Advent – Calendars, Traditions and Jesus Storybook Bible

This is a picture of our way cool Advent Calendar.  We bought it last year in an effort to start a family tradition.  Each day Junia gets to open the corresponding box and get a little present.  Sometimes it is a dollar, or a small bath toy, or a piece of candy.  Last year I made a list of twenty-five scripture readings to lead us up to Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

I did a bit of internet research, trying to figure out what to do this year.  Through  this I came across a few blogs that mentioned the Jesus Storybook Bible.  It seemed like a pretty neat Bible so we got it.  The plan is to read a story a day, first the twenty-one stories from the Old Testament followed by the three from the New Testament centered on the birth of Jesus.

I love the holiday season, though it can get hectic at times.  My prayer is that this daily family activity will keep Emily and I centered as well as begin to pass on the faith to Junia.

What are you doing for advent?

Embracing Nerd-dom

My whole life I have kept two parts of myself in balance – the nerd part and the sports part.

I have always enjoyed the sort of sci-fi/fantasy that defines nerds, especially Star Wars.  I have also always enjoyed watching sports, from the NFL to the NCAA tournament.  I could hold my own in a conversation about who the best Jedi was as well as I could about who the best Quarterback was.

Then something happened: to save money we got rid of cable.  Now my primary means of television was whatever Netflix had available.  Live sports were much harder to come by.

A few other factors played into it.  I spend a lot of time with college students and most of the students who I have been with the last couple years are not into sports, but they are quite into nerdy television.  A recent nail in my sports-viewing coffin came with the change of the local ESPN station to CBS radio.  I used to get my information, what helped me stay on top of sports, from ESPN.  CBS is just not as good so I don’t listen.

What is the result?

Trying desperately to get my wife to like Doctor Who!

On Cloth Diapering

When my wife, Emily, told me she wanted to use cloth diapers rather than disposable ones on our yet unborn baby, I was skeptical.  Never having changed a diaper in my life, I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.  Though I had no experience changing diapers, I assumed that using disposable diapers was much easier then cloth.  Disposable diapers were…disposable!  You take them off and throw them away (along with whatever has been deposited inside of them).  With cloth diapers not only would I have to clean the baby, but I’d have to clean and save the diaper!

Emily knows me well.  Her primary argument was not about how cloth diapers are better for the environment (though they are).  It was about how much money we would save.  Disposable diapers are expensive and babies go through a lot of them.  Reusable cloth diapers only have to be purchased once and then the only costs are detergent and your water bill.

So I gave in.  Why not give it a try?

Fifteen months later I can say I am glad we did it.  Not just for the money we saved (though Emily calculated how much we spent compared to how much she estimated we would have spent on disposables and we did save at least a thousand dollars), but also…okay, mostly for the money we saved.  I also like producing less trash.  We used disposables for the first month or so and I was amazed how much additional trash I was putting on the curb each week!

I’m not going to lie: cloth diapers are hard work.  We purchased enough to last for a couple of days.  So every other evening after we put Junia to bed we would have to put a load of diapers in the washing machine.  One cycle on cold, another cycle (with an extra rinse!) on hot and then into the dryer (or on the washline, before I cut it down by accident with the hedge trimmer, which is another story).  On a good day if we started the diapers in the evening we’d finish the process by lunchtime the next day.  On a bad day we might end up with a naked baby on the changing table and all the diapers sitting in the dryer in the basement!

Emily and I are blessed to have the sort of jobs that make cloth diapering a bit easier: she teaches at a Cyber School, so she works from home, and I work in campus ministry so my schedule is flexible enough to allow me to stay home during the day and go to campus in late afternoons.  If both persons in a couple have to go back to work shortly after the baby is born cloth diapering is probably more difficult, though I imagine if they really wanted to do it, it could be done.  But if one person plans to stay home with the baby full-time, or if the jobs are flexible enough, I would highly recommend cloth-diapering (have I mentioned how much money you will save?).

Cloth diapering does not need to be all or nothing.  Some people who cloth diaper do so regardless of where they go or how long they are there.  When my wife and I have been out of town with the baby for a few days, we go disposable.  I am sure cloth diapering could be done in such situations: you’d just have to find a place to wash them…and not mind carrying a bunch of dirty diapers with you.

