Some Thoughts From The Classroom

So, you want me to carry a gun to school.

That’s a pretty interesting possibility.   Before I share with you what I think of that idea, let me tell you a little bit about me.

I have given over nearly half of my life to teaching.  I am a Special Educator.  I have worked almost exclusively with kids that are deemed “emotionally disturbed.”  I have spent a few years in public schools.  I ran a class for “behaviorally disordered” kids.  My problem was not to get the kids off their cell phones merely so I could teach.  Mostly, I just wanted the kids to stop making drug deals so they could focus on English.

Most of my career has been spent teaching at residential facilities.    I have been spat on dozens of times.  I have been throat punched and nearly passed out.  I have sprained my back breaking up a fight and spent a month recuperating.  Furniture has been thrown at me.   I have been in riots, bomb threats, and of course, countless lock downs.

I have worked with kids who have been prostituted by their parents for drugs.  I have worked with kids that have done drive-by shootings.  I have worked with kids who bore the scars on their arms because the voices told them to light themselves on fire.

I have learned four different methods of physical management.    Restraining kids comes with the job.  I have used leather 12-point straps to secure them to beds.  I have broken up countless fights.

Many days I love my job.  Some days I hate it.  I wonder if I am doing the right thing, working in a job where I watch co-workers get seriously hurt, burn out, and wrung out.  I have feared for my safety, questioned my competence.

In many ways my calling in this field is what grew me into a man.  If most people don’t know the challenges of my job, they  don’t know the thrills of it either: reaching a kid who seemed unreachable, connecting with somebody who has been so broken, watching the light in their eyes turn on when it would have been so easy to just give up.

I am not looking for thank you’s or sympathy.  I chose my job.  You chose yours.  I am sure there are days you love and hate your job.

I give this long introduction to establish that all these discussions about mental health, teaching, and what it’s like when you work in a dangerous environment, they are some areas I know some things about.

Teaching is funny.   Most jobs people realize they could not do without training.  The number of people who have never set foot in a classroom and feel qualified to pronounce what the problem is with schools today quite frankly blows my mind.

There might be things I am wrong about.  There might be ideas that you have that would work.  But I have to tell you, the confidence that most people make these pronouncements in, it is difficult to stomach, sometimes.  Because when you tell me I should carry a gun to school, there are some things that I think I hear underneath your statements.

One of them is that if you were in my shoes, you would sacrifice yourself with out hesitation to save your students.   To this, I say: bullshit.

Some of you would.  Some of you wouldn’t.  Unless you have been in that situation you have utterly no way of knowing.  When I think about my own biological children and the obligations I have to them, I don’t even know if taking a bullet for my classroom students is the right thing to do!

Another thing I hear, underneath your suggestion that I carry a gun to school is that you would do this right.  Safely.  With appropriate training.  I hope you will forgive me if I have some skepticism about this.

One of the shell games that happens in education is promises get made that we will do things correctly, and changes get made that simply save governments and tax payers money.  Then the follow through never happens.  Initiatives are implemented in exactly the opposite manner than the research demonstrated these things needed to happen in.  Immersion for English Language Learners, Incluision for special needs students, and standardized testing are the merest tip of the ice berg here: over and over again, there are promises that we will implement plans with follow through and fidelity.  Over and over again, at every level, this follow through fails to happen.   If we can’t support a general educator with the training they need meet the needs of their wide ranging classes, how can we possibly think that we will safely and effectively train and support staff with fire arms in the class?

The most absurd implication in the suggestion that I carry a gun to school is that the people making firearms available are just trying to solve the problem.  From where I am sitting, you are the cause!  If I went into your workplace and doused it with kerosene, you would be annoyed if my solution was to offer you fireman training as a way to handle the increased risk you are now at.  It would be reasonable for you so suggest I not douse your work place in kerosene.  You might observe that it is rather condescending to a fire fighter to suggest that I could make you into one at the same time as expecting you to do your job.  And I hope that you are engaged in work that is so worthwhile that you would resist the suggestion that your job ought to be diluted when the whole problem was avoidable anyway.

