Monday, March 23, 2009

I, Strobist

For the last few months I've been following a growing trend in digital photography: Off-Camera Lighting.  Tonight I finally got the opportunity to try it.  

My desire to start experimenting with the lighting was crushed a month and a half ago when one of my students accidentally broke my camera and flash.  I put the dream on hold until I found the opportunity to pick up a second flash and get my first flash fixed.  Tonight all the pieces came together.  

I started by messing with the camera and flash in my living room, but after a bit grew bored and moved outside.  Rather than driving to some place around town and being taken for a looney, I just walked across my lawn to the abandoned house next door.  Our church bought it several months ago and plans to turn the place into a parking lot.  For now it was nice to use it as a creepy background.  

I'll put a picture or two here for now, then throw the rest on later.  

For more information on this, head to

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Theologically Accurate Kindergarten Teachers

Several days ago I stood on the first floor of our school to help the elementary teachers dismiss their students.  As always they flicked the light a few times to get the kid’s attention then ended the day with a word of prayer.  

It was the words of the prayer that caught my attention.  

The elementary teacher prayed, thanked the Lord for his safety and provision, and said these words, “Thank you, Lord, for our pastors and all they do to serve . . . “  As I listened to the prayer I mentally inserted the word, “Us.”  All they do to serve us.  

That makes sense, right.  Our pastor’s serve us.  They teach us the word, pray for us, and counsel us among dozens of other things.  

But that’s not what the teacher prayed.  

She said, “ . . . all they do to serve YOU.” 

Her final word caught my attention.  Rather than focusing on the pastor’s service to us, she directed their efforts to the one who’s most deserving of it, God.  

Perhaps this is a small thing.  It’s merely a difference in pronouns.  Big deal, right?  

Actually, I think the difference underlies a huge deal.  What’s the focus of a Christian’s ministry?  Is it helping others or serving God?  Some might accurately point out that serving God does help others.  True.  In fact, that is an important foundational truth, but it does not always appear that way.  

What are some instances where serving God primarily or serving others evidences a difference of approach?  My first thought is church discipline.  Apart from the desire to obey New Testament commands, church discipline makes little sense.  Pop psychology would rarely encourage a group to oust a member from its loving, caring circle for their own good.  In such situations it’s only a trust in the promises us God that allows us to step out in discipline rather than allow behavior to proceed unchecked.  

Without question America evidences a difference in these two philosophies when it comes to missions.  Thousands of Americans leave our coasts every year to help fellow members of the human race.  Great!  UNICEF, the Peace Corps, and a dozen other agencies invest millions of dollars and thousands of man hours to staunch the suffering of others.  

I think these agencies do some wonderful things.  Millions of people’s suffering would increase if these agencies ever closed their doors.  However, that being said, the impetus behind these organizations remains worlds apart from the hundreds of missionaries who leave home, friends, and family to proclaim the glory of Christ.  Does the glory of Christ help the suffering of people?  Most certainly.  Look at the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well.  She came looking for a bucket of water to keep her alive for several days.  It would keep her from suffering.  Jesus then offered springs of water that would never fail.  His purpose was to be glorified and in that he relieved a woman’s spiritual suffering.  

Our purpose as Christians is to serve God.  He’s the one we must obey, follow, and honor.  If we’re able to fulfill those callings in doing so we will help others.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

Total Embarrassment

It happened today- that definite moment every teacher dreads.  The moment, the instance, you make a complete and utter fool of yourself in front of a classroom full of young impressionable students.  The moment you say something or do something that the whole school will talk about for years.  It will be mentioned in graduation, class reunions, emails, phone calls, and even perhaps my funeral service. 

Today we began our look at e. e. cummings (if you wonder why I refuse to capitalize his name, you've apparently never read his works).  We breezed through a brief biography to wet the student's appetites then jumped right into Grasshopper (or r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r).  

The second poem we read was called Somewhere I've Never Traveled.  It's one of his better known love poems.  I read it through once, then asked the students to read it a second time, picking out the line they felt best crystalized the work.   One of my guys pointed out the first line in the second stanza.  I read the line loudly for all the class to hear. 

It reads like this: 

your slightest look will easily unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers,

However, this is what I said:

your slightest look will easily unclothe me . . . 

Yes. Really.  That's what I said.  The class sucked in an audible gasp, and my face shown crimson.  Had I really just said what I thought I just said?  The look of horror on the faces of twenty-five 9th and 10th graders said, "Yes, you just said that Mr. Kistler."  

I've been mixing up my words all week, and I've blamed every mistake on the Nyquil I've been taking, but I didn't sip any sweet stuff today.  So I'll just blame it on cummings strange choice of syntax.  

The gaffe only began a more embarrassing series of unfortunate events.  After the gasp came the unavoidable laughter.  The class erupted.  This was something they'd mention in the halls, on the bus, and certainly at tonight's dinner table.  

