How To Handle Hard Questions

I love the webcomic XKCD for so many reasons, not the least of which is the unpronounceable title that stands for nothing at all. Today’s comic is all about handling insightful questions from students, and it struck home. I love it.

Our Best Habit

I got an email from a friend today, and it started me thinking about the things we do that build relationships, particularly marriage relationships. We’re in that stage where kids and careers are stealing away time from just the two of us, and we have to be more “on purpose” with almost everything in our lives.

So, here’s the big questions: what’s one thing you do, one habit or ritual, that builds up your relationship with your significant other.

Gretchen and I have struggled for years to figure out how to get regular time together. Date nights are great, but they end up being more expensive than we can really afford right now. Instead, we do a once-a-week “Late Dinner”. We feed the kids crap food at 5, let them have a movie night until 8, then one of use gets them to bed and the other starts cooking. We cook good food, we relax with no time pressure, and we talk in the kitchen while we do it. We sit down at maybe 8:30 or later, and we have a slow dinner. No kids, no distractions, just time to sit and talk.

It’s a new ritual, but so far, I think it’s our best habit. And it’s on my mind because I’m missing it tonight for a crap gig. Sorry, love.

What’s your best habit?

deliberate practice vs. innate talent

Tonight I played jazz with a great upright bass player.  So rhythmically musical.  He soloed great – not “I’ve learned my scales, and let me prove that to you,” but thoughtful stuff.  He has a young face.  As to not misjudge his age and embarrass myself, I asked, “What school do you go to?”  (leaving the answer open for high school or college).  Turns out he’s been a high schooler for a month.  He just turned 14.  My mind is still blown.  As the pendulum swings, I tend to believe that “talent” is more a matter of discipline.  But this kid reminds me that, sometimes, people are born to do things.

What 5 Cents a Can is Worth

I have been recycling with my kids for four years.  Taking my kids to the recycling center has provided us with some great experiences. Here are some of them in the order they are occurring to me:

1. Money does not come from Mommy and Daddy’s pocket. Whenever we are shopping and the kids see something they would like to purchase, they used to ask me to buy it for them. I would say, let’s save up your recycling money. When we are shopping with the kids now, the first thing they say is, “I can use my recycling money.” Or, they use discernment. “It’s not worth using my recycling money.”

I even have intentionally made sure that it is one of the kids that hand the receipt to the person that hands the money over. The money goes straight to them.

2. Delayed Gratification. Shortly after we began recycling, Camille wanted a box of 4 pairs of princess shoes that cost $20. I made a chart with 20 boxes that we could check off as I helped her to save up for the shoes. She had $7 to start. I expected that we would make several trips to the recycling center over the course of 2 or 3 months and then we would go buy the shoes. Some generous friends and neighbors contributed their used bottles and cans and the next week Camille had over $20. It did not go exactly as I planned, but Camille used her own money to buy the shoes and she had to wait a little while before she could get them. Both kids have had to wait for the things they want as we collect our recycling.

3. Boundaries. The kids have to help sort the recycling. Most recently, James did not help. Instead of pulling the empty garbage cans close to the car (his job) he stayed in the car. After reminding him several times that he had a job to do, Camille and I finished the job without him. Once Camille had the receipt that we take to the cashier, James began fake crying, “Now I won’t get any money.” There were two levels of emotion going on with James at that moment. He was thinking, “If I cry, maybe dad will let me have my share of the money anyway.” On a deeper level, James was thinking “What is the boundary here? What can I get away with? How big of a push over is my dad?” In the short term, he was hoping to get the money. In the long term, he feels more secure knowing that there are consequences for him not doing his job. He cried for real when he did not get the money, nor the piece of candy the cashier hands out to kids.

4. Saving. When Camille was first starting making her own money I told her along the lines of, “If you go to the bank and give them $1 and then you go again and give them $1, the bank will know that you have $2.” I was not worried about teaching her about interest. I wanted her to be aware of how to save. She was sold. She socks away money like crazy. It is interesting to see my kids personalities. I will be curious to see how James takes to the idea of saving money.

5. My Favorite Shirt. Sharolyn was shopping with Camille. Camille wanted to buy me a shirt for my birthday. With Sharolyn’s help, they bought a $5 t-shirt for me from Old Navy. Camille used her recycling money. To sum up this one: I provided the bins to store the cans and bottles in. I drove Camille to the recycling center. I provided every aspect of the opportunity for her to make her own money. The money, however, was entirely hers. She chose to spend some of her money on a gift for me. Instant favorite shirt for me.

For me this one also connected on how money works with me and God. He created me, gave me the abilities I have. I make money with them. The money is entirely mine and yet all of it is only mine because of God’s provision. So whose money is it really?

These are some reflections that I have been storing up for the past few years while I have been taking my kids recycling. I would love to hear any of your ideas or thoughts.

What’s That Stank? Oh, It’s Just This Christmas that I’m Laying Down

To me, my men and women of valor! To me, in my hour of need! To me, and aid me, so that I don’t have to do my own work!

I’m writing a big epic opener for the 2010 APU Christmas Concert, with soloists, handbells, orchestra, choirs, the whole shebang. The piece opens with “Do You Hear What I Hear” sung by antiphonal choirs, and then into the final verse of that song:

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The piece is not quite epic enough to sustain the energy through the end of the piece, so I’m looking to transition from the song “Do You See” to something else. This is the part where you help me out. Any suggestions?


For those of you who missed the 2010 New Music Concert at APU (and heavens, what else could you possibly have been doing that’s more important than driving 7 hours to hear a 6 minute piece I wrote?), here is the recording of the piece I wrote. You’ll have to excuse the quality of the recording, especially when the speech comes in.

by Michael A. Lee

And for those who want to totally geek out, here’s the score.
Boudicca – Score (this doesn’t include pencil edits made in the final rehearsal)

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.

The Feast Between

I’m prepping for Sunday’s sermon, the last in a series on the Prodigal Son. I’m talking about the feast, at the center of the story, the feast the serves as the hinge between the younger son’s return and the older son’s reticence. I’ve been thinking about the connection between communion and the feast.

Communion is an interim practice, bridging between the cross and the coming kingdom. It is a reminder of what happens at either end of the interim. It reminds us that Christ laid out the cash ahead of time for the feast that’s coming. He put down the deposit on a fatted calf and a keg. Communion reminds us of the price of admission. It’s also a foretaste of the feast that’s coming. Like at a BBQ, when you cut off just a little corner of the tri-tip and bring it over for someone to taste. It’s a small portion now to remind you of the bounty that’s coming.

Whenever Jesus uses the image of the feast, there are always two groups of people in the story: those who believe themselves deserving of a feast, and those who are shocked to be invited. In Matthew 8:11, “many come from the east and west, and take their place at the feast with Abraham” but the subjects of the kingdom are thrown out. In Luke 14 the invited guests beg off and refuse to come, so the doors are thrown open to the forgotten, who flood the king’s banquet hall. In the prodigal son story, the self-righteous brother believes he deserves a feast, and refuses to celebrate with his brother. The younger brother knows he deserves nothing, and so is welcomed back with joy and celebration.

The feast is for sinners.