Donald Trump isn’t called by God.

So if you search around much on the internet, you’ll stumble across a growing movement of Christians saying that Donald Trump is called by God to strike fear into the heart of America’s enemies.  I think this is something to prayerfully consider, testing it against the word of God.  Anyone who knows me personally won’t be surprised, though, that I find it deeply troubling.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 I won’t link to these blogs- if you’re curious, feel free to Google.  I don’t want to lend further notoriety or money to a movement which I do not trust.  But I do want to discuss why I feel that the Bible provides sufficient evidence that anyone claiming Trump was anointed by God is a false prophet.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

What fruit has Donald Trump’s tree borne?  Divisiveness, fraud, corruption, a kingdom built on taking advantage of the poor, skirting the system, idolatry and bigotry.  How could such a person be called by God?  To claim such a thing is true shows a spirit either blinded to the knowledge of Trump’s true character, or a spirit which (I think this is far more likely) is taking advantage of the trusting nature of Christians and the language which codes belonging to them in order to further the agenda of a very dangerous man.

  1. Trump’s kingdom is built on idolatry.  Trump covers all of his properties and businesses in his name and his own likeness, often plating them in gold and only the finest of materials in order to further the idea that his name, not God’s name, is synonymous with prosperity.  His kingdom is a temple to his self, not the principles of the Bible.
  2. Trump’s kingdom is built on principles of taking advantage of other people, the political and legal system of the United States.  Trump’s real estate empire owes it’s success, in part, to his ability to buy up properties that were lost in bankruptcies, raze them to the ground, and build ostentatious new properties in their place.  Often this has been accompanied by complaints from impoverished communities that have been literally over-towered by Trump:  as commercial properties encroach on poor neighborhoods, people are forced out of their homes.  This is further compounded by the fact that Trump has taken advantage of bankruptcy laws in order to force government subsidizing of his own financial risk taking- he has LOST an incredible amount of money trying to game the system, and he’s passed those losses on.  Furthermore, he has padded his ability to do both of this things, skirting zoning laws, having cities pay for the right to have towers bearing his name, etc, by shamelessly buying politicians.  In what could not be a greater bit of irony, when Hillary Clinton was the Senator for New York, Trump often gave money to her own causes and invited her to bless his.
  3. Trump’s kingdom is built on bigotry.  Trump has called for the wholesale slaughter of Muslim women and children so that terrorists will stop, as if killing their women and children wouldn’t be MORE of a reason to hate the United States.  He has accused all undocumented immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists.  He has called for large-scale deportations of the like that the United States has never seen, which would leave children born in the United States without parents and would tear families apart- but even worse (if you are a capitalist, like Trump) it would cripple American industry and leave thousands of fields empty of hands to pick food, slaughterhouses empty of workers, and factories bare of the people needed to pack and ship.  Perhaps because I am a woman, though, the type of bigotry I find the most disturbing from Trump is his open contempt for the opposite gender.  He calls breastfeeding mothers “cows,” he tells women they’d “make a pretty picture on their knees” and his favorite insult for any woman, be her the nominee of a party or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is that she isn’t pretty and his women are “prettier,” as if a woman’s worth starts and ends with her physical characteristics.  This contempt for the fairer gender, contempt for women who were made by and loved by God, based off of nothing but a callous assessment of their potential as sexual objects, is abhorrent.  No man of God condemns a woman for not being a valuable enough sexual conquest.  Let’s not forget that a good portion of Trump’s wealth comes from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, a gleaming temple to the idolatry of beauty as the sum of a woman’s worth.
  4. Trump’s kingdom is built on divisiveness.  From the petty divisiveness of pitting Apprentice against Apprentice to the large-scale divisiveness of pitting Republican against Republican, Mexican against Caucasian, Muslim against Christian, Gay against Straight, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, and on down the line, Trump has built his world on pitting people against each other.  His campaign includes almost no (if not literally no) actual agenda.  Other than banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall between here and Mexico, and ending our trade deficit with China, he has said nothing of any real substance.  How would he HELP people?  How would he grow the economy?  How would he improve foreign policy?  His answer to that is that we can’t trust Mexicans, Muslims, or the Chinese.  Divisiveness, pure and simple, not solutions.
  5. Trump’s kingdom does not value truth.  There is almost too much to write here- but suffice it to say that Trump’s world is riddled with inconsistencies like a tree trunk laced with termite trails, to the point where stunned onlookers often wonder how much longer it can stand.  His stance on abortion, gay marriage, trade, his own wealth and business acumen, and so much more have changed with the winds so many times it’s impossible to keep track of what he has believed when.  He has been accused of fraud and is losing that case, he has often conserved his wealth by refusing to pay contractors and then suing them when they file for payment, he has often protected his own assets in shady legal maneuvers to allow companies to die and go bankrupt without putting his personal wealth on the line- often to the grave expense of his employees.  Some people will argue back against this accusation, saying that what Trump does is “good business,” but where in the Bible does it say that we can manage our worldly goods in a way that contradicts Biblical Principles and then still claim to act for God?  If Trump is a man of God, should not the fruits of his business be a testament to God’s goodness, instead of a testament to avarice and fraud?

