Ramblings and musings – on reading, education, mindfulness, mental health, kindness and whatever other things are tumbling through my mind
Author: Lynne VS
Before we get too far along, you should probably know what I’m all about. I was an educator for over 30 years – even I can’t believe it was that long or that I’m this old, but there it is. During my career I taught middle school (shudder at the thought) and high school English and was the school librarian for a middle and high school. I was a yearbook advisor and newspaper advisor. After leaving public education, which I walked away from and never looked back, I found that I did miss sharing books and ideas children and adults interested in a wide range of things. I found my place now at a local public library in the children’s library. So my experience has grown, and I can say that I have worked with children from birth through high school and from there through their adult years. I have read aloud to them, recommended books, acted as surrogate parent and counselor, befriended them, gone to their weddings and more of their funerals than should ever have happened. I’ve even taught children of the children I taught.
If you are a teacher and find anything of use to you or your class, by all means help yourself. Pat Conroy had it right when he said, "
“I developed the Great Teacher theory late in my freshman year. It was a cornerstone of the theory that great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart.” from Lords of Discipline
My friend Denise tells me that I take things too personally. She’s right, of course. She’s always right. She listens to me as I talk of the latest thing that hurt me, and then she basically tells me to suck it up. Obviously, I do not go to her for sympathy. She listens, she tells me when I’m being foolish or that I’m right, but then she tells me to move on. “Let it go. People don’t think.”
Ah, and there’s the problem. I have trouble moving on and letting go. Often I will stew and nurse the hurt far longer than it deserves. Then I will eventually say nothing to the person who hurt me and just try to put it behind me, put it out of my mind. The problem with just putting it behind me somewhere outside of my consciousness is that it isn’t resolved. It is’t really gone either. The next time I am hurt by that person, my mind will call up everything he or she did to me or said to me that was hurtful in the past and ruminate on it all. A. L. L. I add all of those times together and beat myself up like they just happened again.
Once in a while, years later in a new huff of anger, I will blurt out, “This is just like when…” And I am stunned when they have no recollection of having done what they did. I was really hurt, and they don’t even remember! And then I have my insecurities validated. The monkey-brain kicks into high gear. The monkeys jumping around from thought to thought in my brain tell me, “See, you never mattered in the first place. If you did, this wouldn’t have happened…oh, and this…and this.” I tell myself that they didn’t care about me and my feelings. I tell myself that they would be better off if I just expected nothing or went away or didn’t exist.
I was reading or listening to Brené Brown not too long ago and she talked about approaching someone by saying, “the story I’m telling myself about this is…” That sounds like good advice. And you can see that I framed a couple of my sentences that way earlier. But I still have trouble speaking to someone about an issue. That’s because I’m also telling myself that if I say, “the story I’m telling myself about this is…” they reply with, “Yep, that’s about it.” Or more likely, since most people wouldn’t be that blunt, they would give me assurances that I wouldn’t know whether to believe.
I was brought up to worry about what other people think. My mother often admonished us with “what will the neighbors think” arguments. Both of my parents were all about keeping up with the Joneses. People’s worth or success was only defined in dollars. When my mother entertained, everything had to be absolutely Martha-Stewart-perfect. She was always dressed up and, even when we went shopping, we were told not to wear jeans because “people” don’t wear them to go out. There were a lot of things I was told that “people” don’t do. I became a teacher with no chance for wealth and fame, my friends walk into my home and help themselves, and jeans are practically my uniform, but while those options feel better for me, they also fall short.
So, do you see my problem? Yep, it’s me. That’s the problem. I need some internal renovations.
I need to quit taking everything so personally, because it causes me to be hurt way too often.
I need to be unconcerned with what other people think…Or as Denise always tells me, “you wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you if you realized how seldom they do.” (If I take that too much to heart, that’s depressing too!)
I need to speak up for myself – not rudely but assuredly. I’m good at speaking up about opinions on books and movies, world events, or if someone hurts one of my loved ones. When it comes to speaking up for myself, the words get jammed up somewhere between my heart and my mouth while my brain turns into jelly.
I need to find the courage to stand up for myself by not allowing others to treat me with little respect or take advantage of my willingness to do anything for a friend.
I need to quit showing up everywhere with gifts at the expense of my financial security. I had it pointed out by a friend-become-family member today that I don’t need to always show up with goodies, food, and gifts. Dani assured me that she and her kids love me just for me – which, even though she was taking me to task about something, was wonderful to hear.
I need to say “no” without guilt.
Now that I’ve outlined the renovation plans in black and white, it’s time to get to work on this. I know what needs to be done. I’ve read enough books, heard enough speakers, saved enough inspirational memes on Pinterest, and listened to enough sermons to write my own book on the subject. But what I know how to give advice on to everyone else isn’t as easy to do for myself. It’s the old “physician, heal thyself” advice that is never as simple as all that.
