International adoption

Michael Gerson writes a moving column about international adoption:

Scott Simon — the sonorous voice of NPR’s “Weekend Edition” — has written a short, tender book about the two most important people in the world. At least to him. “Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other” recounts the arrival of his two daughters, Elise and Lina, from China, while telling the stories of other families changed by adoption.

Simon describes himself as skeptical of transcendence but as taking part in a miracle. “My wife and I,” he says, “knew that Elise and Lina were our babies from the moment we received their postage-stamp portraits. Logically, I know that’s not possible. But I also know that’s how my heart, mind and body . . . reacted to their pictures. . . . I would take the photo out of my wallet in the weeks before we left to get each of our girls and hold it against my lips to whisper, ‘We’re coming, baby.’ ”

It is an unexpected form of human affection — meeting an unrelated stranger and, within moments, being willing to care for her, even to die for her. The relationship results from a broken bond but creates ties as strong as genetics, stronger than race or tribe. It is a particularly generous kind of parental love that embraces a life one did not give.

International adoption has its critics, who allege a kind of imperialism that robs children of their identity. Simon responds, “We have adopted real, modern little girls, not mere vessels of a culture.” Ethnicity is an abstraction — often an admirable abstraction, but not comparable to the needs of a child living in an orphanage or begging in roving bands. Adopted Chinese girls are refugees from a terrible oppression — a one-child policy that Simon calls “one of the great crimes of history.” Every culture or race is outweighed when the life of a child is placed on the other side of the balance.

It is one of the noblest things about America that we care for children of other lands who have been cast aside. Simon recalls his encounter with an immigration officer in Chicago when bringing Elise to America: ” ‘When you cross that line,’ he said, ‘your little girl is a citizen of the United States.’ Then he put one of his huge hands gently under our daughter’s chin and smiled. ‘Welcome home, sweetheart,’ he told her.” This welcome to the world is one of the great achievements of history. After millennia of racial and ethnic conflict across the world, resulting in rivers of blood, America declared that bloodlines don’t matter, that dignity is found beneath every human disguise. There is no greater embrace of this principle than an American family that looks like the world.

Instead of undermining any culture, international adoption instructs our own. Unlike the thin, quarrelsome multiculturalism of the campus, multiethnic families demonstrate the power of affection over difference. They tend to produce people who may look different from the norm of their community but see themselves as just normal, just human.

Every adoption involves a strange providence, in which events and choices are random yet decisive. “Those of us who have been adopted,” says Simon, “or have adopted or want to adopt children, must believe in a world in which the tumblers of the universe can click in unfathomable ways that deliver strangers into our lives.”

via Michael Gerson – International adoption: From a broken bond to an instant bond.

Read the rest of it, including Gerson’s own personal story of the fruit of international adoption.

Go here to buy Simon’s book: Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption

St. John the Hensley

My newest grandson, John Peter Hensley, was baptized yesterday.  It happened to be on the commemoration of the martyrdom of John the Baptist.  Pastor Douthwaite preached a remarkably good sermon, tying both of those events together, linking John the Baptizer with John the Baptized.  Finally, he announced that just as we have St. John the Baptist, we now have, by virtue of his baptism, St. John the Hensley.

And as if that were not enough, throughout the sermon, he also tied everything into vocation.  A sampling (Adam and Joanna being his parents; Johnno being the Australian nickname for John):

Not all heard John’s preaching as good news. And Adam and Joanna, I can fairly surely say that you will not hear all of little Johnno’s preaching to you as good news – especially when he calls out to you at 3 am, calling you to your vocation as father or mother to come and feed him, or to change his diaper. But he will call out, whether you like it or not, because that’s his vocation right now, calling you to your vocation, and so being God’s gift to you. That you may serve as you have been served. That you may love as you have been loved.

You won’t believe how good this sermon is.  You have got to read the whole thing, which has more insights than I can summarize.  The sermon is posted here:  St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist Sermon.

St. John the Hensley

Teachers good and bad

The California teachers’ union is calling for a boycott of the L.A. Times for publishing an expose of teacher performance.  Here are some of its findings:

• Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.

• Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

Other studies of the district have found that students’ race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.

via L.A. teacher ratings: L.A. Times analysis rates teachers’ effectiveness – latimes.com.

It seems that some people have a vocation for teaching.  Let’s focus on the positive.  What are traits of good teachers?  Tell about good teachers who were able to get through to you.

Motherhood as vocation

Did you know that Mollie Hemingway, the confessional Lutheran journalist, has a column in Christianity Today?  Here are some links, going back awhile: Throwing Inkwells: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

I’m glad she has that forum.  Other Christians could benefit greatly from what many Lutherans just keep to themselves.  Here she is on how the doctrine of vocation can help stressed out, guilt-ridden mothers deal with “the mommy wars“:

How should Christians think about the Mommy Wars? Vocationally. You may have heard vocation used as a synonym for occupation. But Martin Luther used it to talk about every Christian’s calling to particular offices through which God works to care for his creation. We serve our neighbors as employees, yes, but also as citizens, parishioners, and family members. Through our web of relationships, we are the instruments by which God works in the world.

So, for instance, God heals us by giving us doctors and nurses. He feeds us by giving us farmers and bakers. He gives us earthly order through our governors and legislators, and he gives us life through our parents. God is providing all these gifts—but we receive them from our neighbors.

