Hollow. Ween. A Zombie Tradition I Wish Would Just Die Already

GravestoneSkeletonPopsUpMore disgusting and mutilated than any front yard ornament or trick-or-treat costume I’ll see this year is the philosophy behind this “cultural tradition” we call Halloween. Yes, some of you will hate me when I’m done.

An impressionable sapling of a boy was riding in the car with his mom one day when he made this remark: What I like best about Halloween is that everyone gives away candy and you don’t  have to pay any money for it.

Wait.  What?  I nearly threw my computer across the room.  I thought I’d gotten lost in cyberland and was redirected to the democratic party platform or the Affordable Care Act website.  Everyone givesand you don’t have to pay any money for it?!?  I’m not very good at math, but even I know that if everyone is giving, someone is paying money for it.  Just not him– the recipient of the windfall.  But he’s just a kid, right?  He can’t be expected to understand that, can he?  That is the lie our culture perpetrates on young minds.  Thanks for stating it so succinctly, kid.

ZombieAttackUncleSamOf course someone is paying for it; Halloween candy doesn’t grow on trees.  But that’s precisely the problem with our culture and is laser-spotlighted by this boy’s dewy remark.  We teach, sometimes overtly and sometimes through our traditions that it’s possible there really is a free lunch out there somewhere, that it’s possible for everyone to give and for no one to pay.  Isn’t that what we were promised back in 2008 by a certain candygiver, our national SugarDaddy?  But I know many people who are paying for the candy now. And they’re not happy about it.

It gets worse.  His Mom writes:  We all agreed heartily and even as we said so it sunk in further how right he is.  Halloween may be the most givingest holiday we have in the U.S.A. Seriously. Candy is handed out to our friends’ children, our neighbors, and complete strangers all the same. And people who give out treats on Halloween expect virtually nothing in return.  Maybe just a thank you.

Then the coup de grace (again from Mom): Is there any other cultural tradition that compares when it comes to the spirit of altruism?

If Halloween is “the most givingest holiday we have in the U.S.A.” then we may as well build bunkers in the backyard because we’re doomed.  Seriously.  If our greatest act of selflessness, of altruism is to give fun-size chocolate bars to kids dressed up in disturbing costumes, we are an empty, vaporous people, valueless, clueless, and without a scaffold of truth on which to hang anything meaningful.  This is the Kool-Aid of the default culture; it’s the Common Core Curriculum of our moment-by-moment reality: the idea that there is no ultimate responsibility.  Everyone gets and no one gives.  And no one is ever wrong either. Don’t miss that. It’s the real pollution we breathe day in and day out.  It whispers to us in the sidebar ads, screams in the commercials, and lies seductively all throughout the show.  If we don’t step in front of the media tsunami that is our culture, we too will wake up and think the best thing to happen to us is hollow.  Hollow. Ween.  

The greatest act of altruism happened 2000 years ago.  Sorry.  I know it’s not popular right now. But it wasn’t then either.  It was so unpopular that it just might have killed you to sign on.  Now that’s a scary proposition.  But it didn’t deter them from signing on in droves.

jesussaves_zps03aa62fc

Other than that, I don’t hate anything about the innocuous holiday known as Halloween. Trick-or-treat until your heart’s content.  Dress up. Have fun.  Don’t forget to thank the person who did spend quite a bit of dough on your boon.  And learn as much as you can about the other altruistic days we celebrate.  Please.  Oh please do learn so you won’t think Halloween is the pinnacle of goodness on this earth.  Oh, and the word– holiday originally meant “holy day,” as in celebration of something holy, like God. Sadly, for many people, it now just denotes a hollow day.  There really was someone who didn’t stay dead.  And He didn’t look like a mutilated zombie either, which is probably why His story won’t die. Either that– or it’s true.

Boston or Bust!

