Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The story behind the student removal.

A guest post from a teacher . . .

There's been a lot of discussion about the young lady who was physically removed from her classroom by a police officer. I'm going to comment on this as a teacher who just yesterday had a student refuse to leave my classroom.

A preface to all of this:  I don't enjoy seeing anyone forcibly removed from a school environment and the level of force is questionable in these videos . . . but there is a story that leads to that point.

I teach in an urban school district. I regularly have students swear at me, kick tables, slam things and become completely insubordinate. The student who refused to leave my classroom was not supposed to have even come into my classroom that day. He was told to report to ISS. Instead, he knowingly and intentionally came into my classroom, pushing his way past me despite my repeated (calm) statements saying that he was not to enter my classroom. Administration was called....he was given multiple opportunities to cooperate and comply and he refused to leave the room. The warning was given that the police were about to be called.
Finally, when a larger male teacher came into the room, he left. What you are not seeing in that video are the multiple offenses that have led up to that moment....the teacher that is scared and has tried multiple times to reach that student and has been harassed and mistreated.
You are not seeing the other students in the room....some of which truly desire an education to be able to move out of the circumstances that they are currently in who have now lost minutes of their instructional time. That young lady is not a hero....she is an insubordinate student who made foolish choices that led to a physical removal.
Tomorrow I will again face a classroom of those students. As I go to bed tonight, I worry....will that young man again appear at my door. Will he escalate and harm me to push his way into the room? Will my classroom end up being a youtube video because of a strung-out kid who doesn't give a crap about his education and is ruining it for every other student around him.....
The heroes.....the heroes are the teachers that walk into those classrooms everyday. The heroes...the heroes are the administration that calmly offer solutions and choices to try and help students that couldn't care less. The heroes... the heroes are the police officers that put themselves in harm's way to protect the other students in the classroom. The heroes are the other kids in that classroom that look at the situation and say to themselves that despite their circumstances, they will choose to get an education and change their life....those are heroes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ditch the Trunk or Treat

Ok, so in case you haven't heard about it, Trunk or Treat is an alternative to traditional Halloween Trick or Treating.  It is usually run by churches or civic groups that provide a 'safe alternative to Trick or Treating.'  People park their cars in a parking lot of a church, open their trunks and decorate them and put bowls of candy inside.  Kids then come and go from trunk to trunk getting candy and greeting the car owners.  It is billed as a 'safe alternative' to trick-or-treating.

I know that some of you will disagree with me, but I think Trunk or Treat has to go.  Here are three reasons why . . .

1.  A 'Safe Alternative?!'  Since when did we get so worried about Trick or Treating?  Do we really think that we are going to find razor blades in our apples?  
           Wait . . .
                 A: who gives out apples?  
                 B: the last time I heard about this was 1987 (which was before Snopes.com so I                       am not even sure that it happened).  

Come on people - don't be afraid to live a little.  Are you scared of your neighbors?  Then you need to move.  Are you scared someone will abduct them?  Then walk with your children packing heat.  There are bigger and badder things to be scared of, Trick-or-Treating is not one of them.

2.  We are against Halloween?  Trunk or Treat lets some people breathe easier around Halloween for religious reasons.  Just a review:  Halloween is not a bad word.  It actually is a Christian word - All Hallows Eve.  It was a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to Christianize a series of pagan holidays like Samhain.  These holidays celebrated the end of summer and commemorated the departed souls of the year before.  Yes, the holiday has other weird roots that get expressed with ghosts and ghouls but I don't think that is why your neighbor's 7 year old is dressing up.  

She just wants candy.  Lots of it.

So please don't turn off your lights and not celebrate Halloween because you think it celebrates Satan.  Yes, certain weirdos do.  But really, the kid next door just wants a Kit-Kat.  You actually might be expressing your Christianity by giving out candy.  When you shut up the home front, you are introducing your kid neighbors to the idea that Christians retreat from the world rather than love it.

Remember, God so loved the world.  Love it.  Don't become it.

