Tuesday, August 21, 2007


The first thing I did in my return to life in Boston last week was to go camping with twenty-something sixth, seventh, and eight graders from JQUS. Along with Mr. Chang and his wife, Mrs. Chang, we stayed for a week at T.L. Storer, a boyscout camp. Imagine all those kids from Chinatown, Roxbury, Dorchester, and other inner-city neighborhoods living a week in the woods alongside with disciplined suburbanite boyscouts, having to salute the flag, live in tents, and endure coyotes at night!

What was it like?Bugs in tents... hiking 5 miles... strange food... homesickness... The days were a lot of fun, filled with waterfront activities, climbing walls, rifling, archery, and getting to know each other better. But the nights were a little scary for most of our kids... I spent every night going tent to tent, picking out the spiders and checking for slugs, assuring students that there was no bear, etc. Yes, there were coyotes howling every night, too. We had a few sicknesses-- mostly from not going to the bathroom or not eating correctly. In the end, however, I think everyone will look back at this trip fondly.

Highlights for me: counting to 500 on the even numbers with a kid at 11PM to put him to sleep, jumping off a bridge into a river with one of my incoming 7th graders, flipping over in a canoe (yet again), having great conversations with former students, beating Jovanna and Demetris in basketball, and watching our group come in 3rd place in the Magee Cup Relay

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Summer Teen Conference!

BCEC's annual Summer Teen Conference-- a retreat for the high school and middle school youths-- is starting up this Friday. As with every year, a lot of preparation goes into it, from logistics of transportation, to caring for the spiritual well being of students and especially student leaders, to writing sermons for the retreat... and more. There will be approximately 100 students attending this summer from urban, suburban, churched, and non-churched backgrounds. Some of them will be attending for the first time-- for example, there is a big segment of middle school students from Project Destiny who are being integrated into the regular youth ministries. The theme is LifeSaver-- How we are saved, why we are saved, from what we are saved, for what are we saved, and how does it feel to be saved.

If you are willing to spare a moment, please pray:
  1. That the God's Word would be preached and that the Holy Spirit would prepare receptive hearts in the youths
  2. That Christ would be glorified and magnified in the eyes of our youths
  3. For the counselors who will be leading small groups in discussion and counseling each student one-on-one
  4. For Pastor Enoch and me who will be delivering the preaching for the weekend
  5. For the various logistics, like transportation, programming, etc.
Personally, it means that from here until Monday, there will be a lot of work to do, such as organizing worship team details, prepping sermons, counseling students, writing discussion questions... it might require an all-nighter. I will update more once STC is over. Meanwhile, your prayers are greatly coveted.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Is This the End? Hiking and Sailing!

Well, it seems Boston has caught up to me at last, or will soon. Farewell, mornings of leaky waders, cold spray, and fish on a line. Goodbye, days of lazy leisure, eating ice cream at the creemie stand, and book-devouring. Adieu, crimson sunsets, nights of milky-way clarity, and smell of left-over green hanging in the air. I'll be going home in a few days to pick up where I left off with school, youth ministry, and living in the city. As restful as Vermont has been, I have been looking forward to going back to the place that has once again become home. The first time, in 2004, I left kicking and screaming. This time, I can't wait to see what God will do back in the city.

The past few days have seen me struggling through false starts on several writing tasks I've had to work on. Lesson planning, while going, is taking longer to get into than I had hoped. There are youth-ministry tasks, like planning sermons for our summer youth retreat and youth-director search committee stuff, which are waiting for my full and undivided attention. That is not to say the time has been wasted-- it's just that I know what I'll need to spend more time on once I get back to Boston.

Besides writing, I got to take a sailing trip with Pastor Bob this week. The sky was a little overcast, but the wind was good. We sailed all day out to a bay in New York, sailing on a beam reach the whole way down. Once there, we took the dinghy out and did some bass fishing-- getting some strikes, but hooking none. After eating some dinner and reading, we went to sleep in the cabin. Not long after I had closed my eyes, I heard splashing in the bay. I tried to ignore it, but as the night wore on, the splashing became incessant-- up to 100 splashes per minute. Sometimes they sounded like swooshes on the water. At other times, it was like somebody was slapping the surface. I knew they were fish, but I started to wonder if Champ, the Loch-Ness Monster of Lake Champlain was behind the ruckus. Unable to sleep, I got up and left the cabin. That's when I saw it: all around me were huge ripples of bass or lake trout rising out of the lake, jumping and feeding on minnows in the night. It was amazing! Perhaps even more amazing was the fact that I threw several lures into the lake and caught not one single fish! Exasperated, I tried to go back to sleep, but sleep refused to come for very long. At 4AM, I got up, untied the dinghy, and rowed out to catch me some fish. Sadly, I caught but one 11 inch small mouth bass, and none of the monsters that were harassing me all night long. Still, we had pancake and fish fillets for breakfast that morning before going home. Shortly after breakfast, we hoisted anchor, raised sails, and set course for our bay in Vermont. It was a beautiful, sunny day, with just enough wind for us to make good time back home. In between taking the helm, I took a nap on the bow. And, no, we did not run into pirates.

