Tally ho!

Hey everyone!

Shasta’s Fog will be taking a little hiatus while I travel to Ireland and the U.K. for several weeks with the Oasis Chorale. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to England! You could say this English major’s just a liiiiiittle excited.

This is my third year singing with Oasis Chorale, and I’m really excited to reconnect with some of my favorite people. I’m also excited to meet new friends in Ireland, Wales, and England! This year’s program features some amazing music!

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Some things I’m looking forward to:
1. I look forward to the community of our choir.
Oasis Chorale functions out of a portable classroom. Our members live all over the United States and Canada. We receive music early in the year and rehearse on our own. Then we come together for one spring rehearsal weekend before going off on our annual summer tour. After months of personal rehearsal, we are sooo ready to sing IN COMMUNITY. And this is what choral singing is all about anyway.

2. I look forward to meeting Irish and English believers.

3. I look forward to singing in a cathedral.
And other churches with great acoustics. That is, better acoustics than most poorly-designed Mennonite churches. :)

3. I look forward to my first real cup of British tea.

4. I look forward to the After-Party: wherein I shall conquer ye British highways and byways in a rental car with some lovely ladies post-tour. I’ll spare you all the grimy details, but it includes R&R on England’s north shore, downtown insanity in London where we will do all the things, a plethora of authors’ hometowns and museums, fish & chips, and some very scary driving by Yours Truly, wherein I shall drive on the left-hand side of the road, with a gas petal on the left, and the driver on the right.

If that’s too much for you, revive yourself here:

See you in August!

 

Battle of the Brands: You’re about to get licked

So as a newcomer to Elkhart County, I simply had to try all the local ice cream places that everyone keeps raving about.

Admittedly though, when I moved here, I was a bit smug toward any ice cream other than Jeni’s. As a central Ohio native, I know that no ice cream can compare to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams of Columbus, Ohio. Jeni’s ice cream is organic, made with local ingredients wherever possible. With flavors like Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, or Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries, this ice cream is not for the faint of heart. (Do not judge the sweet corn. You have not tried it. It is AHmazing! Says the girl who hates anything healthy in her ice cream. Like fruit. Much less, vegetables.)

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My friends from Goshen being introduced to central Ohio goodness.

But my Elkhart county friends and acquaintances keep raving about Rocket Science and The Chief. Whenever The Chief is mentioned, there this sort of sober consensus and accompanying moment of silence. “Mmmm, The Chief.” They silently transport themselves to another place—warm summer nights, sticky fingers, and happy taste buds. Then there’s my town, whose only claim to fame is its ice cream shop. “You live in Nappanee? Oh, they have that ice cream place Rocket Science.”

Rocket Science is a little ice cream shop in the Coppes Commons building. This place is a novelty because the “cream” of your “ice cream” (and any ingredients you choose) are frozen in front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen. There’s a huge tank of nitrogen that newcomers warily regard and and ice cream workers cheerfully pump from as they prepare your ice cream.

I finally visited The Chief last week, so I’m going to rate these two ice cream establishments based on taste, texture, customer service, and environment.

First, let’s rate Rocket Science.

Taste: Yummy! I like how you can choose their flavored creations or you can make up your own combinations (similar to Cold Stone Creamery). I prefer very rich desserts, so Death By Chocolate is a definite favorite. (Hint: it is possible to get a shot of espresso in your ice cream! The nitrogen simply freezes it in as another flavor.)

Texture: Firm. The fast freezing of the liquid nitrogen makes it very, very frozen. Sometimes it is better to let your creation melt a bit before consuming, so you can enjoy the full flavor.

Customer Service: I’ve only ever been helped by smiling, cheerful workers. Last summer, one worker even started remembering my order. I stepped in the door. “Death by chocolate?” she grinned.
Also, while the lines are short, it takes a few minutes to create your individual flavor. The wait time is similar to getting a specialty drink at a coffee shop.

Environment: You can spend your time waiting choosing a seat indoors. There are small wrought iron tables and chairs in the front, or you can sit at larger tables, or even couches, in the large seating area beyond the shop.

Bonus: the indoor accommodations mean that you can enjoy this ice cream on a rainy day. Another perk? There’s a drive through, and the shop is open year round.

Let’s move on to The Chief. It is LEGENDARY. (Hee hee, legen-dairy.) Or so I have heard.

Taste: Very nice. I tried the Peanut Butter. I found it to be light at first, but as I ate my waffle cone, I found there to be a very nice after-taste.

Texture: A firm smoothness, somewhere between ice cream and frozen yogurt. The texture was a bit of an anomaly. My friend Camille suggested that to have the full effect, I needed to try the ice cream on a hot day. (It was low 70s.) This consoled me. I would like to try the ice cream on a very warm day and compare the consistency.

Customer Service: Long lines, yet fast service. We went on a Saturday evening, and there were probably about thirty people in line. I spent the time in line choosing the perfect flavor and listening to locals rave about the ice cream. Goshen—you are loyal! Once we got to the window, a pleasant high school student took my order and quickly served me my ice cream.

