Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christ's Mass

We are still savoring the richness of a Gift-filled Christ Mass down south of the Magnolia Curtain.

On the eve of His Nativity the children and adult choirs combined to sing the Quempas (LW 54) following the celebration of the Mass. For those unfamiliar with this hymn, four choirs sing station themselves in four corners of the church. The prelude to each verse is sung by these choirs in alternating parts. The choirs rotate throughout the church. This signifies the Gospel being preached throughout the four corners of the earth.

On Christ Mass Day, Christ's Nativity was celebrated with Luther's German Mass (DS 3). Frankincense and myrrh filled the air as we sang "Isaiah, Mighty Seer Of Old" (LW 213). While censing the altar is a means to remind the people of Christ's Real Presence, at Christ Mass it also serves to remind us of the gifts given at Epiphany. Frankincense and myrrh are used at death to prepare bodies for burial. So, as Pr. Sawyer preached, "It is not Jesus' birth which saves."

The smell of incense at the celebration of Christ's birth also directs attention to Good Friday, the day when salvation was accomplished for our sakes as Christ's Body was torn and His Blood was shed. That very Body and Blood was on the altar for us once more. Further, incense recalls the first Easter, for these were most likely the spices the women brought with them when they found the empty tomb of the risen Lord.

To speak of Easter is to remember Good Friday services when we will again see our Christ Mass tree. By then the Epiphany bonfire will have consumed its branches. Its trunk will be formed into a cross. Another Mass will be celebrated that night, during which pastor will carry the cross to the four corners of the church and say, "Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the Salvation of the whole world!"

Thus, the by Quempas and the carrying of the Christ Mass cross on Good Friday, Christ's birth and death is re-enacted liturgically. One is completed in the other; each is built upon and anticipates what comes before, and after (Eph 1, Rv 13.8). This is not only a "re-presentation." This Christ who comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. This is the very Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father and lives among us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bearing All

Howie sent me these pictures. He tells me I don't have near the problems I think I have.

He's right. I only have racoons and squirrels.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Home Again!

He’s home from Iraq!

Home in Mannheim, that is. Still, that is where home is, because that is where Cindy and Emi are.

Another family from our congregation celebrates the return of a husband and father from Iraq.

Tonight Christ's Mass.

Tomorrow Christ Mass.

It is good!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nicks 'n Tags

Aw, maaaaaan…! Five random facts about Ste. Em ‘cuz the son of Rusty Britches tagged me…

  1. I prefer Tequila to beer. I take it the way I like my theology: barenekked with no amendments. Salt and lime are for sissies.

  1. I still have all my marbles. They are in a green glass dish on my desk in my study.

  1. I can change out the guts of a toilet and seat a faucet. I can also hang a light fixture, re-wire a lamp, install or change a junction box, and change out a light switch. Then I can knit you a sweater or even crochet you a doily to set that newly re-wired lamp on- but don’t expect it.

  1. I was not raised in this country, at least not entirely. However, I am an American.

  1. We celebrate St. Nick’s Day in my house, and so do my children in their homes. In fact, we now do the same at school. The students hear the story of St. Nicholas, and then leave their shoes out to be filled with gold coin candies and fruit. When my children were growing up they also received a Christmas ornament. This tradition was begun with my mother while we were in Germany. I’d like to take it as far as slapping blatant and unrepentant Arians, but my Bishop is working hard at making a lady out of me and I am (reluctantly) cooperating.

Now, to tag… D’trini, Cholak, Glen, My Watery Cubbies Friend, and Lisa.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Joseph Reveals a Witch

My first class of students was a tough crowd. There were seven of them, four boys, and three girls. All of them had come out of our school system; four of them had known only Carolyn Sawyer as a teacher. Now they had me.

A Carolyn Sawyer I am not. She is the picture of gentle, cheerful patience. She has spent her teaching career around young children. I had spent years around ornery professional and Southeastern Conference tennis players and coaches as a tennis official before certifying as a Deaconess. The approach and style in handling each class of people is markedly different. To say I was out of my element is like putting Tobasco Sauce where tomato juice is expected.

There was no question how much my students liked me, or me them. One loved me because “your legs feel like my granny’s.” (Remind myself to wear slacks from now on.) Another adored me because “your dress smells so wonderful.” (I’ll be sure to buy that softener again.) Still another couldn’t stay off my lap in chapel. (Jiminey! What gorgeous eyes she has.) One grabbed me and hugged me every time I came within two feet of his desk. (Three years later he still sneaks one in when the others aren’t looking.) If I dropped an eraser or marker, I had four boys at my feet grabbing it. (Amazingly, the girls were not so eager to be chivalrous.) However, they had quite a conundrum tossing about in their minds.

While they liked me, what they didn’t appreciate was that I was increasingly getting the way of their way of doing things. I knew some of them were trying to take me for a ride. A fish I am not. Common sense told me that much of what they were trying to tell me as “that’s the way we’ve always done it” was logical only to a seven-year-old trying to get away with something.

It was often comical to see the expressions on their faces when they realized that Mrs. Sawyer and Deaconess Carder actually talked to each other about what is or is not the right and proper way of doing things. A finer set of “Push-me-pull-yous” I’ve never encountered. Too, they were actually in league with each other! What one suggested as proper another would confirm with nary a batted eye. Often after I consulted Carolyn regarding their suggestions, she would give them one look with a tilt of her head and they would melt.

So by Wednesday of my second week of teaching Joseph finally asked the pertinent question.

“Do you even like kids?”

“Sure,” I answered. “Fried.”

They all screamed, and then giggled. “Oh! She’s a witch! Watch out.”

The “witch game” played out for several weeks, even to the point of, “Watch out! Step out of line and you’ll have to come home with me. Those who go home with me never come back.”

This broke the ice as they gained insight into my sense of humor, which Matt eventually rightly called “quirky.”

Joseph wasn’t sure it was only a sense of humor. He thought there might be an element of truth lurking behind the notion I might be a witch. After all, I had a strange taste in food. I ate pimiento-cheese sandwiches. He reckoned that anyone who ate that stuff had to be abnormal.

