My Celebrity Birthday Friends

Big shout out to all my famous celebrity birthday friends!
(In case you don’t know who my birthday-matching buddies are, I can fill you in. I share my birthday, April 26th, with:

1. Marcus Aurelius

Born April 26, my buddy Mark was a Roman Emperor from A.D. 161 to 180. He was a Stoic philosopher and wrote a bunch of quotes for the internet.

HB.jpg

2. David Hume

David (known as Davy to his close friends) was a Scottish philosopher born 1711 who basically blew rationalists to shreds, arguing that passion guides human behavior and also argued against inductive reasoning. Well, Davy, say what you want, but I think your most impressive feature is that at 25 years old you basically had NO JOB and NO PROSPECTS but you managed to figure it out and write a ton of influential stuff. Pat, pat.

HB2.jpg

3. John James Audobon

My buddy John, born 1785, was an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He basically discovered 25 new kinds of birds ON HIS OWN, and painted a whole bunch more and put them in a book that you can get maybe on Amazon?

HB3.jpg

 

4. Frederick Law Olmstead

Freddy, my man! Frederick Law Olmstead, born April, 26, 1822, was an American landscape architect who designed some really cool parks that y’all should really check out! Fred designed Central Park in New York City, and he also collaborated with The Ohio State University on the design of my universiy’s beloved Oval. Boom. Everybody loves Freddy!

HB5.jpg

5. the Prophet Muhammad

According to some sources, the Prophet Muhammad was born April 26, 570. So we are basically twins. Peace, Muhammad.

HB4.jpg

6. Channing Tatum

Mr. Tatum is an American actor (born April 26, 1980) who overcame attention deficit disorder (ADD) and dyslexia to become a highly successful actor, worth $60,000,000. (Ladies, he’s married. To Jenna, actually. Now aren’t they cute.)

HB6.jpg

Happy Birthday Channing, Prophet, Freddie, John, Davy, and Marcus!

 

 

A Poem: Teaching Heart Beats

I’ve been working on portions of this poem every spring over the last three years of teaching here in Indiana. It’s deeply personal, and for my students.

There are things left unspoken inside a teacher’s heart. After the grading is done and the lesson plans are printed and the meetings are over, some of us teachers go home, and myriad thoughts whirl around in our heads, long after the sun sleeps, and we lie in darkness praying for tomorrow.

In “Part I: Memories,” you’ll meet several students that are characters created from parts of students’ personalities from the past three years, collected into single characters. “Part II: Lament” grieves students’ loss of innocence, and “Part III: Credo” is a charge for Christian teachers. “Part IV: Invocation” is a prayer for my students.

I’m not particularly fond of this poem (obviously, as I’ve been continually revising it). But sometimes revisions are never done. So I’m putting it out here, meaning, it’s good enough, and it’s what I want it to be for now.

IMG_20160323_193537.jpg

Teaching Heart Beats

Part I: Memories

Once,
I saw you reach out.
Once, I saw you pray.
Once, I saw you put an end to the mocking.
Once, I saw you listen.

I see you.

They told me, “His name is Learning Problem.” “He calls himself Attitude.”
I try to see potential.
And buried in your sporadically-done homework, I once heard a quiet moral opinion from you.
I whisper-cheered through clenched teeth, at my desk, at 9:00 p.m.
“Yessss.” He thought today.
My hope is that you will think tomorrow.
And the next day.
And the day after that.

I see you.
You’re the one who demands A’s.
But I gave you a B
To teach you to think.
Writing is the measure of thinking,
Not silly test scores.

I see you.
You’re all alone at lunchtime,
The others gathered around in desperate cliques, animatedly eating.
And my heart aches for you.
I pray for you.
I think you are special. I think you are unique.
(If I were 14, we would be friends!)

