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The time a high school senior actually played with raw sewage.

7The whole bunkhouse was deathly quiet.  The bus was out in the parking lot, idling.  The girls had piled their stuff aboard and were all in seats, quietly awaiting the young men to bring out their gear and head back to the school after the Senior Retreat.

But nobody in the guys’ dorms moved an inch.

The director of the camp was enraged and the Christian school’s English teacher was livid.  The teacher stomped among the senior high boys and flailed his arms.  “I want the name of the boy who did this and I want it now or we are not leaving this camp!”  The director stood there with his arms crossed, glaring.  The English teacher’s voice raised another octave.  He was almost screaming. “Did you hear me?  Nobody is moving until someone confesses!”

The boys looked at each other, unsure of what to do next.  The bus was already behind schedule.  The young men were genuinely confused.

Except, may I say, for one young man.  Seventeen year-old “Jimmy” knew.  He also knew his prank had gone further than he had thought.  Much, much further.

While the students were having their after-morning Bible devotional in the dining hall, Jimmy crept back to the dorm and – this is going to be gross, but I’m going to tell you exactly what happened because I was there – decided to have a little fun in the toilet stall.  I am going to choose my words carefully.

Using toilet paper, he smeared pictures over the inside of one wall of a bathroom stall… with human waste.  Large, wide drawings using an abundance of excrement. I think you get the picture, and I am not going to elaborate.

Jimmy then sidled back into the dining hall with a snicker and the assumption that the janitorial staff would not discover the sewage mess until long after we were on the highway heading back to town.

However, the head of maintenance did a quick spot-check before the boys were to load the bus.  He found it.

I know Jimmy was not thinking at all.  Like many of us when we were that age, we cooked up a prank without fully realizing the magnitude of the results it would bring.  However, this small “gotcha” stunt was know known by fully half of the camp already and it seemed that the word had been leaked onto the bus, so some girls now knew.

Except nobody knew who did it, and this boy was not one to be known for such behavior.  I would only find out his name much, much later, and even then only from the faculty.  Believe it or not, Jimmy was pretty shy.  If this boy were to be exposed, his humiliation would be crushing.  But here he was, within minutes of being caught.  He had not mentioned the prank to any other guys, and they honestly didn’t know who did it.  And if he were to confess, and the girls found out that it was he who did such a repulsive thing?  Yes, he was in a panicked situation.

The English teacher now had some other teachers nearby, and his rage increased.  “Nobody leaves this room until one of you confesses who did it!  Do you hear me?” He had lost his objectivity, and clearly his composure.  The scene was very, very ugly.

The smallish school Chemistry teacher walked in while the boys shuffled to one side of the room to confer with one another.  “What is the problem?” he quietly asked the English teacher.  The whole mess was explained to him.  “And the problem is, ” huffed the English teacher, “is that we’re already a half an hour late getting back to the school, and nobody will confess.”

The chemistry teacher leaned in and looked at the disgusting, smelly stall.  “So the real problem is who will clean up this mess?”

Yes,” seethed the English teacher, stomping out of the room and into the yard to gather his wits and calm down a bit.

When he came back in, he was stunned to see the Chemistry teacher in the stall.

The small man was quietly cleaning the smeary feces off of the wall.

“What are you doing?” asked the English teacher incredulously.

“Well,” said the Chemistry teacher, juggling paper towels and Lysol, “the real problem is this mess on the wall.  I thought I would take care of the problem.”  Without any other words, he cleaned up the excrement, spray-disinfected the wall, washed his hands, and quietly motioned the boys to pick up their gear and get on the bus.

He never asked for the name of the culprit.  I was told that Jimmy sidled alongside him later on the day and breathed a quiet but heartfelt “thank you.”

The Chemistry teacher taught me an amazing lesson on humility and kindness.

After all, don’t humility and kindness go together?

My latest readings of Jesus are on His goodness, kindness and love.  I love this and teach this fascinating truth in my Bible classes.  I try – really, truly try – to get my students to see His goodness and His pathway to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Many get it.

Many do not.

One of the main reasons they do not is because they, unlike the Chemistry teacher, do not understand the humility needed to move forward.  Some delight in self-righteousness.  Others love the electronic stage of social media for their spiritual contentment.  In order to learn of Christ, submit to Him and let Him lead, they must get themselves out of the way.  Pride is one of the main roadblocks.

My reading in the fifth chapter of the book of John brings out a terrific question from the mouth of Jesus Himself:  “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”

It’s a question that is as brutally relevant today as it was in the first century:

“How can you start to believe Me when you won’t even look at me – because you keep looking at yourself?”

“How can you listen to Me when you keep listening to the pitch and quality of the sound of your own voice?”

“How will you be able to look and understand Me when you continue with sidelong glances to other people for approval and praise for yourself?”

We keep getting in our own way.

I like how the Bible scholar Albert Barnes reflects on this passage: 
“A child cannot open a trunk when he gets on the lid and attempts to raise his own weight and the cover of the trunk too.”

It’s true – we cannot rise the lid of the trunk and discover the Truth when we have the weight of our own self-glorification on top of the lid.  We end up looking like a cartoon figure, trying to do the impossible.

Maybe it’s time we got off of the trunk.  Maybe it’s time we stopped listening to our own echo.



Our high school vice principal used a new and strange language.

