Saturday, September 26, 2020

Jumping Through the HOPES...Together

Note: This article was originally posted on July 28, 2020. It includes many common idioms whose origin is explained with a click of the orange bold text.n
Sometimes speakers or writers have reasons to pretend to be talking about one thing while really making important points about something else. To get their full meaning, we have to read between the lines, and that is true of this post about idioms.

Idioms are expressions that lose their original, literal meanings and are used to convey a more figurative thought. The confusion of idioms becomes obvious when talking to a student unfamiliar with the language. Imagine a foreign student new to English who asks an American friend if it is hard to get a visa to study abroad. His friend replies, "It's really a piece of cake if you have friends in high places, but it will cost an arm and a leg if you can't jump through all the hoops." When the words of those four idioms are translated literally, the inquisitive young man may think that getting a visa could be a delicious hike up a mountain or a horrible fall through amputating swords and hula hoops. Sometimes idioms are like that.

Take that last one I mentioned: "Jumping through the hoops." Its origins are from the circus (and venues like SeaWorld) where dogs, horses, lions, tigers (and seals and dolphins) literally jumped through hoops to entertain an audience. Why were these acts impressive? Because there is no natural reason to do it, and sometimes the hoops were on fire, which meant the animal was trained to ignore its natural fears. All this to get something in return (e.g. a treat, sugar cube, chunk of meat or fish). Circuses and SeaWorld grew less popular in the 21st Century as people became more sensitive toward animals, but the notion of "jumping through hoops" as an indiom lives on for humans. 

This idiom typically means that "the party of the first part" is willing to perform tasks imposed by "the party of the second part" with the hopes of getting something in return (a bike, a car, a diploma, a job, a degree, a visa, etc.)  "Jumping through hoops" almost always has a "task master" who places higher value on the "hoops" than those jumping through them. For this reason, the idiom tends to sound like a complaint by the person saying it, as if they fail to see the purpose in all the rigamarole (an idiomatic word with a story of its own).

While "hoop jumping" does have a negative connotation--right up there with "red tape." There is usually a "method to the madness" that is not all bad. 

For instance, the hoop-jumping principle is at work wherever there are rules to follow. It makes competition fair: Nearly all sports are basically a test to see which team can "jump through the hoops" better or faster than the other. It is frustrating, however, when the objectives are more difficult for some than for others. It is because we value "fairness" that there are weight classes in wrestling, and yet sometimes unequal things are asked to compete. Even so, sometimes a tortoise may beat a hare --and we love cheering for the underdog--but if real "hoops" had been involved in that race, it may have ended differently. Sometimes competition is like that.

The hoop-jumping principle can also bring order to our world: whenever you drive a car and jump through the hoops of getting a license and insurance, buckling up, obeying the stop signs, following speed limits, and driving correctly down a one-way streets, etc. you're basically "jumping through the hoops" that mitigate the risks of driving. Even so, thousands of traffic accidents happen every day, yet millions continue to weigh these risks and rewards of travel each time they pull out of their driveway or enter a cloverleaf. Sometimes risks are like that.

It's also frustrating when hoops being imposed bring equal or greater risks than the danger they hope to mitigate--especially when the rules for such "hoop jumping" change on a whim. It's even more frustrating if those mandating the hoops give themselves a "home field advantage" and act as if the hoops they impose on others do not apply to themselves. Sometimes rules and rulers are like that.

It's confusing when the data behind "hoop jumping" is in conflict with other known data or when  statistics are manipulated to justify the talking points of the day. For instance, when Hank Aaron beat Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1974, he had the advantage of a dozen more games per season (for 21 seasons), meaning he had 240 more games and 12,364 at bats to hit 755 homers while Babe Ruth had 714 homers with only 8,399 at bats. The huge disparity of one batter have 4,000 more "tests" at the plate renders the comparison moot. Equally moot would be any comparison between one country conducting tens of millions more "tests" for a virus than countries lacking the capability to conduct as many tests. This is obvious, and yet... sometimes statistics are minipulated like that.

Sometimes politicians and fawning media can take several hoops and connect them like a big chain that is used to block something or to change the natural flow of events. It's especially discouraging when the reason behind the hoops or chains seem to favor one group over another, and when the less favored group seems silenced by the same media. Sometimes the media and politicians are like that.

