Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I look at my students – and their grandparents – and I believe…

When I composed the bulk of this piece last week, I was riding a bit of a high, as I experienced something that could be described in several different ways: the most amazing classroom lesson ever; public relations coup; providential inspiration. I could go on and on.

It was Grandparents’ Day at the school where I teach. As is typical, it is a whirlwind of activity for an elementary school teacher nearing the end of the school year. As is also typical, while learning to ride my pedagogical bicycle to school, this event came with a wallop to an already chaotic schedule: kids coming and going from the classroom as they participated in the flurry of concerts, lunches, etc. being put on for grandparents. And then the reminder that the grandparents were invited to visit the classrooms following the afternoon recess.

At the 11.59th hour, an inspired idea came: have the students interview the grandparents to write newspaper articles on Grandparents’ Day. Visions of meeting related Language Arts and Social Studies curricular outcomes also came dancing in my head.

By the way, as I have been increasingly “losing my religion” when it comes to the lesson/unit planning dogma instilled in me at teachers college, I ended up pulling off probably the best lesson I ever had – most of which was planned and carried out after it had already begun.

Enough grandparents came to allow each table group at least one of the special guests. As I got the students to reflect on what would constitute good and not-so-good questions to ask, I did a quick Google search on interview questions to ask grandparents. Within 2 minutes, my students were preparing note paper, as one of them was distributing copies of cyberspace’s instant meal offering to my uber-lesson.

You should have seen it: my students were captivated by the wealth of life that the grandparents shared, and the grandparents got to see their children’s children take charge in making them feel welcome with their enthusiastic and engaging interviewing. I held off from even breathing to interrupt the visit until the last possible moment, and in so doing, I assigned no homework or agenda checks for the evening (which, as you can imagine, did absolutely nothing to dampen the students’ keenness).

I should say as an aside: many teachers (including yours truly) value having parents visit and help out in the classroom. Most parents, however, are consumed by their careers, household duties, etc. It occurred to me that we should have more visits from grandparents – especially those who are retired from their vocational work – who still have so much breath and life to offer that God has given them!

Many things came to mind out of the activity as it relates to God and his designs: for one, I asked the students to identify the most interesting thing they learned about the guest they were interviewing. One student named off all the different pets that one of the guests had growing up. I asked the class to lift up their hands if they wish they could have that many animals as pets, to which almost everyone did. I pointed out, with my hand on my heart, what I believe was obvious to most everyone present: that we all have something hardwired in us that wants to look after animals – something for which we who live in the city feel a deep sense of lacking. I was making an unspoken reference to God in how he designed us to rule over creation, and the animals therein (Genesis 1: 26-28).

I am also reminded of the verse that says “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3) Each of the grandparents expressed to me personally their joy at their involvement in the activity. It must be an amazing thing to see so much of ones’ labours come to fruition in the growth of ones’ children – and maybe even more so with grandchildren!

On how God’s creation – including these grandparents and their grandchildren made in God’s image – reveals his nature, it is written: “...what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:19-20).”

When someone is blessed by the kind of relationships that were plain in my classroom on Grandparents’ Day, how can anyone say there isn’t a God?

Even a poet of our Galatianesque present evil age, who gives no indication of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in any of his composition of popular music, nonetheless loudly proclaims:

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive

As for those who are repentant, and agree with what God reveals about himself as creator and about us as his creation, we joyfully submit to him, his purposes, and his means of giving us a father-child relationship. That is, the forgiveness and reconciliation that God offers every person through the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.

It so happens that the same aforementioned poet keenly points out, albeit unintentionally in great likelihood, his own accountability to believe in God on account of what is seen (even though everyone who comes to God through Christ must do so by what is heard by faith, and unseen (Rom. 10:17, Heb. 11:1)):

Another dissident
Take back your evidence
It has no power to deceive
I believe it

When I see it for myself

Who can ever trump God’s evidence with whatever “evidence” man dreams up? As is the case with the poets of our age (and even demons: James 2:19) who scream out the affirmation of what Romans says about their awareness of God’s existence – the very things that rocks would cry out if Jesus’ disciples were silent (Luke 19:40) – we will all be without excuse, as we are judged and held to account on the basis of what God has generously revealed about himself, and about us.

