Archive for the ‘Life lessons’ Category

Adversity is the reason we need Faith. It’s also the reason we have it. Faith that can’t be tested,  can’t be trusted. 

Don’t be the teacher kids have to respect. Be the one they want to.

There is nothing quite like working with middle school students to garner a profound awareness for the power of rumors.  Unlike political America, there is seldom any fact-checking on a middle school campus. Unfortunately, what “they” say happened or will happen or might happen is frequently received as truth without question. As many of you may know, middle school students are developmentally equipped with a highly developed “emotional brain” combined with an under-developed “reasoning brain.” Translation: Their emotional brain will short circuit their reasoning brain and lead them into poor decisions and actions before they have thought it all through. All too often the consequences of their choices are not even considered until they are happening.  Therein lies the power and danger of “They Say.”  Below is an offering which paints an example of how this dynamic can play out. It represents the responsibility we have as parents, educators, and youth workers, to “train them up in the way they should go.” Social and Emotional Learning is everyone’s responsibility.  If I may wax cliche, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  (c:]

~Food For Thought

~Peace and Blessings…

joe

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THEY SAY

She said he said that they say it’s true.

Armed with this knowledge, I know what to do.

I recognize the face of this newfound foe.

We once were good friends; now, I’ll throw the first blow.

How dare he say what they say he said.

It’s all the reason I need to go bust his head.

They say she said he said this or that.

The details are sketchy with real shady facts.

But it makes no difference ‘cuz they say it’s true.

So, I’ll blindly give in to what they think I should do.

How will I look if I don’t stand up for what’s right?

So, I’ll settle this beef with a schoolyard fight.

What? He’s denying the words they say that he spoke!

What a big, fat liar! This guy’s a real joke!

“C’mon you big loser! What’s your play?

                    Defend all these words that they said you say!”

“I never said nuthin’.  It’s all a big lie!

Better check your facts. You got the wrong guy!”

          “But that just can’t be ‘cuz they ALL say it’s true;

          So, put up your dukes, fool, so I can pound you!”

So, I beat him down good for his supposed infraction.

I never once thought he would end up in traction.

Three broken bones and wounds to the head;

All for the words they say that he said.

Everthing is possible … I dare to dream large,

My doubts and fears fade … my passion’s in charge.

We’re all connected … I embrace everyone,

Own my life on the hundred … till the job is all done.

If it’s good or it’s bad … I’ll take it in stride,

An attitude of gratitude will humble my pride.

I’m livin’ by givin’ … that’s the best way to be,

To leave a mark on this world and to truly be free.

My time is now … not tomorrow or after,

If you say I can’t … my response will be laughter.

Not to mock or belittle but to let it be known,

Your doubts don’t faze me … my resolve is like stone.

Yeah, I’m chasing my dreams … I have no regrets.

Nothing can stop me or my seven mindsets.

I can think of nothing in the entire world I would rather do with my life than work with and be surrounded by middle school students. I know, I know…some of you are gasping for breath with brows raised and eyes bugged.  With mouths agape you’re wondering “what coo-coo wagon did this nut job fall off of?” I get it. And, to be fair, it does help to be a little crazy to enjoy working with these young humans as they stumble through the matrix. But, for me, nothing could be more fun, more important, more meaningful, or more fulfilling.

Have you ever seen the movie The Perfect Storm? If you have then you understand the analogy as it applies to an adolescent. The tumultuous winds of puberty unleash tidal waves of hormones, emotions, self-awareness…and questions.  You remember the questions, right? “Where do I fit in?” “What if I don’t fit in?” “What if they don’t like me?” What if HE or SHE doesn’t like me the way I like HER or HIM?” “MY LIFE WILL BE OVER!” “Why are my feet so big…and when did they start smelling like this?” “I think I’m all out of Axe deodorant!” “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why do I even feel this way?” “Why should I even care?” On and on the questions rage. Thoughts and worries never before entertained, barrels of hormones evoking emotional, physical, and social changes never before experienced, combine with an enhanced and insecure self-awareness.  This hodgepodge cauldron of hormones, changes, questions, and insecurities converges on this single period of their history on earth and, VOILA!  The Perfect Storm. Anyone squirming through flashbacks right about now?