Environment: It’s a busy place. There are a few picnic tables out back. If those are full, you can either stand or sit in your car. Honestly, it’s just fun watching the locals flock to the place. Very diverse crowd. Elderly, middle-aged, kids with young parents, and teenagers on dates.

Bonus: The Chief employs local high school students, providing them with jobs and even scholarships. A business that gives back!

So now it’s time to vote: what is your best ice cream experience?

 

Chandeliers, Tolstoy, and Mennonites

Armed with a gift card and a ferocious excitement for my summer classic choice (Tostoy’s War and Peace) I trotted into Barnes and Noble to pick out the classiest-looking version I could find.

Yes, I’m a print girl. No Kindle yet for me.

We print people get to be choosy when buying classics. That is, on those occasions when we’re actually buying new books, rather than sniffing out old, bargain-priced copies at garage sales or Goodwill. Amongst booksellers, Barnes and Noble stocks the largest variety of versions, printings, and editions. Barnes & Noble, then, is a great stop for a picky book buyer. And we print people are especially picky concerning cover art.

I’ve been interested in cover art since I first noticed it in my parent’s little home library. (I get my book buying honestly.) While not exceedingly broad, my parents’ reading preferences (from Christian fiction to forty-year-old Bible college texts to my father’s current affinity for Jewish studies) exhibit the phenomenon that pop-culture inspires cover art. Digging through my parents’ books in the basement, I was never really quite sure what groovy font, bell bottoms, or afros had to do with the subject of prayer, but it certainly made sense to book cover illustrators in the 1970s. Cover art becomes so quickly dated but can, nevertheless, remind book buyers of the period or decade in which they buy a book.

Hoping to make a simple choice between a classic hardcover with gold edge gilding and a 2014 pop art cover, I wasn’t prepared for a heavier decision: choosing translations. I had not done my homework before buying War and Peace, and I wasn’t prepared to choose between various English translations of Tolstoy’s Russian text.

So I was reduced to judging a book by its cover. (And the little reviews on the back.) For example, did I want the most-read English translation? Or did I want a brand-new twenty-first century English translation? (There were two: a 2005 Briggs translation and a 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky translation with the French sections still intact) Would I rather be familiar with the versions most English speakers my age have read, or would I rather read the newer translations? Would I gain something from reading a classic version of a classic? Or should I cheerfully accept a highly-readable modern translation with modern grammar, vocabulary, and syntax? Or would that be jolting, since War and Peace is classic-y? Would the contemporary language take something away from the historicity of the text?

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I reminded myself, though, that Tolstoy’s original audiences would have read War and Peace in a Russian text that to them would not have sounded antiquated. The same for English audiences soon after the 1904, 1923, and 1957 translations. I fingered the 2005 and 2007 translations. (Which incidentally had two cover choices: a heavy colorful volume with eastern-inspired art, and a bulky, rough-edge gilding little beauty, sporting a bronze chandelier, which I’m sure has nothing to do with War and Peace but has everything to do with fashion design trends of the 2000s.)

The point is, War and Peace is in modern, global English for the first time in 80 years. (The ’57 version used exclusively British English.) English audiences today (and in the next decade or so) get to have an experience with the text that will not happen for another fifty years. We get to read it in our contemporary language. Picture this: it’s 2074 and a professor of English soon realizes that her students, or her grandchildren, struggle through War and Peace. The diction and vocabulary are complicated and outdated. A re-translation will occur. Language changes over time.

Since I did not have a smartphone with me at the bookstore to google which translation I should choose, I went with the Briggs. Later, I learned there is a quite a controversy between the 2005 Briggs translation and 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky, some of it having to do with class (intellectual snobs arguing that Tolstoy’s book wouldn’t have been easily accessible to all social classes, since he wrote portions in French and not all 1860s Russians were bilingual, so modern English translations should also keep the French portions original to maintain the inaccessibility), some of it having to do with style (Tolstoy’s Russian was choppy, so English translations should be choppy), and some of it having to do with Britishisms (can we really handle Russian soldiers popping out in lower-class British dialects). But you can read all this scholarship for yourself. By googling it.

Or. You could simply sit down and read for yourself for the first time a very accessible classic. I went with the Briggs, which leaves out the original French. It proves to be highly accessible, and I am devouring it more voraciously than even this winter’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Reader, you have raised your hand, I see.

“Why do we read Tolstoy?”

We read Tolstoy because he became convinced of the relevance of the teachings of Jesus Christ for everyday living. Fifteen years after publishing War and Peace, Tolstoy announced himself a pacifist, inspired by Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. (This fact alone drove this twenty-first century Anabaptist to read his earlier work. What could I learn, I asked myself, from his early questioning?) In fact, Tolstoy’s rejection of government involvement due to his pacifist leanings got him kicked out of the Russian Orthodox church. Interestingly, Tolstoy’s writings on nonviolence went on to inspire the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. These reasons, dear reader, are why we read Tolstoy.

