Thursday, September 29, 2016

Education In America : Urban

" Jesus said to the Pharisees: 'There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld where he was in torment, he cried out. . . 'Have pity on me, for I am suffering in these flames.'
Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good in your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us a great chasm [in the next life] is established to prevent anyone from crossing.'  "- [Luke 16: 19-31].

I live in a largely white, upper class suburb. Only a few miles from my home, there exists a great chasm -- a broad avenue, that divides my town from the city.

You can even tell immediately when you have crossed that chasm. The roads on the city side are rutted with potholes. There is no beautified median strip, planted with seasonal flowers. Buildings appear less well-maintained on the city side -- faded paint, dirty windows, sometimes graffiti.

Then, there are the schools. There is a dirty little secret in America-- the urban schools are in serious decay.

In many urban schools, rats roam the hallways. Roof leaks have buckled the gym floors, and it is not safe to play outside. So, there can be no physical education. Walls are crumbling, there is sometimes no heat in the winter, teachers lack basic supplies, and the school library has few books -- let alone computers. Some urban school districts lack the funds to supply school buses; the students rely on sometimes unreliable public transportation. In one school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, almost half the students are homeless; they come to school one day, and disappear the next.

Urban school teachers are not only scrambling for pencils and notebooks; they are handing out toothbrushes and shoes; they are teaching kids how to use a fork and spoon, so the kids don't eat with their hands. In some urban schools, students enter fifth grade, reading at a kindergarten level.

Music teacher Christopher Hartel of Bassick High School in Bridgeport, CT, calls this "fishing without a net."

In contrast, in suburban schools, there are gardening committees who beautify the garden beds by the front door.  Wealthy parents hold galas and silent auctions, to raise money for  technology, such as an iPad for each student and a smart board in every classroom. One elementary school near me has a kitchen in every classroom. Another school has its own Nature Trail.

We want to think that the Bible is ancient history, but this story of Lazarus is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. Today, suburban families have every privilege at their hands, while remaining blissfully ignorant of  the inner city students, who have shockingly little.

In Hartford, CT, a group of parents from both city and suburban schools actually filed a lawsuit in 1989, arguing that this kind of inequality is unconstitutional. And they won the case . . .

Meanwhile, as the court case wended its way through countless witness testimonies, delays and appeals, a remarkable woman-- Norma Neumann-Johnson was already starting a magnet school in Hartford. In 1991, there was no funding, there was no school building, there was not even a classroom. No, the first Magnet School was begun in a corner of a school hallway.

It was only after the court case was finally decided, that the CT law on charter and magnet schools was solidified, requiring that the state pay for funding of magnet schools.

I spoke recently to Norma Neumann-Johnson, founder of  Breakthrough Magnet Schools.
Norma is a determined woman, who readily demonstrates her passion for equal education for all students. Her Breakthrough Magnet School was named the #1 Magnet School in 2015 by the Magnet Schools of America.

One of her magnet schools teaches students Character Education -- in the use of Emotional Intelligence, students become aware of their own emotions,  aware of others' feelings and responsibility for one's own reactions.

She bases her schools on the acronym B.R.I.C.K.-- teaching her kids to turn their Breakdowns into Breakthroughs; expecting Responsibility for self; promoting Integrity and the importance of keeping one's word; requiring Contribution of community service; and emphasizing academic Knowledge.

To those who say, magnet schools siphon off the best students-- the truth is, that is not possible. Matriculation is determined by a lottery available to all urban and suburban students who want to apply. The magnet schools are composed of 50% urban students and 50% suburban students, so that there is guaranteed diversity.

To those who say, "We cannot afford these magnet schools." -- I say, "These are our Children. We cannot afford not to build them."

On September 7, 2016, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of the Hartford Superior Court, in a 90-page opinion, ruled that the current educational system in CT is unconstitutional. He said, "It has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder, [making] a mockery of the state's constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students."

We need MORE magnet schools, not fewer. Or, will we be like the rich man, not knowing, not caring how much the poor suffer?

[Related Posting: "Education in America -- Suburban", Aug. 28, 2016].

(c) Spiritual Devotional. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why I Quit Wall Street

" Jesus said to His disciples, ' The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to an other, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.' " --[Luke 16: 10-13].

