Thursday, October 27, 2016

So... now it's over...

Yesterday, I used this sad llama to show how I felt about leaving my students

Today... I don't know... I have to try to find a sadder llama.  I don't know if there's a better embodiment of my heartbreak than Kuzco sitting in the rain as a sad llama.

Maybe a sad elephant.

Yeah - just imagine the saddest thing ever.  If you aren't crying - here's a BuzzFeed article to help start the tears.  Read that and then come back to me.

Ok?  Are you crying now?  Because I am.  I didn't even have to reread that article.  Just finding the link made me a little misty.  Don't judge.  It's been a rough day.

Today started like any other normal day.  Actually, it started earlier than most normal days because I had to get all my grades finalized so I went in early.

Before school even started, my neighbor came in to give me goodbye treats.  They were amazing and I ate way to many of them.  Again - this is a no judging post.  She gave me a sweet card and I started crying.  Yeah.  Notice how school hadn't even started yet.  I knew it would be a tough day and so I didn't even bother with eye makeup.  That was a good choice.

The day went largely as expected.  I cried a lot.  My students cried.  I had 3 girls burst into tears in class.  That part was unexpected and made me cry more.

I got lots of hugs from coworkers and administration and even students.  One girl hugged me every time she saw me in the hall today because I "tore her heart out and stomped it on the floor."  A bit dramatic, but sweet, and sad.

Having to say goodbye to everyone was much harder than I thought it would be.  Saying goodbye to my classroom was hard.  I have been a teacher for my entire adult life and now, just like that, I'm not.  I know a few of my Boyd classmates were teachers as well - and one of the associates I will start working with on Tuesday is a former kindergarten teacher.  I've been told teachers make good attorneys - and it makes sense.  We understand bureaucracy and are pretty self sufficient.  But, a big part of me will miss being surrounded by students every day.

Over the years, I have taught grades 7-12, including alternative, night, and summer school.  I have had all levels of students, from remedial and English language learners, to advanced.  I cannot choose a single student or a single year that has been my favorite, because there are so many.  I can tell you about times it was hard to continue teaching or students that have really tried my patience, but truthfully, those are the exception rather than the rule.

Four and a half years ago when I started law school, I knew this day would come.  And maybe in some sense I knew that I wouldn't ever be a career teacher.  As one student told me "Miss, you are really strict, you don't have to follow ALL of the rules."  I'm a rules person.  As a teacher, you have to pick your battles and let some things slide.  I always struggled with that.

However, that's probably the same thing that will make me a decent lawyer.

I managed to pack everything away into a few small boxes, a tote bag, and of course my coffee maker (priorities).   It was weird.  I think I take more with me on a long vacation.  And I was able to distill 10 years into those few boxes.

One of my friends told me today "You know, you can always teach in the law program at [the magnet] high school."  And that made me smile.  Because she knew that deep down, no matter what job I had, I would probably always be a teacher.

(one more sad llama for the road)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The end of an era

Today has been absolutely heart wrenching.

I saw half of my students for the last time - since my school is on a block schedule, I only see my students every other day, making today the last time I will see many of them.

That also makes today the first real slap-in-the-face reality of leaving the classroom.  I have been a teacher for 10 years, plus some student teaching and that weird year in China, so... let's call it 12 - which is the same age as many of my students.  I have been a teacher since before most of my students could walk, or talk.  To them, it is a lifetime.

And I guess in many ways, it's a lifetime for me, too.

For the past ten years, I have woken up every day and gone into a room of young people where I was expected to be the smartest person in there -- or at least the one that knew what was going on...

Usually that was the case...

However, that wasn't always how it went.

Teaching is much harder than I ever thought it would be.  I also like it a lot more than I thought I would.  I hate the bureaucracy of teaching, especially in a large district like this.  I hate the never ending paperwork and things to sign.  I hate forgetting when I sign them and getting in trouble.  

But I love students... 
Ok... not all the students...  

