Thursday, December 4, 2014

Broken Systems

I’ll start with the disclaimers. If you know me, you may already have an idea where I stand on these issues. If you know in advance that you disagree with me and are not open to another perspective, but just want to fuel your own flame (I get it. I’m like that sometimes.), just move on. I’m not going to change your mind. You aren’t going to change mine – certainly not in an online forum. So, agree to disagree and move on with your life. If you want to talk about it face to face, hit me up! ;)

Secondly, I’m talking to people who consider themselves Christians. Yes, some of this certainly applies outside of that realm, but if you don’t share that perspective with me, I may just sound like a crazy lunatic to you. I’m okay with that. Hopefully you’ll still be my friend, despite my crazy lunacy! :)

With that said, here goes nothing.

All systems are broken. All of them. There is no such thing as a perfect system, and no Christian person should die on the hill of defending any system. However, we should all be constantly looking critically at the systems of which we are a part. We should be examining them and asking ourselves if we are contributing to the brokenness (through action or even silence) or if we are contributing to the healing. 

It has been interesting to watch many of my colorblind friends (but you know how I feel about that already) suddenly regain their ability to see color in the past few weeks, asking things like, “Where are the protests for black-on-black crime?!” Well friends, they are out there. They don’t get the same media coverage, but there are plenty of protests for black-on-black crime. Also, you might have missed them because you are colorblind anyway, so you wouldn’t know who was protesting what. ;) Black-on-black crime occurs at a rate of 91%, while white-on-white crime occurs at a rate of 83%. Where are the protests for white-on-white crime? It seems we’ve got our own issues. We get angry that the media coverage of a white police officer killing a black man is more significant than a black police officer killing a white man. Guess what? Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of the protesting of black-on-black crime is so insignificant as well. Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of all of the recent protests are focused on the opportunists and those people who chose to become violent, while it seems that the vast majority of protestors were quite peaceful. Guess what? We’re all part of this broken media system. Every single news outlet in the country knows that these kinds of stories will get a zillion clicks, views, and comments. We feed that machine. Want more fair coverage? Stop watching, clicking, and commenting. Want things to continue exactly as they have? Click away. 

With that said, let’s talk about the police. Actually, no. That will get everyone all riled up. Let’s talk about teachers and the education system instead. Everyone’s fine with criticizing them. Good news! I’m a teacher. I can take the heat. (Snarky, snarky girl!)

Our education system, like our media system (and all systems), is broken. There are lots of ways that this brokenness manifests itself, but I want to focus on one particular area and try to draw some analogies. 

If I walk in to any school and go into a secret room to take an anonymous poll of teachers, and ask one question – “Which math teacher’s students are most likely to fail the big test?” – I am willing to bet that one or two names will be repeated over and over. In most schools, although teachers are not always in one another’s classrooms, we have an idea about what is going on. Maybe we teach the grade level above, and we’ve noticed that teachers from X classroom always perform really well, while teachers from Y classroom always seem to struggle. We know what’s up. Maybe Y teacher doesn’t show up to many professional development courses. Maybe that teacher’s “water cooler gossip” indicates that he hates the job. Maybe they just flat out seem incompetent. If you’ve worked in any job, you’ve had coworkers who were less competent than others, and everybody knew it. Right?. But what do you do about it? Do you “tattle” on your coworker, on suspicion of suckiness? Is that even a thing? Do you offer your help to them? Do you stay out of it because it’s not really your problem? Do you just thank your lucky stars that you aren’t in administration? Well, what if your kid gets assigned to that teacher’s class? You’ll probably make sure your child gets a transfer right out of there! But are you responsible for all the other kids? That’s a tough question. 

Let’s change the situation. What if you suspect a teacher of having an inappropriate relationship with a student? So, it’s no longer just that students are getting a subpar education, but perhaps they are at risk. You don’t have real evidence, but you’ve got a bad feeling. You see the way Y teacher looks at one student in particular. It just doesn’t sit well with you. Let’s say, like with the poor teaching quality, you decide not to get involved because it’s really not your problem. Besides, it’s just a feeling. Well, stuff goes down, and your gut feeling was right. Oh no. Are you partly to blame for what happened to that student? Should you have spoken up? 

What if that student was your child? Would you feel that all the people who contributed to the situation (actively, or by remaining silent) should be held accountable? Probably. 

