Saturday, December 31, 2011

Really, where would you keep a partridge in a pear tree???

Just as Joseph and Mary travelled to their ancestors’ hometown long ago, two weeks ago I made the journey to the emotional, social and spiritual home that has shaped and nurtured my identity. My expectation was the same as every trip to Cincinnati: for joyful reunion and a renewal of the bonds of love.

But this season is of course more than just my return to America, it is a return to that story of Jesus’ birth, a return to the story where we re-discover how deeply God loves humankind—so much so that God took on human flesh to join the human family, to make a home with humankind.

When I come home each December—and I have never missed a December homecoming—there is no ambivalence on my part. While there are no angels or shepherds waiting for me at the Greater Cincinnati airport, it is one big YES on my part to reconnect with missed family and foods. It is the promise of those family and foods which generates such excitement on my part. And I look forward to it for months. When I left in August, I knew that I would be home four months and two days after I left for the fall term in Jordan. I know that officially the season of Advent is four weeks long, but for me, it really is kind of a four-month long anticipation of the joyful reunion. My mother was born exactly four weeks before Christmas day, and so for her, and therefore for the rest of us, the prospect, the anticipation, the excitement, the probity of Advent mattered deeply.

In Christian theology, to live in Advent’s hope is to live in eager anticipation of this homecoming where God arrives to give a living, in-person confirmation to the promises of forgiveness and life, reconciliation and peace. Getting Christmas right is that appreciation of God’s spinning of divinity into human form, to stand in awe of the presence of God.

It is not always as easy as we think—it is not just the anticipation of the easy times, of the triumphs. There is a gritty story here too—like Herod’s rage, treacherous crowds, foolish followers and a dangerous road to Jerusalem. To give into Advent fully, the anticipation of what will come, is to risk being taken into the hands of strangers and carried to unknown destinations.

Advent is about paying attention, being alert through the chaos and marching down that unknown road. Exciting and exhausting.

Do you find Christmas exhausting? I know many people do—especially those with small children, what with the parties and programs and dresses and shopping and hopes—it is a little like going into battle. There is a certain amount of chaos involved in the season.

I guess, I remember my own mother and her reaction to the exhaustion and chaos of Christmas. My mother, perfectionist that she was, aside from the exhaustion, she had an uncanny ability to stand back and get a better perspective on the chaos around her. Maybe it was just in her name, but she would reflect on Mary, the original Mary, at such times. I can almost hear her saying, “Mary certainly experienced chaos and exhaustion too, you know.” Indeed! That Mary rode a donkey while nine months pregnant; without a reservation, she and Joseph had to bed down in a stable/cave. There she gave birth in front of a bunch of cows. Then she was visited by strangers both low and high-born after Jesus’ birth announcement was broadcast across the sky. What would we do if we answered the door and found the herders, or the foreign dignitaries smelling of incense??? I am sure Mary was unnerved by all these strange things going on. I wonder what she thought of the unfolding of this divine plan???

But Mary kept her calm—somehow she was able to keep peace, a cool head, amid all the chaos. I remember a moment from my childhood, probably circa 1973 when my sister was to read the Christmas story during the lighting of the advent candle, and our mother coached Elizabeth to read the story with all the wonder and awe she could muster. There, almost forgotten sometimes, at the end of the story, was one of my mother’s favorite lines in the Christmas story: “Mary treasured all…and pondered them in her heart.” Yes, in the middle of the craziness, she reflected on the miracle that had just occurred. There is a quietness to the story that I love, and all these years later, my mother’s guidance still affects me. In the midst of chaos and exhaustion, we need to treasure and ponder.

This year Elizabeth and I sang in our church on Christmas Eve—just as we have done every year for 38 years. We sang a song, “The Cradle of Bethlehem,” for the first time since 2002 when we last had a baby in a cradle, and it put me in my mind of baby Jack, 9 years ago, and the wonder of the amazing little being who came to grace the earth. How Mary must have felt as she cradled her baby and realized her world had changed forever. Think of the peace Mary must have felt.

