Understanding Well: Reading From A Broad Range Of Perspectives

I have been reading Mustafa Aykol’s book Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and it has been enlightening to hear the scope of Islamic history told from the point of view of a Turkish, Muslim scholar and journalist.  Aykol’s perspective serves to reinforce the value and importance of reading widely and from a broad range of perspectives, of reading patiently while waiting for a more nuanced, deeper understanding to emerge before casting judgment.

By way of example, Aykol’s handling of what we in the west call the Armenian genocide – for indeed it was a genocide – is framed in the historic backdrop of the rising tide of nationalism which was sweeping through Europe at that time.  What happened in Germany to the Jews because of this rabid nationalism had happened in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Crimea twenty years prior as countries there waged wars of independence from the Ottoman Empire and in a victorious wave of nationalism, drove out or slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Turkish Muslims and Jews.  These atrocities fueled the Ottoman people’s own nationalistic impulses which led to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in the second decade of the 20th century.  What happened in the Balkans in no way justifies their actions toward Armenians in Anatolia, but it does frame these terrible events in the complex context of the tension of those times.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of the historical and cultural context  helps us to have more meaningful and respectful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  Remaining outside of this place of deeper understanding leads to intolerant and insular positions bound up in the darkness of falsehood, slander, hypocrisy and injustice.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout that, “You never really understand a person until you consider his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  He might well have added historical events, people groups and even religions to his statement for unless we are willing to climb into the complexity of the historical and cultural context of those, we will never truly understand them.

Click here to find Islam Without Extremes at Amazon.

A Child’s Education And A Poem For Fall

Malachi and Sonora enjoying a cool fall day.
Malachi and Sonora enjoying a cool fall day.

Our two kids have enjoyed the opportunity to be home schooled these past two years.  My wife does a fantastic job and while our homeschooling looks very little like a traditional classroom, the kids are having fun learning.

One of the great things about home schooling is the ability to identify our kids passions, dreams and strengths and then spend more time focusing on them.  There are no bells telling them it is time to move on if they are in the middle of a project or are caught up in the heart of a chapter of a good book.

Malachi is all about story.  He loves stories – both reading them and writing them.  His love for writing has tumbled over into poetry as well.

Poetry is such a great outlet for beginning writers – it’s shorter, grammar matters less and it’s fun.

Today Malachi wrote a poem and I thought I’d share it.  As the leaves begin to fall and the temperatures drop, he naturally chose to write about fall.  Enjoy.



will fall one by one

surely now fall

has come.

Grass will die

and flowers fade.

Green to brown and

crumple down.

The golden corn

swept away.

Winter comes

around the bend.


October 2013

Language Coaching

A 6:00 am coaching call.
A 6:00 am coaching call.

I continually get asked the question, “What do you do?” whenever I meet new people.

I suppose as well that many who’ve asked before continue to wonder.

It is a complicated answer and one that I myself fumble around to answer whenever I am asked.  I usually begin with, “It’s complicated.”

It isn’t so much that it is complicated though as much as it is just not traditional, not something that people can find in their own personal memory bank of “jobs.”

I am a language coach.

(or rather, one of the things that I do is language coaching, among other things)

To explain I’ll begin by way of analogy.

Lebron James has a personal trainer.  Why?

Lebron is one of the greatest basketball players ever.  He is one of the most athletic, one of the strongest.

Why would he need a personal trainer?

Pastor and author Andy Stanley said,

You will never maximize your potential in any area without coaching. It is impossible. You may be good. You may even be better than everyone else. But without outside input you will never be as good as you could be. We all do better wend somebody is watching and evaluating.

Lebron knows that he can be better, that  a personal trainer can help him get the most out of himself.

As a language coach, I do the same – plus a bit more.

You see, Lebron knows basketball.  You could say he is an expert.

Most learning another language however are not experts.  Most don’t know where to begin.

Ask yourself, “If I were to want to learn Russian, what would I do?  Where would I begin?”

If you are like most learners, you are probably drawing a blank – or you’ve gone to the only idea you’ve ever known – I’d go to school.

