“They Don’t Deserve You”

It hit me more than halfway through Patty Jenkin’s Box office powerhouse Wonder Woman-.

Wait a minute… Did this movie just take me through the ENTIRE biblical narrative?

Great art has the wonderful potential to reveal deep truth, yet there seemed to be something more deliberate about this film. For the past two days, I have been reflecting on my memory of scenes from the beginning to end of the story, pondering how strikingly identical they are, even chronologically, to the entire biblical narrative.

The beginning of the film features Wonder Woman as a young girl where her mother shares a “creation story” of sorts with her. “Mankind was created to be courageous and passionate”, she says, and was Zeus’s “Loved creation”. (Sound familiar?) Ares, God of War, is filled with jealousy that Zeus would give so much attention to his creation that he “tempts the hearts of men” to war. (This jealousy has been posited as the reason for the serpent’s existence in the Garden of Eden. Some propose this creature was a fallen angel or servant of God, frustrated with His devoted love to the new creation). Ares is cast out of the heavens much in the same way that the serpent is cast from the garden, and God/Zeus’s loved creation falls into brokenness and distorted passion.

Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s home, ironically enough was originally called Paradise Island.

A utopian society filled with imagery reflective of the Paradise God created in the Garden of Eden, it is here that Wonder Woman is moved by the plight of man as revealed by her mother, eventually commissioning her voluntary departure from Paradise to earth, with a goal to redeem humanity by crushing the power of evil. Later in the story, we discover that Wonder Woman’s power lies in her true identity as Princess Diana, daughter of the human mother Hippolyta and God King Zeus.  This relationship and Jesus’s birth to human mother Mary and God the Father seems strikingly similar, not to mention that they share the same mission. (Romans 16:20)

Crush the Serpent.jpg

In the scenes following, Wonder Woman affirms the goodness of creation. Her first words, It’s wonderful!” after experiencing ice cream for the first time echo the age-old “It is Good” from Genesis 1:31. She goes on to fall in love with the goodness of the world, including one of my favorite scenes where she dances with Steve Trevor and asks about the joyful scene around her.

“Is this what mankind does when there is no war?” she asks after looking around at the beauty of our raw humanity revealed in song, food, drink, dance, and celebration.

Steve Trevor goes on to list more of the wonderful pleasures of the world, including (my favorite) “having breakfast” as well as “going to work, raising kids” etc. This scene reveals a right expression of the passion and outpouring of love that God originally intended for creation and is also where Wonder Woman’s love for mankind blossoms.

In the scene before, Steve and Diana gather up “reinforcements” not from the esteemed ranks of elite military personnel, but from a motley crew of unassuming, yet eccentric men in the local bar.

The “Disciples” chosen for this mission were made up of regular, broken and underqualified men.

Once again, Patty Jenkins points to the Gospel. We are reminded that in the Kingdom of God, the first will be last (Matthew 20:16) and that power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 2:9)

 

Wonder Woman motley crew.jpg
Wonder Woman’s Motley Crew

After Wonder Woman seemingly succeeds in defeating Ludendorff (Who she believes to be Ares, God of War), she is baffled at the continuation of the war around her. Her next conversation with Steve Trevor marks the first point in the film where I made the overarching connection to the Gospel. Steve tries to explain to her “What if there is no one bad guy?”… “What if we are all a part of the problem?” Diana, filled with anger at the thought of humanity’s frailty and propensity towards evil, remembers the words of her mother “They don’t deserve you”. We are reminded that we are indeed not deserving of God’s mercy and love, but rather that it is a gift freely given to us. Ephesians 2:8

Steve leaves to deal with the still hectic scene in the German airstrip, and Wonder Woman is confronted with the true God of War, revealed as a man once thought to be a pivotal ally in her cause. His appearance as such astonished me-

One of the many translations for “Satan” in the bible is “the deceiver”. 

 And, to top it off, his next tactic is to take Wonder Woman back to an image of paradise, promising that together they could rid the world of the evil that mankind has wreaked upon it. (Oh, did I mention that another translation of Satan is “the tempter”?) This is beside the fact that this scene directly mirrors Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11).  This “satan-like” character also reveals himself as an apparition that prowls about to tempt the hearts of man to evil. (1 Peter 5:8) This includes Doctor Poison, the character we have thus far been led to hate)

One of the most powerful scenes in the film occurs when Doctor Poison is thrown vulnerable before Wonder Woman, not too unlike the way that the thief on the cross was placed in a similar position in Jesus’s final moments (see Luke 23:39-43)

She is given the opportunity to give Doctor Poison the sentence she deserves, yet Diana’s judgment is instead “mercy and forgiveness”, allowing the doctor to run free and turn away from her sin. 

