We Have to Join Hands

Today, I am writing to figure out what I think, what I feel, and what I believe. My favorite author, Flannery O’Connor wrote in a 1948 letter,

I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. by Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988, p. 5.

Today, I’m trying to discover what I know about the violence that has erupted around our nation. Less than a week ago, George Floyd died as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Other police officers stood by while Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck with his hands in his pockets, according to photographs of the incident. Chauvin and three other officers were fired from the police department, and Chauvin was charged with manslaughter on Friday, May 29th. As a reaction to the unnecessary death of Floyd, protests have erupted throughout the nation, many of them starting peacefully but ending violently.

What I know is that businesses have been destroyed, goods have been stolen, and lives have been lost. The news has been showing footage this morning from all over the nation of small businesses destroyed and fire damage throughout large cities in our country. My Facebook feed was filled this morning with posts from my family and friends in Long Beach and Lakewood, CA.

“The looting has hit our town. It’s here.”

“They’re here. Our city is getting rioted as I type.”

“Looters at the Long Beach Town Center.”

“Family and friends – things did get close last night. It was pretty loud, but we remain safe.”

What I don’t know is who is responsible for the violence that has been sparked throughout the nation. As I spoke to my mother yesterday in Colorado, she told me that my brother in Minnesota said that the Klan is in Minnesota. Sadly, the Klan has been present throughout our nation for over a hundred years. What my brother meant is that the Klan has made itself visible. They’re not hiding. Just like they didn’t hide in 2017 when the Unite the Right demonstration hit Charlottesville, VA.

People are getting wise to the fact that the violence and property damage has been sparked by others infiltrating peaceful protests. These others are reportedly from the alt-right and the alt-left. Some have been hired as demonstrators by organizations like Crowds on Demand (check it out; people really get hired to participate in rallies and protests). This isn’t new. This has been going on for decades. My mother just told me yesterday that a distant family member used to travel the country during the Civil Rights movement, inciting violence in the peaceful protests.

In a recent article from Psychology Today, Dr. Joseph Pierre stated:

As we react and comment on the public response to the murder of George Floyd, we should take care to avoid lumping rioting and rioters and looting and looters together with protest and protesters, as if they’re necessarily the same thing or the same people. Although it has been argued that non-violent protesting, rioting, and even looting are points on a continuum of political revolt, often aimless violence and looting represents the opportunistic exploitation of chaos and lawlessness. New information from around the country suggests that some of the most unruly behavior might be perpetrated by those with their own agendas, distinct from the protesters.

Pierre, Joseph M. “The Psychology of Rioting: The Language of the Unheard.” Psychology Today, 30 May 2020. Electronically accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psych-unseen/202005/the-psychology-rioting-the-language-the-unheard.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a need in our nation for a hard look at the racism that has infected our nation since before its inception. Many do not know, but in the original version of the Declaration of Independence, one of Jefferson’s grievances was against slavery. He wrote,

he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. 

“Jefferson’s ‘Original Rough Draft’ of the Declaration of Independence.” From the Library of Congress, found at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/declara/ruffdrft.html.

It is possible that our nation may have started with a clear stance against slavery; however, Jefferson himself acknowledged years after the Declaration was signed that the words were

“struck out in complaisance to South Carolina & Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves”

Kelley, Peter. “Documents that Changed the World: The Declaration of Independence’s deleted passage on slavery, 1776.” University of Washington. Electronically accessed at https://www.washington.edu/news/2016/02/25/documents-that-changed-the-world-the-declaration-of-independences-deleted-passage-on-slavery-1776/.

So, here we are over one hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and we are still trying to put bandages on gaping wounds of race relations in our nation.

In a lesser known speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America,” he speaks about the psychology of looting and rioting in America. Recently, I have seen memes that have addressed Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, claiming that he did not support violence. These memes also suggest that the Civil Rights movement was successful. King discredits these assumptions in several ways in his speech, given at Stanford University in 1967.

Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Dr. King’s words are still relevant today, over fifty years after he gave this condemning speech. Many of us may think that because so many years have passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, and so many years have passed since the end of Jim Crow, and so many years have passed since the Civil Rights Act that racism is dead in America. However, King addresses the passage of time as well. He asserts

We’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I’ve heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.

Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Here we are today, preparing for another night of looting, rioting, and protests that will end with more property damage, more goods stolen, and potentially more lives lost. Here we are today, with no real words of unity or hope from our current president. Here we are today, wondering when things will get back to normal, since we are still dealing with social distancing and COVID-19. Here we are today, hopefully coming together to show love and understanding toward others rather than attacking those who are demonstrating peacefully.

And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites try to tell people of color how to protest. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites don’t understand why these protests even started. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites have misquoted and misrepresented Dr. King. I’ll let him speak for me because his words are much better than mine:

It is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don’t realize this. The racists still don’t realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an amalgam of black and white.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Let’s stop trying to put a bandage on this gaping wound. Let’s start talking and reaching out. Let’s understand that in order to move forward, we have to join hands.