Nonetheless, to first-time readers of Tolstoy’s amazing work, choose for yourself between the twenty-first century Briggs and the Pevear and Volokhonsky. But do it sometime in the next decade. The freshness of the dialogue will not occur again for another fifty years.

Survival Tips for First-Year Teachers

Last week I talked about some of the hardest lifestyle adjustments first-year teachers make. This week I’m giving a few survival tips for first-year teachers in regards to relationships.

Make friends with the other teachers (for the students’ sake).
Engaging other teachers in constructive conversation reduces stress by challenging your one-dimensional views of students. I was sitting at a basketball game this year, cheering for my boys, and I leaned over to another teacher: “I kind of forget that they do things other than English.” And I don’t need to tell you that that’s a problem. Certainly, having chosen the field of language and literature, I obviously see the English classroom as a very important part of development on the part of a student and an individual, but I need to remember that their performance in my class does not represent their entire being. You might only see students in the context of your class, and your class might not be their best subject. What happens is that you begin to make a little box and put the student in it. Talking to other teachers can help round out a student.

“Jake is doing poorly in my English class. He’s very quiet, he hardly says anything, and he doesn’t perform on tests and quizzes the way I’d like him to. How is he doing in science?”
“Oh, he’s doing very well in science! He participates so well in class! I can always count on him to raise his hand to answer questions. He’s so interested by biology!”

(Near verbatim conversation that I had this year.) Having these conversations can help round out a student because you can begin to pinpoint the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. You can share the triumphs of students who excel, but you can also gain helpful information in understanding where your struggling students’ strengths and interests lie. These cross-discipline conversations are very important. For example, it can lead you to ask the question: what would happen for Jake in English class if we wrote English research papers on biology topics? What if we discussed a controversial bio ethics issue for the speech class debate? These constructive conversations can actually make you more hopeful about a struggling student’s future performance.

(A note: these conversations also lead to discussions about social dynamics among the students. For example, one student may be quieter in one class because of a certain peer group, but be much more engaged in another class. Noticing those peer group patterns and discussing them are insightful.)

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Make friends with other teachers (for the teachers’ sakes).
It is a good idea to try to serve your fellow teachers.
“ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. I’M DOING COSTUMES FOR THE SCHOOL PLAY, MAKING BROWNIES FOR PARENT’S NIGHT, AND CHANGING BULLETIN BOARDS THIS WEEKEND. YEAH AND REPORT CARDS ARE DUE.”
Cringe. Pat pat. It’s going to be oooookay.
Certainly, the little things pile up. But you might think of finding ways to be available to your fellow teachers. If you hear a teacher complaining about a task that comes very easily to you, you might offer to help. (Little. Little tasks here. Not school-play-costume-sized tasks.) Think instead of things like: “I can bring back those copies for you.” “I can make that announcement for you.” “I’d love to brainstorm with you about the hallway behavior problem you’re having.” Showing other teachers that you are human (that you are available and that you care) builds a positive atmosphere and might just work in your favor down the road. Like when, after your emotional wailing about the rented costumes getting ripped, a helpful co-teacher (who happens to sew) offers to mend the ripped costumes. And she acts like it’s no big deal at all.

Find a way to connect (to the students).
I’m not sure how to put this. If you have not seen the movie Frozen, you are NOTHING. I’m suggesting that it’s important to stay marginally informed of kid culture. No, perhaps you’d rather not watch The Hunger Games or another Duck Dynasty episode. You don’t like country music, and you think One Direction has terrible lyrics. Maybe you don’t even have a smart phone yet. However, my advice is: get in the know. Try every now and then to be relatable. Otherwise you might end up having an awkward conversation with a car load of eighth graders, where, when asked about a cool movie you recently watched, you do a comparative analysis of the French government’s round up of 8,000 Jews in Paris in 1942 to America’s modern-day abortion genocide. As for the eighth graders, they will probably stare at you like you are from Mars. A better response might be: Despicable Me.

Find a way to disconnect (from the students).
A fair warning to new teachers: you will get very wrapped up in your students’ lives. You will spend outrageous amounts of time thinking about your kids. (Even if you are a content teacher, or, one who teaches because they “love science!” rather than because they “love kids!” Content teachers still care a lot about their students and their success as individuals.)
However, this involvement can be a source of stress. Teachers can stress themselves out by thinking that they are the child savior. This year, I would periodically get overwhelmed because I would feel like a child needed so much, and I need to give them more, but I realized I couldn’t give them everything they needed. And that was true.

I’ve heard it explained like this: we as teachers have both responsibilities and opportunities. We have the responsibility to teach grammar and lit, to test for comprehension, and to lock the classroom at night. We also have opportunities. We have the opportunity to encourage a failing student. We have the opportunity to reach out to a child who is struggling at home. We have the opportunity to love a child unconditionally and to teach them to spread their wings and fly.

