Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Toward a Better Tomorrow

Businessmen do not know how to educate. Most of them have never taught - or if they have, it's been of fellow businesspersons with principles that work almost exclusively in business. They don't know much about multiple intelligences or adolescent behavior or learning disabilities or childhood development. They certainly don't know about alternative means of evaluation in the classroom besides those concerning a #2 pencil and a bunch of bubbles on a strip of paper.

But yet, they are always put in charge of what is taught in the classrooms. And what those classrooms are allocated. And how long those classes should be. And the objectives of those classrooms. And how students should be evaluated. And how teachers should be evaluated...

Because they know how to make money? Because they know how to lay-off people, or know the profit margins? Does that make them better and more qualified to teach the teachers than other teachers who study and experience teaching? Because that's the trend these days. No Child Left Behind, Arne Duncan, Chicago 2020, school vouchers, maximized tests, teaching to the tests, Waiting for Superman, most charter schools...

All big money. All hidden under the misguiding nombre of School Reform. All meant to trap us into thinking that spending money *in* the classroom is not the answer, but giving that money to private and connected firms is the answer. It would all do Orwell proud. Goebbels might even shed a tear.
no futurephoto © 2007 Fabian Bromann | more info (via: Wylio)

Take the wording on this phone survey that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pals floated last week. Of course, this sort of pseudo-"reform" in education has been happening for well over a hundred years. And it's generally been just about anything but reform. Often, the more these "reformers" talk about tests and studies, the less likely that they've been paying attention to educational experts who study learning and pedagogy, and the more it has to do with taking and comparing fill-out-the-correct bubble tests.

As Mayoral Tutorial explains:

In Chicago there are three things its highest performing schools have in common: Active Local School Councils (LSC) that are well-trained in how to run their school; principals in those schools being on four-year contracts with clear goals set out by the Local School Council leaders; and a very active cadre of unionized teachers who work closely with the principals and LSC. To get some idea of how far away these mooks are from reform, they've eliminated the active cadre of union teachers from the mix and appear to be about to greatly curtail or perhaps even completely liquidate the powers of the LSCs. That's 2/3 of the three most effective reform measures taken in Chicago. Sweet, let the Great Leap Forward continue.

In Chicago, that's what that means. From that, we can grapple a few universals. This is what I've heard/experienced tend to be universal concepts to improve the state of education:
  • Allow the children to work on goals and curriculum of their own choosing, with guidance from their teachers. Invest them with education that allows them to - now, not just some time way down in the future - put the rubber of the classroom on the road of their world. Education is not relevant just because it could lead to a good job somewhere in the distant future (which is understandably not enough for youth who rarely ever see those good jobs), but for the worlds it opens up and has us fiddle with in the present. It gives power within that world. Power to affect meaning and change.*
  • Don't just say you're listening to the community and parents. Actually do it. All signs say that even the smaller schools are being torn from their active communities.
  • Engage and empower the parents and families throughout the calendar year. One benefit of Catholic schools is that they do just that. And though not everybody can afford to pay or live on a Catholic school teacher's wages (which are missionary-like low), we could benefit from being involved in our children's schools and volunteering a certain amount of time per year. And the schools could benefit in MANY ways by having game nights, movie nights, adult education classes, government boards for parents and community members (like the Local School Councils that are being disempowered in Chicago, for example), etc.
  • Open the school for parents in multilingual capacities and allow them to see their children's work and progress on-time.**
  • Incentivize teachers to collaborate and cooperate with each other. Much of the talk from "reformers" is going towards destructive competition. Which, of course, means that teachers will not share resources, skills, or classroom projects. They will not be able to learn from each other and develop each other as only fellow teachers can. Rather, with the 'incentives'-type of plans in place, each instructor will fight for her share of the increasingly-shrinking pie. This builds distrust and teaches the students the worst possible lesson: to survive is to destroy others. Of course, businesspersons should know better. Sometimes I think they do know better...
  • Realize that funding for education isn't a liability or an expense, but an investment. A severe investment. If these businessfolk know what's good for them, they'd ask to invest more of their hard-earned money into the education of their future workers, associates, partners, and clients. Unless they believe that having uninformed clients is better than having a beneficial work and living environment, that is (which I doubt many of them do).
We must ask, "Are we truly willing to spend more money on prisons than on schools?" Because that is what is happening. Who's advocating for the teachers to be able to teach with all their tools handy? There sure are quite a few people advocating for bigger and badder jail cells.

*I want to demonstrate this concept of making education present and active and relevant by telling a story of Brian and his students in Cabrini-Green.

Cabrini-Green was one of the most notorious housing projects in Chicago, not to mention one of the most infamous neighborhoods in the US. It was a text-book case of Northern segregation - both racial and socio-economic. And it was multi-generational. The Chicago Housing Authority had a plan to clean it up. Not because they necessarily wanted to backtrack and do everything right this time, or clean up their mess, or help these families make it to the next level. But because the property is next to some rich, rich real estate. The Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, Old Town, Lincoln Park, and of course the Lake Shore within walking distance. All that wealth wouldn't mean that they'd be fixing or rehabbing the area, even the parts that were salvageable. It's almost as if they felt that the buildings should come down on their own, only to be replaced by paying customers.