A Discussion of “Two-Ness” in The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Dubois

W.E.B. DuBois builds his claim about the two-ness of black men and women through his book The Souls of the Black Folk. This is not a central focus of his book until “Chapter Ten: Of the Faith of the Fathers” in which he spells out his claim that “From the double life every American Negro must live, as a Negro and as an American” (731).  This double life is the central focus of the remaining chapters of his book in which he highlights the way that the double life affects black people’s views of personal faith, the influence of this double life on the next generation, and the tragic story of men like John who struggle against this double life.  

DuBois asserts the fact that this double life influences the way in which black people saw their own personal faith.  He explains that there are two different ways that people respond to religion due to this twoness.  He writes that “the danger of the one lies in anarchy, that of the other in hypocrisy” (731).  He explains further that this may cause people to sense their lack of power in regard to the world around them and so they become “bitter and vindictive” (731). He then uses a series of contrasts explaining that “his religion, instead of a worship, is a complaint and a curse, a wail rather than a hope, a sneer rather than a faith” (731).  Because black people were unable to express their sorrows and struggles openly in society, this caused some to lash out not at other people but at their own sense of God and faith.

In “Of the Passing of the First-Born,” DuBois presents his personal experience with the loss of his son, Burghardt, who died at only eighteen months old after a ten day illness. In this chapter, he highlights his hopes that the next generation will not live under the Veil that his own generation had experienced.  He explains that “the world loved him” and “he knew no color-line…the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun” (735).  Even though Burghardt’s death was because “no white physicians were willing to treat a black child” (“DuBois, Burghardt”), DuBois reflects on his son’s passing with some sense of consolation since his son did not have to experience the double life that other black children would more than likely have to experience in their lives.  He reflects that “No bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart til it die a living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood” (736).  This memory of his son’s birth, illness, and death presents the tragedy that the next generation will also experience life behind the Veil and a double life.

The final, and most tragic example, of the double life of black people is DuBois’s description of John who struggles against his desire to be educated and his desire to be happy. Unfortunately for John, once he is educated, he is able to see the injustices of the world, especially those that are present in his hometown.  He avoids going home for several years because he does not want to face the racism that is present at home.  When he finally goes home, his main concern is for helping his people, but all of his efforts are futile because of the influence of whites like the Judge who are unwilling to allow men like John to educate black people outside of teaching them “to be faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were” (749).  The most tragic part of John’s story is not when he is facing his death after killing the white John from his hometown but when he is in the theater in New York, reflecting on his own desires and his own struggle with this double life of being black at this time.  DuBois describes “a deep longing” that “swelled in all his heart to rise with that clear music out of the dirt and dust of that low life that held him prisoned and befouled” (746).  Even before returning home, John knew that his efforts at rising above his status as a black man were futile. 

DuBois, W.E.B.  “The Souls of Black Folk.”  The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith.  Norton, 2014, pp. 687-760. 

“DuBois, Burghardt.”  Duboisopedia.  Electronically accessed at http://scua.library.umass.edu/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:du_bois_burghardt, 7 March 2018. 

If you are interested in reading The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Dubois, go to the link below from Project Gutenberg.

History of Prejudice: A Reflection on A Red Record by Ida B. Wells

One of the most damaging lies against the black man is the suggestion that he is a monster, capable of immoral acts against women, particularly white women. From emancipation in 1865 until today, there has been a targeted attack against the reputation of black men. This attack has infiltrated the media and the consciousness of America to such an extent that white women throughout the nation may still feel fear when coming into contact with a black man, especially when she is alone. White women have been told by their mothers and their grandmothers that a black man is not to be trusted because he is capable of unspeakable horrors against her virtue and womanhood. This lie is one that Ida B. Wells-Barnett addresses in her book A Red Record.  

In A Red Record, Wells-Barnett asserts that since Emancipation there has been a direct attack on the reputation of black men which has led to widespread lynching throughout the South. She begins by explaining that white slave owners would not have killed their slaves or looked aside if their slaves were killed by someone else because this would cause “a loss of several hundred dollars” (670). She continues by arguing that after emancipation the white man “had no right to scourge the emancipated Negro” (670) and so the white man has devised the lie that black men are not to be trusted in the eyes of all civilized society. She explains that there “have been three distinct eras of Southern barbarism” with three unique excuses for the mistreatment of blacks after Emancipation. First, it was believed that former slaves were planning race riots throughout the South, and so in order to keep order, white men were justified in slaughtering black people (671). The second excuse was due to the fear that black men may actually gain a political voice after they were given the right to vote when the 15th Amendment was enacted in 1870. White Southerners, primarily “the Ku Klux Klan, the Regulators, and the lawless mobs” (671) terrified blacks from voting through countless massacres. Finally, Wells-Barnett addresses the third excuse for the mistreatment of blacks after Emancipation which is the lie that black men are assaulting white women.

from: https://www.amazon.com/Red-Record-Tabulated-Statistics-Lynching/dp/1508472084

