Blue Feed v. Red Feed

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One of my favorite pastimes is comparing my largely conservative newsfeed to my roommate’s largely liberal newsfeed. I went to a conservative, evangelical, Christian college. She went to a liberal, highly secular, women’s college. You can imagine our newsfeeds are vastly different.

Because of this, one of the most unforeseen benefits of being roommates has been opening up our social media “window” for the other person to look through. Half the time our conversations will begin with, “So you know that _____ that everyone is talking about?” – “What? No I haven’t even heard about it.” – “Are you serious? It’s all over Facebook!”

In other words, it’s all over one person’s Facebook.

The silencing effects of social media have been dividing our country into us v. them for awhile, and I am so glad to see organizations calling out the censorship for what it is. The Gospel Coalition, in particular, just wrote an excellent article challenging Christians to seek out the “other side” to learn from their perspective. Who knows? We might even learn that the other side isn’t so “other” after all.

Check out the article here:

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2016/06/06/one-facebook-two-worlds-three-problems/

Or check out the Wall Street Journal’s project “Blue Feed v. Red Feed”:

http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/

Remembering Greenwood: Why the Sins of the Past Still Matter

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“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

– Isaiah 1:16-17

Today marks the eve of the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The Tulsa Race Riots nearly wiped out the entire African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Angry, white mobs invaded the wealthy community of Greenwood, killed unknown numbers of people, bombed it from the sky, looted its stores, and burned down over 35 city blocks of buildings and homes. For decades after the violence, white women could be seen walking down the streets of Tulsa wearing the jewelry, coats, and clothing of the Black women whose homes were looted and destroyed. Ninety-five years later, the massacre is still disregarded by many as just a bunch of “riots” over race, instead of the terrible act of terror that it actually was, duplicated on a smaller scale in cities across the country.

I read an article the other day by a disgruntled white American who was tired of talking about race. Stop guilt-tripping me over things I never did, they said. I’m Italian. My family immigrated to the states in the 1950s. We were never slave owners. We had it rough too. Stop blaming us for something we never did.

The problem is that sin doesn’t work like that. Wrongdoing is infectious. The effects last like the smoke from a fire that lingers in the smell of your clothes. Maybe you didn’t start the flames, but the smell of it follows you even when you leave.

The point is that white Americans today didn’t start the fire that has been burning in our country, but it has kept them warm for generations. Such a statement is not meant to blame or guilt-trip. Neither is it meant to ignore the reality of poverty in many white communities. Instead, it is meant to dismantle the façade of equity that exists in our country. It is meant to condemn the smokescreen of equal opportunity as a lie.

Most Americans like to attribute their success to “hard work.” Perhaps hard work does play a role. But all people everywhere should ask themselves what else plays a role? What else has contributed to my place in society? If you are white, this means coming to terms with the reality that our systems have been designed to your benefit at the expense of other races. This doesn’t mean that every white person in the country is living in the lap of luxury. Nor does it mean that other social factors don’t exist that contribute to wealth and/or poverty. You will find rich black people just like you’ll find poor white people.

Many things intersect in society to elevate some and denigrate others. Things like hard work (or laziness) matter. Money and opportunity matter. Education matters. The point is that race matters too. More than what the majority of white Americans have been willing to acknowledge. More than what our whitewashed history has led us to believe.

White people control the vast majority of wealth in my city, and people of color make up the vast majority of those in poverty. This reality is directly traceable to the massacre that took place here nearly a century ago, and the laws and legislation that followed to transfer the wealth and power of the city into the hands of white people. It is a massacre that has been largely forgotten and—when it is remembered—often disregarded. But it happened.

My prayer is that we will remember the history of Greenwood this week. That we would reflect upon what it means for us as a country moving forward. That we would not push it aside, as people have done for generations, but that we would face it’s truth and ask ourselves, what now? What can be done to get rid of the smoke? What can be done to make ourselves clean?