On Grandparents’ Day, the Lord caused his sun to shine on my students and their grandparents, as well as on me (Matt. 5:45). We are reminded that we should be led to repentance by the kindness of the Lord (Rom. 2:4), and that today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Praise the Lord!

(Scripture text from BibleGateway.com; Song lyrics from the song Heaven by Live)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Beautiful and Strong Church (of Fitzgeraldian Proportions on the one hand...)

Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend the wedding of a co-worker I teach with. What made it an amazing privilege is that I have only known her for the past 3 months. My co-worker friend proved to be one of the kindest and most helpful people to me when I arrived at the new school I began teaching at. Because of the bond we shared in Christ, she bestowed unto me a title as a “Dearly Beloved Wedding Guest,” normally reserved for family, friends and loved-ones. This is a reflection of what happens when God adopts us as his children: he bestows on us a title that we cannot earn, and that only he can give by his grace (Ephesians 1: 5-6).

Apart from being an immense privilege, going to her wedding turned out to be a thought provoking sight. It was by and large attended by what appeared to be a who’s who of the people from her church. And these people all seemed to be very strong and very beautiful.

Something in me was grieved – not just by what I was seeing at my friend’s wedding, but what I have tended to see in the evangelical church these days. By and large, many people in today's evangelical circles seem to fit this strong and beautiful mould. A casual observer seeing the sight and being presented the gospel might well reason that only strong and beautiful people repent.

Then I thought about someone from my friend Sandy’s church: "Lyle" (not his real name), who is becoming one of my closest friends. Lyle is not one of the beautiful and the strong. In fact, he has a speech impediment, and hasn’t developed a lot of the social graces that usually come from caring, healthy and substantial interactions with friends and colleagues. But one thing became clear as I was getting to know him: he loves Jesus.

What really struck me upon meeting Lyle is that he is one of the “poor brothers” of Jesus – not poor in the sense of economic poverty (Lyle holds a job, and a car; in this sense, he is one-up on me), but poor in the sense of having been largely denied the right hand of fellowship by those in the Institutional Church. As Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” and, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matt. 25: 31-46)”

The point here is that Lyle isn’t some starving person on the other side of the world who I don’t know, or another such person strung out on Main Street. Lyle is royalty, on account of his faith in Jesus Christ, and has been largely denied the dignity ascribed to his position.

It really occurred to me from these aforementioned verses, at a time when I have been struggling with what I painfully perceive to be an immense fog and chilly ambient temperature in the organized church, that Jesus is to be found where Lyle is.

Indeed, I have been blessed by my time with him. For one, you can really see him light up when he is with another Christian who loves him. Secondly, I was privileged to meet his parents – two godly people who trust the Lord and who have devoted half a century of their lives caring and praying for Lyle. These same lovely people ministered to me by having me over for dinner several times at their place (It’s interesting to note, especially as I grow older as a single, that precious few ever minister to me in this way – even amongst those to whom I am closest).

It is a testimony of the love and grace of Christ, and the move of the spirit that is all too often to be found outside of the camp of church groups.

It should, however, be acknowledged that if it wasn’t for the institutional church, I wouldn’t have met Lyle. The institutional church does remain the market that brings together a whole mosaic of people with an even greater mosaic of motivations in coming out. Though it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack, it is largely the most practical place to connect and fellowship with other truly convicted Christians.

I for one only attended the church where I met Lyle for a short while after moving to Edmonton, because it was where Sandy was going (and Sandy is one of the precious few faithful brothers that I mentioned earlier). Lyle came to this church because he too had moved to Edmonton, and was looking for fellowship that often proved elusive. On Lyle’s third week of attending this church without anyone so much as greeting him, it was Sandy (in true character) that went up to him and greeted him. And through Sandy, I got to meet Lyle.

The good news does get better: there have since been several other Christians at Lyle’s church who have given him the right hand of fellowship, and have involved him in many aspects of the life of their congregation.

