Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Down...!

My first semester at South Texas College has come to a close, and it has been a wonderful time. Some of you will remember how this teaching position came about, and the miracle continues!

I started out this semester with around 102 students in five classes...and ended up with some 88 students. Some moved to other sections, some withdrew from classes due to family or financial issues...and some just disappeared! That's how it is in we just roll with it.

Many of my students here could be classified as "second language" students. In all of these classes, I had only three "gringo" students and the rest were all Latino. I believe we've mentioned before that the Rio Grande Valley is about 92% Latino...and I certainly saw that in my classes. Because so many of them do struggle with second language issues, I was able to bring into the classrooms here the very techniques, methods and 'tricks' that I used with my students at the Teachers' College in Monterrey. Again, I could see that what went before prepared me for the present!

What does school look like here? Well, I've included some pictures below from this semester. As things would have it, my birthday came around in October...and some of my students found out. Okay, ALL of my classes found out...and the all helped me celebrate!

The first class of the day on my birthday genuinely surprised me. Students in Mexico often went "over the top" for things like birthdays, but I figured that I was back in the US...and had no expectations. Oooops!

When I got to my afternoon class, I had an even bigger surprise awaiting! They not only did cake, they also decorated the room and had GIFTS for me!!! (I love this place!!!)

One of my students in another afternoon class brought something I had never before seen in my life--chocoflan...half chocolate cake and half flan! While is was a stretch for me, I dove into it...and it was delicious!!

The next morning, my Monday/Wednesday classes were not to be outdone! One of my students there loves to make strawberry cheesecake...and she shared her love with all of us in class! (Can you see the pounds just adding up already!?!?! ha,ha)

In the end, it was a wonderful semester. I was able to know so many students, to enter their lives and invite them into mine. I have a feeling that I'll be invited to wedding, birthdays and baptisms in the days to come as these students grow and change and go forward in life.

I thank God that He has given me a passion for teaching...and that teaching has allowed me to impact and touch the lives of others. Now, time to get ready for next semester!


Reason for the Season?

I love this time of the year. I don’t love the stores and malls and other places where people pack together to fight over sale items, or yell at their children as patience and dollars run out. I don’t love the radio stations that play back to back to back Christmas songs with all the mixed messages—“Joy to the World!” followed by “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” No, these are not the things I love. I love going to church…and today did not disappoint.

As we began the time of worship together, I looked down at the bulletin and saw those words we often see and hear this time of year around God’s people—“Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” And, frankly, in this first Christmas living in the US after having lived almost seven years in Latin America, I have seen how much Christmas has become so commercialized, even de-Christianized. We hear it in the tepid and tasteless “Happy Holidays!” as we enter Wal-Mart. The quiet rebel in me responds quite purposefully, “Thank you…and Merry Christmas.” As the real meaning of Christmas seems to slip away, the Church and the Christians have responded with the rallying cry of, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!”

Okay, but what does THAT really mean?? What do we really mean when we say that Jesus is the reason for the season? When I think of ALL that Jesus embodies…well, it can be overwhelming. In Jesus Christ we find forgiveness, salvation, a family of faith (the Church), purpose and direction for our lives and so much more. Yet, while all of these things are true, important and crucial…these are not what Christmas is about…just like the Second Coming is not what Easter is about.

As I sat in worship this morning, the choir sang songs of the birth…the Nativity. The alter candles and the Advent candles burned brightly…the poinsettias with their deep red fairly burned around the chancel…the Chrismon Tree decorations sparkled and glinted in the lights of the sanctuary. We heard readings from the Prophets concerning the Coming One. We all lifted our voices together remembering that night so long ago. As I sat, stood, watched, listened, sang and meditated, it came to me yet again, that simple something that I must be reminded of year after year after year…. “And they will call him Immanuel--which means, ‘God with us’” (Matt.1:23)

Yes! That is the difference, that is what is important about Christmas—God is with us. He not only creates us, not only loves us, is not merely among us…He is WITH us…with you and with me. This is the message of Christmas…this is the Reason for the Season. The Creator steps into His own creation…and reality, life, existence is forever changed. God in Christ is now among us, with us, walking by our side, sitting down and rising up with us. No longer do I have to be alone; no longer do I have to be lonely. No longer do I face fears or disappointments or tragic loss alone. I do not live alone…and I will not die alone. God is with us…and has been with us since that night so long ago.

As the service came to a close, I walked out with my family, I walked out with my extended family of faith, I walked out in peace— sure of God’s forgiveness and certain of a life-unending, sure of my purpose and direction in life. However, more importantly and making all of these possible, I walked out with God…God in my life, God in my family, God in my community, God in my world! Yes, indeed, there is reason to celebrate Christmas…and the coming of Jesus IS the reason for the season!

Merry Christmas—God is with Us!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Christmas to Remember…and Share

Our family arrived in Guyana in 1969…and Christmas was soon upon us. At the time, the government was of the hard-lined socialist flavor, and they had severely limited any imports. As a result, Christmas trees as we know them were fairly non-existent. My parents, however, were determined to maintain some of our American traditions and practices in our home, so they made sure we had Christmas—one way or another.

That first tree is burned forever into our memories. The government did have some sort of Christmas tree factory…and they did the best they could, I suppose, with the limited resources they had at the time. Basically, the tree was a modified broomstick…about three-and-a-half-feet tall, planted in a music box base that revolved and played a cheesy, plinky popular Christmas tune. The branches were little more than long bottle washers, spray-painted green. The whole tree had probably 20 of these branches…and they didn’t begin to hide the bare broomstick trunk. We had brought some decorations with us…but few. We spread them as well as we could on the scraggly branches. We found some garland and draped it on the branches…and better yet, we wrapped it around the “trunk” of the tree. Since the stick was in a revolving base, that meant no lights on the tree. So, we taped them to the wall behind the tree. If one stood right in front of the tree, and sort of squinted, it looked like the lights were actually on the tree. Welcome to missionary life!

Christmas morning came as usual…sort of. Guyana, South America, sits just off the equator, so a white Christmas was not an option. We got up to bright sun-light and warm breezes. While toys were few, my parents had found a few at Huggins and Fogarty’s department stores. And, they found books…and that was something we always loved! So, Christmas day was a rousing success as far as my brothers and I were concerned. We passed the day playing…reading…eating. “A good time was had by all!”

The day after Christmas was what surprised me. It was a holiday as well, but it was day for folks to get out and about! People were going here and there…and there seemed to be as much joy in the air as on Christmas…but what in the world was Boxing Day?

Guyana is a unique former British colony, an English-speaking country made up of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and various indigenous peoples. And, as often is the case, they had adopted some of the British practices and customs (tea at 3:00pm!) Boxing Day was one of those adopted practices, a day to box up all the older stuff from the year past and take it to someone less fortunate. So, if I got a new shirt for Christmas, then I should select a shirt from my closet to give away. If I got a new book for Christmas, I should pull a book from bookcase to give to someone who couldn’t afford a book. This practice served/serves several purposes—1) it teaches children to share, to give, 2) it makes us think of others…and to realize that there are those less fortunate than ourselves, and 3) it helps avoid that ‘pack-rat’ tendency that pervades our society! In a small way, Boxing Day becomes one of those moments when we can live out the Scripture—at a special time and in a special way: "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor…” (Luke 3:11).

Unfortunately, we’ve managed to formalize and organize something like this in our churches—and in the process, we’ve cut ourselves off from actually have to come in contact with poor people, and we’ve made it a “big person” thing so the children get to keep ALL their toys. What if we took back the practice and made it a family affair? How about we all celebrate Boxing Day this year—fill a box or two with things and take them to a family in need, to a family less fortunate than ourselves?  Hmmm. That just might capture the Spirit of Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Can It Get Any Better??


I don’t want my kids to have a better life than mine.

Oh, don’t hear me wrong—it’s not that I wish ill on my children. The truth is, I don’t think there IS a better life than the one I’m living now. My wife and I have a really good life…and I don’t know how it could get any better. Yet, I hear from so many around me that they still want that ‘better life’ for their children…but can we really expect life to get better and better and better?

Is a better life a bigger house? If our houses in America get any bigger, we’ll have to start calling them biospheres! I don’t wish a bigger house on my kids—the taxes, upkeep and cleaning are plenty, thank you, for our 1200 sq.ft. home. And, besides, in four or five years, all our kids will be grown and gone…and this house will suddenly seem big and empty for just the two of us.

