Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year That Was

Here's a retrospective of my favorites posts from 2008.

No Buddies! No Mercy! Fueled by injustice, my AP Lit classes took their grievances to the court. My 8th hour proved their gymnastic surfing skills and bested 6th hour.

Obama: FOCA: APDoP We can debate his Socialism tendencies. We can debate his inexperience. We can debate his deceptive description of McCain's health care. I cannot debate his belief in abortion.

Free Books: Pinch me I think I'm dreaming.

The Smallest House in Saginaw! Who needs 3,400 sprawling square feet?

Left Field: I added a new feature and for obvious reasons this was my favorite.

Christ Crucified: The clarity of the Gospel is delivered with a sermon diagnostic that all pastors and chapel speakers should use to present God's Word in all its truth and purity.

The Pontiac Civic: I started the year with a prophetic look at the hypocrisy of "Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign" mentality. Read and disagree. It is a free country.

Issues Etc. This is the key event in the blogger's life. Issues Etc was booted and then Wilken, Schwartz, et al rebooted and we are all better for it.

Matt Wise, Chalk and National Poetry Month: The perfect trifecta

Tour de Clem: A photo-essay of the Clem from a two-wheeled perspective

Two Rails: One Son: One Fine Summer: The father/son trip to Chicago

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where Are They Now?

Nearly one year later, their former English teacher wonders how they have impacted 2008 with their scintillating literary brilliance. Provide Blog Nation with your writing experiences by offering an explanation.

Quality and Popularity are Not Mutually Exclusive Concepts

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Soon, however, this medal may go the way of nativity scenes on government property, courteous drivers and Lance Armstrong's retirement.
Valerie Strauss, a Washington Post journalist who recently discussed this topic, included some critics' beliefs that the Newberry winners "are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading."
Circle the wagons, folks. Everybody needs a dance trophy! Everybody needs a participation ribbon! Everybody needs a good sports medal! Everybody must read at the same level and not be pushed beyond it. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger. For more on the absurdity and danger of equality in everything read Isaac Asimov's short story "Harrison Bergeron"
In her article Strauss included insights from Deborah Johnson, manager of the extensive book section at Child's Play in the District. Johnson believes children need to be kept in mind when selecting books but also stated, "To choose books that people feel are going to stretch a young person's mind is not a bad thing."
Not bad at all.
How many times have I heard the incessant whining about Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hurston and Cather? Challenging reads are good. Perhaps the latest Newberry winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, will require parents to read, listen or explain the story to their young ones.
Oh, there will be none of that!
"There is no time" cry the frazzled parents. "Johnny has karate, basketball, gymnastics and etiquette classes while Suzy's schedule is crammed with hip-hop dance, classical ballet and jazz-hands followed by Brownies and then neo-classical-transcendental art techniques. We don't have time to sit down and read with our children or discuss what they are reading." I know this post is drifting from its original intent but it is related. Reading should challenge young ones. Reading should be intriguing. Parents must foster the challenge so the intrigue doesn't stop after Horton has heard his Who.
Some of my favorite Newberry recipients:
Bud, Not Buddy: 2000, Holes: 1999, The Giver: 1994, Maniac Magee: 1991 Sounder: 1970, Bridge to Tarabithia: 1978, Island of the Blue Dolphins: 1961, Johnny Tremain: 1944

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Vacation Reading List

I'm going to try something a bit different this vacation. Usually, I have books and articles stacked all set to read over vacation. Fret not, that hasn't changed. I like the anticipation of reading a good book almost as much as the actual reading. This vacation will be a bit different. There are a couple of books on my list that I would never have selected. They don't fit my reading profile. However, I'm willing to skate beyond the "Danger: Thin Ice" sign and read something out of my interest area.

Read Number One: Twilight. I'm not one to jump into the media, over-hype pool. So often, more is not better, it's just more. Combine that with my disdain for science fiction and fantasy genre, and you can see why I would not normally pick up Twilight. Oh, and add the adolescent female frenzy and I really have no reason to read any book in this series. However, one young student, Brandon Brodowsky, urged me to read beyond the picket fence of my interests. Still, I resisted. "Mr. Brandt, I'm reading it and it's not my interest either but I'm fascinated with the hype."
Still, I resisted.
"Mr. Brandt you make us read stuff we don't want to read all the time: Hamlet, Macbeth, The Scarlet Letter and don't ever forget you forced "The Open Boat" on us. Naturalism, doesn't matter. That book was horribad."

