Pahking Ahselves in Bahsten Yahd

My Palm Pre lets me connect to the world fairly well when traveling — I can send/read email, keep up with Facebook, upload photos, etc — but it’s no substitute for a full-sized keyboard and the chance to write a leisurely travelogue. Having no opportunity while we’re gone, I’m playing catch up now.

Boston. NCS. 10th-12th graders. October 24-29, 2009

Boston merits no less than a 5-star rating in my book: friendly people, interesting city, delicious food, incredible variety, beautiful architecture, efficient public transportation, lovely fall weather, more than enough to do for 5 days with a dozen teens in tow. Being in the North again refreshed my spirit.  With apologies to my Southern friends, I’ll take the frank, candid speech of a Yank any day.  Bostonians are blunt but not unkind. I never had bad service or an unkind experience during our stay (though a few of the kids ran into some grumpy older people … funny stories, actually).

We went to Boston to find education, culture, and experience with the broader world. We found more than enough of all three. I doubt a chronological account will be very interesting. so let me pick a few themes to organize my reflections:

Unexpected

No trip ever runs perfectly. Just like “the course of true love,” student travel “never did run smooth.” Due to a mixup over one of Hunter’s luggage pieces, she and Coart were stuck in security and missed the 2:30 flight to Boston. AirTran was very helpful to me (on the other end, at the gate) and I flew with the group with all of the rest of their luggage. (The flight attendant nearly had a heart attack when I showed up at the door of the airplane loaded down with 7 carryon bags.) That sucked, to be frank, and we RElearned a few lessons we should have remembered about travel with a group. But 8 hours later, Coart and Hunter were back with us… no harm done.

Food

Maybe it’s trite, but I tend to place a high value on the quality of a city’s food when making my rankings. Boston did NOT disappoint. Our first night in town, we were out near Fenway Park looking for a sports bar showing the USC/Vanderbilt game. Unfortunately, the city sems to have an 8pm curfew for under-21’s in places that sell alcohol, and we began to worry that our entire group was out of luck unless we went to Wendy’s. We caught the winning Clemson touchdown at a sports bar (before leaving because it was already 7:15), and wandered a few feet down the street to an Irish pub.

A very friendly Irish woman (true Irish! amazing accent) and Boston native (another amazing accent! LOL) welcomed us into the Landsdowne pub, offering to consult the manager to see if we could stay a bit to watch the game. He seated us in a side room, set both TVs to the USC game, and provided us with the most amazing food we could have asked for. Our Irish waitress was literally one of the best servers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Nik bought some chocolate dessert that sent him into a sugar coma/ecstasy, and the evening was complete.

Throughout the week, Coart and I (and any kids hanging out with us at the time) enjoyed food as varied as Thai in Old Salem (so tasty!), the original Boston Cream Pie at the Parker Hotel downtown (bliss!), roasted/candied nuts from a street vendor (couldn’t resist after walking past the guy 4 times), a local burger joint on the corner near our hostel, vintage Italian pizza in Little Italy, gelato too, that amazing peach Tea which I haven’t enjoyed since the last time we were in Italy, and clam chowder/baked beans at the Union Oyster House (oldest restaurant in America!).  Best thing about a big city: the white-people food is so much more interesting, finally!!  

Architecture

Few cities (to me) are as beautiful in their old/new architecture as Boston. Home to the original “brownstone” structures and other distinctive American styles, the city is a feast for the eyes. Look around you on any corner and you’ll see wonderful brickwork, columns, amazing plasterwork, Neoclassical styles. Our hostel was right down the street from the Berklee College of Music, a great example of what greeted us everyday as we traveled around the city.

Like everyone else, we enjoyed the quaint beauty of the Old North Church with its white wood interior and box pews.

The Hancock Church and Hancock Tower bring together the old with the incredibly modern (thanks to I M Pei).

Harvard’s chapel wowed us with incredible stained glass and European-style architecture. Truly, this city is a feast for the eyes.

Getting Around

I love cities which offer clean, efficient public transportation. Boston’s subway was one of the best. The trains ran on schedule and took us pretty close to where we needed to be (most of the time).

Andrew seemed to run into cranky people on this trip. Riding the subway to the hostel our first night, he brushed past a French lady who reamed him out for bumping her. Later some old woman yelled at him for being in the way. I didn’t see it, but the kids said it was pretty funny. Malcolm also got poked by some old lady in the street in Salem, who prodded him with her cane to get out of the way. (!) Hilarious.

My main transportation gripe this time (aside from the initial debacle) centers on the Logan Airport TSA officials who — though incredibly entertaining and friendly — insisted on confiscating the kids’ snow globe for Mrs Smith and Matt’s expensive BoSox souvenir mini-bat as “dangerous.”  What?! Really? Airline security is almost silly these days. Harass enough good citizens and eventually only disgruntled businessmen and terrorists will be left to fly the friendly skies.

