Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Hospital for Sinners NOT a Hotel for Saints

Maybe it's all the rain that we've been getting in Georgia this week, or persistently gloomy news about the economy, my pastor's most recent sermons, the book that I have been reading "Celebrate Recovery" or a combination of all of these things; but lately I've been thinking about rehab, recovery and refreshing. Almost as important as the three academic r's. No, I haven't been listening to Amy Winehouse on repeat or watching Tim Geithner grapple (mostly unsuccessfully) with the state of the economy. I've been thinking about rehab, recovery and refreshment because right now, we, as a nation, need it and are in a position to receive it. But forsaking the 3 r's for a little bit, let's talk about the 5 W's. Who? What? Where? When? Why? Most of these are quite obvious but I want to focus attention on just one vehicle for arriving on dry land in a sea of troubles, THE CHURCH.

I've watched Good Morning America almost every morning this week. Mostly because I need a break from the intensity of CNN and GMA makes for more lighthearted reflection while I am getting dressed. They've been talking a bit about the economy, a lot about the floods that are expected to ravage parts of the country and how to survive both. In addition, they have talked about how random people are having "come to Jesus" moments (connecting again with a higher sense of spirituality and purpose) as a result of the present economic condition. Because I am not one to question a person's sincerity of religious beliefs or how they arrived at them, I say, good for them. In actuality, as my pastor has preached, the church (metaphorically and physically) was always intended by God to be place for people to experience the three r's, not a place for pious people who need their weekly fill of religion. Thusly, the 5 w's of the 3 r's is said, most simply, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints." Get it?

Ok. Well, In the time of the Civil Rights movement, the church was a haven for radical change. Protesters and community organizers held meetings there. Many church pastors were on the front lines of the marches. Most importantly, the church was a home to folks who had nothing and were poor in spirit. The church was IN the community and OF the community. People were hurting, the church was there. They were the soup kitchen and the clothing drive, long before we lavished praise on the Non-Profit Organization. They served drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes. The people that we label "sinners." The "Come One, Come all" mentality was truly at work. Not because it was the most glamorous thing to do, but because these were the people in desperate need of the 3 r's. Much of this spirit is still alive in the streets of DC. I've seen it when I've had the good fortune of volunteering in women's shelters and church soup kitchens." Churches there recognize that there is a call on the Christian life beyond Sunday service and daily finger pointing because"church folk" as many so mockingly call them, are sinners too. Why? Because we are human.

So. How dare we turn the church into a spiritual hotels where we stay cooped up looking down at the people who need the care of the E.R like they are blemishes on perfect religion. Shame on us. So, what good is church in the 21st century, if communities are not changed. If people are constantly reeling from pain? It's a big job, yes. The good news is that there are plenty hospitals. In fact, there is practically 1 on every corner, and if you live in the south, 2:-). Some even on Main Street as Obama would say. We were all admitted at some point. We go from in patient to doctor, no real skill needed. Just an open heart to receive. Treating those who need it. That's the cycle. That's where the church belongs. At the corner of crisis and healing.

The only reason that I don't panic when the world is falling down around me is because times of destruction are followed by times of rehab, recovery and refreshing. After rain, comes sunshine. To quote the great Mufasa from the Lion King, "We are all apart of the great circle of life." I don't think that we need a bailout. Just the assurance that we'll get through. We'll make it. We always do.

There's a verse from one of my favorite albums, that captures the thought:

"If I say I love Jesus, but they can't see my Jesus, my words are empty of they cant see Jesus in me. No more excuses, I give myself away.... because I may be...the only Jesus they see."

So, for all who are willing, the doors are open. The line is usually not too long and I know the guy who runs the place, he's pretty awesome.:-)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Same Script, Different Cast?: A New Frontier in Organizing

Some, well, MANY have criticized the Obama campaign as being a commercial production, staring hope, change and your local, average Joe. The people and events were real, but something was so intangible that people were reticent to give it much credit, that is, until we WON AN ELECTION :-) For many of us who were there, it was, as I've explained countless times, so much more. Yet there's still much talk about this thing called a movement and whether the Obama campaign fits the bill. I'd say yes, and here's why. Organizing for America (OFA 2.0)

Not to say that the main characteristic of a movement is a structured vehicle to affect change. It is to say that the desire of people to organize and engage in their communities long after the immediate goal(electing Barack) has been reached is still there. I think that this is the one defining characteristic of the movement.....The civil rights movement, for example, had a huge victory in ending segregation on buses, but the people still wanted more. There was still a righteous indignance (my favorite phrase) stirring in their souls. But just like them, people want to know that there are still others that feel the same way. Such a feeling is why I have taken a great deal of ownership in organizing in my community, Cobb County, Georiga.

