Category Archives: Ethics

James 1: Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Wrath

My favorite book of the Bible is James, so it is fitting that when I am trying for the first time in nearly ten years to begin a daily habit of reading Scripture, contemplating it, and spending some time thinking and praying, that I would begin back with James. James, the doer of the word, not just the contemplator. I like doing and being active and employing what I am learning. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a navel gazer, only, though I do a fair bit of that as I try to figure out how to act or use what I am learning. From an article by Saint Andrew’s Abbey, about the relationship between practice and contemplation: “Practice and contemplation were understood as the two poles of our underlying, ongoing spiritual rhythm: a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual ‘activity’ with regard to God and ‘receptivity.'”

Today I read the first chapter of James in the Lectio Divina style of reading. In short, in Lectio Divina, the reader quiets her mind, then asks God to guide her through her reading, then reads slowly and meditatively in order to parse out what God wants to show her that day. Then the reader has a prayer dialogue with God about that verse, then finally she rests or meditates in the meaning of the Scripture.

The verses that called out to me as I read this first chapter this morning were verses 19 and 20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I spend a lot of time listening to other people, particularly my students, so the beginning of verse 19 that says, be swift to hear and slow to speak reminds me how I should receive people, being real and present with the person who is directly across from you at any given moment.

The goal is to be intent about your interaction with the other person, focusing on the moment and hearing what that person is saying. It’s been one of my goals for the past two years to speak less and listen more deeply and intently. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, I find that I later regret that I wasn’t more intent on hearing the ideas, dreams, and concerns of the person with whom I was talking.

The second part, really the third point of verse 19 is to be slow to wrath. Generally speaking, for me, I find that I am more able to be slow to wrath if I have listened well and if I converse with a person to understand who they are, why they think like they do, and how I fit into their world if I do. I think being slow to wrath comes from really taking time to interact with people and to have difficult conversation and in depth sharing from ideas and thoughts, no matter diverse or distinct those ideas may be.

Further, I believe the reason that verse 20 says, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” is that when we don’t listen to others and when we don’t engage others in discussion, we tend to act rashly and with an anger that is superficial and dangerous. However, if we do take that time to listen to both our fellow humans and to God, and when we engage in that heavy conversation and that deep interaction, we don’t get angry quickly.

Instead, we save our anger for things that anger God, like systemic problems that result in disenfranchised groups being further pushed aside, or like domestic problems where people are put into dangerous situations simply because our laws are archaic, or monetary difficulties because churches and government programs are overwhelmed with people who need help.

In short, I think verse 20 is telling us not to avoid anger in every situation, like I was taught when I was younger, but it’s telling us to not waste our anger on human concerns that can be resolved by listening and talking through those concerns. The last few words of verse 20 say that our anger “does not produce the righteousness of God.” This end phrase leaves room for Christians to be angry, but not about human trivialities. We are to reserve anger for those things, which God perceives as unrighteous, unholy, then our anger can produce the righteousness of God.

It’s especially important to notice that these verses are sandwiched between a verse about being birthed in the word of truth, and two other verses about getting rid of wickedness and becoming meek in order to be doers of the word and not just hearers. Part of the appeal of the book of James for me, as I said at the beginning, is that James wants us to act. We are to use our quick listening and slow speaking in order to avoid wrath, but not in order to avoid acting; we’re just not supposed to act rashly and in human wrath.

This morning was a beautiful time of considering Scripture, which I haven’t done seriously in quite some time. Now to employ what I’ve learned and to continue this practice each day.

Two Sets of Directions and Flippy

Yesterday, I had to go get cups for my second job at Caribou Coffee, because we were running out of large iced cups, and, while you wouldn’t expect to in a place like Minnesota in January, we use a lot of large iced cups. Minnesotans love their cold brew. I had never been to the Caribou Coffee I needed to go, because it is located on the opposite side of the Twin Cities from where I live, and I have no need to ever go there, except to get cups. Normally, I would just plop that address into my iPhone Apple Maps and get there and back with no problem. I panicked for a quick minute, then I used the computer in our weird little backroom, dish room, office area and found the Caribou that had cups and used google maps to find the easiest route. Then I wrote the route out on paper, like I used to write motorcycle routes on my arm in Sharpie marker. Yes, I rode my motorcycle all the way to Florida and back and all the way to Door County and back with only directions in Sharpie marker on my arm. Needless to say, I made it from my Caribou to the Caribou 30 minutes away without incident.

Today, I went to my favorite donut shop, Glam Dolls for breakfast. I navigated my way there with no problem, but they were closed for an extended New Year’s vacation. I was incredibly sad, but my eventual goal was to end up in Roseville, so I could visit my friends at Apple, and so I could grade my students’ work before finishing my quarter three planning after work tomorrow and Friday. As I (very sadly) pulled away from Glam Dolls, I said to myself, good luck getting to Roseville! MNDOT has rerouted the entrance onto 35W from I-94, where I used to use Franklin Street and then cross 5 lanes of traffic on I-94 to exit onto 35W North, and I had to fend for myself, so I just stayed on I-94, thinking that I would eventually bump into something familiar. Just as I had the thought that I might have to stay on I-94 until it merged onto 52, which is way out of the way, exit signs for 280 started popping up, and I vaguely remembered Jack telling me that’s how he gets from where we live to Roseville, so I took the exit and hoped for the best. I am proud to report that I made it to my usual Starbucks without any problems.