But over the years, most of my students have been wonderful people that will probably go on to lead amazing lives.  I've known many of them to get married and start families of their own.  They go to college.  Some have even become teachers -- which makes them poor.  That part is sad, but it makes me happy knowing that good people like that are carrying on to love students in the classroom.

Since this is so incredibly hard, I'll write more tomorrow when I stop crying... 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The State of... everything that's not okay.

I haven't written anything for quite a while.  Largely, that's because I spent the past (almost year) focusing on finishing law school, graduating, and passing the bar.  Fortunately for me (and my husband), I did all of those things.  Yay me!

However, I've had a lot on my mind lately and I decided it was time to let it all out.
**warning - this is kind of long and ranty and mild profanity does appear in this post**

I'm going to vote tomorrow morning.  I like voting.  It makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself.  Nevada, fortunately, has early voting, which means I can go to the mall, get a corndog, and vote with very little fuss.  Voting on actual election day is kind of a pain, and I like this 21st century mall-based system I live in.

Like most people, I'm not shy about who I'm voting for in the election.

Over the past year, I've had mixed anxiety levels about a "President Trump" world.  Fortunately, as of now, I feel I can safely pack my suitcase and put my passport away.  At least I hope so.  At one point, It was a legitimately frightening prospect, but now, it's more like an annoying itch.

So, I'm not longer afraid of a dystopian society ruled by a megalomaniac with all the compassion of Kanye West and none of the musical talent.

But I still have a lingering fear.  I am truly upset by the world that I have come to live in over the past year -- and I fear it will only get worse.

During the past year, Donald Trump has shown America that it's okay to be a total asshole.  Not even the likable "Uncle Joe had too much to drink and now he's trying to lick the cat again" asshole, but someone that speaks his mind all the time, and confuses opinion with fact, and shows the world that if you don't like someone, it's okay to mock and belittle them in a national forum.

None of that is ok with me - as a woman, as a mother, as a human being.  How can we raise the next generation of children with respect and the courage to stand up to bullies when that is not what we are modeling.  We want to be able to teach all the right things:

  • We don't call names; 
  • we play fair; 
  • we don't yell and scream; 
  • we are kind to others; 
  • we don't interrupt; 
  • we don't quit when we don't get our way; 
  • we say "I'm sorry" when we hurt others.  

That is the opposite of what we are seeing on the national stage.

And now in the past few weeks, the hits just keep on coming.  He seems to have doubled down on the idea that women need to remain barefoot and pregnant, at home where they can't go around "thinking" or "talking".  Not only that, but it seems that the person wanting to be in charge of our country is modeling that it is okay to treat women like second class citizens placed on this earth for the amusement of men.  Again, not okay.  A few months ago, we all got into an uproar about the Stanford Rapist - a young man who managed to admit to a horrible crime and serve three months in county jail.  A few days ago, there was a similar case in Montana (it's worse, if you don't want to click on the link).  But somehow, a fair portion of the country has no problem with someone using wealth and power to do what he wants, when he wants, with whoever he wants.

Donald Trump is telling everyone in America (and technically world-wide) that this is okay.

On Friday, a girl came into my class and immediately told her friend about some jerk that thought it was okay to grab her butt in science class - a random guy that thought her butt was cute.  A boy sitting behind them told her "well, at least he didn't grab your p***."  I immediately stopped everything I was doing to explain to a group of 8th graders that none of that was okay.  You cannot touch another person without their permission.

I'm here to speak as a voice of sanity and remind us that it is NOT OKAY.  Nothing about this is okay.  I am not going to spend the next twenty years telling young women that they are probably going to be sexually assaulted, if not outright raped in their young lives and no one is going to do anything about it.  And if someone does decide to play the hero and do something, the assailant will spend a few days in county jail, or just get a stern talking to.  In Trump-land, these young women will be humiliated, denied healthcare at low cost clinics like Planned Parenthood, and forced to carry children to term because abortions will be abolished.  They will be reminded every single day of the horror that they endured.  That is not a world where I want young women to grow up.

But of course Trump and his supporters don't care all that much about the world I described, because they don't care all that much about women.

