Friday, May 31, 2013

Where I'm From

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. 
- Robert Frost 

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. 
- Steven Wright 

We have been writing a lot of poetry lately in my second grade classroom. It seems to me that children are pretty fearless at writing poetry – unlike a lot of grown-ups. We adults have some hang-ups about written language. Does it sound right? Does it feel right? Is it conventional enough? Does it reveal too much? At this point in our school year, most children don’t have those same inhibitions. They write for fun. They write to make sense of things. They write to record ideas and share thoughts.        

And we write a LOT. That is one of the biggest changes in the class since the beginning of the year. When I ask the children to write about what they have read in their reading logs – they do. Every day. When I ask them to have a written conversation with a classmate – they do. When I ask them to try out a new form of poetry, to write a book or movie review, to write a letter thanking a docent on a field trip – they do. No whining or complaining. No one says, “I just can’t think of anything to say!” Sure, writing mechanics are still developing, but everyone has become much more fluent and thoughtful writers.

A recent example is when I shared a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From”...
...I'm from fudge and eyeglasses, 
from Imogene and Alafair. 
I'm from the know-it-alls and the pass-it-ons, 
from Perk up! and Pipe down!...

I asked the children to write one of their own “Where I’m From” poems and everyone set to work. It didn’t take long for before the children were saying, “Can I read you mine?” and “Listen to this.” We circled up and everyone shared a line or two as we went around the circle. The result was a class poem that was really beautiful. The visitors to our classroom that day were amazed by the fluency and word choice. I was too. I will try to duplicate the poem by sharing bits from all of them. This won’t capture the moment of us creating our classroom poem together, but it may come close.

I am from playing games on game night with my family 
I am from love and hope 
I am from a world of imagination. 
I am from loving to dance and loving to sing 
I am alive and in shape, ready to do things 
I am from fishing with my dad and brother 
I am from two grandmas and one that cooks good food and dessert 
I am from God in my heart 
I am from riding bikes and rescuing dogs 
I am from music – I am from love 
I am from the ball up and down the court 
I am from two annoying and cute and funny sisters 
I am from a pastor – I am from a diva 
and a girly girl 
I am from the beautiful blue skies and the history of family members 
I am from cakes and cookies – a baker I am from 
I am from one athletic father and one amazing mom 
I am from a black and white border collie, flashing here and there 
I am from Earth, sports, friends, family I am from nice and loving parents 
I am from a world of peace and a world 
filled with friends 
I am from a Jewish family 

 Maybe you had to be there, but I think most of the kids feel the power of writing poems. I tried my hand at a "Where I'm From" poem too.  I took myself back to my second grade memories, big family, catholic school, busy suburban neighborhood.  1964.  Merrillville, Indiana - just outside of Gary.  It felt good to remember, to write.  

I am from Ruck and Jack
and a mess of kids
I am from tickling and teasing
and never having to look for a playmate
I am from the suburbs and clotheslines 
and tincan telephones
I am from a long walk to school with 
best friends and brothers
I am from 3 channels on TV 
and an antenna on the roof
From outdoor summer days and catching snakes
and tadpoles, and lizards, and bugs
From a neighborhood of friends and plenty to do
I am from backyard baseball and soccer and 
darknight kick the can
From kites with knotted rag tails and fierce blue skies
I am from forts built in Maysacks Woods and 
Sister Rachel Marie and penmanship
I am from crickets and cicadas and itchy mosquitos
I am from the smell of adult cigars
and motor oil and fresh cut grass
From blowing on dandelion heads and pulling on wishbones
I am from 9 people sitting around a too small table
and "Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts..."
I am from dogbites and bee stings 
and hazy stars and firefly nights

I can't tell you how good it felt to write this.  I brought me back, you know?  It's not great.  It's not art.  It's just where I'm from.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

If Grace Is True

I really like this new pope.  He is kind and compassionate and truly cares for the poor.  He lives a simple life, has devoted himself to doing good for the world. 

I do not know everything about him, but most of what I have heard is very cool.  So this week, I read that he said that even atheists could get be redeemed.  Whoa!   The head of the Catholic Church saying that non-Catholics could be redeemed would have a been a big one for me.  But… atheists?  It’s true.  And he used the Bible to back up his point – the gospel of Mark.  This from the Huffington Post…

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”

I almost couldn’t believe it.  The pope said that Catholics aren’t the sole possessors of the truth.  That was a very different statement than the ones I heard growing up. 