Or at least I'm sure that's how it felt to the students at a local grade school just outside the complex. And so they got together with their teacher, Brian, and brainstormed a bunch of ways to fix up their school (their idea) for their social studies project. They interviewed people on the street and in the school, as well as bureaucrats. They petitioned. They argued and hassled each other. They brainstormed and collaborated with each other. They took pictures. They wrote detailed letters to the editors and to state senators and talked to members of the press - going so far as to getting on the local news with their side of the story. Their conclusion was that the school needed to be rebuilt completely.
Our school building, Richard E. Byrd Community Academy, has big problems. There
are too many problems to mention in this letter, but we want to tell you about some of the most important ones. These main problems are what we think are important issues: the restrooms, temperature in our building, the windows and the lack of a lunchroom, a gym and a stage. We need a new school because of these problems. It is really important for our learning so we can be great when we grow up.
The Board paid lip service to them and their suggestions, of course. And then shut-down the school completely. The students were dispersed, and a few stopped going to school. The new school was too far away and the route too violent (considerations that the Board doesn't like to consider).

But many of them would come back to Brian and each other and reminisce and wonder why school can't always be so challenging. So rewarding. So frustrating, empowering, so active. So hands-on.

And ever since I heard their story, I wondered the same danged thing...

**Here is a big failure of mine. If I could turn back time like Cher...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Oil

Before I continue, I should warn you that if you want a blanket endorsement of the Democratic Party, or President Obama, you've come to the wrong place. The Democratic Party is basically Corporatocracy Lite, with some love for their union organizers. The Republican Party is run by Corporatocracy On Steroids, and has as their base the Christendom Party and the Fiscally-Concerned Party, which, ironically, is only concerned about the fiscality of the corporations.

But I couldn't stop laughing at the absurdity of some of the points on this chain email. I know Democrats - and us progressives - do a lot of the same awful gymnastics in our praise of some and ignorant biting of others. I see it all the time. But, mygoodness, looking up to former President George W Bush as a businessman? And one who created wealth?


Somebody, please put me out of my misery!

The Lawyers' Party
By Bruce Walker

The Democratic Party has become the Lawyers Party .
Barack Obama is a lawyer.
Michelle Obama is a lawyer.
Hillary Clinton is a lawyer.. Bill Clinton is a lawyer.
John Edwards is a lawyer.
Elizabeth Edwards was a lawyer.
Every Democrat nominee since 1984 went to law school (although Gore did not graduate).
Every Democrat vice presidential nominee since 1976, except for Lloyd Bentsen,
went to law school.

Look at leaders of the Democrat Party in Congress:
Harry Reid is a lawyer.
Nancy Pelosi is a lawyer.
[Oh, the humanity! Imagine. People passing and backing up laws who are trained to know how to do that! That's just silly]

The Republican Party is different.[But of course. I can't believe it's not butter.]
President Bush is a businessman. [Are you SURE this isn't butter?? Have you seen his failed businesses? Seriously? All of them failed because he was too lasseiz faire. Except for when they succeeded. From governmental and public investments. Much like some oil company did in Iraq... Each of them rescued because he was his daddy's son.]
Vice President Cheney is a businessman. [To the detriment of Iraq, and the US. And the US's armed forces. But thanks for reminding us what we get when our country is up for sale to the highest bidders.]

The leaders of the Republican Revolution:
Newt Gingrich was a history professor. [Who is doomed to repeat it. But wait, I thought you guys hated them intellectual elites? Or just the ones who know wtf they're talking about?]
Tom Delay was an exterminator. [Makes sense, somehow...]
Dick Armey was an economist. [Who makes a KILLING by spreading lies as a for-sale lobbyist and executive liar. Thanks for that pathetic noise chamber on the health care reform. Bought to you buy the Real Death Panels, the Medical Insurance Companies]
House Minority Leader Boehner was a plastic manufacturer. [Also makes a lot of sense...]
The former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a heart surgeon. [Yet, ironically...]

Who was the last Republican president who was a lawyer?
Gerald Ford, who left office 31 years ago and who barely won the Republican
nomination as a sitting president, running against Ronald Reagan in 1976. ["An ACTOR!" *In my finest Orson Welles.]

The Republican Party is made up of real people doing real work, [And here I thought it was made of plastic people doing oily work] who are often the targets of lawyers. [We sure are. Especially when they're sicced on us by Wal-Mart, Haliburton, Exxelon, BP, Mansanto... But sometimes, they're also the ones defending us. In this case, these lawyers seem kind of confused by their roles.]

The Democrat Party is made up of lawyers. Democrats mock and scorn men [You're thinking of feminists... And maybe bad dates.]who create wealth[No, they LURVE those guys. They're playing for the same team, fellers], like Bush and Cheney [Create wealth, sure. But for who? Oh, don't answer that, it was rhetorical. No, never mind, I'll give you a clue: Haliburton.], or who heal the sick, like Frist [or who deny the ability for the sick to be healed], or who immerse themselves in history [by taking luxurious three week vacations to Europe right after announcing his presidency and want to throw us to the steaming piles of repeated history such as the Civil War or race riots], like Gingrich.

