Sunday, August 28, 2016

Education In America -- Suburbia

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same God at work." -- [ 1 Corinthians 12].

THIS IS a two-part series on Education in America.

It is the end of August. Students in America will be returning to school within a matter of days. Some have already returned to school.

The public educational system in America has always been, academically, largely a state-based system. Each state has historically set the standards of academics for its schools. The states test their students on academic compliance regularly.

The public educational system in America has always been, financially, largely a community-based system. Each town taxes its residents on the value of the homes that the residents own. These taxes are the main source of educational budgets in every town and city.

That there is a disparity in tax revenues, in wealthier suburban towns vs. poorer urban cities, is fairly obvious.

Parents vie to buy homes or rent residences in wealthier suburbs, so that their children can receive the best possible education.

I know of suburban schools that boast a kitchen in each classroom. A nature trail. A smart-board in each classroom. Tablets for each student in Math class. High-tech Science labs.

But we have to ask if all those bells and whistles lead to a better result for the students?

As a Christian parent, I value a work-life balance. Even Jesus took time off from his busy ministry to go off into the hills for rest and reflection. I also live by St. Paul's words above -- each of us has a unique set of gifts given by God, distributed by the Spirit. I truly believe that "There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same God at work."

I am not the only parent out there who is tremendously stressed and distressed over how grueling my child's schedule is. Each weekday, nine months of the year, I have to decide to either wake my son a bit earlier so he can eat breakfast before school, or let him get the rest that he so sorely needs.

If my son is to get the 11-12 hours of sleep that American doctors recommend for teens, he would have to go to bed at 7:30 a.m.  With mandatory after-school sports, his days run from 12 to 15 hours! That  leaves no time for family, or friends, let alone for homework or community service.

My son has homework, seven days a week. He has homework over Thanksgiving break, over  Christmas break, over Spring break and over the summer.

There is not a whole lot of time in his schedule for eating, either. Happy thoughts of Jesus hanging out with His disciples, imparting His precious wisdom, and roasting fish on the shoreline, are modern-day impossibilities. My son and his peers are given five minutes between classes. There is no eating IN class, and no time to eat between classes. The students are given 30 minutes for lunch. By the time my son gets to the head of the line, he has time to get the food, but not to eat it -- that is, IF there is any food left at the counter.

My son's tutor, and his doctor advise, both with straight faces, that he consume liquid protein replacement meals for breakfast, for lunch and before athletic practices . . . That would mean going 24 hours with no solid food. . . .

I find that my son is busier in High School, than I was in college. He takes 6 classes, plus sports. I took 4 classes per semester in college.

This is the first generation I have seen that is being taught NOT to take care of themselves, but to continue working at all costs. Ironically, while this generations' parents are eating organic food, exquisitely balanced for one's genetic predisposition, for hitting all healthy food groups and for reaching maximum metabolic efficiency-- this generation is being told to consume a liquid diet, and to keep going without stopping.

We, as parents, count our thousands of steps each day, we practice yoga, we obsessively count and analyze our sleep patterns. But, our kids are being taught that school work trumps all -- sleep, a healthy diet, even play.

We seem to have decided that play is no longer worthwhile. If we do allow play, it is all structured by adult rules-- swim lessons, music lessons, soccer or basketball, chess club. But free-play helps kids of all ages-- pre-school to teen-- to relax, to encounter people different than themselves, to problem-solve, to be creative.

Academically, students in suburbia are subjected to pages upon pages of rote learning. This kind of assignment promotes the belief that there is only one answer to a question.

OR, in college preparatory schools, they are receiving assignments that are overly complex and probably not appropriate to the brain development stages of a typical teen-- such as requiring them to design their own home, calculating square footage, cost of various floor coverings not to exceed a certain budget, and writing a sales proposal with at least two comparable listings -- all for one Geometry unit on surface area.

Many suburban students are also not-so-subtly expected to get A's in every subject. If a student does not receive at least a B, he is handed back the test or essay and told to correct it. Not only does this dilute the valuable lesson of doing one's best the first time; it also teaches the student that nothing he does is ever good enough.

