Monday, January 13, 2014

Funeral Service for my Grandfather

On Monday, my Opa (German for grandfather) died after battling congestive heart failure. The following day, my Oma asked if I would conduct the funeral and offer the eulogy. I said I was honored to do it, and I am.

I had never conducted a funeral or offered a eulogy before. I relied on advice from many friends who are ministers to provide some outlines. I borrowed from a Methodist minister's outline, supplemented it with liturgical elements from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and infused it with an evangelical message of hope in the Resurrection. The result was the following text.

Helmut (Al) Kosel, age 82, of Marion, IN, died Monday, January 6, 2014, at Colonial Oaks Health & Rehab in Marion, IN. He was the son of the late Erich Max Kosel and the late Berta Kosel. He was born in Danzig, Germany, on November 13, 1931.  Al came to the United States in 1955 and became a US Citizen in 1966. He served in the US Army from 1956 to 1958. He married Beverly Barton Yeager on August 30, 1969.  Al retired in March 1994 from Peerless Machine & Tool where he worked as a machinist for 30 years.   Al enjoyed breakfast with his fellow workers and riding his motorcycle.  He was a handyman, building his own home, and he enjoyed camping and attended Westview Wesleyan Church. 
Al was preceded in death by his son Erich Kosel; his stepdaughter Pamela (Yeager) Herring; his sisters Helen Smith and Kittie Bartels. He is survived by his wife Beverly; daughters Janice (Kosel) Boshers and Michelle (Yeager) Price; three sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law; 15 grandchildren; 6 great-grandchildren; and 3 great-grandchildren on the way.
Al was beloved by his friends and family. He was known by many as “Father Al” and earned the nickname “Almight Brother-In-Law” from the late Ronald Smith. To us grandchildren, he was known affectionately as “Opa”.
Opa was the reason I began studying history. That was because Opa was living history. His life story is a piece of the past. He witnessed the invasion of German forces into Danzig en route to Poland, an event that began the European aspect of World War II. During the war, he moved with his family to Berlin, where he lived through the collapse of the Third Reich and Allied occupation. He left a divided Germany for the United States. The night that sparked my interest in history was the night I watched with Opa the collapse of the Berlin Wall. I watched tears form in his eyes as he witnessed the event. After decades of political unrest, his homeland would reunite.
What is interesting about history is that it connects the past to the present and it allows the dead to remain alive in our memories. History teaches us that the past is not dead, but it continues to live forever.
It is appropriate that we start with history to begin a eulogy. The liturgy for a funeral is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the Resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead we, too, shall be raised.
Today we have gathered to celebrate Opa’s life and his new eternal life in Christ. Opa possessed a quiet and confident faith. He met Oma at church, and joined her at New Hope Methodist and later at Westview Wesleyan. While at Colonial Oaks, he participated in prayer meetings and testified to God’s faithfulness.
God showed his faithfulness to and through Opa time and again. Even in the midst of loss, Opa still praised God. And even in Opa’s absence, God faithfully provided to our family. The morning after Opa passed, my mom brought Oma breakfast. Oma found in Opa’s pants the exact amount of money as what breakfast cost. Opa loved to have breakfast, whether they were gatherings with his old work buddies, coffee and donuts in the kitchen, or eggs and bacon over the largest cast-iron skillet ever at a campsite. Even the day after he had gone, Opa still provided breakfast.
Opa always showed his love for his family in the way he provided for them. He built a home for Oma, mom, and Aunt Pam. He raised a family that had great values and love for one another. And he provided laughs, lots and lots of laughs. Opa always laughed during a game of Euchre, accusing people of having “dealt that schmeer” and “gedoosed it”; the skits and songs performed by the grandkids; and Erich’s jokes and antics.
Our memories help to keep Opa alive in our hearts. We are comforted by those memories and by knowing that he has joined with Jesus and with his loved ones who went before him. This reminds me of what Opa would have called--in his gruff voice-- “good grief.”
It is good grief to know that our loved ones have gone to be with the Lord. Last night, Oma shared with me her assurance and her peace in knowing that Opa no longer suffers and that he has joined others in meeting Jesus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teaching Tuesday: A Night with John Fea

For more than a year now, ever since I met him, I have looked forward to inviting John Fea to participate in my class via online video chat. Tonight was a huge success.

