Yes. This. So worth the watch.
30 Nov 2014 Leave a comment
For those of you who have had even the shortest tidbit serving in restaurants, you know–like I do–that no dining out experience can go uncritiqued. The same is true now that I’m a certified yoga teacher. Yesterday Dave and I went to a level 1 class…and let’s just say I gave up about halfway through listening and following the instructor and finished my own practice in Shavasana. Everything about the instructor was off: the setting of intention was sloppy; she taught from the back corner of the room with a mousy voice; her assists were not grounded; her cues were weak at best, absent at worst; she ignored an older gentleman in the class who clearly needed modifications and cues; her pace was off; she made poor choices for postures; she failed to cue modifications consistently.
But of course, I practice yoga in non-judgment. Ugh…
I tried so hard to release judgment, to just be present with my breath on my own mat…but I just couldn’t. let. it. go. The minute I found peace in my breath, her voice would chime in, and then my mind would criticize and compare. A vicious cycle, I finally gave up and laid in Shavasana, palms pressed into the Earth, focusing with my inhales ” my thumbs are grounded, my pointers are grounded…”
Naturally, this is true off of my mat as well. I think about when I am in meetings, or PD, or conversations that are not going to my standards and expectations. I find myself daydreaming, diverting, distracting, disengaging, because I just can’t let it go. The question, the challenge, arises: how do I stay present when I do not deem a task worthy of my presence?
Ouch. That’s a raw reality.
For me, the answer to this question lies in a critical distinction: what I can control versus what I cannot control.
- I can control how I sequence, cue, and sanctify a yoga class. I can learn from what I don’t like and do differently the next time I teach. But at the moment I am in class with another teacher, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control her teaching. I can only control how I respond.
- I can control meetings, PD’s, or conversations in which I have influence. I can structure those with honor and intention; I can make them meaningful to all parties involved. But at the moment I am in a meeting or PD that I do not have control over, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control “them” or “it.” But I can control how I respond.
So what is my response? How do I stay present? Breath. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.
To be present and mindful in the current moment, the only moment I have in all reality, I need to come back to the root and wings of my breath. In the inhales, I find intention. In the exhales, I find surrender.
27 Nov 2014 1 Comment
So Mary asked me to write a guest blog. While I’m still not totally sure what that is, or that I can live up to the standard of a typical “Life in the Dport” post, here goes.
Like many others recently, I’ve been reflecting on gratitude and what it means in my life. While it’s easy to rattle off a top ten list that can look much like I just pulled it from Pinterest, I wanted to get a little deeper.
- I’m thankful that I won the lottery. Not Powerball, mind you, (there’s always next year) but the social lottery. I was born a man, into a white middle class American family. Think about that for a minute, really let that sink in. Though I did nothing, I already had more of a chance to succeed in life because of those three things. White. Middle Class. Male. I never had to walk into a job interview and be immediately dismissed because I didn’t “look the part.” I’ve never had to worry about having the neighbors call the cops or being stopped by the police because I was in a new neighborhood or worse yet, committed the cardinal sin of running. I didn’t even earn my citizenship; it was bestowed on me simply…because.
- I have clean water to drink and it’s only a few steps away. My mother-in-law had to fetch water from the creek, and that was after World War II. I also have incredibly easy access to food. So easy that I consumed more today than some kids may in a week.
- I have a job. Because I live in a 1st world country, this implies many things. I don’t have to spend all day looking for food for myself and my family. Our society has advanced to a point that we have time for art, sports, hanging out and taking naps. I have disposable income and time to enjoy those things. Thanks to all the folks who sacrificed and fought the system, not only do I have a job, I earn at least a minimum wage and am compensated for all my hours worked.
