Monday, December 30, 2013

Got Faith?

To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Why would a good God allow this? Why can't we just have the times of healing? Laughing? Dancing? Peace? Forget that other stuff. That stuff must be from Satan. Or better yet, that stuff must come from a very mean God.

I can't pretend that I have this all figured out. In fact, as I have shared before, the more I grow in knowledge, the more I come to realize how much I really don't know. But I do know MY story. My experience with God and my faith.

From the time I was a very young girl, I experienced many trials. My mother was sixteen years old when she had me and was experiencing her own major life struggles. After a failed, abusive marriage and giving it her best attempt, she came to the point where she was not able to provide for my sister and me and we were placed in a foster home. Several months later we were placed with my great aunt and uncle and cousins, and this unit became my family.

Now growing up, I felt loved and cared for. However, I often fought the "demons" of feeling abandoned, unloveable, and fatherless. This was not a reflection of my wonderful family unit, as they took my sister and me in and often sacrificed so that we could feel a part of the family. They were not particularly religious, Christian or otherwise at the time (though that changed dramatically in the future). However, while fighting my "demons," I often felt a presence with me. I somehow knew that no matter how bad things got, I was going to be alright. I knew this to be true even of the earliest experiences I could recall from my life. In fact, I knew as a four-year-old, crouched in fear and hiding under my bed as my stepfather was in another rage, that something or someone would look after me. And that something or someone would help me, in turn, look after my sister.

I didn't really know what this "something or someone" was until I was in 2nd grade. Every Sunday I rode a church bus to First Baptist Church. Here, while I was fighting with that "unloveable" demon, some really amazing people reached out to my sister and me and made us feel loved and cared for. Do you see a pattern here? Another group of people made us feel "loved and cared for." Then I was sitting in the pew listening to the preacher talk about Jesus. He said that everybody made mistakes in life and those mistakes kept us from being in full communion with God. But God still loved us and his son Jesus still loved us. In fact, Jesus loved us so much that he gave up his own life so that we might be forgiven and reunited with God the Father. Now my 8-year-old mind was spinning, I did not understand all the dynamics at play. But in that moment, I knew ~ so very far, down deep in my soul ~  I loved God and Jesus right back. Tears welled up in my blue-green eyes and I felt full and whole in my heart. I finally knew what that "something" was that had been watching over me!

Despite my struggles, unfortunate circumstances, and certainly in my sweetest moments, God ministered to me as Love. I felt Love with my family. I felt Love with my church family. I felt Love through the story of Jesus. I FELT LOVE. God is Love.

So many things have happened since that day. I grew up. A marriage. Children's ministry. An adoption. Motherhood. A divorce. Questioning of my faith. Redefining my faith. Another marriage. A band. A principalship. More redefining my faith. Two moms and cancer. A Ph.D. And while I certainly don't believe in an "old man in the sky" playing favorites with people who have the best prayers (and of course we know the best prayers come from America…pffttt), I still believe in Love. I still believe in that something or someone who is bigger than me. I still believe in how awesome Jesus was at extending Love and showing us The Way to do so. To explain the suffering in the world and God's role in the suffering is a post for another day. But I can emphatically say that without my faith ~ Love ~ I could never have defeated the "demons" that haunted me. Today it is still as true as it was that day I sat in the pew at First Baptist Church ~ so very far, down deep in my soul ~  I love God and Jesus right back. God is Love. ~ Namaste'

Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Defense of Teachers

Let's face it. Teachers are an easy target. When things are not going well for our children, obviously, it is their fault. I mean, they are with our children more than we are. If our children can't read, spell, write in cursive and memorize their times tables, they must have crappy teachers. What are those teachers doing anyway? My god, they have all of those breaks and summers off! If only the rest of the world could live that way!

Let me be up front by stating that this line of reasoning infuriates me. In my 43 years on planet earth, I have never met people who are more committed, purposeful, loyal, dedicated, and hard-working, than teachers. When I hear criticisms directed towards teachers, it makes my blood pressure rise. Let me argue that teachers are NOT the problem with our education system today. We have a broken SYSTEM that we require our teachers to work through. That system was created for an industrial age, followed by an information age that no longer exists. In most cases this broken system begins at the State level, experiences a little interference from the federal level, gets convoluted at the local and district levels, and has the potential to be misunderstood at the parent level.

Today I am going to visit a common criticism.

"Our education system is broken. I don't know what these teachers are doing, but they need to get back to the basics and give these children an education like I grew up with."