I see you.
You’re the intellectual one.
You keep me on my toes when you fact-check me.
Your assignments are almost chilling in their brilliance.
You will be taking a road that not many of your peers will.
My advice: keep your social life and go play some volleyball. Get the B.
(Learning the art of friendship is also a lifelong study.)
Teaching you is one of my biggest tasks.
I feel a huge responsibility to guide you toward the big “c.”
College.
You will go.
Will you become bitter at your uneducated subculture?
When will you realize that Mennonite pastors and deacons are fallible humans?
Will you notice the uncommon fellowship of our subculture?
Will that fellowship be important enough for you to stay?
Will you find community, acceptance, love, or romance outside our culture, leading you away?
Will that acceptance change your morals?

I see you.
Wasting time.
Staring
At
The
Clock.
Creatively taking a long time to do anything besides your work.
Throw away a tissue.
Get a drink.
Go to the bathroom.
(I snicker at you.)
Know why?
Your vocab words still aren’t done. Even after all that.

I see you.
You had to stay in from recess.
Again.
You glance up from your book
And with your inquisitive face
You inquire
What this verse means
And how to deal with an angry friend.
Your thirst for wisdom is deep.

I see you

I see you all.

Do you know
…that your radiant face in 8 a.m. Bible class is inspiring?
…that your seriousness and bold attention in literature is startling?
…that your hard work and goodwill are so convicting?

You are skillful students. You clean, cook, work, and play with such excellence.

(Who do we think we are, trying to exercise your minds?)

To the students at UCS:
Your faces and lives stretch before me
like a promising Midwestern sunset

And I weep
on my knees
for the lives you will live.
I thank God for the pain you will endure in the next five years,
pain being the only thing God can use to empty you of yourself so that you cling all the more to Him.

What token, what gift, can I give to you who have given me so much?
This poem
is my photograph.
Keep a copy to glance at sometimes
and remember a teacher who saw you in this way.

Part II: Lament

I am weeping for you.
My heart is bleeding for you.
Oh my students.
The pain in your lives.
The hurts from your past.
Your broken families.
Your lost childhoods.

Part III: Credo

We will be strong.
We will be pure.
We will stand in the gap.
We will sacrifice our lives.
We will build up the church.
We will love each other.

We will not back down.
We will be good role models.
We will love Jesus more.
We will be disciplined.
We will be difference makers.

We will not be down-hearted, cynical, or hopeless.
We serve the God of all comfort.

Our task is not our task.
Our task is God’s task.
To bind up the broken hearted, to heal their wounds, to love.
God is our hope.

Part IV: Invocation

The wind whips and whistles through the early spring sunshine
Tries to dry the wet land and white lumps in the fields.

I know that spring is coming.
We are not surprised.
It always does.

So like spring
comes the enduring work of God.
And wherever His Word goes
It is not wasted.

Oh Jesus
Ravish us with the spring-dream of your unending faithfulness and blessing.
Amen.

How My School Ruled April Fool’s

You know, April Fool’s Day doesn’t fall on a school day for another three years, so my co-teachers and I planned a memorable day for the students.

First, the tired and trodden students ambled sleepily into the hallway only to be met with a Barrage of Large Objects in Their Path, and found themselves ducking under the high jump bars, around a very large caged bunny, moving past a fake tree, hoisting themselves over a massive, ten foot long, two foot high long jump mat, and proceeding down the hallway, filled with a roll-y cart, a commercial vacuum cleaner, and a table supporting a large bowl of…. onions. And a broom was sticking out of the library book return receptacle.

As students streamed into school, they asked our secretary who filled the hall.

“You tell me!” she retorted.

Confused, the high school students turned to our “slightly annoyed” high school teacher.

“Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously some of the older ones, either the seniors or the youth group who rented the gym last night!” he sighed, irritated. (Our prank wasn’t just the hall-filling, but also convincing the students that we hadn’t done it.) The surprised students immediately began denying their involvement; THEY certainly didn’t want to be held responsible or have to clean up the mess. (We as teachers VOWED that the responsible parties would put everything away.)

“I wonder who it was,” the ornery students asked, in awe.

Students who attended the “offending” youth group’s gym night immediately began protesting.

“I’m sure it wasn’t us! We didn’t even have keys to the school! They school renter unlocked for us!”

