"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

29 November 2012

On teaching history

When my first was in early elementary school, people gave him strange looks because he knew things that weren't in the ordinary elementary history curriculum. First grade, for the classical model schooling experience, means ancient history for little kids. So my little guy knew about the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians and Canaanites(get it? The ABC's of Ancient Mesopotamia) and Egyptians and Greeks and Romans. That knowledge became less impressive as he grew older. Never having been overly enthusiastic about these things (though tolerably so), his liking for history slowly faded as he grew older and a single encounter with a difficult teacher was pretty much the end of it. Bummer.

Now, tenth grade, he's back on the ancients. Assessment: well its better than last year, modern history with the difficult teacher.

Second Assessment: Homer. Meh.

My eldest at the Palace of Knossos

I am teaching, at three vastly different levels, ancient history to all three boys this year.  The middle child, off of whom history seems to bounce as if he were made of some sort of intellectual teflon (the fate being shared by handwriting lessons as well) needed the review.  He had pretty much forgotten everything from the previous cycle. 

But this year he gets to take his ancient history online so his assessment is: well, I get to use a computer.  That's cool. 

Secondary Assessment: when do we get to where gunpowder and rockets were invented?

Its all brand new for the third child.  And he's the embodiment of why classical homeschoolers start teaching this stuff in first grade.  The idea is that they learn some, then cycle back a few years later and dig deeper, and then when they get to the really hard stuff the concepts will all be old hat, so they can dig more deeply still.  Read a kiddie version of Canterbury tales in second grade, a more advanced version in sixth, and by high school the complex language won't matter amid the familiar story.

But really, I think it may also be about harnessing the enthusiasm of a seven year old. 

We started studying ancient Crete today.  Seven year old thinks the very concept of bull jumping is hysterical.  What if the bull killed you?  What if you landed on your butt?  They practiced by jumping over smaller animals? Goats? that's silly.  How about chickens? I can do a sommersault and a cartwheel.  Wanna see? Right NOW????

We played, coincidentally, the Lego Minotaur game tonight for bedtime games.  What's a Minotaur?  Did the Minotaur really eat people?  Could the Minotaur knock down walls?  Roar!

There was a lot of roaring.

His assessment of ancient history: Minotaur! Roar!

Secondary assessment: Assyrians were tough! Cool!  Roar!

Maybe history would be more interesting if it were more about "Roar" and less about "Homer. Meh."  All three kids encounter the Greek Minotaur legend this year.  Don't be alarmed if you hear my kids roar.

19 November 2012

Black Friday

I am wondering how to redeem the Black Friday phenomenon in our culture. I'd think that such a huge gathering of people lined up in annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the gods of WalMart, China, Apple, and their ilk... that this would be an opportunity to be countercultural, to preach a different message, possibly transcending words. I guess its too late in the season to organize a movement, but there's always next year. Maybe we could band together to give something away. Or to serve folks, push their carts, load their cars for them, bag their baggage. Or maybe we could have a ministry fair in the WalMart parking lot where the masses could see and adopt Compassion children, donate to food banks, pick up a few packages of warm woolies for the homeless ministries. Wouldn't it be cool if WalMart had less of a run on GameBoys and more of a run on scarves, hats and socks?

I am, of course, boycotting China again this Advent. I try to not buy much Chinese plastic during the year, but Advent is an all out ban for me. I'm also considering boycotting chocolate, though that may be just me --not buying chocolate for me or eating any-- and not boycotting it in my gift giving, since I have kids.

As an aside, for those of you who say "why chocolate?" The vast majority of chocolate in the world (Fair Trade offerings being the exception) are made by the labors of exploited and even enslaved children. Every time you enjoy that Hershey bar, you're encouraging slave labor. Not so sweet.

Advent, in the Eastern Church, is seen as a lesser Lent, a time to repent and get ready for the great works that Christ has done for us in the Incarnation and the Resurrection (and all points between, before, and after). Of course in our culture its the opposite, party and buy. A month of gluttony and greed.

How about buying local, giving handmade gifts when you can, keeping Christmas small and meaningful, and saving the party-season for the Twelve Day Festival of the Incarnation, instead of jumping the gun and skipping the real reason for the Advent/Lesser Lent season.

16 November 2012

Secrets to Happiness

The secrets to happiness that occurred to me in the grocery store today, as I dropped by to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home:

1. Take life exactly at the speed it comes to you, never faster.

2. Like everyone unless and until they give you a very good reason not to. My dad always said that "95% of the people in this world are good people."

3. Explore often.

I'm not always good at those things, but there they are. Wondering what secrets to happiness you all might add. I guess its kind of like having a rule of life (Pray, Work, Study) but more Tao (watch the river go by, always changing, always the same.) Oh well, I don't mean to be theological, just "hey, these are good ideas." So there they are.

And I do like most people. I think just about everyone I've ever met is pretty cool, at least in some way or another. And I'm not always good at taking life at the speed it arrives. I get impatient mostly. And I do like to explore, though I get timid when I don't want to be sometimes.

