Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Laughs

Sometimes you have to wonder whether people do these things on purpose or if they are unfortunate coincidences. Or, maybe I am the only one who sees anything funny in these pictures. Actually I know that is not the case because Offspring No. 1 sent me the second picture.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Questioning Questions

Questions are an integral part of my life both personal and professionally. Speaking on a personal level, the ability to inquire, to ponder, to cogitate has been the primary vehicle for growth and transformation throughout my life. I am not fond of asking “why?” For me intrigue lies in asking “what if?”

As a teacher, questions consume a good bit of my working hours – this may be in the form of students seeking answers to their burning questions or it may be me using questions to guide my students in making a discovery about a piece of music that we are analyzing in class. Then there are those dreaded test questions. I work very hard as a teacher not to ask test questions that require my students simply to regurgitate factual material. Let’s face it, in the digital age, facts rest literally at our fingertips 24/7. We just need to know how to access the pieces of information that we need. As an educator, my role is to model for students how to use these facts, how to learn, and how to think about and articulate intelligently what they have learned. As all of my students have seen, these skills are not always honed in the subject area of music theory or even music. I will embrace any opportunity to stretch the minds of those in my classes. Often this occurs on my infamous “question #10.”

“Question 10” on all of my tests is one of “those” questions - a question with no right or wrong answer, a question that demands that the students think, a questions that forces them to reveal something of themselves, a question that requires that they write a well-formed essay. I ultimately care much less about what they say than I do how they say it.

Last week was test week in all of my classes. “Question 10” on one class’s test was, “Often the question is much more important than the answer. What one question would you like to ask and why?” The class who was given this question is a first semester class; so unless an “upper classman” warned them about my fondness for these seemingly arbitrary questions, they came to class with only information like how many keys are on a piano and the half step – whole step pattern of a harmonic minor scale on their minds. I like to catch them off guard. I know that I have succeeded in so doing when I hear from the back of the class, “I hate questions like this.” I consider such statements as affirmation that my work here is done – at least for now.

As I was grading these tests this afternoon, I received the following email from a former student, a composer who is hoping to perform one of his own compositions on his voice recital. He is speaking here of a conversation with his voice teacher.

[She} asked me on Tuesday to describe the piece to her (when I only had those few measures completed) and I have to tell you I have to thank you for all those damned essay questions. Those exams (that I really whined about) really did prepare me.

I smiled. It is all worthwhile if you profoundly touch the mind of at least one.

Ironically, questions are also this week’s theme in a group that I belong to that right now is studying spiritual journaling. We are asked to consider:

What were your favorite questions when you were a child?
What would I be willing to give up to save the world?
What is the balance between taking action and following guidance?
What do I assume?
If you had your life to live over, what would you do differently? Anything?

I should probably be responding to some of these questions rather than writing a blog post questioning questions. But why?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Morning Prayer

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with morning. I love the way the sky looks as the new day’s first light appears. I love the smell of the dew-laden ground. I love to hear the revelries of the early rising songbirds. I love the moment when the earth bids good-bye to last night’s setting moon and good morning to today’s rising sun.

I hate the fact that morning comes so early!

Our alarm goes off at 5am. That is the official alarm clock, the one that plugs into the wall and knows what the exact time is at any moment. It knows exactly when we need to be waked up and it wakes us up – no earlier than expected and no later. We also have four other alarm clocks, with four feet each and that are not nearly as reliable. Though we attempt to set these “alarm clocks” not to go off before our desired rising time, many nights something causes them to summon us to wake up at unpredictable times. No matter how many times we attempt to push their snooze button, they continue to sound. On the mornings when they have sounded all night, I REALLY don’t like the morning. When the buzzer on the real and reliable alarm sounds, it often takes a round or two of hitting the snooze button before we can begin to face the day. It should be noted here that usually by this time, the four-legged alarm clocks have settled in “for the night.”

We are usually out of bed by 5:20. The dogs and cats have been fished from beneath the covers and the bed is made. By six, we are showered and dressed, the first cups of coffee have been made, and the four-legged alarm clocks have been fed. Last year, at this point in our morning routine, Weber and I would have had thirty minutes to sit down together, eat breakfast and even skim the headlines of the morning paper. Things have changed this school year.

