Holy Saturday

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Today is the in-between day of Holy Week. I’m about to head out the door to hike with friends and eat pastries, but a few thoughts about Holy Week first.

1) I don’t know if it’s related to Holy Week or not, but some events this week just broke my heart. One morning, I found myself weeping because 200 Nigerian school girls had been kidnapped in the night by a Muslim extremist group, Boko Haram (name means death to Western Education or something like that). I guess I want the world to pay attention to Holy Week, but life goes on just like it always does. And I struggle with feeling that Christ’s passion hasn’t made much of a difference.

2) I’ve been listening to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It’s all in German, so I don’t “understand” the words, but I understand just the same. I find this recording to be particularly good. I was listening to a program on NPR about the St. Matthew’s Passion, and one of the experts commented how, even for someone as talented as Bach, there are moments of beauty and artistry in the Passion that stagger belief. I particularly appreciate the multiple settings of O Sacred Head Now Wounded (I believe it appears 4 times, each time with different harmonies).

3) Walking to and from church has been such a pleasure. The weather has turned, and things are greening up nicely. We all know I am not the most outdoorsy person, but there’s something pleasant about walking to church on a warm evening.

4) I’m rereading the book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner. It’s a book I discovered in college and have read multiple times each year.

5) Also reading “Friday’s Child” by W.H. Auden, a poem dedicated to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s all meditation on the power and burden of free will and doubt and belief. Here are the last three stanzas:

Now, did He really break the seal

And rise again? We dare not say;

But conscious unbelievers feel

Quite sure of Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,

As dead as we shall ever be,

Speaks to some total gain or loss,

And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face

Just what Appearance He saves

By suffering in a public place

A death reserved for slaves.

More books

Well,

I couldn’t resist the pull to post three more books this week. I mean, I’ve been verbally recommending books for years, but this…this is a whole new ballgame. I like it. Here we go.

1) Josephine Butler by Jane Jordan. I first learned of Josephine Butler in a footnote of one of the Call the Midwife books (which are in and of themselves good reads if you’re ready to ugly cry for a few hours). I love Victorians, particularly Victorian women. Mock the Victorians as much as you will for draping furniture legs for the sake of modesty, but Victorian reformers got things done. Josephine Butler campaigned endlessly to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act (England’s attempt to more or less regulate and prostitution). She was certainly a feminist. She was also a deeply committed Christian. In fact, it was her faith that lead her to defend helpless women trapped in a life that they certainly wouldn’t choose for themselves. Before she started campaigning for the repeal of the legislation, she worked in the Liverpool County Jail “picking oakum” (picking apart the fiber of old ropes for caulking ships) alongside convicted prostitutes. She prayed with them and for them and treated them like human beings. She and her husband (a hero himself) opened up their home to several young women and eventually established a hospital and rest home. And then she took on Parliament. It’s a long book, and not all that beautifully written, but it’s a good, true story. I think it’s also an example of how Christians ought to involve themselves with politics. Rather than choosing a cause and marching on DC, Josephine lived with these women, prayed with/for them, and loved them. It was this love for them that prompted her to change the law (which she ultimately did).

2) The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. My poor colleagues heard tidbits of wisdom from this book for weeks and weeks. The premise is that Amanda Ripley, a journalist, decides to shadow three American exchange students in high schools in South Korea, Finland, and Poland. Both Finland and South Korea boast the top test scores in the world, and Poland is quickly rising. The US…not so much. We spend more than either Finland or South Korea on education, and yet our students’ scores remain flat. I don’t think anyone wants us to imitate South Korea’s school (incredibly long school days, intense pressure to succeed on standardized tests), but we stand to learn a lot from Finland. In the US we focus so much on technology and small classroom sizes. Finland has chosen to focus on teacher quality, allowing only the top 10% of college students into teacher education programs. The education program itself is  6 rigorous years, culminating in a thesis based on original research. I would have loved a program like this. While I think that something more than intelligence is needed to be a good teacher, having smart teachers seems like it would be a no-brainer. And yet our teacher ed programs attract some of the least intelligent college students. So now we’re trying to “reverse engineer” the process by setting incredibly high standards for our students, but we really don’t have the quality educators to meet those standards. The result is demoralizing for students and teachers. Anyways, it was full of interesting statistics and ideas, and I think everyone should pay close attention to what’s going on in the world of education.

