1

Come together.

I recently saw an ad that I want to share with you guys. It was posted according to the article it was attached to, as a response to the heinous Pepsi ad that got a lot of backlash. Pepsi actually removed the video and apologized for its content, since it was seen as so offensive. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, read it about it here) Since that though, Heineken has actually put out an ad with a similar theme of bringing people together. Now before you watch it, I want you to understand: I am not making any kind of statement about whether or not I agree with alcohol use or any of the political statements made in the video. Please hear me. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with any of it here. If you want my opinions, we can talk privately where my heart and personal experiences can be properly heard. I do not believe that the internet is a constructive place for controversy to be discussed.

What I do want to highlight is the ad itself. Watch.

 

Now like I said. I am not making any sort of statement about alcohol, climate change, transgender issues, or feminism. That is most adamantly not my point. But what I do want to talk about is having conversations.

What Pepsi failed to understand with their tone-deaf ad was that people need to hear each other’s heart before understanding can be reached. You can just hand a riot police officer a cold drink and expect the protest to dissipate. People feel strongly enough about their causes that they are literally moved to action. In any sort of protest or demonstration, people have passion. Whether it’s the Women’s March, a Black Lives Matter protest, a March for Life, or even a teacher’s union strike, people are fired up. and in those emotionally charged situations, no amount of drink, Pepsi or cold brew, will help. What Heineken seemed to understand is that when we sit down with each other in a calm and rational manner we are more likely to hear each other out. Believe it or not, that is a Biblical principle, folks.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2 (ESV)

The Lord himself calls us to use reason to understand things. (I didn’t use the famous “Come let us reason together” passage in Isaiah 1 because in context it’s about being forgiven of sins, not understanding each other)

I think we need to do a lot less forming opinions and a lot more spending time together. Jesus ate with sinners and shared his heart with them. He never wrote a strongly worded Facebook status about how their lifestyle was gross and ungodly. Jesus won followers through love and relationship. And through that relationship, people understood the truth and their lives were changed. In the immortal words of John Mayer, “Is there anyone who ever remembers Changing their mind from the paint on a sign?” conversation-1940x900_31263.jpg

Transformation and understanding is a powerful thing for both parties. And it only happens through that love and relationship. Stop trying to shout the truth into an already overloaded information sphere – speak it tenderly to friends. Support each other in hard times. Love each other as brothers and sisters; equals. As Christians we are called to point others in the right direction, not force them into submission. God will do the hard part.

That is all.

 

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4

Raising awareness – why?

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a trend – social media makes it so easy for us to raise awareness of certain causes. raise-bullying-awarenessBullying awareness, ALS awareness, autism awareness… the list goes on. And while yes, it’s cool that people are now more aware of these things… what purpose does that actually serve?

I saw an advertisement the other day for a company that donated to breast cancer research – and it was not Susan G. Komen. Their argument was something along the lines of this: who doesn’t know about breast cancer? It’s sort of like advertising for toilet paper (in general, not specific brands). Who doesn’t use this already?? Wouldn’t it be better to use our energy on solutions? Wouldn’t it serve us better to have a breast cancer donation month instead of an awareness month? In the United States, there are 69 documented cancer awareness“awareness” months. Meaning that over the 12 months of the year, over 69 things are being highlighted for awareness at some point. One of them is vegetarian awareness month, people.

I don’t mean to sound snarky here, but really? This number does not include the appreciation and celebration months either. These are just the ones that say “awareness” in the name. And you know what? We, as a result are a pretty informed culture. We know about a lot of different things. Cool. But it’s difficult to pinpoint if anyone is actually doing something to help these causes (not talking about you, vegetarians. You’re good on your own).

Facts are great. Knowledge is important. I feel like “awareness” is just another buzzword to help us feel important. Joseph-Kony-2012-PosterLike Kony 2012 – tons of awareness. But what even happened? I bet you have no idea. And what about the ice bucket challenge? People were supposed to pour a bucket of ice on their head so that they didn’t have to donate $100. What kind of backwards help is that? Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, changing your profile picture, hashtagging your status or otherwise “raising awareness”, why don’t we actually do something. Donate money. Volunteer time. For heaven’s sake, just pray if you can’t do anything else. Actually, pray before anything else. It’s so much better than just throwing information into the wind and hoping somebody, somewhere will take some kind of initiative.

That is all.

 

3

Starbucks cups, Penn Jillette, and other things that offend.

