Friday, December 21, 2012

It was a Wonderful Night!

Last in our Christmas Concert's opening remarks, I mentioned Frank Capra's Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life. I had a large woven laundry basket in my hands and described the last scene of that movie when all the neighbors come into the living room of the Bailey home with a laundry basket full of collected money for a friend in need.
After explaining our "Under One Roof" project (bringing all classrooms into the main building over Christmas Break) and the stated goal of $3,000 to cover related costs, I said, "If we fall short of our goal, I'll not get up and take another offering, but I will set this laundry basket over here on the stage, and if you'd like to give more, we will greatly appreciate it." We prayed and the ushers passed smaller versions of the laundry basket through the rows of family and friends.
I'll not go into detail here, but we did not need to put the laundry basket back on the stage at the end of the program. After counting the offering, it was full and running over with cash offerings triple their normal amount from years past and a total far more than DOUBLE the ambitious stated goal.
Imagine with me that the picture below of over 600 "neighbors" is not in Bedford Falls, NY but in Fruitport, MI, gathered not at George Bailey's home but in the living room of our school with standing room only in the back. It was by far the best-attended Christmas program in the history of our school, and the fellowship before and after was very much like the closing scene of that 1946 film. It was a wonderful night in the wonderful life we all share at CCS.
Our annual Christmas concert is full of traditions. For instance, the band plays "Sleigh Ride" each year and invites alumni and alumni parents to come up with their instruments and join in that iconic song. This year there seemed to be more "joiners" than ever, packing the stage.

Then at the end of the program, a new tradition began: the high school choir had about 20 alumni, parents and teachers join them in singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I was one of the adults singing with them, and at the end as we closed with a congregational song, I could not resist taking the first picture above of this festive gathering. Mrs. Andrea Masvero took the reverse-angle below.

As we all sang last night, "We give Him all the glory!" and we thank all those who gave in this special offering which will pay for facility repairs/upgrades, 4 additional security cameras (to add to our 16 already in place), and improvements associated with our "Under One Roof" Project to be completed in the weeks ahead. Please continue to pray that the broader financial goals stated in the 2012 Annual Fund Letter will also be met through unprecedented philanthropic support.

CCS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization. All gifts are fully tax deductible..

On behalf of our students and staff, let me say thank you to all who are a part of this ongoing effort, generous giving, and uplifting prayer for Calvary Christian Schools.

Have a very Merry Christmas!
Tom Kapanka

If you've never seen the full movie "It's a Wonderful Life" below is the public domain version:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Memory of Mrs. Lynne Meyer

Something Short of Sorrow

The hurt that comes while heartache heals
is something short of sorrow,
something short of how it feels
to weep and wonder if tomorrow
holds any semblance of today.
It falls short of the grief we know
when loved-ones pass away
and patted earth is covered by snow,
short of the loss that’s shared
when hope or love’s let go
and all around us are prepared
to reap the joy we’re told tears sow.
Heartache settles deep inside
where no one sees or knows
save one who peers… eyes wide
in yours… until it goes.
© Tom Kapanka, April 28, 2012

 "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
  Psalm 126:5 (KJV)

I wrote the lines above last April, never knowing that we as a school family we would experience the heartache of this week as we learned that our friend and fellow teacher was so suddenly gone. For three years, Lynne Meyer graced our halls and blessed our students with boundless energy, optimism, a "can do" spirit, love for the Lord and her family, and a smile and laugh that will never be forgotten. Her life reflected the answer of the two-word question posed in the video below...

Friday, February 24, 2012

The First Green Thing

I have been teaching British Literature to our 11th and 12th grade the past four weeks. In my early teaching career, I taught British Literature for 15 consecutive years, and this was my first extended teaching experience in equally as many years.  I have really enjoyed it, and half-suspect the students did, too. Last week, as a segue between Shakespeare and Golding,  I used the following poem to introduce the concept of man's fallen nature befoe beginning Lord of the Flies.  

This post will be on top here at "To Begin With" for a few weeks in hopes that you may find a variety of thoughts in the links (click on red text words) below the poem appropriate for this Lenten Season.