Bob RunningIf you are a running aficionado, you know that the race of races, the Boston Marathon, is the pinnacle running experience.  But the Boston Marathon isn’t open to just any biped with a set of sneakers.  The price of admittance is to have previously run a marathon in lickety-split time, a qualifying time that is scaled to age and sex.   This benchmark was initiated to cut down the number of participants thronging the streets of Boston, but it had the opposite effect.  It created a running Everest that people from all over the globe want to scale.  In his age group, Bob must run 26.2 miles in less than 3 hours, 15 minutes, which breaks down to a 7:25 minute mile, 26 times in a row.

The first-ever marathoner was a Greek soldier, Pheidippides, commissioned to take the good news of Athens’ victory over the Persians back to his city-state 24.8 (but who’s counting?) miles away.  The story goes that Pheidippides ran the whole way without stopping, delivered the news, and fell over– dead.   Pheidippides didn’t train, you see.  But hang out at any marathon and you’ll see scads of emaciated-looking masochists crossing the finish line and then falling over, not dead.

You probably noticed that 24.8 isn’t 26.2.  Why the discrepancy?  At the 1908 London Olympic games, King Edward wanted to score some sweet seats for the royal family.  His idea: Why not start the race at Windsor Castle, exactly 26 miles from Olympic Stadium? Then, in a fit of patriotism or consummate sycophancy, event organizers added 385 more yards to the total course, ensuring the runners would finish directly in front of the king and queen’s viewing box.  That accounts for the .2 after the 26.  Even today, runners will shout, “God save the queen!” at mile marker 24.

Bob has been training for this day for six months, but really he’s had it on his mind since the last time he ran a marathon and missed qualifying by 3 minutes (2011).  This time he trained harder and smarter.  The weather forecast is a perfect 40 degrees; the course is flat.  No excuses, right?  😉  Seriously, he will be disappointed if he doesn’t qualify, but finishing a marathon without falling over dead at the end is an accomplishment in any time.  I’m so very proud of him.  Whether it’s Boston or bust this Sunday, he’s my hero and a constant source of encouragement and discipline.  Go BobRun in such a way as to obtain…  1 Corinthians 9:24

National Dictionary Day

dictionaryI say this in love: Noah Webster was a total geek.  He knew 26 languages.  Not letters.  Languages.  Don’t you find it odd that he knew exactly the same number of languages as letters in the English alphabet? I wonder if it was a personal goal of his to know that many languages.  When did he find time to speak in them all?

I am convicted of the crime of not using nearly enough of my brain. So are we all.

In honor of Noah Webster and his overachieving ways, why not learn a new word today?  My favorite word, learned in the course of a writing game played with my class, is mordant.  It fits me like a sausage casing.  I’d tell you the definition, but then you wouldn’t go use a dictionary on National Dictionary Day.  Unless you already know the definition.  In that case, may I have your autograph? And can we be friends?

There should be a National Thesaurus Day.  Thesaurusing is a verb I’ve created to describe the process of trashing generic and overused descriptors, verbs, and even nouns, and replacing them with better, more vivid, more academically-mature words.  I’ve gotten some doozies in the process of this exercise.  When students don’t understand the flavor of certain words (or parts of speech), I get things like: I did a ravishing job on the dishes.  Or: Her pulchritudinous lips were too much for me to bear; I had to osculate them.

I tell them I’d rather see a grammar misstep than nostep.  It would be more a shame for them never to have broadened their brood vocabularies.  There.  See?  I thesaurused “young” to describe their vocabularies. The noun young came up, and its synonym, brood, also a noun.  See how easy it is to make a complete fool of yourself with a thesaurus?  One who would write must be willing to write badly.  I am willing. I’ve proven it.  Now go and have a look in Webster’s Compendious English Dictionary (published in 1806).  Today people run from words like compendious.  Perhaps they’re afraid to show their broodness.  Perhaps that’s the beginning of what’s wrong with America.  To be a student I must be teachable; to be teachable I must be willing to not know something.

