Saturday, September 25, 2010

Raindrops Were Fallin’ On My Head

The other morning, during the first few days of our first week of classes, all of a sudden I noticed the strangest thing for September in Jordan: there were raindrops fallin’ on my head! You have to understand—this is my fourth September in Jordan, and I had never seen a raindrop in September! Everyone I saw that morning remarked about the rain, and the common response was incredulity and joy!

Now you may be far too young to remember that 1970 monster pop song hit “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, but boy, oh, boy, that B.J. Thomas crooner is lodged somewhere in the back of my head, very near the episodes of "Bewitched," and I remember plunking it out on the piano not too long after my recital debut of “The Big Cowboy and the Little Cowboy.” I remember these lyrics also seemed to be a mixture of excitement and thrills, not unlike our incredulity and joy we experienced the other day during this hot September.

But it might be that incredulity and joy were just simply the watchwords for the first week back to school at KA in 2010—for many of us, the beginning of the school year is like New Years’ Eve mixed in with a little Thanksgiving with the whole family. It was a long week, and it was more than just a week. It was 11 days straight of hard work of full faculty orientation and meetings and student orientation and classes at full tilt. So it was a little like the Bataan Death March, but with the enthusiasm of New Years’ Eve and the gratitude of Thanksgiving (and the whole family).

But back to the incredulity and joy. It was everywhere! First of all, I live in the dormitory we call Nihal House. The dormitories/houses on campus at KA are all named after constellations enjoyed by Arab astronomers a thousand years ago. The dorm/house where I live now for the fourth year has had the reputation of the “bad boy dorm.” Yes, that would certainly be where all of you would hope/expect me to reside! But for example, last year, some adult thought it would be wise/interesting to put many, many bad boys on one hallway. The desired result? They would help reform each other…

Stop chuckling. It wasn’t funny—it was insane!

But this year we have extraordinary proctors (role model leaders to help manage the chaos) and it was an unbelievable week in Nihal House. It was quiet. Civility reigned. The adults were incredulous at the new spirit in the residence. We don’t have boring boys in our residence—we simply have young men with a sense of honor and duty and respect. Seriously. Right now it is lights out on Saturday night, and you can hear a pin drop (or keyboard keys clack). I’m not finished! More incredulity! Arthur, our excellent House Head, decided we should have a “Greeting” in the morning at 7:30 a.m. with all the young men in the residence court yard to greet the day (and of course, to make sure all the sleepy heads are up and dressed). There was a little resistance, natch, but they are there—all the young men have gotten there—and then have time, for a change, for breakfast. Arthur led the greeting the first few days, and on the day when it looked overcast (overcast? In September? In Jordan???) Arthur asked if anyone knew the weather report in Jordan. Some bright young scholar offered, “hot,” and Arthur replied,
”Well I saw that it’s a great day to be a student at KA!” This corniest line in the world was met with laughter and real joy. The next day, Hani, a veteran of that infamous hallway from last year, won an inter-dorm award for his helpful behavior the previous night. My, my. Incredulity for sure. Joy for real.

In my classes there was also incredulity and joy. I have a class—oh, boy, this is the Lotto Winner for teachers—a class of 15 students that all of them I have taught before. I made that as a pre-requisite to be in the class, so we could pick up where we left off last spring. Many of us have been together since the school opened. I taught them during the era I defined as “Scratch” oh so long ago in 2007, and then AP World History, and then AP Art History. This is like that “Unlimited Chocolate Mousse Bar” Chuck and I discovered in London back in 1993…wow…

So last Saturday, on the first day of classes, I gave them the preface to the autobiography by Stefan Zweig to read and respond to for the following day. This is not simple reading. Stefan Zweig was a bon vivant of the 1920s cafĂ© society in Vienna, and his writing is florid and dense. The following day in class you would have mistaken them for a college level seminar…seriously, they were tearing apart his great word choices, and understanding it like the effective scholars they have become. It is hard to reach a state of joy more palpable than teaching this group.