The Daily Telegraph has kept a running list of all of Trump's horrible sexist and demeaning statements towards women.  Seeing them all in one place (many with video links or copies of Donald's Twitter feed), is sickening.  He doesn't blink before calling out women for being (in his opinion) overweight, unattractive, sexually active, intelligent (which I guess is a bad thing), ambitious, or willing to speak their mind.  Based on his statements, the only acceptable women are tall models that don't talk a lot.

The worst part of all of this is that it isn't going to end on November 8th.  That's the part that makes me really upset and THAT is what I really blame Trump for.  He has made all of these behaviors the new normal.  If we don't collectively stand up and say "Nope, not in my house, Hombre," it's just going to continue.

For the past 8 years, we have allowed Trump and his comrades (yes, I used that word on purpose) to delegitimize our President for no reason other than he didn't like him.  We hoped that it would go away during the next election cycle.  We were SO wrong!

I am not going to listen to that nonsense for another 8 years.  If you don't like Clinton, that's fine.  Don't vote for her.  If you want to protest-vote for a 3rd party, cool.  But nothing about Donald Trump is presidential.  Nothing about him will serve as a role model for our future generations.  But, we need to agree as a country that we cannot allow people to act this way.  It's not okay.  It's not reasonable.  It's not moral.  And let's be honest.  It's just wrong.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You can't win 'em all

Yesterday was another of our staff development days.  Typically I'm not a huge fan.  Staff development is typically one of those things that sound like a fantastic idea but at the end of the day teachers leave feeling like their soul has been sucked out through their nose.

For the past few staff development days, I've actually been teaching sessions to get out of the rut.  It's slightly better, but I can see glazed looks on participants' faces and I know how they feel.  I try to make things relevant.  And I try to make my attendees understand that I am giving them information that I truly believe that they can take back to their classroom to use, but at the end of the day, I know they feel the same soul suck that I often felt.

However, yesterday was a little different.  My principal bucked trend a little bit and instead of giving us another training on the Nevada performance framework (again), he brought in a motivational speaker who specialized in urban and high-risk youth.  He talked a lot about reaching students where they are, focusing on belief systems instead of behaviors, and giving students new tools to succeed instead of simply telling them their current tools are wrong.  While I don't know how much new information I got out of the session, I did get a lot of reinforcement that many of the things that we have been doing are right.  And sometimes that's what we need.

Our school does things differently.  We try to approach students from a different direction and reach them from a different place.  All of our students have made mistakes.  The wouldn't be at our school if they weren't.  But, we have to live by the philosophy that they aren't bad kids, they've just done bad things.  A lot of people disagree with us.  Our job is to give them the tools to make better choices, to become different people, and when they leave our building they won't have to do those things anymore.

And I would like to say that we are very successful.  But, we are not.  Not only is our recidivism rate high, but we often hear stories of former students that have suffered fates much worse than a return to my classroom.

I wrote last week about the student that was killed in a parking lot.

A few weeks before that, a different student was arrested for beating a man to death in (ironically) another nearby parking lot.  So he, and hundreds like him will spend his best years in jail for crimes of rage and poverty and race.

A large portion of our students never graduate.  They drop out of school before they finish.  It's just after 8pm & I just tried calling the parent of one that's missed a lot of days lately & I fear he's well on his way to dropping out.  He will probably show up tomorrow with some sort of excuse and be in school for a few days before drifting off for another day or two.  He just doesn't like school and can't be motivated to come.

That student and today's story and honestly most of them are all about drugs.

Pick a drug, I have a student addicted or recovering or selling.  Probably all three.  It's a simple fact of the urban and at-risk environment.  Drugs are everywhere.  I would estimate over half of our population comes to us for drug related offenses.  Ironically, drugs are not a behavioral issue.  They are an environmental issue that cannot be solved with a behavior intervention program.  But, that's neither here nor there.

One of my best students last year came to me with a serious drug problem and a lot of depression.  As time went on, and he became more comfortable in his sobriety, he got better.  He wasn't great.  Depression is never "great".  But, he was better.  He stayed with us longer than he needed to because he was doing well and improving.  He was recovering credits, making friends, staying clean, and on the right path.