As a way to address this lie, Wells-Barnett presents the true story of the way in which black men have interacted with white women throughout their history up to the time of her publication of A Red Record. She explains first that it has been assumed that “a voluntary alliance” (673) between a white woman and a black man is impossible; therefore, “an alliance is proof of force” (673). She further explains that in some cases where a black man was lynched for raping a white woman that it was “known at the time of lynching…and proven after the victim’s death that the relationship…was voluntary and clandestine” (673). Unfortunately, Wells-Barnett points out, these indisputable facts did not matter in the eyes of the law, and there was no justice for white men killing black men unjustly. Next, Wells-Barnett revises the view of black men by reminding her readers that former slaves often protected their master’s wives and daughters at times when their masters were not present to do so themselves. She asserts, “While the master was fighting to forge the fetters upon the slave, he left his wife and children with no protection save the Negroes themselves” (673). She provides this information to show that at one point in history, white men trusted that their wives and daughters would be safe in the care of their black slaves. 

Wells-Barnett is fair in her presentation of the facts that show that the black man has been misrepresented at the time of Reconstruction. She presents information that shows that there have been more black men killed unjustly than white men who have been “tried, convicted, and executed” for unjustly killing black men (671). She also concedes to the fact that not all of the people who have been “hanged, shot and burned alive…were innocent of the charges made against them” (676). She does not suggest that black people should not be held accountable for the crimes they commit, but rather that the punishment should be the same for all classes of citizens (676). Despite Wells-Barnett’s fair assessment of the facts, it is clear that she is biased in her point of view due to the fact that she is a member of the aggrieved class and had been personally threatened because of her published views of the injustices against black people. However, despite this bias, she presents a message that is both relevant and accurate. She addresses her audience with respect but also highlights their responsibility in the matter – that they need to disseminate the information she has published, that they need to condemn any organization that supports or ignores lynching, and that they need protect the voting rights of all citizens. Her remedy is appropriate and manageable for her audience to accomplish and does not put undue weight on any one class of people but suggests a respect for the law as well as a responsibility for those who are condoning lynchings by staying silent about any injustice against “all victims” who are being put “to death without form of law” (675).  In this regard, Wells-Barnett presents a logical and well-supported argument and provides a remedy for the problem in American society post-Emancipation.

It is clear that society’s current prejudices are rooted in history.  Feelings of fear and anxiety toward black men is not something that historically has been isolated to the South.  These feelings of mistrust spread across the nation and have infiltrated the consciousness of many since Emancipation.  Wells-Barnett’s expose´ of lynchings presents the history of why some white women today do not trust black men and why this prejudice needs to be stopped today.  Little girls do not conjure up feelings of anxiety or fear toward anyone unless they have been told that they are not to trust people of certain backgrounds.  Prejudice is taught and is usually passed down from one generation to the next, and based on A Red Record by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, prejudice toward black men is rooted in history that goes back as far as the late 19th century.

Works Cited

Wells-Barnett, Ida B.  “A Red Record.”  The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith.  Norton, 2014, pp. 670-679.

If you are interested in reading A Red Record, you can find a free copy at the link below from Project Gutenberg.

Casual Racism: A Poison that Eats at Our Hearts

A few years ago, I took a class called Black Literary Tradition that focused on over two hundred years of literature from black writers in America and around the world. This class completely changed my outlook on the black experience in the United States and helped me to better understand my casual racism. Casual or covert racism is something that people often experience in societies that have been plagued by overt racism or systemic racism. Casual or covert racism can rise to the surface in some of the most unexpected circumstances. Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Capetown, reflects on his own unexpected, casual racism toward the end of his book, No Future Without Forgiveness. He writes:

On my first visit to Nigeria, I happened to travel to northern Nigeria in a plane piloted by Nigerians. Coming from South Africa where blacks did not do such work, I really grew inches with pride in black achievement. The plane took off smoothly. Then we hit turbulence. At one moment we were at one altitude and the next we had left our stomachs up there as the plane shuddered and dropped. I was shocked at what I discovered – I found I was saying to myself, “I really am bothered that there’s no white man in the cockpit. Can these blacks manage to navigate us out of this horrible experience?” It was all involuntary and spontaneous. I would never have believed that I had in fact been so radically brainwashed. I would have denied it vigorously because I prided myself on being an exponent of black consciousness, but in a crisis something deeper had emerged: I had accepted a white definition of existence, that whites were somehow superior to and more competent than blacks. Of course those black pilots were able to land the plane quite competently.

Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Doubleday, 1999, p. 252.

Casual or covert racism has infected out entire society. Most whites would deny that they are racist, that they have black friends, that they see all people as equal. However, in some of the most unexpected circumstances, racism tends to rise to the surface. Part of the reason that has happened in America is because there has yet to be reconciliation for the years of slavery and systemic racism against blacks for over two hundred years. Tutu also writes about this issue end the conclusion of his book:

If we are going to move on and build a new kind of world community there must be a way in which we can deal with a sordid past. The most effective way would be for the perpetrators or their descendants to acknowledge the awfulness of what happened and the descendants of the victims to respond by granting forgiveness, providing something can be done, even symbolically, to compensate for the anguish experienced, whose consequences are still being lived through today. It may be, for instance, that race relations in the United States will not improve significantly until Native Americans and African Americans get the opportunity to tell their stories and reveal the pain that sits in the pit of their stomachs as a baneful legacy of dispossession and slavery.

