Sunday, August 14, 2016

Coloring Sheets of Doubt

We began life in fun circles of friends with coloring sheets
There was an abundance of laughter, activities, and games
In our first many years, there were so many friends to meet!
So many, in fact, we had trouble remembering their names
Our parents and teachers told us every day for thirteen years
Get out there and follow your dreams, be creative, stand out
Until the real world hit us, and we shed blood, sweat, and tears
Ideas and visions, shot down, now we're connoisseurs of doubt
What happened to the optimism and the encouraging words?
Where are the adults that used to tell me I can be who I want,
That I am a success, that my perception of reality is not blurred?
Now I just wait for the ghost of my potential to laugh and haunt
Every single dream I ever had for myself, and for others to grow
But our creativity is shot down, about our ideas this world will never know

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rushed Aroma

Around, around, around, and around
Forcing my coffee beans into grounds
Crunch, turn, crunch, is the very quick sound
Of my coffee beans, in a somewhat small mound

The smell of the beans engulfs the room
If coffee were poison, I would be doomed
Flying and flying around me is the fume
Of wonderful coffee grounds, I do assume

Thump, thump, thump, done!
My laundry has finally been dried and then spun
But to keeping prepping coffee, I must now run
I fly down the hallway, like out of a gun

Out of the machine, I pull out my clothes
And wow, oh, wow! They smell like a rose!
Just like the smell poured right out of a hose
I must say clean laundry pleases my nose!

I take a brief moment as I feel the fresh air
Pour in my house and blow through my hair
The smell of the air is so clean and so pure
But oh no! The kitchen! My coffee's in there!

The fresh air's distraction is really not fair!
About the fresh air I truly don't care,
I must run to the kitchen for I cannot bear
The thought of my coffee going nowhere

Finally, I reach my sweet cup of coffee
With an aroma so deep and so rich
It's a smell that I could never ditch
If I drink too much of that scent I might twitch
But that beautiful aroma is my simple niche

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Growth Alone

 I watch as my flowers grow
Their breed I do not know
Someday that reward I'll sow

Yet some do not care for their flower
For they are far more concerned
With their own personal power

They claim that the flower should
Take care of itself and its family
To expect more is just plain crazy

But that flower cannot help itself out
Certainly not when it's stuck in a drought
On its own, it definitely cannot sprout

It needs to be helped or it will die
We cannot put ourselves up so high
While leaving other flowers, alone, to cry

All other flowers are important, too
The red, the yellow, the orange, the blue
Wouldn't you want the same said about you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Awake

Every day I wake up and look outside
I see people burning down walls
They are in the street constantly in brawls
Ruining the home for kids that can barely crawl

I see people burning down walls
Some run angrily down the highways
Ruining the home for kids that can barely crawl
People who think some lives don’t matter at all

Some run angrily down the highways
Every day I wake up and look outside to see
People who think some lives don’t matter at all
They are in the street constantly in brawls

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Knitting God

I believe someone is up there taking care of us
Kind of like that elderly lady, knitting, on the bus
She sees us and smiles, knowing full well all that we've done
She knows we see our deep feelings, get scared, and run
We run, because deep inside, there is fear, fear of the unknown

She believes in a love that will change our hearts
Not in assault weapons that tear families apart
She believes in a world filled with grace and peace
She believes in sunny skies and happy, brick streets
She believes in a culture that brings itself, and others, joy
Like beautiful grass fields filled with laughing girls and boys

She believes in listening to long, extensive life stories
And hearing how your life and mine are not boring
She believes in providing advice, but only when asked
Even though, for many, that proves to be quite the task
She believes in our dreams
Much like when she sews, seams after seams

She listens and listens and values us more
Than the society that tells us, "Good God, you're a bore"
Or the culture that breeds some to think they're a whore
Or the folks that tell us our goals are folklore
Or those that claim that listening is a chore
Instead of listening, they'd just rather snore
They look at us saying,
"I am so thankful that is not what I wore"
Things like this make my weary heart sore

But this woman on the bus
She sits, and she knits
Caring for us
She doesn't lose her wits
As she observes on that bus
All she does is care about us

- P

Saturday, July 16, 2016

On Black Lives Matter

If you didn't know, I am currently in college studying elementary education. Because of this, I take a lot of classes in diverse areas and across a vast array of disciplines. (I also get the immense blessing of taking classes straight through the summer, yay!) One of the classes I am taking this summer deals with art and how it should intersect with other subjects in the classroom. We recently had a small project where we were asked to write a song, using the tune of a class children's song, that related to a concept from math, reading, writing, science, or social studies.