3) I was first required to read W.H. Auden at Oxford. I loved his poetry then, and I continue to love it now . It’s only in the last year, though, that I’ve started tackling some of his longer and more complicated works. I read For the Time Being before Christmas (it’s a “modern” retelling of the nativity) with the intention of returning to The Age of Anxiety in the new year. Well, it’s the new year. The Age of Anxiety is difficult, but not nearly as allusive (and I do mean allusive not illusive) as Eliot’s poetry. When I read Eliot, I find myself constantly hunting and researching allusions. With Auden, it’s a matter of reading very closely  and then rereading. One reason I love Auden is that his poetry is deeply Christian, and he, more than anyone else I’ve read, communicates the mundanity of the Christian faith. And yet in our daily ins and outs God is there. These lines are from the end of the poem, and they give an example about what Auden’s poetry is like:

In our anguish we struggle

To elude Him, to lie to Him, yet His love observes

His appalling promise; His predilection

As we wander and weep is with us to the end,

Minding our meanings, our least matter dear to Him….

It is where we are wounded that is when He speaks

Our creaturely cry, concluding His children

In their mad unbelief to have mercy on them all

As they wait unawares for His World to come.

So…you can see that he uses words unconventionally although grammatically all is well, and it makes you slow down and think about what he’s really saying. It’s slower reading perhaps, but the poem’s not too long (about 100 pages), and it’s worth it to read some poetry. I don’t love love poetry, but I find that it allows me to read in a different kind of way. I’m more careful, I reread more, and I remember poetry better than prose. That’s my two cents, anyways. Happy reading!

Book Recommendations

I mentally compose posts while running or waiting in line. I find that I start with some story from my past (I have yet to find someone more nostalgic than I am), and then jet back to the present with the meat of the content.

This time though, I’ll spare you the particulars of a book-laden childhood. Jenny and Abby asked me to share book recommendations. So I’ll give a brief run-down of what I’ve read in the past month or so.

Starting with Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I did not like this book. I’m bringing it up to my mom this weekend to get her opinion. My mother is a book reading beast. She reads anything, and she reads lightning fast. Very gratifying to recommend books to her. Anyways, this was a collection of essays all about appreciating the good things in our daily life as gifts from God. Fine. However, I got really distracted by the fact that her dad was Bill Hybels (of Willowcreek in Chicago) and she worked for years at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI (Rob Bell’s church). It did change how I felt about her because I have weird feelings about megachurches. Also, at one point I started circling first person pronouns. It was kind of exhausting to see so many I’s on the page. Additionally, I also get tired of this current obsession with finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes dirty dishes are just dirty dishes that need to be washed. Does everything have to be a vehicle for redeeming a fallen world? I mean, some days you do the laundry because it needs to be done. And that should be enough. But now I feel like we have all this pressure to not only get the laundry done but feel that we are partaking in a very sacred and holy task. Also, it all felt clichéd. She never knew what it meant to be unselfish until she had a baby. She never loved her body until she had a baby. She lost her job and thought it would be the worst thing in the world until it turned out to be the best thing. Stuff like that. I get snarky when I read stuff like that and end up saying things like, “Good thing Jesus managed to love people unselfishly without getting married and having a baby. There’s hope for the singles out there. We’re not doomed to a life of selfishness.” Take all this with a grain of salt. My small group peeps didn’t hate this book in the same way that I did.

For Christmas my little brother gave me The Hospital by the River. I just really started reading it lately. Dr. Catherin Hamlin and her husband Dr. Reg Hamlin are responsible for treating cases of fistulae in Africa, specifically Ethiopia. I was bubbling over with information after reading a few chapters and described fistulae in graphic detail for Hannah over the phone. Her response was something like “this is the grossest thing you’ve ever shared with me, and you tell me lots of disgusting things.” So I won’t go into details here. Look it up on wikipedia. But seriously, this book has been such a refreshing picture of two dedicated Christians who were prompted by their faith to serve the least of these.  The Drs. Hamlin don’t seem to have set out on this grand mission to save these women, but rather over time they were drawn to curing fistulae and treating these women like human beings again instead of social outcasts. Also, I would like to give a shout-out to modern medicine. I have lots of friends who are pro natural childbirth, and I think that is a lovely thing. However, it’s good to remember that we live in a fallen world with bodies that rebel against us. Things go horribly wrong in childbirth all the time. We’re just lucky that we’re within reach of hospitals and doctors. So sometimes the obsession with natural childbirth smacks of first-world privilege when women are literally dying for lack of medical interventions all over the world. I’ll get off the soapbox now.