Also, this past weekend, I got to hike Mt. Mansfield (Vermont's tallest mountain@ 5,000ft) with my friends Mike and Kristen. I must be getting better at this, because the last time I hiked this mountain it took two full days. This time, we did it in one afternoon with no food and a little bit of water!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Return to VAC!

I had the opportunity to give a sermon this past weekend at Vietnamese Alliance Church in Dorchester. I hadn't really had a chance to be back to teach ever since I helped to bring Kyle, their English pastoral minister, on board. I remember nights of praying and hours of working, wondering if God would ever send the right person our way. The hardest part of being on the search committee was knowing that our time was limited. As almost a year passed and May came around, our core team was growing, but Duy-- one of the main planters of the English Service-- was leaving. That left me as the only other "older" Christian guy on the team and I knew I would be leaving in July. We spent a lot of time praying, meeting candidates, being disappointed, and then finally having our prayers answered. There were moments when we were afraid it wouldn't happen because of logistics; but in the end, God showed us that it was, indeed, his plan for Kyle to lead the congregation through the second chapter of E.S.

In any case, it was amazing being back. Kyle had asked for me to preach on the importance of serving in the Body of Christ. I took John 13 for my text-- "Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet." A couple of points from that sermon: Serving as a "footwasher" is one way we proclaim the gospel because footwashing was a micro-illustration of Jesus' redeeming work (glory-->humilty--> serving--> redemption--> glory); lack of serving often indicates a lack of understanding the magnitude of Christ's servanthood for us; to serve others in the spirit of Christ, we must first allow ourselves to be served by Jesus' washing of our feet and other embarassing parts.

What struck me, as I looked out on the congregation that I used to help lead and teach, was how many more people were there. It used to be that we were a congregation of about 18 people, most of whom served in some way, and most of whom were teens or college aged kids. Their numbers on that Sunday were 40 people, including adults and youth-- and that wasn't including many people who were on vacation! Praise God! I could see how God was drawing newcomers from churched and unchurched backgrounds. I even met a guy who was not a Christian previously, but was convicted of his need to go to church through VAC's website! It's exciting to see a church grow-- and I know those who are in it would not necessarily say they are doing great, but from a distance, I see changes and evidence of the Holy Spirit working.

Perhaps the most fun part of going back was getting to play drums with the worship team that I helped to develop over the course of 2 years. This time though, it was one of the youth that was leading and I was just following along. Things weren't perfect, but it closely resembled how I had hoped the worship team would look after I left.

A year later, and I still miss being there week to week.

Cold River Trout

Last week, I got to take an all day fishing trip out on the Cold River. Fishing with a guy named Stever, I caught 18 fish-- some small as my middle finger and some so large I had a hard time holding them with both hands. The largest was an 18'' Brown Trout (below), but the most exciting was the 16'' Brook Trout (above) because of its coloration and the fact that Brookies generally don't get much bigger than your hand. There was one more pretty big fish that I caught (not pictured). There was a pocket of still water across some fast current, so I casted out there, knowing I'd only have a brief window of opportunity for a strike because of how fast the current was going. I don't think I'm boasting to say that most fishermen can't make that cast because you have to cast in such a way that your fly doesn't move despite the raging current behind it. Well, I made the cast and within a second, a got this HUGE strike. I set the hook, played the fish, and brought him in. I must say, the fish out there on the Cold River are amazingly strong fighters. The large fished averaged about 40 seconds for me to pull in.

Besides fishing, my Vermont days have been filled up, recently, with sailing, painting the church, praying for direction, star-gazing, and even a little planning and preparation for Septemeber. Do long vacations make you more rested or just lazier? I am not sure, since this is my first one since becoming a teacher.

