Archive for April, 2010

My new video: Where do we go when we die?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Public School Cuts Run Deep

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Call it schadenfreude, but I couldn’t help but smile when I read about Dr. John Covington, former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, having to contend with the ugly business of shutting down nearly half of Kansas City’s public schools. Granted, it was clear when he split town for the Midwest that he was entering a hot mess of a district.

But hey, when upward mobility calls, right?

Despite my sadistic need for karma to beat up Covington a little, the closure of 29 schools is nothing short of a crisis for children and families living in the city. Such a dire situation makes some of the recent developments in our own back yard a little easier to swallow.

Schools District 70 announced that, as of next year, it will be cutting back to four-day school weeks to try to balance the budget. Naturally, parents are concerned about the quality of their kids’ education, young ones taking the bus in the dark and what to do with the little buggers an extra day of the week when the rest of the world works.

Many parents in Pueblo are barely making ends meet as it is, particularly in outlying areas covered by District 70, and the challenge of paying for an extra day of child care every week might be the difference between making the car payment and giving it up to the bank. Obviously, the schools are trying to save money, so to stay open just to babysit would make no sense, but what to do?

As a vocal advocate that churches and community service groups should step up when there’s an identifiable need, this is a great opportunity to put words into real action. Some churches offer parents’ night out or daytime relief once a month or so for caregivers. But if retired, unemployed or underemployed congregants could provide a safe haven for children to play and continue learning, it might actually help all of us justify those big buildings that, too often, only get used on Sunday mornings.

The busing issue is more easily addressed. True, there might be days when the buses have to run in darkness or at least twilight, but how many parents are content to leave their children at a bus stop on their own, even in broad daylight? I realize that rural areas tend to create a climate where everyone knows everybody else, but given the fact that sexual crimes against children are usually committed by relatives or family friends, this is hardly an excuse for a lack of vigilance.

When I rode the bus to school – the city bus, mind you, not a school bus – in Dallas, my folks stayed with me until the bus came. Yes, it took time, but it also communicated to me that my safety was a priority. Sometimes we’d carpool and parents would take turns at this job, but even in the winter months when the bus ran into the evening, I knew there was always someone waiting for me on the other end.

Regarding the quality of education, the comments of a teacher friend of mine from District 70 makes the point well. She explained that, given busing schedules as they are now, combined with all the transitions kids have from one class or program to another, it’s hard for teachers to pack in all the curriculum-mandated material they’re expected to cover.

With the four-day schedule, she explained, teachers will still have the same number of contact hours in a week, but with one-fifth fewer transitions. This means longer periods of contact in the classroom, and, according to her, a better chance to cover important content than in a five-day system.

This still doesn’t point to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the absurdity of a donut-shaped district the educators and administrators are struggling to manage. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Schools sit square in the middle of it all, with some of its schools much closer to District 70 facilities than other schools in their own district.

It’s understandable how reluctant either district may be to consider redrawing district lines or cost-sharing more than they already do, but considering what Kansas City schools are now facing, reshuffling the deck sounds like a much less bitter pill to swallow if funding continues to lag.

Finally, this still doesn’t address the other problem we have in Southern Colorado, which is the value – or lack of it – that we seem to place on public school funding. Ours is one of the absolute lowest in per-capita funding of public education compared to income, and within Colorado, our two districts are near the bottom of that miserable pile.

I understand the resistance to raising taxes, particularly when we’re all hurting financially. But the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” tells only part of the story when it comes to children’s minds. Actually, the lack of investment will have a negative ripple effect, for decades to come, in the form of overburdened social services, swelling criminal-justice dockets, teen pregnancies, dropouts and substance abuse growing unchecked.

Maybe the more appropriate saying is “pay now, or pay later.” The four-day week may be relatively good news, compared to what may be coming if we don’t step up to support public education. Unless we’re looking for John “Hatchet Man” Covington to come back our way and work similar magic for our kids, it’s time to make big changes while we still have a chance.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…in Church?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…in Church?
By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Lots of adjectives have been attached to my name in the past, but “provocative” is one that seems to keep sticking. As a writer of mainly theological material, it’s expected that I’ll use certain buzzwords and will avoid some topics that simply should not be talked about in polite company, let alone church.

Sounds like a challenge. I like challenges.

Enter the new book series I’m co-creating and editing for Chalice Press, called “Where’s the Faith?” The acronym by which the series is known is “WTF?,” a brief nod to the provocateur in me. Part of the idea behind this series of books on matters of young adults and faith is to tackle the issues we’re supposedly not allowed to, so of course, the first book out of the gate had to be about sex.