Carrying dirty diapers was my biggest hang up.  If I am taking Junia somewhere and it is likely she’ll need a diaper change, I’ll put a disposable on her.  My reason is simply that I don’t want to carry dirty or wet diapers with me.  I like to bring home less stuff then I take with me and shoving a dirty diaper (in its own bag, of course) into the diaper bag is a hassle.  Emily often gives me a hard time…mostly asking, “what’s the big deal?”  I have to admit that the more used to cloth diapering I have gotten the more comfortable I have become with doing it while out.  Now I am willing to cloth diaper if one change will be needed (but there’s no way I’m carrying TWO dirty diapers around with me…wait, I did that yesterday!).

So if you’re soon going to be having a baby, I encourage you to look into cloth diapering.  There are not cloth diaper stores on every corner, but if you want to do it you can find the resources you need.  Do some research, discover if it is for you.

(Did I mention you’ll save money?)

I also heard kids who cloth diaper potty-train faster because cloth diapers do not soak up the pee as well and are thus more uncomfortable.  I am not sure if that’s true, but I’ll let you know!

 

Dude, You Got Daddy Skills

My neighbor posted this video on her Facebook.  It is absolutely hilarious!  Share it with any dad you know.

My favorite is that there were so many moments that I could completely relate to: stressing that people are going to know I’m the one who dressed her, the spare crocs when you go out, the little snack cup…so true!

Porn is Everywhere and it is a Gateway Drug

I absolutely cherish my 15 month old daughter Junia.  She has become my obsession.  As I play with her during the day or pray with her before bedtime I often find myself imagining what kind of person she will be when she is older.

Maybe she’ll be a teacher.  Or perhaps she’ll want to be an engineer.  She loves animals already, maybe she will become a vet.  Or is music going to be her passion?

I never look at her and think: I hope she poses in a porn magazine.

Martin Daubney was once the editor of Loaded, a British magazine that pushed the envelope of soft-core porn (much like Maxim).  Now this man who once defended pics of scantily clad women confesses he has changed his entire worldview You can read a brief excerpt from the article here or you can find the full article here though I do warn you it includes a few racy pictures)

Back then, it never once occurred to me that we were objectifying women or doing any harm. I fiercely denied that Loaded was a ‘gateway’ to harder pornographic magazines.

It was in my own interests to do so. If we were classified as ‘top shelf’, we’d have been put in opaque plastic bags like the pornographic magazines, which would have been commercial suicide.

But such thoughts came home to roost five years later in 2009, when I finally grew up and became a father.

It had such an effect on me and changed my views so forcibly that within a year I’d quit a dream job that, for me, had become a moral nightmare.

When I look back now, I see we were severely pushing the envelope of what was considered decent.

We were normalising soft porn, and in so doing we must have made it more acceptable for young men to dive into the murky waters of harder stuff on the internet. And, for that, I have a haunting sense of regret.

He goes on to speak out powerfully for the need to create ways to shield children from pornography:

Anybody who coerces a woman, or, worse, forces or threatens them to take part in porn should be jailed for many years.

Let’s be clear: you can’t ever ban pornography. Like tax and Tory U-turns, it is painfully unavoidable and lots of consenting adults consume it of their own free will. But we must tighten up the current laws to make it unavailable to children, as it can be so damaging.

It sells boys the debasing view of women as one-dimensional fakes: fake boobs, fake hair, fake nails, fake orgasms and fake hope.

How will these tainted children be able to interact with real women later in life if the first ones they ‘meet’ are on-screen mannequins? By allowing children free access to pornographic images, the next generation of young men are becoming so desensitised, I genuinely fear we’re storing up an emotional time-bomb.

Porn objectifies women, demeans and cheapens them, because it sells a fantasy where men are always in control and get what they want.

But real life isn’t like that. In porn, women cry, ‘yes, yes, yes!’ but in real life, they often say, ‘no’. Not all men have the intelligence or moral fortitude to understand they cannot take what they want.

Today, it’s never been easier to get your hands on porn of the most grotesquely graphic nature, yet absolutely nobody admits responsibility.

And most shocking of all is the total lack of moral accountability displayed by the internet pornographers when it comes to supplying their product to minors.

If, as a magazine editor, I strayed outside of the rules, I’d be taken off sale, fined and lose my job.