Wonder Woman ends up defeating Ares, fulfilling the “prophecy” and figuratively crushing the power of evil in the world. Interestingly enough, it is not Wonder Woman who sacrifices herself in this endeavor, but Steve Trevor who loses his life destroying the cache of weapons for the sake of humanity. In these final scenes, it seems like Jesus’s sacrificial role is shared and fulfilled in both Steve and Diana’s final efforts.

Afterwards, Diana reflects on humanity’s ultimate propensity towards both tremendous good yet also great evil.

She decides that only love can truly win the war waged by man’s hearts.

The final scene hints at the Trinity when Diana thanks the photographer for Steve’s photo, saying “He now lives on in our hearts”, seemingly a deliberate reference to the language used to describe the Holy Spirit.

I’ve had a lot of fun reflecting on what this movie has meant to me, and I’m excited to hear from friends about their experience. What parts of the Gospel do you see in this film?

 

 

What’s Missing from New Age Meditation?

With all the hype today about meditation, I couldn’t help but be drawn in. It’s no surprise why millions around America are incorporating it into their daily lifestyle. The benefits are broad and backed by a ton of strong science.

  • Meditation Improves Your Ability to Be Introspective (see here)
  • Meditation Decreases Depression (see here)
  • Meditation Decreases Anxiety (see here, here, and here)
  • Meditation Decreases Stress (see here and here)
  • Meditation Increases Compassion (see here and here)
  • Meditation Increases Immune System Function (see here and here)
  • Meditation Improves Your Ability to Regulate Your Emotions (see here)
  • Meditation Increases Grey Matter (see here)
  • Meditation Increases Brain Size In Areas Related to Emotional Regulation (see here and here)
  • Meditation Increases Positive Emotions (see here and here)
  • Meditation Increases Cortical Thickness In Areas Related to Paying Attention (see here)
  • Meditation Increases Your Ability to Focus & Multitask (see here and here)

(Data from http://www.scienceofsuccess.co/show-notes)

So how is a practice so great still eluding a huge portion of the American public? Well, probably because it’s confusing.

I spent some time experimenting with mindfulness meditation, heartmath/coherance training, breath meditation, visualisation, etc. There are hundreds of other ways to meditate as well. After a while, all the information can get pretty overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, these techniques helped me become more aware of my own feelings and desires, cope with stress and the fight or flight response, stay in the present moment, increase my happiness, gratefulness, and productivity and the whole nine miles. Over time, however, I wanted more. I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing.

Throughout my exploration of predominantly Eastern, unfamiliar meditation practices, my prayer life certainly suffered. Wondering how the two might meet, I looked into the history of the church and ran into Richard Rohr’s fascinating novel, The Naked Now. This book helped me discover some of the early church mystics and the concept of contemplative prayer and Christian Meditation. Today’s fast paced world turned centuries old prayer and meditation practices into something almost unrecognizable- a one-sided relationship where we treat God like a self-help guru and only pray when we need something fixed.

Today’s fast paced world turned centuries old prayer and meditation practices into something almost unrecognizable- a one-sided relationship where we treat God like a self-help guru and only pray when we need something fixed.

When we slow down and really start to listen and contemplate the meaning behind those prayers most of us learned as kids, you’d be surprised how close they come to some New Age meditations. The other day I noticed how remarkably similar the “Our Father” is to Tony Robbin’s “Priming” process or common practices like Vishen Lakhiani’s 5 phase meditation. All are introspective and involve quiet time reprogramming the brain to think differently. The “5 Phase meditation” involves spending time pondering the following:

  1. Compassion (Positive feelings towards others)
  2. Gratitude (For things, people, etc.)
  3. Forgiveness (For those who have wronged you, namely to free yourself from resentment)
  4. Visualization (Thinking about what your ideal future would be)
  5. Blessing (Breathing in positive energy)

