Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Smile

Hello People, 

It is a beautiful day in Telmar. I mean seriously beautiful.  So beautiful, in fact, that the smog only makes it prettier.  When you were in bed or just waking at 6:00 this morning, I was waiting for the ferry to bring me home and listening to Beirut.  What a wonderful band by the way.  As I sat, I began to reflect over the day so far.  Going to church every Sunday is always an adventure.  Our church is on Istiklal Caddessi (Liberty Avenue) which is one of the busiest streets in Telmar.  It is definitely the most famous and for good reason.  Today it was busier than usual which, as we ate lunch in a small cafe, became readily apparent.  As we ate, the sun shone a pale light for our happiness, groups of tourists with cameras and children in tow streamed by as if on parade, chanting protestors made their way to the Russian Embassy,  Galata-Saray soccer fans  clad in red and gold floated by chanting their fight songs, and in the middle of it all a dog made diarhea everywhere.  Suddenly my mushroom pasta seemed a lot less appetizing.  

The city where we live is divided almost down the middle by a strait.    With only two bridges to span the gap between the halves created by the strait, a large portion of the city's population depends on ferries (iskelesi) to travel between each side. Each ferry (iskele) holds around 4-500 passengers.  When we stepped off of the iskele today, we were as usual bombarded with the push to get off the boat without the discomfort of falling in the water and the frantic energy that surrounds the harbor.  Because so much of the population travels this way, the area has the potential for good profit for those interested.  All along the walkways are women selling flowers, salesmen calling out the prices of their wares (anything from toy cell phones to heating pads) and lines of shoeshiners stretch in bunches in every direction.  It can be overwhelming at first.  Still, on a beautiful day like today, as we walked to our bus, it struck me just how alive this city is.  Millions of people and everyone of them busy.  It is like an anthill and I cannot begin to take it all in, but I promise to do a better job of telling you about it more often in the future.

Below is a picture I took of Hazel today.
 I asked the question yesterday, Can man be moral?  I would appreciate any thoughts on this question to be shared in the comments section.  In other words, please comment.  I've been thinking a lot about this recently and though I'm going to tell you what I think later this week (hopefully) I do want to know what you think.  The answer to this question has pretty big implications to how we live, what we think, and how we approach the world at large.  Seriously, please give me your thoughts. I promise you won't be mocked, ridiculed, or otherwise thought down upon no matter what your answer is.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Look Around and You Will See Community

Hello People,

     I have been teaching in my own class room for almost six months now.  A couple of weeks before that we arrived in Telmar to a rush of city-shock and hurried planning while learning such simple things as how to shop or how to travel on a bus.  To all of you who condemn the up and coming generations, of which I may or may not be a part depending on your view of things, for their use of the internet, I say "Try living overeseas and you will appreciate the wonders of Google and its translation program without which shopping would be nigh on impossible."  Back to the teaching... Six months is not a lot of teaching experience, this I know, but I feel that I'm quickly finding my footing and a teaching style that fits well with my personality.  I have a fun classroom where the students are so free to learn that they do so without knowing it.  I know I'm a new teacher, but I think thats pretty spectacular.  I say that, because at this point I've structured my classes in such a way that the students are the teachers and learn through hands on imaginative activities.

 I plan on posting my classroom rules here and maybe doing some updates on different activities we do.  A good friend of ours has a fantastic teaching blog "Teacher Extraordinaire" (Click the link to check it out) where she chronicles her experience as a relatively new teacher.  While I'm not going to copy that idea,I am going to incorporate more classroom oriented posts in the future. Writing helps me process and if I'm going to think at all I might as well think out loud, right?  So the blondes tell me.

     This week saw the second meeting of the newly recreated Ultimate Frisbee Club at Hogwarts Academy for Gifted Youngsters.  Let me say, I haven't played Ultimate Frisbee very often.  Thrown a frisbee, yes.  Ultimate Frisbee, no.  Still, once I settled into teaching and saw that we had a lot of kids who wanted to play, but couldn't because there was no one to organize it I thought, why not?  So I talked to the principle, talked to the Athletic Director, and started talking to students and posting flyers everywhere.  We had our first game last week in a covered, though not heated or air conditioned, sports complex across from the school that was, according to the scoreboard, 0 degrees Celsius.  A cold day for frisbee, but fun nonetheless.  Yesterday we had even more students, more fun, and though it was fiercely competitive, we realized afterward that none of us had bothered to keep score.  What an awesome way to enjoy a sport and have fun!  I may have inadvertantly thrown a frisbee hard enough to cut a kid that got in the way of it reaching its intended target though. Talk about casualties, yeah?

     A Question, in closing. Can anyone be moral?  I'll write more on this next week, but please give me your thoughts in the comments as it is a topic I want to explore in depth.  Now, I did not post a Song of the Week last week so this will serve as a Song of the Day  instead.

