Sunday, August 21, 2011

"A great cloud of witnesses"

I'm really enjoying our church's series on Tough Questions at the moment - "Helping believers think and thinkers believe". This morning's talk was entitled 'Isn't the Bible's sex ethic hopelessly outdated'? Although much of it wasn't new to me, I found the logical way it was presented, and the aspects the preacher chose to highlight, very helpful in thinking it through myself again. I won't spoil it for those who want to listen to the talk - you should be able to download it here from tomorrow. I'd highly recommend it.

However, I had another "moment" before then that I will share with you. I've just finished reading Jodie Picoult's 'Second Glance', which looks at eugenics in the 1930s in Vermont, USA (which the Nazis claim they based their practices and beliefs on). Another theme running through the book is about ghosts - whether they exist, or why they exist. It got me thinking about what I believe, and why, on this issue.

I definitely believe in the spirit realm, and I believe that people's spirits can roam free from their bodies, but I'm not sure whether I believe they can remain free roaming after death. I definitely believe that what we see here is not all there is, that this physical world is but one small part of the world that really exists, that the spirit realm is all around us, all the time. 

As we started worshipping, I was reminded of the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) who surround us...

Hebrews 12: 22: But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

As we started worshipping I could feel these witnesses gathered around us and among us, as heaven was opened and we were ushered into the very presence of Jesus, worshipping him together - those who had been with we who are. I couldn't see him, or them, but I knew where we were, and I knew who was around us. It wasn't eerie at all - rather, it was comforting.

As I pondered this, I wept. I wept out of gratitude that I am counted in that number, that one day I will take my place among them, that God's grace has been extended to me. I also wept for those I know who are not yet in that number, those who still walk in darkness, not even aware of what they don't have, or else aware, but searching in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tough Questions

For many people, there are some BIG questions to be asked about faith and religion, and about faith in Jesus Christ in particular. They look at the Church (global) and they look at Christians today, and decide they want nothing to do with it, or with God. In the words of Rigby Wallace, though, if you think churches are filled with people who are perfect, or close to being perfect, then you couldn't be more wrong. Churches are filled with people who are all too aware of their sin, or their shortcomings - that's one of the reasons they're in church in the first place.

I'm not the best advert for Christianity at the moment either. Despite that though, people ask me the difficult questions - why does God allow suffering? Surely science has disproved the existence of God? Surely evolution and the Bible are incompatible? Wasn't Jesus just a good (moral) teacher and not really God? Surely all religions lead to God? Surely the Bible is a man-made construct, not the Word of God? Does God really hate all homosexuals?

Questions like this indicate me to that the person asking is genuinely searching for something. While I can attempt an answer, there usually isn't enough time to really explore these issues with the person concerned, so I usually recommend a host of really good books they can borrow from me - I particularly like C.S. Lewis and John Stott's books.

Common Ground Church is currently running a series looking at these tough questions. Last week looked at how a loving God can allow suffering. Today looked at whether or not science has disproved God and religion. So far, I've found the talks very good, given the limited amount of time to discuss the topic. If you are at all interested, then do click on the link and download the talks as they are uploaded to the site.

It might just change your life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Distinctly discomforted

We were at some leadership training stuff at church tonight during which the leaders of the Common Good Foundation did a short presentation. Sarah through out two one liners that I really loved, and wanted to record for posterity, because they've made a real impact on my thinking (more on that in another post though - it's too late now...)

  • Live lives of social justice; don't perform acts of social justice.
  • The Common Good Foundation is not the out-sourced arm of the church's response to social injustice and poverty - it is there to coach and support individuals, leaders and groups as they respond.
They sparked a lot of conversation for G and me. Hopefully the conversation won't just stay conversation, but will lead to changed lives as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jungle fever

I haven't mown the lawn for about 2 or 3 weeks now. In winter, it shouldn't need mowing all that frequently. Mine needs mowing every week - but only in one part.


Because my lawn is overgrown with winter grass that is loving this combination of warm spells followed by rain.

If I mow it, I can't see where the winter grass is all that easily. If I don't, it continues to insinuate itself into the rest of the lawn. I can't afford to pay for a regular gardener and I don't really have the time to get to it myself. What to do???

This is one of the myriad of small household problems that has been on my mind of late. I guess it's part of being an adult - this whole responsibility for a house thing. (The other things include the broken shower door, the leaks in the roof, the lights that need to be replaced, the pictures that need to be put up, the garage ceiling and door that need to be attended to... etc.) If I could find someone who could guarantee they could fix everything in a day or two, I would be sorely tempted to pay them, just for the freedom from background stress it would give me.