The Lawyers Party sees these sorts of people, who provide goods and services
that people want ["that people wantare brainwashed to buy." There, fixxt!], as the enemies of America [Wishing upon a friggin' time-lapsed falling star!]. And, so we have seen the procession of official enemies, in the eyes of the Lawyers Party, grow. [Bi-Wishing]

Against whom do Hillary and Obama rail? [Amtrak?] Pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, hospitals, manufacturers, fast food restaurant chains, large retail businesses, bankers, and anyone producing anything of value in our nation. [What? ? McDonald's? Burger King? Bank of America? Wal-Mart? I effing WISH they would rail and flail and maybe even wail on these people! (I'm not sure sure, however, on whether or not they should tail or mail. Those sound iffy, at best.) All these companies do is produce tragic garbage that we've been brainwashed to consume (sometimes the hospitals, too. Blame the spirit of consumerism and capitalistic "enterprise" for that, the reason our health care is the costliest in the world). Yet, Clinton and Obama actually kowtow to them. Despite the cost to our planet, to our oceans, to our workers, to the workers (slaves) in third world countries. Yes, please. Stick up for them. Stick up for the enemies of the people and the planet.]

This is the natural consequence of viewing everything through the eyes of lawyers. Lawyers solve problems by successfully representing their clients, in this case the American people [Yes, that would be HORRIBLE if they were to do that! Just abysmally horrible IF THEY ACTUALLY represented the American people!]. Lawyers seek to have new laws passed [If the old ones are bad, is this such a problem? Of course, this just goes to show you that not everybody trusts laws. Some people think we'd be better off with laws from the 1950's if not before then. After all, isn't everything just the same? If it isn't, don't you think it should be?], they seek to win lawsuits, they press appellate courts to overturn precedent [Yes, Barack Obama sure is overturning precedent, just like he promised. No more wars in the Middle East. Shut down rendition and restored habeus corpus, not to mention Gitmo. Oh, and that blasted Patriot Act was taken away from us too. Dang it. He's such a Overturner-in-Cheif!], and lawyers always parse language to favor their side [Not unlike politicians].


I won't waste your time with the rest of it. How does representing the interests of the people you're supposed to represent become a bad thing? Seriously! I only tri-wish they were doing so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wildin' Out Where It Don't Matter

The hip new trend in Chicago the last couple of weeks is what some refer to as "Wilding" and others "Flash Mobs." This is when a few to about 16 or so young people converge upon an area and start mugging people en masse. Because they're such a large group, when they find resistance, they fight back, violently and ruthlessly. And they flee usually before the cops can get them.

Magnificent Milephoto © 2005 Yo Hibino | more info (via: Wylio)
What's particularly news-worthy about this is that they're doing it downtown. And in the Gold Coast. And on the Magnificent Mile. And at North Avenue Beach. (And we all know that it's Black-on-White violence, amirite?)

This has become our Windy City Nightmare.

Of course, not the fact that teachers' pensions and rights-to-arbitration are on the chopping block. Not the fact that our city is being sold, block-by-block, to the highest or most-connected bidder. Not the fact that there are very few jobs available in much of the West and South side neighborhoods so young adults from those neighborhoods have to go downtown or to the North side in order to find barely minimum wage jobs in the first place. If they're fortunate enough to have a job, that is. Not the fact that mega-conglomerate/uber-rich corporations are getting tremendous tax breaks at the expense of social programs, schools, and homeowners. Those aren't nightmares to the power brokers and gate-keepers that get to define what is and isn't a nightmare.

The fact that few impoverished adolescents of color are afforded the kinds of opportunities that those of us of White heritage take for granted - and that Chicago is geographically segregated by those opportunities - is the long, horrible nightmare to me...

Which isn't to say that Wilding isn't important. Nor that it shouldn't grab headlines (besides, how else are you going to sell newspapers these days? You can only talk about Sarah Palin so much, y'know). But it would've been nice to see those headlines and to hear the desperation in the police superintendent's voice way back when the incidents began and these kids were almost exclusively terrorizing black men, women, and children in the South and West sides.

But then, the local media and the city's halls of power would have to acknowledge that African Americans are real Americans and citizens, right? Not just votes to discard after election season...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Christendom Against the Kingdom

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Matthew 20:25-28

To the earliest Christian community, the cross was not just a symbol - it was an ever-present death device of cruelest torture. It came to mean for them, though, sacrifice and love and suffering and dying-to-death and the greatest act of love. To the early Christian communities, the cross was a way of co-opting the empire's tools and using them against it - declaring an anti-Empire, a Kingdom of Heaven, present but not yet fulfilled. This faith community had turned the strength of the Empire - fear and subjugation - on its ugly head.

Stained Glass Lamb
photo © 2006 James Thompson | more info(via: Wylio)

This is what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven (alternately, Kingdom of God). Whereas Rome sought "peace" by war, Jesus sought it by creating it through workers of peace. Whereas Rome had no mercy for the poor and meek, Jesus saw them as cornerstones and royalty within his Kingdom. The Kingdom is subversive to the ways of the world: greed, war, destruction, male and white dominance, tribalism. It overcomes them by way of resistive love.