It is hard, nonetheless, to not have a cynical, Fitzgeraldian view of the aforementioned topic. But this is where the shoes of “walking by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) and “running the race” (Heb. 12:1-2) hit the track.

It should be noted that I'm not experiencing any kind of lofty heroic sentiment from all this. Deciding to forsake all for the cause of Christ, and for his "poor brothers", often amplifies the isolation and loneliness that is exceedingly painful. It also visibly diminishes the prospects for substantial community and fellowship, and the relationships that can evolve from such, as people naturally scurry from the sight of the least of Jesus' beloved.

I for one take immense comfort in the words of Jesus: “upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18) – even if it remains largely invisible to my eyes (yes, like a needle in a haystack...).

I also take great comfort in Isaiah’s description of Jesus, long before he came. The entire 15th chapter of Isaiah is rich with the immensity of how God himself through Jesus took on the role of a faithful servant, devoid of any external appeal:

1Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
7He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
11As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Hallelujah! Here is at least one other person in God’s "beautiful and strong" church, who is not one of the "beautiful and strong" people.
(Bible text from BibleGateway.com; images from tvcrazy.net and christiancrafters.com)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Year 3 Begins: Teaching the Next Generation

Shortly after returning from my summer vacation, I got a position teaching a Grade 5/6 French Immersion class here in Edmonton. I was offered it 2 days before teachers began work for the year. This wasn’t my ideal, considering that I prefer grades 4 and 5 to 6, and that I was hoping to know where I was teaching before my summer holidays so I could prepare more for it then. But the Lord has his ways, and I’m still trying to get caught up and prepare for the whole year.

That being said, I am loving it and I can’t imagine what I would trade my current circumstance for. The fellow staff are great. In fact, 2 of the teachers who also teach 5 and 6 F.I. are Christians and have gone out of their way to help me out – as have many others there.

And even my kids are a good group. The “fabulous 5’s” live up to the moniker I ascribe to their age group, and the “scary 6’s” have contradicted theirs. There are plausible explanations for this. I learned a lot when I taught a 5/6 class in North Vancouver, and have been careful to keep the kids busy and on-task whenever they enter the classroom. The other thing is I only have 19 students – significantly less than the 28 I had in North Van.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, folks: this is Alberta where “mean-and-nasty-right-wing” Ralph Klein put significant resources into reducing class sizes, after the “lean and mean” nineties when he successfully not only balanced the books but wiped out the debt. In light of my faith and what the Bible says about God selecting our leaders, I have grown to be by and large apartisan and apolitical. But there is a lot to be said for Ralph Klein, at least in the bulk of his term, running government responsibly within its means. They were thus able to do what more left-wing governments always aspired and promised to do, but were unable to because they refused to take courageous steps to pay down their crippling debts (and accept the odd pie in the face). And speaking of BC, I’ll let their political history of much of the past 2 decades speak for itself.

But I digress. In a society and age designed to make the raising of children exceedingly difficult, I have come to see the role of a teacher an awesome commission and responsibility to have bestowed on one. As Solomon prayed for wisdom in leading God’s people in Israel, I too pray that God will give me the wisdom to impart to my students what they need to function as the image of God in the world he created. I also pray that in God’s timing, he will raise up his labourers to impart to them what they would need to function as his redeemed, that is, what is outside of my commission and mandate given me by the authorities in this world. Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Greyhound North America Circle Tour 2007. Destination: Mañanaville.

“Well I’m nowhere bound with Greyhound once again...”

Such is the lyric of a song by Tommy Hunter, of the “Tommy Hunter Show” fame (you know, what we watched impatiently at 7:30 pm Friday nights as we were waiting for the Dukes of Hazzard to come on at 8).