However, we cannot get our responsibilities and opportunities mixed up. For first-year teachers, I think that responsibilities must come first. The first year of teaching is about mastering the content, simplifying the busy work, and honestly, just surviving. From my own experience, I would encourage first-year teachers to prioritize immediate responsibilities rather than spending too much time trying to change the world. (But, we feel the pressure to, because there are so many haters of the mistakes of first-year teaching. Why must all seasoned teachers and popular teacher/authors continually disparage what goes on in your first year? It is really discouraging!)

The days will come where you look at you bulletin boards, and realize they needed to be changed two weeks ago, and your report cards are due, and also those thirty research papers, and you will burst into years. Because you will remember your sick neighbor (who probably deserves a casserole), your filthy kitchen at home, and those bills that need to be paid. But on top of all this, you will find that you cannot stop thinking about that undisciplined student who is failing, who said today, “I’m not smart enough to go to college.”

It is at this moment that you need to remember: do the responsibilities first. The opportunities will be there tomorrow. You have a lifetime of teaching. Changing the world tomorrow might mean taking the sticky-tack off the wall today. Opportunities are sweet. But they should not be contrived.

Strangely, the survival tip here is: get away. Take a weekend off. Go visit family. Play a game of soccer. Go out for coffee (with non-teachers). Get a hobby. Do absolutely no school work. You will be amazed at how clear your mind will be when you return. I especially encourage the weekend thing. In late winter. To a place with lots of sunshine. Give yourself a sanity break. You (and your students) deserve it.

The Hardest Things About First-Year Teaching

It has been said: “Calm first-year teachers are like magical unicorns. They are rarely found in the wild.” And to that I say, “Duh. They’re at school lesson planning.” The teachers, I mean. Not the unicorns.

At the end of my first year of teaching junior high and high school English, I decided to come up with a list some of the hardest things that first-year teachers face. Some difficult things about a first-year teacher’s lifestyle include:

School Dayz

Getting used to school culture.
Day trips to Chicago? Thanksgiving lunch exchanges? Formal Christmas banquets for junior high students? Regional spelling bees?
Are you kidding me? We never did anything like that in school. Well, that’s not true. We had Dress-Like-A-Book-Character Day. And we saved up money to go to the Spruce Lake Outdoor School in the Poconos for a week. So I guess we had our fun too.

It can be difficult to adjust to a new school culture. Beware. These cultures exist. Students, teachers, and school administrators plan with happy fondness these annual events. However, to new teachers, these events seem like Another Abominable Addition to the Abiding To-Do List. New teachers: the events aren’t that bad. Try to embrace New Ways of Doing Things.

Realizing you aren’t hip anymore.
If you are a twenty-something jumping into the junior high and high school classroom, it might be a little jolting to embrace your new identity of an authority figure. Teaching high school makes the school memories come flooding back. Only something’s different. You aren’t part of the crowd. Things have changed. You’re an authority figure now. And you aren’t hip anymore. You probably mention the 90s. You probably talk about things from five years ago. You probably wear flats that were bought in 2012. Sadly, new teacher, in your students’ eyes, you are now a part of that homogenous clueless adultness. Also, you’re really old. If you don’t figure that out, your students will remind you, eyes bulging, when you tell them how old you are.

Getting up at 5:00 a.m.
First-year teachers work incredibly long hours. We put in twelve hour days several times a week. And that doesn’t count the grading we take home for “homework”. So, perhaps you’re one of those Type A persons who has always enjoyed getting up at the crack of dawn. (And in the winter, getting up when it’s dark and going home when it’s dark.) I, for one, am not that kind of person.

Perhaps this is one of those “You’re not in college anymore” moments or a “Now you’re a responsible adult” thing. I mean, I’m coming off a college lifestyle where 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. are perfectly acceptable bedtimes. And three and four hours is an acceptable night of sleep. (You know what they say about college. Homework, sleep, friends—pick two.) I happened to be one of those students who went to school full time and worked part time. You do the math for a sleep schedule. Anyway, in college, when you’re only taking care of yourself, you can get away with less sleep. Nobody notices if you are a zombie in statistics class every now and then, or if you get a little dizzy on the university sidewalk. Sleep would have been nice, you think. But that all-nighter was totally worth the GREAT essay I just turned in! Must find caffeine. Must have Americano!

But when, as a teacher, you are required to be on top of your game every single day, and when you are required to respond patiently to all the fifth graders’ questions (there are many; they wonder about all the things), it is essential to have adequate rest. In other words, first-year teachers: grow up. You’re an adult now. Start sleeping like one.

Getting sick.
When I started my first year, I was totally unaware of the fact that first-year teachers catch virtually every flu bug. It was August, week two, and I was out with strep throat. This year, I contracted a total of three cases of strep throat. Vitamins (and extra sleep, as we have learned) became my best friends.

