Businesses that deserve praise

I don’t know what it is in my recent experiences, but I’ve been noticing several local businesses that deserve praise.

Photo of Cedar Ridge Catering & Banquet Hall - Atchison, KS, United States. Cool place good foodCedar Ridge is a unique restaurant near Atchison, Kansas.  Offering special buffet fare on Friday and Saturday evenings and on Sundays mid-day, this place is a gem in the rolling hills of eastern Kansas.  The hosts/owners have established the restaurant on their farm in a barn.  From outside, one wouldn’t be able to tell what delights await inside.  Some will enjoy the eclectic, sometimes “shabby chic” decor (or even driving a mile and a half on a dirt road), and all will enjoy the well-prepared food.  We particularly enjoy the brunch fare on Sundays around noon.


Los Tucanes is a Mexican restaurant in Kensett, Arkansas.  Apparently family run, the

Photo of Los Tucanes - Kensett, AR, United States. Interior of restaurantprecious children take minor serving roles and do a stellar job—far better, actually, than many older servers at chain restaurants.  The food is good, the salsa is fantastic, the prices are reasonable, and the whole place is a pleasure every time.


The final and most extended mention here goes to Powell Funeral Home, west of Searcy, Arkansas.  Although I have sung for and attended dozens of funerals, I had never really been a “customer” before.  From the first time I walked in with my mom to the last visit to finalize a few things a week ago, I’ve continued to feel that there’s no way every funeral home could be as good as this one.  The comments below are abbreviated from an online survey I completed.

     Our experience with each staff member and the facilities has been so positive that it would not seem right not to comment.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of local establishments that I would take the initiative to recommend to others, and Powell is without doubt now on that very short list.  [Since we opted to take care of some things by ourselves as a family, etc.], we did not have as complete an experience of the funeral home as other families, but that does not in any way alter our entirely positive impression of the facility and the way the people go about the business.
     Specifically, we were without exception greeted hospitably and with an obvious willingness to answer any questions.  Members of the family visited Powell approximately six times.  Each staff member, without exception (even where we cannot remember names) was 10patient and helpful.
     The standouts in our minds at this point are Brooks Sawyers, whose absolutely excellent demeanor is combined with rare efficiency and capability in office logistics and processes.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how Brooks could have been better throughout the last six weeks, up to and including our most recent visit to the office regarding additional insurance company needs for documentation.  I’m sure you have heard this before, but it is an exceptionally significant relief to be ushered through the process of assigning a portion of a life insurance policy to pay expenses.  Dale suggested this at just the right time and worked through Brooks on the details while two of us waited with confidence that things were being taken care of.  Dale manifest both knowledge and a strong ability to gauge our needs and personalities.  Again, each staff member has been a credit to the organization, without exception, but Brooks and Dale rise to the top in our memories.
Photo of Powell Funeral Home

Learned in a hospital room

I learned a few things during the hours in my father’s hospital room.  Below are a few thoughts, developed a little since then.
  1. The motion of time seems different when a loved one is in a hospital room.  Sometimes it stands still, and sometimes you have no idea where the time went and why you never picked up your book to read.
  2. One should never underestimate the relief potential of water or ice.  When you can’t have water because of pending or past medical procedures, even a moist, cool swab on the lips can be appreciated like a good meal, a neck rub, or a thousand dollars.
  3. It is possible for a large proportion of a hospital staff to be caring, knowledgeable, warmly “connected” health workers.  There might be one favorite nurse or aide.  In our case, 4, 6, or even 10 rise to the top, depending on who you talk to.  The bottom of the heap was far above average.  Exceptional courtesy and warmth of personality can also play important roles in patient care.
  4. I’m a bit squeamish when I think of some of the things medical people have to do, and I recoil even from thinking about the pain of certain procedures, but blood and fluids are things I can deal with.  We can usually manage and get through what we have to, and it certainly helps to share the experience with multiple family members.
  5. No matter how knowledgeable, devoted, and caring the healthcare professionals are, it is quite possible and even likely that communicational misfires will occur.  Some of these may affect a patient’s ultimate health or even threaten life on occasion.  I attest to the fact that, on multiple occasions, information bits were missed by pros in our experience.  It is inevitable, no matter how good the technology and intentions.  Several of us helped to connect dots on occasion, most often with the thanks and attention of the docs and nurses.  It is important to read reputable web pages and to be informed, but I think it is even more important to be attentive in the moment, in the room.
  6. Being on the night crew has its benefits, and I suspect that night medical workers also require some additional skills in order to do the things they do in relative isolation all through the wee hours.
  7. Medical machines are fancier and more numerous these days.  Various equipment and supplies¹ for patient care seem to ease things a bit.  Technology advances, but there is always, always great value in a simple hand-massage or a genuine smile.
  8. Hospitals seem to have eased up on some of the visitation restrictions of the past.  At least in some units, relatives are encouraged to be there, not shooed out when “visiting hours” are over.  Many stay nights in patients’ rooms.  At some point in the last couple of decades, hospitals must’ve begun to realize more that having your own loved ones nearby is important.
  9. Wires and tubes and machines and hums and beeps are less mysterious than they first seem.  I learned some abbreviations and initials, e.g., NG, IV IG, and NPO and could readily use medical and anatomical labels when it might help in communicating.  After a while, I started pushing the IV silence button, having learned to recognize a few of the flashing codes.  I played with the position of the tubes and felt free to take the oxygen lines out for a little while for Dad’s comfort or so we could read his lips when he spoke quietly.  When the nurses or aides saw what I was comfortable with, they would sometimes ask me to help with something.  Partnership and teamwork were and are to be valued.
  10. Compassion tends to surface in a hospital room.