Tutu, pp. 278-279.

As Americans, we don’t like to admit that there is still a problem with race relations. We like to imagine that it’s all behind us. But it’s not. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been revealed through the media that two more black men have been senselessly killed, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minnesota. The backstory does not matter. The fact remains that they died unnecessarily. We have a very real problem. We need to change the narrative. And it starts with each of us.

Today, I’m fairly angry at a few of my brothers and sisters who don’t seem to get it. They argue that people should have the right to protest mask wearing and social distancing regulations in their state, but they don’t seem to understand Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the nation. White privilege has poisoned some of our minds to such an extent that we don’t try to understand what it looks like to experience oppression and injustice decades after Jim Crow has ended. We misunderstand when riots break out and expect that any demonstration of blacks is going to end in violence.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

My frustration is not with nonbelievers, but with people who claim to live out the Gospel message in their lives. Church, we must do better. We must be better. We must at least seek to understand rather than live at odds with one another. Forgiveness and mercy must be central to any message we preach. Sweeping obvious racism under the rug is a sure fire way to continue to see unnecessary violence infect our society for decades to come.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some insights that I gained from literature during my Black Literary Tradition course. I hope that by reading literature, we can begin to try to understand the conflicts we still have in our nation. I believe that literature can give us empathy toward one another as it helps us to gain wisdom and knowledge from those in the past. I am open for dialogue with anyone about this issue, and I hope that shared ground can be built for the sake of our nation and for the sake of the Church.

A Few Lessons for Graduates

I wrote this post a few years ago, but I feel like it is timely today.

This last week, I had the opportunity to revisit my high school graduation. As a high school teacher, I get to participate in the graduation ceremony each year. This year, because the students at AHS are known for bringing beach balls to the ceremony, the teachers were dispersed throughout the rows of students and I had a unique opportunity to “relive” my own high school graduation. I listened attentively to the speakers and paid careful attention to the conversations of the graduates. And then I reflected on my own experience with graduation and realized a few things.

Despite our best efforts to make the ceremony important for the graduates, the graduates are not paying attention to the speeches.  At my own high school graduation, I remember vaguely the two students who spoke and I remember that my friends and I made fun of one of the speakers and wondered why she was given the opportunity to speak in the first place.  And then there was the keynote speaker.  I don’t even remember who the person was, just that they had something to do with a local grocery store.  And as I sat and listened to the student speeches on Friday night, I realized how insightful these speeches really were.  But I also realized that the students on the field weren’t listening because they were too worried about a few things.

The first thing that graduates are concerned about is whether or not they look stupid in their mortar board and gown.  The girls are worried about whether or not the silly hat will make their hair look weird, and the guys are wondering if they have to zip up the robe all the way, bummed that no one will get to see their cool tie pin under the robe.  The graduates are also concerned about falling flat on their faces when they walk up to the podium to receive their diploma.  I heard a student behind me slowly becoming more and more anxious as it came time for her row to go up front. But then, amazingly, she survived the walk across the stage without any unfortunate mishaps. And lastly, they’re concerned about forgetting what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to go.  One of the students in our youth group turned down the wrong row, but she was good-natured about the whole thing.

Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

And I realized as I sat there that high school graduation is this weird transition moment.  Students are so used to being told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  From kindergarten on, they’re taught how to walk down the hallways like penguins, they’re told that they have to ask for permission to use the restroom, and they have to raise their hand to speak.  The whole experience is so unlike reality that it’s really weird when I think about it.  But as a teacher, I understand that what we’re attempting to teach them is how to be polite and responsible and all of that.  

But after high school graduation, then what?  I remember feeling so lost after I graduated from high school and college and wondered what I was supposed to do next.  No one was going to tell me what to do, when to do it, or how to do it.  And because of that, I had to learn some lessons on my own.  And those are the lessons that I would like to pass on to this year’s graduating class.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews outlines four important lessons for each of us in chapter 10, verses 19-25.  Part of this scripture has been incredibly important to me since I was a freshman in college.  I had the opportunity to be involved in a Bible study that used verses 24-25 as their key scripture:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  I only hope that for each of our graduates that they will find a group of people as encouraging as those I got to spend a few years with in my early college years.  I also hope that they will learn and apply these God given lessons at a much younger age than I did.

Keep Close to God

The first lesson is to keep close to God.  I have found that I absolutely have to dwell in God’s presence daily.  Brother Lawrence, in The Practice of the Presence of God, talks about the importance and the reality of being in God’s presence throughout our day, that we are able to pray in every moment of our daily lives. But we also need to have that time set apart for God daily.  That looks different for each of us.  For me, that looks like sitting on the couch, trying to keep Buddy off of me, journaling and reading my Bible.  Journaling is the way that I talk to God.  When I pray, I often get distracted by all of the things that I have to do that day:  make copies, e-mail a parent, deal with the kid who is just so obnoxious.  So, journaling helps me to stay focused.  For each of you, you must find what that time looks like. I can’t tell you specifically how to spend that time with God, but I can encourage you to figure out the way that you best talk with God and learn from His Word. In Hebrews 10:22, the writer says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.”  We must draw near to God daily.  We must dwell in His presence.  Without this, anything else that I have to say today is pointless.  We must start by keeping close to God.