Such I guess can also describe my trip around North America this summer, which began in Edmonton and ended in Edmonton – thus in one sense, going nowhere. In another sense, it described the frustration I experienced with the service of Greyhound in the U.S., which stands out as a true blue monopoly. I for one was amazed by this in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where in theory if you don’t offer efficient service, then you will be pushed aside by someone who will compete for the almighty dollar of the consumer. Where do I begin to qualify my statement? Maybe it was the extreme disorganization in Denver and Dallas, causing me to almost miss my connections. Maybe it was the consistent delays and lack of busses to accommodate summer volume, or Greyhound no longer allowing the extension of bus passes, sadly causing me to eliminate visits with some friends. Liz’s Spanish expression “Mañanaville” (i.e. Tomorrow-ville) to describe the lack of efficiency in the U.S. south really seemed to apply.

"Ahhhhhhh... Mañanaville!"
Interestingly, I found Greyhound performs far better in Canada, ironically the U.S.’s lazy cousin on welfare. Maybe I’ve had it wrong all the years that I’ve been a Conservative, and should join the NDP (much to Aaron Goldstein’s chagrin and Kaj Hasselriis’ joy – an inside joke for anyone who knows these two good friends of mine). It’s also ironic that such a person like myself, who is nothing like the typical liberal Canadian patriot, received lots of compliments from younger Americans for no other reason except the fact that I was Canadian.

On the bright side, I guess there was no lack of opportunity to exercise walking and being thankful by faith and not by sight...

In fact, there were many things that showed how blessed I am to be living in Canada. For one, Canada is not crowded (except for Vancouver; Toronto is crowded, but at least it’s way more linear and fluid). I remember as a kid thinking “why is northern Ontario so backward, with only cow paths for highways?” The thing I realized is that many parts of Canada just don’t need twinned highways, etc. – and are all the more beautiful and pristine for it.

Renny with Liz, a friend from summer camp who lives in Albuquerque NM with her husband.

Seeing so many friends I haven’t seen in ages made up for any bumps along the Greyhound highway. Like Liz in New Mexico, a really dear friend from summer camp who has always been one of the kindest people I know. And James in Geogia, who was one of many signposts who pointed the way to Christ for me way back when. And I finally got to see Robbie and his new wife in Texas after not going to his wedding in May. There were so many others in BC and Ontario who were great to see again.

I’m really glad to be back in Edmonton. Like I mentioned in a previous entry, there is such a feeling of stability in work and other routines that I have here. It was also good to see people from church again. I don’t know yet if I’ll be teaching full time or continuing to sub. If I’m only subbing, I’m starting to see all kinds of possibilities to be working with others in and through the church. Ultimately for those of us in Christ, all our work and corresponding rest and refreshment train us to reign with Jesus in God’s kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10).

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hutterites part II: Continuity and Change

(Click on any photo to enlarge it)
Coming soon: my current circle tour of North America on the Greyhound bus.

“So THAT’S why we’re called Hutterites!”

So said my student, whom I will call B.J., after one day talking about the Hutterites' namesake. I had previously mentioned Jacob Hutter to the students, calling Hutter a brother of mine on account of his faith in Christ. This seemed to cause some kids to think I had an actual brother who was a Hutterite. So I explained and qualified my statement, mentioning that Jacob Hutter couldn’t be my biological brother because he lived 400 years ago on the other side of the world. B.J. suggested that I maybe I could have been Hutter’s brother if I was born 400 years earlier, to which I said “if that were so, then you might be called Makiites.” That’s when the penny dropped for B.J. as to the origin of his identification.

Abner Road: I asked these boys to cross the roadway two steps behind the other. Would there have been any point in saying, "hey guys, pretend you're the Beatles"?

Other than teaching the Hutterites about Hutterites, my wish came true to be called back to substitute teach at their colony for a handful of days throughout the spring. This was before my June teaching assignment in Edmonton teaching the Grade 2 class. The first day I was back, the kids took me on a tour of the colony during classtime, at the direction of the regular teacher. That was alot of fun.

I loved seeing their bright little faces again. I mean, just look at all the little girls who came early to the office while I was preparing, and eagerly put on a tape with the readalong books. How could I not laugh -- and even more so when one of them said in her cute Plautdietsch accent "Misteh Maki, why you laugh?"