First-year teaching, with its schedules and germ-carrying little dears, doesn’t have to make you sick, but it can certainly do you in (quite quickly) if you combine it with any other sort of immune system stress. For example, during my first year of teaching, I decided to train for a half marathon. However, long distance running can weaken your immune system. Also, healthy runners also need to get extra sleep. So mixing the stress of first year teaching with half marathon training was, in some ways, a recipe for disaster. Which is why I spent race day on my bed at home in Ohio, wailing to my mother about three months of “wasted” training, while she wiped my feverish brow.

So what habits would I recommend for first-year teachers to start developing? Check back next week for “Survival Tips for First-Year Teachers”.

Why Matt Redman’s “Never Once” Should Be a New Hymn

The term “new hymn” may sound like an oxymoron. Certainly, an a capella hymn-singing tradition is uncommon in contemporary Christian church services. However, in conservative Mennonite churches today, four-part acapella hymn singing persists as the prominent music style of choice. You might ask: how does this tradition continue?

Mennonite churches seek to celebrate and to further this special tradition though the use of hymns in weekly services or in annual “hymn-sings,” which build in singing practice and promote familiarity with canonical hymn texts.

The newly-published purple hymnal popping up in conservative Mennonite churches

The newly-published purple hymnal popping up in conservative Mennonite churches

One important factor of this tradition is the careful selection of which hymn books will be placed in the church pews. Currently, a newly-published purple hymnal is popping up in conservative Mennonite churches (to include certain northern Indiana Mennonite congregations and schools). John D. Martin spent twenty years compiling the new Hymns of the Church, which features 65 Anabaptist composers. What sets this hymnal apart is that it features hymns that specifically cover Anabaptist themes: the Lordship of Christ, discipleship, obedience, cross-bearing, separation from the world, nonresistance, and the present Kingdom of God.

The a capella hymn-singing tradition is also promoted to Mennonite young people through choral singing opportunities at winter Bible schools. After high school, many Mennonite young people attend Bible Schools before starting a full-time job, starting college, or getting married. Most Mennonite Bible Schools have choirs in which young people practice and memorize a capella choral pieces. These newly-formed choirs then embark on tours across the U.S., visiting various Mennonite communities, churches, nursing homes, or even state prisons. It may seem unlikely, but most Mennonite young people have sung with some sort of touring choir, whether it was a church youth chorus or a Bible School choir.

(This is not to say that conservative Mennonites solely prefer acapella hymn-singing, but it is an unmistakable part of the conservative Anabaptist experience. What I mean is: my young Mennonite students still like their mainstream Christian pop and, gasp, even a little bit of country.)

Shenandoah Christian Music Camp Touring Choir 2010

Shenandoah Christian Music Camp Touring Choir 2010

Another way that Mennonites promote hymn-singing is through music education. Within conservative Anabaptist communities, there is a renewed interest in music education, and this is seen through the recently formed Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, which is held annually in Virginia and Ohio. Conservative Anabaptist music enthusiasts, song-leaders, worship leaders, and youth having been attending these summer camps since 2006. The camps feature classes in musical development, choral conducting, congregational music, and composition. Conservative Mennonites are beginning to see the need for education in order for this tradition to continue.

A capella hymn-singing is also promoted through the composition of new hymns. For one example, for the past several years, the Shenandoah Christian Music Camp has been commissioning new hymns through its annual hymn contest. The camp accepts submitted poetic texts and chooses a winning text. Then, conservative Anabaptist composers (amateur and trained alike) go to work. These composers submit their own musical version of the text, and another winning selection is made. The new hymn is sung at both the Ohio and Virginia camps.

Recently, the idea of new hymns has been on my mind, and I have thought: is it possible to arrange Christian pop songs into sing-able a capella arrangements? It’s been done before. Larry Nickel, a Canadian Mennonite composer, beautifully and effectively re-arranged the Christian worship song “In Christ Alone” to a choral acapella setting. (And where did I first hear that arrangement? Last month at a service in Nappanee featuring a Mennonite Bible school choir.)

It worked wonderfully, so I have decided that I want someone to re-set Matt Redman’s “Never Once.” Matt Redman, a Grammy-award-winning British Christian song-writer wrote the Christian pop song “Never Once” in 2011. This anthemic song is a Christian declaration of the presence and the faithfulness of God to humankind even in life’s toughest moments.

Why did I choose “Never Once” to be a new hymn?

First, it’s anthemic, musically.
Its simple tune and repetitiveness qualify it for the serious tone and chant-like treatment of anthems in contemporary classical music. (Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabuli and all that.) Personally, I think there’s tons of room for Eric Whitacre cluster chords. (Don’t laugh. It will work.) Its declaration of an aspect of Christian belief (the existence of God) defines it as a credo and also qualifies it as an anthem. Mixing all these elements means that “Never Once” qualifies for new hymn material.

