Sunday, January 31, 2016

Do you see segregation in this photo? I do.

Photo by woodleywonderworks, used under Creative Commons license.

"The most segregated hour of the week is on Sunday morning."

Have you heard this? I have. I suppose the meaning is that people tend to go to church with people of their same backgrounds, be it a national background, a racial background, or what have you. Given that I go to a Chinese church with few non-Chinese, it's obviously not any empty sentiment.

Nevertheless, I don't think it's true. That is, it may be true in the racial or ethnic sense, but that's not the only kind of segregation. In fact, segregation happens anytime we force others to be separated from people who are different from themselves. When we think of the biases that exist, we think of sexism, racism, classism, and a few others. Too often, however, we ignore age.

In my opinion the most segregated time of the week is Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 3:00 (or thereabouts). We call it elementary school, middle school, and high school. We call it 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. Here we force children, for many hours every day, to be with other children of approximately the same age, give or take a few months. We enforce this segregation as if kids have nothing to learn from those older than themselves or younger than themselves, as if they have no skills to develop by interacting with students who are older or younger than themselves. And this despite the fact that children have primarily interacted in mixed-age groups throughout history, pretty much up until this Prussian experiment we call the public school system.

We force upon our children an unnatural division as if all students of a given age are supposed to hit the same milestones at exactly the same time, as if they can't be inspired by those older than themselves, as if the can't learn empathy and compassion and capacity to nurture others by being with those younger than themselves. What's the most segregated place in America? The public schools. It always has been. Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka legally destroyed institutionally approved segregation of schools by race. I fear it's merely wishful thinking to image a similar ruling based on age.

There are many kinds of bias and discrimination. There are many ways that we, as humans, segregate ourselves. In almost every case, these discriminations and segregations bring about primarily negative results. It's time we rethink what we think we know about public education. It's time to reevaluate how we segregate children from one another. In a world where young people are increasingly only amongst peers, 24 hours a day (thank you, social media),  it's time to rethink and recognize the value of students mixing with those of a variety of ages.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Immigration and Icky Thump

A photo posted by derek webb (@derekwebb) on

I know a little about my family history. I know a little about American history. I know that, although we call them immigrants, many of my relatives, perhaps most, were refugees. There were religious refugees that fled persecution from the Church of England. Others fled economic hardship in Germany only to face unwelcoming 19th century Americans who were suspicious of their strange religions (Lutheranism and Catholicism), worried that they would take American jobs, and concerned that they didn't want to assimilate into greater US culture, as evidenced by their German-language schools, newspapers, etc.

That was just my family. Similar stories can be read about the Irish, the Chinese and many other groups. Suspicion and animosity toward immigrants is by no means a new phenomenon.

I suppose this is what I don't understand: Is timing really that important? What makes a refugee from 400 years ago or 200 years ago more palatable than a refugee today? What makes today's immigrants less tolerable than the immigrants of the past, whom we proudly call "family"? Are we just doomed to repeat the same sins of our forefathers and foremothers?

In the words of Jack White:
Well, Americans,
What, nothin' better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out?
You're an immigrant, too.
Have a listen. It's a good song:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

If we're going to discuss guns, can we at least discuss relevant questions?

My family is hosting an exchange student. She goes to the local Christian School. Two days ago she remarked that they discuss guns in the United States in her social studies/history class. I applaud the teacher for raising that topic with the students. It's a very timely topic, and students need to develop the ability to discuss contemporary issues within a historical context, and vice versa.

According to our exchange student, however, when it came time for the students to discuss the issue, the question was simply framed as whether we should or shouldn’t have guns. Admittedly, her English is still sub-par, so this may not be completely accurate. Nevertheless, if it is accurate, it disappointed me tremendously, as it’s completely the wrong question.

Problem 1: The question in extremely simplistic.
This is not an either-or issue. There are a vast range of opinions and possible positions. To put the question in such simplistic terms is divisive, and it is demeaning to people’s intelligence.

Problem 2: Having or not having guns is completely irrelevant.
The Second Amendment in the US Bill of Rights guarantees that the people of the United States, in general, have the right to own firearms. That is something that is not and cannot be debated, so it isn't really a valid question. People who frame the question in such a way do a disservice to the whole discussion.

That said, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own firearms. But, it says nothing about how that right is supposed to be managed. Management questions are the questions that require discussion at this time in history.

  • Who should (or shouldn’t) have the right to bear arms?
  • What qualifications do people need to own firearms?
  • Should training be mandatory?
  • When should that right be revoked for an individual or group?
  • When and how should guns be taken away from specific individuals or groups?
  • Who should be able to sell firearms?
  • What kind of licenses should they be required to obtain?

These and other questions like these are the questions that could be discussed, that would be relevant to the issue. Unfortunately, it seems that none of these were discussed in the class, unless other students mentioned them.

Problem 3: Where was Christ in this conversation?
This may not be relevant to many in the US population. It would probably not be relevant in a public high school class. In a Christian school, however, should not the question of faith come into the conversation? Should it not be an essential part of the conversation? How about asking a question like one of these:

  • Given what you know about the teachings of the Bible, what do you think would be a Christian response to gun ownership?
  • If Jesus were physically with us in class today, what do you think he would say about gun ownership?
  • Forgetting your US Constitutional rights for the moment, what do you think might be a biblical view of gun ownership?

If a parent is sending a child or children to a Christian school, it would seem that they want their children to have a Christian worldview. If the teachers are not even going to ask these kinds of questions on this issue (and many others), students won’t end up with a Christian approach to life and thought. Rather, they end up with what Darrow Miller has called Evangelical Gnosticism, which is more of a sickness than a worldview.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Communion Questions

There are some things I've never really understood about what we call “communion” in protestant churches. Or any churches really.

