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Is Homeschooling for You? (Principals in Pajamas)

thorramsey No Comments
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If you happen to be a control freak, then homeschooling is an option you should strongly consider because it’s the ultimate way to control your child 24 hours a day. However, if you’re not a control freak but are just concerned about your child’s education and value system (as most homeschool parents are) then here are some things you should consider before you turn your laundry room into a schoolroom.

Are you organized? You are? Then you must not have children yet. Check back after you’ve given birth.

Are you willing to be hated by your child before he reaches puberty? Some children just hate school. If you are the teacher of a child who hates school, you will often find that the child who hates school will also hate the teacher. Happy Mother’s Day.

Do you know more than a fifth grader? Then you can host a gameshow. Do you know more than the child you gave birth to or adopted or stole back from the baby’s daddy? Then you can homeschool.

Can you spare a couple hours a day? If so, you can homeschool.

When my wife began homeschooling our daughter, she had great reservations because teaching is not one of her gifts, nor is organization, nor is a routine schedule, which all seemed to be elements of school. So, when our daughter struggled, my wife believed it was all her fault. I knew better. It was genetics. But I didn’t say anything? Why let her think it’s my fault.

I wasn’t worried, though. My wife learned to read. I learned to read. Eventually. After a couple years in the first grade. Still, I knew our daughter’s chances were good, because both her parents can read. We still don’t know what to do with a semi-colon; maybe something like that to give you pause – but why not just use a dash? Look how far I’ve advanced. I just gave you a sentence with a comma, a semicolon, a dash and a question mark. Periods are a given. Boring and predictable. But I guess they’re better than saying “stop” like in those old wild West telegrams “STOP”

My wife’s experience in public school was the opposite of mine. She liked school, and I mean the part about learning. I liked school because it provided an audience. You can’t be a class clown without a class. My distaste for public school had to do with their teaching methodology. So, lemme get this straight? You want me to go home and do this? Then why did I just spend my whole day here? Daydreamers have no chance in such an environment, because you daydream about all the stuff you can do at home once you get out of school. And none of it has to do with homework, which is just the public school’s way of encouraging you to keep your kids at home and teach them.

The biggest mistake we made in the beginning of our homeschool journey was treating homeschool like it was public school except in our home. That and leaving the TV on. That’s probably not a good idea. If you take all the homeschoolers in this country alone and lay them end to end, none of them will be counted absent. That’s the first advantage to homeschooling – a perfect attendance record. (Notice my use of the dash instead of the semicolon.)

Homeschooling is about flexibility and mastery. The only outside teacher we used was the piano teacher, so let me use the piano teacher as the bad example. When our daughter was five she started taking piano lessons. We finally had to tell her piano teacher to let her play a song until she masters it instead of giving her three new songs every week. What good is playing hundreds of songs badly? The mistake we made with this request is that we should have picked out the songs. She’s been playing the William Tell Overture for the past month. That’s an annoying tune. Maybe I should turn the TV back on.

Just remember: homeschooling is about mastery and flexibility.

Ask other parents about their homeschool experience. The conversation will often go like this: “How has your homeschool experience been?’

Then the mother you’re asking will burst into tears.

That pretty much sums it up.

It will be the most challenging aspect of your life where you will discover that those very same character flaws which you overlook in yourself somehow become unbearable in your children. Now you know how people really see you. Welcome to reality. We hope you enjoy your stay.

But do not despair.

There’s always Park Day.

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How Not to Lose Your Religion

thorramsey No Comments
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I must admit that I’ve always thought atheism was silly. If there is no God, then who are they angry at? Not that all atheists are angry, just the ones who have book deals. However, I do take atheists seriously for several reasons. First, because they have book deals. That’s always impressive. Second, because they’re human beings. And, clearly, some of them can type. I’m still impressed by the thumb. Third, because I share with them a common bond of nonconformity. As a group, they are a minority that is swimming against the stream, living out the survival ethic they so dearly believe. They are truly trying to find a manageable way to live life in a meaningless universe. That’s a remarkable task. (I’m not saying atheists don’t find life meaningful. That’s not the issue. The issue is that if atheism is true then life ultimately has no discernible meaning. Still, they enjoy a good birthday party as much as the next person.)

