Yesterday, we went to church. The first reading of the day was from Ecclesiasticus. It is that wonderful section that begins, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men.” It talks about the great variety of famous men, leaders, musicians, writers, and others of home there is no memory. It is a great reading for the Sunday after All Saints Day; a reminder that we are all in this together, the rich and the forgotten.
It is also provided the title for James Agee and Walker Evans monumental book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. That book was written about poverty in the south during the Great Depression. Now, over seventy years later, we have others to now praise famous men.
John Edwards, as part of his “American Heroes Week” spent last Saturday with a bunch of supporters helping rebuild home in New Orleans. We still have poverty in our country, and Hurricane Katrina briefly blew away the façade that had been hiding it.
This evening, I received an email containing the brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for the case of Lauren Doninger, P.P.A. as Guardian and Next Friend of Avery Doninger, a minor, Appellant v. Karissa Niehoff and Paula Schwartz, et al., Appellees.
If you are new to this site, I would encourage you to read my coverage in the Connecticut section of this blog. For those of you who like reading briefs, I would encourage you to read the brief filed by Martin Margulies and Daniel J. Krisch of the Center for First Amendment Rights as well as the brief filed by Jon L. Schoenhorn who will be arguing the case at the Second Circuit.
According to Quantcast, my readers are ‘primarily older’. Many of you many not remember your college own application essays and may be more concerned about college application essays of your children.
I must admit, I don’t remember my college application essay, and I suspect I would be embarrassed to read what I wrote thirty years ago. There is a standard sort of question that typically gets asked, “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” Perhaps this would be another good blog meme for people to explore.
When I was seventeen, I’m sure there were plenty of significant experiences I was all too willing to write about, experiences that in retrospect seem pretty insignificant.
How many of us wrote college application essays that we would be proud of thirty years later, that people would want to share and discuss? Recently, however, I had the opportunity to read a college application essay written this year by a seventeen year old, whom I believe will be rightly proud of her essay years to come. With her permission, I am posting it here. It is self-explanatory, but my regular readers should recognize the story almost immediately.
This year I have come to understand why liberty and justice are symbolized with scales. There is a lot to be balanced and decisions can weigh heavy. Since May 2007, a series of good and bad decisions, made by myself and others, has led me on a journey filled with risk and opportunities.
It has been a while since I wrote about the Avery Doninger case, but things are continuing to progress. On October 17th, the National School Boards Association sponsored an online forum on the Educational Benefits of Social Networking for Students and Teachers?.
Will Richardson led the discussion. He has a great blog about blogging and education. I had submitted a question to him about Avery’s case and he responded,
Without knowing the specifics of this particular case, it's hard to know exactly what options the administration had. But I would have to ask what this particular reaction teaches the students? The reality is that we simply cannot control what people are going to write or say about us these days, and that there are all sorts of gray areas that go along with these situations. I wonder, however, whether the administrators themselves are modeling the appropriate use of these technologies for their students, and whether or not the use of blogs and other social tools are being taught in the curriculum. I think the biggest reason students make poor decisions at times about the uses of these technologies is that no one is teaching them how to do it well and they have few models for their use.
There are many important points that Will brings up. The first is that we simply cannot control what people are going to write or say about us these days. Actually, we never could. It is just now, what gets said about us is searchable and persistent.
As to whether the administrators themselves are modeling the appropriate use of these technologies for their students, and whether or not the use of blogs and other social tools are being taught in the curriculum, I don’t know. I surely haven’t been able to find Paula or Karissa’s blogs yet.
I cannot help but wonder how things would have turned out differently if, instead of prohibiting Avery from running for re-election, Paula Schwartz had set up her own blog with a post something like,
Recently, a student leader, frustrated about developments concerning Jamfest, posted an entry on her blog referring to staff at the central office as Douche Bags. We appreciate her passion and commitment to the student body, but we don’t think that the way she expressed herself reflected well on her, or helped advance her case. What do you think? Please join Principal Niehoff and me for an open symposium on how to advocate effectively online. It will take place…
That would have shown courage and leadership. It would have been an opportunity to build better bonds with the students, teachers and citizens of Region 10. It would have taken advantage of a teachable moment, and made it available to the community. Unfortunately, even now, Superintendent Schwartz and Principal Niehoff have failed in this area.