Finally one day he strode into class, plomped in his desk, crossed his arms, and grinned confidently. “I know you ain’t a witch, and I can prove it.” The gauntlet had been tossed.

“OK,” I replied. I’ve faced Patrick McEnroe on a bad day, and stared down Andre Agassi on a good one. This pint-sized challenger was nothing. I could handle him. This was going to be good. “How do you know that I’m not a witch?”

“Well,” he said, “when witches dress up so they don’t look like witches, they always dress up like young, beautiful women. You aren’t. So you ain’t one.”

Made my day! That year for my birthday I brought a right proper witch’s snack for my crew, sardines and pickled okra. They had cupcakes for dessert. As per the practice of the school, each student sampled the sardines and pickled okra, even if only with the teensiest bite, before moving on to the cupcakes. Two found they even liked the sardines.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Eve Defense

Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Gen 3.12

They had been instructed to wait, hands to themselves, lips zipped. Three obeyed, two did not. I could tell not only by the giggling that the request had been disobeyed, but also who the culprits were.

“Joseph, Matt... would you like to explain yourselves?”

“Matt started it.”

“Nuh-uuuh! I was minding my own business when he...”

We teach the students to confess their own sins, so I cut them off at the pass. “Wait just a minute there, you two. I don’t want to hear from either one of you what the other guy did. I want to hear from Joseph what Joseph did, and from Matt what Matt did.”

“Well, Matt tickled me first...”

“No, I didn’t! Joseph...”

This was going nowhere fast. “OK. All I can tell from this business is that two boys have sentences to write during recess.” They glared at each other. Knowing the two boys as well as I do and the attendant demeanor of both, I could well surmise exactly who started what. Still, it didn't matter.

Our school building isn't large. Noise carries. The younger class has their story time and takes naps after lunch. We have learned to be quiet passing their room. It is a matter of being considerate for one's neighbor.

The previous year the entire class was lined up after lunch, ready to go back to class. I was called away from the group for a moment or two. When I returned, only Jacob was standing quietly in line. Four boys and two girls were giggling and tickling each other down the hallway. Jacob and I watched them silently, when suddenly one and then another realized we were doing so. There was a mad dash back to the line as they reformed as they were in the first place.

When we returned to the room, a distance of roughly fifteen feet, I quickly wrote six names on the board. How the heavens resounded with pleas for mercy! None was guilty, yet each named the other as fault. “I will not be a follower” was the sentence each wrote, one for each year of age. It became their mantra for reminding themselves to stay away from trouble. If another starts something, the best way to “include yourself out” is to not be a follower. Yet, here were two of the original culprits in that escapade at it again. Par for the course.

Normally an offense involves writing an appropriate sentence plus the First Commandment and whatever other Commandment has been transgressed. The students are accustomed to this procedure, so when I gave Joseph his assignment he was perplexed.

When Joseph completed his assignment, he read them to me.

“Even if others do what is wrong, I will do what is right.”

“And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

“Joseph,” I asked, “have you figured out yet why I had you write that section of the Catechism?”


“How did you get into trouble.”

“Well, Matt....”

I cut him short. “Are you still trying to use the Eve defense?”

“The what?”

“The Eve defense. Don’t you remember what Adam said to God when He went looking for Adam and Eve after they ate from the Tree?”

“Sure. Adam said Eve made him do it.”

“Right, Joseph. But he said something else, too. Remember that God said His creation wasn’t good without a woman for the man, so He made Eve and gave her to Adam. Then when Adam and Eve sinned, Adam said, ‘That woman You gave me...’ So who was Adam blaming the first sin on?”

This was a tough question. Joseph had to stare at the ground and draw circles a bit with his toe before he finally said, “Jesus. I mean, God. He was really blaming God. Wishing He hadn’t created Eve.”

“That’s right. So when you blame Matt for something you should have done...”

This time Joseph cut me off short. He rolled his eyes with the dawning of revelation. “Oh man! I gotta apologize to Matt! Hey, Deaconess, I am really sorry!”

“Joseph, Jesus has already forgiven you. Me, too. Go, now, and play in peace.”

We like our excuses and blame-games. They are the familiar trappings we crawl behind when the fig leaves with which we have constructed coverings for ourselves begin to shrivel and crumble. Jesus will have none of that. Instead whenever He shows up He “makes all men sinners,” as Luther would say. But in learning to say, “I am the sinner,” to strip away the fig leaves and the pretensions, to become finally completely naked once more before God and tell Him what He already knows- What? Was He asleep or on vacation as we sinned?- is to at last receive the clothing He would give us: Christ’s righteousness. Jesus takes our sin from us in order to clothe us in Himself. This is what a life in Baptism is.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Resurrecting Thieves

She was tardy, and her mother was furious.

“Deaconess, I want you to talk to her. I tried to get her to move along, but all she wanted to do is primp in front of the mirror. Then she fussed with her clothes. Now she’s made her sister late for school and me late for work. She left her homework at home, but I refused to go back and get it.” Mom turned on her heel without as much as her usual hug and left.

The Second Grader in front of me tried to smile. I looked at her for a moment, and then asked, “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”

“Nothing,” she replied, relying on her default mode.

“Nothing, baloney,” I responded. “Let’s get to the real issue. You’re quite a little thief, aren’t you?” Any further attempts at smiling from the little culprit faded.

“I stole time, didn’t I?”

We weren’t working from scratch. We were well into the school year, and this student had been with us since she was four years old. She knew how to put her errors in the context of the Ten Commandments, and could do it well.

“From whom did you steal time?” I asked.

She took time to think hard. “Well, from my mom because she’s late for work. And from my sister, because she’s late for school. And from you because now you should be teaching but you have to mess with me. And from the class.”

“You missed one.”

“Oh, from me, because I’m late for school and missed something I needed.”

"Like I said, you are quite a little thief,” I repeated.

"I guess I am,” she conceded

Now the tears wanted to come. Just as they started to fall she glanced up to the crucifix on the wall and then looked at me. “He had a thief next to Him.”

