March Madness is basketball. Awesome amazingly fun games. Too many memories to bore you with here but two Kansas championships are the highlights!
March gladness. We are to be glad as Psalm 100 has instructed us. “Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.”
March sadness. I lost two grandparents in March. But there is gladness in knowing that with each day I am getting closer to a time that we will be reunited. This is the hope of resurrection spoken of in I Corinthians 15.
March madness. School teachers scramble to prepare students for high stakes testing next month. Here, teachers are evaluated partially on how well those students perform on the test. Madness is when a new student arrives in my classroom from Vietnam. He does not speak English, but he must take the test and when he inevitably fails the state will say I failed in teaching him.
March gladness. Although it’s late this year in Louisiana, it means Azaleas. Never thought I’d look forward to the blooming of flowers but it is a sight to see! Come on down friends and family and check it out!
March sadness. A former student of mine is in the news for the third time since I had him a year ago. Involved in two shootings, one fatal, and then the other day he got shot. Sadness for his life, for the lives he’s affected, and for the life lost in the shooting this past week. A 17 year old is on the run from that shooting, the brother of another student I’ve taught. Who will stand in the gap as Ezekiel 22:30 put it: “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
March gladness. Psalm 30:11-12 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning (sadness) into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something for the first time that has been right in front of you for many years? I lived in a pink bedroom for a year once and didn’t notice it until my wife mentioned she was surprised I’d tolerated a pink bedroom for that year, granted it wasn’t hot pink, but I was still oblivious.
This has been happening to me a lot lately it seems. In Louisiana we have these wonderful little creatures called Anoles, they’re a small lizard. I’ve enjoyed watching them, getting them out of the house, once with his squirming little tail still left in my hand. As I’ve watched them I’ve seen them do things that I’ve never stopped and said ‘Wow’! Anoles are like chameleon’s. They change color! They can instantly change to blend into the background of where they are. I’m not sure if they’d gotten into our pink bedroom that they would have had that ability. Another amazing ability of the anole is what you can see in the picture. The anole is ‘standing’ on the ceiling of our front porch. I guess hanging is the more appropriate term. Not sure what he’s hanging on. The vinyl is very smooth. If I’d reach up it’d scurry away upside down and change red as it hits the red brick on the house. What we take for granted is truly amazing. God, I believe, had designed these amazing little common creatures to confound us, and I’m sure many have as they ponder how they ‘adapted’ these abilities.
Something else I’ve not thought of lately is the lyrics of words that are on the radio. I recall just out of high school I was driving with some of my high school buddies. A song came on with a chorus of “feel like making love”. Needless to say it wasn’t Christian radio, and really to that point in my transition to adulthood I sure hadn’t thought of what these words are really saying. Well, it’s still happening to me with songs on the radio, now with Christian radio, or songs about Christianity on the radio. A few years back it was a song with a line “I am a flower quickly fading”. Well I hear something about me being a flower and I’m tuning out. Give me songs with words like “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “A mighty fortress…” and my attention is fully engaged, but not some flowery song. Well at youth group this song pops up on the powerpoint. I listened in awe of these words. The song is called Who Am I? Here’s what the song says:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart.
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
What had been background noise on the radio as I scurried around in the car was enlightened by the Holy Spirit in my mind as I watched a roomful of junior highers sing these tremendous words. How could I have missed this for years because I hear something about flowers and tune out?
Well I didn’t learn my lesson. It happened again Saturday night. We attended the last session of a wonderful conference called the CCDA. The Christian Community Development Association is an organization that works with underserved and oppressed peoples around the world. The CCDA has some family connections and is at least partially responsible for us moving to Baton Rouge. One of the highlights of the conference are the times of joyous worship. We sang another one of these radio songs Saturday night. Just on in the background of my trips around town or in the house, I never stopped to hear the words. But listen to these!