There is something I have learned in sharing these posts. I am not the only one struggling with these issues. While sometimes we all feel that we are alone in our weakness and in our struggles, as soon as we speak up about them we find out we are from from alone. I imagine that suddenly there will be cries of “You too? I thought it was just me!” Maybe a friend or even a stranger reading this will grab on to the fact that someone else gets it, and then we can gain strength in having someone else walking alongside of us. For now I know what I need to work on. And I know where to ultimately turn for the assistance I need in this project. The surest way through or out of any problem is the same. “I cried out, ‘I am slipping!’ but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. (Psalms 94:18-19 NLT) He has been there before and I’m counting on God to be there all of my days.
Sometimes I see memes that really hit the mark and say what I can’t find the words for. Those of you who have read my blog know that it takes stamina and commitment to get through the lengthy writing. I’ve never been good at short and pithy. While looking back at Pinterest files, I had the idea that I could write a memoir of depression using memes. They tell a story and the random placement that worked here (not intentionally but serendipitously) seems appropriately too!
It’s the middle of June. Most schools are out for the summer and people everywhere are telling teachers how good they have it. I mean, they get the entire summer off – no responsibilities, no schedule to keep, and they get paid. It seems to this retired teacher that now is the perfect time for a reality check on what it is to be a teacher.
Let’s take a look at expectations and what the job requires. Obviously, a teacher is supposed to teach. Elementary teachers offer basic knowledge of all subject matter – reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, music, art, health, and physical education. They provide the base upon which all other learning builds. Secondary education teachers specialize by subject matter taking each of those disciplines listed above to more breadth and depth. Okay, but that’s the wikipedia kind of knowledge of what the job is. Let’s continue.
Elementary teachers have to do things no secondary teacher has to do. They wipe noses, clean up vomit and urine, administer first aid (and I imagine in the younger grades give the magic kiss to boo-boos). They supervise playgrounds with all of the hazards that involves – physically, socially, and emotionally. They teach fair-play, sharing, and safety. They escort their charges to the cafeteria where they are taught some table manners, not to throw food at each other, not to make faces at other children’s lunches, clean up after yourself, and not to throw away lunches. I’m sure they have many other tasks that secondary teachers like me have no idea of and might shudder to think about!
Secondary teachers have a different set of challenges. As a high school English teacher I found our English department responsible for teaching all of the normal things that you would expect – reading, literature, grammar, writing, spelling, and research techniques. As the years went on, we became responsible also for teaching word processing, using the internet, assessing the value and validity of text in print and online, telling truth from fiction. These seemed natural to fall on the English department as they are extensions of reading and writing. When using texts in our classrooms we had always tried to teach students to read with a critical eye, to assess the value of what they were reading, and to delve into the writing to get meaning from it. While these fell to us, I know that other disciplines were also facing these additions to their curricula
Ah, but it didn’t stop there. Here are just some of the other things we found ourselves responsible for teaching in our English classrooms:
Literature that is rigorous and relevant but will not offend anyone
How to write letters
When and how to write thank-you notes
How to address an envelope
To answer the telephone politely and carry on a phone conversation with a potential employer or a company when you call regarding information or a complaint
To answer questions in job interviews
How to dress and conduct yourself for an interview
To maintain a social media presence when colleges and employers are looking to learn more about them
To fill out college applications and write a college application essay
To write a resumé
To greet people
The proper way to shake hands (no death grip, no “dead fish” limp hands, no hesitation, no pumping, and let go!)
More and more schools expect teachers to be numbers crunchers and data analysts. Teachers (especially those in English and math) are expected to teach test prep, analyze the data, and make sure that all of the state tests scores go up based on notions and ideas made in some office somewhere that is not in the vicinity of a school, a classroom, or any children! The great majority of teachers know how to teach, what to teach, how to engage children, and how to get results because they chose their careers wanting to make a difference. They did not get into the job to become test proctors. They have become the pawns of Study Island. They have been forced to give over precious class time to preparing for, practicing for, and administering standardized tests – obviously because testing is a vital life skill that everyone will need.
