The best teachers are agitators against the norm…

The best teachers are agitators–and I mean that in a positive sense. They challenge the status quo…what we think we know.

As our children begin to learn about the world they live in, teachers encourage them to explore…to ask “why”…to figure out how things work. Yes, there are some basics that just have to be learned, but children learn by experimenting…by questioning.

As they get older, the best teachers encourage them again to ask “why”…to question the status quo…to seek to understand how the world works…why people act (and react) in specific ways…

And as they get even older, again the teachers who agitate encourage them to think for themselves…to discover what they believe and why. They encourage them to challenge doing or understanding things the way they always have been…to discover new ways of seeing…new perspectives. They encourage them to experiment…to see how previously “impossible” things can be made possible…

If this didn’t happen, we would still be in a world in which space exploration was impossible. We would believe the world was flat. We would not have medicines that have made the world safer. We would not be able to see that there are many ways of understanding the Divine…or enjoy reading and watching movies.

We still have a long way to go. But I am grateful for those agitating teachers who have challenged me in the past. It’s because of them that I am more certain of my faith…that I can honor those who have studied the natural world to better understand how it works. It’s because of them that I can go to doctors when I am sick and be treated out of knowledge, not myth. It’s because of those agitating teachers who challenged the status quo that I can look back and see the progress we have made.

They’re not perfect–and neither are we. There are still many areas in which we have much to learn–and unlearn. I am aware that the history I learned is not a complete history–there are many untold stories that may very well change what I thought I knew. There are lessons to be learned from other cultures…other faith traditions.

But I am also grateful that my faith tradition has scripture that calls for us to “seek…out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith”…that calls me to be willing to learn “things both in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth [all the sciences]; things which have been [history]; things which are [current events]; things which must shortly come to pass [future planning]; things which are at home [my country’s history and events]; things which are abroad [world history and events];…a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms…”

So I want to say thank you to those teachers who agitate against the status quo…who spend hours encouraging…grading…challenging…to reach beyond…to reach for the stars.

What you do speaks so loudly…

When my father felt there was a disconnect between my actions and my words, he would often say this: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement for a while now…and it has become even more pertinent over the last couple of years.

I hear lots of talk about family values…about care for the marginalized…about how immigrants have helped build our country…about how health care should be made available and affordable…

But the actions I see–or sometimes the lack of actions–speak so loudly that the words are meaningless.

Words without actions that match are–as Saint Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians–like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

There’s a blog I follow by John Pavlovitz, another minister. One of his recent columns raises similar concerns about the disconnect between words and actions. It’s worth reading and pondering…

Do our actions speak louder than our words? Or do they match?

I’m just not sure what to say any more…

As I watch the news every day, I find myself shaking my head…wondering if I’m in a bad dream that I will wake up from…wondering if I’m caught in a time warp…wondering if I’m the one living in an alternate universe…

And I’m just not sure what to say any more.

Sometimes I’m not even sure what to do–or what I can do…

  • When facts become labeled “fake news”…
  • when individuals who loudly proclaim their support of family values find nothing wrong in supporting an administration whose policies tear families apart…
  • when those who say they follow Jesus–the same Jesus who said “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble”–when those followers see nothing wrong with causing incredible trauma to little ones by separating them from parents who are seeking a better life for their children….
  • when those whose skin is a different color…or who worship differently…are demonized and considered “less than”…
  • when those who have fought in defense of long-held values are told that their injuries are not particularly serious…when this comes from a commander-in-chief who used bone spurs to keep from serving himself…
  • when those in need of health care cannot afford it–or die because they cannot afford their prescriptions…
  • when tax cuts harm the poor in order to benefit the rich…
  • when people of color find themselves targeted for simply “living while black…”
  • when those who are LGBTQ find that the laws that have protected them are systematically being rolled back…
  • when the incredible diversity and beauty of this world is being destroyed to build walls…being destroyed for mining…

How can I respond? What can I do?

Some mornings I’m just not sure. But then John Pavlovitz reminds me that there are things I can do…

So today, instead of looking to the sky and waiting for a pastor or a politician or some invisible force to come in and dramatically beat back the darkness—you wield the brilliant light in your possession.

Maybe you’re the hero you’ve been waiting for.
Maybe you’re the answer to your urgent prayers.
Maybe hope isn’t in the sky.
Maybe it’s in the mirror.

Children watch…and learn…

I was reminded recently of how observant children are, even when we’re not aware they’re watching or listening.

Sometimes it’s amusing. My 3-year-old granddaughter was playing with her dolls, especially her Anna and Elsa ones. She decided one of them was misbehaving, so she put her in time out for 10 minutes. We were eavesdropping, enjoying listening to her channel her mother as she said, “You need to go in time out! Don’t you ever do that again…I’m so tired of it!”

But other times it’s not funny. It’s sad.

When we tell our children that they should be patient…but we lay on the horn when someone is slow to start after a light turns green, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we sing “Jesus loves all the children of the world”…but we loudly support putting children in cages and separating them from their families because their skin is a different color or they worship differently, which will they follow–our words of our actions?

When we say that all people are of worth…but we protest against giving people who love someone of the same sex the opportunity to marry, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we teach them that telling the truth is important…but we praise and vote for a man who consistently lies, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we teach them that taking care of the environment is important…but we clap loudly when regulations that help do that are removed or we support bulldozing of national treasures or sacred sites, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we say that education is important…but we praise and support leaders who tear down and ignore the perspectives of those who have spent years learning in their fields, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When we say that it’s important to treat people with respect…that when a woman says “no,” that’s what she means…that sexual relationships should be mutual…but we see nothing wrong with a president who mocks the disabled or who boasts of his sexual assaults, which will they follow–our words or our actions?

When our words and our actions don’t match…when they contradict each other…what will our children follow? Our words or our actions?

My father had a saying: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Children watch…and learn. What are we teaching?


Do we have eyes to see?

I have often wondered at what appears to have been the willful blindness of many who lived in Germany in the 1930s. How could they not have seen what was happening in front of them? How could they later say that they were not aware of the slide into facism that seems so clear in retrospect?

And now I find myself wondering the same thing in my own country…in my own time.

There are organizations that have studied how facism develops and they have created a list of warning signs:

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism – “my country first” and making the country great again…use of the flag everywhere
  • Disdain for human rights – the security of the country requires that some human rights can be ignored for the “greater good”
  • Identification of enemies / scapegoats – specific groups are identified as being the cause of many (if not all) of a country’s problems
  • Supremacy of the military – the military gets a disproportionate amount of the budget, often at the expense of domestic needs
  • Sexism – there are rigid gender roles and the government is the “guardian” of family values
  • Control of the media – the government either directly (by regulation) or indirectly (by using sympathic media spokespersons) controls what is shared in the news
  • Obsession with national security – the need for security is fueled by fear
  • Religion and government are intertwined – government leaders use religious language even when the actions they take are in direct opposition to the religious beliefs and tenets
  • Corporate power is protected – the government supports industry and business, often at the expense of the average person
  • Labor power is suppressed – labor unions are seen as detrimental and actions are taken to weaken them
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts – education is seen in a negative way and the arts are attacked
  • Obsession with crime and punishment – police are given power to do almost anything to keep order without any recourse for the average citizen
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption – government is made up of friends and family and people who will support whatever the ruler wants with no accountability
  • Fraudulent elections – smear campaigns against individuals are common as is legislation to control voting boundaries

Do we have eyes to see? Or will we be among those who say “I had no idea”…?