7During my high school years we students enjoyed a friendship with an older but amiable vice principal who would go out of his way to be friendly and accommodating to the kids at the school.  I’ll call him Mr. Miller, and he was a hard-working gray-haired gentleman who would be seen chatting with seniors in the hallway between classes, football players at lunch or maybe some stray students doing some extra homework in the library during study hall. We all liked him, and it was obvious that he was comfortable being around us.

Mr. Miller was always looking for ways to improve himself, and on one occasion during my years at Delmar, Delaware High School he went to a teachers/administrators convention for further career training.

And something at that conference changed him.  We noticed it almost the minute he got back.

We students suspected that Mr. Miller must have attended a workshop on communication with pupils.  We guess that they might have emphasized the need to be aware of the jargon of the student body, to be able to talk on the level of the teenager.

Well, Mr. Miller took this advice as seriously as anyone we had ever seen.  Perhaps too much, I’m afraid.

I recall the day when we freshmen were walking by him in the hallway on the way to our first period class, nodding to him and greeting him.  “Hey, Mr. Miller.”  “Good morning, Mr. Miller.  What’s up?”  “How you doin’, Mr. Miller?”

He grinned ear to ear and said, “I’m feelin’ groovy, baby.  What’s going down with you?”

We did a double-take.  I think Shawn did a triple-take.

Cindy recovered enough to return the smile and respond:  “Oh, it was a good weekend.  We won the football game Friday night.  Did you go to  the game?”

He shook his head.  “Naw, naw, couldn’t make that scene, baby.”

I don’t recall anybody laughing about it – seriously, I do not remember anybody making him the butt of any jokes –  but we were openly bewildered.  He had changed his vocabulary completely, and it didn’t have the effect that he intended.  While we did enjoy a good friendship with him right up to our high school graduation, we often felt uneasy with any deep conversation.  This man who was old enough to be our grandfather would use terms that we felt that even we had outgrown.

“Hey, Zockoll, what’s shakin’ today in your scene, man?”

“Whoa, Stevens, that’s downright groovy, baby.”

He was especially in love with the word “baby,” which made me cringe.  It just wasn’t … well, it wasn’t him.   Many students would seek out other counselors or instructors when they wanted advice.  Mr. Miller was trying to be part of our world – and that was okay by me, really – but his lack of understanding was almost embarrassing to us.

My point is that Mr. Matthew was approaching us from his world and his lack of understanding placed some severe limitations on his reach.

That memory hits me square in the chest when I realize that a lot of my frustration in my walk with Jesus is based on that same limitation.  When I try to force my way of thinking and my limited reasoning into the magnificence of God, I often fall flat on my face.  What I mean is, I will hit the wall of doubt when I start putting the reasoning and righteousness of Jesus on my level within the scope of my intellect, instead of allowing Him to teach me. When I slow down my reading of the sacred Scripture and content myself with snippets of the Bible (which might even be out of context) I place myself in the danger of what I call “Hallmark greeting card education;”  you know, where you only see one pretty verse that makes you smile and nod but really has no depth.  When I start with the “well, if I were God, this is the way I would act” type of thought process, I only serve to attempt a line of reasoning that will end up fruitless.

I need to fully submit to Jesus.  I need to shut up and listen.  I need to continue to learn.

John the Baptist’s followers run to him.  “John,” say his loyal disciples, “that one (they don’t even use the name Jesus, their jealousy is so strong) is preaching and baptizing and is moving in on our territory.  Should you do something about it?”

John nods.  “Yes, I’m going to decrease and let Him increase.”  His further teaching is magnificent.  “We’re looking at the Messiah and the coming kingdom as people of the Earth, and that’s a limited viewpoint.  Our vision is through very dirty and weak glasses.  He, however, is from above – Heaven, you understand – and His ministry is above and beyond our limited thinking and observation.”

John does just what he says he is going to do.  He, with all of his thousands of followers, scales back his life and directs the attention to Jesus the Christ.  He doesn’t fully understand the universal effect Christ will have, but in humility he backs up and diminishes any chance that people will see him in front of Him.

That’s the right direction to point. That’s the right language to speak.  That’s the right perception that is increasing my joy of Christ; letting Him dominate and direct my personal walk and my public ministry.  Ah, it’s been good and it’s getting better.

I am reminded of the time  – back when I taught middle school  – of when I took my fourth and fifth grade class boys to the San Benito Country Fair and we took a stroll through the Midway.  The little guys had pockets fill of loose change and were spending coins here and there on such rip-off amusements like the Dime Toss, the Ring Throw, and the Softball in the Basket.  They lost dimes by the dozen, but they did walk away with paper fans, plastic whistles and flimsy straw hats.

I can recall piling the young fellows into the van for the way back to school when little Bryan, looking down at his plastic ring, USA mini-sticker and bouncy ball blurted out:  “Lookit all we got! Boy, I bet they’re glad to see us go!”  The other boys nodded.  I tried not to laugh.  We all have our own perspective, don’t we?

I don’t want a County Fair perspective of Jesus.  I don’t want to think that He is overwhelmed by my presence.  I want to sit back and let Him teach, counsel, enjoy and love me.

I like this.  It’s growth.  It’s deep.  And it’s fun.


The little boy who was thrown right out of his school.