What Every Christian Should Believe

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“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

I’ve only been a teacher in a low-income school for four years, but sometimes it can feel like too long, I’ve started the school year with no supplies, no curriculum, and no principal. I’ve walked into my classroom to discover it had been trashed by “construction crews” the night before. I’ve sent thirsty children to get water, only to discover that the fountains don’t work and the water from the classroom sink runs yellow. I’ve taught over 30 students by myself at one time, watched children with learning disabilities sit in classrooms for years without receiving help, given paperwork for parents to sign that makes them believe their child is getting extra support when no such thing is happening, and seen countless children pushed onto the next grade when they don’t even know how to write their name.

I’ve spent nights weeping after laboring to the point of insanity to do everything in my capacity that I could possibly do, and it still wasn’t enough. It never is enough.

And then I read the words of Jesus in Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new,” and it hurts. It hurts because it is easier for me to believe in the brokenness of our systems than it is for me to believe in the power of God to protect our children from the evil at work in this world. It is easier for me to believe that the world is corrupt than to believe it is being renewed. It is easier for me to see the tears of a six-year-old child because they cannot pass a standardized test, than it is for me to see the fullness of who they are, a fullness that even the worst systems in the world could never take away.

It is sometimes easier to despair than to hope. But the words of Jesus in Revelation push me to hope. They force me to come to grips with a world that is broken, yes, but with a world that is also in process. A world that isn’t finished yet.

When I was a child, I took an art class where the teacher had us intentionally smash a series of glass plates so that we could take the broken pieces and reassemble them into mosaic art. The end product was a beautiful mosaic platter that (last I checked) my mother still enjoys in her dining room. But lest you think it was easy, the process of getting there was a frustrating mess. Many students never completed the assignment. A friend of mine wistfully kept her half-finished project for months without completing it. For many, it was just too difficult to envision what the shattered pieces could become.

The world is much the same, except the finished product doesn’t depend on us. We were the ones who broke the world, yes — but God is the one recreating it, and the process is frustrating, and the pain that we see is heart-wrenching, and sometimes I am discouraged enough to lose vision of what we will become. Of what we are becoming.

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

When I read the words of Jesus here, I don’t imagine some future utopia where Jesus returns and everything is suddenly perfect. An ethereal utopia located somewhere in the distant future doesn’t mean a whole lot when children are suffering now.

So no, that’s not what I think Jesus is talking about. Instead, when I read those words, I see a present tense savior located in the now of our broken world. I see a current reality where Jesus is working even in the awful things our children suffer, a reality where Jesus is making even those things good, fitting even those pieces into a final mosaic that is beautiful to behold. This mess of a world, shattered by the hands of humanity, is being recreated by the hands of God.

Jesus’ words challenge my faith to believe not in the future but in the present circumstances of my life, of my students’ lives, of my school and my community. I am challenged to believe what all Christians are supposed to believe: that nothing is too broken that our savior can’t fix, no system so evil that he cannot change it, no child so hurt that they cannot be healed.

All that we have are broken pieces, and the final mosaic is difficult to see, but let us not lose hope. Behold, he is making all things new.

Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children

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Stock photo

We held a “testing rally” on Friday that was quite possibly the most depressing experience of my year. The purpose of the rally was to get kids “pumped up” and “excited” for testing. In preparation, my students and I created a giant poster saying, “Don’t forget the power of yet!” The poster was a reference to Janelle Monae’s Sesame Street song.

We crammed all 320+ students into our gymnasium while they listened to a small speech informing them that, “This test will decide what opportunities you have in life, and even what colleges you will go to.” A speaker came up and told the children to chant, “I am smart. I will pass!” And younger students stood to perform cheers for the older grades.