Traffic in our area is terrible - even at 6:30 in the morning! In the past, we left the house at 6:30 to make the forty five mile commute to school with the goal of both of us being at school by 8:00. Last year that worked. This year is doesn’t. In the first week of school, Weber was late twice. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were going to have to adjust our morning schedule somehow.

Please God, don’t make me have to get up any earlier!

My prayer was answered. We decided that we would get up at the same time, but would leave the house at 6 rather than 6:30.

Please God, don’t make me skip breakfast! It is my favorite meal. And, I am really grumpy if I don’t eat breakfast.

This prayer too was answered. Now we leave at 6am every morning with computers, book bags, lunch boxes, another bag with breakfast, and coffee cups in our clenched hands. Neither of us likes to eat in the car so we wait until we get to my school to actually eat; this is by 7:00 most mornings. There is no line for the microwave in the teacher’s lounge at this time so we prepare our breakfast and have thirty to forty minutes to sit calmly and enjoy each other’s company. Lately we have been eating outside under the trees – and under the squirrels who toss nuts from the trees. Most mornings we are on “our” bench before the sun officially rises. This is a beautiful way to start the day.

There is less traffic on the road with us when we leave at 6:00 making for a less stressful morning commute. So, we have started listening to Daily Morning Prayer via a free podcast. This Office of the Episcopal Church is read by the Reverend Dr. Chip Lee, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maryland. This has become a meaningful way to begin our day as well as spend our commuting time. It also provides us the context for a few pertinent prayers o our own.

Dear God, please help all those on the road to drive patiently and safely.

Each day, the Morning Office begins with the words.
“Lord, open our lips and our mouths shall proclaim your praise.”

Offering these words with sincerity and truth is the perfect prayer to begin each new day.

There are still days when I wish that morning came a little later, but for the most part I am settling in happily to our new morning routine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If I Were A Rich Man

Yesterday a man said to a rather large assembly of people of which I was a part, “I am not a rich man.” As this statement was made, the man stood well dressed and apparently well nourished. He spoke these words freely in his capacity as someone who is gainfully employed full time. These words echoed through his workspace, a place that has walls and a roof, temperature controls to shield him from the deadly heat of the Texas summer, the drenching rains of the frequent gulf storms and the cold chill of those frigid winter days, and it has running water and indoor plumbing. He arrives at this place each day in an equally well appointed luxury car. But, he says that he is not a rich man.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing aloud at this ridiculous utterance. I then thought that perhaps I should ask, “Well then, are you a poor man?” Had I been bold enough to make this inquiry, I suspect that it would have been perceived as a sarcastic remark. Admittedly, I am capable of sarcasm at the drop of the hat, but that is really not what I was thinking. I honestly wonder if there is anything between rich and poor. To me, it is like being pregnant – either you are or you're not. Nothing exists between the two.

I realize that this is a rather black and white picture of the issue. In an effort to not be so quick to jump to conclusions, I did some research on the state of being rich and being poor..

In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a rich man does not have to work hard all day. He lives in a big tall house with rooms by the dozen right in the middle of town.This house has a fine tin roof with real wooden floors below. His house has one long staircase just going up and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere, just for show. The yard is filled with animals whose squeals announce to the neighbors that this is indeed the home of a wealthy man. This man has a wife who sports a double chin, the mark of a wealthy man’s wife, and who struts around like a peacock while screaming at the servants day and night.

According to Tevye, to a rich man would come the most important men in town seeking advice. One with wealth is revered like Solomon the Wise. And so says Tevye, it doesn’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you're rich, they think you really know!A rich man also has time to sit in the synagogue and pray. And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall. He has time to discuss the holy books with the learned men several hours every day.

The dictionary says that a rich man has wealth or great possessions; he is abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds. That is perhaps the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Tevye’s description.

To most, the familiar understanding of “poor” is having very little money, goods, or means of support. It also means faulty, inferior, or lacking. “Poor” may be understood as deficient, inadequate, or lacking in moral excellence.