So no, I do not nor will I ever believe that Trump was called by God.  All the evidence of Trump’s works on Earth can be seen in the faces of my students, when they write poems describing how much he scares them, when they beg the adults in their vicinity to vote against him, and when I literally hear them praying for Trump to fail.

Unless the “enemy” Trump has been called on to strike fear into is American women and children, he has not nor could he ever have been called by God.

Safety Is Not Guaranteed

Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Refugees.”

Ben Carson proudly backs a “majority of US Governors” who want to block Syrian refugees from coming into this country.  Paul Ryan calls for “a pause” in the refugee process, which typically takes two years, to reassure political leaders that refugees are adequately vetted.  (They are screened seven times, by several agencies, more than any other kind of immigrant.)  People across the United States are calling for the refugees to be kept out.  Government officials propose alternative solutions like, say, forcing all the refugees back into Syria and simply putting them in camps there and guarding them.

I understand that this is a complex issue and answers don’t come easily, but when I see my Christian brothers and sisters calling for the refugees to be sent back to Syria, or to be housed in “nearby countries where people are like them,” what I see isn’t a rational discussion about the issue, but a reaction based off of fear and xenophobia.  I have seen Christians using the Bible to defend both sides of the argument, arguing alternately that the Old Testament is stringent in it’s command to care for foreigners in our land and that we are called to provide for our own.

People say things like “why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?”

People say, “why should we WELCOME TERRORISTS?”

People say, “we have a responsibility to protect our families!”

Bible verses fly like chaff on the wind, the casing of an argument that is built around a very different kind of seed.

So come now, my friends, let’s try this again.

Why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?  Once upon a time, I was a supervisor in a homeless shelter.  And while my salary was paid by the kindness of our donors, and we received adequate support, I was always a little shocked by how many people didn’t help.  The amount of people who actively supported and donated, especially the amount of people who gave with any regularity, was a small percentage of the booming Christian population surrounding us.  The truth is that while homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, the people actively working to help homeless people are almost constantly having to beg for support, redirecting funds and personnel that could be helping the homeless to raise more funds.  If we really cared about the homeless, shelters wouldn’t have to be constantly begging for cash and calling their donors to ask for more food and socks and diapers.  It is both disheartening and outrageous to see homelessness used as an excuse to NOT help refugees, when the government funding for the programs that help the homeless is constantly under threat of being removed.  The Republican Presidential Nominees using “we need to help our people here” as a talking point for refusing the refugees have also said that they would cut funding to HUD, which sponsors shelters, and have said they would get rid of “tax loopholes” like the Community Development Block grant, which is part of what kept my own shelter in the black.

Point one:  You don’t get to use the homeless as a shield for your opinion if you actively support defunding the programs that currently keep them off the street.  Entire Republican field- I am talking to you.