Kurt Vile
Ghost Town

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Summer Magic

 Hello People,  

     I don't like winter.  There, I said it. I miss spring and summer. Nothing makes me happier than spending a full season of the year almost entirely out doors.  Right now I'm not in the best of locations for spending a season out doors.  Outside, yes.  But outdoors, in the "over the hills and far away" sense?  No.  Right now its worse.  Its winter time and as I said, I don't like winter.  I don't mean to complain. I'm merely stating the truth when I say that winter is awful.  Its too cold and too ugly to go outside.  Its wet and rainy or snowy here, the sun does not shine through the blanket of clouds overhead, and the wind is unstoppable as it strives to chill me to the bone.  All in all, there could never be a more bleak or hopeless time than winter.  I don't like winter, and George, the same thing goes for Christmas (*GASP!).  Its about this time every year that I begin to feel like winter will never end, summer will never come, and there is nothing but despair.

     I don't despair, however, because can you smell it? I can.  There is a warm breeze on the horizon.  It speaks of great and wonderful things to come.  Of heat and dust, and green, fresh mowed grass, and the crack of Jason Heyward's bat.  Just around the corner is the most wonderful time of the year.  Pitchers and Catchers have reported to Spring Training.  Baseball is coming! Baseball is coming!  Every year I try to put into words just how I feel about this, but I never can.  There's just too much in the summer time to me for me to adequately sum it up.

    I like to think that I've always been diehard about the Braves, but I was not raised to be a baseball fan.  My dad enjoys the Braves when he can, and my mom doesn't see the point.  Actually, I don't think she's ever missed an opportunity to make her, "A bunch of grown men getting paid to  hit a ball..." speech in my whole lifetime.  As a kid, Little League was one of the most terrifying experiences of my childhood, though this could be due to a tendency toward alcohol and tantrums on the part of my coaches.  I did, however, grow up in Georgia and thus through osmosis absorbed a deep sense of liking the Braves, despising the Yankees, and shaking my head at the Yankees' inexplicable southern born fans (Seriously people, you're ridiculous!). It was only a few years ago that I became a true fan with a love for Major League Baseball.

     Growing up, summer time was the best of times.  How can one capture the magic of a childhood summer?  Riding bikes from the time the sun came up to long after it went down (much against my parents' rules), afternoons swimming at Clarks Hill lake, friends over constantly from in town and out, summer camp, and adventures that I can't even begin to comprehend now.  I was born in the spring, but I'm a child of summer time.

     As I've grown up, I've spent much of my time trying to recapture this magic of summer time. Working outdoors all summer long in the sun, camping, hiking, hammocking, or cycling on the weekends, all of these have been attempts to resurrect childhood summer magic.  But nothing, don't ask me why, can capture that magic for me now, like Atlanta Braves Baseball.  What is there better in life than coming in from a long, hot day of work, cracking open a coca-cola, and watching (or better yet listening) to a Braves game?  What speaks of summer better than listening to the stories of Don Sutton while watching the fireflies outside?  There is nothing better.  

     This year Baseball takes on an even greater significance for me as it provides a connection to something else I've left behind, Home.  The day before Hazel and I flew from Atlanta to come to Telmar, I was riding bikes with my little brother on the Rome River Walk.  My brother is a Rome Braves fan to the core.  For him, the Rome Braves are primary, and the Atlanta Braves may as well be the farm team.  Maybe he has the right idea.  The river walk travels just behind, and then around, the Rome Braves Stadium.  As we traveled the circumference he exclaimed, "Bubba! We should ride our bikes to a Rome Braves game sometime!"  Thats when it hit me, "I'm leaving this kid for two years" and it hit me hard. I said, "Curious George, why don't you and Dad do that!"  He seemed to consider that seriously for a moment, chewing on each word of what I had suggested before replying simply, "No, I'll wait."

     Baseball season is coming, and though I'm far away, I'll be listening. Not just for the summer magic and the World Series Title that the Braves will win (and they will win), but for those couple of hours of everyday, when I can be back in Georgia sipping Coca-Cola and watching the fireflies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Does It Mean That I'm Getting Boring?

Hello People,

I wish you all post-Valentines happiness. Valentines evening saw Hazel and myself having a romantic dinner (prepared by Hazel), baking cookies, and curling up to watch 16 Candles in what is to have been our last Valentines completely to ourselves for the foreseeable future.  I'm really blown away by God's goodness recently and always.  I realize that in a few months I will long for the relative quiet of the past few years, if you would call them quiet.  Actually, looking back I wouldn't call them quiet at all.  In the past 3-4 years I've experienced two very drastic pendulum swings, one a fairly private, but nevertheless bitter swing to almost utter unbelief, and now to a firmer belief than I have ever had.  I've married the love of my life and had 3 1/2 awesome years with her and now she and I are starting our family.  I've been blessed beyond my comprehension.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote, of the passage 'Every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights in whom is no change or shadow of turning' (James 1:17), "These words have been repeated over and over agin in the world, and yet many live as if they have never heard them and perhaps it would have disturbed them if they had" (Spiritual Writings p. 4).  I will not take for granted how good our God has been to me and my family.  In a few months Orbit will be born and life is going to change.  I'm going to find myself responsible for a life 24/7 for the rest of my life.  What an awesome responsibility and great opportunity!  I can't imagine anything more frightening or more exciting.  And to be able to approach this as a team with my wife is a blessing that I can't even begin to be thankful enough for.  It is with tongue ever so slightly in cheek that I now dedicate this song of the week to Hazel and baby Orbit.