Monday, July 09, 2007

First Hiking Trip of the Year

Last Wednesday night, during a town-wide power outage, I ended up at a random birthday party at the college. It was during that candle-light party that I met Mike and Joel, who were going on a hike the next day. Being on vacation, and having nothing scheduled to do, I took them up on an offer to go along. I didn't know anything about them, but I was more than happy to have two hiking partners.

The next day, we arranged for my car to be dropped off at the end of the trail-- the same trail that Didier and I hiked last August as an overnighter, except we would do it in one afternoon. That would be an 11 mile hike up and down two mountains that were each approximately 4000 feet high: Mount Ellen and Mount Abraham. While driving, I prayed for an opportunity to share the Gospel with both these guys.

The trail was beautiful, more so than I remembered. At one point, there was this narrow cave that we descended into. In that cave, on the floor, was a sheet of ice that had never melted all the way since the end of winter! There are things you can see, when you have the courage to crawl into a tiny crack of a vent on the side of a rock, which nobody else on earth gets to see. We also got to see a red eft, which is the colorful juvenile stage of the common spotted newt. I picked him up and held him for a while before putting him back down off the trail. Besides those sights, there were the usual compensations of summit views from several peaks.

The highlight of the hike, however, was the conversation we held throughout the 11 miles and 4,000 feet of altitude. We began talking about occupations and I mentioned being a minister might be interesting. “Oh, what kind of minister?” he asked. As best as I could, I labeled my theological and ecclesiastical bent-- Reformed, Calvinist, Evangelical, … “Oh, you’re a TULIP child?!” And that was the opportunity to talk about faith.

For three or four hours, I listened to Joel and Mike talk about their views of morality, of God, of existence. And I even allowed myself to learn from them, about ideas of how people make decisions (you should perfectly balance the three boulders of self, integrity, and the objective good of all), how humanity is moving towards collectivism, and how people are asleep most of their lives (as Emerson pointed out). It was a truly engaging and challenging discussion with some debate, but much honest evaluation from both sides.

And then Joel asked, “so what is your world-view, Horatio?” And there, with slow conviction, and with my Tilley Hat drawn to my heart, I spoke of a God of relationships, who wants people everywhere to find their greatest satisfaction and meaning in Him. I spoke of holiness and sin, of the Cross of Jesus Christ, of fear giving way to love... and the Holy Spirit spoke through me.

Joel had a hard time with the idea that people should obey some kind of authoritarian God... or that God was even relational at all. At that point, the verse from 1 John 4 came to me. "Perfect love drives out all fear." I used a common illustration: what if your wife asks you to wash the car? Do you do it because you’re afraid you won’t get dinner? Or do you do it because you love her? Nod. That conversation lasted for almost the entire duration of our hike.

"Wow, it’s been a long time since someone has given something to think about in terms of Christianity," he later confessed during dinner. "I wish I had your heart. I cultivate my soul with my head, but what you're talking about is in the heart... I'm not ready to change my mind about God yet, but I am willing to be convinced." Praise God for the opportunity and for the Spirit taking over that conversation... I'll continue to pray.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Roles of Clergy and Laity

This is probably too theoretical for most people's interest, but I have been thinking and journaling about the role of the lay leaders in the church for the past few days. Part of it comes out of wondering if I might ever be called to full-time ministry; but even if that is not the case, serving as a lay person eventually will require a correct understanding of the distinctions between ordained and lay functions. In attempt to sketch out a correct and useful understanding, I will reference 1) the recent history of the Catholic church-- where distinctions between lay and clergy have been spelled out and taught, 2) the relatively recent trend, especially in Protestant churches, to employ non-ordained ministers, and 3) also Biblical teachings on the subject of roles in the church.

In the Vatican II Council of 1962, the Catholic Church spelled out two of the ways that lay ministers can serve: the Apostolate of Evangelization and Sanctification, and Charitable Works and Social aid. In effect, these are the areas of teaching, evangelizing, witnessing, volunteering, community activism, and mercy ministries. This opened a way for non-clerical faithful could participate in the mission of the church in a way that was not possible in a pre-Vatican II church. However, a clause that made provision for lay-ministers to administer Eucharist (communion) and lead Mass in certain circumstances (persecution of the church, incapacitation of the only available priest, etc.) also opened a way for these two complementary roles to be blurred. As a result, many parishes began to allow lay people to take on roles that were part of the ordained vocation. Pope John Paul II, in May 2002, responded to this error by issuing a clarification. In it, he affirmed the unique and seperate role of ordained ministers: "sacramental," "liturgical," and "pastoral governing." The laity can assist in many ways, but its main duty is "in the world of economic, social, political and cultural realities," as a "Gospel Witness." In effect, the clergy should lead spiritually in worship and in matters of decision-making, morality, theology, vision, and liturgical rituals. Lay people can help, but should find their place in ministering to the world as witnesses.