7 Lookit this place, Pastor Brad! We’re gonna have a great time!” Steven yelled.  We were spending a week at a Christian retreat in Northern California near beautiful Lake Lucerne above the Napa Valley and it was evident that my little pupils were ready for their very first summer camp experience.  The kids were rarin’ to go, and I must admit that I was pretty charged up myself.  I was still in my early twenties and single, so I had been able to use my free time to develop a good strong friendship with many of the students in my fifth and sixth grade classes.  Sammie hooted and Ricky hollered while we unloaded the van.  Even the normally cynical Shelly was smiling ear to ear.

It was a refreshing sight to see, unusual in the sense of your typical campgrounds.  The camp was actually an old 1920s-era hotel complex (please see picture) that was purchased by a Christian organization in the 1970s with the intent of creating a camping ministry.  I went in to the main lobby and was welcomed by the activity director who gave me an outline of the week’s events.  The structure of the camp was unusual as well, different from my other experiences in that they did not mix the various school groups into one big camping experience; each church/school was its own little “team” in the week-long competitions.  If my memory serves me correctly, there were around four or five different middle school groups coming together for a total camper attendance of about one hundred and twenty or so.

As the kids gathered, the director announced: “Each team – and you combine guys and girls – must name themselves.  This title will stay for the week.  Name your team after a cereal.”

The Prunedale group called themselves Frosted Flakes.  The kids from San Jose called themselves Wheaties.  There was a group from Castroville called Cheerios and another – I think they were from Gilroy – called Cocoa Puffs.

All of my students were Central California outdoor barnyard/rodeo-tough youngsters, and from the very outset they were able to excel.  They remembered an off-brand cereal they had seen at the local supermarkets back in Hollister and named themselves after it: Body Buddies.  I kid you not.

I noticed something out-of-kilter at the start of the afternoon’s game.  Our first contest started by creating a huge pentagon-shaped field of play with each team holding hands among their teammates and making an impenetrable wall of defense against a ball being kicked through.  It was a combination kickball/soccer game with the attitude of the “Red Rover, Red Rover” challenge and our kids dug into it with gusto.

The team to our immediate right – the Cocoa Puffs – could not get coordinated.  Worse yet, we heard a lot of shrieking.  Their adult team leader, a vice principal from a Salinas area school, kept losing his composure every time the ball slipped through for another goal.  After the fifth goal, he exploded.  “If you all can’t get coordinated, we’ll just forfeit the whole week.  Do you understand?  We’ll just quit right now!”  He pointed at the smallest kid in line.  “Georgie! Go sit down!” He screamed – and I mean screamed – at a little thin waif of a boy who was having problems standing up.  “Over there!  Sit down!”  Some of the other students chimed in.

“Georgie, just go sit down!”

“You can’t play!”

“Georgie, get out out here!”

As the thin little middle schooler stepped out of line I could see him more clearly.  He had an uncombed batch of hair and an oversize T-shirt with a neckline that was overly stretched.  The shirt was dusty and torn at the shoulder.

The boy was wearing jeans that were at least a size too long for him.  Someone had simply cut the cuffs at the end of the leg and let the jeans go at that – no fold-up cuffs or tailoring at all.  This little boy was walking around with a flap-flap of pants that were draping over his feet.  I could not see his shoes, nor could I figure out how this boy was walking around without tripping over those long trousers.  My heart sank as little Georgie glanced up dejectedly and without a word, shuffled over to the edge of the grass and sat down.

The game finished and our team won it handily.  As the Body Buddies cheered and jumped, I saw Georgie’s teammates look at him, shake their heads and walk away speaking in tones that were although inaudible were obviously abusive.  He started to rise but they, led by their adult leader, waved him off.

They actually walked into the lodge and let him sit by himself.

Georgie sat there silently and stared out across the lawn.  Obviously he was used to this kind of treatment.

But my kids weren’t.

“Look at him,” said Shelly.  “All by himself.  It’s not his fault.”

Sammy nodded his head.  “What was his name… Georgie?  They just left him alone.”

“Yea, Georgie.  He looks poor.  Wait a minute,” said Shane.  He walked over and chatted briefly and came back, red-faced with anger.  “They kicked him off their team.  Kicked him off of their team.  After the first game of the week!”

I was stunned.  Each school had its own members.  You technically couldn’t kick someone off of your team.  But it was true.  The boy was cast off from his very own school.

“Say…” said Steven slowly.  “Why don’t we invite him over to our team?”  Shane nodded.

As one, the kids agreed.  They turned and headed to little Georgie and after a few quiet introductions, gave him as gracious an invitation as I’d ever seen.  “We want you to be part of us,” said Sammy loudly.  “We’ll win it all and you’ll be part of the winning team!”

Georgie looked meekly around.  He hadn’t said anything.

“Will you join us?” asked Ricky.

Georgie nodded quickly and smiled.  The kids shook hands with him.  Shelly gave him some cookies from our van that her mom had made for our trip.  Still not speaking, he wolfed them down like he had never eaten before.  I noticed that my kids exchanged quick glances between one another.

And that was the moment that Georgie became the official mascot of the Body Buddies.

At the pre-dinner volleyball game, his classmates were openly shocked as my students walked him – ripped jeans and all – right onto the court and set him in the middle.  Surprising to me, none of his original schoolmates said anything about taking him back.

The game was a vigorous one, with shouting and cheering all around.  The volleyball bounced and lofted all over the court.  Georgie did very little in the game; in fact, I don’t think he had the strength to even serve the ball over the net.  Didn’t matter to my kids, though.  I saw them lightly pat him on the shoulder and move him to various positions as the teams battled.  He leaped and clapped but I don’t think he touched the ball more than twice in that whole game, but I watched his  quiet little face and I could see him having the time of his life.