I confess, sometimes I'm not happy with the media or the politicians or the  "red tape" or the  "hoop jumping" that hinder important aspects of our shared life. Do you ever feel that way?

"After all," we rightly tell ourselves, "We are free people--not trained seals needing fish from someone else's hand.  We are not going through the motions to please men like animals in a circus cage. We were meant to live freely and to weigh the risks and rewards of our own hoops." 

I get that, and it's true, we are citizens of an exceptional country that has operated under an enduring constitution for more than 200 years, and as such it is frustration to see the constitution ignored or "overstepped" by over-reaching people temporarily in authority. Even so, there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to such frustration. We see wrong ways playing out on the evening news each week. Sometimes human nature is like that. 

But as believers we are more than "free indeed." We are image bearers of the Creator God. Even those who do not acknowledge Him are His image bearers, but they are not the light of the world. As U.S. citizens, we understand that it sometimes takes time to restore a country (or the original intent of founding documents). Likewise. as believers we understand that since the fall when sin first entered the world, God has held out the promise of restoring His original intent. He will restore the original meaning to His creation in His time. God's plan is like that.

In the meantime, His Word tells us that the trials of this life purify us like gold ... that sometimes its by deferring to "hoops" without complaining" that we beam in the darkness around us and shine like stars... (Philippians 2:15). This was the tone of our "Back 2 School" Plan.

So from here in our corner of the world, perhaps this is our time to shine to more than 200 nations/territories attempting to mitigate a new virus that has spread around the world in nine months.

All things considered, we are doing a pretty good job of mitigating the risks without losing all of the rewards of freedom. Sure, it is an imperfect and sometimes frustrating process, but let's not lose HOPE as we jump through the hoops.  

This, too, shall pass, and as long as TEMPORARY HOOPS CAN REMIND US OF OUR ETERNAL HOPE... and of what we believe and why we are here on this earth... so long as this can be said of us in these times... let us jump through the HOPES together and do whatever it takes to be exemplary as we gather safely together for school in the fall. Better days are yet to come. Sometimes HOPE is like that.

Guiding Principles of the CCS “Back2School” Committee:

 [Originally posted August 12, 2020]

I have been a part of many committees thoughout my career in K-12 Christian education, and I can truly say it has been a pleasure to problem-solve with our CCS Back2School Committee since our work began last June. Our team consisted of veteran educators and health-care/public safety professionals with degrees in medicine, IT, health, administration, etc. Together they have more than 100 collective years in leadership at CCS.

Together we have worked hundreds of man-hours with the goal of laying the best possible footing for returning to our campus and classrooms in the fall. Individually, we have also worked hundreds of hours researching the ever-changing landscape of a now 6-month long global health emergency. We have also reviewed countless plans of other schools (public and private).

Each school  district has its own challenges and assets, and we appreciate our state's invitation to take to full advantage of our school's strengths in addressing current concerns. CCS is uniquely suited to mitigate risks while maintaining educational best practices as much as possible. We are very pleased with the plan that our board will approve on August 15, 2020. Throughout the process, we have maintained unity (which does not require unanimity). Such unity is reflected in a spirit of deference, explained below. This has been the key to our functioning as a committee and school family, and it will also be the key to a great school year ahead.

Guiding Principles of the “Back2School” Committee:

1.      CCS is a faith-based, non-public school whose mission does not change with changing times. Partnering with likeminded parents has always been a hallmark of CCS. A parent survey will be conducted before a final plan is shared with the CCS family (state-established deadline for posting the final plan is August 17, 2020.) [This survey was completed and processed in early August, and an outdoor, socially distances parent meeting was held in the rear courtyard of the school on August 13. Both the survey and the meeting reflected a positive spirit of unity and overwhelming support for adopting the prescribed protocols in order to be in person/on campus.]

2.      Educational “best practice” will be a factor in all temporary modification of methodology necessitated by other concerns. Our goal will be to mitigate risks not to retreat from life.We all know no institution, regardless of size and resources, can guarantee to eliminate the risks involved in daily living. Just as seatbelts mitigate the risks of car occupancy while driving to school (but they cannot remove all risks of riding in a car), our protocols will mitigate the potential concerns we face in this present situation.