¹ There are automatically inflating calf “socks,” minty swabs for oral care and comfort, increasingly automated IV machines, and more.  Packets of this and that must fill many supply closets.  Perhaps these items are not so much new as new to me.)  Sometimes, another prop pillow or extra blanket was just the thing.  I shudder to think of the expense to the insurance company, not to mention the fights that may be ahead because of duplicated procedures and things that some actuary might unknowingly deem medically unnecessary.  In the room, though, all these things were good and used intentionally.

Caregivers and healthcare pros

Words cannot express my family’s gratitude for the physicians, nurses, aides, and technicians that cared for my dad during his month-long hospitalization.  Upon Dad’s hospital admission, his lifelong friend who was also his primary physician quickly called in another specialist —an oncologist (who was not dealing with any cancer in our case).  This doc brought considerable investigative gifts to bear as he put the pieces of this “Dr. House” case together and consulted with others.  Both of these men are highly respected as skilled, caring doctors, and also as committed Christian men.  That devotion was shown in multiple ways, including their giving their cell phone numbers to us.  They asked for, and responded to, our updates, even a couple of weeks after my dad had been transferred to another hospital for state-of-the-art treatment.  The primary physician/friend later signed my dad’s death certificate and also spoke at the memorial ceremony.

A general surgeon did excellent emergency surgery in the abdomen, and Dad healed well from that.  A neurologist read the initial radiology report in great detail and spoke with another specialist who was in transition to another hospital.  Two cardiac specialists saw Dad on rounds and monitored the circulatory system (only a side issue in this case), carefully considering the possible impact of each step taken.  We have two relatives with high-level biochemistry/medical university teaching experience; it was a blessing to be able to rely on their advice.¹

I had my favorites among the nurses and CSAs (Clinical Support Associates/aides) at this first hospital, but I loved and appreciated qualities in each of them.  The charge nurse Jennifer, for instance, showed above-and-beyond, sincere concern for Dad as he was administered a sedative prior to the second attempt at a lengthy series of MRIs.  Tracy connected with both my mom and my dad, and she prayed for us, as several others did.  Alicia, serving as an aide but about to graduate with an R.N. degree, gave amazing relief to my dad with skilled tissue massage.  I cannot recall a single caregiver at this hospital who responded with anything other than attentive, helpful care and promises kept.  Sure, some were a little quicker or slightly more skilled than others, but every one was good. 

Some nurses and aides seemed to travel in pairs, working closely together.  Callie & Susan and Stephanie & Emily made for great teams in the daytime, and Jason & Robert at night.  All the nurses and aides regularly asked if we needed anything, and when asked for something (ice chips, pillow, a med check, or whatever), each one responded willingly.

