Five Minute Friday (on Saturday): Ready

Summer melted away overnight and in Mississippi we’re having a day which more properly belongs in New England. Did it escape from its proper pile in the grand dealing of days, slip south to surprise us?

Did the day escape from here, for instance?

Did the day escape from here, for instance?

If I’m ever ready for anything at all, I am ready for fall, each year eager to see its arrival, senses poised to detect the first coolness in the breeze, the first yellowing of a leaf. Suddenly, it seems right to be reading the old literature which I’ve struggled to read and teach for the past two weeks: misty grey days belong to Shakespeare as bright sweaty days do not.

Ready or not, change comes with each new morning. For most things in life I never feel quite prepared: I want to anticipate each potentiality, pack ever item I could need in even the most improbable circumstance, prepare a scripted answer for every question.

We’re supposed to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, and I never feel adequate for the task. But I am always able to say that He who has called me is faithful. That He who has called me is adequate. That, after all, it does not depend on my willing or on my running (or on my ability to answer well and rationally) but on God who has mercy.

He promises to supply every need of mine according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. So while I may feel all unready, I trust Him to supply the readiness, as well.

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Joining Kate Motaung and friends a day late, writing on her prompt, ready. Read more using the button above.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

September. Eleventh.

I was fourteen years old, belly-down with an Algebra book on the brown carpet of my little white bedroom with its window that opened onto the back porch, but I didn’t finish the Algebra lesson that day, or do any other school work.

Mississippi College, 2014

Mississippi College, 2014

Living within the barbed-wire-topped fences of a military installation, I felt at once more safe and more vulnerable than I might have felt somewhere else. Guards with guns all around, but in a war, aren’t military installations targets?

On the radio, news of the unthinkable, and later, at our neighbor’s house where there was a TV — we didn’t have one — the images played, over and over. So that now, I have to make a conscious effort to see them, to remember that these are people, that this happened, that it was terrifyingly real.

My freshmen were five years old then, so they probably don’t remember the times before it: how we walked all the way to the arrival gate to pick up my cousins at the airport and no one scanned us or checked our IDs or even really paid attention to us; how our military wasn’t involved in perpetually futile attempts to squelch terrorism all over the world; how there was nothing specific that we were supposed to remember on September eleventh.

Today, our campus is adorned with flags, they had a special bell-ringing at 9:11 this morning, and I read this poem to my class, because it’s a good poem, and because today is today.

That year, the girl we sponsored in Uganda wrote a letter expressing her condolences for our troubles in America, her sorrow over it, the fact that she prayed for us. From Uganda, where children are taken and pressed in armies, trained to kill one another with machetes, where war and disease are not tidily kept in news reports and hospital rooms, she extended sympathy to us.

I think of the hand of a Sudanese man, covering an ugly painting in an art history book, so that I wouldn’t have to look at it. And I marvel at this grace.

We observe today as a day when the world changed, when American life became more dangerous. A marker between how it was and how it is. But how is it? Still comfortable, still safe and prosperous, still free and at ease in our borders. They scan us at the airports, check IDs, keep non-passengers away from the gates: but still we fly, with minimal anxiety, and reach nearly all our destinations in perfect safety.

And so, thirteen years older, sitting up in bed in a pale blue room with its window that opens onto the front porch, with all the day’s school work complete, I wonder, I remember, and I rejoice.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott

day-making

Jonathan Edwards, Beowulf, excerpts from Washington Irving to illustrate descriptive writing to my freshman writing class. Clumsy attempts at poetry analysis, an enthusiastic rendition of the dragon in a dramatization of battles from Beowulf, group workshopping conversation about potential essay topics. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, 1889 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, 1889
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My teaching days are full of surprising transitions and juxtapositions: face beside face, voice beside voice, my head a jumble of ideas-to-be-shared, and the preparatory notes I scribble for myself always insufficient to prevent my wandering off the charted course. (I wander away from the podium as often as not, drift away into ad-libbing on this idea and that idea, launched from last-year’s marginalia in the anthology or from a student’s unexpected comment.

They indulge me in my efforts to draw us all back to the plan, and I wonder how much they realize we’ve deviated, how much of the day’s work I left to chance in the first place, trusting to these inspirations to fill in the outlines I’d sketched in mechanical pencil. 