The high school teacher brushed them aside.

“You could have easily gotten a key!”

“But it wasn’t us! You have to believe us!”

One conscientious student, on his way to class, approached the teacher and said penitently, “I just want you to know that it wasn’t me. You can call my parents. I was definitely home last night and there is no way that I did it.”

Meanwhile, the seniors headed to their second class and stopped the principal.

“Who was it? Who filled the hall?”

“Well it was obviously your youth group!” he retorted.

“It wasn’t us! We promise!”

“Well then maybe it was the senior girls!” he hurumphed.

The senior girls were getting visibly upset and started protesting louder,

“IT WASN’T US! Why do we always get blamed for everything?!”

“All right, come here, I need you to help me with something,” our principal said. He disappeared for a few moments, and then pulled up to the school’s front door with his car, of which he had taken off the side mirrors.

For the seniors, it suddenly clicked what was going on. They greedily helped him ease the car into the hallway. Just yet another Large Object in the Path.

Around this time, we teachers released the three BABY GOATS into the gym.

The poor little kindergarten class, whose classroom is right next door to the gym, heard a bleating sound. One small student excitedly announced to his pregnant teacher, “I just heard your baby make a noise!”

Next, our secretary asked a senior girl to “go get me something from the fridge.” A few moments later we hear screams of terror as she returns.

“MISS MILLER, MISS MILLER! THERE’S BABY GOATS IN THE GYM! THEY’RE RUNNING AROUND AND THEY SCARED ME SO BAD!”

Meanwhile, in the junior high classroom, we were having a surprisingly fun class. We had just played a game in celebration of finishing our annual research papers and had settled in to a monotonous grammar review. Midway through the review, I stopped.

“Did you all hear that? I heard a cell phone.”

No response.

“I was sure I heard a cell phone,” I said. “Does anyone have one in your desk?”

I cocked my head at a seventh grade boy and bored into him with my gaze. I marched over to him.

“I’ve talked to you before about having your phone in your desk instead of keeping it turned off and outside in the hall in your backpack.” I put my hands on my hips. “You’re going to have to give me your phone.” I returned to the front of class and threw the purple cell phone on my desk. I put my hands on hips and sighed angrily. Suddenly, I whipped a hammer out of my desk and began smashing the phone to pieces! Up and down and up and down I raised the hammer, hitting the phone to bits! Tiny pieces of glass spread over my desk and onto the floor. The phone nearly slid off my desk, but I reached after it smashing it over and over with my mallet.

Out of the corner of my eye, I grew startled by junior high students’ scared, apprehensive glances. THEY WERE IN LITERAL SHOCK.

I could hardly contain myself. I fought not to laugh, but all of a sudden I grew pained because I realized that my students were actually afraid of me in that moment, terrified at the monster I had become.

I gurgled and giggled nervously. “Uh, April Fool’s, guys.”

Only two students kind of giggled. The rest stared at me strangely, not believing what they had just seen. They sat in solemn terror. I tried to lighten it up by laughing and explaining how I had planned this at the beginning of the day with the seventh grade boy. He, of course, was smiling behind his hand. Once I was sure that they all got that it was a joke, we resumed English class, but they were all still a little shaken! They all sat quietly through the rest of grammar class, even as I kept giggling at the front of the classroom. By the end though, they were smiling shyly and me and each other.

Student 1: “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought: ‘She is WAY overreacting.’”

Student 2: “I was SOOOOO scared! I was shaking!”

Student 3: “I was pretty sure a guy wouldn’t have a purple phone.”

Student 4: “I knew he didn’t have a phone, so I was pretty sure it was a joke.”

Student 5: “I thought you had literally GONE CRAZY.”

IMG_20160401_100915.jpg

Down at typing class, our secretary had created her own fun by changing the autocorrect on all the computers so that whenever the students typed the word “candy” (a word from their typing exercise for the day), it would automatically change to rude name-calling names. How would you like it if the words you keep trying to type change to “Stinky Face” or “Liver-witted Hiney Squeegee”? (Tears are rolling down my cheeks right now.)