- I’m thankful for all of the bad crap that has happened to me. This one is a little hard to swallow. Everything that has happened in my life has shaped me. Everything, not just what I choose to view as the good stuff. In fact, sometimes it’s really only the meaning we assign to something that makes it “good” or “bad.” For several years I was part of a church that had some fairly toxic practices. When I left, I was bitter and had a hard time dealing with it. I felt like it was one of the worst things that ever happened to me, a waste of several years of my life. But, I also met an amazing woman and convinced her to marry me. This church also helped shape my worldview and view on spirituality (sometimes you need to see how subtle control and intolerance can be close up to really open your eyes). So was this the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to me? It can’t be both. In reality it’s neither…the situation was the situation. The only meaning it has is what I give it, just like all of the other “bad” crap that has happened. I am thankful I do not have to allow it power over me.
- I am thankful for the relationships I have had in my life. They have all helped make me who I am: my work ethic, my love of books and music, my tolerance and loyalty. Some of them I have known all my life, some for only one conversation but regardless, all have changed me and I am forever grateful.
- As my parting gratitude, I’m also thankful for my dog Spooner; if only I could be half the person he believes me to be.
27 Nov 2014 2 Comments
Early in the lonely darkness, I wake this morning with a heavy heart; how can the absence of Something, Someone weigh so much? As in yoga, I will not fight this pain’s strain; I will lean into it. I will stay present in the sorrow, to the grief. And even in this, I will give thanks. Yes because it’s a holiday, but also because it’s a holy way.
- Though I don’t understand it fully nor embrace it completely, grace is more powerful than condemnation, compassion truer than judgment. The Divine, at the deepest core and at the wildest edges, is Love. For this, I thank God.
- I live in a cozy house in the mountains, on a wildlife corridor–a glory this suburban flat-lander only imagined in daydreams. This house, once another’s outdated debt, has been made our beautiful home by my husband’s raw talent. For this, I thank God.
- I live and laugh with my best friend, a man of generosity, grace, strength, humility, adventure, athleticism, authenticity, wildness, industrialism, honor, spirituality, intelligence…love. For this, I thank God.
- I had a special relationship with my Dad. From playgrounds to cardinals to Frank Sinatra and Yanni to walks to movies, our spirits were woven together. Yesterday in the car, just like him, I whistled along and sang off-tune to a Christmas song. In his absence, he was with me in that car, in that moment. For this, I thank God.
- I had a special connection with my Mom. Our stories were written from the same words. When those stories are told now, in her absence, it is not only me–it is my husband. As we threw out bacon grease this week, we looked at each other knowingly, remembering and resurrecting Mom’s conniption fit at such a waste. His relationship with my Mom was a rare and precious gift, now a majestic river bird hovering above and between our love. For this, I thank God.
- Though my parents are gone, the utterance of “Mom” and “Dad” still floats up from my heart to glide across my lips. Dave’s parents hold a special place in my life–far greater than the empty label of in-laws. For this, I thank God.
- I go to work every day alongside people who fight for social justice. I teach students who teach me. I gift the power of words through stories that matter. My job is a ministry of empowerment for which I am equipped. For this, I thank God.
- My sister gets me. We are cut from the same cloth. Reunited by grief, our friendship’s foundation has solidified. For this, I thank God.
- I have friends of the soul variety. Tammy, who has been beside me and inside my spirit since I was 14. Laina, who when I am with, listening to her stories, makes me feel like I’m with my Mom. Libbi, who gifts me with the call to presence. These are but one small glint of a massive web of glittering connections spun around me. For this, I thank God.
- My body is strong and capable. My legs can take me to the hidden heights of the Rocky Mountains; my spine can bend and bow into peaceful poses of meditation; my lungs can fuel me through 13.1 miserably momentous miles. For this, I thank God.
Like beads on a Mala, I count my blessings. There are far more than this list; there are far more than I recognize with my eyes or name with my voice. For this, for the unseen and the unnamed, I thank God.
23 Nov 2014 2 Comments
The adage goes something like this:
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to play with that concept a bit:
Ask me a question once and I don’t have an answer–shame on you. Ask me the same question twice and I still don’t have an answer–shame on me.