Though the “not rich” man mentioned above does not have a double-chinned wife running screaming at servants or a yard full of noise making animals, neither is he lacking in money, goods, or a means of support. He lives much closer to the description of rich than he does poor. He may only be living in the first trimester of richness, but by all accounts, he is rich. To claim otherwise is an outright lie. To claim otherwise is to show a lack of understanding as to what rich and poor really are. To claim otherwise is to proclaim oneself as ignorant to the plight of those way too many in this world are truly poor.

Perhaps what he meant to say is that he is not rich in understanding, or compassion, or truth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In ??? We Trust.

Who do you trust? Who don’t you trust? What is trust, anyway?

I read an article in Friday’s paper that reported on the findings of an Associated Press National Constitution Center poll that looked at American’s attitudes with regard to trust and confidence in major “fixtures” of our society. These included the military, religion, banks, business, science, and the government, to name a few.. The poll revealed that overwhelmingly Americans trust . . .nobody. Maybe it is not that dire. Or is it?

43% of us trust our military. That was the highest level of confidence shown toward any of the entities that the poll addressed. Small businesses trailed the military by 13%. At the bottom of the list of those who are trustworthy, garnering nearly no confidence at all from us, are Congress, banks, and blogs. Why don’t we trust anyone or anything?

It is my opinion (and remember no one trusts blogs) that our lack of confidence in the world around us is rooted in fear, fear that organizations whose stated purpose is to look out for each person’s well being have other motivations, many of them related to personal power and personal gain rather than care and concern for all of humankind. In a society where greed, self indulgence, injustice, and a lack of integrity prevail, it is not surprising to me that Americans don’t trust government, corporate America, and religious institutions.

As far as I am concerned, a more important question is do we trust each other? Do we trust people? I am not talking about the people who are the faces of the institutions that we appear to resoundingly distrust, but the people who are part of our everyday lives.

Do you trust your spouse? Your children? Your partner? Your auto mechanic? Your financial advisor? Your doctor? Your parents? Your boss?

Do you trust your neighbor? Your friend? Your housekeeper? Your postman?

Do you trust the barista at Starbucks? The stranger beside you on the sidewalk? The man who asks to borrow a dollar for bus fare? The young mother who pleads with you to give her a few dollars to by baby formula?

Who do you trust? Who don’t you trust? Do you trust yourself?

Do you trust yourself enough that you can, with confidence, assess the trustworthiness of others?

Perhaps the most important question here really is do I trust myself? Without trust in ourselves, it is impossible to trust anyone or anything else. That seems to be where many Americans find themselves right now.

How sad.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Looking Back

On this day, September 11, 2010, nine years after the attack on this country that forever changed the lives of all of us, I feel like I should have something profound to say, something that adequately reflects what that day in history means to this nation and the world or what we have done as a nation and a world to heal the deep wounds inflicted on September 11, 2001. Or I should be able to offer some words of hope to those for whom the images of that terrifying day are as vivid as if they were yesterday as well as to those who know only stories passed on to them. I can't do any of these things.

The images and emotions of that day are still fresh in my mind and in my soul. I have done much to process for myself what I saw and what I felt, but still there is a part of me that will always remain unsettled with regard to the events of September 11, 2001.

Despite all of the pain and ugliness that still plagues our nation, I have to remember that there too is much beauty, much that is good, much that can comfort us if we allow ourselves to be comforted. I came to this this evening as I was looking back through the pictures I took while we were in Vermont.

.It is hard to believe that this landscape is only hours away from New York City. On the day that that city was mayhem, I suspect that the serene beauty of Vermont looked much like it does here. For me, that is both scary and reassuring.

Even amidst the serenity of the green mountains, the fragile nature of our world, as is stated on the sign in the picture below, is never far from our conscience. All can be destroyed in one step.

Any life lost and the hands of a human being who is acting out of indifference, neglect or hate, whether that life is plant, animal, or human, is unacceptable.

The pictures below are post card images of a church steeple rising above the green life below toward the majestic mountains. These churches are supposed to be a place where love and forgiveness reside. It pains me to know that much of the discord in the world is in the name of religion.

It doesn't get much more peaceful and serene than this.