One high school teacher gave a test, with regular questions interspersed with IMPOSSIBLE questions that the students could never be expected to know.

A particularly conscientious student, quite confused, reasoned, “Mr. Yoder, I’m SURE we never went over these in class! And I KNOW they weren’t on the review sheet!”

“Are you sure?” he answered, calm and surprised. “Keep working; maybe you’ll find a question later that can help you with this one.”

That question being the last question on the test: “DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TODAY IS APRIL FOOL’S DAY?!”

Not wanting to leave out the little ones, we even got the youngest students in on the fun. Our kindergarten teacher passed out little packets of Cheerios labeled “Donut Seeds.”

“Take these home and plant them, and you can have your very own donut tree!” she said.

Most of the young ones knew it was a joke because she had carefully explained to them about the prank in the hallway and had even read a story about April Fool’s Day. But one young man somehow missed it all because later he was still talking about taking home his donut seeds so that he could grow his own donuts.

Back in the high school classroom, our math teacher was explaining the kindergarten prank to some students in one of his math classes. Which prompted the math students to ask:

“So what’s YOUR April Fool’s day joke? What’s YOUR teacher prank?”

Mr. Dave squinted his eyes and said, “Well, actually, I was the one who put the stuff in the hall.”

“No you didn’t!” they crowed. “That’s your prank, is you getting us to THINK that you put the stuff in the hallway! But you actually didn’t!”

By this time, we as teachers are just howling because of how many levels of prank-ness there is by now.

“No, this time I really did it!” he laughed.

By this time, the students decided to get in on the fun. They successfully sequestered the high school teacher’s fancy, cushy, office chair, awkwardly lugging the large rolling chair, from end-to-end of the school, in panicked rush, to avoid being seen by the high school teacher on the warpath to find his chair.

Ninth and tenth did a great one on me. I breezed into class ready to give them their vocabulary quiz, going off about the absent students and chirping about who should and shouldn’t take the quiz today… I began passing out the quizzes when I realized that all of them were smiling strangely at me. Then I realized: they’re ALL in different seats! (I have assigned seating in that class.) I hadn’t noticed at all!

One last April Fool’s Day prank came from the junior high students. Our student council planned a beautiful Easter meal today. We set up in the back of our classroom. We had fancy decorations of tulips and pearls, and ate off those really nice fake silver plasticware sets, and had grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, jello, and the most especially divine white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. (Mother who made the cheesecake: it was superb, as always!) Before we prayed our Easter prayer and ate our meal, the student council made an announcement.

“Since it’s Easter, we have a gift for each of you! BUT: you have to wait til everyone gets a present to open one!” One seventh grader ceremoniously handed each student a nicely-packaged gift bag.

“Okay! You can open them!”

We dove into our bags, clawing, and giggling with glee. And we each unwrapped…. a rock.

A dumb ‘ole rock.

Boring gray lumps of stone.

“What.” we intoned.

“APRIL FOOL’S!” the Council yelled.

We all laughed together and then our class president led us in a special prayer of thanks.

IMG_20160401_115903.jpg

Probably one of the best April Fool’s days I’ve ever had.:)

Later in study hall, the junior high girls and I dissected the rest of the cell phone. So, obviously, we had fun.

IMG_20160401_155405.jpg

 

Pardon Me, Lancaster

Have you ever wondered what happens when your most average Mennonite visits Lancaster, the hippest “Mennonite” city on the planet? THIS. A series of apologies for showing up in public. And some pretty lame Instagrams.

I offer my apologies to all the truly trendy Lancaster city-dwellers. You must know that I’m not actually trying to fit in. (I’m one beanie and one pair of ankle booties short.)

Also, I showed up in public at one of your meeting houses with, of all things, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

IMG_20160322_162628.jpg

In this case, I should actually apologize to Russia.
Dostoevsky: Lancaster can’t even take you seriously. In fact, Lancaster, I have a question for you:

Lanc

Anyway, City of Lancaster! I visited! Apparently, it was kind of a big deal for you.

