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Saturday, December 29, 2007

…And a Half

I can’t remember the last time I really thought about how long six months were, but I think it was probably when I was very little and eagerly awaited the day each year when I could correct people “I’m not five. I’m five and a half”. But it has been a long time since half a year mattered to me. For most of my life, the years have been divided by school. First semester, break, second semester, summer, new grade. But now, I’m looking at a new measurement. Six months. Six months away from my family. Six months away from my friends. Six months away from my country. And suddenly, the half of a year I used to look forward to seems like a very, very, long time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Three Christmas Stories (Part Three)

While Shepherds Watched

This is different from the other two stories. For one, it happened just a few weeks ago. As for the other difference, you’ll just have to bear with me. I’ll explain why I chose to include this story at the end.

I’ve been a childcare worker at a church all semester, and all year the children have looked forward to the beginning of Advent and the Christmas season. Finally, Advent began, and all the Christmas decorations came out, including a Playmobile nativity set in my classroom. One of the four year olds in my class took to it right away, and started to set it up. It had a lot of pieces, like boxes for the three Wise Men’s gifts and a little cauldron that hung over a fire. When I was able, I would help her manipulate the tiny pieces, and walk her through the Christmas story as we put the set together.

Finally, after a small debate about whether or not Joseph was one of the Magi, the whole scene was put together. Mary and Joseph stood by Baby Jesus, the Wise Men, tired from their journey, sat on the ground with their cloaks set next to them, and the Angel rested on a log, wearing one of the Magi’s crowns. The shepherds, who we decided had also had a long trip, were gathered together around the cauldron and the fire.

The four-year-old surveyed the scene and frowned. She obviously thought something was missing. After a moment, her faced lit up, and she declared “They had lamb for dinner!” Then, much to the horror of the other teacher in the room, she picked up one of the lambs and placed it in the cauldron.

So, why did I think this was a good story to tell on Christmas? Because I’ve realized how easily we romanticize the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph in the pristine stable, the gentle animals serenely approaching the manger, cute little sheep frolicking around. Even the word “manger” sounds romantic to our ears. I like how the Cotton Patch Gospel translates “manger”. They say “apple box”. The fact is, the stable was smelly, Mary was probably exhausted, and Joseph was most likely terrified for the well-being of his wife and child. And if the shepherds were hungry, well, that’s part of why they raised sheep in the first place. I doubt there was a sheep barbeque at the actual nativity, but one little girl’s candid behavior helped me to remember the true extent of the humility of the Holy birth.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Three Christmas Stories* (Part Two)

Away in a Manger

Over the years, it has somehow happened that the task of setting up our crèche has fallen to me. It’s a medium size nativity set with a little stable, complete with a hayloft. The pieces we have are: Mary, Joseph, a manger with Baby Jesus (two pieces), an Angel, the Three Wise Men, two pipers, a shepherd, two sheep, a cow, and a donkey. So maybe it’s a little bigger than “medium”. Either way, every year I set up the crèche and then place Baby Jesus behind it, to be set out on Christmas Eve.

Another semi-tradition at our house is a Christmas party that usually takes place at the beginning of December. After years of constantly having to explain to guests where Baby Jesus was, we finally started to set him out on the day of the party. But one year, when I reached behind the crèche, I didn’t fell anything. I checked again. Nothing. I lifted up the stable. Nothing. I dug threw the pine needles strewn across the table. Still nothing. Somehow, between setting up the crèche and the day of the party, I had lost Baby Jesus.

Our crèche, while not an antique, is still very old, and it’s hard to find pieces for it, especially just one. We found the whole set at a store, but as we were only missing one piece (albeit the most important one!), we decided to just keep looking and hope Baby Jesus showed up. Yet as Christmas drew closer and closer, it began to seem less and less likely that we would have a complete nativity.

Finally, it was Christmas Eve, and in our outdoor nativity, Baby Jesus was safe in his manger. Indoors, however, it was a different story. There was even talk of just taking down the crèche. After all, Jesus was the whole point of the thing.

