Negatives + Positives = Learning

-19,000 + 19,000 + 10,000 – 9,000 – 990 = 10

The calculation above was the response a fourth grader provided when asked to create a mathematical sentence with “10” in it.

school-kids-classroom-raising-handsThe fourth grader’s response was given to my wife a few years ago when she visited that student’s classroom. My wife teaches at Fresno State and, as an education professor with an emphasis in elementary math, she delights in participating with kids in their classroom. For her, working with fourth graders and helping teachers learn how children learn is far more joy-filled than spending time on a university committee.

Often, when we get home in the evening, we’ll talk about what happened in each of our days.

“What’d you do today?”

And so I learned about a fourth grader who confidently used negative numbers in a problem. That little “-” before the 19,000 excited my wife. Negative can be positive! The student understood the complexity of numbers. Numbers are negative and positive and there are myriad ways to solve problems. Wow!

“What’d you do today?” My wife asked me.

This was when I served a church . . .

My day had been spent in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with a woman in our congregation near death. On the prior day, her “plugs were pulled,” and death, whether it would take minutes or days, was not far away.

My wife had been in a classroom with children’s hands waving over their heads: “Let me try an answer!!”

I’d been surrounded by medical machines and white-coated doctors.

One of the dying woman’s sons was there. The decision to remove her life support had been made by him in consultation with physicians and other members of the family. Close, beloved friends were present. Throughout the day, though she was categorized as “non-responsive,” friends held her hands, hymns were sung, and prayers—spoken and silent—were shared.

No one in the hospital said, or probably thought, “Wow!”

And yet, I believe there were more similarities with my wife’s day to mine than differences. Continue reading →

Often Enough

Luke 7:36 – 8:3  – The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 16, 2013

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him…” (Luke 7:36)

Drum roll.

Trumpet fanfare.


The Gospel of Luke and its affiliates proudly present:


These are the players . . .

  1. Simon, the Pharisee.
  2. Jesus.
  3. An unnamed whore**.
  4. And those at the table.

This is what happened . . .

  1. Simon asked Jesus to his home for a meal.

    How 'bout if I just dress up in this Pharisee costume? At least I could rent one for special occasions . . .
    How ’bout if I just dress up in this Pharisee costume? At least I could rent one for special occasions . . .
  2. The whore arrived uninvited and bathed Jesus’ feet with ointment from an alabaster jar, her tears and kisses.
  3. The Pharisee was ________*** by the woman’s actions. Simon wondered if Jesus knew a sinner’s hands had touched him.
  4. Jesus regaled his dinner companions with a tale about forgiving sins. And to cap the evening off, Jesus noted Simon had treated him like dirt, while the whore honored him.
  5. Jesus, after the story within the story, forgave the whore’s sins.
  6. Those at the table grumbled and Luke’s chapter ended.

So what came next for Simon the Pharisee, Jesus, the whore and those at the table?

* I’m not happy with the title. It needs more oomph.

** Luke’s Gospel refers to her as “a sinner.” Maybe she stole bread from the farmer’s market or cheated her boss out of money or worked on the Sabbath. Then or now, there are many ways to sin. But, if only to enhance the story’s drama, to add a whiff of titillating sex like in a bad Hollywood movie, I’ll call her a whore. It’s fine with me if you prefer her as a thief or cheater.

*** Luke doesn’t toss in a nice juicy word or two to reveal how the Pharisee felt. What do you think? Was the Pharisee . . . amused, disappointed, offended, irked, flabbergasted, angry or aroused?

*   *   *

The Pharisee in Luke 7’s verses troubles me.

I’m troubled by the Pharisee’s actions, and by what may come next for the person who invited Jesus to his table, because I’m a “religious authority,” a modern day version of a Pharisee. Long, long ago, when a United Methodist bishop gingerly rested his palm on my head, and declared me ordained, I began to read the Bible with different eyes.

I’d be foolish if I didn’t. Continue reading →