Likewise, if a newsagent sells an over-18s magazine to a minor, he can expect to lose his licence and be closed down.

Yet the internet pornographers laugh in the face of this, and the internet service providers (ISPs) wash their hands of the problem.

It’s like saying supplying a drug is ok so long as you don’t manufacture it. There’s no accountability, and it needs to be cleared up, fast. Isn’t it time the ISPs were held to task?

If found guilty of being the highway that gets porn to children, they should face massive fines and risk of closure.

The Mail has been campaigning for new rules forcing all internet users to opt in if they want access to pornography — and I couldn’t be more emphatic in my support. We also need to make sure that these controls apply to smartphones as well as computers.

Looking back, I think magazines like Loaded did give young men a ‘taste’ for soft porn that led to deeper and darker desires. But we operated in a bygone, almost innocent age compared to today, when internet pornography is being pumped out on an industrial scale — straight into the bedrooms of our children.

The internet and its morally redundant pornographers have changed all that. It is time our policy-makers cried ‘enough!’ and banged them to rights.

Two years after my exit, I can finally admit that I was part of the problem. By speaking out, in some tiny way I hope to be part of the solution.

Pornography is a horrible, disgusting evil.  Sadly, it is something that has touched the lives of pretty much every man I know, or at least the ones I’ve talked with it about.  Very few of us make it through our teen years free of porn (I didn’t).  It scares me to think how much more is available now then even when I was a teenager.

It scares me to think that my daughter will be growing up in a world where millions of boys are taught to objectify women.

Porn is not an isolated evil.  It is connected to the growth of sex trafficking in our world.  One thing we talk about often at meetings of Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved is that if men did not buy women, there would be no forced prostitution.  Yet along with that, men do not just wake up one day and decide to buy a woman.  Porn is a factor for it teaches men that women are objects to be used for his enjoyment.  Like any other addiction, eventually a stronger dose is needed and stronger doses are more and more available in the form of women and girls forced into prostitution.’

When gun violence of tremendous proportions happens we (rightly) question the role the availability of guns plays.  Why not question the role of the ubiquity of porn plays in violence against women?

We Are…More than Football

Today the NCAA delivered unprecedented sanctions against Penn State University’s football program.  I am sure most people already have an opinion on that and if you are interested you can find a myriad of articles on the sanctions.  My take has to do with the sanctions as they relate to the academic environment and the student activities at Penn State.

The implication in the sanctions is that Penn State University cares about football too much.  It almost seems like this is what Penn State is being punished for, since those who committed and covered up the crimes are either in jail or dead.  The one question that is not asked is that if all Penn State ever cared about was football, how come Penn State consistently has the highest graduation rates in the country for its football team?

Just this past year Penn State football was rated #1 in the Academic Bowl.  The article is from last December, so right after the scandal broke and before we had the information we have today, and one paragraph reads:

But the ironic news is that the team that topped the list is Penn State, whose football program, coached by the legendary Joe Paterno, was rocked by a sex-abuse scandal. According to the analysis, Penn State graduates 80% of its football players in six years or less and also shows no achievement gap between its black and white players, which NAF says is extremely rare for Division I football teams. (At LSU, by comparison, the team’s black players are 32% less likely to graduate than their white counterparts.) Winning the top honors in the academic bowl further proves the success of Paterno’s “grand experiment,” his idea that major-college athletes could contend for national championships while excelling in the classroom.

Clearly people in high levels at Penn State dropped the ball and made tremendous mistakes in judgment.  Yet they are all gone now.  Some of the sanctions are good, such as the fine that will put millions of dollars in a fund to help victims of abuse.  This is a good thing. The sanctions also include an “athletic integrity” monitor watching over the program.  Because having the top graduation rates is not good enough?

It almost seems like, with all those responsible in jail or dead, that Penn State is being punished for caring about football too much.  During the press conference, Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA actually said, “If you find yourself in a place where the athletic culture is taking precedence over academic culture, then a variety of bad things can occur.”  If Penn State is guilty on this count, then based on being consistently among the top schools in graduation rates,  we might as well just not have college football altogether in this country.

Note too, Penn State can still have their games on television.  The NCAA is not going to stop profiting from TV money.  The NCAA cares about football enough to still make boatloads of profit.