And, truly, no matter how much detail I add to the plan, it is only ever an outline without the students. They come with their various colors and bring my outlines to life: not always so neatly or thoroughly as I’ve imagined, but with a zest that my imagined colors lack.

I relish it, the flavor of life lived with people, in the classroom and out of it. You, reading this, bring a color I cannot provide, and when we meet face to face, we create lights and shadows that each of us unaided could never produce.

Sometimes, I resent the changes, the days colored in vigorous strokes from your brushes thick with paint, where I had imagined pale washes of color through which the texture of the page would show rough and bright. But the truth is, even the days I spend alone never look as I imagine: the paints run into one another, the outlines get blurred and texture mushy; I end frustrated and weary of my never-fulfilled expectations.

These days we create together? These are masterpieces, and I end grateful for a God whose plans cannot be derailed by any stray word of mine, who is never surprised by the colors that appear on His page, whose mercies are new and sufficient for each new day.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Notes from an English Classroom: a HASH post

Bible Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John L. Feldman, in memory of his father Alvin Lindberg Feldman, 1997

Bible
Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of John L. Feldman, in memory of his father Alvin Lindberg Feldman, 1997

When, after a month of brainstorming and writing, there still seems to be no way forward with the post I planned for you, I resort to things I’ve already practiced expressing. These are the things I tell my students on the first day of a new semester: some of the reasons why I’m an English teacher rather than something else, and why I think being an English teacher is important. The first day of my new semester happened a week ago, and I had the privilege of sharing these things with three separate groups of students.

First, the word “presupposition.” I start here, because the next things I share with them — including the course syllabus, which I won’t share with you — are presuppositions of mine, and also because I will eventually want to talk about authors’ presuppositions, so it’s helpful to have already defined the term. I ask the students to define it, but they usually don’t, so I break it down for them, into “pre” and “suppose,” and arrive at an idea of a presupposition being something assumed or believed before other things: an idea that is foundational or first. Then I write two presuppositions on the white board:

To read the presuppositions, and my explanation of them, click here to go to the original posting on the HASH blog.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Five Minute Friday: Whisper

Their handwritings are as accented as their voices — these students with thoughts in other languages passing behind their dark eyes. In the tail of a “y” I trace the flowing right-to-left of Arabic script, while the extra lines of Chinese characters sometimes clutter the spaces around ordinary English words.

They ask me to speak slowly, and I watch them concentrating, understanding, trusting me to give them the help they need.

I find accents in the American handwriting, too — and personalities: large and messy from a student who sits in the front of the class and answers nearly every question with a confident smile; small and stiff from the student who came here from the military.

When I write responses to their homework, I find my writing changes based on the tone I might use for each one: sometimes it is careful printing, other times I let cursive script tilt across the page.

I “put on” teacher in the classroom for them: an expanded personality who isn’t afraid of meeting strangers and confronting problems and who falls away when I unload my teaching bag from the car at home, slip out of cramped shoes, sit down with their homework pages.

Sometimes it seems like a useless exhaustion, but a whisper reminds me of their responsive faces, the way they seem glad to step into the classroom. This teacher-project, after all, is about loving people: thoroughly worth the effort. Five-Minute-Friday-4-300x300Joining Kate Motaung and friends for the Five Minute Friday party, writing on her word, “whisper.” (Sort of, sort of just writing the thing that’s on my mind and working “whisper” into it as best I can.) Read more and join in using the button above! ©2014 by Stacy Nott  

August: learnings

Joining Emily P. Freeman again to share things I’ve learned in August. If you’d like to read what she and others have learned in August, or share your own list, click on this button to go over to the link-up on her blog, Chatting at the Sky:

What-we-learned-in-August1. I learned about a level of strategy I never imagined in baseball — not that I’ve spent much time imagining about baseball — from this segment of NPR’s Fresh Air, interviewing record-winning pitcher Jamie Moyer. Did you know that body language and psychological strategies come into play on the baseball diamond? It made me want to go watch a game — huh? — so I could watch for this stuff.

