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The Continuing Adventures of a New Substitute Teacher

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THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF A NEW SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

“Your Amazon order of Setting Limits in the Classroom, 3rd Edition has shipped!”

I barely remember rush-ordering the book last night, but apparently I’m not ready to quit yet — I’m investing.

If you’ve been following my latest adventures as a substitute teacher, you will know that yesterday, my first day, I barely made it out alive. At least that’s how it felt after seven hours with a pack of first and second graders. My stomach was drowning in stress hormones, reminding me of when I suffered from anxiety as a teenager and had to be put on meds.

After writing a Facebook note and a blog post last night basically screeching, “Help, I’m going down!” I got tons of excellent advice from Moms and Dads and teachers. Even my eighteen-year-old grand niece told me that things would be OK; she remembers loving her second grade sub but doing her best to torture her all the same.

Everyone tried to encourage me. A few people told me that things would be better the second day. But they hadn’t met these kids. A friend in New Hampshire nailed it (and she should know, raising three small boys): “In my experience,” she wrote, “they’re one good meal or one good night’s rest away from feral animals. That said, every interaction you have is an opportunity to make a difference.”

Another friend told me to “pull up your big girl panties and get back in the ring!”

So as I marched determinedly down the hall this morning, I repeated those words to myself like a mantra. “I’ve got my big girl panties on and I’m getting back in the ring!”  The theme from Rocky played in my head.

Day Two in the Classroom

Amazingly enough, my friends were right. Today was way better.

Things that worked: I raised my voice unexpectedly. With me, any time I raise my voice it’s unexpected, and I was surprised how immediately this worked (at first).

I stopped smiling. This was really hard; I am such a natural smiler. But I was a little angry after yesterday, and I think that helped.

Instead of letting the children get “just a little” out-of-hand because “they’re only being kids,” I immediately stopped the production of paper airplanes, crumpled them up, and put them in the recycling bin. As soon as I heard the words, “Guess what I made? It’s a scissors launcher!!” I was on it.

I had more fun today. I made the class a little bit mine. It’s a Quaker school, so we start with a few minutes of “morning worship,” which means sitting in a silent circle with a candle in the center. At the end of the time, I had them recite the “Saint Patrick’s Prayer” with me, complete with body movements. (I changed the word “Christ” to “Light.”) They liked it!

After that, we all took a break and went to the windows to watch three deer in the woods outside the classroom. (Thanks, God!)

Later I read the story about Saint Patrick that I wrote for them, and we talked about respecting immigrants and people of different religions.

I’m in the right place. Next week is “diversity week” at school. There are quotes on the bulletin boards like Shirley Chisolm’s “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt,” and Angela Davis’s “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” In the older girl’s bathroom, there isn’t much graffiti, but what I saw said things like “Hope” and “I love you!”

I’m going to stick this out. We’ll see how the other ages in K-8 pan out.

I’ve got my big girl panties on now, and this evening I am experiencing one of my favorite feelings. I am dang proud of myself.

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Ash Wednesday — Evicting Monsters and Embracing Glitter

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Lent has begun. As is often the case, I am over-reaching, counting on these forty days to miraculously transform me into a new creation all at once, free from all the parts of myself I don’t want anymore, leaping out of bed at 6  every morning and exclaiming “This is a day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!” and then making a healthy breakfast with no saturated fat or sugar before heading off to the gym and then coming home to meditate and read my Bible before mindfully munching a lunch of sprouts and legumes and walnuts (rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids).

I doubt it.

It’s not quite that bad this year. My plan is this: I will do my centering prayer meditation every day. I don’t know why this should be such a challenge – I did it daily for five or six years, but I’ve lost the hunger for it. Then I will read twelve pages of The Message Bible in contemporary language. At that rate, I will get through the New Testament in forty days.

In addition — and here is the kicker — I will spend only an hour a day on social media.

Facebook and Twitter flood my being with the lies, vitriol, and bigotry spewing from the White House, and even when the filth is accompanied by witty or wise or motivating commentary from my friends, it is bad for me.

Social media releases brain chemicals that numb my pain and anger, which is nice but not healthy. It allows me to feel as if I’m doing something useful when all I’m doing is losing sleep. But you know that quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one?” That is the real danger of social media for me. It taps into my hatred and contempt, and it makes me mean-spirited and rude.

And that, I do not need. I am sacrificing it for Lent.

