Stepping Back In

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Stepping Back In

Many of you know that I left Facebook recently. In short, it was because I came dangerously close to becoming one of the people that I believe have hurt this country—the angry, divisive, and intolerant. I almost posted several glaring responses, tearing down the illogical musings of some of my family and friends.

But what purpose would that serve? It would show me to be inconsistent with what I believe: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” -Eph. 4: 29

If I would’ve hit “post,” it would have created walls between me and the people I most need connection with—those that I don’t understand.

You see, I am a teacher, so knowledge and understanding are part of my profession. First, I have to know the subject matter, and second, I have to understand the student so I can assess the needs and engage them with the appropriate learning style. They are the basics for learning and growing together in a classroom. And believe me, I learn every day from my students. Want to know where things have gone wrong with our country? Ask a teacher.

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

Before you can address knowledge, you have to understand a few things about learning. Taken from psychologist Abraham Maslow, the above illustrates the hierarchy of needs. Simply put, you cannot reach the top of the hierarchy without the proper foundation. If people are lacking clean air to breath, food, water, shelter, sleep etc. (red), they will not have adequate health for employment, family and social ability (orange). Without employment, family and a sense of connection (yellow), they will not be confident enough to respect others, achieve, or become a unique individual with thoughts of their own. So you can forget the purple tip of the triangle-the part our nation’s mottos prescribe with “pursuit of happiness, and liberty and justice for all”- if you have not laid the foundation on which they are built.

This is why legislating morality, acceptance, or compassion just does not work. The foundation has not been built. It’s like teaching one year olds how to jump hurdles. First, they have to have stability in their steps before we can expect them to jump. But steps are what teaching is all about. Teachers break down difficult processes into steps, and create learning adventures that even the forlorn and fearful student are willing to take.

Socrates, the Greek philosopher, had a method of teaching which involved a series of questions to stimulate curiosity. It’s a great way to open discussion and get at the heart of knowledge. So will you take a journey with me? Let’s begin at the beginning and analyze what I call the Pows and Wows of our present national situation. A pow is a blow to the gut, a place where we need improvement. A wow is the place where we are showing growth and vitality.

Since we are called to build each other up, let’s begin at the base—physiological needs. My questions for today are: Are you getting enough sleep, food, water, shelter, clothing, and clean air for growth? If you are not, how is that lack affecting the safety and security of your life? Which of these are your wows? If you are wowing in all of these, take a look at those around you. Could their fears, anger, blame, bitterness and rage be because of a lack of these basics? What can we do to build others up according to their needs as Ephesians describes? Where can we be the instruments for wows instead of pows? Just a simple phone call, encouraging word, or offer of food or childcare can make a difference in someone’s life.

Now, I’m not interested in getting into a political discussion at this time about who deserves what, or who is being taken advantage of. We are not ready for that yet. I believe in the classroom of American life right now, we need some sound teaching in educational psychology (hierarchy of needs) and classroom management (respect, listening, discipline) before we can handle the heavy issues of morality, acceptance and human potential.

So if you will journey with me, I’d like to walk through this hierarchy step by step. I’d like it if you could pose respectful questions and responses, so we can evaluate the pows and wows of our lives and how we can ensure that most of us are reaching our full potential and engaged with meaning and purpose for the greater good. It may take a few weeks, but I’d love to walk and talk with you as we learn from each other’s perspectives. Will you journey with me?

Pebbles and Paths

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There is so much pain and confusion in the world today. Those in blue that have committed their lives to serve and protect are seen as enemies. Teachers who sacrifice time, energy, and even incomes to inspire are engaged more as wardens than educators. But that is the empire we are building each day with the pebbles we carefully lay. We don’t notice that we are doing it, but we are.

When we feel entitled to dialing three numbers and minutes later officers are there to serve and protect, but we don’t remember the dangers they place themselves in each and every day—we lay a pebble. When we expect our soldiers to serve numerous tours of duty but don’t consider the families they leave behind fretting each day for their safety, we lay a pebble. When we watch countless hours of TV spewing discord and distrust of the teachers, clergy, and social workers who willingly confront the bloody, jagged edges of society so we don’t have to, we lay pebbles.

Now, let me say this clearly: I’m not saying that there are not those who need to be held accountable to the jurisdictions of their profession. But I am saying loudly and clearly that when a society starts collecting pebbles of blame, distrust, and fear, they form solidly and firmly into walls of prejudice, hate and war. Before long, the walls are so high, that no one can protect us anymore because we are encaged in prisons of our own making.

But there is a remedy: Get out of the entitlement mindset and put on the “attitude of gratitude.” Before you pick up that pebble that the media so generously offers you, turn off the TV or the radio. Take a moment to offer a blessing, a word of gratitude for the hundreds of those on the front lines that are going over and beyond their “duty”. Write a few words of encouragement to any teacher, soldier, police officer, fire fighter etc. who step out sacrificially each day so you can feel secure behind your walls. You might find that pebble not so easy to cast.

And if you are really ready to change this society, find a place of prayer. Light a candle of hope, justice, and peace so we can tear down these walls and use our energy to build paths again. Then put your feet behind it. Where there is injustice—speak up—but be mindful of your pebbles.

Our country is built on the premise that “all lives matter”–no matter what race or religion. And we are famous for the paths we have laid in these areas—paths of freedom for slaves, paths of justice and civil rights (which other countries have followed), paths for women, pathways in technology, even the first footprints on the moon. Yes, we have miles to go, but now, we are known more for our walls—racism, riots, and wars. How did we lose our way?

How about this Christmas season, we take notice. Let’s be mindful of our pebbles and place them carefully not into walls, but into pathways of love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, humility, and self-control—with our words and deeds. We might find that our joy returns. We might even find that being mindful of our pebbles isn’t such a bad thing to do “full time.” Building paths of exploration and discovery has always led to more fruitful lives than building walls.

Melody Beattie says it most succinctly: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

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The pebbles we place today create the vision for tomorrow.  Let’s place them carefully.