And lastly, for this installment I guess, I read the book Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. If you can get past the author’s first name, all shall be well. I loved this book. I read it while lying prone on the couch with the dog I was dogsitting lying beside me as snow swirled around the house. I kept thinking that I should put the book down and save part of it for later, but I couldn’t do it. I polished it off in an afternoon. The storyline is pretty simple. An IT guy is tasked with monitoring inter-office emails. The book is set in 1999/2000. Two friends, who work in different departments of the newspaper, constantly send emails to one another. Any snoopy soul probably loves epistolary novels. There’s nothing like reading someone else’s mail. So chapters vary from email exchanges between the two friends and what happens in real time with the life of the IT guy. And there’s romance, of course. But nothing too steamy or inappropriate, so there’s that going for it. I typically do not like modern romance novels because the characters always read as clichés. But in this book all the characters were complex people struggling with real-life problems. Problems that were greater than romances. And it had a strong female friendship holding it together. Not a “let’s talk about men/boyfriends over brunch friendship,” but the kind of friendship that I think most women have with one another and rarely gets written about. It’s also set in Omaha, NE. Nothing like the midwest, you know.

I have so many more books I want to write up, but this is probably enough (or too much) for now. I love, love, love recommending/reviewing/hating/loving books so Jenny and Abby may have created a monster. However, I’ll try to limit myself to three or less per entry. And probably only do this once every other week. But no promises.

Hike for Brunch

One of the loveliest things about having gone to college is having made some college friends. Before I knew it, these “college friends” became “old friends” (I know I’ve written about this before) because college was a long time ago. Anyways, one of my closest friends in college moved to Colorado a year and a half ago, and we’ve been rejoicing ever since.

And by rejoicing I mean talking miles a minute and eating delicious food whenever we can get together. For a long time, I’ve wanted to hike the Manitou Springs Incline. That is a bit of a lie, actually. For a while I’ve felt a sense of obligation to hike the Incline. Small children do it all the time. People do it once a week. So yeah, peer pressure played a role in this. 

I am not a happy hiker. You can ask my sisters about the infamous 21st birthday 14er. It wasn’t pretty. Harsh words were spoken by me. However, I generally don’t yell at my friends, so I thought I would be safe with Jenny. While I didn’t yell at Jenny, I did tell her she could hike ahead of me. Jenny, in her wisdom, pushed on and let me sort through my dark night of the soul.

I like to think of the Incline as the great equalizer. It’s hard for everyone except these strange old men with calves the size of cantaloupes. There’s a lot of camaraderie as you hike up. There’s also a false summit. However, Jenny and I spent a good part of the hike up thinking that the true summit was the false summit. Once we realized it was the real summit we bounded up to the top, took some awesome pictures and hiked down to enjoy brunch. Actually, we didn’t bound so much as stolidly step up again and again and again. 

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Then the rest of the day was spent chatting and eating and cooking followed by a little Chopped in which I explained all the rules to Jenny. This was so riveting that Jenny promptly fell asleep. Although truly, Jenny sleeps during tv shows a lot. Unless, Jenny is given the task of watching Silence of the Lambs and telling us when we can watch because the scary part(s) is/are over. Yes, we did this. Jenny’s much tougher Jared, James, and me.

***May I recommend the mantra “hike for brunch”? Nothing spurs on the human soul like the promise of fresh coffee and pancakes (or omelettes, eggs benedict, etc.)

The Slippery Slope

First of all, I had no idea I take so many instagrams of my shoes. Better than duckface and cleavage, right?

Back in the day I used to delight in wearing ballet flats, embroidered, bedazzled, bows, etc. And then I got the navy tennis shoes from Gap last year. At first, I only wore them with jeans or shorts on the weekends. And then khakis. And then skirts. And then I wore them to a wedding I was in. Just kidding. I wore Jenny’s shoes.

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Then came the Danskos. My mom has a pair that she loves. The sartorialist posted this picture a year or two ago. I pinned it, and there it sat until I discovered ebay and the ability to buy pricy shoes cheaply. Welcome, sweet danskos. Thank you for giving me such comfort.

