Friday, May 29, 2020

“He’s human bro.”

The man asking the police to stop says, “he’s human bro.” George Floyd dies on the video with the policeman’s knee upon his neck. We can’t keep saying a few bad apples if three policemen watch while a fourth causes a restrained handcuffed non resisting man to die by his actions. That’s a bunch. That’s indicative of a barrel.

American society still lacks the will to admit there is something fundamentally wrong when we can witness the death of a person by another person while they’re running away or while they’re begging for mercy. No one wants to pause and recognize the innate wrongness of what has taken place. No one with enough heft demands that everyone stop and listen. Everyone needs to stop and hear that our black brothers and sisters “can’t breathe.”

Somehow our country lacks the stomach to say this is wrong. When we can see them dying and still some debate whether this is wrong, our whole capacity to identify good and evil is what needs adjustment. Our first reaction should be to seek justice for the blood of our brothers that cry out from the earth. We cannot be silent, or we tacitly allow for the sanitized phrase of George Floyd dying from the results of a “medical incident,” in a “police interaction" to persist.

Pedestrians pleading for him and his own words, brought no change in expression, no change in pressure, no change of action on the part of any of the officers. Eight minutes pass. 

He dies.

The four officers have been fired subsequently thanks to public outrage over the video, but no one has yet been charged with causing his death despite knowing who, when and how. Investigations on the State and Federal Level are ongoing. It’s true, we are a nation of laws and procedure and such things are important and even necessary to ensure due process is observed. Were there this reflective pause and hesitancy in investigations involving crimes the norm, George Floyd might still be alive.

When will our country stop pretending we don’t need some systemic reformation of how we want police to protect, serve, investigate and when necessary, arrest?

Answer: When we have leaders unafraid to hold all of us to a higher standard, a greater calling.

It should be unnecessary to say racism is always wrong, and racism is something we will always have to both be vigilant against, and mindful of, but it is, because too many people don’t think it’s real enough. 

How real does it have to get?

Too many people think if we talk about racism being a grave moral error that hurts all of humanity and continues to destroy the promise of this country, we’re somehow engaging in white hand wringing guilt or virtue signaling.

Racism is a toxic weed that poisons the garden of the American community. It hurts the children whose dreams die before they finish school when no one expects anything of them. It hurts the families of fathers and husbands and sons who might not come home. It hurts the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who see the problem ignored time and again.

It hurts our government, schools, families, friends, churches, parks; it hurts our everywhere all the time. We’re all our brothers keeper. We owe it to our brothers, to love them better, to protect them better, and serve them better, in every arena of life. We owe it to ourselves and to each other because, “He’s human bro,” to come together and work to be part of that great coalition of this country that wants it to be good as it was meant to be, but never yet quite has been.

We owe it to our future, to make sure everyone in this country can breathe.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Over at the Standard Today

I've been a bit of a writing funk, meaning I've written a lot of junk I sent nowhere.   However, I did get a piece that I wrestled with for a good long time published over at the Standard.   Here's the link to The Unexpected Gift.

So just a reminder, be delibrate in your celebration of today and who knows, you might find an unexpected gift.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Five Things I've Learned from this Time of Online Learning

1) Teaching via proxy is hard, because teaching is not merely data mastered or skills repeated, but connection. Connection is most easily formed when we experience it via relationship. We can open cookbooks and read recipes, we can watch videos and practice techniques, but there’s something to working with a master, that makes mastering a skill more. The same is true with any other subject. In many subjects, in most subjects, learning comes easier with others in the mix. Children all across the country are aching for that more, that mix.
Think of the most moving examples of Zoom effectiveness we’ve seen; the orchestras and choirs. They revealed connectedness between individuals, working to one end, the production of a finished piece. Perhaps we need to require all those students to use their phones and connect with each other as a way of helping each other on, sharing their gifts, and the push and pull that normally takes place in the classroom. Perhaps we need to give the opportunity for that more by our being with them and bringing them out of isolation via the demands of instruction. We've become the facilitators of community or must be.
2) There is a difference between learning and working and that difference is measured in enthusiasm toward the subject itself. My son with Down Syndrome loves his math class where they are using calculators to facilitate number recognition. He’s mastered it sufficiently to recognize the code we use on the television and order himself Monster’s University and Scoob! before I realized he knew how to rent a movie. In reading class, they’re doing a chapter book one chapter a day, and he sits for the reading, but the quizzes indicate, he’s just putting in the time. The difference was illustrated to me, $3.99 at a time.
3) We are made for community, and anything short of it, is Folger's Crystals. We know it’s not butter. The Zoom meetings help my younger ones, as do the phone calls and Facetimes, but it’s not what we want. The other day, I drove to Jiffy Lube to get service and sit in my car while it happened and the mechanic in a mask engaged me in a long conversation about teaching, about the summer and Corona. Leaving from the appointment, I felt oddly refreshed and realized, we pine for conversation, for incidental encounters, for community and all three of these things are limited by the nature of staying at home and all the precautions we must take to keep everyone everyone loves safe.
4) Expectations don’t need to be low. They merely need to be clear. Yes, students and families are stressed as never before, but school and academics provide an anchor that isn’t there otherwise, of ordinariness in an extraordinary time. Students need the component of consistency academics give to a world that seems increasingly unpredictable. What students learn now in this time away from the classrooms may be the most important lessons we teach –that we care, that we’re here for them, and that we want them to challenge themselves even when the world is challenging.
5) Education is as much about connection as it is about introducing them to new thoughts. Everyone shares something of a common bond, as we all have been affected by the stay at home orders of our communities. We can teach about the importance of communities –the need for good civil leadership and laws, philosophies and principles, (government), the need for good health and hygiene systems (science and p.e and health), the consequences of supply and demand capitalism and finances and the interpretation of statistics (math, economics, more complex math), and the necessity of the arts. For what are we all starved for in this long isolation? Entertainment. We want beauty, we want art, we want comedy, we want escape from the boredom, we want the catharsis of story; (Yes, English and Art and Music and Theatre) which are of course, all my loves.
Everything is grist for the mill of the craft of teaching, and right now, giving students the gifts of these subjects we love. Our biggest task, is somehow conveying our love of those subjects through Zooms, slides and phone calls. Ultimately, our whole task as educators, is to keep strengthening the bonds of community forged through class and the classroom, whether virtual or actual, by what we do.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

