Weekend Notes—December 18, 2010

Miscellaneous notes unrelated to the blog’s laser focus on questioning education conventional wisdom.

• Saw a great documentary on Yao Ming five years ago. He’s very personable and likable. Since seeing that film I’ve followed him. It’s disappointing to learn he’s out for the season and that he’s probably played his last NBA game. China’s Bill Walton sans the scruffy beard, unrivaled college education, and Grateful Dead vibe.

• The GalPal turned 50 recently. Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Fifteen’s gift tells you everything you need to know about what it’s like to live with a teenager.

• For me at least, swimming is very different from running and cycling in that I have to think about my form all the time. I get lazy and revert to muscle memory which means my elbows aren’t high enough, I cross over a bit, my stroke gets too short, and I don’t complete my stroke underwater. The challenge is trying to change these flaws simultaneously. The obvious answer is to work on one at a time, but sometimes when I try to add an additional correction in, the previous fix unravels. And the harder the set and the deeper in a workout, the worse my form. I’d probably be better off just doing slow drills for a month. Whatever I do, I swim nearly identical splits. Today’s 100’s were 1:25’s with toys (paddles/buoy).

• Just when I thought Lance was over the 2009 Black Hills Triathlon, he wants me to commit to racing the Boise Half Ironperson with him. He’s dastardly. It has a noon start. I’d begin the run around 3:3op in Boise in mid-June. I was born in Boise and I love symmetry. Maybe, like a Pacific Northwest salmon, I should return to and die in Boise? I’d rather do this race.

• The more minimalist in orientation I become, the less I like traditional Christmas gift giving. I know I should focus on the spirit of the giving and be more appreciative, it just seems most gifts don’t fill any real need and unnecessarily contribute to clutter. If you’re still wondering what to get me, massage gift certificates are $47 at the Briggs YMCA.

• It’s nice having Eighteen home from college. She had a great first trimester. Proud of her and just hoping and praying I can hang with her in the pool Monday.

• In the shocker of the week, I created a twitter account (@PressingPause) and as of today, I have one follower. Look out Linkedin and Facebook.

Thanks for reading. Have a nice weekend.

The Constitution and Christmas

Last Sunday the wife’s Sunday school class on making Christmas less stressful and more meaningful went really well. At least for the first fifty minutes. During the last ten it devolved into a gripe session about public school and state government political correctness. Then on Monday a grad student of mine sent me an email conveying the same things. Here’s an excerpt. “At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter to eliminate Jesus, in all public matter. And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith. Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace. The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded. The reason for the season , stopped before it started.”

At the end of the Sunday school class I sat in silence because I knew there was nothing I could say in a few minutes that would change anyone’s mind. Good thing probably because the teach may not have appreciated my stirring the pot. But that pot needs to be stirred.

Here’s what my conservative evangelical Christian friends would have me believe. The “founding fathers” were Christians and we are a Christian nation, a shining city upon a hill. As a result, public schools and other public places should allow the public expression of Christian faith whatever the form: the posting of the Ten Commandments, group prayer, the singing of Christian songs at Christmas, or the display of nativities or crosses. For the majority, Christianity is our common heritage, the national default if you will. People of other faiths should go ahead and celebrate in whatever ways they want in private, but as a distinct minority, they shouldn’t expect public schools and public places to accommodate their preferences.

In contrast, I believe the following.

1) We are a religiously pluralistic nation made up of many Christians mixed together with Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, atheists, and on and on.

2) Our greatest strength is our Constitution which protects minority rights against majority rule and creates a level playing field with respect to citizens’ diverse religious beliefs. Mutual respect undergirds that neutrality and enables us to peacefully co-exist.

3) Selflessness is a central tenet of Christianity; as a result, Christians should take some time to think about what it would be like if public schools and places were primarily Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or anti-religious. The alternative is for Christians to forgo selflessness, devalue Christianity, and continue to insist on a “majority wins” approach to governing public places.

4) The “wall of separation between church and state” principle is misunderstood by Christians who instinctively view it as problematic. Christianity can be taught in public schools as long as it’s done in a comparative, non-evangelical way. Many Christians conflate religious neutrality and anti-religiousness.

5) One Sunday schooler took a swipe at Kwanza and “other minor religious celebrations.” Christians who complain about religious neutrality in public schools and public spaces are struggling to come to grips with the fact that demographics have changed in the United States and they resent that they have to change any aspect of how they grew up experiencing Christmas. It’s difficult to exaggerate the deep symbolic meaning Christmas-oriented language and music in public schools from yesteryear has on many middle-aged and elderly Christians.

6) It’s utterly and completely ludicrous for Christians to suggest anyone is “forbidden to speak of salvation and grace”. It compromises their credibility as thinking people. How much of an adult Christian’s life is spent in public schools and spaces, five percent? Ninety-five percent of the time there’s absolute freedom to speak of one’s religious beliefs and convictions in whatever way one chooses. The “forbidden” argument couldn’t be more disingenuous and it makes a mockery of believers of different faiths who are truly persecuted by their governments.

7) The historical Jesus lived in a religiously diverse world. Instead of complaining that the first century world in which he lived wasn’t explicitly Christian enough, he focused on spreading his message through example, and in essence, competing on a level playing field. Christians today should do the same.

The Greater Good

In a few days the race to put up Christmas lights will begin in my hood. I’m anticipating a tight battle between PC and the Malamute for first place. In a month, the fam and I will drive slowly through our neighborhood and a few others rendering judgement on Christmas lights and decorations.  

“Wowa, nice lightage, I thought the deer was real, nine. Eight. Nine. Ten. Nah, can’t be a ten, Santa needs more air, he’s melting.”

Eventually we’ll pull up to our house and the grief will begin. “Zero! Zero! Dad, come on, it’s embarrassing.” And once again I’ll explain that by not putting lights up I’m contributing to the greater good because our dark house makes the others look so good by comparison.

No, its not just that I’m too darn frugal. Ten years ago, when we first moved to Olympia, I spent the first December silently staring at our roof. Day after day. At the end of the month, the family gathered around hoping I’d finally speak.  When I said, “Damn, that’s a steep roof line,” they couldn’t have been more disappointed. 

So the following year, I stared at the roof for a few days, recalled the double X’s disappointment, pulled lights out from under the house, and got the ladder out. Game on.

Fast forward thirty minutes. I’m spread eagle on the highest, steepest point of the roof, left arm and leg down one side, right arm and leg down the other, and I can’t move. PC finds it so funny he stops working on his lights to watch me try to figure out what to do. Instead of lending moral support he makes a few snide sexual jokes that I don’t find as funny as I might normally.

It was an unexpected place to take stock of my life and what I was most going to miss about it. I’m only half joking, I didn’t know if I could reverse my tracks without sliding off and I didn’t know if I’d survive the 15-20′ fall. I just hoped my family would appreciate the fact that I checked out trying to bring them a little Christmas joy.

When I got down and thanked PC for his wonderful support, I was shaking. Right then I swore off our roof for good. You want lights, find another house. 

Since then the X’s have made half-ass efforts at putting up lights above the garage and around the front door.

It’s sad they haven’t embraced my “greater good” argument, but what can I do?

As I write this, I’m staring out my home office window at the exact part of the roof where I almost met my maker. Over the years a light layer of moss has formed on the wood shake panels. And they’re moist this afternoon as a result of this morning’s fog.

Until they find another house, I will focus on living and the neighborhood’s greater good.