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And then the Birkenstocks started showing up everywhere. Beautiful models wearing black Birks with everything. And so once again, I hopped back on ebay. I wore these this past week. It was kind of an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. My students were visibly confused as to why I was wearing wool sock and ugly sandals on a snowy Tuesday (for the record, wool camp socks keep my feet warmer than all traditional footware). It was glorious. And so now I’m just padding around the house where I’m dog-sitting enjoying the comfort of a truly supportive sole. 

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As if that wasn’t bad enough…I was watching Hannibal through my fingers (I spend most of the episode with the volume muted and my hand and fingers covering the screen). Will Graham is in a mental institution. Can they keep patients in creepy basements like that? But I was struck by the shoes he was wearing. They were perfectly blue/grey with velcro straps and a nice thick sole. No shoelaces for crazies like Will, I’m afraid. And for a second, I thought, “I could really go for a pair of those.” But that may be a bridge too far…

March Madness – Kjergaard Style

Every year we fill out brackets. I can honestly say that I don’t watch a college game before the NCAA tournament starts. I texted my dad in a panic last weekend when I felt like I was seeing too many college games on tv at a bar. He assured me that we had not forgotten to fill out our brackets but that the madness was still a week away. Relief was palpable.

So yes. The rules of filling out brackets are pretty general. Midwest over either coast. West over East. Dad broke this by picking Oregon over Wisconsin. Seriously! He’s the one that made the Midwest rule! State schools over Ivy Leagues (although I picked Hahvahd for the upset last year and this year). Mostly, we pick with the reckless abandon of the uneducated with no actual loyalties to any team. Oh, and I always pick Duke. So stupid because they have disappointed me the past three years. I think this is it for us. It’s just convenient to know what team you’re picking to win it all.

Last night, we started a mad texting thread about the games. Our topics covered everything from which commercials we preferred, why basketball coaches dress up, percent of upsets these days, players’ looks (as in good-looking or homely or looking like you belong at an Ivy League school), the idiocy of half-time interviews with coaches, why mom always roots for the underdog, why I hate rooting for the underdog, and it goes on and on. Oh, and this all happened while Ali was in a dumb waiter at college. It kind of sounds like a horror movie waiting to happen, but she seemed safe enough to be texting.

So at this point…I can only hope for some major losses because my bracket is hurting something fierce. I think Kari has the highest potential score, but Mom and Dad are in the lead. I’m going to need Creighton to lose eventually and Mercer to keep winning.

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Surviving Standardized Testing

Guys…it’s basically Operation Overlord during testing week. There are secrets that I would not reveal about this test under any kind of duress.

I have a bruise on my right hip from toting my tests around as I schlep children from place to place. Because of scheduling. we have to pick up our tests during our planning period, and then walk our kids all around the school. Also, there is no leaving your tests unattended. The tests go with me to bathroom. So a bruise formed.

That aside, it’s actually a pretty easy week. There’s not a whole lot of time for heavy instruction, so in general we’ve been reading The Hobbit, drawing Hobbit maps, and reading Cheaper by the Dozen out loud.

My job has been made easier by the fact that my kids have more or less taken over prepping the room for the test each day. They write a checklist on the board and make sure everything gets done.

After the test is finished, we need to move the desks back into their former configuration. In general, this takes a very long time with lot of noise, stolen chairs, and tears. But something magical happens when I say, “Okay, I’m going to time you.” They take it really, really seriously. Even the hucksters have gotten on board. I am proud to say that in 5.46 seconds the room can go from desks spread out in every corner to pods of 4 or 5. It’s a sight to behold. Thank you, Frank Gilbreth, for leading us all into greater efficiency.

There have been a few times this week when I’ve looked out over everyone carefully drawing the Misty Mountains or laboring over finding words with Greek roots, and I’m struck by how good it is for us to be together. I didn’t have any say about who was in my classroom, but I think you have the students you were meant to have. I love them not because they are especially fine students but because they are my students. That sounds a little egocentric, but what I’m trying to say (and saying very poorly) is that I’m with them all the time, and familiarity does not breed contempt but affection. While they drive me crazy, I can’t imagine my classroom without a single one of them. So I guess standardized tests are all right if they can give me a few of those golden moments.