I am a Teacher . . . not a Miracle Worker

I am a teacher, not a miracle worker.  Though most days I wish I were.

There is nothing simple about the profession I have chosen.  No hard and fast rules you can play by.  Everyday the game changes because everyday you are playing a different game.  Every hour that you teach (and depending upon where you teach), you have anywhere from 12 to 20 to 35 different individuals sitting in front of you.  Each one of them an entire universe unto themselves.  They have different names, nationalities, ethnicities and origins.  They have different likes, passions and interests.  They have different learning styles and educational challenges.  They have varying levels of interests and abilities.  They come from different backgrounds and sadly, even in a private institution, some of them find school the safest place to be.

I am a fixer, a peace maker, a grand negotiator . . . one looking for answers in a world filled with questions.  And when I read the words of these students.  Oh, these students.  These kids who feel the sting of betrayal, the pain of abandonment . . . these kids who are at war with their insecurities and as a result, at war with one another.  These kids who know the horror of heartbreak and the deafening silence of loss.  What are we to do in this vast waste land of pain?  How do we, the educators in this world, balance the ever increasing demand to stamp out ignorance with knowledge and the ever increasing emotional isolation our students feel?  How do we decide each and every day, like Solomon, what is more important in this moment?  Nouns or nourishment?  How do we fix it?

One word:  hope.  It’s all we have.  It’s the only weapon in our arsenal as of yet undefeated and undeterred.  My students hear about this Jesus character from the moment they come to school until the moment they leave . . . from the verse of the day in the morning announcements to the opening prayer before math class.  They hear it so much, in fact, that some of them have been lulled into a mistaken belief that if He were really the answer, He would have shown up by now.  They have walked these halls long enough to pick out the phonies from the followers, and their heightened sense of sophistication belies their undeveloped spiritual maturity.  They have been drinking the water so long, they’ve forgotten how to feel thirsty.

Oh, my young friends and all of those valiant warriors standing in front of them every day. Don’t lose hope.  Don’t lose heart.  Every great teacher I have ever had, and every great teacher I have ever known . . . my mentors and my educational heroes have all shared one thing in common:  unrelenting love.  Love for their subjects, love for their calling, and most of all, love for their kids.  When I ponder my teachers of old, I don’t remember Wordsworth or Shakespeare.  I remember how much they loved me.  How they sacrificed their planning periods to listen and to counsel.  How they indulged my immaturity in the hopes of a better day.  How they reminded me that each moment was the beginning, not the end.  How they encouraged me never to give up.  And, I didn’t.

It is that love that gives us the strength to keep coming back everyday.  It is that love that give us the self control to choose moderation over malice.  It is that love that gives us hope.  Oh, make no mistake, there is an answer in this world full of questions.  And He just so happens to be the grand architect of hope.

I Am 43.

I am 43. Yesterday I was 10. Tomorrow, if the fates allow, I will be 76. Time is a vapor.

What has mattered most in my life is simple and can be catalogued in one word: relationships. When I look back over the long span of my days under the sun, I do not see my capabilities, I see my companions. I do not see the facts of my life unfold, I see faces. I do not see failures and missteps, talents or triumphs. I see providential appointments whose lingering fingerprints have influenced my path, shaping my destiny.

Relationships are tricky. They are fragile and easily tread upon by life’s circumstances. Distances pull. Time tugs. The intricate paths of our lives make maintaining them over long periods of time treacherous at best. They all don’t work out either, serving as reminders that oftentimes we are not the versions of ourselves that we aspire to be. We acquire friendships, on occasion, through pretense, advertising a false sense of self. Those always end tragically. We are eventually exposed for who we truly are, and when vulnerable, the root withers. However, friendships based on the shared awareness that we are fallen creatures, stumbling our way through the darkness, aiming for the light . . . those friendships have a sweetness, whose fragrance fills our lives. Sustaining us through the long, cold nights. Romping with us through the summer seasons. Remembering us when the world falls asleep.

