Monday, August 18, 2008

School Start Up: For Parents, Then Teens

Besides Sharpening the Pencils…What to Do?
Whether your children are taught at home or in a public, private or Christian school, about now you’re probably gearing up again for the annual academic adventure. So what should you be doing as a parent to help your student(s) prep for the year to come?
1) Prayer – As our kids become teens and a giant filter seems to descend between our mouths and their ears, we may begin to wonder how much of an impact we can have in their lives. Don’t worry, they still hear you. But if we really want to help our kids, we’ll direct more of what we say to God. Pray not just for your son or daughter, but also for their friends, their teachers and the school administration. (Colossians 1:9)
2) Supplies – Check school letters and websites for supply lists, but realize that some teachers will tack in extras after the year begins. (Doubt the son who says “The school is supplying most stuff. We just need to buy rubber bands and paper clips.” He’s just quoting Bart Simpson.)
3) Clothes – Good time to discuss “Needs vs. Wants”, “Materialism”, “Why We Don’t Have to Keep Up With the Joneses” and “Modesty”. Also get to know the school dress code before hitting the stores.
4) Financial Plan for the Year – There will be all kinds of financial decisions that come up during the year, such as the plain yearbook versus the yearbook with 3-D Holographic Projections, banquets and student trips. Discuss now what you’ll help with financially and what you won’t.
5) Sleep – If your kids have settled into a midnight to noon sleep schedule, it might be good to break it now. Do a little research on the average sleep requirements for different ages, but you probably know better than anyone how much your son or daughter needs, not just to get by, but to thrive.
6) Academic Schedule – Find out from school counselors and colleges what classes are required for graduation as well as college admission.
7) Daily Homework Plan – Talk with your student before the school year about your expectations for study time. If you will be asking your student regularly about homework and checking it, let ‘em know now – then follow through.
8) Faith Challenges – If your kids are going to public school, there will be challenges to their beliefs in the classroom. Discuss this before the school year begins and find resources that will help student deal with the attacks on Christianity that may come in biology, English, history or even an art class.
9) Moral Challenges – Even if your kids go to a Christian school, there will be more pressure in the year to come from other students to cheat on tests, party, experiment sexually and some special surprise temptations. Academics are important, but shouldn’t as a rule take priority over church, youth group and personal and family devotions. Your student needs all of those resources to meet the challenges to come.
10) Prayer. Yeah, I said it before. It’s that important.

The new school year is starting and though you’re looking forward to seeing friends, you’re dreading the same old, same old. How can you avoid boredom for the next nine months? Perhaps you can follow these simple steps to a more interesting school year.
1) TRY OUT FOR A NEW SPORT OR ACTIVITY – Haven’t ever gone out for a school sport? You might not make the basketball or soccer team, but what’s the big deal if get cut? Maybe you’ve always done sports. So how about the school newspaper or yearbook? A school play or musical? Perhaps even a community service group, like key club? More stuff looks good on the college resume. But more important, it could be fun.
2) WRITE ABOUT JESUS IN A SCHOOL PAPER – Maybe in a “What I Did Last Summer” paper, you can write about a church mission trip. If you get a choice for a history paper, you could write about the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther or the Azusa Street Revival (look it up.) Get bold in a speech class and tell about how you became a Christian.
3) SIT IN A DIFFERENT PLACE FOR LUNCH – Do you sit at the same table or by the same tree every day at lunch? And with the same people? Get a friend and seek out someone who has no one. Or have lunch on top of the school sign. Whatever.
4) CHEER AT A LOW ATTENDANCE SPORTING EVENT – No, I’m not talking football. When I wrestled in high school, we didn’t exactly fill up the stands. The same might be true for your school’s bat mitten team. Get some friends someday, go to a game and cheer like crazy. Especially if no one else is doing it.
5) FIND A FRIEND THAT WILL KEEP YOU IN LINE – I don’t know what your temptations will be this year. Maybe to party. Maybe to cheat. Maybe it’s sexual temptation. Find a Christian friend that you can talk to about your temptation and agree that you will tell him or her when you’re tempted to give in.
6) IF THERE IS A CHRISTIAN CLUB AT YOUR SCHOOL: GO – Of course, if there’s not one, you could start one. If you go to a Christian school, maybe you could start a missions club. (A good time to start might be September 24th, when there is the national “See You At the Pole” event. Go to to find out more.)
7) FIND A TIME TO SPEND WITH GOD EVERY DAY – It might be morning when you talk to God about the day to come. It might be at night when you read a chapter of the Bible before you go to bed.
8) PRAY FOR YOUR TEACHER(S) – In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “Pray for those who persecute you”. Who persecutes us more than teachers? So pray for God to bless ‘em, and you’ll be amazed by what God does.
9) BRING A SNACK – Some day bake a pie and pass it around at lunch. Or check to see whether you can order a pizza for class. Surprise people.
10) CHANGE SOMEONE’S LIFE – Yeah, this year, make someone’s life better. You can do it. And your life will be better, too. And this year will be anything but dull.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Batman on Wire