I’m Shutting Down

government-shutdownAn acquaintance of mine works for our government in one of the “essential” areas. Lucky for him.  At least he receives a percentage of his pay and gets the benefit of continuing to wake up early, face rush hour, and go into a present, but “demoralized” office.  He mentioned defaulting on his mortgage as an option if things don’t turn around soon.  Although it was said in jest, it made me think about what Americans *learn* from situations like this: our government, the currency standard of the world, the uh-em, leader of the free world, hated, feared, respected– can shut down? Ok, let me get this straight?  I’m having a rough week. Going on seems difficult.  I’m tired and overwhelmed… so I’m going to do what any superhero-country would do: shut down.  I’m not going to pay my bills, mow my lawn, feed my kids.  Alright, kids are essential, but I’m not going to do the dishes.  And bathing is totally out.

Because our pillar, Uncle Sam, can be so irresponsible, (even if the end hopefully justifies the means) why should my friend feel the slightest duty to pay that mortgage of his?  Why should kids get off their butts and get a real job when they can get health care covereage under mommy and daddy until they’re 26?  How smart would it be to work for your money, when our sugar daddy government loves to dole it out for free?  On the red-white-and-blue credit card, of course.  Credit we’re about to extend ourselves more of… Our grandparents had scads of kids and were working to hold up the economy at 26 years old.  Now the greatest acheivement of a 26-year-old lifetime college student is his ability to play the ocarina on The Legend of Zelda– that’s helpful to our national security and prosperity.

This responsibility freefall is the beginning of the end for this country.  A system that routinely encourages laziness, apathy, and irresponsibility will produce that bitter fruit.  And we get to eat it.

What the Devil? Screwtape Talks Politics

flames

After spending six weeks studying C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters with my 5000 Words class, I feel like I know just what he would say…

My Dear Wormwood,

I am pleased to see you dabbling in politics. As even the most immature tempter knows, the passions that bubble up from the froth of political dissimilarity will produce the most delightful clashes, the deepest schisms in friends and family, the most hell-like states possible on earth. This is a promising field, this political arena. In fact, the entire machine of antithetical visions scrapping incessantly in a purposely created and carefully maintained tug-of-war in order to accomplish the business of governing is so exquisitely ridiculous I wish I had thought of it myself. And don’t worry about your patient seeing the preposterous nature of the status quo. If that happens, we can use even that revelation for our purposes. Consider the highly educated, morally upright (nearly extinct), disgruntled patriot who sees the futility of two choices, neither one perfect, of course. The patient can be made to see the stagnation and brokenness as an evil in itself and can be herded, quite in spite of the fact that he is a thinking man, out of the realm of actual tangible impact and into a harmless philosophical decision. By harmless I mean, to us. Some patients simply can’t be fooled into working for us… they can only be deftly ushered into not working against us. Malaise is the name of the game in hell: get the righteous to step aside or be “above all that” so that—our creeping tide of evil will pass right over the doorstep while the patient doggedly maintains his deeply held conviction about “how things ought to be.”

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

Car Wars: Driving Through the Dark Side

Rated R for Rant.

7:05. Wake up and drive Katae to Berea Courthouse for her internship.  Well, she drives there.  I drink my joe.

8:30. Get home.  Have 2nd cup of coffee and read Bible, eat breakfast, read emails, yell at kids.

10:00-11:00. Take boys to the orthodontist where we try to get school done.  Gabriel gets spelling done between xrays.

11:30.  Josh arrives 30 minutes early for his testing; I’ve got a mouth full of deep fried cheese-bean quesadilla.  Kids work independently (I love that word) while I administer his test.

1:30. Josh finishes his testing.  Way to go!  🙂

2:00. Take Josh’s test and Gabriel to my post office (ahhh, post office… how do I love thee?).  I leave the test there, but take Gabriel on to the library.  The questions about whether or not Gabe is “fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous,” throw me, as he’s all of those things.  Now I know: he’s unshippable.