And the new art historians are settling in to their awe-inspiring task of exploring and embracing 5,000 years of art history. We practiced playing with art works and themes for three days, making sure that wonder and curiosity drive this train through the millennia, and then we buckled our seat belts to go back to the pre-historic era and move forward to the dawn of the 21st century. The crown prince is in one of the sections of art history, and he has been wonderfully engaged in class, offering comments and maintaining steady eye contact. After one class he noted a small detail to me in a painting and asked about it, and we talked about how that little detail offers another whole new way of enjoying the art work. But I will not be covering Hussein’s progress in class. His family has always wanted him to be seen as any other student and so it seems disrespectful to their wishes that I use him for some kind of cool factor or something at which we might gawk. It will be exciting to track each of these four dozen art historians’ progress.

One of the things I needed to hammer home early in the week is that there is a change in the order of AP exams in May. The College Board has flipped the order and Art History is 13 days earlier than last year! And, due to our scheduling around Ramadan this fall, the school year began later. So I announced to the class that I needed to have them meet 10 Saturdays in the year so we have enough class time. I explained that we would have our monthly tests on these Saturdays and I gave them the dates for the year. No one balked! Now that is some incredulity on my part as I witnessed their acceptance and understanding.

Actually, the word incredulity might be the wrong choice here to represent this last week at KA. Technically, incredulity means disbelief and/or skepticism. Hmm…yes, there was incredulity on my part about the raindrops last week fallin’ on my head. And there was joy at that handful of raindrops. But as I look back on last week, incredulity is an unfair word choice for these new seniors, and frankly the bulk of our student body. While the new mood in the dorms may surprise us, it is not skepticism, or a lack of belief in these students. They have risen to the challenge of our institution, they have become what we have expected them to be. They have begun the year with style and with a flair that I can only say has yielded a great joy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Invasive Species

Tonight, at the end of this busy night during student orientation, I am thinking about a woman named Nanette who attended the church where I went in New York City. Nanette was one of those wizened women who told stories and imparted the wisdom of life, in an almost off-handed manner. I got to know Nanette at Advent Lutheran on the Upper West Side through a small group discussion. I remember vividly Nanette describing how she loved to bake bread. It was more of an obsession handed down from her father, as she relayed the story.

She spoke of growing up in New Hampshire, and delighted filling in the story with marvelous details about her World War II era neighborhood of saltbox cape cod houses with white clapboard siding. She spoke about the kitchen and that warm, ferment-y aroma emanating from the oven, that smell that makes your mouth water and your heart soften.

As is often the case with these older-women-in-a-church, she shared her story deliberately and at a leisurely pace. She explained that her dad was the chief bread-baker in their family, and he approached the task with scientific precision. Nanette said her father had a basic recipe that worked pretty well, but he was always experimenting, tweaking this and that to see how it would change. He carefully measured the flour and the yeast, the salt and the water and the honey, and he kept meticulous notes on what he had done. As the silver-tongued Nanette relayed, he loved the experimenting: one time, a half-cup more whole-wheat flour; next time, a half-teaspoon less yeast. Another time, two tablespoons of oil. Extra kneading. Let it rise in the oven. Let it rise by the wood stove. Bake it hotter and shorter. Bake it cooler and longer.

Nanette’s father kept track of what he put into the dough, and he kept track of how he handled it, and he kept track of how it turned out. This time, too dry. Next time, too sticky. Another time, it didn’t rise nearly enough, and it came out of the oven like a dense, solid brick. He kept track of all these things—he even kept track of the weather conditions, she said, the humidity and the temperature and the precipitation. And yet, no matter how meticulous his notes were, no matter how many factors he tried to track, the bread was never quite predictable. All those experiments let him come closer to the results he wanted, but he never pinned it down entirely. There always remained some element of wildness, of unpredictability.