I've been learning a little more of what life is like behind the scenes in Hutterite life, some of it being just mind boggling. For one, I found out that Hutterite youth are not exactly strangers to TV, movies and popular music. This, in spite of the pretty stringent regulations concerning such. One day during current events (first thing in the morning when students share colony news, everything from cow brandings to chicken slaughters), I told a student, "That sounds like something Ned Flanders would say... But then again you probably don't know what I'm talking about." At this point, B.J. piped up "oh Mr. Maki, did you see the Simpsons last night?" Well, there goes that misconception. Not only that, B.J. generously lent me his punk rock CD one day. Man, if the colony minister found that in the rafters, B.J. would probably be meeting Die Liebe Rutan (unless the colony minister, for some queer reason, happens to be an Alice Cooper fan).
Die Liebe Rutan a.k.a. "The Love Strap": as mentioned in my previous entry, it is used only by the German teacher, not the "English" one. For a lark, I put it next to my lesson plans and the book I read to them on Mother Theresa (B.J. said "she's hot" when he saw her picture from her youth). The moment I took the strap out of the desk for this photo, there was a collective gasp in the air. Once I found out what the German words on it meant, I spontaneously sang: "Love strap, baby, love strap..." to the tune of the B52's "Love Shack" (which prompted much laughter and calls of "sing dat again Misteh Maki!") .

Hmmm, I wonder if only black hockey helmets are allowed: Yes, the rock says "Oilers". Any way you paint it, "This is Oil Country."
The kids were fascinated with my camera whenever I took pictures -- and clambering to take pictures whenever I asked for one of them to do so. As such, I did a photography activity with them on my last day. I gave each group of 4 a disposable camera, asking them to take pictures of different things at the colony that they hoped would change, never change, where they'll end up working, etc. The kids ate it right up. So did the regular teacher. She ended up incorporating the photo project into writing and display making activities.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to return to the colony to see their writing projects. These are some of the photos that leave me to imagine what they wrote about. The top two photos show some of the row housing and fields in the colony. The bottom two show the kitchen prepared for supper, and a typical clothesline apparatus.

Finally, a picture I myself took that encapsulates my hopes of continuity, change, and where life leads. In the handful of days that I was the teacher to these Hutterite children, I grew really fond of them and their world. I hope these children will always work dilligently and delight in the simple things of life, love and nature. I also hope that they will come to know and confess their need in the saving power of Jesus, beyond the traditions that have been influenced by the faith of their forefathers. Though I am pursuing teaching opportunities that are not condusive to being a colony teacher, I would still jump at the chance to see them again and continue to learn about their way of life.
Whatever the shape of this path, I continue the race toward the Son, the author and perfector of my faith, seeking the childlike simplicity with which I am to trust God the Father, and have my delight in him.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Conclusion to Year 2 of My Teaching Career...

Where have all the readers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the readers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the readers gone?
Facebook has picked them every one.
Will they ever return? Will they ever return?

All this to say, I had absolutely no response to the U of A poster of a guy who is a spitting image of a TBay'er. Maybe I should post it on Facebook, which seems to be the new "in" place to be online (I'll succumb eventually -- I always do: first Hotmail, then Yahoo Chat, then ICQ, then MSN, then Mindsay, then Blogspot... did I ever mention the time Kevin Kuchta posted my picture on Hot or Not?).

For those who remain with me at The Retreat, I concluded the school year teaching a Grade 2 class for the month of June. I was called to fill in for a maternity leave.

Before I even got to my class, the bug was being put in my ear about some of the challenges I would be presented with. The cautions I received weren't idle either: some of these kids could just as well have been in Grade 7 or 8 with some of the things they would say and do.

I had already come the first day with my suit coat and some ideas about classroom order and routines that I gleaned from watching "The Effective Teacher" video series by Harry Wong. The heads-up I was getting from everyone moved me to implement with boot-camp fashion what I had been learning, with the priority being the establishment and re-establishment of strict routines of students getting down to business immediately after entering the class. Fellow teachers were very helpful in receiving uncooperative students into their classes for time-outs. My modus operandi was strictly one of not seeking any kind of personal appeal or popularity, and keeping the students on task with work-related activities to keep them out of trouble.