But the weeding... I love weeding. I don't really want to palm that off on anyone else. Some people find running or swimming or playing music or whatever brings them peace. For me, I find it in weeding. It's one of the few things I can do during which I can withdrawn into myself, zone out of the world, think of nothing, and yet be physically active. I first discovered the joys of weeding when I was at high school. Ever since then, when I need to retreat from the world, or when I'm deliberately trying to hide from work, I find myself distracted by my backyard jungle.

I was pleased, therefore, to have a few hours this weekend (broken up into smaller slots) in which to indulge my little hobby. The longer I weeded though, the more frustrated and depressed I became. Do you KNOW how many weeds I have in my lawn? It's more weed than lawn. You should see the holes - it looks like the dogs have been at the moles again (which they have - another thing that bothers me).

The portion of the lawn I've done looks horrid. Horrid, horrid, horrid. It's almost so bad I want to buy roll on lawn from someone and dig the entire blasted thing up. Only two things stop me - the cost of buying it, and the cost of buying it. Oh, and the fact that I'd lose all my beautiful weeding - but that would be a minor loss compared to the joy of a beautiful lawn.

So here I am between a rock and a hard place. Do I let my jungle continue to jungle-fy, or do I mow it? Am I going to have the time to finish the rest of it anytime this year, or should I just admit defeat?

I'm not the only confused ones. My poor dogs don't know why I shout at them for digging it up (after the moles) but then dig it up myself. They must think I'm completely mad - either that, or incredibly possessive about grass.

Mother bear kills her cub, then herself

I read something today that really upset me. It's a story released on Friday from China about a mother bear who had been kept in a bear bile farm. Upon hearing her cub's roar as it was having it's gall bladder punctured, broke free of its 'crush cage', then hugged the cub so hard she strangled it, then ran head first into a wall, killing herself.

The practice of bear farming for bear bile is a real practice in China. It is a cruel, horrendous practice. Bears are often fitted with iron vests to stop them trying to commit suicide by punching themselves in the stomach because of the amount of pain the permanent hole gives them. They live in these conditions for upwards of 15 years.

Bear bile farming is completely unnecessary because the active ingredient in bear bile can be synthesised artificially. In 2007 the Chinese government said it would rescue 500 bears from 'crush cages' as a first step in ending this ancient practice. 4 years later, this practice still occurs.

So all that is true. Whether the story about the mother cub is true or not, I'm not sure. The quick scan of the online media seems to indicate that it is, in fact, true.

I feel physically ill. How can anyone be so cruel to an animal? How can anyone lose their humanity to such an extent? I would sign a petition if I thought it would do any good, but I doubt that the Chinese government would listen to international pressure via a petition. I weep for those poor animals.

This is NOT what God had in mind when he gave us stewardship of the earth! Tonight, once again, I long for the redemption of the earth. I long for Christ's return, when all things will be made new, when all suffering - even that of creation herself and of all God's creatures, will come to an end.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Cell phone trial

A few folks who follow me on Twitter have been asking about a cell phone trial we'll be conducting at school starting this week. Although I have a class blog up and running, it's a closed readership to protect the kids taking part. I therefore reasoned that it might be a good idea, periodically, to post something about it here.

At the moment, the school has a no cell phones policy. If a child is found with a phone, it is confiscated (with SIM card as well) for a period of time and the child has to sit a DT before it may be returned to them.

From Wednesday a group of 50 Gd 11s (top academics) will be allowed to use their phones in their maths and LS classes only. The phones have to be handed in at reception in the morning where they will be placed in a box. This box will be collected at the start of the lesson, and returned to reception at the end of the lesson. Any of these kids found with their phone outside of these two lessons will suffer the normal penalties.

In class, the kids will be allowed to use their phones after they have signed a AUP. The AUP has a clause in it that states that if a teacher feels the use of the phone is disrupting the learning of others, or the owner, it will be removed. That's purely to cover us, so that if we need to we can remove the phones during lesson. Other than that, the kids may use their phones in any way. We're not going to restrict them too much at this stage.

Initially, we anticipate that they will use their phone for personal communication a lot.  I don't anticipate that the personal communication will stop, much in the same way that teachers will send personal emails from work, or log on to Twitter or FB during their free lessons. What I hope for, and what we're aiming for, is the ultimate position where having the phones in lesson becomes so normalised that it becomes just another tool.

I'm hoping that the use of the phone will:

  • help to extend those who are currently bored
  • engage those who are currently too shy to participate in lessons
  • increase collaboration between students
  • raise attainment for all
  • improve the quality of lessons as teachers become aware of misconceptions currently held or difficulties being faced with content
  • enable learning to continue beyond the time limits of the lessons, making learning a whole-life experience (rather than a classroom experience)
  • teach pupils to engage with technology respectfully and appropriately
  • teach pupils how to monitor their online presence
  • make lessons FUN (not at the expense of content and learning, but in addition to it)
Like any good experiment, I have no idea how this will turn out. It might crash and burn. The kids might be unable to cope with the extended freedoms. I, and the other teacher involved, might be unable to cope with the change in teaching style this will demand.