I’ve spent a lot of time using methods like these and they work remarkably! However, I don’t think we can pretend that we are reinventing the wheel. Here’s how this process parallels an age old prayer practice:

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name

  • God is Love. To be a Christian means leaning into what it means to honor God’s name and become more like Him. In this time, I think about all the words we use to describe God, reflect on what it means to be in His image, and channel that towards others in my life. (Compassion)

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

  • What would it look like for God’s Kingdom to be here on earth as it IS in heaven? This is time to reflect on a vision of the future not only for myself, but for the whole planet and everyone on it. (Visualization) What I like more about this prayer is that “Your will be done” helps me move beyond just “What would my perfect day look like?… Well, there would definitely be cheesecake” to “How am I called to build God’s Kingdom?” (Hopefully there’s room for cheesecake)

Give us this day, our daily bread.

  • Lets get past the idea that this is just about food. (For Pete’s sake, I’m trying to cut carbs anyway!) Our “Daily Bread” can be anything we are grateful for. I thank God for the people He’s put in my life, the blessings He’s given me, and yea… for Filet Mignon too. (Gratitude)

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

  • Science has it right. Forgiveness frees us from the damaging effects of lasting resentment (High blood pressure, weak immune system, anxiety, etc.) That’s why I spend a ton of time here reflecting on the days actions. I think about what I’ve done and said that could have been dealt with better, repent and resolve to do better next time. When I don’t make time for prayer, I’m not holding myself accountable and I miss out on this important opportunity for improvement. What’s great about this prayer is that it focuses on forgiving ourselves as well, freeing us from crippling guilt and shame that extra donut may have caused. (Forgiveness)

And lead us not, into temptation, but deliver us from evil

  • I don’t think this one fits in any of those categories (That just means this prayer gives you more bang for your buck!) Let me know what you think in the comments below. This is the time I reflect on how putting myself in certain situations places me at higher risk for evil. (Like talking politics with my clueless roomate!) … Okay maybe (Forgiveness)

For yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen

  • I usually begin and end my prayer recognizing that God not only created everything, but is also the force or power that sustains it. I let this wash over me and breathe it all in to put myself in a posture of prayer. (Blessing)

 

Packs a pretty neat punch huh? Not bad for a prayer dating back to the first century. Whoever wrote that must have been pretty clever.

 

Post comments below and maybe share your favorite prayer practices!

 

(Cover photocred Bulletproofexec.com)

 

 

 

Approaching the Problem of Race in American Schools

 

Approaching the Problem of Race in America Through Diverse Literature

One look at the United States public education system will reveal startling truths. Low-income, culturally diverse students have underperformed in both reading and mathematics in almost all levels compared to their middle and upper income white peers. The consistent achievement gap between African American/Latino American students and whites has been the focus of the U.S. Department of education’s recent studies. Studies also show a link between cultural diversity and low income. High poverty schools have higher numbers of African American and Latino American students and many of these students have limited English proficiency and literacy. The same studies show that nearly half the students in schools attended by minorities are impoverished. These students also encounter cultural discontinuity at school on a daily basis. This cultural discontinuity, “defined as a cultural disconnection between children’s home environment and that of the school”, heavily influences their attitude, performance, and learning ability. When cultural discontinuity and low-income status combine, many of these effects are multiplied. Boykin notes the existence of an “Educational hegemony in that ethnocentrism pervades our nation’s public education structure, practices, and curriculum”. He expands that

“schooling consists of more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic, but promotes a particular worldview and way of interpreting reality.”

This eurocentric system and practice does not match the experiences of many culturally diverse students, who think and act in unique ways that should be valued rather than discouraged. Those students whose cultural backgrounds more closely align with eurocentric norms will perform better in these settings and also be perceived as more intelligent.

Educators “often fail to recognize culturally diverse ways of knowing, speaking, and interacting, and thus invalidate students’ funds of knowledge”.

Because of the Eurocentric nature of teacher preparation in the U.S., much of traditional pedagogy lacks culturally diverse input. The system’s brokenness calls for radical changes in order to even the playing field and better serve culturally diverse children. Large scale pedagogical change does not happen overnight, but educators would do well to begin enculturating their students by making wise choices with the literature and media they use in the classroom. Incorporating diverse narratives may help sever the bonds of cultural discontinuity in the classroom and thus reap the benefits of a culturally rich classroom.

