SUICIDE PREVENTION–thoughts worth sharing

I was VERY NERVOUS, to say the least, when I found out we teachers would be teaching suicide prevention in January. Let me emphasize, WE, THE TEACHERS…I.E. NOT THE COUNSELORS (!!&*). But now that our first of such trainings is complete and the next one is quickly approaching, I can honestly say that I’m actually looking forward to leading the next session. Here’s why:

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people between 10-24 years of age. Other statistics vary slightly; according to the CDC, suicide ranks as the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. Moreover, for this same age group, it accounts for 20% of all deaths annually. I don’t know how it felt for you, but when I read the word “all,” my ears burned. I’m saddened to know how large of a group of persons the world misses out on knowing only because their shouts for help when unanswered.

Is your head swimming with all these facts and statistics? Are you feeling as weighted down by the burden of this knowledge as I am? Here’s the take-away I hope you gain from my blog: no matter which age-group or whose statistics we go by, the fact remains that this cause of death is PREVENTABLE. In fact, I have heard it said that suicide is treated like it’s a solution to a problem, but it is unfortunately a PERMANENT “solution” to a problem that was only temporary. Young people need help through their struggles and tough times. If they’ve been battling suicidal thoughts for a long enough time, the reality that their struggle is only temporary may sound absurd to them. In fact, telling them that it’s only temporary may sound more to them like you are not taking them seriously. If you are or know of a young person who is struggling with this, PLEASE GET HELP! Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Continue reading SUICIDE PREVENTION–thoughts worth sharing

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Transforming VBS

Each year I dedicate one week out of my summer to volunteer as a teacher for my church’s Vacation Bible School—VBS. This has been the case for roughly 30 years now since I started doing it as a youth volunteer back at Guthrie First United Methodist Church in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Nowadays it is practically part of my job description as a pastor’s spouse. Especially given that I am a teacher by profession! Throughout this time I have experienced a multitude of VBS settings running the gamut from minuscule VBS programs to thriving ones.

Having been a member of rural churches (one whose average weekly attendance was only 13, even! [Agra First United Methodist Church, Agra, OK]), to urban churches such as Memorial United Methodist Church, White Plains, NY, to suburban churches including the church about whom this blog post is centered—Bedford First United Methodist Church in Bedford, TX , it goes without saying that I have seen VBS done many different ways. But this year’s VBS was exceptionally remarkable. I am thrilled to blog about it now! I can’t even decide which aspects were my favorite–those that dealt with the ‘how’ it was so special, or those that pertain to ‘what’ made it distinct. But I’ll begin by sharing a snapshot of how this VBS was so unique to my former VBS experiences.

One obvious component that set Bedford First UMC’s 2017 VBS week apart from all others was that this session was compiled of 3 major organizations—Bedford 1st UMC children’s program (of course), to which were added the children of Bedford First United Methodist Church Early Childhood Academy, and, lastly, the children of Project Transformation, (a collaborative enterprise of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church). This last component, Project Transformation, that is, was an entirely new experience for me. And I loved it! Church members interacted with children in their local community whom they had never met, underserved children were introduced to the experience of VBS while also practicing their reading, and many lives were transformed. Even the “regular” students noticed the difference!

As for the students noticing the difference, one student (whom I will call Brad [not his real name]) remarked to me on day 2 of VBS that, “This [i]s the best VBS yet!” Brad did not explain why he felt this way, but he repeated this several times throughout the rest of the week. Through the unified efforts of the three organizations, we saw more than just an increased creativity level, but we reached significantly higher numbers of VBS children. In fact, our student participation level was nearly double that of last year. Read on to hear more comments like those of Brad.

Continue reading Transforming VBS

SRP–Bud, Not Buddy.

Bud,_Not_Buddy

Much like a previous posting of mine, this book is middle-school oriented, is award-winning, and is a fun read even for adults! (The other post to which I just referred was Sounder.) Christopher Paul Curtis, the author of Bud, Not Buddy, is from Flint, Michigan, which explains why the city and/or state pop up in so many of his other writings (The Watsons Go To Birmingham, for instance).

Bud, Not Buddy centers around a ten-year-old orphan struggling to make sense of his place in life. I must admit, some of the horrible treatment Bud was forced to endure as a foster child reminded me of yet another story I have read since becoming a teacher of troubled children such as these. The book it reminded me of is A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer. Pelzer’s book differs significantly in that it is non-fiction. This inspiring book is a MUST read for anyone who thinks that orphans do not get abused. Or for anyone who teaches children. Or anyone who ever has children, or was a child, or just plain anyone.

In my research for this Bud, Not Buddy blog post, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a commonality between me and Mr. Curtis; he and I both appreciate the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. In fact, some of my readers may remember that a year or so ago I published an item on one of her pieces of literature, Their Eyes Were Watching GodHurston’s novel definitely deserved more credit than it was given by her reviewers at the time.