In simple terms, the challenge of working with middle school students is that their emotional brain becomes super-developed due to the onslaught of pubescent hormonal surges. Their purpose? To compel them forth on a find-a-mate-to-keep-the-species-alive mission. While at the same time, their reasoning brain remains disproportionately under-developed.  ~Some of you are laughing right now.~  In other words, they are suddenly capable of feeling emotions they have never felt at an intensity they have never experienced. Their bodies are beginning to do and feel things they have never been able to do or feel. And this new-found emotional and physical prowess is misguided (or not guided at all) by a lack of reasoning ability or the skills required to manage their feelings or properly express them. It’s akin to being a passenger in a car careening out of control at full speed down a curvy mountain road. As

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Original art by Joe Martinez

you cower and convulse with fear in the back seat, you dare open your eyes just long enough to glimpse the sign that reads, “CAUTION: Bridge Out.” Oh yeah, and the car has no brakes.  Yup that’s it. That’s adolescence. All gas pedal and no brakes. The beautiful significance of the chaos that adolescence creates, though, is that within it lies the portal to unlimited and untapped potential for meaningful contributions to the world in which they live. They are adults-in-training.

Herein, lies the wisdom of integrating social-emotional learning programs as part of the culture of every school. Not just middle schools but all of them. Inasmuch as there are curriculum, strategies, and standards to bolster GPA’s and standardized test scores, there must also be equal efforts, methods, and “rigor” spent toward helping middle school students gain the skills to manage this crucial time in their development. Education in our country has become largely “Data Driven and Performance Oriented.” In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when performance and data are stalked to the neglect of developing social-emotional skills, it is done so to the hurt of student wholeness and to the future of our society. I propose that a “Destiny Driven and Purpose Oriented” filter be used to guide us toward balance in the drive for performance and data. Social-Emotional Learning is the fulcrum upon which this balance can be achieved and maintained. If you don’t believe me, ask a middle school student of poverty, who wakes up at 5 am to make sure his little brother and sister are fed, dressed, and at the bus stop on time, all while doing the same for himself, because his single mom is working two part-time jobs…ask him how his improved test scores have changed all of that. Better yet, try to convince him that working harder at school and getting better grades will make things better at home…now. This is one student in one school. Our school of 870 is well above 50% on free or reduced lunch because their families are at or below the poverty line.

There is plenty of data available to support the reality that meeting students’ social-emotional needs and teaching them how to cope with the harsh realities of life does much to improve academic performance. Without citing scads of data to prove my point, let me ask you a simple and practical question. Have you ever not wanted to go to work but decided you should go anyway? What was the reason? Were you sick? Did you wake up late and on the wrong side of the bed? Maybe you had a fight with your spouse. Kid’s sick? Too many bills left at the end of your paycheck? Life happens to everyone, right? So when you got to work that day, did you operate at your peak performance level? Or, did you want everyone to know you were in a bad mood and to stay out of your way. Did you desire a little understanding and latitude about not being the best version of yourself? Did your co-workers and boss demand no slacking in your productivity or did they offer some understanding and concern? Which approach worked better?  Admittedly, I have done this before…and preferred understanding. Yet, kids can face life issues on a daily basis and we expect them to report and perform at optimum levels with seemingly little concern for why they are not when they don’t. One would hope that, as adults, we have obtained the critical social and emotional skills necessary to get through a day like this with few mishaps. The young people we deal with, on the other hand, have not had the opportunities or time needed to hone those skills. We have to make the time and provide the opportunities.

If every student in America achieves straight A’s before leaving high school but we’ve done little or nothing to prepare them for their social and emotional lives, we have failed them. What benefits do 4.0 GPA’s and off-the-charts test scores provide young adults who don’t have the life skills to maintain healthy relationships or keep a job? I argue that the well-being of our society is more endangered by social-emotional illiteracy than it is by academic illiteracy. You don’t need straight A’s to be a good person. There is absolutely a need to obtain literacy and balance in both areas of development.