"The First Green Thing"

The first green thing
I saw that spring
was not a hyssop sprig,
not a trillium leaf along the trail,
nor the bourgeoning twig
of ivy on a crossed split rail.
No, before I’d seen a
sign of things to come along the path,
I saw the green patina
of an artisan’s birdbath
wrought in copper and bronze,
beautifully cast and crafted together
and left to age as such responds
to air and time and weather.

It was meant for a garden, no doubt,
but was now cast off and left out
where wooded rains o'erflowed beneath
to its streaked and verdant stand.
The basin was a laurel wreath
held high in a triumphant hand;
the base a sinnewed arm trapped
in the earth and further bound by a briar
that rose from the soil, wrapped
around the outstretched limb and higher
as if to draw the eye
to things above and intertwine
the bowl's reflection of the sky
and laurel wreath in its thorny vine.

This overgrown and tarnished glory
seemed the preface to a story
told without a word...
and forever fixed in time.
For when my curious fingers stirred
the water, I felt the stagnant slime
hid just below the rippling blue.
And wafting from a putrid maché
of blackened leaves and acorns split in two
came the septic stench of sewage and decay,
this the incense offered by the brazen hand
that could not feel the thorns at all
or see that they were rooted near the stand
in the cold and rotting remnants of the fall.
© Copyright 2010, Tom Kapanka

If I were a sculptor, I’d like to make a birdbath like the one I attempt to depict in this poem. I'd cast a strong arm in bronze that rises from the ground holding a laurel wreath as if it were being placed on the head of the person looking in the water’s reflection. And then, if natural thorns did not grow to ensnare my work, I would craft a vine of thorns to do as those in the poem did so that, rather than man's praise around the onlooker's head, he would see something more like a crown of thorns.

Since ancient times, long before the time of Christ, the laurel wreath was the traditional prize for athletic victors. It was also worn by people in power like Caesar and members of the Roman Senate. Using a natural plant to make a crown was a well-known practice in the time of Christ, which is why I think planting the crown of thorns on our Savior’s head was much more than a brutal act; it was meant to be a mockery. (As depicted in the 14th Century woodcarving below.) Little did the brutes know that the thorns, being a result and symbol of Eden's curse, only added to the full meaning of the cross. Christ who knew no sin bore the curse for us. "Cursed is He who hangs upon a tree."

Just as the laurel wreath suggested honor, the crown of thorns was  as shameful in meaning as it was painful to the brow. That is why the image in the poem allows the thorns to overtake the wreath. Man’s image of himself is one of strength and self-determination, like the sinnewed arm raised high in victory, but in truth, fallen man is more worthy of thorns than laurel wreaths. In contrast to the practice of the incense offering, the prophet  Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that our sin makes whatever self-righteousness we "offer" to God akin to filthy rags; left to our own merits, our fate is shared with fallen leaves. The apostle Paul speaks of man's proud works as smelly rubbish.

All around we see both beauty and brokenness. We are blessed to see God's creation but cursed to know it is not as it once was. In the still water of this imaginary birdbath, for instance, we briefly see the sky, but just an inch below its reflection is the stench of rotting leaves and seeds left over from the fall. This image is very real to me.

In our backyard, we have a birdbath and other small fountains, and often in the spring when I go to clean out all the junk that fell in them before winter, there is a smell much like the smell of sewage that comes from the decay in the shallow water. By then, whatever leaves gathered there are not colorful like the ones in the picture below but blackened and matted together. Those are maple leaves, but we also have huge oaks in our yard, and the squirrels break the acorns and drop them below to mix in with all the other rotting things.
“The cold and rotting remnants of the fall,” however, is not referring to the season of autumn but rather the fall of man. As beautiful as the reflection of the sky is, as wondrous as the hope of things to come may be, there is that decay of death just below the surface; there are those thorns strangling out the glory that was meant to be.