Protestant Churches, in the mean time, often do not have a clear demarcation between lay and ordained leaders. Many churches employ ministers that are not ordained, but who are supported by the congregation nonetheless. Non-ordained ministers perform many of the same duties of ordained ministers and lead ministries-- often youth ministries or other specific "departments" of the larger church ministry. They are, however, not free to perform matrimony, to baptize, lead a worship service, or other liturgical rites. Nevertheless, they are expected to exercise spiritual authority within their departmentalized spheres. These ministers are supported by the congregation because their entire work is for the welfare of the flock, despite the fact that they are not ordained-- though in many cases these ministers are on the path towards ordination.

It is interesting that neither Catholics nor Protestants relegate preaching and teaching to the exclusive domains of the ordained minister. Lay leaders are excluded only from areas of spiritual governance and sacred rites.

1 Corinthians 12 is a scriptural basis for the claim that both laity and clergy have distinct, complementary, and essential callings. Paul speaks of the "body" of Christ. "For the body does not consist of one member but of many... there are many parts, but one body." In other words, there are different equally necessary roles for members of the church to fulfill. Paul goes on, in vs. 27-30 to list different roles: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, and tongues.

1 Timothy, on the other hand, spells out specific titles of servant-leadership positions. Paul himself is an apostle and oversees several churches that he planted. Timothy is a pastor, who is given authority to tell teachers what not to teach (and presumably what to teach, as well). Meanwhile, two roles appear for non-pastoral duties: overseers (in Titus, called Elders) and deacons. Overseers must be "able to teach" while deacons need not. In Titus, the overseer's teaching authority is relegated to what was taught to him-- presumably by Paul and Titus, the pastor. It is not clear whether Elders qualify for being "shared" with through financial support, as commanded by Paul in Galatians 6:6 for the sake of teachers. One could argue that since they are commanded only to teach what their pastors have taught them, they do no qualify.

The following is a list of what I currently see as Ordained functions and Lay functions. You can see that there are shared functions and also unique functions (italics):

What an Ordained Pastor Does
-Shepherd each Sheep—the Shepherd’s Burden*

-Set Vision and Direction*

-Command Congregation*

-Oversee Ministries*

-Minister Communion*

-Holy Matrimony*




-Lead Worship*

-Preach and Teach
-Lead by Example
-Counsel Members
-Study the Word
-Support Lay Ministers
-Administration of Church Ministries
-Serve as Elder
-Pray for Congregation Members

What a Lay Leader Does

-Use Gifts to Edify the Body*
-Salt and Light of the Earth—point others to Christ *
-Submit to Clergy*
-Oversee Non-Teaching Ministries*
-Serve on Ministries under Pastoral or Lay Leadership*
-Support Ordained Pastors through Prayer and Finance*
-Financially Support Church Ministries*
-Serve as Deacon*

-Preach and Teach
-Lead by Example
-Counsel Brothers and Sisters
-Study the Word
-Support Co-laborers
-Disciple Younger Christians
-Administration of Church Ministries
-Serve as Elder
-Pray for those Under Your Care and for Brothers and Sisters
-Lead Worship in Auxiliary Role

These lists are not definitive and I welcome correction or disagreement. (Just Comment)

Perhaps the easiest way to draw a distinction is that the Clergy's role is to shepherd the flock in the church and tend to the spiritual growth of the church body. The Laity's role is to support and submit to pastors, help teach and to fully live out being Salt and Light witnesses in ways that pastoral ministers cannot. In the end, I suppose, both are servants to all, as Christ showed us, and are called to submit, one to the other. The Clergy submits to the congregation in sacrificing for its welfare. The Laity submits to the pastor in entrusting him with authority. They are complementary roles-- not necessarily hierarchical-- parts of the same body.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pre-dawn Browns and How I Spend the Days

Sunday Morning: The cell phone rang at 5:15AM. It was my alarm that I had set the night before, reminding me to meet a fishing protege at Otter Creek. Despite a strong temptation to ditch-- late night conversation the night before-- I drove out to find... nobody at the stream side.