At the end of the school year, his parents came in and thanked us for all we'd done for him.  They were generally satisfied that he was going the right direction, as were we.  We hoped that he was a success story.

A few days ago, the current student (who has been with me for well over a year) mentions to me that he is still in contact with the former student and the former student isn't doing so well.  I press for a little more information and learn the former student has relapsed, so I reach out via email.  I don't expect much, if any response, but since he completed an online class we'd communicated online in the past and I hoped  he would respond.

After a couple of days I get a line or two saying hello and he's glad to hear from me.  I reply in kind.

This morning I woke up to a second, much longer email that had me in tears.  I won't go into details, but anyone that's ever been a teacher, or seen an episode of "Intervention" can probably imagine some of the things the kid has been dealing with while struggling with a relapse.

These are the type of things that ever teacher grapples with.  And these are the emotions that we should be taught to deal with on a "professional development day".  Fortunately enough, this IS part of what we talked about at my professional development yesterday.  More administrators should take a page from this playbook and allow their staff and faculty the type of development opportunity that will truly help them deal with the day to day of teaching.  Then there wouldn't be the endless Facebook, Twitter, and in person complaints about how soul sucking staff development days are.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Teachers & Loss

This afternoon, I went into my principal's office for a moment to ask a routine question about a student.  We chit-chatted for a couple minutes and then he gave this dramatic sigh like I'd never heard come from him before and handed me a couple of pages stapled together.  I had no idea what was happening, but I took the pages and started reading.

The first was a student ID photo with some basic information -- printed out from our student information system.  While this was not my student, I was aware of him.  We are a very small school with a dozen teachers and one administrator; everyone knows everyone - literally.  At times we have as few as 25 students on campus.  This particular student had recently completed our program and returned to a comprehensive high school, but recently enough that the name and face was still familiar.

The second page was a news article giving some sketchy details of a murder.  I'm sure pretty much everyone can see where this is going.  Our student had been shot and killed.  The manner or method is pretty irrelevant, but suffice it to know that this 16-year old kid spent the last moments of his life bleeding to death in a parking lot.

I looked at my principal & before I could even say anything, he told me he hadn't been able to bring himself to read the article yet.  I've worked for the same administrator for the past 6+ years and this was probably the saddest moment we've ever shared.  I could tell he was trying to put on a good "leader face," but he had been jarringly affected.

The rest of my day has been painfully sad.  I've been thinking about all of the students I have lost over the years.  I've talked about this a bit before, but as a teacher, it's something that is constantly in the forefront.  Everyone is aware of those that have passed away, whether it be expected or unexpected, but there is always something about the loss of a young life that is so painful.

Since I have started teaching, I've always been in high-risk schools, and for some of my students, they take the phrase "high risk" a bit too literally.  From day one, I've had gang members and drug dealers in my classrooms sitting next to the future doctors and lawyers of America.  Generational poverty has driven thousands of my students to things I would never have dreamed of.  It doesn't change the legality of the issue, or make it right, but it's understandable.  Most of them never brought it into the classroom, so we always had some unspoken agreement that "If you behave and learn Shakespeare, I'll pretend I don't know you're a hard core gang member."  Usually it works.  And once in a while, one of them changes their stripes.

One of my very first blog posts (if anyone cares) is about one such student.  He was a white supremacist, and a general bad-ass.  One day, we had a blow out fight that ended in me telling him that I was tired of his crap and he was too smart to be acting like that.  He turned it around in school, or at least stopped being a pain.  But a couple years later, he came back and told me how that was a pivotal moment in his life.

However, just as often, I see news stories about my students -- and they are never good.  I know 5 students that have been murdered, two more have committed suicide, two car accidents, and (I believe) two have died of natural causes. That's 11 deaths in 8 1/2 years of teaching.  While it doesn't seem like a lot, it is.