Let’s think about the mystery and magic of yeast: just a couple of teaspoons is enough to leaven several cups of flour! There are things you can do to help it along—you can feed it and keep it warm and give it time to grow—but you can’t control it entirely. As Nanette told her story of her bread-baking father, she helped us understand the point she wanted to make. Again, there are things you can do to help the yeast along—you can feed it and keep it warm and give it time to grow—but you can’t control it entirely. Hmmmm…Nanette reminded us, you might set it to rise and go off to do an errand, thinking you have plenty of time, only to return and find your counter overrun by sticky dough. Or maybe you’ve scheduled a dinner party, and you have everything carefully planned. The bread will come out at 6:45; the guests will arrive at 7:00; you will sit down to piping hot bowls of soup and fresh, warm, crusty slices of bread ... And then you might find that the yeast is taking its sweet time and the bread won’t be ready for another hour, and you and your guests are just going to have to wait. The yeast does not grow on your time frame, her dad cautioned her. It is not concerned about being convenient. It has a pace of its own, as living things do, and although you can help it or hinder it, there always remains some element of mystery, of wildness, of unpredictability.

Just like my good friend Doris Jackson is able to do, and like my grandmothers, Nanette brought her story of daily life back to something relating to church interest. Nanette taught me something I did not know: in Bible times, good as it might smell in the baking of bread, yeast was a symbol of impurity, of uncleanness. At Passover, when they commemorated the Israelites’ hasty flight out of Egypt, all traces of leaven had to be removed from the house—the dishes scoured, the cupboards swept, and any leavened bread consumed or disposed of. Just the littlest bit of yeast was enough to contaminate a whole barrel of flour, because it was alive and unpredictable, and it might start growing and spreading like an invasive species. No matter how carefully you measure or how meticulously you experiment with the yeast, you can’t quite control it!

You may begin to see why Nanette and her wonderful story of yeast, of unpredictability come to mind tonight. Tomorrow we end student orientation and we begin teaching classes here at KA! Teaching adolescents is remarkably similar to baking bread. You can experiment, you can tweak, you can take meticulous notes, and yet these magnificent adolescents evolve at their own pace. There is certainly more than a bit of mystery and wildness and unpredictability to this very measured maturation. And like the baking of bread, teaching is a thrilling and nourishing way to spend a life.

Because the aisle full of Pepperidge Farm and Wonderbread makes it easy to forget the mysterious unpredictability of yeast, I don’t marvel enough at this process that requires patience, craft, skill, experience, and will. Tomorrow as I begin my 22nd year of teaching high school I am thrilled to see our own “invasive species” back on campus, the young historians I will encounter in Room 125 in the King Hussein Humanities Wing in the Academy Building at KA.

Who knows what this year will bring? I do know I am excited to begin year four with some of the most invigorating students I have ever taught. I have a feeling that Nanette’s story, and its promise of that the sweet and pungent aroma of the unpredictable, mysterious, alive and growing invasive species will thrill me yet again.

Can you smell it?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chortled for Days

Yes, I know—not every blog entry needs to be a 1500-word sermon! There are actually days when I don’t think one heavy-handed thought…in fact, there are some days as I look back on them marked simply by laughter.

Last weekend my new neighbors in the Nihal dormitory (my home in Jordan since I arrived in 2007) invited me over to their apartment for the evening. Win and Jennie are newlyweds, and newly arrived in Jordan, and are the kind of people when you meet them, you just stop and say, “You are my instant great friend!”

Over appetizers, then dinner, then dessert, we discussed books we loved (actually the way I found out about their book-loves was nosing around the apartment and checking out what was available in the bathroom) and how to best get across town in New York (they are just from New York, my favorite city in the world) by subway or bus.

Old KA friends Arthur and Tristan joined us for dinner, and the mood was relaxed and exuberant, but not laid-back (meaning that these are interesting, intense people!) Win and Jennie, excellent hosts and brilliant conversationalists, kept us zinging on topics from opera and Wagner and Mozart to sports cars to philosophy in Arabic to sunsets in Vermont. It was clear that this was more than just a fun evening—this was the birth of a new friendship.

