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One Hundred years ago “all heaven broke out” in no-man’s land, between the trenches in Western Europe. The miracle of Christmas peace was the subject of my meditation last night at our Christmas Eve Service. I found my inspiration from this video: an e-Christmas Card from Luther College in Iowa. One of our members teaches flute at Luther. The story has long haunted me as a possibility of what Christ’s love can do in the “real world.” After seeing this e-postcard I did more research and discovered more about the miracle of Christmas peace. Do your own research and see what you find out. See if you wouldn’t prefer peace in the relationships of your life. If those troops made peace in the midst of war, what might you do?
Merry Christmas. PS – watch this on full screen. Hit the setting gear to select HD -quality and then double click anywhere on the video for full screen.
Josie, our oldest grandchild turns three this week. She spent the night with us Friday, two weeks since I last saw her. I was amazed at how much she changes in a short time. She can now hold the leash when we walk Rocky, our dog. Her vocabulary increases geometrically and includes the words “actually” and “delicate.” I think I got my first eye roll when I asked her if she knew how a car wash works: “Yes,” she said with a heavy breath of impatience, “The brushes come out an whirl around real fast.” How silly of me to ask.
Once again she’s grown while we were apart and I find myself pulled by the old temptation. The one that doesn’t want her to grow up. The one that wants her to stay small forever so that I can I can enjoy her as she is now without having to worry about what changes are coming. It’s the temptation to limit her life for my benefit.
I am forced to remember my own advice which I gave in a column written in our church newsletter a dozen years ago when our daughters were much younger. I’m posting it for my own benefit – and in the hope it speaks to all parents and grandparents who would like to freeze their children in time.
This Saturday represents a major milestone in the life of our family: Rachel graduates from Samford University and Jordan graduates from Rome High. The sentimental streak in me has worked overtime in anticipation of the day— I’ve been involved in a month-long task of reorganizing our photo collection. What I see as I go through the stacks of old pictures are countless moments where I have frozen the girls in time, countless moments where I wished I could keep them this age forever.
There is a picture of a toothless six-year-old with her first softball trophies. There is one of a small red head skiing on my back while waving to the camera. Deeper into the stack I come across Jordan’s picture from the Rome News-Tribune the day after Rome High won their first-ever softball victory. There’s Rachel on a mission trip in China—the only Caucasian face in a sea of Asians. It occurs to me that if I could have had my wish and frozen my daughters at age six or ten or thirteen, there are too many wonderful experiences we would never have had later when they were older.
If you are a parent of smaller children or preschoolers, I want to share a lesson with you. It is a lesson I am learning both painfully and joyfully. However wonderful you find your child’s age today, there is more goodness to come. Whatever pleasure they give you now, there is more pleasure to be found in later accomplishments.
As much pleasure as I received from teaching Jordan a little more about softball or holding Rachel in the water while waiting for the boat to snatch us up on my skis, I receive more today from talking with two beautiful young women about common values and a common faith.
On graduation day, it would be easy to yield to the temptation of wishing we could go back to a time when they needed me more—to carry them to the car or to help with their homework. It would be easy to yield to the temptation of saying, “You will always be my little girls.” But I am going to resist temptation on Saturday. Instead, I am going to revel in the enjoyment of knowing two beautiful, independent, responsible young women who are ready to take their places in the world. In parenthood, this is my greatest joy yet.
If watching my daughters grow was a great joy of parenting, I need to learn that lesson again – today with Josie, tomorrow with Jace and Lucy. Thus, I wonder in great anticipation what they will learn next, what they will achieve next. What adventures lie in store as they grow in stature and independence? My prayer is not that they always stay young, but that I get to see the children, the teenagers, the adults they become.
Happy Birthday, Josie. You are on your way!
My first interest in the stock market began when I was six. That’s right – six. I remember being at my grandparents house. We ate dinner after the Huntley-Brinkley Report, which always included a brief statement about three Dow-Jones indices: the Industrials, the Utilities, and the Rails (known today as the Transportation Index). I can’t remember a specific conversation, but I do remember knowing that a portion of my grandfather’s retirement was in a stock called Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon). It was better for his stock to be up than it was for it to be down.