There are lots of good teachers out there. There are also lots of bad teachers. What is the role and responsibility of good teachers in these scenarios? In my opinion, it is always to err on the side of the student… but that is HARD. It puts teachers in uncomfortable situations with coworkers. It can make you a target, an annoyance, or a whistleblower.  Anyone who has had a job with any coworkers can understand that. These kinds of things are not easy to do, at all. There have been plenty of times when I’ve failed to speak up about issues, and there will probably be plenty more in the future. However, as a Christian, shouldn’t I always be critically evaluating the system of which I am a part, and my particular role in it? Yes. It’s my job to do justly, even when it’s uncomfortable.

So NOW let’s talk about police. I have several friends who are police officers, and I do believe they are good ones. I hope they see me as a good teacher. I hope they won’t take any of this as critical of them as individuals, but that they will understand (and possibly even agree with) the concept that the system is broken. There are good police officers, and there are bad police officers. I’m sure I could go into that secret room and take that anonymous poll, and ask “Which police officer is most likely to shoot an unarmed black teenager?” and probably get one or two names over and over. That should bother us. 

Many of you read and shared Voddie Baucham’s recent piece, and probably skimmed over this part:
I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
I commend Baucham for forgiving those who treated him unjustly, but it should bother all the rest of us that we live in a society where a man like Voddie Baucham is face down on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, at the hands of those who are supposed to “do justice.” These types of stories are repeated over and over by many highly respected black men. That’s not okay. It’s not okay that these men were humiliated in front of their children. I seriously cannot imagine if a police officer had treated my dad that way, for no reason, in front of me. How could I ever look at police without fear and suspicion in the future? It is no wonder there is fear and distrust of the police in the black community. 

So, here’s the issue. The bad police who did this to Baucham certainly worked with good police who never would have done such a thing. Are the good police at all responsible here? Should they have spoken up? Did they have a gut feeling about these guys? Had they overheard water cooler gossip that indicated some racist tendencies? Did they think, “Well, that’s just that generation. He’ll be retiring soon.”? It’s hard enough to speak up if you are a teacher in a school. How much harder is it for police who have to count on one another in what could literally be life or death situations? How do the police create a culture where fairly upholding the law is more important than brotherhood, or having each other’s backs, or any of that? I don’t know. Seriously. No idea. 

A couple days after the Ferguson verdict, there was a story in the news about a police officer who wrote on Facebook, “Damn cockroaches! Squashem all!!...” Oh my gosh. How is this guy a police officer in the United States in 2014? Not only is he blatantly racist, but he was bold enough to put it on the internet for the world to see! Surely some of the good police officers who work with him have picked up on this. What have they done about it? I don’t know, but for some reason he’s still a cop. 

I do know this, though. Several years ago, our government started looking at our broken education system very critically and added in a bunch of tests and other things, in order to deal with some of these issues of teacher quality and fair education. Teacher pay is now tied to student test performance, and the whole system has gone from being one kind of broken to a different kind of broken, with very little teacher input into how the problems should be solved. I think the police are about to be in for the same thing. To you good police officers, I commend you for your good work. I hope you continue to do good work. I hope you also become very vocal about how best to fix the brokenness in your system before the government forces “fixes” on you without consulting you. 

So basically I have no answers here, just lots of questions. I hope that you agree that no system (including the police) is above reproach. As Christians, we do have to constantly evaluate our roles in our own broken systems, and especially, our silence. We are either contributing to the brokenness or to the healing. Choose wisely.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Race Talks: Race and the Christian

This one is a little over an hour. Particularly, I'd recommend Tim Keller's portion (starts around minute 26). It's worth your time, I promise!

Race Talks: Bloodlines

Got 20 minutes?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Race Talks: Listen, Listen, Listen

Wow. Yesterday's blog had over 500 page views. For perspective, the most page views one of my blogs has ever gotten was 4500, and it's been up for 3 years. haha :) I'm going to assume I hit a nerve. I will also assume that I upset some people yesterday, and that what I said bothered lots of people who did me the courtesy of keeping it to themselves. ;) I hope you noticed that I flippantly used the words "white" and "black," and avoided political correctness. I was really trying to share without pretense. I know that many people feel we should not discuss race. I would contend that this approach is doing us absolutely no good. I think we need to talk about it. So, here I go again...

