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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

On Teaching Atrocities (My Advice to a New History Teacher)

In Calling, Education, Humanity, Pedagogy, Poetry, Politics, The Academy, Young Ones on March 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

“In both 7th grade and 12th grade, we are about to talk about World War II. With that, comes discussing atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking. However, I am unsure how to appropriately teach the specifics. They were very important events that need to be understood, but I also know I need to be aware of the level of the students that I teach. As much more experienced teachers than I, I was hoping that you could give me advice on how to talk about these subjects with the students.”

The biggest thing to think through is your own personal preparation; that is, understand that the kids will take their cue from how you present and process with them, so if they see you being ONLY objective, then anything truly awful will seem shocking because we as humans shouldn’t be unemotional when it comes to these things. In other words, students need to see you deal emotionally with the grief and not just the facts of these atrocities.

That said, you have to really check your own heart in presenting some of this. It’s easy to throw something gratuitous out there either via image or story in order to get a reaction and reassure yourself that the students are listening, but we as teachers have to resist that temptation. The kids need to know what happened, and they also need to know how we feel about what happened. Definitely hold off on an overuse of graphic images at the 7th grade level, as well as be careful even at 12th grade – it’s just too easy to go for the easy gut reaction and miss the nuance and respect that these events require.

For 7th grade, students read “The Hiding Place,” so they get a pretty good feel for at least one expression of the Holocaust. In general, for that grade, keep it fairly objective and general. While they need to know these things have happened, the number of dead, the sort of categories of offenses (using Jews for scientific experiments, etc.) are more appropriate, probably, than the specific instances, descriptions, etc. It is a good opportunity to talk about human depravity and the nature of evil AND that the greater majority of Germans (for example) didn’t actually participate, but nor did they act against. It’s useful to discuss, in general, that the feeling of “I would never. . .” is exactly what often allows evil to take place.

For 12th grade, there is more of an opportunity to talk more directly about the experiences and the factual accounts. Here’s where images would perhaps be more appropriate. There are also lots of good connections with our Comparative Religions class, and again with the nature of evil and the fallen nature of humanity. Since it’s American History, focus on American perceptions (or misperceptions) and the same sort of willful ignorance as other nations. Perhaps connections with how Americans view events today and how we expect our country/government to act, intervene, etc. Or, in other words, what makes the Holocaust so special given the number of atrocities and scale in the 20th century?

Finally, be very careful what the kids see/hear you laugh about; humor is a natural protection mechanism we use when dealing with atrocities like these, but it can come off very crass. There needs to be a sacred approach, not just a funny self-protective one, to dealing with these matters of life and (unfortunately) death.

Father the Fathers

In Calling, Family, Poetry, Young Ones on February 28, 2013 at 8:51 pm


(Every now and then, I fancy myself a poet and see what I come up with. Here's one I'd been working on that I suppose I'll call finished (or at least posted). Read at your own risk.)

I am a father to several, but often a father to none.
I am responsible, but not always responsive.
Do I think of You in this way? Perhaps.
You have a Book to explain Yourself; I have only a tongue.

Do I seem distant to them as You seem distant above?
Would that they saw You as a Father
when I mostly just see you as God.
Respect is a poor replacement for love.

Speak to me, Your son, that I may speak to them with Your care.
Comfort me as Your child, that I may comfort them as mine.
Hold my hand in Yours, that it may become mine to them.
God, father the fathers who long to be more than just there.

(The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1667)

Teaching You by Ann Heyse

In Education, Poetry, Westminster on March 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

My English-teaching colleague and friend, Ann Heyse, wrote a wonderful poem for Westminster's Poetry Slam last month. I asked her if I could post it here, as it speaks so beautifully of her passion for trying to teach students who don't always want to learn.

Teaching You
You have it mastered: that attentive façade of interest,
the not-quite blank stare that hides your misery.

You nod, even, at times answer questions, turn in your work, listen to me,
mistakenly thinking that somehow you are doing your work for me.

Your face feigns attention,
I know and you know about
your gathering storm.

How inside,
your light’s nearly extinguished,
your help’s long fled,
your safe harbor's destroyed.

I cannot fix or fight your darkness; these are the demons that cling to you,
not me (I have my own).