Then…more toys?? I’ve seen the children who have been given copious amounts of toys, more than you or I ever received in our childhood. And, the result? Usually messy houses and children with little regard for their things (more toys = more need for space = ‘need’ for bigger house…!). No, I don’t think more toys (for children or adults!) are the key to a better life.

How about a bigger, better car? We’ve already learned in the US (I hope!) that bigger cars are NOT the way to go. So, I can’t hope for my kids to have bigger and better cars. We have a Toyota and Ford…affordable, reliable and economical. If I wish nicer, ‘better’ cars on my kids, then I’m wishing higher insurance, higher repair costs…and is that a better life??

What about a better income?? That memorable study at Princeton University released in 2010 shows us that income ‘buys’ us happiness up until around $75,000 a year…but after that, the more income doesn’t really do that much for us. But, then again, is that really going to do it?? From our travels and lives in Latin American (Venezuela and Mexico), we learned that happiness is not connected to income, cars, houses and stuff. We saw people so poor—even by their own national standards—that were amazingly happy, blessedly content in life. So, more money is not necessarily a better life!

There tended to be a couple of common factors in the lives of our friends…the factors that lead, I believe, to a ‘better life.’ First of all, the people we met and shared with had a contagious contentment. They were simple people with simple lives…and they weren’t plotting and planning to get bigger, better, faster, more, more, more. How refreshing! They were able to be happy with what little they had. My wife and I have learned that this contentment comes through decision—we decide to be happy with what we have. As someone has said it, “It’s not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” And, second, they were a people of faith, a people with a deep, life-affecting trust in God. They lived out well that passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi—“…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…” (Phil.4:11). I’m convinced that contentment and faith/trust are inextricably intertwined.

So, can life get any better?? Well, as I sit here in my house with the heat on, I guess the only way life could be better would be a geographic change—towards the Caribbean! But, no, I don’t wish my children a better life than mine…I only hope they have as good a life as I’ve had, as I have—complete with faith and contentment. I hope my children experience all the joys, difficulties, love and hard times that will shape and prove their lives…and I hope that in the midst of that living that they, too, will find the real good life. Does it get any better than this?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Simple Church

I love the word ‘simple.’ I like the ‘sssss’ at the beginning…it’s a sound soft and soothing. I like the ‘imp’ in the middle…the way I have to have bring my lips together and then pop them apart to get that ‘p’ sound. And, I like the sort of raspy ‘llll’ at the end…how I have to move the sound back towards the middle of my mouth, sliding towards the throat, to get that soft sound to come out…. And, of course, I tip my hand here as to my propensity towards philology…in its very literal meaning. I love words…and, more precisely, I so enjoy examining the effect and power of words. For me, ‘simple’ is a word of power, able not only to conjure smooth and rounded images in our minds, but even able to lower our heart-rate and breathing, to drop our blood pressure a few points. Yes, this is a good word…and we ought not to use it lightly!

So, on to the idea of ‘simple church.’ For some, there is a sudden, just-out-of-reach disconnect when we put these two words together. Why? Because for some, church is anything but ‘simple.’ Church means getting up early on a weekend and fighting with the kids to get them out of bed…and then to get them dressed, too often in clothes they would not usually want to wear, to go where we they feel they must put on a happy face…mingle with people who have all put on their happy faces…and then sit together (or worse, forced to stand and clap together!) in a large area singing songs that they don’t hear all week long and then listening to a sermon that calls them to give more, do more, be more…and they’re already exhausted and they don’t know HOW to give, do or be more…and their only thought is, “When will it be 12:00pm so we can leave?”…which is followed by, “Where are we going to eat…and what will it cost…and who will we bump into?” Now do you see why many read or hear ‘simple church’ as an oxymoron? These words for many just don’t belong in the same phrase, much less the same sentence.

However, for me, this is a phrase pregnant with hope! Oh, how I long for the reality of simple church. First, I believe we either have to find a new word for ‘church’ or reprogram our minds to hear it as it was first used. We now associate the word with a building and all the feelings that come with that building-image. For far too many, “warm and fuzzy” doesn’t quite capture those feelings. Since I don’t have another word, I’m just going to have to replace the image I have in my mind or give new meaning to the word. Church: from ekklesia in Greek; the congregation, the gathering, the coming together of a group of people for a common cause. For our New Testament fore-fathers and -mothers, the ekklesia was always a reference to the people…not the place. And, it was a special people, for when the ekklesia—the people--gathered, all social statuses were left behind—the slave and the business owner, the teacher and the soldier, the old and the young all were suddenly on common ground, equal footing. Stepping into the gathering of God’s people—regardless of the house in which those early Christians met on any particular day—was stepping into a wonderful place where the socially astute could relax and ‘let their hair down’ and the social outcasts could sit elbow to elbow with the movers and shakers of society.

In fact, when we reorient our understanding and image of the Church—that group of people who gathered regularly to hear the reading of the Scriptures and to understand God’s will for their lives, we find an image of simplicity. The early gathering of God’s people had very little in common with the sound and light shows we find in church buildings today; there would be very little in common with the weekly fashion shows that silently happen in the aisles of our gathering places today; we would not find the emphasis on music (and its seemingly necessary technologies) that we have today. We would find a people who recognized their common dependence on and need for God’s grace, a people hungry to hear the Scriptures and its application to their lives (not so interested in the elocutionary finesse of the reader/speaker), a people who all sat (or stood) on a common level together before God. We would find a simple people…we would find the Church.

Earlier, I said that the phrase—simple church—is pregnant with hope. I’m still looking for that Church, and I feel that I get ever closer. There have been moments when I have been astoundingly close, even there…in the mountains of North Georgia. I hold on to the idea…because if the idea exists, then that idea can become a reality. Even as I write, I see that my attitudes and dispositions, my accomplishments and my university degrees, my self-perceptions—positive or negative—and my judgmental tendencies—all of these must be “checked at the door,” left at the edge of the circle as wade into the gathering of God’s people. In so doing, I believe that God will help me to be what I seek…a simple person in His simple church.

That Unruly Wind….

I lay in bed night before last, the windows open for our cool “fall” nights here in the Rio Grande Valley, and I could hear the wind as it rustled through the leaves of the tree in our backyard. We are just an hour from the Gulf coast, and the wind often blasts off the open water and over our flat lands here in the Valley at 20 mph or more. Besides cooling off this usually warm land, the wind also provides a soothing, calming symphony to fall asleep to. So it was the other night…the undulating winds—at once soft and gently swishing through the leaves…then a moment of calm…and suddenly a blast that fairly shook the tree like maracas. As I lay there, I noticed that patterns of the wind were completely unpredictable…yet the wind was still calming in its random coming and going.

As I lay there, I recalled what Jesus had said one evening…perhaps while listening to the night winds blowing through a nearby sycamore tree: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Jesus employs a wonderful double entendre here in that the word for ‘wind’ and the word for ‘Spirit’ (pneuma) are the same in the Greek of the New Testament. The wind and Spirit both are unpredictable…as are those born of the Spirit.

Ever since the Holy Spirit was unleashed (and that is a very good word for it!) at Pentecost, the Church (and those outside the Church) have been trying to bring God’s Spirit under control, to “put it back in the box,” to tame the Spirit. The Church has written theologies of the Holy Spirit…and sure enough, these tend to suck the life out of the Spirit, or suck the Spirit out of our lives! These theologies often end up setting all the limits of what the Spirit can or cannot do, showing us how the Spirit can or cannot act in the lives of others. But I wonder—should we really be limiting the Spirit of God?? Pentecost itself sure broke all the rules up until that time…can God not “break the rules again”??

And, speaking of rules, others have shown their complete lack of confidence in the Spirit of God by buying into legalism. Legalism is really nothing more nor less than saying, “We don’t believe that God can take care of His people, can rightly guide His people…we don’t believe that His Spirit really ‘seals’ His people (Eph.1:13,14), so we right-minded, obviously holy leaders are going to set rules and protect you…for God.” (Things usually don’t end very well in this scenario….) But, should we be taking the place of God in people’s lives and establishing their rules for living? Isn’t the Scripture excitingly clear in Jeremiah and Hebrews: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jer.31:33; Heb.8:10)??