Nevertheless, I was out there, so I donned my gear, and trudged sleepily into the water. I was soon awakened by the spray of the waterfalls, although my Tilley Hat shielded me from most of it. Silently, I tied on a size 14 Elkwing Caddis, tested out a few false-casts, and let the fly fly. There are days when you know you'll catch fish-- and this was one of them. In the eerie stillness, there was a sudden murmur near my Elkwing. I lifted the rod, hard, and set the hook. And because fish don't scream in panic, and because dignified fishermen don't whoop in thrill, the whole ensuing struggle transpired in a heart-thumping silence that can't be found anywhere else. I caught 9 that morning before church started.

On how I spend my time:
I've received a few inquiries regarding how I spend time while on a break. It is a little strange having such a long stretch of time free from responsibilities, but I have a schedule I try to adhere to whenever I don't have another commitment.

8:00- Wake up (earlier on fishing trip days), pray, read and meditate on 1 Corinthians; shower, breakfast, study a book (Randy Alcorn or Richard Foster), make a list of things to do for the day

9:30- Walk to library and check e-mail, read news

10:15-Begin whatever planned for the day
-1 really fun thing (travel to VT towns, fishing trip, hike, visit someone)
-1 practical thing (sermon prep, blog, help someone, curriculum plan, laundry)
-1 sentimental thing (get a cremee, take a walk, go to a pub, sit in town)
-journal (setting priorities, goals, reflecting, writing down lessons)

12:30-Lunch at home or out

1:30- Continue plans for the day

5:30- Fish locally or listen to Red Sox

8:30- Dinner, possibly meet with a friend

9:30- Go to library, e-mail, check news

10:30-Return "Home" and settle in for the night.

"Home" is very plain-- a blank, corner room with 2 windows, a closet, and a simple desk. My bed is a mat on the floor, which is rolled up every morning. Its bareness is refreshing and frames my days with focus and simplicity.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The First Four Days

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge...
Psalm 19:1-2

The past few days have been full of serenity, silence, and lots of beauty. I don't know if I used to take all this for granted, but out here the God seems nearer. The wind rustling tree leaves remind me of his divine breath that sustains us. The crimson stains on purple canvassed clouds at sunset speak of his passionate love for mankind that required the Son to die. The expanse of the sky, which is not so overwhelming in Boston, but which, here, cannot be captured from horizon to horizon in one glance, also say that His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways. His patterns of order and symmetry are traced onto every leaf, blade of grass, and groove of bark.

I haven't taken vacation in a long time, so these past few days have required a readjustment in many ways. When you are constantly surrounded with other people, noises of the city, and tasks to do, you never have to learn to be alone. When all that goes away, you are left with just your own thoughts-- and they become louder. When you finally lay those aside, you're left with just seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, remembering, and meditating. It's in that place that, perhaps, you become more receptive to that still, small voice. I've been learning about solitude as a discipline, through reading Richard Foster's chapter on Solitude in Celebration of Discipline. For me, this has meant taking walks, sitting in silence, carrying a memorized portion of scripture throughout the day, and just taking my time getting from one place to another... Not having a schedule or any appointments, meetings, and commitments to be at is very different. It gives me more time to just be still and know that He is God.

Part of this break involves lots of fishing. Here I am in my full gear. Notice the stylish Tilley Hat given to me for just this occasion by two very good friends from home. While I can't wear this kind of thing in Boston, it's perfect for fishing and gardening (rated SPF 40!) I have not yet caught any fish, except for this gross looking one, below. It doesn't count, since it's not a trout, unfortunately. Tonight, I had two trout on a line, but I did not set the hook properly and they got away, sadly. In any case, more updates to come soon.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Death of a Passport

The school year has wrapped up, much to my relief. For the first time in a long time, I am now in true vacation mode. Project Destiny is about to start, so please pray for them. Meanwhile, I'll be using the blog for the next month or so to update folks on my "Sabbatical" from youth ministry and other responsibilities. I am in Middlebury, Vermont for the next 6 weeks-- I arrived yesterday. It's silent here, like a monastery; but I am becoming acclimated to the solitude.

Here's an excerpt from my journal yesterday about the loss of my Honda and how I arrived in Middlebury at last:

...so I headed towards Vermont, knowing all I was leaving behind and much of what awaited me. Or so I thought. In Grantham, NH, the Honda began to sputter. As soon as I exited the I 89 and slowed down, the engine ground to a halt. I lost all power and barely was able to apply the brakes before hitting the perpendicular street. Apparently my car was on fire. A woman happened to pull up behind me and called for a state trooper, who arrived within seconds. He gave my car a shove towards an auto-repair, which happened to be less than 10 seconds away.