After about eighteen months of planning and hard work, Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD: Young adults speak out about sexuality and Christian Spirituality hit the streets to – at least so far – rave reviews. The common sentiment, at least from those who will actually pick the thing up, is that it’s about time we started talking about things like alternatives to abstinence-only sex education, homosexuality, pornography and other hot-button topics.

For the essay on homosexuality, I was excited to bring on my friend, Shannon, who attended seminary as an openly gay man with my wife, Amy, back in Texas. In his essay, “Growing Up Gay,” he talks in both humorous and heartbreaking terms about what it’s like being a man living in a faith calling, while also being transparent about his sexual orientation.

“I was afraid of being stabbed in the middle of the night,” he writes, recalling his childhood in North Carolina, and “of being kidnapped, of being beaten up by the bully at school, of failing my grade and of missing the rapture. I was most afraid, however, of being different in general and of being gay in particular. I didn’t want to be laughed at and made fun of and called names. Instead, I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.”

As one who serves in a local church, I can tell you that working in ministry isn’t exactly the best way to blend in. But he feels led to a life of spiritual service, sexuality aside, and so the long, uphill climb began.

Actually, the phrase “sexuality aside” doesn’t exactly fit the situation, as I learned while watching him struggle through the ordination process. When a seminary student completes his or her graduate school requirements and practical ministry work in our denomination, they may apply to be ordained by a team of other ministers in their region. Our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), varies widely from region to region in policies, given that we have an intentionally weak central governance structure.

But this also means that, while some states or regions will gladly ordain openly gay ministers, others are less affirming, or even tolerant. No surprise that Fort Worth, Texas, fell into the “less affirming” category. Basically, they take the Bill Clinton approach to this issue, which is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” at least during the ordination process. This creates a system that, put simply, asks people seeking a life in ministry to lie or obfuscate to their peers.

Everyone on the ordination committee who knew Shannon knew he was gay, and if you meet him, it’s not exactly hard to figure out. I mean, the guy has a poster of Barbara Streisand in his entryway, for God’s sake. But he was advised to make his sexuality a non-issue as he moved through the process, buying into the game long enough to get his certification, at least.

Easy enough for someone who is straight to say. As a left-handed person in a right-handed world, I notice how very little righties think about being right-handed. But we lefties encounter things every day, from scissors to keyboards and so on, that make real the bias of the world against our nature.

I can only imagine the anger and disappointment Shannon must have felt in being told that something so central to his identity was a “non-issue.” On the contrary, his sexual orientation had everything to do with his ministry. Not that he wanted to start a “gay” church or anything, but it pointed to the very issues of justice and compassion of which he has become an unfortunate object lesson, far too many times.

So he came out to the committee and forced its members to deny him ordination because of his orientation, which they did. Several times in years since, he has considered leaving the ministry, though we encourage him to hang in there. After all, why would the systems ever change if there’s no one on the inside trying to break down the old walls of intolerance?

It’s tragic, though, that his road is so much harder than ours, simply because of who he is. What in the world would Jesus think?

First vid: We’re ALL Social Justice Christians

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Rob Bell’s “Resurrection”

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Jesus is standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem
the massive gleaming brick and stone and gold house of God
and he says destroy this temple
and I’ll rebuild it in three days

the people listening to him said how are you going to do that?
it took 46 years to build this temple!
but he wasn’t talking about that temple
he’s talking about himself
he essentially says, listen
I’m going to be killed
that’s where this is headed
because you don’t confront corrupt systems of power
without paying for it
sometimes with your own blood
and so he’s headed to his execution
if you had witnessed this divine life extinguished on a cross
how would you not be overwhelmed with despair?

is the world ultimately a cold, hard, dead place?

does death have the last word?
is it truly, honestly, actually dark
and so whatever light we do see
whatever good we do stumble upon
are those just blips on the radar?
momentary interruptions in an otherwise meaningless existence?
because if that’s the case then despair is the
only reasonable response

it’s easy to be cynical

but Jesus says destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it
he insists that his execution would not be the end
he’s talking about something new and unexpected
happening after his death
he’s talking about resurrection

resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
and saved by God

there is an unexpected mysterious presence
who meets each of us in our lowest moments
when we have no strength when we have nothing left
and we can’t go on we hear the voice that speaks those

destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it

do you believe this?
that’s the question Jesus asked then
and that’s the question he asks now

Jesus’ friends arrive at his tomb and they’re told
he isn’t here
you didn’t see that coming, did you?
he’s isn’t here
there is nothing to fear
and nothing can ever be the same again
we are living in a world in the midst of rescue
with endless unexpected possibilities

they will take my life and I will die Jesus says
but that will not be the end
and when you find yourself assuming that it’s over
when it’s lost, gone, broken and it could never be
put back together again,
when it’s been destroyed and you swear that it could never
be rebuilt

hold on a minute
because in that moment
things will in fact have just begun