I felt my icy resistance melting.

"Alright, I'll give it a read and provide a post-Christmas review."

The next book on my I-would-not-read-this-book-on-my-own list is The Shack. If you know anything about me you would understand why I would not read this book. One, let's return to the media, over-hype. It's really not the media but The Shack reading has been quite contagious in Macomb County. I love a metaphor as well as anyone. However, I like my readings on and about Christ to be metaphor free. Why fuzz the Gospel with man's literary confusion? Why fuzz the power of our Almighty God with vague allusions open to misinterpretation? Why confuse the Holy Spirit with human attributes? I"ve heard plenty about the book to know it's not for me. However, someone suggested I give it a read.

Shortly after that suggestion I researched some reviews and responses to The Shack and this confirmed my concerns. I listened to this Issues Etc. broadcast discussing The Shack. I also read two articles that articulated interesting points: article one and article two. This information was very helpful. Reading the book after reading the reactions will help me evaluate The Shack. I'll proffer my insights during Christmas vacation.

Normally I look forward to drinking good coffee while reading a good book in the quiet morning hours of vacation. The coffee will still be delicious. Forgive the redundancy of that last sentence. The books will be interesting and provide me with future blog fodder.

Here are some reads that I am anticipating with great fervor.

English Journal is published by the National Council of Teachers of English. The last issue focused on homework and the diverse approaches and discussions surround it. Does homework foster learning or learning the system of education. The difference is monumental. Does homework assess critical thinking? Should it? Ahhhhhh, this will be a two-cup read.

Educational Leadership is a periodical published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The last two issues contain riveting discussions and studies. The November issue: Giving Students Ownership of Learning proffers great applications. So often we talk about developing critical thinkers in our classrooms but give students few opportunities to think critically.

The most recent issue of EL focuses on data. We are immersed in a data-driven world and education is no different. We strive for data. Well, what do educators do with the data that helps foster critical thinking, authentic assessment and academic growth? We cry for data. Now what do we do with it? This will require hazelnut, no cream, no sugar.

Merry CHRISTmas. Happy reading

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Down Goes "Fraser"?

Howard Cosell got it right: "The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give."

This quote fascinates me because of its searing truth. Too often athletes believe that if they try their hardest, that's enough. It's not. Trying your hardest does not always equate with "knowing you have done your best." We may have tried hard to rebound but was it our best effort?

Unfortunately, that distinction is lost with many athletes, young and old, students, CEOs, teachers and cycling couriers. It also explains why we fell to the Fraser Ramblers Friday 30 - 37. We had some great rebounding and defensive efforts. However, they weren't consistent and in order to defeat a talented team like Fraser you have to give your best on every offensive and defensive possession. The outlook was grim early as the Fillies were down 0-8. However, we stampeded our way back into the lead by the end of the first half 16-15. The second half was a competitive, physical game. We like that and responded well. Did we respond with our best effort every time? No, but that's the goal. We had our chances to bring Fraser down but couldn't do it. There's no shame in that. Friday's game was a great challenge we can use for the rest of our season. It will certainly help us improve as a team and get ready for Regina on January 7th at 4:00 in the Mustang Corral.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hoops Updates

The Fillies stampeded out of the corral and pushed its record to 3-1. We defeated Almont 46-2; conquered Capac 46-36; beat the Muskrats of Algonac 52 - 9 and dropped our game against Bishop Foley 35 - 40. We didn't play well against Foley. Our shooting percentage was horrific and we were too sloppy with the ball. However, we found ourselves down by 8 points with two minutes left. We scored on three straight steals and were down by 2. Confusion surfaced and we lost by five. Bishop Foley is a good team that played very hard and we never gave up. It's a lesson we learned and will have the chance to put it into practice on December 12 when we battle Fraser. After that we head into a well-deserved Christmas vacation.
We are learning how to run the ball with patience, how and where to defend and what it means to play together and play hard. That's the fundamental key to any team's success.
Another reason that may also play a vital role in our success is that our inbounds plays are named after scintillating American cyclists: Armstrong, Hincapie, Finkel and Mo. The last one is a stretch but he does own a bike and knows how to ride no-handed.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

No Buddies! No Mercy! No Problem!

