The Ebola Concerto

A student challenged me that I couldn’t write a song about Ebola. This was my response. It may also be found on YouTube. Enjoy.

All over the news and with thousands of views

Comes word of disease from the DRC!

It’s scary and silent, incredibly violent,

And it spreads so easily.

This virus, you see, goes through blood and pee,

Or travels in air since ’round ’76.

In your flesh it stays up to twenty one days

Until you’re in pain and morbidly sick.

You’ll stay in bed with a burning fever of 103.

Your aching head will spin like it wants to get free.

In Dallas one died. The CDC sighed.

Now there’s a public outcry!

It’s media sensation all over the nation.

But on the other hand there are those who understand:

That soon you will be goo and be gone without a trace!

A hemorrhagic fever will melt your bones, muscles and face.

There’ll be bleeding from ears and eyes all over the place.

To restore order, try closing the border

Like Reagan or Clinton or Bush.

Don’t be apathetic and non-energetic

Just sitting around on your tush.

Ebola and our health are linked.

If unstopped, let me be succinct:

We may soon be going extinct!

10 Student Teaching Axioms

I’d like to share a few axioms I found whilst student teaching. Enjoy.

1) If you believe that people are basically good, you should try teaching a high school class.

2) Words of wisdom are rarely given to those who appreciate them.

3) Never invest your professional happiness on universal success of your students.

4) Your students are always twice as dumb as you think they are, until they prove otherwise.

5) Your students are not so dumb as to not look for your buttons and push them daily.

6) Your students will get away with as much as you let them. If your classroom is out of control, it’s your fault.

7) The teacher’s lounge is a hotbed of dissent, gossip, and drama. Avoid it.

8) Think very carefully before speaking. What you say has an odd ability to be twisted.

9) Teach for the ones who want to learn. Let success or failure be owned by the student who earned it.

10) There is nothing better than seeing a student’s face light up with understanding. Savor those moments.

Death of a Comedian

The passing of any great person is normally accompanied by a certain amount of respectful mourning from those who considered them to be so. I can remember clearly the death of President Reagan, and his funeral procession. Oddly enough, while his death made me reflect on his life, I never felt the need to deeply mourn and weep. Neither did most of the public at the time. The same could be said of Rodney Dangerfield. His death was announced, but there was no great outcry from the public. Perhaps that’s why I find it so odd that there are so many people publicly wailing the death of Robin Williams.

good-morning-vietnam-movie

Don’t get me wrong. His death – like the death of any person – is sad. The circumstances of his death especially so. However, I find it odd that the death of a person that these people didn’t truly know and was famous only for his comedy would hit them so hard. The man was a comedian, and yet there are many who weep for him as though he had actually been some great hero. To be fair, he had been on the board of directors and given no small amount of money to charities, which mustn’t be overlooked. On the other hand, I think my curiosity comes from the idolization of the man – and not just him, either.

Perhaps we live in a generation where we don’t know how to pick our heroes. Perhaps we simply don’t know how to recognize them when we see them. I can’t remember such an outcry over a public death since Michael Jackson, and again the man was simply an entertainer. (With a lot of accusations over certain leanings, and who seemed to enjoy endangering his youngest child, but I digress.) In the same way, why do the American people idolize musicians, actors, and people who are famous simply for being famous?

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that we idolize them for the way they make us feel and because we admire their greed. We don’t say that we do. But in a culture run by consumerism and materialism, we tend to worship at the altar of the “successful.” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being successful – if you want to define it as making a lot of money and having possessions – it’s our favorite American false god. Our tendency is to care about the lives of those we envy. No one seems to make heroes out of teachers, or police officers, or soldiers any more, simply because they offer acts of selflessness that they consider to be more important than a big paycheck.

And for all this worship, Robin Williams was still miserable. I can only conclude that Robin Williams was left so empty by his fame, success and wealth that he couldn’t find happiness the only place that true peace and happiness can be found: in Christ. I believe that his depression had a deep spiritual element in it. I know this because I have been depressed myself. Reaching out to other people didn’t work, laughter only delayed the feelings from coming back briefly, alcohol certainly didn’t help, and sometimes the medications doctors give can make it worse instead of better. (Besides, would you really rather medicate an emotional problem to where you can ignore it, or would you rather fix the problem?) I know that at the end of the day the only thing that got me out of my depression was good Biblical counseling and growing closer to God in faith. I wish Robin Williams had done the same. Ultimately, fame, success and money will leave you feeling just as empty as ignominy, failure, and poverty. I would urge those who idolize the man to learn from his death, not just bemoan it.