Why should we welcome refugees if some might be terrorists?  Well, for one, while people are quick to talk about rising crime rates in European countries accepting refugees, the evidence is that the crime rate has risen in proportion to populations, showing that refugees commit the same amount of, or fewer, crimes comparative to their native counterparts.  While one bomber in Paris was found with a fake Syrian passport, his presence in France was due entirely to the amount of refugees arriving on boats in Greece and the European Union’s open border policies and lax refugee laws.  The refugees awaiting placement in the US are not the same ones washing onto the shores in Greece.  They are living in UN refugee camps and applied for placement years ago.  They are going through an intense screening process and would only be placed in the States if they are deemed to be a good fit: they have family here already, are connected with community groups here already, or have skills that would make them beneficial to the US economy.  The refugees that the UN would refer for placement in the US would already have protective barriers that are known to decrease the likelihood of terrorism, since terrorists are generally people who are disconnected from communities due to extreme hardship.  The presence of a fake passport on a terrorist in Paris tells us that the terrorists want us to fear refugees and send them back to Syria.  Do we want to be so easily manipulated?

Point Two:  If you fear refugees, you do what the terrorists want.  The first step to overcoming terrorism is to not fear what terrorists ask you to.

But we still have a responsibility to protect our families!  Except we have to ask ourselves what we need to protect them FROM.  One thing we want to protect them from is living in a future where the actions we take today could haunt them.  One way we could haunt our children is by making our country responsible for millions of deaths because refugee camps were overrun, people hand nowhere to go, so they were trying to cross the seas en masse on rubber rafts.  The fact that the US was unwilling to take in Jewish immigrants prior to WW2 remains as a stain on our collective conscience.  How many people could we have saved if we’d been compassionate?  But people had, then, the same fears they have today:  what if the refugees steal our jobs, rape our women, cause crimes, are actually spies?  While the problems today are slightly different and there is legitimate reason to suspect that terrorist organizations would take advantage of refugee programs, that is why the government of the United States already has refugees pass seven screenings through various organizations before approving them for placement, in a process that takes several years.  Ten thousand unscreened refugees aren’t going to show up and wage war tomorrow.  It isn’t going to happen.  While one or two psychopaths could possibly leak through, it would be in a percentage proportionate to the population at large.  And while one or two psychopaths can cause a lot of damage, we face mass shootings from our own citizens with some regularity.  By taking in refugees, we help the UN to provide stability throughout the Middle East by taking some of the pressure off of their refugee camps.  This helps to keep everyone safe and sap the power from the terrorists, who benefit from Syrian families suffering.  Besides which, if you feel justified in “keeping your family safe” at the expense of the suffering of innocent people, that is truly shudder-worthy.

Refugee camps catch on fire.

Refugee camps are susceptible to fatal disease outbreaks.

Female refugees, especially young women, are often the victims of unreported crime.

Refugees have inconsistent access to medical care, to education, and to basic niceties of life.  The war in Syria could rage for decades; in the meantime, are we meant to believe that we make the world safer by leaving these people to burn to death, to die of viral meningitis, to be raped and beaten?

Will their children learn to love us and our freedoms if we leave them to suffer?

Point three:  You cannot make the world safer by perpetuating the conditions that breed terrorism.  If you want the Muslim world to love us and our freedoms, bring them here.  Show them our freedoms.  Love them.  Let them learn to love us.

Besides which, the Bible doesn’t guarantee us safety.  If anything, it does the opposite.  The Bible is full of references to persecution, stating that as Christ suffered so we will also suffer as his disciples.  Let’s not forget the fact that we follow someone who lovingly offered his body to the scourge so that his blood would be shed to save us.  And we can’t even offer up our local community center to a refugee family so their children can play?

1 Corinthians 14:10-  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This is an opportunity for us, in our weakness and fear, to be made strong.  This is an opportunity to put our faith in God, to put our fate in God’s hands, and to trust that His will be done.  This is a time to pray for the wisdom of our leaders that they make the right call when placing refugees.  This is a time for us to sacrifice our pride as the servants of mankind and to pour out blessings on the refugees, trusting that as we do so in obedience to Christ that our faith and humility will open their hearts to God’s love.

This is a time to act like Christ.

Let us not forget that Jesus washed Judas’ feet the night before he died.  That he ate with Judas, that he called him friend.

