Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Timely Tuesday Update Regarding Pending Announcement from Governor Whitmer...

The CCS school family has been getting a lot of updates and information these days. I hope they are a refreshing change of pace. They all have a purpose. This one is timely because of a pending annoucement from the Governor that has started considerable speculation. Please watch this video and remember who we are as a school, why we are staying our course, and why the weeks ahead are so important in that process. After watching the video, it may be encouraging to go to the CCS Blog and watch the music video that follows these same thoughts posted there. Our theme for this entire school-year since September has been "Never Alone." That was so providential! And these thoughts and the short video that follows it at the blog underscore that God is in control of these days and weeks, even as we must choose how we respond to them.

Watch the video from 3-16-20 which has been relocated to follow this post.

Be Still and Know That He Is God...

This was originally posted on March 15, then reposted to follow the March 31 updat.

I posted this video on the first day of "Quarantine" away from our building. It was sent only to our school family but it has been viewed by 3X as many people. Either that or people have chosen to watch it more than once. Either way, I trust the truth of the lyrics brings comfort even as the stillness of the halls and classrooms makes us sad. God be with you till we meet again.

Though the title on the video mentions Covid-19 Closure, beginning this week, I am using the term "Spring Session" when I communicate with parents and students. It is seasonally accurate, and my hope is that suggests a breath of fresh air from the daily news. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"Soft Rain Saturday Morning"

On Saturday morning, March 28, 2020, I went out to get the mail (for the first time in several days) and saw large puddles everywhere. I had not heard the hard rain in the night, and now it was a very soft rain. I also noticed that mourning doves and song birds and cardinals and blue jays and crows were out in full chorus. It was as if spring had awakened, but I had not noticed until then. The calling birds and the soft rain immediately brought to mind Sara Teasdale's poem from 1918, "There Will Come Soft Rains." This video was also used to "kick start" Poetry Month (April) and a poetry unit in some of our literature classes. On the day it was posted, the on-line lesson plan in British Lit included Robert Burn's "To a Mouse," alluded to in the second half.
Teasdale's poem later inspired Ray Bradbury's classic sci-fi short story by the same name (1950), Both works serve as warnings that man's own actions will lead to his end, while non-human life will go one. (It's a premise for other fiction such as the Planet of the Apes franchise.) I contend, however, that whether by war or by virus, if the world as we know it is no longer inhabited by man, it will not be left to animals. God's plan for a new earth will not be altered from the metanarrative outlined in the Bible (creation, fall, redemption, restoration).
In Act III of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, Emily comes out of her "flashback" and asks the Stage Manager this question: “EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?" STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.” Teasdale was a gifted poet, but her beautifully written lines reflect underscore a juxtaposition between "saints and poets" (maybe). That is to say, Teasdale's warning to her fellow man during the First World War makes the Darwinian assumption of "Nature's" protection of "fittest animals" while scripture tells "saints" quite the opposite about their Creator's attention and affection for man "made in His image. In Luke 12:6 and Matthew 6: 28, Jesus tells us clearly that while our Heavenly Father indeed takes care of birds who neither sow nor reap nor build barns, etc. that care is nothing compared to how He will take care of his children. These are the passages that inspired the old gospel song: "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." In the video, I also allude to Robert Burn's poem "To a Mouse" (1785) which reflects an understanding of of the Genisis mandate establishing man's dominion (Genisis 1:26 and 28) over the very creatures and trees that Teasdale imagines surviving after man is gone. It is the responsibility of that "dominion" that distinguishes the difference between the kind of cares that man has compared to the animal kingdom. Instinctive nesting, breeding, feeding, migration, etc. in the "Circle of Life" as the song says, is a marvel indeed, but it is quite different from the burdens of civilizations and the complexity of human coexistance. Man is prone to cares from our past and dread of future unknowns--especially when "the best laid plans of mice and men" do not pan out. (Or when viruses spread or travel plans halt or stock markets tumble or lay-offs loom large.)

It is for this reason that Christians take comfort in being able to "cast all our cares on Him" and songs like "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," which comes from Luke 12:6 and Matthew 6: 28. Keep that in mind as you watch the following:

Don't you love the freeze-frames that YouTube selects. So flattering...

The song "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" comes from Luke 12:6 and Matthew 6: 28. That well-known gospel song was written by Civillia D. Martin in 1905, thirteen years BEFORE Teasdale wrote her poem, and provides an encouraging contrast to "There Will Come Soft Rains."

Friday, March 27, 2020

Cabin Backstory: "God Uses Broken Things."

The first of the two videos in this post serves as an introduction to the second. It was one of what would become "Friday Updates," but at the time, we had been given the impression that schools would be allowed to re-open after the three-week closure to "flatten the curve." Who knew that it would be the beginning of several such efforts to keep in touch with our families through May.

