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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Schools Matter: Michelle Rhee Is Now Lying About Other People's Te...

Michelle Rhee, late of the Washington, DC school district, has every right to her own opinion; however, she has no right to her own facts.

Schools Matter: Michelle Rhee Is Now Lying About Other People's Te...
: "The corporate education reporters have been working overtime to downplay Rhee's big lie that she has been repeating for years about the mira..."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reading The Last Stand

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big HornThe Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Nathaniel Philbrick




Very complete account of the major players in the diaster of the Little Big Horn fight and the tragic events that followed Custer's defeat. My wife and I visted the battle site on the anniversary of the battle and witnessed a Native American ceremony dedicating a new memorial to the Indians who fought in the battle.



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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Camp Meeting


In English class today, we read "Salvation" by Langston Hughes. I gave the students the assignment of writing a short account of a time when someone had expectations of them, and how they responded to those expectations. One of my students challenged me to write a similar account of my own. Here is my effort.

I remember Camp Arrowhead as being one of the hottest places on earth. Located on the banks of the Brazos River in North Texas, the camp always seemed to feature 100 degree temperatures with 100 percent humidity during the months of June, July and August when I went to summer camp with my friends and camp meeting with my family during my father's pastorates in Texas. It was during one such camp meeting, in either in the summer of 67 or 68 that my life began to take a definite slow turn much like the turns taken by the lazy Brazos.

"Camp Meeting" in those days was a combination of camping and twice daily evangelical church services. Our family would pile into the family Chevy station wagon and drive over the camp site where we would sit up the big cloth tent. During the day there would be morning worship and Bible study. In the evening there was a revival service in the camp's large, screened-in tabernacle. This might not seem like much fun to most, but I remember it all quite fondly as a time to enjoy some family time and the chance to run around with the kids who were there.

This particular camp meeting featured two evangelists whose style of preaching could not have contrasted more. Since both are still with us, as of this writing, I will call one Rev. City and the other Rev. Country.

Rev. City's background came from the urban streets of Chicago. He had been "saved" from a life of crime and grime, and his manner and speech reflected his tough background. Rev. City always seemed to be in your face, challenging you to dare deny his message. In my memory, he boxed during his sermon as if he and the devil were fighting it out all during the sermon.

Rev. Country was a prime example of the grand Southern tradition. His eyes seemed to be continually cast heavenward. His gestures were broad and open, arms flung out as if he was trying either to fly to heaven or grab it down for our sake. His accent dripped honey, his round phrases called forth magnolia scented nights and Spanish moss accented days.

The two men were clearly in competition with each other. Night after night each sought to outdo the other through the reaction that he got from those attending the camp and those who drove in from the surrounding community. Rev. City told tales of lives saved from drugs and gangs. Rev. County countered with lives saved from bootlegging and juke joints. Rev. City scorned churches that "watered down the one true gospel." Rev. Country mocked university professors who "might acknowledge Jesus was a good man", but did not accept the blood atonement. Each night, the crowds attending went away marveling and praising God, and God's anointed minister.

Everything came to a head Saturday night. It was Rev. Country's turn to preach. The day's heat had hardly abated that night. Sweat hung on me like a wet second skin. The only air movement came from the hundreds of paper fans and programs the congregation waved back and forth in front of their faces. The choir sang a stirring rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", emphasizing that God's truth would on the march that night. Earlier that week, Rev. Country had made a joke referring to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression", but on the platform, his face did not show that he recognized the irony of the selected anthem.

I don't remember much about his sermon, but I will never forget the crowd's reaction to it. Men and women ran down the aisles, raising their hands and waving their handkerchiefs and fans. Shouts of "Glory!", "Praise Jesus!", and “Hallelujah!" punctuated Rev. Country's every sentence. Surely God in all his presence was in that place at that moment.

I was completely unmoved. Nothing was happening inside me.

I tried to participate in everything going on, but the more I tried to join in, the further I retreated away. I began to look about me. I had heard these types of sermons before, seemed like hundreds of times. I couldn't see the point, somehow, of going over this ground again. It felt like someone; the preacher, the service, the crowd, the camp; was trying to sell me something, a feeling or something, that I wasn't buying. I began to feel manipulated, resentful, and, yes, guilty, but upset for having to feel guilty. Instead of being moved, I was strangely removed from everything.

I couldn't tell anyone how I felt. I adored my mother and father, and I was afraid that I would somehow be a disappointment to them if my reaction to Rev. Country and Rev. City did not match that of the others who were there. I can't recall how they felt about what was going on. I was too ashamed to find out because I would have to admit to withdrawing from the presence of God.

But something in my turned that night. I began to take stock of all the ways people try to move me through words and images and emotions. I became a little more skeptical. And little more willing to try to understand how we are manipulated. I think this is why I became an English teacher, so that I could pierce through the devices used by Revs. City and Country, and be in some measure a free man. And that is what I want for my students, also

Thursday, February 10, 2011

WWJD

What Would Justice Demand?
One time, a minister preached a sermon entitled "Who Switched the Price Tags?" It was based on an incident where some teenagers broke into a department store and switched price tags on merchandise so that a toaster cost $500 and a new stove cost $10. His point was that we value things that are temporary and devalue things that are permanent and/or eternal. I think that is a good metaphor for our time, perhaps for all time.

We live in a time of fast food, constant stimulation, "what's trending now", people famous for being famous, and we ignore problems like the growing gap between haves and have nots in the US, education curriculums that strip all of the arts out of schools, the growing number of our fellow countrymen who lack basic health care, and the fact that our planet is being depleted of everything that sustains us.

Of course, I am tempted to say, it has ever been thus. Brother Thoreau criticized his countrymen in his time for having busy lives without really living.

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip.


I have a little motto that I think I'm going to turn into a poster or plaque. It will read WWJD? What it will mean for me is "What Will Justice Demand?" For me, this is the true meaning of my existence, to see that my life has in some way advance the progress of creating a just world. So I hope that all my actions will be judged in this light. That does not mean that I will not make time for innocent pleasures: the company of friends, the enjoyment of play, the time to appreciate art and nature. But I hope that at the end of it all, the thing I am best remembered for is that I tried to bring a little more justice into the world. If that is what is said of me, then I will have been successful in the art of living.