At some point I did an imitation of someone near and dear to many at KA, and I used the verb, “titter” to describe the kind of laugh emerging from Tristan. Win seized on that verb and said, “That is a great verb—such a precise way to describe that laugh, much better than just saying laugh.” From there our dining table jumped into the nature of the many verbs that mean laugh. It was exactly what I loved about this evening, and what I can tell is one of the exciting things about these new friends: they are both high brow and low brow. So Tristan decided he loved the verb “chortle” as his go-to fave verb about laughing. In his brilliant way Tristan explained why he thought chortle was such a great kind of laugh and the subtleties of “chortle.” In my strange encyclopedic way I said, “You know Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber used the verb chortle in a line in their show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I sang the line, “If he cracked a joke, then you chortled for days.” Of course I needed to explain the context that at the top of Act II the Narrator explained in song to the audience:

Pharaoh, he was a powerful man
with the ancient world in the palm of his hands.
To all intents and purposes he was Egypt with a capital E.
Whatever he did, he was showered with praise.
If he cracked a joke, then you chortled for days.
No one had rights or a vote but the king;
in fact you might say he was fairly right wing.
When Pharaoh's around, than you get down, on the ground.
If you ever find yourself near Ramases, get down on your knees.

This was a great crowd—no one thought this was the least bit weird that I could command a line of musical theater about “chortle.” I said, “Of course I can cite that line, but I really can’t change a tire on car very well.”

As we come to the end of orientation (yes, KA has the longest orientation process of any school on the planet. I have been showing up for work for two weeks and two days and finally we are about to embark on the teaching school year!) I am quite pleased with the beginning vibes of this school year. I am working with the youngest faculty members, the seven recently graduated college students who will be teaching art, biology, chemistry, physics, world history (two of them) and Chinese. They are green, of course, but how fun to meet them and work with them in this first year of teaching. I have enjoyed the new members of the History Department—we have 12 members and an exciting, invigorating group of educators they are. And I have greeted dear, old KA friends Tessa and Nancy and sat down for chats and hugs and laughter. And if you know my inimitable friend Gary, well, I will surely have to do a blog entry on this Klein Meets the Middle East experience. My father said over the summer numerous times, “Every time I think of Gary joining you in Jordan, well, I just smile.”

So in and out of the 2 or 3 hour meetings during orientation have been these exquisite moments of laughter. It has been a very risible reunion with old friends and healthy guffaws with new friends.

One of the best cachinnations of the last two weeks came when Gary and I went to the grocery for his first time in Jordan. We got some staple goods, and as went through the check-out line, and I said in greeting, “Marhaba,” to the clerk, and the man spoke to Gary a greeting in Arabic. Gary didn’t understand, and the clerk, apologized, saying, “Oh, I am sorry. I thought you were Arabia. You look like Arabic.”

As my dear New York friend Gary Klein then said as he smiled, “Well, I am a little bit Arabia.”

About that exchange, well, I chortled for days!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bright September Mornings

On a bright September morning in downtown Manhattan, at an address that symbolized the vigorous beating heart of American capitalism, a terrorist explosion ripped through buildings, shattering glass and ending lives.

It was ninety years ago this next week, on September 16th, that the 1920 Wall Street blast killed 38 and injured hundreds. It was, at that time, the most deadly act of terrorism on American soil in American history. Among the victims were employees of the J.P. Morgan bank, whose iconic limestone headquarters at 23 Wall Street was pockmarked by shrapnel from the dynamite. The explosion was widely presumed to be the work of anarchists lashing out against the financial elite, of which the “House of Morgan” was pre-eminent. The perpetrators were never identified. But Jack Morgan, son of the late renowned J. Pierpont Morgan, and arguably the age’s most powerful financier, had his own pre-determined ideas about who was responsible: “the Jews.”

There’s no mystery about the terrorist attack that struck downtown Manhattan 81 Septembers later. Self-avowed Islamic extremists giddily claimed credit.