So pardon me.
*disgruntled huff
*situates skirt

One thing: it’s really not fair dropping me off and leaving me to figure you out for myself because I can’t tell your fake “English” from your real ones. I can’t tell who’s a “J.O.” (that’s northern Indiana dialect for “Jumped Over,” meaning those Amish who have “jumped over” the fence to the other side: being non-Amish.)

Lanc2

You see, Lancaster, I’m an expert at picking out the “J.O’s” in Indiana. When my family (who does not live among the Amish) comes to visit me, they are surprised when I point at modern-looking teens walking around town and point out that they’re actually Amish youths, dressed up in their rumspringa clothes. My family sees a hipster, a prep, and a jock, but I see “Sadie Miller,” “Ida Hoffstettder,” and “Ray’s Johnny.” …Also, I can pick out  Mennonite and Amish J.O.’s on social media.

Lanc5

No really, I’m pretty good. In this line, you see two people: an Amish lady plus a schlepped-up high school kid. But I know for a fact: it’s mother and daughter.

20150305_183217
#fact
#J.O.
#rumspringa

But in Lancaster, I can’t tell! Is that tattooed barista a closet Mennonite? Is that homeless guy actually an Amish hipster? Is the immaculately tailored businessman actually a wealthy Mennonite in disguise? How does one tell? It’s very unfair not to let me in on all your secrets.

I’ll tell you, Lancaster, that I started exploring at the Main Street Exchange, that Mennonite mecca of modest clothing goods. Off of 322 in Blue Ball, PA, Main Street Exchange is every Mennonite girl’s dream. Racks and racks of gorgeous, modest skirts. A-line, denim, maxi, and pencil. Tube, pleated, and midi. It’s all there. And artfully arranged, differentiated by style, texture, and material.

And so Lancaster, to try to fit in, I Instagrammed. (Don’t laugh.)

Lanc7.jpg

Next, I headed off to Rachel’s Crepery, where I’ve made pilgrimages in the past.

Lanc8.jpg

I was seated next to a light-colored brick fireplace and a curiously large palm. I hugged my mug of coffee, anticipating my Greek Omelette crepe. The blue skies and sunshine streaming in the window, my crepe, and my cheerful waitress did not disappoint. (You know, some businesses know how to hire workers who are unequivocally delighted to serve everyone who enters, no matter how dour and dawdy they are. Rachel’s Crepery in Lancaster and Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio are two companies who do this.) My waitress smiled at me,  even though I was wearing a shirt from last season! Good job, Lancaster.

I would have photographed my crepe, but:

Lanc6

Next, I scouted out a runing shoe store to look for new trainers. (NEW BALANCE FRIENDZ: HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW 1080s?!!!) The shoes are turning out to be rather elusive, however, and I didn’t even find them.) Soon, I had the abrupt realization that I was shopping for athletic wear in LANCASTER.

Lanc10.jpg

I’m pretty sure no one in Lancaster even wears athletic shoes.That, for you, would be so… basic. So much for trying. (See, even when I try to be Lancaster-y, I can’t even.)

Wow. Also. Sorry, Lancaster! You guys have a LOT of rules about using credit cards! Several times people gave me the evil eye for whipping out my plastic. I’m sorry. In the rest of the world, we use credit cards for the tiniest of purchases, and no one charges our businesses exorbitant fees for processing. I mean, I can deal with your policies, but I’ll have to get used to it?

By this time, I was ready for more caffeine. Now, there were like a hundred hip coffee shops to choose from in Lancaster city.

Lanc4

Obviously, I chose Prince Street Café because it’s so… central. Even though it’s kind of… basic. So I paid $3 to in Prince Street Café next to three “Chinese” men, a chemistry “student,” and a “guy” with a meticulously groomed mustache. (Not buying it. They were probably all just Amish.) I spent the rest of my afternoon in Lancaster reading Dostoevsky, but, in an attempt to fit in with the locals, I religiously kept checking Instagram. I didn’t TAKE that many Instagrams because I mean, I know that my photography isn’t that well composed, I know that it’s not white enough, and I know that you, Lancaster, would be embarrassed if I tagged you in pictures of my embarrassingly Midwestern self.