Hostel Life

I really enjoy the hostel concept. Recognizing that kids don’t have the money to stay in fancy hotels, hostels provide a cheap, clean, simple alternative. HI-Boston treated us very well. I was impressed from the moment I stepped into the door and met a friendly, helpful girl behind the counter (lip piercing, red hair, and black sweater). She got us checked in and sent us upstairs to 3 small but adequate rooms. I slept fine and had plenty of hot water (and water pressure).

The Boston hostel was smaller than the one we had in NY, and I missed some of the amenities like NY’s large media/TV room. (Boring people seemed to always commandeer this TV room to watch French movies in subtitle… *sigh*). But it was very conveniently located (one block from a subway station) and in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there’s nothing quite like hearing 5 foreign accents within 10 minutes. 

Coolness note: Aforementioned girl was playing BTBAM’s Alaska in the lobby one evening. Trevor & I about fell over… he had just bought the new album which came out that day. We swapped show stories and praise for the talented BTBAM guys. Small world! lol

Ridiculously Huge Museums

I think I walked off the soles of my feet. *groans*  Wednesday was the worst: We were all tired by that point, but we wanted to see the Museum of Fine Arts.  It’s huge.  And by huge, I mean HUGE.  Like…. “Ohmygosh, you mean there’s MORE?!”  … that kind of huge.

This fist-shaped drinking cup dates back to the Hittite empire!

After more than an hour of wonderful Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and European stuff, I wanted out. But I couldn’t find it!! Seriously. Took me 30 minutes to figure out how the heck to get back to the lobby. My attempt took me through the Latino, contemporary art, and Asian collections.  But I never did find the American painting gallery where Trevor discovered one of the paintings we study in my American lit book. Oh well… by that point, my feet had gone on strike. I didn’t care about art, humanities, or lofty ideals. I wanted an EXIT.  And a bench. lol

In 4 days, we saw the Old North Church, the Freedom Trail, the city itself (Duck Tour), the Harvard Natural History Museum (and chapel), Old Salem, the MIT Museum or the Aquarium, Fenway Park, and the Museum of Fine Arts…. along with the pro shop at the TD Garden (where the Bruins and Celtics play). I’m tired just writing it all down…. lol

Overall, a great trip.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of details, but my wrists are tired … this will have to do.

Photos (with captions) are up on Facebook now, and you can tackle a random NCS student for their perspective on what we consider a great trip.  Now: a long weekend break (Monday off! Woot!)… then 2nd quarter.

Broken Things

I’m sure the word “broken” would have existed even if Adam & Eve had not chosen to eat the fruit and plunge the rest of us into a state of decay.

Some sinless child would have dropped a water jar or something … the difference is that an unfallen momma wouldn’t yell at her kid, and the unfallen kid wouldn’t try to hide his mistake by sweeping all the shards into the rubbish heap in the back yard.

Enjoyed a fantastic Sunday school lesson today from Philip Pigeon about the way God pursues us even when we’re running from Him. We wouldn’t have been runners if there were no sin. But God’s love is huge — big enough for Him to pursue us patiently, faithfully, lovingly, without rebuke or reproach. We run out of disbelief, lack of faith, shame, guilt, fear, rebellion. Yet God still loves.

I am tired of the many reminders of the brokenness of this world. I’m tired of making mistakes, having to repent, trying to do the right thing but failing, making judgment calls without enough information to really choose the best, living with uncertainty, hurting people (intentionally or unintentionally), being hurt (intentionally or unintentionally), watching the effects of sin work themselves out in our bodies and souls and minds and society.

But I also love the “broken” people much more easily than the people who are “ok” (if there is such a thing). Well, I guess there are plenty of types of broken people I don’t love — arrogant Christians who condemn others for their actions without taking time to find out what’s really going on don’t receive a lot of mercy from me except when the Spirit bonks me over the head and reminds me that I don’t really get to pick and choose which “neighbors” to love. But I am definitely drawn to those who wrestle with the dark issues of life.

I love young people because they tend to reward honesty with honesty. I don’t have any answers to life’s problems (and I can’t control how or when God will decide to reveal Himself to a troubled soul), but I enjoy being able to listen and maybe help. People without problems don’t really interest me much. At least kids know they aren’t supposed to have it all figured out yet, so they are willing to stop pretending.

I think our student body is much stronger, helpful, and effective when it includes students who are struggling with big problems, like depression or a shattered family or a hurting past. I’m not saying I wish kids had those problems… if I had a magic wand for “happiness” I’d use it.  But the world IS screwed up, and we are a much better community when we spend our energy tending the wounded. It’s hard for hurting kids to come out and talk about what’s really going on.  It’s harder for our students to learn what real love is, though, when nobody seems to need it.