Part of our district’s teacher evaluation system is how we build the learning environment for our students. I am grateful that I tend to score effective to distinguished in these categories. Once I was asked the question by my observer: how do you do it? If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know how much I care for my students;
they’re like my own kids they are my kids and I strive to make my classroom feel like home. This is the why, but not the how, and honestly the reflection hasn’t gone much deeper than that; after all, teachers in our society–me included–very rarely focus on what we do well. For one, I don’t want to be considered as arrogant, or a braggart. Two, we are bombarded with messages that we are not good enough–both intrinsically and extrinsically. But just recently, another observer asked me the same question: how do you do it? After some digesting of the repeated question, I realized there is power in deconstructing how I do it, in naming the pieces–yes for others, but also for me.
So how do I put together a positive learning environment? Here are my puzzle pieces…
- Take your job seriously, but not yourself. The job of a teacher matters. It is a weighty responsibility to empower students with the tools to create a better future for themselves. And every day I approach my work in deference to that gravity. I plan intentionally, attending to the expectations of external standards while attuning to the needs of my students. I grade rigorously, ensuring that my AP classroom in the hood could give any privileged AP class a run for its [abundance of] money. I teach vigorously, always focused on a target with both explicit and implicit learning goals. I treat time like it’s a precious commodity in the classroom–and it is, because for so many of my students who are behind, I’m trying to teach them senior curriculum while simultaneously catching them up. I remain grounded in the present of my students’ abilities, all the while looking ahead and creating conditions that prepare them for college. However…all this does not mean I am a stoic. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I am just as passionate about humor as I am humanities. So I sing, rap, dance, burp, cry, cuss, dance, hug, joke, and laugh the deep belly echoes of bliss with my students. I make fun of myself. I intentionally use comic relief like the Old Bard himself… albeit not with that much finesse. Much of this self-deprecation lies in the art of code-switching-a skill my students also have to master. Sometimes I speak street, sometimes I speak in lyrics, sometimes I speak Spanish, and sometimes I speak academia…but always I speak with purpose.
- Expect nothing less than the best from students. For all my eight years in education, I have worked with underprivileged, at-risk youth. But really, I have worked with the underdogs of society. All an underdog needs is someone to believe in him/her–even when that’s missing intrinsically. And I do believe in every single one of my students. I believe in them so much I will not let poverty, emerging bilingual skills, or systematic oppression lower my standards for them. I. will. not. All their lives they have been told that they are behind and can’t do what other students can. I will not send that message. My students will read and write and listen and speak at collegiate levels. They will behave like responsible contributors in a community of learners. They will turn in work that makes their brains hurt. They will risk and fail. And I will stalk them until they try again, so they feel the victory of a hard-fought success. In the words of one of my former students: “Every time I walked into your classroom, I knew I was going to be productive because you wouldn’t let me do otherwise.”
- Be humble. I apologize to my students about once a week, at least. Sometimes I bomb a lesson. Sometimes I forget to make copies. Sometimes I mess up a grade. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I’m low in energy. Sometimes I’m unprepared. Sometimes I make hurtful assumptions. But always, I apologize. I do not project an image of perfection to my students. I reflect on how I’m trying to grow as an educator, the mistakes I make and how I’m trying to fix them, and the challenges I’m fighting. In this, I become a part of our community, instead of the one above it.
- Teach people, not stereotypes or statistics. From day one in my classroom, I get to know my students as human beings. I give them a survey about who they are. I ask for their music preferences. I tell them about myself. Then, I follow up with them–how’d the game go? how’s your aunt? are you feeling better? I recognize that my students are a series of stories, and to be written into that story, I need to know the plot and the characters and the setting. Though I expect nothing less than the best from my students, I also need to know what is their worst, and why it is happening. Ultimately this comes down to one key skill: questioning. I do not make assumptions (because when I do, I get in trouble). Instead, I question students about the why so that together we can work through the how.
