Tag Archives: Teaching

Race, The Cross, & Christianity

This afternoon, my wife and I watched the moving The Help staring Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, and Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.

Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma_Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. When she arrives home, she finds that her nanny and family’s maid Constantine Jefferson (played by Cicely Tyson) is gone. Skeeter sees the chance of writing a book about the relationship of the black maids with the Southern society for an editor from New York. First, she convinces Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) to open her heart to her; then Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is unfairly fired by the arrogant Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a leader in the racist high society, and Minny decides to tell her stories after finding a job with the outcast Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Soon eleven other maids accept to be interviewed by Skeeter that also tells the truth about Constantine. When the book “The Help” is released, Jackson’s high society will never be the same.

Barak Obama, in his new preface to his older book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, quotes William Faulkner to show that history is never dead. He describes the difference between the time the book was written and the time he was writing the new preface.

The book was published in 1995, “against a backdrop of Silicon Valley and a booming stock market; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Mandela – in slow, sturdy steps – emerging from prison to lead a country, the signing of peace accords in Oslo.” He observed that there was a rising global optimism as writers announced the end of our fractured history, “the ascendance of free markets, and liberal democracy, the replacement of old hatreds and wars between nations with virtual communities and battles for market shares.”

“And then,” he says, “on September 11, 2001, the world fractures.”

“History returned that day with a vengeance; … in fact, as Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried – it isn’t even past. This collective history, this past, directly touches our own.”

The United States has been treating evidence of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, and not the causes, since the Civil War. Slavery; “separate but equal”; segregated pools, buses, trains and water fountains; workplace and housing discrimination; and other forms of bias and animosity have served as painful barometers of the nation’s racial health. They have been, however, treated like the pain that accompanies a broken leg. The effort was to treat or reduce the agonizing symptoms of the break rather than fix it.

In our faltering efforts to deal with race in this country, a great deal of time is devoted to responding to symptoms rather than root causes. That may help explain why racism, prejudice, and discrimination keeps being repeated.

The Bible has much to say on racial intolerance in both testaments. The good Samaritan story of Luke 10:25-27 was an attempt by Jesus to expose the wrongful attitude of racial intolerance that existed between the Jews & Samaritans during the time of Jesus. In Matt 28:19 Jesus told his followers to go out and make disciples of all nations and this would include all people groups. Jesus never said to only make disciples of some people groups, he said Òall nations. Also, Paul in Galatians 3:28 condemned racial intolerance in the church. Racial discrimination should not be a part of the true regenerated Christian.

The first thing to understand is that there is only one race—the human race. Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. All human beings have the same physical characteristics (with minor variations, of course). More importantly, all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John 3:16). The “world” obviously includes all ethnic groups. God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NKJV)

Christ Our Peace

 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. Racism, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. Brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, this should not be. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to stop and repent. “13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, humanity has twisted the Bible to try to justify human fears and prejudices. Some consider the “curse of Ham” to be an excuse to hate those of African descent. Others insist that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death and deserve our ridicule. Both views are patently false. The Bible tells us that God’s judgment is not based on appearances but what is on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7), and those who do judge according to appearances do so with evil intent (James 2:4). Instead, we are to treat one another with love (James 2:8), regardless of ethnicity (Acts 10:34-35) and social standing (James 2:1-5). Christian love negates all prejudice, and the Bible condemns racism.

A new year will be upon us soon. What will it take to put our racism, prejudices, and discrimination aside and unite as ONE in Christ Jesus?

Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent

teen-suicide-note

The first time Faith-Ann Bishop cut herself, she was in eighth grade. It was two am, and as her parents slept, , she sat on the edge of the tub at her home in Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood – and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” she states. “For a while i didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more over-whelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. A closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics – suburban, urban and rural. Also those who are college bound and those who aren’t.

Adolescents today have become the post 9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps even more importantly, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.

Self-harm, which some experts say is on the rise, is perhaps the most disturbing symptom of a broader psychological problem – a spectrum of anger, worry, apprehension that plagues 21st century teens.teen-pills

“We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all,” says Faith-Ann. “We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”

“If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self – Injury and Recovery. Sure, parental micromanaging can be a factor, but so can school stress. Whitlock doesn’t think those things are the main drives of this epidemic. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to, or don’t know how to,” she states.

It’s hard for many of us adults to understand how much of teenagers’ emotional life is lived within the small screen on their phones. But according to a report done by CNN in conjunction with researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the University of Texas at Dallas who examined the social-media use of more than 200 13-year-olds, they found that “there is no firm line between their real and online worlds.”