"Mom, you won't believe what Mr. Kistler said in class today!"

Years of building a reputation forserious academic instruction would be forgotten in a moment.

"He said, 'With the slightest look you will easily unclothe me'." 

Even as I thought about that I prayed they'd put the statement in context.  

Yes, the class erupted, and after a moment I erupted with them.  I couldn't hold back the laughter.  I couldn't believe what I'd said.  I bent over double, both arms crossed in front of me.  Then, somehow adding to the moment, I lost control.  I've seen this happen before, but I've never actually experienced it.  I COULDN'T STOP LAUGHING.  I was physically unable to stop.


My best memory of this happening to some other poor slob was when my father led our little Pittsburgh church in singing, "My Jesus, I Love Thee."  Through a mistake in timing he actually sang (and I quote here), "And say when the death doo-doo lies cold on my brow . . ."  Please avoid that mental picture.  

So, I lost it.  I laughed and laughed more.  This, as you can guess, caused my students to laugh harder.  Soon tears flowed down my cheeks, and I had to excuse myself to the hallway.  This only served to get the attention of the class next door which couldn't decide if I'd suffered a long awaited breakdown or was using some strange demonstration to teach my lesson.  

When I finally walked back into the classroom there was almost complete silence.  The students, who have never witnessed anything close to this weren't sure what to expect.  I kept my composure, walked to the box of Kleenexes, and wiped the tears off my face.  Then I turned to the class and said,  "I'm so sorry."  

Then I lost it again.  

Then the class lost it again.  

Then tears of laughter streamed down my face again.  

After a few minutes I was able to pull myself together enough to ask a student to read our next poem. By the time she had finished class was over.  I don't know that a single student actually heard a word she was reading.  

As my class walked out here were a few of the comments I overheard. 

"I'm never going to forget this day!"

"I should memorize that poem so I can tell everyone about it."

"Have you ever seen Mr. Kistler's face turn so red?"

"I wish I had a camera so we could put that on YouTube!"

"My parents are going to think that's hilarious!"

So ended the moment all teachers dread.  I suppose that if I only do that once ever seven years I'll be doing alright.  Now I wonder what Monday's class will bring.  

The Truth Comes Out

I’m going to spill a dirty little family secret.  

The Kistlers cannot function in the morning without caffeine. 

It’s true.  Sad, but true.  My father stumbles down the stairs, drags himself into the kitchen, and starts the coffee maker.

My mom stumbles down the steps and heads straight for the fridge.  Yes, my mom is a secret morning Mountain Dew drinker.  

Keara, well, I can’t really speak for Keara.  She’s a coffee girl, but I’m not quite sure how dependent she is on it.  

And me, well, I need coffee.  I need lots of coffee!  That fact proved itself this morning when I poured my cereal (Cocoa Pebbles) into a coffee mug instead of into a breakfast bowl.  

I glanced down, saw what I had done, and began laughing.  Then I went out for coffee.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What is Beauty?

Just saw the movie Australia.  Loved it!  

The music, the cinematography, the script, the acting all combined to build a wonderfully entertaining picture.  After I watched the movie I spent a few minutes watching the trailers.  I’d like to blog just a little on movie trailers sometime.  Making a movie trailer itself is an art form.  

Point is the whole experience made me think about the word “Beauty.”   What makes something beautiful?  What decides beauty?  What is it in a photo that captures our heart?  Makes us smile?  Brings a gasp?  Holds our attention?  Stays in our memory?  Why do we buy paintings?  Replay scenes?  Reread books?  

What is beauty?

Merry and Web say it’s “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”

Oh PLEASE!  That’s a most pitiful definition for such a captivating substance.  I don’t look at an Ansel Adams and think, “Woah, that photo gives pleasure to my visual senses!”  “Man, did you hear that song?  My mind felt so totally exalted!”  

I’m not really trying to mock the dictionary definition.  What they write is true, but it doesn’t nearly capture the scope of the word.  I must admit though that I’m sitting down to write this because, frankly, I can’t do a better job.  

How do you plumb the depths of such a word without reverting to mere sterile language?  

As a fifth grader I listened to my teacher read a book called “The Search for Delicious.”  At least I think that’s what it was called.  The characters spent 100 pages of book on the quest to define the term “Delicious.”  

In essence here is what I’m struggling with:

  • What is beauty?
  • What makes something beautiful (maybe that’s the same question)?
  • How is God connected with beauty (beside the obvious)?
  • How does the creation, observation, or exaltation of beauty relate to the realization, observation, and exaltation of God?

I don’t have any answers.  Not tonight anyway.  You can tell this is just a mixing bowl for two hours worth of ruminations.  What do you think? 

What is beauty?