In the last month, as arguments raged over the location of a mosque in New York and Rev. Terry Jones of Florida announcement of a Koran-burning parade on this September 11th, I thought of Jack Morgan’s pronouncement. Most of us find Morgan’s accusations heinous today, but there were many times in the last 350 years when Americans hurled such insults at Baptists, Catholics, and Mormons, among others. This summer there did seem to be a growing fear that America’s 2.6 million Muslims are preparing to impose sharia law on their 348 million fellow citizens. Speaking within sight of the Statue of Liberty, Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month asserted that the right of Americans to practice their religion could not be bounded or constrained.

I wondered what Jack Morgan would have made of this occasion. Like us, he was a creature of his time, so it’s doubtful he gave much thought to Muslims or mosques ninety years ago. But a Jewish mayor? Jack may be spinning in his gilded grave.

To New Yorkers and to Americans in 1920, the death toll from the Wall Street blast seemed incomprehensible. “The horrible slaughter and maiming of men and women,” wrote the New York Call, “was a calamity that almost stills the beating of the heart of the people.” That those numbers now seem paltry -- statistics from a past when we counted civilian deaths in dozens instead of thousands -- underscores just how violently our own world has changed.

The destruction of the World Trade Center now stands alone in the annals of horror. But despite the difference in scale, the Wall Street explosion forced upon New York and the nation many of the same questions that we have confronted over the last nine years: How should we respond to violence on this new scale? What is the proper balance between freedom and security? Who, exactly, is responsible for the destruction? How should they pay for it? Is there such a thing as closure?

Maureen Dowd wrote in her column recently, “Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero. Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood. Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity? “

Have any of the screaming critics noticed that there already are two mosques in the same neighborhood — one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away. Should they be dismantled? And what about the liquor stores and strip clubs in the periphery of the sacred ground? Criticizing his fellow Republicans, New Jersey Governor Christie said that while he understood the pain and sorrow of family members who lost loved ones on 9/11, “we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush.”

Governor Christie charged President Barack Obama with trying to turn the issue into a “political football.” As Maureen Dowd said, “But that is not quite right. It already was a political football and the president fumbled it.”

Tomorrow our country commemorates the ninth anniversary of the terrorist’s attacks on 9/11. Once again our nation will come together to remember those who died on that horrible day, that bright September morning. Partisan politics will be set aside, if but for a little while, as all across America we honor those who died needless deaths, the bravery and courage of those who fought to resist the attack, and those who gave their lives in the attempt to save others.

I am sure the media will interview Americans for their responses to 9/11 and the proposed mosque. Someone will say, “I think it’s absurd. I don’t think we should forgive the people who did this to us.” Another will say, “I think that these families need some closure, and the only way they’re going to get closure is to see justice done.” Someone, probably older, will say, “I think it’s overdue. Forgiveness is what we’re supposed to do.” Hopefully someone will say, “I think if we don’t show a little forgiveness then we’re no better than the terrorists that acted upon it in the first place.”

And then we can debate, ponder, volley-ball the nuances and nature of forgiveness.

It is true that in the face of such violent tragedy our instincts take us to a place where retribution, vengeance, and reciprocal violence rules our emotions. We should “give as much as we get!” “Never forget!” “… if you’re against us you’ll feel our wrath!” It is human nature to react in such ways. But vengeance always begets vengeance. Human history bears the scars of the pattern of violent action, followed by violent response, followed by violent action, followed by violent response—an unbroken, unending pattern of vengeance and violence.

Forgiveness??? How hard it is to forgive!

Forgiveness requires that we let go of the past in order to live a future in peace. How hard it is. But it is possible. Let us look at some examples from the recent past, the lifetime of my students here in Jordan:

In 1994 Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa. During the violent years of apartheid preceding his election, Mandela had engaged in armed resistance to the government. As a result he was arrested and spent 27 years in prison. While there he re‐committed himself to non‐violent action. Upon his release he led the negotiations that resulted in South Africa’s first multi‐racial elections and the end to apartheid. While many expected the new government to become the new oppressors, Mandela amazed everyone and set the tone for reconciliation by inviting his former white jailer to be a VIP guest standing with him at his inauguration.