It wasn't all boot-camp. One thing that Harry Wong pointed out was the lack of culture in our society, that by and large gets fostered around the family dinner table. When I noticed that the school had a daily nutritious snack program, the penny dropped for me. I began having the kids assemble on the carpet and engage them in conversation or read a story to them while they ate their snack -- kind of a makeshift "family time." Needless to say, alot of kids in our culture don't have family meal-time. I have had to send a few students to their desks for being disruptive, but by and large, I noticed a kind of calm that would settle on the kids during this time. Some kids even alarmed me by calling me "daddy", albeit with an air of some humour (I made it clear to the students that I am no replacement for their parents, yet this kind of response is pretty telling).

As providence would have it, the year ended successfully with many of the kids actually showering me with hand-made gifts and adulation.

Two children stick out in my mind: one was a girl who was defiantly making spitting noises almost right off the bat when I began the first day. I took her outside and made it very clear that her behaviour would not be tolerated. But when I told her "I want you to succeed in my class, but if you continue doing that, I will remove you to another class," the eight-year old's iron countenance just seemed to melt. While she was still a challenge from time to time, she right away sought to please me, constantly asking if she could be my helper (As it turned out, most of the students were very eager to be helpers -- I gladly obliged by outsourcing alot of my classroom maintenance tasks to them).

Another student was so blatantly defiant, that I immediately removed him to another class when the first day had barely begun. This boy turned out to have the most brilliant mind I've ever seen for that age. For the most part, this only enhanced the craft of his treachery, and the fact that he finished all his assignments with lightning speed put him on the fast track to having time and opportunity to create trouble. But like the aforementioned girl, there were windows of calm and positive contributions of his aptitude. What absolutely floored me was how he had taken to reading Robinson Crusoe. I was in the midst of finishing the book myself when I got the idea to put it in the boy's hands. He was soaking it up in a way that would be amazing for some adults (it's a book with language and themes that are above most contemporary minds). So that helped to occupy him somewhat.

As already alluded to, the staff was extremely kind, helpful and supportive: everyone from the custodian to the admin. assistants to the principal. They reminded me of the staff at the two schools I have already spent longer periods of time in: my practicum placement in Burnaby in 2005 and my first teaching assignment in North Vancouver in 2006. I've been in enough schools as a substitute to have a sense that this kind of collegial environment cannot be taken for granted. I don't know why God has blessed me so. But as with all blessings, much is expected of those who receive them (Luke 12:48). May I impart to others what I have been given.
(Click here for the source of the cartoon contained in this entry)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Oh my goodness, that looks just like...

Hey Thunder Bay people (and TB alumni), here's a picture of a poster in the Education Library computer lab at the University of Alberta. Post a comment on who you think this looks like. I'm curious to see if others are thinking what I'm thinking (click it to enlarge).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ah! Canadian Tolerance! This is just precious ...

Do I even have to comment on these terribly ironic images gracing the walls of a prominent public school in Edmonton?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jasper Ski Trip (Minus the Skis)…

Finally, here are the aforepromised photos of my Jasper ski trip, Family Day Long Weekend, Feb. 16-19 2007 (yes, this is a statutory holiday in Alberta… how else can you tell that Alberta is the last holdout of good’ole family values, as alluded to in my Dec. 24 entry).

The annual excursion is jointly organized by people from Capilano Christian Assembly (the mother church of Southview where I “break bread”) and Lendrum Mennonite-Brethren. Our group of 40-odd had all to ourselves the entire Athabasca Youth Hostel, surrounded by some of the most pristine mountainous scenery and countless miles of cross-country ski trails. Most people packed it all in. My own agenda meanwhile was simple: to have no agenda (how can you tell I’m one of those mildly-contradictory non-denominational types). I brought nothing but some books, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on my back. I didn’t end up skiing at all, but sprawled out in front of the chalet fireplace for much of the weekend. Other than that, I hung out in Jasper for a day, and took a small hike. And what a deal: the entire trip – sleeps, drives and eats – barely cost me $80 (I love taking trips with Mennonites)!