I did a quick one to the tune of 'London Bridge Is Falling Down,' that related back to counting -- you know, for the really little learners. ("I can count by ones to ten, ones to ten, ones to ten....") Now, someone else in my class did a song about Native American culture. I can't quite remember what the tune was, but it brought in some stereotypical ideas about the Native people, like living in teepees.  It was a cute song, the hand motions were fun, and that was all we thought about it for a bit.

A few minutes later, though, a woman from next door came in and stated that she was Native American and explained that we, as teachers, must be careful to be sensitive to other cultures. She called out my classmate's song, saying that current Native American citizens do not do that anymore, therefore we should not be teaching students that idea. My classmate attempted to defend their song, saying it was not specific to one Native American culture, and the woman rejected it.

Then, another classmate of mine interjected (after the woman had left), saying, "Well, wow, this is just another instance of people getting too offended" or "all of this is just a big, unnecessary social issue." The conversation then shifted slightly into the Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the time, I interact with topics like that, but I just sat there, holding my tongue, because it was a feisty disagreement.

After class, two of my other classmates voiced their concerns with BLM. They stated that it felt that it was a violent, racist group itself. Because of the recent Dallas shooting, the violent protests in the streets, and the generally aggressive attitude that is presented in the media, they felt that BLM was a counterproductive group. We had a brief discussion, then I drove away in my minivan, ruminating on the events of the day.

My primary struggle was this: I agreed with and sympathized with both sides of the disagreement regarding the song. I agreed that, yes, false perceptions are built because of the ideas we plant in young children's minds in their early years. However, I can also see the argument that it is not harmful to educate students about where Native American culture has been in the past, and how it is different now.

I identify with both sides, because I believe they're both right, and I believe that -- at the core -- they believe very similar ideas about the subject.

What was frustrating to me, too, was the way the entire situation was handled. A person who was not even a part of our class (or in the same room) came in to criticize one of my classmate's work. It was a conversation that could have been held in private, after class, or something of that nature. Instead, though, she came in and addressed the entire class, and potentially humiliating that classmate of mine (which, interestingly enough, is what we are constantly told not to do in our future classroom).

The discussion I had with my classmates after class that day brought up negative feelings directed at Black Lives Matters, because of their alleged aggression, their violent nature, and their riots. I explained that BLM is not a violent organization, it just happens to be the loud/violent/obnoxious people that get heard by mass media. The average BLM activist is not out in the streets, lighting the world on fire or shouting, "F**k cops!" in a riot.

No, we the average BLM activists, are often passionate and peaceful. We believe that, contrary to what my classmate said, this is more than "just a social issue." This is a necessary facet of our society, because the black community is hurting. We don't fight for black lives because we are "sensitive" and "easily offended;" we fight because every life deserves to be valued/loved/cherished. We don't say "black lives matter" because we believe other lives don't matter. We say, "black lives matter," because they are a community in our society that has a lot of prejudices, stereotypes, and misconceptions against them. There's an analogy I would like to share, and I'm pulling this specific quote from Macklemore's 'White Privilege II'
Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn't show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that is burning. Because that's the house that needs the help the most.
What the speaker means by this is that, by fighting for black lives, we are ultimately fighting for all lives.

Herein lives the problem and purpose of this post: The BLM activists that are seen in the media tend to be the violent, aggressive activists, and that's what the rest of the world is seeing. Those of us that try to engage in a peaceful, loving, forgiving conversation aren't at the forefront of the media, because we're not interesting to the media. We aren't an interesting story, we're just people who believe in something -- they think, "what's newsworthy about that?"

With this in mind, I have a plea to the peaceful activists for Black Lives Matter... please, speak. Initiate conversations with others about white privilege, the stereotypes about the black community, and other races. Refusing to speak up about your beliefs in this area is doing more damage than good. As a white member of society, if I stay silent about racism, that reinforces my privilege. It is time for myself and others to stand up and say, "I'm tired of this, and it needs to change."