Of course, that isn't the only way we lose students.  Endless numbers of them are lost due to depression, drug use, and gang activity.  They just stop coming to school.  As teachers, we feel that loss.  It must be like working in a hospice center - knowing so many are not going to make it out to the other side.  I know specifically of a handful that are living on the streets as drug addicts. And I can't even begin to tell you how many are in prison.

Out of curiosity, the principal and I recently checked a few names against the Nevada Department of Corrections rolls and found many current prisoners.  Most of them are under 21 - meaning they probably committed the crimes when they were still teens.  Bobby (another of my first blog posts) served almost 5 years for something he truly didn't do - while he was there, he did not participate, plan, or support the actions of his friends.  Two more were sentenced to 25+ years shortly after they turned 18.  Dozens more are currently serving time, including one 19 year old that made national news for his incredibly complex human trafficking pipeline from Las Vegas/SoCal to North Dakota's oil fields.

I write all of this - as depressing as it is - to show how emotionally wrecking teaching is.  I carry this loss with me every day, knowing any one of the young men and women sitting in front of me, learning to write and analyze, could be next.  I laugh and cry with them, I try to show them a world different from the one they know.  It's like what they say on "Intervention"... "there are a lot people in this room that love you and will fight like hell to get you back"  We are on a never-ending episode of Intervention with all of the crazy you can imagine, and then some.

But we still show up, knowing we are often fighting a losing battle.  We still fight.  As a matter of fact, I literally (at 9pm) just called a parent because this paragraph reminded me that there was a kid I hadn't seen in a while and I was worried (sadly, no answer).

Few people say teaching is easy, but even fewer realize how truly difficult it can be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

World Teacher Day... everywhere except here

Yesterday (October 5) was world teacher day, in pretty much every country except America.  Technically it existed here, but there was no special pomp and circumstance for those of us teaching America's youth.  I didn't get anything special, though things didn't go particularly badly.  Today a student told me I was going to "burn in hell for my sins," though he didn't specify what.  My husband broke up two fights in his classroom... all in all, not a great day of celebration.

Let me tell you a story... I experienced one World Teacher Day in all its glory while I was teaching in China back... well... a long time ago, however Chinese friends tell me this is still the way it works.

At the time, I taught 12 or 14 classes.  I don't remember.  It was a lot.  It sounds insane, but I only saw each class once a week for 45 minutes, so I didn't actually teach that many classes.  One day, everyone I see starts wishing me "happy teacher day!"  I'm thinking "oh, that's weird.  I've never heard of teacher day before.  It must be a Chinese thing.  I'll go with it." Because, let's be honest.  There were a lot of things that I simply accepted as "Chinese things" and never gave a second thought to.

I assumed "Teacher Day" was one of those things.

As the day progressed, I found that "Teacher Day" was not a Chinese thing.  It was an Everywhere-in-the-world-exept-America thing.  And it was a HUGE deal.  All day long, I got cards and small gifts, and students went out of their way to greet me.  Later in the evening, there was a banquet for all of the teachers.  BANQUET.

But nothing prepared me for what I found when I got back to my apartment.

Next to the door of my apartment was a huge stack of boxes.  I did not understand.  I hadn't ordered anything.  This was before Amazon or even decent internet shopping.  I didn't think my mom had sent me anything.  Clearly, this was a mistake.  Nope.  The boxes had my name on them.  (Actually, many of them said "American lady", but that was still me)

What did I have, you wonder?  Fruit.  Cases and cases of fruit.  All of the classes had pooled money and chosen a fruit to give to their teachers.  Except most teachers saw their students multiple times per week and had only 5 or 6 classes.  Remember, I had 14.  Which means, 14 cases of fruit.  4 kinds of apples, some oranges, peaches, weird stuff I'd never seen before, some melons, you name it, I had it.  I was like my own personal fruit Costco.  And there was just one of me with a fridge the size of a gym locker.