Teachers also find things that go well beyond the classroom curriculum that will fall to them. We become family counselors, relationship counselors, and life coaches. (Again, elementary teachers might have a different but no less exhaustive list, but I’ll dwell on the secondary experience.) We help them in their college search, discover ways to go to college or trade school, work on scholarship applications and essays. During my years in the classroom my coworkers and I held the hands of and wrapped our arms around students following the death of grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends. We went to the funeral home with them when a classmate took his own life, was killed in a car accident, or succumbed to cancer. We listened as they told us that they were kicked out of their homes because mom chose the boyfriend over her child, they had to find a place to live because their parents didn’t allow them to stay once the eighteenth birthday came, or they felt they could never please their parents. We were the loving adult who worked with them get the help they needed when they were depressed, doing harm to themselves, or contemplating suicide. We knew and adjusted our expectations when they were living in their car, working forty hours a week to help put food on the table at home, or living through the horrors of abuse and divorce. We helped them to navigate the treacherous path of adolescent friendships, dating, betrayal, and pressure. We taught them that they deserve better than an abusive boyfriend/girlfriend and how to get out of the relationship. We taught them that friends who put pressure on them to cheat, do drugs, lie to their parents, or do anything that makes them uncomfortable are not friends. We supported them when they found out they were pregnant and didn’t know where to turn. We advised them and even went with them to talk to their parents about the relationship, the friend, or the pregnancy. We provided school supplies. We provided lunches. We provided clothing. We made Christmas happen. We found health care, dental care, psychological care for them. We walked with them onto the field for senior parent nights when they had no one show up for them. We went to their games, matches, concerts, and plays. While often I found students who called me “Mom,” some of the teachers I know actually became their parents — taking home foster children, taking in those who were discarded by parents, and even adopting them.
However, I’m discovering this isn’t enough! Ideas from the public about what teachers should be also teaching abound in the media, on social media, and in everyday conversation. According to what I’ve been reading lately as I’ve been thinking about this post, teachers should be making sure that children:
Have manners – from how to treat others in public places to which fork to use in a restaurant
Know what the socially acceptable norms of behavior include (even if the parents have no idea themselves)
Have good hygiene
Know how to dress properly by establishing a dress code that is equally respectful of males and females (but schools should not actually enforce this code)
Are taught respect for all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, people with handicaps, people with differing opinions, etc.
Are taught traditional values and that the mainstream or majority race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, opinion, etc. is the right one
Can change a tire
Can change the oil in a car
Know how to do laundry
Know how to file income taxes
Can balance a checkbook
Know how to pay bills and maintain a budget
Can cook and plan healthy meals and set the perfect table
Know how to make repairs around the home
And this is just a starter list of the things I have seen!
All of this is what is expected in a country that disrespects teachers, blames them for many of the ills of society, and criticize everything they do. All of this from parents quick to say, “My child would never…” or “why should my child be expected to…” All of this in a society that mocks and holds education and intelligence in low regard (look at the heroes and idols who are often illiterate, ill-spoken, and far from smart!)
People are quick to find the one teacher they hated or who was lousy and equate all of their school years with that one example. They are quick to point out the news story of a teacher who was arrested for sexually molesting a student, getting violent with a student, or drug violations…never noting the hundreds of others in the same district who would never dream of doing that, who are, in fact, hurt and ashamed and even more sickened by that than you are!
When children are raised in this environment, it is no wonder that they come to school lacking respect for both the teacher and the learning. People say children have changed. No they haven’t. Children have always learned what they lived.
The final reality check (and I’ll keep this short and factual) is a matter of numbers. We hear that teachers are underpaid or overpaid depending on who is doing the complaining. Here are the latest statistics that I can find.
The average teacher pay in the United States is $58,353 dollars – although in 36 states the average is lower than that.
Alaska, New York, Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts are the top paying states and come in at over $70,000 which isn’t surprising if you do a little thinking on that (or you watch HGTV). The cost of living in those states is extremely high. In Massachusetts and California, for example, the price of a starter home averages in at $243,300 and $305,000 respectively. (The median prices in those states are $409,600 and $548,700)
At the lower end of the spectrum we find Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Arizona all paying less than $44,000 average per year.
Teachers are required to continue their education and training throughout their careers. At one time I had a “permanent” teaching certificate. However, it magically expired and turned into a temporary one because laws were passed mandating a number of additional classes and credit hours every five years. I have no problem with continuing education. But pay for it. According to smartasset.com the average salary of someone with a professional degree is $89,960. That is more than $31,000 over the national average for teachers.
Our values as a society are truly screwed up. Our biggest heroes make their lives playing with a ball, pretending to be someone on film or television, or singing in front of a crowd. Athletics and the arts are valuable to society. However, I don’t believe that they are more valuable than those who teach, keep us safe, and keep us healthy. Look at these numbers and remember that where you put your money is a good indication of where your priorities.