At the Gaithersburg Book Festival

It's been an eight year long dream to be part of the GBF as more than a volunteer and this year, I had the joy of being a presenter of a workshop in addition to helping with the Saint Martin's childrens' workshop.   

Here's yesterday's livestream recorded workshop on You Don't Have Time to Write, Yes You Do!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Over at the Standard Today

Have a couple of things for you weekly piece at the Catholic Standard Saving the World by How We Offer Each Day, and the work the Saint Martin's Team did for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. 

Here's the video that Regina did the illustrations for...I just did the narration.  Saint Martin's School's Workshop: The Plotting of the Plot

Monday, May 11, 2020

On My Soapbox Today

My son is twenty.  He’s run almost every day of his life since sixth grade. As he grew, his route grew longer and further from our home, into other neighborhoods. While I sometimes wished he’d bundle up more or wear more reflective gear, I never gave a worry about his returning home.  One of his best friends also runs, but I bet his mother worries when he goes out to train.  His mother shouldn’t have to worry any more than I do.  She should be able to trust that the community in which both our sons live, is a place that cherishes all humanity. 

The tragedy of Ahmaud Arbrey’s death is not merely the senselessness and absolute wrongness of Gregory and Travis McMichael’s thinking and actions, but also the sustained non-response of those entrusted with ensuring those who commit actual crimes (murder) face justice.  Failure to act is tacit acceptance and allowance for such actions.  If this weren’t enough tragedy, armchair experts on social media have attempted mental yoga to somehow justify the killing of Ahmaud, the voiced suspicions of the McMichaels, and the nearly two and a half month delay in filing charges, given that the authorities held the video from the day after the shooting.   National uproar prompted movement in the case, not the mother’s pain, not the actual footage, and not a sense of the need to ensure justice for all citizens when a crime is committed.   

Some have even argued that it was legal for the McMichaels to pursue Arbrey. 
If the laws of Georgia permit the actions of the McMichaels, by that same reasoning, it would be legitimate for outraged citizens who recognized the McMichaels committed a crime, to hunt them down with trucks and use lethal force without being charged.   Since no state operates under a Wild Wild West vigilante type form of law enforcement, it seems ridiculous to make such a claim.  
Some on social media have argued that why should we worry about this injustice when there are other injustices even worse, as if arguing for justice in this circumstance, somehow prevents or dilutes the capacity of a society to seek remedy for other injustices.  Pointing out an injustice is not a tit-for-tat type equation in conversation or policy that requires we do equal time for all injustices in order to discuss the one presented before us in reality today. 

As Catholics, we are obligated to lead, to speak out when someone is treated in a way as less than human. It is an opportunity to identify with the crucified, rather than those who condemn. It is a call for each of us to make sure we watch the sons and daughters who run or play or bike or go about the business of life with the eyes of mothers and fathers who love, rather than strangers who fear.   It is a call for each of us to remind all we know, that society will only be just when we cease to allow injustice to go unchecked or unmarked.  

It shouldn’t take courage to speak up against the wrongs done to Arbrey’s family, and to Ahmaud himself, it should be easy.  However, if we are afraid to speak out against what was done to Ahmaud, it reveals how much work we have to do.  

Want to do more?  Write your own letter.  Speak up when you see someone dismissing this case as the latest attempt by the media to do whatever it is...and keep an eye out on everyone's child, no matter how old they are, to make sure they're all safe, and they all make it home.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

At the Register today

It's a good piece from about eight months ago --what a difference 3/4 of a year makes but it fits with today.   Don't Forget to Call Your Mother.

