A Reflection on the Seven Ages of Man

A few weeks ago, I watched a stage production of Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, put on by Stage Door Productions in Fredericksburg, VA. The actor portraying Jacques did a wonderful job with “The Seven Ages of Man” in Act Two, Scene 7, lingering in his description of the stages that many endure throughout their lives. Like many others, I have always been struck by Shakespeare’s parallelism of the first and final age of man: “the infant mewing and puking in the nurse’s arms” and the “second childishness and mere oblivion” of older age (2.7.147, 167). As a society, we do a pretty good job making sure to take proper care of the infant who we understand is weak and in regular need of help and affection. Sadly, we are not even adequate when it comes to the care of those in the “second childishness” of life, forgetting that toward the end of our lives that we need the same amount of help and affection as newborn babies.

Over the last year, my husband and I have felt the need to help my aging parents in Colorado. My family and I have lived on the East Coast for about fifteen years, making a trip out to my parents very difficult due to time constraints and available finances. My husband and I made it to Colorado in two days last summer, but we are aging along with everyone else, and fifteen hour days in a car just aren’t as fun as they were in our early twenties. After much prayer, we packed up all of our things and moved to Colorado a few weeks ago, hoping that we could be of some help to my parents who are in need of more regular help from family.

To be honest, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, which I think is a concern for many middle-aged people wanting to help their aging parents. This isn’t something we learned about in school. There aren’t many classes or workshops on how to be available for those who are trying to balance doctor’s appointments, and grocery shopping, and housekeeping. I guess we just forget how important it is to be dependent on someone else. And I guess we want to believe that our parents are never going to get older, and they will enter into the final age of man with little struggle or pain.

The harsh reality is that this age of man is one of the most difficult, for the person in this stage of life and also for those who want to come alongside and help. I do not want to minimize anyone’s personal experience with aging. I do not want to pretend that I know what is best for anyone in this situation. I just want to be open to the process so that I can help my parents the best that I am able. There have been tears and some hard words that probably shouldn’t have been spoken. However, sometimes to get down to the real need, we have to be willing to face some difficult realities. Sometimes these difficulties might be past hurts. Sometimes these difficulties are current expectations. And many times these difficulties are fears and anxieties about what is next.

We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t always know how we can help. But we are here because at this stage in our life, we can be. This sacrifice that our family is making is one that many people are experiencing today because in this life, relationships are what matter. Connections with others are eternal. I hope that for now, my family and I can provide the help that my parents need and to give them some sense of peace and comfort in this final age of man.

Be encouraged to love in a way that might hurt at times. Be encouraged today to say, “I’m not going anywhere.” Be encouraged to accept that you don’t know all the answers. And be encouraged to just be available for those in need, especially your aging loved ones.

The Heroes of the 20/21 School Year

This school year has been incredibly difficult for so many reasons. Teachers needed to learn new ways to reach their students, including learning management systems and virtual conferencing. For those of us with technology flowing through our veins, that wasn’t the difficult part. The difficult part was figuring out how to maintain relationships with our students when roughly 50% or more of them were at home 100% of the time. We had video conferences, we sent emails, we made phone calls, and some of us set up face-to-face home visits when appropriate. Much of the relationship between student to teacher hinged upon whether or not students or parents kept the lines of communication open. Those who reached out more tended to have an easier go at their education this year. And there were those who did reach out, but they struggled for different reasons.

As a high school teacher, one of my responsibilities (outside of actual teaching) is to help identify when students are struggling. This might include when a student is struggling with addiction, when there might be abuse or neglect at home, or when there might be a mental health concern that needs to be addressed. Because so many of my students were at home this school year, identifying those areas became incredibly difficult and nearly impossible. I can only imagine the problems that went unidentified and untreated this year because many of our students across the country lost their ability to be at their one safe place: school.

Throughout this school year, it has been brought to my attention that some of my students struggled with severe depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. A few of them wrote about their depression and anxiety as a way to heal from their crises. A few of them talked to me about it in class or in our video conferences. Sadly, at least two of my students were in the hospital this year because of suicide attempts and/or suicidal ideation. And another turned in a suicide note for an assignment due to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, all of these students have gotten help, but it still breaks my heart that this school year made many of our students slip through the cracks, unnoticed and alone.

Photo by Tammy Gann on Unsplash

During my senior year of high school, I dealt with my own battle of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. I missed at least forty days of my senior year because my panic attacks were so severe that I developed an eating disorder focused on controlling my environment and my body. Fortunately, my family helped me to get help early through therapy and medication. I am blessed to say that through the support of my family and friends, God’s grace, and therapy that I was able to graduate on time with my class despite the number of days that I missed.