After arriving at the garage, I was told that the Passport was, for all intents and purposes, dead. The water-pump had blown and caused all sorts of heat damage to the engine block, possibly cracking a piston. The parts of the engine block had melted from the fire. “$700 just to see if the car will run,” she said. “And we can’t fix it today.”

I pondered the possibility of camping out in my Passport for a few nights while the car was fixed. I could have done it, but when one of the lead mechanics expressed severe doubt that the engine would ever start again, I knew I’d have to abandon my once-faithful steed. I called my father, who owns the car, and both my parents decided to come right away to pick up me and my stuff. Meanwhile, Deb, the manager, offered to take the Passport off of my hands for a $125 payment, which I decided was a good deal considering everything that had happened and all the services her garage had given me. So, all that was left to do was for me to wait 3 hours while watching minnows in a nearby stream and reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

When my parents finally arrived, I had been praying that it would be an opportunity for them to be good to one another. It appeared as if God had listened to that prayer. They were in a very good mood. For a little while, we thought out loud with one another about our options. They both finally agreed with me. What surprised me the most was they also wanted me to take my mom’s Rav4 and continue to Vermont! I tried to resist, but they insisted so unitedly that I had to just humbly accept their offer.

Perhaps God used this as an opportunity to help me appreciate my parents more. But then again, God did a lot of things that also turned this tough situation into a gift. He made sure I stalled at the best possible place and at a time when I was not in a hurry to be somewhere important. He brought along that lady who called the trooper. He helped me to stay calm and full of peace in a potentially stressful scenario. So in the end, I definitely praise the Lord for his providence and sovereignty in situations where I might not be sure of why things are happening.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Sorry for not having updated in a while. Spring is definitely here in Boston, with alternating hot days and cold, rainy days. During the warmer nights, it has been nice to see people out on the street or in the courtyard just lounging around and enjoying the night. The level of violent crime seems to have leveled off a bit after Chiara Levin's murder and the rhetoric that ensued. Sadly, sometimes it takes something like that to create enough public outcry for changes to happen. Still, with hotter weather coming, I continue to pray for peace and cool heads in the city.

In 7th Grade, we recently finished a month-long exploration of poetry. It was pretty cool, especially at the end of the unit, when students kept on posting poetry all over the classroom, in every open or hidden spot they could find. At one point, I counted 88 poems scattered: haikus about our fish, poems about my withered plants, odes to Yoda, teenage-angst-filled confessions, limericks, and more. I don't think they'll say so, but I think most of them really enjoyed reading and composing poetry (admit it!). I liked getting to talk to some of my students about big life questions that came out of the poetry, like "What's the point of life?" and "Is there really such thing as good and bad, or is it just what you think?"

As part of a publishing lesson, we took some of our favorite poems, some pieces of sidewalk chalk, and went outside to the adjacent basketball court. There, we scribed our masterpieces (or whimsies) onto the pavement for all to see. The pictures that you see are from that day. Nice job, 7th graders. It was probably hard for many of you. Here's a haiku to memorialize your struggle

Writing poetry
Liu is breathing down my back,
"Publish or perish..."

Monday, March 12, 2007

How I Grade Papers

In the midst of sickness, family hardships, being bogged down with work, and paper-grading, I submit to you an ingenious method for easing one's workload when faced with 80 essays. The writer of this site has made me rethink the way that I approach my work.

In all seriousness, I could use some prayer. My classes have taken a sad turn-- I don't think my students will be ready to take the MCAS next week. We have had trouble keeping up with the calendar and are more than a little behind in the curriculum. There have been more than a few incidents of student misconduct recently and we have a few expulsions in the pipe-line. Meanwhile, because of personal issues, I've suddenly had to take several days off for the first time this year, which makes me feel like I'm losing connection with my students. All this may turn out to be nothing more than a bit of a speed bump, but right now I'm tempted to be worried.

As for Project Destiny, the planning team meets for the first time since I left, tomorrow. That means I'm pretty sure I'll be taking a break this summer-- a prospect that I would have once balked at, but which I now see wisdom in. Still, I'll miss the action...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Strike Vote Deferred!

It is with a great sense of relief that I report the deferment of Boston's teacher strike vote. As of last night, there had been no progress in talks. So, today, on a day full of messy weather and apprehensions, the BTU membership arrived at the union hall. Outside, there were cameras everywhere. We were not allowed in without Union ID. As soon as I stepped into the hall, I saw an assembled mass of teachers-- up to a couple thousand all in one room!