Second, it’s accessible (textually).
One of the problems of hymn texts can be accessibility. The antiquated language and difficult (culturally irrelevant?) metaphors are obstacles to enjoying beautiful hymn poetry. (For instance, in old hymns, there are a lot of “anchors,” “billows,” and “stormy seas”. Personally, as a Midwesterner who happens not to own a yacht, these aquatic word pictures are a little vague as best. But as Emily Dickinson would say: a good imagination can fix that: “I never saw a moor / I never saw the sea; / Yet know I how the heather looks, /And what a wave must be.”) What I’m arguing: unless a congregation is filled with singularly imaginative folk, hymn texts can be hard to relate to. I run into this problem with my junior high students during hymn-singing time. (Oh, that’s another place that Mennonites sing. Elementary school.) Sometimes, these students lack the critical thinking skills to access the complex poetry. However, this would never be a problem with adults because we all learned to love the study of poetry in high school, right? (Ahem.) Understanding poetry, then, is necessary for the accessibility of hymns. However, while “Never Once” uses poetic metaphor, the metaphors are not obscure. Life is compared to a mountaintop and a battleground, and those metaphors are accepted generally. Thus, the “Never Once” text is accessible and congregation-friendly.

And finally, it’s communal (textually).
The diction of the personal pronouns is communal. “Never once did we ever walk alone.” This communal diction works for an a cappela choral arrangement; a hymn is meant to be sung in community. Redman’s piece, then, once rearranged, is conducive to be sung in a group, at least textually.

And perhaps that is why Mennonites prefer hymn-singing in the first place. A capella hymn-singing is community. And in our swipe-screen, social-networking solitariness, isn’t community what we all long for?

Do Antibiotics Cause Nightmares?

Do antibiotics cause nightmares?

(I suppose I could say that nightmares cause antibiotics. My current nightmare, contracting my third bout of strep throat this year, has definitely brought its share of antibiotics.)

But I ask the question because after my latest bout with my “favorite” infection (streptococcus bacteria), after taking my antibiotics religiously, I have been REALLY BAD DREAMS. I mean really bad ones. Vivid dreams. Scary dreams. Some real HUMDINGERS! I’ve had one scary dream every morning since the start of my antibiotic. There must be some connection.

So anyway, the dreams have been going as follows:

Nightmare #1: The Yogurt Rebellion
To date, I’ve had teaching nightmare dreams (where my lesson plans disappear, or where I show up at school totally unprepared). But I have not yet had a student nightmare, where the resident (student) evil rises up with restless rebellion and malevolent angst!
It was a very anxious dream wherein I could not maintain classroom control. Students were yelling and running around the small classroom. I raised my voice, demanding quietness, to no avail. One little seventh grader was yelling, name-calling, and flinging globs of purple yogurt on the floor. I yelled at him, “Stop that!” I tried to reach him, but my arms and legs would hardly move. I slowly oozed over to him. Why couldn’t my arms move faster?! I tried to grab him. He sneered and flung purple yogurt at me with his spoon. “Taaaaaake thaaaaaat!” I was so furious that I grabbed him by the neck. He spit purple yogurt on me. … … And then, I spit it back. No amount of yelling could stop the chaos….

Nightmare #2: Disney World Apocalypse
My oldest sister moved in next door to Disney World. She was able to get free tickets to Disney, so I traveled south to hang out with her. Her daily free tickets were only good for up to an hour every day. We got in line, and finally, we were inside! A whole free hour at Disney World! “What do you do here?” “Well,” she said, “We can go on rides. Let me show you the bathrooms.” The bathrooms at Disney World are very spacious. They have twelve foot ceilings. When we came out of the bathrooms, the sky in Disney World was the strangest color I’ve ever seen. The color of the sky struck me with the deepest fear in my little first-time-Disney-World heart. It was purple. It was the oddest, scariest, stormiest shade of purple you had ever seen. It was a black, fuschia purple, and the clouds were broiling. Just looking at the color made your stomach turn over. We had to run. We knew we had to get out of Disney World because “it” was coming. I’m not sure if “it” was a storm, an apocalypse, or a war, but “it” was indicated by the purple sky color, and everyone was in hysteria. We tried to exit Disney World, but you had to wait in line even to get out! We stood in line, waiting, on faded pavement, trying not to think about the purple sky, and trying to remain calm amidst chaotic fears of the end of the World.

Nightmare #3: The Kansas Youth Girl Apocalypse
My third nightmare has been the most disturbing one so far. It was about my old youth group in Kansas. I was having a great time seeing all my old chums again. We were walking in the cool prairie grasses, under a cool gray sky, near a dark contemporary building, when someone mentioned that the “deaths” would happen that night. “What deaths?!” I cried. My Kansas friends explained that it was common for the younger youth girls to be put to death to make room for more people in the community. These deaths happened about once a year. Quite a few girls were normally chosen. This year eighteen youth girls were going to be put to death. My friends were spending this last week making the girls comfortable. “It’s sad, but they understand that it’s just to make more room for everyone else.” Later, back at my house: “THIS IS SO WRONG!” I wailed to my mother. “And so unfair! I can’t believe this!” I was so livid! I was enraged! Everyone was acting so calmly about the deaths. Several days went by. No one would do anything. And no one understood how angry I was. I told my mom that I was even thinking about telling the police of the plans of the Kansas community. (THINKING?! THINKING?!) I decided to tell about the planned homicides even if it meant that my Kansas youth group wouldn’t let me be a part of it anymore. (Me, the little martyr.) I closed my eyes. And then I heard a train whistle. I heard a truck rumble past. My cell phone started beeping. I was laying in my little bed in Nappanee. I was anxious, sad, and heart-broken. For several minutes. Until I realized. THAT IT WAS ALL A DREAM, PRAISE JESUS! IT’S FRIDAY!