2. I learned a little bit about how oil wells work, curtesy of my oil-field-working engineer brother. The names of things — derrick, block, gun — didn’t stick too well, but I could sketch some processes for you. And I gained a new appreciation for what people have figured out how to do: I mean, I would never, NEVER have figured out how to dig down multiple thousands of feet, get machines down there, and get the stuff I wanted out of the ground without ever going into the ground myself.

3. I learned that according to some estimates, there are as many as 25,000 converts to Christianity in China per day. Praise the Lord!

4. I learned that, on any ordinary Tuesday afternoon, a mid-sized raccoon may be digging up a yellow-jackets’ nest in the woods, and you may startle it on your afternoon walk, and find out what the interior of a yellow-jackets’ nest looks like when pulled out in the open. I shouldn’t have been surprised that these ground-dwellers are as orderly and amazing as the bees, wasps, and hornets which build above ground, but I was.
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5. I learned from — and was convicted by — this article by black evangelical pastor Brian Loritts, in response to the racial situation in Ferguson, Missouri this month: “We will never experience true Christian unity when one ethnicity demands of another that we keep silent about our pain and travails. The way forward is not an appeal to the facts as a first resort, but the attempt to get inside each others skin as best as we can to feel what they feel, and understand it. Tragedies like Ferguson are like MRIs that reveal the hurt that still lingers. The chasm that exists between ethnicities can only be traversed if we move past facts and get into feelings.”  Start that journey over the chasm by reading his article, and the others in the series.

6. I found — didn’t learn — this, what my daddy used to do when I was a little girl. So cool. (Also fun was watching it with him, feeling him get tense beside me: twenty years later it still makes him excited!)

7. I learned some of this semester’s students’ names and faces, and found some of other semesters’ students in this semester’s classes. I’m learning which ones prefer to be called by middle names, or by last names, or by nicknames.

8. I learned that the books from which I’m teaching this semester — including two hefty anthologies — plus various other teaching supplies make for a ponderous book bag.

9. I learned a good bit about ISIS — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [or the Levant] — this month: the things they’ve been doing — beheadings, and car bombs, and persecution of minorities — the things they want to do — establish a caliphate. They aren’t pleasant things to learn, but they are necessary.

10. I learned that when the power is off on a summer’s Sunday morning, my church meets in the fellowship hall, which has big windows and multiple doors for ventilation.

11. I learned that I like the espresso granitas served by my favorite local coffee shop, just in time, of course, for them to stop running their month-long $2 granita special. But they may make my list of occasional indulgences hereafter . . . .

12. I learned again that a larger-than-usual expenditure of enthusiasm on the first day of classes goes a long way in making students expect to enjoy even English courses. (But it is also a little bit exhausting for this introvert.)

13. And I learned again that wearing high heels all day makes my feet hurt. (So, while I like the extra importance and height they give me when I meet my students, I probably won’t be using them often this semester.)

The list could go on and on, but I’ll stop here, grateful again for grace which allows me to keep on learning things.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Five Minute Friday (on Saturday): Reach

There’s a story about Abraham Lincoln that says when he was asked how long a man’s legs should be — by people intending insult to his unusual lengthiness in that department — he answered that they ought to be long enough to reach the ground.

 

I’ve always been entertained by the image this conjures, of a short-legged someone suspended frustratedly a few inches above the ground, unable to walk, or stomp, or plant his feet for balance.

Of course the joke is that the ground is the one thing we can be sure of reaching, however short or long of limb we are. We’re stuck on the ground, stretching up to this thing or that, straining on tiptoe sometimes, grazing things with our finger-tips.

In the world of ideas, though, might it be true? Might we call presuppositions the idealogical “legs” on which people support themselves? For ideas to work well, for people to be able to walk, and stomp, and balance themselves, their presuppositions must reach the ground: Jesus Christ the truth, in whom all things consist.

Yet we see a world full of people whose presuppositions reach other “grounds,” which are no grounds at all. Who, for practical purposes are suspended in air; whose ideas ultimately don’t work.

The Bible promises that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Eventually, even in the world of ideas, this ground is the one thing we can be sure that all will reach, with legs or without them.

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Joining Kate Motaung and friends for Five Minute Friday, writing on her prompt: reach. Click the button above to read more about it!

©2014 by Stacy Nott