The sanctions punish the wrong people was a statement I heard a lot today.  But usually the “wrong people” were current players and coaches who had nothing to do with the scandal (the NCAA always punishes the wrong people, look at the USC case, same thing).  When I think of the wrong people though, I think of people far beyond those in the football program.

I think of all the other sports whose budgets are paid for in large part by football revenue.  How will this affect hockey or swimming or lacrosse?  I also think of the students in Christian Student Fellowship.  We run a concession stand at every Penn State home game.  Over the course of the year, CSF makes about $5,000 which goes towards all sorts of ministry on campus.  Numerous other student groups also make a good chunk of money running concessions which they to use for their clubs’ purposes.  These sanctions may end up hurting campus ministries as well as other clubs on campus.

It makes me sad that so many children were hurt by a gruesome monster.

It also makes me sad that because of a few people, the university I know and love, for dozens of reasons other then football, has its reputation tarnished.

A friend of mine wrote the follow on Facebook but I could not find a reliable source for it.  But it does demonstrate that Penn State is much more than just a football school, so I post it without fact-checking every claim mostly because the list of notable alumni from Penn State is too long (more after the quote):

“Lately, I’ve seen many outraged users claiming that because of this scandal, they will boycott Penn State and anything associated with it. In light of this, I’ve compiled a handy list of things to steer clear of if you want to avoid any trace of Penn State:
-Don’t use Mac computers. The man who started the Macintosh project got his computer science degree at PSU.
-Don’t watch the Olympic Games if you hate Penn State – they have 16 athletes and coaches competing in London this year!
-Skip vaccinating against cervical cancer – the vaccine was developed with research by Penn State’s College of Medicine.
-No need to buy accurately-labeled foods because the legislation demanding safe, labeled foods was based on PSU’s research.
-If you have a heart attack, refuse a heart pump. It was invented at Penn State.
-Demand the removal of the world’s most accurate clock because Penn State physicists helped improve it. Sure the clock is integral to global communications, satellite navigation and surveying, and computerized financial transactions worldwide, but you hate Penn State, right?”

Here is a list of great alumni from Penn State.  On that list we see the first African-American in space Guion Bufod, the founder of Accuweather, lots of writers and screenwriters (for such movies as Casablanca, Anchorman and Die Hard), leaders of companies like Sheetz, Hershey Foods, Nike and many more…and the inventor of the Slinky.

Penn State always has been and always will be more than a football school.

Dispatch from the Middle of Nowhere

That title is actually false – I am no longer in the middle of nowhere.  But Emily, Junia, Skippy and I were privileged to spend the first four days this week practically in the middle of nowhere.  My aunt and uncle graciously allowed us to use their cabin for a retreat away from the world.  We were there from Monday afternoon till yesterday afternoon.

Junia and Her New Friend

There was no cell phone reception or internet connection.  There was a television with Dish Network (but we don’t have television at home, so this was a fun bonus).

It was wonderful.

We took our time cooking meals.

We played with Junia.

We went for hikes at nearby state parks (and then picked ticks of Skip).

We read books (I read this and this and started this).

We played dominoes and stratego.

We went to bed early, slept in (7 AM!) and took naps.

It was wonderful.

Now back to the grind and business of life.  But I feel refreshed for the rest of the summer and looking ahead to another year on campus with Christian Student Fellowship.

 

Our Daughter’s Name and What it Means

Even before we knew we were going to have a baby, Emily and I had often discussed potential baby names.  Did we want to go with something traditional?  Perhaps a name already in our family?  Or something new and hip?  We chose not to learn the gender of our child, so we really had to come up with two names.  Right down to the day Emily went in to labor we were not sure of a boy’s name.  It had been narrowed down to a few options and we could not land on one.

But we had a girl’s name picked out for months.  It was a name we both loved: Junia.

On April 28, 2011, we were blessed with a girl – Junia Elizabeth Hershey.

When we told our family and friends the name, without fail they asked two questions:

Do you mean Julia?

Where did you get that name from?

It comes from the Paul’s letter to the Roman church: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ  before I was” (Romans 16:7).

Junia was outstanding among the apostles.  In other words, she, like Paul, was an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The apostles were leaders in the early Christian movement, teaching, preaching, spreading the gospel and providing leadership to the infant church.  Junia was the only woman mentioned in scripture who was one of them (perhaps there were other women apostles who did not get a mention).

