Monday, June 27, 2011

"Keeping Christ in the Classroom"

I have a fascination with the messages various businesses and establishments post on their marquees. For example, there is a Laundromat on Union Street in Bangor that is within shouting distance of the airport. For nearly a decade their marquee has read, “JET ENGINES: THE SOUND OF FREEDOM,” or something akin to that, in reference to the Air National Guard base located at the airport and its role in supporting America's military. Churches often attempt pithy comments, too, to evangelize from the roadside. Some succeed, and some don’t.

I’ve seen the title of this post in front of a parochial school off and on for more than a year now. As with the other messages that other establishments attempt to proclaim, I find myself pondering the implications of the words chosen.

“KEEPING CHRIST IN THE CLASSROOM” sounds very noble and pietistic, but what does it mean? Certainly there is a sense of defiance in play, as the school in question stands opposed to the secularization of education in the public sector. It sounds an assertive note that not only do they “keep Christ in the classroom” but also that other schools should do likewise. Conversely, it could prompt critics to cry, “Yes! Keep Christ in your parochial classrooms and out of ours!”

Now, I suspect that the message is intended to embrace the appropriate world-and-life view that knowing God through his Son Jesus is the proper foundation for all worthwhile knowledge. And perhaps I am splitting hairs to suggest that perhaps the sentiment should be worded a little differently, but I make my suggestion anyway. Instead of “keeping Christ in the classroom,” shouldn’t we be “keeping the classroom in Christ”?

It seems to me that we unintentionally box Christ into the classroom when we “keep him” there and thus end up with a man-centered ideal by thinking we are in control of where Christ is, missing the point as much as the secularists do. It makes me think of the question raised often by soldiers on both sides of a war when they ask if God is on their side, and hearing the reply that it is far better for the soldiers to be sure that they are on God’s side than to worry about him being on theirs. Should not we, as Christian educators, strive to keep our classrooms in Christ than to keep him where he already is?

He is there whether the academics acknowledge him or not, and if there are Christians in the classroom is it not their responsibility to be in Christ and on his side?

Which speaks louder, the words or the actions of Christians? Whether in public, private or Christian schools, Christian educators and learners are the most effective ambassadors of their Savior when their actions scream that they are abiding in Christ. And the screaming actions of active and passive obedience to Christ are not shrill, nor are they accompanied by shrill words.

Here is an example:
Yesterday, I heard my niece speak of how the Lord has changed her and matured her understanding toward the lost sinners she encountered on a mission trip last week. A year ago, she said, she viewed the insults and mocking of the righteous by the unrighteous as evidence that those lost men and women did not deserve to hear the Gospel or to go to heaven. The Lord has taught her that neither does she deserve to have heard the Gospel nor to go to heaven. This year, she viewed those mockers with compassion and a desire to help them by sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ with them.

The shrillness was gone, replaced by love. That is how it needs to be for Christians all the time. We are to be the aroma of Christ (II Corinthians 2:14-15, NIV). When we are the aroma of Christ by our humble obedience and faithfulness, then we are in Christ.

If we are in the classroom as educators or as learners, then we can be faithful for our part of the classroom to be in Christ. We can think critically about the messages that bombard us from other educators and learners, filtering their ideas through the truth of the Bible. We do not have to be preachy, self-righteous, or obnoxious, but we can stand firm with the whole armor of God. (Ephesians 6:1-20, NIV) When we do have something to say, if our lives are producing "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8, NIV), then our actions will support what we say (that's what I mean by "screaming actions"), and we are more likely to be heard with respect and openness.

Doing this means being humble before the Lord. Psalm 139 provides for us the command and the assurance of how well the Lord knows us. We plead with him to search and know us, and with the psalmist we reflect on how intricately involved God is in our lives already. Someone that knows us that intimately and loves us anyway can be trusted to "create in [us] a clean heart," just as my niece learned. (Psalm 51:10) With humble reliance upon the Lord, we can keep the classroom in Christ.

So is it splitting hairs to say that we should “keep the classroom in Christ” instead of “keep Christ in the classroom”? What do you think?