As we leave the Christmas season behind, perhaps a bit more weary, I would remind us of the excitement and importance of Advent. I would argue that we should operate as if it were always Advent. I mean, we never really arrive where we think we will, or once we do, we learn that in fact, we’re not finished with the journey at all. There is always something to come, there is always a way for us to go further and continue to evolve and grow. We should never just be “waiting”—as we wait and anticipate the unfolding, we should treasure and ponder the evolution of it all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lights, please!

Have you ever encountered someone who didn’t know the Christmas story?

This year at KA I am in charge of a small choir and during December we worked on several Christmas songs. (I asked the Muslim students whether it was appropriate or not for them—I didn’t know for sure. They had no problems.) The students weren’t particularly interested in the traditional Christmas carols—they didn’t know them so had no affection for the beauties of 19th century British expressions of Christmas joys. But a little obscure piece, “And Love Was Born,” just enchanted them to no end. This is a piece from the late 1970s and I believe I did it in Studio Choir at West High, but it isn’t a very complex piece so I am not sure. Anyway, the students loved this piece. One student groused that he couldn’t find a performance of the piece on Youtube. Anyway, as we worked on some of the musical subtleties, a young man asked, “What actually happened in Bethlehem?” I felt a little like Linus in the TV classic chestnut of “Charlie Brown” (except I refrained from asking for “lights, please!” as Linus does!) as I told the story to those in my little group who didn’t actually know what transpired in our neighborhood over 2,000 years ago.

I found myself saying to them “Of all the characters in the Christmas story, the ones we need to keep our eyes on, indeed, come to think of it, the ones most like us, are those Magi, those Wise Men.”

When I posit that those Wise Men are the ones most like us, I am not suggesting that we are either so regal or wise, but let’s consider some of the other characters in this story. Let’s take Mary, the young Palestinian teen minding her own business when an angel of the Lord comes and addresses her: “Hail, Mary!” Like that’s going to happen to us. Consider this: the shepherds are out in their fields watching their flocks by night, when an Angel of the Lord appears to them…speaks to them…and suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appears, praising God. Like that’s going to happen to us.

And on and on—but those Magi—we need to watch them. These are the travelers, the ones who undertake a great and arduous journey. Last week I packed a suitcase, hopped two planes, and via Paris, travelled the 10,000 or so miles from Jordan to Cincinnati. Not really arduous at all, and in under 24 hours I made it from my apartment back to my family homestead. But let’s muse about those journeys 2,000 years ago. Let’s imagine the conversations back home when those magi have agreed to undertake this great trip. “Honey,” says one, “Me and the guys, we’re following a star. Not sure where or what it will lead to. We’ll be away—for months, maybe longer.” Of course, I am just joking a little here. For the magi it was no mere whim, their undertaking. They didn’t embark upon this adventure without careful thought and good reason. They did their best to explain themselves and their reasons to their families. They extracted themselves from various commitments. They planned the route and agreed how to finance it. Journeys of this sort are expensive—the costs of travel, with inns and meals, not to mention a loss of income from being away from work. I guess they worked. (Come to think of it, this sounded a lot like my thought process as I pondered this whole Jordan thing in 2007.)

They probably spent considerable time on what to take, what gifts to bring, and anticipated the exchanges of cultures and rituals and languages they would encounter.
The long awaited day arrived for them. Those magi hugged their loved ones and said their good-byes, not quite sure when they would return. There are tears, second thoughts, probably pleas to stay. Finally, they are on their way—on their adventure. As they spent time together on this adventure they began to learn each others’ moods, rhythms and fears. They learn the sound of each others’ laughter. And they probably needed to ask for directions. You know that since these are wise men they were probably not inclined to ask for directions.