Given my own personal circumstances during my senior year, I cannot imagine going through a mental health crisis in the middle of a pandemic without the daily encouragement from my friends and teachers. Even though my home life was very encouraging and loving, part of my recovery was due to my classmates who listened to me when I just needed to whisper, “I’m having a panic attack.” I am so appreciative of my teachers who wrote countless passes to the bathroom or to the nurse’s office when I just needed to step away from the stress of every day. And I am more than happy that on my good days when I went to school that I had the distraction of my classes to get me through.

There are so many people to call out as heroes this school year. Educators and our school communities did the impossible this year. We taught in so many different ways that were new to all of us, but we maintained high expectations, we demonstrated grace and patience, and we kept our students, ourselves, and our families safe. This is nothing short of a miracle!

But I also think that our students are heroes. They overcame adversity that none of us would ever expect our children to face. They developed grit when they struggled to even care about their education. They reached out for help when they were having a crisis. They did the things that they needed to do to get through. That is heroic given the circumstances that each of our children faced this year.

We have a lot of work to do as we look forward to the 21-22 school year. However, I believe that we have learned how resilient we can all be. I believe that we have gained essential skills that are necessary not just in the classroom, but in life. Grace. Patience. Integrity. Grit. Humility. We have learned that we need each other to get through, so let’s continue to lean on one another. And let’s celebrate all of the amazing things that our children did this school year to get through and to thrive. They are the heroes of the 20-21 school year!

Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

Corporate Repentance: A Look to the Past

Over the last few months, I have been reading through the Bible in a different way than ever before. The Bible plan that I am using this year is thematic: Genesis with Romans, Isaiah with Mark, and now Leviticus with Hebrews. I have greatly enjoyed seeing how different sections of the Bible relate to one another in ways that I had never seen in the past. I am always amazed at how God’s Word is weaved together through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom.

A few days ago, I was reading Leviticus 4 which discusses the sacrifices necessary for unintentional sin by individuals and by the entire Israelite community. I was struck by vv. 13-14 which clearly show that there are times when corporate repentance is absolutely necessary. God directs Moses and the priests:

“If the entire Israelite community sins by violating one of the Lord’s commands, but the people don’t realize it, they are still guilty. When they become aware of their sin, the people must bring a young bull as an offering for their sin and present it before the Tabernacle” (New Living Translation).

God acknowledges that there will be times when the community of faith will not understand that they have been disobedient as a group to God’s commands. This does not let them off the hook, though. Instead, this passage shows us that the people are still guilty even if they don’t realize they disobeyed God. God further sets up the expectation that when the people realize their guilt, they must atone for their sin by bringing an offering to God.

The need for repentance is difficult for many believers to accept because repentance requires responsibility for sins. Repentance for an entire group of people requires even more humility because there are few times when a community of believers agrees that what they have done or what they are doing is sin. The examples of corporate repentance that we see in Scripture are usually prompted by a prophet or king who calls out the community’s disobedience to God and urges the community of faith to repent so that God will once again bless His people.

Today we are feeling the consequences of hundreds of years of sin that has gone unatoned for. The Church has allowed great atrocities to take place but has not urged the community of faith into repentance. Pockets of American Christians are seeking repentance and reconciliation for the sins of our predecessors. However, the need for corporate repentance is much bigger than a few Christians scattered throughout the world who have acknowledged their own sin and the sins of the Church universal. If you are questioning what sins have been committed on behalf of the Church, just read the news from any news outlet, and you will see people speaking on behalf of God with words of hatred and confusion. People are promoting politicians in the name of God. People are casting out the alien and the outcast in the name of God. People are spewing words of violence in the name of God. People are oppressing those in need all in the name of God.

As a pastor’s wife, I often see the challenge of leading God’s church today. People are either preaching a false gospel or they are afraid of speaking the true Gospel. People are distrustful of anyone who counters their political viewpoints, mistaking politics for faith. People hide in the dark, waiting for the end to come because they don’t know how to reach out to a world that is full of sin and suffering.

The way out of this darkness is repentance. Some people don’t believe that a community of faith should repent for the sins of the past. I disagree. In Scripture we see Daniel seeking God’s forgiveness for himself and for the people of God. Daniel was an upright, holy, righteous man who challenged the confines of his society by living his life completely for the Truth. There are not many Christians today who could say that they live their lives like Daniel. We are all in need of repentance, and they only way that we can truly reveal God’s Kingdom now is if we repent together. We need to cry out to God, seeking His mercy not just for ourselves but for those who have stained the purity of the Church with centuries of sin.

Repentance first takes acknowledgement of sin. Then it requires a plea to God for His mercy. And finally it ends with a turning away from sin. If we cannot first acknowledge our own sin and the sins of our predecessors, then we cannot expect God’s mercy on His Church. We must act first through seeking His mercy not because we expect it but because we desperately need it.