Friday, June 17, 2011


Meet the new Membership Vice President of the Maine-ly Music Chorus. Yup, I took the plunge and became an officer of the board for the district chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. I had been doing some work this spring to encourage high school students and their teachers to take a closer look at barbershop singing and the rest of the board thought I’d be a good sucker—er, candidate—to be Membership VP.

Most Monday evenings (since last September) you can find me at 647 Main Street, Bangor, at the Parks and Rec Department, singing in the barbershop chorus and generally making a nuisance of myself. I’ve been blessed to be in the Maine-ly Music Chorus. It is a group of men that loves to sing and likes to have a good time doing it. There are some salty characters in the group, as well as the more mild-flavored ones. A timely wisecrack is usually appreciated, but so is paying attention and rehearsing well.

With all else going on in my life—growing family, changing careers—the Maine-ly Music Chorus is a good place to be:

• I get to sing in a chorus again, which I haven’t done since college. The music offers enough of a challenge—quite a bit considering we practice as a chorus just two hours a week and also because we are expected to be performing with some degree of physical involvement beyond singing with good facial expression—that it is in no way boring. (How’s my hyphen-and-dash-typing-practice going, by the way?)

• It’s a new genre of music in my singing experience. I grew up in a family of singers and was exposed to a lot of variety in music, but I was a bit too young to know what I was hearing and singing much of the time. I still love church music—the hymns and sacred classical pieces—and still sing in the church choir, but this barbershop singing experience brings something new. (Mum was always singing one thing or another, and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that she loved musicals, and almost certainly had seen all of Julie Andrews’ musicals. I had known for a long time that The Sound of Music was one of—if not her number one—favorite movies, but the more I saw of various musicals, thanks to the influence of my dear wife, the more I recognized the music that Mum had sung to me when I was a boy. As I sit here just now Do Re Mi, If You Know the Notes to Sing and Just a Spoonful of Sugar pop into my memory—if those really are the titles or not, that’s what I remember!— as commonly heard tunes.)

• I was blessed, also, to have a professor in college that sang in a barbershop quartet. One spring evening during my final year of college, Dr. Graham gave me a ticket to a barbershop show in downtown Chattanooga. As often happens, I had not realized that one of my professors could have such an interesting hobby (teachers aren’t real people, are they?). I enjoyed the show, but did not envision at that time that I would be singing the same kind of music in a chorus some eighteen years later!

• Acceptance is an overused word, but it fits. I have been accepted into this group, and I have recently realized that I am more at ease around the men in this group than I have been anywhere else for many years.

• It provides an outlet for me that my kids enjoy, too. It is fun to have them come to a sing out or to a show. They learn the songs with me in the car and can often sing my part as well as I can, if not better. I hope that they will sing barbershop someday, too.

• This is a hobby I share with Dad. He’s been in the Maine-ly Music Chorus for five years now, and while Dr. Graham introduced me to barbershop music, Dad convinced me to try it out for myself. Dad is a bass and I am a bari. Several of the other men in the chorus have spoken fondly of having shared this hobby with their dads.

I am looking forward to working with other, more experienced members of the chorus to recruit new members, more youthful ones. As it is, of the current paid membership holders of the chorus I am the youngest, though there is a young man in his early twenties that comes regularly. We need an infusion of youth in our chapter to help it thrive and not just survive. I go and sing because I like the music, I like to sing in a group and I enjoy the camaraderie found there. I hope to find young men (and young women for the local women’s chorus) that are looking for a similar experience and have them join us!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Chicken and Monkey Show June 4 2011

The Chicken and Monkey Show hit the road on Saturday, June 4, 2011. The weather was full of uncertainty, blowing hot and cold with intermittent showers wreaking havoc on plans to play outside. After enduring as much outdoor play as I could, I took the boys to the Cole Land Transportation Museum. The museum has row after row of fascinating vehicles of days gone by. The layout of brick streets includes snow plows, fire trucks, construction equipment, industry, automobiles, and some of the Coles trucks that were the backbone of company for so many years. On the back wall of the building is the train, including a diesel locomotive, a boxcar and a caboose. The Enfield Train Station is there, too, for the curious to visit for a nostalgic look at how railroad traffic once ruled land transportation. Finally, one corner of the museum is reserved for memorabilia of war, especially WW I and WW II.