As a language coach I would with clients in six main areas:

  1. Planning
  2. New Learning Ideas
  3. New Resources for Learning
  4. Accountability
  5. Motivation
  6. Assessment

When I work with a client, I help them create a plan for learning which usually begins by helping them understand how they learn best – in a classroom or out in the community, alone (mostly) or in a group, with lots of technology or with less technology.

I help them think about creating a learning plan for the next six months, for the next month, for the next week and for each day.   We break it down.

I give learning strategies and drills and activities that they can use to focus on mastering the different elements of any language.

In this sense, I am never teaching a specific language but empowering people to be able to learn any language.

I help people find new resources – readily abundant  and mostly free – to learn their particular language.

Language coaching is also about holding learners accountable to the plan we’ve created and about helping them stay motivated.

In the end, language coaching is mostly about helping people successfully learn another language as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Around the World

Most of my clients are overseas.  They are mostly working for non-profits and church organizations.

And so my coaching sessions are all online through Skype.

This morning I met with a client in Istanbul.  He was sitting in Starbucks with his iPhone, I was at home in my basement with my laptop.

I could see him, he could see me and for just over an hour we talked about how the language learning journey was going, about where he could be more effective and where he was doing well.

I gave him ideas for activities he could do, for ways to make his daily interaction with the building security guard a better language learning experience.  I’ve sent him three or four articles from my website, The Everyday Language Learner, for further reading to expand on topics we discussed.

It is always a rewarding experience to know that I have helped someone step into another day of mastering a language with more hope, with less fear and with new knowledge for getting the most out of the day.

I meet with clients about once a month for an hour and my goal continues to be to work up to 30 clients.

It also provides a bit of income.

Not enough to pay all the bills but enough to keep doing it.

Language coaching is really what I love to do.  It allows me to continue to be a part of the work we did in Turkey and to play my part to help others even as we’ve returned to small town South Dakota.

It’s just one of the jobs that I have.

The Case of the Missing Bell

A month or so ago I was paging through the beefy book,  “A Tale of Three Cities“, a historic survey of Marion, Monroe and Dolton, three small towns in our area of South Dakota.

As residents of Marion, it has been engaging to learn a bit about the history of the area, to read of the stories of the earliest settlers, their triumphs and tragedies and the oddities of life that make reading history entertaining.

The book itself was produced for Marion’s centennial celebration back in 1979 and is filled with early history, newspaper excerpts and family histories.

It was in the section of early newspaper excerpts of Monroe that I came across this bit of news:

July 1902 – The German Church of Monroe purchased a new bell for their church.  The bell is one of the largest in the country and weighs 1,500 pounds.

1,500 Pounds!

For one reason or another, 1,500 pounds seemed really big.  I was imagining an enormous, six foot tall bell that the whole county must have been talking about.

And yet, there was nary a word more about this bell or what happened to it.

I had stumbled into a mystery.

A small secret from history that curiosity demanded I – or rather we – investigate.

What had happened to the 1,500 pound bell?

I asked around a bit and then, this last Saturday, the kids and I loaded into the van and drove the seven miles out to Monroe to pick around and see what we could find.

There are two churches in Monroe – both with bells but neither seemed to be a 1,500 pound bell.

We wound from one street to another discussing where a church might have been, taking in the quaintness of the town, discovering the lone business – a bar.

And then we decided to head back home.

Thankfully we pulled into the smaller of the two Reformed churches and noticed the sign on the outside of the building.

It read: German Reformed – 1898.

Our first clue.
Our first clue.

Perhaps we were on to something.

We got out of the church to take a closer look at the bell, conveniently hung on an eight foot tall stand alone bell tower in front of the church.

In front of the bell tower.  Sonora - our budding journalist has here camera ready.
In front of the bell tower. Sonora – our budding journalist has here camera ready.

I had assumed all along that this bell would be grand, giant, larger than a normal church bell.

I assumed wrong.

As we shoved Malachi up onto the ledge he read the inscriptions on the bell.

On the back side: E.W. Vanduzen Co.

On the front side:  Buckeye Bell Foundry – 1902.

A bit fuzzy but there's the date - 1902.
A bit fuzzy but there’s the date – 1902.

We had found the bell.

We returned home to do some google searching only to find that it doesn’t take much bell to get to 1,500 pounds.

The Liberty Bell weighs 2,000.