Of course, it all hinges on that question: Was it avoidable?   If AR-15s were illegal, would all those people would have died?  We won’t ever know.  But giving me a gun is not the solution to the problem that your policies created.

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Hating Our Bodies

On the surface, horror moves seem some so rebellious.

There is all the violence, rebelling against expectations that entertainment be docile and tame.  And the subject matter itself: explorations of evil, refusing to be swept under the rug.  And also lots of boring old people telling us not to watch.

I think I was almost disappointed when I first encountered critical looks at horror.  When I think about the slasher movies of my misspent youth, it is hard to deny the subtext of the formula: kids go away from the safe world of adults.  Some of them do drugs or have sex.  Inevitably, the young lady who does those things wanders off alone, and she is killed for her troubles.   Despite the gloss, it is the most boring kind of morality play.

As I watched the conclusion of last season’s Walking Dead, I came to a similiar conclusion about the zombie genre: despite all appearances, it is also a lot of old fashioned ethics masquerading as something counter-cultural.

More specifically, the whole idea of a zombie is nothing more than a potrayal of what we think of our flesh.  The antagonists of these films (and books and comics) are an object lesson in everything we fear about our bodies.  The monsters, by definition, have been stripped off mind and spirit and soul.  A body with out these things is nothing but appetite, a harbinger of doom.

There is a long history of villyfying the body.  It is easy to notice the pains we locate here.  It is understandable how we blame our physicality for our weakness.  But this is such a one-sided view.  Ectasy lives here in the body, too.  And so many of the negative things we project onto our bodies don’t belong here at all.

Where The Ocean Meets the Shore

What words, you ocean

Have these waves been speaking

To this shore?

 

And this wind…

Does it spring from the land?

Is it a reply to the sometimes gentle

And other times thunderous?

 

These are lovers,

This give-and-take.

The tide following the moon.

The land giving himself up in little pieces at a time.

 

After these thousands of thousands

Of moments, hours, months, centuries

What does your love look like today?

 

The same.  

A changing thing.

 

Last Words

Removed, as they were from the garden…

They thought the names arbitrary things.

He laughs at them

Gently.

He shakes a little,

In his body.

In his voice.

 

“Each new thing.”

He says it again.

“Each New Thing.

It reached… within.”

 

He sees in their eyes that they do not understand.  

He stirs the coals in the fire.

His thoughts are a little disobedient, now.  Sometimes.

He tries to line them up again.  

The others all watch respectfully.  Patiently.

He hates that.  A little bit.

 

“That great naming.

It was an act of listening.

It was an act of listening for a name

Which had already been said.

In the Time Before.”

 

Recognition in those beautiful brown eyes?  

Perhaps it was recognition.

Seth was always the sharpest among them.

 

“We have so many words now.

So many that you might lose one for a moment.

That feeling…  When you have lost a word.  

When you are so close that you can taste a word,

But still not find it’s sound…”

 

“That is what it was like.

To look upon The Creations.

And name them.”

 

It is not only Seth who nods now.

The old man knows what he knows.

He knows that this is not sympathy, here.  Now.

He is thankful for that.

 

It inspires him to continue.

He wishes them to know so much.

His time.  After so long.  Is running short now.

He continues.

 

“There was something within me.”

“A name that wished to burst forth from my lips.”

“I tried it on so many things, in my mind.

But it was never time.  Never time.

Never time to say it out loud.”

 

“And so other names erupted out and around it.

I held that name in my heart unsaid.

Until she came.  Your mother came.

But then came our dying time.  Our casting out.

After our time of mourning was through.

I remembered that name within me.

I said it out loud.

And it was her name.”

 

He is lost for a moment.

They are lost for a moment.

Looking in the flames.

Ignoring the smoke.

