Help a poor Catholic school for immigrant children at no cost to you

Our parish school can receive $45,000 in repairs if we get enough people to vote. Your votes can put us on top. All we need you to do is two things:

1. Go to http://www.sanjuandiegoacademy.com/ and vote
2. Spread the word on facebook, twitter and Email.

Ready. Set. Go!
~TJ

Teach Me to Teach, Jesus- The Joyful Beginning

Today begins a new exercise I’d like you to join me in.  I love teaching and I know many of you do too.  Whether you are homeschooling your children, teaching catechism at your parish, or educating the future of the world in your private or public school classrooms, you’ll want to check back here every Thursday.

Each week, to celebrate the Luminous mysteries of the Holy Rosary (which I consider to correlate most with the educator’s vocation.  Think about it… Proclamation of the Kingdom, Transfiguration, light bulbs turning on over the Apostles and our students’ heads…), I will publish one of Jesus’ teaching strategies for us educators to use in our classrooms and homes.  I’m dubbing it “Teach Me to Teach, Jesus”.

Enjoy.

The Joyful Beginning

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.'”

John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

Mark 1: 1-8

Today is our first day of the school year and we will surely be anxious to meet our students and begin our planning.  Today’s gospel reminds us of two specific things that go hand-in-hand with our excitement:

  1. Teaching can be done effectively just as John was able to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins with some success.
  2. Teaching can be done more effectively with the help of the holy Spirit who uses us as an instrument to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” takes full precedent on this day, which marks the beginning of our vocation as “Teacher.”  Today, we not only are teachers of worldly subject matter, but we also become God’s servants who have been sent to prepare His way, just like John the Baptist, and to preach the Gospel message, just like Jesus Christ.

Our first step is to be joyful for the arrival of our students and even more joyful for the arrival of holy Spirit into our classrooms.  When these are mixed with the willingness of a Christian teacher, miracles are sure to happen.

Like this post?  Want to have one like it every time you get ready to teach? Download 180 of them right now and be set for the rest of the school year, or buy the paperback.

Accountability- a dangerous word for many, the key to success for all

I recently sat down to lunch with a colleague of mine to ponder the problems of the world and figure out what we can put into motion to solve a few of them (because that’s what teachers do during their lengthy summer vacation).  I came out of the restaurant with two truths-

Photo by David Roseborough @ Flickr Creative Commons

1) the tacos at El Ganadero on the northeast side of Grand Rapids are undeniably flavorful and

2) everyone in the world needs someone to keep them accountable.

It is true.  It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, student, writer or professional base jumper, if you don’t have someone motivating/ guiding you to be the best you can be, you will inevitably become mediocre.  And mediocrity spawns a life of disillusionment, fear, and spite towards those who have people keeping them accountable.

Here’s the irony, accountability requires people to humble themselves in the criticism of another.  This means that a certain degree of trust must be established in an accountable relationship.  Trust and humility are two aspects of life that most would prefer to do without.  The “I don’t need nobody” and “I can do this myself” attitude springs forth and a series of unfortunate events ensues.

My colleague and I talk often about our teaching crafts and we have scratched the surface of what our writing means to us.  He, very unknowingly, keeps me accountable in these two portions of my life.

My wife keeps me accountable as a husband and father.  She even gives me time to write and go to adoration to foster not only my spirituality, but that of my family.

So who keeps me accountable to God?  That is the question I have meditated on for many years now.

My wife?  To the (GREAT, WONDERFUL & AMAZING) extent that the sacrament of marriage allows, of course.

My parish priest? En persona Christi during Mass and Confession, yes.

But even with such spiritual giants as these keeping me somewhat accountable, how can I seek even more spiritual growth?

Answer- get a spiritual director.

After reading countless biographical and autobiographical pieces on the Saints, there is one common strand almost all of them share besides loving God more than all things- they all had spiritual directors.

And so, this Monday, I have my first meeting with a spiritual direction pro.  Let’s hope it goes well.  I’ll let you know what we come up with.

What about you?  What are your dreams? Who keeps you accountable for striving for them?  Do you have a spiritual director?  If so, how is it going for you?

My Ironic Journey Toward Learning the Spanish Language

The Spanish language is something of awe to me. I remember taking intro classes in High School and hating it with all of my being. I thought it was useless for an American like me to learn a language I would never use in the future. Little did I know how much this language would have in store for me in the future, and how God decided to use it to humble me.

When I arrived back from Oaxaca, Mexico in January of 2005, I was very distressed that I could not offer as much help as I wanted to during our 2 week mission trip. It was frustrating that I could not speak with a 5 year old child who wanted nothing more than a piggy back ride. In my misunderstandings, we occasionally were able to communicate through body language, but we wasted so much time that could have been spent helping and loving. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be at all effective as an inner-city school teacher (or missioner for that matter, a vocation that was also on my heart), I was going to have to learn the language.

I got quick to work taking my first introduction to Spanish class with complete seriousness. My teacher was excellent, Maria Villalobos Beuhner. She made me work very hard and I was up to the task. She planted the seed in me that would eventually become my motivation to make Spanish my major.

