The Tension

As I write, it’s Fat Tuesday. You may know it, depending upon your geographic location and your heritage, as Paczki Day, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday. Or just… Tuesday.

Believe me, they don't call it "Fat Tuesday" for nothing. That's 425 calories of strawberry-filled goodness. Each.
Believe me, they don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothing. That’s 425 calories of strawberry-filled goodness. Each.

In any case, it’s Mardi Gras Night. In years gone by, I’d have made a giant pot of gumbo, chilled some beer, put on the Big Easy soundtrack and had a little mid-week party. After all, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period of penitence in preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Christians are called to mark this time with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

In other words, living more fully our calling to serve.

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Living out my calling by helping my youngest organize note cards and an outline for a research paper on sea anemones. Tomorrow though…

When it comes to books, I’m a non-fiction guy. (Check out my Goodreads page, right?). One of my favorites is a Catholic fiction novel, Pierced By A Sword by Bud MacFarlane.

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Even the cover is the color of Lent.

In one scene, a high powered business executive returns to the faith of his youth but is unsure how to start living like it. A new-found friend tells him to “prepare for one long Lent”. By that he means prayer and sacrifice, yes, but also to live his state in life as a husband, father, and businessman.

You don’t have to be a believer to buy in to the mandate to do what you have been called to do. Trouble is, many of us find ourselves distracted from the work by the pressures of the world. In the 21st century we celebrate hacks and innovations, which is cool. But what I’ve found is, probably 90% of the time when we force something to do other than what it was designed to do, it doesn’t end well.

So today, this pops up in my Facebook feed.

Jon Foreman is the co-founder, singer and guitarist for the band Switchfoot. He’s an extremely thoughtful dude who knows he doesn’t exist on this earth to live in a bubble. In a TED talk at University of Nevada, Reno, Foreman spoke about the tension that exists in our lives:

We as humans are caught between the polarities of birth and death, caught between the polarities of control and chaos. It’s almost like guitar string. We’re stretched tight right in the middle. And when a difficult situation arises, the temptation is to run to one end or the other, or cut the string entirely. The bad news is: the tension ends with your last heartbeat. The tension is where we live. The struggle is a part of this world.

In a world of endless recession, in a Rust Belt city, in an aging building… the struggle is always going to be there.

One Long Lent.

After a few years at my current school, in a year when I was being eaten alive by a couple of my classes, I interviewed at a green, leafy suburban school. Nailed it, too. Thought for sure I had the job. It was all I could do to keep myself from shouting “so long, suckers!” when I walked into class the next day.

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As much as you want to sometimes.

Didn’t get the job, which is another post for another time. Also, I found out (surprise!) that the green, leafy suburban schools also have kids that hate math, that have to repeat the same course over and over again. They aren’t so different.

That turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my teaching career. I realized if I was going to stay in this business, I better learn a better way to teach my classes, pronto. That eventually started me on the quest that led me to find the MTBoS. And that changed everything in my classroom.

As Jon Foreman puts it: “I dare you to make a melody with the tension”.

There is a weight to teaching. It’s a good weight. A weight that comes from doing something that’s hard, something that matters.  Some days I’m pretty sure the weight is going to crush me. Other days I remind myself that I’ve run five marathons, and I know what to do when it starts to suck.

The payoff for 18 weeks of work. So sweet.
The payoff for 18 weeks of work. So sweet.

I also know: the weight won’t go away till the day I retire. That it’s never going to be easy.

Fine. I Dare You To Move.