A Tale of Two Countries in One, with the Same Problem

Much of my family lives in Texas, while I and my brother both reside in Maryland with our spouses and children.  The state of Maryland has shut down most venues for public gathering, restricted restaurants to take out only, and prohibited assemblies of ten or more people to stem the curve of infection.  The state has testing sites, but you must exhibit symptoms to be tested. 
In Texas, in the Houston area, anyone who wishes to be tested can be.  I don’t know why one state has access to anyone and the other limited, but in Texas, masses restarted last weekend. I have to hope my home state is right in its implementation of policy, because they just bet the lives of all who might be compromised on that plan.  We’ll know in fourteen days or so, if they guessed right.   I hope they did.   

My mother called to tell me how happy she was to receive, and I sat wondering, am I afraid, or is my home state being imprudent?  My mom falls into the vulnerable class of people most affected by Covid19 because of her age.  I admit to mixed feelings, because I want normal, I want people to be able to get haircuts and go to movies and I miss mass. I miss all the things that would have crowded up my schedule and our lives and now aren’t and I know, I’m not alone.  
I wonder what is the right course and don’t envy those in position to recommend policy.  I look at the numbers for Maryland, for DC, for Virginia, and for Texas.  Right now, for every three thousand or so we test in Maryland, a thousand are found to have the disease.  While the number hospitalized has decreased, and the number released from the hospital have increased, until the initial diagnosis statistic starts dropping and stays dropped, we won’t be out of this.  I wonder how many false starts we’ll have as a nation because we want normal, and I also wonder, how long can we as a world, bear this isolation. 

Driving out for necessities, the world reveals, it is not waiting, it wants something other than staying at home all the time and what feels like a listless slog from day to day and meal to meal.  We want celebrations and fairs and sports and ordinary people watching. We want to have places to go and people to see and the distinction between work and home to once more be distinct.   On the internet, we see evidence that people are driving, going to parks, and pushing against the regulations, and also arguing against them.

The problem with these demonstrations is, it won’t be only those who protest who pay the consequence of this pandemic. In this circumstance, carelessness or playing fast and loose with interpretations can lead to someone going to the hospital or worse.  It sounds alarmist, because the reality is alarming.  This is a Kobayashi Maru scenario in which it will be a test of our nation’s character as to whether we exercise good will because we value the health of all, or we admit to the triumph of the will over the public good, because we value liberty more.  It is not something that squares neatly with our values as a nation, because we value both liberty to do and go as we will, and profess to be not merely a nation but a united nation that values the public good.  We don’t always live up to the ideals of our nation, both as individuals, and as a nation, and here is a time when we as a nation are wrestling with what will define us for generations to come.   Will we sacrifice for others, or will we opt to sacrifice others?   

Friday, May 8, 2020

Just so you don't think I've stopped writing

I'm preparing two presentations for the Gaithersburg Book Festival.  One is on the Purpose of Plotting the Plot, and it's geared towards K-3rd graders about writing out what will happen before plunging into creating a comic book.    Regina did the art, and today, I'm inking it so it will show up when we scan the pages into the computer.  It is a slow process. 

The second piece is called (ironically enough), "I don't have time to write, yes you do!"  and it's geared towards those who aspire to be writers, who want to finish that book or write for a newspaper or magazine and don't know the hows of it, or feel too paralyzed to start. 

It will be 30% merely encouragement to dare, and 70% showing the how of making those darts out into the bigger world more successful. 

How to find time to write.
How to write when you don't have any ideas.
How to submit your stuff somewhere. 
How to succeed in having your stuff somewhere get published. 
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

I am tired of COVID-19.  I miss the ordinary encounter of community.  I miss mass.  I miss going on date night to the movies.  I miss restaurants and their ambiance of busyness.   I miss teaching and all the random wonderful energy of teens going about the business of being teens.  I miss all my friends from the various places that became part of the ordinary routine of a week, the drycleaner who always says, "She's so blessed," and she is, the guy at the jiffy lube who told me the last book he read and liked was The Outsiders when he was in high school, the familiar faces of people I know but cannot name, and those of people I consider extended family because they've been part of my life for so long.  I miss everyone. 

Writing helps me remember all I'm missing in a format that doesn't stiffle my spirit such that I feel worse for remembering.   Praying for a speedy end to all of this, for a return to something like normal.   

Here's this week's article: A Time to See Faith is an Always Time Thing.

Friday, May 1, 2020

At the Catholic Standard Today

Whenever I feel a bout of non-inspiration coming on, I go looking.  Facebook is often a source for what I write, especially when I see things that indicate confusion.   Today's offering over at the Catholic Standard (the Washington DC Archdiocesan paper) is one such piece. 
Enjoy:  Awaiting the Eucharist.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!