Phoebe Gariepy, a 17-year-old in Arundel, Maine, describes following on Instagram a girl from L.A. whom she had never met because she liked the photos this girl posted. Then the girl stopped posting. Phoebe later heard that the girl had been kidnapped and was found on the side of the road, dead. “I started bawling, and I didn’t even know this girl,” said Phoebe. “I felt really extremely connected to that situation even though it was in L.A.”

That hyperconnectedness now extends everywhere, engulfing even rural teens in a national thicket of Internet drama. Montana’s kids, for example, may be in a big, sparsely populated state, but they are not isolated anymore. A suicide might happen on the other side of the state and the kids often know about it before the adults do.

depression1

Parents are also mimicking teen behavior. “Not in all cases, but in many cases the adults are learning to use their phones in the way that the teens do,” says Megan Moreno, head of social media and adolescent health research at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “They’re zoning out. They’re ignoring people. They’re answering calls during dinner rather than saying, ‘O.K., we have this technology. Here are the rules about when we use it’.”

In the CNN study, researchers found that even when parents try their best to monitor their children’s Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds, they are likely unable to recognize the subtle slights and social exclusions that cause kids pain. Finding disturbing things in a child’s digital identity, or that they’re self-harming, can stun some parents.

For some parents who discover, as Faith-Ann’s parents Bret and Tammy Bishop did a few years ago, that their child has been severely depressed, anxiety-ridden or self-harming for years, it’s a shock laden with guilt.                                                                                          every-day

Self-harming is certainly not universal among kids with depression and anxiety, but it does appear to be the signature symptom of this generation’s mental health difficulties. It’s hard to know why self-harm has surfaced at this time, and it’s possible we’re just more aware of it now because we live in a world where we’re more aware of everything.

The Idea that self-harm is tied to how we see the human body tracks with what many teens are saying today. As Faith-Ann describes it, “A lot of value is put on our physical beauty now. All of our friends are Photoshopping their own photos. It’s hard to escape that need to be perfect.”

Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist who helped start the child and adolescent psychiatric emergency department at Bellevue Hospital in New York City states that for parents who find out their children are depressed or hurting themselves, the best response is first to validate their feelings. Don’t get angry or talk about taking away their computer. “Say, ‘I’m sorry you’re in pain. I’m here for you.’” This straightforward acknowledgement of their struggles takes away any judgement, which is critical since mental-health issues are still heavily stigmatized. No adolescent wants to be seen as flawed or vulnerable, and for parents, the idea that their child has debilitating depression or anxiety or is self-harming can feel like a failure on their part.

dealing-with-depression-and-anxietyFor both generations, admitting that they need help can be daunting. Even once they get past that barrier, the cost and logistics of therapy can be overwhelming. Some of the treatment for self-harm are similar to those for addiction, particularly in the focus on identifying underlying psychological issue: what’s causing the anxiety and depression in the first place. And then teaching healthy ways to cope. Similarly, those who want to stop need a strong level of internal motivation as well as a strong support system.

Anxiety+and+Depression

What Parents Should Do

If you are worried about a child and aren’t sure what to do, heed the advice of Fadi Haddad, a psychiatrist and the co-author of Helping Kids in Crisis.

  1. Talk about the real stuff: sometimes conversations between parents and teens can be all about achievements, schedules and choices. Go beyond that. Find out what keeps them up at night. Ask – “What’s the best part of your day?” Become attuned to their emotional world so that you understand what their dreams are, what they struggle with and how their life is going.
  2. Pay attention, but don’t smother them: give teens space to grow and separate from you. Also watch for changes in their behavior. Are they giving up activities the used to enjoy? Are they staying up all hours of the night or has their appetite waned. Are they withdrawn, lethargic or do they get angry at nothing. If you are worried, say so. Show interest in their internal life without judgement.
  3. Resist getting angry: when parents find out a teen has been hiding something or is having behavior issues, the response is often anger or punishment. Instead, find out what is going on. If a child is acting out, say: “It seems like you are having trouble. I’m here to help. Tell me what’s happening to you.”
  4. Don’t put off getting help: If you are worried about an adolescent, talk to a school counselor, therapist or doctor. It is better to get help early rather than when trouble has firmly taken hold.
  5. Treat the whole family: When a child is in a crisis, many times it’s not enough to just treat the child. You have to change the family dynamic. It’s possible that something about the home environment was causing stress for the child, so, be open to acknowledging that and getting family counseling if needed.

Look, I’m writing this because I’ve spent a lifetime depressed and anxious. According to several psychiatrists and psychologists, I was born depressed. Yes, depression is inherited. Especially if the birth mother had a stressful pregnancy.

So please, don’t take this blog lightly. Find out what’s going on and do what you can to help the child cope with what he/she is going through. And like Dr. Fadi Haddad has stated – “Be open to acknowledging that there is a problem and get help.”