But here is what I can give:

Prattle to fill your days.

It is only part distraction; more, it is weapon: I give you words, commas,
sometimes novels to remind you there are stories like yours,


the best weapon against your darkness is
ordinary moments that build upon
ordinary moments that build upon ordinary moments

Until, you see,
You have built yourself a shelter.
And you can hide there until one day
You, the real you,
smiles back at me.

O Canada (revised)

In Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, TV on March 2, 2010 at 8:42 am

A friend of mine in Colorado is in a fun but fierce battle with a Canadian friend of his over the outcome of the Olympic gold medal hockey game in which Canada beat the U.S. My friend asked me to write a parody of the Canadian national anthem to use as ammo.

Here's the original (click here to listen):

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Below is my version (click here to sing along). Keep in mind the following is all of 5 minutes of work, stereotypically-dated by my coming of age in the 80's (so take off, eh?):

O Canada!
Our home and TV land
True luck that we have Captain Kirk's command.

With glowing hearts made warm by beer
and McKenzie brothers two!
O Canada, we raise remotes to you.

God keep us warm, laid back and free.
O Canada, we love to watch TV.

O Canada, we love to watch TV.

Other lyric suggestions?

We Were Young and We Were Improving

In Family, Friends, Musicians, Places, Poetry, Sports, Thought on February 16, 2010 at 11:38 pm

When we moved from Colorado back to the Midwest five years ago, Megan got her first real taste of my tiny hometown's passion for all things basketball and baseball. While she mocked it a bit then, she's since come around to a more accepting position, which was helpful this month, as I was invited back to Griggsville to join in celebrating the career of my junior high school coach, Ken Stauffer.


Coach Stauffer's coaching legacy includes 1,130 wins split between Griggsville's seventh and eighth grade basketball teams, countless regional and sectional trophies, two state basketball championships (with more appearances),
and induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of
. He retires with something north of a .750 winning percentage with only two losing seasons over his 38-year career. (For the record, the 7th and 8th grade teams I played on were a combined 39-2. Booyah.)

 Junior High (25 years later)

Speaking of those teams, here are seven of the eight guys in my grade who played for Coach Stauffer all through junior high school. Six of the seven of us went on to experience continued team success in our high school years, and as this was the first time all of us had been together in Griggsville in 25 years, a picture seemed appropriate.


As part of the celebration, the school had pulled out a lot of old trophies and pictures, one of which I had completely forgotten about from 1982, but that Megan and the girls found particularly humorous. I was one of two fifth graders to make the eighth grade team that year, and though I didn't get to play in the tournament, I went on to enjoy good success in both junior and senior high baseball later (my only real credential for what I'm doing this spring…ahem).


All that to say, it was a fun weekend at home honoring Coach Stauffer, seeing old teammates, and reliving a few of the glory days. Granted, Megan reminded me of her original Uncle Rico post, and my girls couldn't quite believe I was once the age that my oldest is now, but to quote my favorite Midwestern poet:

That's when a sport was a sport
And groovin' was groovin'
And dancin' meant everything
We were young and we were improvin'

Laughin', laughin' with our friends
Holdin' hands meant somethin', baby
Outside the club, 'Cherry Bomb'
Our hearts were really thumpin'

Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"
Say, "Yeah yeah yeah"

— from "Cherry Bomb" by John Mellencamp


Words to Live/Write By

In Poetry, Writers on December 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

"If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten
Either write things worth reading
Or do things worth the writing"
Benjamin Franklin

Faith’s Geography

In Poetry, Seminary on November 17, 2008 at 2:00 am

Trying to finish up a reflection paper tonight. Here's my intro:

Faith's Geography
“Yahweh’s intention for his people (Israel) is that they enjoy the good life…the land comes to symbolize the life with Yahweh in ideal conditions, a quality of life which might be characterized as the abundant life.”
Dr. Elmer A. MartensGod’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology

“Geography – it’s everywhere.”
Dr. Kit SalterUniversity of Missouri School of Geography

I was a geography major in my undergrad days at the University of Missouri. I like to boast that this fact uniquely qualifies me to read roadmaps, but that’s about the extent of my abilities. Instead of map-making or map-reading, I was more interested in cultural geography’s preoccupation with the question, “Did people shape the land or did the land shape people?” The answer was always “yes;” the work was determining the degrees of each.

