Poor people lack integrity?

Often times, I’ll look back on my day  of work and feel like I’m just so insanely lucky to have my job.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I have more of a “WTF?!?!” feeling about my job.  Today is a “WTF, JOB” day, but only because of one writer.  She had a sort of rambling-incoherent essay about integrity and society which she had worked really hard to make more organized.  We tip-toed through it talking about the places where she didn’t have enough evidence to stake her claims and how she could have more of a central focus.  Inasmuch as that is concerned, she wasn’t so different from any other student.

No, what turned my stomach was in her conclusion, where she was talking about how society seems to reward bad behavior, and she threw in an aside about how lazy people are rewarded with food stamps and WIC.  Her teacher had written, in the margin, “lazy children and babies?”, a sentiment which I reflexively backed.  The student responded that she wasn’t really sure why her teacher had made that comment, and then flipped the paper over to show me a bit of a rant that said teacher had made about the working poor, which asked rather bluntly, “if a single mom works two part time jobs and still needs WIC & food stamps, how many jobs should she get?”

So the student and I talked briefly about the plight of the working poor, and I told her that if she wanted to make the argument that society rewards bad behavior she’d have to get another example, “if not because you understand what I’m saying, because your teacher clearly doesn’t think your argument is sound.”

I asked her if she thought that bankers who sold toxic mortgages being rewarded with cushy early retirement deals while the government bailed out their companies was a good example of what she meant.

“WHAT?”

I explained again.  “Do you think that they acted without integrity and were rewarded?”

The student blinked slowly.  “I don’t know.  What are you even talking about?  That’s not like, you know, a real thing that happened.”

I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears.  “Yes, yes it is.  Please google ‘toxic mortgage’ and read the news articles that come up.  It happened a few years ago but we still feel the effects of it today.  You’re younger than me, but you were old enough to be paying attention to the news during the recession…”

“It wasn’t, like, a real recession.”

“My family moved from Indiana to Yakima because there were no jobs.  Like, no jobs.  There was a place that was hiring twenty people and three thousand people applied.  If that isn’t a real recession, I don’t know what is.”

“But it was like not the bankers fault,” the girl said, “if it really was…”

“Please, just look it up,” I said, thinking that it sure as hell wasn’t the fault of babies on WIC.

But it left me feeling incredibly unsettled, this reflexive hatred towards poor people.  Only slightly less unsettling was the defensive trust of the rich.  Yet, what stuck with me was the instinctive way that she equated being poor with having no integrity, without flinching, assuming without having anything to base her argument on that anyone reading it would agree.  As if the final nail in the coffin when arguing that today’s society has lost its moral compass would be the fact that we feed babies and children whose parents cannot get by.

I don’t know, perhaps this is another sign of my own biases getting in the way of my better judgment, as I almost instantly wanted to tap out of the consultation and take up smoking just to burn off the stress.  Yet I cannot, even now, nine hours later, easily shake the sourness in my stomach and get on with life.  How is it that there is an entire population of our country that equate poverty with sin just as simply as I equate the sky with the color blue?  Yet, there is evidence that the sky is blue every day.

What, exactly, is the evidence that poor people are bad?

Where does that message even come from?

I would think that if you were going to write a essay about the duplicitous nature of our society, the better argument would be the fact that our government is more prone to cut food stamps than they are to cut subsidies to corporations, and that human life holds less sacredness than capitalism.

Yet, from the look in that girl’s eyes, I’m the one who isn’t really in touch with reality.

Heh.

Honestly, I’m not sure that reality is something I want to get my hands on these days.

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.

Let me tell you what Hell is.

The text read:  “Im going to burn in hell ne way.”

*beep beep*

“Life is pain.  Why live?  Pain forever, then hell.  I want it over with.”

I got his address off of Facebook, we’d become friends only days before when he’d been given a copy of my novel.  I wasn’t sure what had inspired him to reach out to me.  All I knew was that I’d stayed home from church that day because I was sick, and here he was.  Reaching out.  Not wanting to die alone.

“Don’t be an idiot”, I texted him back.  “There is love.  There is hope.   If you go to hell I’m going with you.”

Painful seconds passed.

