Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Object lessons right outside my door.

… For, lo, they lie in wait for my soulPsalm 59:3

“Then all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us!’ Judges 9:14

And he (Apollo) began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. Acts 18:26

However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of His voice crying to us every day: today, if you should hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. -Benedict of Nursia

It was pretty difficult to see how the folks at Common Prayer were going to tie together this morning’s scriptures: the disasters after Gideon’s death, the training of Apollo, and a lot of stuff about dogs who go round about the city, wandering up and down for meat.

I do know something about stray dogs in the Middle East because there is a small pack who lives outside my front gate and greets me every morning. They are friendly enough, but I put my hands on top of my head when I walk by because they are stinky and belch outside of their mouths. Today I got to see exactly what ol' Psalmist was talking about, because they were pretty satisfied with today’s meat. ;(

We did reflect on the life of Benedict; after he returned home after an extended time alone in a desolate cave, he created his rule, a simple way of life of praying the daily office, studying Scripture, engaging in common labor for the good of the community and performing works of charity.

Check, check, check. I even have signed up for my act of charity, housing a dog for a month for a student of mine who is publicly struggling with life on Facebook. I hope Scott is okay with caring for ol’ Sam. Or maybe they can be friends.

It’s difficult to measure change and growth.

It can be done. For instance, I did not start a single sentence this morning with the word “And.” 

That was something great about Jim the Swim Coach; he stopwatched any improvement to the hundredth of a second, which is always heartening. This morning I noticed that it was pretty dang easy to do twenty push-up thingies after every single lap, when less than a month ago doing just ten would leave me breathing hard and sweaty.

Just a few weeks ago I opened my first lesson with an exercise on qualitative and quantitative data and how both are important.

The question has been framed and explored. The systematic investigations have been carried out. Certainly the variables have been manipulated. Now it is time to draw conclusions and consider application, including the limitations, in relationship to human impact in the local environment.

God, make us bold enough to question tyranny, impassioned enough to submit ourselves to good teachers, and discerning enough to know when it is our turn to lead.


My backpack no longer has twenty-three textbooks in it, but my heart is full.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Acts 18:5-7

I read in a book that a man called Christ went about doing good. It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about. -Toyohiko Kagawa

I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe He respects the goodness of the heart, rather than the clearness of the head. John Wesley

A few of us went to the Teachers’ Club last night to watch the France Belgium semi-final game. And pretty much I have managed to spend nearly a month in Erbil, considered one of the safest cities in the Middle East, home base of 6000 NGOs serving in the Middle East, without spying nary another Westerner outside of our clump of eight. Nine, if you count one-and-a-half-year-old Leo. But I did find a couple hundred of them bunched under the oleander bushes and misters of the Teachers’ Club, sipping beers and smoking hookah pipes.

A what a bunch they are, lean and dusty and bone-dead weary, speaking a jabber of languages, certainly not following the lunch-around-the-table rule at Rancho La Argentina, that you had to finish the sentence in the same language you started it in.

And they too are full of stories, of strapping smashed Syrian bodies onto burro backs and sending them up over the craggy mountains to distant operating rooms set up under flapping tents just over the Israeli border. Of bumping down dirt roads to interview villagers on the personal impact of water catchment basins installed two years ago. Or juggling the legal documentation for a camp of 12,000 internally displaced peoples not five miles from where we watch Belgium almost score, shot after shot. It’s not just Westerners serving. This afternoon I hung out with two young and lean Assyrian Catholic seminary graduates in their last year before ordination as priests. Sipping a little tea before they head back to Qaraqosh, where for more than two years, Isis jihadists tried to erase any evidence of Christianity from what used to be the largest Christian city in Iraq.

The nurses were happy to hear of our solution to the hot and cold water issue. If one turns off the hot water tank, since it is insulated and hidden somewhere in the bowels of the apartment near the squatty toilet, it will become coolish water, and the cold water stored in huge tanks on the roof is plenty burn-your-fingers hot. Now, because the fixtures were made in Turkey, for some reason red means cold, and blue means hot, so then your brain has to think the opposite of the opposite, and everything is normal.

680,000 Iraqis live in camps. 470,000 continue to live in critical shelter arrangements including unfinished or abandoned buildings, schools and religious buildings. And this is just Iraq, not Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, or Yemen. Turkey and Greece too.

Ah, the paperwork. A bulk of the weariness is from hunching over computer screens, scrolling through Excel files, cutting and pasting 4,800 cell phone numbers for the government official monitoring her project, and meeting for the ninth time with the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq to get everything in order for a one-year visa. 

Yesterday one of our team was doing a friendly chat with a new teacher during the 10:15 AM crackers and coffee break. She was from Mosel, and because she looks fourteen-year-old dripping wet even though she has a college degree in English office management, she was asked about her parents, had they returned to their home?

My parents were both killed.

More that 40,000 civilians were killed in the battle to retake Mosul from Isis, by both Iraqi ground forces as well as air strikes.

One of our teachers fought with the Peshmerga for six years.