The star gets the magi all the way to Jerusalem, but then it goes on the fritz. It is in Jerusalem that they have to ask for directions. “Where,” they ask, “is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we have observed his star rising, and have come to pay him homage.” This is the moment their adventure really starts. It starts when their accents give them away; when they reveal themselves strangers in a strange land; when they first disclose to others the purpose of their quest; when they admit they don’t know which way to turn; when they are forced to entrust themselves to the good will of complete strangers (some of whom turn out to be possessed of ill will); when they find out that the mere mention of Jesus causes shifts in power, threatens principalities, begs for a re-ordering of the structures that discriminate. Now, they are on their way.

I guess I have thought about these guys this week when I realized they would have been traveling right around where KA is, my home and work in Jordan, not far from Jerusalem. I think about them when I think of the journey that I have taken since January, 2007 when I decided to follow this quest to help start this school here.

So as I look out at those plains to the west of our school—there in those hills where David once shepherded, I reside in the very land where those magi traveled and risked and followed their star. Yep, those guys, those exotic, adventurous, risk-taking, intrepid kings or astrologers, or whoever they were—they are the ones to watch.

We all have journeys, some longer, or farther afield, but we all have journeys in relationships, or new jobs, or simply the life of faith is a life of adventure. I think you will know you are on the right road, that you are getting close to wherever, when it gets thrilling, tense and intense, important, scary, edgy, absorbing and fantastic.

Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the journey…

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Deo Speramus

Yesterday I had a parent-teacher conference in the afternoon, and I arrived a few minutes early, so I sat in the reception area blithely looking at the magazines out for waiting people. As I casually leafed through old magazines, a bold cover story from Time magazine caught my eye: “Islamophobia” screamed the cover. I sighed, wondering why someone would leave this 2010 magazine out for the KA public to read. What an ironic twist to have this available at a school that has 80% Muslim students with about 40% of the faculty American ex-pats. I paged through the article, and of course, it was about why so many Americans are fearful of Islam. It is not that the exploration of fears bothers me, but the article probably stoked more fears than it allayed. Of course, I sat there in that lovely waiting area the day after I read about Newt Gingrich’s comments this week about Palestinians (again with the “they’re all terrorists” mania).

As I waited for the family to appear, I thought about not so much what Newt Gingrich had said, but instead the many ways that our worlds are more in common than what we first think. “Allah” in Arabic is “God,” and we share that same God of Abraham. That part is obvious, but I thought about how both the Arab world and western world share some other “gods.” After four years of commuting between both worlds, here are some other gods I have determined that we share:
• Our god is money
• Our god is power
• Our god is fame
• Our god is ending suffering
• Our god is truth

I could add more—what about our obsession with Ivy League schools? And of course, the obsession with landing a highly-paid job? Aren’t those gods as well? I suppose the thing my years in Jordan has taught me more than anything is that there are new faces of old religions, there are many sides of what religion means.

KA teaches a World Religions course, and I have long treasured that we help students better understand the concepts behind these disparate world faiths, help students develop an open mind about what and how and why other religions practice as they do. In my youth and early adult years, these were all just lumped as “The Other” in my mind, and it was easy to develop a discomfort or distaste for strange practices and beliefs.

Let’s look a little more closely at Islam—especially if we do harbor such a “phobia” against it. Each chapter in the Koran—as well as each Muslim prayer—begins with these words: “In the name of God, the beneficent and the merciful.” I learned that the Islamic prophet Muhammad was known as Al-Amin—the trustworthy—and was revered for his honesty, humility, desire for justice, and disdain for greed. And I read passages in the Koran that struck the same ideals as all the world’s great faiths: repentance, forgiveness, and tolerance. Here are examples:

From the Koran: “O Mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is knower, aware.”

From Hinduism’s Hitopadesa: “One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.”

From Buddhism’s Dhammapada: “Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by not hating; this is an eternal truth.”