An Elegy for Moving

Boxes, boxes everywhere! It’s driving me to drink.
Watching so much being packed up gives me pause to think.
My life is more than I can pack, something I’m glad I know.
To live, to laugh, to love and be loved, and in Christ to grow!
And yet sadness twinges at the edge as I close a chapter
And start another anew. Goodbye, good friend, I’ll see you after!
My friend true has been my flatmate, and now we have to part.
And few will be around to joke and banter after I rip a fart.
Living with my best friend has never yet felt forced.
Maybe that’s why my moving out feels a bit like divorce.

The Pieces and the Players

“Now don’t move,” rumbled Gary. Gary had been looking forward to this match for weeks, and he didn’t want a mere pawn ruining his strategy because it couldn’t be relied upon. He placed the miserable looking little goblin down upon the board, holding it by its dirty tunic between two of his sharp black talons. A waft of smoke drifted lazily from his nostrils as he looked up at his opponent. “Your move, Alan.”

Alan smiled. “Quite gracious of you, Gary. Your wings are looking well, and I see your mound of riches has increased. Been out raiding, have you?” Alan made these comments as he scanned the chessboard, searching for his knight. Alan’s pieces were better looking, in his opinion. They had voluntarily joined the giant, as Alan had struck a bargain with their township for protection and made good on his end of the deal on many an occasion. In return, they provided him will good land for hunting and herding, and occasionally would indulge him in these little games with Gary.

Gary considered himself to be the last of the “civilized” dragons, He still behaved by a certain code that sought to put limits upon raiding and hunting capacity. It managed to keep things relatively peaceful and stable for all the kingdom’s populace. That didn’t mean that all the inhabitants appreciated the code, however. Gary couldn’t help but notice some of the angry glares he received from Alan’s pieces.

“Yes. And judging by your bishop’s gaze, he doesn’t approve of the ceremonial items on display.”

Alan nodded. “Anger can be a strong motivator. However, that’s not why my men are here.” The giant placed his knight, then ceded control of the board to Gary. The dragon considered his friend’s bearded, bald countenance for a moment before scanning his pieces again.

“I see,” said Gary, shifting his weight. “Why do you suppose that your pieces have agreed to come with you?”

“Gratitude, and to a certain extent loyalty,” replied Alan. “I find that those are very strong motivators.”

“Noble sentiments, to be sure.” The dragon moved his rook forward. “I find that fear is a very worthwhile motivator for my pieces. These goblins know that I would have eaten them, had they refused to play for me.”

Alan thought as he sought his queen. “Fear and hatred will work for a while, but as soon as the fear or hatred is gone so is the resolve. A group built upon hate and fear cannot exist in their absence.” He moved the queen into the perfect position. “Checkmate.”

Gary’s eyes widened as he saw the trap Alan had laid for him. There was no getting out of it. He chuckled darkly to himself. “Well, there is one advantage to my method,” Gary said.

“What’s that?” Asked Alan.

“They’re not surprised when I do this.” In a fluid motion, the red dragon snapped his head downward and devoured his king piece in one gulp.

A Reflection on Busyness, Part 1

If you’re like me, you’re probably caught yourself saying “I’d love to (fill in the blank,) but I just don’t have time.” Our lives have become so incredibly busy over the last twenty years as technology and informational availability rocket forward on a seemingly infinite trajectory. Our finite minds struggle to keep up! There are so many news stories available, so many social networking sites to interact with, so many movies and television shows to watch and games to play and so on.

Not my favorite artist or work, but it seemed apropos.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

There are so many things that exist that demand our attention, making as much noise and bombarding us with as many bright colors and flashing lights as they can to hold our ever decreasing attention spans long enough to…do what, exactly? Improve our lives? Sell us something, or someone? Distract us from what we really ought to be doing? This is going to be the first installment of some reflections on busyness.

I can’t help but feel that while people in the Western World may be busier than ever before, we’re becoming less productive as a general rule. I can’t help but remember the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s Time from The Dark Side of the Moon, with its melancholy lament over how much we waste this completely unrenewable resource. This intuition of increasing lost time is mostly aimed at Generation Y and subsequent generations — the generations who have had it better than in any other time in known history.

Take for a contrasting case in point, my beloved grandfather. My Pappaw grew up in the back woods around West Monroe, Louisiana and was dirt poor as a child. Often, he spent his spare time hunting or fishing in order to supplement his diet. If he didn’t do that, he sometimes didn’t get enough to eat. As a result, he spent time with friends out in the woods learning survival skills and developing an appreciation for hard work that he still holds today.

And yet that sort of hardship and suffering, while it still exists, has been mostly shielded from American life a scant two generations later. I know how to hunt and fish, but not because I had to learn. I learned because my father and grandfather insisted that I learn how to do both. I had a much easier childhood than both my father and grandfather, but I feel like I missed out on a lot. I feel like I’m only now coming to understand things that they knew at a younger age than where I am.