Let’s not forget that anything God calls for us to sacrifice, even our lives, is never too much.  That we have faith in him that he uses every harm for good, every wound to show his grace and mercy.  When we open our mouths to say that we must ignore the needs of the innocent because it is “too risky” to help, that we must leave orphans and widows in squalor because we must protect ourselves, what we say out of the other side of our mouth is that we no longer believe that serving other people in obedience to God offers us any sort of reward.  We want to reward ourselves with our own safety.

Is that what faith does?

Let us not forget that as the Bible teaches us, everything we have is God’s in the first place.

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

All we have we possess as His stewards.  If we truly believe that, that this is His country and not ours, we need to ask ourselves not what we want but what He requires.

Does God want his children in the Muslim world to suffer in camps, living exposed to the elements in tents, subject to fire and disease, famine and cruelty, indefinitely while a war wages in their hometowns?  Does he want us to turn a blind eye to their plight out of fear that one or two radicals may slip through the cracks?  Does God value OUR safety more than THEIRS?

photo via the associated press

Buried Leads, Free Speech, and No Je Suis Charlie for me (please)

Let me start out by saying that as beautiful as it can be, when we see real moments of solidarity in society, we should always question who it is that we are aligning ourselves to.  In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, there was a spontaneous outpouring of “Je Suis Charlie.”  People who had never heard of the magazine before were horrified that anyone would ever be killed just for expressing an opinion, which I have to say I agree with.  No one should ever be killed just because someone else disagrees with them.

But people also shouldn’t be killed for things like wanting an education or simply living somewhere where someone else wants to be.  A girl bomber has killed 19 people in Nigeria recently, sparking suspicions that the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year may be being abused and turned extremist.  This, on top of a spat of recent killings led by Boko Haram in a land grab that gives them control of a much larger territory (the images are horrifying).  Boko Haram has already been described by the Nigerian government as intractable and too in control of the land they already had.  As they continue to make land grabs, kill villagers, and steal young girls (a practice that they haven’t given up, even after the #bringbackourgirls tag trended on Twitter) the situation becomes more and more corrupt and resistant to change.

Locals reported that the Boko Haram militants were unscrupulously killing everyone they could find just to incite horror, shooting a pregnant woman who was already in labor.  Can you even imagine being that woman, dying knowing that your child was already dead inside you, just hours after preparing yourself to hold that child for the first time?

The news of the Nigerian massacre, which could be as little as 200 or as many as 3000 dead in just a few days, coming on the heels of Je Suis Charlie raises many important questions.  The first would be why, as these innocent people were killed just for living in the wrong place, was the 24 hour news cycle more concerned with talking about whether or not Obama had betrayed the American public’s trust by not going to the 3.7 million man march for free speech in France?

The question of whether Obama SHOULD have gone to the march raises several important questions.  The first is if the symbolic defense of free speech really should have such a pull for us, as a nation.  We do love free speech here, even more than France, which famously has several restrictions on what people can publish.  Charlie Hebdo has quite famously had to defend themselves in court when their comics had been challenged as hate speech, even being told by the French government that they were overstepping their bounds and should print less offensive of images.  Charlie Hebdo’s defense has been that no one would possibly take them seriously as a news magazine and they are strictly comedic- but in France, even that defense can be problematic.

So, if Obama were to go to France, I would hope it would be to talk about the complicated issue of what Free Speech is as an ideal and should be, and to question if France should loosen it’s restrictions or if, perhaps, the USA should consider some restrictions of it’s own.

The truth is that the marches in support of Charlie Hebdo are less about the reality of free speech (as the magazine repeatedly faced being shut down by the French government and no one marched then) but about the symbolism of people wanting to be free to condemn Islam without being murdered.  Now, to be fair, no one should ever be murdered just for having an offensive opinion.