Late that night as I walked though the lower bunk rooms I saw that while the rest of his school classmates were snoring on bunks, he was scrunched up on a blanket.

On the floor.

In those same  ripped jeans.

With no pillow or top-cover blanket.

I choked back a tear.  Then I heard a small noise behind me.  Sammy and Steven saw it as well.

While everyone snored, they went over in the dark and tapped Georgie.  They quietly  led him into our section of the bunk area and set him up on a lower bunk bed.  They had pooled their resources and provided him with a pillow, sheets and extra blankets.  And some more snacks.

Throughout that week as I cheered him on and chatted with him along with the others, whether it was in the cafeteria or on the field, I don’t think Georgie said more than a hundred words.  He would nod and look down.

But I could tell he was immensely happy.

And hungry, too.  It was actually hilarious;  I kept seeing Shelly handing him something to eat, be it a candy bar, a cookie, a piece of fruit or a slice of bread.  Georgie would eat it all.   Day or night, this little boy kept eating.  And we kept winning.

The victories were in more than sports contests or quiz challenges, though.  I saw the victorious display of the compassion that came from Jesus Himself, manifesting itself in my middle schoolers.

I am always deeply moved when reading about the compassion of Jesus.  He looked over the broad populace of the city and wept because of His ache due to their lostness.  He reached out and breached every health guideline when He touched the leper as He healed him.  Compassion, as Christ showed us, is more than a sympathetic feeling in the heart;  it’s a deep, devoted action of love.  From the healing of the blind men to the torture of the cross, Jesus’ compassionate care was a lesson for the ages.

My kids were displaying it to this little boy who was hurting.  It was making a difference.  Though little Georgie barely spoke, he was beaming.  Sammy would pat him on the head.   Shane would high-five him.  Ricky would make sure he was front and center of each game.  Shelly would keep feeding him.

I was a front-row witness of a ministry of love.

Yes, as you guessed it, we won the entire week.

It was a grand time.  The kids cheered and yelled as our name was announced from the front of the auditorium.  It was a grand memory.

You know, somewhere in my storage boxes I have a picture of the Body Buddies all lined up, grinning from ear to ear as they hold up the winning trophy.  And if you look right in the middle of that photo you see that Ricky and Sammy have their arms draped around little Georgie who is smiling broadly.

And eating a candy bar.



“Believe it or not, she poured the whole pitcher on his head!”

7In my memory, one of the worst scenes to a social gathering in our home happened when a group of teens gathered for one of my mom’s meals.  Oh, the food was great and the conversations were hilarious.  It wasn’t really during the mealtime itself; it was afterwards when we all gathered in the front room of our home for a few final words from our youth pastor before everyone headed out for the night.

I must tell you that throughout the evening, Kim and John had been bickering at each other.  I don’t know whether it was light flirting or the two really didn’t like each other, but the teasing remained constant during the meal.

As we teens gathered in the front room ahead of the adult sponsors and youth pastor, Kim plopped down in an easy chair and called for her friend Marge to get her a can of Pepsi from the kitchen.  As Marge was toting the Pepsi into the front room, John grabbed it and shook it vigorously.  “Now, go ahead and open it,” he dared her.

She looked at him, popped the lid and lifted it over her head.

Pepsi sprayed everywhere, jets shooting out from under the half-opened tab.

On the teens. On the walls.  On the carpet.

I could hardly contain myself, I was so angry.  Worse yet, neither John nor Kim lifted a hand to help clean up.  Other kindly teens mopped up the mess.

That situation was a shock to us all, obviously.

But I just read about a bigger shock in another setting.

One of the happiest dinners in the man’s whole life was underway.

He was celebrating his new life.  He was no longer estranged from his wife and children.  People were no longer disgusted by him.  Churches no longer banned him.

He was clean.  He was free.  He had his life back, and more.  I cannot begin to understand the expression of profound joy and relief this man named Simon felt.

He was no longer a leper.  The town of Bethany had taken him back in, but his real happiness was in his encounter with the Messiah Himself, who healed him both physically and spiritually.  This man was now welcomed on Earth and would be welcomed in Heaven.

So he did what all of us middle-class Christians would do when we want to celebrate:  he expressed his joy with food.  He asked Jesus over for dinner, and wouldn’t you know it, Jesus came.  I bet there was some seriously good food brought out, spread across the table like a buffet.

Right before the whole event opened up into uproarious celebration, you’re not going to believe what happened.  A very calm woman stepped forward and approached the Guest of Honor without a word being said.   Most folks recognized her as Mary of the family of Martha and Lazarus.

But they didn’t expect what came next.

What was expected was the customary washing of feet before dinner.  After all, since you were reclining -as was the custom in those days – your feet would be in full view, and dirty, dusty feet would have been disgusting.  Washing the feet was a common pre-dinner occurrence, and a bit of perfume applied on the feet – just a touch – was a nice courtesy.

Mary went overboard.

She took an alabaster translucent-white vial of hugely expensive perfume of pure nard. Pure nard’s value, as stated in Mark chapter 14, was over three hundred days’ worth of wages.  Think of it.  The median income in Knoxville, Tennessee is just short of $34,000.

That is thirty-four grand for one long-necked bottle of perfume, brother.  One bottle.