I fully recognize the irony as I type this, but I find myself becoming something of a Luddite as I age. I dislike social media as a general rule because there’s very little that I would call important being shared on those sites. I don’t need to know about what anybody ate for lunch, nor do you need to know the ins and outs of my day unless you ask me about it in person or over the phone. Ultimately, nobody cares about your thinly-veiled attacks on another person’s character, or about what your reaction is to a television show. Most people’s opinions (and I include mine here) are not as important as we make them out to be. Social media is just another outlet to make ourselves the centers of our own little universes, allowing us to maintain the self-perception that our opinions matter and we have copious amounts of “friends,” even if we never talk to those people or actually care about what’s going on in their lives.

But that’s an easy target. Let’s try one that hits a little closer to home for me: Netflix instant streaming. We have the technological marvel of being able to watch almost any movie or television show that we want on demand. The esteemed John Piper had this to say on the topic:

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Imagine how many people will be standing at the judgment of God, having said in their actions, “Meh, I had better things to do. Gray’s Anatomy was on Netflix!” I shudder to think about this in my own life. And don’t get me started on how much time I have spent on video games, I’ve covered that one already.

There are so many things worth learning and doing that lay undone due to distraction. The time is there, but the will isn’t because learning and doing are hard. The distractions are so much easier and so much more comfortable, just as Uncle Screwtape commented to Wormwood in his letters. To think that by now I could have mastery of Spanish and German, or picked up a productive hobby that could net me some ancillary income. But instead, distractions. To think that by now I could have a more productive walk with God and be more transformed by the renewing of my mind. (Romans 12:2) But instead, distractions. To think of the work I could have done for the community around me. But instead, distractions.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to turn off the computer/Xbox/whatever else, and do something useful. Being busy is not enough, we must be productive. We must not only have something to do, we must have something worth doing. I implore you, examine your life to find the time eaters and do those things you have always wanted to do but didn’t have the time for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice German with Duolingo.

Pre-marital Poetry

In outer darkness once we dwelled

Of one another unknowing;

But once we’d been found, my joy swelled

And will not cease its growing!

And so we stand on the precipice,

Hand in hand and unafraid,

Asking God, who our trust is

To bless the plans we’ve made.

Looking to a rising sun

Ascending throughout its way.

Together seeing its course run;

The birth and death of a day.

There will be times of longing

Where we are sometime apart,

But let assurances be thronging –

You will always have my heart.

A Mid-year Excerpt

From winter’s grasp the children came, with booksacks cast asunder,

Taken from their newest game by reality’s harsh thunder.

An awkward age, all would admit, but now begins the growing

Into adulthood and none too soon — there’s much they should be knowing.

These are the leaders of the coming day, a prospect rather leery;

To be ruled by those who refuse to think would be a future dreary.

And so we strive to direct and shape young minds throughout the day

To give them each what they deserve — they can’t all get an ‘A’!

And so, it seems, we begin again. We re-learn how to learn,

And hope to make the most of each day. We have none left to burn.

Wasteland Ethics: Part 3

 Piotr turned over on his side, shivering and convulsing. What little thought flitted through his mind was screaming that he was in deep trouble. He could feel the wound in his side, the hot blood pulsing out with every heart beat. Kit, he thought, wracked with another wave of pain. How had it come to this?

* * * * * *

The train tunnels and sewers below them by the science station were no place to take tourists. Everyone knew that. Even dogs and the smarter bandits kept away from them. But that was where all the evidence had been leading Piotr, and he was finally willing to admit he was scared. He had nimbly worked his way through a whole field of electricity anomalies while being surrounded by those unfortunates who hadn’t. It had been a shame on more than one level, some of those who were lost had some good equipment on them, but it would be a fool’s errand to try and retrieve any of it.

Piotr let out a sigh of relief as he moved past some of the abandoned rail cars in the tunnel, knocked askew years ago, and found the door to the maintenance tunnel. It was unlocked and slightly ajar. Curious, the stalker thought, I suppose all the electricity fried the circuits. He pushed the door open further with his boot and enter the room with his AK raised. The tunnel was dark and musty, and up ahead a pipe coughed out clouds of brown gas. Piotr wasted no time and slid his gas-mask into place, ensuring there was a tight seal. The heat and compression of the mask’s rubber covering could quickly become unbearable, but he’d rather be uncomfortable than dead.

The tunnel snaked on and on, eventually leading downward into what looked like a parts storage facility. The path led out onto a catwalk which descended into a dimly lit room with row upon row of shelves and a set of heavy doors on either end of the room. He descended the staircase, sweeping his weapon from side to side. Satisfied at the bottom that there were no immediate threats, he removed his gas-mask. He could hear his footsteps echo in the large room, and stopped immediately as he heard a growl. He slowly turned his head to the left, and saw a human foot disappear behind a row of shelves.