It's going to suck, to be honest. Currently, the world doesn't believe in this movement, because all they see is the violence and destruction. The first time -- and the following fifty times -- you speak up about this issue, you'll encounter resistance. Your words are not always going to automatically change someone's mind and they may resent everything you just said. What matters, though, is that we are fighting for others. And by planting these seeds in the minds of our friends and families, there is social change ahead.

I believe that we have good days ahead. We just need to gracefully and lovingly engage in these difficult and often painfully awkward conversations. We also need to celebrate diversity with our children, so we can demonstrate that, yes, we are all different, but the color of our skin doesn't have to dictate what we do or who we are. We are all human -- ultimately, that is what matters. Fight for that truth, friends.

Don't be the one who will barge into a room to criticize and aggressively confront someone else on the race issue. Be the one who opens the floor to a beautiful, peaceful discussion about why black lives matter, and why BLM truly does stand for all lives.

rest well.

- P

I have also written two other posts that talk a lot about discrimination/racism/social change. Here's one about Zootopia and here's one about bringing social change to young students.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Banana Suit Theology

You may or may not know this about me, but I'm quirky. (I think that's the cool way to say "unnecessarily strange.") In that same vein, I own a banana suit. Last year, I had the thought that, "Wow, it would be rad to have a banana suit. You can use those for so many different awesome, silly things." When I got my next paycheck, I splurged, and bought a $15.00 banana suit, which I have used many a time. I ran a 5k in it (and in Chacos on accident), I have run around screaming at youth events in it, and sometimes I just wear it to eat ice cream in. That last one was a straight up lie, sorry. Somewhat recently, I added a 12k to the list of things done in that banana suit. I have participated in this timed footrace in Spokane, called Bloomsday, for three years now. Let me give you a brief Phil history when it comes to this particular race.

2014: I was a Young Life leader for some middle school students, while living in Spokane, and our area was running the 12k together, as a fundraiser money to send our students to camp. It became a competition amongst all the participating leaders in the area. (SxNW Spokane) The fun part of running Bloomsday this particular year was the week prior to the race. In that week, I took a barefoot walk from my house to Spokane Falls and back. In case you didn't already know, blacktop in eighty degree (or higher) weather is not ideal for walking barefoot on. Needless to say, I burned my feet. Then, a few days later, I did a hike in the woods in some new sandals and blistered the tops of my feet. Days after that, I ran about seventy percent of that darn 12k. (Also, did little to no training for this race. I ran maybe four times two months before the race.)

2015: Having moved away from Spokane, I decided I still wanted to run Bloomsday, you know, make a tradition for myself. (And one of my best friends was planning his engagement for that weekend, too, which was fun.) I didn't train at all for this race, which, of course, was a great decision. The day of the race, I quickly downed a nasty bottled Starbucks drink and a pack of miniature donuts. This year, I was determined to run the entire race and improve my time from last year. I did both of these, but almost threw up my coffee and donuts the entire race.

2016: A few months before the race, I committed to running Bloomsday in a banana suit, shouting encouraging things at people, because I know that helps me when I'm running. I told myself I wasn't going to focus on my time, but my focus would be on the shouting and encouragement. I went with a dear friend this year, too. I would run for a while, then walk, then run again, and walk again. As the race dragged on, I shouted more and more encouraging things, until we finally neared the finish line and I yelled at everyone to throw their hands in the air, because we had just conquered Bloomsday.
It was such an interesting experience - running the race in a banana suit. As we were waiting for the race to begin, I could see people pointing at me, or saying, "Look at that banana, mom!" I wasn't necessarily anticipating that aspect of it. I was thinking people would have been more accustomed to seeing a banana in their race. The entire time, though, parents would point me out to their children, people on the sidelines would cheer on the "banana guy," and people dressed up in other costumes were as excited to see me as I was to see them. (It's like a sibling-hood when you see another costumed person.)

The best part of the race wasn't my race time, or my time up Doomsday hill (Although, I did sprint up it this year, so my time wasn't horrible. My legs hurt like hell, though.), or the sarcastic comments from the other runners, or the hugs, or the selfies. It was seeing the smiles or laughter on people's faces when I ran near them, specifically the smiles of the children. It made my heart happy, because I know that, in the past, I felt empowered in a weird way when I saw someone dressed up in a costume, and now I was (hopefully) providing those sentiments to others.