In the year 2000, Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi concentrations camps, spoke to the German Parliament on the commemoration of the holocaust. On behalf of those murdered and those imprisoned he said to the assembled German leaders, “You have been helpful to Israel after the war, with reparations and financial assistance. But you have never asked the Jewish people to forgive you for what the Nazis did.” Two weeks later, the German parliamentary president, Johannes Rau, went to the Israeli Knesset and did just that.

A man named Andrew Rice lost his brother, David, in the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the months to follow, as he worked through his grief, he became convinced that retribution was not the best way to honor his brother’s memory. He joined with groups of other families who had lost loved ones on 9/11 to seek reconciliation personally and nationally. A few months later one of those groups was contacted by the mother of the alleged 20th hijacker, Zacharias Moussaoui, who wanted to meet with some of the families and ask for their forgiveness. In 2002 a small group met secretly to meet Moussaoui’s mother. Mother embraced Mother and Andrew’s tears were added to the huddle as forgiveness was asked for and extended.

In 2006 in a small Amish community in Pennsylvania, a deeply troubled milk truck driver killed five girls and wounded five more in shooting spree that shocked Americans. Even more shocking was the response of the Amish community to the family of the shooter. Amish mothers visited the shooter’s wife and children to offer their condolences and some days later members of the Amish community surrounded the family at the killer’s funeral.

On this bright September morning, let us step back and imagine reconciliation and harmony. How may we better answer the questions that pained Americans in 1920 and 2001 as wisely as possible in 2010?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dreaming Big

It is now 10 days since I have landed in Jordan—hitting the ground running with a spate of meetings and dinners and brainstorming sessions and counseling and help sessions. Ten days and no blog entry! Hey, I was busy dreaming big!

Today is when I finally unpacked even though I had been back at KA for 10 days…again, I have been busy dreaming big!

Last week I arrived on Tuesday after a perfectly easy flight to JFK and then Amman. Since this is Year Four, this flight is almost old hat after numerous trans-Atlantic flights. In New York I met up with old KA colleague Tristan, who was coming back after a year of graduate work at Teachers College in New York. He had left the summer before, dreaming big of grad work and the possible career change to college professor. We regaled each other with stories of last year, catching him up on what all had transpired (I guess he doesn’t read the blog!) and then I heard that he hadn’t loved his experience at TC as much as he had imagined he would. He was thrilled to be coming back to KA—he felt he belonged here. Good! He kinda felt he hadn’t had the right dream…au contraire Tristan! He had dreamed big and decided that one place wasn’t right and another was right…how great to figure that out. The dream had taken him to where he needs to be.

Not that one needs reminders of how time flies, but 20 years ago exactly I had dreamed those same big dreams too—a chance to study at an Ivy League Institution and work on a Phd and probably teach at a prestigious college. Tristan had such a similar experience to mine, but in the end, 20 years ago, as I started at Charlotte Latin School, in the fall of 1990, I knew I was in the right place. I was where I needed to be. The ivy league thing had disappointed me, but not the field of education. I dreamed big and found it was a different dream. And I have loved the secondary school world ever since.

In these last 10 days we have not even had the old faculty return yet. In the last 10 days it has been department heads and senior staff working with the new faculty. Just them! Soon the returning faculty will join us, and then student leader proctors, and finally the rest of the student body. Besides the new faculty and new students, we have a new headmaster. So much dreaming big going on around here!

John Austin is our new head and as another reminder that I am not twenty-something anymore as I was at Latin 20 years ago, now the head of the school is just a couple of years older than I am. And the exciting mood on campus is palpable. Remember in the last blog entry I spoke of the hopes that infuse teachers in August every year, and the seal on my diploma from Brown offering the appeal, In Deo Speramus, In God We Hope…well that vibe is apparent around campus. There is a refreshed excitement about school, with all the newbie teachers, and new veterans, and a new head.