Why should educators strive to be culturally responsive in their teaching? For years the country has made an attempt to not consider color at all. However, research shows that the “colorblind” approach—

”teaching children that it is racist to acknowledge racial and ethnic differences- can actually reinforce racist attitudes and assumptions, and especially reify systemic racism”.

“Young children are hard-wired in their brains to notice differences and to categorize them. So it is vital during early childhood to put some context around making sense of differences,” said Shannon Nagy, preschool director in 2011 at Lincoln Park Cooperative Nursery School in Chicago. Children, especially minorities, start to become aware of their own ethnic identities and internalize hierarchical systems as early as six years old. Eurocentric pedagogy often fails minority students as it can be at odds with the many diverse ways of thinking that students from other cultures possess. Author Paula Harris in her book Being White cites a test with which a white evaluator finds that an entire kindergarten class was deemed academically unfit, unable to follow sequences, and had inadequate vocabulary. The report concluded that all the students needed special education. When the teacher inquired what question was used to determine this, the evaluator stated that in order to measure sequencing ability the students were asked to explain the stages of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The teacher demanded a reevaluation after realizing that her predominantly Latino class does not eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but burritos and tamales for lunch. The second test asked the stages of making a burrito and all but one student passed. Luckily for these students, the teacher demanded a fair reevaluation. If not for this, a whole group of minority students would be deemed “not as smart as white kids” and crippling self doubt would soon take root. This eurocentric approach could have potentially affected these kids’ lives, their education, future job possibilities, and income. Without proficient, culturally tolerant pedagogies, teachers everywhere are doing their students a great disservice.
New curriculi and teacher training emerged throughout the country in response to the covert injustices present in eurocentric pedagogy. The Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed an anti-bias curriculum called Teaching Tolerance that has now been used by over 16,000 teachers. Their mission statement declares dedication to “reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children”. Their website includes an open blog for teacher networking, a magazine subscription, and free film, literature, and teaching kits. The Anti-Defamation League trains students and teachers to deal with the continuing problem of anti-semitism in America. Welcoming schools is “a comprehensive approach to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools with resources and professional development to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender-expansive students.” These programs have provided healing across the country. Students and teachers alike are coming up with their own units and curriculi to broach the topics of race and ethnicity in the classroom. The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond “believes that racism is the primary barrier preventing communities from building effective coalitions and overcoming institutionalized oppression and inequities”. Border Crossers, whose mission “is to train and empower educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities” hosts trainings around the country. The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) is a “peer-led professional development program that creates conversational communities to drive personal, organizational, and societal change toward greater equity and diversity”. This organization creates seminars designed to include “personal reflection and testimony, listening to others’ voices, and learning experientially and collectively”. The Whiteness Project provides interviews from whites of different backgrounds that describe their relation to and understanding of their own whiteness. The interviews are paired with thought provoking statistics about societal norms and experiences such as

“73% of millennials believe never considering race would improve society”

This startling statistic reinforces the colorblind notion of a presumed post-racial society and can render reconciliation impossible due to lack of awareness. Despite popular belief, there is no more developmentally appropriate age than elementary school to start learning about race and ethnicity. Children are aware of their differences at this point, and their newfound knowledge of fairness allows them to care deeply about equality. By late elementary school, students are learning about the civil war, slavery, and other parts of American history. Unfortunately, discussing race, privilege, and experiential prejudice, has been discouraged because it has been deemed too messy. Many parents fear their children will get the wrong idea about race; that students of color will feel helpless and whites will feel shame and guilt. Colorblindness in academic literature is referred to as “reluctance to address race”, much different from the presupposed, premature belief that all are equal. As a result, students are rendered completely incapable of addressing differences by middle school. One study performed by psychologists at Tufts University shows that by age ten “white children are so uncomfortable discussing race that, when playing a game to identify people depicted in photos, they preferred to undermine their own performance by staying silent rather than speak racial terms aloud”. In all other areas of cognitive development (memory, information processing, categorization etc.), older children should outperform younger ones. Being raised in a colorblind environment stifles this skill and makes students unable to create informed opinions regarding race.
Providing students with diverse literature and culturally responsive curriculi at an early age can help prevent this stagnation and honor racial differences. It is impossible to exist in our current society without having internalized notions of racial superiority and inferiority. Children deserve to learn about racial justice and white privilege in developmentally appropriate but overt ways. Unfortunately, most literature and media does not provide students with diversity of perspective. Traditional socialization “renders us racially illiterate”. Studies show that white people are less moved by the pain of black people than by the pain of other whites, that teachers are more likely to respond to questions from white males than any other gender or race group and that the lighter a person’s skin, the more likely white people are to view them as intelligent, competent, trustworthy, and reliable. Many of these biases begin when children start to observe them in books, in their schools, and in their libraries.