The same is not true with Avery. Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany her as she spoke with teachers and students from other schools in Connecticut. She spoke about the importance of choosing words wisely and advocating strongly for what you believe. Students mobbed her, asking for her autograph, giving her notes expressing their admiration for her. Others spoke of their intention to start their own blogs to express their opinions, advocate for their beliefs and improve their own writing.
Teachers thanked her for taking her experiences beyond the realm of her personal blog and what has happened in school and in court and used the experience to help others learn the value of proper online communications.
I have been frustrated to see the potential for such a valuable educational experience squandered by the administration of Region 10. Yet I am pleased to see that at least someone from Region 10 is taking the experience and using it for the educational benefits of the people of Connecticut. It is even more pleasing to see that it is a student that is doing the teaching.
It was the fall of 1980. I had left college and moved to New York with a few of my friends from school. We were all artists, painters, photographers, sculptures, and writers. I had come to New York to write poetry. I would support myself writing computer programs. I searched out a community of believers to become part of and started attending Grace Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
Every Wednesday evening, many of us young professionals would gather for a Eucharist and then break into prayer groups. We would gather together, share stories of our work lives, our concerns and pray for one another. It was a place of stability for many of us in our turbulent years in a turbulent city.
It shaped all of us, and many of my friends went on to become priests and missionaries after following fairly serpentine paths. Today, these paths crossed once again. One of the women I met back in 1980 was Kate Heichler. We traveled in the same circles, prayer groups, trips to Ocean Grove in the summer and weekend retreats at Camp Incarnation in the springs and fall.
I moved to Connecticut, and slowly lost touch with many of my old friends from Grace Church. In 1999, I started dating Kim and in September, her mother ended her battle with cancer and went to be with God. Kim was attending a small church in her home town of Bethany Connecticut. The evening Kim’s mom died, the rector of the church came and sat with us. That whole time is a bit of a blur, but figuratively, if not literally, Peter brought donuts. He sat with us and provided comfort.
Sunday morning, Kim and I went to Christ Church, Bethany, were Peter was the Rector. The news had spread through the congregation about Kim’s mother’s death. Kim’s mother was a well beloved teacher and member of the community, and many people had prayed long and hard for her. Everyone came up to comfort Kim and offer words of condolence.
It was the first Sunday of September, and Peter was introducing a new seminarian that Sunday. Her name was Kate Heichler, the same Kate I had gone to Grace Church with nearly two decades earlier. We looked at each other and both asked, what are you doing here?
Kim and I got married and we settled at my old house in Stamford. Christ Church flourished with Peter as the Rector and Kate as seminarian, and later as an assistant. Then, earlier this year, Kate accepted the calling to become Priest in Charge at Trinity Emmanuel Church in Stamford.
Trinity Emmanuel is a small church in North Stamford. I had attended it briefly when I first moved to Connecticut. Later, when a friend of mine was fighting cancer, Kim and I attended Trinity Emmanuel to be with him the worst part of his struggles.
Now, Kate was the Priest in Charge. Kim and I returned to Trinity Emmanuel during the summer. We prayed for the church and continue to pray for it. As our own lives continued to become more complicated, between Kim’s Lyme disease and our difficult finances, we moved to Woodbridge, the next town over from Bethany and started attending Christ Church, Bethany.
Members of Trinity Emmanuel came to our house to help us move, as well as prayed for us in our struggles.
This morning, I returned to Trinity Emmanuel to celebrate the new ministry of Kate and Trinity Emmanuel. Peter provided the sermon. Friends from Grace Church in Manhattan were there, as were friends from other churches in the Stamford Deanery.
The band for Christ Church, Bethany provided most of the music, and during the service, members of the congregation presented Kate with a bowl of guitar picks say, “Kate, receive these guitar picks, which you so liberally scatter, and be among us as one who teaches us a new song in worship.”
It was a wonderful service. Not only was a great celebration of the new ministry of Kate and Trinity Emmanuel, but it was also first such ceremony that The Right Reverend Doctor Laura Ahrens celebrated as Bishop Suffragan of Connecticut.
For me, the words that summed up the service were the refrain from the Litany of Prayers for Ministry, “Set us free to serve You”.
As I thought about all the things that have happened in my life since those days at Grace Church, as well as all the things that have happened in Kate’s life and the lives of some many of my friends, the idea of being liberated to serve God ties it together very nicely.
So, my prayers are with Kate, with the congregation of Trinity Emmanuel, and with all of us that needs God’s grace to set us free to serve Him.