So Cobb Co, a county of close to 700,000 is its own beast, a mixture of legitimate, however disturbing Republicanism (conservatism....whatever) and deep racial divides that keep Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western parts of the county on distant ideological hemispheres. I suppose that real work of an organizer in a place like this is to do what organizers do best, build bridges between young and old; poor and rich; grass roots thinkers and high minded politicians. The good news is that I've been in far scarier places politically. Where a friendly face is hard to come by when your talk about being a Democrat.

This weekend's Pledge Project Canvass showed me a lot about my community and the work that we have ahead of us. For starters, there are no leftover campaign organizers from the general election, just one that returned, me. This is not to say, thankfully, that there are no organizers here. There are plenty (well, a handful) of folks who know a turf map like the back or their hand and a few 70 year old canvassers that could walk a whole neighborhood without so much a drink of water. These are the folks that make me believe that what we are now apart of is, in fact, a movement. And for every person that I had the opportunity to talk to this weekend that said " Obama's in, my job is done" I questioned whether folks, even those who,during the general election, canvassed diligently, registered voters and raised money actually understood what a movement was. Because these things are only a part of it. Or had they forgotten? That's what folks who oppose a movement for change want us to do. They want us to roll over like dogs, donkeys even, after a great big meal. They want us to dine at the table of change, digest our food and refuse to take home doggy bags. That's what they are counting on. And another thing, let's stop calling everyone who opposes this idea of community organizing a conservative or a Republican. Please. There are plenty of card carrying Democrats who think the idea of a MOVEMENT is completely unnecessary and outdated. Like we've upgraded to round table discussions or something. Movements, they think, are jugs of spoiled milk, stinking up the refrigerator of democracy.

So, what's this "Same Script, Different Cast" idea all about? The organizing that got Barack elected and the organizing that will sustainably change the world must intermarry, incestuously. in a "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" kind of way. For me, the process is the same, prepping for a canvass and recruiting vols is the same, but the cast is different. The issues are different. The community is different. And I have to pay close attention. In this new frontier of organizing, I can't make any snap judgments. I can't assume that the energy generated by the general election will automatically harness itself. We've work to do, always have. This revelation, I'm sure, is occuring in the mind of anyone who is going through the same thing...especially my organizer friends. So in response to this "new frontier" of organizing idea, I started another, yes another :-) blog. Organized Noise. Keep up. You might find something that propels you to be apart of the Movement.

So I've decided, no snap judgments. Just a careful and dilligent approach to this community, my community. After all, in Southwest Missouri, 8 months ago, I was that brown girl with big hair, an organizer that folks were itching to make snap judments about. In then end, I changed their minds, they changed my life and WE changed the world. :-)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Me, Myself and MINE: 3 Year Olds and the Entitlement Crisis

Good driving rewards you with lower insurance rates. Good work on your job means that you probably deserve a promotion. Good grades might earn you 20 bucks. Being a three year old, however, earns you, at best, an afternoon snack and a new toy. Agreed? So, why then do the classes of 3 year olds that I work with have such a strong sense of entitlement? They can't even spell it for God's sake! Let's dig deeper. One could blame this on a number of factors: new age "let's talk to and rationalize with 3-year old's until they understand action and consequence" parenting; decline of the institution of family and traditional family roles; the inflated, 21st century "me, myself and mine" mentality that has clearly spilled over into the next generation. I'd like to blame it, in part, on what I call the Educated Parent Syndrome....and what me and my co-worker have so politically correctly termed EPS.

While the educated parent is socially, upwardly mobile, has a great job and can provide their children with far more material possessions than their parents ever could, they often fail to provide their children with the one thing that they desperately need to lead healthy, balanced lives.....DISCIPLINE. Let's spell it. D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E. I find that this happens mainly because discipline and rules, were the one thing that they felt they got enough/too much of when THEY were kids. But I mean really folks, we could give our kids the moon, but what a disservice that we do them by allowing them to think that everything they touch is theirs simply because they exist. The day school where I work has a selection of these types of kids. Most, extremely privileged. Some have nannys. A few have parents that have sense enough to discipline them. A nice ratio I suppose. While most days teaching 3 year old have their challenges, I gotten used to them. What I cannot, however, get over are persistent outbursts like (at snack time): "I DON'T WANT CHEESE NIPS!! I ONLY EAT WHEAT THINS!!" Part of me wants to give them the punishment that their parents never did...the other part of me wants to mourn the years of their lives that are to come, the parents that will have to deal with them and the world that will have to teach them hard lessons.