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After a week of being with Flippy (this is what my lovely flip phone will be affectionately called from here on out), I have decided that intentionality is one side effect of flip phone use. Everything I do with Flippy is very intentional. Texts take three to four times as long to write, so I ask myself if I really need to say what I am about to say. Is what I am about to type really worth all of the tapping and strange navigation on the phone? I am much more thoughtful about what I put out there, because what I put out there takes more work. Another thing about being intentional is that I can’t just look things up on a whim, because I have to be near my computer. I wondered, this morning at 4:38 when I woke up for the first time—when is the first official day of baseball season? Thursday, March 28 if you need to know— and normally I would’ve grabbed my phone, looked it up, and gone down a rabbit hole of looking at things. Instead, I wondered it, said to myself, “Look that up later, Self,” and then went back to sleep for another hour or so.

Finally, I am finding that this experiment is doing just what I had hoped. Because texting is so labor intensive, I have made more phone calls to people in the past week than I have in probably the past year. I usually have three people who I call on a regular basis (and if you ask them, they will tell you it is very irregular): Bec, Merideth, and Amy. I rarely call anyone else. In the past week, I’ve talked with my parents (twice), my brother (twice), Bec (several times), and a couple of other people. Already, this feels like the best thing that’s happened to me in a while.

 

When You Shoved a Desk at Me as I Walked Past You . . .

I didn’t punch you, like any of the teachers in any of the viral videos punched their students.

I didn’t punch you, because . . .

I am an adult, and adults are here on this earth to nurture and mentor young people, to teach you who you should become as an adult, not to teach you who you shouldn’t become. If I had hit you, I wouldn’t be nurturing you or mentoring you. Most importantly, your decision-making skills will not be fully developed for another 10 years. I cannot expect you to make choices like a mentally-well adult, because you are a middle schooler.

I want, more than anything, for you to grow into a wonderful, smart, caring, kind, and loving man, not the sort of man I will read about in the headlines for doing something mean and heartless. I already had to read about a former student trying to murder his girlfriend, including some graphically sordid details that didn’t need to be in the newspaper. I don’t want to read something like that about you.

On most good days I actually enjoy my job, and I look forward to coming into a school where students, ready to learn or not, will get one little glimpse into the beauty of this world and into the theological concept of grace. My goal, each day, is to teach my students one thing that hadn’t ever thought about before.

I am a pacifist, and even if I wasn’t, I want for you to know that your first response shouldn’t be what can I do back to them, when they’ve done something wrong to you. I should model that a response can be forgiveness, love, and grace, not retribution.

I can control my initial reaction, and I can look you in the eye and tell you, “NEVER do that to me again, because a person’s first instinct is to hit back, or push back, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I mean that. I really want you think through your actions, your words, your behavior, because I want for you to act with purpose, making good choices, not out of impulse, making poor choices.

You are a kid living with (probably significant) trauma in your life. You don’t need me to add onto that, and I probably didn’t think through this one hard enough when I got angry. Instead of talking through your actions with you and helping you to see how many other good and pure choices you could have made, I spoke harshly, punished you and your classmates who were laughing, and then made you work in silence.

I love you, even when you don’t love yourself. Even when your sole mission is to entertain the other kids in the class with behavior that is the opposite of what you know is right and good, I love you, and I want the best for you. At this point, it feels like I love you more and care about you more, than you love or care about yourself.

Situational Paralysis: Make a Good Plan

While I am visiting my parents this weekend, I came here to Gas City to a Starbucks, where I worked during graduate school which seems like ages ago now, to work on lesson plans for school next week. The school corporation where I work uses a system called PAR to evaluate all new teachers and also struggling teachers who have been teaching for a while.

I value this system, because every teacher should have other teachers observe them, and every teacher has room to grow and learn, which is facilitated well by conversations with a good, mentor teacher (I am lucky, mine is fabulous). Conversely I dislike this system, because it requires me to write formal lesson plans every weekend for every period for every class, and sometimes I just want my students to work on a project for a few days, but I don’t know how, in a formal lesson plan, to adequately express where I will be and what I will be doing for those days.

And sometimes, let’s be real, formal lesson plans seem like one more thing when you have a general trajectory for your students’ lessons, like they are taking time away from making the lesson happen, doing a bit of extra preparation for your students, grading their work and making meaningful comments, and all those things that really make a difference.

But, in American culture, what are we without a plan? We start planning our kids’ lives from before the time they are even conceived. We tracks students by their achievements from the time they are in preschool. We guide students forward on their trajectories all through elementary, leaving brown, black, female, financially poor, and queer kids at the margins (if you don’t believe me, a simple google search will prove my point; there are countless scholarly articles that speak to these issues as well). These groups spend far more time out of class, in the principal’s office, in the nurses office, and out of school for behavior or absences, and frequently they are left behind.