This kind of academic environment has meant that more and more of the younger generation is on anti-psychotic or anti-depressant medications. Instead of a parent asking, 'What is wrong with how we raise and educate our children', the schools ask, 'What is wrong with your child?'  If a student cannot keep up with the 12- 15 hour days, or the academic quantity or quality of work, the schools send the student to a therapist or suggest medication.

This system is also creating a generation at much higher risk of illness and disease. Early childhood stress may be a harbinger of artery risk.  We have this zeal to give them a super-enriched environment of education, music, sports, when what our children REALLY need is love and nurturing, and time to explore, to make mistakes and to play. . -- If we schedule every minute of our child's life, our child may conclude that they have to grow up very fast, and take care of themselves because no adult will. This could mean that our kids adopt a "live fast and die young" mentality. [Source: Alison Gopnik, WSJ 3/26/16].

It is undoubtedly very difficult to be a Christian parent today. I want to teach my son that he might not receive A's in every subject. That it is okay to have a few special God-given gifts, but that he may have other areas where he may struggle. That there are different kinds of working but the same Lord. That the most important thing is to do his best.

In fact, studies show that the most successful people in life are the ones with integrity -- responsibility, honesty, patience, perseverance, compassion. The most successful people are NOT the ones with the most impressive resume but with no Soul.

I very much want my son to know that his value as a human being is summed up by far more than just his grades in school. That his sense of humor, his compassion, his gentleness, his knack for seeking and promoting peace and justice, are worth far more to the world than his "A" in Algebra or how many words he memorized for the vocabulary quiz.

I do NOT love my son for his good grades or his tournament wins. I love him for his quirky grin, his  thick curly hair, his love of a good hamburger, his quick wit. I love him for all those ineffable qualities that we can never, ever sum up, when we try to describe our love for someone.

Jesus knew that a person's greatest and most valuable quality is the ability to Love. These things -- Love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control-- cannot be measured. That is because these are priceless. . . .

[Next Part in the Series: "Education in America -- Urban Schools"]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

RESOURCES: "Beyond Measure", by Vicki Abeles, author of "Race To Nowhere".

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The First Shall Be Last

"People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south, and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some who are first will be last." --[Luke 13: 22-30].

When I was growing up, I was definitely the "Last".  I was the baby and the only daughter; I am told that I should have been cherished. But over and over, by the behavior of my parents and sibling, I was taught that I did not matter. That it was best to not be noticed. To go invisible. I was blamed for everything, even for things I did not do wrong.

Amazing how God works in one's life.  Being firmly rooted at the bottom of the pecking order has given me a huge heart for those in the same position in life. The widowed. The children with no mother. The poor. The immigrant. The person of color. The marginalized woman. The homeless. The laborer. The uneducated.

In America, status is just about everything. We judge status by the neighborhood in which we live, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the schools we attend, the places where we vacation.

I ignore ALL of these things. A job with physical labor tells me nothing about your morals or ethics. Your status as an immigrant or a person of color tells me nothing of the quality of your soul.

In fact, if anything, I find that a person who has been marginalized, ignored, downtrodden, or maltreated has been through rough times and, often possesses more compassion and tolerance than the typical successful person.

But my relationship towards those who are considered "Last" goes far beyond attitude.

Sometimes, I remark to my husband that my days are so busy, that I rarely sit down. When I account for how I spend the hours in my days, I realize that, other than feeding my family, cleaning my house, sleeping and taking care of the garden, my hours are spent helping others.

You can tell a lot about someone if you look at how they spend their time; if you realize what their priorities are. Someone who has a lot and who spends most of his free time time aggrandizing himself, or aggregating even more resources for himself, is putting himself first. He is not putting the Last first.

In a spare moment, I may call a friend who lives alone. I may send home-baked goods to a neighborhood family -- perhaps because the wife/mother has died; or because the lady is too elderly to bake any longer. I may pick out someone from my contact list and send that person a note or photo.

Many years ago now, my husband and I found a wooden trestle table at a yard sale. We stripped it of its many layers of paint and repainted it a soft green.