Great beauty comes in small packages as well.

I just had to throw this one in. We all need to smile.
May hope and beauty never elude you no matter how desperate and ugly things may be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Going to the Chapel . . .Finally

About the time you think that nobody ever reads these silly blog posts, someone chimes in and says, "About a month or so ago you said something about telling us about a dog chapel. Are you ever going to do that?"

I love you guys who humor me by reading what I write. I love your comments; I love your encouragement: I love the accountability that the comes from having readers like you.

Okay, I am not so keen on the accountability; I hate the feelings of guilt that overcome me when I fail to follow through on something that I said I would do. So, here is the story of the Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain, Vermont.

Most hotels, even small inns like the one we stayed in in Stowe, Vermont, have those racks near their entrance that contain an abundance of information about all of the local attractions. In a corner of said rack, was a small advertisement for "The Dog Chapel." Weber picked it up and asked if I knew anything about it. Strangely, I had a faint memory of having read something about it several years ago in the magazine Spirituality and Health.

The Dog Chapel is the work of artist Stephen Huneck. Huneck, whose medium is primarily wood, suffered a bout of Adult Respiratory Distress, which left him in a coma for two months, back in 1994. Though the doctors were not optimistic, Stephen made a full recovery thanks to the loving support of his wife Gwen and his three dogs, black labs Artie and Sally and golden retriever Molly.

As a tribute to those canine companions, Stephen Huneck vowed to build a dog chapel where all were welcome to come to honor and give thanks for the spiritual bond that grows between humankind and our dogs.

These brief details do not begin to do justice to the life of the man whose vision built Dog Mountain or the art that grew from his heart and hands. To read more about this man and see his beautiful works of art, visit the Dog Mountain website at Sadly, Stephen Huneck took his own life in January of this year. He is greatly missed, but his spirit lives on thanks to his wife who is continuing the mission of Dog Mountain - to be a place where all creeds and all breeds are welcome.

The statue below alerts visitors to the turn-off onto the small country road that winds its way through the Vermont countryside for a few miles eventually coming to the Dog Chapel. For those who are not familiar with the wood carvings of Stephen Huneck, this is their first glimpse of his amazing work.

The chapel itself rests at the top of a rise which also houses the Dog Mountain gallery, and the Huneck's home and workshop.

As you enter the chapel, you see the carving that has become the icon of Dog Mountain. In the background, are messages written to honor and remember Stephen.

The chapel proper is filled with wood carved dogs. The ends of the pews are dogs. Free standing dog statues sit throughout. And for those who prefer feline companionship, there are a few of those too. The back wall that almost looks like stained glass is actually covered with stories, prayers, and pictures that have been left by those wishing to pay tribute to their beloved pets.

For animal lovers, this is truly a sacred place. Even if you are not an animal lover, you will be wowed by the workmanship of artist Stephen Huneck.
I have to share a story from our visit.

All those involved didn't think I saw any of this, but they were wrong!

Beware of the person with the camera.
So I was wandering around the gallery looking at all of the wonderful pieces of art.
This is what I saw . . .
. . .and heard.
"I can't do this. I'm a married man. You need to stop coming on to me like this before my wife sees!"

"Aw, c'mon big boy. You know that ever since that wedding thing and the priest said no tongue on that part about kissing the bride that all you have wanted is a slobbery tongue kiss. Just relax and let it happen."
"I can't. I can't!
"Oh, WOW! Bring it on!"
"Oh dog crap, there's your owner. I mean there's the person who feeds and waters you. I mean, there's your wife."
"I'm sure she didn't see anything. Just be cool."

"We're just sittin' here getting to know one another. Nothing going on except a benign discussion about Science Diet verses Iams and latex verses vinyl with regard to durability.. That's all. Really, a little bow wow pow wow."
"I think she bought it. I would hate for him to have to spend the rest of his honeymoon in the dog house."
Perhaps they all should have been discussing Kennel Ration verses home cooking and Tempurpedic verses a foam mat on the floor. And maybe I should have titled this post Going to the Dogs. :-)

Here is the steeple from Dog Chapel. As you look at it, say a prayer for all of those four-legged friends who have blessed your life.