From Judaism’s Book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

And from Christianity’s Gospel of Luke: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

I am not suggesting that we are all exactly alike under the skin, but treasure these beautiful thoughts and aims! Have mistakes been made in the name of religion? Sure! No doubt, horrible, unjust, heinous things have been done through the corridors history in the name of gods—but is it because of the religions, or because of naivete and ignorance? For me the greatest flaw we have as humans is our ability to lose our compassion. To delude ourselves into thinking we are right and others are wrong. To turn members of different groups only into that dangerous “other.”

A student asked me today if I had heard what Newt Gingrich had said, and wondered if I thought Candidate Gingrich actually believed his words. I replied that I had no way of knowing if he truly believed the scurrilous things he had said about Palestinians and Palestine, but he has certainly figured out that it gets him exposure and support. It doesn’t bring a lot of shame to his words, evidently, and doesn’t that tell us so much! Islamophobia sells magazines and wins hearts and minds of voters.

Religion can bring out the better angels of our nature; however, religious extremists can bring out our worst. In my students’ lifetimes, in Bosnia, Christian extremists slaughtered 8,000 Muslims around the town of Srebrenica. In the Palestinian territories Jewish settlers dismissed Muslims as animalistic. In India, Hindu nationalists raped and slaughtered Muslims, in Sri Lanka, Buddhist extremists abused Hindus. In the United States, Muslims slammed planes into the World Trade Towers.

As we so often tout in a fairly smug way, ours is a globalized world. But indeed it is a polarized world. We are more interconnected economically and culturally and politically, yet in terms of issues of faith, we also seem to be more territorial, suspicious and reactive. Becoming more interdependent almost seems to be making us less tolerant.

But as a teacher I get the chance to talk with students about these media reports. Here at KA I get to meet and know Palestinians and realize how wearying that steady diet of anti-Palestinian rhetoric is, and I get to wonder how we might overcome all these phobias.

I look back at the list of gods that many in both of these worlds share. I teach the same here as I did in the United States, but I think I have become even more deliberate in my aims for my classroom and my students. I exhort all the more for students to be open to the mysteries around them, be compassionate as we learn about The Other, and challenge ourselves in terms of our beliefs and perceptions about The Others.

I had a nice conference with the parents, and in just a few days I get on a plane to go celebrate Christmas with my family and American friends.


Of all those things that might indeed be tertiary gods, or subsidiary gods, wouldn’t it be nice if we all added to our wish-lists that each group around the world makes hope their god.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Encounters with Ihsan

One of the delights of this fall here at KA has been a seminar led by one of my young colleagues. His name is Moamer and he has significant ties to the school. He is the older brother of “The Mayor of Awesomeville,” that kid Abdullah that I taught every day for the first four years the school existed (and one of the A-list students I have known in my whole career). Another brother has worked here in our summer program. Another brother is a 9th grader here. The family hosts a party for teachers every June with all seven sons in attendance. This family dynasty has been integral to the school since its inception!

Moamer leads a seminar every week on Islamic Tradition and the History of the Middle East. At times the course has been frustrating—in a good way—and always enlightening. He started the seminar on 9/11/11—an auspicious date I suppose on which to begin the best training and teaching I have yet received on the Islamic world. Moamer explained up front how he went about planning for this course. He decided that three lenses would be used to create this course, three “filters” as he called them. He set up his own parameters and ground rules: the sources he would use must be Islamic, must be western, and must be grounded in teaching. He explained that he would rely on Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar, a book entitled The Vision of Islam, and his own experiences. How exciting is that to see from the get-go exactly where he would cull his information and insights.

The last few seminar meetings have focused on the concept of Ihsan, a concept of the encounter with the divine, in which the faithful are reminded to make something beautiful of their faith. As Moamer reminded the group, “You worship Allah as if you see him; for even if you do not see him, he sees you.” One spends one’s lifetime, therefore, as a seeker on the path of Ihsan. This seeking will bring true happiness.

What a profound concept—we must see the beautiful, the true, the closeness of God for our lives to have meaning.

As I have done many times this fall in the seminar, I have learned how similar so many of the tenets of Islam are with the tenets of Christianity, but also really almost any faith I can think of.