And yesterday before I headed down the now familiar back streets of Ankawa, I finished reading through the massive six-week transdisciplinary units loaded up onto managebac, as unwieldy website as I have ever faced in all my years in the education world. And worked through three lesson plans each on the new, ahem, “simplified” lesson plan format I designed for them. And gave one last polishing to each of the formal assessments that I must review today and submit to the admin., struggling to fill them with helpful and specific feedback rather than just being a blah, blah, blah sheet, theoretically modeling what I have been teaching this month: formative and summative assessment.

Although, at the end of yesterday I modeled Ability to Reflect on Personal Teaching Practice, filling the board with all of our verbiage:  teaching to the main idea, scaffolding, project-based learning, differentiation, et al. before handing out sheets for each student to fill out: Two strengths, one area for growth, and the lady I just spent literally over an hour with her one-on-one going over her fourth grade Celebrations Around the World lesson plan, wrote down as her Area for Continued Growth, “Use more videos.” Oh well. The baton has been passed.

Because we have already planned our final group activity moment, the tag-you’re-it moment, passing-of-the-baton theoretically-celebratory moment, to a hopefully encouraged and empowered school community.

One last Lord’s Prayer as we stand in circle beginning class, hands lifted up.

One last stroll past the corner construction site, nodding to the sweaty men pouring cement.

One last trek through the air-conditioned guard station of MarQadarkh, “Hallo, Hallo, Hallo.”

I probably still have quite a few more eyes-shut mad dashes across Two Sides Avenue, trusting
​my life to ​
the rhythm of alert taxi cab drivers.

​And Laura and I are going to dinner one more time with Alan Wale Karim's family. And Wale will be there. Who can make this up?​

But Charity is already packing, giving me all of the exotic cooking spices for making biryani rice from her friend, thinking that I am much more likely to use them.

Laura just read a hilarious text from her husband, detailing the endless back-and-forth between the Apple Store and the AT&T representatives trying to fix his phone.

Home again, home again.

First world problems.

Another echoing of Samwise Gamgee’s closing words, “Well, I’m back.”

And may I go about doing good, up and down the equally pot-holed streets of Tucson, and not just settle back into a routine of going about.

Rasha told me today that she would never forget me. That I am more Iraqi than even she, because I understand Middle Eastern hospitality, welcoming others into my heart.

May it be so.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


And some of them believed and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company,

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also. Acts 1-6

And about a jillion times a day, Laura and Charity and I smile broadly because we are so full of delight, and say in unison, “Who could make this up?” Pretty much all day long we marvel at Iraq and her unique beauty.

And I pretty much feel the same way about King James English, how something so ancient can seem so fresh and vibrant.

And how can I read about the new believers “consorting” and not think of my friend Mercurtio retorting to Tybalt: Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords. Here's my fiddlestick. Here's that will make you dance. Zounds, “consort”!

(And not picture each and every one of my most favorite sixth or seventh or eighth graders spitting out those very words, grasping a paint stirrer from Home Depot firmly in their fist?)

How about those that gathered against them in envy: certain lewd fellows of the baser sort? What clarity to describe against whom we battle, principalities and powers of greed and deceit and division?

And may I freely consort with those who courageously see, who do indeed believe, who in following the Jesus the Christ, turn the world upside down, dancing with joy against the tide of the baser sort.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sometimes the draping drags into the gutter mud a bit.

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37: 4-5

Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. Judges 6:39-40

I walk out in the street full of Moros, and if my soul is as full of God as it sometimes is, I see what happens as I look into their eyes and pray for them. No man need try to persuade me that God does not reach them, for I see the thing happen, and now I know that every person we ever meet is God’s opportunity, if only, if only we were not so much of the time shut off from God. -Letters from a Modern Mystic, Frank Laubach

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King Jr.

Lord God, some of us still ask for signs to know where You call us to go and who You desire to become. Be merciful and reveal Yourself to us in manageable ways, just enough to see us through today. Amen.
So yesterday, after I read through the Unit Plans Thus Far and designed a new Daily Lesson Planner and completed the rough drafts of eight final teacher assessments and put together today’s PowerPoint lesson, I had a little bit more time before we headed out for our last round of shawarma, waiting for the bulk of the day’s heat to pass.

We are starting to do “for the last time” events as we begin our fourth week in Erbil.

For the last time at the coffee joint.

And I filled out the MCC End of Term Report for Short-Term Overseas Placement which means that sometimes I sat still before the keyboard, staring at my thoughts.

What were the most valuable or satisfying aspects of this assignment?
What were the most difficult or challenging parts of this assignment?
What suggestions do you have for revision of this assignment for anyone coming in the future?
then the future question.

I am starting to add events to the calendar on my iPhone. Living Streets Alliance “Rethinking Streets” Dialogue. Community Justice Board Mental Health First Aid Course. TUSD New Teacher In-Service at Santa Rita High School for four days. Really.

And me and my friend Gideon have walked this path before. But this time, because I am in King James English, there is a new idea here: But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon.

May I be draped in Your presence.

One of the master teacher-initiated questions Jesus asks me is What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?

And then I answer in Bartimaeus the blind beggar fashion: Lord, that I may receive my sight. Some versions read: That I might recover my sight. That somehow through circumstances or failings the vision has withered and died.

And then there is silence. And clarification.

What do you want to see?

What are the desires of your heart?

I want to see Jesus. In every single look. Even In the downcast glance.

And immediately (s)he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.