I was all ready to make a speech about loving our profession and demonstrating a reluctance to stop doing our jobs. However, when President Stutman reported the status of negotiations, it became clear that there there had been progress. The district had given in on class sizes and principals' rights to fire teachers at will. There were murmurs of nervousness at that announcement.

Soon, we debated whether or not to defer our strike motion. I knew, at this point, that nobody from our school was going to vote for a strike, but our membership was deeply divided. We heard points of view from both sides. At one point, one member compared our struggle to civil rights in the 1960's. Anyone who knows anything about the Civil Rights movement should understand that to compare it with a labor dispute is to belittle the significance and hardship of that period in American history. The irreverence of that argument raised my ire, and I pointed out that the two were not even close to being the same thing. In the end, however, common sense prevailed in at least 51% of the teachers. Despite having to re-vote twice, and emotions running high, the motion to defer a strike vote until February 28 passed with a simple majority.

I had gone in there confident that we would have to strike the next day. What a relief to find that prayers had been answered regarding two important issues and that we could continue to do our jobs.

On another note, according to our lawyer, it appears we are going to sue the school department for violating our civil rights by banning discussion of a strike. That's politics, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Preparing for Winter Youth Retreat

Talks between the union and the district continue to stall. It looks more and more likely that there will be a strike on Thursday... unless a winter storm can save us! (It's coming)

Meanwhile, no matter what happens in the next few days, I'll be bringing some youths to a retreat in New Hampshire on Friday. We'll be enjoying some time away from the city while listening for the still, small voice. It's good to know that at the end of this intense week, there will be time to do the work that is really important-- mentoring and shepherding the youth to grow in loving the Lord. This will be my third year attending this retreat as a youth worker, eighth year overall.

When I was in 8th grade, attending this same retreat was one of the things that God used to turn my life around. Back then, it was at Singing Hills, NH-- I remember the power in truth that seemed to grab me during sermons about having clean hands and pure heart. I remember the warmth I felt in being accepted by everyone there, especially the youth workers, like T. Lo who was my counselor. Sure, snow-football and tubing was a blast. Believe me, when you're small, any tubing hill seems huge to you. But more importantly than all that, it was there that I was first convicted of my sin and my need for a savior.

I hope this weekend will be like that for some kid-- maybe for a few. I hope they have fun and enjoy being cared for by other kids and counselors. At the heart of it all, however, I really hope they will understand that their sin is worse than they realize, but that they are loved more greatly than they could ever imagine.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Teacher Union Ad

I spoke a bit to my boss today about the role of civic-disobedience for a Christian educator. Our conversation didn't go very far, but it was clear to me that he believes we're in a very gray area. Are all laws to be regarded the same way? This law forbidding public workers from striking-- is it one that must be violated from time to time, like Jesus' treatment of the Sabbath laws? (I'm not sure I understand that very well.) He also mentioned that he believes the mayor is counting on the strike to "force" him to give into some demands. Since my boss is close to the mayor, this is very interesting to me.

Enjoy this advertisement about the only issue that actually interests me in this whole collective bargaining dispute.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Union Activity Update

Sure would appreciate having some prayer on this...
The Teachers Union and the School Department are at a standstill right now in contract negotiations. The rhetoric has been heating up, and we are, in fact, in the "eleventh hour." I've got two buttons and a sign in my window that say something about a "Fair Contract." Yesterday, our Interim Superintendent issued a statement to parents warning them of possible school disruption for next Thursday-- signaling his unwillingness to bend. Meanwhile, the courts have declared any strike--or even discussion of a work stoppage-- illegal

That's how I found myself and several dozen other teachers in the school basement on Wednesday. A vague e-mail had implored us to attend an emergency meeting for an unmentionable purpose after school, so I went. In the chilly and dark space, the science teacher talked about what might happen if contract negotiations did not improve. Like troops in a bunker, we were given directions of what to do in case things went badly: how will we inform one another of impending action? Who is most likely to be arrested? Who do we call in case the worst scenarios occur?

The city has put in for a "cease and desist" order to stop the union from continuing in its contingency plans. Next Wednesday, the union will convene in South Boston. There we will debate, and in all likelihood, break the law by voting on how to take action. Thursday is the planned day of political action.

As I wrote previously, I'm not sure where I stand-- health care and class sizes don't seem like civil disobedience-worthy disagreements...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Library!

One of my students asked me today if I still maintain my blog site. The answer is, "Yes, M----, I'm still posting." (notice the use of a comma before starting a quote in mid-sentence.) There's a lot going on in school, church, and city.