- Teach stories (and skills) that matter to people in way that attracts people. Because I teach people, I teach stories that matter. In The Book Thief, we see that friendship allows us to endure any suffering; in The Bluest Eye, we see that our choices have lasting impact on others; in The Things They Carry, we see that stories are salvation. And that’s just semester one! We spend so much time in collaborative discussion because how people present themselves at interviews matters. We spend so much time revising our writing because the people who can articulate themselves are more likely to get what they want. We spend so much time analyzing, because people who know that all messages ultimately try to manipulate them have power. This does not mean I ignore standardized testing and expectations; it means that as the teacher, it is my job to interpret and convey those in a way that matters to people, and not just to the data gods. Part of that responsibility is the call to make learning fun, innovative, exciting, and interesting. In the words of a one of my former students: “Mrs D’s class wasn’t a class. It was the time of day where my mind was challenged and stretched into new ways of thinking.”
- Explain the why. Sometimes it’d be nice, and easier, and less time-intensive to just say “because I told you so.” But I, as a human being and learner, always want to know the why behind what I’m doing in meetings or in PD or in life. And so I approach my students with the same dignity. I work hard to explain our tasks in terms of skills needed for the world. I plan assignments and assessments that never constitute busy work, because my students deserve better.
- Read the field and respond accordingly. Some days, when the majority of my students do not do their homework, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about time organization. Some days, when the mood in my classroom seems off, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about stress management. Some days, when I can’t get my kiddos to shut up and engage with the work, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes at teachable moment about values and responsibility. You see the pattern. I pay attention to my students, I ask them to be meta-cognitive, and then we find solutions. In addition to sending the message that their hearts and souls matter just as much as their brains, I hope these reflective skills transfer to their lives beyond the classroom.
- Build in social-emotional learning. I teach the standards because they matter. I teach stories because they matter. I teach meta-cognition because it matters. But I also teach social-emotional skills because they matter..the most. A classroom without a sense of community does not allow for deep and meaningful learning–especially for emerging bilinguals (Google “affective filter”). Social-emotional learning is the solid and hidden foundation upon which classroom management is laid, from which stories and stories of learning rise gloriously into the sky. The first weeks of our class are spent on community building. It is essential that we all know each others’ names, feel safe to take risks, as well as feel responsibility to hold each other accountable. We do circles about issues in their lives. We tell our stories. We do cheesy community builders. We make commitments. In the words of a former student: “Your personality and way of coping with us and our weird generation created such a great environment that I always enjoyed walking into your classroom, mentally prepared to learn.”
- Ensure all voices contribute, and all voices matter. It is essential in my class for ALL students to share. And it is essential for all students’ voices to be honored. To create this, I often do not give my own opinions during discussions. I also often do not respond to students’ comments. This creates a place where I am not the center of the conversation, but another voice in it. This also empowers students to find their voice and use their voice–in my classroom, but most importantly in the world. In the words of a former student: “No voice was left unheard and we always had safe environment to be ourselves.”
- Synchronicity. The stars have aligned so that I could teach. I feel blessed that God has made me with a unique skill set so that I could be a teacher. I view my job as a ministry of care and empowerment. When I go to work, I feel a divine synchronicity. I know this might not be the case for all teachers…and so I come back to the idea of “loving what you do and doing what you love.” Such an internal motivation for teaching is obvious to students…especially those who have seen teachers come and go. When they know I want to be there, it’s more likely they’ll want to be there.
The final piece is more than a piece; it is the glue that holds everything together: love. I love my students. I treat them as my own. I speak to them from a place of love; I teach them from a place of love; I laugh with them from a place of love; I listen to them from a place of love; I build our learning environment from a place of love. And when I mess up, which I do, I am grateful that “love covers a multitude of sins.”
For all my teacher-blogging friends, I’d love for you to blog about your own puzzle pieces for creating a positive learning environment. Link to mine, and send me your link so I can include yours!