So, you’re welcome.

Soon, I left the city, heading south on 81, excited for my next stop, several states away. Later, I ended up stranded for over an hour in a traffic jam behind a car in which a man was stuck in the trunk and was trying to get out. I decided that it was highly metaphorical of my day in Lancaster city.

IMG_20160322_213841.jpg

Just kidding. (But thanks for reading.)
Peace, love, and authenticity to all.

Documentaries and Bill Cunningham: What’s Not to Love?

Right now I’m obsessed with documentaries. Recently, I’ve watched three ballet documentaries, a sailing documentary, and the most recent flick was a fashion documentary about The New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.

I’m kind of in love with high fashion. (Not that I use fashion to express myself, but I’m intensely interested by those who do.)

100_9415.JPG

I mean, who can get away with wearing these things? What does wearing a wooden plank over your face even mean? What was the fashion designer trying to communicate with a rhapsody in blue? With a sad giraffe? With middle eastern military grunge?

What is meant by a balls of fruit necklace or Snoopy and lace?

I love high fashion’s oddities, its lack of boundaries.

And even its parodies.

I love the colors and textures. The body as canvas.
And the street style photography is some of the most interesting. It’s like a coloring book that refuses to behave.

Back to documentaries, I loved watching recently the documentary of Bill Cunningham, an 86 year old fashion photographer who cycles the streets of New York City, intent on shooting the most colorful of the city’s residents. A couple of surprises from the documentary include:

-his years long love of fashion (he began fashion photography in 1970s)

-his tiny, sparse, bathroom-less, kitchen-less apartment crowded with metal filing cabinets full of developed film

-his being well-spoken of by the likes of fashion editors (Vogue) and fashion icons (like 94 year old Iris Apfel)

-his love of fashion not making sense to his conservative family

-his going to church every Sunday

-his never having a romantic relationship

-his impassioned quote, when awarded the “Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Ministry of Culture, as he succumbed to tears: “If you seek beauty, you shall find it.”

In the past, I’ve enjoyed browsing Bill Cunningham’s work on The New York Times website, without knowing anything about the man behind the photographs.

Life is colorful.
Find a canvas.

World’s Coolest Single People in History

It’s February. Since last week was tough for some of my single readers (it being their favorite holiday and all), I decided to cheer them up with this post entitled: World’s Coolest Single People in History.

Not sure why some single people are told that married people have the monopoly on health, happiness, and productivity. (Except that, wait, I just did a fact check, and blast, they actually do, according to a ton of research.) But, singles, you can’t let that get you down. You’ll just have to take more vitamins or schedule another massage. Something!

One thing is true though. You don’t HAVE to be married to be a productive member of society. Historically, some of the world’s top artists, musicians, scientists, writers, and missionaries were single. Who would have thought that these charismatic and prolific individuals were indeed single! I write this post so that you can remember that, no matter your relationship status, you too might just be on your way to being AWESOME.

I give you: World’s Coolest Single People in History

Jesus Christ (2 B.C. – 33 A.D.)
Who he was: Galilean Jewish rabbi who was crucified by Romans (also known as the Son of God)
What he did: Condemned religious hypocrisy, loved his enemies, and died as an atoning sacrifice for my sins and yours.
Thoughts on family: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Meme1

The Apostle Paul (A.D. 5 – A.D. 67)
Who he was: ex-terrorist who converted to Christianity
What he did: taught the Gospel of Christ to the first-century world, founded churches, wrote parts of the New Testament
Thoughts on singleness: “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Who he was: exceedingly prolific Italian with expertise spanning multiple fields, including invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography (just to name only a few)
What he did: painted two of the world’s most famous paintings: the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper and came to be known as one of the most diversely talented individuals that ever lived
Thoughts on singleness: “Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.”

Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
Who he was: English physicist and mathematician
What he did: discovered ALL THE SCIENCE, so much so that modern scientists consider Newton to have made the greatest contribution to science, even more than Albert Einstein! His contributions include those in mechanics, optics, calculus, and the laws of motion and universal gravitation. Not bad, not bad!
Thoughts on singleness: Voltaire said of Newton: “he was never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor had any commerce with women—a circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last moments.”

Meme3

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Who he was: English Christian minister, hymnwriter, theologian, and logician
What he did: As a young person, Watts became disturbed by the Anglican church’s hymn tradition which often featured absurd rhymes such as the following: “Ye monsters of the deep / Your Maker’s praises spout; / Up from the sands ye codlings, peep / And wag your tails about.” Finding it strange to sing about wagging fish tails on a Sunday morning, Watts began writing his own religious poetry and hymns, and his prolific career yielded over 700 hymns. Watts became known as the “Father of English Hymnody.”
Thoughts on Watt’s singleness: Short in stature and also ill in health, Watts exchanged correspondence with an admirer of his verses before meeting her in person and finally proposing. Upon first sight, Elizabeth Singer declined, saying that “while she loved the jewel (his excellent mind), she could not admire the casket that contained it.” (Harsh, Lizzie!) Watts never married her but stayed friends with her for some thirty years.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Who he was: German composer who lived in London and became well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos
What he did: composed British coronation music and the Messiah and became one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era
Thoughts on singleness: When King George asked why he wasn’t married: “I have no time for anything but music.”

Meme4

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Who she was: She was an American poet and also world’s most famous introvert.
What she did: A very private person, she spent most of her later life in her bedroom, clothed in white, writing poetry. Though unpublished in life, her poetry pleases through its unconvention—its lack of titles, punctuation, and proper capitalization.
Thoughts on singleness: “Remember if you marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance, will neither last nor please thee one year: and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all.”

Meme5

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951)
Who she was: Irish missionary to India
What she did: Her life’s work was rescuing temple prostitutes, which she strove to do despite serious health conditions which left her bed-ridden for the last 20 years of her life. A prolific writer, she also finished over 35 books.
Thoughts on lifestyle: “Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is.”

Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)
Who she was: British missionary to China
What she did: worked alongside the Chinese government to enforce foot-binding bans, started an orphanage, advocated for Chinese prison reform
Thoughts on singleness: Elizabeth Elliot tells of a conversation with Aylward: “she had been a missionary in China for six or seven years before she ever thought of wanting a husband. When a British couple came to work near her, she began to watch the wonderful thing they had in marriage, and to desire it for herself. Being a woman of prayer she prayed–a straightforward request that God would call a man from England, send him straight out to China, and have him propose. She leaned toward me on the sofa on which we were sitting, her black eyes snapping, her bony little forefinger jabbing at my face. ‘Elisabeth,’ she said, ‘I believe God answers prayer! He called him.’ Then, in a whisper of keen intensity, ‘but he never came.’” (So I wonder if that guy kinda feels bad.)

Mother Theresa (1910-1997)
Who she was: Albanian Roman Catholic missionary to the poor in India
What she did: founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order, whose members vow to chastity, poverty, and obedience. Present in 133 countries, the Missionaries of Charity provide hospice care, clinics, orphanages, and schools for “the poorest of the poor.”
Thoughts on lifestyle: “Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.”

Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Who she was: American novelist
What she did: won the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird (which she wrote, by the way, after some dear friends sent her a check for a year’s worth of wages with this note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”) (I kind of want to be friends with Harper’s friends.)
Thoughts on singleness: “I shall never marry, Atticus.” “Why?” “I might have children.”

One other great lifestyle quote from Lee is in an essay entitled “Love – In Other Words” which she wrote for Vogue in 1961.

“…Man’s capacity to love is measured by his degree of freedom from the drives that turn inward upon him. As one holds down a cork to the bottom of a stream, so may love be imprisoned by self: remove self, and love rises to the surface of man’s being.”