Be challenged today to seek out God’s guidance for repentance not just for your own sins but for the sins of the Church universal, now and in the past. We need Him to heal us so that we can reveal Him.

Goodbye…Again?

In the fall of 2006, Garry and I came out to Virginia for a wedding. Little did I know at the time that Virginia would become home for the next thirteen years of our marriage, bringing with it tremendous change in our family, our ministry, and our daily lives. In 2014, we thought we were leaving Virginia permanently when we moved out to Central California for a new ministry position. However, as He usually does, God had other plans for our family. In the summer of 2015, we moved back to Virginia, and we have been serving in ministry in Culpeper for the last six years. The last six years have been challenging for several different reasons, but the challenges have made us stronger as a family and as ministry partners.

This last summer, we went out to Colorado to help my mom and stepdad after my stepdad had open heart surgery. We started to feel the pull then to move back West, a pull that has called to us again and again during this strange pandemic year. We thought it best to stay put for another year because we did not want any major changes in my position as a teacher or in our ministry role during COVID. A few months ago, the pull became stronger after I learned that my stepdad was once again in the hospital. In conversations, Garry and I both determined that we needed to head back West to family, friends, and familiarity. 

Over the last few months, we have started to put the plans together for yet another cross-country move. A few weeks ago, I was offered a position at a high school in Monument, a school that seems exciting and progressive. We have been in conversations about ministry opportunities in Colorado, but for now there is no ministry position for Garry at least not in the traditional sense. We are hopeful that God will provide housing, transportation, moving expenses, and all that we will need emotionally and physically to make this move to Colorado. 

This move is taking sacrifice. Virginia has been home for many different reasons, but home looks different now than it did fourteen years ago. Our need for belonging has changed over the years, and at this point in our lives, we belong with our family. We need to celebrate holidays and birthdays with our families, especially after spending so much time apart over the years. Our son needs a sense of family as he is preparing for life on his own. And we need to minister and do life in an environment that we are more suited for. We have loved living in rural communities over the last fourteen years, but we are city folk at heart. We need something new but familiar at the same time. 

Please be in prayer with us as we await God’s leading for somewhere to live and a place to minister. We are excited about what God has in store, but we are also anxious about all of the details that need to fall into place. Remember that love is always a sacrifice. Be encouraged to sacrifice for your loved ones today.

The Need for Connection: Supporting Public Education

Over the last school year, I have come to see more and more flaws in our public school system. The problem is not necessarily within the schools themselves but within the communities where these schools are located. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff work hard daily to provide the best possible education for each of our students: those who will struggle, those who will do the minimum to pass, and those who will excel. We commit ourselves to differentiating our instruction so that we meet all of their needs, and we provide meaningful opportunities for students to interact with the material for our courses. In the middle of a global pandemic, we have all learned new ways to teach our students, and most of us have excelled in teaching in a virtual and hybrid environment.

I will probably upset many people by what I am about to propose, but after being a public educator for more than twenty years, I feel that I have some experience to speak candidly about this. The problem in public education is much larger than what each individual school staff can do to support student success. It goes beyond what happens day-to-day in each school building because the problem is in each of our homes and in our communities.

The problem is a lack of interest on the part of some of our students and a lack of involvement from some of our parents and guardians. During this last school year, students in the high school where I teach have mostly been attending school in one of two ways: 100% virtual or two days a week in-person and three days a week at home. For the most part, students have completed assignments when they are in school and when they are at home. However, for about 20% of my students, they have had difficulty focusing on assignments both in class and at home.

Some students have just disconnected completely from school work. With only two weeks left of their senior year, I have some students who have simply stopped logging into class and have lost the initiative to submit assignments. Some of these students sit in my classroom four days a week and have time to complete virtual assignments while they are in class, yet they do not submit assignments or ask for help when they are struggling. Other students have avoided completing writing assignments or research assignments, believing that they will be able to pass the class by turning in notes and reading questions. Some have resorted to searching for information on Google, hoping to find the answers to the assignments that require them to do their own critical thinking. Plagiarism has run rampant in this virtual/hybrid environment. Even though some of these students would have struggled with motivation if they were in the building five days a week, this school year has required more self-direction which some students just don’t have. 

Because some of our students are struggling with their initiative and motivation, teachers, counselors, and administrators have worked tirelessly this school year, attempting to reach out when students have disconnected from school work and when they are failing classes. This has resulted in more phone calls, emails, letters home, and conferences than in any previous school year. The connection has been made between school and home, but it seems that for some there is an obstacle that is impeding the connection between home and school. 