Now, this sparked some deeper thoughts inside my brain and soul relating to our role as Christians. If there's one thing I have learned from years and years in church sermons, it's that wacky analogies make it easier to remember powerful and important lessons. Telling a personal narrative and then relating that to a theological concept or even a simple idea makes it easier to digest and a lot easier to refer back to.

Running the race, I stuck out. In a sea of forty thousand people, it is all too simple for people to all blend together, to lose track of others, and to feel like everyone is pretty much the same. In that banana suit, though, I stuck out. If I passed by, you knew it, and once I passed, you could see that bright yellow suit for perhaps hundreds of feet. There was no way you couldn't notice.

As Christians, we are to stand out in our speech, life, and love, am I right?

When we walk into a room, people should sense a peaceful, loving presence. It will have nothing to do with us, per se, but the loving kindness of the Lord should be evident through how we conduct ourselves. When we interact with others, our speech should clearly articulate an understanding of the grace of the Gospel, the sacrificial love of our Saviour, and the forgiveness given by our Mother. The Gospel should be dictated by our life, love, and speech.

We are supposed to be the guy running a race in a banana suit. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be extroverted, loud, or energetic; it just means you need to live a Christ-inspired life. Read the words of the Bible and legitimately apply them to yourself. Jesus hung around the Earth for a long time, and preached all about love and reconciliation, so what does it communicate to others when you refuse to forgive your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend? What about when you badmouth a classmate or coworker? I have been guilty of these and more, but those two ideals are huge staples of the Gospel.

When we violate the principles that Jesus gives us, people on the outside look in and observe that. That's why people assume Christians are hypocrites. They see Jesus preached about love, but a Christian said some seriously harmful words about them. They see Jesus sacrificed his life in a brutal, perhaps disturbing, death, but a Christian refused to give up a few dollars because "they might use it for drugs." People see this, and it turns them away.

As I am writing this, I am looking at myself, too. Recently, it's been my frustrations with work, and likely saying things that do not reconcile with Jesus' teachings about loving speech, or James' quote in the Bible that says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." I have been the opposite of these recently, and making the parallel between the banana suit theology and my own life. If I am using hateful speech, what does that communicate about my God and the Gospel? Does that paint me as a hypocrite, as a lukewarm believer, as a hateful person, as a heartless being?

Our words and actions have devastating results for the Christian church. We are supposed to be the people that, when we speak, you feel encouraged. When we pass by you, you can see the love of God radiating through us, through what we do, and how we talk to our friends, but especially how we talk to our enemies. Rest in this idea today, that you are to be the one in the banana suit. Let your love set you apart from the rest of the world that is so filled with hate and evil. Be the light.

- P

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

why Zootopia matters

Image from Disney Animation's "Zootopia"
Confession: I am kind of a sucker for animated films - whether they're intended for adults or not. Another confession: I work at a movie theater and, even though I sometimes watch some painfully awful films (I'm looking at you, Aloha.), I analyze every single film I watch. Sometimes I analyze the themes that may not even be present. When I went to see Zootopia for the first time - I was writing a review for our email newsletter - I expected to be, once again, analyzing themes that were unintended by the film's makers.

I was pleasantly surprised, though. The themes in Zootopia were glaringly obvious... and I loved it. I loved it so much I ended up seeing it five times in theaters. It is a film that is one hundred and ten percent necessary.

I wholeheartedly believe that we need to be reading out to the younger members of our society in order to fully initiate social change for our culture. (If you want to read some additional thoughts I've had about children and social activism, check this post out.) If you haven't seen the movie yet, (1) why? and (2) the next portion of the post may spoil the movie for you... but you had plenty of time to see it, so here we go.

Judy Hopps grew up in a little town with her mom, dad, and hundreds of siblings, on a carrot farm. Growing up, her dream was to be a police officer, which would make her the first rabbit officer ever. She faces a lot of resistance when it comes to this dream of hers; she keeps fighting for it, though, and eventually gets that shiny new police badge for the city of Zootopia, which is viewed as this utopian culture by all of the surrounding animals. She is unbelievably excited for her first day on the force... until she finds out she is a meter maid.

On her first day, she mistakes a fox - normally perceived as a shifty, suspicious animal - for a criminal, when he was only trying to provide for his son. Not long after this, we find out that the fox, Nick Wilde, was manipulating her and others in to helping him in his unethical business practices. Long story short, Hopps takes a case in which a mammal has gone missing, and Nick ends up (reluctantly) helping her. They discover that many animals are going "savage," reverting to their "primitive ways," and Judy identifies only predators are going savage.

