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 →

Doesn’t Everything Die At Last, And Too Soon?

Acts 9:36-43 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, April 21, 2013

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple name whose name is Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas . . .” (Acts 9:36

“Tabitha’s Gift” by Cody F. Miller (www.codymiller.com)
“Tabitha’s Gift” by Cody F. Miller (www.codymiller.com)

With apologies to James Bond, did Dorcas only live twice?

The ambitious ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles began with Paul’s conversion near Damascus and ended with Peter bringing a woman named Dorcas back to life in Joppa.

Who was Dorcas? Based on the Biblical account, she was more likely called Tabitha, her Aramaic name. Tabitha apparently means gazelle. And, gazelle-like, Tabitha was one of those many Biblical characters that quickly appeared and then just as quickly vanished from the sacred pages. She was a member of the New Testament’s club of obscure women like Peter’s never named wife, silent Salome at Jesus’ tomb and the once greedy and quickly dead Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

If Paul’s conversion and Tabitha’s resurrection form thrilling bookends of a chapter in Acts, Sapphira of Jerusalem was a different kind of bookend to her Joppa “club sister.”

Acts chronicled Peter’s rise from a wayward disciple of Jesus to powerfully serving the risen Christ by showing the old fisherman’s actions. In the fateful chapter five of Acts, Sapphira and her husband Ananias cheat other believers. After Peter rebuked them individually, first the husband and then the wife dropped dead. Their nefarious deeds were quickly and efficiently punished.

A handful of chapters later, Peter trudged up some stairs in Joppa and was shown Tabitha’s body. A gaggle of grieving widows encircled her corpse. And though it’s never directly stated, Peter either learned then, or already knew, about Tabitha’s reputation. Those widows—and likely others—wore clothing she’d made. According to scripture, Tabitha was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.”

After closing the door on the weeping widows, Peter prayed and told Tabitha to “get up.”

Peter resurrected Tabitha. In a moment, she was alive for round two of her charitable, generous life.

Peter had earlier rebuked Sapphira. In a moment, she was dead and gone. Her greedy nature doomed her to an early grave.

And so, boys and girls, what are the lessons of faith revealed in chapters five and nine?

Do bad. Die.

Do good. Live.

Even if we don’t wish death upon the greedy, deceitful or hypocritical, we sure wish they’d be punished. Reap what you sow! When a person intentionally engages in bad activities, don’t they deserve to have bad things happen to them?

When a person engages in uplifting activities (like being “devoted to good works and acts of charity”), good things should happen to them.

If only it were so. Continue reading →