Average cost to attend an NFL game ranges from $107 – $569 depending on the team
Minimum wage in the NFL is $450,000
A-list movie stars make an estimated $15 – $20 million per film
In 2017 Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki made $900,000 per episode on the Big Bang Theory
Concert tickets will set you back pretty hard — According to Forbes, average tickets to see Justin Timberlake come in around $339, Beyoncé will cost you $294, Taylor Swift or Pink in concert is $270, Paul McCartney is a bit cheaper at $241
The average price for a Broadway musical (which looks reasonable compared to the concerts) is about $113. But if you want to see Hamilton the face value of a regular top ticket is $199 but tickets have sold for over $1,000
Police officers average $65,400 per year
The average salary for a registered nurse ranges from $57,000 to $102,700 (Everything costs more in California) which makes the median around $79,000
Teachers average $58,353 and, while their pay in most districts (not all) is divided in such a way as to assure pay over the year, many work second jobs over the summer.
“And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The more the world is crazy, divided, and shouting hatred at the top of their lungs… The more those who are supposed to be leaders are caught up in partisanship to the point of losing sight of their oaths to work for the ideals of our country… The more we see government agencies battling each other and the American people… Well, the more I see of all of this, the more I want to be an ostrich and stick my head in the sand!
I’ve already admitted in an earlier blog post that I like fluff in my entertainment sometimes. It’s gotten worse. It isn’t just that at times I like to simply enjoy something light and fun, it is that I am now avoiding topics that make me think too much about what is happening in the world right now. Mass shootings. Terrorism. Political divisiveness. Rapes. Racism. Sexism. White supremacy. Murders. Corruption. I feel like the old Calgon commercial,
I was completely in love with NCIS – couldn’t live without my weekly Gibbs fix, had to see Abby, Ducky, Ziva, Tony, and Tim. Then came NCIS LA and NCIS New Orleans. I loved them too. I quit on LA and New Orleans. And even the original may not need to be on my DVR anymore. I’m tired of watching the good guys battling against people who are supposed to also be the good guys. I’m tired of conspiracies against our NCIS good guys, back-stabbing, and hate.
I keep telling everyone that I love HGTV because the worst that can go wrong is that they go over budget or have to modify a plan. If I want to see two people going all out to beat each other, I watch Beat Bobby Flay. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody dies. And regardless of who wins, our lives and country aren’t diminished. I have read some books that I enjoyed but also felt more enraged by. I loved reading We Fed an Island by José Andrés. The work he did in the aftermath of Maria in Puerto Rico is inspiring! But I kept having to put it down because it raised my blood pressure as I got angrier and angrier at FEMA and the charitable organizations who were not not only failing in doing what they should have been doing, but were fighting his efforts that were succeeding. I absolutely loved Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, but how can you read a book about what being raped does to a woman and not be angry, especially with all that is in the news lately? I was taken in by Educated by Tara Westover. It surely involved a whole lot of crazy, but her story is a story of triumph.
I’m reading biographies. I’m reading inspirational books. And I’m reading fiction that makes me have some hope in human nature (not much to find unless you read children’s books). But as I went to make a recommended list for you, I discovered that the truth is I’m not reading much! A quick look at my goodreads.com account reflects what is happening in my ostrich days. I’m marking books I want to read. A ton of them! Another glance at my nightstand, coffee table, and book shelves show I’ve still been bringing books home. And the various pieces of paper sticking out of them bear testament to the fact that I’m just not able to concentrate on much if it hits the kind of conflicts we see in the news! The truth is that I’m reading more magazines and online articles than books, and I’m streaming a bit more video than normal. If you’re with me and looking for a little escapism, here is a sampling of what I’ve been reading lately.
Art Matters by Neil Gaiman
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown (anything by her!)
Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines (and The Magnolia Story that I read when it was first published.)
The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff
For Every One by Jason Reynolds
Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances by Andy Andrews
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
Instead of writing today, I’m choosing to share an interview from 2013 that Rachel Held Evans did with Red Letter Christians. If you have not read her work before, do so now. At least in print her voice goes on.
I heard a good sermon last Sunday. Let me explain to you what I mean by that because “good” is one of those words like “nice” or “really” that has so many different meanings that it ends up meaning nothing. Ruth McRoberts Ward, author of Self-Esteem: Gift of God and the blog How to Get Along With Everyone (ruthmcrobertsward.com), was once discussing various personality types and said that the pastor of the church I was attending at the time probably didn’t like it when people left the service saying, “Good sermon.” He laughed and acknowledged that she was right when she said he would rather have them saying that it challenged them, convicted them, taught them, or gave them lots of food for thought. I realized then that when I say “good sermon,” that is actually what I mean – it did one of those things. If I had merely enjoyed it, I would have said it was entertaining or perhaps uplifting.