News flash. The world is NOTHING like it was when you were a kid. When was the last time you got a job because your penmanship was beautiful? Oh wait - we type almost everything these days. In fact, we have autocorrect and spellcheck on just about everything. Instead, our workforce today requires people who can work with teams of people to solve problems of all sorts that don't even exist yet. This requires innovation, creativity, perseverance, the ability to analyze and synthesize, as well as an understanding of human relationships.

In his book A Whole New Mind (2006), Daniel Pink states, "We are moving from an economy and society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age" (Pink, 2006, p. 2). Pink continues,
For nearly a century, Western society in general, and American society in particular, has been dominated by a form of thinking and an approach to life that is narrowly reductive and deeply analytical. Ours has been the age of the "knowledge worker," the well-educated manipulator of information and deployer of expertise. But that is changing. Thanks to an array of forces - material abundance that is deepening our nonmaterial yearnings, globalization that is shipping white-collar work overseas, and powerful technologies that are eliminating certain kinds of work altogether - we are entering a new age. It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and new approach to life - one that prizes aptitudes that I call "high concept" and "high touch." High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning (Pink, 2006, pp. 2-3).
In another book The World Is Flat (2006), Thomas Friedman explains the world facing our children.
It is going to take more than just doing your homework to thrive in a flat world, though. You are going to have to do the right kind of homework as well. Because the companies that are adjusting best to the flat world are not just making minor changes, they are changing the whole model of the work they do and how they do it - in order to take advantage of the flat world platform and to compete with others who are doing the same. What this means is that students also have to fundamentally reorient what they are learning and educators how they are teaching it. They can't just keep the same old model that worked for the past fifty years, when the world was round (pp. 277-278).
Both Pink and Friedman explored the most successful companies in America and determined common skills needed to be successful in the world facing our children. Friedman (2006) names a list of categories that most new jobs will fall into. He explores the "Great Collaborators and Orchestrators, the Great Synthesizers, the Great Explainers, the Great Leveragers, the Great Adapters, the Green People, the Passionate Personalizers and the Great Localizers," while Pink describes the skills of Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

The Great Collaborators are described by Friedman as those who can collaborate with others or orchestrate "collaboration within and between companies, especially those employing diverse workforces from around the world" (pp. 281-282). This is similar to the skill of Empathy described by Pink (p. 66). Pink argues that in a world full of information and advanced analytic tools, logic is not enough. "What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others" (p. 66).

Friedman's Great Synthesizers possess the skill of Symphony as defined by Pink (2006). Pink points out that "much of the Industrial and Information Age required focus and specialization. But as white-collar work gets routed to Asia and reduced to software, there's a new premium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together, or what I call Symphony. What's in the greatest demand today isn't analysis but synthesis - seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole." Similarly, Friedman claims that the next great breakthroughs will come from, "putting together disparate things that you would not think of as going together." He shares an example of "computer engineers who can map the human genome working with pharma companies that can turn these insights into life-saving drugs."

These are just a couple of examples outlined in these two books. The type of skills suggested by Pink and Friedman cannot be taught by simply memorizing spelling words, making sure writing is neat, or merely memorizing times tables and relying on traditional algorithms to solve math problems. The reason that students are coming home with a variety of ways to solve math problems is because that is precisely what it takes to work out problems faced by today's engineers. If students do not understand what those numbers truly represent, they cannot go on to have the deep understanding required of today's engineers and other mathematicians. If they simply rely on a formula they have memorized, when the parameters they face do not align with their expectations, they will fail miserably at solving problems such as the ones both Pink and Friedman discuss.

Now, before anyone goes and says I don't think basic skills are important…STOP. There are certain foundational skills that all students need. But what legislators and many people who are not in the education field do not understand is, HOW do we continue to provide those foundational skills, while still preparing our students for this "Conceptual Age" referred to by Pink? And HOW do we do this with ridiculous testing demands placed on students and teachers? Does anyone realize how much students are tested? They get tested so much in the name of data and accountability that there is barely any time left to actually TEACH. And don't get me started about the summers we take off from school. Can someone please tell me how many children in the United States are out working in the fields???

No, if you want to blame someone for the mess public education is in, blame the legislators. Most of the time, these people are making decisions that they know nothing about and holding teachers to a standard they, themselves, could never keep. And while they enjoy their posh lives and the plethora of benefits and perks afforded to them, they make decisions to pump tons of money into "more important platforms" while continuing to take money from education.

So please, hug a teacher today. They get criticized on so many fronts. I invite anyone to walk into a room with 30 children of whom around 65% or more are coming from poverty, another 8% require additional attention and support due to some intense special needs, and several need counseling for a number of emotional issues. Be prepared to specialize in all subjects and squeeze them in between all of your assessments. Oh, and don't forget, your State is always changing the rules on what should be taught, therefore your District is continually changing the curriculum that you are held accountable for and you must keep up with it. Any takers on this job that pays about $40k a year? Didn't think so.