Hurston’s book was made into a movie–and I highly recommend both the book and the movie–just as also Sounder was made into a movie. Unfortunately, Bud, Not Buddy, has not (yet?) been made into a movie. It was, however, written into a script for live action. A small portion of it can be seen on YouTube by following this link. The link attached takes you to the scene entitled “Hooperville”, which is congruent to ch.8

Since you can easily look up summaries of the book elsewhere, and you’re not looking for a summary here, let me just tell you that my favorite part of the book was early on when an insect crawled into the ear of a character, the whole incident of which

explains the character’s nickname, “Bugs”. My affinity for this

 

Earwig
I beg to differ with most websites I found on the insect, claiming they do not crawl into peoples’ ears. They most certainly do–and they BITE with then get inside! “There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis.” https://www.orkin.com/other/earwigs/ Site visited 7/12/17.

 

scene no doubt springs from a similar experience I once had with an earwig.

 

Otherwise, the book is the most memorable for me because of the way Curtis so frequently sprinkles “rules” throughout it. For instance, here are some of my favorite:

#3: “If You Got to Tell a Lie, Make Sure It’s Simple and Easy to Remember. (All who have survived their teenage years know the value of this rule!)

#328: When You Make Up Your Mind To Do Something, Hurry  Up And Do It,  If You Wait You Might Talk Yourself Out of What You Wanted in the First Place. (See my comment following the previous rule.)

#28: Gone = Dead. There it is, two simple words with a mathematical sign in between. What more needs said? This is easily how juveniles deal with adult language. Now if only dealing with the reality expressed by this rule was as simple as the statement is…

#83: If a Adult Tells You Not to Worry, and You Weren’t Worried Before, You Better Hurry Up and Start ‘Cause You’re Already Running Late. (Does anyone hear the voice of the White Rabbit?) I am sure I hear it…

#39The Older Your Get, the Worse Something Has to Be to Make You Cry. Isn’t that called wisdom?

There are other rules peppered throughout the book, and Curtis ties up most of the loose ends before finishing. I will leave those ends loose herein so as not to give away too many important details. Let me just leave it at this: Bud, Not Buddy. Read it.

SRP–Bud, Not Buddy.

Bud,_Not_BuddyMuch like a previous posting of mine, this book is middle-school oriented, is award-winning, and is a fun read even for adults! (The other post to which I just referred was Sounder.) Christopher Paul Curtis, the author of Bud, Not Buddy, is from Flint, Michigan, which explains why the city and/or state pop up in so many of his other writings (The Watsons Go To Birmingham, for instance).

Bud, Not Buddy centers around a ten-year-old orphan struggling to make sense of his place in life. I must admit, some of the horrible treatment Bud was forced to endure as a foster child reminded me of yet another story I have read since becoming a teacher of troubled children such as these. The book it reminded me of is A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer. Pelzer’s book differs significantly in that it is non-fiction. This inspiring book is a MUST read for anyone who thinks that orphans do not get abused. Or for anyone who teaches children. Or anyone who ever has children, or was a child, or just plain anyone.

In my research for this Bud, Not Buddy blog post, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a commonality between me and Mr. Curtis; he and I both appreciate the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. In fact, some of my readers may remember that a year or so ago I published an item on one of her pieces of literature, Their Eyes Were Watching GodHurston’s novel definitely deserved more credit than it was given by her reviewers at the time.

Hurston’s book was made into a movie–and I highly recommend both the book and the movie–just as also Sounder was made into a movie. Unfortunately, Bud, Not Buddy, has not (yet?) been made into a movie. It was, however, written into a script for live action. A small portion of it can be seen on YouTube by following this link. The link attached takes you to the scene entitled “Hooperville”, which is congruent to ch.8

Since you can easily look up summaries of the book elsewhere, and you’re not looking for a summary here, let me just tell you that my favorite part of the book was early on when an insect crawled into the ear of a character, the whole incident of which

explains the character’s nickname, “Bugs”. My affinity for this

 

Earwig
I beg to differ with most websites I found on the insect, claiming they do not crawl into peoples’ ears. They most certainly do–and they BITE with then get inside! “There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis.” https://www.orkin.com/other/earwigs/ Site visited 7/12/17.

 

scene no doubt springs from a similar experience I once had with an earwig.

 

Otherwise, the book is the most memorable for me because of the way Curtis so frequently sprinkles “rules” throughout it. For instance, here are some of my favorite:

#3: “If You Got to Tell a Lie, Make Sure It’s Simple and Easy to Remember. (All who have survived their teenage years know the value of this rule!)

#328: When You Make Up Your Mind To Do Something, Hurry  Up And Do It,  If You Wait You Might Talk Yourself Out of What You Wanted in the First Place. (See my comment following the previous rule.)

