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Showing posts from November, 2012

Dear Abba, Part II

I had to laugh last evening when I opened my email and found another "Dear Abba" letter, this time from a parent. Without posting her original note, let me give you the substance:
My son's grades have dropped a lot this year and he's always really grouchy in the morning. I don't think he's sleeping at night. Do you think this is just a phase he is going through? Do you think he could be depressed?  I happened to be at my desk when the email popped up, so I shot back a \ short response:
Have there been changes to his routine?  Her reply: We bought him his own computer that he keeps in his room. But we told him that he's not allowed to use it past 10:00 pm.  Well, let me take a crazy guess: I doubt the kid is suffering from depression. If the first two years of high school found him well-rested and getting his homework and studying done and then, with the introduction of the computer into his room, the grades drop and he's nearly narcoleptic at the tab…

We'll Get What We Are

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This morning I finished reading what may be one of the more important books I've ever read. Co-authored by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers is a work of sociology intending to understand better, as the title suggests, the spiritual lives of adolescents. Before I continue, let me say simply this: if you are a parent, or someone who works with teenagers, you must buy this book. My only regret about reading this book is that I didn't read it before I started teaching high school.

Let me give a quick layout of the book:
Chapter 1 uses the stories of two Baptist teens to establish some of the book's main themes: American teens are religiously complicated; for many teens, religion and spirituality are very important in their lives; few teens are engaged in what many of us believe about them, namely, that they are "spiritual but not religious" or "spiritually seeking"'; Am…

Did the Pope Just Kill Christmas??

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Not quite. As is my custom, I glanced at CNN's website this morning and saw the headline "Pope's Book on Jesus Challenges Christmas Traditions" and, of course, had to read it. In a rare move, I even watched the video at the top (I'm generally a read-the-text guy).

Now, before you start packing up the Creche scene that has been out since Halloween or delete the Christmas music from your play list, it bears reminding: the Holy Father is not seeking to destroy Christmas. Indeed, there is nothing in the CNN story that hasn't been known before by anyone who has done any contemporary Bible study. A few things:

It is quite unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25th. How unlikely? Well, I'd reckon a 1/365 chance. Scour the Bible as you wish, but there's no fixed date for his birth. Near as I can tell, it's not the date of birth but, rather, the fact that he was born that interested the authors. What is vital is that Jesus was born, not the date of his b…

200 Years Behind?

On August 31st, the Roman Catholic Church mourned the passing of Cardinal Carlo Martini, a Jesuit Biblical scholar and former Archbishop of Milan. Several weeks before his death, he granted an interview with the caveat that its contents not be released until after his death. On September 1st, the interview appeared in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and quickly became seen as something of his "spiritual testament." It is a short piece and the English translation can be found by visiting this link; I high suggest reading it. 
I'm struck by the imagery describing the situation of the Church as "embers hidden under ashes." As Martini looked out at the Church, he saw that "our churches are big" and our "religious houses are empty." The emptiness of our churches does not seem to stave either the growth of the Church's bureaucracy or the "pompous" appearance of its rites and vestments. As depicted in the media, American an…

An Update and an Oireachtas Prayer

I beg the indulgence of readers for the rather long pause in blogging action. Late in the evening of November 10th, I learned that a former student had taken his own life. The news reached his classmates on Sunday morning and, while I was playing a feis in Chicago, I seized every break I could to respond to the texts sent by his classmates, to answer phone calls, or just to pray quietly for the young man's peace and for consolation for his family.

The week that followed found me on a hastily booked flight back to Detroit (thank the Lord for reward mileage) where I attended the wake and the funeral. It was not exactly the homecoming I would have liked, but I'm glad that I had an opportunity to be present to the family and to lend an ear to students as they grieved. Since my return to Boston on Saturday, I've found myself to be possessed of little energy and I'm particularly grateful for the holiday weekend and hope to use these days for refreshment.

It seems strange to…

College Application Advice for the Control-F Generation

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One of my former students, a member of the Control-F generation, wrote me last week asking advice about applying to college. He's the sort of kid many would regard as being a great "whole package" applicant: smart, good test scores, committed to service, a multiple-sport athlete, high regard by teachers, good sense of humor, and an all-around nice guy. In my limited experience with high school students, he stands out as one of the better I've encountered and I'm sure he'll have no trouble gaining entry to the college that is right for him.

He headed his note "Advice" and began with, "Dear Abba." I don't know if he intended the allusion to the Dear Abby advice columns, but it did make me laugh. Since his question did arise from a genuine concern, especially one that affects many families this year, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on two things: (1) the teacher letter of recommendation and (2) the student's own personal statement…

My New Nemeses

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Well, I'm glad to report that I've found my new rivals here in Boston: Wild Turkeys. These accursed creatures seem to stalk me, as I see them almost daily on my way to class. Some days, they're standing on the cars in our parking lot; other days, they are blocking the sidewalk. Last week they stopped traffic as they strutted across the road...I watched the cars slow down and stop as they arrogantly took their time. Just yesterday, one of them was waiting in ambush and, when I opened the door to go out, it attempted to come into the house.
The one in the foreground appears to be the leader. I think he remembers me in particular...I know I'd remember the person who charged at me with a rake! It may sound irrational, but I have a feeling that this will be a great class of the wills. When I was a novice I did battle with peacocks. Now, as a theologian, I take on the turkeys.

Life Interrupted

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I am grateful that there has been a distinct lack of religious rationalization of Hurricane Sandy. That is, I haven't heard of any prominent religious leaders attempting to 'make sense' of the destruction and loss of life by portraying the devastation as "God's will" or "retribution for sin." In the Northeast, it seems, there is just a quiet numbness as people look out to see what the storm has wrought, sort out how it has interrupted their lives, and begin to pick up the pieces...if there are any pieces to pick up.

I use the word interruption deliberately. We have all had the experience of being deep in conversation when something - a phone call, a whining child, a stranger - intrudes upon the moment. When the issue is addressed and the two parties try to pick up where they left off, it is usually with the line, "Now, where were we?" Yet, we know, that in the wake of an interruption the conversation never resumes in quite the same way.

Pe…