As I was saying, Pastor Trent Thompson’s sermon this week was a good one. When it comes to food for thought, this one gave me no snack but a full meal! Using 2 Samuel 2 & 3 as the basis for his message, he spoke about the consequences of a group of people — a society, a country — rejecting the authority of God. He gave several consequences of not putting God in the position of authority over our lives that I think are very timely and, as he said in the sermon, relevant both inside and outside of the Christian church.
In the passage from 2 Samuel we see the results of Israel asking to have a king placed over them. God tried to tell them through the prophet that it was a lousy idea, but they insisted that they wanted God to put a king over them. And they got their wish.
In essence, by putting a king in that position, they were also putting him as the authority over them instead of acknowledging and submitting to the authority of God. As we follow the historical events, we see that there are consequences of giving authority over to human rule. Trent started with:
PEOPLE LOSING A SENSE OF A MORAL AUTHORITY OVER THEIR LIVES: We lose our moral bearings, our compass, thus making everything a political battle of wills – where perhaps the loudest, the meanest, or the ones with the most money and power decide what is right and wrong.
PEOPLE BECOMING PAWNS FOR THE POWER BROKERS OF THE DAY: Individuals are worth something only in so far as they can help the powerful achieve their purpose, otherwise they have no value or purpose and need not be looked after and seen as the image bearers of God.
REVENGE REPLACING FORGIVENESS: We come to see no need to forgive others but rather seek revenge in some way on those who have harmed, slighted, or even just disagreed with us.
I’m fairly certain that no one would need to argue about whether Americans today accept the authority of God. We have become a society afraid of offending people by stating absolute beliefs. We are given to believe that there are no absolute truths — that there is no right and wrong, just differing points of view. In minor matters like the best way to cook a chicken, which route to travel somewhere, which singer should win The Voice, it just doesn’t matter if we differ. But in terms of moral decisions over our lives, it does matter. If we suggest that there is no right or wrong, that isn’t giving God authority. It’s giving everyone, and therefore no one, authority.
We are expected to be okay with any decision that people make. It isn’t PC to question what others think even on some elements of morality. Not long ago I made a comment on a social media post regarding human trafficking. I was talking about not further victimizing these girls and women by judging them since they didn’t choose to go out and sell their bodies. I had someone who replied to me, “What would be wrong if they had?” I was stunned by the question. It never occurred to me that people would have thought of prostitution as a career option unless they were desperate. I just couldn’t imagine some kid sitting in the guidance counselor’s office saying, “I want to be a hooker. Where do I get training for that? What classes do I need to take?” But here we are.
There are many in society who wouldn’t agree that moral ambiguity and everyone doing their own thing are problematic. They see that as allowing people to be themselves and make their own truths. I see evidence that moral ambiguity are harmful to our country and the world. Watching the daily news quickly gives a glimpse of the results of people losing their sense of right and wrong, of being used as pawns, doing anything to achieve what they desire regardless of who gets hurt, stealing from the poor, cheating each other in business and politics, even going into road rage and killing because they don’t like the way someone else drives! Brian Rice, pastor of Living Word Community Church sums it up well, “We still believe in right and wrong, in good and evil, in morality and immorality, in virtue and vice. Yes, the culture is doing its best to eliminate these distinctions. Yes, the world is doing its best to tell you that you are out of date, out of touch, out of step, and generally old fashioned for believing that if God says something is bad, wrong, and immoral then it is. Yes, the world says you are intolerant if you believe this way.” If we are called intolerant for our beliefs, so be it. But we don’t need to be called hate-filled, angry, judging, and uncaring.
But for me it wasn’t the consequences on society at large that really got the wheels turning. The truths of what he was saying seem so obvious within our society today as to almost elicit a “duh” response in my mind. Yeah, I know. I already said there are those who would argue, but they aren’t the ones I’m talking to at the moment — I’m preaching to the choir so to speak on that part. But…and it’s a large but…what really made me stop to think was his assertion that these are consequences we are seeing within the church.
He is right. I also believe that some reading this are with me. They’re yelling, “Preach it, girl!” And they will continue to do so until I step on their toes too. (I am, after all, an equal opportunity toe-stepper-oner) You see, he didn’t say this was just going on in those “liberal denominations,” or in “mainstream churches.” He contended that it is happening in our evangelical churches as well. And he is right.
In America today the church has gotten a bad name. Some of it unmerited and some of it is rightly earned. People don’t know us “by our love” any more. Often that love isn’t extended beyond the church doors – and sometimes limited within them. Almost everyone has seen the memes, t-shirts, signs, and other things where people list who our neighbors are or who “the least of these” are. But sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to give that more than lip service. At times we can’t align our actions, our politics, and our works to that. We can’t put our money or our actions where our mouths are so they become lovely ideas for an hour on Sunday morning. We don’t even put our mouths where they should be. Some Christians curse people of other races, ethnicities, cultures, and life styles, they tell racist, sexist, and ethnic jokes, or they dismiss the folks who are not quite like them. Their God looks just like them and likes what they like. And so, many people see Christ’s people as rigid, accusatory, hate-filled, judgmental, and unforgiving. And unfortunately we run into those Christians in our own churches. Maybe you thought of a name. Maybe I just stepped on some toes.