Brad the radiology tech stayed 3-4 hours past his shift to give my dad the benefit of his personal skill, seeing him through the 2nd painful, anxiety-laden MRI.  I don’t think we’ll ever forget Kristy from dietary, who, upon hearing Dad tease Mom in a whisper, grinned and said if her husband said that, she’d get “butter in a sock.”  It was hard to imagine that sweet person putting a stick of butter in a sock and chasing her husband around, beating on him.  With a grin, Kristy said, “It doesn’t leave marks.”  I’ll bet she’d heard that country “solution” from her grandmother.  This was the kind of personality and warmth that existed in my dad’s room for most of the time he was hospitalized.  

When we transferred Dad to a 2nd hospital, I was only there for one evening since my sister arrived then.  I personally experienced one rather arrogant internist who proved to be nearly worthless in our case, except in that he eventually called in a specialist when he finally humbled himself and listened to a few things my sister said.  We had the distinct impression that a couple of key people, including this “lead,” really needed to have read the medical chart thoroughly first.  A neurologist seemed attentive, and a physical therapist or two helped Dad sit up one time and encouraged him, but the week+ in that hospital was essentially wasted time.

On the other hand, the hospital above was very fine.  Finally, a bed had become available at this university hospital, so Dad was transferred to yet a 3rd institution.  No caregiving duds existed in this bunch.  Skilled docs with strong communication gifts included a CCU/ICU attending that we liked very much.  Jackie, a day nurse, could be slightly businesslike and gruff but also took good care of dad and had a strong hug with Mom one evening, mentioning her prayer for us.  Randy, another day nurse, holds a special place in our hearts because of his years of experience and obvious expertise, but also because of his faith statements and appreciation of our hymn singing on Thanksgiving evening.  Randy told us, “Every day I work for God.”  He also said one morning, as my dad had turned a corner positively, “I usually take care of really sick people, and you don’t need me anymore.”

My favorite nurse was Kelsey.  Her perfect pacing, her wide-open attention, and her consistent, thorough care through the night provided reassurance.  Each task (e.g., turning/wedging, leg/foot treatments, and bed changes, which she did herself instead of relying on an aide; not to mention the IV monitoring and more medically crucial items) seemed perfectly executed.  It was Kelsey who by her ways and spirit gave Mom the peace of mind to leave Dad alone for the night for the first time.  Rebecca, another day nurse, talked openly with me about Dad’s worsening condition near the end; she was very caring and attentive, as well.

After Dad’s death, a dear lady that Dad worked with recently commented, “I will even miss getting him a bottle of water every day, and the gratitude he showed.  He was a gentleman.  Completely.”  In the hospital, too, Dad’s gratitude was shown in his whispers and eyes, and most caregivers got to experience that.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more adept at showing gratitude than my dad when he was a patient.  Although his voice was weak, no one mistook his genuine appreciation.

For all the aides, nurses, and doctors, we the family members now give thanks.  We had at many points hoped to return to the 1st hospital (at least) with Dad in a wheelchair, showing them the good news that he was recovering.  That was not to be.  Now, we give thanks for the Lord’s mercy in not allowing Dad’s earthly life to continue in a difficult, depressing, burdensome way.  We grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.   While Dad’s memory will live for quite a while in those who knew and loved him, it is infinitely more important that his soul will live eternally with God.

¹ Our medical vocabularies quickly grew—perhaps too quickly for our own good, because the terms would sometimes fly over the hospital bed faster than we could take them in or jot down notes.

My father

After a complex set of illnesses and a period of hospitalized treatment by many expert physicians and nurses, Gerald Casey’s earthly frame was exhausted, but his spirit continued, even through his final hospitalization, in worshipful focus on his eternal Lord.  He died on November 28.

The son of Max and Ruth Casey, Gerald was born January 1, 1940, in Pangburn.  He is survived by his wife of almost 57 years, the former Bettye Ritchie; a brother, Lanny (Linette) Texas; three children, Brian (Karly) of Kansas; Laura (Bruce Finnie) of Pennsylvania; and Greta (Neil Floyd) of Washington; and seven grandchildren.

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The past five weeks have been rather intense—and intensely rewarding, as well.  I’ll surely have more to share on this blog about relationships, death, dying, hospital caregivers, and more.

It’s sad for a child

Taking a short walk earlier this very morning, I happened to glance between two houses to see another house, and the sight reminded me of something sad.

A couple weeks ago when Jedd and I rode our bikes past that same house, he commented,

“That’s Crystal’s dad’s house.”