I know, I know. You are thinking to yourself, GEEZ JONAE! They are kids! Why are you being so hard on them? They don't know any better. But, I ask, when do they learn?!?!? The world is soon to endow them with a great deal of personal responsibility. Black kids, especially, are given this responsibility very early on, leaving little room for error. When one does not address the idea of personal responsibility and hard work at an early age the list of failures in adulthood become endless. When we fail to discipline them and teach them the right way to go, we basically hand them over to be raised by the world, the most selfish, entitled beast of them all. I've seen far too many cases of this. Really, indignant, entitlement-ridden 3 year olds are the least of our concerns. The real issue is that these kids become adults with the very same attitude. You might have met them before. You might be friends with them. You might even BE them. They think the world revolves around them, their wants and their timing. Wouldn't you take this idea of childhood entitlement more seriously if you knew exactly how it impaired the development of a child and an adult. And honestly folks, I really did refrain from blogging about this until it became overwhelming irritating...and it did.

As a reference, this USA Today article was particularly interesting to me because it explores the intersection of these issues: education, parenting, and culture. Have a read. It really brought home some of the things that I have observed in the classroom and assumed about new age parenting. It says (if you haven't the time or attention span to read it) that while the trappings of well-educated parents provide a multitude of OPTIONS for their kids, the article cautions these parents that these OPTIONS are not a substitute for the work-ethic and discipline that we should be instilling in our children. Translation: Scrap the entitlement and teach them how to clean their rooms and study. It will take them much farther than the occasional temper tantrum over white instead of wheat bread.

Lastly, in my typical disclaimer like fashion, I'd like to stress that I am not blaming well-educated, well-to-do parents for the plethora of 20 something brats that populate the earth nor am I saying that the presence of OPTIONS in a child's life is a bad things. I, like USA Today, just want you to be careful and intentional about balance. My sincere belief is that at least part of a child's rearing has to involve corporal punishment. I know this sounds one-sided from girl who got her behind whooped (wh-oop-ed) (a standard, cultural synonym for a black parent "spanking") regularly and turned out fine. And I know that spankings don't solve everything in the way of discipline. They merely show a child that action and consequence will always trump the luxury of options and secondly that the world does not revolve around petty, individual need; most importantly, that there are consequence if they think that they do.

So folks, let's take hold of this startling realization: we came into this world with nothing and will leave with just that. Ok. Now, tell your local 3-year old :-)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Year Later....

The day has long passed but the memory lives on. 3-5-08. For me, it was the day that I, as well as thousands of young people, realized something that we probably already knew but readily rejected. It was the fact that we are not invincible. Though the world would have us to think so. That not even the purest deeds or kindest heart or profound likability or even the safest neighborhoods can keep us from evil or the idea that humanity is liked in one beaded string of individual fates. The overlap of such fates can be devastating and baffling for a person, for a family and for a community.

No, this wasn't something that I learned in Missouri as a community organizer. But rather it was learning of the murder Eve Carson, known to many as the student body president at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Both Georgia peaches, summer 03 Governors school attendees, students at public North Carolina Universities and student body presidents. Eve and I were a lot alike. Maybe that's why her life, cut so short, touched me so deeply. Or maybe it was because, more significant than our similar lives, was our shared desire to change the world.

While every comment that I've read about the articles covering this tragedy, have bounced between "The world has lost a truly great person" and "I'm sick of this. No one would care about her death if she weren't a pretty, blonde, white girl at a high-ranking institution." My only response is...I guess you had to know more about her than these limited details. Because honestly, to know her, would minimize these things. Sure, these things made the story of her murder more sensational and attractive to mainstream media, but it has little to do with the reason why, one year later, people carry our her legacy in so many different ways. Service projects, scholarship funds, cross country trips to support the causes that she lived her life around. This legacy embodied the idea that "the best use of one's life is for a cause that will outlast it" (William Outling).

So, in the end, what will our lives mean? It is my sincere hope that my life and your life mean as much to people as Eve Carson's did. Her life did not cure all of the ills of the world or put evil at bay, but it did strengthen many people's desire to do good. To spend ones life like a currency of hope and restoration to the world. I don't just write this entry as an ode to a friend or to a leader, or to a victim of a violent crime, nor do I wish to spend time itemizing her good deeds or enumerating the lives that she touched; I write because her life lifted up a standard, of excellence, of humility, of a life that was poured out fully in service to others. So, one year later, I choose not to focus on the horrific act that took her life, but on the amazing things that have happened since in the communities where she lived. And that's the circle of life I suppose, choosing how to respond to life and why. Eve's death was a wake up call to all who knew her and many who didn't. One year later, it's a call to action. Thank you Eve. Rest in peace.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