At first this almost bothered me. Week after week, as Moamer explained “what Muslims do,” my mind would automatically say things like, “Well, we pray too,” or “We also believe in repentance.” As Moamer explained the tenets that Muslims believe that “There is no God but God,” the commandment to bear witness, and certainly the eternal query, “How do we know God?” it was so remarkable to me the comparisons. Now, this should hardly be news! Allah of Islam is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, Solomon, et cetera on down the line…and while I have taught about Islamic art before, I have never had the benefit of hearing a Muslim crack open the nut of faith and unpack the theology and the beliefs quite so thoroughly. It had always remained so much “The Other” in all these years both in the United States and in Jordan.

Like many Americans, I grew up with really only one part of the history of the Middle East—an ancient Biblical-era history, and a modern history of Israel as told through the heroic birth of the state of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust. I had studied the Holocaust many times, visited many concentration camp sites, directed Holocaust-themed plays, been to Passover seders, and so what I knew quite well was the history of the genocide and that Israel was a safe haven for the Jews. I knew nothing of the Arab side. For millions of Americans, Jew and Gentile, it was the same. We were all raised with the version of Middle Eastern history as told in Exodus, Leon Uris’ influential and riveting mega-bestseller, then turned into a Paul Newman movie. In Uris’ engaging novel, Arabs are alternately pathetic or malicious, and have no real claim to the land. As is said in the book, “If the Arabs of Palestine loved their land, they could not have been forced from it—much less run from it without real cause.” Of course, as devoted readers of the blog will know, I have certainly gained new insights and perspectives in the 53 months I have lived in Jordan. As I have come to see, the actual history of the region is far more complex, richer and interesting.

Since coming here and writing about this from time to time, I have had wonderful conversations with friends and family state-side about the deeper narrative, one that penetrates beneath the headlines and the endless cycles of repeated history, and attempts at explaining how we got to this difficult place.

Not everyone is comfortable hearing the story of The Other. I have had some acquaintances profess that they are tired of hearing about the Jewish/Arab love of the land, and a Kiwanis colleague of my father chastised me for telling the story of the Arabs as a “nonexistent Palestine.”

But most people have listened intently, enthralled at what I have been able to learn here. In many ways what goes on here mirrors the struggles of people anywhere I have lived, the struggles of families as they encounter and embrace faith and each other’s history.

So back to Moamer—in many ways, each week as he unravels the mysteries of faith, I think of my grandmother. My mother’s mother taught Sunday School for 62 years, and in my eyes she must have been phenomenal because of her knowledge, her convictions, and her sincere and life-affirming piety and faith. Moamer is winning with that same combination. As my grandmother must have done for decades, Moamer has helped me get past the canned summary of Islam, and certainly opened my eyes to the beauty and purity of his faith. As I have said, many tenets are similar. The process of revelation, of discipline, of commitment, of reflection—all are similar to the traits found in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism—certainly all the faiths with which I am acquainted.

But of course I know there are boundaries between our two faiths—and how in the world ecumenicalism really works is amazing. In Islam Jesus is deemed a very good prophet, but not the Son of God, and certainly then the supernatural elements of the Resurrection are eschewed. But the divergences are not really what interest me; those I know, and I expect. It is all the things in common, both good and bad. As Moamer discusses the mysteries of faith, over and over I see the parallels in what I know and understand about Christianity. And certainly in the chauvinism that can mark Christianity, that chauvinism of superiority is quite vivid in Islam as well. And why not? It accomplishes the same thing to promote one’s faith, and comes from a certain world view that each respective faith finally got spirituality “right.”

One day that caused me the most agita was the day Moamer explored the role of the intellect in Islam, specifically how faith and science co-exist in Islam. He used the absence of that symbiosis in Christianity as his foil. In my notes from that day I wrote down in my notebook, “It seems as if there is no tension in Islam about science and faith, and must Islam always trump everything else? What about modern science? Where are the Islamic scientists now on the world stage?” It was a provocative class, and Moamer and I did not agree. His understanding of the West seems grounded in many ways like Clarence Darrow in the Scopes-Monkey trial, but of course there is more.