Before I write this, let me say I'm not necessarily criticizing any church or their practices. I'm not saying that they are doing communion wrong. The Bible says very little about how the Lord’s Table is supposed to be done, but there are a few things that I notice, which causes me to ask questions.

Question 1: Why do we have little crackers and little cups (or even broken bread and a common cup) in the middle of a service?

The Last Supper, as it’s known, when Jesus did the first “communion”, was a meal. To be specific, the ritual was performed at the end of a meal, a Passover meal.

Later, in 1st Corinthians, Paul describes the Lord's Table, what we today refer to as “communion” in church. What he describes is again something in the context of a meal. Essentially it's a huge pot luck.

I'm not going to discuss communion theology or the economic status issue of Corinth. But, I do observe that the examples of the Lord’s Table are parts of meals. I get that if a church has 300, 400, or 500 people, the logistics of having a meal-based Lord’s Supper for everyone would be daunting to say the least. I don't know how that would ever be done with regularity. However, in a small church with 40, 50 or 60 people, possibly even more, especially if that church already has a regular meal, I'm not sure why the Lord’s Table wouldn't be done at the time. If the bible describes a meal, why not have a meal? Again this just a question.

Question 2: Why do churches put such a premium on only allowing Christians (or baptized Christians) to participate?

Something I notice in the first Lord's Supper, is that Judas participated. Jesus freely included him. I don't think we today would consider him to be a Christian in good standing.

Later, in first Corinthians, Paul describes those who eat and drink in an unworthy manner to be eating and drinking judgment to themselves. Now to be sure, I think it's good to not take the Lord's Table if you are eating and drinking to your own judgment. However, I'm not sure churches should be presenting the activity as something that only Christians can participate in. Scripture doesn't seem to bear that out. Of course, it would be good to let everyone know that the elements are not magical. They won’t bring good luck or good fortune. Nevertheless, it seems unbelievers are not prohibited from the Lord’s Table.

To conclude, again, I am NOT criticizing churches for doing what they do. I'm not telling them what they should do. The fact is that the scriptures really say very little about how the Lord's Table should look. That said, these are just questions I've always had and probably always will. I'm sure I'm not the first.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sharing More Than Life

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate the US style of dining? I hate ordering my own food, for just me, not really to be shared, not without explicit permission anyhow. It's just so... limiting. Usually I just randomly pick something when a server asks.

One of the greatest joys of eating out, as I learned in China, is being able to sample a variety of flavors I might not otherwise experience. In China, by and large, dishes are ordered to be shared, not hoarded. Two people eating out? Order and share three or four dishes. Ten people? Twelve to fifteen dishes. In a large group, each person may only get one or two bites of some dishes, but that's really all a person needs; flavors diminish after each bite anyway.

In the US, on the other hand... Order your "main dish", get your one or two "sides", and "enjoy". That's what makes eating out with friends in the US so uninteresting. Sure, I ordered catfish, but I'd love to try some of my companions' quiche, or turkey, or falafel. And surely they have interest in others' food, too.

On New Years Eve, for our 6th anniversary* celebration, Liao Sha and I went out to see the new Star Wars movie and then went to a local Mexican restaurant. I'm not really a fan of Mexican, but it was good, as far as that goes. What made the meal wonderful was that we ordered for one another. That is, we ordered food knowing, even assuming, that all would be shared. It was wonderful being able to taste many different flavors and textures. It was fun being able to order for variety. It was wonderful knowing we were sharing the experience with our tastebuds, too.

Now there are many reasons to order for oneself and oneself only. There are hygiene reasons. There are economic reasons. There are medical reasons. Nevertheless, I love that with Liao Sha, I'm not only sharing my life. We're sharing our plates, too.

* Our anniversary is not December 31st, but we were traveling on our actual anniversary, so we used an alternate opportunity.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year: Nothing New Under My Sun

January 1st is just so arbitrary. It's not a solstice. It's not an equinox. Without going too much into the background of the current Gregorian calendar (or the Julian calendar that preceeded it) or the history behind the exact dates of New Years Day (as it has not always been January 1st), let's just say it's an accident of history, politics, and personality.

So, what's with new year's resolutions?

I suppose January 1st is a symbolic date. It symbolizes a new start, a blank canvas, and new possibilities. I suppose it's that very symbolic nature that gives people the impression that they too can create new lives, remake old lives, or change habits heretofore unchanged. Thus, new year's resolutions.

I don't make them. I don't see the point of them. There are already so many ongoing personal projects in my life, projects that I already have too little time to complete and often too little energy to even address, projects like growing in patience and gentleness, being a better father, writing more "letters" to my children, growing a better garden, and managing time more effectively. None of these were ever "resolutions". Each was borne of a recognition of weaknesses and the need to address them.

There's nothing wrong with deciding to make changes in life. It's commendable, in fact,  and a new year is as good a time as any to do so. Somehow, however, I think people look at a new year as if it were magical.

It's not.

Making changes in life patterns is incredibly difficult. Generally speaking, one must resolutely and unreservedly sell out to those decisions. Generally, you can't just want to lose weight; you have to decide to completely change your eating habits and activity levels, permanently. Generally, you can't just want to save more money; you have to decide to completely reevaluate how and why you spend money and make non-negotiable changes in those habits. Resolutions are generally nothing more than a fleeting fancy unless they are considered non-negotiable and permanent.

How do you know if a resolution will stick? Good question. Given that only about 8% of people ever keep them, the chances aren't good.