Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Raised to Be a Racist: A Southern White Girl's Thoughts on the Race Debate

It's an image that has haunted me from my childhood. Growing up in Bossier City, Louisiana, there were quite distinct "good" and "bad" parts of town - the places you just didn't wander into late at night. Just across the river, separated by only 20 miles and a bridge, was Shreveport. White people lived there, but the bulk of the population was - and still is - black and, for the most part, impoverished.

My mother worked in Downtown Shreveport and one evening, after picking me up from school, we headed toward the bridge that divided these two vastly different areas of this corner of North Louisiana. That's when I saw the men in white hoods standing on each side of the street, in the "black" part of town, waving their crosses, holding their signs that spewed hatred and intolerance. Even as a little white girl, my bones shivered. Something wasn't right about this.

Forty five minutes the other direction lived my grandparents, products of the same generation, but vastly different in their views of race. You see, both sets of my grandparents lived in tiny specks of towns just five minutes apart. One set (my father's parents), were farmers - salt-of-the-earth types, who worked the land and raised cattle. It wasn't uncommon for the "N" word to be thrown around like baseballs during general conversation relating to "those people." They were often blamed for most of the woes of the world, especially economic depression and job loss. Exactly how the race of one group of people impacted those two concerns, I couldn't quite grasp, but, you didn't argue with your grandparents, so I let it lie.

My other set of grandparents, however, were gas station owners - hard workers in their own right. My grandfather's best friend was a black man he had known since childhood. Everyone was invited in to eat dinner, regardless of station or color. If you worked hard, respected other people and showed integrity in your life, that's what mattered. Incidentally, when my grandfather passed away, his friend cried like a baby and continued to come around to check on my grandmother for years after.

So, my life as a child was filled with mixed messages about race and acceptance of others. I never heard my mother spew hatred toward any race, yet my father (from whom my mother was divorced) regularly spouted racial epitaphs. Still, I grew to see everyone as equal. Despite the invasion of racial slurs in my life, I adopted my maternal grandfather's perspective: hard work, integrity, respect - that's what mattered, not color.

Later in life I began attending Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, just an hour and a half East of Bossier.  I worked at a department store, where I befriended a pretty cool girl. I thought we would be fast friends.

That was, at least, until the day she called me to the middle of the store with a loud whisper. "Look at that," she hissed, eyes slid toward the shoe department. I noticed a nice-looking couple shopping with their very young children. "He should be shot!," she hissed again, conspiratorially.

Confused, I looked again at the couple. It was only then that I noticed he was white, she was black and their children, mixed. I looked back at her, astonished. I wish I could say I rebutted with a clever remark, but, frankly, I was too stunned to speak. It never occurred to me that this kind of racially motivated hatred would lurk in one my own age. Needless to say, the friendship died there.

In my years working as a journalist in small Texas towns, I can honestly say that my exposure to racial hatred has been surprisingly slim. There was the time a fellow journalist, who just happened to be black, and I went to lunch together at a restaurant in town. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the room went silent when we entered. At that point, I reached over and grabbed his hand, just to mess with the bigots a little. He thought that was pretty cool; but warned me that we might be shot in the parking lot. I shrugged it off and we both lived to tell the tale.

So, what does all this have to do with the racial context of the day? Simply this: racism is a learned behavior. It's like the song from South Pacific says, "You have to be carefully taught." I could have gone either way, but, thanks to the guidance of my mother and others in my life, it became evident that hatred was a wasted emotion, especially with regards to race.

Every time a politician comes on TV spouting racial inequality or race ethics, I have to wonder just how much their words are helping our country. At some point, we have to stop seeing each other for the color of each other's skin. There has to come a time when a person is just that - a person. Yes, there will always be hot pockets of racial discrimination based on a myriad of factors. But as a whole, our nation needs to hold every person accountable - not for our race - but for our individual actions.

I'm raising my children without labels. Eventually, they will learn the words for certain races - African American, American Indian, Hispanic - but for now my 6-year-old refers to others as "brown skinned people" or "dark skinned person." Person. People.

I still don't know if the shooting in Ferguson was warranted. Having two young children, I see little of the news, so I'm pretty ignorant of the facts of the case. But the bottom line is this: if someone is in the midst of committing a crime, they should be expected to face consequences for those actions - white, black, purple or green. That does not, however, give law enforcement carte blanche to shoot at random. We have yet to determine if that was what was taking place here, but I hope that we can all reserve judgement until all the facts are in and then take appropriate - and fair - action.

