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Why We Can’t Open Communities of Faith or Schools

This week the stark contrast of what we have valued as a country has become crystal clear.

We concentrated our initial reopening efforts not on opening the communities where our children learn and people gather together to be in the community together to gain hope and healing, but instead restaurants, bars, and beaches. Our top priority was getting back to entertainment, not education.

To be certain, America is an entertainment-driven society. Our economy depends on our desire to distract ourselves. The average teacher makes $60,477. The average NBA player makes $6.7 million. The average MLB $4.4 million. The average well-known actor makes $15million. The average clergy makes $32,000-$48,000.

Now that we have reopened, our numbers are climbing nationwide. The number of cases is climbing. The number of hospitalizations is climbing.  As we approach the end of the summer, suddenly our collective attention is directed on opening schools. We understand that if schools can’t open if we end up with virtual schooling, we are going to have overtaxed parents and families. We realize now that we focused our reopening efforts on entertainment over education.

As the weight and the toil of living in the midst of a global pandemic and a racial reckoning bear down, we realize that we need hope. We need spiritual guidance because we are mentally, spiritually, and psychologically exhausted from all the uncertainty and living with collective trauma and grief. Voices are calling out for churches to reopen because we know that we need each other. We know that we need hope. Even as some voices call out to reopen, other voices recognize where we are. We are at a place where we have valued escaping from our reality for a trip to the beach and a night out at a restaurant or a bar over coming to terms that we will not return to “normal” in the foreseeable future. We have valued escapism over compassion.

And so here we are.

Government leaders are threatening to remove funding from schools if they don’t open up. Government agencies are threatening lawsuits if schools don’t reopen. This is after political leaders ordered churches to open. As we get closer and closer to the fall, we are realizing that when we value entertainment over education.

We are left without the covering that schools offered as they fed the one and nine children who live with food insecurity every day, twice a day, and sent food home. We are realizing that without schools, we don’t have low-cost, reliable childcare for working parents. We are realizing that we have put the pressure on schools to be the savior and stopgap of a broken system for far too long.

As numbers continue to rise numbers and the possibility of having a loved one die alone in the hospital and the fear for our lives for much longer continues to live with us, we realize that we value escapism over compassion. Churches and communities of faith, driven by their moral codes and caring for those in need have guided and challenged our culture of consumerism.

As churches are deemed a major source of COVID-19 exposure, we realize how important coming together each week reminding ourselves that this one life that we have to live is not about gaining more stuff, a bigger house, or a cruise around the world, but instead about caring for each other. We are in a religious awakening.

Our eyes have been opened.  As a society, we value entertainment over education and escapism over compassion.

The question is now that our eyes have been opened, will our hearts be?

On Being Together

Over and over again, I have heard people saying that they “needed a change of scenery” or that the way we were doing life during quarantine “wasn’t sustainable.” While this is true to a certain extent, here in South Carolina, the travel and the unwillingness to wear masks is having devastating effects. Our case numbers are rising, more people are dying, and our medical professionals are being taxed to unnecessary extremes. Other states are asking people who have visited South Carolina, to quarantine for 14 days because the rate of increase is so steep.

All because we “needed” to get out and go somewhere.

Molly Spearman announced this week that if we in South Carolina continue not to wear masks as we go about our business, then there is no way that schools will be able to meet in person in the fall. Quarantine helped to flatten the curve, but it did not make COVID disappear. Our inability to wait and change our practices is having a terrible consequences. We are no longer at the point where this is a disease that impacts “the grandmas.” “Since April 4, data from the agency shows that there has been a 413.9% increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases among the 21-30 age group.”

It is much easier to close our eyes and pretend things are the same as they always have been. It is much easier to cling to things that say, “We go to the beach every summer,” and “our policy has always been,” but this unwillingness to change will indeed harm others.

It is harming others.

The question is will we continue to harm others? Will we finally wrestle with the truth that our actions impact others? Will we finally look at ourselves in the mirror and confront our short-sightedness?

 

Those First Students

I’ve been thinking a lot about my first students from my first class this May. Been wondering about whether they and their families are in this same position. The never-ending cycle is real and haunts too many people in our society:

But this subsidized housing is all she can afford. Most of Houser’s paycheck goes for things like food, diapers and gas. And she says what look like luxuries are necessities for her. They’re also mostly gifts from family or friends. She says she has a car to get to work, a computer to take online college courses, a cellphone to check up on her son.

But there’s one thing Houser doesn’t have, and that’s a lot of hope for the future.

She says she feels stuck in a never-ending cycle, constantly worried that one financial emergency — like a broken-down car — will send everything tumbling down.