Today, I just want to challenge my white friends. Let's listen. Let's listen without defensiveness. Let's listen with understanding as our objective. Go to one of your black friends and ask them to tell you what it's like to be them. Try really, really hard not to be defensive. Don't receive any of their statements as indictments against you. Just listen. Don't ask questions to try to back them into a corner. Ask questions like, "Do you think racism still exists? How have you experienced it? How did it make you feel? What should we do about it? What can white people do better?" And just listen. As I said yesterday, there are opinions across the spectrum within each racial group, so you may find that the person you talk to shares very similar opinions to your own. If you find that, I'd encourage you to keep digging, just so you can exercise your "listen without defensiveness" muscle even more! You can even go to one of the hundreds of very racially-charged Facebook threads out there right now, look at the pictures next to the names, and try to listen (read) the common thread. What are people of other races saying? They do have the right to feel there is a problem. We should also afford them the right to be heard.

I took a class in college with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was called "Truth and Reconciliation." It really rocked my world. The archbishop taught us about post-apartheid South Africa. The people of South Africa, instead of seeking retribution for the injustices done to them under apartheid, set up meetings (for lack of a better term), where people were able to voice the injustices done to them, and be heard. An amazing thing happened... forgiveness, and reconciliation. Post-apartheid South Africa could have easily been a violent, nasty mess. I'm not saying that was completely absent, but I can definitely see how this process of allowing people to be heard was so valuable in stemming the tide. So, why don't we try it out?

Does it do us any harm to just listen? If nothing else, it's good practice for all our other relationships. Listen. Practice reflective listening. "What I hear you saying is..." and see how well you do.

Please know that I am not trying to assert myself as any authority or moral superior. I just think this is an important discussion, and want us to keep talking... and listening. ;)

Also, I'm trying to convince one of my black friends to share on here soon. Hopefully I'll be successful! :)

Have a great day of listening!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Race Talks: Don't Be Colorblind

On the heels of the Zimmerman case, the door has swung open wide to discuss race in our country. Whether you believe the case to have been about race or not, the discussion is open. Let's talk.

I'm a white lady. I have friends of many different shades. Most of my adult life, I have found myself serving and ministering to people with black skin. So, I've tried to listen and learn, and I've picked up a few things along the way. I want to share with those of you who might live in a slightly more homogeneous world, or even if you don't, give you a different perspective to consider.

It is a pet peeve of mine to hear white people say they are "colorblind." I cringe when I hear it. A friend of mine made a little joke about it last night, and I figured it was time I outed myself as a colorblind hater. Haters gonna hate, right?.

Why does this bother me? Well, there are lots of reasons. First, have you ever heard a black person say they were colorblind? No, because they are not. They are acutely aware of the color of their skin. Has a black person ever asked you to be colorblind? No. I would venture to say that most of the black people I know would prefer to be respected AS black people, rather than IN SPITE OF IT. That's what the colorblind message says. "Don't worry, I'm okay with you, because I can't even see the color of your skin." That's a bad message, and a wrong one. It communicates that we, the colorblind, recognize there is something inherently bad about your color, so we choose not to even see it. No, no, no, no, no.

Don't get me wrong, here. I KNOW, without a doubt, that my white friends who are saying this are loving, well-intentioned people. If you are one of those people, I hope you know I'm not trying to bash you. I realize that because you ARE loving, well-intentioned people, after reading this and rethinking this idea, you will probably not use that statement again. That's why I'm telling you. It's like many of us are walking around with toilet paper stuck to our shoe. Consider me the friend who's willing to tell you that you're dragging that mess around.

Where did the whole "colorblind" thing come from? Well, it seems to have been an extreme take on Dr. Martin Luther King's dream speech. We should judge people on the "content of their character." Yes, we should. However, we should also respect and appreciate their color. King wasn't saying that we should become "blind" to one another's differences. Instead, we should learn to love, embrace, and appreciate one another's differences. This is far more valuable on the road to healing the many, many race issues that are alive and well in America today. Post-racist America is still a long way away. In my opinion, frank and open discussion with people of other races and a willingness to LISTEN, not defend, are the most important tools for getting there.

If you still think I'm crazy about the colorblind idea, just google "colorblind racism." You'll see what I mean.

Also, one little disclaimer. Nothing is true of ALL black people, or ALL white people, or ALL Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, etc. There are billions of opinions across the spectrum within each racial group. Let's just not be blind to the fact that these racial groups exist. That's all I'm sayin'.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Summer Challenge!

Who's up for some summer fun?

