Monday, February 22, 2010

Special Olympics

I'm an Olympics nerd so I'm enjoying the 2010 Vancouver Games. When I was a kid, I saw the movie "Chariots of Fire" and became an aficionado of all things Citius, Altius, Fortius. These Latin words mean "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" and make up the Olympic motto. They are the perfect words to describe Shani Davis, Apolo Anton Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, the U.S. Hockey Team, and all of the athletes leaving their hearts on snowy, icy fields. The motto was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, when he helped create the International Olympic Committee in 1894. De Coubertin borrowed it from Father Henri Didon, a Dominican priest who loved sports. It was introduced in 1924 at the Olympic Games in Paris, the same Olympic Games that gave us Eric Liddell, the runner who gave up a chance to win the gold medal in the 100 meter dash and become the fastest man in the world because he couldn't run on Sunday, the athlete who instead won the gold medal and set the world record in the 400 meter race, the person who went on to become a missionary in China and the inspiration behind "Chariots of Fire." Ah, so many stories are like the circles that make up the Olympic rings!

Have you ever seen the commercial called "Special Athlete"? You can watch it on YouTube. It's about a race during the Special Olympics. A boy with Down Syndrome is sprinting as fast as he can down the track when his feet get tangled together and he trips and falls. The other Special Olympians breeze past him on their way to the tape. Suddenly, they slow down and stop. They go back to the boy, pick him up, and walk him across the finish line. They win the gold medal together! In an 'upside down' kind of way, they show the real meaning of Citius, Altius, Fortius. This week, let's be swifter, higher, and stronger by taking care of people around us, especially people who are the least and most forgotten among us. It will make the world a better place.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

"Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom" by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson is a remarkable book. With wonderful words and ingenious illustrations, it shares the story of the Underground Railroad and captures the courage of Harriet Tubman.

I am teaching the book to a small group of students and today we took a "picture walk" through its pages. We were making predictions and I was asking "higher order thinking" questions to my kids about what we were seeing and hearing in the story.

- "What would you do if someone owned you and wanted to sell you away from your family?" I prodded.

One of my students raised his hand. He looked at me through serious, sincere eyes,

- "My Dad tried to make it to to the United States from Mexico. He had to hide in the desert. The police were trying to catch him. He was hungry but he found a stream and drank some water..."

We realized that the Moses story is still being lived out today, just as it was being lived out during the days of slavery in America, just as it was being lived out in the days of the people of Israel in captivity in the land of Egypt.

I was asking theoretical questions and my student answered with a practical story from his life. He was my Moses today, leading me to the "illegal immigration" issue through the eyes and heart of a child.

Monday, February 8, 2010

spelling bee

spelling bee

On Thursday, February 16 at the Handlebar in Greenville, S.C., Camp Opportunity (a camp that offers abused and/or neglected children a respite from the storms in their lives) is hosting a Spelling Bee! I'm a word nerd so I'm in! When I was a kid I carried around a folded copy of Street and Smith's college basketball guide in one pocket (so I could keep up with all the stats for all the teams in the NCAA) and a pocket-sized edition of Webster's Dictionary in the other (so I could discover new words in the quiet moments of childhood). In those days I could tell you the assist to turnover ratio of the starting point guard for the Ball State Cardinal in one minute and the definition of 'triskaidekaphobia (a word from the Greek and New Latin that appeared around 1911 and means a fear of the number 13) in another. Ah, the wonder years!

In all my word nerdiness, I am fascinated by a book written by James Maguire and published by Rodale in 2006 titled "American Bee: The National Spelling Bee And The Culture Of Word Nerds." It follows the lives of five children as they compete in the 2004 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. These five kids (Marshall Winchester, Kerry Close, Samir Patel, Jamie Ding, and Aliya Deri) emerge as top orthographists from a group of 10 million spellers by spending 2 hours a day studying Greek and Latin word roots and spelling words like 'acesodyne', 'boeotian', and 'rijsttafel'. It is wonderful to open a literary window into the minds and hearts of these quirky geniuses and of their like-minded and like-hearted comrades.

Remember that it's good to be nerdy, quirky and ingenious about...well, about anything you want to be nerdy, quirky and ingenious about. Let's pour our minds and hearts into whoever we are and whatever we do. It will make the world a better (and 'funner') place!