As a parent of a high school graduate on the Autism spectrum, I understand how difficult it is to help students to connect with their school work. I am blessed that my son graduated from high school at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because I know that it would have been a challenge to get him to focus on his school work in a virtual environment. He struggles with an addiction to technology and is often sidetracked by distractions online that would make it very difficult for him to tune in to online classes. As a parent, I understand that it is not always easy to get students to complete assignments or to care about each of their classes like their teachers would hope.

However, there needs to be some responsibility on the part of parents and guardians when it comes to students completing their work and staying connected with their classes. I do not want to minimize the reality of all of the problems associated with parenting during a pandemic, especially since many parents must work from home and provide an environment conducive to learning for their children, sometimes including elementary school students who need more one-on-one attention than middle school or high school students. However, in the digital age, there are so many ways that schools can communicate with parents that are more convenient than thirty years ago when I was in high school. Most schools have online gradebooks that parents can access at any time of day. Many of these online gradebooks can also be downloaded as apps on smartphones, and parents have the option of setting up notifications for daily or weekly updates. They can even receive notifications when their children have missing assignments. Despite the availability of this tool, some parents do not access their children’s grades and seem surprised when teachers call or email, communicating the fact that their child is failing the class or is in danger of failing. 

I am not going to say that public education is perfect. I acknowledge that there are many things that we can do better: identifying mental health crises, supporting students in high risk groups, communicating with parents and the community, encouraging students who “fall through the cracks,” and recruiting more diverse teachers and support staff. As a product of public education and a public school educator, I know that there is a lot more that we can do to support our students so that they meet the goals that they have for their future success. I know that all of us would agree that our students’ education is a top priority in our society; however, it is difficult to see how valuable our children’s education is when some stakeholders do not regularly stay connected with what is happening day-to-day in public schools. 

Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of ways that communities support public education. Volunteers help to provide well-needed tutoring for our students to develop their skills in reading, writing, and math. Local companies provide gifts as a way to reward our students and to say “thank you” to our teachers and support staff. Parents provide encouragement when teachers feel overwhelmed. 

We can do better, though, as a community committed to the advancement of our students, through communicating the needs of our students, our schools, and our families. Instead of blaming one another, which happens more often than I would like to mention, let’s work together, using all of the resources we have available to help our students succeed. At the end of the day, that’s what public education is all about. 

Cancel Culture: A Third Perspective

I have tried to stay out of this conversation for quite a while, but the conversation came to me this week in my classroom. One of my students stumbled into an argument about the recent statement by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to cease publication of six of his lesser known children’s books. My student was serving in a local restaurant, and he unintentionally upset a patron after another customer asked his opinion about the movement to “cancel Dr. Seuss.” From our conversation in class the next day, he seemed to give a pretty thoughtful opinion, expressing that he was concerned that over time more things might be “canceled” which could lead to erasing or rewriting history.

For almost a year, people around the globe have been pushing for racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and otherwise distasteful images and ideas to be removed from public view as a way of sanitizing history and popular culture. Some have been seeking to scrub our past so that we do not have to be concerned about offending people in the present. This has included removing confederate flags from public places, dismantling statues erected to memorialize confederate generals and other national figures who had ideologies that are in contrast to today’s views of equality for all. These movements have led to some very serious and concerning protests around the world and the fear that if we begin removing images from our past that are offensive that it may lead to erasing anything that might be deemed “inappropriate” in the future. It seems that many of these fears are based on book burning crusades in Germany in the 1930s and Ray Bradbury’s warnings of censorship in Fahrenheit 451.

As a literary scholar, I usually become concerned when anyone begins talking about changing or erasing our past, especially through literature. For example, in 2011, New South Books published a “sanitized” edition of Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as a way to try to make the novel more palatable for educators and students studying the novel. This included replacing the 219 instances of the “n word” with the word slave. The CBS news show 60 Minutes produced a thoughtful insight into the issue, featuring interviews from students, teachers, and professors who expressed their points of view on teaching only the original text vs. teaching a more appropriate and less offensive version. At the time of the interview, I was teaching the novel and found the 60 Minutes video as an opportunity to discuss the issue with my students. Unfortunately, the perspective of my students was not very diverse because I was teaching in Southwest Virginia at a school that was predominately white. Looking at this issue ten years later, I wonder if more students would see the value of “sanitizing” a novel like Huck Finn so that it could still be used in a high school classroom without being offensive.