3.  You can stiff-arm culture by revolutionizing it.  I get that Halloween has some objectionable material to it.  But don't confuse people and culture.  You can object to culture while reaching out to people.  I can't think of a better way for people to have some fun right before you don't see anyone for the next 4 months of winter.  Go out and talk to your neighbors and walk with your kids.  Make sure you hold their bags when they get heavy and help yourself to a Reese's or two.

Lighten up.

Enjoy life a little.

Because really no one wants to spend the night in a parking lot with a bunch of open trunks and candy - with hand selected 'safe people.'  We want the real thing.  We want to spend three hours lugging a pillow case around to every inhabitable place within 10 miles of our home and wind up with eight and a half pounds of candy.

I know that some of you will think I am horrible for thinking this, but it is a blog - this is where I get to rant.

Just for the record, I know there are dark elements to this holiday that we need to be wary of.  Honestly, though, the current problem with Halloween is not it's demonic roots.  The sick twist is how it makes our young girls dress like prostitutes.  It's kind of weird that Party City has short skirt costumes for seven year old girls. I went looking for Tigger for my 10 year old.  They had French Maid outfits but no Tiggers.  That's evil.

So I have a talk with my 10 year old why that is inappropriate - I don't boycott it.

But all of that won't keep me from having some fun with my kids, talking with my neighbors and getting tooth decay.  I suggest you do the same.  Skip the trunks and connect with the people you live around.

Oh - and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The truth in the trailer

As I was watching my Eagles bumble their way toward a victory last Monday night, I saw that a new trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie was playing at halftime.  The same as you, I was mildly interested . . .

And then I saw it.

It was Harrison Ford's voice that drew me in and what was said in a mere fifty-seven words speaks to all of us regardless of where we are in life.  The movie itself may wind up being a lemon, but this trailer speaks to something deep in us . . .

Watch the trailer again here.

And consider these ideas:

It starts off connecting with us and our identity:
"Who are you? . . . I'm no one"  0:17

"I've been raised to do one thing . . . but I've got nothing to fight for . . ."  0:24

It doesn't matter whether you are 17 or 77, there is always going to be a piece of you that wrestles with your identity - Are you valued? Do you matter?  What is your place in this world?  Where will you make the most impact?

A few icy notes from the piano and confessions from people that don't recognize their part in a grand story.  This is us.  We are the ones who feel disconnected and unimportant in the big picture.

It introduces us to the villain.
"Nothing will stand in our way . . . I will finish what you started"  0:50

We have these forces in our lives - individuals or institutions that aim to keep us inert or insignificant.  Sometimes we become the monster so the monster will not break us.

And then it reminds us that we are part of a bigger story . . .
"There were stories about what happened . . . It's true . . . all of it"  1:08

You and I are rescued when we connect with the deeper story of life - one in which there is good versus evil and God does care about you and your future.  When we hear Han Solo say, "It's true . . . all of it" there is a connection to our childhood - a surge of hope that there is more to life than what we see around us.  

"the Dark Side . . . the Jedi . . . they're real"  1:27

Again, there is a reality that goes beyond this present world.  It only makes sense that if nothing gives birth to itself, then this present reality points to a reality beyond (from which it came).  This trailer - though just a story from Hollywood - identifies with something deep within us because we were meant to connect with that reality beyond this life.

It ends with an uncomfortable invitation.
"the Force . . . it's calling to you . . . just let it in" - 1:46

From a marketing standpoint, this line is pure genius.  "Just let in" the spirit of your childhood.  Escape to the story of your youth.  It is simultaneously inviting and uncomfortable.  Inviting in how it calls us back to a simpler time and a story that helped make sense of the world at some point.  Uncomfortable because we seldom think of the world beyond this now.  We are caught up in the day-to-day issues of succeeding in life, finishing school and providing for families.

But do we dare to imagine that we are currently missing out on something deeper?  In the same way we saw our imaginative youth as a stage of life - is it possible that where we are now is just as much a stage?  A stage of life that ignores the bigger story outside of this life - a stage that is limited in understanding because it ignores the impractical matters of soul and spirit.  Maybe you have not so much matured as you have silenced the silly questions of God and your eternity in order to do well in the 'here and now?'

Because outside of this movie - there is a truth that goes deeper than your schooling, your relationships and your job.  