I miss our old head, the venerable Eric Widmer. There are so many things about him that I admire, namely his insistence that schools are only successful when the school community cherishes one another. It is in the mission statement of the school. He has codified this wish, this urgent hope, this big dream. He told me once of a discussion with a trustee who disagreed on the language of that phrase. The other man had suggested the word, “respect,” but Eric said that the quality of “cherish” is deeper and different and more challenging and more rewarding. He is right. I wrote to Eric the other day, expressing how I missed seeing him. I got a response that he is off for a trip to China, but that for the first time in 65 years he was not preparing to go to school. He turned 70 this past January, so he looked back over his career, and then way back to when he started school, and as he remembered, for the first time in his life since 1945, he wasn’t heading off to school. I will miss this wise man.

Besides my 20th anniversary of beginning of my teaching at Latin, I noted that this is also the 10th anniversary of the trip I made to Mississippi in 2000. That trip is significant for a number of reasons—it was my first trip with God’s Gift Anne Siviglia, but also the memorable trip with a few students where we really dug into the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. It was a life-changing trip as we met among others, Unita Blackwell, a mover and shaker in the 1960s, and then mayor of her town for 25 years. Back during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s an old African-American spiritual became popular with those who engaged in the battle: “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.” One of the most humbling and exciting elements of that trip was an up close audience of those who had dreamed big, dreamed so big for themselves and the United States. The source of that song is the Bible verse from Philippians 3:4-14, about the inner prize to which Paul urged the fledgling church in Philippi to hold onto. The meaning of the spiritual is clear: Don’t get distracted by the obstacles along the way! Don’t get depressed by the failures of the past! Don’t be consumed with the opposition that comes in the present! Find out where you need to be! Dream Big! And keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on!

The prize that Unita Blackwell and countless other foot soldiers in that movement sought was equality, justice, freedom, access, and respect for all people—not just a privileged ethnic majority. The prize for Paul is coming to the end of the race and being called up by the highest judge and told, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

“Eyes on the Prize” means focusing on what you want in life. “Dreaming Big” involves figuring out what road you need to travel to get to what you have deemed so important.

This is a good beginning of the year here. The new guy, the new head honcho John, is a good listener. He asks questions. He pays attention. He seeks out insights. He also commands a meeting well. He is very activist but not in a reckless manner. I can tell he will be a strong leader. In his first speech with the new faculty he explained the origins of the school. When Eric offered this speech every year, of course, he was one of the big dreamers about the school a decade ago after His Majesty first proposed the idea. But John wisely took another path: he created for us a context of the history of private education in the United States in the last 200-some years. He explained how the newest dreams propelled the private school world into the future. He did a marvelous job of showing how this school is at the forefront of something new. He did not do, as some others have done, the old propaganda of announcing that we are, or just about to be, one of the best schools in the world. No, what John did so well was encourage us to see how exciting it is to be at this school at this moment in history. If we keep our eyes on the prize our hopes and energy will transform this school, maybe even the world.

A child once reported to Archbishop Desmond Tutu that her prayer in life was simply this: “I pray for all of God’s dreams to come true.” A simple, faithful and straightforward prayer that contains within it a fascinating question—what exactly are God’s dreams? Archbishop Tutu has an idea. He writes that the dreams of God are full of amazing transformations. God’s dreams include the transformation of the ugliness, squalor and poverty of this world into laughter, joy and peace. God’s dreams include the transformation of war and hostility, greed and disharmony into justice and goodness, compassion and love, caring and sharing. It is a powerful and big dream.

Transformations. That is the stuff about which teachers dream big for their students.

Of course the reality of our world is that those who dream these big dreams will be confronted by others who do not share the same dream. Breaking down barriers is dangerous and contentious work. Conflict is part of the faithful journey, but it is not the destination, it is not God’s ultimate dream for us.

It has been an exciting beginning of the year. I am sure I will tell you about the new teachers as I get to know them. I am in charge of the youngest of the new faculty, the ones just sprung from college and these seven who dared to come to the Middle East and try teaching at this school.

I also spent time this summer dreaming big for me---where am I supposed to be? Oh my, weighty thoughts and dreams. But for right now, it is plain to me—I am where I need to be. I have my eyes on the prize!