I'm drinking the Kool Aid

One of the things that I like to do is substitute teach at the local high school. Some people tell me that this is absolutely crazy because, as everyone knows, substitutes are the sacrificial lambs that get chewed up and spit out each and every school day. When students find out that they have a substitute, it’s like the class becomes Anarchy 101.

I’m not saying that I’m the best substitute teacher ever - I let the students determine that - but I will say that I have yet to encounter a situation that has made me run for the door or scream for the principal. Maybe it’s because I have worked with students most of my adult life, but I usually relish the opportunity to be in the classroom with teenagers on their own “turf.”

You see, I believe that students today - whether, elementary, middle school, or high school - get a bad rap. They get labeled from day one, whether as a good kid or a bad kid. Yes, many earn those labels honestly, but it does make me wonder how it got to the point that they consistently live up to the reputation that they have earned. I’ve always believed that people will usually reach the bar as LOW as you set it for them, which means that oftentimes students just accept that they are not smart enough, good enough, talented enough, pretty enough, popular enough, etc. Thus, they live out these low expectations that they and others have set for them.

I’m not okay with that.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and see students all across the board excel. I wish that their home lives were healthy and that they didn’t see the need to please others while sacrificing their true identity. I wish that whenever they walked into the room that every stereotype and label that has been assigned to them would be dismissed by adults and fellow students alike. I wish we could all be that way.

As I process this tragic waste of emotional and psychological energy, I realize that the issue runs far deeper than just how good or bad a student’s environment is. The way that students are seen - and how they see themselves - is truly a spiritual problem. Yeah, I realize that those who are not spiritual will scoff at this notion, and that’s okay. But whether or not you believe in God and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life or not, there is one truth that I believe could totally revolutionize the way that we not only see students but also the rest of the world:

All people have value.

You see, we live in a world that is so busy arbitrarily assigning value and worth to people that we forget that it is not the world’s responsibility or even their right to do so. A person’s value has already been established by God and cannot be diminished by man, no matter how much we despise other people. Since you are made in God's image, you have incredible value. You are not an accident or a mistake. You are treasured by God.

If you tell me that you hate someone or think that they are worthless, then more than likely you are basing that opinion on something that they have done to you rather than who they truly are. Even though someone may speak and act in ways that make you cringe, that person is still valued - treasured - by God. And because that is the case, there is not one person who cannot turn the page and experience redemption in his or her life.

The only possible way that you can appreciate the value of someone is if you see him or her as a person and not an object. This may sound crazy, but we are more prone to treat people as objects who irritate us, get in our way, anger us, or are not worthy of our attention or time than we are as real people who have desires, needs, and dreams just like we do.

When was the last time you saw a teenager and wondered what his or her dreams for the future were? How about a homeless person - have you ever wondered how he got in that situation before you automatically dismiss him as an alcoholic/addict/lazy bum? That teacher that always seems so stressed out and yells at her students - what could possibly be going on at home or in her personal life that has her so off-balance?

These are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves before we drink the Kool Aid of automatically seeing people as their reputation has labeled them. And this takes work, because when are committed to see others as people and not objects it means that we often will have to make time to get to know them and listen to them. But what if we were committed to doing that, to truly valuing people ? Can you imagine how our schools would change, how much less crime and poverty might exist, and the amount of cooperation we could see in our government if everyone was committed to see others as people and not objects? I would drink a giant glass of that Kool Aid!

A not-so-political guide to the November election

This election season is turning out to be a doozy, isn't it? I make it a habit to not write or post about politics in a way that is confrontational or leaning towards the endorsement of a particular candidate, and this will be no different. Most people that I know and speak with are frustrated, and with good reason. Not once in my 46 years here on earth have I seen such an electorate so divided yet also so hesitant to cast a vote.

Many of my pastor buddies have turned to social media to express their views and distribute their advice and wisdom to those who would receive it. Honestly, I have more often been disappointed by what I have read than encouraged. It's very apparent that my evangelical friends are taking stances against both presidential candidates, and in doing so they are inviting some pretty ridiculous feedback from their parishioners who feel the need to comment while offering no real direction for them to take. When that happens, things just get down right silly.

A common belief that I see being proposed is that voting for a third-party candidate essentially means casting a vote against a better qualified candidate that actually has a chance to win. While I cannot debate the truth or error in this statement, I do want to point out how one person commented on that belief: "Just because you refuse to eat at McDonald's doesn't mean that Burger King gets your money." Clever, huh? The problem with this analogy is that there are hundreds of fast-food options out there, not just two or three. I may choose to eat at home, but someone is going to get my money, whether it is a grocery store or some other establishment. Besides, who we elect for President of the United States (POTUS) carries a lot more weight than where I choose to eat a greasy burger.

So where do I stand? Who will I vote for? I'm not going to tell you. But I do want to spend the rest of this post pointing you down a path that I hope that you will take however you choose to cast your ballot in November. Regardless of who is the next President of the United States there will be certain areas in your life that will always be true and cannot be taken away.
  • If you are concerned about your rights to free speech being taken away, then you can still respect the rights of others in your life to speak freely, even if they disagree with you. 
  • If you are worried that the POTUS will disregard even more the life of the unborn, that doesn't stop you from continuing to be an advocate for those who have no voice, does it?
  • Think that the next POTUS will take away your guns and your right to protect yourself? Even if that does happen, that alone shouldn't keep you from loving your neighbor and looking out for each other.
  • Concerned that the new POTUS will shut all the borders, prohibit immigration, and racism will now officially be institutional and rampant? Pretty sure the court systems won't allow that, but even if they did, isn't it on YOU how you view and treat your fellow man? Will YOU still choose to respect all people regardless of color, gender, and orientation in spite of what laws could possibly be passed?
  • Can't believe that someone so immoral could actually hold the highest office in the land? This is nothing new. Don't look to the POTUS as your moral compass or to be a role model for your children. That is your job.
Long story short - the world is not going to end after Tuesday November 8, 2016, no matter who wins this election. Yes, things will change in America but they always do. New policies will be implemented and new policies will get shot down. Some of the changes that will take place in this country will delight some while at the same time infuriate others. That's just how it is.

I want what's best for America and so do you. For me, that means more Jesus, but we all know that on this next ballot the only names that appear will be those of mere mortals like you and me. That being the case, if you are a follower of Jesus then live like one. The government cannot pass legislation that can keep you from loving people, caring for the needy, honoring others, respecting peoples' rights, or standing up for what is just. Go out and vote and then do what you know that you must do to point others in the direction of our great God and His salvation which is only found in Jesus.  

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