He does not care about the tear that slides down his dry cheek.

When did he stop caring about things such as this?

 

“It was good to name her Eve.

I would have thought that was the end.

But it was not.

That garden is gone, now.

That time is is gone, now.

It will never return.”

 

A spit-crackle.

They watch him so closely.

This is the thing he hasn’t wanted to tell them for so long.

He does not know what any of this means.

 

“There is still a name.

A single last name within me.

But the time of the naming is done.

Somewhere.

There is a something,

With out a name.  

And there is me.  

With one word extra.”

 

A time.  A timeless time.

Later.

He died in his sleep with a single last gasp.

 

A tender hand.

Reached within him,

Even as he returned to the dust.

It took that unspoken word out of him.

 

And a time.  A timeless time.

Later.

That word?

That word was made flesh.

Hoping To Hear From You…

I am interested in hearing about your tranistions into and out of faith communities. When did you know it was time to leave? How did you know it was time to leave? What are some things that surprised you? What are the positives or the negatives? I am going to try and assemble observations about these stories into an upcoming blog post. If you have pithy comments that you would care to share with others, post them in the comments below. If you would rather a level of anonymity, or would like to run longer, email me at thecontemplace@gmail.com

A Bumbling, Stumbling Attempt at a Theology of Gender.

Lots of smart people have said lots of smart things about the ways in which our views of ourselves mirror our views on God.  I am thinking, today, about gender.

My own developing views about God’s gender are not that different from my view of gender in people.  I think I am not alone in this.  And also, I am still figuring it all out.  As I try to explain where I am at, and where I am headed, I am sure I am going to say things in a way that might be offensive or incorrect.  I hope that you, reader, can chalk this up to ignorance on my part, and not malice.  I would very much appreciate corrections, suggestions, and counterpoints in the comments below.

The most literalistic readings of scripture within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are that God is male.  So is the first person he makes.  Femaleness comes next.  It is the single alternative to maleness, a revision on that basic theme.

This parallels the world view I grew up in about gender in general.  Maleness is better.  Femaleness is the alternative.  I am trying to stay away from using the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because it seems like part of the whole idea was that our physical bodies always mirrored how we identified within.

And this was one of the first ironies I noticed in this whole affair, as I tried to work it out for myself.  The Christian world normally wanted to proclaim the existence of a soul, and the idea that there is more than just materialistic existence.  The non-Christian/secular world was generally more reductionistic-materialistic.  Yet suddenly, the Christians were saying, “No, the physical aspects of the body is all that there is.  If you have a penis you are fully and totally male.  If you have a vagina you are female.  All the way through.”  Meanwhile, the secular world was proclaiming that their is this non-material part of us, that might identify in a way that is not consistent with our biology.

This irony was only the first thing for me.  I think what happened next was the recognition that I and so many others had, as we began to recognize that literalistic understandings fall apart pretty quickly.  God, is of course, not physically male.  God is not embodied.

People can try and suggest that it is not about the physical.  They can try and suggest that there are differences in personality between men and women.  But here we return to the irony listed above.  Because now, the question to be answered becomes, “Well, what happens when that personality doesn’t match up with the biology of a person?”

Just as the first thoughts might seem pretty simple, “God is male.”  The first pages of the bible seem pretty straight forward to.  Because at first, as suggested above, God seems to make Adam first, in his image, and then Eve from Adam’s rib.  But a couple pages in, there is a director’s cut on the creation account.  And it seems that both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image.   God, it seems, has a feminine side.

Countless images in the bible build this case, comparing the creator to all manner of feminine images.  And this only stands to reason.  He is able to be everything good, all at once.   It seems like most people, most of the time, want to find themselves somewhere along the spectrum between 100% masculine and 100% feminine.  Some people move to different places over time.   But maybe this is the fundamental difference between God and humans.  God is everywhere on that spectrum at once.  Us little people, we, at any given time, are only occupying one little spot.