My study of the Old Testament this fall reacquainted me with my cultural geography roots. In following the nation of Israel from its beginning with Abram in Ur, through its migration to Egypt by Jacob and Joseph, to its Exodus into the wilderness led by Moses, to its conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua, through its struggles of settlement under the Judges, to its glories of the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem, to its exile to the lands of Assyria and Babylon, and finally to its Palestinian return under Persia, there is (pardon the pun) much ground to cover as to the impact of the land on Israel and Israel's influence on it. For as Elmer Martens observes, “Statistically, land is a more dominant theme (in the Bible) than covenant."

Yeah, so it's a stretch, but I'm running with it (gotta make that undergrad degree seem worth something somehow). In the meantime, here's something actually worth reading – a poem by Sean Kinsella I came across in the journal First Things. I liked it.

the geography of my faith

this is
the tent of my anticipation

at the entrance of which
Sarah laughing stands

this is
the hilltop of my affliction

upon which
Isaac lies bewildered bound 

this is
the spring of my abandonment

to which
Hagar has weeping fled 

this is
the mill of my aspirations

at which
Samson blinded labors 

this is
the geography of my faith

in which
in me my Saviour lives

Easter Haiku

In Holidays, Poetry on March 23, 2008 at 11:05 am

Easter happiness
Where, O death, now is thy sting?
Since love made a way

Musical Comfort Food

In Musicians, Poetry on June 15, 2007 at 11:13 pm

On the heels of a paper on predestination and a long week of way too much theological reading (yes, there is such a thing), I put on an old CD late this afternoon and remembered how much I miss the melody and meaning of one Rich Mullins. Mullins wrote musical comfort food, and it’s hard to believe he’ll have been gone ten years this September. Here’s “Hard to Get”:

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened in the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath
While You’re up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know that it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I have figured this somehow
What I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we cannot get free from what we’ve left behind

I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

Thanks, Rich. Miss you.

Wildwood Wisdom (part 2)

In Poetry, Pop Culture, Wildwood on February 27, 2007 at 2:00 am

More proverbial wisdom from my students:

"Like sunlight through a window is a man of wisdom's words:
a source of light where there is none."

"When you are in pain, go see your physician;
for the pain he inflicts upon you will replace your original agony."

"An only child is lonely,
but siblings create discord."

And here's one about a student whose place of residence is a mystery to the entire student body (his address is a P.O. box and he won't allow anyone to come over or follow him home):

"There is one whose roads are lost,
and the knowledge of house is hidden.
No one knows how to find his bed,
and he is content to drive alone.
Others may look and follow his car,
but we will never find his true address."

More to come.

Wildwood Wisdom (part 1)

In Poetry, Pop Culture, Wildwood on February 26, 2007 at 6:51 pm

I’m a week away from finishing up the book of Proverbs with my Wildwood high schoolers (we’re studying biblical wisdom literature). As part of today’s class (and with no warning and a ten-minute time limit), I asked the students to write their own proverbs. Most were really clever, and I thought I’d post some of their entries throughout the week (I’ve got a test tomorrow morning and two papers due Thursday, so blogging may be sparse this week). Here goes:

“Dogs are like children;
give them a cookie and they love you forever.”

“A wise man heats his car up before scraping ice off of it,
but a fool hastily hacks it off and cracks his windshield.”

“Like salt on a wound does too much gum ail the jaw,
but a big mouth will become useful.”

And here’s one on last night’s Oscar awards:

“My son, expecting others to make the right choices will surely lead to disappointment, but he who keeps their humanity in mind will not be caught off guard.”

More tomorrow.

Depending on My Theology

In Poetry on July 26, 2006 at 2:00 am

Depending on my theology
You are either sovereign or You're biased
You are good or You're absent
You allow or You’re dead

Depending on my theology
You observe or You’re deaf
You know or You’re behind
You cause or You’re retired

Depending on my theology
You were or You weren’t
You are or You aren’t
You are to come
or You have already left the building

Depending on my theology
my theology may not be
the best thing to depend on