This marble bottle was a household investment, used sparingly – drop-by-drop, really –  to be used to cover bodily odors in society where washing was at a premium. This is pure undiluted nard from a plant from India, expensive as all get out.

To the amazement of everyone in the room, Mary didn’t simply unstop the plug as she approached Jesus.  She broke the neck of this vial and so help me, she poured the entire bottle over His head.

What a gorgeous scent!  The house filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

The place also filled with agitation.

“Why has this perfume been wasted?” The main whiner was Judas, with others joining in.  They look at the currency, not the beautiful sentiment of the moment.  Jesus, however, loved this.

So let me get to my point:

Mary is a picture of the Believers who hold nothing back when it comes to loving Jesus.

That, I think, is a great door of understanding for me.  In seeing His beauty, she gave something as precious as she could find in her life, and gave it all.

Perhaps my spiritual unrest has been that I have been content with showing Jesus a drop-by-drop love. 

I haven’t been able to break the neck of my self-will and let my entire life flow out in love to Him.  I’ve held back.  Why?

It hit me this morning as I was driving to the school:

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lost the beauty of who He is, what He’s done and where He will take me.   Oh, I know the narrative all right, but I’ve let the fascination of Heaven slip away.  The confidence of salvation is secure in me, but the allure of the Savior has diminished.   The gorgeous realization of my future with Him and His family is something that I’ve always enjoyed contemplating, but lately that contemplation has taken a back seat to a schedule that keeps me in pace with the world but affords me little time to be in the Secret Place with the Almighty.

I want that back.

I don’t want a drippy relationship.  I want a fully committed bond with Christ.

I want to break the neck of my self-will and enjoy Jesus once again.

The time I was in an actual food fight in our cafeteria

7A cafeteria food fight is like a Force 5 hurricane; you have hints and even warnings that it is going to occur, but you really don’t understand how bad it can get until it actually happens.

This is true in my high school experience.  Something was afoot at lunchtime.

At Delmar High School of Delmar, Delaware, our public school had been sensing the impending high pressure of an explosive event.  It had been a long, ice-blasted winter with cabin fever setting in among the public school populace.  The teachers were getting edgy and snappish, the students aloof and ornery.  The gap was widening between the faculty and pupils and attitudes were souring despite efforts of distraction.  A cheerleaders’ candy fundraiser was met with a yawn.  A band concert drew no excitement.  Even the fact that classmate Shawn had discovered a new item called Krazy Glue and was at lunch attaching every possible bowl and tray to the table was of only minor interest to the surrounding patrons.  It was Spaghetti Day but nobody had the usual excitement – a telling sign of potential unrest.  I was in my sophomore year and my brother Brent was a soon-to-be graduated senior, ready to head out into a career that would take him far away from our little village.

Brent was zoned on finishing up his studies and was as serious-minded as anyone I had ever seen.  He and his senior buddies had settled in about midway into the cafeteria and were now centering their discussion on college, military, and other career options.  This was a No Fly Zone for the rest of us; our student population all got along, but the seniors were respected by the rest of us and given special unwritten privileges, one of which was to let them have their own space at lunch.

But all it took was one kid to breach that zone.

From a respectable distance I could see Brent talking with Artie and Kevin, and the conversation seemed to be unusually serious.  From our section of the cafeteria – a mix of sophomores, freshmen and a few juniors who were somewhat socially inept – a thick-skulled kid I will call Randy raised himself in a half-crouch and threw an unpeeled orange in the direction of the seniors.  The orange sailed over my head and I watched as it bounced along the Seniors’ table and rolled into my brother’s lap.  The orange grenade had not detonated but Brent knew the implications of what could have been.

And he got angry.  No, mad.

Brent stood up and zoned in on the region of the assault and whipped the orange right back at the group.  It had its effect; Randy got splattered … and so did Barry and Les.  They cried out and immediately assessed their resources –  some Italian bread and a few meatballs – and let loose a small but significant volley.  Their aim was as blunt as their intellect and the food landed twelve degrees off mark, right onto Hope, Joanna, and Cyndy (spelled with a “y”).  The ensuing banshee screams and fluttering hands drew the excitement of the rest of the winter-weary student body, and all eyes went over to the Teachers’ Table.

It was empty.

The guard had left.  The inmates were in control.

The sky went dark with food.

My best friend Mark and I hunched over as we saw bread rolls and meatballs whistle overhead.  We were in a Swiss mindset, considering ourselves neutral but unsure when we would get pulled into the conflict. We laid low and watched the volleys.  You had to admit, some of the ammunition was creative.  After the bread chunks came an apple core, an unpeeled banana, and a half-sandwich of tuna content as best as we could observe.  Most likely an entry from the brown bag allies.

It was fun until we started hearing the screams of the casualties.  A freshman girl got her white sweater splattered.  A passerby was felled with a piece of tomato.  For some reason Danny took out his frustration on the midget-sized bully Rex by smashing a thickly-buttered Kaiser roll right into his face and twisting it like a corkscrew.  The table hooted in glee.

Then the paper airplanes took to the skies.  Whoops of delight followed.

A current classroom fad in our school was to invent the smoothest sailing airplane possible and launch it anonymously whenever a teacher was facing the blackboard.  Points if you launched it; double points if it made its landing without being detected.