There is no greater discovery than self-discovery and middle school students are crossing the threshold of finding themselves and their place in the world. What an amazing privilege to greet them at the gate and direct them on toward the rest of their lives! And if you are one of those gatekeepers who stands at the ready to calm their storms and lovingly nurture their self-discovery, I commend and applaud your bountiful love, passion, and sacrifice. Because what else could possibly keep you there? I am honored to be counted as one within your ranks. I have stood at that threshold for thirty years now. I know more now than I did when I started but I certainly don’t know it all…or enough.  There is always more to know. Times change. Kids change. Needs vary and so methods change. But though the methods may change, the message remains ever the same; every person who ever lived, is living, or ever will live has value. We all have purpose and something unique to add to life. Middle school students are at that time in their lives when they are ripe to begin realizing their great potential. What an absolute joy and sense of fulfillment to be a conduit for information and skills that will help them discover, develop, and deploy their innate super-power; that unique quality that only they can bring. Social-emotional learning provides the skill set they will need to properly and effectively share their lives with the communities they inhabit.

And what will happen if we continue to fall short in this endeavor? That’s simple. Just watch the news.

…Food For Thought

Peace and blessings…

~joe

As a youth growing up in a small Arizona town, I recall seeing a bumper sticker on a 1970 Chevy Vega that read, “Do unto others…then, split!”  Disabled by the under-developed frontal lobe common to adolescence, I chuckled at the word play of an age-old classic known as the “Golden Rule.” I gave it little more thought than to think it was funny and cool. My thirteen year old self was oblivious to the moral implications of this word play and to the prophetic prowess of a 70’s era meme.

The Golden Rule was taught to me and my peers when we started Kindergarten at West School and was reinforced for the duration of our primary and secondary education. It was the magnetic north to our moral compass and the unbiased guide for interaction with others within our little community. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Now, there’s a novel idea.  Simple in its statement yet profound in its standard; one of those “minute to learn, lifetime to master” things. Even if we willfully chose to violate the inherent tenets of right and wrong woven into its fabric, we at least knew what we did was wrong and, therefore, were ripe for redirection.  The reprimand was written into its code. “How would you like it if someone TREATED YOU THAT WAY?”  We understood…and we were sorry. Simply stated another way, if I thought it was wrong for someone to do to me then it was wrong for me to do to someone else.

My, how far we have come!

The beauty of this powerful guiding principle is that it transcends time, culture, race, gender, nationality, religious beliefs, or any other dividing force that can come between people. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, young or old, black or white or other, man or woman or other, straight or gay or other, Catholic or Protestant or other, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, pro-life or pro-choice…and on and on…I am going to first consider how I would like to be treated, then, treat you that way…regardless of how you treat me…regardless of how we are different. In this way, how I treat others is determined by a “higher ground” principle that is constant and unaltered by the actions or behavior of others. I’m in control. 

The power of the Golden Rule is that it is not a rule at all. In fact, the term “rule” is a misnomer. This Golden Precept from Holy Writ is more rightly a rudimentary maxim or axiom upon which a lifestyle is built…and, in turn, when everyone else lives by it, a society. In fact, it is a biblical principle founded on truth sufficient to guide one’s life toward good. It is as simple in its nature and profound in its wisdom as its Holy Author. It is a foundational building block for the culture which is the kingdom of God. The Golden Rule is a witness of heaven on earth. Consistently applied with fidelity, the Golden Rule possesses the power to change the world we live in.

Unfortunately, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” has caved under the retaliatory weight of “do unto others as they have done unto you.” Instead of treating others the way we would like to be treated, the norm for many is to treat others the way they have been treated. Or, an even more base rendition which is subject to misinterpretation, “do unto others as you percieve they have done unto you.” The prophecy of a 1970’s bumper sticker has come to fruition; “Do unto others…then, split!” Get…before you get got. Strike first.

It seems, in today’s world, the way to treat others is too frequently prescribed by how others treat us, not the more forgiving  and absolute standard of how we would like to be treated.  The trouble with this is that it gives “others” all the power, and so, the blame game begins.  We are no longer accountable for our actions but our actions are “caused” by the actions of others. “They made me do it.” “They threw the first punch…hurled the first insult…said this or said that…violated my rights” This is all nothing more than knee-jerk justification for insensitive, inappropriate, uncouth, divisive, and even felonious behavior. My bad behavior is excusable because you behaved badly first.