Yes, the binding cord in all of our relationships is love. And love is the trickiest of all. This current generation has been seduced by the notion that love is an all-inclusive beach resort, unconditional acceptance of all actions, where the drinks are free and the food is paid for. When they are chastised in their relationships, they feel judged. When they are corrected, they feel betrayed. When their actions are not accepted, they impute hatred. If that were true, then I hate my son Luca when I tell him he is wrong, giving him behavioral boundaries, if observed, that will benefit his life, keeping him from ending himself. If that were true, then the redemptive work of Christ on the cross is nothing more than an elaborate hate mission, the “God made man” hanging on the cross to tell the world it was wrong AND He hated it. No, love is sharp like a sword. It cuts to the quick, curing and redeeming our deepest indiscretions. It should be handled with care and revered like a precious jewel. It pierces the soul with its beauty and its foundation is truth. It can bear nothing less. Those who love one another are painfully honest, pointing out those dangerous places in the path that might lead to ruin. Those ledges we all just might jump from without the wise counsel of one who loves us.

I am 43. And I still haven’t got it all figured out. But what I do know is that in the end, relationship are all that really matters. All that really lasts. Nothing transcends eternity like the connection we make with other souls. Nothing. So we better be getting better at practicing, securing and maintaining friendships. And that is not a job for the weak of heart. Because surrounding ourselves with people who are not afraid to stand upon the platform of truth and call us out on our crazy is the greatest, painful, woeful, redemptive gift this world affords.

Don’t Be A Kanye West

“Don’t be a Kanye West,” Sarah Schlosser, one of my junior students, wrote in her poetry response assignment this week. My eyes instantly stopped tracking across the page. First, because I thought that sentiment would make an excellent bumper sticker, second only to “Fat People Are Harder to Kidnap.” But more importantly, because if I were trying to distill some solid life advice down to one simple phrase, that would just about cover it.

Now, let’s try to give Kanye West the benefit of the doubt. His bizarre behavior is known on a global scale. However, Kanye West, I am sure, puts his pants on like every other man. Or perhaps, he believes pants are a targeted conspiracy put in place by a government specifically committed to imprisoning the legs. I am sure that Kanye West has red blood coursing through his veins like any other man. Or perhaps, since he has a tendency to liken himself to Jesus the Christ, his blood has the stuff of the divine in it. So . . . okay, maybe Kanye West has a normal marriage like any other average man. Oh yeah, he’s married to Kim Kardashian.

So, let’s don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, perhaps those aspects of his pop culture success, his album sales, his mega hits have provided him personally with a little too much of the “benefit of the doubt” mentality. And generally, since he times his random outbursts to within the week or two of his newest album release, we should all be held responsible for building a bigger monster. From interrupting Taylor Swift to posing on the cover of Time as the crucified Christ to using humanitarian aid benefits and concerts to “act out” in a sweepingly unintelligible manner; yes, maybe, just maybe, Kanye West needs someone in his life who knows how to shake his head no and actually mean it. Let’s face it, though. With his net worth exponentially increasing after each and every moment of awkward publicity, Kanye West would most likely respond to my humble thoughts about his behavior with a rousing chorus of, “George Bush hates black people.”

So what did Sarah Schlosser mean when she so succintly wrote, “Don’t be a Kanye West.” Well, she meant don’t be an idiot. Let’s soften that blow a bit with some larger words. Don’t be, as the British prime minister, Benjamin Disreali once famously said, “Inebriated with the exuberance of your own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination.” And most of us would look in the mirror confidently and proudly declare, “Nope, can’t say that my imagination is egotistical, and I have never grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift during an acceptance speech. Doing just fine.” And my point would be lost in the moment of your affirmation. Let me simply ask it like this. When was the last time you criticized with your co-workers a “needless” rule put in place at your job? When was the last time you “lost it” on somebody because they obviously deserved it? When was the last time you decided not to do something you were supposed to do just because there was that tiny voice in your heart dismissing that “something” as not really applicable to you? When was the last time you inserted your opinion in a discussion that had absolutely no need for said opinion? When was the last time you smugly thought to yourself that given the same set of circumstances, you could do a better job of fill in the blank? You see, our “egotisical imaginations” come out in different, less glaring ways than the Kanye West’s of the world. We worship at the temple of self with an unmatched religious fervor and regularity. We fudge, and we cut corners. We make a Mount St. Helens out of a mole hill. We program negativity and cynicism as the default emotional response to all circumstances. We diminish our blessings and exaggerate our problems. We whine and moan and complain, and we act as if the sheer luxury we are afforded most everyday of our existence is simply a benefit of being alive. And it is not. Oh, my friends, nothing could be further from the truth.

So this week, a junior in high school hit the nail on the head. And I looked up from the page I was reading and realized that sometimes I’m a Kanye West. And I really don’t want to be.