After one year of constant study, I was off to Spain to study abroad. The language was very difficult at first, but by the grace of God, I was able to find new ways, new friends, and new dictionaries that helped me learn the language. After 3 months, the language was a part of me and I became addicted to it even though I didn’t completely understand it.

When I came back to the States, I attempted to find any outlet to use my Spanish, but it was not welcomed very well. I watched Spanish TV and read Spanish books, even completed a few more Spanish classes, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

It was then that I met my wife, Maribel. We fell in love and have spoken the language ever since. I recommend falling in love with someone who speaks a different language than you do (as if you really had a choice). It forces you to listen to every single word whether you want to or not. It leaves no room for laziness and a lot of room for patience; these being two great foundations for marriage.

As it is, the language that I hated for so long and to a certain point despised has now become the language in which I love. God has given me this gift to love my wife, my mission, my students, and of course my family in a whole new way. It is a language of love that I personally cannot speak without smiling. It has humbled me in ways that are only explainable by God. For this gift, I am both in awe of God’s power to change people’s lives in creative ways and I am also thankful.

To top it all off, this is the language in which I have been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel both in my hometown of Grand Rapids and in my second home in Mexico. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious (and ironic) ways.

Money “Inhales Wind Violently”

I just finished writing a prolifically short book review in which I stated that I was going to write something fun as a result of reading the book.  I am a man of my word.

Every time I muster up the gusto to review my online banking and watch as my measly earnings fall like plinko chips into the “bills paid” tab, I get frustrated.  Seriously frustrated.  I often ponder what life would have been like had the industrial revolution not happened.  Would I be living?  If so, would I be a farmer, hunter or cattle driver?  Would I be as worried about being financially stable?

I’m sure you’re in the same ideologic boat. But hold on, without the big buildings, boats, trains, planes and automobiles we wouldn’t have Macbook Pros, so the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages, right?

I digress.

The point I am (failing while) trying to make is this: money sucks.

Father Robert Barron mentioned in his Catholicism Series that the most arbitrary things in life are the ones that matter most.  These trivial actions serve no particular purpose and are done for the sake of themselves which, in return, makes them more important, more meaningful than “justified” undertakings.  Watching a game thus becomes more important than jaunting to the barbershop for a haircut.  Sitting down for lunch with a friend is more important than cleaning the house.  Writing in your blog is more important than working…

You see the dilemma?  Of course you do, you experience it every day.  We would all much rather participate in those meaningless, yet profoundly satisfying activities that we love so much.  What stops us from doing them 24/7?  Money.

We can’t live without money so, we must work.  I won’t spend much more time on this because it depresses me (and you) but we must take into account the great blessing that work is.  God has given it to us for our survival, so that we can complete the meaningless tasks we love so much.  We should appreciate it as a means to prolong our love until we accomplish our missions and can spend eternity alongside Jesus doing them.

Here’s the kicker: we’re stuck here on earth for a while (especially the safely employed).  As long as your job doesn’t involve exposure to toxic materials or strenuous/demanding physical feats of strength, your time to participate in the pointless joys of life are far greater than many starving people in the world who deserve it more than you.  If you own a computer, for example, that purchase took more money than 80% of the people in the world make in an entire year.

I know, money sucks.  But don’t let that hinder your talents.  In fact, we’d be better off living simply and giving our money to those who need it so that they too can stop worrying about their survival and start thinking about their salvation.

You’ve been blessed with work and time to enjoy the pointless jubilations of life.  Take FULL advantage of it and make it your priority to see that others have the same opportunity as you. Otherwise when we arrive at the pearly gates, St. Peter will be like:

*Note, if your name really is “Outcho Mind”, you’re totally in, so no worries.

Free Book On Effective Teaching

The first book in my School Spirit Series is now free to download, share and lend.  Click on the link below to get it and please, don’t hesitate to share it with your favorite teacher, coach, homeschool, principal or parent.

THE SCHOOL SPIRIT SERIES

A PROFOUND JOURNEY THROUGH THE GOSPELS FOR TEACHERS

Book 1- The Gospel of Mark
Paperback- $9.80
EBook- Free
The first book in my School Spirit is an Educator’s guide for reading the Gospel that all teachers can use to enlighten our students with the “richer and fuller meaning” of the lessons we teach. Whether you share knowledge in the classroom, home, church, workplace or anywhere else in the greater community, this book will help you spread the Gospel message through your vocation by imitating the master Educator- Jesus.

Public or Parochial?

Christian teachers have a huge dilemma.  We question our vocation on each end of the educational spectrum.  Our qualifications make us eligible to serve in God’s vineyard in two particular sectors, the private Christian schools and the local public schools. Our hearts and minds are geared towards service, but the question that dwells in our hearts is, in which sector does God want me to labor?

Public school teachers have a difficult task.  They are shackled by prohibitions and have the most amount of work in their care.  Without ever being able to use Christ’s teachings vocally, they are asked to till a difficult soil in silent action and produce miracles.  On the plus side, they usually receive good pay and a tremendous sense satisfaction after completing their work.