Christendom, on the other hand, is Dominionism, with a capitalControl. It is the co-option of subversiveness. It's The Family. It's the Moral Majority and the Religious Right. It's Michele Bachmann Overdrive. It's Texas Governor Rick Perry cutting tens of thousands of jobs and slashing millions from Medicare while claiming that it's God's will. It's putting bible verses on weapons. It's the neo-Crusades making their way through oil-rich Muslim-dominated lands. It's the continual envisioning of women and non-whites as inferior creatures. It's using beliefs about sexuality as a way to hurt other people in the public sphere who do no harm. It's blaming the poor for their problems and turning them against each other. It's the Inquisition, the Reformation Wars, the Crusades, the Conquistadors.

restored quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate ►pale-verdigris gateway build-up (“horses'-herma”) in gloomy night◄
photo © 2008 Karl-Ludwig Poggemann | more info(via: Wylio)

Christendom is the things of the world wrapped up in the *image* of the cross. Their appropriation of the cross is a banner, a flag, a usurping of the vocabulary of the Prince of Peace to serve the interests of those which the prophets have resisted and questioned. In Christendom, the cross, and the banner of the cross, is equal to - or even submissive to - the national flag. It does not side with the subjugated sinners and publicans, but with the empire and its players. It doesn't free tax collectors from their own slavish corruption, but empowers them to do evil for the state - as long as the state serves their "Christian" purposes.

It's okay, for instance, for a nation to wage war on another nation and murder hundreds of thousands of civilians as long as the leader of the first nation is a God-fearin' and prayin' Christian and the second nation is filled with idolatrous heathens.

But that's not the way of the cross; it's not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated with this word:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come." (Luke 4: 18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2, NLT)

The Kingdom was personified through Jesus's ministry. Through renewed eyes for the blind, aid to the hurt, food for the starving, legs for the lame. It releases the captives and proclaims favors on the poor, meek, humble, hungry...

The Kingdom of God, unlike Christendom, does not seek political dominion, because it has no interest in ruling over others. The Kingdom of God seeks to serve, to restore, to redeem, to heal, and to rescue.

THAT'S the difference.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More Like a Park, Less Like a Lecture Hall

I took my daughter to the park across the street from our house yesterday to play. She's been cooped up to machines all week long (emergency rooms, doctors, treatments), so she needed to run wild and spin around on what one good friend called The Vomiting Machine (T)*.

And while she was running and sharing spins and slides and climbs with new friends, I was busy thinking about how church is performed and why and how cold and callous and sterile it can be. And then I tweeted this:

Church needs to be more like a playground/park, and less like a lecture hall.

Churches tend to be places where we come and sit down and listen. Where knowledge is imbued upon us. Where we study textual revealed knowledge with our ears and eyes. And being a life-long lover of all things scholarly, this is something that I actually kind of enjoy. But it may not be the best.

What if, though, church were more like parks? What if church were more like a place:

to play, to discover, to run
to meet new friends and introduce new friends to old friends and be introduced to new-old friends
to wonder and breathe in nature
to hear children laugh and scream and know that life is happening
to be filled with awe
to picnic
to scratch from the mosquitoes and pests
where all the goodies of experience are accessible to all
to sit and reflect
to lean against and climb trees
to try to figure out how sharing works
to learn, as my daughter did, to walk
to get sprayed, doused, soaked, fish in, be refreshed, swim in the water
to bench
to commune
to count the bugs and fauna
to breathe deep
to hug and kiss like lovers and brothers and sisters do
to scrape, bruise, bleed
to jog and chat
to meditate
to center
to find God among terrible, wonderful, wonderous creation like children do

Park benches in Central Parkphoto © 2008 David Joyce | more info (via: Wylio)
In what ways can your church be like a park?

*The Facebook status that introduced that term must have gotten some mileage. As we went to the carnival with a group of friends and they were all asking which of the rides is The Puking One. Alas, it is not a roller coaster, but a simple stand-up merry-go-round for one or two (but sometimes four) kids (sometimes teens or adventurous parents feeling adventurous).

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Speaking of stigma and churches, a pre-teen with cerebral palsy was booted out of a church "service" on Easter Sunday.

Later in the week, when the mother asked to start a ministry (she is resilient and blessed, for sure) for families with disabilities, she was turned down by the church, Elevation.
Elevation employees say the church focuses on worship, not ministries. And in a statement, a church spokeswoman said "it is our goal at elevation to offer a distraction-free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred."
Funny how that works. Their focus in on "worship," not ministries. Much can be said of just that little phrase. Their focus is on worship, by which they mean, "an experience of prolonged pleasure and ease which they find when they love God." Or, as the church put it on their home page: "Elevation Church has a passion to see those far from God filled with life in Christ. It's an explosive, phenomenal movement of God – something you have to see to believe."

A few problems with this attitude are highlighted by this example:
1) You cannot love a God you cannot see yet fail to love the one nearby. It's the very heart of Christianity. I've said so much about this topic, but it's so crucial to what Christianity is supposed to be, and yet very nearly fails at much of the time. A humanist can love people without loving God. But a Christian cannot love God without loving his ikon, people.

And when people, who are already shunned by society, are shunned by our approach (or lack of approach) of dealing with those who are so visually broken, how can we claim to love them, or that we desire to see them "filled with life in Christ"?

Urban rejects - gone out and bought Ikeaphoto © 2008 Nonie | more info (via: Wylio)
2) This approach is indicative of the therapeutic worship mindset of contemporary American Christianity. We believe that God's love for us means we get the finer things (for instance, a nice horse-drawn carriage for our wedding), that we don't have to endure or even put up with suffering, that church service is an emotional session on the couch with our therapist, God*, that we can be rescued and delivered from not just evil, but evil's touch. Which is why our end-times beliefs are so sacred in the American church, whereas orthopraxis is limited to warnings to our neighbors. We dream of being rescued from the hopeless sinners and from the effects of fallen and broken creation- especially from fallen and broken (and warped, and burned, and twisted, and frail, and barely literate, and loud, and ugly...) humanity.