But I, also, would never want to say Je Suis Charlie knowing that they created comics which are deeply offensive to my moderate Muslim friends here in the States, also knowing that they tend to be homophobic and generally have been characterized as lowbrow and crass.  There is a website to help non-French speakers to better understand the cartoons, but click at your own risk.  Political cartooning can be both a great form of satire and visual argument, but also has a spotted history of racism and abusiveness.  Not all political cartoons are created equal, and there is a great opportunity for honest debate being lost by the wholehearted outpouring of defense of Charlie Hebdo.  While no one deserves to die for what they publish, the truth is that there is a level of integrity and ethics that all journalists, even cartoonists, should employ.  Cartoonists today still often employ images that evoke racist sentiments, for example, to attack our President Obama.  The rallying cries of “free speech” and “it’s just a cartoon” cannot always be used to gloss over how irresponsible it is to knowingly publish works with the full intent to offend and incite hatred.

But suddenly I find myself back at the girl bomber in Nigeria, and the pregnant woman left for dead in the streets with her unborn child just pushes away from it’s first breath when it died.

Because we need to ask ourselves what our anger, what our push for solidarity, really represents.  We can’t say that we side with Charlie Hebdo because we are against terrorism, or our horror would be just as strongly for the fact that the Nigerian people are losing the ability to turn to their government for help, and Nigeria may very soon fall entirely into the hands of the terrorist Boko Haram.  We cannot say that our horror at the murder of those cartoonists is solely about people’s right to live without fear, or we’d be a little more concerned that Nigerian schoolgirls cannot leave their homes to get an education without accepting the fact that they may be kidnapped and radicalized into suicide bombers.  So what is it?

My fear is that the identifying with Charlie Hebdo is, at least in part, a sublimated desire to also condemn Islam.

But perhaps I judge too harshly.

All I can say is this:  Yes, cartoonists being killed just for having expressing an opinion, however offensive, is wrong.

But we, as human beings, should be just as quick to stand up for girl’s rights to pursue an education, and people’s rights to live their daily lives without being slaughtered in the streets.  If we truly wish to combat terrorism we need to ask ourselves how exactly that can be done.

Speech isn’t going to end terrorism.

But supporting the Nigerian people so that they are strong enough to fight, protect their daughters, and bear their children: well, that might.

Duck Dynasty, Exposure, and Godliness.

So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home.  His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up:  Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.

I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news.  The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt.  The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective.  The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully.  After that, I had to do some thinking.

My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.

First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole.  We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us.  In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people.  The metaphor?  The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised.  Hm.  Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ.  He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it.  His life was focused on compassion.  Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?

Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.

The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.

duck heads

Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short.  You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to?  Not liking anus?

Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending?  The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?

For me, at least, the choice is clear.

Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear.  Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona.  While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand.  GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad.  It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.

He’s being censured for not doing his job.

This is the problem with mixing God and money.  If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals.  If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that.  If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.

(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)

Now, for the issue of free speech:

If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?

Food for thought.

Picture from Jamesjustin

Why school demographics make me break down in tears.

Right now I am trying, desperately trying, to finalize bullet points for a short presentation I’m giving Thursday on stress and the education system.  Instead of nicely polishing my documents and printing the flyers I’m handing out, I’m sitting here in tears.  Again.  This is not the first time this project has made me sort of lose it.  Thankfully I have waterproof mascara for the day of, because I’m pretty sure I’ll be losing it halfway through the presentation.

Here’s why.  First, you need to know about the ACE study done by Kaiser Permanente.  They were looking for a way to accurately predict the onset of certain chronic conditions that were high-cost to maintain, like diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of mental illnesses.  They did a survey that covered every aspect of people’s lives.  Work, diet, family life, childhood, education, etc, etc, etc.  What they found was a direct correlation between what they termed “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and people’s health later in life.  Your mother was a drug addict?  Here, have a nice depression and eating disorder!  Your dad beat your mom in front of you?  Would you like a spicy heart disease and obesity with that?  It seemed counter-intuitive, so they conducted more studies to see why there would be a connection like that.  It led to major breakthroughs in how stress affects brain chemistry.  While occasional stress may actually heighten brain function, boost immunity, and help people survive the upsets of life, long-term stress is like a poison that there is no antidote for.  It changes the way the brain functions, killing short-term memory, deadening emotions, and hampering immune function.  This is especially dangerous for young people whose brains are still developing.  Brain scans of a child who experienced abuse at home compared to that of a child raised in a stable environment are just chilling.