Keep in Touch

The second lesson is to keep in touch.  I know there’s that cheesy acronym that we write in yearbooks:  KIT.  I looked through my high school yearbooks a few weeks ago and found that several people had written KIT and their phone numbers.  I wonder if today students write their screen names for Twitter or Facebook and KIT.  But anyway.  The important thing is for each of you to find the people in your lives who will hold you accountable and encourage you.  You must find fellow Christians who will hold you up.  I’ve learned the lesson of not having strong Christians around me.  When Garry and I first moved to Virginia, we really didn’t know why God called us to move.  We thought, to be completely honest, that God was giving us a vacation.  It was like we thought He was saying, “Good job being obedient so far.  Now go to Virginia and take a vacation.”  That is probably one of the most dangerous places to be in, thinking that we’re on spiritual vacation.  And so, with that attitude, we took a vacation from God.  Like King David, we wound up doing things that we weren’t supposed to be doing because we weren’t where God called us to be.  Once we realized that our spiritual lives were suffering, we knew that we had to get plugged in with fellow brothers and sisters.  And I’m sure that you all assume that happened.  We began building strong relationships with other Christians, God called Garry into ministry, and our spiritual lives completely changed for the better.  The writer of Hebrews encourages, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).So, we have to keep in touch with other believers.  We have to find people who will spur us on and encourage us and hold us accountable.

Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

Keep Your Eyes Open

The third lesson is to keep our eyes open.  I’ve learned this lesson twice in my life. Once was when I was a second year teacher and the second was at a Bible study several years ago. As a new teacher, it’s easy to walk through life with blinders on.  We get so focused on every lesson, every student, and everything else involved in teaching that we forget to pay attention to anything else in our lives.  I remember during my second year teaching, I went to the bathroom one morning before school with only five minutes before class started.  My mind was focused on everything that I had to do that day, but when I walked into the restroom, one of our first year teachers was standing there crying.  I thought to myself:  I have two choices.  I can go on with my day and take care of my own business, or I can ask her what’s wrong.  Thankfully, I made the right choice and asked her what was wrong.  She began to explain the stress she was under as a new teacher and in her own personal life.  And I just listened; I didn’t worry about what I had to do in my classroom before the kids came in.  I spent the time listening to someone else in need.  And God blessed that conversation.  For four years, we had a great relationship as fellow teachers because I chose to keep my eyes open and listen to God’s leading.  I learned this same lesson again a few years ago.  I was in a Bible study, and our leader directed us to pray for God to help us keep our eyes open. I had never considered that prayer before, but I realized how important it was to pray that prayer every day. Our society bombards us with so many things that distract us:  our phone, our TV, our computer.  And we can choose to allow those things to dictate what we do, or we can choose to keep our eyes open to what God is doing around us.  In the Message, Eugene Peterson interprets Hebrews 10:24 to say, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”  This is the way that we live out the two Greatest Commandments to love God and love others.  We must keep our eyes open so that we can love others and help them when they are in need.

Keep Hope Alive

The fourth lesson is to keep hope alive.  I’m sorry to say, but life does not get easier after high school.  It gets harder.  Life is going to throw you curveballs, but you cannot give up hope. There have been plenty of times in my life when things seemed pretty bleak.  I really did not know how God was going to pull me out. But I trust in His promises. The Bible is a book of promises, written to His children.  Anytime we see a promise written to someone else, we can substitute their name with our name.  God’s promises are eternal, and we must trust that He always makes good on His promise.  If He promises provision, He will provide.  If He promises comfort, He will comfort.  If He promises that He will never leave us, then we must trust that He never will.  I love what Eugene Peterson writes for Hebrews 10:22:  “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promise that keeps us going.  He always keeps His word.”  He always keeps His word.  God will always bring us through, no matter what.

So, I encourage you today to begin to find a way to apply these lessons in your own life:  keep God close, keep in touch, keep your eyes open, and keep hope alive.

Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright

Right now, many of us are separated from those we love. Because of various shelter in place/stay at home/safer at home orders in our communities, we have isolated ourselves from our friends and possibly some of our family members for fear of contracting COVID-19 or potentially passing it on to someone else. Even those of us who are introverts are having a difficult time with this new reality, and we might be starting to rebel against some of these orders.

