Friday, November 30, 2012

The Homestretch

We’re heading into the homestretch in bringing the year 2012 to a close.  It’s been a wild ride with politics, the elections, and Hurricane Sandy, which caused an emotional roller coaster for all concerned. 

During the campaigning, we saw so much negativity in the way of hate and bigotry coming from various “sides” in both the political and religious spheres.  Tempers flared as each side claimed to be the only right way.  People lied and misconstrued the truth for their own personal agendas and beliefs.  I don’t know about you, but I am so fed up with all the nonsense regardless of who is doing it.

For several months, I kept thinking that we were about due for some kind of disaster to remind us how much a part of each other we really are and that when it comes down to it, we are all Americans and love will prevail.  Sure enough, here comes Hurricane Sandy, which was like a slap on the back of all our heads, saying, “People!  Get it together!  Have you forgotten who you really are?  Where’s the love?”

And like we’ve done in other disasters, most Americans once again put aside all differences to come to the aide of our fellow beings, both humans and animals.  As of this writing, there were approximately 110 deaths.  One death is way too many, but we were fortunate in that it wasn’t more such as the number of deaths from Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, which was in the thousands. 

As we come through the madness of politics and Sandy, we are now preparing for the madness of the holidays.  The fighting and arguing over what holiday greeting to say, whose holiday symbols should be displayed, and families in discord trying to decide whose house to celebrate which holiday, and how much money to spend.  To be honest, I don’t see a whole lot of love expressed at this time of year when the holidays are meant to be all about love, peace on earth, and good will to all.

Oh, I know the love is there.  We do see it in bits and pieces.  We just don’t hear about it much anymore because the media tends to only focus on the negative which only feeds more into that negative energy.  How many times have you said a cheerful “Happy Holidays!” to someone only to have someone snap back at you “Merry Christmas!” (or vice versa)?  People are already making an issue of it on Facebook.  To be honest, I’m just happy that anyone says anything to me at all since most times people just ignore each other; therefore, whatever they say is fine with me.

Personally, I don’t need to say a particular greeting or display a certain symbol to prove my faith.  The first half of Matthew 6 warns us about not practicing our righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  God knows what is in our hearts.  We don’t have anything to prove to anyone.  People are complaining that others are trying to force their beliefs on them, but isn’t that exactly what those who are doing the complaining are trying to do to others?

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 states, “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”  The truth is that love, compassion, and kindness should be our priority to all regardless of how others celebrate.

By trying to force our beliefs on others, we are judging them by saying they are wrong and we are right.  Mother Teresa said that “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  I believe it’s more important to be the example of love, everything Jesus and all the other great spiritual teachers taught. 

Maya Angelou has it right when she says, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” The Dalai Lama said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.  Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.” 

If Thanksgiving and Christmas really are holidays based on love, then I would like to invite everyone to respond in kind and with respect.  Whatever greeting someone says to me, I will return that greeting and do so with a twinkle in my eye and a smile on my face.  I love the Spirit of the holidays.  And that’s where I am choosing to put my focus.  Love, glad tidings, peace on earth, and good will to all.

(Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 30, 2012.)


Friday, November 9, 2012

Our Essence of God

Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  This is not a physical image, though man tends to think of it as such.  It also says “us” and “our.”  Who is “us” and who is “our?” 

People have many concepts of who or what they think this deity called God is.  Some believe that he is a man sitting up in the sky with long gray hair, white robe, and passing out judgments if someone doesn’t believe the way whoever is speaking at the time.  Some believe that God is Love.  Others believe that God is an energy that permeates everyone and everything in the Universe.  When it comes down to it, we don’t know exactly what form this deity takes; we only have our beliefs, and whatever belief you have is fine.  I am certainly not going to tell anyone that their concept is wrong.  It’s what you believe at this time in your life. 

The term “image” is more of an essence…the essence of God.  Holy.  Magnificent.  Divine.  Miraculous.  Unconditional love.  Therefore, if we were made in the image and likeness of God, wouldn’t that make us all these things, too?   We have that essence of God within us.  Some say that we have the DNA of God.

So, why do we feel less than?   Personally, I believe that when we are born, we are born from the perfect, unconditional love of God.  If we are made in God’s image and likeness, then we couldn’t be born in any other way.  Some believe that we are born into sin, but I prefer to believe that we are born into the human experience.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  The core of our being, or soul, is spiritual and comes from the divine. 

I also believe that we came into this world knowing our magnificence and we know who we are.  We start to become and feel less than because after we are born, our caretaker humans start teaching us all the lessons about being human; therefore, we start to forget our true selves.  Instead of remembering our original essence of God, we take on the image and essence of our caretakers because we don’t know any better and then we forget. 

We take on all the beliefs of those around us.  We become a product of our upbringing, experiences, culture, religion, politics, general beliefs, and so on.  Many are taught to hate others as well as themselves.  We learn from the behaviors of those around us.  Because of these negative influences, we take on feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth.  We believe what others say we are and then those beliefs become out identity.