We proclaim a God who is powerful, righteous, good and loving. Why would we want to presume to limit such a God? How could we imagine that our petty legalism would somehow be more engaging and life-changing that the indwelling Spirit of God? And, how can we presume to predict how or what God will do—in our own lives, much less the lives of others? We must face it—the wind and the Spirit and the life in the Spirit are unpredictable...sometimes unruly…untamable.

As I lay in bed, God reminded me that even though we can know much of Him, we cannot understand our God completely—not even close! Even though we can see how God has worked in our lives in the past and how He works today, we cannot predict how God may work tomorrow. Like the wind, God’s Spirit moves in and through our lives…one day a gentle breeze, another day barely a breath, and still another day a riotous west wind. As my eyes became heavy with sleep, as I slipped into the land of dreams, these final thoughts did not leave me anxious. No, instead I thought, “Yes, thanks to God’s Spirit, the life of faith certainly can be a little unsettling…but, oh, so exciting!”

The wind blows to the south
   and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
   ever returning on its course. (Eccl.1:6)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Changes Coming…

The wind whistles through the windows, rain pelts the window panes and temperatures fall by the minute as the cold front hurries down from the north.  When I went to bed last night, gentle winds from the southeast caressed our corner of the world, stars shone brightly in the night sky.  I had stepped outside just before bed to breathe deeply the comparative cool of the evening, preparing to go and sleep.  And then, around 5am this morning, everything changed.  I awoke to winds and rains…and to the cold air blowing through the house.  I awoke refreshed, filled with anticipation at the changes rushing in upon us.

I sit now in our living room, awake and writing far too early, listening to the patter of rain as if falls on leaves and driveway.  Because the winds still blow, and colder by the moment, and because we are reluctant to close up the house, I sit wearing my polartec…bringing back memories of winters in Monterrey where we could not escape the winter cold.  Here, of course, we can escape the cold that rolls in…but we choose not to, enjoying the brisk and bracing morning air.  We may tire of the cold soon…and then we will close it all up.  But, for now, I breathe deeply the cool air…while the family snuggles more deeply in their warm beds, sheets and covers pulled warmly around them.

Life-changes too often come this way, surprising us, shocking our system, disrupting our routines, awakening us when we least expect…or least desire.  Yet, it is not a bad thing.  The changes of weather remind us of how little control we actually have in life…and remind us that while we cannot control happenings and circumstances, we do have something to do with how we respond.  I could have snuzzled down more deeply in my bed this morning, too…but I decided, determined, to arise and write, to enjoy the quiet of the morning and the start of this new day.  I do not regret my choice.

When those unexpected changes in life come, those changes that are far more impactful than mere weather, how do we respond?  How do we react?  Do we recoil in fear, self-doubt, uncertainty…and snuzzle-down under the covers of life?  Or, do we see the changing winds as something to experience, as a moment to face with anticipation and expectation?  Do the rains dampen our lives, or do we see them as feeding our future, as a necessary element for a healthy life-garden?

As I awoke around 5am, I knew that the weather had changed, the wind had changed, the temperature had changed…I knew that a cold-front was coming into our sub-tropical lives here in south Texas.  But, I also knew that something more profound was moving into my own life.  I felt the hints of change even last night…and the night before.  Something in my own mind and heart was changing…that change was coming. 

While I’m aware of the obvious changes that come with the weather, I don’t know what to expect with regard to the changes in my mind and heart that are coming.  I cannot see what the changes will be in my interior life.  Yet, I prepare to face the changes as I have faced this front—head-on, awake, with anticipation, with hope, welcoming the change, knowing that change will grow me, push me, move me.

Changes are coming…and it’s about time!  My God is with me and is shaping me through time and experience more and more into the person I am to be.  So, let’s see what new and exciting things come into this adventure of life….

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Missions… or the Mission?

Recently, a good friend and I were chatting about church, missionaries and missional things, and she asked me, “Could you write something about missions for me? It seems that there’s a new “generation” of leadership at our church, and they just don’t get it.” So, I write this in part to fulfill my friend’s wish…and in part to remind myself what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

One of the great effects of our Western mind-set or way of thinking has been the “compartmentalization” of so many aspects of life including the life of faith, the Christian life, the life of the Church. We have effectively made “missions” one of the committees of the church, one of the things that’s included in our budget, or one of the annual emphases of the church calendar. I was about to write, “If one undertakes a careful study of Scripture…,” when I realized that all one really needs to do is to make a rather cursory review of Scripture to see the truth of the matter.

If we were ask regular church goers and Christians (they’re not the same, you know!) to list the most important Scripture passages, I can almost guarantee you that John 3:16 would top the list (and so it should since it captures the essence of God’s Good News—the Gospel—God’s amazing love for us), and another passage that would be on that top-10 list would probably be Matt.28:19, 20.

Matthew 28:19,20 (well, better if we throw in vs. 18 as well!) relates some of those last, most important words of Jesus: And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (NRSV).

Now, we need to recognize and recall that Jesus didn’t call the ‘missions sub-committee’ to the side to give them these words. He didn’t announce that this was ‘missions emphasis Sunday’. Rather, Jesus left these as His parting words with all the disciples gathered there. These words seem to set the direction for the newly formed Church. Therefore, we recognize that we don’t do missions as part of the Church; rather, God’s Church is called to join in God’s mission to the world! ‘Missions’ isn’t something we do or participate in from time to time—the Mission of God is our very reason for being.

We are called, as God’s Church, to “Go…and make disciples of all nations….” So, we can’t just focus on living the Good News at home. Luke also records some of Jesus’ final words in Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (NRSV). The Scriptures here make it clear that we’re to be involved in God’s mission—here, there and everywhere.

So, missions is why we exist. Missions defines the church. In fact, Scripturally we can say that a church not involved in God’s mission is not being the Church! Does that mean that everyone in the church has to be a missionary?? Not in the traditional sense of packing it all up and running off to some dark corner of the earth, no. But in a very real sense, yes! One pastor I heard recently reminded me that everyone who is on a mission is a missionary. And, if we have bought into the Christian faith, if we have decided to follow Jesus, if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we all have a mission…and that mission is to share and live out the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ.

Some will remain in Jerusalem and some are going to go from Jerusalem on to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. For the Church to be the Church, we must have those who are the feet that travel wherever God is leading; we must have those who are the hands that provide for those who are going; and, we must have the knees of those who are lifting up the mission of God in prayer. In one instance, I may be feet going…in another, I may be hands extended to support one who is going where I cannot…and in yet another, I may be the one on my knees praying for the one who has stepped out in faith.

‘Missions’ is really a misnomer for the Mission of God. God calls us to go, to share the Gospel, and we go because God calls us to it and because our own lives have been impacted and changed by that Gospel—that grace and love that God has imparted to us. A speaker I heard recently affirmed, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives, changes lifestyles, changes communities, and changes cultures.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something so incredible, so impactful? Let us—the Church—renew our commitment to our gracious God, to Jesus who saves us, and to being a part of God’s Mission to the world through the power of God’s Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Las Competencias del Docente para el Siglo XXI

(Adaptado de una presentación que impartí en el XV Seminario de Educación en El Instituto Laurens, el 28 de Mayo del año 2011, Monterrey, Nuevo León, México)

En este ensayo, quiero compartir lo que he encontrado en casi 20 años como educador. Me imagino que la lista completa de competencias que pueden ayudar los maestros es una lista inexhaustible; entonces, mi meta aquí es nada más que compartir las cinco competencias más importantes para los maestros de aula en este Siglo XXI.

Antes de compartir las competencias, quiero compartir con ustedes un poquito de mi propia filosofía de educación. No se preocupe—sería muy breve! Tengo yo dos propósitos en mi trabajo como maestro de redacción/retorica. Primero, quiero ver que mis estudiantes son mejores escritores cuando salen de me aula en el fin del semestre que cuando entraron en el principio; segundo, quiero ver que mis estudiantes son personas cambiadas, diferentes, por estar en mi aula un semestre. Como maestro, soy empleado para enseñar redacción (o gramática)—mis alumnos deben aprender lo que estoy enseñando. Unos van a aprender más y dominar la materia…y otros no van a aprender tanto, sino deben salir mejor que antes en su competencia de escribir. Pero esto no es todo. Por mi propia esperanza, por mi fe, por mis experiencias de vida, por las lecciones aprendido en mis errores y éxitos, mis alumnos deber ver más que redacción, deber aprender más que solo como escribir un párrafo o ensayo. Mis alumnos deben aprender algo de la vida, algo que puede ayudarles en la vida o por lo menos, algo que va a forzarles pensar “fuera del cuadro.” Si he logrado estas dos cosas, me sentiría que he sido un éxito en mi intento de enseñar.

