Seeing The Dream 50 years later

When I finally got a chance to look at the world for a moment tonight after work (it’s been a busy week), the world’s feed is awash with commentary on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington.

Actually, the day entered my consciousness because a Facebook friend posted that the Republican absence at the big commemoration on the Mall seemed to offer a conspicuous commentary on Republican attitudes toward racial justice.

So I guess I didn’t even get 30 seconds of uncontroversial peace in which to contemplate Dr King’s rhetorical brilliance, biblical themes, or beautiful words.

MLK justice quote


Let me back up.

I grew up in the North, a land full of its own social injustice, brokenness, and racism and economic inequality.  My dad was a steelworker forced into retirement when he woke up one morning half-blind.  My mom worked at a finance company and her salary kept us fed and a roof over our heads, but even at the best of times I grew up “working poor.”

In an odd soup of conservative social politics, my dad’s union membership, crushing economic realities (Fayette county’s economy died on the table in the mid 80s and hadn’t resurrected before I left for good in the late 90s), fundamentalist Christian upbringing — I went to school.  A small private Christian school.

Everybody descended from a European immigrant who landed in Southwestern PA to work in the glass factories, coal mines, or steel mills.  It was a very white place, but white culture was a lot more interesting where I grew up.  If your last name didn’t include 14 letters with the wrong balance of consonants to vowels, you probably weren’t a native Western Pennsylvanian.

My view of black/white racism was formed primarily through the lens of my dad’s experiences at the mill.  He despised people who wouldn’t work or proved lazy on the job. That derision crossed the color barrier, but he still categorized people by color.  I certainly grew up with a poor immigrant‘s view of racism: “Yeah, slavery would have been terrible.  So was growing up during the Great Depression with no food and an abusive Italian father.”

My school didn’t do Black History Month.  (Did they have that in the 80s?)  It was a good school. Really it was.  But the Civil Rights movement wasn’t part of the curriculum.  Except to hear about the race riots, the Malcolm X violence, and the assassination of Dr. King.

I saw Coretta Scott King on the television sometimes, especially on the anniversaries of the killing or the speeches.  My dad usually changed the channel.


All of my education has been white and Christian. I must acknowledge this bias, this direction in my thinking.  I’m happy to live in a much more diverse neighborhood now (we’re unified by our socioeconomic class), but I still drive to my very Caucasian workplace or church in my car, listening to stereotypical white-people music.

I have three college degrees, all of them Christian, all of them surrounded mainly by working class and middle class people of general American descent.   I don’t know where I first heard that Dr King plagiarized his doctoral dissertation – I think that came during my high school years.  But the ad hominem was powerful.  The message of King’s speech was suspect.  He was suspect.  He didn’t see the Bible the right way.  He didn’t really believe the Gospel. He may have even been Communist.

But I wasn’t racist.  No.  Racists did things like the South did – enslaved people, imprisoned them without trial or stripped them of voting rights. We weren’t like that.

My college wasn’t like that either, right? Granted, interracial dating was banned because it was ungodly. And I hardly knew any people of color unless they were international students.  But that’s because “black people didn’t want to come to Bob Jones.  We’d love to have more of them here!”

/ irony


Thankfully, my education finally took a turn for balance. My M Ed coursework at Covenant College introduced me to a view of the Kingdom that values justice, that elevates the humanity of all people because we all bear God’s image.

An understanding of the Gospel that’s bigger than the mess humanity’s in because of our sin and brokenness.

A view of redemption that demands justice in this world and the next.

God calls Himself the defender of the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, the slave, the immigrant, the downtrodden.  A Righteous King is a ruler who tends to the needs of the poor and those who cannot defend themselves.

This is wound into the biblical narrative, now that I realize it’s there.

My first class at Covenant slammed me between the eyes with the idea that capitalism might not actually equal “biblical,” that American democracy was not equivalent to Christian living.

It took me days to recover.


As I taught classes of fresh-eyed middle and high schoolers at NCS, I began reading all the literature that wasn’t even in my school library growing up and certainly not in the (BJUP and Beka Book) textbooks:  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  A Thousand Never Evers.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  Invisible Man.  Black Boy.  The poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.  Their Eyes Were Watching God.

I read Dr King’s speech for the first time in 2003, I think.  It was printed in my 8th grade literature book at the end of a unit on the American experience.  I thought, “Hey! It’s a speech! Maybe I can find it on YouTube.”  Being a first year teacher and always behind, I probably didn’t even read it before showing the speech to the class.