The best we can do as a country is to stop referring to each other by color, and start relating to each other as people. Because we are, after all, brothers and sisters sharing a planet. My deepest prayer is that we can see beyond the moment and reach past the fury of today into tomorrow. Maybe by doing that we can rebuild bridges that span well beyond skin color - if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our children.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I'm Not a Cool Mom. And I'm Totally Cool with That.

I'm not a "cool" mom. I don't know whose tops on the Pop charts. I don't have cable (by choice), so I don't really get the whole zombie phenomenon sweeping the nation. I'm not a fashion plate, and not really interested in my kids being one either.  I see no reason for my pre-teen to have a cell phone, so he's not facetiming, texting or tweeting anyone or anything. 

Nope. Not a cool mom. And I'm totally fine with that. Here's why: 

First, I'm more and more aware of the evils (and I use that word intentionally) of too much too soon. Our kids are being bombarded like never before with half-naked models peddling everything from perfume to pajamas. People are churning out smartphone apps that make it easy to commit crimes and get away with it (yes, I mean you, Snapchat). And, apparently, TV shows have gone the way of soft porn in many cases. 

I simply don't want my young sons growing up thinking that this is the moral standard, low though it may be, that they should set for themselves. So, instead of cable, we have streaming TV. Yes, we watch shows like Andy Griffith and Little House on the Prairie instead of The Walking Dead and Normal Show. And know what? My kids like it that way. 

They, too, are tired of the assault on their senses they get every time they turn a corner. The simpler, gentler shows are much more their speed. It's a relief to them not to have to be "on alert" for a curse word or a nip slip. Because, guess what? They're kids. And childhood is too fleeting for them to have to be concerned about such things right now. 

Next, there's the ever-present argument over cell phones. My 10-year-old's relentless pursuit of a smartphone is exhausting for me to fend off, but, for his own good, I stand firm. I once asked him what in the world he could possibly need a phone for, anyway, since we are together all the time. He had no ready answer. The simple truth is, he wants one because he sees most of his friends having one. And that's not a good enough reason. 

If I were to give in to this request, we'd have a few problems on our hands that none of us is ready to tackle:
  • Predators - I have spent my entire parenting career telling my children not to let anyone touch them without permission. By handing my son a cell phone, I'm basically giving any pervert within the Internet's reach access to my babies. They are too young to understand the dangers this presents, so, until they are old enough to get it, and until there is a true necessity for this device, we will be keeping up with each other the old-fashioned way - one-on-one and face-to-face. 
  • Finances - Personally, I don't think any adolescent should be given access to an accessory unless they can help foot the bill. When my kid can contribute financially to the cell phone bill, we might talk about it. 
  • Peer bullying - I've seen this first-hand with one of my own dear sweet relatives. Cell phones can be used for cyber bullying quicker than you can say "spit." And for some reason application designers continue to churn out apps that make it a cakewalk to victimize people and leave no trace evidence, (which, in my opinion, should be illegal but that's another topic for a different post). 
So, no. My son will not be receiving a cell phone any time soon. Which I know puts me in the minority among my parenting peers. And that's okay. 

Finally, I'm a huge advocate for censorship. I censor everything, from my kids' movie choices to the kinds of video games they play to what sites they can access on the Internet. We have one community computer in our house, and it's an old-fashioned, bolted-to-the desk model, placed where I can easily see what's on the screen. No laptops or TVs are allowed in their rooms, and while this can sometimes be a challenge, since we also only have one main TV in the house, it's a necessity. 

Know why? Because pornography is merely a click away. And studies show that pornographers are targeting boys as young as 6. It's the silent infection that is spreading through our young men's lives, and if we don't stand in the gap for them, who will? The same goes for movies, TV shows and video games, which, if you study them, continue to eek the door open inch-by-inch for immoral and lewd behavior. 

I know I sound a little like the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live here. And, don't get me wrong, I don't expect my children to listen to sermons and read nothing but their Bibles, for Heaven's sake. But I do expect them to sharpen their moral swords before entering into the Lion's den. 

One day, my children will be old enough to see PG-13 movies. They'll most likely have cell phones at some point in their teenage years. Heck, we might even get cable one day, if we are so moved. But, for now, while they're spiritual bones are still hardening, I want them to be guarded, wary, even, of what the world has to offer. Because one day they will have to decide for themselves what's right and what's wrong, and that's a decision I don't want them making through blurred lenses. 

