Category Archives: Poverty

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.

 

 

Too Many Days of Lent: I’ve Been Revelling in the Weather

How much of a blessing has this weather been?! The trees are bloomed out with leaves and assorted flowers, the wild flowers are brightly colored and diverse, the grass is growing and growing and growing, and the birds wake me up every morning with their anger or sexual desire, whichever is worse I am unsure. They scream and chatter and occasionally whistle and chirp outside our bedroom window at the bird feeders. They are my natural alarm clock, beautiful and harsh.

Every time I look out the window at the beauty of the day, I want school to be over so I can play outside. I want to go swimming, biking, running, disc golfing, kayaking, and I want to do every other activity that someone can do outside! I want to roll down a hill and make myself sick. I want to be free. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: God wants us to play. There is a whole theology of play that helps us to better relate to the divine through spontaneous acts of creative play.

Part of play for me is recognizing who I am in Christ and being free from societal constraints. In other words, I feel free to play when I realize that my identity lies in Christ and not in what other people think of me. And, I play with reckless abandon, which means I have a few people in my life that don’t quite understand me. My greatest desire is to be unencumbered by those things that other people see as necessary. My mom always says to other people, “I think she just wants to be poor.” Yeah, I do. I don’t want to be tied down by earthly possessions or monetary things. I never intended to buy a house. I would love to get rid of all my stuff until everything I own or everything I need could fit in my camping backpack. I’m pretty sure that would make me perfect for monastic life, which is still a kind of dream of mine. I’m not sure I want to be monastic in the “I’m celibate and live in a cold cell with a hair shirt” kind of monastic, but more in the new monastic, communal living sort of way where I share things with my community members.

When I am having these thoughts, my morning prayers typically confirm my thoughts or dissuade me from them. Today they confirm with this quote from Peter Maruin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement: “The world would be better off if -people tried to become better. And -people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off.” I think living in a self-sustaining community and trying to be better and more compassionate is definitely a way for me to be better off. I think of communities like Simple Way and the way they intertwine work and play in all aspects of their lives.

I would be able to work hard and play hard without trying to conform to some arbitrary economic constraints.

I would only have to please God and provide for my “family.”

I would have plenty of time to revel in the beauty of God’s world and word.

I could play.

Peace.

Lent Day 16: Do the Best You Can Where You Are

We are all complicit in the world in which we live. Unless we live completely off the grid, self-sustaining, and 100% independent of anyone else, we are complicit in what US culture (or global culture for that matter) has become. Wealth is made on the backs of the poorest and neediest. We criticize even those who try to make a difference. Perhaps because they aren’t making a big enough difference in our opinions. Or maybe they aren’t making the right difference in the right way.

What I learned in a succession of strange and serendipitous interactions today is that we each have to do the best we can to live our lives in a way that we can live with the choices we make, in a way that we can live with ourselves, in a way that we can look at ourselves in the mirror and not feel ashamed.

For some people, that way of living may be completely and totally morally reprehensible to someone else. For example, my Starbucks habit may make Fair Trade only coffee drinkers cringe. Someone else’s insistence on wearing Nike (or insert other brand) tennis shoes may perk up my sensors for labor abuse. People may look at my Mac and curse my choices, and I may see their copy of The Purpose Driven Life and question were those profits are going. Each of us has a commodity-related Achilles heel. Each of us has a love (or necessity) that is bound up in immoral and unethical practices.

But, if each us will do his or her little part to make the world a more ethical place, instead of continually judging each other for what we’re not doing, then we will see much ethical and moral growth. With each person making small strides, together we’re making great strides, right? I realize this is a little more pie-in-the-sky hopeful and optimistic—and even quite a bit cheesier, possibly a bit preachier—than my usual posts, but we have to start somewhere. If we start somewhere, it’s better than simply sitting around finger pointing, right? Right?

Now I’m respectfully stepping off the soap box.

*

A good portion of the beauty of today (and every day) was in simplicity.

A Twin-Yolked Egg and Yummy Bacon

Little Purple Spring Flowers Growing Up Among the Brown Leaves

A Bridge I Walk Past Every Day, But It Looked Especially Artistic Today

Cod Fish Stir Fry

A Man Fishing, But I Am Not Sure He Caught Anything

Kayaking the White River: Looking at the Ball Mansions

“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”—Toni Morrison in Rita Dove’s Grace Notes

I, too, always feel as if I am trying to get back to where I was. In a way, we are all trying to get back to where we were.

Gauges. Buddhism. Holy Friday. Running.

As I put on my headphones and feel the little puckered holes in my earlobes, I realize I still haven’t put my plugs back into my ears. In a mirror, the holes look like the mouths of hungry children, opening for food. They are rounded, soft, and raw, but almost quiver at the thought of being refilled, as if they’ll burst at too much food. I touch the little mouths again and send up a quick prayer for those same children who have no food, and I think about the large discrepancy between their hunger for food and my comparing my piercings to their pain. It’s a bad metaphor, but I keep it. Then I contemplate how I will manage to get my 1/2″ gauges back through the tight lobes that have returned, over the past three days, to smaller openings. This struggle is waged every other month or so when I take the plugs out of my ears to give them some breathing room. Inevitably, I forget to put them back in, in a timely fashion. Then, when I put them back in, my lobes are sore for a couple of days. As the pain subsides, I forget about the mouths and their hunger. I turn away from thinking about suffering. I move forward, leaving concern behind.

*

Today is Earth Day. Starbucks is giving away free drip coffee if you bring in your own mug. It’s nice.

*

During Lent, I have nearly read four books about spirituality. Along with almost daily readings in the Bible, I have completed The Joy of Living (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche) and An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor), and I am halfway through Rebel Buddha (Dzogchen Ponlop) and Love Wins (Rob Bell). Reading these four books together, has made me more of a heretic than I already was before Lent. I’m not a dense person, but I just don’t see how Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible teachings, as so many of my more conservative friends seem to need to persuade me to think. I suppose if you adhere in a fundamentalist fashion to either spirituality, you’d not be able to reconcile them. However, if you look past the literal, the overarching message of the two spiritualities is one of love and compassion, in which the believers, celebrants seek to leave a lasting impact of positivity and non-suffering on our world. I have a hard time seeing how these two do not work together. Prayer bleeds into meditation, daily professions faith bleeds into daily practice of compassion, enlightenment bleeds into sanctification, and the eightfold path bleeds into the Sermon on the Mount and the two most important commandments. I think both religions would agree that you should increase love and compassion, while decreasing worldly attachments. I feel no conviction that they are not compatible, as hard as some of my friends try.

*

Today is also Holy Friday. I am not going to church. Instead, I am going to watch the youngest pseudo-stepchild perform in the play, King Lear. I am immersed in Shakespeare. First, my students have been reading Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream. And now King Leer. This is an excellent way for me to celebrate Holy Friday. I need something to take my mind off of the fact that Jesus is dying today. Sometimes I get so bogged down in the holy mysteries, I can’t see outside them into the beauty of the world. And, I suppose that is how it should go. At this point in the Christian calendar, I should be consumed by grief, and I should be contemplative about the fact that in whatever way, I did this to Jesus. It’s good, though, that we will be taking in a show instead of participating in a Good Friday service. I need the distraction. I need make believe.

*

May 7 is the Indy-Mini. Am I ready? No. Absolutely not. I think I may just run the first six miles and then leisurely walk the last seven. We’ll see.