“Love one another.”   It’s so basic.  We will shrivel into a cold, hard empty shell without it, a typical school where you either “eat” or “be eaten,” a piranha tank for cannibalistic, selfish relationships.

I’ve been musing lately on the ephemeral nature of my life’s work, teaching. We’re never more than one cycle of students away from falling into that piranha tank.

If my existence vanished from this planet tonight, how would the world be different?

I hope that a few dozen young people would grow up into men and women who pour out their lives to spread the healing power of the Gospel to the nastiest, darkest, roughest places.  I hope one or two of them would try to start schools where grace and community are more important than SAT scores or “looking like a Christian school.”  I hope they would live out lives free from the guilt and shame of religious bondage. I hope they will think of new ways to apply the good news to problems that seem to have no answer.

I’d leave behind some sweet posters too. You guys had better keep those somewhere. I’ll be pretty ticked off if I came out to visit the old halls and you people had taken down the only reminder we have of some incredible theater. It’s nice to have a rallying point.

Teaching Redemptively: Dabney, On Education … and a Question

Teaching Redemptively: Dabney, On Education … and a Question.

Instead of cross-posting our Teaching Redemptively blog, just go check out this short post in its native habitat.

Issue for discussion: Is R. L. Dabney (mid 1800s Southern theologian) correct in his assessment of a classroom teacher or school system to affect a student’s religious beliefs?

Concert Report: Third Day, Jars of Clay, etc

On the heels of the fantastic U2/Muse show, we went with Brett Whitfield to see Third Day in Simpsonville at the amphitheater down there….can’t remember who owns it…..anyway…..

I like Third Day, I’ll be honest. I mean, I hate most “Christian music” as a general rule because it’s just so damn HOKEY. But Third Day avoids that somehow. Their tunes are very singable – which makes them cool for church at times. And they channel more of a “rock” sound than pop, so you can listen through one of their CDs without wanting to stab yourself in the eye before going off to listen to the Top 40 station for a while… if you’re going to rot your brain with pop music, at least use the real thing, right?

So. Friday night found our car stuffed full of 2 Rameys, 1 Brett (Susie was out of town), and 2 bored teenagers with nothing better to do on a Friday night (Trevor & Cary). We paid about $16 to get in — not exactly cheap. And it was at the Heritage Amphitheater in Simpsonville, so we paid $16 to bring our own chairs. lol  But the night was pretty (except for the short rainstorm) and I love any excuse to watch Venus rise.

We missed most of the opening bands (no great loss) so I’m pretty much here to discuss Third Day, Jars of Clay, and Glory Revealed.  GR is a side project of Mac Powell of Third Day. Bluegrass-ish.  *shrugs* It was fine.  I liked their cover of “Mighty to Save.”  That’s about it.

Jars of Clay seriously disappointed me. I don’t know much of their stuff, but the older songs I know I really, really like. What we heard last night sounded like the Killers had a lobotomy, made babies with a bad teen-angst-hardcore band in the back of a Mercedes, and forgot to bring someone with a real voice. OK, that was probably too harsh.  But I hated their set.  Musically dull, lyrically dull. Badly mixed.

Happily, Third Day more than made up for what went before, putting on a great hourlong show of good music and neat light/screen effects. They’re down to just one guitar player (plus organ, keys, bass, drums, etc) but sounded great. I don’t really have anything else to say … it was good.  I sang along. We enjoyed their set.

I do have thoughts about Christian culture, however. 

Christians in the USA as SO cheesy.
For real.

For one thing, I don’t pay for a sermon with my concert ticket. A concert is a concert, not an excuse to meld in a testimony/sermon/guilt trip/collection. Some guy got up and spoke for 20 minutes before Jars of Clay about his life, his conversion, and Rwanda. I’m all about feeding hungry Africans, but dude — take a hint from U2 and donate a percentage of your profits. Plus it was a sucky sermon.

It’s hard to attend a Christian rock show like that one without feeling kind of silly. Everyone is white, middle class, conservative, and safe. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see a single tattoo, interesting piercing, colored hair, or fringe kid. And of course — no smoking and no alcohol. It’s so “clean” I wanted to do something illegal just to keep the universe in balance.

Nobody really knows what to do other than jump around, sing, or clap. You don’t really feel like moshing for Jesus — as Trevor said, “Christians are just too nice to actually mosh. Now, if they wanna invite us down front to really get it going, I’ll get in there and kill people [metaphorically speaking]… but I don’t think they’d like it.”   Yeah, typical evangelical Christianity doesn’t really have a place for aggression or testosterone. [Perhaps more OT reading is in order?] lol

I’m always happy to hang out with friends…..But I would have been about as happy watching the Muse concert DVD at someone’s house instead.

