seen only a few places more empty and isolated--maybe Eastern Nevada, SE Oregon, or Wyoming. My friend Theobilly suggested the latest congregation should show up in my novel.

In the midst of this varied activity, I get to stay home and watch my children grow up. We talk all day.

Novel ideas will arrive on a later post.

Woven newsprint

Picking up a newspaper often brings thoughts of my Granddad. He worked in the newspaper business over 4 decades to provide for his family, develop his own interests, stay in touch with the world, and build other relationships where he could. Life with Granddad was a journalistic activity. The arrival of Time Magazine and a copy of the afternoon Seattle Times were equally revered and used more than a Bible or prayer book in his household. We read, discussed, dissected and critiqued the stories of the day.

What would Granddad think of print media today? He would never tolerate media bashing in conversations. I remember calling some newspaper a "local rag," a term I had heard living in the Midwest (though not indigenous to the region), and I was confronted about my blasphemous remark. My Granddad worked with numerous small daily and weekly newspapers--though they varied in quality and professionalism, each newspaper represented an ideal of connecting people in a community with information. He upheld the journalistic vocation as a foundation of a free society in and through his life and work. Art Thiel of the Seattle P-I reminded me in a recent column of this Constitutional notion as he lamented the consquences of Seattle being a one- or zero-newspaper city.

Granddad was not alive long enough to grasp the scope of the Internet, but I think he saw the beginning of a colossal shift in journalism, only he didn't name it at the time. As I love journalism myself, I made my own attempts to pursue the vocation over a few decades, and have often tried to grasp what was happening in journalism. I think about the macro- and micro- level discussions about the field we had over the years. Though we were never big fans of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (we were a Times family), the idea that the P-I and newspapers all over the country have changed glacially in a media tsunami would be a part of numerous discussions for us if he were alive today. I picked up my own local newspaper Sunday and rubbed in like a Roman Catholic using beads while praying the Rosary. In that newspaper was a tactile reminder of many days of discussing what was going on in the world and in our lives with my Granddad. I am like many other media consumers these days--I do not subscribe to my local newspaper. I buy one on Sundays at a local outlet for the coupons--we're trying to be frugal. I read several newspapers online, some more than others. I have 6 on my bookmark page. The state of the newspaper business is one of the many things about which I miss talking with Granddad--but this topic is one of the most poignant topics of our shared lives. Journalism represents decades of passion and vocational pursuits for each of us, not to mention flesh and bone for our lives. And as our bodies change and all things change, so too has journalism changed. I am at peace with that notion--I only wish Granddad and I could talk about it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Contemplating life as a Neo-Luddite

A wave gathers over my recent web-reading--am I one of the few to resist Facebook? Friend after friend reports the exhilaration of reconnecting with people, meeting new people, collecting "friends." Another email posed the question "are you on Facebook?"

The idea of Facebook sounds exhausting to me. Thinking of Facebook produces flashbacks of navigating social circles of younger days. Why would I ever want to return to that anxiety producing maze of people wondering where I am supposed to fit? It takes energy and work to stay connected with people whom I love. I barely keep up with the people whom I would consider friends and not merely Internet acquaintances. As I approach the age of 40, is this what makes me old? I don't reject technology. I use it when it strengthens important relationships or helps me in using my God-given gifts for the good of the world. I know people who use Facebook as a ministry tool--and I suppose if it works for you and enhances your life--then it's time well invested.

I am considering why I think about Facebook today--it's the one thing in common that my wife and spectrum of friends have addressed in the past month. I cover a wide range of topics as a part-time pastor and full-time husband/father/household manager. The convergent topic is Facebook. I remember the same buzz around mobile phones and email during their nascent popularity. I don't expect Facebook to fade, only that it becomes a more ordinary part of the vernacular Facebook is to interpersonal communication--is Kleenex to the task of keeping noses booger-free.

I suppose I'm discerning whether to pursue an existence as a crusty old man/Neo-Luddite. I don't think this identity suits me--I'm a joyful person at my core. I just do not want to use Facebook. I will continue to email my friends, post thoughts that no one will read on Blogger, and call my friends as a break from my life in the working world when I leave my days as a house husband/Mr. Mom. My wife and daughters are by far my best faces.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thoughts on Obama inauguration

I think I watched a collective 5 minutes of inauguration coverage yesterday. I hold President Obama in high esteem. I think his presidency is truly historic for all of the reasons repeated in the press ad nauseum. I voted for Obama. I did my usual election coverage smorgasbord until about 1 a.m. I hope his service goes well for him and the country. My wonderful wife had a special perspective watching the inauguration at our State Capitol in Pierre. I was glad to be doing other things.

Why didn't I watch the inauguration festivities?

1. I have lost almost any desire to watch news events in real time. This was the fascination of the '90s and early '00s. CNN and FOX news have made their money on real-time reporting--reporting on events as they happened. I don't have the time or the schedule to live this kind of life. I am perfectly content to read about what happened and the post-game analysis. Podcasts, Hulu, and post-event journalism serve me quite well. I still have a steady diet of media, but caring for my children and household take priority. I do appreciate certain things real-time besides my life: I like sports.

2. The superlatives and fawning of the Baby Boom Generation reporters over Barack Obama and the inauguration set off my gag reflex as I listened to the radio and watched television related to the inauguration (John Stewart did the best job, he made fun of himself and his fawning. A Daily Show interview with Al Jazeera? I liked that). I even had a hard time listening to NPR's coverage. I endured about 3 minutes.

3. I certainly support having a party. Obama endured quite a campaign. I am much more interested in how Obama governs.

I think I'll listen to more new government analysis on my podcasts.