“I’m almost to your house,” I wrote.  “Calling you.”

I will never, ever, forget the pain in his voice when he answered his phone.  When we’d met a few days before, he had been the kindest, gentlest, most soft spoken person I’d ever known.  He had been so quick to laugh, and although he obviously was living with a great deal of pain his spirit shone through.  The voice I heard through the phone was almost robotic in it’s monotone and so desperately lacking in spirit.  “Just stay alive another minute,” I told him.  “I’m turning, where are you?”

He came out on the front porch and agreed to go with me.  I took him to a mental health clinic that was fortunately only a few blocks away.  Even so, it was one of the longest car rides of my life.

“God doesn’t hate you,” I said.  “God loves you.”

“You know what they say?”  He replied, “I would’ve never been gay unless God totally rejected me.”

“For F—‘s sake, you said you’ve known you were gay since you were six!  What did a six year old do to get wholly rejected by God?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”  He wiped away tears but it was like wiping at the Columbia, it just kept rushing out.  “I mean, I can’t not be gay and no one cares, I mean, they don’t care no matter what.  It’s like, ‘well sure you’re depressed, it’s what comes from sin.’ And like, ‘the wages of sin is death’ so like if I kill myself, that’s justice.  That’s justice.”

“And here I took you for someone pretty smart,” I responded.  “You know homosexual acts are listed right with gossip and idle talk and drunkenness.  If your suicide is justice half that freaking church needs to put a blade to their wrist.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I’m kind of pissed that you almost died on my watch.  I could say more.”

He just stared at me.

“God is love, right?  You remember my favorite passage.  It’s all over the book.  The people that won’t help you because you are gay can’t be speaking for God because it’s not loving to turn away from someone’s pain.  Whatever they said it doesn’t matter.”

“You didn’t hear them, Ell.  All of the verses, and it’s like, ‘hey, it’s in the Bible.  We’re just being obedient.'”

“Shut the eff up, man, or I’ll pull over and slap you.”

“Ell!”

“I don’t want to hear that crap in my car even if you are quoting someone else.  Forget it.”

“I don’t understand, I mean, I thought you were a Christian.”

“Of course I’m a Christian, that’s why I can recognize bull when I hear it.  The fruit of the spirit is goodness and patience and love and whatever the other ones are.”

“Ha!”

“I’m a little distracted by how pissed I am and can’t do the brain thing, forgive me.”

“What were you saying?”

“Love.  That’s the fruit of the spirit.  If the fruit of their obedience is your death, it’s not my God they are obeying.”

“Oh,” he said.

“And honestly I’m feeling more Christlike right now than I have in years.”

* * *

A few weeks later we would be emailing back and forth, and I would say this.  “What you said about Hell.  I can show you hell.  It’s a kid going to a church because he’s on the brink and he needs someone to love him, and they show him the door.  I don’t know where Jesus is right now, but he is weeping.  And he still loves you.  Don’t give up.”

Here’s the thing:  I don’t care what your personal conviction is about homosexuality.  What I care about is my friend, and other people like him.  Sadly, he’s not the only kid I’ve ever heard tell that story and I doubt he’ll be the last, even though I fervently pray it’s not the case.  I’ve talked enough blades off of wrists for my lifetime.

Here’s the thing:  gay people aren’t the enemy.  Homosexuality is never singled out in the Bible.  It always appears hand in hand with other sins:  hubris, for example.  Drunkenness and gluttony.  Idolatry.  Idle talk and gossip.  What infuriates me more than anything else in the whole debate about sexuality is that you see people saying “we can’t let gays get married because it goes against the Bible” but the same people aren’t trying to pass laws to outlaw idle chatter, gluttony, or even premarital sex.  How is it okay for Christian organizations to be pursuing keeping sodomy laws on the books while their employees chat about who Julie is dating on their breaks?

I’m sorry, guys, that may strike you as an extreme example but I am being completely serious.

The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the sins it lists.  Being gay is no worse than being a gossip, and both things are equally condemned in the church.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

At the end of the day, what makes a sexually immoral person such a target as opposed to all of the other sins on the list?

And then we get into discussions about the law and about how opposing gay marriage is just obedience to God.  Let me tell you something:  God never once commanded us to make laws regarding the morality of people outside the church.  In fact, He said something more like:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Their sin is none of our business.