I substitute in the area schools and one day I had an upper elementary school class.  Sometimes, at the end of the class I like to give them a pep talk and have them repeat some affirmations such as, “I am magnificent!”  “I am intelligent!”  “I am beautiful/handsome!”  “I am the best there is and it has nothing to do with anyone else!”  After class, a young girl came up to me and said, “Miss Karen?  You know all those things you said we are?  I’m none of those things.”  Broke my heart!  I could only tell her that yes she was and she was so much more!  How many of us feel the same way?

Some may say it’s conceited and wrong to say these things to ourselves, and yet it’s perfectly okay to say negative demeaning things.  Friends, we should be saying loving and kind things to ourselves!  Would we say those cruel, unkind things to other people?  Then why to ourselves?  Would God say those things to us?

Our self-talk is what limits us and puts us in a box of self-defeat.  If we are made of the essence of God, then shouldn’t we acknowledge our inner and divine magnificence?  We need to awaken ourselves to this truth!  We need to remember who we really are!  We know that we don’t have to listen to the people who are trying to keep us down and we can go directly to God/Source who will always love us and build us up!  People will use fear and guilt to keep you down so that they can manipulate you and control your beliefs to align with theirs.  That is not who God made you to be!  We need to unlock the door of our inner prisons and set ourselves free! 

Our beliefs become our identity; therefore be careful what you believe because that will be the world you create for yourself.  You are magnificent and empowering beings!  How can you be otherwise?  You were made in the image of God!

(Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 9, 2012.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Teachers vs Students in the Schools

One of my current jobs is as a substitute teacher.  I love kids and thought it would be a great way to supplement my income while I work towards becoming a full-time motivational speaker.  I had no idea what I was in for.  I’ll tell you, once I started substituting, I gained a whole new-found respect for teachers.  I wish I had respected them more when I was in school.  It is unbelievable to see what teachers have to deal with today. 

When I was in school, we didn’t dare even look cross-eyed at a teacher. It was in the days that paddling was acceptable and the consequences were severe if a student acted up.  Granted, I do not believe in paddling, but students no longer have any fear because the consequences of their actions and behavior do not hinder bad choices.  Many just get a slap on the hand or sent to detention where most times, they can do whatever they want because even the teachers of those classes cannot control them.

The first two years that I subbed, it was so stressful that I hardly took any jobs.  I also had other things going on in my life that were stressful at the time, so adding school stress was just too much and I couldn’t deal with it.  Plus, I hadn’t found my niche in getting control of the classes. 

My first mistake was that I went in being nice and wanting to be their friend.  Once you do that, they know they have you and the results are not fun.  And if you don’t get control and set the tone right from the get-go, you’re a goner and they know it.  Students walked all over me and they knew there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

About that time, I read a spiritual novel that was part truth and part fiction.  In it, the main male character was a substitute teacher, and because he tried to be nice to the kids, the kids walked all over him.  It was very stressful to him, too.  Another teacher suggested to him that he be mean first, and then be nice.  A light went off over my head.  It is not my job to be their friend.  I am their teacher first and foremost.  Once I got in the frame of mind that I don’t care if they like me or not (well, I do, but it’s not my first priority), I started to find my footing in setting the tone and having control of the classes.

It’s still stressful, but most times I can control a class and it can be a pleasant experience.  And many of those times because I did have control, I and the students could find a connection to where they actually liked me and said I was a cool sub.

How do I do this?  First thing I do is have everyone sit down and be quiet, and I do not continue until they are all seated and no one is making a sound.  I then introduce myself and say that I am going to give them my expectations that I have of them so that they can know what to expect of me.  If the students do not have to work with each other on assignments, I do not allow any talking at all.  I tell them that if they talk, I’ll move them, and if they talk after that, I’ll turn in their names.  And I enforce that rule.  This will usually work for the most part.  I will still have a student or two who will try to “push the sub.”  The problem with letting them talk is that it’s then hard to control the volume level and they get out of hand no matter how many times you ask them to keep it down.

I also tell them that I am strict, but fair; and I will be nice until I cannot be nice any longer.  If it looks like most of the students have their work done in the class, I will allow them to talk the last ten minutes or so as a reward for good behavior.  It is at this time that I also try to interact with the students, showing them my nice, crazy side.  This is when I kid around, sing, dance, joke, and the kids can get the feeling that I’m actually human.

Following this protocol works most of the time.  But there are times when it doesn’t work.  There will always be those few students who are so desperate for attention that they will say and do anything to do so.  Recently, I was asked to sit in on a class for about a half hour while the teacher had something to take care of.  When I got to her class, she had one student arguing with her right off the bat. She informed me that he and a couple others may be a challenge.  Boy, were they!  I gave my opening remarks, but these several students, particularly the one, were going to be extremely defiant and they were determined not to behave no matter what I said.

I ended up having to go into aggressive mode, which I do not like to do because I do not like conflict and avoid it at all costs if possible.  There was no way I was going to be able to avoid it here.  I was dealing with the bullies of the classroom; the students whose main goal in life is to bully teachers.  Most get away with it and they know it.  But I wasn’t going to let them get away with it in my class.  It was not pleasant for the majority of the students and I felt for them. 