So just in case you feel like you need to be married to live a life of fulfilled service and productivity, think again! There you have it: world’s coolest single people in history! Now my dear single readers, you can go back to whatever it was you were doing: becoming awesome.

Meme2

Thanks, da Vinci.

And, readers, you’re welcome.

Bones and Breath: On Faulkner and Faith

After World War I, the United States fell into an economic depression. We could say that it fell into another kind of depression as well. A depression, or spiritual funk, stimulated by philosophical polarities of the day. Indeed, forty years had already passed since the German philosopher Nietzsche claimed it was logical to reason that “God is dead.” There were those supposed inconsistencies between religion and science. Perhaps not in mainstream culture, but perhaps in academic atmospheres and in the classrooms of its universities. Clashes between scientists and religious fundamentalists in the 1920s certainly existed.

The human mind reasoned: how could God be alive? He obviously didn’t have control; man’s advancement had pretty much been obliterated at that point. Humanistic philosophy claimed that man could build and maintain society. And then World War I happened. Engineers pointed to crowning achievements of man’s inventions. And then the Titanic sank. The Roaring Twenties turned into the Great Depression of the ‘30s. Upon whose heels came the terrifying and unimaginable World War II. Man’s ability for progress, once accepted as fact, was now in question.

100_7436

Humanity was not asking: Will I prosper? Rather, in fear, it was crying out: Will I survive?

William Faulkner in his 1950 Pulitzer Prize speech addresses this fear.

“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up?”

The thing with which we must come to terms is what a society full of fear produces. Think about the time in which you were most afraid. How did it control your decisions? How did it control your productivity? How did it control your understanding of life?

This fear, I think, has the possibility to produce a hopeless fatalism, which Faulkner must have observed on the earth, seeping from below the ground of modern society. And to that trembling mind, he offers this reminder:

“the basest of all things is to be afraid.”

For, Faulkner reasons, when writers are crippled by fear, they forget “the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Faulkner insists that a writer…

“…must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid… Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”

Here we notice Faulkner’s expression of mid 19th century Romantic sensibilities in his emphasis on the human heart. But there is his concurrent recognition of modernist skepticism, in which he says that humanity is basically saying: “The meaning of life? What meaning? What life? I’m fighting for my life, for control of my glands!”

100_7405

And Faulkner laments the effect of this perspective of survival. If a writer writes “of the glands,” Faulkner says,

“he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. …I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

This message of hope (and concurrent responsibility) certainly retains humanistic undertones. And maybe that is my point.

How utterly human is hope! We always hope even in the most impossible of situations! Why do children in concentration camps write poetry? Why does, as Maya Angelou asks, the caged bird sing?

Have you ignored that basic human emotion of hope? What is your mind’s perspective? What is your voice saying?

Is it fear that guides your voice? Is your voice a raucous squawk, your breath being crushed out of you, your voice simply the rush of oxygen into your lungs, a timid cry, an elemental whimper realizing that today you are, indeed, still alive? Or is your voice that of boredom, like SO MANY voices that we hear today… whether the tintinnabuli of posts, shares, likes, and updates… searching for meaning, trying to create meaning… where there is none?

Perhaps you are like those humans, of which, when contemplating life as if it’s the eternally inspirational sky, say only, “it has been wet… it has been windy… it has been warm.” You do not, as Victorian English art critic John Ruskin puts it, reject apathy against the mundane. Ruskin laments:

“Who, among the whole chattering crowd, can tell me of the forms and the precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that girded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south and smote upon their summits until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves?”

These are the observations only possible through a perspective of hope in the midst of the mundane.

Now imagine this human hope infused with that which is divine, a hope which comes when we release ourselves, allowing our stubborn selves to accept sonship, claiming that we are children of God, and finally accepting the benefits of divine childhood, living in an assurance, and if not assurance, then careful, guarded acknowledgment of the promises of God, those promises which say, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” Or those manifestations of belief: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”

Faulkner calls for hopeful artists.

Do you have a hope? Do you have a voice?

I pray you shall.

100_7740