Instantly I thought, “That’s sad for 5-year-old Crystal.  Her dad has a different house from her mom.”  (Obviously, this happens a lot in our world, but it’s still sad for a child and for all concerned.)

Then it got worse.  Jedd followed up by saying,

“Well, her dad goes there a lot, anyway.”

And I realized that what he meant was that Crystal’s dad is probably sort-of half-living-with a woman that is not his wife.  I suspect he goes there—to the woman’s house—more than he goes to see Crystal.  These things, too, make me sad for the little girl.

And then I remembered that I’d heard Crystal herself say, only a couple weeks before that,

“My mom has gone to jail three times in a row!”

Crystal (not her real name) lives with her grandparents.  I gather that she has lived there for half her life or more.  This presumably started because neither of Crystal’s biological parents is fit to raise her.  One of them is probably addicted to illegal drugs.  Crystal’s grandparents give her food and shelter.  In fact, they give those things to two other grandkids, too (from other parents).  And two more sets of grandkids seem to be at the grandparents’ house more than at their own houses.  One set walks a few blocks in the dark, well before 7:00 every school day, to be fed breakfast and go to the bus stop near the grandparents’ house.  The grandparents are not very capable of giving a lot more than food and shelter, but they do what they can.

Crystal is growing up in a very broken life.  We are all broken, and aspects of every life manifest the broken condition of humankind.  I think what Crystal must endure as a young child is cause for great sadness.

Xposted: Maybe it’s just our luck

I just posted this on my Christian Assembly and Worship blog:

The lack of much activity on that blog says a little, perhaps, about people’s interest—but it says much more lot about my own waning energy for the assembly as most Christians think of it.  Nevertheless, I hope some will read this perspective about congregational singing.

By way of reminder to longtime readers, or advertising to new readers, my book on the assembly is available here.  That book was revised and reprinted about two months ago.

He’s 8 today

My first blogpost was a year prior to our son Jedd’s birth, and I began blogging in earnest when he was born.  I’ve noted a few other numeric milestones on this blog but semi-intentionally passed by post #1500 recently.  Jedd’s 8th birthday, a milestone for him and for us, seems a good time to document a bit of his life on this blog. . . .

~ ~ ~

No one set Jedd’s alarm on Sunday night, so I woke him up on Monday morning. Three days before his birthday, I told him he was officially 7-point-99 years old!  He is a morning person, and he smiled right away.

Jedd has had more than his share of sniffles this year but is generally a healthy kid and hasn’t been to the doctor since he was two or three.  He is a little shorter than average (like Karly) and has a sweet spirit (like Karly).  He likes all people (even more than Karly) and has friends of various ages—including adults.  He actually asked me two days ago about planning a “date” to Pizza Hut with a little girlfriend, but we’re passing that by for now.  Jedd’s first friends in western NY were mostly college students, and that doubtless contributed to his strong vocabulary, communication skills, and love of people.  Due in part to interim faculty positions I’ve held, Jedd has lived in five states already and has traveled in 22.  He has seen the Gulf of Mexico, and he has breathed thin air at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies and felt a “polar bear wind” in Wyoming.  He’s traveled through Bald Knob and Bennington, Corpus  Christi and Cookeville.  He has lived in Allegany County and Atchison and has seen Anderson and the Atlantic Ocean.

He thinks his 2nd grade year has been his best ever.  He reads at a level that can make it problematic to find reading material that’s challenging but age-appropriate, and I think he reads aloud better than some 5th or 6th graders.  He seems to understand arithmetic “strategies” quickly.  He likes surprises and says “Oh, yay” when I offer him just about anything, including going exploring on a country highway, running out to a store, or giving him a pop quiz on math while we drive.  “I love questions,” he says.