Between 9-14% of books are by or about people of color, despite the fact that children of color now constitute more than 50% of U.S. public school students.

Non-white students often grow up never seeing themselves as characters in books. While students of color have a harder time relating to these narratives, white students also fail to develop a compassionate heart for the absent stories of their fellow non-white students. We learn compassion by understanding other’s stories and identifying their perspective through narratives. In fact, the word compassion is derived from the Latin words “pati” and “cum” which together mean “to suffer with”. Intentional diversity among literature and curriculi will help bring all students to a higher level of understanding and achievement.
Diverse narratives tend to be either absent due to eurocentrism or censored due to the nature of America’s history with slavery and white supremacy. We Need Diverse Books is “a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people”. The website pleads supporters to encourage publishers who are putting out quality diverse content, request diverse books from your library or bookstore, and “write a letter of appreciation to an author you know who produces diverse materials”. Teachers are encouraged to create diverse reading programs like that of Allie Jane Bruce, librarian of Bank Street Corner For Children’s Literature. Bruce created one for her 6th graders when a curious student of her’s innocently questioned the inconsistency of book cover art and narratives they described. This year long curriculum “used book covers as a starting point to examine biases and stereotypes in children’s literature and the wider world. The class engaged in conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, and more”. These students took a field trip to the local bookstore and noticed a lack of diverse characters on the book covers as well as the fact that minorities faces were often obscured whereas white characters were prominently shown. They ended up meeting and discussing their concerns with the publishers, who promised the children that they would do their best to fight for a just, equitable system. Allie Jane Bruce has since published an article for further suggestions regarding racial reconciliation. In it she suggests mixing up news sources to include racially diverse coverage. She lists sources such as “The Root”, “Colorlines”, “Latina Lista”, “Indian Country Today”, “Hyphen Magazine”, and “The Aerogram”. She also suggests books such as Waking Up White by Debbie Irving and White Like Me by Tim Wise as well as an informative PBS short called “Race: The Power of an Illusion”. Censorship and eurocentrism can only be combatted through awareness, advocacy, and intentional inclusion of diverse materials.
Incorporating diverse narratives brings the classroom one step closer to the richness and fullness of a culturally relevant classroom. All students, whether members of a minority or majority culture, benefit from the varied perspectives offered. In this classroom, student’s diverse ways of knowing and thinking are valued rather than brushed aside. Only then, can the education system hope to emerge from an ethnocentric hegemony that excludes students into an all inclusive, multi-ethnic learning environment that properly reflects the student population.

 

 

References
“U.S. Department of Education NCES 2006-071.” Accessed May 7, 2016. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006071.pdf.

“Are We Losing the Dream – The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.” Accessed May 7, 2016. http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/a-multiracial-society-with-segregated-schools-are-we-losing-the-dream/frankenberg-multiracial-society-losing-the-dream.pdf.

“Anti-Defamation League: Leaders Fighting Anti-Semitism and Hate | ADL.” Anti-Defamation League: Leaders Fighting Anti-Semitism and Hate | ADL. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.adl.org/.

Apfelbaum, Evan P., Kristin Pauker, Nalini Ambady, Samuel R. Sommers, and Michael I. Norton. “Learning (not) to Talk about Race: When Older Children Underperform in Social Categorization.” Developmental Psychology 44, no. 5 (2008): 1513-518. doi:10.1037/a0012835.

“The Book Cover Project.” Bank Street. Accessed May 07, 2016. https://www.bankstreet.edu/library/about/book-cover-project/.

“Building Racial Justice in Education.” Border Crossers RSS. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.bordercrossers.org/.

Bruce, Allie Jane. “On Being White: A Raw, Honest Conversation.” Children and Libraries CAL 13, no. 3 (2015): 3. doi:10.5860/cal.13n3.3.