Here in the cafeteria you could get all the double points you wanted, since no teachers were around.  Paper filled the air, dodging airborne fruit pieces and squished bread missiles as they glided in attack mode.  Screams alternated with cheers.  A roar of approval and awe was raised when David Melville let loose a two-foot aircraft made from construction paper he smuggled from Art Class.  However, Shonna turned to gaze at the attack and the plane hit her directly in the eye.   She went down like a shot.

More food.  More planes.  This indeed was a masterful battle.

Then the cafeteria metal door smashed open. 

Mr. Pyagai, the Korean shop teacher, stepped in. 

Mr. Pyagai was the biggest man on campus, bigger than any of the sports coaches or student athletes.  He had steel girders for biceps and a mysterious background we could never uncover.  It was said that in wartime he was commanding a tank on the battlefield and an armor-piercing bullet took out his kneecap, causing his now-famous limp.  It only made him more terrifying.  Pyagai had entered this battlefield.

All air strikes stopped immediately.

He advanced and viewed the scene with a steely look that caused open whimpering.  Mr. Pyagai’s glare could shatter windows, crumple locker doors, and knock a freshman right back into middle school.

The place fell to a deadly silence.  Only David Kapanka made any noise, leaning against a table and  – I am not making this up – gagging on a mouthful of Strawberry Jello that Dyson Miller had artfully spoon-catapulted from his Snack Pack cup directly into Kapanka’s mouth.  His Jello-heaving kept him from looking up and facing the Pyagai Stare of Death.

Even Shawn stopped Krazy Gluing.

The place was a mess.  Oranges, rolls, spaghetti smears and crumpled airplanes were everywhere.

Pyagai growled.  The entire cafeteria populace leaped into action, cleaning everything in sight.

The resulting tribunal was broad-sweeping, with those who were caught red-handed indicted on the spot.  Community clean-up was swift and brutal.  Lysol was used by the gallon and rags were rubbed down to their primal fibers, such was the fear. Shawn was given a crowbar and instructed to un-Krazy Glue.  He complied with a panicked obedience that had rarely been seen in his life.

Brent, however, was never arrested.  I do believe that he volunteered for clean up but his spotless school behavioral record was never besmirched.

There was never a food fight in the history of Delmar High school to this day, I am told these forty years later.  Such was the Fear of Pyagai.  However, our teacher/student relations remained fairly chilled up to my graduation, which was a shame.

As a teacher for these past few decades and on the other end of the spectrum, I can appreciate the orderliness of the present cafeteria at my school.  Moreover, I am amazed at how well we teachers get along with the students and josh along with them – although food fights and paper airplanes have never even part of the activities here.

I think that one of the important parts of our Christian academy year as we slog through the winter months is that the teachers have such a connection with the students and the interaction between faculty and learners is in a true and honest Biblical friendship.  The line of over-familiarity is rarely if ever crossed; the students understand that we indeed are the authority.  However, we like to have fun.  Our principal played the guitar and sang Yuletide songs at our Christmas assembly. We teachers have been in talent shows and outdoor games alongside the teens.  We have entered pie-eating contests, played Tug-of-War and battled in Dodgeball against the students during assemblies.  We have created campus-wide games and contests.  I even took on some of the football players in a push-up contest last November, and I’m fifty-eight years old, man.

Most of all, though, I enjoy the fact that our entire GCA staff has an open-door policy that keeps a true bridge of friendship open for the pupils of any classification.   Teachers from all studies continually mentor, tutor and counsel students in studies, careers, family problems and spiritual needs.

This year’s verse?  Well, let me see.  I think the power of  Psalm 133:1 would best sum up the student/teacher fellowship:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  

We get along quite well.

And I have never been hit by a piece of Italian bread.



The absolutely true story of when a girl broke her nose in my classroom

7Our school art teacher Shannon sat down next to me at lunch yesterday and threw me a question I hadn’t thought about.  “When do you think you’ll retire?” she asked.

I turned it over in my mind while we discussed it, but frankly, I don’t think I ever took retirement seriously.  As I was walking back to class later, I considered the day I would finally walk over the door’s threshold and leave for good.

I have some wonderful memories to take with me.  Two  popped up almost immediately from incidents of years ago in my own little classroom…

My first memory was a rather quiet surprise.  In fact, nobody else in the room saw it except for me.  And I got to see it by personal invitation.

It was a study hall and the eighth-grade students were face-down in their books, preparing for an upcoming week of exams.  The springtime classroom was totally silent except for the flicking of textbook pages and an occasional buzzing of a fly near a window.   I was duly impressed by the seriousness of the students of the room;  I had always known this particular class to be easily distracted and even scatter-brained through the weeks of school.  Yet here it was in front of me:  Freckle-faced Steven was taking copious notes as he read, dainty Marta was moving her lips as she filed through her three-by-five History cards , and even mop-haired Jared was head-in-hands, deep in thought.

Every head was bowed in intense concentration as I worked my way to the back of the room to get to a file cabinet.  In the quiet I heard a soft whisper, calling me.  I turned and looked. Grinning Jared swept his hair from his eyes and motioned quietly for me to come over to his desk.  I assumed he wanted to show me some of his study work.  Wow.  This kid’s turned the corner.  He’s finally serious about his studies.

Jared leaned back and looked up to me with a toothy smile, pointing at something he was clutching between his finger and thumb.  It took me a minute to focus in on it.  I blinked twice because I wasn’t sure I was seeing what I thought I saw.   But it was what I thought it was.