Admittance for adults is $7 and for children 19 and under, it’s free. The museum is the brainchild of WW II veteran and Coles founder Galen Cole. At the end of our visit there Saturday he came and greeted us. I told him that it was our third visit to the museum, and that we are glad he put his idea into action. He spoke kindly to the boys and invited us to come again.

Christian and Michael enjoyed this visit the most of the three so far. The older they get the more appreciation they have for the artifacts on display and the less fear they have of the mannequins dressed to give the displays more character. (It used to be that they’d shy away from the lanes that had even one mannequin, which significantly reduced the number of sections we could visit.) This time around, after strolling along each lane and exclaiming about one truck or another, the boys headed for the train. With some coaxing, Christian agreed to go into the caboose with Michael and me. With a little more coaxing he agreed to go into the boxcar. Then he begged to go into the engine, but that’s off limits to everyone, so we consoled ourselves with looking at models of the old Bangor & Aroostook steam engines.

Some of the Coles trucks also have displays inside them, so the boys made sure to check out each one, this time led by Christian coaxing Michael to go along. The trucks and the boxcar have videos to watch, but those do not yet hold the attention of our boys. I look forward to their fuller appreciation of that feature someday. I tried to explain how the Pleasant Hill Dairy truck used to visit Daddy’s house when he was a little boy and the driver would leave milk in the box on the porch, but they didn’t care to listen. Someday they will. We also saw the car of former Governor Joseph Brennan, some old snowmobiles, horseless carriages, a steam shovel, an Army jeep, pedal cars, and some antique sleighs and sleds.

Following another visit to the caboose and boxcar, the boys indicated that they were ready to do something else. It was at that point that I decided to purchase them each a toy Coles tractor trailer from the gift shop. The deal was that they had to sit on the bench, facing the other way. They succeeded, as did I. They got their trucks when they got home later in the afternoon.
We left the museum and stepped outside to look briefly at the tank and helicopter on display as part of the Korean War Memorial. As we did so, a gigantic Air Force plane roared low overhead on its way to the BIA runway. That gave me an idea, so we piled into the car and headed for the end of the runway on Odlin Road.

We pulled over and waited for the inevitable return of the plane. It did not disappoint, and as it approached the runway I put their windows down to help them appreciate the full excitement of having a massive jet pass directly over our car as it landed at Bangor International. From the pictures I’ve seen on the internet I’ve gathered that the plane we saw was a C-17. It was awe-inspiring. From our vantage point at the end of the runway we then proceeded to a spot where we could actually see it land. Then we headed off for more adventures.

Going on adventures on a shoestring budget is fun. As I searched my mind for ideas I remembered that I had wanted to visit the Habitat for Humanity store in Bangor, in the Penobscot Plaza by the river. We walked in the door and were immediately greeted with a surprised holler of “Bill!” It was Dan Rhodes, our barbershop chapter president from the Mainely Music Chorus. He was actually working his last day with the Bangor office and was transferring to Ellsworth because it was much closer to his home. We chatted briefly and then the boys and I glanced around ReStore before heading out to the car. That’s when I had another brainstorm.

Railroad tracks run along both banks of the Penobscot River. We were at Penobscot Plaza, with tracks behind the plaza and the Penobscot Bridge that spans the river between Bangor and Brewer also nearby. The train bridge across the Penobscot is right there, too. I took the boys behind the building and we looked at the equipment sitting on the tracks. The day before, Christian and Michael and Mommy had seen a truck and repair equipment on the tracks behind our house, and there in front of us just then was one of the repair vehicles! After standing there for a few minutes, we headed back to the car, the chill of the wind getting to us. Just then, a movement in the distance caught my eye. A train was headed across the bridge from Bangor to Brewer!

I called the boys to watch it with me, and we saw it proceed quickly across the river and into Brewer. I knew that if we headed home soon we’d see the same train go past our house in about 40 minutes’ time. We got back into the car and headed to Brewer. We took a scenic route home, arriving about ten minutes before the train. They found that pretty exciting. I enjoyed it, too. I love being a dad to these boys!