A few hundred years later one of the great church leaders of the day, John Chrysostom, wrote this about Junia in his commentary on Romans: “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle” (In ep. ad Romanos 31.2 – copied from Scot McKnight’s book Junia is Not Alone, but you can also find it here.

But over the years the female “Junia” was changed to the male “Junias“.  Why did this happen?  It is quite simple – since it was common knowledge that women could not be church leaders then it is obvious this leader Paul mentioned could not be a woman!

Thankfully, most Bible translations today once again give Junia her rightful name and gender.

So in choosing the name “Junia” for our daughter, we did not choose it just because it is a pretty name (though, it is that).  We chose it because Emily and I hope Junia will grow into a strong and powerful women who loves and serves Jesus in whatever capacity and vocation to which she is called.

Besides being inspired by my lovely daughter Junia, the timing of this post is inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality series of which you can read the fifth entry here: Who’s Who Among Biblical Women Leaders.

A Week With the Unholy Trinity

Skippy

Don’t let the title fool you, this post has nothing to do with God.  It has everything to do with dogs!

Emily and I have been dog-sitting for my sister and brother-in-law this week while they are on vacation.  Three dogs, two adult humans and one baby human in a place I like to call, in my best Charlton Heston voice, from Planet of the Apes, A MADHOUSE.

First, there is Skippy.  He is our white American eskimo (who used to blog, and will again someday, God-willing).  Skippy is very territorial.  He defends our house with a surprising fierceness, unexpected by some who only note his fluffy exterior.  If you meet him outside his domain he is the kindest, friendliest dog, even letting large men with piercings and tattoos pet him. But if you come into our house, watch out or you might be missing a foot (like Skippy, he only has three legs).

While he is not guarding Skippy is very simple – he likes to sit around, sleep and eat.  He is not a fan of playing.

This is a problem because Skippy’s cousin, Nelly, only wants to play.  All the time.  Constantly.  I think she has the dog equivalent of a hyperactive disorder.  She is always running around and barking and climbing up on tables and chairs and walking on your face at 1 AM when you are trying to sleep.  When Skippy is sitting contently on the floor, she’ll run over and bark at him and bat him with her paws, wanting to play.   For the most part, Skippy manages to ignore her, though the occasional guttural growl helps.

Daisy and Nelly

Junia, the aforementioned baby, loves Nelly.  Nelly and Junia have had a lot of fun playing together this week, though sometimes Nelly does not know when to stop…or maybe Junia is just not used to a tiny dog tongue shoved up her nose.

Finally, there is Daisy.  Daisy is Skippy’s nemesis.  Every time Skippy enters the house, Daisy takes a bite out of him.  Luckily Skippy is well-insulated with fur, so she only comes away with a mouth full of white hair.  But really, Daisy is a fake tough dog.  She’ll bite Skippy, but then run away.  She is the first one to hide under the bed or flee from you if she thinks there is any sort of danger.

Yet Daisy, unlike her sister, will sit calmly next to you, just enjoying your presence.

Skippy, Nelly and Daisy – the unholy trinity!

Beware.

 

The Best…and the Worst? Is there a connection?

Two articles in the local paper caught my eye today.

Newspaper Ranks Wyomissing Best High School in PA.

This is where I live so I am encouraged about my daughter’s future education.  Of course, by the time she gets there who knows how much things will have changed.  It is also interesting that the BEST school in PA is ranked 193 nationwide.

The other article tells a story about the next school district over: Reading School Could Cut Up To 364 Workers.

That is not good news.  I have friends who work in the Reading schools.  It is sad that 364 people will be losing their jobs.  Further, it is another sad story from the city of Reading.  Reading is a place in need of lots of love and prayer.

As I read these two stories, the first thing that popped into my mind was whether there is a connection?  Reading and Wyomissing are right next to each other.  How can one be so good and one struggle so much? (I hope no one takes offense to my use of “worst” in the title…I am not good at titles)

It might be tempting to say, and perhaps some do, that since we are in Wyomissing this is not our problem.  But it is not like this is the other side of the planet.

I would be interested in hearing from my teacher friends (here or on Facebook).  Is there a connection?  Will whatever problems Reading has spread?  Will any good solution include other districts besides Reading banding together?