So when you look at chronic stress and the educational environment, there are a lot of things to consider.  One is that teachers are more likely to feel forced to have “interventions” (disciplinary action) for students who seem distracted, whose grades are falling, or who are in the system because they have a personal educational plan or there has been law enforcement involvement with their family.  Those students, perhaps ironically, are the ones who are least likely to benefit from disciplinary action.  Why?  Their amygdala is swollen, they have too much adrenaline and cortisol in their system, they are afraid of authority figures and they feel defeated by life.  Rather than stopping negative behaviors, making those students feel on edge is likely to just cause more.  Schools who replace disciplinary interventions with the “compassionate” alternative of simply asking why a student is looking at their phone or not completing work and if they are experiencing any kind of stress find they have far better outcomes.  Of course they would!  If the school environment becomes a combative or stress filled one because of constant discipline or failure or some kind of combination of the two, the student is more likely to fight or freeze than to actually become engaged.

The problem is that teachers are looking at the issue from the perspective of someone who isn’t under constant stress and thinking of how they would respond, not their students.

The school district I will end up working for, in all likelihood, has 75% Hispanic students and 85% of all students receiving free lunches, which means that 85% of the students are in poverty and 75% of students may come from a home where English is not the primary language.  Many of those students have parents who are in back-breaking work situations.  You have 12 year old kids who raise their younger siblings while their parents work.  Kids who have family who have been deported and they’ll never see again.  Kids whose parents are using or selling drugs.  Kids who find school to be incredibly stressful because they are still unable to understand all of what is going on.

When you look at how the schools are doing with meeting learning targets, the outlook is dismal.

Of course it is.

People like to say things like, “the United States gives everyone an opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Mmhm.  But think of what a student can make of themselves if they had a traumatic stress disorder by the time they were 3, if their language development was nipped in the bud and they have been behind the class from day 1, being pushed and pushed by a teacher desperate to make them succeed to save their own job.  Traumatized at home, traumatized at school, doomed for failure from the time of their birth.

Right now these issues are gaining awareness, but they are far from being addressed.

And I’m going to give a short talk on it for the final in my Critical Race Theory class, because I’m a sap. I’m a sap who’ll break down in tears.

We like to say we’re past all of this, that latinos and blacks and everybodies are all equal in our society, while we walk around blissfully unaware of the privileges some people have just because they were born into stable homes.

But in all reality?  We’re all cursed.  You know that ACE study, that was trying to figure out how insurance companies could save more money?  Most of the participants were white men in their 40s and 50s.

It’s a big boat, folks.  We need to start acting like we’re in it together.

Societal oppression, dish soap, and knives.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on an essay project that has to do with societal oppression and the Bible.  (I’ll post the full text at some point.)  Of course throughout the whole thing I find myself ruminating about the families in poverty I work with.  Couple this with ongoing political debates about the Affordable Care Act, and I’ve felt like an emotional cocktail for the last month.  Of course, emotional cocktail means blog post eventually, because why feel and think about all of this stuff if not to lay it at your ever-patient feet?

The first thing I was thinking about was dish soap.  For the average family, dish soap is something you use to wash dishes.  You know you’re poor when you realize it also cleans floors, can be used as a body wash in a pinch (but not your privates- that stings), as a laundry detergent, to clean floors, and to bathe puppies.  Oh, yes.  When I was working at the shelter, we used to have families that didn’t like the Tide detergent we provided for free (for use in a High Efficiency front loading washer) and would use dish soap instead.  The first time I had to mop several gallons of soapy water off the floor because the seal started to leak I thought it was mildly amusing.  The fifth time, I was spitting angry and already knew to wipe the seal down with baking soda first, then with canola oil, then to run canola oil and baking soda through the dispenser to kill the suds.

The dish soap would leak out from the shower, too.

Dish soap is only the first thing which people in extreme poverty have special knowledge about.  The other is knives.  Not hunting knives.  Kitchen knives.  Did you know that if you don’t have kitchen scissors, steak knives work well on cardboard and tearing open freezer bags?  They do.  And a thin fillet knife is just the thing for opening a can of beans if you don’t have a can opener.  I, personally, wouldn’t have realized that a can opener is a luxury.  But yet I cannot tell you how many times I was supervising lunch prep and someone went at a can with a fillet knife before I even knew what had happened.  It didn’t occur to them that we would have a can opener, they didn’t even know what one looked like.