Cholewa, Blaire, and Cirecie West-Olatunji. “Exploring the Relationship Among Cultural Discontinuity, Psychological Distress, and Academic Outcomes with Low-Income,Culturally Diverse Students.” Professional School Counseling 12, no. 1 (2008): 54-61. doi:10.5330/psc.n.2010-12.54.

Forgiarini, Matteo, Marcello Gallucci, and Angelo Maravita. “Racism and the Empathy for Pain on Our Skin.” Front. Psychology Frontiers in Psycholog 2 (2011). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00108.

Harris, Paula, and Doug Schaupp. Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

“Welcoming Schools.” Human Rights Campaign. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.welcomingschools.org/.

Maxwell, Lesli. “U.S. School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone.” Education Week. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/08/20/01demographics.h34.html.

“SEED Engages Teachers, College Faculty, Parents, Community Leaders, and Other Professionals to Create Gender Fair, Multiculturally Equitable, Socio-economically Aware, and Globally Informed Education, Communities, and Workplaces. Click Here to APPLY NOW!” National SEED Project. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://nationalseedproject.org/.

National SEED Project. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://nationalseedproject.org/.

“Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade?” Science of Us. 2015. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/05/can-fieldston-un-teach-racism.html.

“Teaching Tolerance.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed May 07, 2016. https://www.splcenter.org/teaching-tolerance.
“It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Race.” Teaching Tolerance. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.tolerance.org/too-early.
“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism -.” The Good Men Project. 2015. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/.

“Who We Are.” The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond -. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://www.pisab.org/who-we-are.

“We Need Diverse Books.” We Need Diverse Books. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://diversebooks.org/.

“Whiteness Project.” Whiteness Project. Accessed May 07, 2016. http://whitenessproject.org/.

Doubt and Faith – Why I am a Christian

 

I’ve been reading a book about doubt, faith, and grace called Searching for Sunday. It’s by the popular blog writer, Rachel Held Evans, of whom I had heard about recently from Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue on their podcast, the Liturgists. Their show has helped me wrestle with faith through my now third year of college through their willingness to ask the kind of questions the church has notoriously been afraid of asking.

Let me take a step back and explain.

This year has been chock full of truth seeking. In my unquenchable curiosity I have explored therapy, journaling, and naturopathy. I have created morning rituals, experimented with mindfulness meditation, delved into stoic philosophy and tracked and charted my need for improvement over time. I’ve been “biohacking” my body to boost mental clarity and focus. I’ve participated in a 21 day healthy habit program, the 30 days to a better man program, and of course, made my “365” day yearly goals. As I write this, I’m sitting next about 15 self help books, including “The Five Minute Journal” Ben Franklin’s Virtue journal, and a little Joel Osteen (Why not? haha)

You could say I’m a tad obsessive.

I think I might just be missing some of the point.

At one point in my “30 Days to a Better Man” program, I remember (bear with me here) writing down my N.U.T.s That stands for Non-negotiable, Unalterable, Truths. And the acronym worked too! These are things that I know to be true no matter what my circumstances may be. They give you a sense of character, integrity, and groundedness, granted you can choose some. Surprisingly, I found this pretty challenging. It’s not easy to decide these when you consider having to live up to them your whole life. Especially when you are still young enough to laugh at the name of the very activity you are participating in.

Anyway, one of my N.U.T.s was my faith. And, coming back to the book, I think Rachel says it better than I could.

“I’m a Christian because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition- that we’re not okay”

-Rachel Held Evans

I cannot escape this idea. Nothing roots me more or gives me a better sense of integrity than knowing that I am, and will always be, totally not okay.

Knowing this frees me from slander, from labeling others, judging others, or in any way setting myself apart. If anything, someone’s hurt, pain, or wrongdoing only makes me think…

Me too…”

I’m reminded of how short I fall of the glory of God, of my potential, and of my expectations. I remember the hurt and pain in my life. Of the times I’ve wronged others, the times I walked away or abandoned my commitments, the lies I’ve said about myself and others, and the poor stories I choose to live out. Ones I know God could have written better.

Honestly, this would all be crippling if not for Jesus.

Because of mercy.

Because of grace.

Because I am forgiven.