“Yes, He did,” I replied. “And what happened with that thief?”

“Jesus forgave his sins. I’m sorry I’m a thief.”

“Do you think it is any different for you? Jesus forgives you, and so do I. Would you like to call your mom and say the same thing? I reckon she’s just waiting to say ‘I forgive you to you.’”

Jesus didn’t leave the thief’s confession unanswered. From the cross He spoke to him blessed words of comfort. To those who placed Him on that cross He shouted no ringing epithets, rather the absolution of the ages, “Father forgive them… It is finished.”

From the first day students enter our school they learn an important ritual. An apology does not go unanswered; it is always followed up by the response, “I forgive you.” Even the youngest students are taught to look at those whom they have offended in the face, for the work of confessing sins and forgiveness is personal, not offered up to the sound waves of the spheres to be answered only by the sound of one’s own heartbeat.

Jesus did not leave us without words of forgiveness in our mouths. He gives us pastors to speak Holy Absolution to us. He also put the Fifth Petition into the mouth of the whole church.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

Shall we only sincerely forgive silently when a brother confesses that he has sinned against us? Shall we turn that one away without the comfort of the Gospel in which we live, too? No. Better yet to live according to this petition, and open the mouth and speak: “I forgive you.” Such words cannot be given freely save among those in whom the forgiveness of Christ first has been received.

The Little Thief knew this. Certainly she could not articulate any of it. She had learned this through the school's practice. Most assuredly, like the thief who still endured his own crime’s penalties, she was not appreciative of the fact that she was still the recipient of the consequences of what her tardiness wrought: an angry mother and disciplinary sentences because she didn’t turn in her homework. However, she also knew what these things couldn’t take away.

“You know you’ll have to write sentences, don’t you,” I reminder her.

“I know,” she said. “But the thief won’t stay dead. Jesus forgives me, too.”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tragedy's Al-a-ternative School

Every school day starts the same. We open by making the sign of the cross, then pray Luther’s Morning Prayer. The Pledge of Allegiance comes next, then either “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee” or the National Anthem. After that we pray the Catechism.

Now and again the students find me with my foot in my catechetical mouth. I learned the Catechism according to an older version than what they are memorizing, and it sometimes slips out. One particular day the blessing of the Fourth Commandment slipped through the cracks, “That it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth.” So, I held a short catechetical to explain it. Luther advised that those in the household who refused to learn their Catechism should not be fed their supper. The kids thought that bizarre, too cruel. Ah, but if you reject the Bread of Life that is God’s Word, why should you be given anything that comes from the mouth of God? A parallel is known by Alternative School. If stubborn cannot learn their lessons in such a fine place as GSLS where so much is given by the hand of God through their parents, then they should be sent to Alternative School where they can be better instructed to obey their parents and teachers. Jeremiah (T-1) and Byrne (T-2) shot meaningful looks at each other that dissolved to smirks and grins. So the day began.

The day was a fine one, brilliant blue and gold.

When we go out to the field, there is a set procedure. We stay together. We reach the end of the driveway to GSLS, and then we stop. We all look for traffic, but no one crosses the street unless Deaconess says, “OK, we can cross now.” Then I lead the way. The street can sometimes be busy.

On this particular day Jeremiah (T-1) and Byrne (T-2) were so absorbed in their own world that they kept on walking. They didn’t stop. They didn’t look both ways.

They were completely across the street before they realized they were there alone.

Jacob looked up at me and said, “Oh boy. Well, there goes that. C’mon guys, let’s go back.” Shawn and Tucker were slow tracking why. Matt wasn’t sure what had happened.

I turned the Troublemint Twins around and marched them inside the school. Jeremiah (T-1) knew he was in deep trouble, but was silent.

Byrne (T-2) did all the talking. “What are you going to do with us? Call our parents?”

Inside the school I told the twins to sit down at their desks while I wrote out a letter for them to copy to their parents: “Dear Mom and Dad, I didn’t listen to Deaconess today. I could have been hurt or killed. ...” That’s when the impact of what had just happened to himself hit Jeremiah (T-1). He lost it. Literally.

He ran to the trash can and vomited.

That was too much for Byrne (T-2). His near-permanent smirk turned to a stifled giggle.

Jeremiah started to return to his desk, but just as quickly reversed himself and fled to the safety of the trash can.

Byrne giggled again, louder.

“Stop it! It’s not funny.” Jeremiah tried to walk back to his desk, but again failed.

“I can’t help it.” By now Byrne was in a ball on the floor.

Jeremiah started to cry. “But you’re my bestest friend. How can you laugh at me?” He ran for the trash can once more.

Byrne found his giggling impossible to suppress. It was now high-pitched gales of glee.

Jeremiah was hugging the can. Byrne was rolling on the floor in delight. The room was filled with the antiphonal sounds of Jeremiah’s retching and Byrne’s giggling. Meanwhile I had finished the letter to their parents for them to copy.

Jeremiah begged to go home instead. “But I just threw up. I need my mommy.” Byrne, who seconds before had found hilarity in his friend’s suffering, immediately rushed to his aide, advancing his cause. “He does, Deaconess. He really needs her.” T-1 gaped at him, “Why did you just laugh at me?” Jeremiah turned a sorrowful face at me. “I want to go home.”

“No way, Buddy. You’re sticking this one out. Both of you are going to write these letters, eat your lunches, and finish the day.”

And they did.

They wrote their letters while I monitored their classmates at play. Both sets of parents were called just to give them a heads’ up. Jeremiah’s father agreed he should stick the day out. Then they both ate a good lunch- Jeremiah especially so.

The next afternoon Jeremiah’s dad took him out for a walk through the field. It was a nice long walk. The following morning he was full of grins and giggles over it. He and his father had gone through the woods, Jeremiah leading the way.

“Have you ever sent anyone to Al-a-ternative School, Deaconess?”

“No, I haven’t, Jeremiah. In fact, this school has never expelled any student. We like to keep our own here.”

“Awww… I didn’t think so,” he grinned. “I’m going to do good in school. I’m never going to do that again.”