But what if it doesn't? A vast majority of schools in SA can't afford to buy ipads, or tablets, or notebooks, or even build another computer lab. Yet almost every child has access to a cell phone. In this land where the infrastructure for hard-wired computers is difficult to install because of the distances and terrain involved, and in an environment where so many are poor, cell phone learning has to be the way that education in SA will move. If I'm right (and if only I had the arrogance to say, in the words of Prince Humperdinck, "and I am never wrong"), and if this trial works, then maybe allowing cell phones in class is the way to move forward.

When the first computers were brought out, everyone scoffed. Look at the way they have revolutionised the world, and particularly the world of teaching. Everyone is so scared of using cell phones for a variety of good reasons. BUT. What if we as teachers learnt to engage with this technology, taught our kids how to engage with it responsibly, and then used it as a teaching tool. Surely then, cell phones would have the power to revolutionise teaching in much the same way that computers did originally?

We'll never know until we try. So I'm going to try.

In the words of a man I highly respect, Tony Reeler (head of Pretoria Boys High and the former head at our school), if you aim low, you will definitely achieve your goals, but if you aim high, you will achieve more than you thought you could, even if you don't reach your goals.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Fake it till you make it

I used to think that emotions (from the inside) changed behaviour and body language (on the outside). Thus, if you were sad, you looked sad. If you were happy, you would look happy. Then, a few years back, I came across the idea (in the Bible, actually) that you could fake it till you make it. It's the idea that you do something repeatedly (i.e., on the outside) until you feel it on the inside. It's the idea that even if you don't WANT to pray, or worship, or believe, you do it anyway, because (besides the fact that it's good for you and the right thing to do because God is worthy) eventually your heart will come in line with what your head says is a good idea, and then you'll WANT to do it and enjoy doing it.

Putting this into practice has been one of the ways that I've been able to move from intense grief to healing. In the deepest part of my grief journey, I wanted nothing to do with God. (I realise now the paucity of my belief in God, how skewed my understanding of the gospel was, how seduced I'd been by the 'health, wealth & prosperity" gospel, but that's another story for another time.) Reading through Scripture though, I realised that I had a choice to make - either God is God, or he isn't. If he is, then the Bible is true and I needed to follow it. If he isn't, then why bother pretending with Christianity?

I decided that God is God. Since I needed to follow the instructions in the great manual of life - pray, worship, meet with believers on a regular basis, etc. - but didn't want to, I had to fake it to make it. I know God doesn't want us to be religious, or just go through the motions. For me though, it was only in my obedience to the Word, irrespective of what my heart wanted, that I have found my heart being won back to God. (Again, I know that all this is NOT by me, but is actually God drawing me back. It is the result of HIS action in my head, and in my heart, not by anything that I have done out of my own strength.)

OK - so all that is merely background to what I really want to say.

Having read some of Malcolm Gladwell's stuff and enjoyed it, when G was given a book voucher we decided to buy his first few books. I've just started reading 'The Tipping Point'. As with other books he's written, it's well-written and extremely interesting - if somewhat depressing. I was amazed, though, to discover that the 'fake it till you make it' idea features in the early portion of this book.

As the title indicates, Gladwell explores the reasons behind big changes in the world. He examines two events to try to illustrate the reasons he believes that revolutionary changes and trends can be predicted: the resurgence in demand for Hush Puppy shoes, and why Paul Revere's night-time ride resulted in such success for the colonial revolution while that of his friend - William Dawes - in the other direction was a complete failure.

As part of a discussion about personality types, he engages in a brief digression to talk about the importance of non-verbal cues in communication. He discusses research conducted from the 1960s by William Condon to a recent publication (1994) by Elaine Hatfield and John Cacioppo, all of which shows that emotions can be passed on like an infection - contagiously. By getting people to nod their heads while hearing something, they accept it; by shaking their heads, they reject it. By putting them in a room with another person and not allowing the two individuals to talk to each other, the non-verbal cues given off by one of the parties is picked up by the other, changing their mood. By smiling more during pieces on particular election candidates, news anchors influence the way in which people choose to vote. This stuff is all documented.

So, while most of us believe that the emotions affect our behaviour, it is equally true to say that behaviour affects our emotions. Emotions are contagious, we often become infected with the emotions of those around us by the non-verbal cues they send us. If you don't, that's because you are one of those people who is a carrier for emotions in the same way that some people are carriers of viruses or bacteria but are not infected by them. Your emotions infect other people.

Some people will look at this and talk about the 'energy' that people have (I know that Oprah loves the whole 'energy' idea), but actually, it's all physical. It's all about the non-verbal micromotions which might only last for a 1/45th of a second, but are there nonetheless and have a profound impact on those around you.