The normal person is blissfully unaware that there are everyday habits we engage in as members of the middle class that people in poverty do not know because they’ve never had the opportunity to engage with them.  Our clothes washers need fussy soap.  We have kitchen utensils which only have one purpose.  Some people have ten, fifteen things in their kitchen that can only be used for one thingIf you have to pick pennies out of your couch to scrape together the money to ride the bus to work, you do not own single-use utensils unless someone else bought them for you.  Garlic crusher?  Fuh.  No.  Juicer?  What the…? No.  Cappuccino machine?  It is to laugh.

It’s interesting to me when people disparage the poor, saying things like they aren’t smart enough to be rich.  Sorry, buddy, you ain’t smart enough to be poor.  The people who stayed at the shelter had MAD skills.  They memorized bus schedules, they knew who gave what away on what day and what thrift stores dependably had what kind of stuff.  “Don’t go to Salvation Army for kids clothes, they never have any.  This store drops prices towards the end of the month.  Go there in the evening, sometimes you catch that store right when they are throwing out the day old bread and it’s still good for a while…”  And on, and on.  Repositories of knowledge that people with cash in their pockets simply don’t ever need.

And the middle class has it’s own rules.  Knowing what is good debt and what is bad.  Knowing what the hell a Roth IRA is and why you would want one.  Knowing where to get secondhand clothes with good labels and what stores discount what clothes in what season.  Learning those skills can be the hardest part of transitioning to a new class.  The quiet judgment of the women who wonder why you got your kids clothes there.  The panic the first time someone asks you to bring a cold plate for brunch.  (Why does the plate have to be cold?  What do you put on it?  If you go into Kroger and ask for a cold plate will they know what it is?)  There are a million things that people take for granted as a part of their lives, as common knowledge, simply because it’s what they grew up with.  And asking?  Asking is the worst kind of shame because it tells the world that you don’t really belong.  If you belonged, you would know.

They say that there is always someone richer.  You tell someone who makes $60,000 that they aren’t too bad off and they’ll point to the person who makes $100,000.  Tell that person they are doing really well and they’ll point to the person who makes $200,000.  Tell that person they are really quite fortunate and they’ll point to the millionaire, who points to the multi-millionaire, who points to Bill Gates, who I’m sure is jealous of someone.

When you’ve got a family of five and you feel lucky to break $30,000, everyone is rich.

When you’re homeless, anyone with a roof of their own is a lucky bastard.

We all have things we take for granted that we shouldn’t.

But the thing that bothers me the most right now?  Last week I washed a few loads of laundry in dish soap and baking soda, because I had made buying my kids warm clothes for winter a priority.  And in the midst of all the political arguments, I kept wanting to tell people I just couldn’t listen to them because they didn’t know about dish soap and knives.

What they picture as poor doesn’t reflect the effort and knowledge and work that goes into being poor.  Food stamps will keep you fed, if you’re smart about how you use them, but they won’t keep you from scrubbing your rump with dish soap when you run out of body wash.

It won’t keep you from opening the can of beans with a knife.

It won’t keep you from shaking out the couch cushions for the money to ride the bus.

It won’t let you take a single thing for granted, like the majority of this country does every day.

Congressional Shutdown: What to call it?

I’m a big believer in the power of words, so as the shutdown drags on ever longer and more and more people begin to talk about it, I find myself wondering what words to use to describe it.  People call the congress “childish”, or “terrorist”, or “stupid.”  I try on each of those words and try to figure out what words are really appropriate, what are silly rhetoric, and what words do more harm than good.  Let us deconstruct together.