“I bet not, Jeremiah.”

Since then Jeremiah has settled down considerably. He tells Byrne, “Leave me alone. I’m working now.” He also tells him that he has found other “bestest friends” so that he now has more than just one. He writes disciplinary sentences infrequently.

Jeremiah’s big scare seems to have been his call to repentance. He’s a lovable paradox of a kid. On the one hand he can’t keep track of his papers and crayons or pencils. At least once daily he spills his box of crayons and markers, says “Ooopsie daisie,” then flops down on his belly and all fours to clean them up. It takes a good ten minutes to accomplish the task. On the other hand he breezes through Latin and reading. His reading ability is already light years ahead of the Phonics curriculum, yet he still needs its concepts. So I supplement him with outside books such as those from the “Little House” series. Still he’s only six, and he thinks like a six-year-old.

A truly wonderful, huggable one at that, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jacob Conquers the Crack of Doom

There is an art to swinging and either not showing off the top of your Joe Boxer’s, or showing it and remaining cool while it happens. In the First Grade Matt was neither. He showed top and was embarrassed when the other boys snickered at his “wedgie.”

“It’s not polite to point it out,” he cried.

“You’re right,” I agreed. But for the life of me, how was I going to change a thousand years’ worth of playground tradition: Show off your undies and someone’s gonna snicker. Finally I decided to show the poor lad the brighter side of the picture.

“Look,” I asked. “Why don’t you go back and tell those guys who are giving you a hard time to consider this: It’s better to have a wedgie than to show the crack of doom.”

He went for it. The guys went for it- the phrase that is. It stuck and is now the students’ preferred term for what ought to remain covered.

T-1 doesn’t his. It’s nearly impossible. He’s built like a mini linebacker. Walks like one, too. He wears pants with elastic waistbands, so most days the boys who sit behind him are treated to a generous sight of his crack of doom. That would be an older and wiser Matt and his year older companion, Jacob.

The boys have accustomed themselves to T-1’s short fallings. It was “OH! Man! Gross!” for the first couple of days of school, but then charity settled in and has prevailed for the better part of ten or more weeks now.

That’s all at an end.

On Monday Skye entered our little domain. Skye, as in… SHE.

I had made the announcement last Friday that we might be receiving a new student. The boys were elated. They were so accustomed to having boys they couldn’t fathom an actual girl coming into the class. When I told them it would be a girl, Jacob’s first response was, “Oh, great. What’ll we do about THAT?” He was pointing to T-1’s problem. Charity was about to smack nose-to-nose with chivalry.

It took until Tuesday for Jacob to finally have his fill.

“May I have a piece of tape?” He was at my desk asking for the dispenser.

“Sure.” I was busy, not sure what he needed it for, and didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing.

When I next looked up T-1’s chair had a piece of paper covering the vent at the back. Realizing what had happened, I told Jacob to bring T-1’s chair over to me. I found a sheet of cardstock I’d laminated for Math projects and we fixed a more permanent “modesty shield” with some duct tape to the back of T-1’s chair. T-1 was quite proud of it. In fact, he set to taking his markers and attempted to see if he could make aliens or some such thing as decorations on it.

A girl in the room changes things. It makes the guys realize with clarity the distinctions between guys and gals. What was tolerable for “us guys” is simply unbearable now that Skye is here. Jacob has the sensibility and sensitivity to know this. The fact that she’s able to keep up with him playing “tag” at recess has nothing to do with the fact that she is a “she” and ought not be subjected to what he has to put up with as a “he.” For Skye’s sake Jacob demands modesty even where T-1 cannot give it of himself. And it is for his sake, too.

He’s quite a young man.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Alternative Desk

T-2 has a new desk. It’s not really a brand, spanking, new desk, but it is a new-to-him desk.

Classroom discipline is not the end in itself. No teacher wants mindless robots, least of all me. The joy in having the field and woods close by is no gym program is as beneficial as boys being boys. I enjoy the rough-n-tumble energy of boys. Still, we have a motto in my class: Class time is for learning; playtime is play time (Ecc 3:1).

Our Grammar curriculum requires the attention of young minds. There is rote memorization, though it is made fun through jingles. We proceed incrementally. We don’t diagram sentences. Instead we “classify” them with labels. There is a specific question and answer “flow” that must be learned. We practice daily.

The first test slipped by unremarkably. Tucker and Shawn enjoyed Grammar and looked forward to it. The Troublemint Twins thought Grammar was a snoozer. T-2 sat in the first row, diagonally away from T-1. He’d delight in turning around and starting a chorus.


“”Wonk,” T-1 echoed. And so the two goose-boys continued until I captured their attentions and clipped their tail feathers again.

Warnings at the beginning gave way to immediate disciplinary measures at the first nasally note. These guys were stubborn, and tender age held no sympathy over me with what was becoming a daily habit.

Finally the Grammar tests became harder. The sentences were no longer noun and verb, but also included an adverb. Then the Twins both flunked a test. They not only giggled themselves to insensibility throughout the entire test, they scribbled so badly on their papers I couldn’t read which label went where. Discipline has its place.

T-2 was crushed. He was certain his labels were in the proper place if I would only just look. He begged. He pleaded. “I’m telling you, Deaconess, I just know the answers are right.” Not by any stretch of the imagination I could use.

Moreover, T-2 also knew he had the best printing skills in the class, so this paper was an embarrassment. Well he should, too. His Kindergarten year was spent in our system. A good bulk of that time was spent writing sentences for infractions then, too: “I will obey my teacher.” “I will not tell lies.” At least his hand was well-trained. His parents would follow up at home. If the sentences weren’t written neatly enough, he would write them all over again. He had a beautiful “hand.” Yet now he had turned in a Grammar test with chicken scratches and he knew his father would be justifiably upset with.

T-1 was less perturbed. Being raised by grandparents has its advantages. He had been adopted by them about a year earlier, even referred to them as “Mother” and “Father.” For the moment he didn’t perceive any imminent threat of danger to his present comfortable position.