Overall it was a fun little investigation for the kids and I.  They were both excited to be sleuthing around, searching for clues, reporting the facts.

Lessons were learned.

Fun was had.

A bell was re-discovered.

The bell.

Parker Wagons at Harvest

Filling up the Parker Wagons

The Parker’s metal

sides bulge

like fat pigs

gorged on grain.

The tractor strains

a mighty heave,

wagons ease from soft

end rows.

A dusty country

road welcomes

this swaying


a tractor and two wagons –

green wagons,

green tractor

like spring,

like hope.

Toward home

the tractor goes,

to the auger,

to the bin,

to the thought just

months away

of the planting once



October 2013

Painted Floors

IMG_2646When we moved into Grandma and Grandpa Deckert’s house back in March, we knew we would have a bit of work before us to get the home into the kind of place we would want to live.

We began slowly to make it our own, a not so easy process as in every change there was a bit of nostalgia, a piece of Grandma and Grandpa that would go with it.

We hung onto the living room carpet – circa 1966 – a bit too long though and after pulling it out wished we had removed it and the 47 years of dust and debris and decomposed padding that came up with it.

In keeping with Grandma and Grandpa’s spirit of frugality we opted to do something different with our floors that would save us some money and yet allow us to add a bit of our own Bohemian, earthy sensibilities.

And so we painted them.

The Living room sub-floor painted a deep brown.
The pattern in the hall.
Consuelo used a home-made stencil for this pattern.
The living room floor before the Turkish rugs.
Beautiful sub-floors – who would have thought?

The hall turned out fantastic.  Several coats of paint followed by three coats of an oil based sealer.

The living room will probably need to be redone next summer.  We used two coats of brown (should have done three) and decided to forgo the fumes and use a water based sealer (two coats) instead of the more smelly oil based.

The oil based is so much harder and thicker.  It’s bomb proof.

Our living room brown is already beginning to chip in places though – two active kids do little to help that.

It’s character I guess and will be an easy fix next summer.

Potatoes Galore!

Planting potatoes is hard work.

Digging potatoes is sheer delight!

A few weeks back we began the glorious work with fork and and buckets of bringing up the potato harvest.

It was a good harvest, but we think the year might have been a bit too wet and figure the company who came to spray for dandelions may have hurt our production a bit too with a bit of drift and the yellowed, curled leaves that resulted back in June.

But we had quite the harvest none the less and now have several buckets of potatoes in the basement.

Working together.
Finding the hidden spuds.
Potatoes Galore! (Is ‘galore’ the only adjective in English that follows the noun?)
Digging potatoes with Grandpa – a family affair.
Picking a few apples as well and enjoying fall.
And lots of Butternut Squash.

I Preached Today

I preached today.

Pastor Aaron left early to head down south for a class he is taking and he asked me a month or so ago if I could fill in.

I said yes and I am still processing the experience.

The process of prayer and study and writing the sermon was quite a good one.   It allowed me to come to new insights, to grow, to be stretched as I thought about the text – Luke 9 : 23 – 26 – and about how to share what I felt I was hearing and learning to a congregation who is not me.

And yet, I don’t know if I would  preach again.  I am just not sure it is worth the time investment.  I am not sure that my preaching affected any change, not sure if it drew anyone closer to the Lord, not sure if preaching in general is worth the effort.

This is something I am wrestling with so I am not writing off preaching.  I just don’t know that placing the Sunday morning sermon as the cornerstone of church discipleship is wise or helpful.

Again, I am processing aloud here so don’t take offense if you regularly deliver the message Sunday mornings.

But as I read the Bible I see Peter preaching to large crowds but then those crowds gathering in homes (presumably in small groups) to discuss and pray and worship and hold one another accountable, and to confess to one another and to meet one another’s needs.

I can envision discipleship taking place in that setting.

I am having a hard time envisioning discipleship taking place through a weekly sermon.

The best way to grow in Christ is not in a classroom and it’s not by listening to another sermon.  The best way is as Jesus taught, to follow him, and friends, we must surely know that Jesus is on the move.

But again, I am working through this thought process and because of that would love to hear what others are thinking, are observing in their own church setting or finding in scripture.

Oh, and if you’d like to see it,  here is a link for you to take a look at my sermon.

Sermon September 29 2013