Parenting is one of the most important vocations we can be given. Yes, the obligations of childrearing are difficult, but when the duties are fulfilled with the knowledge that we are doing the will of God, our reward is great. Luther wrote that fathers should not complain when they have to rock a baby, change his diaper, or care for the baby’s mother, but instead should view each act as a holy blessing.

God has placed me as the mother of my children. So long as I’m not sinning, I am free to serve my children as I see fit. I have the responsibility to feed my children, but I can fulfill that task by slaving away in the kitchen to produce a five-course meal or by ordering out for pizza. I have the responsibility of making sure my children are educated, but I have the freedom to do that on my own or by sending them to whichever school my husband and I pick.

Sure, we all have a role to play in upholding community standards and making sure our neighbors’ children have their needs met, but we should also be careful not to intrude on others’ vocations. Just as we wouldn’t rearrange colleagues’ offices or tinker with their computers, neither should we presume to know best how they should manage their families.

So if you’re an overwhelmed mother, wave the white flag of surrender in the Mommy Wars and enjoy your vocation and the freedom it provides.

Take this job and shove it

So what do you think about that flight attendant who got fed up with a passenger whose overhead luggage fell on him after landing, whereupon he got on the intercom to cuss out the passenger, then grabbed some beer off the service car and activated the emergency exit to slide onto the tarmac?

Authorities said [Steven] Slater dropped several f-bombs on a JetBlue flight’s loud speaker Monday night, grabbed two beers, deployed the plane’s emergency slide at Kennedy Airport, and then took off.

From all accounts, the 38-year old Slater simply had had enough.

Sporting a cut on his forehead from fallen overhead baggage, Slater walked out of Port Authority Police Headquarters after the incident, handcuffed with a smirk on his face and absolutely nothing to say.

But passenger Philip Catelinet said Slater had plenty to say over the plane’s public announcement system while he was on board JetBlue Flight 1052 out of Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon.

“He said, ‘to the passenger who called me a (expletive expletive, expletive) you. I’ve been in this business 28 years. And that’s it, I’m done’,” Catelinet said.

Catelinet said Slater spouted the obscenities after his flight landed at JFK from Pittsburgh International Airport. Airport authorities said Slater snapped after he argued with a passenger attempting to get overhead baggage before the plane was parked at the gate.

via Judge Grants Bail For JetBlue Flight Attendant « CBS New York- News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of NY.

Now I’VE wanted to do that, when stuck on the tarmac and fed up with bad airline service, but it’s strange for someone working for the airline to take such measures against his customers.  I do know that flight attendants do suffer abuse from passengers. This reminds me of a time when I was stuck on the runway at Detroit, after my flights had already been messed up. A fellow passenger started complaining about the airline to the flight attendant, saying how every time he flies this airline he has problems, how this company is one of the worst run ever, how the owners don’t know what they are doing, and on and on. The flight attendant, the representative of this company to the passenger, shut him up by saying, “You think that’s bad? How would you like to work for them?”

At any rate, Mr. Slater certainly deserves the Johnny Paycheck “Take This Job and Shove It” award.

Interesting jobs

To celebrate the doctrine of vocation and as a build up to Labor Day, let us consider Interesting Jobs.   Here is one:  Major league baseball interpreter.

An interpreter’s job can be consuming, from taking phone calls from a confused player in a grocery store aisle to helping a player’s wife get a driver’s license.

“It’s one thing to be bilingual,” says [Kenji] Nimura, who is unique in the major leagues and especially valuable because he’s fluent in English, Japanese and Spanish. “It’s another to be bicultural.”

That’s why the role has grown as quickly as the Asian influence in the majors, where this year’s 12 Japanese players, three Taiwanese and two South Koreans usually are accompanied by an interpreter.

And note that the correct word is interpreter, not translator. Word-for-word substitutions seldom work between English and the Asian languages.

“If I give a direct translation, it will sound vague,” says Nimura, born in Japan but raised in Los Angeles. “I cheat a little. It’s like a scene in Lost in Translation. As long as I get the meaning right.”

Ever wonder why the translated answer often seems much shorter than the original answer?

“American players follow the formula,” Nimura says. “Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you said. In Japan, they don’t give you an answer until the end.” . . .

Nowhere do the cultural differences show up more than in trying to interpret what goes on in the clubhouse.

The hazing Kuroda received is unheard of in Japan. So are the moments like the day in spring 2009 that Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones wanted to pass a message to new pitcher Kenshin Kawakami.

“Tell him, I said, (expletive)’ ” a grinning Jones said to interpreter Daichi Takasue, then a 21-year-old fresh out of the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he had been trained specifically for moments like this.

Al Ferrer, the former longtime coach at UCSB who now trains and supplies interpreters armed with the knowledge to deal with coaches and game situations, laughs when he remembers Takasue relating the incident.

“He told me, ‘I bowed my head and said Mr. Jones told me to say (expletive)’ ” Ferrer says. “Ragging is not a part of their culture.”

Nor is swearing, something Guillen discovered during one of his colorful clubhouse speeches when Japanese pitcher Shingo Takatsu was on the roster.

“I saw the translator was quiet,” Guillen says. “I’m screaming to him, ‘Make sure you tell him what I say.’ The (interpreter) says, ‘We don’t have those kinds of words in Japan.’ “

via Baseball interpreters bridge gap between players, new culture – USATODAY.com.

What are some other Interesting Jobs?  Do any of you have one?


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