The next morning T-1 walked into the classroom with a new attitude and a new phrase added to his vocabulary.

“I know where I don’t want to go. Al-a-ternative School. That’s where they make you sleep on a hard bed, they give you bad food, and you don’t get a snack. And you don’t get to see your mommy and daddy.”

I asked him where he’d gotten the notion about Alternative School. Turned out his father told him that boys who played around in class and didn’t learn lessons were headed there.

When T-2 arrived with his dad, the first thing T-1 told him was, “Deaconess knows someone in Al-a-ternative School. Be careful. You do not want to go there.” He filled T-2 in on the details. T-2’s father listened in, and confirmed that it was a place where boys who couldn’t learn to obey their parents and teachers should go, and that they surely did not want to go. That meant both sets of parents were now “on board.” Works for me. One of our church members teaches at an Alternative School. I told the Troublemint Twins this fact, and pulled out a sticky note. I wrote down:

Alternative School


Mrs. Johnson

T-2’s dad grinned, and he winked at me. The Twins’ eyes grew round and frightened.

“You know about Al-a-ternative School? You know someone there?” T-1 asked.


The boys factored that information, then turned slowly away.

The sticky label remains posted near my desk. I want the boys to see it daily.

Now, one thing about T-2 is that he can't seem to keep his hands still. He constantly fidgets with something. When he was in K-4 and Kindergarten it was a chore to keep his hands away from other children. Now that he is in First Grade it has become a struggle to keep his hands on top of his desk and not into mischief beneath it.

When we recite the catechism at the beginning of the day he will start with his hands neatly folded on top of his desk, sitting up straight. Soon the hands disappear into the mouth of the desk, and the fluttering begins. That is quickly replaced by all-out wiggling as his elbows are swallowed into the cavern. Next his entire head is suddenly sucked inside as he disappears to go spelunking.

Finally the day had come to end this nonsense. He was deep inside his desk collecting stalagmites when I picked up it up and dumped it. Out he rolled on top of four pages of unfinished homework. A pile of pink eraser shreds poured out midst his crayons, Latin vocab cards, stubby pencils, and an acorn. Jacob, the oldest student, read my intentions and pointed to the room across the hall.

“The Desk?” he asked.

“You bet,” I replied.

T-2 looked horrified.

That was way too much code being spoken to suit his comfort-range.

The Desk is intimidating according to T-2's experience. It is one of those old fashioned steel contraptions with the chair attached. Its desk has a flip-top. It is one these things that is not like the others. It is an alternative. It is an Alternative Desk for Alternative Students Who are Headed For Alternative School. T-2 seemed to realize this without me even telling him it.

He paled.

He thought there was a glimmer of hope- she has GOT to be kidding- until I instructed him to put his things inside it.

“In THAT?” he asked.

“She means it, kid. You better do as she says,” Jacob advised. Then he pointed to the sign that displayed the two governing rules of the class.

· Rule Number One: The teacher wins all arguments.

· Rule Number Two: You can’t break Rule Number One.

T-2 slowly complied. When he finished he sat down in his new seat. He didn't like it. He couldn't control it. It doesn't “scoot.”

“I don't like this desk.”

“That's tough. You think that matters to me?” The First Grader next to him grinned, the one behind him was swinging his feet in time to some unheard music. T-1 was busy watching a chameleon run across a window.

T-2 looked back at T-1, then down at his desk. He straightened himself up, and sighed. “I'm going to earn my real desk back.”

Two days later it was the day before his seventh birthday. On that day I realized the sheer joy of that desk. T-2 had silliest day yet and I had my “this is it, buddy” point with him. After repeated incidents in which he disrupted the class, T-2 giggled away another Grammar test, and so failed it. He answered part of the test. Then he decided it was time to talk and play with those not taking the test. He knows the rules about test-taking. They are repeated each time prior to the test. His test was over when he started his playtime.

That's when he entered Tough First Grade. In the midst of his giggle fest I crept up behind him. Gently I called his name, three times. He did not respond. I lifted the lid of his desk slightly, then shut it with a BANG! Every child in the class but T-2 knew it was coming. I leaned my elbows on top of the desk, looked straight into T-2's face, grinned and asked, “Hello, little boy... got your attention?”

“Ummmm…[gulp] yes, ma'am.”

“Good.” I inched forward on the desk. T-2 tried to scoot away, but the chair was attached to the desk. He was trapped. “Now that I have your attention, maybe you'll listen. Silly time is over. You've just entered a whole new level of learning. I'm done being patient with you. Now we get tough.” I left it at that. Anticipation is a powerful ally.

The next morning T-2 arrived bright and early with his dad. I sat him down next to me and explained his new rules.

1. Start giggle-time during teaching time and he will be excused from class

2. Keep both eyes on me at teaching time or he will be sent out of the classroom

3. If he is sent out of the classroom during teaching time then he is on his own figuring out how to do the work sheets or tests; I will not help him

His dad, as ever, was behind me the whole way. “You'd best work hard to earn your desk back, and to stay in this classroom. This is your first day of being seven. Time to act like it. You know if you play in school you will work at home. Make a choice. One way or another you will do the work. Wouldn't it be nice to have playtime with family instead of work?”

So far this call to repentance has been effective. If T-2 starts up during a lesson, out he goes. He's too social to like that. When it comes time for completing papers and tests he likes his stars, smiley faces, and any other indicators that he's made no mistakes. Even homework needs a star on it. So not receiving help from me is hindering him. Plus, he can't hide the fact that he's spent time outside the classroom from his parents. I don't allow the students to erase mistakes. If they have an error, they write the correction alongside it. After T-2 has had to sit out, his papers are a series of red X-s and corrections. Eventually he does get the right answer. There is benefit in this as he is working his way through the problems, but he doesn’t like the red marks. It is forcing him to read on his own without overhearing the others. He has to think things through more clearly on his own. I will still point him with directed questions, but he loses much by not being in the classroom. And we lose much by him not being with us.