It's true . . . all of it.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 1:1-5

Monday, October 19, 2015

Keeping the faith in the tragic.

It was Sunday morning when I learned that five high school students were involved in a car crash at about 3:30am.  One young lady had lost her life.  Four young men are being treated - some of them in the ICU.

I was away with a few hundred teenagers at the time so the news was devastating to all of us.

Earlier in the weekend I met with some teens who were hurting from a different kind of tragedy.  As we talked, they unpacked a terrible ordeal they had just been through.  They wondered how God would allow something so horrible to happen.  With the news of the five in the car crash, those questions soon multiplied.  How can God allow something like this to happen?

In the moment of pain, there are no answers - just grief.

That is not to say that there is no answer - it is just that no one wants to hear the reason behind something so painful so soon.  No one wants to hear that God has enabled us to make our own decisions - and as a result - we live in a world that is dangerous and unpredictable.  Sometimes good people die.  Sometimes we are the reason for the pain - the choices we make can hurt us or others.  Sometimes other people and their choices are the reason.  Sometimes bad things happen just because.  We forget that we live in a world in which we have been separated from God by the choices we have made.

Since love is only love when there is an option to refuse it, the opening chapters of the Bible detail something very deep. God did not make robots.  God created humans with the ability to choose to love Him.  We didn't.  The rest is history.  We live in a continual loop of the effects of this decision.  Sometimes our sin.  Sometimes the sin of others.  And sometimes the nature of a sinful world red in tooth and claw hurts us.  

So I know that no one wants to hear that in the pain.  But the truth over time is the only thing that will help us cope.  It is tempting to walk away from a God that lets this happen.  But once the pain subsides, understand that the pain of our choice will one day yield to a whole new system in which death and sin will be memories.

All we have to do is keep the faith.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Stop Religious Abuse.

A nineteen year old young man is dead at the hands of a half-dozen religious kooks.

It was two hours of relentless beating.

The doctors ruled death by sustained blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

His parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, are charged with Manslaughter for watching it all happen.  Apparently she and her husband watched the angry group (which included their daughter) kick and punch Lucas and his brother, Christopher (17 years old) for hours.  They are members of a very secretive Church called Word of Life in New Hartford, NY.  

When Lucas stopped breathing, the family brought him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.  The police were then dispatched to the 3-story brick church to look for his brother Christopher.  It took two hours because the family was uncooperative, but they found him on the second floor of the church.

According to church members, this was a counseling session that turned violent.  They were trying to get the boys to be repentant of something - and so they mercilessly beat them.

No mercy in life, no mercy in death.

Despite being forced to read the Bible two hours a day and attend the religious services of the church, Lucas and Christopher tried to live normal lives.  Friends and neighbors remember Lucas as a good kid who was nice to others - just unable to take part in the normal childhood things like sleepovers or holidays like Halloween.  

All I keep thinking about are two kids that kept getting beaten without mercy.  I doubt they kept quiet.  I am sure that they begged and pleaded - as any one of us would do.  Begged and pleaded for their lives.  No mercy . . . at the hands of people who are supposed to know mercy.  

How repulsive - to beat someone to death - for repentance.

How could you listen to someone begging for mercy and continue to beat them?

It makes me sick to my stomach.  It makes me worried for the countless other teenagers and young people who are being abused in the name of mercy.  Scared into silence.  People I pass everyday.  

God, please show mercy on the soul of Lucas.  If you would, welcome him into your presence.     

Time has run out for Lucas, but not for the countless other secretive communities and religious kooks who abuse those in their care.  Today is the day to speak up.  You have the voice and the power to end abuse that you know about.  Take the courageous step and tell someone.  Mercy is not something we talk about, it is something we practice.  The lawyers say his mother was too timid to speak up and end her son's suffering.  She is not guilty because of her temerity.

You and I know that is a lie.  Standing by makes one complicit.  

Mercy was hers to give by speaking up and ending the beatings.  Don't let her mistake be yours.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Can God save the shooters?

So we were talking about the shooting last week at dinner . . .

My youngest spoke up and said, "why can't we just identify who these people are that want to kill everyone and then round them up and lock them away somewhere?  That way they can't hurt the rest of us."