Somehow Jared had caught that fly and held it while he plucked a long strand of hair from his mop-haired scalp.  Believe it or not, he held the fly down by using a small piece of Scotch tape and then actually tied the strand of hair around the back leg of the fly and was letting it fly around in miniature circles like a little tethered drone as he held the other end of the hair.

I shook my head in disapproval and motioned for him to get back to his books, but to be honest I had to move away and get behind the file cabinet to keep him from seeing me laugh.  It was rather ingenious of Jared, I had to admit, even if out of the bounds of studying for a History exam.

The second memory was a bit more, well, extreme.

I believe I have mentioned this incident in my blog a few years ago, but it is worth repeating.

I was wrapping up a study on the mechanics of the brain in my Psychology class on a Friday afternoon, and I was glad the students were as attentive as they were; after all, Homecoming was that evening.  I was surprised that the students weren’t bouncing around with undue excitement about the events of the evening ahead.  I would like to believe it was my dynamic style of teaching, but if I am really honest with you, I think it was because the subject material – brain functions – was pretty fascinating.  We had just finished up a discussion about the amygdala and the way people can “sense” danger at times, and the discussion was robust.  My final part of the subject was a doozy:  I was going to discuss the frontal lobe, and the controversial surgical experiment called a lobotomy in particular.

For the more squeamish of my readers, I am just going to tell you that in the early days of lobotomy surgery, the two main parts of surgery involved the eye socket and an ice pick.

And that is all I am going to say. If you want to read more about it, you are on your own – just don’t be eating lunch while you’re reading.

This particular Psychology class was packed, with every desk being taken.  Some of my students took seats in an extra row along the back wall, with a small walkway separating that row from the next block of school desks in front of them.  You could move across the room in front of that back-of-the-wall row toward my teacher’s desk, and many students loved the small secure block of desks, so they would come in early to claim a spot on the very back wall row. On this day Jess, Allie and Ben had claimed the seats (I had no strict seating policy in that class.)

We were into the queasy part of the lesson, and I was being as delicate as possible in my talk with the juniors and seniors.  I showed no PowerPoint pictures other than the surgical “tool” used in those early days.  The subject was enthralling, to be sure.  It amazed me that so many people would undergo this type of treatment for the smallest of reasons, but it was a faddish type of medical treatment at one season in the past generation.  I was walking across the classroom in full lecture mode.

In the mid-1940s, surgeon Walter Freeman used a picklike tool in the procedure, which at that time was called transorbital lobotomy…”

I saw something flicker out of the corner of my eye, but then disappear.  I continued.

“It was said to calm some extremely emotional people and had been proven successful in monkeys…” Someone was raising their hand, but I had told the students to hold their questions until discussion time, so I ignored it.

“The procedure takes place when the instrument is forced through the back of the eye sockets and pierces the …”


It was Jess.  She had felt faint, and was starting to fear that she would pass out, so she was trying to get my attention.  However, instead of laying her head down and waving to me, she stood up in a panicked state and leaned forward at a near-45 degree angle.

And then she completely blacked out.

She pitched forward across that empty row, with her face slamming into the back of the desk in the front aisle.  She caught the full force with her nose.

Blood was splattered across the floor.

As I rushed over to her and got some football players to assist me, she woke and dazedly told me that she could make it to the office.  “Jess, why didn’t you lay down instead of getting up?”  I asked her quietly as help arrived.

“Well,” she said numbly, “when you started talking about that pick, I got real woozy and I was afraid to faint in class so I wanted to get your attention as soon as possible.”

Oh, she got it, all right.

I called for help to get her to the medical team on campus, but despite our efforts to help keep her stable, the between-class crowd saw a trail of drippy blood all the way down the hall.  It was the talk of the classes for the rest of the day.

I kept calling Jess’ family to see how she was  and they assured me things would be all right.  To my surprise, as I was taking tickets at the Homecoming Game that night, Jess appeared.   She looked fine – makeup did a wonder on that nose – but she admitted that later on her nose was swollen over the weekend.

She was fine, and the legend of Jess and the Broken Nose was born.

And it lives on today, because Jess is my fellow teacher down the hall.  We don’t talk about lobotomies, though.

My greatest memory each year is when I get the opportunity to work with students in their hunger for Jesus.  I can recall more than once when a student came into my room and had such a zeal for Christ – for salvation or for a growing closeness to Him – that they fairly yelled in their enthusiasm for Him.  Those days are ones I will always remember.  From Sarah to Cody to Kris to Tim … well, the list is long, and I just keep those great recollections close to me.  Their enthusiasm was, and is, incredible.  It reminds me of the blind men in Matthew chapter 9 who followed Christ and called, yelled, shrieked out to Him for help.  That is literally the definition in the Koine Greek.  Yes, they wanted Him so bad that they shrieked.

The same type of screech that the demons used in fear when they called “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of God?” in Matthew 8. The same high-pitched shriek that the disciples gave in fear in Matthew 14 when they saw Jesus walking on the sea.  It’s the same word used to describe when they screamed in Jesus’ face as the storm was about to sink their boat.

It’s a cry of the desperate and the hurting, and that’s what makes it so deep.  These come from students – so many of them over the years – who come and cry for peace with God through Christ Jesus.  The sincere call for Jesus without any reservation, pride, or hypocrisy is a call I was always cherish hearing from the students.

Yes, many memories.  Some funny.  Some scary.  Some beautiful.