The locals…

Robert and Diane, trip organizers...

Robert and Diane are involved with a number of ministries, and are a super dynamic couple. In the short time I’ve known them, they’re the kind of people that make me say, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”

All geared up for the long haul...

Next to me is Naomi, an OM missionary who gave me the name "Tree Killer"

The intimate gathering…

The teacher…

I always manage to take my work with me: giving a lesson on making smores in the great indoors.

On this note, my wish to bring a smile to kids’ faces and resourcefulness in doing so nearly got me in trouble with the enviro-cops. Being a “hey-der-from-Tunder-Bay-poika” who grew up on an 11 acre rural lot, I didn’t think anything about ripping twigs out of the ground to make marshmallow roasting sticks. That is, until I saw the look of sheer horror from Diane and others used to frequenting national parks. In keeping with the traditions of those occupying these lands from ages present and past, Naomi bestowed upon me the honourable name of “Tree-Killer”. But I have made good to use the land’s provision responsibly – I took the sticks home to have ready for next year’s event!

Apart from my archaic use of Mother Earth, probably my only regret was not managing to find a Poo-Poo Moose keychain in any of the fine souvenir shops in Jasper. I’ve wanted one ever since my sister and I spotted one in Banff back in November (our delight at such caused Mom to curtly abandon us). There instead, I got a carabiner mug and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. As I kept an eye out for a Poo-Poo Moose in Jasper, I guess I let the cat out of the bag to those accompanying me. Lyla, for my benefit, in her calm and professional manner asked a shop cashier “do you carry a Poo-Poo Moose?” (to which I myself nearly dropped a few pellets).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hutterites: In 45 minutes, I was on the other side of the world…

... and imagine my surprise when I got called to substitute-teach at a one-room school on a Hutterite colony. First of all, it was March Break in Edmonton’s schools. Second of all, I found out that Hutterite schools are also run by the public school boards (although I guess the shock should have been diffused by the fact that many school boards in the Edmonton area run many alternative and religious schools).

It was probably the most enjoyable teaching day I have ever had. I don’t want to be a sappy emo, but my heart nearly melted when I saw all the little black hats and jackets neatly hung up by the door. I arrived during the German class they have first thing in the morning, and a number of boys were kneeling at the front, to which I thought “boy, they’re pretty pious in German class.” It turns out they were there because of mischief, and the German teacher/ minister of the colony is apparently much stricter than I am. You should see the old-school leather whip he keeps in the teacher’s desk! The teacher aides who showed it to me told me how one day the class was so out of control, that they called the German teacher to come in from the fields. The moment he stepped in the room, the students were instantly in their desks, quietly looking forward, albeit with quivering lips.

As it is, I had no such trouble with the kids. They were like angels. The teacher-aides said it’s because I’m kind of a novelty to them, being the first time they saw me and all. Apparently they can give their subs a run for their money after they get used to them. But my day at the colony was amazing, as the pictures here below can tell….

Team Plautdietschland practicing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup…

How can you tell these kids have no TV?

And no, I’m not in the middle of telling them about Ozzy Ozbourne. You probably can’t see the skipping rope, and in the second one, I’m in the middle of doing a cross-over.

It Takes A Painted Village…
To the class I read “My Painted House,” a picture book written from the perspective of a child telling the reader about their brightly-painted village and life in Africa. There were pictures of painted walls with all kinds of patterns, and so the kids were given an assignment to draw a design for a painted wall. Here is an impromptu sketch I drew to model for the kids. I explained that it symbolized my visit to their community, and the similarities and differences between my world and theirs. What do you see in my wall?

A Hutterite boy and girl drawing their designs for a “painted wall.” (Hmm, I wonder if they will be used to adorn any of the gray buildings in the colony?)

“Grandpa, what was it like teaching in a one-room school?” Well, as you can see in this picture…

Can you tell I got a real kick ringing the bell? How many teachers get to experience this???