This causes mass hysteria in Zootopia, because it brings about discriminatory attitudes between predators and prey. In the end, it is discovered that the new mayor - who is a sheep - had planned this entire elaborate plan to frame predators, and the film ends with the animals living in harmony again. Maybe not the best summary, but let's get into why this movie is so incredibly important.

Image from Disney Animation's "Zootopia"
This film gives a clear, beautiful metaphor for the discrimination issues we are facing in our society now. This election cycle, specifically, has brought many of these ideals to the forefront of our minds and our hearts. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic attitudes in our country have become emblazoned on the foreheads of our country's members. We have begun to let one small thing about someone dictate our entire perception of who they are - that is not copacetic. One of my favorite scenes from Zootopia goes as follows:

Nick Wilde, the shifty fox, has a brief heart to heart with Judy. Prior to this scene, Judy had almost been forced out of the police force, but Nick intervened, and then they left via the sky tram. Judy thanks him as they float through the air, and Nick says, "Never let them know they get to you." He then tells a story of how, when he was younger, he joined the junior scouts, and was incredibly excited to be a part of it. When he went to initiation and took his oath, though, the other kids shoved him, and put a muzzle on him, saying, "If you ever thought we'd trust a fox without a muzzle, then you're even dumber than you look!"

Scared and confused, Nick runs outside and throws the muzzle as far from himself as he can. He then breaks down, crying, and alone. The scene goes back to Judy and Nick on the sky tram. Nick says, "If the world is only going to see a fox shifty and untrustworthy, there's no point trying to be anything else."

Isn't that a tragic and true statement he makes? Parallel that, then, to our culture now. Look at the black men, women, children that are being shot down in the streets. By making racial assumptions about their culture, we are perpetuating the idea that Nick Wilde brings us here, in Zootopia. Look at the recent treatment of Muslim citizens in our country. Have there not been stereotypes that paint them as one type of violent person? When we establish these - and many other - stereotypes, we are essentially dictating who certain people can and cannot be.

Because of the white, male privilege established in our society, people are born with less opportunity in our country. And I think we have too many people that have become complacent with this idea. In the film, I believe Nick has become too comfortable with this idea. Perhaps not by choice, but because he has no other option - his society has dictated his future for him. In the end of the film, he is able to overcome this stereotype, and become a police officer. He becomes the good soil in a world that only ever viewed him as bad soil.

Now, I know some people likely sat through this movie and thought it was cute. Other sat through it, shaking their heads, repeatedly muttering, "Those damn liberals." However, this movie has a message that every citizen of our culture needs to hear, dissect, and digest, and regurgitate. (Sorry for the strange imagery.)

Privilege exists in our society. It just does.

And that privilege stems from our stereotypes of each other. They may seem harmless, but hundreds of seemingly harmless stereotypes can - and will - stack up to create unrealistic, outlandish stereotypes of others' gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. When people ask that we stop bringing in stereotypes, or stop using words like gay or retard, or gender-exclusive words like guys, or identify people by the gender identity they identify with... it does not mean we are over-sensitive.

I am sick of hearing that. That is not what it is - it is about using words and language that include and respect everyone. We, as a society, tend to laugh at the expense of others. America's Funniest Home Videos is a classic example of this. We love watching short videos of someone getting hit in the crotch, or falling through their porch, or crashing on their bike. For whatever reason, injury and harm are naturally amusing to us.

When it comes to the language we are using, though, it is time to stop this. It is time to stop using harmful terminology or stereotypes to describe certain groups. Even if you think it's funny, think about if you were on the receiving end of what you're about to say. The elementary concepts of "treat others how you would want to be treated" or "walk a mile in someone's shoes" are vitally important (and also extremely simple).

Recognize the damage and disservice you are doing when you perpetuate false stereotypes or use someone's identity as a slur or insult. If we want our society to progress, we need to all actively make real change in our lives and our speech. Incite social change like Judy Hopps - look for the good in people, even if they are shifty like Nick Wilde. Foxes don't have to be sly and sneaky, they can be more if they want to, but that process starts with the stereotypes we hold, so let's break those down.

- P