Spending a good portion of my life in airports, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder these things. That’s when I first noticed The End of Faith, Sam Harris’s book, in an airport bookstore. (This was back when it was a bestseller, before the new atheism had become passé.) As a Christian myself, just the fact that I picked it up shows my great courage.

A Christian publisher once told me that he believes there is an unspoken fear that most Christians have: “If I read this book it could be the end of my faith.” I felt it was time for me to face these fears… back in 2005. Clearly, I’ve come out of this battle smugly victorious, but don’t let that ruin the tension of what might happen to my Christian faith. This isn’t over yet. I’m still writing. Just glance ahead. There are more words. The end of my faith could lay ahead. Okay, back to 2005 (because if atheism has anything to offer it should still be good a decade later), I read the introduction to The End of Faith standing in an airport bookstore and decided then, sweat dripping from my brow, my palms clammy and wet, that I should ask the store manager to turn down the heat. My palms never sweat. I also decided, “If my faith can’t stand up to a little scrutiny, it must be worthless.”

In the afterward to his book, Sam says that he has received letters from ministers who have lost their faith after reading his book. I guess they wrote to thank him? I read Sam’s book and still have my faith. He’ll have to try again. But describing this as losing their faith is a bit inaccurate. They didn’t lose their faith. They swapped their faith. They went from faith in God to faith that there is no God. It’s still faith. And it’s actually a greater faith than mine. All I’m claiming is that the infinite God of the universe has communicated to humanity. Sam’s claiming that as a finite human being he has somehow peeked into the infinite and witnessed nothingness. He knows nothing is there. That would make me a little testy too.

I bought Sam’s book and read it on the flight home, wishing I was back in the bookstore because airplanes are always freezing. While reading the book, I discovered that I am very close to being an atheist myself. I am only one God away. Like Sam, I disbelieve in all deities. Well, except the one. That’s pretty close if you ask me.

Sam made some obvious points in his book.

Islam is violent.
Jews committed genocide at the command of God in the Old Testament.
Christians make lousy TV programs.

Now, it was never clear to me what any of these objections had to do with the nonexistence of God, because they were all moral arguments typed while his neck veins were popping from emotional juice. I imagine. But that is the tone of Sam’s book – moral indignation toward a God who doesn’t exist. I’m waiting for a really gutsy atheist who will just title her book: Why I Would Make a Better God Than God.

The fascinating thing to me is how forcefully some atheists argue against God’s existence, like it’s personal. To argue against nothingness so forcefully makes a person look a bit silly. It’s a bit like trying to win at shadow boxing. If you land a knockout punch while shadow boxing, I think you lose. If nothing is there, then that’s what the atheist is arguing against. Counter this with any protest and it’s meaningless. Materialism is hopelessness. If there is only matter then nothing matters. (If only I sold t-shirts, that’s the type of pithy little statement I’d need. I tweet instead and pass the savings onto you.)

Even though Sam stands upon his university degrees as proof of his intellectual prowess and advanced reasoning, the tone of his book is juvenile, a kind of Dr. Seuss of unbelief: God is not here or there or anywhere. And if he is I will not like it, so tell the Who’s who do believe it they must be dumb, because I can’t conceive it.

Isn’t being angry at a nonexistent being kind of silly? Silly Sam. It’s juvenile. And I would know: I hosted a TV show called Bananas for three seasons, which brings me to the atheist comedian Ricky Gervais who said, “The thing that really makes my blood boil is injustice. Social, political, religious, whatever it happens to be.” This is interesting to me again, from the standpoint that if nothing is there to define ultimate meaning, which there isn’t if there is no source of meaning (God), then why be angry that things are not working out fairly? It’s to be angry at nothing for not doing something. It’s to demand justice from the air.

Of course, the other thing that makes Gervais’s blood boil is the arrogance of proclaiming that your religion is thee religion, you know like when Jesus said, “I’m the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” That kind of thing. He hates that. To claim that your view of the universe is ultimate. Almost like claiming that a finite being can peek into the infinite and tell us that nothing’s there.

To nothing be the glory.
That’s not arrogant.

That’s somehow rational and sane. Well, whatever you call it, don’t call if faith, because that makes them angry. And they have enough to be upset about in a meaningless universe full of injustice.

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Clunkers Are Safer

thorramsey one comments
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These days I’m happy to drive a clunker, not that our 2006 Dodge Magnum is a clunker. I’m just happy to drive anything that’s paid off. Oddly enough, as soon as a car is paid off it becomes a clunker. The timing of the auto industry is impeccable.