16 Nov 2014 6 Comments
If the church is the Body of Christ, then who/what is the doctor? So often symptoms and diseases and disabilities ferment inside the Body, while all the cells in the neck get together and discuss how the arm should respond, or the toes wiggle about and wonder what the stomach is doing up there anyway with all that space. Internal accusations feed on each other like a misinformed cancer. Incestuous, inside attempts at healing fail, because, well, sometimes “I need a doctor to bring me back to life,” as Eminem sings (raps?).
The media as of late has had a feeding frenzy on the bacteria of the Body. From Mark Driscoll to Ricky Sinclair to Ernest Angley, stories of scandal abound. And I think about my own life, and the life of friends and family I love, who also have self-amputated from the Body to prevent their own decay. In response to these stories, mini to mega, my Synchroblogging friends have put out these questions:
…what would it look like for the Church as a whole when abusive leaders are held accountable and then are reconciled? How do we do that in such a way as to let victims be heard and redemption be the end goal? What does redemption and/or reconciliation look like in real life? What does grace look like in these situations?
Stay tuned for a link list at the bottom for others’ responses to these questions. I’d like to respond with these thoughts:
- First and foremost, the Body needs to see a doctor. And not an internal doctor. An external doctor. An objective but wise counsel who can offer both a diagnosis and a treatment plan. In my opinion, there is no better healer to look to than the Native Americans, who have been practicing peacemaking circles long before Restorative Justice became latest alternative trend. What are the advantages of this? First and foremost, it is grounded in the idea that justice arises best from a strong sense of value for a unified community. And if that is not the ideal body type for the church, I don’t know what is. If a leader abuses his power (why did I automatically write “he” there?), that leader must sit in a circle with those traumatized by that abuse. The circle needs to discuss these questions: what happened, who was harmed, who is at fault, and who needs to repair what and in what manner, and how can the relationship be restored. It should be raw, authentic, messy, emotional, cathartic, brutal in honesty…but ultimately healing. And since it is a peacemaking circle, it may need to occur again and again, endless, in a cycle of courageous conversations that confront the illnesses in the Body. In fact, the Body should be taking regular doses of these supplements: a community connected by critical but compassionate conversations. These kinds of circles blur the lines between the leader and the led. These kinds of circles demystify the portrayal of perfection that runs rampant in the Body. These kinds of circles prevent the common responses of the body: turning a blind eye to the “sinner” or, worst, turning a back on the “sinner.” These kinds of circles prevent a mere public apology from the pulpit without weight and instead promote responsibility and repentance. These kinds of circles level the playing ground so that what is glorified is service and not supremacy. These kinds of circles foster raw revelations of the heart rather than painted portraits.
As I’ve thought about this post though, what my mind has fed on has not been the response to abuse in the church, but rather the proactive measures that should be taken. This is the kind of preventative medicine I would prescribe for the Body.
- Leaders in the Body should not act nor be treated like soldiers of a higher rank. If we are a Body, than ALL of our parts matter. It is about how we work together, not in isolation in our awesomeness. The flexing bicep might be more flashy, but ultimately without the anus’ expulsion of feces… well you get the point. Each part matters equally if not identically. As I write this, I am reminded of the story of David’s sin. Of course, we wonder how God and the Isrealites responded to his sin (probably as did the Old Testament Times, the media of the day; I can see the headline now: A Sexy Bath With Bathsheba: David’s Fall). But ultimately, what could have prevented this illness of the Body is David getting out of his comfy house of leadership and into the battle:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Isreal…But David remained at Jerusalem.
- This brings me to my second dose of preventative medicine–the Body should not adhere to any of the prototypes prevalent in society. It should not look like a corporation; it should not look like a music venue; it should not be a well-oiled machine. It is a community, and by nature a community is messy. There is vulnerability, there is hurt and pain, there is reconciliation. There shouldn’t be PR, unless we’re talking personal responsibility. There shouldn’t be concern with an image, unless it’s “how does this apron look on me at the soup kitchen?” And of course, any of the leaders could answer that question, because they are in it, up to their eyeballs, fighting and lighting the world with their action and not just their polished words and glamorous power points.