Sadly, there were no Purple Things in Nightmare #3.

Yikes, guys. I still have a couple of days to go on my antibiotic. This could get interesting.

 

Thank God for Facebook: A Poem About the Status of Affirmation Markets

Where else can you buy friends through
the economic exchange of numerous pics and posts?

It is a curious thing to donate your time and energy to
agreeing with ideas (that can be counted).

The worker’s wages are classical conditioning,
minus the cost of employment
plus the benefits of feeling less lovely
and then you can add a photo.

The more you complain and comment,
the more you’re liked and loved.
You don’t count it all joy, but
you do count all your notifications.

You search for people, places, and things,
You update statuses and “save changes,” yet
you never save changes in your first relationship
(because you don’t relate to the sonship
you once knew).
Your spiritual profile needs updating,
but first you need help editing your on-and-off-line relationships.

You shop for affirmation in your newsfeed–
You skim ads, looking for a better life than the one you’re already buying into.
You’re shocked to learn that it costs to promote yourself.
(You know,
it shouldn’t be a surprise that
this free market costs a lot.

I’ll tell you that your self-promotion is expensive.
It cost him, who made himself nothing, everything.
You don’t remember him?
Maybe that’s because you defriended him
and bought friends to replace him who bought you.

I think you must feel that the economy of immediacy is more valuable
than the price of eternal intimacy.

It’s clear you’re selling out.

You might say: who needs God?
You certainly don’t need him because you have: a white rectangle that’s asking what’s on your mind.

Flour Town: Inquire Within

How I came to the ruler-straight, dry pavement of Flour Town
is beyond

me.

My wheels bump along the wide
patches of dry
manure clods
on Tomahawk road, a road
named by white European settlers,
a road
that takes Yutzys to buy some
Troyer’s cheese

and wide-brimmed hats.

At least I think they’re supposed to be wide-brimmed, but I’m just guessing here.

A road
that Pablo takes to get to work
at Cielito Lindo.

A road
with an unreasonably large Amish hotel
(Yes, Flour Town’s hotels go to church)

and a theater that runs poorly-researched musicals
(Hey Mel:
[and Glee, for that matter]
they don’t use musical instruments)

A road
that a Midwestern, Middle-class family of four runs on
to get physically fit.

A road
wearily driven by first shift factory workers
streaming in
in gray pick-up trucks.

A road
perused by a
curious, attentive,
young, visiting,
hard-working, judgmental,
hopeful, excited,
educated,
Mennonite,
first-year
English teacher.

Reading in the New Year

Great writers are well read. For this reason, one of my goals for the new year is to read. One thing that has helped me to read more is to accept my own strange reading habits. I feel so much better about my reading habits after reading Douglas Wilson’s book Wordsmithy. In his chapter “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” he encourages writers to read widely, and he announces that it’s totally okay to have, like, twenty books going at a time.

I’m relieved. I actually have a whole shelf devoted to books I’m currently reading. I start reading really great books, but sometimes I don’t have time to finish them right away. And then another book catches my fancy. Or, I’ll be in the middle of a good book, but it’s not the right “book mood” for the certain time of day that I’m reading: for relaxing late at night, for quiet dinner times, or for loud-ish laundromats. So I’ll start yet another book. However, thanks to Wilson, I no longer have to feel guilty about my ADD reading habits.

Right now I’m in the middle of seven (yes, seven) books.

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1. Obligatory Classic: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Fact: A Tale of Two Cities is (except for religious texts like the Bible or the Quran) the best-selling book in the world today. So I think to myself: this book I’ve got to read! Plus, it was one of the highest bidders for my tiny facebook survey of “What classic shall Esther read next?” Several people have responded about this book: “It’s kind of hard to get into, but once you get near the end, you’re like, ‘This is about Everything!’”
Reason for Reading: As an English teacher, I’m trying to brush up on the classics that I haven’t read yet. Sadly, my own high school curriculum and even my liberal arts college education gave me a poor treatment of the classics, so accessing these texts will be prove to be a long, arduous journey, but nonetheless personally satisfying. I think these books have more meaning then we can even begin to imagine.
Reading Ease: It’s not been super easy, but it’s been interesting and heart-warming. I truly have to train myself to enjoy deep reading. I do waaayyy too much internet reading, so I truly do have a short attention span.