You’ve heard the debate over the Starbucks red cups, I know you have. red cups It’s really nothing new – Starbucks or Target or Disney or some other huge company manages to find a new way to offend Christians every year. This year, it’s the absence of snowflakes that has everyone up in arms. xmascups
No, really. They have never had “Merry Christmas” written on their cups. The cups usually have snowmen, or penguins, or reindeer or something else benign. ornament cupsHow dare they remove symbols that have literally nothing to do with Jesus from my overpriced latte.

Now, before you get upset, hear me out: it’s okay that you don’t like the cups. I think they’re boring and not a bit festive. But they are not a declaration of war on Christmas and especially not on Christians. Which brings me to my point: Why are we (Christians) so easily offended?

If someone says to us “Happy Holidays”, it is not our commission as followers of Christ to rudely and abruptly respond with “Don’t you mean Merry Christmas??” (I have actually heard a woman do this). It is not our personal crusade as born-again believers to make sure that Target, a secular company, puts out a baby Jesus in a manger. Jesus himself tells his followers that we should not be “of the world”, just as He is not of the world. This means we are set apart. We are different. So why should we expect non-Christians to adhere to our standard of living? Just as you can’t force me to stop saying “Merry Christmas”, I can’t force you to start saying it. We are not the same.holiday vs christmas

Which brings me to my real point: Why are we so petty? If someone says to us “I don’t believe in Jesus” we, as an American Christian culture, are more likely to cry out “persecution!” than to actually weep for their lost soul.  We are not called to “go and be offended every time someone marginalizes our beliefs”. We are called to seek out the lost who are hurting and dying and show them the love of our wonderful father. We are called to turn the other cheek and let disagreements roll off our back.

I once watched a video that still challenges me to this day – it’s Penn Jillette, a notoriously atheistic (and God-hating) performer, telling a story about a man who gave him a Bible. Please, take 5 minutes to watch it.

I would sum it up, but I honestly do not believe I could say it any better myself. If this doesn’t cause you to reflect on your priorities, I don’t know what will. Maybe, instead of getting angry with those who don’t believe like us, we should be getting angry with ourselves because we aren’t reaching out to them with love. I could not care less what my Starbucks cup looks like. I don’t expect them to live up to my standard. I do care what God thinks. And God thinks I could definitely be doing more to spread the actual truth of Christmas – a savior coming to earth to redeem us from our piteous mistakes. A God who loves us infinitely sacrificing His own son so that we, wretched sinners, could be with Him. I am far from perfect and I have a long way to go. At least for now though, I will not be spending any of my precious energy on the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” debate.

That is all.

0

A kick in the head.

I am not a patient person. I don’t necessarily mean I can’t wait around for things, though that is typically true, I mean I have very little patience for people. Or situations. I hope I’m not tarnishing anyone’s perception of me – it’s just the truth. I have noticed that throughout my pregnancy this trait has not clockdiminished. In fact, I had to apologize to my husband recently because I am becoming more frank and less careful with my words by the minute. It’s a work in progress for me.

Carrying around a child 24/7, while beautiful and amazing, and blah blah blah, is tough. It hurts. I’m tired. My usually less than sunny disposition is now, well, something more akin to a blizzard. I have caught myself just plain being not nice lately.

In the midst of my struggle to remain sweet, I teach middle
school. It isn’t exactly conducive to feeding my positive energy. In college, all my professors (well, almost all of them) would remind us regularly: sarcasm has no place in the classroom. I try… I try so hard but sometimes the only logical response to a question like “Do I have to turn the homework in to get credit for it” is a sarcastic irritated-gifquip.

Now, all of this is not just a confession, I’m getting somewhere. I have one student in particular, I’ll call him Jonah, and he is a real challenge to me. He is sweet, but let’s be honest. He doesn’t have an ounce of common sense in his body. He’s the one that asks me the question that I just answered. He’s the one that asks me the questions whose answers are on the board. He’s the one who asks me how his grades are so bad when he hasn’t turned in an assignment in three weeks. I want to like him, but he pushes at all of my buttons almost daily.

Jonah is just one of those kids who becomes one of those adults who is the reason we need warning labels on things like hot coffee and blenders. I find my patience wearing thin with him on a pretty regular basis. “Jonah, the middle of a lecture is not the time to get up and ask me when you can make up a missing assignment.” “Jonah, please do not try to sharpen your pencil on the SUPER LOUD wall sharpener while a student is giving a presentation.” If you’ve ever worked with kids, you know the type.