I’m not shutting down, I’ll still be marching and organizing and calling Congress — I just need to survive and not become a monster, is all.

I’ll keep you posted on my efforts.

Beginning the Journey: Ash Wednesday

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Today I want to share this excerpt from an Ash Wednesday poem by my friend Robin Gorsline. Food for thought. To read the full poem and others, please visit his blog .

“I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.

And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.

So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.”
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Politics, Prayer, Tiny Pee, and a Poll!

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Here’s something I’ve never done before. Since the voyeurs among you seem to enjoy my occasional “journal snippets,” how about a peek into my Facebook page?

“Spare us!” you cry. I know, it sounds dull, doesn’t it? It most certainly will be for my FB friends, but for those of you not fortunate enough to receive my daily gems of wisdom, humor, and insight, witness a week in the life:

↓        ↓          ↓            ↓              ↓

Sad to leave the Bernie Fan Facebook page that I’ve been a part of for so long. But the vitriol and conspiracy nonsense has gotten to be too much. At first there was a good back & forth after Bernie stepped out of the race, but now they won’t approve my posts anymore – only one opinion welcome there, and it ain’t a vote for Clinton.


Oh my, trapped in the gym for forty minutes with a woman who does not believe that humans have anything to do with climate change. And she knows cause she’s a high school history teacher. I will say two things:

One — I have grown up A LOT (though my tongue hurts from biting and my throat hurts from choking back the passive-aggressive bile.)

Two: I hope our gym schedules coincide again. My heart rate was two points higher than it usually is when I do the same workout.


I was trying to remember the name of an author who wrote a little book on prayer many moons ago, so I googled it. Mistake. Now I’m getting all kinds of ads for tacky prayer books. May favorite so far is: The Battle Plan for Prayer: From Basic Training to Targeted Strategies.

And — would this be praying to the Prince of Peace?


The Most Hippie Towns in All Fifty States: This article calls for a long road trip!


Somehow I never pictured myself sitting at home on a Friday night reading The New International Commentary on the New Testament. And my guess is, neither did any of my friends! At least there’s cabernet involved.


An amateur photographer catches a bee peeing in mid-air. Cutest pee ever!

Bee Pee

Bee Pee


I shared quotes from two of my favorite authors:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

“To be open to the world is a dangerous way to live. It threatens us with learning things we’ve always been taught to reject.”

Joan Chittester


One hundred years ago today, August 20, 1916, one of the kindest, big hearted gentlemen of all time came into the world: Balous Frederick Griffin. Happy birthday, Daddy. I look forward to celebrating on the other side!

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Now, so my blog readers don’t feel left out of my exciting Facebook life, I’ve designed a special poll just for you! And, like my Facebook page, it’s all about ME! Join the fun, how do you feel about ME and my Facebook page? (Actually, I’ve just discovered this polling function, so I’m playing around. Expect to see more polls, until I get bored with them.)

Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please Stop

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Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please stop.

No offense intended, but what the hell is wrong with you people? And by “you people,” I mean approximately 99%  of the humans currently living in the United States of America.

Two days ago, I did not know who Renee Zellweger was. Now I do, of course. She’s an actress. Big whoop. And apparently she has “had work done.” Bigger whoop.

I didn’t know who she was because I don’t watch television, and I don’t watch television precisely because this is the kind of drivel they serve up. I do hover around Facebook, however, and Renee started to show up there a few days ago, as you undoubtedly know.

Perhaps your friends posted her picture  — a surprising number of otherwise quite intelligent people did. Anyway, I clicked on the photos to see what the fuss was about, didn’t see much difference between before and after, and went about my business.

But it didn’t stop there — no, by the afternoon, there were comment threads a mile long about this outrage, this abomination, this insult, this . . . well, you probably read them.

Excuse me, but who cares? Who cares if she had plastic surgery? Don’t most Hollywood types? Does it make an actual difference to anything at all?

By the second day, the “serious” journalists and bloggers had jumped on it. But rather than just admit that they like mean-spirited gossip as much as the next plebeian, they had to find an angle to turn this non-story into a socially redeeming or educational moment. Oh, they went on and on about sexism and ageism, and examples for our young girls, and — of course — their favorite subject, themselves: how are WE responding to this major world event?

Please. Just please.

Then, a friend of mine pointed out that Renee’s looks were the top story on every national news show and the local news as well. What? Surely you jest.