The little wooden trestle table sits on my front porch. People drop off donations. I never know what I will find. Yarn goes to the Senior Center knitting club. Personal CD players go to the local hospice. Hand-knitted hats and scarves go to the local shelter. Empty plastic flower pots go to a school with a community garden. Toys and games go to the Family Center at the local shelter. Children's books go to the city magnet school. Non-perishables go to the town food pantry.

Friends tell me, "You are a great person!" They tell me I am amazing. They say, ' Most people cannot take care of themselves, let alone others.'

But I say, No. This is the kind of thing we are supposed to be doing. . .

In today's culture, we say, "I am taking care of Number One." We promote ourselves by posting endless "Selfies."  Most of our sentences begin with the pronoun, "I". . . We spend our days making our own happiness the priority. We say, " I can work each day to set goals for MYSELF. I can succeed at my OWN happiness. I deserve everything I can achieve for myself." -- I am not exaggerating, I hear this kind of thing every day!

BUT how much time do we spend on the welfare or happiness of others? What is YOUR priority as to how you spend your time, after your basic needs have been met?

In this Scripture, Jesus talks of people coming from East, West, North and South to recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. In Biblical times, in the early church, meetings were held in the biggest homes of the community. Those mansions of the wealthy had an inner room big enough for only a chosen few to recline at the banquet table. All others were relegated to the courtyard, crowded in an outside area, where the rain could fall, straining to hear the Word and to receive the Bread of Life.

In the Kingdom of God, ALL will come from every direction, to recline at the banquet table. There will be no marginalized. No poor, no sad, no forgotten children of God.

And, IF we do behave in way of believing that some of God's children are Last, and should remain that way, we will find that Jesus has turned the tables on those who believe that they are First!

For the Last shall be first. And the meek shall inherit the Earth!

[Related Postings: "Putting the Last First", 8/25/13; "And the Lowly Shall be Exalted", 9/1/13.]

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


"Jesus said to His disciples: 'I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! . . . Do you think that I have come to establish Peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.'  " -- [Luke 12: 49-53].

Jesus came to be our Prince of Peace, yes.

But He also said, " Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." -[Mark 13:13].

The priest who preached at Mass today said that we have stark choices. He spoke of telling his brother about his own call to become a priest. His brother vehemently disagreed with that plan. The man who ultimately did become a priest had to put the Lord first.

These choices reach far beyond which friends we choose, or which boss we need to stand up to. Putting God first can sometimes mean serious divisions within families.

In my family growing up, there were so many divisions, we were fractured. Not one of us had an ally in another. My mother had had a sad and lonely childhood. Over her years of married life, she was never able to overcome her anxiety and depression from those lonely early years.

My father, hoping for a deep emotional attachment in marriage, found only a woman who was alternately sad and controlling. And so he turned to me, the only daughter. At times, he took his anger out on me. Other times, his emotional attachment to me was manipulative and boundary-breaking.

My sibling, sensing that I was the fulcrum in our parents' marriage, became jealous. He decided that he hated me, and he did his best to minimize me, or even eliminate me as a threat. He called me ugly every day, he stole my things, he booby-trapped my room, he lead the neighborhood children in sorties to verbally torment me.

My mother, unable to cope with our "war", perhaps barely able to get through the day herself, would tell me that I was "too sensitive". My brother's abuse became physical.

After I became about 14, we stopped going to church. I was told not to believe in that "God stuff" since "religion is the opiate of the masses."

My choices were to turn to sin and anger and violence and promiscuity. To become them. Or, to bide my time and believe what I did-- in the possibility of Peace and Love and Mercy.

To bide my time, I had to take my Faith underground. I had to tiptoe around, for fear that what I did, seemingly innocently, would set them off.

Jesus paid for his steely bond with God, with bruises and blood; with mockery and blasphemy. So did I. . .

I was a child. But I knew the right Way. I knew what I wanted was Love -- and this is not what I was being given.