It was an epic battle. Odysseus, in all his strength and literary chutzpah, could not have matched Friday night's half-time melee. My 6th hour AP Lit. class has been accused of being elitists, snobs and snobby elitists by my 8th hour AP lit. class.
If I use all my sleuthing skills, my hypothesis is that 8th hour is upset because they do not and will not share in the glory of reading buddies. Read this previous post for a Reading Buddy explanation.

When 6th hour treks over to St. Peter, Macomb for an engaging buddy experience, 8th hour claims/whines they have quizzes. We reached the tipping point when talk of a coup was discovered. To avoid the perils of a literary WWIII, I negotiated a challenge with operatives from both classes.

Using P.E. mats and bodies, the class that could surf the fastest to half court could claim dominance over the second place team.

The epic battle occurred Friday night and the 8th hour class humbled the arrogance right out of 6th hour. To the victors go the spoils and 8th hour walked off with the coveted BT. Buddy Trophy: Round One.

What will Round Two involve?

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sola: A Retreat You Don't Want to Miss

Higher Things is bringing its summer conference to Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you are interested in attending this conference give the information to your youth director. If you have no youth director, no youth group or your youth group will not attend, but you want to attend, see me. I'm planning on taking students to this enriching conference. Click here if you want more information on this topic or go to Higher Things web page.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


This week in Left Field we continue the alumni theme with Kevin Murawski: husband, father, photographer extraordinaire, class of ’95, holder of various North basketball records and Lutheran North’s boys’ junior varsity basketball coach.

At 6’6” did you EVER play baseball, pitcher, left field or were you just left out? No, I chose to dedicate myself to one sport only. Looking back, baseball is the one sport other than basketball that I think I would have really enjoyed playing.

While attending North you met and later married Nikole Murphy. There was another student named Nicole Murphy attending North at the same time. Did you ever write notes of endearment to the wrong Nicole? Absolutely not! The other Nicole Murphy was a year older than us, so by the time Nikole and I began dating she was no longer a Mustang.

Let’s get this controversial question out of the way. A former Mustang graduate, now prolific blogger, keeps referring to your hometown of Armada as Farmada. He claims the agrarian context is positive. Your thoughts? We Armadians are very troubled by this unnecessary and reprehensible attack on my hometown. I might suggest to this “prolific blogger” to stay far away from the Armada Fair in 2009, it could get a little ugly!

In 1995 you were named Macomb County’s number one basketball player. What basketball experience has helped you in your life off the court? Basketball in a round about way brought me to North. My years at LHN changed my life dramatically in ways that will impact me for the rest of my days. So I guess the actual game hasn't helped me too much in my daily life, but the people that I have met and been influenced by because of basketball have been invaluable to who I am today.

In his Left Field debut, your hoops partner declared,
“I do recall strict rules with our mini fridge. It had 3 shelves in it, I think I was entitled to half a shelf. College dorms are barely big enough for two people, especially when one is 6”6”. Our dorm had to house his bike, I think it leaned against a wall for a solid semester without moving.”
I can understand the bike scenario but defend yourself against these refrigerator allegations.
I certainly do not want to call Kyle a liar, so I will just say that he is confused. The fridge was always filled with Country Time Lemonade – all three shelves (thanks Mrs. Simmons). Maybe he just thinks that they were mine because I drank all of them.
The bike story – 100% correct, it may have been more than a semester though.

You have built an excellent reputation as a photographer. The Left Field Czar doesn’t recall you snapping too many photos during you high school career. How did your interest in photography begin and then explode into Murawski Studios? The photography bug hit me about 7-8 years ago and has grown uncontrollably since. Murawski Studios “opened” 5 years ago when Nikole and I decided that I would work from home so I could stay home with our children. It has taken some time, but I believe that I have been able to cultivate a thriving photo business. My blog – – has been a huge success and continues to help me grow the business. But my amazing customers and their referrals are the main reason I have begun to enjoy some success. Just in case anyone is wondering, we shoot Senior Photos, Family Portraits and Weddings – all of which can be seen on the blog.