There is a disturbing trend in America today. The church in America and politics in America have become enmeshed, far too intertwined to untangle. When this happens, it is difficult to determine what is a political stance and what comes from the authority of our God. Some believe that “all” Christians register and vote a certain way or they aren’t Christians. I have been told that by fellow Christians and have had Christian women in my Bible study who quit speaking to me because I questioned the words and actions, and therefore the morals, of an individual politician. If we are doing this, then we have ceded God’s authority over us to that group of politicians. As Pastor Trent once said to me in an email (and I’m paraphrasing here), no political party has a stance that would warrant being the chosen one, the one anointed as the voice of Jesus. When we go out of our way to support and excuse the behavior of politicians because they are in the “right” party or to automatically condemn them because they are in the “wrong” one, we have put politicians and a party’s beliefs above any other — including God.
When criticized for being rigid and judgmental we don’t want to see it. “Ah, but,” the response goes, “we are following the word of God and we won’t soften or water down His word.” But are we really? Or are we just being exactly what they have seen? Could it be that we are putting something or someone else in the position of authority over us?
America has come to a point where, in the eyes of many people, the terms “Christian” and “religious right” mean the same thing. On NPR this week I was listening to a news story about a Christian organization that usually only interviews Republican candidates to see who they will endorse. However, as some of the Democrats vying for the Oval Office in 2020 have brought faith into their campaigns, this group is now going to extend an invitation to those candidates as well. That sounded good until the leader of the group added in an angry and challenging tone, “Let’s see if they are REAL Christians, if they can answer OUR questions satisfactorily.” (The emphasis here is not mine, these were words he stressed as he spoke.)
I’m writing as a Christian woman who is not registered with any political party because I won’t align myself fully to any party’s beliefs. I haven’t found one party or even one candidate who fully embodies what I would like ideally in a leader. None of them can pass the test of perfection, of course. I would hope, against evidence, that no one expects that. Most of the time, I’m choosing the lesser of two evils. Every so often I vote for no one in a particular contest or write in someone as my little protest over the fact that, out of all the people in the world, these were the only choices we had. Even when I select a candidate to vote for, I won’t put myself in a position of having to defend every action or statement he or she makes. Instead, I will call out patterns of or repeated incidents of hurtful words, sinful actions, and ungodly behaviors whenever I see them in our leaders. Too many people are so tied to one party that they rail against one politician’s actions but accept the very same actions from the other side of the aisle to justify their adherence to party.
I think the church today needs to read the red letters in the Bible. We need to make our stances based upon them first and foremost. Jesus outlined what our moral beliefs should be, what the roadmap for our behavior should look like. In both Matthew 22 and Mark 12, Jesus said that the two most important things we must do are to love him with all we have and to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. As you contemplate who he means as neighbors, remember that the famous parable of the Good Samaritan was given as a response to this very question. In his book Everybody Always, Bob Goff said that Jesus didn’t tell us who our neighbors are so that we wouldn’t start making lists of who we didn’t have to love.
We as Christians also need to examine our thinking on sin. The Bible tells us at various points that it is breaking God’s law, it is any kind of wrong-doing, and that it is also attitudes and motives for our actions such as being unfair, dishonest, harmful or wrongful. We justify, rightly, that there are many laws within the Old Testament that we don’t need to follow anymore and they aren’t sin. We don’t follow the dietary guidelines. We don’t offer living sacrifices and burnt offerings. We abandoned those because we are told in Romans 10:4, in Romans 8, Ephesians 2 and many other places in the New Testament that Jesus fulfilled the law thereby releasing us from being bound by all of the rules and regulations that we were too weak to keep in the first place. Jesus came because mankind couldn’t follow the rules. But we still want to hang on to a couple of those rules and claim them, because those are the rules we keep and can use to judge others!
There are two areas where I think we get it wrong when it comes to sin. The first has to do with that attitude part. We all know that attitude can be a huge problem. Think back to when you were a child. You gave your mother, father, or teacher a perfectly reasonable response but got in trouble anyway. “Don’t you talk to me in that tone!” Our attitudes come out! And often attitudes are much louder than our words or actions. We can be doing very good things for very bad reasons. And that is sin. Jesus gives us the example of the religious leader who prays openly and with great showmanship hoping to get attention. When we take a stance simply to prove how we are so good and others are so wrong instead of listening to them and loving them, that is sin. When we are judgmental, that is sin.