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education

"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought, are by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment." - Mr. Chief Justice Warren delivering the 1954 opinion of the Supreme Court in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

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Brown v. Board of Education

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

brother juniper

brother juniper

Here is a story from part three of "the little flowers of saint francis" - THE LIFE OF BROTHER JUNIPER

Once Brother Juniper came to stay in Rome, where his reputation for holiness had already spread. Therefore many Romans, out of devotion, went out to meet him. When that humble man saw them from a distance and realized why they were coming, he wondered how he could turn their devotion into scorn and mockery.

And so seeing two boys seesawing on a plank set on a log, each sitting on the opposite end and going up and down, Brother Juniper quickly went over to them and removed one of them from the end of the plank and sat there himself and began to play at seesawing with the other boy.

Meanwhile the crowd of Roman people arrived. And when they saw him seesawing, they were astonished. However, they greeted him very reverently and waited for him to stop playing so that they might honor him by conducting him to the friary. But Brother Juniper paid little attention to their reverence and devout greeting or their waiting, for he seemed to be more interested at seesawing. And after they had waited quite a while, some of them began to be bored and say: "What a fool he is!" But some, knowing his ways, felt still greater devotion for him. Then, as he did not stop playing, all of them went away and left Brother Juniper seesawing.

And when they were all gone, Brother Juniper was very happy because he had seen some of them mocking him. So, rejoicing in their scorn, he went on his way and entered Rome in all meekness and humility, and came to the friary of the Friars Minor.

To the glory of Christ. Amen.

Brother Juniper was a friend of St. Francis. He was considered 'stupid' and 'foolish' by people who didn't know him well, but a 'genius' and 'wise' by those who did. We need people who help us see genius in stupidity and wisdom in foolishness. We need Brother Junipers to turn the world upside for for us because we can see the world more clearly, feel it more deeply, and touch it more efficaciously from the bottom side of history among the smallest and most forgotten people around us. In a world where "videri quam esse," where "appearance is more important than being," we need Brother Junipers to teach us that "esse quam videri!" We need Brother Junipers.

In their wonderful picture book, "Brother Juniper," Diane Gotlieb and Meilo So write and illustrate a story about our hero. St. Francis and seven other brothers leave Brother Juniper in charge of the chapel while they go out to preach. While they are gone, he gives away everything inside of the chapel to the poor people in the community. He even gives away the walls, the windows, and the doors! He finally gives away his broom and his robe to a shivering cleaning woman who has no broom and who cannot sweep.

The brothers return and find Brother Juniper standing naked in an empty hole where the chapel had been. They shout at him, "You've ruined our church!"

On Sunday, Brother Juniper stands on a rock and yells, "Ding, Ding, Ding," because it's his job to ring the bell and he gave the bell to a teacher who wanted to start a school. All of the brothers stand with long faces in the hole when...all of the townspeople come and gather around Brother Juniper. A child says, "We just came to say thank you!".

At that moment, St. Francis arrives and puts his arm around Brother Juniper's shoulder. "Look, Brothers, at the fine church that Brother Juniper built. I wish I had a forest of these Junipers."

Imagine what the world would be if there were Junipers everywhere. Be a Juniper wherever you are.


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Monday, February 1, 2010

beautiful losers

There is a wonderful documentary called "Beautiful Losers." It was created by filmmaker Aaron Rose and is about an underground, outsider, creative movement called the "beautiful losers" movement. It has interviews with Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Jo Jackson and others who help us understand the meaning of being a beautiful loser. It is a heartfelt, quirky look at 14 artists who use graffiti, skateboarding, street music and other mediums like these to help us see and feel the world more clearly and deeply.

You might know of Shepard Fairey. He is the street artist who created the iconic HOPE poster of Barack Obama that became the picture of the 2008 election. Do you know any of the other artists? Some are graffiti artists, some are photographers, some are directors, some are painters and some are sculptors. They are bound by a common philosophy that inspires me - "make something from nothing."

As you hear their stories, you learn that they were considered "nothing" and "losers" when they first began creating their art but that they became "something" and "beautiful" by joining together into a community and encouraging each other to keep on creating. Their stories and art remind me that genius is found in amazing people and surprising places, and that I can find this genius if only I have eyes to see and a heart to hear.

If you want to learn more about these beautiful losers then you can go to www.beautifullosers.com. I encourage you to make something out of nothing and create art every day!