This is Memorial Day weekend in the United States, a time when many of us get together for backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, and boat rides on the lake. We use this time of remembrance of those who have died for our freedom as a way to remember the importance of family and friends. However, this year some of our Memorial Day plans are very different. Some of us are at home with our immediate families, trying to create new memories in a very different reality. And some of us are so tired of the stay at home orders that we have ventured outside our homes to enjoy the beach, the lake, or the park. And some of us have broken the orders by having backyard barbecues despite the warnings against them. These all demonstrate our deep need for relationships. We need one another in order to live, to thrive.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Currently, I am reading Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness, which describes the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of apartheid in South Africa. Throughout the book, Tutu discusses the harsh reality of apartheid in South Africa, including the various ways in which whites tortured and maimed blacks under the inhumane regime. However, along with these examples of human depravity, he also highlights the amazing ways in which human beings are able to demonstrate forgiveness and grace even in the face of human evil. Toward the end of the book, he discusses the way in which the example of South Africa has encouraged people to seek forgiveness and reconciliation in places like Rwanda and Ireland. He beautifully explains:

There is a movement, not easily discernible, at the heart of things to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility, and disharmony. God has set in motion a centripetal process, a moving toward the center, toward unity, harmony, goodness, peace, and justice, a process that removes barriers

Tutu, Demond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Doubleday, 1999, p. 265.

This sense of unity, this desire for reconciliation is throughout scripture and throughout popular culture. In Romans 12:9-10, Paul encourages,

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other

New Living Translation

And I don’t think that it is coincidence that as I began to write this morning, Bob Marley’s “One Love/People Get Ready” started playing on Amazon Music. Sure, the song was written during a difficult political period of Jamaica’s history. However, it is clear that Marley was greatly influenced by themes of love and reconciliation, just like we see in scripture: “One love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.

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We are all crying out to be with one another again. We are all craving human connection. That is why we are using Zoom, Meet, and FaceTime to see our friends and family members. That is why we are driving up to our friend’s house and sitting in the back of our car as they sit on the porch, just so we can talk.

But in the midst of this crisis, let us also remember that some of us need reconciliation with family members and friends. Some of us need to remember that we are all in this together. Let’s reach out across the various lines that we have in society, seek unity in one cause, and love one another deeply. God has placed this desire within our hearts, regardless of our political leanings or our religious beliefs. We are one, so let’s get together and feel alright.

130 Pieces of My Heart

On March 13th, I left my classroom not knowing that I would not return until two months later. On March 12th, I wished my students a good weekend, thinking that I would see them on March 17th when I returned to school after a doctor’s appointment on the 16th. On March 11th, my students worked on a presentation project, anxiously talking about the coronavirus while I tried to encourage them that it wouldn’t affect us. On March 10th, my students took a test, wrapping up their studies of the English Renaissance. We didn’t know that these four days of busyness would be our last days together.

From March 16th until May 8th, I posted material for my students to stay busy. I answered their varied emails about upcoming school events. I encouraged them to stay positive, to try a new hobby, to practice a skill, to get outside, to enjoy time with family, to reach out to others. As the days went on, I heard less and less from my students, all seniors who had been looking forward to prom, their senior trip, and to their graduation.

From April 1st to May 8th, I was available every Monday through Friday, for office hours. No one showed up. Not once. Every Monday I recorded a weekly lecture, wondering if any of my students would even watch. Wondering how they were doing. Concerned that they were depressed, anxious, alone, hurt, sick.

Every Monday through Friday in April, I posted a special video of a poem because April is National Poetry Month. I didn’t want to lose this annual celebration that we observe in my classes. I chose poems from the time period we were “studying,” poems that would make my students laugh, poems that would make my students think, and poems that would encourage them. I don’t know what their reactions were. Not a word.

On Monday, May 4th, I recorded my final lecture for the senior class of 2020. I walked them through the weekly assignments, including their final exam. A handful completed some assignments, but no personal contact from anyone.

On Friday, May 8th, I recorded my final video for my seniors and said good-bye. Then, I wrote a good-bye letter to all of my seniors, wishing them well and hoping that they will have great success in their lives outside of high school. Two students responded; I was hurt there were not more.

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I have seen several posts on social media that suggest that teachers have been given extra vacation time because of the shutdowns. That we are lucky because we don’t have to work. That’s not surprising because some people think that our jobs are a joke anyway. They say that being a teacher is just a glorified babysitter. They say that we only teach because we can’t do anything else. They say that we teach so that we get summers off.

I have never experienced a vacation when I was honestly worried about anyone. I have never experienced a vacation when I was expected to work, virtually, from my dining room table. I have never experienced a vacation when I had to stay at home because of a global pandemic. I have never experienced a vacation when I felt cut off from the people that I love.

Losing the last two months with the graduating class of 2020 will always haunt me. There are words that are left unsaid. There are hugs that never happened. There are pictures that will never be taken. There are good-byes that will never be spoken.

This has not been a vacation. This has not been fun.

This has been heartache, this has been worry, this has been depression, this has been disappointment, this has been disconnection and isolation and anxiety.

Teaching does not just pay my bills. Teaching does not give me any type of power. Teaching does not make me feel better about myself.

Teaching requires that every year I split up my heart into about 130 different pieces. And today, my heart is broken as there are faces that I may never see again.