“Poor to me is the fact that I’m working my butt off. I’m trying to go to school. I’m trying to take care of my son, and that’s just not enough,” she says.

 

Silence

It’s been a week since I’ve been to this place that has slowly become a space where I have figured out who I am and what I am supposed to do with these breaths I’ve been given.

Sure, I’ve taken longer leaves of absences from this, but this time it was for a purpose not because of scheduling or overcommitting. I needed some distance as I delved into a weeklong look at Ephesians and processed through a death in our family. There’s an incubation process for deep study and for grief.

I’ve rarely found myself speechless. I have too many words and often have to remind myself to listen before I jump into a conversation with an idea that has sprung into my mind. This week, I felt myself moving from commitment to commitment in a slow molasses movement. My mind was telling me that I needed to remember everything, be everywhere at once, and my body was telling me to power down.

And I just wonder, as a pastor, what do you do in those weeks and days and minutes when life so silences you and brings you to a point of complete and utter standstill and wonder? Do you just stand before your congregation and ask question after question that has flooded your mind over the past week? Do you honestly recount the emotions and feelings you’ve been through or do you when it comes to Saturday night silence those questions?

Silence is  a powerful teacher.

It shows us that this life we lead where we think we can predict what comes next can be brought to its foundation and shaken in a way that reverberates in us as small players in its grand scheme.

And maybe that’s exactly what I needed to learn this week.

Parting Ways with Hebrew

After a yearlong journey, my formal studies of the Hebrew language end on Monday. It’s crazy for me to think that a year ago, I identified the markings on the classroom board as field goals posts and golf flags. Now, I know them as letters joined together to make words that tell a story of a people and their Creator.

Studying Hebrew honestly hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve put in long hours only to be stumped and puzzled even more. It was frustrating, but it also reminded me that I don’t know everything about the Bible. And that’s an important lesson for every developing minister to learn. If I don’t continue to question and put in long hours studying only to be stumped and puzzled, I might get to the point of thinking I know exactly how life works. I might get to the point of thinking I don’t need a Creator.

It’s always easy to provide these reflections when the journey is coming to a close, but it is very hard for me to maintain that perspective while in the midst of the journey. Luckily, I have a year of Greek ahead of me to help me work on that!

Full Friday

Whew! What a day!

I forgot what it was like to attend a conference and to not have a minute to sit down. You convince yourself that you are going to get work done while you are here and then you end up even busier than you thought. 

I find myself exhaustingly invigorated by the passion and the energy that surrounds teachers spending their own time to learn more about their craft. 

Stepping out of your classroom to see other teachers who are trying to implement best practices does something for your soul. 

You walk away knowing you are not alone and knowing that there are others in the trench next door. 

That will hold you almost as well as the good food!

Back to Conference Travel

It’s odd to me that this year is filled with teacher conferences again. 

I am trying to place my finger on just why that is and I am not sure if I have found it yet. Maybe it’s because I spent a year as a teacher without a classroom and have spent this year doing more work with teachers than in the classroom, but it seems I am not in the teacher club anymore. 

Here’s the thing that I’ve discovered though, you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t not make a person a teacher. I still dream about my students. I still lesson plan on Sunday afternoon and I still get wary about full moons. 

Will be fun to be back in the saddle again! 

What learning Hebrew has taught me about myself and life

I like to consider myself a diligent student, especially when it comes to languages because I have been in a foreign country and I have taught a foreign language, so I know the frustration of being a teacher of languages. 

But if I am honest with myself, I haven’t been a good Hebrew student. 

I know that language learning means daily exposure and wrestling with the language. I know that’s even more important when you are learning a language with a whole new set of characters and a new reading orientation. So why haven’t I just done what I know works?

Because I’m busy, because it’s hard, because it takes longer and I could get a lot more done in the time, because, because. 

It’s easy to reason myself right out of studying for Hebrew. As I have caught myself making excuses, I’ve realized that I am quick to defend my choices, but not as quick to reflect on whether they are the best decisions. 

It’s hard to admit that you aren’t good at something. It’s even harder to admit that and keep at it, but no matter how old I get, I want to be someone who challenges herself to try something new and to stick with it even when it’s difficult and frustrating and exhausted. 

As we journey away from Thanksgiving and await Advent, I am thankful for a challenge that I am not sure I can surmount. I am thankful for learning something new, even if that means learning I don’t know everything. 

Are schools the next big market?

It’s not surprising to find that education is a huge market:

The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.

I’d be wiling to bet that teachers aren’t going to get a cut at all of this.