In this parable in Luke, a rich man praises his dishonest manager for managing his money in a cunning and fraudulent way. The story is a perfect example of how the lure of money can trap us into dishonesty and corruption. The temptation becomes so bright and alluring, that we lose sight of the people we are trampling along the way.

When I was at university, I studied law and business.  Right away, I got a job working for a financial services firm. My subway stop was -- you guessed it-- on Wall Street. I was starry-eyed. I had made it -- to Wall Street.

This was the heady 1980's.  Everybody on the Street knew the name Lou Ranieri of Solomon Brothers, the working-class kid who had dropped out of college and started out in the mail room at Solomon Brothers. By the 1970's, Ranieri had invented the private mortgage-backed security. By the 1980's when I arrived on Wall Street, Ranieri was regarded with awe, as if he were some kind of a god.

At first, as I was learning this Wall Street business, I tried to tell myself that my work, financing public projects, was an important and civic stewardship. As the years passed, however, I began to see dark clouds on the horizon.

My unease was about far more than the fact that, as a woman in a man's field, I was required by my employer to wear heels, stockings, and a skirt, never pants.  Even my silk blouse, with the floppy tie at the neck, felt like a fraud.

The argument for the mortgage-backed security was lofty: that, investors buying up mortgage  securities from the banks, would free up capital for others and would support the housing market.  Good for everyone, right?

But, the beginning of the end came when I was at a conference on securitization, and listened to talks on the securitization of home loans, car loans, boat loans, student loans, and even foreclosed tax receipts. The message was -- if it moves, if it has an income stream, securitize it!

One speaker tellingly said that, the only downfall was that, as demand for loans increased, quality could go down; in which case, everything would collapse.

Another "beginning of the end" came for me, when an investment banker pitched a bond security collateralized by junk bonds. He reassured us that the security was perfectly safe, because it was 110% collateralized.

A friend and I, sitting in this meeting, looked at each other and could hardly keep ourselves from bursting out laughing. After all, 110% of nothing is STILL nothing.

I was noticing that the Rating Agencies were being pressed to assign high ratings to securities that they did not even understand. Auditors would come in and have no idea how to analyze the structure of the securities.

Investment bankers were bundling their junk asset-backed securities, and giving them fancy alphabet soup names-- Were the investment bankers just trying to wrap their wares in shiny paper, to get the faulty loans off their books?

My "epiphany" came when I realized that behind all these loans were REAL people-- with real loans, real debt, real homes. I finally saw the human fallout that happens when we marry Wall Street greed with people's personal lives. With a gasp of breath, I said to myself, 'They cannot DO that to people.'

It could be a melt-down. A disaster. There would be foreclosures, bankruptcies, suicides, homelessness, divorce, child abuse, depression, substance abuse -- you name it.

I could not reconcile what I was even tangentially involved in as a banker, with my identity as a Christian. How could I ignore how this fraudulent stewardship was destroying people's lives-- while at the same time claiming that as a Christian, I deserved God's riches both here and in His Kingdom? I could not serve both God and money.

I told my Division Head about my concerns. Even if he possessed little concern about the ordinary citizen, being involved with this kind of product could easily destroy the bank's reputation. But, I was accused of "concocting doomsday scenarios."

So, in 2001 I got out. I became a stay-at-home mom. Co-workers thought I was crazy. Why would I throw all this away? I cried when I told my boss I was leaving. I had worked feverishly to become Vice President in my department. The division manager was furious with me. I could hear her bad-mouthing me on the phone to Head Office, venting about my "shocking disloyalty".

 I put raising a son and caring for my family FIRST.  Nurturing. Making meals. Tucking my baby in at night.  Reading bedtime stories. Raking leaves. Running errands. Making morning coffee for my husband. Dusting. Weeding the garden.

It all felt so right. But, in 2008, as I watched the financial crisis unfold, it was all as shocking and tragic and inhumane as I thought it would be.

Suddenly, all over again, I did not want to be right.

I have learned that if you are not trustworthy with the dishonest wealth of this world, which often compounds exponentially off the backs of the poor and the struggling; THEN, how can you even dare make a claim for a place in the Kingdom of Heaven, where "the foundations of the city are made of jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst; the twelve gates made of pearl; and the street of the city paved in gold?" -[Revelation 21:21].