Y, ahora…adelante a las competencias más importantes para los maestros del Siglo XXI.


Claro, si vamos a estar en pie antes de nuestros alumnos, debemos saber lo que vamos a enseñar. Si es matemática, debemos entender y saber bien las matemáticas; si es geografía, debemos saber bien el contenido del curso de geografía. Para los maestros de secundaria y prepa, un “conocimiento general” es importante también. Jóvenes en estos grados están “conectando los puntos” del mundo en general, pues debemos conocer aun más que la mera materia estamos impartiendo. Maestros de estos niveles tienen que seguir las noticias por periódico o televisión…que ellos estarían listos recibir las preguntas de sus alumnos.


No estaba cierto cual debe he puesto primero—lo de arriba o esta competencia. Me imagino que los dos son de importancia igual. Como maestros, tenemos que tener la capacidad comunicar lo que sabemos. Por eso, en las escuelas de educación forzamos a los estudiantes maestros hacer presentaciones orales semestre tras semestre. Nada es más importante que una auto-confianza y una comodidad antes un grupo de estudiantes. Si no somos cómodas, si faltamos la auto-confianza, los alumnos van a saberlo…y nuestra capacidad comunicar la materia sería seriamente impactada. Entonces, no dejó ni minimiza la importancia de presentar en pública en el entrenamiento de maestros.


Relacionado, tenemos que aceptar e usar los métodos de comunicación dado por la tecnología. Comunico con mis alumnos (niveles prepa y universitario) por e-mail, blog y Facebook. Hoy en día, muchos alumnos de secundaria y aun de primaria tienen “smartfones” con acceso al internet y email. Ellos ya están aprovechando la tecnología…y debemos hacerlo también. En mi caso, por lo menos, cada uno de mis alumnos tiene que comunicar conmigo por e-mail. Si estamos preparando alumnos para funcionar y vivir en este Siglo XXI…también debemos vivir en este Siglo con ellos. No lo amo el Face…sino es parte de las vidas de nuestros alumnos. Por eso, tenemos que estar allá con ellos. Si no, estamos perdiendo una buena oportunidad comunicar e impactar las vidas suyas.


Tener el conocimiento y la habilidad comunicar con nuestros alumnos no es bastante. Tenemos que prepararnos día tras día para presentar la materia en una forma lógica, ordenada. Si ya es un maestro, usted sabe que no hay sentido peor que llegar en el aula, estar antes sus alumnos…no tener plan ni saber dónde va. Preparación significa que tenemos un plan, una dirección, un camino para seguir. La escuela tiene un currículum para seguir…pero usualmente no incluye los detalles. Tenemos que sentarnos y planear las semanas de clases. Como maestros, tenemos que preparar nuestras clases, debemos saber día a día a donde vamos en la materia. Otra vez, si llegamos sin preparación, los alumnos van a saber…y tomar ventaja de la situación.


Preparación incluye decidiendo como vamos a impartir la materia—si es por lectura, lecciones, PowerPoint, trabajo/investigación en grupo…o cualquier manera. Debemos tomar en cuenta que tenemos personas que aprenden en formas diferentes—aprendedores oyentes, oculares, táctiles, etcétera. Entonces, un maestro preparado va a incluir variedad en sus planes de lecciones que todos sus alumnos van a tener la oportunidad para aprender y disfrutar la clase.

El maestro preparado llega a su clase listo para enseñar, con ganas de enseñar…preocupado por los estudiantes en su cuidado.


Para mantener orden, para evitar disputes, para tener un ambiente libre de estrés, tenemos que compartir con nuestros estudiantes en una forma muy clara nuestras propias expectativas por ellos. Tenemos que compartir las expectativas educativas (usualmente en la forma de un sílabo o programa académica) y las expectativas sociales (como vamos a comportarnos en el aula, en receso, etcétera…como vamos a comunicar y no). No solamente compartimos las expectativas, sino las consecuencias de no cumplir con las expectativas. Es muy importante que el maestro responda rápidamente en los primeros casos para establecer la importancia y realidad de las expectativas. Si no, este maestro va a batallar día tras día todo el semestre para mantener control sobre su aula y sus alumnos. Sí, claro, queremos que los alumno nos aman…y es exactamente por amarles que establecemos limites…y consecuencias! Porque, si no hay límites y no hay consecuencias, vamos a tener un desastre…y un desastre no dice mucho del amor!


Una palabra más aquí sobre la administración. La administración debe comunicar claramente sus expectativas sobre la disciplina del aula. Y, después, cuando el maestro está haciendo cumplir las reglas a los alumnos, la administración tiene que apoyar y hacer un respaldo al maestro. Si la administración fracasa en esto, los maestros son dejados como necios o payazos…y no sirve nada. Entonces, administradores—sea el respaldo de sus maestros que ellos pueden cumplir su trabaja con eficaz.


Esta competencia es directamente relacionada al anterior. Si queremos respeto de nuestros alumnos, tenemos que mostrarles respeto. Si queremos respeto de nuestros estudiantes, tenemos que merecerlo. Si queremos respeto de los aprendedores en nuestras aulas, tenemos que tratar a todos con respeto.


Tenemos que aprender los nombres de nuestros alumnos y reconocer su existencia y humanidad. Tenemos que hablar con respecto de los administradores. Los maestros tienen que tratar uno al otro con respeto—en público como en privado. Los administradores tienen que respetar y tratar con respecto a sus maestros y a los estudiantes. Si queremos un ambiente de respecto, TODOS tienen que estar involucrado…y TODOS tienen que mantener este ambiente.


Espero que este ensayo ha servido para moverle pensar más allá. Sí, claro, hay muchas otras capacidades importantes para maestros…pero si podemos enfocar en estas cinco, creo que podemos ver maestros mejores, administradores mejores y—más que todo—escuelas mejores en donde alumnos puedan aprender lo que es necesario para ser éxitos…en la escuela y en la sociedad.

(Gracias por su paciencia y su perdon sobre me redacción—sí, soy maestro de ingles…sino estudiante de español!)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Never Met Jesus…

Sounds like an odd confession coming from this disciple, pastor, missionary guy, but stay with me….

The lady is an amazing woman who has affected my life in profound ways. I have watched her and learned from her. She has molded me and shaped me in many ways. I listened to her as she told stories, as she conversed with others, as she spoke in gentle whispers and in those rare occasions when deep anger rose to the surface. I followed her at times through great crowds of people…and sat near her around tables, on beaches and in cars. Her songs lulled me sleep…her voice called me to life in the mornings. However, the curious thing is that I never ‘met’ this woman—Mom was just always there.

Having grown up in the Church and in a Christian home, Jesus was just always there. From the Bible stories that my parents read to me at night…to the prayers around the table at meal-times…to the Bibles that seemed to form a part of my parents’ accoutrements—Jesus was just always there, simply part of the very fabric of life.

You should know, however, that the relationship has been in constant flux…both with Jesus and with my Mom. I have grown to know and love my Mom more deeply through the years. In my earliest years (especially those that I have no recollection of!), Mom was there caring for me, meeting all my needs…and I did take her for granted. But, as I grew older, as I matured and began to see the reality of life, I saw that Mom worked very hard cleaning, washing, cooking, taxiing, lobbying…all on my behalf. Now that I am a parent—Wow!—my estimation of my mother has grown even more. I now know not only the joys of parenthood but also the profound pains of parenting…and that gives me even more insight and appreciation for my Mom.