This second video is for the CCS parents and older students who may be curious about the connection between the school and the cabin in our basement, but it is also a reminder that God uses broken things for His purposes. That would include broken school-years.

When we do our best to see things from God's perspective, we tend to think more creatively, we tend to see more than one purpose in a plan. The opening of the video list several examples from scripture of how God uses broken things. This cabin comes from "broken things."

I literally took this "cabin" from a trash bin nearly two decades ago, and for 18 years it was simply a "family room" of sorts, but on March 13, 2020, when schools acros the nation were temporarily closed to give "social distancing" a chance to slow or even stop the spread of Covid-19. That was when "The Cozy Little Cabin" became the place where Mrs. Kapanka (and guests?) began spending time with her class.

At the time of this post, the effectiveness of "social distancing" seemed to be having positive results, but just how effective our 15 days of isolation would be remained to be seen. The time involved to spend just few minutes (via video) with those we care about is a small reflection of the bond between teachers, students, and parents. One positive outcome of this isolation is that, ironically, we are seeing the non-school side each other. I've enjoyed that.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Video Update: March 21, 2020

This is the fourth update to our families since the national closure of schools, but it is the first "video" attempt. On Friday, March 20, 2020, the Michigan Department of Education caused confusion by saying that none of the efforts that had been implemented by teachers would count toward the school year. The full impact of that decision is non yet known, but CCS had been preparing this possibility two weeks before the official announcement. All teachers are equipped to "send" and all students have been equipped to "recieve" (about 20 laptops were made available to homes that needed them, and internet was provided to any family without it). We have confidence in the plans and the merit of these efforts.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Imago Dei: Creative Man and the Creator God

What does it mean to be “creative”? When discussing this topic  with young writers through the years, I always began with the obvious:

For those who believe in the Creator and in the Genesis account that says man was created in God’s image, the ability to create and the inclination to make something from nothing* is indeed part of what it means to be made in the image of God… to be creative. For those who do not believe man was created in the image of Creator God, this is nonetheless true but much less understood. 

In this sense, creativity is unique to humans because, of all created living things, only humans were created in the image of God. This notion is offensive to those who cannot grasp the idea of Creation or the personhood of a Creator… those who have chosen to believe instead that all of what we see  just “evolved” over billions of years and that humans are mere animals themselves--slightly more evolved, perhaps, but no different in nature from a mouse or a magpie. Such people are quick to tell us that these thoughts on “creativity” are arrogant. They might argue that it is just as creative for a bird to build a nest or a beaver to build a dam or a bee to form a honeycomb than anything man has ever “created.”

[Click on images to enlarge.]

I would agree that the creative achievements of all creatures great and small in nature are indeed wondrous and they reflect a wonderful Creator. The difference between man and birds and beavers and bees, however, is that we can talk about all three of those creatures and their instinctive creations. We can discuss them in both abstract and concrete terms. We can even draw parallels between their work and our own. "Go to the ant, you sluggard."

Artistically, we can re-create the concepts of this created world in poetry as Robert Frost did, then illustrate it in a picture or a painting as Audubon did; we can bind the poetry into books and shelve them with a thousand other books that agree and disagree. We can frame  the paintings and house them in grand museums and galleries full of man’s reflective work of external observable creation—and on the same walls can also hang the more abstract works generated by more modern minds that reject the notion of a Creator and any meaning of life bestowed to those who believe it. 

We can even create entertaining stories and films that create an alternate world in which animals act and think like human beings.(Anthropomorphism is what morphed Disney from an artist to an industry: “It all started with a mouse.”) 

Gifted Creativity can reflect reality as well as an imaginary world. It is man's ability to study the variety of bird nests, and to write about them and paint them that sets the creativity of John James Audubon apart from the amazing animals in the kingdom he studied. 

In the literary world, creativity fuels the ability to better understand the human condition as seen through the writings of humans themselves since the beginning of written words.  In the fields of "creative arts" this god-like attribute can be seen in theater, fashion, jewelry, architecture, photography, cinematography, and music as beautifully blended in the last scene of The Elephant Man, a film that uses one man's grotesque deformity to show the best and worst of supposedly "normal" society. For most of the film John [Joseph] Merrick is abused as a circus freak and gawked at by a society entertained by grusome things, but in the latter part of the movie he is exposed to all things "creative" and even begins to build a model of a nearby cathedral even though he can only see the steeple from his room. "I have to imagine the rest," he tells his friend. It is a statement that speaks to the essence of creativity which is inseparably linked to the power of imagination. 

In the truest sense, I am neither a theologian nor a scientist, but the connection between man's creativity and His Creator seems plainly clear to me, and all deviations from this understanding stem from the same creative thinking man is blessed with... even when he chooses to ignore the origin of his creativity.