“Your Great Name”
All condemned; feel no shame, at the sound of your great name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
Hungry souls; receive grace; at the sound of your great name
The fatherless; they find their rest; at the sound of your great name
Sick are healed; and the dead are raised; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
My savior, Defender, You are My KingYou can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCg3HU1jhVAWhen will I learn? I wonder how many times I’ve heard this song before singing it Saturday night? Probably more than 10. A song that extols the amazing love and saving grace and might of Jesus Christ is just background noise? I pray this won’t happen again, although it probably will.
One last realization I’ve recently had. I am beginning my 20th year of teaching students in many challenging settings. 20 years, the number struck me. God has sustained me for 20 years. 20 years ago I would have said I could not do this for 20 years. I’ll just do my time for a year or two so that I can brag that I taught some tough kids for a couple years, then move on to one of the Glenbards or Wheaton schools and settle in for a nice comfortable career. Except that’s not what happened. Now I have acknowledged God’s role in all of this before this 20 year benchmark, but it struck me the other day. 20 years, not by my strength, but by His. I know I can’t go on for another year doing this, but I do know that He will empower me to go on for many more years! I’m young! And I’m learning to see what He wants me to see!
There’s a generation gap when it comes to tests. If you’re getting up into the age when you start to joke on your birthday that you’re 39, and you’re not, you’ve never had to take a high stakes test, at least during your pre college days. If you’re young enough to have never used a typewriter you don’t know what it’s like to not have the pressure of tests to graduate.
For many these tests are a source of great stress. I watched kids who had completed their credit work years earlier coming back to campus to retake their graduation tests again because they’ve failed them in their past. In one infamous case a girl was class valedictorian yet was incapable of passing the graduation tests. Although I give the kids credit for coming back so they can hopefully pass the test, I felt for these 20 and sometimes 21 year olds still trying to earn a valid High School diploma. The burden for passing these tests falls more on the poor and disenfranchised than among the rest of the population.
Enter 2013. Louisiana passes a law which requires all juniors to take the ACT test. The law also expects a junior in Louisiana to score an 18 on the test. While the student will not be required to make this score to graduate, the school will be held responsible for students who don’t score an 18. In Louisiana the average score for an African American (the large majority in my school) taking the ACT is 17.5. Until now, those taking the ACT and scoring 17.5 were willing to take the test, in other words trying their best. Tomorrow when juniors all over the state take this test many will take it with the attitude that they don’t plan to go to college. Now if you weren’t planning to go to college, how much effort would you put into taking a test like this?
So in a few months when the school performance score for the ACT comes out it will undoubtedly show many schools, particularly in underserved communities as being lacking in educating students. There are hardworking teachers in these schools, I even know some! The result will be more scrutiny for the school, staff being removed, administration being ‘reassigned’, etc. Many of the schools in my district have different principals each year, sometimes, more than one in a year. Morale sinks among the staff and even the student body as the news reports of a school given a grade of ‘F’.
Here’s where the just part of things works into the equation. Justice is a theme in the Bible that hasn’t always been stressed in our churches. It’s been said King James didn’t like the term too much, so it appears 28 times in his famous version. The New Revised Standard Version uses the word justice 173 times. In something called the Common English version it’s used 220 times. I would lean towards the NRSV in terms of its’ treatment of the word justice. We are to work for justice. Christians are supposed to be agents of justice. Justice for the poor, disenfranchised, underserved, for the widows, orphans and others who are being denied opportunities for any number of reasons.
What can you do to be agents for justice? Some can work to change unjust laws. Letters can be written to papers, politicians, and school boards. Volunteer in schools. Volunteer to sit with a kid to read with him or her. Become a teacher! And if you do, consider teaching in the schools that need good teachers the most. Give a word of encouragement to a teacher. (I know this sounds self serving!) Pray for our schools. Pray tonight for students that the unmotivated will find it within themselves to put in an honest effort tomorrow. These are all actions that will bring about justice.
Proverbs 21:3 Acting with righteousness and justice is more valued by the Lord than sacrifice.