In the very same way, my knowledge of, my appreciation for, my love for Jesus has grown as I have come to know Him in a deeper and deeper way. While there is no time that I never knew Him, I clearly remember when our relationship took decided leaps—in 1972 when I began to understand what His act on the cross meant for me…and I followed in baptism at Central Baptist Church in Georgetown, Guyana; in 1976 when I began to see the scope of God’s immeasurability while sitting on a hill overlooking Mosquito Bay in Grenada, West Indies; in 1983 when the Fatherhood of God stepped in to fill the void left by the death of my father when we lived in Decatur, Georgia; in 1985 when I determined that I, too, wanted to be a real disciple of His as college student at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia; in 1989 when I experienced the very real presence of the Spirit of Jesus in my life in the midst, believe it or not, of a very dry, boring “evangelistic” service in Louisville, Kentucky; in 1992 when I sensed a call to join Jesus in ministering in the Church after joining Mt. Pleasant UMC while teaching in Cleveland, Georgia; in 2004 when my wife and I both heard the “call” to step out in faith to live and serve in missions after having served with the amazing people of Coosa UMC in Blairsville, Georgia. As with any living relationship, mine with Jesus has grown closer and deeper through the years.

Someone not raised in the Church or in a Christian family may arrive at any or all of these points in one fell swoop…and have that “conversion experience.” I imagine and have heard from many that it is an amazing, completely life-changing, joyfully shocking experience. Those, perhaps, cannot imagine coming to Jesus any other way…in the same way I cannot imagine what it would be like not to have always known Him. The Good News is that Jesus doesn’t really care how or when we come to know Him—it only matters that we know Him, whether we meet Him as a Stranger on the way…or whether we grow up and into a life-long relationship with Him. All I can say is…thank you, Mom and Dad, for making sure that I always knew Him, for making Him a bright thread in the fabric of our lives.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Madea: A New Discovery for a Late Arrival…

One of the “cool” things about living outside the US for so long is that I now return and so much is new to me. In the daily wanderings of life, I happen upon things that have long become “old news” for the culture-at-large…but are delightfully new and exciting for this boy.

Okay, so she’s a little crude…and the humor sometimes a little “off color” (so to speak!)…but the message and impact astound. In fact, I’ve only had two of these experiences so far, but each time I was brought to tears—quite literally—as I watched the stories unfold. Sometimes they were tears of laughter…at other times tears of emotions that welled up from within. I have to say, Madea is…”the bomb!”


Tyler Perry has created an amazing character. Rather, he has created an amazing slate of characters in his Medea movies. Of course, Medea is that delightful “Big Mama”-esque figure (the character brought to life in Martin Lawrence’s hit movies)…but she is deeper and more than Big Mama. She is hard, harsh, in your face…and in that key moment, she says just the thing that her family and friends around her need to hear. She is strong…and she has purpose…and she is no-nonsense. And, she keeps me laughing until I cry.


However, the Madea movies are far more than Madea. They are stories about relationships, cultural situations, ethics, family structures, social ills…and faith. We are confronted with love…and abuse, caring parents and children…and neglect. We see men and women who chose the ethical path…and the scoundrels who cast morals and ethics to the wind. And, we find faith…deep, sincere, painfully honest faith. We don’t find a sugar-coated “Jesus loves me” faith…we find that faith that “lifts me out the pit and sets my feet upon a rock” faith. We don’t find a white-washed Jesus of the Protestant work ethic who resides in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood…we find a Jesus who walks the hard streets of Atlanta, that trods through the power-hungry board-rooms and power-abused court-rooms…and then sits in the kitchen of the poor and outcast.

Far too often, when we see “faith” films they are cheesy…painfully and boringly predictable. In Madea we find real people, in real situations, interacting in the messiness of life…yet, holding on to faith that really and truly guides their actions and forms their personality and being. Oh, it’s still film…so it’s not real-real…but Perry manages to portray people—really bring them to life—in a way that I’ve not seen before in American media.

Now, of course, I’m going to be a bit partial to the films also because they are set in my American home-state of Georgia. After attending high school in Dekalb County…running the streets of greater-Atlanta—going to the Fox…enjoying bagels in Little Five Points…spending afternoons at Piedmont Park…and all the others things in that great city—I love seeing all those places in my memories in the background and infused in the conversations of the Madea films. They’re a joy.

And the real proof of these films?? As the film comes to a close, after seeing the family-ties, the impact of history—recent and not-so-recent, the sense of belonging, the profound interplay of life and faith…after all of that, I find myself wishing I were Black….

Thank you, Tyler Perry, for these amazing films…and may you continue to impact lives beyond your imagination as you share these stories of family, hope, forgiveness and faith.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walking with a Stick…

As a young boy growing up in Guyana and Grenada, there was something I always had in hand when I left our yard:  a stick.  A stick was just a part of the everyday life there.  As many folks get up, dress—and without even thinking—put a wallet in the pocket or a cell phone in the purse,…well, a stick in the hand was like that for us kids in the Caribbean.

Why did we carry a stick?  As we walked the roads through neighborhoods or the paths through “the bush,” there was always the chance of being attacked by dogs.  A stick was good protection.  And, if we were passing a mango tree, the stick became a lance to knock mangoes out of the tree.  If we happened upon an old tire (car or bicycle), a stick turned that tire into a toy that we would run along beside for hours and hours.  And, of course, it was good for prodding, poking, moving around whatever unknown things we found lying around.  The stick was a security blanket, a tool and a companion.

boy stick tire  mango tree

This week, I remembered the stick as I came to the end of my morning walk on Wednesday.  There is a large, light-brown dog that is chained to a tree in the front of one of the houses I pass.  He usually startles me, lunging at me and growling as his chain—thankfully!—comes up short.  I try to pay him no mind as I walk on by.  However, this past Wednesday was different.  As I came around the corner onto our street, I happened to glance over and see the brown beast lying in the yard…of a neighbor.  Hmmm.  I decided that as I was walking quickly and quietly, and as he was playing with a friendly neighbor dog, he would probably pay me no mind.  I strolled rapidly past…made it about 20 yards, and then I heard that raspy, scratchy, clickity-clackity of dog toe-nails on asphalt…and the growing growl of an angry dog.  I turned to see the beast zeroing in on my calves and feet….

bad dog

He didn’t bite me, but he sure got me worried there.  Thankfully, I retained a presence of mind and didn’t run or act scared.  However, I will gladly admit that my exercise-elevated heart-rate just about doubled!  Still…I made it the last 50 yards to my house with all my flesh and blood intact.  And then I remembered the stick from childhood.  As I stretched after my walk, I realized that I needed my stick again….

I don’t think anyone would have said in my childhood—nor to me in my present situation—that carrying a stick is “sissy.”  In fact, only a fool would walk the streets and paths of my childhood without a stick…and I guess my fellow Texans of the present might—at worst—consider my stick a bit deficient when I see hand-gun warnings on the doors of restaurants.  So, if carrying a stick in the face of real challenge and danger is smart, why not carry a “spiritual stick” as we maneuver the challenges and dangers of daily life?  And what would that "spiritual stick” look like??

As I walked this morning, a verse that I learned long ago (also in my childhood!) came to me: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.”  Okay, so I learned it in the KJV…but I still understand that we must somehow internalize the truths, the teachings, the promises of God we find in Scripture.  Some may insist on memorizing word for word…others will be content to have the core, the gist of it, firmly planted in their minds.  I would challenge the Psalmist who wrote those words to expand the purpose a bit more (and I think God will be okay with this)—not only that we might not “sin against” God, but that we might live with confidence, that we might have healthy relationships, that we might live joyfully in the faith we profess, that we might grow in our relationship with God.  Yes, I want that “stick” in my hand (heart!?) as I go out the door each day, as I wade through the streets and paths of life.

So, now I walk in greater confidence each day.  In the mornings before the sun comes over the horizon, I have my walking stick in hand…in case that dog gets off his chain again.  It’s made from a branch of the tree that stood in front of our house in Sta. Catarina in Mexico…3.5 feet long and a very hard wood.

Jon Stick1

In my heart, I carry my other stick, my “spirit stick,” that goes with me to protect and comfort me—God’s Word, truths and teachings remind me that I do not face anything alone, that I am a precious being with purpose and direction, that there is more to life than getting and taking. 

Spirit Stick

It’s won’t knock a mango out of a tree, but these words are “sweeter than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps.19:10b NRSV).  Yes, my “spirit stick” protects, comforts…even guides and ‘feeds’ me as I navigate the streets and paths of life.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Saying “No” to Culture…and “Yes” to Faith

To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like. I had forgotten how difficult it is here in the US. I remember, oh, so clearly the mission teams, the work teams, coming to serve in Venezuela and Mexico remarking on how refreshing it was to worship there…on how deeply spiritual the people seemed…on how faith was somehow different there. I lived, moved and breathed the culture there…and saw nothing unusual…wasn’t really sure what they were talking about, but nodded, smiled and affirmed their assessment. After a month-and-a-half back in the US, I finally understand….

