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Monday, July 19, 2010

Martha, Mary & the Cross

My most current graduate course is taking my brain to places where angels fear to tread: the synaptic gap, as it were. So the simple fact that I'm able to put any creative thoughts together is nothing short of a miracle. My class is covering psychopharmacology, or in less vulgar vernacular, uppers, downers and all-arounders. It is fascinating stuff. I'm learning about how the brain is wired together, how it seeks to balance itself and how it gets "stuck" sometimes in places where it should not be, namely addictions. I'm learning about what lurks in the medicine cabinet of pill poppers and I'm wondering why they use names such as Oxycontin, Talwin, Propoxyphene and Darvocet rather than better descriptors such as "powderthatwillmakeyoupuke", "willaddictuforever", "demonpill", "killingmepainfully" "donteventhinkaboutit". This is not to say that people should give up their pharmaceuticals. There are plenty of sound medical reasons why meds are necessary to good mental health. But there should be balance, caution and wisdom in these choices...

So speaking of balance, did you happen to catch the Gospel from yesterday? Mary chose the better part of sitting at the Master's feet whilst Martha ran around in an amphetamine-like delirium cooking, baking, sweeping, fixing, serving, ing, ing ing. She was probably ready to ING Mary in the kisser for doing all of that sitting. We all know a Martha or two. They are busy folks… running around doing important stuff. They are your PTA presidents. They organize the classroom Christmas party (or should I say--Winter Wicca Solstice Celebration); they have mastered the fine art of busy-ness and when they sit down, they are probably quilting or knitting or constructing something out of popsickle sticks for their four year old. Trust me, it will be of Smithsonian quality when they are done. They can make forts out of cardboard boxes that rival dwellings in Better Homes and Gardens and design jewelry out of polyurethane. They French braid with one hand and thumb wrestle with the other. They actually MAKE their children's halloween costumes and could proudly and accurately do veterinary surgery on Rover atop picnic table gurney if push came to shove. Their hand-crafted Christmas cards are done in October and mailed by November 1. Why do you think Martha Stewart is named Martha, anyway??

And then there's Mary. Sweet, slow, unshakable, contemplative Mary. Just sittin around taking it all in. I am certain that the Mary's of the world are responsible for much of the prescription drug abuse by the Martha's of the world, but that will save for another day. I'm soooo glad that the Lord fixed this situation by saying: "Mary has chosen the better part". I'm just sure that Martha shrugged her shoulders, giggled and staggered off to fill the dishwasher. Ah, but there's the rub. Jesus was never convenient. Nor was He politically correct in my estimation. He poetically magnified this situation: Martha, you’re busy and anxious about many things.

You see, I think we are each individually made up of both qualities of these powerful women. We have moments of Marthathon and moments of Marydom. The key to it all is keeping a balance of the best of both. The single best representation of how this works in my view is a view of the cross. The horizontal beam represents our Martha. It is the position that we take in the world in relation to our neighbor. It is our service to our fellow man. It is our outstretched hand to the leper at the side of the road; the careful touch of a bandaid on an injured knee. A readiness to listen to a hurting friend who has need of an available friend. Martha represents the necessary action which supports our words and thoughts. Martha points up the reality that “faith without works is dead”. Martha’s activity was not the problem here per se, it was her attitude: she became “burdened by the service”. She lost sight of what Mary was seeing.

Jesus admonishes Martha and explains to her that there is more to life than mindless activity, even though the activity in and of itself may be good. He reminds her that He IS the Life and Mary has chosen the better part by her single-minded focus on that one timeless Principle.

Mary, keeping the LORD as her priority was planted at His feet and fixed on His direction. Mary reminds us of the vertical beam of the cross; the one that reaches heavenward. It is truly, the posture we must aspire as we remain teachable, trainable followers. Martha may be a clean, rushing river that over time, carves out a canyon whereas Mary is a deep, plentiful, still aquifer that is tapped in time of drought and supplies life-giving sustenance. Mary’s gaze is prayer. Martha’s unburdened activity is also prayer. When we balance the two, we see their intersection: the cross.

I’m probably a Mary trapped inside of a Martha if that makes any sense. I still feel like I need to be “doing something” with my prayer. Somehow I will figure out a way to reconcile the two. The synergy of Martha/Mary may in fact be the Martha leading me gently to Mary and together we dissolve into His gaze.

“And it will not be taken from her”. (Luke 10:41)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Open Letter to HS Principals

A Speech Every American High School Principal Should Give
(Dennis Prager...hmmm, I think he's on to something)

"To the students and faculty of our high school:

I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school. I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.

First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.

If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America, one of its three central values -- e pluribus unum, "from many, one." And this school will be guided by America's values.

This includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.

Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more. If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interesting in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.

Second, I am uninterested in whether English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible. The English language has united America's citizens for over 200 years, and it will unite us at this school. It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country. And if you leave this school without excellent English language skills, I would be remiss in my duty to ensure that you will be prepared to successfully compete in the American job market. We will learn other languages here -- it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English -- but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.

Third, because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning's elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for Hollywood events than for church or school. These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.

Fourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school's property -- whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events. If you can't speak without using the f-word, you can't speak. By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission, plus epithets such as "Nigger," even when used by one black student to address another black, or "bitch," even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.

Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way -- the way people attained it until decided otherwise a generation ago -- by earning it. One immediate consequence is that there will be one valedictorian, not eight.

Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue. There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual or not Christian. We will have failed if any one of you graduates this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately lucky -- to be alive and to be an American.

Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country. As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you."