First off, I don’t think that “childish” is a good word to use.  While much of the dialogue seems woefully immature, I still don’t believe it’s a good idea to insult children.  Most children are aware that their actions have consequences.  This becomes clear even at a very young age.  My two-year-old Monkeypants knows when she’s gone too far.  She knows when it’s time to accept the time out and the fact that the toys have gone into the “no-no box” on top of the fridge.  She will give me a hug and same “sorry Mimi” with those big, tearfully rueful eyes, and she will behave as if she is remorseful.  Congress does not show that level of self-awareness.  Instead, as the consequences become more dire and the public outcry and condemnation mounts, they yell even louder as if throwing a bigger tantrum is the real way to get what you want.  Sorry, Congress, but my two-year-old even knows that won’t work.  So what you are isn’t childish, that’s not it at all.

Another word used in lieu of “childish” is “criminal.”  For one, nothing that congress has done is illegal.  They have the shield of the law over them, even if it seems contrary to the conscience that such could be true.  An analogy has been made that their actions are similar to kidnapping the American public’s needs and holding them blackmail, much like drug cartels do with rich tourists.  And while on a basic level that comparison seems to hold water, I think it needs to be examined in more than a cursory way.  What exactly happened?  The extreme side of one party looked at the failed budget negotiations.  They claim that their conscience would not allow them to pass a budget that funded items they disagree with on a basic moral level.  Hm.  While that may smack of a certain amount of truth, almost all politicians do so to some extent or another.  They yammer about funding for more tanks, for example, or for wheat subsidies, or for scientific grants, or for funding failing schools.  They moan and complain, but ultimately pass the budget because they come to the very sane realization that the majority of Americans are asking them to do so, and they serve our interests, not their conscience.  In this instance, while 51% of the public say they are unhappy with the Affordable Care Act, 27% of that thin “majority” want it improved, and only 23% of them want it defunded.  So the numbers reflect that over 80% of Americans didn’t want Congress to fail to pass the budget over that issue.  In that case, it means that if the House was feeling pricked by anything, it probably wasn’t their conscience.  It was opportunism.  That makes the “holding us hostage” language feel a little more real.  They saw an opportunity to take a visible stand, but it wasn’t in the name of the majority of Americans.  That’s what they said, but clearly the numbers show that was dishonest at best but most likely a lie.  The stand was in the name of political posturing.  So this isn’t like a drug cartel taking a hostage so much as political activists taking prisoners.  Only what is held prisoner is pregnant women’s access to WIC, vacationers access to parks, military personnel’s access to civilian contractors, scientist’s access to grant money, and the list goes on and on.

I can see why some people would say, “they are like terrorists.”  But that language is unnecessarily inflammatory and most people on the other side of the argument wouldn’t stay around long enough to hear the explanation, and likely wouldn’t buy into it even if they did.  Is literally halting people’s lives worth what slim political gain the Republicans garner?  I doubt it, in the long run.  That’s why I finally found the word I think fits them the most:

Opportunistic bastards.  Yes, I know, it’s still inflammatory.  But, I can’t think of anything that fits that is not.  I’m thinking of that guy at the bar who won’t take no for an answer.  You tell him you’re not there to be picked up and he says, “you’re just saying that because you haven’t met me yet.” You tell him you are there with friends and aren’t interested in conversation.  He says, “sweetie you don’t have to play shy.”  Your friends come over to rescue you from your obvious discomfort and he tells them not to cock-block.  You laugh and say no really you aren’t interested in his cock and he says that’s because you haven’t seen it and asks for your cell phone number.  Hello, dude, no means no.  But he’s the kind of creep that will still try to walk you to your car.  The kind of creep that keeps sending you unwanted drinks.  The kind of creep that makes you feel like you need to ask the bouncer to walk you to your car.  The kind of creep who probably has roofies in his pocket and is just waiting for a congressional budget negotiation to totally screw you.  The kind of guy that gets more aggressive the more you say “no.”

A bastard, plain and simple.

Not a child, because children know that no means no.  Not a criminal, because the criminal justice system is full of people who pled guilty and accepted the consequences of their actions.  Not a terrorist, because terrorists show a callous disregard for the value of life.  And these guys, they never seem to cross that line.  No, they just terrify you because you wonder what will happen one day when the right opportunity strikes.  (Okay, maybe that sounds suspiciously like terrorism.)

They are just bastards, but unlike the bastards in the bar you can’t throw the drink they bought you at their crotch and just get up and leave and go somewhere else.

If only.