So I ate a lot of fruit - no scurvy here- and then realized I could never eat it all before it went bad.  No one at my school wanted it because they had their own fruit.  I couldn't give it to students, because that would be disrespectful.  None of my friends teaching at other schools wanted it, because they too had their own fruit.  So I did what any normal person with too much fruit does -- every time I left my apartment, I put a bunch in my backpack and handed it out to homeless people, like some sort of one-man mission trip.  I couldn't speak any Chinese at the time, so I just gave them fruit and ran away.  People thought I was crazy, but they probably assumed it was just a "white lady thing".

I told you that story, so I could say this:

Teachers in America do not get fruit on World Teacher Day.  Teachers in America seldom get fruit at all.  Or a day.  Or anything else.

This year, my fellow teachers and I in Las Vegas got our 4th salary freeze in 7 years, and since we have to increase our pension contributions, we technically all got a pay cut.  Our health insurance has been mismanaged and many of us are losing the care of doctors we have seen for our entire careers, some of us are losing the care of doctors that offer desperately needed treatment for long-term illnesses.  We are working without contracts in underfunded and under serviced areas with kiddos that desperately need education.   Every year, we are asked to give more of ourselves for less & when we ask for compensation, we get blowback from a community that calls us "greedy" and "selfish".  After nearly 10 years teaching, with 2 Masters degrees, I am barely making what most would consider a "professional" salary & only a few dollars more than a police officers and firemen their first day on the job.

While some argue that police and fire departments are more dangerous places to work, that isn't necessarily true.  The number of teachers that are injured or killed by students is staggering.  National statistics estimate between 7-15% of teachers are physically harmed by students in a given school year, not to mention the handful that are killed during incidents of school violence.  Even at 7%, that means over 250,000 teachers are violently attacked every year at work.    I have been a victim of violence (in some form) every single year of my teaching career.  I have been hit by students, I have been pushed, and I have had countless object thrown at me (a desk, a chair, etc).  I've also been bullied and sexually  harassed by students.  Of course, many still think of teaching as an "easy" job.

While I am fortunate enough to work for a caring administrator that does everything he can to make sure teachers have what they need, most are not so lucky.  Many of my fellow teachers have to spend money out of their own pockets for classroom supplies -- basic stuff like pencils and paper -- to make sure they can teach their students.  They do not get reimbursed for these expenditures.  Even when the Nevada Legislature approved a bill that would allow classroom spending, the amount was whittled down to virtually nothing.  By the time the money actually got to schools, most teachers receive less than $100 to spend on necessary classroom supplies -- or about $2.50 per student for elementary teachers, $0.50 per student for secondary teachers.

Every year, I write grant after grant in hopes that some will come through so I can supply my students with things they need.  I ask friends and social groups to donate hygiene supplies to students in need.  This is in addition to lesson planning, unit planning, mentoring both students and new teachers, parent conferences, grading, endless reams of paperwork to show that I'm meeting state and national standards as an educator, finding new ways to "connect" with my students on their terms (Instagram!), and actually teaching lessons.  And I certainly don't do this for glory or recognition, because there really isn't any.  I do this because it's what my students need.

We've all seen the cute signs that say: "If you can read this, thank a teacher."  Perhaps next time you see one, you should -- because it's probably been a long time since anyone thanked them for anything they did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I haven't written in a while, mostly because the summer and these first few weeks of school have been incredibly busy!  But, I'm sort of back at it  now and I'd like to get back to blogging, at least as best as I can.

I am writing tonight's post in the spirit of my favorite journalist, John Oliver, complete with hashtag.

So, my post tonight probably will not win me any friends, and that's ok.  I accept that from the start.  But, my goal is not to win friends, it is to openly state my beliefs without holding back, because most of the time, I do hold back.

For the past few days and weeks, I have been unable to turn on the news or scroll through social media feeds without seeing endless accounts of people and political groups spouting hatred and discontent towards other individuals and political groups for the people that they are and the choices they have mades.  Some of these individuals have made poor personal choices in their lives, some have simply become the target of hatred for the people they are or the lives they choose to lead.

I'm not speaking in generality -- here's a short list of the groups and individuals that have been the target of hate and ridicule in the past 30 days or so...