There are days when I feel like I’m just now discovering the Gospel for the first time.  And that I live in a sea of hate.

Republicans had a separate luncheon today rather than join the commemoration at the Mall.  Why is that cool with people?

My fellow Christian Facebookers slam the very idea that we even need to discuss race in America anymore. It’s a liberal agenda thing, a ploy to divert our attention from the real travesties of the world, like Obamacare. On Twitter, some tea party person was giving it to Al Sharpton because he talked about Peace today but urged people to riot over Trayvon Martin a month ago.

Friends, the racial question in America isn’t answered.  The fights breaking out over voting laws aren’t happening in a neat and tidy middle-class vacuum.  The erosion of Miranda rights and checks on the power of the police have a real effect on people in poverty.   Our criminal justice system imprisons people of color at a much higher rate than whites or Asians when they’re arrested for the exact same crime.


When Erskine held a MLK Day event in January, I attended.  It was the first moment in my life — education or work — where I was part of a corporate commemoration of that January holiday (instead of staying home to watch TV).

A coworker at Erskine patiently explains the Black experience to me over our lunch breaks.  …. I had no idea…..

Every lunch break is a new lesson, a new revelation.


Fifty years after Dr King made his speech, I can only acknowledge my own journey out of complicit and stated racism into a biblical understanding of humanity — one that restores dignity to those who were often abused in the name of Christ.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”  ~MLK Jr, Nobel Prize Acceptance speech

Read more:   King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

A friend’s thoughtful perspective on the Trayvon Martin case

One Bite at a Time

There’s an adage about eating an elephant “one bite at a time.” It’s a less poetic form of “Rome wasn’t built in day” but I like the graphic imagery of someone digging into an elephant with a knife and fork. (Sorry, elephant fans!) (No elephants were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

I know all students can sympathize with feeling overwhelmed by a task in front of you – these opening weeks of school are full of syllabus lists, new fat textbooks demanding to be read, a calendar full of scary due dates.

For me, the elephant to be consumed is a housewide cleaning, reorganization, and minor renovation project. We’ve been here for more than a decade now, and our house needs some TLC: fresh paint on the walls, new paint on the rooms we ignored when we moved in, small general repairs, replacing worn out items with better ones, improving the kitchen, maybe even a new dishwasher (one can dream, yes?)

There are few things in life I hate more than housecleaning, you know?  I do like having a clean house. I appreciate a tidy house, though I rarely achieve it.  It’s nice to walk into the kitchen and see sunlight reflect off sparkling-clean linoleum. But I’ve never gotten to the point that I relish the clean, tidy house enough to trade away reading or social time to get it. 🙂

So I find myself staring at the elephant.

It’s going to be an uphill climb but I’m arming myself with a few tools.

A must-have: a good task organization program. I’ve used several (some I love for their simplicity, others provide the complexity I need to manage large projects with multiple users at work) but for this I’m falling back to my trusty ToodleDo.  You can sort tasks into folders, assign priority, and schedule due-dates or milestones.  It’s simple, effective, and armed with an excellent iOS app.

I had big dreams of kicking off the Renewal this weekend, but then I realized we’ve been going non-stop since the end of July and I just need a break and some time to myself, especially after wrapping up a crazier-than-usual week at work.

Sometimes the best first step is a good rest.

After a basic housecleaning (to make everything presentable to the general public), I plan to tackle the garage: Throw out what we don’t need, reorganize what’s valuable, paint the walls and ceiling, and stain the floor concrete.  If the floor turns out ok, I’d like to strip out the carpet I hate and go with concrete floors throughout the house. (If I hit the lottery, I’ll upgrade that dream to tile or wood. But realism is useful when considering home improvements.)

I promise I’ll take photos. 🙂

Article: “I hate Strong Female Characters”

Nowadays the princesses all know kung fu, and yet they’re still the same princesses. They’re still love interests, still the one girl in a team of five boys, and they’re all kind of the same. They march on screen, punch someone to show how they don’t take no shit, throw around a couple of one-liners or forcibly kiss someone because getting consent is for wimps, and then with ladylike discretion they back out of the narrative’s way.

via I hate Strong Female Characters.

Great article. Give it a read.

Time for Hollywood (and mainstream video games too) to stop selling us badly written female characters.

Parenting: You probably aren’t supposed to start with 6

The Man & I have been teaching teens or working with youth groups or trying to feed hungry teenagers who’ve landed at our house for several years now. Sometime in the past decade, we realized this might not be the usual way to fall into spending a ridiculous amount of time with kids.