My HIST 103 Introduction to American Civilization course is reading Fea’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? We’ve read portions of it as it relates to the origins of colonial America, the “Anglicization” of the colonies in the eighteenth century, and the colonial crisis leading to the Revolution. We also read his introduction in which he discusses the “Five Cs of Historical Thinking.” All of this has been a delight to read, re-read, and teach.

But the real delight was the opportunity to pick Fea’s brain about his book and to introduce students to the workings of an author’s mind. For nearly all of my students, they had never discussed with an author his or her book. This was a first for all but one student.

Fea was bright, engaging, and jovial. He seamlessly discussed the debate du jour in his house (“Which country singer is better? Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift?”), his favorite Springsteen tunes, and the political implications of the “Christian America” debate. After a thorough treatment of why he wrote his book and to what audiences he intends to reach, he fielded students’ questions with grace. He responded positively to students’ challenges (i.e. “Do you think you are too harsh on Puritans when judging their treatment of religious outsiders or Native Americans?”) with humility but also with thoughtful explanation for why he presented the historical characters the way that he did. He listened carefully to the students’ thoughtful concerns about religion as public and private human phenomenon and the importance of that distinction for the historical question. At all times, Fea showed gratitude for my students’ interest in his book. He interspersed his talk with anecdotes about speaking engagements at churches, historical societies, and radio shows. He even sang a few lines of dcTalk’s “Jesus Freak.”

After our hour-long chat, Fea disconnected to return to his debate about the merits of female country stars. I can only hope that he made an impassioned defense of Loretta Lynn or some other truly “country” female vocalist. Anyway, afterwards, I talked with my class for another 20 minutes about Fea and their impressions of discussing a book with an author. Here are some key lessons we gleaned from tonight’s chat.

1. Sometimes you can’t judge a book by its title, because chances are the author did not choose it.

2. When addressing a controversial topic such as Was a America Founded as a Christian Nation?, you are bound to get attacked from the Left and from the Right. This is especially true if you do not have a definitive answer.

3. It is refreshing to hear a committed evangelical such as John Fea confess his faith, discuss a contentious topic, and yet not tow the party line of the Religious Right. Students really appreciated that.

4. History has complexity and nuance. Historians live in the past much of their time to appreciate the complexity and nuance of the people in the past.

5. George Washington wouldn’t have said anything about Roe v. Wade primarily because he had been dead 175 years by the time of that Supreme Court case.

In the end, it was a delight to have John Fea in my class tonight. After a few weeks in which the grueling commute, volumes of midterms, crummy weather, and tiring class lessons (e.g. we discussed the Meiji Restoration in my World Civ class), it was invigorating to have such a positive classroom experience. Moreover, it was a pleasure to see that students did indeed learn some valuable lessons about the historical process and about the nation’s founding.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Cover Letter: Call me maybe

I've been thinking about updating my cover letter when I apply for jobs. I think I need to stand out a little more. So, I since I've been singing songs to my five-month-old, I thought a musical cover letter would be a good idea. In light of the success of Carly Rae Jepsen's song, "Call Me Maybe," I thought I could set my cover letter to that tune. Here goes:

You have a spot that needs filled
If you call, then I will
Discuss with you all my skills
That suit this job

I have an advanced degree
From a university
And with my references you'll agree
That I suit this job

I have six years teaching
And some experience preaching
For tenure track I'm reaching
So what you think about me?

Hey, I just applied here
And this is crazy
But here's my CV
So call me maybe

And it might look like I am lazy
But I taught a full load
And had a baby

I've taught classes large and small
I'm available this fall
And will wait for your call
Because I suit this job

I can work full or part time
I've taught classes online
Original research that's mine
Truly suits this job

I have six years teaching
And some experience preaching
For tenure track I'm reaching
So what you think about me?