When I was in junior and senior high school, my father worked for Xerox. At the time Xerox was one of the Nifty Fifty – the darling stocks of Wall Street – and from conversations between my parents, I learned that owning stock in a company means you owned portion of the company; stock prices often split after it went up for a long period of time; stocks paid and increased their dividends. I also learned that most of the products we used around the house were made by companies whose stock could be purchased. My grandmother’s Joy dishwashing liquid was made by Proctor and Gamble, as was my Crest toothpaste. Holley carburetors (I was a muscle car enthusiast) were made by Colt Industries. I was intrigued and continued to pay attention to the stock market report on the evening news. Occasionally I’d look at a discarded copy of the Wall Street Journal to pick up information on other companies associated with products we used every day.
By the time Cherry and I were married and I entered seminary, we had scraped together $500. It was hard to sell my new bride on the idea, but we eventually invested in the 18 shares of Squibb Corporation. Somewhere along this journey, I learned of Benjamin Graham’s classic work, The Intelligent Investor. My wife’s skeptical attitude about buying a stock at our age and with our limited resources convinced me that if I was going to be an investor, I had better be intelligent about it. So I checked the book out of the public library and read it.
I learned about PE ratios, margins of safety, and book value. In a day that was not only pre-internet, but pre-calculator, Graham’s book taught me formulas I used to performed my own manual calculations on companies that were candidates for investment. I spent many Mondays in the Louisville Public Library reading S&P stock summaries and performing calculations from Graham’s book.
Across the years I’ve tried to participate in saving for my daughters’ college educations an in my retirement planning. Thanks to Excel and a thousand websites, I don’t have to crunch numbers with a pencil and paper. Neither do I stick to strict Graham formulas when considering and investment. But The Intelligent Investor taught me what to look for, how to make reasoned decisions about a stock, and what data really matters.
My interest in economics and markets has never abated. The Intelligent Investor provided a key piece of my informal education in these areas.
In 1955, Rudolph Flesh wrote a critique of reading education, which he entitled, Why Johnny Can’t Read. The phrase “why Johnny can’t” found traction in American culture; thus, in 1974, when Morris Cline wrote an indictment on the changes in math education, he borrowed heavily from Flesch when he called his book Why Johnny Can’t Add. Fast forward another two decades to 1992. William Kilpatrick challenged the nation’s drift away from morality and virtues in Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong. Kilpatrick saw the same type of failure demonstrated in in reading and math education replicated in character education.
According to Kilpatrick, the moral education framework in our country was failing children and American culture. The system did not communicate the common core of accepted virtues which serve as the norm for constructive participation in society. One might expect such a book like Kilpatrick’s to tend toward moralism or preachiness in tone, but the author avoids these temptations. The end product is one of my personal “bucket books,” an essential influence in my life.
The Boston College professor makes four salient point in his thesis. First, various forms of a failed moral education relied primarily on information to influence students toward safe and healthy conduct. He uses as his examples the approaches to drug and sex education which were common to the era of his writing. The contemporary wisdom was to teach youth facts about these subjects in the hope that they would make good decisions about them. Kilpatrick believed the deficiency of this approach centered on the fact that it did not provide a character component.
On the need for common virtues to ground society, Kilpatrick says:
According to Aristotle, a culture that neglects to cultivate good habits will soon find itself the prisoner of bad habits. p. 98
Communities and cultures depend for their existence on shared knowledge. Without such specific knowledge and a shared ethos, it becomes difficult for members of a community to communicate and cooperate. Those without this knowledge will always be condemned to the margins of society. If the knowledge deficit becomes widespread, the culture will collapse. p. 117
With regard to morally neutral sex education, he asks:
How safe is any sex without character? p. 63
Kilpatrick’s second point focused on a common practice of moral education from the 1970’s and 1980’s: Values Clarification. VC most often presented moral dilemmas to children or youth and asked them to resolve the dilemma based on their feelings or prejudices. The dilemmas might present a hypothetical group of thirteen people occupying a fallout shelter designed for twelve. In an unfortunate foreshadowing of the popular Survivor TV show, classes (and church youth groups) were asked to determine which individual to exclude from the shelter: the pregnant teen, the selfish business owner, the local drug dealer, etc. Kilpatrick correctly pointed out that such exercises were popular with teachers because they created engaged discussion, but they failed youth because they provided no basis for making the decision beyond the opinions of the participants.