This past summer, the cancel culture issue came a little closer to home after The New Yorker published Paul Elie’s article, “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?” which clearly proclaimed that O’Connor was a racist. The article was published in the midst of social unrest throughout the United States (and around the world) due to the murder of George Floyd and continued police brutality in the United States. As an O’Connor scholar, I feel that Elie took advantage of the opportunity to publish his views of O’Connor’s racism while people were pointing fingers at the history of racism in the United States. No one who studies O’Connor would deny her racism; however, her views of race were changing as her life came to an end in 1964. This change is evident in a few of her final short stories, including the classic “Revelation” in which O’Connor directly attacks the hierarchy of social class evident in the South in the 1960s. As a result of Elie’s June 22 article, Loyola University Maryland removed Flannery O’Connor’s name from one of its buildings, and the university president stated that she does not “reflect Loyola’s Jesuit values.”

One of Maya Angelou’s most famous quotes was referenced in an interview with Oprah Winfrey and has at times been misquoted. She stated, when talking about her past, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” In reaction to the recent movement to “cancel Dr. Seuss” and other offensive materials, I would argue that because we know better in 2021, we should do better. We are able to recognize racially offensive material, and we should not subject children to those images or ideas. The six Seuss books that have been pulled from publication have offensive images about Asians, Africans, and Arabs. Other than concerns that this movement may lead to the movement to “cancel” other authors, I’m not sure why people around the world have reacted so viscerally to the idea of ceasing publication of books that clearly present racist points of view for no discernible purpose. I have yet to see, read, or hear a clear argument defending these specific books and their literary or educational value for children around the world. This movement has led to yet another knee jerk reaction from those who are terrified to move into the 21st century where we respect and celebrate diversity and those who want to protect tradition and the past.

In the midst of the cancel culture movement, I would suggest that we strategically consider what needs to be cancelled, erased, or sanitized in order to prevent unnecessary offense today and in the future. If we know better, we need to do better. If we know that something is obviously racist or demeaning to women or overtly offensive, we might want to consider shielding sensitive populations from viewing or reading it. This means that children should not be exposed to racist imagery or stereotypical views of men or women. This view might not be popular amongst some in society, but I would argue that exposing children to these images and ideas does more damage than harm. So, do better.

Doing this is not simple. Most things that are crucial to the development of society are not simple. I would argue that many people who push for canceling certain aspects of culture do not always understand all of the facets of a historical figure, work of literature, or pop culture icon. They follow along with the crowd without taking the time to find out all of the information for themselves. We live in an “either/or” society which leads people to think that there are only two points of view about any issue. This is not just simple minded; it is also incredibly dangerous. Polarized thinking always leads to book burning, erasing or rewriting of history, and trying to sanitize the past. Just read 1984.

Understand that there can be a balance between preventing offense in the future and addressing potentially hurtful ideas and images in culture. Without the opportunity to read some of the most notoriously banned books, we would not be presented with the opportunity to discuss euthanasia, racism, prejudice, misogyny, political unrest, the Holocaust, religious persecution, drug abuse, violence, slavery, and the list goes on. We can have both: preventing our children from experiencing unnecessary offense and opening conversations about difficult issues. When we know better, let’s do better.

The Wall Between School and Home

Over the last few weeks, I have had several conversations with fellow teachers about a phenomenon that none of us can seem to explain. As hybrid teachers this school, we have come to rely more on virtual forms of communication to connect with our students throughout the week. We use announcements, email, chat, video conferencing, and feedback on assignments to communicate with our students. Despite the different ways that we reach out to them, it seems that some of our students still have difficulty communicating with us when they are struggling in our classes. We post different ways that they can get a hold of us, including our classroom phone numbers and our availability for office hours. Some of us even provide one-on-one video conferencing weekly for students who are especially having difficulty. And yet, so few of them actually reach out with questions or concerns about the assignments, about their grades, or about how they are doing in general.

I know that there are some educators who do not have the best reputations for communicating clearly with students and parents. Some teachers do not respond to emails from students or parents in a timely fashion. This last week, one of my virtual students indicated that some of her teachers in the past have taken up to four or five days to respond to her concerns through email. Now, we are all busy as educators, especially this school year in light of all of the ways that we need to deliver our instruction and communicate with our students. However, responding to a student’s concern is of paramount importance for educators. These responses should be quick and informative to help our students, especially those who are learning 100% virtually. They do not have the ability to talk to us after class, before class, after school, before school, during lunch, or between classes. Their only form of communication with us is through email, chat, video conferencing, or a phone call.

Despite the fact that some teachers are not the best at communicating with parents and students, this problem goes much deeper than that. There is a distrust between school and home for many families, especially in communities that have had bad experiences with public education. If a parent or grandparent has had a negative experience with a school, with an administrator, with a teacher, with a class, or within the school community, this is often communicated to current students. This is not the problem. It is completely appropriate for parents and family members to express their concerns about the difficulties they have experienced in the past with their education. The problem is that sometimes the community does not know how to move forward, and they wind up rejecting the opportunities to trust the current teachers, administrators, and school climate.