Hey I just applied here
And this is crazy
But here's my CV
So call me maybe

And it might look like I am lazy
But I taught a full load
And had a baby

Hey I just applied here
And this is crazy
But here's my CV
So call me maybe

And it might look like I am lazy
But I taught a full load
And had a baby

My article was accepted with no revivisions
It's your decision
But I'm wishin'
That you'll call to discuss my skill set
You won't regret
I'm the best candidate

Hey, I just applied here
And this is crazy
But here's my CV
So call me maybe

And it might look like I am lazy
But I taught a full load
And had a baby

Hey, I just applied here
And the market's crazy
So here's my CV
Please call me maybe.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fatherhood 101

Since the end of my school year, I came home to live with my family for the summer. This move has also allowed me to provide childcare for our son full-time. It has given me time to spend with my wonderful newborn son who is developing at such a rapid rate. And it allows me to take a crash course in parenting. Here is the syllabus of things I am learning:

Set goals for each day.

My day begins around 7 a.m. when my son wakes up. It ends anywhere between midnight and 2 a.m. Between feedings and changings, and the infrequent naps, I discovered that my time flies by. I realized that if I did not set some goals each day, I would end up getting nothing done. Here are some of my goals.

1. Take a shower before noon. When my wife was home after delivering, she used to say that it was a personal victory if she took a shower at all. I am shooting for noon. Of course, I usually need to take a shower at some point to wash off the vomit, poop, or urine that my son covers me in. Modest as it may seem, I like getting a shower before noon. When I was working, I took at shower between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. So, noon is appropriate.

2. Brush my teeth at some point in the day. This may sound a little weird, but I frequently forget to brush my teeth. This has to do with the fact that I usually eat my meals during my son’s nap times. So, I don’t bush when I’m holding him, and I don’t brush right before I eat. So, it is a personal victory when I brush my teeth. Usually during my shower, but not always.

3. Take both the dog and the child for a walk around the neighborhood. I will likely post a longer description of how these walks go, but I usually take them both for a walk in the morning, and sometimes a second one in the afternoon.

4. Ride my bike. I love riding my bike. I want to ride in some road races. I want to ride a cross-country trip (i.e. across this state). But I can’t ride with a three-month-old baby. So, I set up my bike on the trainer, which allows me to ride indoors or stationary outside. This is great, if I can fit it in when the baby is sleeping. Sometimes, I ask a friend or relative to watch him for a couple of hours while I go and get actual mileage on the road. I think I will get in more riding as the summer goes along.

5. Finish my obligations, but do not extend myself into anything else. I have a list of deadlines on some publications this summer. I am hoping and praying that I get through all of them on time.

Walking a dog and a baby stroller: Prevent mutually assured destruction

Like I said, I will post a longer story about this one, but I walk the dog and the baby every morning. I tried the baby in the Bjorn during a walk, but I became worried that when picking up the dog poop, I might drop the baby into the poop. Parent fail. So, I put him in the stroller. The trick to walking a dog and a baby stroller is twofold: 1) don’t let the stroller run over the dog; and 2) don’t let the dog knock over the stroller. I learned that I can’t clip the dog leash to the stroller. So far, we have prevented mutually assured destruction during our walks.


Here’s a fund question that all daddy daycare-ers should ask themselves: “What Would Mommy and the State Think?” (WWM&ST). I started realizing that all of my daddy decisions with respect with my son should be determined by two simple criteria. First, would Mommy be disappointed if I did this? If so, then it is not a good idea. If not, then game on. Second, would this decision put my child at risk in any way such that the state would have grounds to take him from me? If so, then avoid that decision at all cost. If not, then revert to the Mommy criterion for a second opinion. When in doubt, ask “What Would Mommy Think” and you are probably in the clear.