Storytime before hometime.

At one point during the day, a little girl looked up at me and asked “Is your brother a Hutterite?” I was extremely puzzled by the question, and wondered if it was my new haircut or something. But when I was home, it dawned on me: in the morning when I introduced myself, I said: “As you can see, I’m not a Hutterite, but I consider Jakob Hutter to be my brother because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and his belief that the true church consisted of all the people who put their trust in him.” Well, I’ll have to teach these kids how to speak Christianese next time I come. I would jump at the chance to go back, even if they can be as naughty as the teacher aides report.

I kind of felt like a male version of the main characters in Chocolat and Babette’s Feast, as I splashed into the scene of a simple classroom whose kids seemed mesmerized (and maybe corrupted, some might say) by the flavour I brought that is normally inconsequential.

But I was probably the most affected. I find myself missing them alot. Life out there seems so rich in a simple and uncomplicated way. I’m not under any illusion, mind you, and as the teacher aides could surely attest, the Hutterites are just as much in need of a saviour as I am. But still, as I groan under the burden of Cain’s city, the visit to the colony felt like coming up from the deeps and breathing a huge gasp of air. Notwithstanding the conviction that God calls his people to engage with and shine the light in the world-at-large, the Hutterite life sure looks pretty inviting.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pictorial Update (Feb., Mar. 07) and other Musings on "Social Arrangements," etc.

Coming soon.... the photos from my Feb. Jasper ski trip (where I didn't ski). In the meantime, here are other photos from the past couple of months.


Modelling brush strokes (oh oh, looks like I have that "eyes & ears here, in 1... 2... believe me kids, you don't want to know what happens when I hit 3" look).

Mission accomplished.

Teacher's college test question: What do you do when some students finish their masks before others do?

That's easy! Give them an extention activity, like make a comic strip of your mask's character, including conflict and plot resolution.

Now here is something that gets added to my list of “Yeah-Right’s”: the sticker on Homer’s head reads “for tobacco use only.” The sign in the display window – “420” – incidentally has nothing to do with tobacco. Of course even they acknowledge this: the same shop window has a button that reads “International Pot Smoker”. In other words, “I do only what the law allows me to – wink, wink – whether I’m in Alberta or in Amsterdam.”

Speaking of “Yeah-Right’s”, here’s one from memory lane (forgive me if it looks like I’m digressing): some years ago, after Joshua Harris wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” provoking debate amongst church youth about godly romance, youth pastor Jeramy Clark responded with the book “I Gave Dating a Chance”. Apart from choosing a title about as poignant as “I had Cheerios for Breakfast”, Clark went on to defend dating by quoting the definition of the word "dating" from Webster’s dictionary, “to have social arrangements with”. The problem is this isn’t what people actually mean when they talk about dating. If I said, “I’m going on a date with Jim”, what will not come to the listener’s mind is, “Oh, Renny and his buddy Jim are off to shoot darts over a pint of Guinness.”

Is this not similar to imagining what a school principal would think if I took my Homer-bong under my arm, and announced that I was taking a smoke break? It wouldn’t be “Oh, law-abiding Renny is off to take 5 with his newspaper and unusual tobacco pipe before he returns to teaching our kids.”

Sometimes we in the church can give the world a pretty good run for their money.

Now here's something you never see...
For one, I'm wearing a suit (not unusual before I retired from politics, but it is now). Secondly, I am accompanied by not one, but two ladies! (Even though they are very beautiful ladies, I decided not to post their faces on the web). Thirdly, this was an extremely rare "social arrangement" :).

This was taken at St. Joseph's Basilica for their Valentine's Day dinner dance in support of their World Youth Day fund. Joanne, a teacher friend who is in St. J's choir, had an extra ticket and invited me along. Until her friend Christine's date showed up, I had the privilege of being seen accompanying both of them to the dance.

For those born before 1980 (and esp. those from Thunder Bay)...

Do you see the Telus sign at a commercial complex in Sherwood Park? What do you notice about it? Post a comment to tell me your thoughts/ observations.