If I had it to do all over again, I would buy that Pinifarina Spider I nearly bought when I was twenty-something. Brand new. Against all the advice of financial gurus everywhere. It was only a two-seater, so I didn’t buy it. I guess I expected to have more friends. Turns out, a two-seater would have been perfect. One seat for me and one seat for the friend I wish I had. There are some things you can regret as much as debt.

But I have discovered that clunkers are safer.

While I was out of town, my wife was carjacked in our own driveway. On the bright side, at least she didn’t have far to walk home. The car salesperson didn’t happen to mention to us that the Dodge Magnum we purchased is one of the top three carjacked cars in the country. We thought we were buying a station wagon, but no. We bought a get-away-car.

The carjackers followed her home from a grocery store. Two of the future inmates ambushed her in the driveway. Initially, the dude holding the handgun asked her for her purse. Then the older dude asked for the car keys. The younger dude asked, “Whatta you doin’?” And the older dude said, “Get in the car,” not to my wife but to the younger gang member. The gang member plebe said, “Sorry, Ma’am,” to my wife, which I’m sure the judge will take into consideration.

“How do you plead?”

“Guilty. But I said I was sorry.”

Then they were gone, followed by the car that dropped them off in front of the house. (I think it was a hand painted orange Volvo.) There were three suspects involved in taking a purse away from a suburban homemaker. It took three men to handle my wife. Maybe they should be looking at people who know her.

For some reason, one of the gang members felt compelled to use my wife’s cell phone and call the last person she spoke with, which happened to be me. I was sitting in a movie theater in Nashville, Tennessee, when my phone vibrated. Thankfully, it was such a boring movie (Australia with Huge Jackman and Nicole Kidman) that I was looking for any excuse to walkout. So, I took the call, thinking it was my wife because it was her name on the screen.

“Hey, Peach!”

All I hear is cussing on the other end of the line.

“Did I forget to take out the trash before I left?”

This gang member did not take kindly to being called “Peach.”

After a few more verbal assaults, he hangs up.

As you can imagine, I am panicked with worry. He might make a long distance call! Okay, my real concern was, “Where’s my wife?”

She was being interviewed by a local detective who shared many things that frightened her even more – like the one about the carjackers who had recently been taking not only the cars, but the people driving them out to a remote location, shooting the former owners of the autos in the head and then moving on with the car. The detective was just there to help.

The detective asked my wife, “What did they look like?”

She said, “A gun. They looked like a gun.” Because when someone is pointing a gun at you, that’s what you look at. So, you have to ask yourself, “Is that new car worth it?”

Pay cash for an older car.

It just might save your life.

Unless you’re under 25, then buy the sports car.

Brand new.

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How is Sarcasm Helpful?

thorramsey 2 comments
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“Wow. Sarcasm. That’s helpful.”

Sometimes people ask me, “How is sarcasm helpful?” Usually right after I just said something. “How is it even Christian of you to use sarcasm?” Well, let me answer you, imaginary person who speaks for so many.

The Bible says in Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” The next verse adds, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.” I’ve thought long and hard about these two passages, which is why I will now illustrate them with an old joke.

Let’s say you’re flying across the country, sitting there comfortably in your exit row seat, reading your pocket Bible (this joke assumes you’re a Christian), minding your own business when the person sitting next to you harrumphs, “You actually believe that thing?”

His tone is mocking. You can tell because only people who mock harrumph.

You answer kindly (this joke assumes you’re a kind Christian), “Yes, I do.”

But he continues his scoffing, “What about Jonah? How’s a guy get swallowed by a whale and survive for three days?”

You answer, “I don’t know. When I get to heaven I’ll ask him.”

He mocks, “What if he isn’t in heaven?”

You answer, “Then you can ask him.”

Pause for laughter. Two, three, four…

This is how we (assuming you’re a Christian again) apply Proverbs 26:4-5. If you answer a fool according to his folly, you will be like him, meaning you will become a fool yourself. The guy sitting next to you on the plane isn’t making a true inquiry into the faith. He is mocking you with his question. If you take his question seriously, you become the fool.

When you take someone’s insincere crack about the Christian faith seriously, you become the fool and the mocker becomes wise in his own eyes. This fool on the plane is really scoffing, so Proverbs says to answer him according to his wisecrack (as demonstrated in prior joke) and then he won’t be wise in his own eyes.