Science and faith are not officially mutually exclusive in Christianity, although there are numerous examples that would create that understanding. Galileo is a great example. And Moamer raised him. But I countered with Pope Julius II who, a century before Galileo, believed he was the one who could bind theology and science together. And there are a host of scientists, on every list of great innovators of science, who were monks! Moamer and I debated, and I wished we could do more history. For a moment or two I thought I should not be a part of the seminar any more.

But of course, this was some of the best part of this opportunity. I get to hear what a twentysomething, intelligent, Arab science teacher thinks of his world, my world, and the mysteries of faith. His explanation of the dogma and the practice is enlightening. I can pair it with my experiences too, of course, and treasure those crossing points, those junctures in which we agree so easily. It also helps explain many world views that seem frustrating to me, or limited, or even un-enlightened. It is not un-enlightenment, it is simply what you have seen and experienced on your own journey.

Moamer tells many stories about the origins of words and phrases, all of which help illumine even more this part of the world, the delicate co-existence of Islam and Christianity, and certainly the keys to their world views. One week Moamer reminded us that in Islam, faith is “always amazing, always good, it is always "hamdillallah,” the phrase uttered when asked how you are. The phrase means, “through God and my faith, I am good.”

We have discussed jihad and terrorism, but again, the simplest and purest understandings come down to that journey in life seeking the divine, seeking the closeness and love of God. Moamer said, “We understand that life is like a prism; it is transitory, but our greatest reward is a closeness with Allah.” From there he went to explain the concept of repentance. At the end of class Moamer turned to me and said, “John, surely you have a comment. What do you make of this?” I had looked at my notes anyway, and realized, yet again, the similarities and challenges as both faiths (all faiths?) embrace the desire of Ihsan, to make life beautiful and meaningful.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

To Count, To Make a Difference

Yesterday I woke up without any plan at all for the day! Maybe four times in a calendar year is there such a day for me. Now remember, it may be my Teutonic blood which craves a plan, or my mother’s insistence that one gets so much more accomplished when one has a plan—whatever it is, I plan. I plan on days off; I plan when I may relax; I plan when I may be spontaneous. So yesterday was an unusual day. No plan! There was an inkling of a plan in the morning—there was supposed to be a grand going-out last night with a colleague, but that never materialized. So I spent the day plan-less. (I must admit I started to plan this blog entry, but then since it was officially a plan-less day, in the end I decided to wait until today when I knew I would resume my planning. Does the existence of an Official Plan-less Day actually constitute a plan??) I read outside in the warm, afternoon sun, fell asleep lazily over a novel, a book about Jan van Eyck, and a book about teaching. I watched two old movies, Anastasia and Double Indemnity. I wrote a couple emails, made a pot of soup—but there was no plan to the day.

In the afternoon I also caught up on some of the news of the last week. I have been intrigued by the events in Egypt all year, so I took great interest in Egypt’s first real voting since 1952. The results of Egypt’s first democratic parliamentary elections do not matter as much as the drama of the first day of voting, when millions of Egyptian citizens from all backgrounds mobbed the polls and cast ballots for the first time. Two threads in the story stayed with me through my lazy day. One reporter made it clear that the voting was not just seen as a right, but if you were found not to have voted, you were fined! (Think about how weak voter turn-out is in the USA—sometimes under 50% of eligible voters—maybe we should start fining our less-than-patriotic errant eligible voters!). The other story I liked so much involved a quotation from a twenty-something Egyptian who said he wanted his vote “to count” and “to make a difference.”