Well, church was over, and we were about to get ready for bed (the crèche was still set up), when the doorbell rang. We looked out the window, and our neighbors from a block over were standing outside, holding a box. Opening the door, my dad invited them in, but they said they couldn’t stay. They just wanted to give us something. My dad took the box, and we all gathered around, eager to see what was inside. He opened it, and there, nestled in a layer of tissue paper, was Baby Jesus, one that matched our set. Somehow, our neighbors had learned that we had lost the piece, and they had managed to find the exact same one.

It seems no matter what else happens in our house during the Holiday season, Jesus always manages to arrive right on time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Christmas Stories* (Part 1)

Do You See What I See?

When I was about 10 years old, my grandfather, Papa, made a life-size wooden nativity set for my family. He cut and painted the whole thing himself—Mary, Joseph, a manger, and three camels for the Wise Men. The Wise Men themselves were never finished, but we set out the camels every year anyways, one lying down, and two standing up (when they didn’t get blown over by the wind).

It’s an old tradition in my family, pre-dating the wooden nativity, to never set out Baby Jesus until Christmas Eve. An old doll of mine with short, curly hair was kept long after I stopped playing with dolls for the purpose of fulfilling this most important role. Wrapped in a blue cloth, we stored the doll in the garage with the nativity set. There it would stay until we returned home after the Christmas Eve service and placed it in the wooden manger. Except for the year of our Christmas Gift.

That year, we put the nativity set out as always, with the addition of a lighted Angel and a star of Christmas tree lights that my dad was quite proud of. When we arrived back home, the neighborhood was dark except for the glow of the luminaries that lined the streets. As we pulled into our driveway, the headlights of our car illuminated the nativity scene for a brief moment, revealing that the two stubborn camels had once again laid down to rest. And yet, I thought, something else seemed different too.

We got out of the car and my bother and I went to right the camels. And that’s when we saw it. There, under the Christmas-light star, was a Baby, wrapped up in a dish towel in his manger.

It wasn’t until Christmas day that we learned what had happened. Our neighbor’s grand daughter had been over the day before to celebrate Christmas with her grandparents. Our yards are adjacent, and a life-size nativity has a powerful draw when you’re only five. Coming over to investigate, the girl saw that we didn’t have a Baby Jesus. She went back to her grandparents’ house and told them of this problem. Then, she took one of her dolls, wrapped it in the closest thing to swaddling clothes that she could find, and put it in our manger. And that five-year-old girl left her own doll there overnight, just to ensure that Baby Jesus would be there on Christmas morning.


*Disclaimer: While these stories are true, there may be some embellishment (partly because I was pretty young when two of these events happened and had to make some things up to fill in the gaps in my memory).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Braid

I remember very little of high school geometry, but every now and then a lesson comes back to me. Like planes. A single plane can be drawn between any three points, even if those three points are on different levels. Even if one point is England, one in Spain, and one in the U.S.

“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:12b, NIV)

Friday, December 7, 2007

How the Greeks Killed Latin

(According to the owner of Paupoli’s)

As everyone knows, the Romans conquered the Greeks and, like always, enslaved them. The Romans then proceeded to make the enslaved Greeks their teachers, which was their big mistake. The Greeks, in order to avenge themselves upon the Romans, taught and wrote only in their native tongue. Consequently, the Latin language slowly dissolved into Greek.