I do not teach for any other reason but for the benefit of my students. I have a deep concern for them, just like I do for my own son. I want them to succeed not just in my class but in their lives after high school. I want to hear how they have used lessons from my class in college, in their lives in the military, in their careers, and within their families. I want them to graduate from high school on time so that they can celebrate this achievement with their families and friends.

Most educators have the same mindset. We are educators because we value our students, their families, and our communities. We believe that education is the great equalizer. We believe that education opens doors that were once closed. We believe that education gives students the understanding that they have a voice that matters and the tools to use this voice.

I don’t understand why a wall has been built between home and school. I don’t understand why many people in our communities don’t trust educators. I don’t understand why so many of us who have dedicated our lives to public education are seen as the villains in society. These false depictions of educators have damaged the relationships that students could build with their teachers who are committed to their success in school and in life.

Over this last school year, in light of COVID-19 shut downs, society has placed microscopic scrutiny on public education. In the spring, everyone loved us because they saw our creativity and care in reaching out to their children when we were forced to shut our doors but continue the school year. They yelled at us, and sometimes cussed at us, when we wanted to protect our own health and the health of our loved ones when we said that we wouldn’t return to in-person instruction without safety protocols put in place that were based on CDC recommendations. We’ve been applauded, ridiculed, denigrated, and encouraged by the communities we serve. And we continue to get up every day, prepared to teach the children in our communities with care, ingenuity, content expertise, wisdom, and dedication.

If you have added to the discordant voices that have built distrust between students and teachers, please stop it. One of my colleagues tells her students to stop fighting her when she is just trying to teach them. I want to ask the public to stop fighting us as well. We are honestly trying to help develop the minds and souls of our children. We are committed to their education, and we desire for them to have meaningful lives. We may not always agree with how to go about this. We may not always have the same worldview as those in our community, but we do have this in common: we want our children to be educated for their own benefit and the benefit of our world.

Check Your Heart, Christians.

Over the last months, I have witnessed more of my brothers and sisters in Christ get seduced by politics. Some of them have pledged their allegiance to rhetoric of hate and false patriotism. Some of them have fought against other brothers and sisters, proclaiming that those who support the “fill-in-the-blank” political slant are supporting a movement to destroy the Church and life as we know it as Americans. Others have been led away from the Truth by putting their hope in politicians to rescue the nation from a decline into injustice, postChristianity, and destruction. More than anything, they have lost sight of the Gospel.

In my humanity, I’m grieving. I’m confused. I’m hopeless.

I worry about the state of the Church because I have witnessed brothers and sisters clinging to the idols of liberalism and conservatism alike. In December 2020, staunch Trump supporters and QAnon disciples participated in The Jericho March, a horrifying mimicry of “the Biblical story of the Israelite army ritually marching around the walled city of Jericho” (Dreher). In his article from The American Conservative, Rod Dreher outlines the March which included passionate oratory from Eric Metaxas, author of a well respected biography of martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, conflated speeches that combined Christianity with nationalism, and a disturbing use of a shofar (a horn used in ancient Jewish religious ceremonies) that was painted red, white, and blue and called the Trump Shofar by some in attendance.

Some Christians even defend this event and others like it because they feel justified in defending democracy and Christian values in America. They are sadly lost, misled, and deceived. They have heard “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). And they are looking for vindication from perceived injustices, but instead of seeking God, they are getting caught in the trap of conspiracy theories, nationalism, and conflated lies.

On the other side, things are just as dismal and frightening. Christians can be easily persuaded to support social causes because of the call in Scripture to defend the weak, fight against injustice, and to love our neighbors. We want to protect the plight of the orphan, we want to help the refuge, we want to uplift the outsiders. We are reminded in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Sometimes this call to act justly and to love mercy leads to the idolatry of social causes. We may confuse social justice with the Gospel message and get lost in doing good works without making sure that these causes are inline with the Gospel and with the Holiness of God. This may not seem too bad to some; however, if we are excusing sinful behaviors in order to defend the outsider, then we have forgotten that God is a holy God. Politicizing moral issues and social justice can lead to excusing sin and condoning antiBiblical actions and mindsets. And sadly, minimizing the effects of sin can lead to the belief that since God loves all people, hell doesn’t exist. There are no consequences for sin and heaven is for everyone. This completely guts the Gospel message that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) but that through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all can be saved and redeemed from sin and an eternity apart from God.