The type of "service" that churches such as Elevation offers make us feel good for the time in its efforts to conjure up God. By "conjuring up God" I mean, "Conjuring up a feel-good, 'spiritual' experience."

Yet, God showed up there. In that service. On Easter morning. Unexpectantly. But not silently.

And then God was physically moved to the overflow room.

God is present in community, in trials and tribulations, in the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the imprisoned... And these people ushered God from the sanctuary because God was a distraction to their meditation on God.


I searched a little bit further to see what Elevation says they believe about their fellow human beings. The words are right, for the most part. But their actions and their worship service show that these are just words, and they are failed.
Man is made in the image of God and is the supreme object of His creation. Man was created to have fellowship with God but became separated in that relationship through sinful disobedience. As a result, man cannot attain a right relationship with God through his own effort. Every human personality is uniquely created, possesses dignity, and is worthy of respect and Christian love.
"Every human personality (not sure what this means) is uniquely created (YES!), possesses dignity (I would argue that they are WORTHY of dignity, but ok), and is worthy of respect and Christian love." This church, and every one of our churches that chooses to eschew out the poor, the hungry, the disturbed, has disobeyed this central tenet of Christianity: God is Love.

Now, as Rachel Held Evans points out the obvious floating question, How have I - myself - failed at this? How many times have I thought we shouldn't have distractions in church? Smelly homeless, muttering old women holding on to the last vestiges of memory, mentally handicapped, screaming infants...

Don't they bother me? Don't I sometimes wish they were gone? Don't I occasionally long for quiet solitude in the midst of the mass?

What are your thoughts?


*I actually don't think that there's something wrong about this approach inherently. The Holy Spirit is our counselor, God sometimes does console us and bathe us in love. And Jesus certainly welcomes us when no one else would, and forgives us when we can't forgive ourselves, and sometimes heals us where the doctors can't touch. That's also a central part of Christianity. But the focus has become so self-centered that, well, we end up worshiping the worship experience as an end of worshiping ourselves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

They're Crazy!

My friend Flaco was driving east down Armitage when he spotted an enraged and drunken man rushing head-long into a pregnant woman sitting at a bus stop. Without missing a beat, he turned the car around and got in between the drunk and the young lady. Before I could ask, Flaco told me that the two were unrelated and never even met. This was not a case of domestic violence. In fact,

"I like to hit pregnant women," the man told Flaco.

Flaco waited for the cops to show. I don't think the woman wanted to wait that long. They carted the man away. Obviously, he was a threat to society - drunk or not.

Van Goghphoto © 2008 Tony Tony | more info (via: Wylio)
But that incident was another in a long line that got me to thinking about mental illness, lack of access for quality care, and stigma.

Take, for instance, the public brouhaha over the arrest of homeless activists in Orlando last week. The demonstrations by Food Not Bombs are there both to feed the hungry homeless (and sheltered-but-barely who are not able to buy food and pay rent) near downtown as well as bring light to a much-neglected reality: we spend more for weapons of mass destruction than we do on "programs of social uplift" (to quote from King).

I was a bit surprised to see how many people opposed FNB and their "fame-seeking" actions. And how unhinged their classless class warfare was in the process. "Families taking their kids out to the park don't want to see homeless men urinating in public/showing off their part in public/talking to themselves in public/shouting obscenities in public..."

Not that any of us should wish any of those on anyone. But it doesn't happen every day, nor with every homeless person. However, the elephant carnival in the public square needs to be addressed: There is a massive disproportion of mentally ill in the homeless population since the Reagan era (and due in no small part to The Vietnam and Iraq Wars). Above all, these people are not to be blamed for the predicament they are in. That is our fault. We have the means but we refuse to offer them the service they need. They are in the streets because WE threw them there. To suggest that they shouldn't even be served food in the park is to continue the lies that we've been telling ourselves for the last thirty years: We're okay; there is nothing wrong with how we treat those with mental disabilities.

It doesn't matter who starves as long as our conscience is not bothered.

Much more can be (and should be) said about this, but I want to try to keep the focus on mental disability survivors and stigma.

My mother moved to the Bible Belt about twenty years ago. While she was in Chicago, she was accepted in our church as family. They knew us and suffered with us through her bouts of bipolar disorder. After she moved, my brother, sister-in-law, and I kept trying to help her find a similar church. And these churches would welcome her (perhaps as a stranger, perhaps as a number, another body to fill their roles). I understand that it's impossible to re-create family. But my mother understood something much sadder, much more real and much more immediate to her.

She would leave every church, saying that she felt guilty and unwelcome - even oppressed - by the god she encountered there.* Oddly enough (or not), it was only in the Catholic church that she felt welcomed. Maybe that has to do with Catholic social teaching. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that they recognize ostracization and empathize with being outcasts in the Bible Belt.

I think of the many runaways who leave home because their mental condition is not appreciated nor understood at home. I think of the many undiagnosed children and adults on the verge of something very dangerous. Because no one wants to admit that they or their loved ones need help. That would ostracize them. That would be crazy.