Sadly, this mentality is kindling and fuel for the fires of social unrest we are experiencing in our great nation. Why is our society and culture in its current sad state?  That’s easy.  It’s their fault! In a society intoxicated and  driven by entitlement, many people are more inclined to react to violated rights than to strive for the reconciliation of fractured relationships. Its easier. And, if you happen not to know which violated rights warrant your equal and opposite reaction, a casual perusal of countless “one-sided” media outlets will offer plenty of options. Or, perhaps better stated, plenty of versions of a handful of hand-picked options…but seldom, every option. Apparently, all violated rights are not equal. Selfishness is driving the train off the tracks. “I demand my rights and I’m offended that you are offended that the demand for my rights is infringing upon yours!”  What a degradation to society when its people seek only to be understood with little or no effort to understand. And, this complicated all the more by the hail storm of violent complaints and demonstration littering the streets of our cities under the protected misuse of “Freedom of Speech.”  Burn any flags, lately? Do you loot much?

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of which side of which line you are standing, nobody is entirely right or entirely wrong on either side of the line. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

All the more reason to Golden Rule the hell out of our differences don’t you think? How different things could be if only we all practiced this simple Golden Rule. But I know how it goes. You’ll start living by it when everyone else does, right? And so…

…here we are.

Time to split!

~ Food for Thought

~ Peace and blessings…

joe

Allow me to get right to it.

Few things have stirred up a more foul stench for the witness of the church in America than Christians swimming in the cesspool of political rhetoric. Sadly, precious few were shoved or pulled into the pool. Most have jumped in knowingly…head first…and free-styled their way to adversarial and fruitless debate with fellow believers and non-believers alike. All in the name of standing up for what’s right. It grieves me. What’s more, I believe it grieves the Father heart of God.

May I remind my fellow followers of Christ that God did not “So love the world” that He sent His only begotten Son to reform the governments of men? While on earth, Jesus forsook and shunned the temptation to be made physical king in Israel. The Gospels record Him being tempted once by Satan and once by His countrymen but that doesn’t mean it only happened once or twice. Once is enough, however, to demonstrate what the first century Jews  and the devil himself were hoping for. Why did Jesus forsake the opportunity to rule Israel? Because His kingdom is spiritual not temporal or material. He has established a kingdom without end. No, Jesus did not come to reform government or even culture. He came to provide citizenship and entry to an eternal kingdom with a government ruled by God; a kingdom and government demonstrated by an entirely new culture. Those of us who have been graciously and miraculously transplanted into that kingdom of light form the Body of Christ on earth which is the true church.  As such, we now have dual citizenship and the corresponding responsibility of living our lives in a way that testifies of His love, mercy, and grace to the citizens of earth.

Love. Mercy. Grace. These form the substance of His kingdom that is foreign to this one. They are the attributes of His character that are responsible for and enable our transformation. They are the cornerstones of His kingdom, His government, and the culture they create. The culture that should be demonstrated by the true church. And, when these attributes drive our consciousness and activity in this unsterile, dark, and hopeless world, we become salt…and light…and hope. Jesus did not reform Rome, nor did the Apostles or first century believers. Why do we expect Him to reform any other nation or believe that it is our responsibility to do so?