I believe that nothing I do or do not can change this. Faith offers up this freedom to me. Jesus is the reason I can lovingly read self-help book after self-help book next to my eucalyptus oil diffuser (It helps you remember, I swear), not because I feel like I have to in order to label myself as one of the “good people”, but because it’s the least I can do to try and reflect the limitless love I’ve been freely given. And so I will end with good ol’ Ben Franklin’s simple prayer:
“O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to Thy other children as the only return in my power for Thy continual favors to me.”

Why I Want to Teach

I recently was tasked to reflect on the “Reasons Why I Think I Should Teach” in my Intro to Education undergrad course. I enjoyed writing it, so I decided to expand on it a little and share it with a little more freedom on my blog.

The National Education Association carried out a survey regarding “Reasons Why Teachers Teach”* and asked the professional world what drove them to elect a career in the classroom. I was quite honestly baffled by the results.
Only thirty one percent of teachers reported being influenced by a teacher in elementary or secondary school. I could not say enough about the seemingly endless list of wonderfully inspirational teachers I have had over those years. My teachers taught me everything from following my passion to believing in myself and my abilities despite setbacks or circumstances; from social awareness and activism to a discovery of faith and purpose. To say they had an influence on my career choice would be an enormous and frankly comedic understatement. I still vividly remember life changing conversations I have had with my private violin instructor on the importance of having a career that does not have to feel like work, or with my Language and Literature teacher about the meaning of hard work, dedication, confidence, and perseverance.   Thirty nine percent of teachers were reported to have an interest in the subject-matter field. I am either spoiled or incredibly blessed to have my passion for music coincide with my career choice as a music educator. Not many teachers may have that luxury. Some might call it luck. I say its a calling.
Seventy one percent of teachers had a desire to work with young people, a much higher statistic in comparison to the others, but an alarming one nonetheless. Young people are our future. Young people are our leaders and world changers. Young people are molded and motivated everyday by their teachers. To think that twenty nine percent of teachers do not feel the same way terrifies me.
Only nineteen percent of teachers were influenced by family.  As someone who grew up in an extremely family centric environment, I cannot imagine not having the support and motivation of family members pusing me to always be my best. The family unit can be one’s greatest resource but is also ironically that which is most likely to be ignored or taken for granted.
Finally, forty two percent of teachers chose their career beause they valued education in society. If there was ever anything to be valued in society, it is education. Every career choice should honor this, for the task of bettering the world through a passing of knowledge and wisdom does not fall solely on the shoulders of teachers, it falls upon us all. I merely happen to believe I’m best suited for this kind of task in the classroom.

*SOURCE: National Education Association, Status of the American Public School Teacher, 2006.

A Short Bit on Racism and Stereotype Threat

I’ve done some research lately about the subtleties of human unconscious thought and how we process racism and prejudice. I cannot help but be reminded every day of how broken and fickle we are. Rather than fall prey to self-deprecation and discouragement, acknowledging our brokenness as a staple trait in our humanity transforms what could be crippling to something rather beautiful instead. We are all wonderful works in progress; from birth to death we live and learn.

Part of my learning process this summer involved an awakening to racism and its prevalence in human thought, however small. I remember sitting on the beach with my witty, multi-ethnic female cousin, kindly explaining both white and male privilege to the one who has unknowingly enjoyed and grew oblivious to all of its razor edged facets my entire life. I won’t lie, a lot of it was hard to hear, and some of it I still don’t fully understand, but I don’t need to. What I’ve realized is my willingness to listen has been the greatest skill I have ever learned. And there has been no better time to make use of it than now, at a liberal arts school surrounded by people of all different walks of life.

My cousin was not looking for an “I’m sorry” or a “Poor you”. This is not a pity movement. Its a movement of social awareness and openness. Many of us unwillingly see the world through colored blinders, choosing what we do or do not want to see through long years of mental repression. Its one of the biggest stumbling blocks in uniting the human race. This is what makes it both the most difficult but also the most rewarding conversation to participate in. 

A friend of mine mentioned he took an online test that recorded what type of hidden prejudice he might have. Its quite a terrifying concept, and he himself was surprised at the results. What inspired me though, was his willingness to take it and process the results. I feel like I know a lot of people who would either refuse to take the test on the grounds that they don’t have an ounce of racism in them, disregard the results as nonsense, or even be humiliated by the very suggestion. Instead my friend began to rationalize its cause and how he might move forward with that knowledge. Once again, his actions were fueled by awareness and openness.