Today, I call on my brothers and sisters to check their motives, to ask themselves some difficult questions. First, why are you supporting a specific political candidate or political party? We need to remember that all men and women are flawed and no political party is perfect. All men and women can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Jesus Christ. However, if a political candidate is speaking hate and division, then we need to consider their witness to the world, especially if they are claiming to be a follower of Christ. Hate and division have no place in the Kingdom of God. Love and unity are central to the Gospel message and must be the message that Christians around the world are proclaiming into a lost and dying world.

Second, what are you doing to advance the Gospel message? Are you spending time loving your neighbor, even your neighbor who is different from you, who your political party argues is your enemy? God does not see Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. God sees individual people who are made in God’s image. To God, each of us are precious in His sight. If we continue fighting against one another, instead of loving one another, we will let the real enemy win: the enemy who is seeking our complete and utter destruction for eternity.

Finally, where are you getting information that you believe and that you act upon? Are you spending your time scrolling through social media, hoping to find something that confirms your cognitive biases? Are you spending your time reaching into the dark web, hoping to find conspiracy theories that justify your feelings of hatred and fear of the “enemy” of your political party or political ideologies? Or are you spending your time, leaning into to the Father, looking to his Truth so that you can push aside all of the messages of division, politics, and temporary distractions?

In the end, I would rather be wrong about my own politics than to be wrong about the Gospel and how I love my neighbor. I would rather find out that the conspiracy theories were all correct than to destroy my witness in the world for Christ Jesus. If our political beliefs are more important to us than how we advance the Kingdom, then the enemy has already won.

Let us collectively repent for having hearts that are conflicted because of what we have seen in the news. Let us collectively repent for allowing ourselves to be distracted by political ideologies that are contrary to the Gospel. Let us collectively repent for spewing hate toward our neighbor, whoever our neighbor may be. Let us love one another so that the world may know Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

Selfish Choices Lead to Lost Lives

Part of living in community is experiencing the consequences of other people’s actions. This happens in the community of our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our churches. On a much larger scale, this can happen in our individual cities, our states, our nations, and ultimately, other people’s actions can affect the entire world.

To be honest, it makes me angry that there are times when other people’s poor choices affect my life in negative ways. I try to live my life in such a way that my choices affect people in a positive way, but I cannot trust that everyone chooses to live this same way. I am far from perfect, and I know that my words and my actions have hurt other people. However, I hope that these choices have made small ripples in the lives of those around me. I also hope that these choices have only affected those closest to me. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how much of an impact, both positive and negative, my choices have made on the lives of others. At least, not yet.

In the midst of a global pandemic and a polarizing presidential election, I have seen more and more how other people’s poor choices can affect large groups of people, including our entire nation in the United States. I cannot say without a doubt that the information that we read and hear from the mainstream media is 100% accurate. I am not that naive to believe everything that I hear because I recognize that every media outlet is biased.

Despite the fact that the media is biased, I do choose to believe health officials when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. I choose to trust the medical wisdom that journalists provide through the informed advice of organizations like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and my local health department. I choose to believe that it is best for us to keep our distance from one another, to avoid large gatherings, to wear masks when we are with people outside of our immediate family, and to wash our hands regularly.

I am not ignorant to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been politicized. Of course it has. This has happened in all avenues of government, from small town politics to the Oval Office and Capitol Hill. Sadly, the American public has suffered because of the lack of a central message when it comes to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We have heard mixed messages from government officials, including the current presidential administration. We have been told that it is safe to shop, it is safe to rally and demonstrate, it is safe to go to school, it is safe to fly. Yet, here we are with 13.4 million cases and over 266,000 COVID related deaths since March 2020. The numbers have not stopped growing, and in fact, they have skyrocketed since the beginning of November.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

Today, I read an article about what I would consider to be a “control group” when it comes to the practice of mitigation strategies based on the advice of health officials. Currently, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma has experienced very small percentages of COVID cases and COVID related deaths because their tribal leadership put strict mitigation policies in place in the spring of 2020, including mask mandates and protecting their elderly population. They have not experienced any shortage of PPE for medical workers, and they have been able to share PPE with surrounding non-native communities in Oklahoma, a state that has experienced a frightening increase in COVID cases due to loose mitigation restrictions.

This isolated example of the Cherokee nation demonstrates that when there is a strong central message about something as potentially dangerous and devastating as COVID-19, that groups of people can follow the plan and help to prevent unnecessary tragedies within a community. This example is not isolated to the Cherokee nation as we are seeing similar cases in nations like Vietnam where strict, early lockdowns and mask mandates has helped to curb the spread of the virus.