It saddens my soul to watch the world paint an image of the church as a broken, abusive, toxic, profitable performance. It breaks my heart, more so, to know this is grounded is founded evidence. But I come back to the idea of resurrection. As the Body, we are risen. We can shine. We can love. We can restore.
I end in prayer, the only thing left to say:
May the Body heal…itself, the world.
To Read More Synchroblog Responses about This Topic:
- Justin Steckbauer – The Servant Leader: A Radical Concept
- Glenn Hager – The Man Of God Myth
- Lisa – Forgive
- Jeremy Myers – Reconciling Mark Driscoll
- Peggy Brown – Abi and November’s Synchroblog: Spiritual Abuse and Redemption
- Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich – Shooting Stars: Of Scandal, Abuse, Restoration, and Systematic Failures
- Tara – Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive Those…
09 Nov 2014 3 Comments
These are the footprints in the sand of an Old Testament God who is temperamental, severe…and let’s just say, not a God I want to be like or serve. Is this my God?
Or is this a god as revealed through the cultural, historical, and economical lens of the times?
I have been slowly working my way through the Bible this year. Many mornings I listen to an audio version in the car on the way to work. Stories of slaughter, sacrifice, sexism, slavery, severity swing in the car’s space like a noose.
I have been taught to hold high on a pedestal the idea that all Scripture is God-breathed. The Bible is the faultless word of God. His Spirit has protected its delivery. I am not a Bible scholar, but I just can’t buy this. I cannot bring to the center of my commoner’s faith the conviction that God is cruel; I. just. can’t. Or I won’t.
One of my favorite books to teach is The Things They Carried. Through it, I can stress to my students–and to myself–the importance of story-truth versus happening-truth.
I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.
A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.
And this is what I hold onto as I wrestle with the way God is portrayed through Scripture. Ultimately, it is not about facts or events or data… it is about the truth behind the story. And this truth can exist even in a lie. Just as Grace told her Mom on The Good Wife:
I think of it like poetry… it doesn’t have to be literally accurate, but it’s true.
So, then, what is the story-truth?
- God is what we need:
- When the Israelites were in danger of disease: let there be laws about sanitation, eating, purification, etc.
- When the Israelites were frustrated with Pharaoh: let it be said that God hardened his heart.
- When the Israelites needed to expand and enlarge their territory and progeny: let there be many wives and concubines as well as savage war.
- When the people needed motivation: let there be a harsh Judge for sinners and their successors.
- When the people needed a second-chance: let there be Mercy.
- God’s story (HISstory) is told through the lens and with the language of the current culture:
- In the Old Testament, there is sexism, racism, savagery, slavery, and cold-blooded murder. This reflects the culture of the BCE Biblical Middle East.
- In the New Testament, there is sexism, racism, savagery, slavery, and cold-blooded murder. This reflects the culture of the CE Biblical Middle East.
- Jesus, hallelujah, dismantles both aforementioned points entirely.
- The Old Testament books and the New Testament books reveal a God who is what we need as reflected in our current culture. However, gloriously, Jesus the renegade comes along and simultaneously nullifies and fulfills these obligations.
- Jesus spends his time with the sinners, not the elite.
- Jesus surrounds himself with women.
- Jesus takes time on those society has deemed unworthy–the foreigners, the sick, the unclean.
- Jesus unravels the idea that God perpetually punishes the posterity.
- Jesus challenges the leaders who represent the dominant culture.
- Jesus counters the cultural norm that as the Messiah he was to overthrow the government with violent revolution. Instead, he loves–subversively.
- Jesus is neither Old Testament or New Testament. He is THE testament, the truest testimony of a God who all along has just wanted an authentic relationship with His people. A relationship that means He will mirror the culture to find a way in, but also that He will supersede the culture to show the better relationship that He offers.
- The Old Testament books and the New Testament books reveal a God who is what we need as reflected in our current culture. However, gloriously, Jesus the renegade comes along and simultaneously nullifies and fulfills these obligations.