And then I think of Michelle Bachman and Rush Limbaugh and how, when I disagree with their rhetoric and their policies (or feigned policies) I say that they're crazy.

And that's a disservice to those who survive mental distress.

*Like it or not, fellow church-goers, we represent the god we worship. If we shun people, then our god shuns them. And I say that deliberately with small letters, because that is not the god of Jesus. Jesus - representing the God of the Bible - did not shun anyone.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hair, Glorious Hair

This is 'Nyssa. One of my daughter's best friends. And she has glorious hair. But being African-Latino, she wouldn't know it from listening to and watching mainstream ideas of beauty. By "mainstream", of course, we mean most images pumped through our psyches via commercials, television shows, ads, movies, dolls, cartoons, magazines, videos, websites, big fashion shows...

Sure, there are some black and Latino actors/models/spokespersons/casts. But they are the very exception to the Rule of White Supremacy in Body Image. And they seem to merely prove the Rule of White Supremacy in Body Image: White people look best. Blonde is sexy - straight or curly, but definitely controlled. Barbie is the ideal female, and the norm is Jennifer Anniston. Non-white women are usually accepted by the larger culture based on Euro-American ideas of beauty.

So it was pretty awesome when Nyssa decided one day to have her hair out. She looked different, but it's a look that's not only natural, it's tremendously beautiful.

It's amazing that, even before the age of four, she understood and internalized the RWSBI. She was ashamed of her hair. Being part Puerto Rican, with dark, thick curly hair, I can relate a bit. When I was an awkward teenager, I wanted the long, straight hair of the rock stars I saw on MTV. But it would never come out long and straight, but frizzy and all over the place. The closest approximation I could give is that I had an unkempt Jewfro. And for a White boy, this was unacceptable.

Some years later, my wife demonstrated that she loved me and really liked my curly, curly hair. Feeling accepted (and in some ways, exceptional) made me accept my own self, my own body, my own glorious mess of hair (which, fortunately, our daughter adopted. It looks magnificent on her, dang it).

Somehow, the message of love and self-acceptance got to my daughter's gorgeous best friend before she turned four. She woke up one morning and decided she wanted her hair out.

Of course, when Joss went with me to pick Nyssa up a few days ago, she walked right past 'Nyssa to her mom and asked where her friend was. Boldness sometimes takes some adjusting to...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sometimes-Friend, Always-Daddy (II)

Fortunately for me, "I'm not your friend anymore," is too easy. I saw and anticipated this Puppetphoto © 2010 Newsbie Pix | more info (via: Wylio)
maneuver from miles away. And believing as I do that friendship with your child is fleeting, believing in the discipline of healthy boundaries of love and respect, I firmly and exuberantly shot down any hopes she had of marionetting me. In the future, she would be a teenager, but, today, she would not make me cry!

I did not miss a beat*. "That's okay, Jocelyn. I don't need to be your friend. But you know what? I'll always be your daddy. And you'll always be my daughter. And nothing, ever could ever change that. No matter what, I'm your daddy, and you're my daughter."

And it worked!

It worked so well, in fact, she repeats this refrain to me every time she is bothered by my inability to acquiesce to her every diva whim:

"(Nodding. Stern. Index finger blazing and blond eyebrows scrunched.) I'm not your friend. (And then open, warm, thoughtful, almost repentant.) But I'm your daughter."

In hindsight, I probably could've warned my wife. But her shock at this statement amused me, and I don't like wasting amusing opportunities.

*It's a rare moment of genuine pride in myself. Can you tell?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Drug test the CEO's who ask for money!

She's sick. Sick! of the hypocrisy. It's always the poor with this crop of Wisconsin corporatists that are being humiliated, shunned, exploited. And the rich who are not just excused, but groveled for.

Representative, please, represent the people of Wisconsin.

I mean, as governor.

And I thank you for standing up and representing the people of Milwaukee (and the rest of Wisconsin).

Sometimes-Friend, Always-Daddy (I)

Image courtesy of our friend Ysenia. Model: Joss. Clothes: not sure.

"I'm not your friend! I'm your daughter!"

The first part of that statement came from school - from the subtle, controlling interactions that kids have with each other.

"Oh, you're not going to let me get my way?," the three-year olds threaten each other on an hourly basis, huddling next to the toys like war chiefs over weapons and suitcases full of money. "Well then, you'll just have to get by without my friendship. See what I did there? I played you like a puppet, child!"

It is manipulative, of course. Children themselves are easily duped because they don't have their guards up (yet). Because they are the victims of manipulation so frequently, it is only a matter of time before they learn easy ways of pulling each others' strings.

They're like political parties in that sense.

In about five-to-ten years, she will develop much more subtle, crafty, nuanced, and yet sharper-edged tools to move her parents like pawns on a chess board. It will be hard during this period to keep up. But afterwards she will become a full-fledged, emerging adult.

And then we can finally give up trying.

Stay tuned for Part 2

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Blue Like Jazz, the Movie

Can I just say, "FINALLY!"?