#28: Gone = Dead. There it is, two simple words with a mathematical sign in between. What more needs said? This is easily how juveniles deal with adult language. Now if only dealing with the reality expressed by this rule was as simple as the statement is…

#83: If a Adult Tells You Not to Worry, and You Weren’t Worried Before, You Better Hurry Up and Start ‘Cause You’re Already Running Late. (Does anyone hear the voice of the White Rabbit?) I am sure I hear it…

#39: The Older Your Get, the Worse Something Has to Be to Make You Cry. Isn’t that called wisdom?

There are other rules peppered throughout the book, and Curtis ties up most of the loose ends before finishing. I will leave those ends loose herein so as not to give away too many important details. Let me just leave it at this: Bud, Not Buddy. Read it.

Wonder Woman–the Original

Wonder WomanThe first childhood hero I can remember having was Wonder Woman. And after seeing the new movie with Gal Gadot-Versano, she is still my hero! In fact, the only part of the movie that disappointed me was the near-drowning scene with her wanna-be rescuer, Steve Trevor. The scene simply lacked the gasping and kicking it should have had to appear realistic. In any case, the rest of the cinematics were as remarkable as an old-school fan of DC Comics would expect. Now on to the topic:

Having just taught several series’ of lessons on WWI, I was pleasantly surprised to see so much WWI history tied into this movie, too. I think it taught me more than I realized I still had left to learn about the history of the Wonder Woman phenomenon. I was a child when DC Comics brought her into my living room–on a gigantic black-and-white tv set. All I knew was she stopped bad people, looked awesome, and hardly broke a sweat. Just take a peek at the 1975 pilot episode!

After watching the movie with my family, a debate struck out. None of us had known many details of Wonder Woman’s back story, so some of what we discussed involved Hippolyta and Zeus.

Without any spoilers, here’s how IMDB sums it up:

Hippolyta takes Diana and tells her the story about the gods. Zeus ruled over the heavens and looked upon mankind with high regards, but Ares, the god of war, sought to corrupt mankind and lead them to tear each other apart in battle. The other gods fought back against Ares, but he killed all of them. With his dying breaths, Zeus cast Ares down into the world of man and then forged a weapon that can destroy Ares once and for all. He also gave the Amazons their home on Themyscira to hide them from the rest of the world. Hippolyta shows Diana the powerful sword known as the God Killer. With it, Ares can be killed, but Hippolyta hopes there will not come a time for Diana or anyone else to wield it.

Discussing this led to a disagreement; someone in my family disagreed when I called Superman a god-like being. I’ve italicized the word “someone” in order to protect the innocent person in our family from embarrassment. “He” (and if you know my family, you know only one of us in my household is male) shouldn’t be embarrassed, but seriously, Superman, the “man of steel”, is a) from another planet and b) has superhuman powers. How the heck could it slip by anyone that this is a comparison to divinity? Most know the back story to Superman, that is, before his planet, Krypton, is destroyed, a scientist sends his son “Kal-El” on a spaceship to Earth. Many have made note that the phrase “Kal-El” is similar to the Hebrew phrase for “Voice of God”, but just for funsies, take a look at this link that “explains” why Superman was Jewish. 

Now back to Wonder Woman… She’s a hero just because of who she is. In fact, as she put it in her interview on 3/7/16 with Glamour magazine, “she is not relying on a man, and she’s not there because of a love story” What could be more heroic than that?     Okay, okay. There is plenty that could be more heroic than that. But, still, it is pretty heroic, right?

And as for me, I totally love the fact that she stands for truth, fairness, justice, and strength in righteousness. There is really nothing more that needs to be said. Wonder Woman does the right thing. Criminals get thrashed. She carries on humbly.

And one of these days when I can afford an authentic Wonder Woman outfit, I’ll wear a Wonder Woman costume for Halloween. But only then. I wouldn’t want to confuse anyone misleading them to believe I can solve any of their problems. 😉

 

SRP–Sounder

I am not sure if I have ever seen the movie this book inspired, but I do know that, like any wisened reader of the 21st century, I predicted that I would cry when reading this book. I read it anyway. I recommend others do likewise. And not just because of the numerous awards the title earned, including:

  1. A Newbery Award in 1970 (http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberywinners/medalwinners. Site visited 6/22/2017.)250px-Newbery_Medal
  2. Lewis Carroll Shelf award in 1970 (https://www.goodreads.com/award/show/334-lewis-carroll-shelf-award?page=3. Site visited 6/22/2017.);
  3. Made into a major motion picture in 1972.
  4. Mark Twain Award in 1972 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain_Readers_Award. Site visited 6/22/2017.)
  5. In 2003, ABC‘s Wonderful World of Disney aired an updated film adaptation including numerous characters who played in the original 1972 film.