There lies the beauty of spring that comes with Easter. The hyssop sprigs eventually show; the trilliums begin to grow, and all the beauty that was Eden surrounds us in signs of life along the path. The first green things appeared in a perfect place, Eden, and likewise the green thing I saw in the poem, though of man’s making, "was meant for a garden, no doubt, but now cast off and left out." True, it was green, but the patina that comes from the oxidation of copper and bronze is a muted hue compared to the first green things of creation. And what were some of those green things mentioned?
The hyssop is native to eastern Mediterranean lands but was purposely brought to the western continents where it now flourishes. Along with the laurel, its meaning and many uses have been known since ancient times. Psalm 51:7 says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Hyssop is known for its cleansing power and ritual use. It is also aromatic—in the mint family. The Gospel of John says that it was on a long woody stem of hyssop that the soldier offered wine vinegar to Christ at his crucifixion when he said “I thirst.” I do not now why that detail is mentioned. It may have been additional mockery by those who had just pronounced him "King of the Jews," but regardless of the motive, the use of hyssop made a vivid link between the first Passover and the ultimate sacrificial moment in history.
The trillium grows across North America, it was popularly voted the state wild flower of Michigan (but Lansing overruled). It is known for its mathematical design of displaying three leaves, three sepals, and three petals, all of which have been used in Christian circles as a picture of the mystery of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—united in  purpose though distinct in personality. It is in the lily family (tri=three lily), a perennial that bursts from the ground and shows leaf each year around Easter (but typically blooms in late April and May). Sometimes called a "wake-robin," the trillium flower was used by Native Americans as an antiseptic. This flower is also called birthroot based on other medicinal uses.
Ivy is a non-deciduous evergreen plant. We typically think of Christmas trees and conifers as evergreens, but holly and ivy and many other plants remain green year-round; they do not lose their leaves in the fall and thereby show the continuity of life in spite of all that changes around them. Ivy survives the harsh winter and resumes its spreading, clinging coverage on stationary things in the spring and summer. We have some split rail fence covered in ivy in our yard, but I included it to evoke the image of hewn wood as is also true of the cross.

Thus in the opening stanza, the brief mention of these green things—the hyssop, trillium, and ivy—(yet unseen along the path) foreshadow the significance of "the first green thing" I did see: the patina of the copper birdbath with its stench of the rotting leaves. The story may be "forever fixed in time," but it is corrected when time as we know it is no more. Ending as it does, the poem gives hope that, for those who believe, the green things foreshadowed in the beginning—cleansing hyssop, the covering ivy, and the symbolic trillium—will triumph over the remnants of the fall.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"When My World is Shaking..."

There is a little room on the upper floor of our house that used to be Natalie's. It's the smallest bedroom in the house, but she is our youngest, and for about eight years that was the place she called her own.

When Emily married a few years back, Kim moved down to Emily's bigger room, and Natalie moved into Kim's bigger room, and the little room became what Julie calls her cozy sitting room. It has a big over-stuffed reading chair and ottoman that together are so comfortable I sometimes fall asleep there with an open book on my chest. There is also a long narrow Jenny Lind feather-bed dating back to 1800's which is great for naps.

This afternoon, in that little room, Natalie was sitting on the edge of that antique bed playing a song on her sister's guitar. I had never heard the song before, and hearing her voice through the closed door gave it a soft, earnest tone. I listened to the words, I knew why she had decided to learn it while most of the rest of the world had their mind on the Super Bowl. I peeked in and told her how nice it sounded. Then I asked her if I could videotape her singing it. She said "no" of course, but before she went to bed, she showed me this and I uploaded it to Youtube. She just shot it with her lap-top's camera and mike.
(I mention that because the image is reversed. She is not left handed.)

I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn't there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That You would take my pain away
That You would take my pain away

I am trying to understand
How to walk this weary land
Make straight the paths that crookedly lie
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine

When my world is shaking
Heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave Your hands

When You walked upon the Earth
You healed the broken, lost, and hurt
I know You hate to see me cry
One day You will set all things right
Yea, one day You will set all things right

When my world is shaking
Heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave Your hands...

Thanks, Natalie

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Then Came the Dawn

Then came the dawn
of changing times
of shifting winds and paradigms
when all but gone
was memory
of how we lived and used to be.