If that makes me uncool, then, I'm cool with that. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Different Kind of Open Carry: 5 Reasons Kids Should Carry Bibles

I grew up living a double life. As the child of divorced parents, I often found myself splitting weekends with my mother who didn't attend church and my father, who regularly dropped me with my grandmother who practically had a church pew carved for her - she was that devoted.

So, I can't say that I had a particular religious fervor in my youth. I never attended church camps or vacation Bible schools. Bible drill? What's that? I knew a few of the hymns, learned how to pray the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer at a young age and heard lots about Hell fire, but that was about it.

My true relationship with Christ didn't begin until I was in college. That was also when a benevolent boyfriend, upon learning that I had didn't own my own Bible, bought one for me. It was a sacrifice for him financially, and I still have it stored among my treasures.

Today, with our touch-screen technology, it's easy to toss aside our leather-bound scripture for something with more, let's say, functionality. I see many youths and young children, including my own, walking around without  their Bible or, at best with it on their phone. And I can't say I blame them. I mean, it's easy reference, lightweight and, if your one who is concerned about such things, discreet. And that's exactly the problem. 

As a mom, I've become increasingly aware that my kids don't carry their Bibles to church, and it's disturbing to me. Here are five reasons I think carrying a Bible, at least to church, should be a requirement for our kids, if not for ourselves.

1) Heft. Let's face it, unless you're carrying around the pocket version with the too-tiny print, then your Bible is probably pretty heavy. It's bulky and sometimes cumbersome to carry, especially if you have the unabridged study Bible with Hebrew-to-English translations. And that's exactly the point.

The word of God is heavy. It's laden with guidance for our every day lives in great detail. It's not the Wiki-pedia version of God's Word. This IS God's Word. And by carrying it around in our hands, feeling the weight of it, we are reminded that our faith is not to be lightly held. It is a beautiful weighty gift that should not be left behind when we walk out the door.

2) Visibility. We should never carry a Bible just for the sake of doing so, and I don't advocate hypocritical behavior. On the contrary. If you are carrying your Bible - to church, the office, to class - you'd better watch your choices. Because someone will see what you have in your hand and they will judge you - and often Christ - by the way you conduct yourself.

It's much easier to slide our iPhones into our pockets, hiding our beliefs inside an App, than to openly carry your beliefs on top of your book pile. It's as if you are carrying Jesus right there under your arm, an ever-present reminder of the greater call of Christianity. And by doing so, you have the best accountability partner imaginable.

3) Connection. I don't know about you, but it's very hard for me to feel connected through technology. Texting, while convenient, is a very cold way to communicate. So is facebook and even facetime. These are fantastic new ways of touching base with someone, but they don't have the same effect as being face-to-face with a person, hearing their voice and touching their skin.

It's the same with the Bible. Reading it on a screen is not the same and flipping those flimsy pages and truly digging into God's Word. There's a connectivity there that can't be felt through the Holy Bible App on your phone. And sometimes we don't need the "quick reference" guide. Instead, we should be turning the pages, contemplating on where God wants us to go to next.

4) History. Before my college boyfriend gave me my new Bible, I'd been carrying around a beat up red leather one that belonged to my mother. It had her graceful cursive in the margins and dog eared from times in her life when the scripture spoke to her. It even had a family tree in the back outlining our heritage.

That Bible, which I still have to this day, was special to me because of what it represented: history. A child's Bible is their first tangible connection with the Lord; it's something to be cherished, scribbled in, and marked. It's the child's first spiritual journal, marking a time in their lives when God is beginning to shape their faith. And that's just not something you can do on your smartphone.

5) Reflection. The marks and scribbles I mentioned above remain in that book forever. As the child grows, hopefully maturing in their faith, they will most likely stumble over the notes in the margin made years before. If they are anything like me, they'll run their fingers over the script, remembering the moment that particular passage was needed. It may remind them of a renewal of their faith, or a shoring up in troubled times. At any rate, those dog ears will mark time, much like a map of their spiritual journey. And it's in the looking back over our conversations with God that we can be reminded, once again, of His unending faithfulness.

I guess you can say I'm an advocate for open carry - of Bibles, that is. 

I'm not a prude. I don't expect my kids to quote scripture on demand or convert every random person they meet on the street. But, I do expect them to take their faith seriously. Christ is not a medallion to be worn on our necks or to be stuck to our cars, just for us to turn around and act any way we choose.

He's not an App or a facebook post. He's real. He's tangible. He's present. And what better way to remember this than by holding in our hands a hefty compass by which to guide our lives?