No, I don’t think I will retire anytime soon.

How I learned compassion from a sidewalk splattered with lasagna

7It was a beautiful March afternoon but I hardly noticed it as I pulled my car to the curb in front of Fred and Anna’s home.  I had organized a “Love My Parents” Banquet for my students’ families in which the teens would entertain and pamper their folks all evening  while their folks enjoyed a meal.  From playing the role of waiters and waitresses to reading poems and love letters to their parents, the teens were ready, and it looked to be a very special evening.  Our roster was full; virtually every parent had signed up to come.

In order to keep costs down, I had put out a call for adults and friends to volunteer to make lasagna and salad, and now on the day of the banquet, I was racing around town picking up the donations in order to get them back to the banquet hall so my wife and other ladies could get the lasagna into a warming oven as soon as possible.

Fred and Anna had no children of their own but they volunteered eagerly to be part of the preparation.

I was on a time crunch.  My wife had called ahead to Anna, informing her that I was going to be screeching up to the front of her house and would be trotting up the sidewalk in order to get the two monstrous pans of homemade lasagna that Anna had spent hours in preparing.

Anna came out to the front sidewalk as I hopped out of the car and strode toward her.  She was holding both trays of lasagna, one tray in each hand, just out of the oven.  They were so warm, in fact, that she had a square of cardboard underneath each tray and was balancing them as good as any waiter I had ever seen.

She made a gesture, nodding towards the tray in her right hand.  “This lasagna is still hot, Brad, so…”

She never finished the sentence. Her small head-nod threw off her balance in the slightest way, but enough to cause a shift of the tray on the frictionless cardboard.  The tray started to slip.

I made a dash but I was too far down the sidewalk.  Try as she might, Anna could not  steady her right hand and the whole tray of lasagna flipped upside down and hit the sidewalk with a resounding SPLAT.

Which caused her to lean forward in dismay.

Which caused her left hand to shift.

The tray started to slide across the cardboard.  She swung her head and threw her right hand to catch, but it was to no avail.

As I was running toward the tray I saw it do a slow motion 360 degree twirl in the air and smack the sidewalk.  SPLAT.

Two gorgeous huge trays of lasagna which would have fed at least thirty people.  Gone.

I lamely tried to gather up the trays.  A neighborhood dog dashed over and started licking the sidewalk.

Anna burst into tears.

I fumbled with words.  “A-Anna, I am so sorry.  Perhaps I c-could…?”  I didn’t know what to say.

She wiped her eyes.  “It’s okay, Brad.  I am the one who is sorry.  I never should have balanced… but go. Go.  You only have an hour left.  Go.”  She shooed me back to the car while wiping away tears.  I left the scene, heartbroken.

But when I arrived at the banquet hall I received a shock.

An Italian restaurant vehicle had pulled up to the back and unloaded a delivery.  My wife Jill was shaking her head in disbelief.  “I got the call from Anna,” she said, “and do you know what she did?  She and her husband ordered thirty plates of lasagna for the parents.  They just arrived.”

I cannot begin to tell you the expense.  The order was from one of the fanciest restaurants in the area.   Later, Fred and Anna vigorously shook off any offer of reimbursement.  “We love the kids so much,” they said.  “This is just a way of saying how much we care.”  I was overwhelmed by their compassion and kindness.  It was a valuable lesson to me, brother.  I had been working with teens for quite some time and had enjoyed the ministry greatly, but had fallen into the routine that is a constant danger to us teachers: projects over pupils.  In my haste to provide the programs to help my teens grow, I had lost my focus on loving the students.  Fred and Anna brought me back to a tender reality.

Love. Compassion.  In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus moved toward the leper and in healing him, touched the filthy contagious leper. He had previously healed without touching. What caused that action? Jesus (verse 41) was moved with compassion, deeply experiencing the leper’s suffering. We are reminded of our God being a God of compassion. In Mark chapter 6, verse 33 we see Jesus again exhibiting this deep love: “The people saw him going and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd and He felt compassion.”

This is the heart and motivation of God: compassion.

At our graduation ceremony, I saw fellow teacher Deidre quietly crying at the rear part of the lobby.  She had no son or daughter graduating that year.  I asked her if she was okay.  She nodded.  “I’ll miss my students,” she said simply.  “I just love them.”  Deidre wasn’t making a display, nor was she vying for attention.  In fact, if she reads this blog and finds out I wrote this, she’ll probably kill me.  Yet, that’s an example of the teachers I see in our academy here.  Educators have that deep-down compassion for their students.

Over the Christmas break I received an email from the parent of a student in one of my classes who was bearing a loneliness that was breaking the heart of her parents.  “Sandy” was in her first year at our school and had not felt the joy of good friendship.  Quickly I sent out a group text to our student members of the school’s National Bible Honor Society chapter.

The lovingkindness spilled over the text messages:

I am calling Sandy right now.  We’re all going to go ice skating.

I will be calling and making sure that she joins us at lunchtime from now on.

Be sure to introduce me to her.  This weekend let’s try to get her to our bonfire.


It’s a Hebrew word: “chesed” What a powerful way to translate it – two words welded into one.


I want to be sure that as a teacher I am a welder.  I want to weld these two words together so that they are inseparable, and carry the word into each and every class period I have.  Sure, the projects are important –  but the pupils are special.

May I, as a teacher, imitate the lovingkindness that is shown me from Above.

Psalm 36:7 – “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.”



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