The mandate left for the Apostles was to increase the citizenship of God’s kingdom by making disciples of Christ. Jesus didn’t equip them and then send them to engage in political processes or pass laws to legislate morality. Their witness was fueled by the love, mercy, and grace of God’s kingdom lived out daily in the midst of the immorality and darkness of their time. Do you think the political platforms and agendas you have relentlessly debated for or against are new?  Guess again. “There is nothing new under the sun.” The first century shakers lived out their Christianity and “turned the world upside down” while being targets of the government that ruled their society. Their goal was not to reform politics or bemoan unfair treatment. It was not to “stand in the gap” for the mistreatment and oppression of citizens by earthly politicians. Their singular goal was to witness and show people the path to a spiritual kingdom with a new government. And, this by reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are to be ruled and governed first and foremost by love. “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples; if you have love one for another.”  “God is love.” Jesus summarized the ten commandments by saying, “Love God with everything you’ve got…Love others as yourself” (paraphrased). We are to “love our enemies” and “those who persecute us.” I guess my question is how can someone serve love with one hand while slinging mud with the other? What part of hurling insults and pointing fingers at the sins  and short-comings of others represents the love of God? Am I saying we shouldn’t care about the society we live in or give voice to the improprieties and inequities of our time? Am I saying Christians shouldn’t be politicians or involved in politics? No, not in the slightest. Jesus mandates those who follow Him to tend to the fatherless, the widows, and the poor. However, Jesus also died and sent His Spirit to establish the organic entity by which these needs are to be met. His body…the church. Jesus never intended His body to replace the governments of this world, rather, He intends it to demonstrate the government of God’s world. When Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion because they were like sheep without shepherds. He then met their needs; He fed them. He didn’t petition the government or religious leaders to provide commodities or social entitlements.  He didn’t protest against them because they were derelict in their responsibilities. No, what I’m saying is, if we are going to go about these activities politically, our witness for a greater kingdom must be our first priority and, therefore, we must “speak the truth in love” not hatefulness or sarcasm or condemnation. The liberal news and social media that have been the driving force of this year’s presidential election and its aftermath have been everything but loving. That is to be expected from the folks who are not yet “grafted in” to the true Vine and citizens of the kingdom of God. But what about those of us who are? What is our responsibility?  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” The standards of the two kingdoms are as diametrically opposed as light and darkness. If you are a politically engaged Christian, don’t be surprised if you are met with resistance. Furthermore, don’t be angry when you are…and…certainly, don’t be hateful with your retorts. This political season, I have actually witnessed Christian friends of mine lose friends and alienate family members as a result of politically charged exchanges on social media. How does this testify of Christ? What would Jesus do?

American citizens are addicted to entitlement. Someone new is demanding something new or voicing their outrage at mistreatment and disenfranchisement at every turn. Once again, that is to be expected from the people with single citizenship in this world only. The trouble is, though, that many American churchians have been seduced by that same sense of entitlement. They are equally as quick to demand their rights or decry their mistreatment as the next guy. If you have forgotten, let me remind you. Citizens of God’s kingdom don’t always benefit from rights in this one. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” “No man can serve two masters.” By God’s grace, we are enabled and required to deny ourselves in this kingdom so that, by His mercy, we can “lay up treasures” in His. That means, sometimes we lose…here…but, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” Most of the Apostles and many of the first century believers lost their lives for their witness…without complaint. They counted it an honor to suffer for Christ. Their rights were not observed or protected. Many other Christians throughout church history were victims of or witnesses to vile and unscrupulous atrocities at the hands of governments against the saints of God. It’s still happening right now in many parts of the world!

We live in an imperfect world, to say the least. This is why, now more than ever, the witness of the church must be faithful and true and convincing. It can no longer be watered down, user friendly, or acquiesce to the affairs of man. And, it will only be faithful and true to the extent that we effectively and genuinely live by the standards of His kingdom here. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Not an easy task.  But God…

My Christian brothers and sisters, I am not angry with anyone. I simply would like to provide a perspective that I believe has been lost and misguided. It’s time for the “scales to fall from our eyes” that we may see clearly our first and true task. We are citizens of a greater kingdom. We are in this world but no longer of it which means our responsibility before God is to testify and witness of Jesus Christ who is the Door to the greater kingdom. If you can continue your political ambitions and ventures by speaking truth in love, by all means, carry on. But “let not your good be evil spoken of” in the process. And, if there is any judgment, let it begin in the house of the LORD.

Christian friend, allow me to recommend a reading assignment. Go to your Bibles and read Matthew 5 – 7…The Sermon on the Mount. Study it out and place it in your heart. Do your best by God’s grace to live by these precepts. It largely delineates the standards of living and the culture of God’s kingdom. These are to be the guiding principles of our lives on earth. These are the guiding principles of true church life. The very principles that are to set us apart from the citizens of the world’s governments while testifying of the kingdom of God.

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Courtesy of Google Images

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

No government of man’s making will ever save mankind.  Not even close! God establishes and destroys governments to serve His own purposes. That includes ours. Our responsibility as representatives of God’s kingdom on earth is not to agree with politicians or make them agree with us. It is to “pray for those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” and “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” What I have discovered through my life is that when I pray for others, God usually changes me first. Another thing I have learned is that I have never been able to extend a hand in peace while I was filling it with mud…or whatever else is floating around the cesspool. Saints of God, we have a job to do. Let us walk in His grace, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. The world…our country…needs our witness.

Food For Though

~ Peace and blessings…

joe