The more Christians speak out against gay rights, the more they talk about the sin issue, the more they put out literature talking about how Gay people are sold to sin and more likely to abuse children and get drunk and have “depraved sexual relations” that “go against God”… the more I think about people like my friend, with the razor to their wrist, thinking that there is nothing to do but die.

Let me tell you what Hell is:

It’s a church so focused on sin that it’s forgotten how to love.

We have absolutely no business talking about the sexuality of those not in the church.

It goes against the Bible.

And for those inside the church, we should talk about it quietly, in confidence, not blast about it on the internet for every suicidal 19 year old gay boy to see.

Just.

Stop.

For the love of God, think about what you are doing.

Judgment, Discernment, and understanding God.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Matthew 10:16

I often caution people against being judgmental, saying something along the lines of this:  “God loves and desires for all of creation to be reunited with Him.  If our judgment of others separates them from the love of God that we can offer them, that is the worst kind of sin.”  That is something I believe wholeheartedly, one of the most core and fundamental tenets of my personal faith.  There are many things about my beliefs which I am willing to question and have questioned, many things which I could debate happily until my last breath.  But if any Christian tells me that they believe they have the right to judge others I feel literally ill.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:13-14)

The Bible seems clear on the fact that Christians are supposed to know what is sin and what isn’t.  Christians are supposed to understand the difference between good and evil, and cling to one while rejecting the other.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  (Romans 12:9-20)

The problem is that while the Bible repeatedly speaks of discernment and understanding the nature of Good and Evil, the Bible often couples such terms with lengthier passages about the need for fraternity, forgiveness, and love in the Church.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

So why is there this coupling of preaching discernment with commanding love?  Some modes of belief preach that judgment is good and necessary.  Not a week has ever passed on this blog where someone didn’t say “but we’re supposed to judge our brethren.”  It’s undeniable- it’s in the Bible.  But the question is why? 

In Romans 14 the author of that book writes about how there are arguments between believers about what is or isn’t unclean.  Some people believe one day or another should be sacred.  Some believers eat whatever they wish while others feel that eating some things are sinful.  The author states that a person’s convictions should never become a stumbling block to their brother or sister, that a choice needs to be made to honor each other’s convictions, because:

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  (Romans 14:21)

This is interesting to consider, but far more powerful is a verse that comes earlier in the passage:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Yes, we should know good from evil, and we should know which actions of our Brothers and Sisters are good or evil.  The Bible even says to expel the immoral brother from among us.  (1 Corinthians 5:13)  Yet with all of that, the scales remain tipped in the other direction, and the Bible never really spells out why.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  (1 John 2:6)

We know what Jesus did.  We know that he ate with the tax collectors and sinners.  We know that he let prostitutes be in his company, he even let them hang all over his feet.  He did this prior to telling them to sin no more, so we also know that he let them do this while they were still sinners.  And, as it says in 1 John, we know that he died for us while we were still sinners too.  We know that we are all sinners, not just because we know ourselves but because the Bible reminds us of that pretty regularly too.  So here’s the thing:

If we all sin, and we all do, and we’re supposed to know good from evil and reject one and cling to the other, if we make the assumption that we’re supposed to judge each other where does that lead us?  If the judgment is about who is or isn’t worth communing with, the church is going to end up empty because we all sin and we all sin knowingly.  It’s part of who we are.  If the judgment is instead about what is or isn’t hurting ourselves or hurting the brethren and is made to edify instead of condemn, we do a good thing.  Because if we go to our brother or sister and say “I’m worried you’re doing something harmful” and they know and experience the love of God, we’re giving them a loving opportunity to lead a better life.  I’ve experienced both kinds of judgment against myself and I know which one changed me.  I’ve been guilty of making both and I know which one hurt and which one healed.

I also know that it’s impossible to tell, from who people are today, who they are capable of becoming.  One of the people most formative in my early faith was a convicted felon and murderer.  If my parents had judged him as unworthy of their friendship (an assumption many Christians would feel totally justified) I would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity to witness the extent to which God’s love can redeem a fallen man.