I like Don Miller. I have long loved the rascally Steve Taylor. The latter, musician-turned-filmmaker, pushed buttons and stretched the envelope in the small little "Christian" sub-culture I was a part of long ago. I credit much of my great and relative sanity (and a lot of my absurdist humor) to him and what he did musically, lyrically, and even artistically. When he released his first movie - The Second Chance - my whole church went. As a church boy from an urban neighborhood with a lot of condescending suburbanites coming through, a lot of that movie resonated with me, to be honest. A lot of the dialog really hit home for me and some of my friends. But it wasn't quite satisfying. Michael W Smith (the envelope of the Christian sub-culture) actually did a decent job being the condescending suburbanite pastor's kid, but I wasn't convinced that he fully turned (and I think the point was that he was still learning). But what stood out to me as a Taylor fan was the lack of visual punch. Starting with his own music videos as early as the mid-80's with Meltdown at Madame Tussaud's (a song I vehemently disagree with now, but still, it's cool for what it is), he has been a great visual innovator - if not always the best storyteller through those visuals.

Donald Miller is a fine writer. A conversational essayist with quite a bit of self-deflective humor and pathos. No And I liked Blue Like Jazz as a book. But not nearly as much as many others. I'm not sure his fanboys and girls found in him the voice of a fellow traveler or of a liberator, but I thought the narrative a bit disjointed. Maybe I wasn't ready to be liberated yet. I'm not sure. But I found the next book, Searching for God Knows What (which started shortly after he got together with Steve Taylor and they plotted out the idea of making the movie. Miller went to a script-writing conference. Hence, the book begins and is framed by the idea of what makes a popular hit versus the substance and yet relevance of the person of Jesus.

Anyway, yay for this film. The confession booth is the emotional crux of it (and I like the idea of it), but it really looks stylistically capable.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


While we're investigating if someone used Congressional stationary or office computers to relay saucy pix of his crotch, I'd like to also investigate those who may have sold out their Congressional office and Constitutional duty (the welfare of We the People) to the highest bidders.

But that would implicate nearly everybody, right Minority Leader Pelosi?

Our national media is a step removed from complete tabloid takeover, and the citizens of this nation, if judged by its consumerist interest, is heading toward a Tablodia, while we're being governed by Kluptocracy.

Not the kind of Kluptocracy that libertarians and Randites like to bemoan: the one that looks like a bureaucratic and fat Robin Hood that steals from the hard-working and disperses to the lazy parasites. The US Kluptocracy works for its corporate masters and delivers funds from the working class (and increasingly, the middle class) and gives to its Robber Barons.

Stunning table from Studio Job. Robber Baron Series for Mossphoto © 2007 Nina Hale | more info (via: Wylio)

If we're going to talk about lies, how about the fact that the Bush tax cuts (Happy Anniversary!), rather than giving us a prolonged season of growth, cost us 2.5 trillion dollars. More than the stimulus plans combined and with nothing to show for it - at least not for the other 98%.

Let us talk about the fact that we were led to a devastating, useless, and costly war (this one coming on $800 billion) on a seismic threshold of bloody and battered lies and deceit and misleads - and that that war has led to a ramping up of our Homeland Security needs, an increase and intrusion of our military might into other countries, and countless innocent deaths (not to mention that some suspect that the true, actual cost of these wars is three times that reported).

How about the lie that the lives of Arabs and Muslims is not as important as the lives of Americans, or Israelis?

Speaking of which, and back to Weiner, how about the whoppers he told while defending APAIC? Including these murderous falsehoods:
There is no Israeli occupation of the West Bank, no Israeli military presence there
The Goldstone Report was not based on the laws of war.
Israel is at war with 20 neighbors. (Or the twin lie that the Arab countries want to push Israel out to the sea).
American progressives should support Israel limiting free speech about its character as a Jewish state.
Egypt is an "Islamic state."

And then there's the continually absurd distortion that it is the poor who are waging class war when, at most, they are pointing out the obvious: that they are being attacked and sucked out by the rich and their manipulations (many psychological, such as the constant warfare with our brains they emit through their relentless adverts).

But of course the lies that we care about here are the juicy, sexy lies. Not the ones where people die by the boatload because of lack of access - or because they happen to live in a region that's supposedly visited by known terrorists. The ones where we find out who slept with who and who owes who a big, fat, huge diamond ring to alleviate the psychological, social, and sexual sins he (usually) has committed.

And since CNN and TMZ aren't going to do their jobs - unless their jobs are telling us all about the drug-fueled sex romps of Charlie Sheen - I am of the opinion that pastors should be. That, at the least, Christian ministers should and could be the prophetic voice in the wilderness. That we should be doing what Breuggeman calls de-scripting from the dominant script of technological, therapeutic, consumerist militarism (although I must say that my problem isn't so much with technology itself but that it is largely used to advance the causes of leisure, consumerism, and militarism).

In a land that continually self-identifies as Christian, where the predominant view is that God is real and the Bible is God's word to us, shouldn't we use that context to the benefit: to declare that God hates lies. God hates hatred. God is love and life and those that counter those counter God. Those of us that declare the evangelion - the Good News - of God need to run a counter script to the murderous lies and deceptions and distractions of contemporary celebrity and militaristic jingoism.

