Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Comfort Level With Being Uncomfortable

If you are wearing a watch while reading this, stop for a moment and put it on your other wrist.

If your wrists are void of a timepiece, try operating your mouse or touch screen with your non-dominant hand.

Or, simply interlock your fingers with both hands. Now, continue reading this post but stagger your digits in the other direction (if your rights ended up on top of your lefts, switch your grip so that the lefts are on top).

Feel weird? Uncomfortable? Maybe even annoying?

Being creatures of habit and routine, we do not like it when the world we had once come to expect and accept is thrown off (even with something as trivial as the writs on which we wear our watches).

However, it is the nature of all education that old knowledge is surpassed by new. The familiar is disregarded for the foreign. The comfortable forsaken for the uncharted. All new knowledge is the product of putting our once held beliefs to the test and either retaining or adjusting them.

Education depends on this state of instability.

I see it every day in Elizabeth. New discoveries. New talents. New noises. Her world is in a constant state of flux.

Imagine education from this perspective. We take our prior knowledge and to it either add new knowledge or change our former way of thinking based on this new phenomenon. Not all four legged animals are dogs? Some things, like apples, are to be eaten, while others, like blocks and toes, shouldn't go in my mouth? In math, we are going to solve for a letter that's on the wrong side of the equal sign? America wasn't always the greatest and most powerful country in the world? Bad things can happen to good people? The Earth isn't flat? It's not the center of the universe either?

Imagine how basic and elementary our lives would be if we were unwilling to live in this state of discomfort in order to grow to new knowledge.

So, the saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks has more to do with attitude than aptitude. At some point in our lives, many of us grow tired of changing and feeling uncomfortable. The ever changing world of our childhood settles down, becomes a bit more predictable and we become set in our ways. When it comes to "old dogs", it's not that we can't learn something new, it's that we don't want to.

As Catholic educators, the current Easter season should teach us a bit about the educational process. Call it the greatest twist ever- the apostles find the tomb empty.


Even for Jesus' closest companions, this was a hard lesson to learn. While I'm sure they were completely overjoyed because Jesus rose from the dead, they were most likely in various states of disbelief. Imagine their unease, their anxiousness, their discomfort. Even for people who had witnessed all sorts of miracles, including Lazarus coming back from the dead, walking, talking, eating, and being with a "Resurrected" person must have been unnerving.

Someone must have stolen the body. Maybe we have the wrong tomb. Someone is playing a trick on us. We're hallucinating. Dreaming. Dead ourselves.

Jesus is dead (old knowledge). Correction: Jesus was dead (new knowledge).

Talk about a paradigm shift. Thomas offers the greatest insight into this unrest caused by the Resurrection. Show me your wounds. Let me touch them. Prove to me that it is You, Jesus. Is Thomas that different from a student grappling with a new concept? Explain it to me again. Give me another example. Let me try it myself. I'm willing to accept that what you're teaching me is true, but I need to experience it for myself.

There is a discomfort involved with education. There is also an element of risk.

Let us keep our comfort with being uncomfortable. In turn, let us keep this fire alive in our students. Let us continue to give them the confidence to do that which they don't think is possible-- perform in a talent show, learn algebra, try out for a team, stand up for what is right, become the person God created them to be.

If we nurture this spirit in our students, we must keep own candles burning. Let it never be said of Catholic educators of any age that we're too old, or too unwilling, to learn new tricks.

Expect to be surprised. Be open and willing to change. Try something new. Learn something new. Become the educator that God created you to be.

There would be no Church if the disciples were unwilling to accept that a dead Man could defeat death. Similarly, there can be no education unless we have a comfort level with being uncomfortable.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thank God for this Friday

No event in the history of the world makes a stronger argument for the connection among our minds, bodies and souls than Jesus' Way of the Cross, commemorated today on Good Friday.

His excruciating walk up to the top of Golgatha to be crucified after what was a long and painful night and morning of whipping, hitting, mockery, scourging, and abuse was somewhat common for the brutal, vicious, and volience-oriented society in which Jesus lived.

Uncommon was Jesus' physical strength to make it all the way to the top of the hill, endure the nails piercing his hands and feet and the time he spent hanging from the cross. This wasn't the death of Superman, with the ability to fly, heat vision and cold breath. Jesus was not superhuman; He was fully human. Therefore, His ability to endure this amount of pain and torture was the product of an intimate and most perfectly balanced connection among His mind, body and soul.