What this is also telling me is that he has the capacity of great concentration and attention to detail. This child worked out a multi-function Math problem on his own that the class has not yet learned to do. He's simply defiant and given to laziness. He thinks if he complains enough I will cave and do it for him. The laziness feeds an uncertainty in his accomplishments. What he's learning is that he can do it for himself. Doing it himself has raised his self-confidence.

T-2's learning he wants to stay in the classroom. He doesn't like to miss class time. In order to remain in the classroom he's learning to submit to the authority of the classroom, the teacher. Now when he has to go out- and I am send him out for even the slightest infraction to keep him in the tightest of lines- T-2 feels the sting of it even deeper. His papers are messy. He doesn't get a star. The next day the teaching is generally smoother.

Still, he is T-2...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Imagining God

Children, as do all of us, have a hard time imagining God’s power. The nearest dynamic equivalent is their favorite superhero. So every now and then they begin a game of trying to describe how powerful God is. As mini-philosophers they even have justification for what they think.

God is like Zeus, only real. He can throw the thunderbolts He makes.”

Naw. That’s not it. He’s like Spidey. He can go wherever He wants to.”

You don’t know what you’re talking about! God has to be strong. He rolled the stone from the grave away. He’s like Superman. Maybe even Hulk.”

Finally they ask me. “Who’s right, Deaconess? Who wins?”

Hmmmm… well,” I ponder the question slowly. “God is only as strong as a dead man.”


They all stared at me like I’ve got half my brain tied behind my back. I do, but they don’t know that yet.

Say what?” asked the oldest, Jacob.

I repeated, “God is only as strong as a dead man.”

T-1 looked at me and frowned. Then he sat back in his chair with a thump, looked around the room and studied hard, his eyes not
focusing on anything in particular.

I know it!” he suddenly cried. “I know the answer! It’s Jesus on the cross. She means Jesus on the cross. Deaconess is talking about Jesus dead on the cross!” By now T-1 was slumped completely over his desk, finger pointing at the crucifix hanging over the whiteboard at the front of the room. In his excitement he wanted to get as close as possible to the object of his answer.

That’s right. Jesus dead is stronger than any Superhero you can name. Why?”

That had them stumped- but not for long.

Because when He died He killed death,” said Jacob.

“How is that so?” I asked.

I get it!” shouted Matt, the Third Grader. “When He said ‘It is finished.’”

OK, Smarties… so now here’s the next part. When are you a part of all this?”

Matt and Jacob and waved me off. This was a piece of cake. It was time to get back to their Math sheets and let the
Lower Classmen earn their keep.

T-2 raised his hand, smiled a broad smile, and shouted “JESUS!” Sooner or later his usual one-and-only answer works and h
e gets it right. Not this time.

Tucker, the First Grader behind him, gave a try, “In Baptism?”

You think or you know?”

He rolled his yes in thought, then nodded. “I know. It’s Baptism.” This kid is steady, matter-of-fact. He doesn’t ruffle easily except when he “blows” it. He works hard and likes to make good grades.

This is the point in the year when things begin to coalesce in their brains. They've heard enough sermons in chapel, listened to enough History lectu
res, recited the Catechism daily so that it has all bubbled and fermented inside. Now it is all ready to be put to the test, exercised.

GSLS is first and foremost a catechetical school. As a deaconess that is my primary task. Education is of no good if it is not centered in Christ. What does reading avail if its goal is not unlocking the Scriptures? The first “subject” taught in this school is reciting the Catechism.

The Commandments fly by simply. They are straightforward. The language is fairly simple. Now and again Matt or Jacob will get coy and ask if it is murder to kill a fly or roach. But that is only becau
se they know my answer. Depending on which one asks the question it’s, “When does hunting season start?” or “When was the last time you asked Wendy’s to murder a cow for your dinner?” They get the point. Animals aren’t humans. There is a distinction to be made.

The students also learn the Commandments by practice. Disciplinary sentences are written along with the recitation and/or the writing of the First and the specific Commandment that applies, with meanings. Cut up in class? Easy. That’s Seventh Commandment, stealing time from others. Push or punch another student? Fifth. Lie? Second. We don’t often have need to apply the Sixth, though it has happened.

The Creed is history. It tells what was, is, and will be regarding the Christian in his life because of what God is in Himself.

But it is the Lord’s Prayer that begins to bring all this together for them into a unified whole. That’s when I’ll find need for little “catecheticals.” Usually they start with a question.

What’s ‘contrary’ mean?”

It’s not enough to reply, “against.” This is an awakened moment. They are listeni
ng. So I go for it: “All those who cannot confess Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin, death, and the devil in their life and practice are telling Him, ‘No thank You, Jesus. You didn’t die for me.’”

They stared at me as if I’ve told them Christmas is cancelled.

No, I mean really. What does ‘contrary’ mean?”

I tried again. “Everyone who wants to keep even one sin for himself teaches and lives according to a different life than the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed. It says, ‘Jesus, you are a liar.’”

Finally, T-1 slowly raised his hand in the air. “You mean contrary is doing against what Jesus says?”

"Yes," I agreed.

T-1 and T-2 looked at each other. One said, “Humph!” The other said, “Humph!” back.

It was not until we read Isaiah 11 that the matter finally sank in deeper.

The History unit this week was “Prophets of Israel.” After explaining that God never sent disciplinary measures against His people without a call to repentance, I named the prophets who were God's messengers of this call. Each messenger, while he spoke of a present threat, also pointed to the Promise. Recounting the story of Abraham through Moses, it wasn't hard to jog the boys' brains.

God gave the Law to His people as a reminder of what He had done for them. He took them out of slavery. He made them His own people. Remain in His word, His law, and they would be free. Live outside the Law, outside His word, and they would be slaves again. Truth is known by knowing God's word. This was repeated by Jesus centuries later. So, the explanation of the First Petition provided context for the sins of

God's name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us.

They were now ready for Isaiah's imagery.

The First Graders knew how God had divided
Israel and why, so they had little trouble connecting the dots to Jesse and David. Thus it was fairly easy explaining the fruit-bearing branch from the stump and who the Child among the wild animals was. I read verse 10, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”

Then I asked a few questions. “What's this resting place are they talking about?”