To Bjorn or Not To Bjorn

My son like being in his Baby Bjorn. Which is great for a few reasons. First, he needs to spend more time upright developing his neck and shoulder strength. Second, he has to round out a flat spot on his head. Third, he really likes to be held, and I really like to use my arms more than two hours each day. So, the Bjorn is a life saver (and a limb saver). I was thinking the other day about what activities were good for the Bjorn, and what one’s were not. It reminded me of the “Good Idea/Bad Idea” sketch on Animaniacs. So, here is my short list of good ideas and bad ideas with the Bjorn.

Good Idea (To Bjorn): Walk to the mailbox. You can get him outside in the fresh air and sunlight (but not too much wind or sun, darn it). And you can use your hands to open the mailbox and take out the mail.

Bad Idea (Not to Bjorn); Walk the dog. Like I said before, It gets very difficult to pick up dog poop with a baby in the Bjorn. Bending over in generally is difficult. My condolences to my wife when she was pregnant. Note: I never dropped my son in dog poop.

Good Idea (To Bjorn): Vacuum the house. Babies love vacuums, so I’m told. My son does. My dog doesn’t. Vacuuming with the Bjorn is quite good. I did learn, however that you have to tighten the straps on the head cuff so his head doesn’t bounce like a pinball between my chest and the cuff.

Bad Idea (Not to Bjorn): Mow the lawn. I usually mow when he’s asleep (I use the monitor when I’m outside). I have not mowed with him in the Bjorn. I’ve been curious to try it, but I remember an episode of Raising Hope when some woman complained about Jimmy having his daughter in the Bjorn while he was running a weed whacker. My hunch is that mowing with the Bjorn may be an infraction on both domains of WWM&ST.

Good Idea (To Bjorn): Doing the Dishes.

Bad Idea (Not to Bjorn): Cook Dinner. We have a gas stove. It is fine if I accidentally get my child’s feet wet when washing dishes. It is not ok to catch his feet on fire. (See WWM&ST).

So, here’s what I’ve learned so far in the past two and a half weeks. I look forward to new lessons.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Whine - I can't get a break

I've been in my office for no more than 20 minutes, and I already have two reasons to be disappointed about progressing professionally.

1. The book I picked up from the library is not as helpful as I had hoped.
I ordered a book through ILL so that I could make a copy of a chapter. The chapter is not something I need in the immediate time, but I am compiling a file for a future research project. The book is a collection of essays on the history of Christianity in Ireland, and I wanted to read a chapter about Methodism in the country. Of course, the chapter that I want to read is very elementary and lacks any footnotes. That is not exactly the most helpful source.

2. Why do most of the History of Christianity teaching jobs require you to be ordained?
A friend of mine alerted me to a tenure-track teaching position at a university nearby where I live. It is in History of Christianity. This is very exciting because it is close to my home and it is in my field. But the job posting specifies that the school would prefer a candidate who is ordained and/or has experience in local congregation leadership. Why does that really matter? If a person has the education qualifications, the teaching experience, and can jump through the hoops of commitment to the Church, then why is ordination or pastoral experience necessary? Does experience preaching have any application to the historical discipline? Does pastoral counseling? I don't think so. I am sure that there are former pastors who have very good skills in studying history. But being a history buff and a successful pastor does not make you a qualified candidate.

So, I guess I am frustrated with the things that prevent me from getting ahead in my research and in my teaching. In the end, it does not matter too much. Next week my wife and I will be welcoming our son into the world. There is nothing more important that that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teaching Tuesday: A Hard Day's Night

Teaching Tuesdays are long days. I get into my office about 7 a.m. and teach two classes in the morning (8:30 - 11:15). Then I have office hours in the middle of the day. Finally I have a night class from 6:00 to 8:50.

Long day makes for a tired man.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hope to start blogging soon

I will try to start blogging again. I am not very disciplined on this task. I spend most of my time driving between my home and where I work, working very hard for four days of the week teaching, and then working very hard at home keeping up on the house and anticipating the arrival of our son.

If anyone actually does read this blog, I apologize to you. Hopefully, you will find more to read soon.