Scientists speculate that many would have been so weakened after His brutal torture that they would have been unable to carry their cross. Jesus Himself falls three times on His way up and Simon of Cyrene is pressed into helping Jesus carry the cross. But He makes it.

Furthermore, the intensity of the nails piercing His skin, especially in the places where they were supposedly driven (think about how sensitive your hands and feet are) would have been another instance where most humans would have either passed out or passed into death. Jesus, however, endures.

Finally, though, His body does succumb to death.

But, this Via Dolorosa gives us insight on how to overcome both the desires and weakness of our flesh and the tricks and lies of our minds: faith. Jesus believed He was following God's will. Similar to when an athlete, beyond the point of exhaustion, manages to find the endurance to sprint across the finish line, allowing our spirit to break through both our minds and our bodies can allow for the spirit to enter the world and in doing so, allow for the miraculous.

A soldier facing an enemy to ensure freedom. A student standing up to a bully to fight for a classmate being picked on. A surgeon working for hours to save a patient. A janitor brightening more than just the floors and bathrooms to include people's days. A woman in labor giving birth to her newborn child. All of these entail the spirit breaking through both the mind and body in such a way that something miraculous occurs.

When we follow our purpose, and focus on it with a spiritual hunger, we can overcome our physical limitations ("I'm just one person, what can I do?"), or our mental ones ("Everyone will think I'm crazy," "I'll be made fun of," "I'm so afraid of what will happen to me," etc.).

We call Jesus, "The Way," because He Himself said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6). And we call Him this because He came to show us the way-- to live, to die, to, if we follow Him all the way up to the cross, conquer death.

"Follow me," He says (Mark 1:17 and Matthew 4:19). Not just during the miracles. Not just during the good times. Not just during your triumphs, joys and successes. I can't promise that this life with Me will be easy, just worth it.

Jesus, we thank you for giving us this example of how to balance our minds, bodies and souls. We thank you for loving us to the point of death. We thank you for this Friday.

For, without this Friday, Sunday would be just another day of the week and our lives would be nothing more than time spent here on Earth.

Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1 - 3).

To continue with my topic (don't worry, I won't bore you to sleep by talking about...) of the connection among our minds, bodies and souls, I thought a good place to start was with this famous passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Oftentimes, our minds can work better when we've taken care of our bodies. But, without the concurrent development of our souls/spirits, we run the risk of being vain and/or arrogant. Become too healthy and vanity and pride can consume us. Become too intelligent and arrogance and superiority can overrun us.

To paraphrase St. Paul, "If I am beyond smart and know all there is to know about everything, but have not grown spiritually, I am just a bunch of hot air. Likewise, if I can bench press any object and move my body in any direction at any moment, but have not taken care of my spirit, than I am as useful as a solar powered flashlight."

Our spirit/soul/heart must be the starting point. It must be the focus. Start with the spiritual, or at least allow it to rule the other two aspects of our being, and our minds and bodies become tools, implements, instruments, weapons for the good and not our own selfish gain.

Not all are called to a cloistered life. Similarly, most of us are not mystics. Too much of an emphasis on the spiritual life can lead to zealous righteousness or contemplative bliss. While a lifestyle completely wrapped in prayer has its merit, most of us are called to live out our faith intelligently. In other words, we must act. We must act because of love. We must act out of love in effective, efficient, and intelligent ways.

Therefore, we must take care of the bodies given to us as spirit vessels. Likewise, we must develop our minds so that we can do the most good for the most possible. Finally, we must grow in faith so that we can come to understand God's will for us and carry it out to the best of our abilities.

All three parts working together. Dependent and reliant upon each other. Interconnected and intertwined. Inseparable.

Three parts in one person.