Monday, September 9, 2013

About Prayer

Today, a friend asked this question on Facebook:
I'd like to preface this question by stating up front that I'm in NO WAY disparaging anyone's religious beliefs. I'm genuinely curious about a trend I'm noticing. It has become de rigueur for people on Facebook to solicit prayers from their friends for increasingly trivial things. "My dog is getting his tail docked. Prayers, please." "I have a test in biology. Please pray for me!" "My friend is having her tonsils out and she could really use your prayers." My question is this: does anyone really believe the outcome of the event will be influenced by prayer? Also, do all the people who say they're praying really stop what they're doing and have a heartfelt one-way conversation with God, or is it more an eye roll to the sky with a cursory "Praying for everyone, dude"? Does God get sick of hearing about all this mundane crap? Finally, if 1000 people are praying for A and 1001 are praying for the opposite, B, does B automatically win based on numbers alone, assuming everyone praying is an approximately equally sinful believer? And how the hell do you theists keep all of this straight? Or do you default to "Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but it makes me feel better to wish it"?

Here was my response:
I believe deeply that prayer doesn't necessarily change the situation, prayer changes the person praying. Let me explain. I absolutely believe there is something bigger than me out there. Whether it be God, angels, the thoughts on this have changed over the years, but one thing remains constant. That thing that keeps me humble, knowing there are things much bigger than me. I swear every time I see something cool in nature, I get goosebumps and stand in awe. (That could be the hippie part of me talking...) Further, I truly believe in energy. For example, I walk in a room for a meeting and I get a good indication of what kind of energy is infiltrating the room. Having said this, when I pray (and yes I pray when someone is getting their tonsils out, getting ready for a test or whatever might seem heavy or trivial), I pray for the greater good, no matter the situation. I understand that there are things that I do not know. In fact, the more I know, the more I realize I really don't know that much. When I put this kind of intention into action, I BEGIN TO ACT OUT OF THIS INTENTION. My actions that come next as a result of uttering that prayer, impact that situation. My whole attitude shifts. It is somewhat akin to theories regarding positive affirmations/thinking, and such. I do believe that we are actually co-creators with God/Universe/Spirit. Ultimately, I don't believe that God/Universe/Spirit plays favorites and whomever has the best prayer wins. I believe that when we set intentions in service and in love, "God works all things together for those who love..." and sometimes the answers to our prayers don't look like anything we expected.  Namaste!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cardigan Queen...

Sing to the tune of Caribbean Queen. I woke up this morning and had a vague idea of what I wanted to wear. I keep an extra ten pounds hanging around for special occasions, and the cardigans in my closet serve two purposes. One, to keep me warm as I am freezing my butt off in arctic conditions during summer and winter months, and two, to cover up said "special occasion" ten pounds. Today's cardigan choice was a little more about the ten pounds than the arctic conditions, however, it never fails. I freeze in the office. So it is all good. As soon as I slipped my magenta cardigan on, the phrase "Cardigan Queen" hummed through my mind and it made me giggle.

I have been a cardigan queen for some time now. I am very "Vata" in nature. Vata is a term used in Ayurveda, the ancient eastern Indian system of holistic healthcare. Ayurveda actually translates as, "the science of life." I first discovered this approach to health nine years ago as I began my first year as an assistant principal. I read the book, "Perfect Health" by Deepak Chopra and it literally changed my life! It was like church camp for my health!

Ayurveda follows the patterns and rhythms of nature. Vata types tend to be cold and dry and experience a lot of movement. Think winter season. Thus the cardigan. :) When we experience dis-ease (disease), it is typically because we are out of balance with our true nature or constitution. I will be sharing more about this in future blogs, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you are interested in finding out your true constitution, check out this link: Body Type Quiz (Doshas). You will be able to determine if you are Vata in nature, like me, or if you are more Pitta or Kapha in nature. Then come back to this blog, where among other things, I will be sharing about my amazing adventures with Ayurveda!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Something is Wrong with this Broccoli!

I always love the first few days of school. It is here that I get my best material! :) While walking through the lunch room, a kindergarten student declared, "There is something wrong with this broccoli! It is hard!" Despite the explanations offered up, we could not convince her that it was ok to eat the broccoli this way (fresh).

It isn't just kindergarten students that get stuck like this. How often do we get stuck in our own understanding of something that ultimately keeps us from delighting in a new experience or enjoying the fullness of life? What version of "something's wrong" are you experiencing?