I heard one Christian apologist argue that the point of Proverbs 26 is to place yourself in the fool’s worldview and show him the folly of living life, for instance, as if atheism were true. I agree that trying to apply atheism to your daily life is comical when you begin to examine it. However, I would disagree with answering him on the basis of his worldview, because that’s answering him according to his folly. His view of the world is part of his problem.

The Christian’s epistemological (that word cost me ten grand and a year of my life in seminary – it’s the foundation for how we know things) starting point is God, who makes all reasoning about his universe intelligible. God is the foundation of our knowledge. We become foolish when we try to answer the atheist by adopting his starting premise. The atheist needs to be shown why his premise itself is foolish. That’s if he’s sincere.

If the person is only mocking, then by answering an insincere quip with a tongue-in-cheek reply you put the fool in his place. Not that all atheists are insincere in their inquiries, but c’mon… Christopher Hitchens titled his book god is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. Really? Everything? So, you’re telling me that if there were no religion that my dining experience at Denny’s would be vastly improved? I love omelets, but how do you even enjoy a meal in light of nothingness? It’s hard to live as if there is no God, even at Denny’s.

That’s why I employ sarcasm at times.

Not now, though. Now I’m being very sincere.

As far as you know.

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Little Things Add Up

thorramsey No Comments
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Starbucks is my happy place, my first romance with corporate America. My local Starbucks’ baristas know me by drink. They look at me when I walk in and say, “Venti iced chai? Eight pumps?” This is why I love Starbucks. They always make me feel welcome. I walk in and a barista asks with a big smile, “How are you today?”

“Well, I’m better now that you made me feel welcome.”

I don’t even care that it’s a corporate policy smile. I’ll take it. “Thanks for reading the company manual.” The baristas always put me in a better mood. Just say the word “barista” aloud. It’s a very happy word. It’s not just iced chai tea. It’s iced chai tea and someone who’s paid to be glad to see me. That’s worth $5.90 a day. (You may have to adjust this joke for inflation.)

You could say Starbucks is one of my greatest weaknesses. Or it’s one of my greatest strengths depending upon your view of caffeine.

I’m a gold card member, which is basically a frequent drinking program. My average is $150 a month and with every 12 purchases I get a free drink. Congratulations. That’s 24 drinks a month, which is two free drinks each month. Minus the savings, I only spend $140 a month at Starbucks. If it wasn’t for Starbucks, I wouldn’t be saving $10 a month.

But who’s counting? Besides the accountants at Starbucks. Yeah, I have a problem and I don’t even drink coffee. I drink chai tea and eat pastries, specifically low-fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake. It’s low-fat. And it’s swirly. Did you hear me? It’s swirly.

Don’t judge me.

It’s swirly.

The truth is little things like Starbucks add up. This is not news to you I’m sure. I’ll tell you what is news, have a chat with your local Starbucks barista about people’s financial habits at Starbucks.

“How many people like myself come in here daily?” I asked my barista.

“Oh, you don’t wanna know,” she said.

So, there’s Starbucks’ financial policy – bury your head in the coffee.

“20 or 30?” I said.

“Hundreds.”

Some customers come in two or three times a day, she told me. I know. I know. Their savings are really adding up. That’s like five free drinks each month. These people are saving nearly $25 a month. If I went more than once a day, I could save more money, too. The more you buy, the more you save. That’s marketing 101. Wait a second. Marketing is about getting my money. Hey! I think I’m catching on.

The crew (now every employee was involved in my financial survey) told me about one customer who orders eight black teas daily. She calls ahead and then comes in and picks up the order, which is $18 (with a $2 tip). That’s… carry the one… I don’t know… more than I spend there daily. This person is a really poor financial planner. If she just drank seven more black teas a day, she could get a free drink every day. Think of the savings.

Little things add up.

If my wife blew $150 this month on various things, which she did because she told me, “I spent $150 on various things at Target today.” That means together we blew $300 this month. That’s a part-time job at Starbucks. If we just gave up Starbucks it would be like getting a part-time job at Starbucks.

That’s $3,600 per year we can save.

Wow.

That doesn’t even include the low-fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake, valued at $1,200 per year.

The point is… little things add up.

Big things add up too, but I can’t afford them.

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