Teaching refreshes my spirit. Teaching renews my creativity. Teaching challenges my biases. Teaching is my life.

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A Book Worm Having Trouble Reading

For almost all of my life, I have enjoyed reading. One of my favorite quotes comes from Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. When Scout is discouraged from reading with her father, Atticus, because her teacher says she is reading wrong, she laments, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing.” I didn’t start exploring books until I was in the third grade because I finally felt that my life was calm enough to fall into the pages of a good book. This is when reading became like breathing for me, a necessity to live in my sometimes chaotic world.

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I remember falling in love with words when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Hawk, rewarded my class daily with poems from Shel Silverstein’s The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. This love for words continued in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Saremi, often read to us from the classic works of literature for my generation: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I loved the way that books allowed me to escape the world that I lived in. Sure my life was pretty good, but there were times when I just wanted to leave reality so that I could follow along in an adventure with someone like Lucy Pevensie or Caddie Woodlawn. I loved books because they gave me breath for each day.

This love for reading has always given me a safe place to fall into when things around me seem chaotic. Reading helped me to survive my depression in high school, it allowed me to make sense of the world after 9/11, and it helped me to heal from thyroid surgery. You would think that this love of reading would help me in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, but it hasn’t. If anything, my enjoyment of reading has been halted because of my inability to allow myself to escape. I am afraid that if I escape into another world then I won’t want to return to reality. I will want to stay there in Middle-earth or in Narnia.

I am entering week nine of the stay at home order in my state. I have read several books: a wonderful biography of Flannery O’Connor, an encouragement by Dr. Dan Boone, and I’ve almost caught up on my annual reading plan of the Bible. However, it has only been in the last week that I have been able to read a novel. I have been waiting to read The Toll by Neal Shusterman since it was released several months ago, but I had to wait until my library finally had a copy to download. The first few days after I downloaded the book, I only read a few pages at a time, trying to savor every word, but afraid that if I read too much I would get lost in the world of Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch. It took me almost a week to allow myself to get sucked into the story, to lose time in the interactions between characters, and to forget what was going on in the “real world.”

I have discovered that this unprecedented time is doing its work on our minds and on our spirits. I am a bookworm who is afraid to read because I don’t want to get lost. Books are a comfort that are a luxury, especially in the midst of chaos and turmoil. However, I am learning that I have to give myself permission again to escape this world temporarily so that I can relax my mind and forget all of the images and information that social media and the news is throwing at me. I think this is the only way that I may be able to breathe when the world returns to “normal.”

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Maslow Before Bloom

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us feel obligated to use our time wisely. In the United States, we have a history of the Puritan work ethic, focused on working hard and spending little. Some of us still diligently practice this work ethic, believing that in order to have a successful life, we must work hard all of the time. For some of us, we have become workaholics which can be just as damaging as any addiction. Those of us who find our purpose in our work are having a difficult time during this pandemic, especially if we have been forced to change our work habits.

I have found myself struggling recently to keep my mind focused on the variety of things that I try to do each day to give myself purpose. I have done all the things that I “should” such as creating a schedule for my day, doing something fun each day, and taking care of my physical self through eating healthy and getting some sort of daily exercise. I try to make sure to reach out to someone outside of my immediate family daily through social media, a phone call, or a text message. Unfortunately, my desire to be productive is oftentimes hijacked by a lack of concentration. I get easily sidetracked with things that typically do not interest me. Even now, I am having difficulty writing when usually my writing comes fairly naturally with very little writer’s block. Writing for me has always been the way that I process my thoughts, but it seems that my thoughts are scattered and unclear.

In my education courses, we studied two important theories that affect the way that students learn: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy. When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see that there are different levels of needs that we all experience as human beings. These needs are categorized based on the following pyramid.

from Psychology Today: Source: Neel Burton

If we are deficient in any of the lower levels of the pyramid such as food, shelter, or the sense of belonging, then it is near impossible for us to move up in the pyramid. This means that we have difficulty being creative or developing a skill if we are hungry, scared, or lonely. Most courses in secondary education are focused on self actualization, as educators prepare students to move into the adult world. However, we all know that not all children and teens have enough food, shelter, or healthy relationships available in order for them to advance in their sense of being or their self development.

Typically, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is connected with Stephen Krashen’s hypothesis of the affective filter as it applies to second language learning. This hypothesis suggests that people will be unable to learn a new language if certain criteria are not met. Students often face difficulties learning a new language if they are experiencing “Low motivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, introversion and inhibition” (Shutz). However, I would assert that the affective filter also affects all students in learning new material if they do not have their basic needs met at the bottom half of Maslow’s pyramid. This suggests that students are unable to learn effectively if they are hungry, scared, or lonely. These basic needs determine whether or not someone is able to achieve a sense of self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.