Now for the second half of the story: Why there are two forms of Greek—ancient and modern. After converting the Romans to speaking their language, the Greeks discovered that they no longer could use their Greek to communicate without the Romans being able to understand it. So they created a second language, closely related to Greek, but different enough that Greek-speaking Romans couldn’t understand it. And that was the origin of modern Greek.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The War in Iraq

His children will not sing around his knees
‘Papa! Papa!’ on his return from war….
and Aigialeia, Adrestos’ daughter,
starting up from sleep some night in tears
may waken all the house, missing her husband
-Homer, The Iliad (5.469-76)


Of all the crimes war commits, the cruelest by far is the families it destroys by taking away loved ones. No matter what your religious views, it the ones left behind that suffer most, not the soldiers who have lost their lives. Please don’t misunderstand me. It is not my intent to belittle the sacrifice of life made by those fighting for their country and beliefs. But if we only focus on those who have died overseas, we lose track of a much bigger picture, and that is the effects of war in our own country.

Mothers and fathers are forced to endure what is, perhaps, the greatest trial any parent can face, that is, the loss of a child. Wives and husbands wake up in queen-sized beds only to find no one beside them. They find themselves faced with the stark reality behind their wedding vows “’till death do us part”. And children, many too young to understand, wait eagerly for parents that won’t be coming home, some thinking that of only they had been better children, mommy and daddy might have lived. This is the cost of war, and we would all do well not to forget it.

Perhaps I am asking too much, but I would like to think I’m not. My challenge is this: Lets stop thinking about the war as Democrats and Republicans, and start thinking about it as humans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Always Remeber, Always Forget

(written 9-11-07)

I pulled yesterday’s page off my calendar this morning and read today’s page. Tuesday, the 11th. September 11th. It took me a moment to register what that meant. September 11th. It seemed to ring some bell of familiarity, a remembrance of something significant. And then it hit me. September 11th. The blow was strengthened, not weakened, by the ease of my own forgetfulness. And I couldn’t help but think how quickly we have forgotten what we swore to “Always Remember”.

Scarcely a year after the event, “Always Remember”, once a reminder to never forget the lives lost and the sacrifices made at the battlefield of Ground Zero, became a battlecry. A means to justify a war in a land across the sea. And now, it has ceased to mean even that.

We take our shoes off at security checkpoints, let our bags be searched at theme parks, and talk about safety versus sacrifice, all the while forgetting how these procedures came into existence. In some ways, and perhaps I’m wrong to do so, I envy those countries who daily experience the acts of terrorism and war America has been freed of for so long. Those countries truly know what freedom taste like, because they are never allowed to forget the terror that can enslave this world if we let it. But for America to remember, for America to recognize the true meaning of freedom, it took an event of the magnitude of September 11th. And yet, despite such reminders of what blessings we have, it seems we will Always Forget.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good Morning, Dave

My computer thinks it’s in charge.

The problem first occurred several weeks ago at 11:30 PM while I was attempting to submit a paper that was due at 12:00 via Blackboard (for those of you who don’t know, Blackboard is a wonderful tool which allows students and teachers to communicate, submit assignments and post grades. It generally works very well in theory, but not so much in practice). This was my first experience using Blackboard, so I very carefully followed all its directions, including upgrading Java and disabling my pop-up blocker. Then, with all the confidence of a student raised in the digital age, I clicked on the link to the submission page.

“Bloop”.

I clicked again.

“Bloop”. Nothing else. No message, no explanation. Every time I clicked on something, the computer responded with a “bloop”. And not just any “bloop”. The computer was most definitely implying that I had absolutely no right to be clicking on the submission button, and it was its job to notify me of the fact. I eventually got the paper turned in through the more traditional e-mail route, and with that, the computer and I seemed to have reached a compromise. Until last Friday.

Last Friday, having finished checking my e-mail, Facebook, and completing other such vital tasks, I clicked the ‘X’ to close my browser.

“Notice: Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and has to shut down. Please excuse the inconvenience”.

I’ve received this message many times in the past, and so didn’t think anything about. Except it kept happening, and I began to realize there was a pattern. The message was appearing every time I closed the browser. There was only one conclusion to be drawn. I was the problem. I was making Internet Explorer shut down by clicking on the ‘X’. The problem was not in fact the computer or Internet Explorer (which obviously wished to remain open), but me for trying to make the computer do what I wanted it to do.

But at least I won. For now…