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2. Christian Life: Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Fact: A lot of my friends read this New York Times bestseller five years ago. Cringe. (Okay, so, I’m a little behind.) The great thing for me, though, is that I get to read the “revised and updated” 2013 version.
Reason for Reading: I wanted to read a book about the Christian life that focuses on the character of God. The version I’m reading is almost devotional as Chan encourages frequent meditation throughout the different sections.
Reading Ease: Very simple. Chan is not writing. He is talking, and he is doing so in an everyday street vernacular. His paragraphs and thoughts don’t always really relate together in logical ways, and a time or two he (carelessly?) dismisses huge theological debates with simple statements of childlike faith. But. I have to consider the point of his book (which is not to answer huge theological questions) and the audience to whom he is writing (the churched, who perhaps he assumes has come to accept, based on faith, certain debated issues.) And, I have to remember that sometimes my “earnest, academic questioning” is not so genuine, but is really only prideful. Or lazy. It is a laziness that comes in the way of getting to know God better. Or that comes in the way of my obedience or of my having to be faithful to certain teachings and beliefs. It’s almost like I’m saying, “Well, I don’t have that figured out yet, so I don’t need to obey my Savior in this area yet.” ?? Ironically, Chan even addresses this tendency (though in regards to another issue) in the book. He talks about the sins of worry and stress, and he writes: “These two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.” My toes are stepped on.

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3. Christian Life, Academic: Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians ed. By Kelly Monroe Kullberg.
Fact: Few of you will forget my raving review of Finding God Beyond Harvard, the second book that Kullberg compiled. That book, for me, was life-changing and inexplicably refreshing.
Reason for Reading: My secular liberal arts education, the media, cynical bloggers, dear searching friends, hipster Christians, and even the Church have told me that Christians can’t, or don’t, think. This book indicates otherwise. So you better believe that I’m going to read it.
Reading Ease: Now, we are talking about academics here. They write gorgeous prose about their super-interesting and diverse (albeit mostly upper-class) backgrounds, which is really fun if you are in a learn-y, academic-y mood. Honestly, it’s exciting. But not what I would call easy reading.

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4. Christian Theology: Miracles by C. S. Lewis
Fact: The New Yorker writes: “If wit and wisdom, style and scholarship are requisites to passage through the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis will be among the angels.” I AGREE! Esther squeals in a sort of teenage-One-Direction-like frenzy.
Reason for Reading: Duh. Lewis is AHmazing. I have greatly enjoyed Mere Christianity, and even Chesterton himself, the one who got Lewis thinking about Christianity in the first place.
Reading Ease: To be honest, I need “world enough and time” for this one. And a little peace and quiet. So many great thoughts, that I fear they may pass over my little mind, but nevertheless, I grasp, reverently, at the few pearls I might amass. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.

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5. Biography/Memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World by Shirley Hershey Showalter
Fact: I pre-ordered this book before it was even available to the public. Showalter writes about growing up conservative Mennonite to finally becoming a college president! I read an online interview a while back about this book, and Showalter said something to the effect that there’s a lot of books out there about being Amish or growing up Mennonite, but this is a book by someone who actually lived it.
Reason for Reading: I spent a good deal of my English (Pre-Education) undergraduate degree reading a ton of “minority” literature so that (according to the state of Ohio) I would be prepared to teach all kinds of constituencies. Well, guess what? I never found “myself” or “my people,” very remotely, in ANY of the literature we read, so I guess all this talk about diversity is a little misleading, wouldn’t you say?
Reading Ease: Great! If you’ve had a bit of a literary education, you can pick out the literary things she’s doing… like starting her book, quite literally, in a root cellar, and beginning with genealogies. But even if you don’t pick up those things, you will find it to be an interesting read.

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6. Familiar, Comfortable, Baby-Bye-Bunting-Feeling Book: Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
Fact: Growing up I had many positive role models of strong, educated females both in my literature choices and in my guarded exposure to media. Anne Shirley, Jo March, Christy, and Maria von Trapp? It’s like I didn’t even have a chance. #teacherforlife
Reason for Reading: To induce baby-bye-bunting feelings when one’s family is very, very far away.
Reading Ease: Quite perfect. Just enough plot to keep you moving and just enough contemplative moments to keep you thinking.

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7. Nonfiction: Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language by Robert McCrum
Fact: You all probably watched McCrum’s informative, though highly dated, T.V. series “The Story of English” in your introductory undergraduate linguistics coarse.
Reason for Reading: It struck my fancy in the nonfiction section at our local library. I absolutely love studying the history of the English language. That course, “The History of English,” was one of my favorite courses at Ohio State. Thank you, Dr. Modan!
Reading Ease: Good. He’s clearing his throat a lot at the beginning, or it seems like it to me (maybe because I’ve actually studied a bit of these topics before), and he has an amusing view of the United States and its politics (most snobby Europeans do), and his writing is cluttered with a lot of academic jargon, but I think I will be able to pop over these portions with ease to get to the real meat of his work.

Also, we include a picture of McCrum because he is so funny to look at.

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Question 1: Do you believe in “reading moods”?

Question 2: What is the largest amount of books you’ve ever had going at a time?