Belle and Sebastian
My Wandering Days Are Over

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Song of the Week

Hello People,

In a lesson yesterday I was explaining to my students about the rise of the Industrial Revolution in America when my British associate, Fortescue, piped up "Always stealing from England."  Now before you get defensive, it is a common occurrence for Fortescue and myself to make jokes to one another in the midst of lessons. We share a classroom and have been known to interject on a regular basis.  My answer to his, mostly true, comment was, "At least you have us to thank for giving you punk rock."  It is one of many long standing debates between the two of us, one of which has to do with why the chicken crossed the road, about who gave the world punk rock, America or Britain. After he said, "What about the Clash and the Pistols?" My lesson briefly, but quickly, devolved into a cursory glance at the birth of punk rock as a minority within the more major rock'n'roll scene.  My students were shocked.  One student raised their hand and informed me on behalf of the rest of the class that "Mr. Strange, you don't look like you would like punk rock." I suppose I'll take that as a compliment.

The Ramones
Today Your Love Tomorrow the World

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Discovering New South Wales

Hello People, 

  This post is dedicated to one of my best friends, Stevesy, and comes more or less (more) from an email I sent to him recently.  In college he was that friend with whom I would sit around and talk about life, the universe, and well EVERYTHING.  Now he's even more so. 

     I love the idea of moving back to Northeast GA someday after I come back to the states.   It has, for as long as I can remember, been my favorite place on earth.  It has that element of being home and an adventure.  When I'm in Northeast GA I feel like G.K. Chesterton talking about the Scotsman who thinks he's discovered a new island when in reality he's landed back in England.  I know exactly what he means when he says, 
"What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales."
     The city is nice, but being here I've realized that my heart stayed behind in the woods and hills of NE GA.  I think that especially now that I am going to have a child around soon, I've realized that that is where I want to teach them about life and godliness.  I want to take them to the streams, waterfalls, and mountain tops, and say "Look at how good this is. What a good God we serve."  I want to take this child there to tell them that their  life isn't about them. They are not the point.  Greatness comes from giving up your own greatness and living for God's.  I mean this philosophically.  I am not going to, at least at first, literally say, "Kid, you aren't the point."  But I do hope to impress on them what G.K. (once again) said, "How much larger your life would be if you your self could become smaller in it."  Or as John put it, "He must become greater, I must become less." (3:30)  This is a dream, but maybe someday...
     I have been reading a book for a teaching certification called  Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I cannot recommend it. It deals, as you may deduce from the title, with truth, but I find myself disagreeing with it on several points. However, it does have me questioning.  If all truth is God's truth, does it not follow that all truth is God's TRUTH?  After all, God did create the world; He set it in motion and ordered it in such a way as He thought was "good."  Yes the world is fallen now, but can we not still attribute truth to God and his Truth?  Does not the sum of truth add up to God's Truth? 
     A book I would like to recommend to you though, without hesitation, is Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  It isn't long, only about 110 pages, but he deals with the roots of much modern thought while showing why Christianity gives more freedom than any other way of seeing the world.  He has, over the last year or so, become one of my absolute favorite authors; an "Author of Impact" if you will. I want to use one last quote from him which, I think, touches on what we were talking about previously, the division of truths, and I think that he is correct.  
"If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.  Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth.  He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man."

     The fact of man is a dual one, and I think that N. Pearcey  is wrong for denying that.  Man dwells at once in the spiritual world and the physical; and he has citizenship in both.  She says that Augustine was wrong for this idea, and yet how could he be?  Everything in Scripture points to it.  When Jesus was praying in the garden he felt a spiritual anguish equal to what on the cross he felt as a physical anguish.   We live a divided life of two truths which are really only the two halfs of the one Truth and together add up to show us our need for God.  Christianity can not be proven or disproven by arguing with science.  Science is a different religion entirely, the religion of health, but Christianity is the redemption of the whole, pointing to the ultimate redemption to come when we are totally and unbreakably reconciled to God after this life.  
     And yet, we do Christianity an injustice by dividing it.  When we put religion into the corner of personal beliefs we strip it of its redemptive potency.  Especially in the West, we have focused too much on the personal redemption that Christianity brings at the expense of the social redemption that this world will  experience when the kingdom of heaven is brought about on earth. This redemption will only occur when God brings it forward, and yet, did God not call us to a work of redemption in the meantime?  Did the disciples limit themselves to a mere door to door evangelism to aid people in their personal redemption?  No, they healed the sick, fed the poor, ministered to one another. So why do we get the attitude in the church of door to door evangelism for the individual, while ignoring the society?  How often do we let our "personal beliefs" only fill the purpose of personal belief?  Why has religion ceased to permeate our entire lives in the West?  Why has religion become what happens in our houses without having any effect on what we do.  I don't mean "how" as in how we live our lives, but what we do in our lives.  

Thanks, Stevesy, for making me think.