Parochial school teachers also have a difficult task.  While they can rely on the common spirituality of their pupils, they tend to receive little monetary recompense for it.  Also, they are most times asked to till the soil with less workers and less tools.

In both sectors, the laborers often wonder what it is like to work on the other side.  The public school teacher ponders how much more effective s/he could be if s/he were allowed to preach the good news orally and the christian school teacher wonders whether his or her ability to serve would best suit students in a struggling public school.

When the day is done we all come together to receive our pay.  While some might make more temporally, we all receive the same wage spiritually.  God has placed you in your sector because you are needed there.  Without you, He is less represented.  With you, He manifests His generosity.

Now get to work.  Souls are at stake!

Approximately how many crosses do you see on a daily basis? The answer might surprise you.

I’m convinced that the most common sights that humans see on a daily basis is a cross.  Besides the fact that many people wear one around their necks to signify their Christian beliefs, when we look around in our human structures and even in nature, crosses surround us.

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Trees- Each tree has branches that, when looked at from a particular angle intersect perfectly with the trunk making a cross.
  • Buildings- very few architectural structures can stand without the intersection of wood or metal beams.  One can’t build up or out without  a cross.
  • Humans- our very bodies were designed with the cross in mind.  While we stand upright, we extend our arms to show love, excitement, and peace- forming a cross.
  • Our classroom- take a look at any math book and see if you can spot an addition problem.  Tilt a multiplication problem on its side and see if that “X” looks like a cross.

If we have our eyes open, these and other subliminal messages from God manifest themselves through His creation.  When we recognize them and acknowledge them, we unite ourselves with Him in a universal “scavenger hunt” of truth.

Wear a cross today to predicate this worldwide symbol of obedience.  If you don’t have one handy, count the millions that surround you, calling you to discipleship.  Do this, and I can guarantee the One Who joins the crossbeam of our will to the horizontal stake of His will unite you with His Son who connects all of creation in His eternal sacrifice.

Hands. Handlebars. Now. Please!

As a precursor to this post, you need to know that my daughter turns 2 on Tuesday , so I’m a bit sentimental.  Also, we are finishing up another school year, so I’m a bit reflective too.  Sentimental and reflective makes for good blogposts for some, but not for others.  If you like this kind of father/teacher stuff, keep reading.

My daughter had the great idea to go searching for rocks in the front of the house and, at the same time, go riding on her scooter (which is more like me pushing her as she holds on to the handlebars).  Like any two year-old, she also wanted to be in the backyard playing on the slide.  So, being the great appreciator of fun that she is, she tried to combine all three.  To do this she put the rocks on the scooter and commanded Papí to guide the sediment on wheels magically across the grass pathway without loosing one of her precious, lifeless spheres.

The rocks, scooter and little girl

The rocks, scooter and little girl

So, I got to thinking, “Why don’t I let her try it out on her own.”

“No!” she screamed after having read my thoughts.  “Hands, Handlebars, Now. Please.” she continued.

“OK, if she won’t do it on her own, let’s see what she does when the rocks fall off,” I said to myself hoping secretly that she would get frustrated with my “maneuvers” and either take control of the situation herself or abandon the rocks altogether so we could have some real fun (and by that I mean more manageable fun for Papí) on the slide.

After she put the rocks on the first time, I “accidentally” took a curve to quickly.

“Uh oh,” she said, and quickly picked them back up and returned them to the flat scooter.

Again we went into motion.  This time, I crashed into a rise in the driveway cement, tossing the rocks again.

“Uh oh,” she said again, this time smiling at my “clumsiness.”  The five rocks were back on the scooter in seconds.

“Oh no!  Grass!” I screamed as the rocks went tumbling again to the turf.

“Uh oh. Rocks fall?” she questioned inquisitively.

“Yes hunny, they keep falling.  Don’t you want to go to the slide?  Let’s leave the rocks and scooter here.  What do you say?”

“Papí! Hands. Handlebars. Now. Please!” she replied.

It was then that I realized that she was not going to relent.  She wanted her rocks, her scooter, her slide AND her Papí in the backyard and she couldn’t make that happen herself; she needed me.

A student of mine popped into my head.  This student has been difficult to motivate all year.  Every time I set him up for success, he, like my daughter and the rocks, preferred to ignore the opportunity to do it on his own and waited for someone like me to step in, take the handlebars and help him maneuver the difficult terrain.

Back at home, once we all (rocks, scooter, Papí, slide and little girl) finally got to the backyard, a Monarch butterfly landed on my white, sunlit T-shirt. I scooped it up, knelt on one knee, and showed it to my bewildered princess.  It was the first butterfly she had ever seen up close.

We watched the reincarnated caterpillar fly away.  My daughter, still amazed by the sight, walked slowly and pensively to the slide and climbed.  I too was in deep thought.  Had I not given in, her first close encounter with the Monarch would have been much later in life.

What a wonderful early birthday present for her.

What a humbling lesson on perseverance for me.

What a tremendous gift of new life for my students these final weeks will be…