Now, of course, any skeptic can choose to disregard data from any other nation, especially a nation that has had a history of government policies contrary to our own in the United States. However, I choose to stick with the science that suggests that social distancing, avoiding large groups, and mask wearing curb the spread of COVID-19. I also choose to believe that a nationwide plan would be more effective than the chaotic approach that has happened in our nation. And I also believe that the reason for our high positivity and death rates is due to people making bad choices because they have chosen to disregard science and follow politicians.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

I am tired of facing the consequences of ignorant people. When it comes to a global pandemic, individual communities can make a huge impact on whether or not the virus spreads. Sadly, one of the wealthiest nations in the world has had a disjointed response to the pandemic based on political games. And we are losing this game.

So who has suffered from those who think that mask mandates are unconstitutional? Health care workers like doctors and nurses who are witnessing PPE shortages and increased numbers of patients with more serious symptoms related to COVID.

Who has faced the unnecessary effects of those who continue to host large gatherings with no social distancing and no mask wearing? Teachers and other educators who have to continue providing quality education while wearing masks, meeting virtually with students, and facing criticism from local politicians who are threatening to further cut school budgets.

Who has experienced tragedy from irresponsible political rallies and unsafe political demonstrations? Small business owners who have to lay off employees, shut their doors, and file for bankruptcy.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Today, we are all dealing with the backlash of bad choices from our federal government to our average citizens. We are losing loved ones. We are losing jobs. We are losing hope. And I am angry. I’m tired of other people’s choices affecting me in such a tragic, horrible way.

Stop complaining about losing your rights because you have to wear a mask in Wal-mart. Stop arguing about whether you should reschedule or cancel your holiday parties. Stop making your bad choices and ignorance affect everyone around you.

Think outside of yourself. Protect those who are at risk of complications from COVID-19. Wear a mask for others. Stop making this a political problem when it is a health crisis. People’s lives are literally on the line.

Life of a COVID-19 Teacher: The Truth

As more schools are beginning to return to in-person instruction, many are going to be adopting a hybrid or blended model which usually includes a “day off” from students so that schools can be cleaned and teachers can plan and grade.

Don’t be fooled: this is not a day off for educators. We are still working, sometimes more strenuously than we do when students are in class. If you want to know what it’s really like, I encourage you to keep reading.

Here is an example of a usual Wednesday for me:

  1. Get to school at 7:00 and prepare for my Google Meet classes with my three blocks. This includes sending out an announcement with an agenda of what we will discuss. This might also include preparing materials to review for students to see virtually.
  2. While waiting for my students to come to my Google Meet at 8:00, I grade any assignments that were submitted overnight, I respond to emails from students and parents, I check attendance from the previous day (this means checking Canvas to see who has logged in since the previous evening), I send reminder emails to students who have not checked in or submitted assignments.
  3. I host three Google Meets during the day from 8-8:50, 9-9:50, and 11-11:50, typically with only a few students in attendance for each class. One of these meetings includes working one-on-one with a student who has difficulty transitioning from one item to the next. Oftentimes, I walk him through finding assignments on Canvas, opening assignments in his Google Drive, giving step-by-step directions for assignments (multiple times), waiting while his Wi-Fi or the school Wi-Fi catches up with what he is trying to complete, and catching up with him from the week before.
  4. During my planning period (10-11), I put lessons together on Canvas for the next week, which includes posting directions, attaching Docs for them to complete the assignments, and a walk-through video explaining the directions for students who need audio directions. I add rubrics for assignments that need them and insert graphics to try to make the assignments more engaging.
  5. After my Google Meet with each of my classes, I eat lunch, usually taking only about 15-20 minutes because of the ever growing list of things I need to do.
  6. From 12:30-3:15, I continue posting assignments, updating grades, responding to emails, conferencing with individual students about writing or research assignments, calling home, checking attendance, sending student email reminders about assignments, checking in with counselors and administrators about students who aren’t participating in classes, updating my Google Slides with directions for my in-person students (because, yes, I teach Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday), looking ahead at the next part of my unit plans to prepare new lessons for a few weeks out, participating in required school meetings (virtually or in-person), preparing materials to send home to students who do not have Wi-Fi, and on and on.

Some people think that Wednesdays are days off for teachers. Again, looking at the way that I use my Wednesdays, teachers are using every minute in the day to provide the best possible education for their students, regardless of the fact that we see some of them in-person only two days a week and others we see when they attend Google Meet or individual conferences.

Understand that some of our students never check in for virtual meetings, they do not respond to phone calls or emails, they do not complete assignments (even when we print assignments for them to complete on paper and prepare packets for them weekly). Understand also that teachers will be responsible for doing whatever we can to ensure that students have multiple opportunities to complete assignments so that they pass our classes, including providing 2-3 alternate modes of delivery for them (virtual, on-paper, and contract).

Please tell us again that teachers’ jobs are easier this year because we are teaching virtually or because only a quarter of our students are in our classes at a time. And we are doing all of this without any hope of a COLA raise this year or in the foreseeable future.