A little less than a year ago, I joined in the multitude of voices from Chinatown advocating the case for a local branch library by testifying at City Hall. Well, after that hearing, about $350,000 was earmarked for an exploratory task force to study the feasibility of opening a library branch in Chinatown. Finally, after many months, our library task force met for the first time, last Thursday. Our meeting was mostly introductory, but we laid out a time-table that stretches to a couple of years. It's pretty exciting that we're interviewing architectural firms soon, but no construction will occur for at least 2 years.

"I fully support the restoration of a BPL branch in Chinatown. In order to do so, we need to create an ad hoc committee to advocate for the library, implement strategies used in successful models in LA and Oakland, research and locate a proper location, lobby the mayor to set aside capital funding, and lobby for state and federal funding after securing mayoral support." -- the Mayor's Chinatown Library Task Force, as described by Councilor Matt O'Malley

Chinatown Library, as seen in L.A.

I was asked, as a teacher, what I would like in a Chinatown library. Well, it would be great to have internet access for research, as well as a significant collection of young adult literature. Seeing that we are in Chinatown, it would also be appropriate for there to be books printed in Chinese in the stacks. I'm not sure I believe anymore, as I said in my testimony at City Hall, that a library will help to curtail violence in the city. It seems kind of a ridiculous stretch to claim that. However, I do think that a library will improve the quality of education and life in this corner of the city. Maybe that will have an indirect impact on youth related crimes.

It's funny that the building my school occupies is being bid for by several groups, including my church, my apartment building's developer, and friends of the library campaign. People often ask me, "When are you moving out?" All I can say is that we've been slated for demolition for several years now. Who knows if we'll ever move out. It's amazing how much demand for land there is here and how little of it there is.

No matter where it is, wouldn't it be awesome to have a library in Chinatown? It's probably not even one of the most important things that God desires for this corner of the city, but being involved in this is one of way to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city" to which God has carried me. (Jer. 29:7)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

To Strike or Not To Strike

I have been wrestling with an interesting dilemma as a teacher, as a professional, as a Christian, and as a colleague. Last week, the union set a strike date for February 15. The BTU has been in talks with the city for some time now and believes we will not make serious progress. As a matter of fact, tomorrow morning, I'm being asked to picket for the first 20 minutes of the day. That will lead up to the strike which still needs to be ratified on February 14. To add fuel to the fire, the superintendent sent a letter threatening teachers with everything, including criminal prosecution and loss of licensure.

The question is: on which side of the picket line should I stand? The issues are fairly straight-foward: Health Care coverage and Class Size Caps. On the one hand, I want to support my colleagues and the people who work so hard to make sure I get my "fair" due. As a matter of fact, I'm very grateful to the union because I receive a comfortable pay and benefits package now, as well as very reasonable work requirements. I also don't want to lose any friends who feel strongly about the issue.

On another hand, I didn't come here to teach in order to get a comfortable work arrangement or good health coverage. I'm a teacher because that's what God wants me to do. I would work in the same school even if I were being payed a lot less. Sriking is against the law for public workers. I don't want to break a law either.

It comes down to the fact that I don't feel passionately enough about the issue to break the law, but my colleagues do. Do I alienate myself from them? What would happen if I crossed the picket line? Would my colleagues understand?

Maybe the answer is simple. Just get sick on the day of the strike and request a sick day. That way, I won't be breaking the law, and I won't alienate my fellow teachers. The more I look at it, the better I like that solution. Anyone have a communicable disease they can give me?

Back for Now...

While life carries on in the city (3 shooting incidents that have affected some of our students in the past month, politics of a new governor, major episodes of vandalism, etc) I've found it easier to take all that happens around me for granted. The violence, especially, becomes numbing because you hear of it so much. So it's in our front doorstep now-- big deal. Blah. Another homicide? That's the norm.

The danger in this kind of attitude is that not only do you become numb, and thereby escape the angst that comes with mourning for the city, but you also harden your heart and escape having to care for people. You have to remind yourself that it's not normal. You shouldn't have to be telling kids at this age that it's "a part of life" when they tell you their friend was shot and killed. Christians living in the city need to be sensitive to what's going on and never accept it as normal. Just like any other sin that we live with in this world, we are called to be strangers here-- that means the culture of violence should be apalling to us and we shouldn't allow ourselves to "get used to it." The innocence we carry is the hope of Christ which lives in us. That is the "light" in John 1 that has not been overcome by darkness.