What an important concept! As I re-read Bill Ayres’ book on teaching for the 5th time, I came upon the end of Chapter 1. In the book this energetic, passionate teachers asks people why they teach given the lower salary and status of other professional careers. Ayres writes that “Teaching is an act of hope for a better future….the reward of teaching is knowing that your life makes a difference.” So many blog entries about counting this week! This statement is not especially novel—but when you line it up with the quotidian act of voting, as in Egypt, and the excitement over counting and the hopes for a better future, it becomes quite a heady thought.

Egypt will not have it easy. There very likely will be impediments in this transition from what has been military rule to democracy, and also likely is that the political parties elected will not deliver exactly what the people want. These disappointed and disillusioned voters will likely return to the streets in even greater numbers than before. But—the people have been transformed in 2011. The date of January 25th is seared into the people’s minds, the date of the first mass demonstration in Tahrir Square, which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. The mindset, expectations and attitude toward rule has been transformed in Egypt. However, most people guess that the military has not changed and is rooted in the past. In the past couple of weeks tens of thousands of Egyptians have returned to protest in Tahrir Square—indeed, that square has been “legitimized” as the space for “people’s power” to confront the army-dominated regime. Tahrir Square has been the pulse of this burgeoning “people’s power” but now those people must discover what the people want and convey its will. Then they will become more powerful than the army and will insist on parliamentary accountability and that the Parliament will deliver.

Somehow in the midst of my lazy, plan-less day, I went from thinking about Egypt to other adventures in the world. As I basked in a sunny, December day I thought about one of my favorite stories. You probably can guess what story/movie it is: a storm separated her from her family, and her weathered farmhouse was ripped from the earth and spun around like a top. The events happened so fast it is easy to see why the young girl was afraid. But then suddenly, and unexpectedly, the screen lit up in dazzling Technicolor, soft music played in the background, and the girl’s world became one of enchantment. Dorothy Gale was in a multi-colored world far away from her home in Kansas. Dorothy sang and danced her way through her magical new world, caught between a desire for adventure and a hunger for her safe and loving home. Who doesn’t want to follow her, to be one of her new friends, and share in her journey??? When Dorothy sings, “Over the Rainbow,” who isn’t spellbound by the longing and hope she expresses?

So as I drifted in and out of my lazy, afternoon nap, I juggled the books on my lap, the stories of Egyptians, teachers, and the motley crew of The Wizard of Oz in my head. Let’s remind ourselves of a few things about The Wizard: it is the story of a journey, complete with lessons about heart, courage, inclusion, self-determination, and the will to succeed in the face of daunting obstacles. Dorothy also wanted to count, to make a difference. In many ways it is a parallel to the 1930s, the time of its greatest cinematic creation, but also just about any time since then. My, my—whoever thought of this parallel to Arab Spring??

A few years ago, in one of my Christmas letters, I was thinking about The Wizard of Oz then too. I wrote, “Although I haven’t seen any wicked witches or flying monkeys lately, a great tornado of events has shaken our community and our nation. We are emerging from our houses, much like Dorothy, to find that our world looks nothing like it did before. Where there was once predictability and order there is now uncertainty and adventure. But, like the movie, where there was only black and white, there is now Technicolor, adventure and opportunity. We all know Dorothy never actually traveled to a new place. Instead, she had the rare opportunity to see beyond the limitations she and others placed upon herself and her world, and looked over the rainbow to the colorful possibilities that, as she later learns, had been there all along. Our environment has been shaken by economic, political, and social forces that provide us the same opportunity to look over the rainbow and “see” the excitement and adventure in our own community.”

What powerful images and ideas emerge from that chestnut of a movie. As I work on notes for the professional development seminar I will lead tomorrow, and re-read a great book on teaching, I marvel how the 1939 M-G-M classic movie has many lessons for us. The Egyptians have many lessons for us. We can weave together all of these for another reminder of how we can “count” and indeed “make a difference.” And most importantly, we have the opportunity to fashion our future and achieve great things. Like Dorothy, we must recognize that the power to achieve our goals lies not in Emerald City far away, but right at our own feet.