The problem is that you never know who is about to do the next evil act.  You always see the interviews after the shootings of brothers and neighbors and teachers: "I never suspected they were capable of this."  There has to be some truth behind this - still waters may run deep . . . but they also run dirty.

After the interviews and the analysis you get people talking about tougher laws and tighter restrictions.  Get more control.  Have more laws.  It is a paradox of sorts that we feel more free when we set more laws.  Rousseau said as much.

But then there's God.  This is exactly the kind of thing that God gets blamed with.  Why did He allow this to happen?  How could he allow this to happen?

Isn't it funny that we don't want the restrictive straightjacket of morality or holiness but when we are threatened by someone with a gun we turn to all kinds of restrictions as a way to keep us free?

God has it tough because no one wants the 10 Commandments on the courthouse lawn, but then when stuff like shootings happen everyone wonders where He is . . .

This is how Jesus explained the tough position that God finds Himself in . . .

Matthew 13:24-29
There was a farmer that sowed some wheat.  Late one night as the wheat was growing an enemy came and planted weeds.  This weed is called Darnell - it looks exactly like Wheat until harvest.  At harvest the difference is unmistakable - but until then there is no way of telling.

So the next morning the farmer goes out with his hired hand and sees weeds planted among the Wheat but there is no way of telling which is which.  The hired hand asks whether he should pull up the weeds but the farmer says no.

"If you do, you might pull up the Wheat with the weeds."

So they both grow until harvest - that is when you will be able to tell the difference.  Then the farmer will come and harvest the Wheat and it will fulfill what it was grown for.  The weeds, on the other hand, will be gathered and burned.

And that is why God waits - because even weeds at this point have a chance of becoming Wheat.

So because of God's grace, we cannot round up all the evil people and ship them off somewhere.  And despite all the laws we will never be safe.  God has allowed this chaotic mess to continue for the slight chance that one person may have a life change.

It is a wager that leaves a lot of collateral damage - but apparently the risk is worth it.

Apparently God has His heart set on the loners, the twisted, the mentally unstable - those plotting their hateful acts in little rooms in the heart of American towns or in the slums of Damascus.  Regardless of where they are, the fact that they are still around - and that this is still the time of grace - shows us that we have a lot of work to do in un-twisting the twisted.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The most violent nations in the world . . .

The continuance of gun violence in America is a sad reality that we way up to again and again.  What to do about it is a very complex issue that has no easy answers.  

There have been a series of statistics that have gone throughout the internet that show the United States as the highest rate of gun violence.  

This rate is 2.9 homicides by gun per 100,000.

You can find the stats in this Vox article.   It is listed as 29.7 gun murders per million.  It is chilling to think that we top the list in gun violence.  But then something didn't make sense.  I started thinking of South Africa and Colombia.  The Latin American and African countries I have been to and seen that violence . . . where were they on that chart?

When you track violence with or without guns, you get a much different picture.  According to the United Nations and World Health Organization Global Status Report on Violence Protection in 2014 (see here for that link)  -  the U.S. doesn't even crack the top 20.  

Here is the breakdown:

20.   Zimbabwe - 15 murders per 100,000 -         33% gun related.
19.   Iraq -            18.6 murders per 100,000 -      45% gun related.
18.   Panama -     19 murders per 100,000 -         80% gun related.
17.   Swaziland -  19.6 murders per 100,000 -     56% gun related.
16.   Namibia -     19.7 murders per 100,000 -     47% gun related.
15.   Guyana -      20 murders per 100,000 -        49% gun related.
14.   Mexico -       22 murders per 100,000 -        73% gun related.
13.   Dom. Rep.-  25.4 murders per 100,000 -     64% gun related.
12.   Haiti -           26.6 murders per 100,000 -     36% gun related.
11.   Bahamas -   32 murders per 100,000 -        75% gun related.
10.   Trinidad & Tobago - 35 murders per 100,000 - 77% gun related.
9.     South Africa - 35.7murders per 100,000 -   54% gun related.
8.     Lesotho -      37.5 murders per 100,000 -    50% gun related.
7.     Guatemala -  39.9 murders per 100,000 -    86% gun related
6.     El Salvador - 40 murders per 100,000 -       77% gun related.
5.     Colombia -    44 murders per 100,000 -       80% gun related.
4.     Belize -          44.7 murders per 100,000 -    69% gun related.
3.     Jamaica -      45 murders per 100,000 -       70% gun related.
2.     Venezuela -  57.6 murders per 100,000 -     90% gun related.
1.     Honduras -   104 murders per 100,000 -      84% gun related.