Well, the Third Day songs were cool enough to be worth a ticket.
More or less.

Concert Report: U2/Muse “360 Tour”

I’m generally a “small venue” kind of person – I like tiny places like New Brookland or Ground Zero where you basically stand right up against the stage and reach out to touch whoever’s playing. I like the crush of the crowd (kind of), the particular sickeningly-sweet smell of 300 people crammed into too-small-a-space to hear their favorite band play their hearts out.

But everybody ought to have the arena experience at least once before they die. And when U2/Muse decided to come to Atlanta Tuesday night, I knew I’d found my “once before I die” moment.

Our view of the U2 stage. Seats were pretty good, for being the almost-cheapest.
Our view of the U2 stage. Seats were pretty good, for being the almost-cheapest.

U2 isn’t legendary because they’re sophisticated, incredibly talented, or particularly deep. They aren’t novel, really. They don’t blow your socks off with unmatched musicianship.

But they’re famous for good reason.  U2 changed the face of the musical landscape. They brought along a brand of rock that pushed everyone after them in a different direction. They’ve changed with the times (whether you like that or not) and stuck to their musical center. Long and short, those 4 old men can still ROCK… and make it glorious.

Our trip to the Georgia Dome cut things a bit tight … we just couldn’t get out of NCS any faster than we did, and we had to get some supper before arriving in ATL or we’d never make it through the entire night. After missing a MARTA train by just seconds (and waiting 10 min for the next one), we missed Muse’s opening song. But we heard the other 8 just fine. 

Muse is a great band. I like their stuff a lot. I’m sorry the recent album isn’t as good as Origin of Symmetry orAbsolution (both of which you need to go buy. Right now. Do it… I’ll wait….).  But I don’t hate the new stuff.  And, more importantly — I got to hear stuff like “Hysteria” live, and “Time is Running Out.”  An awesome moment in my musical life up to this point. 

Muse setlist:
–United States of Eurasia (I think)
Uprising (I think)
Map of the Problematique
Super Massive Black Hole
Hysteria
Resistance
Starlight
Time Is Running Out

The set for the 360 tour is crazy. I’ve got photos up on Facebook if you wanna look. Imagine a large alien bug squashed into a space ship with a huge TV screen for a belly. Now you’re close. Go look at the pictures.  Got it?  OK. They did incredible stuff with that stage. Colors. Lights. Shapes.

Honestly, U2 just did incredible stuff. All the time. It was amazing. They sang their hearts out for 2+ hours.  50,000 people belting out great songs with great texts that actually mean something. How cool is that?  Bono can still sing after all these years. The Edge worked his magic. It was awesome.

I can’t even tell you all the songs U2 performed. Coart guesses they played around 20. Maybe 25. It was nuts.  I know we heard classics like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” (dedicated to the Iranian peaceful revolution) to “Walk On” (dedicated to the Burmese political prisoner lady who was elected president of Burma 20 years ago but has spent 18 in prison on trumped-up charges). They hit several from the new album — I don’t know those — but remembered the great older songs like “Beautiful Day” (can I get a shout-out from my chapel musicians!!) and “Stuck in a Rut” and several more I can recognize but have trouble naming. Two hours!

We expected an encore.
There were 3.
I was stunned. 

Each just got better. The 2nd encore consisted of Bono by himself with a guitar singing “Amazing Grace.”  His voice, scratchy now with fatigue from the show, age, and emotion, poured out the words of the classic hymn. Thousands joined him… and then The Edge seamlessly blended in the opening chords to “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  Absolutely incredible.  Bono knows how to stop a show, how to sink his entire life and soul into a single moment.

The final encore made use of the round neon pink microphone (which you might have seen on SNL a couple weeks ago) for their new song about the power of Love. But the band capped off the show with a united U2/crowd version of “With or Without You.” Exhausted, the 4 bandmates — who have somehow managed to make music for 30 years unhampered by the usual juvenile bickering that plagues men with so much money, fame, and power — walked off the stage together. Equals. It’s not a Bono show… it was a great night of great music from men who play because (it appears) after 30 years they still love making music.

And making a difference. I don’t know how many Project(RED) seats were set aside in the auditorium, but they easily raised a million dollars last night alone for AIDS relief in Africa.  Yes, folks, we really can make a difference.

Last thing:
I loved the inter-generational nature of the audience. We saw kids. We saw teens out on a concert adventure in the “big city of Atlanta.” We ran across multitudes of college kids and 20something couples on an early anniversary date. We saw middle-aged folks and gray beards who must be in their 60s.  I think it’s cool when one musical group can unite so many ages like that.

Truly, seeing U2 live is a “bucket list” experience.  We found out that General Admission (stand on the stadium floor) tickets were only $30 – and would have offered a great view of the spectacle.  If you ever get the chance — GO.