Today, I asked my kids what they would like to do this summer. I wrote down their ideas. I'm going to post them on the refrigerator and use them as a defense against the curse of "I'm bored -itis." Also, I just think it will be fun to see how many of these things we can actually do!

In no particular order...

1.  Go fishing.
2.  Have a backyard campout.
3.  Go golfing.
4.  Go swimming.
5.  Find shark's teeth.
6.  Go to the beach.
7.  Go to the zoo.
8.  Make popsicles.
9.  Roast marshmallows.
10. Make smores.
11. Play in the rain.
12. Play in the sprinkler.
13. Have a dance party ("and shake your booty" - courtesy of Aspen).
14. Find seashells.
15. Go to St. Augustine for a day.
16. Build a project with Dad.
17. Make lemonade.
18. Go to Legoland and trade minifigures with the workers.
19. Go to DisneyWorld.
20. Paint pictures.
21. Have a cookout, and eat outside.
22. Have a picnic.
23. Make our own bubbles.
24. Make our own slime.
25. Go to the library.
26. Write our own story.
27. Write our own poem.
28. Find ways to serve and help others.
29. Sew something on the sewing machine.
30. Build a giant sand castle.
31. Dress up like Star Wars characters.
32. Go to a movie at the beach.
33. Go bowling.
34. Build a giant Lego ship.
35. Make our own candy.
36. Make snow cones.
37. Paint our rooms.
38. Paint the outside of our house.
39. Make shirts.
40. Put together a big puzzle.
41. Make our own puzzle.
42. Make an obstacle course.
43. Put on a show.
44. Go to M&M and Cracker Jack's house.
45. Do some Connect-the-Dots.
46. Read books.
47. Play board games.
48. Make cookies for our friends.
49. Listen to Adventures in Odyssey Novacom Series.
50. Go to tae kwon do.
51. Play hopscotch.
52. Wear costumes to the store.
53. Go skating.
54. Go bike riding.
55. Sing loud in the car with all the windows down.
56. Pray for missionaries.
57. Help at 2nd Mile.
58. Go to VBS.
59. Have a scavenger hunt.
60. Play hide and go seek.
61. Visit new parks.
62. Have a puppet show.
63. Make a home movie.

...that's what we've got so far!

Any other ideas!?!? I'd love to have a longer list, especially with more FREE ideas! :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Birth of Sawyer Glen: Affirmation

Birth is a powerful experience. Each of my labors have been so different, and so significant. They were pivotal moments in my life that God used to shape and mold me. He's revealed Himself to me, and this time, reminded me who He is.

On Sunday, February 10, 2013, I woke up at around 6 a.m. I stood up, and whoosh! Surprise! My water broke! I have never had a labor start this way, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I texted my friend, Sharon Schmidt, who conveniently happens to be my midwife, to let her know what was going on. She was reassuring, and one of her texts to me said, "You're going to have your baby!" Wow. Yeah, I guess so! Quincy and I got dressed, ate breakfast, and started to make Sawyer's birthday cake. (He got a Paula Dean Turtle Cake, for those of you who know the tradition and are curious.) I had a couple contractions during this time, but nothing was really going on. The kids got up, and we fed them breakfast. Now, if you've read anything I've written lately, you know that we've been experiencing a circumstantial "bad streak." In the back of my mind, I knew that water breaking at the beginning of labor meant I was on a clock. If things didn't get going in the next 24 hours, I was going to the hospital. I was praying and battling my cynicism, right off the bat. I asked God to help me put it out of my mind, and to just enjoy the day.

It was BEAUTIFUL outside! Sunny and cool. Quincy and I started the first of many walks. Ephraim joined in on his bicycle. Aspen hung out with my parents. Contractions picked up a bit, but still were very manageable. Some time in the days leading up to labor, I hurt my foot on one of our walks, so I had to take a break every so often. We'd come home, sit on the ball, watch TV, and just hang out. The kids spent most of the day with my parents. Lunchtime rolled around, and I was hungry. I had a sudden, very strong craving for Subway. This is kind of random because I haven't had much (if any) bread in months... but I told Quincy that we were having Subway for lunch, and he obliged. As soon as we were finished eating lunch, I was ready to get walking again. We walked around the block twice, and on the second trip, I had 3 stop-you-in-your-tracks contractions in an 8-minute period. I thought, "Okay, I'm probably gonna have a baby today." :)

Since we love Sharon and want to take advantage of her and our labor time as much as possible, we let her know we were heading up to Fruitful Vine. Yes, it was much earlier than appropriate, but we just like her. :) I'm guessing we got to Fruitful Vine at around 1pm. We chatted a bit, cracked some jokes, and resumed our walking. That's when the paparazzi got this shot of me outside the office! I tried to hide my face, but you know how it is...