3.    Teachers will always be informed of matters that directly affect them before the school family or public.

4.      Because CCS is a school, we will use events beyond our control and responses within our control as teachable moments. We will foster a God-honoring culture of faith not fear as we proceed, keeping passages like Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that He is God.” Romans 12: 18: “As much as depends on us, live peaceably with all…” and Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without grumbling to be an example to a forlorn generation for by doing so we will shine like stars in the universe.”  At age appropriate levels, in addition to our regular curriculum, in the current context of the first global pandemic since 2008, (or the 2009 H1N1 pandemic) our students will learn related principles of scripture, scientific method, health, hygiene, history, human nature, civic responsibility, self-governance,"can do" problem-solving, teamwork, the U.S. Constitution (as a basis for how a nation maintains order and freedoms amid conflicting cultural responses), etc. 

5.      CCS is an accredited member of ACSI and have received and will continue to seek counsel from ACSI and other non-public and public-school organizations as we proceed to finalize our plan. Our plan will reflect the principles taught in our curriculum, etc. Priority will be given to common sense, consideration of a full scope of pertinent data. Life involves calculated risks mitigated by knowledge, experience, shared information, and "best practice." Some mushrooms are poison, some are on pizza. As we consume food processed and prepared by others, we enjoy the calculated yet unspoken risks and rewards or our culture. Our goal is to mitigate risks in exchange for the rewards of living freely for the glory of God.

6.      Fostering UNITY (but not necessarily unanimity) will be a priority. The first page of our Parent-Student Handbook has included this statement for two decades: “Because education is a partnership, its goals are more effectively met when the home and the school are confident that each party values the best interests of the other. As a practical matter, however, the school cannot be administrated by the many different homes it serves. To function agreeably as a school community, we must exercise deference (i.e. courteous, respectful compliance to guidelines which may not reflect our own preference). Order, unity, and the mission of CCS are best achieved when [we respect the ‘deference-over-preference’ principle.]” 

7.      The committee and administration will present a plan to reopen on the Tuesday after Labor Day. The School Board ultimately approves the policy, timeline, contingencies, etc. and decides when to present it to parents, the MDE, etc.

8.      The Governor’s “roadmap” asks that each school’s plan be submitted to the MDE and the Michigan Treasury Department by August 17, 2020. The fact that each district (CCS is considered its own district) has to submit THEIR OWN PLAN implies that these plans are rightly considered “local” matters rather than one-size-fits-all approach across the state. We appreciate the wisdom of that latitude, and that the premises behind the Governor’s “road map” can be individually adapted to meet the realities of each district. It is the committee's intention to provide a prima facie plan that is acceptable to our clientele, compliant with the most reliable data within of state guidelines, and compelling to the broader CCS community beyond the families we serve. [These plans were completed and presented as intended.]

NOTE: On it’s opening page, our CCS Parent-Student Handbook says, “Though all families agree to defer to the policies herein, these pages are not intended to dictate the atmosphere of our building or the “spirit” of the day to day operation of our school.” The same holds true for the temporary protocols adopted to make our re-opening possible this fall. The presentation and implementation of “Reopening Plan” protocols will reflect the mutual respect and deference we are called to model within the Church, within our school, and within our community. On its closing page, our handbook says Like-mindedness is best achieved through unity in essential matters, liberty in deferential matters and charity in all matters."  


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

CCS Senior "Paint the Fence" Project

 We all remember the story of Tom Sawyer recruiting his friends to help him whitewash the fence. It's a funny tale that reflects Mark Twain's childhood, his humor, and possibly his work ethic.

 I could not help but think about Twain's tale as we asked the CCS Class of 2021 to help us with an important project not unlike the fictional account from Hannibal, Missouri, nearly a hundred and fifty years ago. 

For more than 20 years, "community service" hours have been a graduation requirement at CCS (as they are at many Christian colleges). The board's purpose in this requirement is to foster a spirit of service that we hope plays out in adulthood as our graduates become active members of their churches and communities. During the Covid-19 state restrictions, community service hours are more difficult to achieve. (Sadly, the beach clean-up option of the past has eroded away.)

With this goal in mind, the senior class will be helping their school complete one lingering task from all the work others did over the summer. They will be painting (staining) the fence in the front of the building on Wednesday afternoon. Their help is genuinely needed, and the end result will be a  beautiful tribute to our collective "can do" response to the pandemic of 2020. They will remember their contribution with pride for years to come. 

Here is Part 1 and 2 of a video I made of our seniors painting the fence...

Thank you, Seniors!