While police sirens whine far below, this man looks from a towering skyscraper down at Gotham as he prepares to step into the abyss. He knows that what he will do is not legal, but thinks that it will benefit others. Even more, he is drawn -- by his very nature -- to act.
If you think I’m writing about Batman in The Dark Knight, well, I’m not (at least not just yet). I’m writing about Man on Wire, a documentary about tight rope walker and proto performance artist Philippe Petit, who wire walked between the tops of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in August of 1974.
Director James Marsh uses a combination of vintage footage, contemporary interviews and dramatic recreations to tell the story of how Petit dreamed up his mad scheme, recruited his motley band of helpers and circumvented security to bring his dangerous plan to fruition. In some ways, the film works as a caper or heist film wherein in a team is gathered to steal the jewels or break out of prison.
There is no mystery about whether he will be successful. After all, Petit is interviewed in the present day (so we know he lives), and no one would make a film about someone who wasn’t able to pull off an elaborate stunt over thirty years ago. The fun is watching how it was done. But it can be a bit unsettling to watch as blueprints for the World Trade Centers are laid out to plot a stunt, when we know that in the years after 1974 the blueprints for the buildings will be studied for much more malignant reasons.
But as a Christian, it is odd to be put in a place of rooting for someone who’s breaking the law. In Romans 13: 1 & 2 the apostle Paul wrote “1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Petit’s comrades argue that since he has no ill intent, it doesn’t matter if he breaks the law. In the film we are shown some of Petite’s stunts prior to the WTC, tightrope walking between the towers of the Norte Dame Cathedral and the towers of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. After being arrested in Sydney, Petit swipes the watch of one of the policemen who arrests him.
I think when we’re young we all have an impulse to break or at least bend the law. (I know as a kid and a teen, I might not have always strictly followed laws scrupulously concerning trespassing when with a friend off-roading or toilet papering houses or…the traffic laws or… how much of this do I want my kids to read?) And part of the fun of watching movies is seeing characters do what we would never do. But this is a real person committing a real crime that could have not only cost him his own life, but the lives of onlookers and the police called to bring him in.
And yet watching a man walk back and forth between those massive structures is captivating and at times quite beautiful. Can we become too obsessed with following legalities?
Jesus certainly was not always a stickler for the law. The Pharisaic law said that one should not do any work on the Sabbath, including healing. But we have this story about Jesus from Matthew 12 – “9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.”
But there is a difference. When Jesus broke the law, it was always clearly for the glory of God, the benefit of others and the furtherance of the Kingdom. It wasn’t just on a lark or for self glorification.
So back to Batman. Yes, I did see some similarities between these films. One of the most fascinating things in The Dark Knight (directed by Chris Nolan) is Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) wrestling with the outlaw nature of his work as a vigilante. He sees his work as necessary to protect the lives of others, but he would rather be able to live within the law. But he finds he can’t.
In The Dark Knight, Wayne uses all the tools at his disposal to fight a war against crime and terrorism (as personified by the Mob and the Joker played by the late Heath Ledger). But he comes to realize there will be a cost to such a battle not just for himself, but for those who join him in the battle. And he agonizes over the potential costs in the lives of others. (Petit in Man on Wire rarely seems concerned by the costs paid by those who join him in his quest.)
These moral quandaries, never fully answered, are what make The Dark Knight a little more thoughtful that the average summer superhero epic. And it was odd to find that the fictional blockbuster was more serious on a moral level than the documentary from the BBC and Discovery Films.

Man on Wire is rated PG-13 for language, nudity and sexuality.
The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 for language and violence, but the violence probably should have earned it an R rating.