Made, intelligently and with great love, in the image and likeness of our Creator.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hit the Snooze: Sleep, Continued

My recent obsession with and lack of sleep continues. This reached an all-time new height this past weekend, when Emily and I got a good chuckle...okay, a belly aching laugh, out of a passage from Richard Ferber's (M.D.) famous book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems". Talking about the dangers of negative sleep associations (such as being rocked to sleep or held and then, once asleep, placed in a crib), Dr. Ferber writes:
Now imagine this person, instead of just taking your pillow, actually moves you from your bed to another room, without waking you. Every night you go to sleep in your bed with everything just as you like it, only to wake after your first sleep cycle on, say the floor of the living room. Unless you're an exceptionally tolerant sleeper, you won't even try to go back to sleep right there; you will get up and head back to your bedroom...Once you calm down, you will fall back asleep-- but some ninety minutes later you'll wake up again on the living room floor and again locked out of your bedroom...Soon you might be resisting sleep in hopes of identifying the person who keeps moving you; in other words, you might have trouble falling asleep even in your own bed because you know that you'll be moved once you fall asleep. If that happened to you every night, you would not be very happy. (Ferber 66-67)

Not very happy, indeed, but extremely funny.



And, on top of having a 5 month old who we are trying to teach how to fall asleep on her own, the NCAA Championship game starts at 9:23 p.m. EST.

Snooze button users of the world, unite.

Go ahead, and hit it. Not only will you get a few precious moments of shut eye, you'll also have a sense of control over the dreaded wake-up call, "You can't tell me it's time to get up, Alarm Clock, you vile fiend!"

But, snoozing, unless it's for a significant amount of time in between snoozes, does little to help us feel more well rested.

Before proceeding, a confession: I use/abuse (is there a difference for snoozers?) the snooze button. And, as mentioned in a previous blog, I do not get enough sleep. This is not necessarily a result of becoming a parent, though. I've always been a lousy sleeper. Elizabeth has merely compounded, not caused, my sleep deficiency.

Another point of clarification before proceeding: Despite my posturing last blog, I fully understand and appreciate the importance of sleep, not just for a newborn, infant, toddler, child, teenager, or adult but every person. What's more is that Elizabeth does get a good amount of sleep throughout the course of the day; it just doesn't all come at night. Her trouble sleeping at night and "through the night" are things that Emily and I are very concerned about, for our own sakes if not just for hers.

As a self-professed "athlete" (even though I don't regularly participate in competitive sports anymore), I firmly understand the connection between our bodies and our minds and among those two and our souls. Our minds don't function well when we've filled our bodies with too much sugar, fat, caffeine, or when we deprive our bodies of certain vitamins and minerals, water or sleep. Our minds function even more poorly when with additions or subtractions that are even worse than those listed above.

I must confess again (Lent is a penitential season, after all): even though I watch what I eat, I strive for moderation as opposed to obsession. Therefore, my diet is not void of sweets, fried food or an overabundance of peanuts, peanut butter and cereal. I love to eat; I just try to moderate my intake and maintain a healthy balance of different types of foods.

The 2004 documentary, "Supersize Me", brought to our country's and world's attention the dangers of unhealthy eating. Attempting to eat nothing but McDonald's fare for 3 meals a day for 30 days, Morgan Spurlock, the movie's director and guinea pig, (SPOILER ALERT) is advised by day 21 to stop the diet due to the health complications it caused.

Knowing the importance to our overall health, Catholic Schools should pay attention to what students are eating- not only in the cafeteria but also in the classrooms during class parties and celebrations. As an administrator, it is frustrating to deal with disciplinary problems that result from a school provided sugar-high and subsequent crash (the interruption to instructional time is another issue/frustration).

I believe that if students ate healthier, more well balanced diets, their performance in school would increase.

Likewise, I believe that exercise is another key ingredient in this recipe for academic and behavioral success. Play 60 is a campaign by the frozen NFL encouraging kids to get a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Just as with eating, the benefits to such a lifestyle are not limited to children.

Finally, getting adequate sleep is another staple in this formula. Growing up, my grandmother would always say that my brother, sister and I (and all children) grow while we sleep. I'm uncertain as to whether this hypothesis was ever validated or not, but it makes sense that we'd function with greater efficiency if we were more well rested. I know I'm a better husband, father, principal, friend and man when I get more than 6 hours of sleep at night.

While it may seem overly holistic and simplistic, I wonder how many academic and behavioral problems could be avoided and/or corrected if we watched our diets, got regular exercise and even acquired the recommended allotment of sleep.

I also wonder if it's okay if we start all of these things tomorrow?

Call it a day-long snooze.