Why is it that it tends to be Christians instead who confuse love of country's empire (and American Exceptionalism) with love of Jesus' otherworldly (and frankly, odd and anti-natural) Kingdom? Are pastors afraid - much like they were in the antebellum South and apartheid South Africa - of confronting the demons within their own churches? Could it be that they're afraid of losing parishioners, or even of losing their jobs? This is a sad state of affairs for our nation, then. But the job is left to lay ministers and professional ministers to administer God's proclamations and free the bonds of the captives. When we are free of mind and spirit, then we can lead others to freedom as well.

I leave my pastor readers and Christian ministry friends with some Walter Breuggeman from his 19 Theses:

1. Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.

2. We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3. The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4. That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5. That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6. Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7. It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8. The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9. The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10. That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11. That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12. The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. [I think the writer of Psalm 119 would probably like too try, to make it seamless]. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated. [This is my polemic against systematic theology]. The script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must be taken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13. The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so to debilitate the focus of the script.

14. The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “Do you renounce the dominant script?

15. The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds.

16. Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17. This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18. Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that is equally present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of the old script and embrace of the new script.

19. The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if you took all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

And that's tragic... pt. 2: Guilt, Resigned Acceptance, and Color Blindness

Part 1: Why defenses don't work, can be read here.

So you've come to terms with the fact that the USA is a White-supremacist society that unjustly benefits from institutional racism? And that this is, de facto, wrong?

Good. Now, let me warn you of three easy pratfalls, three fatal flaws: White Guilt, Resigned Acceptance, and Color Blindness.

One of the biggest obstacles to improving race relations can be summed up in two words: White and Guilt.

And that's not nice. Nobody wants white guilt. It brings to mind college freshmen who are so apt to prove that they 'get it' that they go around with sorrowful looks, primed to ask forgiveness from any minority that they see. Much like other forms of guilt, it's incapacitating.

Subjectivephoto © 2008 Nikki L. | more info (via: Wylio)

And, to be honest, groan-inducing.

And like everything guilt-driven, it looks at first glance like it works, but it's ineffective for any long-term solutions. For long-term relations, it's defective and dysfunctional.

Further, to put the complicated systems and relationships of institutionalized and personalized racism into a subjective field of personal shame is to possess it, and thereby (IMO) trivializing and objectifying the actual affected targets of racism. When we talk about existing racism, we're talking about systems put in place that effect other people. We're talking about things that are actually happening. Now. To actual families and individuals.

And to reduce the hurt and the pain and the effects of those things to incapacitating guilt is to sacrifice our sisters' and brothers' hurt for self-actualizing purposes. We don't need guilt. We need action. And no one should feel bad for who they are. We need to own up to both our past failures and our past glories.

Another poor option is to take it all in, be overwhelmed by the sheer force of it, throw our hands up in the air and say, like Tupac*, "That's just the way it is. Some things will never change." To practice resigned acceptance.

This option isn't just practiced by Anglos, however. There are any number of Black, Latino, South/East Asian, Middle Eastern, Indigenous men and women who are burned out by racial conflicts. It makes sense to retreat from the pain and frustration. But it also doesn't help to heal or alleviate the cause of those frustrations. It's a trap-door escapism that doesn't actually escape one to anywhere. Except more of the same.

My suggestion would be to level involvement to a zone of proximity - to do what you can when you can. In doing so, you can retreat when necessary.

The third option (and this is one most commonly practiced by White liberals) is to declare that you are color-blind and that society should be as well. This is another well-meaning fallacy. It fast-forwards to the aim and focus and acts as if they are the case now.

Color-blindness action is, in part, an understanding that socio-economic problems are among the most pressing and that African-Americans, Latinos, and First Nations people would be lifted out of their biggest problems if we would just focus on anti-poverty solutions.

What is not figured is that racism is part and parcel of poverty. Solving poverty without taking other factors (not just racism, but sexism, xenophobia, etc.) into account will only solve poverty for a select few. It's not just that an unsettlingly higher percentage of minorities live in poverty, but that they are placed and kept in there by racism specifically. During the Great Depression, Mexican descendants were deported to Mexico to leave more jobs for White Americans. And the New Deal programs, as great as they were, were not available for African Americans, or only disproportionately.

Looking to change the health care structure, as an example, without looking at racism (that White doctors tend to patronize Black patients and not trust their self-diagnoses, for instance) will not fix health care for people of color in the US. Pretending that racism doesn't exist will not make it go away, will not make it better, and will continue to play into the racist system that is going on.

And this still assumes that you are or can truly be color-blind. Or that we should aspire to be. I like my culture fine. I don't really care when people tell me that I'm not really White or Puerto Rican, but that I'm one of them. That negates who I am and my family's roots. Often, when we say we are being color-blind, what we're really saying is, "I accept you on MY terms." For White people (who most often use this term), it's basically saying, not, "I accept you as a fully developed human being realized in the culture and family that you are a part of," but, "I accept you as White."

Multiculturalphoto © 2009 Juan Carlos Aguilera | more info (via: Wylio)

What we White folks need is to aspire to be allies with our minority sisters and brothers. The process for that is, in part, multi-culturalism**. But the goal is equity.

And when we truly reach equity, it is then and only then that we can recognize Martin Luther King, Jr's dream is fully realized - and not deferred.


*Okay, Bruce Hornsby. But still...

**Which is not saying that another culture is MORE valid than the variety of European-American cultures (because, let's face it, Polish-American is different than Irish-American, and both are different than English-American, and each has its particular beauty) but that all cultures should be equally shared and celebrated on their own merits.