We start seriously asking students what are their plans for their futures in seventh grade (I’m 44 and I still don’t have a solid plan), but those same groups of kids (the marginalized) are largely at a loss for guidance as papers (lessons and punishments) are pushed their direction, sometimes in languages they and their parents cannot speak or read, sometimes for opportunities they and their parents do not understand, and sometimes with the lens of a cultural structure into which they do not fit. Twenty-first Century Scholars in Indiana, for example, must be applied for by the end of 8th grade, so students and their parents have to choose to go to college by the young age of 12-14. If they miss the 8th-grade deadline, there is no second chance.

So, yes, plans matter in the USA. And your plan had better be a good one, the right one. As a teacher, my plan had better be a good one, the right one. No pressure.

 

 

July 4: Independence Day, Veganism, Goal Fulfilling

I’m reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, and the words are helping me see how very far I’ve come since November with physical, spiritual, and mental wellness, but I’m also learning how very far I have to go to be completely well. This year I am using July 4, 2017 to become independent from social media. I’ll be staying away from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until January 1, 2018. I’ll still write here occasionally, but I want to really experience things in my own way, not filtered through the lenses of comparison, argumentation, and whatever else happens on social media that makes me feel yucky inside and draws energy from my experiences of joy. 

I’m not putting my head in a hole in the ground, because I’ll still follow the news and interact with friends through texts, emails, and phone calls, but I am buffering my experiences with jealousy, anger, and sadness for six months. My 25th high school reunion is on August 5, and I want to be in the best mental health possible, so I can have a blast with some people I haven’t seen in 25 years. Please be sure to direct message me if you want my contact information to text, call, or email.

I haven’t written here in a while, and it’s mostly because I spend a good portion of my day, when I am not at work, sitting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, watching the feeds go by with the same information I saw just a few minutes ago. I mean, I seriously sit on the couch, going from Facebook (refresh) to Instagram (refresh) to Twitter (refresh) and back again and again. Last night I spent about three hours working on some digital art; I’m trying to design bike jerseys for me and Bec for our 100-mile ride in July, and it was so fulfilling that I was reminded how joyful I feel when I am reading, or writing, or creating. 

I am not good at just “taking a break” or “logging out for a while,” so I will just remove the apps from my phone and change the passwords to something I won’t remember. I’ll write it down, so I can come back and visit in January. This is the thing I am adding for July to my wellness and mental health changes I am making this year. I’m also trying hard to invest more in those people who also invest in me, and that isn’t necessarily happening on social media. I feel as if I am investing shallowly in a lot of people, but not deep and meaningfully in a few people. 

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Because I haven’t written here in a while, well, I haven’t written at all in a while, I feel like I have so much to say, but I also feel like I’ll just ramble and babble and not make any sense. So what’s new?! 

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I became vegan (again) on May 4, because of a challenge at work, and I am in love with my lifestyle. What I love is that I am being very healthy about it. I’m eating nearly all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, and almost no “vegan food products.” 

I eat an occasional Boca burger, breadsticks, or French fries, but for the most part, on the day to day, I eat fresh veggies like carrots, snap peas, and tomatoes, fresh fruit like apples, oranges, and cherries, and some hummus and avocado. I am trying to limit the amount of GMOs I’m eating, and I’m also limiting my wheat and soy intake. What I consume is 90% organic. 

I also have smoothies for breakfast, which are pretty lovely, with spinach, soy milk, and Vega protein powder. I feel good, I look healthy, and I’m living as cruelty-free as possible, which helps my spiritual and mental health. This has been a long (repetitive), slow journey, but I am getting where I am supposed to be. 

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Since November 25, 2016, I’ve lost 40 pounds, and my immediate goal is 20 more, which is coming off slowly. More importantly to me, I’m able to walk 8 miles with no problems, I can bike 30 miles on a regular basis, and I can still swim like a fish. I haven’t had a drink since January 19, and I’ve made changes slowly and consistently, so they’re becoming part of my life, instead of a thing I’m doing.

For July, I am also adding in weightlifting, which I was supposed to have already added, but I get intimidated for some crazy reason. I start second guessing myself like I’ve never lifted weights, and I don’t belong in a gym. Dumb. My goal is: Mondays and Thursdays will be biking, Tuesdays and Fridays will be swimming and lifting, and Wednesdays will be trail running, Saturdays will be running then walking with Bec, and Sundays will be a leisurely walk with Bec. 

I’m meditating more regularly, but I still need to be more consistent, because I feel so much better when I calm my monkey mind by focusing on my breath. I’m trying to be more mindful of the ways in which my actions impact others, and I seem to have more cognition of that when my mind is calm from meditating, rather than when it is full of many thoughts that are walking laps inside my brain like big cats in a zoo cage. 

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My brother and I leave on June 30 for a trip to swim in all five Great Lakes. We’re hoping to complete our trek in about 12 hours and spend the night in Toronto. I’ll keep you posted.  I cannot tell you how good it felt to write this, even though it is super disjointed, not very pretty, and kind of like nacho vomit in word form.