I mean, most people start with babies and then move up, you know?  But no.  I gotta be different.

I’m not joking when I say that kids make sense to me only after they go through puberty. Maybe I’ll get better at it once we’ve had our own brood, but little kids declare me to be weird. They’re such literalists while I traffic almost entirely in understatement, irony, pun, hyperbole, and satire.

I figured you needed that background to understand fully the impact of my next sentence:

For the past two weekends, we’ve been the “relief parents” at Calvary Home for Children.

Please indulge yourself in as many mental scenarios of disaster as you’d like. I’ll wait. 😉

CHC is an amazing ministry that works hard to provide a safe, gracious space for kids in foster care to find real love and stability, especially groups of siblings (who otherwise would be split up among multiple foster homes). We’ve known the CHC folks for nearly a decade, and they do incredible work.

Our first experience with CHC came through our classrooms at New Covenant – some students were placed at NCS for their coursework.  (I remember Coart spending two nights a week with a particular trio of 8th grade CHC girls for a full year, doing extra tutoring so they could pass his Logic class.)

We still keep up with a number of our former-CHC students, and it’s exciting to see them thriving despite the hardships of their backgrounds.

I’ll save those stories for another day.

You *know* CHC must be hard up for relief parents if they called us. 😉   Indeed, they’ve lost a lot of folks off the volunteer list in recent weeks due to attrition, moving, and other normal factors.  And the current house parents still need their two relief breaks a month (child care can drive people batty faster than anything else, I imagine, so relief is important for the house parents).

I was pretty reluctant at first.  Six kids ranging from 4 to about 16.  I don’t know what to do with a 4 year old. Really.  Fortunately, we have a 20 year old in the household who’s great with kids…. so we convinced Liz to join in this adventure and tackled the job as a team of three.

I gotta say ….  The two weekends really were great.

Yeah, so, I know NOTHING about important things like "where can we find a good park" and "what does a 6 year old eat, anyway?"  Answers: The Castle Park at the Civic Center is a blast.  Also, 6 year olds aren't really into lasagna. :/
Yeah, so, I know NOTHING about important things like “where can we find a good park” and “what does a 6 year old eat, anyway?” Answers: The Castle Park at the Civic Center is a blast. Also, 6 year olds aren’t really into lasagna. :/

The house parents (the Parkers) have their cottage running like a well-oiled machine.  With lots of love, good structure, clear expectations, realistic expectations.

The kiddos themselves are great kids…. caught in a bad situation beyond their control and trying to make the best of it.  We went to the park. We went to the zoo. (Turtles! Lions! Elephants! Giraffe!!!) We climbed stuff. We got dirty. We ate ice cream. (Don’t tell.)

Sure, we had our moments.  The 4yo definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed every day this weekend, and I was definitely raised with a different philosophy of food choices than kids nowadays. (What, you don’t feed your elementary kids cabbage rolls or stuffed green peppers or chicken cacciatore? Because that’s what landed on my plate “back in the day,” and the only alternative was “fine, don’t eat.”)

But if you’re looking for a way to truly love your neighbor in a tangible, meaningful way, consider calling the folks at Calvary Home and offering them your skills (cook? clean? tutor? babysit? play? Surely you can do one of those!).  Or money. That’s always useful.

And if you aren’t from around here, I’m sure you won’t have to look far to find broken relationships to heal, children who need love, a house that needs cleaned, food to cook, a family in need.


Tide Ya Over

Man, y’all. August has been a total whirlwind and its only the 7th.

Work is crankin with plenty of projects to design and manage; the hubby is about to start school again; we did a stint as relief house parents at Calvary Home for Children last weekend and another one coming up. So I’m not really sure whether I’m coming or going. And I’m definitely not making it to the computer to blog.

Just in case ya missed me, I’m going to leave you with some of my best short reads or watches over the past couple days. Rock on. Be back soon. 🙂

if you haven’t seen Stephen Colbert’s amazing Daft Punk video, stop everything and watch RIGHT NOW.

On a more sober note, the Jon Stewart Show ran an amazing piece about how we discuss racism in America. Sometimes satire really does do the best job of getting the point across.

A little Photoshop magic shows us what celebrities would really look like….

And the grossest trash story I’ve ever read. Really. Usually nothing gets to me, but I happened to run into this while eating lunch, and nearly lost it.