Friday, September 19, 2014

The Most Asinine Award Your Kid Could Earn at School

Every year, when summer break draws near, a stretch limo pulls up to my kids’ charter school, loads up a gaggle of super excited kiddos while their envious peers look on, and drives them a few blocks down the road to a pizza parlor where they are fed lunch. These winners are the recipients of the most coveted award at their school. Honestly, what could possibly top a limo ride and free pizza?

So what do these kids have to accomplish to win this fabulous and glamorous prize? Do they have to be the top academic performers in their class? No, those kids get a certificate and sometimes a medal. Did they turn in 100% of their homework? No, that industrious attitude doesn’t get formally recognized. Well, perhaps they are the students who have shown the most improvement over the year. Nope, not even close. The limo kids are the few who have managed to not miss a single minute of school. They call it Extreme Perfect Attendance. To win this award not only must you show up every day, you can never arrive late or leave early. No sick days, no doctor’s appointments, no family emergencies.

I wish I were joking, but alas, I am not.

Let’s analyze this a little more. To accomplish this incredible feat, I submit that these winners fall into one of three categories:

 A)    The Super Immune System Category. These amazing kids just never get sick. I’m happy for them. It must be nice to be able to lick the plastic balls in the McDonalds playground, share your best friend’s bubble gum, or put your mouth all over the drinking fountain and never have to suffer the consequences. But the bottom line is that their impenetrable immune systems require no effort on their part.

      B)    The Working Parents/Guardians Category. These kids get sick but their parents/guardians simply can’t miss work so they load their feverish kids up on a cocktail of Motrin, cough syrup, and Zofran and haul them to school anyway. These kids actually deserve the limo ride.

C)    The I’m Going to Win the Limo Ride No Matter the Cost Category. These kids also get sick. They could stay home and rest or go to the doctor but they really want to get into that limo and their parents don’t want to deny them the opportunity so their parents coach them on how to run to the bathroom real quick when they have to barf so they aren’t caught by any teachers or staff. Who cares if they are spreading rotavirus to the rest of their class—this is an important prize. And what about Uncle Ned’s funeral? We weren’t really that close to him… 

I think you catch my drift. This is truly the most asinine award a school could give its students. So why does the administration pull out all the stops to make this the most coveted prize among the K-5th graders? It’s all about money. Better attendance translates into more dollars for the school budget.

That fact alone is shameful, but what bothers me even more is that this strategy is just plain bass ackwards. If you really think about it, those category B and C kids are actually causing more absences by showing up to school sick and infecting the rest of their classmates. They sit in class for a couple days coughing all over their friends, and the next week twelve kids (including mine) are out for the entire week. Do the math. It boggles my mind that the administration encourages this sort of behavior--especially with the current enterovirus outbreak, which is rapidly spreading across the country and sending all the asthmatic kids to the ICU.

I know I’m not the only one who gets this. We need to talk some sense into our school administrators. The Perfect Attendance Award needs to be changed into the Never Came to School Sick Award.  

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Struggling on the Fringes of Christianity

In my last post I confessed I have been wrestling with a serious identity crisis. Should I still call myself a Christian even though I seem to be on the fringes of what is required/accepted by the gatekeepers of mainstream Christendom? Should I follow in Anne Rice’s footsteps when she wrote:

"Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

Or should I cling to my Christian identity but somehow reform it so that I can confidently reclaim it?

My gut has been telling me the latter option will be the most difficult but is ultimately the right answer. The more I’ve pondered what this reformation of my Christian identity would look like, the more overwhelmed I’ve become. I’m not talking about just a few minor adjustments here and there. I’m talking about a major paradigm shift. Something that will seriously rock my world—nearly to the very foundations of my faith—but not quite all the way. And after this seismic demolition, I will have to clear away all the rubble and begin to replace it with something new. Fortunately I’m beginning to realize this something new will be several orders of magnitude more simple than what was present before. But even so, the prospect of this undertaking terrifies me.

I know I’m not the first to embark on this sort of journey and I’m not the only Christian wrestling with my identity. I was, however, taken by surprise by how many hits my original post on this topic received. The number of visitors to that post confirms my suspicion that those of us on the fringes are increasing in number. More disturbing to me were the number of people who responded to me in private with statements to this effect: “I’m so glad you shared this, I thought I was the only one who felt this way, I wish I could say this sort of thing publicly.”

While I don’t claim my post was particularly courageous, I will confess that I wrestled with sharing what I did. My pastor, who has been teaching a series on the subversive parables of Jesus, invited me to read my blog post in front of our congregation (he’s had several congregants share examples of subversive short stories, poems, etc.) I declined. This begs the question: what am I afraid of? The answer to this question is complex and comprises a large part of the problem many of us are having with our Christian identity. The simplest way I can put it is this: I want to be able to follow Jesus and call myself a Christian without starting a fight. I want to be a committed Christian without having to condemn, convince, convert, or perform any other sort of con on others who believe differently than I.

Enter Brian D. McLaren and his wonderful book: Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?  Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World. McLaren, who describes himself as an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian, has done a masterful job describing the problem I have been wrestling with. He even gives it a name: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. But beyond describing the problem of the crisis of Christian identity and its symptoms, he offers a solution. A path towards a new kind of Christian identity—what he describes as a Strong/Benevolent Christian identity. This new identity brings with it major challenges that must be solved. McLaren adroitly identifies these challenges and offers solutions.

So to my fellow Truth seekers struggling on what you think are the fringes of Christianity, I beg you to read this book. And to those of you who are already confident you possess the Truth, those of you resting comfortably in the knowledge that your religion has provided you all the answers, I beg you to read this book.