His manger?” asked Shawn, the other First Grader. He was a bit perplexed.

Tucker decided it was too easy. “Aww...that's Jesus' tomb.”

Sure,” I confirmed. “But why is it glorious?”

T-2's hand shot up. I held my breath. Had he really been really listening?

Ok, what is it? Why is His tomb glorious?” I was really out on a limb now.

T-2 went for the home run... “His tomb is glorious because Jesus took all our sins in there
when He was dead. Then He didn't stay dead.” ...and landed a Grand Slam!

God is only as strong as a dead man when He has had all the sins of the world in His flesh, but then rises from the dead.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:19

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ste. Em and The Commander

Every now and again I have to pull out my Deaconess Call Documents and look at them. When my failures as a teacher sit too close in front of my nose they provide the concrete evidence that I belong where I am. There in black ink, it spells out clearly the location of my placement. Absolution spoken into my ears relieves the guilt, and fingers thrust into the water of the Baptismal font on Sunday morning are as into Christ’s side. “Take eat…” I am baptized. He has taken me into Himself. S’OK.

That doesn’t relieve me from the responsibilities of what I have been placed here to do. The first priority was to install some sort of a physical education program. Sure. I can do that. I’ve coached soccer, refereed it. In fact, a friend and I were the first female licensed junior referees in Northern Illinois. I’ve coached tennis, too. I was taught under Dennis van der Meer, who was Andre Agassi’s first coach. I’ve even umpired US Open Tennis. No big deal.

The first year I was at GSLS I decided jump ropes were a good way to start out. I had two girls in the class, so it seemed to be a good “mixed-crowd” thing to do. Worked fine for two days. Then The Commander came back to school after being sick for a couple days.

We pray the Catechism daily. I decided to have the students recite the Commandments individually on Tuesdays and Thursdays just to make sure they knew them. Tuesdays were “Army Days.” That’s when I picked the volunteers. Thursdays were “Navy Days.” That’s when they volunteered themselves. “Marines” were the connivers. They figured that if they didn’t volunteer, they didn’t have to recite. Hah! I volunteered them on Navy Day. That's how they became Marines. Marines are Navy guys who are volunteered. They whined. That’s when the kids learned my two rules in the classroom:

1. The teacher wins all arguments.

2. You can’t change rule number one.

The students earned nicknames during this period, and The Commander especially his. He’s a tough kid, takes karate. He has a temper, and doesn’t care if he uses it. It could be horrific. Yet, his leadership skills were just as incredible. The other students looked up to him. As irritable as he could be, he could also be compassionate. I needed to rein him in. So I found a hammer. “Stay in line, or I’ll bust you.” It happened once. He earned it back, and never lost his temper again. Remarkable kid.

He was ill for the two days I introduced jump ropes. On the day he returned he decided to take over. Enough was enough. He tried jumping, and it wasn’t working. He walked over to his buddy, the Sarge, and tried to enlist his aid. “Forget it. She ain’t gonna budge.” Besides, the Sarge could jump rope. The girls could jump, too. No help there. So, he went to the Gunny and S. Sgt. Both of them were struggling, so both of them willingly obliged to help him out.

The Commander was the spokesman, of course. “We don’t want to jump rope anymore. It’s for girls and sissies.”

“Really?” I asked. I looked down at The Commander. He wasn’t a tall kid, but powerfully built. If anyone was made for jumping rope, he was. “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that something I want you to do is only for sissies and girls? That something football players like Rosie Greer and boxers like Mohammed Ali do is only for sissies?”

“That’s right,” he said.

“You guys agree?” I asked the others.

They did.

That established here was my deal: the Gunny and S. Sgt could already jump a little bit. They had to give me 10 in 15 minutes. The Commander had to give me 5 in 15 minutes.

“Five what?” he asked.

“Five jumps in a row or you write sentences. Nobody tells me what is sissy or not.”

“I can’t write sentences. My dad will whup me.”

“Then you’ll jump.”

Jump he did. Jump they did. Apologize and be forgive they were, too.

By coincidence that night The Commander saw a show that night on Buddy Lee, the jump rope king. He was hooked. Soon he was doing cross overs and jumping reverses. He could jump so fast it was hard to see the rope fly through the air. His skill encouraged the others to do well, and he shared what he knew with them.

Properly run, the Law is like that. More freedom within it than without. More joy within it than without. The others still jump beautifully, and are now teaching the next class of jumpers how to do the same. There has been no more talk of “jump rope is for sissies and girls.” There is joy in what has been given.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Toast From Aardie

Here's a toast from Aardie to the gang from Good Shepherd Lutheran School! T-2's adventures won Ste. Em another Aardie!

This morning the gang was lined up outside the classroom, ready to go to the bathroom, wash up, snack up, and then outside for a rousing game of kickball. All of a sudden, T-1 made a quick stab with his pencil at T-2's eyes.

"Just what did I see?" I asked.

"I dunno," he said.

This kid just finished reading "Little House in the Big Woods" all by himself. He can recount the details like my Second Graders of another year failed to. He's in First Grade and can already rattle off what sank the Titanic, and what the captains should have done to save her.

T-2, who usually claimed he was his "bestest friend," immediately ratted him out.

"You did that?" I asked the question knowing the answer anyway, but hoping for a confession.

Instead of honesty T-1 did the Adam thing: he pled ignorance.

"I dunno." That's it. Ignorance with big, sad, puppy-dog eyes. That'll get you off!


I made him an offer instead.

"C'mon, kid. Let's you and me go back into the classroom and I'll show you what happens to people who have pencils poked into their eyes. Right now, bud. Move it."

Instantly T-2's attitude changed. No longer was he the offended one. Now he was the defender.

"Don't go! I promise you. You don't want to see it. Trust me," said T-2. He was once more T-1's ever-true friend, standing by him through peril and pain. The had his hands around T-1, as if to shield him. "Look at me. Don't go with her. Listen! I know what I'm talking about."