I really don't know what this means for us as a nation or as the human race in general.  I am not sure how he Vox article can justify its numbers if Honduras has over 1,000 murders per 1,000,000 and 84% of them are gun related.  That is 840 per million or 8.4 per 100,000 murders involving a gun.  That figure far eclipses the United States.

I think the qualifying difference is developed countries versus undeveloped countries.  But really, does it matter what level of economic achievement is reached to classify it as a violent or non-violent entity?  Can we comfort ourselves by noting that we are separated by way of life?

Far from comforting . . .

What it continues to show me is that we have to have a change of heart as a people - whether we use guns or not, until the heart is changed we will continue to murder each other.  And God is in the business of life change . . . we just have to be willing participants.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fear of the law or the law of fear . . .

So we have another shooting.  Thirteen people are dead.  Apparently the shooter asked people if they were Christians - shooting those who answered yes in the head.

I am moved by the bravery of those who answered yes . . . and the actions of Chris Mintz.  Chris approached the gunman to stop the shooting - asking him to not shoot because it was his son's birthday.  Regardless, the shooter shot Chris seven times but he is recovering.  Chris Mintz and his bravery helped save others who were being targeted.

This entire episode has me really confused, however.

Do you get the irony of it all?  This happened on a campus that was supposedly "gun-free" meaning that all the laws we have passed to stop episodes like this didn't help.  In the end, the only way to stop the shooter was with another gun.  And I really don't have an allegiance to the 'gun rights' people or the 'gun control' people but it is very interesting that we still can't stop this mess - even with the tougher laws that we have on the books.  So the 'gun people' and the 'anti-gun people' are both wrong.

Sometimes I feel like we should just get rid of all guns everywhere. 

But if we all get rid of guns, won't we just have more episodes like this?  Don't you think that there is a method to the shooter picking a 'gun free' campus?  If we get rid of all the guns, then law-abiding people will always fear those who are psychologically unstable (or criminally evil) who don't care what laws are out there.  Who will have the guns to take out those shooters?

Please don't answer the government.  Out of respect to those who have suffered at the hands of police officers this summer and spring, let's just all agree that this is a very messy issue with no easy solutions - especially when you consider how well our government handles things (see U.S. Post Office Financial Documents).

So why do we need guns?  Play darts.  Shoot peas.  Take up archery, but why do we need these things that can rips holes in each other?  

Yet I am incredibly grateful for Sgt. Joe Kaney who quickly arrived on the scene with his partner and took down the shooter.  With a gun.  So in one minute I want guns gone and another I am grateful they are there.

What annoys me is when either side of the debate thinks they have an easy solution.  Albert Breer, a journalist with the NFL network said that, "141 shootings is evidence that the American public has blown its right to bear arms."  So that is the solution?  Make a law that says, "no more guns?"  Right.  How did that work with drugs?  The minute you make something illegal you have created an industry for criminals.  Do you really think you can legislate morality when you have gotten rid of morality? If you think we haven't gotten rid of morality, watch TV at night and see how many people are glorified killing each other.  When there is nothing like God or morality tied to the law, all you have is fear of the law.  Fear of the law is proving to be a very weak deterrent.

On the other hand you have those who say everyone should have guns.  This is somewhat appealing because it might cause criminals to think twice about shooting in a mall full of potential shooters.  But now you have the law of fear as the only guide to making sure everyone does what is right.  We have gone back to the jungle and the last shooter wins.

The Bible has a great line for the kind of situation we are in:  "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  We may just have to hunker down for the next few decades of tragic occurrences like this because we have removed God from the conversation and no amount of laws or ammo are going to change the human heart.

That kind of change comes from somewhere else . . .