Jonathan Edwards was both a theologian and a scientist, but not until he became a believer did he see the wonder of creation. He was noted for his study of spiders and thunderstorms. Spider webs amaze me in both form and function, but they fit into the list mentioned earlier of things like nests and honeycombs. Instinctively gifted displays of natures but made by limited creatures unable to see the big picture of creation itself--unless through  anthropomorphic tales like Charlotte's Web--a favorite of mine. It is in the creativity of its author E.B. White, and the illustrator, Garth Williams, of his first edition, and the artists at Hanna-Barbera who put the story in animation, and Joseph Robinette who put it on stage(a production I have enjoyed directing twice in a previous life), and then the story was put beautifully on the big screen in 2006, which gave birth to the beautiful song "Ordinary Miracle."  It is in the poetry of that song and the prose of White's tale of the scrificial love of a friend (as in "no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.") and the human gift of being able to "imagine" such meanings through "story" that set man's creativity apart from that of a spider who can actually make a web.

And that, I believe, is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. It goes beyond intellect, beyond the five senses alone, to something much deeper in the human experience, and that "something deeper" is what sets us apart from the animal world. Even the very rambling of this paragraph reflects something that sets us apart, whatever that "something" is about man that makes us wonder about things far beyond the shelter of a nest or next meal in the web.

You might be thinking: "But I'm not creative. I'm a farmer; I'm a mechanic; I'm a truck driver; I'm an administrative assitant; I'm a nurse, etc. I can't draw or write or sing..." Let's think about that for a moment. Let's not limit creativity to the arts. I cannot think of a profession that does not reflect some level of "problem solving" that demonstrates the human capacity to think beyond basic animal needs. The way a farmer can tighten a fence with a stick. (My father-in-law calls that an "Oscar Stevens" because his farmer-neighbor did it often.) There are similar creative tricks in nearly every trade.

Are all people equally creative? Clearly not. Are all people who are creative equally gifted? Clearly not. Am I a creative writer? Sometimes, and what is it about the way my mind works--especially when my thoughts are fertile for writing--that makes me feel at home in that category? It can be both a blessing and a curse, but in writing I believe creativity is dependent on one's ability to be an associative thinker. As explained in Psychology Today:

“Associative thinking occurs when all avenues are open in your brain and your mind, and you allow your mind to … automatically link up ideas, thoughts, observations, sensory input, memory of existing knowledge, and your subconscious. Rather than relying solely on what you know or have observed …you allow any and all thoughts to arise, which helps your brain’s neurons to spark and connect in unique ways….”

“….what drives the need to create is not creative ability per se, but rather a tendency toward self-reflective pondering and the ability and penchant for letting your mind wander (daydreaming, as an example), in which all thoughts are welcome…. the need to create is associated with having thoughts that interrupt one’s ordinary stream of consciousness and that are seen as welcome rather than interfering.”

As I mentioned, the penchants described above are both a blessing and a curse. The first twenty years of my career, I taught literature, writing, and participated heavily in performing arts. Yet even in those years, if you tracked down any of my students or cast-members, they would clearly remember me as a teacher who enjoyed "associative thinking" even while lecturing. To me, "rabbit trails" were not an interference from teaching but fascinating applications of any given lesson plan because letting "way lead on to way" (Frost, "The Road Not Taken") brings texture and dimension to otherwise flat information. The second twenty years of my career has been in school administration, and still this penchant plays a part in most of my writing and communication. 

Nearly everything I write is a blend of memory, faith, and familiar literature (from my teaching years). There are those who find it fascinating and those who find it frustrating. I have come to understand it as neither madness nor genious but simply the way God wired my mind.  Those wired similarly understand me better than those less so. I cannot be all things to all people, but through the years, I have been blessed by the kind words of others who enjoy my "metaphor and meaning and endless patterns of ink."

Tom Kapanka


*Creating Ex Nihilo (from nothing) is a power reserved only to Creator God, but man's desire to create something concrete (tangible, literal, enduring) from something abstract (conceptual, figurative, ephemeral) is what I mean by "creating something from nothing."

Tips on handling groceries and carry out....

Dear CCS Family,
I do not know this physician who serves in GR, but he is active in the daily processes we are all facing, and he is also delivering groceries to his 70-year-old parents each week. 

His protocols may seem a bit extreme, but watching this short video will help you adopt "best practice" for your own home. Many of us have already begun having groceries delivered to our home, and this video answered some of my own questions about that process.

Three practical things that we can all take away from this video: 
1. Think of the virus as "glitter" that you don't want in your house. That is a good word picture. 
2. Know the "life span" of the virus on various materials (which makes "paper or plastic" at check out a whole new question. Sounds like paper has a shorter "virus life" than plastic.
3. Microwaving is helpful in "killing" the virus (and freezers do not kill it). There were many other good points in this video. Consider this doctor's experience and his real daily routines with his parents. It makes sense to us. Do the best you can....