Here is more from Reuters international news agency…

Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good, Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his latest urging that people of all religions - or no religion - work together.

[Pope Francis] made his comments in the homily of his morning Mass in his residence, a daily event where he speaks without prepared comments.

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

"Even them, everyone," the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. "We all have the duty to do good," he said.

"Just do good and we'll find a meeting point," the pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: "But I don't believe. I'm an atheist."

Francis's reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict, who sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.

One thing that has disappointed me about Christianity, and all religions I suppose, is the feeling that if you aren’t one of us, you won’t have a happy ending.  We’re talking eternity here.  To me that is uglier than racism.  You don’t believe what I believe so you will go to Hell?  Forever?  And Ever?  I never could buy into that. 

A few years ago I had a conversation with a youth pastor I used to know, a guy I love, who I made many hours of music with.   He and his small young family were moving to Costa Rica to save people.  Knowing how strongly he held to his belief that if you weren’t a Christian that you couldn’t be saved, I said, “But I thought the people of Costa Rica were mainly Catholics.”

“That’s just it,” he said.  “Catholics aren’t saved.”  So he was going to Costa Rica, as a Christian missionary, to save the Catholics.  REALLY?

I have gone to Christian rock concerts in which there is sort of a break in the music and the band does some preachifying about missions and saving people who don’t believe.  In a Third Day concert, the lead singer spoke with anguish about all of the children who have never heard of Jesus who will never go to Heaven.  REALLY?  He knows this?  People who have never heard of Jesus don’t have a happy ending?  For ETERNITY?

So this new pope suggests that good works will do it for you.  Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point. There are 1billion, 2 hundred million Catholics in the world.  The pope’s ideas count for a lot. 

These statements will do so much to bring our world together.  Even if you are a non-believer, you’ve got to be thrilled that the leader of the Catholic Church is taking God out of a narrow-minded, over-simplified, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-agin-us way of thinking.  If you are a believer in grace then this is a thrilling moment.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Boxer

My older brother John was an avid Simon and Garfunkel fan.  If we didn't have all of their albums, we sure had most of them.  I remember listening to them on this old RCA record player as a kid.  It had a huge heavy tonearm and a single giant speaker.  I think my folks had it since they were married.  We are talking late 40's.

I had every word of every one of those albums memorized.   I could sing along with any of them still.  I think this was their last studio album.  It has so many great songs on it that it was a challenge to come up with a favorite.  My old friend Kevin taught this to me back in high school.  It brings back such good memories of his friendship.

I surely don't know what New York was like in the 60's.  And I am not sure why this lonely song mesmerizes me the way it does.  I am left with more questions than anything.  But it moves me.  Enjoy.

This is the last of my month long music retrospective.  It has been a blast, combing through my memory, reading over these lyrics, humming along with the tunes, even getting a little misty as they brought back old friends and places like nothing else can for me.  Blogs, by their nature, are pretty autobiographical.  There really isn't much of a conversation going on here.  Not at all like Facebook or other social networking opportunities.  Selecting and posting one's favorite songs is even more introspective than writing about politics or working with children or family biz.  How can you even comment, right?  "Good song" or "Well chosen" or "I like her too" is about all you can say, right?  But it was fun to post a song a day (almost) and think enough about it to write a little something.  Thanks for hanging in there.  

I am just a poor boy 
Though my story's seldom told 
I have squandered my resistance 
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises 
All lies and jests 
Still a man hears what he wants to hear 
And disregards the rest 

When I left my home and my family 
I was no more than a boy 
In the company of strangers 
In the quiet of the railway station running scared 
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters 
Where the ragged people go 
Looking for the places only they would know 

Lie la lie ... 

Asking only workman's wages 
I come looking for a job 
But I get no offers, 
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue 
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome 
I took some comfort there 

Lie la lie ... 

Then I'm laying out my winter clothes 
And wishing I was gone 
Going home 
Where the New York City winters aren't bleeding me 
Bleeding me, going home 

In the clearing stands a boxer 
And a fighter by his trade 
And he carries the reminders 
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down 
Or cut him till he cried out 
In his anger and his shame 
"I am leaving, I am leaving" 
But the fighter still remains