Where am I going with all this? What non-verbal cues do I give out when I'm teaching? On the days when I have difficulty with a particular class, am I to blame? We're so quick to lay the blame on the kids - too much sugar at break, last lesson in the day, poor work ethic, etc, etc. Am I sending out non-verbal cues that are negative, causing my kids to be infected with a negative emotion, bringing the whole tone of the class down? This whole 'negative vibe' thing is much more scientific than it first appears, and I need to do some long hard thinking about my body language to ensure that I'm increasing the happiness/ good learning quotient in my class.

Solution: maybe I should start nodding my head and smiling more?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Photoshoot - Nathan

Here's my favourite collage of Nathan, from the photo shoot with Susie Harris-Leblond.

Photoshoot - us

Susie took a few really lovely shots of us as a family, but also of us as a couple. I don't want to post them all, but here's one. It comes joint top place for me with one other, but I'm just going to post this one.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Did you see the skies this morning?

Around 7.30am this morning, just as the sun was rising, the rolling clouds were the most brilliant pink I've seen in a long time. As soon as I could do so safely, I pulled over to take a photo, but by then the brilliance had already faded. Never the less, it was still beautiful. What an incredible start to the day.

As soon as I can get the cable to download it off my phone, I'll add it here so you can see what I mean.

Monday, August 01, 2011

A new chapter begins

The past few days have been MANIC. I was looking forward to a lazy Sunday, until we got a message to say we were on duty at the early morning service. With G on sound duty, I was really not looking forward to it, because Nathan would want me to be with him at creche, so I wouldn't be able to participate in any part of the service itself. Then, after the service, I'd have to juggle both kids while trying to help serve tea and clear up cups, etc. - which did not fill me with joy, I have to say.

Never the less, I piled the kids in the car and went off to church. Mostly, I did it out of a sense of duty and a belief that, for the kids anyway, sticking to routines is more important than whether I actually get anything out of the service itself.

After saying a quick hello to my cell group, I went off to kidzone to drop Nellie off, but before I could, Nathan had dashed into the tots' venue. So Nellie and I went with him. We had a minute or so of looking at the slide which had a fountain coming out underneath it and then it was time to take Nellie to her group. So I thought to myself - why not? Let's give it a try. I said goodbye to Nathan, and told him I was taking Nellie to her group.

"Bye, Mom" he said.

Blow me down with a feather! Not a peep out of him.

Needless to say, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran..... as far as the door. Then he started his usual tricks - screaming, crying, sobbing, all the time with these desperate eyes looking everywhere for Mom. Already being at the door, I figured that I'd drop Nellie and dash back.

With Nellie duly dropped off and signed in and kissed and placated, I headed back to the tots' room, only to discover that he was no longer crying.

Needless to say, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran.....

I kept expecting to have my phone go off, so every few minutes I would check it, just to make sure that it was working. It was.

It seems that my little boy has finally realised that he doesn't need to be tied to Mommy's apron strings, and that Mommy will come back to collect him.

But wait - there's more.

Normally, going to school in the morning is a test of how focussed I can be. Can I manage to drive my car while my brains are being drilled out of my head by the piercing screaming coming from the back seat at the volume of a jet engine. Yes, my car is one of those that other parents stare at as it drives past, wondering what on earth that mother has done/ is doing to her child? There must be abuse going on. Abuse? Yes, but the only abuse is of my ear drums...

Anyway, this morning - no tears, no crying, no screaming. OK, thinks me, it'll start when we get to school. Yup, that'll be it. He's just in a good mood.

As we pull up in the driveway, he starts to moan. Here goes, thinks me, bracing for the verbal onslaught. But no - he's just asking to have his bag put on his bag.

Wait - say that again... he's asking for WHAT? His bag to be put on his back?!?!

Ok, then his screaming will start as we go in.

But no, there is silence as we head down the walkway. Silence, apart from chatter, that is. You know - chatter??? As in, chatting about stuff, and not screaming.

OK. He's obviously in a very good mood. But it'll start when I leave. He hates that.

In we go. Hang up Nellie's bag. Help clean up a bit after kids were playing in the school the previous night. Get the chairs set up at the window, so they can say goodbye through the window. I give both kids a big hug and kiss, then go round to the window.

"Bye Mom!" says the little man. 'KISS!!!' I gave him a stunned kiss, then kissed the girl, did 'last touch' and said the ritual 'Seeya later alligator - in a while crocodile' greeting.

I turned to go, and wandered back down the walkway to a chorus of 'Bye Mommy' echoing behind me. I reached my car in a daze. Could it be? Not a whimper, not a murmur. Not a single scream or cry to be heard.

My son has obviously decided that it's okay to go to school.

Of course, we'll probably have screams again tomorrow.