Living a life of vibrant faith here is so hard! The culture crushes in from all sides…and sucks the faith out of life. Technology is God. Money is salvation. Status is the goal. Possessions and shopping are the passions. And the Church here is not immune. Worship has become a technological production, practically impossible without multiple digital projectors, state-of-the-art sound systems. I even saw recently that one conference of churches is even offering workshops on “worship design.” What? Giving is the great push in many congregations still. Status within the community—if not the wistful desire of the church, is the desire of the pastor. Bigger, more, better…the accumulation of things is even part of the church-culture. And, by participating—whether ignorantly or purposefully—the Church is teaching her people that this is right and good. As the people fill their pockets, cars and homes with technology, as they work unceasingly—even multiple jobs—to put more and more money in the account to pay off the revolving credit cards, as they seek status among peers, coworkers or neighbors, as the house—and garage…and rented storage unit!—fill to overflowing with stuff…as people pursue and engage in all of these things, their lives are left empty, vacuous, ultimately meaningless. And they don’t know why….

Our culture is an immensely powerful force. Oh, it’s not a living entity, not really diabolic, but it does have a life of its own…and that ‘life-of-its-own’ happens to be quite contrary to the spiritual life, to the life of faith. The culture leaves no time for spirituality. The culture pushes the spiritual and inner life way down on the priority list.

It is no wonder, then, when North Americans go to those “backward,” third world countries, when they break away from the power of culture here, when they get to a place that has no TV or radio (at least, not that they can understand!), when they become ‘helpless’ foreigners without status or power, then…then the life of faith can finally flourish and bloom and grow.

I know this because I have seen what has happened to my faith-life since returning to the US. Slowly, quietly, it has been pushed down and aside. I found myself being caught up in the “new” stuff that fills the stores to overflowing. I began plotting and planning as to how I might save enough money to replace the four-year-old thing-a-majigy (that works perfectly fine) with a brand new one! The self-serving consumerist culture began to seep into my own life…replacing the simple and living faith that carried me unfailingly through almost seven years of missionary service.

So, I now realize that I must consciously and purposefully live counter-culturally here in America if I am going to nurture a spiritual life. I must decide NOT to buy or to want or to pursue what the culture insists I must have in order to fit in and find happiness. I must determine to focus on those things that have nurtured and carried and strengthened men and women through the centuries…and they are not things I can buy at Target or order from Amazon or gain through higher or lower interest rates.

The spiritual life, the simple faith, is fed through prayers—extemporaneous and guided, Scripture-reading, devotional readings, and contemplation, meditation and silence. Oh, yes, worship is important, but we have no shortage of that—what our inner lives crave is the calm, the silence, that gives balance to the noisy, boisterous, rockin’ 21st Century North American church life. The inner-self craves a quiet simplicity that will nourish who we really are and prepare us to face the false cravings and dead-end pressures of our complex, technologically advanced, consumerist culture. May God help me. Amen.

God’s Expansive Grace

Recently, some friends of ours invited us to visit with them a couple of days during their vacation on the coast about an hour-and-a-half from where we live. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity.

As I walked down to the beach from their apartment, I was struck yet again by the immensity of the sea. The horizon so far in the distance, the quantity of water, the variety of sea life—all of it just brings a sense of awe to me…and that to a boy who grew up in the Caribbean! The ocean always amazes me.

I step down to the water’s edge…the wash of a wave running up over my feet, sucking the sand from beneath. I’m left unsettled for a moment, a little off-balance. It is though the sea is beckoning to me, gently trying to pull me in. I step a little farther into the gentle surf…tentatively at first since the water is so cool compared to the glaring sun-heated world around me. I’m up to my knees…my waist…mid-belly…and I finally plunge in, diving through a small wave. Refreshing, cleansing sea-water envelops and washes me, stripping me of the grime of the city, the cares of the work-place. In the silence under the water, I am instantly transformed…I become a part of the sea…and I come to surface calmed, clean. This is what the ocean does for me.

As I sat on the beach later (sans cell-phone, sans computer), I did what I always do: I considered the sea, put my thoughts to it…and I could see that the ocean before me is so much like God’s grace. We cannot even begin to fathom the depth of His grace…can’t see the other side…can’t even imagine all the goes into and thrives in His grace.

In the beginning, we’re hesitant to enter that grace, declaring ourselves unworthy of God’s love (and we are!). But yet another small wave of His grace—in song, Scripture or kindness—curls around our feet, beckoning us…calling to us. We step forward…tentatively, unsure. The refreshing grace swirls around our legs…laps up on our belly…and we take a deep breath…and plunge into God’s amazing grace. His love washes over us, stripping away the grime of sin and self-doubt. In the silence beneath the waves, we know that we are changed…different…and we surface—our heart now clean, our soul calm, wrapped in that peace that passes all understanding.

This sea of grace is not an hour-and-a-half drive away. It is right where we are. God brings His ocean of grace to us. We need only close our eyes in prayer…wade in…and immerse ourselves anew in the great expanse of His grace—and we are renewed. This is what God’s grace does for me….

(Originally published 5-August-2011 on The Mission Society blog site: )

From The Mission Society Blog...

Some thoughts shared:

The Mission Society Blog


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fast Five–A Good Bad Movie…

Our family participates and enjoys popular culture as much as the next person, perhaps. We love going to the movies…enjoy popular music…give popular art a chance. We are not classical snobs…and don’t want to be. We strive to find what is good in whatever ambience we find ourselves. Yet, we don’t embrace whatever is popular and call it “good.” We strive to be critical thinkers—that is, we question what we experience…either during the experience or after. We can enjoy the Twilight films, but we don’t embrace all of the ideas set forth. We can watch Ugly Betty on television…but we realize that the show pushes a homosexual agenda, and we don’t support that agenda. Being aware of the underlying themes and ideas allows us to watch, participate…but not get sucked in. And, I hope we’re always that way.

Last night, we saw Fast Five...the fifth installment of the Fast and Furious series. The show was good fun. The dialogue was clever here and there. Having lived in Latino culture, we were able to take in the Rio scenes of scantily clad women and gun toting “cholos” no problem—that is common in many parts of the Latino world. But, all was not well and right with this film.

Like too many films coming out today, this film did not offer any truly good, positive role-models. All of the characters ended up being “bad” in the end. Even the great DEA agent, Dwayne Johnson’s character, goes bad, helps the thieves, and laughs when the thieves get away with it all. In this film, there were bad bad-guys and good bad-guys…but they are all bad guys. You take that element and mix it with clever dialogue, seeming-invincibility, super-coolness, humor and you get a formula for future disaster.

Why would I say that? I can imagine too many kids walking away from a film like that thinking, “Yeah, I want to be a good bad-guy like Dom…family first…trust…love…but steal and hit and kill and damage to get what I want. But, a good bad-guy.” What? A good bad-guy? What an oxymoron!? I have a feeling that much of the violence we see in Mexico today, violence that is showing up in the drug-cartels and even in the common thieves who roam the streets, was spawned in Hollywood and television movies/series that set forth this increasingly popular character—the good bad-guy. And, “Heck, if being good is so much work, why not just give in to selfishness, egotism and greed…but be a “good” bad-guy as I go about it??” If everyone out there was a critical thinker, these movies would just be fun. As it is, as it has been for decades, art shapes life…as life shapes art.

While I have very little chance of changing Hollywood or popular culture, I can (and will!) teach and encourage critical thinking. As we drove home from the film last night, we talked about the film and raised those questions of good, bad and everything in between. My wife, my teenagers and I discussed the messages of the film (as well as the funny and clever parts, and the stunts and special effects), and came to some conclusions about the film…and revisited some things we’ve known about Hollywood all along. “Good bad-guys” are still bad. Stealing is wrong, money is not the end all, sex has its pleasure and place…and Hollywood is all messed up when it comes to these issues!

The final question that came up on our ride home was, “Okay…they have $11 million each—what do they do now?” How long can they sit around on a beach and do nothing?? Andrew suggested that learn to love reading and fund a library nearby. I love my son….