-anyone that's visited
-Josh Duggar
-Jared Fogle (the guy from Subway)
-Kimberly Davis (the county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses)
-OR same sex couples asking for marriage licenses
-Donald Trump
-People that support Donald Trump
-People that don't support Donald Trump
-repeat the above three sentences but replace Trump with "Obama"
-Suspects that do not follow police directives and get shot
-police officers
-people in the #BlackLivesMatter movement

I think I'll stop there.  I could go on to make a point, but I won't.  I purposely chose targets on both sides of the aisle, there seems to be a little more blind hate on one side, but no one is truly immune.

I have witnessed everything from gleeful giggling at the pain of another to sheer delight in the downfall of another individual to wishing death upon one's fellow man.  All of which makes me ill.  When did we become these people?  It's one thing to laugh when your friend trips on her shoelaces, but it's something completely different to delight in watching someone's life goes up in flames while you make some popcorn.  Mind you -- this is someone you've never met, has never done anything to cause you harm or pain, but you still take joy in their sadness.

To make matters worse, so many people attempt to justify their hatred with their religious beliefs and their patriotism.  And today, I say "Enough."  If you want to be hateful, fine.  Be hateful.  But do it outright.  Neither America or Christianity gives you permission to say or do those things and put up a shield to protect yourself.

First, let's start with America.

This is pretty straightforward.  America began by announcing "All men are created equal" and has spent the next 225+ years fighting to make sure that holds true.  In many places, men and women are still fighting for equal rights and equal justice.  I'm not blind, but it is our responsibility as Americans to make sure everyone gets those opportunities.  No one deserves more than anyone else...

Yes, we are allowed free speech, free religion, etc -- as long as our freedoms don't trample on the rights of other people.  Go ahead, believe what you want to believe, but others don't have to agree with you & that is their right too.

America has always been a live-and-let-live kind of place, but we seem to have reached the point where we are forgetting the "let live" part of the equation.

Religion - Specifically Christianity

In the spirit of full discretion, I'm not a particularly active Christian.  I do not go to church regularly.  However, I do behave in what I have been taught is a dignified manner.  I treat others kindly, I give back to my community, I rejoice in God and the world around me.  Am I perfect?  No, far from it.  But, I do think I'm a good person when it comes right down to it.

This is actually the part of the equation that just has me so baffled.  So much of Christianity teaches love, forgiveness, faith, and hope.  As an Adventist (and I'm pretty sure it was the same Bible), I was taught to love my fellow man -- all of them.  I was taught to love my neighbor, my enemies, my father and mother, my friends, even the people I didn't like.  Love them all, pray for them, and hope that God spoke to their hearts and forgave them for whatever was causing them pain.

Since I've been having this conversation so often, I actually did a little research.  The New Testament tells us to love our fellow man 11 times in some form - 5 of them a specific type of person, 6 of them general.  The Old Testament adds another 20 decrees of loving the fellow man to the mix, a few more or less depending on the translation.  That makes it pretty convincing to me.

There was not a pick-and-choose program where I only got to love the people I liked.  I brought this point up to someone last night, citing Matt 25:40 (Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me) and the response was "Jesus didn't mean everyone."  I was actually very sad.

We can pile on top of that a few more instructions to "judge not, lest ye be judged," "let he without sin cast the first stone,"  "Do not be prideful"... and the list could go on...

Nowhere in all of those pages is anything that gives anyone permission to hate others because they believe differently.  Jesus told his disciples to go out and spread the gospel, not sit at home on the internet and type mean things about people.  Christianity preaches nonviolence, not war-mongering.  Let me actually repeat that -- non-violence... as in zero violence.  No individual gets to interpret the Bible or make the rules that others "should" follow and judge those that make other choices.  As individuals, our responsibilities are simple...

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is Christianity asks you to
1.  Love your fellow man
2.  Do not judge the choices or mistakes of another - it is not your place

So, that's where I will stop.  If you agree, great.  You were probably a pretty cool cat to begin with.  If you don't agree, that's ok too.  We will probably agree to disagree, or not be friends anymore.  Just let me know.  :)

And if you would like more information - here's another blog to check out.