HOW would I even dare?

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Lost Coin

" The tax collectors  and sinners were all gathered around Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'  Jesus said, 'Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.' " --[ Luke 15: 8-10].

If you have ever lost something of value, you know that panicked, gut-wrenching feeling in your heart, as you frantically tear the house apart, searching for it. Life stops in suspended time, as you fear that what is missing, is presumed gone forever.

 Perhaps we would think that the woman is foolish to light her lamp and sweep the house, when she still has nine other coins of similar value? But all she can think of is that one lost coin.

During Biblical times, Palestinian women were given ten silver coins upon their wedding. These coins were as precious at the time, as our wedding rings are today.

Not too long ago, I lost a wedding band that had belonged to my Nana.

 I have wonderful, vivid memories of my Nana, but only hazy memories of my grandfather.  You see, my grandparents lived in the "Old Country" where my father had been born and raised. My grandfather died when I was about four. My father was the only one in his family to move away to the States.

After my grandfather died, we suddenly stopped returning for annual trips to my visit my father's family.  Years later, as a grown woman, I did the math, and confronted my father ---

" We never visited Nana, for a decade or more after your father died. You went back there for the funeral, you taught her how to drive, you taught her how to write a check, then you left and did not return. How did she cope? Did she have to go back to her own relatives !?"-- My father just blinked, swallowed, and replied, "I guess so."

For years, I could never understand how he had abandoned his own mother, alone in her house.

Decades later, after my father died, my mother gave me Nana's wedding band. It is thin and simple, with diamonds all along the band, but they are tiny chips. The marcasite settings were more brilliant than the stones. Really, it looked like nothing special.

But it is precious to me. I took to wearing it alongside my own wedding band, as if I were carrying a torch for the grandmother I was named after. . . the one who was abandoned by her own son; the one who-- according to my cousin-- died of a broken heart.

One evening before bed, I was taking the ring off and I dropped it. I froze and gasped. I never heard it drop onto the wooden floor. So, I searched the carpet, hoping for a soft-bounce. . I searched the basket of clean laundry right next to me. I tore the room apart. My husband begged me to go to bed. Finally, exhausted, I gave up.

The next morning, I searched again. Nothing. So, I sent an email to all the women in my prayer group. Pray! Just Pray!

I started to fear that, IF Nana's ring was lost forever, was SHE lost forever again? I had promised to keep her by my side always.

Later that day, I checked the laundry basket AGAIN. Something prompted me to check the folded-up cuff of my twill cargo pants. And THERE IT WAS! --- Utter Joy!

Like the woman who found her lost coin, I called all my friends and neighbors! I told them, I have found my lost ring! -- Pandemonium ensued. Messages of Joy. Expressions of tears and gladness.

For years, I almost hated my father for abandoning his own mother.  I wore her ring-- as if by keeping her ring on me at all times, as an emblem of loyalty, I could unilaterally fix that !

 For years, my Nana waited for the day when her son would return home to her.  Towards the end of Nana's life, we did return to see her. She never expressed any bitterness. She was overjoyed.

I am beginning to realize that this ring is about not just the loss of my Nana. It is also about Nana's loss of her son.

And maybe, just maybe, it is about the Loss of my father to ME. . . because of all those decades I spent, blaming and judging HIM for abandoning his mother.

After I found Nana's ring, it dawned upon me -- the loss of Nana's ring was NOT all about the Loss and the grieving. But, it IS all about forgiving and welcoming back.

You see, when I put my Nana's ring right back on my finger; I welcomed her back after a wrenching 24 hours of grieving. But I was no longer wearing the ring AGAINST my father.

I was beginning to see that, IF God could forgive the tax collectors and the sinners, He could forgive my father for abandoning his own mother.

Not only could God forgive my father, God is also very capable of tears of Joy at my father's return to Him. And, if God is capable of so very much Love, how could I possible hate -- my own father? How could I turn my back upon HIM?

Just WHO is the abandoner here?

So, now I pray for God's Mercy upon my father. May my father, once lost-- be found with God!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Set Free

" I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you [Philemon], on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on our behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did to want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever, no longer a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So, if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me." --[Philemon 9-10, 12-17].

