Hail, the Conquering Hero!

Boris2I am thankful for Joe Boris, a history/sociology teacher at State College Area High School. He is retiring this year, after 40 years at State High. The number of students he’s touched is in the tens of thousands and there isn’t one who knows Joe at all that doesn’t love him. Or at least will admit to it.

He was one of the most popular teachers back in my day (I graduated in ’80) and his reputation with students and colleagues alike has only grown stronger over the years. He has always put the students first…OK, maybe second after his wife.

His “trick” for connecting, motivating, challenging, and changing students’ lives? Trust. You knew you could talk to  him about anything and he’d listen. He’d give you wisdom if you wanted it…or  needed it. He’d help plan out a prank; he’d figuratively hold your hand if you pushed the envelope too far and needed to face the music.

He is a man of faith. Faith in God. Faith in his colleagues. Faith in himself. Faith in his students–and be sure to know that if you went to State High, you were his student, whether or not you actually took any of his classes.

I can easily say that my life is richer for having known him.

We’ll miss ya, Joe! Enjoy the garden!

Positive Influence

I am thankful the boys with whom I have worked and played over the years. I have been a Scout leader, youth leader, youth pastor, camp leader, therapist…

There is something in me that resonates with mentoring. Giving boys/young men a bit of a boost. Or a hug. Or a boot in the backside (almost always figuratively speaking…) Whatever it was they needed for the time we walked the same path in life.

I am most thankful for the times “my boys” contact me for whatever reason. It’s an indicator that I might have had a positive influence on them. It’s not something I’ve ever taken lightly. Most of the time, I can only pray that I’m hitting the first line of the Hippocratic Oath: “At least do no harm.” You just never know how an off-hand remark, made without any thought whatsoever, strikes someone the wrong way and sticks. Or the carefully crafted answer that is so completely off base it hurts your brain to think about it–that also misses the mark.

You do your best with what you have at the time and do lots of praying.

OK, at least that’s what I do. Sadly, it hasn’t always worked.

I have been particularly blessed, since, from the contacts that I have had thus far, it seems that it has worked a lot more often than not. All I can say is: God is good. And it’s good that I’m His favorite too.

It is especially gratifying when they tell me the kind of impact/influence I had/am having on them. Not that it happens often. Guys generally aren’t talkers to begin with, and folks generally are busy dealing with whatever they’re dealing with in their lives.

Yes, this post was prompted by such a contact. A young man I knew only for a week at a summer camp, but he remembered I am into languages and contacted me to ask for some advice. Nothing particularly earth shattering, or even life changing.

“Just” very gratifying that this young man remembered.


We Are…

sunday’s Spiritual Spin

I am thankful for Penn State Students. I work at a register in one of the dining commons at University Park. It’s a the temp job I’ve mentioned earlier. The main reason I enjoy the job isn’t that I have excellent folks to work with, although that is certainly true, it is that I have excellent folks to work for–the students.

I enjoy interacting with them on many levels. Some, whose names I haven’t yet learned, I recognize and consistently say hi to. Others I can call by name. Still others I have gotten to know a bit better and have been honored with some excellent conversations during slower times of the day.

Some are international students, and I have tried greeting them in their native languages: Chinese, Korean, Arabic, German…all of them were surprised that I could do that, all of them are appreciative, and many have complimented me on pronunciation and such. Several are still surprised when I ask if they want a bag–even though I have asked them that before. (“Americans can speak Mandarin?”) It’s a lot of fun.

But this weekend I was particularly impressed that the vast majority of them are truly focused on their education, spending their time this weekend studying for midterms rather than attending “State Patty’s Day” (an artificial “holiday” invented by students several years ago for the sole  purpose of having an excuse to abuse alcohol. Not that folks at a “party school” have ever really needed an excuse to do stupid…). I had a lot of fun teasing “all the silly students who were wasting their time studying for midterms rather than focusing on REALLY important things, like which movie would take the Oscar for Best Picture” this evening. Maybe a total of 6 (out of the 450 some) that came through the line had a definitive response. Most weren’t aware that the Academy Awards show was tonight or what films were nominated.

Truly satisfying to know that most of these “kids” have their heads on fairly straight.

Side note: today was the Annual “Pink” Game for the Cure with the Women’s Basketball Team. Proceeds are donated to fight breast cancer–over 600 survivors with a grand total of over 3000 years of victory over the disease. Lots of support from the student body and community.

Oh, the ladies also won the National Championship.

A fun, uplifting day, all in all.


It’s A Small World…

I am thankful that my job has me in contact with numerous college student that I have come to know and appreciate. Because our contact is generally only seconds long (I’m at a cash register in a convenience store in one of the local university’s commons buildings), getting to know them is…time consuming. And given that there are 500 or so routinely though every day, there are plenty of folks I still don’t even recognize, let alone have a name matched to face yet.

But, added another name to face yesterday. I was teasing a student about good things to eat, like chocolate covered bacon and mentioned a local restaurant that serves it. To make a long story short, turns out this student is from Linz, Austria. So we had a wonderful, albeit lopsided conversation in German. Hadn’t spoken that much German since I left Bavaria in 1987. What a treat–for both of us! He was really excited to be able to speak a bit of his mother tongue as well. AND I found out that he had been Stateside for two years in high school–right here in town, graduating from my high school alma mater!  He graduated a year early, so he’s a 17 y/o college freshman–who is also taking 400 level German classes. He was teaching a 200 level course for graduate students last semester, but decided to pursue a couple of courses for himself so that he can get a German minor. I also learned that he wants to take Chinese last year–found  out after he asked me what  other languages I spoke: Chinese being one of them. I have dreams of mastering American in another decade or three, I can generally carry on conversations in German, but my Chinese (and Spanish) are fairly basic. I have some technical proficiency in New Testament Greek (aka Koine) and a smattering of Hebrew picked up in seminary. I’ve also gleaned a few words of Korean, Arabic, & Russian–some before talking with the international students I have seen daily, some afterwards.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day.

I’m thankful I have a new “friend” to look forward to seeing everyday.

Being Challenged

I am thankful for the opportunity to be challenged, being “forced” to stretch my comfort zones. And I am thankful for the opportunity to help challenge others in a similar fashion. It really rocks to be able to do both at the same time! That’s what mentoring is all about for me.

One of “my” students made a pretty bold, potentially controversial post to Facebook not too long ago, linking to another site that posted opposing views. I was glad to see some glimmer of sound logical process in the views this student posted. Disagreed with several points, but that’s ok. What I’m more interested in is the thinking process that’s developing. I’ve asked this student for an opportunity to get together to dig deeper into that process, look at the argument pro/con in greater detail, looking at the underpinnings, the hidden & not so hidden agendas and trying to filter out as much of the heated rhetoric (aka flame wars) as possible to do so.

I really hope the challenge is accepted. What I like most is that this student is asking some really good questions and that’s the fire I want to feed. I believe in many things (as do we all) and one of them is the Sacredness of Questioning Everything. (Shout out to David Dark for his book with this title. I highly recommend it.) I also believe that there Are Answers to these Questions and I know Who has them. I almost wish He would make the answers a bit easier to get to. Almost. The joy is in the journey, most of the time, and the reward is all the sweeter, the summit vista all the more beautiful for a challenging climb to the top to see it.