So I guess I'm not good at my own advice.

But my dad had another saying... "Do as I say, not as I do."

08 November 2012

More (probably stupid) thoughts on racism...

A friend (and the youth minister for my teen's youth group) posted an article on facebook today in which a bunch of teens were saying all manner of ignorant, racist, and rather inarticulate things about the re-election of Barack Obama to the White House.  I posted back to her this:

 Americans are so weird about race. We're afraid to mention it. We want to say it doesn't matter. We have "white guilt" and we forget that there are other races than just black and white.... race does matter but not in the ways we want to think it does. It matters in the wonderful scope of human cultures and foods and stories we can enjoy and explore. It matters in the sheer fun of foreignness. It matters in who, statistically, gets what diseases and to my cocky littlest kid who thinks its funny that he doesn't sunburn as easily as his white-boy older brothers. It does not matter in who makes a good president, employee, neighbor or friend. I just fail to see how our country misses that memo.

Most people responded that they were "heartsick" or otherwise saddened by the post.  (To clarify, she posted this to show the state race relations among those who are young enough to know better, rather than having been indoctrinated into the racism of the past.  She was not endorsing the racism, rather she was pointing out that it still exists.)

And the more I got to thinking about her post, the more I want to say: "of course racism still exists!"

Racism in America is no longer cool. 

That's a good thing.

But because racism has gone so rapidly from being a social norm to a social stigma, we've not had a chance as a culture to process out our real thoughts.  We've had institutions, people, society and such all jumping at the chance to re-educate our racist selves, whether or not we actually are racists, without regard to the fact that real racists won't respond to this sort of re-education.  In short, we've not eradicated racism so much as driven it underground.

And so it is no longer kosher to notice race.

And so it is no longer kosher to say "how cool! You're different!"

And so it is no longer kosher to ask "what is it like to be you?"

And it is no longer kosher to wonder "what is out there that is new, exciting, foreign to my worldview?"

Its probably no longer kosher to say "kosher" because it might be offensive to Jews.  Or liberals.  Or the politically correct thought police.

Because we've come to express equality as sameness.

And it becomes scary to wonder about difference.

And because we've made race a no-man's land...

and so thoughts are thought in isolation.

And there is no safe place to ask innocent questions, make mistakes, step unknowingly on toes, and learn something in the process.

And every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and Jane, is subjected to anti-racism training whether they want to grow in this area or not, that feels like an accusation, that requires an investment of time resources that may seem unavailable, that is forced on them from the outside and that, therefore, like it or not, breeds resentment which in turn breeds racism. 

I am thankful that I have a couple of Asian friends who allowed me to safely ask my impertinent questions when we adopted a Korean child.  I know friends who have children of African descent who are thankful for friends who have offered them similar safe havens for questions about culture, language, life, and yes hair (or in the case of my Asian kid, ears... oh, nevermind).  They don't assume I'm some sort of ignorant racist, they assume I'm a white person with white person hair (and ears), who had never eaten kimchi, never tied a hanbok, and never been asked in my own country whether or not I spoke English. 

I'm thankful for the chance to be that safe friend when people ask me stupid, seemingly racist, innocent questions about my Korean child who does happen to be good at math, and martial arts, and is admittedly on the short side, hates his hanbok like most Korean boys... but doesn't like kimchi and doesn't speak Korean and his English is just fine thanks.

Sometimes we have to air our ignorance to grow.  That's called humility.  And sometimes we have to put up wiht others' ignorance and assume the best, that's called relationship.

And the reason the anonymity of the internet causes real racism to bubble up is that so few people have had the chance for humility and relationship where they can process out their thoughts in a healthy way.  

I'm not sure how to cure the problem, except that the society learn to extend to one another a "freedom to fail."  I guess its a start.  I guess.

06 November 2012


Four years ago, I was cajoled into voting against my convictions because I allowed some people to convince me to vote against one candidate, because this candidate *could* do all manner of evil if elected.  I cast my vote "for" one candidate, who did not bear my support, in order to vote against another.

Today many of my friends have tried to convince me to act in the same manner again.  Vote for one, in other to vote against the other.  The other is evil.  The other is scary.  The other is, well, other.

Apparently, candidates have thus vilified one another since the beginning of America.  They point fingers, accuse, paint propaganda, spin, sling mud, and act like children to try to convince us that they are the person most fit to secure peace and prosperity in a free land.  And the only reason it works is that they succeed in stirring up irrational fear of the other candidate.  Without that, the propagandizer would just look like a spoiled, whining child.

This election has been marked with media frenzy, wild image, flamboyant language, entertainment without substance, debate without logic, invasive advertising, and baseless theorizing. 

No more.  At some point, America needs to draw a line.  Candidates who treat us like we're stupid will not be tolerated.

So today I cast my vote.
Me, I, myself, cast my vote.
Fear did not cast my vote.
Propaganda did not cast my vote.
The media did not cast my vote.
Intellectual laziness did not cast my vote.
I cast my vote. 
I researched,
kept my opinions mostly to myself,
as I sorted out what seems to be the best for the whole,
and quietly,
I voted.