Today, I realize that I fought hard for His Truth. I had to endure physical wounds, emotional abuse, scathing verbal abuse, including being called a failure. I had to refuse to believe their rhetoric. I had to choose God over my own family. Sometimes, I hide in my room. Sometimes, I escaped the house and sat under a huge pine tree in a neighbor's yard.

But nothing could make me give up on the Truth.

I have been seriously depressed that such was my life. Now, I find that, in being a follower of Jesus, this is to be expected. The Way is narrow, my friends.

As a child, I had to shut down, barely eating, taking a vow of silence, not going to sleep until all family members were asleep, numbing my emotions. Because becoming unavailable to my family  was preferable to their trying to convert me to their ways.

I have serious damage from this fight. Physical damage, emotional damage, psychic damage. If I had it to do all over again, would I do things differently and in essence, surrender, and become them?

No, never. I would do what I did, all over again.

 I put the Lord first.

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Belief In the Unseen

"Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
By Faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By Faith, he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.
By Faith, he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age -- and Sarah herself was sterile. So that it was e came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
By Faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, he was ready to offer his only son. He reasoned that God was able for raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol."
-- [Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-12.]

I have a friend whom I pray with. When she and her family face a big decision, they pray about it, asking God for guidance. One of her not-so-believing acquaintances asked when the family was going to reach an important decision? My friend said, "Well, we are waiting on the Lord."

The acquaintance replied, "How is THAT going for ya'?"

I have to say, coming from a family of non-believers, even hinting that I might pray or have faith in something, and lean on God, drew only derision and scorn.

People who prayed and relied on God, to my family, were folks who had absolutely nothing going for them; folks who had no clue or hope; and so, with no strength savvy, or they were forced to desperately cling to that "God-thing".

Growing up, I never had family who supported me, encouraged me or had Faith in me. It seemed like every goal or hope that I had was met with disdain and mockery.

But, I found that there were things that I believed in, even though I had no evidence that these events would come to pass. My family called me foolish or naive. I simply believed. Call me a child. Maybe I was a child. Or maybe I was wise beyond my years. . .

I never realized back then, that this was called Faith. Once I reached age fourteen, I was not allowed to go to church. So, this thing called belief, or confidence in things not seen, was not church-based or Scripture-based. I simply had this "knowing" that the things I hoped for would materialize.

And so, by Faith, I believed that I would find an amazing husband and get married. Even though I had had so many traumas in childhood, that I really did not trust any human being enough to open up to them. My mother cried and told my father that I would never get married -- especially when I told her that I would not get married, unless I met my soul-mate. This confidence on my part only served to prove to her that I was foolish and unrealistic. HOW would this happen, if I did not even have any friends?

Almost exactly one month later, I met my future husband. I felt, from the moment I met him, that I had known him all my life.

Then, my husband and I decided that we wanted to buy a house. My mother told me that she did not think that my husband and I could ever afford a house. Perhaps it did not occur to me to worry about this. My husband and I saved our money, and yes, we found a house we could afford. A home we loved.

Then, we decided to start a family. My mother told me that she did not think we could afford a child. When we could not at first conceive, my mother seemed to feel vindicated in her opinion that we would never have children.

But, we were blessed with a son, a child whom I had prayed for daily, for over two years. The social worker asked me, 'How had I waited so long and so patiently?' I told her, simply, I did not believe the people who told me that it would never happen. I had Faith.

At this point, I began to understand the power of believing in things not seen, but merely hoped for.

And yet, to this day, I am astonished at the magnitude of God's generosity. He makes things that seem impossible-- possible.

Only a few years ago, I met a guy at my church who is a former Lost Boy of Sudan. He asked me to help him start a foundation to help his village in South Suidan. I almost said no. I talked to God and said, 'HOW can you ask me to do this? I know nothing about raising money. I don't want to promise something that I cannot deliver.'

Instead of worrying, I began to pray: 'God, if You want me to do this, show me the way.'  A few days ago, I received word that, in one single, anonymous donation, we have received our entire budgetary goal for a YEAR!

BY FAITH, I have reached places I never thought I would go. I am learning to "Never say 'Never' ".

I am realizing the power of believing in things hoped for, but unseen!

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All rights reserved.