This Scripture is in the form of a letter from Paul to a wealthy friend, Philemon,  a convert to Christianity under Paul's preaching. Onesimus, a slave belonging to Philemon, had apparently stolen from his master, and then run away to Rome.

Onesimus met Paul in Rome, where Paul was under house arrest "in imprisonment for the Gospel."  From Onesimus' ministry to Paul, came the slave's Conversion; and ultimately his Freedom in Christ.

Many have written that Paul implicitly sanctions Roman slavery, by sending Onesimus back to his master. Others have even suggested that Paul's letter to Philemon is a clear justification for slavery.

But, NOTHING could be further from the Truth! Paul tells Philemon quite clearly that Onesimus is  "[his] own heart"; that Onesimus is his own child;  that he is Onesimus' 'father'; that Onesimus "is no longer a slave, but a brother, beyond beloved especially to me."  In closing, Paul exhorts Philemon to "welcome him as you would me."

This passage shows me that, clearly, going from slavery to Freedom is not an all-at-once, instantaneous, lightning-bolt moment. No, it is a journey -- a long walk of trauma, struggles, and hope following-- sometimes wanely --on the heels of despair. And, it is a journey of Conversion, as we tread closer and closer to God.

In her new book, "Troubled Refuge: Struggling For Freedom in the Civil War", Chandra Manning writes about how, during the Civil War, slaves would run away from their former Confederate masters, to Union military camps. In so-called Contraband Camps (under the Confiscation Acts of 1861-2), former slaves were declared the contraband property of the Confederacy, and thereby freed to the Union.

But, as reviewer Mark Smith [ History Professor, U. of South Carolina] writes, in the Contraband Camps, those freed were "leaving slavery and becoming something other than 'unfree' ". --[WSJ, 8/27-8, 2016]. Smith writes, "How complicated was the destruction of slavery and how circuitous the path to freedom."

The former slaves did not know what it was to be free-- they had to learn it. As Harriet Tubman said, "I grew up like a neglected weed -- ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it."

I grew up like that, walling myself off from the abuses and cruelties in my childhood home. By the time I was five, I was in survival mode, and in the habit of raising myself up -- putting myself down for naps and finding food on my own. My family was by turns neglectful and rejecting; but then, at times so controlling that I had no choice as to what color to wear, what courses to take in school, how to wear my hair, what friends to be with, what job to accept and so forth.

I took to performing extra chores and extra acts of kindness for my family-- weeding my mother's garden, knitting my sibling a sweater,  sewing my father a new tie, or doing some painting around the house, all as a child. But, this was not a free kind of Love, since I performed these kind acts out of Fear. Could I "buy" my family's Love, or at least be left unharmed by them, if I did these things?

As I grew into adulthood, I did what Onesimus did, I "ran away". I saw my family only for holidays. I finished school, got married, became a mother, built my own life in another state.

One spring day, when I was an adult, my father woke up, had a cup of coffee and suddenly perished. When I received that phone call, I knew instantly that I would be confronted once again with my relationship with my family-- which I had never resolved.

When I went to my church to pray, I realized that confronting my frail, overwhelmed mother, whom I still feared, but who needed me so desperately back in her life -- would be a monumental task. One I could never tackle alone.

And so, dear friends, I converted. And yes, I did take my mother back, despite all that had gone on between us for my entire life.

I think that my mother could never quite believe it. She thanked me every day. She was amazed at my Love and kindness to her. I saw her almost every day, until the day she died.

As for me, I was performing these acts of Love -- finally -- out of Freedom. I was no longer bound to her as a scared child, as her puppet or her slave. It had taken my Conversion for me to see that I could Love out of Joy, not out of constricted bonds. I had become a daughter of God.  My Love was freely given.

I am still learning what it is to be Free. I no longer have to worry about where I am going to find food. I am safe in my bed. I try to wear color more often, instead of the more reticent black and gray which I usually wear as a sort of armor. Sometimes, I am startled when someone notices me and says hello -- it is still feels safer to believe that I am invisible. If someone tells me that she missed me or she loves me, I am trying to trust the Truth in that. I am developing my own opinions and am finding my voice to speak them, even if these beliefs are not always too popular.

Out of ignorance of Liberty, I am learning what it is to be Free!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.