Kilpatrick’s solution was not to teach the morally correct answers to such dilemmas. Nor was it to preach certain values vis a vis all other values. Instead, Kilpatrick’s thesis was to ground children and youth in virtues. The difference between values and virtues is a key distinction in all character education and represents Kilpatrick’s third point. Values are always debatable. Who’s values trump all other values? Virtues, on the other hand, are qualities of character that pass the test of time and cross all cultures.
[My review on How Children Succeed highlights the importance of functional virtues like grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity for a fulfilling life.]
The solution offered by Kilpatrick, and the fourth point I take form the book, is to capture the imagination of youth with classic stories of virtue. Examples of virtue inspire virtue in others. Kilpatrick offers a significant portion of the book to an annotated list of age-appropriate classics that encourage time tested qualities of character. The list includes such works as Diary of a Young Girl and Gulliver’s Travels. Kilpatrick also suggests music and singing as a way to inspire virtues.
Kilpatrick’s book introduced me to the concept of character education, along with the role of stories and songs as a part of that process. These approaches to teaching character evolved into an approach of “teaching” faith, which we have called “faith development” here at First Baptist Church of Rome. Faith Development, as we practice it, stems from the belief that children need exposure to a core of Bible stories and scripture verses that serve as a foundation to a more mature faith later. Too often we’ve asked children “what does this (Bible) story mean to you?” as if children come with a built in understanding of all faith matters.
This error reflects the same type of mistake made in Values Clarification. Instead, we’ve taken the approach that, at the earliest ages, children need to be taught specifics stories, led to memorize specific scripture passages, and to sing particular songs of faith – all of which provide a foundation of knowledge about matters of faith. Later in life, as they grow and mature, the basics serve as the foundation for the faith they appropriate as their own.
Kilpatrick’s book in on my list of life -important books because it served as the catalyst for one of the most distinctive part of our our congregation’s ministry to children and youth. Here are a few more quotes:
The first incident happened five or six years ago during an exam. One of the questions concerned sex education and contained the word “abstinence.” It was a poor choice of words. In a few minutes a student came up to my desk. “What’s abstinence?” she asked. I thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, just substitute the word ‘chastity.’” There was a brief pause, then . . . “What’s chastity?” she asked. I mentioned the incident the next semester to another class, thinking that it might amuse them, but I was wrong again. Half of them had never heard of “chastity” either. I was reminded of Orwell’s observation about the difficulty of practicing a virtue or principle when one lacks the very words for expressing it. p. 118
Referring to Bruno Bettelheim: “The question for a child,” says Bettelheim, “is not ‘Do I want to be good?’ but ‘Who do I want to be like?’” p. 167
It is a myth that parents don’t have the right to instill their values in their children. Once again, the standard dogma here is that children must create their own values. But, of course, children have precious little chance to do that, since that the rest of the culture has no qualms about imposing values. Does it make sense for parents to remain neutral bystanders when everyone else—from scriptwriters, to entertainers, to advertisers, to sex educators—insists on selling their values to children? p. 249
I read because my father read to me. And because he’d read to me, when my time came I knew intuitively there is a torch that is supposed to be passed from one generation to the next. And through countless nights of reading I began to realize that when enough of the torchbearers—parents and teachers—stop passing the torches, a culture begins to die. p. 267
Thanks to everyone for prayers over the past few days. I’m home from the hospital and all went very well with the surgery. I hope to use some of my down time to catch up on writing here. I also plan to get on the phone and catch up with members of the church family who have had pastoral needs over the past two weeks.
My plan is to be back in the pulpit on December 21, but the surgeon hasn’t committed to that date, yet.
Thanks to the staff which is taking on my duties, in addition to their own, during this advent season.
Advent Peace to each of you.
From our family gathered in Spain to the rest of our family and friends everywhere. More photos later.
Here are some of my favorites for the Stewardship Season. Be sure to check the Archives for more on Generosity and Gratitude.
Thanks to LCDR Hernandez and LCDR Hernandez for their service.