As the spectacle unfolded, a queasiness settled into the pit of my stomach. The chanting and cheering was supposed to generate excitement, but it created something of an ominous contradiction to the actual spirit of the school. A spirit of defeat. Continue reading “Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children”

The State of the World/Where Christians Spend Their Money

“Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you cloth yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” – Ezekiel 34:2b-4

Messianic prophecies such as this one are at the heart of why Jesus came into the world. He came to strengthen the weak, to heal the sick, to bind up the injured, to seek out the lost — when those responsible for such tasks would not. Passages such as these remind us of the necessity of Christ in a broken world, but they should also prompt us toward self-reflection. To what extent is the modern-day church guilty of the same sins that condemned the leaders of God’s people in ancient times?

We discussed this question (in part) during my church’s small group meeting last night, and though we did not arrive at any decisive conclusions, we did take a look at how current trends in Christian missions demonstrate a concerning tendency toward nepotism. We took a look at the following video in light of the passage above and discussed its implications for the common believer:

What Cops, Teachers, and Soldiers Have in Common

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Accessed through the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries

 

The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, when it comes to criminal justice in America. While police still rank among the most trusted institutions in American society, public confidence in the police has nevertheless hit a 20-year low. Outcries surrounding the deaths of people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner only scratch the surface of a much larger barrage of viral videos, personal accounts, and troubling statistics that have gripped the public imagination in recent years. The effects of such sweeping indictments against the criminal justice system are impossible to fully predict. But it’s safe to say they aren’t going away.

In the midst of this public controversy, I find myself torn between two opposing factions — factions that don’t really exist but can seem quite real in the midst of heated rhetoric. On one side are the marginalized and oppressed. On the other side are police. In reality, neither of these factions exist. If you were to ask the average American whether they belong to one of these sides, they would say something like, “I don’t, but those people do.” They are factions that allow us to demonize the other side while pretending to be neutral ourselves. And they are tearing us apart. Continue reading “What Cops, Teachers, and Soldiers Have in Common”

A Working Answer to Every Teacher’s Existential Crisis

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Teaching a lesson on skin color with my students

It hits me mid-lesson. Two weeks into the school year. I’ve spent the entire month of August setting up my classroom, preparing unit plans, rehearsing lessons, structuring my schedule so that everything goes just right, drilling procedures into my students day after day from the moment they arrive to the daily goodbye, and tirelessly calling parents to establish student-family connections, and then it hits me. The predictable existential crisis. I pause in the middle of a lesson and look around at the snotty-nosed, fidgety mess of little bodies playing with their shoelaces in front of me, and I think to myself, “What the heck am I doing with my life?”

Some teachers naturally love the children in their classroom. I am not one of those teachers. Each year, as I meet the new army of youngsters that I’ve been tasked with educating, I secretly stifle a feeling of dismay as I realize that I’m inexorably stuck with this brood of germs for the next ten months of my life. The summer feels eternally distant.

And then something else happens. A different crisis. Continue reading “A Working Answer to Every Teacher’s Existential Crisis”

Blogging Through the New Jim Crow: Thoughts on Chapter 2

Note: This is the third installment in a series discussing Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. For other posts in this series see:

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In Chapter 2, Alexander shifts her attention away from race to focus on the overall impact of the Drug War and its implications. She pinpoints the Drug War as the single greatest reason for the unprecedented rise in America’s incarceration rate and charges America’s “tough on crime” posture with unraveling our constitutional rights. Here are some of the major talking points from Chapter 2: Continue reading “Blogging Through the New Jim Crow: Thoughts on Chapter 2”

Precious Is Their Blood in His Sight

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“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” – Psalm 72:12-14

I have found myself repeatedly returning to this passage of scripture over the last several weeks. In a divided culture that often portrays social justice movements as a threat, it is encouraging to hear scripture describe the “cause of the poor” as a cause that God will defend. In a world of injustice, God judges the poor specifically with justice (v. 2).

And this means that Christians, too, are called to defend this cause. My faith leads me to hope in a future where justice is realized in the kingdom of God, but the example of Christ also leads me to work in the present to achieve this future, even if its only a glimpse. What does it mean to be a Christian if we are not the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world? Continue reading “Precious Is Their Blood in His Sight”