Humans are not designed to live alone.  We are by nature designed to live together in community to reach our full potential.  English poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.”   Our actions can influence everyone around us.  Lasting relationships are perhaps the key to a happy life.  It is one of the benefits of education and school as we meet and become friends with people.  Many of those friendships are lifelong relationships which can forever change your life.

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.  I was member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds.” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.   It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced.  Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends.  I had just turned twenty years old.  And I was never more miserable in my life.

Fast forward 35 years, I am now a father and grandfather.  In the time since my days in the Marine Corps, I married my wife (whom I met in Junior High).  I have worked as a middle and high school teacher, worked for a governor and been a part of university and several think tanks and owned my own business.  There is no physical gift in the world that means more than me than actually being with my family.  No job or gift or experience matches that of grandchild yelling “Pappy” as they fly into my arms. The best gifts in life are never the ones you will find under a tree. 

Focus on your relationships.  Relationships develop when people spend time together.  Whether it is with friends or family, it is how you get to know people and how you become known to others.  Faith is also a relationship.  There remains hope for all of us.  It is never too late to change in life, until life is gone.   

Build relationships with those around you. Those relationships will bring more love to the world. Our self-worth is built in who we are in those relationships, not what we can accomplish in an occupation.  Good relationships are based on respect.  If you give up on people, you could miss out on something extraordinary. Never give up.  Live in the moment.  This Christmas give the gift of yourself to others.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

Running Towards Eternity

We all have a limited amount of time, unfortunately too many people waste it.   Once it is gone, it is gone.  Time is one thing we can never get it back.  We will make time for what is important to us.  So, the best gift you can give someone is your time.  This Christmas Season find time for those in your life. —JC Bowman

Heftiger Disput

During the holidays, our goal and objective is to have a peaceful gathering of family and friends.  Peace is not lack of conflict, it is the ability to manage conflict by peaceful means.  But is it possible to simply just avoid conflict when so many are outspoken about their beliefs?  Probably not, however, that should be our objective.

Conflict is inevitable, whenever humans live together.  However, it can be set aside for a greater purpose, such as fellowship, thanksgiving, worship, and helping others.  Dutch clergyman Henri Nouwen wrote that we find “words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.”  That is how we should approach interaction with family and friends over the holidays.

In modern times families have more commitments, and often there is a geographical distance between members of the family.  Historically, families do not gather together like they once did.  It would seem then, in the few minutes or hours that you may be with families and friends you can lay aside politics, and other items that divide families, ignoring past squabbles.  Simply enjoy the company of other people and give a moment of gratitude for our lives and blessings.  Failure to avoid conflict, may mean that some members avoid future family gatherings.  When that happens, everyone loses.

If you are sincere about making memories with people that you love the most you should avoid political talk and probably turn off the news.  Work on reconnecting with family and friends. Start new or enjoy old family traditions. If you are religious, do not change your belief to accommodate people who have entered your home. They already know who you are, and should respect it.  If you watch football or play football do that.  Watching the Macy Day’s parade on television on Thanksgiving was a tradition in my home.  Use laughter to defuse awkward conversations.  Remember the adage, it is hard to argue with food in your mouth, especially dessert.

Make the effort to create a relaxed environment.  Be focused to all your family relationships in between holidays, so that hurt and resentment don’t build up in between visits.  Time is important.  Set a time to start and a time to conclude an event.  We all have that family member who overstays their visit.  If you are not certain who that family member is, it’s probably you. Also, make sure you do your part to help out.  Hosting a family holiday is a lot of work.

Family holiday time is not the time for therapy. Turn to professionals for that, and handle in private. It is important to be reminded that you are not forced to spend time with people who are harmful to your mental health, even if they are your relatives.  However, with proper ground rules and a positive attitude you can avoid conflict and reduce the stress, making the holidays successful for everybody.  If you are still uncomfortable, have another piece of pie.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

dickens2

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It appears that 2017 has been a long year for many people, and 2018 promises even more of the same problems with even more politics. That is usually not a good recipe for success. However, if there is any lesson to be learned it is that we should endeavor to get the most out of life, use our God-given talent and our abilities, be loyal, love our friends and family, and honor God. We should not simply strive to be common, but seek to be remarkable. Your life is God’s gift to you. What you do in life, is your gift to God.  Teachers understand this more than most.

This Christmas season we will undoubtedly hear the story of God’s love taking the form of man and coming down to earth. There is much more to that story. But what is amazing to me is the role that women played in the life of Jesus. The old saying is that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Rodgers and Hammerstein added another twist: the hand that rocks the cradle rules the heart. Either way, women have played such a critical role in the world, often unrecognized by the very people who have experienced their influence. Invisible to the naked eye, true leadership is in the womb, the breast, the hands, and the soul of woman.

A mother has the most difficult task, for she must take a young, impressionable human being, and emphasize in their young life the things they must learn and experience, the hurt they will inevitably feel, the sadness – this is a difficult task a mother must do. It takes a tremendous amount of strength, patience, and moral fiber to give birth, raise, and eventually let go of, a child. My mother did an unbelievable job, in a difficult situation with a strong-willed child. I am the man I am today because of the woman she is. I am a living testament to her encouragement, love and yes discipline. She instilled in me a passion to believe in myself and to do what is right, even when others around you do what is wrong. More importantly she gave me the desire to live my life with intention. What a beautiful gift to give.

Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, wrote the poem “On Children.” Here is what he said: “You may give your children your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

I love that thought that Gibran expresses, but I differ with him: I do think we can dream that brighter future for our children. I hope that it is a future filled with hope. I wish for peace and harmony in the world and the eventual safe return of all our troops from foreign lands. In 1983 I was deployed and wasn’t home with my family during the Christmas holiday.   It was an incredibly lonely time.

I would wish that all families had an opportunity this Christmas to spend time with the ones they truly love, whether they are halfway around the world or simply across the street. Love is the greatest gift of all. If you want a magical holiday season, give yourself in love beyond what you traditionally are willing to surrender. Seize the opportunity and have the courage to tell those around you how much you care and appreciate them.

Jesus is the reason for the season. But really he is the reason for every season. The old adage “he who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree” is pretty accurate. So, from our team at Professional Educators of Tennessee to your family, we wish you an enjoyable Holiday Season and an even happier 2018!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Singing the blues away

You remind yourself that the holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness, gathering of friends and family and most importantly optimism for the coming New Year. Yet you get inundated with reminders of the holidays that may conjure up unresolved issues like grief caused by a missing friend or family member, your own failing health or that of a friend or family member. Sometimes there is a sense of increased isolation and loneliness or recognition that there is a difference between the perception of holiday joy and the reality of one’s own life. Holidays can take a toll on even the happiest person.

From now until after the first of 2018 more than likely your life will be busier and certainly more stressful. You will have more things to do, more things to buy, there will be more traffic in our streets, stores will become more crowded, parking will become more difficult, and you will have your patience tried to the extreme waiting longer for service. Guests in your house will further add to your frustration. Heaven forbid if some person accidentally sits in your seat at your place of worship. The additional demands on our time, attention, energy and finances can be very traumatic. All of these issues come to a head during the holiday season. You want love or something like it.

Remind yourself all these issues can help you develop a strategy to tackle this short period of time. Most people struggle with holidays at some point in their lives. Just as we often struggle with life itself. It requires effort to overcome any problem. Recognition of our own thoughts and feelings helps us be successful in being triumphant over even the worst of times.

We begin our adult life with idealistic dreams of running off into the sunset, chasing whatever it is that makes us happy. We hope we are fortunate enough to reach those goals set by our youthful optimism. But for many of us we also learn we can only run so far before reality sets in. We must be extremely careful that we do not turn this optimism into pessimism, or even worse cynicism. This cynicism is often couched in anger and we hear or see the wounded cries. People become blinded by their own pessimism, then cynical of everything but their own cynicism.

Part of what makes us human is the ability to project into the future. However, do not believe for one moment you can find redemption by escaping your situation. Life is never really easy or is it? Are we not the ones who complicate it? When we complicate it do we become our own victims?

Perhaps the best scientific exploration of optimism, an incredible research study thirty-five years in the making entitled “Pessimistic Explanatory Style as a Risk Factor for Physical Illness: A Thirty-five Year Longitudinal Study”, J Person Soc Psych 55 (1988): 23-7, by C. Peterson, M. Seligman, and G. Vaillant, three main findings were established:

  1. Optimists live longer than pessimists;
  2. Optimists suffer from fewer and less severe diseases;
  3. Optimists are much healthier than pessimists.

Some of the benefits of being an optimist according to research are that we know that we will receive greater health benefits, higher quality of life–manifested by greater success, greater happiness and greater love. So, this holiday season take the time to revisit your own priorities for life. Hold on to your dreams. Never give up on thinking what was and what is and what can be. Yes we can all be winners in good times and survivors during the hard times.

If we want to relieve the tremendous stress on friends and family structures, we must make a positive commitment this holiday season to help others, as well as ourselves. We must all become promoters for hope. We need to work together to prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety from dominating our community this holiday season. We need a positive environment to help our children enjoy this most sacred season, and we all have a role to play to make sure those around us remain emotionally stable and use effective coping skills.

This holiday season take an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. When churches, synagogues, mosques, businesses, and governments collaborate, impressive things can happen to cause productive change in communities and among individuals. The impact could be of a global magnitude.

Like many I have learned what the power of faith can accomplish in an individual life. In addition, faith has traditionally played a crucial role in shaping both American institutions and civil society, and America has thrived as a model of democracy and equality precisely because of this pervasive religiosity and the traditions it helped establish. The abundance of faith based voices in the public square does not mean that the issues of the day will suddenly vanish. But the inclusion of faith based organization’s views and voices does allow communities to explore areas of consensus that are often overlooked. It provides the faith based community the opportunity to do what it does best, serving others and expanding its role in serving society.

Remember to make this a holiday season to remember. To somebody you may be just the gift they need. Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr often shared this prayer with people, and it helps remind me when I face depression.

The Serenity Prayer

 God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference;

 Living one day at a time;

 Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2018, and stay positive!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.