Chyort!” Of all the things that could be in here, it had to be snorks, those poor souls who had gone into the immediate disaster zone and been foolish enough to have their gas-masks improperly sealed. No one knew how, but they had been twisted so they could no longer stand properly, but could leap like cougars. His headlamp swept the room as he sought the creature. He turned around as a blood-curdling screech filled the air, just in time to see a pair of rotting teeth peeking out from underneath a ruined mask. Claws raked across his face and chest, and his rifle was pinned down against him. Piotr tried to cover his head as a rain of blows came down upon him, seeking to tear out his eyes. He screamed as he felt warm blood escaping from jagged cuts in his face and felt a new, deeper wound in his side. Getting purchase on the monster’s face and pushing, the stalker pulled his rifle free just enough to blast the creature in the chest. With a moan, the snork fell on top of the stalker and gave its death rattle. Pushing the beast off, Piotr sought to rise. He fell back with a cry. He reached over and felt the handle of a knife. The creature must have remembered some of its former life, because the stalker recognized the handle as his own. With agony he pulled out the blade and turned towards his unwounded side. He fumbled with a medical kit, removing a packet of sulfa drugs and tearing it open with his teeth. He had to hurry. Everything was…going…bla…

Piotr awoke later lying on a bed, his gear removed and wounds bound. He was in a small concrete room with metal shelves lining the walls covered in supplies. A clock ticked impassively on the wall opposite him, and a man sat sideways at a desk underneath that clock. The man was reading through what Piotr knew was the assignment that Sidorovich had given to find Wicker. Piotr cleared his throat.

“Ah, you are awake my friend,” the man said with a smile. “I’m glad to see you pulled through. I was worried for you there. It’s not often I get visitors. My unwitting guards make sure of that.”

“You are Wicker,” Piotr said. It wasn’t a question.

“I am. And you are Fox.”

“Why did you help me?”

Wicker smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. Fox, this is my chance. My chance to disappear again. I have some new adventures planned, but they will be easier if people believe me to be dead. Angering Sidorovich seemed like a good way to ensure that a death of mine would be publicized.”

Fox shook his head in an attempt to clear the headache he awoke with. “So, you wanted me to hunt you?”

Wicker laughed. “Well, not you specifically, but yes, I wanted to be hunted. I want to disappear, Fox. Surely you know what that’s like. You may not remember me from the outside, but I remember you. We used to work for the same people. I think we can help each other, you and I. You need money and a flash drive.”

Wicker opened a drawer of the desk and pulled out a large wad of roubles and a data stick. “Here you go. This is all you need to get your payment from Sidorovich and rub the name of Wicker from the history books. Your reputation as a ‘good stalker’ will undoubtedly go up. You will be looked kindly upon for this. As for me, I’ll disappear. I’m never going back to the Cordon or the Garbage. I’ve better plans.”

Fox nodded. “Why are you trusting me with this, Aleksei? You thought I wouldn’t remember you, but I do. You’re a good man, but I know you don’t like loose ends.”

Wicker leaned forward. “Because I know you have a conscience. You are in no condition to kill me, but I am in perfect condition to kill you. Neither of us want that. Help me, Piotr, help yourself.”

Piotr thought to himself for a minute. “Ok. You have a deal.”

* * * * * *

Fox went on to claim Sidorovich’s bounty, secure in the knowledge that he had not only helped himself but someone he once knew. He hoped that Aleksei – once known as Wicker – would find what he was looking for. For as far as everyone else was concerned, Wicker was now a ghost, and Sidorovich was happy. Well, relatively. The conversation they had kept going back and forth.

“Are you sure this was the only flash drive Wicker had on him?” the grumpy merchant kept asking.

“Yes, Sidorovich. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“And you didn’t take anything off of it?”

“Sidorovich, I have no means to do so.”

Once Sidorovich was satisfied with his money and his disappointment in what he was looking for being missing, Fox went on his way. New gear and new adventures awaited him, all thanks to his “dead” friend saving his life. Fox resolved that as far as he could, in the future, he was going to do for others what Wicker had done for him.

A Christmas Ode

Inspired by Philippians 2: 1 — 11

With wallet, cash, and cards endowed

The shoppers fill their carts

A time of love and Christian cheer

Seems far from many hearts

With urge to spend unearned money

Fighting over the latest toys

Starting assaults over something shiny

Some crazed shopper a tazer employs

Far from the thoughts and hearts it seems

Is God’s Incarnate Son

The very reason to celebrate

Is oft called passe and done

But in Him alone is comfort and love

Affection and sympathy

Let us shift our eyes to Heaven above

And to Christian bonds of unity