2:30. Stopped by my neighbor on my way home from the library to talk about some heavy things.  Not the weather.  Not just “fine-thank-you-how-are-you?”  We talked until the rain drew him away from me.  Gabe sat in the back seat, engrossed in his recently checked-out Captain Underpants the whole time.

Me: Did you hear what I was talking about?

Gabe: No… what?

Me: Nothing.

Gabe: (desperate b/c he senses a secret) What??

Me: Nothing.  Just old people stuff.

3:00. Finally begin the complicated math lesson with Gabe I absolutely have to do, as it’s a new concept he can’t just teach himself.

3:01.  (not joking) The phone rings.  I ignore it.  Have I mentioned I always ignore my landline?

3:05. (not joking) The doorbell rings.  I say to Gabe, “Tell your friends you’re still wor–“

“It’s a big person,” Gabe interrupts, crestfallen.

(sigh)  It’s my neighbor again.  With an umbrella.  He tells me I never answer my phone.  We talk a while longer because I value relationships more than math.  Yes.  I value relationships more than math.  Yes.  I do.  Gabe sits listening for something juicy because of our conversation before.  Nothing gives.

3:20. Gabe & I begin math.  Again.  I do some actual school: checking, teaching, coaching.  Luke’s history notes need coaching, but he resists my attempts to show him what adequate note-taking looks like.  After we sort out the 13th & 14th Amendments to the Constitution and learn some cool facts about the “Radical Republicans,” who fought for the rights of blacks after the Civil War, I’m getting in the groove when…

4:15. My timer goes off, which means for Tory it’s time to make the Donuts.  I take Luke with us, because after I drop Tory at Dunkin, Luke needs to be at his FLL club.  Gabe stays home and plays with the neigborhood kids.

5:00.  Drop Luke at FLL club.

5:09. Pick up Katae at the courthouse.

5:45.  Get home for crockpot dinner and admonish Gabe to eat his chunk of meat.

6:40. Leave to pick up Luke and friends from FLL club.  On the way home from what feels like a marathon of driving, Luke tells me he needs help with his algebra lesson.  There are a few things that make me want to drive off a cliff. Non-understood algebra lessons are on that list.

7:55.  Begin hated algebra lesson.  It isn’t so bad after all.

8:05.  Take Abbott for a much-needed walk (not sure who needs it more– him or me). Bob asks if I’d like a partner (besides Abbott). Yes! We have a lovely walk while I rant about my day.

8:50.  I leave a bit late to pick up Tory from Dunkin Donuts, so I speed accordingly.  I am exhausted– can’t wait to get home and curl up in my cozy bed.

9:03.  Sit in the parking lot of Dunkin and watch the many, many people who–amazingly– order donuts and coffee at this late hour.

9:07.  Receive this text from Tory: I don’t get off till ten just FYI

9:08.  My response: Telling me that at 9 isn’t working 4me.

9:09.  Enraged.

9:10.  Wonder what I can possbily do to redeem these minutes?  Dishes are at home, crusty and piled; my computer, my work is there too.  All the stores I’d like to browse (ie, Volunteers of America, Goodwill) are closed.  I start praying about how not to lose character (ie, yell my head off) over this pathetic waste of my time.  MY time, right?  God reminds me it’s His time.   I pray for truth in the inner person, truth in my relationships, truth about God and many other things.  God brings to mind one practical thing I can do at 9:26 at night:  Walmart.

9:35.  Arrive at Walmart and buy a birthday gift for Gabe’s friend.  I pray my way around the aisles, looking for the perfect gift that won’t offend, won’t cost a ton, etc.  I find a stomp rocket for $12.94.  Sold.

9:57.  Back at Dunkin.  More people ingesting sugar and caffeine just before bedtime.

10:04.  Tory gets in the car.  “Hi.” She says sweetly.

“Are you kidding me?”  Not sweet.

10:25.  Tory & I arrive home.   Alive.  We still love each other.  A little miscommunication that iced my cake-of-a-day, is all.

10:30. Snuggle down in my comfy bed.  zzzzzzz