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Chapter Comes to a Close…

The days of our living in Monterrey are coming to a close.  Another chapter comes to an end.  When I look back at my life, I can see those major chapters…even some I barely lived…:

Birth – 4-yrs-old…in south Alabama

Guyana (1969-1973)

Wake Forest, NC (1973-1975)

Grenada 1975-1979

Rome, GA (1979-1980)

Grenada (1980-1982)

US High School…Dad’s death (1982-1984)

College (1984-1988)

The “In-Between” Time (June-December 1988)

Louisville—grad school, Jeanne, marriage (1989-1990)

Truett-McConnell (1990-1994)

Methodism, Pastoring, Candler (1993-1997)

McAllen, TX and STCC – Pt.1! – (Aug.1997- Dec.1998)

Michigan Interlude – Spring Arbor, Holly Bike and Hike (1999)

Back to the Church…Erskine…Chicopee and Blairsville (2000-2005)

Venezuela (2005-2008)

México (2008-2011)…and this is the chapter that now comes to a close.  Life here has been a wonderful journey, with ups and downs, with its fair share of good times and bad.  All in all, Monterrey, Mexico, has been a great time—a time of growth and self-discovery.  As we leave here, we leave with mixed emotions…

I will miss some aspects of life here.  The huge city with all its life and energy and movement…this is one of the exciting things about this place.  I love riding the bus, seeing the people, smelling the smells of the city.  I won’t miss the traffic, but the sheer mass of humanity—though overwhelming at times—I will miss.  I will miss the views of this city—the mountains are spectacular!  To see the Sierra Madre rising to the south of the city, sheer, towering peaks over the city…this I will miss.



Everything in this city is convenient…that is, there are shops and restaurants everywhere!  Within 2km of our apartment there are THREE major grocery stores and four or five marts.  Then, there are little restaurants everywhere…and of all sorts: an Italian pizzería, a French crepería, Argentine empanadas, and all the tacos that a soul could ever want.  We don’t want for foods…that is for sure.

And, there are the friends.  I don’t have a lot of friends…never have, and probably never will.  But, the friends I have are real friends.  I’m going to miss my occasional coffee with my Moroccan friend, Adil….


Adil brings such a fresh perspective to life.  Lived all his growing-up years in Morocco…and now lives in Mexico with his Mexican wife and daughter.  Speaks FIVE languages.  He is a teacher—we got to know each other when I taught at the University of Monterrey.  Anyway, he and I still meet for coffee every couple of months…and I will miss him.  Yet, if all goes well, I’ll be back to visit with him every so often….

Well, it is the end of a chapter…and I’ve learned much.  I don’t love administration—my stint as Academic Dean at the Seminary has taught be this.  I love teaching and I’m good at it—and this was reinforced both at the Seminary and the Teachers’ College where I taught a variety of courses…and had the most amazing students.  I will miss my students…but as with Adil, I hope to come back to visit with them every so often, just to catch up, share, and spend time providing a positive influence in their lives.

I imagine I could write for a long time, but the day goes on…and there is much yet to do.  In these last six days of life here in Monterrey, I imagine that I will have much to write as the various thoughts and emotions swirl around in my head, seeking an outlet.  This blog will be that outlet…so, more to come.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A TCK Interview from 2010...


Friday, April 29, 2011

Pt. 3 - I'm a TCK...and my Kids are Too!

So, I was born in south Alabama...moved to Guyana for four years, then to Grenada for eight years...and 1982 rolled around and we moved to the US. The plan was for me to do a year or two of high school to prepare me for American university, and then for Mom and Dad to go back to the mission field where they would open a new work on the island of St. Lucia. Life does always go as we plan.

We had arrived in Atlanta, Ga, where the Briarlake Baptist Church had allowed us to live in their mission house. The location was great--across the street from the church, a few blocks from Lakeside High School. Dad was to take a position at the Georgia Baptist Convention center in their annuity department...and Mom was going to just go on being Mom. Shortly after we arrived, I even landed my first the church...working on the grounds crew. Since the church was big--taking an entire block--there were grounds enough to care for!

One of the things that the then-Foriegn Mission Board required/provided was a medical checkup after those tours of mission service. I just had a cursory look, and all was well. Mom and Dad had more extensive and intensive tests...and something came back not quite right on one of Dad's tests. So, more tests.

I suppose I'll never forget the day. I came in from work at the church for lunch...and the results were in. Cancer of the liver. Surgeries planned. Not a great prognosis. That was August...and I watched my father waste away over the next eight months...sick from chemo-therapy...weak from surgeries...until May, when he finally died, a shadow of his former self. He fought...hard! He spent time with me...good time...but not enough. Not his fault--mine. I wanted to escape, not see him like that. I suddenly had to go out with my friends a lot more...or study in my room.

Funny...I remember clearly two of our last conversations: one evening we were sitting in the den, the TV room, watching something inane (most of it was and still is), and a commercial came on. We muted it. Dad was in a recliner with a swivel base, and turned to me out of the blue and said, "Jon, I love you so much...." My dad didn't talk like that...and I didn't know what to do with it. I mumbled something like, "I know, Dad" How many times I've wished I could re-live that one, stupid I could say, "I love you, too, Dad" and could go over and hug him and he would know it was true and real and deeply felt.... But, past is past. Thankfully, after he died he visited me in some dreams and I was able to tell him then.

The other chat I recall was sitting out on the front stoop of the mission house--somewhere we almost never went. But, it was a warm, sunny Spring day, so Dad wanted to sit in the sun. I was glad to do so with him. For some reason, we started talking about motorcycles. Yes, motorcycles. I guess they've long been a part of our family--we took one to G'da in 1975...and got another in1980 for me. My brother Timothy has had several, and my brother Jeph had one that he and I shared a good bit. But, anyway, Dad and I talked about my getting a motorcycle someday. I was looking at a Honda CM200--a little street cruiser...and Dad was saying, "Yes, that might be a good idea....something to think about for next school year...." I was thrilled that I was having an honest-to-God "man-to-man" chat with my Dad and that he was encouraging me to do something that others might have thought 'dangerous' or something.

Dad died in May 1983...and my life would never be the same. Having one's father die when he is 17-years-old is hard enough...but add to it that I was still newly arrived in the US, without direction, close to graduating from high school to attend college (an appointment to the Air Force Academy, no less!)--oh, what an even more convoluted mess life had suddenly become for this kid!

One of the Scriptures we hold to claims that "we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom.8.28 NRSV). In hind-sight, I can see this...but at the time, I hated God, I hated the world, I hated the US--and I wanted nothing more than to return to Grenada and lose myself there.

I must say that Dad--in my now-distant recollection--was nothing but hopeful and faithful through it all. I was more like Job's wife, thinking he should just curse God and die. But, no...he remained faithful, studied the Scriptures, prayed. I've found notes, scraps of paper in his Bible, from this period of his life...and he was hopeful, faithful, hoping for healing, trusting in God. I should have taken a clue from him...but, no, I had to go another direction.

I began to search in every OTHER place--philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, anything! After all, I had prayed to God for his healing, and nothing. In fact, I remember one night lying in bed praying, asking God to let me have all of Dad's pain and nausea for a day or two so he could just have a freakin' break!! And...nothing. But, my searches and question among the world religions and philosophies brought me the same--nothing.

Mom got a job at the Georgia Baptist Convention Center in their Public Relations department--a job MADE for her. I entered my senior year of high school and had decided to attend college close to home (Shorter College) so Mom wouldn't be left alone. I didn't get the a Dodge Colt instead. My friends at the church, especially Tommy Houseworth, were my salvation in this time of being undone.