If we judge people by the same measure that we judge actions, labeling some people as “good” and others as “bad”, we do perhaps one of the most evil things that any Christian can.  The people we label as “good” get to experience our love and forgiveness, at times even when they reject conviction.  But the people labeled as “bad” don’t ever receive love at all.  We are only justified in such behavior if we feel we know with total certainty that God doesn’t love the “bad” people or want them to experience his forgiveness at all.  It is love, not rejection, that births repentance.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.  (Proverbs 25:21-22)

The metaphorical burning coals being a sign of mourning and repentance.  Note that the verses don’t say “picket your enemy and call him a heathen and a godless blight on your society, and in that way you heap burning coals on his head.”  The solution is the most simple in the history of man:  community.  Bring him into your home, feed him and clothe him, and he’ll learn to mourn the error of his ways.  If that is the way we are to treat our enemies, then, how our we to treat our brethren?

We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  (1 John 4:19-21)

Love, love, love.  There is no excuse for anything else.  So discern what is good and evil- apply it to your own life and speak it to your brothers and sisters in Christ with love.  Everyone else, treat as beloved community.  Offer food and drink and solace, express God’s love with your hands and mind and tongue.  It doesn’t matter who someone is, if they are homeless or a felon or gay or just look strange or a tattooed punk or if they are wearing one of those oh so cute “God is Dead” t-shirts, God loves them.  They deserve to experience his love.  It is that love, and that love alone that can birth understanding and repentance.  If you withhold that love from them, you do grievous harm not just to them but more so to yourself.

Love, first and foremost and the most strongly.  There is no excuse for anything less.

Militant Homosexuals

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about “militant homosexuals” who have a “propensity for voilence” and are a “threat to society.”

I’ve been having a hard time really verbalizing my feelings about this.  But I will try, for your sake.

Remember the peace movement?  I’m talking Vietnam War here.  There you saw a movement for peace, and it started out with people sitting around on laws.  Having “lay-ins” in the streets, peaceable obstruction, quiet protest.  They tried to fight fire with love, and they were largely ignored.  Then you saw an escalation.  People started chanting, yelling, holding more boldly worded signs.  There started to be an energy, an anger.  A bitterness.  And still, the war raged on.  That’s when you started seeing riots and broken windows and things that escalated beyond “civil disobedience” to violence and terror.

Why?

Because no one really listened.  They were written off as selfish and naive at first, and misinformed to the last.  The government ignored them and would have continued to do so indefinitely if public opinion had not changed as a whole.

Now we are seeing the same thing.

First the gays quietly protested, they kept to themselves, they stood peaceably on street corners, put gimmicky bumperstickers on their cars and wore rainbow tshirts.  They tried to mobilize- but let’s be honest: they are a minority.  Even in California there are rainbow colored pockets on the coast, but the state as a whole is farmland.  Conservative.  “Family Values”.  So the minority lost it’s voice, as always happens in these cases.

They lost their voice.

I can’t even imagine how it must feel, to be doing everything you can to fight for what you believe is right, and then to simply have it all silenced.  The media says, “well, now that’s over”, and you are expected to go home to your wife who is no longer your wife, to your children whom you are no longer legally entitled to, and to simply shut up.

Of course the demonstrations escalated.  In ANY case where a minority tries to vocalize and are cast aside, the demonstrations escalate.  And gay people are no more prone to voilence than peace protestors, blacks or latinos.  In every case where once peacable demonstrations take a turn for the bitter and evocative it is not done because they WANT to be voilent, but because they see NO OTHER WAY for their voice to be heard.

Not that I approve of voilence- of course not- but I understand.

I understand that this is the way the world works, and unless the government takes actions to protect the rights of a minority from the subjugation of the majority, in EVERY SINGLE CASE the minority will turn to civil disobedience and eventually voilence.

And in every case, while there are pockets of anger, the greater sum of people simply suffer voicelessly, dependent on someone else to take up their cause.

You shouldn’t be afraid of “militant homosexuals”.  You should seek to hear the subtext- to truly understand what is happening.  Just as I seek to be the voice for the voiceless, believing that Christ would do the same were he still in possession of a physical body.

Oh, wait, he is: me and you.

Me, and you.