West Wing Report Card

Battling House and Senate Republicans. Retaining a Gangster Press Secretary and Chief of Staff as well as some of the most talented minds of our generation. Closing Gitmo. Passing a stimulus bill. Wow. Amazing stuff. All apart of the checklist of President Obama. My president. And yours too, whether you like it or not. I realize that I don't blog a whole lot about the administration, (I usually leave the dragging out of every single minute and move of the administration to some other talking heads who get paid to do it), but the way I figure, these incredible feats are apart of the way of world now. The world that we voted to remake on Nov. 4th. Really, I just makes me so happy to know that the 3 and 4 year olds that I work with are being raised in the reality of the future and not the complete drudgery of recent years past.

So, more than a month has passed since Inauguration and by my arbitrary standard, it's time for a little performance evaluation on the leader of the free world:

It's the Economy, STUPID: B+ Perhaps the most help that George Bush offered to the ailing economy was admitting that we are in a recession. President Obama has taken bold steps, ones that have been criticized as being too aggressive. The absence of which would have made him seem weak. Double-edged sword anyone? God forbid a president actually DO something in a crisis. Still, I think that both parties have made this all much more difficult than it needs to be. The economy, ladies and gentlemen, sucks. We cannot, as President Obama says, apply this, "do nothing, let people continue to suffer and the market will regulate itself" mentality to the issues that we are having. And for those whining "the stimulus bill is too much government spending" type politicians who are, let's face it, mainly Republicans, I say this "No one was whining about excessive government spending when we were engaging in an illegal war"

"Reaching across the Aisle:" B If you'll indulge me for a minute, I promise that I won't use this phrase ever again. Pinky swear. This is one of those areas where the President has caught a lot of flack. House and Senate Republicans are constantly barking into the microphone about how partisan Obama is. How he is breaking his campaign promise to work with members of both parties. Newsflash: Barack Obama is a DEMOCRAT. As in, member of the Democratic party. And not only is he one....HE RAN FOR PRESIDENT as one. Having said that, there's only so much negotiation that he can do before he pulls rank.

But in the midst of bi-partisan confusion, you can count on good-ole Rahm Emmanuel to reach across the aisle and slap just about every Republican that he can:
(Read the article link)

Overall Presidential Swag: A++ I recommend the appointment of swag bearers to the Presidential cabinet. Because really, any man who merely intends to give a speech to a joint congress on the state of the nation, with a few ambassadors and Supreme court justices in attendance and ends up coming out looking like a rock star should have a few folks charged to guard his swagger. His entrance made the halls of a government chamber look like a party that you wished you were invited to. :-) All he needed were screaming Beatles fans!

Combatting domestic cells of HATERATION: A I have sufficient evidence and intelligence to suggest that there are Republicans harboring domestic cells of hate. They mostly circulate in their bodies, eating away at their sense of decency and compassion like a cancerous red-cell, white cell war. Ocassionally they manifest themselves in the form of an Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, who, in my opinion, are a cancer to conservative credibility. They wholeheartedly refute the idea that one can disagree without being disagreeable. And it's funny really, because so many people criticized Barack Obama for being such a celebrity during the election, but look at the talking heads that they have allowed to be the spokespersons for their party?! After listening to Rush Limbaugh's speech, it occured to me that he and his followers might need some things to do besides lampooning the president. I would suggest the following:

1) An indepth report on the history of America and class warfare.
2) A book report on the life and times of Hitler
3) A Venn Diagram on the simularities of Saturday's speech and the most rousing one by Hitler.
4) A mixtape highlighting the FACTUAL STATEMENTS made by Limbaugh, Coulter and Glenn Beck. The estimated length is about 15 seconds.

Or, at no additional charge:

The stuff that they really should be worried about if they want to have a shot in 2012
(Read the article link)

Gitmo? Get out.: A President Obama can say, "unequivocally" according to his most recent address, that the United States does not torture. Keeping a campaign promise!! Woot woot! I am pleased with that. Now, what to do with all of those detainees? Release them on the grounds of the CPAC Convention maybe? LOL. Next line of torture to address, most programs on Fox News!! LOL. One day at a time.

Being a better President than George Bush: A+ The use of complete, complex sentences with multi-syllabic words, puts him head and shoulders above GW. Aside from that, there's something about the restoration of confidence in a President, both domestically and abroad, that will take us further than we thought.

So all things considered, the challenges behind him and the challenges ahead of him (there are more of one than the other), I'd say that our President is doing rather well. Wouldn't you?