There’s a saying: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” Nobody really knows who said it first, but it doesn’t matter. The truth still kindremains – every single person is dealing with their own stuff that you don’t know about. I have spoken with Jonah’s mom; I know she’s a single mother. But she keeps him in football, which I silently judged because he’s failing everything. Yesterday though, I received a report of which of my students is homeless and/or in foster care. Guess what? Jonah is homeless. I don’t know any of the extenuating circumstances, but who cares? The bottom line is that maybe Jonah has a hard time listening because he’s preoccupied with not having a place to live. Maybe Jonah doesn’t have common sense because he’s too busy just trying to make it in life. Maybe mom keeps him in football because it’s the only stability he gets.

This child has probably dealt with more in his 12 years of life than most people will deal with way into adulthood. Now. This is not to say that occasionally I won’t still get frustrated with Jonah. But God is teaching me something here, and it’s probably as obvious to you as it is to me now.

I’m so thankful that God is more understanding of me than I am of others.

That is all.

342

To the Well-Intentioned but Ignorant Parents of Teenagers.

I’ve been mulling over this topic for quite some time, but this morning it became increasingly clear to me that I must say something. Folks, stranger danger is a real thing. And even more real today than it was ten years ago thanks to, you guessed it, the internet.

I speak specifically to the parents of kids old enough to be on social media. Of course, I am no such parent, but I am a teacher of those kids. I am also only 6-10 years older than the high school students I teach. Maybe that makes me unqualified to speak out, but maybe it makes me the most qualified candidate. Many of my colleagues and the parents of my students are old enough to be my own parents, so I tend to share a comaraderie with my students. And yet, I am far enough removed to be able to speak in ways that they cannot yet speak for themselves.

The reason this subject has become suddenly so urgent to me is because today I read an article about a new website called YouNow which is essentially a livestream site that a person can set up a camera feed and you can watch it constantly. Users can connect with cameras using hashtags like #sleepingsoundly. In other words, people – teenagers – are setting up cameras in their bedrooms so anyone, any stranger, can watch them sleep… or whatever. And while the stream is happening, there is a constant commentary by all watchers. I watched one today (for about ten seconds because I felt totally creepy) of a teenager somewhere singing on his porch. The comments ranged anywhere from “you have a great voice you should date me” to much more obscene things like calling the boy a “fag” and telling him he looked like various parts of genitalia. Now yes, this website is not specifically marketed for teens, and yes, there are terms of use that technically prohibit obscenity and illegal acts. But if you know anything about teenagers you know that they quickly find loopholes to most rules. The internet, especially social media, is NOT safe. And it is sobering how real this is.

You may be thinking “I’m smarter than that. I have a facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80% of my students don’t even have a facebook. They connect with each other on Kik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after ten seconds. They use Whisper, an app that a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat, and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

The problem with thinking you’re smart is that I would almost guarantee that there is at least one of those apps you’ve never heard of. And if you aren’t on it, your kids probably will be.

Teenagers typically do not yet understand the importance of internet safety. Along with the age-old feeling of invulnerability that adolescence has always carried, now there is an unprecedented and intimate access to a world wide community of strangers. So instead of driving too fast or sneaking out at night, your kids might be posting naked pictures on a website you’ve never heard of to people they’ve never met.

I know, I know. Your child would never do that! Let me tell you something: You. Don’t. Know. That. You know those tiny feelings you get every day but you cope nicely because you’re an adult? Feelings like insecurity, boredom, even the loneliness of being at home when your friends are all going out – well these feelings are massive to teenagers. A combination of hormones and inexperience create a veritable powder keg of unpredictable behavior. Insecurity might lead to seeking acceptance from strangers by posting a selfie and waiting for people to reblog, like, or comment on it. Boredom might lead to extended conversations online with someone they’ve never met about deeply personal matters. Loneliness can lead to online sex. No, really. It can.

Please please hear me, parents. I am not an outdated, irrelevant old person sitting on my metaphorical front lawn griping about “kids these days”. I spend more time with teenagers than I do with people my own age. And in many cases, I spend more time with your teenagers than even you do. I am begging you to give a crap about your kids.  When I was a teenager myself, social media was just gaining popularity and my mom had my Myspace and Facebook password. I never sent a message, posted a picture, or added a friend without her knowing it. It sounds extreme, but I’m safe today because of it. I can’t even count the many times I would have done something incredibly unsafe and irresponsible if not for the fact that I knew my mom was watching.

My success as an adult today can be blamed almost wholly on the fact that my parents were involved in my life. I could go on forever about the rising rate of teen suicides, sexual miscreance, and drug abuse problems that can be traced back to beginnings in social media. These things are real. And if you don’t show up in your kid’s life and give a crap, maybe no one will.

That is all.