The second area has to do with levels of sin. Our Catholic brothers and sisters have long been taught that there are levels to sin: venial and mortal. Mortal sins, according to this teaching, keep you out of heaven. While Protestant and evangelical churches don’t adhere to that doctrine, many of us still see sins as coming in a hierarchy. We see little lies, stealing a pen from the office, speeding, and such as way down at the bottom of sin mountain. Everyone does them. They barely count! From there we move all the way up to the peak of sin mountain where we find genocide that the Nazis and other groups perpetrated. Where other things fall along the road are seen differently by different people — usually depending mostly on how they sin.
From what I can see sins don’t come in levels as we see them. Referring to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), it is the ones dishonoring God that come with added warnings that probably elevate their importance. Jesus reinforced this when he boiled it all down to two commandments. Otherwise, as you look at the list “thou shalt not kill” is given the same weight and importance as not lying, not stealing, or not being envious because your neighbor has things that you don’t. Ouch.
Yet in our churches today it would be easy to come to believe that abortion and homosexuality are the ONLY sins. If not the only ones, at least that they are the worst sins. These are the ones preached about from pulpits. They are railed against, protested in the streets, and used as a judgment tool. These are portrayed as the unforgivable ones.
I stunned people one day who said that they wouldn’t associate with homosexuals. I asked them if they would go out to dinner with me. They were puzzled knowing that I am not homosexual. What could I mean? Well, I am fat. Obviously, therefore, gluttony is a sin I struggle with. That one is in the Bible (listed with things I personally put much higher up the scale), but they wouldn’t have any trouble abetting me in it. I’m guessing they over indulge at the all-you-can-eat buffet too.
There are governmental leaders in charge of the country. But we have gone beyond that and made them our authority when we follow them and their ideas without question or by offering excuses. There are Christians who will go out of their way to justify a politician who falls on the right side of the debates on abortion or homosexuality while ignoring where they fall on a host of other sins.
I’d love to find a leader who follows what the Bible spells out for me on those issues AND also believes in giving children after they are born the importance Jesus did (Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16, Mark 10:14). Someone who believes in feeding the hungry and helping the needy among us (Matthew 25). Someone who wouldn’t treat refugees and immigrants as criminals, who wouldn’t demean them or rip their families apart, but who would follow the biblical teaching about how we are to treat foreigners in our midst (Leviticus 19:33-34, Ephesians 2: 17-20, Jeremiah 22:3, Hebrews 13:2, Matthew 25). Someone who would tend God’s creation (Genesis 2:15, Jeremiah 2:7, Revelation 11:18). Someone who would follow the two commandments Jesus gave us and had way more than a passing knowledge of the ten from the Old Testament. Imagine finding a politician we could believe never bears false witness!
I’m sure not saying that I could be that perfect candidate. I’m always falling too short. But then again, that’s why I’m not running for office and trying to be put in charge. I just offer up some ideas but don’t tell you what to do with them because I’m working that out in my life too.
It is time that we take a close examination of our stances, our hot-button issues, and our methodology to see if we are truly falling under God’s authority. We need to look to him as our authority and our model. We should not be seeking to justify other authorities. We should also not be standing in the light shouting the praises of those authorities. First, they often can’t or don’t live up to the standards we should be expecting. Secondly, we shouldn’t be doing it because our shrill, angry, and judgmental words often sound hypocritical and will turn people away from him.
Pastor Brian Rice from Living Word Community Church in York, PA once centered a sermon around the idea that: There is a God. You aren’t it. Jesus Christ is. I would add to this. There is a God. You aren’t it. No governmental leader is it. No political party is it. No wealthy man or woman is it. No one who has sought out fame is it. Jesus is.
The other night my friend René asked about my opinion of the whole Jussie Smollett thing – his claims of having been assaulted by a racist and homophobic man and of the shade that had been cast on the claims by then. At the time, my response was that I didn’t know quite what to think of the whole thing. There were certainly facts coming out that cast doubt on his account of what happened, but nothing as decisive as there seems to be now. But I have been thinking of this whole story since she asked, and I do have some thoughts on it as a specific incident and as a situation that casts a larger net.
First of all, I feel very sorry for Mr. Smollett. I don’t know what has been going on inside this man that would cause him to do make up a crime and go to the lengths he did. He has to be starved for attention and validation. There has to be a part of him that feels “less-than” that would make him work so hard to garner attention. I don’t know if he’s suffered racist and homophobic insults in private so often that it became too much. I don’t know if there was something going on in his private life or his career that pushed him to a seemingly irrational act. I don’t know anything about his life or history before this moment in time. So I don’t know what caused him to create such an elaborate and yet easily debunked scheme. But I know that it isn’t the action of someone with an unbroken heart and a strong sense of self-confidence. So I have sympathy and compassion for a man who is obviously hurt and desperate.
