Sunday, November 22, 2015

Giving the Terrorists What They Want

Excerpt from New Colossus – From the Plaque on The Statue of Liberty
"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
– Emma Lazarus

This morning the Donald was on the TV talk shows stating his case for not allowing Syrian refugees into the US.  He doubled down on his previous rant about creating a registry for ALL Muslims in our country.   [Does this registry sound vaguely familiar?]  "I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back."  

Ted Cruz said that President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees is, “nothing short of lunacy.” "I recognize that Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country, that he may have been tired of war, but our enemies are not tired of killing us," he added.

Ben Carson suggested that bringing refugees to this country is like having a rabid dog in the neighborhood. “For instance, if there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably going to put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “It doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”  

Weeks ago, Ben Carson said, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."  (“Meet the Press")

Just prior to Carson's interview, Donald Trump fielded a comment from a supporter on the campaign trail who said, "We have a problem in this country; it's called Muslims."  Donald Trump did not disagree.


So what do the terrorists want?  I have a sense that the feelings expressed above are exactly what they desire.  They would like for mainstream America to hate and distrust their Muslim neighbors.  They would prefer if there were a huge rift in our culture between Muslims and non-Muslims.  They would like us, as a nation, to fear Muslims and alienate them; to consider them dangerous.  They would prefer it if we were to leave the refugees to starve.  They would prefer for us to give the world the impression that we are fearful and isolated and that our “Christian nation” is not open to helping our Muslim brothers and sisters.

The candidates above all espouse Christianity.  They wear it like a badge.  They use it as a tool in this campaign.  Trump even likes the Bible more than his own book, The Art of the Deal. “The Bible, is special. The Bible, the more you see it, the more you read it, the more incredible it is. I don’t like to use this analogy [wait for it - he will], but like a great movie, a great, incredible movie. You’ll see it once it will be good. You’ll see it again. You can see it 20 times and every time you’ll appreciate it more. The Bible is the most special thing.”

Ted Cruz  announced the creation of a “national prayer team.”  Mr. Cruz, who has aggressively courted the support of evangelicals, said the creation of the team would “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.”

Well played.  Really.

Sanctuary: Although the vast majority of Syrian refugees live in Middle Eastern refugee camps, they are now landing on European shores (pictured) in record numbers

But how Christian is it to turn our backs on refugees who need our help?  This is a matter of life and death for many thousands of people who fear radical, murderous terrorists as much as we do.  Only more.  Many who are fleeing Syria are running for their very lives.  They are trying to protect the lives of their children.  They are trying to leave violence behind.  They are begging for help. 

Today when I was in church, the scripture was from Revelation.  Honestly, I don’t get Revelation that much.  I have heard people try to decipher it, to parse its words, to peel away the meanings like the layers of an onion to find the hidden value beneath. 

Have at it. 

Me?  I’m sort of a red-letter guy.  You know, the stuff that Jesus said.  That’s what I hang my hat on.  That is what I trust.  I don’t need anyone to analyze it or explain it to me. 

Try this from Matthew. 
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

When we look back on our American past, there are things we should be ashamed of.  Much of the world considers the annihilation of Native Americans to be the greatest genocide in history.  There were millions of African American slaves in our country.  Then Jim Crow.  Manifest Destiny.    Internment camps.  Dropping The BOMB.  Vietnam.  Invading Iraq on false pretenses. 

And, oh yeah, we are a nation of immigrants and refugees.  Unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors probably came to these shores to seek a better life, to flee persecution or famine.  Or perhaps your ancestors came here as slaves, barely surviving the brutal middle passage at the hands of white... terrorists.

Right now, we have a chance to create our history in a way that reflects what we know is right.  We can be brave.  We can be altruistic.  We can be patriotic.  We can do the right thing.  

There will come a time when we will look back at what we do concerning the refugees.  And when we look back at these scary times, will see ourselves as a nation who succumbed to fears spread by those who seek only political gain, those who seek to spread hatred and mistrust, those who would rob us of our kindness? 

There are people who need us.  We must make a choice that reflects what we believe at our core.  I am a Christian.  My faith dictates that we should help those in need.  These refugees are hungry.  They are thirsty.  They need clothes and comfort.  We have so much. 

How do we wish to write our history?

Do we wish to give the terrorists what they want?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grand Day

 Grandparents' Day.  Lots of schools do this now.  Grandparents and any older special friends in lieu of Grandparents come to school for an afternoon.   At our school we serve a lunch, the older folks get speechified, they come into the classrooms for a while, then we come together as a whole school and sing a few songs to round out the day. 

I admit that while we are gearing up for it, Grandparents’ Day feels a little like a chore.  Especially this year.  We lost a lot of time with the flooding in South Carolina.  We were out of school for an entire week.  The following week we had a two-hour delay.  The week after that, a one-hour delay.  It’s not like I count the minutes of instructional time – but that was a lot of missed school. 