What bus story do you hope your sons never discover? I was never directly involved in any bus hijinks. But there are two stories that come to mind, the one Kyle retold comes in second place among most memorable. The other one involved a student manager vomiting on the bus, the remaining details are a little disgusting so I will stop there.

I’ve seen the movie Mr. Mom. How accurate is Michael Keaton’s portrayal of a stay-at-home dad? It has been a long time since I have watched Mr. Mom, but to my recollection it is a fairly good portrayal of my life. And I love every minute of it.

On winter Friday nights, word on Blogger Boulevard is that BDub conversations gravitate toward creating a Lutheran North Hall of Fame. Name and briefly explain three teams, sport and year, that should receive initial induction honors. Most of our most heated debates revolve around the players that would get in, but here is a list of teams that should get in. Obviously the state championship teams would be in. There were some amazing girls basketball teams in my years at North, I believe the 1993 version was one of the best. The 1987 and 1988 boys hoops teams were good, but not as good as the1995 team, so the 1995 team would get the nod.

Name two athletic items that should also receive induction rites. For example, the baseball that Scott Carden used to hit his first varsity baseball home run AND break the windshield of his car. I have heard the Carden story before, that is a good idea. The second one is close, it would either be the ball that Simmons hit the shot with or the banner that Simmons tore off the wall at East after an OT victory in 1994.

The Left Field Czar recently learned that the play that led to The Shot was supposed to be a pick and roll where after you set a pick for Simmons, you would roll your springy and lanky 78-inch self into the paint. What happened to that fine idea? I felt really good about the 3 point look that I somehow ended up with and took it upon myself to adjust our plan. Looking back it seems that there might be a reason you were the coach and I was the player. A lesson I hope my current players already understand. Even with my somewhat large error in judgement, everything worked out in the end.

Not many Lutheran North athletes can say they played against a professional athlete. Assuming you actually spent some time down in the paint, what was it like to battle former Detroit Country Day star and current Houston Rocket, Shane Battier? I have blocked much of that night out of my memory, but I do remember thinking that he was a rather impressive fella. He was only a sophomore and was bigger and better than any player I have ever played against. Some would say that I only have that opinion because of the three straight possessions that he dunked on me, they may have a point. He was not the only NBA player that I have had the opportunity to play against, while at Hiram I had an opportunity to play Ira Newble and Wally Szczerbiak. Didn't fair too well against them either.

Left Field Pop Flies:
Three pointer or convincing dunk?
dunk shot
Jim Essian or Jimmy Green? Green
Josh Worden or The Goat? without a doubt – The Goat
Ford Festiva or Honda Civic? Festiva
JV Boys’ Hoops or Freshmen Girls’ Hoops? JV Boys
Buffalo Wild Wings or New York Strip Steak? BWW
Kampe or Izzo? After over 10 years of consideration - Kampe
Cougars of Concordia Chicago or Grizzlies of Oakland University? the “Grizz”
Spandex cycling shorts or Man-pris? unless you are in The Tour there is something wrong with spandex.

Mo, Philly or X? tough one but Mo edges X, maybe if X had worked more than 1 time it would have had a better chance

My last chapel...and one other important fact

Text: Matthew 11: 2-5
When John, who was in prison heard about the works of Christ, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “ Are you the One who is coming, or should we look for someone else?”
“Go,” Jesus answered them, “tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the good news.”

I like this text for two reasons: One: it’s an appropriate text on this second day of Advent. Two: it fits my chapel message. John asks an intuitive question. Are you the One or do we keep looking. I like the practicality in that. Listen, we need a Savior and if you’re not it, we’re moving on. Well, thankfully, Christ is the Savior and thankfully he didn’t wait for us… to begin His work of redemption.

Over vacation I promised myself I’d read this book, The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Novel Prize Sperm Bank and see what kind of journey this literary gem proffered. Wow! What a weird book it was. Now I didn’t get to finish the entire book but yipes. Weird.
Yes, this topic requires some maturity but I think we can handle it. I can’t tell you what drew me to this book. I stumbled upon it at a book sale and found the premise intriguing. Graham wanted to improve the world through eugenics. He wanted to create more scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and more Nobel award winners and he believed he could engineer this accomplishment by offering the chance to conceive a baby with a genetic code of greatness. Nice. I wondered how long it would be before Hitler was referenced. I didn’t have to wait long. There on page five was the allusion.