This doesn’t mean that I excuse the act.
On the contrary, I am angry with him too. The act of making up this claim has done a great deal of harm. It cost the city of Chicago a great deal of manpower and funding to chase down imaginary criminals. But it came at an even greater cost to real victims of heinous attacks. As a society, we already struggle with people discounting or repudiating the claims of racial bias, hurled insults, dehumanizing acts, and violence. We already have people who deny and disregard the vile words, actions, harassment and violence that the LGBTQ community lives with on a daily basis. We already brush off women’s reports of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. We have leaders and a populace who scorn and ostracize women who have reported sexual attacks and the very need for the existence of the #MeToo movement while excusing the actions of the attacker. Any time that a false claim or charge is made and discovered for what it is, the real victims have a harder time coming forward, having people listen, being believed, and getting justice.
Earlier this week I heard a woman on television say something interesting that really made me think. (I wish I knew her name so that I could give credit to her, but all I know is that she was in the middle of speaking with Carla Hall when I turned on the tv). She said that, even if Jussie Smollette’s story is proven to be a lie, she is glad that she supported him at the time he made the accusations and would still do it any time someone comes forward. She said that we need to listen to them. We owe it to people to give them the benefit of any doubt and stand with them when they step into the harsh glare of public scrutiny with something traumatic, when they risk what will come from their disclosures.
Too many victims are re-victimized when they try to tell their story, when they seek legal action to stop their attackers, and when they reveal their pain and vulnerability. We’ve all seen it far too many times in the past. We’ve seen the women shamed for just being somewhere, for what they were wearing, or for having a drink. We’ve seen countless people told they are making something out of nothing. We’ve seen the pain caused by trusted people who have betrayed trust by being dismissive and covering up the acts of others. And yes, we’ve seen the fake claims too. But that brings me back to my first point. Sometimes we need to be there and stand with those people too, to find out what kind of pain caused them to do what they did.
The final thing that I think is horrific in this whole incident is something that has been true far, far too often in recent years. It is something that I’ve seen called “selectively informed moral outrage.” People get all riled up over a slight, an attack, the beliefs or intents of the “others” and become morally outraged. They go on their social media of preference – or a bunch of social media outlets – and spew vitriol, accusations, and loathsome conclusions. “Those people” should be run out of the country, thrown in jail, tortured, not allowed to live! And then after a few days the truth or (insert Paul Harvey’s voice here) “the rest of the story” comes out. By then people have moved on to being outraged and offended by something else. They don’t want to go back on those social media pages and say “oops” or take down their comments made in error. And some will be so dug in with their anger that they refuse to see the truth.
We need to take the time to think, reason, research, and make informed decisions. We need to realize that not everything is a world crisis, the end of humanity as we know it, or proof positive that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket! We especially need to know not to make rash, sweeping generalizations about one incident or one comment making it a global experience.
When I hear of a mass shooting whether it is at a school, black church, or a gay bar, I am livid. I’m filled with rage. When I hear of anyone being assaulted verbally or physically for their race, ethnicity, gender, beliefs, or handicaps, I have sympathy, hopefully empathy, and compassion for the victim, but I am always angered by the event too. I am usually ready to go on the attack against the perpetrator. What we all need to be careful of is making the perpetrator more than the person committing the act. If I say ALL men/women, All blacks/whites/POC, ALL Jews/Muslims/Christians, ALL Republicans/Democrats, ALL immigrants… I am being unreasonable and causing more harm than one perpetrator did against one victim. I’m condemning an entire people who are not involved let alone guilty. We need to remember the words of Maya Angelou that we are “more alike than we are unalike.” We need to place the blame and source of evil on the ones actually committing the acts not the populace they resemble.
So, René, as always, I have a very long and involved answer to a short question. That’s what happens when I try to get as much information as I can and when I stop to really think about something rather than giving my knee-jerk reaction. My first gut response was outrage and sympathy. As I garnered some facts, I had questions. In my mind I couldn’t grasp how he walked around with a noose around his neck long enough for it to be seen by as many people as relayed seeing it. I believe that in my repulsion, fear, and panic, the first thing I would have wanted to do was take that thing off and hurl it as far away from me as possible. But I didn’t discredit his story based on that because people react differently in stressful situations. Most importantly I didn’t immediately blame everyone who is not black and gay for the attack nor did I turn around later and skewer a man and try to ruin his life for what he did. We still don’t know all that we need to know to pass judgement. Passing judgement is a higher position than my pay-grade.