For all his size and toughness physically, T-1 is just a plain ole huggable bear of a softy. When something sinks in, it goes WHUMP!


"Nooooo, Deaconess, I don't want to. Please don't make me. I don't want to see it."

"Hey, I'll go. Can we come, too?" asked the older boys. They were getting a real kick out of this. This was their big chance. (The goofs!) I ignored them.

T-1 apologized to T-2, who forgave him.

I instructed T-1 to put up his pencil and reminded him what was awaited him if he pulled that stunt again. I didn't give him disciplinary sentences. He'd had enough consequences for his actions. W
ith him anticipation is an effective deterent. We went out and had a great time playing kickball - his first time at it. With six we played "move-up." He never scored a run, but jiminey did he have a great time at it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ste. Em Cures T-2’s Itch

T-2 had a particularly nasty habit. Whenever his eyebrow or temple itched, he’d take the point of his pencil and “scribble” to ease his suffering. I caught him at it, and explained that it was dangerous.

He nodded that he understood. Said, “It might poke my eye out.” Then he smirked and went on about his business of scratching his face with his pencil whenever he thought I wasn’t looking. Each time I caught him I’d go over the same ground again.

And again.


He eventually wrote sentences.

To no avail. He would still scratch his itches with his pencil.

His dad brought him to school early one morning. “Deaconess, I want you to see what he’s done. Look at him.” He made the boy tell me how.

The kid was bored the night before, took out his scissors, and cut off his lashes. Only the scissors slipped and he scratched his eyelids.

I looked at my student and couldn’t find any words to say. I let a few seconds pass- I’m certain he knew I was churning inside- then I reached up, took off my glasses, and pulled out my genuine, non-factory, replacement part.

“There! You want that to happen to you? It will if you keep poking things at your eye.”

The kid gasped and stared. “No, ma’am!”

He hasn’t used a pencil for anything but his papers since then.

He tells the other students, “You don’t want to see it… trust me, you don’t want to see it,” but they consider him somewhat of a hero for it nonetheless. It’s sort of a “holy grail” with them, this business of trying to get the deac to take her eye out. But the point remains: He hasn’t used a pencil for anything but his papers since then. Deo volente, cancer will leave his eyes alone.  

Some things come full circle, Aardvark. This acrylic bit is but one more reminder of that which Christ has assumed, and therefore has restored in Himself.  

Something to Note

Here is something particularly noteworthy!

The Aardie

Let's see if I can post this cool thingy....

If this works, then one day maybe I'll add mug shots of T-1 and T-2. (NOT!)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ste. Em revisits St. Gregory

Yes, so it is. Women can image what it is to be receivers in a way that men cannot. That is not to say that men are not also receivers- and no-one has said such. Of course, only the most ludicrous deconstructionist feminist gymnastics have devised connotations in which women are those who beget. That is an image that males bear before the world. Still, to both is given the ability to receive.

And it is not true that the reason women are not to be ordained is because there is yet a lack in them. Precisely the opposite. It has nothing to do with capability or faithfulness.

However, either we speak the whole counsel of God regarding the ordination of women, or we may be left speaking as the opponents do for it. Again, this is not to say no-one is not doing so. This is only to encourage doing more openly so with regard to the texts that might at first appear to be as so much Law being heaped upon women. That runs a risk. Where the Scriptures are- properly taught in truth and purity- there Christ is. The trouble with Jesus is that when He shows up even run through the Gospel, sin is revealed (Is 45:7). But that is the Good News for Paul's words in 1Timothy 2:14. For, then we run them through Jesus. ”The difference between Christ's kingdom and the kingdom of the world is this, that Christ reduces all men to sinners. Yet Christ does not stop there, for then He absolves them” (Luther, AE vol. 23).

Klemet Preus gives a succinct answer for why women may not be ordained. “God excludes women because He wants to teach original sin. He wants to teach both sexes that original sin still affects us. The argument that women are excluded from the ministry because they are somehow unfit ... undermines God's command. This command is not based on current empirical perceptions, but upon an historical fact recorded in the Bible” (The Fire and the Staff, 299.)

Hardly seems “Gospelly,” does it? This is certainly not to suggest that Preus doesn’t also speak by way of the Gospel, either. This is but one small snippet of what he has to write. His groundwork lays the Gospel foundation well.

So let's run Paul’s command through Jesus. After all, what is given in Christ and is received comes by way of the Gospel- even the Law for the sake of repentance. There is the way of the Gospel that can hardly be absent an application of Law for you!

In 1Timothy 2:14 God places before His people a reminder of fact recorded in history: Eve was deceived, and from that Man fell into sin. Therefore, says Paul, let women remain silent in the worship assembly. Christ has taken Eve's sin into His own flesh upon the cross, and by that her own flesh has been redeemed from sin, death and the devil. Not only hers, but also that of the whole human race- her progeny. That means all of us, too. What Christ has assumed has been redeemed.

No theological position that ordains women can do so without excising or diminishing the permanent effect upon the human race of Eve's deception, original sin. In practice women’s ordination demonstrates this. No woman can be ordained save that Christ’s Bride choose to go her way against His Word, just as Eve did with Adam. Women are too precious to our Lord to leave in their sin. He would deal with it Himself. Eve’s deception ought not be left out our speaking, for that is the particular reason why our God entered a woman’s womb, assumed human flesh, and was nursed at her breasts. In so doing, all women are lifted up by being as God created them to be, women. Thereby all mankind is raised up with them.

So Christ would have it that women have more than mere ordination. He wishes to give them all that He has- His entire Kingdom of Grace. Therefore He holds out to them the reminder of what is reality: Eve was deceived. Yet here is the Greater Reality: in His flesh- that which was born of a woman under the Law- He assumed not only her sin but also the whole world's. It is in this way He loved Eve: It is she for whom He died, Eve the deceived. Women who are grasping for ordination are grabbing for the lesser gifts at the expense of Christ Himself. They, scrambling to choose their own way just as Eve did, would remain a pauper. He would have them be His Queen as He gives them His Kingdom. He died in order that all might be accomplished for their sakes.