I felt differently approaching this labor than any of my previous ones. With Ephraim, I had taken Bradley classes and had plenty of "information," but no idea what to expect. With Ransom, it was a whole, beautiful, God story of love and loss, so I tend to put that in another category in my mind. With Aspen, again, it was this amazing God story, of His fulfillment of this crazy promise to me, but I still had some degree of hesitance about the physical pain of labor. With Sawyer, I felt more empowered and in control of the labor. It's totally a false feeling, and it may have something to do with the fact that this labor started in the morning, after a full night's sleep, instead of the middle of the night, but I felt ready to face it head-on. I took periodic breaks from walking, but I wasn't afraid to get this labor going. We used my hurt foot as a contraction gauge, because as the contractions became stronger, my foot pain became nonexistent! hahah Funny how that happens! It started to get hot outside, so we had a wardrobe change and started walking the halls inside. It was so nice that this labor was conveniently occurring on a Sunday, after church (Aspen called it, with a little help from Aunt Sharon), because the halls were empty. I'd feel a contraction, grip on to one of the bricks on the brick wall inside, moan and sway, and then keep on walking. Once it seemed that the contractions were close and strong, and I'd lost my usual hilariousness, I decided to get into the birth tub. 

Oh, the birth tub. All women should labor in them. The contractions slowed a bit initially, and it was a nice relief. I guess maybe I got in the tub around 4pm? I don't know. I'm just making stuff up. I was paying no attention to the time. I asked Quincy to turn up the worship music. I got into a good squatting position, and we all started to worship. I have prayed, for months and months, that God's presence would be palpable during this labor. This has been a HARD year for me. I have struggled. I have not felt God's presence. He doesn't owe me anything. He's already given me SO much more than I deserve, but those dry spells are hard on any of us. We NEED God. He made us that way. As we sang and rode the waves of contractions, I cried. I cried and cried. It wasn't about anyone else in that room. It was me and God. He was reminding me of who He is. He was revealing Himself to me over again. He was pressing in close. I have no idea what anyone else was doing in the room, nor do I care. He was present, for me. He gave me something else I didn't deserve and wasn't owed, and I am GRATEFUL. Time is a blur, but I am certain that these moments with God will be the most memorable when I look back on the day He gave Sawyer to me. He gave Himself to me, again. I was praying, "Jesus, help me. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." He was there. He did.

At some point, I indulged the inner raving lunatic as the contractions reached that unbearable crescendo, but this was very brief and short lived. In the back of my mind, I knew that survival was likely, but if you've been there, you know the feeling. I know I said, "Okay, I don't want to do this anymore." (as if I had the option) It was met with a round of, "You can do this." "You are doing so great." "You're almost done." Okay, true. I remember Sharon telling me at some point to "run into them." I thought, "Yes, that's exactly right." I had been doing that until these last few, and that made perfect sense. I kind of feel like with all of my babies, my transition and pushing sort of overlap. Now that I've had a very similar physical experience with each of them, I'm guessing that will be the case for all my babies. I won't get too detailed for the sake of the non-birth junkies reading along, but let's say that my last few crazy transition contractions and first few pushing contractions feel like one in the same. Lots of things happened in these moments, but suffice it to say that I turned and got into a comfortable pushing position, and very quickly, Sawyer Glen made his entrance into the world! I pulled him up from the water, and had that immediate demeanor change that is always so fun to watch during labor. One second you're hysterical, and the next, you're beaming and crying out, "OHHHH!! THE BABY!!!" :) Yep. That's what I did. "He's here!!!" He was a perfect, beautiful, 9 pound 4 ounce baby boy, born around 6pm. He has the same newborn face as both of my children, just the in-between size. Ephraim wore this face with much less cheek, and Aspen with much more! :) 

While lots of circumstances have been hard this past year, and things haven't gone exactly how I would have wanted, this birth was a beautiful affirmation and reassurance to me. Life may not look like any of us expect, but He is still here. We may not always feel His presence, but we can trust His character. He loves us. He really, really loves us. 

(Photo courtesy of Lori Lee Photography)