Nope – no joke. Top of the news. I guess professional journalists now think they are missing “news” if there’s Tweeting going on that they haven’t covered.

America, here is a news flash: Celebrity gossip is not important. The more you fill your head with crap like that, the less room there is for important or meaningful things. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks that could directly affect life-and-death issues like your healthcare, progress on climate change, and who we bomb next. Google that.

Please stop this silliness.

You’re cluttering up my Facebook page, and I’m having trouble finding the cute kitten videos.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."    The Bible

Beauty

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  

The Bible

I Don’t Believe in God Anymore

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I no longer believe in God. I know it’s cowardly to announce this on my blog, not having talked to any of my God-people, but there you have it. Further conversations with people who believe in fairy tales are not going to change my mind.

Two simultaneous straws broke the back of the camel from Nazareth.

On Death

First, I’ve been asked to give a sermon at church on finding hope in the midst of death and grief, and you know what? I can’t. I’m done trying. It’s silly to pretend that there’s a happy ending, that the people I miss are OK now, and that there is a spiritual realm in which they thrive. What factual evidence is there? We either end up underground, dressed in our finest, or we are burned up in an oven and our ashes thrown around. There are no wings involved.

On Prayer

The other precipitating event that led to my conversion was an exchange on Facebook. One person said “prayer changes things” with regard to some dreadful world event or another, and an atheist responded, “Money changes things more. They give the money to the rich and encourage everybody else to pray. I say get political and take the money back.” Basically quit being fooled into praying instead of actually doing something.

At first I thought I could understand why she felt that way — I have a lot of respect for this particular atheist, and I think that some Christians do ignore the Biblical warning, “faith without works is dead” — but then I decided that my atheist friend is dead right. Prayer is just a chimera.

Prayer is a farce. There’s nobody listening. Nobody home. No “creator” that cares, no spiritual force working for good in the world, no power stronger than ourselves. The meaning I used to find through prayer was all coincidence, my brain’s neurological transmitters trying to form randomness into patterns.

I have been duped.

On Toast

This world is not getting better; people are not getting better — there is no hope. The human mind is the highest power there is, and history and politics and Rush Limbaugh prove that it is incapable of rising above itself to envision or pursue any higher state of being.

We’re toast.

Now that I understand there’s no God, I can abandon the silly notion that I have power beyond human comprehension to change the world for the better, or to love people I don’t like, or to overcome character flaws I would like to be rid of. I no longer have to carry around this false gratitude for beautiful vistas or cute babies or the belly laughs of my friends. Nope, it’s all just random chemicals and minerals and electrical fields born of primordial soup to no end. 

I’m free!

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

Author’s Note

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge, The Unreliable Narrator. A time-honored literary device, the term was first coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth. He wrote: ”I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say the implied author’s norms), unreliable when he does not.”

So . . .  consider this post unreliable and expect a return to your fairy tale-laden blogger friend in the next post.

What To Do On Your Day Off

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OK, so maybe you don’t want to hear what a busy weekend I had, and how I just had to rest on Monday so I could fully engage with the other six days of the week that I don’t work. I know it’s obnoxious to say, but five years into my “sabbatical” from the work-a-day life, I still like Mondays best because everyone else is headed back to work.

Mean spirited? Maybe.

But hey, I worked full-time for thirty-four years, and I’ll have to work again unless I become a famous author. I took off yesterday. I was tired. Get over it.

Recommendations for Leisure Time Well Spent:

  • Go to the gym. It lifts your spirits, plus you feel virtuous even if you don’t do bupkis for the rest of the day. But don’t get weighed and measured because you might find out that you have gained three pounds in a month and put on several inches in the process. Also, your body mass index might resemble that of a slab of cheddar cheese. But you can always explain to the coach that your brother died and you are grieving and so you’ve been eating too much. Friends have been taking you out to eat a lot, and you need to have two pieces of cinnamon toast with butter every night because that’s what your mother always gave you when you were sad.
  • Take a long bubble bath with an excellent new book. Mine is a collection of writings called Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation. But don’t stay in the tub for an hour and forty-five minutes or you might almost miss the grocery store. Then you wouldn’t be able to buy a bunch of healthy organic kale, zucchini, and apples and then come home and eat left-over pizza for dinner.
  • Write, write, and write. In your journal, for your blog, and for an upcoming anthology that you hope will facilitate your authorial fame. Write all day instead of paying your overdue bills or your deceased brother’s overdue bills. Don’t put off paying his bills till evening, though, or you might decide that would be too depressing right before bed and instead go back to reading your book. Which would mean you would have to make a snack, like say, cinnamon toast with butter.
  • Make lists! Get organized! Make lists of daily tasks, weekly tasks, and monthly goals. Put them on a nifty dry erase board using different color markers. Devote plenty of time to deciding which color is appropriate for each task. Your new iPhone has lots of fun ways to waste time get organized, too. If you spend enough time making lists, you can achieve a sense of accomplishment without — well, you get my point.
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, get on Facebook. And if you accidentally do so, don’t spend hours in virtual conversations about Bob Dylan’s Superbowl-advertising-sell-out to the auto industry, people’s use of plastic versus reusable bags, or the history of using one or two spaces after a period. With my friends, this can take the better part of an afternoon. Still, you might decide it’s worth the time when you come across a friend’s post saying that she just discovered her little boy doing his first Google search: “How to bild a growing up mashine.” This made my day.

Artwork: Winslow Homer, Girl in the Hammock. Wikimedia Commons.

Part I – In Which Grief is Surprised By Another Death

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When I first heard the news, I was with some friends. (Thank God.) Bill looked at his phone and said, “This is bad.”

“What?” Shobha said.

Silence.

“WHAT?”

“This is very bad,” Bill said again, as if his soundtrack was stuck in shock.

As he read the words of the text out loud, “tragic . . . died suddenly . . . flu . . . pneumonia . . . stopped breathing . . . unable to revive . . .,” I felt — no, I actually saw — my emotions shutting down. I was staring unblinking at a Christmas tree and I saw the white lights blur and then dim as my “self” withdrew deep inside my body.

Already hiding in shock and denial after my brother Biff’s death last month, this was too much for my raw soul. Impossible. Not our dear friend Betsy. Some survival instinct moved my inner emotional switch from the hibernate setting where it had been for the past month into the full OFF position.

Being Without Betsy

I entered church the next morning in full shut-down mode and so was able to do my usual job of greeting folks. At least I didn’t have to smile — many had already heard the news about Betsy on Facebook or by phone, but some were only just finding out as they entered the building and saw her face on the screen and the “In Loving Memory” underneath. It’s odd how many people thought it was some kind of morbid  humor, that it must be Betsy’s quirky idea of a joke. Because of course it couldn’t be true.

Actually, quirky doesn’t begin to describe Betsy. She’s very hard to describe, although many have tried over the past week of remembrances and services and Facebook tributes.

Of all the people I know, I think she is the most alive. Truly, fully alive and engaged with life.

Only she’s not.

None of us can imagine Cedar Ridge Community Church without Betsy. She’s been on staff there forever, often working in the sound booth, where you could see her hot pink hair poking up over the partial wall and her arms waving in full-on joyful worship when the band played the rockin’ songs. How she loved God!

Betsy Mitchell Henning

Betsy Mitchell Henning (photo by Jed Curl)

And how she loved us! All of us. As so many said at her memorial service, she was the most absolutely non-judgmental person you could find. She was utterly fascinated by people and their stories and found something to like in everyone she met. She knew how to connect and she knew how to love unconditionally.

The Good News

When I entered the sanctuary that morning, I was surprisingly unsurprised to feel Betsy’s spirit alive as ever, hovering in and through and above everyone and everything. It is impossible to imagine our church without her because we will never be without her. The unconditional love she radiated was absorbed by all of us and is being radiated back out to the world.

This is unbelievably good news! Did you know that’s what “gospel” means? Good news.

When I realized that Betsy’s spirit is not “dead,” I also realized that my brother’s spirit is not gone either. At least I realized that in a tentative kind of way — in my journal I wrote: “Somehow that makes it almost possible to allow myself to believe that Biff’s spirit is also still with me. Almost. Too good to hope for in a way. Too good to be true. Do I believe in Jesus or not?”

Do I believe?

Do I believe?

Stay tuned for Part II of this post tomorrow, in which I find myself apologizing to just about everyone: my atheist, aggressively agnostic, and conservative Christian friends . . .

In the meantime, here’s a lovely blog about Betsy by someone who barely knew her but felt her spirit: http://thedefiningyears.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/dear-betsy/

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