Jedd has played baseball, basketball, and soccer on organized teams.  Of the three, he is best at baseball (starting his 2nd year now) and seems to like it the best, too.  He has learned some things on piano, thanks to my mother, and I should probably be capitalizing on his interest in piano and brass instruments soon.  Within the previous two or three days, he had expressed his typical enthusiasm for multiple things, including pizza, Bible history, digging holes, earthworms, baseball, and pretending to set up a store to sell rocks (testing for any meteorites first), and practicing solfège syllables.  An older friend who’s known him about 1/3 of his life once took Jedd fishing, and just last week, he went again and won a fishing rod.  He still loves trains and construction vehicles, just as he did when he was two (although Thomas has been out for several years).  He points out cool-looking classic cars as quickly as we do.  He loves animals, but it takes him a minute to get used to jumpy, intrusive dogs (since he was bitten once).  He plays free games on our tablet and watches sitcom reruns on Netflix, but he likes playing outside even more.  He rides his bike and his scooter, and he loves my motorcycle.  He likes to build forts with cushions and chairs and blocks and sheets, installing temporary lighting so he can read in there.  A clip-on reading light for his bed was quite possibly his most used gift ever.

We are of course interested in his spiritual development (and are not contributing directly to it as much as we should).  He has always loved going to various Bible classes and “children’s worship” times in various churches.  We feel it is good for him to be part of “Christian family” experiences, including various small group Bible studies and informal talks.  A few times in the last couple of years, we have included him unobtrusively in communion observances although he has not made a profession of faith or been immersed.  We had some matzah in the house recently, and it was he who wanted to use them in reenacting the “Last Supper,” so we did just that.  He also expressed a prolonged interest in watching a video we have of Matthew’s gospel.  Jedd has assimilated a lot of facts and has a great deal of acquaintance with the Bible (and has three Bibles of his own).  We are working on his memorizing half a verse in Greek to “perform” for his school’s talent show next week, and he commented recently that some of his neighborhood friends believe in God but that’s about as far as it goes.  He feels some personal sadness when he does wrong, and that could be the most important thing in this sphere at this point in his life.

Tonight we are surprising Jedd with a trip to the KC Royals game with a friend from school.  In about a week we will head out to see his nonagenarian great-grandmother in DE, and she’ll be thrilled to see him, watch TV and walk with him, and see him throw a baseball.  He has another summer treat coming right after that.  It is time for a new bike, but we’ll hold off on that for a couple more months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some tidbits just 1% as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  Jedd is a neat kid.  His first name, by the way, comes from Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”), which was another given name of King Solomon.  His middle name is a form of his paternal grandfather’s name, Gerald. (Jedd is the only one to carry the family surname.)

Happy birthday, Jedd Garrett Casey.

Karly, Jedd, and Brian, May 19, in the hospital
3 Generations















The ride (after the reviving)

The following is an excerpt from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, from the Chronicles of Narnia series by CS Lewis.  I have never read this classic before and have been enjoying becoming familiar with it this summer while reading it aloud to our son.

Here, two of the Narnia children are lamenting the dead lion Aslan.

“Oh, it’s too bad,” sobbed Lucy; “they might’ve left the body alone.”

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan.  “What does it mean?  Is it magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs.  “It is more magic.”   They looked round.  There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as frightened as they were glad.

“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” replied Lucy.

“Not now,” said Aslan.

[ . . . ]

“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business.   I feel I am going to roar.  You had better put your fingers in your ears.”

And they did.  And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it.  And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.  Then he said,

“We have a long journey to go.  You must ride on me.”  And he crouched down and the children climbed onto this warm, golden back, and Susan sat first, holding on tightly to his mane and Lucy sat behind holding on tightly to Susan.

P.S.  Here is another LW&W excerpt (posted on my other blog) in which Lewis, seeming to follow the apostle Peter, tells of Aslan’s nonresistance.

Spring fever or another malady?

Spring Fever or Another Malady? 

A View of (Some of) Arkansas Public Education

When I left Delaware’s declining education arena to go to college in Arkansas, I don’t think I had any idea that my new state-for-a-few-years had a low public-education reputation.[1]  I’ve since heard the tongue-in-cheek remark that Arkansas is grateful for Mississippi, or else Arkansas would be last on the list.

Having been in eight (mostly small-town) AR public schools this year, I have witnessed some questionable “education” first-hand.  To be sure, there are good things going on, as in the school with which I’m best acquainted.  Yet one can often determine something about a school by its physical condition and by the atmosphere in the hallways during class-change times, and things are not all good.  I have observed way too many times that way too many students regularly have way too little (or nothing) to do.  Now, I “get” senioritis and spring fever, but the decreased learning activity and behavior standards seemed to hit hard in several schools, virally spreading as far down as 6th or 7th grade, including the teachers.  And it started long before spring.