It was the year
that some foretold
on scribbled stone in days of old
“Sit now and fear.
For all your days
will fade in this galactic haze.”

It was the year
that others told
to those in other days of old:
“Sit now in fear
and trembling still.
Work out your faith as is His will.

"For it is not
the task of man
to set or see the sovereign plan
nor then to plot,
according to........................................................ Mayan calendar in stone

the flesh, what he in turn will do.

"‘Tis all, alas!
what’s meant to be
and though it seems a tragedy,
This, too, shall pass,
and in the end,
bring hope as sun and moon descend.”

Then came the dawn
of changing times
of shifting winds and paradigms
when all but gone
was any fear
of what might happen in that year.

© Copyright 2012 Tom Kapanka

In case you didn't know it, the year of our Lord 2012, according to some mystics, is going to change (or end) our lives. Spend some time reading this Wikipedia article and you'll get the general idea. It opens by saying, "... Many contemporary fictional references to the year 2012 refer to December 21 as the day of a cataclysmic event…” That article closes by citing many cultural references to this phenomenon, including this note for tourists:
"In 2011, the Mexico tourism board stated its intentions to use the year 2012, without its apocalyptic connotations, as a means to revive Mexico's tourism industry.... The initiative hopes to draw on the mystical appeal of the Mayan ruins. On December 21, 2011, the Mayan town of Tapachula in Chiapas activated an eight-foot digital clock counting down the days until b'ak'tun 13 [December 22, 2012]."
We at CCS do not ascribe to any "Dooms Day" prophecies that set dates--especially from pagan sources. Consider the paragraphs above a primer for trivial conversations about the "2012 phenomenon."

I don't mean to trivialize, however, the importance of this year for our school.

In the weeks and months ahead, the School Board will be updating our school family about the transition to an independence as well as the continuity of the most important aspects or our Christian school program. The school board, administration, teachers and nearly everyone else involved agree that the new independent paradigm will help ensure the future of an inviting, growing evangelical K-12 CCS for west Michigan.

Note about the writing process: The short poem above uses medial rhyme (as seen in "Summer Road") and a variation on alternating tetrameter and dimeter lines (eight-count and four-count) (as seen in "My Father's Hands"). But these lines follow a 4-4-8 count, medial rhyme while including a pattern of initial rhymes (the first word of the 1st and 4th lines of each stanza). Sometimes incorporating that much form in poetry hinders the function. Here are the same words in prose form with links for further understanding. [Click on red text below to go to links.]
Then came the dawn of changing times of shifting winds and paradigms when all but gone was memory of how we lived and used to be.It was the year that some foretold on scribbled stone in days of old: “Sit now and fear. For all your days will fade in this galactic haze.”It was the year that others told to those in other days of old: “Sit now in fear and trembling still. Work out your faith as is His will. For it is not the task of man to set or see the sovereign plan nor then to plot, according to the flesh, what he in turn will do. ‘Tis all, alas! what’s meant to be, and though it seems a tragedy, This, too, shall pass, and in the end, bring hope as sun and moon descend.” Then came the dawn of changing times of shifting winds and paradigms when all but gone was any fear of what might happen in that year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Snow at Last!

In Between...
How drab the days
when fallen leaves
blow to and russet fro
and likewise later
melting March
without a bud to show.
The variegated leaf,
the frozen river’s flow...
at last the empty
in between
is covered by the snow.
© Copyright 2007, Tom Kapanka

I don't know about you, but the fall of 2011 seemed very long for many reasons. I've heard many of our CCS family and friends say it was because we had no measurable snow in November or December. I agree. Only in songs was our Christmas white. Not until New Year's Day did real snow arrive. I'm glad to see the dingy grays of autumn gone.

Michiganders are four-season folks who aren't afraid of change, but we sometimes feel forlorn in the months when we stand in between what was and what's to come.  

As 2012 begins, it's good to be surrounded by a huge blank slate of snow, with shovels in hand, to clear the way for where we need to go. Like never before this winter will be a time to work and watch and pray and wait for God's wonder to bloom in the spring.