Oftentimes in secondary education, teachers are encouraged to teach at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy consists of learning goals for students based on a hierarchy of critical thinking. These six learning goals are presented below:

from Vanderbilt University

When students are learning new material, they are often using lower level critical thinking skills such as remembering and understanding material. However, as students gain more information about new material, they are expected to move to higher levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with the hope that students will be able to create, evaluate, and analyze. As a high school English teacher, I am expected to create higher level learning goals for my students because these are the expectations of the state standards of education for my course. The problem with this expectation is that if students are hungry, scared, or lonely, they will have difficulty achieving these learning goals. Their affective filter is too high to allow new material to connect in their minds.

So what do Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Stephen Krashen’s hypothesis of the affective filter, and Bloom’s Taxonomy have to do with us as we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic? Well…everything. Many of us are trying to be productive. We want to create something new – maybe start a new blog, maybe write a novel, maybe learn how to play the guitar. We want to make our days count, especially since we have so much time available. However, like me, some of you are having trouble concentrating. It may have even taken you several times to be able to read this entire blog (sorry for the educational theory).

In education, effective teachers understand that Maslow’s must come before Bloom’s. We understand that if students are hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate. So, we provide breakfast for them when they have a high stakes test to take. If students are scared, we try to give them reassurance and comfort by making our classrooms a safe place to exist. If students are lonely, we try to provide them with meaningful connections through group activities.

Some of us have lost our jobs. Some of us don’t know how we are going to pay rent. For some of us the $1200 stimulus check was a joke because our rent alone is over $1500, depending on where we live in the country. Some of us are scared that we will contract COVID-19 or our loved ones will get sick. Or we will have to die alone in a hospital. Or we will have to watch our loved ones die through our tablets. Some of us are lonely. We miss the physical connection with our friends and family members. We just want to be with other people, and Facetime or Zoom is just not enough.

This is going to sound counterintuitive to our Puritan work ethic in the United States. Let’s stop trying to be productive. Stop trying so hard to do something that you think is worthwhile. Stop trying to put Bloom’s before Maslow’s. Take care of yourself and your loved ones before you try some new project or accomplishment.

Remember: You have to Maslow before you can Bloom.

Bibliography

Armstrong, Patricia. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University, 2020, https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.

Burton, Neel. “Our Hierarchy of Needs.” Psychology Today, 4 May 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/our-hierarchy-needs.

Shutz, Ricardo E. “Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition.” October 2019, https://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash-english.html.

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings

Something I am beginning to notice in the midst of our social distancing is that people are beginning to get bored. Just go on any social media platform, and you will find videos of people doing some pretty creative things. However, some of these creative endeavors are driven by mind numbing boredom. In most circumstances, these creative projects are beneficial to help fuel our imaginations and to prevent us from becoming depressed, angry, or frustrated with our weird COVID-19 reality. However, boredom can also lead to pretty dangerous and damaging behavior.

I wonder how many of us in our world today are battling former addictions that we thought we had under control. We are looking for ways to numb our fear, our anger, our frustration, our depression. We are turning back to the bottle or the bong. We are searching for comfort, so we are scrolling on Etsy and Amazon. We have abandoned our healthy habits, and instead are sheet caking through our days or napping for hours or streaming Netflix and Hulu. All of these habits can become addictions, ways to rid our ever wandering minds of the scary thoughts that just won’t go away. But these are all a temporary fix for our out of control emotions.

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This is not a new reality for humanity. Throughout history, we have always found ways to relieve our boredom or depression. As I struggle this week with missing my students, with feeling pressured to take advantage of every second of my day, with trying to help my son who is transitioning into adulthood, with assisting my husband with building our church in a new electronic environment, and with just trying to hold it together emotionally, I am reminded that idleness is death. Idleness leads to bad habits which lead to addictions which lead to separation from others and from God.

The story of King David in 2 Samuel 11 is a harsh reminder of what happens when we become idle. When we are bored, we often fall into sin that we never thought imaginable. 2 Samuel 11:1 reads, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem” (NIV). David remained in Jerusalem while his men went off to the battle. David remained in Jerusalem when he should have been fighting alongside of his soldiers.

I think we know the rest of the story. While David is in Jerusalem, he sees a woman that he wants. Bathsheba. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen. David is not satisfied with the wives that he already has. He is not satisfied to be the king of Israel. He is not satisfied with the promise that God has given him. Instead, he seeks out someone to comfort him in his time, not of worry, not of fear, not of frustration, but his time of boredom. David has become idle. Idleness leads to addiction and addiction leads to separation from others and from God.

Sadly, this story does not end with David’s encounter with Bathsheba, but it continues with her pregnancy and with David’s indirect murder of her husband, Uriah. This story reminds us that our idleness can easily lead us on a road that we never intended. I do not believe that David, a man after God’s own heart, ever planned on killing one of his soldiers as a way to get him out of the picture. This was not the plan. However, this is what happened because David was bored.

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Let’s be careful as we are staying home. Let’s cultivate healthy habits that are life giving to our own souls but also to our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Let’s be upfront about the way we are feeling. If you are sad, talk to someone. If you are angry, talk to someone. If you are afraid, talk to someone. Reach out to your friends and family members. And more than anything, reach out to the creator of the universe who loves you and knows every intimate detail.

Be encouraged to experience God’s grace for your life today.