The idea for today’s chapel surfaced on page 6 and 8: "Graham said he was trying to save mankind from genetic catastrophe...How could we save ourselves? Graham had the answer. our best specimens...must have more children....His repository, Graham hoped, might one day give birth to mankind's 'secular savior'".

As odd as that is and believe me it’s certainly odd it’s very similar to what we do daily when we sever ourselves from God. We attempt to fix our own problems. We believe with a bit more rational thinking, with a bit more human ingenuity we can take the bad and make it good. Perhaps we can even take the good and make it better. Adam and Eve fashioned the very same thought and we have been suffering under the penalty of the Law every since.

Graham fashioned himself a pioneer with this concept but others, specifically Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton commented in his book hereditary Genius in 1869, “Why were the poor so…poor? Because they were naturally weak. “The taint is in the blood.”

The taint is in the blood. Now Galton, ever the evolutionist, was certainly wrong about the creation of the world but he was right about this. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve the taint, stain, contaminant, pollutant IS in the blood…our blood.

Graham’s idea was foolish in a very creepy way, but unfortunately and very tragically very real
Psalm 51:5 “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
The taint is in the blood.
Genesis 8:21 “Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood.”
The taint is in the blood.
Matthew 15:19 “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander”
The taint is in the blood.
And it’s not just that our blood is tainted but because of it, we are condemned to an eternity in hell.

However, if the taint is in the blood, The cure for the taint is also in the blood…of Christ the spotless lamb of God.
John 1:29. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Yesterday, was the first day of Advent. We remember Christ’s first advent/arrival into this world as an infant to save us from our sins. Graham attempted to rid the world’s “taint” by using intellectually gifted people and producing more of them. The problem was their intellectual gifts were saturated with earthly evil and he simply created more people saturated with the taint of sin. Christ entered the world “taint-free”, absorbed and cleansed our taint, making us righteous before God our Father.

During this season we eagerly, hopefully and confidently await Christ’s second advent when he will take us to be in heaven with our heavenly Father. Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross has cleansed us from all taint and we wear the robes of righteousness the freely gives to all believers.

So during Advent we remember when Christ came into this world years ago and wait for Christ to return to this world. Where does that leave us today? How is Christ and the cleansing gift of righteousness with us in the present?

This very day we have Christ with us in God’s living Word:
Hebrews 4:12a “God’s Word lives and is active” God’s Word is alive and active because of what it accomplishes.
I Peter 1:23: For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding Word of God.” Christ is with us today in God’s Word.

This very day we have Christ with us in Baptism:

Using Luther’s Small catechism, it is very clear that Christ is with us.
What does Baptism give or profit? - Answer.
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s word makes it very clear that Christ has cleansed us from all impurities. This sacrament, this means of Grace is alive. Christ is alive in us through our Baptism. Christ has redeemed us, cleansed us and made us His forever.

This very day we have Christ with us in the Lord’s Supper:

Matthew 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." 27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Because we have Christ with us in God’s Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it means we have God’s forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice. Our tainted blood is now made righteous with Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross. Christ has made us redeemed children of God, perfect in our Creator’s sight.

Churches, religions and men like Robert Graham that proclaim Christ and His forgiveness cannot be found in the means of grace are deceptive and need to be corrected in love, rebuked in love and if they continue treating God's inerrant word with human arrogance and ignorance they need to be shunned out of love for God's Word.
Because the taint is in our blood, we must proclaim that the cure is in Christ’s body and blood. If not we go against The Great Commission: Matthew 28: 19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." As we make disciples of all nations, as we baptize all nations, as we teach all nations everything God has commanded of us, we teach that Christ has washed us clean, made us Holy in God’s sight and we are forever His.

Text: Matthew 11: 2-5
When John, who was in prison heard about the works of Christ, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “ Are you the One who is coming, or should we look for someone else?”
“Go,” Jesus answered them, “tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the good news.”

John, in our text, didn’t need to look any longer because Christ had arrived. Christ’s advent means we can daily see our Savior in the means of Grace, we can walk with Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ has made us clean, we can hear the joyous transforming news of the Gospel message and we are raised from the dead and we will most assuredly be with our Heavenly.

The other important note:
The Fillies, North's 9th grade girls' basketball team, beat Almont 46 - 2.