Archive for February, 2018

McLean Teaching

When I started my high school teaching after getting out of the Navy and finishing one graduate degree, the last thing I ever thought of was some kid getting a gun and coming to school to shoot people. One of my history students volunteered to bring his ‘small’ gun collection for his class to see. The narrow parking lot outside my morning classroom at McLean H S allowed him to bring his Civil War cannon and park it outside a window with the business end pointed into the classroom. He brought his collection of pistols and muskets into the classroom and spent the time of my three morning American history classes describing the weapons and their uses. Other teachers had him come to their history classrooms with his armaments and describe them. I think everyone in the school, including custodians and cafeteria workers came to see the cannon. For me, it was a wonderful addition to what was probably an unreal class for many of my students. And, it gave me a view of a young man that had never been revealed in his classwork.

This was an era in which a number of school boys went hunting with their fathers in western Fairfax and Loudoun counties, so gun use was not uncommon. Yet, the real/active type was never brought to school in some kid’s pocket. One of the muskets my young man brought in had been fixed up to work, and (without powder) he demonstrated how it was loaded and described how it kicked his shoulder when fired.

This was only one kid, but he brought to mind how different the atmosphere I taught in was different from that of today. I’m glad I have that memory rather than the one from Florida.

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Seriously Now!

One of the interesting things about human life is how seriously each one of us takes ourselves. My life and that of those close to me, friends and relatives, are the closest things to my heart. We disagree as well as agree. We think we are the most important things in the world. We like each other and get along mostly because we are alike in some way(s).

There are people we don’t care for, individuals as well as groups. As for individuals, we know from direct experience why we don’t like each other. As for groups, we sometimes absorb the attitudes of family and friends (and TV). To me, the whole business of social relationships is a mess we try to intellectually understand and don’t quite make it. Why people who grow up in groups with particular attitudes can’t abide people with different attitudes is something whole university degree programs are built around (to little effect).

In recent years, there has been more public information about the development of the human species. Through finding ancient bones, we know now that the human (as we are) species has come from more
“primitive” bodies and brains to what we are now. We regard this as progress. In a recent New York Times there is an article about an ancient set of bones found in Britain, labeled Cheddar Man. A hole was drilled in its skull, its DNA was examined, identified and tied to a living Englishman, Adrian Targett who is related to Cheddar Man on his mother’s side. How’s that for family history?

What we will never know is whether the attitudes he exhibited toward others of his kind were like ours: “he wants to be our leader but I think he stinks” (metaphorically). Have our political attitudes advanced or would he feel right at home with what we have in Washington?

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Mar Matta



Like most American Christians, I suppose, my knowledge of the start and spread of the belief in Jesus as the Son of God started in Jerusalem after the four disciples wrote the Gospels. The belief in these four documents went from there along the coast up to Constantinople. It was also carried by sea to Rome and from these two centers it spread into western Europe. I was also aware that it moved through the Middle East, but I did not follow this path.

It was with some surprise that I read an article about a group traveling through the mountains of northern Iraq stopping in an ancient and impressively beautiful monastery named the Monastery of St. Matthew. After searching through multiple sources, I found It was established in 363 AD and is sometimes referred to by the name of its founder, the hermit Mar. While it is now not the complete religious institution it has been for most of its 17Cs, it still serves the geographic area north of Mosul. Even after being plundered several times, it remains an impressive building with a significant library and considerable collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts from its centuries of existence. It’s interior is magnificent with it’s chapel, living quarters and other religious areas. Until the war in Iraq, it still served as the religious institution serving Mosul and the valley and mountain area in which it is situated. I hope it will be resuscitated.

I knew little of religion (Islamic) in the East and was dumbfounded to find a Christian institution of this nature in what I took to be a completely Islamic country. It is a reminder that the knowledge stuffed away in my head is insignificant.

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