The situation actually reads to me as though what I’m seeing is normal.

“What are you studying?”

“We work on projects.”  (Or “Oh, we don’t really do anything in this class.”)

“Well, why aren’t you working on them now?”

“I finished mine a month ago, and Mr. X lets me go to Ms. Y’s room to hang out.”

At least 3/4 of the time, I think I can tell when I’m being snowed.  These AR students are typically straight-shooters; I’ve really not picked up any lying by anyone in any school.  Suspicious by nature, I’ve even checked up on a student or two who asked to go to the restroom, thinking someone might have worked out a signal to meet up with someone else to skip the next class, or they might be heading to the field to smoke, but in every case, a student acted as promised.  Overall, I think I’ve been getting a pretty clear picture of the status quo in these schools.

But enough about hall passes.   (This is obviously anecdotal, but it’s based on several schools.)  There are many “student aides” playing on their phones.  Sometimes, multiple aides are in a single classroom during the same period.  (I suppose it’s better for them to be aides than to leave school to go work at Sonic or to be in a study hall, but I wish they were in classes more often.)  Students ask to leave class to go to so-and-so’s room or, like last Friday, “to do volleyball stuff” with her coach.  This last one looked at me as if I had two heads (not disrespectfully) when I responded in the negative because she was “in a class now.”

One “field trip” to a restaurant included two extra teachers who had no connection to the traveling class, rendering approximately nine classes (11:00-1:30) devoid of instruction for the day.  The leftover students who weren’t going to lunch went to the gym for a free-for-all; I gathered from discussion and observation that playing around in the gym during classes was not abnormal.

But enough about extracurricular, bogus field trips.  What about technology?  I’m not one who thinks technology is an end in itself; because I speak up when it seems to take the focus off education, I have more than once been considered a backward person.  Actually, I use electronic technologies every day and appreciate them very much.  I observed a student teacher using a Smart Board to great advantage and with considerable facility.  One school distributes full-sized laptops to every student, and some students seem to use them well.  Smart phones can be an educational tool, but about 95% of the time, they’re not being used as such.  Schools and teachers don’t have consistent (or consistently enforced) rules about phones.  Students eat Cheetos® and drink Mountain Dew® in classrooms, and this is normal.  Class rolls are rarely up to date.  We’re not talking about forgetting to delete the one kid who moved last week.  The problem is much more pervasive than that.  One wonders how any permanent school records are maintained.  One class roll for a 1st-period class had four names on it.  Seven students were present, only two of which matched names on the class roll.

But enough about administrative procedures.  This question may annoy certain die-hard fans while revealing my ostrich-ness:  is football actually a class in many other schools out there?  If so, why?  I have a general sense that Friday night high school football is a big thing in many towns throughout the Southeast and perhaps the Midwest and Heartland.  A town’s football machine will be eager for next year’s championship so it can put up a “Lion Pride” (see what I did there?) sign at the town entrance.  After all,

  • the mayor played on the team 25 years ago
  • the bank president was on the committee to get a new football coach
  • the pastor of the largest church in town is eager for two of his youth group kids to be co-captains of the team
  • the principal played and later coached, and the assistant principal is one of the coaches, which led into his being given the assistant principal job, etc.)

Maybe, just maybe, football and other sports are too important in the life of a school.

But enough about football.  Or not.  I have in my hands a school’s master teacher schedule that shows four full-time teachers scheduled for the same junior high football “class.”  There is also a 7th grade football class and a high school football class.  I learned that these classes are year-long “courses,” not 9-week electives.  Three or four coaches staff each class!  Leave alone the invalidity of having any class time for football at all:  couldn’t a single coach handle weightlifting and sprints for 8 or 10 junior high players at a time?  Now, if I cared about football, I could see offering a 9-week elective in football here & there, but these football classes are full-year “courses” with a couple handfuls of boys in each one for the whole year.  The boys said they lift weights and learn plays, depending on the season.  In my book, this is worse than using jazz band class for marching band by a long shot.  (I observed that misstep in Texas, where the marching band environment is exceptionally competitive.)