During those weeks of late starts, I nixed recess.  I figured that the kids could have a lot of extra time to recreate before school started.  When we saw other classes out on the playground on our way to lunch, there was a lot of, “MR. O’KEEFE!  Why do they get to have recess and we don’t? 

“Because we only have a 5 hour school day.  Think of all of your recess at home.”

But why do THEY get to have recess?

“Hmmm.  Their teacher is a lot nicer than yours?”

So Grandparents’ Day was approaching.  Last year we asked the grands to talk to us about race relations when they were young.  Ours is a beautifully integrated school and the grandparents could share personal insights we could only read about in books.   We had been thinking a lot about Civil Rights and who better to inform us than folks who had lived through segregation/integration?  It was as wonderful as I could have imagined.  Some grandparents got teary as they recalled the struggles, the triumphs, the personal changes in attitude.  It was magic.  They were slow to begin their stories, but once they got started, there was a flood of responses. 

Once again, the grandparents would come into our room for about an hour.  It doesn’t seem like a lot of time to fill, but I had put off thinking about it until just a couple days before.  I asked the kids about it.  “Maybe we could sing some of our best songs.”  Check.  This is a wonderful class of singers. 

“How about we tell about the food drive and all of the math we do?”  Check again.  My class is so generous.  Kids are buying food with their allowance, doing chores to exchange for food for the food drive, talking their parents and grandparents into making donations, spending their birthday money.  We are charting the number of food items, the number of servings, the weight, the number of total calories.  Good stuff. 

At sort of the last minute, I suggested that we ask the grandparents to share their advice with us.  Given their experiences and life lessons, what kinds of advice could they share with young ones about how to be happy, healthy, successful people?   It seemed rather bland to the kids, but I thought there could be a lot of payback from that little question.

Grandparents jpg

When the grandparents came in I invited them to consider the question.  There were pencils and papers on each table.  While we sang our songs and presented what we were currently working on in the classroom, I urged them to take a few moments to jot down their guidance, encouragement and wisdom. 

The last song we sang before turning it over to them is a little known tune by John Denver called “60 Second Song for a Bank”.   It was the perfect set up.

Oh I love the changing seasons

Green and growing all around

Smiling faces laughing children

Making such a joyful sound

In my dreams I see tomorrow

Time and children of my own

Someone who will stand beside me

Helping me to make ourselves a home

If your eyes can see tomorrow

Though it might seem far away

If you have some dreams to build on

May we help you today
The sharing began slowly.  Then, as we passed the microphone around, more and more elders shared their bits of wisdom, their personal philosophies.  It was wonderful.  There were tear filled eyes, nods of agreement, a few “Amens” as the grands filled us up with words to live by…

old woman and young girl holding hands 

Be kind to the poor...  Never tease others…  Use humor to diffuse an embarrassing situation. Learn to laugh along with others if you do something embarrassing... Be all that you can be... Don’t be afraid of challenges. Always strive to do your best...

 If you say that you can’t– you have already defeated yourself... Continue to keep a song in your heart. Remember all that you are learning and the way you are learning. Your kindness to others is a tribute to your teachers and your parents.

Believe in yourself then do your very best. Be a good friend then you will have good friends. Enjoy learning. Love books! Always give thanks... Be kind to each other always. Eat your vegetables.

Never stop learning even when you are old... Make sure that you will be happy and proud of what you said and did... Exercise regularly. Get enough rest. You must endeavor to persevere. Learn something every day... Remember life’s lessons as well as the “facts”.

Your teachers, parents and elders really have your best interests in mind, no matter how you might disagree... Never speak badly about someone...
Learn to write well and write a lot. Learn a useful foreign language... Be aware of current events. Enjoy being outside...

Greet those you meet with a smile. Be respectful to those around you. Help your family with. daily chores... If you see someone who is sad, go give them a hug. Then ask if they want to talk about what is making them sad...

When the day is over go and rest. Give 110%. Only be satisfied if you have given your best... I advise my grandchildren to be obedient to the teacher... Always make time to play while you are young and carefree...

Give generously. Love diversity! Love one another. Cherish family and friends.

            When the grandparents and older special friends left our classroom, going to find a seat in the Great Room (our little auditorium at the center of our school) to wait for the finale – the whole school singing a couple of our favorite songs – there was a lot of hand shaking and patting me on the back.  So many of the grandparents were proud of the work their young relatives were doing and many said complimentary things about my teaching and me.  I found a few notes left on my table thanking me anonymously for the fine work we do at the Center for Inquiry.   But for me it was a humbling moment. 

That afternoon wasn’t about me.  I was not even looking forward to it, honestly.  I was thinking it was one of those little hoops to jump through to get successfully to the end of the week.  It was the Grandparents who made the difference.  It sort of made me sad to think that having them in is a “special occasion” when they have so much casual wisdom to share.  I only hope that those words of wisdom had half the effect on my students that it had on me.