One evening, I sat in the den, in that same chair where I was when Dad told me he loved me. I looked over on the end table, and there lay a Bible. I picked it up. After staring at it for a bit, I said to God, "Okay, you got one more chance. I'm going to read this...the New Testament part...and if you reveal yourself to me, I'm yours...." I left the rest unsaid. Some days later, somewhere around Ephesians, I realized that God is real, that this world is a broken place--and that the brokenness is not God's doing!--that God does love us and wants the best for us...but best of all, God does not leave us walk through these shattered lives of ours alone. John Wesley said it well at the end of his life, just before he crossed the veil--"Best of all...God with us." Amen to that...and best of all, God is with us.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pt.2.5–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

As I thought about life in G’da (Grenada) today after writing this morning, many more memories came to mind that I want to put on ‘paper’:

Walking the beach below the Cooke-Yarborough house, along Mosquito Bay; the swing from the tree behind the house that went out so high over the hill-side; the shack-shack tree in front of our house where I would sit in the breeze for hours; throwing darts and playing ping-pong for hours in the garage…with Andrew Minors, Peter Reeves, Gregor Phillips, Jackie Evans and more; making black-coral jewelry; ‘hunting’ with our modified air-rifles—shooting the few hapless doves…and then actually cleaning, cooking and eating them; catching fish for weeks on end…and finally three of us (Andrew M, Jeph and me) frying 67 fish and eating them all (well, some scraps we threw to our cat, Charlie); making kites; hearing “Oh What a Night” day after day on the Minor’s ‘new’ reel-to-reel player…at full-volume; finding the old single-car barge that washed up after a storm…outfitting it with a makeshift mast and a sail (one of Mom’s sheets); diving (snorkeling) around the rocks…and out at the reef; hanging out with Probie, Rachel and Gracie on their veranda; running over to Calivigny Island with the Minors for a picnic; moving from the Cooke-Yarborough House to the Barclay’s Bank house on the Lance-aux-Epines side….

Grenada 228

Running in the mangrove swamps with my dog Ginger; hanging out with Richard Franco; riding my Honda CT-110 to school every day; practicing my self-taught karate in the front yard of our house; spying on Frances Taylor as she walked home from school; sitting out on the rocks at the end of Lance-aux-Epines beach…completely lost in space and time; befriending the bartender at the Calabash Hotel…and getting all the “left-overs” from the blender…learning what a “rum-punch” is the hard way; happy when the German tourists arrived…since they usually went topless!; going down to the boat yard to see the yachts; swimming around the bay and being invited on the yachts for a rest or a snack; the cows in the pasture…and how they moo-ed for days after Mr. Evans had the mamas and babies separated; the lizards that were in every room, watching with one eye my every move….


Foods like…flying fish, fresh tuna, fried plantain, oil-down, callaloo soup, Greek-style macaroni, cristophine with cheese sauce, bok-choy, cou-cou, fresh paw-paw, fresh mangos, stew-chicken, sorrel, lime-squash, fresh lime-aid from the tree in our yard, sugar-apples, damsels, marmi-apple, fresh coconut…and many more that I’ll remember later!

Grenada 616

School at Berean Christian Academy; Mr. Bob and Ms. Brown…patient but firm; Mr. Thompson teaching us that it’s “better to give your wife a good blow than to take your anger to the car where you could die!”; Margaret coming and telling me she was ready to “blossom”; Bobby and I leaving school to run an errand for the principal…and coming back in time for the dismissal of classes; playing football down on Tanteen Playing Field; buy “snow ice” for snacks; Pastor Milton teaching us in great detail about the Israelites in Kadesh-Barnea (but I never understood why?); the other MK’s…and how we tired to “out-Grenadian” one another; Poo-Poo, Bampsy, Scribe, and all the great friends at BCA.


Singing at church…songs filled with joy and at full volume; Dad preaching…always a sermon that made sense and pulled us in; Terry, Louise and I sitting in the back during evening service…all squished together and loving it (Terry, she liked me more! ha, ha); youth outings to the beach below the Islander Hotel; lying in the hot sand…and feeling the stress just flow out; Impact 76, 77 and 78; helping with mission teams; ‘translating’ from Grenadian English to American English; swimming at Grande Anse Beach; sailing with Davo in Terry’s ‘mirror dinghy’; having youth in Davo’s apartment…and hearing Amy Grant for the very first time; doing puppet/muppet programs at the schools…and seeing the children absolutely fascinated; going to the Richmond Hill Prison with Dad for Bible study with the prisoners—seeing men who were physically locked away but whose spirit soared freely by faith; meeting Leon Edwards—the man who stared it all.


Amazingly, God has used all my foolishness, my experiences, my friendships and my growing moments to mold me into who I am today.  There are few if any moments that I’d ask for a “do-over”—life was good…and my memories there carry me until this day. 

Grenada 140

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking me there…for following God’s call in your lives, and in so doing, enriching my life beyond measure!!  (Oh, sure, I’m a cultural mess now, but I’d like to think that’s a good thing!)

More to come….

Pt.2–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

So, we finished up four years in Guyana, South America—my “first” second culture.  Now, just so you understand the TCK, we’re call “third culture” kids because our first culture (birth or home culture) mixes with our second culture to produce some weird concoction that is now a “third” culture.  Follow that?  Just wait—it gets even more complicated for me!

Guyana—the only English-speaking country in South America, a country with large Muslim, Hindu and Christian populations, a large land area with a small population (less than a million!), a country both modern and stone-age.  It was a great place to spend my childhood—I was largely oblivious to whatever dangers, but old enough to enjoy a rather care-free life.

Then, at the end of 1973, since the Guyanese gov’t refused to renew visas for missionaries, my parents had to turn elsewhere…and it wasn’t too far away.  After a year-and-a-half furlough in North Carolina for Dad to do masters degree no.2, we moved to Grenada in the West Indies, the southern Caribbean.  I was nine-years-old when we arrived there…and it was to be the most formative place in my life.


Grenada is a small island—12 miles wide and 21 miles long.  The west coast is calm and lined with beaches; the east coast faces the Atlantic and tends to be more rocky and rough.  The interior of the island rises to some 2800 ft. at its highest point.  Thanks to the volcanic origin and mild climate, the land is green with life.


Life in Grenada was paradise.  Oh, I had to go to school, but it wasn’t too difficult.  My usual day went like this:  up at 6:30am…into my uniform…on my little Honda off to school…back home by 2pm…lunch is ready (flying fish, callaloo soup, cristophine with cheese sauce, mmmmmm)…a little rest, maybe some homework…the 416 steps from our veranda to Lance aux Epines Beach below our house with my dog at my side…wander the beach…go out on the rocks…back to the house…a light dinner…some reading…sitting on the front veranda with my parents chatting…and in bed by 9:30pm.  Next day, do it again.


Grenada…where we lived through the Revolution of 1979.  Grenada where I first “fell in love” (with a German girl I met on the beach!).  Grenada, where I had my first real friends—Bobby and Terry.  Grenada, where music first entered my life—all the reggae tunes that still float through my mind.


My best memories—1) visiting Bobby up in Mt.Moritz for the weekend: running through the bush together, sleeping by the river, catching fish and crayfish…throwing them in a pot with breadfruit and blugga…and eating right out of the pot—all five of us, arm-wrestling his mother’s boyfriend—an officer in the People’s Revolutionary Army, seeing his hidden weapons, eating damseljam we had made.  2) Diving on the reefs with my brother: the dingy we bought and fixed up, buying the Yamaha motor that would carry us out to the reefs, spending hours in the water in Lance aux Epines Bay—angelfish, urchins, barracuda, nurse sharks, rays, amazing corals; catching fish for our seawater aquarium, arriving home absolutely exhausting and sleeping so deeply.  3) Going up to the mission churches with my parents: packing into the Toyota Crown (tag 1283), passing through St. Georges and squeezing two or three more in with us, up the west coast highway and then turning off onto a ‘road’ that ran up the mountain, through small villages, past the rum shops, to a little house a the end of a path; going in, finding a seat, and then having others arrive…packing it in—the mix of smells of the mountains, of people who had worked the mountain all day, of the fishermen…singing, often too slowly, usually not exactly on key…the quiet during the sermon, the expectation, the joy; exploding out of the building after, everyone greeting and laughing and us kids running around…or looking cool for the cute girls who were too shy to say “hi.”


To this day, Grenada is who I am at the core of my being—when I get angry, I fall into the patois in my mind;  when I am happy, the songs of the islands come to my mind; when I am depressed, I play the music of the islands; when I dream of a perfect world, I dream of my Grenada (“my” Grenada because she has changed much in 30 years); when I think of the best vacation, I think of Grenada; the best foods? Grenadian.  If I ever had money to burn, and could live ANYWHERE in the world, I would go back to Grenada.


I lived in Grenada from 1975 – 1982, from ages nine to seventeen…some incredibly formative years.  As we prepared to leave in the summer of 1975, I cried myself to sleep almost every night.  New things awaited me in the US, time would prove that being in the US was the best thing, but for that young fellow at that time, God never seemed so unjust and unkind.  But, then again, that 17-year-old boy could not see the future…!


(More to come….)