But enough about football and class time.  What about education—even the learning of simple facts?  I asked some of the junior high social studies students (who said they’d studied the states last fall) to name a state that borders Wyoming.  Someone asked, “Wyoming’s a river, right?”  Students guessed Washington, Oregon, Chicago, Indiana, Texas—and Arkanswksheetas, believe it or not—before someone finally said Montana.  I’m not even much of a history student, and I’ve forgotten or learned incorrectly more than I actually know, but I figured the 10th-graders should have known that WWII was in the 40s, not the 20s or 30s.[2]  A ten-question worksheet that consisted primarily in arithmetic was left as an assignment for all classes that ranged from 7th through 11th graders.  (I believe a focused 4th-grader could have completed this sheet in 20 minutes.) 

They have football classes, yet a 7th-grader doesn’t know that Chicago isn’t a state or that Wyoming isn’t a river.  Methinks football rigor may be exceeding academic rigor at this particular school.

Meanwhile, my first-grader was reading aloud a story that mentioned “Bayside School.”  He stumbled a little over “Bayside,” not noticing the capital letter, and asked me if that were the Arkansas way of saying “beside.”  (We don’t promote any kind of prejudice in our home, and we’re very happy that he has friends with different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds, but we do notice sounds and accents.)  Jedd has a good school situation[3] this year and a particularly revered principal with a servant heart, but we’re a trifle anxious about Jedd’s surroundings in terms of education.  We’ll see what happens.

[1] My parents had been educated here and are pretty bright!  I feel my own collegiate education was at least average, and I definitely had opportunities beyond the norm.

[2] To their credit, they did know more about the Dust Bowl era than I did at their age.

[3] Way too much paper is consumed—typically a dozen sheets come home every day, presumably having been used to keep the kids busy.

Does it work?

Sometimes it makes sense to look at church practices with a pragmatic eye.  Does the thing or method have its intended effect?  Does it work?

Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Teenager to adult Christian friend:  I’m going to quit school and __________ [fill in the blank with a negative direction in a believing young person’s life].  I don’t really care what anyone say anymore. It’s what I want to do.

Adult friend:  But we were there at your baby dedication 15 years ago, and we promised with the whole church community to uphold you as you grew into a Christian young woman.

Teenager:   Oh. I almost forgot that.  Well, I guess I won’t continue on my current path, then.  I’ll recommit to following Jesus instead.

(Said no one ever.)

Through the years, I’ve actually felt a great deal of empathy with the idea of baby dedication ceremonies.  (We are not talking about “christenings” here.)  No, there is no biblical pattern for them, and that fact alone makes many of my siblings back away from any practice—at least until they realize that many of the things they’ve been practicing for years also have no biblical backing.  But most of the baby dedication ceremonies baby-dedicationI’ve observed¹ have been fairly well conceived, with a strong concept of Christian community and a desire to do something that supports young families.  Some of the hallmarks of these ceremonies may be 1) introductions and insights into who the families are, 2) a pastoral (in the truest sense) prayer, and 3) recitation or response by the whole congregation, i.e., some type of pledge to uphold the family in their desire to be Christ’s family and to raise the children to be Jesus’ followers.  Not one of those is a bad thing, right?

Unfortunately, I think there’s no more effectiveness in such a ceremony than in the post-Constantinian practice of infant baptism, which I take as a shallow, perhaps desperate attempt to perpetuate an institution by forcing the young into it.

The day before this essay is made public, our family will have attended the wedding of dear longtime friends’ daughter, and we have looked forward to sharing in the celebration.  We look hopefully with all of them to the future of this particular marriage.  But wedding ceremonies don’t have a terrific record of effectiveness, either.  Whatever the current stats are for weddings/marriages/divorce—whether taken in the whole or in any cross-section—I imagine we could generally agree that there is a limited correlation between ceremony on the one hand and long-term stick-to-it-ive-ness on the other.  (It’s not the ceremony, after all, but the people’s character and commitment that makes the difference.)

There is to my eye a much more notable lack of correlation between baby dedication ceremonies in all religious traditions and the likelihood of said babies actually turning out to be disciples of Jesus.  I’m not saying baby dedications should cease, necessarily.  I’m rather saying that they’re not effective.  Possibly, in a less mobile society in which small Christian groups existed familially for 20 years or more, they would be more effective.

What works better than ceremonies?  What do you think?

¹ I think we might have even participated in such a ceremony ourselves about 6.5 years ago, but the fact that I can’t remember for sure may say something.