These five accomplishments deservedly warrant any reader’s attention, to say the least. Yet my own reasons for welcoming the mark this book left on my heart were much simpler. I love dogs; I insist on reading books that have become influential–if for no other reason than that I cannot stand it if others “know” something I don’t; and finally, I could relate to this story on some level; like me, its main character grew up poor. However, to be fully transparent, I was never the victim of racism the way he and his family were. Rather, I was the victim of classism. My family was poor, and no matter how highly achieved I become education-wise, I vow never to forget that I am the product or “poor white trash”. My parents, like the parents of the boy in this story, saw value in me earning an education. And so I earned my high school diploma, and then I went on to become a teacher. So, now I teach others hoping to instill in them the love for (and value in) having an education.

Returning to the book at hand, Sounder is brilliantly written without making much use of characters’ first names nor even many personal pronouns. For instance, our main character is most frequently referred to as “the boy”, rather than by name, or even simply as “he”. And his mother is not referred to as “his mother”, but only as “the mother”. Armstrong’s writing style seems somewhat cold and even callous at first. But readers quickly realize that this enforced separation between themselves and the characters about whom they are reading is part of its brilliance. Somehow, through his use of the English language, the author forces readers to experience the great chasm and loneliness that racism brings about. Moreover, while we simultaneously come to feel like we are with these characters, like we know them, we love them, and we suffer with them, we are helpless and unable to bridge the distance between then and now, between time and space, between fiction and reality.

When the family is starving due to poverty, we are starving. When the family rejoices for the pork feast the father provides, we, too, rejoice. When the family is confused, shocked, and terrified by the sudden presence of the authorities searching for a thief, we are confused, shocked, and terrified. When the family pines over the imprisonment of the father, we are pining. When the remaining family grieves over the brutal crime committed against Sounder, we grieve.

Do not fall victim to what seemed like it should have included a “spoiler alert”; Sounder was brutalized, but neither the dog nor the story ended there. I highly recommend readers pick up the book to discover for themselves how this painfully truthful book of fiction played out. As it continued from where I have left off, characters change, life changes, and yet… Well, let me put it to you the way the book does. As a testament to the maturity he has developed and hastening readers towards the end of the book, by page 109, our young narrator shares a wisdom all-but-too profound for his youthful age:

“Everything don’t change much… There’s eatin’ and sleepin’ and talkin’ and setting’ that goes on. One day might be different from another, but there ain’t much difference when they’re put together.”

*     *     *     *     *     *

Astute readers will not miss the nearly contradictory irony juxtaposed between the book’s narrator above and W. H. Armstrong the author in his statement in the Author’s Note preceding this story:     “That world of long ago has almost totally changed… But the story remains.” To Armstrong’s comment about the world having changed, I would suggest that this is yet another brilliant aspect of his storytelling; while racism looks different now, it is altogether too obviously still within our midst. The U. S. A. having had its first black president—whom it elected for a 2nd term, even—the battle cry #BlackLivesMatter” did not spring into existence from out of nowhere.

Author’s Note: Other of Armstrong’s novels include The Sour Land (which is apparently a sequel to Sounder)The Mills of God, and The MacLeod Place. All of these books are now on my personal reading list. Of course, I plan to begin with The Sour Land.

SRP–an Interlude and Gratitude

I want to briefly interrupt my chain of “SRP” (Summer Reading Program) installments to share a word of “thanks” to a dear friend of mine, Linda R. Recently (or rather, not so recently [sorry I took so long with your book, Linda!]), my friend, lent me a book she had just read with her book club. She thought I might enjoy it–and WOW, how right she was!

The ad I posted above is one of many, MANY fun snippets of advertisements and artifacts to be found in Unmentionable Therese Oneill’s book on Victorian practices. This noteworthy book is packed with fun facts from cover to cover and is also a unique read for Oneill’s writing style. She writes using the 2nd person Point of View–in other words, she writes somewhat conversationally so that she is talking directly to YOU, the reader. While this sometimes made for an awkward read in that she could not possibly correctly presuppose her reader’s every thought, it was fun to break out of the mold. Further, Oneill used this 2nd person POV to encapsulate the tone and ironies she aimed to expose in our supposed ‘prim and proper’ Victorian history. Oneill frequently chided her readers for their silly misconceptions of history and their spoiled gift of modern conveniences. Speaking to readers as if giving us a tour through history, she declares:

"I'd best break it to you early: you're going to be wearing a lot of things under your dress during your time here--but none of them will have a crotch...

Ever wonder why the saucy, high-kicking can-can dance of the Moulin Rouge was so popular? It wasn't because the dancers were showing their stockings, or even their legs."

Following this quote is a quite revealing example of a pair of women’s “drawers” (underpants) from approximately the 1890s.

Such a fun read! Thanks for sharing this book with me, Linda!