I want to talk briefly about stereotypes and how their very existence, whether we believe in them or not, effect us. I’m reading up on what researchers are calling “stereotype threat”. Its the idea that when an individual is  aware of a stereotype, he/she is more likely to behave like the stereotype  than if it did not exist. Ironic, isn’t it? That we are more likely to become the opposite of what we want to be when we become aware of it or think about too much. Put simply, you are what you think about.

One study examining stereotype threat was based on the premise that black students are affected by the common belief that they are not as intelligent as their white counterparts. A black student called on in class realizes that an incorrect answer may confirm this stereotype, thus speaking in class becomes risky. In the study, black and white college students were asked to take a verbal examination. In the control group, the test was presented as a measure of intelligence whereas in the experimental group, the students were not told that their ability was being assessed. In the nonthreatening experimental group, black students scored twice as many problems than in the control group, whereas whites scored the same on both.*

Stereotype threat is thought to explain things like why black students perform better in college than their SAT scores suggest, and why standardized test scores can be misleading to the performance of females in mathematics, Latinos in English, etc.

What does all of this mean for you and I?

It calls us to be strong, to break molds, and to be self-driven.
It calls us to be self-critical and socially aware.
It calls us to fill our heads with thoughts of who we are, not who we are not.

Most importantly, it calls us to be who we want to be.

*Joshua Aronson, “The Threat of Stereotype” Educational Leadership 62, no. 3 (November 2004), pp.14-19

How I Came to Know Feminism and a Call to Action.

This summer I unexpectedly entered into some very important dialogue with good friends and family.

Feminism. Sexual abuse. Male privilege. Victimization.

I don’t know what kind of baggage some of those words come with for you, but hear me out. We all have preconceptions and make judgments based on the conversations we’ve had, the people we know, or the circumstances we’ve been in. My own experience colored and quite honestly distorted much of the way I (and I assume others like me) viewed the feminist movement and its purpose or goals. What horrified me was to find out that my simply being born a male has made me almost utterly oblivious to a daily injustice that no doubt every woman on this planet faces. Its easy to be oblivious when you’re not a victim.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard about sexual abuse. One year on a college campus will teach you plenty about its existence. Yet I always sat quietly at the mandatory prevention meetings, thinking “this isn’t about me, I’m wasting my time…” Now I wonder how many other people in that room were thinking the same thing.

The truth is that we are all capable of doing horrible, hurtful things. Maybe it’s when we put ourselves above these things that we end up in trouble. No one plots out their life thinking “hmmm… How can I best psychologically ruin another person today?”. But this is only half the problem.

We need to set our priorities straight. Let us not merely exclude ourselves from the problem, but instead be an active part of the solution. As a male, this calls me to leadership. My voice is unique, qualified, and important, and I want to challenge everyone to think the same of themselves.

Before I go on, I’d like to share a bit of insight to guys like me who have maybe never experienced fear walking home at night. For me, the wake up call was hearing, one after another, friends and family share stories of crippling fear. Fear of being taken advantage of, fear of unwanted attention, fear of the unknown. So many strong women opened up to me about experiences I would have never believed them having. Did you know just the sound of footsteps late at night can paralyze a woman? Did you know that mothers, even with their kids, can get crude and obscene comments from insensitive passerbys? Or how about the fact that I can guarantee almost every one of your female friends has been dehumanized at some point by a complete stranger.

It takes real stories for a change of heart to happen. If you have not yet been personally affected by this injustice, I challenge you to ask a female friend of yours what kind of abuse they have experienced. If they are willing to be vulnerable, I promise you that eyes will be opened.

Awareness is only the first step, however. I want to encourage open dialogue about what this injustice looks like from the eyes of both genders. I want guys to hear stories from their female friends. But I also want women to hear out what it means for a guy to be an agent of healing in a world that would rather pick at the scab.

I want to know what it means to make my female friends feel safe. I don’t want to be another oblivious and anonymous pair of footsteps following thirty feet behind a terrified girl.

Step up. Speak up. Let your voice be heard.

You are important. You are necessary. You are the change you want to see.

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