That, folks, is how democracy is supposed to work.

03 November 2012

Obligatory Political Post

From one of the few people who has said anything worth reading:

Dear Friends in Christ,
Very often over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve gotten the question: “What should I do on Election Day?” My answer is always the same: “VOTE!”
To be sure, some people might be looking for a bit more, even to the point of wanting me to tell them who the best candidate might be from my perspective, or from the perspective of the church.
That, I won’t do. That, the church won’t do. That, neither the church nor I can do. The church is not a political party nor any part of government. Neither am I. The church is not here to gain political power. Nor am I!
What the church does, what I attempt to do over and over again whether in the midst of a campaign for a president, or for a senator, or for a member of Congress, or for a governor, or for a county or a city council member, is to at best teach what we — you and I — believe, and then to encourage that we reflect that belief in the public arena and especially in the voting booth.
If we — you and I — do not bring the perspective of our faith into how we cast our ballots on Election Day, we are failing ourselves, failing our country, failing our church and failing even God! If we buy into a twisted mantra that “separation of church and state” means that the voice of faith is to be silent on public issues, or worse to buy into the schizophrenia that I can espouse one thing in church but another in the voting booth, we have accepted a second-class citizenship never intended by our Constitution, and worse an abdication of our religious freedom given to us by none other than God himself.
As bishop, my responsibility is not to tell you for whom to vote. My responsibility as your bishop is to reflect with you on the Catholic principles that must inform our political voice, our political action, our “faithful citizenship.”
The most basic principle is a commitment to uphold the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception until natural death. That principle is the primary (not a secondary, not a compromised) moral obligation to respect the dignity of every life, of every person as a unique creation of God. To do less is to give license to evil, intrinsic evil, for which we, as members of the church, bear no small responsibility.
Under this umbrella of respecting human life are these egregious attacks on human life: (1) abortion; (2) euthanasia; (3) embryonic stem-cell research; (4) human cloning. To support any of these practices and to vote for any candidate for the deliberate purpose of adding support for these attacks on human life is a denial of the sacredness of human life, and worse, an act that cooperates with evil.
At the very core of all Catholic social teaching — whether that teaching concerns issues of poverty, justice, economics, religious freedom or human rights — is the sacredness and dignity of every human life.
The church has the obligation to help build a culture where the dignity and sacredness of every person — particularly the innocent, the poor and the vulnerable — is recognized as a paramount virtue.
The Gospel does not accept silent witness to the truth because Jesus was outspoken about the truth! The church, as the body of Christ, is required:
• To speak out for innocent human life, particularly the right to life of the unborn;
• To speak out for and with the sick and the dying;
• To speak out for marriage between husband and wife, between one man and one woman, and the sacredness of the family;
• To speak out for the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed;
• To speak out for the immigrant and the imprisoned;
• To speak out for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation;
• To speak out for all who are vulnerable, hurting or suffering;
• To speak out for peace and for justice.
And, finally, and certainly not the least of it all, the church must speak out for religious freedom, whenever and wherever it is threatened, for freedom is the cornerstone of all our liberties given to us as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Religious freedom is far more than just the right to worship. It is the right to live our faith freely in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our country, in our world, and especially to give voice to our beliefs in the voting booth. No one has the right to take away that right, the right of religious liberty, even if they think they have the power to do so.
Over these last few weeks, I have tried to share with you the perspective of faith as we approach Election Day. My recent columns in the Pittsburgh Catholic, all five of them beginning with the Oct. 5 issue and ending with this week’s, looked at the many issues that describe what it means to be pro-life in a month focused on pro-life. I hope you found them helpful. (If you didn’t see them, they are available on our diocesan website at www.diopitt.org.)
And so again — on this Election Day: “VOTE!” And when you enter the voting booth, don’t leave your faith, don’t leave your Catholic principles and beliefs, outside. Vote with a clear understanding that you have not only the right, but the absolute duty to do so as a responsible citizen of this country and as a cherished member of this church.
What will serve our nation, no matter what the outcome of the elections, is if you and I do the best to exercise our power to vote with the power of the truth.
Godspeed! God bless you as the faithful of the Church of Pittsburgh! God bless me as shepherd of the Church of Pittsburgh! God bless the United States of America!
Grateful for our belief that “Nothing is Impossible with God,” I am
Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend David A. Zubik
Bishop of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh sure has an abundance of good bishops!  Thank you, Bishop Zubik for once again daring to say the hard words; to be a voice for the unborn, the suffering, and the poor;  to be a consistent and faithful shepherd of the faithful.  I am honored to call you my brother in Christ, my fellow Pittsburgher and beloved bishop... even though I'm not of your particular part of the flock.  I'm pretty sure we're going to punch different buttons on election day (though maybe not... I am not even a hundred percent certain who I'll vote for on Tuesday... ) but I am honored to stand with you in your Kingdom mission!