The one student, who was the worst, happened to be black.  Color does not matter to me as I’m color blind when it comes to people.  He was in constant act-up mode to get attention.  Some of the other kids would laugh.  I told them that they may think his behavior is funny, but it’s not; it’s actually quite sad.  Some of them got it and didn’t laugh again.  Then this student asked if he could go get a drink of water and I told him no.  He also had a full bottle of water in his hands and I showed the students.  The student next to him called me a racist because I let two white students go.  I told him that I let them go because they were behaving.  The student who called me a racist wrote a note to give to the other student.   I intercepted it and it was about me, and it wasn’t nice.

After the class, I made sure to tell the teacher what had happened and she knew it wasn’t because of me.  But what could she do?  What can you do to students who are so disruptive?  They don’t care.  Their actions and their behaviors have become their identity.  I wonder what their home lives are like?  Some of these kids have the most horrific home lives.  In other classes and schools, I learned one student was in fifteen foster homes before he was a sophomore.  I overheard another student telling how his father was drunk the night before, and he had to ride in the car with him.  Another student saw her mom murdered.  I had a five year old tell me that he wanted to kill himself and die.  These are just a few out of the thousands that teachers deal with. 

I tried subbing at a local school for troubled kids and only lasted two days.  When I turned my head, one student was half-way out the window, another student threw a chair down the hallway, and I overheard a group of boys talking about sneaking a slice of glass past the metal detectors to hurt someone.  Me?  All I knew was that minimum wage was not worth risking my life; therefore, I decided not to sub at that school anymore.  

I am constantly hearing stories from other teachers and subs who say they refuse to sub for certain grade levels because the kids are so out of control.  One friend, who is now a minister, used to ride with some of the most violent motorcycle gangs and had been in fights to defend his life.  He subbed for a kindergarten class and said never again.  Most subs avoid the high schools.  Many say they avoid the middle schools.  In my experience, it’s pretty much the same throughout all the grades.

I've also seen and heard things in the schools that are appalling.  One teacher I subbed for had a complete meltdown the previous day.  During one of those classes, I heard yelling across the hall and it turns out the class across the hall locked their sub out of the room and she was yelling at them to let her back in.  Some teachers just give up and let their students do whatever they want to do just to not have to deal with them.  This is not an inner city school system either.  I know they do the best they can, but we have got to find a way to do better in all schools across the nation.  Laying teachers off certainly doesn't help.

There are some religious groups who say they want prayer and religion back in the schools.  Why do the schools need to be responsible for their children’s religious upbringing?  Parents and politicians don’t want sex education in the schools saying that the students should learn this from the parents.   Shouldn’t it then be the parents who are responsible for their religious teachings also?  If you put religion and prayers in the schools, whose religion, whose God, and whose prayers?  Even if you want only the Christian religion, there are thousands of Christian denominations all believing something different, so which Christian religion and/or denomination? 

It’s easy for some parents and some schools to want to fluff off the responsibility of the students’ welfare.  The schools want the parents to be responsible, and the parents want the schools to be responsible (except in sex education).  So, in the meantime, who is being responsible for our children?

What’s the answer?  To be honest, I don’t know.  I do know that students need to be held accountable for their actions, and the consequences needs to be equal to the actions.  Personally, I think there should be a program for students who refuse to behave that is run like a military boot camp.  We have so many military people coming home from the war with no jobs.  This would be a great job opportunity.  Teach the kids discipline.  In no class should they be permitted to just sit around and do nothing.  Make them run the obstacle courses.  Whatever it is they do in boot camps.  Or do community service.  Let them see how much worse some people have it life than they do.  Put them in positions to be of service to others less fortunate. 

But at the same time, we need to find a way to show love to these kids.  Their behaviors and actions are a cry for love, and apparently, they’re not getting it.  We need to teach them self-esteem and self-worth.  We need to give them hope.  We need to teach them people skills and that bad behavior is not acceptable.  We need to teach them respect.  We need to lift these children up and not tear them down.  We need to help them find their purpose.  We need to give them positive mentors.  Many children do not have father and/or mother figures in their lives.   We need to show them that people do care and that their lives do matter.

I could go on and on with some of my experiences in subbing, and more ideas on how to deal with this overwhelming issue, but then I’d have a book.  I do know that we cannot sit back and do nothing.  Our schools are becoming more and more crowded, more and more teachers are being laid off, and it’s getting more and more out of control.  We cannot wait any long.  We hear the slogan “our children are our future” but what kind of future are they going to have if we don’t teach the skills (both inwardly and outwardly) to deal with life? 

We can only do what we can.  Remember when they said it takes a village to raise a child?  If you know of a child, no matter what their age, or who they are, show them love and kindness.  If you know that they do not have a good home life and you have the means to help, invite them over for some meals or on some trips and vacations with your kids.  All it takes is that one kindness to change a child’s life.  You may not see the results immediately, but you will be planting the seeds.  Plant the seeds and help cultivate them.  Then watch the child bloom and grow.